Tuesday, June 30, 2009


I'm reading the Best American Short Stories of the Century this summer. Want to join me?

The nice thing about short stories is you can slide a few in between your other reading. This anthology is a collection of stories from the Best American Short Stories series which began in 1915.

You don't have to read the stories in order. I usually don't when I'm reading an anthology. My usual ritual is to read the first sentence of each story and then choose where to begin. But this time, I've decided to start with the first story and work my way through to the last that was published in 1999.

If you decide to come along for the journey, don't skip the forward by Katrina Kenison and John Updike's introduction. Kenison tells the history of the series and includes an anecdote about the founder Edward J. O'Brien's meeting a young writer who was so distraught after losing a suitcase of manuscripts, he was considering quiting. O'Brien read the two stories that the young man still had. After O'Brien finished, he was so impressed he made an exception and included a never before published story in the series--Ernest Hemingway's "My Old Man."

I think short stories represent one of the best forms of literature. If you've never given them a chance as a reader, why not pick up a copy of the book and travel through the century with me? I guarantee you'll find a story that will stay with you through a lifetime.

Monday, June 29, 2009


Seems my morning rounds in the yard take longer and longer each day. Not because, I'm watering more, but because the plants are requiring a good pinching back and deadheading. Sometimes I am brutal, not even sparing a slightly faded bloom. Off with his head! I declare while I dig my fingernail into the stem. I know the payoff will be a fuller plant with more flowers.

Sometimes I have trouble sacrificing the blooms. Maybe later, I'll reason, maybe this is the best it will look. Isn't a little color from leggy stems better than nothing?

This dilemma extends beyond the garden. As far as first drafts go, I tend to underwrite. Rich details and developed characters require many drafts. Still there are eliminations to face, pinching back scenes and deadheading needless words. Those acts don't happen without a struggle. Maybe I fall in love with a sentence even though in my gut I know the line doesn't fit the story or character. This happened while writing When Zachary Beaver Came to Town. My editor pointed out a paragraph that she didn't think belonged. "The writing is lovely," she said, "but I just don't think Toby would say that."

I disagreed and decided against cutting it. This went on with each draft--Christy gently pleading for me to revisit the paragraph, me refusing to do surgery. Finally at the last step that I could make changes, she asked, "If you won't cut it, would you consider changing the words a bit so that they sound like something Toby would say?"

This time I reread the part with an open mind. She was right. I cut the sentences. The chapter was better because of it, and of course, ultimately so was the book.

Pruning plants brings forth a bountiful garden. Pruning our writing means reaping rewards, too.

Friday, June 26, 2009


Let's twist!


Guess who turned 80 this week?

Happy birthday, Eric Carle!

Send your own good wishes by visiting his blog.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Even though the third Piper series book hasn't come out yet, I'm already busy working on the fifth. That book isn't scheduled for publication until Spring 2011. I've turned in each of the earlier Piper books before their deadlines. Not this one. A draft was due to my editor June 1. I'm still working on the first draft.

I've thought about this story a long time. I always knew it would be a part of the series. I knew the plot points, and of course, I've known the characters for quite a while now. (That's one advantage of a series.) However the historical novel took a chunk out of me. When I finished the copy editing stage, my mind needed to escape. It escaped to a new novel. A few weeks ago, I sobered up from my procrastination daze and returned to the Reed family.

Things have been going nicely, but I was still late. Last week I called my editor and fessed up. "I need more time," I told her.

The reason the series deadline is set in concrete more than my novels is because the illustrator needs to see the story before she begins her work. So my being late affects her, too. Thank goodness my editor gave me more time. Oddly enough, that motivates me. Maybe its because I know I can work with this deadline.

This morning Shannon and I went to a coffee shop and wrote. Before I began I made a web of my thoughts about the upcoming chapter. Kids everywhere are taught this pre-writing tool in school. I learned it later as a writer working on a rewrite. Now I use it every day. The process of brainstorming my ideas and thinking of sensory details before I begin empowers me to write a better first draft. I've discovered the days I don't do it, the manuscript suffers.

There are a lot of nice things in store for Piper. Tim from marketing called yesterday to let me know Holt's plans to work with the domain I registered when I first sold the Piper series. There will be a Piper Reed Club and a poster with curriculum suggestions for teachers using the books in their classroom. Exciting news, but I try to forget every bit of it when I'm writing. Otherwise I'd have trouble moving my pen across the page.

For those of you who are wondering about Jerry's reaction to his birthday gift--he liked it. I think. As I'd mentioned before, for years I'd tried to convince him, with no luck, to get rid of the albums. Then to throw him off, the day before his birthday, I called him at work to plead my case.

"Okay," he said, defeated.

Shannon was listening to my side of the conversation. When I hung up, she said, "You are so bad!"

"No," I said, "I'm so good." Then I did a little jig because I knew the surprise would be a success.

When we saw him drive up, we started playing his Don McLean's American Pie album.

Jerry walked in the house with two empty boxes he'd brought home to remove the albums. He stared at the record player and didn't say a word. I think he was in shock. So I guess he liked it. Either way, we had fun digging out the albums.
The next day we had a small birthday dinner with a few friends. They joined in the fun by bringing their old albums for a spin on the turntable. Not a scratch was heard that night.


She's worn them almost everyday since she's been home. They look so fresh, so French, so sassy. Last night she left them on the family room floor.

I wondered...

Of course, they didn't fit!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I slept late this morning (8:00 is late for me) and I'm rushing out the door to write at a coffee shop. I promise to give you an update on what I'm working on and (if you really care)Jerry's reaction to his birthday gift. But for now I thought I'd leave you with a smile.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


There are a couple of reasons for me to celebrate when one of my books gets published in paperback.

1. Not all books make it to paperback so that usually means a book is selling at least well enough to justify the investment of another edition.

2. A paperback means that my book will be affordable to more people.

That said, I'm happy to announce the paperback edition of Piper Reed the Great Gypsy goes on sale today. Get off the bus!

More information on Piper Reed the Great Gypsy.


Hey, Jerry, look what I got some nice folks to do for your big day. Happy birthday, sweetheart!

Monday, June 22, 2009


Ever since we've been buying cds, I've tried to convince Jerry that we need to make room to store them by getting rid of our old albums. I think I've finally convinced him. Now I've had a change of heart....guess what he's getting for his birthday?


(painting by Daniel Schwartz)

There are times, I spring from bed, excited to meet up with the page. Those mornings I want to shout to the rising sun, "Hello, world! Life is grand because I'm a writer."

But some days I have to dig for that place inside me where discipline lies, the discipline that I had to develop early on as a writer. Sometimes the simple act of picking up a pen gets me there quickly, but after being on the road or finishing a project, I have to search deep. Thank goodness for apprenticeships.

Recently I mentioned that I'd been writing for fifteen years. Please don't ask me what the first story was about. I don't remember. I quickly abandoned it once I started writing the story I was meant to write. What I do remember very clearly is learning to sit.

Sitting is so much a part of writing and we forget that. Maybe other writers began in a fever, sitting for hours while words dropped on the page. Not me. I had to build up the stamina. I had to learn to sit. Let me confess to you, I started with fifteen minutes. I had wanted to be a writer for so many years, but the mere act of sitting still and writing was overwhelming. My first session I listened from the screen porch for the beep of the stove timer to inform that it was okay to stop. The next day, I sat for thirty minutes. That's how it went for awhile--me sitting for daily sessions that increased by fifteen minutes each day, rewarding myself at the end by driving to the closest Pac-a-Sac and treating myself to a fountain Diet Coke.

Those early days of practicing my craft proved that a writer can reap benefits even by writing the wrong story. Because one day I discovered I was not listening for the timer's beep. Like a child who'd learned to ride a bike without training wheels, I stopped setting the timer. I had learned to sit.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Happy Father's Day, Dad and Jerry! And to all the readers who happen to be dads, too.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009


Last night we had buttered popcorn and M&M's for supper.

This is why:

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Friday, June 19, 2009


Let's take a break from writing.


Yesterday was Chris Van Allsburg's birthday. Celebrate by watching a webcast with Chris.

And Deborah Wiles is sharing insight into the process of writing her Sixties Triolgy. Want a peek?

Visit Deborah's blog ONE POMEGRANATE

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Where do you work best at home?

In our recently renovated home, I have an office which faces a lake, and it is here that I work best. Some writers can work in airports and hotel rooms or curled in bed with a laptop, but I am not one of them. I work best with a view of trees (the lake is a bonus) and with my ‘stuff’ around me: favorite pens, pencils, paper, reference books, family photos, filing cabinets, computer (iMac), printer, and doo-dads (a few small shells, several miniature wood and stone turtles, a George Washington bust, a donkey, stone paperweights, etc.)

What time of day would we find you there?

You would nearly always find me there in the mornings, from about eight o’clock until noon. Many days I am based there until nine in the evening, with frequent breaks (outside to the dock or kayak for an hour or two; to the laundry room; to the kitchen; to the bedroom for a nap.)

What’s your favorite comfort food while you work?

I love wickedly delicious chocolate-covered ginger cookies from Marks & Spencer in England, or Dannon’s vanilla yogurt with almonds tossed in.

What is on your nightstand?

On the top of nightstand: pad of paper, black Japanese pen/pencil holder, alarm clock, reading glasses, four back issues of The New Yorker, latest issue of Publishers’ Weekly and The Horn Book Magazine. On the shelf below: Peace, Locomotion (Woodson), Coming of Age (Terkel), Minders of Make Believe (Marcus), Long Life (Oliver), Show and Tell: Exploring the Fine Art of Children’s Book Illustration (Evans).

How does home feed into your writing?

On a very basic level, I work best when I’m comfortable in my home (the plumbing and heating fixed, the roof repaired, food in the refrigerator, bat out of the bedroom.) The views from my windows (trees, flowers, lake, sky, squirrels, birds, chipmunks) make me constantly aware of the presence of nature and often feed into the sensory level of a story. On a more abstract level, Home is essential to who I am and what I write: in most of my stories, I explore some aspect of home and family and how those shape a person.

Sharon Creech is the author of three picture books and thirteen novels, including the Newbery winning Walk Two Moons, the Newbery Honor book, The Wanderer, and the United Kingdom’s Carnegie Medal book, Ruby Holler. Sharon lived and taught in England and Switzerland for nineteen years. Now she is based in western New York, although she and her husband recently spent a year back in Switzerland and will be returning to England for most of the coming (09-10) school year. Sharon has two grown children and two grandchildren.

Visit Sharon's Website.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Shortly after Sharon Creech won the Newbery Award, I read Walk Two Moons. One of the great things about awards is they draw attention to a book that might have gone unnoticed. Regardless of the award, I doubt this book would have been ignored. I was so caught up in the main character, Salamanca's journey across the country with her grandparents that I believed in her search along with her.

And that's the kind of writer, Sharon Creech is. She is able to pull you into a character's skin and take part in their longing. Somehow I'd never read Bloomability, but I'm reading it now. As a writer, I'm amazed at how Creech shows a setting through her main character's eyes that I can plainly understand is beautiful, while still understanding that the character is emotionally unattached to the place and doesn't recognize its beauty. Even more remarkable is realizing Creech achieves this in first person.

Whenever I visit schools, students ask, "Have you met any other authors?"

I tell them, "Yes," which interestingly always brings wide eyes and opened mouths. I suppose there are writers who live in little cabins on top of mountains that send their goat to fetch supplies in the village, but I'm not sure who those sort of writers are.

One of the wonderful perks about speaking at conferences is that we get to rub elbows with folks whose books we admire. Sharon Creech is one writer that I haven't had a chance to rub elbows with and wish I had. Of course there was that one time...

The summer of 1999, I was in New Orleans attending the ALA conference. A year before, I'd met Coleen Salley. Coleen lived in the French Quarter and invited me to a party that she was giving for writers and illustrators only. I was given strict orders by her not to bring my editor, agent, or any publishing people. "This party is so everyone can relax and enjoy meeting each other."

My head spins remembering all the talent squeezed in her small apartment on Chartre Street. I was new to this world and everything and everyone seemed part of a dream. How did I end up here standing inches from David Shannon, Jerry and Gloria Jean Pinkney, Esme Raji Codell and so many more? These were people I'd read.

I moved into the courtyard only to bump into more talent. I decided to leave. I know that is not what most of you would do, but there is a shy side to me and the moment was overwhelming. Just as I was about to leave, Sharon Creech and her husband arrived and Coleen was greeting them at the door. I waited a second. Then I said, "Thank you, Coleen, for inviting me. I had a great time."

I floated down Chartre Street, pinching myself as I headed back to my hotel. I just saw Sharon Creech! Moments later it dawned on me that I could have met Sharon Creech. The opportunity had slipped through my fingers. Oh the regrets!

But tomorrow, dear reader, we both get to meet her when Sharon is this week's AT HOME profile. Don't miss the opportunity!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Fifteen years ago this week, I started writing. I didn't own a computer, but I had plenty of paper and pens. I sat down at a table on the screen porch and began to put words on a page. When people ask me when did you start writing, I tell them, "June 15, 1994." They want to know how I remember the exact date. I explain that I made a commitment that day. When you really commit to something with your heart and soul, you remember.

It's fifteen years later and guess where I'm heading this morning?

Monday, June 15, 2009


When I lived in the Houston area I made frequent trips to visit my grandparents in Forest Hill. All of my grandparents were living then. I was a lucky young woman because of that, and I knew it. I wanted to catch up with the childhood years when living around the world meant rarely seeing them.

I never left those visits empty-handed. My grandparents would send me on my way with treasures in the form of fig preserves, Avon products, or plants.

The camellia and azalea plants my grandfather gave me from his garden transferred beautifully in Houston. Not only were those plants adapting well, but also the wild dogwood my dad dug up from my other grandfather's land. When he died the following October, that dogwood meant even more to me.

Two years later my husband's new job brought us to the Texas Panhandle. The change from zone 8 to zone 6 caused a halt to my plans for a garden that included blooms with family ties. I didn't give up so easily though. Logic told me it would be impossible, but on the ride to our new home, some of those plants were squeezed in next to the luggage. Of course once transplanted, my efforts failed.

My grandfather's roses will grow here. But usually I fly, and packing thorny rose shrubs would prove tricky. So these days when I walk through my grandfather's garden, my mind is filled with pipe dreams and what ifs. I settle on his bench staring at pink camellias and wonder if maybe global warming could work in my favor.

A few years ago my grandfather fell in love with amaryllises. Instead of receiving ties at the holidays, he opened boxes of bulbs. Bulbs grow well here, too. Last week, I didn't come home empty handed. Before I left, my grandfather split open a pod from one of his amaryllis plants and dropped the seeds into my hand.

So often when I'm writing, I come to a roadblock that keeps me from moving in the direction I'd planned. For a while it's frustrating. Just like I stubbornly transported those plants north, I try to make my original plans work. Of course, I fail.

Then something will happen, something seemingly insignificant. Maybe someone will say, "The best time was in the summer when the ladybugs arrived," or maybe I'll notice a group of little kids walking around with flowerpots on their heads. A few days later my observation grows into a possibility and is transplanted onto the page. Many times the new way proves better. And the discovery will feel as triumphant as my grandfather dropping amaryllis seeds into my hand.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


I try to start writing early on Saturdays, but this morning after I piddled in the garden, I browsed through a new book that I had to share with you. Before leaving Louisiana last week I popped into the bookstore to pick up a book from the regional section. So many wonderful books get overlooked and I've made it a habit to purchase a Louisiana book whenever I visit.

This trip's selection was a bit like buying a grab bag because the shrink wrap kept me from thumbing through the pages. This morning I peeled away the plastic and eureka!I got a prize!

You Are Where You Eat by Elsa Hahne explores recipes and stories around New Orleans neighborhoods. These are not four star restaurant chef's recipes. These recipes represent the melting pot and heart of New Orleans.

Hahne's beautiful book gives a personal view of each cook and offers a glimpse into their neighborhood. Some of the folks have moved to other areas after Katrina and Hahne includes this in the map of the neighborhoods. One of the book's charms comes from the listing of ingredients that each participant considers the Holy Trinity. In New Orleans cooking that usually means onion, bell pepper, celery. But to some of these Crescent City contributors it means something entirely different. To Yeu Jwo ("Yo" Chin) from Metairie it means onion, garlic, and ginger. To Thomas Dugan Westfeldt II from the Garden District it means Tabasco, butter, Worcestershire sauce.

Hahne includes a section in the back where each person recounts the food they lost in their freezer or refrigerator because of the hurricane, proving to writers that emotion can be found in the smallest details.

With this book and Nina Simone singing My Baby Just Cares for Me, I may be a little late getting to work today.

May your weekend be filled with good eating, good music, and a good book!


Friday, June 12, 2009


Let's throw caution to the wind!

Or maybe you're more in the mood for a classic.


Head on over to Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog, Cynsations to read a fascinating interview with Cynthea Liu in Cyn's post New Voice: Cynthea Liu on Paris Pan Takes the Dare

Here's nice morsel of what you'll find there:

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


We call him Pa.

A lot of other folks call him Uncle Henry.

He finds joy in the garden.

And sometimes others join him there.

Photo notes: My grandfather, Henry Mitchell at a party to celebrate his 94th birthday, birthday cakes, and my mom sharing the bench with her dad.


Yesterday morning I left my uncle and aunt's home in Fenton, Louisiana and headed back to my grandfather's house. I'd booked a late afternoon flight so that I could visit with him a few more hours. Since I was making good time, I stopped at Glenmora to see the new Rapides Parish Library. This is the library my grandmother visited so it's special to me. Gail Goldberg gave me a tour of the building which is four times the size of the former one. The new library carries more books and also displays art from local artists. Those of you that have read Part of Me might recognize the town of Glenmora, the setting of where the book ends.

After I left, I decided to take Cut-Off Road through the backwoods so that I could stop at Butter's Cemetery and see my grandmother's headstone. I hadn't been to her graveside since her funeral last year. You would think these would be the kind of moments where my writer's cap would be off, but as I left through the cemetery gates, I noticed the house across the street. A sentence came to me and as I drove away I began to chase the new voice.

The sun glistened through the piney-woods as I drove past Hurricane Creek, my grandmother's home, Elwood Southern Baptist Church, plant nursery after nursery. Who was the character speaking to me? What was their story? There was one answer that I already knew. I knew where this story would be set. This is the land of my people and it keeps calling me back. I have a pen in my hand and I'm listening.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Daughter Takes Over

When Momma suggested over the phone yesterday that I post on her blog to tell the world my recipe for chocolate mousse, I'm sure she secretly hoped I'd do it before the sun rose.

Don't think so.

I have a lot in common with my mother, but the one thing that we do not share is our bed time. While she struggles to stay awake so she can watch Charlie Rose interview the next greatest intellectual, I am struggling with my decision to settle down with a book or head downtown to meet a friend.

But seeing as I am here to discuss food, not sleeping habits, let's get to it.

This is a variation on a Nigella Lawson recipe. She is one of my culinary idols.

SHANNON'S CHOCOLATE MOUSSE FOR THE LITERARY TYPE (...or chocolate lovers. Usually it's the same thing)

You will need:
11 oz of the bittersweet chocolate (the best you can find)
2 oz of milk chocolate (the best you can find)
3/4 cup of unsalted butter
8 large eggs, separated
scant 1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup sugar
1 tbs vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Crème fraîche


Melt chocolate and butter in a microwave or double broiler, and let cool. In another bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugars until very thick and pale (like mayonnaise). Stir in the vanilla and salt, and then the cooled chocolate mixture. Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl until soft peaks form, then fold into the chocolate a few dollops at a time. Cover bowl with foil, and chill in the fridge. When ready to eat, dish out the mousse and serve with a big fat spoonful of crème fraîche. Top with raspberries.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

96...95...I mean 94

The last couple of years I've claimed that my grandfather was 95 years old. When I asked him recently if it was indeed his 96th birthday coming up, he said, "NO!"



It seems my grandfather was born in 1915. So today we are celebrating Henry Mitchell's 94th birthday with a party even though his birthday really was June 2.

Yes, I'm certain of that.

Picture note: (my dad, my mom, me, Pa)

Friday, June 5, 2009

Thursday, June 4, 2009


I heart pink peonies!


There's a strange red-headed lady skipping around the house this week. Could it be because she just heard Piper Reed Navy Brat is on South Dakota's 2009-2010 Prairie Pasque Children’s Master List


an Oregon Battle of the Books 2009-2010 Selection?

That must be it.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Yesterday I scouted around the yard, thinking of places to plant morning glories and sunflowers. While searching, I couldn't believe all the things I'd missed last week while intensely working on the manuscript.

The spiderweb under the picnic table.

The climbing peace rose blooming high above the fence.

The Italian parsley grew to blue ribbon size.

My tomatoes have appeared!

And (Groan!) the grass has sprouted at Saint Francis's feet.

Monday, June 1, 2009


We bought our dining room table about ten years ago. The first thing I loved about it was the shape. I'd always wanted a round table so that diners could see everyone else while they ate. Round tables promote conversation and cause us to linger even after our plates are empty.

Saturday night we wouldn't have needed a round table. Kathi arrived in mid-afternoon so our conversation began on the screen porch with glasses of ginger white tea. Our backyard is the prettiest this time of year. The roses bloom so abundantly, they distract attention away from the weeds. Thank goodness! It wouldn't have mattered anyway. We were busy talking about our current projects. Both of us had recently sent our manuscripts to our editors and we were sharing that light feeling writers get when their manuscript is off their desk. It is a sort of false sense of relief because we know the manuscripts will return to us again.

I told Kathi about a thread that I'd added to my historical novel. I hadn't meant to share because I want her to read the book (again) when it's published. But we both agreed that sharing at this late stage is not harmful. It's that early stage when writers haven't put pen to paper and they want to talk out their books. Usually when they do, they never write the story.

At schools, I often tell young writers, "Save the energy for the page." Then Kathi told me about a friend whose dad was a minister. When her friend would ask, "Daddy, what are you going to preach about this Sunday?" her dad would say, "Oh, I can't tell you or the devil will steal it!"

I love that!

An hour or so later we moved to the kitchen so that I could prepare the meal. We popped in Kathi's son Cooper's wonderful new CD and chatted while I chopped tarragon and shallots.

We toasted Kathi's Newbery Honor and ate dinner in the dining room. Then we returned to the screen porch for Shannon's delicious chocolate mousse.

I don't know if Emily Post (or the Countess) would approve of my gift choice for Kathi's departure, but since Kathi wrote the delightful picture book, Watermelon Day I think a watermelon was the perfect thing to send on the road with her.

My hope to each of you this summer is to have a moveable meal with a good friend. And if you are a writer with a great story to tell, don't let the devil steal it!


Today I'm blogging at A GOOD BLOG IS HARD TO FINDWon't you join me there?