Nov. 11, River Falls: Laura, Laura’s cookies and me

Join me Saturday, November 11 at the River Falls Library at 11 a.m. for my presentation “Everything Laura Left Out of Her Novels.” I’ll be there with my new book Laura Ingalls is Ruining My Life.

A few days ago I started researching original recipes from Laura Ingalls. I want to bring something special to the event, and I knew there had to be a Laura cookbook out there.

There is, but it’s out of print. Thankfully some Laura fans posted a few recipes online. I found out how to make the maple snow candy from Little House in the Big Woods and her famous gingerbread cake. I even saw a link to jack rabbit stew.

No worries – I settled on molasses cookies. Not my favorite, but they didn’t have chocolate chips on the prairie.

Hope to see you there!

cookies

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Hello world … It’s debut day for Laura Ingalls is Ruining My Life

My fourth novel is entering the world. Check it out:

A life on the prairie is not all its cracked up to be for one girl whose mom takes her love of the Little House series just a bit too far.

Charlotte’s mom has just moved the family across the country to live in Walnut Grove, “childhood home of pioneer author Laura Ingalls Wilder.” Mom’s idea is that the spirit of Laura Ingalls will help her write a bestselling book. But Charlotte knows better: Walnut Grove is just another town where Mom can avoid responsibility. And this place is worse than everywhere else the family has lived―it’s freezing in the winter, it’s small with nothing to do, and the people talk about Laura Ingalls all the time. Charlotte’s convinced her family will not be able to make a life on the prairie―until the spirit of Laura Ingalls starts getting to her, too.

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A Patron Saint named Outstanding Book

 

PSThe Wisconsin Library Association has chosen A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids as an Outstanding Book for 2017.

I’m thrilled to be recognized by librarians in my home state for a book that’s so close to my heart.

I started writing Patron Saint 15 years ago. There were times I wanted to rip it to shreds, throw it away and never think about it again. I never dreamed I’d finish it, let alone get it published and be recognized for it.

Patience. Persistance. Faith.

Struggling writers, hang in there.

It happens.

 

Summer reads

I’ve been on a blog sabbatical, so I haven’t written lately about the books on my nightstand. I read two books a week, sometimes three, and it’s been a long time since I’ve shared some of my favorites on the blog.

A quick round up:

Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko. Once I put Al Capone in my own novel (Finders Keepers), I devoured her Alcatraz series, which also includes Al Capone Does My Shirts and Al Capone Does My Homework.

The ongoing adventures of 12-year-old Moose Flanagan are funny, but the reason I love the books is the relationship between his autistic sister Natalie and their family. The secondary characters shine.

Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life by Pamela Smith Hill. This was one of the ten books I read as I researched my novel Laura Ingalls is Ruining My Life (slated for publication in 2017).

This book is not just another Laura biography. It probes her life as a writer, including her relationship with daughter Rose Wilder Lane, who was one of the country’s most acclaimed writers around the time of the Depression. If you’ve ever wondered about the influence Rose had on her mother’s series of books, read this book for its insight.

On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read this book at least a dozen times as a kid. I needed to revisit it to ground myself in the setting of Walnut Grove, Minn., which is the modern-day setting for Laura Ingalls is Ruining My Life.

On the Banks of Plum Creek is my third favorite Laura book. Little House on the Prairie and The Long Winter are numbers one and two.

The Phoenix Files by Chris Morphew is a six-book series about three teens trying to stop a powerful man from destroying the world. Think of it as pre-dystopian. The plot speeds along at a breathtaking pace with three characters taking turns telling the story. Jordan is my favorite: tough, driven, fearless. I don’t read much science fiction, but this series left me hungry for more.

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt. I’m embarrassed I didn’t read this award winner years ago. It’s a lyrical and evocative story about a lonely hound dog who forms an unlikely family with two kittens. Appelt sets their current troubles against a magical history that seeps into the present.

Next up: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos.

Making my list, checking it twice

Time flies, just like reindeer. My annual list of gifts for writers should’ve been posted weeks ago, which would have given you time to find them and ship them to me before Christmas. That’s the price of procrastination.

But there’s always expedited shipping!

Here is my carefully curated list:

1. Earrings that include the two words every writer loves to type:  The End.

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2. A keyboard doormat. The keys aren’t in the right place, but the WELCOME is worth the inaccuracy.

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3. A perfect over-the-mantel print.

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4. Make your technology look old-school in this faux book cover.

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5. This is for lovers of books and Michonne. If you’re not a Walking Dead fan, then disregard and skip to number six.

Katana-Bookend

 

6. A collection of pens for every type of writer — the one who actually gets crap done and the rest of us.

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7. Because who doesn’t love a book pun?

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8. And who doesn’t love writer arrogance?

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9. Writers are poor. Help your writer friend keep the furnace at 55 degrees with these convenient wrist gloves.

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10. Because writing is hell.

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11. A week-long writing retreat in January–I’d settle for Hawaii–would kick the winter blahs.  There’s slight possibility it’d be productive, too.

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Don’t sleep tight — unleash creativity through dream awareness

Welcome to the Middle Grade Blog Party!

Author Lisa Lewis Tyre (Last in a Long Line of Rebels) is hosting a blog party featuring authors of middle-grade lit. We’ll be blogging about the writing life, the creative process, writing tips, and all things middle grade.

To get to Lisa’s blog and see the full menu of blog topics, click here.

For the party, I decided to write about my favorite activity – sleeping.

Sleep is not just the time for restoration. It’s a creative sweet spot, especially those bizarre moments when sleep intersects with our awakened state. That’s when you find yourself thinking about mundane things like did I turn off the garage lights? When’s my dentist appointment? Did I miss my dentist appointment? I think we’re out of milk! As you slowly slip from reality to sleep, you fall into strange thinking patterns. The thought about the dentist appointment twists and turns, and suddenly you’re at the store buying milk with your dentist who’s reminding you the garage light is still on, and, for a moment, you’re aware that sleep is intruding on your consciousness.

This is the sweet spot. You’re not exactly dreaming, but you’re definitely not awake.

It’s much like lucid dreaming, which is being in a complete dream state, becoming aware of the dream state, and changing it into a story, as though you’re directing a movie.

Bizarre? Not entirely. You can find a mountain of books, and even scientific journals, about lucid dreaming. Each year there’s a workshop in Hawaii that teaches lucid dreaming techniques. The workshop is run by sleep expert Steven LaBerge, who researched dream states at Stanford University. (The New York Times wrote about it here.)

It takes practice, but you can learn to tap that pre-dream state and capture your creativity when it’s most pure.

Go to bed thinking about your story. (This works with naps, too. What a great excuse to rest in the middle of the day!) Push away thoughts about milk and dentist appointments. Focus only on your story and your characters. As you fall asleep, hopefully you’ll notice your writer’s mind firing ideas.

It’s essential to keep a notebook next to your bed. If you return to awareness, you must jot down what occurred, even if it seems ridiculous. Later, when you’re writing, that crazy thought might trigger a thought that’s not so crazy or, perhaps, an idea for your next project.

Finding the sweet spot takes patience and practice. Most nights you won’t get there. But when you do, and when it works, it unleashes creativity.

Let’s address the obvious concerns.

I need to actually sleep when I sleep. This sounds like insomnia.

Trying to be semi-awake when you’re semi-asleep can interfere with your sleep patterns, especially at first. But you won’t know until you try. Make your first efforts during the weekend when you know you can grab an extra half hour of sleep.

About that notebook … I’ll wake up my partner by turning on a lamp.

There was a time when I could tell myself, hey, remember this idea in the morning, and I would. As I get older, that’s no longer the case. I once read a tip for improving nighttime memories without having to become fully awake so you can write notes. Take something from your nightstand – a box of Kleenex, for example, and throw it on the floor. Then you don’t have to wake up completely. When you get up in the morning and see the Kleenex, it’ll trigger your memory. I tried it, but Kleenex tossing didn’t work for me. My fiancé wanted to know why there was a box of Kleenex in the middle of the bedroom. So did I. All I knew was the box represented a memory, but the idea was lost.

My favorite writing tool is a “pilot’s pen.” When you press the pen on paper, the tip lights up so you can see what you’re writing. Your partner won’t even roll over. Here’s an example from Amazon.

I tried it, and the pre-dream state is bizarre rather than helpful.

Sometimes that’s the case. I was at a point in a story where I basically had my character backed in a corner, and I didn’t know how to get her out. In that dreamy state, I came up with what seemed like a great idea. The character could turn into a pickle! It was completely depressing to wake up and realize my brilliant idea wasn’t so brilliant. That’s okay. I unleashed the creative, idea-producing part of my brain. That’s an achievement. And eventually I came up with a solution that didn’t involve pickles.

I fall asleep the second my head hits the pillow.

Lucky you. As someone who suffers from insomnia, I’d trade this creative process for consistently getting uninterrupted sleep. Since I’ll never be that person who immediately sleeps, I’m happy to turn a negative into a positive. I consider it a turning-lemons-into-lemonade strategy.

This might be the strangest writing tip you’ve ever heard. That’s okay. Writing is strange. Writers are strange.

Take it from sleep expert LaBerge, who says, “Not all lucid dreams are useful but they all have a sense of wonder about them. If you must sleep through a third of your life, why should you sleep through your dreams, too?”

Read more about LaBerge here.

Goodnight and sleep (mostly) well.