Tuesday, December 8, 2015


Wow, what a weekend!

I just got back from NYC, and it's official: I heart NY. What an amazing place. So let me unpack a bit.

The RPB Conference was wonderful. A fantastic group of about 25 people met and discussed picture books and the intricacies of rhyme, meter, and publication. Yep, I was in heaven.

Huge thanks to Angie Karcher, the maestro of this event as well as of RhyPiBoMo, a monthlong challenge to come up with rhyming picture book ideas. Her team was so welcoming and helpful, and I felt like I made some friends. Now I need to work to keep in touch with everyone!

I also had the pleasure of chatting over lunch with Julie Gribble of KidLitTV, the host of the conference. Not only was it a warm and welcoming space, but KidLitTV is an amazing organization that produces videos and podcasts that support and enhance children's literature. Incredible what they're doing.

The Poetry Postcard Schmooze was a lot of fun, even if I felt a little self-conscious and out of my element--only because cocktail parties and chit-chat are not where I'm most comfortable. (Put me in a wig and a tutu and it's a different story.) But I don't think I managed to offend anyone, and I collected a bunch of cool postcards and business cards, and hopefully some contacts in the biz that will develop into friends/mentors/colleagues.

I particularly hit it off with Kendra Marcus, an agent who liked one of my ideas. Chatting with her has lit a fire under me to flesh out this particular idea into something really good. She seems like someone I'd be happy to work with, and she offered great, straightforward advice. (She also emphasized the same mantra I find myself using when I'm editing and reviewing: Where is the story? Right away I knew I liked her!)

So I am home, and my butt is in my chair, and I am writing. What better result from a literary conference?

Saturday, November 28, 2015


I'm a couple of days late, but that's to be expected from me.

But before this season of thanks completely passes by, I wanted to say a few words of gratitude.

I am thankful, of course, for my health, and that of my family and friends. I am thankful to be surrounded by such beautiful people, my children and my husband in particular, and the concentric circles of loved ones around us, whether they are physically near or far. I am thankful for the food on our table, the roof over our head, the muggy warm November New Orleans weather, and the chance for a few empty minutes to sit and contemplate how blessed I am.

And this year, I am thankful to have the opportunity to spend my time and energy on the thing I love to do most: writing. Editing, reviewing, reading, supporting other writers, building and participating in writing communities--they are of a piece to me, and for the past several months I have been devoting my time and energy to the pursuit of the word.

The muse and I are getting down and boogieing.

Last year, and the previous year, and the years before that (though interspersed with stay-at-home-mothering) I had jobs, the kind where you go to an office and wear sensible shoes and answer the phone and get things done for other people. But when my job began to take over my life, and I realized that I was no longer doing what brought me joy and I felt like I was shriveling up and my health was beginning to suffer, I knew I needed something else.

And then, because of the generosity of my family, particularly my in-laws, an elderly relative's passing became a moderate largess for us. My husband's grandfather, Ammon, always encouraged and supported my writing, and when he passed on at the age of 100, the money he left behind has allowed me to quit my job and focus on building a writing career.

For that, I can barely conjure words to describe the mixture of joy and, I must admit, shame, that I have been offered this opportunity. It's a gift; it's a burden. Now it's my responsibility to make something happen, not to waste these golden hours devoted to writing.

So I want to express my gratitude, to put it out there publicly that I am aware of how lucky and privileged I am, and it humbles me. It also motivates me. Money does not last forever, and unless I make this work, become a paid, card-carrying Writer, I will have to find another office job. Which is not the end of the world. As long as I am able to keep writing.

Let's boogie, Calliope!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


In my previous post, I wrote a bit about investing in kids and in literacy.

This time, I'm thinking about investing in me.

I'm very excited to be attending the Rhyming Picture Book Revolution conference in New York in a couple of weeks. At the same time, I'm feeling the pressure of what it means for me to buy plane tickets, pay the conference fee, and reserve a hotel (more of a hostel, but still). This is a financial undertaking on behalf of a dream.


At this point, there are no guarantees that I'm going to make a living as a writer. I have my skills, my background, and my determination. I'm working against my own resistance, building a portfolio, sending out my clips and my work, getting paid for some of it. I'm reaching out to other writers and editors to find a community I can connect with.

But when I get practical about it, it's not like I'm making something that anyone can hold in their hands. I come from a family of builders and engineers, people whose jobs make things, and who work jobs that pay the bills.

I'm still in that ether, where I can see the destination, vaguely, through the haze, but there is so much unknown between here and there. So much that depends on me, my ability, my persistence--but also on others' opinions of my work. Is it good. Will it sell. Will it be accepted.

So it's a leap that I keep on making. I leapt into writing full-time. (Well, part-time, since I'm the primary caretaker of my boys, so I have to write around their schedules.) I leapt into a new genre: children's literature. I leapt into paying good money to try to build that community and further this nascent dream into something tangible.

I know that I am extremely lucky to have this opportunity, and I am grateful to my supportive husband and generous family that have made this possible. The pressure is on. I need to make good on their investment in me.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Viva la Revolucion!

I'm gonna be part of the revolution!

That's right! I'm going to my first children's picture book conference. This one is all about those of us who like to write--and publish--using rhythm and rhyme. My people!

Believe it or not, writers are discouraged from submitting rhyming manuscripts for picture books, and editors are leery of accepting even good ones. (This bias occurs in the poetry world for grown-ups too, although not to the same degree.) Why?

Well, writing in rhyme means writing in meter, and that's hard. It's very common to do either, or both, poorly. When an editor is faced with an inbox full of manuscripts, weeding out the ones that rhyme is an easy way to reduce the slush pile.

At the same time, editors and publishers say that rhyming books are difficult to translate into other languages, so foreign sales are reduced.

Makes sense, from an investment standpoint.

But let's talk about investing in kids for a minute. In readers. Rhyme and rhythm connect the written word to the oral tradition, how history, religion, culture has been passed down through the ages.

Rhyme, rhythm, and repetition are important tools in developing literacy. "Rhymers are Readers" is a great primer on how exactly nursery rhymes affect children's developing language skills. Here's a great quotation from the article by Tony Snead, senior national literacy consultant for Mondo Publishing in New York:
“Listening comprehension precedes reading comprehension,” Mr. Stead said. “In order for a child to understand what they are reading, they have to be able to hear the language first. A lot of the traditional rhymes, such as ‘Jack and Jill’ and ‘Humpty Dumpty,’ were repetitious and allowed us to memorize basic structures and patterns in the English language, then put it together. It’s important that young children learn to memorize through verse."

Hear, hear! My thanks to Angie Karcher and her great blog post, Is Writing Rhyme a Fairy Tale? Her post led me to these articles, to the conference, and to the revolution!

It feels great to write what I love with the hope that someday, it might help kids become great readers. I look forward to meeting other writers, editors, and agents who feel the same way!

Thursday, November 12, 2015


Damn it's hard to get Butt in Chair.

Honestly, sometimes it seems as though the very last thing on my list of to-dos is actually to place Butt in Chair and Write. And by the time I do that, it's usually a very short time until I need to pick up the kids, or make dinner, or go to bed.

At the same time, there's so much busyness and so little that seems to actually get done.

So what's the remedy? I've started taking some free tai chi and yoga classes at the local rec center, and the instructors have talked about how when your body shakes in a particular pose or stance, it's just your body resisting.

But once you get past that resistance--gently, not by forcing--you get to this other, deeper place. We haven't really gone over how to get past the resistance, but I can tell the writing part of me is quaking. But I'm not giving up. I'm going to hold this pose and wait. Because I know the other side is where I'm meant to be.

Friday, November 6, 2015

On Dancing

Some thoughts about how dancing informs my writing.

As a writer, I am absorbed in the element of air most of the time. Imagination, inspiration, thought, intellect--these are my primary tools, and when I write, I pull things seemingly from the air and create something that is passed through the ether to the reader. Communicating through the eyes, the mind, occasionally (for me) through voice.

But with dance, I'm using different elements. As Kynt says, we are only a tiny bit spirit or energy; our bodies are primarily elements. And when we move our bodies, we are expressing our relationship to the elements around us. How are we related to water, to earth?

Heaven knows that breath and sweat are a big part of it. But the joy of wordless expression is like opening a different part of myself. When I'm really into it, I'm not intellectualizing my movements. My body remembers how it's supposed to move, and I dance in relation to the other dancers around me. It's communal, and it's invigorating.

I also take with me the emphasis on rhythm, repetition, even rhyme in each dance. When I'm learning a dance, I can see the pieces of the whole, the way it's constructed, and how to put it back together with my own expression added. Fascinating to see how similar a dance is to a poem, built of gestures and images.

When I'm observing the professional dancers who lead the company--and when we talk about creative process--it's such an exciting way to think about the different ways we express similar impulses. To create, communicate, inspire, through movement, through language; gesture and image. To interpret experience through symbolism.

Maybe these thoughts are not fully baked yet. Maybe they are coming more through my body than my intellect at this point.

But how fun is this? We performed in front of City Hall (I'm the one in pink):

Monday, November 2, 2015


I've jumped onboard! Or is it off?

In any case, I just registered to participate in Picture Book Idea Month, aka PiBoIdMo!

The idea is to come up with new ideas for picture books every day for the entire month of November. 30 ideas in 30 days. Yee-haw!

This is a new venture for me. I've been working on a couple of children's books for the past several months (one of them for over a year). I'm doing my research, and in October, I attended my first meeting of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. I even asked Dianne de las Casas to review my manuscript. She had a lot of good things to say, as well as some great advice. Now I'm back to the drawing board, and I think my story will be even better for it.

So here we go! 30 ideas in 30 days, plus the ideas I'm already working on...it's going to be a busy month!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Inspiration Part 2

Each Wednesday morning for the month of October, I've been dancing. And on Friday, I'm going to perform on the steps of City Hall for the whole world to see.

Yep. I'm going to be in a Flash Mob. This one is planned, but there are others that will just pop up around the French Quarter. And because it's Halloween, we're performing Is It Scary and Thriller (as well as Beat It and Burn It Up).

In the video--this one's from last year--you can see that the leader/instructor, Kenneth "Kynt" Bryan, really resembles Michael Jackson and can do his moves--as well as Janet's--beautifully. He's also a trained ballet dancer and an instructor at Loyola University. 

I got involved through our local rec department, which was offering free classes. Learn Thriller? Yes, please!

I'm hoping that by next week, I'll have a video like this with me in it! (I'll be the zombie in slippers. Because I'm like death in the morning...)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Inspiration Part 1

Today was an inspiring day. I woke up early to take my fourth-grader to school (I even slapped on some lipstick) because a poet who has written 10 children's books was giving a presentation, and I wanted to be there to see an expert at work.

Brod Bagert has written 15 books of poetry and tours around the world giving presentations about poetry and writing and strength and listening. And he was a master at getting the kids involved. The room was full of children from first to eighth grade, which Brod recognized as a challenge--he usually gears his discussion to the age group of his audience. But in this talk, he managed to get the youngest ones clapping along, the oldest ones hearing concrete advice about writing and enjoying poetry, and everyone hanging on his every word. Myself included!

As a poet and a wanna-be children's book writer--and someday, hopefully, someone who visits schools to read and inspire kids--I was inspired. And a little daunted. It's sometimes difficult to see someone who excels at what you'd like to do--and to think, damn, I can't do that.

But Brod actually spoke to that very impulse. As he said, everyone wants to sit down and write their very best work. But when you sit there, what comes out is usually not your very best. And so you feel worse and worse as you realize that the work coming out is not what you wanted it to be, until you decide to give up because apparently you're no good at it at all.

He even said that the better you are at something, the worse you're going to feel when you see the not-good work coming through.

So what's the secret to being an excellent writer? Brod says to sit down and plan to write your very worst. Write something that isn't good. Something that is full of mistakes and errors and problems. Then go back to it and make it better. And then do it again. Make it better. Again and again, until you can't make it any better.

Then read it out loud to someone else. Doing that makes you hear it in a brand-new way--you see different flaws and mistakes. Then sit down and make it better again.

I loved this advice: Never ask yourself, Is it good? Ask yourself, How can I make it better?


So I am going to sit down with my book and I am going to make it better. Because I don't know if it's any good, but I do know that I can make it a lot better.

(He also said that dreams are meant to be broken--that's the first step to them coming true. When they move from a delicate bubble in your imagination to taking form in the real world, they often break. The artist's job is to cry, feel sorry for yourself, and then get to work building those dreams again.)

My only regret: Once the kids were dismissed to their classrooms and recess, I didn't go up to Brod and introduce myself. I was suddenly overcome with shyness and rushed out the door. Ack! I know how nice it is to hear thanks and good job and I was inspired--and at the same time, hey I'm also a poet writing for kids can we stay in touch. Self-marketing, networking, not my thing. Yet.

Monday, October 26, 2015

10 Years of the New Normal

On a sticky Wednesday this past August, Entergy turned off the power to my entire street, from Tchoupitoulas to past Magazine Street. Early that morning, the street filled with large white work trucks, end to end, with orange barriers at each intersection. Men in hard hats milled about, muttering into walkie-talkies.

A week prior, an automated recording told me and my neighbors that the power outage would last all day, and explained why the work needed to be done, but it hardly mattered.

It was a week before the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath destroyed most of our city. The power went out, the work trucks arrived, and anxiety that usually simmers gently below the surface at this time of year began to boil over.

Before the outage, my neighbors gathered on a stoop discussing, preparing: Should we board our pets so they don't overheat? Buy ice and set up coolers to protect perishables? Plan on grilling everything in the freezer? Check on the old folks up the street? One neighbor said he "recreated the conditions" by turning off his A/C on a sweltering afternoon to observe his cat; this same neighbor has never removed the boards over his windows that we helped him hammer into place the days before Katrina. You just never know. And so he chooses to live in the dark.

Throughout August, a flurry of news stories and blog posts hammered away at the 10-year anniversary. How has New Orleans progressed? Where have we stalled? Who is back home? Who has stayed away? It became exhausting.

I found it telling that many of the local museums and galleries offered retrospectives about the storm, but very few of the artwork directly addressed the storm or its aftermath or was from that time period (plenty of amazing and heartbreaking art and literature was created in the immediate aftermath and for years afterward). For those of us living here, we want to move on. We don't want to dwell. We want our floodwalls fixed, our levees solidified, our escape plans in place--and then we want to move on. If we can.

Of course too many people are still dealing with the ramifications of having their homes, lives, families destroyed. Some things can never be forgotten. Nor should they be. But the days march on, and we can choose to live in dark, boarded-up houses or deal with what needs to be dealt with and let in as much sunlight as we can handle.

Hurricane season--June 1 to November 1--is almost officially over. I heaved a sigh of relief once we were past mid-September; that's the peak season for southeastern Louisiana. Of course, reading about the storms and flooding in South Carolina a few weeks ago was heartbreaking. May the families there have a swift recovery.

And may all of us remember to breathe normally the next time the power goes out or a heavy rain begins to fall.

Update 10/28/15: I wrote and scheduled this post before Hurricane Patricia slammed through Mexico and Texas. While over the Pacific, it was the "strongest landfalling Pacific hurricane on record." Luckily, once it hit land, it weakened considerably, and the destruction was much less than it could have been. Prayers and hope to all those who were affected.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

October issue of Literary Mama

Have you checked out the October issue of Literary Mama yet?


A brand-new set of poems on this month's theme, Desiring Motherhood, explores the myriad ways women experience the desire to become a mother, whether it's heartbreaking or joyful, or sometimes a complicated mixture of both.


I encourage readers to check out the columns, stories, book reviews, and other wonderful writing on the site. The blog offers ways to participate, with writing prompts and contests, and comments are open on most pieces. Literary Mama is a great community of writers and mothers sharing our experiences of the multifaceted whirlwind that is motherhood--and literature!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Poetry Editor at Literary Mama!

I am so excited to announce that I have become the Poetry Editor at Literary Mama!

I have been working with Literary Mama since 2009 as the Associate Poetry Editor, which meant copyediting poems and posting them to the site. I also wrote a lot of book reviews, round-ups, and the occasional interview for the site. I loved working with former Poetry Editor Sharon Kraus, and although we haven't yet met in person, we developed a good relationship, built on our mutual love of poetry.

When Sharon stepped down from her post, I was still on a year-long sabbatical, so Editor-in-Chief Maria Scala and new Editorial Assistant Erin Rodoni held down the fort until last month, when I was pleased to accept the reins to the department.

It's an exciting challenge to read and catalog submissions (Erin and I try to read every submission and compare notes), communicate with authors, and then shepherd each poem through the editorial process to publication. There's so much good poetry coming in! I'm still getting my bearings, but I think that I'm starting to settle into a routine.

Not that editing poems is routine! It's so thrilling to be elbow-deep in poetry again, to be working with poets and editors, and to dream about new ways to share poems with readers.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Back in the saddle

I am very excited to announce that beginning September 1, I will be the new poetry editor for Literary Mama! I'll be taking the reins from Sharon Kraus, who I will miss terribly. I have big shoes to fill (not that I've ever seen her feet), and I hope some of the past several years of working with her kind, careful, thoughtful approach to poetry has rubbed off. I am looking forward to working with Erin Rodoni to make the poetry department a thriving part of the Literary Mama community.

For the past couple of years, I've been focusing on nonwriting projects, working a day job, and raising the kids with my husband. It's been very busy, and productive in some ways, but I've felt like a part of me was missing. I still took on writing and editing projects as my schedule (and tired brain) allowed, but a nagging sense of "what are you doing with your life" kept following me around.

The winds have shifted, and I am grateful for the opportunity to turn my full attention to writing once again. I have several projects underway, and I'm champing at the bit to get going. I'm writing, submitting, editing, (and mixing my horse metaphors) with fresh perspective and determination.

As Sharon told me before I began my sabbatical last year from Literary Mama, poetry will always be there when you're ready for it.

I'm ready now.

Excited and nervous, but ready.