Thursday, May 25, 2017

Archival Rsearch at the Kerlan Collection: Part II

I've now finished three exhilarating and exhausting days of children's literature research at the Kerlan. And when I say "exhausting," I mean that yesterday I returned home to my bed-and-breakfast, put on my nightgown, and got into bed at 5:30. So many hours spent poring over voluminous heaps of paper, number two pencil clenched in my hand (no pens allowed, though laptops are permitted, and I did take lots of pictures of key items on my phone). I already have 25 pages of closely written notes.
I don't think I'm allowed, at this point, to quote directly from the collection (I need to check on what I need to do to secure that permission). But here is a little bit of what I've found.

I've spent most of my time on Maud Hart Lovelace, author of the Betsy-Tacy books. The Kerlan has two big cartons of MHL materials, plus another smaller box. Here I discovered:

 The typewritten manuscript of the first story Maud wrote as a precursor to the Betsy-Tacy books: "Betty and Bick [Tacy's real-life name] Visit a Hermit";

Correspondence between Maud and the childhood friends, now grown, who served as the real-life inspiration for her characters, pressing them for the vivid details to make each story come alive;

Dozens of pages of notes on Minnesota birds, trees, flowers, seasonal observations, and local history as background research;

Meticulous documention of article titles, fashion styles, popular actors and songs, from a month-by-month review of Ladies Home Journal for the year corresponding with each book;

And much more!

I have to say that I had no idea Lovelace did so much grueling research for her series, as the books are based so closely on her own childhood and teen years. Wasn't she just relying on memory? No! There is even a letter from the Hayden Planetarium in New York City answering a question about what constellations Betsy might have seen when sailing to Europe on the eve of World War I in Betsy and the Great World. I was humbled by this evidence of how hard she worked to make the early twentieth century feel so real for her readers.

The Eleanor Estes material here at the Kerlan is less juicy than I what I explored last year at the University of Connecticut; there it was a lot of correspondence, but here it's mainly typewritten and copy-edited manuscripts with relatively few changes made on them (but I did pounce on those I found with great interest.) Then I peeked into the six uncatalogued boxes on Elizabeth Enright. Oh, my! Best finds so far: a whole folder titled "Boyfriends 1925-29: with ardent love letters and Western Union telegrams from various swains, and a beautiful fan letter written to Enright by British author Noel Streatfeild (the "Shoes" books), another of my greatest loves.

What will I find today?

Monday, May 22, 2017

Archival Research at the Kerlan Collection: Part I

Last year, in my seventh decade on this earth, I learned something wonderful that I wish I had learned a long time ago: you can apply for grants that will give you money to do fun things, and if you're lucky you might even get one.

Last year I applied for, and got, a travel grant to do archival research on children's author Eleanor Estes at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the Univesity of Connecticut. This year I applied for, and got, a travel grant to do more archival research on Eleanor Estes, and also on my most beloved Maud Hart Lovelace, at the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota.

I arrived last nght at the guest house in the Dinkytown section of Minneapolis where I'll be staying for the week, the Wales House on 5th Street SE, about a twenty-minute walk from the Anderson Library that houses the Kerlan Collection.
I love every single thing about it so far.

When you arrive, you take off your shoes and put them in your own numbered shoe cubby. I'm number 24.
Tucked up on the third floor is my sweet little room:

I share a bath with three lodgers. We each have our own numbered towel hook.
In the kitchen we each have our own numbered cupboard and our own numbered shelf in the fridge.

I hadn't planned to fix my own meals as a continental breakfast is provided here, and the grant money covers my other eating expenses, but I wanted to have something to put in my cupboard and on my fridge shelf, so I went to the small urban Target two blocks away and bought some yogurst, berries, and of course my necessary Swiss Miss hot chocolate.

The other lodgers whom I've met so far all hail from distant lands: a man from Japan, a woman from China, another man from Spain, All are conducting research at the University of Minnesota. I feel part of a global commuity of scholars.This morning I walked to campus with Choa from China, who is doing molecular biology medical research. Then, as it happened, I met up with her by chance at the end of my day and we walked home together.

So the trip proved to be lovely before I even opened a single box of children's literature treasures at the Kerlan, the treasures from which I'll share tidbits in my next post.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Submission-a-Month Plan: Mid-May Report

My chief goal for 2017 is to submit a different project somewhere every single month. It can be a creative project or a scholarly project; it can be a big project or a little project. Options include: children's book proposal, completed children's book manuscript, academic philosophy article, academic children's literature article, personal essay, poem, grant application, and more. I don't have to have a single submission actually accepted, mind you. Whether something gets accepted is up to the universe. Whether it gets submitted is up to me.

I am loving this plan so much. As soon as I press SEND, I feel a shiver of anticipation: now, there is at least a chance that something nice can happen. Admittedly, the nice thing is unlikely to happen any time soon, as the review process can drag on for months. And in some cases, it's unlikely to happen at all. But it is definitely sooooo much more likely to happen than if I hadn't pressed SEND. Pressing SEND is key.

So far this year, this is what I've submitted:

January: grant proposal to the Kerlan Collection of Children's Literature at the University of Minnesota for travel funds to spend a week in Minneapolis researching their archived materials on several children's authors I adore - Maud Hart Lovelace, Eleanor Estes, Carol Ryrie Brink.
VERDICT: Accepted. I head for Minneapolis next week.

February: massively revised philosophy paper on artistic integrity, submitted to the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. This is a paper I've presented to a number of university audiences over a number of years, with increasing embarrassment at still dragging the same old thing around with me wherever I go. It was time - long past time - either to do something with it or just consign it to the flames. VERDICT JUST IN: "Accept with major edits." I'm stunned, actually, as my usual verdict is "revise and resubmit," and this is a step up from that- and for a paper I almost abandoned. This may very well be my philosophical swan song, and I'm glad I've had the chance to sing it.

March: significantly revised academic children's literature paper on Pinky Pye and Ginger Pye of Eleanor Estes, the fruit of a research trip to the University of Connecticut library last fall. I submitted this to the Children's Literature Association Quarterly last November (I think it was) and did indeed get my usual revise-and-resubmit verdict earlier this year. So my task for March was to revise and resubmit, which I did. CURRENT STATUS: waiting to hear and cautiously optimistic.

April: a children's poem submitted to Highlights. This is a first for me, to submit one of my poems somewhere, and it's a long shot, as their website says explicitly that they are overstocked with poetry right now and are especially interested in non-rhyming poems, which mine is not. But, hey, you never know, right? CURRENT STATUS: waiting to hear, but not very hopeful. Still, I kept to my submission-a-month goal.

May: an academic children's literature paper submitted to the journal Children's Literature. The paper is called "Trying to Be Good (with Bad Results): The Wouldbegoods, Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, and Ivy and Bean: Bound to be Bad." This is a major expansion and revision of a paper I gave at the Children's Literature Association conference in June of 2015. It was a ton of work to overhaul it, but great joy to press SEND last week. CURRENT STATUS: waiting to hear and expecting a verdict of "revise and submit."

For June I'm trying to decide if doing the major edits on the artistic integrity paper (February's project) and resubmitting it is enough to count as meeting my goal for June, or if I need to submit something completely new, which means coming up with (i.e., writing) something completely new. I'm inclined toward thinking major edits on the paper is good enough. Anyway, I'm the one who makes the rules here, so I get to decide.

Then, that will be half a year done, with a delicious six months to go, when I'll turn my attention back to creative rather than scholarly projects. The rest of my life may be in flaming ruins (as in fact it is right now), but at least I'm sticking to my submission-a-month plan. At least I have that.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Writing an Hour a Day: Hopelessly, Faithfully

I am very happy today. I finished extensive revisions on a scholarly children's literature article that grew out of a paper I presented at the Children's Literature Association conference in Richmond, Virginia, in June of 2015. And I just sent it off to a journal - hooray, hooray!

There is no bliss greater than the bliss of attaching a document and pressing SEND. Well, except for the bliss that awaits me this afternoon of lugging all the books I needed for this project back to the university library and beholding a clean desk ready for the next project.

This article is titled "Trying to Be Good (with Bad Results): The WouldbegoodsBetsy-Tacy and Tib, and Ivy and Bean: Bound to Be Bad." It examines three different texts, published over the course of a full century, which feature children who are making conscious, deliberate, intentional attempts at being good, with results that end up as decidedly NOT good. The central thesis of the paper is that all three authors (E. Nesbit, Maud Hart Lovelace, and Annie Barrows) are not satirizing children's naivety about the moral realm; instead they are satirizing the ways in which adult authorities communicate significant errors about the moral life to young readers.

Anyway, it was a HUGE project to turn a half-baked 10-page conference paper into a well-researched 30-page journal paper, festooned with footnotes and chock-a-block with citations. I really didn't think I'd get ever get it done, it was so overwhelming and I was so daunted.

But I did. 

And this is how I did it. Yes, I worked at it for an hour a day (well, sometimes even TWO hours a day), day after day after day, for perhaps a month and a half. 

That's all. 

I worked without hope - the whole project seemed hopeless. But I worked with a steady, dogged faithfulness. 

Now it's done. And submitted. And the months of waiting can begin for what will almost surely (based on my quarter century of past experience) be a verdict of "revise and resubmit." Which will mean tackling another extensive round of massive revisions. Which I will accomplish by trudging hopelessly, but faithfully and even cheerfully, for an hour a day, day after day, until it's done.

Then, once again, I'll hit SEND in a rush of rapture, and once again have the joy of returning the library books, and once again be DONE DONE DONE with a project - at least until it returns for more revision.

An hour a day. That's all it takes. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

May = "Make It Work for Me" Month

Happy first day of May! For those of you who, like me, start an entire new life on the first day of each month, may this one be infused with the buzzing, blooming energy of full-blown springtime.

I like to have themes for my months, when I can think of them. For this May, the theme is going to be "Make It Work for Me." I'm going to prioritize my happiness, my productivity, and my creative joy - all without short-changing what I owe (and gratefully give) to others. My task is going to be, in everything I face this month, to ask myself, "How I can make this work best for ME?"

A few examples as I begin my month-design pondering.

I need (and want) to spend time taking care of my in-residence grandchildren, to give their mother the opportunity to take care of herself in various ways. But I feel trapped and desperate if I'm stuck in a house for hours with small children, and I also feel nervous if I head out on ambitious adventures all alone with an extremely independent three-year-old and stroller-bound baby. Solution: this Thursday I'm joining forces with a writer friend who has a four-year-old of her own, meeting up at the Denver Zoo where she has a membership that will admit all of us for free. So while I'm taking care of grandchildren AND giving their mother some time for herself, I'll also have a delightful outing with a good friend and fun galore for all of us.

I need to take the new-to-me car I bought last week back to the dealer to have one little thing fixed on it. I'll probably need to wait an hour while the work is done. What a wasted morning - NOT. I'm going to take the book on plotting that everybody on earth seems to have read but me - Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder - and start reading it there.

I'm heading to Minneapolis later in the month for a week of research at the Kerlan Collection of children's literature at the University of Minnesota - digging into correspondence and manuscripts of favorite authors such as Maud Hart Lovelace, Eleanor Estes, and Carol Ryrie Brink. This is already going to be an amazing trip. But why not make it even more amazing? I want to make sure that I'm not lonely in the evenings by lining up some dinners with children's lit friends who live in the area. If I'm going all that way for all that time, I might as well squeeze maximal bliss out of it, right?

Finally, I need (and want) to spend early mornings cuddling with three-year-old Kataleya. But I also need (and want) to spend early mornings revising yet another children's literature paper, this one an expansion of a paper I gave at the Children's Literature Association convention a couple of years ago. How can I make this work for me? Well, the solution is obvious, but I need to remind myself of it every single morning as I glance at the clock while snug in my bed: GET UP EARLY! Not at 5, but at 4:30. It's so hard to do, but every single time I do it I feel downright giddy with joy for the rest of the day.

These are four ways I'm going to make May work for me. Are there ways you can make May work for you, too?


Friday, April 28, 2017

Back from Wisconsin

There are so many places in the world that I would be happy living. One of them, it turns out, is the Coolee region of southwestern Wisconsin, centered on the city of LaCrosse, where I just spent a lovely week speaking to children from six elementary schools (Galesville, Ettrick, North Woods, Whitehall, West Salem, and Northside), as well as visiting two public libraries (Galesville and LaCrosse), and giving a talk at the University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse.

It's so pretty in the Midwest! I think of Carney in Maud Hart Lovelace's Carney's House Party, thinking that her Vassar classmates "haven't any idea how nice the Middle West is."

What is nicer than to walk along the banks of the mighty Mississippi in a park designed by Frederick Olmsted?

Or to wander through tiny towns like Galesville and Whitehall, with populations of fewer than 2000 people but yet boasting thriving downtowns with appealing cafes and markets? Here I stand overlooking Galesville, during a fascinating tour from my librarian friend Winna.
And meeting the town founder, Mr. Gale.
The children were uniformly delightful. My talks were a nice mix of my usual meet-the-author assembly (now complete with much-admired slides of my cat, dog, and grandbabies) and writing workshops for smaller groups on the principle of "Show, don't tell," These led to much hilarity as child volunteers acted out scenarios of being sad, mad, and glad, while the rest of us took notes on their facial expressions and body language. Great slumping shoulders, sad ones! Great clenched fists, mad ones! Great leaping into the air, glad ones!

I hadn't realized that I would be so close to Pepin, Wisconsin, site of Little House in the Big Woods, or to the homestead of Caddie Woodlawn, dear to me ever since I played the role of stuck-up cousin Annabelle in a fifth-grade dramatization. So now I have to plan a return trip to make that pilgrimage.

What a big wonderful world this is! I'm glad I had the chance to spend a week in this sweet part of it.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Off to Wisconsin

Last July I received an email from the children's librarian in Galesville, Wisconsin, inquiring whether Cody Harmon, King of Pets was going to be the concluding title in my Franklin School Friends series, or if additional titles were planned. She explained that she has a section of her library for "series" books (with "series" defined as "more than five books"). Should she move Franklin School Friends into the series section or keep it with the regular collection?

I wrote back expressing astonishment at such heroic efforts to shelve my books correctly. She and I then fell into a witty email correspondence, as she happens to be one of the funniest human beings I have ever encountered. I couldn't resist dropping a hint that I'd be interested in coming to Wisconsin to do some author visits at local schools (and also admire my appropriately shelved books in the Galesville public library). Wina (pronounced Winna) passed my name onto a school librarian friend, who was indeed interested in sharing my services with her teachers and students, but lacked the budget to bring an author all the way from Colorado.

Oh, well. I tried.

But - wait - I really did want this to happen - and Galesville isn't that far from LaCrosse, Wisconsin, where a new friend of mine teaches in the philosophy department (a friend I met last summer when I gave a talk at the American  Society of Aesthetics in Santa Fe). What if - ooh - what if the university would be willing to host me as a visitor? I could be both visiting professor AND visiting author, as I had recently done at Coastal Carolina University and Carleton College?

So tomorrow I fly to Minneapolis, where I'll rent a car to drive two-and-a-half hours to LaCrossse, Wisconsin. Then I'll spend all of next week presenting to children at six different elementary schools: Galesville, Ettrick, North Woods, Whitehall, West Salem, and Northside, as well as at two public libraries: Galesville and LaCrosse. I'll also give a talk at the university. And meet Wina at last!

All of this thanks to one librarian who cared enough about how to shelve my books in her library to write a hilarious email to me. And to one brilliant and generous philosophy professor friend who took time out of her enormously busy schedule to write a grant proposal to fund my presentation at her university and outreach from the university to the community.

Wisconsin, here I come!