Books -- reading and writing.
Home, cooking, the weather.
And whatever connections I can make between these chapters of my life.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Late to the Dance?

OK, maybe I will and maybe I won't. But for any of you reading this, with 500 words ready to go, check out the contest (alas, ending tonight!) over at the blog. That's the blog of Mary Kole, an agent with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. As luck would have it, I'm just rereading the middle grade novel, great voice and compelling story, written by one of her authors: Love, Aubrey.

And reading the kidlit blog, I found this link to Rebecca Stead's great article on NYKids Time Out about that ever changing demographic: 'Tweens.

This is a blog I'll be reading often. Lots of great stuff.
Now if I can just gather my wits and get 500 words off- Time's a-wasting!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Food Writing or Food/ Writing or Food and Writing?

Today was my turn to post at the Southern Writers Blog: A Good Blog is Hard to Find. I'm in very good company over there, lots of familiar names and frequently published authors. So click on over and read my (tongue-in-cheek, slightly humorous?) post explaining where baking and writing intersect, kind of.

Or you can just skip that part and scroll down to a really easy but very tasty recipe for "Pear Purses."

Or you can just keep going and get to the link for my friend Lee Hilton's real Pear Purse, AKA Rustic Pear Galette recipe.

But this blog and that one are writing blogs. And the point, whether I made it or not, was that baking, like its distant cousin writing, has rules which need to be mastered before you branch out. It's just a random thought, something I wish I'd known and believed a long time ago about writing. Then again, there are all sorts of schools of thought about writing. There's the Pantster (fly by the seat of your pants- get it?) vs. the Plotter school. There are the outliners, the thinkers, the NaNoWriMo-sters. Whatever works for you when it comes to writing.

And I think somebody was trying to tell me something today when I stumbled across this from Darcy Pattison's FICTION NOTES blog.

IF you usually just start in writing, TRY planning each scene. IF you usually plan each scene, TRY just jumping into the writing. Every once in a while, it’s great to break your pattern of working and see what happens. Shake yourself up! (I suggested this once at a national conference and got several notes later that this was the best advice the writers had ever taken, the resulting novel was the best she had written – so try it!) If the results are disappointing, you can always go back to your original methods of writing your novel.

Kind of like a lot of life. You won't know if it works till you try it. And then, if it doesn't, try it another way.

Related posts: NaNoWriMo- Get Me ReWrite!
Revision: Darcy Pattison

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Future of Fiction

Somehow I missed the Wall Street Journal article by Lev Grossman, book critic at Time Magazine, until it was posted this week on a discussion list email. But it's worth reading if you can.

Bring back the elusive plot! Readers are turning to Young Adult books because literary fiction has failed them. Lots of points worth pondering, including this (and not just because he cites my new fav writer Kate Atkinson, among others. And The Hunger Games. All good...):

Why do so many adults read Suzanne Collins's young-adult novel "The Hunger Games" instead of contemporary literary fiction? Because "The Hunger Games" doesn't bore them. All of this is changing. The revolution is under way. The novel is getting entertaining again. Writers like Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, Donna Tartt, Kelly Link, Audrey Niffenegger, Richard Price, Kate Atkinson, Neil Gaiman, and Susanna Clarke, to name just a few, are busily grafting the sophisticated, intensely aware literary language of Modernism onto the sturdy narrative roots of genre fiction: fantasy, science fiction, detective fiction, romance.

Also take a quick look at some of the many comments. Interesting discussion, no?

Hmmm. Wait! Donna Tartt? The Secret History? Better check to see if she's got a new book coming out.

Related post: Plot

Monday, January 25, 2010


All month long, I've been reading everybody else's resolutions. Set smaller attainable goals. Eat less. Write more. Sleep more. Read more. Exercise better. Less TV. Be nicer.

All good. I think I'll just steal a few before January ends. Especially the healthy eating resolution from my friend Lee Hilton. Click on over to Lee's blog for a great recipe for Mexican Shrimp Dip. Supposedly good for you but sounds quite delicious.

I think I'll make it to eat while reading more books and watching more TV. Whoops, less TV...
And then I'll try this trick:

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Reading With Goodreads and Facebook

Today's New York Times, and not even in the Book Review section, has Motoko Rich writing about "The Book Club With Just One Member." On many levels this headline caught my eye. And how could I not read an essay that begins with a quote from the new Newbery winner, Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me. Miranda, the 11-year-old main character, has a favorite book which is entertwined throughout Stead's novel. She's read A Wrinkle in Time over and over, even feels it's her very own book, hers alone. "The truth is that I hate to think about other people reading my book.. It's like watching someone go through the box of private stuff that I keep under my bed."

Rich's essay ponders those of us who feel that possessiveness about the books we read and the ones who share their reading tastes via Book Clubs, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads. She makes a lot of thoughtful points, quotes from other of my favorite writers, even brings David Foster Wallace's books into the mix (along with Katherine Paterson and Lois Lowry).

One conclusion seems to be that there are books whose understanding is helped along by communal reading. Those challenging books (Wallace), the ones you never honestly got through in college (Ulysses). "Some books particularly lend themselves to collective reading--" she says, "partly, of course, because everybody is reading them."

I like the image on the New York Times' page. Reminds me of sitting in a tree reading Nancy Drew. Come to think of it, I can't remember ever wanting to discuss Nancy's latest escapade with too many kids. But I guess I outgrew that. Two-plus Book Clubs later, I've now pretty much stopped the communal discussions over a nice glass of chardonnay, but I do like hearing what others are reading and sensing the excitement. In fact, Rich acknowledges one obvious point- the more people talk about a book, the better it sells. "Some of the biggest sellers of recent years--Eat, Pray, Love...The Kite Runner...The Help-- were propelled by word of mouth."

OK, back later. After I update my Goodreads page.

Related posts: Katherine Paterson

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My Own Girlfriend Weekend

If you read my posts for writing thoughts, links to books, all the usual, you can stop right here while I take time out to write about friends.

Remember that old Girl Scout song? Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold. This is about friends who are gold.

Last weekend I felt a bit like the proverbial fly on the wall, eavesdropping on my own former life. I hadn't seen some of these college friends since we were eighteen years old, and in some ways it was like yesterday and in other ways, we had changed beyond recognition. But, remarkably, we all still seemed like those friends who are gold, worth keeping.

Late one night after our last marathon chatfest-- what a new friend of mine calls a chinwag-- sleep eluded me. After all, who could sleep with all those memories floating in my head, visions of red hearts and golden lockets. So I made a list. This will make no sense if you weren't there, but I wrote it for a reason I'm sure. One of these days the reason will become obvious. Right now it just feels like something I want to remember.

margarine vs. butter, fat arms, The Delta, The Coast, The Redneck, piecrusts, Gumbo (dog), Gumbo (roux), Leos, Beach weekends, Sloe Gin, Olive Kitteridge, Yazoo City butt, pineapple sandwiches, mayonnaise, smoking while standing up, squirrel brains, coffee and spooned cream, donut sundaes...

Southerners know how to do a party right, complete with ironed linen napkins, shrimp and grits, party favors, table decorations, coasters bearing a resemblance of our former selves. Our Atlanta hostesses outdid themselves with food and good cheer. Thanks, ladies.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Book Clubs

For a long time I edited a column about book groups for Skirt! Magazine. Made some great cyberfriends and learned a lot about how to have fun with reading, chatting and eating, all at the same time. I also discovered how many variations there were, from a party of two who met in various NYC bars to talk about books they loved, to a large group of women who travel together, and everything in between.

I was actually in two different groups for a long time, and a third that fell apart pretty quickly. Now, even though I'm no longer in a book group, I follow my friends' picks and am always intrigued with what they are reading. Here's an NPR columnist's recommendation of Books for Book Groups, 2009. Check out the comments also, for additional books and a dissent or two.

I visited my friend Anne's group last week, for their discussion of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. If ever a book had the greatest, though most easily forgettable name, this is it. The book chatting at this group, open to the public, sponsored by the American Pen Women was lively. (And I love the Safety Harbor Library where they met. Is that a gigantic banyan tree right outside? I was late and it was too dark to see well!)

A quick non-scientific study turned up these repeat book group choices, including the Potato Pie Book, from my buddies in Book Groups.

Out Stealing Horses

Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

The Book Thief

Olive Kitteridge

The Help

So, what's your group reading these days?

Related post: Skirt! Book Groups

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Leaving Gee's Bend

Click on over to Joyce Moyer Hostetter's blog for my review of Leaving Gee's Bend.

Joyce is a terrific writer of historical fiction for young readers, and her newly revamped blog features all things historical. Check it out!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Newbery Announcement at ALA

OK, so maybe you stayed up late watching the Golden Globes last light. Nothing compared with how the library and children's book world feels this morning, awakening to the announcement of the Newbery and Caldecott, Coretta Scott King and Printz Awards, among others.

Predictions and mock voting have been rampart in the last few weeks, and a lot of kids will be happy about the winners this year. Rebecca Stead's book will be a popular choice for the Newbery. Great book, fun read.

I think Bryn Mawr School, where I joyfully served as librarian for a few years, may have been one of the original Mock Newbery programs in the country. Now there are lots. One year we even took the Bryn Mawr students to Washington DC to hear the exciting announcement of the winners.

Now, had you risen early this morning, you could have tuned in to a live webcast, almost like being there. Except I doubt you could duplicate the excitement our students felt that year, dressed as book characters, holding signs and cheering their favorite book.

This year the American Library Association met in Boston and has just moments ago announced the winners. I'm delighted to say a book I reviewed and loved is the 2010 Newbery Medal book. Another I reviewed, Mare's War, is a King Honor winner. TaDa, drumroll please!

Related Posts: Calpurnia Tate

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Cybils Finalists

At the beginning of the new year, a group of blogging readers and writers announce the Cybil Awards finalists. The awards - The Children's and Young Adults' Bloggers' Literary Awards-were started in 2006 to recognize books of high quality that also have a lot of kid appeal. What that means is that reading books on the list usually guarantees you of a terrific experience of new, popular, yet highly regarded books. I was delighted that a middle grade book I nominated made the cut. And a very tough cut that was!

Find the entire list of all genres of nominated books here on the official site.

Here's what the brochure from last year's winners said (you can download it from the Cybils site):
...we’re comprised of 90+ bloggers who write about children’s and teen’s books every day. We open our nominations to the public. Maybe there’s a book your child resisted bedtime for. Another may’ve circulated from locker to locker. And still another never seemed to make it back to the library by its due date.

Now it's up to a second round of judges to pick the winners. Stay tuned in February for the announcement. I'm taking the list, reading a few more, picking my favorites. Check out the widget below my info on the right of this blog to participate in Cybils talk.

Don't you just love Awards Season? First the Newbery and Caldecott on Monday, January 18, then the Cybils, soon the Oscars.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Those Pulpwood Queens!

If I weren't having my own Girlfriend Weekend with college friends in Atlanta, I'd be sorely tempted to figure out where Jefferson Texas is. Starting today, January 13-17, Kathy Patrick and her fellow readers and writers are gathering for the 10th Anniversary Girlfriend Weekend Author Extravaganza: "Beauty and the Book."

Among the guests- Oh, shoot, just way too many to list. Check out the website here. And if you can get to Jefferson, there might still be elbow room. But with the likes of Cassandra King, Pat Conroy and Elizabeth Berg sharing their writing tips, it's bound to be standing room only.

Kathy started her Book store/ Hair salon/ Literacy sharing a few years ago, and this weekend is now ten years old. Congratulations, Kathy and all the Pulpwood Queens. Have fun and Be Queenly.

Check out the website for the Beauty and the Book bookstore and book groups here. You might even locate a Book Group meeting near you. And I do love Kathy's signature: "Hairdresser to the Authors." You go, Girl!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Vintage Posters

Well, how much fun is this Vintage Ad Browser? And what a great resource for writers! Type in your own search term or browse the topics. Narrow it down by dates. Wow, I can see lots of uses of an old Maxwell House ad. Not to mention all those Coca Cola ads from the 1950s.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Word of the Day

This word from my Word a Day email is from my childhood memory bank. I'm trying to remember why. My high school English teacher? Maria from The Sound of Music?

Word of the Day for Wednesday, January 6, 2010

flibbertigibbet \FLIB-ur-tee-jib-it\, noun:
A silly, flighty, or scatterbrained person, especially a pert young woman with such qualities.

We discover here not the flibbertigibbet Connolly describes but a serious reader (Goethe, Tolstoy, Proust) who found her cultural ideal in 18th-century France.

-- Martin Stannard, "Enter Shrieking", New York Times, November 28, 1993

He argues persuasively that Millay's reputation has been harmed not only by academics who dread and fear her heartfelt "simplicity," but by the very admirers who wished to promote her as a kind of whimsical flibbertigibbet, a poetical Anne of Green Gables.
-- Liz Rosenberg, "So Young, So Good, So Popular", New York Times, March 15, 1992

Related posts: New (to me) Word a Day
Word a Day

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Introducing- Our New Ambassador!

Katherine Paterson was one of the first true stars of the children's book world I met as a librarian. She lived near my school and generously visited us twice. Once she had to cancel when she got the early morning call from the American Library Association that she'd won the Newbery and had to fly off for the announcement. She soon re-scheduled our visit, and it was pretty exciting to be a part of that celebratory season.

Although that was a while ago, each time I've seen her since, she's always been the same generous, bright, funny person you'd love to sit down and chat with over a cup of tea.

So the newspaper announcement this morning that she's the next National Ambassador for Young People's Literature just made my day. Be sure to click here for the article and read right to the end when she's asked "Don't you want to write for adults?" Her answer won't surprise children's authors one bit:

"...why would I want to write a book that would be remaindered in six weeks? My books have gone on and on, and my readers, if they love the book, they will read it and reread it. I have the best readers in the world.”

Related post: Writing Tips

Sunday, January 3, 2010

In the Newspaper

A perfect day to stay inside and read. So did I pick the new pre-pub novel I just started and can't put down? The kids' book everybody's talking about? The supposed funniest YA book of last year? Nope, I chose the newspaper.

And even though I've avoided Twitter, David Carr's article, Why Twitter Will Endure made me want to join in the fun.

Here's a bit from the beginning:
In the pantheon of digital nomenclature — brands within a sector of the economy that grew so fast that all the sensible names were quickly taken — it would be hard to come up with a noun more trite than Twitter. It impugns itself, promising something slight and inconsequential, yet another way to make hours disappear and have nothing to show for it. And just in case the noun is not sufficiently indicting, the verb, “to tweet” is even more embarrassing.

Then it gets better, and makes Twitter even more tempting to join:

At first, Twitter can be overwhelming, but think of it as a river of data rushing past that I dip a cup into every once in a while. Much of what I need to know is in that cup: if it looks like Apple is going to demo its new tablet, or Amazon sold more Kindles than actual books at Christmas, or the final vote in the Senate gets locked in on health care, I almost always learn about it first on Twitter.

But I'm a book person, so I turned to the Book Review. And guess what? I now know what resolutions a few best-selling authors are making in the new year.

Hint: Margaret Atwood "must finish the bird classic I'm reading- the unique and sublime 'The Peregrine' by J.A. Baker. Must continue with my plan to read all the Dostoyevsky novels I haven't read...I want to read Lorrie Moore's latest novel--she's such a good writer."

Nick Hornby vows to combat literary clutter. Atwood will stop skipping around (Bad habit to break: skipping around from book to book," she says.)

Now that's a novel idea. Stop skipping around! No literary clutter! I think I'll make these personal resolutions. Then again, what fun is that?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Old Friends, and New

January 1st is such a good day for sorting, cleaning, putting away, giving away, tossing away. My mother always believed it was bad luck to keep Christmas decorations up after the New Year. My friend Stephanie always put them up early and left them till way past the New Year. She was one of my first true Yankee friends, so I always thought it had to do with fresh trees and wreaths drying out and dropping needles all over living rooms in the South where it was too warm to keep live greenery up too long. So today, it's out with the holiday trappings!

While sorting and tossing, I found something I will hang on to. A quote in the front of a book my very best and longest-standing friend-- we have grandmothers who were friends-- gave to me a long time ago, long before we truly appreciated either good wine or good oil!

She gave me a book of quotations I never see anywhere these days: LEAVES OF GOLD. Lately, I've hesitated to inscribe gift books, thinking people may want to exchange them, but from now on, I won't. I loved finding this book, with this note in her handwriting:

"Three things are better old than new: wine, oil, but above all, an old friend."

I have a lot of newer friends, and hearing from all of them during the holidays, re-reading the cards before I put them away, saving the pictures of children and grandchildren. What would I rather be doing on New Year's Day?