Friday, July 31, 2009

Poetry Friday: Dig That Iambic Pentameter!

I was in a play freshman year in high school. I don't remember the name of the play, or even what it was about. All I remember is that it had several beatnik characters, and a poetry reading scene set in a coffee house. (Cut me some slack, Daddy-o! 1969 was, like, forever ago. You can't expect me to remember every little thing.)

There was one line from that play I'll never forget. It was uttered by my friend Lynne's sister Gloria. She was a junior, and had an actual speaking part. After a coffee house reading by one of the Beat poet actors, she said, "Dig that iambic pentameter!" The beatniks in the scene (of which I was one) snapped their fingers in response. It was, like, crazy, man!

I haven't thought of that play in years. This week, I can't stop thinking about it. Damn you, William Shatner! It's all your fault. The only way to claw these images from my mind is to howl. (My apologies to Allen Ginsberg.)

My offering for this Poetry Friday is Howl by Allen Ginsberg. Click over to experience this poem as it was meant to be experienced. I know. I know. This version has been slightly edited. Click here to read the complete (I believe) poem. The performance, however, by Ginsberg and John Turturro is, like, outstanding, man. Snap your fingers if you agree.

Poetry Friday is being hosted by Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Children.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Women of Wednesday: Elizabeth Orton Jones

Elizabeth Orton Jones' life was a testament to the power of excellent parenting. Elizabeth was born in Illinois on June 24, 1910. The eldest of three children, her father was a violinist and her mother a writer and pianist. They encouraged all of their children to be creative, and were genuinely interested in their thoughts and ideas. They structured time each day for the children to read and write, and they urged them to examine art and to draw.

Elizabeth's childhood home was filled with music, laughter and interesting guests. She loved hiding under the table and listening to the grown-ups talk. Her lovingly indulgent parents included their children in almost everything they did, and Elizabeth grew up secure in the notion that she was loved. Her childhood appears to have been as close to ideal as it comes.

After college, Elizabeth went to France to study painting. It was there she discovered her love for drawing children. When she returned to America, she had produced enough art to have a one-person show at the Smithsonian Institution. (Is that still possible?)

Her time in France not only inspired her art, it moved her to write and illustrate her first children's book. Ragman of Paris and His Ragamuffins appeared in 1937. In less than 10 years, Elizabeth was accepting the 1945 Caldecott Medal for her illustrations in Rachel Field's Prayer for a Child.

In between those years, Elizabeth took up residence in Mason, New Hampshire. She stumbled upon a run-down old house while delivering illustrations she'd done for an author who lived in Mason. It had no electricity, running water, or heat, but she fell in love with the place. She had just enough money to buy it, having received her first royalty check for her picture book Twig in 1942 for the exact asking price -- $2,000. She named the place Misty Meadows, and settled in for the next 60+ years.

After Elizabeth won the Caldecott, she caught the eye of an editor looking for an illustrator for Golden Books' 1948 retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. Elizabeth had no interest in the job, and turned it down several times. She finally relented when the money became worth her while. She planned to use it to fix up her beloved Misty Meadows, which she actually used as a model for some of the pictures. She used another Mason house as well, which is now Pickety Place.

By all accounts, Elizabeth lived a happy and fulfilled life in Mason. Around 1953, she began working on a series of murals at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center in nearby Greenfield. She devoted much of her time over the next 50 years to Crotched Mountain. She became so caught up in working directly with the children, that she never quite finished the murals.

In 1971, she helped establish Andy's Playhouse, a children's community theater. She wrote plays and made costumes for the theater until 1985. Elizabeth took the respect and love showered upon her in childhood, and did the same for the children in her life at Crotched Mountain and within the community of Mason. Elizabeth, who never had children of her own, once said, "I think I would ruin them. I'd either work all the time and they'd run wild, or I'd teach them so much they'd hate me."

I don't think anybody ever hated Elizabeth. In fact, she became a much loved figure in her corner of New Hampshire, and was affectionately dubbed "Twig" after the character in the book that bought Misty Meadows.

Elizabeth died on May 10, 2005 in Peterborough, New Hampshire. She was 94.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Mentor Monday: So Many Books, So Little Time

Last Monday, Diane talked about the critical role reading plays in writing development. If you're not doing some professional reading every single day, you're not doing enough professional reading. If you're strapped for time, a good place to start your professional reading is where you started in the first place -- with picture books. You can explore all the elements of what makes a good story, and you'll do it in the time it takes to read 32 short pages. Less than that, really, if you consider several of those pages are taken up with front and back matter.

I ran across a list of the Top 10 Children's Books of 2008 at the
Time/CNN website. It was compiled by Amy Lennard Goehner and is made up entirely of picture books. (That fact is a reminder that when civilians hear the term "children's books," they automatically think picture books, which is probably why Goehner limited her list to picture books. A quick Google search found that Goehner actually edited several sports-themed books for middle graders for Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers, so she is very much aware that children's literature isn't confined to picture books. Which is neither here nor there. Unless you, as a writer, think only picture books when you think children's books. If that's the case, you might still be a civilian.)

Anyway, I thought you could add these books to the reading lists you're compiling. Not because I necessarily think they're the best books of 2008, but because these books make a good starting point for your list of books to read with a hypercritical eye. Goehner does a good job defending her choices, and it will be interesting to see if you agree with her after reading the books for yourself.
  1. The Pencil by Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman
  2. Big Words for Little People by Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell
  3. Bats at the Library by Brian Lies
  4. Splat the Cat by Rob Scotton
  5. Oodles of Animals by Lois Ehlert
  6. Too Many Toys by David Shannon
  7. The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen and Dan Hanna
  8. Alphabet by Matthew Van Fleet
  9. Help Me. Mr. Mutt by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel
  10. The Umbrella Queen by Shirin Yim Bridges and Taeeun Yoo
Make it a goal to read 100 picture books in the month of August, including the 10 from Goehner's list. After, write up your own top 10 list, just to discover what appeals to you personally. Read another 100 in September, then revise the list. Which titles stayed on your list? Which got bumped? Do this each month through December, and you'll have read 500 picture books, which is a good start.

If you're looking for more lists, you'll find a Top 100 Picture Book list at the School Library Journal website. You can also check these out from the National Education Association: Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children compiled in 2007 and Kids' Top 100 Books for Children compiled in 1999.
The teachers' list would make for a great discussion (or argument) starter at your next critique group meeting!

NOTE: Why did I include a picture of Duck and Goose by Tad Hills when it's not among the top 10 in any of the lists I've cited? Because it's on my Top 10 Picture Book List, along with these beauties by Audrey and Don Wood.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunday Sharing--Searching Blogs

There are some people who have no use whatsoever for the "blogosphere," but for others, it's a whole other way to find useful information. The BlogScope site
is an analysis and visualization tool for [the] blogosphere which is being developed as part of a research project at the University of Toronto. It is currently tracking over 36.94 million blogs with 840.79 million posts. BlogScope can assist the user in discovering interesting information from these millions of blogs via a set of numerous unique features including popularity curves, identification of information bursts, related terms, and geographical search.

Try putting in a search term for some topic you are working on, or, even better, put in your name, and see what you find.

I think you'll find it's an interesting site.


Friday, July 24, 2009

Poetry Friday--Lace from Both Sides

Several months ago, I came across an old photo of a little girl literally dripping in lace. The photo dated from around 1900 and was striking in its ostentatious display of wealth. I was moved to write a little poem at the time.

I came across the poem yesterday and I thought I would use it for this post, so, I went looking for the photo that inspired it. Of course, I couldn't find it again, but on the Library of Congress site, I found the photo below that I'll use to accompany it (the amount of lace in this portrait isn't half of what it was in the original photo!).

Portrait in Lace

At what age did you realize
that being a child of privilege
was not always a blessing?
Was it that day you had your
photo taken? The lace you
wore was starched and pressed.
Your hair curled.
Your ribbon positioned
and tied just right. Precisely
primped, your outfit impeccable,
nothing was missed in
the presentation--except,
perhaps, your heart.

© Diane Mayr
While looking for the photo of the child in lace, I came across a series of photos by Lewis Hine that showed children who worked making lace to help support their families. The photo below is from the same era as the photo above. The contrast between the photos is striking--one child deprived of a childhood to provide for another privileged child's adornment.

This week's Poetry Friday Round-Up is at A Year of Reading. Have fun!


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Women of...Warning: Rant Ahead!

Forty years ago, the prejudice against women was blatant--girls heard, "Why should we give you a job/promotion when you're only going to get married and leave." Or, "We've decided to give the job/promotion/raise to a man, since he supports a family." Or, "Everyone knows women don't have what it takes for a job in business/science/sports/[you fill-in-the-blank]."

We've come a long way, but the prejudice still exists, only now, it's a little more subtle. For example, here are some of the Massachusetts curriculum standards for third grade social studies:
* 3.23. Learning Standards: New England and Massachusetts: After reading a biography of a person from Massachusetts in one of the following categories, summarize the person's life and achievements (science and technology (e.g., Alexander Graham Bell, Nathaniel Bowditch, Robert Goddard, John Hayes Hammond, Edwin Land, Samuel Morse)). (H, C)
* 3.24. Learning Standards: New England and Massachusetts: After reading a biography of a person from Massachusetts in one of the following categories, summarize the person's life and achievements (the arts (e.g., Henry Adams, Louisa May Alcott, John Singleton Copley, Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Theodore Geisel, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Frederick Law Olmsted, Norman Rockwell, Henry David Thoreau, Phyllis Wheatley)). (H, C)
* 3.25. Learning Standards: New England and Massachusetts: After reading a biography of a person from Massachusetts in one of the following categories, summarize the person's life and achievements (business (e.g., William Filene, Amos Lawrence, Francis Cabot Lowell, An Wang)). (H, C)
* 3.26. Learning Standards: New England and Massachusetts: After reading a biography of a person from Massachusetts in one of the following categories, summarize the person's life and achievements (education, journalism, and health (e.g., Clara Barton, Horace Mann, William Monroe Trotter)). (H, C)
* 3.27. Learning Standards: New England and Massachusetts: After reading a biography of a person from Massachusetts in one of the following categories, summarize the person's life and achievements (political leadership (e.g., John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Edward Brooke, Benjamin Franklin, John F. Kennedy, Paul Revere)). (H, C)

Can you see what's happening here? Look at the examples given. Of the 32 names listed, only 5 are women! Those who wrote the standards probably didn't think twice about the paucity of women listed. Men had the opportunities to create, invent, to run for public office, etc., so of course they became known, but, women were there, too, working hard. Working long. Working against the odds.

Massachusetts had women scientists such as Florence Bascom, a geologist, Maria Mitchell, an astronomer, and Ellen Swallow Richards, a chemist.

The Bay State had artists such as Harriet Hosmer, Anna Hyatt Huntington, and Katherine Weems, all of whom were sculptors. Women fine artists and writers have always found a home in Massachusetts and there are almost too many to include, so why aren't there more in the standards list?

Massachusetts was home to many businesswomen such as Lydia Pinkham and Joyce Chen. In the fields of education, journalism, and health, women like Mary Bunting, Lydia Maria Child, Margaret Fuller, Dorothea Dix, Mary Eliza Mahoney, and Dr. Marie Zakrzewska lived and worked in Massachusetts.

And as far as political leaders are concerned, there was Edith Nourse Rogers--the longest serving woman in the United States House of Representatives--she ran for Congress, and won, 18 times! Frances Perkins was the first ever woman presidential cabinet member, and she, too, served long and well!

So, why not recognize the abundance of accomplished women in Massachusetts history? Why not acknowledge women's contributions? Prejudice? Ignorance? I wish someone would tell me.

I hope that Women of the Bay State: 25 Massachusetts Women You Should Know helps remedy the situation, we've included many of the women mentioned above. Our publisher, Apprentice Shop Books, is to be commended for taking a chance and actively promoting women. Let's beat this prejudice once and for all!


Monday, July 20, 2009

Mentor Monday--Read!

Sometimes a person who wants to write for kids approaches me as a librarian and asks for advice. And, as a librarian, the best advice I have to offer is to READ!

Want to write picture books? Read picture books. Want to write historical fiction? Read historical fiction. Read anything and everything in the way of children's literature. Read books, magazines, websites designed for children, poetry, activity books, etc. Have I made it clear? To be a writer you have to be a reader.

If you're writing for your eyes only, then of course you don't have to read, but if you're coming to someone for advice, then you want to reach out to readers, too, must be a reader. What else besides children's literature should you read? I'm glad you asked.

Here's a very short list of items that I've found to be of use:

Bernays, Anne, and Pamela Painter. What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers (HarperCollins, 1991).

Brohaugh, William. Write Tight: Say Exactly What You Mean with Precision and Power (Sourcebooks, 2007).

Underdown, Harold D. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books (Penguin, 2008).

Join the Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators, SCBWI, and read all the information that they provide.

Buy a copy of the latest year's Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market (F & W Media). Study the market information, but also read the accompanying articles that contain practical information and writing tips.

That should be enough to get you started! (And I haven't mentioned the information that's available online!)

If anyone wants to suggest a favorite writing book, please comment below.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunday Sharing--Flickr

I'm sure you've heard of Flickr, the on-line service where you can upload your photos for your friends to view, but did you also know that it is a wealth of material for researchers?

If you're looking for a photo of Mary Todd Lincoln, type her name, in quotes, in the search box and click on "SEARCH." You'll turn up photos of Mrs. Lincoln, others of her birthplace, statues, costumed speakers who portray her, historical markers, her grave, etc. There's one of a dress belonged to her, and it leads you to the Chicago History Museum's photostream where you'll be rewarded with other Lincoln treasures.

Photo by ribarnica

Any number of museums and libraries have photos and images from their collections on Flickr--from the Library of Congress to a museum that exists only in its creator's mind and his/her photostream in cyberspace!

I wish I could tell you that there is an easy way to find a list of all the museums/libraries that have collections on Flickr, but I've yet to come across it! If anyone knows, please let us know in the comments below. Mostly, I've found things by using the "search" feature, or, completely by accident. For example, I was looking at the page titled "The Commons" and there I found institutions that are participating in a program that involves the public in identifying old photos. By clicking on one of the institution logos, the one marked EASTMAN, I was brought to that institution's page where I found 804 images.

I know the Boston Public Library has a photostream, but they're not participating in the identification program, so their logo is not among the ones on "The Commons" page. If I do a search under "Boston Public Library," I end up with a gazillion photos of the library itself taken by random people, but, to find the Boston P.L.'s photostream page, I can click on the "People" tab above the search box. It's really a hit-or-miss proposition--some institutions are easier to find than others.


Friday, July 17, 2009

To The Oriole

      OW falls it, oriole, thou hast come to fly
      In tropic splendor through our Northern sky?

      At some glad moment was it nature's choice
      To dower a scrap of sunset with a voice?

      Or did some orange tulip, flaked with black,
      In some forgotten garden, ages back,

      Yearning toward Heaven until its wish was heard,
      Desire unspeakably to be a bird?

-- Edgar Fawcett

Today's Poetry Friday is being hosted by Becky over at Becky's Book Reviews. Check it out!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Women of Wednesday: Dear Donna

We thought of her as Donna Stone -- the wholesome, good-natured mom on The Donna Reed Show. And the steadfast and upbeat Mary Bailey in It's A Wonderful Life. She also starred in From Here to Eternity, and won an Oscar for her performance.

Little did we know she was so much more to hundreds of young men fighting in World War II.

Back then, movie studios encouraged troops to write to Hollywood movie stars during the war as a way to keep morale high. In return, the men received glossy pin-ups of stars like Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, and Heddy Lamar, among many glamorous others. Most of that correspondence has been lost, except for that kept by Donna Reed. The letters from soldiers were discovered in a shoebox in her garage after the actress's death in 1986.

Her children eventually made that correspondence public, and as this article in the New York Times says, the letters offer a look at a time that is quite different than our own -- and a war that is very different than that we're fighting now in both Iraq and Afghanistan. But just like our soldiers, the men of WWII felt -- and write -- of the hard work of war, their loneliness, and their determination.

Unlike the more glamorous movie stars, Donna Reed represented a more accessible and girl-back-home image the young men were drawn to. Sgt. William F. Love wrote this on August. 18, 1944:

'“The boys in our outfit think you are a typical American girl, someone who we would like to come home to!!!!!” Sgt. John C. Dale of Tennessee, a tail gunner on a B-17, told Ms. Reed, then 23, that he wanted her “to be the girl back home that I am fighting for.”'

She wrote back to some of them, too. Edward Skvarna was training to be a right tail-gunner when he actually met Donna at a U.S.O. canteen, and asked her to dance. He kept writing her letters during his tours of duty, and she wrote back on occasion.

Although she didn't talk about the letters with her family, Donna Reed eventually went on to co-chair the anti-war efforts of Another Mother for Peace during the Viet Nam campaign. She hoped fervently that ‘19-year-old boys will no longer be taken away to fight in old men’s battles."

Hats off to wonderful Donna Reed.

You can read the full text of the New York Times article here.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Mentor Monday: Picture Book Dummy

I hadn't really considered myself a picture book writer, but at one Write Sisters critique session, I suddenly found myself -- with the strong encouragement of the Sisters -- with a possible PB manuscript.

One of the best pieces of advice on how to turn it into a publishable piece was from Kathy Deady. She suggested I make a dummy to get a feel for how my manuscript might appear in a published book.

I took printing paper and folded it into what I thought was the requisite number of pages -- 32 (turns out that''s not exactly true -- I should have done more research!). After that, I printed out a couple copies of my text and started cutting it into bits that I pasted onto the bottom of the pages.

Of course, my little experiment was nothing li
ke how the Sail Away, Little Boat (Carolrhoda Books 2006) eventually turned out. That is okay, however. It helped me start thinking the way a picture book illustrator might.

Among illustrators, there is a debate about how arti
sts (and writers) should think about laying out a PB. One good discussion is here at Drawn: The Illustration and Cartooning Blog. It's one of my favorite go-to blogs for so many reasons. The page I'm sending you to is a discussion of an original post by illustrator Bob Staake

This is Staake's version:

His version isn't necessarily correct, and neither is the version suggested by Drawn reader Michael Johnson. This only shows that it pays to know that there is more than one way publishers lay out picture books.

It's also useful to understand the way illustrators work. Another recommended resource is Writing with Pictures by Uri Shulevitz. Harold Underdown at The Purple Crayon has this to say about the book:

"It's not over-praising this book to say that there's no other book like it, and that it's an unmatched resource for anyone involved with children's book illustration. I've had a copy for several years, and I learn something every time I open it. Of course, I'm an editor, but the illustrators I know tell me the same. That may explain why no other book has come along to replace it, in spite of the fact that one section is mostly out of date."

Some websites will suggest to aspiring PB writers that they submit their PB manuscripts in the form of a dummy. The Write Sisters do not submit their own manuscripts in that format. We submit PB manuscripts in simple manuscript form -- usually just a few pages long, with notes to the illustrator as to how the author 'pictures' the final manuscript.

If you'd like to have fun with dummies and book binding in general, there's a good video at

Friday, July 10, 2009

Poetry Friday: Robert Louis Stevenson

As a child I was given a beautiful volume of A Child’s Garden of Verses, and in some ways it remains in my mind the best of all poetry books. Admittedly this reveals my bias for children’s literature, but then we all know about that. And I am not alone in believing that even in his poems for children, Stevenson’s craft and wisdom make for thought-provoking, timeless observations about life. And let us not forget that Stevenson also wrote poetry for adults, as well as novels, short stories and non-fiction essays.

Here is a link to a page offering Stevenson’s complete canon of poetry:

Here is another with a listing of his complete works (I’m not a big fan of reading novels on screen, but this is a great resource:

And finally, a mid-summer favorite to remind us all that life is fleeting and meant to be enjoyed:

Gather Ye Roses

Gather ye roses while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying;
A world where beauty fleets away
Is no world for denying.
Come lads and lasses, fall to play
Lose no more time in sighing

The very flowers you pluck to-day
To-morrow will be dying;
And all the flowers are crying,
And all the leaves have tongues to say,-
Gather ye roses while ye may.

Today's Poetry Friday Round-Up is taking place at Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Women of Wednesday: Viola Johnson Coleman

I’ve recently completed a profile of Dr. Viola Coleman for Women of the Lone Star State. As with all our profiles, there is much more to tell about this noble woman than can be captured in the short span of the book.

Viola Johnson was born in 1919, in New Iberia, Louisiana. Her father was a logger (I didn’t know there was a logging industry in Louisiana – the things you learn when researching other stuff!). Her mother was a laundress, working for a local family. (It’s good to remember, when you’re feeling put upon, that there was a time when doing the laundry could be a full-time, hard-labor job.) I wasn’t able to determine whether Viola’s grandparents lived with her parents but Viola recalled her grandmother telling stories about life as a slave.

In Jim Crow Louisiana, Viola and her brother walked to the Negro school in New Iberia. She remembered being taunted and spat upon by white children riding the bus to their school. The schools for colored students were not as well equipped or staffed as the schools for white children, but Viola did well. She planned to go to nursing school, because she had been so impressed by the work of a Miss Lane who was the public health nurse in her neighborhood. However she apparently missed the deadline for applying to school, and wound up, instead, studying science at Southern Negro University in Baton Rouge. After graduation she became a science teacher at Grambling.

I was reminded of Viola’s story a couple of days ago when I heard someone talking about Rosa Parks on NPR. The writer commented that the legend of Rosa Parks says she was just tired the day she decided not to give up her seat – that this was a purely spontaneous act, when in fact the historic record shows that Rosa was involved in a grassroots effort to protest Jim Crow and that the bus seat episode was a plan of action prepared and waiting for an opportunity to be put into place. NPR's On the Media July 3, 2009:

Similarly, Viola’s historic challenge of Louisiana’s “separate but equal” plan for higher education was a deliberate and intentional effort. The NAACP was looking for good test cases to challenge LSU’s whites-only policy. Viola was asked and agreed to be that test case. She applied to LSU’s medical school knowing full well that they did not take black students, and that there was no Negro medical school at Southern to which they could send her. (A man, Charles Hatfield, applied to LSU’s Law School as part of the same challenge.) They knew that the state’s policy was to pay for qualified Negro candidates to attend programs in other states. Her brother, Jefferson, confirmed that the state paid for her to attend Meharry Medical College in Tennessee (“Where would we have gotten $500?” he said when asked.)

Viola’s son, Conrad, told me that his grandparents would not have allowed Viola to attend LSU if the state had relented—they were sure she would have been attacked and killed if she showed up on campus. The family received numerous death threats as the case wound its way through the courts (with Thurgood Marshall arguing the case for the NAACP). They lost in Louisiana, and by the time the case reached the Supreme Court, Viola had moved to Texas, so the Court dismissed the case without a finding.

In the meantime, Viola’s quiet (but not accidental) activism continued. Denied the loans she needed to establish her practice in New Iberia, she had her husband Raymond (a WWII veteran who had been a friend since high school) started for California, where they believed there would be more opportunities for them. They stopped in Fort Worth to visit a family friend – a doctor named Dorsey whom Conrad told me had been “run out of New Iberia” for his own efforts against Jim Crow. Dr. Dorsey had been solicited by the trustees of the new Midland Memorial Hospital, which had been built with the support of local black citizens with the assurance that they would be able to be treated there. Dr. Dorsey had declined, having by then built an established practice complete with a 30-bed hospital in Fort Worth. When Raymond and Viola stopped on their way to California, he encouraged them to contact the folks at Midland Hospital, who enthusiastically agreed to grant Dr. Coleman admitting privileges.

For the rest of her life, Dr. Coleman continued her work for equality there in Midland. She and another woman forced the integration of the hospital cafeteria by being the first in line for lunch and then sitting there, rather than in the “colored” dining area. The first day, they had the place to themselves. The next day, a few more black employees joined them. The third day, a couple of white employees ate there as well (I wish I knew if they sat nearby or as far away as possible). By the end of the week, the lunchroom was integrated.

In tributes in her later life and after her death, many people declared that Dr. Coleman was a major reason that Midland was spared most of the violence that characterized the civil rights movement in other southern cities. People reported that Viola organized a gradual integration of Midland restaurants by determining that she could organize street protests, and then going to the restaurant owners and extracting agreements that they would allow blacks to eat in their restaurants at certain times in exchange for not protesting. After a while, the times were relaxed and the restaurants were integrated.

It’s a good story, and certainly consistent with other actions Dr. Coleman participated in. Coleman’s son Conrad says neither he nor his older brother could remember any such plan. Still, they would have been very young and maybe would not have known. In fact, they did not know about the LSU case until after Viola died, when Conrad found a suitcase full of newspaper clippings in the closet. (Apparently it just never came up, because a number of high school students who had interviewed Dr. Coleman over the years had written about the case!) Conrad does remember meetings of neighborhood activists around the dining room table at the Coleman home, investigating the school desegregation issue and planning redistricting proposals to be presented to the School Board.

After the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, Dr. Coleman challenged Midland Hospital’s de facto racial segregation. Patients who were able to pay by virtue of personal wealth or good insurance were placed on the fourth floor. Black patients were all placed in the basement. Dr. Coleman admitted a colleague of Raymond’s and directed that she be placed on the fourth floor in view of having excellent insurance (remember when school teachers used to have good health insurance?) When the hospital placed her patient in the basement, Dr. Coleman dramatically removed her to another hospital, and immediately challenged the trustees over the policy, which was removed. Although I cannot document this, I’m certain that this act was also carefully planned.

Throughout her long life, Dr. Viola Johnson Coleman kept up her efforts to bring about equal treatment of all citizens, regardless of their race or ethnicity. So it is more than a little ironic that her son, Conrad, is married to a white woman - an Afrikaner, in fact, whom he met through a nurse his mother had introduce him to when he was a patient in the hospital. (Conrad says his mother made sure that every single female employee was introduced to him during his four-month stay, apparently his parents had begun to despair of his ever marrying!) Conrad says when people asked his mother how she, a life-long activist and leader in the Black community, felt about her son’s choice, her response was characteristic: “Honey, if he loves her, I like her!”

A few years before she died, Dr. Coleman faced a terrible event. Two trusted employees of her clinic took advantage of her, stealing from her accounts and using her identity to establish and abuse credit. In court Dr. Coleman explained how devastating this was: the woman who had personally sent numerous needy young people through school and funded the lawyers who prosecuted the lawsuit to integrate the school district had been turned down by Sears in her attempt to purchase a washing machine. She was hurt, humiliated and out almost $400,000. But a local reporter overheard a conversation after the sentencing, when one of the two defendants came and apologized to her. Dr. Coleman touched the woman and said, quietly, “Thank you, Honey. God Bless You.” No anger, no recrimination – a blessing for those who have hurt you. The essence of the Christian faith that meant so much to her, and indeed the essence of the human dignity that was her life’s campaign.

Dr. Viola Johnson Coleman, quiet activist. What an inspiration!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Mentor Monday: in praise of folders

The Documents folder on my hard drive has 41 “folders” in it (as of today). One of the 41, my “fl” (“freelance”) folder, contains 38 folders. Some of those have multiple folders within them. “Notable Women” contains folders for each state, and each state contains folders for each woman I have written about, and some of those folders have folders within them as well, to organize photos, or newspaper articles, or obituaries. In the DOS days, these were called directories and subdirectories, and they were way more work to set up – but the time they save and the many functions they serve make them well worth it. (Disclaimer – I do not remember which writing mentor it was who taught me the value of setting up nested directories. Whoever you were, I thank you!)

The aforementioned organization of multiple source materials within the folders for particular profile subjects is a pretty obvious use of the “folder” function. Let me suggest a few others that I find very helpful:

The power of excerpting: One of the more difficult things we do, as writers, is to cut our manuscripts to get them down to length. Sometimes this means eliminating pleasing turns of phrase, delightful bits of dialogue, lovingly developed characters or whole episodes of someone’s life. One trick for making this less painful is to create an “excerpts” folder within the folder that contains the manuscript, and then save the deleted material to that folder. In the short run, this quiets the inner narcissist who screams “NO-o-o-o” when any particularly precious bits come up for review – you can convince her that you’re not REALLY deleting the beloved phrases, just saving them for later. In the mid-range, if you discover that you really do want to use some deleted bit (perhaps in a different location) it is easy to find it and bring it back. And in the longer run, trimmed-away material may become the core of some other work about your subject.
To excerpt easily, highlight the passage and copy it (I use because I’m old, you can of course use the mouse). Open a new blank document, paste the passage, and save it to the “excerpts” folder. Now go back and stresslessly delete it from your manuscript. If you need it again, it will be there. If not – well it’s only a little disk space. If you’re deleting a whole character, obviously, you’ll have to clean up the manuscript – but you can begin by copy-and-paste-and-deleting all passages containing the character to a single document. (Note to those about to inform me that I could just do “cut-and-paste” instead of “copy-and-paste-and-delete” – you are obviously NOT OCD.)

And speaking of the kinds of predilections that are common among writers, the “multi-folder” system can help those of us who are distractible, whether or not we would be labeled ADD.
You know how when you’re working on a project, often with a deadline, and your brain presents you with one idea after another that would make a great story? And you take a quick minute to do a search on the topic to see if anyone else has written a book about it already, and two hours later it’s time to go pick up your kindergartener? Next time, create a new folder in your “ideas” folder, give it a name that will remind you of the idea, and get back to work. Or, if you must, type up a quick summary of your brilliant thought and save it into the folder. Do not open your search engine! The idea will be there after your deadline.

A related use is saving bits of information that you come across while researching another project. As soon as you think “what a great story,” create a folder in your “ideas” folder. Copy the website and paste it into a document and save it, or use a printer emulator* to save the page as a pdf. (I don’t recommend just bookmarking the page – it might not be there when you go back to it.) If you’re as old as I am, you may remember doing this with an actual manila folder, into which you tossed newspaper clippings and scraps of dialogue written on the back of junk mail. The good news is, with computer “folders” you can actually do a search of your hard drive and find the material again! And if one of these ideas actually graduates to becoming a project in its own right, you can drag its folder up to the top level in your directory, or put a shortcut to it on your desktop^, and all the bits and pieces will be readily accessible.

Speaking of which -in the old days, we had to type C:/docs/fl/notewom/texas/carsey + to get to the directory in question. Today there are lots of easier ways to find your stuff, many of them simpler or more efficient than the one that comes with your operating system. I use, and really like, a program called Directory Opus ( ). In addition I run Google Desktop ( )which allows me to run a google search for files and cached webpages on my computer. But even if you just use Windows Explorer, I encourage you to create lots of folders. You can even add folders called “reviews” within your project folders, and save copies of great feedback emails you get, or nice mentions on other people’s blogs – or starred reviews in SLJ!

*a printer emulator is a program that shows up as a printer when you click “print” but instead creates a .pdf file, which you can then open with Acrobat Reader. These take up less space on your hard drive than the html files you get if you use the “save page” feature in your browser. There are lots of freeware programs available for this – I use deskPdf ( )

^To create a shortcut from your desktop in Windows/Vista, right-click on the desktop, choose “new” from the drop-down menu, click the “browse” button and then navigate to the folder. An icon will appear on your desktop that will take you directly to that folder. When you’re done with the project, delete the shortcut to keep your desktop from becoming a disaster area (the folder will still be on your computer, you’ll just have to get to it through the directory). In MacOS this is called an alias and I believe the process is to hold down the Command and Option keys while dragging the file to the desktop from the directory.

+Remember when file names couldn’t be longer than 8 characters?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sunday Sharing--Your Public Face

If you publish a book, then chances are you're going to be asked to speak at your local school or perhaps the public library. How is your audience going to see you? What will you wear? And, WHAT are you going to do with your hair?

Show up in clean clothes, with a smile on your face, and you should be all set. Yet I can hear you saying, "But the hair! What am I going to do with my hair? Should I wear makeup?"

Oh, my!

If you're looking for direction, or a style change, then I've got something to share with you! Go to the TAAZ Online Makeover site. You can
experiment with a palette of thousands of colors and shades in products ranging from foundation and concealer to multi-tone eye shadow and lip gloss ... even colored contact lenses! With the addition of a hairstyle or change of hair color, the look is complete. The effects are immediate, simple to use and so life-like that the saved result looks like a real photograph.
Take those saved results to the salon, practice what you've learned with the makeup, and TA-DAH! you're gorgeous! Slap on the smile and go! What's that you say? "What am I going to talk about?" Hey, you're a writer, go write something!


Friday, July 3, 2009

Poetry Friday - Refugio's Hair

I came upon this poem quite by accident. I was researching a Spanish woman from New Spain, which led me to the cattle industry, which led me to branding, which led me to early pictograph writing, which led to oral histories, which led to storytelling, which finally led me to this. It's a great example of story telling in the form of a poem. Each line had me wondering and guessing about the outcome, and the tone and the mood fits it perfectly. And what a last sentence!

Refugio’s Hair

In the old days of our family,
My grandmother was a young woman
Whose hair was as long as the river.
She lived with her sisters on the ranch
La Calera--The Land of the Lime--
And her days were happy.
But her uncle Carlos lived there too.
Carlos, whose soul had the edge of a knife.
One day, to teach her to ride a horse,
He made her climb on the fastest one,
Bareback, and sit there
As he held its long face in his arms.
And then he did the unspeakable deed
For which he would always be remembered:
He called for the handsome baby Pirrín
And he placed the child in her arms.
With that picture of a Madonna on horseback
He slapped the shank of the horse's rear leg.
The horse did what a horse must,
Racing full toward the bright horizon.
But first he ran under the álamo trees
To rid his back of this unfair weight:
This woman full of tears
And this baby full of love.
When they reached the trees and went under,
Her hair, which had trailed her,
Equal in its magnificence to the tail of the horse,
That hair rose up and flew into the branches
As if it were a thousand arms,
All of them trying to save her.
The horse ran off and left her,
The baby still in her arms,
The two of them hanging from her hair.
The baby looked only at her
And did not cry, so steady was her cradle.
Her sisters came running to save them.
But the hair would not let go.
From its fear it held on and had to be cut,
All of it, from her head.
From that day on, my grandmother
Wore her hair short like a scream,
But it was long like a river in her sleep.

-- Alberto Rios

Today's Poetry Friday is being hosted by Tabatha Yeatts

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Mary (Polly) Ingraham Bunting - A Woman for all Seasons

In 1959, the Russians launched Sputnik into space. This upset the American government to no end. The Russians, they worried, were getting too far ahead of us. Why weren’t we making the same strides in science as they were? Where were all our bright young kids? Why weren’t they in college, and how could we get them there? They were so worried, they set up a panel to find the answers and then implement a program to get those kids back in school.

Polly Bunting was on that panel. She was the only woman on the panel. And what this panel learned was that, of all the teens in America not attending college, 98% of them with the highest IQ’s were girls.

The men were crestfallen. All their hopes for their new program just vanished, because everyone knew girls only went to college to find husbands. And once they did, they married, dropped out, and had babies. Women never amounted to anything. The men abandoned the project before it even began.

Polly was shocked. I was too. These were supposed to be smart men. All they had to do was look at Polly. She was a woman. She was married. She had children. And she was sitting on the panel with all of them. Wasn’t that an indication that women had brains and could achieve?

Unfortunately, those men were a product of their time. They believed the stereotype despite the evidence sitting right in front of them. Polly called it a “climate of unexpectation.” Women didn’t achieve because they weren’t expected to.

"Adults ask little boys what they want to do when they grow up,” she said. “They ask little girls where they got that pretty dress. We don't care what women do with their education. Why, we don't even care if they learn to be good mothers."

Polly began studies of her own to find out why smart women didn’t go to college, and what she learned was that the stereotype was true. Women often gave up their education for marriage and family. But she also learned that they did want to return to college. Unfortunately, there was no one to watch the kids or help with the housework, and many colleges openly discouraged married women, and women with children, from returning. They believed women wouldn’t give their full attention to their studies.

Polly realized a women’s track to a degree and a career was not the same as a man’s. A man could marry and have kids and still go to college because his wife was at home taking care of everything for him. Women didn’t have that luxury.

As President of Radcliffe, Polly put what she had learned into practice. She made it possible for women to attend college part time. She had dorms built for married women so their husbands and kids could live on campus with them. She convinced Harvard to go co-ed, which finally allowed Radcliffe women access to Harvard’s libraries.

But what Polly is known most for is the program she set up, allowing women to study in their field, while Radcliffe provided them with free room and board and money for babysitters, housekeepers, and whatever else they needed. These women were getting paid to learn. She called it The Radcliffe Institute for Independent Studies. In her honor, it was renamed The Mary Ingraham Bunting Institute. In 1999, Radcliffe merged with Harvard and the men of Harvard, in their great wisdom, took the honor away from her. They changed the name to The Radcliffe Institute Fellowship Program at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. Clearly a much better choice.

Polly was one of those people who learned things ‘just because.’ She had a genuine interest in everything and everyone. And she was a doer. If something needed to be done, she did it, and if it was beyond her, she found people who could get it done and convinced them to do it.

She was an extremely interesting person, a bit quirky (She would garden topless, and put bandaids over her nipples so they wouldn’t get sunburned. She would stand on her head before a test because it helped her think better.) and she was successful in multiple fields of science, as well as Academia, Government, and Community Affairs. There is so much more to her and what she accomplished than I could ever fit into a blog. For a closer look at her life, read Mary Ingraham Bunting: Her Two Lives by Elaine Yaffe.