Saturday, May 30, 2009


Ok. I know I'm name dropping, but when a friend's book wins a Newbery Honor, there should be some privileges for the folks she knows, right? Kathi Appelt, (did I mention that she's my friend?) is coming to our house today.

We still have to plump the pillows and dust the cobwebs, but supper has been planned for days. Tuesday morning the temperatures were cool so Shannon and I sat out on the *screen porch with wraps, reading cookbooks.

Here's what's going to be on the table:

Tarragon Chicken

Bacon and Hazelnut Leeks

Fresh Sliced Tomatoes with Basil

Chocolate Mousse (prepared by Dessert Master Chef, Shannon)

Recipes brought to you by:

I'll share the highlights next week. I just wish I could share the leftovers with you, too.

Have a good weekend!

* Copy editors prefer screened-in porch. That isn't in the historical, but copy editing is fresh on my mind.

Friday, May 29, 2009


Let's yodel!


I hesitated about posting the above title because a couple of more steps remain before I can truly claim that this book is finished. But since I've dragged you through the copy-edited stage with me and you've had to put up with reading about my cashew butter binges and excessive pencil sharpening, I thought you might appreciate knowing this part is finished. Whew!

If you think that you're exhausted hearing about it, imagine my poor daughter who became an indentured servant yesterday. Here's a couple of sound bytes:

"Shannon, would you listen to this scene?"

"Shannon, what's another word for bounce?"

"Shannon, could you make some more coffee?"

And then when I'd finished, and a mere hour remained before FEDEX closed, "Shannon, could you count my pages while I change out of my pajamas?"

So please forgive me when I brag about my daughter. Now you know one reason why.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


This week I received the first review of Piper Reed Gets A Job. Here it is:

Thanks, Ashley!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Whenever I get feedback from my editor or copy editor, I quickly open the envelopes and read what they have to say. Then I walk away from their advice for a few days(sometimes a week.) Something powerful happens in that time period. I may be doing other things, but thoughts often drift to my story. Usually when I return to the notes, I'm ready to begin.

Two weeks ago when I received both the copy editor's and the historian's notes, I was a couple of days away from leaving for Shannon's graduation. My mind was consumed with that event. But I read the notes before leaving.

Last week, I started back to work. As I explained in an earlier post, I've been tackling the queries, bird by bird, page by page. Making the changes hasn't been too difficult--

Except for three scenes I need to rewrite to make them historically correct. (I will think twice before covering a twenty-six year span in a story again.) Yesterday I rewrote one of the scenes, but today I'm facing the others. The added pressure of already being late doesn't help.

So what's a writer to do?

Escape to the kitchen a few times to sneak a spoonful of cashew butter.

Watch the birds eat outside my kitchen window.

Light a candle.

Then it's back to work!

At this stage, it's important that I use the same color pencil for my changes. Since the copy editor chose red and my editor chose a regular lead pencil, I selected green. Directions on the copy edited notes request that all queries be answered with a sharp pencil. So whenever I get to those difficult parts, I stop and head toward the sharpener.

Several times in the last few days, I've misplaced that pencil.

Yesterday I was in a panic, searching for it. "Have you seen my pencil?" I asked Shannon.

She laughed. "It's behind your ear."

Was misplacing my pencil wishful thinking? I have an understanding editor, but I doubt she'd appreciate a call from me, stating, "I've lost my green pencil so the manuscript will be even later than I thought."

Such go the days of a procrastinating writer.

But even with all the dread of facing those difficult parts, I've awakened every day, feeling such gratitude for those notes and the people that cared enough to write them.



Yesterday one of my favorite short story writers, Alice Munro, won the Man Booker International Prize for Lifetime Achievement. Congratulations, Ms. Munro!

Last year, I posted about Munro: Alice Munro

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Even when I'm down to the wire, checking facts and changing words,

the birds have to be fed and

plants must be watered.

Thank goodness the scent of the honeysuckle patch eases me back to the chair and the page.

Monday, May 25, 2009


I stopped working early yesterday to attend my friend Debbie's daughter's wedding. Misty was a beautiful bride wearing a dress lovingly designed and sewn by her designer friend.

At the dinner reception, we sat at the table with our friends, Charlotte and Doyle, and Jenny and Jeff. After a night of laughing and dancing, we thought we were party animals. Then we left the building only to discover the sun had not set yet!

Back to work (after barbecue at Rudy's, of course.)

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Today I'm working on the screen porch as I continue to read my historical manuscript, using the copy editor's and the historian's notes. When I first received them the task seemed overwhelming. But as Anne Lamott says, "Bird by bird."


A little change in the cover for the new Piper coming out this August.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


A couple of deadlines are pending so during the next week or two, the nest will be quieter than usual. But I promise to check in daily to let you know how it's going. So please do check back and let me know how things are going with you, too.

Friday, May 22, 2009


Let's go to a concert!


Over at Pen on Fire, you can listen to a podcast with Barbara DeMarco-Barrett moderating a fiction panel featuring Janelle Brown, Bo Caldwell, and Lisa Fugard.

Barbara describes her blog, Pen on Fire:

Occasional ramblings about books, writing and life. Answers to questions raised by students and readers. Musings on the life of a writer. A discussion of the joys and challenges of the writing life. And whatever else comes up.

To listen to the podcast or read some of the interesting posts:

Pen on Fire

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Where do you work best at home?

I bought a little house in a little woods five years ago, and I made
the entire living/dining room my office, so I'm going to show you my
office in these photos, and how I've tried to make it a place that's
filled with what's important to me and how it speaks to how I live
and write. I work here, sometimes at the desk (which is an old
door), where I do mostly correspondence and administrative tasks, and
sometimes at the green chaise, where I do most of my writing, on my
laptop. (In the deep winter I switch to the overstuffed pink chair by
the family room fireplace for writing stories, and camp out there
until spring comes again).

My office space is filled with afternoon sun, thanks to three
floor-to-ceiling windows. I can shut the doors at either end, and
enclose myself in my own writing cottage -- no one disturbs me, which
is quite a change from the years I was raising four children and put
a sign on the bedroom door, "Do NOT enter when this door is closed
unless you are bleeding or on fire!" It never worked, but hey -- we
have great stories to tell about those days.

What time of day would we find you there?

I tend to write in white heats; when I am in the midst of a project
that has grabbed me by the heart, I will write for long hours, every
day, and not get up from my chair. I don't recommend this, as it's
not good on the back or the circulation, but it is my way -- I have
to grab that story and sling it to the page, wrestle it before it
gets away from me -- and that includes revision and deadlines... I go
to sleep late and I rise early, eager to get back to the page. I seem
to be programmed to write this way. Then, when it's over, weeks or
(heaven forbid) months later, I am totally exhausted, and I may go a
few weeks without writing anything of real substance on the same
project -- I garden, I work in schools, I recover -- then another
white heat. I journal a lot, though, almost every day. I'm a big
believer in keeping a notebook, into which I put everything -- even
grocery lists.

What is your favorite comfort food while you work at home?

I absolutely love everything that's bad for me in the way of comfort
food. Homemade grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup is a
favorite. If I don't cook for myself every day, I start eating badly
-- whatever's handy. So I also cook great food to eat while I'm
writing. (Not that grilled cheese sandwiches aren't great food!)

How does home feed into your writing?

Home, family, and routine feed me, comfort me, ground me, and fuel my
writing. I also write in airports, hotel rooms, and sometimes I go to
coffee shops in my hometown, but there is a special vibe at
home. E.B. White said something once in an essay about writing at
the dining room table sometimes, where the household tides ran the
strongest. I feel that way, too. We have friends over quite a bit,
play music together, cook, catch up, and create wonderful memories.
Then I go back to the page, refreshed.

I've surrounded myself with photos and momentos from family, school
visits, friends, travels, and in no particular order... I think life
is like that (and so are my notebooks) -- there is no real order to
it. I have to structure a story (I think that's part of why I write
in white heats -- structure is hard for me, and I must stick with
it), but a life is lived in the midst of all kinds of delicate,
strong, terrible, wonderful, challenging, terrific, delicious
events... and I want home to reflect that -- in a serene way! I hope
that makes sense... whatever it is, it's all the stuff of story.

Deborah Wiles is the author of three novels and two
picture books. Each Little Bird That Sings was a National Book Award
Finalist and winner of the E.B. White Read-Aloud Award. Next year
Deborah publishes the first of three books for young readers in The
Sixties Trilogy
: Three Novels of the 1960s for Young Readers. She
lives in Atlanta with her husband, Jim Pearce, a jazz musician. Three of her
four grown children live nearby. They still waltz through her closed
office doors to visit, and she still asks them if they are bleeding
or on fire. She is always glad to see them.

Visit Deborah's website and blog.

And while you're at it, visit Jim's website, too.

Did you miss Gail Carson Levine's AT HOME profile?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


A few years ago a woman approached me at a conference. She said, "I'm hearing a lot of good things about Each Little Bird That Sings."

"Thank you," I said, "But I'm afraid I didn't write that book."

I'd been mistaken for Deborah Wiles before. It always puzzled me because we really don't look alike. But after last summer, I've decided that Deborah and I were hatched from the same egg.

Even though we'd spoken on a few panels together, Deborah and I really hadn't shared any personal time. But the death of our dear friend, Coleen Salley changed that. The night before her funeral in New Orleans, I met Deborah at the Lafitte Guest House where she was staying. We walked down Bourbon Street, crossed Esplanade and strolled through the neighborhood of bungalows. It was late September when the Crescent City's summer evenings are the best--warm and filled with the fragrance of orange jasmine. Jazz music drifted from the small clubs as we talked. Both of our fathers had served in the military, causing us to move often. And we both claimed the south as home because it was the place where we always returned.

By the time we reached the Indian restaurant, we'd learned that we cared about the same things--the South, family, and our affection for the late great Coleen Salley. I'm sure Coleen is smiling, knowing that her funeral made it possible for Deborah and I to finally break bread together.

It's nice to become friends with someone whose work I admire. And it's extra special when she allows me a peek into her process. You can have a peek, too. Join me tomorrow when I visit Deborah Wiles' southern home and she becomes this week's AT HOME profile.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


It was my daughter's graduation day and I'd misplaced the camera. After turning the hotel room's drawers upside down, I retraced my steps, thinking of the last time I'd used it. I remembered placing it on a chair at Shannon's apartment the day before. We called her. She did a quick search, but she couldn't find it anywhere. Moments away from leaving for one of the biggest events in her life(and ours)and we'd have no photos for memories.

The realization of the missing camera gave me an even greater sense of loss. When my daughter was a baby, a friend who had adult children told me, "You start letting go of your children the day they are born." That was wise advise, but that morning my mind was consumed with regrets that extended beyond the camera.

I wished I'd realized that every moment of childhood was precious and that things I thought mattered didn't amount to a hill of beans. I wish that I hadn't traveled so much even though Shannon convinced me she was so busy that the time flew when I was away. Over the years I'd missed some of her school events. And had she forgotten about the choir dress that didn't fit the day of the recital? I was visiting a school in the Dallas area that day. Some of my regrets bordered on the ridiculous. Does it really matter that I opted for store bought birthday cakes instead of baking one? All those thoughts made me feel like I'd somehow misplaced my years of motherhood.

Before heading to the coliseum we swung by my daughter's apartment complex to pick up her camera. She met us at the bottom of the stairs. I don't know who I was expecting to meet us--the little girl with a china doll cut and overalls or the twelve-year old with braces and purple rubber bands. Those girls didn't show. In their place was a lovely young woman, dressed in a white strapless dress and red shoes. Her steps projected confidence and joy. She handed us her camera and right there in the middle of the parking lot we had a big family hug. Somehow through all the missed events, ill-fitting choir dresses and store-bought birthday cakes, we'd arrived at this moment. And it was a good one.

Later my daughter found my camera. It was in the glove compartment of our rental car. I hadn't lost it after all. And the daughter? She may be grown but I haven't lost her either.

Friday, May 15, 2009


Let's learn to cook!


Today we celebrate the last sweet days of Children's Book Week by honoring a few more books that are out-of-print. Although they are no longer available for purchase, they have made their way into someones heart forever.

My pal Charlotte Goebel mentioned Aunt Bernice by Jack Gantos and Nicole Rubel. How can any book by Gantos be out-of-print? Charlotte said, "It’s one of my favorite books…the story of Ida’s eccentric aunt who has a spunky tennis-ball-eating dog." Sounds fun. I'm definitely going to try and find that one. (Or I'll just beg Charlotte to let me borrow her copy.)

I was eager to learn about my assistant, Shaunna Reynolds' favorites. She's a little older than my daughter, but I discovered that like me, she is a fan of Bernard Waber's books. Thank goodness those stories are still going strong. But one of Shaunna's beloved books is out-of-print--You're Much Too Small by by Betty Boegehold.

Shaunna said, "I loved it and still do! Nobody is ever too small to be overlooked! Plus at the end, Trotty Pig runs away and her whole family realizes how much they miss her and they Sniff and Grunt until she comes home. When I was at college and super homesick I called my moma and poured my heart out to her. My mom sent me this book and wrote in it that I grew up way to fast and she was the one sniffing and grunting. So it has a special sentimental place in my heart."

This seems such a fitting book for me to read right now since my daughter graduates from college tomorrow. I'm certain to be doing some sniffing and grunting of my own.

Cynthia Leitich Smith told me Dust From Old Bones by Sandra Forrester was one she enjoyed. Here's a synopsis:

Simone Racine at first envies her lighter cousin Claire-Marie. But then
Claire-Marie's Creole father leaves her and her mother in sudden
poverty. This triggers Simone's realization that their lighter coloring
is at best a mixed blessing as well as also the need to free the slaves
they're intending to sell. Throughout, Simone struggles with her
heritage — black and white — and the contrary rules for those living in
between. A fascinating period in New Orleans history.

Some of you mentioned books that, on more investigation, you discovered were not out-of-print after all. I'm happy for that and hope that it causes you to revisit some of those much loved stories. This week has made me think about how books can stay with us even if we're not able to find them a bookstore shelf.


Our At Home profile has a new blog. Want to visit? Gail Carson Levine Blog.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Where do you work best at home?

Two places: the kitchen and my office. I have a laptop on the kitchen table. Don’t tell anyone, but I’m very short. My chair in the kitchen looks just like my husband David’s unless you look closely, and then you’ll see that the legs on mine are about four inches taller, so my chin clears the table top and I can type pretty comfortably. In my office the chair is wound up as high as it goes, and on top there’s a needlepoint cushion that a friend made for me. My office is a small room with a twin bed that I meditate on sometime during the morning. On the walls hang photos David took, two original picture-book illustrations by Cor Hazelaar, and a drawing of me sleeping that my sister did when I was about seven and she was twelve. She was an amazing artist even then. The window overlooks the backyard. When I’m stuck in a book, I stare out at an ancient hemlock and ancient maple trees and an ancient outhouse that the early owners of our house used to use. I think the trees give me most of the inspiration, but maybe it’s the outhouse!

What time of day would we find you there?

In the kitchen and writing, while I’m eating breakfast and lunch and my late-night snack. In my office, most of the rest of the time, unless I’m visiting schools or going to a conference or a writing retreat or walking our Airedale Baxter or working out (I lift weights) or watching TV. Not that I’m writing all the time I’m in the office. I find lots of ways to goof off at my desk – emails, googling for something I think I may need and then getting sidetracked, looking in a reference book and then getting sidetracked.

What is your favorite comfort food while you work?

In my office I drink herbal tea constantly, mostly mint. I am skinny. I am not a nosher, except for snack time at night. I’ve sworn off ice cream, boo hoo!, which used to be my fave, but my sinuses rebelled, so now I’m trying to find the perfect snack without resorting to actually baking. I eat cookies, store-bought pies, figs, dates, pound cake. All my teeth are sweet!

How does home feed into your work?

Not sure. I write everywhere: hotels, airports, trains. But I have my reference material at home: my English usage books, costume books, art books that I refer to when I want to describe a character physically, my own books that I sometimes need to go back to. I’m frustrated when these things aren’t there and I need them. Of course, I’m most comfortable when I’m home, but I’m most distractible too. If I’m in a not-so-pleasant place, working can take my mind off my surroundings.

Gail Carson Levine is the author of the Newbery honor book Ella Enchanted and fifteen more books for children. Right now she is working on a mystery for kids that is mystifying her! She lives with her husband David and dog Baxter in New York’s Hudson valley in a 219-year-old house. Despite the outhouse outside, the house just got a new bathroom upstairs, which is so pretty she may have a party in it, and you may be invited!

The Harper Collins' website has more about Gail.

If you missed Erica Perl's AT HOME profile, please take a look.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Gail Carson Levine and I met at a regional bookseller's conference in 1999. As the luncheon speaker, she shared the process of writing her then new book, Dave at Night. She may be petite in size, but Gail possesses an inner strength that is evident when she speaks about passion for her craft.

One of the things that I remember her saying that day is that she had thought she was just writing a story that was inspired by her father, an orphan, but having recently lost her own parents, Gail said, "I began to realize as I wrote that the orphan was me."

A couple of years later Gail and I met up again at a young adult conference in Missouri. The conference was held two hours from the airport so the speakers rode together in a small bus. That bus ride was the beginning of our friendship. The time flew as we talked about our upcoming books, our critique groups, and how we tried to balance travel and our work. We were so involved in our conversation, we didn't notice the heavy snow that was beginning to fall. (The next day some of the schools had to cancel because of the weather.)

On that trip, I also learned how Gail gave back to others by teaching a summer writing workshop at her local library. I wasn't surprised when years later Gail wrote a book about writing for young people. Writing Magic is fun and uncomplicated. Every chapter Gail invites the reader to pick up a pen and try. Folks of all ages can learn quite a bit from her approach.

Gail and I run into each other now and then along the trail. When we do, we try to make time for each other, even if it means a quick cup of coffee or tea.
I'm so proud to call Gail a friend and I'm honored that she's agreed to be this week's profile. Please join us tomorrow when Gail Carson Levine opens the door to her home.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


It seems I'm not alone in wishing that a few more books could still be available for purchase. Cathy Berner, Children's/Young Adult Specialist and Events Coordinator at Blue Willow Bookshop responded to my query.

"My favorite out of print book? No contest: The Seamstress of Salzburg by Anita Lobel. I must have checked that book out of the public library at least 5 dozen times. I love the piles of dresses; I love how ridiculous the ladies become with their demands for more detailing on the dresses, and I love the little moral at the end: if you do it yourself, it's much more worthwhile.

And one of my best Christmas presents ever? When my mother tracked down a used copy of The Seamstress of Salzburg for me a few years back."

Barbara O'Connor mentioned several. Tell Me How the Wind Sounds by Leslie Davis Guccione . "I like it a lot," she said, and it's been gone for quite sometime."

Barbara also mentioned Robert's Snowflakes by Grace Lin,


Kimberley Griffith Little's Breakaway.

I was surprised to learn that book was out of print. I remember meeting Kimberley at a conference when she'd just sold this book. So of course I was eager to read the story. Kimberley is a fine writer and her realistic characters and situation made this a memorable story.

Jen Bryant mentioned a book that I'm now longing to get my hands on. Jen explained her affection for Whistling Dixie by Marci Vaughn, illustrated by Barry Moserby. "I just love this picture book, based on southern U.S folklore and mythology, for its impish protagonist (Dixie Lee) and its wonderful lyrical text, which makes masterful use of imagery, rhyme, rhythm and repetition. It reads like a galloping poem and Barry Moser’s illustrations are just enough to allow you to imagine what happened right before or right after what he’s chosen to show you. (In this way, he reminds me of N.C. Wyeth’s illustrations for classics such as Treasure Island and Kidnapped.)

I have read this book aloud at library story-times and also to my college students at West Chester University—and they all love it. The clever but stubborn way in which Dixie Lee circumvents the adults’ advice (and in the end, she’s right to do so) is immensely appealing to children—and so very familiar to their parents and teachers, too."

Both Jen and Barbara mentioned a book of their own which had the misfortune of going out of print, putting to rest any assumption that bestselling writers never become victims of these circumstances. Maybe you are one of the lucky owners of Jen Bryant's Margaret Murie, A Wildnerness Life


Barbara O'Connor's Moonpie and Ivy.

If not, head to your local library or used bookstore. There you will find treasure.

Monday, May 11, 2009


When Erica Perl visited the nest last week, I neglected to put the captions under her fun pictures. Here's Erica's explanation of each:

1. The Nest I am seen posing in is not, in fact, my nest. Sesame Street fans will recognize that it is Big Bird's nest and I am just visiting it.

2. The CHICKEN BUTT! cookies, however, are my cookies (baked with a little help from one of my daughters and her pal, Nellie). They were consumed by CHICKEN BUTT! fans at Wellesley Booksmith. Yet another reason to come to my events - sometimes I bring cookies!

3. The marshmallow Peep diorama (depicting a scene from Mordecai Gerstein's Caldecott-winning book The Man Who Walked Between The Towers) was created by me and my family but did NOT win the Washington Post Peep Diorama contest this year... or even come close. Those who feel we were robbed should complain to The Washington Post, which is solely responsible for this eggregious error in judgement.