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The daily blog of Laurel Snyder, children's author, poet, mother, and occasional loose cannon. Posts range from rants about publishing to book reviews to pictures of Laurel's adorable rascals (awwwwww!!!). Not to mention periodic raves about new products from Trader Joe's and once in awhile, a cuss word or three (!!!)
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A few years ago, I scribbled a book called The Neglected Holiday Songbook.
The premise was that some holidays had never had songs written for them, because certain other
holidays hogged ALL THE GLORY.
We never really sent it out, and the idea fizzled. In retrospect, I’m not sure how many people really need songs for Arbor Day. But today, in honor of my own Irishy heritage, and the wearing o the green… I offer an outtake:
St. Patrick’s Day (March 17)
I’ve hunted four leaf clovers,
and worn a bit of green,
I’ve never seen a leprechaun
(they don’t like to be seen).
But Granny says St. Paddy’s Day
is actually the day,
Some fella went to Ireland
and drove the snakes away.
This might be fine for Irish folks,
and squeamish sisters too,
But I like snakes, and think they’re cool.
I know what snakes can do.
I’ve seen them shed their scaly skins,
I saw one eat a mouse.
I catch them in the backyard,
(I lose them in the house).
So maybe old St. Patrick
should keep away from me.
I like it here here, inside my room,
where snakes (and me) roam free.
Okay, so I LOVE Valentines Day. I always have. I think it’s something about how GENERAL the love is. How vague. Like, “Wow, the world is full of things to appreciate. Let’s remind each other about that, and say nice things, and OOH! CANDY!”
Last night I sat up and painted cards for the boys. Then, this morning, I (who never make a hot breakfast) crafted heart-shaped-chocolate-chip-pancakes. With whipped cream.
There were balloons…
I’ve always really wanted to do a Valentines Day picture book, but the idea has never come to me. However, I do have a retired manuscript, a book I’ve given up on, The Neglected Holiday Songbook. In it, Valentine’s Day gets a little ditty. So I’m enclosing it below, in case you want something to sing this morning…
Valentines Day (February 14)
I will not give you candy,
Or roses, or my love.
But if you keep on kissing me,
I might give you a SHOVE!
I did not make a card for you,
All red and white and pink.
But if you try to hold my hand,
I might just make a STINK!
I don’t want you to be my dear.
I don’t like you that way.
I really only want you, please,
To quickly GO AWAY!
Valentine’s Day or Saint Valentine’s Day is a holiday celebrated by many peoplethroughout the world. In the English-speaking countries, it is the traditional day onwhich lovers express their love for each other by sending Valentine’s cards, presentingflowers, or offering confectionery. The holiday is named after two among the numerousEarly Christian martyrs named Valentine. The day became associated with romantic lovein the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtlylove flourished.
PUB DAY!!! It’s PUB DAY!!!
Thought, actually, I never know what to do on a pub day.
Some folks ride around, visiting bookstores, and making sure their book is actually there. Maybe they ”face out” their books on the shelves, move things around to highlight it better. Which makes good sense.
But that stuff feels funny to me. And it feels weird to say to a bookstore person, “Ummm, yeah, so, I’m an author. DO YOU HAVE MY BOOK? SHOW ME MY BOOK!”
What if they don’t have it? They might feel bad. NOT how I want to celebrate.
So I’m home today, working on something new, a picture book about aloneness. I’ll probably eat something yummy, to celebrate.
But at the very least, I can do this. I can post to my blog and tell YOU. About The Longest Night, which is indeed out today. I’m very very very proud and happy.
In part, The Longest Night is special to me because I’m been pondering this text for twenty years, in one form or another. I’ve always been a little obsessed with Exodus, and with the plagues most specifically. When I was a kid, I loved them. Is that weird? Probably. I liked the frogs best.
But in college, I began trying to write about the plagues. I wrote poems, several of them. They were okay, but they didn’t make me happy. I performed one of them onstage, in an actual theater, in a round with other readers. It was interesting… but not quite there. In grad school I tried again, and I think I got closer, but still… it wasn’t quite right either. It went something like this…
But when I started to tinker with The Longest Night, something clicked. It felt right. It felt like this, a poem with very heavy meter and rhyme, was the form I’d been wanting. It seemed like a picture book was the best way to present these images I’d carried around since I was a kid. It felt like approaching the story through the eyes of a little kid gave it a whole new slant. Like sitting under a dining room table makes a room feel different.
It’s a crazy nutso bonkers story, after all. Many people told me I was nuts to try writing the plagues for kids. Rivers of blood! Lice and locusts! Ravening beasts and frogs hopping all over. And then… the sea SPLITTING! I mean, yowza. Intense. But picture books are the best medium for crazy nutso bonkers stories, in my opinion. Picture books can really do intense well. Largely because of the art. (You can see some of the interior art here.) But also, because of the openness of the reader.
I’m so incredibly pleased with how the book came out. I really am. I hope you’ll check it out, and that if you do, you’ll like it.
If you want to help me celebrate, you can of course purchase a copy in many places, in person or online. If you happen into a bookstore that doesn’t have it, you can ASK THEM NICELY TO ORDER IT. And the same goes for libraries and schools! You can always request a book!
If you belong to a church or synagogue with a sunday school, you can suggest it as a title for the kids there too. I’d be grateful.
If you use online resources that offer consumer reviews, like Goodreads or Shelfari or various online bookselling sites, you can add/rate/like/star/review it. This matters!
If you blog or write reviews or interviews or profiles or anything, for pretty much anyone at all, you can request a copy from my publicist.
But always, and forever, best of all, you can read it to a kid!
I sure hope you will…
A lemon and a lemming are NOT the same.
Both are small. Sometimes they are shaped the same. And both have a pungent odor.
But they are really very different.
Lemons are yellow. Most lemmings are not.
Lemons have seeds. Lemmings are naturally seedless.
Lemons can be squeezed to make a refreshing summer beverage. Lemmings do not like to be squeezed.
But the main difference is that lemmings have a face.
Lemons have to CHEAT at face-having…
I have a confession to make…
I have always loved Valentines Day.
It’s not a very “me” thing, getting into a holiday like this. Generally I don’t do much for holidays, and I know it was invented by Hallmark or whatever
But it’s got crafts and candy. Crafts and CANDY!
When I was a kid I took it SERIOUSLY. My best friend and I spent weeks planning and making cards for each other, and our families. So much fun.
So today I still play cut and paste, and make cards for random people. Glitter and glue and doilies and markers and tin foil. I MAKE the boys lovingly craft the cards they give to their classes each year. Though we use shortcuts I’d never have taken as a geeky little kid myself. (photocopiers, stickers)
I do NOT celebrate VALENTINES DAY as a romantic holiday. I’ve tried it, and found it to be:
A. a potential disaster for a relationship, since high expectations for holidays often result in disappointment, in my experience.
B. expensive (and I’m cheap)
C. like something one might focus on when the relationship isn’t going so well on a day to day basis
But as a friend and mom and nostalgic goofball, I take it seriously. I feel a breakfast table on Valentines Day should have a tiny heart shaped box of chocolates on each plate. It’s just a small great pleasure that takes little work and sets a day aside.
And hey, love! I’ll admit it, I love LOVE.
I also have a spot in my heart for a few Valentines Day books. Above all, The Blue Valentine.
Which is, now that I approach it as an adult, really kind of cheesey. But how I adored it as a kid…
And then, too, I love Good Morning to You, Valentine.
Highly recommend this one!
This year, I got an early Valentine, which I’d like to share with you. A friend posted to Facebook that her daughter had crafted a Bigger-than-a-Bread-Box themed Valentine mailbox for herself. Which is about the cutest, most flattering (and lovely, really, very well done!) thing I’ve ever seen.
Just try to tell me that didn’t make you say, “Awwwwwwww.”
I SENT THE BOOK IN!!!
It’s probably still going to need some more work, but I feel pretty sure the heavy lifting is done… and now it’s in my editor’s hands. She’ll help me trim and polish it, and then it will get cleaned up by smarter people than me (all hail copyeditors and fact checkers!). Talented artists will make a pretty cover for it, and someone will write flap copy, and all that good stuff.
This book. THIS BOOK. I’ve spent years on it. I’ve written it five times over again, made so many dramatic changes it’s a completely different book than it was when I started. I almost lost faith in it. I cried multiple times when I couldn’t work out the time travel elements. But in the end…
I kept at it. And now it’s nearly done, the companion to Bigger than a Bread Box. SEVEN STORIES UP: in which a young girl (Annie) who has never met her grandma (Molly), finds herself magically transported to a hotel in 1937 Baltimore (here’s a pinterest page of images I compiled for inspiration, if you’re interested). WHERE CRAZY ANTICS ENSUE AND LIVES ARE CHANGED FOREVER!
Like most middle grade novels, it begins with a quote from Anais Nin:
“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”
Good stuff right? Now if only the book can live up to that.
I hope you’ll read Seven Stories Up, and like it. And when you’re done, I hope you’ll sneak down to the kitchen in a dumbwaiter, under cover of night, and make yourself a Sneakypie, like Molly and Annie did in Chapter 17!
Totally worth it.
Now I’m off, to sleep, and dream, and wake up in the morning. Because I have to figure out WHAT ON EARTH I’M GOING TO WRITE NEXT!
Know anyone working on a middle grade on YA novel, interested in crafting their work, talking about process, getting into the nitty gritty? I’m offering a class this summer at the Yale Writers’ Conference. Send them my way. There will also be chances to meet with agents and editors, commune with other writers, and gab. It promises to be a ton of fun!
The Wild Ride: writing for children and young adults.
“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” ~Madeleine L’Engle
Books for children and young adults vary wildly, from fantasy romps to gothic thrillers to achingly realistic love stories. What unifies them is often their intensity—their willingness to gofurther. They can be expansive, brutal, or hilarious in their approaches, but they are almost never dull.
While such books can be amazing fun to write, they pose certain challenges. How do we know when we’ve gone too far? When does our character become unbelievable or inauthentic? When does our world-building begin to distract our reader? Are there limits to how dark or mature a book for teens should be? How much do we really need to think about logic in a magical world?
In this session we’ll work on the craft of fiction, and discuss the basic elements of the novel. We’ll talk about the particularities of the market, and how to get a book ready for submission. But we’ll pay particular attention to these important questions of intensity, and to that elusive thing we call tone, which is so often part of the answer.
I’ve been sick in bed for three days now, with a fever and everything. But the GOOD news is that my illness meant I was home when the UPS guy came. LOOK!
I’m not much good at facts and figures, statistics and predictions. When people at a party start having “future of the book” conversations I usually just blurt out a few Richard Nash quotes, and then head for the appetizer table. But this article in the WSJ today about how PRINT IS HERE TO STAY is interesting to me.
And here is where I stand: I SIMPLY LOVE PAPER BOOKS.
This is not an opinion about technology or the environment, nor is it an academic argument about literature and literacy, the modes in which we consume information. I suppose, on some level, it’s a knee-jerk response, rooted in nostalgia. I’m getting older, and I don’t like how fast things are changing. I don’t use a smart phone. I hate to text. I spent five weeks road-tripping with my kids this summer, and didn’t have a DVD player or ipad for them to stare at, and we didn’t use a GPS. Instead they learned to read a map. So yeah, I’m an old fashioned girl.
But it’s not just nostalgia, my position. I really believe that books are a perfect technology. I believe that simplicity can often be more functional than complexity.
The same way I don’t need a food processor to do the work of a mortar and pestle. The same way my dad likes to joke that his ’93 Corolla has a SPECIAL LUXURY feature: he can roll his windows up when the car is off! (ha ha, Dad!)
Books are just… perfect. Crappy broken-spined paperbacks or gorgeous new hardcovers? All of them! Books serve so many purposes in my life.
They’re easy to loan to a friend. It’s a snap to make notes in the margins. They serve as great coasters on a coffee table. They decorate walls like nothing else. Strolling around a house for the first time, I can learn so much the owner from the books that clutter their shelves. I open my old stained JOY of Cooking, and out flutter notes from my grandmother, amending the recipes. I’ve collaged the art from books that couldn’t be saved, to make cards and gifts and to decorate cigar boxes, and in one case, a set of chairs! I’ve framed particularly amazing color plates from old picture books that had fallen apart, to decorate my walls. I’ve found old books in houses I moved into, full of ephemera from ages gone by, and spent years trying to piece together the mystery of the original owner. In used bookstores, I’ve stumbled on hilarious inscriptions from the author, that unlocked secrets about the poems I was about to read. Books are perfect for the bath! When you fall asleep reading you don’t run down a battery. Paper books don’t contribute to my insomnia (which there is some indication that reading screens before bed will do).
I can go on and on, forever pretty much. The uses and reasons to love a book are infinite. But the biggest one?
The biggest one is that I believe in BROWSING. And in a world of digital books, browsing all but disappears.
I’m not talking about searching for a title. I’m not talking about the informed suggestions Amazon or Goodreads will make for you, based on your past reading patterns. I’m also not talking about a totally random shuffle.
I’m talking about something in-between. A mixture of intent and randomness. Of staring at a shelf (in a bookstore or a library or at home, it doesn’t matter) of books, colors, spines, widths and heights and fonts. It’s a tactile process. Some of them books I’ve read and some I’ve never heard of and some I’ve been meaning to get to. I stand there, and run my fingers along the spines. I stand on tiptoe to see the top shelf. I sit on the floor to see the bottom shelf. ANd at some point, I have an AHA! moment. I realize that the very perfect book for me to read at that moment in time is THIS ONE. So I pull it from the shelf, and fall in.
Sometimes it’s a random book I would never ever read otherwise (this is how I found KING RAT as a teen, and the thought of it still gives me shivers). Sometimes it’s a book I’ve attempted to read before, and not been able to penetrate, only THIS time I’m a little older, or the weather is right, and the book becomes a favorite (ANGLE OF REPOSE happened for me this way). Sometimes it’s a book I already love, but I wasn’t thinking about it, until suddenly I saw the cover and KNEW it was the perfect moment for a reread (I’ve revisited BRIDESHEAD about 10 times this way).
The point is that I wouldn’t have that experience with an ereader. I wouldn’t BROWSE. And I can’t overstate how much that experience matters to me. There is something magical about the process– an alchemy of me being ultimately in control of what I read, but also giving myself up to the randomness of the shelves, the fact that there are lots of things I’ve never heard of. The willingness to be surprised, and stumble into something new. Because the cover is a lovely shade of blue, or because someone mentioned it just last week.
I’ve already had this issue with music. I forget so much of what’s saved in our digital system, that I gave up on it and reverted to a small cluttered stack of CDs on a kitchen shelf, because I like the visual reminder of what my options are… I don’t want a shuffle, but I also don’t want to have to SEARCH for something. Because I never seem to know what I want until I spot it.
Imagine this process in a restaurant, can you? Imagine if menus were digital and options unlimited. Imagine if you lost that experience of sitting down with a menu, encountering new foods and descriptions. Imagine if your only choices were either to have the waiter SURPRISE you, or to have to describe exactly what you wanted to eat. I’d find the world less magical, less interesting, less surprising… and I’d end up eating the same things over and over, or I’d end up with dishes I absolutely hated.
Now, I’m not in a position to assume I know how YOU eat or read, or what your relationship to browsing is. And maybe you have plenty of coasters, and aren’t an insomniac. Maybe books on screens make sense for you. I only know that they don’t for me.
And as a parent, I know that the pile of books my kids rifle through daily, on the floor of the car, are a joy to see. And when Mose and Lew spend hours (HOURS, no lie) each day, staring at the pages of the books I grew up with, engrossed, in love… and then I come in and find half the books pulled from their shelves, my heart swells.
Because I know my kids love to browse too. And for me, that’s the future of books.
So, it’s that time again, when we hang up new wall calendars, stare at them, and wonder… what happens next?
2012 was a good year. But I’ve been thinking about what I want to do differently in 2013. Because things can always be better. I’ve come up with two big goals.
The first is obvious and dumb and basic, and everyone makes this resolution. But now I’m joining the team. I want this to be the year I start taking better care of myself physically. I want to go back to dance class, and I want to visit the dentist when I’m supposed to, and I want to drink more water and take my stupid vitamins. Somehow, my well-being tends to get set on the back burner, and that has to change. So I’m putting it out here, on the blog, essentially so that my mom can remind me I committed to it this year. (Got that, Mom?) This time next year I expect to be THE PICTURE OF HEALTH.
The second is that I want to make a promise to myself, about my writing. I want to try very very hard not to think about selling the books I write. I want to scribble poems again, and I want to take bigger leaps with my prose and my picture books. I have two picture books out this spring, a novel coming in 2014, and another picture book in 2015. There’s plenty in the pipeline, and no excuse not to take some time to dabble a little.
Recently, I began working on a story for Mose and Lew, JUST for Mose and Lew, ABOUT Mose and Lew. It’ called THE MAGICAL THAT, and it’s been such fun to tinker with, precisely because in no part of my brain am I thinking I can sell it. It’s tailor-made for two very particular kids, and that’s enough. More than enough. It’s so much fun to write for specific readers, to tweak and twist the vocabulary for them, add in details I know they’ll like (ninjas, mostly). I’ve never done that before, and it feels great. (if violent). I want to see where this leads…
I think I need to now. I think I need to get back to just playing with words. The work changes when it’s under contract, when a deadline looms. And that’s not a bad thing at all, and I don’t mean to seem ungrateful. In fact, I’ve learned a lot from the process. But it’s different. Right now, I want to play. I want to dream. I want to wander a little. Make sense?
So that’s me, in 2013. Nothing major, but enough.
I wonder– in this strange world we’ve got at the moment, with bizarre weather systems and fiscal cliffs and Mayan doomsdays and neverending election cycles and speeding technology and constant contact, what do YOU want from 2013?
Got any resolutions? Any goals? Any dreams?
I have no belief in reliable year-end lists. I’m always disappointed when I try to read ALL the books anyone recommends. And when anyone has 32 “favorites” of the year, I tend to take that list less seriously. Just because there aren’t THAT many truly extraordinary books in my opinion.
I believe deeply that every book is the best book for someone, and that everyone is the best reader for some book. But that no book can be the right book for everyone. Except maybe Elephant and Piggie, if you’re four.
All that to say… it’s been an interesting year for me as a reader.
For a large swath of 2012 I avoided middle grade reading, because when I’m really drafting, I tend to avoid my own genre. I don’t want to accidentally “borrow” someone else’s voice. So while I read some interesting novels this year (Only and One Ivan, Three Times Lucky, Crow, Humming Room, One Year in Coal Harbor, Son) there’s a ton I missed. Hence I can’t really play the Newbery prediction game. And in fact, not a single book stands out for me as THE book.
But one YA book (a genre I almost never read) did. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl BLEW ME AWAY. I mean– it had me rolling on the ground laughing, shouting to my (annoyed) husband, “No, no, one more—listen to this, ‘TWO BOOBS!’” So if you’re into YA books that shock and surprise, or you just like laughing a ton, and can handle things like cancer and poverty (treated in an altogether irreverent, and yet important/ real way)… this is my BOOK OF THE YEAR. Officially. I hope it wins a Printz.
Likewise, one picture book rises above the rest for me. And that’s Extra Yarn. And yes, I know about the damn knitting needles, and no, I don’t care, and it really bothers me to think that we’d let knitpicky (ha ha, get it?) reality tangle up (hee hee?) the realm of imagination. For me, this book does what a picture book does better than anything else in the world. It creates a universe of its own, with its own rules, and colors and shapes, and voices. A picture book isn’t like a novel. I don’t import my own images into a picture book. I dwell in it. I disappeared into Extra Yarn more than any other book this year. Holding it for the first time, I melted into those pages. I don’t pretend to understand how the Caldecott gets determined, but I think this is the best picture book of the year. I think it will last. So there’s that.
For adult fiction, I read two books published this year that really stuck. The first is Arcadia, which kind of killed me. Set in the past, present, and slight future, it follows people I have known (and maybe been, a bit), or people very like them. Reading it made me feel sad, and dirty, and disappointed, and so so swallowed up. I was overwhelmed by this book. I may have been its perfect reader. In which case, maybe it isn’t the best book for you, but it was for me.
And then, my most recent discovery of 2012, the book I’m still basking in– Beautiful Ruins. Gosh, I don’t know where to begin. I like books with big scope, and this book has that. I like movie stars, and this one skirts in and around the lives of such people. I like alternate timelines, and Beautiful Ruins does that dance perfectly. Heck, I like Italy a ton too! But in the end, this book made me weep, and that’s something I remember forever. When a book really makes me cry, that’s special. My tear stained books are the books I treasure most, and for longest, I think. Owen Meaney and Garp, Angle of Repose and Crossing to Safety, Brideshead Revisited and Little Women. I can count on two hands the books that have choked me up like that through the years. This book managed it, and I thank Jess Walters. Does that make it a “best” book? Eh. DOes that make me a sap? Pretty sure it does? Do I care? Not in the slightest…
So there you have it, whether you want it or not. I recommend these four books to everyone. Everyone. But it’s fine if you loathe them all.
What are your best books of the year? Or rather, forgetting “best,” what are your most memorable reads?
Working as hard as any adult slave, this young girl expresses her bewilderment and fear as leaping frogs and itching, biting fleas disturb the masters. Fatal illness creeps in, affecting beast and man except in the Jewish homes marked with lamb’s blood. Rhyming verse carries the Passover story with a lyrical flair. “Made our way to sifting sands, / Scrambling feet, but clasping hands. / Thirsting, thrilling, full of fright— / None of us were slaves that night.” Ominously dark and murky paintings done in acrylic portray the frightened, fleeing throng finally reaching a wild, thrashing sea that is “ripped in two!” Confusion and trepidation turn to joyful surprise, as indicated by the rose-colored backdrop behind a smiling daughter and mother, thrilled to have crossed over to the open land and freedom. This poetic, child-oriented interpretation brings a dramatic insight and illumination to the ancient legend.
A vivid and compelling introduction to the 10 plagues portion of the Seder ceremony. (author’s note, glossary) (Picture book/religion. 5-7)
I want to write something more about this book soon here, about what it means to have written it, to have it coming out. It felt so so so so impossible, when I began to write it, years ago.
But for now, i just want to say how honored I am by Catia Chien’s powerful art, the amazing job Schwartz & Wade has done with it. And I’m so so pleased that Kirkus llikes it too!
And so am I!
Handed the book in, starting all manner of new things.
I have lots to say about all of that, but I can’t…
Because I’m ON VACATION!!!! In snowy Iowa.
I’m sleeping and resting and reading and sigh…
See you in 2013!
They might disappear into their room and emerge with something like this.
I wonder what comes next… Lego tooth brush?
Today I’m stealing moments from my “writing time” to take Mose and his class on a field trip to the Dekalb Farmer’s Market, so that they can cook a feast later in the week. I won’t be attending the feast. I’ll be in Florida, reading picture books to other people’s kids. But this is something I can do… I can drive a car full of kids to buy fruit.
This is what my life looks like. This is why I laugh when people ask about how I set boundaries, or express curiosity in my “approach to work-life balance.” There is no such thing, not really.
But I’m thinking about parenting and writing a lot this week, as I read Leonard Marcus’ wonderful new book about Madeleine L’Engle. I’m thinking not about how we strike a balance, but how we admit that we don’t always have one. How we accept in ourselves that sometimes we simply prioritize one thing over another. We ”phone it in” or cancel events or miss deadlines in the name of parenting or partnership or physical wellness. Or we do the opposite– we accept that our kids do not always need us for every little thing, and we forgive ourselves for missing the feast, or the soccer game, or the surgery, or the diagnosis, or whatever. Trust that we are building resilience and grit in our kids (an important plank in my own personal parenting platform)
But this is not balance! This is a teeter totter. Up and down. Back and forth. This needs me, now that needs me, now I need this, now I need that.
Madeleine, (if the book is to be believed, and I think it probably is), prized her time to write. She could work anywhere, and did. She loved to travel, and do public speaking. She harvested (as one does) family moments and dynamics for use in her work. And in doing so, it sounds like she hurt some people along the way (as one does).
But even if she did, do we fault that? First of all– her books altered the lives of generations of kids, gave voice to so many, made us weep and think and hope and helped us find our tribes. She restored faith and provoked doubt. Her work was “worth it” if anyone’s ever is. Secondly, who can ever know what effect one is having on a child? Who can say whether more time at home would have actually been good for her kids? Thirdly, a devoted artist who allows their work to suffer for other people is often not much good as a friend/parent, because the resentment builds… so that the cost might have been greater than the boon. Fourthly, Madeleine’s own parents hardly modeled hands-on parenting, (boarding schools, nannies, etc)so her expectations for herself as a mom were a long way from the helicopters of today.
So… all things considered, I read this book, and I see a woman on a teeter totter, doing a pretty good job of “having it all.” But it does sound like she was an writer first and a parent second. (I’d love to hear from others reading the book about whether they read it the same way). It does seem like she’s sitting pretty firmly at the “author” end of the ride.
Me? I’m not Madeleine. And I’ve been thinking about that too.
I’m writing a book this year, and struggling with the book. On some level I think that maybe the best thing for the book would be if I vanished for a few weeks, into a hotel room. You know what? We won’t be finding out. Because it’s never. Going. To. Happen.
A weekend? Sure! I’d love four days of concentrated work-time, and do that now and then–I take it as I need it. Head out to the shed, or go stay at my mom’s house, to escape the distracting and grubby love of two small boys. But it will be years before I hole up for longer. Not because my kids would fall apart, but because I just don’t want to. Because, at the end of the day…
I am a focused writer, but a devoted mom.
I like writing a lot, but I love parenting.
My books make me happy. My kids make me human.
I struggle with these statements, some. I have been writing for thirty years. THIRTY YEARS! It’s been a part of me for much longer than my kids, defined me all my life. I believe in books and words and stories, more than I do G-d or country or whatever. I guess I just believe in Mose and Lew more than I believe in stories?
It’s strange to type that, but even as I type it, I know it’s true.
This is NOT to say I think my way is the right way– not at all. Mose and Lew are fine, fine. They truly are. They are strong and amazing and if my plane goes down on the way to Florida (let’s hope it doesn’t) they’ll be fine without me. They would not “suffer” if I gave more to my work. It’s me who would suffer. Me who has chosen my end of the teeter totter.
They go off to school each day, and I work. When the clock hit 2:30, and I have to stop, and get in the car to fetch them, I am HAPPY.
I never thought this would be me. When Mose was three months old, I flew away for four days, to attend AWP, because I was NOT going to be that kind of mommy writer. I was going to talk and think and listen to poetry readings and engage in spirited dialogue and stay up late and know that back home, Mose was just fine. I was going to strike a balance. I was going to retain my independent writer self. But at that conference I spent four days crying in bathrooms, a hormonal wreck. It was too soon and I knew it. It still is. It may always be so.
Madeleine said, “You write the book that wants to be written…” I think we need to live that way too. Get out of the way of the true story. And I’m living the book that turned out to be mine.
(and Lewis, if you’re reading this archived, years in the future, I just want you to know that I went on YOUR class field trip last week, to the pumpkin farm. Remember? We saw a pig race!)
“Now how do you feel?” asked his Mom. Her forehead had wrinkles in it.
“I feel like a sad person who has eaten a cookie,” said Lew.
“Baxter left the deli, munching his pomegranate. It did not taste very good.”
“Baxter excused himself to the lobby, where he found a man in suspenders.
“I wonder, sir, if you know what’s happened to all the honey cake?”
The man knelt down. “This holiday is different,” he whispered. “On Yom Kippur we say we’re sorry for all the things we’ve done wrong. We think of ways to make the new year better. It’s not fun, exactly, but it’s important.”
“And the cake?” asked Baxter.
“Lew had a secret, a big one, a blue one.
He’d kept it a long long time.”
“The kittens pawed the Superheroes and shredded their tights.
The kittens licked the butter.”
“I bet it’s very hot where you’re moving to,” I say, frowning. “ Or very cold. Probably there are tornadoes! Probably you shouldn’t go.”
… sleeping, dreaming, happy, sound.
When suddenly the road rises like a gentle wave, lifts you into the sky,
into the everything, you lean forward.
You lean into it.
“Are we there yet?”
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A few years ago, Tara Lazar started hosting something at her blog called PiBoIdMo. This is like NaNoWriMo for picture book writers. To play along, you just commit to generating a picture book idea every day for a month, during November. One idea a day! For a month.
Now, I’ve done NaNoWriMo and I’ve done NaPoIdMo, and this year I’m not doing either, because my problem isn’t generating ideas, is focusing my energies.
I have folders full of “ideas” for books, and rough drafts of books, but what I really need to do is REVISE those ideas and drafts.
So here’s what I’m doing this year: I’m going to hang around the edges of PiBoIdMo, check in at Tara’s blog. But instead of generating new ideas, I’m going to commit to revising an idea or draft a day. I may revisit the same work more than once, if it feels promising, because that’s the point of revision– you stick with it, return to it, redo it.
But each day I’ll dredge up some neglected idea, or a scrap of a book, or an outline, or a note to myself, and spend an hour– one hour– tinkering or fleshing out, or condensing, or whatever is needed.
And then, when it’s working, I’ll post a snippet, a little bit of the project, for you to see.
How’s that? If I’m lucky, maybe at the end of the month I’ll have one book worth showing to my agent…
We’ll call it National Revising Crap You Might Otherwise Give Up On Month!