Sunday, December 30, 2012

Steampunk Shakespeare

Once upon a time, I saw a call for submissions for a collection of steampunk Shakespeare stories and poems, and, interested in all things Shakespeare as I am (and being rather fond of steampunk things as well), I submitted a poem for consideration.

Specifically, I rewrote Shakespeare's marvelous Sonnet 55 ("Not marble nor the gilded monuments"), which I have discussed at length in a prior post. While some of the other steampunk poems by other authors diverge in meaning or rhyme scheme from the original, I stuck with a pure Shakespearean sonnet (ABABCDCDEFEFGG), strict iambic pentameter and, to challenge myself a bit more, I kept the same meaning/form as Shakespeare, meaning that the interpretation of the steampunk version of the poem comes out tremendously close to that of the original.

Here, then, is my rewritten version, which is part of The Omnibus of Dr. Bill Shakes and the Magnificent Ionic Pentatetrameter: a Steampunk Shakespeare Anthology. (Availability can be found by clicking that link.)

Not iron, nor the Difference Engine
Of Babbage, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in this paean
Than metal or machine worn down by time.
When wasteful war destroys device or steel,
And brawls lay waste to clockwork artistry,
Not Mars's sword nor war's relentless wheel
Will wipe this record of your memory.
'Gainst death and grinding gears of enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall replicate
Itself in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending date.
  Till judgment day when you yourself arise,
  You live in this, and dwell in lover's eyes.

Kiva - loans that change lives

Friday, December 28, 2012

My year of reading

Or rather, of not reading much at all.

Turns out that my happy personal life took up most of my time, you see, and in addition to not writing, I was not reading much either. Oh sure, I read a few books here and there - almost all of them for review here or over at Guys Lit Wire, but otherwise, I did precious little reading, apart from Better Homes & Gardens and the occasional Family Circle or Woman's Day, with a quick peek at M's Us Weekly now and then.

Otherwise, what I read were a few manuscripts for friends and several manuscripts for clients. I sort of stumbled into the consulting business when someone approached me to ask if I'd do such a thing, and I find I like it quite a bit.

I've been trying to figure out why my reading dropped off so much, and I suspect it's for similar reasons as my writing did. (And yes, I believe the two are interrelated.) The interesting thing is that my sweetheart is also quite a reader, and his reading bottomed out as well. He likes to read about martial arts (mostly tai chi and qi gong), of course, because that's one of his main passions. But he also loves to read what I think of as guy novels - spies and soldiers, mostly, involving a lot of tech-speak.

Last weekend found the two of us snuggled up on the couch, with him reading a recent Clancy novel and me reading Anne Lamott's HELP, THANKS, WOW: The Three Essential Prayers. Very different subject matter, I can assure you, but we enjoyed our together-but-reading-alone time quite a bit, and I suspect there will be more of it in the future.

I can, however, tell you that I particularly appreciated the few books that I read for myself this year, including John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, in all its heartbreaking gorgeousness, and Lauren Willig's The Garden Intrigue, the most recent of the Pink Carnation novels. I'm very much looking forward to the next one, I must say, and a bit interested in having a look at the start of her new novel, The Ashford Affair. I love what I've read of the latest Mary Oliver collection, A Thousand Mornings, as well as my friend Bruce Niedt's latest chapbook, Twenty-Four by Fourteen. And I really enjoyed The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, too, for its stories as well as the recipes I've tried. That makes TWO blogger cookbooks that I especially love, the first being Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life. And I enjoyed Jonah Lehrer's book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, even if the book was subsequently pulled and its author discredited for making up Bob Dylan quotes.

Most authors will tell you that if you want to be a writer, you need to be a reader. And I believe that's correct. So I'm glad to be back to reading. Right now, I'm reading Will Schwalbe's The End of Your Life Book Club, a memoir about his mother's fight with (and death from) cancer, and their shared love of books.

Tell me what you're reading?

Kiva - loans that change lives

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The lull between the holidays

Here at my house, I celebrate Chanukah, and my kids celebrate Christmas. I love years like this, where Chanukah is long done before Christmas arrives, since it means I don't have to mix them together: I put the tree up after the menorah was away. In the future - maybe next year, maybe the one after that - I won't bother with the tree anymore, but with this being M's last year living at home, I deferred to her desire to have the tree up. But truly, I digress.

Chanukah and Christmas are now done, and New Year's Eve and Day are still to come. Lots of folks are starting to prepare their resolutions for 2013. All the news programs, radio stations, papers, magazines, and such are making their lists. Top news stories, best movies, albums or books of the year . . . you know the sort.

Those lists can be so much fun to read - to see which things you agree with, and which you disagree with (or have never heard of, in some cases). They can be extremely challenging to write, and I can tell you right now that I'm not going to bother to try.

For one thing, my list of top ten books might be pretty close to my list of actual books read this year - I've been a bit of a slacker. More about that tomorrow, I think. Same goes for top movies of the year (I've only seen a handful). And apart from some news and occasional sports or cooking shows, I haven't watched TV since I started dating my sweetheart. For another thing, as most long-time readers know, I suck at picking favorites in pretty much any category. I don't like doing it.

So that is not what I'll be doing this week, in this lull between the holidays. Instead, I plan on spending a bit of quiet time thinking back over the year - what was good and what didn't quite work, what I'd like to keep doing in the future or stop doing in the future, and the like. I like using this time to assess where I've been, where I'm going, and where it is I'd like to go in the future (which is, after all, a slightly different thing). And by going, I don't mean it literally, although literal going is also included.

By the time the new year rolls around, I expect to have something like a five-year plan in the works. Perhaps not a formal document, but an idea of what I'd like to do now, what I see myself doing in a year, and what I'd like my life to be like in five years. I don't "do" resolutions, but I do like taking some time to assess/re-assess and to consider.

What about you? Do you take some quiet time to think things through as the new year approaches, or is that something you do at a different time of the year? Do you make resolutions? Have any other new year's traditions?

Kiva - loans that change lives

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

A merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate it, with wishes of peace for all of you, whether you are of the Christmas persuasion or not!

Can you hear the people sing?

No, not Christmas carols. Today, my sweetheart and I took the girls to see the movie version of Les Misérables. We all liked it. Of the four of us, I was the only one who'd seen the stage show (I saw it twice, actually, before they "new & improved" the production, which tends to get bad reviews from old fans). I found it to be more personal-feeling, what with all the close-ups during songs, but I also missed the energy of a live performance. Anne Hathaway's performance was heart-wrenching, however, and buzz about a best supporting actress nomination seems justified. I really liked Hugh Jackman's acting performance as Jean Valjean, but (don't hate me!) in some cases I thought his singing was a tad too nasal, especially given the tremendous, open-throated performances of some of the stage Valjeans.

There was quite a lot of sniffling going on in the audience, and I think those of us who knew the show and/or the music were the sniffliest - all it took was a few chords leading into "The Prayer" for half the audience to start tearing up, but it seemed to be the folks around who had been talking about the show who were teariest.

Tonight, the girls have headed back to their dad's house for a traditional Christmas dinner of roast beef. I think my sweetheart and I are going to have baked macaroni & cheese, an idea I swiped from Jackie Dolamore. Eventually, Kismet the wonder cat will tire of this game of fetch (45 minutes and counting - she is a BEAST when it comes to fetch!), and then she will sleep. It is very nice that for the moment, the world is quiet here.

I hope all is right in your corner of the world.

Kiva - loans that change lives

Monday, December 24, 2012

On writing avoidance - part 4

I think this is probably going to be the last of my posts about writing avoidance, although I'm very much enjoying hearing everyone's thoughts about the prior three posts. One of the other excuses I use to avoid sitting down and writing is the notion that, as Coleridge opined, "I have slit the throat of my own genius." Maybe I wrote a poem I'm so tickled with that I can't imagine writing anything better. (It's happened. The thought, that is, if not the fact.)

I think this sort of thing happens pretty often, really. In fact, I was just reading an article about the movie version of Les Miserables yesterday (can't wait to see it - my sweetheart and I are taking the girls tomorrow afternoon, in fact), in which comments by the director, Tom Hooper were quoted.Tom Hooper's last mo vie was the marvelous production, The King's Speech, an intimate character study of those most private of people, the British royals.
"I just thought: How can I follow this?" Hooper said in a recent interview. "In the end, I thought the best thing to do was just get back to work and to get back on the horse. I felt that the longer I left it, I might get kind of self-conscious or it might become this big thing in my head."
Or consider this, from an interview that J.K. Rowling did with Ian Parker of The New Yorker earlier this fall:
I asked her if publishing the new book made her feel exposed. “I thought I’d feel frightened at this point,” she said. “Not just because it’s been five years, and anything I wrote after Potter—anything—was going to receive a certain degree of attention that is not entirely welcome, if I’m honest. It’s not the place I’m happiest or most comfortable, shall we say. So, for the first few years of writing ‘The Casual Vacancy,’ I kept saying to myself, ‘You’re very lucky. You can pay your bills, you don’t have to publish it.’ And that was a very freeing thought, even though I knew bloody well, in my heart of hearts, that I was going to publish it. I knew that a writer generally writes to be read, unless you’re Salinger.” After all the fretting—“Christ, you’re going to have to go out there again”—she discovered that she was calm. “I think I’ve spent so long with the book—it is what I want it to be,” she said. “You think, Well, I did the best I could where I was with what I had.” She laughed. “Which is a terrible paraphrase of a Theodore Roosevelt quote.”
The thing is, if you take a bit of time to fill the well, or time to sit quietly and wait for the words to come, something new will turn up, and you will find that you haven't, in fact, slit the throat of your own genius. There's always something more to say, whether it's more of the same or something new and unexpected.

And maybe that is what I am handing to you to put under your tree this Christmas (if you celebrate it), or to stash on the corner of your desk - the knowledge that there is more to be said and done. And that, in all likelihood, the best is yet to come. Trite, but true.

Kiva - loans that change lives

Sunday, December 23, 2012

On writing avoidance - part 3

As I said at the close of yesterday's post, today I'm talking about another reason for writing avoidance. It takes different shapes and colors with different people and goes by different names - perfectionism being one of them - but it comes down to fear. Essentially, it's the fear that we aren't good enough to pull off whatever we're working on, and it affects writers at all levels of the writing game.

Here are some famous authors talking about this notion, in one way or another:

Neil Gaiman, talking about the award-winning The Graveyard Book:
“Twenty-three years ago, we lived in a little Sussex town in a tall house across the lane from a graveyard. We didn’t have a garden, and our 18-month-old son loved riding a tricycle. If he tried riding in the house he would have died because there were stairs everywhere, so every day I would take him down our precipitous stairs, and he would ride his little tricycle round and round the gravestones. As I watched him happily toddling I would think about how incredibly at home he looked. I thought that I could do something like ‘The Jungle Book’ with that same equation of boy, orphaned, growing up somewhere else, but I could do it in a graveyard. I had that idea when I was 24 years old. I sat down and tried writing it and thought, ‘This is a really good idea, and this isn’t very good writing. I’m not good enough for this yet, and I will put it off until I’m better.”
Stephen King came up with the basic idea for what became Under the Dome (published in 2009) in the 1970s. According to descriptions of the book, "it is a partial rewrite of a novel King attempted writing twice in the late 1970s and early 1980s, under the titles The Cannibals and Under the Dome." King said that the earlier,unfinished works "were two very different attempts to utilize the same idea, which concerns itself with how people behave when they are cut off from the society they've always belonged to. Also, my memory of The Cannibals is that it, like Needful Things, was a kind of social comedy. The new Under the Dome is played dead straight."

Both of these are examples of authors who got an idea that they loved, but didn't quite have the chops to pull off at the time they thought of it. They tried, and failed, and put it aside, and in both cases, they pulled those ideas out of the drawer years later and made them work. This is not meant to be a "get back on the horse" speech, by the way: my point today is not that they succeeded later, but that they failed in the first place. King reportedly had something like 100,000 words written for The Cannibals when he scrapped it. Think how disheartened you'd feel, that far into a project, to figure out that it just wasn't working and stuff it in a drawer.

And we all have projects stuffed in drawers, real or figurative, don't we? Some of them never really got off the ground. Some were abandoned part-way through. Some of them are completed drafts, possibly that have been through more than one round of revisions, that never quite seemed ready for submission. Some are things we submitted and couldn't find a home for.

As those things pile up, it's easy to worry that maybe we don't have the chops for those projects. From there, it's a hop, skip and a jump to the idea that maybe we don't have the ability to pull anything off, or to do it well enough, or as well as our inner - or, worse, some external - critic would like. Maybe we've gotten something published, and it got a bad review, or someone said something awful about it on GoodReads. Maybe we sent it to someone for a critique and the comments that came back indicated that the person didn't get it, or didn't like it.

Negative comments, whether self-generated or from the outside world, are a fact of life, but it can be ridiculously easy for them to take over and make the idea of sitting down to write seem imposterous (you know, where you feel like an imposter trying to do an impossible task?). Why bother to write when you might not finish, or if you finish, it might not sell, of if it sells, people might not like it?

I wish there were a simple answer for this, but there isn't. Although T. Michael Martin may come close, really, in this video, when he says "I think courage is a clear-eyed reckoning of the fact that life is difficult and frightening and that progress is unromantic and slow and secret". And then later says, "Every sentence I writer is a moment of vulnerability and also at the same time of feeling, like, beautifully reckless."


I just know that in my case, the answer has turned out to be that writing is something that doesn't really leave me alone. Even this past year, when I didn't get a lot of writing done, I found it impossible not to write. I have a new picture book manuscript I'm pretty tickled with, and at least two poems that I think are pretty great. And lately I've been thinking about other, more in-depth projects. A YA novel that needs to be finished, a middle-grade novel that needs revision, and two collections of poems that need a only little bit of attention before they go out into the wide world.

It's not that I don't still have that fear that nothing I do will be good/clever/original enough; it's that I've realized I don't have much to lose. Time, maybe, but I enjoy the time spent writing, once I sit down to do it. Postage, perhaps, for the places that still want snail mail. And yeah, there's a high probability that I'll get rejections - and lots of them. But we all know they're a fact of the writing business. I just remind myself of this quote from Madeleine L'Engle, who spent a couple of years trying to market A Wrinkle in Time:
"I knew it was a good book when I finished it, I was very excited by it. I knew it was the best thing I'd ever done. It's very frustrating when you've had six books published to get the printed form rejection slips. It was sent through an accredited literary agent, but it obviously went to the lowest readers. I can't tell you how many publishers have said 'oh I wish I'd gotten my hands on that book' and I say 'you did.' One publisher didn't believe me until I sent him a copy of the rejection slip."
It'd be nice to have that sort of happy ending someday, wouldn't it? I don't expect it, though. But it doesn't mean that continuing to try isn't a worthwhile idea.

I'm wondering what others think about this particular form of writing avoidance.
Kiva - loans that change lives

Saturday, December 22, 2012

On writing avoidance - part 2

Well, hello again! I seem to have turned up after all.

The thing about writing avoidance, which I started discussing in yesterday's post is that it is SO much easier than, well, actually writing. There is always something to be done. Today, for instance, I have started some laundry, cleaned the litter box, made tea and consumed it with some homemade poundcake, dropped my girls off at a train station so they can visit their aunt, run several errands, one of which involved Barnes & Noble, which has books, so, like, obviously I've done all the book/writing-related things I need to today, right?

To say nothing of the other possible distractions all resident on this here laptop I'm typing on. Spider Solitaire. Facebook. Email, and the requisite re-checking to find out that, nope, nobody has sent me an email. Can that be right? Check again. Still nothing. (What - you don't do that too?) Or the ones in my house - so many things could be cooked or cleaned or mended or put away, so many crafts could be started and/or finished. I'm pretty sure you all know this drill.

The point is, there is ALWAYS something else I could be doing. And that something is almost always easier than sitting down, quieting my mind a bit, and either starting something new or finding my way back into something already in progress. And even if those other things aren't easier, there are pretty much always other things that seem more necessary in the grand scheme of things. Grocery shopping, say. Or balancing my checkbook. Or cleaning the toilets.

And there is always something going on in the world that feels bigger and more important, too. Elections, say, or massive superstorms, or tragic events like the mass killing of innocent children and teachers in Newtown, Connecticut. Birthdays and weddings and funerals and holidays, too. Things that need to be marked or observed or participated in.

With all those distractions, it can be hard to convince myself that there is value in taking time to write. Especially when one is hoping for publication, and it can be so damned hard to sell things one has written. (Anybody want a piratical counting book in rhyme? A picture book about the mating dance of albatrosses? 'Cause I've got 'em right here, ready to go, and they're pretty darned good.) Or if one is wondering if anyone is actually out there, reading that blog post one worked so hard on. (Stat counters are great at letting you know that someone's reading something, but we all know that comments are love, yes?)

The thing is, I've finally figured out that all writing is communication. It's part of a dialogue with someone, even if that someone doesn't yet know they're going to be part of the program. It's a way of reaching out into the void and connecting with another person, even though at the moment it's being written, the author may not know that other person. Blogs are a bit more immediate than, say, novels or picture books. Facebook is faster than a blog. Twitter can be faster still, but only if the right person or people is online when you post. (Who goes back and reads hours' or days' worth of Twitter feeds? Not I, and we've already established that I can find LOTS of reasons not to write, but that isn't one of them.)

Or maybe Stephen King is right. Here's what he said in his marvelous On Writing:

What Writing Is

Telepathy, of course. It's amusing when you stop to think about it--for years people have argued about whether or not such a thing exists, folks like J. B. Rhine have busted their brains trying to create a valid testing process to isolate it, and all the time it's been right there, lying out in the open like Mr. Poe's Purloined Letter. All the arts depend upon telepathy to some degree, but I believe that writing offers the purest distillation. Perhaps I'm prejudiced, but even if I am we may as well stick with writing, since it's what we came here to think and talk about.

* * *

Look--here's a table covered with a red cloth. On it is a cage the size of a small fish aquarium. In the cage is a white rabbit with a pink nose and pink-rimmed eyes. In its front paws is a carrot-stub upon which it is contentedly munching. On its back, clearly marked in blue ink, is the numeral 8.

Do we see the same thing? We'd have to get together and compare notes to make absolutely sure, but I think we do.

Isn't it worth it, at the end of the day, to have forged that connection with someone, even if they are an unknown somewhere out there in the great world beyond? I think it might be. Which brings me to part 3 of this string of posts about writing avoidance - the worry that what you have to say isn't worth saying/reading. But I'm leaving that for tomorrow.

Kiva - loans that change lives

Friday, December 21, 2012

On writing avoidance - part 1

Having just taken up my blog in earnest again, I am hoping to build a good habit and be here every day. Which is, of course, what I should be doing with my writing, too. Once upon a time, I wrote every single day (or nearly so). I blogged that often, too. Hell, sometimes I blogged multiple times a day, if the spirit moved me. And then, sometime last year, I stopped. Stopped writing daily. Stopped blogging anything approaching regularly.

It coincided with unpleasant life events, such as my divorce, which started in early April last year, and a flare of my rheumatoid arthritis, which came along in the early fall. It also coincided with terrific life events, including S's graduation from high school in June and departure for college in August of 2011 and my then-burgeoning relationship with my sweetheart, which has been a tremendous gift.

I've been wondering how much "credit" each or any of those events deserve for the fall-off in my writing. Some of my recent rumination leading up to my blog renewal has to do with some theories of creativity that I've read about, including the notion that some people can only write when they are depressed, but not when they're happy. (The theory is one of many found in the discredited-but-still-good book Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer, who seems to have his thrown his career away by fabricating Bob Dylan quotes for the book.)

See, for the past several years leading up to my divorce decision last spring, I'd been unhappy in my marriage, and in recent years I was definitely upset by my ex-husband's battle with lymphoma (fortunately, he is still cancer-free - he's a great guy, even if I didn't want to stay married to him). One of my ways of dealing with those stresses and unhappinesses was to throw myself into my writing, be it poetry, picture books, novels or blogs. Since I don't have another full-time job, I essentially created one for myself to hide in. And I was good at it.

But once the divorce decision was made last spring, I felt like a weight had been lifted. And when, later in the year, I ended up finding the love of my life, well . . . let's just say, I really found happiness. Maybe it's a coincidence that my writing fell off, but in light of that theory in Lehrer's book, I have been wondering lately if that might play into it. Did I write as a way of avoidance? Well, yes. But was it the only reason? I don't really think so.

I have come to the conclusion that Lehrer might have been onto something with the theory that some people write better when depressed than when happy. But what I really think is that with all the changes that took place last year - my husband moving out, S moving to Charleston to attend college, M getting her license, me having a new significant other, etc. - I fell out of the habit. I adopted a new routine, and a new schedule, and I realized only recently that I never made a concerted effort to carve out writing time and space in my new (happier, shinier) life.

So today marks a big step for me. Two days in a row here at my blog, yammering at you about stuff you may or may not be interested in. Because when I was writing regularly, I was blogging regularly. And blogging is writing, after all. So I'm starting with the blogging, in hopes that I can make the REAL writing follow. So consider yourselves warned: there's more yammering to come.
I'd really love to know, though, whether you've experienced something similar to my situation in your own creative life, and what worked (or works) for you in getting started up again. Kiva - loans that change lives

A holiday letter, of sorts

Wow. Have I been a lackadaisical blogger this year or what? BAD KELLY!

I have decided to "treat" you all to a holiday letter. You can just pretend that you haven't heard from me pretty much all year, and that we're catching up, okay? (Of course, this is pretty close to reality, so I suppose there's that.)

Here goes:

Hello, friends and family!

2012 has been an interesting year. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" is probably pretty close to the truth. I've had a number of health ups and (more accurately) downs this year, including a massive RA flare early in the year, several bouts of my fibromyalgia making itself known, and "bonus" things like poison ivy that became cellulitis that became a fungal infection in the palms of my hands, which I'm still trying to eradicate. *sings "I'm . . . too sexy for my cat . . .* Things could always be so much worse, however, that I try to look at the bright side. (The only bright side to the fungal infection appears to be that I've now got a really nice dermatologist - but still, bright side!) I'm still doing tai chi, and loving it - it helps a lot with the fibro and my general health, and at least a little with the rheumatoid arthritis, so it's been quite a boon.

Kids-wise, things are pretty good. S is now a sophomore at College of Charleston, where she's just one experience shy of completing her Spanish minor (I think she needs a short study abroad trip to finish it up). She's majoring in International Studies, with a focus on the Caribbean and Latin America, and she seems to be enjoying herself immensely, both in and out of school. She got herself a job working for a start-up company, where she was promoted from analyst to editor a month or so ago, and she has found herself a wonderful group of friends.

M is a senior in high school, holding down a part-time job at a local frozen yogurt store (she was promoted to team leader over the summer). She just turned 18, and her number one college choice (UMass Amherst) sent her an early action acceptance on her birthday. She's also been accepted to UMaine Orono, and is waiting to hear from a few other schools. It's lovely that she'll have a decision to make - and one with nothing but good choices.

My personal life has been a happy one. Happy, happy, happy. When my marriage split up last year, I certainly wasn't looking for another relationship. In fact, it was in many respects the furthest thing from my mind. But the Universe had other ideas, and I somehow managed to find the perfect companion for me. And I've been happy, happy, happy ever since. Our year together has included two cruises (one to the Bahamas, one to Cozumél), a trip to a couple of tai chi events, a visit to my family members in the Charleston area (not only S, but also my brother and his family, and now my parents as well), a wedding in New England, and more. And it's been grand.

I have had some good writing news this year, most of which is based on projects written in past years. My first-ever picture book, AT THE BOARDWALK came out, and I still pinch myself over how lucky I am that Tiger Tales selected Mónica Armiño as the illustrator. And I have poems in FOUR shiny new anthologies. My "grown-up" poems "Copernicus" and "Midnight Mocker" were both in an anthology issued by the New Brunswick Library, and my steampunk version of Shakespeare's Sonnet 55 is in The Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes and the Magnificent Ionic Pentatetrameter. And in children's poems, "A Place to Share" is in Dare to Dream . . . Change the World, edited by Jill Corcoran, and "Sea Jelly" in National Geographic's Book of Animal Poetry, edited by J. Patrick Lewis. The jellyfish poem was actually written this year, almost immediately prior to the book going to press, but the others were from prior years.

My writing this year has been sporadic and of limited nature. I wrote "Sea Jelly", as mentioned, and something just over a handful of other poems, plus I wrote a picture book manuscript that is piratical in nature, which I really ought to, you know, submit. My submissions this year have also been terribly sporadic, which is not optimal, as those of you who write know. I did, however, place a poem ("Stuck Doing Chores on a Summer's Evening", a parody of a Frost poem) in the forthcoming issue of U.S. 1 Worksheets, which is a wonderful thing.

It occurs to me that back when I was writing regularly, I was blogging regularly, too. Or maybe it's vice-versa. Which is why I am planning on picking up this here blog again and bugging you with my thoughts and such, starting today. Because today is, in fact, the first day of the rest of my life. Yes? Yes. I could offer theories on why those things fell off - maybe I ran out of steam, maybe my shiny, happy personal life was too much of a diversion, maybe my health stuff got in the way - but really, they are all excuses, no matter if they are good ones or not.

So . . . lucky you. You'll be hearing from me regularly from now on. Because I really want to get back to my writing, and it seems that the writing and the blogging are intrinsically related. (Or if they aren't, don't tell me, since it's getting me motivated to start up again.)

I am wishing you all whatever measure of peace you can find in these troubled times, and a happy new year, too.

Kiva - loans that change lives

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Little Miss Brontë JANE EYRE

An open letter to Jennifer Adams, and to Alison Oliver, who illustrated this board book:

Dear Jennifer and Alison,


I don't know either of you, but you have both sincerely made my day. I have purchased a copy of the book, subtitled "A Counting Primer", for my young niece. Not because I think she'll love it, although it is possible that she might, but because I expect that my brother will just about pee himself laughing over it, which totally makes it worth the money I paid for it (about $9, plus or minus).

You see, the text is really quite simple. (E.g., "One governess.") But there are a few places in the book with additional text as part of the illustration - like the reminder on the "Three Candles" page to not leave candles burning overnight. Or the quotes from the text of Jane Eyre on the "Nine Pearls" and "Ten Books" pages. And the illustrations are spot-on perfection. Alison Oliver uses a muted palette for this book, which is, interestingly enough, echoed in many of the Jane Eyre movie adaptations and/or book covers, as I discovered when using Google images to see if I could find the first two-page spread for you. (I couldn't - but you can "look inside this book" at Amazon and see the first two pages, albeit not side-by-side as they actually appear when you open the book.)

Kudos to the author and/or editor for coming up with this crazy idea, which is described as follows: "BablyLit(TM) is a fashionable way to introduce your child to the world of classic literature." Additional BabyLit titles include Little Miss Austen Pride & Prejudice: A Counting Primer, Little Master Carroll Alice in Wonderland: A Color Primer, and Little Master Shakespeare Romeo & Juliet: A Counting Primer.

And special kudos to the illustrator for the way her folk-artish illustrations make these books such a delight.

You can see internal spreads from Jane Eyre and Alice in Wonderland in Alison Oliver's blog post about these books. You can see spreads from Romeo and Juliet and Pride & Prejudice at this other of her posts. (And really, you want to see these. Trust me.)


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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Over at Guys Lit Wire

My review of Baby's in Black, a forthcoming graphic novel about Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe, and The Beatles. (Astrid is perhaps best known for giving the band their original signature haircuts, and for some early photographs she took of the band. Stuart is famous for being the band's original bass player.)

And to those of you still reading my blog, which I have been woefully neglecting of late, a very heartfelt thank you.


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Thursday, March 01, 2012

Oh frabjous day!

Today is the official release date of my first picture book, At the Boardwalk, illustrated by the extraordinarily talented Mónica Armiño. It is indeed a wonderful feeling to have a realio, trulio book of my ownsome out in the world. And just look at the gorgeous post that Jama Rattigan put up to celebrate the day!


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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bad news, good news

The bad news is that the injection I take every other week for my rheumatoid arthritis appears to have lost its efficacy. (This occasionally happens in RA treatment - for whatever reason, a particular medication or agent stops working.) This means that I am exhausted and fuzzy-brained and in a bit more pain than usual.

The good news is that I managed to score an appointment with my rheumatologist next Tuesday.

The bad news is that (a) that's still the better part of a week away and (b) even if he switches my meds, it will take a while until we figure out whether they're working or not.

The good news is that I don't expect this current condition to last forever. It might feel that way, until things get better, but in the grand scheme of things, it won't be long. Right? Right.


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At the Boardwalk update

In just about a week's time, At the Boardwalk will be officially released and out in the world. (It's official release date is March 1st.)

I am very happy about this, as you might imagine.

I am happy, too, that my promotional postcard mailing appears to be yielding some results, and that some gift shops along the Jersey Shore are requesting copies and information and such.

And I am happy that people on Facebook are letting me know that they've preordered copies (and that they're evidently shipping this week), or are asking me where to buy them, or congratulating me on the excellent review in Kirkus.

What are you happy about today?


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Monday, February 20, 2012

BookSpeak!: Poems About Books by Laura Purdie Salas

A few weeks ago, I attended the launch for Jenn Hubbard's new book, Try Not to Breathe, at Children's Book World in Haverford, PA. I consider CBW to be my "local" indie, despite being the better part of an hour's drive from my home in New Jersey, since it really is the closest independent children's book store to where I live. But I digress.

While at Jenn's party, I purchased a copy of BookSpeak!: Poems About Books by my good friend Laura Purdie Salas. It was cleverly illustrated using original artwork and collage by Josée Bisaillon.

I bought the book because Laura is a good friend, and I wanted to support her.

Having read it, I can assure you that, based on the quality of the poems and the wonderful illustrations, I'd have bought this book anyway, even if I didn't count the author as a personal friend. It contains 21 poems about books, many written in rhyme (mostly couplets or cross-rhymed quatrains). Some are lyrical ("Skywriting", which compares the writing on a page to "inky black birds/forming the flocks that shift into words"), some are funny (such as the poem for three voices, in which the middle of the book laments being the middle). Some are from the perspective of a book ("Lights Out at the Bookstore" and "The Sky is Falling"), and some from only a part of the book ("Book Plate", "Index", "I've Got This Covered", or "Picture This"). Heck, one of the poems is about the plot element known as conflict, and is (quite appropriately) entitled "Conflicted".


(Two-page spread showing "Written in Snow" and "Book Plate")

One of my favorite poems in the book is "This Is the Book", a poem that describes what various people in the book-making process do (writer, editor, designer, illustrator, publisher, and buyer), but I love it for the ending, which is consumer-oriented. Here are the first and last stanzas:

She is the writer
  with dreams in her head
  who writes them down
  so they can be read.

. . .

And she is the reader
  who browses the shelf
  and looks for new worlds
  but finds herself.
My favorite poem/art pairing in the book might be the last poem, "The End", which features a collage-strip infinity symbol composed of chapter excerpts on which children stand and run, set against a brilliant red background. The illustration perfectly reflects the poem, which is written by "The End" of the book, which concludes:

I am not so much
The End
as I am an
invitation back
to the beginning.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Author copies!

The mailman may be my favorite person today.

Know why?

Because he brought me a BOX.

A box full of author copies of At the Boardwalk, which is going to be available in about two weeks.



There are ten copies of the hardcover, and ten of the paperback.



*Does the dance of joy*


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Friday, February 10, 2012

Poetry Updates

Let's see . . .

As I mentioned before, my poem, "A Place to Share", is going to be in the forthcoming anthology from Kane Miller, Dare to Dream . . . Change the World. It's paired with a poem by my friend Laura Purdie Salas, and keeping company with poems by lots of other children's poets whom I admire, including Bruce Coville. You can see the artwork that will accompany Bruce's poem at Jill Corcoran's blog. (In addition to being one of my fellow poets in the anthology, Jill is its editor as well.)

My poem, "Not iron, nor the Difference Engine", is going to be included in The Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes and the Magnificient Ionic Pentatetrameter: A Steampunk Shakespeare Anthology. I am terrifically excited, since the book is going to be available both as an e-book and as a limited run print edition.

I am one of the poets whose work will be used by the site, Say it At Your Wedding. It's not quite live yet, but my, what lovely company I'll be keeping!


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Thursday, February 09, 2012

Crouching Tiger by Ying Change Compestine

Many of you are aware that I've been learning tai chi for the past ten months or so, and it's something I enjoy quite a lot, both for its meditative aspects and for its health benefits.

And just recently, it was the lunar new year. In fact, this past Saturday, I attended a Chinese New Year's celebration sponsored by the Taijiquan Enthusiasts Organization, which included a traditional Lion dance, a variety of martial arts demonstrations, and a ten-course Chinese banquet. It was a pretty terrific evening.

All this is related to my enthusiasm for today's book, Crouching Tiger by Ying Chang Compestine, illustrated by Yan Nascimbene, a review copy of which I received from Candlewick Press. (Thanks, Candlewick!)

You see, Crouching Tiger tells the story of an American boy named Vinson (aka Ming Da) who learns tai chi from his Chinese grandfather. At first, Vinson finds the study of tai chi boring, since he has to start with quiet meditation. At first, he also finds his grandfather to be a bit of an embarrassment. When his grandfather uses his tai chi training to avert a serious injury to a stranger, however, Vinson begins to appreciate both his grandfather and his grandfather's martial arts training a bit more. Vinson practices what his grandfather teaches him for quite some time, and the book culminates with a celebration of Chinese New Year in which Vinson plays an integral role. Compestine manages to include within the text a non-pedantic introduction to some of the customs and traditions related to Chinese New Year (woven into the basic story line) as well as a basic explanation of tai chi. An author's note at the end provides additional information on both.

The entire story is illustrated with wonderful art by Yan Nascimbene, who not only provides illustrations that aid the text, but also includes at the bottom of each page of text a small illustration in which the child character demonstrates various tai chi moves or positions. For instance, at the bottom of the spread below, the child is demonstrating a move called "Single Whip":



In my opinion, this is a must-share book for adults who are involved in the martial arts who want to introduce the idea to their children or grandchildren, as well as being a perfect book for all children to explore Chinese New Year or tai chi, and for families dealing with cultural differences between older and younger generations. I am extremely glad to have it as part of my picture book collection at home!


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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Oh right - I have a blog!

Sorry for the interruption in service. I was just getting back in the swing of things, when it came time to go to the Bahamas, where, apparently, I lost my inclination to blog. Or the recollection that I have a blog. Or something.

I'm not going to bore you with all the details about my trip, which was a very brief cruise, by the way, followed by a visit to Kennedy Space Center. I will say, however, that I didn't find it boring in the least, and that I enjoyed every minute of my trip and my time with my travel companion, and looked at least this happy the entire time:


(Why yes, I am actually this happy most of the time these days.)

I am planning on returning to my regularly scheduled program now. (Not that I ever have an actual plan or schedule, of course.) Look for a book review coming soon, though - I've got a tai chi-related picture book to talk about.


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Monday, January 23, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Last week, I posted two second-hand book reviews, and today's book was the first of the two reviews. (Jennifer Hubbard's sophomore novel, Try Not to Breathe) was the second.) Allow me to say that M's raves about The Fault in Our Stars were entirely well-placed and were, if anything, more circumscribed than they could have been.

I'm sure you can find plenty of detailed, thoughtful reviews of this book already, and if that's the sort of review you're looking for, I guess you should look elsewhere.

First off, I'm too tired to get myself entirely organized, having finished the book at 2:40 a.m. this morning. (Note to self: You ought to know better than to say that you're going to read "just a few chapters before bed" of a John Green book. You've read all his other novels and published short stories, and you know you're going to want to follow the character to the end.)

Secondly, my eyes are actually tired this morning - not so much from reading, but from all the crying. Now, I expected to cry, you see, because this book is about a girl named Hazel who has terminal thyroid cancer that has metastasized to her lungs. Experience tells me that in a book with a dying main character, I'm definitely going to cry. (In support of which assertion, I refer you to a pair of such books that I reviewed in tandem in a post entitled "What if you only had a short while to live?" back in October of 2007: Deadline by Chris Crutcher and Before I Die by Jenny Downham.) But I did not expect to cry as much as I did, nor did I expect to use up more than 15 tissues.

I guess I expected to cry a bit for these characters that I came to love, in that way that readers do. I expected my inner teen reader to cry a bit because the book deals with issues of love and of loss in a wonderful way (affirming that it is indeed "better to have loved and lost/ than never to have loved at all" (Tennyson), even though that quote thankfully never appears inside its pages). I expected to cry a bit because I'm a mother of two teen girls, and it's easy to get me to cry over the thought of losing a child. But I did not expect to cry over the thought of lost love, which is what made me cry hardest of all, as I thought about how I'd feel if anything happened to the love of my life. (And oh, I'm going to squish him really hard when I see him this afternoon. And quite possibly burst into tears again.) Yet that is precisely what happened. And although there's a hopeful ending (yes, in a book that contains eulogies and in which you know for a fact that the main character is not long for this world, there's still a wonderfully hopeful ending), and although I already know that Tennyson was correct, the fact that the book hit me so very hard is a testament to the excellent writing and still more excellent ideas it contains.

The Fault in Our Stars tells the story of terminally ill Hazel, who meets a hot boy named Augustus Waters at the Support Group her parents force her to attend. Hazel and Augustus hit it off, and romance follows, even though Hazel tries hard to fend it off, believing that it's better not to form attachments, since she knows she's going to die, and she knows that the people she leaves behind will be hurt when she does, and, well, she doesn't want to be responsible for hurting more people than is absolutely necessary (and even then, as is the case with her parents, she wishes those people didn't have to be hurt). Hazel tells Augustus about her favorite (fictional) book, An Imperial Affliction by Peter Van Houten, a literary sort of book that accurately describes what it's like to be a teen dying of cancer, and which ends mid-sentence as the main character dies or loses the strength to continue. Both Hazel and Augustus end up loving the book, and chasing down the reclusive author to try to find answers to Hazel's questions about what happened to some of the other characters in the book. Hazel is especially concerned about the main character's mother, wanting a happy ending for that mother. Without it ever being stated, it's entirely clear that Hazel is particularly worried about what will become of her own mother once Hazel dies, since her mother's entire life pretty much revolves around caring for Hazel - it's her mother's full-time job, pretty much, and as an only child, Hazel worries that once she's gone, her mother will be left with nothing.

There is a lot going on in this book - a lot of themes, including the aforementioned ones involving family and romance as well as an examination of what it's like to be sick in today's society, and how ostracizing it can be. The book includes quotations of poems, including "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot, "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" by Wallace Stevens and, if memory serves, a bit of Robert Frost and Walt Whitman somewhere, although I couldn't readily find it. Quotations from Shakespeare (the title is drawn from Cassius's quote in Act I, scene 2 of Julius Caesar: ""The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,/ But in ourselves, that we are underlings") and from the fictitious novel by Van Houton, all of which tie into the plot and themes, sometimes in unexpectedly interrelated ways. Conversations about what happens after death and whether there is such a thing as the immortality of the soul (that I totally remember having when I was a teen, if not in quite as articulate a way as Augustus and Hazel). Thoughts about Big Picture Things - the existence of God (or of some sort of knowing universe), what is it all about, why is there suffering, do you really need the bad things in order to appreciate the good, etc.

The writing is gorgeous - luminous. Numinous, even. The characters are human and real and have their faults and weaknesses as well as their strengths. They are angry and frightened as well as brave and noble. They are funny as well as tragic. And after I've hugged my beloved and taken a few days to calm down, I will probably read this book a second time, because there's a lot in there to savor, and I'm afraid I read it at a bit of a tear in order to find out what happened next.


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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dear friends,

This morning, I am writing to you about my cat.

I could be writing to you about my writing, which has been nonexistent this week, though I am feeling the urge to write something this morning, now that M is off to her brother's birthday party and I've got the house to myself for a few hours.

I could be writing to you about the weather - how we got a snow storm, and I spent an hour outside shoveling heavy, slushy snow from my sidewalks and driveway, cleared the cars, and shoveled a path for my next-door neighbors, since I know this snow is far too heavy for them to deal with.

I could be writing to you about The Artist, which was absolutely marvelous and should win Best Picture at the Oscars and Best Actor for Jean DuJardin (yes, he was better than George Clooney in The Descendants, and that's saying something), with nominations for best original score, best actress (or supporting actress) for Bérénice Béjo, best director (possible win) for Michel Hazanavicius, best costuming, and best set design. Plus some others. Maybe they can give an Oscar to the Jack Russell terrier, too. M and I saw it yesterday afternoon, and it was tremendous. As in "Oh my God everyone everywhere should see this movie, it's so wonderful!" tremendous.

Instead, I am writing to you about Kismet, who has developed a keen interest in studying the finer properties of gravity, as well as examining the mechanics of work, in the scientific term. F=ma, and all that. At least, she appears to taking mental notes about precisely how much force is required to knock a variety of objects off a variety of surfaces and onto the floor. She has twice cleared M's nightstand of all objects, ranging from movie ticket stubs to eyeglasses to metal bracelets to books. She has done the same with my nightstand, and has attempted the same feat on a variety of objects in a variety of additional locations. Despite being scolded roundly on all occasions, she seems to believe that this sort of behavior warrants an award of kitty treats. I can only conclude that she has decided to become a kitty scientist, possibly with an eye to becoming a mad scientist and/or evil overlord.

Do drop me a note and tell me how you are and what you're up to.


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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Second-hand reviews

The first is from M, who as many long-time readers know is an avid reader. She's now 17, and she's continued to read lots of novels despite her heavy course-load in high school. She has gotten more selective over the years, as one does when one reads a lot. She doesn't like stale ideas, or things she thinks have been done to death, or lazy writing. (She finds that last item particularly inexcusable, and has been known to rant about lazy authorial choices (e.g., no actual conflict and no casualties in Breaking Dawn - seriously, wind her up and watch her go on that one) and about lazy writing (hackneyed terms, clichés, talking down to the audience, poor grammar - again, you should hear her once she mounts that particular soap box. She once ranted for nearly 15 minutes over a book she stopped reading when the first-person narrator referred in narration (not dialogue) to her mother as "Mom" instead of "My mom", as in "When I got home, Mom was standing on the porch.")

Long ramp-up, but suffice it to say that M's recent read has NONE of the things that might set her off on a rant. Not that anyone who has read John Green's writing would expect lazy authorial choices or poor grammar, of course. But M loved THE FAULT IN OUR STARS from start to finish, and has already spoiled the ending for me (but I don't mind, because it allowed us to talk about her take-home from the book, which was where she found the hopefulness in the ending of a book about a main character with a terminal illness). She loved the snarky voice of the narrator. She loved the romance in the book that develops between the female main character (a departure for John) and a boy that she meets in a cancer support group. She loved the humor and the pathos and the fact that it made her cry, but mostly she loved how it made her think. She loved it so much that she forced it on her step-mother, who stayed up most of the night reading it. (She also loved it.) She loved it so much that she hesitated in returning it to me, despite having swiped it from me when I brought it home last week because I bought it for myself. Now that I've got it back, I'll be reading it, and probably writing a bit about it here. But for now, M's rave will have to suffice.

The second of my second-hand reviews comes from my Aunt Martha, an avid reader and former librarian, who has for the past several years served as a patron of the arts by allowing me the use of her townhouse in Waterville Valley for a writing retreat. Angela De Groot has come along with me on all of them, and Jenn Hubbard (known to many of you as has come on most. And on one of those retreats, she started what would become her latest novel - released into the wild today: TRY NOT TO BREATHE.

Jenn sent a signed author copy to my aunt and uncle, who are thrilled to have been able to share their lovely home with us, and are still more thrilled to find themselves publicly recognized in the Acknowledgments of Jenn's book. Aunt Martha spent Tuesday reading Try Not to Breathe, and she raved about it during a phone call on Wednesday. She called it "a real page-turner", and praised the writing, the characterization, and the plot. That she knows what the real-life waterfall that served as inspiration for the one in the book looks like is just a bonus. Again, I have to wait to read this book myself - I'll be getting my copy at Jenn's official

If you're curious what the book is about, it's about a boy who tried to commit suicide and failed, and his developing relationship with a girl whose father tried suicide and succeeded. The Kansas City Star reviewed it yesterday, and said wonderful things about it, if you'd like just a bit more info (no spoilers).


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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Daniel Radcliffe on success (and fear that it won't last)

In yesterday's post, I mentioned Daniel Radcliffe's interview in PARADE Magazine. The wise Mr. Radcliffe had this to say as well, on a slightly different (fear-related) topic:

You've had enormous success for someone so young. Do you fear that it won't last?

Yes. But it's reality, not fear. It will happen, and I have accepted that. In a way it's a great relief that I will never, ever do a film as successful as the Harry Potter series. But neither will anybody else. [laughs] Or it will take them a long time.

If this success lasts longer, great. If it doesn't, so be it. I've had enough fame to last a lifetime. As long as I'm happy with the work I'm doing, I don't mind. The thing I've realized this year is that all that matters at the end of the day is that I'm happy with my life and the people around me, the people I love. That, ultimately, is all I care about.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Daniel Radcliffe on fear

Our local paper, The Philadelphia Inquirer, includes PARADE Magazine in its Sunday issues. The January 8th edition featured Daniel Radcliffe, who was interviewed as he finished his run on Broadway in How to Succeed in Business . . . and was ramping up to host SNL.

And in his interview, he said a little something that resonated with me, perhaps in part because I'd been thinking about what Steven Spielberg said in Entertainment Weekly. Here you are:

At 17, when you played the deranged, sometimes naked stable boy onstage in Equus, or this past year starring in your first musical, did you worry that the critics would be gunning for you because you're a young, successful movie star?

[laughs] I knew they would. But I've worked out recently that I don't do very well without fear. There needs to be a part of me saying, "You can't do that--that's going to fail," for me to prove myself wrong. What I've learned, particularly this year, is that all actors--no matter their status or brilliance--still feel like fools.

Fools?

Yes, like we're conning people and we're not really any good at it. What I learned is that acting is to a large extent about trying to stave off self-doubt long enough to be natural and real onstage. I'm at the point in my career where I should be learning a huge amount from every job I do, and unless something's going to give me that, I'm not really very attracted to it.


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Monday, January 16, 2012

Steven Spielberg on fear

Steven Spielberg has a reputation as a movie director, which is just another form of being a story teller. Mostly he's taking other people's stories and interpreting them, with the help of a cast and crew.

Back in early December, he was interviewed in Entertainment Weekly, and I've been meaning to post this excerpt ever since I read the article. Here it is:

I read somewhere that you were nauseous every day while making [your first short film] Amblin'. True?

Yes. I've always had shpilkes (Yiddish for "nerves").

You didn't have a career yet - what were you worried about?

It's not even about the career. I have shpilkes now and I have a career. I think it's my fuel, basically - my nervous stomach. That's what keeps me honest, right? And a little bit humble, in the sense that when I make a movie, I never think I have all the answers. I think I've stayed collaborative my entire career because I don't have all the answers. I come onto the set - whether it was my first movie, The Sugarland Express, or Lincoln - and it cuts me down to size. It's a good feeling to have.
I know a lot of writer friends who feel this time every single time they embark on a new manuscript or a new round of revisions, and oftentimes it seems to catch them off-guard. I really like Spielberg's take on it - that the nerves fuel the creative process. Don't you?


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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Over at Guys Lit Wire

A review of Filthy Shakespeare, about which I've written before here on my blog. Only I never got a really long comment from the author over here, and I sure did over there.



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Friday, January 06, 2012

The Second Paragraph

In April of last year, I started learning tai chi. On Mondays, I went to a 12-week class where I learned something called the 10 form (sometimes called the 8 form) - basically a competition form, consisting of a series of moves performed symetrically on both sides. For the same 12 weeks, I also attended a second tai chi class, where I started to learn the Yang form of tai chi. I was hooked long before my 12 weeks were up, and joined the gym so I could continue studying tai chi - usually going to 3-4 classes per week.

The Yang long form is separated into three sections, each of which is called a paragraph. I am one move away from completing the form through the end of the Second Paragraph - it's a right heel kick that I need to learn, since I know all the moves before it and the three or so (depending on how you count them) moves after it.

Can't wait for tonight's class.


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Wednesday, January 04, 2012

ARRGH!

I finished a draft of a new picture book at the end of 2011, and I've embarked on revisions in the new year.

Let me say this about that: It's tricky.

Which reminds me that I will be on faculty at the NESCBWI Conference this April, with a presentation entitled "It's Tricky to Rock a Rhyme: Real Tips You Can Use". And yes, I totally swiped those first six words from Run DMC.





(Check out how young Penn and Teller were there!)


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Monday, January 02, 2012

Starting the year out right

For the past few years, I've had a personal New Year's tradition.

On the first day of the year, I make sure to spend a bit of time doing the things I most want to do during the year. I won't tell you what all of them are, but I am happy to say that yesterday included time with my loved ones, a nice walk, some tai chi, cooking, a bit of cleaning, organizing, and financial stuff, some writing, and some reading of poetry.

Kay Ryan's marvelous "Chinese Foot Chart" clean took my breath away. You can read the whole thing at the Kenyon Review blog (I've omitted the first six lines here), but here's how it ends:

. . . We are no
match for ourselves
but our own release.
Each touch
uncatches some
remote lock. Look,
boats of mercy
embark from
our heart at the
oddest knock.

What a lovely way to start the year, boats of mercy embarking from my heart . . .


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