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's going to be a busy month!