November 26-27, 2009:

Thanksgiving and the day after–since Heidi was doing all the cooking–afforded me some writing time. That meant I did two poems for the 30 Days gig, worked a bit on Girl’s Bible, did some research for the GB, managed to fiddle with a lot of pieces of paper littering my house (bills, filing stuff, etc.), spoke to both the boys and got caught up on their family stuff. The usual.

And then we got down to the serious business of eating.

Heidi’s Thanksgiving consisted of Maddison and Glendon and me, Glendon’s boyfriend Jason, our friend Susannah Richards (children’s lit specialist), Sueann (ballet teacher), and illustrator Bob Marstall. Heidi’s menu was overwhelming and delicious, but I found I am incapable of eating large meals any more. Good news, bad news, I suppose.

On Friday morning, Susannah and I went off to Snow Farm’s big crafts second’s show. I bought some holiday gifts and then came back to do a bit more work before while Susannah went home. Heidi and Sueann were busy on costumes for the upcoming ballets. We had a family Food Seconds dinner with Sueann.

I will make turkey soup from the bones of the bird on Saturday. “The Bones of the Bird” sounds like a poem.

November 22-25, 2009:

In these four days, I finished my go-round on the entire BUG manuscript (the golem book) including filing things down, adding a new song, a glossary of Yiddish and Hebrew terms.

I wrote four poems for the “30 days 30 poems” challenge.

Answered lots of email. Lots of catching up on back stuff.

Saw a movie with Bob Marstall, my movie buddy–“Men Who Stared Down Goats” which was both amusing and serious. An anti-war movie artfully disguised as bizarre comedy. Reminded me of a movie I saw years ago, “King of Hearts” set in Europe during World War I where the inhabitants of an insane asylum make more sense than the soldiers fighting the war.

I went with friend and neighbor Jan to see another neighbor’s art show down in Chicopee driving through a downpour.

Got my new tv room chair which I love and is better for my back. And a new sofa-side table for one that was falling to pieces.

Physical therapy Wednesday morning and dinner at Heidi’s that night.

I got two rejections and one of the poems I wrote was about that:

Rejection Letters

You would think I’d be used to them,

those dead-eyed vultures of the writer’s world

who eat your soul as if it were

a piece of road-kill on the Interstate.

Today two winged into my in-box

and sat upon my still-breathing chest,

shroud eyes measuring me for dinner.

It doesn’t get easier, reading the un-reasons:

not for our list, in these difficult times,

too sad, too old, too quiet, too literary.

No is no, and there goes my heart, my liver

into the beak and belly of the vulture,

who did not even acknowledge my lineage

or ask me how to pronounce my name.

Though actually I was pretty sanguine about these two rejections, hardly even shrugging. They were not unexpected. After all, it’s a hard book to sell.

November 18-21:

A busy and fraught few days,

Wednesday: tarting up my talk for NCTE and the Lee Bennett Hopkins roast, getting everything ready for an early morning plane on Thursday, paying bills, banking, cleaners, etc. To bed by 8.

Thursday I was out of the house before 5 a.m., plane to Philadelphia landing at 8:35 a.m., and in my hotel and ready to party by 9:30 in the morning. Of course I had nothing on the docket until evening, so I used the time to write. I did some poetry, some organizing for anthologies, answering all the assorted email, wrote the last part of BUG over again, began working on stuff Adam had sent on the novel. Got about five hours of work done all in all, then sat down for some serious catching up with “Project Runway” since I don’t get to watch it in Scotland.

At 5, I walked over to the restaurant where I was meeting the poets and others who were throwing the Friday Hopkins Roast, plus Lee himself and his partner Charles. Among the other poets–Janet Wong, Christine O’Connell George, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Georgia Heard, Sara Holbrook, Michael Salinger and a few others. We had two tables full. Pat Lewis was to have been there but was stuck in the Atlanta airport computer mess. We had a hilarious time. Lee was in full-on outrageous cranky and adorable mode. A wonderful dinner party was had by all.

Friday morning first thing was the roast/toast. About three hundred folks there, chocolate everywhere (no, I refrained, am not going to blow my once a month chocolate on Hershey’s kisses!) Though neither the NCTE Poetry Award nor the party were a surprise to Lee, we had kept the fact of a feshschrift book of poems a secret. When it was given to him, Lee was absolutely speechless, which may be the only time I have ever seen that! Lots of teary eyes all around.

Then I had my marathon signing adventure: five publishers in five hours: Harcourt, S&S, Scholastic, Boyds Mills, and Penguin/Putnam. In the last, I got to sit with my new Philomel editor Jill. We discussed possible books to come. In no other booth did I get to do any such thing.

Then dinner with the Scholastic folk and some of the following authors/illustrators I knew, and some I didn’t: E. B. Lewis, Brian Selznick, Kathy Lasky and her husband Chris Knight, Maggie Stiefvater, and several more. A private dining room, three tables, lots of wine, sparkling conversation, witty jokes, fine food, and two teaspoons of chocolate cake. I was in heaven!

Back later than I’d hoped because Saturday was starting with an early breakfast with Sara Holbook and Michael Salinger. Dear friends, wonderful poets, and we gabbed about an hour and a half before heading in separate directions. I had one more signing–with Publishers West, a conglomerate carrying my Key-Porter books. So I signed the HIPPO board books, PUMPKIN BABY, and the real winner, the brand new UNDER THE STAR Christmas counting book which quickly sold out.

By the time I left the Convention Center to go back to pack and check out, my stomach was gurgling madly. Evidently I had eaten something at breakfast that didn’t agree with me. I was pretty miserable for the next five hours, which included the big luncheon where Brian Selznick was speaking. I was one of the authors presiding over a table of teachers, but only able to drink some ice tea. I could eat nothing. Managed to cheer Lee as he got his award and entertain the teachers at my table, but it was difficult. Even more miserable was the four hour wait in the lobby of the hotel till my ride picked me up at 6:30 for the airport. But by then, the stomach problem had (quite literally) passed. So the plane trip home was not a problem nor the 40 minute drive from the airport.

And the next morning I weighed in at 2 pounds lighter. All water weight, of course. But the wonderful two teaspoons of chocolate had done no damage to the diet.

Interstitial Moment:

Someone on one of my online lists just asked the authors to comment on the Solitary Genius theory of writing. This is what I said, and I thought it might be interesting enough for my journal readers to re-post it here, though I have tarted it up a bit more:

I know hardly any PUBLISHED (not self-published) author who subscribes to the Solitary Genius theory. It’s a truly damaging myth. I place it alongside the Genuine Artist in the Garret myth.

To begin with, no writer can be alone with all those characters running around in her head: whispering, reminding,  arguing, instructing, demanding, SHOUTING.

Then we have writing groups, conference friends, beta readers, partners/spouses/family we talk to about the work at hand. (I even have my Plot Buddies in Scotland, Debby and Bob, with whom I hatch out twists of plot.) We have agents, editors, art directors, illustrators putting their two or more cents into the creative project, most times mammothly helpful, though sometimes–the bad times–poking and prying and changing things for the worse. And then we have our friends with whom we complain and moan and handhold and weep on shoulders real or virtual.

Finally, though they may not be uppermost in our minds as we write, we have audience.

Oh, and for those of us who write for children, we also have a Secret Sharer, an often unacknowledged co-conspirator–the child we once were.

November 17, 2009:

This was a day to think about books more than a day to write them. I did manage another poem, this one about seeing the Leonids early in the morning.

Tag End of the Leonids

5:15 a.m.

In my nightgown, heavy bedsocks,
sweat pants, and jacket—
don’t forget the mittens—
I go out onto the porch and wait.
The air is still, but I am stiller.
The walnut trees’ thrusting fingers
for once do not move
in their arthritic contractions,
but form a nest for the brilliant stars.
I see a bit of movement in the night sky,
a crawl of light, then a sound too loud
for the light wind, the deserted road.
A plane, not a meteor, moves across the dark.
I stifle a sigh, a hope, wait some more.
Then a brilliant fall of light,  not jagged like lightning
but a kind of paint smear down the southeast,
somewhere between ivory and maize,                                                                          silently screams across the sky.
And another.
The world is but dimly lit by these shooting stars
but for this morning it is enough.

Spoke to my agent about several book-related problems and opportunities. Always a pleasure to have these kind of conversations with her.

Then off to my writer’s group, only four of us this time. A new grandbaby, a flu, a book tour, and other stuff all did in the others. But we intrepid few made our way to the wilds of Easthampton (this is only funny to those who know our patch of the Connecticut River Valley!) to eat good food, pass around new books, catch up on news, talk about books, and listen to a fascinating book chapter from one person, a spot-on essay by another. Which is not to say we didn’t have plenty of critiques to offer as well as fulsome praise.

I came home to discover the new handyman had already dealt with the overflowing gutters and would be back to begin painting the mud room inside and out tomorrow morning. Already I adore him!

Then off for dinner with my friend, Professor Naomi Miller of Smith College’s English department. We hadn’t had a good natter in a year. Did a lot of catching up before the entree, talked about dating issues during the entree, and by the end of the meal had discovered a book we wanted to work on together. What could be better!

See–even in a day where I am not actually doing any writing (except for the poem which is part of an exercise, 30 poems in 30 days) I am thinking books, devising book strategies, critiquing mss., coming up with new ideas for books, engaging with the natural world, storing away bits and pieces. It’s what makes me a writer.

November 15-16, 2009:

Sunday I spent the day in lovely vegetating mode. Read more of Shiver, gathered stories for a collection. Lay in bed thinking and came up with another collection idea, watched tv. That sort of day. The kind most people have on a weekend but writers and artists and freelancers rarely do.

Monday began early with a consultation with a handyman, a go-get-’em sweet guy about the age of my kids who is eager to get to work on a lot of the small and then larger projects this old house needs.

Then off to my local drug dealers. Er, my wonderful neighbors Forrest and Amy and Betty who together run a rare and second-hand book dealership called Joslin Hall. I’d bought some interesting books cheaply in Scotland, the sort of thing they deal in (thir specialty is Decorative Arts) and use it for trade with them. We had tea and a good chat, and then off I went for a bunch of errands. (Mail, bank, groceries.)

Then I settled back in at home to write a poem about playing jacks, work on the two collection ideas, polish the introduction to the ainniversary re-issue of the Froud/Lee Fairies book, and lastly some research for the Girl’s Bible book, using one of the books I’d just gotten from the drug dealers: Traditional Jewish Papercuts.

Oh–and I started reading/looking/absorbing David Small’s powerful graphic novel memoir, Stitches. It is simply breathtaking but has to be done in small doses.

The day ended with Bob Marstall picking me up for the ride up to Northfield, MA. and the November meeting of WMIG, the Western Mass Illustrator’s Guild. We were at Kevin Slattery’s quirky old farmhouse, loaded with his paintings. There were only five of us there. Had a tour of his studio. Sat and talked books, art, artists, business, computer art, taxes. The usual. I adore artists and just eat up this kind of thing. Next month’s meeting will be the Christmas/Chanukah celebration, which means not much business stuff. But, I remind myself, parties are fun, too.

Was up at 5 a.m., went downstairs in my nightgown, sweat pants, bulky bedsocks, put on a coat, and went out on the porch to watch the tag end of the Leonids meteor shower. The few shooting stars were, as always, worth the early morning awakening. Times like this, and one sees how beautiful the world truly is. More beautiful than anything I can possibly write about it. And sad, too, because I miss David most at moments of great natural beauty which we used to share.

November 14, 2009:

Pouring out, bucketing down, and off I went to Greenfield, Mass, 20 minutes north, to the World Eye Bookstore to do a group book signing. Heidi was meeting me there (she had teens to drop off first in Amherst). As always, I arrived first  (next came Jesse Haas and husband, Norton Juster, Margot Apple) so I did some re-holiday shopping. I hate doing last minute run on the stores.

They’d already sold out of  Heidi’s and my Sleep, Black Bear, Sleep before the signing becaue of a lovely article and photograph in the local paper. And the hard rain kept some folks away. But we managed to sell a bunch of books more, and chatted with children who wanted to read books and adults who wanted to write books. Babies and toddlers all the way to grandparents. The usual bookstore mix.

I went from there to an Open Studio in an old industrial building in Florence where my friends Bob Marstall and Shelly Rotner work. I never did find Shelly’s place (it’s a maze there) and Bob was so mobbed, I left my coat t his studio and did all four floors looking at art, jewelry, sculpture, print-making, etc. By the time I returned to Bob’s, he was still mobbed. So I sat down and chatted with folks. He was so tired by the day, I jumped up after a breather, and did his spiel for him.

Came home early, watched some tv, read a bit of the YA werewolf book Shiver (fun, but does not wow me) and fell asleep early.

Here’s a poem I wrote about the signing:

Signing Books

Sitting in a bookstore,

surrounded by my books,

hoping for a flood of buyers

to match the flood of rain outside,

I make small talk, medium talk,

even try a bit of large talk

to cozen the few brave folks

who came out on such a day.

At these moments, the difference

between writing and selling

is not lost on me.

I was not born to be a hawker,

but a spinner of tales.

I love the near-silence of the writing room,

the soft, monotonous click of the keys

as stories leak from my fingertips,

as poems weep onto the page.

The rest is salesmanship

and clearly I am not good at it.

November 12-13, 2009:

So since I am not writing much right now, or even doing much of anything, I went for a spa massage, remembering how much I have loved them in the past. Of course, given my strangely easy-to-bruise skin, I can still (two days later) feel the masseusse’s hand print on my back!

Wrote two poems, and a bit of an Introduction to the reissue of Brian Froud and Alan Lee’s FAIRIES, a book which blew my mind back thirty year ago when it was first published. Am referencing Bauer, Rackham, Tenggren, DiTerlizzi.

Got a hair cut, talked to two teachers on Skype as we planned for an hour’s visit later this year with three classes of third graders.

On Friday evening, I went to watch Maddison and the Williston Academy dance troupe do a series of dances, from hip-hop to pointe. Maddison was in three pieces, including the solo pointe piece.

November 11, 2009:

Business day but not a writing day. It began with a new poem for the 30 Poems for 30 Days, and then a Skype call from a school testing whether their Skype and mine were compatible. We could on-and-off hear one another, but they’d been having some problems. So we will probably need to test it again.

Then Heidi and I looked through my shelf of Interesting Books That Might Someday Give Me An Idea For A Project, and we came up with six or seven book ideas to do together, all of them with historic/research content.

Next, off to the back doctor who greeted me with, “Wow! You’ve lost a lot of weight!” which is one of the reasons I love this doctor.

I spent the afternoon doing a lot of bill paying and catching up on old mail and sorting (and throwing out) with Heidi’s help a lot of stuff. And marking books for giving away, etc.

Dinner with my friend Ann Wheelock, our first since my return. We laughed a lot but had some serious conversation as well at the ever-wonderful Green Street Cafe.

November 9-10, 2009:

Since I seem to be in a writing funk (ie little writing is going on) this seems as good a time as any to remind us all that writing is not just sitting with one’s fingers on the keyboard. It happens when a writer reads the newspaper (an angry father holds a school principal hostage), looks out the kitchen window (a gray squirrel saucily scolds a blue jay who scolds right back, a kind of creature stand-off), watches a tv show (plain bride buys a sexy wedding dress and becomes a beauty in a magical second), talks to a friend (who’s ex-husband spoke to her at their son’s wedding, the frst time in years) or dreams waking or sleepping.

All of these are stories. Not stories I may ever write, but they are all filed away in the storage cupboard I call my head ready to be brought up again, examined, mined, reanimated, cultured–where is that damn petri dish?–borrowed, worried, reworked, used, abused. Call it what you will. But writers use every bit of their lives.

Be good to us.



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