Tuesday, April 19, 2011

writer's block & Robert Louis Stevenson

Treasure Island ~ The Master Edition (Kindle Master Editions)One of my happiest memories of our boys' childhood was reading aloud to them before bedtime. The heart-thumping adventures in Treasure Island were cause for a late night and "just one more chapter." They could recite pirate Pew's last words as several horses thundered toward him:
         "Johnny, Black Dog, Dirk ... you won't leave old Pew, mates--not old Pew!" Then we'd re-read his gruesome end: "Down went Pew with a cry that rang high into the night; and the four hoofs trampled and spurned him and passed by. He fell on his side, then gently collapsed upon his face, and moved no more."

I'm enjoying this classic once again, especially remembering it through the eyes of our young sons who are now grown-ups. And after all these years, my admiration for the author, Robert Louis Stevenson, remains high. "How'd he do that?" I wonder, savoring a scene or a stretch of pirate dialogue. He makes it seem easy.

HeidiSo it was a surprise to learn that he had writer's block with this novel, which he began in 1881 on a rainy Scottish morning. He drafted the first fifteen chapters, but then set his pen down. He couldn't concentrate. Ill with tuberculosis, he traveled to Switzerland. Like Clara in the novel Heidi by Johanna Spyri, he breathed in the fresh alpine air and was soon revived. He sped through another nineteen chapters to great success. Treasure Island was serialized in the magazine, Young Folks, then published as a book in 1883. It has never been out of print.

This morning I am squirming with writer's block. A trip to the Swiss Alps would cure this! I'd be so enchanted by the beauty and cow bells, I'd get to work -- wait -- first I'd go hiking then find a café for pastry. A day would pass, then a week. Finally it would settle in that I wouldn't be able to concentrate until returning home to this plump green chair where I now sit, untroubled by tuberculosis or travel fatigue.

I'm inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson and all the other authors tormented by doubts, but who keep on picking up the pen, so to speak. So onward I trudge, trying to follow in footsteps of the great.

Monday, April 4, 2011

when the sun is hot, my characters go swimming! -- Bronte's Book Club, etc.

Bronte's Book ClubEvery author needs at least one reader who adores her personally as well as her stories. I'm fortunate to be well-acquainted with my special reader. She and I email daily and we've had many adventures traveling, swimming, and hanging out together: my mother!

Recently we braved Alturas Lake in the beautiful Sawtooth Mountains. The water was freezing, but so clear we could see sunken logs deep, deep below. While we dried off in the sun and ate our picnic, she asked about my writing. As usual, I started digging for compliments. 

Quick to oblige, Mom said, "Honey, I just love that so many of your characters go swimming!"

Hm. I thought a minute. She was right! We started ticking off the books: When Cleopatra VII sails from Alexandria to Rome and the ship anchors at the island of Malta, well, it's HOT! The cool, blue Mediterranean beckons. Waiting for her Dinka guards to give her some space, she wades in with her maid, their "chitons float[ing] up like sails." In The Legend of Jimmy Spoon, Jimmy wants to show off his swimming skills for Nahanee so he dives in the river, but unfortunately lands a spectacular belly flop -- my little brother did that once.

after a swim 2nd from left, 1964
Then there's Bronte's Book Club. The setting is based on the small beach town of my childhood in Southern California. Bronte swims in the harbor, goes boogie-boarding and walks on the beach with her friends. When an incoming wave splashes against their knees, the friends scatter up to dry ground like sandpipers. But not Bronte. She throws up her arms and lets herself fall into the surf. She lies in the water, letting the foam wash over her, savoring the tingle of salt on her skin. I am that girl. 

My newest book, Cannons At Dawn, will be published May 1st. Abigail finds herself on a dusty trail following Washington's soldiers. It's a hot summer day, VERY hot. What a surprise ... a creek is right there and ... well I won't spoil it for you ha ha!