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

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Quotes from my Vault...

"Per capita, the South doesn't produce all that many writers, any more than kangaroos amount to a great percentage of prizefighters. It's just that you can tell right away which prizefighters are kangaroos."-- Roy Blount, Jr.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Verla Kay and Company

Not too long ago, I sat with a group of writers and heard one say "I could never write from a male POV." Because I was writing from a young boy's viewpoint, I sat up and listened. I disagree with her statement. I think voices and characters just come to me and other writers, and we hope they ring true.

Tonight I happened upon an interesting and helpful discussion on the Verla Kay board. There's even a link to that really funny piece by Dave Barry about the difference between men and women. Click on over there if you need a good laugh. Click on over to Verla Kay's board if you need help with almost anything writing related!

But in the meantime, here's a helpful little tool posted on the board that I'd somehow missed out on: The Gender Genie. Just type in a bit of your novel or non-fiction piece and it miraculously guesses the gender of your character. In my WIP, my character plays the piano and lives with his uncle in a boarding house run by a former Rockette. But I must be doing something right. The Gender Genie figured it out, he's a boy!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Southerners Writing Books

I could get lost in children's authors' blogs. Especially those writers from the South who remind me of home. Last night I discovered the blog of Deborah Wiles. I'm a big fan of her books and heard her speak about her path to publication at a conference a year or so ago. I drooled over the blog's yummy food references- what's summer without cornbread and vegetables from the garden? Or at least reading about it...
And via Deborah Wiles, I got to "meet" another Southerner, Colleen Salley. I rushed right down to the library to find her picture books and the voice of my grandmother telling me stories jumped off the page of Epossumondas. "You don't have the sense you were born with," Possum's mama says about the truck possum drags home. (And I don't mean the 4-wheel drive kind!) I stopped by the bookstore and ordered the picture book and can't wait to read it to a child I know.

Speaking of reading aloud and books by Southerners- I think The Underneath might be a book kids will appreciate hearing out loud. Read my review in today's Christian Science Monitor. How's that for sneaking in a reference to myself? But really, it's all about Kathi Appelt's newest book, well worth reading.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Baby Animals

OK, not really talking about writing but a friend just sent these surprising and amazing pictures and I can't resist sharing. A whole alphabet of baby animals!

Friday, August 15, 2008


I might call this post Begin Again. I have a manuscript that I refuse to believe deserves to be tucked into a bottom drawer. Instead, I'm going to apply all I've learned since I put it away last year and begin again.

Some helpful advice I received most recently came from the SCBWI Western Maryland event I blogged about earlier. Compiled from my notes taken at editor Martha Mihalick's workshop "The Very Beginning: Hook a Reader (and an Editor)":

Beginnings should show something of what the book is about, something to connect to and make you want to read more. A good beginning should set everything up, create expectations. But a writer needs to hold back enough to make a reader keep turning. A good beginning is a doorway. Who, what, where -- set it up to make a reader want to open the door and walk through. It should embody the whole story without telling what the story is.

In a good beginning- make that a great beginning- we are being told a story no one else can tell. Here's where that all-important "voice" comes in. If the voice is very assured, we don't need to understand everything completely in the beginning. Begin with authority.

Has the writer begun in the right place? Obviously, we know not to start with backstory in kids' books. But know what makes your story interesting and make sure that's the exact starting point.

Ground the reader. Don't over explain, leave something to intrigue. Create expectations. Go beneath the surface. Be specific. Tell your story.

So, thanks Martha. I'm about to begin again at a more interesting place in my story. And I'll cross my fingers that I've found the doorway, that perfect point of connection.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Olympic swimmers

I spent a lot of time at swimming meets. Not swimming, watching. My husband and my two daughters all swam competitively. So naturally I had one of those "NPR driveway moments" today when I just had to sit in the car listening to the fascinating discussion of the dolphin kick. Research for USA Olympic swimmers based on dolphins. I am not kidding. It seems to be working out quite well for Team USA.

Oprah's books

Oprah has a reading list for kids. With the help of the American Library Association, she's made some really good choices. What do you think?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


I doubt I'll ever travel to LA for the conference but I almost feel like I was there, just by reading Alice's CWIM Blog.
Loved her reporting from Lisa Yee's workshop on revision. Check it out.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Page 69 Test

Wow. Thanks to a link on Marjorie Kehe's blog, I can now figure out if I'm going to like a book just by looking at page 69. I like this idea. She got it from another blog about books, a new one for me. And that's what I love about bloggers. You can't read one and be done. One thing leads to another, and you're reading all night.

Here are a few page 69s:

Louisiana's Song- "Love and air may come cheap, but nothing else does." And at the bottom of the page: "No way am I going to let Gentle leave us, I don't care what Grandma Horace has up her sleeve." I'd read that for sure (and I did).

Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia- "Mama said she thinks Ray must've give him some kind of deal on that room over the tattoo parlor... or else how could he pay for it, since all he's got is can money?"

Dancing in Red Shoes Will Kill You (paperback edition)- "I heard it's some girl who's pissed because she got the understudy role of Cinderella. She's threatening to kill anyone with a better part."

I know, I know, all kids' books. But the test worked for me, this time. Maybe I just picked books that don't have a single bad page in the whole book.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!

OK, I am usually not that big on my birthday. I credit that to having a summer birthday and never having friends around to celebrate with. A party was always a moveable feast, date-wise. Plus lately I'm thinking of taking a page from my peripatetic grandmother who, as she flitted here and there teaching until a school system forced her to retire, always seemed vague about her exact age.
But it's nice to have a writing surprise appear on your birthday, and this essay I wrote last year during blueberry season (but submitted too late for summer publication) appeared in today's issue of The Christian Science Monitor. A fun way to reach out to friends and family on MY day. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Roads taken...

"We all take different paths in life, but no matter where we go, we take a little of each other . . ."
-- Tim McGraw

I can't be sure Tim really said this, but I copied the quote from somewhere legit and added it to the journal I keep of my favorite quotations. I like it because until I was twenty, I'd never lived outside my home state of Mississippi. After that, in about five years, I moved 8 times. Always taking a little bit of the people I met and the things I saw around me. Now I'm pretty good about changing my places in life and taking a new path or two. But I do like to take my old friends with me, even if it's just the stories.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

My Life with Dogs

I never much cared for grown-up books about dogs. Oh, a dog sitting at his master/ mistress's feet, looking cute or mischievous, added to my enjoyment of a book. But an entire book that featured dogs as a fairly important part of the plot? Nah. Until I started reading about The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. Although I usually run like crazy when I hear a book touted as "a classic in the making," this book, though maybe not quite a classic-to-be, is a great summer read. I can't explain my attraction. It's the words, of course. Thinking about his beloved companion Almondine (now there's a great dog name!), Edgar thinks that perhaps Almondine will have forgiven his crimes, for which he wanted more than anything to atone...Others dreamed of finding a person in the world whose soul was made in their mirror image, but she and Edgar had been conceived nearly together, grown up together, and however strange it might be, she was his other. Much could be endured for that."
I recommended the book to my best dog-loving friend and she was lukewarm. Now I'm afraid to overly rave! But I can't put it down and last night I got to the last chapter, way past midnight, and couldn't bear to finish. It's that kind of book.

I started to call this entry Dogs in Books. But I can't really write anything about dogs without mentioning my own sweet dogs. Ginger and her great-grandson Barley, who lived to the ripe and lovable old age of 15. This is the first summer in thirty years that my family hasn't had a dog happily underfoot. Barley was a great dog, a gentle soul.

Barley at his Birthday Party

I love kids' books with dogs in them. Winn Dixie is a favorite, but there's also Harry the Dirty Dog, the McDuff stories, and the hilarious Ike in Dear Mrs. LaRue. When Ike gets shipped off to obedience school, he writes pleading letters back to his owner about his cellmates: "They are BAD DOGS, Mrs. LaRue. I do not fit in!" The book always reminds me of my friend Nonie's dog Hoops who ate both aluminum foil and a very expensive shoe. Hoops and Barley were friends at Obedience School. Barley graduated with flying colors. Hoops graduated, too.

Just in case we decide to get another dog, I'll be ready with a name. This terrific website lists dogs in fiction, from myths to movies. Ginger came to us already named but my family almost came to blows when picking a name for Barley. And reading over this list of famous dog names, I see a few I'd like to try out. Nero, Boots, Banga anyone? Maybe my next dog will be fictional.