Friday, May 29, 2009

There! Over Al Roker's left shoulder...

My sister-in-law alerted me to a sighting of Letters From Rapunzel on the Today Show!!! Yup. Al Roker talks to Trenton Lee Stewart, author of The Mysterious Benedict Society, and if you pause the tape between 2:43 and 2:49 minutes in, you can clearly see Rapunzel over Al's shoulder. (His left shoulder, to the right as he faces you.)  

Poetry Friday: Wallace Stevens and a "Thinking Stone"

"I wish that I might be a thinking stone." 

That's what it says on the back of this

Whatever could it mean? Let's look at the line in context:

Le Monocle de Mon Oncle
by Wallace Stevens

"Mother of heaven, regina of the clouds,
O sceptre of the sun, crown of the moon,
There is not nothing, no, no, never nothing,
Like the clashed edges of two words that kill."
And so I mocked her in magnificent measure.
Or was it that I mocked myself alone?
I wish that I might be a thinking stone.
The sea of spuming thought foists up again
The radiant bubble that she was. And then
A deep up-pouring from some saltier well
Within me, bursts its watery syllable.

Is he crying over lost love, his tears welling as salty syllables? Or is he railing against Mother Nature herself? What are the "two words that kill"?


I give him points for lines like these:

Alas! Have all the barbers lived in vain
That not one curl in nature has survived

and these:

...I pursued,
And still pursue, the origin and course
Of love, but until now I never knew
That fluttering things have so distinct a shade

The entire poem seems a lament to encroaching age. Really, not my favorite subject.  If we are to end up like this...

Our bloom is gone. We are the fruit thereof.
Two golden gourds distended on our vines,
Into the autumn weather, splashed with frost,
Distorted by hale fatness, turned grotesque.
We hang like warty squashes, streaked and rayed,
The laughing sky will see the two of us
Washed into rinds by rotting winter winds.

. . . then perhaps I should just order the t-shirt and hope to be a thinking stone instead of a warty squash.  

I love Wallace Stevens; believe me, I do.  This poem of his challenges me, though. 

Should we always post poems we love on Poetry Friday? Or go a little mad and share something confounding every once in a while?  You know my answer. 

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Irene Latham at Live. Love. Explore!  I will be hosting next week!

P.S.  I couldn't end this without sharing a marvelous comment by Karen Edmisten, who responded to my initial post analyzing Wallace Stevens's  "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird":

Billy Collins is like the pal you love and go out with for coffee ... the friend with whom you never have a conflict, because you always know exactly what he means. And he gets you, too, and you love him for that. And then you order more coffee and sigh and think, "If only everything could be this easy."

Wallace Stevens is like your inscrutable uncle, who isn't always kind, and sometimes doesn't seem to want you around, but who's so complex and interesting that you keep having him over. And when you pin him down on something, and whisper to your mother, who's sitting next to you, that now you know why he's like this, he smiles cryptically, and looks away.

Your coffee friend would, of course, be insulted at being analyzed, but your uncle practically begs for it. :-)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I hope someone cuts me off in traffic today

 . . . because I'm having waaaay too much fun with this Shakespeare insult generator.  

Thou dankish toad-spotted lout!

Thou puking fly-bitten gudgeon!

Thou lumpish tickle-brained flax-wench!

If no one obliges me by being rude on the road, I'll save myself for the louts/gudgeons/flax-wenches who leave their grocery carts smack in the middle of a parking spot.

Yes, that is my pet peeve. If you are able-bodied, your cart should go into the corral. Rain does not excuse you! Because, you know, then I have to get out of my car in the rain and MOVE your cart to pull into the spot.

Thou mewling idle-headed flap-dragon!

On a brighter note, Kelly Fineman will be posting about Shakespeare the entire month of June

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

School Visits: Have your answers ready

Yesterday, my son volunteered in a second-grade classroom.  As soon as he entered, a hand shot up.

"Can we ask him questions?" 
"Huh? Can we?" 

The teacher knew enough not to say no. So my eighteen-year-old son was bombarded with  these inquisitive missiles:

"What's your favorite color?"  Blue.

"What's your favorite food?" Pizza.

"When was your first kiss?"  Whaa...t?  I don't know how he answered that. He didn't tell me. 

One girl proudly told him that EVERYTHING he liked, she liked too.  And then they all proceeded to quiz him on whether or not he knew their older brothers or sisters.

It was very amusing to hear my son tell the story of his introduction, and I responded with something like: welcome to the world of school visits.  Except as an author, kids don't want to know if I know their siblings. They want to know if I know R.L. Stine or Judy Blume.  Truly, if that line of questioning opens up, I can't stop it. The litany of "Do you know?" goes on and on and on while I desperately try to divert the conversation back on course.  

I wonder if kids think all authors live on the same street. Or work in the same large, comfy building.  Or meet each other in the park for a game of freeze tag. That would be fun.   

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Today, I was consumed by the urge to re-read every single book by Joan Aiken, as provoked by the Horn Book article about her. (It's not online, sadly.)

Instead, I tracked down and listed resources for the Operation Yes publicity plan. I feel virtuous. 

But still in need of some Black Hearts in Battersea.

See here for a fab page about Joan Aiken's "English artists," including Pat Marriott, Quentin Blake, and Jan Pienkowski. (American Edward Gorey did the art for Battersea and Nightbirds on Nantucket, among other Aiken titles.)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Poetry Thursday and Friday: Attack of the Liberty Bell

I'm all smiles in this photo at the Liberty Bell Center in Philadelphia, but inside, I'm a sentimental, weepy mess.  

First it was running my fingers over the replica of the bell's inscription: “Proclaim Liberty thro’ all the Land to all the inhabitants thereof. Levit. XXV 10” . . . 

 Photo Credit: Peter West, National Science Foundation

Then it was hearing lines from the HBO John Adams mini-series in my head . . .

. . . and reading about the Abolitionists and the Civil Rights Movement's long fight to include "all inhabitants" in that proclamation of Liberty . . .

 . . . and thinking of my gender's shockingly recent battle for the vote. (Several of the suffrage movement's pioneers used the symbol of the Liberty Bell in their struggle and were imprisoned just miles from where I live now.) 

Or maybe it was having my husband beside me after spending 58 weeks in Afghanistan, a nation in dire need of Liberty.

Whatever it was, as I approached the cracked and silent bell itself, this sonnet thrummed me over the head and finished me off.  It says what my visit confirms: once you ring out a call to Liberty, you can't take back the echoes.  Group after group has heard it, and rallied to it, and fought to make its promise of Liberty real. 

The Liberty Bell
by H. R. H. Moore

Ring loud that hallowed Bell!
Ring it long, ring it long;
Through the wide world let it tell
That Freedom's strong:

That the whole world shall be free —
The mighty crowd, the mighty crowd —
That the proud shall bend the knee,
The haughty proud.

Ring, ring the mighty Bell,
In the storm, in the storm!
Brothers! It shall herald well
Fair Freedom's form.

Ring it Southward, till its voice
For slavery toll, for slavery toll;
And Freedom's wakening touch rejoice
Both limb and soul.

Ring it o'er the negro's grave!
Ring it deep, ring it deep;
Its tones are sacred to the slave,
In Freedom's sleep.

Ring it, till its startling tones
Thrill young and old, young and old;
Till despots tremble on their thrones,
And their blood run cold.

Ring it, till the slave be free,
Wherever chained, wherever chained;
Till Universal Liberty
For aye be gained.

Ring it, till the young arise
To Freedom's fight, to Freedom's fight;
Spring gladly toward the kindling skies,
All clothed in light.

Ring it, till the bonds of sect
Be torn away, be torn away;
Till every man, as God's elect,
Kneel down to pray.

Ring it, till the world have heard,
And felt, at length, and felt, at length;
Till every living soul be stirred,
And clothed with strength.


Poetry Friday is hosted today by author Susan Taylor Brown at SusanWrites

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

In which I attempt a semi-critical review of a book by an author I admire

Oh, those first 50 pages! Spectacular. Not just because of the crazy-beautiful writing, and the dare-you-to-stay-with-me portrayal of a raw, ugly situation, but because I was really and truly convinced that I was inside Liga's head.

As the novel expanded to encompass more lives, I found myself less entranced. It wasn't the difficult but brilliant language choices; it wasn't the raunchy but highly original portrayal of bears; it wasn't the shifting multiple viewpoints. All of that, I admired and appreciated as gutsy literary choices. It was simply that the human heart of it got lost for me after we left Liga, and I never found it again. Really, I would've gone anywhere with that girl and wanted to.

More than that, I wonder about the novel's intended effect on me. Living with the truth is a classic theme in YA, and a good one. It's touted on the back cover as being this book's theme. But to me, Tender Morsels seems to be about brutality---literally, the brutes inside us. I didn't realize that until the "revenge" scene, which was so beastly that I wondered if the point of it was to show us what our ugliest inner thoughts look like when turned into reality. If so, Lanagan succeeds, and I felt like crap afterwards. But maybe, as I should. We are all brutal, even the best of us, as Branza, the "golden daughter," shows when she savagely bites someone. I don't know.

All I know is that I feel like a "tender morsel" who was just eaten by this book. Lanagan is wickedly talented, and seems to be fearless. I will read what she writes. But I'm going to reserve the right not to like it. 

Absolutely guaranteed to make for a passionate book club discussion.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Opposites Attract

I don't understand why people think writers are their characters. We couldn't be more different. 

Character: acts spontaneously and organically
Writer: plots like the devil

Character: is blinded by fatal flaws
Writer: begs to be critically read, edited and/or publicly discussed

Character: has lovable, endearing quirks
Writer: has sociopathic habits only she understands

Character: eats colorful, easily imagined, and highly evocative food
Writer: scrapes crumbs from the couch cushions when fridge is empty and deadline is near

Character: falls in love with the wrong person
Writer: falls in love with the right words

Character: grows, changes, is not the same
Writer: is the same ("only better") with each book

Perhaps a writer needs one of these amulets.  

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Up. Down. Up.

I'm sorry about the lack of blogging. I've been on a roller coaster with my new manuscript.  I love it. I hate it. I love it again. Up. Down. Up.

Ptooey. I'm feeling nauseous. 

The only that helps is knowing that I always feel this dichotic paranoia about my work. Because some things in it are piercingly lovely. And some things in it are crap.  The secret is to trust both of my instincts, to love it and hate it, to not block those feelings, but use them to make it all better. 

If I didn't love it, I couldn't go on. 

If I didn't hate it, I couldn't change it.

So. Up. Down. Up. 
Until today, when I let it go and submitted it.

I wish I could join you for Poetry Friday tomorrow, but I'm going to enjoy a day of rest after the ride.  See you next week.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Link to a Short Film

Via Barbara O'Connor, who cops to identifying with the letter P. I recognize myself in D for digression and doubt. But I love the way Insidious turns into Illumination. 

I also remembered that Laura Salas passed me the letter "M." I'm supposed to write a blog post about it. So far, I have nothing but this list: 

Mustard greens.

How am I supposed to turn that digression into illumination? 

Friday, May 8, 2009

Poetry Friday: A Poet by Jane Hirshfield

I think of this one as a writer's blessing . . .

A Poet
by Jane Hirshfield

She is working now, in a room
not unlike this one,
the one where I write, or you read.
Her table is covered with paper.
The light of the lamp would be
tempered by a shade, where the bulb's
single harshness might dissolve,
but it is not; she has taken it off.
Her poems? I will never know them,
though they are the ones I most need.
Even the alphabet she writes in
Read the rest here

For more pictures of what working spaces look like, my book club friend, Anamaria Anderson, pointed me to this wonderful project: Studio Confidante. It's described as "the little objects which keep people company as they work. The things which silently watch the frustrations and triumphs. Those items which sometimes function as a talisman or charm. What we keep close to us. What inspires us."

Edited to add: in the comments, Julie Larios alerted me to this glimpse from The Guardian into writers' workspaces:  Writers' rooms 

Poetry Friday is hosted by Anastasia Suen at

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Clarity: Thinking Toys

Do you have a thinking toy? I do.

It's a rainbow-colored mini Slinky. It was given to me along with a thank-you note for speaking at a conference. At the time, I thought: cute. But why?

Now I keep it near at hand, along with my timer and my bottle of Clarity.

Whenever I get stuck (or paused or temporarily waylaid) in my Work in Progress, I grab the slinky and start stretching it in and out like an accordion. I toss it from hand to hand. I twist it and watch the lines of color warp and shift like one of those psychedelic screen savers.

And it works. It gives my procrastination and mental maze wandering a physical outlet, like staring at a mandala or a Smoky Mountain creek.

Clarity. In a bottle. In a spring (slinky or mountain-fed.) Or in focused work to the beat of a timer.

How do you achieve Clarity?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Books Bought for Flying Horse Farms Library

Here's what I bought with the money from the I Love Libraries comment challenge:

  • Horses and Ponies (Kingfisher Riding Club) - Sandy Ransford $18.95 - Quantity: 1
  • First Riding Lessons (RIDING CLUB) - Sandy Ransford $11.06 - Quantity: 1
  • Archery (Backyard Games) - Steve Boga $9.31 - Quantity: 1
  • Horse Handling & Grooming: A Step-By-Step Photographic Guide to Mastering over 100 Horsekeeping Skills (Horsekeeping Skills Library) - Cherry Hill $13.57 - Quantity: 1
  • Cherry Hill's Horse Care for Kids: Grooming, Feeding, Behavior, Stable & Pasture, Health Care, Handling & Safety, Enjoying - Cherry Hill $11.53 - Quantity: 1
  • Nature's Art Box: From t-shirts to twig baskets, 65 cool projects for crafty kids to make with natural materials you can find anywhere - Laura C. Martin $11.53 - Quantity: 1

Thank you all so much for supporting me and Flying Horse Farms!

Here's a picture of Emily and her dad looking at plans for the groundbreaking ceremony on June 13. You can follow along at the new FHF Camp Journal blog.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Three Things Related (More or Less) to Fairy Tales and Letters From Rapunzel

Because in fairy tales, things always come in threes, don't they?

1) Awesome. A class in Georgia makes commercials for books, including mine. Haven't seen the finished pitch yet, but I want to!

2) The Statue of Liberty's crown may re-open, and if so, you can climb all the way to the top again (past those nostrils) just like Rapunzel did with her dad.

3) Oh. My. Word. Miss Erin's photos:  Real Life Fairy Tales

Whoops! Four things!  

4) This fab post (and book list, including Letters From Rapunzel) at Unwrapping the Gifted about bibliotherapy with gifted children

Eep. Just thought of another. Five!  

5) Link Jules sent me:  "Self-Rescuing Princess" T-shirt at ThinkGeek

Eek. Okay. There are six. 

6)  Amy Planchak Graves at is starting a Mental Health in Children's Literature Project, which she describes as  "the modern/enhanced equivalent of an annotated bibliography" listing books that deal in a literary, non-didactic way about mental health issues.  Yes, that would include Letters From Rapunzel. I'll link as soon as it's up and running, but for now, check out more about Amy here

Okay, that's it. I can't count, and I'm done.

(Except to say that it's been more than two years since Letters From Rapunzel came out, and it's exciting as an author to see readers, classes, librarians, and teachers still discovering it and using it in fantastic, creative ways. Yayohyayohyay!)

That is all.