Friday, October 29, 2010

Poetry Friday--Happy Halloween!

Halloween is coming! You can set the stage at your house by reading aloud a few spooky poems. There are tons of books of Halloween poetry for kids, here are some that are currently in print:

An Eyeball in My Garden: And Other Spine-Tingling Poems selected by Jennifer Cole Judd and Laura D. Wynkoop.

Halloween Night: 21 Spooktacular Poems by Charles Ghigna.

It's Halloween by Jack Prelutsky.

Monster Museum by Marilyn Singer.

This first stanza of a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, is pretty spooky even for adults:
The Skeleton in Armor

"Speak! speak! thou fearful guest!
Who, with thy hollow breast
Still in rude armor drest,
            Comest to daunt me!
Wrapt not in Eastern balms,
But with thy fleshless palms
Stretched, as if asking alms,
            Why dost thou haunt me?"

It is a long, narrative poem, that, for me, doesn't live up to the promise of its first stanza, but, if you're interested, you can read the rest here. I think it would make a fun poetry exercise to write an answer to this first stanza's question, and to do it more succinctly than Longfellow has done! Give it a try!

Check out the spooky goings-on at the Poetry Friday Round-Up being hosted by Toby Speed at The Writer's Armchair.

Happy Halloween!


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Women of Wednesday--Way to Go!

The finalists for the National Book Awards were announced a few weeks ago. In announcing them, the writer of the New York Times article, Julie Bosman, started her piece thusly, "The 20 finalists for the National Book Awards include 13 women — the largest number ever..."

How great is that?

Now, we'll wait to see how many actually win! Take a look at past winners here--a pitiful representation by women, isn't it?

For whatever reason, women haven't always been dealt with fairly in the publishing business. But, perhaps that is about to change.

The National Association of American Pen Women, founded in 1897 for "mutual aid, advice, and future development," notes on its History page,
More than a decade into its second century, 55,000 writers, artists and musicians have been proud to call themselves Pen Women. Many of the battles fought by the founders have largely been won, but other challenges remain. For professional women, parity with men in the workplace is still a goal to be achieved.
Let's support all creative women to the best of our abilities (that means in many cases, by buying their work!). One day, 13 out of 20, will no longer be news, but simply business as usual!


Monday, October 25, 2010

Mentor Monday: Black (Brown, Red, Yellow, White) Like Me

Lynn Capehart’s “The Importance of Inclusionary Writing” appears in the October, 2010 issue of The Writer magazine. It points out how characters of color are described in many stories.

Capehart’s premise is that some writers describe their non-white characters only by race. And, she says, they “…use race alone to delineate the character, as if he or she were a generic stand-in for the entire race, and not an individual with a unique set of talents and ticks.”

I could describe a character e.g. as tall, with thinning gray hair, his left shoulder perpetually slumped from a high school skiing accident. His friend, a short black man, walks by his side. The description, “black man” is supposed to be enough. The first description doesn’t include race. Perhaps, because I am a white writer, you assume my character is white, too. But read it again, my first character could be nearly any race.

I understand what Capehart is trying to say. I’ve been listening to a mystery novel and one character, a hotel concierge, is described as “a Dominican…” (as in the island, not the religious order). Took me right out of the story as I wondered how the main character, a white police detective, knew he wasn’t a Latino from somewhere else? Either this was author intrusion in this third person novel, or the character appeared in earlier novels. Either way, the description didn’t do much for me, the reader.

The ideal, Capehart says, would be for “All characters of equal weight in a scene [to] be created [described] equally…” The aforementioned “Dominican” was important in the scene as the witness to a crime. The author didn’t work very hard to describe him. Why not?
I started thinking about how we as writers for children describe our characters. I decided to go to the experts, the Newbery winners. How do these writers introduce new characters? Let’s look at a few.

1950: Amos Fortune: Free Man by Elizabeth Yates. Chapter 1: Africa
“At-mun, the young prince, was tall and powerfully built, though he had seen no more than fifteen summers. He carried his head high and his eyes flashed.”

1959: Onion John by Joseph Krumgold. Chapter 1
“Onion John was a lot different from anyone I ever hung out with before. Like his age. No one actually knew how old he’d be. But considering he was six feet and three inches tall with a mustache it was a good guess that Onion John was well along in years…Most of the words he used were full of x’s and z’s and noises like ptchky and grvtch.”

1977: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. Chapter 1
“…pulling with exasperation at the high collar of the Sunday dress Mama had made me wear for the first day of school…and dragged my feet in the dust, allowing it to sift back onto my socks and shoes like gritty red snow. I hated the dress, and the shoes…they imprisoned freedom-loving feet accustomed to the feel of the warm earth.”

2001: A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park. Chapter 1
“Tree-ear was so called after the mushroom that grew in wrinkled half-circles on dead or fallen tree trunks, emerging from the rotten wood without benefit of parent seed. A good name for an orphan… Tree-ear knew the story of his friend’s name. ‘When they saw my leg at birth, it was thought I would not survive,…Then, as I went through life on one leg, it was said that I was like a crane. [Crane-man said] But besides standing on one leg, cranes are also a symbol of long life.’ True enough… He had outlived all his family.”

Described in order: a young black man, a homeless person who is perhaps Slavic, a pre-teen African American girl, and a Korean 12-year-old and his guardian. Not one writer uses skin color or race as part of his/her character description. Yet, in a few words we learn a great deal about each person and can begin to become emotionally involved with their stories.

Lynn Capehart’s article opened my mind. I will find myself paying closer attention to the descriptions of all the characters in the books I read—and write.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Poetry Friday: Happy Birthday, Sis

Don’t get me wrong, I love my three brothers.


When I was eleven—and they were 8, 6, and 2, and said my name so that it sounded like the noise a cow makes, and got into my stuff, and made fun of my developing breasts—not so much.

But just before I turned 12, I learned my mom was pregnant again. The idea that the childhood torture would continue indefinitely, was too much to bear. I became pro-active. I wished, I prayed, I cajoled God with promises of perfect behavior. Every day I wore something pink. It worked. (Don’t TELL me genetics was at work. I know what I know.) On October 18, 1962, I ceased to be the only daughter in the family.

So Happy Birthday to my sister, Marie-Ann. I always say she was worth the wait. And, I can’t imagine life without her, any more than I can imagine a salt free diet.

Love Like Salt

by Lisel Mueller

It lies in our hands in crystals
too intricate to decipher

It goes into the skillet
without being given a second thought

It spills on the floor so fine
we step all over it

We carry a pinch behind each eyeball

It breaks out on our foreheads

We store it inside our bodies
in secret wineskins

At supper, we pass it around the table
talking of holidays and the sea.

This week’s Poetry Friday round-up is being hosted by Mary Ann (Great Kid Books). Stop by!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Women of Wednesday: And One More Thing…

You’d have to have been living on the Space Station Mir not to notice that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Everything in stores that is not orange and black is probably pink. My yogurt tops are pink this month. I own a pink hair dryer, for pete’s sake. Who knows how much of that purchase went to research?

The American Cancer Society estimates the chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer some time during her life is a little less 1 in 8.

12 ½ percent of the population.

3 out of 7 of the Write Sisters have battled breast cancer. Our statistics add up to 43% of our group. And that’s just our group. I’m not counting our family members and friends who have received the dreaded diagnosis.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation has done a fabulous job of raising awareness. Most of the money raised by buying pink M & Ms, pink-topped yogurts, and other products goes to their group.

Today, I’d like to make you aware of another group that is working to eradicate breast cancer. You can join for free and I urge you to do so. The Avon cosmetics company has joined Dr. Susan Love’s foundation to create the Army of Women. The purpose of this group is to provide researchers with the names of one million women who would be willing to participate in various studies. You don’t need to be a breast cancer survivor to be a member. You can be any age. Dr. Love explains it this way:

Over and over I’ve heard scientists lament how difficult it is for them to find the volunteers they need for research studies. I’ve long believed that helping scientists overcome this obstacle would accelerate our understanding of what causes breast cancer and how to end it. By responding to this need, the Army of Women will change the face of breast cancer research.”

Susan Love, MD, MBAPresident, Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation

To join, just click on this link:

Whenever a study is underway, you will receive an e-mail explaining what the study involves, where it’s being held, and who qualifies to participate. Some studies require filling out surveys. Others require medical testing (e.g. giving blood samples). Some studies ask for women of a certain age (e.g. post-menopausal). It takes less than a minute to read the summary and click yes, no, or tell me more.

Go ahead. Sign up. Be a Woman of Wednesday.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mentor Monday: Inspired by Inspiration

Billy Crystal: When Jenny came out of the recovery room with Ella, it was such a privilege to be with her. An hour after I came home, I wrote I Already Know I Love You… This book was the easiest creative birth I've ever had.

I don’t believe in inspiration.

Don’t get me wrong. I think ideas can come to us. I think stories can spring from all kinds of places and experiences. I think great stories had to come from somewhere.

What I don’t believe in is the kind of inspiration that some writers claim exists. They talk about inspiration that supposedly comes from out-of-the-blue and allows the writer to put down, in one magical sitting, an entire story, poem, or screenplay.

Generally, this claim is made by the newbie. It is often followed by other claims: writing is easy; my critique group members are so picky; publishers just don’t “get” my work.
I think people who heard Billy Crystal talk about his children’s book got the wrong idea. It sounds like Billy just went home after the birth of his first grandchild and put the story down, dropped it off at his publisher’s and waited for the residual checks to come in.

Don’t forget that this book was not Crystal’s first. He is a comedian—which means he had to learn to not only write good jokes but pay attention to pacing and word play. He’d already had a success with his autobiographical 700 Sundays. He’d also had nine months to think about his grandchild’s birth and what it meant to him. He did a lot of mental pre-writing before his “magical” moment.

Good writing is hard work. It requires practice and diligence. Just about anyone can learn to put words together to form sentences. True artist-writers work and re-work these sentences.

If you doubt this concept, look around your home and notice the things others have made. I’m sitting in my office looking at a built-in shelving unit. It’s ten years old and the maple boards are as strong and straight as the day they were put in, despite the fact that they hold hundreds of books. The stain is dark and smooth. I can rub my fingers along any piece or edge and will never feel a rough spot. The carpenter who built these shelves built many more before it. He patiently measured every piece of wood and cut them carefully. He slowly sanded the boards until they felt polished. He applied the stain evenly. He hid every hole so the shelves look as if they are being held together by sorcery instead of nails and glue.

Could I build a set of shelves? Probably. Just about anybody can go to a lumber yard, buy a few boards and nails and fashion them together. What I would build might look like a shelf and might even hold books, but it would never look like the unit in my office. Before I could duplicate the unit in my office I would have to build hundreds of shelves, and learn from my mistakes, and probably get an experienced carpenter to help me become better at the craft.

Writers should do the same. Don’t think of inspiration as the cause of your story’s creation. Think of it as a just the beginning. Inspiration is not a fire. It is only the match. The fire must be built up and tended and stoked before it can provide heat. Story inspiration, too, is just the start of something bigger and better. Take your story and make sure all the story elements are strong. Smooth out the rough parts. Add a little color.

Once you’ve polished your work, it will continue to be read for years to come.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Poetry Friday--Cat Poems

Okay, I'm not going to lie, I needed an excuse to show a Simon's Cat video, so, I'm doing a post on cat poems.

If you've ever owned a cat, you know that the animator has got the cat moves down pat!

Cats and poets go together. My favorite cat poems are the ones that capture a cat neatly in words.

This one, by Kay Ryan, is new to me, but I knew upon first reading that it is a keeper:
A Cat/A Future

A cat can draw
the blinds
behind her eyes
whenever she
decides. Nothing
alters in the stare
itself but she's
not there. Likewise
a future can occlude:
still sitting there,
doing nothing rude.
Marge Piercy has caught the essence of the cat/human relationship in "The Cat's Song,"
Mine, says the cat, putting out his paw of darkness.
My lover, my friend, my slave, my toy, says
the cat making on your chest his gesture of drawing
milk from his mother’s forgotten breasts.

Read the rest here.
Here's another by the famous Anonymous:
Quick!    quick!
       The cat's been sick.

Where?    where?
       Under the chair.

Hasten!    hasten!
       Fetch the basin.

Alack!    alack!
       It is too late,
The carpet's in
       An awful state.

No!    no!
       It's all in vain,
For she has licked it
       Up again.
A haiku by Issa, written in 1824, shows us how deeply we humans love our cats:
plum blossoms--
dried sardines scattered
on the cat's grave

translated by David G. Lanoue
If you're on the prowl for more poetry, Liz in Ink is hosting the Poetry Friday Round-Up.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Women of Wednesday--Statuesque Ladies

Did you know that each of the 50 states has two representative statues in the U.S. Capitol? A law passed in 1864 allows for statues "...of deceased persons who have been citizens thereof, and illustrious for their historic renown or for distinguished civic or military services such as each State may deem to be worthy..."

Originally the collection of statues was held in the National Statuary Hall, but, by 1933, the Hall could not physically hold all the states' statues. Today, only 38 statues reside in the Hall and the rest are displayed throughout the Capitol building.

A complete list of the statues can be found here. If I counted correctly, of the 100 statues, only 7 are women! Women sculptors fair better--of the 100 statues, around 15 were created by women.

Helen Keller was added in 2009 as a replacement. A law passed in 2000 allowed the states to replace statues (so far, only three have been replaced). Take a look at the list of statues for your state. Is there a statue of a man that could be replaced by a more notable woman? The lobbying of a state legislature for a replacement might be memorable lesson in civics for a Girl Scout troop, or a worthy project for a group of college sorority sisters. It's neither a quick nor easy task as outlined here, but it is achievable!


Photo of the statue of Jeanette Rankin courtesy Architect of the Capitol

Monday, October 11, 2010

Mentor Monday--A Fun Site for Writers

Say you're writing an article for children about cats. It's always nice to have a bit of extra information ready if the editor asks for sidebar material.

Harper's Magazine Index is the place to go for quirky information that is just right for a sidebar or two.

I typed in the word "cats" and got results such as these:

Chances that an adult [human] will die after a fall from six stories: 9 in 10

            Chances that a cat will: 1 in 10


Estimated number of pounces it takes a cat to catch a rodent: 3

The results found on Harper's Index run from the obvious to the totally ridiculous, but all the information presented also contains a source.

Allow yourself a little play time when you visit the site, but beware, you could become addicted!


Photo by Sandy Austin

Friday, October 8, 2010

Poetry Friday

By Barbara J. Turner

She came into the world
a dollar bill,
fresh and crisp,
hot off the press,
a brand new member of the
strong and steady Greenback family.

But something happened.
At sixteen, she changed,
turned into two quarters,
four dimes, a nickel
and five pennies overnight.
No one saw it coming.

She quit school,
ran off to the city and
joined a gang of nickel slugs
and Canadian quarters,
worthless folks, unwelcome
even in the grimiest payphone.

The penny arcade crowd lured her next.
Day after day she shushed
down slippery steel slopes
into the hot grubby hands
of pre-pubescent teens.
It was fun and exciting and she liked it.

But over time, she lost herself.
Just bits and pieces.
A nickel here, a penny there,
changes so small
she barely noticed.
When she did, it was too late.

She’d become a fifty-cent piece,
copper with nickel plating
and no silver at all,
freakish and strange,
an object to gawk at,
as odd as a Susan B. Anthony.

She took up with a ruble
who devalued her,
brought her down even lower,
then kicked her to the curb.
In the streets, people whispered,
“Loose change,” and she knew it was true.

Her green was gone.
Even her nickel plating.
She was all copper now,
a dull, worthless penny hovering
on the edge of a sewer
ready to roll in and die.

And then she saw it,
a sign in a window,
bright green letters wrapped in dollar signs.
‘Bank with us and earn.’
‘Build your savings.’
Salvation was at her fingertips.

She could save herself.
She could check herself in.
It would take time, and work, but she could grow.
She could bounce back and become
the dollar bill she’d been before.
She could even become stronger.

Why not? There was nowhere to go
but up, and this was America, damn it!
her home, her country,
the land of the Almighty Dollar
where cotton was king and . . . .
No. . . . er, wrong metaphor.

But she could come back.
She would come back.
Why shouldn’t she?
After all, tomorrow was another day.
(She’d read that once in a book.)
Oh yes. Tomorrow was another day.

Stop by Carol's Corner for this week's Poetry Friday

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Women of Wednesday - Jackie Mitchell: The Girl Who Struck Out Babe Ruth

That’s right. Babe Ruth. And once she finished with him, she struck out Lou Gehrig-two of the best hitters in baseball at that time, and some might say in all of baseball’s history. She took the Babe out in four pitches, and Lou Gehrig in the next three. Lou, it appears, took it all in stride. Not the Babe. The Babe had a bit of a hissy fit.

Yep. The big Babe whined and pouted. He threw down his bat and yelled at the umpire, and was later quoted in the Chattanooga Times as saying, "I don't know what's going to happen if they begin to let women in baseball. Of course, they will never make good. Why? Because they are too delicate. It would kill them to play ball every day."

Women were in baseball at that time (1931). At least, there were no rules saying they couldn’t play. Jackie, whose real name was Virne Beatrice Mitchell, had spent a lot of time with her dad at the local ball parks. Her next door neighbor was Dazzy Vance, a Major League pitcher who would later be inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame. He was teaching her a few pitching tricks when she was just five and six years old.

Jackie also attended baseball school in Atlanta, Ga, and played on a women’s team in Chattanooga, TN. She worked for what she wanted. She paid her dues. When the owner of the Chattanooga Lookouts saw her play, he offered her a contract to play on his Class AA Minor League team. He didn’t have a problem with her being female.

And then came the exhibition game against the New York Yankees. Seventeen year old Jackie Mitchell stepped out on the mound to pitch against the great Babe Ruth. She struck him out in four pitches. And that’s what really upset the Babe. He had been beaten by a girl. A seventeen year old girl. His ego had been crushed like a junk car in a metal grinder.

If Babe Ruth hadn’t been such a babe-y, who knows what might have happened to Jackie Mitchell. Who knows where Major League Baseball might have gone. But the Babe was a baby, and a few days later, Kennisaw Mountain Landis, the Commissioner of baseball, announced that baseball was ‘too strenuous’ for women. He voided Jackie’s contract, and that was the end of women in the Major Leagues until 1992.

And what happened to Jackie? Well, she played professionally on non-Major League men’s teams for the next few years, but ‘barnstorming’ as it was called, was more of a sideshow than a game. She was once asked to play an inning while riding a donkey.

She gave it up at age 23 and worked in her father’s optometry office. In the 1940’s, she refused to come out of retirement to play with the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. (She would have been about thirty then.) And when she was almost seventy, the Chattanooga Lookouts invited her back to throw out an opening pitch.

But in between all those years? Your guess is as good as mine. I do know one thing, though. She wasn’t playing Major League Baseball.

Thanks, Babe.

Jackie Mitchell with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig
Chattanooga Regional History Museum
Dazzy Vance Baseball Card - Wikipedia

Thanks to Andy Broome, Chattanooga Lookouts fan,
sketch artist, Senior Vintage Card Grader with
Beckett Grading Services, and author of the Jackie
Mitchell novella, Her Curves Were Too Much For Them.


So, whose shoe was whose? Janet wore the boots, and Andy wore the sandals.

Since no one guessed correctly, all entries were placed in a bag and a winner was drawn. Congratulations to Charlie Volnek, who wins her choice of any book in the Notable Women Series.

Thanks to everyone who played, and keep an eye out for future contests!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Rejections: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Nobody wants to have their manuscripts rejected, but anyone who’s been in this business long enough to have actually submitted something, knows rejection is part of the game. As writers, we receive far more rejections than acceptances. That’s just the way it is.

But not all rejections are created equal. While they all say the same thing - We don’t want your work - some have more value than others.

The Good

That very first rejection - If you need proof as to whether or not you’re really a writer, this is it. Display it proudly. Editors don’t send rejection letters out to just anybody.

The Form Rejection - My personal favorite. Usually it’s just two or three sentences thanking you for your manuscript and informing you it’s not for them. Straight and to the point. Some people don’t like this type of rejection because it tells them nothing as to why their manuscript was rejected. But does ‘why’ really matter? A rejection is just one person’s opinion. What one editor doesn’t like, another might love. They said they don’t want it. Move on.

The Form Rejection with Editorial Notation - This is usually a helpful hint to make the manuscript better, or a word of encouragement. It says, while your work may not be ready for prime time, it was noticed. Something stood out and made that editor want to respond. It says your work is improving.

The Personal Response - This can be good and bad. In the good category, your work has stood out enough, and made an impact on an editor. She offers you concrete ideas on what she feels works and doesn’t work. She may ask you to revise and resubmit. The letter is clear and easy to understand. It says you’re just about there.

The Bad

The Personal Response - In the bad category, this is really just a form rejection from someone who doesn’t want to send a form rejection. The letter praises your work, then follows up with - but it’s not right for us. The first question that enters your mind is - But if you thought it was that good, why are you rejecting it?


The Fake Advice Letter - These letters pretend to offer helpful advice, but are so ambiguous, everyone who reads the letter interprets it differently. You don’t know what the editor means, let alone what she’s suggesting. And is she saying you can resubmit if you make the changes you think she’s suggesting? The answer is no. It’s really just a letter that says “No thanks,” from an editor who is uncomfortable saying “No thanks” and who is too nice to send a form rejection.

The Ugly

The Totally Honest Rejection - We don’t see too many of these in our politically correct world today, but here are a few examples of ugly rejection letters where the editors said exactly what they thought.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding - “An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.” Rejected 20 times.

The Diary of Anne Frank - “The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.” Rejected 15 times.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov - “…overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian…the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream…I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.’

And the ugliest rejection of all . . . .

The You-Will-Never-Hear-From-Us-Unless-We’re-Interested rejection
- This type of rejection says neither you, nor your work, warrants a reply--not even a simple ‘No thanks’ - which really says more about the publishing house than it does about your work.

So don’t take rejections personally. They really are just one person’s opinion, and as we all know, some people’s opinions are worth more than others. Take what you can from each rejection and move on. To see a good example of this, take a look at the rejection letters Dan Gutman received for his MG novel, Honus and Me.

And remember, what a rejection letter really says is that you are doing your job. You are writing and submitting, which is what writers do. Published or not, you are in the same company as William Shakespeare, Fyodor Dostoyevski, Charles Dickens and Stephenie Meyer.

Write on!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Poetry Friday: Blog for your Breasts Day

Today, in honor of Blog for your Breasts day, in honor of the several Write Sisters who are breast cancer survivors, in honor of the cousin I spent an hour with on the phone last night because she's in that horrible place between the questionable mammogram and the needle biopsy. . . .

I'd like to direct you to this wonderful collection.

Those are not the only poems on the oncolink site, by the way. Here's a sample:

The Mastectomy Poems
12. Epilogue: Nevertheless
Alicia Suskin Ostriker
From The Crack in Everything Copyright © 1996 University of Pittsburgh Press

The bookbag on my back, I'm out the door.
Winter turns to spring
The way it does, and I buy dresses.
A year later, it gets to where
When they say How are you feeling,
With that anxious look on their faces,
And I start to tell them the latest
About my love life or my kids' love lives,
Or my vacation or my writer's block-
It actually takes me a while
To realize what they have in mind-
I'm fine, I say, I'm great, I'm clean.
The bookbag on my back, I have to run.

Poetry Friday is hosted this week by Jennie