Books -- reading and writing.
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And whatever connections I can make between them.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Kate Atkinson

I'm a fan.
As you can see from my EARLIER POSTS HERE and HERE.

But I didn't love the recent Life After Life.

A friend who reads a lot described it as an Adult Choose-Your-Own-Adventure tale. 
Remember those? Read to a certain page, answer a question, choose to go to one page or another.

That was kind of how we both felt about LIFE AFTER LIFE.

Now guess what. Her next book is to be a "companion" to that one.

"In A God in Ruins, Kate will focus on Teddy, would-be poet, RAF bomber pilot, husband and father, as he navigates the perils and progress of the 20th century. For all Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge will be to face living in a future he never expected to have.

Kate's publisher said, 'A God in Ruins is a masterful companion to Life After Life, and will prove once again that Kate Atkinson is one of the finest novelists of our age.'" 

The image on the right is the U.S. cover.

Read all about it HERE,  pre-order, tell your bookstores it's coming.

I will read it and hope it's more <Brodie> than Choosing and Jumping Around
Or maybe I'll wait till she returns to the mysteries I loved.

Even loved the Masterpiece Mystery adaptation of her Jackson Brodie series.
(Though not as much as the books. Naturally.)

If you've missed this author, how about this for a strong recommendation?

Here's what another favorite crime writer, Harlan Coban, has to say:
Kate Atkinson is an absolute must-read. I love everything she writes.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

And the WINNER is...

So I thought it would be fun to let Rocky the Rockstar choose a winner for my book's ARC (Advanced Reader Copy).

He seemed less than interested at first.

With a little encouragement, he finally put his paw on a winner!

I think BRENDA of ProseandKahn was the first entry. Or one of the earliest. 
So congrats to you and thanks for reading.

I'm saving the names, however. I <think> I may be getting more than one "extra" ARC. If so, I'll send a few more out. Stay tuned!

I do love sharing.
Thanks so much for your interest in THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Thank you, Scholastic!

I totally love my editor, my publisher, and all the amazing people who are bringing this book into the world.

Check out Scholastic's new online preview HERE

Editor Andrea Pinkney introducing THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY, mid-way through, melted my heart. She and my book are in the Middle Grade section, along with a lot of other brand new books I can't wait to read.

(Confession: Had to fast-forward through the part about THE HONEST TRUTH. A debut novel I'm just beginning and can't put down.)

Here's the link right to the Middle Grade New Books section:

Thursday, November 13, 2014

More ARCs!

The lovely people at Scholastic just told me they are sending me a few more ARCs. (Advance Reader Copies/ Uncorrected Proofs/ Galleys- many names but basically it's my second book! Yay!)

I would love to share.

If you'd like one, leave me a comment on the blog.
Or on Facebook. 
Or Retweet this link.

I'll pick somebody by Sunday. 
Or maybe a couple of somebodies.

(I bet Rocky the Rockstar bassett will help me choose.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Don't Miss This Blog

Are you following Dorian Cirrone's blog?

If not, you should be. 
Amazing writing craft tips.

Great recent post, especially the paragraph about NAMES. (see link below)

I love finding the perfect name for a troublesome character. It's crucial that we nail our characters' names, don't you think? 

A few currently under consideration for my latest effort.

 (One of these days, I WILL find a use for Taxi Jones.)

Check out what Dorian says about the names and what they say about their characters in Liar & Spy.  
I was always intrigued by "Georges." I mean, who uses that for a kid's name in a book? A terrifically talented writer, that's who. 

Here's the link:

Sunday, November 9, 2014

More on Characters

As a rule, I'm not a fan of those character study things. But I am a fan of having at least a vague idea of what you're going to be writing before you start writing. 

Note, I said VAGUE
My characters seem to develop as I write.
Other writers may know it all before they put pen to paper. I say, whatever works.


My Highlights buddy Rosi Hollinbeck has a really good blog. She finds super stuff to share. And she just shared THIS, via Kathy Temean, a kind of fun way to look at/for a new character.

There are 90 questions. 
I figure if I dream up ten of them, I'm good...

  1. Any negative forces around your character?
  2. Does your character have anyone to confide in?
  3. Is your character afraid of anyone? Or anything?
  4. What is his/ her biggest fear?
  5. Would you say your character is selfish?
  6. What annoys him?
  7. Is she a bully?
  8. What makes him laugh?
  9. How old is your character?
  10. What does your character look like?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Nerdy Books: Top Ten

Do you follow the folks at the Nerdy Book Club?
They welcome bloggers, teachers, writers, librarians.
Their posts are about everything and anything bookish.

I'm especially drawn to their Top Ten lists.

Top Ten Reasons to Marry a Nerdy Book Club Member.
Top Ten Book Characters Who Would Be Awesome Friends
Top Ten Ways to Research.

See what I mean?

Here's one I just read:

This is my favorite:

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.” – Mortimer J. Adler. I’d rather discuss one book with a student for twenty minutes than listen to a student rattle off a list of all the books they’ve read.

I'll be sharing the room with a whole bunch of Nerdy Book People at the National Council of Teachers of English conference in a couple of weeks. Can't wait.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

I'm having a Johnny Cash kind of a day...

Yesterday's Tampa Bay SCBWI event was great fun. But I've been thinking about Johnny Cash since I left that library where Shannon Hitchcock and I presented our workshop.

On the way home? Three Cash songs on the radio.

At the meeting? I shared this terrific inspiration, via Walk the Line:
Just go on over there and read it.
It's that good.

I can't wait to buy GREG NERI'S brand new picture book
He and Madeleine Kuderick are presenting at Inkwood Books on November 18.
But I've read the galleys. I loved it. 

(Shh. Don't tell. But for sure, a few people will be getting copies from me.
Check out my niece's dogs, dressed for a fancy dog walk. 
Guess what their names are? June and Cash.)

My personal connection to Johnny Cash was hearing him play in Starkville, MS, the night he was arrested, as it turned out.  

Check it out.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Even More from Mississippi

Mississippi appreciates its writers, big time.

Of course, there's Miss Eudora Welty.

On this trip, I visited her garden and a new, temporary exhibit inside her house.
The special exhibit featured her high school and colleges, one of which we share.

The flowers are still blooming. Beautiful.
We also said hello to her Night-Blooming Cereus, on the front porch. Not blooming.

I read this in her garden, a favorite quote, always has been:

But this time, my friend Ivy and I also popped into 

Check out the chairs! I love the way the shade and the sun play against these benches.

 Here's my own Willie Morris story.

I was a librarian-in-training at Simmons College in Boston. My first adventure outside the South. It snowed on November 19, hard, and again on Easter Sunday, not so deep. I loved Boston. I loved Simmons. I did not love the weather, but the people were fascinating and I loved living there.
I was always running into Yankees who knew little about my homeland.

While studying at Simmons, I worked a couple of days a week at the Harvard Medical School Library. The director was smart and well-read. And completely puzzled by me.
One day he called me into his office and held up a book. "I'm reading a good story," he said. "Willie Morris wrote it. It's about a fictional town called Yazoo."

Well, of course, as most of us know, it's Yazoo City. 
It's real. 
And it's still there.

While I'm remembering Mississippi and its writers, I can't resist re-sharing this. 
Ivy's table decorations way back when Glory Be was new.

And soon I'll have another book, The Way to Stay in Destiny, to add to her table. 
Some days it feels like a miracle.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum

What an amazing weekend!
From the lectures to the ribbon cutting, the friends who returned and the ones who live in Mississippi and worked so hard to make this weekend perfect- outstanding in every way.

(Don't you love that logo?)

Here's a link to some of the highlights from the blog of Dr. John Jung. 
Be sure to click on the link at the end of his post and scroll through the pictures. You'll feel like you were there! 

This is one of my favorite pictures from the weekend-- of my friend Bobby Joe Moon and my parents' friend, Mrs. Jane Dunlap.

She's been instrumental in beautifying our little town and personally oversees and tends the gorgeous roses near the Railroad Museum.

When I told Mrs. Dunlap how much I loved seeing her roses every time I come to visit, she said, "Go out there and talk to them and tell them you love them!"

So I did.

Bobby and one of the weekend's organizers, Frieda Quon, filled me in on the details and encouraged me to attend. And am I ever glad I did! Although I'd read Dr. Jung's book, I learned so much about the history of why we had many Chinese groceries in the Delta and about the significant contributions made by these hardworking families.

If you're in the Delta, plan a stop on the campus of Delta State University and take time to visit the museum. 

 (This one's for my many friends who've recently taken up MahJongg.
 I may have to learn. A beautiful display, don't you think?)

Sometimes research is so much more than that. It's uncovering stories and digging deeper, yes. But it's also about people. This Homecoming week was all about friends- old and new- and family. I loved it.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Quote of the Day

One of the reasons we keep plugging away, no?

(And thank you to the friend who shared this and whose identity I have forgotten/lost/misplaced...)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

More from Mississippi: Porches- A thing I love

Because I love screened-in porches and good friends as much as anything.

Here's a post from my great friends' neighbor's terrific blog. Check out the pictures and you'll understand why I love that porch.

They live in Eudora Welty's neighborhood filled with wonderful old houses and tons of front, back, side, screened porches. 

Since I don't want to <steal> one of Marsha's terrific blog pics (click on that link up there and see for yourself), here are my friend and I sitting together at a different table. A few years ago. We've been friends since before we were born.

This week we found a corner of the porch and sat. Talked. Sipped. Worked a crossword puzzle. Read. Talked some more.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Although I left Mississippi for college a few years ago (hahaha), it's where my family is, where my heart is. Home.

Spending a week here for a reason I'll call research is pretty special.

Even if <research> means sitting on the porch listening and talking.
Riding around places I remember but thought I'd forgotten.
Not writing a single thing down.

This weekend I'll spend time listening to authorities speak about things I'm interested in, and I'll take plenty of notes. 
I'll hang out with a friend of my mama's. 
I'll sit in libraries. 
I may even sit under a tree or two.

Last weekend I took a few pictures. 
I'll share so you can enjoy, too.

Sunset over the Mississippi River. That's Arkansas over there.

 Artifacts unearthed and on display. 
From some deep dark filing cabinet, I assume.

Historic marker unveiled on the campus of Delta State University, the site of my first school. My  memories of nursery school include taking a field trip across campus to see the "Science Museum," which consisted of a two-headed lamb and a tapeworm that had been removed during surgery. A very long tapeworm. I'm sure there was more. That's all I remember.

I have no idea what I'll do with this thought, but it's percolating. 
Historic Jackson.

Not often that I see this much cotton ready to be picked.
I remember when the fields were full of it though.
Quite beautiful. Even if the stories may not be so beautiful.
Know what I mean?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Writing Notebooks

I still remember Carolyn Coman at one of the earlier HIGHLIGHTS Whole Novel workshops showing us her writing notebook. The one she scribbled ideas in when she was gardening- or doing all sorts of things that didn't seem like writing. 

That was a while ago (okay, it was early fall, 2005). I was just beginning the story that would eventually become THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY (Coming January, 2015. Don't do the math. It takes me a while.)


To this day, I've never used just one notebook for my pre-writing scribbles. And that's a problem. I have notes everywhere! 

Including in a Scrivener document. Which is where I always end up. But you can't drag your computer to some of the places where you do your best thinking, right? And you never know when an idea or a thought will need writing down.

It would be helpful if all those brilliant thoughts ended up in the same notebook.

So I'll steal some of Linda Urban's excellent ideas.

Have you been following her "notebook" posts about writing? I love how she shares details about what's in those notebooks. Here's a LINK.  There are several. Follow them all!

And just before we departed New Jersey, I popped in on Elizabeth Eulberg et al. and their "YA Romance" panel at the Morristown Festival of the Book. Elizabeth held up a notebook, complete with tabs. That's the look I'm going for!

Aside: Elizabeth has a very good post on her blog about what authors have control over and what they have NO control over. Mostly I agree with her. It's worth reading if you've wondered about things like book jacket art, festivals and promotions, etc. Read it HERE. 

What kind of notebook do you use for your important pre-writing scribbles? Or do you start right up sitting in front of your computer? 
Is it different for each project?
Do you love a certain type of paper, a beautiful notebook, a regular 3-ring binder?
Inspire me with your ideas, please!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Quaker Motto Calendar

It's that time of year.  2015 Calendar Ordering Time!

Actually, I kind of missed the suggested order date. But it's not too late and I'm placing my order today for the QUAKER MOTTO CALENDAR.

Here's the 2015 order form.
AND most importantly, the contact info should you need to reach out.

I don't actually sell/ write/ produce these. My sister-in-law Marion Ballard is the one to call/ email. Her contact info is right there.

You may also want to read:
Each year I post about these calendars. Here's one of the first, with a quote from Aunt Margery about the family's connection to them:

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Glory Game!

How much do I love this very cool game?

Eli made it for his outside reading project at Jackson Prep. His mom, who's a teacher at the Mississippi School for the Deaf and uses GLORY BE with her students, shared it.

Some of the stops along the way--

Segregated water fountain, move back two spaces. 
Freedom Riders come to Mississippi, move forward four spaces. 
Glory writes a brave letter to the newspaper, move forward six spaces. 
Swimming pool is closed because of integration, move back four spaces. 

I'm totally impressed. Thanks, Eli and Mom for sharing and for your clever creativity!

Monday, October 6, 2014

FIGS! Oh joy~

Anybody who knows me knows my fig fetish.
I particularly love eating them when someone like my friend Lee, AKA Kitchen Goddess on her fabulous blog, presents them so beautifully.

Like Lee, I had a grandmother who put up fig preserves.
Our big sprawling fig tree was a perfect spot to hide under and pick the figs right off that tree.

Today's blog from Lee has sent me back to those days.
How I wish I were eating them wrapped in prosciutto and stuffed with cheese right now (my current adoration).

CLICK HERE to read her recipes and remembrances.

I'm so jealous that she has a tree, complete with figs.

To tempt you even more, here's a picture from today's post.
You know you want to read how to make your food look so beautiful.
Go ahead, click away.

Fig Appetizer

 I've written about figs before, in case you hadn't noticed...
You can type FIGS into the search box of this blog or click the link in the previous sentence.
Or just read Lee's post and enjoy. Big time YUM.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Skink- No Surrender

Carl Hiaasen's first Young Adult novel (He's written middle-grade and of course, all those grownup books) has just been long-listed for the National Book Awards.

Having read three of the nominees, I think I'll attempt to tackle them all.

Skink- No Surrender was a quick read, nothing even your motivated middle-grader couldn't handle if he or she is a fan of Hiaasen's books. This one's an adventure and a mystery, of course. But the kids are truly kid-like, something all writers who crossover from adult novels don't always figure out so well.

Then there's the reclusive ex-governor Skink with that gross fake eye. 
("Skink ignored her and closed his good eye. He looked like a grizzled old iguana." Don't you love how he says so much in so few words?)
Yes, there are plenty of shots fired. And one of the lead players runs away with a faker she's met online.
Hmm. Somehow it didn't seem so scary though. Must be the humor. 

Here's a good writing quote from Hiaasen:

True even for Young Adult fiction, wouldn't you say?

Anybody out there predicting who'll take the National Book Award this year?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Poetry Sunday

As we pack up to head south, I look forward to my Florida birds.
Thank you to my friend Joan who gave me a book I love dipping into:
Mary Oliver's What Do We Know: Poems and Prose Poems

 If you click on that link, you can read a selection, from Google books.

From "Summer Poem"

...the white heron
like a dropped cloud,
taking one slow step

then standing while then taking
another, writing

her own soft-footed poem
through still waters.


Sadly, my earliest attempts at poetry share none of her beauty and lyricism.

While packing, I uncovered this in a very old scrapbook. It was published in The Commercial Appeal when I was eleven. I share so no one reading this blog should be afraid to share, no matter how embarrassing your early efforts might be. It's all about revision, which I (obviously) didn't understand at age eleven.

I've learned a lot. Maybe not about poetry. But certainly about revising.

More Mary Oliver?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Book Character Birthdays

How very cool!

CLICK THIS LINK to see what literary characters might share your birthday.
Or to celebrate with them.

I've had letters from school classes commenting on Glory's July 4th birthday. 
An excellent project- to wish a book character a Happy Birthday!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sandy Hormell Community Book Celebration

When an invitation came into my email asking if I'd be a part of the 50th Anniversary commemoration of FREEDOM SUMMER in Oxford, Ohio, I didn't have to think about it.
In 1964, Freedom Workers were trained on the campus of Miami University before they left for Mississippi. I was honored to be a part of this.

Here are a few sentences from the invitation:

The event honors Sandy Hormell, a longtime Talawanda and Miami employee, whose love of books and education made her a beloved teacher and colleague. Although her life was claimed by ALS in 2004, her love of reading lives on in this event. 

Many things I hold dear, in one special celebration.
I would speak at an evening meeting, sign books and greet some delightful people, and present my GLORY BE story to middle schoolers. Over 1000 books would be given to readers of all ages.
Wow. What author wouldn't love that.

Of course, I said yes.

(It didn't hurt that my college roommate, whom I really hadn't seen in a very long time, would be my hostess. Or that my daughter was a Miami University grad and I had such fond memories of the college town.)

Off I went!

After a delightful lunch, then an afternoon stroll on campus with my friend Lyn, we headed to the Oxford Community Arts Center.
There I talked to a wonderfully attentive group of readers of every age.

The Community Arts Center is in a neat building.
Former dorm rooms turned artist studios are upstairs.
I coveted one of those studios!

As soon as I walked in, this adorable reader told me she loved my book!

This group had come with their creative and inspiring teacher. She'd driven them from a nearby community. Now that's dedication!

I talked about writing the book, about Freedom Summer in my own town, about my inspiration.

Afterwards, we walked across the street to the Oxford Lane Library.

BOOK FOOD was enjoyed by all!
Red Velvet cupcakes. Emma's Lemon Cookies. Bug Juice.


One of the best parts of this weekend went on behind the scenes. Or behind my scenes. 
The 5th grade gifted students from Oxford's three elementary schools had discussed the book with seniors from the Knolls Retirement Community and the Miami University Institute for Learning in Retirement. They'd also had lunch together.  
I heard it was fabulous. I wish I'd been the proverbial fly on the wall.

You'd think it couldn't get much better than that, wouldn't you?

This Bulletin Board greeted me at the TALAWANDA MIDDLE SCHOOL.

First public showing of the new cover art for THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY!

(Awesome media specialist shout-out: Hi, Monica Greene!)

Just a few of the many books I signed!

A really remarkable thing happened.
Sitting in the media center signing books at lunch, I met a teacher who brought this in for me to see.

He'd bought it at an antique shop, a while ago.

He uses it to teach his Civil Rights unit.

The questions were pretty amazing. The students were so well-prepared. I hated to leave.

Such a super committee. So well organized. Lots of fun. Smart, smart people! 
Here we are at our farewell dinner at Kona, a fabulous restaurant in downtown Miami.

Tucked inside a delightful basket of zucchini muffins, fruits and nuts and cheeses 
was a lovely note. I love the card, don't you?

One last stop before saying goodbye Oxford Ohio, to friends, old and new, young and old.

                        (Looking cool like the Elvis fans we were a few years ago...)