Monday, February 13, 2017

The Nature of Writing

Editor's Note: Kathleen M. Jacobs is the 2017 New River Gorge Writer-in-Residence at Lafayette Flats. Kathleen was born in St. Louis and moved to West Virginia as a young girl. She received degrees from WVU-Tech and WVU Graduate College, and has worked as a teacher at the high school and college levels. Kathleen's writing has been published in various journals and periodicals. Her first book, published in 2016, is a young adult novel called "Honeysuckle Holiday," and her second book is due to be published later this year. Kathleen will be a guest of Lafayette Flats through the end of March and during her stay she plans to work on a children's book that is set in Fayette County. This is her second contribution to the Lafayette Flats blog.

“Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”
--Mary Oliver

. . . and this is what happens when you’re the 2017 New River Gorge Winter Writer-in-Residence.
My publisher has accepted the manuscript for my first children’s book, and my illustrator has started bringing her vision of the work to fruition, capturing each nuance of character and place.

Over the past six weeks, my cadre of readers has helped me fine-tune the manuscript.  The red light turned to yellow, then back to red, and then finally to green, and we sent it on its way.  We picked over word choice, like picking through a basket of ripe tomatoes, until the perfect one presented itself.  We spoke and spoke again and again each line of dialogue, until one six-year-old reader, Max Hartman, told us we had it right.

The journey began several years ago with a rather annoying nudge.  The more I tried to ignore it, the more it nudged.  Finally, I had to open the door and let it in.  We shook hands and agreed to take it step by step until we arrived at a spot where we both nodded in assent.

Bird by Bird, a remarkable read by Anne Lamott, derives its title from a story she shares with her readers.  Her brother, a student at the time, who was writing a research paper about birds, became overwhelmed at the sheer number of species.  His father advised:  “Take it bird by bird.”  And that’s what he did.  And that’s what we, as writers, do too.  That’s what creativity reaps.
Fayette County Treasures

As I journeyed throughout Fayette County these past weeks, capturing the unique nuances in nature, I was reminded that as West Virginians we are gifted with the ability to not only hold on to those cultural riches that have defined us in the past, but to embrace too the possibilities – the fresh possibilities and opportunities – that will define our future.  To experience and promote the uniqueness of our land, our artists (musicians, writers, painters, craftspeople, film producers, talented chefs, and persistent entrepreneurs) and all our citizenry who bring the rich flavors of our region to the table.  And let’s not forget – not for a moment – the fresh ideas of the next generation of talented West Virginians who are eager to leave their mark, as well, with their store of fresh ideas.  To introduce to the rest of the world who we are becoming, rather than who we once were.

All five senses wove their way into the fibers of my first children’s book – a story that wouldn’t leave me alone, a story that woke me in the night, a story that like The Eddy swirled in my mind until I settled, listened, and took note – in so many ways, the story mimics where we’ve been as West Virginians and where we’re going, where we hope to go, where we know those possibilities and opportunities await, if we but take notice.

. . . and this is what happens – with sheer, grateful abundance – when you’re the 2017 New River Gorge Winter Writer-in-Residence.