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1. 48 days, day 19-20: field trip, unwrinkling

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}



















Two days off. I'm took my Fourth vacation early. Jim and I plan to work through the July Fourth weekend. We often do this sort of thing in order to avoid crowds, and because it often works better with our schedules, the writer and the musician. I've always told my kids that I'm not particular about celebrating holidays on a pre-arranged culturally-approved day (although I do love birthdays!), and I like making my own holidays.

Although I must say, I loved all the Fourths we spent at Antietam Battlefield with the National Symphony Orchestra, and the Fourths we spent at Baker Park in Frederick, MD., and even the Fourth I spent with Lisa and Jason on the George Washington Parkway in 1976, with thousands of other stranded motorists hoping to get downtown on the National Mall for the Bicentennial Fourth. We did go to the Mall for years, for concerts, for Fourths, when my first two kids were little and we lived closer to D.C. Oh-so-many years ago.

On Wednesday (day 19) we said goodbye to Roger, who has worked here -- off and on -- for almost a year, doing odd jobs and necessary jobs and major foundation work and much-needed water management on our little property. We worked with Roger on Wednesday as he finished a brick walkway so we could get from the front to back yards with a wheelbarrow (and on foot), and we moved mulch and bricks.

There's still a lot to do here, but Roger got us started, the trees are down (still plenty up), sun shines on the yard, the water flows away from the house, and we can keep going with the edible landscape project now. We'll see Roger again this fall.

Yesterday we went out out OUT. My mind needed a rest. So after we put our bodies to work on Wednesday in the yard, we took off on Thursday and went berry picking and then swimming at Hard Labor Creek State Park. We've been to Hard Labor Creek before, and remembered it as a sandy-bottomed lake with good floating. Still is.

The heavens opened up as we slid into the cool lake water, and we got drenched as we ran out and gathered our things, waited out the storm in the van, and then, when the skies were sunny again, got back in the lake for a long float and chat and swim and silence. Almost no one else was there.

We took back roads on our trip, so it took us a long time to wend our way home. We had a good meal at the Blue Willow Inn in Social Circle before our blueberry picking at Hard Labor Creek Blueberry Farm, and we had breakfast for supper on the way home at a diner that caught our eye. We got lost in Jersey, Georgia, in the middle of nowhere, where our Waze app took us down dirt roads. But I got that great capture of "Final Draft" that's on the masthead now -- whatever this place is... there are winches and contraptions out front that make it look like a construction or equipment repair place. I've been looking for a new photo for the blog, FB, and Twitter, now that REVOLUTION is well-launched, so getting lost was a plus.

Today, day 21, I'm back at work on Rachel, mind rested, words on the page. Let's see if I can get to the end of a revision. I'll bet I can. Sometimes you just need to get away, to unwrinkle your mind. And this is our favorite way: pick a place and go. Field trip!

Happy Independence Day to all! xoxo

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2. 48 days, day 18: bountiful moon

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

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3. 48 days, day 17: multi-tasking, or not

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

"Now, you're either on the bus, or off the bus." -- Ken Kesey (photo by Joe Mabel at Wikipedia)
It's a short hop, in my imagination, from yesterday's Neil Diamond to today's Magic Bus. That traveling salvation show led me to think about Ken Kesey's bus, Further, the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and the many other trips Further made across the U.S., which led me to research The Merry Pranksters and the Hog Farm and the other busses of the sixties... and I thought: get yourself a school bus, paint it in psychedelic colors, fill it with hippies and returning Vietnam veterans, women who want a voice, a writer and a musician and... and maybe a 14-year-old, and you're set for the journey of a lifetime.

Wavy Gravy had a bus: Road Hog. Lisa and Tom Law had a bus: Silver. Lisa still has her bus, on her property in Santa Fe. She also has thousands of negatives she shot while living through some of the most amazing moments of the sixties. I read about Lisa and whispered to Jim: road trip.

The research of the past few days has led me to finding out more about Woodstock than I wanted to know, more about Vietnam than I can take in, more about the Haight and communes and Laurel Canyon and the Sunset Strip riots and the Kent State shootings than is good for anyone to know in three days' time.

I still have trouble appreciating "The Glorious Inconsistency of The Grateful Dead." Don't hate me.

My mind is wrinkled. Maybe Rachel has sat still long enough. Maybe I can switch gears and look at my picture book draft and complete a revision. Maybe not.

I have never been able to work on more than one writing project at a time. The Sixties Project has consumed me since 2008... well, the Sixties Project and the traveling I've done for work, for research, for family, for promotion of each book as it has arrived in the world. All good work. I've been grateful for every scrap of it.

I'm wondering if I can finish Rachel and maybe one other picture book I want to revise before I start writing Book 3 in earnest. I know it will swallow me once I start, just as COUNTDOWN and REVOLUTION did. Or maybe it won't, as I've committed to more time at home this year, in The Year of Exploration. Part of that year is being taken up (happily) with the water management project and the edible yard & garden project I'm documenting over at Instagram.

I dunno. I'm mulling how to manage my time, now that I actually HAVE SOME. My late-blooming heart says, hurry up! don't dawdle! you don't know what time you have left!

I worry, like I always do, that on a day - days -- weeks -- when I have read and researched so deeply, so widely, I'm not getting any writing done. I trust that I am, but I worry that I'm not. Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes. (Thank you, Walt. And The Aurora County All-Stars.)

In possibly-related news, I am eating multitudes of frozen strawberry fruit bars these days (thank you, 4-year-old Abigail) in an effort to stave off melting completely in this heat wave.

Do you work on more than one project at a time? How do you do it? Do you recommend it? Do you eat multitudes of strawberry fruit bars to sustain yourself?

Thank you for all your mail. I so appreciate it. I'm sitting on the fender, below. xo Debbie

The Road Hog, Fourth of July Parade, El Rito, New Mexico 1968
"Road Hog" photo by Lisa Law

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4. 48 days, day 15-16 -- issuing invitations

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

After some family time yesterday, I came home and kept my head down in 1969. Reading, listening, making notes, inviting my story to find me. Inviting. That's a huge part of what I do as a writer. I invite story in. My son Zach, former D.J. says, "Everything is a remix," and I know he's right. A little from here, a little from there, and voila, you've got a story. It's impossible to explain how it works.

This morning I woke up at 5am with this song in my head:


By the time I'd scrambled out of bed and made the coffee, I had seventeen different directions I could go with this 1969 song. Thanks for answering the invitation, Neil.

I have been making notes and gathering resources all morning. I have some direction -- some remixed direction for Book 3 of the Sixties Trilogy. Let's see if it sticks (that's another discussion for another day). Jim gigs this morning -- a Sunday brunch -- and I'm going to hunker down with these 17 directions and see if I can't get an opening -- another beginning for Book 3.

Plus, we got some rain yesterday. Halleluia, Mississippi.

I woke up with all kinds of ideas this morning. One was to write something about the Supreme Court, not just because of their landmark rulings this week, but because I've been reading about the justices and they fascinate me. I started at Wikipedia and read about Justice Scalia, then Justice Kennedy, Justice Thomas, Justice Ginsberg, and then started going back, started reading about the political intrigue of appointments and the history of the court -- part of this was Book 3 research (everything is a remix).

This is also an answered invitation, do you see? I've been reading and asking questions, curious, wanting answers -- who is this Scalia, who wrote such a scathing dissent? Who is this Kennedy, who wrote such an eloquent decision? What is Thomas up to these days? Whatever happened to Anita Hill? Is Ginsberg still a bad-ass? How many women are on the Court now? I should know these things... let me see... 

The Court is sexy again, suddenly, and I thought, Debbie, you should write a book about the Supreme Court justices and call it THE SUPREMES. hahahaha. So I looked up that title and found a BBC article published June 26: "Meet the Supremes: Who are the U.S. Supreme Court Justices?" ha! Scooped! It's a great look at the current justices, though. I'd add the Wikipedia jumping-off places, too, for more.

Stories, stories, stories. I'm wrestling and remixing today. And inviting. Come on in, Book 3. Come on in... what else? What else? Who's out there? Let me go find you... or you find me. I'm right here, working away, my door is open.

 Brother Love's Travelin' Salvation Show by Neil Diamond

Brothers, you got yourself two good hands, ain't it right?
And when your brother is travelin', he ain't got what to eat
When he's tired and he ain't got where to sleep
When his heart is filled with an ache and a pain and he ain't got who to cry along with him,
I want you to take your hand and put it out to him -- that's what it's there for

Hot August night
And the leaves hanging down
And the grass on the ground smellin' sweet
Move up the road to the outside of town
And the sound of that good gospel beat
Sits a ragged tent
Where there ain't no trees
And that gospel group tellin' you and me
It's Love, Brother Love, say
Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show
Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies
And ev'ryone goes, 'cause everyone knows
Brother Love's show

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5. 48 days, day 14: stray thoughts collected

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

 Stray thoughts:

1. 1969 it is. I spent the day there yesterday, and I made some decisions about construction of Book 3 of the Sixties Trilogy. I'm going to try third person vignettes next week for several characters I have in mind.

2. Quote from Arthur C. Clarke: "I don't worry about periods of not doing anything; I know my subconscious is busy." Exactly. I had enough energy yesterday to update my manifesto for the Year of Exploration. I am three months in. I've done a lot more than it looks like from the outside. What COUNTS, when you are measuring your progress? That is one of my eternal questions.

3. This piece, "The Middle of Things:Advice for Young Writers" by Andrew Solomon in the NYer, is great. Good writing, which I am always looking for. I am tempted to quote great swaths of it but will content myself with one of the many lines that resonated: "Your work is not opposed to your life; you do not have to choose between them. It is only by living in the world that you acquire the ability to represent it" Do read it if you are struggling in the middle... of anything, including your writing.

4. I'm thinking about Leo Buscaglia these days and Love 1A. I can't find my old copy of LIVING, LOVING, AND LEARNING, so I ordered one from abebooks. And I see there is a whole lot of Leo on YouTube. I might give him a new listen and see what I think, with, oh, 20 years of experience living in the world since I last listened to dear Leo.

5. I'm thinking a whole lot about love lately... period.

6. And time. My essay "On Being a Late Bloomer" is here.

Happy Weekend, friends. Live in the world. Love one another. Bloom, bloom, bloom. xo Debbie



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6. 48 days, day 12-13 making meaning

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

Yesterday (day 12) was such a low day that I didn't even try to look at Rachel or book 3 or anything else I have on my writing plate -- platter. I worked outside in the yard in 95-degree heat, I went to the dentist, I hung out with folks on social media and email, joining in the conversations or seeing what my peeps were up to in the world.

I hung out with the wonderful Penny Kittle for close to an hour, as we Skyped about REVOLUTION and the Sixties Trilogy and my writing process, as well as the way we write with young people. Thank you, Penny.

 It helped to connect, it always does. I decided to feel whatever I felt and see where that took me, instead of pushing away the low feelings.

I've been trying to make sense of some heavy-duty family stuff, and it occurs to me this morning that what's going on may be fallout from my (adult) kids' dad's death on May 11, so there's that to consider when I'm trying to figure it out. I've been trying to make sense of the insensible in Charleston and around this country. Claudia Rankine's essay in the NYTimes remains with me. I went to bed with it in my mind last night and tossed, what with one thing and another.

As a writer who writes often about social justice issues, there is no way that what's happening in America today won't find it's way into a book about America in the late sixties. After a couple of days at a standstill with writing work, I woke up at 6am with three songs in my head, one after the other -- boom-boom-boom.

I scrambled out of bed to write them down, to listen to them on YouTube, to research them, to read the lyrics (instead of rattling them off in my head) and see when they were released. YES. I can use these. I've put them on my Pinterest board of song possibilities for Book 3.

Human beings are meaning making machines. We are the only species to take what happens to us and try to form a narrative around it, try to make sense of it, try to understand how it informs our lives, try to make change.

So I'm going to take the confusion of my own personal stuff (once again; it seems this is what I'm always doing in my fiction) and the inconceivable horror of how we visit violence on one another in this country and can't seem to change it -- as well as the hope that we one day might -- and weave them into what I'm writing.

Book 3 of the Sixties Project asks for attention today, so that's where I'm going. Here are the songs I woke up with, in the order they appeared.

I consider them a gift to get me going again. Maybe today will be a scrapbook day, building some of the infrastructure for Book 3. I need seven scrapbooks to help me tell the story of 1968/9... to help me draw parallels to today.

Abraham, Martin, and John:


What the World Needs Now is Love, Sweet Love:


For What It's Worth:


I'll be working with these songs this morning, seeing how they play with the stills I'm collecting for various scrapbooks. I'll be making meaning, as much as I can. Hoping to make change.

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7. 48 days, day 11: standstill


{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

I am stilled by the events in Charleston. Stilled. All the violent events of this past year -- years -- leading up to Charleston. All the hatred and violence. I thought I would say nothing publicly at first. Who am I to say anything? I write fiction about my deepest beliefs; that is enough.

But I couldn't stay silent, so I posted -- on my Facebook author page as well as my Facebook personal page --  links to other people's words about Charleston. Then I needed to include them in a blog post last week.

I also asked the folks assembling the Charleston Syllabus to include REVOLUTION, FREEDOM SUMMER, and THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS, all books of mine with a civil rights theme running through them, along with my deepest beliefs, including that every human being is worthy of dignity and respect.

Now, I thought, now I shall get back to the work at hand. But what is the work at hand?

For now, since I am stilled, and quiet, and contemplating, I will link to Claudia Rankine's piece in the NYTimes: The Condition of Black Life is One of Mourning. I met Claudia Rankine last November in NYC at the National Book Award events. She was also a finalist. She is beyond impressive, as is her work, and this piece in the Times leaves me absolutely breathless. It asks me for something. It will not leave me.

So I will leave you here today, with some words from Claudia Rankine that describe what I try to do when I am writing as well:

"There are billions of souls in the world and some of us are almost to be touching the depths of how it is and what it is to be human. On the surface we we exist but just beyond is existence. I write to articulate that felt experience... There are some of us who are constantly mending our hearts, I write into that mending, my writing is that mending...."

Peace.

xoxo Debbie



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8. 48 days, days 9 & 10: weekending

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

Art on the Beltline in Atlanta

Daniel Ballard teaching us about ecological landscaping, with examples along the Beltline.

Lunch afterwards at Krog Street Market. "We belong to a fashion club!" Truth.
Coming along, our own landscape.
Still trying to tame the slope on the side of the yard.
Water management in our yard.
 One of the things I enjoy most about my writing life now is making and having weekends to do something else. I'm still pulled to the writing, and so sometimes I do write, but I spend a lot of time on the weekend doing something else.

I've had so many jobs over the years that required weekend work, and certainly the past 15 years of being a road warrior have meant lots of weekend travel, speaking on a Saturday, flying home on a Sunday, or out on a Sunday in order to be in a school on Monday. I've been grateful for the work.

I am grateful a sabbatical summer, too. This weekend Jim and I took a class on ecological landscaping sponsored by Trees Atlanta, taught along the Atlanta Beltline by Daniel Ballard of Convivial Gardens. We're edging closer to our dream of a largely-edible landscape, where we manage the water flow and invite the birds and the bugs and the flowers, vegetables, trees, shrubs to co-habit our small space. 

We met daughter Hannah and son-in-law Richard, the newlyweds, at Krog Street Market afterwards for lunch at Yalla. Falafel all around. Jim went to Auburn, Alabama for a gig with the band, and I set to work organizing my office -- one of those tasks I've set for myself this summer. Made good headway. Cranked up the stereo and listened to the hits of the late sixties -- research for book 3. Yes! Made notes of possibilities.

Jim worked all day Sunday -- gigging all over Atlanta for Father's Day folks -- and I spent most of the day catching up with family. Cousin Carol and I are now watching and texting (she from Mississippi, me from ATL) Poldark on Sunday nights. We've had this Sunday night Masterpiece tradition for years now but the Sunday-night well has been rather dry of late. Poldark: steamy romance novels. Should I read the books? whoo!

And now it's Monday. Rachel has had time to cool, I've lived 1969-in-song for part of the weekend, and I slept in -- on a Monday! Better get with it. Let's make some work goals for the week ahead. Mine:

1. Finish my draft of Rachel.
2. Try a new beginning for book 3 of the '60s project.
3. Finish my office reclamation.
4. Plant anything else that I want planted this growing season (zinnias, I miss you...)
5. Weeding and mulching for exercise and because we need to. Watering, too.
6. Start a new picture book revision.

Yours?


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9. 48 days, day 8: step out, step back, regroup

 {{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

With Lisa Wise at Dancing Goats Coffee in Decatur, Georgia yesterday.
I didn't finish Rachel, and yet I did make progress. I'm okay with that.

Yesterday I was flattened. I watched Jon Stewart's response to the violence in Charleston. I read those nine names. Say their names. I thought about how I wrote FREEDOM SUMMER and REVOLUTION about a time fifty years in the past that we are still living through today and that we have to face and feel something about and do something about if we want it to change.

I don't know enough to orate, pontificate, opinion-toss, or wring my hands and heart in public on social media channels. But I have a voice and I will continue to use it in the best way I know how. I want to offer readers young and old a path to peace and social justice.

That's my work. Community, kindness, family, peace, kinship, connection. Friendship, heart, safety, belonging, stories. For young and old. Especially for children. I don't care how schmaltzy it sounds in print. These unglamorous work-horse words are the fundamentals of health and happiness and form the bedrock of what it means to be human and to care for one another.

Yesterday I met with Lisa Wise who is the executive director of the Initiative for Affordable Housing here in Atlanta. We talked shop and storytelling possibilities surrounding the Initiative's re:loom project. It felt good to talk about those work-horse words with Lisa, who is steeped in them every day. It's important to find fellow travelers on this unglamorous road. Do you know what I mean?

It rained late Thursday, a crashing, booming thunderclap of rain that washed away the side yard slope of newly planted grass. It wants to be a riverbed over there.

The over-eager thunderstorm chewing up my landscape combined with the recalcitrant bits of Rachel that refused to come together as I listened to the news coming out of Charleston... I gave up for the day and took a nap, and then I went to bed early. Friday I worked but felt like I was slogging through mud, then went to meet Lisa, which lifted my spirits.

I don't know. Sometimes you step out, or step back, and regroup.

That was Thursday (day 7)/Friday (day 8).

How are y'all doing? Can we talk about it?






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10. 48 days, day 7: a bit of inspiration and validation

 {{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }} 

My foot waving hello at 6am
 It's 11am and I am about to plunge into my Rachel revision and finish it. So say I. SO SAY I.

No backing down, now... just do it, Debbie. You've got enough, you've got what you need, and you can finish this revision. Today.

If I am really brave, I will send it to my agent by the end of business today. That is my goal. THAT IS MY GOAL. He lives in California. That gives me a few extra hours. hahahahahaha.

I am a watering fool right now, trying to keep new grass alive, as we near the end of this almost-year of a water management project which evolved into an edible yard and garden project along the way, and Other Stuff.

I can see, I'm falling into a routine, 7 days into this 48. Up early and either write or do correspondence while it's dark... read some, too. Once the sun is up, go outside while it's still bearable and water. This takes two hours. I have to visit everything, plump pillows, tell stories, check on the patients. Something ate my hosta last night. Who does that? Deer? I don't want to talk about it. Big, fat, beautiful hosta leaves, gone.
"The dingo ate your hosta."
What I read this morning provided me with great inspiration to get to the desk and write, which is what happens after the watering, and where I'm about to go right now. Here's what I read:

First, a piece by photographer Sally Mann in the New York Times Magazine. You must read it. It's so strong, so good, so true. Every time I read good writing, it teaches me something. This piece also taught me a little more about being human. I loved it. I have long admired Mann's work, and it was a pleasure to "hear" her talk about it in-depth; the highs, the lows, the scary bits and the calling-us-to-account bits. I read this in the 5am dark this morning. I thought, "I want to write like this." Inspiration.

Then there is this piece that I read as I came in from watering, the writer James Salter interviewed by the Paris Review -- must have been in the '90s -- about writing fiction. Here is the nugget that is sending me back to the page energized:

I find the most difficult part of writing is to get it down initially because what you have written is usually so terrible that it’s disheartening, you don’t want to go on. That’s what I think is hard—the discouragement that comes from seeing what you have done. This is all you could manage?

How many times have I felt like this! Also, on heroes:

There is everyday heroism. I think of Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path,” about a black woman walking miles to town on the railroad track to get some medicine for her grandchild. I think real devotion is heroic.

That's a thought I can use as I write about Rachel Carson, but I will also use it for book 3 of the '60s trilogy. I would also attribute it to Sunny in REVOLUTION, and to most of my characters in my books. I write about everyday struggle and everyday acts of heroism. Uncle Otts in COUNTDOWN. Joe and John Henry in FREEDOM SUMMER. Comfort letting her dog go in order to save her cousin in EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS. House reading to Mr. Norwood Boyd in ALL-STARS. Even Ruby saving Melba Jane on stage in LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER.

So those words inspire me by validating my writing experience. Which makes me feel like a real writer. Validation and inspiration send me back to the page when I think, as I do almost every writing day: this is all you could manage?

I'm going to manage to finish my revision today. What are you up to, one week, 7 days in?



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11. 48 days, day 6: the proposal method -- what's enough?

 {{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days, I'd love to hear/see what you're doing. Please link to your work/blog/etc in the comments (or just comment!) so all can see. We'll cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

Mourning dove, through the screen door. I tried to get closer, to capture it without the screen between us, and to get the hummingbird and wasps, but they were not having it.
I wish you could have seen the party at the birdbath in my garden this morning: one mourning dove (very big), one hummingbird (very small), and three red wasps (tiny!), all vying for turns at fresh water. I tried to take a photo, but of course they wouldn't sit still for me to do that. Yesterday when I filled the bath, five red wasps were right there, waiting for me to finish, as well as a bee. (Yay, bee! Bring your friends!)

It makes me so happy to see the life in the garden, even when it's the birds that I have to shoo away from the blackberries each morning. I have planted enough berries for them and enough for me.

Enough for them and enough for me. That's what I'm thinking about today as I write. How much of a draft/revision is enough for those who will read it, and how much is enough for the one who writes it? And then there are the gatekeepers who make some of those final decisions, once we get a final draft and the book goes into production... editors, publishers, marketing people, book sellers, teachers, librarians, parents, but more about them another day. It's a miracle a book makes it into a young reader's hands at all!

I'm working on Rachel today, more focused than yesterday. A comment on yesterday's post really helped me with my feelings of not getting enough done: "I think summer just calls us away from our tasks... Gardening and just soaking up the long days are just part of summer. It isn't writing for me, but just the things I need to take care of around the house."

That's part of it, I'm sure. Thanks, Sandy. I want to remember glorious summer... something I write about quite a bit, actually... RUBY, ALL-STARS, FREEDOM SUMMER, REVOLUTION... the joys of summer.

I've been at it since early morning. It's coming along. Some days the tide sweeps you out to sea, and some days you're able to stay put against the undertow. Today seems to be a stay-put day. I'm working on what's good-enough to submit for a draft.

A good friend (who espouses writing every single day, even in summer, all day if possible (with breaks for exercise!) and who produces quite a bit more writing than I ever will) says to think of a picture book like a proposal. It can be revised and re-thought, and even re-worked completely, if you can get the attention of an editor who is intrigued enough to ask for a revision.

This goes counter to the "get it as perfect as possible" method writers cut our teeth on, eh? If we look at picture books as proposals -- offers? -- to write the entire book beautifully and sellably (:>), then what is it that will intrigue that editor and get him/her to ask for a revision?

I think it's a fresh approach, a new idea, a different structure, and above all -- voice. That elusive thing no one can seem to define.

More about voice in another post. This morning I'm working. Hope you are, too. I'm lucky to have these 48 days off, and I want to use them up, wear them out, make them count, all while enjoying these summer days that call me away from my tasks. A tall order. A cool drink is what's required now. Even the creatures at the birdbath know that.

Write on!


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12. 48 days, day 5: avoiding the draft

 {{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days, I'd love to hear/see what you're doing. Please link to your work/blog/etc in the comments (or just comment!) so all can see. We'll cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}


Day 5: Avoiding the Draft.

Not THAT draft. Although I'm avoiding book three of the sixties project right now, probably because I'm a little in shock that I would actually think to move the book from 1968 to 1969, after all the reading and research I've done on 1968. More on that later.

The draft I'm avoiding is the Rachel draft I finished yesterday that needs So Much Work. I have found eleven-hundred other things to do today that have kept me from sitting down to this draft until an hour ago when I knew I was going to have to be accountable here for my writing day. (See how this works? huh.)

I bought cat food.

I consulted four times outside in the 95-degree heat with Roger, who is truly finishing up this long, long project with our yard, helping us manage water flow and create an edible landscape.

I read. Now, reading is essential. I want to fit it into every day I live. When I'm on a tight deadline, the only reading I'm doing is the manuscript or research. When I'm not, like now, reading for pleasure and reading for work are necessary. Maybe two hours in the middle of the day isn't necessary, when I've got these precious 48 days in which to write like mad. Maybe I'm still finding my rhythm. I want to cut myself a break.

I did get up early and get right to it, sitting down with the manuscript. There is nothing stopping me from revising today except me. Am I afraid of the story? No. Am I afraid to be messy? Heavens no, I've been nothing BUT messy with this draft for 16 years. Am I avoiding work? Well... yes.

Writing. Is. Hard. Work. At least it is for me. It requires so much attention, energy, focus, stamina, structure, skills, and strength -- strength of mind and heart. Maybe I just didn't have all that today. Am I making excuses? Maybe. Am I for-real? Yeah. We never know what private stuff someone may be wrestling, and it turns out some news from a friend yesterday has me slightly off-balance today.

Not that I can't write through it. I can and I have in the past. Today I gave myself the luxury (or the punishment -- I guess it depends on how you look at it) of a partial day off. I'm going to work for an hour now. I promise. Then I'm going to work outside -- we've got so much going on out there, it's a sort of constant distraction, but I won't use that as an excuse... this outside work gives me a good chance to move and stretch and sweat -- it's so hot and sunny and humid it hurts. ATL in June.

So let's say I'm going to work from 4 to 5pm -- 5:30. And then work in the yard for an hour. And then get a shower and make a salad (if Jim doesn't beat me to it) to take it to pot luck with friends tonight. By the time I get home, my overly-full head will drift onto the pillow in sleep. Tomorrow will be better.

How about you? Did you work/write today? Will you?

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13. 48 days, day 4: a crummy draft


96 degrees in the shade at 5pm today. Gus is hanging out under the ferns.

How did I get so much done today? Remember this, sister, when you wail about the days when nothing seems to get done. Nothing is wasted. Remember that, too.

I have a really crummy, really awful, really unsellable draft of a story about Rachel Carson. I've been writing this book since 1999. I've had probably 20 drafts over the years, and maybe a dozen of them survive. Okay, a half-dozen.

If I truly believe that I'm writing even when everything is percolating, then I've been trying to get at this latest draft for about 16 years. I do believe that. Sometimes it takes TIME. And things change. You change. How you see the story changes. How picture books are written and sold changes. Editors move or age up or down or out or in -- whatever. There are so many variables. Yes?

Whatever the case, this morning I sat down and wrote from beginning to end, all of it, all over again. The story is so much a part of me by now, I knew my direction. And, after spending so much time with 4-year-old Abigail, reading so many books, and getting to know her sensibilities so very well, the way I approach a picture book reader/listener is different.

So my rhythm and tone and plot and language -- everything is different about this very same story.

At lunchtime, I read what I had to Jim, and I heard how clunky and awful it is. How many holes there are. (I actually write "DETAIL HERE" or "BLAH BLAH BLAH.") But I am just ebullient! I have a draft! A draft! I can do something with that. (Or not... I have a bunch more of these where that one came from... ha.)

I prefaced my reading by telling Jim about Rachel Carson -- setting up this particular scene/story. I felt my heart swell with such deep admiration for her, as I spoke... a sure sign that I am in the right place... you know? Write what you are passionate about, that's what I say. That's the only thing that works for me. And so... we will see.

I ordered my office a little. It's a warehouse right now. It's chock-full of all the traveling I've done since January, and that's a lot of travel. It's home to all the detritus of living out of my suitcase for six months, plus library hauls and bills to be paid and kid stuff and a dehydrator and honestly, I don't know how I do it. I plan to tackle it, a half-hour at a time this summer. It will take a while.

The rest of the day was full of watering and weed pulling and consulting with our water-management-yard-putter-back-togetherer Roger, ordering and taking possession of 13 cu. yds of hardwood mulch for the beds that are ready for it. It's so hot.

I got a shower outside. Now I'm sitting in the pink chair with my hair in a towel, drinking the last of the sweet tea (Ruby Lavender would be proud of me), and reading LEROY NINKER SADDLES UP by Kate DiCamillo. Abby and I loved MERCY WATSON so much, and this is where Mercy led me.
Dinner out with friends. Thank goodness. I'm letting that draft cool. It needs so much work. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe.

YOU?

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14. 48 days: days 2 and 3: grape-vining

Weekend.

Saturday felt like Friday, maybe because Roger, our genius water-land management guru, was here working, and so I worked all day. I made starts and stops on a picture book -- frustrating, trying to find the way in. So I left it to simmer.

I pretended I was writing a story set in 1969 for book three of the sixties trilogy, just to see if this is really going to grab my attention. I tried an alternate beginning, and liked it. It's very hippie-heavy. I slept on it Saturday night, and woke up Sunday morning (this morning) feeling like it was way to "old" for middle grade readers. Second thoughts.

Still, I researched 1969 Rock-and-Roll and R&B and Soul and listened to many of those songs on YouTube, trying to find an anchor song for 1969, should I go that direction. I listened to "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" (1968) by Marvin Gaye and got sad looking at pictures of Marvin and remembering about Marvin's tremendous talent and violent death, the death of the sixties, all the deaths... which is a hazard of writing about the sixties, or any time period you've lived through.

A song like "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" leads me to read about Marvin Gaye (The Prince of Soul) and Motown and Barry Gordy and get interested in telling that story. When I can pull myself away from that memory lane, I listen to Gladys Knight and the Pips singing "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" (1967). But I know the version I listened to most: "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" by CCR -- Creedance Clearwater Revival. I have to look it up. 1970.

I have to look up the song itself now, and I get lost in all the versions and the writers and the productions... an hour is gone. Back to my Billboard list. "Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In" by The Fifth Dimension.

         When the moon is in the 7th house
         And Jupiter aligns with Mars
         Then peace will guide the planets
         And love will steer the stars.

Is that a good anchor for 1969? Maybe. Especially if I'm going counter-culture heavy. I can imagine this song juxtaposed with Vietnam War stills.

I keep looking, lost in 1969. I find The Rooftop Concert by The Beatles, singing "Get Back." I love this! Love the lyrics for this project. And yet... I'm writing about the American 1960s. And I'll bet we can't afford Beatles lyrics. At. All. S'okay. Still, I pin the concert to my growing Pinterest board of pins about 1969.

Some of this is necessary work. It's how I will find the seven anchor songs for the seven scrapbook sections of book 3. Some of this is feeding my nostalgia. Some of this is what we used to call "pea-vining" in the South... taking one's time to meander along. I'll call it grape-vining and be done with it for today. I call this writing, even though the narrative isn't moving forward. Do you? Everything is percolating.

The Billboard Top 100 list of number one songs for 1969, in chronological order for the year, is here.

Here's another Billboard list, longer, and actually 100 songs, at Wikipedia. I don't know if they are ranked by sales, or what, but the order is different. This is indicative of the trouble I run into with research (and, sometimes, with Wikipedia). I consider Wikipedia a good jumping-off place, though, and use it extensively to figure out where I want to go next. Everything must be verified, and that includes sources outside of Wikipedia as well.

Sunday is a day off. I'm playing with playlists. I'm going to read over everything I did last week as a way to prime my pump for a long work day on Monday. I need to pay my second quarter taxes. I need to water the garden -- it's 95 degrees here today and brilliantly, relentlessly sunny. Jim and I are going on a driving-around-ATL date, something we do from time to time -- get lost in this big city and see what we can see. I need to make plane reservations for my Los Angeles trip. I need to do some administrivia.

I need to take a nap.

Too hot to sit here today. 95 degrees. Grapevining at my desk instead.

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15. 48 days: day 1

{{ If you are chronicling your summer writing/days, I'd love to see what you're doing. Please link to your work in the comments. We'll cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

I have 48 days until I step on a plane to attend the SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles, where I will gratefully accept the Golden Kite Award for REVOLUTION! So stoked about that. I'm also teaching a workshop (here is the whole conference schedule): "Structuring Your Novel: Providing a Scaffold For Your Plot." Y'all come!

In the meantime, in this Year of Exploration, I have 48 days to write and I'm going to use them. I want to catalog them here, so I can see, as I step onto that plane on July 31, just what I have accomplished. Last year (and right up to June 1 this year) was so jam-packed with REVOLUTION travel as well as work in schools and at conferences and with family and more... so much travel. All good. But not much time to write.

And, as you may have surmised through the recent Picture Book Intensive I participated in, I want to write picture books. And, as you may know if you're a reader here or have read COUNTDOWN and REVOLUTION, I have a third book in the sixties trilogy to deliver. I have given myself a year to get the draft of book three to David at Scholastic. I had better get hopping.

So let me chronicle the next 48 days (day 1, yesterday, below), and let's see if I can jump-start my fall writing (I'm home more this fall than I have been in years), by declaring a writing retreat of sorts, at home, with the great wash of family and friends and garden and summer that flows through days at home, loving that and yet finding a way -- I hope -- to work well here, and see what happens.

One thing to note: After the PB Intensive, I finished a draft of the Robert Kennedy book I have sold to Scholastic. They kept it a while (um... years) and made some suggestions for revision which didn't resonate for me. I kept it a while (um... years), trying to figure out another way in that would satisfy us both. The power of writers reading their work to one another is what broke open my thinking and got me past seventeen drafts that Did Not Work. Thank you, Laurel Snyder, for the suggestion you made during the PB Intensive that broke the revision dam for me and got me back to the page.

Handing in a revision is so exciting! Let's see what Scholastic says about it. I hope to hear soon.


Day 1: Friday, June 12, 2015

My childrens' dad died on May 11. The funeral was postponed so we could all go to Colorado for son Zach's graduation from the University of Colorado at Denver. We were there from May 15-19, living together in the same rented house, where we started the process of healing from that wound... a process I'll document at some point. We are doing well, I think, and are pointed forward now. Zach flew home on Monday, June 8, and Abby came for annual summer camp at Grandma and Grandpa's on Tuesday, June 9.

Abby left yesterday after spending three days here for summer camp. We went to the library. We read So Many Books (my discoveries, here). So today was for organizing for the next 48 days. I gathered manuscripts I want to work on -- picture books. Some of them I read to Janie when she was here for the PB Intensive Work-Along we did together last month. Some of them I tossed! I began working on a story about Rachel Carson. The other mss are dotting the floor around my chair. How many can I get to in 48 days? I have a draft of Rachel dated 1999. I have many other drafts, none of which work. I know the story I want to tell. Armed with what I learned in the Intensive, I'm going to move forward.

I've weeded some of the older mss in my stash, and I've kept some... the ones that I love, the ones that went to committee at different publishers years ago. Some have partial drafts and lots of research. Some are biographies. Some are just ideas.

I also researched Book 3 of the Sixties Trilogy. I have a draft started that I do not like (nothing new). I am being pulled to move the story from 1968 to 1969, which will open a can of worms for me, especially if I move it from San Francisco to Los Angeles. I just cannot get excited about SF for some reason. I also am having trouble with 1968 because that year covers So Much Ground. Assassinations, riots, war, the breadth of rock-and-roll (finally)... not that I'm averse to all that, but I'm having trouble grounding the reader in one place. So there's that to wrestle as well.

I've been saying, "two pages a day on book three, and I'll have a draft in a year." I'm not sure I can be that prescriptive.

I made green smoothies. A homemade meal in the middle of the day. Spinach salad with blueberries, baked potatoes (white and sweet). Popcorn. Steamed broccoli. I watered the new yard we're putting in, took progress photos of the front and back yard coming together. Most photos of the days I keep are currently on Instagram.

So lots is swirling. I also caught up with social media. Stayed up late researching and reading.

Let's see how day 2 goes.

YOU? Again: If you are chronicling your summer writing/days, I'd love to see what you're doing. Please link to your work in the comments. We'll cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm!


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16. letter to a friend about picture books today

More thoughts on the Picture Book Intensive, before I move on to my 48 days to write before the next travel. I wrote this letter to a writer friend this morning, and I want to share it here on the blog, especially for all those who participated in the Intensive... I've been wanting to do a wrap-up of what I learned, and maybe this will suffice. I'd love to hear what you learned/think as well... xo 
 =============

Ideas are endless. Don't you think, though, that readers have changed in the past 20 years (5 years!), and that schools/teachers/education has changed as well? Duh, but you know what I mean.

FOR INSTANCE: I tried all kinds of classics with Abby this past week, and she wasn't having ANY of them except James Marshall's RED RIDING HOOD, and that's because it's a Marshall art/telling, and because she already knew the story. Here's what she wouldn't sit still for: TOUGH BORIS by Mem Fox -- she didn't like the art, and she wouldn't go farther than that. And she loves pirates! SOPHIE'S SQUASH (which isn't that old). HENRY HIKES TO FITCHBURG, remember that one? It's charming. All three of these books are clearly written on a four-five-year-old level, without difficult inference or complicated story lines, but Abby could have cared less about them.
.
Next time I'm going to try Alice and Martin Provensen's Maple Hill Farm Books, and Cyndi's books -- WHEN I WAS YOUNG IN THE MOUNTAINS and THE RELATIVES CAME, particularly. But I don't have high hopes. She does love Richard Scarry, which is just to my point.

Why this sea change in the way young readers consume books? Because of books like GOODNIGHT ALREADY! and I DON'T LIKE KOALA and WOLFIE THE BUNNY and that skunk book, and more like these that are short and funny and not particularly lyrical or beautiful like Cyndi's work, or slow or soft... those books get tossed aside by 4-year-old Abby, and that may be her taste in reading, or her age, but I am still paying attention.

ENEMY PIE was one that Abby warmed to on the third read. Like all kids her age who like books, she's into the re-reading of anything that intrigues her, and we happily re-read. It's fascinating to see her understanding deepen and her enjoyment of a book open up as she "gets it." But she has to get ENOUGH of it on the first try to make her want a re-read. If that makes sense.

She ended up "getting" the idea that the enemy could be a friend -- but it took that third read... and she never did get that the dad was helping the kid all along by making the pie and telling the kid he had to spend the day with his enemy... but it didn't matter that she didn't get it -- this is a book for 7 and 8 year olds, or 6 year olds... those who are actively in school/neighborhood and have had dust-ups with friends. It's really a great book, and I didn't like it the first time through, either.

Also, lots depends on the reader of the book. Jim is a terrific read-alouder. When he first read I DON'T LIKE KOALA, he kept saying, "what?" because he didn't get the premise, and he didn't read it well, and Abby didn't like it. But the second time (the next day), when Abby asked for it again, Jim knew the book and was able to give it the heft it needed in order to make sense. So I want to keep that in mind as well, as I write. The art in that book is special, too. It had Janie laughing off her chair.

LANGUAGE has changed so much. ATTENTION SPANS have changed.  But what's important, at rock bottom, has not. That will help me as I go forward... the  delivery system (the kind of picture book) has changed -- that's what I see.

Another book, KID SHERIFF AND THE TERRIBLE TOADS, was a book that BOTH Abby and Jim hated at first glance. The art is terrific (Lane Smith), but the text (Bob Shea -- I've just ordered a bunch of his books and need to go pick them up at the library) is probably for an older reader than Abby. The art was so intriguing that Abby kept giving the book to Jim and asking for it again, and he would read it yet again, but the first time through, they couldn't even finish it -- either of them! And we have a rule here that no book must be finished just because it is begun. If you don't like it, you can say, "it's not for me" and put it aside.

The second time they tried it, they still didn't finish, and the third time Abby WANTED to finish it, so they did. The Wild West and dinosaur mash-up, plus the tortoise joke plus the Toads being the bad guys... it was hard for Abby to grasp, and it was also full of adult humor -- which is another hallmark of these newer books... when they work, they are doing the Sesame Street thing, where there is an adult humor that the kids don't have to get in order to enjoy the book. But in this book, the child reader needs to get it, too. So maybe Abby is just too young. Maybe Jim is, too. hee. Great art, though, and I noticed that Robin Smith really, really liked it in her review (I think for Horn Book). So there's that. I haven't read it on my own, so I will do that with Robin's review beside me, and I will learn something.

I realize I'm working with a four-year-old and you're thinking about 7-year-olds or something (for PBs), but I think the general principles still apply. This is why WIMPY KID is so, so popular. And these kids are going to be the Josh and Tims you work with in middle school. Just as it was when my kids were young, great depth on a subject is going to be embraced when a kid is passionate about a subject. Zach had every Titanic book I could get my hands on for him when he was ten years old. For instance. WWII, not so much. But there are kids (and I knew them) who are passionate about war, and about WWII and soon about Vietnam, as they will have grandfathers who fought there, too... etc. It's all coming back around, all the time... and I know NF is different...

[personal stuff snipped]]

So there's that argument as well, re NF. But it all ties into the same conversation about reading and how we write for young readers.

The point is -- I don't know the point. Picture books have really, really changed. The occasional quiet one slips through. Freshness and uniqueness is still valued -- look at Carson Ellis's HOME. I think it's brilliant. It's a subtle (and not so subtle) new take on all those classic picture books about home that I loved so much as a reader and wanted to write. It's probably 200 words. The art is everything, the way it is with all picture books now.



I have 47 days before I go to L.A. I'm going to stay in my writing zone as much as possible. I can't do like you do -- it's not in me -- but I can write every day a little bit and make progress. I consider my "intrusions" my life, and I won't push them away -- dinner with friends, Abby now and then, time with Jim to go on a field trip, the garden, etc., but I will manage my life well in these next 47 days, please god, and will see how far I can get.

Love, Debbie

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17. Picture Book Intensive wrap-up

Well, that went quickly. The Picture Book Intensive was so fast, so furious, so intense, and so well-attended that I never made it back over here to give you a wrap-up. WHO KNEW that almost 250 people would hang out with us for those three days in May, proffering opinions and slinging picture book texts and art all over the walls? It. Was. Great. THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH!

Because of the sheer volume of meaty postings and insights and conversation, it felt impossible to sum it up here adequately and give you any sense of the depth and breadth of what we learned. So I'm going to put the link to the Intensive here, and hope that you find it useful and helpful in your picture book deliberations going forward.

I hope we do it again. I feel sure we will. One of our takeaways was how much picture books have changed in the past five -- especially ten -- years. You'll see that conversation taking place, as well as our writing of our own picture books... I finished a revision that has been plaguing me for years, on a picture book I've sold but couldn't find a way into revise. Whew. That felt so good. Got it sent back to my editor and now am waiting for next steps.

I also see my way in to some of the stories I've been wanting to write. I have 48 days before my next travel. Let's see how many of them I can work on, along with book three of the sixties project. That's up next -- and that's in my next post. Thank you all for hanging out with us in May.

Here's the Picture Book Intensive Work-Along. There's a lot in here to unpack. Some folks are still posting, and I may do that as well... there is still so much to share and learn.





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18. picture book work-along intensive may 25-27

Hello, hello! Over on Facebook a few friends and I have put together an event, a Picture Book Work-Along Intensive, May 25-27 (that's this coming Monday through Wednesday), designed to be a look at current picture books -- what makes them tick? What makes them sell? What makes them work for kids? Or not.



 

If you're not on FB, no worries. Comment and work-along right here on the blog. I'll be summarizing each day's activity in a blog post, so you'll still be able to participate. Suggest titles, tell us what you think, tell us what works for you and your young readers! We're not interested in bashing books in public; we're interested in WHAT WORKS. That's where we'll focus.

We are inviting everyone -- reader, writer, illustrator, parent, grandparent, teacher, whoever you are, if you are interested in picture books, this is for you. We're encouraging your participation and your thoughts and comments and questions and opinions -- we want to learn. We are not teachers in this Intensive, we are all learners.

Any current (or classic) picture books you want to talk about are fair game. For organizational purposes, we are pulling from the following lists, and we have picked up almost all titles from our local libraries:

The Golden Age of Picture Books, an ABPA Panel, at Publisher's Weekly.

Creative Courage for Young Hearts: 15 Emboldening Picture Books Celebrating the Lives of Great Artists, Writers, and Scientists at Brain Pickings.

29 Ridiculously Wonderful New Books to Read With Kids. At BuzzFeed

25 Ridiculously Wonderful Books to Read With Kids in 2015. Also at BuzzFeed but a different list.

The Ezra Jack Keats Award winners 2015.

Participants are already suggesting books not on this list. Here are a few: SIDEWALK FLOWERS; THE OCTOPUPPY; THE CASE FOR LOVING; CHASING FREEDOM; THE BEAR ATE YOUR SANDWICH; SUPERTRUCK. Check the FB event page for particulars on books as well as details about the Intensive. This Facebook page is open to everyone, even those not on FB.

Hope to see you there. This is a drop-in when you can, stay as you like, contribute your thoughts, let's enlighten one another workshop. We're going to be WRITING as well, when you're not hearing from us online. We want to learn, and we want to write picture books. Moderators are moi, Jane Kurtz, Dian Curtis Regan, and Laurel Snyder. Janie and I will be together in person those three days, and we've got 72 books on my coffee table right now, from the Gwinnett County and the DeKalb County Library systems, ready to go. Join us!

xoxo Debbie


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19. on being a late bloomer

This is the hashtag I used on Instagram -- #teachinghongkong2015 -- to document in photos my trip to Hong Kong this month. You can find photos of the trip there, and even more on Facebook, here, along with a few thoughts about teaching writing to students who are learning to be fluent in both English and Mandarin Chinese.

 We mainly focused on personal narrative and moments we could add color and flavor and texture to, characters we could create from those moments -- and how to make them come alive on the page -- and then we moved into fiction with them.

We used several mentor texts, including FREEDOM SUMMER, LOVE RUBY LAVENDER, and EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS.

I learned to write by reading like a writer, modeling my writing on what I admired, then making it mine, so that's how I teach. I turn my life into stories. I understand how I do it. I have broken it down to the foundations of how it works, and it's always a stretch and a pleasure to share it with young writers and their teachers.

I am a writer who teaches, and to that end, I will always be a writer first. I have developed my teaching over the past twenty years by teaching in classrooms, from K through college, and I know that what I have to offer is substantial, meaningful, useful, and offers a lasting toolbox partner for teachers and their young writers to use for years to come.

And yet.

I am thinking about who I am today, as Jim and I return home to spring in Atlanta -- we left in a February snowstorm. This ruminating always happens after I am thrust for a sustained time into an unfamiliar environment, where I am constantly thinking on my feet, meeting new people in new cultures, learning new customs and traditions (and food!) and discovering how people make meaning in their lives.

Traveling, especially internationally, invites me to rethink everything. Invites me to make meaning. It reminds me of my young life, when, as a teenager, I became a mother, and a wife to a boy I did not know, and moved to a place I did not understand, with no support, with people and customs I could not comprehend, and with fear and isolation so complete it would take me years to assimilate and integrate and create meaning from it.

So I am thinking.

I want to chronicle some of that thinking here on the blog. I'm going to play with short posts about what I'm discovering, and just see where it leads me. I can feel myself entering a time of change. I'm working on a sort of manifesto for my sixties. God. I grew up in the sixties, and now I *am* sixty. 61. Talk about a late bloomer.

I raised a family first. I was homeless first. I was lost, first. I had to find ways to stabilize my life and my children's lives, first. I had to live some, first. Make sense of some things. Find my way into my life. Do a whole lot of different things with my life and teach myself how to do... pretty much everything. It would take me time to learn how to help myself, so I could help someone else.. I taught myself how to write so I could tell my stories and find home, belonging, safety, meaning, love.

My first book was published the year I turned 48. I went back to school that year and got my credentials to teach -- I'd been teaching informally for years without them. I became suddenly single that year. My heart was broken. I wrote EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS in response to that loss.

By the time I turned fifty, I had lost not only the long-years marriage, but my mother and my father and my siblings and my home of 25 years and my hometown. My youngest of four graduated and left home for college. I moved to Atlanta. The dog died. My editor of 12 years was fired. My publishing house was decimated.

The bitter was tempered by the sweet. I had created a support system by that time, and my friends became my family. They held the space for me, held me up until I could stand on my feet again. I met my husband, Jim. We had a three year long-distance relationship, a three year Atlanta relationship, and then we married. My books did well in the world, even though my life was so chaotic for a time, I couldn't always appreciate it or participate in the book community that celebrated all of it. Much of my life was a blur.

Little by little, though, I came back from a devastating time of loss. My children grew up and began to blossom. I began to create a home, here in Atlanta, a family home, a home for friends, a home for my own heart to rest in once again.

It took me a long, long time to do this. I was scared, and once again lost, even in the midst of the sweetness. But I kept writing. I kept teaching. I kept on trying. I have been emerging from that difficult place, once again forging an identity and discovering who I am. Making meaning. It's a process. Life long.

I am happy to be here. I love my life. I know how lucky I am.

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20. the year of exploration

For some time I have been birthing -- in my head and on paper -- a new way of seeing, working, living, connecting, and being in the world. Why? Maybe it's turning 60, with the knowledge that there is less time before me than behind me for sure. Maybe it's recent disappointments and realizations. Maybe it's recent gifts and surprises. Maybe it's the on-going therapy, which is hard work. I'm sure it is.

Whatever it is, this shift in my thinking feels major, so I'm going to do something about it, and I will chronicle it here, March 20, 2015 to March 20, 2016 (start where you are, and I started with Saturday's post).

I want to see where this new energy and commitment take me and my work. I'll also Instagram my explorations, using the hashtag "theyearofexploration."

I'll label it that way here, too. I used the blog to chronicle my 2012 year off the road to finish REVOLUTION and called it "the year of possibility." You can read about it by clicking on the label on the sidebar. (or here. :>)

I'll tag some of these exploration posts "the home economics project." I've had a project in mind for a long, long time, and I want to start making it visible.

I'll chronicle book three of the sixties trilogy as well. I've already starting documenting photographs and research at Pinterest. You'll find a "book three hold file" and a "book three playlist possibilities" board as well as the many boards for COUNTDOWN and REVOLUTION... and I've started resource boards for my other books.. I'll get to them as I can.




I'm going back to the roots of what makes me happy. I'm going to write more. I'm going to use my hands more, which is something that grounds me and centers me and helps me understand my place in the great continuum.

To that end, I have purchased four cacti, three French lavender plants, and a mother fern. I'm going to take a class at Creativebug - line drawing with Lisa Congdon. Also, Lisa's sketchbook explorations work-along at Creativebug. I've got my supplies (which include these plants!) and I'm ready to go.

I have no expectations. I want to do what I ask students to do when I teach writing: pay attention, ask questions, make connections.

I'll be an explorer like Comfort Snowberger in EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS: Explorer, Recipe Tester, and Funeral Reporter. Like Dove, the 9-year-old anthropologist-in-training in LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER. I shall be an anthropologist of my life. I'll try to let go of anxiety about the future, and just stay in the day. I will work hard. I will try to uncover as well as discover. I hope to learn a lot. Wanna come with?

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21. something different

I'm taking an art class -- two -- at Creativebug when I return from family, schools, and a conference in Mississippi. Both are on-demand work-alongs -- you choose the time and place to work on each session -- and both are Lisa Congdon classes. Sketchbook Explorations and Basic Line Drawing.

I'm a life-long doodler as well as a notebook devotee and evangelist, as you may know, and in this year of exploration, I've dedicated myself to working more with my hands, going back to my roots. I want to get out of my head -- all those words! -- and use my mind in a different way.


I leave for Mississippi on Easter Sunday and I'll be home on April 11. Wanna work/play together when I'm back? I have no expectations. I'm in this for the discovery, the exploration, totally. You've got a couple of weeks to investigate at Creativebug, and you can take a different class if you like, or no class at all. I've slowly been buying the materials for my two classes and I'm just about ready to go.

I'm off to a local school this morning. Atlanta International School. All day talking about history and stories and personal narrative with grades 4 through 8. And KEEPING A NOTEBOOK.

Gotta put on my face. Happy day, friends. xoxo

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22. an open letter to DeKalb County Georgia public libraries



{As part of my #yearofexploration I decided to stop protesting the $45 fee I must pay to use the library up the street from me. Having two library systems will be much more convenient for the many expeditions I hope to helm this year. Here is what happened when I tried to renew and asked a question...}

An Open Letter to the DeKalbCounty Public Libraries in DeKalb County, Georgia:

April 3, 2015

Dear Library Board and Director Weissinger:

Yesterday at 3:00pm, I went to the Reid H. Cofer/Tucker branch of the DeKalb County Library with the intention of paying the annual $45 and renewing my non-resident library card. I want to tell you about my reception at the circulation desk.

I live in Tucker, Georgia -- in the same town as this library and less than one mile from this branch -- but in Gwinnett County. I moved here in 2004 from the Washington, D.C. area and immediately got a library card at the old Cofer branch in Tucker.

At the time it stuck in my craw that I had to pay $45 for library privileges because of a county line. The DeKalb County school bus picks up students just four houses up the street from me, on Ginson Drive. In protest, I refused to pay after my first year with DeKalb. I also had a card in the Gwinnett County Library System, and from 2005 on, I used only that system. The closest branch is seven miles from my house.

I love the Gwinnett County Public Library system. But DeKalb is a walk away from my house and much more convenient, and for a working writer, using both branches is ideal. So I broke through my resistance this week, and I walked to the desk at the Tucker library and presented my old card and asked to renew it.

I want you to know that the two librarians behind the circulation desk could have cared less about my request and were entirely unhelpful. There was no line waiting and there were no other patrons nearby. I was told that I needed a check or cash in order to renew -- I had a credit card. That was fine. I would go back home and get a check, I told them.

When I asked who I might write to, to officially protest the fact that I live in Tucker and cannot use the Tucker library, both librarians shrugged. "The tax office?" one of them said. The other nodded, "It's a tax issue."

"Could you help me figure out who it would be?" I asked. They shrugged. "It would be Gwinnett County," they agreed.

"I'm going to go home and get a check -- I live less than a mile away... would you mind helping me look this up or tell me who to ask?" Yes, they would very much mind.

"Isn't this what librarians do?" I asked. They shrugged. "Well, it's what librarians used to do!" I said. And I stalked out the door, frustrated and suddenly angry.

What DO your librarians in DeKalb County do? Is there some reason they no longer help patrons -- former, present and future -- with research questions or requests? Can they not direct them to help? Is morale so low in DeKalb County or training so ineffective, or apathy so rampant that there is no hope?

Throughout my life I have never been far from a library. Libraries have actually saved my life -- another story for another day. They have been an essential part of my life and my work and my play. You have a stunningly beautiful library in Tucker. It's a shame it is filled with librarians who don't understand customer service or the idea of what help really means. It's a shame I cannot use your library without paying a $45 fee every year -- a fee I was willing to pay and walked in ready to pay.

Gwinnett branches are farther away from me, but the librarians at my branch know me and welcome me and research with me and laugh with me and hold books for me and for my four-year-old granddaughter when I bring her (she lives in DeKalb County!), and they help her fill her book basket with stories.

I feel welcomed in Gwinnettand I will continue to be a proud patron. I looked forward to building similar relationships in DeKalb County. I can see, it's not the same kind of inviting, caring, helpful place. Too bad, not only for me and mine, but for the many citizens you serve.

Sincerely,
Deborah Wiles
www.deborahwiles.com
Tucker, GA


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23. a reply, and my reply to DeKalb County Libraries

{DeKalb Libraries responded to my open letter (which you can read in my last post). Director Weissinger waived my yearly non-resident fee and promised to look into the situation at the Tucker branch. My reply is below. I well know this pushes my buttons for long-ago personal reasons, but I also know it's a vital issue today}

Dear Ms. Weissinger,

Thank you for such a prompt response. Even though you have waived it, I would like to pay my yearly non-resident fee -- I went into the library ready to pay it. My neighbors have had to do this as well, and they are avid library users, most of them with small children. If they live in Tucker and less than a mile from the Tucker library and have to pay the non-resident fee, so do I.

You didn't mention it, but I also want to pay the $10 fine that has sat on my card since 2005. I don't remember this fine and didn't realize I had it, but I am happy to pay it, even though the desk librarian at Tucker sounded punitive when she told me about it. "Okay, I'll pay that, too," I told her. Then I was told I couldn't use a credit card to pay the $55 total, so I said I would go home and get a check.

The entire exchange was unpleasant, unprofessional, and frankly shocking. I have never encountered librarians -- or trained para-professionals, or anyone behind the desks -- with such a blase, bored, who-cares, and "you're bothering me" attitude. The point, for me, is that librarianship is still the most unbiased, staunchest bastion we have with which to fight illiteracy and misinformation. An informed citizenry is vital to our democracy, not to mention individual quality of life and community health.

I am capable of looking up the answers to my questions on my own. Many of your patrons are not. Your services benefit people of all ages and persuasions and demographics and diversities. Many years ago I was a homeless teenaged mother, infant on my hip, standing in front of the information desk asking for help. I had no earthly support. Librarians behind that desk took me in hand and gave me the tools with which I could fashion a life. If they had turned me away, if I had felt unwelcome, I wouldn't have gone back. And I did go back, over and over, library after library, in town after town, ahead of the landlord, ahead of whatever disaster befell me, until I could get on my feet. I well understand the power of libraries and librarians to help shape a life. Lives.

If the fee (and fine) cannot be paid in the traditional way (since it has already been waived), I will make a $55 donation to the library fund of your choice. Please let me know how I can pay this.

Thank you for listening and for reading, and for considering what might be done to ensure all are welcome at the library.

Sincerely,

Deborah Wiles

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24. back to school

On Being a Late Bloomer is here.

The Year of Exploration is here.

 It occurred to me yesterday: I am intuitively doing what I did when I was so young and a single mom, uneducated, needy, and wanting a life for my kids, for myself, wanting to understand the world and to find my place in it. I went to school. I got my undergraduate degree from the many libraries I haunted during those years.

I was barely 22, I was broke, I was alone with two small children, but I had a library card. I still have a library card. Now I have two (we made peace). Suddenly, in this year of exploration, I am back to school and in much the same way. Let's call it a graduate degree.

I'm following my intuition, pulling on strings when an idea comes to me or someone mentions something that rings a "year of exploration" bell. I am truly following my nose here, as well as my list of things I want to explore. These notes are the ones I took when listening to Malcolm Gladwell's THE TIPPING POINT from my library system's Overdrive account. I *love* Overdrive.And my library.

I don't know what I'll do with what I learn from THE TIPPING POINT, but that's not the point. I know I will use it. I know it's part of the year of exploration. It will tie in with everything else. I've always been a learner; I rarely have a stretch of time in which to learn in depth, intensely. That"s where I am now.
I finally excavated my office. I've been on the road for the past six months -- I've traveled in six months as much as I usually do in a year. I have bought myself some time off the road. My sabbatical starts June 1. I'll still travel. But that travel landscape is going to look different going forward.

More on that later. For now, I've spent the most lovely, rainy Friday afternoon going through ephemera of the past six months on the road. Letters from students, student writing, receipts, little gifts and remembrances, bills and business stuff... "Oh! There's my parking receipt!"... and photographs to remind me of good work done with new friends.


I got on the road 15 years ago when I became so suddenly single, and I've done a good job of taking care of me and mine, I've done good work on the road -- I've learned so much -- and I've written some good books. Now is the time for stillness and learning to love my new hometown, and writing, and learning, and being. Becoming. Something. I don't know what yet. I am trusting the process.

Have a great weekend, friends. I'm going to be off exploring....

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25. green gables love and exploration

Oh, Anne Shirley. Where have you been all my life? YES, friends have swooned over Anne of Green Gables and have told me I MUST READ THIS BOOK, and I have demurred and thought, meh, it just isn't in my wheelhouse, I'm just not interested, she lived in NOVA SCOTIA (wrong... sorta) and I am from the American South and it's going to be twee and saccharine and not at all interesting to me, and...

Well, I was wrong. Even though I haven't yet met Gilbert (RIP, oh no) and have only gotten as far as the first picnic, I know I'm onto something special that is showing up now, to teach me. I just know it. I don't know what I'm going to learn or how it will be incorporated, but in this year of exploration, this is what has come next.

After a spirited conversation while in Mississippi with my cousin Carol, a retired 2nd-grade teacher and librarian, I downloaded the audio book (thank you, Overdrive, and Gwinnett County Libraries!) and listened to it on my way home from Mississippi, where I had spoken at the Fay B. Kaigler Children's Book Festival, listened to it as I drove to Montgomery (flat tire at 5:30am and all), and listened to it as I drove from Montgomery, where I spoke at the Alabama Book Festival, all the way home.

Charmed.

Evidently, so is Sarah Mesle. She writes, in the Los Angeles Review of Books, "Ten Things I Learned From Loving 'Anne of Green Gables.'"

This is exactly the kind of kismet that happens when you open yourself up to the universe and say, "teach me." Things come into your path. (Sometimes they are weird things, and things that don't seem to fit together. I just trust them.) People who don't even know you help you on your way. Sara Mesle, thank you. I'm not going to worry about the lack of plot... which was beginning to niggle at me. I'm just going to enjoy myself.

Jonathan Crombie, the actor who played Gilbert in the 1985 mini-series production of Anne, has just died. This is something I likely wouldn't have heard about (as I don't follow the news anymore), except that I had that spirited conversation with my cousin, I started listening to the book, and Carol sent me the news yesterday.

Life turns on a dime. So does death, as Comfort Snowberger well knows. And so does how we parse the world. Carol sent me this ending to Anne, so I could see it and hear it and feel it and be part of her sadness at dear Gilbert's death, and so I could be pulled a bit more into the Anne community. I'll append it here so I can remember...


*****
You can see photos from the Book Festival and the Alabama Book Festival at Facebook and on IG. It's Sunday evening as I write this. Got to get ready for Wolf Hall on PBS. I text through the whole thing with Carol. I've learned to trust her literary judgement, and now I've got her trusting mine. I loved the novels by Hillary Mantel -- "you must watch this!" I told Carol, my Anglophile. One day she and I will get to Great Britain together. I want to be prepared. Maybe Wolf Hall is part of the year of exploration.

Happy Monday, friends. xoxoxo


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