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

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Great Boxing Day Blizzard- HoHoHo?

I hope everybody had a great Christmas. I'm snowed in, warm and toasty, with my family in New Jersey. Yes, I know, the blizzard of the decade and all that stuff. Don't ask.
But we survived and now it's time to hunker down with a good book. Or maybe a thought-provoking blog entry.

 Here's a suggestion- my turn over at A Good Blog is Hard to Find, that great group of Southern writers that are such fun to follow.

Click right here for my thoughts about eBooks. And Book Spying. And a few other things.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas in Florida

Yes, we are walking around coatless and mittenless. There's no fireplace for stocking-hanging with care. But last night we walked along the waterfront in downtown St. Petersburg and the moon could take your breath away, low-hanging and orange. We saw the huge-- well not quite Rock Center or White House huge-- but a plenty big enough Christmas tree. There were ice skaters! (was that a plastic rink?) Holiday cheer to go all around!

 And today's paper announced we've been named (by whom? but it's true!) the Sunset Capital of  (what- World, Country, State?) Something good.
Beautiful sunsets trump snowstorms, I do believe.

As we strolled back to the car, we passed the new Chihuly gallery. Another fine reason to live in or visit Tampa Bay. 

Merry Christmas, good reading, happy cooking and eating, to all!
Check back for more great books, writing tips, and whatever else I can find to share with you in 2011.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mock Newbery Awards

December is a time for family, Christmas trees, baking and eating, right? And it's followed by (my least favorite holiday, really) New Year's Eve and those dreaded resolutions.

But to me, January will forever be the time of Newbery and Caldecott Awards. And December the time for reading lots of new books.

At the last two schools where I was the librarian, we focused much of January on these award-winning books. For the younger children, it was all about the best picture book of the year. While the 5th graders read new, potential Newbery contenders. Having spent a lot of time reading and discussing past winners and the criteria for the award, and even having guest speakers who'd been on the committee, my students voted on their favorite and listened with great interest to the announcement from the American Library Association's Mid-Winter Conference.

Once they even traveled to D.C. from our school in Baltimore, dressed in costume and wearing signs supporting their choice, to be present at the actual announcement. Now, traveling would not be necessary! I think the announcement is streamed live for schools to hear.

And now, instead of discussing our favorite choices, together with young readers, I follow blogs and email fellow writers about our favorite books. Here's the original Newbery Blog, picking its shortlist.

FORGE by Laurie Halse Anderson

KEEPER by Kathi Appelt

SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos

THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE KKK by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

SIR CHARLIE by Sid Fleischman

THE KNEEBONE BOY by Ellen Potter

THE DREAMER by Pam Munoz Ryan

DARK EMPEROR by Joyce Sidman

A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS by Megan Whalen Turner

COUNTDOWN by Deborah Wiles


ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia

Remember, that's just one blog's opinion!
Although there is no nominated list, and only the committee knows what books are truly under consideration (anything nominated must have been published in the previous year and published in the U.S.), bloggers don't let that stop them! It's fun to speculate. Let the games begin!

Any favorites of your own so far?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

My December reading. Am I nuts?

I'm truly enjoying the book my neighbor shared with me. I've been wanting to read this for two years, since the amazing guide (thanks, Julie!) at Chartres Cathedral told his tourists that Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett was THE book to read about the building of the cathedral. So I'm just going with the flow and enjoying the story. And it's taking me to a whole new place. I'd stopped reading books that were this lengthy for various reasons, but so far I'm not ready to abandon this tome.

 However, when this quote popped up on my google page this morning, I paused to wonder if there's a message here I should consider...

The covers of this book are too far apart.
  - Ambrose Bierce

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Heading to the Bookstore

The bricks and mortar kind. On Sunday, I tried my local Borders, but the line was out the door and I gave up. A good sign for us booklovers? I hope! Today I'll visit "Florida's largest bookstore"- Haslam's-  for the few gifts remaining on my list. If you're not finished shopping, check out these  suggestions. Happy reading everybody!                                                                             

Although right this minute, I can't think of anyone to give one of my new favorite holiday novels to, if you have a teen reader, or even older, may I suggest DASH AND LILY'S BOOK OF DARES. Told in alternating voices, these two teens send readers on an adventure that's great fun. A mysterious notebook! A girl and a boy! New York  at Christmas! Here's Lily, on spending the holiday alone: "In the future, I decided I would tackle the solitude thing more enthusiastically, so long as solitude meant I could also walk in the park and pet a few dogs..."

Another book, already purchased and presented- Brian Lies' BATS AT THE BEACH. I've already written about this new picture book, but it was road-tested at our house this weekend. (When the grownup reading it continues the story even after the two-year-old lapchild wandered off, you know the book's a winner.)

I've read so many middle-grade novels this year that it's impossible to choose a favorite. But for gift-giving, I know just the kid who'd love The Red Umbrella, which I reviewed for The Christian Science Monitor this summer. Oddly enough, the only vacation my family ever took when my siblings and I were very young was to Havana, Cuba, pre-Castro. Although I was too young to remember many details, my mother's budding skills at the movie camera produced a record of the trip that we still smile about. Cuba made a big impression on me. I couldn't have imagined a more exotic place. Christina Gonzalez's account of the children whose parents sent them away from their homes to live in the United States, via "Operation Pedro Pan," is compelling and highly readable.

So Ho Ho Ho to all. I'm bundled up and off to shop!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Quote for the Day: from The Round Table

The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.

Dorothy Parker, founding member of the famed Algonquin Round Table.

(I still remember having tea at the Algonquin with one of my favorite people, LePoint Smith, who swore we were sitting at the exact table where all these great writers had once shared their libations and creations.)

Related Post: One Good Librarian

Friday, December 3, 2010

Love at First Sight?

I truly never thought I'd say this, but I love my mobile device... 
And this article in today's New York Times, in the special Personal Tech section, kind of says it all. But I disagree with the writer at the end. I don't equate my IPhone with teenage love. I'm not planning to swap it for a new or completely different model in a year or two. In fact, it's a year old now, and I'm still devoted.

(Plus, I learned a new word. Even if it's one I may never use again, I like the look and the sound of CHAMFER...)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Real Y.A.?

Way back when I first had a glimmer that writing for kids might be something I loved, the first publication I subscribed to was the newsletter of the Children's Book Insider, Write4Kids. In fact, I still have many, quite old and well-read, back issues. Now a monthly update arrives in my inbox with some regularity and I read it when I have time, though I no longer subscribe to the actual newsletter.

So I'm a little behind the times with following their new 13-year-old contributing editor. Yesterday's email brought an update, and her article on "Keeping it Real" intrigued me.
(Being a huge, adult fan of Glee-- and I agree about Glee seeming like those kids aren't really in high school- this comment in particular makes me wonder:

I watch Glee. I like Glee. But it doesn’t seem like a show about a high school—perhaps a college. They don’t even really use slang—they just have pithy insults, usually said by the adult characters on the show. Although I like the show a lot, it doesn’t feel like it’s even about teenagers.)

True? Well, she's the teenager here. She sure knows her slang, and her point about getting it right, regionally, makes sense.

So if you have a spare moment today, click on over and share with me what you think about her take on teen slang.

One thought comes immediately to my mind. Be careful of the latest. What's "in" today is gone tomorrow, before your manuscript sees the light of publishing day...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Just seen on a Bumper Sticker...

Your grandmother never says NO COMMENT.

(Somehow, this seems appropriate for the holiday season. Here's hoping your Thanksgiving was filled with stories, great food, and lots of grandmother comments.)

Friday, November 26, 2010

ROOM by Emma Donoghue

I don't often read a book that has 291 Amazon reader reviews. I checked just now because I thought I'd get a glimmer of comfort knowing somebody else had such a strong negative reaction to this novel. I didn't have the heart to plow through all those reader reviews, however. Especially since the ones Amazon chooses to put near the top are, of course, pretty much selected to get us to buy the book, right?

Like a lot of the books I read for pleasure, this one came to me via a very positive review. Then the book was short-listed for a Booker Prize. And it got not one, but two fairly glowing New York Times reviews. (Actually Janet Maslin's was not that glowing, really.)

This week NPR came out with its list of the top five most talked about books of the year, and ROOM was right there. OK, I'll give them that. It's sure being talked/ blogged/ read about.

And just now, another award.

For whatever reasons, a few weeks ago I reserved the book through my county library system. I think I started out somewhere around #58. And moved slowly up the list. Frustratingly slow. I was really looking forward to this reading experience. And come on, reading people, the book isn't that long. Why was it taking forever?

Then I got the book. I opened it right up. Couldn't wait.
And I hated it.

I think it's the voice of the young boy that bugged me. Maybe it was the pace of the writing. The general ick factor? I don't know. Everyone's taste in books is different, starting with the youngest readers. I know that from many years of librarianship. But I usually find some redeeming quality in a book so well reviewed.

(I have one theory. What do you think about this? Reviewers are raving about the"voice"- that elusive quality that everybody loves but no one can truly define. Yes, narrator Jack is a 5-year-old boy with a distinctive voice. But I read a LOT of YA and Middle-grade fiction with kid narrators whose voices are equally distinctive. For example, last night I opened Kathryn Erskine's Mockingbird, the National Book Award winner in the 2010 Young People's Literature category. That narrator-- a young girl with Asperger's-- is an amazing voice. And another nominee? One Crazy Summer? I can still hear those kids!)

But I forced myself to keep reading ROOM. By the middle I was skimming. The story picked up a bit as the boy and his mother's story moved out of its cramped quarters. I did finally finish, sort of.

"Truly memorable" one reviewer claims. I'm just not buying it. For me, not memorable at all.

Related post: Quitting Before Finishing

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Digging Deeper: Still Revising...

It's a scary thing to be told you need to dig deeper. Especially when you thought that's what you'd already done, writing-wise. And while I truly despise those character study things that ask what your main character ate for breakfast and what's lurking in his dresser drawer (It's not that I don't know this and every other mundane detail about my characters by now, I just hate filling out the little Character Profile sheets that appear in so many places purporting to teach writing craft.), sometimes thinking about a character opens up a plot twist you may not have considered.

Today I found a new way to consider my character's innermost thoughts and dreams, and how I can thwart them. You know, raise the stakes and up the ante? That good stuff?

This from Cheryl Klein set me to thinking about my main character, which made me dream up ways to create more trouble, and that, I hope, will help the Big Revision Picture to develop.

So I'll share her writing tip and hope it works for all of us-- revisioners and planners alike!

Here's what Cheryl has to say about character studies:

If I were making up a character worksheet, I’d try this:
o       LOVES
o       HATES
o       NEEDS
o       WANTS
o       FEARS
o       And then under each of those categories—WHY?
·        What these things add up to is your character’s morality—her ethical philosophy, her worldview
o       What she wants most in life
o       What she will or won’t do to get it
§        (or what can tempt or scare her into doing something)
o       And how she developed that philosophy, those loves, hates, needs, wants, etc.
·        And that’s a plot right there:  motivation; action, and backstory.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Revision Time

Trudging up revision mountain, I discovered a quote which bears remembering:

"No matter how good the writing, if it does not further the intention or progression of the work, it must be cut..."

(The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

My Quote of the Weekend...

"Forever is composed of nows."        
                                               Emily Dickinson

(thanks to writer friend Kerry Madden for this one)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bats at the Ballgame

A little boy in my life loves baseball. This month is his birthday. I'm all about giving books for any occasion, and this is what I chose for him.

I don't mind bats a bit. In fact, I'm fond of them in storybooks and for the good they do eating all those mosquitoes in real life. (Not crazy about them in the house, but that's another story...)
Brian Lies has a way with bats, both kinds.

In this newest Bat Saga, it's of course nighttime. The pictures and the rhyming story will just delight kids, I know this. The bat grounds crew "roll the foul lines, rake the mound, shape the field, and smooth the ground"-- all with a DINNER FORK!

And the flying vendors sell the most delicious snacks: Mothdogs! Cricket Jacks!

What red-blooded, all-American, baseball-toting young kid won't love Bats at the Ballgame? I hope mine does.

With all the uproar over whether picture books are being bought by parents and read to children (click that link for the recent, controversy started by the New York Times), I'd like to say I certainly hope so. From what I hear from the library community, they are being checked out by the armload. 

Brian Lies' bats stole my heart with Bats at the Beach. Oh, and of course, Bats at the Library.
Check them out if you have a young reader on your shopping list.

Related post: Bats at the Library

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Yesterday, the announcement came from the Global Language Monitor that a few new words slipped into usage. This doesn't actually make them official words, from what I understand. Just frequently-used, even if not always correctly.

None of my friends and family in the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan area will be surprised at two portmanteau words: Snowpocalypse and Snowmageddon.

(And while I'm writing- how about that fabulous word portmanteau?  Examples= smog, motel, brunch! I always loved that the original meaning was a large traveling case with two compartments.)

But back to Snowmageddon...

Here's hoping this winter brings minimal snow and lots of sunshine to my Mid-Atlantic family and former neighbors.

No more Snowpocalpses!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Secret Life of Bees

I've been uncovering all sorts of good writing advice this weekend, right under my nose. Literally. Computer files stuffed in folders. Paper files falling out of notebooks with names like "Character" and "Title picking" and "Revision."

Ha. Revision. As if that fits neatly into a computer folder. (Though it's beginning to fit much more neatly now that I've discovered/ almost mastered Scrivener!)

 Today I've been thinking about Secret Life of Bees, a book I loved. I recently re-watched the movie and, though I don't often say this about movies made from books, that movie wasn't half bad.

Now, I'm going to pay attention to some excellent writing advice I found tucked into one of those aforementioned computer folders, hiding on my desktop. This advice from Kidd has been on her website for a while, and perhaps you've read it. But I think it bears remembering. All 10 of them.

I'll share two of Sue Monk Kidd's Ten Most Helpful Things About Writing here, but you need to click on over to that link for the rest. I promise, it will be worth it.

7. Err on the side of audacity.

One day it occurred to me that most writers, myself included, erred on the side of being too careful in their writing. I made a pact with myself that I would quit playing it safe when what the story really wanted... what my heart really wanted, was to take a big chance. The best writing requires some daring-- a little literary skydiving. Look at your idea and ask yourself: how can I make this larger? The novelist E. M. Forster once said that a novel should deliver a series of small astonishments. After I finish each chapter, I read it with an eye toward figuring out where I’ve played it safe, where I backed off, where the small astonishment was lost.

8.Trust yourself, but listen to others (Certain Others)

As a beginning writer, I had to learn to trust my own creative instincts, but at the same time, gather a handful of trusted readers who would tell me the unmitigated truth. I had to learn how to detach enough from my work to listen genuinely to their advice and criticism, to see my work through their eyes. It is a difficult thing to sort out, but with practice I figured out how to stand by my best, most authentic impulses and words, while letting go of or revising the parts of my work that really were wrong, extraneous, unaffecting and plain mediocre. I eventually became ruthless about cutting my work. Sometimes it’s like pruning a tree-- the best work grows from the severed place.

Related posts: Writing About the 60s

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Quote of the Day: Veterans Day, 2010

From my November Quaker Motto Calendar, this one, from Native American culture, somehow seems appropriate for today--

"The soul would have no rainbow if the eyes had no tears."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Glorious sunshine bouncing off tall buildings as we motor along the river. The enormity of the buildings, the stories told by our fabulous docent, the company of an old friend-- What a great place to spend a fall day or two.

I love the flatness of the city, the decent public transportation, the museums, the city gardens, the amazing food. Oh, and it helps to have a college roommate who's lived there forever in charge of two very busy days. Thanks, Patty!

Chicago has become quite a foodie destination. Dinner at a neighborhood restaurant rivaled any meal I've eaten, anywhere. Southern comfort food at a place named Kith and Kin. Shrimp and Grits! Ah, life is good.

If you go with an interest in architecture, don't miss the tours sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. 

Words are still swirling in my head from the docent's lecture: Echo Deco, "Less is more unless it's ego" (re: Mies van der Rohe), Contextual Conversation.

Devil in the White City, a book that really grabbed me, came alive as our tour guide regaled us with our 90-minute lesson in architectural history. If you don't mind a bit of graphic violence in your fiction, this book is a must-read. Rumor has it there's a movie deal underway, possibly starring Leonardo DiCaprio?

Also finishing Loving Frank, and although it's bugging me on many levels, I find Frank Lloyd Wright to be a fascinating character.

And Chicago to be an amazing city.

 Quote for the Day:
Space is the breath of art.
Frank Lloyd Wright

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Help, the movie

Check out these photos. Stills from the movie. Release date is next summer.
The little girl pictured is, according to my very interesting evening with the author in Baltimore recently, Kathryn Stockett's real daughter.

Related posts: Kathryn Stockett Appearance
The Help, the Movie 
The Book, All You Needed to Know

Friday, November 5, 2010

Now This is a Scene...

My mind seems to be focusing on scenes this week, but not necessarily this kind.

Breakfast at our local greasy spoon. Heck, can't even call it "local" as we'd never been there and just happened to be driving by. The original Skyway Jack's, so named because it's close to my favorite bridge, opens at 5 AM for the fishermen. By the time we arrived, it was past 8, so the $2.29 breakfast special had ended.

I won't even tell you what we ate. But there was discussion about bringing our Philadelphia and South Jersey friends for the scrapple when they visit this winter.

(That's scrapple, pictured. Don't ask. It's an acquired taste, so I hear...)

I might be tempted to return on Tuesday for the special:
Chicken 'n Dumplins

Although I adore Chicken and Dumplings, whether the ones at Skyway Jack's would live up to my expectations, not so sure.

This was a Scene because

1. Parking lot full. Lots of trucks. People milling around smoking outside.
2. Waitresses with potentially offensive teeshirts featuring graphic of fried eggs.
3. Uncleanliness
4. Picture hanging on the wall, obviously color-copied from a favorite kids' book: If You Give a Pig a Pancake 
(lots of pigs in residence- statues, logos, etc.)
5. Lunch counter full of overeaters
6. The publication, Creative Loafing, available for free on a rack just inside the door.

As you can see, many elements that would potentially jump off a page of fiction.
The seeming inconsistencies! The five senses! The dialogue!

And lastly, the bumper stickers for sale ($1.25 each), for example:

Give a man an inch and he thinks he's a ruler.
Hang up and drive.
Work is for people who don't know how to fish.
Grow your own dope. Plant a man.
When I die, bury me at Walmart so my wife will visit me.

What a way to start the weekend. Hope yours is filled with delectable dining experiences.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Shrinking a Manuscript

I've been intrigued with this technique since hearing about it at an SCBWI workshop a couple of summers ago. The Incredible Shrinking Manuscript just has a certain curiosity about it. I used it while trying to get the Big Picture on my recently-purchased (yay!) historical novel. Printed it out and examined the entire thing squeezed onto 30 pages.

Here's what you need to know: an article by Darcy Pattison in Women on Writing. 
Or you could buy Darcy's book, for even more details.

I'm following her blog and Facebook postings this November. She's helping writers understand more about writing in SCENES. Today there's even a helpful template.

If I can't meet a wordcount every single morning, I might as well try something new, writing in scenes.

Now if I can just figure out how to shrink my new manuscript on Scrivener and see it all at once...

Related post: Over Revising!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Quaker Motto Calendar

It's not too late to order.

(I peeked ahead as I tore off October. On the December calendar:)

"Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards."
                                                    Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) Denmark

Related post: Quaker Motto Calendar Order Form

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Writing Every Day

Re: November's writing whirlwind.
This morning my email from Gotham Writers' Workshop kind of says it all about NaNoWriMo:
a month of sharing the joys and sorrows of producing the Great Frantic Novel :

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

OK, I'll move on, even though it's not quite Day Three. Gave up very soon on the BlahBlahBlahing!
I like writing every day, but maybe I should have done more advance planning.
I need to work a little more on the scene writing thing with Darcy Pettison. Or the revision thing. Or the thinking thing.

Not taking anything away from NaNoWriMo, mind you. Just not for me, not this year.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Writing in Scenes

Kids' novels have a lot in common with scripts. I learned that from a very reliable source, many years and many false starts ago. So instead of just plowing ahead and writing a lot of blah blah blah on my middle-grade novel this NaNoWriMo (which I enjoyed doing very much last year during November, the blah blah blah), this year I think I'll learn more about writing in scenes.
 Good advice from Darcy Pattison. 

"If you’re used to writing scripts, scenes in a novel work a little bit different. For scripts, scenes are mandatory and a new scene starts any time the location changes: for example, if a character is outside a house and walks inside. Scenes in scripts tend to be short. For a novel, a scene can extend longer and cover several minor changes of setting. So, if you’re used to writing scripts, instead think of scene sequences, or a series of scenes that cover a distinct goal of a character."

She's helping writers move along with their manuscripts this month: 30 days to a better manuscript. Sounds like a plan. Give it a try!

Beginnings, middles and ends -- that's what scene-writing is all about.
In a nutshell.

In a Nutshell...

Sunday, October 31, 2010

NaNoWriMo Anyone?

How did it get to be November when I wasn't paying attention. Yes, I know, I've been distracted. But in a good way. Revisions, Scrivener, lots of October birthdays, fall weather, fall Florida weather, a long drive.
And suddenly it's NaNoWriMo.

For those of you who don't know what-the-heck I'm talking about- National Novel Writing Month. Here's the official site:

Last year, during November, just for fun, I followed a few blogs and actually wrote every single day, pretending I was part of the NaNoWriMo gang. I actually came up with something I may pursue in a future novel. If nothing else, I like my character. Her name is Azalea, a name I adore. Her grandmother was kind of inspired by someone in my childhood whose name was Narcissa and someone in my adulthood named Juliette.
So last year's NaNoWriMo writing produced something for me to think about. Is it worth giving it a spin? Are you trying it this year?

Or if you're a budding poet, try this November challenge: A Poem a Day!
I'm kind of liking my friend Sue's inspiration for writing every day. Yeah, this is more like it:
One Page A Day!!! And it even looks like a page.

Many writing opportunities for us in November. What do you think?

Related post: NaNoWriMo 2009

Friday, October 29, 2010


Uh Oh. On the way to my way to revision, I found myself with a big roadblock. A fun, intriguing, often baffling one, well worth my time, so I'm saying.

I was making such good progress with the Cheryl Klein notes from my evening at her revision workshop. 

Yes, it was getting harder. After printing out the revision in a new font, I was to read it without marking it up, noting the good stuff and the bad stuff. Then I was to list the first ten things each significant character says or does. Fun! I like this so far!

Then Cheryl's handout sheet says run the plot checklist at
Still good, though getting harder.

But wait!
I was just about to change my font and print out the entire revision when I got a message on Facebook that the writing software, Scrivener, had a new deal (big savings if you are participating in NaNoWriMo and complete the word count!) and an upgrade. I'd tried Scrivener before and gotten totally bogged down with the complicated bells and whistles. This time, I listened to the easy tutorial that hit the high spots and I gave it a whirl. 

No, it's not going to help with word choice, characterization, or the voice of your novel (BTW, I love how Cheryl Klein defines voice: "Kind of like air- hard to talk about..."),  but it's a neat way to organize.

Before Scrivener, I was a huge fan of stickie notes. I had a zillion legal pads, multiple versions on my computer, in a word-- a mess (but I do kind of like those Frida Kahlo stickies my friend Ivy gave me for my birthday):

Now I'm wrestling this revision into shape. If I don't get bogged down again with all the bells and whistles. So far, I'm a huge fan of Scrivener. 

Now if I could just figure out how to change the color of those pushpins...

Soon I'll get back to my notes from the excellent Revision Workshop. More to come, at a later blogpost.
But now I'm busy adding more notecards.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Part 2: Examination

This is the meaty part of Cheryl Klein's revision process from the SCBWI NYC Metro evening. Remember, much of what Cheryl teaches is on her website:

I'll pick a couple of highlights as I undertake them. This could take a while.

Are you ready?

Change the font. (I like this!) 
Print out and read the entire manuscript on the page before making any revisions. (note to self: This is not easy. No marking up the page?)

As you read, take notes on both the good stuff and the bad stuff. 
List the first TEN things each significant character says or does (includes internal thought for your POV character). This is a way to find out what your characters are up to at the beginning. Are they sympathetic characters?

OK, off to work. As I said, this may take a while...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Still Revising!

This morning I'm still working on Part I of Cheryl Klein's notes from the NYC Metro SCBWI revision workshop. In a few days, I hope I'll blog about Part II: EXAMINATION, which is considerably more involved, will involve a ton of hard work, and I hope to get to soon. (Lofty aspirations?)

For now, I'm trying to come up with these two points about my manuscript:

All the things you love about it ("amazing things that nobody has done before")
What you suspect needs work ("catalog of faults")

Harder than you'd think when revising without looking at a story you know well but have put in that proverbial bottom drawer for a couple of months...

Back to work! All of us!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Time for Revision, with Help from a Pro

Could they possibly have known exactly what I would need, at exactly the right time?

Just as I was about to pull out a manuscript I'd begun a while back at one of the amazing Highlights Founders Weekends, the NYC Metro SCBWI announced their first Tuesday Professional series, with Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein. Having met her at a Rutgers One-on-One conference a while back, and being a follower of her blog, I had my check written the minute I noted the announcement.

In a word, Wow.

Cheryl told us this is how she works with her authors, the ways she helps them through a revision. My critique group has decided to work on some of her suggestions.

We're beginning with her first topic: VISION.

Please do not quote this blogpost as being verbatim from Cheryl. But here goes, my notes combined with her hand-out sheet.

Take some time off from the project, to get into a "fresh place." (I've been away from this project since June, so I'm good here.)

Don't even look at the manuscript again. First write a letter to a sympathetic friend, BEFORE YOU RE-READ the story. This is a tool for your use.

Here's what you want to tell yourself/ your friend/ colleague/ imaginary listener etc.:
a. What did you want to do with the book, and/or what did you want the book to do.
b. What the story is, briefly. (adventure? romance?)
c. What the book is "about" in a larger sense. (the emotional theme)
d. All the things you love about it, the amazing things that nobody has done before.
e. What you expect needs work: a "catalog of faults."

Now, take b, above and compress the story into one sentence, the "overall action" that is making the story move.

Expanding off this sentence, write a 250-word summary that gives away the ending.
(This is what our Critique Group is doing- due tomorrow- Yikes, I'd better get busy!)

These next two suggestions are helpful ideas that don't actually speak to me, but they may to others:

Make a collage for the book.
Make a playlist for individual chapters, characters, or the book as a whole.

Now you have a revision beginning! I'll share the rest of the talk on another blogpost. Soon. Great stuff!

Cheryl's website:

Related post: Cheryl Klein

A Good Blog...

It's my turn over at the group blog I write for. Although we have assigned topics about writing, we don't always have to follow. This time up, I took the guidelines and fiddled a bit. Our fearless leader, Kathy Patrick (who's vying for a spot on Dancing With the Stars! An author spot!) suggested we blog about books that have inspired us, who our favorite authors might be, who is our author Best Friend.

I wrote about two writers. One from my earliest writing and editing days in Cleveland High School. By my senior year, Miss Effie Glassco had taught senior English at CHS, possibly since my dad had been in school there. We studied the textbook I would use in my freshman college English class (which I was able to slide through because of Mrs. Glassco!), and for our literature assignments, there was no looking at the book during discussions. Either you knew it or you were mortified. This was in the days of "tracking" and we were probably what would now be AP English, and I'd never studied so hard in my entire high school career. But wow, did I learn a lot.

My second Author Best Friend, from the post, is the person frequently on the other end of my HELP! emails and phone calls, Leslie Guccione. She's one of those mentors who believes in passing the goodness around, paying it forward.

If you click over to the Southern Writers blog, be sure to spend some time there. Kerry Madden wrote a recent post about her favorite book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Don't miss it. You'll probably find some of your Author Best Friends there, waiting to be read!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Car Talk Wisdom

Don't you just love it when you turn on the radio and there are the Car Talk Guys? I mean, I know about Saturday mornings, but this afternoon? An unexpected treat.

Not sure what they were talking about when I tuned in, but I caught this and laughed to myself for the rest of my errand-running.

"A friend is somebody who helps you move.
A really good friend is somebody who helps you move a body."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Happy birthday, Dr. Jack!

If ever there was a real character in my life, my dad was it. I could write a book about him: his shall-we-say colorful language, his love of animals, his musical talents, his amazing medical education and skill.

Recently I re-read a funny story Eudora Welty, a woman of his generation, told about herself. As a young child, she loved to sit in the backseat of the family car, her mother and her mother's friend on each side, for drives around Jackson. "Now talk," she'd say, and of course, she'd listen.

That's the way I felt about Sunday dinners around our family table: "Now talk!"
All I wanted to do was listen.

My dad was a great storyteller, regaling the visiting preacher, my friends, a stray neighbor or two-- anyone who'd listen.

I still have people I don't even know tell me how much they loved Dr. Jack. Maybe he'd set a broken arm, perhaps he'd delivered them (for a while, he was the only doctor in our little town who delivered babies), stitched up a cut, charmed off a wart (yes, he did). His medical talent was legend. His training was as a chest physician; he considered himself a country doctor.

He married late by today's standards, and sadly, died young. Today would be his 99th birthday. In honor of this momentous occasion, I'll share some memories.

Once he brought a pet monkey into our family. Our mother refused to let it into the house. A patient of his took it and raised it, naming it "Jackie." In fact, he frequently claimed to find exotic pets on the side of the road. We had rabbits, parakeets, Dobermans, a chihuahua (supposedly good for my allergies, justification for owning this tiny canine even before they became celebrity pets), a very large long-haired Persian cat. He adored four-legged things so much that once he anesthetized an injured fawn and set her broken leg, in the same office where he treated his human patients.

Besides the colorful language, my dad had a few other questionable traits. He smoked White Owl cigars. This was before the Surgeon General's report came out and physicians collectively chose to oppose smoking. After that, Daddy stopped, and encouraged his patients to follow suit.

The only time I've ever really written about my father was a Christian Science Monitor essay a few years ago. It was mostly about Elvis, but I did write this about my dad:

Music was in my blood. My father had lived in New Orleans before settling into the life of a small town country doctor. With him, I sang along with Louis Armstrong’s “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” on the radio. Before I could walk, I danced on the tops of my father’s polished shoes to the beat of Fats Waller’s band. I thought Blue-Room-of-the-Roosevelt-Hotel, where my dad had worked as a ticket taker to earn college spending money and free admission, was an elaborately exotic word for a place I longed to visit.

In the picture below, that's Dr. Jack, back row, middle, the handsome young man hanging with his college friends, all dressed up for dancing at the Blue Room.

Friday, October 15, 2010

National Book Awards

An interesting list of nominations...

Which includes one of my favorite kids' books of the year, Rita Williams-Garcia's One Crazy Summer.

Winners to be announced in New York on November 17.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Diner Food...

As we pack up and head south each year, it's always bittersweet. The New Jersey leaves turn a breathtaking bright orange, yellow, red, but the nip of fall in the air and the nights requiring extra blankets remind me how much I do not like winter in any way, shape or form. No snow. No slush. No ice.

Leaving food is another thing. And local color, when it comes to food, is almost as bittersweet as missing the fall leaves. I especially love a good New Jersey diner. (Here's a great book on New Jersey diners. The writer, Peter Genovese once spoke at our local historical society. Terrific topic.)

I'm quite fond of these shiny metal places to eat, even if the food is horrendously bad for me.

(Galaxy Diner, Butler, NJ on a beautiful summer afternoon)

The placemats are always worth keeping.
Master hypnotist,anyone?

Summit, NJ is a neighboring town where I've spent a lot of time. Worked there, wrote there, walked there, did a lot of eating there. But all this while, I never knew this story of the locally revered Summit Diner. Rumor/ urban legend has it that the Hemingway short story "The Killers" used the Diner as setting. A movie was made from the story. I've eaten at the Summit Diner a few times.

But a famous literary diner, in my very midst-
How did I not know this, Leslie, Ann, and Lee???

Related post: New Jersey in my Rear View Mirror

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Leaving New Jersey, soon...

As we depart our adopted home state and head South for a while, it seems fitting to remember the wonderful dinners shared with friends at our many favorite neighborhood spots. And the places I'll have to do without till we return next spring.

Appropriately, today, this quote was on the back of my Trader Joe's receipt:

Life is a combination of magic and pasta.
Federico Fellini

Perfect quote for a perfect summer.
Well said, Federico!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

My First Graphic Novel Review

For those of you who might not know what a graphic novel is, think comic book with a real story. It's a fairly new, extremely popular genre right now. Most libraries and bookstores devote at least a few shelves to the books.

But when I was sent G. Neri's new graphic novel YUMMY: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by the publicist, I was conflicted. I don't like to review books without understanding them completely. All I could think was how can I ever find anything to say about this book? What do I know about graphic novels? The last time I picked up a comic book I was 12...I don't understand the whole form.

Then I opened Yummy.

First of all, there's the story. It really will break your heart. Based on a Chicago street kid who accidentally killed a young girl in the neighborhood, the event made the cover of Time magazine.The black and white illustrations move the action along, yet give readers space to breathe. The introduction of a conflicted, 11-year-old boy narrator who wonders how this could happen to a sweet kid like Yummy (He sleeps with his teddy bear, loves cookies and candy bars- thus the nickname) was a stroke of Neri genius (he's had a bunch of those genius moves- I totally loved Chess Rumble, an earlier book).

Yummy will be a perfect discussion starter, in homes, in schools- anywhere kids or adults gather to wonder what's going on with all the violence in our society. The book is a great jumping-off place for talking about all the headlines, the TV news, the awful things that make us shake our heads and wonder How Did This Happen?

Just an amazing book. I can't get it out of my head.

Here's the book trailer:

Yummy: the Last Days of a Southside Shorty from Greg Neri on Vimeo.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Picture Books for Everybody

When I was a school librarian, we called them "Everybody Books." My schools served grades Pre-K through fifth grade, and Everybody liked them. They weren't "Easy" even though the spine label sported a big E. The vocabulary could be challenging. The subject matter might be historical. They were perfect read-alouds, tremendously popular with all readers.

That's why this article in today's New York Times is so disturbing. Parents steering young kids away from picture books when that's their obvious choice? Worries that young readers won't be challenged enough to get into the best colleges? Give me a break.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Old Friends, New Books

Blue Angels exhibit, National Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola, Florida. (I thought that might get your attention...)

Don't you love it when booklists emerge from the most unusual places? We expect our Book Groups to share what they are reading. Writers are always exchanging favorite titles. Teachers, hairdressers, Oprah-- none of these resources surprises me.

But now, for the second time this year, I've received book recommendations in a of group of guys who were Navy friends together. (Keep reading! There's a list at the bottom!)

Back when the wives were all getting to know each other during our husbands' flight training or later in the squadron when they deployed, we stuck together. We shared recipes, tips on raising babies, and- of course- books. But I don't really remember sitting around with the guys, discussing our favorite books.

Last weekend, after a very long time when most of us lost touch, the five couples who attended this reunion together started right in on Friday night as if we'd never missed a beat. With one exception. By Sunday night, we'd come up with a shared list of books.

We'd gathered once more at the "birthplace of Naval Aviation" in Pensacola. We visited the terrific Naval Aviation Museum, sat on the veranda of our fabulous guest quarters, toasting our years together and our happiness at still liking each other. We ate some really good food and laughed a lot. And we talked about what we've been reading. Every single one of us.

(Former squadron commanding officer, guided tour of museum. This sculpture stands at the entrance and represents the different eras of naval aviators.)

This is the diverse book list we came up with. Now, off to read!

Coroner's Quest and others by Bernard Knight
Breadfast with Budda
Measuring of America
Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
Book Thief
Blind Your Ponies by Stanley G. West
Water for Elephants
Cutting for Stone
Stones for Schools
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Ellis Theater

Ellis Theater - Cleveland, MS

Did everybody grow up in a town like Cleveland, Mississippi? My hometown was big enough to have two movie theaters (plus the Big Chief Drive-in), a college, more churches than anything else, and all the other things that made it a special place to grow up in. Like people who showed up on your front doorstep with Funeral Casseroles, New Baby Brownies and the like. Yes, everybody knew your business, but mostly they let you alone if you pretty much behaved yourself.

On Saturdays we'd walk downtown to the matinee at the Ellis. Then the theater shut down.

Unlike a lot of little towns in the South, Cleveland is a thriving place, filled with restaurants and shops and now a terrific Railroad Museum right along the beautiful walking path, created when they pulled up the train tracks, overlooking rose gardens.

And recently, the Ellis has become a fantastic center for the arts. Right now they've applied for an arts grant. It's easy to help out here, folks. Just go to this website and click the link for Delta Arts Alliance:

I love the quote in the description of the Delta Arts Alliance on the voting site:

Delta Arts Alliance's mission can be best explained in the words of Mississippi artist Eudora Welty,

"When asked what kind of art would be for 'everybody' there can only be one answer: the best."

Well said, Miss Eudora.
Now click on over there and vote.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Carolina Shag (It's a dance...)

Yes, it's a dance we did at Carolina.
A great, holding-hands-and-counting beats-while-you-learned dance. Nothing more. Wanted to clarify that right off the bat. Here's a link to everything you ever wanted to know about the shag. Maybe there's nothing you want to know. But the music was great, even if you never mastered the tricky steps.

Does dancing have much to do with writing? Maybe not. Though I may figure something out one of these days. Come to think of it, I always loved my friend Beth Jacks' essay on how she really learned to dance. And I'm in the middle of wrangling a kids' novel with a dance teacher in it. Does that count?

I learned to dance from a dreamboat of a boy named Robert. Of course, he preferred Sandra as a partner. Sandra starred in all the dance recitals and went on to teach dance classes. She could put all of us to shame. She and Beth and I danced side by side in so many recitals directed by our amazing former-Rockette dance teacher, Miss Ruth Hart.

I think they should make a movie about the Shag. A great dance movie. Maybe even set an HBO series in the Carolinas when the dance was most popular, a la Mad Men in NYC. Oh, wait. Looks like HBO already made the movie.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Kathryn Stockett

This week I had the privilege and the fun of hearing the author of The Help speak to a very bright, enthusiastic audience in Baltimore. The fundraiser celebrated The Caroline Center's 15 years of "Transforming the Lives of Women Through Education." This is an amazing organization that helps under-skilled and under-educated women prepare for the workplace.

Held at the College of Notre Dame (a women's college in Baltimore), the event was packed, the auditorium full, upstairs and down. In fact, Kathryn Stockett said it was possibly the largest crowd she'd yet addressed on her widespread tour. Looking out at the mostly female, sold-out audience, in her very Southern, surprisingly soft voice, she said "Please be gentle," and we all laughed.

I'm going to skip over how terrifically she reads from her fascinating, funny, intriguing, best-selling novel. She's just that good. (Click here if you're interesting in very insightful comments from good readers discussing the book.) I'm also going to leave out many of the things she said about the movie directed by her childhood friend Tate Taylor. There was just never anybody other than her friend under consideration to direct and write the screenplay. She spoke with great enthusiasm in answer to questions about the movie.

Well, maybe just one brief story (This week they were in Jackson "at a drugstore where we used to go all the time," she told us, but most of the scenes are filming in Greenwood because it looks a lot like Jackson did in 1963.)

Her story about her friend Tate involved stealing his dad's car and driving to New Orleans, at age 14. For those of us who grew up in Mississippi, this isn't exactly startling news. We could drive at age 15 and get a learner's permit at 14. Many took off to New Orleans, just for the excitement of it. We certainly sneaked out of our houses in the middle of the night and drove our parents cars around the neighborhood. But I digress...

The reason she told the story was to illustrate their theory that it was better to ask forgiveness than permission. And that she was a wild hellion, "hell on wheels" in fact, with a co-conspirator to whom she's fiercely devoted. She told how she and Tate dreamed up awful things (at this point there was a huge clap of thunder outside the auditorium and the skies opened up). She thinks perhaps that was how she was able to conceive of the Pie Scene...

Here are some of the audience questions, with answers. The questioners were articulate, mostly not asking the "how do you get your ideas" type I often hear at writing conferences and workshops. I really liked that about the evening.

One disclaimer: I am, of course, paraphrasing. I didn't record anything. These are just my notes. Please do not quote these answers as if they are the exact words of Kathryn Stockett. On a few occasions, I'll put quotation marks around something that was pretty much an exact quote.

Q: What was the reaction to the book from your friends and family?

A: After over 60 rejections from agents, my mother was so happy. Most family members have been supportive. (Here she hesitated but gave no clarification.)

To a follow-up question about why all the rejections, she explained that her "
story was not there yet."

Q: How did she research the African American characters' stories and voices of the time?

A: She wishes she'd done more. She used the Jackson phone book to get a sense of what the culture was. She doesn't like to do research. She likes to listen.

(My own note: Stockett was not alive in 1963. She admits to not having interviewed many/ any African American women who lived during these times.)

Q: Why was the Naked Man in the book? Was that a symbol of anything?

A: (laughingly answered!) She's now putting one in every book she writes because the publisher told her it didn't belong in the story...
(real answer) Because she didn't just want the story to be just about race. She wanted to show how there's not that much that separates us.

When she grew up in Jackson, she was completely unaware that there was a race problem. She grew up in the "white bubble" parents created around her and her friends. She never saw her beloved maid's house, never went to the Black side of town. Surprisingly to me, she knew nothing of her maid's personal life.

"I am so proud that so much has changed, that people are talking about race," Stockett said. She's glad her book has opened up the topic for discussion, even though it has always been taboo.

The last question/ comment came from an African American woman near the front. She admitted that she hadn't yet read the book but that she's looking forward to it. She herself is a nanny to a young white boy, and she described the amazing love they have between them. How she drops him off at school and has even been mistaken for his mother by his young classmates and even by a substitute teacher. ("My how the times have changed," I heard a woman behind me say.) The speaker then told of growing up in Baltimore, of attending one of the first high schools to integrate in the 1960s. (Here I'm paraphrasing.) "We all got along just fine, black and white. And then Roots came along and everybody wanted to be Kunta Kinte." A funny, articulate lady, she told Kathryn Stockett she'd be happy to go with her to the awards ceremonies! Then she told us how she was a graduate of the Caroline Center and proud to speak a little about growing up Black in the 60s in the South. (My own note here: if anybody ever tries to say that Baltimore isn't the South, they have no clue. I lived there. I love the place! It's very Southern.)

Yes, my how the times have changed.

What a fitting ending for a wonderful evening.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Good Blog...

Our Southern Writers blog has a new administrator, and all the members are taking this blogging turn to reintroduce themselves. If you haven't visited A Good Blog is Hard to Find, this might be an excellent time to click on over. (In other words, tonight was my time to post.) There are some truly amazing writers over there. Check it out.

Related post: A Good Blog...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Writing Quote for the Day...

Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very" --your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~Mark Twain

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Baltimore's Best- Natalie Standiford

I lived there for a while and loved the city of Baltimore. Great friends. I had an amazing library and great colleagues at work. The food's fabulous. What's not to like about Charm City.

True confessions. Amongst my dearest friends were a family named Standiford. Yep, that's right: Natalie's aunt and uncle, and I even knew her parents fairly well. But until recently, I hadn't put two and two together to realize what terrific books Natalie Standiford writes. I adored How to Say Goodbye in Robot. Loved it.

Her new book just hit the shelves and Baltimore might as well be a featured character, a starring role. What I appreciate about both of these recent reads is how much teens really love them. Click here for a fun interview, with pictures of Natalie as a teen herself.

A lot has been written lately about grownup readers who love the Young Adult genre. With books like Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters, it's easy to see why.

Now, I know that Natalie's family is nothing like the Sullivans. Nothing. But I'm not saying I didn't know these people when I lived there. That's how authentic the book feels. Debutantes. Wealthy relatives. Neat old houses. It's all there. Anne Tyler for teens, I kept thinking as I read this one.

Note to family members. I will never blog like Jane Sullivan and neither will you, right?

Related post: Goodbye in Robot: One of My Favorite YAs of the season

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chatham's September 11th Memorial

On September 11th, downtown Chatham was so busy, the town center so filled with people, that I couldn't get close enough to take this picture. So I stopped by yesterday on my way to the bank across the street.

If you look closely, you'll see flowers and notes left last Saturday.
There are three memorials in town. This one is in front of the Fire Station, near the gazebo, and it honors the firefighters and first responders. Like the one near the library, it contains steel from the World Trade Center. We also have a plaque and a tree planted at the train station in memory of friends who took the train into New York that day and never came home.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What A Day...

I love the sky in September. Today there's hardly a cloud and the blue is so beautiful it makes your heart ache. When we have these kind of days on September 11th, it's hard to forget nine years ago. Not that anybody is trying. But today, the sky just takes your breath away. I snapped a picture of our neighbor's Japanese maple, turning red against the bluest sky.

Chatham and Madison, next-door-neighbors of towns, were full of activity today. Farmers' Market, soccer games, a Green Initiative in the middle of town and yard sales in our neighborhood. It was hard to stop and remember. But I bet everybody did.

Related posts: Bayonne's 9/11 Memorial
A Beautiful September Day, 2008

Blogger Bust

Egads. I should have known better than to play around with templates early this morning.
They ate my widgets. Stay tuned. Blog being repaired. I hope...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Quaker Motto Calendar

It's time to order!

Check out the order form for these Quaker Motto Calendars and note that orders received by October 1 are guaranteed delivery by December 1st. Just in time for your holiday greetings. The calendars fit perfectly into large Christmas card envelopes, or you can tuck your own smaller cards into the calendar's envelope.

Here is a sample page from the 2011 calendar.

I love the stories that come from memories of seeing these sold at a childhood church or hanging near a much-loved grandfather's office desk. You can read about the Scattergood family's connection to the calendars in last year's blog post by clicking here. Great Aunt Margery Scattergood added her story in a letter, meticulously typed, stamped with a 13-cent "Airmail" stamp, and mailed to me in February, 1976, when I was new to the family. She explained that they were started by her father, Thomas.

Father was not gifted in the ministry, so he did not speak in Meeting but felt that getting out these calendars and distributing them would be one way he could substitute a worthwhile service instead of speaking in Meeting. He carried on the work until his death in 1907 when my brother, Henry Scattergood carried them forward and continued them until his death in 1963.

Since that time, other Scattergood relatives have kept the calendars in print. They are now put together by my sisters-in-law Marion Scattergood Ballard and Evelyn Scattergood Day. Good for them to keep this tradition alive and do their own Good Works.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Giving Advice

I seem to have gained new stature in the world. Even before my book sees the light of publishing day. Each week, somebody asks for advice about publishing that novel tucked into a drawer, hidden away, half finished.

I wish I knew the answer. In fact, I wish there were an answer! My best advice is hard work, butt in chair, network, read, learn.

Someone who's been at this longer than I, and with great success, started a conversation at her blog just now. Advice to our younger writing selves. Click on over to Kirby Larson's blog and join the conversation. Or tell me right here, what advice would you give your newbie self, re: writing?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Post Beach Books?

Last month, Newsweek's Jon Meacham editorialized on a topic near to my heart: detective novels, crime novels, and his summertime defense of the mystery/thriller genre. I particularly like the end of his essay, his answer to criticism that the books are frivolous lightweights:

" one who thinks of himself as a student of human nature can, in my view, dismiss some of the most vivid (and fun!) literature about the things that make us who we are, for better and surely for worse."

To tell the truth, I feel no need to defend. I read a lot. I read kids' books for enjoyment and edification, literary fiction when I want something worth discussing and need to think about how beautifully written a book can be, what amazing words a writer can pull from thin air.

But when I'm stuck for hours in an airport (which, sadly, I often am) or sitting on a plane next to a chatter (I do not like to talk to seatmates), give me a new P.D. James, the latest from Elizabeth George, or the new Scott Turow novel.

I'd call it my guilty pleasure but I feel no guilt.

Right now I'm reading the latest by Turow. Not only do I love the story so far, I give him high marks for how he's woven backstory from the hero's appearance in Turow's earlier novels. Which I read so long ago that they lingered only slightly in my book brain. I needed that refreshing and he gave it to me seamlessly.

(On a side note, this is the first book I've read on our new IPad. So far so good. I don't want to give up my print books, but this is working out a whole lot better than I anticipated...)

About this time last summer, Newsweek did a big book issue. Click here for links and to read my comments.

Hanging around with kid readers pushing to get summer reading lists completed this month, I silently sent a message to their teachers and librarians. Be sure to put something fun on those lists! Let kids read books of their own choosing, no restrictions, no page counts.

And for the rest of us readers- have no guilt. Read what you love. And I'd love to hear what that was this summer.