One of us lives on the east coast. One of us lives on the west.

One of us lives in a rural community. One of us lives in a city.

Both of us wander. Both of us witness. Both of us write.

This is a record of what we find.







Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Landscape of Sarah Tomp's My Best Everything




We’re so thrilled to have our VCFA classmate and dear friend Sarah Tomp with us today to talk about her just released (March 3rd!) debut YA novel, My Best Everything!  We love this book—it’s a beautifully written love letter brimming with electric passion and the longing of characters who take great risks to get what they think they want. (I read it in two long breathless gulps, staying up half the night to find out what happens!)




Sharry: Welcome Sarah! I found the landscape in MY BEST EVERYTHING to be so richly provocative and specific to the story—could you describe it for our readers?


Sarah: MY BEST EVERYTHING takes place in the fictional town of Dale, located in the New River Valley, within Appalachia Virginia. It’s a small impoverished town tucked between two mountains with a river running through its center. There are wild and overgrown woods surrounding the area. And in those woods, not too far from a rushing stream, is the spot where my main character, Lulu Mendez, convinces her friends Roni and Bucky to set up a copper still “borrowed” from the junkyard where she and Roni work. That’s how they start making and selling moonshine.



Sharry: You seem to know the landscape intimately well—you must have spent a good amount of time there, gathering the details that bring it vividly to life?

Sarah: Although Dale is not a real place, it’s based on several of the towns surrounding Blacksburg, Virginia, where I lived as a teen. It’s the kind of place that feels both wild and safe. It’s where I learned to drive—and I spent a ridiculous amount of time driving and/or riding around on little back roads exploring the area. The river was a favorite place to end up. I loved riding inner tubes down The New River as soon as the days turned warm.

Sharry: Wild and safe—I love that! And such evocative memories of your own teenage years. Can you talk a little about how the landscape of and around Dale plays a part in your story? 

Sarah: The setting—the landscape—is integral to the story in just about every way. My main character, Lulu is desperate to leave town. She is eager to head off to college life in sunny California. Although there are things she grudgingly likes about her town, she has never felt like she fits in there. She sees it as a slow and sleepy place, covered with shadows and grit. It’s beautiful, but it’s a rough place too.

This is the way she describes Dale, and the junkyard where she works:
“…that spot coming out of the last long curve, where the silvery beech trees grow all lithe and graceful with the somber, steady hills behind them. That’s a view that feels like hope and goodness, as if the whole world is right and strong. But then, all of a sudden, there it is: Sal’s Salvage. Heaps of rusty cars. Noisy machinery. All of it ugly and old and worn out, and all wrapped up with harsh chain-link fences and barbed wire.”

Over the course of the story, Lulu gets to know her community better. Mason teaches her to drive and they spend hours exploring all the many back roads. She starts to find beauty in unexpected places, and to truly appreciate what it means to be a “Dale girl.”

And then there’s the moonshine. Moonshine is a cultural tradition for this part of the world. It’s something that has always flourished when times get tough. People work hard and do whatever it takes to feed their families. The thick woods and running water make it easier to hide a working still. 

I just don’t think this story couldn’t have taken place anywhere else.

Sharry: I couldn’t agree more—the story and place are so interwoven. And it feels like you have both affection and such a deeply personal connection to this landscape—would you say that’s true?
 
Sarah: I loved living in that part of the country! It was an amazing place to spend my teen years. We hiked in the woods, went camping out under the stars, and swam in the lakes and rivers, and the amazing Cascade waterfalls.

So many of my own firsts happened in that place. Memories are tucked into that landscape. There’s a spot on the highway a little north of here (San Diego) that when I’m driving past, it always looks like the hills of Virginia to me. Paired with the colloquial exit named Gopher Canyon, it always makes me feel a little homesick and wistful. But happy, too.

And yet, I never really thought I’d stay there. A lot of my high school friends had lived there all their lives. I was very aware of being an outsider when we moved the summer I turned twelve. So, even though I loved parts of it, maybe that’s why I knew I wouldn’t be staying there forever. I wasn’t as ambitious or determined as Lulu—I never would have had the tenacity to follow through on creating and sustaining a successful moonshine business—but I always assumed I’d end up somewhere else. Just like Lulu.

Sharry: Exactly! Just like Lulu. Thank you so much Sarah for sharing these insights with us today!


Sarah Tomp's Bio

Sarah is the author of My Best Everything, a novel for young adults and a picture book, Red, White and Blue Good-bye. She earned a MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She teaches creative writing for UCSD Extension and lives in San Diego with her family. Visit her at her website: www.sarahtomp.com


You can order My Best Everything through Little Brown Teen or Barnes and Noble or from your favorite independent bookseller!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Building A Nest~Reposted from March 2013

In my usual burst of enthusiasm for the things I love and the desire it creates to imitate them (I love to eat—I should learn how to cook! I love to read—I should try and write a novel!) I have been building a bird’s nest. 

Now the root of this passion is two-fold—I have always loved bird’s nests—I have collected obviously (and sometimes barely) abandoned ones for years. (Usually to have them disintegrate on a bookshelf after a time). I also love artist’s books and altered book artwork and recently made a pact with my oldest artist daughter, Ceinwen, that I would make a piece to enter in the annual MOCA (Marin Museum of Contemporary Art) altered book show and auction, if she would.

It’s due in a month.

The first step, for me, was to find a book to alter. So I visited the Reader’s Bookstore in Fort Mason to look for a vintage book that might be the foundation of my piece. I knew I wanted it to be something to do with birds and/or trees. I found an old library book from the 1940’s, a novel titled The Trees. The deckled pages are thick, slightly buckled and yellowed, the cloth cover is a faded blue. I cut a deep hole in the middle with an exacto-blade where my nest could rest.

Now making a bird’s nest is not as easy as it might look (neither is writing a novel!!!) I can definitely say that the slanderous term ‘bird-brain’ is a mislabel—birds are incredibly clever architects of little woven miracles.

After I took a walk in the woods and collected some leaves and twigs, I made an awkward skeleton out of some copper wire. I soaked the twigs, then bent and twisted, snapped and cursed and tucked until I had a funky little bowl of twigs.

What I have created is an imitation of a bird’s nest. It’s a pretty good imitation— there’s little question as to what it’s supposed to be. I think most people would look at it and think, oh, that looks like a bird’s nest. (As opposed to oh,…that’s interesting…what is it?)



It’s the same as when we write and try to create a well-rounded, believable character or a realistic setting—we are creating a plausible imitation. And sometimes we have to distort reality to make what is written work. This is especially the case in writing dialogue—if we as writers were to write a page of dialogue the way we all normally speak, it would be unbearably boring and dull with all of the um’s and uh’s and you know’s—so what we write is an imitation of dialogue.


They say that imitation is the highest form of praise. 

I say, praise be to the birds, to their beautiful nests, to the trees that hold them, to their wood that is made into paper, to the books, to the stories told and written and read. And to all of those who imitate them with love in their hearts.

Take Good Care,

Sharry

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Landscape of Essential Living (and Writing)

My debut middle grade novel, Another Kind of Hurricane was sold on April 3, 2014. On that same day, I got a phone call from our social worker, asking if we would be interested in changing the age range of the child we were willing to adopt. We had been in the process of adopting a child for 3 years, and were approved up to the age of 24 months. She asked if we were interested in, let's say, changing the upward end of the range to 28 months.
Translation of that question: There is a child that the adoption committee wants to match you with. He is slightly older than the age range you requested. If you change your age range you will be matched with your son.
Answer to that question: Yes. And yes and yes and also yes.
growingPlant1My book sold on the same day I found out about our son. Two excruciatingly long processes in the soil, sun and rain, and they flowered on exactly the same day.
Explain that. (Seriously. I'm collecting reasons, magical and logical, for why these two journeys are so intertwined.)
Or I will explain it. Or I will try, at least. But bear with me? I want to finally write a little about my son, who just came to live with us in December. I've been protective of his journey, not wanting to expose him too much in too public a way, but there is a part of it that I want to explore now. Here. With you all. And I'm not sure why, but I think it has something to do with writing. Maybe. We'll see.
Image 15
In Honduras.
My son was born in Honduras and lived his three years there before we adopted him. He lived in the same town, with the same family. His life with his foster mother was secure and full of love. This is evident. He is fully himself wherever, thus far, he has been – in his home town; in Tegucigalpa, the capitol city of Honduras; on Roatan Island; on my parents' farm in very rural Vermont; and now, in my town in Vermont, in our little village, in our house. In all of these places, in all of these landscapes, he is…who he is. Do you know what I mean? He's got a solid sense of self. And he is very comfortable residing there. No need to defend himself, no need to hide himself.
I believe he is like this for two reasons: First, he came into the world this way. He must have. And second, his foster mother nurtured this in him – through her love and gift of security – during those critical early developmental years in his life. (The respect and awe I feel for her, this woman who took in my son with open arms, raised him, and then let him go with those same open arms…that is for another post another day.)
Because he has this innate sense of centeredness, he is very curious about and very comfortable finding the ways that he fits into the landscape of our family. And here is where maybe he and writing overlap? Or are woven together?
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(from http://www.violinist.com)
My son's first three years were full of the routines and rhythms of household chores. I'm learning this about him. He loves to do the laundry with me, for example, and learned the order of button pushing to start the washing machine by the second time we did it together. He loves to cook too. He sits on the counter, his short legs kicking the wooden drawer underneath him, and he dumps the flour, cracks the eggs, and pours the milk. Stir is one of his first English words. He watched my other 3 kids come home from school for about 3 days before he began taking their lunch boxes out of their backpacks and bringing them to me – because he realized that was what they did, day after day, right after they piled through the door and spilled into the house.
This kid watches routines. He feels rhythms. And then he acts. He finds the places where he can fit himself into the beat, into the music, into the pauses and patterns – and then he inserts himself. The earnestness with which he pursues this breaks my heart wide open. He is so transparent. He is so clearly identifying and claiming his place in the family, and in this new life. But – or maybe and – at the same time, he is so clearly tapping into something that is familiar to him at his core.
Image 1
Trampolining in winter in negative digit temps. Welcome to Vermont, kid.
Rhythms and routines. This is how you write a book too, isn't it? On a meta-level: make a routine for your writing. On a micro-level: find and follow the rhythms of your characters' voices and of the story. But it's deeper than that. And I don't know if I can describe what I am feeling adequately here. (Maybe someone can give me insight after reading this?) There is an essential quality to my son's life right now…as in, he is practically all essence. There is an authenticity that buzzes through and around him that's palpable. Maybe this is because he is, in a way, being re-born right now. And that newborn time is all about essence and core and what-you-see-is-what-you-got, right? Most kids keep this for a while, some for a long while, so I am, by no means, suggesting that my son is unique in this…but I do think that, among the myriad of other reasons I am so lucky to be mothering this kid, I am privileged to be a part of this kind of essentialness in such an intimate way.
Image 7
Yup, he's drinking it all in...
This – this essentialness – is what we strive for in our writing, isn't it? The transparency and truthfulness of the human spirit that breaks open the hearts (and minds) of our readers? That inspires them – in even the smallest ways – to live fully inside of themselves?
I don't know. I think so anyway. What I do know is that my son humbles me every single day.

With gratitude,
Tam







Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Landscape of The Unthinkable Mind

I’ve been taking a cool online poetry class from Mark Olmsted, who studied with Allen Ginsberg (I mean, how cool is that?!?) Last weeks’ lecture started off with a Ginsberg quote:

"Notice what you notice."


From Lynda Barry's Syllabus
Now, thinking about this, it can be read in two ways—like, do what you do, an instruction to just get on with it, to stop trying too hard. But it’s also advice to pay attention to what catches your attention. (But first, you have to learn how to pay attention. As in, Be Attentive.)

This is a good thing to do whether you’re trying (but not TOO hard) to write a poem, or draw the world, build a novel, or just go for a walk. Actually, this is what the art of flaneur is all about. And here at Kissing The Earth, we’re all about the art of flaneur…


On a slightly different but very connected note, I continue my ongoing exploration of what lies behind the need, the desire to make things. I’ve just finished working* my way through Lynda Barry’s Syllabus, which could be thought of as a manual for learning to be present, for noticing what you notice. (*I say working, but it felt more like playing—it was hugely fun and enlightening—enlightening as in a new sense of lightness, a feeling of buoyancy with my approach to drawing and writing.)

The slim volume is full of ideas, questions, assignments, exercises and quotes by famous people who had something to say about the arts.

From Lynda Barry's Syllabus


One of the quotes I especially liked is from someone named Milner, who said: “Instead of trying to force myself into doing what I imagined I ought to be doing, I began to inquire into what I was doing.”

Kind of like noticing what you notice.

Another often quoted person is psychiatrist, writer and literary scholar Iain McGlichrist. One of his ponderings is: “The arts, I believe, have a pivotal role in putting us in touch with the transcendent, with whatever it is that is beyond us. They are core to a civilization, measures of our health, and should be treated as such.” And “Art brings into being a truth about the world that was not there before.”


From Lynda Barry's Syllabus
Barry built the book from her three years of keeping notes, drawings and sullabi, teaching art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and specifically for a class she called The Unthinkable Mind, which had keeping a journal at its foundation. She tells her students to think of a journal as a place not a thing.

A place to doodle, a place to experiment, a place to relax and record and notice what you notice.

To tell the truth, I've always hated journaling, but this is different. I've actually been having a great time and may just stick with it for a while!

Do you keep a journal? If so, I'd love to hear about your process. Is it legible? Beautiful? Do you go back and read what you've written? Do tell...


Take Good Care,

Sharry






Thursday, February 5, 2015

Repost of the Integrated Mind and Body


Hi good, wonderful people.  I will get back to the business of writing blog posts.  My life has been full to spilling over these days though and so I am reposting, yet again, one of my old favorites.  The true of the matter is that it is VERY relevant for me today too.  Maybe it is for you too.

*********

I've spent a lot of time this past week thinking about integration. Integration of the mind and the body. Integration of one emotion or truth with a seemingly contradictory other emotion or truth (emphasis on seemingly.) Integration of outside-offered knowledge and inside-felt intuition.
from Building Soul


We live in a culture where subtly is often hard to find. Loud is recognized. Absolute thinking is applauded. And an inflexible stand is all too familiar.  Politics make this clear, for sure, but I see it on a more intimate level too. Arguments between two people that fully operate on the premise that one belief cannot exist in the presence of another. Small and large beliefs and everything in between. It seems as if we are under the false impression that in order to feel secure and on solid ground, we need to hold onto one piece of information – a truth, a belief, an emotion, a reason, a decision – like it is a tree trunk, unmoving and firmly rooted.

I'm speaking from personal experience here. Go figure. And it has been causing a lot of heartache. Specifically, I have been experiencing how critical it is to integrate the mind and the body. The mind is capable of being in many places. It can be in the past, it can be in the future.  It can be in a memory, it can be in an expectation. It can be on the beach, in an airplane, in a classroom, a hotel, a forest. All of this time and place travel is fine.  It is extraordinary, in fact. But the mind can get stuck in one of those places, or one of those times, and if there is no path back – well, that is not so fine. That is the stuff of heartache…of losing a sense of direction, of purpose, and of self. This kind of existence is one of almost exclusive mind-living. It is easy to cultivate. Again, our culture kind of encourages it. Our intellect is revered.

But it is dangerous.

Integrating the body with the mind is a critical process in living a full and connected life.  Because the body is present. It is always present.  Wherever your mind may take you, your body is still right here, right now. You are thinking about 7th grade? Your feet are still standing on the floor of your house today. You are imagining what it would be like to leave your job? Your hands are still wrapped around your tea mug now.

In an earlier post, I talked about this mind-body practice I have – I'll use the word, yup! – integrated into my life. I love this practice. It keeps me grounded in right here and right now. And, at the risk of sounding old and familiar, all we truly have is right here and right now. Or, hold up…wait a minute…let me revise: all we truly have to come back to is right here and right now.

That is the integration process.

And it goes back to that desire we all have to feel secure and on solid ground. But holding on to that piece of information – that absolute truth, etc – will not achieve that groundedness. Holding onto our bodies will though. Sinking into our bodies will. I like to imagine the landscape of the body and mind like a large tract of land and an island with a bridge between them. Build that bridge if you don't have one. Clear it of debris if it has fallen into disrepair. Imagine it into being. For me, it is a lovely wooden bridge with railings and the open sky above. I can trek across it, into my mind, and hang out there, dreaming of fulfilling all of my longings, and then I can stretch my legs and arms, turn around and trek back into my body and settle there for the day, working hard on whatever is my work in this moment, playing hard at whatever is my play for this moment too.

In this way, my longings are realized, bit by bit, moment by moment, a hundred journeys between my mind and my body, a well-worn path, an ease, an integration.

My dear friend and yoga teacher, Kara, read us this poem in class today.  I leave it for you.

Joy For No Reason


I am filled with quiet
joy for no reason save
the fact that I'm alive.
The message I receive
is clear - there's no time
to lose from loving, no
place but here to offer
kindness, no day but this
to be my true, unfettered
self and pass the flame
from heart to heart. This
is the only moment that
exists - so simple, so
exquisite, and so real.


                        Danna Faulds

With gratitude,
Tam