Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Muse atop my tree

Remember the beautiful snowflake painted by Inga Poslitur that I won at auction last year? Here she is,  crowning my tabletop tree:

Merry Christmas and a peaceful and inspired New Year to you all. 

I'll be on a blog break for awhile.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holidays: Kick back and...

What do you do to relax?

I'm asking because it struck me as funny the other day when three members of my household were all engaged in "relaxing" activities that would be crazy-making to others:

One was building a scale model of a lunar landing craft. (This involves tiny pieces, glue and patience. You know this wasn't me, don't you?)

One was learning Stairway to Heaven on the guitar. (This might be me, except I have no musical aptitude.) 

One was writing/fiddling/obsessing over a sestina. (Of course, you found me. Weird word woman.)

And you? Do you relax in ways that others find strange?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Poetry Friday: A Deeper Love for the Longest Night

The Washington Post reports that the Inaugural Committee has chosen Elizabeth Alexander to read a poem at the swearing-in ceremony for President-Elect Barack Obama. 

It also asks several poet laureates to weigh in on the practice of including poetry on such a day. 

Ted Kooser says: "I am basically an introvert," he said. "For an occasion like that, they'd have to bring me on strapped to gurney." 

Rita Dove says, "no one would refuse if they were asked, but you would kind of go, 'Oh, my God.' "

 And Charles Simic sums it up: "It's a nice idea . . . but it's not an easy one to do justice to..."

Really, it's quite a good article that quotes from an impressive array of poetic sources. I kinda wish they'd get these guys to offer their opinions on government business more often.

Brooklyn Arden beat me to a preview of Alexander's poetry, so I'm going with another great artist who will be performing on January 20:  Aretha Franklin. (Ranked #1 on Rolling Stones list of The Greatest Singers of All Time. The woman I want to be reincarnated as.) 

Despite the title, her song, A Deeper Love, isn't exactly Christmas material, but I think it's perfect for The Longest Night on Dec. 21.

People let me tell you I
work hard every day
I get up out of bed, I put on my clothes
'Cause I've got bills to pay
Now it ain't easy but I don't need no help
I've got a strong will to survive
I've got a deeper love, deeper love
Deeper love inside and I call it
Pride (a deeper love)
Pride - a deeper love
(Pride) a deeper love
Woah woah woah woah
It's the (pride) power that gives you
The (pride) strength to survive

Listen to her on YouTube (no video, just glorious sound) 

P.S. She does have a new Christmas album.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Author Amok.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Reading Date

Today, my daughter and I are going on a Reading Date. 

We're driving to our local indie bookstore, Politics and Prose, having lunch, buying books...and we're sitting there in the store and reading them. 

We may stop here for a cupcake on the way back. 

Don't you want to make a Reading Date with someone you love?

(Can someone design a Reading Date logo? I need one.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What exactly do creative people DO all day?

Instead of blogging, I'm sending you snooping via two links:

----My editor, Cheryl, sent me this site that feeds my love of reading about process: Daily Routines   

I'd have to put myself in the "early risers" category at Daily Routines. My favorite quote? 

"Honestly, I still can't wait to get my pants on in the morning," Friedman said.

----My friend Jackie answers the question: What do photographers do when they get bored?

It's a lot more interesting than what writers do when they get bored. (Watch 30 Rock. Eat Peppermint Jo-Jos. Write glowing reviews in their heads.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Now will poetry be cool?

Blogging may blink on and off over the next few weeks, folks. Don't be alarmed. Just the normal holiday overload. 

Seen on Facebook:  


Yes, Forks High School is running a Poetry Out Loud competition! You can see the Poetry Out Loud-logoed poster right above the heads of lead characters Edward Cullen and Bella Swan in the hit teen movie Twilight. The scene is a hallway scene about 20-25 minutes into the movie and takes place right after the characters first talk in science class. The poster is right above some lockers behind the characters."

Poetry and science in teen movies. What's Hollywood thinking

Friday, December 12, 2008

Poetry Friday: Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds

On love, age and alteration...

 Take #1: What to do with worn books culled from the library?

Give them to art students who will lovingly alter them.  (link via Layers Upon Layers) After the gallery show, the aged books went back into the library system as new items, where you can now borrow such things as that Shakespearean-looking book ruff.  

Take #2:  the BBC's remake of Much Ado About Nothing.

Be warned: it's witty, well-acted and highly entertaining, but the director's changed the old play almost out of recognition, setting the feuding Benedick and Beatrice in a modern day newsroom. There's hardly a word of Shakespeare's original verse in it ... except ... in a wholly new scene, the director has Beatrice and Benedict examine at length some of Shakespeare's words from somewhere else:  Sonnet 116. 

Take #3:

Sonnet 116
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

---William Shakespeare

Such blatant alteration, not only to modernize the play, but to stick in words that never belonged in it in the first place! Yet, it's brilliant.  In a movie with modern dialogue, to finally use Shakespeare's real words, as if to say: see? here he is, the Bard you love, changed yet unchanged, and listen! he's speaking unchanging.  I think Shakespeare would have approved.

Maybe that's what great writing or interesting art or a lasting love affair is: a pattern of alterations that does not alter the essence of what is first loved.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Wild Rose Reader

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Poll Results (Check yes or no)

I was wrong. I'm not so strange. My poll says so.

80% of you said Big Ideas jump-start your engine,  just like me.
20% of said Juicy Memories inspire you, not like me. 

But many of you left comments saying both were essential, and I bow to your wisdom.  Nothing in life is ever as bisected and artificial as poll answers. 

It reminds me of those notes from high school:
 Do you like me? Check yes or no. 

How about: I like you enough to say HEY to you every single day, but not enough to hook up with you.

Or:  I hate you, but I can't say that because you would take that as a sign that I care, so I'll just stick this note in the glove compartment with all your other sick notes.

Or: OMG! OMG!  I LOVE everything about you! But I'm going to check No. 

Which makes me think that literature is a complicated answer to a simple question.

Duckings:  Make way or not?

Messenger:  Am I or not?

Octavian: Traitor or not? 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Judy Blume is a trombone

Judy Blume wisely doesn't give advice to other writers in her blog interview at 7-Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Rather, she says: "There are no rules when it comes to writing. Whatever works for you, go for it!"  

I know that answer might disappoint some, but it's the truth. I'm amazed by people who think that what works for one writer will work for another. Writers are their own instruments, and if I try to play trombone like I'm Judy, shouldn't be surprised when I honk out sour notes.  

Digression: I think of Judy as a trombone.  Perhaps because of this unrelated interview with trombonist Christopher Schweizer: 

Tafuri: Though there have been some great ones in the music's history, trombonists (compared to other instrumentalists) are a bit of a rarer breed. Why did you gravitate toward trombone?

Schweizer: ...
 I should tell you that I barely ever think "trombone" anymore, it feels more like my voice — it just "is". It does not feel difficult. But let me try: it was and still is a mixture of love for the many sounds of the instrument and a certain instinct that this was the sound my soul was going to need to express itself. Trombone is a talking sound, and I do think of music in terms of language.

 [...] from a very early age I had a certain urge to do things that had never been done before, or to do old things in new ways, which got me kicked out of most schools I ever tried to go to.

 In the field of musical instruments, this means I was clearly hearing possibilities on the trombone (not on the violin or the piano) that I didn't hear anyone play, and it is towards the realization of these visions that I enjoy working today. 

I'm not saying you have to completely understand yourself as an instrument in order to write. I'm not saying writing standards don't exist. Or that starting with some time-tested rules like "show, don't tell" might not give you a solid foundation. But whichever habits, quirks, goals, guidelines, practice schedules, superstitions, bribes or other "rules" produce writing that sounds true to you, do that. (What Judy and Schweizer said.)

In the beginning, you'll be wrong. You'll think stories sound good that don't. You'll miss obvious blunders. You'll play the music least likely to draw a crowd. So what? What you're strengthening is what Judy Blume has in spades: confidence in your choices. 

Writing rules: Make 'em. Break 'em. Fake 'em. Take 'em to the bank if they work.  If Judy freakin' Blume doesn't care, why should you? Play on!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

From me to you


If you need a speedy gift for someone, I have limited copies of Letters From Rapunzel at home that are available for signing and immediate shipping to you or your chosen reader.  $16 covers it all, including postage.  

I'll toss in one of my nifty red "Read * Write * Believe" pencils 

Email me: email(at)saralewisholmes(dot)com  or use the link in the sidebar.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Don't open the Cheetos

I'm not feeling profound today. Finishing a novel sucks out brain cells and mine haven't regenerated yet. So you get a post about Cheetos.

I like to eat while I read. Or read while I eat. One-handed foods are a must, as are those that don't drip or spatter. Not that I think about it too hard. I pretty much eat what I'm going to eat, and then adjust my lunch reading material accordingly.  Tomato soup = cheap news magazine or Washington Post.  PB&J = new hardback book (Unsigned. Signed books don't come near my table.)  

According to the comments for this post, Cheetos make the list of worst foods to eat while you read, and I concur, especially if it's a library book.  However, I strongly disagree with the body of the post which claims that popcorn is a "bad" book food.  No way. Of course, I don't grease mine with butter, but I think popcorn is the BEST food to eat while reading. Give me a big bowl of it, some kind of fizzy beverage, and a fat book. I did like the suggestion of hot tea and licorice.  (Again in the comments. Those smart commenters!) 

Things I've eaten while reading: sushi, cereal, salad, baked sweet potatoes, Good 'n' Plenty, stuffed baby eggplant, sea salt and vinegar chips, apples with peanut butter, graham crackers and milk, toast with jelly, and much more. I've attempted a burger (not wise) and am adept at soup. 

I'm pretty sure a dietician or a mindfulness expert would advise against multi-tasking my eating and reading.  They might have a heart attack if they saw this guide:

Food/Suggested Read: 

fried bologna sandwich/ InStyle magazine (the more humble your meal, the more outrageously satisfying looking at $895 shoes is.)

Lebanese lentil soup/The Book Thief (If you're going to read a book narrated by Death, you need soup, and lentil is my favorite.)

Sushi/poetry.  (Attention to detail in both food and words.)

What's your recommendation?

P.S. Did you know there's an International Edible Book Festival? I didn't.

P.P. S. Random movie thought: Eat Drink Man Woman---have you seen it? Sooo good.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Poetry Friday: Selecting a Reader

I found this beautiful poem at Poetry 180. It's by former U.S. Poet Laureate, Ted Kooser. Then I found a picture of him. 

Poet incognito, that's what I'd say. 
Not flashy.
Not pretentious.
He might even be nice

But I don't really know. I only know him through his words. Isn't that the most intimate and strange thing? He selects a reader; a reader selects a poem. Or not.

They need not ever meet or have a thing in common. Poetry is their mutual dance card. And if I understand this poem, sometimes he writes for those who don't want to dance with him at all. 

Selecting a Reader
by Ted Kooser

First, I would have her be beautiful,
and walking carefully up on my poetry
at the loneliest moment of an afternoon,
her hair still damp at the neck
from washing it. She should be wearing

the rest here

The roundup is here

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Poll: Juicy Memories or Big Questions?

Over Thanksgiving, I had a conversation with my sister and my mother-in-law about writing. Both of them said that questions about the past, and specifically, questions that sparked memories, inspired them to put words on the page. 

No. Not me. I despise writing exercises like:  Describe the ceiling of the first room you remember sleeping in.  Tell about a time when you should have stopped talking, but didn't. List all your favorite toys, in the order you received them. 

 I would rather write about what could be, not what was.  I know my sister and my mother-in-law are in very good writerly company. Generations of writers have drawn upon memories to spark new stories.  But I still rebel. What inspires me (no surprise to those who read this blog regularly) are the Big Questions.  

I think I'm in the minority, though. To investigate this, I'm running my first poll. It's in the sidebar there. Vote for Juicy Memories or Big Questions.  

I'm fully prepared to be labeled odd.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Gifts For Readers and Writers, Part V

You're giving books for the holidays, right? 

Yup, thought so.  But if you need something to accompany said books, consider these add-ons...

Clip to a page, horizontally or vertically. 
Talk back to the author.
File the 3x5 card later. 

A mini-poster. Consult daily.

Invisible Ink. I'm sure you'll find a use for it. 

And then, of course, wrap your books and everything else in gorgeous paper.

Other ideas in this gift series here (but I can't guarantee all the old links are still current.)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Round Three: Line Edits

Yes, I'm here.  I'm line-editing.  Round Three.

That's where we bring the manuscript (in the words of my editor) to "complete and breathing life."  

New lines are born and must find lungs.

Old lines expire. Wheezing all the way. 

Some lines move to get fresh air.

This "breathing life" business is exhilarating. And exhausting.

Down to five more breaths. Five more changes. Then I'm reading the whole thing yet again.

Good thing I love bringing a story to life more than most anything. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Books, Horses and Camp: A Way to Give Thanks and Give Back

My niece, Emily, has been battling cancer for over two years now. But that's not all she's been doing. She's modeled in a show for Flashes of Hope, raised money for Rainbow Hospital and starred in a video for Flying Horse Farms.  I feel downright lazy next to her.

So here's what I'm doing:  starting a library of camp and horse related books for Flying Horse Farms.  Flying Horse Farms is a magical, transforming and fun camp for children with serious illnesses and their families. It's an Ohio based 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization and working to become a member of Hole in the Wall Camps, the world’s largest family of camps for children with serious illnesses.   

I talked with the director, and he said that rather than one central library, he would love to have books available at several spots around the camp---the stables, the craft room, the main activity hall, the cabins, maybe even the dining hall.

The books would be...

For kids to read while they wait for their turn on a horse.
For kids who suddenly discover they love pottery or archery or fishing and want to know everything about it. 
For kids to share and discuss a cool quote or an inspirational person during nightly reflection times.
For kids who need a fast idea for a drama skit, or a nature craft, or a easy recipe.
For kids who need to rest.
For kids who love to read.
For kids who are kids and want to be kids and must be kids even if a serious illness complicates their lives.

If you want to help, here are some suggestions:

  • I've set up a wish list on Amazon.  You can choose a book and donate it directly from there.  The list is small now, but it will grow as the campers and counselors and the director add new requests to it.
  • You can blog about your favorite camp or horse related book. I'll round up those posts here, plus forward them to the director and consult them in expanding the Wish List. (Little Willow already did this. Thanks, LW!) Feel free to copy this entire post or use the button I'm putting in my sidebar.
  • If you're an author or illustrator or publisher or blogger with a camp or horse related book, you can donate directly to the camp, but please remember that the camp serves kids ages 7-15  and your donation should reflect the needs of the camp. (Please, in all cases, only NEW books.)

    Questions?  Email me at:

Here's a list of activities at camp:

Arts & Crafts
Adventure (teambuilding)
Sports & Games

Fiction is also welcome, but at this time, we're concentrating on stories with horses in them. Once the camp is fully up and running, I'll add other fiction requests from the campers and counselors.   

The address for donations:

Flying Horse Farms
225 Green Meadows Drive South, Suite A
Lewis Center, Ohio 43035

Thank you! 

Edited to add: Many of you have emailed privately to say you're supporting FHF, and I thank you profoundly.  

Bloggers who've posted about Flying Horse Farms:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

How do you DO it?

I love hearing about the creative process. How do you DO it? is one question I could listen to a writer or artist answer all day and all night.

But you rarely hear editors talk about process.  

So run right over to Brooklyn Arden and hear my lovely editor, Cheryl Klein, explain exactly how and why she wrote and chose flap copy for my next book, Operation Yes.

I know it's my book. I know she and I talked about all this. But still, hearing her lay out the process of it...well, that's a great story in itself. 

Friday, November 21, 2008

Yes, it was as fun as it sounds

MotherReader, in her usual funny and casual style,  chatted with me and Caroline Hickey  as part of the Winter Blog Blast Tour. Go over and eavesdrop.  

Thanks, Pam!

Poetry Friday: Dog Music

My dog loves to howl when the firetrucks go by. She also howls when I leave the house without her. Or if she hears my voice on the answering machine. This one's for her.

Dog Music
by Paul Zimmer

Amongst dogs are listeners and singers.
My big dog sang with me so purely,
puckering her ruffled lips into an O,
beginning with small, swallowing sounds
like Coltrane musing, then rising to power
and resonance, gulping air to continue—
her passion and sense of flawless form—
singing not with me, but for the art of dogs.

The rest is here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Under the blanket, reading

I'm not feeling bloggy today.  I think it's because I've been busy reading the storm of fantastic interviews that have blown through this week with the Winter Blog Blast Tour.   M.T. Anderson! Ellen Klages!  Tony DiTerlizzi! Mitali Perkins! John Green! (I want to read Paper Towns again after that juicy interview.  I missed some metaphorical stuff. Perhaps because I was laughing at pee in bottles.)

"Germany loves hedgehogs. There is a powerful organization, Pro Igel, that lobbies on behalf of the cute little critters. It has forced McDonald's to change the design of the lids on its McFlurry's shakes, since with the previous design, hedgehogs were getting their heads trapped and starving to death. Pro Igel ("igel" is hedgehog in German) also has conferences, education programs, and a Hedgehog Hotline. Plus, they do igel rescue."

I don't know. Maybe I should hibernate like hedgehogs do. First, I gorge on the WBBT interviews. Then I curl in a ball under a blanket and dream winter dreams of books yet to be written.  Call the Hedgehog Hotline when I need a McFlurry delivered. Dream some more. Hedge a bit. Hog a bit.  Tuck the blankie closer.  

Sounds good to me.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Now that's a mission statement

There's a new Center for Future Storytelling at MIT.  Their mission?  To "keep meaning alive."

For the record, I don't think traditional storytelling is on its last breath. Not in the slightest. 

 I think this because my son sprawled on the couch reading 1984 last night. "This book is awesome," he said, and then we got into a discussion about Oceania and who and what it controls. The other week, I heard belly-laughs emanating from the basement. The culprit? Slaughterhouse Five.  Yes, he plays Guitar Hero and other video games. He reads mostly for AP English, not for fun. He's a typical technology-laden boy. But when he does read, he responds to literature with a keenness that tells me story RULES.

There's also today's post at GuysLitWire about a thirteen-year-old's lasting impression of reading Philip K. Dick on a camping trip.  My favorite line? "The whole of Dick's work wobbles between modern day prophet and bat-**** crazy.

I'm all for new ways to tell stories. I just don't think that means that the old ways are dead.

Monday, November 17, 2008

What is the Worst Problem Writers Face Today?

I took an Authors Guild survey, mostly about health care and financial issues that affect writers. But one question stopped me cold:

What is the worst problem writers face today?

I had trouble answering this. 

Writers have been imprisoned.

and yes, 
Celebrated, Read and Adored.

What's your answer to this impossible question?

P.S.  Consider this my plug for the Authors Guild. Whatever the worst problem turns out to be, they are probably already battling it. They reviewed my first contract before I had an agent and they helped me set up my website in about two days.  They just won a huge settlement with Google to share online profits with writers. They help writers in financial or legal trouble. They run free seminars. Their quarterly bulletin is juicy reading. And Judy Blume is the VP of the board

Friday, November 14, 2008

Poetry Friday: When Does Winter End?

My son told me there was nothing good about winter.
Rather than cajole him, I asked: So when does winter end?
"On the water" was his measured reply.
Ah, yes.

I'm at A Cast of One today

Poetry Friday is hosted by Yat-Yee Chong.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Le Woo-hoo

An update for my recent post about NASA student ambassadors:

The 2009 Launch Conference for the International Year of Astronomy is in Paris. Student ambassadors from all over the world will be there, including two from the United States. There's a seminar on "The Question of Parallel Universes." And a live video conference with the South Pole Station. And a session with a Nobel prize winner in physics.

And my daughter is one of the two U.S. students invited to attend.

Geek out!

Here's the full schedule for the two-day event.

I asked her if there would be a cheesy but satisfying medal ceremony like at the end of the original Star Wars movie, and she laughed. But that's exactly how we both feel about it. Woo-hoo!!!

Below: Rebecca at age 8, having her birthday party at the Virginia Air and Space Center in Hampton, VA. (That's her in the center, of course.)

The press release:


WASHINGTON -- Forty-six undergraduate and graduate students have been
selected to represent NASA in their local communities as recipients
of the agency's International Year of Astronomy, or IYA, Student
Ambassadors Program.

Two of the students were chosen to attend the opening ceremonies of an
IYA event in Paris in January 2009. The students representing NASA at
the ceremonies are Rebecca Holmes, a sophomore at the University of
North Carolina Chapel Hill who is majoring in physics and astronomy,
and Norberto Gonzalez, a junior at the University of Puerto Rico at
Arecibo with a biology concentration.

The IYA Student Ambassadors Program is designed to encourage
undergraduate and graduate students to participate in IYA activities
and generate excitement about NASA's discoveries in astrophysics,
planetary science and solar physics within their local communities
and beyond. These students will serve as role models to others.

"NASA is a major partner in the United States' celebration of IYA
activities," said Hashima Hasan, NASA's Astrophysics education and
public outreach lead in Washington. "The Student Ambassadors Program
is just one of many activities the agency has planned throughout the
coming year."

The ambassadors were selected from more than 150 online applications.
Applicants must be U.S. citizens, full-time students and participate
in activities that align with NASA's IYA goals.

The National Space Grant Foundation manages the IYA Student
Ambassadors Program through a grant from NASA. For more information
about NASA's involvement and a list of student ambassadors, visit:

For more information about NASA and its programs, visit:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day and the 2008 Marine Corps Marathon

For Veterans Day, Paul McCollom gave me permission to re-print his email about running the Marine Corps Marathon in honor of his daughter (who is deployed to Iraq) and to raise money for the Fisher House Foundation. If you remember, I first blogged about it here.

He's a funny guy and tells a great story:

Date: October 31, 2008

To: Team Fisher House Support Heroes

From: Elderly Marine Corps Marathon Finisher


First of all I want to express a heartfelt THANKS to each and every one of you. In response to my requests (begging, pleading, etc) you contributed an amazing $9,450 to Fisher House Foundation; in total the 285 runners making up the 2008 Team Fisher House raised an incredible $375,000!

I promised you that I would absolutely refuse to quit and that I would make a spectacle of myself for Fisher House and I delivered on both as I finished slowly, in great pain, and ugly. How ugly was it you ask? It was so ugly that children screamed and ran, women fainted, grown men cried, a group of Eastern European villagers were passing out torches and pitchforks, and Marines scoffed. OK, maybe I'm exaggerating somewhat but while it did really hurt a lot over the last 6 miles I finished all 26.2 in just over 5 ½ hours. However you are the real Champions for Military Families and whether you believe it or not you were with me in spirit, your support sustained me, and I quite literally could not have accomplished it without you.

As I've said all along the marathon is simply a tool to bring attention to Fisher House, so to help you put a human face on all this I am going to tell you about two local families.

The first is about a Marine Mom in Saginaw, Michigan who called me after she heard about my fundraising activity. Her son was wounded in an IED incident just over two years ago and was treated in three different military hospitals over a 13 month period. She was with him for the entire time and told me that had it not been for Fisher House they would have had to sell their home and declare bankruptcy. Her son now lives at a local half-way house as he continues his struggle to lead an independent life.

The second is about another Michigan family whose son was badly burned more than a year ago in an IED incident. They too have spent months staying at a Fisher House in Texas as he continues his treatment but in addition to a place to stay the Fisher Foundation has paid most of their travel expenses as well. Stories like these are repeated daily at each of the 42 existing Fisher Houses. There were 38 Houses at the beginning of 2008, there will be 46 before the end of the year, there are more seven more scheduled for next year, and more are needed.

As for my daughter, 1st Lt. Rebecca McCollom (soon to be Captain), she is in the third month of her second Iraq deployment and she remains my inspiration. She is well and working hard at doing whatever it takes to make sure that the Marines in her Company fulfill their mission, operate professionally, and return home safe and sound when their deployment ends. I was lucky enough to get a call from her as I was walking back to the hotel after the marathon. She was excited about my finishing and said that next year that she would run with me on Team Fisher House 2009 and that she would "kick my ass" (Marines talk that way). I told her I that I would hold her to that commitment but if she couldn't outrun me by at least an hour the Marines would probably kick her ass for embarrassing the Corps. By the way, you should consider this an early warning that I will be hitting on you again next year to continue your support for those who continue to sacrifice on our behalf.

I have a final story for you. A young soldier was near me at the start of the race and I continued to see him from time to time over the course of the marathon. When I hit my personal "wall" at mile 20 I lost track of him but I found out later that he went on to beat me to the finish by almost 15 minutes. I was ecstatic for him and moved by his accomplishment because he was running on one leg, damaged from combat wounds, and a high tech prosthesis; and he and his family had depended on a Fisher House during his recovery.

So that's my story of Team Fisher House and the 2008 Marine Corps Marathon. There is a lot more that went on during my training and great stories about some of you and more anecdotes from the marathon, but this is already longer than I wanted it to be. Any time now I expect some pictures from Fisher House and if you would like to see them I will be happy to pass them on, just send me a return email to let me know. Also, if you don't want to be bothered about Fisher House next year let me know that as well and I won't contact you again. Finally, if you can help me out with fundraising ideas for next year or would like me to talk to a group or organization just let me know.

You made a difference and my passion continues…

With Sincere Appreciation and Deepest Respect,

Paul McCollom

For pictures of Paul on race day, see here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Friday, November 7, 2008

Poetry Friday: Roger Bonair-Agard

I discovered that has an Open-Door Poetry series, with short videos of poets reading from their work. I haven't had time to explore everything, but here's a taste of the riches there: two-time National Poetry Slam champion Roger Bonair-Agard's poem, earth and God.

earth and God
(for Hudley Vincent de Paul Bonair)

This is not a poem about cricket
except my grandfather was once young
and fast and black and when he was 80
I saw him wield a bat
with such fearsomeness that we all
stopped our game and watched him
run and swing and swing again

and it's probably unimportant
that this was no game to him
chasing down the bigger boy
beating me up on the street
in the middle of the game
where my mouth had gotten me in trouble again

Go here to hear the poet read the rest of the poem aloud in his beautiful Trinidad and Tobago cadence. The "Read Along" link will give you the full text of the poem, which will be published in his 2009 collection, Gully, but don't skip listening to it!

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Jone at Check It Out.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Read Write Believe

We're told that the key to success is "to believe in ourselves."

We're counseled to tell those we love that we believe in them too.

Teachers believe in their students. Parents believe in their children. Countless writers say that they would've given up on their eventual masterpieces if not for another friend or writer or editor who "believed in them."

I don't think of belief as blind faith in anything--not in a thing, a person, or a system. I think of belief as love in action.

We see.
We hold fast.
We call forth.

If you're drafting a long story---and many of you are for National Novel Writing Month---believing means knowing the words you put on the page today are not the end.

See them clearly, as neither bad nor good, but just the beginning.
Hold fast to the plan you've set out for yourself.
Call forth what you have today.

It is by such actions that we love into existence what we truly believe in.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Blog the Vote

The first year I was eligible to vote for president was the year I got married. I was twenty-one and the year was 1984. We lived in Virginia, but I was registered in Tennessee, and as the new spouse of an Air Force lieutenant, I could vote by absentee ballot. We voted in our home precinct in Knoxville.

Four years later, I voted by mail from Okinawa, Japan. In the fall of 1992, my ballot was postmarked "Montgomery, AL." In 1996, my ballot was sent from Stuttgart, Germany. In 2000, I mailed it from Newport, RI. In 2004, I voted from Goldsboro, NC, where we later changed our registrations to the local office.

Now that I'm back in Virginia, I once again mailed my ballot, this time to North Carolina. My husband still serves in the military. I think of the oath that he took 27 years ago: to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. As a military member, he may not campaign for a candidate, which is as it should be. Some members, as they reach high rank, even discontinue voting to maintain absolute neutrality in their service.

But most of the thousands of servicemen and women will vote, many by absentee ballot, some of them from war zones. Some pundits think of "the military" as a voting bloc. It is not. In twenty-seven years, I've met political views of all stripes. Your military defends the Constitution and this nation, not either political party.

As a member of a military family, I love it when communities support us with their kind words and generous actions, but I hate it when we have to tear up roots and move on. One thing always sustains me, and it's something that is confirmed with each new assignment: there is no "real" America. There is only the America that we all serve, each in his or her own way. And that America is the one that we vote for, we work for, and we risk it all for.

Please vote as your head and your heart and your vision for the next four to eight years counsel you. My husband, my daughter, and I already did.

For more views (or to join in!), read the Blog the Vote roundup, hosted by Colleen at Chasing Ray. Be sure to read her post about teaching American history to military personnel. Rock on, Colleen!

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.