Friday, October 31, 2008

Poetry Friday: J. Patrick Lewis

If you want treats on Halloween, you usually have to go door to door and scare some up yourself. But this week, I had a treat come to me. J. Patrick Lewis contacted me, asking if I'd like something Halloweenish to post today. Maybe he knew that I like licorice and might like "black ice scream" too?

Whatever Happened to Oliver Tooke?

The plump-kins went on frowning,
The night was filled with gloom,
The witch rechecked her witch watch—
A minute half past doom—
As down the street came innocence,
Disguised as Captain Hook.
His name was Oliver Uriah Roy (O.U.R.)

The witch was serving black ice scream.
She offered him a spoon.
When Captain Hook-Tooke took it,
He would swear he heard this tune:

I’ve lollipops
For Ollie-mops—
O.U.R. such a pest!—
And poison pills
To give you chills.
Let goblins sort the rest.

The night went black and blacker still
Than midnight in a can.
The witch who took young Captain Hook
Preferred a Peter Pan.

“Ya takes the dainties what’s as comes,”
Declares the Witches’ Oath.
“But Captain Hook and Peter Pan?
I’d roast the beggars both!”

I’ve lollipops
For Ollie-mops—
O.U.R. such a pest!—
And poison pills
To give you chills.
Let goblins sort the rest.

She whisked him through the curtain fog
Upon a jiggery rake,
And where they flew nobody knew,
But, mates, make no mistake:
O.U.R. Tooke’s been taken,
For upon the neighborhood
The horrifying echo fell,

“O.U.R.—gone for good!”

I’ve lollipops
For Ollie-mops—
O.U.R. such a pest!—
And poison pills
To give you chills.
Let goblins sort the rest.

----- by J. Patrick Lewis

Poetry Friday is (g)hosted today by Poetry for Children.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Before there were blogs...

...there were postcards. And that's all I have time to send you today. It's work, work, work for me!

(I respect myself for wearing that visor and large sunglasses. It shows wisdom and forethought, unlike allowing a parrot that close to my face.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


I see a kid weaving down the sidewalk towards me. He's a middle-schooler, walking home from the school not far from my house. As I approach him, I realize that he's swerving from side to side because he's paying attention to something in his hand.

Not a cell phone.

A book.

Yes, he was reading while walking, just as I used to do. I smiled at him as we passed, and tried to see the title of the book, but he slipped on by before I could.

Read on, Book Nerd, read on!

And to whomever wrote the book he was engrossed in: You did good. I only wish I could have reported it to you. Perhaps it was a writer like Jacqui Robbins describes in her post, Bottom of the Ninth. As she says, "You want your readers refusing to pee because it would mean putting the book down."

Anyone else catch a kid reading this week?

P.S. Did you notice that my "add a comment" form has changed? It's a new option in Blogger and I like it much better. You don't have to leave the main post when you comment and you can subscribe to the comments for a post even if you don't leave one yourself. Now if we could all leave tiny calling cards at each other's blogs...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

52 Seconds

Take a minute to read this short article in the Washington Post about the story decisions behind Jim's proposal to Pam on The Office. It made me think about the choices writers make---what to show and what to obscure, how to expend your storytelling firepower, and why honoring the viewers (or readers) should be your guiding principle.

"Yes, we know it's fiction. But when Jim finally popped the question on the season premiere of NBC's "The Office," millions of viewers instantly forgave the producers for repeatedly bringing together the small-screen soul mates over the seasons -- only to tear them apart again and again.

While the 52-second scene may have seemed sweet and simple, executive producer Greg Daniels reveals it required high-tech special effects, huge rain machines, a month of meetings and a budget that doubled somewhere along the way." The rest here.

At least when I write a scene, I don't have to worry about budget. Mine is always zero.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Flying Horse Farms

I love this Public Service Announcement, and not just because my niece stars in it. Look for her snatching the hat, jumping into the pool, and dancing. She's a natural actress. You ROCK, Emily!!!

:60 PSA for Flying Horse Farms from Donna Raque on Vimeo.

For more information on how to help go to: Flying Horse Farms.

Flying Horse Farms is a provisional member of the Paul Newman "Hole in the Wall Gang" network of camps for kids with serious illnesses. They hope to open in 2009.

From their website:

Camp is not only a place for children who are terminally ill, but also a place where children who will survive their illnesses can grow and develop the skills necessary to thrive for the rest of their lives.

At Flying Horse Farms, these same children learn what they can do, not what they cannot do. Camp is a place where we focus on the possible, a place where kids can just be kids. Campers serve as role models for one another and begin to see themselves, often for the first time, not as victims, but as strong and capable leaders.

Amen to that.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Poetry Friday: Wallace Stevens and Music

At my son's Music Honor Society induction last night, each new member had to perform a short piece. What struck me was how few of the young musicians enjoyed it. Out of about thirty kids, only about four seemed comfortable, even the ones with obvious talent. Why is that?

It was obviously horrific for some band members, like the trombone or tuba players, who I could almost hear thinking: if I wanted to play solo, I wouldn't be in...DUH!...a band!

Other highlights:

The gallant boy who offered to share his music stand with the girl beside him. Only she was almost two feet shorter than he was.

The girl in the fleece vest who burst forth with an operatic voice which she wrapped around French words while slouching and flipping the bangs out of her eyes. (Please, someone! Tell her what a miracle her voice is! And show her how to use it!)

Another girl sang "Killing Me Softly" like a forty-year old chanteuse. Except for the part where the soundtrack erupted into rap. But I liked it.

A friend of my son's had an entire entourage to carry his amp, cords, guitar, shirt, hat...and then he totally justified it by playing an original piece in which his fingers crawled up and down the frets like a frantic spider.

I'm not a musician. But I love watching how music bestows unreasonable gifts at random, on the awkward and graceful alike. It's the closest thing to unconditional love I've ever witnessed.

Here's Wallace Stevens, from Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction: It Must Give Pleasure

To sing jubilas at exact, accustomed times,
To be crested and wear the mane of a multitude
And so, as part, to exult with its great throat,

To speak of joy and to sing of it, borne on
The shoulders of joyous men, to feel the heart
That is the common, the bravest fundament,

This is a facile exercise. Jerome
Begat the tubas and the fire-wind strings,
The golden fingers picking dark-blue air:

Read the rest here.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Kelly at Big A, little a.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

On a platter

Editorial letter on the left, manuscript on the right

Looks nice and tidy, doesn't it? The problem is that my mind, the tool with which I will do this round of revisions, isn't. It's scattered and easily distracted and worst of all, stuffed with ego.

So I find myself going through the same emptying rituals I always do:

1) Deliberate time-wasting. I watch "light" TV like Pushing Daisies (about children's books last night! Anyone see the editorial assistant dribble on the rejection letter? Eeeew.) Also, Big Break X and (with my niece wielding the stop-action Tivo remote) Dancing With the Stars.

2) A bit of mindless munching (mini bags of "buttery salt and cracked pepper" popcorn.)

3) Yoga. Sanctioned mind-emptying.

4) Long walk with my dog (helps counter-balance the mindless munching.)

It's also worth stating that I didn't stage this picture for the blog. The manuscript has literally been on that platter for a week. How blindingly un-self-aware I was. Or how brilliant. Either way, Round 2B* of my revision work has been served. I'm not as full as I once was, and it looks tasty.

*Round 1 was the developmental edit, finished in August before I headed to the SCBWI LA conference. Round 2A was the edit of the first third of the book, which required some re-working (and a new chapter!) accomplished last month before we moved on to the entire manuscript's line edits, otherwise known as this month's incarnation, Round 2B. Yes, there will be a Round 3, the copyedits.

NOTE: If I have brain cells left over, I will blog. I need help with the title, for one thing. As soon as I can get a synopsis worked up for you, I'll throw a few titles your way and see what you think.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Shining Brightly

Wheeeeeee! My daughter, Rebecca, was chosen as one of NASA's Student Ambassadors for the 2009 International Year of Astronomy!

From the website:
In 2009 we celebrate the 400th anniversary of Galileo's first observations of the universe through a telescope. In honor of this early event, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and the United Nations have proclaimed 2009 as the International Year of Astronomy to spread awareness of astronomy’s contributions to society and culture, stimulate young people’s interest in science, portray astronomy as a global peaceful endeavor, and nourish a scientific outlook in society.
As an ambassador, Rebecca received a grant (her first!) to "
generate excitement about NASA scientific discoveries in astrophysics, planetary science and solar physics within her local community and beyond."

I've already tagged her to blog for me at least once a quarter in 2009 about her ambassadorial adventures. Here's a link to the U.S. International Year of Astronomy site, which will be updated with events and information and ways you can celebrate everything in the universe.

P.S. That's one of her pictures, above. She says:
This open cluster, NGC4755, is also known as the "jewel box." Even 50 s exposures saturated the camera around those bright stars (the brightest are close to 6th magnitude.)

Monday, October 20, 2008


Disco Mermaids threw down the challenge: Writers, post your senior pictures.

I look incredibly wholesome. Granola, anyone?


Friday, October 17, 2008

Poetry Friday: Love Like Salt

Love Like Salt
by Lisel Mueller

It lies in our hands in crystals
too intricate to decipher

It goes into the skillet
without being given a second thought

It spills on the floor so fine
we step all over it

Read the rest here

I needed "love like salt" this week. And I was blessed, because it flowed. Amen.

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

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Magpie Intelligence

This picture's from my journal on Jan. 19, 2002.

The phrase "a magpie intelligence" had caught my eye like a shiny object, so I wrote it down. (You can see the other unrelated trinkets I stashed on that page too.)

Are you a magpie writer? Do you collect random phrases, names, and ideas years before you know what to do with them? Is your journal as completely random as mine is, like a half-built bird nest?

And did you know that the magpie is in the same intelligence class as chimps and dolphins? (Yes, that makes me feel better.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


I have a soft spot for Georgia. The state is known for its fantabulicious peaches, and peaches are my favorite fruit. I've never lived in Georgia, but I was once lucky enough to live in a house with two peach trees in the backyard. That was heaven!

Now I have a new reason to love Georgia. Letters From Rapunzel is on the list of nominated books for the statewide children's book awards. If you read the full list below, you'll see why I'm so thrilled. LOOK at those other fantabulicious authors and their books I'm hanging out with!

The Georgia Children's Book Awards

• Dowell, Frances O’Roark (2006). Phineas L. MacGuire … Erupts! Atheneum.
• Harley, Bill (2006). The Amazing Flight of Darius Frobisher. Peachtree.
• Lombard, Jenny (2006). Drita, My Homegirl. Putnam.

• Gauthier, Gail (2006). Happy Kid. Putnam.
• Hill, Kirkpatrick (2007). Do Not Pass Go. Margaret K. McElderry.
• Hobbs, Valerie (2005). Defiance. Frances Foster.
• Smith, Roland (2007). Peak. Harcourt.

• Bell, Hilari (2007). Shield of Stars. Simon & Schuster.
• Carbone, Elisa (2006). Blood on the River James Town 1607. Viking.
• Coombs, Kate (2006). The Runaway Princess. Farrar.
• Dahlberg, Maurine F. (2007). The Story of Jonas. Farrar.
• Graff, Lisa (2006). The Thing About Georgie. Laura Geringer.
Holmes, Sara Lewis (2007). Letters from Rapunzel. HarperCollins.
• Lord, Cynthia (2006). Rules. Scholastic.
• Lowery, Linda (2006). Truth and Salsa. Peachtree.
• Lupica, Mike (2006). Heat. Philomel.
• Riordan, Rick (2006). The Lightning Thief. Miramax.
• Rupp, Rebecca (2006). Journey to the Blue Moon. Candlewick.
• Weeks, Sarah (2004). So B. It. HarperCollins.
• White, Ruth (2007). Way Down Deep. Farrar.

Monday, October 13, 2008

30-40,000 Children

My niece, Emily, is battling cancer, and her mom sent this information about childhood cancer:

Every day 46 children in this country will be diagnosed with cancer. That is two classrooms full.

Every four hours a child will die from pediatric cancer. We have known several who fought bravely but did not survive.

The average age of a child being diagnosed is 6; the average age for an adult is 66. Emily was a few months shy of her 10th birthday.

Cancer is the number one cause of death by disease for our children. It kills more children than asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, congenital anomalies and pediatric AIDS combined.

Pediatric cancer is cured about 75% of the time. That means one out of four children diagnosed will lose their battle.

It has been 20 years since any new pediatric cancer drug has been approved.

Currently there are between 30-40,000 children being treated for cancer.

Only about 20% of adults with cancer show evidence that the disease has spread to distant sites on the body at diagnosis yet 80% of children are diagnosed with advanced disease. Emily was one of them.

By 2010 one in every two hundred teens and adolescents will be a cancer survivor.

Most children are treated with smaller doses of adult drugs.

Due to the toll of the currently available therapies on their growing bodies, three out of every five children who survive cancer will be diagnosed with another cancer, a chronic illness or another life threatening illness before they are adults.

So I would love for everyone to stop and think of all the children who are courageously fighting this disease and the ones who earned their wings who fought so hard against this ugly beast.

God bless,

My niece has come with her mom and dad to a hospital near us to begin a new drug trial this week. Please pray for her.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Poetry Friday: Shakespeare Behind Bars

Today, I have poetry on film for you. Several months ago, I watched director Hank Rogerson's documentary, Shakespeare Behind Bars. I still think about it.

The premise is simple. The documentary follows a group of prisoners who are rehearsing Shakespeare's The Tempest. And what a storm it is.

Here's what Patricia Freeman says at
“When is a man forgiven?” [...] an inmate at Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in Kentucky asks this seemingly innocuous question. Yet [...] these words encompass the very heart of the film; they force viewers to consider extreme states of our human existence and to reconcile how both society and man struggle to embrace felony and felicity, reproach and redemption, vice and virtue, punishment and pardon.

If this film asked us to hate these men, that would be easy. If it asked us to ignore them, that would be easy, too. But it doesn't. It asks us to see them for who they are: men who have killed people. And then we go from there into territory that only Shakespeare seems to have the language for.

I can't recommend it enough.

Go here to watch a trailer

And here for an article in the Christian Science Monitor

And here is the ending of The Tempest, which the prisoners perform:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air -- into thin air --
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Ironic, isn't it? Everything dissolves, and yet... these words don't. They find new spirits to conjure them. And the insubstantial pageant rages on.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Picture Book of the Day.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Bean Bag Chairs Are Still In

How would you re-design the teen space in your public library?

The Washington Post home section took on the challenge for branches in Bethesda, Quince Orchard, and Chevy Chase.

There was no teen section of my library when I was fighting my way through adolescence. The kids' area was downstairs---it had one of those modern sunken reading areas; everything else was upstairs. (Including the Anne of Green Gables books and all the SF I wanted to read.) When allowed up there, I remember making a bee-line for Seventeen magazine.

Would I have hung out in a designated YA section? Maybe. For the whole cliched teen thing, I preferred buying a cherry Icee at the Family Pantry and standing there giggling over Teen Beat without buying it. The library was an alone kind of place for me. I liked being free to slink up and down the aisles and find books without the social judgment that so pervades the teen years. If I had to carry my selections to a designated shag rug and bean bag chair, I might have thought twice about what I picked out.

But libraries now are more social than ever. It's about studying together, and book clubs, and "meeting people" as one teen in the article said. As long as teens still get to be alone with a book at some point, I'm okay with that. One body to a bean bag, please!

P.S. Awesome it is. Check out the Jabba the Hutt bean bag chair. And other rejected Star Wars merchandise at Geekologie.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

250 words

My son is writing college application essays. Some are 250 words or less. Ouch. Short is hard.

Which brings up an interesting question: should writers help their kids with writing assignments? Around here, it goes like this:
  • They always, always, always do the rough draft with no input from me.
  • They get to decide when to ask me for advice, if at all. Sometimes, they share work just because they like what they've written and are proud of it. I'm not lying when I say that both of them are far better writers than I was at their age.
  • The most common thing I ask to see is more detail. Personal, vivid detail. No "I participated in outdoor activities" when "I chased an armadillo" is the colorful truth.*
  • I encourage them to go at it again. They usually do.
  • They can bring any piece of writing back to me as often as they want. I'll read it. We can talk about it. But the work's all theirs.

One more thing. They know how many times writers---all writers---rewrite their work. I tell them. Repeatedly. My husband recently backed me up, telling my son that he re-wrote an important briefing nine times. Nobody in this house ever gets it right the first time. Except the dog. She's brilliant.

*I'm not sure if an armadillo pursuit belongs on a college application, but it's 100% true and one of my son's favorite memories of our time in Mississippi.

P.S. This blog post is exactly 250 words.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Poetry Friday: John Prine

"Eat a lot of peaches" is my code phrase for "remember the good stuff." How do you remind yourself?

Spanish Pipedream (aka Blow Up Your TV)
lyrics by John Prine

She was a level-headed dancer on the road to alcohol
And I was just a soldier on my way to Montreal
Well she pressed her chest against me
About the time the juke box broke
Yeah, she gave me a peck on the back of the neck
And these are the words she spoke

Blow up your T.V. throw away your paper
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches
Try an' find Jesus on your own

All of it here

YouTube: Prine singing Spanish Pipedream in concert

Song notes (taken from the lyrics link above. I don't know if these are accurate.)

---"I wrote it for a Puerto Rican dishwasher in Chicago 'cause he liked Spanish songs." ~John Prine London, Aug 8, 1976

---"I used to keep a small bowl of real fine pebbles that I picked up on my mail route, and if somebody said something really stupid on TV, I'd throw some at the screen." ~John Prine

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Two Writing Teachers

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Your Name in Shoes

I think this is funny. Type in a woman's name at and see what shoe styles come up.

Alexis (identity issues.)

Gertrude is plainly a bootie and nothing else.

Fanny (who you might have expected to have bootie) is eccentric and fun.

Pippi isn't so Longstocking, but the clogs are cute.

Sara vs. Sarah. (hmmm. My spelling, "Sara," returns no loafers, thank goodness. But I kind of envy those "Sarah" Shane&Shawn racy numbers.)

I'm very sorry. More about writing next time.

Oh, wait! Shoes you can write on. Whew! I'm back on message.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Why I Write Middle Grade Fiction

Two things have been going on:

the revisions for my second middle grade novel, The New Recruit, which must be put to bed by mid-November or so

the slow drafting of an unnamed YA novel

But...then another thing happened. In the midst of the revisions, I suddenly wanted to write another middle grade novel really badly. Not that I want to stop with the YA. But I realized how much I love middle grade. I think it was this definition from the Cybils that did me in:

"The middle grade years are, in my view, the reading years with the most potential to turn a child into a reader for life. It's often the books you read between the ages of 8-12 that you remember long into adulthood as your dearest books of all. These are the years when kids really and truly start to figure themselves out as readers--their likes and dislikes and all the rest in between. It's during this time when children strike out on their own in earnest, reading for themselves and by themselves, all the while creating themselves.

In this Cybils category, we're looking for stories that capture real life in all of its wonderful messiness. So we're not talking magic or superheroes or werewolves or elves. Instead, think adventures and school stories, mysteries and stories about families, and tales that tell kids of life across the globe. Tell us which of the Middle Grade fiction titles published this year you think kids will still be talking about when they're all grown up, and still reading away."

--Kerry Millar, organizer

Nominations are open! Go quickly and nominate your favorite middle grade book!

Or once in any of these nine categories.