Friday, February 29, 2008

Poetry Friday: You Can't Have It All

I went in search of a poem with a "leap" in it, and found this poem by Barbara Ras. I would like to whisper it to myself every morning before it gets light outside. It makes my heart leap; it truly does.

You Can't Have It All

But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands

gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old

on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back.

You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look

of the black dog, the look that says, If I could I would bite

every sorrow until it fled, and when it is August,

you can have it August and abundantly so. You can have love,

(read the rest here)

Poetry Friday is hosted today by ever-organized Kelly Fineman, who put her post up extra early so we can all link at our leisure. Way to leap, Kelly!!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Everyday Marketing

When my husband goes to work, he wears his Air Force uniform. Some days, that's a green flightsuit; other days, it's his dress blues; and sometimes, it's his camouflage shirt and pants (the "battle dress uniform" or BDU.) But in most cases, no matter which uniform he wears, he carries a plain, black, inexpensive backpack slung over his shoulder. And in the outside mesh pocket of that backpack, he carries---for every passerby to see---postcards of the cover for Letters From Rapunzel.

It makes me smile to think of the double-takes he must get, when people see a warrior carrying an image of a children's book. (That's an Air Force coin next to it, if you're wondering.)

He often comes home and tells me "I sold a copy of your book today." I think he must have hand-sold several hundred copies by now. The latest sales were to: the guy who financed our car, and another officer after a pin-on ceremony. Watch out if you sit next to him on the subway!

I think I'm going to start calling him my Secret Weapon.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Guys Lit Wire Set to Launch June 1

Colleen at Chasing Ray said it was cool to cut and paste this from her blog, so I'm doing it. This is such an awesome idea, and I can't wait to see how it catches fire. (Note: the Sarah mentioned is NOT me. I'm Sara. Sarah would be the talented blogger from Finding Wonderland.)

And one more thing. I know there are guys who read my blog. You know you want to do this. Think about emailing Colleen and getting in on the ground floor of this sweet start-up. (I think that's guy-speak for pretty please?)


Just to update you on the idea that several of us have been bouncing around for a web site recommending books to teenage boys. We are working on the design and putting together a big list of daily posters. But first the name:

Guys Lit Wire!!

All credit for that one goes to Sarah (who will likely also want to mention some help from Tanita). I was banging my head hard against the wall on this and Sarah came through big time. So kudos to her limitless creativity which will be big time on display on the site. Wait until you see the header she is working on for the main page - it is some kind of awesome.

We are planning to go live by June 1st and update every Monday - Friday with a different daily poster. We hope to have 21 folks on board dedicated to posting at least once a month. This way we get tons of new content from lots of different points of view, which is what I really wanted. We will likely run multiple daily posts as the site evolves but readers will be able to count for sure on at least one new post every weekday and that is what we will build a lot of the site's readership on.

There will be book recommendations, author interviews, literary commentary, a rant or two (I'm sure) and lots of other good stuff. The goal is to cover a ton of different types of books from across the literary spectrum so we can become a good resource to actual teenagers as well as anyone seeking to find books for teen boys. (And if the girls want to visit we are happy to have them, but boys are our target audience.)

Right now everything is moving forward quite nicely but we do still need some folks to commit to posting. If any of you would like to participate in Guys Lit Wire (or recommend someone) then please let me know. We are especially looking for guys so we can keep our group balanced (and because guys know a thing or two about what guys like to read... :) Please send me an email if you can help. (colleenatchasingraydotcom)

Call for teen deployment advice

I received this email yesterday. If any of you know military teens, please encourage them to share their wisdom with other teens.


Military Child Education Coalition’s

The Military Child Education Coalition is excited to announce its plans to print a publication about teenagers’ experiences during the deployment of a loved one. Tens of thousands of teenagers have watched their loved ones deploy for extended periods of time since September 11, 2001 and yet there are few resources in print focused on the experiences of teenagers during these challenging times. We at the MCEC know that teens are most likely to listen to the wisdom and advice of other teens, and there is no one better qualified to offer advice about deployment than the teens that have experienced it. We would like to gather their insights, ideas and wisdom in a publication that can be shared with other teens and the adults who support them. This publication will be by teens for teens!

Our intention is to gather information (via the attached questionnaire) from the full spectrum of teenagers, who come from all military dependent backgrounds: Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy - Active Duty, National Guard, and Reservists. We urge you to share the attached form with any and all teens you know who have weathered the deployment(s) of parents, siblings and other loved ones. The greater the number of responses we receive from military-connected teenagers, the better this publication will be.

The MCEC wants to give military-connected teenagers a great publication about deployment. Help us make this goal a success!

Please direct any questions regarding the Call for Teen Deployment Advice to Joan Barrett.

WHO: Teenagers who were between the ages of 12-20 when
their loved one deployed (deployments since 9-11-01)

WHAT: Advice and Experience regarding their experiences
during the deployment of a loved one

HOW: Fill out attached questionnaire and return to
Joan Barrett


Director of Research and Evaluation
(816) 746-7966

The MCEC™ Staff

You can email Joan at the address above for a copy of the questionnaire, or if you'd rather go through me, I downloaded a copy from the original email and can send it to you myself.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Potato Chips and Coffee

Remember when I woke up thinking I don't need you to be me?

Today, I woke up thinking potato chips don't go with coffee.

Then I thought (of course):

But I can't blog about that!

People warned me this would happen. That I'd start to see my life like a blogging Hamlet. Too much navel gazing. Too much pondering the meaning of every little thing. (Not that slings and arrows are trivial, Hamlet---I don't mean to make fun of your distress. But after watching Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, my opinion of you hasn't been the same.)

One thing blogging has taught me is trust. I don't obsess over whether or not I'll have something "blog-worthy" each day. I simply wake up and write. I show up; the words show up---just like those writer books that preach Butt-in-Chair Time said they would.

My poetry writing has taught me trust, too. Take that line Potato chips don't go with coffee. It may be a ridiculous thought to wake up thinking, but it would be a surprising start to a poem.

Potato chips don't go with coffee
My alarm alarmed me with those words.
I told you
and you said
Led Zeppelin doesn't go with mashed potatoes
and I said
that's not the same thing!
And you said
you're alarming me, my sweet, raw potato.

You see? That may not be the most amazing poem I've ever written, but I like it.

Tell me about a time that you didn't reject the first thought that came to you. Tell me about when you followed a silly idea. Tell me why potato chips go with coffee.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Mom goes Superbad

I have kind of a hangover. Not from drinking. From watching Superbad. Have any of you seen it? I watched it instead of the Oscars last night and I feel as if I was turned into a teenage boy for several hours. My head still hurts. (My son was horrified that I was watching it. Mostly because he'd already seen it and knew what was in it.)

It was a great movie. Painfully funny, in the way that The Office often is. Raunchy---I won't lie. (Do not watch this with anyone you are already uncomfortable with.) But like the best YA novels, it lets you live the embarrassment without suffering any of the real-life consequences.

I also give it high marks for portraying drinking with all the accompanying vomiting, fighting, and bad decisions. And it gets true love right, too. If you ever find someone who's willing to carry you---and I mean literally pick you up and carry you---out of danger, stick by them, man. Do it.

I think my next movie is going to have to be something highly literary and refined, perhaps more of the lovely Jane Austen series on PBS's Masterpiece Theater. I will play Gillian Anderson's introductions in her calm, measured voice over and over and over, until I'm in an old mom, hormone-free trance. Because as good as it was, I don't think I can pound shots of Superbad Teenage Boy again any time soon.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Poetry Friday: Boxing, Poetry (and Water Afterwards)

I had a joyous day earlier this week, donning my boxing gloves and pounding away at the heavy bag in the back corner of my gym. Bad Moon Rising was blasting from my iPod; I was wearing pink and feeling strong; the more I hit the bag, the more I felt as if I was going to lift off the ground and fly.

For those of you who've never boxed, let me say that it isn't about anger. At least not for me. It's about rhythm and control, and that sound...the thwack of my gloves popping against the bag. It's also about getting my whole body to work together, so I can put every bit of my strength into one concentrated punch. Focus and power---that's what boxing means to me. (I love this essay, too, by Robert Flanagan, "What he learned in boxing," in which he says "gym work -- skip rope, medicine ball, light bag, heavy bag -- was like saying the stations of the cross, a penance for weakness, yet giving you hope of being redeemed.")

So what does this have to do with Poetry Friday?

I wanted to find a poem about boxing that expressed what I felt. I haven't found one yet. (I may have to write it.) Most of the poems I found were about blood and being in the ring, something I've never experienced, and might never want to. (Big conflict avoider, that's me.)

But I did run across something amazing that I wanted to share: the World Heavy Weight Championship Poetry Bouts. It's just what it sounds like---two poets enter the ring and duel with poetry, until one is declared the winner by the judges. Poems instead of punches. Cool. Wait until you hear who was competing not too long ago.

Here's the scoop:

The Taos Poetry Circus ended its run after 22 years in 2003. The World Poetry Bout Association, which ran the World Heavyweight Championship Poetry Bout ("The Main Event") during the circus, disbanded. But remnants of the circus exist, including video footage of the 10-round bouts, and this archived article from the NY Times: Bouts of Poetry (the Stress is on Beat,) published June 21, 1994.

"...the circus included readings by several American Indians, like Sherman Alexie, a 27-year-old poet from Spokane, Wash., of the Coeur d'Alene tribe. In a bout on June 9, he read several works, including "Song," which speaks of adolescence on the reservation:

I remember all your names, Indian girls I loved, Dawn, Loretta, Michelle, Jana, Go-Go, Lulu, all of you Spokane Indian princesses who never asked me to slow dance

To the music

That always found its way

Into the tribal school."

Four years later, in 1998, Sherman Alexie won the World Heavyweight Championship Poetry Bout, and went on to win three more times, until he "hung up his gloves" in 2001. Here's a picture of him with the trophy.

No wonder he wrote about fighting in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. And even though he's won other major grants and recognition over the years, I still marvel that it took from at least June, 1994, when he was reciting that poem, until last November, 2007, before his work about the exact same subject---adolescence on the reservation---won another championship bout, the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. (Read more about why he decided to write for young adults here.)

I'm seriously thinking of springing for the $29 it costs to buy a video tape of one of his bouts. Or maybe I can get a motivational tape of his voice to listen to while I smack the bag and compose poetry, punch by punch, line by line, at the gym and in that fighting corner of my soul.

Now for the water I promised you when we were done...

From his collection, "One Stick Song":

by Sherman Alexie

I know a woman
who swims naked
in the ocean
no matter the season.

I don't have a reason
for telling you this (I never
witnessed her early morning
dips into the salt) Read the rest here.

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

Thursday, February 21, 2008

If you only do the easy and useless jobs....

Finding Wonderland has a great post from a. fortis about "all the memorable words and ideas and history and everything else that I encountered for the first time in kids' books and teen books."

Here's one excerpt:

"As a kid, without those kids' books I wouldn't have learned about dodecahedrons or tesseracts. Those books taught me what a veruca was, and what makes somebody a twit."

Then she asks: "What have you learned from children's books?"

The first thing that came to mind for me was infinity and the concept of time. I vividly remember coming face to face with both of these in The Phantom Tollbooth. To this day, I can't hear the word "infinity" and not think of that chapter where Milo takes the "shortcut" to the Land of Infinity and winds up climbing the same set of stairs over and over. Later, he encounters the Terrible Trivium, who gives him impossible, time-wasting tasks to do, like moving a towering pile of sand, one grain at a time, with a pair of tweezers. As this demon says: "If you only do the easy and useless jobs, you'll never have to worry about the important ones, which are so difficult. You just won't have time."

I need to hear those last words of wisdom every single day.

Go on over to Finding Wonderland and tell a. fortis what you learned (the good way) from children's books.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Split Personality

I'm deciding how to use the present I bought for myself.

Should I wear the FROG side when I'm writing a rough draft?

And the TOAD side when I'm revising?

Because I want
the Frog and Toad parts of me

to be friends.

Do you think of the composing/editing sides of yourself as different personalities?

Do you have tricks for calling out one side or the other?

And hey! Did you know that if you flip those letters around, you can get FOOD and TROD, too? Who are they?

My Frog and Toad bracelet (and the photos) came from Etsy, and from the imaginative mind of Bookshelves of Doom.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Thank you (in advance) for making me look wise and writerly

Next month, I'm leading two writing workshops at the 26th Annual Christopher Newport University Writers' Conference.


Growing a Novel: How to Keep your Ideas, Manuscripts, and Hopes Alive

Why is it so hard to turn one Great Idea into one Great Novel? How do you prevent your own expectations and doubts from killing the thing you're trying to grow? What specific techniques can you use to nurture ideas, plots, and characters so that they transform into actual words on a page, and then pages in a book? Start to finish, we'll look at what it takes to wind up with a living, breathing novel.


Would Somebody Please Tell Me What to Say?

Are you better suited to writing a YA novel about teenage sex or a counting picture book called Ten Aged Socks? This is a look at the various genres in the children's book field, and a discussion about that elusive creature, Voice. Is it possible to write however and whatever the market demands? Or are we, thankfully, only required to write what we can?

What do you think? Useful? Interesting? Rather pick lint off your pants than attend either of these?

If you have suggestions about anything I should include---resources, books, websites, strategies, etc.--- please comment! (I promise I'll credit you at the workshop and thank you in my heart of hearts many, many times over.)

Monday, February 18, 2008

I don't need you to be me

I don't need you to be me. I woke up thinking that. (Blame it on weird dreams.)

There is always much discussion about "otherness" in children's literature. Do readers need to see themselves in the books they read? Is the reason fiction works because you hook yourself into the main character's psyche and go along for the ride? And if you can't make that initial leap, then is the reading experience doomed from the start?

But what makes you leap into the story? Do you think: Oh! that character's just like me! I would do that! Or is it the opposite: why on earth would a character think that? Do that? Say that?

Or are there degrees of "otherness" that come into play? I know I get impatient with characters who worry about things that I think are trivial. But I don't mind a bit if they do things I would never do, like shave my head.

I don't need you to be me. But I need me to be able to be you for just a little while. Is that the answer?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Poetry Friday: Better to Marry than to Burn

I seem to have a fire safety theme going on this week.

In my defense, this poem was written several years ago, for the annual Artists and Authors show at The Collage (now the Smithfield Cultural Arts Center.) The show was built around the idea that one writer would view one artist's work, and write a response. The two works, art and written word, were then displayed side by side. One year, this was my inspiration:

Better to Marry
by Monica McCann

Knowing a biblical reference when I heard one, I filled in what was missing from that title (Better to marry...than to burn) and what resulted was part romance novel, part unsound theology, and one hot poem that I'm not sure what to do with, even today. I'm sure this sounds odd, but I have the strange feeling that I'm laughing at myself in this poem, even as I wrote it in all seriousness.

Happy Day After Valentine's Day!

better to marry than to burn?

He removes his shoes
before he enters
her house.

Later, she will find
a woolen thread
from his thick socks
to curl about her finger
as if it were a hair
from his body.

He is there
to change the batteries
in her smoke detector,
which she says
she cannot reach,
and which has ceased
to shriek, even when tempted
by blackened toast.

"Thank you," she says,
laying her hand
against the door
of his back
as if gauging flames.

she will mount
a chair and remove
the batteries, holding them
cold against her belly

While she burns,
in the remembered heat
of his back,
to the ground.

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

Poetry Friday is hosted today by HipWriterMama.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


You know what the problem is with writers conferences? They are so stinkin' INSPIRING.

Yesterday, after completing my Cybils judging duties, I meant to get back to posting more about the SCBWI NY conference, and instead, I was consumed by the blazing---near pyromaniacal---desire to work for hours and hours and hours on a new writing project. It isn't even a sane project. But I can't help it. I'm so smokin' in love.

My outdoor gym class was canceled due to icy weather. I wrote. My stomach growled. I made myself a fried egg sandwich. I wrote. My son came home from school. I yelled hello in his general direction; he grabbed his guitar and waled on it. I wrote. He was hungry; we went out, grabbed two slices of pizza. We came home; I wrote. He watched Prison Break (on the DVR) next to me on the couch; I pointed out gaping plot holes in the story; I wrote. I talked to my husband; told him about the insane new project; he said: luckily, your patron (that's him) doesn't demand sanity or instant commercial success. I had another scorching idea; I wrote.

How will today run? I don't know. Maybe not so fast. But I would like to thank the following speakers at the SCBWI conference for leaving burning hot coals in my writing shoes:

David Wiesner: sure, he talked about wordless picture books. But story is story, and sometimes I listen much better when an illustrator is talking process. He showed sketch after sketch of abandoned cover art for Flotsam. It reminded me of flirting with draft after draft of a poem that you desperately need to hook, and then, you do.

Carolyn Mackler: she read from her high school diary. Yes, I know they were paying her to do this, but still! The guts. The most important thing I heard? She said: what I didn't write in that diary was as interesting as what I did write. She was chronicling all the ups and downs of her attraction to numerous boys, but not the stuff, the real emotional stuff, going on in her family at the time. I filed that away: what the character doesn't say is as important as what she does.

Susan Patron: you made me like you. How did you do it? Yes, you were humble and funny and you admitted to every fumble and flaw, and you talked about being gripped by irrelevant, wandering thoughts about the circle of knees that confronted you when you crawled under a table to retrieve a forgotten speech from your purse. Yes, I think it was the knees that got me. You made me feel as if I were part of that secret community of people who would think such strange, strange thoughts about knees and know what to do with them.

Finally, a shout-out to Jennifer Hunt of Little, Brown. Your breakout session was wonderful; it really was. I'm sorry I didn't take notes on what you were hoping to acquire. One half of me was listening; I swear. You read from/edited some beautiful books (must look for All of the Above, and I already loved Story of a Girl and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian.) But the other half of me, the writer half, was racing across the page, writing the first draft of what would later become my insane new project begun yesterday. I don't know what you did to me. Editor voodoo?

So there you have it. I'm on fire. And I know what (and who) lit the match.

P.S. There was a fire alarm at the hotel on Saturday morning. I was on the 44th floor. I was wearing heels. I walked all the way down to the lobby. Maybe this whole post is BS, and it was that extended downward march in a metal stairwell after smelling real smoke that inspired me.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Aretha's got it; some graphic novels do too

I'll be back with my NY SCBWI posts shortly. I had some Cybils poetry judging duties to attend to. (Announcements are on Thursday!)

But as an Aretha fan, and a fascinated observer of the development of graphic novels, I had to put this out there for you:

What the heck do Aretha and graphic novels have to do with each other?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Library Geek Misses Her Big Chance (Reports from the NY SCBWI conference)

The first in a series of mini-reports on my trip to the New York SCBWI Winter conference:

I did something geeky last Friday. I went to the Central Children's Room at the Donnell branch of the New York Public Library and asked to see a copy of my book. I was just going to peek at it on the shelves and marvel that my book (MY book!) was in the same building as the original stuffed animals from Winnie the Pooh, Wyeth paintings, and a Newbery medal.

But my surreptitious plan didn't work. The librarian on duty insisted upon doing her job and helping me. It turns out that Letters From Rapunzel at this particular branch was non-circulating, and The Most Helpful Librarian in the World jumped right up and went to the back stacks to pull it for me.

Really, I didn't mean to make her leave her desk and go fetch my own book! It's not like I haven't seen it before. But I hadn't seen it in a library in New York before, and I really did want to. Maybe because I went to kindergarten in NY. Maybe because I went to the library often in NY. (Although not the Donnell branch, sadly, according to my mom and dad. More likely the local Queens branch.) Or maybe because I'm a total library geek.

Anyhow, I held it, stroked its shiny library cover, and fantasized about filling the white space on the title page with a pithy literary comment, my non-trembling signature, and the date: Feb. 8, 2008. Then, I reluctantly gave it back to the Most Helpful Librarian. Turns out that I screwed THAT up.

Because later that night, at the KidLit Drinks get-together, I talked with Betsy Bird, librarian at the same famous Donnell Children's Room, and blogger as Fuse 8 (read her detailed post about Donnell here,) and she said: Oh, did you sign your book?

WHAT? I could've written in a library book? Really? *sigh*

On the other hand, I did do some things right on my visit to Donnell. I inspected Eeyore's tail and marveled at Tigger's realistic stripes. I signed Pooh's guest book. I eavesdropped on a play being rehearsed in a back room. I said a little prayer before the plain, matter-of-fact sign reading: In Memoriam: Madeleine L'Engle and Lloyd Alexander (among others.) I peered through the window of an office at a model of the Little Cabin in the Woods, and longed to move the figures around in a dance to a fiddle tune. I oohed over the Mary Poppins books and umbrella.

Most of all, I left feeling grateful for the chance to stand in a place where I could picture myself as a child, rushing in the door, running over to the new books, getting lost in all the choices, visiting old favorites on the shelves, and leaving with an armful of the best of the best. I wouldn't have noticed if an author had been standing there, holding her own book. Except of course, if it was a book I wanted to read. And then I would've thought: HEY! WEIRDO! Are you done with that?

P.S. The building that holds the Donnell branch has been sold. Betsy Bird has been gathering memories of the Children's Reading Room. If you have a good story, please get it to her here.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Poetry Friday: More about "Why Dream?"

Perhaps this is cheating, to post a poem that's already been posted once before. But I have a few things to add, so I hope you'll forgive me.

Last week, Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast asked me if I had a new poem I would share with her readers at the end of my interview. How could I say no? I gave her this one:

Why Dream?

In the morning, the day and I
lie in each other's arms, naked,

still, and full. We promise each other everything
and believe--Why dream?

By nightfall, the rough and ugly shift
has descended over my shoulders
to my heels--Why dream?

and my back is pressed against
the bitter wood of the evening's empty
frame--Why dream?

the sky thickens.
Each coarse thread is salvaged.

Why another morning?
Why myself uncovered?
Why dream?

Why is far from now--
me, morning, paleness flushing--
Why dream
in the arms of the day?

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

In our email exchange, I told her this:

Why Dream? is a poem I've been struggling with on and off for years. The dang thing just would not satisfy me. I think the problem was that I was trying to be way too logical about it--you know, lay out an answer: that you dream to make things new each day.

But then I realized that I couldn't say that. There were moments when I said "why dream?" because everything was perfect, so even dreaming couldn't make it better.

And there were moments when I said "why dream?" because everything was so bleak that dreaming seemed of no use at all.

And then there were the moments when I was truly curious to know (scientifically) why we needed to dream and those moments when I needed no such explanation... "why is so far from now"...

So in this version, I'm content to ask the question and let the answer be pursued by the reader.

It's one of the rewards of poetry that you can always put a poem away, and come back to it over and over, and it will offer something new. Lately, I've been working very quickly. My poems rush out of me, and the trick is not to overwork them. But this one, this one for the interview, was a true, slow grower. I think your asking for a poem made it finally straighten up and fly right.

I went back and looked. The initial draft of this poem is from my journal of February 1998. Ten years! What changed? Why was I able to finally finish it?

First, as I told Jules in that email, I quit trying to make it fit into the initial plan I had for it. I loved the first four lines---those didn't change---but at a certain middle point, the poem kept falling apart. No matter how many times I attempted to scale that wall, it couldn't be done. It wasn't until I busted apart my initial assumption---that I had to answer my own question---that I made a breakthrough.

Second, I think poetry enables me to say things that I don't have the language for in prose. By repetition, by rhythm, by multiple meanings (for example: the word "lie"---are the day and I lying to each other, as well as lying with each other?) and by the power of paradox. That last is my favorite. Poetry enables me to say at least two things at once, and possibly a third, as meaning arises from tension between the other two. Perhaps this poem finally worked because I was able to find that conflict, not avoid it.

Finally, audience matters. I finished it because Jules asked for it. Because all of you support me when I put a poem out there. Because I wanted to connect. I do think writing in private is a good thing, and you don't have to share all your work. But having even one listener is motivating. Maybe that makes me a people-pleaser. But I don't think so. My poems aren't complete until they hit a listener's ear.

If you want, you can hear me read the poem at my other blog, A Cast of One. It's in both Quicktime and MP3 formats, so you can choose what works.

Thanks for listening to me. Both in my poems, and here, today. Listening matters. You help me keep asking: Why Dream?

Poetry Friday is hosted today by AmoXcalli.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

I still haven't found what I'm searching for....

Remember that series Liz and I did on "The Exercise of Writing"? It has given this blog a new cachet. I'm now found by readers who search on:

"hooter girls in a giant grocery cart"

"aerobic string leotard"

"Push ups are not helping"

I'm sorry about that last one. Perhaps if you tried doing them in a string leotard inside a giant grocery cart?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Is this a fairy tale?

Little Willow sent me some clever questions about Letters From Rapunzel, and graciously waited until I had time to answer them. You can find our conversation here. I want you to go read the whole thing, of course, but first, I need your help. One question she posed was:

When I show customers your book, their reaction to the title and cover art is frequently, "Is this a fairy tale?" Did you have any say in the jacket design?

My answer:
No, I didn’t, and authors rarely do. I like the way Rapunzel is in a fairy tale tower, and yet, her letters are drifting out to a modern neighborhood. But I do think that the cover has been confusing to some. I’d be very interested in hearing what you think the cover should be, in case they decide to change it for the paperback version.

Little Willow then went on to offer this to me in an email (she said I could share):

I'm seeing two very different things: Either a P.O. Box with the # and the title imprinted (a real photo, not an illustration) or a desktop cluttered with half-written letters (the title and author byline on the top sheet) other items belonging to [Rapunzel,] like her pens and school books, modern-day items.

What do you think? You can leave your comments here, or go visit Little Willow, read the interview, and leave your comments over there.

Thank you, LW!

P.S. This is too good not to share:

Karen Edmisten posted about reading out loud, and how thrilled she is that her daughters are doing it too. And look! Right there at the end of the post:

"Anne is reading a recent favorite -- Sara Lewis Holmes' Letters from Rapunzel -- to a long-distance friend of hers. Over the phone. Because the friend can't find the book at her library."
Is that a good friend or what?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Observation and Imagination

James Gurney is asking "What about a book?" over at Gurney Journey. As in: should he write a book based on his blog posts?

I've linked to his posts several times, because there are some fascinating tidbits (painting with vodka, anyone? need to find a rhinoceros chameleon skull?) but also because he knows how to clearly explain what he's doing when he creates art. This lets me fulfill my fantasy of living inside a visual artist's brain. I've always known that artists think differently; Gurney tells me how. (Read this post about when shadows aren't blue.) In today's post, while thinking about whether he should compile his knowledge into a book, he says this:

"There are lots of books now about plein-air painting, and there are books on how to draw dragons or dinosaurs, but there isn’t much that connects observation with imagination..."

That's it! That's why I like reading his blog. How observation connects with imagination. Because that's what a writer needs, too.

What I observe: an F-15C dropping into its approach pattern, circling, then landing on a runway.

What I imagine: a sixth-grade boy trying to hold his breath until the moment the plane's wheels touch the ground.

What I observe: I have on two different shoes, one black and one brown, and I've worn them to church

What I imagine: why a kid would be backstage before a performance, with two mismatched shoes.

What I observe: a school bathroom that is so putrid that no one will go in

What I imagine: why a girl would hide there, with a backpack filled with art supplies

I could go on, but you see it, don't you?

Observe = listen = wait = withhold judgment = absorb

Imagine = create = combine = synthesize = build = choose

The words used to describe the process are different, but the results are the same.

Also on the art front, Julia Denos has updated her portfolio over at Shannon Associates. Her work is so appealing. Observant and imaginative. Go look.

Monday, February 4, 2008

DC Kidlit Brunch: Books (and Friends) Both Old and New

Oh, my double mocha was divine! The real whipped cream was so rich and stiff that it stayed afloat on the dark espresso sea as serenely as a sugar cloud.

The table was piled with books! We found each other by them, in fact. Who else would be carrying Hugo Cabret or Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! into a restaurant and waving them about?

The conversation was scintillating! Tales of book ordering frenzies after the ALA awards so wild they would win a bond trader's admiration. Stories of manuscripts being finished, started, revised, sold, dreamed about. Newbery and Caldecott winners passed from hand to hand. Confessions about what we had read and what we hadn't. Who loved what (and who didn't) and why. Cheeky ARCs for 2008 hobnobbing with seasoned 2007 titles.

Yes, folks, the DC Kidlit Brunch was everything I could've hoped for. If you live near the DC area, please come out next time. Email Caroline Hickey to be added to the A-List. (Hey, around here, we're all A-List.)

The Brunch Crew, after being instructed
to hold a book we had NOT yet read

From left to right:

Susan (Wizards Wireless) holding The Wednesday Wars.

Louise Simone holding Henry's Freedom Box, written by Ellen Levine and illustrated by Kadir Nelson. I would buy this book for the cover image alone. Stunning.

Caroline Hickey (Author of Cassie was Here and member of those fab Longstockings) holding The Wall by Peter Sis

Gina Montefusco (PBS) holding Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers

MotherReader and
Tami Lewis Brown (of the soon-to-be-released Soar, Elinor!) both holding Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!

Anamaria Anderson (Books Together) holding Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains by Laurel Snyder of Kid*Lit(erary)

Sara Lewis Holmes (me!) holding an ARC of A la Carte* by Tanita Davis (Finding Wonderland)

*But since I had PRE-ORDERED this book already, I let someone else take the ARC home. I could hardly stand it, but I did it. (After peeking at a few of the recipes.)

Friday, February 1, 2008

Poetry Friday: Teaching the Ape to Write Poems

This poem always makes me laugh. I actually re-read it quite often, because the last two lines are delicious when you whisper them diabolically.

(The poem is by James Tate from his collection, Viper Jazz)

Teaching the Ape to Write Poems

They didn't have much trouble
teaching the ape to write poems:
Read the rest here.

And if you want to read something else that's insightful and amusing, here's an essay by Dana Gioia, who judged the Poetry National Book Award in 1995, the year James Tate won it. He discusses why it took America so long to embrace surrealism, which is the hallmark of Tate's style.

"My own guess for the main reason that American poetry–and painting and sculpture–did not initially pounce on surrealism was that Hollywood got there first. And not just Hollywood–it's worse than that–it was the animated cartoon. [...] To this day the greatest moment of North American surrealism is probably Dumbo's drunken nightmare choreographed to the demonic oom-pah-pah of "Pink Elephants on Parade" from Walt Disney's 1941 movie. When the surrealist style was so quickly assimilated into mass-media comedy, what avant-garde poet could consider it sufficiently chic?"

The rest of that essay is equally entertaining! One reason, I think, is because it was first broadcast on BBC radio. Maybe all those who publish literary criticism or reviews should be required to record their ponderous essays for the radio---and then be forced to listen to themselves. Hmmm....

They didn't have much trouble
teaching the Critic to review poetry....

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Karen Edmisten.