More Stories from the Ever-Awesome Clive

I love Clive. Millions and millions of love. Now, I know it’s very wrong of writers to pick favorites among their characters – much like parents pouring love onto particular children and ignoring the rest. And while it’s true that I love all of my characters equally, and I take their lives and their stories very, very seriously, there is something special about Clive Fitzpatrick – Professor of Literature, Expert on Ancient Texts, Practitioner of Magic, and Defender of Good.

Clive gets me.

Without Clive, my book would not have been finished. He has been my muse, my support and my swift kick in the pants.

Anyway, in the many revisions of the book, I had to remove several selections from Clive’s scholarly, philosophical and folkloric works, and each one was like ripping a piece of my soul away. Clive, when he appeared in my dreams, or in my conversations with him on the page was much more even tempered about it. He has an easier time letting go. Well, bully for him. I can’t let go.

I’m thinking more and more about taking my little selections and expanding them into actual stories. I may even try to publish it under Clive’s name. Because I think he deserves it. Not that he’s my favorite or anything. He’s just……special. Extra special. Here’s a bit from one of his stories:

Once, there was a boy who looked like a boy and spoke like a boy and thought like a boy, but was not a boy at all. His parents, unaware of the non-boyness of their beautiful child, strapped shoes on feet that were meant to be bare and tethered him with baby carriers and swaddling and five-point harnesses to keep him from flying away.

You are our little boy,” his parents cooed as they buttoned his jacket, although the buttons turned to bugs, which turned to butterflies, which flew prettily out the open window. They pretended not to notice. They closed the window, and the shades, and the drapes.

You are our little boy,” his parents sang as they strapped him into a pram, which sprouted flowers, grass, and a crystal spring. They told the neighbors it was a garden ornament. They entered it into a neighborhood beautification contest and received an Honorable Mention.

The boy resisted. He fluttered, he heated, he trembled with magic and rage and frustration. But eventually came to love his parents and his home and his life. And eventually, he believed he was a boy, and called himself a boy.

But the boy would grow. And with growing comes knowing. Even a child knows that.

Tales from Nowhere (or Everywhere), by Clive Fitzpatrick

Right Brain, Left Brain: Or, How My Shaky Yoga Skills Made Me Re-think My Writing

I was at yoga class last night, breathing deeply and stretching my sweaty body from one end of the universe to the other, when I realized something: I am entirely unable to balance on my right foot.

When I’m on my left side, my balance is rock solid – my Tree Pose isn’t just a tree. I’m a freaking redwood. And my Warrior 3 would have stopped Genghis Khan in his tracks. But on the right side, forget it. I wobble and sway. My breathing becomes ragged and panicked as I utter little yelps of oh-my-g0d-I’m-going-to-FALL. And then I do.

But, you know, it wasn’t always that way. When I was young, I kicked with my right leg in soccer, and led with my right leg in the 300-meter hurdle race, and used my right leg as my launch for the high jump. You’d think that my leg-preference wouldn’t change as I got older, but it did. And when it changed, my writing did too.

So, I was thinking about this as I walked home, and my mind wandered to one of my favorite poems of all time:

(Sonnet CXVI)

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

William Shakespeare

My dad read that poem at the grooms dinner right before I got married. I was twenty-five, pregnant, happy, and terribly, terribly in love. At the dinner, my dad’s point was that my marriage to Ted was one step beyond the idea of true minds, but was rather the union of two halves of one mind: Left brain (Ted) and right brain (Kelly). Ted, analysis; Kelly, language. Ted, logic; Kelly, intuition. And so forth.

The thing, is, I’ve never seen myself as much of a right-brained person. Firstly, I’m right-handed, which would lead one to believe that I’m left-dominated and not right. Secondly, while it’s true I’m a bit of a language freak, I’m not at all visually inclined. I don’t think in pictures, nor have I ever. Art, though I appreciate it and am moved by it, doesn’t have the same language for me that it has for my artistic friends. I know people who are utterly fluent in the language of images. I don’t even have a rudimentary vocabulary. And, even more: When I was a senior in high school taking Calculus, I became instantly aware that becoming more adept in that sort of interconnected and nuanced mathematics was making me a better writer: My papers were more precise, my arguments more delicate and reflective. The language of mathematics made the tools of written language more available to me.

So wouldn’t that make me left-brained?

And I thought about that as I made the final preparations for the wedding the next day. Ted, with his growing exploration of architecture and design, was becoming far more fluent than I in the language of images. Meanwhile, my writing was lodged in the norms and mores of graduate school pedantry. My paragraphs were numbered, my arguments laid out with bullet points. I spoke the language of institutional logic, and finished near the top of my class using writing as a tool to cut, slice, lay the matter bare. Perhaps my dad was wrong. Perhaps Ted was the right-brain.

And I probably would be thinking that same thing even now, if it weren’t for a major event ten years ago.

Ten years ago, I was in the passenger seat of a car. My sister was driving, my eight-month-old baby was in the back, as was my dog. And a large, white van smashed into us. I was the only one hurt in the accident (thank God!), but I was hurt. Right ankle broken, bruised jaw, the skin of half my face ripped right off (thanks, airbags!).  My right ankle has never been the same: It’s still swollen, the joint’s unstable, and it has about half the strength of my left ankle.

And starting then, I came to prefer my left leg over my right. It’s the leg I lead with when I start to walk; it’s the foot I kick with; it’s the foot I use while hoisting myself up a ladder. And you know what’s weird, once I started favoring the left, my writing changed. I began thinking in images. My use of language became more intuitive, impulsive and rhythmic. Metaphor made more sense to me than explanation. I embraced surrealism, fabulism, the fantastic. I became this writer. And, barring any more car accidents, I’ll likely stay this writer. I am right-brained. I go cross-eyed at forms, I can do the same equation fifty-seven times and get fifty-seven answers and cannot logic my way out of a baseball cap.

Which brings me back to the poem: The heart of that poem is alteration, that we are buffeted and tossed on a vast and undulating sea, and it is Love that guides us and sets us right again. But we are always in motion. We cannot not be in motion. I am not the same person that I was when I was twenty-five. I think differently, I speak differently, I reason differently. I think in paradox and speak in poetry. I care little for precision and instead embrace ambiguity and organic gesture. The one thing that has remained? My ever fixed mark? That would be Ted. Because he is magnificent and I am, after eleven years of wedded bliss (and a few more of non-wedded bliss),still terribly, terribly in love.

Right brain, left brain. All that matters is the heart.


So we nixed THE BOY WITHOUT A FACE, and then it was JACK BE QUICK, followed by THE CURIOUS FACE IN THE CORNFIELD. Shortly after that, we played with MAGIC UNDERGROUND, then UPROOTED, then THE SECRET HISTORY OF HAZELWOOD, then A CHILD OF EARTH AND MAGIC then THE WORLD UNDER THE WORLD, then THE UNVANISHING OF JACK and THE BOY WHO DISAPPEARED. And then we went and picked something entirely different, and my book now has an official title.

Drum roll, please……..

THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF JACK.   Now, really, Kelly. Was that so hard?



A Great Reluctance

You know in Lord of the Rings, when Bilbo – and then Frodo – are asked to hand over the Ring, and they are overcome and kind of crazed by a sudden unwillingness to part with the wretched thing, despite how it has taken over their lives and made them miserable?

I am in my last bits of Novel edits. The last little things before My Dear Editrix sends the manuscript off to copy editing. And as difficult as the last few months have been, despite the sheer number of times that I’ve bashed my head against the keyboard and torn drafts to shreds and delayed relaxation and having fun and life in general, and the number of times that I’ve seriously considered setting my hair on fire……despite ALL THAT……*sigh*  I just don’t want to let it go.

And I’m dragging my feet. And I’m trying to find major problems that are going to need a month at least to fix. But no. I’m going to have to send my little book into its next phase. And I’m panicking.

Happy Mothers Day

Happy Mothers’ Day to all mothers: all overworked mothers and underpaid mothers; all frazzled and joyful and superhero mothers; all grieving and wanting and broken mothers.
Happy Mothers’ Day to those whose children do not call, whose children do not write, whose children do not appreciate them.

Happy Mothers’ Day to those who love their children without hope of ever being loved in return.

Happy Mothers’ Day for those with sick kids and well kids and wild kids and thoughtful kids. Happy Mothers Day to those holding their children’s hands in hospital beds or mental institutions or prisons. Happy Mothers Day to those who love their children, despite the fact that their society, their culture or their government has turned its back on them.

Happy Mothers’ Day to those for whom a day’s meal for a hungry child represents a monumental struggle.

Happy Mothers’ Day to those whose children are buried in the ground.

Happy Mothers’ Day to those who, every day, desperately hope to become mothers.

Happy Mothers’ Day to those who have made mistakes, who have screwed up, and who still hope for something more, who still strive to be the person their children need them to be.
Happy Mothers’ Day to those who are sick – sick in their bodies, sick in their hearts, sick in their minds. Happy Mothers Day to those who pray for wellness.

Happy Mothers’ Day to all of us who continue to love, continue to hope, continue to struggle every day on behalf of our children. May Love flow through you, in you and out of you. May you be Love forever.

Much Like My Inability To Walk and Chew Gum……

I can’t write while I teach. Like at all. I’ve attempted to do it before – some feeble stabs at a story over here, some anemic excuses for a poem over there. Nope. Not at all. It’s as though, by standing in front of a classroom, my body becomes a conduit between the creative well beneath my feet and the waiting brains in the desks before me. When I teach fiction, all of my training from teacher school about constructivist classrooms (“Don’t be the sage on the stage,” intoned my professors. “Be the guide on the side!”) gets thrown out the window. When I teach fiction, I employ the Personae Dramatis theory of education. I allow every ounce of passion, every discrete unit of energy, every thought, every feeling, pour through my body, and let it fill the room. It’s exhausting, both physically and mentally, but it’s worth it. And honestly, given the sheer amount of writing that I require from these kids, there’s no other way that I know of to get them bought in.

But, it’s problematic. The more I teach, the less I write. The more I teach, the farther behind I fall on my deadlines – both self-imposed and editor-imposed.

Today, I got my last round of notes from my editor for my novel (the one that has, up to now, been called Jack Be Quick, but will now, I’ve learned, be called something else – though I do not yet know what) and I can’t even look at them. And even if I did look at them, there’s nothing I can do for my book. I’m in teaching mode. I couldn’t write if I tried. Fiction, I mean. Writing fiction requires a reserve of creative energy that is different, I’ve found, from any other type of writing.

And honestly, I think it’s better this way. If I held back from my students, if I toned down what I offered them every day, I would be doing them a disservice. The whole point of the residency is not to teach writing, but rather to allow the kids to experience writing. To have that moment of utter excitement and thrill as a story unfolds -quite of its own accord – on the page. I give them my passion for the art of fiction because no one else has done it for them yet. I want them to feel it.

And I think they do. And they seem to dig it. And anyway, the sound of thirty two kids, all bent over their pages, breathing through their mouths, their pencils scratching furiously against their pages….. Well, there’s no better sound on earth, I’ll tell you what.

Still, I keep on thinking about how I could do my job better, and how I could add…..just that little something special to bring me just over the top, so I turn to one of my teaching heroes – Mr. Russo from Freaks and Geeks. Enjoy!

First the Grownups and Now the Kids

And so continues Kelly’s 14-day marathon of constant teaching, as she moves from the world of rowdy grown-ups to the world of rowdy nine-year olds.

Actually, scratch that. The grownups were way rowdier.

In any case, it’s funny when you take the Intrepid Authoress, so accustomed as she is to the quiet, solitary life, and shove her into hours and hours of social interaction. Indeed, at home, I send the children off to school and busy myself for the rest of the day with the demands of fiction, but when they return, it’s not like they listen to me. Quite the contrary. But in a learning-based setting, be it kids or adults, the only reason why I’m present at all is to have people listen to me. And I’ll tell you, it’s taxing.

I’m now officially taxed.

I have a very tall stack of student papers to read and evaluate after the kids go to bed (even though I’d much rather curl up under my covers and fall fast asleep), and while it’s a lot of work, I have no doubt that the experience will make me laugh, cry, and hoot out loud. The process of teaching is, and always will be, an intensive learning experience for me. I wonder if my students know how much their energy feeds my creative soul.

The Loft Children’s and Young Adult Literature Conference

Thanks to everyone who was so kind as to come to my Magic and Fantasy class at the Loft yesterday. I seriously thought I’d only have two students, and was woefully unprepared for the number of folks who came. Actually, I was woefully un-prepared in general. Or, maybe overprepared. A one hour class is a weird time period, in my opinion, and was inadequate to be able to accomplish the things that I wanted to accomplish. Still, I hope I was marginally helpful. Over the next few days, I’ll be posting the writing exercises as well as some of the further reading that didn’t make it into the actual class due to time constraints.

I’m off to my kids’ piano recital right now, where I am sure to glow and beam with maternal pride, happiness and joy. Happy Sunday everyone!