Friday, October 29, 2010

Poetry Friday: Poppies by Sandra McPherson

Yes, that's me, the orange crayon in the box.
 (I wish I could find the rest of the pictures
 of my colorful cohorts that Halloween.)

I love orange. Not so much traffic cone orange, but golden orange, the color of autumn trees after a heavy rain, when the leaves radiate like inextinguishable flames. I didn't know quite why I loved this color so much until I read the opening line of Poppies, by Sandra McPherson. The progression of imagery in the poem trails into sadness, which is difficult. I wanted more blazing. Sigh.

by Sandra McPherson

Orange is the single-hearted color. I remember
How I found them in a vein beside the railroad,
A bumble-bee fumbling for a foothold
While the poppies' petals flagged beneath his boot.

I brought three poppies home and two buds still sheathed.
I amputated them above the root. They lived on artlessly
Beside the window for a while, blazing orange, bearing me
No malice. Each four-fanned surface opened

To the light. They were bright as any orange grove.
I watched them day and night stretch open and tuck shut

Read the rest here.

P.S. Don't miss's take on Halloween, including their Poetry Haunted House.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Toby at The Writer's Armchair

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Writing Mantras

I like to write while listening to yoga music. It puts me in the zone. Since I don't understand Sanskrit, the words aren't distracting. The beat, based on breath, is energizing and relaxing at the same time, like a strong cup of tea. And best of all, I've developed a Pavlovian response to it. When I hear the music, I write. 

I'm also addicted to taping mantras to my laptop.  For Letters From Rapunzel, it was this fortune cookie fortune:

For Operation Yes, it was:


Lately, in my continuing struggle to revise a YA manuscript, I've gone through a slew of them, and I'm toying with putting up Auden's quote about poetry, which I think perfectly describes the complexity of a YA novel:

"Clear thinking about mixed feelings" 

Or perhaps this one, which reminds me not to bother being someone I'm not:

"Cool and I have never met upon the high road of life." -- M.T. Anderson

Do you have a writing mantra?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Poetry Friday: Dandelion

This is me, once again reminding you to sign up for the Poetry 180 series, "a poem a day for American high schools," but really, it's a stream for all of us. Here's poem #156:


Julie Lechevsky

My science teacher said
there are no monographs
on the dandelion.

Unlike the Venus fly-trap
or Calopogon pulchellus,
it is not a plant worthy of scrutiny.

It goes on television
between the poison squirt bottles,
during commercial breakaways from Ricki Lake.

But that's how life
to my home.

where they make you do

Poetry Friday is hosted today by my poetry sister and fellow Cybils judge, Liz Garton Scanlon. (Remember to nominate a poetry book for the Cybils by midnight tonight!)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Limitations and Words in the Dust

"Limitations, honestly faced, are the greatest assets in producing a work of art."---caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.
This quote (pulled from at the always interesting blog, Letters of Note,) is taken from Hirschfeld's personal correspondence with artist Peter Emslie, but truly, I love the whole letter. It's the kind of utterly impractical, yet life-changing advice that feeds you, day after day, and pushes you out in the right direction instead of hobbling you with self-doubt.

Of course, we're limited. But the desire to be more than we are, the need to strive for what we can't have---that's where story happens. A novel is a failed attempt to tell the truth any other way. A poem is a wrong-headed impulse to cage what can't be contained. Every piece of art is a confession that our legs are broken, our hearts tired, our souls, starving.

I just finished reading Words in the Dust, Trent Reedy's debut novel about a young girl in Afghanistan. Zulaikha's life, by any measure, is limited. She is taunted by boys who call her "Donkeyface." She is bound by culture, laws, time, and war. Barely any stories of girls in Afghanistan survive the scouring forces that turn their lives into wind-blown dust. And yet, here, despite the odds, is a life painstakingly held to the light.

The author was a soldier in the Iowa National Guard and is a Facebook friend. The editor is Cheryl Klein, my editor for Operation Yes. The book is graced with the poetry of Afghanistan-born poet, Jami; peopled with characters as fully realized as your own family, and infused with a quiet, watchful intensity. I don't know how to stop wanting to be more than I am; perhaps that's why I ached so much for Zulaikha to have more than she does.

Read in ARC form. Available for sale in January.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, TN

Look who greeted me upon my arrival
to War Memorial Plaza
for the Southern Festival of Books
in Nashville, TN
They must have known Operation Yes was coming. 

At LEAD Academy,
talking about military families, writing books, and saying YES

Great kids
I wrote a jody call just for them
and boy, did they belt it out

I don’t know, but I’ve heard it’s true,
LEAD Academy has the tightest crew. 

We can’t be quiet; we’ll say it loud,
We are LEADERS and we are proud.

I don’t know, but I’ve been told
Books are better than piles of gold.

We can’t be quiet; we’ll say it loud,
We are LEADERS and we are proud.

We have a secret; we confess, 
Battles are won by saying YES.

We can’t be quiet; we’ll say it loud,
We are LEADERS and we are proud.

We can’t be quiet; we’ll say it loud,
We are LEADERS and we are proud.

Books sales, my kryptonite

They had both my books in stock.
And my panel on Contemporary Military Families in Fiction
went really well. I was happy.

Books by my co-presenter, Dana Reinhardt
including her novel, The Things a Brother Knows.
My husband absconded with my copy,
 and just texted me his review:
Wicked good. 
Me with authors Dana Reinhardt and Louis Sachar

Jon Sciescka was in the house,
talking up
Spaceheadz and Guys Read.
I didn't get to meet him again, but I did sit in his
chair! He had been eating breakfast
Tom Angleberger, author of Origami Yoda . . . 

and then I sat down with Tom,
 so you know the magic in the chair totally rubbed off on me, right?

Tom also asked if he could snap a quick picture of me reading for this project for a librarian friend. (Click one of those map pins in Tennessee, and you'll see a pic of me, a book, and a biscuit.) 

See that name? Lauren Kate
In a former life, she was my editor at HarperCollins.
She was the reason Letters From Rapunzel was pulled from the slush and became a real book.

 What a total pleasure to see her again, meet her husband, 
and have her meet mine, and to rejoice in her great success

Me and Lauren

I also got to catch the end of Deborah Wiles reading from Countdown.
 I cannot wait to read this!

I had time to duck into the gorgeous
 downtown Nashville Public Library

Maps of Nashville 

Check out the macarons at Provence,
the cafe adjacent to the library.
I had one lemon and one chocolate. Mmmmm.

Provence was also where I met Jules (from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast) for a morning chat which was going splendidly until I thought to check the time. Holy crap. I thought we'd talked for an hour. NO. It was THREE.
I had to run to my hotel to check out, and Jules had to run to a Festival session, so it was quick hugs and sadly, no pictures of us together. Waaaaah. We need an official timekeeper when we get together.

You know it was a Southern Festival
 because the author hospitality bags contained
mini MoonPies and Jack Daniels.

"Atticus Finch for Chief Justice" t-shirts

Monuments to Music

Guitars everywhere

All in all, a spectacular weekend. Thank you, Nashville, and the Southern Festival of Books. Truly a class act.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Brought to You By the Letter "N"

The other day in the car we were listening to my husband's iPod. He has a LOT of music, and for kicks, we've been listening to the songs in alphabetical order.

L, of course, was much ado about Love and Lovely.
M had some variety, from Mothers to Money
But N?

Talk about a downer.

There was
NORTHERN WINDS (brrrrrrrr)
NOT PRETTY ENOUGH (one of my favorite songs of all time, btw)

So I tried to think of less gloomy N words. My brain, though, was stuck on NOPE. NADA. NUMB. NOISE. NASTY. NATTERING. NOSEY. NINNY. NONPLUSSED. NIT-PICKY. NEGATIVE.

The only good N words I could come up with were Natural and New. Except those sound like a commercial.

I guess there's Nutmeg. That's good Nice.

Oh, wait!!!!!


I'm going to Nashville! For the Southern Festival of Books. I'm so honored and pleased to be part of this great lineup of children's and YA authors:

Will I see you there?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Knowing Nothing, Feeling Everything

"I like knowing nothing, but feeling everything." ---Sharon Creech, speaking about rough drafts in "Leaping Off the Porch," from Barbara Harrison and Gregory Maguire's collection of essays, Origins of Story.

"An acting teacher used to tell us, 'The best protection is stark naked,' meaning that if you commit yourself to a role and to your character’s objectives, and open yourself completely to the moment onstage, there is no room for self-consciousness or second-guessing. It’s when you indulge in half-measures that you screw up." ---Susan O'Doherty, Ph.D., from her column, The Doctor is In

I love both these quotes, but of course, they intimidate me, too. How to be so brave? How to be so balanced that leaping and committing are both possible?

What doesn't work is looking at my own feet.  Look out and up. Breathe. 

Friday, October 1, 2010

Poetry Friday: Banned Books Week Edition

short article about the history of banned poetry is posted at I found it amusing that Shel Silverstein's How Not to Have to Dry the Dishes was considered subversive. Really, dish-drying tikes are devious in their avoidery all on their own. (Avoidery = the intricate task of avoiding an onerous task without seeming to do so; related to embroidery, the verbal embellishment of facts used to cover for the same.)

Surely there is more banned poetry. After all, a poem can be committed to memory, unlike most books. And when banned words enter your brain, well...


Blessed, blessed
are you, for

will make you weep
when the light hits the grass
in the morning.
I will make you crave
conversation like red
meat, lay you
weak, at the feet
of strangers. I will open
lives like vistas
before you
that you will never

beautiful thing
will come to you and press
against your flesh.
There is nothing
that will not call
your name, nothing
that you will not long
to possess, nothing
that will not offer up red
kisses, coupling,
seeping into the roots
of the world.

will deceive you,
tell you all you need is a
mouthful, but in truth,
I know the desire
I infect you with is
See, how the red shoes
I bind to you prick
your feet,
hungry for the beat
and sway
of word upon word.

Blessed, oh! blessed
are you.

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Jennie at Biblio File.