Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Legend of Tom's Leg (Brian Katcher)


When I was a teenager, my father used to take my friends and me on camping/float trips. I can't imagine what would possess a man to voluntarily hang out with a bunch of unruly fifteen-year-olds. I'm sure he had his reasons.

Dad, third from left. This also marks the first of 20,000 times my friend Joe would flip off the camera. The guy in the purple trunks is now my brother-in-law.

At any rate, as we would sit around the camp fire telling stories of unrivaled fantasy and fiction, one theme would always appear: the legend of Tom's leg.
It began as a throwaway joke in one of my father's stories, about how Tom was killed in the war, leaving behind only his leg, which went on a series of subsequent adventures. This proved to be the seed of many an absurd tale, with the severed leg going on many globe-spanning journeys. Tom's leg was our inside joke, a phrase that made us laugh through college and beyond. 

Dad claimed he got the idea from a 1950s comic book, where a character screamed 'It's Tom's leg!' though how you'd identify someone from just a limb was not explained. The idea intrigued me, but my father could remember no more details.

But then along came ebay. A quick search of 'it's tom's leg' + 'comic book' led me to the appropriate issue, which I of course bought for him for Christmas.

It's been a long time since that first float trip in 1990, but I fondly remember the legend of Tom's leg. It still beats out our other favorite tall tales of the time, 'The story of the bloody fingers' and 'one time I kissed a girl.'

Monday, March 27, 2017

The mysterious path (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

This is pretty much how writing feels to me.

hiker on path leading into narrowing stone walls
Arches National Park, Utah

I start out on a fairly clearly marked path, with some concrete ideas. I think I know where I'm going.

But then the path gets more obscure. The walls close in: the walls of doubt, of tangles in the story, of unforeseen problems.

At first, when the walls close in, I'm a little scared. Or frustrated. And then I remind myself this always happens.

I trust the path is going somewhere. I keep walking.

There is beauty here, and mystery. In fact, it might not be nearly as rewarding if I could see the whole path from the start. Yes, I've looked at the map. I have some idea of where I'm going. But there are always surprises along the way.

In part, I write to discover.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Top of the Bookshelf (Courtney McKinney-Whitaker)




This is the image I chose as the cover photo when I updated my website, Twitter, and Facebook author pages. It took me a long time to figure out what I should use because I have struggled mightily to figure out how to express what I do and who I am as a writer in a succinct, brandable way.  

My interest in more than one (many, many more than one) area of everything has been the bane of my scholarly and professional existence in a world that demands and rewards specialization.

I began my (published) writing career with a scholarly monograph. (A weird place to start, I know.) I published a YA novel and several literary essays. More recently, I've turned to poetry and work for very young children. The manuscript I'm shopping around right now is a picture book biography for (probably) primary readers. And now I'm working on an adult novel and a YA dual biography, among all the poetry and essays that keep pushing their way in.

*Sigh*

It's tough to pin myself to a card, like "the market" would like me to do.

Struggling to find an image that would define me, I ended up taking a picture of the top of the bookshelf in my office. Here's what's on it, from left to right.

*A little antique cat that I think came from my great-grandmother's house

*Copies of my M.A. thesis: Reconstructions: A Feminist Perspective on Twenty-First Century Responses to Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Civil War and Reconstruction Narratives


*Copies of my Y.A. historical, The Last Sister

*The books are sitting on a set of adjustable bookends shaped like squirrels that my parents had on the desk in the kitchen when I was growing up. I'm kind of surprised my mom let me have it, because she loves squirrels, but I guess she loves me more.

*An Anne of Green Gables ornament my in-laws brought me from their trip to Prince Edward Island (I really want to go there.)

*An ornament I found in my grandparents' Christmas stuff after they passed away. That's the mouse running up the clock, of Hickory Dickory Dock fame.

*A figurine of Beatrix Potter's Mrs. Tittlemouse that I'm pretty sure was a baby gift for me when I was a baby.

*In the back is a bookend. That's Molly (1944) from American Girl. I love American Girl. My parents gave me the bookend for Christmas at some point when I was too old for American Girl, except that you're never too old for American Girl.

*In front of the bookend are four little figures on thimbles. They are all that remain of my middle school obsession with Hallmark Christmas ornaments: Alice, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, and the White Rabbit.

*One of those Boyd's Bears (I think) that were so hot in the nineties. It's the Scottish bear from the "Around the World" Collection and was another Christmas gift from my parents.

This picture actually does a decent job of encompassing my work. There's the scholarly stuff, some early childhood stuff, some middle grade stuff, some YA stuff, some adult stuff. It hits on books and themes that have been important to me, and because I didn't stage it, it's an authentic glimpse into who I am as a writer and as a person.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Horses by the Bay -- Jen Doktorski


This is a picture of the 5th Avenue Pier in Seaside Park, New Jersey. Over the years, we've spent a lot of time here crabbing, as in catching crabs. I rarely do the other kind of crabbing when I'm this close to Barnegat Bay or the Atlantic Ocean.

My family spends summers in Seaside Park and we visit almost monthly throughout the year. Shopping local in Seaside on Black Friday has become a tradition. This past Thanksgiving weekend, during our annual visit, we walked over to the bay beach and discovered two women, dressed for a Renaissance fair -- at least that's what it looked like. They were with two horses. Not something you see on the bay beach every day. My daughter asked if she could pet them, to which the ladies replied "sure!" When they saw she had a camera, they invited her to take some pictures. This is one of them.

I have no idea why the women and the horses were there. I have no idea why we never thought to ask them. It was one of those surreal moments that you don't question. Before we knew it, we were watching the ladies drive away in the pick up, horse trailer in tow. They honked the horn as we stood waving.

Why were their horses by the bay? Any ideas? I thought this would make a good writing prompt for a writers' group I help to run at my local library.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

On DNA and Other Cruelties by Patty Blount

Somebody recently pointed out that the heroines in almost all of my novels are the anti-Patty. To a large extent, this is true. Julie in SEND, Bailey in TMI, Grace in SOME BOYS, Amanda in NOTHING LEFT TO BURN -- all blue eyed blondes. 

I'm a brown-eyed brunette. 

In temperament, Grace is a warrior. I don't fight. I don't confront. I just fade away. 
Amanda is a natural leader. I failed miserably as president of a non-profit org and resigned less than two months into the role. 

I gave this considerable thought and have to admit, I hate the way I look. Yeah. I'm that girl, the one who's got every flaw catalogued and indexed. This is why I chose this picture -- one I made of scans of old pictures. 








The one on the left is my youngest son and the one on the right is me. Both of us are four months old at the time. 

During both of my pregnancies, I’d hoped each baby would inherit his aunt’s blue eyes, his grandfather’s perfect teeth, his cousin’s blond hair, his grandmother’s perfectly formed nose. In other words, all the features I lacked.

Instead, Christopher was born looking so much like me, I actually cringed. It was like a cruel joke...I grew up hating my appearance and now had to watch my beloved child do the same thing? I had so much hair at birth, the nurses tied a gauze bow in it to keep it out of my eyes. Chris's first haircut was done at four weeks old with me propping up his head. We have the same expressions. The same coloring. Even the shape of our ears is the same. 

I remember holding him minutes after his birth, counting fingers and toes, feeling his tiny heart beat under my hand. And I remember this sort of shock hit me hard -- shock because I thought he was the most beautiful being ever created, and that somehow, I'd made him that way. This was a monumental realization... I'm a person who has dozens of flaws catalogued and cross-indexed but I don't see them in him. 

He looks just like me. So if he is beautiful, that had to mean...so am I. 

I don't know why this stunned me. I don't even know why it matters. It's a silly hang-up to have, really. But I did. I still do to a very large extent. But now, twenty-two years later, I think this boy is absolutely beautiful (they both are!).

Bonus shot: Here's one of both of my sons, taken on New Year's Eve. (with Rob's girlfriend, Catherine):





Sunday, March 19, 2017

Writers WRITE (Laurie Boyle Crompton)


I have found new joy in writing!

Becoming a published author has been my lifelong dream and I am beyond blessed to have my fourth (4th!!) book releasing in less than two months. Yay for novel-writing! And yay for book deals that haven't even been announced yet. Which means more novel-writing. Yay!

Except that having a career writing novels can sometimes make writing feel, well, like it's a job. And I have yet to find a pain-free way of completing a novel. In fact, a career in publishing can sometimes make an author forget the reason they got into this thing in the first place: the pure and simple joy of writing.

Sometimes, a writer must seek out new forms of writing in order to rediscover their initial passion and excitement. They must try writing things that are not-a-job and just-for-fun. Things that make them feel like they're starting all over again. Things like, oh I don't know, maybe ... writing comedy skits!

I am learning so much and I'm having So. Much. Fun.

And guess what else? All of this fresh energy is helping fuel more productive novel writing! So if you're struggling to find joy in your own writing process, you may want to try something completely outside your comfort zone. (And maybe inbox me if you've found some pain-free way of completing a novel.) Happy writing!


Saturday, March 18, 2017

A Perfect Day (Alissa Grosso)

There aren't many perfect days in life, so it's pretty awesome when one of them gets captured in a photo. One of my favorite days, was a day I spent at the beach with my dog. It was a bit of an impromptu trip. I was down in Delaware for work in January and happened to have my dog along for the trip, and we wound up with one of those freakishly warm January days, and I said to Jack, "Let's go to the beach!"

This was his first (and so far, only) time seeing (and touching and tasting because he's a dog) the ocean. He was a bit confused by that constantly moving water, but he liked the big sandy area he could run around on. We had a picnic lunch, courtesy of Wawa and walked along the paths at Cape Henlopen State Park enjoying the sunshine along with a lot of other happy folks.

There was more to this day, of course, like the part about where I had to do actual work and go and sell some books, but that wasn't the important part of the day. Work is almost never the important part of the day. I think too many people forget that or don't realize that.

I remember once my grandmother told me to not waste time planning things, because plans seldom work out and you'll only end up being disappointed. At the time, I thought she was being too much of a pessimist, but now that I'm a bit older I think I understand what she meant. Plans make life stressful and not so much fun. It's always the unplanned things that end up being the most enjoyable.

I like this picture because it's a good reminder to live every day however you please, to be up for spontaneous trips to the beach, to take care of yourself and your soul, first and foremost. Perfect days happen, but only if you're open to adventure and can remember to put the not-so-important stuff on the back burner.


When Alissa Grosso isn't taking spontaneous trips to the beach with her dog, she writes books. She's the author of the YA novels Shallow Pond, Ferocity Summer and Popular. You can find out more about her and her books at alissagrosso.com.



Friday, March 17, 2017

HOME (HOLLY SCHINDLER)




Home. Literally. That's what this pic is. I took it at the end of my street. Just to the left of this spot is an old barn. The field's marked off by barbed wire. In late summer, it's full of hay bales.

I won't lie--my hometown (in SW Missouri) has been hit hard economically the past few years. Jobs are leaving. I've seen crime go up in my immediate vicinity. We really don't have the same opportunities (economic or cultural) that other areas have.

It's also occurred to me recently that in addition to the economic changes, maybe we really never did have the same opportunities in this area. Maybe my perspective has just changed.

But one thing we do have--one thing I love and don't know how I'd ever live without--is the wide-openness. When we have decent weather, I'm outside with my laptop. I swear there's something about being in a place with no walls. It's like you suddenly have no walls on your imagination.

It's a miraculous thing. It makes amazing things happen on the page. And no matter how my perspective (and the years) change, I can't imagine my love of the wide-openness will ever weaken...

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Writing until the End by Jody Casella




This picture shows a segment of a manuscript.

It was the draft of what was meant to be a novel in five parts, an ambitious project about how ordinary people live during times of war. It was modeled on  Tolstoy's War and Peace. The author was a thirty-nine year old woman named Irene Nemirovsky. She'd grown up in Russia, the daughter of wealthy Jewish parents. During the Russian Revolution, her family lost everything and fled to Paris.

Nemirovsky went to school at the Sorbonne. She became a bestselling French novelist in her 20's. Two of her novels were made into films. She married and had two little girls and kept writing novels and short stories. During the 1930's, because she and her husband didn't consider themselves religious or political, and because they were wealthy and thought of themselves as French, and anyway, Irene Nemirovsky was famous!-- they ignored the rising anti-Semitism in Europe.

When France fell to the Germans at the beginning of World War II, they moved from Paris to the countryside, and here, Nemirovsky worked feverishly on her next novel.

She kept a diary while she worked, recording her ideas for the project, which was becoming more and more complex. The diary is filled with pages of character sketches, plot points, ideas about structure and possibly using a musical score as a framework for telling the story.

She'd nearly completed two of the five sections by April, 1942, writing in her diary:

"I must create something great and stop wondering if there is any point."

And in June: 

"Never forget that the war will be over and that the entire historical side will fade away. Try to create as much as possible: things, debates... that will interest people in 1952 or 2052. Reread Tolstoy. Inimitable descriptions but not historical. Insist on that."

And later in the summer:

"Starting to worry about the shape this novel will have when finished!"

She wrote her last entry on July 11, 1942. It was, characteristically, a list of things she needed to work on in her manuscript, descriptions of scenes she planned to write, a note about what was at the core of the novel she envisioned:

To sum up: struggle between personal destiny and collective destiny... which all in all would correspond to my deepest convictions. What lives on:

1. Our humble day-to-day lives
2. Art
3. God

Two days later, she was arrested and sent to Auschwitz where she died within a few weeks.

Her husband was arrested and gassed shortly after and their daughters went into hiding with their nanny. The older daughter, who was eleven at the time of her mother's capture and murder, put the manuscript in a suitcase and kept it with her for the remainder of the war, and thinking it was her mother's journal and would be too painful to read, did not open the suitcase for five-five years.

In the late 1990's, she found in the suitcase, in addition to her mother's notes and journals, a manuscript, the first two segments of a novel. The book was published in France as Suite Francaise in 2004 and eventually translated into 38 languages.


I read this book last week in the comfort of my living room. Each night after I finished my day's writing, I curled up on my recliner and fell into a story about refugees escaping a war zone. Families loading their precious belongings into their cars. A middle aged couple searching for their soldier son. A wealthy man irked that he has to pack up his art. A little girl worried over her pet cat. A man stealing a can of petrol from a sleeping couple. A priest killed by his orphaned charges. A woman hiding a wanted man from soldiers.

I came to the end and read the copies of Irene Nemirovsky's notes. Her diary entries. The lists of story plans. The obsession over a manuscript that I know will never be finished.

I don't know why we do what we do-- why some of us hurt each other, why some of us save each other, why some of us attempt to record it all.

We will never finish, any of us, everything we planned to do. Still, if we are lucky, we keep going, right up to the very end.








Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Keep Walking (Amy K. Nichols)

I took this photo last summer just after San Diego Comicon ended. My friends and I had taken the ferry over to Coronado Island to catch dinner and watch the sunset. It's a bit of a tradition for us. At some point I took this photo by accident, only finding it later after I got home and synced my phone to my computer.

I like this photo because it shows me walking.

Just a couple of months before I took this photo, I faced a health crisis that made me question if I'd lose my ability to walk altogether. I'd taken an antibiotic called Levaquin that, among other things, had attacked my joints and tendons, causing me incredible pain and limiting my mobility. When I realized the drug had poisoned me, one of my first thoughts was, I guess I won't be going to SDCC this year.

But I did go.

First I worked my butt off getting better. Then I walked my butt off at SDCC.

The con exhausted me even more than usual. But I did it and I have this photo as a reminder.

It reminds me that life is unpredictable and at times difficult. It reminds me that I'm stronger than I think. It reminds me that my story isn't over yet. It reminds me that there's still road ahead of me. And  it reminds me that my job is to keep walking.

Friday, March 10, 2017

My First Novel Started When I Was Six (Sydney Salter)



My first novel - the one I finally dared to write - can be traced back to this photo.

I grew up as the child of a biology professor. That meant that I often kept white lab mice as pets, one of my favorite toys was an anatomy model with removable organs (Mr. Body-Bod, to me), and I spent the summer of my 6th year traveling throughout Mexico while my dad and his grad students trapped and tagged bats.

My mom washed our clothes in the river with the local women, and I played with village children. The thing that really captured my imagination were the Mayan ruins we visited. The ancient culture fascinated me - and I continued to learn as much as possible about it.

In college I majored in English, wanting to be a writer, but too scared to fail, I didn't actually write anything besides mediocre analytical papers. I minored in biology (how could I not?). The first time I started to write a novel, I returned back to school and collected a history major. I didn't want to fail.

But then my husband and I decided to take our daughters to Mexico. Oh, I had to find a cool way for them to understand Mayan culture! I decided to write a story. The story turned into a middle-grade novel. I wrote without fear, only thinking of an audience of two, and the story flowed. I called it Jungle Crossing.

The manuscript wasn't ready for publication. But it gave me the courage to write another one and another and another. After writing each new manuscript, I looped back and applied the lessons I'd learned to Jungle Crossing.

The novel was published in 2009. But it really started back in 1973.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

It Isn't Walking Away, It's Learning to Fly--By Kimberly Sabatini

This month our prompt was to post a picture and blog about what it means to us. 

This was HARD!

I take a ton of photographs. And I'm getting old-ish. 
So, there was a lot to choose from.

As I found myself looking through massive amounts of pictures, I discovered they sparked a million things I wanted to say. 

But I had to pick one.

Then I noticed a trend in my picture taking.

It involved numerous snapshots of my children. Their backs were to me and in most of those pictures, my boys were walking away.


This caused me to stop and wonder why I took so many pictures of them from behind. 
And why I gravitate to the visual.
Clearly, these were some of my favorite photos.

Perhaps, it's because, one day, not so far into the future, my boys will grow up and head out on their own adventures, doing things they are passionate about. 
Things that are independent of me. 

And I love that.

It gives me a tremendous amount of satisfaction to know I'm raising kids who feel confident enough (most of the time) to forge ahead, without looking back over their shoulders.

It's not that I want them to walk away and forget me. 
It's my job to be influential. 
And my desire to be important in their lives.

 But deep in my soul, I believe their freedom will not interfere with the relationships we are constantly cultivating with each other. 

Am I scared they could get hurt, or make stupid mistakes if I'm not vigilant in my protection?
That fear is real--very real.
But, it's a demon I can't allow to take control.

The truth is, we have as good of a chance of destroying a life, by holding on too tightly, as we do of never having embraced it at all.

Balance.

When I was their age, all I ever wanted to do was fly. 
And it had nothing to do with wanting to walk away from anyone.
It had everything to do with discovering who I wanted to be and what I wanted to become. 

It was never about choosing one aspect of my life over another.

I was simply attempting to become complete.

When I see my boys moving forward, it's that knowledge that makes me want to snap their pictures and capture the moments when they spread their wings. 

Independence isn't walking away, it's learning to fly...

We can't control what happens in their lives, but we can control our ability to remember what it feels like to be on the verge--to be a young adult.







Tuesday, March 7, 2017

THE GREAT DIVIDE by Joy Preble


If you are not aware, the waters on one side of the Continental Divide of the Americas flow to the Pacific; the waters on the other side, flow toward the Atlantic. This particular spot where I'm standing  is in Yellowstone National Park. It was the first week in October in 2011 and the Yellowstone trip was the first fall vacation I'd ever taken. Teachers don't typically take October vacations-- although I hear there are some districts in places not Texas that get time off then. But I was taking this vacation because I was no longer teaching full time-- had in fact resigned to write full time and teach part time and maybe earn money in other ways that I was still figuring out. I was living without the safety net of that guaranteed income and it was both scary and freeing. A Continental Divide of another sort-- a before and an after. Just a year before, in 2010, I'd been diagnosed with thyroid cancer--another divide. I'd had surgery and radioactive iodine treatment and I was now cancer free but it had definitely occurred to me along the way of trying not to die that it's a short stay on this planet and if I was going to try to write full time I'd better get to it. And so in January of 2011, I made a reservation at Old Faithful Inn for the following October, an act of faith that I would actually go. I figured if we were going to go to Yellowstone then I wanted to be able to sit on the balcony each evening with a cocktail and watch that famous geyser erupt.  It's really quite spectacular if you've never done it, although it is definitely not the most spectacular thing in that park.  That first night we were there, that's exactly what we did. I sat in the cold, crisp air and sipped my bourbon and watched nature's show and knew that for better or worse, I was on the other side of things. I would write until it was time to do something else and I would make a life in a different way than I had before. Everything would flow in a different direction.

The next day, my husband snapped this photo. There was something about standing there, knowing that all those geological forces were doing their thing and rivers were flowing in opposite directions that gave me this enormous awe, made me feel small and impotent and in the hands of something...bigger.

Not long after that, a buffalo almost rammed our rental car. But he didn't, so it was okay.



Saturday, March 4, 2017

Little Billy (Bill Cameron)

Little Billy

See that little guy right there? That’s me, age uncertain, but probably five or six. Of all the photos of me, that one is my favorite. (To be sure, most photos of me fill me with existential horror, but that’s another matter.)

The details of the moment are lost to time. I have been told the photo was taken during a trip to Stone Mountain, Georgia. I have also been told the picture was taken in Ohio—by the same person who at other times claimed it was Stone Mountain.

Both options are plausible. I lived in Savannah from age five to seven—and at least one visit to Stone Mountain took place during that time, according to multiple sources. But I was born and mostly raised in Ohio. Even during our sojourn to Georgia, we visited family in Ohio a couple of times.

So which was it? Who knows? Cameras didn’t have geotagging in 1969.

And honestly, I like the uncertainty. I believe we find stories in the gaps. The gaps in my own history represented by this photo are intriguing to me. What was going on in that moment? What story is the picture telling?

What was I looking for? A fallen scoop of ice cream perhaps—unless I’d finished the ice cream already. If the ice cream had fallen into the well, I don’t seem too upset about it. Perhaps I haven’t noticed yet. Or perhaps I’m so caught up in the possibilities of what might be at the bottom of that well I haven’t yet realized my ice cream is gone.

Or maybe there never was any ice cream. Poor, sad, little Billy, no ice cream for him—but here’s a empty cone to snack on. Enjoy, kid!

But I don’t think I’m sad in that photo. I think I’m caught up in wonder. That open well suggests a wealth of possibility. Any kind of tale you might want to tell could start in this moment. I think that’s what I like about this photo most of all.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Why do you write? (Brian Katcher)


Someone once said that being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life. And this is sort of true. Whenever I think about starting up the fight club again, or getting back my winter job at that Colorado hotel, that little voice tells me I have to get back to work.

So why not call it quits? Have an evening to myself for once? Or better yet, spend some quality time with my daughter. I think she's in the fourth grade. What drives me to write until my fingers bleed?

Well, for one thing, there's the fact that I'm about to turn 42. Were it not for my successful writing career, I'd be the midst of a major midlife crisis. But every time I'm tempted to call up my ex-girlfriend Jennifer and ask what she's been doing since starring in 'The Hunger Games', I look at my boxes of unsold books and think 'Eh, beats buying a sports car.'


And then of course, there are my fans. My friend and fellow writer Antony John once ask me if I answered my fan mail. I responded that of course I do. He agreed, stating that he takes time every night to write back to his fans.

Every night. He gets fan letters every day. Wow. Must be nice.

But hey, maybe most of my readers are the silent type. The ones who post their reviews online.



But at least I'm making a difference. I get to speak at high schools and libraries all the time. Of course, I'm such a nerd that I take personal days from my job as a librarian so I can go work in other libraries.

And yes, I have been told that I look like Seth Rogen.

Stay in school kids.