Archive for October, 2010


October 31, 2010 @ 10:43 am | Filed under:

I was looking through my posts from previous Halloweens in search of a particular picture (which I still haven’t found) and detected a bit of a theme.

Bah, Humbug (2005: My true feelings come out. “Forget Scrooge, forget the Grinch—what I really need is an iconic literary character to represent the curmudgeon I become in late October every year…”)

Help (Also 2005: A brief postscript.)

Dear Whole Wide World, I Have a Small Request (2006: A plea to postpone Halloween that year. I got no takers. Imagine!)

Something It’s Important to Know about Living in Southern California (2006: Pumpkin soup, sun-tea style.)

2007, 2008, 2009: Silence speaks volumes. I can’t seem to find anything at all about Halloween. Nada. Crickets! I mean, really, what kind of blogging mother omits to mention the kids’ favorite day of the year, three years running?

This is a day when I’m scrambling around, madly helping children put finishing touches on costumes. EXCEPT NOT THIS YEAR because my awesome parents took the kids shopping while I was at Kidlitcon, and voila, costumes accomplished! Let’s hear it for the grandparents.

Also for the calendar, for letting Halloween fall on a Sunday this year, which means Scott’s around to supervise the pumpkin-carving. He’s the trick-or-treat captain, too. Come sundown, he’ll sally forth with the crowd, leaving me all alone with my best friend the Giant Bowl of Candy.

Huh, maybe this holiday isn’t so bad after all…

Poetry Friday, We Meet Again

October 29, 2010 @ 7:37 am | Filed under:

One of my biggest takeaways from Kidlitcon was a resolution to get back in the groove of participating in Poetry Friday. I was a regular, in the beginning. Somewhere between babies #5 and #6 I seem to have fallen out of the habit, mainly because I’m no longer entirely sure when Friday is.

Twitter tells me today is Friday, so that’s good enough for me.

Here are some things to do on this fine Poetry Friday:

• Take a trip to The Poem Farm.

• Read Laura Purdie Salas’s account of the wonderful Poetry Friday panel that so inspired the crowd at KidlitCon.

• Go see Karen, because her Poetry Friday offerings have never failed me yet.

• Visit my new friend Toby Speed for this week’s Poetry Friday roundup!

And here’s my offering. To celebrate my return to regular PF participation, here’s a poem of my own. I shared it here about a year ago, but not on Poetry Friday. I wrote it during grad school before I shifted my MFA focus to fiction. It was published in the Summer/Fall 1994 issue of Quarterly West. (Some of you may remember how delighted I was, afterward, to discover that the editor of that issue was none other than Sally Thomas, who had become—and remains—one of my favorite bloggers.)

Lena, Waiting for the Mail

This time of day the split-rail fence
lays its long shadow in the road,
as far from the house as it ever gets.
Straight and mean, that shadow,
like train tracks heating up in the sun.
I’m always watching for the train.

Plenty of shadows in this yard, but no shade.
Janie and Mack crouching in the spare grass
behind me pour the dogs’ water out for mud.
The ground sucks it in, little snaps and hisses
in my ear. Eleanor wrote last time her ears
are pierced, had it done when she was four,

I can’t believe it, and she got diamonds
on her sweet sixteen. That what girls
like Eleanor call it. I bet it feels sweet to be them, curled
and black-lashed, wearing Pop’s last forty hours
through your earlobes. Davy, shouting, runs
three times around the house, gets as far as Mars

before Pop hushes him. Mack orders him to help
with the mudcastle. “Lena,” Mama calls,
“I wish you’d keep them quiet.”
Patrick McFadden wrote to say he “freefalls
from airplanes for fun.” He’s the only boy I write.
Pop thinks “Pat” is a girl. Pat loves the color blue, the smell

of coffee, and Bruce Springsteen. This mailman
will never show. Anita’s letter is due today,
and maybe Sabine Heyl’s. That fragile paper like the skin
you peel out of an open eggshell. Purple ink
like you’d write magic spells with—Janie’s blinking
back tears. Mama’ll kill me. “You kids come away

from the house,” I say. “I’ll tell you a story.” Can’t I tell
myself a good one: A girl with a hundred letters
spreads them flat like a quilt. She sticks them together
with Elmer’s since sealing wax is in short supply.
She climbs on and waves her hands in a spell.
The rustling paper rises like a prayer into the sky.

(Originally published in Quarterly West, No. 39, Summer/Fall 1994, Salt Lake City, UT.)

This week’s Poetry Friday roundup can be found at The Writer’s Armchair.

Here’s #87,401 (or, um, #35,801)

October 28, 2010 @ 7:22 pm | Filed under:

So when I said I’d post my Kidlitcon panel notes “tomorrow,” I guess I meant it in an Alice-in-Wonderland sense. Today is not tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow will be.

Today, we went to the zoo.

If I were a dutiful blogger I’d at least have a picture of adorable moppets in front of the polar bear cage, but I’m in one room and my camera’s in another, with all my zoo pictures still sewn up tight inside the SD card. Ooh but I could do a picture from Tuesday’s pumpkin-farm outing instead, how’s that?

Neither a moppet, nor adorable.

See, my parents and niece are visiting from Colorado. They arrived on Saturday while I was basking in the fun of KidlitCon. This week has flown by. They’re leaving tomorrow; I can’t believe it!

So tomorrow probably won’t be panel-notes day after all. Tomorrow will be consoling-bereft-children day. And oh-no-I-have-to-cook-again day. And wow-I-have-a-lot-of-Cybils-books-to-read day.

Actually, I-have-to-cook-again day is exactly the kind of day which tends to inspire long, detailed posts in me. Anything to keep me out of the kitchen!

Hannah asked how one finds out about events like KidlitCon: “Do you just have to frequent the right kidlit blogs at the right time?”

Pretty much! Do you know about Kidlitosphere Central? It’s a wonderful website run by Pam Coughlan (MotherReader), Liz Burns (A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy), Anne Boles Levy (Cybils), Colleen Mondor (Chasing Ray), and Jen Robinson (Jen Robinson’s Book Page) which serves as a portal to children’s-literature-focused blogs, discussion groups, resources and more. That’s one good place to find news about KidlitCon, which is an annual conference held in a different part of the country each year. Next year: Seattle! 2012: NYC!

Here’s another nifty thing: over at the KidlitCon 2010 website, Andrew Karre is collecting links to the PowerPoint presentations people showed on various panels. The first set he links to is for Liz, Pam, Jen, and Sarah Stevenson’s Kidlitosphere and CYBILs presentation, which begins with an engrossing walkthrough of the history of kidlit blogging, including the first time the word “kidlitosphere” was ever used on the internet by a particularly brilliant, forward-thinking, and above all humble blogger. 😉

(Brief sentimental interjection: awww, look, the old template with my handwoven background! Er, I mean the brilliant, humble etc blogger’s handwoven background. Gosh, I kinda miss it.)

Would you believe we’re up to 87,400 results for the word now? In less than 4 1/2 years? Amazing.

UPDATED: Bwah? I just refreshed the Google page for kidlitosphere and this time it only says “about 35,800 results.” I have a screenshot of the 87,400 so I know I’m not crazy! What-the-what-the, Google??

See? Geeky, but not crazy.

KidlitCon 2010

October 27, 2010 @ 7:20 pm | Filed under:

I arrived in Minneapolis on Friday evening and found my way to the light-rail station. A helpful security guard pointed me toward the ticket machines, adding: “Costs about two dollars. $180 fine if you’re caught without a ticket.” Do I look like a potential trainhopper? Who knew!

It was a gorgeous night: full moon (or almost full, I couldn’t tell), cool but not cold, clear, bright. I walked the half-mile or so to my hotel, passing right by the convention site, an incredible bookstore/coffee house/meeting place called Open Book that had everyone oohing and ahhing all weekend (and beyond). I knew the KidlitCon welcome reception was just winding down, and it felt a little strange to walk on past, but I was lugging my suitcase and wanted to check into the hotel.

An hour later, I was washed and brushed and peeking into Open Book’s lovely loft auditorium space where Maggie Stiefvater, Brenna Yovanoff, and Tessa Gratton were nearly finished with their panel about their Merry Sisters of Fate critique group and story blog. I scanned the faces in the audience and immediately recognized Liz of A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy, and Pam of MotherReader—both of whom are such longtime blogging pals it was hard to believe I was meeting them in person for the first time. When the panel ended we had a lot of hugging and laughing to do.

These high spirits carried us well toward midnight, both in the chatty aftermath of the panel and in the hotel bar later on. I got to see so many online chums—Camille of BookMoot, Jen Robinson, Sarah Stevenson, and Charlotte Taylor, to name a few—and met other lovely people like Laura Lutz of The Page Turn and Alice Pope of the SCWBI children’s market blog. It’s hard to convey in a post like this how fantastic it is to get a chance to chat with other writers, bloggers, and publishing-world folks. It’s the same thing I love about San Diego Comic-Con every year: the lively discussion, the sense of community, the you read that too?

The next morning a shuttle zipped us back to Open Book for KidlitCon proper. Opening remarks, Maggie Stiefvater’s entertaining keynote speech (much tweeted, much recapped), and then the breakout panels.

This completes my collection of KidlitCon photos. Whoops. I was having too much fun gabbing.

My own “Blogging the Backlist” panel took place during the first breakout session. I was privileged to have Jen Robinson, Charlotte Taylor, and the extraordinary Carol Rasco of RIF on the panel with me. We had a grand time discussing the many excellent reasons to blog about older books. I’ll post my notes on this in a separate post (and don’t miss Charlotte’s recap), but in the meantime, here are some of the highlights via Twitter. (HUGE thanks to Greg Pincus, who wasn’t able to attend the convention, for compiling the entire KidlitCon Twitterfeed!)

RascofromRIF:: Brian Farrey, a #KidLitCon organizer, intro’s our panel — he has fond memories of being a RIF kid!

mudmamba:: Funny that four out-of-state presenters are talking about Minnesota’s own Betsy-Tacy books!

mosylu: Charlotte is talking about the benefit of blogging about older books you love instead of all new new new

mosylu: melissa wiley is talking about sharing her enthusiasm for the books she’s always loved

lovelyleann: Is it horrible that I don’t know the Betsy Tacy books? Is that even how you spell her name?

mosylu: benefit to the blog: showing more of your personality when you blog about books that are personally meaningful

LizB: RT @MaryLeeHahn: listening to Melissa Wiley, coiner of the word Kidlitosphere!

MaryLeeHahn: @RascofromRIF has definitely made RIF more personable.

mosylu: what do readers get out of backlist blogging? @RascofromRIF sez: sharing something new-to-them

justkeepreading: Enjoying Backlist session. Need to blog Lois Duncan because if it!

mosylu: @bonnyglen talks about the excitement of readers rediscovering old favorites

justkeepreading: #kidlitcon blogging on older titles can be cheaper for readers and less frustrating cuz book, and often whole series, is out.

mosylu: adding to my blogroll listening to charlotte taylor in the backlist blogging panel

mosylu: @bonnyglen talks about keeping interest current in older books

mudmamba: Thinking about how blogging the backlist/out of print books will tie in well with the rise of e-books.

mudmamba: Back when I had a books blog I rarely did new titles. It didn’t occur to me that I should.

thepageturn: Blog I haven’t heard of before: Children’s War. All kids books about WWII. Fascinating!

mosylu:@bonnyglen talks about being able to write critically (not nasty, but analytical) about older titles

mudmamba: Like the idea of “greater good” blogging to crowd-source a resource on backlist books.

mudmamba: Just scored a Betsy-Tacy volume 1.

mosylu: comments from the panel about contemporary views of older books, like Caddie Woodlawn’s treatment of Native Americans

mosylu: @bonnyglen is cracking me up with her giddy Betsy-Tacy fangirlness

(Jumping ahead: Later that night, at the dinner, someone asked me, “So, what, are you like the president of the Betsy-Tacy fan club?” And I said, “No, but I get to meet her tomorrow!” And I did. Susan Brown, President of the Betsy-Tacy Society, that is!)

The fabulous Jennifer Hart of HarperPerennial had sent me copies of several Betsy-Tacy and Deep Valley books to give away at my panel. We offered them to people who asked questions. We got a lot of questions. 🙂

Oh dear, here I am only a couple of hours into the day and the post is already 900 words long. I’ve barely begun! What’s to be done? I have notes on all the panels I attended; tomorrow I’ll try to type them up the way I do my Comic-Con notes. Of course many of the best moments happened in the interstices: discussing homeschooling and dear sons with Carol Rasco, who is a treasure; meeting more online friends like Haley Scharf, Mary Lee, Susan Marie Swanson, Maureen, and (at long last) Kelly Herold, the first children’s lit blogger I encountered way back in 2005 shortly after Bonny Glen was born; hearing how Susan Taylor Brown‘s native garden is coming along; swapping stories with Alice and Sarah; trading recipes with Amy Ludwig VanDerwater. I’ll see your dandelion fritters and raise you a chai soup!

OK, so panel notes tomorrow and the Betsy-Tacy tour and Margaret in Minnesota visit after that. For now, tonight, a last expression of thanks (and awe) to KidlitCon organizers Andrew Karre, Ben Barnhart, and Brian Farrey, who did a truly amazing job. Huge round of applause for their efforts.

Andrew is collecting the recaps at the KidlitCon 2010 site, and there’s a Flickr pool too.

1000 words! This post is worth one picture!

Giddy as Charged

October 26, 2010 @ 7:44 am | Filed under: ,

Margaret just posted the most awesome recap of our Betsy-Tacy tour with Kathy Baxter. Do you see how lucky I was to visit Mankato in the company of two such warm and wonderful women?

(And I think I need to bring Maggie along on all my trips—her photos are a wonder in themselves.)

Betsy's Garden
Margaret & me outside Betsy’s house. Of course she couldn’t take this one herself—I think Bob Brown had her camera for this one?

The Poem Farm: A Resource for Writers

October 26, 2010 @ 6:58 am | Filed under: , ,

One of the best parts of KidlitCon (as is always the case at a conference) was getting to meet in person people I’ve known for a long time online, including Jen Robinson of Jen Robinson’s Book Page, Liz Burns of A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy, Pam Coughlan of MotherReader, Sarah Stevenson (aka aquafortis) of Finding Wonderland (but no Tanita Davis, alas), Kelly Herold of Big A little A, Susan Taylor Brown, Susan Marie Swanson, and—well, this list goes on and on for me. Again, more on this later. For now, I can’t help but gush a little about a new friend I made at the con, someone I’m surprised I didn’t meet earlier via her amazing blog and Poetry Friday.

Her name is Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, and she had the best coat at the convention, and she kept me in stitches with her stories. She’s a poet and a writing teacher, and her blog, The Poem Farm, is kind of incredible because Amy writes and posts a new poem every day. She’s on day 210 now. Two hundred and ten original poems in as many days! I’m in awe.

Homeschooling moms and teachers take note: what Amy does on her blog is really unique. Besides sharing her poems, she writes about the process—what sparks the idea, what stages the poem goes through along the way. Here’s an example from today’s sunflower poem:

This poem is simply a description, a word picture, of one sunflower at two times in its life.  You probably noticed that this poem is divided into two stanzas, and each one takes place during a different month. In this poem, I wished to snap a wordshot of how a sunflower’s head position changes over time.

Something about words here too: while this poem does not rhyme at the ends of its lines, you will hear that the first stanza rhymes some internal vowels: gazes, straight, and face.  In the second stanza, you hear more repetition of sounds: seeds, deeply, and weep.

A writer thinks much like being a scientist. Look closely. Quiet down. Observe. Today on the playground or later at home, stare at things. Let one image capture you like a prisoner, and do not look away. If you are reading this in writing workshop now, walk over to the window or take a walk outside. Be wowed by an image. Then write your description, as finely and truly as you are able.

See what I mean? I haven’t seen anyone else doing this online, writing frankly about the process of crafting a poem, and it’s an invaluable resource for young writers. (Heck, and old!)

Amy is @ThePoemFarm on Twitter.

Where to Begin?

October 25, 2010 @ 8:16 pm | Filed under:

Do I blog backward or forward? Kidlitcon first, or Mankato and Maud? We’ll see what tomorrow brings. Tonight: I’m home, I’m tuckered, I’m beaming. I saw Betsy’s house. Tacy’s house. Tib’s house. Carney’s house! The sleeping porch! Winona’s house, with the stone wall she sat upon. Emily’s slough. Mrs. Ray’s brass bowl. The bench at the top of Hill Street. The Big Hill. Little Syria. The Carnegie Library. Maud’s grave. Cab’s too—the real Cab, Jab Lloyd. It was an extraordinary day because I was in the company of the extraordinary Kathy Baxter, who knows, well, everything about Maud Hart Lovelace and the Betsy-Tacy books, and my dear pal Margaret, who took me home and treated me like a queen. And that was just the Mankato day! Kidlitcon was marvelous. I could write about it for a week. I may have to. But not tonight.

Tonight, I’m home.

Almost Ready for KidlitCon

October 21, 2010 @ 2:20 pm | Filed under:

I fly to Minneapolis tomorrow. My first time in Minnesota! My first time going anywhere alone, without Scott and/or the kids, since, um, before there were kids, I think?

If you’ll be there, come talk to me. I’m shy about introductions (though never afterward). (Famous Peterson family story: Scott’s sister lived in Somalia when Scott and I first met, so we’d been dating for months before I met her. I’d heard all about her; she’s Scott’s only sister, the oldest of the five Peterson kids—he’s the youngest—and I was excited to meet her but terribly, terribly shy about it. Some family friends were getting married and I knew that’s where I’d be meeting Susan for the first time. Fierce rain that day. Scott dropped me off outside the church and went to park. As I entered the lobby, I saw his mom and sisters-in-law in conversation with a beautiful woman I recognized as Susan from the pictures on his parents’ staircase wall. I walked toward them, mentally rehearsing what to say: Hi, Susan, I’m Lissa. Hi, Susan, I’m Lissa. But as I drew near, Susan greeted me first: “Hi, Lissa!” And I panicked, blurting out: “Hi! I’m Susan!” Because I am so very very poised in all circumstances, oh yes.)

So anyway, if you see me at KidlitCon please don’t wait for me to make the first move. If I fumble and say my name is your name by mistake, you’ll know why.

I think I’ll miss most (or all) of the reception tomorrow night. My flight is supposed to land at 5:40 and the reception starts at six.

I have not flown since the Barcelona trip two years ago (gosh, going on three) and before that I think it had been 1999 when I went to Georgia for my uncle’s funeral. True confession: I actually love airline food and I’m sad that you don’t get it automatically (i.e. for free) anymore. How cool, though, that I can have my boarding pass sent straight to my cellphone.

I hope I remember to pack my charger.

I washed my red coat to take with me. I’ve only worn it once or twice in the four years since we moved here—oh I know, I bet I wore it last December to that terrific singalong at the organ pavilion in Balboa Park. Huh, nope. Just looked at the pictures and it must have been a warmish day. Rose is in short sleeves! So who knows how long my coat has been mustifying in the closet. When I took it out of the washer, I found loot from the pockets, fourteen dollars along with a pair of little black earwarmers my awesome friend Lisa gave me when we lived in Virginia, where the winters are freezy and I was always wincing over my icy ears. They are heartwarmers, too, because when I saw them—for the first time since our last Blue Ridge winter, I imagine—I was hit with such a wave of love for Lisa. Of course that happens pretty much every time I think of her: that’s the sort of person she is.

My parents and niece are coming here for a visit this week—we will practically cross in the air. Well, almost. I bet my house won’t be very picked up when they arrive. They won’t mind.

Do I need to pack an umbrella? I wonder if I can find the pink one I paid a zillion Euros for in Barcelona that day I got caught in the rain.


Not wearing my red coat at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion last December.