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, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

On behalf of both Sharry and myself, I wanted to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving or simply a Happy November 24th. Either way I am grateful to you for reading our blog, for offering your words of support and curiosity, and for being with us on this journey of walking wide-eyed on the earth.

More from me next week!

With gratitude,

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Riding The Bus

Like most people, I enjoy my routines; a long walk in the morning before settling down to a day of writing, then another walk, some yoga before dinner, candles and a glass of wine with dinner, reading or a movie after. But I’ve had jury duty this past week, forcing me out of my normal routine.  Sometimes having to do things differently for a while can reenergize even the best of routines.

For the past week, I’ve been getting up early (6:30 is really early for me!), taking the dog for a quick walk, then catching the bus downtown and spending my usual writing time in a jury box. It’s been pretty interesting, actually, hearing how different people perceive and interpret the same incident. A very good lesson in point of view. (As with anything, everything, in my life, I can’t help but put this experience into the context of writing or a writing metaphor!)

The thing that has really shaken me out of my comfortable arena has been taking the bus everyday. Lots of people ride the bus, but I usually chose to walk. Riding the bus is a very different experience than walking. Sitting and watching what is happening through the window of the bus is a very different experience than walking through the action. It’s much more passive and has made me think about psychic distance; sitting inside the bus, watching what is going on outside is a much ‘cooler’ experience—there is a definite emotional distance between the observer and what is being observed. It’s a somewhat similar experience to reading a story told in distant third. But once I get off the bus and walk back through the street scene that I’ve just observed from the bus window, I find myself much more emotionally engaged; I become part of the scene. I’m in the action along with everyone else walking down the sidewalk. (Okay, so you might be thinking, ‘well, duh.’ I know. But sometimes I need this kind of real life experience to thoroughly understand something. Like the link between psychic distance and emotional engagement.)

If I change my focus to what’s going on inside the bus, suddenly I’m in the middle of a myriad of stories. Where else do you get dozens of strangers, all with their own agendas, on their way to their personal destinations, crammed into a relatively small space? The space is an emotional smorgasbord; it vibrates with all seasons of weather systems brewing under the closed faces of people hiding inside their iPod earphones. Each passenger has a story, is on a journey, stepped onto that bus for their own reason: going to work, going to school, going home, going to visit someone, going on a job interview, going to a hearing, going to report for jury duty. School children with their backpacks and freshly scrubbed faces, ancient women carrying shopping bags laden with vegetables, dried fish, smoked duck, and pink boxes full of pork buns, business men in expensive suits, shop girls on their way to work the cosmetic counter at Macy’s. The concept of personal space is non-existent on the bus; heading through Chinatown on the 30 Stockton, everyone gets squeezed on all sides, pressed into the bodies surrounding them. If you’re lucky enough to find a seat, you can expect someone else’s back end to be inches from your face. Many passengers compensate for this invasion of privacy by turning inwards focusing on the phones, music or newspaper.

Even I can only be an observer for so long until I start singling out a few passengers as possible characters in a story of my own, imagining who they are, what they want, what they need, all of the reasons they can’t have it and what they might be willing to do, against these obstacles, to try and get it. And then instead of being lost in earphones and music, I’m off in my own world of make-believe. I can't help it; it comes with the territory of being a writer.


Thursday, November 10, 2011


We are delighted to have fellow VCFA graduate Marianna Baer as our guest today! She's here to talk about her wonderful debut novel FROST. I loved the dark moody atmosphere she created in this haunting YA psychological thriller and was curious about where her inspiration came from.

KTE: Marianna, can you tell us about one of the landscapes that inspired, or is featured in, your book? 

MB: FROST takes place at a New England boarding school, and centers around the girls living in a small dorm called Frost House. The landscape of the entire fictional school (Barcroft Academy) was inspired by the boarding school I attended, and the house itself was based on the dorm I lived in my senior year – a tiny old house that really was called Frost House. (I didn’t keep the name for nostalgic reasons, but because I thought it couldn’t be improved upon, in the context of the story I wanted to write.)

KTE: Can you describe it?

MB: Frost House – the real one – was a white clapboard Victorian, dating from the mid-1800s. It sat on the edge of campus, somewhat camouflaged by trees and bushes, in an area that wasn’t really a throughway to anywhere else; you could have gone to the school for years and never seen it. It had the feeling of a house that had been added on to somewhat haphazardly. Not because of different architectural styles, but because of a rambling, piecemeal aesthetic – as if a family had expanded it room by room as babies arrived. The front of the house, with its wide porch, was the house counselor’s apartment; students entered by a side door. There was a common room on the first floor, and past that a hallway that led to the rooms I shared with one of my best friends. We had a bedroom that stuck off the back, with windows on three sides  (originally built as a sort of sun porch, I guess), a bathroom with an ancient clawfoot tub, and a small study room. Because of the way our “suite” was set apart from the rest of the house, we could have been quite isolated back there, had we not been friends with the girls who lived upstairs.

The house’s obvious old age, strange layout, and architectural quirks, all made it seem like it held stories in its walls...

 KTE: How does it play a part in your story? 

MB: Very centrally! The main characters in my novel live in Frost House. Leena, the narrator, is looking forward to spending her senior year there with her closest friends, instead of dealing with the drama of a big dorm. On an emotional level, she’s looking for a home and family to replace the one that disappeared out from under her when her parents got divorced. But at the last minute, she’s assigned an unexpected roommate – confrontational, eccentric Celeste Lazar. Tension and conflict arise immediately, despite Leena’s attempts to keep the peace.

Leena and Celeste live in the same first floor suite that I lived in, and, again, I didn’t make that choice for nostalgic reasons. I wanted to exploit the sense of isolation they can have back there, since it’s such a separate part of the house, and the fact that no one else would be aware what was happening in their rooms. I also liked the contradiction between the very cloistered feeling of the small, foliage-shrouded house, and the open feeling of Leena and Celeste’s bedroom, with all those windows. For me, that echoes the very different ways Leena and Celeste feel about Frost House: Leena experiences it as a safe, comforting space – a sanctuary; Celeste feels vulnerable and threatened by living there, almost from the minute she arrives.

I don’t want to give anything away, but I think it’s okay if I say that while they live there, the girls become haunted. Frost House isn’t just a location; it’s a character itself.

 KTE: How is it important to you?

MB: The real Frost House was the site of one of the best years of my life. I can’t exaggerate how amazing it was to live with a group of friends, with little adult supervision, as a seventeen-year-old. Of course, there were rules that we (mostly) followed – it wasn’t Girls Gone Wild or Animal House! But even studying becomes a bonding experience when you’re staying up all night in one person’s room, fueled by cookie dough and caffeine, helping each other with essays and calculus. My dormmates and I became a sort of family; we’ve had yearly reunions ever since graduation, over 20 years ago. One of them flew to NYC from Portland, OR for the launch of FROST!

The book doesn’t explore the good side of the living situation much, because things disintegrate so quickly. But I’m still thrilled that I got to return there for this period of time, and that Frost House is being kept alive in a way. When my dormmates and I went back to campus for a reunion, we found that it had been torn down. It almost looked like nothing had ever existed on the (surprisingly tiny) plot of land. I say almost because even though the grass had grown back fully, we could still make out a ghostly footprint where Frost House had once sat. As far as I know, to this day, nothing else has been built in its place.

KTE: Thank you so much Marianna for being with us today and giving us these great insights into some of the background of your story, which I LOVED! I highly recommend all of you readers to go out to your local independent bookstore, pick up a copy and read it, too!

Marianna Baer received an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and a BA in art from Oberlin College. She also attended boarding school, where she lived in a tiny dorm called Frost House, the inspiration for her first novel, Frost. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY, and is working on her second novel, Immaculate, which is scheduled to be published by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in fall 2013.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Camel's Hump Happy Birthday

My good friend, Maryanne, keeps a tradition of walking up Camel’s Hump Mountain on her birthday, and this past weekend I was lucky enough—with two other friends—to participate in this (strenuous!) ritual.

Camel’s Hump is Vermont’s third highest mountain and its highest undeveloped peak. It is part of the Green Mountain range, and is thus one of the oldest mountains on earth. You know this without being told, though—the mountain feels old. Even as you ascend its steep winding trails, it feels like it is deeply rooted in the earth, like it has been around for a long time, has seen everything. Its trees and plants and even its rock ledges seem to be elders, standing vigil for all who pass.

It is the perfect place to celebrate a rite of passage.

Camel’s Hump summit rises above the tree-line and so the last .3 miles of the trek are made in an alpine landscape consisting of primarily tundra. What a vast difference from the fir and deciduous trees below! And hiking into the tundra feels like entering a new world. On this particular hike, because it was snowing when we ascended and was blue-sky sunny when we descended, we had the experience of feeling like we entered four different worlds over the course of our trek. Time shifted, perspectives changed, and our boots on the trail and our ears in the wind—our whole entire bodies—became new again and again and again.

As you know, I usually link to a book that has inspired or been inspired by the post-of-the-day. Today, I am going to try something new. Below is end of the text from one of my picture book manuscripts that has yet to be published. I began this manuscript years before I knew about my friend’s amazing tradition. If I ever do get it published I will dedicate it to her. For now, I dedicate this blog post to her.

                                                               * * * * * * *

Rosie felt like she was balanced on the highest place in the world.

“We made it to the top!” she squealed.

Rosie spun on her toes, threw her head back into the air, and crooned and howled at the top of her lungs. Mama joined in her song and the waterfall of their voices flowed down the trail. The tundra heard them. The balsam tree heard them. The hemlock tree heard them. Even the birch trees, all the way at the bottom of the mountain, heard them. Rosie and Mama spiraled and sang until they fell to the ground, happy and tired.

“I will remember this place,” said Rosie. “This is where my seven year-old legs and eyes and ears and mind—”

“— and arms and hands—,” continued Mama.

“—and toes and fingers and heart. . .” said Rosie, “this is where my WHOLE SELF climbed to on the mountain.”

Rosie shivered, joyfully, in her skin. Every part of her was open wide. Her body, her senses and her mind—they were all open wide. They felt like they were uncurling themselves for the first time, like downy leaves opening up together on the branch of a tree. She looked out at the valley and the lake and the mountains rising up on the other side of the water.

“I want to climb all the way to the top of one of those mountains,” she said.

“Next year?” said Mama.

“Yes,” said Rosie.

“Happy Birthday, Rosie,” said Mama.

Rosie and Mama hiked back toward home as the fiery heat of the setting sun baked the dirt and leaves and bark and stones, and Rosie tasted it all on her tongue like a sweet birthday treat made just for her.

                                                                * * * * * * *

A different hike. Maryanne and I at the top of Camel's Hump.

Happy Birthday Maryanne.