Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Be Careful What You Wish For

I'm making lentil soup and baking sweet potatoes today. There's a fabulous crisp in the air that says 'fall,' even here in Atlanta. Leaves are turning, finally, despite the lack of rain we had this summer.

Happy Halloween, my favorite holiday, especially the Halloweens I celebrated as a kid in Camp Springs, Maryland, and as a mom with kids in Frederick, Maryland, where for so many years we'd build a fire at the end of the driveway and sit in lawn chairs with hot cider and hot dogs, gossiping and welcoming trick-or-treaters all evening, greeting the bees and ghosts and fairies and lions and witches that shuffled through the leaves to where we sat and helped themselves to the candy in the big straw basket while we made a big fuss over their costumes.

Friends came and sat with us, and soon it was a Halloween tradition. My kids added scary music, dead guys hanging from the basketball hoop and buried in the leaves, and tombstones handmade from found materials. Everything was handmade, rough around the edges, simple... but it all looked great in the sifty dark. That was part of the charm of the Halloween I loved.

Today I'll carve the pumpkin I bought from Sherry at Sherry's Produce on the corner of Brockett and Lawrenceville Hwy, and I'll roast the seeds -- another long-standing tradition in my house, and one I first discovered in Marguerite Kelly's book THE MOTHER'S ALMANAC over 25 years ago. I'll put a votive in the pumpkin, light it, and put it on the new porch at dusk where I'll wait for the three trick-or-treaters I'll have in this tiny neighborhood in the Tucker, Georgia woods. I've filled the candy basket, too, even though it won't be emptied tonight.

Hannah's at school and Jim has a gig, playing a Halloween party with his band. I'll have the house to myself. I need to pack and be ready to leave tomorrow afternoon for Austin and the Texas Book Festival, where I'm working in schools on Friday and speaking on a panel called "A Sense of Place" on Saturday morning at 10:30 with Michael Hoeye, Kimberly Willis Holt, and Adam Rex (come see us and say hello!), but I think I'll take this Halloween night to write something spooky.

The book you see here is from a not-so-spooky collection of stories edited by the wonderful Lois Metzger, published by Scholastic, and available in schools through Scholastic Book Clubs -- BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR (this link is a pdf to the book club flyer, just so's you know) is the title. I have a story in this collection called "Star Light, Star Bright." I bring up the rear, tie us all up together, after Gail Carson Levine starts us off. There are ten of us in this collection, ten writers telling ten different stories, and I am in such great company.

I love the challenge of the short story. It's an exhilarating roller coaster of a ride, compared to the longer Sunday drive of a novel. I loved writing my first story that takes place in Georgia, my newly-adopted state. I loved writing about friendship, school, class, and wishing hard for a friend.

I just received my author copies in the mail... I may have to sit down and read the book from cover to cover tonight, while I wait for my trick-or-treaters. I wish for a Happy Halloween for everyone who celebrates this holiday full of wishes and mysteries and secrets and possibilities.

Fiction is full of wishes and mysteries and secrets and possibilities. That's one reason I love it. I didn't think I'd be a fiction writer. I was going to write essays -- and did, for many, many years. When I was young, I wished for so many things. I wanted to be loved. I wanted to belong. I wanted to matter. And I wished for words. I wished for a way to discover what I had to say -- I knew it was in me somewhere, I just didn't know how to access my story. And as I got older, somehow those personal essays found their way to fiction... and for that I am profoundly grateful.

I am not careful with wishes. I wish with abandon. My most fervent wish is for peace. Peace within and peace without. Peace. What do you wish for?