Last fall I went to a public star gaze with the Indiana Astronomical Society to do research on my novel, THE FIELD. Eric, my protagonist, goes to a public star gaze and I wanted to get a feel for what it would be like. It was a wonderful night! The amature astronomers were so generous in sharing their telescopes and pointing out celestial objects. Neil Armstong had recently passed away and his family requested that people ‘Wink at the Moon’ to honor him the next time they saw the moon. Here are my friend Susan and I winking at the moon with members of the Indiana Astronomical Society. Godspeed Neil!
Last weekend my husband and I went on a hike through Eagle Creek park on the Eagle Creek reservior. It had warmed up considerably and melted all the snow we’d gotten over the holidays, so it was very muddy and wet. There was actually standing water on some of the trails and it was drizzily outside. Not many other hikers were out, but there were a few runners and we saw several deer.
This stream was quietly serene and beautiful.
The raindrops gathered prettily on the branches.
This little waterfall made lovely music.
And these gentle deer watched us curiously while they foraged for food.
Here’s a story from last summer.
Guess what I found in the compost pile? Ernie The Dog! I was in the kitchen getting dinner ready and I heard a quiet ‘woof’. I didn’t see Ernie anywhere, but then I heard the ‘woof’ again. I checked outside and this is what I found.
Ernie loves corn-on-the-cob. We had eaten Indiana sweet corn for dinner that night and put the cobs in the compost pile. Hungering after this delectible treat, Ernie jumped into the compost pile, but then he couldn’t get out! Silly dog. 🙂
I can’t believe I haven’t posted since May! So much has been happening. My son and daughter (twins) left for college in September and I finished the rought draft of my novel THE FIELD featuring Eric Horton, the older brother of Marcie from INDIAN SUMMER. More on THE FIELD to come in another post.
Here are some projects I’ve been working on.
Santa brought me this jacket for Christmas and I knitted this scarf to go with it! Okay, I picked out the jacket myself and Mrs. Claus gave it to me!
My new obsession is felting sweaters and making stuff with them. Felting involves washing old wool sweaters from Goodwill in very hot water so the fibers in the wool ‘felt’ together and make a fabric you can cut that won’t fray or unravel at the edges. I made these mittens for my cousin, but don’t you think they match perfectly with my old Lands’ End jacket? I may have to keep them for myself!
These are pillows I made from sweaters and rick-rack that I bought years ago at Tuesday Morning thinking that I would someday have a use for it.
Having the kids go off for college was hard, but it’s the next stage for them and they’re having a great time! It also freed me up for my next stage in life! First step – take over the band room in the basement. I’ve transformed the space into my craft room. I can’t share pics at the moment as it is still a mess from various projects, but stay tuned! Craft on!
A couple weekends ago I attended a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ (SCBWI) conference at McCormick’s Creek State Park. It was a wonderful conference and I left feeling very energized with lots of ideas for my work-in-progress. While I was there, I caught up with SCBWI member, Mike Mullin, author of, ASHFALL, a dystopian young adult novel about the eruption of the Yellowstone Park supervolcano. ASHFALL is getting rave reviews being and is touted as a book for fans of THE HUNGER GAMES. ASHEN WINTER, the next novel in the trilogy is coming out this FALL. Here’s a link to Mike’s webpage. http://www.mikemullinauthor.com/
Many visitors to Yellowstone National Park don’t realize that the boiling hot springs and spraying geysers are caused by an underlying supervolcano. It has erupted three times in the last 2.1 million years, and it will erupt again, changing the earth forever.
Fifteen-year-old Alex is home alone when Yellowstone erupts. His town collapses into a nightmare of darkness, ash, and violence, forcing him to flee. He begins a harrowing trek in search of his parents and sister, who were visiting relatives 140 miles away.
Along the way, Alex struggles through a landscape transformed by more than a foot of ash. The disaster brings out the best and worst in people desperate for food, clean water, and shelter. When an escaped convict injures Alex, he searches for a sheltered place where he can wait—to heal or to die. Instead, he finds Darla. Together, they fight to achieve a nearly impossible goal: surviving the supervolcano.
Conversation with Mike Mullin, author of ASHFALL –
Tracy: I’d like to talk with you from a writer’s perspective. Once you got the idea that you wanted to write about the supervolcano, how did it evolve for you? How do the ideas come? How do you work on getting those ideas?
Mike: The idea came from reading another book, Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of NearlyEverything”, and I thought Ah ha, supervolcano. I’ve always been interested in disaster fiction. I’ve been an avid reader of apocalyptic fiction all my life and I thought here’s an apocalypse. I’ve always shied away from writing about one because it seems like they’ve all been done, and done well. I mean if I want to read a great book about tsunami’s or tornados, or what have you, it’s out there. Plenty of volcano stories out there. So the supervolcano, I thought that maybe no one has written about that and it turned out at the time that I had the idea nobody had. Now there a couple books about super volcanos which is fine, of course.
T: After yours or before?
M: After. Mine is the first and now Harry Turtledove has a novel titled “Supervolcano: Eruption,” which is an adult novel.
T: Do you think your book was part of him writing his novel?
M: No, just a coincidence. They were in the pipeline at the same time. It came out only two months after ASHFALL. He got the idea from watching the national geographic special on it. He probably started writing his about a year or two after I started ASHFALL.
I read lots of YA (young adult) and I’ve always read YA, so it felt very natural for me to write in that genre. From there it was just a matter of thinking, okay, so I need a teenager and I needed to put him in a situation where his parents wouldn’t be around, because I don’t want the novel to be about the parents.
T: Which is what Margaret McMullan was just saying. ( Award winning author of SOURCES OF LIGHT and keynote speaker at the SCBWI conference.)
M: Exactly. So the idea of having his parents be visiting relatives just flowed naturally from that, from trying to figure out how to structure it to be a good YA novel. As far as finding the idea for the teenager that really came from my research. I did tons and tons of research on volcanos, obviously, but I also knew that I needed my protagonist to have some kind of special ability, something that was special about him to be able to survive this horrible, horrible natural disaster I was going to put him through. But I wanted to write realistic fiction. I didn’t want to have any magic. I thought that the way I would make my book different from all the dystopian novels I’ve read would be by making it intensely realistic. Something that could happen and would happen. So I decided that my main character would be a martial artist. The only bad part was that I didn’t know any martial arts. So I started taking Taekwondo and I thought I would just take it for a while, but it turned out I really enjoyed it and stuck with it and finally earned my black belt just before ASHFALL came out and now it’s a big part of my school presentation.
T: Which is really great!
M: Yeah, I break blocks! Its fun.
T: Which is kind of amazing when you think about it.
M: I enjoy it. I like breaking stuff, what can I say. Also, I met there (at the Taekwondo Dojang), Ben Alexander who’s this fifteen year old third degree black belt. This was back when I was just a white belt and he was really patient and would explain things over and over again. Just a really great kid. He’s kind of small – he comes up to about here on me (indicates mid chest). I’ve got probably 80 pounds on him and tons of reach. He’s so friendly and helpful but then we have at our dojang what we call Friday night fights. We strap pads on our hands and feet and chest protectors and helmets and then we try to kick the crud out of each other. It’s awesome! Ben Alexander can pretty much kick me in the head and knock me down any time he wants to. He’s that much better. Even now, he’s still a third degree black belt, and I have my black belt now, but he’s just so much faster. I thought, ah ha! That’s the guy I need to have in my mind as I’m writing my character and that’s why my protagonist in ASHFALL is named Alex after Ben Alexander. I don’t know why I didn’t like Ben (the name, not the boy!), but he didn’t feel like a Ben to me so I used Alex.
T: So do you find that ideas just sort of pop into your head; that they come to you that way? And when you’re actually starting to write – let’s talk about that, too. Do you do an outline? I know one author says he throws all the ideas into a box and then takes it out and storyboards it. What’s your process?
M: Before I wrote ASHFALL, I had a YA horror novel that I ‘pantsed’. I had the idea and the characters and just wrote it as I went and figured out where it was going as I was writing. (Mike’s wife, Margaret sees my confusion about the term ‘pantsed’ and interjects ‘By the seat of your pants’ to clarify for me. I am obviously not up on writer jargon!) And that novel was so bad that I sent it to three literary agents and two of them quit the business forever!
When I was doing ASHFALL, I actually plotted it out. I wrote a very rough, chaotic five page outline before I started writing. And planned things like here’s how I’m going to get his parents away and planned it basically all out. Darla was in that outline.
T: How true was it?
M: To what I actually ended up writing? Not very. I wound up diverging from it. And some of the best parts of the novel are where I allowed myself to diverge from the outline. Many people tell me that their favorite part of ASHFALL is chapters 37 and 38 and when I’m asked, I usually say chapters 37 and 38.
T: Tell me what happens in those.
M: It’s when Alex and Darla meet Katie and her mom on the road.
T: Is that with the little girls in the snow suits?
M: Yeah. Exactly. With the blond hair. They were never in any outline, or any plan. I wrote that while I was out in Portland visiting my uncle Chuck who was then dying of stage four colon cancer. When I’m drafting, I try to write absolutely every day. So I would get up in the morning at 5 or 6 and write for a couple of hours until my uncle Chuck would get up about 10 or 11am. He’s very sick at this point. He died two weeks after I left. Then I’d put my writing aside and spend the rest of the day with my uncle Chuck. The thing that affected me most deeply about that wasn’t so much watching my uncle Chuck die as watching his family around him; his kids and his wife who were just trying to shower love on him even while they are obviously already grieving; deeply into this grief process. And so I think from that I wrote this woman who had just lost her husband and was trying to protect her children and found that she couldn’t. I know that really worked because one of the revision techniques I use is to either read my work aloud, or better yet, have it read out loud. And so I’ll volunteer to drive Margaret, my wife, to her education conferences. So I’m driving her to this education conference in Pittsburg and she’s reading the draft of ASHFALL out loud in the passenger seat – because it’s really better if you don’t read and drive.
T: Yes, I’ve tried it, but not a good idea.
M: And I hear this little noise and I look over and she’s doing this kind-of quiet crying thing and there’s just tears streaming down her face and I thought, YES, I’ve nailed it! I’ve made my wife cry. I’m a great writer and a terrible husband.
T: (Laughs) But that is exactly what you want. You want to get that emotion. So when in the writing of ASHFALL, or maybe it wasn’t during the writing, did you start getting ideas for the sequels?
M: Actually when I was doing the outline, before it was ever written, I had a rough idea. I realized that I had way more story than would fit in one book, and that ASHFALL would probably work best if it was really tightly compressed. ASHFALL takes place over six or eight weeks; just a real short snapshot of Alex’s journey and I really wanted to end on a real note of hope where the reader would have some confidence that Alex had a future. And the volcanic winter after an eruption like I’m depicting is going to be brutal and at least three years, possibly as long as ten years. So I couldn’t finish on that sense of hope that I wanted. So I did do a very rough sketch of this is what belongs in the second book and this is what belongs in the third book and as I was drafting ASHFALL and ASHEN WINTER I would keep track of the things that didn’t fit and I kept outlining SUNRISE, the third book, off and on all through the process. When I actually sat down to do the outline to send to my publisher to sell SUNRISE, it was just a matter of putting everything place. Formalizing it rather than creating it. So I’ve had a rough arc for the trilogy since before I wrote ASHFALL.
T: Do you find that while you were writing ASHFALL that you wanted to start writing ASHEN WINTER?
M: Oh, all the time. Ideas come all the time. You get random ideas. You think ‘here’s this really cool idea, I should go write this.’ The way I deal with that is I open a new file on my computer and I write down everything I know about this shiny new idea and then I go back to work. Because you can’t sell an unfinished novel! So the nice thing about that is that I have fifteen or twenty of those little files with chunks of novels or ideas. Some of them are just a few paragraphs and some that are ten or fifteen pages with scenes all written out. When I finish the ASHFALL trilogy I’ll open them up and see which one I’m most interested in writing next.
T: So you don’t have writer’s block most of the time.
M: No, there are definitely days when I have trouble with that, absolutely. What I typically will do – what works for me – it to get out of the house, go for a bike ride, go for a walk, get some kind of physical activity. Sometimes sitting down in an unusual place. I’m a nomadic writer. Anywhere where I’ve got my lap top, I’ll sit down and write. Sometimes I just walk into a new place and sit down and start typing.
T: When I do talks, one of the things that I always say is that imagination is really the most important thing. Einstein said it – of course you have to be able to have a good craft – but having the idea is the key. So any words of wisdom to pass on to writers or people wanting to be published?
M: All I really tell students in my talks is read a lot, write a lot, submit or self-publish your work. It’s that easy and that difficult. Michael Grant says sort of the same thing. I heard his school presentation a few weeks ago, except he says ‘Live a Lot’, so that you can have something to write about.
T: Right, like Margaret (McMullan) said, it’s boring to write about someone sitting in a room alone.
T: Okay, great! Thank you so much!
My son and daughter are graduating from high school this year. I find myself being very excited for them and perhaps even a little jealous. They will be attending college in downtown Chicago – right across from Grant Park and Navy Pier with a view of Lake Michigan. One thing that I never did was live in the city after college. I guess I can live a little vicariously through my children. They are following creative pursuits -music management and comtemporary music, and photography and graphic design. They are both very talented artists. The interesting thing is how many people want to tear their dreams down before they’ve even started or tell them that they can’t ‘make a living’ as an artist or to be ‘realistic’. Is it that these people have thwarted dreams of their own? I even know of a young lady who dreams of being a baker whose mother told her that she can either major in business or education, not culinary arts. Why would you want to subject your child to life in a cubicle? And last time I checked, teaching jobs were pretty hard to come by. I find that very sad. I told her to take cooking classes as electives and learn about the business of owning her own bakery!
I’m not a very nostalgic person, and while I am sad that my children will be leaving home soon and will miss them and all of their friends and all the positive energy that they bring, I am really so excited for the adventure they are about to embark on. Frankly, I’m also a little excited about the adventures that I am about to embark on, because, now its gonna be all about me! 🙂
|“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~ Howard Thurman
|“Find your passion and then you will have found your purpose.” ~ Bishop T.D. Jakes|
Here I am picking up my books from Big Hat Books and Arts in Broad Ripple for World Book Night! I am going to use the books to host a book group this summer at the Westminister Neighborhood Ministries children’s summer camp. We’ll be reading “Because of Winn Dixie” by Kate DiCamillo. I think I’m more excited than the the kids! If we finish “Because of Winn Dixie” then I will have them read “Indian Summer.”
Thursday I did an author talk at the Canterbury School Book Fair for third graders. Very fun! One of the other authors brought her dog, Martha, who was fabulously well behaved and sweet. Of course the kids loved her! Its hard to compete with a dog. 🙂
Then on Friday I went to the Christamore House Author Luncheon, a benefit with five authors speaking and selling their books to fund the Christamore House children’s programs. Books, Books, Books ~all to benefit kids! Yeah!
Friday night we ventured downtown to see the Hoosier Hospitality we’ve been hearing about at the Super Bowl Village in downtown Indianapolis. The weather has been perfect – 50’s and above and no snow. Downtown Indy is perfect for this event because everything is within walking distance including the stadium. It was PACKED, but everyone was in good spirits and having fun. We saw the much talked about zip-line and many street performers. The areas around the concert stage for LMFAO was too crowded to get awaywhere near, but we had fun just people watching. Its nice for the rest of the world to see what a great city Indianapolis is! These pics were taken with my iPhone, so the quality isn’t great, but you get the idea.
Sunday night I’ll be watching the game and rooting for Eli Manning and the Giants to beat the Patriots!
I was listening to a show on our local NPR station “The Art of the Matter” on Saturday and they mentioned a new program called . It is aimed at young adults who are a little old for the ‘Children’s Museum’, but still need a cool place to hang out and experience art and science. The director of the program referenced Leonardo daVinci (obviously) and Michealangelo as examples of artists whose work was informed by science. This really resonates with me as I didn’t start off as a writer (although if you read my last post – Projects – you’ll see that I’ve always been interested in art.) I worked summers in college in the mirobiology lab of Evanston Hospital and have a B.S. in Biology from IU. I still love science even though my career path took a different route. I’ve always felt that my mathmatical/scientific mind helped me to see patterns and shapes, relationships and colors in my art and that understanding science (or perhaps making new discoveries) requires a considerable measure of creativity. My sister-in-law once gave me a terrific complement by saying that I was one of the few people she knew who is both left and right brained. I was flattered, but I wonder, is that really true, or do we all have equal measures of both? I find that my writing incorporates my science background as well. My next novel-in-progress, a YA titled THE FIELD, deals with alternative energy sources (wind, solar, and so-called clean coal) and The Universal Energy Field or Zero Point Field that some scientists postulate permeates every inch of space in the Universe. It takes a bit of creativity to imagine it and a lot of scientific work to discover it. I’ll post a new excerpt to THE FIELD soon!