Monday, July 25, 2011


The Write Sisters are taking a little time off this week. We'll be back next Monday, August 1. (Yes, it's almost August already!)

In the meantime, enjoy this video of Sarah Vaughn performing "Summertime" by George Gershwin. The video quality isn't great, but her rendition of the song is superb.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Poetry Friday: for Kathy

The Write Sisters are grieving today for our sister Sally and the whole Wilkins clan. Their girl, Kathryn Wilkins Rios, died in Nicaragua on July 9th. The funeral was this past Wednesday.

Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

In love longing
I listen to the monk's bell
I will never forget you
even for an interval
short as those between the bell notes.

                -- Izumi Shikibu
Tabatha Yeatts is hosting Poetry Friday today over at The Opposite of Indifference.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mentor Monday: Why We Do What We Do (2)

Last week I decided to learn why there are so many people willing to try their hand at writing for children when they probably won’t receive the usual rewards (fame/fortune) that most people expect for their work.

I’ve been reading Daniel H. Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. I know a lot of writers. The majority of us get very little return on our “investment.” I asked various authors to share the reason they write for kids. Most of the answers, like the following, were quite altruistic:

“I write for kids because they still wonder and dream and question. They look at the world with fresh eyes, they’re open to new things, and I get to show it all to them.” Barbara T.

Barbara’s answer actually fits right into one of the three reasons Daniel Pink says we can be naturally motivated. According to Pink, there are three intrinsic motivators and, I think for most of us writers, all three exist in the background of our determination to succeed. The three intrinsic motivators are: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Autonomy allows us the privilege of self-determination. We create our own work. We pick the time of day we will complete that work. We choose the way we will present the work. We even get to pick what we’ll wear while we’re working.

“[I write for kids] because I have enough confidence, now that I’m older, to believe that what I have to say is worth writing down. I don’t necessarily write for kids, I write for myself.” Diane M.

“Writing for kids is like discovering a coral reef that teems with life both on its surface and hidden within. When I submerge myself in words, I become playful, gain insight, and feel alive. In short: If I can’t write, I go crazy. Deborah B.

Mastery gives us the pleasure of watching ourselves become more skillful. We are thrilled at the perfect turn of a phrase. We secretly rejoice when a sentence says exactly what we want it to. We revise and revise again until the words feel right.

“Writing for kids is often the greatest challenge for me as a writer. Younger readers require clear, concise, and captivating prose, so I have to be on my game.” Jo P.

Purpose is the most important “why” of the three in my opinion. Your purpose is your goal and generally this goal has to do with the way you will contribute to society, to the greater good. Like Barbara T., many writers feel an innate need to give back:

“I write for kids because when I was a kid, books were the most important thing in my life.” Sally W.

"When I first started writing, my audience was adults, but from the beginning I was eager to write for young people. Maybe because I enjoy having conversations with them (both literally and via the written word), being part of their education, entering their imaginative worlds.” Tabatha Y.

For the last few years, we’ve devoted Mentor Mondays to study the art of writing for children. I believe it’s important to stop once in a while and study yourself. Ask yourself, as I asked these writers, why you do what you do.

Now that you know that your motivation should have three segments, make sure you are meeting all three intrinsic needs: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. If your writing has become a chore, it’s possible one of these parts is missing. If they’re all there, you might feel like Tammy G.:

“I enjoy writing for children, because everything is new and interesting when seen through a child’s eyes. I find myself looking at the world in a completely different way every time I write for kids. I get to learn right along with them.”

Friday, July 15, 2011

Poetry Friday: It's That Time of Year . . .

Yes, folks. It's mid-July. You know what that means. It's bathing suit season. Yay!!!! Time to go swimming!

What's that you say? You're not in bathing suit shape?!?!?!?! Oh, please, you are just SO up tight!

Don't you know that God gave you a body to enjoy? Can you really not remember that grand feeling --  the cold-shock feeling of a lake consuming you from the ankles up? Can't you remember the blue splash of a pool grabbing you cold and hard as you dove in? And what about that giddy can't-get-me feeling as you tried (and failed) to keep the ocean waves from freezing your knees and then your tush and then your belly (ah, your cold cold belly).

Seriously. No one cares that your old, old belly isn't quite what it used to be. And, well, never mind about your hips.

Just. Jump. In!!!!!!

homage to my hips

the hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
they don't fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don't like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top!

                    -- Lucille Clifton

After you towel off, be sure to check out the rest of the Poetry Friday offerings over at A Year of Reading.

And then, take a gander at some of these well-known writerly types and their swimwear, courtesy of the folks over at Flavorwire:

Hunter S. Thompson. (Look at him writing! We're very impressed by his work ethic!)

F. Scott & Zelda (Be sure to catch them in the new movie Midnight in Paris. Really quite fab!)

Lotsa Papa (Hemingway)

Eugene O'Neill (looking remarkably fit, don't you agree?) with his wife, Carlotta Monterey

Clive Bell & Virginia Woolf (Really,why wouldn't you be afraid of Virginia Woolf in this get-up?)

Tennessee Williams. (We're just so glad men's beach wear has evolved!)
Sylvia Plath.(Beautiful Sylvia.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

(Sort of) Woman of Wednesday: Patsy Ann, Official Greeter of Juneau, Alaska

It’s not often that someone becomes famous for being a volunteer but that’s exactly what happened to Patsy Ann. Our volunteer had no family name and no family. Like Blanche Dubois, she depended on the kindness of strangers.

Patsy Ann was a purebred white bull terrier born in Oregon in 1929. She had been sent to Juneau, Alaska by ship to become the pet of two little girls.

Unfortunately, Patsy Ann was born deaf. According the British Bull Terrier Club: “Totally deaf Bull Terriers …often find it very difficult to adapt to a normal life, are extremely difficult to train and will often not make suitable pets.”

Evidently this was the case with Patsy Ann. She was given to another family but that placement did not work out either. Soon Patsy Ann was roaming the capital city, living on handouts and bunking with the sailors at Longshoreman’s Hall.

Once Patsy Ann was on her own, she attached herself to the entire town. She was welcome in every home, shop, theater, and saloon. She gained weight from eating handouts.

Dock workers discovered that in spite of her handicap, Patsy Ann had an important skill. She could tell when a ship was on its way. No one knows how she knew but suspect she was able to discern the vibration of the ship’s engines. She would head to a dock and begin pacing, long before the ship was visible. She was never wrong. The mayor of Juneau named her the town’s official greeter.

Juneau’s citizens became very proud of their Patsy Ann. She was memorialized in post cards, on t-shirts, and eventually, a book about her life.

In the mid-1930s Juneau passed a law requiring that all dogs be registered and tagged. Some of the locals pitched in and bought Patsy Ann a beautiful collar and paid for her tag. Patsy Ann wore it briefly but got rid of it as soon as she could. The town knew better than to try and argue with their honorary greeter. Patsy Ann was given an official exemption to the law.

Patsy Ann died in 1942. She was given a sea burial in the Gastineau Channel. Fifty years later, a group raised funds to have a statue of the bull terrier created to honor her memory. Artist Anna Burke Harris of New Mexico was chosen to sculpt the statue. She writes:

“My ancestry is mixed, with a lot of Indian, Lakota and Cherokee. From these ancestors, who love and respect the earth and all its creatures, came the belief in "Spirit Pieces" whereby adding a piece of your spirit into the finished work will attain a small bit of immortality. And thus the bits of fur and hair from those who knew of Patsy Ann. They were honoring their own selves and their beloved animals. These pieces were pressed into the wax before the final bronze casting.”

Today visitors to Juneau are urged to visit the sculpture and "greet her and touch her and in leaving, carry with you the blessings of friendship through your life's journey".

To read more about Patsy Ann’s story and her statue go to: and

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mentor Monday: Why We Do What We Do

I recently asked a few professional writers for children the following question: Would you be willing to share, in one or two sentences, why you (like to, want to, have to) write for kids?

The question had been buzzing around my head because I’ve been reading Daniel H. Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Pink’s book is geared more to the business owner who is trying to find a way to increase production while keeping employees interested in their jobs. But the book speaks to us right-brained creative types, too, because it’s obvious that as a group, we’re certainly not motivated by money. The term “starving artist” has no equal in the business world. (Starving computer software developer? Starving hedge fund manager? I don’t think so.)

In fact, when I asked the “why” question of my fellow writers only one mentioned financial benefits:

“I write specifically for very young children because they inspire me. They are little strangers in a strange land where most everything is a discovery. They are magical thinkers open to any and all possibilities. Little winged ladies will give you money for your teeth. A fat, bearded man will bring you presents while you sleep. The monster in your closet will get you eventually, regardless of what your parents tell you.

Besides, you can make a TON of money doing it.” Andrea M.

Tongue-firmly-in-cheek, of course! Until J.K.Rowling wrote her Harry Potter books none of us had ever heard the following words strung together: Billionaire children’s author. Frankly, I would have filed that phrase under “imaginary” or “oxymoron.”

Still, there are hundreds of thousands of us who sit in front of key boards every day, willing to devote hours to a creative task that will most likely result in little or no financial benefit. Why is that?

Janet B.’s reply came closest to how I might have answered my own question:

“…I want to write for kids partly because that’s the teacher part of me—always wanting to be teaching something. I love language, too. I like the challenge of taking something very three- dimensional (characters, scenes, plot) and turning it into the linear (sentences). Especially challenging to make them resonate…”

Daniel Pink’s book explains the reason so many of us do what we do without promise of reward. It’s not only the writers and artists and actors who labor without guarantee of fame or fortune. There are also the summer baseball players, the church choir members, and the people who mentor FIRST competitions. Money and celebrity are extrinsic rewards. And, surprisingly, studies have shown that extrinsic rewards are not the way to get people to do their best work. Marcia L.’s answer to my question hinted at the reason we do what we do:

“I write for kids because I love to write, more than anything else, and I can’t imagine a better audience.”

Extrinsic rewards, Pink writes, evolved from the criteria required for our ancient ancestors to survive: i.e. food, shelter, sexual reproduction. As humans became more social and technology evolved, we developed the need to cooperate and, later, produce goods. Most of what we did for work was based on a system of rewards/punishments: Work well, get paid. No work, no pay. Work really well, get a bonus check.

But technology has advanced so much that most mundane tasks have been taken over by machinery. It’s harder to motivate ourselves and studies have shown that extrinsic rewards most often don’t produce better results. It’s time to look at why people produce when no reward is promised or even implied.

Join me next Monday for the conclusion.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Poetry Friday--"Things"

Not only do we have the need to name things, we also have to give things human-like features and emotions. This poem by Lisel Mueller explains it all:

What happened is, we grew lonely
living among the things,
so we gave the clock a face,
the chair a back,
the table four stout legs
which will never suffer fatigue.

We fitted our shoes with tongues
as smooth as our own
and hung tongues inside bells
so we could listen
to their emotional language,

and because we loved graceful profiles
the pitcher received a lip,
the bottle a long, slender neck.

Even what was beyond us
was recast in our image;
we gave the country a heart,
the storm an eye,
the cave a mouth
so we could pass into safety.

Can you come up with some other examples besides the obvious corn and potatoes? I'll go first: pipes have elbows, wine has a nose, and power cords have a sex. Your turn...

The Poetry Friday Round-Up is being hosted this week at Wild Rose Reader. Do stop by.


Clock photo by raysto.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Women of Wednesday--The Andrews Sisters

We coming up on the 70th anniversary of the U.S. participation in World War II. In December there are sure to be many events commemorating the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the United States' official entrance into the war.

There are three women who played a vital role in the war effort by recording popular songs that entertained Americans throughout the war years. They are LaVerne (b. 1911), Maxene (b. 1916), and Patty (b. 1918) Andrews, otherwise known as The Andrew Sisters. The hit record, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" will always be associated with their name and the war. Another hit, "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," too, can't be heard without thinking of the sisters and the war. The Andrews Sisters are cultural icons.

If you're not old enough to remember them or their songs, here's a video which exemplifies their skill and energy as entertainers:

In their career, they sold over 75 million records and recorded more than 700 songs! During the early 1940s they were the most popular entertainers in America, and, highly paid!

Besides producing popular records, the sisters served the war effort by entertaining the troops around the country, in Europe and in Africa, at the Hollywood and Stage Door Canteens, and by recording special V-discs for the troops. They also were active in Bond drives which were vital in paying for the war. (Imagine selling war bonds to pay for the Iraq or Afghanistan wars--both wars would have ended within a month!)

The Andrews Sisters appeared in 17 movies including Private Buckaroo from 1942. You can watch it below, but be aware it's more than an hour long.

The Andrews Sisters were three admirable women who made it big through hard work and enormous talent. They also had big hearts and helped shepherd America through a period of great fear and uncertainty.


Monday, July 4, 2011

Mentor Monday--Writing an Essay

Before you head out to the parade, or picnic, or family gathering, remember what this day is all about. It's a celebration of our break with the British Crown and of our declaring ourselves free to make this country our own. This breach was achieved through a well-written essay, the Declaration of Independence.

We all learned the elements of essay writing back in our elementary school days. So, consider today's Mentor Monday a refresher. We'll use the Declaration of Independence as a model.

An essay should have three parts: an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. The purpose of the introduction is to get the reader's attention, to provide a bit of background, and then to state the intended goal (or thesis). How's this for an attention-getter?
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We grabbed King George by the you-know-whats and told him "We're SO over you. We'll gonna tell you why, now, so pay attention."

The body of the essay is supposed to further explain the goal/thesis. The Declaration is specific,
The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world
Eighteen "Facts" are then laid out for the King. (You can tell these are the main points because they all start with "He," as in "He did this," and "He did that." And there are several subpoints, too. The drafters of the Declaration knew how to outline! Good job, Guys!)

The conclusion of an essay should be memorable. The Declaration sort of bitch-slapped the King with:
A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Yowsa! Not only did we call him names, we also demoted him to Prince! Snap! No wonder he sent the redcoats after us!

The conclusion should also briefly restate the goal/thesis. You can't get plainer than this:
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown...
"We've gone over your head, Prince, and have called on the Big Guy and all our neighbors! So take your crown and scepter and GO HOME!"

An A+ essay if ever there was one!

Have a safe holiday.


Friday, July 1, 2011

Poetry Friday

There’s something about a tree. Imagine standing in one place for an entire lifetime. No wonder they grow so tall. They have to if they want to see anything of the world. And those ever-reaching branches? Are they the tree’s attempt to reach out, to touch and feel the things that must seem so far away? And do they stand there and proudly admire their offspring, growing up ten feet away, and another ten feet away, thinking of the day, generations ahead, when one of them might finally reach that distant ocean? Below is a story of two trees, by May Swenson.

All That Time

I saw two trees embracing.
One leaned on the other
as if to throw her down.
But she was the upright one.
Since their twin youth, maybe she
had been pulling him toward her
all that time,

and finally almost uprooted him.
He was the thin, dry, insecure one,
the most wind-warped, you could see.
And where their tops tangled,
it looked like he was crying
on her shoulder.
On the other hand, maybe he

had been trying to weaken her,
break her, or at least
make her bend
over backwards for him
just a little bit.
And all that time
she was standing up to him

the best she could.
She was the most stubborn,
the straight one, that’s a fact.
But he had been willing
to change himself -
even if it was for the worse -
all that time.

At the top, they looked like one
tree, where they were embracing.
It was plain they’d be
always together.
Too late now to part.
When the wind blew, you could hear
them rubbing on each other.

May Swenson

Today's poetry roundup is at A Wrung Sponge.
If you're not a tree, you should get there easily.

Photo: Trees Embracing at Malvern

courtesy of Cross Duck