To learn more about my historical novel, Of Ships and Sealing Wax, please visit my other site, suzannejshaw.com. Thank you!
I have neglected the hell out of this blog while finishing the manuscript for a historical novel, attending writers’ conferences, and traveling. Especially traveling for the last few months: New Orleans, Kauai, and Santa Fe – bing bing bing. So if you want to learn about the novel in progress, please do visit Of Ships and Sealing Wax. For more about these recent travels, read on.
Believe me, I know what a privilege it is to be able to travel so often, to such interesting places, and in such good company (even when it’s just my own). Travel does not, however, get easier with age. Accordingly, my motto is “go now.”
September 2017 ~ New Orleans
It was so much fun to visit New Orleans for the first time along with a group of friends. We attended the second All Souls Con, which celebrates Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy. Love these books and the All Souls community. There’s a TV series being made right this minute, too! But, New Orleans! Beautiful, complicated, haunting, and a little bruised in places. I just loved it. It’s hard to pick a favorite photo. Here are two, Preservation Hall and a street corner in the French Quarter:
October 2017 ~ Kauai
I planned this trip as a birthday present for myself. I know, lucky me. I was happy with my home away from home, which was a cottage at Fern Grotto Inn near Wailua. My agenda consisted of books, beaches, sunrises, writing, coffee, and slowing down. And a lot of papayas! My favorite beach this trip was probably Anini Beach. I could not choose a favorite coffee stop. Java Kai and Small Town Coffee in Kapa’a and Hā Coffee Bar in Lihue are all terrific, each in its own way. I have to shout out for Talk Story Books in Hanapepe, too. Below, a couple of lasting memories, sunrise at Wailua Beach on my first morning, writing at Hā Coffee. By the way, hā means breath or spirit, or the sacred breath of life within us all.
November 2017 ~ New Mexico
In November, folks who live in the Northwest yearn for the sun. You can find sun, color, history, and a unique kind of peace in and around Santa Fe and Albuquerque at this time of year. This trip offered up world-class museums (such as the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the New Mexico History Museum, and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque), fascinating glimpses into small towns like Madrid, Cerillos, and Chimayo, and an unforgettable visit to Taos Pueblo. Below: Cottonwood in Cerillos, el Santuaria de Chimayo.
Lots more photos from these adventures over on Instagram!
Poor neglected Blue Chair Blog. I’ve spent the summer months revising my historical novel-in-progress. That work has it’s own website and blog. If you happen to be interested in food that might be served at fictional meals in the late Eighteenth Century, hop on over here and read up. Your visit and your comments will be very welcome!
You will be able to read an excerpt on the new site, hear some music of the period (or music that inspired the author) on Spotify, and see some period images on Pinterest.
You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram, or see what I’m reading on Goodreads.
All the best,
I dawdled at Orca Books for a while on Friday before meeting a friend for lunch and, on a whim, I bought a slightly battered little book, Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth. A stamp and handwritten note on the flyleaf revealed it had been purchased at Dove Cottage, Grasmere in 1970. At the time, it cost 45 p. I am enchanted by it, and inspired. The first few pages of Helen Darbishire‘s engaging introduction, written in 1958, have me in tears. What better source for learning how to describe; describe nature, the natural world, and landscape but also people. She could sketch a character or a first impression indelibly in only a few lines. I bought the book without much investigation because it was cheap and because these early journals are close in date to the period I’m writing about — 1798 and 1800 to 1802. Isn’t it lovely to indulge in an inexpensive little whim and have that whim so well-rewarded? Dorothy did not want to be an author. She did not see herself as a poet. As Miss Darbishire wrote, she was a poet in prose:
There is something . . . that imagination does, the simplest thing, the central thing. It pierces through the familiar surface to something nearer to life itself than what we ordinarily see.
There is only one known portrait of Dorothy, a sad one made when she was quite old, and yet she lives. Not only through her own vibrant words, but in her brother William’s poetry — some of which is clearly sourced from her journals — and in Coleridge’s, too. And from the tender regard both men had for her. “[H]is exquisite sister,” Coleridge wrote, and you have to credit his perspicaciousness: “[H]her person is such that if you expected to see a pretty woman, you would think her ordinary; if you expected to see an ordinary woman, you would think her pretty!”
William Wordsworth was speaking more generally in the following quotation, but these journals are so beautiful, so captivating, that he could easily have been writing of Dorothy:
Of genius in the fine Arts the only infallible sign is the widening the sphere of human sensibility for the delight, honour, and benefit of human nature.
She was a great walker, along with her brother and Coleridge. In 1818, when she would have been about 46, she climbed Scafell Pike (the highest mountain in England at just over 3,200 feet) with another lady, a maid, and a pair of local guides. She never married. She fell ill from about 1829 and eventually her mind grew frail as well.
As ever, all we have is now.
Yes, there are more literary adventures available than you might think down here in the state capital, which is after all a college town times three. Here’s what I’ve been able to take advantage of lately and I’m feeling SO fortunate.
At the end of September, I took up a week-long writing residency at Holly House, which is a retreat center for women “of all creative talents” on Arcadia Point in Mason County. Holly House is maintained by a small jewel of an organization, Hypatia-in-the-Woods. The cottage is a 40-minute drive from my house, but a whole world away. This is a solo operation and nature, nurture, beauty, and peace abound. I wrote, slept, read, walked and came home renewed and full of gratitude for the opportunity.
A few days later, Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins and some kick-ass short stories, spoke at Saint Martins University in Lacey. An SRO crowd filled the hall and Jess’s long-time friend Jim Lynch introduced him with love and laughter. I continue to be delighted that writers like Jess are showing up — right in my neighborhood! — to charm and inspire readers and writers. One of his messages to writers, echoed by Liz Gilbert (more on her shortly) is that you don’t necessarily need an MFA to be “A Writer” and that starting a writing career with $30,000 in debt is probably not a great idea. This is the second annual talk in SMU’s Les Bailey Writers Series and last year’s speaker Brian Doyle was also terrific.
It’s not a literary event per se, but whether it’s Spring or Fall, Olympia Arts Walk is an unmissable Olympia cultural phenomenon, so I didn’t miss it. There is always plenty of energy, lots to look at, and you are bound to run into someone (or many someones) you know.
Although Seattle is a little beyond local, I did head on up to the big city to see Elizabeth Gilbert in person last week. Her new book Big Magic has so many terrific things to say about creativity and living a big life. I’ve been listening to her practical and encouraging Magic Lessons podcasts for several weeks and got my hands on the book as soon as I got back from Holly House. God love her, she is OUT THERE on a few things but that’s kind of the point. She puts herself out there in a way that convinces you she’s fully alive and that she wants you to take every opportunity to be the same. My goodness, can that woman communicate — novels, podcasts, talks, photos, and her one-of-a-kind, worth-joining-for Facebook page.
The very next night, there was another cool local event, a book signing for my friend Russ Cahill’s novel of ancient Hawaii, Kolea. I never did get to talk to Russ because friends, friends-of-friends, and new fans were all lined up to get books signed. Now he’s off on a research trip to Yosemite for his next book, living the writing life.
Then the following evening (this is three nights in a row, folks), Timberland Regional Library (one of the best regional library systems imaginable) launched its new anthology, Timberland Writes Together, which builds on the success of its program Timberland Reads Together. No, I’m not one of the 15 writers included, but my friend Meagan’s story “Going Without” is in there. You can download or borrow the anthology from the library (of course), or buy it online, and discussions and panels centered on this project are scheduled in Thurston, Mason, Pacific, Grays Harbor, and Lewis Counties. I’m so impressed that TRL has taken this project on and fascinated to learn how much writing has been going on around here. Even more than I had suspected!
According to my calendar, more bookish adventures are waiting. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I got this post written and now it’s back to the WIP.