Posted by: Betsy Devany | June 20, 2014

The Importance of Being Present

SONY DSC“Red moon,” he said,

his two-year-old hand reaching for mine

in the dark. 

As urgently as my granddaughter

grabbed my arm, earlier that day. 

 

For her, it was the return

of the hummingbirds.

 

 

SONY DSCShe’d spotted a female

resting on a high branch,

a potential mate preening

his feathers nearby.

Our clothesline, his stage.

 

 

SONY DSCThen . . . a flash

of iridescent red,

high-pitched squeaks,

beating wings that

skirted our hair.

Breathlessness

as abandoned homework

 

 

                                            danced

                                                                                 on a breeze.

 

SONY DSCWe chased it, laughing.

 

If not for children

reminding us to be present,

how many miracles of life

would be overlooked?

 

The insect in a daylily.

 

Shadows in the woods.

 

SONY DSC

The beauty of a half-dead 

Japanese maple tree

clinging to life.

Its unfurling apple-peel like leaves

shimmering in the sun.

 

Do our heads always need to be down?

Our brains wired and ready

for instant response

to Facebook notifications,

e-mails, texts, twitter updates?

 

SONY DSC

 

 

Look. Up.

Find beauty.

Give a child your full,

undivided attention.

 

 

 

 

And so we set aside homework

to wonder at hummingbirds.

Delayed bedtime

to gaze at a brilliant full moon,

 

SONY DSC

shrouded in a milky

red-and-blue veil.

 

“Look, Grandma!” he said,

his small hand swallowed

in mine.

                                                                                           

Clouds shifted; the moon disappeared.

 

SONY DSCBut not the moment.

The moment of just

being.

 

He ran down the driveway.

“Moon is gone! GONE!”

 

 

I raced after him,

swept him into my arms,

guided his tiny arm toward the sky.

“Watch and wait,” I whispered.

 

Together, we silently anticipated–

not a ding or a chirp or a tweet

but the reappearance

of an unreachable golden ball

nestled in the night sky.

A ball my grandson called “Red Moon.”

 

Yes, we need to be brave

in our writing,

but we must also seek the courage

to be present.

Posted by: Betsy Devany | May 23, 2014

My Writing Process

ImageToday I join the blog tour where writers and authors answer questions about their writing process. Author Rebecca Colby preceded me. Please check out her writing process here: www.rebeccacolbybooks.com/2014/04/writing-process-blog-tour/

What am I working on now?

My present focus is on eight-year-old E. B. Louise, who is determined to save her shredding and too-small elephant slippers given to her by her recently deceased Grandma Hubble. E. B. Louise is precocious and always getting into trouble, which makes her utterly delicious and intoxicating to be around. Especially when you add her bestie, Melvin Fitch, who returns from his summer vacation at Alien World greener than E. B. Louise’s lawn. I work with second graders on a weekly basis and absolutely adore their age group. Oh, that E. B. Louise and her antics! Revising this lower middle grade lets me spend my mornings laughing out loud before I return to my second young adult in free verse, which has a darker and more serious tone, with a plot that gives me chills.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Paying no attention to market trends, I write what I am called to write, what speaks to my heart. If a voice leads to less-explored topics like early-onset Alzheimer’s, stealing, and secrets that turn families upside down, I’m not afraid to go there. I’m also not afraid to push the limits if I wholeheartedly believe that a certain plot point or a particular dialogue exchange is honest to what truly happens in children’s lives.

Why do I write what I do?

As for picture books, I adore them, I always have. And I love the challenge of writing a heartfelt and funny story in under 700 words. In terms of novels, once a voice comes to me—whether in a whisper, a single line of dialogue, or sometimes a scene in which I see the unfamiliar character doing something and wonder why—I have to follow them. For the most part, I write character-driven contemporary fiction.

How does your writing process work?

Because I live a full life—I work at an old-fashioned toy store part-time, regularly watch my two grandkids, volunteer weekly in my granddaughter’s second-grade classroom, and I am an avid photographer—I’ve learned to set aside time in each day to write. As writers, we must do this. Nearly three years ago, right after my father died, I made a vow to become an early riser for the sake of my writing. And now, on most days, I welcome the sun from my writing room where I am head down, butt in chair, giving free rein to Sleepy Mind. This is when my creative juices flow best. Overall, I write up to four hours per day, some days more than that.

A first draft of a novel can take up to three months, while I write picture books fairly quickly. Though I play with the story’s concept and characters for weeks in my mind. I see pictures, like screen shots, and jot those down. The real writing follows after I’ve let the fresh manuscript simmer for a while and then hunker down for revision. Revising is, hands down, my favorite part of writing.

Thank you so much for stopping by! Please visit my author friends who will share their writing process in the next week or so.

SONY DSCDebbie LaCroix is the author of “It’s Almost Time.” We met at Jane Yolen’s Picture Book Boot Camp in March. Debbie is a book addict. She loves to read, write and even sells children’s books for Usborne Books and More. She is a Mom to 2 boys, and loves jumping into her imagination. She is currently searching for an agent. Please visit Debbie at: www.littledebbiewrites.wordpress.com

 

 

A_Denise_Author_PhotoAnika Denise is the author of PIGS LOVE POTATOES and BELLA AND STELLA COME HOME, both of which were illustrated by her husband, Christopher Denise. Her forthcoming titles include BAKING DAY AT GRANDMA’S (Philomel, August, 2014/ also illustrated by Chris) and MONSTER TRUCKS! (Harper Children’s, 2016/ illustrated by Nate Wragg.) She lives with her husband and three daughters in Barrington, Rhode Island. Learn more about Anika’s books at her author website www.anikadenise.com, and blog http://thelittlecrookedcottage.blogspot.com.

 

 

 

Posted by: Betsy Devany | February 12, 2014

Children’s Literature Inspires Compassion for Animals

DSC00474A few weeks ago, my seven-year-old granddaughter and I were taking a walk when we came upon a bush filled with red berries.  A handmade sign swung from a branch: “Please do not pick berries. The birds need them for winter food. Thanks!” Ava read the words to me, and then continued to read a not-so-nice note someone had scribbled on the bottom by a person who clearly didn’t care about birds.

“Grandma, why would someone say something so mean about birds?” she asked.

How does one tell a seven-year-old child that not every person is kind in this world?

While Ava tried to wrap her head around the not-so-nice words, and the fact that someone had written them, I reminded her about the individual who took the time to make the red sign, and then carefully secured it to the bush with twine. “That’s what matters,” I told her.

“Yes,” she said, picking up trash from the road and putting it in her pocket. “And when we get back to your house, we’ll put out extra bird seed.”

SONY DSCWe continued on our way, Ava quiet in her thoughts, unlike her usual chatty self. And when she asked me to tell her a story as we walked by the reservoir, I began to recite the story of a girl who found two lost dogs in her grandmother’s yard.

“Grandma, that was me,” she said, spying a Dunkin Donuts bag near the base of a tree. She picked it up to use as a portable trash bag.

“Yes, I know that was you, and I love that story.”

“Okay, you can tell it again.” She gathered more litter. It was then that I realized what she doing. In her own way, Ava was balancing the not-so-nice note by cleaning up after others. “This way the birds won’t eat any of this trash and get sick. Like those dogs were when we found them.”

Two years ago, a couple of elderly dogs just appeared on our porch. They were wet and hungry, and Ava squealed when she saw them. “It’s like Because of Winn-Dixie!” she said. “And we have to save them, Grandma. Kate DiCamillo would want us to save them.”

SONY DSCAva had seen the movie, and we were reading the middle grade novel aloud. And before I could say “yes,” Ava was filling bowls with water, and gathering food for the starving dogs. After calling nearby vets and having no luck identifying the lost dogs, I called animal control, who couldn’t come to our home for 2-3 hours.

“Ava, how are we going to keep them from running off for 2-3 hours?” The yellow lab, while elderly, had a lot of spunk, especially after having eaten two servings of kibble offered by Ava.

“Grandma, I am an Animal Whisperer. Don’t you know that by now?” And then Ava proceeded to whisper to these two lost dogs. Softly. Lovingly. She chanted that she would watch over them until we could find their homes, and she then nearly cried when she noticed the black dog’s infected ears. She’d been tenderly brushing them with our dog’s brush.

“Will they be okay?” she kept asking me.

Image 2“Yes,” I said, over and over, until the Dog Warden finally arrived at our house. Every day after that, Ava and I talked about the dogs, whether they’d found their homes and gotten medicine for their ailments. Three weeks later, I ran into the Dog Warden at the grocery store, who confirmed that the dogs were reunited with their owners, who had just moved from Minneapolis, Kate DiCamillo’s state. The dogs had been trying to find their old house. “You and your granddaughter saved them,” she said.

It is moments like this that I feel hope. Hope in the face of strangers defacing signs made by people who care about the smallest creatures on this earth. Hope that springs forth in a young child because she read a book in which another young girl was kind to a lost dog. A dog name Winn-Dixie.

Children learn compassion from reading books, and then go to help lost dogs, care for birds, and assist the smallest of creatures, as well as show compassion to other people. They, like myself,  are forever affected by stories such as The One and Only Ivan and Home of the Brave, both written by Katherine Applegate, and The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo. As a young child, I loved The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and I watched the Birdman of Alcatraz multiple times. In terms of empathy, Ava’s favorite picture books include How to Heal a Broken Wing and “Let’s Get a Pup!” Said Kate, both by Bob Graham. When the family arrives to pick up Rosy, the old dog at the shelter, I never fail to burst into tears. Ava now finds this humorous and says, “Grandma, do you have to cry every time?” And then we read another favorite, Mr. Hacker by James Stevenson, a heartfelt story filled with empathy and humor.

SONY DSCWhen Kate DiCamillo spoke at the NJSCBWI conference nearly two years ago, I had the pleasure of chatting with our newly named National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature for 2014–2015. Ava had drawn a picture for Kate, and sent me with photos of the dogs, we had rescued. I had Kate sign The Magician’s Elephant for my father, a book I had planned to give to him, not expecting he would pass before he could read it. And upon seeing the photos of Ava with the dogs, Kate asked if she could keep them.

Kate, like so many wonderful authors, inspire me every day. They inspire me to keep pushing myself for the children, who are the hope of our future and the most precious gifts on our earth.

I would love to hear your favorite books that are sage examples of empathy toward animals, while I have by no means mentioned all of my favorites in this post.

Lastly, I was honored to be a guest this week over at The Writing Barn. Here is the link to my post on revision, inspired by a house wren family. Rejecting Rejection with author Betsy Devany – Writing Barn

Posted by: Betsy Devany | December 2, 2013

PiBoIdMo 2013 Comes to an End

SONY DSCPiBoIdMo has come to an end. Which leads to withdrawal. It also leads to realizing one’s strengths and weaknesses, some of which I learned during PiBoIdMo 2013.

1. I can come up with picture book ideas under pressure, while also tending to a middle grade revision.

2. I should not pretend to know what I am doing when trying to baste a turkey on Thanksgiving.

3. The twenty-three-month-old grandson is better equipped to handle Norman the gorilla.

4. I need to volunteer for more hours at the elementary school because the place is ripe with ideas, except when I’ve been asked to read the final chapter of Charlotte’s Web aloud and get emotional. Which also turns a second grade classroom silent, and instantly ceases snack time shenanigans. Twenty-two sets of eyes lock on you, the One Who is Trying Not To Cry when Wilbur says how much he misses Charlotte. This led to a discussion about good writing, and how good writing evokes emotion.

SONY DSC5. I now have a lot of work to do and a number of manuscripts to develop. Thirty-six picture book ideas, to be exact. A dozen show strong promise. I am excited to explore them further.

When I checked in with Norman to see how many picture book ideas he came up with during the month, he handed me his list, every title oddly familiar in a middle grade/young adult kind of way.

Norman, Lost and Found

With a Name Like Norman

The One and Only Norman

Love That Norman

The Absolute Value of Norman

The Thing About Norman

Eleanor & Norman

The Higher Power of Norman

The Year of the Gorilla

One For the Norman’s

See You at Norman’s

Each Little Gorilla that Sings

SONY DSC“Norman, ” I said. “Gorillas do not sing. And is this why my novels are no longer in alphabetical order?”

Norman said I needed to ask his publicist.

“What publicist?”

“That boy wearing the headset, who interviewed me last week. I am too busy to talk, someone in this house needs to stuff the turkey with herbs.”

Which brings me to number two on my list.

For any of you who read my pre-PiBoIdMo postPre-PiBo Day 4: Betsy Devany’s PiBoIdMo Success Story (plus prizes!), two years ago, I was fired from making our Thanksgiving meal. This year, I decided to be brave, with the help of my husband. We brined the turkey ahead of time and then put it in the oven. After a few hours, the bird needed a little help. “I think we have to use the juice in the pan to baste the turkey. Yes, that’s it!” I said. And then I realized I had no idea where the baster was. My husband found it and handed it to me. He left the room to mind the outside grill, which had our ‘back-up’ turkey. I opened the oven door, reached in with the baster and burned the edge of a finger. I slammed the oven door shut, put ice on the now-red spot, and gathered strength to try again.

“I’m going back in,” I called.

He did not hear me.

I put on an oven mitt and picked up the baster. “I can do this, I can do this,” I chanted.

I lifted the foil, sucked up a tube of juice and squirted the turkey. I did it again, and then . . .

The bulb part of the baster pulled away from the tube, which lurched into the oven and dropped to the floor of the very hot oven.

“The Thanksgiving Curse!” I shouted. “Fire, fire!”

My husband was sitting on our back porch, reading the Black Friday ads, with a fire roaring in our fireplace.

“FIRE!”

He turned toward the kitchen window and waved at me. “Yes, come outside. Isn’t the fire nice?”

“The oven! The baster is melting. Hurry!”

I will say that the baster was not easily retrieved, and required a number of attempts to free it from the oven, at which point it was a charred and melted blob.

But in the end the turkey was moist and delicious, and I did not burn our house down.

Another vote is on the table in regards to how I may or may not be involved with next year’s Thanksgiving meal. I know how I will be voting.

Thank you, Tara Lazar, for another fabulous PiBoIdMo experience. I wish all the participants success as they shape their ideas into marketable stories. I look forward to reading each and every one.

Posted by: Betsy Devany | November 8, 2013

PiBoIdMo Week One with Norman the Gorilla

SONY DSCAt the end of week #1 of PiBoIdMo, I’ve successfully met this week’s goal: eight new ideas, three of which continue to feed the muse. My weekly volunteer session in my granddaughter’s second-class yesterday bumped my idea count from five to eight, thanks to one-on-one sessions in the hallway. The project I was helping the kids with was hysterical. Thank you, students, for making me laugh!

But when I checked in with Norman, he seemed a bit discouraged. So I asked how his writing challenge was coming.

“I loaned my car to Beverly and Beauregard Bunny. They have more ideas than I could come up with. I got off the StuWriStoMo hill. Everyone passed me.”

“What is StuWriStoMo?” I asked.

SONY DSC“Stuffs Write Stories Month. We have our own Stuffsbook page. I read Beverly’s post.” Norman groaned. “Beverly came up with 413 1/2 ideas.”

“You’re not competing with the bunnies,” I said.

“Beauregard wrote 93 picture book manuscripts this week. He stars in all of them. Pig and Elephant are way ahead, too. Pig is illustrating Elephant’s ideas as they come.”

“Have you written down any new ideas?”

“One,” said Norman. “It’s called I WANT MY BANANA BACK. Beauregard Bunny steals my banana. So I ask around to see if anyone has seen it. No one has. And they’re too busy to help me look because they’re eating banana bread. Made from MY BANANA!  And then I find Beauregard Bunny selling suspicious-smelling cookies at his bakery. By the end of the book, the bakery is shutdown.”

SONY DSC“What happens to Beauregard Bunny?”

“Why are you asking?” said Norman.

“Because this sounds like plagiarism.”

“No, it doesn’t. There are no hats in my story. Please do not ask me any more questions. I would not eat a bunny.”

“Okay, well I expect you’ll be hearing from Jon Klassen soon.”

“Great! I’ll tell my agent at Bossy Frog Literary that Klassen will write a blurb for the book jacket. Agent Bossy Frog #2 calls my manuscript ‘fresh’. He’s preparing to submit it to fifty-seven editors. By the end of next week we’ll have an auction.”

I put aside the much-needed discussion on How to Choose a Good Agent, and headed to my writing room to find a book on craft. I carried it outside to Norman, who was making a How to Spend My Advance for I WANT MY BANANA BACK list.

SONY DSCWhile Norman spent the afternoon reading, I still have concerns.

His #2 idea is called MAKE WAY FOR GORILLAS.

Have a great and inspiring week, everyone!

 

Posted by: Betsy Devany | November 1, 2013

PiBoIdMo and a Thank-You to All the 2013 Participants

piboidmo2013-participant-214x131Today is November 1st, and the start of PiBoIdMo 2013! If you haven’t yet signed up for Tara Lazar’s annual picture book challenge, I inspire you to jump in before the day ends.PiBoIdMo 2013 Registration is OPEN! If you are on the fence, slide on down to join the almost 1000 writers and illustrators already committed to this year’s PiBoIdMo challenge: one new idea for a picture book, every day in November. Plus you get daily inspiring posts from published authors and illustrators. And then there is our PiBoIdMo community as a whole.

As a participant myself, I am probably more excited for you, especially all the newcomers. Pat yourself on the back!

SONY DSCOutside, it is dark and rainy. The time is 5:30 a.m. From my writing room I hear the stirrings of my twenty-two-month-old grandson. I send “Do not wake up yet” vibes through the wall. His Halloween pirate sideburns and mustache are still visible on his sweet baby face. After a long bath last night, and gentle scrubbing, the Pirate won. Soon I will be taking out the Thomas trains, fire trucks, and ambulances, but not yet. I have enough time to jot down two picture book ideas which came to me during the night. I record them on my PiBoIdMo files cards. Sometimes, the light bulb comes as a title, other times a main character. If bits of dialogue precede all else, I record that on the back side. Then, throughout the month, I return to these cards to add more information/inspiration.

And if I get stuck, I get out the potatoes.

Before my pint-sized pirate hollers for my attention, I wanted to say “Thank you!” to Tara Lazar, to all the other guest bloggers, and to every PiBoIdMo 2013 participant. I wish I could give individual responses to each person who kindly commented on my pre-PiBoIdMo post.  http://taralazar.com/2013/10/28/pre-pibo-day-4-betsy-devany/  So . . .

dsc05163To everyone who read my story, thank you. To everyone who commented, thank you. (I will continue to check comments throughout the month, for those who read the post at a later date.) Thank you for your kind words and support of SMELLY BABY. For those seeking a How To Get Fired From Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner pass, contact Norman. I have a pressing middle grade revision to complete during the month as well, so he has volunteered to be my secretary. To anyone who can offer tips on learning to cook, thank you in advance. To the people who asked for a playdate with Norman, he would love that. He has been to some conferences, and he has even played piano with a hedgehog at a hotel. To those who do not have a tricycle, yes, skateboards will work, as will sleds, kid-sized cars, and anything else with wheels. Feel free to add tires to a refrigerator-sized box. Whatever suits your style!

All of your comments made me smile and laugh. I am so fortunate to be a part of this community. And to Erik, the kid who reviews books, a special thank-you to you. This Kid Reviews Books | A Place for Kids and Grown-Ups to … Keep up the great work! You rock.

Remember: Have fun. Let go. Feed your inner child.

Read picture books. Lots of them.

Play with your kids, your grandkids.

Wear funny glasses, tutus, hats.

In our house, Ballerina Bella the dog has been coaching one of the Baby Bossy Frogs. “Don’t think too much, little frog,” she says. Ballerina Bella the dog is very wise, and I tend to follow her advice, too. So listen to your stuffies.

Lastly, I challenge you to set aside the goal of getting published. At least during this month. As Nancy C. says, it can cause anxiety, and I believe it comes between you and reaching your full potential as a writer. Rather than focus on getting published, focus on your prose. Time is your greatest gift. This is my secret to landing an agent and my first book contract.

SONY DSCYou are my heroes for being brave and jumping in.

If you get stuck along the way, reach out and I will try to help.

Know I believe in all of you and your ability to see this challenge to the end.

Norman has volunteered to help me blog during November. He and Uni the unicorn have already started writing down their picture book ideas. He even has a pink car to ride down the PiBoIdMo hill with us.

Happy writing!

dsc05161

Posted by: Betsy Devany | September 12, 2013

The Deer Watcher

Ever since my recent Unavoidable/Terrifying Deer Encounter, driving the grandkids in the car has taken on new meaning. Technically, I am using my husband’s Nissan truck since my accordion of a car is parked in an auto body repair lot. Strips of its frame lay in a pile on the gravel. We will not be reunited for weeks.

I was ten miles from home after a glorious writing weekend spent on Squam Lake when a relative of Bambi’s shot out of the woods and into the path of my Honda CRV. Its fawn had just safely crossed the busy highway, thanks to a number of cars and trucks swerving to avoid hitting it.

A split-second later, all you can do is cry. You can’t change what happened, though you wish you could.  And then the memory of your sister, at the age of five, flashes before you. We’d been at a movie theatre watching Bambi when she got out of her seat and walked down the aisle, pointing her finger at the large screen. “Your mother is dead,” she said, as if Bambi didn’t realize.

I love animals, which is why I wanted to rescue the fawn, express my sorrow for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and then find some nice person to adopt it. And when I explained this to the state trooper, he nicely asked me to remain seated, and then reiterated how lucky I was. The scene was ripe for a multi-car accident, and if my hood had not folded, the mother deer would have flown through my windshield.

I am alive.

I am grateful.

But I still think about the mother deer. I think about the fawn. So I’ve convinced myself that the baby is safe in some field, chasing after butterflies, and does not require years of therapy. My seven-year-old granddaughter told me that the buck found the fawn, and is now taking care of it. “Grandma, the baby is fine. You just have to stop hitting deer with your car.”

“One deer, Ava.” I hold up a finger. “I hit one deer, which I couldn’t avoid.”

And this is why our car routine has changed.

Today, I buckle my twenty-month-old grandson in his car seat.  Ava pulls her chest strap tight. “Okay, it’s really tight. I’ll be safe.”

Landon takes his train in and out of his cup holder. “Choo-choo-choo-choo.”

Five minutes later we are on the highway, and Landon is trying to get Ava’s attention. “Dah, dah, dah . . .”

“Ava, why aren’t you answering Landon?”

“Because I don’t understand what he’s saying, and I’m too busy to talk to him,” she says. “I have more important work.”

I glance toward the back. Ava is watching the scenery flash past her.

“What work?” I ask.

“I am The Deer Watcher.”

“Truuuck!” shouts Landon, pointing at a moving van. “Truuuck!”

Everything is a truck. Cars are trucks, buses are trucks, and bicycles are trucks. Except our cat. Our cat, according to Landon, is a “Doggie.”

“DEER!” Ava screams.

I lift my foot off the gas pedal, position above the brake. I scan the road; my heart is in my throat.

“Grandma, DEER!” she yells again.

“TRUCCKKK!” shouts Landon.

“WHERE?” I say.

“Way up there, on the hill.”

“Those deer are in no danger of being hit by me.”

“How do you know?” Ava asks. “There are babies up there.”

I put my foot on the gas. We get off the highway and drive to Panera Bread. (Before my eldest daughter calls me out, I will admit that, on occasion, I might suggest that the grandkids beg me to take them to Panera, while I am a Panera Smoothie Addict.)

I order macaroni and cheese for Landon, chicken noodle soup for Ava, and a mango smoothie for me.

Landon drives his train through the macaroni while Ava and I discuss how The Deer Watcher doesn’t want to be The Screamer Who Gives Grandma An Anxiety Attack.

Here is what we come up with:

AVA’S SAVE A DEER PLAN

  1. Ava is in charge of watching for deer.
  2. Ava points deer out to Grandma when they are standing by the edge of the highway, not up on a hill, so far away that Grandma needs glasses to see the deer.
  3. Avoid highways when we can take a scenic route instead.
  4. Don’t scream “DEER” in the car as a joke. Grandma says that is not funny.

But in a way it is.  Humor is what gets us through the tough times.

What a wonderful, wonderful life.

Posted by: Betsy Devany | September 6, 2013

Love and Letting Go

SONY DSCThis past week I’ve had lessons in letting go.

I said goodbye to our beloved sheltie.

I said goodbye to one of our cats.

I let my YA novel leave my hands to allow it to become what the world needs it to be.

I let go.

I let go out of love.

Stories whisper to us when to step away, that we have done our job to the best of our ability.

Pets trust us to do what is humane when the time comes, to keep them from entering the place where suffering defines their existence.

It doesn’t make loss any easier.

And when you’ve spent hours revising and revising your work while being a pet caregiver, the related behaviors remain. Long after the heart accepts the loss.

I still automatically rise at 5 to check on the dog. I dismantle the alarm, then unlock the door to let him out.

Except he’s not here.

It’s all gone: His bowls, chew toys, squeaking squirrel. His dog beds, food, medicines. Shampoo, leashes. Pill organizers. His bark, the pitter-patter of his feet. The sound of him plopping beside me. His sigh.

His beautiful, beautiful face.

But not his collar, and his green alien boy, he loved so much.

Our one cat that remains hides beneath the kitchen table, curled in a chair pushed flush to the table. What must be going through her head?

Then I remember. We would not know loss if we never loved. And to love and be loved is a gift.

And so I feed the cat, and then settle on our porch to wait for the sun.

SONY DSCI notice my grandson’s blue hippo in our yard, which he sits on when there is nothing better to do than sit on one’s hippo and wonder at the world.

The cement step is cold against my thighs. A hummingbird whizzes over my head.

A hint of pink peers through our trees.

Another day begins.

I hear her spring to the floor, her red tag clink against her collar, and I know she is ready.

I am, too.

She meows through the screen, and I come inside. Walk down the hallway to my writing room.

I open the door.

I sit.

I open the YA document out of habit. I close it, and pat the place next to me.

Terrapin jumps up, nudges my hand.

I write.

I write out of love.

I write about a dog.

Posted by: Betsy Devany | June 30, 2013

A Writer’s Plea to the Neighborhood Squirrels

DSC00057Dear Mr. Squirrel,

Dear Mr. Squirrel and your girlfriend,

Dear Mr. Squirrel, your girlfriend, and your overly-curious offspring,

Dear Mr. Squirrel’s Entire Immediate Family, Extended Family, and Furry Friends,

I am a writer. I like to write early every morning. I like quiet at this time. No TV blaring. No lawn mowers rumbling and roaring. No uppity, clanking, rocking washing machines. No fighting cats. No barking dog. No ringing phone. No cell phone alerts that I have a new text or a new email or a Facebook notification. No wild creature disturbances.

DSC03831Which brings me to you, Mr. Squirrel, and your ever-growing community, which is also responsible for the recent destruction of my husband’s shed. Yes, we noticed the plastic siding torn from the sides of the building, the same plastic being used in your massive nests in our trees. You and your furry friends are also the reason we must restock bird seed on a daily basis. I will need to sell a book solely to support your current lifestyle in our yard.

Now I understand that you are hungry, and that you and your buddies view our property as a promising source of ongoing food. I understand that it is your nature to embrace perseverance. I admire this quality. Writers need to embrace a path of perseverance. Except when that path is riddled with noise and squirrel-influenced interruptions.

SONY DSCYes, our aged dog barks more frequently due to his recent loss of hearing. But you egg him on with your clever squirrel acrobatics: dangling from the tops of our squirrel-proof bird feeders. Leaping through the air from my husband’s woodpile, only to now plunge to the ground since he’s set it further away from the feeder after seeing my photographs.

Do you give up? No, of course not! Why should you? You’re a squirrel, and now your entire community is copying you. I might as well supply you with colorful costumes, a trampoline, and a tightrope. I can invite the media or shoot a video for YouTube, and then continually check my stats. Not happening. Though our granddaughter is nothing less than thrilled by this prospect and has designed tickets she wants me to print out so she can sell them to our neighbors.

SONY DSCI don’t have time to host a circus of squirrels in my backyard.

I’d rather write.

So for the past few weeks, I’ve kept the door to my writing room shut, put up a BIRD FEEDING ZONE sign outside, and tried to convince myself that Old Dog was not barking incessantly.

Until today.

Today, I heard a banging on my front door. It sounded like a person knocking. So I stopped mid-paragraph in an important revision, and headed down the hall, into the living room. There was an edge of anticipation. I am expecting a number of books. Books I am anxious to read.

I opened the front door and looked straight ahead.

No delivery person.

I looked down.

SONY DSCNo package left on the ground.

No anxiously awaited books.

Only two squirrels, one of which I presume was you, Mr. Squirrel.

And when I refused to invite you inside, not just because the dog was going nuts upon seeing your face pressed against the glass, you sat down. You stared at me, you and your friend or brother or sister or spouse or offspring. And then, as if you blew on a little whistle to call in your troops, squirrels imploded onto our front deck, grabbing our white railing. I watched you spring to the edge of our picture window, and then swing into our window bird feeder with your not-so-little friend.

SONY DSCTwo squirrels cannot squeeze together in the feeder. It is not a circus clown car.

And I did not appreciate watching my expensive bird feeder split in half as you two Numskulls forced your way free and crashed the feeder to the ground.

Lastly, it seems as if you have an identity crisis. You have taken to lounging in our porch chair for lengthy squirrel siestas, after which you drink from the hummingbird feeder. Which makes Old Dog bark until he passes out.

SONY DSCYou are not a hummingbird, Mr. Squirrel.

Please relocate immediately.

Signed,

A children’s writer seeking peace and quietDSC03813SONY DSC

SONY DSC

Posted by: Betsy Devany | June 16, 2013

A Father’s Day Tale

I decided to repost this from two years ago since it is a beautiful example of the love between a father and his son. I met them both while working at the toy store, where I did my best to end Steven’s search for a whale. Happy Father’s Day!

        Closing time has come and gone at Olde Mistick Village, the sidewalks are filled with more ducks than people shopping. The neighboring stores are dark, their doors locked, and their employees on their way home. It is time for me to call it a night.

       The marionettes swing in the breeze; the pink flamingo seems to wink at me. I gather the puppets outside to carry them into the store. Behind me there is quacking. The three ducks who rule our front yard are on alert. The white leader honks at a lone male that slipped under the fence and entered their territory. The leader’s two sidekicks join in the chase, nipping at the uninvited younger mallard. The white duck pecks at the intruder’s neck; his wings flap with agitation.  I move towards the gang of birds, clapping my hands until they separate.

       “Do you break up fights every day?”An older man walks in my direction, followed by a younger man. With the same chiseled chins, the two are clearly father and son.

       “This is the first fight I’ve seen today.”

       “You still open? We won’t be long, I promise.”

       “Uh . . . sure, yes, come on in.” I smile.

       “We need to hurry, Steven. This woman wants to close.”

       Steven, who looks to be in his late thirties, dashes into the store. “Whales, where are your whales?” His attention shifts rapidly from shelf to shelf. “I need a whale.” He looks up. He looks down. Lions are pulled from their shelves. Tigers. Bears. Cats. Dogs. None of the stuffed animals are right. Hoping to locate the whale he remembered having as a child, Steven continues to push toys aside. He mutters, “Big. Brown. Brown with beans . . . Big. Brown. Brown with beans . . .”

       “He’ll never find it, not the way his was, with the fabric worn around the tips of the eyes and the end of the tail from his constantly caressing it.” His father adds. “And the head was flat from Steven leaning into it, night after night, when he was a child.”

       Steven, who has traveled over an hour to get here, is missing more than just a stuffed whale from his childhood.

       We do not sell brown whales in the toy store, nor do we sell giant whales. The largest we have is a 24-inch white beluga whale. I hand Steven the beluga.  He brings it close to his nose, leans his cheek against it, and slides his face back and forth brushing the fabric. “Do you have a bigger whale . . . brown whale . . . filled with beans?”

       “No, we don’t, I’m sorry.” While I search for anything close to what he describes, Steven paces . . . and paces . . . and then he notices the three-foot lobster displayed on a high shelf above his head. He stands on his tiptoes and reaches for the stuffed sea creature. “This will do,” he says.

       “No, Steven, we’ve done this before.  You’re not thinking clearly.” The father takes the lobster away and leaves the beluga whale in his son’s arms. He sighs—a long sigh. His hair is grey and thin. He removes his glasses and wipes them clean. He sighs again, and then says to his son, “We’ve made these trips over and over again, from New York to Massachusetts, and to anywhere else that might hold the promise of a brown whale. Steven . . .  Steven, look at me, son.”

       Steven’s hold on the beluga whale loosens. I catch it before it hits the ground. “We have catalogs. Perhaps I can find a large enough whale for you,” I say and hand him back the beluga.

       The ends of the father’s mouth turn up, forced out of kind appreciation.  “That’s nice of you, but we’ve been looking for a very long time. I never know what he wants.”

       I head to the back stock room, grab six catalogs, and carry them to the front desk. Steven follows me, his arms clutching the beluga.

       “How big of a whale do you want?”  I ask.

       “Very big.” Steven focuses on his shoes while clinging to the toy. We go back and forth.  I flip through pages. He peers at pictures. “No, not right,” he tells me over, and over, and over again.

       His father stands next to him. “Steven, look at me.  Look at me, please.”  Finally, Steven lifts his eyes. “We aren’t going to find a whale. Not like your whale.”

       “I want a whale,” says Steven. “I want a big, brown whale with beans.”

       “Steven, we need to leave. This kind lady wants to go home.”

       “My whale, we came to get my whale,” Steven reminds his father.

       The father turns away from the counter and gently tugs at his son’s arm. Steven digs his heels in. Thirty minutes have passed since they first walked into the store.

       “Tell me about your whale,” I say.

       “He doesn’t know what he wants. I’ve been looking and looking—they just don’t make toys like they used to.” His father tugs again.

       “Steven, what did you love most about your whale?”

       Steven turns, looks at me, and walks back to the oak counter. He runs his hands along the wood.  “I liked the way the beans inside felt.”

       “They don’t make animals with those beans anymore. Too many safety concerns,” I say.

       Steven swirls his fingers around the shape of a large knot in the oak.

       His father sighs. “Thank you for trying, but he’ll never understand.”

       I arrange the pens next to the register; straighten the shopping bags. I glance in Steven’s direction. “Besides the beans, what else did you love about your whale?”

       “Soft, it was soft . . . I could sleep on it.”

       We have a two-foot penguin, but it is not soft.  We have large stuffed dogs, but they are not whales. We have a three-foot lion, but the color is tan, like a pale honey.

      Then I remember Gus. “I have a bear, a large bear,” I tell him. “And it’s brown.”

       Steven studies the floor. “I want a whale. I need to bring a whale home tonight.”

       The three of us stand in silence. I check the time. The owners must be wondering why I haven’t called with the day’s sales.

       “Let me show you the bear,” I say.

       “It’s hopeless. We’ve kept you long enough,” the father says.

       “I’ll be right back.” From the stuffed animal room, I carry the three-foot floppy bear to the front desk. Gus has lived in the store for quite some time now. Before I close up at night, he gets an extra pat.

       “He’s very soft,” I tell Steven. 

       “It’s not a whale.”

       Now, I am the one studying my shoes. “I won’t be able to find you a large whale tonight.  Just hold the bear, see what you think.  He’s brown and soft. You can lean into him.”  I hand Steven the bear.  

       He pushes his nose against Gus.  He plops Gus against the counter and leans into him. “He is soft. I like him.”

       “Yes, I like this bear myself—very much.”

       The father pulls at the price tag. “The bear is $130. You didn’t bring enough money.”

       Silence returns.  I shift the catalogs together and form a single stack, place them on the floor.

       The father stares at the door.  Steven’s face is buried into Gus’s fur. 

       I want to buy him the bear, show him he can love Gus as much as the whale.  I want to watch him walk down the sidewalk with the bear in his arms, even though it’s always hard when I let go of a stuffed animal I’ve grown attached to, but Steven did not bring enough money.

      Then, holding the bear tightly in one arm, Steven reaches into his pants pocket.  He removes a black leather wallet, worn with holes visible at every corner. It is a wonder the wallet doesn’t explode all over our wooden floor. A penny pokes through one end, but does not fall out. His wallet is thick with papers, some yellowed, some coated in a worn plastic. There is almost five inches thick of paper memories.

       His father settles into a stance; feet spread apart, firmly planted on the wooden floor—a familiar routine, I imagine. His hands out of his pockets, he turns his palms upward, as if waiting at a communion rail.

       Steven pops the wallet open and forms the shape into what appears to be a triangular leather cup. “I want the bear,” he says. 

       “Let’s count,” says his father.

       Steven places two twenties on our wooden counter, then another crumpled twenty.

       “How much is that,” asks his father.

       “Sixty,” says Steven with confidence.

       I separate the bills. “Eighty, you have eighty dollars here.”

       Steven pulls out a five and a ten—ninety-five. When he stretches the leather further, the penny falls to the floor, where it remains. Next, come the one-dollar bills, all carefully folded into triangles, the points as worn as the wallet.

       “One. Two.  Three,” he counts.

       There is something magical about the wallet, which is not diminishing in size.  Instead of pulling rabbits from a magician’s hat, he conjures up one-dollar bills out of faded leather. How does the wallet hold all of the tightly folded shapes?  I expect him to run out of money, yet Steven continues to hand another and another dollar bill to his father, never looking up or breaking his rhythm. Not once.

       His father unfolds and flattens each bill, using a quarter to work out the creases.

       The stack of money on the counter grows higher.

       I wait and watch.  “Why do you fold the dollar bills into triangles?” 

       Holding one bill in his hand, Steven lifts it to the corner of his right eye. “When I’m sad . . . this makes me feel better.”  He taps the edge of the triangular shape against his skin. Three times. He passes the bill to his father.

       “May I ask what Steven has?”

       The father talks and talks and talks, like a dam overflowing. Like a man who hasn’t been noticed in years.

       I cannot tell you what the father was wearing that day, but I can tell you his words—his story. I can describe the medicine bottle he has carried in his pocket from the seventies, day after day, year after year. The label so worn that it barely reveals the name of the pharmacy. Except for the lingering chalky stink of medicine, the bottle remains empty. The father rolls the medicine bottle between his palms as he tells me that the colored dye in the medicine, administered when Steven was a baby, caused a cerebral allergic reaction. Steven has two markers of autism, and some mental retardation. Years later, they learned that the damage was irreparable—long after Steven’s mother left, taking his brother and sister with him. Steven was six years old at the time. The mother changed her last name, never contacting Steven and his father.

       The father talks and talks while Steven continues to pull one-dollar bills from his wallet. He earns $100 per month, emptying trash containers at a pharmaceutical company.

       “You really love that wallet,” I say.

       Steven nods, eyes still downcast, his larger lip protruding over his top lip—almost swollen looking.

       “When did Steven lose his whale?  Do you have a picture?”  I ask the two men, one talking and talking, the other pulling triangles of money from a worn leather wallet.

       His father quickly shakes his head.  “No, not with us; it upsets him.”

       “It makes me sad,” adds Steven.  He taps the corner of his right eye with another folded dollar bill.

       “How long ago did he lose this whale,” I ask.

       “Six, he was six years old,” his father says.

       I lose count of the money on the counter; imagine Steven as a six-year-old boy snuggled against his mother, the whale by his side until the two of them banished at the same time. Is his search for a whale or a mother who abandoned him?

       “You only have $128. Are you sure this is what you want?” the father asks.

       Steven hugs the bear to his chest. Gus’s feet dangle at his knees. “I want the bear. It’s a soft bear.”

       “You don’t have enough money,” his father tells him.

       Steven opens his wallet. He peers into it, pulls out the yellowed papers. 

       The magic is gone.

       “I . . . I can—give you 10% off.”

       “You don’t have to do that,” the father says.

       “Yes, I do.” I smile and ring up the sale, recount the money and hand him $4 change. I make a mental note to pay the difference after they leave. Steven immediately folds the dollar bills into triangles before tucking them into his wallet.

       “I hope the bear makes him happy.” The father strokes Gus’s arms. “I never see any emotion from him anymore, he’s on so much medicine; it numbs his emotions, his personality. At least he doesn’t scream and cry like he used to. But he never laughs or smiles, either.”

       “I’m hungry,” Steven says.

       “What do you feel like eating?” I ask.

       “Steak!” 

       I give the father directions to a nearby restaurant and recommend they walk through the village so they can stop at the pond to admire the newly hatched baby ducks. 

       “I have to put my bear in the car first, so he’s safe,” says Steven. 

       The two men step outside the store. I bend over to unlatch the door in preparation for closing, and as I do, Steven turns to me and smiles, revealing slightly yellowed teeth.

       “You have a beautiful smile,” I say.

       The ends of Steven’s mouth turn up even more. Now his father grins. “I haven’t seen him smile is such a long time. It is worth more than the cost of the bear, more than the time in the car and the price of gas.”

       “I hope your search is over. How long has he been hunting for the whale?” I ask.

       “Thirty years, just Steven and me, we’ve been looking for thirty years.”

       Steven’s smile is broad. He is thirty-six years old and no longer fixated on his shoes.

       “Thank you for listening,” the father says. “Thank you for allowing me to go on and on.”

       “That’s what I am here for. Have a nice night.”

       If  I could, I would have found them a large brown whale filled with beans. But all I found was a bear named Gus, and for once, it seemed to be enough.

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