Archive for February, 2012

Because life isn’t complicated enough…

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

I loved my kitchen, when we moved in. It was yellow and sweet, and it had a gas stove and a clean nice fridge, and that was all I really cared about.

But then I was sitting here, with a book deadline, and a very sick kid (102 fever 5 days running now), and a bunch of school visits and trips to do, and I thought, “Hey! I know what would make this wek more fun! Let’s renovate the kitchen!”

Okay, maybe it didn’t go down quite like that. In fact, the counter was falling off the wall, because it had only ever been GLUED there, and the weight of it was putting pressure on our pipes. And also, the counter was made of crap particleboard, and it was disintegrating, in little bits of sawdust, onto the floor…


…we ditched it!


Everyone told us to get granite, but I have always dreamed of a butcher block kitchen. Soft and light and warm.  And so…

That’s what we’re doing!

Of course… once you begin messing around in a kitchen, you think of all the other things you wish you could do.

We aren’t doing a “new kitchen” at all. Leaving the crappy old scratched cabinets, the appliances, and the cheap flooring.  Because those aren’t things that bother us.  I don’t need an ice maker.

But we’re doing the walls. THE WALLS.  From floor to ceiling, we’re tiling the walls, which are concrete now, and lumpy.  We’ll be able to Swiffer them clean.   Can you imagine?

And for the first time in my life, I’m getting a garbage disposal, for the sole purpose of not having to scoop Cheerios out of the drain every morning.  LUXURY LIVING!

It’s so so so so so much fun, this feeling of fixing up a house I plan to STAY in.  Not thinking about “resale” or “investment” but about the house I want my house to be.

Which is to say… we might paint the ceiling blue!



The pattern…

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

One of the best things about my life is that it never stays the same.  There’s a pattern, a cycle, of work. I draft a novel, and that’s one kind of work. Then I revise a novel, and that’s another kind of work.  When a book comes out, I promote and visit schools, and that’s yet another kind of work.  In the in-between times I dream about new projects and scribble the beginnings to things I’ll probably never finish.  In and around all of those tasks, I take care of my kids and home, and that is (obviously) the biggest, hardest, most important job of all, in its way.

Right now I am in a rare and lovely moment.  A place in the cycle that sometimes feels like the mythical light at the end of the tunnel.  I have turned in a book, and I feel pretty good about it, and I’m mulling over new ideas, but I don’t have anything due. I’m not under contract.  I’m also not traveling a lot.  So I have the time to just LIVE.

Meanwhile, Lew has strep throat, and a man is arriving today to rip out our disintegrating kitchen counter, and we need to finish our taxes, and refinance our house.    Fun stuff like that.

A friend said to me yesterday, “Oh, it’s too bad you don’t have time to relax and enjoy a little break, with all of that going on…”

But I just keep thinking, “Wow! How would I handle THESE things if I hadn’t already turned in my book? I’m so lucky.”  Isn’t it interesting how things have a way of working out?

So today I’ll take Lew to get a new toothbrush, and make him soup, and clean out the kitchen cabinets for the contractor, and sort through the credit card receipts from last year.  And enjoy it, as part of the pattern.

Because it won’t last long.

Where do you write???

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Today the Millions is asking Where Do You Write?

And I really want to answer…

Because lately I have been writing in THE SHED. Which is a crazy fulfillment of dreams I’ve had all my life.

I do. I write in a little shed, in the back of my big yard. Surrounded by garden tools and toy dump trucks and swingsets.

But set apart, off on my own. It feels very remote, like another land, a sacred space. I love it.

The Shed isn’t fancy. The big splurge I bought myself was the electricity. It has a space heater. No air conditioning (though nobody believes that, in Atlanta).  It has a brick floor (in case of flooding) and is filled with furniture found on sidewalks and at thrift stores. Cast-offs from friends.

Mostly I sit in the big chair to write.

The fabulous Melody Moezzi gave me that chair, and I’ve written my last two books in it.  It’s an amazing chair, however stained, because my computer can sit on the arm. The cats (who follow me to The Shed) like the chair.

I do NOT sit at The Desk very often. But when I do it means I am doing something serious. The Desk feels serious.  The Desk IS, in fact, serious.  Serious enough that I have written poems about it.

The short story of The Desk is that it belonged to my great grandfather, who left it to my grandfather, who left it to my father, who gave it to me.  I don’t exactly own it, because it seems only fair that my sister and brothers should have access to it too, but I care for it. I watch over The Desk.  I have promised Dad that if I ever have the money to do so I will restore The Desk, fix the roll-top.  We shall see if that money ever appears.

It has lived in every house I can remember my father in. It is the ONLY piece of furniture he has taken everywhere he has gone, I think.  On some level it feels strange to have it now, but good. Like my dad is with me, here.  Like I’ll walk out into The Shed someday and he’ll be hanging out, rolling up pennies (which he used to do at The Desk) or scribbling something in a notebook.  It’s hard to imagine his apartment now, without it.

Last summer, when The Shed was finished, Dad drove a moving truck down here from Bethlehem, PA.  A huge empty truck, and when he opened it up, there was The Desk!

Initially, the desk was found, like all the other furniture in The Shed.  My great-grandfather found it, in a parking lot.

But if I tell you that… I will be venturing into the territory of the LONG STORY.

It is enough, for now, just to have The Shed. And The Desk.

Green-Eyes Stripy Stripe Poma…

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

I did not want another cat. Not even a little bit. This house is too small.

But we didn’t find her. She found us.

She followed the boys home from a walk.

And so we have a new member of the family, it would seem.

She’s a licker.

Elsewhere on the web…

Friday, February 17th, 2012

Hey! Because I have way too much time on my hands and nooooo writing to do (groan)…

My friend Rebekah (writer, teacher, musician, mom, all around clever girl) and I have started a new blog over here, at CITY WE LOVE!

The idea is to capture, in moments and pictures and daily descriptions, what we find so wonderful about southeast Atlanta. We’ll be taking you on a tour of our neighborhoods– Grant Park and Ormewood Park– and the places we can wander to from where we live (East Atlanta Village, Cabbagetown).

I hope you’ll come check it out!

Dispatch from the banks of the slough…

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

And then sometimes you figure something out, and defrost some chili, and keep at it…

Dispatch from the Slough of Despond…

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

And then sometimes…

You have a book due in a week, and you are going around and around in circles, trying to Figure. It.Out. And it just isn’t happening and the stupid characters are saying the same things over and over, and you can’t get yourself to cry or laugh, and so instead you just keep copyediting the same thirty pages, over and over, and it isn’t fun at all, and they suck they suck they suck and you don’t know what to do, so you call your agent and she says good things that should totally help but don’t quite, and then you send it to a friend who says it is GREAT, but you know better. YOU KNOW BETTER.

And so you take a deep breath. And you think about the things your agent said and you ignore the things your friend said, and you start over on page one again. Because maybe this time you’ll get it. But probably not because  you only have three hours a day to work and the kids are home from school on Friday this week for a holiday nobody cares about anyway and the laundry is piling up and you don’t know why you do this to yourself because REALLY WHAT IS THE GODDAMN  POINT?

When it will never be as good as Over Sea Under Stone. Or The Westing Game. Or Harriet the Spy. Or Jacob Have I Loved. Or Stranger with my Face. Or stupid Harry Potter. Or about forty thousand other awesome books you’d rather be reading than WRITING THIS TRIPE.

So you step away.

You step away.

And maybe you take a slug of something.

And maybe you eat an entire bag of chocolate covered pretzels.

And maybe you post to Facebook twice and to Twitter fourteen times.

And then maybe you blog a post like this one. Because it only seems fair that if people are going to cheer you on when you’re having a good day… they should know how absolutely terrible and awful it can feel to pour a year of your life into a book that might absolutely FAIL.

It happens. It does.  People write terrible horrible failures.  They do.  And in theory they survive the experience.

Though it doesn’t feel like you’ll survive this one.

ANd yet still, feeling that way, with the taste of bourbon and chocolate and self-loathing on your tongue, you hope. You pray. You kiss your kids and brush your teeth and stare at your aging face in the mirror and then you go to sleep wrestling, puzzling, talking to your stupid characters, trying to figure the damn thing out.

You fall asleep turning it over turning it over turning it over, with your fingers crossed.


Because at thirty eight  you still believe in things like that.

Since you are, after all, a children’s author.


GOOD TIMES: on time travel and political awareness…

Monday, February 13th, 2012

Okay, so I’m writing this book called Seven Stories Up. A fun middle grade romp! (as you can see from the related illustration above)

In it, a girl named Annie is living in 1987 Atlanta. Until, through a strange series of events, she isn’t anymore. Suddenly she’s living in 1937 Baltimore.

Okay, pretty standard MG Time-travel story, right?

So… here’s what is DRIVING ME BONKERS…

Annie is not stupid. Annie is not unkind. And though Annie is not a goodie-two-shoes or anything, she has to see things in 1937 that upset her ethical sensibilities. Right?


Which leads me to this question: how much should this overtake the story?

When I wrote Any Which Wall, I ran into this a bit– the kids ran off to Camelot to meet Merlin and it wasn’t as they expected. Fifth century dental care, for instance, left something to be desired

But 1937… that’s like, HITLER and SEGREGATED LUNCH COUNTERS. And Annie is a kid in 1987. If she isn’t a political activist, she certainly knows Anne Frank. She knows MLK Jr.

How could she walk around and not want to say something or do something?

I’m having trouble thinking of other books that negotiate this situation, rather than avoiding it. Can anyone help me?

For now, I’m trying to use the conflict, trying to get Annie to evaluate her own age, through the lens of 1937. But that’s not always easy. And I don’t want to be heavyhanded, since the book isn’t “about” politics.


As we all know.


Outtakes from a book you’ll never see…

Saturday, February 11th, 2012

I don’t know a single writer who hasn’t got a drawer full of manuscripts, books that won’t be published for one reason or another.

One of my own such books is “The Neglected Holiday Songbook.” A book of tiny silly songs for all the holidays that don’t have enough music to celebrate them. Groundhog’s Day, Thanksgiving, Arbor Day, etc.

So… since it’ll never be out in print, here’s a Valentine for you! A seasonal excerpt from the book.  (picture hilarious drawings to go with it, maybe in the style of David Small)


Valentines Day (February 14)

I will not give you candy,
Or roses, or my love.
But if you go on kissing me,
I might give you a SHOVE!

I did not make a card for you,
All red and white and pink.
But if you try to hold my hand,
I might just make a STINK!

I don’t want you to be my sweet.
I don’t like you that way.
I really only want you, please,
To quickly GO AWAY!

Valentine’s Day is a holiday celebrated in different ways all over the planet. In the English-speaking countries, it is the traditional day for sweethearts to show affection (or get out of trouble they might be in) by sending cards, candy, and other junk like that. The holiday is named after two different Early Christian martyrs named Valentine, but it doesn’t have much to do with them, really.  Valentines Day is extremely PINK.


Coolest thing ever…

Friday, February 3rd, 2012


I just got UNSHELVED!!!