Locally Sourced Books

We always celebrate Tim's birthday with books.

We always celebrate Tim’s birthday with books.

Just as I try to eat locally sourced food, I also like to give locally sourced books as gifts, especially in December, which begins with my husband’s birthday.

Archer Mayor. (www.archermayor.com)

Archer Mayor. (www.archermayor.com)

For the past twenty-six years, my friend and neighbor Archer Mayor has provided me with a Joe Gunther detective novel in time for Tim’s birthday. Not only are these books written a few miles down the road, but most of them take place in Vermont. Archer has a keen knowledge of local customs and politics with which he grounds these stories. By now, Joe Gunther is like an old friend, which only makes the suspense more thrilling when he’s on the trail of an elusive and dangerous criminal.

The Company She Kept is title #26 in the Joe Gunther series.

The Company She Kept is title #26 in the Joe Gunther series.

These novels combine deep knowledge of Vermont, savvy insight into human behavior, and inventive ways humans misbehave. I’ve learned to set aside a solid block of time so I can read these well-written stories in a single sitting, during which my heart races as I turn pages. It’s not just that I can’t put them down until I get to the end; I’ve learned the hard way that if I don’t finish the book, I won’t sleep or get anything else done until I know how it ends.

castle small photo

The Devil in the Valley is Castle Freeman, Jr.'s newest novel, just out. (www.castlefreemanjr.com)

The Devil in the Valley is Castle Freeman, Jr.’s newest novel, just out. (www.castlefreemanjr.com)

 

 

Castle Freeman, Jr. lives up the hill from me, and he has a new novel just out, The Devil in the Valley. As Castle says, “Practically all the writing I have done – fiction, essays, history, journalism, and more – has been in one way or another about rural northern New England, in particular the State of Vermont, and the lies of its inhabitants, a source of unique and undiminishing interest, at least to me.”

Castle has a fine ear for the local vernacular, a clear eye for the local landscape, and a remarkable ability to tell a tale whose minute particulars reverberate with the human condition anywhere. After reading Castle’s splendid recent novels, Go With Me and All That I Have, I’m eager to read The Devil In the Valley – which is another reason for giving my husband a copy.

Peter Gould holding a copy of Marley, his new book.

Peter Gould holding a copy of Marley, his new book.

Our friend Peter Gould has a new young adult book out, which I’ve added to the pile. Marley, a Novella in One Voice is not just an unusual book – all one voice (and it’s not Marley’s) dialogue, no description – it’s been published locally, by Green Writers Press, a mission-driven publishing house that uses environmentally sustainable printing and distribution methods, publishes books that “incorporate and facilitate the gift of words to help foster a sustainable environment,” and donates a percentage of its profits to environmental causes. I can barely wait for Tim to unwrap this gift – so I can read it!

Veranda Porche, photograph by Harry Saxman via wikimedia.

Veranda Porche, photograph by Harry Saxman via wikimedia.

No birthday would be complete without a couple of volumes of poetry, and this year’s pick includes two. Sudden Eden by Verandah Porche came out in 2012 and sold out before I could buy a copy, so this is a long overdue purchase. Verandah is so remarkable: she breathes poetry so deeply she speaks it instead of prose. Both she and Peter were members of the famous Packers Corner commune in Guilford, where Verandah still resides. Her poems are filled with the nature that abounds here, including the poetry of ordinary lives, which of course are not ordinary at all. A tremendous example of her work can be found in Shedding Light on the Working Forest, in collaboration with the visual artist, Kathleen Kolb. This traveling exhibit of painting and poetry can be seen at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center through January 3, 2015 before moving on to other venues in Vermont and Connecticut.

Interstate, a new collection of poems by Chard diNiord, newly named Poet Laureate of Vermont

Interstate, poems by Chard diNiord

I also picked up a copy of Interstate, the latest collection by local poet

Chard diNiord, Poet Laureate of Vermont

Chard diNiord, Poet Laureate of Vermont

Chard diNiord, who just recently became Vermont’s Poet Laureate. Tim’s a great fan of Chard’s work, and this volume brings his collection up to date. Tim will read it through, and then he’ll read the poems aloud to me.

The Bonnie Road by Suzanne d'Corsey

The Bonnie Road by Suzanne d’Corsey

I have two other books for Tim I’ve already purchased and read – on my Kindle. The Bonnie Road is by my friend and neighbor Suzanne d’Corsey. (Look here for a guest post by her soon.) The Bonnie Road is set in St. Andrews, Scotland, and draws on a dark, pagan undercurrent, spinning together mythology, archaeology, magic and love, all unleashed when American Rosalind Ehrhart arrives on the scene. In addition to a good story, the novel is filled with eccentric characters and lots of information, from how to brew a pot of tea to the mysterious interconnectedness of pagan rites, nature, history and culture. Reading The Bonnie Road completely drew me in to this credible, imaginary world.

J.A. Hennrikus, aka Julianne Holmes, author of the Clock Shop Mysteries.

J.A. Hennrikus, aka Julianne Holmes, author of the Clock Shop Mysteries.

And finally, our own J.A. Hennrikus, writing as Julianne

Just Killing Time - by our own Hennrikus/Holmes.

Just Killing Time – by our own Hennrikus/Holmes.

Holmes, has just come out with the first in a series of cozy mysteries, Just Killing Time. I don’t particularly care to travel, especially by air, so it’s a testament to how wonderfully entertaining this novel is that it helped me forget I was at 30,000 feet en route to spend ten days in California. Instead, I was in Orchard, Massachusetts, rooting for Ruth Clagan to solve the murder of her grandfather and fall in love with a new life: a perfect set up for the stories to come. I can hardly wait until next October, when the second in this series is due out.

Except for the two books I purchased for my Kindle, which is convenient for travel, I purchased all the other books at Everyone’s Books, my local, independent bookstore in Brattleboro, Vermont. Of course, I could have bought all these books on-line (and possibly even qualified for free shipping), but just as I like to read locally, I also like to shop locally.

Giving locally sourced books is my win-win-win formula for the holidays: it supports my writer friends, it supports my local economy, it pleases my loved ones, all of whom not only love to read, but who also generously share their books with me.

Into the Wilderness, a love story set in Vermont in 1964, by Deborah Lee Luskin.

Into the Wilderness, a love story set in Vermont in 1964, by Deborah Lee Luskin.

Deborah Lee Luskin, M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin,
M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin‘s locally-sourced story is Into the Wilderness, a love story set in Vermont in 1964. Into the Wilderness was awarded the Independent Publishers Gold Medal for Regional Fiction and commended by the Vermont Library Association for its “Sense of Place.”

 

Learning to Fish (and Write)

I don't know what I expected from the title, but I was hooked from the first sentence.

I don’t know what I expected from the title, but I was hooked from the first sentence.

I’m learning to fish as part of a current writing project. The allure is two-fold: First, I’m exploring new ways to be in nature. Fishing – fly-casting, in particular – appeals to me for both its contemplative quality and for its required knowledge of entomology. I used to keep bees, but they attracted bears. The right imitation of insects (flies tied to look like the hatch of the moment) should attract fish. That’s the theory, anyway. I’m just starting to practice.

The second enticement to learning to fish is the literature that fishing has inspired. I like literary sports and have read a great deal about baseball, which has inspired both poetry and prose.

So it only made sense to visit the library, seek out where the fishing books lurked, and pull half a dozen likely candidates off the shelf. That’s how I happened on the irresistible title, Brook Trout and the Writing Life, by Craig Nova.

Ever since attending a weekend workshop to learn how to fly cast and catching my first-ever brook trout, it’s become my all-time favorite fish. That this particular seven-inch brookie got away has only magnified its significance to epic proportions in my fishing career. (You can read about this adventure here.)

When I caught my first brook trout, it was only seven inches long, but it seems much bigger since it got away. (Maryanne St. Jean, photo)

When I caught my first brook trout, it was only seven inches long, but it seems much bigger since it got away. (Maryanne St. Jean, photo)

It also turns out that I’ve met Craig Nova on several occasions. His daughters were a few years ahead in the same school my daughters attended, and for a while, we both sculled out of the same club. We know people in common; after all, Vermont’s a small state.

So, Sunday afternoon, after a brutal weekend of biking and gardening in the exhausting manner that passes around here for fun, I stretched out on the porch with a tall glass of weak lemonade and started to read.

I don’t know what I expected from the title, but I was hooked from the first sentence, Often, the connection between things is not obvious to the eye, and even when it is, it can take years, if not decades, for me to see just what is associated with what. Nova continues to explain how the events of his life and that of the brook trout often meet at the line of demarcation between the world of the fish and the world of the fisherman, between the seen and the unseen.

I'm exploring new ways to be in nature - like watching the sun rise at the Second Connecticut Lake in northern New Hampshire.

I’m exploring new ways to be in nature – like watching the sun rise at the Second Connecticut Lake in northern New Hampshire.

One could say the same about the relationship between the writer and the reader, so I read on. I spent all afternoon in the stream of this autobiographical narrative, delighted by fishing stories, about falling in love, becoming a father, surviving life-threatening blackmail, and fishing on remote ponds in Maine, accessible only by float plane.

Nova describes hiking to beaver ponds by himself, boating across lakes with a physician friend eager to escape the range of his pager, and teaching his daughter to tie flies. He explains again and again, how he finds brook trout at that place where slow water meets fast, where cold water pours into a lake, where shadows deepen and branches hang over a pool. These are the liminal places trout lurk, and the stories of finding them. In fact, Nova writes very little about writing itself, but he tells a good story, which is what fine writing is all about.

Fishing Fashion

Fishing Fashion

Deborah Lee Luskin is the author of the award winning love story, Into the Wilderness and a regular commentator on Vermont Public Radio. Her blogs, Living in Place and The Middle Ages, can be found at www.deborahleeluskin.com

Writer Profile: Vincent Panella

Vincent PanellaIn her recent post about time, Jamie wrote, “Time. It’s what we writers fight for. Without it, we have no hope of bringing our written creations to life. We need time to study, time to read, time to ponder, time to dream, and of course – time to write.”

My neighbor Vincent Panella writes. He’s arranged his entire adult life around writing. “When I’m writing, I’m happy,” he says. “When I’m not writing I’m not happy.”

Vincent wrote his first novel when he was twenty-three, while he was in the army. “I drank six pots of coffee a day and the book poured out of me. But my writing was better than my characters, I didn’t have any knowledge of form.”

He burned the manuscript –and wrote five more novels – or maybe six; he’s lost count. At one point, he had an agent; Vincent Panellaat another, he sold a novel to Simon & Schuster, but they never published the book. “I’ve had a lot of near successes,” he says – and he keeps writing.

After graduating from the Iowa Workshop in 1971, Panella spent a year as a reporter for a daily paper – a job he loved for what he learned, but it kept him too busy with daily deadlines to write fiction. He switched to jobs teaching writing at law schools in Iowa and Florida before landing in Vermont.

Otherside by Vincent PanellaDespite growing up in Queens, Panella found life in New York City too distracting for writing. “You create a world you inhabit and you think about it all the time,” he says. In the course of his career, he has written in a closet, in a small cabin, and in now in a comfortable outbuilding on his Vermont farm. Even when he was teaching, Panella started every day in the studio building beside his old farmhouse, where he writes by hand. “I don’t turn the computer on until later in the day. I try not to check email until I finish writing.”

Cutter'sIsland by Vincent PanellaTen years ago, Panella took a year off from teaching to write full time. He never went back. Since then, he’s published two books and written countless stories.

Cutter’s Island (Chicago Review Press) came out in 2009 to critical success. In 2010, Panella self- LostHearts by Vincent Panellapublished Lost Hearts, a collection of short stories, also to great reviews. While he’s glad he brought the stories out, he says, “I don’t have the energy for that any more. It’s too much of a hustle, and I just want to write.”

Now 75, Panella is currently concentrating on novellas and short stories. His novella Canada can be read on line at wipsjournal.com. He’s now more concerned about writing than selling his work. He says, “I have more stories to write than I have time and more work than I can really accomplish, and I think that’s a good thing.”

M. Shafer, Photo

M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin is an author, blogger, and pen for hire. Learn more about her writing services on line at www.deborahleeluskin.com

Putting Food Into Words by Leda Scheintaub

cultured book cover

Today’s guest post is by cookbook writer Leda Scheintaub, whose new book, Cultured Foods for Your Kitchen is at the top of my holiday gift list – both to give and (hopefully!) receive. Leda’s journey to published author is an inspiring one, and I’m as delighted to bring it to you here as I am to welcome Leda to my neck of the woods. With best wishes for Thanksgiving, Deborah Lee Luskin

Growing up I had a mission: to share with the world the dangers of refined sugar and the horrors of factory farming. In high school printmaking class I created a notepad stamped with “Leda’s Natural Sweets” for penning my favorite recipes, and my most memorable piece of writing was a paper titled “One Man’s Meat Is Another Man’s Poison.”

I experimented with gluten-free baking before there was such a thing called gluten-free baking, and by the time I worked my way to managing editor at Penguin Books, I counted many and varied diets.

Though I loved the publishing world, I wasn’t a nine-to-fiver, and my early dream of a life in food remained a constant.

The day I was assigned the new edition of Rebecca Wood’s The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia the seed was planted for a career shift. Rebecca became wholefoodsmy mentor, and her invitation into the world of traditional foods inspired me to take my love for food to a new level. What sealed the deal was a blowout with my boss at The New Press just a few years later, coincidentally on the day of an open house at the Natural Gourmet Institute. The evening’s winning raffle ticket was my ticket to a new chapter in my life; with it I promised myself I’d enroll.

By the time I finished my culinary education (supplemented with cookbook copyediting classes at NYU), I had lined up a few private chef clients and I began to take on freelance cookbook work. It was enough to leave my day job.

My first jobs were proofreading cookbooks, then copyediting and editing. Testing recipes came next, then writing headnotes, developing content for recipes, talking with authors, bringing out their voice; I found few people had the unique match of editorial and culinary skills that I offered.

I found a niche: celebrity ghostwriter. I recommend this career path for those with both an eye for the minutia of the English language and an obsession for precision recipe writing. It’s not glamorous, but it’s rewarding and it keeps me away from the daily grind. And it enabled me to land my first solo book deal, and with it a platform to share that early mission of health, healing, and making the world a better place with the food we put on our plates.

LScheintaubLeda Scheintaub trained as a chef at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York and has been a recipe tester, editor, and writer for the past thirteen years. Her most recent cookbook is Cultured Foods for Your Kitchen: 100 Recipes Featuring the Bold Flavors of Fermentation. Her next book, The Whole Bowl: Gluten-Free Dairy Free Soups and Stews, with Rebecca Wood, will be published in January 2015. Visit her at www.ledaskitchen.com and on Facebook and Twitter.

Weekend Edition: Loss of an Artist Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

The Purpose of an Artist

Image from mayaangelou.com

Image from mayaangelou.com

I had never read Maya Angelou before this week. I cannot account for this gap in my education, a gap which until Angelou’s passing this past Wednesday had gone mostly unnoticed. I had heard, of course, many of her famous quotes, my favorite being, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” But I had never read so much as a single poem.

Still, I felt the loss the world suffered with Angelou’s death. As the great, boiling cauldron of the Internet overflowed with grief and mourning for this artist, I could not help but feel an echo of the sorrow that others voiced through articles, blogs, and social media posts. This, I thought, is the legacy of an artist and a person who knew how to be in the world. Her sudden absence illuminates the depth and breadth of her imprint on our collective and individual souls and psyche.

Though I was touched by this outpouring of love and recognition for a woman and a writer who clearly influenced so many lives, I was also disheartened by the lemming-like flood of empty lamentations from people who, like me, clearly knew little about Angelou’s life or work. Sandip Roy’s Huffington Post piece, When Maya Angelou Becomes a (Facebook) Status Symbol sums the situation up brilliantly if somewhat cynically. On the other hand, my friend and fellow writer Angela Raines wrote a lovely piece in which she shared a personal story of how Angelou’s poem Phenomenal Woman had given her courage at a young age. The poem Angela shared gave me my first experience reading Angelou. So, thank you for that, Angela.

Writers, painters, singers, dancers – all artists have the same goal. Though we employ hundreds of mediums and countless voices, we all work to accomplish one thing: to touch peoples’ hearts. Everything we do, we do for that purpose and that purpose alone. Yes, art is something we see or hear, touch, or even taste, but ultimately art is something we feel. The song that makes your heart ache, the painting that makes you long to walk the moors of Ireland, the ballerina’s soaring leap that makes you feel as if you have taken flight … all of these things and an infinite number more exist only to help us access our own emotions and sense of existence. Art is the physical manifestation of the soul. It is a finely crafted reflection of the human experience. It helps us know who we are.

Perhaps by coincidence, perhaps not, last night my beau and I watched (for the second time) a documentary about another artist who touched many people with his life and his work. This Is It is a behind-the-scenes film about the development of what was to be Michael Jackson’s farewell tour, the tour that never was. I was and am a fan of Jackson’s music, but more than his music it was his sense of love and his boundless dedication to his art and to creating an experience for his fans that put me in awe of him as both an artist and a human being. Like all of us, he was flawed, but the feelings he was able to evoke through his art transcended much. Watching the clips of rehearsals, I could not help but be swept up in rolling waves of emotions, both high and low. There are few things that touch me more deeply than watching an artist break open in the attempt to give everything, to capture the raw reality of what it means to be alive, to courageously stand before an audience and deliver a performance that is simultaneously so vulnerable and so powerful that people are moved to tears without even knowing why. This is what Angelou wrote about in her tribute poem for Jackson.

Though I do not yet have the ability to put the quote in the context of her full body of work, I cannot imagine that Angelou ever got it so right as she did when she said that people will forget everything except how you made them feel.  I have only realized just now that this is the reason I cannot let go of certain books. Though my recent move forced me to once again cull my library, I have resigned myself to the fact that there are some volumes that I will always carry from place to place. It isn’t necessarily the books themselves, many of which are tattered and torn. It is the aura of experience, of something each one made me feel, that binds me to them. Each one is like a touchstone in my emotional history, too precious to give away.

This is what we seek as writers, as artists – to bestow the gift of deep and lasting experience. That is what Angelou and Jackson

 

What I’m Writing:

pin agatha dishesThere are few artistic experiences more delightful than being woken in the night by a good idea. Though I have not yet put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), I have spent part of the last few days considering just such an idea that arrived, unbidden, at about two in the morning. Happily, I had the good sense to snatch my iPhone from the bedside table and quickly peck out an email to myself on the tiny, glowing keyboard. Idea captured.

Though I am sometimes discouraged that most of my fiction “writing” these days does not involve any actual crafting of sentences, I am encouraged that I am at least able to find time (and the creative energy) to come up with and slowly nurture story ideas. I recently read a great quote (which, despite spending the last twenty minutes on Pinterest has eluded me) that went something like “ninety percent of writing happens before you ever put pen to paper” … or, something like that. (Damn. I wish I could find it.)

I believe that’s true. I believe we spend our whole lives developing – subconsciously and then, one glorious day, consciously – the stories we must tell. Each day of our lives goes into the making. Though I would like to be closeted with my ideas and vast stretches of free (and uninterrupted) time to write, I am content at this stage to be collecting my thoughts, making notes, mulling ideas. I know that this is all part of the process. I realize that it cannot (must not) last forever, but I am also not so anxious that I feel I must rush through this stage of creation. Already I have latched onto and then discarded dozens of story ideas. Each time, I save the good bits and work them into the next iteration.

So, though I am not engaging in the physical aspect of writing, I am still working on my writing. I am reading. I am learning. I am developing ideas. It’s all good.

What I’m Reading:

book fantastic imaginationHaving finished (mere hours before our meeting) my book club’s latest pick, Finding Colin Firth, I had the pleasure this morning of selecting my next read. There is something so delicious about choosing a book to read. I have at least a dozen contenders sitting on bookshelves and bureaus around the house, to the task wasn’t an easy one, but in the end I decided to indulge in a thick fantasy novel that had earned raving cover blurbs from not one, but two of my favorite fantasy authors: Ursula K. LeGuin and Anne McCaffrey. I’m not yet ready to reveal the title, but let’s just say that one chapter in and I’m already hooked.

While I’m not sharing this latest read until I’ve finished it, I would like to share an “oldie but goodie” – one of those beaten up paperbacks that I’ve been carting from home to home for more than three decades. The Fantastic Imagination is a fantasy anthology that I bought at an indie bookstore somewhere along the Pacific Northwest coast. I was on a thirty-four day road trip with my family. Mom, Dad, my sister, and I were touring the states in our VW Rabbit. I was, if I’m remembering the dates accurately, just out of sixth grade and an avid reader of all things fantasy and SciFi. This book includes stories from the likes of George MacDonald, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Peter S. Beagle, and Lloyd Alexander. I have such fond memories of escaping into its pages even as I was enjoying a real life adventure. Holding it in my hands today, I still feel a sense of being a young girl in search of magic … and that’s a kind of magic in itself.

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

writer window

 Thanks, as always,  for sharing part of your weekend with me. Here’s to your writing practice, whether today’s work is reading, or writing, or just staring out the window thinking about your story. 
 
 
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Place, Patience & Persistence: One Writer’s Life

The cabin I lived in when I first moved to Vermont.

The cabin I lived in when I first moved to Vermont.

I’m writing this post on May 5, 2014, exactly thirty years since moving to Vermont for the summer. I’m still here, and I’m still writing.

When I bought a car and rented a cabin in the late spring of 1984, I’d planned to write both a novel and my dissertation between May and September. I finished the novel that summer; I didn’t finish my dissertation until 1987, when I earned my PhD.

I chose Vermont for two reasons.

First, I’d been coming here since I was a child, and I had a network of friends and acquaintances here, which I needed. I was a single woman who worked alone, and these friends kept me company and kept me connected.

I’d also been in Vermont the summer before, to attend the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference, where I discovered I’d rather spend my time writing than in what felt like the competitive company of writers. This was a good lesson to learn. I also made a lifelong friend there: the poet Mary Pinard, whose first book of poetry, Portal, has just been published.

DLL1984

Me in 1984.

My summer of 1984 was idyllic: I wrote from dawn to midday. It was the life I’d dreamed of and I’d planned to continue through an academic career that

 . . .then came marriage

. . .then came marriage

would support annual summers spent writing in Vermont, a place I’d come to love. I hadn’t planned on falling in love with a man, but I did.

I hadn’t planned on marriage or children or jobs as a Visiting Scholar, an office manager, a motivational speaker, a free-lance writer, a part-time farmer or a full-time mom. It’s also true that I was clueless about motherhood; I had no idea how demanding it would be, especially with three children born within three years of each other.

Those years of young children are a blur of activity and sleep deprivation. I do remember great frustration at not being able to recapture that languid summer of writing all morning. I’d try to recapture it by waking early, but just as often wrote grocery lists as scenes. Nevertheless, I managed to draft a couple more novels and a memoir, and to write non-fiction for hire. It never seemed like enough.

Grown daughters.

Grown daughters.

Now that my children are grown (the youngest graduates from college next week), I can see that if nothing else, I kept my writing fire alive, feeding it with a few hours here, a few days there, and sometimes just pounding out a story in the midst of family life. I did what I had to, and I did what I could. And I kept before me my ideal: a chance to sustain a fictional world in the solitude of uninterrupted

The path I've taken.

The path I’ve taken.

mornings in a landscape I still adore.

For me, place matters, and Vermont is my place; I’ve lived here more than half my life. And even though my life has taken unexpected and unplanned

twists and turns, I’ve persisted as a writer. I’ve been a writer nearly all my life, and I still hope to be a writer when I grow up – if I ever do.

To my amazement and delight, I’m learning that it’s possible to make my writing dreams come true. For me, it’s been a matter of place, patience and persistence.

What will it take for you to make your writing dreams come true?

 

dll2013_124x186Deborah Lee Luskin has three novels set in Vermont: Into the Wilderness is published, Elegy for a Girl is with her agent, and Ellen is in the works. She lives, gardens, hikes, and writes in southern Vermont.

Luskin Offers Day-Long Writing Workshop

dll2013           I’ve retired from teaching countless times, and always find myself drawn back to the classroom, sometimes for the money, sometimes for the professional association, and always for the love of language.

I think and learn in language; I discover what I think with words; and I love helping others use language to discover and hone thought and story. And while I’m committed to staying home and finishing Ellen, I miss teaching. So I’m going to try something new: facilitating a Writing Circle in anticipation of Mother’s Day for people who have lost their mothers.

A Writing Circle is a safe place where the synergy of writing with others loosens the tongue of memory, allowing words to fly onto the page. The theme-based prompts will allow participants to tap into the reservoir of emotion and memory stored in our hearts and offer us a chance to imagine further and/or unfinished conversations with a parent no longer in the world but still in our universe. The power of our stories is amplified when we read and listen to each other’s words.

hamptonbays            My mother died in September of 2012, and I’ve been writing through grief ever since, making sense of the new world order without my mother in it. I believe that personal writing and story telling help us navigate the landscapes of our lives. Those who want to join me for this workshop are asked to bring both a photograph of their mother and a favorite dish of their mom’s to share for the potluck lunch, as well as writing materials (pen, paper, laptop).

This workshop is for anyone who wants to remember her/his mother through writing. The workshop will take place on Saturday, April 26, from 8:45 – 3 at a private home near Brattleboro, Vermont. The cost for the day is $75. Participation is limited to twelve and preregistration is required. (Directions to the venue will be sent upon registration.) Download a registration form at www.deborahleeluskin.com or request a form by email at info@deborahleeluskin.com.IMG_1102

Deborah Lee Luskin has been making sense of the world by writing it down since she was nine. She’s the author of the award-winning novel, Into the Wilderness, a regular commentator on Vermont Public Radio, an essayist and blogger, a developmental editor and a pen-for-hire. Luskin is also a veteran educator who has taught a variety of populations, from gifted elementary school students to inmates in Vermont’s prisons. She has lived in Vermont for thirty years and can be found on the web at www.deborahleeluskin.com

 

Just Say No

1just-say-no            Even though I write full time, I still don’t have enough hours in a day. When I worked at other jobs, when my kids were small and when I had even less time to write than I do know, that’s when I still believed I had all the time in the world to do everything I wanted.

Now I know better. And because I don’t have enough time – not enough time in the wall_clock_threeday, this month, this year – even if I live to be ninety (which no longer seems so, so far away), I’ll probably never have enough time to do everything I want to. So I’ve learned how to say No.

I say no to serving on boards, even boards of organizations I believe in. Actually, I say No, thank you. Maybe there’s some other way I can help.

I say No to organizing Big Fundraisers. Been there, done that. Now I say, I’m a good foot soldier; give me a job and I’ll get it done. This also absolves me from meetings, to which I no longer go.

I’ve said, No, I’m working, but thanks for asking to any number of retired friends who’ve invited me to join them to ski, bike, hike, snow shoe or go out to lunch.

I no longer go out to lunch.

otl            I used to love lunch dates, but I don’t do transitions well. When I have a date for lunch, I spend the morning in anticipation of getting ready to go, dribbling out words between glances at the clock. It takes me a half hour to drive into town to enjoy someone else’s cooking seasoned with good talk. Inevitably, if I’ve made the drive, I’ll run errands. By the time I drive home and return to my desk, my concentration’s fractured. Lunch eats up a whole day.

Saying No isn’t easy. I like to serve my community and to socialize. I want to work and to have a life – but a life that supports my work, not one that makes it harder to write. So I’ve found ways to say Yes to both community service and to socializing with friends. I volunteer at a community justice center, I write copy for organizations I support, and I visit and play with friends. I just don’t do any of these activities between 8 and 5 on a weekday, when I’m working. Of course there’s an exception: I serve as Town Moderator at Town Meeting – one weekday a year.

It helps that I know what I do want to do: finish Ellen, write the next two novels knocking about in my head, write radio commentaries, newspaper editorials, blog posts, a play. I want to write.

Writing’s my job, and I treat it like that – even on the days I don’t want to write, even on days I’m offered a job with prestige and a yespaycheck. No thanks, I say. I’ve got a job. I’ve got to write.

Sometimes, saying No really means saying, Yes, I want to write.

dll2013Deborah Lee Luskin says Yes to writing novels and essays, to developmental editing, to public speaking, and to teaching writing. Learn more at www.deborahleeluskin.com

The Canine Cure

Leo!

Leo!

In my thirty-year career, I’ve suffered the repetitive stress injuries and muscular-skeletal problems that result from overuse of my hands, poor ergonomics and too much sitting. I’ve developed carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists, tendonitis in both hands, and trigger fingers. I’ve had any number of episodes of stiff neck, sore back, locked hips and hunched shoulders, all resulting from too much time sitting at the computer with poor posture. And while I work best in solitude, the downside is that I sometimes suffer debilitating loneliness leading to extreme self-doubt.

I’m fortunate not to have an addictive personality, and I’m not suicidal, but these are mental health risks suffered by many, not just famous writers, mostly dead. In fact, I think it is writing that helps me maintain my mental health. It’s my physical health that has required medical intervention.

I’ve had surgery to correct carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands, as well as trigger-finger release, and I’ve had extensive physical therapy to rehabilitate my hands. I now work at a modified work-station that includes a split keyboard, a foot rest, and a raised screen so that I have optimal posture while at work. To

I rest this ergonomic split keyboard on my lap, with my feet elevated on a step stool, for best working posture.

I rest this ergonomic split keyboard on my lap, with my feet elevated on a step stool, for best working posture.

alleviate the stiff neck, sore shoulders and tired back from too much sitting,

The wood stove.

The wood stove.

I’ve added yoga classes to my exercise routine, greatly improving my core strength and posture. I also get up from my desk every hour to load the wood stove and refresh my tea. But I’m still lonely. Until this week.

This week I’ve discovered a cure for all my occupational ailments: a puppy. Leo is a 14-week old male lab-mix who has rescued me from the doglessness I’ve been suffering since my last canine companion passed in August.

My footstool and the cave under my desk. NB Puppies are hard to photograph!

My footstool and the cave under my desk. NB Puppies are hard to photograph!

First off, he’s adorable and he adores me. Next, he interrupts me at my work to go out and play: we run, we romp, we explore. The activity and fresh air are good for us both. And finally, once he’s played out, he settles down in the cave under my desk, where his presence is a great comfort while I work.

As always, each writer will find a unique way to complete her text on time, in health, with happiness. For me, it’s the canine cure.

Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, essayist and educator. She’s the author of the award-winning novel, Into the dll2013Wilderness and a regular commentator for Vermont Public Radio. Luskin leads writing workshops and accepts select projects of prose works-in-progress for developmental editing. Learn more at www.deborahleeluskin.com

Rolling Down The Words

paint-samples           If you’ve ever painted a room, you know that rolling on fresh paint is the dramatic part of the job – the part where you see the most progress for the least effort. I’m now in a point in writing Ellen, a novel, which is very much like rolling new paint on a properly prepped wall.

Just picking a color can be excruciating. It’s as if I’ve been looking at paint chips for years. I know I’ve considered several completely different ways of telling this story – just the way I’ve fretted over the color chart when considering new paint for a room.

Once, I picked what appeared to be a lovely pink for my study. Applied to the walls, pinkthe room resembled the interior of a bubblegum bubble. I repainted completely; the second time I choose a hue that appeared almost white on the sample, and which went on as a calming, pale rose. This was the room I wrote in for ten hectic years when I had three babies, two jobs, and a small farm. Getting the color right was arduous, but well worth the effort.

After choosing the color, the hard work begins: pushing the furniture to the center of the room, taking the artwork off the walls, unscrewing the switch plates, discovering an accumulation of dust and dirt as well as a few lost treasures (earrings, change, socks), and cleaning.

And there’s still more to do: I drape and mask what needs to be protected from being painted. This is just as important as knowing what to leave out of a story, which is often more difficult than knowing what to leave in.

Even applying the paint isn’t all slick and easy. I use an edger to separate the walls from the ceiling and trim. It’s tedious, but it keeps the edges neat – something like the justified margins of a published book, as well as the clear plot lines of the story.

But there’s no question: when all that prep work is done, the painting is fun. That’s where I am with Ellen right now: after almost two paintyears of intense preparation, I’m rolling down sentences and seeing the clean color of the story emerge.

I know there’s lots more to do, just like applying that last lick of paint means I’m about halfway done with the job. I know that there will be revision, just as after the paint dries, there’s hardware to replace, furniture to polish, curtains to hang – as well as brushes to clean. The finish work can take a long time.

I’m not there yet. I’m in that delicious place where I’m spreading words on a page like paint on a wall. It’s going well, and I’m having fun.

photo: M. Shafer

photo: M. Shafer

 Deborah Lee Luskin is a novelist, essayist and educator. Listen to a recent radio broadcast here, and learn more about her award-winning novel, Into the Wilderness here.