From the JacketFlap: “For the past five years, Hayley Kincain and her father, Andy, have been on the road, trying to outrun the memories that haunt them both. They moved back to Andy’s hometown to try a “normal” life, … Continue reading
The Writing Retreat
A tricky plot, I’ve lost my thought
I need to clear my head
My characters stink and I can’t think
My muse needs watered and fed
So I’m off, down the road, take a right at the lane
To a fireside ‘cross the bay
Gonna clear my noggin, and quick my sloggin’
Gonna breath, and write all day
Good friends, good food, and a bottle or four
Close the door, shut it tight, lock and latch it
The first draft needs words, and a problem to solve
The revision just might need a hatchet.
I’ll wrangle and tangle my story until
A thin ray of hope starts to rise
And that night I’ll drink deep from the well of content
My eyes will be back on the prize
Far from a cry of defeat, the word retreat actually can mean a purposeful movement towards sanity.
Making a conscious effort to give your goals a solid chunk of attention is a very powerful way to tell yourself, and others, what is important to you right now.
For the next four days, I’m off to the Fireside Retreat – a writing getaway of my own design. I’ll be surrounded by peace and quiet and the occasional laugh from the talented friends who are joining me. We’ll also be meeting with Newbery Award winning author Cynthia Voigt who has graciously offered to share her time and insights with us. And all of this is because I had an idea, and asked for some favors and some help.
Maybe it’s time for you to plan a girl’s or guy’s weekend so you can focus on treasured friendships. Or, perhaps you crave a prefab or self-designed retreat for writers, crafters, fitness junkies, spiritual seekers, or whatever is your current passion.
Make the time, make the arrangements, make you a priority! Retreat!
My husband never talks about his patients with me. (He’s the poster boy for the HIPAA law.) But when a call from the hospital comes in at night, sometimes I am privy to his side of the conversation. I might hear snippets such as the person’s age, or what tests they need to have done. I’ve learned which key words will lead to me sleeping alone that night (ruptured, perforation) and which will keep him snuggled next to me (elective, antibiotics).
Within thirty seconds of the phone call ending, my husband will be back to sleep. It’s a self-preserving skill he learned in residency. But for me, it’s not that easy. Now I’m up. And now I’m thinking about this person who I know nothing about, beyond the fact that they are, say, 66-years-old and have a high fever and need an ERCP, whatever that is. Now that I know about them, and I’m awake, I do what I can for them. Which isn’t much, but I hold them in my mind, and I wish them well. I like to envision a little bit of the comfort I’m sending to them actually finding it’s way to the ER, or the ICU, or their room. It’s improbable, but it’s possible. So I go there.
Many, many nights, phone calls or not, I hold my husband’s hands in mine and offer a straight-up prayer. First it’s a thank you for all the times his hands have been safely guided to help in the past, then it’s a prayer for continued guidance and strength in the future. If my husband knew any of this, he’d be doing an eye-roll/gagging noise combination. He’s a man of hard logic and science. We’re quite a pair.
Sometimes, one is on the receiving end of good thoughts. Two years ago this weekend, Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, CT experienced the unthinkable. The news trickled first into our local consciousness and then onto the national and international stage. And while I struggled with shock and fear and that sickening too close-to-home feeling, something strangely comforting started happening.
First, a phone call from my sister, 3,000 miles and two time zones away. When her first patient of the day asked, “Isn’t it terrible about what happened at that school in CT?” her stomach dropped, and she thought of me. Then a steady stream of friends, from all over the country, from all phases of my life, started checking in.
I heard the news, and I thought of you. Are you okay? Are the kids okay?
I heard from people I hadn’t been in touch with for years, from close friends, and from Christmas-card-only friends. All wished me well and expressed relief that today, this time, the tragedy was not ours. In the weeks that followed, sadness would wash over me in waves. But the comfort of being thought of and wished well by so many always pulled me to a safe shore.
We can never know how many people are thinking of us, maybe right now, and wishing us well. It doesn’t take an anniversary for me to think of the Newtown families. A face, a name, or an image will come to mind, and in that moment I’ll wish them love and comfort. Imagine, for every time someone pops into your mind, or you hold someone in prayer, meditation, or good light, someone else could be doing the same for you!
Maybe the husband or wife of the doctor you visited last week is at home, doing chores, and sending you strong, positive vibes. And if you’re reading this, consider yourself pinged with positivity, because at this moment I could very well be thinking of you, and wishing you all good things, including….
…best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday season.
If you’re casting about for gift ideas for your friends and family, I suggest you consider giving BOOKS! You might not steal the show at the holiday gathering, but later, when you have tired kids who want to curl up with the original hand-held escape, the glory will be yours. When the mid-winter relatives have cabin fever, and the book you gave is their salvation, you will be thanked. (If you’re worried about giving books as gifts in case they’ve already been read, just be sure to include a gift receipt!)
There are SO MANY great choices out there. This is a small sampling of some I’ve come across in 2014. In each case, I suggest a “pair with” gift and a profile of who the book may be best suited for. Happy shopping!
Picture Books (ages 0-5+)
FLORA AND THE PENGUIN by Molly Idle. This is a seriously adorable wordless winter tale of a friendship on ice. Young kids will enjoying “reading” it themselves, over and over. Great for kids who like interactive (lift-the-flap) books, ice-skating, and/or penguins. Pair with a stuffed penguin or a coupon to take the recipient ice skating.
THE BOOK WITH NO PICTURES by B.J. Novak. On the flip side to Ms. Idles wordless book, this book is pictureless. Perfect for the “little devil” on your list, the book goads the adult reader into saying silly sounds and words because “Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say.” Pair with a whoopie cushion.
Middle Grade novels (ages 8-13ish)
THE DIRT DIARY by Anna Staniszewski. The first in a series, this book introduces us to Rachel, whose imperfections make her perfectly lovable. Rachel is a girl who loves to bake, but to help out her mom, must clean toilets instead. Great for the kid who always seems to have good intentions that lead to bad results! Pair with a cookie sheet and baking mix.
HATTIE BIG SKY by Kirby Larson. Another first in a series, this is perfect for Little House on the Prairie type fans. Hattie is a 16-year-old who leaves Iowa to prove up on her late uncle’s homestead claim near Vida, Montana. Pair with a pair of warm socks and/or a cat.
DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, THE LONG HAUL by Jeff Kinney. Kids simply can’t get enough of this series! A natural choice for reluctant readers, text and pictures intertwine to tell the latest adventure of Greg Heffley and his family as they set out on a road trip. Pair with one of the DIARY OF A WIMPY KID book journals – a combination of blank pages and journalling suggestions – to get kids writing as well.
Young adult novels (ages 12 +)
THE FIFTH WAVE by Rick Yancey. This book is perfect for your older sci-fi loving kid. In brief, it’s a classic “alien’s attack and take over the world” scenario, with fantastic pacing and lots of layers. I read it because I was vetting it for my own kid, and was surprised how much I liked it. There is a smattering of profanity, but it is used as needed, not gratuitously. Pair with an air-soft gun.
ALL THE TRUTH THAT’S IN ME by Julie Berry. I thought this was going to be another sci-fi story, due to the setting being a town called Roswell Station. But this haunting book is actually historical fiction. The main character, Judith, is unable to speak, yet you will never forget her voice. Perfect for older kids who will understand the nuance of mentally imbalanced adults, and the importance of sometimes sharing secrets. Pair with tickets to a local colonial village.
Fiction and Non-Fiction for the grown-up set
UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand. This is the incredible story of olympian-turned WWII Lieutenant Louis Zamperini. Recently made into a movie, this book will appeal to the avid runner and/or history buff on your list. Pair with a WWII documentary, or movie tickets to see Unbroken when it opens.
CASTING OFF by Nicole R. Dickson. This book tells the story of Rebecca Moray, who comes to an island off the coast of Ireland to research a book on Irish knitting, and how she and her daughter interact with the people there. Perfect for the knitter on your list. If they’re Irish, extra points. Pair with knitting needles/yarn.
I’m sure you know of several more books in each category that you’ve loved and could give as gifts! This year, I encourage you to do just that. Happy holidays, and happy reading!
Have you ever read a story and wished you could ask the author questions about it? That is what happened to me while reading A TIME TO DANCE by Padma Venkatraman. And guess what? My wish came true! A hearty welcome today to Ms. Venkatraman, who graciously agreed to give us a behind the scenes peek at how this beautiful book came to be.
First, a bit about the story itself. Here is an overview, from Goodreads:
“Padma Venkatraman’s inspiring story of a young girl’s struggle to regain her passion and find a new peace is told lyrically through verse that captures the beauty and mystery of India and the ancient bharatanatyam dance form. This is a stunning novel about spiritual awakening, the power of art, and above all, the courage and resilience of the human spirit.
Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance—so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her, and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.”
Bharatamatyam is a classical dance form of South India. Here’s an example:
As I read A TIME TO DANCE I was especially carried away by the description of the dancing itself. So, the first question I asked was:
Nancy: What is your experience with Bharatanatyam dance? As I was reading, I was guessing you must have personal experience. Am I right?
I call that answer glib, because, for me, hearing the voice and being possessed by a character is incredibly important. It’s everything. BUT, editing is also everything – and that begins with self-editing.
I fought against writing A TIME TO DANCE in the verse form because although I love and read poetry, I’ve never studied it. Luckily for me, Richard Blanco (who later read at President Obama’s inauguration) let me sit in on a poetry workshop he was doing at the University of Rhode Island’s Ocean State Summer Writing Conference, and his friendship and faith in my ability helped me overcome my fear of experimenting with this form. Many other modern award-winning poets who are also academics, helped and encouraged me: Scott Hightower, Peter Covino, and Peter Johnson also encouraged me.
My editor, Nancy Paulsen, is a self-confessed “fan” of the verse novel, I believe. So she was a stalwart supporter and stood by me through numerous revisions. She was very excited about this work and encouraged me strongly to experiment with this form.
Finally, as I was revising my work, I realized that this form is particularly well suited to two of the three main themes in this story: Veda’s love of dance and her spiritual awakening. A character’s spiritual growth is incredibly hard to write in verse. It’s virtually impossible to capture in straight out prose – or was, for me, for Veda. Spiritual growth – and the power of art – especially of dance – two key themes in A TIME TO DANCE – go beautifully with verse.
Nancy: I was very interested in all the religous elements of the story. You don’t always see a lot of spirituality in books for this age level. Did you get any push-back against including these details from your agent/editor/others?
My agent, Rob Weisbach, is an incredible ally. He admitted he was scared when he saw the word “God” on the first page, because few writers dare to approach this topic. He said it was damnably hard to write spirituality without coming off as religiously bigoted or proselytizing – and he’s right. But he said, even in the draft phase, that I had pulled it off – and he had nothing but praise for this aspect of the book. He never once suggested that I should tone down this core aspect – and he pointed out something that’s very important.
While Veda’s spiritual awakening is grounded in the religion to which she’s been exposed, the book is not religious; it’s spiritual. Her awakening is universal, not limited to one particular context. The novel is, in no way, trying to push a particular religion – in fact, if anything, Veda’s philosophy is based on acceptance. The title is a Biblical quote (Ecclesiastes) – a quote that has significant meaning to Veda.
An editor whom I deeply trust, Stephen Roxburgh, also read a draft, and his belief that I should and, moreover, could, pull off the spiritual aspect of Veda’s story, was vital. He called A TIME TO DANCE the “La Vita Nuova” of Bharatanatyam. La Vita Nuova is a text by Dante Allegheri, and in it, the main character progresses through different stages of love/understanding, as Veda does, maturing from Eros to Charis to Agape.
Stephen’s note was something I looked at every time I felt scared. Writing a story that touches on spiritual grown is one of the hardest things to do – for any age group. For the younger audience, it’s even harder, I think. Especially if the spiritual growth occurs in a character whose religion isn’t part of the mainstream. But Stephen’s encouragement kept me going, looking ahead, listening to Veda, seeing AT TIME TO DANCE play out in my mind’s eye, allowing her and the other characters to possess me.
It took years to write this novel right. And my own editor, Nancy Paulsen, as I’ve said earlier, was immensely patient. Her patience is truly unparalleled and it is amazing to have someone like her to help me polish my work and make it shine.
But after it was done, I was, frankly, terrified. It was really a tremendous relief that A TIME TO DANCE was released to starred reviews in 5 journals: Kirkus and Booklist and VOYA and SLJ and BCCB. And I am thrilled that so many newspapers carried glowing reviews. I’m also delighted to share the recent great news that it’s a Booklist Top 10 art book for youth!
Nancy: Even though Veda has experienced a horrific life-changing event, I love how you wrote so many typical problems into her world via her crushes on two different guys, including Jim who fits her prosthesis (and is basically her physical therapist). Was the program Jim was working through to help people in India be fitted for limbs based on a real group you know about?
Padma: I spoke to several disabled people, physical therapists, doctors, and physiatrists when I wrote the novel. I went “method” the way actors sometimes do – and spent a lot of time doing experiments to simulate the tactile illusion of a phantom limb, using crutches, etc. In my late teens, I narrowly escaped the loss of a leg, so I guess in some ways Veda’s experience was nearer to my heart that I realized, until I wrote the book. All this to say, Jim’s character is inspired by several Americans whom I met, who volunteer to travel to other countries to help with the making of prostheses. And, when I visited India, I did come across many programs to aid socio-economically deprived people who were, among other things, disabled. But I saw several groups of people in India and elsewhere, who inspired me. I can’t point to just one person or one group. Then again, Robert C. James and his son Josh James, who create artificial limbs in my home (Rhode Island), gave me more time than probably anyone else did – so, in part to honor them, I named my character Jim.
[Note: What a fun way to honor them – I love it!]
For more information on the novel, a free downloadable discussion guide, and lesson plans, please visit Padma’s author website: www.padmasbooks.com. Also, check out her other titles, including: ISLAND’S END and CLIMBING THE STAIRS.
Thank you for your time and for sharing your process with us, Padma! I encourage all readers to make time for A TIME TO DANCE. It’s gorgeous.
It’s time for Susanna Leonard Hill’s annual Halloweensie contest!
Rules: write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (title not included in the 100 words), using the words pumpkin, broomstick, and creak in any form.
Here’s my entry:
SNIP, SNAP, CRACK
In a deep dark corner, an old lady sits.
She cackles, and snarls, and frantically knits.
Click clack go her needles.
Snip snap go her bones,
As she rocks and she creaks
and her kitty cat moans.
She conjures up spiders, and pumpkins, and ghosts
All spun from her yarn –
“I’m so wicked!” she boasts.
Don’t dare approach her,
She’s all trick and no treat.
What are you doing??
Come hither, my sweet.
Get away from that broomstick! Skedaddle! Shoo!
You’re tiptoeing closer??
Please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog, because there will be tons of fun and scary weensie short stories for Halloween. Or play along and add your own!
Jane Yolen is a prolific writer of children’s books and poetry. On her website, she answers some FAQs, including this one: “Do you have a secret that makes you so productive? Want to know my secret? BIC. That’s right. BIC. … Continue reading
Have you ever wondered what Clementine, Ramona, or Junie B. would be like in middle school? I hope they would stay spunky and turn out a lot like Maggie Mayfield, the main character in Megan Jean Sovern’s THE MEANING OF MAGGIE (Chronicle Books, 2014). In any case, I know they’d be friends with her!
Maggie is someone I was rooting for from the minute she wished her hospitalized dad would wake up so they could split a Little Debbie. (She’s willing to eat the whole thing herself, but she’d rather share). Then, I just – plop – fell in love with her when she was describing how amazing her first day of sixth grade was, including this:
“And lunch was the best because I got a whole table to myself so I spread out my notebooks and went to town on a stack of syllabi.”
She’s quirky, she doesn’t fit in, and she doesn’t care! She has much bigger things on her mind, such as her report on Sandra Day O’Connor, and her new friend, Clyde, “the most beautiful boy I’d ever seen.”
Underneath this layered, interesting character is a story of family bonds that are tested by parental illness. From the jacket flap:
Eleven years old. The beginning of everything!
For Maggie Mayfield, turning eleven means she’s one year closer to college. One year closer to voting. And one year closer to getting a tattoo. It’s time for her to pull herself up by her bootstraps (the family motto) and think about more than after school snacks and why her older sisters are too hot for their own good. Because something mysterious is going on with her cool dude Dad, whose legs have permanently fallen asleep, and Maggie is going to find out exactly what the problem is and fix it. After all, nothing’s impossible when you’re future president of the United States of America, fifth grade science fair champion, and a shareholder in Coca-Cola, right?
Maggie’s position as youngest child and her own personality leave her somewhat oblivious to the true reality of her dad’s worsening struggle with multiple sclerosis. She doesn’t have much time for her “hot, but not on a school night” older sisters, Layla and Tiffany, but we as readers can see how they help shelter her from their dad’s illness and mom’s return to work.
This is a serious book on a difficult topic, but the author makes you laugh out loud along the way. Maggie’s inner dialogue, highlighted by footnotes, made me feel like I was visiting with a real kid every time I picked up the book. And there is a clever connection at the ending, which made this a “clutch it in your arms and sigh when you finish reading it” kind of book for me. I recommend this book for kids in grades 5-7 ish, (or anyone who loves realistic middle grade novels.) It will be especially meaningful to readers who have been touched by MS. Ultimately, the unpredictable and relentless nature of the disease is woven into a story of strength and hope.
Don’t miss MAGGIE!
*Special thanks to Alyson Beecher and her wonderful book-based blog, Kid Lit Frenzy, for offering a copy of TMOM as a prize via Chronicle Books.*
“You always have tomatoes on your windowsill.”
“Every time I’ve been here, there’ve been tomatoes up there.”
Huh. I’d never thought about that. But to one of my nieces, who usually visits during tomato season, it is a truth universally acknowledged.
I wonder what else is an “always” in her eyes? Hopefully it is that I always light up when I see her. And that I always remember to put a little sweet treat on her pillow and have all the fixin’s for s’mores on hand. And that I always have time to listen to her stories and take her berry picking.
A friend pointed out that a lot of our “always” memories from childhood probably stem from occasions that only happened once, but were memorable. I’ve tested this with my own family:
“Didn’t we always go to Disneyworld, every time we went to Florida?” (Truth: more likely only 2-3 times).
“Grandma always took me out for lunch, and we always got Reubens.” (Truth: one time).
“We always sat down as a whole family for dinner, every night.” (Truth: not exactly).
The fact is, you never know when one special trip, one special moment, or one windowsill of tomatoes is going to become someone’s always.
It’s a very encouraging thought that even in the face of life’s imperfections, we all have the power to make our always something beautifully memorable.
What is your always?
If you’re interested in kidlit, writing, and/or like to laugh, my friend Mike Allegra has you covered! He’s also a talented doodler. Check it out!
Originally posted on heylookawriterfellow:
In March, I hosted a contest. The grand (and only) prize was an official, original, custom-made Mike Allegra doodle.
Despite my doodling ability, the number of people who entered this contest was pretty large. This surprised me.
What also surprised me was that some of you reeeeally wanted that ding-dang doodle. In fact, a few people threatened to sic their cats on me if I didn’t do another doodle contest post haste.
To these people I say settle down because here’s another chance to win a doodle!
IF YOU WIN, I WILL DRAW WHATEVER YOU WANT!
Don’t believe me? Here’s proof:
Jenion (the winner of the March contest) wanted a drawing of a bicycle racer. So I drew her a bicycle racer.
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