Friday, August 29, 2008

Poetry Friday: Lost Poems

Well, this is cool. The Library of Congress has put out a web guide to finding lost poems.

While some of the first suggestions are obvious (Google!) and likely to provide instant results, I had fun reading down to the more specialized tactics, such as posting to message boards like Poetry Archives: Lost Poetry Quotations. And I can't wait to see what the British-staffed The Poetry Library has to offer---impeccable service, I hope.

Also, there's a section at the bottom of the web guide as to what to do if you've lost track of a poem submitted and published to a contest anthology. Apparently, contest poems are archived with the International Library of Poetry, and the Library of Congress is tired---wretched weary, if truth be told----of being confused with it.

Don't miss the lost novels section either. Children's literature is specifically addressed.

But back to poetry. I was going to post one of my favorite poems, One Art by Elizabeth Bishop, but I see that our PF hostess today posted about it last month. (What fascinates me about that poem is that it devastates me each time I read it. I know it, I know it, I know it. And yet I read it, again.)

So today, I'm pointing you to Liz's post about lost things instead.

And asking you: have you ever lost a poem? I did once.

Poetry Friday
is hosted by Charlotte's Library.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I love it when good things happen to good people

A quick note to say CONGRATULATIONS to Laura Arnold! She's been promoted to Editor at HarperCollins Children's Books. I'm jazzed for her, and for all the authors who'll get to work with her, because she is unfailingly gracious and kind and whip-smart.*

I asked her what kind of manuscripts she hoped to acquire in her new job, and she wrote to say:

"Right now I'm primarily looking for middle-grade and really strong YA. I also work on chapter books, but we find that is a crowded market. Still, if there is something stand-out in either chapter book or picture book, I wouldn't rule it out."

Laura also mentioned that "In September I'll be a moderator for a teen fantasy panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival, with Gail Carson Levine, Holly Black, and Justin Kirk." Oooh! Doesn't that sound like some serious fairy dust is going to get thrown around? (And I should have asked, but didn't: I found Googlezilch about Justin Kirk as a writer, so is that Justin Kirk, the actor?? And if so, is he being cast in a teen fantasy movie? Or am I wildly speculating?)

OH. Turns out it's Daniel Kirk, picture book author/illustrator making the crossover into teen fantasy with the forthcoming Elf Realm: The Low Road. That makes more sense. And how interesting...

As always, you should research any editor before sending out a manuscript. HarperCollins is closed to unsolicited general submissions, but I wouldn't dismiss the possibility of a specifically targeted, superb manuscript being read.

*Laura, as you might remember, was on the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI panel with me last fall. She looks after Letters From Rapunzel for me now that Lauren Velevis is off getting her MFA.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What I'm Reading Now: Soldier's Heart

Soldier's Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point by Elizabeth D. Samet

The author has been an English professor at West Point for over a decade. So far, I'm absolutely loving it.


"What does it mean for a student to spend the morning reading Milton's Paradise Lost and the afternoon jumping out of an airplane? To spend a summer in the field learning how to defuse an IED and a winter writing about the poetry of Anne Sexton? To read T.E. Lawrence's account of his operations in Mesopotamia in Seven Pillars of Wisdom as a firstie in a British literature elective and to be deployed to Iraq the following year? Sometimes the sheer variety of their experiences causes cadets to become confused about what it is they are supposed to be. One asked me whether West Point wanted him to be a soldier or a scholar. If it wanted him to be both, he added, the days needed to be much longer."

But try to be soldiers and scholars, they do, and Samet chronicles it all with a clarity I admire. I've laughed out loud, and gotten teary, and am constantly surprised by all the literary connections she weaves into her narrative. For example, did you know that during WWII, cargo pocket sized books called Armed Services Editions were distributed by the thousands to servicemen overseas? And even some regular paperbacks were issued with the following message stamped inside:

"BOOKS ARE WEAPONS. In a free democracy, everyone may read what he likes. Books educate, inform, inspire; they also provide entertainment, bolster morale. This book has been manufactured in conformity to wartime restrictions---read it and pass it on. Our armed forces especially need books. "

And now, today, a non-profit company is re-issuing other books in the cargo pocket sized editions, including---get this connection--- a translation of Arabian Nights by Printz Award winner, Geraldine McCaughrean, who made me scream when her book, The White Darkness, won earlier this year.

Samet's students get up on desks to recite Tennyson's Ulysses. They take Rumi with them to Afghanistan, where they discuss the poet with Afghan colonels. And when she suggests to a class of plebes that "the shape of a particular poem reminded (her) of the formations and cadences of military life: of marching and drilling on the parade field..." they respond that she's been "ruined." Or as she puts it: ""They've got you, ma'am," said one in mock horror."

One other note. Last Friday, I blogged about the poetry of Robert Graves. Who does Samet mention on page 11 of Soldier's Heart? WWI veteran Robert Graves. I can't wait to see what other connections I discover.

Signs like these make me feel I'm reading the right book at the right time.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"I discreetly bolted out of the ballroom" Valerie Patterson on the sale of her first novel

Remember how my roommate for the SCBWI L.A. conference, Val Patterson, came to my book signing there and I said that I hoped to come to one of hers one day? Well, hot dang! She sold her first book two days later!

I asked Val if she would give us the story behind the sale, because there's nothing juicier than hearing about that magic moment from another writer.

1) Tell us the story, briefly, of how you came to write/sell The Other Side of Blue.

I began writing The Other Side of Blue--it had a different name then--in an independent writing class with National Book Award recipient Han Nolan at Hollins University, as part of the MFA in Children's Literature program. During that semester I also wrote a short story, "Death in Blue Woad," a medieval mystery with a teen protagonist, which later was published in a Sisters in Crime mystery anthology. I've long been fascinated by the color blue, perhaps because of growing up near the Gulf of Mexico. I also have long been intrigued by art and artists, though my own artistic ability consists of (finally) being able to draw a convincing three-dimensional apple. Han encouraged me to continue both pieces, possibly as novels.

I worked on The Other Side of Blue on and off for a couple of years, including in a great class with Alexandria LaFaye. I put Blue aside to finish my creative thesis, an historical novel. I also wrote another middle grade novel, which was supposed to be funny, and it partially succeeded. However, it's one of those novels in drawers most writers have!

Greenhouse Literary agent Sarah Davies' interest in the novel prompted me to buckle down and finish it. During that intense period, the book took on new dimensions for me. Sarah agreed to represent me, and I spent some time revising the novel. When Sarah thought it was ready, she sent it out for consideration. Sarah is remarkably adept at understanding just how writers feel. She's part cheerleader, task master, and confessor--and all literary godmother. I'm thrilled to be working with Clarion editor Jennifer Wingertzahn to make the novel the best I can.

2) What was your lowest moment on the journey? Did you ever lose faith that your novel would find its way into the world?

I've had what I consider the normal angst of any writer who hasn't yet published a novel. I first won an SCBWI Work In Progress grant ten years ago this month, so I've been on a long journey of development as a writer. The book for which I received the grant also sits in a drawer, but I believe nothing we write is wasted even if a particular book or story is never published. I've certainly had dark days in which I had to remind myself that, even without publication today or tomorrow or next year, the writing journey is worth it.

3) What was the best moment? Did it match the dream sequence in your head?

The best moment is indeed the stuff of fantasy. During the national SCBWI conference in LA earlier this month, I was listening to Connie Epstein give the annual market update when I felt my cell phone vibrate. I saw it was Sarah Davies and I discreetly bolted out of the ballroom.

She had called to tell me I had an offer for The Other Side of Blue. I'm sure people milling outside the ballroom thought I'd had sad news, as I was standing there crying but they were definitely happy tears. Receiving an offer of publication while attending the SCBWI National conference is definitely a dream come true.

4) Any advice to those still awaiting their first sale?

Yes, NEVER NEVER NEVER give up. Keep writing and learning.

Anything else you'd like to share?

Yes, just a thank you to everyone--and the list is very long--who has touched my life as a writer from family, friends, writing group members, students and faculty at Hollins Children's Lit program, SCBWI, and you, Sara. I hope my story inspires other writers to stay on the journey.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Signs of the (1930s/40s) times

In browsing the Library of Congress site, I found these WPA (Work Projects Administration) 1930s/40s posters. Those two, above, are my favorites. The first one scares the bejeezus out of me, and the second one makes me admire the artist for making the best of a dorky message.

Three more...

And this, where the high-minded and impeccably literate admonishment somehow fails to make me run to my local Health Bureau for baby-rearing advice...

Friday, August 22, 2008

Poetry Friday: Cake

I'm using this photo of my husband and me because it's the best cake one I have, and because it was our anniversary on Monday.

BUT... I want you to know that even though I'm posting the following funny poem for Poetry Friday, I don't consider my husband "impossible" in any way, except for impossibly supportive of me and my life's work.

A Slice of Wedding Cake did make me laugh, though, and then I found all sorts of other amusing cake and poetry links.

Let's celebrate the sweetness of laughter in our lives, shall we?

Why have such scores of lovely, gifted girls
Married impossible men?
Simple self-sacrifice may be ruled out,
And missionary endeavour, nine times out of ten.

Read the rest here, or better yet, listen to an audio recording of poet Robert Graves reading his A Slice of Wedding Cake.

And more on the cake and poetry theme...

Via Adam Rex's blog, Frankenstein finds his poetic inspiration:

Via the blog, Cake Wrecks, comedy at the expense of cake: (Thanks, Kelly, for pointing me to Cake Wrecks in the first place. Now it's my daily laugh.)

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Read. Imagine. Talk.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Good news everywhere

Good news everywhere...

! My roommate for the SCBWI L.A. conference sold her first book. Remember this: Valerie Patterson, author of The Other Side of Blue, because you're going to be hearing about it, come Fall '09/Spring '10. Get the whole scoop on the sale from her agent, Sarah Davies. I hope to be interviewing Val soon, about her first sale jitters and joy.

! Two new friends that I met in L.A. started blogging. From the co-blog Plot This:

Katie Anderson, self-confessed "yoga nerd," writes Relax into the Prose (go! look at that yoga/writing picture.)

and Sarah Frances Hardy confesses in an earlier post that she's the girl you wanted to sit near in Chem, 'cause she takes great notes, and yeah, she's right: here are her notes from Sara Pennypacker's breakout session on "Making Your Beginnings Shine." And don't miss her artwork here. (I love the line drawings.)

! My friend, Mac McCool, has an article about graphic novels in the new Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market.

! Jane Yolen is graciously offering lovely free bookmarks with her poem "Revision Takes Wings" on them. Check out the comments section of her interview at 7 Impossible Things for the details. Here's a picture of where I have mine prominently displayed on my desk:

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Paychecks and Great Battles

When I spoke to a high school creative writing class last year, they were fascinated by my paycheck for Letters From Rapunzel. But that's only because they thought the amount on the check (in the thousands) was for two weeks' work, not for the whole job, which took---who's counting?----TEN YEARS from start to finish. Okay, some goof-off breaks during that ten years, but still.

Yesterday was payday again, because my check for signing Operation Yes with Arthur Levine Books (Scholastic) arrived via FedEx. Whoop! I like getting paid. I try not to think of it in terms of hours worked. I think of it more like a large allowance.

But I was particularly excited to get this check because earlier this month, I saw a post over at The Sandbox about the Marine Corp Marathon. No, I'm not running the marathon. I'll stick with my three miles, thanks. But a sixty-year-old veteran is. Paul McCollom is a former Vietnam War Army medic, and now, his daughter is deployed to Iraq, and for her, he's running and raising money for the Fisher House Foundation. In his words,

"for those that don't know, a Fisher House is like a Ronald McDonald house for the families of wounded and injured service men and women. The Fisher House Foundation recognizes the sacrifices of our wounded service members and their families and provides a sanctuary where they can be together during treatment for serious injury or physical therapy. They build, furnish and equip multi-bedroom houses where military families in similar circumstances can stay, free of charge, and provide support and encouragement to each other."

In Operation Yes, parents and children and teachers fight great battles every day, some with the stress of deployment and some with fear and some with knowing what the right choices are. Yes, they live normal, wonderful lives, too, but it takes a lot of relying on courage and love to have a parent in the military. Or a brother or sister in the military. Or a child in the military. As the veteran father, Paul McCollom, says in his post, he felt a need to DO something.

So do I. I'm sponsoring him with part of my paycheck. If you want to read about his efforts, go here. And while I welcome you to join me, I understand if there are other great battles you wish to support.

Now, off to run my slow three miles...

"Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a great battle." ----Philo of Alexandria

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Real Simple Book Club

Okay, remember how I dinged Real Simple magazine for not promoting book blogs? I totally forgive them.

Because now they've started the "No-Obligation Book Club." It's billed as "No time frame, no deadlines, no obligations: just the pleasures of reading good books, as suggested — and led — by Real Simple editors. The goal is to get the benefits of a book club...without feeling overwhelmed by rigid schedules." Robin, have they been listening to you?

And check out one of the first four book choices: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak!

One more thing. If you haven't been reading Jama's month of bear posts at alphabet soup, why not? She's got a particularly nice one up today, "Teddies to the Rescue."

Monday, August 18, 2008

24 years ago today...

At the reception, after dancing...
my husband's giving the photographer the look
that says "no more pictures, buddy."
But I'm glad I have this one.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Poetry Friday: Memorizing Shakespeare

It's been too long since I mentioned Shakespeare. So...

The idea is that you download an MP3 file which contains all your lines, divided into short sequences. You listen and repeat after the bell, building fluency as you go. You learn your own lines, then have them cued to you by the other character's lines.

I downloaded the free sample of Hamlet's famous "To Be or Not to Be" soliloquy, and I'm working on it. I'll let you know how it goes. Right now, I feel like "an unlettered, small-knowing soul." (Love's Labour's Lost I, 1)

So why do it? Because...

"A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind—

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs. ---from Ars Poetica by Archibald Macleish

The rest here.

Maybe I should memorize that one, too...

Poetry Friday is hosted by Kelly at Big A, little a

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Look Who's Coming to the 2008 National Book Festival

The schedule is up!

On Sept. 27, 2008, the following children's and teen authors will speak and sign books at the National Book Festival on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.:

(from their website)



Also, launching in late August, watch for their Young Readers' Toolkit, which is billed as featuring "information about National Book Festival authors who write for children and teens, podcasts of their readings, teaching tools and activities for kids." Some podcasts are up now. And Jan Brett is the 2008 Artist for the festival poster.

I'm going. How about you?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

To Boldy Go and Learn

My daughter says: This is the famous eagle nebula showing the "pillars of creation". The image is a combination of 10 80 s exposures in each filter (B, V, and R). The R filter definitely showed the most structure and detail, while the nebula hardly appeared in the B filter images at all. The new stars forming inside the pillars cause the surrounding dust to fluoresce and glow red.

If you didn't understand any of that, perhaps you need LaunchPad. That's the FREE workshop for writers funded by NASA. Its mission is "to provide a 'crash course' for twelve attendees in modern astronomy science through workshops, guest lectures, and observation through the University of Wyoming's two large telescopes."

Is that cool or what? Nancy Kress blogs her week at LaunchPad here.

I wonder if we could get other interesting organizations to educate writers for free. Like the Oregon Shakespeare festival. Or the LPGA. Or NPR. Even NASCAR.

Nominate an organization to fund a "crash course" in the comments! We can start a write-in campaign. (We writers are good at write-in campaigns.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

At the Zoo

What can a writer learn from the zoo?

Repetition instantly makes a story.

One snake alone would be cool. But two snakes? Then you start making up a plot for them. Are they brothers? Sisters? Friends? Enemies pretending to be friends? Guards? Models? An old married couple? The snake mafia?

This guy is thinking about all the possibilites:

If only they'd give me a laptop....

*Pictures taken by my daughter at the National Zoo, Washington D.C.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Poetry Friday: Licorice

I admit it. I picked this poem because I like licorice. But it's a good one.

by Daniel Hales

If it's been over ten years since you last tried

black licorice, you may now love it.
If you come across a bus stop in mid-December
someone may have written i heart you with
their finger on the window's condensation.

It may be fresh enough you can tell

where she pressed her forefinger down
hardest and whether or not she wore gloves.

It may be that what you think is love

Is no more so than a clump of pink insulation
hanging strangely in a trashed storefront

read the rest here

Also: Paper Licorice Art

Poetry Friday is hosted by Becky's Book Reviews today.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

That's what friends are for

More on the SCBWI L.A. conference...

This is what friends are for. They blog so you don't have to:

Cindy Pon on what I ate. (Not everything that she did, but I had that amazing beet salad and that bread basket, and all that yummy Rock Sugar Grill food.) Plus, Cindy is a very fun person to hang out with, and the author of the upcoming YA fantasy, Spirit Bound. She also appreciates a good-looking waiter.

Paula Yoo (author of the YA novel, Good Enough) blogged everything. And she got a pic of me, holding Letters From Rapunzel after I had done my mini-interview for readergirlz. Thanks, Paula! I can't wait to see all our videos. (And thanks for my Yoo "special" drink.)

Bill Cochran (author of The Forever Dog) blogged what he learned. Oh, yeah, I learned some of that stuff, too, like "You never know who’s going to inspire you. But it’s hard not to get inspired at this place."

Elise Murphy blogged cupcakes and costumes. Loved hanging out with you, Elise. You made even an airport a good place to be.

Here I am with Jacqui Robbins, author of The New Girl...and Me, at the Golden Kite lunch.

I now know several amazing and surprising things about her that I've sworn never to reveal. She has blogged three of the wonderful picture book authors that were there, including Adam Rex, Deborah Freedman and Yuyi Morales.

And speaking of Adam Rex, here's a cool fact: we both have a close family member in the astrophysics field. (He, his wife; me, my daughter.) Adam has not blogged this amazing coincidence yet, but when he does, I'll link. :)

And here he is with my friend, Amy Thomas. I loooove this picture! (I love Amy, too. That girl has brains and a great sense of humor.)

So there you go. Go read what others had to say about the conference. That's what I plan to do!

Yes, I did

This weekend in L.A., I had to take several slow breaths before walking over to Leonard Marcus. That doesn't happen to me much.

My life (of constant moving) has forced me to talk to people I don't know all the time. But this was different. I was meeting someone who had changed my life. Someone who had inspired me---in the more powerful archaic meaning of inspire which is: to breathe life into.

At a low point in my life, I had given up on writing. I had been rejected (in rapid succession) from an MFA in Poetry program and by a national first novel contest. I had spent many months studying career books, taking quizzes and journaling, trying to come up with some other way of navigating this life other than writing. My manuscript had gone out after months in the drawer...and been rejected.

But...I owned a copy of Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, written by Leonard Marcus. I had devoured it with intense longing, as if I were eavesdropping on love affairs instead of business letters. The correspondence between this legendary editor and her many writers was in the language of passionate devotion, to words and books and young readers. I could swear up and down that I might succeed at another career, but those letters made it achingly clear what I would be giving up if I did.

So when I saw the contest announcement for the first Ursula Nordstrom Fiction Contest at HarperCollins, I entered my not-perfect, not-even-quite-a-novel manuscript. As I wrote in my journal that day, I had to "keep hope alive."

When I won the contest, I didn't write in my journal for several days. I couldn't even admit to myself that my dream had come true. But it did. That manuscript became my first book, Letters From Rapunzel. And it would not have if Leonard Marcus hadn't breathed life back into me months before and shown me, on the page, what I truly wanted and needed.

So, I took those breaths and walked over and told him so. Because how many times in your life do you ever get to tell a person such a thing?

P.S. Jules and Eisha: thank you for challenging me to do brave things.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Paint the Town Red

Well, sure there were people at the Paint the Town Red party last night. But I know you really wanted to see this:

And these:

Okay, now here are the people:

And now back to the conference sessions this morning....I just heard Leonard Marcus give his keynote, using Ursula Nordstrom's letters to encourage and admonish us. Brilliant and funny. I feel comforted that writers in every era have struggled with the same issues of clarity, courage and confidence. We want to paint that town red, but sometimes, it takes a long time to find the shoes that fit. :)

Saturday, August 2, 2008


To quote myself: "I promise to post from the conference."

At least I didn't say "I promise to post immediately and every day from the conference, and send you pictures of me standing on my head as I do this..." So technically, I didn't lie to you.

The thing is, I'm not a reporter. Alice Pope is doing that, beautifully at CWIM. I'm more of a ponderer. So, until I have time to ponder, can I buy you off with a few tidbits?

Bruce Coville on taking risks in your writing: "No leap...No wings." I love that. I may get a bumper sticker. Or a tattoo.

Adam Rex passed around a dummy of Dirty Cowboy with the editorial notes attached. Wow. It was mind-blowing to see how blunt some of the commentary was and how much re-drawing was involved.

So far, I've purchased:

In a Blue Room by Jim Averbeck
Psssst! by Adam Rex
Minders of Make-Believe by Leonard Marcus
A Caldecott Celebration: Six Artists Share Their Path to the Caldecott Medal by Leonard Marcus
Show and Tell: The Fine Art of Picture Book Illustration

and two red awareness bracelets that say: Reading = Power

(I know that list above is heavy on the picture book/illustration side of things, but I think that's because I have so many novels waiting for me at home already. And because I'm a sucker for a lovely book...)

Speaking of novels, I finished Sherman Alexie's Reservation Blues on the plane. Yes, it's good. Yes, you should read it.

I'm looking forward to seeing Little Willow in a few hours to tape a video for Readergirlz. I'll let you know when it's posted.

And finally, thank you to all who came to see my at my book signing.

Me and my new friend
from Mississippi, Sarah Hardy

Here's my fabulous roommate, Val Patterson, supporting me at the signing. (I hope to come to a book signing for her one day soon!)
I'll try to take a few more pictures tonight at the Paint the Town Red party. Until then...