Sunday, December 20, 2015


     So, friends, last Thanksgiving I posted here about my guilt over not having instilled much of a sense of family tradition in either of my kids, and my delight that we've begun a new Thanksgiving  one of our own: during dessert, everyone at the table takes turns reading aloud from that literary classic, Walter the Farting Dog.  Of course, we honored our tradition this year too, as expected.  But what I did not expect was for Walter to be referenced on my birthday, which was last week.  Obviously, I grossly underestimated my husband.  He must have known of my lingering doubts about my ability to transmit beloved traditions to the next generation.  Because I am now the extremely proud owner of

MY VERY OWN WALTER!!  Okay, he's only about six inches long, which is why he fits so comfortably on the windowsill above my kitchen sink, but guess what he does!!  Come on, guess!  Wow, you're good.  Yes, he FARTS!  In fact, he alternates between two different fart sounds, one slightly wetter than the other, but both deeply impressive.
     You know how some people add a new ornament to their Christmas tree every year?  Well.  Not only will Walter himself be enfolded into our annual tradition, but there's something else almost as good.  My husband has told me that the Walter book we own is, in fact, one of a SERIES!!  I can hardly wait until it's Thanksgiving again.  And neither can Walter.

Sunday, December 13, 2015


     As for my giveaway contest: the only commenter who expressed a real love for Katherine Paterson, or at least for one of her books, was Yvonne Ventresca.  So Yvonne, if you read this, shoot me an email and the book is yours!!!

     On a completely different subject: sometimes I just think about weird shit, you know?  Like this weekend, for instance.  For no discernible reason, I've been musing about the ways in which most  common Anglo-Saxon names tell us about what life was like in medieval England.
     Start with building a house, for instance.

     To construct the frame, you would need a Carpenter, also known as a Sawyer.  You'd need a Mason for the brick foundation, and a Joyner to make the door and window frames.  Then a Glazer would install the windows, a Painter would do the whitewash, and a Thatcher would add your thatched roof.  Or, if you were too fancy-pants for thatch, then you'd need a Slater, right?
     Once your house was built, you would have to hire a Porter or a Carter to bring over all your belongings from your old home.  Then, if you had some extra cash left over, you might hire a Gardner to tend your flower and vegetable beds.  You wouldn't be able to afford a Cook or a Butler, but you would probably know the people who did those jobs up at the manor house.  A Farrier would shoe your horses, and a Shepherd would watch your flock.  You would need transportation for various reasons, which would require the  services of a Wag(o)ner and/or a Cartwright.  There are lots of different kinds of Smiths and lots of different Wrights, each with their own specialty crafts.
     And you would have to eat.  Your town would have Hunters to go out in the woods to kill animals for their meat, Fowlers to do the same with birds, and Fishers for fish.  The livelihood of the Hunters and Fowlers, of course, would depend on the products of the local Fletcher (arrowmaker) and Bowman.  The meat would be delivered to the Butcher, who would cut it up and sell it to you.  Meanwhile, Farmers and Grangers (synonymous) would be out in their fields harvesting grain

 which would be brought to the Miller, ground into flour, and sold to the Baker to make your daily bread.

     But you would need the services of many of your other neighbors too.  The Collier would bring you coal to heat your house.  The Tanner (also known as a Currier) would prepare leather and sell it to the Shoemaker who would make your shoes.  The Weaver would make fabric and sell it to the Mercer, who would have the Dyer dye it, and would then cut it into lengths and sell it to you to either make your own clothes or have the Taylor do it.  The Barber would cut your hair or pull your decayed tooth.  You would go to the Chandler for your candles, the Cutler for your knives, the Cooper for your storage barrels, and the Carver for your walking sticks, and the Tinker would stop at your house periodically to fix the things that got broken.
     What an interdependent community.  Everyone's wellbeing depends on everyone else getting their job done, and your doing the same.  And on the rare occasions when there was a festival and you could all cut loose, you would gather in the square to listen to the music of the Harper and the Piper and the voices of the Singers, and everyone would dance.

     Okay, so what kind of weird stuff do you think about in your spare time?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


     It's one thing to have only three people enter your book giveaway contest, but it's an entirely different and much suckier thing to have the person you declared the winner NOT EVEN SHOW UP TO CLAIM THE PRIZE.  I have two words for you people: Katherine. Paterson.  How could anyone not want to read her memoir, let alone acquire it for free?  The woman is a god. 
     This is ridiculous.  I'm reopening the contest for as long as I feel like reopening it.  Your job is to post a comment.  Don't make me come after you.  I repeat:  Katherine. Paterson.  The one.  The only.  Leave a comment or I will tear this book by my most beloved author into teensy little pieces and then throw the pieces onto a bonfire.  It will feel to me as if I were burning KP herself, but don't think I won't do it if you force me into it.  I DON'T PLAY.

Sunday, November 22, 2015



     If you read my blog every so often, you probably already know that my friend Michele and I were fortunate enough to meet the one and only Katherine Paterson on an afternoon in September.  Also, that afterward we were disappointed - horrible ingrates that we are - because she clearly didn't want to talk with us about her books while we were there.  Moreover, that Michele and I afterwards put our heads together and came up with a belated list of questions to ask her, which I emailed to her.  Additionally, that I received no response for weeks.  And finally, that KP ended up responding to my email after all, telling us she didn't have time to answer our questions, but that she would try to send us "something" instead.  Which turned out to be two copies of her recently-published memoir, STORIES OF MY LIFE.
  I've finished reading my copy now, and here's my review: many stories, much life.  I thought I knew my fair share about KP before, having been more-or-less obsessed with her and her books for many years, and now HAVING BEEN TO HER HOME.  (Okay, I confess: when I used her bathroom I was sorely tempted to rifle through her medicine cabinet and steal a KP-purchased Q-tip or something.  But my conscience won out.  Barely.)
     Well, it turns out that I didn't know much about her before after all, and I know a lot more now - all of it G-rated (she was a minister's wife, not a Hollywood starlet), much of it frank nonetheless and tinged with self-deprecating humor.  There's quite a bit of old-Southern-family history; quite a bit more of globetrotting-missionary-parents history, including her own early childhood in China; a very satisfying collection of family photos; and a respectable dose of her four years living as a missionary in Japan and her ensuing 50 years of married life, children, pets, and writing career.  And the book ends with a deeply poignant description of her beloved husband's final illness and death, and what she learned from living through those experiences.
     And now I want to give this book away, and I can't really explain why except to say that I think KP would want me to.  If you look at her Facebook page, you'll see immediately that she is (at 84) a fully engaged citizen of the world, and that sharing is what she does and what she approves of.  I don't think I'll read KP's memoir again unless someone decides to give me a pop quiz on her life, which seems fairly unlikely, so I will happily share my read-but-pristine copy with a lucky winner and fellow Patersonphile.  Here's the deal:  leave a comment on this post naming your favorite Katherine Paterson book, with a brief explanation as to what makes that book stand out for you.  I'll choose my favorite comment and ship the book to the commenter, no matter where he or she lives. The contest begins now and ends next Sunday, the 29th, at 11 p.m. Eastern time.  Please enter, and tell your friends about it!  I hate running giveaway contests and getting only a handful of entries!!

Thursday, November 19, 2015


    From the pen of my friend Nilanjana Bose, expressing some of my own thoughts better than I ever could. 


The flowers dry, the candles burn;
both reach their ends. The world still turns.
The streets are full, the café chat
is about revenge, tit for tat,
air-strikes, mortal wounds, ground combat.
I cannot take in any of that.
I only know she won’t return.

Although each time the doorbell rings
my heart leaps once, instantly sings
then recalls the days before.
She’ll never be back at my door.
The talk is thick with migrants; war;
how exactly to settle the score.
But I can’t relate to those things.
There must be justice, and a stern
reprimand,  offenders must learn
how strong we stand, crime never pays.
The news channels are choked for days
with some or other leader’s speech-haze,
clips gone viral, constant replays,
rehashing the current concern.

I just know that flowers dry rough
that candles aren’t warm enough.
I just know that my room’s gone cold,
my heart is shrivelled and grown old;
she’ll never again cross this threshold
whatever events might unfold.
That’s my truth, the rest’s just stuff.

For all the families - in Nigeria, in Egypt, in India, and in France and elsewhere in the world, who have lost loved ones to terrorism.
Read more of Nila's beautiful poems at

Sunday, November 15, 2015


     For the last week I've been reading Astronomy magazine's special issue, "The Immensity of the Cosmos."  And it, in combination with recent news events, has got me thinking about the concept of God.
     When humans first came up with the idea that an invisible Higher Power or Powers existed, the known universe consisted of all the places to which one could sail in a ship, and then return.  The job of supervising all of Creation was a vast one, but it was finite.  God could hold the Earth in the palm of His hand.
     But now what is God's purview?  Still just our Earth, or the rest of our solar system as well?  Comets?  Asteroids?  Dwarf planets?  Or what if God controls the whole Milky Way galaxy?  It contains about 400 billion stars, only one of which is the Sun around which our solar system revolves.  How may of those 400 billion stars form the centers of their own planetary systems, and on how many of those planets is there life?  Does God watch over all of those too, or did we Earthlings just get incredibly lucky in the Higher Power department?  If God is focused entirely on our planet, do all those other planets out there have their own watchers?  And once that question is answered, what's the story with all the other galaxies in our cosmos?  Who's keeping an eye out for them?
     You see the problem.  Knowing so much more about our universe than our distant ancestors did, it's hard to maintain their geocentric perspective.  And yet we know so pitifully little.  Are there a billion Earths revolving around their suns out there in the unimaginable distances of space?  Given the sheer immensity of the cosmos, it does seem more likely than not, although we will never know.  But could our own tiny, insignificant speck of a planet really be assigned an immortal, omniscient Ruler who keeps track of everything each of us humans does so that we can be rewarded or punished accordingly after this earthly phase of our lives ends?
     It seems to me very difficult in the 21st century to teach this theory to children and expect them to accept it.  Astonishing, really, that so many do both teach and accept in this way.  But what I find most astonishing of all is the number of people on our tiny wisp of a planet who are able to convince thousands of others that (1) there is a God watching us with a scorecard, (2) this God demands to be worshipped by us in one precise way, and no other, and (3) this God will choose to reward those of us who kill as many other people as possible because they do not worship Him in the one correct way.
     Those teachers/demagogues only pretend to love God.  What they really love is having and exploiting the power to create havoc.  Instead of God having created these teachers in His/Her own image, they have created a God in their own image: a supreme hatemonger, a superhero of murder, a vampire who lusts for the taste of human blood.  To the poor, the disenfranchised, the children of despair, they cynically teach a religion of  immolation, of annihilation.  On a tiny rock circling a tiny sun in a vast and uncaring universe, they devote their lives to teaching the hopeless that hope lies only in destruction and that human life doesn't matter.
     But it does matter.  Our lives might not matter to a God who may or may not even exist, but our lives do, and must, matter to each other.  The people in Paris who two nights ago rushed to help, to tweet their addresses out to strangers in need of shelter, knew the truth: each other is all we have.


Thursday, November 12, 2015


     A short update on my beloved dog: he's on a special diet and a whole slew of meds, and he's still with us.  My whole family is treating this "bonus time" with him, however long it will be, as a gift, and we're spending as much time with him as we possibly can.  I cancelled out on the writing conference I was supposed to attend last week.  Instead, my son came home for the weekend to make sure he would have a chance to say goodbye.  Murphy isn't supposed to do anything remotely physically challenging, but Sunday was a beautiful day, and all six of us managed to take a very short, slow-paced hike.  And as always, Murphy expressed his gratitude with an abundance of kisses.

     Murphy is happy.  Since his diagnosis he's been acting pretty much like himself, although with slightly less energy.  He has no idea he's close to the end of his life, and he acts so normal that sometimes we humans forget too.  Maybe it's a coincidence that he put us on notice last week of his illness and that we have time to do everything with him that we'd like to be able to.  Or maybe it's not a coincidence at all, but instead a characteristic last gift to us from our devoted and generous friend.  Either way, we'll take it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


     Late yesterday afternoon I learned a new word.  It's a word I wish I had gone my whole life without learning: hemangiosarcoma.  It's a very aggressive form of cancer that appears only in dogs (and possibly in cats, but that's not known for sure). 
     My beloved 10-year-old Murphy presented with the classic symptoms: he seemed absolutely fine, aside from some indigestion, until early yesterday afternoon.  I had the day off for Election Day, the weather was gorgeous, and my plan was to take both my dogs for a hike.  But when I went to call Murphy, he was nowhere to be found.  After a frantic search through the house and the fenced-in yard, I finally discovered him curled into a ball in the woodpile next to the garage, which was as hidden as he could possibly make himself. 
     When I first saw him there, he was lying so still that I thought he was dead, but then I saw that his eyes were open.  I brought him to the vet, and somehow I knew in advance that it was very serious; I started crying as soon as the examination began.  The vet did a physical exam and followed up with chest and abdominal X-rays, after which he showed me that there was a mass on Murphy's spleen which apparently had ruptured and caused some internal bleeding.  The vet told me that while there was a very slim chance that there might be a more benign explanation, his 35 years of experience told him that this was a hemangiosarcoma and that it had already metastasized.  If this were the case, we could opt for surgery to have Murphy's spleen removed, but that this would only buy him another month or two until another of his organs would be so compromised that he would be back to the condition he's in now.
     The vet kept Murphy overnight to rehydrate him via IV, and is going to do a sonogram this afternoon to see the condition of his other organs.  I'm not going in to work today, partly because I hardly slept last night and I'm a wreck, and partly because the vet said he might be able to send Murphy home tonight and if he does, I want to go get him as soon as I can.  My husband is out of town.  He was supposed to come back Friday, but he's coming back tonight instead.  My son who lives in D.C. can't get here until Saturday.  We still haven't told my daughter, who is in college in New York.  We're going to wait until after the sonogram so we can give her as much information as possible so she can decide when to come home.  We're only thinking ahead one day at a time.
     You don't have the privilege of knowing Murphy, so I'll tell you about him.  We got him when he was an 8-week-old teddy bear and he immediately stole everyone's heart.  When he was a tiny puppy, people would pull over in their cars as we walked him to marvel at him and ask what breed he was.  He's a goldendoodle (half poodle, half golden retriever) who was apricot-colored until he lost his puppy coat and turned the beautiful white you can see in the photo.
     I've always said that Murphy was born with manners. I've also frequently referred to him as a saint, and that is entirely accurate. Once he outgrew the puppy phase of nipping our 9-year-old daughter, who he had decided was his littermate, he has never been anything but - to quote Chaucer - "a very parfit, gentil knight."  Unlike his little brother Finney, whom we got when Murphy was two so that he would have company during the day when we were all at work or school, Murphy is reserved around people he doesn't know.  But to the members of his family, he has always been the most devoted, loving creature I've ever met.  He's someone I've often wished I could emulate: infinitely patient, infinitely kind, infinitely accepting.  He does everything with a full, open and generous heart.  He's a true embodiment of love, and for the last ten years he's taught all four of us humans exactly how it's done.  We are so much the richer for having had him in our lives.
     Last night I was on one of many phone calls with my husband, and he asked how a friend of mine had reacted when I told her our sad news.  I said, "Well, she's not a dog person," and he replied, "Well, Murphy's not a dog."  Truer words were never spoken.  Murphy is a noble being who has also been our baby for the past ten years.  Lucky, lucky us.

Sunday, October 25, 2015


     I got a package from Katherine Paterson this week.  As you may recall, she told me in her most recent email that she couldn't answer all my questions right now, but that she'd try to send "something" to me and Michele before leaving for Cuba.  This is what the "something" turned out to be:

     Two copies of her recent memoir (although she says in the book that it's not a memoir; it's just a collection of stories from her life, as per the title).  One copy for me, one for Michele, obviously.  No accompanying note or inscription, but now I'm being greedy, right?  All she signed up for in the first place was giving us tea.  She's not going to answer our specific questions, but, to tell you the truth, I started reading the book yesterday (hence the bookmark in the one on the right), and it does reveal a lot of the things we wondered about.  Not her recipe for scones, but there I go being greedy again!  And so here is where the saga ends.  And I am satisfied. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


     My son reminded me today that the last time the Mets were in the World Series was when I last painted his room!

Saturday, October 17, 2015


     A couple of weeks ago I posted here about my tea with my hero Katherine Paterson - both what a memorable experience it was, and at the same time, how disappointing it was not to be able to talk with her about her work.  What I did not post was the fact that after The Visit, my compadre Michele and I put our heads together, discussed our mutual frustration, and concluded: how could it hurt to send her a list of some of the questions we wished we'd been able to ask while we were there?  The worst she can do is ignore us.  She can't rescind the tea and scones.  So we each compiled a list of our Top Four questions, and I emailed it to KP on September 30th, telling her how honored we were to have met her and how much we would appreciate it if she could take the time to answer any or all of our questions.  I got no response.  I was still glad that Michele and I had taken some initiative, rather than just ineffectually stewing, but it was clear that our intuition had been right - she really DIDN'T want to discuss her books with us!  But we were no worse off than we had been before we tried. 
     And then last night, to my enormous surprise, I got a response to my email.  It consisted of two words and a punctuation mark: "Heaven forfend!"  Well, I thought. The long silence had sent a clear enough message all by itself, had it not?  The expression of horror to top it off seemed fairly unnecessary.  I just sucked it up (because, hello?  THIS IS KATHERINE PATERSON dissing me!!) and answered: "Oh.  Well, we thought it couldn't hurt to ask!  Have a wonderful trip to Havana."  (As I mentioned in my previous post, this intrepid woman is traveling to Cuba for an International Board on Books for Young People conference at the end of this month.)  And that was obviously going to be that.
     This morning she answered me back. "You're right," she said.  And she asked for my mailing address, and said that while she doesn't have enough time right now to answer all our questions, she'll try to get something out to me and Michele before she leaves.
     Stay tuned!!!

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune
Without the words
And never stops at all...

         - Emily Dickinson

We can still hop.

         - note from Lyddie's semi-literate mother, LYDDIE (by Katherine Paterson, of course)

Saturday, October 10, 2015


     My obsession with space began about ten years ago, when I first had the idea of writing a novel about a girl with an imaginary moon-sister.  The Hom were an advanced race of moon people who spent their lives in a system of underground chambers and tunnels, from where they closely monitored Earth and its inhabitants.  To write about the Hom, I had to read a lot about the moon, and I got hooked.

     The problem was that everyone who read my manuscript tried to convince me that the Hom part of the story just didn't belong in, and in fact detracted from, what was otherwise a contemporary realistic YA novel.  For years, I dug my heels in and refused to listen because... the Hom.  Those ten-foot-tall featureless spheres, each one identifiable by its signature color.  Rolling through their tunnels, projecting their own light, unspooling tubes from inside their bodies when arms are needed to perform tasks, or when they want to communicate with other members of their pods.  I know the Hom.  In a way, I am the Hom.
     It's only this year that I finally accepted reality and banished the Hom from the book.  No more Hom.  (Well, not in the book, anyway.  But you can't tell me they're not still out there.)  No more moon-sister.  But my feeling of kinship with the moon hasn't lessened.  Nor has my belief that planetary exploration is absolutely necessary for the human race, because without a doubt there is going to come a time when Earth is going to become overpopulated, or run out of fossil fuels, or we'll find some other way to destroy it (we're already doing a dandy job in that direction).  Or, even without our help, it will experience a natural disaster that will render it either temporarily or permanently uninhabitable, and our descendants are going to need an escape hatch.  A place to go.
     And now Mars has become the Cool Planet.  The next frontier.

And I want to live there. So then the question becomes: why?  I have a nice house right here on Earth, with everything I need right at hand.  Supermarket a mile away, CVS right down the street.  Fresh water flows through pipes directly into my kitchen and bathroom.  I can make the house warm in the winter and cool in the summer without having to know shit about the science involved.  Reliable WIFI.  I even have a generator in the garage in case the power goes out for more than a few hours.  Why would I want to leave?
     And it's not like Mars is hospitable. In fact, pretty much everything about it is inimical to human life.  Liquid water is great and all - it definitely beats NO liquid water - but then you think about transporting a desalinization plant there, and it gets tricky. EVERYTHING is tricky, beginning with mere survival.  But the night after I dragged my husband to see The Martian, I was too excited to sleep.  I couldn't stop thinking about the habitat, the rover, and the sheer Marsness of it all.  (Although, let's face it.  If you were the commander of a Mars crew, waiting anxiously at the end of a tether to catch a  crew member whom you unwittingly abandoned and who's survived alone on the planet for over a year and who is now in uncontrolled bodily flight in your direction - wouldn't you at least put out BOTH hands???  But I digress.)
     Oh, sure, you went to see THE MARTIAN too.  But did you later download NASA's 36-page report entitled "NASA'S JOURNEY TO MARS: Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration?"  If you didn't, allow me to recommend it, so that you too can revel in sentences like these: "Current MAV designs require a minimum lander size of just under 20 mt, assuming propellant can be generated from the Martian atmosphere via ISRU."  Those space scientists do love them some acronyms, don't they?
     But I couldn't pinpoint the source of my Martian obsession.  And then I remembered the Swiss Family Robinson.  (Whose name, by the way, wasn't Robinson.  That was for Robinson Crusoe.) How when I was a little girl, all I dreamed about was living like the Swiss Family Robinson, on a previously uninhabited island, having created an adorable treehouse and ingeniously added all the comforts of home, with (conveniently) someone else there to do all the sciencing.
     The images in my head of this idyll were so vivid, but thinking about it over the last few days, I couldn't remember where they came from.  I was pretty sure I'd never read the book, but had there been a movie I saw as a child?
     I looked it up.  The book was originally written in 1812 by a Swiss clergyman with four sons who wanted to teach them the virtues of industry, resourcefulness and self-sufficiency.  So he invented a family with four sons - go figure - that gets shipwrecked on a deserted island, and is fortunately able to rescue barrels and barrels of undamaged supplies from the ship, not to mention all the miraculously unharmed livestock, and they create their own little paradise.  Over the years, the story went the 19th-century equivalent of viral, and was adapted so many times by so many other writers so that it ended up becoming sort of a public-domain fable. 
     And then along came the 1960 Disney film version.

     Seriously, who could not want to live in that treehouse?  Who could not want to have a pet baby elephant in the front yard?  I know I did.  All this, and window curtains too!!

     Looking at those weirdly familiar 55-year-old movie stills, I know for sure that my parents must have taken 5-year-old me to see that movie, and that scenes from it have been forever burned into my brain.  And that is why I now want to go to Mars.  With a lot of scientists.  And a baby elephant in a customized space suit.  And window curtains.
     Obviously, I'm not the only one to have made that connection with space.

     It's actually kind of a no-brainer.  So.  Want to join me on the Red Planet?  But first - how good are you at practical science?  Because I'm a lawyer and a novelist, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to need some help with the tricky parts.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


     Yes, that's actually me, sitting next to Katherine Paterson on her couch.  And the connection to Banned Books Week is that two of KP's books, BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA and THE GREAT GILLY HOPKINS, are on the American Library Association's list of the 100 most banned books (past and present) in this country.  KP wears this distinction as a badge of honor.  Full disclosure: I didn't earn the privilege of sitting next to this amazing woman on her couch; I bought it.  I was the highest bidder this spring for the "Tea With Katherine Paterson" prize in an auction sponsored by the Vermont College of Fine Arts, of which she is a board member.  But at least I won fair and square, and didn't have to lie, cheat or steal in order to spend three hours in the company of my writing hero.
     The prize was tea (the meal, not just the beverage) for me and one other person, so I enlisted Michele, my trusty friend and fellow writer, to take a one-night road trip with me from her home on Cape Cod to Montpelier, Vermont, where KP lives.  But KP has only lived in Montpelier (the state capital) for about two years.  Before then she lived with her family in Barre, the next town over, for 29 years - by far the longest she's ever lived in any one place - and Barre is clearly where her heart lies.   Her husband (recently deceased, hence KP's move to smaller living quarters in Montpelier) was a minister at the Barre Presbyterian Church.  The children's room in the Barre Public Library is named after her.
     Barre is a quirky place.  It bills itself as the Granite Capital of the World, and a short walk along the main street will bring you to oddities like a giant granite zipper in the ground

and an outdoor granite chair for your comfort (and ours).

     But Michele and I didn't take that little walking tour until the next day, after we spent the night at the wonderful Maplecroft B&B (if you're ever in Barre, make sure you check it out!)  KP Day was the day before, September 18th.  After our tea (which featured homemade scones) and chat, KP took us on a driving tour of Barre, as she had told us she'd like to do.  She pointed out some of the highlights, like this statue of the poet Robert Burns
and this World War I memorial to fallen soldiers, known locally (as KP gleefully informed us, and for obvious reasons) as Naked Neil:
     It was a lovely afternoon.  We got to know KP's adorable companion Pixie
and to spend some time with the very gracious KP herself.
     And yet it's taken me almost two weeks to put together a post about my pilgrimage.   Here's the thing.  I'm torn between feeling awed and grateful at having met KP (and still not quite believing that I really did), and feeling disappointed that the three of us didn't get to talk about her work.  I guess I was expecting that the conversation would flow naturally in that direction, but it never did, and Michele and I discovered afterward that we shared the distinct impression that KP didn't want the conversation to flow the way Michele and I were hoping it would.  That it would have been rude for us to ask questions about her books and her writing career.  In fact, when at one point Michele was brave enough to ask whether KP was planning to write any more novels, I almost gasped.  What if she's offended by the question?  What if she throws us out after we drove all this way? 
      Of course, she didn't throw us out, and if she was offended, she was too polite to show it.  Her answer was basically that she doesn't know whether she can do it without the support of her team.  Her agent has retired; the only editor with whom she's ever worked, Virginia Buckley, has retired; and her husband and biggest supporter is no longer here to cheer her along.
     But the rest of our questions remained unasked.  As Michele later said, she and I were apparently both just too well brought up.  We were taught to follow the host's lead, and that's what we did, especially because the host was one of the most revered and accomplished writers for young people in the world.  But of course, that's also why we wished we could have asked her more questions. 
     So there you have it.   I wish I had more news to share with you, but instead, all I have is these photos and the memory of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  And I can pass along KP's exhortation for this week:  Celebrate banned books!!  

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


                            You don't like this jacket, Your Honor?  I thought you wuz kidding!

     A few weeks ago I had my manuscript critiqued by a very kind and very smart author, and you know what she told me?  That I needed to put more work into plotting!  What the hell?  Just because she asked me what my main character wanted, and what the climax of the story was, and other such annoying questions, and I didn't know the answers to any of them?  SO WHAT?  Didn't she know that because I'm a good writer, and I've created interesting characters, and the book begins at Point A and ends at Point B, I am exempt from the laws of plotting???
     Look.  It's not that I've never heard anyone talk about plotting.  I've attended several million writing conferences and workshops,  I've read one or two million writers' blogs and seen photos of their charts (some color-coded, some not), notebooks, index cards, Post-its, spreadsheets...  I got it, okay?  Some poor souls need to plot out their books.  I, on the other hand, do not.  Because I'm, ya know, gifted, I guess.
     Twenty years of trying to write novels before a tiny glimmer of light finally enters my thick skull.  Yes, I need to know before I write Page One what my main character wants, and pretty soon, she also needs to know what she wants, or nobody will care enough to keep reading about her.  Yes, I need to have the first half of the book lead inexorably toward the midpoint.  Yes, I need to then start gaining speed and tension until I'm barreling toward the climax, after which I can smoke a metaphorical  cigarette and reward myself with the denouement.  YES, YES, YES, OKAY?  I AM NOT SPECIAL.  I AM NOT EXEMPT.  I NEED TO LEARN TO PLOT JUST LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE, OR EVERYTHING I'VE EVER WRITTEN WILL JUST END UP IN A DRAWER ALONG WITH MY HOPES AND DREAMS.
     I was blind, but now I see. 

Which only means that now it's going to be possible for me to make the revisions I need to make.  "Possible" does not rule out "torturous."
     I hear there are people in the world who for some reason don't need to do everything the hard way.  I don't believe it, though, do you? 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Vacation was great.

     We were in Vancouver and then Seattle.  I don't take a lot of photos on vacation so you can't see us in Whistler, a ski resort 2 hours north of Vancouver, ziplining between two mountains.  Yeah we did!!  Nor can you see us attending a Saturday night Bard on the Beach production of Shakespeare's Love's Labor Lost, set in the 1920's with all kinds of Jazz Age choreographed musical numbers thrown in.  It was a hoot!  But here are a few Vancouver shots my husband took:

                            (outside our hotel with some serious eye-rolling by my daughter)

                                         (Shannon Waterfall, just off the road to Whistler)

                                                       (some new friends)


                                                           (double ditto)

     Nor do I have photos to display of our Underground Seattle Tour (which seemed to focus heavily on the city's history of sewage disposal) or of our Locked Room Challenge (which was cool, except that I discovered to my deep shame that I'm useless at locked room challenges.  Everyone else in my family did really well though).  I did force my daughter to pose for me at the wonderful Elliot Bay Bookstore

and my husband caught this lovely shot of me and my son at the aquarium gift shop:

But the only time I really pulled my phone out and started snapping pics is when we got to the Chihuly Garden and Museum, because it was absolutely incredible.  First off, I should note that Dale Chihuly, one of the world's foremost glassmakers and a native of Tacoma, is a genius (I think that's beyond question) but is also completely whacked.  This museum/exhibit space of his in Seattle has a café, where we ate lunch, but before you enter the café you walk past two enormous wall-hung exhibit cases displaying a tiny fraction of his collection of bottle openers.  Two cases of bottle openers also hang in each of the nearby bathrooms.  So you start to get a sense of why it might be called the Collections Café, but you don't really get it until you're seated in the restaurant and you look up to the ceiling and see this:

Those are accordions.   Eighty-two of them on the ceiling, our helpful waiter told us.  Less than a fifth of Chihuly's full accordion collection, which he stores at various warehouses.  But if you thought that Chihuly only collects accordions and bottle openers, you were gravely mistaken.  He has MANY other collections, including but not limited to: shaving brushes; pre-WWII string dispensers; mid-20th-century wooden dollhouse furniture; vintage radios; and a category called chalkware, which is so supremely creepy that I had to take two pictures of the huge display cases:

     Okay, so there you have Dale Chihuly the Lunatic Collector.  But there is also Dale Chihuly, the man who single-handedly revolutionized the art of glassmaking, and on this subject, I will just let the photos speak for themselves.

     If you ask me, we could have done nothing else on vacation but seen the Chihuly exhibits, and it would still have been worth the trip.