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No, I’m not off to another state this time. Todd and I are happy in Minnesota. We are, however, gluttons for punishment, so less than a year after moving here, we bought a house and are moving again! This time, I hope, the time between moves will be more like ten years instead of ten months. So pardon the interruption in our regularly scheduled programming, I’ll be schlepping my boxes around and giving our we-hardly-knew-ye apartment a good cleaning. Talk to you again next Monday, when hopefully we will have our Internet all set up, and will have won some sort of Crate and Barrel mystery contest where they just decide to give us one of everything.
This place is just up the street from me, so I wondered why I hadn’t gone more often. I thought I’d have to take a breather a couple of times when I was walking uphill, I’m no spring chicken. When I started I realized I’d guessed right. When I arrived I saw I didn’t remember it this way. I didn’t remember this view here too. It was much better. I’m glad I came and glad I walked this time instead of driving. I guess working to get there gave me some perspective to appreciate it more.
Frequenting a court clustered between stores, restaurants, and cafes, the place takes on a world of its own. I’ve been sketching here for quite a long time. Long enough to know it has its courtiers, kings, queens, and jesters. Dogs have a special ascendance. They are lavished with particular affection.
I often see the same people. The man above looked like he was visiting. The logo of the football team on his sweatshirt was an indicator.
Taken by my daughter while doing one of my favorite things.
I want to thank friends of Allen’s Zoo as we approach the end of the year, the response to my work still amazes me. I also want to wish everyone a very happy New Year and albeit a belated Merry Christmas. The holidays arrived before I knew it.
I rarely get personal on this blog. But I'm about to. So if you'd rather scroll down for my MMGM recommendation, TRUE COLORS by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock, feel free.
Now that summer's over, I can tell you it wasn't the happiest of seasons.
For the past ten years, I worked in the Children's Department of Chester County Book & Music Company.
(Taken in September 2010)
A lovely young woman named Suzanne hired me and trained me (in fact, I was the only one there all these years who was hired and trained by her). Everything I know about bookselling, I learned from this wise and funny gal. She left the bookstore in 2003 to move on in her career, even owning her own store at one point. I had dinner with her in Portland, Maine, where she was then working, in 2007. Years went by and we lost touch.
Suzanne and me in 2007
In mid-June of this year, I learned that she had passed away suddenly, senselessly, tragically, at the age of 39. The family had a private funeral and promised a memorial service in Pennsylvania at a later date.
Then in mid-July bookstore employees, followed quickly by the public, learned that the bookstore has been operating on a month-to-monthlease since January. A fitness center is interested in the space and it's only a question of time before the deal is completed and the bookstore will then close.
These two seemingly disparate events combined in my mind to make this a difficult summer. I learned that some people in authority will stoop to nefarious means to find out what people said on their facebook page. I learned who my friends were ( You know the ones who ask how your vacation was? Those are your friends).
I realized that life is too short and what I really want to do is write for kids.
So that's what I'm doing. And yes, I am blessed to be able to afford to do this. I gave notice at the bookstore and timed it so that my last day was Friday, September 14. The next day was the memorial service for Suzanne. It seemed entirely fitting to me that my career as a bookseller should both begin and end with Suzanne. Rest in peace, dear friend.
* * * * * *
What will I miss about the bookstore?
I will miss meeting people who love children's books. I will miss recommending books to my favorite customers and talking about books with enthusiastic book lovers. Luckily, I can still do that with this blog! I will miss unlimited advanced reading copies at my fingertips.
I will miss this:
(But I can still meet wonderful authors like Richard Peck at book signings anywhere)
I will miss this:
What won't I miss?
I definitely won't miss this:
Yes, we were still using DOS computers
The ceiling leaked when it rained
I won't miss selling toys. I won't miss shrieking toddlers. I won't miss checking the public restrooms at closing time. And I won't miss working every Saturday for ten years. I won't miss that at all!
I'm now self-employed and loving it. I figured the blog needed a facelift, so that's why it looks different. And next week I'll be having a giveaway to celebrate my new status!
* * * * *
Now for today's MMGM. Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is the brainchild of Shannon Messenger. For other participants, see my sidebar. I think my friend Suzanne would have enjoyed this book about family and friendships and one summer of self-discovery for a sensitive girl.
True Colors by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock (Coming November 13 from Knopf, for ages 8 to 12)
Source: advanced reading copy from publisher
Synopsis (from Indiebound): One girl's journey to find the mother she never had, set against the period backdrop of a small farming town in 1950s Vermont. For her entire life, 10-year-old Blue has never known her mother. On a cold, wintry day in December of 1941, she was found wrapped in a quilt, stuffed in a kettle near the home of Hannah Spooner, an older townswoman known for her generosity and caring. Life with Hannah so far has been simple—mornings spent milking cows, afternoons spent gardening and plowing the fields on their farm. But Blue finds it hard not to daydream about her mother, and over the course of one summer, she resolves to finally find out who she is. That means looking through the back issues of the local newspaper, questioning the local townspeople, and searching for clues wherever she can find them. Her search will change her life forever.
Why I liked it: This beautifully-written novel is a true middle-grade in the purest sense. There's not a lick of romance. Instead there's adventure and mystery. There are fascinating characters. And historical fiction fans will love this -- it's the summer of 1952, a time period not often treated in children's literature. It's also one of those quiet books I'm so fond of (see this post about another). The synopsis doesn't tell you that an important part of the book is Blue's friendship with Nadine or that Nadine has trials of her own. It doesn't mention Raleigh, a man who suffered a brain trauma and now can only say a few words. And it doesn't mention Mr. Gilpin, the newspaper editor, who offers Blue her first paying job. Along with Hannah, all these people are important to Blue, for varying reasons. The only drawback is that this book won't be published until November! So add it to your TBR lists.
This photograph taken some time ago I felt deserved a second look.
Also..I’d like to acknowledge a nomination for the Beautiful Blogger Award. I’m deeply honored by the nomination because it comes from someone who’s photography and intelligently sensitive writings about photography and art set him way above the pack. Here’s a link to Munchow’s Creative Photo Blog. It’s well worth checking out.
No this is not a post about a loose sleeveless coat or outer covering, or part of our earthly structure, or ten an animal part. No. This is about the wonderful MANTLE conference that I spoke at in Newcastle yesterday. The MANTLE Conference is the annual professional conference of all teacher librarians in the Newcastle, Maitland, Taree, Lake Macquarie and Central Coast districts with more than 110 rolling in. What a brilliantly organised conference - complete with trade fair and goodie bags for delegates (and presenters too) with choccies, drink bottle and a 2GB memory disk disguised in the clasp of the lanyard. Clever bunch these organisers. One of the most difficult things to do at a conference is to collect the name tags so to do this the Mantle crew have at the end of the day lucky door prizes that are drawn -- to be eligible you have to return the badge! Smart one!
I was absolutely thrilled to be the Keynote Speaker for the conference and my topic was about a subject that i know best - ME - and exploring my involvement with the National Year of Reading, my ambassadorship of the National Year of Reading and why I wanted to jump aboard. And as is my way I threw in a whole lot of there bits and pieces as well - including Sounds Spooky and Python as well as a little commentary on society and the value of literature and the arts (or lack of it) and Picture Book Month.
I also presented a session on engaging reluctant readers, which I found out as my session was being introduced, was the number one requested session from the 2011 evaluation - glad they didn't tell me that when they asked me to talk on the topic. I would have flown into a mild panic. Also attending was my lovely friend Sarah Davis (i was able to pass to her a dining chair we uncovered in our lane - i only had to drive for 2 1/2 hours to give it to her!) and also Sue McKerracher (from National Year of Reading - NYR) and Karen Bonanno (Australian School Library Association (ASLA). Great to meet Karen for the first time and catch up again with Sue, who also gave me the photos of taken of me at the launch of NYR in Canberra earlier this year. And folks were taking notes as i was talking ... I still get amazed when folks are taking notes on the topics I talk about!
This photo, with Lara O'Donoghue (conference organiser and Ian McLean, TL from Penrith primary school) was taken straight after my keynote and sent around the world on Facebook - I know because folks showed me!
I have been reading up a storm lately. With everything that has been going on in real life, I've had time to do it too. I'm really happy that I'm catching up on my Goodreads challenge with my only being 10 books behind. I think I have a chance of catching up!
I don't know about you, but I feel relaxed and can zone out of my stressful little corner with a book. With the passing of my mother-in-law, I found solace in a book while trying to just be strong for my hubby and sister-in-law (who lives with us).
A few weeks before that my oldest daughter ended up in the hospital for a weekend, and that just made me read a lot as well, waiting around in hospital emergency rooms and then the actual hospital room while she slept.
The first book I read at the beginning of May when I became addicted to books probably to help me with everything that had been going on was The False Prince. I can't say enough about this book that would do it justice. I loved everything about this. The tone, the voice, the plot and just the structure of the book was pure perfection. I got so wrapped up in this story that I'm now searching in vain for high fantasy-type books. I love a book with great world building that really pulls me into the story. Sage was a character that I could really root for. If there is one book you read this year, please put this one on your to read list. You will be so happy you did. I am totally sending this one to my nephew because I have a feeling he will love it as much as I did.
I'm not going to give you a run down of every book I read, but I will pick out my absolute favorites with no spoilers.
Insurgent: Do I really need to explain myself on this one? Tris and Four (Tobias) I think that is all.
City of Lost Souls: You would think that after five books, you'd get tired of this series, but I don't. I absolutely love the world building in this one. It is so complicated and yet woven so well, I find myself going back to the other books and the Immortal Devices series to try and pick up any clues I can get. I will admit to getting a bit tired of Jace/Clary and really would like to see something epic happen to Izzy and Simon. I've been a Simon fan since book one and really want him to have this amazing kiss with Izzy. He deserves it.
The Immortal Rules: I read this one not really knowing what I getting into. I knew that it was a dystopian vampire story which I was like, um, okay. But this is Julie Kagawa and I know that she can do no wrong when it comes to writing. I'm gonna admit a little secret. I was not a big fan of The Iron King, however, I absolutely adored that series. For me it really took off after book two. I am so glad that I stuck with it. I am totally sticking with this series. Julie has grown so much as an author in the three or four years she's been pubbed now. I want some more Kanin and Allison!
Starters and Article 5: Amazing dystopian reads that will linger with you long after you put the book or e-reader down. As a former single mother, Article 5 really hit a nerve with me. A good nerve. Especially with so many people's rights being flushed down the toilet (North Carolina, I'm lookin
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Pictured above for those of you who don’t know, the zookeeper of Allen’s Zoo exploring at one of my favorite places.
I saw something while exploring the intertidal zone today I’m not likely to see for a while again if at all. While looking at the usually seen inhabitants, (hermit crabs, sea stars) I rounded a rock and saw what I initially thought was the largest sea star I’d ever seen. It was about two and a half feet long (.7 meters). My mind making sense of something I’d never seen in the wild. Then realized then it wasn’t a sea star. It was a Pacific Octopus. I recognized the coloration from images in books I’ve used as reference. Although I know they happen around these ocean zones I didn’t know if it was still alive. It was not in water. I reached for my camera then remembered took the batteries out yesterday as they needed to be replaced. I then thought it probably wasn’t alive and waiting for the tide like the other things in the intertidal zone. It’d be sad to take a photograph of it then.
I've been eyes-wide awake in my bed for two hours and now that I've finally gotten up, this stupid blinking cursor is teasing me. It is 3:30 in the morning and in one way I could thank my lucky stars that I've finally gotten up early enough to write. On the other hand, I'm not feeling well, I'm going on a weekend vacation and the last thing I need is to be sick for a plane ride and a cruise. The funny thing is that I'm the best sleeper in the world. I can sleep anywhere. I love naps in sunny spaces. I go to bed early. Maybe it is taking me a little bit to get used to Daylight Savings. My brain is just awake. Of course, once my brain is awake in the middle of the night, I think about all the things that are stressing me out that I try to push away during daylight hours (some of which I can talk about here and now and some of which I can't).
This is about the time in the semester when I start having my crisis of confidence. I miss my VCFA community. I so wish there was a mid-term residency. Just a short one. A weekend maybe. A time to get back together to say, "Yes, this is important. Our stories are important. You should invest this time in something that will probably never pan out financially because you are a writer and writers write. Because your story needs to be told. Because someone out there, some teen, some child somewhere needs this story." Okay. Tears now. But remember that I've been up since 1 am and that my throat hurts and that I've got gunk where gunk shouldn't be.
I'm a little concerned too, that my grad lecture has the potential to turn into something much bigger than the 35 minutes of brilliance that it needs to be. I won't know until I spend some concentrated time on it and the concentration of time is very hard to find.
The current political situation in our state and country and the disasters abroad certainly don't help. How do we move through our lives in relative safety when a major part of a major country has been all but wiped out and is facing a possible nuclear melt down that will affect us all? How do we communicate to our own leaders that cutting 42 billion in vital programs and jobs while allowing 42 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest people in our country is unacceptable?
Moreover, and on a note much closer to home, how do I communicate to my almost 12 year old that he doesn't have to see me as his antagonist for the next six years? Oh my, God the arguments are wearing me down!
And how do I do all this when I am alone? When my husband is away for work for extended periods of time? When I live in a place that requires a lot of driving? When I don't want to impose on my friends too much? How do I get a break?
So yes, I guess I can't sleep because I'm stressed. It certainly seems that way. At least I get a vacation this weekend and... would you look at the clock, 4 am... time to write.
Even though it is raining and in the mid 50's I can't get away from the question, "What are you doing this summer?" Yesterday was the last day of school for my students so I got to answer the question time and again. My summer is packed with trips and events. The first exciting event is my graduate residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts. The year of the thesis (Critical and Creative) has been extremely demanding and the graduation will be a chance for me to celebrate my own efforts and cheer on the fellow members of my class: The League of Extraordinary Cheese Sandwiches. As always it will be ten days of community, learning, and love but from a very different and special perspective.
After graduation I'm headed to LA to attend the SCBWI National conference. I've never been and can't wait. If anyone else is going please say hi in the comments and we can email each other. I'm hoping to add a new feature to my blog for the summer and fall. "Member Monday" will be a reposting of interesting goings ons at SCBWI as it affects New England from Headquarters and around the globe.
Later in August, you'll find me traveling through the Adirondacks and Western New York attending a family reunion and camping. Hopefully, there will be a few quiet days reading at the beach, gardening, biking, and running. I'll be finishing the novel that I'm turning in for my creative thesis and then September brings the infamous-- Hunt for an Agent. (More about that later.)
1. I just finished marking up and responding to six-one page letters from my pre-college English class. Two more will arrive over the weekend via snail mail. I marked up each one in Word then wrote a one page letter back to each of them. My head is pounding from the exercise. I can't even imagine what it is like to get 40 pages from an MFA candidate. God bless my VCFA professors. I can't believe how lucky I was to have each one of you. 2. This is the end of week one. Sixty three weeks to go. I'm so tired already. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, send me a private message.) 3. Rowed twice this week. No running, no biking, no swimming. Must figure this out. I need it to clear my head. Two new swimsuits arrived in the mail today though. Here's a picture of the suit for our "Angry Kitties" all girl (and allies) Triathlon group.
4. I had a pretty good week of writing. Not perfect but about three out of five days. One day was especially productive and lovely where all the ideas flowed easily. I'll try and make up for it this weekend. 5. Exciting things going on this weekend if you are an illustrator. First, Hazel Mitchel is meeting foks at the MOFGA Common Ground Fair in Unity Maine for a meet-up/sketch crawl. You can message her on Twitter @TheWackyBrit. The Massachusetts Independent Comic Expo is going on this weekend info here. And the Maine Illustrators' Collective meeting is Sunday the 25th. More info here.
1.This morning I braved our first frost and went on a bike ride. I came back with numb toes and fingers, but it was just beautiful. Perhaps it's time to move my bike riding inside. I'm amazed by the people who commute by bike all winter long. 2. My kids have a four day weekend. Today is a teacher furlough day, and while I'm happy to have my children home, I'm unhappy that our teachers are loosing pay. 3. With kiddos around there will be cleaning. Beware all you piles of dog fur in the corners! Stand back pile of laundry! We will defeat you. 4. I had a few wonderful writing days this week with high word counts, and dramatic scenes. I can really feel the forward movement of the manuscript (profluence, thank you Sarah Aronson). Very exciting to be climbing out of the muddy middle. 5. Monday, October 10th is my 18th Wedding Anniversary.
Although if you do (and maybe you should) you might find not only a new post by another terrific Picture Book creator, there's one every day for the month of November, but part-way down the middle column you will find that someone (now who would that be) has been appointed as International Liaison for the Advisory Board.
Go on have a look!
And you haven't even seen my post yet. You will just have to check in each day to find out when I am there. I promise it will appear!
Read Picture Books Share Picture Books Celebrate Picture Books ... all over the world!
Sure has been a bit of a crazy week. Much time has been spent:
working on the SCBWI Showcase for the Bologna Children's Book Fair that is on in a few weeks time;
collecting creates of book packages from the post office which contain books and postcards and stuff for me to take to Bologna where i'll be displaying books from this creative side of the world;
to sorting the SCBWI Crystal Kites Member Choice Awards (over 1200 books were nominated and for each division the 5 most popular go through to round two - and Sounds Spooky made it there);
dropping in to a school. I forgot to add a note last Tuesday to give a shout out to the Year 4 Sydney Grammar Prep Boys at St Ives. I had a fun morning with the boys there chit chatting about poetry in all its many forms and inspiring them (I hope) to write some really evocative and fun poetry of their own. I sure hope I get to see those poems.
This is the a quick snap of SOME of the Books and postcards and business cards that will soon be winging along to Bologna. Even allowing for my extra baggage allowance this IS a heavy bundle. Thank goodness for wheelie bags!