Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Women of Wednesday: Past. Present. Future.

Forever is composed of nows.  ~Emily Dickinson   

Eternity is not something that begins after you are dead.  It is going on all the time.  ~Charlotte Perkins Gilman

It is only possible to live happily-ever-after on a day-to-day basis.  ~Margaret Bonnano

God made the world round so we would never be able to see too far down the road.  ~Isak Dinesen


It's but little good you'll do a-watering the last year's crops.  ~George Eliot, Adam Bede, 1859


You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present.  ~Jan Glidewell

Living the past is a dull and lonely business; looking back strains the neck muscles, causing you to bump into people not going your way.  ~Edna Ferber

and one of my favorites:

Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are.  Let me learn from you, love you, savour you, bless you before you depart.  Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow.  Let me hold you while I may, for it will not always be so.  One day I shall bury my face in the pillow, or raise my hands to the sky, and want, more than all the world, your return.   -- Mary Jean Irion

Monday, June 28, 2010

Mentor Monday: The Whens

I know writers who write only when inspiration comes.  How would Isaac Stern play if he played the violin only when he felt like it?  He would be lousy . . . the same is true for art of every type. 

                                      -- Madeleine L'Engle

I write only when I feel like it and whenever I feel like it.  I do it in a restaurant, on a plane, on a train in a car.  I wake up in the middle of the night to make notes to myself and never know when I'll sit down at the typewriter -- or the tape recorder.  The new book stays with me all the time . . . I think the longest uninterrupted stretch I ever had was twenty-seven hours.  I produced nineteen pages of the Painted Bird, which in the drafts that followed shrank to one page.  On an average, I probably produce about a page, maybe a page and a half, in a sitting.

                                         -- Jerzy Kosinski

In this profession you have to write something every day, because language is hard to control . . . You have to work five hours a day, even if you just describe what your milk dealer says.

                                          -- Use Johnson

Every morning between 9 and 12, I go to my room and sit before a piece of paper.  Many times, I just sit for three hours with no ideas coming to me.  But I know one thing: If an idea does come between 9 and 12 I am there ready for it.

               -- Flannery O'Connor

When I sit down to write -- that's between nine and twelve every morning, and I have never incidentally, written a line in the afternoon or night -- when I sit down at my table to write, I never know what it's going to be till I'm underway.  I trust in inspiration, which sometimes comes and sometimes doesn't.  But I don't sit back waiting for it.  I work every day.

                          -- Alberto Moravia

Perhaps it would be better not to be a writer, but if you must, then write.  You feel dull, you have a headache, nobody loves you, write.  If all feels hopeless, if that famous 'inspiration' will not come, write.  If you are a genius, you'll make your own rules, but if not -- and the odds are clearly against it -- go to your desk, no matter what your mood, face the very challenge of the paper -- write.

                              -- J. B. Priestley

Friday, June 25, 2010

Poetry Friday Comments

I have no idea what's up, but I've heard from several folks that they were unable to leave comments for Poetry Friday in the comment box below. If you'd like to share a comment, please try to leave one with this post.

Andy, the technically inept

Poetry Friday: There's Rage in that Water

So sorry to be Debbie Downer, but I cannot get the Gulf of Mexico oil spill out of my mind. I fear we've passed a tipping point. I have no other words this Poetry Friday. I'll let Robert Frost speak for all the shattered and yet-to-be shattered people and creatures. Someone had better be prepared for rage . . .

Once by the Pacific 
by Robert Frost

The shattered water made a misty din.
Great waves looked over others coming in,
And thought of doing something to the shore
That water never did to land before.
The clouds were low and hairy in the skies,
Like locks blown forward in the gleam of eyes.
You could not tell, and yet it looked as if
The shore was lucky in being backed by cliff,
The cliff in being backed by continent;
It looked as if a night of dark intent
Was coming, and not only a night, an age.
Someone had better be prepared for rage
There would be more than ocean-water broken
Before God's last Put out the Light was spoken.  

This week's Poetry Friday is being hosted by New Hampshire's own Amy Graves over at The Art of Irreverence Thanks, Amy!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Women of Wednesday: The Next Generation

In working on the America's Notable Women series, I usually look to the past. With the exception of Maria Shriver, all of the women I've profiled are in their graves. I recently finished writing bios for Margaret "Pepperidge Farm" Rudkin and Rosa "I-Sing-Like-An-Angel" Ponselle for the Connecticut book. At the moment, I'm working on Sarah "I-Opened-A-School-Before-You-Did-Andy" Porter. Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Dorothy Bush, Gloria Vanderbilt and Julia Child all attended Miss Porter's School. Talk about a breeding ground for notable women!

It got me wondering which of my former students are on the ascent. I didn't have to wonder very long. Meet Katie Dawley, Hogarth Country Day School Class of 1998 and soon-to-be Annapolis plebe. I haven't seen Katie since her family moved out of town around 11 years ago, but I never forgot her.

What was Katie like at 5 and 6-years old? She was one of those uniquely joyful kids who is game for anything. She smiled the biggest, sang the loudest, and loved every moment of every day. Katie was an effective communicator. She knew how to listen, ask questions, and get her point across. If that isn't the key to success in school, or for that matter success in life, I don't know what is.

Out of all of Katie's great qualities, I think her voice was her biggest asset. I'm not talking Rosa-Ponselle-singing voice. I'm talking I've-got-something-to-say-and-you-will-listen voice. Katie knew how to be heard. As writers, we know the importance of finding your authentic voice. Katie has had hers since preschool.

Last Wednesday, Mur wrote, "Those of us that went on to further schooling generally became teachers or nurses. In our neighborhood filled with adults who had had to skip high school to survive the depression, that fact was a big deal. Move ahead one generation. The majority of my daughters’ friends went on to 4 year colleges and became scientists, executives, artists, and researchers among other careers."

Katie is the poster girl for that next generation Mur referenced in her post. She's the woman people will be talking about tomorrow. Heck, Foster's Daily Democrat has already written a feature story about Katie. And she even mentioned me. It almost makes me feel like a Woman of Wednesday.

[Photo of Katie Dawley was taken by EJ Hersom and first appeared in Foster's Daily Democrat.]

Monday, June 21, 2010

Mentor Monday: Who's Your First Reader?

I give first readers two thumbs up. I don't care who you are, or what writing credits you have, everybody can use a good first reader. I'm lucky enough to have six of them, but all you really need is one.

I attended the NESCBWI Annual Regional Conference in May and found myself chatting with a small group of writers I'd never met before. These folks were all first-time conference attendees and as yet unpublished. The conversation turned to critique groups, and I voiced my opinion that a good critique group is a great thing. One of the writers said that she really didn't need a group because she had a master's degree in English.

Oooookay. Forget that that was kind of a slap in the face to those of us in critique groups. I know she didn't mean it that way, but that's exactly the way it came off. I explained that critique groups aren't about correcting grammar and spelling. If you can't put words together coherently and cohesively, writing professionally may not be your destiny. Seeking critique does not mean you are a weak writer. It means you are a human writer, and we humans aren't infallible.

Before all of you infallible lone wolf writers out there get your hackles up about not needing critique, let me ask you something. How many times has your editor called you up after a first read of your manuscript to tell you it was perfection and not to change a word?

So, have we established the importance of good critique? I'm not going to get into what exactly constitutes good critique. Mur already did a great job of that last year. What I will do is leave you with author Ann Patchett's thoughts on first readers. (In case you don't have time to listen, Ann gives first readers two thumbs up.)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Thursday Book Review: Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book

My least favorite genre is fantasy. Well, except for the Harry Potter Books, of course. And you’ve already read my posts on the Twilight Saga. And, I did like the Wrinkle in Time trilogy. Mrs. Frisbee and the Rats of NIMH was great…

Okay, so maybe I don’t hate fantasy. What I like are books with great characters and all of the books mentioned above have that trait in common. The characters stick with you, long after the “fantastic” part of the stories end.

Frankly, I probably would have never picked up Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book except that I try really hard to keep up with the current award winners. Since The Graveyard Book has a big ol’ Newbery medal slapped across it, I made myself “read” it. Of course, by “read” I mean “listen to” because, as I’ve mentioned before, I do most of my reading in the car. So, instead of miles and miles of forced education about the latest ALA pick, I got an unexpected treat.

Neil Gaiman reads his own work. He’s got one of those lovely, soothing, professional story-teller’s voices. And, he’s British by birth, so you know what that means: the story sounds even better with the accent. C’mon, you know it’s true!

The Graveyard Book is the story of a child given the name Bod--for Nobody Owens. As a baby he manages to crawl away from his home while his family is being cruelly murdered. He crawls through the gates of a cemetery and the cemetery folk take care of the little tyke. He can’t talk yet so no one knows his real name. A nice dead couple by the name of Owens takes on his care so, since he’s nobody in particular, the name makes sense.

A human being can’t really live in a cemetery. A person needs food and clothing after all. Gaiman provides Bod with a special guardian who is the only one who can come and go from the cemetery and still see the ghosts who live there. Still, a story needs tension and Gaiman does a fine job of giving us two problems that will need a solution. Bod will eventually grow up, and like all grown-ups, he will want to see the world beyond his home or in Bod’s case, the cemetery gate. However, the man who killed Bod’s family knows he’s alive and must complete the job he was sent to do.

Pick up The Graveyard Book. It is unlike anything you have ever read before and well-worth the journey.

Photo of Neil Gaiman byBill Wadmanon, 2008, On Taking Pictures.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Women of Wednesday: The National Women’s History Project

The Write Sisters have spent a lot of time writing about notable women. Every time we take on a new project and research an individual for our children’s books, we all say variations of this comment: “Wow! A short profile was just not long enough to explain about all the fabulous things this woman did. Some day I’m going to write a _______(fill in the blank with: longer, picture, chapter, etc.) book about her”.

Today I’d like to tell you about an organization that feels the same way we do: women’s history is too important to overlook. The opening page of the National Women’s History Project begins with this quote by Myra Pollack Sadker who pioneered research on gender bias: “Each time a girl opens a book and reads a womanless history, she learns she is worth less”.
We hope that the America’s Notable Women Series is helping young girls all over the country to realize that the contributions they make throughout their lives are more than important, they are essential.

From my experience, we are making progress. When I graduated from high school, most of my girl friends went to work or got married. Those of us that went on to further schooling generally became teachers or nurses. In our neighborhood filled with adults who had had to skip high school to survive the depression, that fact was a big deal. Move ahead one generation. The majority of my daughters’ friends went on to 4 year colleges and became scientists, executives, artists, and researchers among other careers.

Still, I believe little girls still need to be reminded of their worth. Women will always have a tendency to think of the needs of the many over their personal needs. We are wired to care for family groups and while today’s men participate more in this work, women still perform the majority of family-related tasks. So, ladies, when you’re feeling a little less than important or overwhelmed by the day to day stuff, take a minute and head on over to Look over their extensive web site. Teachers, students, parents can find help and resources that will expand their knowledge of women’s history. Read about some of these extraordinary women—including the ones who founded NWHP.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Write Sisters' Indirect Connection to John Greenleaf Whittier

The great Quaker abolitionist and poet, John Greenleaf Whittier, was born not too far from us in Haverhill, Massachustts.

Yesterday, three of the Write Sisters, went to the birthplace of Whittier to attend the 125th annual summer meeting of the Whittier Club. On the occasion of this meeting, Lisa Greenleaf, a descendant of Mr. Whittier, spoke about a book she is illustrating--The Barefoot Boy, based on JGW's poem of the same name. Lisa also happens to be the book designer/illustrator for Apprentice Shop Books, our publisher.

Lisa started off with a little introduction to herself, her work, and how she had been searching for years for a way to honor her famous ancestor.

Lisa reads from her first book, My Family and Bingo, written in the third grade!

Lisa is a rather animated speaker!

Here is Lisa showing the group her The Barefoot Boy dummy (the book in sketch stage).

Lisa told her audience that she'd like to finish the book by September--she neglected to say that she is delusional! It will get done and we know it will be beautiful. (The book is scheduled to be published by Apprentice Shop Books and will also include biographical information about John Greenleaf Whittier.)

Lisa's proud parents!

The Whittier homestead is a fascinating place. We learned that it is the oldest museum in the U.S. devoted to a literary person! We hope to visit it again when the weather is nicer, today it was cool and rainy, so that we can get an idea of what it was like when the original barefoot boy roamed the hills and fields around his home in Haverhill.

Here's a photo of the participants at one of the first
Whittier Club summer meetings back in the late 1800s.

Note: if you came looking for "Mentor Monday," please come again next week when "Mentor Monday" will return.

--Muriel, Diane, and Kathy

Friday, June 11, 2010

Poetry Friday--"The Seed Shop"

In an old poetry anthology, An Inheritance of Poetry, collected and arranged by Gladys L. Adshead and Annis Duff (Houghton Mifflin, 1948), I came across this poem by Muriel Stuart:
The Seed Shop

Here in a quiet and dusty room they lie,
Faded as crumbled stone or shifting sand,
Forlorn as ashes, shrivelled, scentless, dry--
Meadows and gardens running through my hand.

In this brown husk a dale of hawthorn dreams;
A cedar in this narrow cell is thrust
That will drink deeply of a century's streams;
These lilies shall make summer on my dust.

Here in their safe and simple house of death,
Sealed in their shells, a million roses leap;
Here I can blow a garden with my breath,
And in my hand a forest lies asleep.
This is quite simple and lovely, don't you think? These lilies shall make summer on my dust is a line to die for!

Who was Muriel Stuart? Muriel Stuart was born in England in 1885 and died 82 years later. Her poetry was, according to a brief entry in Wikipedia, "particularly concerned with the topic of sexual politics." That bit intrigued me, so I went looking for "her most famous poem," "In the Orchard." If you want to read a poem that deals with matters that are still relevant today, take a look at "In the Orchard." The more things change, the more they stay the same--at least as far as young love is concerned.

Visit Kelly Polark for this week's Poetry Friday Round-Up.


Photo by chicks57

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Women of Wednesday--Accomplished Failure

There are some women in the world who are highly accomplished in a particular field, but who completely fail at being admirable human beings. In selecting women for the "Notable Women" series, we've come across a few.

I want to briefly mention one today, Henrietta (Hetty) Green (1834-1916).

Here's how Time magazine described Hetty, in an obituary of her son, Edward (Ned):
the penny-pinching "Witch of Wall Street" who used to shuttle between Brooklyn and Hoboken to avoid establishing residence and paying taxes while she was making millions in the stockmarket.
When she died, Hetty's fortune was estimated at $20,000,000 to $100,000,000. In today's money that would be a astronomical figure (if you want to figure it out, click here.)

There are many stories about Hetty that are practically unbelievable, and yet...

1. Already a multi-millionaire, she contested her aunt's will in court (money was to have gone to charity). It was alleged, and experts testified, that Hetty had forged her aunt's signature on documents.

2. After suffering from a knee injury for two years, she finally took her son to a charity hospital. There, upon recognition, he was refused treatment without payment. Hetty left without having him treated. The result? Ned lost his leg.

3. She chose to live in boarding houses and use public transportation to save money.

4. She only owned one black skirt which she wore until it became tattered enough to require replacement, only then did she purchase another one. (There are also stories of her sitting around in her underwear while her one-and-only skirt was being cleaned.)

Here's quote from Hetty herself when she was questioned about why she needed a firearm, "Mostly to protect myself against lawyers. I'm not much afraid of burglars or highwaymen." Whether she said this in jest, or not, is another question.

On the basis of her wealth and her shrewdness in investing, Hetty was definitely "notable," but, should a woman like Hetty be included in a collection of "notable women" for children? What do you think?


Monday, June 7, 2010

Mentor Monday--Be More Creative!

If you're a writer you probably think that butt-in-chair and putting down words on paper or screen is all the creativity you need--WRONG! Your brain and soul need more. Start thinking in terms of art, music, or dance. Think of flower arranging or planning a garden. Think of selecting color combinations for a scarf you'll knit. Think of designing a birdhouse. Think of attending a sing-along program. Think of do-si-doing, pirouetting, grape-vining, or chugging.

Give plot twists, word choices, revision techniques a rest and feed your soul.

In these difficult economic times, many school systems are considering the elimination of arts in the schools! This thought horrifies me, as it should you. A good education includes a big dose of soul food (I don't mean candied yams and ham hocks). [For a little information on education and the arts, click here.] I'm going to borrow from the educators who support the arts and show you what a creative activity can do for you:
1. strengthens problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
2. develops a sense of craftsmanship, quality task performance, and goal-setting.
3. provides an alternative to destructive behavior (okay, ladies, I'm talking to you--if you're busy with art, you won't be hitting the bag of chips).
4. develops more appreciation and understanding of the world.
5. develops a positive work ethic and pride in a job well done.
Many writers keep a journal. Some swear it gets their creative juices flowing. I'd like to offer additional way of journal-keeping--one which incorporates art. Add drawings and paintings (hey, there's nothing wrong with stick figures, but, you can always use museum postcards or pictures from magazines), paste on words torn from junk mailings, glue in a dried flower or leaf, etc. You could find a piece in your journal and then find a piece of music that provides a similar mood. Or, if you won't feel too dorky, try dancing an emotion from your journal (I know this won't work for you, Write Sister-who-shall-remain-nameless,--you wouldn't even pretend to be a winter sport participant in a workshop for preschool educators!)

Start simple. If craft-like additions to your journal activity provide you with creative satisfaction, then you might want to look into a book such as Journal Spilling: Mixed-Media Techniques for Free Expression by Diana Trout (North Light Books, 2009) or a book on collage or scrapbooking, to take you further.

I don't want you to be intimidated by what you see in the video below--it's waaaay beyond the capabilities of most of us, but listening to the journal-keeper will surely inspire.

In case you're thinking, I can't be creative, I want to leave you with this quote from Edward de Bono, "Creativity can be learned like basketball, which does not mean we will all be NBA stars." You may not be a Rembrandt, or a Norah Jones, either, but you will be a more complex human being, and, a better writer.


Friday, June 4, 2010

Poetry Friday

"OUT, OUT--"

The buzz-saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood,
Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it.
And from there those that lifted eyes could count
Five mountain ranges one behind the other
Under the sunset far into Vermont.
And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,
As it ran light, or had to bear a load.

And nothing happened: day was all but done.
Call it a day, I wish they might have said
To please the boy by giving him the half hour
That a boy counts so much when saved from work.
His sister stood beside them in her apron
To tell them "Supper." At the word, the saw,
As if to prove that saws knew what supper meant,
Leaped out of the boy's hand, or seemed to leap--

He must have given the hand. However it was,
Neither refused the meeting. But the hand!
The boy's first outcry was a rueful laugh,
As he swung toward them holding up the hand
Half in appeal, but half as if to keep
The life from spilling. Then the boy saw all--
Since he was old enough to know, big boy
Doing a man's work, though a child at heart--

He saw all spoiled. "Don't let him cut my hand off--
The doctor when he comes. Don't let him, sister!"
So. But the hand was gone already.
The doctor put him into the dark of ether.
He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath.
And then--the watcher at his pulse took fright.
No one believed. They listened at his heart.
Little--less--nothing!--and that ended it.

No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

--Robert Frost

This week's poetry roundup is at The Cazzy Files

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Knife of Never Letting Go


Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee--whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not--stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden--a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives. But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought? (jacket copy)

The Knife of Never Letting Go is the first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness. As soon as I finished it, I went out to buy the other two in the series, The Ask and the Answer, and Monsters of Men.

Todd Hewitt lives on another world very similar to earth. When the colony first arrives, they are like any other people. But after a war with the Spackle - the original creatures who live there - a strange thing happens All the women get sick and die, and the men begin to hear the thoughts of other men. Even other animals.

The story opens one month before Todd’s thirteenth birthday. Something special happens to a boy on the day he becomes a man, but Todd has no idea what it is. Tales and gossip don’t trickle down between men and boys, because once a boy becomes a man, he no longer associates with the boys. And Todd is the last boy. He’s been friendless for about a year.

Todd likes to hang out in the swamp with his dog, Manchee, whose thoughts are also audible. Men don’t often go to the swamp, and the Noise of other men isn’t so strong there. While there, Todd discovers a hole in all the Noise. A silence. A silence that leads him to a deadly secret.

And thus the adventure begins. Todd and Manchee run for their lives and discover more and more about the secret as they go, heading to a great climax and a killer ending. Although, it is book one, so not everything’s wrapped up neatly, and that may disappoint some people.

The Knife of Never Letting Go is more Speculative Fiction than Science Fiction, I think. For those who like plot driven novels, there is non-stop action and adventure. For those who like character-driven novels, there is growth, emotion, and thought provoking ideas and issues. It’s put out by Candlewick and written for ages 14+, but I think even 6th and 7th graders would enjoy it. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long while