Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Why I'm Grateful to Be Small Potatoes

Today, I had time to answer a letter from a young reader of Operation Yes. I choose a fun notecard with artwork by Brian Selznick (purchased as part of a set at the last SCBWI conference.) I hand wrote my thoughts inside, and added an Operation Yes postcard signed with a silver pen (which shows up on the shiny black surface.)

Then, I hand addressed the envelope, selected a Homer Simpson stamp and walked the letter to my mailbox. Joy!!!  I'm grateful, so grateful, to be small potatoes and have the time to do this.

I'll be on break for Thanksgiving week, but if you're feeling grateful because you're a small potato too,  please leave your reasons in the comment section. I'll have time to read each and every one. Yay!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Mary Oliver: In Blackwater Woods

My niece, Emily, would have been thirteen years old yesterday. Her family hosted a purple balloon release at her gravesite.  I couldn't be there, but this poem by Mary Oliver is the balloon I'm releasing today.

Blackwater Woods
by Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

National Press Club Book Fair and Authors Night

A young reader

Signing with fellow authors Katherine Marsh (The Night Tourist)

Author Laura Krauss Melmed in the foreground, the always busy Judy Schachner beside her, me, and author Tami Lewis Brown (on the other side of the table, in red)

Skippyjon Jones!

Yes, Judy signed each book this elaborately...plus, she was gracious and funny. Also, she kept sending her long line of customers my way, telling them that OPERATION YES was great. (Thanks, Judy! Thanks, Skippyjon!)

Oh, so nice, both of them. We practiced our "elevator pitches" on each other. Maggie signed a copy of Shiver to me with the inscription "Operation Wolf," which made me laugh. Plus, I learned that Katherine has written for Rolling Stone Magazine. (Go, Kate!)

Gwen Ifill, being interviewed

Massive crowds

What? You want more? I have revisions to finish!

Okay, one funny story: I saw someone I recognized, and my brain instantly categorized her face as: friend, good friend, she must be 'cause you see her a lot, you must know her, you .... oh. Wait. You only know her from TV. That's Leslie Sanchez, political analyst on CNN.

Good thing I didn't follow my first impulse, which was to beam at her and say hey! what are you doing here?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

You can't trust a character who doesn't...

After the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Conference this past Saturday, a group of us went to the Salvadorian restaurant, La Union, for dinner where we devoured delicious, inexpensive, and homestyle food and talked writing, revision, and life. At one point, I commented that during our Twitter chat,  I'd asked my editor, Cheryl Klein, if she would ever acquire a manuscript that didn't mention food. Hmmmm. We paused in our eating and talking. We all considered the question, and more or less came up with the same answer Cheryl gave:

 A picture book, yes; a novel, no. You can't trust a character who doesn't think about eating at least once.

Then we were off and running, talking about our favorite meals in children's literature:

 The cozy meal Mrs. Beaver offers the cold and lost Pevensie children in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: "There was a jug of creamy milk for the children (Mr. Beaver stuck to beer) and a great big lump of deep yellow butter in the middle of the table from which everyone took as much as he wanted to go with his potatoes and all the children thought - and I agree with them - that there's nothing to beat good freshwater fish if you eat it when it has been alive half an hour ago and has come out of the pan half a minute ago."

The mysterious feast that appears in the attic in A Little Princess: "rich, hot, savory soup, which was a meal in itself, and sandwiches and toast and muffins enough for both of them"

The tasty letters of the alphabet in The Phantom Tollbooth: "crisp, crunchy C" "the I, which was icy and refreshing"

Practically ALL of Harry Potter...

Cornbread and molasses (except if Pa caught a rabbit) in the Little House series

So, what's your favorite meal in children's literature?

And how would you complete this sentence:  You can't trust a character who doesn't....

    Friday, November 13, 2009

    Poetry Friday: God Says Yes to Me

    Linda Urban sent me the link to today's poem, which I'd read before and loved and yet had never featured on Poetry Friday. The poem is sweet salve because I feel as if I've been revising my WIP since the dawn of time. When you spend hours on end critically ripping apart your writing, staring at each word and asking it to justify its existence, you become ruthless, jaded, and the master of saying NO to your weak, whining self who wants to sneak out the back and dump the whole manuscript in the trash.

    And yet, as writers we must say yes to our work. This poem reminds me that the choices are hard in revision, as author Tanita Davis blogged about so vividly: "like pulling teeth, abdominal surgery, a bikini wax and a colonoscopy all at once."

    But then, dear melodrama-loving, short-tempered writer self---Honey!!!--- you must love what you choose.

    God Says Yes To Me
    by Kaylin Haught

    I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
    and she said yes
    I asked her if it was okay to be short
    and she said it sure is
    I asked her if I could wear nail polish
    or not wear nail polish
    and she said honey

    the rest is here

    Poetry Friday is hosted today by the ever-resourceful Greg at GottaBook

    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    I'm not a Pol, Pundit, OR a Cultural Legend, and yet. . .

    I was invited to participate in an event next Tuesday at the National Press Club. Kidlitosphere, I will be eclipsed by the dazzling star power of my fellow attendees (Jim Lehrer!) but I swear to shine a favorable light on kids' books and introduce a few pundits, pols and legends to your charms. (I wonder if I should mention that I worked on my school's newspaper staff?)

    Other children's and YA writers who will be there include:

    Judy Schachner (Skippyjon, Lost in Spice)

    P.F. McKinley (Alexander the Salamander and The Challenge)

    Katherine Marsh (The Night Tourist; The Twilight Prisoner)

    Maggie Stiefvater (Shiver)

    Laura Krauss Melmed (My Love Will Be with You)

    Pamela Duncan Edwards (Jack and Jill's Treehouse)

    Here's the press release. If you live near D.C., come see me! Admission is only $5.00 and all proceeds go to charity.

    Top pols, pundits and cultural legends at National Press Club Book Fair & Authors’ Night
    Honorary Chairwoman Alma Powell

    WASHINGTON (September 2009) -- Join Chris Matthews, Rod Blagojevich, Tom Ridge, Gwen Ifill, David Pogue, KRS-One and Kinky Friedman among 75 top authors at the National Press Club’s 32nd Annual Book Fair & Authors’ Night.

    One of the capital’s premier literary events, the annual fair draws the nation’s notable authors to the historic Press Club in downtown Washington.

    Also among the 75 authors scheduled to appear are Jim Lehrer, Grant Wahl, Isabel Gillies, Richard Wolffe, Julia Quinn, Pamela Newkirk, C. David Heymann, Jeff Sharlet, Leslie Sanchez, James Reston Jr., Deborah Tannen, Dwayne Betts and Christopher Andersen.

    The Book Fair & Authors’ Night promises a robust crowd of booklovers, journalists and politicos seeking the latest titles across the genres – from cookbooks and children’s stories to history, sports, memoirs and mysteries _ and a chance to mingle with the nation’s best authors.

    WHAT: National Press Club’s 32nd Annual Book Fair and Authors’ Night
    WHEN: Tuesday, Nov. 17, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
    WHERE: National Press Club, 529 14th St. NW, Washington, D.C.
    TICKETS: $5 General admission – No charge for NPC members.

    The National Press Club is the nation’s leading organization for journalists. The event is a fundraiser for the club’s Eric Friedheim National Journalism Library, a 501 (c) (3) charitable organization that offers scholarships to journalism students, and research and professional development for the working press worldwide. Through our partnership with The SEED Foundation, the event will help develop the school library at the foundation’s Maryland campus.
    For information, contact Nicole Nottingham at (202) 662-7523 or nnottingham@press.org.

    Monday, November 9, 2009

    Six Things for a Signing

    Six things from my book signing at Hooray for Books!, a wonderful independent children's book store in Alexandria, Virginia:

    1) People showed up!  You may laugh at my anxiety, but authors fear the unattended book signing like they used to fear searching for a friendly lunch table on the first day of a new middle school. I was grateful to see tons of familiar faces, friends who waved and hugged and bought books and laughed at the right places during the reading. Thank you, thank you.

    2) The people who couldn't show up still ordered books!  Yup. I had a large basket of pre-ordered copies to sign, and as I went through them, I kept breaking into a big, goofy smile at the sight of each name. What fun that faraway friends went the extra mile to support the signing. Big hugs to each of you.

    3) I did a craft project for the signing! (Those of you who know me are fainting.) It could hardly be featured on Etsy, but I made a collage of pictures of military families.

    You can see it beside me in this picture. Having who I wrote the book for next to me helped me focus. How could I be nervous when military kids are kind and brave each day?

    4) I brought props! Here's a close up of my table:

    ---little green army men, of course, guarding the book of LGM photos that my agent, Tina Wexler, gave me as a publication gift


    ---a container of folded paper stars like the ones Gari makes in the book (My daughter made these particular ones. They were passed from hand to hand and oohed and ahhhed over.)

    ---the fabulous teacher's guide written for me by Natalie Lorenzi, who was in attendance. (Yay, Natalie!)

    ---other books about military families, including Rosanne Parry's Heart of a Shepherd and Jimmy Gownley's fourth volume of Amelia Rules! graphic novel series.  I also held up Jon Scieszka's Knucklehead because the book is hilarious and features little green army men!

    ---my YES wristband given to me by my husband, which I'm wearing, as well as the As You Like It necklace that was a tribute to my theater background in high school.

    ---the yellow roses are courtesy of dedicated OPERATION YES supporter and fabulous friend, Jama Rattigan of Alphabet Soup.

    5)  For the reading itself, I chose the scene where Miss Loupe pretends to be rowing a boat and leads her class in a jody call from atop the Ugly, Ugly Couch.  I recruited young actors from the audience to shout out the responses to the jody call as the students in Room 208 do, and when it came time for Miss Loupe to obey St. Peter's command to "drop down, granny, and give me ten!"  I complied with pushups as my lovely friends counted. (You can see a picture of my pushups here at Jama's blog, along with other pictures from the signing, including one of my husband with Cornelius Bear!)

    6)  Hooray for Books! owners Trish and Ellen, plus helper Kristy, were unfailingly gracious, helping me set up and providing brownies for everyone. At the end of the signing, they extended an author discount to me on the copy of Robin Brande's FAT CAT that I had called ahead to reserve. And they also gave me a check with a matching donation to Musicorps!  Thank you so, so much.

    P.S. If you still want a signed copy of OPERATION YES, Hooray for Books is standing by.  Call them at  (703) 548-4092. I live close to the store, so I can personalize your request.

    Friday, November 6, 2009

    Poetry Friday: Rick Barot

    This one has been in my files since it was first posted at How a Poem Happens. I'm choosing it today because whatever else the poem may evoke---love or stories---it describes the writing process, too: from the initial moment you are roused by details like "hearts penknifed" on windows through the long creative metamorphosis of drafts that are "questions on the floor" until the day "you begin to sense a use for them."  As writers, this is what salvation looks like.

    by Rick Barot

    I think about the mornings it saved me
    to look at the hearts penknifed on the windows
    of the bus, or at the initials scratched

    into the plastic partition, in front of which
    a cabbie went on about bread his father
    would make, so hard you broke teeth on it,

    or told one more story about the plumbing
    in New Delhi buildings, villages to each floor,
    his whole childhood in a building, nothing to

    love but how much now he missed it, even
    Read the rest here

    I also like the interview accompanying the poem, in which Barot gives this answer to a question about inspiration:
    I do believe in “inspiration,” but not in the struck-by-lightning, perhaps facile connotation that surrounds the word these days. I realize that the etymology of the word comes from a spiritual register: that one is breathed on by a sort of influence, and one is then moved. But I want to imagine that one isn’t given the gift of that breath without having prepared for it, even if inadvertently.
    Poetry Friday is hosted today by Elaine at Wild Rose Reader. Thanks for stepping up, Elaine!

    Thursday, November 5, 2009

    NaNoWriMo Fuel: Throw Your Body at the Mark

    Hey NaNoWriMo-ers! (And Lindsay, who's doing NaPlayWriMo!) Here's another quote for you: 

    "The way to write is to throw your body at the mark when your arrows are spent." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

    That quote is courtesy of my friend, Amber Lough, who is NaNoing at the airport as I type this. Go, Amber!

    Also, if you need a juicy article on the craft of writing to inspire you, I heartily recommend Mary Pearson's recent post, The Sexy Unsung Hero. Guaranteed to get your writing heart revved up and ready to rock your writing goal for the day.

    P.S. Teachers: if you ever think for one minute that what you do is not worth it, go read the comments on this post at Alphabet Soup, where Jama asked people to name their favorite teacher and why. (You can win a copy of OPERATION YES by commenting, but I would love the post anyway, for all the sincere tributes. I keep going back to see who has left a new dang-what-a-kicking teacher! story.)

    Tuesday, November 3, 2009

    NaNoWriMo Fuel: The Battle of Resistance

    For all my friends who've taken on the challenge of National Novel Writing Month, I salute you!  More than that, I'd like to scream for you until I'm hoarse, hand you Gatorade, and wave a huge banner with your name on it.

    But we know the Internet has not progressed as far as that. The cupcakes laced with inspiration that I keep trying to send you through the broadband connection keep getting stuck in the transfigulator. And the assassin I dispatched to quiet your internal critic keeps missing his target and dropping his cone of silence over those random popup ads that blast techno dance music. 

    So, to cheer you on in your word battle, I can only offer more words. How about a quote for you, as often as I'm able? Today's is from Steven Pressfield, the author of The War of Art. I found it via this inspiring post, The Battle of Resistance, at the blog, There Are No Rules.

    Maybe it's too early in the month to talk of resistance. You're probably flying along, feeling the rush of words. But one day, this month, you're going to face a wall. All the more reason to stockpile now the encouragement you'll need to get through it.  And think about it: isn't this act of overcoming just what you're asking your characters to do?

    Resistance is directly proportional to love. If you’re feeling massive Resistance, the good news is, it means there’s tremendous love there too. If you didn’t love the project that is terrifying you, you wouldn’t feel anything. The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.
    The more Resistance you experience, the more important your unmanifested art/project/enterprise is to you—and the more gratification you will feel when you finally do it.

    Go, NaNoWriMo-ers! Go!