Sunday, November 30, 2008


Returning home after two months on the road is like a girl dating an old boyfriend. I know this place, but an awkward feeling exists among the familiarity. I awake in the middle of the night and as I stumble to the bathroom, I bump into the north wall. Then I realize I'm not at the Emily Morgan Hotel. My reunion requires a breaking-in period.

San Diego, Saint Louis, New York, San Antonio, Hays, and Little Rock--I loved each place I visited. Still, there were thoughts of home and reuniting with my life there. I dreamed of the day I'd reconnect with my routine. I envisioned myself, sitting in the chair, in my room, working.

I've been home a few days now and I haven't sat in that chair once. When I unpacked my suitcase, I placed some of my clothes on the cushion and slung a couple of shirts over the arms. Was I trying to hide my writing space?

I've had every opportunity to meet up with that place again. I can not use Thanksgiving or my daughter coming home as an excuse. Shannon and Jerry are late sleepers while I awake before sunrise. Those first hours before dawn invited me to pick up my pen. Instead I piddled, catching up on magazines.

But tomorrow is the Monday after Thanksgiving, the day a million diets will start, the day a few thousand smokers will quit and the day this writer clears away the clutter, sits, and finds her place again.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


for reading my stories. Your support allows me to do what I love each day. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I wrote the first draft of Keeper of the Night on index cards. I didn't plan it that way. Like my other stories before it, the journey held surprises. One day I took a stack of multi-colored index cards and titled each one with various topics I wanted to explore. The book takes place on Guam so the cards included cultural details such as surahanas(island healers), tatamona(ancient ancestors), and the way Chamorro boys flirted with their eyebrows.

But as I wrote the titles, lines came to me. The words sang out spare and lyrical. By the time I'd compiled a thick stack, I realized my pre-writing tool was actually a draft. If we keep ourselves open to any style, a story will show us the way.

This month's giveaway is Keeper of the Night. A signed hardback copy will be awarded to two names drawn randomly from a drawing. To enter, email your name and SNAIL mail address to by this Sunday, November 30, noon(Central time). Good luck!

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Pie Heaven is located in downtown Little Rock's Market Center. I'd just finished a dinner of eel sushi when I noticed the shelves of pies across the room. There were pies of chocolate, blueberry, strawberry icebox, Key lime, but on the suggestion from a couple of tourists, I chose coconut creme.

"This is our third time back," they said.

That was a good enough testimony for me.

The owner, Joan, told me that the recipe belonged to her grandmother. "She died this year," Joan said. "She would have been 103."

"That's amazing," I said.

Joan smiled. "She was amazing. Once she admired a motorcycle and told the owner she wondered what it would be like to ride one. The owner offered to take her for a spin. And she accepted. She was 70 years old."

Life offers us new adventures and pie. I'll take a little of both along the journey.

Friday, November 21, 2008


It seems during October and November, my suitcases are constantly packed and unpacked. The last few weeks, I've only been home one full day. My dog, Bronte, mopes whenever she sees the open suitcase. Sometimes she leaves a surprise for me in the same place.

But it's all been worth it because I've been some wonderful places this fall. The most recent--two great events. A week ago I attended the Spring Community Book Festival in Spring, Texas. I was under the great care of librarian Ron Brown and his team. The festival kicked off by recognizing young poets in the community. Proud parents pointed their cameras and snapped.

I showed up a little late to that part of the ceremony and the other writers were already signing the displayed poems and talking with the poets. I walked over and asked a boy if he wanted me to sign his poem. He shrugged. I suddenly felt shy like I was back in junior high trying to impress someone.

"Oh," I said, "I thought the writers were supposed to be signing your poem."

His eyes widened. "You're an author?"

Each day, I am humbled.

Tuesday I flew to Little Rock to participate in the Arkansas Reading Association Conference. This was one of the most organized regional conferences I've ever attended. Thank you, Julie Huskey for a fun experience. I treasured every minute. And what a nice group of folks.

Moments before I stepped onto the stage, I learned that Part of Me was on this year's Charlie May Simon Book Award list. This means so much to me that Arkansas educators have embraced this book because it is a story about a southern family. Thank you, Arkansas!

While there, I stayed at The Peabody Hotel. And if you ever have stayed there, you know that
The Peabody is all about the ducks. Even the butter is duck shaped. Two highlights of each day are when the live ducks come down to the pond in ceremony, and their return each afternoon. This is a red carpet affair, mind you. The conducktor(sorry, couldn't help myself) told the history and warned us that these ducks had only been at it about a week. I should have known better to squat and take a picture at their level. As he led the ducks down the carpet, the flash on my camera distracted them and they headed turned away from their path and headed toward me. I'm glad I didn't get my marching papers.

Today I arrived in San Antonio for NCTE where I'll sign on Saturday and speak on Monday. From my hotel room, I have a fantastic view of the Alamo. The window doesn't appear as dirty as it looks in the picture. Although I have to admit, I like the effect. Is it really snowing in San Antonio?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Saturday I spoke at the Spring Community Book Festival(details coming soon). One of the perks of being booked in the Houston area is getting to see Shannon. Sunday afternoon we went to the movies in the Woodlands to see The Secret Lives of Bees. It was the perfect mother-daughter movie. But then it was first the perfect mother-daughter book.

When we exited the theater, it was as if the elves had been at work. Christmas was going on all around us. Retailer
s always rush to make a huge leap on the holidays, trying to put us in the mood to spend, spend, spend. I have to admit though that the sight of the Christmas tree instantly put me in the spirit of the season. And with the exception of the theater tickets, all I spent was a few bucks for two salted caramel chocolate truffles. Okay. You know me well. And two white chocolate ones.

If only we could keep that season of goodness with us all year long. Yesterday I thought maybe it was possible. The rental car shuttle ride to the airport always seems to be filled with folks in such a hurry that they don't notice others. But that morning several people stood to give up their seat for a mother, grandmother and baby. The baby was sitting on the mother's lap when the stroller started to take a ride down the aisle and toward the door. The driver managed to grab hold of it with one hand. Then a gentleman dashed forward and held it in place until the shuttle made its stop.

Here's hoping you do a good deed and that one comes back to you!

Sunday, November 16, 2008


When Katia Novet Saint-Lot told me the name of her new picture book was Amadi's Snowman, I was excited. I love snowmen and I thought it might make a great interview during the holidays.

"It's not really a holiday book," she told me.

A book about a snowman that wasn't a holiday story? But when I read the book, I understood. This is a book about discovering the joy of reading. And so our interview begins:

Your love of travel seems to spring from your childhood. Please tell us a little bit about the places where you grew up.

I was born and raised in Paris, France, but my mother is Spanish, and we spent practically all our summers at my aunt's tiny apartment in Malaga, in the south of Spain. Apart from that, we didn't travel much at all. But for some reason traveling held a kind a magic for me. When I was ten years old, I said I wanted to be an ambassador, so I could travel and live in different countries. Of course I didn't understand what being an ambassador means, and anyone who knows me and my very poor diplomatic skills would laugh at the notion that I ever contemplated such a career. But I managed to fulfill my dream of traveling and living in different countries and I'm very grateful for that.

What were you like as a child?

A dreamer, very shy. And from the moment I could read, I always had my head in a book. Can't say I've changed that much.

Where is home for you today?

This is an impossible question for me to answer. I actually wrote a post on my blog about that, recently, after a crazy summer spent visiting a lot of places I've called home. It's hard, when you grow attached to a place and then leave it(whether because you want to or because you have to) to not fall into the nostalgia syndrome.

For instance, New York and Park Slope, in Brooklyn, where I spent six years, definitely feel like home when I go there. But then I also love going back to France and to Spain. So I came up with this concept of the moving bubble. That bubble contains my children, my husband, and my laptop with a WiFi connection(can't forget that) and wherever we land according to our life's circumstances at any given time, that is home. Piper Reed would totally understand this concept, don't you think?

Yes, I believe you're right. When did you start writing?

I have always written. And I always wanted to be a writer. Of course, I started writing in French. I have old files somewhere at my parents' house with plot diagrams and ideas for novels, first chapters, and pages, etc, etc. I worked as a journalist for two years, also, before I moved to England to learn English. I translate novels for a living. I write endless letters and nowadays, emails. As a teenager, my best friend and I exchanged 18-pages letters, on top of the time we spent on the phone. And I kept journals for the longest time. Now, I also blog. But I became serious about trying to become a published writer of fiction when we lived in Nigeria. I took the Children's Institute of Literature course. Now, I can't imagine not writing for children.

Amadi's Snowman is a lovely story about the power of reading. Amadi isn't interested in reading until he discovers a friend reading a book about a snowman. Snow is something completely unknown to Amadi who lives in Nigeria. What inspired this story?

My husband works for UNICEF, and he once told me about the problems they had trying to keep boys in school, as a lot of them dropped out in order to earn quick money doing street business.

How different is the first draft from the bound book?

Very different. The first draft had a fantasy element. First of all, Amadi's name was Ifeanyi. When Ifeanyi noticed this book under the stall, at the market, the boy on the cover talked to him, and they had a conversation. An editor liked it, but her house doesn't publish fantasy, so she asked me to ground the story in reality. That's how Chima, Amadi's friend, came to be.

Dimitrea Tokunbo's illustrations are bright and cheerful. Did anything about the illustrations surprise you? If so, please explain.

Dimitrea's illustrations are exactly what I imagined in terms of colors, except that I had to see them to be able to say, "Wow, yes, that's exactly it!" I adore the way she painted all the backgrounds, and the reddish, warm atmosphere of her paintings. I find her style incredibly vivid and powerful. And the snowman as a cloud is such a fabulous idea! I must say that I saw the boys hiding under the stall at the market, but Dimitrea chose to have Amadi standing behind Chima and pointing something out in the book. It puts more emphasis on Amadi's curiosity, and allows us to see how Chima is really bothered by the intruder. I also find the way she uses frames, and has characters coming out of those frames, very interesting.

When you write a picture book, what is your process?

I feel I'm still so new at this, but characters seem to drive my process. I see a character in a situation, or I feel a character's feelings, and that's where it all begins. It's like an urge to explore and express these feelings. Settings also play an important part. Sometimes the story writes itself in one go. It was like that with Amadi's Snowman. Then comes the very loooong revision process, submitting to my critique group, etc. I'm very lucky that I love revising.

What do you wish you knew about writing when you first started out?

Mm, interesting question. Maybe knowing how to enjoy the process, as opposed to thinking too much about being published? I don't want to sound philosophical, because frankly, it's like my diplomatic skills. I'm far too stubborn to be philosophical. But writing is something I want to do so bad, and the joy I feel when it works is so incredible, I try more and more to just go along. There are ups and downs, of course, good days when the writing flows, and bad days when nothing comes out, or nothing good anyway. But the more I work at the craft, the more I learn, and the more I try to enjoy the process first and foremost.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


If you have perused this website, you know about the writing exercise that my retreat pals and I do at every retreat--Five Words and a Pie. Great things have happened because of this exercise. The most exciting for me resulted in the first words of my book, Part of Me. If you would like to read the details about how that happened visit the example on my writing tips page.

This week I visited eight schools in Hays ISD. So I thought it would be fun to let the librarians give you the
words. Want to play? Here are the simple rules. Select five words from the eight offered. Then write for ten minutes using those words. That's it.
Except that you might want to eat pie after the exercise. It may not be the strawberry peach that I ate at Texas Pie Company in Kyle, but any good pie will do.

Thank you, Karen Kessel(thank), Staci Perkins(hoping), Marilyn Bridges(afghan), Betty Copeland(Mustangs),Ann Harris(slither), Carrie Bartsch(winding), Jeanne Ditta(Library),Dianne Mueller(run). I had a terrific week!

Friday, November 14, 2008


Today is my last day visiting schools in Hays ISD. Located in the Texas Hill Country, the district is one of the fastest growing in the state. The students have been enthusiastic and interested in what I had to say about my writing journey. Judging by their questions, I'm sure there are some future published writers among them.

The Hays librarians spoiled me rotten by putting me up in The Inn Over Onion Creek. This is a writer's dream spot. Yesterday I ate my granola on the porch by the golden lantana spilling over the rock borders. While I watched the morning light spread beyond the hills, turkey buzzards flew back and forth in perfect sequence. And I lost count of the deer that I saw darting between the gnarled trees.

Hays in the childhood home of Katherine Anne Porter and I'm staying in the suite named in her honor. This week, I've read a few chapters in biographies shelved on the fireplace mantel. She was quite a character, not at all ashamed of her love of fine things. She even bought a huge emerald ring with part of her advance for Ship of Fools. And she liked hats. Which is why I tried on the one displayed inside the cedar trunk in my room. I doubt it belonged to her, but a girl can always pretend.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Human life itself may be almost pure chaos, but the work of the artist is to take these handfuls of confusion and disparate things, things that seem to be irreconcilable, and put them together in a frame to give them some kind of shape and meaning.

Katherine Anne Porter

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Saturday, November 15
900 Wunsche Loop
Spring, Texas

Open to the Public

For more information: Spring Community Book Fest


November 20, 2008
Luncheon speaker
and Breakout session

Little Rock, Arkansas

Open to membership only

San Antonio, Texas

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Monday, November 24, 2008
Conference on English Leadership
San Antonio, Texas

Open to Membership Only

Thursday, November 6, 2008


When I was three years old, my mother ordered me to take afternoon naps so that she could rest from her exhausting morning of looking after my newborn sister and me. I hated it, staying wide awake the entire time. Each minute that passed felt like an hour. Beginning school was a relief. I would never have to nap, again.

Then one afternoon, about five years ago, I carried a book to the screen porch and stretched out on the daybed. My four legged companion, Bronte joined me, resting her chin on my leg. It was early fall and there was a nip in the air. I covered up with a blanket and began to read. Everything was nice and cozy. The trees filtered the sunlight. The sparrows and juncos chirped. Thirty minutes later, I started to doze. After fighting the urge, I put down the book and succumbed.

Five or ten minutes later I awoke. I swung my legs over to the side of the daybed and sat. I felt great--refreshed and alert. After pouring a cup of coffee, I went back to work on my manuscript.

The next afternoon, I returned to the porch. I tried to retrace everything that had happened the day before. My dog, my book, my blanket. Half an hour later, sleep came. The following day, I repeated the routine. I was like a drug addict, needing my afternoon fix. Who would have suspected I would ever betray my top childhood resentment?

A little guilt slipped inside me. Was I becoming lazy? After all, it was not like great things happened during the nap. I didn't solve any character or plot dilemmas while dreaming. Actually I don't think I dreamed at all. For five to ten minutes, it was as if everything turned off. I doubt a thought existed during that period. If so, I don't remember.

Some snooping on the internet provided reassurance. I learned I was in good company. Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill were all nappers. Please don't misunderstand me. I don't have any ambitions to be a first lady, a scientist, or a world leader. I just want to write good books. And maybe in some small way, taking a nap, helps me work toward that goal. It sounds like a good excuse anyway.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


The last couple of weeks, the Panhandle experienced unusually warm temperatures, as if summer was struggling to let go and make room for the new season. But last night there was a shift in the climate. Today I know that it is autumn. And the change feels good.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


October Give-away Winners:

Congratulations to: Leonard Skelencar from San Antonio, Texas and Gwen Green from Amarillo, Texas. You both won a signed copy of When Zachary Beaver Came to Town.

Monday, November 3, 2008


Last week was filled with sweet moments in San Antonio. And I'm not referring to the Krispy Kreme Doughnuts aroma that filled the air around my hotel. (Why do you think I stayed there?)

I'm referring to the schools I visited in the area, their students, librarians and teachers. Tuesday I kicked my week off at St. Luke's Episcopal School. Mary Milligan brought me in as a part of their book fair. These are lucky students because everyday that week they heard a different writer speak. One thing I'm certain they learned by Friday was that writers approach their craft differently. Thanks Mary and Henrietta.

Wednesday I visited Castle Hills Elementary School. Their enthusiastic librarian, Felice Feldman, is on the program committee of the Texas Bluebonnet so we both had to sit on the secret about Piper Reed Navy Brat being a part of the master list. (The list wasn't officially announced until Saturday at the Texas Book Festival.) At her school, I especially enjoyed eating lunch with the kids. It was sort of a revolving lunch for me because I went from table to table. That way I could visit with each student. Thanks, Felice, Nathalie and Jaime. I had a lovely day at your school.

My last day in San Antonio was super busy. I started the day at Coker Elementary. Carol Muska is a good example of how dynamite comes in small packages. Most of the students had read one of my books so they were already interested in what I had to say. I appreciate the teachers preparing them. Between presentations, I noticed the names of books hanging outside some classroom doors.
Carol explained that it was for a program they'd be doing the following day called Trick or Read . The older students buddy up with a younger student and they go from classroom to classroom, listening to a story. Now that's my kind of Halloween! Thank you, Carol, Melanie, and teachers.

That evening Miriam Martinez from University of Texas at San Antonio and I had dinner with one of her colleagues before heading to the campus. Miriam is an excellent children's literature professor who graciously put together an evening for me with her students.
It was a sweet way to end my week. The turnout was great and the students made me feel so welcome. I also got to meet up with an old chum, Tiffany, who used to work at the famous Toad Hall children's bookstore in Austin. Reacquainting with Tiffany proves it is indeed a small world.

Though I only got to chat with some of the students briefly, I loved hearing the excitement in their voices about their future teaching careers. There are going to be some lucky students that get those teachers. Thank you, Miriam, for all your hard work. And thanks to your students for reading my books. I'll always remember my evening at your campus.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


Piper Reed Navy Brat is a selection on the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List!

Thank you, committee members, for this honor.