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

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Carolina Shag (It's a dance...)

Yes, it's a dance we did at Carolina.
A great, holding-hands-and-counting beats-while-you-learned dance. Nothing more. Wanted to clarify that right off the bat. Here's a link to everything you ever wanted to know about the shag. Maybe there's nothing you want to know. But the music was great, even if you never mastered the tricky steps.

Does dancing have much to do with writing? Maybe not. Though I may figure something out one of these days. Come to think of it, I always loved my friend Beth Jacks' essay on how she really learned to dance. And I'm in the middle of wrangling a kids' novel with a dance teacher in it. Does that count?

I learned to dance from a dreamboat of a boy named Robert. Of course, he preferred Sandra as a partner. Sandra starred in all the dance recitals and went on to teach dance classes. She could put all of us to shame. She and Beth and I danced side by side in so many recitals directed by our amazing former-Rockette dance teacher, Miss Ruth Hart.

I think they should make a movie about the Shag. A great dance movie. Maybe even set an HBO series in the Carolinas when the dance was most popular, a la Mad Men in NYC. Oh, wait. Looks like HBO already made the movie.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Kathryn Stockett

This week I had the privilege and the fun of hearing the author of The Help speak to a very bright, enthusiastic audience in Baltimore. The fundraiser celebrated The Caroline Center's 15 years of "Transforming the Lives of Women Through Education." This is an amazing organization that helps under-skilled and under-educated women prepare for the workplace.

Held at the College of Notre Dame (a women's college in Baltimore), the event was packed, the auditorium full, upstairs and down. In fact, Kathryn Stockett said it was possibly the largest crowd she'd yet addressed on her widespread tour. Looking out at the mostly female, sold-out audience, in her very Southern, surprisingly soft voice, she said "Please be gentle," and we all laughed.

I'm going to skip over how terrifically she reads from her fascinating, funny, intriguing, best-selling novel. She's just that good. (Click here if you're interesting in very insightful comments from good readers discussing the book.) I'm also going to leave out many of the things she said about the movie directed by her childhood friend Tate Taylor. There was just never anybody other than her friend under consideration to direct and write the screenplay. She spoke with great enthusiasm in answer to questions about the movie.

Well, maybe just one brief story (This week they were in Jackson "at a drugstore where we used to go all the time," she told us, but most of the scenes are filming in Greenwood because it looks a lot like Jackson did in 1963.)

Her story about her friend Tate involved stealing his dad's car and driving to New Orleans, at age 14. For those of us who grew up in Mississippi, this isn't exactly startling news. We could drive at age 15 and get a learner's permit at 14. Many took off to New Orleans, just for the excitement of it. We certainly sneaked out of our houses in the middle of the night and drove our parents cars around the neighborhood. But I digress...

The reason she told the story was to illustrate their theory that it was better to ask forgiveness than permission. And that she was a wild hellion, "hell on wheels" in fact, with a co-conspirator to whom she's fiercely devoted. She told how she and Tate dreamed up awful things (at this point there was a huge clap of thunder outside the auditorium and the skies opened up). She thinks perhaps that was how she was able to conceive of the Pie Scene...

Here are some of the audience questions, with answers. The questioners were articulate, mostly not asking the "how do you get your ideas" type I often hear at writing conferences and workshops. I really liked that about the evening.

One disclaimer: I am, of course, paraphrasing. I didn't record anything. These are just my notes. Please do not quote these answers as if they are the exact words of Kathryn Stockett. On a few occasions, I'll put quotation marks around something that was pretty much an exact quote.

Q: What was the reaction to the book from your friends and family?

A: After over 60 rejections from agents, my mother was so happy. Most family members have been supportive. (Here she hesitated but gave no clarification.)

To a follow-up question about why all the rejections, she explained that her "
story was not there yet."

Q: How did she research the African American characters' stories and voices of the time?

A: She wishes she'd done more. She used the Jackson phone book to get a sense of what the culture was. She doesn't like to do research. She likes to listen.

(My own note: Stockett was not alive in 1963. She admits to not having interviewed many/ any African American women who lived during these times.)

Q: Why was the Naked Man in the book? Was that a symbol of anything?

A: (laughingly answered!) She's now putting one in every book she writes because the publisher told her it didn't belong in the story...
(real answer) Because she didn't just want the story to be just about race. She wanted to show how there's not that much that separates us.

When she grew up in Jackson, she was completely unaware that there was a race problem. She grew up in the "white bubble" parents created around her and her friends. She never saw her beloved maid's house, never went to the Black side of town. Surprisingly to me, she knew nothing of her maid's personal life.

"I am so proud that so much has changed, that people are talking about race," Stockett said. She's glad her book has opened up the topic for discussion, even though it has always been taboo.

The last question/ comment came from an African American woman near the front. She admitted that she hadn't yet read the book but that she's looking forward to it. She herself is a nanny to a young white boy, and she described the amazing love they have between them. How she drops him off at school and has even been mistaken for his mother by his young classmates and even by a substitute teacher. ("My how the times have changed," I heard a woman behind me say.) The speaker then told of growing up in Baltimore, of attending one of the first high schools to integrate in the 1960s. (Here I'm paraphrasing.) "We all got along just fine, black and white. And then Roots came along and everybody wanted to be Kunta Kinte." A funny, articulate lady, she told Kathryn Stockett she'd be happy to go with her to the awards ceremonies! Then she told us how she was a graduate of the Caroline Center and proud to speak a little about growing up Black in the 60s in the South. (My own note here: if anybody ever tries to say that Baltimore isn't the South, they have no clue. I lived there. I love the place! It's very Southern.)

Yes, my how the times have changed.

What a fitting ending for a wonderful evening.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Good Blog...

Our Southern Writers blog has a new administrator, and all the members are taking this blogging turn to reintroduce themselves. If you haven't visited A Good Blog is Hard to Find, this might be an excellent time to click on over. (In other words, tonight was my time to post.) There are some truly amazing writers over there. Check it out.

Related post: A Good Blog...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Writing Quote for the Day...

Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very" --your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~Mark Twain

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Baltimore's Best- Natalie Standiford

I lived there for a while and loved the city of Baltimore. Great friends. I had an amazing library and great colleagues at work. The food's fabulous. What's not to like about Charm City.

True confessions. Amongst my dearest friends were a family named Standiford. Yep, that's right: Natalie's aunt and uncle, and I even knew her parents fairly well. But until recently, I hadn't put two and two together to realize what terrific books Natalie Standiford writes. I adored How to Say Goodbye in Robot. Loved it.

Her new book just hit the shelves and Baltimore might as well be a featured character, a starring role. What I appreciate about both of these recent reads is how much teens really love them. Click here for a fun interview, with pictures of Natalie as a teen herself.

A lot has been written lately about grownup readers who love the Young Adult genre. With books like Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters, it's easy to see why.

Now, I know that Natalie's family is nothing like the Sullivans. Nothing. But I'm not saying I didn't know these people when I lived there. That's how authentic the book feels. Debutantes. Wealthy relatives. Neat old houses. It's all there. Anne Tyler for teens, I kept thinking as I read this one.

Note to family members. I will never blog like Jane Sullivan and neither will you, right?

Related post: Goodbye in Robot: One of My Favorite YAs of the season

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chatham's September 11th Memorial

On September 11th, downtown Chatham was so busy, the town center so filled with people, that I couldn't get close enough to take this picture. So I stopped by yesterday on my way to the bank across the street.

If you look closely, you'll see flowers and notes left last Saturday.
There are three memorials in town. This one is in front of the Fire Station, near the gazebo, and it honors the firefighters and first responders. Like the one near the library, it contains steel from the World Trade Center. We also have a plaque and a tree planted at the train station in memory of friends who took the train into New York that day and never came home.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What A Day...

I love the sky in September. Today there's hardly a cloud and the blue is so beautiful it makes your heart ache. When we have these kind of days on September 11th, it's hard to forget nine years ago. Not that anybody is trying. But today, the sky just takes your breath away. I snapped a picture of our neighbor's Japanese maple, turning red against the bluest sky.

Chatham and Madison, next-door-neighbors of towns, were full of activity today. Farmers' Market, soccer games, a Green Initiative in the middle of town and yard sales in our neighborhood. It was hard to stop and remember. But I bet everybody did.

Related posts: Bayonne's 9/11 Memorial
A Beautiful September Day, 2008

Blogger Bust

Egads. I should have known better than to play around with templates early this morning.
They ate my widgets. Stay tuned. Blog being repaired. I hope...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Quaker Motto Calendar

It's time to order!

Check out the order form for these Quaker Motto Calendars and note that orders received by October 1 are guaranteed delivery by December 1st. Just in time for your holiday greetings. The calendars fit perfectly into large Christmas card envelopes, or you can tuck your own smaller cards into the calendar's envelope.

Here is a sample page from the 2011 calendar.

I love the stories that come from memories of seeing these sold at a childhood church or hanging near a much-loved grandfather's office desk. You can read about the Scattergood family's connection to the calendars in last year's blog post by clicking here. Great Aunt Margery Scattergood added her story in a letter, meticulously typed, stamped with a 13-cent "Airmail" stamp, and mailed to me in February, 1976, when I was new to the family. She explained that they were started by her father, Thomas.

Father was not gifted in the ministry, so he did not speak in Meeting but felt that getting out these calendars and distributing them would be one way he could substitute a worthwhile service instead of speaking in Meeting. He carried on the work until his death in 1907 when my brother, Henry Scattergood carried them forward and continued them until his death in 1963.

Since that time, other Scattergood relatives have kept the calendars in print. They are now put together by my sisters-in-law Marion Scattergood Ballard and Evelyn Scattergood Day. Good for them to keep this tradition alive and do their own Good Works.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Giving Advice

I seem to have gained new stature in the world. Even before my book sees the light of publishing day. Each week, somebody asks for advice about publishing that novel tucked into a drawer, hidden away, half finished.

I wish I knew the answer. In fact, I wish there were an answer! My best advice is hard work, butt in chair, network, read, learn.

Someone who's been at this longer than I, and with great success, started a conversation at her blog just now. Advice to our younger writing selves. Click on over to Kirby Larson's blog and join the conversation. Or tell me right here, what advice would you give your newbie self, re: writing?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Post Beach Books?

Last month, Newsweek's Jon Meacham editorialized on a topic near to my heart: detective novels, crime novels, and his summertime defense of the mystery/thriller genre. I particularly like the end of his essay, his answer to criticism that the books are frivolous lightweights:

" one who thinks of himself as a student of human nature can, in my view, dismiss some of the most vivid (and fun!) literature about the things that make us who we are, for better and surely for worse."

To tell the truth, I feel no need to defend. I read a lot. I read kids' books for enjoyment and edification, literary fiction when I want something worth discussing and need to think about how beautifully written a book can be, what amazing words a writer can pull from thin air.

But when I'm stuck for hours in an airport (which, sadly, I often am) or sitting on a plane next to a chatter (I do not like to talk to seatmates), give me a new P.D. James, the latest from Elizabeth George, or the new Scott Turow novel.

I'd call it my guilty pleasure but I feel no guilt.

Right now I'm reading the latest by Turow. Not only do I love the story so far, I give him high marks for how he's woven backstory from the hero's appearance in Turow's earlier novels. Which I read so long ago that they lingered only slightly in my book brain. I needed that refreshing and he gave it to me seamlessly.

(On a side note, this is the first book I've read on our new IPad. So far so good. I don't want to give up my print books, but this is working out a whole lot better than I anticipated...)

About this time last summer, Newsweek did a big book issue. Click here for links and to read my comments.

Hanging around with kid readers pushing to get summer reading lists completed this month, I silently sent a message to their teachers and librarians. Be sure to put something fun on those lists! Let kids read books of their own choosing, no restrictions, no page counts.

And for the rest of us readers- have no guilt. Read what you love. And I'd love to hear what that was this summer.