When the going gets tough

We woke in the middle of the night to the smell of wildfire smoke. Zippy shut off the swamp cooler and closed all windows. It’s only June and wildfire season has begun.

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

Since early May, I’ve run every other day and that routine has been crucial for my mental health. I haven’t yet missed a running day and when I got up this morning, I felt so many emotions about the climate crisis and the lack of political will to do anything about it. My despair mounted and, more than ever, I needed to run. The good news is we have a 20+ year-old treadmill (that’s gone through multiple running belts over the years) and I ran on that for 25 minutes. I pounded out the miles, my mind clearing as sweat slicked my skin.

This afternoon I made the mistake of going on Twitter where I came across this tweet:

And I began to spin some more, the anxiety and rage building. So, did I hop on the treadmill again? Nope. This time I began rereading one of my very favorite books:

I highly recommend any book by Cynthia Kadohata, but especially THE THING ABOUT LUCK which is funny and tender and makes my heart sing. *happy sigh*

I have to keep reminding myself that electoral politics is not going to save us. We the people must rise up as one and stand together against the rich and powerful. In the meanwhile, I’m focusing on mutual aid in my community in addition to lots and lots of running and reading.

This day’s been hard, but I’m still standing.

Kindred spirits

“Not much goes on in the mind of a squirrel.

Huge portions of what is loosely termed “the squirrel brain” are given over to one thought: food.

The average squirrel cogitation goes something like this: I wonder what there is to eat.”
― Kate DiCamillo, Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures


Sing Ho! for the life of a Bear!

Apparently, today is #WinnieThePoohDay. I just pulled my Winnie-the-Pooh collection off the shelf in search of a passage to quote. After getting lost in the pages/memories, I chose the following:

Sing Ho! for the life of a Bear!
Sing Ho! for the life of a Bear!
I don’t much mind if it rains or snows,
‘Cos I’ve got a lot of honey on my nice new nose,
I don’t much care if it snows or thaws,
‘Cos I’ve got a lot of honey on my nice clean paws!
Sing Ho! for a Bear!
Sing Ho! for a Pooh!
And I’ll have a little something in an hour or two!
(from In Which Christopher Robin Leads an Expotition to the North Pole)

I can’t help but feel a kinship with Winnie-the-Pooh. He finds great happiness in composing silly little songs, and the next smackeral is always on his radar.

Thank you, A. A. Milne for all the smiles and fun-to-sing songs.
Happy Birthday to you.
Tiddly pom.

Slowly, slowly and bit by bit

I’m working on my new-old middle-grade project, one I partially drafted and then set aside for six years. It’s been a slow process as I reenter this manuscript, but not painfully so. It’s more of a satisfying slowness as I put down words that, at times, feel very close to being just right.

Image from pexels.com

Who knows? Those words may end up being absolutely wrong.

But right now it doesn’t matter. Right now I’m allowing myself to enjoy the slow, deliberate movement of this particular story’s metamorphosis.

That right there is progress.



Why I write books: Reason #87

Look at a book. A book is the right size to be a book.
They’re solar-powered. If you drop them, they keep on being a book.
You can find your place in microseconds.
Books are really good at being books,
and no matter what happens,
books will survive.
~  Douglas Adams



Can I get an amen?

I’ve made huge progress on my middle-grade revisions, and am ahead of schedule. Woot! My plan was to have the revision finished before leaving to visit my mother at the end of the month and, because I’ve kept to my pages-per-day commitment, I will succeed. And that feels very good.

However, I can’t help thinking about how much revision has gone into this particular project. Oy. It’s been a long, long haul.


But a wise children’s writer with WAY more experience than me once said:

Revision is the heart of writing.
Every page I do is done over seven or eight times.

~  Patricia Reilly Giff

It’s nice to know I’m not alone.


Pinky Whitehead for the win

I loved HARRIET THE SPY from the very first time I read it, which was approximately one thousand years ago. Harriet inspired me to carry around a notebook so I could jot down whatever thoughts came to mind. (I remember that my furtive watching and scribbling creeped out one of my good friends, probably because I hadn’t fully absorbed the importance of how Harriet’s friends were hurt and angry after getting hold of her notebook and reading about themselves.)

I know I’m not unique; plenty of writers were inspired by Harriet. But to this day, HARRIET THE SPY resonates with me. I love filling notebooks. I love watching people and making up scenarios for what I observe. And I love my cat who conjures up one of the all-time best character names:

marcel-as-pinky-whiteheadPinky Whitehead!

My cat’s name is Marcel, but those pink ears and nose always transport me back to HARRIET THE SPY. Maybe someday I’ll know a cat that brings to mind Ole Golly . . .




Waving goodbye to Gene Wilder

I was very sad to learn Gene Wilder had left the planet until I found out he suffered from dementia. Then I said, “Good.” Because fuck Alzheimer’s. But my heart still hurts knowing there won’t be any other wonderful performances from that gentle genius. I grew up on Gene Wilder movies and it’s hard to wave goodbye.

Gene Wilder accomplished the impossible: his subversive performance as Willy Wonka made me love the movie more than the book. That never happens! I ALWAYS prefer books to movie adaptations.

WillyWonka GeneWilder as WillyWonka

Thank you for the many laughs.
Rest in peace.





Young girls dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming cover

I finally read Jacqueline Woodson’s BROWN GIRL DREAMING and here are some quick thoughts:

  • This book is lovely and absolutely lived up to its well-deserved buzz and multiple awards.
  • While Ms. Woodson and I are the same age, our childhoods were vastly different. She was a brown girl dreaming in South Carolina and Brooklyn while I was a pale girl who did the majority of my childhood dreaming in rural Wisconsin.
  • On the surface, there were some very big differences in our experiences. Hers included:

Institutionalized prejudice
Big city life
Loving grandparents and extended family

  • Despite those differences, much of Woodson’s story elicited memories so real I could feel, smell, and taste them while others echoed in my head and heart.

Sly & the Family Stone
Crissy dolls with their adjustable hair
“Tingalayo,” the song about a little donkey I remember from my elementary music class
Bubble Yum
Candy cigarettes
The Funky Chicken
Scooby Doo
Best friends
Summer vacation
Listening quietly while grownups spoke
Feeling deeply for those we loved
Struggling to find our voices, our places

Good literature is supposed to help us better understand others and ourselves. BROWN GIRL DREAMING bridged the divide to do exactly that.


Pitting adult literature against children’s literature

Because I’m always way behind regarding books, movies, and television shows (I tend to get around to watching stuff during the third season or, more often, after the series finale), I just finally read THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tartt.
The Goldfinch cover

In case there’s anyone out there more behind the times than me, THE GOLDFINCH won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014. It’s Donna Tartt’s third novel and weighs in at 771 pages (296,582 words).

I really liked this book. While it felt overwritten in places, it absolutely held my attention. I cared about thirteen-year-old Theo Decker, and continued to care about him as his story spanned the next fourteen or so years of his life. I learned interesting things about antiques and Dutch painters and the body’s capacity for drug and alcohol abuse. This story drew me in so much that I neglected my own writing for several days. I told Zippy that reading THE GOLDFINCH felt like one of my Netflix binges.

When I finished it yesterday, I went online to see what the reviewers thought. There were lots of strong opinions. Apparently, The New York Times reviewer and Stephen King both wrote positive reviews. I know this because I read part of a Vanity Fair article analyzing the entire spectrum of literary criticism aimed at THE GOLDFINCH. What really caught my eye was this (emphasis mine):

“Its tone, language, and story belong in children’s literature,” wrote critic James Wood, in The New Yorker. He found a book stuffed with relentless, far-fetched plotting; cloying stock characters; and an overwrought message tacked on at the end as a plea for seriousness. “Tartt’s consoling message, blared in the book’s final pages, is that what will survive of us is great art, but this seems an anxious compensation, as if Tartt were unconsciously acknowledging that the 2013 ‘Goldfinch’ might not survive the way the 1654 ‘Goldfinch’ has.” Days after she was awarded the Pulitzer, Wood told Vanity Fair, “I think that the rapture with which this novel has been received is further proof of the infantilization of our literary culture: a world in which adults go around reading Harry Potter.”

Again, it’s quite possible I’m late to the party here (I know that dissing children’s literature is fairly common.) But his comments are very interesting in light of a book I read last night right before going to sleep.
Leroy Ninker Saddles Up

LEROY NINKER SADDLES UP is 90 pages long and contains 5,972 words.

I loved this little book. I cared about Leroy Ninker and his horse Maybelline. And as with THE GOLDFINCH’s secondary characters, I got a very good sense of the people in Leroy’s life. I understood who they were and what they were about. Leroy’s character arc was complete and satisfying, and I rooted for him the whole way. I was engaged in his struggles and kept turning the pages to find out what happened next. Kate DiCamillo made this possible in fewer than 6,000 words.

Adult literature is one thing and children’s literature is another separate entity, except when its not. The truth is, they’re both about story. And sometimes you need 300,000 words to tell that story and other times only 6,000. All that should matter is whether it’s done well.




Trivial Tuesday: Writer-in-Action Edition

I’m reworking one of my middle-grade manuscripts and decided to change a character’s name. The girl is named after her grandmother so I wanted to use Little + Name, but when I did an online search to make sure it wasn’t already a common name in children’s literature I discovered it was, indeed, common. In the porn world. (Fortunately, the girl’s name is Spanish so I can use the -ita diminutive and drop the Little.)

Then I went to make my morning smoothie and the vibrating Ninja blender caused a wine glass to tip in the dish rack and smash against the counter top.
Broken wine glass 004Wonder if Judy Blume faces these types of challenges?