Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Still true, five years later

While digging through an old notebook, I found a yellow index card. It's a list that I copied out of my journal, from an entry dated January 23, 2003. The entry says:

"Reading Beyond the Words by Bonni Goldberg---she has lots of good ideas/different perspectives on the writing life. Yesterday, I read her section on 'Reasons to Write.' I haven't felt much reason to write lately, mostly because I've been discouraged about the lack of an audience. Why speak if no one is listening?"

Here's the list that followed, which I tucked into my novel notebook, so I could look at it when I was faltering:

To save your eyes, I'll retype my scrawled writing.

Why I Want to Write

1) To ask questions

2) To find connections

3) To respond to beauty/mystery

4) To enjoy the thrill of paradox, of struggling to contain two ideas at once

5) To be intimate with the world/with other readers and writers

6) To remember my life

P.S. Bonni Goldberg is involved in some very interesting projects.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Check your teeth

Who do you write for?

There are usually two answers for children's writers (or possibly all writers, but somehow the question gets thrown at us more.)

1) For a specific audience. Keep the age of the reader in mind! we are admonished. Watch your vocabulary. Make sure you hook those wiggly young'uns with lots of action. Observe real children. Keep adults out of it. Be a storyteller, not a navel gazer.

2) For yourself. Anything else is pandering. Write to entertain your inner child, and age appropriateness will take care of itself. Universal themes will save the day. Write the book you want to read.

I waffle back and forth between these answers.

I'm definitely aware of the age I'm writing for when I'm drafting a piece. I can't help it; I've tried not to care, to let the manuscript decide, but I'm in the business of making my work public, in all the best sense of that world. (Think public libraries, public interest, the reading public...) I want to be part of the goings on in the town square; I respect the power of words to reach beyond my own little world, and to ignore my audience seems...well, RUDE. I want to talk with them, not at them, and how can I do that if I don't bother to get to know them?

On the other hand, I simply can't sustain the energy needed to write a novel unless it's making me happy, too. My inner child throws a fit, a stinking hissy fit, if she's bored. And she likes to be thought unique, special, in that wonderful "only you can write this book" kind of way. But darn it, she's so often right that I can't ignore her either.

What to do? What to do?

I came across another possible answer, and it occurred to me that maybe I'd already written a book this way:

You must write as if you were talking to a stranger.

Crooked House excerpted a bit of a blog post by Thaisa Frank, and I went and read the whole post. Printed it out, even.

I'm still thinking about it. Perhaps this is what I did when writing Letters From Rapunzel.

"To create a common bond, the writer must write to the reader as one would write a letter, and not for the reader, as one would write a paper in school. The writer must also be able to step back, and, at times, write from a distance, yet with the intention of wanting connection.

This is a special sort of connection. From the beginning of time, writers have forged a singular language of intimacy, much of which is nurtured by the fact that writing involves the meeting of two strangers."

Yes, I do crave that intimacy. So much of life involves being polite or reserved or pretending we don't see the frond of spinach wedged between a diner's teeth two tables down. (Her own tablemates will tell her, right?)

Writing a book gives me both intimacy and distance. I can be totally, embarrassingly personal, but I don't have to be there when you're reading it. I can even disguise the embarrassingly personal within other characters, mixing everything so skillfully that you can't tell what I've done and what I've only thought of doing or seen another foolish soul doing.

When I write, I can whisper to that stranger: check your teeth. And she can whisper back: Thanks. Have you checked your breath?

Monday, April 28, 2008


RealSimple, I'm disappointed in you.

You published an attractive and nicely annotated list of "The Best Blogs" in your March 2008 issue. You covered home, organizing and personal productivity, food, beauty, fashion, health and fitness, parenting and family, news and pop culture, and travel.

But not BOOKS.

Nope, not a single literary blog made the list. And this from a magazine that has done bookshelf makeovers.

You did have a cool quote that went with the story:

"Private opinion creates public opinion." --Jan Struther, A Pocketful of Pebbles

Well, my private opinion is that you messed up. And I'm going public with it.

On the other hand---and this almost redeems you in my eyes---your featured quote for the month of May is from Madeleine L'Engle:

"The greatest thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been." (as quoted in the New York Times on April 25, 1985)
So come on, RealSimple, if you want your readers with children or teenagers to get the most out of blogs and the Internet, you should feature:

7-Impossible Things Before Breakfast (Picture Book Tips for Impossibly Busy Parents or Slightly Demented Picture Books if you're daring)

or Jen Robinson's Growing Bookworms Newsletter,

or PlanetEsme's Yearly Index of Best Books,

or the launch of Guy Lit Wire in June.

It's simple; it really is.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Logic of Beauty: A National Poetry Month Post

Poetry is a method of thinking, unlike any other. After reading a poem, we are asked: How does it make you feel? A legitimate, but not the only, question. There is also: How does it make you think? A great poet persuades you, as deftly as a courtroom lawyer, of her argument.

The poem that convinced me of the logic of beauty was Wallace Stevens' iconic Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. Recently, I stumbled across a stunning visual twist on the original poem. (Be sure to read the creator's notes, because he explains why he modified the last line slightly, plus other interesting tidbits.)

Several years ago, I also wrote an essay about the poem for a (failed) attempt to enter an MFA program. It's posted below.

Look at the images, wade through my essay (if you don't mind a bit of poetic analysis---Billy Collins, look away!) and of course, absorb the poem itself. Which convinces you most?

My money (all of it) is on the poem.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird


Among twenty snowy mountains,

The only moving thing

Was the eye of the blackbird.


I was of three minds,

Like a tree

In which there are three blackbirds.


The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.

It was a small part of the pantomime.


A man and a woman

Are one.

A man and a woman and a blackbird

Are one.


I do not know which to prefer,

The beauty of inflections

Or the beauty of innuendos,

The blackbird whistling

Or just after.


Icicles filled the long window

With barbaric glass.

The shadow of the blackbird

Crossed it, to and fro.

The mood

Traced in the shadow

An indecipherable cause.


O thin men of Haddam,

Why do you imagine golden birds?

Do you not see how the blackbird

Walks around the feet

Of the women about you?


I know noble accents

And lucid, inescapable rhythms;

But I know, too,

That the blackbird is involved

In what I know.


When the blackbird flew out of sight,

It marked the edge

Of one of many circles.


At the sight of blackbirds

Flying in a green light,

Even the bawds of euphony

Would cry out sharply.


He rode over Connecticut

In a glass coach.

Once, a fear pierced him,

In that he mistook

The shadow of his equipage

For blackbirds.


The river is moving.

The blackbird must be flying.


It was evening all afternoon.

It was snowing

And it was going to snow.

The blackbird sat

In the cedar-limbs.

only if you would like more, here's a mini-essay I wrote about this poem. I'm no Kelly Fineman, but this is how I would analyze Stevens' argument:

The Logic of Beauty
“I do not know which to prefer/the beauty of inflections/or the beauty of innuendos,/the blackbird whistling/or just after.”

Likewise, I do not know which to prefer, the spare arguments of Stevens’ words, or the emotional reverberations of the empty spaces just after. The moving thing or the still? The beating black feathers or the enveloping white snow? The refraction of light by glass or the absorption of it in shadow? The poem as a whole or the poems within it?

Such are the questions posed by the logic of beauty, which leads us to an “indecipherable cause,” rather than a singular conclusion. In this realm, there's no positing of A, inferring of B, or proving of C. There's never a single blackbird, only thirteen ways of looking at it.

Thirteen, a prime number, can't be reduced to anything other than the one poem and the thirteen stanzas that compose it. Beauty, by this logic, cannot be divided, and so it reminds us of our own “involvement” in the “lucid, inescapable rhythms” of life.

The logic of beauty can clearly be seen in Stevens’ twelfth stanza:

“The river is moving./The blackbird must be flying.”
Two simple sentences, as clear as if Stevens had written “Theory A is true. Therefore, Theory B must also be true.” And yet, of course, a blackbird flying has nothing whatsoever to do with the movement of a river. Unless one argues with the logic of beauty.

By its rules, the river is indivisible from the blackbird. The movement of one draws up from the imagination the thought of the other. In the silence “just after” the stanza, the reader pictures the blackbird flying steadily, pulling---by the beat of his wings---the river into rhythmic motion, and she is convinced beyond doubt of the soundness of this argument.

The dark feathers and the glittering water, the bright sky and the muddy earth, the freedom of flight and the channeled path of water flow, every evidence points to the separateness of bird and water, and yet we believe in their connection. Stevens has used our own rational patterns of reasoning against us, and we find ourselves, not single-minded, but of “three minds:” considering not just the separate beauties of the river and the blackbird, but the unique, third beauty of what is created between them.

Over and over in his poem, in a series of crisp stanzas laid out like a set of new commandments, Stevens reminds us with such logic that we, even as we whirl in confused isolation, are part of an overreaching “pantomime.” He states it clearly in the fourth stanza:
“A man and a woman/are one./A man and a woman and a blackbird/are one.”
He implies it in the ninth:
“When the blackbird flew out of sight,/it marked the edge/of one of many circles.”

Even his choice of Haddam as the setting for his seventh stanza can be seen as more than just an elite town in Connecticut, for this Aramaic word means “piece, limb, member of the body.”

By the time the reader reaches the end of the thirteenth stanza, with the snow falling–a snow composed of unique crystals that nevertheless renders the landscape a swath of indivisible whiteness–she has begun to think in the logic of beauty herself.

There is no longer a barrier between her and the blackbird in the cedar-limbs. All around her is a lucid green light, and glass coaches with fearsome shadows travel the land. The bawds of euphony cry out to her, and everywhere, is it evening, all afternoon.

And she does not know which to prefer: herself, the poem, or what moves between them.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Tricia, at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Author Technique of the Week

At Nancy's Blog, SF author Nancy Kress reports this useful tip from Eeriecon:
Joe Haldeman offered that it's very difficult, perhaps impossible, to horrify any more with your aliens: "MEN IN BLACK ruined that." Carl Frederick said that in order to discover what vowels his undersea aliens would favor, he tried sticking his head into a basin of water and talking there.
Hey! I used to do that as a kid at the community pool. I also used to pretend that I had one hand tied to one foot, and had to swim the length of the pool to freedom. I did it, too.

Right now, I'm testing out a new approach to a WIP that I had shelved and now want to revive: rewriting it as a novel in verse. I'm worried, because I'm having way too much fun. Isn't writing supposed to be work?

What's the strangest thing you ever did to try out an idea?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing?

This is a disintegrating photo, badly scanned, but for Shakespeare's birthday, I had to post it.

This is me, and a boy named Brian, rehearsing a scene from
As You Like It for a high school drama competition. Last week, for her 500th blog post at Brooklyn Arden, Cheryl Klein highlighted the exact scene we are performing. So, of course, I had to run around the house until I found this picture. I'm glad I have at least one photo of this moment, because it was a HUGE deal to me to get to perform Shakespeare as a teenager. I don't think anyone had taken a scene from Shakespeare to drama competition from our school before. What fun to flirt with these words:

Then love me, Rosalind.
Yes, faith, will I, Fridays and Saturdays and all.
And wilt thou have me?
Ay, and twenty such.
What sayest thou?
Are you not good?
I hope so.
Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing?

Happy (designated) Birthday, Shakespeare. You turned me into a lover of words. I've never stopped desiring too much of that good, good thing.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

VoiceThread for Letters From Rapunzel

And here it is...

After a wee bit of tinkering, I've created a VoiceThread of me, reading aloud the first letter from Letters From Rapunzel. I've allowed comments, but they are moderated, which means that you will only be able to see your own comment until I approve it to be seen by all. By using the icons under the picture, you can leave a comment as text, audio, video, or even by phone---and if you aren't pleased with the comment you create, you can always delete it.

I've also posted this on my website.

Fun, huh?

A new way to review or promote books?

Cloudscome introduced me to VoiceThread, and I can't stop thinking about ways authors could use it to reach out to their readers. It's like an interactive booktalk.

Here's a VoiceThread where a class reviews The Landry News by Andrew Clements:

And one more, where fifth graders talk about their favorite books:

Couldn't an author record a reading from her own book, and post it as a public VoiceThread? Then readers could record their responses. The only hitch is that you have to give an email address to register, which I would never ask a child to do. (Although there's an option for a family or educator account, so a child could use an identity under the main account without giving out his email.)

Check it out and if you don't start immediately playing around with your own VoiceThreads,'re a stronger person than I was. (You can also search the public threads under the term "review" to pull up more booktalks.)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Would you like to go out (and by that I mean up) with me?

My first date with my husband was a flight in a small airplane, out of a grass airstrip in Knoxville, Tennessee. Well, perhaps it wasn't a date, since my brother and sister came along, too, but in my mind, if you can remember exactly what you were wearing 28 years later (a dark blue Miss Piggy T-shirt and denim shorts) and how long you stood in the doorway of your house looking after the car that just drove away, it's a date.

Maybe that's why I like the idea of Crystal Flight, 50 airplane sculptures placed in and around Crystal City, in Arlington, Va. near National Airport. Here's a photo album of the planes in the studio before they were placed in the community. I wonder where the couple in the pink car/plane are going for their night out?

And here's one with a giant Kong hand grabbing a vintage plane. (This didn't happen on our date.)

It's a promotional site for Crystal City, of course, but at the Crystal Flight Blog, you can download a map of the 4.5 mile long flight path, which pinpoints the locations of all 50 planes. I'm going to have to go check out several of these. "Plane Jane" is apparently a black-and-white stitched riff on the Mary Jane shoe, a joke that women get, but that makes men go huh? (I wore tennis shoes on my date.)

As for the airplane sculpture named "SuperFly," please, please, please be a uber-cool, mirrored sunglasses-wearing, science-fiction reading giant housefly/F-22. According to Wikipedia, there's an opera premiering in Paris this year based on 1986 film version of The Fly. Who knew? Honey, wanna jet to France for a date?

P.S. More pictures in the photo gallery that accompanies this Air & Space magazine article.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Poetry Friday: The Filling Station

Yesterday, I carried Elizabeth Bishop's Filling Station around in my pocket. I also pasted a copy of it into my Poetry Scrapbook.

What do I love most about this poem? The combination of a slightly shocked voice---"Oh, but it is dirty!"---"disturbing"---"saucy and greasy"---with precise, unusual word choices--- "grease-impregnated wickerwork" and "hirsute begonia." Yes, I looked that up.

And the ending! Just when you think the narrator is being snooty, and far too amused at this "oil permeated" scene, the whole poem turns in on itself, asking what place beauty and care have in a world of "black translucency," and who is tending to us in our darkest hours. Bishop even pokes fun at herself (I think) as a "high-strung automobile."

What keeps you going? What is fuel? Do you think about who "waters the plant, or oils it, maybe"?

The Filling Station

Oh, but it is dirty!
--this little filling station,
oil soaked, oil permeated
to a disturbing over-all
black translucency.
Be careful with that match!

Father wears a dirty,
oil-soaked monkey suit
that cuts him under the arms,
and several quick and saucy
and greasy sons assist him
(it's a family filling station),
all quite throughly dirty.

Do they live in the station?
It has a cement porch
behind the pumps, and on it
a set of crushed and grease-
impregnated wickerwork;
on the wicker sofa
a dirty dog, quite comfy.

Read the rest here.

For another perspective, here's a very short essay from the Poetry Foundation Blog by A.E. Stallings, who disliked The Filling Station for years.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by The Well-Read Child. And Jules at 7-Impossible Things Before Breakfast has made some sense out of the Poetry Seven's free--flowing process talk about the Crown of Sonnets that we unveiled last week. Go read.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Operation Teen Book Drop

I did it! For Operation Teen Book Drop, I left a signed copy of Letters From Rapunzel on the book sale shelves of my public library. As you can see, I put a note on it: "FREE book, courtesy of Operation Teen Book Drop (see inside.)" I wrapped a rubber band around the cover, so that I could attach a writing journal (if they're so inspired after reading about Rapunzel's writing adventures) and a readergirlz pin. I also included the press release about Operation TBD for any young reporters who would be interested in how the project began.

There was only one witness, browsing the adult shelves, and she didn't notice me when I left the book or when I took the picture. Or at least, she didn't stare. I felt so...covert.

For the record, I thought about dropping the book somewhere daring, like Cloudscome did (the Wendy's parking lot!) but I was chicken. My book's still too much my baby to leave it unattended, near traffic and asphalt. I guess you already knew that by the note and toys I left with it. ;)

Don't forget that there's an online two-hour book party hosted at the readergirlz MySpace group forum ( tonight, from 6-8pm Pacific/9-11pm Eastern.

Ready or not

Hello there. It's Poem in Your Pocket Day.

I'm trying to figure out how to stash a poem in the tiny key pocket of my gym pants. I think I want Elizabeth Bishop's Filling Station. It begins

"Oh, but it is dirty!
--this little filling station
oil soaked, oil permeated
to a disturbing over-all
black translucency.
Be careful with that match!"

Why do I want this poem? I have no idea, and I don't have time to analyze my need for it. I discovered it in Molly Peacock's How to Read a Poem...and Start a Poetry Circle, and I've loved it ever since.

It's also Operation Teen Book Drop Day. I'm trying to figure out where to drop a copy of my book. Would the dentist's office, where I'm headed after the gym, be okay? Not exactly a teen hangout.

But look! Little Willow has put together some drop site suggestions. Dairy Queen is the big teen spot around here. Anybody want a book with that Blizzard?

Honestly, what I'd love to do is stick a copy of Letters From Rapunzel right next to the Green Fairy Book in a public library. Because I often cite that book (and all the rest in the series) as my introduction to fairy tales. But I doubt many libraries still carry those ancient tomes.

You'd think I would have figured out how to celebrate both of these events long before this morning. I do have clean socks to wear to the gym. That's something.

Oh, no! It's also National Cheeseball Day! And do I have anything prepared for that?

What are you doing (ready or not) today?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Oh? You were expecting a post today?

I was too busy answering a few questions, which led me to the answer I already knew. (Although if interrobang were a choice, I'd want to be that.)

You Are a Question Mark

You seek knowledge and insight in every form possible. You love learning. And while you know a lot, you don't act like a know it all. You're open to learning you're wrong. You ask a lot of questions, collect a lot of data, and always dig deep to find out more. You're naturally curious and inquisitive. You jump to ask a question when the opportunity arises. Your friends see you as interesting, insightful, and thought provoking. (But they're not always up for the intense inquisitions that you love!) You excel in: Higher education. You get along best with: The Comma

What Punctuation Mark Are You?

Also see the fun links over at Big A, little a about the demise of the semicolon. Root for your favorite punctuation mark!

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Early, The Late, and The Overdue

When your first book is coming out, early mentions of it are surprising. Last year, my editor emailed me my first review of Letters From Rapunzel (here, in Publishers Weekly) long before I was expecting anything. I hadn't even begun to worry about such a thing, so I got to skip straight to the thrill of it.

But surprise late reactions are fun, too, like this one titled "The Girl in the Tower," which I discovered in the NY Review of Books. My book is mentioned in a scholarly article (ahem) in a venerable publication (double ahem.) Pardon me while I give a very self-impressed and perhaps inappropriate w00t!

I also received a lovely email this week from another writer who I hadn't heard from in about three years. She was living overseas, and had ordered my book, and when it arrived, she wrote:
I was the one to check the mail and find your book waiting for me. A half an hour and many pages later, I realized I was still sitting in the post office parking lot and was about to be late picking my kids up from school!
I love that she read my book (which features a post office) at the post office! She also said that reading it "nudged me back to my own writing" which makes me w00t again.

Anyhow, both of these things made me realize that despite some gloomy "blink of an eye" talk, the life cycle of a book is longer than we think. Sure, Letters From Rapunzel is not front and center on book displays anymore (if it ever was) but it's made its way to Australia. (May I w00t for that also, please? Thank you, WorldCat, for letting me know.)

And it appears that a reader in Australia has it on loan and that it is overdue. I hope that's because the reader is devouring it for the second time, or has perhaps loaned it to her best friend, or is hoarding it for an upcoming book talk---and not because she's lost it under her bed.

I don't like late dinner, late tax refunds, or late trains. But you can take as long as you want to get around to my book. Call me in the nursing home. I'll be reading some old book myself.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Poetry Friday: The Poetry Seven

X-ray image of the sun's corona
(photo courtesy of Yohkoh Science Team)

Who writes sonnets anymore?

The Poetry Seven.

That would be Liz, Cloudscome, Kelly, Laura, Tricia, Tanita, and myself.

A Crown of Sonnets (or a Sonnet Corona) is a series of linked sonnets, each one connected to the ones before and after it. Many, many weeks ago, by the luck of the draw, I was tapped to write the first poem in such a crown.

Would The Poetry Seven have let me do it if they'd known that I'd never written a sonnet before? I think they did know, because I'm pretty sure I let that drop in our emailed conversations.

At least I had nothing to compare myself to, neither my own past efforts, or (at that moment) their intimidatingly luminous examples. I wrote my sonnet over the long Thanksgiving weekend in a pie-induced haze. I was stunned by the glamor and the challenge of it. In my blog post that day, I titled the experience Sonnet-and-Pie-looza.

And now, months later, completely pie-sober, I'm still wondering:

Who keeps the glory of sonnet-writing a secret? And why?

And why didn't anyone tell me much, much sooner how much joy there is in writing poetry with like-minded souls? There I was, slaving away in my lonely garret....

So here's to---

The Poetry Seven.
Poetry Peer Pressure.
Sonnets All Around.
Yeah, that's what I'm talking about.

The full crown is posted at Liz in Ink. (Liz deserves special mention for dazzling us all into attempting this in the first place.) Each sonnet is also posted, with notes, at each poet's blog.

Here is my entry point into the corona:

Cutting a Swath
(a seven-pointed crown of sonnets)

As shoes untied, you drag frayed words in trail
Behind your name; unlooped, they flop up steps
And trip your stride, and blacken blue the depths
Of day; from light to dark, from deep to pale,
Undone, you fall; unknown, you pass or fail.
In halls, you thread the holes between your debts
Unpaid, and those who shove your name in reps
Against the rails of crowded stairs. Inhale
The stench! Keep true your shoes! The ups and downs
Will yield a path to out beyond, to where
The mirror turns, and those who hid their marks
And stumbled most will dress and march in gowns
On paths unfound, on tracks, unnamed, a pair
Of laces, ends unbound, leaps free as sparks.

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Sonnet #2 takes off where mine ends, and you may view it at Laura Purdie Salas's LiveJournal. Read all the sonnets in order, or view the crown in its entirety at Liz's.

Poetry Friday is hosted by one of The Poetry Seven's own, Cloudscome, at a wrung sponge.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Let's talk

"My crown is called content, a crown that seldom kings enjoy." ---William Shakespeare
Yes, that's me today: content. Tomorrow, the sonnet crown that seven of us have been soldering together over the last several months will be on display. We are richer for the writing of it.

My contentment made me think of that popular t-shirt slogan:
He who dies with the most toys wins.
Really? Not:
She who dies with the most poems
in her heart wins, and wins BIG.
I'm sorry. I can't write about writing poetry without getting sappy. I believe that writing poetry teaches you how to think. I believe that it teaches you how to pay attention. I believe it strips away everything you seek to hide behind and puts your sobbing little heart out there on a hot pink T-shirt for all to see.

NO. Stop right there. You're scaring people.

Poetry ain't a mush fest. Poetry isn't an intellectual exercise in word collection. Poetry isn't trickery or formula or mumbo-jumbo.

It's marks on paper. It's sounds spoken. It's me, talking with you.

Can't wait to talk with you tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Forward, back, round and round

I believe Kelly Fineman could teach a duck to dance. Yesterday, she lucidly explained how a poet revises. If you don't think that's harder than waltzing with a web-footed wannabe, try it yourself.

Not only that, her post makes you want to drop everything, seize your latest draft and do the poetic two-step that is revision. One word in, two words out. Forward, back, round and round.

That's what I did last night. Danced with my YA poetry manuscript. Thanks, Kelly!

Kelly also invited everyone to revise this prose sentence with her:
Today I walked through the woods as the light faded, heedless of nature until a rustling noise drew my attention to a litter of raccoons near the stream.

Here's my attempt:

Woods, near dark.

mottled shadows

pocketing light
from unsuspecting


Now: Read her post and try it yourself. Ducks and everybody.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

How Weird Am I?

Am I strange? I recently realized that while I rarely read historical fiction, I love historical films and mini-series.

Horatio Hornblower? Huge fan. (What? You haven't obsessively watched the A&E series? Haven't fallen in love with the dashing and brilliant, yet painfully inexperienced Horatio? Aren't an expert on naval battles yet? Can't stop worrying that he's married the wrong person? Rent it or buy it, already!)

Jane Austen? Oh, my word! That two-part Sense and Sensibility on PBS's Masterpiece Theater had me weeping last night when I finally watched the finale I'd taped. (And yes, I've seen Emma Thompson's perfect adaptation too, and loved it equally.)

The life of Elizabeth I? I've watched both the two-part Cate Blanchett version and the two-part Helen Mirren tour-de-force.

So why don't I read more historical fiction?

The strangeness continues...

Weird literary films? I'll watch them. Weird adult literary fiction? NO. NO. NO.

Blood and high gothic horror a la Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd? I was practically swooning. Put a throat slashing in a novel, and I'm out of there.

On the other hand...

Children's movies? Not so interested outside of classic cartoons. (Loved Toy Story and the 1995 adaptation of The Little Princess. I've never forgiven Disney for their butchering of The Black Cauldron.) Children's fiction? Oh, you know what the answer is! All the time, everywhere, everything!!

Speculative fiction? I'd rather read it than watch it. (Too much blowing things up and running about in most SF movies, and not enough clever twisting of societal mores. But I usually fork over the money, and watch SF anyway, in the hopes of discovering something as creepy as Gattaca or as perfectly zany as Back to the Future.)

As for areas of agreement...

I'll watch films with subtitles, and I'll read poetry translations with glee.

Shakespeare is fabulous, on the page, on the stage, and at the movies. He's even good on T-shirts, or slapped on packs of gum, or as a doll. Or in prison. Really. You can't debase him.

And I like The Funny in movies and books. (Although I'm a hard, hard sell with movie comedy. Sometimes, I think I'd pay double for a film that could make me make laugh so hard my stomach hurts.)

So how weird am I? Do you like to watch genres that you won't read? Will you read books that you would turn away from on the screen?

Monday, April 7, 2008

Good Gifts and Good Poems

Oh, wow. I am LATE posting today. I confess that I was consumed by two things, one important and bookish, the other not important and geeky.*

The important? A birthday present for my husband. He asked for a book of poetry, and I decided to vandalize (no, personalize!) the copy I'm giving him.

The book is Garrison Keillor's Good Poems, which is a compilation of poems from his daily public radio show, The Writer's Almanac. I went through the poems and wrote notes to my husband on many of the pages, pointing out lines I loved, or images that reminded me of something we'd done together or I want to do together one day.

I don't normally write in books, but this was fun. I can't wait to see what he thinks, and if he'll write notes back. The longer I love him, the harder it is to find him a worthy present!

*The not so important and geeky thing? Figuring out how to make those "email me" links work with Firefox and Gmail. If you want to know, the answer is: Firefox Plug-in: Better Gmail 2. I'm not kidding. It works. Now I can click on the Email Me button on my website, and email myself a fan letter. ;)

Friday, April 4, 2008

Poetry Friday: Before the Rain

Sometimes, I talk too much. What I love about poetry is that it instantly shushes me, lulls me into that alert, still, attentive state of mind---the one that I wish I could stay in all day.

Here is a short poem, about listening. See if it lulls you...

Before the Rain
by Lianne Spidel

Minutes before the rain begins
I always waken, listening
to the world hold its breath,
as if a phone had rung once in a far
room or a door had creaked
in the darkness.

Perhaps the genes of some forebear
startle in me, some tribal warrior
keeping watch on a crag beside a loch,
miserable in the cold,

though I think it is a woman's waiting
I have come to know,
a Loyalist hiding in the woods,

Read the rest here.

And here is a poem I wrote, many years ago, while listening to the rain:

My house creaks in the rain,
a porch-skirted grandmother
shifting her lap.

Sing to me, Grandmother.
Comfort me, house.

You are used to
the nattering of raindrops,
used to their prickly breath,

used to cold knees
as they crawl down
your neck to your breast.

Sing to me, Grandmother.
Comfort me, house.

My nipples are cracked
from milk wetness.
My womb shudders

in sharp gusts. I'm rocked
by this baby, this raw-fisted
baby, flooded

by this baby who clings
like rain to the eaves
of my chest.


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

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Becky at Becky's Book Reviews.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Lucky Me

I'm back. All went well. (Sigh of relief)

I did, indeed, have the correct laptop cord. My slides showed up beautifully. I had an interested audience, signed a few books, and I didn't spill coffee on myself. (I took an extra pair of pants, just in case. Is that paranoid or what? Maybe not, because I was wearing white, and driving with a steaming mug o' joe and chocolate milk.)

The best part was that I got to stay for the whole conference, and happened to luck into lunch with the keynote speaker, Deborah Taylor.

Deborah is Coordinator of School and Student Services for the Enoch Pratt Free Library. She (I'm pulling this right from the conference program) "has served on the 2004 Michael Printz Award Committee, the 2006 Printz Committee, the 2006 Best Books for Young Adults Committee, the 2002 Newbery Award Committee and was Chair of the 2000 Coretta Scott King Award Jury. She has also served on the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Committee and has reviewed for Horn Book."

In short, if I had to balance my plate of salad on my lap for half an hour in a lobby chair, instead of going upstairs to where the tables were laid out, it was a very small price to pay for that 30 minutes of intense conversation. Deborah loves books with a passion, and we discussed Looking for Alaska, and Black Juice (winner and honor the last time she served on the Printz) and feed and Octavian Nothing and M.T. Anderson's brilliance, and how he and Katherine Paterson offered dueling philosophies on hope in children's books at Children's Literature New England. We talked of Kadir Nelson, and Christopher Paul Curtis, and on and on.

And then, Ms. Taylor got up and gave a fantastic speech about Memory, Reason and Imagination, and filled her presentation with so many more mentions of great books that my to-be-read pile just doubled, I believe.

A lovely day. Oh, and I won a bag of books! How great is that?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

On the Road

If you see a strange sight on I-95 South today, it's probably me and my dog and pony show, heading to the VEMA Rappahannock Regional Conference. (That's where all the cool Media Specialists gather.)

Well, I WISH I had a dog and pony I could take along, but it's just going to be me and my laptop and several thousand of my well-rehearsed words.

Wish me luck.

Let's catch up when I get back...

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Did you ever...?

In honor of the start of National Poetry Month, and April Fool's Day, I give you Ogden Nash:

Reflection on Ingenuity

Here's a good rule of thumb;
Too clever is dumb.

Did you ever pull an April Fool's joke that backfired on you? (I'm thinking of all those people who dare to do pranks at work!)

What was the best prank you ever pulled or had pulled on you? (See below.)

Were you ever fooled into thinking that aliens had landed at your local airport? (I was, as a kid. By my dad. He made a recording that "broke into" the local radio station and announced it. All four of us kids begged to get in the car and be driven to the airport right that second.)

Happy April Fool's Day, and be clever (like my dad) but not TOO clever.