Monday, June 30, 2008


Letters From Rapunzel gets a mention in the latest issue of ALA's Book Links.

I'm delighted to be "linked" in the same article as Donna Jo Napoli and Gail Carson Levine.

Casting the Spell: Fairy Tales in Novel Form (Book Links, July 2008)

P.S. Anybody know if the July issue is being handed out at the ALA convention in Anaheim this week? I remember snatching up a free current copy when ALA was here in D.C.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Poetry Friday: Patron Handbooks


Grace given on any point

at any time

does not imply

that it is a change of policy

or that grace will

necessarily be extended

another time.

General Behavior


should be such as is common

to other libraries.


In the event of a fire
on the lower levels,
by one of the side exits
is probably best,

as the possibility of fire
shooting up the open central stairwell
could be a risk.

(However, behavior should be such
as is common to other libraries.)

(Grace will NOT necessarily be extended another time.)

---From the WCIU Library Patron Handbook, manipulated and arranged by me.

Found poetry feels slightly lazy, and yet it's perfect summer play for my brain. Plus, I think all the revision I've been doing has made me want to rearrange words wherever I see them!

Poetry Friday is hosted by Jennie, at BiblioFile

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Me and E.B., running with scissors and playing with glue

Oh, yay! E.B. did it, too...

"Scenes that are out of place leap out at me. I have to cut and paste because they don't belong where I've put them. E.B. White calls this "transposition." He was a big cutter and paster. He felt that manuscripts often have serious flaws in the placement of their material..." --From The Shape of the Novel, at The Tollbooth

I write scenes out of order all the time. It's ridiculous---like my brain is in another time zone.

But it's not as hard as you might think to manipulate the space-time continuum. It just takes days of determined effort. Mwahahaha!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I love the dictionary. I do. But...

Okay, so there was this post about How To: Make a Dictionary (etc) Wall. I liked it. I bookmarked it. I briefly thought of actually doing it. (If only it didn't involve the words wallpaper primer or decoupage medium or paintbrush.)

I went back and read the comments on it today, and found this great one:

"I love how everyone's set on doing books that are tremendously earnest and self-improving... when the project positively demands to be done by randomly rearranging pages from the trashy best-sellers that go for 99 cents at Goodwill." posted by wende in phoenix on 2008-01-15

Now wouldn't that be fun? A wall of the worst. Rather inspiring, I'd say...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Story Robot

For my revisions, I'm doing some research into improvisational theater. I found the best blog! It's called Story Robot. (Sorry, Laini. I know you are Not a Robot.)

Anyhow, these posts made me laugh. And think about story. They may be about theater, but I think they apply to writing, too.

Head in the deep fryer moment.

The commitment meter.

Why connections make you laugh. (Link to "eight minutes of lyrical origami, folding history into a series of coincidences surrounding that most surreal of hours: 4 o'clock in the morning.")

Just what I needed.

He does comics, too.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Art in the Pages

Holy Giant Books, Batman!

My county started installing people-sized statues of books at local libraries and schools. The public art sculpture series is called Art in the Pages and features local artists, each of whom submitted a design like the one below:

Artist: Stacy Mehlberg
Title: Read. Grow.

Here are some of the finished sculptures. You can get a better idea of the large scale of these from the photos at the Fairfax Library Foundation blog.

More design sketches here.

I challenge you to see how many children's/YA references you can spot! So far, I've seen Peter Rabbit, Alice in Wonderland, Pooh, Harry Potter, Madeleine, Seuss...but my favorite literary reference has to be the sculpture titled Book Worms, which includes How to Eat Fried Worms along with The Good Earth and Notes From Underground.

What would you do with a blank stack of books?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Poetry Friday: Lucinda Williams

Lucinda. Do you know her? Have you heard her sing?

Eisha, at 7-Imps, featured the amazing poetry of her dad, Miller Williams, a few months ago, but I don't know if anyone's ever featured Lucinda---her achy, tough, sexy, lyrical self---on a Poetry Friday. I'll let her dad introduce her:

"My poetry and her songs--you could say they both have dirt under the fingernails. In my writing, I try to get down to the nuts and bolts of living, and there’s no question that Lucinda does that, too. Her music is not abstract. There’s real sweat in every song." ---article over at

Sittin in the kitchen a house in Macon
Loretta's singing on the radio
Smell of coffee eggs and bacon
Car wheels on a gravel road
Pull the curtains back and look outside
Somebody somehere I don't know
Come on now child we're gonna go for a ride
Car wheels on a gravel road
Car wheels on a gravel road
Car wheels on a gravel road

---Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, Lucinda Williams. Full lyrics here.

Pair this one with her I Just Wanted to See You So Bad, and you'll be on the road, car wheels making that gravel fly...

Full downloadable concert via NPR here.

Poetry Friday is hosted by Semicolon.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sounds like a candy, but it's not: Bit O' Lit

Have you guys seen this? I missed the launch, but Buzz, Balls & Hype brought it to my attention, and it looks intriguing. Plus, as I'll point out in a bit, it may have some potential for children's/ YA authors...

"Bit o’ Lit is a booklet-sized magazine that is handed out for free to commuters in Washington, DC as they board the bus or train on Monday evenings. The booklet’s primary contents are book excerpts, paid for by publishers, which passengers read on their ride home.

We believe that while readers support the idea of reading new books, in practice, they are hesitant to risk their time and money on untested books or authors. This is undeniably why there were no new authors among the thirty bestselling books last year.

With Bit o’ Lit, we give readers samples of new books at the key time: when they are bored on their long ride home. Thus, Bit o’ Lit brings new authors to the public’s attention in an unprecedented way. Readers will be able to judge for themselves whether or not they enjoy the writing."

I'm interested in this effort because 1) they are supporting local authors as well as authors who are doing book tours at local stores, like Politics and Prose. 2) They actually included a YA title as one of their excerpts---The Death of Jayson Porter by Coretta Scott King New Talent Award winner Jaime Adoff. 3) They had a nice article featuring
some humorous, practical tips to up your family's reading time. 4) If I were commuting daily, I'd read it. I don't know if I'd rush out and buy any of the books afterwards, but I'd certainly take a free gander at a few pages. 5) Kids and teens do ride the Metro. All the time. So how about a kid edition? exciting as it sounds to have your work promoted to thousands of Metro riders, the one sticky part may be that line "paid for by publishers." It's $150 a page for those 4-6 page excerpts, even though the magazine sells ads, too. This $600-$900 fee is supposed to cover per-page costs for printing and distributing 20,000 one-time copies. (See their FAQ for the nitty-gritty.) But will it result in higher book sales? Will enough commuters step off the train and go buy a whole book? Or will the booklets be fun to read, but not cost-effective for a publisher? As a local author, I'll be waiting to see. And to see if they include more children's/YA titles.

I'll let you know the next time I ride the Metro on a Monday. Anyone seen this yet? Jennie? Susan?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

It's all in the manuscript

Stop me if you've heard this before.

It's all in the manuscript.

I've certainly heard it before. Many, many times. Because that's what my dear friend and writing mentor, Doris Gwaltney, always tells me whenever I whine.

ME: I'm stuck.
SHE: It's all in the manuscript.

ME: I don't know how to fix this.
SHE: It's all in the manuscript.

ME: I need a pedicure.
SHE: It's all in the manuscript. (What, do you write with your feet?)

And dang it! I heard it again over at The Tollbooth, attributed to Tim Wynne Jones.

What does it mean?

It means that even if you've only written one sentence, you have the kernel of your story, right there on the page.

Say you write this melodramatic statement: "Molly kicked the statue and burst into tears."

ME: Who's Molly? Who or what is the statue? What surrounds it? How long ago was it erected? Why is she crying? Is that usual or unusual? Is she alone? What preceded the kick? Is she barefoot or wearing sturdy boots?

YOU: Oh, so you're saying...
ME: It's all in the manuscript.

I know, I know. You normally don't get stuck after one sentence. It happens later, a few chapters in, or after a rough draft runs out of steam. But the principle is the same.

I can't tell you how many times I've been up against a wall, and gone back into my manuscript looking for a clue, any clue as to how to move forward. And there it is! The detail I wrote "just because." At the time, I thought I was being a good writer by being specific--- adding depth and color with that throwaway remark about the aunt who always gives bad presents on Valentine's Day. But now! Now, I seize on it, and ask WHY?

And the next thing I know, that aunt has sent our main character a large, anatomically correct, rubber heart in the mail. (Not really. But you get the idea.) And see? I used this image once, earlier, and here it is again.

The absolute beauty of this, besides getting you moving again, is that if you do it often enough, your manuscript winds up as one incredibly tight, believable, and well-constructed piece of art that makes sense, no matter what angle you view it from. The pathways all connect. Things that matter to the lifeblood of the story are there, and only those things, because you've stayed close to the heart of your story. (Sorry, I know I'm stretching the cardio-puns here. )

So, trust yourself. If you wrote that your character loves peas, find a way to use that again. If you mentioned a bird singing, what kind of bird, and does it come back, and if it does, does it follow a regular pattern?

Shoes matter. The spot on the front sidewalk matters. The friend's dog matters. They all matter because you say they do. Otherwise, WHY would they be in your story?

So, get looking! It's all in your manuscript. Because if it isn't, or if you whine, you'd better start thinking of a way to use this rubber heart. Because I'm going to send it to you.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What I'm reading now

It occurs to me that the "Read" part of Read Write Believe has suffered lately.

So here's an excerpt from my current good read, Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie:

"Thomas Builds-the-Fire's stories climbed into your clothes like sand, gave you itches that could not be scratched. If you repeated even a sentence from one of those stories, your throat was never the same again. Those stories hung in your clothes and hair like smoke, and no amount of laundry soap or shampoo washed them out. Victor and Junior often tried to beat those stories out of Thomas, tied him down and taped his mouth shut. They pretended to be friendly and tried to sweet-talk Thomas into temporary silences, made promises about beautiful Indian women and cases of Diet Pepsi. But none of that stopped Thomas, who talked and talked."

Here's the soundtrack that was recorded for this novel.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Summer Goals

I knew it was gonna happen. I've been tagged to state my summer goals. Thanks, Jen! Really, thanks. 'Cause last year, to my shock and amusement, I actually accomplished all my goals. So maybe I've become a convert to this goal thing. (Although, as you can see, it's taken me some time to get to it.)

(Things that will make me look back
on this summer as a good one)

  • Get out of the house and see a few summer flicks with popcorn (I love you, Netflix, but you make me a hermit. )
  • Go on my first working writer retreat (I've got one lined up, and I'm looking forward to it like a pee break after six cups of coffee. Oh, was that rude? Sorry. I'm excited. Yes, I am.)
  • Stop feeling guilty about everything I haven't read yet and just read. (It's not like I ever will catch up, so why stress?)
  • See an art exhibit, any art exhibit. (I swear, if art came on an ice cream truck, I'd run out every time the little song played. But ask me to spend 45 minutes getting to it, and I totally wimp out. No more! I will make the effort.)
  • Be brave and steadfast in my writing and in my revisions. (I like this quote from Kelly's Quoteskimming: "Your writing should be smarter than you are." Amen.)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Poetry Friday: Intervals

"Poets are like baseball pitchers. They have their moments. The intervals are the tough things." --- Robert Frost

Poets are

like baseball
pitchers. They

have their

moments. The
intervals are

the tough



Poetsarelikebaseballpitchers they

have theirmomentsthe


arethetough things.


oets are like baseball pitchers.

They have their m


The int

are the



Baseball pitchers/ have their tough things/
Poets/ are the intervals.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by a wrung sponge. (Spend time in her photography/haiku archives, if you can. It's moment after moment of loveliness.)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The best advice EVER

Thank you, Laini, for posting this video of Ira Glass from This American Life. I needed to see it!

P.S. He aims his advice at those just starting out in a creative field, but truly, this is a comfort to anyone, master or apprentice, who struggles to make something out of nothing.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I was going to confess this week to something truly weird about my revision process...and now I find that someone else has been brave enough to post a picture of themselves doing the exact same thing!

Go right now and read Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast's interview with author/illustrator Tricia Tusa. And when you get to the picture of her cocooning, please don't laugh. Because I do that, too.

Well, I don't pull the covers over my head, but I do get in the bed, put a notebook and pen by my bedside table, and take a nap. I usually take a short nap (20 minutes) every day anyway, but while I've been revising, I find I've become a serial napper. I pace, write, go lie down, get up, pace, take notes, go lie down.

I'm a physical person; I know that about myself. I have to run, box, do yoga, dance, move my body in some way in order to be sane and happy. But somehow, I missed how important the simple act of lying still was to my revision process.

Revision can seem like such a whirlwind of activity. Rip out every worthless adverb in that paragraph! Move enormous blocks of text from one chapter to another! Strip away the useless veneers! Throw out the junk! Build new structural support!

Yeah, I agree. All that needs to be done. But I'm taking a nap anyway.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Context and Randomness

Should you be able to take a random page out of your book (or any book) and have it make sense? If you can, does that mean that you're telling too much, and not showing? How much of your story should rely on what has gone before? All of it, right?

Then how do those authors do it: read a scene from the middle of their books? I know, I know...they do a little setup, and then they read. But I've tried to do it, and the setup gets longer than the actual reading! So I give up and read the very first chapter, every time.

I look at the manuscript I'm working on now, and I think: if someone read page 93, would they have any idea what's going on? I want to say that most experienced readers would. But I also hope that any reader, no matter how clueless, would get something out of it, too.

It's like a really good comic strip, like ZITS. You could never read it, then see it one day, and totally get it. But it's even better if you've been reading it all along, like I do.

Which is a very long way of getting round to saying: Hey! Did you read ZITS today?

Jeremy and his dad are playing catch.

Frame: Dad?
Frame: Yeah?
Frame: This is great. Yeah.
Frame: (Mom) You had a meaningful conversation with Jeremy?? How???
(Dad) First you have to get over the idea of using words.

That's what I mean right there! By page 93, you shouldn't have to be using so many words. The more your readers understand, the less you have to say. One small action carries with it the weight of all the pages before it.

At least, I think so. What do you think?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Monday, Monday...

It can't be Monday, can it?

Some of you read for 48 hours.

Some of you began to set summer goals.

Some of you launched campaigns to save hyphens and Capital Letters.

Me? I sweated, wrote, and looked at T-shirts:

Alternative Fuel


"Science! is dedicated to bringing you the finest in off kilter science t-shirts with a faux sarcastic nerd loving absurdist bent."

Now that's what we off-kilter faux sarcastic nerd loving absurdist bent word-herders live for, too, folks... a fine phrase like that. Must live up to the pressure...

Friday, June 6, 2008

Poetry Friday: I could not wake you

I dreamed you whole.
I carried you three months.

September October November

I could not wake you
my boy of perfection.

You did not die, only moved
from my belly to my back,

December January February

as heavy as a hood
of draped and folded sleep.

March April in May

The year
turns over.

Milkweed fusses
in waxy clumps.

June July August

Still you lie;
I, still, am waked.

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

Many years ago, I was shocked when my first pregnancy ended in miscarriage. I have long since healed. But waking to loss, this kind or another? That we all do, daily.

Poetry Friday is hosted by Sarah Reinhard.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


OK, I know they call it spinning class because you spin your bike wheels around, and don't really move anywhere, although your legs burn and your heart thumps and you leave looking like a saltwater drenched rat. But as it turns out, my brain wheels were also spinning during class yesterday.

It happened this way: I had reached the end of a certain stage in my revisions last week, and took a minor break to help my daughter move, which turned into a longer break due to uninvited germs romping through my body. But somehow, though it all, that busy tailor in the cellar of my mind* kept sewing. So, as I was sweating out the last germs of my illness in spin class, she suddenly said, "HEY! Look at this!" She held up a lovely vision of how to shift a major piece of my manuscript from one spot to another. The seams of the plaid fabric lined up perfectly and everything. I was so impressed.

You should also be impressed with my sewing metaphor, since I don't communicate well via needle and thread in real life. I tried sewing curtains for a patio door once and when I got to the end of a long, long seam attaching two panels together, there was a six inch difference in the two sides. I'm not kidding you. Six whole inches. I gave up and hung a sheet over the door for the last few months we had in that house before we moved. Shameful, but true.

What's also strange is that I often see fabric, beautiful swathes of intricately decorated cloth, in my mind's eye. Sometimes, the fabric is made into amazing clothing. I'll wake from sleep and remember a dress to die for, or a truly hip trench coat, or even a chic purse. It's so weird. How can I dream these things, hold them briefly in my head in order to admire them when I'm barely awake, and yet have no way of ever turning these visions into reality? You'd think the envisioning was the hard part, right? But no, just like writing, it's the MAKING that's hard.

So thanks, industrious little tailor. But I still need to thread the needle, and poke it in and out about a thousand times, sewing each word to the page until every seam matches.

*From Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird: "There in your unconscious, where the real creation goes on, is the little kid or the Dr. Seuss creature in the cellar, arranging and stitching things together. When this being is ready to hand things up to you, to give you a paragraph or a sudden move one character makes that will change the whole course of your novel, and you will be entrusted with it. So in the meantime, while the tailor is working, you might as well go get some fresh air."

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Sorry, guys. I'm sick today. In theory, I could lift my fingers enough to blog, but I'm too busy alternating shivering with burning up.

I do want to point you to Laini's blog, where she has an interesting discussion going on about what to do on tough writing days.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Penalty! Never read the title of a blog post first! Move down a step!

I found a book I can read while revising.

The Willoughbys (Hardcover) The Willoughbys

It's making me laugh on nearly every page, and because it's meta-fiction, it helps me think about my own fiction, rather than lose myself for days in another writer's created world. Sometimes, you don't want immersion. Sometimes, you want conversation. Conversation with a wicked intellect, a writer not afraid to poke you in the eye, and say: hey all you politically correct children's writers, loosen up. Look what you can get away with!

I mean, come on---listen to kids at play. They're imaginative, ruthless, and astoundingly good at entertaining themselves with games that would make a grownup cry.

And the scene where big brother Timothy bullies his siblings in the Stair Game with ridiculous, arbitrary, and selfish rules so that he can always win? So dead-on that I think Lowry must have played that very game. Recently. Like in writing this book.

And she's winning.

P. S. I'll probably get demoted two stair steps for changing the subject, but I added a box to my sidebar which allows you to subscribe to my blog posts via email. Just put your address in the box, and it will be delivered, rain or shine. :)

I've also added my blog to my Facebook profile, in the Notes section. Plus, a nifty widget that's supposed to scroll the latest headline from here. (Right now, it's displaying, but refusing to scroll. I'm calling in Timothy.)

UPDATE: I took down the blog posts in the Notes section. Apparently, Facebook claims to own copyright for anything you post there. Uh, NO.

The non-scrolling widget is still there, still not moving, but it will link through to my blog feed, which provides a way for Facebook friends to follow me over here.