Friday, December 30, 2011

our open winter

a dusting of snow on our skylight
We're having an "open winter" in Boise. I first read this term in the journal of mountain man Richard "Beaver Dick" Leigh who lived in Eastern Idaho during the 1870s. He described the ease of hunting without having to tromp through snow. Rivers and streams were frozen but the ice was thin enough to break for fishing.

The other day we woke to a dusting of snow along our fence and on the pine trees. Our skylight was lacy white until the sun rose and everything melted. As I look out our kitchen window this morning, the thermometer says 51 degrees. Hooray! I like being able to walk the dogs without worrying about slipping.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

jigsaw puzzles & the fear of writing

Daisy supervising our puzzles
This past Christmas week, my family and I started what might be a new tradition: doing jigsaw puzzles. The main deterrent we learned however, is the dog. We noticed she was enjoying a good chew on what turned out to be one of the pieces, but by the time we scooped it from her mouth we couldn't tell its color or from where it had dropped. Now one of our puzzles would have a gaping hole.

This so reminded me of writing! We started with two boxes -- one with 550 pieces, the other 1,000 -- then dumped them onto the card table and cookie sheets to sort. The task of turning everything right-side up was a big mess. Should we start fitting together the sailboat or the borders? Maybe the wagon with its red wheels would be easier.

The mess of writing is like this, for me at least. A jillion thoughts and ideas are all upside down in my head, and the blank page onto which I must organized them, is terrifying. It seems impossible. The phrase in that sentence is awkward, but on this page it's a perfect fit. The process is painstaking. It's a puzzle of words turned this way and that, but finally a chapter emerges. What had scared me at the beginning now seems rather friendly. There's a story here. And if there's a gaping a hole, I'll just fix it.

Meanwhile, a confession -- I'm not proud of this and next year will try to do better: I ditched my puzzle buddies! They soldiered on without me, accompanied by their REAL friend [photo above].

Monday, December 26, 2011

Kringle: a Christmas tradition makes it into a novel

Almond frosted Kringle
We're eating Kringle this holiday, lots of it! This tradition started in my childhood when my Danish great-grandmother would send it from Racine, Wisconsin. It's a heavenly pastry probably meant to be eaten in dainty slivers with a polite cup of coffee, but we pretty much scarf it.

It's a curious thing how personal tidbits slip into the novels I write for young readers. It's not deliberate, but somehow my characters will go swimming in the ocean if the setting is a hot summer day. Figures, since I grew up on the beach and to this day I love to dive under the waves. Dogs--HAPPY dogs--often appear in my stories with characters who love them. And there's usually someone drinking "good strong coffee."

In my newest novel, STALKED, there's Kringle to go with that coffee. The story opens in Copenhagen in the winter of 1911. The main character, Rikke, was inspired by my great-grandmother Maren Kristine Sorensen who immigrated to America from Denmark. Rikke likes her coffee and Kringle -- and when the hot New York summer comes around, she dunks herself in the waves off Coney Island!