Friday, September 28, 2018

Celebrating Life with Poems about "Now"

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Jone at Deowriter for Roundup.

Here it's the eve of AGNES' entry to the world - for those of you who are interested, I am still taking octopus poems and art! Thanks to all of you, Octopus Month is going to be lots of fun.

And... it still feels like summer -- esp. when I received in the mail a late Summer Poem Swap from Iphigene, who joins us from the Philippines!

Iphigene wrote this poem after reading something on my blog: "All in nature is temporary."

Of Only Now

I wonder at the world,
its permanence --
the art of preservation
we've perfected

pressed flowers,
scrapbook, and 
Google drive.

wax figures,
specimens, and

We preserve,
we save, all these
bits and pieces 
of what was

Grasping on our hands
an illusionary
that fades in time

Refusing the permanence
of temporary -
of life, of moments.
Missing in the beauty
of only now.

- Iphigene Daradar
Isn't that lovely! And the art!! So many thanks to Iphigene for bringing such beauty to my day. And it reminded me of a villanelle I wrote recently on the same subject, so clearly my subconscious is working through some things. :)


The kingdom of Now is everykid's land –
it doesn't discriminate; nows go on and on.
Just don't try to hold one in your hand;

Now slips through your fingers like sand.
Each Now is its own pink-streaked dawn
waking the kingdom: Now! In everykid's land,

Now doesn't shout or grandstand.
Step after step, it faces life's marathon.
Still, you can't hold Now in your hand.

Now is a tiny oasis is Time's wasteland.
It can be squandered in a yawn,
or it can build kingdoms in everykid’s land.

Now is the only moment at our command.
It appears suddenly, with the grace of a swan,
then soon swells – too big to hold in your hand.

Now marches with the faith of a one-man band,
endlessly teaching us to carry on.
The kingdom of Now is everykid's land;
just don't dare try to hold it in your hand.

- Irene Latham

And now... the lake is calling! :) Thank you so much for reading!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Celebrating Poetry & Conversation at Riverchase Elementary

books to sign!
One of the great things about writing a book with someone is that we get invited to do school visits together! Yesterday Charles Waters and I spent time with students and educators at Riverchase Elementary in Hoover, Alabama. What a lovely learning environment the administration, faculty and staff are creating for these students! What an honor to be a part of that.

Charles Waters, Jennifer Rich, Irene Latham
Big thanks to librarian Jennifer Rich (and her sweet mama, who is a retired librarian, and helped with Jennifer's classes so she could devote her time to making the author visit run smoothly. I know. Isn't that beautiful? We all need a mama like that).

It was also nice to explore the school's 811 section to see what poetry titles were available. I am always looking for new-to-me books... and of course it is fun to find familiar books, too. Yay for FRESH DELICIOUS! :)

Later, when Charles and I were on our way to our book signing at Little Professor Books, I got a text from a friend who had just picked up her grandbaby from our school... and look! We'd autographed a book for her!

No, I didn't know this friend's child when to Riverchase. What a sweet surprise!

Finally, I want to share a couple more things:

SCBWI schmooze at North Shelby Library
1. We loved our time at Little Professor Books! What a peaceful, well-stocked bookstore. And we made some new friends! We didn't take any pictures, though, sadly. On the other hand... we were really in the moment, and sometimes cameras can get in the way of that.

2. As part of Charles' visit, we also offered an SCBWI Schmooze to offer "Experience, Strength, and Hope for the Publishing Journey." It was lovely talking with others at different stages of the journey, and remembering once again, that there's no one road to publication. We all get there in different ways. Thanks to all who attended and shared!

3.  For the first time, Charles and I don't know when we'll see each other again, as there are no new events currently scheduled. That feels weird, and made it sad to say goodbye! We've had such a big, fun year and shared so much... I know there are many more adventures in store for us... starting with us getting these latest revisions of our next book back to our editor! :)

Monday, September 24, 2018

#nErDcampGA Report

It was my great pleasure to be part of Georgia's first ever nErDcamp! Modeled after other state nErDcamps, this one was a day of learning and communion with educators, authors and readers. Thank you, Lola Schaefer and so many others (including my "angel" Cassie) for giving your time in this way! I'm so grateful to have been included.

I loved meeting so many Georgia folks, especially after I missed the awards ceremony for Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read, during which CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? was recognized. (I was at Mississippi Book Festival with Charles Waters!)

Some highlights:

Jeff Anderson. Jeff shared about his books and how humor saved his life. His message dovetailed nicely with mine and Charles' -- about how we NEED to make mistakes. Mistakes are how we grow! And humor helps.

The first session. I sat in a room with educators passionate about diversity and inclusivity. The discussion was inspiring and meaningful. Georgia is full of great folks doing the hard work. Thank you!

R. Gregory Christie. I loved meeting Greg and learning more about him and his work! We're both shy children's book creators. :) Also, I found Greg's comments about revision so applicable to my writing and my cello and my LIFE. He said revision starts with a broom, and ends with a toothpick. Or at least it should. :) He said artists look at shape and structure... and at my recent string orchestra gig, the conductor was telling us that for the fast parts, our accuracy would improve if we'd look at the shape of the music, not to worry so much about reading the specific notes. And it worked! I love these refrains in the arts and what it means for creators, whatever one's medium.

Rebecca Kai Dotlich. It was Rebecca who was there when I had my awakening to children's poetry back in 2010. It was Rebecca with whom I wrote a poem that was printed on a poster for this event -- and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie! - before being auctioned off. We were able to read the poem aloud, and also take home posters of the poem. What fun!

Sadly, the schedule was such that there wasn't time for me to meet all of the authors or attendees. But wow, what an enthusiastic team of volunteers and passionate readers! It was an honor to share time and space with all of you... thank you!

Sidenote: I also had cello business in the Atlanta area, which meant I came a day in advance of nErDcamp and was able to treat myself to some great restaurants. One really stood out: Lazaro's Cuban Cuisine (Roswell, GA). I'd almost drive back over to ATL just to eat at this restaurant again!

Friday, September 21, 2018

Fun at the County Fair - Poem and Pictures

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure and visit Erin at The Water's Edge for Roundup!

I am away from my desk today, but I did want to pop in with some pics from last week's county fair.

Ours is one of just 22 counties in Alabama that still hosts a fair, and I kind of love it -- not the rides so much, as the noise and lights and crowds are a bit much for me, though I do respect and admire how the crew can create the fair in just hours... so many cables snaking along the ground!

What I really love are the agriculture exhibits. This year we caught the kids' 4-H lamb show. AND, we enjoyed discovering two of our son's photographs earned ribbons and prize money!

Oh, and the fair is just not the fair until hubby and I have shared a funnel cake. :)

And because it's Poetry Friday, here's a fair poem:

Fair Prayer

Thank you for this
September night,
for funnel cakes
and Midway lights.
For giant pumpkins,
sunflower blossoms,
and the way Mama's
are all but forgotten.

Thanks for hay bales
and raffle ticket sales,
how riding the Tilt a Whirl
makes me feel like
I'm Queen of the world!

Most of all thank you
for cotton candy
and how it melts
but leaves a splash
of blue on my lips
that lasts forever –

or at least until
the next morning.

- Irene Latham
Have YOU been to the fair this year? If so, maybe your experience needs to find its way into a poem??

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Magic of #SCBWIMidsouth2018 Conference

"Always be yourself...unless
you can be an octopus.
Then be an octopus."
My home region of SCBWI is Southern Breeze, which includes Alabama, Georgia, and north Florida. For a long while, we had two conferences a year: October in Alabama, and March in Georgia. 

But no more: now we have a spring conference only, and it moves from Alabama to Georgia and back again.

Which means... MidSouth gets to be my fall conference! And it is such a well-run conference. Kudos to all the volunteers who made it happen.

This was also my first event to share LOVE, AGNES: POSTCARDS FROM AN OCTOPUS. (!)

Agnes was not the only octopus in the room, which made it super-fun. :) Also, I learned so much from the keynotes and sessions... and from other attendees! I came home so very inspired. (You can read tweets from the conference at #scbwimidsouth2018.) I gotta say: Cheryl Klein rocked my world, as she always does!
 AND... I loved sitting next to Andrea Loney, author of BUNNY BEAR, which is about being yourself, and TAKE A PICTURE OF ME, JAMES VANDERZEE!, one of the Harlem Renaissance artists I wrote poems about during 2018 ArtSpeak! In her later keynote Andrea told us about how working at the circus and Disney (and improv comedy!) impacted her life and writing. Fun!

One of the things I love about attending SCBWI conferences is the illustrator displays. I was especially excited when I saw this one by Lisa C Brown featuring an octopus as an octo-bus!

 I also loved seeing dear author-friends, like Rae Ann Parker, who is not only a fabulous writer and person, she also sells books for Parnassus Books. So much fun to catch up!

Finally I want to share some goodness I learned in the nonfiction session with Heather L. Montgomery and Charlesbridge editor Alyssa Mito Pusey.

Funny thing: I kind of feel like I learn about writing backwards. I heard so many things in that session that made perfect sense to me... for instance, "nonfiction books start with cognitive dissonance" -- two ideas that don't make sense. Like, say, an octopus writing postcards! :)

But I never could have told you that before this session.

Plus Heather is such an passionate presenter. What fun to learn from her! I am very excited about her forthcoming book about roadkill SOMETHING ROTTEN.

Monday, September 17, 2018

In Which I Become a Librarian

Today would be my father's 72nd birthday. Anyone who knew my father knows he was an avid reader, reading on average a book a day -- for his whole life.

Papa, building his
library collection
Papa's dream was to retire to his hometown of Port St. Joe, FL, where he would build a library to house his thousands of books.

That never happened, but something else really awesome did.

And now, a dream, I, his daughter, has harbored has come true: I am now a librarian!

Yes, of all the professions, I've often thought the one I would have most enjoyed (if I wasn't an author) is being a librarian. So imagine my delight when we arrived in our new town and discovered 1) our (tiny) town has a just-for-the-Town library! And 2) they needed a librarian.

Can you hear the angels singing?

New book donations, ready to be shelved!
So I volunteered myself and have since gotten to work weeding and sorting donations and reorganizing and surveying residents to identify needs and setting up a donation/memorial program and all sorts of other fun stuff.

Not all of it is fun. So many choices must be made -- shelf space is limited, as we only have room to house about a thousand books.
wee book-loving me
But I love books! And libraries are important! And I want ours to not only fulfill my dream, but also my father's.

Joy! So Happy Birthday, Papa, from your loves-books-because-of-you, now-a-librarian daughter.

Friday, September 14, 2018

For the Love of Punctuation

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Amazing Amy at The Poem Farm for Roundup.

Big thanks to all who have sent along octopus art and poems! Agnes and I are giddy, I tell you. Giddy! So much #octopuslove. And there's still room for me, so please, join the Octopus Month (October) celebration!
Here's the post with more information.

Today I'd like to talk about punctuation. That's because I've just read A BUNCH OF PUNCTUATION: Poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illus. by Serge Bloch (WordSong).

My relationship with punctuation in poetry goes something like this:

Who needs punctuation?

Okay, a LITTLE punctuation.

Ooh, I love that emdash!

In this new collection Lee brings us 14 poems by these fine poets/humans: Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Betsy Franco, Charles Ghigna, Joan Bransfield Graham, Michele Krueger, Julie Larios, J. Patrick Lewis, Prince Redcloud, Alice Schertle, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Allan Wolf, Jane Yolen -- and of course Lee himself.

Lee Bennett Hopkins
In fact, it's one of Lee's poems that I'd like to share today -- because I love it. It's about the comma, but it actually says as much about a period. I love when poems do that!

When I wrote to Lee to ask his permission to include the poem in this post, he offered some additional comma-y comments. Read on!

 by Lee Bennett Hopkins

A comma
lets you stop,


enjoy the weather,

unlike a period,
which puts an end

to any
or sunny day,
at once,


"Commas are very important. Misusing them can cause a lot of trouble. For example:

"I love cooking children and dogs." is not the same as "I love cooking, children, and dogs."

All hail the comma -- not the coma."
  - Lee Bennett Hopkins
You never know what Lee will come up with -- what lucky readers we are!

I myself have written about punctuation a number of times. The shortest -- and strangest -- appears in FRESH DELICIOUS, where there's a "Summer Squash as Punctuation" spread. The visual interpretation is a little different than a traditional poem:

Illustrations by Mique Moriuchi

Summer Squash as Punctuation

crookneck squash = question mark
button squash - period
zucchini squash = exclamation point
Have YOU written a punctuation poem? If so, leave your link in comments, because I'd love to read it!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

AGNES, Getting Some Love from Kirkus (and What It's Like to Be Part of a Trend)

Agnes, ready to go out on the road!
First stop: MidSouth SCBWI
Nashville, TN
It's always a bit of a nail-biting time, waiting for reviews to come in on a new book.

Actually, there's quite a lot of nail-biting time in ye ol' book industry isn't there? Huh.

So it was with great relief and excitement that Kirkus had some lovely things to say about LOVE, AGNES: POSTCARDS FROM AN OCTOPUS. Here are a couple of my favorite bits:

"Though Latham's story is thoroughly fantastic, both author and illustrator have been respectful to this amazing creature, describing realistic behaviors and depicting her relatively accurately, right down to the rectangular pupils of her eyes and her senescent color change."

"Certainly the most engaging of the recent wave of octopus stories, for reading aloud or reading alone."

Read the entire review here. Truly, Thea Baker did an amazing job with the illustrations! 

As for that "recent wave of octopus stories," well, as it turns out, octopus books are a trend this fall

And that's not all: there's an octopus named Inky who's so popular that he's got THREE books to go along with his three hearts! (I think Inky and Agnes would be great friends... if octopuses were friends with each other. Ha!)
Inky's Amazing Escape
by Sy Montgomery,
illus. by Amy Schimler-Safford

Inky the Octopus
by Erin Guendelsberger,
illus. by David Leonard

Inky's Great Escape
by Casey Lyall,
illus. by Sebastia Serra
And how does Agnes feel about all these octopus books? Well, she may not be the smartest octopus in the sea, but she's sure there's plenty of room in the sea for all of them -- and more! After all, these books are never just about octopuses... all nonfiction tells something personal about the author, too. Just ask Melissa Stewart, who talks about this in an amazing blog post that also includes a great quote from another nonfiction/poetry luminary, Laura Purdie Salas.

Octopuses are quite amazing creatures, and Agnes is already plotting ways she might send postcards to some of these new friends...  I'll keep you posted! Meanwhile, happy reading!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Movie Monday: SEARCHING

We weren't planning to go to the movies this past weekend, but sometimes plans change, don't they? We chose SEARCHING, because it has received some nice reviews-- and wow, it did not disappoint.

It's a mystery in which a father tries to unravel his daughter's disappearance by using technology.

Fascinating, right, how social media and the internet can provide so many clues? And also the dark side... how social media turns fathers into #monsters and how crimes/deception can happen BECAUSE of the technology. Definitely a double-edged sword. Which is not news.

But what makes this movie great is two things: emotion and surprise. Also nice to see a Korean American family front-n-center.

I was in tears after the first few minutes of the movie, after a heartbreakingly beautifulmontage that reminded me a lot of the opening scenes of the movie UP.

If you haven't seen UP, please please see it!

Now back to SEARCHING. From a pure storytelling angle, this is one heckuva satisfying mystery/thriller. Really, really well done with nice twists and a satisfying, believable resolution. It's helping me with a current work-in-progress. I love when that happens!

Friday, September 7, 2018

Desperately Seeking Octopus Poems & Art #OctoNation

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Carol at Beyond LiteracyLink for Roundup.

This week my mind is on octopuses. One octopus in particular: a giant Pacific octopus named Agnes... who writes (and receives) postcards. That's because Agnes' story will be released from Millbrook Press/Lerner October 1. Lovely illustrations by Thea Baker.

Illustration by Thea Baker
pre-order here
To celebrate, I'm christening October "Octopus Month," and I need your help! I would love to feature some octopus poems and art here on this blog throughout the month.

a cuddly octopus perched in my studio!
So... do you have an octopus poem or art piece? Or, would you like to write one? I do hope you'll say YES! You can send it to my email: irene (at) irenelatham (dot) com.

In fact, LOVE, AGNES started out as an octopus poem titled "Postcards from an Octopus." Greg Pincus posted it on his GottaBook blog back in April 2013. Since then I've written quite a few octopus poems -- for a time, LOVE, AGNES was a collection of poems! Here's the poem that began the collection... and when you read LOVE, AGNES, you'll still see these same themes, and even some of these very same words - just presented in a completely different way!

Dear World,

I'm an octopus, okay?
An old octopus
nearing the end
of my days.

I live in the deep-dark
beneath the pier,
in a crevice,
in a cave.

But I am not a monster.
No need to be afraid.

Now that my eggs
have been laid
I must wait
                 and wait
                              and wait.

Time now
to use my eight arms
and write.

Just like you,
I have important things to say.

- Irene Latham

Thursday, September 6, 2018

My (Crooked) Path to Becoming a Picture Book Creator

Hello and Happy Spiritual Journey Thursday! Donna is rounding us up at Mainely Write, and we are focusing our posts today on "My Path."

love poem to Man O'War
Writing for me is a spiritual practice. It's when I'm writing and sharing about my writing that I feel most connect to others, the universe, a Higher Power. and when I started out -- way back when I was a child -- it was always always poems. I wrote love poems for my mother, love poems about horses, love poems love poems love poems!

Somewhere about the time I was 10 or 11, I started writing stories. Most of them were short. Even those that were intended to be long, were short -- because I got bogged down in the middle, or seduced by an exciting new idea! I only shared some of my work, and then only with a select few.

It wasn't until I was in my late twenties that I started thinking about publishing any of my work. I started with, of course, poetry. More love poems! For adults! I got published. And then, just like Younger Me, I moved to stories -- middle grade novels. I got published. I was a novelist! Picture books were not on my radar at all.

Until 2010 when I went to Children's Poetry retreat with Rebecca Kai Dotlich. I felt like I'd found my always-meant-to-be home! I immediately started writing poetry picture books. I got published. And then two things happened:

1. I wrote and submitted quite a few middle grade novels -- and no one wanted them. It was a low time.

2. One of my editors told me she wouldn't be able to acquire any more of my poetry collections, because the sales numbers of poetry in general were too low to get it through.

Sad times, I tell you! Sad times! So, what's a poet & novelist to do?

Try something new.

Oh, but it's so hard to let go, to listen to what the universe is telling you! So much easier (and satisfying, at least for the moment), to dig our heels in and refuse to budge. And taking a new path is scary. Who knows what dangers wait around the bend?

and yet... who knows what beauty?

I decided to venture forth on a new path. I took a current collection of poems and figured out a way to transform it to a narrative picture book. That book became LOVE, AGNES: POSTCARDS FROM AN OCTOPUS. It comes out Oct. 1, and is the first of several narrative picture books I'm so grateful have found publishing homes.

And: I haven't given up on poetry picture books -- I've just had to be more innovative. (I have several poetry collections in the publishing queue, too.)

As for middle grade novels? I still love them, and I do hope to publish one again someday.

"The Road" by Edgar Degas
(click here to read the poem
 I wrote inspired by this piece)
But right now I'm pretty happy in Picture Book Land. And it's keeping me very busy! At this point I've written and sold far more picture books than anything else.

Who knew? I never not once would have could have predicted it.

O, the crooked path, how I love thee!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Because Writers are Readers First, and Life Doesn't Hold Still

 September may be the ninth month of the year, but because of our US tradition of starting school during this month, and the way September ushers in a new season, it seems a good time to talk about beginnings.

I mentioned earlier our fantastic time at Eudora Welty's home and museum when we were in Jackson, MS, for the Mississippi Book Festival. The book I wanted to purchase that night was ONE WRITER'S BEGINNINGS, Eudora's memoir, written in her 70s and which sold millions of copies. They were out of it in the gift shop, which is always a good sign! So I procured myself a copy later, and just the other day finally finished it.

I found something of a kindred spirit in Eudora -- I mean, we both have old-fashioned names, for one! She was nurtured by her parents in many of the same ways I was, and her feelings about books and words are so similar to mine. She lived a reading -- and a writing -- life! And while it may seem as if she had a sheltered live (living in the same home for 60 or so years), she actually traveled quite a lot -- and it impacted her writing greatly.

Here are some quotes from the book I'd like to share:

"It had been startling and disappointing to me to find out that story books had been written by people, that books were not natural wonders, coming up on themselves like grass. Yet regardless of where they came from, I cannot remember a time when I was not in love with them – with the books themselves, cover and binding and the paper they were printed on with their smell and their weight and their possession in my arms, captured and carried off to myself. Still illiterate, I was ready for them, committed to all the reading I could give them."

"Of all my strong emotions, anger is the one least responsible for any of my work. I don't write out of anger. For one thing, simply as a fiction writer, I am minus an adversary – except, of course, that of time – and for another thing, the act of writing in itself brings me happiness."

"But it was not until I began to write, as I seriously did only when I reached my twenties, that I found the world out there revealing, because (as with my father now) memory had become attached to seeing, love had added itself to discovery, and because I recognized in my own continuing longing to keep going, the need I carried inside myself to know – the apprehension, first and then the passion, to connect myself to it. Through travel I first became aware of the outside world; it was through travel that I found my own introspective way into becoming a part of it."

"This is, of course, simply saying that the outside world is the vital component of my inner life. My work, in the terms in which I see it, is as dearly matched to the world as its secret sharer. My imagination takes its strength and guides its direction from what I see and hear and learn and feel and remember of my living world. But I was to learn slowly that both these worlds, outer and inner, were different from what they seemed to me in the beginning."

"I learned in the doing how ready I had to be. Life doesn't hold still. A good snapshot stopped a moment from running away. Photography taught me that to be able to capture transience, by being ready to click the shutter at the crucial moment, was the greatest need I had. Making pictures of people in all sorts of situations, I learned that every feeling waits upon its gesture; and I had to be prepare to recognize this moment when I saw it. These were things a story writer needed to know."

"As you have seen, I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within."