Friday, December 31, 2010

Poetry Friday - Poetic Prophecies

Tomorrow is New Year’s day, and what would the new year be without New Year’s predictions? Business analysts will predict the rise or fall of the stock market and the economy. Nutrition gurus will give us the skinny on the miracle foods of the coming year. Psychics will prognosticate on the futures of celebrities, and astrologers will turn to the stars for a peek at the future. And let’s not forget the Mayanists who will be telling us that no matter what the predictors predict, none of it will matter because we’re all going to die in 2012 anyway.

Prophets have been around since Biblical times, and one I've found pretty interesting is Mother Shipton, not particularly for her prophecies, but because her story is such an interesting one. She lived during the reign of Henry VII and was supposedly born in a cave in England, the daughter of a good English woman, and the devil. She was born grossly misshapen with an enormously large crooked nose, a hunched back, and one leg longer than the other. But she was good and kind and went out of her way to help people, especially with her predictions.

It's said she predicted the downfall of Cardinal Wolsey, the end of the Catholic Church in England, and her own death, and made predictions for several monarchs and a pope. She was so well known, they even named a moth after her.

Below are a few of her predictions first published in 1641, eighty years after her death. Make of them what you will.

Carriages without horses shall go,
And accidents fill the world with woe.
Around the world thoughts shall fly
In the twinkling of an eye.
The world upside down shall be
And gold be found at the root of a tree.
Through hills man shall ride,
And no horse be at his side.
Under water men shall walk,
Shall ride, shall sleep, shall talk.
In the air men shall be seen,
In white, in black, in green;
Iron in the water shall float,
As easily as a wooden boat.
Gold shall be found and shown
In a land that's now not known.
Fire and water shall wonders do,
England shall at last admit a foe.
The world to an end shall come,
In eighteen hundred and eighty one."

She obviously got that last bit wrong, buy hey, nobody's perfect.

My New Year's prediction for you is that you will head on over to Carol's Corner and enjoy a plethora of poetry.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Women of Wednesday - Virginia O'Hanlon

The story of Virginia O’Hanlon, I think, is the closest thing we have in America to an original fairy tale, and yet, the story is true. If you think her name sounds familiar but can’t place her, it may be because you always knew her as a child. Virginia O’Hanlon was the little girl who wrote to the New York Sun in 1897, asking if there was a Santa Claus.

Virginia was born at the end of the 19th century on July 20, 1889. She lived in Manhattan, on the Upper West Side. When she was eight years old, she encountered a problem most American kids still face today. She was told there was no Santa Claus.

Virginia was shocked. No Santa Claus? How could that be? Didn’t Santa bring her presents every Christmas? She rushed home to ask her father. Mr. O’Hanlon, being a doctor and a very practical man, told her to write to the New York Sun and ask them. The Sun was one of New York’s most conservative newspapers, and if it was in the Sun, he said, then it had to be so.

So Virginia wrote her letter, but the Sun did not reply. Not right away. Virginia’s question was not the kind they liked to answer. They preferred questions that could be looked up in books or answered with a bit of wit. Virginia’s question was a question of the heart, a question of faith. It was passed along to the Editorial Department, to Francis Pharcellus Church, the underachieving brother of the overachieving William Conant Church, publisher of the Sun, as well as a founding member of the NRA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to mention just a few of his achievements.

Now, it wasn’t really that Francis was an underachiever. He was a war correspondent and had helped his brother in two other publishing ventures before the New York Sun. But in this world there are doers and there are thinkers, and Francis was a thinker (a much nicer label than underachiever) and since we cannot see or measure thoughts and ideas, it appeared he wasn't doing a heck of a lot. It was left to him to deal with Virginia’s unorthodox question.

Francis took Virginia’s letter seriously and gave it a lot of thought, as thinkers are known to do, and he replied to her letter in a thoughtful and philosophical way, in a way that made Santa Claus real for Virginia and millions of other kids, in a way that touched millions of people for over a hundred years. He gave Virginia an answer she could carry around with her forever. “Yes, Virginia. There is a Santa Claus.”

But Virginia already knew that. Deep down inside, she already believed. Her faith had simply wavered a bit so she sought out confirmation. If she hadn’t believed, she never would have asked. We don’t look for things that we believe don’t exist. So when Francis confirmed what she already knew in her heart, she was overjoyed.

Virginia eventually grew up and married a man named Edward Douglas. He abandoned her just before their daughter was born. Virginia raised her daughter by herself at a time when there were few opportunities for women. She may also have had to face the stigma and shame of being ‘that woman whose husband abandoned her.’

Despite that, Virginia thrived. She was a believer, after all, and if you believe in fairies and the unseen and unknown, it’s really easy to believe everything will turn out all right. And the fact that she acquired a BA, a Master’s in Education, and a Doctorate didn’t hurt her prospects either. She became a New York City school teacher and retired in 1959 after forty-seven years of service, twenty-five of them as a junior principal. Church’s editorial, she said, shaped the direction of her life in a positive way, and the older she got, the more it meant to her. She died in 1971.

Now, you may be asking why this makes Virginia notable. It wasn’t her question that intrigued people. It was Church’s reply.

True. But there would have been no answer if the question had never been asked, if an eight year-old girl had not had the courage to ask. Think about it. The answer could have gone the other way and everything Virginia believed in could have been crushed easily. Imagine if practical, overachieving William had responded to her letter. What might that have done to Virginia’s psyche?

But William didn’t reply. Francis did. And that made all the difference.

And because Virginia asked, an underachieving man garnered more fame than his overachieving brother. Because Virginia asked, millions of people from all over the world are filled with hope and joy and love every year when that article is reprinted in newspapers everywhere. Their beliefs and faith, in whatever it is that they have faith in, are affirmed, allowing them to go on in spite of the things life throws at them. And most importantly, Virginia’s question brought about the proof that there really is a Santa Claus because, after all, it said so in the Sun, and if it’s in the Sun, it must be so.

A 1963 Christmas Eve interview with Virginia
Be sure your volume is turned up.
Click newspaper clipping to read.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Mentor Monday - What's It All About, Alphie?

As writers, we spend a lot of time with our stories. Between the research, the plotting and planning, the first few drafts and the countless revisions, it might take a year of more to get that baby where it needs to be. You’d think after spending so much time on it, explaining what it is about would be easy. But for some of us, it’s not. At least, not in a limited amount of space or time.

When submitting to editors and agents, we have the synopsis and query letter, which give us at least one page, and sometimes a few more, to explain our stories. But what happens when we actually meet an agent or editor face to face?

Imagine yourself at a writers' conference. You've spent the morning attending some great workshops, now you're sitting down to lunch with your fellow writers. An agent or editor joins you at the table. The conversation turns to - So, what are you working on?

The question goes around the table, and then it's your turn. Well, you say, I’ve just finished a novel about this pig and this spider, and the pig’s the runt of the litter and the farm people want to kill it, but their daughter wants to keep it, and her parents give in, blah, blah, blah.

You might go on and on, monopolizing the conversation, which probably won’t endear you to anyone, especially not the person after you waiting to share their story. And because you’re touching on more than the major plot points, you may be boring everyone as well. You’ve wasted your moment - a moment that doesn’t come all that often for writers.

That’s where the log line comes in. It’s a few sentences, generally two or three, that give a quick summation of your story while creating tension, suspense, mood and/or tone. It may even reflect a bit of your personality - a lot of work for a few sentences. But how do we do all that? How do we condense an entire novel into two or three sentences? It's hard enough writing a synopsis and query.

Pull six main elements from your story.


Going back to our Charlotte’s Web example, our six elements would be --

Character = Wilbur
Setting = Zuckerman Farm
Dilemma = He’s going to be killed at Christmas
Goal = To prevent his death with Charlotte’s help
Motivation = He doesn’t want to die
Hook = His and Charlotte’s possible deaths

Wilbur, a pig (Character) on the Zuckerman farm (Setting) learns he is to be killed at Christmas. (Dilemma) Not wanting to become ham and bacon, (Motivation) he teams up with Charlotte, a friendly spider, who spins words into her webs declaring Wilbur ‘terrific,’ ‘humble,’ and ‘some pig,’ which turns him into a bit of a celebrity. (Goal) But can her silky words save him from slaughter? And when he discovers she is dying, will he be able to save her? (Hook)

I used four sentences, but I could condense it to two.

When Wilbur, a pig (Character) on the Zuckerman farm (Setting) learns he is to be killed at Christmas, (Dilemma) he teams up with Charlotte, a friendly spider, who spins words into her webs declaring him ‘terrific,’ ‘humble,’ and ‘some pig,’ hoping to save him from becoming ham and bacon. (Motivation) As her silky words turn Wilbur into a celebrity, (Goal) he discovers she is dying, and now he must do what he can to save her. (Hook)

While I personally like the first example better, it would only work on paper, perhaps as part of a query. The reason? I’ve asked questions, and they’d sound silly in conversation. The second example would be a better choice to present orally. It provides the same information and makes sense when spoken.

Try it with your own work and see what you can come up with. Play around with it until you have something short, clear and interesting, something you can recite in about thirty seconds, (although you don’t want to sound like you’re reciting it.) If you have it ready before your next conference, all you’ll have to do is brush up. And while there’s no guarantee you’ll ever to get to use it, (only offer it if you’re asked) it’s good to be prepared. You never know who you’ll be standing next to in the elevator.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Poetry Friday: Christmas poems

Ok, so The Christmas Poem by which All Others Shall be Measured is, obviously, Clement Moore's The Night Before Christmas (even if he didn't write it). Although Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas may be about to knock ol' Clement out of first place.

But Christmas isn't just about kids, and it isn't just about presents, or even roast beast. Sometimes, Christmas is about missing people.

So to show that this bittersweet view of Christmas is not a function of our "modern" society, a poem by Frances Ridley Havergal, published in 1882 (in an illustrated book which you can enjoy in all it's nineteenth century dramatic effect thanks to Google Books Bells Across the Snow

O Christmas, merry Christmas!

Is it really come again,
With its memories and greetings,
With its joy and with its pain?
There's a minor in the carol,
And a shadow in the light,
And a spray of cypress twining
With the holly wreath to-night.
And the hush is never broken
By laughter light and low,
As we listen in the starlight
To the "bells across the snow."

O Christmas, merry Christmas!
'Tis not so very long
Since other voices blended
With the carol and the song!
If we could but hear them singing
As they are singing now,
If we could but see the radiance
Of the crown on each dear brow;
There would be no sigh to smother,
No hidden tear to flow,
As we listen in the starlight
To the "bells across the snow."

O Christmas, merry Christmas!
This never more can be;
We cannot bring again the days
Of our unshadowed glee.
But Christmas, happy Christmas,
Sweet herald of good-will,
With holy songs of glory
Brings holy gladness still.
For peace and hope may brighten,
And patient love may glow,
As we listen in the starlight
To the "bells across the snow."

Poetry Friday is at A Year of Reading this week.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Women of Wednesday: The two Mrs. Seuss

I wasn’t inspired to do a Women of Wednesday blog post, until I heard a piece on NPR about Dr. Seuss. His step-daughter said when he was in a happy mood he was the Cat in the Hat and when he was feeling curmudgeonly he was the Grinch. This got me thinking about Mrs. Seuss, so I did a little checking.

There were, as it turns out, two Mrs. Seuss (or Mrs. Geisel, actually).

The first Mrs. Seuss was Helen Palmer, an American whom Ted Geisel met when they were both at Oxford. They were married in 1927. She convinced him to become an artist and writer instead of a professor, for which the world is, I’m sure, very grateful. She was an editor and helped him with his manuscripts. She was also a children’s writer, her most famous book being Do You Know What I'm Going To Do Next Saturday, published in 1963. They were married 40 years, until Helen died tragically in 1967. They did not have any children.

The next year, Dr. Seuss married again, a long-time friend named Audrey Stone Dimond (which is a remarkable name, when you consider it). Audrey had two daughters, named Lea and Lark, who were 9 and 14 at the time. She is, I believe, still the head of Dr. Seuss Enterprises.

There turns out to be a lot of sadness around the stories of the two Mrs. Seuss, but each of them contributed to the work of a man who brought a great deal of happiness to many, many children – and adults. So cheers to both of them, and thank yous.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mentor Monday: Getting Going

Thomas Alva Edison,
punching in to work on his 74th birthday
Thomas Edison is credited with saying “genius is 1 % inspiration, and 99 % perspiration.” Woody Allen said “Eighty percent of success in life is just showing up.” A common expression used by working writers is b-i-c. It stands, inelegantly, for one of the most important factors of successful writing: applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.

New writers often find that they start out with a great idea, write furiously for a few pages or a few days, and then, unexpectedly, the well goes dry. Inspiration is gone. The muse seems to have fled, and the project is never finished. Other times a writer will find herself simply void of ideas, or unable to figure out what comes next. We’ve all heard the term: writer’s block.

Those who rely on their writing to pay the bills don’t have the option of waiting for inspiration to strike. Hence, b-i-c.

Even (perhaps especially) for those of us who have the luxury of not relying on our writing checks for our mortgage payments, procrastination can be a chronic, and costly, problem.

Procrastination can take many subtle forms. It can be the need to set up the perfect writing area, find just the right software, arrange the lighting, the chairs, and the bookcases just so.

It can present itself as an obsession with form: how many words to a line, how far should the first line be indented, what font should I use?

It can masquerade as concern about what rights to sell, or whether to use a pen name. It can hide behind a need for a little more research, or that long-awaited writing class.

It can, of course, be a an inbox full of email.

There’s a great irony here, of course. Procrastination is usually a problem we associate with tasks we don’t want to do. We procrastinate about paying our bills, shoveling our walkways, cleaning our toilets. We put off confronting an unpleasant co-worker or an uncooperative spouse. Why do we put off writing? We enjoy writing, after all, or we wouldn’t do it. No one forced us to become writers instead of coal miners or third-grade teachers or brain surgeons.

Procrastination may grow out of fear (of success, or failure), rebellion, burnout, or any number of other sources. But whatever its origins, its effect is the same. It robs us of accomplishment.

Fortunately, the cure for procrastination is supremely simple. In the immortal words of a corporate giant, “Just do it.” B-I-C! Most of the time, once we begin, we keep going. Because, after all, we LIKE writing. Or we’d go do something else.

So how to get started? Everyone develops their own routine. Here are a few tricks you can try:

Just type anything (what you had for dinner last night, a letter to the President, an itinerary for your next vacation). After a couple of minutes, or a couple of paragraphs, sidle into writing about your subject. (Don’t forget to delete the “pump-priming material” when you’re done!) A variation on this approach is the “copy someone else’s writing” method, where you actually transcribe a published book (one in the same style/grade level you’re working in) until your inner barrier against writing fades.

Start in the middle. It’s frequently difficult to figure out how to begin a piece, even when you know what it is you are going to write. So give yourself permission to start in the middle – the middle of the story, or the middle of the first chapter, or even the middle of the first paragraph. Begin at whatever point you feel comfortable with, and just go. You’ll find the opening eventually. Often it will come to you while you’re busy writing something else.

Some authors swear by the “stop in the middle of a sentence” method. The theory is that you stop writing in the middle of a great bit of action or dialog, so the next morning when you open the file, you can pick up where you left off. Some of us would never remember what we thought we were about to say, and would waste half the morning trying to figure it out. But for some people, this is reportedly a good method. A slightly-less risky variation is to go back and read (maybe even revise) the last chapter or page you wrote, and then keep going from there.

For a non-fiction piece, a review of your research materials will frequently get the juices flowing. Or pretend you’re writing an email to someone, explaining the subject or describing your writing project. For fiction you can make that an email about your story (but don’t deplete your creative energy talking about/around the work!)

Other tips many writers rely upon:

“Work clothes.” Get dressed as if you were going to the office. Maybe even go out to the car, and then come back in and go straight to your desk. The contrary approach says “don’t get dressed until you’ve written five pages” (or more drastically, variations on “I can’t eat until I write 1000 words.”)

“Mood music.” Many writers have particular songs, or particular kinds of music, that they find conducive to working. Have that music cued up and ready to play – and don’t listen to it at other times. You want a Pavlovian response - when you hear the opening bars, your fingers should start moving (on the keyboard, not air-directing!)

Accountability/buddies: Before you start in the morning you tell your buddy (via phone or email) what your goal is for the day. At lunch you check in with a progress report. When you achieve your goal, you report again. Psychological studies confirm that we are far more likely to complete a task when we’ve told someone else about it.

(With credit to Annie Lamott) Give yourself permission to write “shitty first drafts” or, as many of us call them for school groups, “sloppy copies”). Lock your mental critic into a mental closet and do a brain-dump on paper. You can clean it up later.

In the end, overcoming procrastination is getting started. B-I-C, sitting down and putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, actually setting one word after another. Frequently the first words we write will be awful. They are like the sputtering of an unprimed pump, or the flickering of a lamp that needs trimming.

Sometimes, you’ll just slog along, sputtering and flickering all day, until you meet your word-count or the kids get off the bus or you have to leave for your “real job.” Other days, your artificially-rigged beginning will melt away and you’ll move into the work, sometimes even losing track of time. Psychologists call this experience “flow,” or “being in the zone.” But either way, you’ll have more done at the end of the day than you did at the beginning. And that, ultimately, is the “secret.”

Friday, December 17, 2010

Poetry Friday: Willa Cather's O Pioneers!

The entrance to the novel welcomes you with this poem by Cather:

Prairie Spring

Evening and the flat land,
Rich and sombre and always silent;
The miles of fresh-plowed soil,
Heavy and black, full of strength and harshness;
The growing wheat, the growing weeds,
The toiling horses, the tired men;
The long empty roads,
Sullen fires of sunset, fading,
The eternal, unresponsive sky.
Against all this, Youth,
Flaming like the wild roses,
Singing like the larks over the plowed fields,
Flashing like a star out of the twilight;
Youth with its insupportable sweetness,
Its fierce necessity,
Its sharp desire,
Singing and singing,
Out of the lips of silence,
Out of the earthy dusk.

and then, exquisitely, rolls into this --

"One January day, thirty years ago, the little town of Hanover, anchored on a windy Nebraska tableland, was trying not to be blown away. A mist of fine snowflakes was curling and eddying about the cluster of low drab buildings huddled on the gray prairie, under a gray sky. The dwelling-houses were set about haphazard on the tough prairie sod; some of them looked as if they had been moved in overnight, and others as if they were straying off by themselves, headed straight for the open plain. None of them had any appearance of permanence, and the howling wind blew under them as well as over them.”

You can read more about Willa Cather, and efforts to restore the prairie here at The Willa Cather Foundation.

Over at 100 Scope Notes, Travis Jonkers, along with fellow school librarian John Schumacher, have announced their top twenty children's books for 2010. As they guys say, 

"The list contains books for the Kindergarten through sixth grade reader, but other than that, anything goes. You’ll see picture books mingling with graphic novels and chapter books elbowing nonfiction. Five titles a day, presented in countdown fashion". Check it out here at 100 Scope Notes.

So much good stuff from Travis at his site. I especially like his project to redesign all the unfortunately-covered Newbery Winners. You'll find the explanation and examples here at Covering the Newbery.

Fittingly enough, Amy over at the Poem Farm is hosting Poetry Friday today. Grab a milking stool or hay bale and set a spell.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mentor Monday: The Phone Interview

If you write nonfiction for kids, it's likely you'll be interviewing an expert on your topic. In most cases, it will be unavoidable. It is, in fact, mandatory in most cases.

Unless you can afford to fly or drive to your expert, you'll need to conduct your interview on the phone or via Skype. Some folks find this prospect absolutely terrifying. But, if you want to have a career as a children's writer, you must put these feelings aside. Editors expect nonfiction writers to use primary sources. Including talks with real experts as part of your primary source research could make the difference between you getting the assignment or not getting it.

Besides, talking directly to an expert opens doors for interesting, kid-friendly (and editor-friendly) side material you may not find by reading an article.

To me, the most surprising thing about doing phone interviews is how much easier it becomes once you've done one. You realize that people are not ogres. Most are, in fact, delighted to talk about their chosen field of expertise. In my experience, experts love talking to children's writers because it means introducing kids to a topic that has fascinated them for many, many years – in some cases it's a passion they developed during their childhood.

Here are some tips to make your phone interview experience much more enjoyable.

  • First, find your experts. As you research your topic, take note of the names that come up. Also note where you first found that person's name. If you're unable to locate the expert, you can contact the original author of the article or blog where you discovered this expert's name. He or she may have the expert's contact information.
  • When you have an expert's name, do an internet search to find out more about that person. You'll likely find other references and, most likely, contact information. If a search offers no direct way to contact your expert, keep digging. If you can find what entity the person works for, a call to the switchboard can get you started. I've been known to find people just by knowing their home town and then doing a search through
  • Be aware that you may encounter the gate-keepers – people who feel it's their duty to protect their bosses or colleagues from talking to you. You must persist. I once needed to interview a well-known politician in my state. It practically took an act of Congress to get to her. I kept trying. She was none to happy to find her 'people' had made it so difficult to gain access.
  • My preferred first contact is via email. I write so much better than I talk. In an email, I can take my time to introduce myself and tell the expert why I want to talk to her. On the rare occasions when I had to make a cold call, I had a loose script prepared that outlined the same things – the reason I want to talk.
  • Tell the expert the age level you're writing for, and the general direction your manuscript is headed. I avoid giving specific questions ahead of time. I find that some experts will stick solely to the questions asked ahead of time. I prefer a more open conversation.
  • Tell the interview subject that you will probably need no more than fifteen minutes for the initial conversation. Fifteen minutes seems to be reasonably do-able for even the busiest expert.
  • If you do have to make a call, never expert to conduct the interview right then and there. I always find it best to set up the interview for a time in the not-to-distant future. That said, if your first contact is through a phone call, the expert might be ready for you right then and there. Be prepared!
  • Being prepared means learning all you can about your subject. It is not the expert's job to give you a basic education on the topic you're writing about. An educated interviewer can speak with confidence about a subject.
  • By the time you're talking to your expert, you should have made a list questions to ask – just five or six should do at this point. On your notepad, suggest to yourself possible follow-up questions, but be flexible. If you don't get to all your questions, you can arrange for a follow-up questions at a later date.
  • I usually start the conversation with general house-keeping questions that lead me into the heart of the matter. These are simple things like the correct spelling of the person's name, his or her title, the name of the institution/department he or she works for. I also ask for the person's physical mailing address so I can send a copy of the work when it's finally published. This opening gambit seems to quiet my racing heart so I can just ease into my first real question.
  • Once the person starts talking, be sure to listen. It's easy for your mind to be anticipating the next question, but you may miss something important if you do. This is the case even if you're recording the conversation. You need to be ready to ask a follow-up question if you hear something interesting or unusual from your expert. Also, don't be afraid to ask for clarification if you don't understand something.The expert is going to want you to get it right.
  • I sometimes find little gems when I ask the expert what surprising information they know that may have not made it into print. It's yielded some great stuff that I've used – including an interesting power struggle between archaeologists and cops I chronicled in Bog Bodies. The expert was delighted that I was so interested in that aspect of the story. It was one that no other writer or journalist had felt important enough to cover. It made fascinating fodder for a kids' book.
  • If your expert veers too far off on a tangent, be prepared to bring her back. Its tempting to let the expert ramble, but your time is valuable, too. Think ahead to some polite and gentle ways you can get her back on track.
  • Try to end the conversation at the agreed-upon time, unless your subject is still giving you fascinating information. Also, be aware of your interview subject's energy level -- don't drag the conversation along when she's clearly ready to quit talking.
  • End the conversation by asking if you can contact your expert again, and her preferred form of contact. You may also want to consider asking if she can suggest someone else you should talk to. She may be able to put you in touch with other experts. Networking is a great writers' tool.
  • Some people like to record their conversations. I find it helpful, but not absolutely necessary. Transcribing a whole conversation is very tedious. My preferred method is to write while the expert is talking. I explain that I am handwriting my notes, and will sometimes ask the person to be patient while I write. I find this helpful, because it tends to slow down the conversation, and gives time for the expert to think as I finish writing. Silence can be golden!
  • If you do choose to tape record, you must ask your subject if it's okay to do so. Most folks say yes. 
  • Should you send your subject a copy of your manuscript to see if you got the facts right? Some of your experts may ask for this. I try to avoid it, but in some cases, I've sent it. For Ice Maiden of the Andes the expert got back to me with his (minor) corrections after the book had gone to print. I saved those corrections for a future reprinting.
  • Be sure to follow up with a note of thanks. And don't forget to send a copy of the published book or article to your expert if it's appropriate.
Phone interviews are a piece of cake!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Poetry Friday: A News Junkie's Lament

Apparently some things never change.

Everybody Tells Me Everything
by Ogden Nash

I find it very difficult to enthuse
Over the current news.
Just when you think that at least the outlook is so black 
that it can grow no blacker,
it worsens,
And that is why I do not like the news, 

because there has never been an era when
so many things were going
so right for so many of the wrong persons.

I've been thinking of John Lennon who is 30 years dead this week. A Day in the Life, in my opinion, is among his greatest works. "I read the news today. Oh, boy." 

For all the poetry fit to print (sorry New York Times), go to Alphabet Soup, where Jama is hosting Poetry Friday. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Mentor Monday: Speak Up!

Sooner or later, most authors are called upon to speak publicly. Whether doing a reading at a local bookstore, or presenting workshops to other writers, you'll face a room filled with people prepared to make snap judgments about your abilities. It's not that they're expecting to be harsh critics. On the contrary, they wouldn't have chosen to be in the audience if they didn't have positive expectations. Those positive expectations can change before you even open your mouth, however, if you project an uncertain demeanor.

Amy J.C. Cuddy, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, has researched and written extensively on the messages conveyed through body language. Cuddy says that how you say what you say is more important than what you actually say. People judge your abilities by measuring your posture and stance. The larger and more expansive your physical presence (think peacock with fully displayed tail feathers) the more seriously you are taken. Fold your arms across your chest and tilt your chin down and you're practically begging to be ignored.

This video clip is a perfect example of what Cuddy talks about. Audra McDonald reeks of confidence and competence as she sings Rodgers and Hammerstein's I Have Confidence. Her body language is filled with large, sweeping gestures until she reaches 3:06, the point in the song where she says, "Oh, help." Her flagging confidence is reflected in her body language as she pulls her hands up to her chest and crosses them over her heart. As she regains her confidence, the large gestures return and she finishes the song with the intestinal fortitude she needs to face a captain with seven children.

For more visuals of master public speakers, check out the speakers at TED. Read more about Cuddy and her work here at the Harvard Business School site. And stand up straight!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Poetry Friday: The Hunt for the Perfect Tree

Over the years, I've done it all: Shopped for a tree at a fund-raiser's lot; bought from the local farm stand; tramped through the tree farm with the kids.

Now I put up a fake tree. The lights are pre-installed. The kids help me drag it up from the basement. When they are unable to do that, I will follow my parents' lead and put the top of the fake tree on a little table in our sun room. It'll be just enough to acknowledge the season.

This poem spoke to me about the tradition of having a Christmas tree:

Christmas Tree Lots
by Chris Green

Christmas trees lined like war refugees,
a fallen army made to stand in their greens.
Cut down at the foot, on their last leg,

they pull themselves up, arms raised.
We drop them like wood;
tied, they are driven through the streets,

dragged through the door, cornered
in a room, given a single blanket,
only water to drink, surrounded by joy.

Forced to wear a gaudy gold star,
to surrender their pride,
they do their best to look alive.
Join the Poetry Friday participants at The Miss Rumphius Effect hosted byTricia!