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

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Isn't Spring Grand?

I saw this pair on my early morning walk today:

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sunday Hikes: Wild Kingdom

Sunday came early this week, on Monday afternoon to be exact, when we decided we’d do another trail in Audobon’s Passport to the Trails.

Fisherville Brook—a 937 acre refuge in Exeter, Rhode Island—is a must see. The trail wends its way through stately pine rocky forest down to a picturesque lake, swampland, and streams. 

Bird-life abounds and no wonder: the fields are full of birdhouses.

Funky apartment complex!
There’s a really interesting historic cemetery in one field:

Stay on the trail near the cemetery or beware the black racers in the grass: saw three in one spot and according to a friend’s research they “bite often and hard” when cornered. Luckily, these did not seem at all aggressive, and I was able to get close enough to take some shots:

Wild turkey
Tree Swallow


Difficulty: easy (a few little hills here and there), with boardwalks and bridges over swampy areas.
Distance: several loops to choose from, ranging from short to about 1.5 miles. We did about 3.5 miles in all.
Dogs: no