Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Work before the Harvest

I had intended to write this truly inspiring piece for you to announce my revitalized website designed by Stonecreek Media. I wanted my first memo to be truly inspiring. And I thought it might be.
Walking the dog yesterday in the morning brought me images of the stacks of hay taken from our alfalfa field lined up against the base of the ridge like green sugar cubes, one on top of the other. They reminded me of how much work had to go into getting them there: seeding the field last year; getting the Verminator (yes that’s what it’s called) to destroy the gophers; irrigating, irrigating, moving wheel lines and hand lines; keeping the tractor, swather and bailer ready to use. And then there are the days of actually cutting and baling and then picking the 75 pound bails up with the bale buggy and unloading them at the base of the hill.
Work before the harvest marks almost every endeavor. Many pitfalls have to be tended to as well. Will it rain on the hay when it’s down? The river ran higher than normal with episodes of very high water this spring that required we remove the pumps then put them back when the river level lowered. We used the internet to check the stream flow at places upriver to gauge whether we could put the pumps back or get ready to take them out yet again. We got through the first cutting and most of the second cutting before the swather lost a part (that we’re waiting for even now). We expect two more cuttings so it has to get repaired. Our neighbor is buying all that we have so there’s a contract that needs to be met. A contract. A commitment.
These are not unlike the work before the work of harvest in writing.
This has been a busy time of writing for me but also completing that early work. Researching for the next book. Revising for final edits for the current novel about my grandmother (A Flickering Light due out next April. Confirming quilt sizes and details for the quilt and craft book that goes to press the end of August. Preparing for September events –a retreat, a writer’s conference and a quilt-speaking event in Wisconsin, all had their time on my “to do” list this month. None of that looks a lot like “writing.”
Publishing issues, working with my team of agent, editors, sales people and more, played parts in my life this month. While in Florida I wasn’t actually “writing.” I attended a Christian writer’s retreat and a convention. Lynn Austin won the Christy for her fine historical novel A Proper Pursuit and I didn’t feel badly at all! It was a delight to have breakfast with her and to share in her acclaim. I was happy to be on the short list for best Historical Fiction, truly. I’ve hung my Christy Finalist medal on the wall already. Jerry had time with his daughter and family who joined us for the Christy banquet (and I shared a room with my agent and her associate across the street from Disneyland so we watched the fireworks each night. During the day I met with editors and marketing and publicity people and marveled that Floridians actually live year round in a place where when you leave an air-conditioned hotel and step outside your glasses steam up!
All those things can seem not like writing at all, right? Writing is that time when one gets to sit and dream and look out over the rimrocks and river but only for brief moments before becoming lost in the 1870s or 1910 and the lives of men and women who somehow seem to speak to us and keep us from being writers who feel life is solitary and lonely. I’m never less alone than when I’m writing, if that makes sense. Writing is getting to see your book or article in print, right? Writing is when you’re gifted with a letter from someone who read your book or article or heard you speak who says what they just read was your best ever and that what you had to say “spoke specifically to me.”
it’s that work before harvest, the tedious, daily, get up and repeat, cope and adapt kind of work that makes it possible. I must remind myself of that sometimes.
My little words line up to make a sentence and then a page and then a chapter and then a book reminding me of that stack of hay ever-growing until completion that later will be consumed (by cows , not ours thank goodness!) and people will be fed from the result. A very agrarian image but one every one of us who wishes for a harvest understands. The daily tasks aren’t always easy or pretty or inspiring but it’s what we do if we’re to meet our “contracts” however we have made them, with whomever we have made those commitments.
That’s what I thought I’d be writing about, encouraging you all to keep going, toward that harvest.
Instead I’m sitting here with a black eye, bruised forehead, cheek and nose, a black and blue swollen thumb, skinned knee and a scrape on my shoulder that looks that that tubby tabby of 44 pounds who was on the news yesterday used my right arm for a scratching post. And my head hurts. And my glasses that actually survived with lens intact have been redone by Jerry to get the bows somewhat parallel and the nose pieces back into place but they aren’t fitting well. They’re trifocals so we’ll have to get them officially adjusted or I’ll be looking through the wrong places…which is probably why I have the headache.
We leave for an event in Portland tonight and it’s our 32nd wedding anniversary so we’re going to do something to celebrate afterwards though I don’t know what, now. I hope my head stops hurting. Tomorrow Jerry will get to meet a reader-writer-turned-friend I met back in St. Louis at a signing last year who flew out for the Willamette Writers conference hoping to connect with an agent for his own book.
So here’s how the egg-plant color of my eye came about: Bo, our wire-haired pointing Griffon is involved. Out of pity I took him outside last night to tend to his daily duties even though he probably didn’t need to do that. It was late. Ten-thirty. But he’d been whining and pestering and I figured that’s what he wanted. I put the choke collar on him and the leash and we walked down the ramp from the swing-deck of the house just fine. But then a streak passed in front of us (a chipmunk who has been teasing Bo often hiding up in the frame of the pick-up truck where Bo can see him but not reach him. We’ve seen a lot more of those rascals since Diego our cat died). Anyway, Bo bolted. I jerked, grabbed a second twist on the leash (big mistake) and tried to pull him back but instead he pulled me forward, right into the ground, shoulder and face first while the leash twisted free but not before twisting my left thumb.
Bo happily chased his chipmunk neither caring nor noticing that I lay there, head throbbing, glasses somewhere in the darkness beyond the porch light. I shouted for Jerry who heard me inside the house and came out to rescue the glasses and help me up. Bo circled the yard a few times and then did decide to do his duty which enabled me to get his leash and bring him back in. He’s clueless of my current discomfort.
So instead of merely packing for our anniversary weekend (that my friend says sounds more like work to her than play since it involves writing events and that I really do need to learn how to play more!) I’m coping. Changing directions quickly without a lot of friction as my infamous coping saw reminds me.
I’ll consider this interlude – the headache and bent glasses – as yet another piece of the work before the work knowing that there are always glitches, always things to distract us. But most of all, knowing that I have much to be grateful for. I didn’t break a bone. The lenses stayed in the frames. The dog didn’t run too far away. Jerry heard me shout. Looks to me like all in all a very good outcome. Jerry’s seen me with a black eye before and he loves me anyway. What could be a better anniversary present than that!
I hope you enjoy the new website design. Hopefully we’ll be updating more frequently now. Please check my schedule for events near you and thank you all for making my writing life one filled with treasures of connections that keep me ever faithful toward that harvest. Warmly, Jane

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

podcast, A Mending at the Edge

Diane Eble has posted her podcast of an interview she did with me about my latest book, A Mending at the Edge, writing and life. You can listen to it at and also at her blog which is and eventually Abundant Gifts blog at ("I'm a bit behind on posting my audios there" Diane notes. Enjoy! Jane

Joy in the Journey

Hazy smoke from the California fires has settled into our canyon. We smell it in the air that is still as a rabbit watching the passage of a slithering snake. Yesterday it was windy and very, very hot (113 degrees) and we lost power at one point. Breaking the stillness inside, Bo, the wire-haired Griffon, leapt from the couch and rushed to the covered deck door, barking, something he rarely does. Jerry opened the door, Bo bolted out and there on the deck was a snake. Jerry thought it was a rattler, yelled for me to bring the .38 which I did but when I got there, he saw that the snake was a bull snake and wouldn’t shoot it. Bo, meanwhile, barked and baited it until it worked its way down the steps then fell through onto the dirt below. The dog barked, I tried to grab him, it made this hissing sound that to me sounded like a rattler, but Jerry insisted it wasn’t and he wasn’t going to shoot a snake that could eat mice (something we’ve seen more of since the cat was lost to coyotes).
Anyway, I finally grabbed Bo and dragged him from the snake; we came back inside sweating now from our exertion in the heat, and pondered our dog’s intention. Had it been a rattler, he might well have been bitten though he seemed to be just the distance necessary to avoid contact. At the very least, I think we’ll get another cat.
So begins our July. The river is still high so we have many more floaters than usual and expect quite a bunch come this Fourth of July weekend. I hope they bring their SPF 30. We’ve completed the first cutting of hay and are irrigating again. I’m home from a week in Grove City near Pittsburgh where I taught at the St. David’s Christian Writer’s Conference, visited with my agent and her book group then flew home for four more events. This is the first full week to be on the ranch since May and I like it, even without power sometimes.
Next week we leave again for Orlando where I’ll attend another writer’s retreat (I don’t have to do anything except write at it J), participate in the Christy Awards banquet, and attend several receptions, breakfasts, and have a signing while at the large trade show. A Tendering in the Storm is a one of three finalists for a Christy. My titles have been finalists for five national awards without being chosen as the winner and that’s all right with me. Jerry will attend the banquet and so will his daughter and son-in-law who we haven’t seen in awhile. Jerry will spend most of his time with his daughter while I’m chattering with other authors, hanging out with publishers, seeing what’s happening in this sometimes strange industry that makes it possible for my books to reach your hands.
Then later in the month I’ll be at Aurora hopefully fact-checking material for the quilt and craft book. It’s a very good life we lead and I am grateful.
The theme of the Pennsylvania conference was “Joy in the Journey” and as it happens, everything seemed to come together for that event with our discovery of joy along our writing way. I got to remind people to think “midwife” and not just wait until we’re published before finding that joy; we need to celebrate successes along the way. I don’t think that refers to the writers among us but to the parents, the teachers, the windmill operators, but for police and politicians, ranchers, laundry mat owners and on-line entrepreneurs as well. Other faculty, Gayle Roper, Barbara Hirshbaum, Lisa Crayton, Sally Stuart, inspired us and laughed with us opening doors to creativity.
Sometimes when I’m traveling (read that ‘journeying’) I don’t take time to enjoy. I’m concerned about getting to the airport on time, getting through security, hoping my bag will fit as a carry-on, wondering if the weather will affect my connection and who my seat companion will be and whether I’ll arrive safely at the other end.
But if I set a new attitude before I travel (the work before the work) it changes the entire journey for me. In Dallas, on the way to PA, the zipper on my favorite purse broke. But when my friend Bobbi Updegraff picked me up, she had a dozen purses for me to choose from, all made by a mission in Honduras that she supports. She travels and writes for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and has a special interest in Honduras where women there make purses from men’s ties. (For $25 you can have one too!). It was perfect! I didn’t even have to go to the mall to get a replacement and my effort helped a mission project in Central America.
At the conference, I found joy in listening to other faculty like Gayle Roper and Barbara Hirshbaum, Lisa Crayton and Sally Stuart and reading first chapters of participants. A couple of fans drove 4 hours from their homes in Ohio to listen to my presentation and we spent time just connecting. I wasn't rushed and so could also walk beside someone who was troubled and pray with her as she took next steps on her writing journey. I nearly froze back there (it was 54 degrees several days!) but I'd thrown in a shawl at the last minute and was fine, just fine.
Coming home, I had a joyful journey too. I sat next to a Texan who was in “gas and oil” and we shared the exit row seats with extra leg room. I got bumped up to that flight and avoided a storm delay. Turns out that oilman hated take-offs and I hate landings so we offered good support to each other.
While at the airport in Dallas, I bought Jerry’s birthday present. Jerry also checked in early at the hotel in Portland so when I called his cell to tell him I was there and couldn’t get through because Mariah had had that cell and it was full, the hotel put me through to him so he could come and get me. And when we got home, Bo was happy to see us both. All things worked on this journey.
Once, earlier in my life, while living in West Bend, WI, I’d made my then husband drive the 40 miles to the airport a day early, rent a motel then show up at 6:00 AM for a noon flight to Florida – before homeland security. The airport wasn’t even open at 6:00 AM! But I was so anxious I pushed us to get there early and so fearful that I wouldn’t know how to manage if something went wrong that I rarely enjoyed those journeys nor even the vacations. Now I do.
So this is a month in which I can encourage you all to remember that things do change; we do survive inconveniences and sometimes even disasters. Small doors open when we take the time to notice them. Rattlesnakes turn out to be friendly bull snakes; and dogs that get close can be caught and brought back. At least sometimes. This time. And smoke in the canyon isn’t always from a close fire; sometimes the smoke is from a trial far away where finding joy is a challenge.
In his song, "Joy in the Journey," Michael Card writes that "there is a wonder and wildness to life, and freedom for those who obey." Perhaps that’s the key this month, to allow the wonder and wildness to permeate the everyday and bring joy to whatever journey you’re on.
Next month I’ll have a new website. I hope you’ll come by. Meanwhile, thanks for your constant support of my work, interest in our lives and prayers for continued joy on our own Starvation Lane journey. Warmly, Jane