Monday, December 31, 2007

What a list like this means

I held off on posting my 2007 Reading List, thinking I'd squeeze in one more book before Tuesday, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen. (Too much cooking and eating and game-playing planned for New Year's Eve.) But as I read back over this list, I'm profoundly grateful. Having a list like this means:

  • I know how to read. (Thank you, Mom and Dad.)
  • I have access to books. (Thank you, public libraries, indie bookstores, and the Internet.)
  • I'm free to read what I want. (Thank you, intellectual freedom, and all who defend it.)
  • There are so many books worth reading. (Thank you, children and YA book authors everywhere. You are truly my heroes and heroines. You write the finest books on the planet, you love what you do, and you inspire me.)

In no particular order, what I read in 2007:

Children's and YA

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key (Jack Gantos)

Joey Pigza Loses Control (Jack Gantos)

The Twenty-One Balloons (William Pene du Bois)

Restless Spirit: The Life and Work of Dorothea Lange (Elizabeth Partridge)

Leepike Ridge (N.D. Wilson)

White Time (Margo Lanagan)

The True Meaning of Smekday (Adam Rex)

The Arrival (Shaun Tan)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian (Sherman Alexie)

How to Steal a Dog (Barbara O'Connor)

Robot Dreams (Sara Varon)

Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets (Paul B. Janeczko)

Evil Genius (Catherine Jinks)

Story of a Girl (Sara Zarr)

The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County (Janice Harrington)

Punk Farm (Jarrett J. Krosoczka)

Oliver Finds His Way (Phyllis Root)

What Baby Wants (Phyllis Root)

Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich (Adam Rex)

Flotsam (David Wiesner)

Cassie Was Here (Caroline Hickey)

Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature (Robin Brande)

The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)

Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbringer (Laini Taylor)

D.A. (Connie Willis)

Hattie Big Sky (Kirby Larson)

The Talented Clementine (Sara Pennypacker)

Rules (Cynthia Lord)

The White Darkness (Geraldine McCaughrean)

Flora Segunda (Ysabeau Wilce)

The Plain Janes (Cecil Castellucci)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J.K. Rowling)

Framed (Frank Cottrell Boyce)

Going for the Record (Julie Swanson)

An Abundance of Katherines (John Green)

Looking For Alaska (John Green)

The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Brian Selznick)

Notes From a Liar and Her Dog (Gennifer Choldenko)

American Born Chinese (Gene Luen Yang)

Spanking Shakespeare (Jake Wizner)

Frindle *re-read (Andrew Clements)

Adult Reads (Mostly Non-fiction)

Take Joy: The Writers Guide to Loving the Craft (Jane Yolen)

99 Ways to Tell a Story (Matt Madden)

Improv Wisdom: Don't Prepare, Just Show Up (Patricia Ryan Madson)

Naked reading: uncovering what tweens need to become lifelong readers (Teri Lesesne)

Eat, Pray, Love (Elizabeth Gilbert)

American Gods (Neil Gaiman)

In addition to

A daily newspaper (sometimes two)

Magazines: Real Simple, Cooking Light, InStyle (no, I'm not embarrassed...I like reading about shoes I'll never own) and Golf for Women

The Horn Book

Professional bulletins for SCBWI and The Authors Guild

Poetry (mostly online or from anthologies I own) Here's one by Mary Oliver, which Endicott Redux reminded me of, just today.

My own manuscripts, more times than I really wanted to

Many, many, many lovely blogs, of such a number that I'm currently refusing to admit it to myself. Thank you all for my daily doses of beauty, wit, wisdom and fun.

The only thing I regret is that my 2007 list seems far too short. In fact, it is much shorter than many of those compiled by you super-hero-powered readers, who I think, must have two extra sets of retractable eyes or simply, more dedication and fierce word hunger than I do. But in my defense, I also launched my first novel, and wrote my second, which must count for something. :)

Hey! Isn't 2008 a leap year? That'll give me one more day to read!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Why Everyone Needs Writers

This makes me laugh whenever I read it.

From Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's joint press statement about the writers strike:

"We would like to return to work with our writers. If we cannot, we would like to express our ambivalence, but without our writers, we are unable to express something as nuanced as ambivalence."
Okay, NOW I really am going on a blog break. I'm ambivalent about it, but I'm doing it anyway.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Poetry Friday: 96% of the Universe is Dark

After reading this article in The American Scholar, I was inspired to create an occasional poem. This is dedicated to all my readers, on the longest night, which is also the beginning of the light.

96% of the Universe is

Open the door
and greet the moment
the dark begins. 

The dark, like a road
poured to your door
has brought to you the world,
to shelter from brilliance.

Open the door 
and greet the moment
the dark begins.

The world spins
by a twisting dark scarf
pulled from its shoulders.

Open the door 
and greet the moment
the dark begins.

Every hand! All hands! 
To to edge! Catch hold 
of the dark that unrolls
before your door.

Open your door.
Open your door. The moment.
The moment the dark begins.

All! Pull! Strive!
We must turn
the earth ourselves
this night.

Sink your hands into the dark
cloth, fold upon fold.
Plunge your hands in,

your little warmed air,
coddled in closed throat,
rips from you,

breath taken by the
fierce strings.

Hold to. Hold to. 
Lean back and pull.

Not every door has opened this night.
Not every hand has taken hold.
Not every breath sacrificed.

But enough.
Enough, if you pull.
Pull! Take hold of the night!

The dark cloth, the heavy bolt,
the hours and hours
you roll into your hands,

strand by strand,
you put away the longest night
like a beloved carpet,
rolled tight against wear.

Each takes a little inside,
a thin fiber of dark breath
hidden until called out,

when night has starved
itself into summer
and cries stars.

Come out and greet
with me the moment 
the dark begins

and you will have rooms
and rooms of beauty

each other day,
every other day,
every other thread

all the night and day
will be yours.

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

I read this poem out loud at my poetry page, A Cast of One.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by AmoXcalli.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Gift and a Blog Break

I went postless yesterday, but I promise, I was blogging. Just not publishing. I think I have my blog poetry gift for you wrapped and ready to go for Poetry Friday. Then it's a Blog Break for me, while I enjoy the holidays with my family.

Today, though, I want to share a recipe for Green Chile Chicken Stew. It's easy, delicious, and gets better the next day. Perfect for the crazy business that this time of year brings. Best of all, you can read a book while the pot does all the work. :)

Green Chile Chicken Stew
(Serves 4, but can be easily doubled if you have a large pot)

1 pound of chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 T. oil
1/4 cup flour
1 quart good quality chicken broth
3 cups red potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 16-oz jar green tomatillo salsa (Frontera is the best and can be mail-ordered or found at Whole Foods and Bloom. If you can't find it, try to get a green salsa in which the tomatillos are roasted. SuperTarget sometimes has a good one.)
1 can creamed corn
1/2 can chopped green chiles (can use whole can or omit, depending on how hot you like it!)
1/2 tsp garlic powder

Toppings: chopped avocado and fresh cilantro

Saute chicken in oil until cooked through. Stir in flour and coat all the pieces. Gradually add the chicken broth, stirring as you go so the sauce thickens without lumps. Bring to a low boil and add the potatoes. Cook, uncovered, until the potatoes are tender. Add salsa, corn, garlic, and canned chiles. Simmer for 30 minutes, or longer if you have time.

Serve topped with chopped avocado and fresh cilantro. Good with corn muffins.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Is this what they do in real offices?

"Actionable Quotes"

(I think that's business speak for: read it and DO something.)


"You know you're a writer when you have more office supplies than an office supply store and you have to force yourself to "just keep walking" past the office supply aisle at the store because you're supposed to be Christmas shopping for friends and family."
---from Julie Prince


Check out Julie Prince's "
You Know You're a Writer" post and add a "you know" moment in the comments.

Or start your own "You know you're a reader when..." post.

Or simply walk into an office supply store and touch everything. Really. They aren't picky about stuff like that at Staples or Office Depot. They like it when you sit in the chairs and stroke the paper samples and sniff the banana-flavored magic markers.


"If you’re painting in watercolor in subfreezing temperatures, don’t replace the water with white wine, because that freezes, too. Use vodka instead."
---from Gurney Journey (a blog that is rapidly becoming my window into the practicalities of the artist's world)


If you live in the frozen Mid-West, try this and report back. What does painting with vodka feel like? Worldly? Dedicated? Insane?

If you don't live in the frozen tundra, or you're not an artist, use this tidbit to brainstorm how temperature affects your reading or writing. We all know there's such a thing as a Beach Read. Is there a Snow Read? A Hurricane Read?

No matter what, no drinking of paint! I do hear Dabadoodle is delicious.


"All the Wit of the World... is Not in One Head" ---wisdom saying


Get your hands on the old game "Wise and Otherwise." The premise is simple: players get one half of a "wisdom saying" from around the world. Then each person comes up with the second half and tries to fool the other players into voting for it, Balderdash-style. Good for all ages and hee-larious! Really. We have a Hall of Fame in the box where we save the best ones. One of my favorites? When given the prompt "I don't want it but..." my ten year old son came up with "I claim it in the name of Spain!" (Political humor at that age. You just know the boy is going to write for The Simpsons one day.)

Try it now! Here's the first half:

There's an old English saying: "Cheese and money should always..."

*Leave your answer in the comments, and then see if it beats the original here.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

How a Book is Made

From the blog Stories From Space:

I love the purple background, and the way the castle tilts, as if it's about to slide off the edge of the known brick world.

This is also how a book is made. It's a sand castle, constructed out of thousands of grains of words. It's precarious to write, always in danger of crumbling, and sometimes, we doubt it will survive. And yet, when it's done, it holds its shape; it feels enchanted; it invites us to tilt our heads and look at the world in a new way.

P.S. If you're not into sand castles, how about Moss Graffiti?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Contest Alert!

Just a quick post to say that Melodye Shore has a review up of The Sandbox: Dispatches From the Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. (You may remember that I offered to donate a copy of this book to the first person who commented and was willing to review it as a YA read.) And, clever person that she is, she has a contest to go along with her review. Head over there now to read her thoughtful, concise review and to enter the give-away. (Deadline: Saturday night!)

Poetry Friday: We have been persuaded...

If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” ---Antoine de Saint-Exupery (found at NaPlWriMo site)

"A play is a heard thing. I learned, to my wonder, that there is an enormous difference in time between a comma, a semicolon and a period, for example. And that a playwright notates very much the way a composer notates a score." ---Edward Albee (found at The Playwriting Seminars: Storytelling)

Are plays poetry? I say most of them are.

Are speeches poetry? I say the best of them are.

One of my favorite speeches was given in 1588 by Elizabeth I at Tilbury to her troops, who were awaiting an anticipated invasion of the Spanish Armada. It was also part of a high school play I was in, a montage of scenes about the queens of England written by my drama teacher as readers theater. I suddenly recalled it this week when I heard Helen Mirren deliver the spine-tingling lines as Elizabeth I in the HBO miniseries.

She did a much better job than I did, but at the time, I reveled in this speech. Every time I delivered it, I found my heart exploding. Legions of my troops spread out before me. I gave it everything my sixteen-year-old self could, and the age-old words did, indeed, teach me to "long for the endless immensity of the sea," the sea into which poetry launches us.

Deliver these words out loud, as Elizabeth did, if you dare. Then tell me if you think they are poetry.

We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety,
to take heed how we commit our selves to armed multitudes,
for fear of treachery;

but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust
my faithful and loving people.

Let tyrants fear, I have always so behaved myself that, under God,
I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard
in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects;
and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time,

not for my recreation and disport,
but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle,
to live and die amongst you all;
to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people,
my honour and my blood, even in the dust.

I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman;

but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too,
and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe,
should dare to invade the borders of my realm;
to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me,
I myself will take up arms,

I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder
of every one of your virtues in the field.

I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns;
and We do assure you in the word of a prince,
they shall be duly paid you.

In the mean time, my lieutenant general shall be in my stead,
than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject;
not doubting but by your obedience to my general,
by your concord in the camp,

and your valour in the field,
we shall shortly have a famous victory

over those enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.

Hear an audio clip of this speech by Anniina Jokinen

Helen Mirren as Elizabeth in HBO's miniseries

Commentary on the political brilliance of this poem/speech (scroll down to #4)

More of Elizabeth I's poetry

Poetry Friday is hosted today by The Miss Rhumphius Effect

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Thinking with a Pencil

“The ability to think with a pencil is the core of surviving in a 3D world,” illustration director Chuck Pyle told me. “We’re not here to train them for today or tomorrow. We want to give our students the skill set they can use forty years out.” ---James Gurney (of Dinotopia fame) reporting on his visit to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

The ability to "think with a pencil" is at the core of training writers, too. I'm doing a writing workshop for eight classes of sixth-graders next month.

I have hundreds of shiny red pencils to give out,
with the words READ*WRITE*BELIEVE on them.

What I have to do now is figure out the best way to show them how a simple piece of wood can help them THINK.

Here's my preliminary brainstorming:
  • Thinking with a pencil is more fun than thinking only inside your head. (How to show this? A video of me as a cavewoman, trying to "use" a pencil for the first time? Blow bubbles to illustrate how unwritten thoughts evaporate? Learn how to flip a pencil?)
  • There are many ways of thinking with a pencil: The free write. The story map. The doodle. The list. The cartoon. The sketch. The outline. The interview. The poem. The short story. The mechanical drawing. The essay. The novel. Even MadLibs can be a way of thinking. (I thought I might show some great examples from great thinkers.) The important thing is that thinking with a pencil is both visual and kinetic. It makes your thoughts visible and physical.
  • If you get stuck, you can always chew on your pencil. Or sharpen it a lot. Or tap out your poem to see how the rhythm runs. Do NOT, however, poke someone with it. (I can show the pencil lead stuck in my right hand as a cautionary tale.)
  • The more you think with a pencil, the better you will get. (I can illustrate this visually by using my old sketches from drawing class. Also, I could show the sketch that began Letters From Rapunzel and show how it turned into a book.)
  • We could take a boring sentence on a giant sheet of paper, and use a pencil to think out loud and improve it. (Maybe we could use a GIANT pencil?)

I still have a lot of work to do on this idea.

Better get out my pencil.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Open it! Open it!

This was one of the best presents I ever received.

My daughter made it for me, when she was about eleven. It's a square of cloth, which she tied with a ribbon. Look what's inside:

As she explained to me:
"whenever you get stuck writing, you can reach into the Idea Bag and pull out something."

OK, now, beyond the fact that this is a wonderful, hand-made gift, I was bowled over by how she took my writing seriously. She knew what I did besides be her mom, and she gave me a fun, practical way to do my job better. How great is that?

Here's a list of what's in the Idea Bag. I'm not certain which of these things were in the original bag, because I've added to mine over the years. (Which is another great thing about this gift!)

a small red block
a sparkly butterfly hairclip
a pink jack
a sliver of green quartz
a psychedelic marble
a ribbon rose off a sweater
a flattened penny
a tiny figure of an astronaut with an American flag
a clay pretzel
a key
a shiny penny
a screw
a black bicycle
a rock with a cross painted on it
a pink foam hair roller
a ceramic owl
a dragonfly, made of twisted wire and rock
a black clay kitten
a pair of red plastic shoes
a multi-colored friendship bracelet
a translucent, ear-shaped rock
a button
a folded note on yellow, lined paper
a jade stone with the word MERCY on it
a handmade necklace with a hand-painted sun
a fat, red and white die (now showing the number 3)

Do you need an Idea Bag? I'm thinking that on those days when the Big Things are overwhelming, a few small things could help...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ten Breaths

Yesterday, I had my toenails painted by a former Tibetan monk. And he told me the secret to a less stressful life.

That sounds like a zippy opening for a chick-lit novel, doesn't it? But it is, in fact, what happened to me yesterday afternoon. The funniest thing is that I'm still marveling at how my life can surprise me. I somehow had the idea that I knew where the surprises in my life would come from---and isn't that the dumbest thing you've ever heard? They wouldn't be surprises if I knew which corner of the sky to look for them in. They wouldn't be unexpected if I could anticipate the moment they would happen. And yet, I'd grown comfortable with my "surprises" happening on days like Christmas, when I finally open the gifts I have carefully been avoiding knowing too much about. Or surprise! I won the snowflake I had been actively bidding on in the Robert's Snow auction. Surprise me! I might say to the sushi chef, knowing full well that he would put delectable, fresh sashimi on my plate.

So, I deserved what I got when I took my toes into that salon. I deserved the slightly confused, weird feeling I got when a man instead of a woman walked out to say he'd be giving me my pedicure. I deserved the first fifteen minutes of watching him, tensely and critically, to see if he could handle the delicate job of smoothing my exercise-roughened feet. It wasn't until I mentioned that I did yoga that who he was emerged.

He told me that he did yoga, too. That he had studied metaphysics as a Tibetan monk for eighteen years. That he had come to the US to be part of a Buddhist community that had since moved. That he had had several other jobs, including caring for Alzheimer patients and preparing sushi for Whole Foods. He told me, when I asked, that the traditional Tibetan diet doesn't include small animals, like chicken or fish, because each animal's life is considered equal to every other, so it's more ethical to kill one large animal, like a yak, which can feed an entire village.

He also shared with me a quick tip for stress relief: Ten Breaths. No special breath, he warned. That's too tiring. And don't think that more than ten is better...more is just intimidating, and you won't do it. Just STOP what you are doing, count ten of your normal breaths, and then resume your life. Repeat, if you need to. He said it was like rebooting your computer, running one program to quiet all the other ones that had become locked up.

This guy wasn't a guru. He did kind of ramble. I wondered why he had left the Buddhist community. But I can tell you that he surprised me. Every time I look at my freshly painted toenails, I think:

Ten toes.
Ten breaths.
Can it really be that simple?

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Boxer from the Drawing Club

What's the point of writing about something that's been written about a thousand times? (I'm talking fiction here.)

This is why:

Because no two people stand at the same place in the circle.
Because what you choose to see is important.
Because I only get to live one life. If I can read what you write about, I get to cheat a little.

Go here to see how students in the Drawing Club interpret a 5-10 minute pose of "The Boxer."

Saturday, December 8, 2007


Not a new post. Just a note to say that I added this to my Poetry Friday poem, "Don't":

"Hear me read it at my other site, A Cast of One (QuickTime or MP3 format) And I'm warning you: I sound grouchy. I have a cold and a hoarse voice, and yeah, I think the poem sounds good that way."

Oh, and please check out Bottom Shelf Books, where Minh Le transcribes the "Director's Commentary" from Ratatouille, and Finding Wonderland's link to this article on "Why Don't We Love Science Ficiton?" and TadMack's post on "The Possibility of Lemonade." Some of the best reading I've done all week.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Poetry Friday: Don't

It's not like a glass of milk.
Wouldn't you rather have
new pajamas? You can't think
it's going to stay there
on your nightstand after
you put it down. It's worse
than pepperoni pizza for heartburn.
Snakes! Those lines will become
them, you know. In your dreams.
I'm warning you. Or ropes.
You'd be better off with a nice blanket.
Curl closer to the one you love.
Don't read a poem.
You might as well hire
a band to play outside
your window all night.

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

NEW: Hear me read it at my other site, A Cast of One (QuickTime or MP3 format) And I'm warning you: I sound grouchy. I have a cold and a hoarse voice, and yeah, I think the poem sounds good that way.

Poetry Friday is at Becky's Book Reviews today.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

To The Edge of the Forest

I know you're going to read the latest issue of The Edge of the Forest. I mean, Anne Levy interviews Jane Yolen and Kim Winters profiles Esther Hershenhorn. You don't want to miss that. Then there's Little Willow, talking about "Books That Opened Your Eyes" and MotherReader on "Bedtime with the Cybils" and lots and lots of great reviews and oh yes.... there's me, being interviewed by Kelly Herold as this month's "Blogging Writer." She made me look pretty good with her impressive questions, yes she did.

Go on now, go read everything---and I do mean everything---in this fabulous magazine. (One of my favorite parts is Kid Picks, where kids talk about what they're reading.) I don't expect to see you back here for several hours. Days, even.

But when you do saunter back from The Edge of the Forest, I have a small follow-up to my interview posted below. You see, Kelly tricked me by asking about my "Rules For Blogging," and after I made them up on the spot, I've got to stick by them. So here they are:

1. No meanness.
2. Be useful.
3. Show your passion.
4. Be not afraid.
I hope to do just that. Thanks for your support.

P.S. Comments on Blogger were wonky yesterday. I wasn't getting email notification when some of you left comments, but I think I found them anyway and tried to reply. Also, if you chose the "send me follow-up comments by email" option for a particular post, I don't think that was working either. It still may not be. I think the "subscribe to comments" feed is working, though. I hope they get this straightened out soon, because I love the back-and-forth of talking with all of you! It's one of the reasons I became a "Blogging Writer" in the first place.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Seven Things on a Wednesday

Jennie tagged me to post Seven Things About Me. Run away now if you'd rather not know.

1. I would like to be Aretha Franklin. Yup, voice and body. If I can't have it in this life, I'm hoping we can swap in heaven.

2. I still have a piece of pencil lead in my right hand knuckle from where a boy jabbed me in third grade. (What did I do to him? I honestly don't remember.)

3. I don't really mind spiders, snakes, or mice. I hate bees and eels. Maybe it's the double "ee" sound.

4. I once pretended to have a major crush on The Bay City Rollers because my best friend did.

5. I like camping and staying in five star hotels; fried baloney and Rachael Ray's Beef Tenderloin Bites; getting as gross as possible when exercising and as glamorous as possible when dressing up in slinky gowns; watching My Name is Earl on TV and Shakespeare on stage. I do not like choosing just one thing.

6. I once had a job where I posed tourists for photos with a cardboard cutout of Ronald Reagan. Please don't hold it against me---he was president at the time.

7. I think Tuck Everlasting has the most beautiful opening line ever: "The first week in August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning." I think The High King has the wisest closing line ever: "And in time, only the bards knew the truth of it."

If you want to play along, consider yourself tagged. Or tell me which of these seven things you think is the most blog-worthy.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Who thinks about this kind of stuff?

Writers struggle with timelines. We established that yesterday. Today, I'm grateful that I'm not an artist. Then I'd have to wrestle with questions like:
Hoo-boy. I would so be getting an "F" in that class. Every semester.

Have you ever thought about how the world (and your life) would be different if you were judged a success or a failure by a completely different standard than the one you're coping with now? I do. If the world were based on musical talent, for instance---if a child had to sing on key to pass first grade---I would be in deep trouble. What if language were musical notes? What if job applications required that you sight read music and harmonize a capella with your boss? What if the driver's license examiner used a xylophone to convey her instructions to parallel park?

Or what if being able to re-build a car engine were the most important thing? What if all high school students had to master the rumba in order to graduate? What if you had to tame a wild boar before you could vote?

Yes, people, these are the things I think about. I also imagine what would happen if I were whisked off to another world with only the items in my pocket. Could I survive with only a rubber band, a cough drop, and a Target receipt? Maybe those items would have magical properties in the new land. Maybe I would find a hole in my pocket, through which I could reach into another dimension and pull out more useful stuff. Maybe I would meet a strange bear, who was really an enchanted prince, and he carried in his bearcoat pocket a scarlet piece of silken string that he...

Oh, it is a good, good thing that there are books in this world. And that I'm allowed to write them.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Time Stops for No Writer

I have a love/hate relationship with time. Mostly, HATE. My least favorite thing to do as a writer is struggle with the timeline of a story. I want to cram more hours in a character's day than is possible. I want some weeks to have at least nine or ten days. And then, when I need the story to get to the Next Big Event, I want months to speed by without attracting the attention of the Time Police. Yes, I know, as Writer Goddess of the story, I can manipulate the passage of time in my own telling of it. But there are limits to what I can do. The sun must rise, for instance. (I think that's known as the Hemingway rule.) Seasons must follow each other in order. If the characters go to school, I must keep track of the days of the week, and not send them to class on a Sunday.

I would really stink at a farm story, like Charlotte's Web, which demands that the writer pay strict attention to time and season, like how many hours of daylight there are in a early winter's day, the warming and cooling of the earth, and the lifespan of a spider. How did E.B. keep up with all that?

For Letters From Rapunzel, I tried to duck the whole issue of time in my rough draft by telling myself the story should have a "once upon a time" feel to it. My editor thought NOT. She said I should consider letting the reader know at least how much time passes between each letter. As I revised along those lines, I suddenly realized that I had made a major mistake in not dealing with time.

Of course, someone who feels as trapped as Rapunzel does in her tower would think about the passage of time! They would probably, in fact, obsess over it. Don't prisoners mark the days of their captivity on their cell walls? So I began adding, at the top of each letter, not only which day it was, but also which minute it was. I discovered that a letter written at 2:02 in the morning under your bedcovers with a flashlight has a completely different feel to it than one written at 3:02 in the afternoon in the boring confines of Homework Club.

I don't think authors should detail the passing of every second in their books, any more than they should dwell too much on descriptions of the weather. But this weekend, I made sure that the characters in my next book aren't showing up at school on a Saturday morning. They go to bed after enough hours have passed (if their parents make them) and if they don't, there's a mention of why not. I put a clock in their classroom, and the teacher looks at it (unhappily, I might add) and I even---this is a triple back flip---mention a time zone difference between one character and another.

What about you? Do you notice what an author does with time in her story? Or is it one of those things we writers slave over, give minutes---no, hours---no, days!---of our lives to that, when done well, is not marked by readers at all?