Sunday, February 27, 2011

'Lost' Dreams

When I'm in the middle of a near-final manuscript revision, I often have 'lost' dreams: either I am lost in a house or a city, or my purse or wallet is lost.  I either can't find my way out (of a house or city) or I can't prove who I am (purse/wallet = have proof of identity).

In the houses, rooms lead to other rooms, hallways wrap around in a maze, I can't get back to where I started, and I don't know how to exit.  This seems a pretty transparent dream of where my mind is in the revision process!

The lost wallet and purse dreams are somehow tied up with my identity as a writer vs. my 'other' lives as wife, mother, friend, sister, etc. Who am I? How am I going to 'prove' it?

I know, though, that I will eventually find my way through the manuscript and my various selves will not be lobbying for attention . . . and the 'lost' dreams will subside.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Revising Dresses

Often when I'm either writing or revising a book, I dream of dresses. In the dream, I'll be looking for 'the right dress' and I'll discover–around a corner or in a back room–a cache of beautiful dresses in rich, rare fabrics and unusual design–nothing outlandish but exactly what I am looking for: something classic and yet different from all the other many look-alike dresses I've encountered.

I used to awake from these dreams wishing I could create dresses like those, and one day I realized I had already created the dresses, in the dream(s). Ta da!

I have come to recognize that these dreams are transparent reflections of my dreams for the book: I'm trying to write something beautiful, something classic and yet different from all the other books out there. Something that fits me.

The above sketch, which doesn't do justice to the dresses I 'saw,' is from a dream two nights ago. In the dream, I 'found' them in a back room of a small boutique. They were of the softest, combed cotton, summery and light. The front had two longer panels on the sides and a shorter panel in the front. There were two dresses: one in faded denim blue with a narrow khaki stripe, and the other in cream with tiny brown flowers sprinkled across the field of cream.

Try as I might, the sketches never do justice to the visions in the dreams, just as perhaps my books never do justice to the visions I have of them in my head.

But if I keep track of all these dresses, maybe one day I'll have enough for a collection! Ho!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Beach Revisions

Time: noon today.  Place: Oak Island, NC.  Temperature: 70.  Activity: Revising.

Today I was working on revisions.  At the beach.  Truly.  Received long, eloquent editorial letter yesterday, with astute observations and questions on the work-in-progress.  The questions are complicated and not easy to resolve, but if resolved, they will make the book stronger. And so today, with the questions in mind, I walked the beach. And sat. And walked. And sat. And thought.

The value of thinking/gazing time is enormous. It's an essential part of writing, and it is why many writers take on that glazed, daft look: they are off in the world of the book, resolving problems, even when they are not at the computer/typewriter/paper--maybe especially when they are not at the computer/typewriter/paper.

These are the times when I put the phone in the fridge, the milk in the oven, keys in the freezer. It is hard to live in two worlds at once, mm?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Work Space

If I'm staying anywhere more than two weeks, I have to set up a workspace. It's a compulsion. A need. Unlike some writers who can write on airplanes or trains or in hotel rooms or cafes, I work best when I'm at home or in a place where I have a room of my own in which to work, with materials and reference books close by.

It wasn't always so. Dedicated space is a luxury. When I was first writing, I shared desk space and a typewriter with my husband. From there I graduated to a laundry/storage room.  When my son left for college, I usurped his bedroom and bought my first computer. From then on, I've had my own dedicated office/room.

The above room is in North Carolina, where my husband and I hide out for a few months each winter.

If you're a writer, I hope you have your own space. Do you?

Friday, February 11, 2011

My Editor

At left is my American editor, Joanna Cotler; that's me on the right. It is my great good fortune that Joanna has been my editor for most of my books, all with HarperCollins. Joanna is wise, funny, beautiful, kind, generous, and multi-talented. I rely on her to guide me from a strong draft to a great one with her astute questions and comments.

The above photo was taken when I was in New York a couple years ago, doing an interview with Joanna, conducted by Jenny Brown. Jenny's interview with us can be found at:

and continued at:

Before Joanna became my editor, I was also fortunate to work with three other astute editors: Marion Dickens Lloyd (descendant of Charles Dickens); David Gale, and Nancy Siscoe.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Walnut Tree Cottage

This is Walnut Tree Cottage, 350 years old, in the village of Thorpe, Surrey, England, where my husband, children, and I lived for fourteen of the eighteen years we lived in England. At that time, this was the Headmaster's residence (my husband was the Headmaster) for the TASIS school, I taught upper school English there, and our two children attended the school.

The second-story middle window opens into the room in which I wrote Walk Two Moons, The Wanderer, Absolutely Normal Chaos, Pleasing the Ghost, Chasing Redbird, Fishing in the Air, and Bloomability.

Nearly everyone who entered this cottage said, "How quaint! How cute!", and it was that, but quaint and cute do not necessarily mean easy-to-live-in.  The plumbing was dodgy, the heating sporadic, the kitchen wee, the spiders a-plenty, and each spring plants grew up between the dining-room floorboards and around the windows.

But it was home and we were happy there.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Grace of Trees

Nearly two years ago, when I took this photo of a sandy lane in North Carolina, I felt such a strong affinity to this place.  It contributed to the impetus for the latest work-in-progress. Where does the road lead? Why do the trees beckon?

I often used similar photos or paintings when I was teaching, as story-inspirers. Who is on the road? Where does it lead? What is that place? I loved how the same scene could inspire such different responses.  The artist or photographer has already selected details and tone. Each viewer then reshapes the scene with his own eyes.

I'm wondering what you see/think/feel.