Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cynthia Lord Rules!

This was the first time that our regional SCBWI had a weekend conference instead of the usual one-day jam packed affair. It was terribly well-organized, thanks to our Regional Advisors and their excellent team of volunteers. I am very proud to be part of this vibrant community in the Pacific NW.

Mo Willems entertained us with stories of how he came to write the Pigeon stories. And Arthur Levine spoke about the elements of great books. The local success stories were so inspiring. The common thread among all of them was to keep at it, not giving up. My favorite sessions were craft-oriented and I attended as many as I could.

Two outstanding sessions were both given by a first-time novelist: Cynthia Lord. Yes, the author of Rules, which won a Newbery Honor. Someone in the audience asked whether she knew all this stuff when she was writing her first book. Laughter arose. "No," she said. It's the writing and revising that taught her all these things. For me, the highlight of the conference was listening to her speak.

Here is Cynthia with Peggy King Anderson, my first writing teacher.

Here are some tidbits. I hope you will find them useful and inspiring.

Publication, acknowledgment, awards all make you feel good, give validation. But it's the time in between, when you're working hard, honing your craft, that is most important. -Margaret Chodos Irvine.

Never forget the reason to keep writing. -Royce Buckingham

Know your audience. -Cynthia Lord

Cynthia is a former school teacher and does numerous school visits. If she's presenting anywhere near you, GO! She's a pro. And very nice, too. Here's what some of her young audience had to say about books they like: funny and adventurous, things at school, just about kids.

A book makes a promise. Fulfill it. -Cynthia Lord

Don't be afraid to be the evil author and explore the shadow side. -Cynthia Lord

Agents, editors are superfluous. Write a superlative book. -Mo Willems

Literature is there to reflect reality. -Chris Crutcher

When you have an idea, write it down. -Arthur Levine

Monday, April 28, 2008

Look Who Came for Supper this Weekend

The chickadee, the chipmunk, the finch, the squirrel, the woodpecker and Fiona (not pictured because I don't have a picture of her eating, though I do have pictures of her working, playing and visiting with writerly folk). These critters and many more were here for the food, but Fiona came down for the regional SCBWI conference. It was wonderful as usual, but more about that later.


Friday, April 25, 2008


The gift of time followed by a multitude of writing assignments: test passages, magazine articles, sample chapters for books. I've put aside my novel for these wonderful projects. I know many people who wouldn't touch these types of writing gigs because it would take away from their own ideas and projects, but for me, it's a win-win situation. Not only do I get to work on fascinating topics, which means I learn all kinds of new things, my writing improves under the guidance of an editor, and I get paid for all of it.

My pet projects wait patiently and when I return, some of the pesky problems are already solved (thanks to the subconscious that never stops working) and the time away means I come back with a fresh perspective.

So, do you write-for-hire? And how do you feel about it?

This weekend is our local SCBWI conference. Time for shop-talk, visiting with writing friends, and soaking up all that inspiration and wisdom. I hope to see some of you there.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Gift of Time

We had rain, hail, sleet and snow this weekend. The baseball games were canceled and we had the unexpected gift of time at home. Oh, we did the usual things, cooking, cleaning, putzing around in the garden, but we had all that extra time for playing, reading, some sewing. I love having this unexpected time with my family.


Friday, April 18, 2008

Playing Tag .... Nearest Book?

Fiona tagged me ... bad, bad girl because she knows I'm up to my eyeballs with writing assignments, but this is a fun Friday night break. These were the rules:

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people and post a comment to Fiona once you've posted your three sentences.

Well most of you already know that I love science so it should come as no surprise to you that the nearest book by my side is BIOLOGY by Helena Curtis. It's my college textbook. Wonderfully lucid. Except of course for page 123 which is Review and Questions. Still ...

Sketch an animal cell. Include the principal organelles and label them. Prepare a similar, labeled sketch of a plant cell.

Not so exciting right? But these sentences bring back wonderful memories of drawing what I observed under the microscope. I have never forgotten how exciting it was to peer into a different world. All that motion. Such beauty inside a cell. All those amazing scientists from long ago, like Louis Pasteur and Robert Hooke, made detailed drawings of what they saw. They were artists.

Here are some pictures to whet your appetite:

This is Robert Hooke's drawing of a flea, published in Micrographia in 1664.
[Image removed, pending permission]
The red rods are stained E. coli bacteria, a staple of every microbiologist.
[Image removed, pending permission]
This is a picture of an animal cell in which one of the components of its skeleton is lit up with a fluorescent dye.
To keep the game going, I'm going to tag:
Laura at Laurasalas
Molly at Seize the Day
Natalie at Italian Moments

Monday, April 14, 2008

Poetry in Nonfiction

I adore a book that packs so much in so little. The Monarch's Progress: Poems with Wings by Avis Harley is one such gem. Ms. Harley brings the world of poetry to the monarch.

In the introduction, we learn a little bit about poems, their forms, and why Ms. Harley chose the forms she did. Each spread has a gem of a poem that tells of the Monarch's life along with beautiful pictures.

Consider these excerpts from three poems:

Feet Treat

If we would let our toes seek what we eat,

what smorgasbord would greet our eager feet?


Wondrous Wings

The perfect patternings unfold

in tapestries of crimson and gold.

Abstract art grown huge and bold!


Wintering Over









These poems are so much fun to say out loud. The language is rich and playful. They make you want to write your own poems about the things you find beautiful in nature. I was inpired to write about the pinesiskins that flock in our backyard. I also picked up my children's colored pencils to draw. No matter that I ended up with a pinesiskin that looked more like a mouse.

Ms. Harley includes a section at the back, titled Small Matters, with more information for each of the spreads. This book has everything -- facts, poetry, even philosophy. I highly recommend it.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008


We ended Spring Break with a wonderful movie by Eric Valli. Although this is fictional, it captures the way of life of the Dolpopa people of Tibet.

My husband and I watched it by ourselves one night, and decided to share this incredible movie with our children. Good thing they can both read, though we would've read it to them :) The children were enthralled not only by the majestic backdrop but the story itself -- a struggle to claim leadership in a small village during their annual salt trek. And so much more. I highly recommend this movie.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Writing Life

Let us, then, be up and doing
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

These four lines speak to me not just for the writing life, but for life in general.

But let's discuss this in terms of writing: It's not enough to dream of books with our name on the spine. We must write, write, write. Then polish our work and send it out into the world, which may or may not accept it. Only the writing is in our control. So we work at it, and a few years later we see that we are better.

Waiting can be the hardest part but goodness gracious, when that acceptance arrives, it's sweet.