In Process

Shrunken manuscript

Hello folks. I didn’t mean to stay away so long. There hasn’t been a lot to blog about lately. I’m still working hard on my writing but don’t have anything new to report.

The picture above is of a shrunken version of my novel manuscript. You can read more about this editing technique, created by Darcy Pattison, here.

In my free time, I’ve been doing a lot of gardening, but again, there’s not much to show but some nice-looking beds of dirt which will hopefully sprout some lovely things soon.

I’ve also been painting and making a dog costume for the church play. I’ll post some pics when it’s done.

Finally reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, the memoir about her trek on the Pacific Crest Trail. I’m always wary of things with a lot of hype, but I have to say, I’m really enjoying it.

What about you? Read, watched, or listened to anything great lately? Hope to be back here again soon with more to share.

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Happy 2015/ Favorites from 2014

Paper Stars

Hi everyone! How were your holidays? We had some sickness, which was no fun, but all in all, it was great to spend time with family and to slow down for a bit.

I’m enjoying getting back into the swing of things, though. What about you? I thought I’d start off the year by cataloging some of my favorite things from last year. A few of them are things that were new in 2014, but most of them were just new to me. Maybe you’ll enjoy some of them.

Songs

“At the Beach” by the Avett Brothers

“Just You and Me” by Zee Avi

“The Water Fountain” by tUnE-yArDs

Podcast

Pop Culture Happy Hour

I think I’ve already talked about this to death—it’s an NPR podcast with pop culture critics sitting around and talking about new and old music, movies, TV and the like. It’s smart but not highfaluting, and it’s very, very funny. I listen to it every week.

(You can find this podcast and the songs on iTunes).

Television

Sure, we watch some network shows, but I figure you know about those already. Here are some you may not have tried:

Call the Midwife, on PBS or Netflix: based on the memoir of a 1950s midwife in London’s East End. She lives with Anglican nuns who are also midwives. The characters are just incredible.

Borgen As far as I know, this one’s only available via DVD. In a nutshell, it’s a Danish West Wing. The acting and writing are terrific, and again, fantastic characters. It’s in Danish with subtitles, so you definitely have to pay attention.

A Chef’s Life (currently airing on PBS)—I just found this one recently thanks to my mom (who also turned me on to Call the Midwife). I can’t tell you how excellent it is. It’s part documentary, part cooking show, part food history program. It follows Vivian Howard, a chef hailing from tiny Kinston, NC, as she and her husband run their high-end restaurant. But it’s more than that. Vivian visits all kinds of local folks who teach her about various aspects of southern cooking and farming. It is totally charming, never saccharine, often funny, and it even won a Peabody. And btw Vivan Howard and the producer, documentary filmmaker Cynthia Hill, are both UNC grads! (that’s where I went for undergrad in case you didn’t know)

Broadchurch via Netflix, a British seaside murder mystery. Beautiful, gut-wrenching, dark, and addictive. Great characters (hmmm…sense a theme?).

Bletchley Circle, again from Netflix, follows a group of British women who were code breakers in WWII. Now they’re reuniting to solve mysteries.

Also enjoyed the BBC miniseries version (with Gillian Anderson) of Bleak House, available via Netflix.

Books

These are all nonfiction, which seems to have been my theme for last year. I read a ton of memoirs and several history books.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and America’s first known serial killer

Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart, a memoir about moving from the Soviet Union to New York in the early ’80s. Dark, funny, poignant.

My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss, a cooking memoir, complete with recipes, of a half Italian, half American woman who grew up moving back and forth between Berlin and the US. I laughed, I cried, I got super hungry.

Cookbooks

Once I found the Budget Bytes blog, I had to have her cookbook of the same name. It’s a great place for weeknight meal inspiration, and I love her simple-yet-interesting, less-meatarian approach. Many recipes are easily adaptable to be gluten-free if they aren’t already.

I’ve just started cooking out of the How Can It Be Gluten Free? Cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen. So far, I’m really impressed, and I’ll share some of our favorites soon.

I’m sure there are other things I’ll remember as soon as I wrap up this post, but for now, that’s what I can think of.

In case you’re wondering what’s happening with my writing, I’m still at it! I’m in the process of revising both my YA novel and my middle grade nonfiction book (not simultaneously but back and forth). It’s slow-going, which is why I don’t talk about it much, but I seem to be inching forward.

Artist and Author Talks: Podcasts and Videos

One of my favorite things is Terry Gross’s show, Fresh Air, on NPR. I especially love the interviews with actors and writers. Lately I’ve been listening to the podcasts while I’m doing something boring, like folding laundry.

Sometimes there just aren’t enough of Fresh Air interviews, though, so I’ve been looking for more conversations with authors and artists. Here are a few good ones I’ve found:

This Creative Life, created by YA author Sara Zarr (who btw also blogs here). There are interviews with a lot of writers and other creatives about how they work and live. I especially enjoyed the one with author Andrew Auseon (who is also a video game designer).

Mini studio-tours with artists at Little Scraps of Paper make me smile so much. The one above is of three collaborators who make these wacky wonderful costumey-snuggie-kind-of-things. Trust me, you just have to watch it. The videos are so beautifully filmed and just the right size for a quick pick-me-up. Thank you to Blair Stocker of Wisecraft for this hot tip.

Here’s a video of young fashion blogger/ Rookie magazine editor Tavi speaking at TEDxTeen about the strong female characters she’s looking for, and not always finding. YA writers, if you don’t know Tavi, you SHOULD!

What about you? Do you have any favorite creativity-related podcasts?

And by the way, are you on Twitter? I’ve been on it for years but am really just now learning the language and getting into it. I’m discovering all kinds of things there, including some of the above links. Meet me on Twitter @emilysmithpearc

A few other random things:

-Speaking of talks about art and writing, if you’re in the Charlotte area, check out the April meeting for the Women’s National Book Association (yes, men, you can join us, too): Monday, April 22, 6:30 – 8:30 PM at Consolidated Planning. The talk is titled “Latin American and Latino Women Writers and Literature in Translation.” More details here.

-Did you hear about the break in the Isabella Stewart Gardner art heist case? Soooo exciting. I used to work down the street from this lovely, one-of-a-kind museum.

-Saw Natalie Merchant the other night with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. Great show. Her new material is as complex and thought-provoking as ever, though I have to admit my favorite part was the 90’s set she did for an encore. The nostalgia factor is hard to beat. Seriously, what pipes she’s got—and what a talented songwriter.

-Lastly, I love this DIY magic potion kit over at Elsie Marley.

What’s got you inspired these days?

Easter Grass from Seed

Wheat Grass Seeds

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you may remember my first encounter with real Easter grass, in my son’s German kindergarten. I was almost amazed at the simple thought of growing something that we’d always bought manufactured from plastic, in plastic bags.

But really, it’s the simplest, easiest thing you could ever grow, and the payoff is huge.  This year, we’re growing our own at home. I’m just as excited as the kids to watch the green pop up.

Wheat Grass Sprouts

Sprouts

I got a package of wheat grass seeds from the garden center, we filled some pots, lay the seeds on top, and watered. My son, now 5, told us not to cover the seeds with any dirt.

And shazam!

Real Easter Grass

It’s got me singing Now the green blade riseth…

P.S. The lovely bird pot was a gift from our friend Sally Brotman, she of chicken kebab fame 🙂 I love, love this pot!

Itty Bitty Stick People and Furniture

DSC_1031

I scooped up these beauties at the last Waldorf craft basar we attended in Germany. I got them as much for myself as for the kids.

Carved Doll Stove

Don’t the stove and tiny pot, just like, kill you? I realize it’s hard to tell the scale here, but the pot has about the same circumference as an acorn top. I’m powerless before this kind of stuff. Makes me want to take up whittling, because, you know, I totally need another creative hobby.

Hand Carved Toys

Acorn dishes!

DSC_1030A teensy Fair Isle cape!

I think one of the things I like best about these is the bark. For some reason it never occurs to me to make things out of actual sticks from trees.

Hope you had a good weekend. I’m pressing forward on my novel revisions, though I had a reminder this morning of just how slow I am when I looked at where I was last year this same week. Yipes!

Are you in a reflective mood about what you’ve done over the past year? Celebrating goals met? Making new ones?

What’s on the Nightstand

Hey! Just thought I’d share a little of what I’ve been reading/ plan to read.

From the top, Writers I’ve Met and Liked is a blank journal given to me by my friend Bettina. It makes me happy just to look at it. But at the same time sad to think how far away she is now (in Germany).

I picked up A Single Shard by Newbery winner Linda Sue Park when I was in Montpelier for the Vermont College alumni mini-residency (which was great, BTW). Ms. Park was the keynote speaker, and let me tell you, this is the woman I want to be when I grow up. She is a serious writer. Such a wordcrafter. She’s also a gifted teacher, a  downright cool person, and has a big, kind heart. I was totally inspired. This copy is signed by LSP herself, as is The Kite Fighters.

Up next is Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, lent to me by my eight-year-old. I decided to re-read (or in some cases read for the first time) the whole series after enjoying Little House On the Prairie so much with the family. Seriously, the woman has got some mad skilz. There’s a reason these books have survived. I’m loving the full-color illustrations in this edition—-go ahead and sue me, purists!

Yes, I realize Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine, about the nature of creativity, has since been recalled, but I’m finishing it anyway since I was already halfway through when I found out. More on that another time. Purchased at lovely Bayswater Books in Center Harbor, New Hampshire.

Also from Bayswater Books is Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, an old friend from Vermont College.  Oh, the cover is so delicious. Can’t wait to read it.

Then Nueva Salsa from the library. Sadly, I didn’t have a chance to try any of them out, but I’m going to check it out again. Some very interesting combos.

Then Vintage Craft Workshop, a gift from my friend Jamie. I especially loved reading the histories of Aleene’s Tacky Glue and Mod Podge.

Slipcovers—I flirted briefly with the idea of trying to silpcover an old chair, then decided it was just too big a project and swapped the chair instead. Again from the library. It’s a little dated, but the technical info and photos are solid. Appears to be out of print.

Handmade Home, also from the library. Can you tell how much I’m enjoying having access to a full-fledged English-language library? This is a beautiful, beautiful book, and during those awful days when our stuff arrived and the house was a fruitbasket turnover, I’d look at these pages and dream of such cozy, inviting spaces. Oh the handmade wool blankets! The European cottages! The made-from-scratch furniture!

Also enjoyed living vicariously through the pages of Design * Sponge at Home, not pictured.

And lastly, also from the library, Reinvention by blogger Maya Donenfeld of mayamade. A book after my own heart, about making new things out of thrifted/ recycled fibers. I’ll never look at a wool blanket or suit the same way again.

Speaking of fibers, I’m currently making a throw blanket out of some inherited silk. Yeah, gettin’ fancy.

Also, watching some great new shows: Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep and Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom.

Have you read anything good lately? Watched anything that’s worth seeing? Do share.

Dream a Little Dream: Writing About Dreams

Who is that strange woman sleeping on the job? And what is she doing in this blog? No, Emily hasn’t been blog-jacked; that’s me, Louise Hawes,  and Emily has invited me to guest write today’s entry! You see, years ago, at Vermont College, where I teach in the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, I facilitated a workshop on dreams and writing. Emily, who was part of that workshop, wrote something that eventually sparked part of her novel, Isabel and the Miracle Baby. Which got us both to thinking – why not share the wealth of inspiration and lyricism that dreams can open to all of us ?

Jung and other dream work pioneers suggested that what our conscious mind knows is only half the story.  Dreams visit us to tell us the other half. That half, of course, isn’t actually “spoken,” but reaches us through vehicles with which we writers are intensely familiar:  myth and metaphor. Do we always know what these images are conveying or how they relate to our waking life? Not right away. Like our writing, our dreams often require the objective responses of others before we can “see” them clearly. Which is why, in my weekly dream group, we find we get as much out of looking at others’ dreams as we do to having our own analyzed. Whenever we respond to someone else’s dream, we begin our analysis with, “If this were my dream…” to remind ourselves that it isn’t, but that it speaks to us, too. Isn’t that the same way a good writing workshop critique begins? “If this were my story…”

As wordsmiths, writers may be particularly open to the vibrant but mysterious language of dreams. In addition, I know that, for me at least, dreams have been a fertile source of characters. Recently, on the informal faculty blog of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program, I described a new and persistent dream visitor of mine: John the Baptist! For no reason that this Episcopalian turned Agnostic-Buddhist can ascertain, a small, powerfully built man with a voice much gentler than his shape, began visiting my dreams nearly a year ago. He’s become such a frequent visitor that he’s prompted a new project, a novel centered on the young woman whose dance led to his execution, the  Galilean princess, Salomé.

Little did I dream (hideous pun, unabashedly intended) that this admission of mine would lead to a flood of responses from blog readers who’d had similar dream visits:

Tim Wynne-Jones, a brilliant writer and my long-time colleague at Vermont, wrote that he once awoke with the entire plot of a middle-grade novel in his head.  “A prisoner in jail for a political crime who eventually mails himself out of jail, one piece at a time.” What later became one of my granddaughter’s favorite books, Ned Mouse Breaks Away, was, he claims, “all there,” even though he’d woken “without having any idea where it had come from.”

Kathi Appelt , friend, colleague, and National Book Award Honor winner, wrote that she prefers to do her dreaming in the daytime. When she hits a roadblock, she’ll often “just zone out, close my eyes for a few moments (or longer), and let my thoughts drift. Then, when I come out of that meditative state, there’s the clear path. “ I wonder if that’s what makes her writing so dreamy?!

A graduate of VCFA, author Terry Pierce, wrote to tell me she, too, frequently dreams of characters. In one memorable instance, a woman from her work-in-progress invaded her sleep to scold her for not finishing a scene begun that day—a scene in which the character had fallen off a cliff!

Yet another colleague, author Tom Birdseye, told me he knows that he dreams, but that he struggles to remember the messages his unconscious sends him each night. My advice to him is the same as it is to any of you who “lose” dreams before you wake: I can almost guarantee that, if you keep a dream journal by your bed and tell yourself (out loud and fearless) each night before you sleep that you want to remember your dreams, you’ll be dreaming up a storm within a week.

So once you’re up and dreaming, how can you apply your dream life to your waking work in progress? Everyone has their own ways of doing this, but one interesting exercise is to ask your characters for their recurring dreams or nightmares. Whether or not their responses finds their way directly into your work, or whether they simply help you hear your protagonist’s voice and language, free writes on dreams are a terrific way to get a glimpse of even the most recalcitrant character’s inner life!

If you’re interested in reading more about dreams and their connection to creativity, I highly recommend looking at Naomi Epel’s book, Writers Dreaming: Twenty-six Writers Talk about Their Dreams and the Creative Process. Also helpful is, The Natural Artistry of Dreams by Jill Mellick and Marion Woodman.

So what about you? Ever had a dream turn into a story? Do certain themes or characters run through your dream life? Do you have a favorite novel or story that includes a dream? Ever tried asking your characters what they think of your dreams?  Thanks for sharing, and….sweet dreams!

Thanks so much for sharing, Louise! In addition to teaching on the faculty of Vermont College of Fine Arts, Louise is the author many books, including The Vanishing Point, Waiting for Christopher, and Black Pearls, a Faerie Strand. Find out more about her at www.louisehawes.com