Today, one more reading from The Unfinished Angel. Sometimes the Angel throws pine cones at Signora Divino and her grandson Vinny. Sometimes the Angel pinches them a little. In this scene, the Angel explains why.
This is the last scene I'll read from this book. Probably.
Sometimes I know early on in the writing process to whom the final book will be dedicated; sometimes I don't know until the book is ready to be printed. I had thought that I would dedicate The Unfinished Angel to my granddaughter Pearl, who inspired this book when she told me her first story: "Once upon a time in Spain there was an angel, and the angel was me."
But then, in January, 2009, when I was about to finalize the dedication page, four people dear to me died within a span of three weeks. I felt as if I had to gather them together on this dedication page as a way of keeping them 'alive.'
Dennis W. Creech: my brother, eleven months younger than I, he was the middle child of five. I love this photo (below) of us. We look rag-tag and a bit devilish:
Mary Crist Fleming: 96 years old, the founder of the TASIS schools in Europe. She was a charismatic educator, my husband's and my 'boss', friend, and muse for the past thirty years. She lived in the villa attached to the tower in which the Angel lives in The Unfinished Angel. Mrs. Fleming was living in that villa while I was writing the book, and she told me, "I will be that angel some day, and I will live in the tower." I bet she is there now.
Kate McClelland and Kathy Krasniewicz: Most people in the children's book world knew or had heard of these two women, both librarians, both supremely dedicated, generous and loving. I admired them both but knew Kate best: she made me laugh and she made me think. Kathy and Kate died in a tragic car accident en route to the airport following the annual ALA conference.
I switched to a hand-held camera instead of carrying my laptop (w/webcam) around. Much better for showing you the scene. In this clip, I lead you up to 'the spooky room' in this 16th century cottage in England in which we are staying this year.
This is a scene between the young American girl, Zola, and the Angel from the chapter "Pigeons" in The Unfinished Angel. When I was out on book tour, I'd snare a volunteer from the audience to read the part of Zola while I read the Angel's lines. We had a good time.
Thanks to Jenny Brown, who interviewed me and my editor, Joanna Cotler, a few weeks ago in New York City. The clip below is pretty typical of how we interact. (I notice I say, "Right. . ." a lot. That's because she is right.) I am not eloquent, alas.
In honor of publication day for The Unfinished Angel, here is a photo of the old stone tower upon which I based the Angel's home in this book. This tower is on the campus of the TASIS school in Montagnola, Switzerland. I love this place!
Here is some of what the Angel says about the tower:
Maybe my tower. . .is not the most attractiful or the most specialty tower in Switzerland. It is just a tower, after all, like so many other towers. . .
It is a tower that stands tall and upending like a good soldier, for nearly four hundred years, not wobbling or falling down. . . There are no windows. You reach out and there is the air, just there. You are high, high above the other houses, and the only things as high are a few trees and, down the road, the tall stickly spire of the church. . .
So, maybe you might think it is nothing specialful, this tower, but to me it is the finest of all the towers in all the world. From the balcony I can see the mountains in a ring all around, a circle of mountains, and on the very top of those mountains . . .is white, white snow, and below the mountains is a blue-green lake, and above the mountains at night is a blue-black sky all pokeled with blue-white stars. From my tower, I can see all the casas in the village and I can see all the peoples coming and going. I can see all the birds flying in the air and the creatures crawling on the ground.
[Note: those aren't typos. This is the way the Angel speaks.]
Below is the schedule for the upcoming book tour for THE UNFINISHED ANGEL, to be published on 22 September 2009. Tours are the opposite of the calm in the above photo. Tours are rush, wait, fly, talk, rush, sign, rush, fly, talk, rush, sign . . .even when you have the very best of the best people scheduling your tour. (Cindy Tamasi Hamilton at HarperCollins is the best of the best.)
I hope you're near enough to meet me at one of these events. The school visits are not open to the public (unless you are part of that school community), but I include them in case you have children at any of these schools. Bookstore events and the National Book Festival are open to the public. Limited space is available at some bookstores, so you might want to check their website or telephone beforehand. Hope to see you!
Also, I'll be doing radio satellite interviews from 22-25 September. Perhaps you will catch one; I don't have that schedule yet.
Often I am inspired by place. The above setting for instance, which was my view this morning of fog shrouding the lake, begs to have its story told. I see the fog as perfect metaphor for the beginning of story, when all is shrouded in mystery. Can you make out the dock in the center of the photograph? (You may be able to click to enlarge.) I like how you can only see the first part of the dock. To see more, you have to go further into the fog, and this is pretty much how I find out what my stories are: Begin and then go on, a little at a time, discovering what is ahead.
I know it's a lake out there, obviously, but what will I encounter along the way, and how far will the dock reach, and what will happen at the end? Just like story.
In a recent video clip, I misquoted my own granddaughter. In that video, I said that inspiration for The Unfinished Angel came from my granddaughter Pearl, who told her first story at age two. Her correct story is/was: "Once upon a time in Spain there was an angel and the angel was me." In the clip, I omitted 'in Spain,' an important element in her story and in sparking my imagination.
I was fascinated that she would include 'in Spain.' How could she know what or where Spain was? My daughter explained that she had recently read Ferdinand the Bull to Pearl; that story begins with, "Once upon a time in Spain. . ." I love knowing that. I love the thousands of ways words and stories shape our imaginations.
I was so intrigued by Pearl's one-line story that I repeated it each night, like a mantra, before I went to sleep, hoping my subconscious would find the story. Several times I tried to jump-start the story, but I kept getting stuck on that Spanish element. I have not lived in Spain; I do not speak Spanish fluently; the Spanish angel remained elusive. Then, four years after first hearing Pearl's story (not six or seven years as I said in the clip) (sometimes I cannot add or subtract), my husband and I spent a year in Switzerland, where we had worked twenty-five years ago.
The above photo shows our view in Lugano, Switzerland.
And there I found the angel. I saw where the angel lived and heard how she/he spoke. So: it became a Swiss angel instead of a Spanish one, and once that element was discovered, the story unfolded one scene at a time.
Now, one more error to admit: I also misquoted Pearl on the book's dedication page! Ack! Every other page of the story had been read and re-read and proofread dozens of times. My editor, proofreaders and I are all sticklers for accuracy. There was no way for them to know, however, what Pearl had actually said, so they could not detect my error. I don't know how I made that mistake. It bothers me that I did.
My only defense is this: in the space of three weeks in January--just before I submitted the dedication--four people died: my beautiful brother Dennis; mentor and friend Mary Crist Fleming; and two cherished librarians, Kate McClelland and Kathy Krasniewicz. Their names appear on the same page as my misquoted, brilliant granddaughter Pearl.
I was trying to capture a lavender sunset, and when I first saw this photo, I thought, 'Ack! What a mess I made of it,' but then again, I think I like this blur of inside and out. I like the reflections of the inside overlaid on the view outside. This is a more accurate representation of what it feels like to work in this office than I could describe in words.
Below is a more 'normal' photo of the same view on a different evening, with shades lowered:
The most frequently asked question I hear is: Where do you get your ideas? It's usually not an easy question to answer, but The Unfinished Angel had one well-defined spark which I attempt to explain in this clip:
Three small packages arrived yesterday, each with two books inside. The first package contained the Korean edition of Love That Dog, a sweet, handsomely produced volume with occasional small illustrations in black line on yellow background:
The second package contained the Korean edition of Walk Two Moons, also handsomely done, with a Korean version of the Newbery Medal on the front, and a tiny crescent moon at the bottom of the last page of each chapter. I tried to get a photo of that tiny moon, but couldn't capture it clearly.
And finally, the third package contained the new baby: The Unfinished Angel, due out on September 22.
The real book! At last! I love its trim size (about 5-1/2 by 7-1/2) and its slenderness (164 pages). To me, this is a perfect sized book, fitting comfortably in my hands, and the perfect sized story, with no room for wordiness.
And so I take some time to be grateful for all the people who made my stories into books: the editor, designer, artist, copy editors, production team, publishers, translators, and more, there are always more who believe in books.
In this cottage in Surrey, England, are various niches and cupboards and hidden spaces. A child would have loads of hiding places for treasures. To the left of the dining room fireplace is a small cupboard. Inside is a note explaining its purpose:
This is a typical example of a cloam oven. It was heated by burning large bundles of kindling wood in the oven. When enough heat had been generated the ash was raked out and baking commenced.
The interior is all brick, igloo shaped (round with domed top), about three feet in diameter. A bricked-over space on the outside house wall is probably where the oven was vented to allow smoke to escape. It seems such a sensible oven, and although I know it is much easier to turn a knob and have an oven pre-heated within minutes without all the fuss and bother of building a fire and raking coals and ash, I still wish this one were functional so I could try it.
This is another old clock I discovered in this cottage we're staying in, in Surrey, England. It has its own special niche, and at first I thought it was a non-working clock, but then discovered two keys tucked beneath it. It has a gentle tick-tock and a sweet, soft-pitched chime.
Now this one, too, gets wound each morning to start the day. It makes me wonder about who else wound this clock and what other time(s) it marked, and I had the illusion that if it sat for some time, unwound, time could/would stop.
I also was reminded of a chapter in the upcoming The Unfinished Angel, "What is Time?" Here is a passage from that chapter (the odd spelling and grammar are not mistakes; this is the way the Angel speaks):
Peoples, why are they so compelsive, no, what is the word, propulsive, no, obsessive, yes, obsessive! Why they are so obsessive about time, and why they think it is like a cake you can divide into pieces, why? Why they have to have seconds, pinutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, sentries, on and on, tick-tick, whoosh there goes two seconds, whoosh, two more. What, they are thinking time is going somewhere? Where it is going, I ask you, where?
Listen. You hear any ticking? No. You hear just the world being the world. You see any clocks in the sky? You see calendars on the trees?
More charm of England: thatched roofs (see top left quadrant of window), gates, brick paths, holly hedges. The hedges offer some privacy; the little gates say 'welcome.' The thatched cottage (built in 1490) seems to say, 'People come and people go, but I am still here. . .'
So small the windows of our own cottage and thus so dark inside and so like a cave. Outside: a tidy, manicured world.
As many before me have noted, there is such charm in an English village and in a cottage with ancient rosebushes that bloom fragrant, perfect tea roses. This is where my husband and I will be for much of the coming year: a small cottage in Surrey, England. We're in a rural village but a mere forty-five minutes by train from London.
Our house abuts the local church, some thousand years old, with ancient tombstones surrounding it. I'll have to refresh my memory about its history: I know it's intriguing, but more than that, it is a beautiful, peaceful place.
Right now, the sun is directly over the lake, and the light is so bright and dazzling it hurts the eyes. A passage in The Unfinished Angel (Sept 09) refers to this light, contrasting it with the 'golden light' that surrounds the homes of the dying:
Sometimes when the sun is directly overhead and shines onto
the lake, the light is so bright it pickles your eyes and you have
to turn away from it. But the golden light is different; it becomes
paler and paler so that you have to strain to see it, and you wish
your eyeballs were bigger, and then, then, it is gone.
In our kitchen is an island with a granite counter that resembles a riverbed, and on this island is another small island. This small 'island' is a collection of vases with flowers from the yard, along with a growing menagerie of turtles, frogs, a goat, a wooden grandmother and grandfather, and stones from the lake.
This second island began with a single vase and flower. My granddaughter added 'dinosaur eggs' (made from clay); I added a few more vases; my husband added the wooden figures; my grandchildren began adding one or two things each summer. I love this island to bits.
Switzerland, and it was in the village of Montagnola that I wrote The Unfinished Angel. A photo of the stunning view from that village is at the bottom right panel of this blog.
Each day, as I walked through the village and down the hill, I'd pass Casa Camuzzi, part of which has been turned into the Herman Hesse Museum. Hesse spent much of the latter part of his life living in Casa Camuzzi and, in addition to writing, his interests were gardening, drawing and painting. Often he incorporated his drawings and paintings in letters to friends and family.
Although Hesse is better known for his writing, I especially enjoy his watercolors and in seeing that he captured so many of the scenes that I took pleasure in on daily walks. Below are photos of his typewriter and his art materials. If you're ever in southern Switzerland, you might consider a stop at this museum and a walk through the area.
We all need encouragement from time to time, mm? The above note, which now rests on my office window ledge, was written on an interior envelope which contained a letter from a fan/reader. Several things I like about this note: that it says 'keep on' instead of 'keep up'; that it was first written in pencil and then retraced in marker; that this second envelope was used to hold the special letter (the outer, addressed envelope not being secure enough perhaps); that the reader recognized that writing might be 'hard work'; and that the reader was thoughtful enough to send encouragement. All of these things tell me I would probably like the writer of this note very much.
I wonder what bits of encouragement other writers keep on or near their desks . . .
The hydrangeas love this rain-sun-rain-sun-rainy weather; they're so lush and vigorous this year, astounding in their enormous blue clusters, with 'heads' about seven inches across and composed of scores of individual blossoms. Stunning.
When I'm writing, layering word upon word, sentence upon sentence, I hope that I'm telling an interesting tale and being faithful to the characters and that the end result will be something of beauty, but I don't think the end result could ever be as stunning and intricate as the flowers above, which come into being with so much grace and so little effort.
What I prefer in hydrangeas--that they appear so pure and simple in their beauty, but on close examination offer up such intricacy--is what I also prefer in writing: prose or poetry that is pure and simple, eschewing flash, with an intricate, sound foundation.
A few feet from my office window is this tree. An older, fatter squirrel used to pause here each morning and watch me work. This squirrel may well be the offspring of that fatter one. All the squirrels in the yard seem busier than usual today, gathering the hickory nuts that fell in last night's storm. Up and down the trees they go, up and down. Only this one pauses to watch me.
This is me, at age twelve. That white mark near my eye is not a scar; it's a tear in the photograph. This is probably the only year when I was young that I had short hair, and what a hairdo it is, mm? That boyish cut. That curl!
Like many children, both of my grandchildren get up in the morning and start layering. They often begin with 'regular' clothes (shorts or skirt, a shirt) and as the morning moves along, they add layers: boas, an extra skirt or leggings, gloves, necklaces, ribbons, hats. Each new adornment requires a shift in mannerisms. The blue gloves and purse above prompted an instant "la de da." In The Unfinished Angel (Sept '09), the character of Zola dresses in multiple layers, just like my granddaughter.
At top, granddaughter Pearl with her various adornments, and below, grandson Nico in a 'Spidey' costume. We are having a grand time with Pearl and Nico and all their cousins and aunts and uncles. Much eating, running, jumping, swinging, swimming, singing, falling, bandaids. These are our annual Creech Weeks. Ta da!
Above are some of the young, fun, buoyant Creechers: one boy holding his own in this group among five especially cool girls.
Yesterday, the children selected rocks from the lake, decorated them, added messages, and placed them at the base of a maple tree which we've planted in memory of my brother Dennis who died in January. The kids made this a sweet, joyous occasion. We sprinkled a little tobacco over the earth because my brother was a smoker and would have appreciated the gesture.
This is one of my favorite photos from last summer: my grandaughter and two cousins in the playhouse, dressing up. They were completely engrossed. I didn't have my camera handy last night when four of the young cousins ran to the playhouse and came out a half hour later decked in everything from a jazz costume to Batman. More photos of playhouse and kids (from real time) to come.
“Maybe we’re here only to say: house, bridge, well, gate, jug, olive-tree, window--at most, pillar, tower--but to say them, remember, oh! to say them in a way that the things themselves never dreamed of so intensely.” --Rilke