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1. Before and After: Reveal Character

IN the on-going series of Thinking Like a Writer, everyone can recite the plot diagram of rising action which ends in a climax and denouement. But writers can’t just recite the particulars of a diagram; instead, we must create a plot that changes a character in some way.

One way to get at that change is to start by writing the Before and After character sections. Where is the character at the beginning of the story and how have they changed by the end.

For example, in the Before section of “A Christmas Carol,” Scrooge is miserable and miserly in three ways: toward the poor, toward his nephew, toward his employee and his family. He meets three ghosts, which leads to the After section, where he is kind and generous in three ways: toward the poor, toward his nephew, toward his employee and his family.

You may have a character moving from shy to bold.
What scene, description, and/or character set-up will Show-Don’t-Tell that this character is shy? How can you contrast that with the After scene?

First, identify the character arc for your character.
Then write a Before and an After.

How to Write a Children's Picture Book by Darcy Pattison

NEW EBOOK

Available on
For more info, see writeapicturebook.com

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2. My Terrific Bucket List

A bucket list is a list some people put together of things they want to do before they die. A bucket list, in my opinion is really dumb, because once you have completed it, there is nothing of value left for you to do, except die. With that said, I have put together my own bucket list, a list of buckets.

Metal Buckets

Buckets o' nails by TheGiantVermin.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tudor/3255427501/

Metal buckets are always nice when they get wet, bashed around a bit, and become rusty. Here we see some lovely buckets containing railroad spikes, all good and rusty. Presumably the other buckets have rusted out the bottom thus can not hold water any longer. Pity, after all a bottomless bucket is not nearly as useful.

Beach Buckets

Bucket Fun by downing.amanda.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tinkerroll21/2684563098/

These beauties have the advantage in that they can come in many colors and can be filled with wet sand, and flipped over, to create wonderful sand castles. Every year hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of beach buckets are swept away from their owners. Many wash ashore a short time later but some are pulled out into the ocean and are swept to foreign sands. Perhaps some are floating in the giant sea of garbage that has been reported in the Pacific Ocean.

Hydraulic Buckets

Men in hydraulic bucket by Lori Greig.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/lori_greig/2034382703/

Buckets that can lift people up are pretty cool too. I wonder how much they charge for a ride in one of those things? These buckets have to be made out of hard fiberglass and usually have holes in the bottom to let rain water out. Attached to a hydraulic lift they can be controlled by the people in them or at the bottom of the device.

Water Bucket

DSCF2511 by Gary Denness.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/garydenness/1500856927/

When in need of a drink, or putting out a fire, nothing beats a water bucket. As we have learned earlier, a plastic bucket is probably the best for the job. This mans life would not be the same if not for his water bucket.  It might be all he owns. 

Bucket Seats

Me, driving The Wingfield Flyer* by cosmic_spanner.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/cosmic_spanner/2706706837/

Individual seats in a car, which separate the driver from the other front seat passenger are called bucket seats, especially so when they are form fitted. While they do not allow for cuddling as the bench seat does, they are certainly more popular. As always, be sure to buckle up. 

Head Bucket

beauty and the bucket by mugley.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mugley/511939333/

When out with somebody more pretty than yourself, a head bucket might come in handy. Not too common, but possibly they are a relatively new thing in the bucket industry, look for them to gain popularity in the next few years. Perhaps we shall see them in new colors.   I would stay away from metal head buckets as they would probably be hot. 

Feed Bucket

Oliver with his nose in a feed bucket - Tooradin by Charlie Brewer.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/charliebrewer/78335363/

Probably a favorite of many, the feed bucket is certainly preferred by other animals. I would have to say it is one of my favorites too, I love taking food out to my critters. If you personally do not like feed buckets you might like the bucket next on the list.

Ice Cream Bucket

The Bucket by Brett L..

http://www.flickr.com/photos/brettlider/67051314/

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream buckets. No matter how old we get, most of us still love ice cream. Nowadays we can buy ice cream by the bucket full, but it use to be we made it in wooden buckets. My favorites are licorice, Butter Pecan, Maple Walnut, and most recently Ginger ice cream.

Garbage Bucket

genie in a garbage can by dev null.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/devnull/140485451/

Don’t ever throw away ice cream, eat it all. Use the garbage bucket only for things you cannot eat, or recycle. Garbage buckets tend to get smelly and are not often a favorite bucket of anyones. They are usually plastic, which is not really a good choice, because plastic is porous, meaning it can contain odors and bacteria.  Even my garbage bucket is plastic, I’m tough and a few million bacteria do not scare me. 

Really Big Buckets

Bucket for Scooping Earth by cindy47452.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/cindy47452/55239683/

Usually the front end loader part of a tractor is called the bucket, but they get even bigger than that on earth movers. This bucket is not even as big as they come, it has been neglected for some time. In quarries and mines up north they have huge buckets.

Feel free to make your own Bucket list.  I am tired. 

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3. My Terrific Bucket List

A bucket list is a list some people put together of things they want to do before they die. A bucket list, in my opinion is really dumb, because once you have completed it, there is nothing of value left for you to do, except die. With that said, I have put together my own bucket list, a list of buckets.

Metal Buckets

Buckets o' nails by TheGiantVermin.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tudor/3255427501/

Metal buckets are always nice when they get wet, bashed around a bit, and become rusty. Here we see some lovely buckets containing railroad spikes, all good and rusty. Presumably the other buckets have rusted out the bottom thus can not hold water any longer. Pity, after all a bottomless bucket is not nearly as useful.

Beach Buckets

Bucket Fun by downing.amanda.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tinkerroll21/2684563098/

These beauties have the advantage in that they can come in many colors and can be filled with wet sand, and flipped over, to create wonderful sand castles. Every year hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of beach buckets are swept away from their owners. Many wash ashore a short time later but some are pulled out into the ocean and are swept to foreign sands. Perhaps some are floating in the giant sea of garbage that has been reported in the Pacific Ocean.

Hydraulic Buckets

Men in hydraulic bucket by Lori Greig.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/lori_greig/2034382703/

Buckets that can lift people up are pretty cool too. I wonder how much they charge for a ride in one of those things? These buckets have to be made out of hard fiberglass and usually have holes in the bottom to let rain water out. Attached to a hydraulic lift they can be controlled by the people in them or at the bottom of the device.

Water Bucket

DSCF2511 by Gary Denness.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/garydenness/1500856927/

When in need of a drink, or putting out a fire, nothing beats a water bucket. As we have learned earlier, a plastic bucket is probably the best for the job. This mans life would not be the same if not for his water bucket.  It might be all he owns. 

Bucket Seats

Me, driving The Wingfield Flyer* by cosmic_spanner.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/cosmic_spanner/2706706837/

Individual seats in a car, which separate the driver from the other front seat passenger are called bucket seats, especially so when they are form fitted. While they do not allow for cuddling as the bench seat does, they are certainly more popular. As always, be sure to buckle up. 

Head Bucket

beauty and the bucket by mugley.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mugley/511939333/

When out with somebody more pretty than yourself, a head bucket might come in handy. Not too common, but possibly they are a relatively new thing in the bucket industry, look for them to gain popularity in the next few years. Perhaps we shall see them in new colors.   I would stay away from metal head buckets as they would probably be hot. 

Feed Bucket

Oliver with his nose in a feed bucket - Tooradin by Charlie Brewer.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/charliebrewer/78335363/

Probably a favorite of many, the feed bucket is certainly preferred by other animals. I would have to say it is one of my favorites too, I love taking food out to my critters. If you personally do not like feed buckets you might like the bucket next on the list.

Ice Cream Bucket

The Bucket by Brett L..

http://www.flickr.com/photos/brettlider/67051314/

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream buckets. No matter how old we get, most of us still love ice cream. Nowadays we can buy ice cream by the bucket full, but it use to be we made it in wooden buckets. My favorites are licorice, Butter Pecan, Maple Walnut, and most recently Ginger ice cream.

Garbage Bucket

genie in a garbage can by dev null.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/devnull/140485451/

Don’t ever throw away ice cream, eat it all. Use the garbage bucket only for things you cannot eat, or recycle. Garbage buckets tend to get smelly and are not often a favorite bucket of anyones. They are usually plastic, which is not really a good choice, because plastic is porous, meaning it can contain odors and bacteria.  Even my garbage bucket is plastic, I’m tough and a few million bacteria do not scare me. 

Really Big Buckets

Bucket for Scooping Earth by cindy47452.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/cindy47452/55239683/

Usually the front end loader part of a tractor is called the bucket, but they get even bigger than that on earth movers. This bucket is not even as big as they come, it has been neglected for some time. In quarries and mines up north they have huge buckets.

Feel free to make your own Bucket list.  I am tired. 

Add a Comment
4. The Garden (The Stories) in Winter

I have committed raking. I spent all day Saturday outdoors, rake in gloved hands, collecting the fall leaves and depositing them on the garden beds. I love the meditative quality of raking, and my neighbors love it that I rake at least once a year. On all sides of my house I hear leaf blowers on Saturdays, and lawns have a picture-perfect quality to them. "I'm a yard man!" says my neighbor Pat.

My yard remains coated with leaves until some warm January morning, when I pick up a rake and give myself permission to take all the live-long day to put the front yard to rights. Pat still likes me. What he and Clarissa and Scott and Elizabeth and even toddler Emma, who is quite my gardening friend, don't know yet is that I plan for the entire yard to be a garden one day, with pea gravel pathways winding around the bee balm, the yard art, and the benches.

Until that day, I dream, and January is perfect for dreaming. I'm dreaming about color choices for the house (see my shutters? You can also see how the carport enclosure is coming along), I read cookbooks in bed and dream about recipes I want to make (this is how my Lively-up Yourself Lentil Soup came out -- it was delicious; you can compare my version to Holly Swanson's at 101 Cookbooks)...

...and I dream about the stories I want to write. I moved to this house in Atlanta in June 2004. I came with files, notebooks, and boxes of stories, some of them published books, some of them half-finished orphans, some of them just sketched-out ideas or half-pages of notes. I've added to this stash in the years I've been here. So this week I decided that, in this January dreaming month, I would open my story cupboards and make a list of what I had, so I could get what I still needed as recipe ingredients in order to turn these partial ideas into full fledged stories.

Or not.

I mean... sometimes you find that you no longer want to write about The Incredible Hulk or gumshoes named Mud, don't you? If I was no longer interested in a topic, out it went, like the moldy corner of cheese still in the dairy drawer of the fridge. But if I got a tiny tingle when I read through the pages of research, the failed drafts, the snippets -- and especially, if it made me laugh when I read it -- I rinsed it off at the sink and I kept that story, tidied it up and gave it a folder all its own, labeled and ready for my attention.

I used a sketch book and colored pens to list all the stories. I didn't go in any particular order, just grabbed pile after pile of papers, and I didn't color code anything; when one marker didn't suit me (or when I got interrupted and came back to my chair), I used another. I drew lines and circles and doodles as I made connections. For instance, I've got one snippet that reads, "I have an office. My associate sleeps at my feet. Her snores are a rhythm I depend on." It made me laugh. I've drawn an arrow from that snippet to this one: "People smell. Have you noticed this?" Ha! This dog (whom I've named Buddy, it seems) also says, "I don't understand fried okra." Who knows what this might someday mean, but I remember when I wrote the second snippet. It was during a freewrite, in Vermont, on retreat.

Have you ever pulled all your work together from wherever you've got it stored, and listed all of it in one place, in one notebook? I filled five pages of my (large!) sketchbook with lists of snippets, ideas, drafts, work-in-progress, rejected stories that I still love, and more. Five pages! I look at these five pages and see that I have been much more productive than I have given myself credit for.

How do you track your progress, in writing? In life? What does success mean to you? Not so long ago, success was survival, for me.

To be able to sit here, in a home of my own, and look out the windows onto a world of my own making (see the unraked yard?) seems like success enough. To look at these five pages of story ideas -- all of them with potential, because all of them hold a piece of my heart or they wouldn't be on the list -- I think I am rich! I have just needed to rake them up, these ideas, to put them in one place together, in a sort of garden-in-winter, in order to see how hard I've been working at telling my stories, and how much I have done. These ideas aren't going anywhere; they are waiting for me to return to them, waiting for inspiration, enthusiasm, hard work from me. Waiting for me to stop mixing gardening and cooking metaphors, maybe.

And now what? What do I do with this list? I gave each story a folder. The snippets I put in a folder called "new work." All folders are in one big file drawer now, all together. The research that won't fit into folders is on one shelf, each bit labeled appropriately. That in itself is satisfactory to me. It's satisfactory to create, to organize, to try my best to finish something using all the skills I possess, to revise, to improve, to revise again, to weather rejection to try again, to be finally lucky enough to put a story out into the world, to find readers. Lucky, lucky, lucky.

I did this story gardening work on Monday, January 14, the day of the ALA award announcements. I knew ALL-STARS was not on the list, as I had not been notified, and I stayed away from my computer most of the day and immersed myself in my own stories.

And. you know... part of me had wished, from time to time, for award recognition -- it would be human, of course, and hard not to get swept up in the hoopla for a book that made so much noise in the world and that my publisher (Yay, Sweet Harcourt!) and booksellers, teachers, librarians, readers worked so hard to promote (I guess I did, too!), a book that got such wonderful reviews and such kind attention from readers.

And, if I'm being honest about it, which I'm trying to do, financially it would mean a few years more off the road, too -- a while longer to work at what I love and not take on the proverbial day-job to support the writing (something I've put out there as a goal), and the ability to continue to publish (I have opinions on this, too, but for another time). So, I'll admit that I looked at the possibility, when I looked at it, with more of a practical than emotional eye.

I used to wax romantic about writing and publishing children's books. No longer. This is a business. Years ago, children's publishing occupied a benign corner of the adult publishing realm, where it was patted on the head and not expected to turn a profit. Not so today, of course. The pressure inside publishing houses is intense, and the pressure that writers feel as a result... well, it's a hard business sometimes, and it's best for me to remember that it is a business, and that I am trying my best to make a living and grow a career.

Still, I have steadily learned, in these past few years, to disconnect from the award aspect of publishing and to focus on the page. And I'm healthier for it. I really do know what's important and what feeds me artistically, emotionally, spiritually, even physically... it's time, space, quiet, home, routine, love, family, kinship, peace.

I need these things most of all, in order to create, to be healthy, to live well. So. I wasn't disappointed on Monday: I am making a living in the arts, I am writing well, I am being published, and I have readers, solid reviews, good sales figures!, a great big cheering section, and lots of possibility ahead of me.

What I was on Monday, was curious. Hmmm... and I suppose it's arrogant (I'd prefer to think it's hopeful or naive) to even assume ALL-STARS had a chance for that recognition in the first place. It's all such a puzzle; there are so many good books out there, and I actually have lots of trouble with the whole notion of awards and prizes and bests, being an inclusive sort of gal.

At any rate, I didn't plan (and certainly don't write) for awards. I planned for an introspective, inward-looking, homeward-bound, good-writing year this year (for the first time in seven long years!)... and I will have it. When I came back to my computer at the end of the day, Monday, I found an email about ALL-STARS from an adult reader, an engineer, who I bet has never heard of the the Newbery, the Caldecott, the Printz, and other ALA awards. But he has heard of ALL-STARS:

"I was emotionally connected from beginning to end. True to theme, just about everything in the book resonated with me. Even the Redbug catcher seemed eerily familiar. As a kid I lived and breathed baseball. Played every day until dark; knew all the major leaguers - my favorites being (of course) Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays, Gil Hodges, Yogi Berra, and the rest; - had all the baseball cards; knew all the statistics, etc. My brother and I would lie in our bunk beds at night, room all dark, and quiz each other, What was Ty Cobb's lifetime batting average?, How many home runs did Mickey Mantle hit in 1952?, What is Ted Williams' nickname?

"Early in grade school my teacher took us to the school library and told us all to find a book to read. I wasn't interested. Up until then, reading had just been a rote exercise like spelling or adding and subtracting: Look Dick, See Jane, blah, blah, blah. My teacher, Miss Tremarene (who was also my next door neighbor), said, "Read about something that you are interested in." The concept sort of blew my mind. I said, "Can you do that? Can you read about anything you want to?" She said, "Sure." So I said, "I'm interested in baseball." She helped me find a book. The first book I ever read was The Pee Wee Reese Story! Weird, huh? It changed my life. I've read
non-stop ever since."

Just think: a book (and a teacher) that changed someone's life. It could be any book. It could be the book you write. It needs to be the right book for that particular reader. And the right book for one reader is not necessarily the right book for another.

I asked Kate DiCamillo once, if she'd meant it when she said, at the end of her Newbery acceptance speech for DESPEREAUX, "I know I don't deserve it." Absolutely she meant it, she said. And we talked about how you just never know: who's on the committee, what do they love, how do they interpret the criteria, what can they agree on, and more... it's all so arbitrary. And yet it's not, Kate. I think good work rises up, like cream. I have to believe that. And yet, I get it. There are many good books out there. Many good books in this season alone! There are so many stories. It's a wonder and a treat for readers... I'll never get to read them all.

So I look at this year's awards list and I grin. I like it. What I like best about awards is that we get to celebrate our common community, our business of writing and publishing books for young people -- we get to celebrate all our stories.

Then I turn to my notebook listing my five pages of stories, and this time a slow smile spreads across my face. Here are the stories I have control over. Here is my garden. Here are my ingredients. Here is my future, a work in progress.

Time to get to work.

0 Comments on The Garden (The Stories) in Winter as of 1/1/1900
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5. Taking out the Trash

I bought a new notebook this past weekend. A plain, spiral bound notebook with a few pockets for stashing things in. Its cover is black. There's a title idea scribbled on the first page. And a question. In about a year, I hope that it will contain the rantings and ravings of my writer self as I bushwhack my way through another novel.


New notebook

The notebook won't be the novel---nope, it's for holding all the debris that surrounds the making of any complicated object. Think of it like the dumpster parked outside a house under construction. Everything in that dumpster was once necessary to the building of that house, right down to the wrappings from the fast food that nourished the workers each day.

There will be a date on every entry. Some entries will be two words. Some will be four or five pages. In all of them, the handwriting will be unbelievably messy.

There will be lists. Many, many lists, many of them mostly questions. There will be questionings of those question lists. There will be lists of 20-30 concrete nouns---objects or people or places that occur over and over. My puzzle pieces. I will bump them all against each other, to see what fits.


Old notebook

I will draw arrows. I will doodle weird symbols in the margins. There will be word counts, jotted at random like graffiti. I will surprise myself with at least one real drawing, which will be labeled with helpful clues.

I will mention other books I'm reading, or TV shows/movies I'm watching, and what they help me see about my own narrative struggles. I will take notes when I need to research something, like "Jet-powered outhouse: Standard port-o-john w/ 1000 hp jet engine. Speeds of 70 mph. Flames spew from jet exhaust and potty vent." (No I'm not 'splaining this. Not yet.)

I will summarize the work I've done elsewhere, on the computer, to prove to myself that I am making progress. "Worked on opening scene." "Wrote 500 words." "Figured out where main character lives."

I will generally try to use only an encouraging tone of voice towards myself. I will write things like: "Focus on the pages you need to write today. Write them. Quit. Repeat." But some days I will come out with: "Trying to write, but my brain is not here."

I will, at some point, write the words: "This book is about... " I will probably write that phrase ten or fifteen times. I will get the answer wrong, oh so wrong, many, many times.

Honestly, when I look back over my last two novel notebooks, I'm not sure how I managed to write two books from such junk.

But then, if I looked in a construction dumpster, I might wonder about the grease-stained napkins and the little rubber doodads and the metal staples and--- oh, my! is that something growing in there???

1 Comments on Taking out the Trash, last added: 1/15/2008
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6. Book News and Bottle Trees

How did it get to be January 9 already? I'll swan, give a girl a chance to hunker in at home, and she starts baking her famous homemade granola that she hasn't made in five years (travel, travel), she roasts hazelnuts and puts them up in saved olive jars, she eats well and sleeps well,



and she hires her friend Jim Williams to enclose the carport and turn it into a gathering room, following her desire to implement pattern 182 of A PATTERN LANGUAGE by Christopher Alexander (who knows this book? I'm using it like a Bible as I work on this house...


...I'm investigating Pools of Light (252), Warm Colours (250), Different Chairs (251), as well as Communal Eating (147) and Family of Entrances (102), Entrance Transition (112), Car Connection (113),
and more, but that will do for now. Ha!)




Oh, and she plans to build a bottle tree. (This is a photo of Felder Rushing's blue bottle tree in Jackson, Mississippi. I love Felder and I want a fire bowl like his, but I digress.)


She also opens the mail that has been piling up since the last ice age. And just look what's in the mail! EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS is still cutting a rug on the book world's dance floor. First news is that LITTLE BIRD has won the Alabama Book Award as the Young People's Book of the Year from the Alabama Library Association! Joy and Happy Day! RUBY won this award in 2004, and I know how special it is, both because I've seen how wonderful this conference is (I've met those wonderful Alabama librarians!) and because I was born in Alabama, so coming back is like going home. But the best thing about this award is that LITTLE BIRD finds its way into the hands of more young readers in Alabama. I'm so glad. Thank you so much, ALLA! (And Tim Berry, I'm trying to email you, but your email keeps bouncing...)

As if Alabama -- and the United States -- weren't enough, here comes news, too, from IBBY -- the International Board on Books for Young People -- that LITTLE BIRD "has been nominated by the U.S. Section of IBBY for the IBBY Honour List 2008 for the quality of its writing."

Be still my heart. IBBY! One of IBBY's objectives is to encourage international understanding through children's literature. Sharon Deeds, chair of USBBY's Hans Christian Andersen committee (the U.S. Section of IBBY) wrote me some months ago, but it wasn't public news until now, and I wasn't sure I believed it, but now I have official confirmation. Sharon had written me: "Each section... nominates three honor books: one for writing, one for illustration and one for translation. The Honour List began in 1956. The books are chosen to represent the best in U.S. publishing in the previous two years."

I'm floored, I'm honored, I'm humbled. And may I throw in delighted... I am. Readers! LITTLE BIRD will have international readers... what a thrill. The entire Honour List from around the world will be part of a traveling exhibition in Japan, the U.S., and Bologna. Then, according to my Official Letter, these books "will be kept as permanent deposits at the International Youth Library in Munich and other research collections in Belgium, Russia, Japan, Slovakia, Switzerland, and the USA."

I knew it. I knew it all along, that everything is connected (as Uncle Edisto says in LITTLE BIRD), that we are more alike than we are different, that we exist in community, through our stories, on this planet. This lovely IBBY award is confirmation and validation of that fact -- just imagine these books, written in many different languages, traveling together next year. Just imagine the kinds of stories they tell individually. Imagine the story they will tell together, of their journey.

Oh, thank you, USBBY committee members, for honoring Comfort Snowberger's story, she who has been to 247 funerals and thinks she knows all about death, only to find out that life is about to take some turns she can't anticipate, and that the most important thing to know about death is that it is part... of life.

There is so much life going on at my house right now, on a warm January day. The carport area rings with hammering and the stapling of screens to the framing. Husband Jim's music wafts up from his basement studio, where he is practicing. The cats want in and out every fifteen minutes. The granola is finished and sits in 12 sweet, squatty little Mason jars, ready for ribbons. The hazelnuts in their jars are standing tall next to the granola. The crepe myrtles that needed to come down (talk about death... sob!) so a new driveway can be built, have been cut and deposited on my back porch so I can gather the most earnest, most enthusiastic branches for my bottle tree.

In the book I'm working on now, a character named Partheny, who is old, wise, and superstitious, makes a bottle tree for her front yard, to ward off evil spirits. I want to make the tree that Partheny would make.
So I've got my branches now. I've been collecting my bottles. I need the just-right bucket and some cement, I think. Let me see what I can do, gathering these elements that you wouldn't naturally find together, and making something brand new out of them. Sort of like the IBBY award. Sort of like stories. Sort of like life.

My notebook is getting a workout with LISTS these days. Lists of projects I want to do, lists of supplies needed, lists of administrative tasks that need to be tackled, grocery lists, lists of stories I'm working on or want to work on this year. In January I list. (Well, I list all the time, but in January, especially, I list for myself: what would you like to accomplish this year? How might you make that happen? I start with a fresh notebook for my lists. I know that I'll fill up several notebooks this year, but this is the first for a new year, with lists, including, this year, lists of what I eat each day, how far I walk (I've walked over 25 miles so far this year), lists of my weekly WW's numbers (11.3 pounds so far -- who's still with me? I'm so serious about this...).

Looking at all these lists, I see patterns, too -- it's the same every year; I bring many disparate elements together to create a life. Kind of like my Southern serial-story-turned-into-full-fledged novel, THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS... so many elements and so many characters fairly seething with their wants and needs and aspirations, conspiring separately but finding out that together they make one movement out of whole cloth. You do it, too, don't you? You are interested in so many things, just as I am, you make your lists, either in your head or on paper, and you pull together a life. In doing so, you see how different you are from every other human being on this earth... how different your family is from every other family, how different is your home, your mind! And yet. We are also so alike, wanting to love and be loved, to belong, to achieve something worthwhile, to understand how the world (and each heart) works, to have purpose.

Each of us individually, AND together, makes up the symphony true.

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7. Intentions, Seriously

I've been laid flat as a shadow by something flu-like. You can read about it on the '07 Tour Blog (I know you're dying to), where I think I've got one more post to write before I wrap it up over there. You can read my thoughts about blogging, too -- would love to hear what you think as well. Oh, and golly-days, I want to say thanks for subbing to One Pomegranate -- a whoosh of you flew in over the holidays -- it's a great Christmas present. So... where are your notebooks? Open 'em up. Let's talk about food. And weight. And intentions for 2008.

Okay, maybe not all three things at once. I will say though, that I have lost a total of 8.8 pounds since Thanksgiving in my quest to lose the half-a-billion pounds I put on this past three years on the road. Or was it six years? Yes. Six. How time flies. But the past three years have been especially fattening. One day I'm going to post about the weight thing. But right now, I'll just talk about food. I love food. Good food. I used to eat it sensibly. I do know how.

I have recovered sufficiently from the Black Death that claimed me the day after Christmas, to make a pot of vegetarian split-pea soup. That's red bell pepper you see in the pot, along with carrots, celery, onion, marjoram, s&p, garlic, and the splits. I had three red peppers left over from the stuffed peppers Hannah was going to make but didn't and they needed a quick home. So.


This luscious soup is simmering on my stove now, in my new 4-1/2 quart Calphalon saucepan. I coveted this pan (badly), and Santa brought it to me. Then I felt badly that Santa spent so much money on a SAUCEPAN (I'm a Value Village Girl, through and through); I even said, "Let's take it back," but then, next morning, I trundled to the kitchen and saw that pot sitting there, perky-like, on the stove, and I fell in love with it all over again. I can't help it. The pot stays.

Now it's simmering its first soup. I make killer soups. I will make biscuits next. I finally feel like eating again, after three days off food. This may account for my 1.2 pound weight loss at WW yesterday, despite my eating rampage through the delights of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I mean, who can live without eggnog at Christmas? Two eggnogs? Three?

Yesterday I dragged myself out of my sick bed (non-contagious, I hope, after 24 hours without fever), and into Weight Watchers, looking worse than death warmed over (cliche allowed). All the other weigh-ees took one look at me and Stood Back. I got weighed, I left. I'm a woman on a mission. Give me a year home (give or take a few meaningful gigs) and I'm gonna make something happen.

Back to food. I consumed approximately 75,462.5 calories on Christmas Day, eating many of the foods you see on recipe cards above. I got sick the next day, but it wasn't the food. It was some bug I picked up along the way, but I digress.

My new, lovely, sweetheart of a mother-in-law (I have a mother-in-law! May I call you Mom? I also have a sister!) gave me HER mother's Charleston Junior League Cookbook, published in 1950 -- I was so touched (and it's older than I am). It was full of receipts -- recipes -- on index cards, in her mother's handwriting -- a treasure. I want to make every recipe in this cookbook, especially the handwritten ones, but they all call for a cup of mayonnaise or two sticks of butter or cream of chicken soup. Of course. Still... just reading them makes me happy... and I WILL try some of them -- they are now part of my heritage, too.

I am intensely interested in food lately, after having spent literally years on the road eating unrecognizable food in strange restaurants, at pot lucks, in school cafeterias, vending machines, gas stations, and worse (don't ask), and seeing what people eat in different parts of the country (so interesting! Chicken and waffles! Shrimp and grits! And that's just a start...), how much or little they eat, and how important food is to our mental and emotional well-being. Just look at that cookbook stuffed with all those recipes torn from the newspaper, from backs of boxes, written on yellowing paper, saved. Food is a social tool. It's a celebration. It's a commiseration. It's everything! And I have eaten literally everything in this past several years on the road.

I used to be a vegetarian. I used to eat whole foods. Organic whole foods. I happily ate plants, grains, beans, fruits, nuts, and combined my proteins and got along just fine. Then came book publication and all the road travel that attended making a living as a suddenly-single parent, and there was no way to eat a sufficient supper at the 1,456 airports I've waited in, in the past six years, not to mention the "complimentary breakfasts" at the Hampton Inns of the world. (Have you ever, seriously, microwaved one of those egg concoctions in plastic wrap with a biscuit wrapped around it, with what passes for cheese in the middle? I have. Be clogged my arteries.)

Then there is the food from my books (I always make sure there are good cooks in my books, cooks with recipes like the ones you see here), food which I've eaten in many of the 4,267 schools I've visited in the past six years. I have slurped down 582 root beer floats and 16 gallons of sweet iced tea. I have eaten 148 tuna fish sandwiches, 11 plates of Vienna sausages and Ritz Crackers, 3 bowls of succotash, forty-eleven Comfort-Snowberger Brownies, a whole half of Mrs. Elling's Chicken and Potato Chip Casserole. Don't get me started on the mountain of Moon Pies (and, I'm sorry to say, I adore them). I've eaten foods I didn't even remember I'd put in my books, such as a loaf of prune bread (still warm), a quart of stewed tomatoes (I promise) and zucchini six ways to Sunday, mostly fried.

All numbers approximate.

Still and all, I am not complaining. I was delighted to go on tour with THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS this fall -- what great friends I made (what great food I ate!) -- and I remain touched by the ways teachers have combined math and science and social studies with a novel study and have made the land of Ruby Lavender, Comfort Snowberger, House Jackson, and even Joe and John Henry in FREEDOM SUMMER come alive for young readers.

Now... I'm laughing out loud as I type that because it comes on the heels of me saying next that my clothes don't fit anymore. Am I still touched? Yes, I am. In more ways than one. And I have had fun, lots of fun. However...

I weigh more than I've ever weighed in my life, and it's time to get off the road and eat sensibly, where I can control what's on my fork.

Time to gather vegetables. FRESH vegetables! Organic vegetables! Time to drink water, all day long. Sip tea. Time to break out the miso and tofu and tempeh, time to simmer beans on the back of the stove all morning and bake a cast-iron skillet full of cornbread made from coarsely-ground cornmeal. Time to steam the organic broccoli and grate a bit of fresh parmesan on the whole-wheat pasta and toss some sunflower seeds into the spinach salad. Time to get eat healthy -- healthily -- again.

That's an intention for 2008. What's one of your intentions for the new year? Put it in your notebook. Why is it important to you? What connotations does it conjure? What does it look like, this intention fulfilled? What does it smell like, sound like, taste like, feel like? What does it remind you of? What memory? Write me 500 words. Write short, one page, front and back or less. Do not meander, as I have done. ("Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!") No one need see it but you; it's for your notebook. Write it for you. You'll use it later. You'll see.

Then go read the Sunday New York Times appreciation of Peg Bracken, author of THE I HATE TO COOK BOOK, and one of my heroes. She died this year, but her recipes will always be here, her legacy to women in my mother's generation and beyond. Aside from her signature wisecracks (her recipe for "Hootenholler Whiskey Quick Bread" begins "1/4 cup bourbon, plus more for you"), she wrote that most of the recipes she traded with a group of women friends "were copied from batter-spattered file cards belonging to people who had copied them from other batter-spattered file cards, because a good recipe travels as far, and fast, as a good joke."

Exactly. Just look how far those Charleston Receipts have traveled. Almost as far as I have in the past six years.

Don't forget about that intention. 500 words. Write short and true. Begin with the word "Because...."

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8. Book Divas to Host Online Guest Diva Jenny Downham in October 2008

Book Divas, an online community/ book club for young adult and college readers, is having an author visit with Jenny Downham on October 2nd to promote her novel Before I Die.

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9. Notebook Addiction

Friends, I've talked about this before, a serious affliction many artists and writers have. It's...it's...NOTEBOOK ADDICTION. Since moving to Prescott, I find myself surrounded by beautiful notebooks. One by one they've made their way to my home. I hadn't even realized I had so many notebooks until I sat down one day to write and I had MANY, MANY CHOICES! Here's my assortment. Don't be jealous.
The top one has smooth paper great for drawing. Contestant number 2 is a Moleskin. We have still not bonded. I like the size and feel of it, but the paper quality is odd. The third one is a lined notebook with BIG BEN on it. I have this affinity to England and I saw Big Ben in a meditation vision, so I own this book now. The next one is a Hemp journal I bought yesterday. The papers are deliciously handmade. I have a project for this one I can't wait to do. The last one is my daily journal. The leather is squooshy and pages soft and bendy. Great for carrying around. See, they all have purposes. It's not like I don't use them or anything. Then there is that lovely journal I saw the other day in Raven's.... Read the rest of this post

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10. Write a story in these?

Inspirational, aren't they? (Although I don't know about the Dum Dum one.)

Get them here.

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