Wednesday, November 26, 2008

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

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

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

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

The books would be...

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

If you want to help, here are some suggestions:

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

    Questions?  Email me at:

Here's a list of activities at camp:

Arts & Crafts
Adventure (teambuilding)
Sports & Games

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

The address for donations:

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

Thank you! 

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

Bloggers who've posted about Flying Horse Farms:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

How do you DO it?

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

But you rarely hear editors talk about process.  

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

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

Friday, November 21, 2008

Yes, it was as fun as it sounds

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

Thanks, Pam!

Poetry Friday: Dog Music

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

Dog Music
by Paul Zimmer

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

The rest is here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Under the blanket, reading

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

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

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

Sounds good to me.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Now that's a mission statement

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 17, 2008

What is the Worst Problem Writers Face Today?

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

What is the worst problem writers face today?

I had trouble answering this. 

Writers have been imprisoned.

and yes, 
Celebrated, Read and Adored.

What's your answer to this impossible question?

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

Friday, November 14, 2008

Poetry Friday: When Does Winter End?

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

I'm at A Cast of One today

Poetry Friday is hosted by Yat-Yee Chong.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Le Woo-hoo

An update for my recent post about NASA student ambassadors:

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

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

Geek out!

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

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

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

The press release:


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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information about NASA and its programs, visit:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day and the 2008 Marine Corps Marathon

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

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

Date: October 31, 2008

To: Team Fisher House Support Heroes

From: Elderly Marine Corps Marathon Finisher


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You made a difference and my passion continues…

With Sincere Appreciation and Deepest Respect,

Paul McCollom

For pictures of Paul on race day, see here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Friday, November 7, 2008

Poetry Friday: Roger Bonair-Agard

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

earth and God
(for Hudley Vincent de Paul Bonair)

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Read Write Believe

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

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

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

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

We see.
We hold fast.
We call forth.

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

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

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

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Blog the Vote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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