Thursday, January 31, 2008


My father lives in North Dakota. All by himself. So he spends lots of time in his truck discovering new places both near and far. He says it's his dime-store Jesus that brings him peace on the open road.

When I visited last October, we traveled over a thousand miles together in that truck. This pic was taken somewhere in South Dakota on the way back to Bismarck.

"Who travels for love finds a thousand miles not longer than one."

-Japanese proverb

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Ted Hughes' answered the question this way: "It's about trying to take fuller possession of the reality of your life."

Hmmm. I like it. But it seems too narrow a statement. And what the heck is "reality" anyway?

For me, writing is about survival. It's as essential as food and shelter. And I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Writing is also about discovery. How many times have I written something or expressed a thought/feeling I wasn't consciously aware of before finding it on the page?

Most of all, writing, for me, is about love. It's a way to love all there is to love in this glorious, fragile, fleeting experience we call life.

So maybe what's brilliant about Ted's statement is its narrowness. It allows writers like me to expand on the basic thought without rejecting it. I love when writers do stuff like that. :)

"It is love, not reason, that is stronger than death."

-Thomas Mann

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Now that I've got the first draft of ESCAPE FROM FIRE MOUNTAIN set aside to simmer, I am tackling some poetry projects that have been waiting patiently in the dark corners of my mind.

For the past year and a half I have been working with another poet on a "linking" poem project: she steals a line from my poem and embeds it in hers, then I steal a line from her poem and embed it in my next one. Our big topic is "historical woman," meaning women who are dead so they won't be upset about whatever we decide to write. :) These poems require a lot of research, and I find that most of mine are about women who have been overshadowed somehow by a more famous man. They deserve to be heard, don't you think?

So my next poem will be about Klara Hitler. I'm pretty sure she didn't ask to give birth to a baby who would become Adolf Hitler... can you imagine?

"Writing about the unholy is one way to write about the sacred."

-Clive Barker

Monday, January 28, 2008


Charles Simic is the poet who currently holds the post as U.S. Poet Laureate. It's a one year appointment that begins in October and carries with it a $35,000 prize. The poet also gets to hang out in the Poetry Room at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Usually the poet will adopt a cause of some sort for the advancement of poetry -- I don't know what Simic is doing, but maybe it will be something special like Ted Kooser's American Life in Poetry.

What's cool about Simic is he is an immigrant from Yugoslavia, and he offers the following really excellent advice on writing poetry:

1. Don't tell the readers what they already know about life.

2. Don't assume you're the only one in the world who suffers.

3. Some of the greatest poems in the language are sonnets and poems not many lines longer than that, so don't overwrite.

4. The use of images, similes and metaphors make poems concise. Close your eyes, and let you imagination tell you what to do.

5. Say the words you are writing aloud and let your ear decide what word comes next.

6. What you are writing down is a draft that will need additional tinkering, perhaps many months, and even years of tinkering.

7. Remember, a poem is a time machine you are constructing, a vehicle that will allow someone to travel in their own mind, so don't be surprised if it takes a while to get all its engine parts properly working.

He's also a funny guy - check out this interview.

And to get a taste of his work, here are 29 poems . There are only two in the bunch that I really like, but taste in poetry is quite the individual thing. Here's one of the two:


Green Buddhas
On the fruit stand.
We eat the smile
And spit out the teeth.

- Charles Simic


Let me take a moment to give a little shout-out to Lisa Schroeder whose lovely novel in verse was just released by Simon Pulse.

One of the great things about novels in verse is that they are a quick read, especially good for time-pressed folks and reluctant kid readers. And hey, poetry rocks! Especially when the subject is big bad love. But these books are a hard sell: Lisa's been trying for a while to sell a mid-grade novel in verse with no luck. And when I first approached my agent with a novel in verse, she passed on it, saying she couldn't sell it. So I went back to the drawing board and wrote a new novel in prose, which landed me the agent AND the book contract. So, as much as I love the novel in verse, clearly not everyone does.

Check out Lisa's book. And for the best in the genre, try Newbery winner Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse.

"It's like fireworks
in your heart
all the time."

- Lisa Schroeder, I Heart You, You Haunt Me

Sunday, January 27, 2008


So today we are going to the circus with a van-load of boys (our three and two extra). I haven't been to the circus in a few years, so I am really looking forward to it. Especially now that I am not nearly so sniffly and sneezy! And it's got me thinking: what we can learn about ourselves at the circus? The boys and I have formulated this decidedly unscientific just-for-fun one-question quiz that is sure to enlighten.

What is your favorite thing to see at the circus? (choose one)
a. clowns
b. lions/tigers
c. elephants
d. motorcycles
e. none of the above

Got your answer in mind? Are you sure?

If you chose clowns, you are one of those delightful people who possesses a joi de vivre we all envy and admire and want to spend time with. But sometimes you drive us nuts when you say/do things without thinking first.

If you chose lions/tigers, you've got a wild, untameable side that inspires us. But it also scares us a little too. We see how much you enjoy the ring and want to please the ringmaster, but we know your secret heart also longs to be free.

If you chose elephants, you are loyal and true. You're the one we can always count on. But sometimes we wish you would break out of your comfortable routine and challenge yourself more.

If you chose motorcycles, you aren't afraid to take risks, but only if they are calculated ones. You spend lots of time watching and waiting. We've learned to pay attention to your big thoughts but wish sometimes you would allow yourself to be more spontaneous.

If you chose none of the above, you tell me! To see my answer, click here.

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?"

-Mary Oliver

Friday, January 25, 2008


Okay, you don't have to be a writer to appreciate Ray Bradbury's advice on life. Sure he's a bit cocky, but maybe he has a right to be?? He inspires me so much and on so many levels. Plus check out this really excellent first line from Fahrenheit 451:

"It was a pleasure to burn."

-Ray Bradbury

Thursday, January 24, 2008


This one was taken June, 2006, on the long walk down to Point Reyes National Seashore in California.

"Life shrinks and expands in proportion to one's courage."

- Anais Nin

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Good news: today I finished the first draft of ESCAPE FROM FIRE MOUNTAIN! And ahead of schedule too!! (My goal was to write 1,000 words a day and finish by the end of January.)

The final word count ended up right at 37,000 words, which is just right for a midgrade. But as any writer knows, the first draft is just the beginning. So. What now? I'll take this draft with me on Friday to my writing group. Then, in maybe a month or two I'll pick it back up again and see some of the glaring errors I've made.

But right now I'm gonna go make me a cup of red zinger tea and be very grateful for this day.

"What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from."

- T.S. Eliot

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


I am so thrilled Alison saw fit to give me this award! Alison has a wonderful writing voice and an important story to tell, so it means a lot to me that she has honored me this way. From the bottom of my heart, Alison, THANK YOU.

Now, to pass it on: I give the Excellent Blog award to Peggy Payne's Boldness Blog. I have been an intermittent blogger for several years now and Peggy's is one I come back to again and again. She's a writer and she's all about courage and freedom and living life to the fullest. In short, she's excellent! Check her out.

"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars..."

- Jack Kerouac, On The Road, 1957

Monday, January 21, 2008


Okay, so I've got the awful cold, the trip planned to go help out Grandma who just got back home after being hospitalized for three weeks, and the forecast says "snow." In Alabama, this is serious business! And in my house, it is especially serious business because it hasn't snowed here since Eric was a newborn baby 8 years ago. So. We waited and watched. By bedtime Friday night, it was cold but no white stuff. By 8:30 Saturday morning, there was lots of slushy ice, but still no bonafide snow. Eric, being a good spirited kid, played quite happily in the ice, packed some away in the freezer, and got in the van to go. About 45 minutes down the road, it's snowing FOR REAL! We zip into a rest area along with a few other families and stake out our spot. Eric says, "It's the best day of my life!" Now all you moms out there know it doesn't get any better than that. I only wish big brothers Daniel and Andrew and hubby Paul had been along to romp with us. Sigh. But they got their chance. It snowed at our house for a couple of hours and I'm told snowballs were flying all over the place.
Now if I can just lick this cold. And if Grandma will find the strength to get out of bed...

"Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”

-Lao Tzu, founder of Taoism

Friday, January 18, 2008


1. No snow yet. (For Eric's sake, I am praying!)
2. Have acquired a nasty cold (and lost my voice in the process).
3. Will head to Port St. Joe, FL tomorrow to visit my grandmother who broke her hip (weather permitting).
4. Am super pleased to say Debbie and Alison will each be receiving a copy of What Came Before. (My husband said, wow, two gals who love their husbands!!) Congrats, ladies! Send me snail mail addresses and I'll zip 'em out to you! Also, if you want an inscription, let me know. Meanwhile, keep spreading those positive vibes around. You both inspire me!

"Be the change you want to see in the world."

-Mahatma Gandhi


Everyone is all a-buzz this morning about the possibility of snow... maybe 2 inches by tomorrow morning! It has been 8 years since we've had snow here, so there are a bunch of little kids who have never experienced it at all! My kids are bouncing-off-the-walls excited. Their only complaint is that it is not coming on a school day. :) I just hope we get to make snow cream: mix snow, vanilla, sugar, and milk. Yum!

"Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing is bad weather, only different kinds of good weather."

- John Ruskin

Thursday, January 17, 2008


I was born the middle of five children, and it seems the creative genes settled pretty heavily in the last three kids. We have both our parents to thank for that -- my mother can work all sorts of magic with a sewing machine and my father is a huge appreciator of the arts. It was a great way to grow up, and I try my darnedest to give my kids some of the things my parents gave us.

Anyhow, that long blurb was to explain this: my little sister Lynn took this photo on one of her many adventures. Does she have a great eye, or what? Today's quote is for her and for the wonderful bloggers who've posted their blessings for the book giveaway.

"I am so glad we have a sisterness about us."

- Maya Angelou

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Don't you just love being around people who are generally happy about themselves and their lives? Doesn't it make you feel even better about your own life? It really does make me wonder how wonderful this world could be if more people spent more time counting their blessings instead of grumbling about the perceived slights and disappointments.
In honor of that, I am going to giveaway a copy of my book. All you have to do is leave a comment to this post about a blessing in your life. Then on Friday I'll announce the winner and send out a book! Good luck, and pass it on!!

"Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree."

- Martin Luther

Monday, January 14, 2008


The 2008 Newbery Medal winner is Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz , published by Candlewick.

In “Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village,” thirteenth-century England springs to life using 21 dramatic individual narratives that introduce young inhabitants of village and manor; from Hugo, the lord's nephew, to Nelly, the sniggler. Schlitz's elegant monologues and dialogues draw back the curtain on the period, revealing character and relationships, hinting at stories untold. Explanatory interludes add information and round out this historical and theatrical presentation.

“Schlitz adds a new dimension to books for young readers - performance,” said Committee Chair Nina Lindsay. “Varied poetic forms and styles offer humor, pathos and true insight into the human condition. Each entry is superb in itself, and together the pieces create a pageant that transports readers to a different time and place.”

Is it just me, or does this book sound like Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters?? I loved Spoon River. Can't wait to read this one!

"Mrs. Sibley

The secret of the stars, - gravitation.
The secret of the earth, - layers of rock.
The secret of the soil, - to receive seed.
The secret of the seed, - the germ.
The secret of the man, - the sower.
The secret of woman, - the soil.
My secret: Under a mound that you shall never find."

-Edgar Lee Masters


Remember how I was saying my one little word for 2008 is JOY? Well, one of the things in my life that brings me the most joy is being a mom.
Yesterday I had one of those mom-moments when I realize my baby is eight! (January 13 is his birthday.) This kid brings me so much joy. Sure, he puts me over the edge sometimes, too, but isn't that just a part of it? His name is Eric, and his hero is Albert Einstein.
Eric feels he and Albert have a lot in common: science (number one), dyslexia, and this feeling of being "different." So for his birthday, Eric wanted a poster of Einstein to put in his "lab," which occupies a corner of our basement. It's the famous picture of crazy-haired Einstein sticking out his tongue, and at the bottom it has this funny quote:

"The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits."

-Albert Einstein

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Unless you've been living under a rock somewhere, you've heard of the movie Atonement and the novel by Ian McEwan upon which it is based. The movie doesn't make a misstep, which is really saying something about a movie based on a novel, and the soundtrack is gorgeous. Go see this movie -- it is an experience not to be missed.

"Dearest Cecilia, the story can resume. The one I had been planning on that evening walk. I can become again the man who once crossed the surrey park at dusk, in my best suit, swaggering on the promise of life. The man who, with the clarity of passion, made love to you in the library. The story can resume. I will return. Find you, love you, marry you and live without shame."

- Robbie, Atonement

Saturday, January 12, 2008


Ever since reading Debbie's post I have been thinking about what love looks like. So many images jump to mind, but I find it's really hard to find the right words to describe some of them. (I'm working on a poem - stay tuned.)

One thing that comes to mind is the musical Les Miserables. If you've read the book by Victor Hugo or seen the musical, then you know it is ultimately about love and forgiveness, two things I find coexist rather well together. Today's quote comes from the musical.

"To love another person is to see the face of God."

- Les Miserables

Friday, January 11, 2008


I read recently Clarence Thomas' authobiography MY GRANDFATHER'S SON: A MEMOIR. It's a great book on many levels -- one of the things I appreciated most about was the "full circle" feeling it evoked as Clarence at first rejects his grandfather's way of life, then struggles mightily, and finally finds some sort of peace. Forget about the politics; anyone who has ever struggled with a parent will appreciate this book.

The quote I want to share today is found in the book, and I think it can be applied to any aspect of life. Today I am applying it to my writing.

"I took as my motto a saying of Bobby Knight, then Indiana University’s men’s basketball coach: 'Everybody has a will to win. What’s far more important is having the will to prepare to win.' The question, I saw, was whether I had the will to prepare for the marathon - and ultimately, for the rest of my life. I didn’t know the answer, but I knew that simply making the attempt would help me."

- Clarence Thomas

Thursday, January 10, 2008


One of the things I love about living in Alabama is you can find red dirt roads just like this one within just a few miles of any metropolitan area. This particular dirt road can be found in Gee's Bend.

Gee's Bend is a little pocket of land surrounded by the Alabama River on three sides. As soon as the contract for The Witches of Gee's Bend was official, I climbed in my van, drove 120 miles, and took this picture (among others). Somehow I don't think it's changed all that much from 1932, which is when my story takes place.

“Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason”

-Jerry Seinfeld

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


Do you set daily writing goals for yourself? Advice on this subject runs rampant and varies widely. I think probably it's a matter of trying different things until you find the thing that works best for you. And then be open to change.

For the longest time I was resistant to a word-count-per-day writing goal. Maybe because it scared me?? I mean, what would happen on that day when I inevitable didn't make my word count? Well. I'll tell you: I didn't give up, which was of course the secret fear... I just wrote more words the next day. And see, that's what's so great about being a writer. There is so much flexibility inherent in the job.

Currently I am committed to writing one thousand words a day. So far in this latests novel (not counting today, because I haven't gotten to it yet), I've got 21,100 words. Which means I've got about ten to fifteen thousand more words to go. (It's a midgrade novel.) My goal is to have the first draft finished by the end of January. Stay tuned. :)

"First drafts are shit."

- Ernest Hemingway

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


My dear friend Pam chose her one little word -- squeeze. As in squeeze every little drop of goodness out of every little experience. It's a variation on "carpe diem" and "suck the marrow" and "just do it," all of which I love and truly try to live by. Some days I'm better at it that others.

Today's quote is from another great site chock-full of great quotes. Check it out! Also check out Julia at Mom and Apple Pie. She's back!

"When you pray, move your feet."

— African proverb

Monday, January 7, 2008


If you were guessing, who would you say is the THIRD bestselling poet of all time? Not Shakespeare, because he is number one. Robert Frost? Billy Collins? Maya Angelou? No, no, and no. Read this to find out. Or, read today's quote and find out fast. :)

"And stand together, yet not too near together.
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,

And the oak tree and the cypress
grow not in each other's shadow."

- Kahlil Gibran

(A note on today's quote: My father read this at me and Paul's wedding way back in 1991! I love it still.)

Sunday, January 6, 2008


Here is a picture of my friend Tom on vacation. And what is he doing? Reading my book of poems WHAT CAME BEFORE! This picture fills me with such joy because isn't that like the very best part of being a writer? Sending your words out there and having them be consumed by a hungry reader?

"Ink runs from the corners of my mouth
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry."

- Mark Strand

Saturday, January 5, 2008


Okay, so you've probably heard of Scott, That Guy With the Nametag . Yep, he wears it everyday, even in the shower! His book is all about how to create an unforgettable brand that MAGNETIZES more business. He's got great tips for anyone who is trying to sell something, and his big thing is APPROACHABILITY. Thus the nametag.

You know what else is cool? His book originated in posts he put on his blog. Go, bloggers, go!

"don't be different, be unique"

-Scott Ginsberg

Friday, January 4, 2008


Who will be the next J.K. Rowling? It could be one of these 28 debut mid-grade/YA authors. Best of luck to all of them!

"Anything's possible if you've got enough nerve."

- J.K. Rowling

Thursday, January 3, 2008


Meet my youngest nephew Levi in a rare unhappy moment. Even when crying he's adorable. He's also in love with trains, especially a Really Useful Engine named Thomas.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


Thanks to The Writer Mama, I have been thinking about my one little word for 2008.

The word I've chosen in JOY. As in joyful, joyful, joy to the world, make a joyful noise. I want to focus on the joys of writing and parenthood and life in general. I am going to consciously pursue joyful experiences. When I can't find the joy, I'm going to create it.

So that's my word. What's yours?

And on the topic of the joy of writing:

"You don't write because you want to say something, you write because you've got something to say."

- F. Scott Fitzgerald

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


Welcome, 2008! It's going to be a very good year - I can just feel it. I want to write more, love more, live more. I want to be brave and work hard to make some more of my dreams come true.

"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."

- Eleanor Roosevelt