Books -- reading and writing.
Home, cooking, the weather.
And whatever connections I can make between them.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Elizabeth Strout

Loved Olive Kitteridge. The book and the TV series.
Just finished Abide With Me.
I am now reading The Burgess Boys

Perfect airplane, packing, distracting novels for my life right now.

Here's what Strout says in her Reader's Guide to the Trade Paperback edition of Abide With Me.  Something to remember, for sure.

"A book, once finished, belongs to the reader, and each reader will bring to it his or her own life's experiences... it should be a different book for each person who reads it."

And this.

"Through the telling of stories and the reading of stories, we have a chance to see something about ourselves and others that maybe we knew, but didn't know we knew. We can wonder for a moment if, for all our separate histories, we are not more alike than different after all."

 Perfect, right? 

And guess what- she has a new book, coming January, 2016. Can't wait!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


I am stuck without my own Photo File. On a computer I don't use often. Desperately needing a photo.

I google my own books, hoping what I need will pop up.

Voila! Thanks to the blog MATH IS ELEMENTARY, I found a great photo of the cover image of THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY's Book Fair version.

I actually like this cover a lot. Though, I know, it confuses some young readers. I had a boy at a Book Fair tell me "I've read both your books! In one day!"  He held the hardcover and the bookfair books. I assured him the words inside were all the same. He seemed happy to have read the book twice.

As long as I was on a roll, I searched for the other book jacket. And this image from what The Chicago Tribune calls "an aspiring book critic" has made me smile.

My day is made! Success!-  and lots of smiling going on here.

Aren't kids the greatest? Bloggers, too. Thank you, one and all.

Friday, November 13, 2015


My week was filled with bright kids asking great questions.
Four Skype sessions later, I'm still pondering what they said about THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY.
For example:
Are any of your characters based on real people or named after real people? How do you figure out what a character would say?

What does "Oh my stars!" mean? Are you from the south, or something?
(This always cracks me up because it never occurs to me that kids don't know some of the totally normal sounding things I say/write...)

And mixed together with all the writing questions I regularly get asked (and never mind answering) was a new one:

"Do you know any other authors and what do you talk about when you get together?"
(Totally not answering this one. My lips are sealed.

Another question made me wonder. This is only the second time it's been asked, and both times I could tell the student had thought hard about it. It wasn't one of those "How much money do you make?" off-the-cuff questions that teachers and librarians caution kids not to ask.
(But they sometimes do.)

This young reader asked why Theo, a boy, was friends with Anabel, a girl, and what made me write about friendship and friends and especially boys and girls being friends. 

I have the answer to that. Or at least an answer.
One is because purely from a writing sense, it's nice to work in both girls and boys in a novel, especially those who don't exactly fit the mold. Theo plays the piano AND baseball. His new friend Anabel wants no part of her dance class but is possibly a sports fanatic. 

In THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY, Theo was adrift. He was someplace he'd never been before. He felt like an outsider. Every single time I talk about my new book and ask students what helps you fit in when you are brand new to a place, they know the answer: Find a friend.

Been there, done that, right? Haven't we all felt like we didn't know the ropes until we had one person to show us the way?

I grew up in the kind of small southern town where everybody knew each other. I had friends whose grandparents were my own grandparents' friends. That's me in the corsage and my best friend since (before!) birth next to me. We were college roommates, bridesmaids for each other, and we're still best of friends. But I've also been that newcomer, so I know how it feels not to fit in. 

(In fact, I still know every person in this photo, including the too-cool-for-school boy on the trike)

A friend, yes. That's what a good book can be. But also a way to figure out how to make a friend. How to be a friend.  

Frankie and Glory? Anabel and Theo? And in my forthcoming book, there's a girl who befriends a boy, and the two attempt to figure out the world together.

Makes perfect sense to me.

(Here's a link to a blogpost by one of the terrific librarians who invited me into her class via Skype)

And one more photo. 

My friend and I still talk a lot about our shoes.


Monday, November 9, 2015

Top Ten

(Actually Fourteen) Things I just this minute learned about blogging.
From my writer friend Irene Latham.

Her anniversary blogpost is a MUST READ.   (click there!)

You know when somebody announces "I couldn't have said it better myself" and then goes on to attempt to to it anyhow? I'm not doing that.

I truly can't think of another thing I could add to her list of
14 Things I've Learned in 10 Years of Blogging. (Go ahead, click her link!)

Except Happy Blog-i-versary, Irene.

Since Irene knows pictures are worth a thousand words...

And please,

Friday, November 6, 2015


Thank you, super librarian Dorcas Hand, and also to my friend and former teaching colleague Patti Kiley for arranging such a fun visit with Annunciation Orthodox School in Houston.

I was there for their amazing annual BOOK FAIR, with two other authors, Linda Leblanc and Keith Graves. That's a whole lot of organizing and arranging and book sharing going on. Hats off, Dorcas!

Did I mention the FOOD? Which I'm sorry to say, I didn't document nearly enough! (I'm usually much better with sharing food pictures, and we did eat well.)

My two days, in pictures. Wish I'd taken more!

A Scholastic Book Fair like no other.

Student art work, everywhere I looked.

 It's such fun seeing special books and thinking about their authors!

The parent volunteers worked so hard to make that space eye-catching. In one corner was a reading nook. Sorry I didn't capture in a photo. Every time I turned around, I saw something else I loved!


Forgive me for a little librarian nostalgia (for me). 
I got to help move books on a book cart. Hadn't done that in a while, though it used to be an everyday occurrence!

(There was a special table for books to donate to the libraries. Great idea!)

 Always happy to sign books...

Dinner out with teachers at PICOS-- 
Delicious! And so many connections made around this table!  


I haven't spent a lot of time in Houston. It was very special to connect with old friends. Especially friends who'll take me to see the most fantastic Mark Rothko exhibit at their Museum of Fine Arts.

Thanks, Bobby and Jeannie Moon!

And a trip to Houston wouldn't be complete without a stop at one of my all-time favorite bookstores, just to say hello and check out funny author messages covering their walls! Thanks, Blue Willow Bookshop, for inviting me. Or letting me invite myself. I signed a few books and caught up with old friends.

I'm already excited about a possible trip to San Antonio in the fall. Texas teachers and librarians truly rock!

(only in Texas, right?)

Saturday, October 31, 2015


Guess what tomorrow is.

First day of November!
First day of standard time!

National Novel Writing Month. 
Bet you'd forgotten about that.

I've blogged about it a few times.
One of my favorite 2013 posts was inspired by Caroline Starr Rose's Fake-o-NaNo. Which is totally how I do a Novel Writing Month.

Here's it is. (You can click HERE or read some of it below:)

 Three years ago, when I was between projects and needed to jumpstart something new, I did NaNoWriMo. 
Mine, too, was Fake-o.

But if you're a writer who needs inspiration. Or wants to try something new, give it a whirl.


Promise a friend cookies, team up with an online writing partner, or heck- just bake your own cookies and don't admit to a single soul what you're up to. Don't sweat it if what turns up is unreadable.

Or as Caroline says:
The "draft" I finished with is quite possibly the messiest, worst thing I've ever written.

But it's a beginning. And sometimes that's all it takes to create something worth revising. And revising. Over and over again.


Sunday, October 25, 2015

A fabulous piece about revision

Yes, it's long. Hey, it's the New Yorker. But when you have time, click HERE to read the entire article. Hemingway and other greats get a mention.
Here's a bit- to entice:

 Writing is selection. Just to start a piece of writing you have to choose one word and only one from more than a million in the language. Now keep going. What is your next word? Your next sentence, paragraph, section, chapter? ... You select what goes in and you decide what stays out. At base you have only one criterion: If something interests you, it goes in—if not, it stays out. That’s a crude way to assess things, but it’s all you’ve got. Forget market research. Never market-research your writing. Write on subjects in which you have enough interest on your own to see you through all the stops, starts, hesitations, and other impediments along the way.

John McPhee
The New Yorker

Monday, October 19, 2015

A fun week ahead- 

AND this wonderful review of THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY.
Mondays aren't so bad after all.

Scattergood, Augusta
The Way to Stay in Destiny
2015. 192pp. $16.99 hc. Scholastic, Inc. 978-0-545-53824-4. Grades 4-7
It’s 1974 and Theo Thomas is starting a new life. His Uncle Raymond, a Vietnam vet, has moved
him to Destiny, Florida. When they move into Miss Sister's Rest Easy Boarding House and
Dance School, Theo discovers a piano and a new friend, Anabel, who shares his interest in
baseball. Neither uncle nor nephew are happy about their new situation, especially when Uncle
Raymond forbids Theo from doing the one of the few things that make him happyplaying the
piano. This quiet, gentle story does many things, including introducing young readers to the
dissent that Vietnam veterans encountered when returning home. Valerie Jankowski, Library
Media Specialist, Washington (Missouri) Middle School [Editor’s Note: Available in e-book

Friday, October 9, 2015

Saying Goodbye

It's that time of the year. Fall leaves. Shorter days. Blankets and quilts on the beds.

This year when we pack up our place in New Jersey, it will be for the last time. New adventures could be down the road. You never know until you take that path. 
Old friends-- well, ten-year-old friendships, my writing buddies-- wait for me in Florida.

If you want to read a really beautiful goodbye to a house and to a place, you need to read my friend Barbara O'Connor's blog.

Here, you won't find that. I already said goodbye to my house(s) of 30+ years, ages ago.

But now I'm cleaning out files and packing up only what's essential.
Books, especially. Many, many books. Though just as many have gone to the Friends of the Library book sale and other good friends.

I'm packing up a lot of laughs and a lot of memories.

Like these goodbye notes from my last wonderful school library in New Jersey. 

I don't think this student realized how I DREAMED there'd be a book in my heart some day! She meant the books I loved to read and share, still do. 
But yes, Morgan, there was a book in my heart.

Me, skateboarding? I don't think so...

(I'm not sure how well this student knew me. 
There would be no skateboarding in my retirement.)

This is what I'll miss about New Jersey.

Main Street Deli.


My hometown library.
 Library of the Chathams.
And its gardens.



Oh, and I'll miss not pumping gas. No picture needed. 

For more on other times I've said goodbye, click away, below. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Reminder: Every writer needs an entourage

One of the first writing books I ever owned, outside of the obvious craft books and Stephen King and Anne Lamott, was Carolyn See's MAKING A LITERARY LIFE.


Well, that about says it all, doesn't it?

In her chapter, Pretend to Be a Writer, See quotes Ernest Hemingway. 
"Writers must stick together like beggars or thieves."

I'd like to add that it's easy to do because my writer friends are not only tons of fun to hang out with, they teach me so much.

Thanks, entourage.

(My bookshelf. By my writer friends and by writers who feel like friends!)

And the very first time I WROTE about Carolyn See's book was also one of my first blogposts. You may read it HERE, if you care to.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Oh Those Sixties!

Yes, the 1960s were turbulent, colorful, musical, scary, exciting, and almost any other word you can come up with. 

Also fodder for quite a few novels that examine the time period from varying lenses. And really, the 60s were not only about the civil rights movement, the Cuban missile crisis also took over the news, and we landed a man on the moon. Oh, yeah, the Beatles and Elvis. I could go on and on.

To borrow a quote from a new book written about a slightly earlier time in our history: 
"History is memory researched. 
Historical fiction is memory brought to life."
(Avi, from his Author's Note to Catch You Later, Traitor)

At least two of these authors do write from memory, and readily admit that's what inspired them.

First up? Jackson native Taylor Kitchings', debut middle-grade novel,  
YARD WAR, set in 1964 Mississippi. Published this summer from Wendy Lamb Books/ Random House, the book is filled with memories and research from the 1960s, of boys being boys and often not thinking, of things never said out loud, of people who may have been ignored and overlooked while trying their best during very difficult days.

CLICK HERE for an excellent interview with Mr. Kitchings.

Much as I love the cover image, this book is about so much more than football.

There's a lot of truth in this interview question and this quote from the book.

Trip’s parents’ attitudes change greatly by the end of the book, as they ponder if they should give up on living in Mississippi. Trip’s father explains it like this: “Trip, it’s like one day God took the best of what’s good and the worst of what’s bad, stirred it all up, and dumped it between Memphis and New Orleans. You can’t move away from a place like that. You have to help keep the good in the mix.” Please explain that thought. 

Mississippi is so complex and mysterious, I think you have to grow up here to understand it at all. I don’t claim to understand it, I just know it’s essential to me. “The best of what’s good” goes beyond the food and the music and the sports and everything of which Mississippians are justly proud; it’s the way people care about each other. We know what it is to feel with, and a person doesn’t have to be our best friend in order for us to feel it. Even when it’s formal or fairly surface, it is well-intentioned and the prevalent inclination to be kind here adds a sweetness to life that I do think is rare. For the “worst of what’s bad,” check the latest statistics.

Order this novel from all the usual suspects or you can go right to Lemuria and get a signed copy.  
HERE's the link: 

 But wait, my list runneth over! Or is it runneths?

FULL CICADA MOON, Marilyn Hilton's newest novel (Penguin Random House, September 2015), is a delight. Told in free verse poems, this novel explores both the civil rights history of the 60s and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. 

Beautifully written, strong characterization, a lovely novel in every way. The narrator, Mimi Yoshiko Oliver is smart and wise, a fierce female character in a time when it wasn't easy to be. I especially love the act of civil disobedience involving shop class.

This School Library Journal starred review highly recommends the book. I heartily concur. 


COLD WAR ON MAPLEWOOD STREET (Putnam, 2015) by Gayle Rosengren is obviously- and truthfully as explained in the Author's Note- a story pulled from a strong memory. The Cuban missile crisis is most likely unfamiliar to young readers. This new novel feels very authentic to the days surrounding that event. 

I absolutely adore this cover image. Hats off to the book designers here. 

I also just reviewed THE SEVENTH MOST IMPORTANT THING for the Christian Science Monitor. You can read all about it. Set in the 60s but a very fresh story that could take place any time, and such good writing.

For more middle-grade book reviews, giveaways, and all sorts of goodies, check out the links every Monday on Shannon Messenger's blog: MARVELOUS MIDDLE GRADE MONDAY, right here. 

For my own Pinterest board and possible inclusion in future presentation handouts, I'm compiling a list of middle-grade novels set during the 1960s. What are your favorites?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

This is the story of my goat.

Question:  do teachers and librarians reserve a soft spot in our hearts for the first schools we ever  worked in?

I know I do.

My very first school library position was in East Point, GA. I loved that school!
It was part of the Fulton County system, a star in the school library world.
A Title I school, back in the day when there was all sorts of funding to support kids who needed it. (One of my very first blogposts was about that experience.)

Part of the funding went for art.
Can you imagine? We actually had reproductions, small sculptures, all sorts of wonderful things. Lots of brand new books! As a new librarian, I thought that would be the norm for the rest of my career.

In that Georgia school's library, Picasso's goat greeted my students.

The real one resides at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

This was a hefty, table-top reproduction. 
There was just something about that goat that really appealed to kids.

Today I learned that many of the pieces Picasso created during that period were influenced by his young family. The fabulous exhibit at MOMA now has a whole room of them. 

Little Girl Jumping Rope
Baboon and Young

My goat has been moved inside for the occasion. 
Here she is, early this spring, in the museum's sculpture garden.

His shiny bronze nose shines from years of rubbing.

Seeing She-Goat always takes me right back to those first years as a school librarian. 

I learned as much as I taught.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Thinking and walking

Via Sara Zarr's fabulous THIS CREATIVE LIFE podcasts.

Are you a listener?

Today I had to stop near the end. I wanted to write something down.
Varian Johnson talked about how to figure out exactly what a book would be.

This is exactly what I'd been thinking about while reading some of the submissions from my Florida critique group. What's the tone? The VOICE of the novel? Who's the intended reader?

(Or, as our buddy Greg Neri loves to say: A book will be what it wants to be.)

Now I'm off to a wonderful HIGHLIGHTS UNWorkshop with two of my best writing buddies. 

Signing off the internet for a while. 
Taking time to figure out what a book wants to be. 
And other important things. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Happy birthday, Ruby Bridges.

Thanks to John Schu's wonderful Book Calendar, I now know that September 8 is Ruby Bridges' birthday.

Her story inspired me to begin my own novel.
She spoke to the student body at Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, where I worked at the time. As I walked back to the library with a group of fifth graders, they were astounded. And in awe. And surprised by all she said.

Ruby Bridges was the first African American child to integrate the public schools in New Orleans.

Many knew I'd grown up in the South. A few asked if I had any of the same experiences.
I hadn't.
But I did have other memories.

That night I started scribbling some of my memories.
Almost ten years later, my book, GLORY BE, was sold.

That's a long journey!

But what a great inspiration. Thank you and happy birthday, Ruby Bridges.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Are You Funny Enough?

I remember reading something once about encouraging a child's sense of humor. Helping them to be funny. Or funnier.

How absurd, I thought. Kids are funny as heck.
Well, the ones talking to/around me sure are.

But writing funny? That's hard.

If you're trying to add some humor to your writing, whether it's a serious or heartfelt or sad or poignant story, here are some tips.

First off, two words: Darcy Pattison.
Always listen to Darcy!

This is an article I've saved and reread a few time:
You can even follow her links to past posts for additional humor tips.
(I'm totally trying the running gag idea, HERE. )

More tips, via Writers Digest are HERE. 

And HERE for a list of funny words.
(I had to google wenis. I doubt I'll be using that word in a middle-grade novel.)

One of my favorite historical fiction middle-grade novels is TURTLE IN PARADISE. It's Turtle's voice that makes me smile. From page one:
"Everyone thinks children are sweet as Necco Wafers, but I've lived long enough to know the truth: kids are rotten."

A serious story, sure. But I smiled a lot.

Any fabulous tips you'd care to share that make stories laugh-out-loud funny? Or even smile-out-loud?  

Just to make your Monday a little lighter, I'll end with librarian humor.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Elvis Week Updated!

I almost missed marking it. Going on right now in Memphis.

Check it out, folks. Memorabilia for all! You con't have to be there to bid. 
 Just click on this link to go right to

Yes, I'd love a few Elvis collectables. I actually have a few mementos. 


You can read about my Elvis statue HERE.

Or read about my childhood crush on the king and my career as an Elvis impersonator  HERE.

(Some people just have all the fun. Elvis and his fans. 
At a truly memorable school visit in Pelahatchie, MS. )

And here's a short video. 
Look closely for ELVIS'S LITTLE HOUSE IN TUPELO near the end.

Just Another Boy
Thanks for the memories, Elvis. #ElvisWeek2015
Posted by Elvis' Tupelo on Sunday, August 16, 2015

Saturday, August 8, 2015

More Setting

Or maybe the title should be more ABOUT setting.

Goodness knows, I've blogged a few times about setting.

Just when I think I've got it figured out, I don't. Ever have that feeling?

Maybe I need a WORKSHEET.
Maybe I need a trip. Much as I love New Jersey, I could never set a novel for young readers here. Oh yes, we have our local color, but is it suitable for young eyes?

 (seen at the local deli)

And we have great food! But it's not food from my childhood. In fact, my children never cared much for NJ specialties so how could I possibly write about them.

(This is a Sloppy Joe. If you have never lived in NJ, it takes some explaining.)

Where a story takes place is almost as important to me as who is telling the story. That's why I've been noodling around to see what others have to say on the subject. I don't want to overdo the Spanish moss, the lizards, the pimento cheese.

Here's what I'm learning- I'll share a few links:

I love what Barbara O'Connor says about HOLES.
And she's said many things about setting over the life of her blog.

I have a tattered old notebook on a shelf with a few quotes from my favorite books: On the Road to Mr. Mineo's, for example.
("lazy days of summer stretch out before them like the highway out by the Waffle House" says more than most people could say in 3 paragraphs.)

And there's this: 
Or this:

Also in that notebook-
A great memory of the Writers in Paradise week with Ann Hood. I love #1.

A few notes:

In all writing, the focus should be right there at the beginning, in the first sentences. We should know where we are and what we are in for.

1. Picture sentences. Close your eyes. If you can't picture it, it needs help.
2. In non-fiction, use all the devices of fiction: dialogue, setting, character, action, climax, resolution.
3. Find a central metaphor (examples: knitting, fire), something that gives your story meaning. 

Okay, writer and reader friends. Can setting by overdone? Does it limit the audience, especially in books for young readers? Do you have tricks to share with the rest of us? How exactly do you bring your scenes alive?

Monday, August 3, 2015

Great Advice/ Happy birthday, Leo ladies.

Happy Birthday, fellow Leos!
Sue Monk Kidd, Kirby Larson, Liesl Shurtliff
and I almost share a birthday. And probably a whole bunch of others I'm leaving out.
(Leos should stick together. We are fierce.) 

I hope some of their Writer Mojo rubs off on me--
on all of us this month!

When I first read this, I shared it on my blog. 
Years ago.
Sharing again here. Great advice from a fellow August author.

The Ten Most Helpful Things I Could Ever Tell Anyone About Writing

(Thinking about Kidd's collages reminds me of my Pinterest boards. That's where I gather things to help my writing. I'm not much of a collage maker.)

One of my favorites from her list of helpful things:

Hurry slowly.
"Getting the pace of a story right keeps me up at night. I have a horror of sitting on a plane, next to someone reading my book, and seeing her flip over to see how many pages are left in the chapter. You want a reader so caught up in the spell of a story it would never occur to her to pull herself away and count how many pages she had to read before she could stop."

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Leaning In

I hope non-Facebook people will be able to see this link to Kate DiCamillo's Author Facebook page. But I'll cross my fingers and share because it's so truly wonderful.

I, too, was told to stand up straight. I was the tallest girl in my class for a very long time. My godfather was an orthopedic surgeon. I loved ballet.
All those things "told" me to stand up straight.
But Kate reminds us that if we're looking closely, it's okay to lean down.
The better to see with!

And leaning in is a sure sign of paying attention.

Paying attention and writing slowly= two lessons I'm taking away from Facebook today.

(Maybe it helps that I'm looking at a lot of trees this week?)

Here's Kate DiCamillo's Facebook post. What do you think?

"I took this picture when I was up at the cabin. I like this tree. It leans. I was always told to stand up straight; and..."
Posted by The Official Kate DiCamillo Page on Thursday, June 25, 2015