Friday, September 28, 2007

Poetry Friday: Locked In

This is too cool. That's the Orion Nebula M42, and the photo was taken, at my request, by a PROMPT telescope in Chile, and emailed to me. The telescope (and five others) were funded by National Science Foundation Grants, and are primarily used to study gamma ray bursts, but students and teachers in North Carolina also use them to remotely observe the Southern Hemisphere night sky. Try it! Go here to request a picture of your own.

And now, for Poetry Friday:

Locked In

The doctors say he is alive
in there, all his thoughts
as hot as ever,

but his body is frozen,
disconnected from will.
They watch

his brainwaves and teach him
to mark letters with slight
shifts in his alpha

so he can spell his name
for the applauding staff.

I wonder then: when we die,
do we make the stars to speak
our fiery thoughts?

And do the living, those chill,
earth-locked living, who mark
our cries

on their astronomical
charts, at last applaud
our names?

----Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Poetry Friday is hosted by AmoXcalli today.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Fight's on!

Sometimes the need to create something wafts over me like the scent of mocha chip muffins puffing into calorie bombs as I stroll past a bakery. I don't even know I'm going to write something until I realize the smell of a new poem or a new story has led me straight to the counter and I'm ordering up dozens of words.

Other times, I'm more like Elmer Fudd with a gun. "I'm going get me some wabbit!" Last night, I had my double-barreled word gun out and I stayed up past midnight, blasting words onto the page. Don't worry, the new story's not violent; the need to create was.

You know the whole fight or flight instinct? Mine is heavy on the fight. I didn't always know this. In college, I took a fencing class, and learned that when faced with a pointy blade which, while not piercing, does leave bruises on your chest, I tend to react by: attack! attack! re-attack! (The instructor narrated the battle to point out moves and strategies to the watching class.) I won the girls' side of the mock tournament and faced the top boy. I nearly killed him. I don't think my brothers would be surprised.

Me, though, I'm amazed that I'm posting this. I'm known to most as a very mellow person. I love getting along. I hate conflict. I see other points of view with such ease that I could be a United Nations calendar girl. But I do not like myself when I get weepy or mopey when things don't go my way. So I challenge myself to a fight. Just me and some words. We go several rounds. The words usually win. But I feel better. And the best part? At the end, my opponent--my freshly created manuscript---hauls me off the floor, looks me in the eye and hands me back my self-respect.

P.S. It's a draft of a picture book. It needs work. It may never sell. But I sure had fun dueling with it. En guard, Monsieur Manuscript!

The Cybils: Team Poetry

Straight from the Cybils blog, here is the roster for Team Poetry. It's my home team, so I'm going to be LOUD about it: GOOOOOO TEAM! KNOCK 'EM DOWN! ROLL 'EM UP! (Oh, wait...we're the refs. I don't think we're allowed to yell.)

Nominations open on October 1st, so be ready to shout out the names of the books you're rooting for. One nomination per category. (See the Cybils blog for the other categories, more team rosters, the official rulebook, and some play-by-play from previous years.)


Poetry Category Organizer: Kelly Fineman (Writing and Ruminating)

Nominating Panel:

Kelly Fineman (Writing and Ruminating)
Laura Purdie Salas (Writing the World for Kids)
Elaine Magliaro (Wild Rose Reader)
Wendy Betts (Blog from the Windowsill)
Sylvia Vardell (Poetry for Children)

Judging Panel:

Gregory K. (Gotta Book)
Jone Rush MacCulloch (Check It Out)
Sara Lewis Holmes (Read Write Believe)
Cloudscome (A Wrung Sponge)
Franki Sibberson (A Year of Reading)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"A new way of looking at themselves"

These may be the most beautiful portraits I've ever seen: joyful photographs of young cancer patients, taken by the volunteer group, Flashes of Hope. Read the article, Changing the Face of Cancer, then click on the links to the side to see the portraits. The mission of Flashes of Hope is to "to change the image of childhood cancer, to give young people battling the disease a new way of looking at themselves." I think they've succeeded.

This is my sister-in-law and my niece. My niece is ten, and just completed a year of cancer treatments. She's so beautiful, isn't she?

Empty as a pocket with nothing to lose...*

I really should listen to myself. Because it's a Rule of Sara that when I start giving other people sage advice, it's really what I need to hear, only in disguise. Take Robin, for instance. She mentioned trying to go vegan (again) and bemoaned her inability to stick with it. Somehow, in my comment to her, I brought up Lent. And emptying. And the cyclical nature of what we crave.

So guess what dawned on me as I drove to the library today? (I'm always driving when the light dawns. It's a wonder that in the blinding light I don't wreck my van.) Yes, I figured out that I'm in a cycle of emptiness in my writer life. I submitted my second book; I'm waiting to hear news about it; I'm not sure I want to start anything new. I know I'll be writing again, soon. I'm not worried. I'm not blocked. I'm not anything. I'm empty. Almost.

A few things were swirling as I browsed through the library shelves. I found a book on drumming. Maybe I want to get serious about learning how to pound out a mean rhythm. But maybe not, because I was already thinking that if I did take lessons, I would be taking notes on the experience for....well, somebody. WHO? An as-yet-unnamed character?

I also wanted to visit the math section. I didn't, because I already had an armload of books. But all that talk from a few days ago about random numbers had me thinking how I would be a math major if I went back to school. Really? I said to myself. You would? Not bloody likely. So WHO does?

There's also the strange fact that poetry has roared back into my life in a big way. I can't hide that I love it and it loves me. I'm going to be a judge for the Cybils Poetry panel. And I already have my Poetry Friday posts written for the next two weeks. Something is going on here.

I like being empty. I like having enough space in my life that drums, math and poetry can saunter about, checking out the premises. I don't know if they'll stay, but I'm trying not to drive them off by bugging them with lots of questions.

I read somewhere that if you want someone new to enter your life, you should clear out one whole drawer or shelf in your house and leave it empty for them. I think the same is true of writing. It's a little uncomfortable to have your writing project shelf be empty. To deliberately resist filling it with knick-knacks.

But if I don't start with an empty space, I'm pretty sure that my finished book won't have any space in it either. And then where would my readers squeeze in? (Not to mention their thoughts, fears, and those big, messy emotions they always seem to bring with them.)

*From Paul Simon's Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.

Monday, September 24, 2007

I Know I Said I Wouldn't, but...

You know why I don't review books on my blog. Aside from the whole uncomfortable "how do you rate/review your peers?" question, there's the fact that I'm incapable of being rational about it. I admitted it here, when I withdrew my compliance with's star rating system. Except, a few days ago, I capriciously changed my mind again and wrote this about The Book Thief over at goodreads:

I love books like this: books that set up an improbable approach to a story and then totally pull it off by the sheer toughness and brilliance of the writing. As a writer, it's like watching an author do a high-wire act. He's not going to try THAT, is he? OMG, he is!!!

Some may say that parts of this book didn't work for them; I loved every last gutsy bit of it. It engaged all of my reading self: the emotional side, which rode waves of anxiety and grief and anger and joy with the characters; and the intellectual /writerly side which reveled in the language and the wry jokes and the metaphors. And then to sate the visual side of me, there were wrenching and brilliant illustrations to savor as well.

I know I said elsewhere that I was giving up on using the star system, but I guess I'm back on the bandwagon. At least for a little while.

(Then I clicked on all five stars.)

You see? I'm a terrible reviewer, because it's all about ME. But I may decide to review a few things here, anyway. I'm thinking it might be interesting to hear how a writer reads another writer's book: how she looks at the risks taken, and the methods and tools selected, and above all, how thrilling it is to watch a skilled artist working at the same craft as you.

Because, for me, it's not all about the end product, as it might be for another reviewer. It's about watching my peers at work. I admire them; I imitate them; I fear for them; I love them. It's a perilous and marvelous vantage point from which to read a book.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Some geekery (and the winner of the Poetry Friday drawing)

Geeky, geeky, geeky! And I love it.

I thought I would save my "oh so important 'cause I use 'em to type with" fingers some work. I didn't really want to cut up 44* squares of paper and write names on them in order to "draw a name out of the hat" for my Poetry Friday giveaway. Besides, I was sure there was a handy little computer thingy on the Internet that would do all the cutting and folding and writing and random selection parts for me.

Wrong. Did you know that as a "rational" machine, computers are incapable of "true randomness" without added hardware? The best one can do is generate "pseudo-random" numbers. See here for some almost-not-geeky further discussion. (UPDATE: Really, go read it if you have any interest---it's very well written, in a non-technical way, and includes a link to another interactive article called "Can you Behave Randomly?" And it discusses the Big Question: is everything in the universe pre-determined? Which I've now discovered the answer to is YES, because when I used the random number generator, it gave me the SAME number as when I drew one out of a paper bag below. Is that FREAKY, or what????)

So, here, chosen pseudo-randomly, from a pseudo-hat, by a pseudo-math geek is the winner of my Poetry Friday giveaway: #7 hipwritermama! (Please email me off-list so I can send it to you by absolutely real, and please! no randomness! U.S. mail.)

And for all of you: thank you so much for participating in Poetry Friday. You led me to stunning poems---modern, classic, original, complicated, simple, angry, sad, funny, wistful, joyful, blunt---and even a few posts that let me try writing a poem on the spot. Thank you all. It was a pleasure to be your hostess. For the roundup, see the post below.

*Two bloggers submitted two poetry posts each; I only put each name in once.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Poetry Friday: Who Said What (Not Your Mother's Kumbaya)

I'm taking a very deep breath. How to round-up 46 posts for Poetry Friday? Maybe if I talk at the speed of light?

Or maybe I'll let each of you around the circle, one by one, recite the poetry you found. (No need to hold hands; it's not Kumbaya or anything.) Just imagine each voice below saying their line, and let all the words bump against each other and make a new poem. (I especially like MotherReader's harried soul bumping up against Emily Dickinson's lazy grass.) I kept everyone's post in the order I received it, but it was SO tempting to re-arrange. (I'll let you do that yourselves. Report back.) And when you get done reading it that way, all serious-like, take a breath and go back through, following my slightly ribald suggestion at the end. (Hey, Shakespeare did ribald!)

Adventures in Daily Living
: "World, World, I cannot hold thee close enough!"
Sam Riddleburger: "COURTESY"
David E.: "A poet named Nash/scribbled lines in a flash..."
Cuentecitos: "I weep for you," the Walrus said. "I deeply sympathize."
AmoXcalli: "And I shall have some peace there..."
Jama Rattigan: "God have mercy on the sinner/Who must write with no dinner..."
hipwritermama: "I had a little nut-tree/Nothing would it bear..."
Michele: "The brief night goes/In babble and revel and wine."
Mary Lee: "Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books..."
Stacey: Hurt no living thing."
Tricia: "Six chocolate bars!" (A SMILE)
Literacy Teacher: "He teeters, skitters, tingles, teases..."
TadMack: "It will be hard to let go/of what i said to myself/about myself..."
Book Buds: "Though War is old/It has not become wise..."
Wild Rose Reader: "A can can roll - or not..."
Karen Edmisten: "About suffering, they were never wrong..."
Literary Safari: This is just to say..."
Jules: "Tell me lean, green one,/What would you be?"
NoWheyMama: "September has come, it is hers..."
Laura Salas (15 words or less): "it will be exhilarating instead of embarrassing!"
Laura Salas: "I almost died/of foolishness in beautiful Florida."
Semicolon: " What profanations these/That seek to dim the glories/Of apple-pie and cheese!"
Kelly (Big A, Little a): "The truth is seldom welcome,/especially at dinner..."
Chicken Spaghetti: "I give way to you."
Jone: "summer's last dance..."
The Simple and the Ordinary: "A circle is round/it has no end..."
John Mutford: "There was a young bard of Japan/whose limericks never would scan...."
Charlotte: "The railroad track is miles away,/And the day is loud with voices speaking..."
Kelly Fineman: "She liked whate'er /She looked on, and her looks went everywhere."
cloudscome: "Oh that teacher says keep yo/eyes up on the screen!"
divatobe: "permission denied" (Can we fix this?)
Little Willow: "Let me in, you kids!"
cloudscome (2): "We'll make an anthology out of the walls..."
Poetry For Children: "I loved my friend./He went away from me."
Becky: "Together, you and I could form a sentence that's complete."
MotherReader: "Am I too old to run away from home?"
Miss Erin: "The Grass so little has to do-A Sphere of simple Green-"
Lisa (Passionately Curious): "Orange on orange. Autumn came..."
Jennie (BiblioFile): "Last week, we ate apples and honey, then..."
Liz in Ink: "It's never too late..."
Book Buds(2): "Peace will come upon us..."
Crispus Attucks: "you in deep, deep trouble."
Tiel Aisha Ansari: "Don't look down..."
LindaBudz: "Where shall we adventure, to-day that we're afloat...?"
whimsy: "Tell me, O Octopus, I begs.."
Becky (at Farm School): "to remember for ever and ever..."

Now, if you don't mind a bit of mild irreverence towards poetry, move from serious to silly by channeling John Green. That's right, add "in your pants" to each line. (Parties always get a little out of control at the end.)

P.S. If I didn't get your post in this roundup, no worries. Just leave a comment and I'll add you. You'll still be in the drawing for the poetry mug. I'll give everyone until tomorrow at noon to link or comment here.

Circle round: Poetry Friday is Here

"To get together in a group and wrestle with language, caressing sounds, poking sentences, and petting the ears of images is a divinely unusual activity..."
How To Read A Poem and Start a Poetry Circle
by Molly Peacock

For eleven weeks now, I've been part of the most amazing Poetry Circle (otherwise known as Poetry Friday.) Today, I have the privilege of hosting the shindig, so please leave your gifts (you did bring me a gift, didn't you?) with Mr. Linky below. He doesn't accept bottles of wine or flowers, but he will take the link to your blog post, while I graciously accept the comments you leave.

If you're not sure what Poetry Friday is, no worries! Read this from the always illuminating Chicken Spaghetti, come back, and party with us. All are welcome. (Warning: There may be line dancing. Some may become intoxicated by words. Revelers may tromp, noisily, to your blog. Hostess not responsible for any long-running discussions that erupt.)

Oh! And I have a gift for you too. After everyone posts their link, I'll be doing a random drawing for this fabulous mug from BTW, have you seen their Poetry Afternoon in a Box? Or that wonderful "We Real Cool" T-shirt? But I digress. Let's wrestle with some language, shall we?

UPDATE: Roundup is now in a separate post, here. Winner of the drawing is here.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mother, May I?

I don't know how many of you ever belly up to the Geek Buffet. I only found out about it though Jennie, from BiblioFile. She sometimes has articles posted (displayed? served?) at the Buffet, and recently, it was a tasty piece called: "I'm an Adult, I swear!" In it, she writes about sugary cereals, and red shoes, and notes to yourself on the palms of your hands. And she asks: What indulgences do you allow yourself, as a tribute to your inner child?"

I allow myself to eat popcorn for dinner.
I walk out barefoot to get the newspaper.
I cry (yes, sob) when reading.
I read at the breakfast table.
I dance like a maniac.
I play dress-up with new clothes, trying them on in all sorts of combinations.
I sweat and get dirty and work out hard until I stink.
I lie down on the floor and wonder about things.
I carry a beat-up notebook around, and write in it whatever I like.

Yeah, that last one's the best. Whatever I like. And miracle of miracles, "whatever I like" turns out to be (sometimes) a story that someone else could also like. Told you so! says my Inner Child.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Contest Alert:Letters About Literature

The Center for the Book (part of the Library of Congress) is hosting a contest for grades 4-12 called Letters About Literature. All kids have to do is "write a personal letter to an author, living or dead, from any genre--fiction or nonfiction, contemporary or classic, explaining how that author's work changed the student's way of thinking about the world or themselves." Contest opened Sept. 1, and closes Dec. 14, 2007.

Why stop at lunch?

We ate French crepes. We signed each other's books. We talked about writing, and moving, and critique groups and author visits and bookstores. And we hatched a plan to start a DC/VA/MD Kid-Lit group. Yes, Caroline Hickey (author of Cassie was Here) and I had a very productive lunch yesterday. Here's her post, "D.C. Lobbies for Own Kidlit Drinks Nite," with info on how to contact her if you want to join in the Capital City fun.

And just in case you're wondering what the D.C. area has to offer in the way of kid-literary adventure:

What about a field trip to the Library of Congress? (Caroline's idea) Think they'd let a bunch of kidlit enthusiasts rummage around in the archives? Or trot out a few of their kidlit related treasures? Maybe not if we've had a few drinks beforehand, but if we promise to show up nice and orderly on a weekday morning?

I'd like to check out the new Arlington location of Busboys and Poets. The original location, on U Street in D.C. was named for Langston Hughes, who worked as a busboy at the nearby Wardman Park Hotel and left poems beside the dinner plate of another poet, Nicholas Lindsay. Most of the authors that visit seem to be decidedly non-kidlit, but hey, with as edgy as YA is becoming, we could probably pitch something to them. Or just hang out and eat. They've got peanut and banana sandwiches, if we wanna stand up for our youthful perspective. Think those would be good with a green apple martini? For pictures, see here.

The Lorton Arts Foundation is transforming a closed prison workhouse into a 55-acre cultural arts center. In 1917, the workhouse once held 170 women arrested for agitating for the right to vote; throughout the years, it housed other prisoners up until December of 2001. Now, it's the site of proposed arts programs that are heavy on the visual and performing arts, but I did see in their planning documents something called Letters and Lore, which promises workshops and author readings. Perhaps our newly formed D.C./VA/MD Kidlit group could come up with a rocking program? I'm game!

Go see Caroline at the Longstockings or comment here to join us!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

All My Yesterdays

Today is all about yesterday. Well, not yesterday, exactly, but some blog posts from the past that need updating, or that I'm still thinking about:

  • First, my two posts about questions, "Why is a Bicycle?" and "P.S. Let Me Expand on That...,"dovetail nicely with the 7-Imps 7 Kicks post featuring Trudy White and her new book, Could You? Would You? I posted my answer to one of Trudy's evocative questions over at 7-Imps in the comments, but I'm re-posting here because it's so much fun. Go over to 7-Imps if you want to play along:
    Question: How would someone find you in a crowd? My answer: 1) The super-secret-draw-no- attention-to-either-of-us way: Look at each person’s right hand. When you find the one that always has a ruby ring that’s the color of love on the fourth finger, stop and introduce yourself. 2) The I-don’t-care-who-sees-us method: Hire Paul Simon to play “Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes.” I’ll find you on the dance floor.

  • Next, Jacquelynn Buck, the photographer I wrote about and who took my author picture, has a new photo blog, A Journey. She and her camera will be blogging their way through North and South Carolina for seven weeks. Ride along if you want.

  • Remember the poem I posted a few Poetry Fridays back: "On turning a t-shirt right side out"? Well, I'm dreaming of having it put on the back of a t-shirt. Is that crazy? I'm a fan of poetry being out there in the world on buses and on the backs of cereal boxes and yes, on clothes. In fact, I would even like to design a line of clothing in which poems are printed on the inside of garments, so only you know they're there, like secret armor. But anyway, back to my more doable t-shirt idea: how would I have this made so it looks really chic? Downright arty, in fact? Most do-it-yourself shirt places only do big slogans in ALL CAPS. And I really need it to fit me, so no men's shirts. And I like white, but it can't be that see-through stuff. (Stacy and Clinton: look the other way. I know how you feel about message shirts.)

  • I'm loving Poetry Friday so much that I put a button in the sidebar, with links to 1) Chicken Spaghetti's handy-dandy explanation for the phenomenon, 2) the creator of the Poetry Friday button, and 3) a quick link to all of my poetry posts in one place.

  • I also took my post, "Enter" and made it my Mission Statement: This is why I write (you can see it there under my blog archive.)

  • Remember my post about last lines? Well, I changed the last lines of my second book, again. Actually, my husband (and then, my agent) told me I had ended the story, like four different ways. Hmmm. Tweak, tweak.

That's it! Back to the present. Unless I decide to watch Spock fall in love with Zarabeth in All Our Yesterdays. (Sorry, Shakespeare, I know you had the original: "And all our yesterdays have lighted fools/The way to dusty death.")

Monday, September 17, 2007

Read Write Rejoice

Normally, I don't get all horn-tooty about my book, Letters From Rapunzel, here at Read Write Believe. I figure you're big kids and can do the clicky thing if you want to find out more about it. But I found this yesterday, and I...well...REJOICED is not too strong a word:

"Being gifted is awesome in some very real ways, but it also majorly sucks in some very real ways. Holmes really, truly got it. She absolutely nailed it." --- Read more of this review by Katie, who admits to once being a girl much like Rapunzel.

Thank you so much, Katie of PixiePalace. I'd be honored to meet you one day.*

And while I've got the horn out, I'm also pleased to announce that Tina Wexler of International Creative Management is my new agent. Huzzah!

*Full disclosure: I saw Letters From Rapunzel on PixiePalace's book wishlist several months ago. So I mailed her a copy, because she sounded like a cool person. But we've never met, and I didn't ask her to review it.

UPDATE: Letters From Rapunzel is on the Hoagies Gifted Education Page, under the Hot Topics Reading List: On Being Gifted. Lots of great reading suggestions there, for both older and younger readers.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Poetry Friday: Finding (and keeping) Poetry

Y & O i U h C a O t M e P y L o E u T f E o M r E i t

I found this poem written on the inside of a gazebo. It was one of those fake "welcoming" structures rigged up at the entrance to a large subdivision. No graffiti on the outside---the kids were smarter than that. But inside! Score!

Anyhow, it made me think about all the places you can stash poetry. This is one way I collect it:

I like copying some poems out by hand. (That one in the picture is Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, by Wallace Stevens.) Others, I cut out of the newspaper or photocopy or type up, and then I paste the poem onto a blank page. Like a poetry scrapbook.

Once, after a move, I was unpacking my books and found my scrapbook with several pages "filed" in the back, where I hadn't had time to paste them in. (As you see in the picture, I'm still behind!) I pulled out the pages and read one of the typed poems, which was nine stanzas long. Wow! It was gutsy, and achingly complicated and sad, and funny too. Then I got to the end and saw my name.

Yes, really. I had written it. I even found the notes in my own handwriting that I had taken as this poem hit me up the side of the head, and ambushed me right in the middle of a writer's conference breakout session. (It was an illustrator's talk. I blame the artist. Entirely.)

So, obviously, I should write my poems on bigger things that are harder to misplace. Like gazebos. Here are the first two stanzas:

The boat is sinking. He knows.
The varnish moves over the surface,
Circles radiating from the can,
As he holds the edge of his wooden canvas,
The boat that is sinking. He knows
She is large, thick,
As he paints her,
In one day, into the varnish.

She can’t eat while she is being painted.
He can’t paint while she is eating.
“Paint me eating,” she says. “Paint me
With juice in my hair. Paint my body
While my lips move.” “You look different
When you eat,” he says. “Your colors shift.
I’ll wait.” She hides a sunflower seed between
Her thighs. He flicks it away.
She turns her left arm green to spite him. He uncaps the paint
Thinner. She gathers saliva beneath her tongue.
He holds still: his brush, a knife;
His breath collapsing.

Poetry Friday is hosted this week by HipWriterMama.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Robert's Snow

Please don't read my blog today.

Instead, I want you to go to 7-Impossible Things Before Breakfast, where Jules and Eisha are sounding the call for Robert's Snow, the uniquely beautiful fundraiser to defeat cancer founded by Grace Lin. It's going to be a major blogosphere event, and I don't want you to miss it.

Go on. I'll be here when you get back. Right now, we all need a little snow.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

"They all shriek at the same time..."

"Writing is still kind of scary, but carnival scary, not lung disease scary." - Adam Rex, in his interview at Nerds With Kids.

"Everybody's equal on a roller coaster. They all shriek at the same time." - Harry Guy Traver, via

Why has no one written a children's book about Harry Guy Traver? I mean, come on, read this about one of his famous rides, the Cyclone roller coaster at Crystal Beach:
"The Crystal Beach ride also kept a nurse in the station who was there to assist anyone who fainted, although she was originally hired to help lower insurance costs. Later, it is rumored that the she was kept on the payroll to help keep the Cyclone known as one of the fiercest coasters around. Popular coaster lore says that she kept smelling salts on her and that a hot dog stand adjacent to the coaster sold splints."
Profile of Harry Traver from

Okay, nurse! Stand by! I'm going to write now. Administer cotton candy if I pass out.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Stuck in the Middle With You

I'm a middle child. That can't be why I write middle-grade fiction, can it? That would be illogical. But then again, some say birth order plays a role in career choice. (Rebuttal: here.) Has anyone ever surveyed writers to find out if birth order correlates to what they write?

Meantime, while all of you are researching that (and if you want, posting your birth order and writing/reading preferences in the comments) check out these posts about middle school and middle-grade readers. And yes, it's confusing that middle school is usually 6-8th grade students (ages 11-13) who are reading both up and down in grade level, while middle-grade books are often labeled for grades 4-6 (ages 8-12.)

First: Here's a YouTube soundtrack of Stuck in the Middle With You (set to X-Files clips!) for you to listen to while you peruse. (Also: Stuck in the Middle with You: Wikipedia entry) Wow! I'd forgotten that I really LIKE this song.


Interview with three sixth-grade girls (Courtesy of Danette Haworth's blog)

Uncensored answers to "Im going into middle school I want to know whats going on there?"

Middle Grade is a Muddy Name (ShelfTalker at Publishers Weekly)

How To Impress Middle School Boys

Betsy Bird's definition of middle-grade fiction for the Cybils Awards

The Difference Between Middle-Grade and Young Adult Fiction
(from Children's Book Insider)

Books for the Ages: Or Why I Don't Use the Term MG (Little Willow, and be sure to read the awesome comments section)

Is a Sixth-Grader a Young Adult? (Mitali Perkins. Keep pressing for more middle school lists, BTW. VOYA's got one: TopShelf Fiction for Middle School Readers.)

Middle Children Get the Worst Deal (I don't agree. I liked being a middle child. Except when my older sister got to sit in the front seat and I was forced to sit in the back seat between my two younger brothers while they poked and generally annoyed the crap out of each other. Thus, a peace-maker and a "maybe I'll imagine I'm really somewhere else" writer was born.)

***Don't forget to leave your birth order and writing/reading preferences in the comments, if you want to participate in this most unscientific survey.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Does that look even to you?

I'd like to know how you guys feel about those shiny red stars over at I enjoy being part of GoodReads because when one of you raves about a title, it's so easy to pop that book onto my "To Read" shelf. And, so easy, once those books have moved from that shelf to the "Finished!" section, to dutifully rate them with star levels from one to five. But I don't like it.

For one thing, I feel a need to explain my ratings. Here's one of my quirks: a four-star book is of the same high quality as a five-star one. The fifth star is like one of those silly buttons you buy because you see it and it says something so witty, or brazen, or goofy that it makes you laugh or go UH-HUH! YOU SAID IT SISTER! So you wear it around and feel crazy and proud and silly all at once.

Yup, I bestow a fifth star on a book because it makes me a tiny bit (or maybe a whole lot) unreasonably crazy about it. Notice the unreasonable part. That is actually my rationale: I can't be able to explain---at least not completely---WHY I loved the book in order for it to get the fifth star. Is that insane or what? So I think I'm going to stop rating my reads. The rest of you, go right ahead. I get a big kick out of seeing what you love and what you don't.

Except for those people who give one (or five) stars to a book on their "Not Even Read Yet" shelf. What's up with that? Are they psychic? Or do they have some irrational twinkle distribution system like a prom decorating committee with thousands of glow-in-the-dark stars but only one tall ladder?

But who am I to judge? I have a "Books whose covers I've kissed" category. And a "Don't You Even Put Me in the Same Room with That" prize. How can you express such things when all you've got are five little 's?

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Walking on Water

"To be alive is to be vulnerable. To be born is to start the journey towards death. If taxes have not always been inevitable, death has. What, then, does life mean? No more than 'Out, brief candle'?

The artist struggles towards meaning. Mahler was terrified of death and worked out his fear in music. I had a letter from a college student at Harvard saying, 'I am afraid of nonbeing.' That same day, a friend with whom I was having lunch said, 'I cannot bear the thought of annihilation.'

Art is an affirmation of life, a rebuttal of death.

And here we blunder into paradox again, for during the creation of any form of art, art which affirms the value and the holiness of life, the artist must die.

To serve a work of art, great or small, is to die, to die to self.

The great artists, dying to self in their work, collaborate with their work, know it and are known by it as Adam knew Eve, and so share in the mighty act of Creation.

That is our calling, the calling of all of us..."

---Madeleine L'Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

Friday, September 7, 2007

Poetry Friday: sweet nothings

sweet nothings

What bitter black pearls
do you feed me? Each word

stings my lips as you coil
a necklace of desire within

my mouth. I would that they were
stones, easy to spit out

and not such chained smoothness

that I pull them out,
over and over, to taste

the tang of praise
against my tongue.

----Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Poetry Friday is hosted this week by Semicolon

Thursday, September 6, 2007

It's just a step to the right...

Have you seen the "top 100 songs for the year you graduated" meme that's going around? I was so relieved when Kelly didn't tag me. Oh yes, I had fun looking at her list, and I knew almost all of the songs. But the truth is, there was only one gut level check I had for each song:

Does it have a good beat and can you dance (or work out) to it?
---American Bandstand

From Kelly's year:

#51. Raspberry Beret, Prince (Just typing that makes me break out in a dance sweat.)

#38. Neutron Dance, Pointer Sisters (Come on, it has DANCE in the title!)

#43 Freeway of Love, Aretha Franklin (Even an idiot can groove to this one. Just imagine you're in that pink Cadillac and careen on down the dance floor.)

From my year:

#57. De Do Do Do, De Da Da, The Police (What can I say? The title IS a dance beat.)

#94. Whip It, Devo (I can feel my head starting to bang already)

#68. While You See A Chance, Steve Winwood (Imagine me doing an embarrassing interpretive dance. Or running. Or cranking out pushups. Hey! Bonus! The YouTube video has Muppet commentary at the end!)

So there you have it. I'm a dunce, musically. My whole family discusses bass lines, chord progressions, and the histories of individual musicians in various, ever-shifting band incarnations. Yesterday, my husband helped my son re-build his guitar so the strings wouldn't buzz against the neck. My daughter sang a Latin mass last year. Me? I jokingly tell people that I'm "the audience." I absolutely adore music, but I can't discuss it intelligently at all. The only way I can express what I think about a song is to move to it. Which might explain why I've always wanted to learn how to...

(link found courtesy of BB-Blog)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Accidental Artist

I did it, people. I achieved my summer goals. And the funny thing is, I wouldn't even have known about it, if Franki at A Year of Reading hadn't blogged the question: So how did those Summer Goals go?

For those of you who missed my comment to that post, here's what I said:

Oh, reminded me to go back and look at what I posted on my website as goals.

And I am SHOCKED. I actually did ALL of them. And this is me, who doesn't even bother to do New Year's Resolutions because I'm so sure I won't keep them. What happened? Was it the public nature of the posting? I'm thinking I may have to blog about this! And I'm thinking my new goals are going to be earn a million, travel to Bali, and have Lyle Lovett write a song to me.

(To Franki) I LOVED your self-check in. No waffling. Just NOPE where appropriate. I think it's important to acknowledge that sometimes we make goals for ourselves that just don't work.

As much as I want this post to be a funny riff on those imagined new goals---oh, please, Lyle...I'll even go motorcycle riding with you---I think I really should address that last sentence instead:

"Sometimes, we make goals for ourselves that just don't work."

I read once that we should always be clear about what standards we're holding ourselves to. If we don't, those unwritten standards (goals) are likely to be things like:

1. Write the most awesome children's book that has ever existed in all of time.

2. Love my work every second of every day and never doubt myself or wonder if I should be healing the sick or teaching or baking coma-inducing cappuccino muffins.

3. Be fabulous at everything, including public speaking, self-promotion, time-management, and rainmaking, but remain humble, lovable and sane through it all.

On the other hand, if we use our creative powers to come up with goals that are attainable right from the get-go, they just might motivate us. Remember the drawing class I blogged about? Well, I often panicked in that class because I wasn't any good. Here's how my brain dealt with that: I SUCK! I'M THE WORST ARTIST ON THE PLANET! I SHOULD GIVE UP AND DIE RIGHT NOW! But then I remembered my goals in taking that class:

1. To learn something new (Yes, yes, I was doing that.)

2. To experience the terror of trying something I knew I was bad at, to learn to deal with fear (Yes, yes, totally succeeding at that.)

3. To gain insight into my writing. (Um, well, I was running to my journal after each class, so yes, yes to this one, too.)

4. To enjoy myself. (No, not right at this second. But I can fix that.)

You see, nowhere in those goals was: be a great artist. Be the best drawer in the class. Have my own gallery show after a month. That would have been ridiculous. Except that in my writing life, I do this to myself all the time. I set goals in my head that are not attainable right from the start.

So, how low can your bar go?

1. Think about writing a novel at least once a day.

2. Pick up my notebook and hold it.

3. Enjoy walking to the mailbox to see if there's good news in it.

You think I'm kidding, don't you? But I'm not. Every one of your goals should be attainable. At least one of them should contain the word ENJOY. And none of them should make you feel like a failure.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Future is Better Than You Ever Imagined

Robin Brande just had a big book launch, and she wondered, as it approached, why she was feeling a bit numb. I assured her (with the infinite wisdom of my vast publishing experience) that she would have many moments, not just The One on The Day.

One of those "many moments" for me was discovering that the Library of Congress had a copy of my book. Well, of course it does; they're required to own copies of every copyrighted piece of material in the U.S. But the fun thing is that because of where I live, if you put my zip code and the title of my book into WorldCat's search box, the Library of Congress shows up first!

And guess what else is cool? The Library of Congress has a blog. Well, maybe they're required to do that, too, but I doubt it. And look at what their college interns got to do over the summer---rummage around in the archives. The English majors---gotta love 'em!--- dug into the manuscript collection, and found:

"a 1902 copyright deposit manuscript for a musical titled 'An Extra Session: A Chimerical Satire on the Feasible Possibilities Which Woman May Attain a Hundred Years Hence.' Written by William D. Hall, the musical is set in the White House in the year 2002, with a woman president and her all-female cabinet."

Haven't read it. Can't review it. I just might, though, go see a performance of it if Emma Thompson were playing the Secretary of Defense.

By the way, how does a "chimerical" satire differ from a regular kick-ass one? Is that anything like how a celebrity book* is not, and never will be, the same species as a real one**?

*disclaimer: link does not, in fact, take you to Madonna's book (not in a hundred billion years)

**link will, in fact, take you to Robin's future best-seller: Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature