Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Year

I love the last few days of a year. On these days you can be sure to find me clearing out my work-space, stuffing stuff in bags for the charity bin, pulling out couches and sucking up the dust beavers (much bigger and toothier than dust bunnies). You’ll also find me thinking and reflecting and writing on the first pages of a new journal I’ve spent time choosing, making resolutions and setting goalsor rather, making my New Year’s List.

There’s something about putting things in writing. We are writers, most of us here, and as writers we are well aware of what it is to pour ourselves into our writing. There’s something very scary, very revealing of our inner selves, and utterly intoxicating about expressing ourselves through words, through characters we’ve created, and putting it down on paper instead of just daydreaming. It’s a real commitment.

I think it’s the same kind of thing with a New Year’s List. That’s how it feels for me, anyway. I get very excited about it. I’ve been doing it since I was eight when I first heard of New Year’s resolutions. I have rituals. It’s something I hold sacred. And funnily enough, many people don’t understand when I tell them about it or they chuckle about it. They think I’m cute (or possibly crazy. Or maybe both).

But, that’s ok. That’s water off a duck’s back. Other people’s amusement has never worried me one bit, because I know that people who write lists and commit things to paper where they can clearly see them tend (more often than those who don’t) to get things done. And I like to get things done. (That’s why the first thing I do each morning is make a list of that day’s stuff-to-do. There’s something very comforting in breaking life’s daily complexity into small manageable chunks, not to mention fully satisfying as they get ticked off).

It’s a very powerful act—making written goals and sticking them somewhere you can see them, somewhere they can nag at you, or, perhaps more powerfully, where others can see them and nag at you. A New Year’s List is like a good, supportive crit group: it can keep you focused, keep you accountable, and keep you real. (It can’t hug you hard when you’re down or sincerely revel in your joy like a good crit group, though. So if you don’t have a good crit group, perhaps that should be first thing on your List.)

Anyway, here goes. My writing/creating goals this coming year, 2012:

  • Finish a solid first draft of my middle grade novel.
  • Continue to draw and once again explore my visual art, like, you know, really often.
  • Be a consistently supportive crit group member in a consistent and supportive way.
  • Be a good editor. Be a good teacher. Continue to care. Work Hard.
  • Just keeping doing my thing. Keep having a good time on paper, not really contemplating the future, letting the fluff and stuff pass me by, just focusing on my ultimate goal.

Now I’m accountable, see? And that fires me up! It’s an exciting year beginning, brand new and full of promise. Can’t you feel it?

Thank you for reading Wordy Birdie and a very Happy New Year to you and yours!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Literary Forms, Parte the Firste

Image from Great site, check it out.

Definition of IRONY

: a pretense of ignorance and of willingness to learn from another assumed in order to make the other's false conceptions conspicuous by adroit questioning —called alsoSocratic irony
a : the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaningb : a usually humorous or sardonic literary style or form characterized by ironyc : an ironic expression or utterance
(1) : incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result (2) : an event or result marked by such incongruityb : incongruity between a situation developed in a drama and the accompanying words or actions that is understood by the audience but not by the characters in the play —called also dramatic irony, tragic irony

Monday, October 17, 2011

Bye-Bye, Birdman

From the Mother's Day card Charlie made me this year.

Late last night I was drawing... just, you know, skating pencil across paper, seeing what would appear. Having a lovely time, I was, especially when I saw what shapes were emerging. I laughed. I really liked my drawing. It was funny and had a bird dude and it was different to anything I’d ever done.

“Eureka!” I said aloud. And right then I thought of my friend Charlie and knew he’d get a huge kick out of it. I would have to send him a copy when it was done.

Like me, Charlie loves birds and he draws them all the time, quirky birds with personality. For a few years I happily drove a car covered in his bird images: birds skating, birds dancing, birds snoozing, birds falling in love. 

We both really like art. Charlie is a pioneer in the art world. We hit it off the first time we met, and have walked and talked creativity ever since. We’ll take drives out into the countryside and stop by the road to draw something random that takes our fancy. He finds his own perspective, and doesn’t crowd me as I work. He gets that I don’t like someone looking over my shoulder. He understands all about being encouraging but non-effusive. He chuckles a lot. I make him chuckle. We draw together well. 

When, as a widower, he married his wonderful Ginny, he reaffirmed to me that real love and happiness can come at any age. They defined the power of long, true friendship and hope. They are a life-affirming, do-it-all couple who make you want to do it all, too.  

So Charlie and I have gone to various galleries, sharing awe and ideas and the occasional snide comment.Once he took me to the canvas-cluttered Providence studio of his landscape artist friend whose macular degeneration had made him legally blind. This man had to stand nose to vast canvas in order to see light and shade, and yet his landscapes were powerful, rich with subtle shifts in color and light. I saw there are no limits, if you have the will. 

Until Charlie first took me there, I had only vaguely heard of RISD. In his usual, slow, subtle way Charlie suggested it might be a place for me. He kept reminding me and taking me round there until I finally heard him. Over the years he's seen me become a student there and soon after, Continuing Education Faculty. He just smiled and made some wry observation as usual. I grinned. He chuckled. I knew he was proud of me. He knew he’d shown me a whole new world of possibility. Charlie knows how to handle me. I know how to jolly him round a bit. We're buddies that "get" each other.  

Unbeknownst to me, Charlie began a journey yesterday. And early this morning, right about the time I woke, my dear mentor and birdman buddy took flight. But it’s startlingly easy to believe he hovered nearby last night as I drew my quirky bird dude, making slow, subtle suggestions until I heard him, and bursting into belly laughter as I had my Eureka moment. Just as he always does. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Post in Which You Meet My Handsome Cello.

This is my cello. See how he sits there against my studio wall, surrounded by More Important Things? Watch how he admonishes me silently from his stand. Look closely, maybe you can see the dust there on his shoulders, the reproach in that lovely costume eye-patch he’s sporting. Yet each time I pass him or glance his way, a small feisty part of me is quite convinced that if I picked him up and played him, something exquisite would pour through me along the bow, into the strings and body, and spill forth singing and sonorous, resonant and ethereal. It will just spring from us almost unbidden, effortlessly, with great passion. The experience will feel transcendent.  

But it’s a complex act, playing a cello, and my playing, when I got round to it today, did not sound good.

There are many technical complexities in cello playing, and that’s before you even think about the artistry or the soul of the piece of music. I do know just how tight my bow should be, and I can tune my instrument perfectly. I can pick out an interesting melody and sometimes even hit the right note. I sound almost terrific when I am wearing big headphones and playing along to some *loud* cello music. But my small knowledge is far from enough. 

Playing the cello is something I’d really like to do well, but it’s not on my urgent list. I do feel more strongly about it than learning to blow glass or use a pottery wheel or surf and other things I’d quite like to do but could never hope to teach myself. I probably should take some cello lessons and practice every day, and I will when I have the time, money, and desire. 

In the meantime playing the cello is really hard and not always fun, in fact. Actually, it’s a lot like writing (c’mon, you knew where I was going with this). However, I can readily laugh off how bad I sound as I drag bow across strings and still happily fantasize about one day being listenable. I know I’m not my screechy cello playing, anymore than I am my excellent scone baking skills or my tragic inability to sew. But that’s hard to do with your writing, isn’t it? If our writing isn’t good, we feel it in our core as some terrible damning exposition of what’s deepest and most wonderful (or wrong) within us. Indeed,if I aspired to be the next Yo Yo Ma, I imagine the way I play the cello would be upsetting.

The thing is, we all understand it takes many lessons, a full understanding of tools, and many years of dedicated daily practice and fine tuning of artistry to become a concert musician—and yet we think we should be accomplished writers the moment we sit down to write, and then again each time we write. And when we fear that’s not happening, we quake at the thought of critiques. We shiver at the thought of sharing, of exposing our work and ourselves. We get really bloody frustrated. We let our writing and passion catch dust.

Does that make any sense at all?

All published writers have a long learning curve before they actually "make it." Everyone’s first attempts and early drafts sound like caterwauling cellos. So practice and play, be happy you’re on your way. One day, you will be a maestro. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Strange Energy

It’s an acutely uncomfortable feeling sometimes, the need to write or create. Sometimes it sneaks up on you, niggling as a vague unease, a creeping inability to sit still or focus, a repeated pragmatic thought that it ‘must be the weather.’ Sometimes it’s disguised as an escalating resentment toward a waiting pile of bills, thoughts of negative energy between you and someone you care about, or the memory of some past hurt—and other times it just carries some essence of those things.

At such times you may resort to doing the dishes, at least, since you can’t settle on anything else on your to-do list. But even though you wash the dishes and clean the kitchen counters and scrub the floor on your hands and knees till it gleams, they’re still there. Words eager to be written.

That energy has to express itself somehow. Carry a notebook, use it, and call it 'Sweet Relief.' Or blog. Then chuckle. Then get back to your WIP. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011


I haven’t been here for a bit. When I started this blog, it was to try and cure a case of writer’s block, and I’ve used it for that many times. But I promised myself when I began it that blogging would be something I did with pleasure and joy. If that meant blogging, I would, and if it meant not blogging, then I would not. I have been true to that, which makes me happy. My not being here now, I think, really shows how thoroughly invested in and engaged by my current creative process I am, and that too makes me very happy.

But I went to a funeral today, and it’s compelled me to share what’s on my mind. My whole week thus far has been one vivid, powerful reminder that life is short, and that it should be joyful—or at least that a life lived in joy with people that fill you up is the best kind of life to live, the only kind of life that really makes much sense.

In the wee small dark rainy hours of Saturday morning I was woken by a bang that shook the house. Two young girls, college students who’d had too much to drink—just kids—had crashed outside. It wasn’t at all good for the passenger, but she was conscious and I held her and spoke to her while we waited for help to arrive. Some few shocked, sickening, sleepless hours later, I had a joy-filled day with friends, one of the most special and fun in a very long time. The contrast was stark.

Then Monday, I learned of the death the night before of a family friend, Mark Jarvis, whom I’m so pleased to have known and shared a little time with. After some years battling cancer, which he tackled with a loud and enormous guffawing sense of humor and joyful spirit, he passed away quite unexpectedly after knee construction surgery. The very next day I heard about the passing of Bean Bowers, one of my NOLS instructors some years ago, and you can get a sense of the kind of guy he was here. Then today, as I got ready for Mark’s funeral, I saw the news about Steve Jobs, which seems to have infected the Interwebs with a profound sense of joy and live-life-loudly and go-for-it-no-matter-what attitude. This is just how I think of Mark Jarvis and Bean Bowers. They were just those kind of people, too.

It’s all such a good reminder. You’re a long time dead. And life is AMAZING. It can be whatever you want it to be. It is whatever you think it is, and so are you. Fill it with those who help you soar. Choose what brings you joy. Write, if that’s what you want to do. Why the hell not?

"Remembering that you are going to die is the best avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose." —Steve Jobs

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Making the Traverse (Don’t Look Down!)

I just got back from walking Baxtor around the lake near my house. There are thin, muddy bits where you have to leap from root to root or skirt the edge of the trail, and it made me think about how we get from here to there when we want to write—how we leave Daily Life Valley and climb to Really Writing Peak (as opposed to the Forced Torture Writing Gully: when we write because we should and then feel utterly poopy about what we’ve written).

I’ve gotten into the good habit of going on these walks and runs before I try to write, and I’ve probably blogged about the importance of forward physical motion before. There’s really nothing about it that isn’t good (unless it involves an internal combustion engine), and for me it’s a surefire way to get into the Really Writing space.  

Many of you will be familiar with Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and the idea of Morning Pages, of starting before writing with a 'brain dump.' But I’ve heard so many people say this about journals and pages, that they don’t like to waste those valuable words and time hammering into something that’s not their Big Project.  

So, this is what works for me and it tickles several birds with a single feather*. I spend the first half of my pre-writing walk or run (or forward moving activity) doing my kind of brain dump, i.e. walking along that edge of a good old grumble to myself and some deep-and-meaningful chat about the meaning of life, love, and IT All. And then, at what I know is about halfway point of my walking/running route, I reclaim a little mental discipline. I become AWARE of the act of thinking about Stuff. I wobble a bit, but I usually do make the conscious shift to thinking hard about my Big Project. It has a really interesting effect, and I love seeing the Stuff-People-Deal-With channel directly into my writing in a creative and usually very productive way.  

By the end of my walk, I’ve usually managed to cross that murky space between the end of the work day or the whatevering, and usually with much more general balance than when I started. Of course it can be bit tricky if you’re someone who writes at night as I mostly do, but it really helps even if I’ve done it earlier in the day.

And then, if I’m still a bit stuck and not yet in that place… well… that’s when I tend to blog about process. :)

I’d love to hear how you make the traverse.  

* Much nicer than killing two birds with one stone. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Musical Interlude: Zoe Keating

Just what is it about cello music that makes it so powerful to write to? 

Zoe Keating is powering the beginning of the novel I'm working on now, and I'm flying. 


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Wretched Curse of Rhyming Verse!

The curse will give you ugly spots,
The curse will give you twitches,
The curse will make you quite confused
And give you heaving glitches.

Your words will come out backwards
And you’ll maybe lose the plot.
By then of course it’s much too late,
Diagnosis: Published? Not!

Symptom #1: Ugly spots. Imperfect rhymes are a pox on a rhyming text.

A good rhyming dictionary will help you find the best, most meaningful rhyme, and here’s an excellent online resourceThere may be no rhyme for what you want to say, so try saying it differently. Or say something different.

Symptom #2: Twitches: irregular and jerky meter makes one dizzy.

There is perhaps no clearer evidence to an editor that you have the Curse than an irregular, changing and awkward meter. Try reading your text aloud into a recording device. Have someone else read it to you. This will help you define where the problems lie.

Symptom #3: Confusion: Um, are you talking to me?

Many authors who write verse find they have an issue with changing POV (Point of View), feeling compelled to suddenly and inexplicably address the audience directly or change narrators in order to make their lines rhyme. Just as quickly the urge retreats and the author returns to the initial POV, but by then the damage has been done.

Symptom #4: Heaving Glitches: You won’t know whether you’re coming or going.

Structural changes are an enormous problem for the rhymers: for example, changing from rhyming every second line to rhyming every line. Or every third line. And often within the same stanza. Structural changes should be carried out with intent. They should be repeated. They should say something about the narrative, pace, or emotional changes occurring within the story. More on rhyme schemes here. 

Symptom #5: Speaking backward: Sayeth to me, what art thou trying to?

Rhymers also must be wary of using words and phrases with either inappropriate or obscure meanings… or back-to-front phrasing… or archaic speech patterns… simply because they rhyme.

Symptom #6: Completely losing the plot: What were you trying to say again? At this point you know that the curse is in an advanced and possibly incurable state.

Diagnosis: Spurned, returned and possibly burned.

But look at it like this. Editors are people too. They receive many texts. Many of them are in poorly-written verse. They are familiar with the Curse of Verse, well-‘versed’ in its symptoms. And they do not have the time, money, or inclination to affect a cure. And even if yours is good, the editor may simply have had too much exposure to the bug. They may have become immune to anything that even resembles Rhyming Verse.

Prevention and Cure: First, take a deep breath. Don’t be dismayed. You’re not alone. The curse is prevalent and catching, but it is absolutely curable.

You do have something worthwhile to say. You know that a story needs a beginning, middle and end. It is really difficult to write rhyming texts that are consistent in meter, rhyme, style, and that still portray what the writer wants them to portray.

And maybe there’s no reason to write your text in verse. Rhyme lends itself to texts that are humorous or light-hearted in nature or that are designed primarily to entertain. Prose might suit your story better. You may consider re-writing your text in a combination of prose and verse with a rhyming ‘refrain/chorus’ repeated with minor variations. This may free your writing style, allow you to avoid all the other symptoms and retain your character and narrative development.

The best picture books work like a poem (whether they rhyme or not).Owl Moon by Jane Yolen is a great example. Martin Waddle’s Little Bear books show a different, equally successful approach for a younger audience. These each have a certain metre, cadence and lyrical quality and even some rhyming elements through the text. Bursts of rhyme can be used with intent, as does Maurice Sendak inWhere the Wild things Are.

Pick up your pen and just begin again. Just start writing in prose, and don’t stop, you’ll be free.

 is usually speedy. You’ll feel better. And so will your audience.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Writing Chapter Books

Registration is now open for my new class at RISD Continuing Ed, 'Writing Chapter Books.' 

When: Tuesday night, 7-10pm from September 13th - December 6th. 
Where: Rhode Island School of Design, Providence Campus.

My spring class 'Writing for Children's Books' is a suggested prerequisite, but both beginning and intermediate writers will find this twelve week course a full and in depth grounding in writing a solid narrative with engaging characters, understanding technical aspects of writing fiction such as Point of View, handling exposition, and developing an all important 'voice,' in books for readers between ages 6 and 12. We'll also be looking at writing great query letters and the submissions process.

For a full course description, please go here

On the weekend of November 12th-13th, I'll also be teaching a weekend workshop on picture book editing and revision, and I'll be editing your picture book manuscripts on-screen in class, plus we'll be doing various revision exercises. 

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Back to the Drawing Board

It’s 3:40, I’m all caught up with work, Chickling is at the Elder Birds for a couple of nights, and so it’s time to start my homework. The dishes can wait. I’m allowed to start my homework. I’m “actively allowing” myself to draw—how very cool and strangely distorted is that? But it’s something I go through every time I sit down to do this. Scourge of the worker-mother, I guess.

Oooooooh, I love homework—even when it’s torturing me*—and I love the fact that I have to do it. Especially this week. I have to pull out all the stops and produce something with high levels of awesome this week. I have to. It’s the last class, and our final projects are due on the crit wall 6:30pm Wednesday. 

*I’m not as far along as I’d like to be in the design process. My ideas for my piece are not as advanced as I’d hoped. I was a little concerned about that before class, but when I got it up there on the crit wall it was quite clear to me. I didn’t feel it, what I'd produced, and I certainly didn’t feel that others would feel it, at least not in the way I intended it. And though I accept that as part of the creative process, I felt flat...just a little bit. I was on the way to that quiet, thoughtful place that comes before starting over.    

You know that place.

...when you know it’s all there in your mind, and you’re just waiting to coax it out—in a way that it works, this time. The mug of tea is steeping, and you're adjusting the music on your iTunes. You’re on the verge of revising. It's going to be challenging, but you’re about to have a wild blast. And it feels amazing.  

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Musical Interlude - Moonage Daydream

In my early teens my creativity was flowing, my ideas ran wild and were offbeat, and I had little doubt about what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to write and illustrate books. This is the kind of music I listened to back then, and it's what I'm listening to tonight. Great stuff. 

Wear headphones and turn it up loud. Let the creativity flow! 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Scary Boots ’n’ All

I don’t mind admitting I do get a little anxious as it nears my turn for critique of my artwork in the class I’m taking at RISD this summer. I appreciate learning from every comment on technical aspects, of course, but that’s not what has me anxious. It’s people’s emotional reactions to my work that interest me most. I feel that if I can lick that, then I’ve won the major part of the battle. So far so good, but I’m about to go out on a much bigger limb as the end of the course nears.

This coming class—the penultimate class—we have been asked to present our ideas and sketches for the final project due the following week. I have chosen, without thinking or considering an alternative, to illustrate a double-page spread from a picture book text I’ve written. To progress with the illustration of this book and (perhaps even more so) to fall in love with drawing again were my goals in taking this class.

But even though I have achieved my greater goal already—I am well and truly on the way to besotted with drawing again—I am nervous about my decision to do something from my book. It would be easier, perhaps, to choose something random and unattached to a wider project, just to fulfill the assignment’s expectations and create a nice piece of art for its own sake. But my gut tells me this is the right thing for me, that this is what I want and what I truly need. But…

How do I go about it? Will I be capable? What if I fail? Do I have good ideas? Hell, do I have any ideas at all? I had some yesterday—where have they all gone? Do I have the guts and stamina required to push past the time and emotional barriers and make my project work in the way it must for me to be happy with it? Sure, it’s just a homework project, but to me it’s so much more. It’s a like taking a serious step in a new, intoxicating relationship (or is it like a hopeful rekindling of an old one gone sour?), and it’s as scary as it is elatingbecause if it fails, this one's going to sting.   

How do you push past the fear we all feel at some point on our creative journeys? Where do you place your focus so as not to succumb to it?

I, for one, am just going to listen to some music and draw and hope. And I’ve committed myself now, right here, on purpose, so I can’t back out, on my blog for all the Interwebs to see. So… here goes… I’m going to start… right… now…

Saturday, July 2, 2011


Three weeks ago, I embarked on a class at RISD, as a student this time round. A few weeks before that, I found myself co-creating a new critique group. It’s a great time for me creatively, and in part because I am sharing a greater sense of community. There is so much to learn from listening to other people talk about your work, about listening and talking to others about theirs.

If you have been my client you will have read my thoughts on the importance of a critique group. If you have taken one of my classes, you will have heard me speak often and passionately about the necessity of a writing/creating community, of a critique group, of not going this path alone.

So I now belong to two critique groups, both small—three people in each—which for me is the magic number. A critique group of three, if working well, provides the right amount of exchange without being overwhelming, and a focused and lengthy time spent on not just the nuts and bolts of each person’s work, but on discussion of process and other matters, the kinds of things a writer goes through in solitude, which must be shared if one is not only to write, but to stay mentally healthy while doing so. It can provide a gentle intimacy, and often grows into real friendship.

Both of my critique groups are wonderful. Both work and work well. And each group came into being almost effortlessly, almost spontaneously, which I think really counts for something.

One takes place in an unusual flat-roofed home, down a path past a Japanese maple, lush groundcover, large rocks. There are sculptures in the house and exotic artifacts, prints and paintings that evoke more spiritual, darker, or more thoughtful times and different cultural traditions. There are wine and sweet treats, glimpses of hummingbirds in summer, an opossum in winter. I always look forward to that environment, and it always feels both an adventure and like coming home. The other, so far, takes place in either an unexpected city tree house of sorts, or on a cricket-sung, firefly-flickering porch. It is too new yet to know where or even if it will settle, but no doubt there will always be music. Each experience in both groups is an unceasing free flow of energy, exchange from writer to writer, artist to artist. Each is warm and generous. And it’s lots of fun.

If you don’t have a critique group, I hope you’ll find one. If you start or join a critique group with the right people, and if you really give yourself to a mutual sharing of work, ideas, comfort, and understanding, it will be one of the best decisions you ever make. Not sure where to start? There are various ways, but for children’s book writers, your regional branch of SCBWI is the very best place to begin.

Now go find the fellow creative folk who fit with you, who feed your craft, fuel your ideas, and whose work and process you really care about. I could wish you no greater pleasure…except maybe a large book deal… but even then you’d need someone to share it with who’d really get what it took to get you there, and who was with you along the way, and who understood with no explanation  in the first place the need to be a writer.

Go on, find them—off you go!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


I blogged a short while ago about Permission, but it occurred to me today that I had forgotten something vital. I had this small epiphany as I was walking on the beach today. Actually, it was quite sudden. I was feeling tired, overworked, under pressure, and just a little bit unwell, and thought a cup of tea and a sit down was probably the smarter remedy. But as soon as I slipped off my flip-flops and felt cool sand between my toes, I felt as if I could skip. I was suddenly and instantly having great fun; the proverbial weight had lifted off my shoulders is one swift, sweeping motion, and I felt great.

Who wouldn't?
I think really driven, hard-working people sometimes forget the power of just being and having fun, and actually feel guilty in those rare moments that they just chill-the-hey-out. I know I certainly do, all the time. And it is a very rare moment, even during my short bursts of recreation time, that I’m not working in some sense: nutting through plot problems (clients’ and students’ and my own), trying to tune in on my characters’ conversations, and even more wading through plot problems. (Lovely work, that work done while not at a desk, but tiring just the same—especially those plot problems, eh?)

So without agenda, and thanking the universe that I had no pressing work today, I gave myself permission to meander and take my time—and not really think about those things at all. I walk on the beach all the time, but this time was very different. I underwent a huge mental shift. And I felt rewarded for doing so, by all that it does take to recharge me and put me in my happy, creative place: beautiful things in nature*.

What recharges you?  

*Nature: It’s brilliant, it’s simple, it’s free, and hopefully it’s in a place near you.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Sunday Hikes: By the Tide Pools

I haven't been hiking (or posting) as much lately, as I'm very hard at work on three writing projects and on designing a new writing course.

So this week's Sunday Hike is not really a hike, more of a shorter cliff-top stroll and oceanside rock-hopping adventure, but it's probably my favorite place in Rhode Island. It is Black Point between Narragansett and Scarborough. 

Access: The Black Point Fishing Area parking lot is on Ocean Road just north of Scarborough Beach.

And there are large tide pools, deep and extensive enough to swim through, which make it a fun place to go snorkeling.

Bring something warm, the late afternoon fog often creeps in quickly. We've also found the path along the cliff-top a great and safe place to watch the swell from hurricanes out in the Atlantic. I took the picture below when Hurricane Earl was passing by last September.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: Not far...
Dogs: Yes

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


"Contemplate the beauty of the earth, and then get out and fight like hell to protect it." 
                                                                                      ~ Rachel Carson

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


As an often-blocked writer and writing teacher, I think a great deal about process and the conditions required for us to write, keep writing, and write well. So much of writing (or perhaps any creative endeavor) is about ignoring, overcoming, or otherwise harnessing one’s basic personality flaws and/or neuroses.

For me, like many writers, it’s a fear of my stuff never being as good as I want it to be that sometimes stops me not long after I’ve begun. But as the inimitable Katherine Paterson said in her keynote address at the SCBWI winter conference a few years ago:

"I knew that if I didn't dare failure, or worse, mediocrity, I would never be a writer at all."

These words will stay with me always. But becoming a writer is not just about daring mediocrity. And it’s not just about hard work.

What it might really all boil down to is permission, the permission we give ourselves to:
·         Make a space (physical, emotional, time) that is reserved for writing and creating
·         Request our loved ones respect that space
·         Ignore the growing pile of dishes in the sink and the dusky hue of the usually pale kitchen floor  
·         Spend the money on the tools/equipment/memberships/conferences needed
·         Pull over on the highway when our characters begin to whisper, pull out our notebooks in the supermarket’s dairy aisle, stop and listen and take notes
·         Go for a run or a walk or a drive or a shower if that’s what it takes to get them whispering
·         Unplug the router, to turn off the phone/TV,  give the social media a rest
·         Put the research away in favor of the writing
·         Go to crit group and share
·         March to the beat of our own drums
·         Fail
·         Try again and again and again
·         Succeed
·         Enjoy it all

At some point in a writing career, the permission of others (agents, publishers, buying audience, etc.) becomes important too, but well before that it’s our own permission that matters. When you’re a person with a career and family responsibilities and all the things a modern person has to deal with, giving oneself permission can be extremely difficult. But really, aren’t we the only ones accountable to ourselves for the choices we make?

So if we don’t give ourselves full permission to be happy, successful writers and to undertake all that journey entails, it’s unlikely we’ll ever get anywhere.

How do you give yourself permission to write/create? How do you deny yourself permission?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Greedy Sparrow

Many thanks to Lucine Kasbarian for my copy of The Greedy Sparrow, An Armenian Tale. 

I believe a combination of cultural and narrative authenticity, accessibility, and entertainment in a retelling of a folktale can be very difficult to achieve, but Kasbarian—in concert with Zaikana’s strong illustrations—has done just that. She has also managed to avoid the didacticism that can be difficult to suppress in traditional tales, while allowing messages about greed and kindness to filter clearly through.

Russian illustrator Zaikana’s bold, colorful lost-wax illustrations give the reader a real feel for Armenian culture, traditional dress, landscape, and architecture, and manage to convey some tricky concepts in a thoroughly humorous and appealing way. 

It's wonderful to see an Armenian oral tradition not only being kept alive, but shared with a much wider audience with this first in-English retelling of this tale in a picture book. 

The Greedy Sparrow
Retold by Lucine Kasbarian
Illustrated by Maria Zaikina
Marshall Cavendish 2011

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

New Fall Classes

I'm looking forward to teaching two new offerings at RISD Continuing Ed this fall.
  • Writing Chapter Books for Children: a 12 week course, Tuesdays 7-10 pm. We will be discussing aspects such as narrative structure, pacing, POV, language and voice, dialogue, character development, showing-not-telling, submissions, the market, how to turn an idea into a series, and more. 

  • On Screen Editing: Picture Book Texts: a weekend workshop for those with existing texts at the revision stage. I will be editing students' manuscripts on screen and discussing revision techniques and tools. 

Check the RISD/CE site or fall catalogue for more information. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Silver-Spangled Thank You

Well of course there were no Sunday Hikes in the wilds of Rhode Island this week, as I was carving up the dance-floor in a pair of silver boots. Yes, that was me! Why did Wordy Bird make this dubious fashion choice* (apart from the fact that it made me feel like a superhero)? Because I was at NESCBWI’s Silver Anniversary regional conference!

And what a conference it was. Where else could it be confirmed that Jane Yolen is, indeed, a goddess (did we ever doubt it?), that Harold Underdown has a three-way split personality (each of them as insightful and witty as the next), and that Tomie dePaola has an unusual thing for black velvet? Thoughtful, heart-ful, soulful keynotes by Steve Mooser and Lin Oliver who created SCBWI forty years ago? What else can I say but “WOW!”

Edward J. Delaney and Steven Withrow’s Library of the Early Mind, which screened on Saturday night, is a must-see—not just for creators of kids’ books but for anyone who cares about children. Steven, when will we be able to purchase a DVD???

I was thrilled to see several of my writing students at RISD receive awards: Caroline Gray, Lin Norman-Lyman, and special congrats to Jeannette Bradley for winning the R. Michelson Galleries’ award. So proud of you all. And super-congrats to my friend Besty Devany for winning the 2011 Ruth Glass Scholarship (not to mention another award earlier last week)!

And of course, I attended great workshops and learned so much. I have to give a particular shout out to Janet Fox whose two sessions I attended: “Plot Don’t Plod, Pace Don’t Race” and “Elision.” Janet, not sure if you’re on the listserv or if you’ll ever read this, but I can only partially express the impact of your two talks on me. After being so devastatingly blocked for so long with the novel that tugs my heart and soul more than anything I’ve ever written, I feel as if I experienced a sudden turning on of my lights in both of your sessions. It feels as if the rest of my novel is now waiting to burst forth from me. Can’t wait to read your books. If any of you ever have the chance to hear Janet speak, I encourage you to jump at the opportunity.  

To Greg Fishbone, Kathryn Gargolinksi, Marilyn Salerno, Sally Riley, keynote speakers, critique-ers, faculty, and all the volunteers and helpers who worked so hard to make it all possible for use to attend - thank you.

To all my RISD students who weren’t there this year… hie thee hence to NESCBWI 2012! 

*Now safely ensconced in daughter's dress-up box.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Sunday Hikes: Among the Cairns

This week's hike was in George B. Parker Wildlife Refuge in Coventry, Rhode Island, another really pretty offering from Audobon's Passport to the Trails

Here several trails wend their way through 860 acres of maple swamp, pine, brooks, rocky streams, and old birch forest; the birches are particularly pretty right now with their young golden green leaves. There is also a historic (1700's) farmhouse and nature center, which were closed when we went, but where we attended a fun maple sugaring event in late winter.


There are also more than a hundred 'mysterious' cairns, built by... well, there are a few theories, but I suspect the most obvious answer is correct. 

I decided I'd test my Vibram Five-Finger shoes, which I use for 'barefoot' running, to see how they bear up as a hiking shoe, and they were great. It's a totally different experience to be able to feel the ground as you walk, and so much better than regular walking shoes, considering my back issues. Even after 4.5 miles of rocky and hilly trail, my feet felt terrific. 

And I was thrilled to see my first scarlet tanager.

Distance: variable, as short as 1 mile... we did the entire blue trail, which was just over 4.5 miles. Make sure you grab a trail map at the information shelter before you set out. 

Difficulty: variable. The blue trail ranges from moderate to hard in places. Very rocky, rooty, and hilly, but not difficult if you're fit and like a good walk. 

Dogs: no