Category Archives: Guest Post

Writing Yourself Home….A Guest Post by Lise Saffran

I’m thrilled to welcome Lise Saffran here today. In her beautiful guest post, Lise talks about writing, with your hands in one place and your heart in another.

Her essay brings to mind my favorite bookmark, a bumper sticker that describes me in two words: Misplaced Texan. At twenty-two years old, I fell in love, uprooted myself, and moved north. While I’ve lived in Wisconsin long enough to have earned my stripes (surviving frigid temperatures and eating cheese curds, a strange phenomenon), in my heart, I am still from Texas. That fact often shows up in my speech and occasionally in my stories, and it has made me the writer I am today.

Lise’s essay shows us how strong sense of place is integral in a story, as well as in a writer’s life.

~

Writing Yourself Home:
A Mid-Western Novelist Yearns for the West Coast

by Lise Saffran

The cicadas were everywhere in Mid-Missouri this summer.  Crawling up from the ground, rattling the branches of the trees, dive-bombing bicyclists and looking for love in all the wrong places (the office where I write, for one). Our local ice cream parlor whipped up a batch of nationally famous cicada ice-cream.

At one point I realized I had even begun to measure my life by cicada hatchings.  Thirteen years ago, when the parents of the current crop were abandoning their husks in several-inch deep piles under the trees, I had an infant of my own and a brand new MFA from a Mid-western university.  While the baby slept I wrote stories about a former drug addict living in a converted school bus in Humboldt county who manicured pot for a living, a San Francisco girl preparing to leave the Bay Area for Sri Lanka and a home for troubled and homeless youth in wealthy Marin County.  The first of those stories to be published, Men and Fish, was about a woman who wrote a fishing column for a local paper.  And by local, I mean the San Francisco Bay Area.

This year, Cicada Brood XIX emerged to find me with two children and a first novel, Juno’s Daughters, on the shelves.  The novel concerns a single mother and her teenage daughters who participate in a summer production of The Tempest and it is set on San Juan Island, off the coast of Seattle in the Puget Sound.  The cast of characters–both onstage and off—features a collection of potters, weavers and musicians that would be instantly recognizable to the individuals who roamed through my earlier stories or indeed to most people who had found themselves hiking over Mt. Tamalpais in California or soaking in Oregon’s Cougar Hot Springs.

Driving my elder son to camp this weekend on interstate 70 we passed endless flat fields, many filled with the gold lamé of tassled corn.  A barn sported a painted advertisement for Meramec Caverns and multiple billboards urged us to visit Lake of the Ozarks. My son was born in Missouri and this is his countryside but to me, even after all these years, it feels exotic.  No matter how long I have been away, when I step off the plane in San Francisco, Portland or Seattle I feel that I’m home.  The air smells different when it is laced with pine and salt.  Shadows cast by mountains are distinct from the shade of a broad tree on a wide field.  If writers are often accused—rightly so—of writing the same story over and over again, that story, for me, has unfolded primarily in a western landscape.

It is partly separation from the region in which I was raised that makes it such an attractive subject. Beginning writers often fail to include sensory details in their fiction because they figure that such shared experience is sure to be boring to their readers. Why describe an orange, they wonder, if everyone already knows what an orange is like?  Well, everyone knows what love is like and what loss is like and what it is like to want something desperately, too.  It is the writer’s job to make that longing—and when important to the story, the orange, too—present on the page.

Imagining yourself deeply into a story is an act of conjuring that relies on an unpredictable combination of memory and invention.  Longing can often work like a switch.  Describing the orange on your desk is one thing.  Describing the taste of an orange when you’re dying for one and haven’t had one in years is quite another.

Elements of landscape and the sensations they produce also work like trapdoors into wider memories that enrich my fiction.  The way that eucalyptus trees drop their pods like little missiles on the ground reminds me of camping out at Grateful Dead shows when I was a teenager reminds me of the feeling of freedom and possibility and danger of being a late adolescent. I have now lived most of my adult life away from eucalyptus trees (not to mention the Grateful Dead) and that, in itself, works to underscore the passage of time, another fertile topic for stories.

My current work-in-progress is a second novel set on the San Juan Islands, but lately I have begun taking some tentative steps to write about Missouri, as well. In a recent story, Water Witch, the body of water that figures prominently in the action is an Ozark stream rather than the Pacific Ocean.  I am eager to explore this new setting and there may even come a day when I will describe myself as a writer from the West Coast rather than of the West Coast.  However, I can no more picture a time when my fiction will be unbuckled from my geographic origins than imagine it free from lessons learned in childhood about family, betrayal, adventure and loss.

In thirteen years, when the sleeping children of Brood XIX emerge from the ground again and my own children are off living their lives, where will I be?  Chances are pretty good that I will still be in Columbia, MO where my husband is a philosophy professor and where we have dear friends and deep roots.  Chances are better than good that at least some of the time I will be sitting at my desk in Mid-Missouri surrounded by coastal fog and dry yellow hills, the sound of the waves crashing in my ears.

~

Lise Saffran is the author of the novel JUNO’S DAUGHTERS, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a fellow of the MacDowell Colony and Hedgebrook. Her work has appeared in literary journals, Poets and Writers and the Granta Anthology FAMILY WANTED.  Not only does she live full-time in Missouri, she is part-owner of 60 acres in an Ozark county where there are rumored to be more copperheads than people.

Read more about Lise and her novel on her website, follow Lise on Twitter, and friend her on Facebook.

Independence Day: Break Out the Coffee, We’ve Got Guests

Kiddo & Mama Victoria

Today, for your Fourth of July weekend pleasure, my friend and writer,
E. Victoria Flynn, stops by with a guest post on small town surprises.

Victoria blogs over at Penny Jars, and if you aren’t reading her stuff, you’re missing out. She whips up some amazing posts, especially on Thursdays. So, get your feet wet here, then click on over there.

The Small Time Philosopher’s Guide to House Listing

 They didn’t tell us about the parade route. Maybe they didn’t think it was important in the middle of January, a day after a snow storm, when the only parades anyone seemed concerned with was the morning traffic heading out of town. Maybe they thought it would scare us away.

We started the 4th of July weekend playing poker, Mike and I, thinking about taking a walk down to the park where we could hear the bands and the hooting, where the kick off fireworks shot from their canons, where I felt we should be becoming part of this tiny town, beer and all. We knew no one, but I loved the possibility.

These were the weekends before kids when we could sit around comfortably surrounded by dusted bookshelves and organized cupboards. Going to bed early meant before the sun came up, and sleeping in meant anything at all.

Until the siren blasted us out of bed.

Until the steady honking moved slowly, slowly, slowly past our heads.

“There are people all over our yard,” Mike said. “It looks like we’re having a parade.”

“For real? How come nobody told us?” Maybe we should have made more of an effort to introduce ourselves to the neighbors, but I had been waiting for the bunt cakes and brownies to arrive. How come nobody brought us brownies? We love brownies.

We did have coffee, and we made it strong.

We pulled out our fold-up beach chairs and set them on the porch. Mike got out the video camera heretofore used for shots of “This is the garage. Here’s the back yard. Look, the neighbors have a pile of wood. And this is…I don’t know what this is.”

It was a dark day, drizzled and damp and dimpled with small town promise. We watched green and yellow John Deere tractors, shined up red Farmalls, Dairy Queens riding the backs of convertibles, horses clomping at the road. There was candy strewn across our lawn.

It was terrific.

By the next year we had invited our family, and I was fat in the belly with our first little girl. After the parade we ate brunch—banana bread, mini quiche, lemonade, and bowls of fruit. A year later, it was a tradition.

I’m pretty sure the four days of the 4th of July is what keeps us rooted in this town. We talk about moving back to Madison, closer to my husband’s job, closer to our friends and so many places and events we enjoy. We talk about it, but we can never decide–if we were to sell our house, should we tell them it’s on the parade route, or should we just leave it as a surprise?

~

You can find Victoria elsewhere: on Twitter and on Facebook and sometimes at a small ice cream shop just west of here, when the stars align and calendars sync and writers unite.

Guest Post by Lisa Rivero: Down She Went

What would you do if you were given a stack of daily diaries written by a vibrant woman, who saw the importance of recording simple yet rich details about the world around her? You’d read them, sure. Not many can resist diving into the pages of first-hand experiences about the past. And, if you’re Lisa Rivero, you’d see the value of their imprint on history and turn those diaries into a story.

Every Tuesday, on her blog Writing Life, Lisa posts flash narratives — very short excerpts of the story that lies within the pages of her Great Aunt Hattie’s diaries. Lisa’s narratives are beautiful pieces that will draw you in and leave you hungry to know more about the life of Hattie Whitcher. Today, I’m honored to host Lisa here, where she shares the third installment of a series based on Hattie’s experience on Memorial Day in 1933. Click these links to read part one (“A Nice, Bright Day”) and part two (“Cracklings”).

Memorial Day Weekend, 1933:
“Down She Went”

She knows what will happen only a moment too late to stop it. Her foot slips on the rain-soaked bank of dirt the men had thrown onto the path, and down she goes into a newly dug, half-finished toilet hole, her left leg buckling beneath her in six inches of water.

At first, she feels nothing but surprise and wonders only how she will heft herself out of the four-foot deep hole, but when she tries to stand up, the pain in her left leg lashes through her body like a whip, causing her to collapse against the earth wall. She tries again to stand, this time on her good leg, and braces both arms on the ground at her chin level.

“Bill! Help!” Her voice is shaky. She hopes he is not asleep in his chair, as usual.

Her arms keep slipping on the mud, and she clutches at wet clods of earth, trying to prop herself up so as to project her voice. “Bill!”

She sees him then, rushing from the house.

“Goodness, Hattie! What did you do? Give me your hand.”

He tries to pull her up first by taking her hands, then by grabbing her under her arms. She bites her bottom lip when her leg hits the side of the hole. After three more attempts, she manages to get out. She sits on the ground to catch her breath.

“I’m going to carry you into the house,” Bill says.

“No, I’m too heavy.” The image of her brother’s hauling her across the yard is more than she can bear. “I’ll crawl.”

Using her arms and her right leg, she crawls to the house, issuing small cries of pain with each labored movement. Her dress grows heavy with mud, slowing her down even more.

“Hattie, be reasonable,” Bill pleads, walking beside her, his hands helpless at his sides. She just shakes her head.

Once on the porch, she allows Bill to help her into a standing position. She leans on his right shoulder and, step by step, makes her way to the first floor bedroom. The thought of what her dress will do to the quilt makes her cringe, but she cannot imagine removing her clothes, so she tells Bill to lower her to the bed. The relief of finally being off her feet combined with the pain in her leg brings tears to her eyes. Bill gets her some aspirins and a glass of water, then disappears.

Hattie spills water on her chin and wipes it with the sleeve of her everyday dress, smearing mud on her face. “Bill?” she calls.

He brings a hot pan of water he poured from the kettle on the cook stove that she had been keeping warm for cleaning the kitchen and places it on the floor. After removing Hattie’s shoe and stocking and gently moving her leg off the side of the bed so that her foot soaks in the hot water, he says, “Stay here. I’m going for help.”

“But–”

“No buts, Hattie!” She rarely hears this sharp tone from her gentle brother. He puts his hand on her shoulder. “I’m going to Tom’s to get a car.” Over his shoulder, as he leaves the room, he adds, “Don’t move.”

Bill runs west to their brother Tom’s house. On the way back, at the bridge, they meet LeRoy Kropp and his wife, Jerome Jamison and his wife and their two children, all coming from Winner in their car, and they follow Bill and Tom back to the house.

Just as the cars pull into the yard, Will and Narvin return. They prepare Hattie for the trip to Rosebud Ashurst Hospital, their only stop being for Hattie to use the slop jar at a neighbor’s place. Because of the Memorial Day weekend, there are no workers and no power at the hospital to take an X-ray until the next evening, when it is found that the long bone above her ankle is broken.

From her hospital bed the next day, she is keen to learn from Will of the holiday’s events, which she writes in her diary:

May 30, 1933: Will and Thomas went to O’Kreek this morning to the Legion Program, then George O’Conners took Will in his car to Mission to help decorate graves and then back to O’Kreek to dinner. Will then went on to see me at hospital. It was my wish that he do all he could, also the boys. William and Narvin did fine with lunch. Will said that all the meat is put in the basement and the kitchen is cleaned and mopped. All the pork is cooked and in jars, covered with fryings and lard, so the men can batch awhile.

 *****

"Although a windy afternoon, I managed to walk to the Car, first time on crutches. W. J. has his pipe in vest pocket, was told to put it in his mouth, but he covered it with his hand. Maggie and Will took me to Winner, and I enjoyed the trip."

Hattie stays in the hospital for two weeks, and for several weeks afterward she remains on a sanitary cot at home, leaving it only “when they take me out to sit sideways at the table to eat.” She has a live-in helper, Maggie—“the best helper we could have”—for one and one-half years, at which time she can walk with one crutch and a cane.

Hattie will eventually be diagnosed with diabetes. Her left foot and leg will heal slowly. We can only imagine the damage done by her crawling to the house and the jostling car ride to Rosebud before the leg could be set. She will battle infection and poor circulation, and her leg will never again be pain free. This is her last entry, from June 2, 1957:

South wind was quite strong. I feel bad with pains in my left foot. Will put my bedding from the front-room chair back on my bed and elevated my left leg, but it pained more than ever, so Will brought the bedding back to the front room chair. I gave an insulin shot to myself and ate oatmeal toast and apricot sauce and had hot water to drink.

She never writes in her diary again, and, four days later, part of her foot will be amputated. The next Memorial Day in 1958, twenty-five years after having broken her leg, Will—her husband, friend, companion and helpmate—takes Hattie to the hospital, where she will stay until her death.

~

Lisa Rivero

Lisa Rivero lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where she is a writer, teacher, indexer, and speaker. Her professional and writing interests include gifted education, home education, creativity, literature and the humanities, and the challenges faced by all families in this fast-paced and often perplexing 21st-century life. Her published books include Creative Home Schooling (Great Potential Press, 2002), The Homeschooling Option (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Teens (Great Potential Press, 2010), and The Smart Teens’ Guide to Living with Intensity (Great Potential Press, 2010). She is currently writing a novel based on the Great Plains diaries of her great-aunt Harriet E. Whitcher.

Welcome Ilie Ruby, Author of The Language of Trees

The willows here grow to enduring heights of one hundred feet, their narrow leaves and long branches bent toward the ground, never forgetting their home. ~The Language of Trees

Trees are a life force around us. They lay claim to a land, bear the weight of change with the seasons, and, as they grow, become living evidence of the history of a place.

And sometimes, trees harbor secrets.

Ilie Ruby’s debut novel, The Language of Trees, is a story about place, as much as it’s a story about the people who live there. It is the sight of the Diamond Trees along the shore of Canandaigua Lake that draws three small children to the scene of a tragic accident. And, it is the power of that place that implores two of the main characters, Grant Shongo and Echo O’Connell, to return home to Canandaigua.

While Grant and Echo travel back to Canandaigua separately, their past, and the mysterious disappearance of a young woman named Melanie Ellis, brings them together. As they help search for Melanie, Grant and Echo find  healing, they rediscover their faith in family and in love, and they uncover the truth behind a secret that has haunted Canandaigua for years.

The Language of Trees is full of surprises and revelations — about the characters and about life. Ruby masters the craft of imagery and prose throughout her novel, hinting at answers but keeping the reader guessing. I’m honored to host Ilie Ruby here today.

At the end of the interview, leave a comment and you’ll be entered into a drawing for a copy of her novel, The Language of Trees. *Random.org will choose the winner on Tuesday, May 17th.*

***

CC: One of my favorite scenes in your book is between Lion and Melanie on their first date: Lion realizes that “memories were something you could decide to make, rather than the results of things that just happened to you.” That scene is such a sweet moment between two people and one of healing for them both. Do you have a scene that was your favorite to write?

IR: I’m so glad you like that scene. It takes place during a blizzard and it was one of my favorites to write. You know, I spent half of my life learning how to navigate a world of snow and ice. It will come as no surprise then that many of my childhood memories took place during blizzards. Blizzards are, come to find out, a good time to be inside with people you like (although when you’re a teenager you want to be out there in the midst of them). With everyone in an atmospherically-compressed space, lovers collide; intense family bonding or strife is created.

It’s hard to pick a favorite scene because all the characters came alive for me and have their own voices, magic, and sense of urgency and purpose. But Joseph’s scenes were especially meaningful because I based his character on a magnificent friend who has passed on, who had a way of enveloping those he held close in what can only be described as immense grace, perhaps the most powerful feeling of warmth, love and protection that I’ve ever felt in my life. It both startled and comforted me as I re-experienced that grace while writing Joseph’s scenes. I still feel that sense of comfort when I re-read the book and any scene that has Joseph in it. I hope others do, too.

CC: What was the inspiration behind writing a character that is a spirit? 

IR: I think one reason I write is to learn about things I’m compelled by or exceedingly interested in. Part of what fuels the desire to write about spiritual things is a wish on some level that we exist in a benevolent universe, that there is a rightness to it that can be defined in human terms. From the age of about nine onward, after learning about the loss of so many of my relatives in the Holocaust, I voraciously read everything I could find about religion and spirituality. In this novel, I wanted to show how the dynamic coexistence of light and darkness is reconciled through generations—ultimately, how a child can bring healing and triumph over a painful legacy. The character of Luke, a healing spirit, must transcend the darkness of his father, a hunter, both on this plane and from the spirit world. There is a wheel of energy at work. The character of Melanie fights addiction in order to mother her own child, becoming a person that uses art to transform pain into beauty so in my mind hers is a spiritual gift as well.

CC: What are you reading these days?

IR: I’m re-reading The Giant’s House because Elizabeth McCracken has an incredible gift for making the unfamiliar relatable. She’s a writer that takes chances and I’m awed by her creativity and her ability to render the human heart and the complexity of relationships so uniquely and beautifully.

CC: What is your advice to writers?

IR: Write truth. Write where there’s “heat”. Follow your questions and relate them to universal themes. Know that if you’re wondering about something, it’s likely other people are, too. If your book evokes questions and discovery, that’s a good thing.

Ilie Ruby grew up in Rochester, NY and spent her childhood summers on Canandaigua Lake, the setting for her debut novel, THE LANGUAGE OF TREES. She is the recipient of several awards and scholarships, including the Edwin L. Moses Award for Fiction and the Phi Kappa Phi Award for Creative Achievement in Fiction. In 1995, she graduated from the Masters of Professional Writing Program at the University of Southern California, where she was fiction editor of The Southern California Anthology. Ruby is a painter, poet and proud adoptive mom to three children from Ethiopia.

***

For more information about Ilie Ruby, her book, and her upcoming events, visit her website. Also, check out her fan page on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, or keep up with her on Goodreads.

And, don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered into the giveaway!

From Here to There: Writing Under Pressure at Write It Sideways

Timing is everything.

It’s the weekend, I’m playing Single Parent for the next few days, and my guest post, a Finalist in the Write It Sideways Blogging contest, is up. The topic is one that I grapple with on a daily basis: life as Mother and a Writer.

“I love it when my kids get hold of my camera. Really.

Their photos serve as a study of daily life, and, for a brief moment in time, I see the world through their eyes.”

“The Dilemma of the Mother Writer.”

Click on over, take a peek, leave a comment.

And, Happy Writing to all you Mamas out there!