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

Thursday, October 31, 2013


Yeah, yeah, I know. Late to the party and all that.
But what better time consider graveyards than Halloween.

 The first time I started Neil Gaiman's THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, it had just won the Newbery. I had it from the library. I was busy and didn't finish. I couldn't renew it. I returned it, unfinished. Hate when that happens.

Recently, it came up in my Critique Group's meeting. A reminder I needed to read this book.

I thought it might creep me out. A lot of ghostly stuff does.
But I loved it even more than I expected. Reading it right through probably helped. And I'm a big fan of old cemeteries.

Two of my favorite quotes:

Silas, advising and teaching young Bod:

"It's like the people who believe they'll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn't work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you."

Nehemiah Trot, also to Bod:

"If you dare nothing, then when the day is over, nothing is all you will have gained."

In case you missed it, click HERE FOR GAIMAN ON LIBRARIES.

And because I do love wandering through old cemeteries, reading headstones, imagining the stories as much as Alan Gurganus does, check out this. Fun reading on Halloween!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Writerly Quote of the Day

Remember all those notebooks and files I was sorting through this summer?

Here's one from a conference near and dear to my heart. 
Maryland/ Delaware/ West Virginia SCBWI, July 2008.
Where I met my agent and friend, Linda Pratt.

And got to hear Cynthia Lord talk about writing RULES.

I wrote this down, but of course had forgotten it. 
Now any time I catch myself saying (only to myself!): I'm not a big fan of fantasy, science fiction, etc. I'm remembering this.

Cynthia Lord, quoting Sarah L. Thomson, author of Dragon's Egg: 

"Fantasy is just reality wearing cooler clothes."

Friday, October 25, 2013

Friday Favorites


Love 'em or hate 'em. I love them. A lot.

So of course I had to check out the country's largest fig tree, located in Santa Barbara, California.
Where I just happened to be last week.

Click that link if you'd like to read more.

The tree looks like no other fig tree in my experience.
It's not the southern fig from my grandmother's backyard.
BUT there were figs on it.  They were terrible. 

Okay, yes, I picked a ripe one and opened it up and maybe I even kind of tasted it.

I've written about figs before.
Maybe some would say I've over-written on the topic.

But if you're a Fig Freak also, here are a few things I've said on the topic.

FIGS, on my own blog, here:

A FIG recipe, here:

And another FIG recipe, from my friend and food blogger, Lee Hilton.
I'd love to make preserves like this.
If I could get enough figs and if I could keep from eating them right out of the little baskets.

And WAY back in 2008 when I first joined a great gang of Southern Writers on A GOOD BLOG IS HARD TO FIND, I wrote this about my Great Fig Fiasco. My failed attempt to break into NPR.

And if you're still reading? Here's the essay that put the whole Fig Fiasco thing in motion:

I'll bet there are still a few figs out there just waiting to be turned into a Fig Garlic Pizza.
So easy and delish. (Recipe's on my Pinterest board.)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Thank you, Mississippi librarians

Last week I was honored to receive the Mississippi Author Award in the Children's Literature cagetory for my novel, GLORY BE.

I talked all night to such nice librarians and to my two fellow honorees, Julie Cantrell and Carolyn Brown.

I was especially flattered to be introduced by none other than Ellen Ruffin, curator of the deGrummond Children't Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Here we are, smiling after my speech. Note the fabulous Ellen decked out in some of our table decorations, Mardi Gras style. Librarians do know how to party, don't we...

My sister, Jane Carlson, and brother Jack Russel were my honored guests at the dinner. 
Jane and I wandered around the exhibits as only two geeky librarians would do. 
(Did I mention Jane's also a former librarian?)

At the dinner, I spoke about my inspiration for Miss Bloom-- LePoint Smith and Anise Powell.
Click HERE if you'd like to read my post about them. 


Did I mention that my celebration started at the New Orleans airport? 
Any day that begins with beignets is bound to turn out right. And this one certainly did.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Counting by 7s, POV

I wrote about this book in a Christian Science Monitor Middle-Grade Roundup. You can see my short review HERE.

But I want to say a few things about it from a writer's perspective.

And especially that dratted multi-character POV thing.

In this book, I love it and think it works perfectly.

Willow Chase tells most of the story, in first person chapters. She's the "highly gifted" --she says this herself-- multi-racial, adopted child of somewhat older parents who don't really appear except as Willow shares her memories of them. That's no spoiler. It's obvious from the very beginning of this novel. We're shown the tragic event that sets the story in motion and upsets Willow's world.

I loved everything about this young woman. From her name, to her outsider-ish personality and that she knows she's not the average middle-schooler surrounded by friends. Her attempts to fit in at the new school her parents have chosen are failures. Despite someone (Mom, for sure) leaving a Teen Vogue magazine on her bed, featuring a teenager with "hair the color of a banana" and a wide smile, Willow chooses her gardening outfit for her first day at Sequoia Middle School. Without the binoculars around her neck. She does wear her new glasses, with "frames that looked like what Gandhi wore." They were perfect "because I was going forward in the brave new world in peace."
Or so Willow believes.

Then there's her school counselor. Dell Duke, whose chapters are 3rd person, and I think mostly past tense. Chapters often shared with Willow's new friend Mai. A few chapters are in the voice of the cab driver, Jairo Hernandez, who thinks Willow must be some kind of shaman, not to mention an Alberta Einstein.

Can you see how complicated this sounds? You know what- it's not!
The writing flows seamlessly and beautifully. The story moves quickly.

Having recently read quite a few books told by different characters, I'm beginning to zero in on the difficulty of reading and of writing one. I agree with a reviewer of a different book who they can take on a drive-by quality. The literary equivalent of speed-dating. You just get settled in with one character and another begins telling a completely different, though usually interwoven side of the story.

In the case of Counting by 7s, this just isn't the case. You hardly notice that it's not Willow's story to tell because every character has something to say about her, some connection, an emotional bond being forged.

If you google Multi POV or some such, you'll find a lot of hates. Dreads and drats.
But I think it's being used a lot more in kids' books. Some work. Some don't.

I happen to think COUNTING BY 7s works in all the right ways.

If you're still reading and hope to go away with some helpful writing info re: POV, a few links--

Linda Urban's discussion, via her NESCBWI presentation- 

Janice Hardy spells it out HERE:

Darcy Pattison. Always trustworthy. Especially like that Seedfolk comment, re: community-

Not specifically about writing for Middle Graders or Young Adults, here are some big Do's and Don'ts (Dos and/or Don't's just didn't look right...)-

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Junk Poker

(Note, I'm reposting this from May, 2011, written as I prepared for the book's launch. I'm reposting because I just had the nicest comment from a reader, today, and can't resist sharing. Oh, and by the way, the actual wallpaper, deemed valuable, has been retired. But I now have a great facsimile supplied by the kids at one of the schools I visited last year. )

When I changed my Facebook profile picture this week, I had a few questions. Like what in the heck is that shoebox tied up with a big purple ribbon all about?

It's all about Junk Poker.

When we were very little and shared the Sleeping Porch as our bedroom, my sister and I created a game. I remember it vividly, so what if she doesn't?  I was older. I get to elaborate on the memories. So I'm telling the story: we played Blackjack with our "treasures." We hid the shoeboxes under our beds. We took them out during nap-times (every day of the summer to escape the heat and survive polio- but that's another story).

In my upcoming novel, Glory and her big sister play Junk Poker. In fact, I first titled the book Junk Poker, way back when I first began writing it. Back then, it was a short story narrated by an adult caregiver, who also happened to be  the organist/ wedding planner/ maker of tissue paper carnations for the First Baptist Church. What can I say? The story has evolved. Have you never started with one idea and come up with something completely different?

New title, new genre, new characters.
But Junk Poker and the shoebox survived.

Inside my box is my prized possession. I thought it was lost until I rediscovered a manila envelope tucked in the bottom of an old footlocker from Camp Skyline Ranch. The trunk had traveled many miles since my Mentone, Alabama days. When it finally fell apart in our last move, I salvaged the envelope.

I found corsages from old boyfriends, a photograph of my dad's Army jeep that I learned to drive on, and the best treasure of all: wallpaper from Elvis's house in Tupelo, Mississippi.

So that's what I shared in my Scholastic talk in New York. Green floral wallpaper from Elvis's childhood home, tucked into this Buster Brown shoebox just like Glory's, wrapped in a big purple ribbon. Why Elvis's wallpaper? You'll have to wait for Glory and her big sister to tell you...

Meanwhile, it's only fitting that my Junk Poker box serves as my new Facebook profile picture. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Name Game again

Looking for a name?

Turns out naming a child (or a book character!) after a place is nothing new.

 Check out this list of STATE NAMES given to children.

Here's a little from that post, above. Doesn't it make you want to click over and read it all?

And because fiction can be more satisfying than real life, here are some fictional characters with US State names:
Alaska Young in John Green's Looking for Alaska
Nevada Smith in Harold Robbins' The Carpetbaggers
Montana Wildhack in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five
Wyoming Knott in Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Arizona Ames in Zane Grey's Arizona Ames.

The daughter named KIM in Edna Ferber's Showboat:
And as Kim Ravenal you doubtless are familiar with her. It is no secret that the absurd monosyllable which comprises her given name is made up of the first letters of three states - Kentucky, Illinois, and Missouri - in all of which she was, incredibly enough, born - if she can be said to have been born in any state at all (Ferber 1).

And yes, I do obsess over names.
Can't seem to flesh out a character without the name fitting perfectly.
So I rejected Virginia, a state name?--not entirely, as a big sister.
She just wasn't a Virginia. Turns out, she was a Jesslyn.
Blogged about, here:

And for my current, in revision, manuscript, I blogged about my Main Character's elusive name, here:

But I'm liking those state names. Great post. Thank you, Mississippi Library Commission!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

P.S. Be Eleven

You know that thing about knowing somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody?
That's kind of how I feel about Rita Williams-Garcia. I've never met this writer, nor have I heard her speak, except on the occasional YouTube someone shares. But I know a few people who know her and probably know a lot of people who have heard her talk about how to write. I suspect she's brilliant.

I want some of her Writing Fairy Dust to spill my way.

And while I try very hard not to envy anybody's fabulous talent, Rita Williams-Garcia's books about those Gaither girls are truly enviable.

Three things I love about this new book, P.S. Be Eleven.

1. You get a sense of history without being banged over the head with it. The girls are funny in a way that a lot of kids will truly get. They constantly bicker. They laugh and swoon over the Jackson Five. Standing in Mr. Mack's Candy Store, they remember Power to the People from their One Crazy Summer in Oakland with their poet mother. But Fern chimes in- in a way that younger sisters even today might - with "Free candy," instead of Free Huey.
So funny.

Their Vietnam veteran uncle's serious story is interwoven with the girls' worry about seeing Michael Jackson. Beautifully and seamlessly told, this subplot is an important, yet kid-friendly discussion.

2. Those authentic character voices. Wow.
I love all three sisters. I love Big Ma, their grandmother.
But Delphine is wise way beyond her 12 years.

Here's her take on the 6th Grade Dance:

       For me, the sixth-grade dance meant trying to match steps with boys I'd slugged...For me, and me alone, it meant waiting to be asked to dance when no one would ask because they'd have to look way up at me...
       I surely didn't want to be the girl no one asked to dance. I didn't want to be the girl who swayed by the punch bowl and cookie table, pretending to enjoy watching everyone else dance. I didn't want to be Miss Merriam Webster's definition of a sixth-grade wallflower.

Oh, how I remember those days!

3. The sensory details and descriptions inspire author-envy, I'll admit.
Like the teacher's letter. "The smell of purple ink swirled up my nose when I unfolded the bright white paper."  
Yes, I know. That mimeograph machine smell!

And Big Ma dressed for church, "with a pinned-on hat, a shiny black purse, and black gloves that crawled past her wrists."

I've been thinking a lot about Historical Fiction lately. I love reading books with terrific and true tiny details.
I'm excited about my upcoming whole novel HIGHLIGHTS FOUNDERS WORKSHOP on Historical Fiction.
(There may be a couple of places left. Click that link up there for details.)

I could go on and on.
But I'll let you see for yourself. And feel free to let me know your thoughts.

For my thoughts on the first book about these fabulous characters and my review on Joyce Moyer Hostetter's history blog, CLICK RIGHT HERE, please.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

October Quote to Remember

via LOREN EISELEY: All the Strange Hours

"October is a traveling month for both birds and men."

More on THE END

According to my scribbles in a notebook, this quote about ENDINGS came via Virginia Euwer Wolff.
(But since I can't verify it, please don't quote me.)

I love it, no matter who said it.

"It's not exactly a WOW! or an AHA! 
But it's a cross between them, a WHOA!"

Click here for a few more words about endings, via my week with Ann Hood et al at WRITERS IN PARADISE a while back. And guess what-- they're already accepting applications for the 2014 conference in St. Petersburg, in January, with great writers.

Speaking of Endings:
Wouldn't you like to spend a week in January, learning and writing, 
looking at this at the end of your day?