Archive for August, 2013

A family of readers…

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

When I was a kid, my parents “encouraged” me to read. By which I mean they filled our house with books, and then ignored me, locked me in my room, and established a rule that stipulated I could stay up as late as I wanted, but only to read.

But there was someone else in my life who really really really “encouraged” me to read. My grandmother.

She was a children’s librarian, and she was very invested in picture books. She spent a lot of time hunting down first editions for me, and then getting them signed by authors she loved. Marcia Brown. Arnold and Anita Lobel.  Tomie de Paola.  These were among her favorites.

The book coming out in January, Seven Stories Up, is very much a book she inspired– a fictionalized version of one summer in her life.

But in a funny turn of events, something else is happening to me this week. Something that connects to my grandmother. Tomie is coming to town!

So I am taking some of my books to get them REsigned, dedicated to my boys. There will be TWO generations of inscriptions in these books, which were bought by my grandmother, who never got to meet my boys. I was pregnant with Mose when she died.

How’s that for a family of reading?

(Unless of course Mr. De Paola refuses me.  In which case I shall curse him, like the Troll-queen I am)


Dead trees, good books, and honest librarians…

Friday, August 9th, 2013


An interesting thing happened today.  A friend told me this story:

She (we’ll call her Arabella) was in a library, and she mentioned my name.

The librarian was familiar with my books, and complimentary, but she commented, as a side note, that I spend a LOT of time on Twitter.  She wondered aloud if perhaps the quality of an author’s work goes down when they’re online all the time.

Arabella, being a very good friend, emphatically disagreed, and said she’d read my new book, and loved it, etc. etc.


This librarian raises a good point.  And I wonder what you think about it.

I’d like to start by saying that I try to divide my “writing time” from my online time. That when I’m in and out of Twitter (and you can see me there) I’m NOT typically at work.

This summer, for instance, I’ve been Skyping and Tweeting and Facebooking even more than usual, because I’ve had no childcare, NONE, and so I haven’t been writing at all. Except in very early morning hours, now and again, before everyone wakes up. I’m not working on a novel. I’m on vacation.  And while the kids play Lego, and while the popsicles freeze, I tweet.

Usually I use a program that block me from the web for three or four hour stretches, to insure I don’t break the rules I’ve set for myself.

I’d also like to add that the book I’ve written that most people consider my strongest, Bigger than a Bread Box, was written within the Twitter bubble.  And the book most people consider my weakest, Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains, was written before the advent of social media. Hardly a controlled experiment, but it’s something to mull.

But all that said, I’m absolutely addicted to social media. I can feel the addiction, whenever I’m typing.  Arabella likened this addiction to a sugar addiction, when we were talking about it, and I think that’s right.  The web IS a distraction. I lose focus because of it.  It’s much harder than it used to be to dive into my work in a totally absorbing breathless way.  And I miss that feeling of disappearing into the story for hours and coming up for air. I do.

If the web isn’t affecting the quality of my work, it’s affecting my experience of work, my process.  In much the same way it affects the experience of reading a book.  Reading for 10 hours in bed on a Saturday is like visiting an island.  Stopping for a break every 20 minutes while reading isn’t like that, is it?

This is why I’ve actually made a crazy decision about my new novel, The Orphan Island, which I’ve outlined, and am beginning work on next week.

I’m GOING BACK TO DEAD TREES.  For real.  I’ve painted the characters, with actual paint on actual paper. I’ve painted the island, and will continue to add to it. I have an outline, on paper, and scraps and bits of notes and dialogue, in a little box beside my bed.  And today I acquired a stack of legal pads and three new mechanical pencils.

I will, in the end, type this book up. But not until I’ve written a draft of it, longhand.

So we’ll see.  We’ll see what happens when I go totally offline as I write. If The Orphan Island is the best thing I’ve ever written, maybe that will tell me something. About slowness. About needing a bubble to write in.  About solitude.

But I want to say that I don’t owe this decision to the librarian, or to Arabella.  The timing of that conversation was only a coincidence.  This is a decision I’ve been moving towards all year. Though I only made this promise to myself yesterday.  After a fight with Lew, who was very upset to discover that he’s not allowed “screen time” during weekdays, now that summer is over.

“Why?”  He asked me.  “Why can’t I play Minecraft? And watch TV?”

“There’s nothing wrong with screens,” I told him.  “Screens are fine, sometimes. But I want your brain to be able to do other kinds of work too. I want your brain to be happy when it isn’t looking at a screen. I want your brain to be enough for you, all on its own.”

So. Yeah. There we are.

I’ll still see you online, around.  And you’ll see me.  Because I’m an addict. But also because I think Twitter and Facebook can be amazing forces for good in the universe (just today a Facebook friend dropped off two donated snare drums for my kids’ school band, because I posted a need on Facebook). And because I’d miss my friends. And because, honestly, it’s something publishers expect.  But when you do see me, I won’t be writing. Not at all.  And when I’m writing, you won’t see me. Not even a little bit.

Not until I’ve written a book.  A good one, I hope.


I have a cover!!!

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

So, my new book, Seven Stories Up, will be out in January.  (feel free to add it to your Goodreads!)

It’s always scary, waiting to see the cover of a new book.  Sometimes the book looks EXACTLY like you thought it would look.  And sometimes it looks NOTHING like you thought it would look.

In this case, the book doesn’t look like I expected it to at all.  I’d pictured a mysterious lamplit hotel, seen from the street, with one ominous window lit up, only one.  Because this book is a companion to Bigger than a Bread Box, which had a mysterious feel to it.

But now… looking at this wonderful cover by Tim Jessell, I’m struck my how right it is.  ANd by much it looks like a lot of the classic books of my youth. It reminds me of The Secret Language, or The Little Princess.

There’s a tradition of books like this– books where two kids bond and grow, in a little world all their own.  Books about two girls who only need each other.  I loved those books.  Those books were timeless.

This is a book like that, I hope. Although it’s related to Bread Box, it’s a very different book.  And the cover captures that.

Don’t you think?


Back to school…

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

Here in Atlanta, school starts TODAY, August 7, but vacation begins at the beginning of May. I don’t know why our schedule is so early. Maybe it has to do with the growing season… with kids needing to be out early to work on the farm or something…

In any case, I like it.  I like that vacation comes FAST.

And I like that the kids go back to school before I begin to lose my mind.

This summer I didn’t really have any childcare.  We took one long 2-3 week road trip, to Iowa City, Chicago, and Battle Creek.  But mostly we’ve just been home, reading and swimming and shouting and laughing and eating popsicles and arguing about how many more minutes of Minecraft are allowed.

It’s been lovely.

But now I’m ready to GET BACK TO WORK.

Have fun at school, Mose and Lew. Learn lots of cool stuff!

I’ll just be here, scribbling.