Monthly Archives: November 2012

Nice news

This week’s mail held a treat: the news that I was selected to receive a full fellowship to the Vermont Studio Center. This means that, come October, I’ll get to spend four weeks living here

and writing at a desk in a private studio like this

and taking walks in woods that look like this

and because it’s a place for visual artists as well, hanging out with people who make cool stuff like this

I’m reading  the resident handbook, enjoying lines like “Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are provided seven days a week”  and “Each of the studios overlooks the Gihon River”.  And I love how the list of local services includes bookstores, thrift shops, and welding supplies.

I’ve never done anything like this before. The idea of leaving my oh-so-familiar life and oh-so-beloved husband, and challenging myself to concentrate totally on my work, has equally terrified and intrigued me.  But lately I’d been feeling like now or never.  So the news is good.

The day after

Two of my grown-up daughters are home, asleep upstairs in their childhood beds.  Only one word for how that makes me feel: blissful. (Bliss and bless–the lovely twins!)

Today I have a post over at the reading/writing blog I sporadically contribute to:

And because my own writing process remains mysterious to me, and because I love lists, I’m thankful to the YA writer Lanie Taylor for these 5 writing tips, which I intend to take to heart (especially # 5):

1. Know what you love. Try imagining the book that would light your heart and mind on fire if you came across it in a bookstore—the one that would quicken your pulse and keep you up all night reading. What would it be? Details, details: when, where, what, who? Think it up, imagine it fully, then bring it forth. That’s the book you should be writing.

2. Never sit staring at a blank page or screen. If you find yourself stuck, write. Write aboutthe scene you’re trying to write. Writing about is easier than writing, and chances are, it will give you your way in. You could try listing ten things that might happen next, or do a timed freewrite—fast, non-precious forward momentum; you don’t even have to read it afterward, but it might give you ideas. Try anything and everything. Never fall still, and don’t be lazy.

3. Eliminate distractions. Eliminate internet access. Find/create a place and time where you won’t be bothered. Noise-canceling headphones are great. Hotel-writing-sprees are even better if you can make that happen every once and a while: total dedicated writing time. During my second draft pass on my last book I made 20,000 words happen in a week, which is practically supernatural for me, and it would never have been possible without three nights in a hotel in my own city. It’s an incredible splurge, and a huge liberation, and you might just deserve it!

4. Get your characters talking. Dialogue is the place that books are most alive and forge the most direct connection with readers. It is also where we as writers discover our characters and allow them to become real. Get them talking. Don’t be precious. Write dialogues. Cultivate the attitude that every word you write need not end up in the book. Some things are just exercises, part of the process of discovery. Be willing to do more work than will show. The end result is all that matters. Be huge and generous and fearless.

5. Be an unstoppable force. Write with an imaginary machete strapped to your thigh. This is not wishy-washy, polite, drinking-tea-with-your-pinkie-sticking-out stuff. It’s who you want to be, your most powerful self. Write your books. Finish them, then make them better. Find the way. No one will make this dream come true for you but you.

Down with pinkies! Up with machetes! Grab that wishbone and go!


As a pre-holiday treat for myself and I hope for you, I’m sharing the first bits of art from my picture book PHOEBE AND DIGGER, illustrated by Jeff Newman and pubbing  with Candlewick this coming March. 

Jeff is a witty genius. His bright, retro-palette and use of white space has tickled me from the very earliest sketches.

Here are the first two pages. Click on the art to make it bigger.

And two pages later on, after Phoebe and Digger have wreaked considerable chaos on the playground:

Don’t you adore Phoebe and Mama’s fashion sense?

Working with my Candlewick editor and art department has been a dream. They’ve solicited and respected my input all along the way–and that’s not always how it goes! I thank my lucky stars I’m getting to work with them again on NOT EVEN CODY, due in 2014.

PHOEBE AND DIGGER. Text copyright © 2013 by Tricia Springstubb. Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Jeff Newman. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Out of Bad…

My daughter Phoebe had a legendary second grade teacher. Mrs. Dooner took the kids for long afternoon walks, pointing out their neighbors’ gardens and houses, the shops and churches, giving names to  trees and  architectural details (Phoebe, who by some odd chance became an architect, taught me the difference between a Doric and a Corinthian column), giving the children eyes to see their own little slice of the world as wondrous and rich. She also taught them to memorize poetry–imagine 25 second graders chanting “Tiger Tiger, burning bright…”  And she was a font of words to live by. My favorite phrase, because I’ve had cause to use it so often, is “Out of bad comes good.”

I thought of Mrs. Dooner again this last week, as  my family on Long Island went without power day after day (one of my brothers is still in the dark as I write). In the last year or so, a number of  picture books about what technology has done to family time have been published. John Rocco’s “Blackout” , Matthew Cordell’s “Hello Hello” and Peter McCarthy’s “Chloe” are all delightful takes on how  kids can get short-changed by our addiction to devices.  In each book, it’s the youngest member of the family who leads the way back to old-time togetherness.

But those are just books, right?   Hmm. My youngest sister has two girls, 7 and 10. One night when I talked to them, they were both happily reading by flashlight. After that night’s take-out pizza, they were going to play Monopoly by the fireplace. And then they and their parents would crawl into their sleeping bags on the living room rug and snuggle down together.

After a week of this, workers from Michigan restored their power. My sister and her family stood on their front porch and cheered the heroes.  It was a hot food, hot bath night, and my sister looked forward to collapsing in front of the TV.

You can probably guess the rest.  It was the girls who wanted one more night of board games and camping out together. The novelty had turned into something else.  Hard as it can be to find the good, it’s almost always waiting on the dim edges or even at the heart of the bad. Thank you, Mrs. Dooner, for that lesson.


Here in Ohio, the sun shone and the sky was blue for the first time in 10 days on November 6. Just saying.

Blow, ye winds…

“Strike flat the thick rotundity o’ th’ world!”

Cleveland, October 30

Grasshoppers that we are, the only flashlight we owned was one our daughter took to Girl Scout camp back in the day. It still had her name on a dried-up strip of masking tape. So we were amused by the presents Paul’s mother gave him for his birthday a few weeks ago: a utility torch and a lantern that beams the whitest, brightest light this side of the Pearly Gates. I was going to stash them down the basement, where they’d soon get buried and forgotten, but…something told me No.

Monday night, I was looking out the window, watching the wind thrash the   trees, when we heard a small explosion. I thought of the old flashbulbs, the ones that would pop and then crinkle and melt, only way louder. Poof. The street went dark before my eyes. Zoop. On went the magic lantern.

By the third day, when I went down the hill to the coffee place, half my neighborhood was in there. Everyone was rueful and cheery and a little grubby, and the hot coffee was dee-vine (My sister-in-law on Long Island, still without power, realized the depths of her caffeine addiction when she found herself making a paste of instant coffee and water, adding cold milk and slugging it down. This wasn’t as bad as my friend who ate cold chicken soup—Susan, eeyoo!)  The rain came down in such unrelenting sheets that the sky never changed all day, the light the same mornings and afternoons. All my shoes got soaked, and in the cold house refused to dry. One day I went to school with Paul, sat in the corner of his warm, bright classroom and wrote a book review (Lydia Millet’s “Magnificence”—a swooner of a novel). I developed a habit I might stick with—writing at the library. So quiet (before school lets out). So focusing (don’t know how to log onto the internet). Out of bad comes good, as my daughter’s second grade teacher taught them.

But the trees! The faithful old trees, the oaks and maples and tulip poplars, who faithfully watch over these streets and yards. The wind yanked them out like rotten teeth. I saw one that looked as if it had heaved a great, sad sigh and slowly collapsed against its house—it leaned there quietly, gently, having dented not so much as a gutter.   

This morning the lantern is finally off. The furnace is cranked high. It’s still, unbelievably, raining, but last night, just before sunset, I saw a few rays of sunlight and my heart lifted like Noah’s when that dove arrowed back to the arc with a twig in her mouth. Dry land is out there somewhere. My heart goes out to New York and New Jersey, where there’s still so much ahead.