Monthly Archives: September 2011

Confessions from SCBWI

I know, it sounds like an acronym for a large, soul-less corporation, but the truth could hardly be more different.  It’s the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, a national organization that held its Northern Ohio conference this past weekend.  About a hundred and fifty people showed up, all of whom love kids and books. I mean! 

As a presenter, I critiqued picture book and middle grade manuscripts.  This responsibility made me very nervous, and as I waited to confer with my first critiqueee (?) I flashed to dreaded childhood Saturday afternoons going to confession.   I always went to Father O’Brien, though his waiting line was inevitably longest.  Everyone wanted him to hear their sins.  He was kindly and soft-hearted, made you feel maybe you weren’t so bad after all, and not only that–you left that dark little booth certain that you really could mend your ways.  In my memory,  those Saturday afternoon were always overcast and gray when I entered the church, but just as I came out  a ray of sun broke through the clouds.

I wonder now if Father O’Brien’s sweet generousity stemmed from knowledge of his own pesky failings.  As I reviewed the manuscripts, I vowed to follow my own advice: pare those adverbs, show don’t tell, never again use the word seems, begin at the true beginning.  (This was not the first time I vowed those things, of course.  But this time I was certain I could achieve a state of grace !)

I was pretty tired at the end of it all–I became a writer, after all, because I prefer typing to talking.  And of course on the ride home I thought of all the things I’d forgotten to say.  Like, I gave a talk on making sure adults are never the agents of change in your novel–a grown-up can point your main character toward a door, but your hero has to open it and go through it herself.   Yet I never mentioned that paradigm par excellence, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, in which Max sails off to tame fierce and frightening demons both external and internal, all by himself, only to return home and find his supper waiting for him.  As we all know, it was “still hot”.   The perfect combination of triumph and comfort–who wouldn’t love to be Max at that moment?

One other thing I forgot to say:  You know what?  You’re not a writer because you’re published. You’re a writer because you’re writing.  I’m saying it now.


In the past six days, I took five planes.  My brain, the closest thing I own to a portable electronic device, is still powered down (were it a seat back, it would be locked and in the upright position).  But here are a few impressions/memories of my travels:

–There’s a profession I didn’t know existed: media escort.  This is an affable, unflappable person who meets you at the airport and pilots you around.  For me, a person who hates to drive, this was akin to being given a magic carpet.  My escort in Chicago has driven around everyone, and I mean everyone, from Obama to JK Rowling (he took her to a reading when her first book came out: nine people showed up.  Next time he took her to an event: ten thousand).  This week Caroline Kennedy and Tyra Banks will be in his car (not at the same time)

–Cheryl Klein’s book Second Sight makes an excellent dinner companion.  Eating all alone is kind of fun, as you can eavesdrop with impunity on everyone around you.  The one time I wished for a tablemate was when a waiter tried to convince me to order a glass of unoaked Chardonnay that he promised would get my “glands in a tizzy”.  This sounded so terrifying I’d have liked company.

–Nothing nothing nothing makes you want to write, or feel the responsibility of  writing, more than spending time with kids who love stories.  I visited three schools, and in each one a couple hundred kids sat cross-legged on the floor to listen to me read and to ask me cool questions, including why I want to be a writer (note the present tense!)  All I had to do was look into their faces to know the answer.

–On the anniversary of 9/11, I flew out of LaGuardia and over Manhattan. Normally that island looks so powerful, imposing and magnificent, but that morning, it had a vunerability that put my heart in my throat.  And I hoped all over again that , in a world where destruction sometimes seems to be winning out, the equally strong need to create will hold its own.

a teeny bit of hypocrisy

When my girls were growing up, I followed most of the mother rules, written somewhere back in the mists of time,  including  intoning,  “It doesn’t matter if you win, so long as you try your best.”  I believe this!  I truly do.  And yet, winning is so very seductive. 

What Happened on Fox Street  just won the 2011 Ohioana Award for Children’s Literature.  You can read about the Ohioana Library and its work here:   Two of the most delightful aspects of the award are that it showcases how rich the state’s writing community is, and that the winner of the Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant to a young and upcoming writer goes this year to Laura Maylene Walter, who just happens to be a member of my stellar writing group.  Laura’s career has rocketed over the last year, and I can’t wait to sit side by side with her at the award ceremony.

Meanwhile, back to writing and trying my best…

Impossible Geometry

One of the complicated pleasures of keeping a journal is that you  realize your life  is both linear and circular at once.  Yes new things are happening by the minute, and yes you are most definitely growing older, and yet there are cycles powerful as the tides at work. 

Just about a year ago I wrote how sad I was to see my grown daughters leave after their annual, Festival of Sisters visit home.  And guess what?  I am sad again.  Scooped out like an old melon.  While those golden girls were all here this time, we swam in Lake Erie, gawked at a geodesic dome, went for a little hike (very little, since Delia was wearing her city high heels!), drank champagne, and sat around the dinner table for hours on end.  Phoebe brought home fabric she bought in Finland and I made her a dress (my headache is almost gone).  Every morning I got up and stole down here, to drink my coffee and gloat over the fact I had them all, asleep upstairs, just like olden days.

And yet.  When it was time for them to go we felt  lucky that their east coast flights were not cancelled, since it was only one day after Irene.  Because it was time for them to go.  The circle I’d drawn around them came undone; it straightened and flattened and became a line, an arrow, a road, a goodbye, goodbye till next time. 

But this year I have a new way to keep in touch with Delia, who lives in Brooklyn.  She’s started a blog, ,  where she writes about the feral feline  denizens of her neighborhood.  Since her visit home, she’s written about our two goofy cats, as well.    This is one hilarious, tender girl.  

On we go!