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

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Home Safe

Elizabeth Berg's novels always delight me. This one might be her best so far. And I love that book jacket.

Here's my review, from today's St. Petersburg Times. Which, by the way, is the first review I've written for them. Two more due on Tuesday. Yikes. Better get back to work.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Paris in the Summer?

Yes, I know. I sound like a broken record. But I do love Paris, any time of the year. And I'm hoping to go again, soon. Happening upon this blog yesterday was just what I needed to fill in a few travel tips. And today when I stopped by, I discovered Books! Seems like every Wednesday The Paris Traveler is going to feature a new one. Can't wait.

Meanwhile I'm off to the library to find today's recommendation:

Monday, May 25, 2009

Research anyone?

Here's a cool thing. Every wonder when people first used the word pajamas? Or the etymology of the term soda pop? (Something that never entered my vocabulary, but still.) I found this online dictionary via Margo Dill's blog about writing historical fiction.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Quote for the Day

So, here's one from a famous daughter of New Jersey:

“With a good beginning, people will read your story. With a good ending, they’ll remember it!”-- Janet Evanovich.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Kids' Books- a Hopeful Note?

This was on my Publisher's Weekly email just now. Sounds like somebody's recognizing that kids' books may just rule the day. These are CEOs and VPs of Borders speaking-

The company has been "really underdeveloped in kids," and its share of families in "prime kids years" was low. By contrast, Barnes & Noble has established children's departments with story hours and special events. Expanded childrens' book sections will be rolled out to every Borders store within 90 days, Anne Kubek, Borders executive vice president of merchandising and marketing, said after the shareholders meeting. "It's a tremendous growth business for us."
Citing a competitive marketplace, Borders declined to say how many new children's and teen titles or what square footage it will add, but one refitted Ann Arbor store now has a 900-square foot teen department with signs saying "What your friends are reading" near a display of Twilight books, games, jewelry and T-shirts. Its children's section was divided into three sections: Baby and picture books, independent readers, and toys and games. Parenting and teacher books were nearby.
Borders plans to carry education games and toys and teaching devices as well as books, and will relocate young adults and teen books away from the baby and youth books, Kubek said. Teen books often will be positioned close to the manga and science fiction titles, since "teens cross shop those."

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Harper Lee: Up Close

I'm really really enjoying the discussion of Kerry Madden's biography of Harper Lee over at the CCBC Discussion Board. True confessions- I have the book on reserve at my local library so haven't read it yet and am not going to jump in with a comment just yet. But Kerry is there, talking about her fascinating writing path and her amazing, original research. Loved today's note:
In very early drafts, I struggled a lot, and the first half of the book read almost a like blob of Harper Lee's childhood. I even stuck the "Methodist Rules for Singing" into an early draft, because I found them funny, but obviously they did not belong.

A favorite rule of John Wesley's Select Hymns from 1761 in regards to correctly singing hymns?

"Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all;
and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can."

Tuesday's CCBC email comment from English teacher Dean Schneider was particularly interesting (and included a quote I remember from a letter Harper Lee wrote to O Magazine in 2006):

"In the letter, she wrote of the comfort of curling up in bed with a book as a child. 'Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods, and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books.'"

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Belly Dancing?

You never know what you'll see on a sunny day at the beach. Same place we heard the singing from the men's room once before. Well, those crazy sandcastles are gone, but we could have practiced our belly dancing the other evening. And to think, all we wanted was to watch the sunset...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Summer Re-Reading: Eudora Welty

This is Miss Eudora's 100th birthday year. And there's all sorts of happenings in her hometown of Jackson, MS., including an exhibit I was lucky enough to see at the Mississippi Museum of Art. Click here to read about it and see some of the terrific photographs.

My summer plan is to re-visit some of my favorite Eudora Welty stories. Richard Ford was recently interviewed in Newsweek and chose his five most essential books. Her stories were in his top five and here's what he said about her writing:

"Proves you can do remarkable things if you just stay home and do them."

I'll say, remarkable! Definitely worth considering, wouldn't you agree?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Thoughts on My TV, Today

Just saw this on the new YA Book Club blog on the PW Site.

"So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install, A lovely bookshelf on the wall."—
Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Easy for me to say. And Roald Dahl. Neither of us has/ had young children in today's TV World, with so many temptations. And not all of them necessarily bad...

Maybe don't throw away the TV, just put up a big bookcase filled with great books next to it?

Saturday, May 16, 2009


If you're writing for children, or interested in knowing all there is to know about the topic, this is the organization for you. The Society for Children's Writers and Illustrators is how I found a random group of writer friends when we relocated to St. Petersburg, Florida, and I was missing my New Jersey connections. How I learned so much about the actual business of writing, and its many challenges, from the evenings I took the train to New York and rubbed shoulders with so many great writers, editors, publishers at that chapter's Professional Series. All good things in the development of a writer.

Last year my friend Mona Kerby alerted me to her Western Maryland July conference, and it was one of the best of its kind. Click here to read my posting from those two fabulous, fantastic days with Mona and her bunch. And my thoughts on the entertaining and informational keynote by Cynthia Lord. Really a terrific two days. I'm working on getting back there again this summer. The application has just gone up on their website.

Alas, the Florida SCBWI's conference deadline for applications passed this week. But we'll be back north by then anyhow. All my new Florida SCBWI buddies are just going to have to report back as it sounds quite good also.

So - potential kids' book people- get yourself over to the SCBWI website, join up, and check out your local group. You might even have time to register for your regional conference-- or interlope on another--and come back a changed person! Or at least an inspired writer.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

First in Line

I don't think I was a particularly competitive child, though others might disagree. But I suspect I liked being first in line on occasion. Playing Line Leader. Telling the rest of the class what to do. OK, bossy. But surely that ended when I was 9 or 10? And now I like to be first to know how a book ends, and how it begins. That's one of the things I love about hearing the UPS guy at the front door. Because often he's got a new book, hot off the press, just waiting for me to read- first!

Yesterday's delivery brought THE LAST CHILD by John Hart. I started it last night and so far, so good, really good. All those brand new pages, just waiting to be turned! Never mind that there are a lot of pages, and I have a deadline, and nobody else I know has read it. In fact, have you heard of John Hart? He's a North Carolina writer, and this is not his first book. But new to me. So I get to be first in line to talk about this one.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Plot Will Follow

Well, I don't always get to read what my fellow Southern writers are saying over at our group blog: A Good Blog is Hard to Find. But just now I happened upon this entry by novelist River Jordan, and these words:

Just today I called my mentor, a strange ringing of the phone for her, and asked almost without hello, “How do I continue to tell the truth? I've got a character, I've got a place, but I've got a really bigger than me deadline?" And with all the wisdom she is known for, she quietly replied, “You simply say, Honey, I need you to talk to me. Then you listen.”

How many times have we heard that advice, when a story isn't working, or you can't think of a thing to write about except a funny character, a place you remember. So get on with it. Channel those characters. Talk to them. Let them tell you their stories. Maybe, if you're lucky, plot will follow...

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Children's Book Week

In honor of Children's Book Week, I'm thinking about my favorite kids' books of all times. I'm inspired by one of my favorite writers- Barbara O'Connor. Check out her blog entry and read the comments to find out what some really good writers have to say about well-written books that influence their writing.

I think the first books that made me appreciate the excitement of being taken somewhere outside my reality (at the time my reading reality was probably Cherry Ames, Nancy Drew, et al.) were the Alice books. Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. I still remember reading them during our family's required summer Polio Naps. After raising her twin daughters, my grandmother returned to college and taught 4th grade for about a million years so birthday gifts from her were always something other than Nancy and Cherry.

It was a while before I read books like a writer, however. Paying attention to the richness of the language, the characters, and dare I say it, the dreaded plot. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson was a favorite with my students and I remember reading it aloud to 5th graders at Bryn Mawr School. She was one of the first writers I actually met and had a conversation about writing with. As she answered the students' questions about how she wrote the book, I began to realize how this writing thing might become a possibility. I love the way Kate DiCamillo tells a story. More recently, I've appreciated the historical fiction of Laurie Halse Anderson, the close research required to write so truthfully of a time period. And until I discovered and dissected the Southern-themed books by Deborah Wiles, Kerry Madden, Barbara O'Connor, and Cynthia Rylant, I didn't understand "voice" in books written for kids.

So today's the first day of Children's Book Week, a day to begin thinking about what books influenced you as a reader. What did you read on those long summer days or after your lights were supposed to be out?

Happy Mother's Day, and Grandmothers, too

The fun thing about reviewing a book you truly relate to is what you learn from it. Rather than reading for fun, you must concentrate, pay attention and think while reading. Unlike my airplane books and beach reading. So when I was asked to review Eye of My Heart for the Christian Science Monitor, I was delighted. And not disappointed.

So many of my favorite writers contributed: Elizabeth Berg, Judith Viorst, Ellen Gilchrist, Mary Pipher- to name just a few. There were 27 essays about being a grandmother.

So not only did the topic interest me, the writing was a lesson in what makes a perfect essay. I know about these things, even though I'm still struggling to write the perfect essay, from my New Jersey writing group. I've blogged about this fabulous group of writers and critiquers before. Our group met weekly for over five years, till everybody started moving. And now we're trying to meet online and hoping this works. But until I started reading aloud what I thought were essays (mine) and learning that there needed to be a Point, a So What, I was just creating moments in time. A story with a story arc, if I was lucky, but no true takeaway point.

So listen to near the end of Beverly Donofrio's essay "Ten Straight Days" about a walk to the Statue of Liberty with her grandson:

When I return in three or four months, he'll probably say: Are we there yet? He'll be singing the alphabet, putting on his own shoes. I want to freeze-frame this time, this age, this moment. But life isn't like that--nothing stays the same.

Amen to that. A whole lot of truth. And writing excellence. What more can you ask of a book?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Food Glorious Food Writing!

The James Beard Awards were just announced. There's a big long list of them at the website. Among the winners- John Currence , the chef at City Grocery in Oxford, MS (yum). A whole bunch of NYC restaurants (big surprise), and one of my favorite new cookbooks. I just finished reading this one by Martha Foose. Loved it. Especially loved the stories.

The Washington Post's food section was honored. A Gourmet Magazine piece by the late, great Edna Lewis about what Southern food really is. And a winning food blog. So many things I'll have to check out. Since I love reading/ writing about food, and sampling new great places to eat, this shouldn't be too hard.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

On Meditation

OK, so my wonderful yoga teacher now has us meditating at the beginning of each class. I'm trying but I don't yet understand meditation. Or I didn't but now I'm beginning to unravel the puzzle. How'd I do it? I opened my copy of Billy Collins' 180 More Extraordinary Poems for Every Day to page 154:

I'm at a day-long meditation retreat, eight hours of watching

my mind with my mind,

and I already fell asleep twice and nearly fell out of my chair,

and it's not even noon yet.

But, of course, by the end of Susan Browne's poem, BUDDHA'S DOGS, which you can read here and you really need to read the entire thing please, she learned something. And I learned something. Or I should say I realized something about meditation. That's what I love about poetry.
I'll read it again, maybe I'll even buy the book, before yoga tomorrow.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Most Expensive Books, 2008

OK, check out your bookshelves. Maybe there's a 1st Edition HARRY POTTER lurking there somewhere? Click here to see how much that collection, in pristine condition, of Stephenie Meyer's books might bring. Quite a bit, it seems. Too bad I don't know anybody who owns them. Wait a minute! Wonder how much that first edition of A TIME TO KILL that Uncle George gave me is worth...

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Fifty Years Ago

From the Times Book Review section today- an Oldie (but Goodie?) list. Not sure about the Goodie part. I remember them from my parents' bookcases. And from old movies made from a few.

on the list published on May 3, 1959:

1) “Doctor Zhivago,” by Boris Pasternak.
2) “Exodus,” by Leon Uris.
3) “The Ugly American,” by William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick.
4) “Lolita,” by Vladimir Nabokov.
5) “Dear and Glorious Physician,” by Taylor Caldwell.