Monthly Archives: November 2013

I Am the Walrus

Taking the unabashedly lazy way out  and doing two for one: I have a new post today over at the lovely, middle grade writers and readers blog, “From the Mixed Up Files”. It’s about how science has proven beyond a doubt that reading fiction (especially the literary kind) is good for us in every way. Chekhov joins chocolate and red wine! Life is good.

Happy Thanksgiving, and Happy Hanukkah. May your holidays be candle-lit and delicious.

The wind…

…blew in a few new things!

***The gorgeous sketches for my new chapter book, “Not Even Cody”, set to pub with Candlewick  in spring 2015. The artist is Eliza Wheeler, who illustrated Holly Black’s terrific  “Doll Bones” .  Eliza counts A.A. Milne and Edward Gorey among her influences, and somehow manages to combine the sweet, the droll and the endearingly odd in one package. You can catch a sneak preview of the art here:

***”Phoebe and Digger” news. Those two have hit the big time. This spring, the book will be on sale at Toys ‘R’ Us! Between now and then I’ll be signing lots of copies to go on the shelves.  Barbie, Legos, and me!

***My friend Kathi Appelt, a wonderful, generous writer, is up for a National Book Award this week. Her “True Blue Scouts of Sugarman Swamp” is a book for all ages, and it begs to be read aloud. Which Lyle Lovett has done for recorded books! Kathi’s  already a true blue winner.

***My story, “Mrs. Zavatsky’s Secret”, is going to appear in the April issue of the journal “Brain, Child”. It’s a special issue devoted to the particular joy that is parenting adolescents.  This is a story that  I actually wrote  last century and only recently revised and submitted. Never too late is my middle name.


Probably I’m still yearning to live inside the lovely, fragile bubble of my four weeks in Vermont. But the other day, as I was driving down the street in the late afternoon light, my radio tuned to NPR, something happened.  The report was about Malala, the young Pakistani girl nearly killed by the the Taliban, and about the  choice of Mullah Fazlullah, who ordered the attack, as the Taliban’s new leader. This is bad news indeed, and what it means for the future was being anlayzed within an inch of its life. I tried to listen, the way I always do, but that afternoon something inside me turned. I heard myself say, “No,” out loud, and  I snapped off the radio.

And then I just drove, slowly, looking out the car window at all the things to which I could say “Yes.”  Yes to the children walking home from middle school, jostling in loud, silly packs, or trudging alone. Yes to the small stocky girl who broke into her own private, spinning, finger-popping dance on the sidewalk. Yes to the  streak of black cat in the golden leaves, Yes to the child’s tiara, a souvenir of Halloween, hanging from the crook of a little tree, Yes to the signs for our school levy, Yes to the flock of fat robins resting in a crab apple tree, Yes to the little girl in a Superman cape, yes yes yes to all the goodness and hope and illogical exuberance that make up  the  texture of life. just as surely as grief and loss and treachery.

In the fat folder of notes I have for my next novel, there’s an old newspaper clipping about how, despite our natural optimism, it’s easier for us humans to recall past bad emotional events than good ones. Probably there’s some evolutionary logic to that, and it’s also pretty interesting from a literary perspective–a single act of lying, for example, can destroy a person’s reputation.

But if it’s true that the bad is stronger than the good–why do we persist in believing the opposite? Why are we always striving to deny it, to right it? There must be some survival instinct at work there, too. And if it’s true, it means our tired old world needs a lot more good than bad.

By the time I got home I was saying it out loud. “Yes, yes, yes.” A small word, a small voice, a small dent in the darkness.

The Difference Between Resting and Quitting, and Other Things to Ponder

While I was in Vermont, I had so many conversations about writing. Some of the most interesting were about how we choose our subjects, how we know when we’re ready–not too soon, not too late–to begin a piece, and, as the four weeks went on and everyone’s brain began imploding from working so hard, how to know the difference between creating and grinding it out.  This last, by the way, was a topic among visual artists as well as those of us bent over keyboards.

Those conversations continue, thanks to e-mail. One of my friends, Cary Barbour, sent me an article,  “On Not Writing (at Least for a Little While)” by Michael Nye, managing editor of the Missouri Review, who wrote it while recovering from a weekend athlete injury. You can read the whole thing here  I’ll quote my favorite part:

“Part of writing is not writing, when your unconscious mind lets the story marinate and that elusive “it” sinks into the narrative. Part of exercise is eating properly and getting enough rest.  This is a very different thing from “writer’s block,” a phrase that, as my former students well know, I don’t believe in at all. This isn’t claiming I can’t write because of a failure of imagination. This is recognizing that when a story hits a certain draft, when your changes to the manuscript take you nowhere and yet you know the right word or right image or right phrase is tantalizingly out of reach, part of the process is stepping back and letting the answers drift to you rather than reaching for them.

I still struggle to recognize when I’m tired, when I’ve worn myself out from trying to do too much at one time. Hard work has been drilled into my mind, and it’s difficult for me to think of periods of rest as anything other than pure laziness. Rest and recovery, work smarter not harder, etc. You and I have heard these platitudes before. Maybe it’s maturity, maybe it’s from having a serious injury, but I’m recognizing that there is a distinction between quitting and resting, between giving up and giving space. Acknowledging the difference might prevent catastrophic injury. Or making your story not just good, but great.”

I call this having the story lead you, rather than having to drag it along behind you and whoa, is there a difference. By the way, Cary is a wonderful, generous writer who does a podcast of author interviews–two recent guests have been Lisa Scottoline and Junot Diaz. Check it out right this minute at


I have an essay in the November issue of Cleveland magazine. The cover features Cleveland’s Best Burgers, so I’m expecting it will be read by lots of carnivores. The piece is  about address books, but is way more interesting than that sounds–really! I swear! You can read it here (while munching a burger and fries):