Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Now that's creepy...

Ghosts of Halloweens past:

My husband and I as hippies. Not too scary.
(He's more convincing than I am.)

As Antony and Cleopatra
(Again, not scary, except for the snake
and whatever is on my feet.)

I was going to post more, but I'm terrified of this:

Don't click on that link unless you want to see
a slide show of EVERY PICTURE that has been
recently uploaded to Blogger---and here's the scary part---
without the blogger explicitly asking them to do it

Does anyone else find this disturbing? Creepy? Yes, I'll admit, it's cool. But I could see it turning into one endless advertisement, when some entrepreneur figures out all they have to do is continually upload images of their products to have them beamed all over the world in real time. Or what if someone has a picture of you or your kids that you don't want broadcast throughout cyberspace? Scary. I smell a lawsuit soon.

And then there's me, who's perfectly willing to upload a frightening picture of me and my husband as Sonny and Cher, but not if I know people in Nairobi will be laughing at it.

Oh well, we ARE in disguise.

I've got you, babe...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

MOTA (Member of the Audience)

The last four or five times that I attended the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Fall Conference , I was an esteemed MOTA. (Member of the Audience) I warmed my hard plastic chair to the best of my ability, and listened with my whole body to keynote speeches by such greats as Katherine Paterson and the late David Wisniewski. (This year, Bruce Coville had the honor, and next year it's going to be Jane Yolen!) I had no idea that my presence was noted by anyone other than my writing group. This year, I found out how wrong I was.

This year, I was up on stage. Only for an hour, as part of the Editor and First-time Author Panel, but that was enough to find out how important MOTA's are. Whenever I thought about being nervous, I would look out at them. Contrary to popular movies, the whole room was not a blur. I could see individual faces. I most definitely saw Anne Marie Pace's lovely face (and silently thanked her not only for her rapt attention but for her earlier labor, hauling all those hard plastic chairs for all those MOTA's.) I saw members of my writing group that had supported me for years. (Doris! Linda! Barbara! I'll say it again: You saved my life.) And I saw lots and lots of MOTA's I didn't know, but whose faces were just as important to me because MOTA's, fellow writers, lovers of children's books: You are my tribe. And I need you.

You are the reason I didn't write out my answers to the panel questions. I noticed that all the editors did. They came ultra-prepared, with detailed notes, carefully typed. (And that's exactly how I want editors to be, by the way. No vagueness from them, please.) But as for me, I wanted to be able to speak from the heart. To tell the story of how a MOTA became a MOTF. (Member of the Faculty) I wanted to trust you to hear my unpolished words, and to encourage you, and to give you hope. I wanted you to see that I had doubted, and struggled, and failed, and it was only by the grace of other MOTA's that I was able to keep going.

And I really, really want a MOTA from this recent conference to get up on the stage at another conference four or five years down the road and tell the same story. By the way, if it's you, it's okay if you write out your answers. I won't be checking. I'll be applauding.

UPDATE: By the way, when did this happen? No longer required? Why didn't they send out an email?

Although the apostrophe is no longer required to form the plural of letters and numbers such as two Ph.D.s and the 1980s, use it when needed for clarity: four I’s and p’s and q’s.

So, I guess I could've used MOTAs. You wouldn't have been confused. Oh, wait. Audience IS already plural. Drat. Plural must be MsOTA. Or just MOTA. Pardon my utter confusion.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Circus School for Writers: the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Fall Conference


This weekend, I learned how swinging on a trapeze can make you a better writer. I was listening to Australian author Jen McVeity give her hour-and-a-half audience participation workshop on writing when she put up a picture of herself high on a trapeze platform.*

With her, we brainstormed everything a novice trapeze artist might be experiencing up there on that tiny platform, from the smooth white chalk on her hands to the pungent smell of her own sweat to the rising noise of the crowd to the blinding lights in her eyes. Then Jen played back to us, in words, the scene we had brainstormed, until each of us, too, felt we were up there on that platform with a bone-dry mouth, quaking hands, and a stomach filled with thousands of caterpillars. Then, in very slow motion, we jumped...and swung...and reached...and reached...and reached...and caught the hands on the other side.

The take-away was that even though the jump itself, and the ensuing swing through the air, and the exhilarating catch at the other side take just seconds, if we're going to experience it as readers, then the writer needs to SLOW DOWN.

Now, this is a technique Jen uses in the writing classes she offers to kids and teachers, but my mind immediately flew to the climax scene in my novel under revision. HUP! The first time I wrote it, I had jumped, swung over the chasm and caught on to the next chapter without so much as looking down. Uh-oh. In my revision, I had to add six pages to cover what I'd tried to swing by. And I'm pretty sure that I'll add even more.

I told Jen later that I had tried the art of the trapeze at a Club Med circus school. I had tried it three times. But when the third jump felt just as terrifying as the first one, and not one bit more fun, I had stopped asking myself to go back up the ladder. I even admitted to her that climbing the ladder was the worst part. I felt like gravity was trying to tear my body away from each rung, and that it pulled harder the higher I climbed.

The interesting thing is that although I quit the trapeze right then and there, the feeling of inching up that ladder didn't leave me. When my main character in Letters From Rapunzel had to fight her way up a concrete pylon on a bridge and realizes half-way up that she should not be doing this, I'm proud to say that I wouldn't let her quit, and I did not let her back down, and I calmly and deliberately stopped time.

*Jen also loves rock-climbing, water-skiing, volleyball and snow-skiing.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Little Criminals and Robert's Snow: Week Three

What my niece thinks about battling her cancer:

The remaining tumor cells in her body (are) "little criminals" and we need to "round them up and put them in jail before they become big criminals".

Here's the schedule for this week's flurry of interviews with illustrators. As previously, this early schedule links to the participating blogs, instead of to the individual posts. You can find links to the posts themselves, and any last-minute updates, each morning at 7-Imp. Jules and Eisha have also set up a special page at 7-Imp containing a comprehensive list of links to the profiles posted so far.

Monday, October 29

Tuesday, October 30

Wednesday, October 31

Thursday, November 1

Friday, November 2

Saturday, November 3

Sunday, November 4

Friday, October 26, 2007

Poetry Friday: Breadcrumbs

Lately, we've been talking process here and over at 7-Imp. Here's the main character (who is really me) from my first book describing how she writes a poem:
"Then something weird happened. I wrote a poem about it. I didn't mean to, but all of a sudden, it was like there was another SOMETHING in the room, like a ghost. You know how you feel like there's breath on your neck? I didn't know how long it would last, so I grabbed a pen and I wrote down everything I could about that moment.

What I wrote didn't make sense at first, but then I remembered what my dad told me once about his work––that he tried to make his poems like spells (good ones, not evil) so that when someone heard one, the listener would be haunted by the spirit of the poem, as he was when he wrote it. So I went back and tried to make the pieces I'd written fit into a pattern, like I was trying to make a picture of that ghost out of words." ---From Letters From Rapunzel

That's about as close as I can get to pinning down the mystery that is a poem arriving. When I'm not in character, I try to grow as a poet by doing two things:

1) I'm learning not to turn away when I feel that ghost in the room. I run for pen and paper, no matter how weird the initial impulse is. I know now that it comes when I'm folding laundry ("On turning a T-shirt right side out") or when I'm driving down a barren road in January ("The Bones of January.") And once I have my pen in hand, I don't stop until I've pursued the thought deep into wherever it came from. I don't ask it why it came or what it is; I just follow, doggedly, leaving as many rich breadcrumbs along my path as I can.

2) Once I've paused for breath following the initial "running after," I gently bump the glimpses I've recorded against one another, to see what happens. I try not to overwork it, or to force the words to line up in a row. It's more like I'm writing music, and I'm listening for overtones of both sound and meaning. (You guys know I'm not musical, but I swear I hear this with my body.) What I try to do is not destroy the initial pursuit, but to lay it out so the reader can go with me. This is what I said about it in the comments section at Hiraeth last Poetry Friday:
Strange as it may sound, I think of poems as enchantments. The poet is casting a spell, and the reader, by saying aloud or reading those same words, is casting the same spell. Or if you don't like magical metaphors, a poem is like a liturgy. Yes, it's written, but its purpose is to be a living ritual that takes you beyond the words.
And that, my poetry friends, is as deep as I'm willing to go today.

Poetry Friday is hosted by Literary Safari this week.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

If You're Grumpy and You Know It

Sure, we laugh at Dopey. But sometimes we wish we were Grumpy. At least I do. There are some bloggers who do grumpy so well.

They get angry at the real bad stuff in this world:

"Cancer murdered my father; I'm still waiting for the country to take notice." (Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray)

They plan whole books about the art of the Nag:

"I could cover the rewards of nagging (it works), my connection to a long line of honorable naggers through my maternal line, nagging's place in the greater society, how nagging has been perceived throughout history, turning points in history that were influenced by nagging, nagging as the foundation of the American family..." (Gail Gauthier at Original Content)

They title their posts Britney = Elvis and Big Stinky Review Fun:

"So many trees, giving up their lives so valiantly in the name of books that should never have been published." (David Elzey at fomagrams)

It's not that I don't get grumpy. Yes, I'm often irritated, furious, beaked, mildly annoyed and plain pissed off. It's just that I can't channel those feelings into good, biting prose. My version of Howl would be called Mewl, or perhaps Fret.

So I really, really enjoy it when someone lets loose. Not with a flame, or a small-minded rant, or a hurtful personal attack. But righteous anger, unapologetic grumpiness, a passionate, utterly devastating take-down of greed? That can make me smile for days. (Yes, it's Jimmy Stewart. I never tire of watching him.)

So if you're grumpy and you know it, raise your hand. Or better yet, write about it and let me read it. Submit your favorite bouts of grumpiness in the comments.

P.S. I'm SO sorry to do this to you, but you have to check out Grumpy's Bail Bonds. Their motto is: You ring. We spring. And the owner has written a book.

Pie, Art, and Books

I read Southern Living for the recipes. Here's a killer one for banana pudding pie. And one of my best holiday memories is the time it took all four of us in the kitchen (hubbie, me, and two kids) to make their "Down-Home Supper" which featured Chicken-Fried Steak with Milk Gravy and Creamy Mashed Potatoes. (A task easily handled by one grandmother, I might add.)

But other than the recipes, I ignore the rest. I can't grow a plant to save my life, and design tips seem worthless when you move as often as we do. But I do have a "When we finally settle and I get to hire a designer because my books have made me fabulously wealthy" file. And most of it is filled with ideas for book rooms.

I recently tore from the September issue an article called "Great Looks with Lots of Books" which showcases a room with a book gallery. Uh-huh, the walls are covered with bookshelves, which are fronted with a wide step and a railing that runs around the perimeter, making your collection look like an exclusive library. And this room has works of art mounted---floating really---over the bookshelves. I could just die in that room. Especially if I were allowed to eat Banana Pudding Pie first.

*Interesting note: In the Southern Living piece, the art work is by Matisse. On the designer's site, the art is a giant skull and crossbones. Hmmm.

*And in MY fantasy room, the shelves run all the way around the room, broken only by space for a built-in daybed and a few wide windowsills with cushion seats. And the books are shabby, well-read, and not shelved for design effect, but by content. The art rotates, on loan from the R. Michelson Gallery. Oh, and a dumbwaiter brings up pie from the kitchen.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Process (and the Meaning of It All)

Jules, at 7-Imp, has tossed out a brief and burning question to writers. At the Southern Festival of Books, she heard Rosemary Wells say:

"Process doesn't exist. Any good writer will tell you that."

Naturally, she's curious as to what other writers think. I can't speak for everyone, but this is a glimpse into my brain when I hear something like that:

"Process doesn't exist. Any good writer will tell you that."

Writers don't exist. Any good process will tell you that.

Existence doesn't write. Any good teller can process that.

Doesn't existence process? Any writer will tell you that.

Process exists for good. Will you tell any writer that?

Write and don't tell process. That's good for existence.

Yeah, Rosemary's right. No one should admit to a process like that.

P.S. TadMack also gave her "£.02 centavos" about this, at Finding Wonderland. Go read! Oh, and Liz chimed in too, and I LOVE her answer: Process is a Verb. For more writers' opinions, go to the original post at 7-Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Good stuff.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Drop down and give me twenty!

I'll forgive you if you never want to talk to me again after I say this:

I love push-ups. (No, not the Popsicle kind.)

I mean the kind that Arnold does. Or Jack Palance. Or Demi Moore. Okay, maybe not THAT extreme. But you get the idea that we're talking exercise here, not ice cream. (Or bras.) And we will eventually be talking writing, too, so stick with me.

What do I love about push-ups?

Well, they aren't weights, for one thing. Lifting weights is time consuming and incredibly boring, like writing a grade-leveled language arts textbook. Push-ups, on the other hand, are like pumping out a scathing, witty review of such a textbook. Sure, it's show-offy and quick, but oooh, the adrenaline rush!

Push-ups are also beautiful. They look like modern dance when you do them right, in all their various forms. (Look at those alligator push-ups!) They remind me of poetry, which is strong, beautiful, and wickedly word efficient.

But the best thing about push-ups is that they don't mess around. You do them; they work. Everything, from your triceps to your core to your butt gets stronger. Where is the equivalent in the writing world? It takes so long to learn how to be a good writer! There is plot, and characterization, and sentence structure, and setting, and word choice, and the ever-squishy, resistant-to-training "voice." What I want is one ultra-cool writing exercise that will help me develop all of these things, all at the same time.

What say you? Do you have a secret writing training exercise I should know about? Because right now, I'm doing it the hard way: by writing one novel after the other. With some poetry thrown in so I don't give up and go home.

Oh, and for those of you who didn't run away at my first sentence: tell me what you think of these fitness gems:

From Mommy Muscle: Do Your Age in Push-ups

Macarena Push-ups

Push-ups in a muddy river

P.S. I think I'll be posting more on the physicality of writing. I like this topic.

P.P.S. I had to live up to this post by working out extra hard this morning. Thanks a lot, guys! I even tried the alligator push-ups. Verdict: fun, although I'm sure an actual alligator would have busted a gut laughing before he caught and ate me.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Robert's Snow: Week Two

Jen, from Jen Robinson's Book Page has graciously composed the following post, with all these wonderful links, so I'm borrowing it here. Thanks, Jen! (The schedule will also be posted in my sidebar this week.)


Here's the schedule for Week 2, which starts Monday. Because the posts aren't up yet, this list links to the participating blogs, instead of to the individual posts. You can find links to the posts themselves, and any last-minute updates, each morning at 7-Imp. Jules and Eisha have also set up a special page at 7-Imp containing a comprehensive list of links to the profiles posted so far. Also not to be missed is Kris Bordessa's post summarizing snowflake-related contests to date over at Paradise Found.

Monday, October 22

Tuesday, October 23

Wednesday, October 24

Thursday, October 25

Friday, October 26

Saturday, October 27

Sunday, October 28

Please take time out to visit all of these blogs, and read about these fabulous illustrators. And, if you're so inclined, think about bidding for a snowflake in the Robert's Snow auction. Each snowflake makes a unique gift (for yourself or for someone else), and supports an important cause.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Poetry Friday: Credo


I don’t believe in making your bed,
Unless of course, company is coming
And only then, if you are sure
They will be coming upstairs.

I don’t believe in swallowing bugs, or criticism,
Except of course, if they are ants, or backhanded
Compliments, which can be nutritious,
As long as they don’t criticize
your teeth on the way down.

I don’t believe in any form of sugar
For breakfast, except Frosted Flakes eaten
Dry, and large blueberries that have been properly
Worshiped, with both your eyes,
For at least ten minutes.

I don’t believe in painting your fingernails
Any dark color that will chip
Before dinner, unless, of course, it is after
Dinner, the taco sauce has been put away and
Someone else, who you have invited upstairs to
View your unmade bed, is painting them
For you, and wearing a red kimono.

I don’t believe in sleeping with the lights on,
Even if you are terrified, because lights will attract
Robbers (or criticism) which you will then have to throw
Out of your unmade house (or swallow.)

I don’t believe in saying what you really think,
Unless it is to yourself, in the mirror, with both your
Eyes, and only then, if you have consumed no
Compliments for breakfast.

I don’t believe in packing for a trip,
Unless you fully intend to stay
Home, and even then, you should never pack
Slippers and you must always lie
When asked whether you left
The lights on.

I don’t believe in lying, either,
Except between the edges of one drawn breath and
The next, one rapid blink, one twisting of your scaled
Toe into the pile of the carpet and then you must
Stop and say what you really think.

I don’t believe in washing a shirt that has only been worn
Once, except of course, if you have leaned
Against the counter, which had taco sauce on it, or if
You were wearing it while your company
Packed your slippers.

I don’t believe in stirring up trouble,
Unless of course, it is 3:06 AM, and you notice scales
Forming–up to your kneecaps–and it’s too early to
Admire blueberries and you realize
The red kimono, which the robber
Wore, is missing.

I don’t believe in poetry, either,
Unless of course, you want to write some
In an unmade bed, with a pen between your
Burgundy fingernails (chipped)
Munching on Frosted Flakes,
In a taco sauce stained shirt, with all the lights
On, lying through your much-criticized
Teeth, just before you pack your suitcase
Full of what you really think.

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

* Credo means "I believe." I wrote this poem after hearing several people toss off the phrase "I don't believe in..." and they weren't talking about theology. They were discussing topics like wearing synthetic socks or buying things not on sale or giving a child a binky. When I started riffing on the phrase, I wound up writing a poem not so much about particular beliefs or non-beliefs, but about how complicated our personal creeds are. How did we draw those lines we won't cross? What are our exceptions? If we had to explain ourselves, could we do it? For further inspiration, try a Google search on: "I don't believe in..." Some things that turned up: polls, the death penalty, failure, God, love, atheists, first grade, hell and walled gardens. You can also search on "how to write a credo."

Poetry Friday is hosted this week by Kelly Fineman

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Did one thing lead to another?

Quickly: Last Friday, many of you left juicy lines of original poetry in the comments section for anyone to pick up and use. I'm re-printing them here, in case some readers missed them, and to say: Hey! Did anyone create anything out of these or was it just fun to read them all, like flipping through a gourmet food catalog?

jama: "this poem is eating you..."

"There is a picture of us
as children
(without any sorrow)"

Kelly Fineman: "Brown is the new black," she said.

Liz in Ink: "As if it were crude or flawed"

Susan: "Zeno and friends went out to play,"

TadMack: "Three Uncles went to Vietnam,"

Mary Witzl: "He moves with studied elegance
and practiced, conscious style"

Katie Alender:
"Today is a shirt
That does not fit."

Laura Salas: "Surrender to the river"

And mine: "She had the knack of folding paper so that it reflected light..."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Attention, all those in the waiting area!

Sorry, folks. There's going to be a three hour delay. At least.

Aaaaargh! The world is supposed to keep pace. Our planes shouldn't be late; our reserved tables must be ready; our overnight packages have to arrive as promised. And don't get me started on traffic jams.

But in order to write, I have to purposely delay. Not delay writing---that's easy---you just start picking fuzzballs off the couch cushions and see how many will fit in an old root beer bottle. I mean delay judgment.

This thought didn't come to me while tidying up the couch. I got it from the pages of Eric Booth's book, The Everyday Work of Art. He says that all artists master the skill of holding an idea, an object, or a thought in their gaze of attention for as long as possible without forming a judgment about it. Booth uses some fancy words, "mastering the gestalt default," but what he means is that artists are aware of their own natural instinct to categorize and label new things instantly, and through practice, get better and better at resisting that instinct.

This is contrary to how we operate in the real world. In class, it's important that you come up with the correct answer before the teacher gives the "A" to someone else. While driving, it's crucial you label the guy in the red car an "idiot" before he kills you. And if you stand at a Starbucks counter too long, not forming a judgment about the high cheekbones of your barista, he will just add another shot of espresso to your order and tell you he's not allowed to talk to women over forty.

I think this delaying is precisely what I enjoy about freewriting. I can jump into the stream and float along without wondering where it's going. It's truly an odd feeling, if you're not used to it. At first, I felt that extended freewriting was like pushing a wall of water uphill. How could I keep filling the pages of my notebook with nonsense? Later, I would find a poem, scattered like bits of polished rock, on the river bed of that nonsense, and be glad.

I still find freewriting difficult when I'm using it to come up with new material for a book. I keep trying to dam up my thinking, force it to flow down the course I've set for it: Chapter Five. But it doesn't work that way. I have to float, not row.

How long can you look at an apple without calling it an apple? How long can you freewrite about bees without using the word "buzz"? How long can you hear musical notes without framing them as a song? Truly, we don't need to set aside time to make judgments about what we encounter each day; we do that naturally. But delaying? That takes real skill.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain When She Comes...

She'll be coming 'round the mountain when she comes,
She'll be coming 'round the mountain when she comes,
She'll be coming 'round the mountain, She'll be coming 'round the mountain,
She'll be coming 'round the mountain when she comes!
---first printed version of this American folk song appeared in Carl Sandburg's The American Songbag

The North Carolina mountains contain some of my favorite places on earth. I always feel like I'm breathing in home when I go there, even though I grew up on the other side, in Tennessee. And now I have a new way to explore the mountains, thanks to a bookmark I picked up at the North Carolina table at the National Book Festival, which led me to this website: Literary Trails of North Carolina.

Here's an excerpt from the site:
Everywhere you turn in North Carolina there are amazing stories. There is something particularly rich in the sound of stories as they are told by Tar Heels—the cadence and the color, the shoulder-to-shoulder intimacy of tragedy and humor—all offered in accents and syntax as variable as the geography of this 600-mile-wide landscape.

I'm sure they will eventually cover all of those 600 miles, but I'm glad that they started with the mountains. The book, Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains, includes the Joyce Kilmer National Forest, Flat Rock (Carl Sandburg's home), and The Grove Park Inn, which hosted F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. There is also a guide to annual literary events, so you can pick just the right days to visit.

P.S. There are also guidebooks for Blue Ridge Music Trails and Cherokee Heritage Trails.

P.P.S. The link to UNC Press, which publishes these guides, seems to be broken on the Literary Trails site, so here's a direct path: UNC Press.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Blizzard Forecast For This Week

Seven day outlook: 100% chance of snow! Every day!

If you don't know about Robert's Snow, here's the official press release from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. (Please see my sidebar for a list of links to all the blogs who are featuring a snowflake artist this week.)

Be bold! Make it snow!

Art galleries in New England will become a winter wonderland starting this October as Robert's Snow: for Cancer's Cure, a benefit for sarcoma research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Mass., gets underway. More than 200 well-known children's book illustrators from around the world, including Mo Willems (Knuffle Bunny series), Kevin Hawkes (The Library Lion) and Patricia Polacco (Rotten Richie and the Ultimate Dare), have been given a five-inch wooden snowflake to transform into an original piece of art to be auctioned off online. Like actual snowflakes, each design is unique.

The snowflakes will be on display at the Have a Heart gallery in Newburyport from Oct. 3 - 22, with an open house all day on Oct. 6. Then the snowflakes will be on exhibit at the Danforth Museum of Art in Framingham from Oct. 30 - Dec. 2, with a kick-off reception on Nov. 4, at 4 p.m.

The snowflakes will be auctioned off to benefit Dana-Farber during three online auctions, on Nov. 19 - 23, Nov. 26 - 30 and Dec. 3 - 7. To preview the pieces online and to place a bid, go to The artwork is great for a holiday gift and bidding is open to everyone. Gallery hours and admission prices for the exhibits are online too.

The program was developed by children's book author and illustrator Grace Lin a few years ago. Just after getting married, her husband Robert Mercer was diagnosed with sarcoma, a cancer of the soft tissue and bone. While Mercer was receiving treatment, Lin told him a bedside story about a mouse that couldn't go outside to play in the snow. The story grew into a children's book, titled "Robert's Snow." When Lin was finishing the artwork for the book, her husband had a relapse, so her colleagues rallied to create Robert's Snow: for Cancer's Cure to increase awareness about sarcoma and to raise research funding. Mercer passed away in August 2007, but Robert's Snow: for Cancer's Cure continues as a legacy to his life.

Robert's Snow: for Cancer's Cure is in its third year and has already raised more than $200,000 for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which is recognized by the National Cancer Institute as a world leader in cancer research and care. Dana-Farber is renowned for using its discoveries to improve cancer treatment for children and adults around the world.


Elizabeth Chernack
(617) 632-4687

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Why isn't he blogging?

Okay, this is not exactly kidlit related, but bear with me. Sometimes you run across someone who deserves to be heard. And, slap me if I'm wrong, but there might be a perception that "soldier" and "good writer" do not go together. I'd like to dispel that thought, here and now.

From a soldier overseas who I'm not at liberty to name (but his callsign is Starbaby):

I don’t know who had the bright idea that civilians should wear black Kevlar helmets. Aside from the fact that black is always a poor color for the deserts, black Kevlar coal-scuttle helmets went out with the Waffen SS. Admittedly,there was a short, humorous resurgence in “Spaceballs”. This comes to mind because civilians, obviously, travel on the same helicopters that I do. So, w here I show up in battledress, with enough body armor to sink a coal barge, assault pack, helmet, weapons, ammo, gloves, eye protection and water, lots of these folks show up (with laptop) in their Georgio Armani designer plate carriers (which successfully protect both lungs, the heart, the top of the liver, the appendix and about six vertebra), safari shirts from Banana Republic, and the obligatory cargo pants from Land’s End. And the black helmet. And every one of them is making more money than I do. God save us from Rick Moranis’ legions of doom.

And here he is, skewering those

who stock the local military store:
Also, in a macabre piece of retail brilliance, we now have an entire display rack of little Gold Star Banners, to send home to Mom. Blue stars mean that the family has a member serving in the military. Gold stars mean that a family member has been killed in action. So, we have an entire display for the unusually fatalistic and obsessively deranged person who plans everything in advance. This person can buy one and stick it in their underwear drawer, in the sure knowledge that if the worst happens (like a heart attack in front of the ice cream bar), somebody will mail their personal effects home, and they will have been ahead of the power curve on the banner thing. Morons.

P.S. I take it back. This post is kidlit friendly. Upon further perusal of his emails, I found references to "lions, tigers, and bears, (o
h my)," "all dogs cringe when yelled at (thank you, Terry Pratchett)," and of course, the Cookie Monster sponsorship. So I went for the goal and asked about his favorite childhood books and voila! he gave me this very respectable, totally kidlit worthy list, complete with age references:

The Lorax (6)

Uncle Remus Stories (3/4) - the Disney version. They had to take that one away from me, actually.

Chronicles of Narnia (8)

The Hobbit (9)

The Lord of the Rings (11)

The Dark is Rising Series (13)

I didn't ask him if he still reads children's books, but something tells me he might. I wonder how his reviews would sound? With apologies (and thanks) to Starbaby:

"Someone, please, slap a black helmet on Madonna. And tell her the Post Exchange stocks enough crap without Lotsa De Casha taking shelf space away from Slim Jims and cookies."

National Depression Screening Day

National Depression Screening Day is today: October 11, 2007.

Read my earlier post, if you wish. But more importantly, go and talk to someone if you think you should. Here's a map of the available screening sites and here's an online self-screening that will help you if you're unsure about whether to go at all.

Share this post as needed.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Rx: Books?

When you're feeling bad, do you want a book that matches your black mood or one that, with its grace and lightness, might cheer you up? Do you prefer to escape into a book for several distracting hours or use it as a deliberate guide to the "whys" of it all?

Sometimes, I need beauty. Pure, unadulterated beauty, but usually, I go straight to nature for that. Or to the ice cream in the freezer. Sometimes, though, I need there to be a butt-ugly billboard that I can stare at. It simply says: Life Reeks. Or I need a dip into the blunt words of Ecclesiastes, which--no disrespect--could be that billboard, only thousands of years old: "Senseless! Everything is utterly senseless!"

In fact, I think my pattern might be: I want the visual, tactile, sensory experience of art, nature, and ice cream if I'm looking for the Beauty Cure, and I want the structure, intelligence and intimacy of text when I want the Blunt Truth Cure.

What about you?

BTW, this post has nothing to do with my writing life. I found out my niece has to go back for more cancer treatments after just sixteen weeks in the clear.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Gossip Column

Ever see the fast-talking Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday? No? How about the modern day equivalent: Betsy Bird of Fuse 8? (Go look at that pic of Rosalind and tell me Betsy isn't channeling her.) Betsy has posted FOUR essays on the 1st Annual Kidlitosphere Conference. Me? I've barely had time to digest my food from the conference, let alone what I did/saw/thought. I'm also terrible at the tidy overview. I was the one in class who never took notes; I just listened. Thus, the following...


Laini Taylor met her husband, Jim Di Bartolo, on the first day of Art School in the parking lot. She was a Navy brat. And now she's an awesome author with pink hair and a cool illustrator husband. This makes me feel good about the futures of my own two children, who are also growing up military. And! And! She has a new blog about writing, Not For Robots, which makes me feel immensely better about my struggles with revision just now. I'm wearing the button she gave me as inspiration.

Ellen Klages can name five kinds of blue cheese. Just ask her. She also spoke up bravely for those who HATE the term "kid lit." This doesn't include me. I only hate it if it's "kiddie lit" but still, kudos to Ellen, who knows how to speak her mind.

Gregory K. knows the real purpose of the appendix. And would have advised me to name this post: "Sixty Boobs Meet in Chicago," which would have caused my stat ratings to go through the roof. If I had named it "Judy Blume and Sixty Boobs Meet in Chicago," I would have attracted a "narrowcast" of just the right crowd. (I know, Judy wasn't there, but her little sister was. My, how rumors spread...)

Adrienne can pull a cute pink t-shirt out of thin air. And next time, I'm coming to the conference early so I can shop with her. That girl covered some ground!

Esme Raji Codell knows exactly how wrong Meet the Author Events can go, and thus, provides posters and cookies and lovely signs, and makes every single person feel loved and part of the circle. Please, someone put her in charge of the National Office of Children's Authors Book Visits: Policies and Plans. And pay her a lot so she never leaves.

Imps act rather impish if you sit between them. They pass notes. They make jokes about balls and nostrils. They look oh-so-sweet and innocent, but those are some wickedly funny and sharp minds those two have. One might even call them juggernauts of the kidlitosphere, if one wanted to risk sparking a rash of witty give and take.

Robin either knows herself very well or has an evil internal clock. On the first coffee run, she told me to meet her in SEVEN minutes in the lobby. The next morning, she instructed me to appear in THREE minutes. What? Does she not do five/ten/fifteen minutes intervals like the rest of us? Where are those missing minutes, people?

Confidential to Sara: Someone tell that poor girl not to order only one hard-boiled egg at an IHOP. (Okay, I knew this, in theory, but I'd already had a large chocolate mocha and a bagel with cream cheese and a banana from Starbucks with my coffee buddy--see above--that morning. But when the egg came in the little dish, I felt silly, like a kid at a birthday party whose mom told the hostess not to give her child any cake. Luckily, Tricia saved the day by sharing a delicious potato pancake with me.)

And apparently, there was kidlit action going on at home, as well. When my plane (Susan of Wizards Wireless was also on it) landed at National Airport, right on time, the pilot informed us that we would have to wait indefinitely on the tarmac until a gate opened up. (What? A plane landing is a COMPLETE SURPRISE?) So my husband had to spend an hour in the cell phone parking lot. I apologized when I finally got into the car, and he smiled and said: "No problem. I finished this great book." It was Cecil Castellucci's YA novel, Boy Proof. The one she'd signed in L.A., but I hadn't even read yet. As soon as I do, we're going to gossip about it.

Gossip: Cause that's what happens when I don't take notes.

***Thanks to Mark and Andrea of Just One More Book for the awesome photos!

***Next year's conference will be in Portland, under the leadership of Jone (MsMac.) Make your plans now!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Poetry Friday: One thing leads to another

I started with this quote:
"Poetry has never been written with the intention of making young people irritated, bored, anxious or humiliated, and yet the consequence of the test and exam system often does just that." -Michael Rosen in The Guardian

...and I followed it to the entire article: Michael Rosen's suggestions for a poetry-friendly classroom

...which reminded me of these oft-quoted lines from a Billy Collins poem:

"But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it."

(Full text here: Introduction to Poetry)
...and then I found this at his website:

...instructions on how to read poems on your iPod. (Yes, that's read, not listen.) You can store up to 1000 poems!

I think "young people" (and old) might have fun with this. And I don't think it would be torturing the poems too much. What do you think? Anybody tried this?

...but there's more. I Googled "poem in my pocket" to find some low-tech ways of carrying poems around, which led me to an alternate universe:

Poetry Thursday

It looks like this blogging project ended in August, but the archives are stuffed with good ideas and great links. Check out their "(completely and totally optional) ideas" category for inspirations like these: "the one with all the rules, Part II" where the players leave an original line of poetry in the comment section and the other players choose one and write a poem from it! Cool, huh?

So, in the spirit of one thing leads to another: leave a line of an original poem in the comments here, and if you wish, take one away to play with. (If you do write a poem using one of the lines for a future Poetry Friday, it would be nice to link back to the person whose line inspired it.)

I'll start you off with a line that I love, but have never been able to use in a poem:

She had the knack of folding paper so that it reflected light...

Poetry Friday is hosted this week by whimsy.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Duck, Duck, Duck....Otter!

This quote is inspiring me as I rewrite, revise, redo, rethink, and remodel my manuscript:

Neil Gaiman: "We (authors) don't train very easily because we're like otters. You know, a dolphin you can train. You can say, 'Do this, and you'll get a fish.' With an otter, if it does something cool and you give it a fish, next time it will try and do something cooler." (Full interview here.)*

Now, back to "doing something cooler!"

*Thanks to Kelly Fineman's LiveJournal for pointing me to the interview.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

National Depression Screening Day: Oct 11

(I'm posting this several days in advance so the word will get out. Feel free to forward it or re-post it anywhere you think it might be helpful.)

Is it a stretch to call clinical depression "An Evil Spell"?

When I had finished a draft of Letters From Rapunzel, and before I gave it to anyone else, I showed it to my sister and asked her: Is this how you feel?

"Yes," she said. "And more."

I had described The Evil Spell as:
"...being locked in a dark room, and you've forgotten your name, why you're there, where the door is..."
To my words, she added:
"and even that there is a door."
That was several years ago, and this year, after the book was published, she helped me again. She gathered her thoughts, put them in writing, and sent me this:

"Once upon a time, there were two little girls who slept in a wide bed under a rose-patterned comforter. Before they fell asleep, the younger (not by much) of the two would describe for her sister the spectral objects appearing before her eyes: 'Look...a wedding ring!...there's a piano! I see a mushroom...' The older sister strained to see what her sibling was identifying, calling out by name in the darkness. Sometimes, she could almost believe she saw those filaments of her sister's imagination, but mostly she enjoyed hearing her voice exclaiming, 'Look! There goes a...'

Reading Letters From Rapunzel, I heard my sister's voice again, saw her imagination forming images into words on a page. Piecing together letters, lists, fortunes, essays, free-writing, and fairy tales into a telling collage. Believing that if she can only name what she sees in the deep space of her imagination, others will glimpse the fairy trails also. Hoping that they will be as delighted and comforted as I was.

Thanks, Sara, for keeping me company in the dark and for having the courage to break the Spell of Silence."

Ah, Sister Bear. You showed how me how.

National Depression Screening Day is next week: October 11, 2007. You don't have to be alone in the dark.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Good is the Enemy of the Great

"Put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it." - Colette (thanks to The Longstockings for the quote)

This is what I'm doing this week: dismantling the manuscript for my second book.

I'm fairly certain I will be doing this many times in my career: destroying something in order to make it better. So I'm taking notes on the process, and posting them here for Future Me to read. Because I know Future Me is going to write many, many things in need of extensive revision, and I know she will feel like the world is ending each time, but Future Me: it's okay. The world ends and begins again. So do writers.


1) First, take care of the instrument that will be doing the revision. Yup, that would be YOU, Future Me. Don't even think of talking to anyone until you do. Try this: Eat eggplant rollatini with lots of gooey cheese. Run to the salon and let the shampooer massage every bad thought out of your head. Sweat it out at the gym, or better yet, outside, including getting grass in your belly button and dirt down your back. If these things don't work, find something else. Be kind.

2) Restore your confidence. Talk to someone who's known you a long time. Let them read your manuscript, if possible. Know that they love you, and will give honest feedback. Write something completely new: a poem, an essay, a short story, a blog entry, a recipe. Remember how much fun it is to create something.

3) Agree with yourself to try the revision, but on the condition that it's only a trial. No biggie. You'll try it just to prove that your first way was the right way, the only way, the immutable, unerring, perfect way! Or not. Usually not.

4) Look upon your first draft as research. You have so much to draw from! Play with your words. Go crazy. What do you have to lose? They're words, only words...and they can all be found in the dictionary again, should you need them.

5) Read for inspiration. See what great, truly great, books are out there. Imagine what would have happened if those writers had stopped at good.

Best of luck, Future Me! And hey: those are some great books you've written. Really great.

Monday, October 1, 2007

National Book Festival

The National Book Festival,
Washington, D.C.
Sept. 29, 2007

This family waited with hundreds of other fans
to have their Festival poster signed by Mercer Mayer.

Click here for a better look at the magnificent poster

I really, really wanted to get on this bus,
but the line (on the other side) was too long.
So I ate ice cream instead.

The Schedule for the Teens and Children Pavilion
where I spent most of my time.
AWESOME: Webcasts are now up for many of the speakers in this tent!
Here's Gene Luen Yang's webcast

In the Library of Congress pavilion...

...I wrote a shoutout to Lloyd Alexander's Book of Three.
(Nearby are tributes to One Hundred Years of Solitude
and Don Quixote and the Captain Underpants author, Dav Pilkey.)

Want to host your own Book Festival?

The Library of Congress has podcasts, webcasts,
and a How-To guide.