Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Stories are Calling to Me...

Sometimes, it's nice to just let the wind blow your creative spirit where it will. As I wait to hear details from the publisher, I continue to stir up new stories in my mind. This morning's email in-box contained a message from Liz, who just may become one of my new best friends. She was writing to let me know she has read my text and seen my illustrations and is moving the process on. "It's a lovely story with beautiful illustrations!" She tells me the team will be reviewing my book proposal and she will keep me posted. Can you hear me smiling????? I signed my return email to her, "Hopeful Author-in Waiting." Keep your fingers crossed for me, please.

 This last weekend was a picture-book-perfect weekend in Vermont. We drove up Friday for the annual barn dance at Olivia's Crouton Kitchen. If you don't know about Olivia's Croutons, check them out on line. They are the yummiest, and Francie, Olivia's mom, has come up with new gluten-free versions of croutons, crackers and stuffing mix too. Francie is our niece and we LOVE going up to the farm she and David live and work on. The traditional croutons are made in the barn at the farm, and each year, on Columbus Day Weekend, they hold a barn dance for family, friends and neighbors. We figure there were over 200 folks there this year. Great food, great fellowship and a wonderful time to be in Vermont. The weather was magnificent and you could have fooled me that the foliage was past peak!

Francie and David's farm reminds me SO much of one of the books I most loved reading to my son: Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm, by Alice and Martin Provensen. After my boy was grown up, I spent years looking for a hardcover copy of this (before Google made such searches simple). All day on Saturday, as we were working to get everything ready for the barn dance, I kept glimpsing perfect images for a picture book, and overlaying them with illustrations from this classic in my mind. The dogs, the chickens, the horses, the fall colors and pumpkins and sunflowers. I am SO ready to sit down and write the story that Francie gave me the title for. I won't tell you any more about it, except to say that this is the title character.
My camera was busy clicking all day and well into the evening. As we gadded about purchasing pumpkins and searching for sunflowers, collecting chrysanthemums, getting gourds and investing cash in Indian corn, I was collating colors, tracking text , creating context and conflict and beginning the book in my brain. SO much fun!!

Here are a few images which one day you may see in illustration form in my new classic. (Oh let me dream!!! I KNOW I'm so far ahead of myself, but if I can dream it, I can do it! Right?)

Welcome to the Barn Dance
We never did find mums, so I arranged corn stalks, sunflowers, a bit of sumac and the pumpkins. Great nieces and nephews spent the morning carving  jack-o-lanterns that lined the path to the barn doors. A pot of petunias from the patio lent a bit more color and, "Viola!" Martha Stewart couldn't have done better.

The Provensens wrote about each animal on their farm. We had chickens and roosters wandering at will. Amazingly none of the five dogs (three visiting pooches including our Mugo, and Rufus and Maggie who live on the farm) chased the little feather balls, but the great nieces and nephews found a stash of eggs in the hayloft. The two horses quietly watched the action, between nibbles of grass and handfuls of hay. Pigeons were displaced from their perches in the upper barn and we swept and cleaned and disinfected places where food and folks would be congregating. Fairy lights were lit in the barn and while the musicians got their equipment set up, and company began to arrive with pans of pork and casseroles of coleslaw, containers of cookies and plates of pies, we set out the spiral hams, the rolls and mustard.                                                     
Pastoral Pasture

As the long day of preparation drew to a close, the evening of entertainment opened. That barn was full of so many stories, so many characters and incredible food, family and friends, that "I could write a book!" doesn't even begin to cover it. Traditions in rural America are the stuff of so many classics, we'll just have to hope that the bookshelves have room for one more. It's on its way. SO don't expect me to be raising my hand to volunteer for much this year or next. I have a mission! The stories are out there calling to me: begging me to write them down and to share them with you. SO here goes...
On the Cusp of the Barn Dance.

Friday, October 4, 2013

While I Wait... Keeping Skills Sharpened

While I wait to hear from a publisher, I am keeping busy and trying to keep creative juices flowing. 'Have spent lots of time in the yard, around the laundry lawn, weeding, watering and doing general fall clean-up. Our scarecrow, Jeremiah, has returned for another season, and the October decor in the yard is coming in to focus. Some other visitors to our yard this week have included a preying mantis, downy woodpeckers, robins, a golden-shafted flicker, several types of warblers and a great blue heron, which may save me the trouble of setting up an aquarium indoors for the gold fish from the pond. I think the circle of life is turning here at Tongueslip. My 6 year-old giant goldfish, Draino, has not been seen for several days. He may be flying over New Jersey wetlands in a new form.

Jeremiah II is the latest version, created to replace the original that teenagers swiped from the yard year before last. This version is fairly well secured, and we'll hope he stays with us at least through the Christmas season, when he will don his Santa hat and a warm scarf. I couldn't resist the LED pumpkin. We saw one in a neighbor's yard last week (even before October arrived) and when I saw it at our local hardware store, my 20% off coupon called to me. My patient husband smiled when I marched home with it after I went to check out the non-functioning orange lights for the fence. Since I only needed a new fuse, rather than a new string of lights, it seemed reasonable to spring for the pumpkin. It is so lightful!

Writing this week has been focused on the program for the 61st Ole Bull Music Festival. The event takes place on the 26th of this month, in Galeton, Pennsylvania, and I have much writing and designing of ads to do. Last night I did an abbreviated retelling of the story of King Hakkon of Norway and his escape from the Baglers. I discovered a charming rendition of this story by Lise Lunge-Larsen, with lovely illustrations by Mary Azarian. Look for The Race of the Birkbeiners at your library or independent book seller.

I try to fill the festival program booklet with information and trivia about Norway, and the history of the Oleana Colony that violinist Ole Bull tried to establish in Potter County, PA. Although the colony failed, it sowed seeds of music in the ridge and valley provinces of the Commonwealth. The program this year includes a retelling of the saga of Hakkon, a list of words we use that have Norwegian roots and some troll tales. Check my website, SpunkyNorwegianFoundation.com for more on this topic.

From trolls to Brownies... Brownie Scouts that is! This week I had to create a Kaper Chart for my Brownie/ Jr.Scout troop. Kaper Charts are a Girl Scout tradition, designating assignments to be done by each Scout at a meeting or at camp. My chart defines the responsibilities of each job and allows for the movement of girls from one job to another. The avatars for each girl were colored by them after I drew three versions of Brownies and Jr Scouts. The girls colored them at the last meeting and they are now laminated and have Velcro (c) dots so they can be moved from one job to another.
I'm pretty pleased with how this projected turned out. It also proved to me that I can draw people (if not overly realistic ones) so maybe I can get on with a new picture book I am considering. The idea was generated following a creative meeting with one of my friends and cheerleaders, Andrew. Following a productive chat with him, I am seriously thinking of revamping a chapter book I wrote and turning it into a picture book. So creative juices are still flowing and the always inspiring beauty of autumn nature in the Northeast is energizing me.
'Hoping all my readers are keeping up with THEIR creative projects too. This season is a wonderful one for finding inspiration. If you haven't read this one, although it is a week late, please take time to enjoy one of my favorite seasonal verses.

By Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885)

    THE golden-rod is yellow;
        The corn is turning brown;
    The trees in apple orchards
        With fruit are bending down.
    The gentian's bluest fringes
        Are curling in the sun;
    In dusty pods the milkweed
        Its hidden silk has spun.
    The sedges flaunt their harvest,
        In every meadow nook;
    And asters by the brook-side
        Make asters in the brook,
    From dewy lanes at morning
        The grapes' sweet odors rise;
    At noon the roads all flutter
        With yellow butterflies.
    By all these lovely tokens
        September days are here,
    With summer's best of weather,
        And autumn's best of cheer.
    But none of all this beauty
        Which floods the earth and air
    Is unto me the secret
        Which makes September fair.
    'T is a thing which I remember;
        To name it thrills me yet:
    One day of one September
        I never can forget.