Monday, March 31, 2008

Who's with me?

I've never re-printed an email here before, but this one is special. Scott and Katie are Air Force friends of ours, both exceptional pilots, who after serving well, left the Air Force to pursue other dreams. In Katie's case, it was getting her master's degree in philanthropy. (She's probably the only woman (or man) who flew and instructed in the F-15E and has a Master of Arts in Philanthropic Studies. Plus, she writes the world's best thank you notes.) I knew she would do great things, but this is outstanding:

Subject: Scott and Katie Taylor -- Oprah's Big Give -- Indiana

Welcome to Oprah's Big Give -- Indiana and Operation Heartland!! HVAF of Indiana, Inc (Helping Homeless Veterans and Families) (RTV6 coverage of our progress)

Dear Friends and Family,

This is a quick note to share some fun and exciting news. Katie and I "won" the Oprah's Big Give -- Indiana. From over 550 entries, Katie's was one of two selected to receive $5,000.00 and three weeks of television coverage to implement her proposal. I am on her committee, but she is the "CEO." We are a week into it and our heads are spinning, but our hearts are growing!! Indiana is such a wonderful state, and we are overwhelmed by the response of support we have received.

Katie is feverishly trying to:

1. Raise at least $120,000.00 to furnish a 40 unit apartment building that will provide housing for 40 homeless, honorably discharged veterans,

2. Raise awareness that nearly 30% of our homeless across the country are veterans, and

3. plan a large Grand Finale on 10 April with Corporate Executives, politicians, and nearly 150 people. We are just thankful we won the opportunity to help those that have served us and fought for freedom.

Here's how you can help. Pray for us and for those serving and those that have served. Click on the links above to learn more about what we are doing and lend a hand if you can. Pray a little more. And, spread the word. Again, we have only two weeks left to achieve our goal.

Thanks for your time, and sorry for the mass email.

Faithfully, Scott and Katie Taylor

Well. I'm in. How about you?

More info and to donate: Operation Heartland.
Also, see the post below.

The Big Give: Somewhere to Come Home to

More about the Big Give-Indiana project that my friend, Katie Taylor, is raising $120,000 for: (from the HVAF website)

Thanks to funding awarded to HVAF by the Department of Veterans Affairs, The City of Indianapolis Housing Trust Fund, and United Way of Central Indiana, HVAF has acquired a 40-bed apartment building, the Donald W. Moreau Sr. Veterans House, named in honor of former President/CEO and long-time champion of HVAF and its mission. Located in Indianapolis, this facility will increase HVAF's housing capacity by nearly 30%.

The first of its kind in Indiana, rather than living in congregated quarters, these 40 homeless veterans will reside in individually assigned, private apartments, equipped with a kitchen, bathroom, living room and bedroom. Residents will also benefit from two on-site Social Workers and a security team. In hopes of creating a fully-operational, safe, and comfortable environment, HVAF will use the next few months to renovate this facility, a project for which the organization has already received funding.

An aspect of this project for which HVAF has not received the necessary funding, however, is for complete furnishing of the units. These homeless veterans will move into their apartments with little, if any, personal belongings.

HVAF is in need of beds, nightstands, tables, couches, chairs, appliances, linens, kitchen supplies, non-perishable food items and other furnishings to make this a home for our veterans. The Moreau House will be move-in ready for these veterans come summer 2008.

Operation Heartland is designed to meet this need and all funds and/or in-kind donations received through the project will be designated for the transformation, maintenance, and operating costs of these 40 new homes.

Please click here to view information on needed items and related costs.

The purpose of this list is to give you an idea of how your support and/or monetary donations can help our veterans.

Example: One $50 donation will allow HVAF to purchase one complete cookware set.

HVAF of Indiana, Inc. thanks you for your interest in this very special project.

HVAF of Indiana, Inc. is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization. All donations are tax-deductible.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Poetry Friday: Found Poem

It's a spiral galaxy
(seen edge-on, so it looks skinny)
colliding and merging
with an elliptical galaxy.
That's what astronomers think it is, anyway.
All the stars in the image
are in our own galaxy;
they just got in the way.

----found poem, from an email sent to me by my daughter. She took this picture remotely, via an array of telescopes in Chile.

(She says thank you so much for everyone's help on Monday.)

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Cuentecitos.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Poetry Contest Alert

It's the fourth annual Kids-Post Poetry Contest!

OPEN TO: Poets, ages 6-14

SUBMIT: no more than two original poems, by April 7, to: KidsPost, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., NW, Washington, D.C., 20071 (or by email to: with "poetry" in the subject line.) Illustrations are welcome.

INCLUDE: your name, age, address and phone number.

WIN: Publication in The Washington Post on April 29, and a May 6 reading at Politics and Prose bookstore. Plus, a KidsPost T-shirt and a copy of Christopher Myers' book, Jabberwocky!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

At It (Again)

I'm at it again. Another presentation---filled with sight and sound---is being created on my laptop, and this one, I'm sure, will be seen in its full glory next week at the

VEMA Rappahannock Regional Conference

because this time, I have the correct connecting cord (mini-DVI to VGA, if you must know.) I will, however, again be backing up everything to a PowerPoint DVD, on the off-chance that this cord flunks as spectacularly as the last three. I feel simultaneously like the most careful and the most daring presenter in the world.

I'm also working (more slowly) on the YA poetry manuscript I burned through after the SCBWI NY conference. 40 poems! Yippee! On the other hand, I have only a vague idea of how they tell a story. Not-so-yippee. Must work on this. Actually, I love working on this.

And I have completed a pass at an outline of New Recruit that my editor requested. I need to clean it up a bit, and also scribble madly in my novel notebook everything that came to the surface as I did this. An outline is never simply an outline. An outline is like those x-rays they take at the dentist to detect hidden cavities. Yup, I see all my novel's flaws in stark contrast to what I had hoped it was. I knew this would happen, which is why I had to trick myself into doing it by importing the manuscript into Scrivener, and using the synopsis function, so I could have those cute little index cards to push around and play with. *

On the other hand, I had moments as I was re-reading my manuscript for the first time in two months, of not recognizing my own writing. Oh! That's good! Look how she did that! That's when I know the story is working---when I don't recognize the hand behind it.

*Anybody else out there use techno-gadgets, like presentation or writing software, to motivate themselves to tackle a task? I feel as if I might be a geek amongst Luddites.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sorry. I have a new camera.

Dog in "macro mode"
It's all about the nose (and whiskers)

For some much lovelier photographs, you've got to see the sunset over snow pictures that Jackie Buck has posted. Go ahead. Go look, be inspired, and come back. I'll be here...or fiddling with my camera close by.

I appreciate evocative photographs because they show so clearly that what we see is what we choose to see. Photographs combine real information with a deliberately selected, creative presentation, and it's hard to avoid thinking about how we frame our world. What do we leave out? Do we focus on the same subjects, over and over? What merits a close-up? Can we consciously pull back and look at a problem panoramically? How does the camera in our heads document or distort our path from sunrise to sunset each day?

They're taking about a similar topic over at I.N.K. today, only it's real subjects creatively presented as poetry. Laura Salas had a recent post about this, too, when she reviewed Diane Siebert's poetry nonfiction book, Cave. She likes the book, praising its "gorgeous language and lovely rhythm," but wonders if "poetic nonfiction would be difficult to categorize/sell because it's not the most efficient way to relate facts."

That made me consider what information I want my poems and my fiction to convey. I've often said that I would make the world's worst robbery witness. I wouldn't be able to tell the police what color shirt the thief was wearing. I wouldn't notice his shoes. I doubt I could draw his distinctive tattoo. (What tattoo???) Unless...

... it was critical to the story I was telling about him. Then, those facts would be useful! The tattoo? Oh, he had that done the day he decided that everyone had lied to him, and that he might as well be a SNAKE too. His shirt? An old gas station uniform shirt that belonged to his beloved grandfather. His shoes? Brand-spanking new. Because today was the day he was going to change his life. For the better.

So I don't know how I'd do at penning nonfiction poetry. Or making a documentary film. Or reporting a news story. I love a pertinent fact. But I love story more. I think creative nonfiction is a difficult, beautiful art form. One that I should leave to the professionals.

Besides, I have to figure out what all those buttons on my camera do. Do you think one of them might read the subject's mind? Now wouldn't that make a cool (and completely made-up) story?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Nonfiction Monday: I know you know the answer to this one

I've been using Mondays to discuss books about writing, but yesterday, a priority request came in.


My daughter is designing the curriculum for a summer day camp for 1st and 2nd graders. The theme she's picked is: How Things Work. She has lots of ideas for hands-on activities, but she asked me for some book suggestions. Other than David Macaulay's standard of excellence, The New Way Things Work, what should she include? (Tricia, I'm going to your site now.)

And she'd love to find a poem on that theme, too. (Elaine, can you hear us?)

P.S. I can't imagine a better summer job for my literary/science-loving/crafty/ amazing daughter than this one.

Nonfiction Monday roundup is here, as always, at Picture Book of the Day. I'm going to plead my case over at I.N.K. (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids) too.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Poetry Friday: Carrion Comfort

The Washington Post's Book World has a new steward of their weekly Poet's Choice column. Mary Karr is "the author of four books of poetry... a Professor of Literature at Syracuse University, and the author of two memoirs, The Liars' Club and Cherry." She also converted to Catholicism as an adult, which I learned from this interview at beliefnet, and which she confessed to in Poetry magazine, describing the experience as: “To confess my unlikely Catholicism in Poetry — the journal that first published some of the godless twentieth-century disillusionaries of J. Alfred Prufrock and his pals — feels like an act of perversion kinkier than any dildo-wielding dominatrix could manage on HBO’s Real Sex Extra.” I think I love her already. Her most recent book is Sinners Welcome (you can read a thoughtful review of it and a discussion of poetry and spirituality at that link.)

This past Sunday, she featured the compressed agony that is one of Gerard Manley Hopkins' sonnets. Being raised Catholic, I hear in Hopkins, who was a Jesuit priest, the doctrine that there is no Easter joy without walking through the depths of Good Friday. This is one of those poems that seems complicated and perhaps, difficult to parse, and yet, the first time that I read this one out loud---and I mean cold, having never seen the lines before---I was carried by the strength of his lines to the end. Say what you will about his convoluted, sprung rhythm, Hopkins doesn't ever drop you or abandon you; he's there, in full force, to the last. Don't think, just cry out his words. You won't have any trouble understanding them.

Here, then, is darkness:

Carrion Comfort

Not, I'll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;

Not untwist--slack they may be--these last strands of man

In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;

Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.

But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me

Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan

With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,

O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee

and flee?

Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.

Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,

Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, chéer.

Cheer whom though? The hero whose heaven-handling flung me,

fóot tród

Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night,

that year

Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.

-----Gerard Manley Hopkins

Poetry Friday is hosted by Elaine at Wild Rose Reader.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

P.S. And there's more...

In trying to pack everything into that last post, I neglected to say that a PDF of my presentation on genre and voice, "Will Someone Please Tell Me What to Say?" is now available at my public folder. The file is aptly titled: "This is Just to Say."

Oh! and I included my notes for each slide this time.

The one where I try to pack in way too much

(Part of my series of posts about the workshops I led at the CNU Writers Conference this past weekend)

What was I thinking, trying to cover both genre and voice in one workshop session? Let me try to explain...

I began with an overview of age genres for the children's/YA field, giving a brief summary of each category: Early Childhood, Middle Grade, and Young Adult. I read from two examples in each category (list posted here), hoping to show how the voice chosen matched the intended audience. (I love reading out loud from fellow authors' books. Must be the drama geek in me, but making that connection with an audience is so much fun, and "selling" beloved books to them is even more so.) I also jazzed up this portion of the workshop with audio clips of music for each age genre, and funny pictures of me from each stage. So far, so good.

Now the transition to that elusive creature, Voice. No matter if you are writing a picture book, a middle grade novel, or a young adult book, voice is the natural expression of you, the writer, talking about something that is never trivial, never easy, and is slippery to define: Truth. But what is that? To get a start on it, I took my favorite quote and broke it down:

"Truth," says Parker Palmer, "is an eternal conversation about things that matter, conducted with passion and discipline."

Eternal: Voices in books live on. They connect to one another throughout the years. You can converse with someone from hundreds of years ago, taking themes from great writers like Shakespeare (The Wednesday Wars), Emily Dickinson (Feathers), or Homer (Leepike Ridge.)

Conversation: Voice leaves room for the reader. When you read A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes, for example, the child (and the adult) immediately wants to participate in the conversation. What else is a pocket? Why? What makes something suitable for holding something else? This is a book that doesn't end when the last page is turned. It invites the readers into the conversation.

Things that Matter: To discover what mattered to my workshop participants, I had them do the 100 questions exercise, which I blogged about here. My feeling was that you raise your hand and dare to speak because the question matters to you; therefore, the secret to knowing what you should write about (and your voice) is finding out what those questions are. This is an exercise that anyone can do at home, and works better if you have more time than I did at the workshop!

Passion: You would think that if you were talking about things that matter to you, that passion would be natural. But sometimes, we get too choked up to speak. But it's important to observe the other passions in your life and see how you behave there---do you quilt? Fix cars? Climb mountains? Be as enthusiastic about your writing.

Here's the quote I used: "I once met a man who told me that I always had an exaggerated idea of things. He said, 'Look at me, I am never excited.' I looked at him and he was not exciting. For once I did not over-appreciate." ---Robert Henri, painter (That got a good laugh, and deservedly so. If the speaker (writer) is not passionate or enthusiastic, then why should the reader be?)

Discipline: Each genre requires a different discipline. (Fitting a story to the 32 page picture book format, for instance.) Projecting and maintaining your voice also takes discipline. But I prefer to redefine discipline as "serving the work" as Madeleine L'Engle does so brilliantly with her quote: "To serve a work of art, great or small, is to die, to die to self." (The extended quote is here.) I did mention that serving the work is difficult, because you're not always sure what it wants. Wouldn't some direct orders be nice? One suggestion I offered was to make a mechanical drawing of your story idea, or of the dilemma you were wrestling with. I did this with my frustration over not knowing how to transition from short story writing to novel writing, as shown below. (You can click on it to make it easier to see.)

Then, I shared some of the stories about genre/voice hunting that many of you left in the comments to this post. The workshop participants really seemed to like these stories from the trenches!

Finally, I wrapped up the workshop by reading several poems from the Cybils Poetry winner, Joyce Sidman's This is Just to Say. I used it as an example of a book that exemplifies the Parker Palmer quote. It was part of the Eternal Conversation (William Carlos Williams' original poem was the starting point, and it definitely invited readers into that conversation.) It was about Things that Matter (apology and forgiveness.) It had Passion (all those messy emotions) and Discipline (beautiful format, plus the author absolutely served the work by maintaining the integrity of the fictional young voices who wrote the poems, instead of making them all in her adult voice.)

So, maybe too much for one workshop? Yes, probably. I didn't get around to leading one of the writing exercises (making that mechanical drawing that I mentioned.) But I hope the participating writers left with the idea that picking a genre and finding your voice is an ongoing process, one that isn't simple, but is always, always worth pursuing. Because, to paraphrase Parker Palmer,

WRITING is an eternal conversation, about things that matter, conducted with passion and discipline.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Going Public

Something new! (Anybody remember that phrase from Family Dog? You have to say the last word very enticingly: neeeeeew....)

After several workshop participants asked me to post my slides online, I have set up a public page from which you can download files. One of my presentations is up, Growing a Novel, under the file name Grow.pdf. For now, it's just the visuals. I would like to eventually post my speaker notes, and even find a way to simulate the writing exercises we did together. (To me, that was one of the best parts, doing the exercise in Not Knowing and getting all the fantastic comments back about the experience.)

I did enhance the PDF with hyperlinks to various blog posts, since much of my material was originally talked about here at Read*Write*Believe. A side benefit of having a blog, by the way! When you're asked to give 2 hour-and-a-half presentations, you don't have to start from scratch, because many of your images and some of your thoughts are already gathered in a coherent form on your computer.

Other files on the public page include an author photo, a high quality JPG of the book cover for Letters From Rapunzel (along with another JPG of the back of my promotional postcard for it) and two book lists used with my presentations. Please let me know if there's any trouble in downloading any of these.

More about my other workshop, Genre and Voice, tomorrow....

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Hotwash: "after-action" discussions and evaluations of an agency's performance following an exercise, training session, or major event


How did the workshops go?

Great, thank you. I had outstanding participants who played along with most of my slightly out-there exercises. The only bumps were:

...the part where I realized that Cord A plugs into cute little MacBook, and Cord B plugs into industrial-sized projector setup, but Cord A and Cord B refuse to put this delicately?....mate. All cords, including a third one never even opened, will be returned to the Apple Store today, along with a note that all three cords are not suitable matches for each other and should not be allowed to leave the store together, ever again.

....the part where I threw all my heavy bags into the trunk of my car, grabbed my just-the-essentials purse, and ran back into the building for the writing contest awards ceremony. As I lowered myself into my seat, I suddenly gripped the purse, which felt ominously thin. I unzipped it to find that my keys were not in it. They were, instead, locked inside my car trunk inside my jumbo tote bag with all my other things. Luckily, Pop-a-Lock responded quickly, and the cheerful woman who deftly broke into my car told me that she herself had once locked her keys in her car FOUR times in a three month period. On the fourth visit from Pop-a-Lock, the manager had said: You really should learn to do this yourself. Would you like a job? (That was three years ago. She says she answers between 15-20 calls a day. I would like to make 15-20 people happy every day, wouldn't you?)

...the part where I asked my workshop participants to do the 100 Questions Exercise, and told them they had 10 minutes. That's 10 questions every minute! One every six seconds! Yes, it can be done, maybe even should be done that quickly, but I'm lucky they didn't throw their pencils at me.

...the part where I concluded my presentation with a slide which read "What am I tyring (sic) to say?" One kind writer told me she thought it was a clever play on words.

But I don't mean to leave you with the impression that I didn't have an amazing day, because I did. Despite all the unexpected bumps, I was surprised the most by how willing the other writers in my workshops were to share their fears, struggles, and joys. Unlike laptop cords, we know how to connect. And while we sometimes lock ourselves out, we almost always let each other in. We're willing to try the impossible, and we look at mistakes as creative play.

I'm going to tweak my presentations to improve upon them after learning so much this first time. I will find the right laptop cord. I'll wear my keys on a string around my neck. I can't wait for the next time I get a chance to share "what I'm tyring to say" with so many writer friends.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Nonfiction Monday: Books that Invite Me to Sit Down and Talk With Them

In one of my workshops this past weekend at the CNU Writers Conference, I talked about being part of the Eternal Conversation, which is carried on, regardless of the span of years that divide them, between writers and readers. Here's a short list of nonfiction books about writing---books which, when I read them, always fill me with the urge to join the conversation. Read with a pen and notebook handy!

Books that Invite me to Sit Down and Talk with Them

A Sense of Wonder: On Reading and Writing Books for Children (Katherine Paterson)

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Anne Lamott)

Characters and Viewpoint (Elements of Fiction Writing) (Orson Scott Card)

Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom (Leonard S. Marcus)

Dreams And Wishes: Essays on Writing for Children (Susan Cooper)

Finding Your Writer's Voice: A Guide to Creative Fiction (Thaisa Frank)

Take Joy: The Writers Guide To Loving The Craft (Jane Yolen)

The Art Spirit (Robert Henri)

The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear (Ralph Keyes)

The Elements of Style, Illustrated (William Strunk, Jr.)

The Rock That Is Higher: Story As Truth (Madeleine L'Engle)

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (Madeleine L'Engle)

The Courage to Teach (Parker Palmer)

To Know as We Are Known (Parker Palmer)

How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci (Michael Gelb)

99 Ways to Tell a Story (Matt Madden)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Poetry Friday: Jama Rocks Bob Dylan

So sorry to skimp on this Poetry Friday post, but I have to take a blog break, or my head will explode with my upcoming workshops. And that wouldn't be pretty.

Please do go by Jama's today, and participate in her Poetry Friday tribute to Bob Dylan. Her earlier post, How Does it Feel? was awesome. Awesome. Please, Jama, please write a book about your groupie adventures. You must. Because I want to read it.

For you, Jama, here are some Dylan lyrics that I love:

I ain't lookin' to compete with you,
Beat or cheat or mistreat you,
Simplify you, classify you,
Deny, defy or crucify you.
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Note to Self: Trust the Audience

Remember those workshops you helped me with? Well, I'm in the last stages of polishing them.

I'm practicing my two Keynote presentations---that's Keynote as in the Mac version of PowerPoint, not Keynote as in keynote, important speaker---obsessively worrying that this new software will freeze on me, buying adapter cables to make sure my laptop hooks up with the external display, backing up the presentations to PDF files that I'm emailing to myself, and other geeky computer-related activity.

I'm also printing out lists of books mentioned in my presentations, gathering my props, and marking passages to read aloud in the books I'm featuring.

Later, I will pick out clothes which make me look professional and yet, approachable and casual. Shoes that are cute, but don't hurt. Lip gloss that matches my slide background color. (Oh, wait. That would be green.)

Even later, I will allow myself one small crazy moment of panic. What if they HATE me?

I like talking to other writers. I'm usually comfortable speaking in front of groups. I'm looking forward to my workshops. But the prep stage goes on too long for me. In a way, I'd rather be thrown out there with no prep, and be forced to make a connection based on the raw fear and vulnerability that all writers face every day and would completely relate to. But that wouldn't be wise. I must prepare, and then connect.

I trust an audience filled with writers, you know? I really, really, do.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Doors, Doors, Doors

"It's a blog group art event!" as Jennifer Thermes says. Bloggers from all over the world are posting pictures of doors today. Go check it out. (Do not miss the doors from Marrakesh.)

I wish I had a picture to contribute. I have a poem that I wrote for The Longest Night which begins "Open the door and greet the moment the dark begins..." And my first blog post proclaims my love of entering rather than beginning. But I have no door pictures. Only a question:

What's your favorite memory involving a door? Or your favorite book with a door in it?

After reading The Secret Garden for my book club, I will state the obvious: it would have been much more believable for Mary to have found the door behind the ivy early on---I mean, if the wind can lift the ivy, it couldn't have been that hard for her to lift it herself and look--- but then she should have had to struggle to find the key. But who cares if an anthropomorphic robin dug up the key for her? The important thing to the story was that she got in.

I also remember that after reading Nancy Drew books, I began to knock obsessively on walls to search for hidden doors and passageways. I was regularly and cruelly disappointed by the unimaginative architecture of most buildings.

But for some reason, when I think of doors, I think of The Borrowers by Mary Norton.

If you do a "Look Inside the Book" search of The Borrowers at Amazon, it reveals 54 pages with a reference to "door." And this particularly memorable scene (search and choose page 138) is representative of what I remember most---the Borrowers living on the edge of getting found every day. Of the door opening at the wrong moment. The door as opportunity and danger. The door as the gateway between the world of the real and the fantastical.

Hey! What are you still doing here? Open the door and go look already!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

If you could go back...

From an interview with author Cassandra Clare at cynsations:

If you could go back to your apprentice writer self, what would you tell her?

"Don't be so hard on yourself," I guess. I thought everything had to be perfect before I could show it to anyone, which means I never got any feedback on anything, and without feedback I couldn't work on improving. It was a vicious cycle. Eventually, I learned to share work with people even when it was in its rough stages without worrying that they'd be filled with scorn and hatred. After all, I can read their rough work without turning on them like a wildebeest."

First of all, I love her answer. Second, I still am an apprentice writer. Always will be. Third, if I had to answer that question, I would say:

Get comfortable with NOT KNOWING. Not knowing where you are going. Not knowing if you will succeed or not. Not knowing if "it will all be worth it."

When I was younger, the thing I wanted most was TO KNOW. I loved books where a character was given her Destiny, or her Quest, and then the adventure began! I thought it mightily unfair that no one ever appeared to me and told me what my Mission was.

I had no idea that not knowing is actually a physical state that you can put yourself it, keep yourself in. That it is a place to seek out, not to avoid. When you DO NOT KNOW, you are headed out on your mission, your destiny, your quest. Otherwise, writing would just be a trip to the grocery store.

For a good post about teaching kids to be comfortable in the not knowing zone, see this one, Chase the Challenge, from the blog, Unwrapping the Gifted (part of Teacher Magazine's online content.)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Nonfiction Monday: The Art Spirit

The Art Spirit by painter Robert Henri
is probably not a book you're going to read straight through.
After all, its title page describes the contents as:

Notes, Articles, Fragments of Letters and Talks to Students,
Bearing on the Concept and Technique of Picture Making,
the Study of Art Generally,
and on Appreciation

But it's perfect for dipping into when you need a jolt of wisdom and a fresh way of looking at whatever it is that you're wrestling with.

"Sometimes we do grip the concert in a human head, and so hold it that in a way, we get a record of it into paint, but the vision and expressing of one day will not do for the next.

Today must not be a souvenir of yesterday, and so the struggle is everlasting. Who am I today? What do I see today? How shall I use what I know, and how shall I avoid being victim of what I know? Life is not repetition. "

I don't know about you, but reading that is both encouraging and frightening. Each day stands new. Artistically, you are neither bound by nor excused by what you've done before. Art is invention. Beauty is discovered. Life is not repetition.

The Nonfiction Monday roundup is here.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

I wonder...


The blog lists the Children's Book Council under "support." Do you think that means will feature a few children's and YA authors in their online "passionate conversations about books"?

If they do, I hope it's later on, when the show has worked out its kinks. Look at this detailed critique of the first episode...

I'm not much of an intrepid reporter, so I hope Fuse 8 is on this. Or maybe Colleen, since she writes for Bookslut, and they're also listed on the blogroll. Betsy, Colleen, any idea why the CBC is sponsoring this? Bring us the scoop!

In the meantime, if you need a really superb interview, the old-fashioned, written way: Anita Loughrey (via cynsations) talks to Leonard Marcus, one of my heroes. I love this man, and I love him more after this interview.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A very short post

Erin challenged me to write my life in six words. I didn't have as much trouble with it as I thought I would. Here it is:

Girl raised by wild books: survives.

Want to try it? Consider yourself tagged.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Happily Ever After

Do you know what happens when you say yes?

You wake up scared the next day. I know this is silly. Everything is great. All will be fine. Except that I have a zit on the side of my nose.

Isn't that the way it goes? There is no good-beyond-belief news without a little freak-out fear mixed in.

What am I afraid of? Oh, I don't know. Maybe the possibility that I will suddenly discover that I have forgotten how to sentence a put together. (See? It's happening!!!)

I also know (because I've been there myself) that there is no hearing about another person's good fortune without a tinge of "But what about me?" This is especially true when you are working as hard and as truly as your heart will stand, and you still haven't gotten to where you want to go. Yet.

So, the Zit on My Nose would like to say to you (and me):

Don't lie to yourself. You do want it. And I promise you that when you do get it, you will want more. When you get that, you will be scared. Deal with it. Deal with it however you need to, but do not wimp out and lie to yourself. About wanting it or being scared. Because the Zit always knows.

It is possible to write with a talking zit on the side of your nose, isn't it?

Isn't it???

Saying Yes

Do you remember, two months ago, when I wrote this:
Jan. 1, 2008

As for me, I hereby pronounce 2008 to be

The Year of Once (Upon a Time)

This year, I want to believe in the magic of words on paper. I want to believe in love that transforms, and art that heals. I want to believe in journeys that change you, in spells that are broken, and in rough stones (even me) that become gems.

I also wrote:
This year, before saying "yes" to something that beckons to me, I'll say: "Is it part of the story I want my life to tell?"

Last Friday, I said yes to something that I very much want to be part of my life story. Cheryl Klein---yes, that Cheryl, of Arthur A. Levine Books, and of the brilliant and funny blog, Brooklyn Arden---asked me if I would work with her on my next two books.

It was the easiest yes I've ever said.

Many, many hugs to my agent, Tina Wexler, for putting us together.

I'll admit, there were several days when I forgot that I had vowed, in that same Jan. 1 post, to do this:
This year, each day, every day, I'll begin with: "Once upon a time, there was a girl who believed..."
The universe must have forgiven me for my lapses. But then, it's larger than I am. Reading, writing, and believing are all larger than I am. For which I am grateful.

P.S. Here's the official announcement from the Publishers Marketplace newsletter:

Author of LETTERS FROM RAPUNZEL, Sara Lewis Holmes' NEW RECRUIT, the story of two cousins living on an Air Force base, the dynamic sixth grade teacher who introduces them to improv, and the community that rallies around them when one of their own goes missing in Afghanistan, to Cheryl Klein at Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, in a two-book deal, by Tina Wexler at ICM (NA).

Monday, March 3, 2008

Non-Fiction Monday: Walking on Alligators

Walking On Alligators
by Susan Shaughnessy

Normally, I'm not a fan of writing prompt books. As fun as they seem when I first pick them up, and as full of writing promise---read me! I'll inspire you!---the reality is, they don't usually...well, prompt me. To write, that is. I rebel against the given assignment. I roll my eyes at suggestions like: Write about your character's favorite color. Yes, it might be interesting, and even practical, to think on why my character loves firebrick red, but that doesn't set my pen to flying on the page.

Walking on Alligators
is different. For one thing, its subtitle is: A book of mediations for writers. Right there, I'm happier. Just like I prefer enter to begin, I prefer meditations to assignments.

Each entry begins with a quote---another point in its favor, since I love quotes---and ends with a mediation.

Here's one example:

Quote: I am gifted with a bad memory. Because of that I can look at my stuff with a singular freedom. ---Paul Weiss

Meditation: Today, I'll remember how forgetfulness will help me. I'll budget time before my deadline for cooling and revision.

Now, that mediation is practical. It's saying something that I've heard many times before---let your drafts settle. Become less attached to them before you revise. But I never thought of my bad memory as a gift before. (Although my husband does say that the reason we've been married so long is that I can't remember anything long enough to hold a grudge.)

And that simple mediation is going to make me think all day long about forgetfulness---not just my own, but my characters. What do they forget? Why? Do other characters notice what they forget? Is forgetfulness always bad? Must it be reserved for the neglectful parent or the deliberately amusing, preoccupied mad scientist or artist? We all forget things---why is that not portrayed as normal?

P.S. Here's another review. It's also marked Highly Recommended, here, at Cynthia Leitich Smith's website.

The Nonfiction Monday roundup is here.