Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What a Trip! (Part two)


Saturday, September 27: National Book Festival day had finally arrived! The activities were due to start at 10:00 but the Sisters agreed that after the long, exhausting previous day, we wouldn’t rush. We decided that getting there at 11:00 would be a good option.

Our new friend, Ronald Simons, was once again at his post at the Metro, as helpful and encouraging as before. If he sends all the area passengers off with smiles, the way he did for us, he is a terrific Metro ambassador.

This time, when we reached the Archives Metro stop, we joined a vast horde of people walking towards the National Mall. Parents held their children’s hands, couples hurried down 7th Street, and groups of friends headed for Madison Drive.

There were over a dozen huge tents. Some were set up for speakers, others for displays, and one—sponsored by Barnes & Noble—sold books by the featured speakers. Turquoise was the color of the day. Volunteers in turquoise shirts were everywhere. Free, turquoise, canvas bags were given out so each person could take advantage of the plethora of free stuff being given out.

We’d planned to meet our designer/illustrator Lisa Greenleaf at the mall. The rest of the Sisters went off to the Pavilion of the States to connect with Mary Russell from New Hampshire’s Center for the Book. There they had their picture taken with James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress.

Mary Russell and her associates had set up a great display for our book. It included quizzes for kids to do using Women of Granite. Children who visited the Pavilion of the States were given a United States map and encouraged to stop by every state display. At each table the state's hosts stamped the map and handed out free gifts: books, bookmarks, or, in the case of the Ocean State, Rhode Island, deliciously creepy miniature sea creatures. Very cool!

Lisa, her family, and the Write Sisters made lots of contacts. We spoke with the people from Massachusetts, California, and Texas about our upcoming “Women of …” books. Diane got to hear the new poet laureate speak for a bit. Mur met women from the American Library Association where her youngest daughter works.

All in all, a very impressive day. It was amazing to see such a great number of people all gathered in one place to celebrate books. The estimates are that 120,000 people attended the event. Imagine, enough bibliophiles to fill nearly two Super Bowl football stadiums worth of seats. Very cool, indeed.

Monday, September 29, 2008

What a Trip! (Part One)

The Write Sisters are home recuperating after a whirlwind weekend in Washington, D.C. It was time to celebrate and we managed to do a pretty good job of it.

As you blog readers already know, our first collaborative book, Women of Granite: 25 New Hampshire Women You Should Know was chosen by New Hampshire’s Center for the Book to represent our state at the National Book Festival. When the Write Sisters heard that news, our first reaction was “Road trip!”

We flew to Baltimore and rented a Sistah’s-mobile (also known as a Chevy Uplander mini-van) and headed for our hotel in Alexandria. The efficient folks at the Holiday Inn were ready for us so we were able to check into our rooms early and start exploring.

The hotel is located one parking lot away from D.C.’s fine Metro system. We abandoned vehicle and valises and headed for the train. At the station we met Ronald Simons, the world’s most helpful Metro employee. I had two kids attend college in the District, spent lots of time there, and was very familiar with the Metro system. However, it had been a couple of years since my last visit and the ticket machines looked a little different. Mr. Simons expertly explained the machine’s workings and we were soon on our way up the escalator to the train.

We got out at the National Archives stop and headed to the mall. I can’t speak for the rest of the Sisters but I still get a thrill when I walk out into our Nation’s Capital. It is a truly magnificent city. By international standards, we are a young, young country but I believe our capital city easily competes with any other major city in the world.

We could see the huge tents set up on the mall for the National Book Festival. It already looked pretty impressive, but we had no idea how fabulous it would be.

Our first stop was the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum. We spent several lovely hours there. It would take weeks to explore the artifacts in just this one museum. We didn’t try to see it all. Instead, we focused on truly enjoying a few areas: the mammal exhibit, the new ocean exhibit, prehistoric life, the Hope diamond, and ancient civilizations. We didn’t rush. We read the placards. We watched the short videos. We collected ideas for new books.

Afterwards, we had dinner at a D.C. landmark: Old Ebbitt Grill. (The Oldest Saloon in Washington) Great burgers! Great beer! Great company!

At this point, it wasn’t extremely late, but the Sistahs had been up since before dawn. We needed sleep.

Tomorrow: The Festival.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Poetry Friday--Bite-Sized Poems

I'm one for terseness. I think a writer should say what she wants in as few words as possible. That's one of the reasons why I love haiku--there is an absolute minimum of words used to capture a moment.

There are some writers for children who have also undertaken to write with a minimum of words. They write what I'll call bite-sized poems. I suppose the queen of the bite-sized poem is Valerie Worth who came out with four collections of small poems. They've been collected in All the Small Poems and Fourteen More. In Peacock and Other Poems, she continues with the small poems. Here's one to whet your appetite:

They always
End up

The soft

The round

Can't you see a kid relating to this little bite of life? I can. I've found many a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my lunch bag. The bread battered, the impression of the offending fruit surrounded by the jelly squeezing through. Everyday life painted in a mere 13 words! Wonderful.

Here are two other writers of bite-sized poems for you to explore:

James Stevenson and his corn collections--Popcorn, Corn Flakes, Sweet Corn, Corn-Fed, Corn Chowder, and Candy Corn. Stevenson's illustrations are sometimes an intricate part of the poem, one doesn't make sense without the other.

Kristine O'Connell George and her Little Dog books--Little Dog Poems, Little Dog and Duncan, both of which are utterly delightful! (And I'm a cat person!)

The Poetry Friday Round-Up is happening at www.missrumphiuseffect.com. Check it out.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Typical Public Appearance

On Sunday, several of the Sisters appeared at a gathering of local writers. I believe it was to showcase the writers of NH, and nearby MA, and to expose members of the community to the talents in their own back yard. There was a wonderful turnout of about 35 writers, but, the only audience appeared to be the other writers and the family members they dragged along.

We didn't sell much (one book on my end), but we did make contacts. Maybe some will result in future library or school visits. If so, it was worth the time and effort.

The view of the stage where the writers read from their work.

One writer insisted that she channels angels. We listened to the messages she relayed. I'm not convinced. What self-respecting angel is going to talk in cliches? I had such high hopes for angels! Perhaps it was the writing, and not the angel, that was the disappointment?

All in all it was a pleasant afternoon--any time spent with friends is good. Any time spent listening to the work of others is also good--if you listen carefully, you learn how not to write!


Monday, September 22, 2008

Happy Birthday Books!

Today's the day to talk about birthday books. Why? Because it's my birthday!

I'm digging way back to 1932 for my first suggestion, Ask Mr. Bear by Marjorie Flack. You may recognize the name, Flack also wrote The Story About Ping, the much loved tale of the duck who gets separated from his family on the Yangtze River. Ask Mr. Bear is a simple story of a boy, Danny, who doesn't know what to get his mother for her birthday, so, he asks his friends. His friends happen to be farm animals. Everything the animals have to give, Danny's mother already has (eggs, wool for a blanket, etc.). Finally the animals suggest asking Mr. Bear. Unfortunately, no one wants to go with him to find the bear, so he ventures into the woods alone. I won't spoil the surprise, but considering this book is for 2-4 year olds, it shouldn't be too much of a mystery!

Ask Mr. Bear is a winner for preschool story hour since it contains a child-sized problem, a little drama (the woods and a possibly scary bear), and a simple, but satisfying ending. Also, it invites after-reading activity since Danny and the animals skip, then hop, then gallop, then trot, then run to find the special gift. It's the perfect way to get the wiggles out of a group!

For a little older group, look for Deborah Lee Rose's Birthday Zoo. This cute picture book introduces some new and interesting animals through its use of rhyme. For example,

"What do we do?"
Asked the emu.
"Make everyone happy,"
said the okapi.
"But where to begin?
asked the shy tamarin.
"Blow up balloons,"
puffed the raccoons.

Forcing a rhyme by using an exotic word doesn't usually work, but it does here! (Please, please, please make sure your end rhymes are not forced! As a former children's librarian I can't tell you how many picture books I had to reject for story hour because the end rhymes were awful, or they didn't scan...but I digress.) The illustrations by Lynn Munsinger are delightful, and she even adds a little lesson by including a recyling bin in with the party mess.

My final birthday book recommendation is Whopper Cake by Karma Wilson and Will Hillenbrand. It's Grandma's birthday and

While Grandma runs some errands,
Granddad ties his apron tight,
props the tattered cookbook up,
and sets to do things right.
(Right odd, that is...)

Of course Granddad is an experimenter, if 2 cups of sugar are good, then 23 pounds of sugar must surely be better. As you can imagine the resulting birthday cake is enormous and must be eaten by everyone in town.

A little older group of listeners, first or second grade, would love this, because by that age, they usually understand the humor of incongruity. Wilson includes a recipe for a normal-sized chocolate birthday cake.

We more "sophisticated" birthday people get margarita cheesecake for our birthday. You'll find the recipe here. (Hint: save yourself the bother of making a crust by purchasing a premade graham cracker one!)


A slightly different version of this post appears on my library blog. It's my birthday, so I'm treating myself to one less thing to do!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel

The Ordinary Poet

Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel escaped the Dust Bowl and survived the Great Depression with her family. She wrote about everything beautifully simply prolifically. I love her work. I hope you do, too. She was 88 years old when she died on April 20, 2007.


No alternative route

only one road leads from


and every town

I pass through

is a place where someone

I have loved

died much too young



and Malibu, California

Medford, Oregon

and El Paso, Texas

heaven forbid that

I should ever stop in

Boise, Idaho


This is not a poem.

It is cold fact.

Five of my brothers.

All young.

Dustbowl Doxology


it was

is now

and ever shall be sweet

in memory

of wild walnut trees

at the spot

where curving banks


the faithful Merced River

and the sound of young

Sunday picnic voices

drifted downstream

Go here to read more about one of my favorite poets:




Happy birthday to Donald Hall. He turns 80 tomorrow.


Note from Diane: this week's Poetry Friday Round-Up is at author amok, where we also get a look at the forthcoming Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Twenty Year Overnight Success

This past Sunday, The Sisters reprised our Build, Maintain, and Ignite Your Writers' Group presentation for NESCBWI critique group leaders. It was an amazing and well-attended event. Afterwards, someone thanked me for our efforts. She also said she was impressed by how successful we were.

That one comment has been bouncing around in my mind ever since. Successful. I hadn't used that word for us yet, but – hey – why not? The release of Women of Granite and the requests for us to speak that come pouring in are enough to remind me that things are starting to pop for The Sisters. It really does feel like success.

The reference to success has me thinking about the success continuum. Over the last week, I've been working on a proposal for the NESCBWI Spring Conference – a proposal aimed at beginning writers. I've been thinking back to my start in the field way back when in 1988. Who knew I'd arrive here? Certainly not me!

All I knew in the early days is that I wanted to write for kids and to have that work published. There was no way I could have imagined six books to my credit and a great group of women to share the writing life.

Actually, there was a way to imagine my future self. That's why I find Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People so helpful. Covey's first three habits resonate. The first is that you are the creator of your own future. Covey suggests thinking and writing about it using specific, concrete details. Some do this obituary style. If you're uncomfortable thinking about your own death, try writing what a reporter might say about you ten, fifteen or twenty years down the road. Here's an excerpt from my imagined obit:

Award-winning author, Janet Buell, died this morning. She was 110 years old. Buell wrote over seventy-five books for young people. The author's repertoire spanned many genres, including picture books, creative nonfiction, and novels.

Buell was known for her brilliant use of language, and for creating engaging, quirky characters. She was a well-respected figure among authors of children's and young adult books, and for mentoring up-and-coming authors of juvenile literature, including world renowned authors Minto Abular and Faye Belvedere Wright. As a lecturer and teacher, she traveled widely. She was a member of The Write Sisters, a group of seven women with over 550 children's books among them. The group wrote a series of state biographies on the often overlooked and under-appreciated women of each of the 50 states.

So, start thinking about what you want people to be saying about you down the road. The analogy is fitting, because this imagining will help you create a map of your future. Later this week, I'll write more about creating your road map with the second habit – Begin with the End in Mind.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Write Sisters Traveling Road Show!

We had a fantastic time today presenting our "The Write Sisters: Build, Maintain, and Ignite Your Writers' Group" to an enthusiastic group of New England SCBWI critique group leaders and representatives. We were overwhelmed by the positive response! All seven of the Sisters attended and we wish to thank SCBWI, Jan Kozlowski, Barbara Johansen Newman, and all their helpers for making our part of the program so easy!

Here's just a mini look at the afternoon.


Friday, September 12, 2008

Poetry Friday - Fun with words

Okay, you've been warned that I'm not a poet. So today I am sharing, unabashedly, two of my favorite poems.

The first was in a picture-book poetry anthology I loved to shreds as a child - one of those cheap books our moms bought at the grocery store so we'd be quiet.

Eletelephony~Laura E. Richards(1850-1943)

Once there was an elephant,
Who tried to use the telephant-
No! no! I mean an elephone
Who tried to use the telephone-

(Dear me! I am not certain quite
That even now I’ve got it right.)

Howe’er it was, he got his trunk
Entangled in the telephunk:
The more he tried to get it free,
The louder buzzed the telephee-

(I fear I’d better drop the song
Of elephop and telephong!)

This bit of silliness is etched in my brain from constant repetition, but oh how I do love words!

Another favorite is equally trite but a bit more grown-up: almost any Frost is going to resonate with a New Hampshire girl, but this one is so potent and poignant.

The Road Not Taken ~ Robert Frost (1874-1963)

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I have the faintest memory of watching him read aloud, on tv. Magnificent.


Note: This week's Poetry Friday Round-Up is being held at Biblio File.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

This is not a political post!

My paper recycling bin is overflowing these days. I have several mailing addresses, so I receive multiple copies of every bulk mailing – and these days that means political adverts! I’ve already made up my mind about most of the races, so the glossy postcards and fake newspapers and pretend greeting cards all wind up in the with yesterday’s scrap paper. But along with the glut of tv ads, these promotional pieces have reminded me of two things that are very important to us as writers, particularly writers for children.

The first of these is the power of pairing language and image. We know this, of course, but these political guys REALLY know it. And they work it deliberately and skillfully.

Take for example a John Sununu ad that’s currently playing about every other inning on the Red Sox broadcasts. It shows us John climbing mountains and playing with his family, and almost all of the narrative is just a series of adjectives and phrases. “Faster” “Stronger” “Funny” “A good dad.” The first three times I saw the ad I thought it was a joke – it seemed like one of those parodies you see on John Stewart or SNL. Eventually I figured out that it was a legitimate ad—but I still didn’t get it. I said to my husband “What is this? None of those characteristics have any relevance to whether or not he is or would be a good senator?” Tom, however, nailed it – “That ad is all about making Jeanne Shaheen look old.” Boy do I feel dumb. But I'm still not sure whether or not the ad works.

Lest anyone think I’m being partisan, there is a glossy flyer out with a really nice photo of Sununu and Bush arm-in-arm, waving to the crowds. The text is all about the troubles that face ordinary people today. You get well into the piece before you realize it’s NOT a Sununu “trust me, and send me back to continue working for your interests” piece but a Shaheen “look, it’s all their fault” piece. But seriously, if you didn't read it, you'd think it was pro-Sununu. Is that a risk the Shaheen people were willing to take, or did they not realize it?

The point is, the images make the words more powerful, and this is a critical piece of what we do in our writing. Whether the images are actual illustrations in a picture book or the word-pictures we conjure in our readers’ minds, they ramp up the impact of our language, reinforcing our message – if they’re done well. If they’re ill-chosen, they may equally powerfully undermine our message, or weaken our story. We need to be exquisitely aware of them, designing them carefully and placing them deliberately throughout our work. This is what makes the opening vignettes in our Women You Should Know series so valuable. It’s not just that they “hook” the reader, it’s that they place an image in the mind of the reader that encapsulates the story and personality of the woman profiled.

The other lesson of these campaign bits is a long-standing personal peeve, but bears restating. People believe what they read. Paired with images, those beliefs become powerful and set in the mind. As writers, particularly as writers for children, we bear an enormous responsibility to make sure that what we are teaching our readers is as accurate as we can possibly make it. In politics it has apparently become acceptable to make blatantly false statements without fear of reprisal or even embarrassment (I used to think it was illegal?). As writers we cannot allow ourselves the luxury of sloppy or inaccurate research and writing. Our readers will believe what we write. In most cases they will not double-check our facts. In a few cases they will tell others what we told them. Our quasi-facts will take on a life of their own. (Most people know that I harbor a particular antipathy for a well-known New Hampshire author whose fiction is supposedly based on fact, but whose “research” would put a 7th grader to shame.)

So that’s it from my soapbox today. Write powerfully and write accurately, but write on!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Poetry Friday--State Poems

According to the Library of Congress there are only five states that have an official state poem! Why is that? I'll bet all 50 states have a bird, or a flower, or a song. Here in New Hampshire we have multiple state songs!

We even have a state tartan! Yes, an official tartan!
3:21 State Tartan. –
I. There shall be an official state tartan of New Hampshire. The sett for the New Hampshire tartan shall be as follows:
green 56; black 2; green 2; black 12; white 2; black 12; purple 2; black 2; purple 8; red 6; and purple 28.
II. The colors listed in paragraph I represent the following: purple represents the purple finch and the purple lilac, the state bird and the state flower; green represents the green of the forests; black represents the granite mountains; white represents the snow; and red represents all state heroes.

So I ask you, why not a state poem?

If I were a teacher, I'd assign my class to write a state poem. I'd start by introducing the kids to Robert Frost's volume of poems called New Hampshire. Just by looking through the contents page, one can get a glimpse of what was important to Frost to immortalize: "Wild Grapes;" "Dust of Snow;" "Gathering Leaves;" "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." Or this short, but telling poem:

A plow, they say, to plow the snow.
They cannot mean to plant it, no--
Unless in bitterness to mock
At having cultivated rock.

Next I would get the kids to think about what's important to them about their home state, then brainstorm their ideas. Then we'd all work together to come up with the quintessential New Hampshire poem. Who knows, it could end up being NH's official state poem!


Note: This week's Poetry Friday Round-Up is at Wild Rose Reader. Check it out!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Happy Feet!

Just a quick bit of advice--if you're having a problem with a scene, or pacing, or anything related to your writing project--go for a walk. Just you and your happy feet. Walk quickly and leave your cell phone behind. The fresh air will do you good. You'll find that your mind clears and the problems you've been having with your writing start to work themselves out. Resist walking with a friend. Company may be good, but if you want solutions, just you, your happy feet, and your thoughts are the best!

And, if you need more of an incentive to walk, there are the health benefits to consider! Who doesn't want to be healthier?

Twenty minutes will do wonders for you and your writing.


Monday, September 1, 2008

Strong Women

In Women of Granite: 25 New Hampshire Women You Should Know andWomen of the Bay State: 25 Massachusetts Women You Should Know, all of our subjects fit the term, "strong women." By strong, I mean they worked to succeed in a field where only men had been allowed to succeed before. By strong, I mean they endured--through poverty, through illness, through social disapproval. By strong, I mean they spoke their minds in times when women were expected to keep silent. There are so many ways in which the women profiled were strong.

This weekend I was torn. Should I celebrate the selection of Sarah Palin for vice-president, simply because she would be making headway for women in the field of politics? She'd be a model for our children to emulate. She certainly speaks her mind. She's a STRONG WOMEN. But on the other hand, we are polar opposites in values and opinions. So, I'll simply say congratulations to her for a meteoric rise in the political scene.

My point in writing this is to say that in researching the women for my profiles, there were some I may not have picked as friends, but all of them garnered my respect for their accomplishments, and for their strength.

Let's celebrate women and do all we can not to reinforce stereotypes in our writing. Let's agree to disagree on issues. Most of all, let's keep an open mind.

Happy Labor Day! Here's a quote from one of the strong women I profiled, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn:
What is a labor victory? I maintain that it is a twofold thing. Workers must gain economic advantage, but they must also gain revolutionary spirit, in order to achieve a complete victory. For workers to gain a few cents more a day, a few minutes less a day, and go back to work with the same psychology, the same attitude toward society is to achieve a temporary gain and not a lasting victory.