Books -- reading and writing.
Home, cooking, the weather.
And whatever connections I can make between them.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Even More from Mississippi

Mississippi appreciates its writers, big time.

Of course, there's Miss Eudora Welty.

On this trip, I visited her garden and a new, temporary exhibit inside her house.
The special exhibit featured her high school and colleges, one of which we share.

The flowers are still blooming. Beautiful.
We also said hello to her Night-Blooming Cereus, on the front porch. Not blooming.

I read this in her garden, a favorite quote, always has been:

But this time, my friend Ivy and I also popped into 

Check out the chairs! I love the way the shade and the sun play against these benches.

 Here's my own Willie Morris story.

I was a librarian-in-training at Simmons College in Boston. My first adventure outside the South. It snowed on November 19, hard, and again on Easter Sunday, not so deep. I loved Boston. I loved Simmons. I did not love the weather, but the people were fascinating and I loved living there.
I was always running into Yankees who knew little about my homeland.

While studying at Simmons, I worked a couple of days a week at the Harvard Medical School Library. The director was smart and well-read. And completely puzzled by me.
One day he called me into his office and held up a book. "I'm reading a good story," he said. "Willie Morris wrote it. It's about a fictional town called Yazoo."

Well, of course, as most of us know, it's Yazoo City. 
It's real. 
And it's still there.

While I'm remembering Mississippi and its writers, I can't resist re-sharing this. 
Ivy's table decorations way back when Glory Be was new.

And soon I'll have another book, The Way to Stay in Destiny, to add to her table. 
Some days it feels like a miracle.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum

What an amazing weekend!
From the lectures to the ribbon cutting, the friends who returned and the ones who live in Mississippi and worked so hard to make this weekend perfect- outstanding in every way.

(Don't you love that logo?)

Here's a link to some of the highlights from the blog of Dr. John Jung. 
Be sure to click on the link at the end of his post and scroll through the pictures. You'll feel like you were there! 

This is one of my favorite pictures from the weekend-- of my friend Bobby Joe Moon and my parents' friend, Mrs. Jane Dunlap.

She's been instrumental in beautifying our little town and personally oversees and tends the gorgeous roses near the Railroad Museum.

When I told Mrs. Dunlap how much I loved seeing her roses every time I come to visit, she said, "Go out there and talk to them and tell them you love them!"

So I did.

Bobby and one of the weekend's organizers, Frieda Quon, filled me in on the details and encouraged me to attend. And am I ever glad I did! Although I'd read Dr. Jung's book, I learned so much about the history of why we had many Chinese groceries in the Delta and about the significant contributions made by these hardworking families.

If you're in the Delta, plan a stop on the campus of Delta State University and take time to visit the museum. 

 (This one's for my many friends who've recently taken up MahJongg.
 I may have to learn. A beautiful display, don't you think?)

Sometimes research is so much more than that. It's uncovering stories and digging deeper, yes. But it's also about people. This Homecoming week was all about friends- old and new- and family. I loved it.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Quote of the Day

One of the reasons we keep plugging away, no?

(And thank you to the friend who shared this and whose identity I have forgotten/lost/misplaced...)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

More from Mississippi: Porches- A thing I love

Because I love screened-in porches and good friends as much as anything.

Here's a post from my great friends' neighbor's terrific blog. Check out the pictures and you'll understand why I love that porch.

They live in Eudora Welty's neighborhood filled with wonderful old houses and tons of front, back, side, screened porches. 

Since I don't want to <steal> one of Marsha's terrific blog pics (click on that link up there and see for yourself), here are my friend and I sitting together at a different table. A few years ago. We've been friends since before we were born.

This week we found a corner of the porch and sat. Talked. Sipped. Worked a crossword puzzle. Read. Talked some more.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Although I left Mississippi for college a few years ago (hahaha), it's where my family is, where my heart is. Home.

Spending a week here for a reason I'll call research is pretty special.

Even if <research> means sitting on the porch listening and talking.
Riding around places I remember but thought I'd forgotten.
Not writing a single thing down.

This weekend I'll spend time listening to authorities speak about things I'm interested in, and I'll take plenty of notes. 
I'll hang out with a friend of my mama's. 
I'll sit in libraries. 
I may even sit under a tree or two.

Last weekend I took a few pictures. 
I'll share so you can enjoy, too.

Sunset over the Mississippi River. That's Arkansas over there.

 Artifacts unearthed and on display. 
From some deep dark filing cabinet, I assume.

Historic marker unveiled on the campus of Delta State University, the site of my first school. My  memories of nursery school include taking a field trip across campus to see the "Science Museum," which consisted of a two-headed lamb and a tapeworm that had been removed during surgery. A very long tapeworm. I'm sure there was more. That's all I remember.

I have no idea what I'll do with this thought, but it's percolating. 
Historic Jackson.

Not often that I see this much cotton ready to be picked.
I remember when the fields were full of it though.
Quite beautiful. Even if the stories may not be so beautiful.
Know what I mean?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Writing Notebooks

I still remember Carolyn Coman at one of the earlier HIGHLIGHTS Whole Novel workshops showing us her writing notebook. The one she scribbled ideas in when she was gardening- or doing all sorts of things that didn't seem like writing. 

That was a while ago (okay, it was early fall, 2005). I was just beginning the story that would eventually become THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY (Coming January, 2015. Don't do the math. It takes me a while.)


To this day, I've never used just one notebook for my pre-writing scribbles. And that's a problem. I have notes everywhere! 

Including in a Scrivener document. Which is where I always end up. But you can't drag your computer to some of the places where you do your best thinking, right? And you never know when an idea or a thought will need writing down.

It would be helpful if all those brilliant thoughts ended up in the same notebook.

So I'll steal some of Linda Urban's excellent ideas.

Have you been following her "notebook" posts about writing? I love how she shares details about what's in those notebooks. Here's a LINK.  There are several. Follow them all!

And just before we departed New Jersey, I popped in on Elizabeth Eulberg et al. and their "YA Romance" panel at the Morristown Festival of the Book. Elizabeth held up a notebook, complete with tabs. That's the look I'm going for!

Aside: Elizabeth has a very good post on her blog about what authors have control over and what they have NO control over. Mostly I agree with her. It's worth reading if you've wondered about things like book jacket art, festivals and promotions, etc. Read it HERE. 

What kind of notebook do you use for your important pre-writing scribbles? Or do you start right up sitting in front of your computer? 
Is it different for each project?
Do you love a certain type of paper, a beautiful notebook, a regular 3-ring binder?
Inspire me with your ideas, please!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Quaker Motto Calendar

It's that time of year.  2015 Calendar Ordering Time!

Actually, I kind of missed the suggested order date. But it's not too late and I'm placing my order today for the QUAKER MOTTO CALENDAR.

Here's the 2015 order form.
AND most importantly, the contact info should you need to reach out.

I don't actually sell/ write/ produce these. My sister-in-law Marion Ballard is the one to call/ email. Her contact info is right there.

You may also want to read:
Each year I post about these calendars. Here's one of the first, with a quote from Aunt Margery about the family's connection to them:

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Glory Game!

How much do I love this very cool game?

Eli made it for his outside reading project at Jackson Prep. His mom, who's a teacher at the Mississippi School for the Deaf and uses GLORY BE with her students, shared it.

Some of the stops along the way--

Segregated water fountain, move back two spaces. 
Freedom Riders come to Mississippi, move forward four spaces. 
Glory writes a brave letter to the newspaper, move forward six spaces. 
Swimming pool is closed because of integration, move back four spaces. 

I'm totally impressed. Thanks, Eli and Mom for sharing and for your clever creativity!

Monday, October 6, 2014

FIGS! Oh joy~

Anybody who knows me knows my fig fetish.
I particularly love eating them when someone like my friend Lee, AKA Kitchen Goddess on her fabulous blog, presents them so beautifully.

Like Lee, I had a grandmother who put up fig preserves.
Our big sprawling fig tree was a perfect spot to hide under and pick the figs right off that tree.

Today's blog from Lee has sent me back to those days.
How I wish I were eating them wrapped in prosciutto and stuffed with cheese right now (my current adoration).

CLICK HERE to read her recipes and remembrances.

I'm so jealous that she has a tree, complete with figs.

To tempt you even more, here's a picture from today's post.
You know you want to read how to make your food look so beautiful.
Go ahead, click away.

Fig Appetizer

 I've written about figs before, in case you hadn't noticed...
You can type FIGS into the search box of this blog or click the link in the previous sentence.
Or just read Lee's post and enjoy. Big time YUM.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Skink- No Surrender

Carl Hiaasen's first Young Adult novel (He's written middle-grade and of course, all those grownup books) has just been long-listed for the National Book Awards.

Having read three of the nominees, I think I'll attempt to tackle them all.

Skink- No Surrender was a quick read, nothing even your motivated middle-grader couldn't handle if he or she is a fan of Hiaasen's books. This one's an adventure and a mystery, of course. But the kids are truly kid-like, something all writers who crossover from adult novels don't always figure out so well.

Then there's the reclusive ex-governor Skink with that gross fake eye. 
("Skink ignored her and closed his good eye. He looked like a grizzled old iguana." Don't you love how he says so much in so few words?)
Yes, there are plenty of shots fired. And one of the lead players runs away with a faker she's met online.
Hmm. Somehow it didn't seem so scary though. Must be the humor. 

Here's a good writing quote from Hiaasen:

True even for Young Adult fiction, wouldn't you say?

Anybody out there predicting who'll take the National Book Award this year?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Poetry Sunday

As we pack up to head south, I look forward to my Florida birds.
Thank you to my friend Joan who gave me a book I love dipping into:
Mary Oliver's What Do We Know: Poems and Prose Poems

 If you click on that link, you can read a selection, from Google books.

From "Summer Poem"

...the white heron
like a dropped cloud,
taking one slow step

then standing while then taking
another, writing

her own soft-footed poem
through still waters.


Sadly, my earliest attempts at poetry share none of her beauty and lyricism.

While packing, I uncovered this in a very old scrapbook. It was published in The Commercial Appeal when I was eleven. I share so no one reading this blog should be afraid to share, no matter how embarrassing your early efforts might be. It's all about revision, which I (obviously) didn't understand at age eleven.

I've learned a lot. Maybe not about poetry. But certainly about revising.

More Mary Oliver?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Book Character Birthdays

How very cool!

CLICK THIS LINK to see what literary characters might share your birthday.
Or to celebrate with them.

I've had letters from school classes commenting on Glory's July 4th birthday. 
An excellent project- to wish a book character a Happy Birthday!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sandy Hormell Community Book Celebration

When an invitation came into my email asking if I'd be a part of the 50th Anniversary commemoration of FREEDOM SUMMER in Oxford, Ohio, I didn't have to think about it.
In 1964, Freedom Workers were trained on the campus of Miami University before they left for Mississippi. I was honored to be a part of this.

Here are a few sentences from the invitation:

The event honors Sandy Hormell, a longtime Talawanda and Miami employee, whose love of books and education made her a beloved teacher and colleague. Although her life was claimed by ALS in 2004, her love of reading lives on in this event. 

Many things I hold dear, in one special celebration.
I would speak at an evening meeting, sign books and greet some delightful people, and present my GLORY BE story to middle schoolers. Over 1000 books would be given to readers of all ages.
Wow. What author wouldn't love that.

Of course, I said yes.

(It didn't hurt that my college roommate, whom I really hadn't seen in a very long time, would be my hostess. Or that my daughter was a Miami University grad and I had such fond memories of the college town.)

Off I went!

After a delightful lunch, then an afternoon stroll on campus with my friend Lyn, we headed to the Oxford Community Arts Center.
There I talked to a wonderfully attentive group of readers of every age.

The Community Arts Center is in a neat building.
Former dorm rooms turned artist studios are upstairs.
I coveted one of those studios!

As soon as I walked in, this adorable reader told me she loved my book!

This group had come with their creative and inspiring teacher. She'd driven them from a nearby community. Now that's dedication!

I talked about writing the book, about Freedom Summer in my own town, about my inspiration.

Afterwards, we walked across the street to the Oxford Lane Library.

BOOK FOOD was enjoyed by all!
Red Velvet cupcakes. Emma's Lemon Cookies. Bug Juice.


One of the best parts of this weekend went on behind the scenes. Or behind my scenes. 
The 5th grade gifted students from Oxford's three elementary schools had discussed the book with seniors from the Knolls Retirement Community and the Miami University Institute for Learning in Retirement. They'd also had lunch together.  
I heard it was fabulous. I wish I'd been the proverbial fly on the wall.

You'd think it couldn't get much better than that, wouldn't you?

This Bulletin Board greeted me at the TALAWANDA MIDDLE SCHOOL.

First public showing of the new cover art for THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY!

(Awesome media specialist shout-out: Hi, Monica Greene!)

Just a few of the many books I signed!

A really remarkable thing happened.
Sitting in the media center signing books at lunch, I met a teacher who brought this in for me to see.

He'd bought it at an antique shop, a while ago.

He uses it to teach his Civil Rights unit.

The questions were pretty amazing. The students were so well-prepared. I hated to leave.

Such a super committee. So well organized. Lots of fun. Smart, smart people! 
Here we are at our farewell dinner at Kona, a fabulous restaurant in downtown Miami.

Tucked inside a delightful basket of zucchini muffins, fruits and nuts and cheeses 
was a lovely note. I love the card, don't you?

One last stop before saying goodbye Oxford Ohio, to friends, old and new, young and old.

                        (Looking cool like the Elvis fans we were a few years ago...)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Freedom Summer: 50 Years Later

This week, I've been thinking about the anniversary of FREEDOM SUMMER. My personal journey through the year-long commemoration began last February in Como, Mississippi, where I was part of a remarkable event that brought together former Freedom Workers, many of whom were still residents of Panola County.

There are a lot of fabulous resources out there.

Like this, part of  Miami University's CELEBRATING FREEDOM, year-long commemoration of the summer.

(where I'll be on Thursday! Check out the times and places HERE!)

My fictional character, Laura Lampert, began her journey into GLORY BE with my memory of sitting in the Bolivar County library in Cleveland, MS. My friend and inspiration, LePoint Smith, introduced us. We talked just that one time. And at first, she was a shadow character in my book, there for no discernible reason except to talk to Glory about her love of reading Nancy Drew books.

My critique group and others thought she needed beefing up. 
I'm glad I took that advice.
I believe one of the most powerful scenes in my book is when Glory shows her around the park and the courthouse. All added in later revisions.
Now I get a lot of questions about her from kids.
1. What does it mean when you say that she talks like that Walter Cronkite on TV?
2. Why does she dress so differently?
3. Will she and Glory always be friends?

A minor character can add so many layers to a story. Middle-grade and young adult historical fiction, in my very humble opinion, lives or dies on layers.

Do you have a supporting character who needs beefing up? If you're writing historical fiction, can the role she plays be significant to the times?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

brown girl dreaming

What I'm Reading Now.

I read Jacqueline Woodson's new memoir-in-verse because smart people said I would love it.
Then I read it again to write a review, because I did indeed love it.
Then I read it again because I loved it so much I wanted to share a poem to inspire a Writing Workshop.

So believe me, I was delighted to hear the author say she reads slowly.
And sometimes more than once.
When I'm reading for pleasure, I don't always do that. But now I will try harder.
She advises kids to do the same. Even with a book that's easy to speed through- like this one- sometimes you need to slow down, savor the words. Read it again.

Here's the author talking about her path to becoming a writer.

(You can see the link and read Betsy Bird's comments about the book HERE.)

This quote reminds me of someone. Maybe a lot of someones. So I love it (and I paraphrase):
When I was growing up, I told lies all the time. And I had a teacher who told me to write it all down. Because if you write it down, it's no longer a lie. It's fiction.

Friday, September 12, 2014

International Dot Day

This was way more fun than it should be for somebody who is clueless about anything ART-wise.

Next week, September 15, is International DOT DAY.
Have you created your own fun(ny) dot?

(Check out the huge list of illustrators' and authors' dots, HERE.)

Here's my dot!

{With a nod to my friend Eileen the Artist, to Teddie's awesome paperclips, to Lyn's mama's visit to Elvis's house and to all my shell-gathering friends.}

Monday, September 8, 2014


I'm beyond excited to tell everybody that my next book, coming in January 2015 from Scholastic Press, is now available to pre-order.

Thanks for telling your favorite independent bookstore the news.

Here's the Amazon link:

And one for Barnes&Noble:

AND- TaDa!

The gorgeous cover.

And if you're still reading, you can actually hear me sharing an early passage and talking a bit about how I got started, lo those many years ago.

Sunday, September 7, 2014


Isn't STEW the funniest word?
My mother used it all the time. 

Recently, I realized I'd used WORRY twice in the same paragraph of dialog. 
The character is a woman, a grandmother, who could well have been a contemporary of my mother's. I grabbed my handy Flip Dictionary and looked for another word.

I couldn't believe it. STEW was listed as a synonym for worry. And it wasn't even a southern list of words. It didn't mention how old-fashioned it is.


Today I happened upon this excellent article I'd saved to read "later"- when I had time to savor it. 
So much good writing advice to think about.

Like this, from Stephen King's book ON WRITING:

A book won't stand or fall on the very first line of prose -- the story has got to be there, and that's the real work. And yet a really good first line can do so much to establish that crucial sense of voice -- it's the first thing that acquaints you, that makes you eager, that starts to enlist you for the long haul. So there's incredible power in it, when you say, come in here. You want to know about this. And someone begins to listen.

And lo and behold, there's my word STEW. From Mohsin Hamid, author of How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. Talking about walking.

My head cleared. My energy soared. My neck pains diminished. Sometimes I texted myself ideas, sentences, entire paragraphs as I walked. Other times I just floated along, arms at my sides, stewing and filtering and looking.

(I know what he means. I often STEW over ideas while driving. Not the smartest of moves if you're in traffic...)

Now I'm sure I'll find it every time I open something. It's a fine word, stew.
And I'm not about to stew over kids today not knowing what it means. When I put my earlier blogpost on Facebook and Twitter, about the irony of finding STEW when I looked up worry, a teacher commented that she loved finding words kids might not know, challenging them to figure them out. I totally agree!
Let's hear it for new/ old words!

Have you run across an old friend in the word department lately? Did you add it to your writing?

Friday, September 5, 2014

Oxford, Ohio- See you soon!

To my buddies in Ohio. 
If you are close, I'd love to see you!
Thursday, September 18, 7 PM.
Oxford Community Arts Center.
I'm so excited to return to a college town I really love.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Kate DiCamillo

I may be the last person on earth to hear Kate DiCamillo's amazing NEWBERY MEDAL acceptance speech.

I loved FLORA AND ULYSSES. If you don't know the book yet, you can read my review HERE.

Mr. Schu gave me an autographed copy, which I treasure. I blogged about that HERE.
(Sorry, you can't click on that link and hope to win the copy, unautographed, that I gave away. That's over.)

Now I want to read the
 William Maxwell short story that inspired this speech, THE THISTLES IN SWEDEN.

Our local library owns it.  I'm off to check it out!

Here's the text from Kate DiCamillo's lovely speech:

But truly, you need to listen.

Friday, August 29, 2014


I'm not even going to attempt to describe what it's like to spend three (or more!) days at a Highlights Foundation UNWorkshop. 

Your very own room to create.

Instead, I'll show it in pictures.

 Day One. Arrival. Showing off my cabin. There's a sign in the window with my name on it. And it says Welcome BACK, Augusta. When you're a repeater, you get that Welcome Back thing. 

I thought it was appropriate that this hung in my cabin. I won't show you the top of the calendar. Just know it was a blond who resembles me in no way. But the date is approximately the time I was going to be writing about during my days UNWorkshopping.

The last time I was here, it was November and a light snow fell. This time the flowers were breathtaking.

I love the lavender!
And the sky!

Jo suggested Teddie, Janet and I sit on the porch, or inside the Lodge, if we wanted to talk about what we'd written.
We did.


Here are my writing buds, Janet McLaughlin and Teddie Aggeles. They loved it as much as I did.

One of my favorite places is the rock garden. Serenity.

Also fun to see what others have to say.

 We walked this long and winding road. Mostly at the end of one of the fabulous meals prepared by Chef Joseph.

Friends have written about their own experiences.

Stacey was also UNWorkshopping with us. She pretty much tells it all HERE.

My friend Joyce has also been to a Highlights UnWorkshop and blogged about it HERE.  She calls it Writer Heaven. I have to agree.