The Sense of Wonder

 

traveling-companions

Traveling companions of Susan and me–Waddy, Piglet, Curious George, and Kermit

“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.”          —From The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson

 

It’s been at least 25 years—maybe more—since I first read this book. My soul leapt with joy as I recognized this defining characteristic of myself, one I could never identify and passed off as many other things over the years. The fact that I never wanted to grow up. The fact that I write for children. The fact that my children were young, and I was relating to them. I was an adult and still had this “quirk”

There it was, confirming my way of life as a good thing, not an immaturity or a defect. It was okay, even desirable, to maintain this childlike, not childish, way of looking at life, and I wouldn’t want to live any other way. Being able to observe everything around me with the eyes of a child gives me great joy and awe at the wonders surrounding me, no matter where I am or my circumstances. Jesus himself encouraged us to maintain that childlike sense of wonder in our faith and relationship to him.

This past weekend was a perfect example. My dear friend, Susan, (one who also lives life with wonder and awe) and I took a weekend trip to Coudersport, deep in the Allegheny Mountains, where there was a meeting of fans of Margaret Suttons’s beloved children’s book series, the Judy Bolton mysteries. While Susan had gone in previous years, this was my first time. As a children’s writer and childhood reader of Judy Bolton, it was pure joy to visit the places where Margaret Sutton grew up and drew much of the inspiration for her books from the surrounding area and events that occurred there.

But in addition to that, I craindrops-on-branchesouldn’t drink in enough of the vibrant colors of the changing leaves, each tableau different from the one just passed. Rows of water droplets from the early morning rain outlined bare tree branches just above a branch of dancing, dazzling red leaves. The welcome I received at private homes where I was treated as a long-lost family member filled me with warmth. The starkness of the failed Austin Dam contrasted with the beauty of the trees and wildflowers that have grown around and even in the cracks of the crumbling cement structure. Even in the sad, derelict, abandoned church we explored, Susan discovered a Bible by the still-in-place lectern open to the passages we are currently studying in our weekly women’s Bible study. I marveled at everything.

I challenge you to re-open your eyes of childhood. Remember what it felt like to begin each day with a sense of excitement and anticipation. Expect to see wonders all around you. Discover that the ordinary is, in reality, truly extraordinary—and it is still there, just as it was when you were young. And revel in the wonder and awe of it all.

Weaving and Writing

Weaving 2
I’m in the process of learning how to weave. As I’ve worked my way through the learning curve, the phrase “weaving a story” has taken on a whole new meaning. If you’ve never tried weaving, here are some of the highlights.

• The longest and most intense part of the process is in the preparation.
• No matter how careful you are, threads will get tangled, sometimes hopelessly, forcing you to cut them out.
• Threads will twist when you least expect it.
• If you don’t press hard enough on the beater to keep the rows close together, you’ll end up with holes in your work.
• It’s easy to get confused as to which way you’re working, especially when you have to stop and pick up your work later.
• When using a variegated thread (as I am), you don’t know what the finished product will look like until you’re finished.

Starting a new project fills me with excitement and anticipation. Sometimes I get to a point where I’m tired of the pre-process and just want to get to the writing. If I skimp on my research, character development, or plot line, it’s not long before I get stuck. Having to stop and do more research, brainstorm new ideas, or sit down and have a heart-to-heart with my main character ultimately takes longer than if I’d taken the time I needed in the preparation stage.

I love my words and stories. I can go off on tangents or fill my manuscripts with words and scenes I think are beautiful and marvelous. But when I objectively look back, I discover a tangled mess. The only solution, painful as it is, is to cut out the sections that do not contribute to the story.

Even with all the planning in the world, my story occasionally takes an unexpected twist. At times, this can add dimension and design. Or, I may find myself trapped in a dead end. Then I must retrace my steps to where the twist happened and fix it.

I need to work consistently on a project. When I continuously pick it up and put it down, I lose that momentum that causes a story to flow. That leads to holes in the plot, disappearing characters, and forgetting where I was headed in the first place.

At times, like during NaNoWriMo, it can be fun, invigorating, and refreshing to just write, not knowing how it will turn out until the end. While this approach does contain some risk, the story may end up being worthwhile, or a piece whose value is contained in the practice and the process. Either way, the joy is in the journey.

I’m convinced that whoever coined the phrase, “weaving a story” must have been both a weaver and a writer. The parallels are inspiring. So, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to my weaving . . .

(Pictured above: My loom is warped (threaded) to weave bookmarks, four at a time, as favors for an upcoming convention luncheon. Ultimately, I’ll need to make 100.)

Characters Are Our Friends

Last November I finally took the advice of a friend and began reading the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. While mystery is not my favorite genre, I do choose mystery series that align with my interests such as tea, writing, and knitting. Detective agencies? Not usually in my sphere of interest.

Much to my surprise and delight, I have since sailed through the entire series, thirteen books in all. What enchants me is not so much the mystery, but the main character, Mma Precious Ramotswe. She is strong, loving, intelligent, down-to-earth, and greatly concerned about the importance of maintaining traditional values and morality.

Everything she does, all the cases she solves flow out of who she is. Because of this I feel as though I know Mma Ramotswe personally. I want her opinion on my problems. I want to join her in a cup of tea on her veranda or at the President’s Hotel. I want to sit in on a case discussion between her and her assistant, Mma Makutsi. I want to climb into her tiny white van and traverse roads of Botswana, drinking in the sights of the Kalahari Desert, observing the wildlife that roams freely, and go along when she visits her home village of Mochudi.

I have always believed that the best fiction is character driven rather than plot driven. If I don’t care about the character, then I don’t really care about what is happening. Alexander McCall Smith is a master at this. To be able to create living, breathing characters with whom readers identify, who feel “real” in the truest sense of the word is a rare gift. Now that I’ve finished the series as a reader, I want to go back and study these books as a writer.

I cannot imagine anything better than aspiring to the same kind of character excellence demonstrated by Smith—unless it is moving to Botswana to become Mma Ramotswe’s neighbor.

I’ll send you a postcard when I arrive.

Silver and Gold

As writers we are encouraged to come into the 21st century, making sure our presence is well-represented on all forms of social media, maintain our own websites and blogs, and arrange for an e-book version of our books. Many of us “traditionalists” struggle with this focus on electronic media and are reluctant to let go of our beloved hard copies. Few things thrill us more than the feel of a book in our hands and the scent of paper and ink. But if we are to survive as authors in this “brave new world” we must make some adjustments in our attitudes and activities.

At a recent workshop on building our platform, one writer asked the leader how we accomplish this without sacrificing too much of our writing time. The instructor, Stephanie Keyes, author of a popular young adult trilogy, outlined a sensible, doable strategy that works for her. She stressed that this type of activity helps us to connect with our readers in ways previously not possible. It makes us real and provides opportunities for personal connections with them.

On the other hand, I recently became acquainted with a young man in his early thirties. Steve is well-educated and a voracious reader but unlike many of his generation, does not own an e-reader. Why? Because he loves and collects books, just like us. Steve rarely visits a library. Instead, he feels compelled to own and keep nearly every book he reads. They are his friends, companions, and company. Finding another kindred spirit who shares my passion for books always thrills and delights me. It also proves to me that the demand for physical books will continue well into the future.

Many of us struggle with this great paradigm shift. Many of us are bibliophiles like Steve, yet if we as authors are to survive in this changing industry we need to learn how to reach out to our technologically savvy readers. Too often when such dramatic changes occur, we tend to react with an either/or mentality, forgetting that with work and understanding, we can, and must, strike a balance between the old and the new. Ultimately, it can end up being the best of both worlds. Or, as I like to think of it, the old adage rings true: “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.”

May we all acquire much of this silver and gold.

It’s November–and NaNoWriMo Is In Bloom

For the next month, my house will be crowded with strangers who will quickly become more real to me than my family. Don’t call the men in the white coats to come and take me away unless you are going to call them on the thousands of people all over the world who will find their homes invaded in the same way. We are all willing, and even eager participants in NaNoWriMo (not to be confused with alien Mork’s “Nano nano” greeting made popular in the 80s sitcom Mork and Mindy that catapulted Robin Williams to stardom.)

No, NaNo, as it is known to those who love it, is, according to the official website, “30 days and nights of literary abandon.” It is indeed. I abandon cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, sleeping, friends, family, and any other normal activity. All that matters for the month is the literary high road. Fortunately, my family humors and loves me enough to put up with me during this lofty endeavor. Although I will admit to have found them quaking in their boots at the realization that November and the “winter of their abandonment” is once again upon them.

The pursuit of this activity in a variety of coffee shops, book stores, and libraries usually raises several questions from the non-writers I encounter. One I always get is, “So when is your book going to be published?” Writing and publishing a book are two very different and distinct processes. No matter what anyone may tell you, a novel written in 30 days is not a novel as such but merely a first draft. This act of creation whether done in 30 days, 30 months, or 30 years is just the beginning.

A second question is “Can something written in 30 days be any good?” Probably not. That’s why one of my first writing workshop instructors told us, “We really shouldn’t call ourselves writers. We should call ourselves ‘re-writers.'” The first draft is only the start. Eventually, if the writer is diligent and hard-working, there may come a time when the novel is indeed ready to meet the general public. The Night Circus and Water for Elephants are just two of many whose incarnation started as a humble Nano novel. I can guarantee that they were not anywhere near publishable as a first draft. That is simply the nature of the writing beast. After November is when the “real” writing begins.

And the third most often-asked question I get is, “Where do you get your ideas and how can you possibly write that much?” As a creative writer type, the issue is deciding which of the thousands of ideas that cross my brain and characters who try to convince me to let them out of my head do I give the “Get Out of Jail Free” card this year? Where do they all come from? None of us really knows or understands. It’s something we live with and sometimes take for granted. But one thing is certain: life in our heads is never dull.

And so, along with thousands of my closest soul mates, I embark on this most noble mission: to fill the world with yet another silly novel (with apologies to Paul McCartney). Best wishes and happy writing to all of my fellow Nanowrimos. I’ll keep you posted.

%d bloggers like this: