The White Chick in the Room

 I'm This Chick*

I'm This Chick*

The children's lit world is a-buzz over diversity! Everybody’s talking about how we need diverse books and diverse writers (and to a lesser extent, diverse illustrators), and they should be . . .  But nobody is talking about the white chick in the room—especially not the white Writer chick in the room.  I’m that chick.

There are two parts to the diverse books issue. Both of which, as a reader, educator, grandmother & citizen I recognize. Neither of which—beyond letting my book buying dollars speak for me—am I in a position to do much about. And, both of which are making middle-aged, female, marshmallow ME want to pull back into the corner I crawled into as a child to read, and crawled out of when I became a writer.

Social Media is to bless . . . and to blame.

Back in my youth (the second half of the last century), writers—authors—were invisible. What we young readers focused on was the story: if a story was compelling, interesting, engaging we read it, and shared it.  With the exception of a select few we studied in school, none of us knew who wrote the books we read. No one cared much either, except when it was time to check out a new book.

This anonymity was both good and bad. Lightly brushing the surface, on the bad side, anonymity was partially responsible for the gross stereotyping, misrepresentation, and historic inaccuracies in literature we are trying to correct by pushing to support diverse writers, artists and books.

On the good side, this pre-social media anonymity allowed this white chick writer to hide behind my words. I was the girl who, while learning cursive back when we used No. 2 pencils and were graded on spelling and punctuation, wrote as lightly as possible so my teachers would have a hard time reading what I wrote, or notice any mistakes. The girl who, used books as invisibility cloaks at home. The girl who wrote her feelings because I would have had the crap beaten out of me if I’d dared say what I was thinking. Children in our house were only supposed to do what we were told—quietly—and smile.

I loved to write, and teachers praised my writing. But, lacking confidence in my own stories, I found my voice by telling other people’s stories. I could be anything I wanted to be, and write about anything I wanted to—Poof! Use initials and I’m a man! A pseudonym and I’m an abused wife! An Indian—(with tribal approval)! A Cambodian! A boy! Poof! Poof! Poof!

YES! Those who cares about literacy, education, community—children—know: We absolutely do NEED diverse books. Children likeand deserveto see themselves and their ancestors accurately reflected in stories; children learn about others by meeting them in stories.

 For a better look and the explanation, click over to   "Picture This"

For a better look and the explanation, click over to "Picture This"

The graphic above shows books published in 2015 (and represents 2016 percentages too, according to Associate Professor and author of the post "Picture This", Sarah Park Dahlen, author/teacher Molly Beth Griffin & illustrator, David Huyck , the trio responsible for recently updating graphic.)

A huge majority of newly published books for children, 73.3% depict white characters; 12.5% animals, trucks & others,  and the whole rest of humankind depicted in a mere 14.2%, while according to Wikipedia, about 62.6% of Americans identify themselves as white. BTW: no figures were included for gender, religious, ableness diversity…Due cause for another chart?)

YES! We do need people of diverse backgrounds writing for our children! For the same reasons stated above and more. If every story was the same, who’d ever need to read, or hear—or buy—more than one? (And goodness knows, as a kid, I wanted to read about anything else but my boring old self.) This isn’t the reason no one is talking about the white chick the room. In truth, much of the Diversity Matters talking is being done by white chicks.

As Sarah Park Dahlen noted in her post unveiling the graphic, the Minnesota Children’s Lit community which supported this updating is, "comprised mainly of white authors, illustrators, and editors working to promote anti-biased and anti-racist children's literature, support writers and artists from underrepresented communities, and remove barriers to inclusivity." Similar groups are forming all over America, including WNDB, We Need Diverse Booksand my own VCFA’s Young Writer’s Network connecting authors with children in an effort to “raise a new generation of diverse writers.” (I can’t speak for the world efforts...)

Who better to tell diverse stories than diverse authors and illustrators? This is the diversity question that has everyone ignoring the white chicks in the room. But is it the question we should be asking? Really? 

Blogger, Kevin D.Hendricks a “work-at-home dad [who] wrestles with faith, social justice & story", charted the books he’d read during 2014, and wrote about his findings in his Jan.8, 2015 post “Defining Diversity is Kind of Tough.” When explaining his findings, Hendricks noted, “Sometimes you don’t know an author’s or a character’s ethnicity," and went on to explain: "In this case I made my best guess and counted any book with a non-white author or primary character (I didn’t chart other kinds of diversity—gender, sexuality, disability, religion, etc.—just because it was getting complicated). I’m sure I’m off in places.”

Defining diversity is kind of tough. Sometimes you don’t know an author’s or a character’s ethnicity.
— http://www.kevindhendricks.com/2015/01/08/why-we-must-pursue-diverse-books/

Writer Chick Me cringed when I read this. Not because Hendricks charted his booklist with an eye to reading more diverse stories. And not because he included authors (not illustrators, BTW) in the list. I cringed because he seemed disappointed that it was “kind of tough” sometimes to know an author's ethnicity from "the writing." Isn’t the goal of good writing for the author to be invisible?

Yes! Yes! Yes! Diversity in our literature, especially in our increasingly more global, changing, interconnected world does matter. We need to nurture and “support writers and artists from underrepresented communities, and remove barriers to inclusivity." 

But does it have to be an OR situation? When it comes to writers & writing, should:

  • WHO wrote the story matter to a reader sounding out her first books all-by-herself?
  • WHO drew illustrations that sucked that child so deeply into that story he can’t even hear the TV matter, either?
  • Should Diversity Matters mean AND?

If it shouldn't, then where does that leave white, middle-aged, marshmallow writer chick me?

Right now, striped of my invisibility cloak, I'm feeling more like a plucked chicken: raw, exposed, maybe even a tad too close to my sell by date, than I am a chick.  What are my stories to tell? . . .  Animals? Trucks? Songs about Rainbows? 

ear1.jpg

White Chick in the Room Playlist:

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Shot Myself in the Foot with a Bullet Journal

You and I have often talked about how to maintain goals we set. And those we don’t keep…

 Click on the journal for a peek at so many images of Bullet Journal pages...

Click on the journal for a peek at so many images of Bullet Journal pages...

 This month—beginning Monday, Feb. 1stI pledged to begin an intensive picture book study, committing to at least 5 hours a day studying/reading/writing picture books. I’ve “pledged” before, but life…especially “important” family and work commitments keep getting in the way. Sound familiar?

This study commitment will require fortitude and organization. A writer friend of mine, Cindy Faughnan, recently set herself up with a Bullet Journal. A tuck it into your purse or pocket paper-pen-ink-no-battery-required journal. In support, she sent me a link to a basic How-To Bullet Journal U-tube video. Here's the link: The Analog System in the Digital Age.

After viewing, I bought my journal—bright pink—selected “the” pen, and following the step-by-step instructions, began setting up my journal. But I had a few questions…  

Turns out this Bullet Journal video is not a one-off; it’s part of a cult-er…craze…er website. There's a library! A Blog! A Store!!!! And slews of videos featuring other bullet journal aficionados showing & explaining their particular journaling styles. Too many . . . 

My excitement over this simple little system turned to angst.

  • Was I numbering correctly?
  • Bulleting, dashing, circling, arrowing appropriately?
  • Were my squares large enough?
  • Too large?
  • Should I color code it? Is that twee? Or just one pen? If one, which?
  • Should I write my goals on the front cover or first page?
  • Should my Future Log go across or down?
  • Should I copy a calendar and tape it in. Or create my own.
  • How many pages would I need for my monthly/daily task lists?...
  • How many other pages—books, movies, words, ideas, goals, writing project, house projects…what am I forgetting?
  • What if I mess it up?!!

                         I can not have an ugly Bullet Journal…

 After ripping out and starting over a few times,  I quit. I had to. My Bullet Journal was on the verge of being pageless.

BTW: This study includes returning to writing Morning Pages ala Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way.  Here's a link to a video explaining Cameron's Morning Pages.

 Feb. 3. was a dark day. I woke worrying about how I was going to continue my planned picture book intensive study if I couldn’t even manage a Bullet Journal?  

In the wee hours before morning I laid in bed driving myself crazy thinking about this Bullet Journal and all the other to-dos on my list, when It dawned on me how instead of mentally agonizing, I could agonize on the page and thus at least accomplish something…my Morning Pages!

Trouble was, I couldn't find any paper on which to write my Morning Pages. The last notebook I'd used to write Morning Pages was full. And I couldn’t find another one…anywhere. Was I destined to fail at this, too??

I’ve often thought these Morning Pages should be called Mourning Pages, M-O-U-R-N-ING...you’re saying farewell to life as you knew it.
— Julia Cameron on how morning pages should we whinny, petty, grumpy...

Then something one of the gals in one of those “Let Me Show You MY Bullet Journal” videos popped into my head. She’d been sharing how she had refashioned her weekly task list from the previous year and then, after all that work, said: “I’m going to try it. If I don’t like it, I’ll do something else next month…”

  Hallauah!!! (Que the Choir!)

 This is MY Journal. There was no rule saying it could “only” be a Bullet Journal... Or that it had “last” for a year... Or more than a month…Or be pretty...  

There was only one rule: If it’s going to work, it has to work for me.

I flipped half-way back and begin my morning pages there.  Done.

. . . Minor problem. The page number? (Every Bullet Journal has an index to each section.)

 Click on the pic to see more

Click on the pic to see more

Very handy, but . . . Should I count all the pages so I could number the page about half-way back, I’d designated Morning Pages 1? Or write my darn Morning Pages?

 I made the tough decision: I stuck a post-it sticky on the first Morning Page—so I could find the spot again, took a breath and especially pleased to know that everything I needed to begin my days—my new Bullet Journal, pen, stick-notes & designated Morning Pages pages all in one tidy book—I began to write…

 If you’ve stuck with me through this entire post, I have no doubt you’re thinking—boring… tedious...if this is the worst of her worries… What a waste… a waste of time…hers and mine.

It’s tedious for me, too. That’s my whole point.

 Agonizing, doubt, questioning, beating myself up, aka “worry” is, in the words of Ben Franklin “Interest paid on trouble before it is due.” 

 But, “worry” is what I do.  If I'm going to play, I have to payfirst. That's how I roll. I have to circle before I can begin anew.  I have to get to that place where I am willing to allow myself to tear out a few pages, let go, make mistakes. Only then can I find my way in. This time, it was creating new routine. Next time, it will be something else…

 Trust in the Process. (I’m writing that in my Bullet Journal.)

...On a new page, that I'll number, and add to the index, so I can turn to it easily P.R.N. 

My Necessary Evil . . . IS IT YOURS?

I wish company was coming! (But not for the reason you may think . . .) Papers are stacking—spilling—off the dining room table, again. . . The potted plants are dying—dead . . . I still haven’t sewn the tassel back on that throw pillow.

Come visit! 

Not because I like or miss you--which I may or may not--but because:  I NEED A DEADLINE!

My friend Shona Skyped me last week. I could hardly understand her because she had pins in her mouth and one foot on the sewing machine pedal. I told her I couldn’t hear her for all the noise, but she didn’t stop sewing. She couldn’t; she was on a deadline. She just had to get those new shades made "Today!" (No matter that they’d needed making for months already, or that the windows were curtained) I didn’t fuss, "Shut that thing off and talk to me!” I turned up my volume and carried on while she sewed. 

THOU SHALT NOT INTERFERE WITH DEADLINES

Were you one of those who did your homework right after school? In the bus on the way home? Typed and proofread your term papers weeks before they were due? Studied a-little-every-day instead of cramming? If you are, click off NOW! This post is not for you.

Admittedly, not all deadlines carry the same heft. A deadline is, after all, just a date on the calendar. A “suggestion.” Less significant perhaps, than the suggested sell-by date on milk cartons.  

  Gulping sour milk is one consequence I won't risk again.

Gulping sour milk is one consequence I won't risk again.

For a deadline to count it must carry CONSEQUENCES!!!!!!!

For the past while or so, for the first time in forever, I haven't had a writing deadline. I was free! Free! Free! to write what I wanted, when I wanted.

No one to answer to.

No one waiting, wanting, needing—expecting a word from me. No guilt over not writing what I was “supposed to be” writing.         

 

What joy!

What a joke!

All that writing freedom, what did it get me? NOTHING!

I’m A Deadline Junkie.

I LOVE DEADLINES! I NEED DEADLINES! (Didn’t know how much until they were gone Whoa-ohh-o-ohhhh...)

Sure, Deadlines are stressful. Deadlines make us crazy. But, having a deadline is better than NOTHING . . . 

paula.jpg

 I comfort myself with the thought that I'm not alone in my need.

Paula Danziger, beloved author of such perennial favorites as The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, The Amber Brown series (ongoing, thanks to her close friends, Elizabeth Levy and Bruce Coville, who channel Paula as they write new books), and The United Tates of America—my personal favorite because it reminds me of the punster-scrap booker, Paula. 

Paula—was a self-professed DEADLINE PUSHER-AVOIDER!

Maybe it was the rebel in Paula. Maybe it was the kid in Paula. But, she would do almost anything to avoid writing. Yet, in spite of herself, Paula wrote and published more than 30 books, with more in the works when she died. 

How did Paula make herself sit down and write???

By setting “mini” deadlines with consequences & rewards!

However it came to pass, pre-Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Paula and Bruce Coville, devised the Phone-A-Friend Method to hold each other accountable. (Maybe, like Paula, prolific award-winning author Bruce Coville is a Deadline Avoider. Hopefully I’ll get to ask him one day.)

We’d always call each other and read what we were working on.
— Bruce on their "Phone-A-Friend" Method

What Bruce didn’t say in that article, but Paula shared, is that the consequence she and Bruce set each other was a fine. Not just any piddly fine either. They set a fine that hit both die-hard Democrats where it hurt. The fine for not meeting their daily writing goal was a donation payable to the Republican Party. (Read more in the Bruce said in the Publisher’s Weekly article announcing the revival of Amber Brown. )

  They set a fine that hit both die-hard Democrats where it hurt. 

They set a fine that hit both die-hard Democrats where it hurt. 

Beyond these daily deadlines, Paula dangled proverbial carrots to give her something, beyond the satisfaction of words on the page, to strive toward. Paula’s favorite brand of carrot was amber, as in amber jewelry. She’d spot a bracelet or ring she liked, buy it for herself and then give it to her editor, the late Margaret Frith, to “hold” under strict orders NOT TO RETURN IT until Paula met her deadline. Judging by the number of gorgeous amber pieces Paula wore, it worked—most of the time . . . prior to writing this, I asked Susan Kochan, Senior Editor at Putnam, who worked with both Margaret and Paula about this. Margaret Firth confirmed adding, “It didn't always work - they were often late - but who knows how late they would have been without that carrot dangling”

It didn’t always work - they were often late - but who knows how late they would have been without that carrot dangling
— Margaret Firth on Paula's "Reward" Method

Don’t ask me why it’s taken me this long to realize it, but, now I know: Deadlines were my necessary evil. 

So, in keeping with Paula & Bruce's Phone-A-Friend, I've I partnered up with my writing pal, Marty to devise our own "Dangling Carrot" Method: . Each Thursday we set ourselves an assignment and a deadline by which it must be completed—Or Else . . .  (Fill in your own blank, Dear Reader. Our consequence is of no consequence to you.)

Oh sure, we tried to cheat. What self-respecting Deadline Pusher wouldn’t? We had to test the boundaries:

 Marty sent me a whinny note about how busy she was, blah, blah, blah….

I sent her one back, sort of letting her off the hook, but not, buy saying, the assignment didn't have to be good, it just had to be sent… (Okay, so maybe in it I did try to lay groundwork for Deadline Delay by mentioning Internet connectivity issues and blackouts we’d been having.)

Marty and I both called “bull” and held ourselves and each other accountable. And it worked.  So far, we’ve met our Deadlines. And, we’re tickled pink* with the results. 

Deadlines: Love um! Hate um! Need um!

Set One! You might be glad you did . . . 

“The Necessary Evil” Playlist:

 “Amber Brown is Tickled Pink  is one of the new Amber Browns by Liz & Bruce channeling Paula.

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When it's gone-gone-gone . . .Whoa-ohh-ooo?

I was chatting with my friend Shona the other Monday and something she said touch a nerve.  Let me set the scene so you’ll know where this is coming from: Shona and I used to be part a creativity group in Jakarta, called the “GGs,” that met every Monday. Our weekly meeting began with creativity recovery study and morphed into everything chats a la “The View.” 

 Sending Wind Wishes for GG Joy upon leaving Jakarta

Sending Wind Wishes for GG Joy upon leaving Jakarta

 Reflexology is Grand for Creative Recovery!   

Reflexology is Grand for Creative Recovery!

 

Anyway, now the GGs have scattered, we are all recreating our lives in various places. Consequently, Monday groups have morphed into occasional social media meetings.

Shona and hold GG Skype-a-thons—Shona from South Africa, me from WHB or Trinidad—by carting our devices around we make the most of our face time. We chat, show each other recent remodel progress—or not . . . make coffee & tea, take occasional potty breaks (blank screen), holler at each other from various parts of the room, commiserate, rejoice, problem solve, inspire, motivate . . . It’s not ideal, but it keeps us in touch.

So, during our last chat, I asked Shona if she was getting out, making friends. (Yes, it’s the same “Mom Question” regardless of age.) I asked because I’m worried I’m destined for Hermitville. I am not someone who needs anybody to keep me busy. Curtis is the same way.  We can put-put-putter way days and still have room for more. So, making friends doesn't come easy,  it's work.  I’m afraid once we retire to this new village where, as the children like to tease, “the only people we talk to are those we pay—our contractor, George, the Barista, Counter Girl at the cleaners, Recycle Center guy, Hedge Clipper guy . . . We have actually gone to local restaurants where, mid-way through the meal, I've leaned forward and whispered “Once we live here, will any of these people be our friends?”

Shona, however, is much more extroverted. No matter where she is, she seems to find new people. So, I was taken aback when she said, she wasn’t looking for friends. That she “didn’t need anybody” new. She went onto explain: “If I want to talk, I can call you or (she named off several other friends), then concluded with, “So why bother trying to find new people I have anything in common with when all I need to do is skype one of you?”

About the same time, if not the same day, another friend, Jayme, emailed* a New York Times Op Ed piece entitled “Losing our Touch”  which began: 

Are we losing our senses? In our increasingly virtual world, are we losing touch with the sense of touch itself? And if so, so what?”
— Losing Out Touch article

The article went on to note how the term “touched me” as in “A song touched me” or “Wasn’t her speech touching” stems from the way words or a scene trigger an emotional response so visceral we literally feel it.  “Touch is the most universal of the senses,” as Aristotle noted.

Even when we are asleep we are susceptible to changes in temperature and noise. Our bodies are always ‘on.
— Aristotle

Not to dis Aristotle--or more probably, that translation--I think saying touch is the “most universal sense” is incorrect.  Touch isn’t one sense, it’s all 5 senses—taste, sight, sound, smell, tactile—engaged at the same time. Aristotle’s “universal” touch is the full-orchestral performance—including the smell of the crowd and the crush of hot shoulder against shoulder. 

The article is not about  keeping friends connected or about making new friends. It’s about not dating or needing to date. It’s about hooking up via social media to hook up. Which made me think how, conversely—or not—our increasing reliance on social media to keep us in touch is making it easier and easier to be out of touch, literally.

What’s wrong with touching, keeping in touch, staying in touch, touching, connecting via social media?  Not a thing! It’s fabulous for keeping friends and family “In Touch,” as we have already amassed memories and can in essence fill-in the sensory blanks. It might even be, a much needed answer to how people can find each other in these busy times. But it’s not the real thing, baby! 

 Play it again, Sam . . . this time with feeling!

Play it again, Sam . . . this time with feeling!

In touch via social media is the “record player” version of touch. At best two of the five senses:, sound & sight,  are engaged in the experience, in essence reducing “touchy-feely” to touchy.

(Obviously, for me,  a touchy subject.)

  Be warned, if you have any sensory memories, it will engage them all! 

Be warned, if you have any sensory memories, it will engage them all! 

 

I recently read Meg Rosoff’s debut novel How I Live Now.  (If you haven’t read it, do.) As read, I kept thinking to myself: What must they smell like? 

And then when the girls come upon evidence of recent carnage, the scene Rosoff described was uncomfortably visceral, too vivid. Why?

Because I know what rot smells like. I have amassed a trove of sensory images to call upon.  I've exchanged molecules with gore.

But what of younger readers? 

They may well have the visual memory--in itself disturbing--but what of the visceral?

For me as a person, and as a writer, I’m worried.

How long has it been since they’ve had a bath?

Growing up in our disinfected, anti-bacterial, perfumed, connected world, are people amassing the visceral memories needed to be "touched" the  trove? Are we making time for face-to-face time needed to create memories--sensory and other? 

If we don’t make an effort to keep in touch, how long before we lose touch with touch?

How long before “touch” really does grow cold? And does it matter?

The “In Touch” Playlist:

On a lighter note: When I searched for the utube of Out of Touch I came upon a couple of lists of misheard lyrics: “Banana touch, banana time  . . . “??? Cracks me up!

Thanks for reading! 

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Why Paper Books?

A paper book aids my concentration by offering to do nothing else but lie open in front of me, mute, until I rest my eyes upon it,
— Verlyn Klinkenborg on "Why he likes 'old fashioned books'"
       I LOVE MY BOOKS!

    I LOVE MY BOOKS!

The question Isn’t what will books become in the world of electronic reading. The question is what will become of the readers we’ve been—quiet, thoughtful, patient, abstracted—in a world where interactive can be too temping to ignore.

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The Writing Process Blog Tour

There’s a Pyramid Scheme in Progress! No one seems to know who kick started this movement to get authors sharing the how and whys of “Writing Process,” but it’s spreading like kudzu as week after week, writer by writer, we’re asking and answering 4 seemingly-simple-but-surprisingly-complex questions about how we Do This Thing We Do, then tagging others to answer next.  I’m having an inspired time learning from everyone else, most recently fellow VCFA alum and picture book author chum, Sarah Sullivan, who tagged me.

 STARRED REVIEW from the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books; VOYA called it "AN OUTSTANDING DEBUT NOVEL

STARRED REVIEW from the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books; VOYA called it "AN OUTSTANDING DEBUT NOVEL

Sarah proved her talents stretched beyond picture books with her acclaimed debut novel, All That's Missing so be sure to READ SARAH’s POST.

 WAIT! STOP!  Before you go there, here’s mine:

 

 What am I currently working on?

4 picture books/3 blog posts/2 chapter books/and . . . A novel started in the 90’s! (The sale from which—if it’s ever finished—might buy me that partridge and the pear tree!) That’s no fib. I always work several projects concurrently—after I have a completed draft. Each is in a different stage of the writing process. Of the 4 picture books: 2 are ugly drafts. I mean Ugly! So bluck it hurts to read them; 1 is in the Idea Stage, snippets of possibilities, lists of words, thoughts about characters (almost ready to draft); the last is a completed manuscript that’s in the scariest phase of all, I’m in LOVE! (And no, I’m not going to tell you what it’s about…) So I’m ignoring it. Giving it the cold shoulder for a few weeks. After the new wears off, I’ll reread the manuscript—without the rose tinted glasses.

Additionally, I like to work on both fiction and non-fiction at the same time,--usually children's fiction in the morning, while my nightime insights are still fresh; adult non-fiction when I'm stuck or tired (hence my blog and former column in NOW! Jakarta).  

About that novel . . . It's WHOLE different story! I have a completed draft but. . . Truth Time: I’m scared to touch it! Afraid I don’t have what it takes to revise it, I ignore it (which is not the same as “letting it chill”).  But that novel haunts me. . .  I’m toying with taking a Whole Novel Revision Class by way of forcing me to confront my demons.

          Non-fiction is my sorbet!              It freshens my pallet.

        Non-fiction is my sorbet!

          It freshens my pallet.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Many picture books face-out on bookstore shelves are Concept Books featuring what I call the Back of the Classroom characters: loud, bold,  in-your-face types, who holler what they want.

My picture book are Storybooks featuring Middle of the Classroom Smart with Huge Heart, characters, the kids who keep their heads down and try hard--super hard--while occasionally make snide comments out the corner of their mouths. In short, regular kids with problems to solve:

  A boy’s sister grows fangs and he has to figure out how to cope with her

A boy’s sister grows fangs and he has to figure out how to cope with her

Why do I write what I write?

Because I am obsessed with Picture Books—capital P; capital B—and I’m not an illustrator.

  An imaginative kids turns “finds” into play toys and friend’s make fun of him, what’s he to do?

An imaginative kids turns “finds” into play toys and friend’s make fun of him, what’s he to do?

Let’s face it, people—especially kids—pluck a picture book off a shelf because they’re attracted to its cover.  They thumb through looking at the pictures, first. Then, if the art peaks their interest, they’ll get around to my part—the words. And in picture books, they’re not many of them.  

In a college Communications class we studied how, at one time, movie industry marketers tried splicing images of hot butter popcorn into the movies to subliminally influence movie goers to buy more popcorn. That’s exactly what I do. 

  A kid who wants a pet more than anything in the world gets stuck with a goldfish . . .

A kid who wants a pet more than anything in the world gets stuck with a goldfish . . .

Instead of images of popcorn, I use words to put ideas in the illustrator's head. I guess that makes me sort of an Illustrator Whisper. Besides, nobody loves a book the way a pre-reading child loves a book. I want the book that kid hugs and asks for again and again to be mine.

 

How does my individual writing process work?

I write the way I drive. (Danger, Will Robinson!) Seriously,I have to whose driving, where the story is going to start & where it's going to end before I can begin. So I fiddle around, making lists, thinking, reading, noodling until I know. Once I know that, I set my sights for a specific ending, the way a tourist in Paris might aim for the Eiffel Tower, and let it rip. I'll write a complete draft straight through. It may take some time--If I'm working on a picture book, I'll finish the draft in one sitting; if it's a longer piece, it may take weeks or months.  I’ll just keep winding my way along, sometimes doubling back, U-turning, occasionally crashing, until I reach that end. That's all from me...

Up Next on the Blog Tour:

A couple of smart, fresh & sassy VCFA Classmates & Unreliable Narrators:  

            Sarah Wones Tomp

           Sarah Wones Tomp

Sarah Wones Tomp, whose debut YA novel, My Best Everything--about moonshine and falling in love and breaking rules (and hearts)—is coming March 2015 (Little Brown). What’s more: her picture book, Red, White and Blue Good-bye, face-out on my shelf of favorites is a must for every child of a soldier. Sarah lives, moms, writes, teaches and blogs in San Diego, CA. Please visit her at www.sarahtomp.com

                          Tamara Ellis Smith

                         Tamara Ellis Smith

 

Tamara Ellis Smith, whose debut middle grade novel, Marble Boys—the story of two boys who have experienced death and Hurricane Katrina, and how the world pushes them together to find healing—is coming August 2015 (Schwartz and Wade). Tam lives in a small Vermont town with an amazing bakery where she sits and writes, edits, reviews, blogs, mothers, runs and when called upon, doulas. Here is Tam’s website: www.tamaraellissmith.com

   Thanks for reading!                                                 Popcorn anyone?

Thanks for reading!                                                 Popcorn anyone?

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CURSED with Call It What You Will!

“What is the daydreaming equivalent to flaneur?”

I asked my know-it-all friend Google.

Flâneur (pronounced: [flɑnœʁ]), from the French noun flâneur, means “stroller”, “lounger”, “saunterer”, or “loafer”.Flânerie refers to the act of strolling, with all of its accompanying associations.
— Wikipedia

—Or should I have written equivalent of flaneur instead of to flaneur—Halt! Scratch that! (Grammarian-digressions are not “writerly." They are more excuses to drift away. Write now, fix later . . . )

 I guess the idea is to imagine listening while daydreaming about strolling into the blur.

I guess the idea is to imagine listening while daydreaming about strolling into the blur.

 Good old Google directed me first to Flaneur Audio. A fuzzy woodlands image and a playlist of “0 minutes; 0 titles.” 

Why do I ask? You ask:

Because “daydreaming” is too passive, to harmless-sounding for this affliction.

The next Google link took me to page 133 of a treatise entitled “A Short Phenomenology of Flanerie” which was, I assure you even as I hyperlink, is no treat to read.

(And no, “Flanerie” it is not a misspelling of “Flannery.”) However, Flannery O’Connor’s Slow, deep, Suthun' drawling style is sort of what I mean in asking the question.

 Maybe Flannery's prose read slowly because she didn't have A/C. Was the summer air was so dense it weighed heavily on her hand so she couldn't write fast?  Did she go out to the porch to cool off before writing fast-paced scenes?

Maybe Flannery's prose read slowly because she didn't have A/C. Was the summer air was so dense it weighed heavily on her hand so she couldn't write fast?  Did she go out to the porch to cool off before writing fast-paced scenes?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why do I ask?

Because “daydreaming” is too passive, too harmless-sounding for this WHAT-DO-YOU-CALL-IT? Affliction . . . nay. CURSE!

A CURSE which most recently led to me being stranded in JFK airport at 6:02 am. It struck like this:

Right on time—albeit night time: 4:00 am—I revved up the Long Island Express Way toward JFK airport. Happy the forecast-ed snow hadn’t hit, I hit the almost empty highway with my mind tuned to nothing.

                                                  Then, I started thinking about that snow and like snow, my mind drifted . . .

                                                 Then, I started thinking about that snow and like snow, my mind drifted . . .

ZOOMMMMMMMMMing along, thinking fluffy, puffy, snowy ideas . . .  ZOOMMMMM . . . Past the exit—

Congratulating myself for coming to in time to catch my mistake, I flipped a U-turn, and circled back to the entrance. No worries.

The radio station was replaying the same set it has been playing for the past week. I knew all the words, so I sang along as I drove. Until somehow, I wasn’t singing, I was thinking. Thinking through my stories…about Vampire Baby . . .

 Her poor brother. . . and where his unsuspecting parents would make him take Tootie next . . . and what’s she could bite—

Her poor brother. . . and where his unsuspecting parents would make him take Tootie next . . . and what’s she could bite—

WHAAAA WHOP WHOP WHIRRRRRRRRR   Sirens!    Flashing lights!

I clutched the wheel, scanned traffic, focused as I rolled passed the  1 ambulance-3 squad car-2-car smash-crash

Which got me thinking about boys . . . how they are born with car noises BUBBBBBBBBBB. . . . Max had been . . . Then I got to thinking about Baby no-teefers-yet Ben, and how pretty quickly he’d have teeth. Will he be a Vampire Baby? Then I got to thinking what Ben might bite. . . . what kind of stories will Ben make up and will I imagine stories for him . . . lah lah lah . . .

          Monsters….and trucks….Mickie Knudsen’s  brilliant, funny, don't-I-wish-I'd-thought of it   Big Mean Mike     .

         Monsters….and trucks….Mickie Knudsen’s brilliant, funny, don't-I-wish-I'd-thought of it Big Mean Mike.

About how it reminded me of Visitor for Bear

 And why? Because Mike and Bear are grouches? 

And why? Because Mike and Bear are grouches? 

I'm a grouch! Could I write about a grouch? What kind of grouch?—

--WIZZZZZZZZZZZZZ  

                                                             I glimpsed a sign for the Mid-town Tunnel as I zoomed past . . .

                                                            I glimpsed a sign for the Mid-town Tunnel as I zoomed past . . .

I hit the pause button.  I didn’t remember signs for the Mid-Town Tunnel on my way to the airport? I didn’t think so, anyway—

I took the next off ramp, which also happened to lead to a gas station, which made me feel more smart than stupid as I was going to have to fill up the rental car anyway, so really, this was a fortuitous overshot (overshoot?) as I could now double-checked the route on Google Maps while fueling--I couldn’t have gone tooooo far past the airport turn off--good thing I’d left so early. . .

Determined not to make any more mistakes, I flipped a U-Turn. This time, paying strict attention to each Google Map lady instruction, I drove straight back to the airport, to the rental car return where a robot recording told me to go inside. So I did, and waited for the attendant to stop kvetching with her colleague and pay attention to me, which she eventually did, and after a quick comfort stop clomped purposefully to the Air Train station where I responsibily checked the directory, found Jet Blue’s location and boarded the next train .

 Maybe it was the chug-chugging that got to thinking about trains, and train books, and what if my story—the story I didn’t know how to fix—what if I put a train in it—lah-lah-lah . . .

Maybe it was the chug-chugging that got to thinking about trains, and train books, and what if my story—the story I didn’t know how to fix—what if I put a train in it—lah-lah-lah . . .

. . . I came to in front of the Caribbean Airlines desks with nary a Jet Blue desk in sight. Why? Because I was in Terminal 4, not 5—

I wasn't phases. (OK, I was, but just a little bit.) The swirling ideas had infused me with wonderment and possibility even this detour couldn’t dispel.  

All the way on walk back to the Air Train and the ride back to Terminal 5 and the longer walk to the check-in counters I held tight to the feeling and the ideas--a mind stuffed with BRILLIANT MUST-DO ideas!

In hearing this account, some—not my family—might applaud this . . . this. . . Imaginitis. A gift! They might call it. This kind of dream thinking is vital! Imperative! It’s what makes writers WRITERS. It’s the path to going deeper to our best stories!

That's certainly what I was thinking:  “What a gift!” as I waited in the correct queue at the correct terminal, “What a gift!” as I made my way to the check-in desk, “What a gift!” even as upon hearing my destination the airline rep checked her watch. If she had smiled and said “welcome” I might still be thinking "What a gift!"

But she didn’t.

Now, instead of a head-full of insights, solutions to my story problems, brilliant ideas, what I have to show for this latest bout of whatever the correct term for this daydreaming equivalent to flaneur is is a bill for another flight, a day-long wait in the airport, another flight to Miami followed by another wait, and a sore tailbone.

                                                                                                  This is NO gift . . . .

                                                                                                This is NO gift . . . .

So I ask again, WHAT IS IT?

Is it OCD/ADD?  Is it a writer-itis? Is it that hormonal stuff? Or that aging thing that can be cured with heavy doses of Sudoku and crossword puzzles?

Whatever it is, help! Help! Cure me from this daydreaming equivilent-call-it-what-you . . .

 . . . Wait! 

I just thought of something . . . 

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A Whimsical Reminder on an Icy Day

Sometimes, especially when it's hard going, we wonder why we do it. And then, on a ordinary morning comes a whimsical reminder . . . 

   . . . Or See the Marks of Tiny Feet . . .  

 . . . Or See the Marks of Tiny Feet . . .  

In a In a great big wood in a great big tree, there’s the nicest little house that could possibly be.
There’s a tiny little knocker on the tiny little door, and a tiny little carpet on the tiny little floor.
There’s a tiny little table, and a tiny little bed, and a tiny little pillow for a tiny weeny head;
A tiny little blanket, and a tiny little sheet, and a tiny water bottle (hot) for tiny little feet.
A tiny little eiderdown; a tiny little chair; and a tiny little kettle for the owner (when he’s there.)
In a tiny little larder there’s a tiny thermos bottle for a tiny little greedy man who knows the Woods Of Pottle
There’s a tiny little peg for a tiny little hat and a tiny little dog and a tiny little cat.

If you’ve got a little house and you keep it spic and span,
Perhaps there’ll come to live in it a tiny little man You may not ever see him, he is extremely shy;
But if you find a crumpled sheet -
Or pins upon the window seat -
Or see the marks of tiny feet -
You’ll know the reason why.
— "A Little House" by Elizabeth Godley (Published in THE TALL BOOK OF MAKE BELIEVE)

I never wanted that "tiny little man" to come live in my "little house" (that felt a little creepy . . . ) But I so wanted to find a little house like his. 

                                                                     One of the Fairy Houses created during Barb's workshop. 

                                                                    One of the Fairy Houses created during Barb's workshop. 

Snaps of the Fairy Houses created during Author, Bee Keeper, Fairy House Creator, Barb Crispin's Bees Knees Workshop brought that poem--

and those feelings of wonderment and delight that that tiny house might actually be--flooding back. 

The Power of Words

To see more of Barb's whimsical, wonderful Fairy Houses, click over to Crispin Apiary's Facebook page