Friday, December 7, 2012

A Room With No View: Poetry Friday

A Room With No View

If you see only rooftops—
christen each shingle.

If you see only crows—
tickle their feathers.

If you see only wires—
join their crackling gossip.

If you see only clouds—
ask where they’ve been.

If you see only cages—
slide down the light on the bars,
and you will be free.

Dia Calhoun     12/12

Sunday, November 18, 2012


An unexpected benefit of my three week trip last summer to Italy, was a reduction in muscle pains and stiffness that had plagued me for years. When I mention this, everyone says, “of course, you were on vacation—no stress.”

Wrong. I largely traveled alone in a foreign country—lots of stress, though much of it good stress. No, I felt better because  for the first time in decades, I had three weeks off from sitting eight hours a day in front of a computer.  As fate would have it, lots of information came out last summer about the health perils of spending your life sitting. Check out these statistics from an article on The New York Times blog:

"Every single hour of television watched after the age of 25 reduces the viewer’s life expectancy by 21.8 minutes."

"By comparison, smoking a single cigarette reduces life expectancy by about 11 minutes, the authors said."

"Looking more broadly, they concluded that an adult who spends an average of six hours a day watching TV over the course of a lifetime can expect to live 4.8 years fewer than a person who does not watch TV."

"Those results hold true, the authors point out, even for people who exercise regularly."

"...those people with the “highest sedentary behavior,” meaning those who sat the most, had a 112 percent increase in their relative risk of developing diabetes; a 147 percent increase in their risk for cardiovascular disease; and a 49 percent greater risk of dying prematurely — even if they regularly exercised."

So I researched what are called sit-stand work stations. Though they are becoming more common, you will not yet find them at your local office depot. Before buying anything, I decided to give writing on my feet a test. I simply piled boxes on a table and put my laptop on top. After two weeks, I decided I loved writing on my feet.

So, after more research, I bought the Annua Work Table from Dania. Solidly built, it is big enough for my laptop, a cup of tea, and a book.

With the touch of a button, I can adjust the height from sitting to standing—anywhere from 28 to 41 inches. And the work table is well designed--the table top comes forward in the lower positions so it is easy to work in a chair. I can roll it on casters anywhere you wish—I move from window to window, depending on time of day and season.  Next summer, I plan to roll it out under my umbrella on the patio. I use the work table’s sturdy base for a footrest—it is important to have one foot on a foot rest some of the time to alleviate pressure on the low back.  After more research, I invested in an anti-fatigue mat to stand on. Get a good one—it really does make a difference.

Although I alternate between standing—an hour or so—and sitting—30 minutes or so, I find I now prefer to work standing up. There is something about the looseness of it. Not only  I do have fewer muscle pains, I also have more energy at the end of the day. I am now setting up a larger sit-stand work table, for the graphic design work I do. You don’t have to spend a lot of money…check out the ideas on this pinterest site.

So, writers out there, for your health, for your work—stand up for writing. You will feel better and live longer.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

From YA Fantasies to Middle Grade Verse

Why did I start writing middle grade novels after years of writing young adult fantasy novels? It all started by chance one hot summer day at the Farm—my husband’s family orchard in Eastern Washington. My good friend Lorie Ann Grover—acclaimed verse novelist—had joined me for a week long writing retreat. During our writing breaks, I showed her all the wonders of the Farm: the pear and apple trees, the hills, the hammock under the maples, and the bordering Methow River. Years earlier, I had written a series of poems about the Farm, poems I had never thought to publish. I pulled the folder of poems down from the shelf and showed them to Lorie Ann. After reading them, she told me I was a poet and should write a verse novel about the Farm. I loved that idea!

So I began writing Eva of the Farm, a contemporary novel about a girl whose beloved orchard is threatened with foreclosure due to blight, illness, and bad economic times. Eva emerged as a girl with a vivid imagination. Her own poems are sprinkled throughout the novel, and they poured out of me in the voice of a young girl who views her world with wonder, freshness, and innocence. I knew at once she was not a young adult protagonist and that the book would be a middle grade novel.

My first young adult novels, Firegold and Aria of the Sea, were about twelve and thirteen-year-olds, but my later ones—White Midnight, The Phoenix Dance, and Avielle of Rhia—featured older teen girls. Some of this shift toward older teens was story driven, and some of it was driven by the changing market for young adult books. When I started writing Eva of the Farm, I knew I had returned to something fundamental. Most of the books I loved as a girl, and still love, were books for younger kids: The Secret Garden, Ballet Shoes, National Velvet, The Dark is Rising, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, A Little Princess. When I finished writing Eva of the Farm, I felt as though I had returned home.

I was very honored to have received encouragement during this transition from Karen Hesse, author of the awe-inspiring Out of the Dust I am so thankful for all her support.

Eva of the Farm was published in July by Atheneum. After the River the Sun, a companion novel, will be published 2013. Currently, I am hard at work on a new challenge--a middle grade fantasy novel in verse.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Eva in Bloomers?

EVA OF THE FARM has just been nominated for the American Library Association's AMELIA BLOOMER BOOKLIST!

Here is what my character EVA told me when I sent her an imaginary e-mail with the news: What fun! I am a heroine at last--I am so glad people value a heroine whose shining sword is her imagination! Maybe I can find a pair of old fashioned bloomers at the Senior Center Thrift Shop in Twisp to wear when I hike up the canyon."

Description of the Amelia Bloomer Booklist:
"An annual booklist of the best feminist books for young readers, ages birth through 18.  We are part of the Feminist Task Force of the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association!"

Amelia Bloomer

Monday, October 29, 2012

Apple Basket and EVA OF THE FARM at PNBA

At the Night Capper Party at PNBA, (The Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association) fall conference, Becky Milner of Vancouver's Vintage Books wins a basket of Honeycrisp Apples from the Farm--the orchard that inspired EVA OF THE FARM. Becky is standing on my left.

I had a farmer's market themed table, in honor of Eva from EVA OF THE FARM selling her poems at the farmers' market in Twisp, Washington.

Including packets of dried apples from the Farm!
What a fun evening!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Go, Live, Write a Word Mess: One Writer's Grand Adventure

If you want to have a Grand Adventure, travel alone and leave your camera behind.

In May and June, I took a three week trip to Italy—fifteen days of it spent traveling alone. When first planning the trip, I had planned to travel most of the time with an acquaintance. She bagged out ten days before the trip—yes, ten days, you read that right. Fortunately, I had sensed the way the wind was blowing, and had made extensive backup plans to travel alone.

Certainly, I was nervous about traveling alone in a foreign country. But all my life I had dreamed of traveling to Italy and was not going to let fear stop me. As it turned out, traveling alone was the best thing that could have happened to me.

I came alive. I woke up.

In Florence, the museum that hosts Michelangelo’s great David doesn’t allow photography, preferring you to buy their inferior photos in the gift shop. I have to thank them, because putting away the camera started something amazing. Because I needed some way to express my powerful feelings on seeing this masterpiece, I stayed at the David for two hours writing streams of poetry. After that, I continued writing poetry for the rest of the trip.

I have tried to keep a journal many times—aren’t writers supposed to do that? But I always, always failed. I was intimidated by the perfect journals friends keep—pasted with pictures, quotes, and neat, neat, neat. Friends urged me to keep a journal on my Italy trip. I tried--I really did--but was too overwhelmed, busy, and exhausted to write in any coherent fashion about what was happening. Then I met the David and discovered that journaling in poetry—in images and bursts and metaphors—worked wonderfully for me.

This was different from recording, it was living. I would start a bit of a poem, switch to something else, go back to an old poem, write three lines, start something else—you get it. I freed myself from being neat and pretty and perfect and renamed my journal WORD MESS. Like a mess hall where lots of food is offered, and you plunk what you want on your plate, go back for seconds, and don’t worry too much about the napkins. And us a battered little spiral bound notebook instead of a leatherbound, gilt edge writer's journal.

I returned from Italy with fifteen rough poems to develop, two new ideas for books, and ideas for revising a book in progress. Italy cracked me open like an egg. I don’t think this would have happened if I had been travelling with someone.

So here are three truths I learned about traveling:
1. A journey is not measured by the number of miles traveled or by the number of masterpieces seen, but by its impact on your heart.
2. The intended destination is only the point of departure for the real journey.
3. No Grand Adventure ever ends in the heart.

Go. Live. Write.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Creative Drift Raises Continents

Raised in the high discipline world of ballet, I grew up believing that results were achieved by hard, grinding, relentless work. Work at the barre, work at center floor--always driving, pushing, straining. Some of this was useful training for a writer, or for anyone who must work daily to accomplish a goal (writing a novel) that may take years.

Some of it was not.

It took me years to understand that such an attitude toward work, beneficial as it may be for muscle training, can be counter-productive to an art form that demands a high level of creativity—such as fiction writing. Gradually, I’ve redefined my definition of hard work. Here is what I’ve learned.

Swinging in a hammock under a maple tree while turning over some story problem in my mind is far more likely to result in a creative solution than beating my head against the computer. So is taking a walk or gardening, or any other activity where I consciously allow my mind to drift and hover over my story.

Consciously is the critical word here. I’m not talking about the popular notion of “refilling your well” though that’s important, too. I mean holding an idea about plot or character or concept loosely in my mind and playing with it in order to generate new ideas. This is like a child holding a marble in her hand and turning it randomly to see the different ways the light catches the colored depths. Sometimes my thoughts do stray from the story, and that’s fine--drifting is part of the process. As soon as I realize I’ve strayed too far, I gently bring my thoughts back to the story problem.

Because this process is conscious, because it produces results, such time certainly counts as work. It COUNTS. Almost always, after fifteen minutes in the hammock, I find a new solution. My BEST work is now done in this manner.

Our culture has conditioned us to believe in the “ballet” method of working because it can easily be seen and monitored by others. A person in a job at a company typing away at a screen “appears” to be working. Put her in a hammock under a tree—there you can’t measure or monitor her the activity of her  mind and subconscious. People watching believe she is just being lazy. But I believe new continents rise from such creative drift.

Imagine a company where people do creative work. Imagine that each employee has not only a desk but a hammock. And each person has been taught to consciously drift to solve problems and generate new ideas. Now stretch your imagination to the limit and imagine the company actually valuing this method of working. How dazzling forward the world would leap.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Poetry Friday: VENICE


You faded courtesan,
bewitching me
with a few candlit piazzas
cleverly placed
in your stuccoed skirts—
directing my eye
away from your crumbling face,
away from the vacant darkness
stalking the Grand Canal.

You hope
I will be decieved
long enough—
    by earrings of Murano glass,
    by flounces of Burano lace,
     by waltzes on San Marcos Square,
to pay the steep price
you demand.

And I will be.

Dia Calhoun

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Praise for Eva of the Farm from Kirkus 

"[W]hoever heard of a heroine-poet?" Named after Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's heroine from his epic poem Evangeline, 12-year-old Eva lives on her family's beloved Acadia Orchard in Eastern Washington. In this beautiful, tightly woven novel in verse, which follows the progression of the seasons, she may have to leave her idyllic home, just like her namesake. As Eva plucks words from the world around her--"They are warm, / as though sprinkled / with all the spices of the sky"--her "plant a forest, save a polar bear" father only sees the value of math, science and economics. Their rift grows wider when a blight starts the ripples of foreclosure. Eva begins to blame their mounting misfortunes on a blackened tree in the canyon known as the Demon Snag and the evil it must be emitting. Forming a fierce bond with the local Bead Woman, who's encountered her own tough times, the resilient girl not only discovers a kindred artist, but the power of imagination, hope and even poetry to save her farm--and spirit. Calhoun doesn't shy away from Eva's reality, offering snapshots of the cycle of life, including a baby deer ripped from its mother's womb. Although Eva's poetry far surpasses most experienced poets, the effect leaves readers with splendid images to savor. Fans of Karen Hesse will welcome this partner in poetry.
(Verse novel. 10-13)
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2012