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

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.