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

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.