May, 2010

In May, the John Day River on which we live rushes by swollen with snowmelt and mountain rains. Events taking place far beyond our sight come to affect us days later. I remember more than one spring watching the water seep through the dike and slowly cover the alfalfa field first with little ponds of brown water and then eventually the entire field became a part of the river with islands of green showing their heads, waiting to be smothered should the river rise even higher. There's nothing we can do about it except make sure the pumps are pulled before they're flooded, too. We wait and watch and carry on knowing that uncertainty is what living looks like and a river with no dams to control its flow simply has its way with the landscape.

There's a reason why in writing, both the river and the garden are considered the prime metaphors for life. I've added the reptile road, considering the way it twists and changes and marks our journey here. At times, it's an easy ride; other days it's fearful and uncertain. But it's part of living and a reminder of how complicated life can be.

The wind could be another metaphor for life, the way it rouses and swirls, lies calm then without warning can whirl into something quite damaging. Witness the one and a half mile wide tornado that roared through Mississippi last month and the stillness in the morning that overlooked the catastrophe. Other times the wind is just right: pleasant enough to lift a child's kite; cool enough to soothe on a hot summer day.

We live in windmill country. People often ask about whether we like seeing all those turbines with their silver blades spinning above the wheat fields. We don't see them except when we go to the mailbox as the structures aren't allowed within a scenic river access which is where our homestead is; but I like them.

I call the blades "wings" but recently I learned that the shape of the blades was taken from whale fins. Imagine that! So now I'll call them "fins" and those fins helped Sherman County build its first public school library, attached to the high school and I'm grateful. I serve on the public/school library board and one thing I know: if a community wants to grow, have new jobs and attract people to take them, that community needs to offer a top notch educational system that includes access to the internet and computers and books, and ways for the community to have continued, life-long learning opportunities. Libraries help us attract and be good workers. They assist in helping people communicate, get along with those who might differ from us politically and culturally. Libraries help us find and use new information to creatively solve problems. Libraries make it possible for people without internet service -- yes, there are many in rural and urban areas -- to have access and be on the journey toward better things.

Libraries also provide us with amazing information. Take that whale fin piece of data: I read that in a library magazine, The Sun. It was part of an interview with a bio-mimicry specialist, a biologist who helps answer questions of architecture, medicine etc. by looking to the natural world. Take the mollusk. It secrets a certain kind of glue that has been adapted as a non-toxic fastener now used in plywood construction. Solar researches are looking to a moth that lets light into its eyes but holds it so it doesn't reflect back and announce its presence to predators. They hope to design a solar collector that does the same. Architects asked how cacti keep cool in desert country and designed new structures with an accordion-like look allowing for shade. Isn't that amazing? I love learning stuff like that and celebrating creation and its care at the same time.

As for those mollusk, biologists have recently learned that each individual mollusk is attached by a thread to the rest of its colony clinging together on rocks or the sides of ships. They apparently use the threads for communication. Researchers found that when attacked by a snail, the threatened mollusk tugs on the thread as a warning that it is being attacked and apparently that tug tells the colony to move away to safety. The mollusk sacrifices itself for the community of mollusks.

That's what each of us does at times, tugging on threads when we have the courage to say, "Hey, I'm having a little problem here and you may want to note it and be sure what's hurting me doesn't infect you, too." But unlike the mollusk, we can offer help and not just move away to take care of ourselves. I'd like to believe that most of us aren't like the people who walked by the good Samaritan who was died alone on the streets of New York; that most of us would stop, call 911 at least and maybe even stay with the person until help came. After all, we have brains and a heart unlike the mollusk; yet even the lowly mollusk sends signals to its community when there's a threat.

When I see those windmills turning, turning, I remember to send up a little thank you that wind is being converted into energy and ideas and into building a community that tugs on the threads that may well be the threads that hold us together. I hope you keep those threads healthy in your community. And don't forget to ask for help.

Mt. Adams and windmills on the way to the mail box.

People often ask me how to get published, where I got my agent, what should they do next after finishing their novel. If you're someone who has asked me that, then you know that I often recommend the Willamette Writer's Conference held each August in Portland, Oregon. The conference is coming up again and budding writers can meet agents one-on-one, in small groups and even request advanced critiques. The organization brings in editors and publishers as well. Even if you don't have anything ready to sell, the workshops will enhance your writing skills. For me, the conference affirmed that maybe I could call myself a writer one day. Attending those workshops, sharing lunch with other writers, made me feel as though I'd found my tribe!

I kept a low profile the first time I attended, fearful that someone would discover that an imposter moved among them. People welcomed me despite my naiveté and every single workshop I attended gave me something to consider, to strengthen my writing, to move me along my reptile road taking me to publication.

There are other conferences around the country you can attend as well. St. David's Writers conference in Pennsylvania, is a grand place to gather. Attendees even publish a newsletter during the weeklong conference. They hold contests and offer encouragement. They bring in speakers, editors, agents and publishers. I've met many fine writers there and had some of the best laughs of my life with the contests they come up with, all about writing! Even though I've now published my nineteenth book, I always gain something from the workshops and seminars. Life-long learning is supported by writer's conferences.

Wherever you live, you can find a conference or two. Yes, they cost money. Yes, it means time away from doing something else. But if you value your work, if you believe that writing is what is calling you, then you have to invest in yourself. You have to. If you don't, no one else will either.


My Story Sparks newsletter will be coming out soon! Don't forget to sign up for it by going to and scroll down the left side to the newsletter sign up. It'll only take a minute. I also received really fine news today: A Flickering Light the story of my grandmother as a photographer, was named a Christy Nominee. It's a fine honor celebrating the best in Christian Fiction. (I had a reader tell me that when she learned I was a Christian writer, she cringed thinking the novels might be unrealistic and preachy. She read them anyway and said she was delighted they were neither! So tell your friends! There are great reads among the Christy finalists and others out there not tapped this year. I'm delighted and excited on behalf of my grandmother!)

Thanks for being with me as I tell the stories of my heart. Have a great May.

Warmly, Jane