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

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Writing Thought for the Day


"The only way I can write is to shut out all those guide book suggestions about through-lines and character arcs and theme and let my subconscious do its wild, unpredictable thing. Rules are for revisions."

from Linda Urban, whose new book HOUND DOG TRUE sounds like just my kind of story.

(Related Post: Practicing to Be Perfect)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Things I Love

For so many reasons.

And when I can't get to my sister's to pick her figs and the New Jersey Farmers' Markets just sold their only basket, I have these ceramic beauties my daughter brought me from her summer studying in Florence.

Her cousin showed us the shop. I bought two. But they are heavy-ish, and we pack light in our family. So imagine my surprise when my daughter came home with more figs--and even two peaches--  for my birthday that year.

They live in the bowl I gave my mother the spring my husband and I lived in California.
It's mine now.

Many things to love in this picture.

Here's a funny (I hope) blast from the past about My Great Fig Fiasco, my first blog post ever on the Southern Writers Blog: A Good Blog is Hard to Find.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Random Tidbit from the back of a bookmark

The word "clue" originally meant "ball of twine."
That's why you unravel clues to solve a mystery...

Word Origin & History

phonetic variant of clew  (q.v.) "a ball of thread or yarn," with reference to the one Theseus used as a guide out of the Labyrinth. The purely figurative sense of "that which points the way" is from 1620s.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
Cite This Source

Sunday, July 24, 2011

How's your summer reading coming along?

A few days ago-- okay it was a few weeks ago-- a friend asked what I'd recommend for her to read. She had some surprising time on her hands and was looking for something wonderful.  I promised I'd think about it, but I let her down. I never made that list.

Now the summer's halfway over. (Sorry, Sally!)

All I've been reading this summer so far is kids' books. Really good ones.
My friend has kids and she reads to them a lot. But that's not what she wanted.

So instead, I've been thinking about books I WISH I WERE READING. From what others have recommended to me.

And here goes:

1. Amy Tan's Saving Fish from Drowning
Another friend loved it. Here's a bit of what they say about it on Book Page:

... 2005 novel about an American group whose Asian excursion goes horribly, horribly wrong. Reading along as the travelers experience increasingly alarming misadventures will make any bumps in your own travel plans pale by comparison. ..Saving Fish from Drowning was a departure for Tan, and one that struck a discordant note for some of her fans, but I enjoyed every stop on this multicultural itinerary. —Lynn Green, Editor 

2. Jennifer Egan: A Visit from the Goon Squad
Almost embarrassed to admit I have yet to read this. And it's even downloaded on my Kindle. Oh, dear.

3. Ann Pachett  The State of Wonder
If I had to list a Top 10 Favorite Books of all Time, BEL CANTO would make the cut.

4. Geraldine Brook's Caleb's Crossing.
At least half my reading friends have said this is a terrific summer book.

5.  The list is already overwhelming me just writing it, but I really think I'll like this. It reminds me of my own grandmother's daring and my husband's grandmother's Wyoming adventures.
Nothing Daunted, a new book by Dorothy Wickenden.

6. Come to think of it, I have started my summer reading.
I read Shanghai Girls on an airplane trip because Book Club diva Kathy Patrick interviewed Lisa See about the sequel and it sounded like a perfect summer book. And because it was on my shelf as I dashed out the door to the airport. I liked it enough to read the sequel now.

7. And I'm reading Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. Because I needed a little eccentric in my summer, I also downloaded this one to my Kindle.  I'm actually enjoying it, in a weird and wacky way. 

So I guess I can say I've officially tackled my Summer Reading list. And it's not even August yet.

Hope this helps, Sally and all my friends who've asked. I know it's late- but better July than December? 

Anything that's an absolutely Not To Be Missed book that I've overlooked?

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Heatwave Word of the Day... in French.

C'est la canicule ! - It's a scorcher!

We get our dog days from the Roman theory that the star Sirius caused heat waves from end of July through August.  Canicula means little dog.

(If this makes you enjoy the heat any better, my gift to you.
Still, it's better than snowstorms, right?)

Friday, July 22, 2011


I love it when Joyce Moyer Hostetter lets me pop over to her truly interesting blog to share a book with her and her followers. Her blog is All About History so this new novel by Kirby Larson fits right in.

Click here to get to the review, and while you're dropping by Joyce's place, spend a little time reading some of the interesting things she turns up to share.

And just a spoiler on the review- Larson's book revealed a tiny slice of history that was new to me. And it was fun to read. Great book! Loved it.

Related posts: Rules for Writers
Historical Fiction

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Another "Pinch Me!" moment...

In a million years, I would not have pictured me doing this, but my new friends at Scholastic thought it would be fun for me to record a chapter and a few words about writing GLORY BE, and off I went, on the train to Manhattan. I worried for a half minute that they might want to actually see me, you know as in video type recording. But no. My editor said I could show up in my jammies. I didn't.

Here's a quick visual tour of the day. Quality of the photos does not reflect the importance of the day. I was trying to be my cool New York self, not my geeky, excited is-this-really-happening-to-me self.

I enjoyed an iced tea and going over my writing, while waiting for my Big Moment.  I did not read aloud inside the teashop. Promise.

Note: Though the tea place was dimly lit-- a nice touch on a hot day--can you see my Good Luck Paperclips? Critique group friend Teddie returns our pages, clipped with these festive clips. They always make me smile.

I was still early, so I sat next to one of my favorite buildings to do one of my favorite NYC things: People Watching!

For some really good photos of the art inside that Sprint store inside the Flatiron Building, click here.  They are so worth that click! Seriously worth it. The art was amazing. Go ahead, click that link now!

This was my view, while waiting in the shade, next to the flowers, in the Flatiron Building's plaza. Note the lack of the normal NYC black clothing, an obvious bow to the summer heat. Flip-flops were everywhere! Did I say it was hot?

And I finally made it to BEATSTREET STUDIOS.

Yep, that's the recording studio. Picture me in that room, headsets on, just like a rock star. Interesting drums in there. My new Scholastic friend Adrienne Vrettos and I considered playing them, but wised up.

I finished my session (see how quickly I pick up the lingo) in record time and was off to meet my agent, Linda Pratt, for tea and chocolates. We met in another of my favorite spots: Grand Central Station. And truly, this is a terrible photo, but it's hard to get a shot of that gorgeous ceiling with my iPhone, especially when I'm trying to appear cool and rock-star-ish. With a big emphasis on the ish part of that word...

More than just a great day- an amazing, fantastic day! And I didn't even mention one of the other surprising, terrific moments. All the way in to the city, my unexpected trainmates were two of my favorite people-- a former student I've known since her kindergarten days and her mom who was a loyal "library mom" in my many years at Kent Place School. Happy to say, Annie still loves to read.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Quote of the Day, while creating story from mishmash

"That's what stories do. They connect the random dots of life into a picture. But it's all an illusion. Just try to connect the dots of life. You'll end up with a lunatic scribble."

Briony, in CHIME by Franny Billingsley

Particularly helpful to know others feel the same way I do about stories some days...

(I also like "I may be wicked. But I'm not bad." Same character. No relevance to my writing today. Just thought I'd share.)

And if you're interested, CHIME was just named an Honor Book in this years Horn Book Awards. Click here for the entire list.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Food from The Help

What could be more fun? Check out this article in the August issue of Food and Wine magazine about all the food in the movie, The Help.

As of yesterday, my local bookstore didn't have the August issue yet. But soon!

Tomato aspic, collard greens, black-eyed peas. No thank you on the pie recipe, however.

Here's a little taste (excuse the pun) from the article:

In The Help, the character Minny reveres Crisco, calling it "the most important invention in the kitchen since jarred mayonnaise." She uses Crisco to fry chicken to perfection, admiring the way the vegetable shortening "bubbles up like a song" as it cooks.

I am feeling a sudden craving for fried chicken.

But you know, I wonder about that line from the book, about jarred mayonnaise. True Southern cooks still pride themselves on making homemade mayo. Just seems like an odd thing...

Related posts: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about The Help

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Glory Be, as read by some very important people...

This just bowled me over. Flattering, humbling, and amazing quotes from three truly remarkable authors. If I had a personal Most Admired Middle Grade Writers list, these three would be the stars.

My editor just sent me these quotes, which will appear on the back of GLORY BE when it's released in January.
(Pinching myself on a daily basis now...)

“There's a whiff of Carson McCullers in Augusta Scattergood's story of a sultry Southern summer long ago when the outside world moved all the markers of Gloriana Hemphill's growing up.  It's a summer of bigotry and beehive hairdos, of sit-ins and dangerous boys.  All mixed together and beautifully recalled." 
              --Richard Peck, Newbery Award-winning author of A Year Down Yonder

Glory Be is a lovely debut novel for younger readers, akin to Kathryn Stockett's The Help  -- an important read that raises powerful racial issues of the 1960s American South.
               --  Kathryn Erskine, National Book Award-winning author of Mockingbird

Glory Be weaves a seamless story of sisterly love, broken friendships, and the strength that it takes to stand up for the right thing. Augusta Scattergood is at the top of my debut-authors-to-watch list.
             -- Barbara O'Connor, Parents’ Choice Award-winning author of How to Steal a Dog

(Random, totally unnecessary addendum: One of my favorite things to talk to kids about in my days as school librarian were BLURBS. First of all, they loved the word. But I never thought of TO BLURB as a verb until recently. And in my librarian days, it often meant the summary of the book, what I now think of as flap copy. Now, I have these amazing authors, blurbing my book...   ♡♡♡
 Ah, the things you learn from the other side of the writing fence.)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Masterpiece Mystery

Check it out!
According to the Sunday New York Times, my favorite new mystery series is coming to Masterpiece Mystery on PBS next fall.

 I love the books, but I'll definitely be tuning in my TV come October.

 Related post: Kate Atkinson

Friday, July 8, 2011

GLORY BE cover revealed!

Imagine my delight and surprise when (very) late last night I popped over to Amazon in search of a book review I'd written. And there it was! MY book, available for pre-order. Also on Barnes and Noble's site.

Now I know a lot of readers will prefer to wait and see it in January, at an actual bookstore, and of course I hope you'll order or buy it. But just seeing the book jacket and the description on Amazon made me realize: Holy Moly! This is for real!

And a little librarian geekiness: It even has its own ISBN NUMBER!!

Glory Be
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Glory Be [Hardcover]

Augusta Scattergood (Author)

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Editorial Reviews


Product Description

A Mississippi town in 1964 gets riled when tempers flare at the segregated public pool.

As much as Gloriana June Hemphill, or Glory as everyone knows her, wants to turn twelve, there are times when Glory wishes she could turn back the clock a year. Jesslyn, her sister and former confidante, no longer has the time of day for her now that she’ll be entering high school.  Then there’s her best friend, Frankie. Things have always been so easy with Frankie, and now suddenly they aren’t. Maybe it’s the new girl from the North that’s got everyone out of sorts. Or maybe it’s the debate about whether or not the town should keep the segregated public pool open.

Augusta Scattergood has drawn on real-life events to create a memorable novel about family, friendship, and choices that aren’t always easy.

Product Details

  • Reading level: Ages 9-12
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press (January 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0545331803
  • ISBN-13: 978-0545331807

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Book review: Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai

Perhaps the reason this new novel for young readers resonated so strongly was that the entire time I was reading it, I remembered the story of King, a Vietnamese immigrant of Chinese ancestry who also escaped his country after the war. Our friend Hal had served with him as a doctor during the Vietnamese War and became his sponsor. King cooked fabulous dishes, introduced the neighbors to his culture and intrigued us all. Until I read this, I don't think I truly grasped how strange we must have seemed.

Book review: Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Life Imitating Art (or I love a parade!)

Writers are always asked "Is it real?" "What part of it is based on your life?" "Did you actually DO all the stuff in your book?"

Yes. And no.

A lot of my forthcoming novel for young readers, GLORY BE, is based on things I know about. Since it's historical fiction (the kind that has a central historic event attached to it, as opposed to the kind that just happened in the past...Click  here for that discussion.), much of it is also based on research.

Yes, I grew up in a little town in Mississippi, and I was in the Pep Squad.
I worked in libraries most of my professional life and know a lot about them.
I once knew a heart-breaker named Robert.
My town flooded and we thought that was fun.

Every Friday when we had a home football game, there was a parade right through the middle of town.

In the town in New Jersey where I lived for a long time and still frequent whenever I can, we still have a July 4th Parade.

In my book, the July 4th parade is a major plot point. The whole time I was writing that section, I thought of parades I'd actually watched, marched in, decorated floats for, and enjoyed. Here are a few pictures from my most recent parade experience. July 4th.

Unlike  in GLORY BE, there were no mean boys picking a fight I had to break up. No homecoming queen in a scratchy skirt.  I love bagpipers, but believe me, there were none in Cleveland, Mississippi's parades in 1964...

The scene in front of the library, just before the parade marched by.

Lots of old cars. Always.

This picture says it all. Or at least more than I could ever say.

A first for our local parade-goers... Roller Derby comes to Chatham, NJ!

It wouldn't be a parade without Old Soldiers. And happy policemen.

And of course, the Fire Engines.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Reading All Day... but first a writing tip

Today I promised myself to read, all day long. I meant books. Catching up with that pile that's gotten away from me this summer.  This is what I was looking forward to:

G. Neri's GHETTO COWBOY, sent to me by the publisher. FRIENDSHIP DOLL by Kirby Larson, also sent by publisher. A book I'm reviewing for Delta Magazine which is turning out to be quite fun: YANKEE DOODLE DIXIE. And Franny Billingsly's CHIME, from the library, renewed once already, loving it but need to finish.

Then I got distracted by reading Cheryl Klein's Brooklyn Arden blog.  I'm filing this on a stickie note for next week, when I promise myself to write all day long.  In the words of Ray Bradbury (via Cheryl), in answer to a question about discovering the middle of your story,  

“Find out what your hero or heroine wants, and when he or she wakes up in the morning, just follow him or her all day.” 

It's getting late. The books still sit on my deck, waiting. But we've washed windows and I've been to the grocery store and of course I had to share via my blog. 

Now, off to read.  
Hope your weekend is book and fun-filled! Happy July 4th, everybody.