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

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

On Returning to Writing from a 3-day Hiatus...

Even the best writers get distracted some days:

Returning the Pencil to Its Tray

Everything is fine---
the first bits of sun are on
the yellow flowers behind the low wall,
people in cars are on their way to work,
and I will never have to write again.

Just looking around
will suffice from here on in.

Who said I had to always play
the secretary of the interior?

And I am getting good at being blank,
staring at all the zeroes in the air.

It must have been all the time spent
in the kayak this summer
that brought this out,

the yellow one that went
nicely with the pale blue life jacket---

the sudden, tippy
buoyancy of the launch,
then the exertion, striking
into the wind against the short waves,

but the best was drifting back,
the paddle resting athwart the craft,
and me mindless in the middle of time.

Not even that dark cormorant
perched on the NO WAKE sign,
his narrow head raised
as if he were looking over something,

not even that inquisitive little fellow
could bring me to write another word.

---Billy Collins

Related posts: Poetry Day

Friday, September 25, 2009

Forest for the Trees

I always forget about this blog. And then I spend an entire afternoon catching up with her. Not sure why it's such fun to read. Perhaps it's Betsy Lerner's venting about publishing (her words, not mine) and advice about writing (I scrolled all the way down to the post about Page Breaks. That I enjoyed it shows how strange my reading has become).

So it was fun reading the True Confessions from editors about "the ones that got away." Check it out. Along Came a Spider? Prep? Cold Mountain, rejected because it didn't ring true to a publisher who claimed she knew her Civil War sites?

That's where I'm headed. Back for more distractions. Kind of like the proverbial fly on the wall, listening in.

I voted!

Check out the National Book Foundation's website and vote for your favorite collection of Short Stories. So far, Flannery O'Connor is in the lead. It was a tough decision, but I had to cast my vote for Miss Eudora...

Related posts: Don't Mess With Flannery

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Before the day ends, it just wouldn't be right not to acknowledge what we've all been celebrating today:



Yay! Check out that website and learn lots about commas and the rest of the gang!

All You Need to Know About Publishing and Publicity...

Just ran across this LIVE blog from the Writers' Digest conference on publishing. Whew. My mind is wheeling with a lot of information. After scrolling down through most of the posts, I feel a little like I was there. Or at least somebody I knew was there, telling me about it, breathlessly.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Magician's Elephant

Kate DiCamillo has a new book, just out. I loved Because of Winn-Dixie, the minute I read it. Some of her other books have taken me a while to warm up to, but I always end up being a huge fan. I read The Magician's Elephant more than once, but it captivated me each time. Here's my review, in today's Christian Science Monitor.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Wasting time...

OK, everybody, up from your desks! Rush right down to the refrigerator.

Hmm. On second thought, just click right here and have some fun wasting time with REFRIGERATOR POETRY!

Need another time waster? Let's call it jiggling the brain and make it worth while. You know you love that refrigerator poetry.

Whew. I'm feeling smarter already.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Voice

On the question of voice in writing, I've heard lots of advice:
"Channel your character." "Write a letter in the character's voice." "Read it aloud till it sounds right."
Lots of workshops, many articles, entire books devoted to that mysterious concept of Voice. But what, really, is voice in a novel or a picture book?

Honestly, I haven't really tried to figure it out, and maybe that's because I hear my characters speaking to me, and I'm afraid if I think too hard on it, they might disappear. Many sound distinctively southern, but they all sound as if they are talking. Does that make sense?

I know voice is more than that. And here is a really good explanation by a writer who knows what she's talking about. Still, I'm glad to read that it does little good to think about it while you are writing. Good to know.

Read Marion Dane Bauer's interview on Through the Tollbooth:

I don’t think we are born with our voice. It does come ...through reading and the practice of writing. I do think, however, that our voice rises up out of who we are and that it does little good to think about voice when you are writing.
Concentrate on knowing your character. Your perceiving character will impact your voice in every story even when you are writing in third person. And concentrate on writing the very best you can. Voice will simply be part of the package. You will know you have fallen into the voice that is right for you when you can feel the energy behind the words.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Field Trips

My stay in New Jersey this summer and fall has been marked by field trips. Not the kind I used to make with third grade classes to Waterloo Village and the aquarium at Coney Island, or with the fourth graders to Ellis Island. And not even the story-gathering kind, those trips down Memory Lane with my sister and brother and my Mississippi friends.

Nope, this year I've been venturing out to places I've never been before. Thanks to Al and Barbara for taking me to Bayonne New Jersey's own 9-11 Memorial.

Like any good field tripper, I did my research in advance, which led me to the New Yorker article on the link above.
Love this line:
(After a Jersey City arts organization rejected it) turned out that Bayonne, a city where artists do not exert undue influence, was in the market for a 9/11 memorial.

The Memorial is not without controversy. In fact, that's how I first heard about it. An email claimed it was the memorial that some folks wanted to sweep under the rug, that nobody knows about it, that it was a gift of the people of Russia. Which turns out to be partially true. It is a gift from Russia. But nobody's trying to sweep it anywhere. There are numerous 9-11 Memorials in many little boroughs and small cities all over New Jersey. And a lot of them are not that well known, even though they are very impressive.

Bayonne's memorial is breathtaking actually. To get to the site, we were happy to have a GPS. But once there, we were in awe, first of all, of the setting. The view of the NYC skyline is exactly where the Twin Towers once stood, directly across the river.

The sun reflects off the monument and turns it golden in the late afternoon. The monument depicts a teardrop and is impressive in its size. You can't help but feel moved standing there, looking up and looking across.

Bayonne has a lot to be proud of.

And that line about Bayonne from the New Yorker? Fuhgeddaboudit. Bayonne may not be Jersey City or Hoboken, or even any kind of arts center, but they've got at least one terrific Italian restaurant. Pasta to die for. Cheesecake that made me want to order a whole one to bring home. Chicken so tender and so well prepared that I will forever hold it as a gauge to measure all other chicken dishes by. All this and 50% off the menu during the week. We almost fainted when the check arrived.

Now that's the kind of field trip I hope to repeat before departing the Garden State this winter.

Photos courtesy of Jay Scattergood

Related posts: Chatham's 9-11 Memorial

Monday, September 14, 2009

Just Another Day in the City

It was dreary and sprinkled rain most of the day on Saturday, but we decided that just kept the crowds off the High Line. And we loved walking the entire length of the restored train tracks in the drizzle. With views over the street and into the adjoining windows, the New York City High Line is a perfect window into the city.

And what a fascinating setting for a story. I mean, how can you not love a place with a history that documents the last freight carried:

1980-The last train runs on the High Line pulling three carloads of frozen turkeys.

Little boys especially, and maybe a few big ones, were captivated by the chaises on wheels. "Look, Mom, tinkertoys!"

Although not completely evident in this rain-soaked photo, the wheels did have a tinkertoy-ish look.

I can't wait to go back on a dryer day, take up residence on a comfy chaise and open my notebook. What a great place to write and to read.

The summer wildflowers have almost ended, but there will be more next summer. After all, who would dare tamper with the blossoms after reading the signs?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Al Capone

September is new book time. For kids in school and for book reviewers like me. I love opening the mail and seeing my special review copies, knowing I get to have an opinion and write about it before it even hits the bookstores. Much more fun than writing about books and authors and all those other assignments from my own school days.

Whenever possible, I review books I love. And if I had my way, most would be kids' books, especially middle grade and YA fiction. And this fall there are so many to love!

My review of AL CAPONE SHINES MY SHOES appeared this weekend in the Christian Science Monitor. What a great book! The kind of story you can recommend totally without reservation to a whole host of kids. Not one reason not to love this book. Sometimes I have to frame my personal recommendations, when asked, with a clarification. There are no "yes, buts" when you describe this one. Not this one and not the other "Al Capone" story-- Al Capone Does My Shirts.

These two novels by Gennifer Choldenko are totally not about Al Capone. They just happen to take place on Alcatraz Island, the prison where Capone and his cronies were sent in the 1030s. And he is in the story. But so is baseball, autism, friendships, moral dilemma, and lots of food references. Which of course, I love. Pass the the cannolis, please!

But the story belongs to Moose Flanagan, his friends and family. Just a great voice, a funny story, perfectly told and perfect for middle grade readers, older kids, and even parents and teachers.

Go ahead. Put it on your wish list. Reserve it at the library. Buy it for your favorite niece or nephew. Best aunt/uncle/ grandma/grandpa award, coming right up!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Another September 11th

I guess there are a lot of us who will wake up every September 11th, for as long as we live, and remember what it was like, where we were, who we were worried about in 2001. Today seems different somehow. For one thing, it's dreary, and gloomy rain has been coming down steadily all morning. On other September 11ths, when the sun was bright and the flags were everywhere, I was always reminded of the day we'll never forget.

Today we turned on the TV and heard Mayor Bloomberg tell us that this will be a day of service, from now on. I like that idea and hope it works. I read all the comments from my Facebook friends, remembering people they'd lost, remarking about how long it has been. And I read the front page of the New York Times, the article about how the city never thought they'd get to September 12 and beyond. Yet, here we are.

We're going to the Museum of Modern Art, to dinner, to walk around the city tomorrow. Taking the train with friends. All those things that some predicted we'd never do without fear.

So even though I'm not seeing the sunshine and the flags today, I'm still remembering.

Related post: A Beautiful September Day

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Looking for Alaska

I liked this young adult book a lot so appreciated the reminder of this quote. Kind of like my life and my bookshelves:

"Have you really read all those books in your room?" She laughed. "Oh God no. I've maybe read a third of 'em. But I'm going to read all of them. I call it my Life's Library. Every summer since I was little, I've gone to garage sales and bought all the books that looked interesting. So I always have something to read." --Looking for Alaska by John Green

Thanks to teen blogger Lexi for this. Also fun to see what books actual real-live avid readers, of the book's intended age group, are reading.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Inspiration and Imagination

"What I Did on my Summer Vacation"

Remember those required writing essays? Even the youngest children know they are coming. And know, to impress the new teacher, it's good to have topics other than
Ate sno-cones, Read a lot of beach books, Cooked fish on the grill.

But, thankfully, my friend Eileen Harrell just shared this quote with me, paraphrased from Thomas Merton:

“The imagination needs time to browse.”

I've been thinking about that during these last days of summer. Labor Day weekend always marked the end of my children's and my own (grown-up) summers, with school following on the heels of the holiday. Mind you, I never knew that Labor Day was a holiday till I moved out of the South. My astute father always said that Labor Day and Daylight Savings Time were inventions of those living outside any economy that depended on farming. "Cows can't tell time," he'd remark. Nor was Labor Day weekend acknowledged by livestock where I grew up.

But here I am, in a place where this first September weekend is a big deal. The summer is ending, there's a chill in the evening air, and I've even detected a bit of color in the Japanese maples.

I've had lots of time and lots of people this past week to inspire my imagination.

All sorts of things-- from caterpillars. . .

to cute puppies . . .

And so another summer ends, with beautiful sunsets and plenty of time to let the imagination wander.

photos courtesy of Steve Marino and Jay Scattergood

Remember: Imagination needs time to browse.
And browse away!

Possible related posts: My Dad and Trains
My Life With Dogs