Accidental Vacation

While on vacation in Santa Fe and Los Alamos, New Mexico, I took an unintentional, but much needed and extended vacation from my blog. The company was too engaging, the scenery too inspiring, the WIFI too sporadic.

I took it as a sign.

I needed a break.

Then when I came home last week, I found the desire to write had not yet been rekindled. My muse was still lounging in her pjs, dreaming of southwestern skies. To add to my procrastination vacation, my modem died…or so I thought. It was actually playing possum until the repairman showed up to debunk its fakery. (I guess my modem also needed an extended vacation.) With just a few tweaks of some knobs or some such magic, the mighty repairman had my modem working, again.

Now, after a wonderful visit with some writer friends last weekend, all is back normal; writing fire rekindled and modem functioning properly. (My muse is still wearing her pjs, but frankly, most of the time so am I.)

Before we return to our regularly scheduled programming, I thought I’d share some of the beautiful sights from my vacation that inspired me.

Enjoy.

My daughter outside our hotel in Los Alamos one morning.
My daughter outside our hotel in Los Alamos one morning. (Yes, she’s was reading ALLEGIANT.)

 

 

Daughter and husband walking around in a park in Los Alamos.
Daughter and husband walking around in a park in Los Alamos.

 

 

Son greeting an elephant statue in the park.
Son greeting an elephant statue in the park.

 

 

Daughter with Dr. Oppenheimer statue.
Daughter with Dr. Oppenheimer’s statue. They love him in Atomic City.

 

 

Wildflowers on a morning walk.
Wildflowers on a morning walk with the husband. We snuck out while the kids were sleeping and even had breakfast together. That rarely ever happens.

 

 

My husband standing past the barrier to take a picture. Me documenting his possible demise. (He did survive, thankfully.)
My husband, Tim, standing past the barrier to take a picture of the spectacular view just outside of Los Alamos on the stretch of road I came to call Suicide Hill, with me documenting his possible demise. (He did survive, thankfully.)

 

 

Coming into Santa Fe where there are pueblos as far as the eye can see.
Coming into Santa Fe where everything is pueblos as far as the eye can see.

 

 

Walking through the Railyard district of Santa Fe with my best friend since childhood.
Daughter walking with her godfather and my best friend since childhood. We walked through the Railyard arts district of Santa Fe and spent the day there seeing the sights. We had lunch at a new local place run by a friend of David’s called Shake Foundation. The Adobe Mud shakes were excellent. Later Tim took the kids to see a movie so David and I could talk without distraction. It’s always good to catch up with him.

 

 

My son and David playing on the slides at the playground in the Railyard.
My son and David playing on the slides at the playground in the Railyard.

 

 

David preparing for his turn down the slide. (You can see why we're friends right here.)
David preparing for his turn down the slide. (You can see why we’re friends right here.)

 

 

Me and my bestie at lunch.
Me and my bestie at lunch.

 

 

Russian sage is everywhere.
Russian sage is everywhere in New Mexico.

 

 

The Plaza district has a mixture of old world culture like this...
The Plaza district has a mixture of old world culture like this, the Santuario de Guadalupe…

 

 

...and fantastic displays of art, like this gallery with, yes, a dragon on the roof.
…and fantastic displays of art, like this gallery with, yes, a dragon on the roof.

 

Art was everywhere in Santa Fe. It was beautiful to see and inspiring to the mind.

Another great thing about the long drive there and back, I had plenty of leisure time to read. I tore through four books in a little over one week, which was such a pleasure.

So tell me about your vacation plans. Have you been anywhere exciting? Read any great books this summer?

My summer traveling isn’t quite over. I leave for the SCBWI LA conference in one week. So much to do before then! And when I get back there will be loads to share. (Maybe even some signed books!)

Asking the Big Questions – A Closer Look at One Oklahoman Poet

I was inspired by a couple of thought-provoking books of poetry I read this past week by fellow Oklahoma writer Nathan Brown and wanted to share them with you. I met Nathan Brown a few years ago while taking a summer extension course through the University of Oklahoma that was set in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was a week long immersion course in the culture and writing of the Southwest. It was taught by Robert Con Davis-Undiano; Nathan was there helping teach the course. For the class, I was introduced to writers completely new to me like Rudolpho Anaya who wrote Bless Me Ultima and Elena Avila who wrote Woman Who Glows in the Dark and to E.A. (Tony) Mares who wrote the most amazing book of poetry With the Eyes of a Raptor after the death of his daughter that I found so moving I couldn’t stop gushing about it even when he was right there in front of our class. That’s right; our group was the only one that had to do their presentation in front of the actual author.

No pressure there.

Tony, as we were told to call him, was very generous with his critique of our presentation. We also had the pleasure of his company at dinner later that evening where we heard him read his own work. He did a much better job than we did. Not every day was spent in the classroom, we also went to museums, ate fantastic local food, and watched a great flamenco performance. I loved every minute of it.

I stumbled across Nathan’s website this past year and remembered that he wrote poetry, too. He’d read something of his during our week in Santa Fe. I got in touch with him and found out how to purchase his books. The first one I read, Not Exactly Job, is a sometimes irreverent but always sincere response to the Old Testament book of Job. From the preface of the book, Nathan says, “The very form and lyrical essence of the Book of Job is poetry. And this fact…this problem…lies at the core of the difficulties I’ve had over the years with conservative theology when it comes to the nature of interpretation. Poetry is, and has always been, ‘something else’ – a ‘something else’ that is filled with metaphor, idiom, double meaning, and hidden intent. To look at it literally…destroys it.”

After an intro like that, I had to read on. Here’s one of my favorite passages from Not Exactly Job:

This…Thing

But where can wisdom be found?                              28:12

Where does understanding dwell?

That is the question…so much more so

than “To be…or not to be…”

Shakespeare missed other things as well.

But this -wisdom and understanding-

what Solomon prayed for over riches

and fame-what I prayed for,

because of Solomon, and am now

paying the price-this…thing

that Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin

were murdered for possessing-

this…thing we are told to seek, yet

when we do, it seldom brings peace-

the best among us…often…going

slowly insane from the incessant

rumble of its quiet thunder.                                        28:13-15

Heavy, heady stuff. And yet, haven’t we all had thoughts like this before? Maybe just me…

The second book, Suffer the Little Voices (which was a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award in 2006), is a little darker.  We find our poet searching for answers and asking some tough questions, showing doubt in things he was raised to believe in, not afraid to say that he doesn’t know the answers himself. I found myself echoing many of those same doubts and questions. I have a very vivid memory of sitting in the front pew of my church with the rest of my youth group – something I started us doing after hearing someone complain that we always sat in the back and never paid attention; I was a rebel even in church. I was looking around at the congregation one Sunday as we were all just vacantly repeating words back to the minister like autobots that should have been – in my opinion – shouted out with feeling and deep emotion. A big hairy doubt monster began to grow in my brain that day. I wondered what in the hell we were doing. What did all of this mindless rhetoric mean if no one was really paying attention? I started contemplating even scarier questions that I really didn’t know the answers to, that I was afraid to even say out loud.

Nathan Brown’s not afraid to ask those questions or let us peak into his imperfect thoughts. That is something I love about poetry. It can tap into the heart of any issue, get right down into the truth of the emotions, no matter how unpretty they may be. Real emotions make for great writing. We can all learn something from the poets.

Here is one of my favorite passages from Suffer the Little Voices:

Broken

I’ll write from the bottom,

stack letters and words-

maybe even enough punctuation-

around my feet at the base

of this dry well-

stepping up a layer at a time-

until piles of broken literature

raise my head to the surface.

There’s little light down here.

but I only need a little-

enough to be able to read

the piles of broken literature

written by others.

To see how they got out-

what they did when they

got back to the surface.

Have you ever had moments of doubt? Lost faith in something you believed in? Is this something you can use in your writing?

Back from vacation and #writemotivation wrap up

I have been working so hard on my writing lately that taking a break from everything familiar and immersing myself in the creative energy of Santa Fe was just what I needed. It had been so long since we’d gone on a vacation together as a family, (maybe ten years?) that I really enjoyed getting to spend some unhurried time with them. And with my best friend there, it was all the more fantastic.  We ate various local cuisines – New Mexican (and ordered ours Christmas, of course), Middle Eastern, to name a few – we meandered down Canyon Road to soak in the local art galleries, even watched some artists working in their studios, which is something that I could have done that all day. We drove up higher into the mountains to Los Alamos to visit some family who live there. The kids got to see some horses and feed them and we went on a short hike. It’s so gorgeous up there. The sky is so brilliant, I swear it’s a completely different hue. I took hundreds of pictures and none of them captured it at all.

Traveling with kids requires some compromise. We had to throw in some touristy things and at least visit the hotel pool a few times during our stay. We had to find the closest zoo to see the elephants and the hippopotami before my son had a complete stroke, which was in Albuquerque and actually quite fantastic, and my son was also in desperate need of a train ride – another excellent addition to our trip. My daughter’s one requirement was shopping, so she had to experience The Plaza and all of the quaint little shops – I think she went inside every single one. That was not my favorite, but still, we made it enjoyable. Although the sales ladies in the pottery store didn’t fully appreciate my husband’s sense of humor when he said he was looking for something to juggle. He was making fun of their bazillion signs that said “do not touch”. Yep, that’s my family to a tee.

We have vowed that we won’t wait another ten years to take our next family vacation, especially since Trevor handled it so well. He was completely out of his element, with no predictable schedule, and he never had a full-blown meltdown. That’s pretty impressive for a kid with autism. We did have to make some accommodations for him and adjust our schedule a few times, but nothing unbearable.

I found myself inspired by so many things during our visit. I would make a mental note of a scene or a character or artwork to use later. That’s why I think it is so important to expose myself to different experiences and take time off so that I can let new experiences in. Now that we’ve returned home, which is another welcome sensation altogether, I’m fully recharged and ready to get back to work.

Here’s one last look at my #writemotivation goals for the month of May:

1. Revise the query for my completed YA manuscript until it’s tight enough to bounce a quarter off the sucker. I made a lot of progress on this goal throughout the month. I fear I could endlessly revise. It’s time to put this manuscript to rest while I’m submitting it to agents and move on to the next one.

2. Research prospective agents to whom I want to submit my completed YA manuscript. Yes. I have researched many, many agents this month. Goal accomplished.

3. Once items one and two have been successfully achieved, submit to at least three agents at a time. Yes, goal very much accomplished. I really have #writemotivation to thank for pushing me to finally take the plunge to submit and to keep submitting, even when the first rejections started rolling in. I’ve submitted to overnine agents so far. Not all have been rejections; some even requested more pages and I’m waiting to hear back. I’m hanging in there. I know this is just part of the process – a very stressful part of the process. Good thing I just went on vacation to de-stress, eh?

4. Get cracking on the next YA manuscript I have planned so I don’t check my inbox every thirty minutes awaiting responses to my submissions. This is a work in progress. I hope to make this more of my focus next month, now that I have the submission process down. I’ve signed up for a novel revision workshop in November and I have to have a manuscript ready by September. I’d like to use this new one, so I need to get some serious writing done. I’ll keep you updated. Stay tuned!