NaNo walkabout

KM Cover 3aJust one day remains before I head back to Mitlery and Sarony in order to write KM’s sequel. The good news: tomorrow is 25 hours long!

Today’s to-do list includes a shop-off, cook-off, clean-off, student-papers-read-off, as well as this temporary sign-off. I’ll feel happy if I get half of this list done.

I’ll be back here in December; meanwhile, you can track my progress on the NaNo-calendar to the right.

Happy November to all! Write a little, read a lot — or the other way around — or even both ways.

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Love books? Love bookshops

Lizzie Ross:

This initiative may be based in the UK, but it’s important for bookshops and readers, authors and publishers worldwide. Get thee to your local bookshop.

Originally posted on calmgrove:


While I was helping steward for the inaugural Crickhowell Literary Festival in the first fortnight of October unbeknownst to me the 2015 campaign for Books are My Bag was being launched simultaneously — perhaps not a total coincidence.

#BAMB is, in the initiative’s own words, “a nationwide campaign to celebrate bookshops”, a collaboration between publishers, bookshops and authors to promote these once ubiquitous outlets. “56% of all book buying decisions are made by consumers in a bookshop,” we’re told, but — like so much these days — we must remember to use it or else lose it.

So, why buy books in your local bookshop?

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Time to get serious about this

As I write this, my NaNoWriMo countdown clock shows just 13 days separate me from the start of temporary madness. Mise en scene, mise en place, mise en esprit — you name it, I’m arranging it.


Rejection letter for Orwell’s Animal Farm.

For mise en esprit, I take comfort from Kate DiCamillo’s talk at this past weekend’s USBBY conference here in NYC. She explained that whenever she visits schools, she talks about rejection letters. Her first challenge to the students is for them to guess how many times her first book was rejected. They always start with “three”, she said, and rarely guess more than “ten”.

The “right” answer is 477. If she’d given up after 200 rejections, she explained, that would have been the end of her writing career.

Even if both figures are exaggerations (DiCamillo later said she had revised one of her books 7,222 times), they provide a sense of her determination, of her faith that this was something she was meant to do, and of her belief in the value of her story.

And so, rejection letters (these days, they’re emails) may continue to arrive in my virtual mailbox, but my esprit recovers. And there’s always the curiosity about how the next story will play out.

Now I just need to take care of mise en scene and mise en place.

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Ignoring that panicky feeling

Normally this time of year, I’d be stuffing my freezer with nourishing soups to get me through the first week or so of NaNoWriMo. But October has been busier than usual, and this weekend I’m attending my first USBBY conference. That’s the International Board on Books for Young People/US group.


Alice in Wonderland (celebrating its 150th anniversary) is the conference theme, but there’s plenty else going on. Particular highlights: tonight, Kate DiCamillo gives the plenary speech; tomorrow, Gene Luen Yang joins a panel discussing graphic novels; tomorrow night, Susan Cooper (woot!); Sunday, Lois Lowry. Autograph sessions galore. Tomorrow afternoon, a discussion of disability in YA lit, including Cece Bell’s El Deafo, and a session on writing for Bookbird, IBBY’s journal.

Meanwhile, students’ papers are stacking up, I have 3 writing group submissions to read before Monday evening, and that freezer needs filling.

I love being busy.

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… is knowing when to quit.

A while back, I posted a list of novels I wish I’d never read. It was supposed to be a list of 10, but I stopped at nine. I can now add part of a 10th novel to that list, thanks to the 2015 Reading Challenge.


Rowan Atkinson

It’s a book I had started at least once before but put down after just 20 or so pages. For the *book with bad reviews* category on the 2015 Challenge list, I decided to give it another try (someone had previously told me she’d thought it was “pretty good, considering”). I got about 150 pages into it before deciding, “Nope, not for me, not worth my time, not for any challenge.”

If, after 150 pages (of 500), there was still no character who had sparked empathy from me, and if the MacGuffin couldn’t at least make me curious about how it would all turn out, then it was clearly time to bail. Each page only made me angrier and less willing to connect.

I even cheated. I turned to the last page to read the end. A group of formerly unfriendly characters were laughing in new-found amity. But I’m not in the least bit curious about how that happened.

Ah, the freedom to abandon a book. One of the perks of adulthood.

PS: If you can’t stand not knowing, you can find the book’s title on the Reading Challenge page above. It completes the Challenge for me. Most of the books were worth the effort. I may post something about highlights. Then again, I may not.

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Here we go again

Hudson River bike path, October 2014

Hudson River bike path, Fall 2014

You may have noticed the new widgets in the right-hand sidebar. They’ve appeared there every fall since I started this blog. You can almost set your calendar by them.

Each spring, as I struggle with revisions on a current work-in-progress and add one or two more letters to my virtual Wall of Denial, I consider not doing NaNoWriMo in the fall. Then October comes. NaNo’s cheerleaders send me encouraging emails. The ether starts buzzing with discussions of pantsing vs. planning. Nights, with their invitation for mugs of tea sipped in front of a screen blazing with ideas, lengthen. I look at my calendar and see that November doesn’t have much else going on. And I decide to give it another go.

There’s something about starting and finishing a draft in one month that appeals to me. Character development, plotting, world-building: each is like a game whose rules I make up as I go along, and the only way to lose the game is to quit.

That’s my kind of game.

So, watch this space for infrequent updates. And hey, why not join me? Go to NaNo’s website to learn more.

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Scary books

BBW13_ProfileOne of the categories for the 2015 Reading Challenge is *banned book*. I looked at ALA’s list of most frequently challenged books in 2014 and was pleasantly surprised to learn I’d read half of the top ten. But I also discovered, at #3, a picture book I hadn’t read.

“A picture book?” you ask.

imagesYes. And Tango Makes Three (J. Richardson and P. Parnell, ill. H. Cole) was published in 2005 and topped ALA’s list of banned books in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010. This tale of two male penguins who prefer each other’s company and hatch a chick at NYC’s Central Park Zoo –a penguin with two daddies! — raises red flags all over the place.

According to the ALA, Richardson’s and Parnell’s book has been frequently challenged because its content is anti-family and “promotes the homosexual agenda”. Others complain that the content is inappropriate for the age level. Parents in several states have asked that the book be removed from the library, or placed in a restricted section or in the non-fiction area (the assumption being that kids never browse the non-fiction section?), or marked as requiring parental consent before being checked out. In all cases, the parents’ requests were denied or eventually overruled.

Of course such efforts to bowdlerize public bookcases may be likely to backfire. Anyone who’s seen The Fantasticks knows that, if you want your kids to do something, tell them not to. Would this book have faded into obscurity if parents had said nothing? It’s impossible to know. But certainly the many challenges have kept this book in the spotlight.

It’s a lovely story. The two adult penguins are friends who do everything together, even building a nest and trying to hatch stones that look like eggs. A sympathetic zookeeper provides an abandoned egg, they take turns tending it and, mirabile dictu, it hatches. (Which makes me think of Horton hatching his egg — with no subsequent complaints from the reading public about a male elephant becoming a single parent.)

I know — I shouldn’t expect consistency or logic in this particular arena (or, in fact, in any arena). Yet, I always hope.

I’m grateful to the ALA for bringing such books to our attention, providing us opportunities to support authors, libraries, schools and READERS. If you haven’t done so yet, find a banned/challenged book and read it. Then try to figure out what all the fuss is about.

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