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, May 31, 2012

About Face

It is often said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. If so, then the face, with all of its subtleties and complexities of expression, is the Rosetta Stone to the emotions. Wandering through About Face, the current photography exhibit at Pier 24, is an intensive meditation on the human face as an unparalleled and poetic guide to the interior landscape of deep and intricately complicated emotion.

Set down along the Embarcadero waterfront and under the Bay Bridge, Pier 24 is a gallery/museum space on a historic pier that was abandoned for decades and recently renovated into a 28,000 square foot space for the display and storage of the Pilara Foundation’s vast collection of photography. It is the largest photography exhibition space in the Untied States (and perhaps anywhere) and designed to allow for quiet contemplation by limiting visitors to twenty at a time with two hour appointment slots. Open to the public free of charge, it is an astoundingly generous gift from investment banker Andrew Pilara to the world.

The photographs, displayed without commentary, explanation or tags of any kind, create a non-verbal, purely visual experience, allowing for a meditative, more emotional, less cerebral interaction with the images.
In any art, it is the emotional connection the viewer makes with the piece that cements the bond and commits the viewer to the journey. This emotional connection can be forged in a number of ways but in fiction, it is most often through empathy for the character that this connection is made. And this empathy usually comes from the perception of complex and authentic emotion shown by the character. Emotion that resonates with the reader creates empathy.

As a writer of fiction, I am constantly searching for ways to show character emotion using the basic tools in my writer’s toolbox: action (which includes dialogue and interior monologue/thought,) gestures, internal reactions and facial expressions. I have a file of collected images (mostly from National Geographic) full of expressive faces that (when I remember to use them!) act as cue and clues to the subjects’ emotional state. It is a challenging but valuable exercise to study facial images, try to guess at the underlying emotion and then depict in specific terms using only facial vocabulary.

My visit to About Face felt like a two hour immersion into visually absorbing a near endless plethora of human emotion. To learn more about the current and upcoming exhibits at Pier 24, go to:

Take Good Care,

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Landscape that has No Lines

I just finished reading Wonder by R. J. Palacio. Unbearably heartbreaking and amazingly heartwarming, this story asks for openness and empathy and plain old kindness.

 There is a unique intimacy that Palacio creates with this book, so much so that it is as though she has eliminated the ink and paper (or text and screen) and has offered, instead, a living, breathing experience that unfolds between the reader and the story. The emotions are raw and pure. The actions are clear and vibrant. This is true even though the main character, Auggie, has so many genetic abnormalities he is a visual shock to everyone who meets him, and is thus a shock to the reader’s imagination as well. But because Palacio is immensely skillful at paring down her words and images to their essential intentions, and because she does not waste space or time with extra description or metaphor or her own opinion, the bell that is Wonder rings loud and clear. Its note reverberates in the air and slips effortlessly into the reader’s body.

It is a meditation, really.

This is not unlike standing at the lake’s edge and listening to a loon, or sitting on the porch and listening to the crack of thunder. The way the lines between the water and your toes, or the sky and your outstretched fingers get blurred; the way those sounds penetrate your body and almost become a part of you.

My goal this week is to practice this kind of meditation out in my landscape and then bring it into my writing where I can practice it there too.

How about you?


Thursday, May 17, 2012

More Love For Books

I love books. I have a houseful of them. I spend a ridiculous amount of time browsing bookstores and have worn a (metaphorical) deep path from my front door to the branch of my local library with innumerable trips over the past 30 years.

I love books because I love reading. Because I love stories. But beyond that, beyond the words, it is the ascetic of books that so strongly appeals to me; the bindings, the end papers, the deckled edges, the spines, the way the cover material creases at the corners where it is folded, tucked, and glued. I love those little bindi-jewel icons that mark the passage of time, and the evocative pages that often separate the beginning, the middle and the end.

So when I read about the Altered Book And Book Art Show at the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art, I was intrigued. Art made from books? What could be more of a visual treat?

The show more than met my hopes and expectations. One
hundred and fifty Bay Area artists have contributed hand-made, stunning, whimsical, thought-provoking bookart sculptures that each tells a story of its own. The pieces read like visual poems, some literal, some thoughtfully interpretive, some more abstract, some specifically commentary, but each piece is unique and visionary. (Try that, Kindle!) 

They have all been donated for auction, with one hundred percent of the proceedings to go to supporting Marin MOCA’s programs and activities. I was so inspired, I signed up to create a piece for next year’s show! (I’m thinking about an interpretation of Baba Yaga and her house that moves on chicken feet…)

And then yesterday as I was working on the revision of my historical novel, the additional thought came to me to create, as a support project to my revision, a bookart sculpture that would visually convey the essence of the story I’m trying to tell. So I’ve started gathering images, doing a few sketches and looking for an old book that is set in the location and published around the period of time that my story takes place (San Francisco, 1876) I’m excited to see what I can create and to find out if it helps me in my revision process.

I’ll keep you posted!

Take Good Care,


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Lynda Mullaly Hunt's Debut: ONE FOR THE MURPHY'S


We are thrilled--yay!--to have Lynda Mullaly Hunt as our guest today on the birth day of her debut novel, One for the Murphy's. How cool is that? The actual release day?! We couldn't be happier. I couldn't be happier. I have known Lynda for (how long is it now, Lynda?) for about four years, when we both signed on with Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Of course I have known of her for a time before that...we frequented the NESCBWI conference together.

One for the Murphy's is on my desk, all cued up to be read--I can't wait! I have heard a portion of the story read by the wonderful Lynda herself, and I can tell you that it is gorgeous. A story about a foster child who learns to love, it is funny and heartbreaking and real. 

We asked Lynda to talk to us, of course, about how landscape plays a part in the story. And here is what she said:

There is something so beautiful about trees. When I was young, I would often climb them. Sit as high up as I could, swing my legs, and watch the world. I still remember the feel of the bark—how its coarse ridges made it easier to hold on. How both the bark and leaves have a smell all their own, which varies from season to season. How trees smell differently on sunny days versus rainy ones. Strong and majestic yet vulnerable, too. They are solid. Something you can count on.

I remember finding out many years ago that leaves don't actually change color in the fall. The chlorophyll, which gives leaves their vibrant green color, disappears as the seasonal temperatures drop, so the brilliant colors of autumn underneath are revealed as the green fades. That the brilliance and unique colorings of each individual leaf were there all along—just hidden. The colors’ revelation rather than changing is an important distinction, I think.

I hadn’t planned to include trees as such an important thread of ONE FOR THE MURPHYS. To be honest, I didn’t realize I’d done it until the book was nearly done. But it makes sense that the trees are there if it’s true that we mine from deep inside ourselves to write fiction. It makes sense that I would include the trees.

The book opens with Carley Connors in the back seat of a social worker’s car. She’s on her way to a new foster placement. The winter tree branches along the road are bare, waving her along as they drive by. When she arrives at the Murphys’ home, she describes their house as the color of dirt with tall trees surrounding it like guards on watch. On this day—the very first one—she, herself, is bare. Raw. Afraid. Vulnerable on the inside but tough on the outside. However, Carley had extraordinary colors that had not yet been revealed. Not even to her.

On the second night, when her oldest foster brother’s words cut, Carley runs from the house and hides in an apple orchard until a Murphy comes to find her. Later in the book, Mrs. Murphy takes to baking apple pies for her—she is literally fed by both her foster mother and the trees, transcending a hunger for merely food. As this family continues to show her a side of life she didn’t think existed, spring settles in; as the buds on the trees open so do the gates of Carley’s walls. The branches of a tree are even used in a creative way to defend the youngest Murphy boy, four-year-old Michael Eric, when he’s being taunted by the neighborhood bully. Trees represent life, love, protection, and how sometimes things are revealed within us that we never knew were there.

The last example I’ll list here is Mrs. Murphy’s love of Shel Silverstein’s book, THE GIVING TREE--and Carley’s distain for it. Their individual takes on unconditional love—what it is. And what it isn’t. Readers will have to decide for themselves who gets it right—Carley or Mrs. Murphy.

Carley also learns that life holds more rain than we sometimes expect. But storms don’t last. There are always new days. New beginnings. We must learn to wait out the storms, stay in groups to protect each other, keep rooted as best we can, and when the gales become fierce it is best to bend in the wind.

Lynda Mullaly Hunt is the author of middle-grade novel, ONE FOR THE MURPHYS (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin), winner of The Tassy Walden Award: New Voices in Children’s Literature. She is also a former teacher and Scenario Writing coach. Lynda has been Director of the SCBWI-NE Whispering Pines Retreat for six years. Lynda lives with her husband, two kids, impetuous beagle and beagle-loathing cat.

Facebook: Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Twitter: @Lynmullalyhunt

A link to a trailer for the book:  

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Landscape of Tiny Gestures and Small Details

My nine-year-old daughter came to me on Sunday night with tears in her eyes. And when I asked her what was wrong she could only shrug her shoulders. She pressed her lips together as I got down on my knees to give her a hug, but she couldn’t hold in the cry for very long, and soon she was sobbing onto my shoulder. When she could speak, I asked her again what was wrong. Still she didn’t know.

“Well, what are you thinking about,” I asked.

“Luc’s hands,” she said.

Luc is her older brother. He’s got long curly dirty blond hair and likes to boast that his ankles and wrists are double jointed. He gets mistaken for Shaun White ridiculously often, and loves to snow and skateboard. And pogo-stick. But he’s got pretty average hands.

“What do you mean ‘Luc’s hands?’” I said.

“After dinner tonight,” my daughter began, “when we turned out the lights and you lit the candles on his whoopie pies*—”

It was Luc’s birthday. We had had a lovely lazy family day—ummmm… rather unusual for us!—and then dinner and dessert of Luc’s choice.

My daughter continued. “When you brought out the whoopie pies, Luc clapped his hands together and held them there.” She looked up at me with those teary eyes again. “He clapped his hands together once and held them there,” she said again, slowing down the words and staring at me, and I could tell that she desperately wanted me to decipher what she was getting at. “He looked—happy,” she concluded.

I got it. I got it immediately. Oh man, I got it. She was talking about that tiny window into a person’s humanity. The utterly vulnerable real person shining brightly through that transparent spot. Luc was pure happiness in that moment. He was himself, with no filters, no coping mechanisms, and no self-judgment. His hands pressed together gave him away.

My daughter got that. And I sort of couldn’t believe that she got it, but then after I thought about it I decided that most children get it. They might not register it the way she did, and they might not attempt to wrestle with it or articulate it, but they get it.

I can’t think of a more critical reason to make sure our stories include those tiny gestures and small details. They reveal the real person. They are the light that flashes from that person straight into the reader. They are connection and empathy and hope. And kids get that.

By way of example, I just finished reading Jo Knowles’ book See You at Harry’s. Run out and read it, if you haven’t yet. It is gorgeous. Funny, devastating, real and gorgeous. And it is full of tiny gestures and small details. Check this one out. Fern, the main character in the story, wants to comfort her older brother, Holden:

            I watch the curve of his back rise and fall. I want to touch him and feel his breathing, but I’m afraid I’ll feel the hurt. And it seems like a private thing he doesn’t want to share.


Watching someone simply breathe—in and out, up and down—can be a window into that person’s emotions.  And writing about a character watching someone simply breathe allows the reader access to that same window.

Kind of cool.  Kind of amazingly cool.


*Uh yeah. Whoopie pies. My kids constantly challenge me on their birthdays with their dessert requests…