Saturday, December 14, 2013

G3 - Growing

GROWING: A crone keeps growing emotionally and intellectually. Right now I am spending a lot of time thinking and reading about relationships, both those with people around us and those on the other side of the curtain. I want to understand what makes relationships work. I am also interested in learning about meditation.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings's home at Cross Creek

Marjorie and Me: A Relationship

     In April of 1938, The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was published, and the next April it won the Pulitzer Prize. During the fall of 1964, The Yearling saved my life. I was twenty-two going on fifteen and had just begun to teach English in a high school said to be the roughest in a city with several. The kids were only a few years younger than I, and many were far more experienced in worldly matters.    

    Armed with the love of literature and well-founded in English grammar, I marched into that classroom with confidence. Instructional periods were seventy minutes, and the kids were grouped according to ability. The longer time was great for the better students, but I had one bunch with severe disabilities, barely able to read or write. Totally unprepared for such a group, I panicked. What was I supposed to do with these kids for so long? Just the year before I had fallen in love with The Yearling, and I began to read it aloud. I remember how Joe, almost my age, twice my size, and dressed always in filth, would ask each day as he came in, “You going to read about the bear, Miss Hoover?” I assured him I would read if he worked hard. For twenty minutes I attempted to teach the rudiments of the English language. Then guilt-ridden, I reached for the story. Other novels followed. Mostly I stood at the back of the classroom as I read, my gaze going often to the door. What would happen if someone important came in and discovered I was wasting time?

      Finally, in January, I attended a teachers’ meeting where an expert teacher of English said from a high stage, “Be sure to read aloud to your students, even those in high school. They need to hear the beauty of language.” I could hardly keep from shouting!

       My admiration for Rawlings changed into what I have somehow come to think of a relationship last December when I visited Cross Creek, her home in rural Florida. My two daughters, their children, and I were driving to Disneyworld. The girls watched the little ones play on swings on the grounds while Paul, who was nine at the time and who wants to be a writer, and I went inside. We were both enthralled.

Cross Creek

       If you don’t know how Marjorie came to own Cross Creek and how living there led to The Yearling, you should read her autobiographical account with the same name as her home or at least watch the movie, not totally true to the story, but close. Hoping the citrus grove would support her writing habit,  Rawlings bought the place, including a house that had been assembled by connecting three tiny buildings  with porches. Built from cypress and pine, the dwelling is plain, simple, and open for cross ventilation. There is a great article about Cross Creek in the Florida section of American Author Houses, Museums, Memorials, and Libraries, by my sister, Shirley Hoover Biggers, published by McFarland.  With money from one of her early short story sales, the new owner had the first indoor bathroom added. She celebrated by putting ice and soda in the tub, a tray of glasses on the sink, roses in the stool, and inviting the neighbors in for a “gala social event.” She also screened in the front porch where she wrote, her typewriter resting on a roughly made table.

Orange Trees at Cross Creek

      After the trip, I read a book of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s letters and a biography. She loved company, just as I do. So far none of my writer friends have achieved the fame of those who slept at one time or another in the narrow handmade bed found in her guest room. Still, I don’t think she could have enjoyed Margaret Mitchell, Robert Frost, or even Thornton Wilder more than I enjoy my friends, writers and others. Maybe I should reconsider that statement because Gregory Peck, who starred in the movie version of The Yearling, also visited.

        Paul and I were thrilled by our tour of Cross Creek, him clutching a newly released edition of the author’s beautiful picture book, The Secret River, one even the tour guide hadn’t yet seen. I came away with some brochures and a ticket that I later had laminated. It is green and has an ink drawing of the house. When I hold that piece of paper in my hand, I can experience the house and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings again. I just discovered that she died exactly 60 years ago today, December 14, 1953. It interests me that I couldn’t seem to get this blog entry written yesterday, but that it came quickly on this memorable date.  As I mentioned in an earlier entry, my friend Beverly was right when she told me relationships don’t end with death.

With my grandson, Paul, at Cross Creek.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

G3 - Growing

The Human Spirit

GROWING: A crone keeps growing emotionally and intellectually. Right now I am spending a lot of time thinking and reading about relationships, both those with people around us and those on the other side of the curtain. I want to understand what makes relationships work. I am also interested in learning about meditation.

Pondering the human spirit makes me grow. Because I just finished reading The Book Thief, my thoughts were full of that miraculous spirit when I went to church this morning at the beautiful, old Presbyterian church I can see from my writing room window. I love attending services in a structure built in 1894 and used as a hospital and morgue after Chandler’s cyclone of 1897. I cherish experiencing that timeworn building as I hear Joyce Newby’s piano preludes, medleys that enrich my soul in a special way. Today Joyce, who sings like an angel, added even more to my experience, but I digress.

I am writing about the Human Spirit, and I’ve decided to capitalize the words. Reverend Newby began his message this morning by reading an anonymous piece that he said was left on his desk. Among other things the selection contained this quote, “I asked God to make my sick friend whole. He said, ‘Her spirit was already whole when she came into the world. Her body has always been temporary.’”

I began to think about how a spirit comes into the world whole, but how it is required to grow. Some spirits, like the spirit belonging to Liesel, who steals books, grow quickly. Others take longer. My spirit is slow to grow, but I am glad to say it has not stopped yet.

My slow spirit went through a real growth spurt when I read The Book Thief recommended to me by my friend, Helen Newton, who said, “It’s for those who love words and the human spirit.” Helen recommended it last summer, but I only recently had the priceless experience of listening to the audio version. I am ever so glad I got to hear the story, because like all poetry it is better aloud, but I am also glad I have a print copy, because I plan to mark countless passages. 

Death narrates this tale about a young German girl during World War II. Sounds pretty grim, doesn’t it? However, the word that best describes the book is triumphant. In fact, I am leaning toward deciding that it is the most triumphant book I’ve ever read.

The conquering spirit is a familiar theme in literature. Of course, Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl comes to mind as does my longtime favorite, The Yearling, a novel that helped me survive my first year of teaching. I’ll tell you more about that lifesaving experience later. Right now I want to talk about something Penny Baxter tells his son in that book, “You've seed how things goes in the world o' men. You've knowed men to be low-down and mean. You've seed ol' Death at his tricks...Ever' man wants life to be a fine thing, and a easy. 'Tis fine, boy, powerful fine, but 'tain't easy. Life knocks a man down and he gits up and it knocks him down agin.”

Sometimes I don’t even wait for life to knock me down. I fall of my own accord, collapsing in a heap of my own ridiculous making. I’ve mentioned before how much I love Our Town by Thornton Wilder. In that play the Stage Manager says, “Whenever you come near the human race there’s layers and layers of nonsense.”

Reading The Book Thief pulled me out of a period of nonsense. Someone told me the book was too sad to read. I am sorry for anyone with that attitude. Death tells the reader what is going to happen before it happens. I had already decided, even before the narrator admitted it, that Death’s telling us in advance, served the purpose of helping the reader bear what had to happen during the ravages of war. However, I would have read the novel anyway even without the softening of the blow because of the beauty of the words. To tell the truth, at first I thought that Death’s voice was a bit overdone, but Death quickly won me to his side. 

Last week during a school visit, a child asked me, “Do you like death?” I knew she was really inquiring why many of my books have a death either in the story or alluded to in the story. I talked to the group about how all of us die and about how I think Western society is wrong to try to separate life and death because they are so totally intertwined. I told the girl that I am not afraid of death or of talking and writing about the experience that can make those of us who witness it grow more than almost anything else.

In The Book Thief, Death says of Liesel’s papa, “He was tall in the bed. I could see the silver through his eyelids.  His soul sat up. It met me. Those kinds of souls always do—the best ones. The ones who rise up and say, ‘I know who you are and I am ready. Not that I want to go, of course, but I will come.’ Those souls are always light because more of them have been put out. More of them have already found their way to other places.”

I won’t reveal the last line of The Book Thief, but I will tell you it proves that the Human Spirit  is stronger than death. I will also say I hope my soul is sitting up when death comes for me.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

G3 - Growing

What I've Learned from My Grandson About Writing

GROWING: A crone keeps growing emotionally and intellectually. Right now I am spending a lot of time thinking and reading about relationships, both those with people around us and those on the other side of the curtain. I want to understand what makes relationships work. I am also interested in learning about meditation.

Paul and his younger cousin Will at the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

      My grandson, Paul Coleman Sain, is only ten years old, but I’ve learned a lot about writing from him. Paul decided over a year ago to become a writer. However, my first writing lesson from him came when he was only in the first grade. I had just brought him some new Captain Underpants books. He took the first book and eagerly began to read aloud. When I no longer heard his voice, I looked up to see him turning pages. I asked why he had stopped reading his book. He frowned at being distracted. “I’m reading in my head, Nana,” he said. “It’s a whole lot faster!”

       Now, you might not understand how that statement relates to writing, but it does. I’ve always kept my writing projects in my thoughts as much as possible even when not working. However, Paul’s words about his “head” began to have new meaning for me when I started this blog at the same time I also started a new novel. How could I find time to compose a blog? I do it, of course, in my head. A blog post is short, short enough to create “in my head” while I walk. All I have to do is head for the computer as soon as I get back. “It’s a whole lot faster!” 

      The next lesson involves not sharing too soon. Soon after Paul began his book, a graphic novel (a manuscript with pictures) called Diarrhea, he began carrying about a big pile of papers, not stacked evenly. “Don’t look at this, Nana,” he said when he left his masterpiece near me. “It’s not ready for anyone to see it yet.”  I told him I had seen all the diarrhea I cared to see, but I also realized the validity of his reluctance. A writer should not share his or her story until it is truly polished. I must confess, though, that I did peek at Paul’s project, just the last sheet. I was pleased to see the label “Eplog” at the top of the page.

Writing is not Paul's only interest.

      Paul has also taught me about the financial side of the business. After he announced his intention to become a writer, he informed his mother that he was not going to be the same kind of writer Nana is. Thinking he might mention the graphic part of his work,  Ginny asked what kind he planned to be. “The rich kind,” he said. I like the way the boy thinks, and I’ve observed that he is on the right track.

       For instance, not long after beginning his magnum opus, he employed his cousin Will to help write. Will was only in kindergarten at the time and formed his words rather slowly, asking each time how to spell what he was trying to say. Paul was overheard admonishing his employee, “Will, if you can’t work faster we are never going to make any money.”

      When we moved into our present home, four-year-old Paul immediately dubbed my writing room “the pencil shop.” Because it is connected to the living room by glass doors, the pencil shop has been a favorite play spot for all seven of my grandchildren. About a year ago, Paul put a sign on my office door that read, “Paul’s Book Company.” This time it was his smaller cousin, Elizabeth, whom he took into the business. They spent most of one day making picture books. Elizabeth not old enough to write, did only pictures. She also acted as salesperson, selling the books done by both of them to me for pennies, nickels, and occasionally dimes. Paul took all the money for his work and half of what Elizabeth earned. At first, I thought I should protest on her behalf, but I didn’t. After all, it was his establishment. My publisher certainly never gave me half of the profit. Maybe the boy really is going to be the rich kind.

     I wish I had known the last lesson I learned from Paul a long, long time ago. I decided at six to become a writer, but I did nothing about it for years and years. I believe Paul might well achieve his first publication long before I did because he has already learned what I didn’t know until I was in my forties. When some creators of children’s books came to Oklahoma to help raise funds for tornado victims, two of Paul’s heroes, Dav Pilkey, Captain Underpants, and Jeff Kinney, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, were among them. It’s been a few years since Paul read the Captain underpants books. Many of those stories he had  read aloud on the school bus to other students, but Paul still has the books. He got them all out and sort of caressed them before going to hear the men speak.

      After the presentation, Paul had books autographed and got to talk to the writers. Dav Pilkey told him that he believed Diarrhea could be a best seller. He went home that Friday night and worked on his project until 2:30 a.m. He learned at ten that the interaction with other writers is vital for getting those creative juices flowing. Things might have been a lot different for me had I known earlier.     

Grace does not plan to be a writer. However, she wrote her first book at six. She stopped halfway through the story to say, "Nana, I got most of this from a movie." I assured her we could call the piece a "retelling." I can assure you that had Grace's story fallen into the hands of a certain Oklahoma publisher along with nearly 5,000. dollars, we would have been told the book was the first step in a very successful career. 

Elizabeth who often claims to be a kitty, but that is a different post.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

G1- Gratitude

 “Come on-a my house, my house a come on.”

GRATITUDE: A crone feels gratitude. I’ve always been quick to list my many blessings. However, for some reason lately I’ve begun to feel intense gratitude. Really feeling the gratitude has made a huge difference in my outlook. Sometimes while I am out on my walk, I lift my arms and say, “Eternal Spirit, Mother, Father, God, Thank you.” Then I call out those things that fill my soul with thanksgiving. I mostly do this when there is no one about to hear, but if I am overheard, it won’t matter. It is hard to embarrass a crone.

      When I was a little girl, Rosemary Clooney, aunt of George Clooney, sang a song of invitation about her house. Evidently she felt about her home the same way I feel about mine. I’ve never loved a dwelling as much as I love the one on 9th Street.   

       We bought the property in the fall of 2006 and moved in on our 5th wedding anniversary, September 21, 2013, J. C. having spent every weekend for a year working on improvements. Shortly after the move, he took on a job that kept him in Kansas most of the time for a few months, so I spent quality time alone with the new digs. On one of his visits back, he brought me a gift, a big stone with the words “Heron House,” carved into it. I adore the heron weathervane that sits atop my special room, but I thought naming the house seemed a little pretentious, considering the place’s many scars. The stone stayed, though, and the name has stuck, especially among my writer friends.

      One thing I did during my first days was to give a dinner party for several good friends from college along with some of their spouses. Most came from Oklahoma towns, a couple from Texas, but none of them had seen where I now lived.  Almost every one of the woman said some form of “This house is so you,” upon stepping through the front door.

         They were, of course, exactly right! The people who built the dwelling, nearly two decades before my birth, most certainly would have denied the truth of my belief that this house has been waiting for me, always, but I know what I know. Oh, sure, others have lived here, and people will be here after I am gone. Maybe the house was built for them too. I hope so. I want only people who love these walls to own them.

          It wasn’t love at first sight, not on my part, at least. I do like to think the house had its proverbial cap set for me. I am grateful J.C, who has more of an artist’s eye than I, saw what I couldn’t, how stripping layers of paper from the walls,  pulling down the ceiling –to- floor drapes , getting rid of the carpet that covered righteous, old oak floors would change everything. Very soon, I began to fall in love, and I knew at once the colors I wanted for the walls. I knew, too, that the side porch, once-screened now glassed, should be my writing room. From my desk, I can see the picturesque church we attend, observe comings and goings at the post office, and look out at the world from three directions.  

         Don’t misunderstand, I loved the old farm house where my children grew up, loved it so much, in fact, that I am now unable to drive down that road again. I could never be happier than I was in that house, and also understand I’ve always enjoyed having company. Something, though, about my present home reaches into my soul, and that something also demands people.

         A couple of years ago, I had a bigger version of that 2007 college gathering. That second time,  forty-five senior citizens broke bread together. Even more came to our house for the high school reunion, celebrating 50 years since J.C. and I graduated together a few blocks from here. There are Christmas parties for the Oklahoma Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, a few chili suppers for our church, book-launch parties, and lots of other get-togethers.

Eating Soup

       During the first week of October, Oklahoma SCBWI put on a conference for 100 people in Chandler.  On the night before, around twenty speakers, staff, and key volunteers gathered for dinner at Herron House. Six of those guests spent the night upstairs. On the last Sunday in October, the house hosted a birthday party for writer Patti Bennett’s 85th birthday. In between, there have been lunches for friends, family gatherings, and at least three overnight visitors. All seven of my grandchildren, ages 3-10, love to play upstairs, where they recently created a spook house, bringing up an important question.

         Is Heron House haunted? No, not in the way my grandchildren were trying to replicate. Are there spirits here? Definitely! I especially feel them in the dining room, and they are not necessarily former  residents. When I sit with my writer friends discussing our projects, I sense a connection with others who have loved words before us, others who have thrived on the company of like minds. Using the bowl that belonged first to my grandmother and then to my mother to serve food to my family, I feel the strength in the hands and in the souls of those two women. Sharing a meal with precious friends from other days, I am aware that some bonds last longer than breath lasts in bodies. I never noticed such witnesses before moving here. Old houses, like old people, know things, and neither wants to be lonely.

Patti Bennett, Birthday Girl

         I am grateful to the people who built this house, the husband who saw its possibilities and who worked so hard on it, and, of course, to God for the chance to be part of its history. Undoubtedly, something of me will always be on 9th Street.

The Living Room

Monday, November 11, 2013

G1 - Gratitude

Oklahoma Writers' Hall of Fame

GRATITUDE: A crone feels gratitude. I’ve always been quick to list my many blessings. However, for some reason lately I’ve begun to feel intense gratitude. Really feeling the gratitude has made a huge difference in my outlook. Sometimes while I am out on my walk, I lift my arms and say, “Eternal Spirit, Mother, Father, God, Thank you.” Then I call out those things that fill my soul with thanksgiving. I mostly do this when there is no one about to hear, but if I am overheard, it won’t matter. It is hard to embarrass a crone.

With my son, Ben Myers

With good friends Judge Mark Barcus and Teresa Miller

On November 7th, I was inducted into the Oklahoma Writers’ Hall of Fame. It was a fantastic evening. Woody Guthrie was also honored that night, pretty neat to share a program with such a legendary figure. If you don’t know much about Woody Guthrie, a man who wrote 3,000 songs and fought fearlessly for the downtrodden, you should go to the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa.

Nora Guthrie was there to accept her father’s honor. It was a joy to meet her and to hear Will Kaufman, who is a Guthrie scholar and who performs Woody’s songs between telling the audience about the amazing Oklahoman. Another pleasure was listening to renowned author Michael Wallis, known as Oklahoma’s ambassador to the world, speak about Woody and about a Tulsa landmark,  Steve’s Sundry, Books and Magazines, about to close.

With Nora Guthrie

My son, Dr. Benjamin Myers, introduced me and gave me the pin, making me an official member of the hall of fame. Ben’s introduction was much more eloquent and moving than my speech, but I don’t have a copy of that. For lack of having something better, I am sharing my words of acceptance below.

 Thank you, Ben. As a mother, I have to tell the group that Ben got in this afternoon from Wheaton College near Chicago. They flew him there to speak to faculty and students about his poetry, mostly those poems in his second book, Lapse Americana.

And thank you to the Center for Poets and Writers for this wonderful honor. I hope all of you in the audience know how lucky Oklahoma is to have Teresa Miller and her organization, creating a culture for book lovers that is not common in other states. My sister, who lives in Memphis and who is also a writer, says Tennessee has nothing to compare with our center.

I write for children, so, of course, I am going to talk about children’s literature. If you don’t like children or if you never were a child, you might want to take a restroom break now. Perhaps I should also explain now that, as a category, children’s books include those written for teenagers, as are many of mine.

First, I’d like to clear up two common misconceptions about children’s literature. Right after my first book, Red-Dirt Jessie, came out, more than twenty years ago, someone said to me, “I don’t know much about writing, but I might know enough to write for children.” WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. It is harder to write for children. Have you seen how quickly a kid will close a book and pick up a video game?

Some people think children’s books are written to teach lessons. It strikes me as odd that no one ever says, “I want to write a novel to teach adults about divorce, or wasted lives.” Why then do people say they want to write to teach children to share or teenagers to stand up to bullies? If you want to teach morals, volunteer to teach Sunday school. Often lessons can be discovered in a children’s book, but if the lesson is the purpose, the book will be terrible. Children’s books, like those for adults, are written to share the power of story. People who write for children, like those who write for adults, need to write the story demanded by that power, the story that already exists in the universe and that wells up inside the writer

Story is one of the two most powerful forces in the world, second only to love.

We write for children because children understand the power and magic of story, know it better than anyone.   When my youngest child was small, she became very attached to her Bert doll. Her affection may have begun partly because the doll was given to her by her adored older cousin and partly because she recognized Bert from Sesame Street. Very quickly, though, Bert himself became an authentic person to her. He could not be put in an uncomfortable position, could never be left home alone. Bert had to be treated like a real person.

Finally, I decided I needed to talk to her about the doll. “Anna-Maria,” I said when she was about five, “you know Bert is not real, don’t you?”

“Yes,” she said quickly, “I know he isn’t real, but he is going to pretend to be real all his life.”

It was not long after that conversation that Anna-Maria told me one evening when I was tucking her into bed, “At night I tell stories in my head, and no one can hear them except Bert.”

Children understand the power and magic of story.

A few years ago, shortly after my book, Assassin, told in part from the viewpoint of John Wilkes Booth, came out, I met a girl at a book signing. She was a pretty child with long red hair, and she told me she was in the 8th Grade. When she gave me her book for an autograph, she leaned in and whispered, “I knew Lincoln had to die, but I kept hoping for a way out.”

I knew Lincoln had to die, but I kept hoping for a way out! Such, my friends, is the power of story.

Children know the power of story! And it has been my privilege to share that power with older kids through nineteen novels, and I will share it with little ones for the first time next fall when my picture book, Tumbleweed Baby, is published by Abrams Books. I was born in west Texas, and my oldest brother told me always that he pulled me from a tumbleweed. My family left west Texas when I was six months old. Growing up in central Oklahoma, I had no idea what a tumbleweed looked like, but that same brother, fifteen years older than I, had a record called “Tumbling Tumbleweed.” I would sit outside his bedroom door and listen to that song. I suppose I knew I had not really been found in a tumbleweed, but I was a child who lived under story’s power. As I listened I would think, “Those are my people.” There are two or three true things about me in Tumbleweed Baby , so I lightly refer to the story as my autobiography.

I am grateful to the family that pulled me from that tumbleweed and taught me about love. I am grateful too that I learned early about the power of story.

The writer of the Biblical book of Joel was not talking about the power of story when he penned these words, but he could have been.

Joel 1:3
“Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children and their children another generation.”

The Center for Poets and Writers is all about the power of story, and we who write for children are all about telling the children.

With Michael Wallis, Teresa Miller, and Nora Guthrie

With long-time friend Marilyn Hoover

Friday, November 8, 2013

G-1- Gratitude

I Remember Mama

GRATITUDE: A crone feels gratitude. I’ve always been quick to list my many blessings. However, for some reason lately I’ve begun to feel intense gratitude. Really feeling the gratitude has made a huge difference in my outlook. Sometimes while I am out on my walk, I lift my arms and say, “Eternal Spirit, Mother, Father, God, Thank you.” Then I call out those things that fill my soul with thanksgiving. I mostly do this when there is no one about to hear, but if I am overheard, it won’t matter. It is hard to embarrass a crone.

Mama at Eight

I borrowed this title from a very old movie, based on the book, Mama’s Bank Account.
Today is the anniversary of my mother’s birth. I should always list her first when I list my blessings. Both my mother and my mother-in-law were women with extraordinarily   strong personalities. I plan to write about my mother-in-law, Rose Myers, soon, but I am not sure I will ever write about Mama. How could I ever hope to contain her with words?

I know my siblings feel the same way. However, they have always helped me, so they didn’t refuse my request to write about our mother on her birthday. They even abided by the word limit I gave them. Their names are above their memories. 

L. D. Hoover

         Nobody could have asked for a better Mama. Loving. Strong. Smart. Determined. Words that describe her before and after she gave birth to me when she was a few weeks shy of 42. I was by far the youngest of eight.

Mama, nobody ever called her mother or mom, was a true Oklahoma woman. She started with nothing and finished with little more. She gave all she had to us.

On the 106th anniversary of your birth, we honor you, Mama. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

However, as the youngest -often called “smart-aleck”- I have a few questions:

Why did you never believe it was safe for me to go near any water even after I became a certified water safety instructor?

Weren’t you really half Jewish and half Italian? Why else would you have been cooking more than I could possibly eat and being so worried when I showed interest in a girl?

Where did you get that amazing radar for which the military would have paid millions? It could sniff out beer or perfume at a million miles! It could even tell I “had something going” with a woman you saw only when the two of us were on a television talk show.

Why did you drive my car to Oklahoma City and back to Chandler with the emergency brake on? I had to try to fix the brakes on the day man landed on the moon.
I failed.

Why did you refuse to let me learn guitar when I was a teenager because it “would lead to bad things,” only to buy a guitar and try to teach yourself to play it when I was grown?

I think I know. It’s because you cared so much. It’s the same reason you borrowed $400 dollars from a high-interest loan company so I could pay for college the second semester. The same reason you told me to use your charge account at Hellman’s Department Store when clothes were needed for a special occasion.

Mama’s decisions were not always welcomed and not always right. But there is no question they were made based on the same love and strength that made her such a remarkable Oklahoma woman. They were shared by our loving Father, Ross.

They are the values that flow through all of their descendants.
Happy Birthday, Mama!                                                                        

Linnie Hoover Howell

The dictionary defines the word as a female human parent.  Three short words to describe the woman who, if not the most important person in one's life, is certainly right up there near the top. The dictionary doesn't begin to tell what that word means.

My Mama could never have been Mother, Mom, or any of the other titles some use to identify that female human parent. She was simply Mama to her seven children and two of her grandchildren. Even her husband (Daddy) called her Mama. She was born Cecil Eaton on November 8, 1907, in Indian Territory, only days before Oklahoma became a state. Today is the one hundred sixth  anniversary of her birth. My sister, The Crone, chose this date and method to "remember Mama."

I have very few family memories before about sixth grade. One of them is when we were living in Cashion and Mama had some or all of her teeth extracted. I remember being up late with her and applying hot cloths to her jaws, which I now know was the wrong treatment.  My next clear memory of Mama is when she and my infant brother came home from the hospital.  Perhaps both those events stand out in memory because I knew she was in pain. In later years, the alleviation of Mama's pain was of major importance in the lives of her family.  There were hard years at the end of her life, for her and everyone who loved her.

The years between the beginning and the end were memorable, filled with laughter, tears, and much love. Mama could laugh like no one I've ever known. She gave it her all. She could worry and cry with the same vehemence. When we heard Mama scream in the kitchen, we didn't know whether she was injured or thought she had salted the gravy twice. We depended on her and she also depended on us. A typical remark was "kids, I've lost my purse," which would set us all to finding it.

All her adult life, Mama loved her "kids" above all else. She managed to always have available what we most needed.  There was  good food, warmth, clean clothes, and an abundance of love. Mama was a true blessing to all of us.  If our own descendants can say the same for us then we will have succeeded in paying her the tribute she deserves.

I love you Mama; see you later.

My parents, Cecil and Ross Hoover

Shirley Hoover Biggers

 Texas morning, 4-12-42: Our dear Anna’s birth at home: Mama allowed me (almost six) on her bed near her to eat lunch Daddy’d prepared. 1943, Dolly with closing eyes under Christmas tree. Annual yellow Easter/birthday dresses. Rationed brown oxfords/pink anklets from Mrs. Reeves’ Stonewall store… 1946 church Christmas program - yellow sweater Mama let me unwrap early. Cream-of-wheat, Cashion’s frosty mornings. Fried chicken, okryroast’nears, flaky-crusted pies! White eighth-grade-graduation dress. Deer Creek HS schoolbus delivers ravenous me home to waiting beef/gravy over mashed potatoes. Surprise clock-radio (pink) left at my dorm room. Navy suit for first teaching job interview. Tan maternity outfit mailed to Florida for first pregnancy. Mama's merciful train journey to St. Louis after my second childbirth. Pink layette/baby shoes sent to Memphis, welcoming our youngest. Granddaughters’ birthday cards, dollars enclosed. Affectionate relationship with my Charlie, recipient of her Collector’s Avon bottles.                                                                
Thanks, Mama.

Twenty-two years separated Mama’s first and last son. She painstakingly reared seven children. I’m fifth-born, first girl after her first daughter’s infant death. I wonder: did this create my bond with Mama, beginning with my umbilical cord, surviving the clipping of her silver cord? She died on the eve of her firstborn’s sixty-fifth birthday, consummate mother to the end. Calling Ann Ramona (dead sixty-two years), Mama, semi-conscious but well-pleased, had lately mused:  “Four boys and four girls.”  

 A paraplegic her last decade, Mama lived at home. Daddy helped her until his death, their children always, and professional caregivers. She rejected invalid. Forever industrious, she’d devotedly tended house and family. So two sons made Mama’s kitchen wheelchair-accessible; she traveled to Memphis weddings, twice  more for extended stays.
Charles observed that Mama, resources limited, somehow spoiled us all, including ten grandkids.  She’d have delighted in #11, her beloved baby’s son (Daddy’s namesake); would've cherished the latest great-grandchild, Her own namesake.

Oklahoma evening, 9-26-92:  Since 1958 I’ve lived far away but remained close to birth family. From Memphis I arrive at my unconscious mother’s hospital room.  To dress her bedsore, the nurse soon orders family out.    Linnie and I see the others off - returning, learn Mama has slipped away.  Waiting beside her body, I say, “I believe Mama knew I got here.” [The bond]  “She always waited for me to come.”  Sweet Linnie replies,“And you always did.”  

A representative memory, 1989:   Wearing a housecoat, Mama on her motorized cart models a Dutch cap she’d requested from our Holland trip. Indomitable.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Our Town/Chandler
(Photography by John Calvin)

GRATITUDE: A crone feels gratitude. I’ve always been quick to list my many blessings.
However, for some reason lately I’ve begun to feel intense gratitude. Really feeling the gratitude has made a huge difference in my outlook. Sometimes while I am out on my walk, I lift my arms and say, “Eternal Spirit, Mother, Father, God, Thank you.” Then I call out those things that fill my soul with thanksgiving. I mostly do this when there is no one about to hear, but if I am overheard, it won’t matter. It is hard to embarrass a crone.

In an earlier post I talked about how much I’ve been influenced by Our Town, a play by Thornton Wilder. However, it is not the literary master piece for which I am grateful today. Rather it is for Chandler, Oklahoma, my hometown.

I am not the only one who likes living here. Lots of people like my son and daughter-in-law, both of whom grew up here and who lived for a few years in other states, have come home to Our Town after a time away.  Yes, I love Chandler; however, such was not the case when I first saw the place. In fact, I hated the town with the fury of a fifteen-year-old, dragged away from her comfort zone by a father who decided the family should move!

My class had always been about 20 people, my forever friends. In Chandler, some sixty strangers made up the tenth grade. Even more frightening, those kids came from vastly different backgrounds, some living in little more than hovels while others had fathers who owned banks. Being a reader, I knew, of course, about social class, but I had never seen it in action. With a couple of exceptions, my former friends had fathers who all worked for the same oil company mine did. Our families lived in the same company-owned houses. No one I had known experienced poverty, and no one had any real money.

 For a long time, I stayed on the edge of school life, living for the weekends when I might be allowed to ride the bus to Edmond, where I was picked up by a friend and her parents and driven west, home to Deer Creek. I could not remember ever needing to make a new friend and had no desire to start at fifteen.  Gradually, I began to reach out a bit. Before graduation, I had friends, was in class plays, worked on the yearbook, and served as an officer in two or three organizations. I had nothing against Chandler, but, still, I couldn’t wait to go home to Edmond for college.

 After living a few other places, my late husband and I moved to Chandler temporarily before our first child was born forty years ago. Before long, we had three children, born within four years. I was glad to live near my parents, who were a big help to me during those first years. When the youngest started to school, I went back to teaching.

Now we were entrenched in Chandler. Did I love it? Not really. I was never a joiner, never belonged to any sort of ladies’ group, could not be described as active in any church, was not inclined to enjoy lots of small talk, had no close friends other than the women with whom I taught for seventeen years. I was very happy during those years, and certainly, as my parents grew old and ill, one of their seven children needed to live nearby.  
Corner of 10th and Allison

However, my affection for Chandler became strong only when I left it.  After living as a widow for a few years, I remarried and moved east. I had assured my new husband I wouldn’t miss Chandler, especially since most of my close friends from teaching had relocated too.

Tulsa is a lovely city, but it wasn’t for me. After five years, we bought a house in Chandler. I could hardly wait to get here. Why do I love Our Town? As Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, “Let me count the ways.”  I have never been lost in Chandler, a big plus after wandering in Tulsa. I care a lot more about the people than I thought I did. I missed seeing familiar faces on the streets and in the stores.  I missed the feeling that if I had a real emergency, I could grab a phone book and quickly contact any of at least two hundred people who would come and help me. I missed knowing a pharmacist, like the one who came from around the counter to tell me he and his wife would pray for us when I, red-eyed, picked up the first prescription for Paul’s brain tumor. I missed the ladies in the Mane Event Beauty Salon, missed not needing an I. D. to cash a check.

I missed the history visible in our old buildings, the brick streets, and the historic homes. I also missed my personal history, the town where my three children had grown up, realizing  there were people on the streets, who would help them if in they were in need and who would also report on them should they be involved in the wrong activities.

I missed being able to go on my walks without constantly looking over my shoulder. I missed living in a town where I can drive until I am really old. Besides, by that time, my grandson Isaac will likely have exchanged his dinosaur fascination for car fascination, so he can chauffeur me to the grocery store.

Are there bad things about living in Chandler? I know there are, but I’ve forgotten how to list them.   Today on my walk, I met a couple from England, who were taking pictures of Our Town. When I was in high school, the idea that anyone from Europe would want to photograph Chandler would have amazed me. Now I understand. From time to time, I am going to write about Our Town and some of the fascinating people who live here.

Why don’t you buy the house pictured below? The yellow sign says “For Sale.” We would be neighbors. You could rent the little business location also pictured below and put in some unique shop, just across from the restored filling station seen reflected in the window.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

G1 - Gratitude

Remembered Words

GRATITUDE: A crone feels gratitude. I’ve always been quick to list my many blessings.
However, for some reason lately I’ve begun to feel intense gratitude. Really feeling the gratitude has made a huge difference in my outlook. Sometimes while I am out on my walk, I lift my arms and say, “Eternal Spirit, Mother, Father, God, Thank you.” Then I call out those things that fill my soul with thanksgiving. I mostly do this when there is no one about to hear, but if I am overheard, it won’t matter. It is hard to embarrass a crone.

Today I am grateful for my ears.

I am an auditory learner, one who relies on hearing and speaking as the main way of learning. Needing to talk out ideas, I often don’t know what I think until I hear myself say those thoughts aloud, and I learn best by hearing, except in the case of directions.

There are countless lines, snippets of dialog, stuck in my head, some from early childhood, some said to me directly, some overheard bits of conversation. One or two are not pleasant, but I don’t dwell on those. A few continue to fill me with awe, and I am still seeking to fully comprehend them. In this post I want to reflect on some remembered words.

I must have been about five, playing on my grandmother’s porch, when I caught what gave me a big boost. My two older sisters had lovely, thick brown hair and matching dark eyes. They looked alike, and I wanted to look like them, but, alas, I was fair, my blond hair wispy and my eyes green. My grownup cousin, Edmond, who had been reared by my grandparents and who was home from the army, was talking inside the house. He said that my mother’s daughters were all pretty, “but that littlest one is a pure-dee beauty.” Beautiful is not an adjective I claim to have heard often during the years to come, but, hey, sometimes once is enough, especially when uttered by my handsome cousin, whose picture is at the top of this post. I want credit for having kept that comment to myself for many years, not telling my sisters until we were senior citizens.

Another uplifting bit comes to mind, one I captured when I was about ten, sitting near the classroom entrance, reading aloud. My teacher must have been beckoned to the open doorway by another adult. I don’t believe I saw that second person’s face, but the voice said, “Was that a Hoover reading? You’re always impressed when you hear one.” I was a Hoover. Although I’ve been a Myers now for over 44 years and am sometimes a Calvin, I am still a Hoover, and I try to read like one.

Now let me share one of the comments that I still ponder. I was eight years old when my mother’s brother died. His name was Earl Howard Eaton, and he died at thirty. The youngest of nine children, a couple of years older than my cousin Edmond with whom he grew up, he was the darling of the family. I adored him, and his death, the first I had ever experienced, made a big impression on me, starting with the terrible morning we received the phone call. I remember the long drive to Grandma’s, remember the dazed feeling I had upon seeing the most important adults in my life in abject grief. My grandmother sat in a wooden rocker, moving very slowly. Edmond was on the floor, his head in her lap, sobbing. Each time she rocked, she silently stroked his hair. I remember every song sung at the funeral, but the memorable statement was made by my cousin who was named for Earl.  The adults were too broken to pay much attention to us kids. During the funeral, I sat on a church pew, undoubtedly with my older sisters. Howard Eaton, a tow-headed cousin of about five, sat just down from me surely with his older siblings. Howard, a very quiet child, and I were not especially close. In fact, there were lots and lots of us cousins, and I doubt I had ever heard Howard say anything until that day.  However, when the casket moved down the aisle, Howard must have felt compelled to speak. He slid closer to me and whispered, “Uncle Earl is in that box,” words that I used in a novel many years later and words that express much about the mystery that is death.

 There are many others from childhood, but I will move on to my college days. Those years were spent totally embedded in the Baptist Student Union. I wouldn’t trade that time, still treasure much of what I gleaned and the friends who are forever an important part of my life. However, during my senior year, I began to feel changes inside me, lots of doubts as to what I did and did not believe. Dr. Whit Marks, a physics professor, was our faculty advisor. I loved and respected Dr. Marks,did not want to shock him or leave him worried about me, but honesty is one of my weaknesses or strengths. I felt obligated to tell him I had lost my faith, and I expected to see pain on his face.  Instead he smiled and shrugged. “I’m not afraid for you to doubt,” he said. “Doubt it all, if you want to. You will come around.” I spent a lot of time saying I didn’t know what I believed, don’t know that I ever decided. In fact, a couple of years ago at a dinner where I received an award, my good friend, Helen Newton, sang a song about questions. I requested the Susan Boyle song because the lyrics state that questions brought her to who she was meant to be. At some point, I made peace with the questions. I have Whit Marks to thank for that. No, my views never went back to be as traditional as they were earlier, but had he reacted differently on that long ago day, I might not have the strength and peace I find daily in prayer.

I could go on for a long time about remembered words, but I am reminded of one of my father’s sayings. If I keep writing, I won’t “have a snowball’s chance in hell” of cleaning my office before the party I am planning for the weekend.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

G5 - Goals

GOALS: A crone has goals. My goals right now involve eating correctly and writing two novels. I have always over eaten, have never eaten correctly for six weeks. Will this public declaration help me stick with it? We’ll see. During October I also plan to write 10,000 words on a new novel for teenagers and do three character sketches for an adult novel that has been simmering inside me for twenty-five years.

Overholser House

“I’m going to bed now and pray to wake up skinny,” my friend Dode would often say when we lived across the hall from each other in the college dorm. Dode was never really fat, but girls sometimes worry about an extra pound or five. She is short, a fact behind her college nickname, Squatty Body.

Dode was the name of one of my three imaginary friends when I was a little girl, although had I been able to spell at the time, I would have probably spelled the name Dodie. The other two were Baby Sally and Any Drug Counter. I know Baby Sally must have gotten her name from a character in my older sister’s reader, and I remember being attracted to a phrase on a radio commercial,  explaining  that some product could be obtained at “any drug counter.” I have no idea where I got the name Dode, but when I met her at college, I felt I had been waiting a long time for her. Dode is still one of my closest friends. Sadly, I lost track totally of Baby Sally and Any Drug Counter.

 Squatty Body was, of course, kidding about expecting God to suddenly make her thin. However, I’d like to claim that perhaps divine intervention kept Dode from ever becoming seriously overweight while I, on the other hand, have gotten heavier and heavier with each passing year.

Three weeks ago today, I announced my goal of seeing if I could eat correctly for six weeks. A few times in the past, I have lost a good bit of weight, but those were the days when my metabolism was different, and weight came off more quickly. I don’t believe I have ever eaten correctly for six consecutive weeks during my adult life.

I honestly feel I might be able to stick with it this time because of reporting on this blog. Do I think my readers are holding their breaths to learn of my results? No, that isn’t it, but somehow sending my progress out into the great beyond of cyberspace might keep me on track. During the last three weeks, I have lost six pounds, making me hopeful.

Another goal I announced was learning about meditation. I ‘ve made some phone calls, but, so far, I haven’t come up with any definite plan. If anyone out there knows a good teacher in OKC or Tulsa, please let me know. l m going to keep trying,

My third goal was to write 10,000 words during October on my unnamed ghost story for young adults. The novel is set in 1907 and takes place in the Overholser Mansion in Oklahoma City. I won’t use the Overholser name or any real facts about the family, but having a model to actually see helps me write. Johnny and I toured the house recently, and he took many pictures for me. The ones featured in this post are three of my many favorites. Looking at these pictures starts my imagination racing.

Dining Room

Music Room

Usually, I would write more than 10,000 words a month of a first draft, but I knew October was going to be exceptionally busy. So far I have only slightly more than 3,000 words, but the important work of getting to know characters is also done.  The story begins, “My mother thinks me mad. I think her heartless.” 

Only six writing days are left for me in October. That means I have to produce around 1,200 words each of those days. I think I can do it. Next month I plan to write 20,000 new words.

Anyone want to share your goals with me?    

Thursday, October 17, 2013



GROWING: A crone keeps growing emotionally and intellectually. Right now I am spending a lot of time thinking and reading about relationships, both those with people around us and those on the other side of the curtain. I want to understand what makes relationships work. I am also interested in learning about meditation.

As a crone, I advise young women to work at developing friendships with other women. The temptation is to put all your emotional energy into your husband and children especially if you work fulltime outside your home. Don’t do that.

Today I am interested in learning about friendships. My friendships are vitally important to me, and they are divided into two categories. First are the old friends. I treasure two women with whom I went to elementary school, women I’ve known for well over sixty years. The picture above is of Darlene and me in our matching Easter dresses when we were in seventh grade. I am on the left. Several years ago, I opened my eyes in the recovery room after brain surgery to see Darlene at the foot of my bed.  I told the nurse, “She has been with me on all the important occasions of my life except my birth, and that is only because I am one month older.” Last summer, Darlene and Charlene, my other close friend from early childhood, came to my house for an overnight visit. At this slumber party, we didn’t do hair or nails. No, we took each other’s blood pressure!

I am blessed by still getting to spend time with Sandra, whom I remember meeting on a day when I was fifteen and starting a new high school. A few years ago, Sandra made me a lovely quilt I keep on my bed. It was she who talked me into going to a high school reunion where I ran into John, the man to whom I am now married. I appreciate the quilt every day and the husband almost every day.

Most of my old friends, though, come from college days. I had the same roommate for four years, and I don’t recall ever having a real disagreement. What would my life have been like without Jan? There’s Beverly, whom I mentioned in an earlier post, and several others, people I became close to in the dorm and at the Baptist Student Union. When I think of my college friends I think of a verse from the King James Bible that says, “…the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David…”

I met Martha soon after college, and she was my attendant when I married Paul. Martha fixed my hair for my wedding day and held me up through the illness that ended with his burial thirty years after the marriage. I also have very close friends from my days as a teacher, whom I think of as buddies from the trenches. You always feel close to your pals from the army. Three of those women left work to be with me on the day Paul died. We continue to share our joys and sorrows.

That first group became my friends almost by accident because they were in my class at school , shared life in the dorm, taught next door or just down the hall. Still, there were other girls in my class, others in my college dorm, others who taught in my building. What made me connect with certain ones?  Why do some people come into our lives to become a BFF while others slip away?

My second group of friends is made up of writers. These women I chose more deliberately, sometimes inviting them to my home for an evenings of talking about writing or weekend working retreats. Still, I wonder what draws me to some in my profession more than others. I belong to a big writers’ organization, around 100 at the last meeting, some published and some aspiring to publications. They are great people, but we can’t all bond deeply. What in particular pulls people together?

Some of my close writer friends are a good deal younger than I am. Pati is one of those. Someone once suggested that Pati and I had a mother-daughter relationship. We don’t. In the first place, I was fourteen when Pati was born. At fourteen, I barely knew how girls got pregnant, certainly did not know why they would want to do such an act. Still, even with the ones who are young enough to be my daughters, I don’t generally feel motherly. So why are we friends?

Jeannie, who is near my age and a favorite buddy, says, “We have to hang around with these young women. Otherwise, there might be no one left alive to come to our funerals.” Jeannie makes me laugh, but there has to be more than preplanning for funerals behind these friendships

So please tell me. Can you explain why you bond with some people and not with others who are perfectly nice? Try to sum up what drew you to your best friend or friends. Just tell me about friendship. I am quite interested.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

G4 - Giving
Writers' Conference

GIVING: A crone keeps giving. Now that her personal responsibilities are fewer, she absolutely must give to others outside her immediate family. There are so many ways to give. I do most of mine through an organization called the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Gwendolyn Hooks

Hannah Harrison

Last Saturday, over 100 people crowded into a room in Chandler, Oklahoma, to talk about writing. Although I had lots of help, the conference was largely my responsibility as the regional advisor of the Oklahoma Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  The position, a voluntary one, fills with me with extreme exasperation. However, I’ve been RA, as we call it, for thirteen years because it also gives me deep satisfaction.

We have two conferences each year. Spring is our biggest gathering, alternating between Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Fall usually finds us asking the First Baptist Church and Reverend Rick Blackwell to let us use the church’s activity room because it is the largest one in town. They have never turned us down, and we appreciate their generosity. Chandler is between Tulsa and Oklahoma City, and it is my home town.

This time we got to hear three of our own local writers and three literary agents: Natalie Lakosil, Bradford Literary; Emily Mitchell, Wernick and Pratt Agency; and Danielle Smith, Foreword Literary.  They critiqued manuscripts, spoke about their work, and reviewed query letters, what authors use to get agents interested in their work.. Acquiring a literary agent is an important step in a writer’s career, and our writers were more than a little eager to hear these people. So eager, in fact, that I lived in dread during the last week or so before the meeting. If one of the agents cancelled, would the mob turn ugly? It could happen.  A couple of years ago, another RA, I think she was from Hawaii, said, “No one ever cancels on us.” Surprise, surprise! What does Hawaii have that Oklahoma doesn’t?  Sometimes people call us a fly-over state, and a speaker has to drag his or her bag through what seems like endless airports to get here.  The three agents did just that, and they were great speakers.

Our group learned a lot about getting noticed by an agent from the query letter session, and we had a lot to learn. I was pleased, though, because none of the queries were as bad as one I remember from a few years ago. In that letter, a member ended the query with a list of her work experience then added, “I have spent the last ten years caring for my dead mother.” Puts one in mind of Norman and Mother Bates, doesn’t it?

Three of our own people spoke also. First was Hannah Harrison who proved to be a delight. Extraordinary Jane, written and illustrated by our Hannah, will be published by Dial books in the spring.  That book will be followed by three others. Hannah is pretty extraordinary herself! She looks about fifteen, but she is the mother of a toddler, whose father once carried her into our sessions to be breast fed. It makes me smile to know Hannah got her start through our organization.

Nothing touches me more than our next local author’s latest story. Gwendolyn Hooks is a successful author who is a vital part of our local SCBWI group. It is Gwen’s latest book that excites me most. Vivien Thomas, the Man Who Saved Blue Babies, is an amazing story, and our Gwendolyn is just the person to tell it. During the 1940’s, Vivien Thomas, an African American man without a college degree, perfected the instruments and techniques for the first heart surgery. He stood behind the surgeon, Dr. Alfred Blalock to advise Blalock during that surgery, saving the first baby ever from the death sentence imposed by tetralogy of Fallot, also known as the blue-baby syndrome. Vivien, who was not allowed to enter the hospital by the front door, got no credit until the ‘60’s.

I would be touched by Gwendolyn’s book in any case, but the fact that my seven-year-old grandson Will was born with tetralogy of Fallot makes me even more moved by the story. Watch for Gwen’s book, published by Lee and Low in the spring of 2015. It will be an award winner!

At times there are those among our aspiring writers who push me to the edge. For instance, 30 of the 91 people who got critiques did not follow directions and had to be contacted at least twice to get things straightened out, some more than twice. One young man sent me three manuscripts instead of one and suggested that I choose the best one, as if I should read 300 manuscripts to make such decisions for everyone. One woman called me while I was having a college reunion at my house. Without inquiring as to whether or not I was busy, she asked, “How many free copies will I get from the publisher when I sell my book?” Turns out she had not written a word of the book! Talk about the cart and the horse.

On the day of the conference, my nerves are shot, leaving me ready to scream at people who invariably email me at the last minute for times and directions instead of looking on their confirmation notices or checking the website. This year I accosted a good friend for messing with the air-conditioning controls. I felt bad for yelling, but imagine a meeting where 100 people decided to adjust the temperature as they chose. I’ve even had people complain about not having the right color bread at lunch.

What gets to me most, however, are the emails that say more or less, “Tell me how to write and sell children’s books.”  Such requests remind me of the first time I did a presentation about being an author.  I had sold some short stories and was working on a novel. My daughter’s fourth-grade teacher asked me to speak on career day.  That afternoon Ginny brought home a big bag of what were supposed to be thank you notes. However, a little girl named Dana had business to conduct. She wrote, “How do you write a book? Tell Ginny, and she can tell me tomorrow at recess.”

Adults often seem to want the same short answer. Learning to write and publish is, of course, a process. The best way to learn to write for children and young adults is to join SCBWI.

I volunteer for that organization because I get more satisfaction than I do exasperation. I get to see people who have cried with discouragement shout for joy when they make their first sale.  I get to see writers like Ginger Reno struggle with a project that I know will be successful if they keep working. There are so many others, some just on the cusp of being sold, like Sharon Martin’s Accordion Girl, an amazing novel in verse. What a thrill for me to see these projects as they begin and as they become books that a child can read and love.

It takes many people to make our organization work, people like Helen Newton, my assistant, and like Darleen Bailey Beard, a successful author, who spent all day on Saturday manning the projector for power-point presentations. We have so many givers in our group.

The day ended with Pati Hailey, one of our amazing writers, leading us in a creative visualization exercise about success. Pati’s visualization exercises have been an important part of our fall conferences for a while. I believe strongly in the power of our own minds to lead us to success, and Pati has developed  her visualizations into an art form.  However, there are so many kinds of success. Giving to members of SCBWI makes me feel successful, no matter the amount of my royalty check, because I always get more back than I give. The best thing I get is friendship. My life is made rich by my friends from SCBWI.   

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


GRATITUDE  A crone feels gratitude. I’ve always been quick to list my many blessings.
However, for some reason lately I’ve begun to feel intense gratitude. Really feeling the gratitude has made a huge difference in my outlook. Sometimes while I am out on my walk, I lift my arms and say, “Eternal Spirit, Mother, Father, God, Thank you.”  Then I call out those things that fill my soul with thanksgiving. I mostly do this when there is no one about to hear, but if I am overheard, it won’t matter. It is hard to embarrass a crone.

    In It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey has a chance to see what his world would have been without him. Today I am wondering how my entire life would have been different without a certain person. His name was Gerald Wayne Hoover, and he was my big brother, older by fifteen years. Just about my earliest memory is of Gerald washing my feet in a basin of water. Evidently I, barefooted, had played in dirt or mud. “We’ve got to get out the toe jam,” he said, and I giggled each time he swiped the cloth between my toes.

     We were both blond and the only two of the eight children born to our parents who did not inherit their dark- brown eyes. Besides removing toe jam Gerald was willing to play subordinate roles in my games. I was often Tom Mix, the hero from my favorite radio program. While I rode my stick-horse around the house on dangerous missions, Gerald was stationary, playing the part of Tom’s sidekick, the villain, and even Tom’s female cook, whose name was, I believe, Chloe. I would pause in front of him, whisper the name of his character, and wait for him to look up from his book with the appropriate response.  

      There were lots of goodbyes and lots of homecomings during my early years with Gerald. I remember vividly the first goodbye. I was barely three, standing on the porch with my family. The porch had a damaged board not far from the step. Unable to watch him go down the step and toward the car, I kept my eyes on the broken wood. When I could bear the goodbyes no longer, I slipped back into the house, took Gerald’s pillow from his bed, and crept under a dresser with a long cloth. Hidden, I buried my face in the pillow, breathing in the smell of my brother’s Vitalis Hair Tonic. I also remember waking in the middle of the night or wee hours of morning to find Gerald, newly home from that first sojourn, sitting on the edge of my bed, staring down at me.

      Far too young and sensitive for what lay ahead, he served in Korea on a LST. Once during a time of great distress and rare openness, he talked to me about picking up the dead and dying. The agonies of war coupled with trauma suffered very early, were, I believe, responsible for his limitations. Gerald never married. He could not show affection to grownups and was unable to handle any kind of emotionally charged situation. After I grew up, he never hugged me. He paid a good part of my college tuition and sent me money when I was a young mother, staying home with my babies. He also had savings accounts for those babies when they went to college. Gerald never waited to be asked for help.

      I cannot recall his ever saying he loved me, but the love I saw in those gray-blue eyes was a constant in my life, so I wrote the first draft of this post on the anniversary of his birth. Gerald died a few years ago, quietly and alone just as he would have wanted it. Do I get messages from him sent from beyond that curtain? No, my brother was far too private and unobtrusive for such an intimate exchange, no poking about in anyone’s subconscious for him.

     The house where I live stands as solid as on the day it was finished 89 years ago, mostly because of the foundation. Gerald was part of my stone foundation. These days, the big Navy duffle that he called a seabag hangs on the back of my writing chair. Made of timeworn white canvas, it feels right as I lean against it. Thank you, big brother, and thank you, God, for giving Gerald to us.