Saturday, January 31, 2009

SCBWI Conference Day 1


What an amazingly exciting day. When my alarm rang this morning I wasn't so sure i even wanted to go. It was far and early and cold and what if it was lame and what if I had nothing to say and what if people tried to talk to me that I didn't want to talk to and what if and what if and what if. But I mustered up the energy to fake it and upon arrival realized such energy was not needed. I had my coffee and walked right into a wonderfully inspiring and fun day.

The first speaker was Jarrett Krosoczka and he was perfect; one part 30 something ironic hipster, one part earnest, adorable, engaging, sentimental artist. He seemed like somebody I could kick it with, the guy that would get the dance party started no matter the occasion. In a room full of a thousand mom types, it was nice to someone who felt like a peer.

First break-out session was perfect; warm and instructive. I felt like she and I would happily be in the same book club, connecting to the same titles, and reading them as catalyst for introspection. If I ever finish a full length manuscript, hers is the first desk I want it to land upon.

Break-out session two did not land in the same way with me, although she was professional and personable.  It hit home the notion that rejection letters really are about an incorrect match, not an incorrect manuscript.

Lunch. Good bread and cheesecake. Appetizers and entrees were conference hall-wedding food all the way. Oh well.  

Jay Asher spoke next, and spoke he did! Man, that was an overtime presentation- but his raw vulnerability, sense of humor, and the story itself carried my attention throughout.  Speech writing tip: never use a timeline, because then people can really measure where you are in the speech versus how much further you have to go (it's like in staged readings of plays where I find myself checking out the binders in their hands to see how many more pages there are to flip through!).  He spoke about the 12 years of rejection and missed opportunities that ultimately led him to write and publish a phenomenally successful debut novel, Thirteen Reasons Why.  I was most moved by his retelling of the absolutely integral role that his wife, and her support, played in his perseverance and confidence in himself. I was tearing up as he told it, and then when he choked up himself, I could no longer hold it in. I hope one day to have such a partnership.  I also heard in his speech that those 12 years were necessary for him to achieve the emotional maturity and strength to realize that, although he was a very funny guy, the story he needed to tell was a deeply personal and somber one, about suicide no less.  Without all of the experiences in his twelve years of delayed publishing satisfaction he might not have found his way to the courage necessary to write his truth. This message rang out clearly to me, although it was not explicitly stated, because I see this as my great challenge as well. 

Final break-out was fun and upbeat, another peer. When she said, without a sniff of self-pity, that she had just been laid off I wanted to offer to take her out for a beer...but I didn't want to seem creepy, so I kept it to myself, although I think she would be a really fun person to know.

Final speaker was a legend in the publishing world. But the microphone was too low and his speech to dense and me too tired for the full power of it to reach me. I wish I had a written out copy, I'm sure it would rock my world.

But the best part was afterward, a whole bunch of folks from the Blue Board on the blog headed across the street for some post-conference discussion, food, spirits, and general merriment. I found myself seated with a great crew and we were trying to come up with some winning entries for the SCBWI Joke Contest. Of course, I found myself taking a giant step over the appropriate line and we never quite recovered...but we did laugh quite a bit! Here, for your reading pleasure, are some of those off color suggestions that I may or may not decide to enter tomorrow morning:

Set-up: Imagine a character form a children's or young adult book as a guest on Oprah. What would the title of the show be?

1. Humpty Dumpty- I do it for the crack!
2. The Saggy Baggy Elephant- plastic surgery disasters
3. Winnie the Pooh- My Depends dependency
4. Piggy (Lord of the Flies)- I can't stop touching my conch.
5. Christopher Robin- I'm into Furries.

Friday, January 30, 2009


My apartment makes a noise
a buzzing noise
an incessant buzzing noise.
It is in the walls
coming through the pipes
something to do with the stove.
It buzzes at least once every four minutes 
buzzing for 45 seconds.
Today it wavers,
the buzzer sounds sick.
I hope the old buzzer dies.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Restaurant Week

The Modern Bar Room
1/26/09  I had a great cocktail. They all sounded interesting. Appetizers were great! We split a thin crust pizza dough with creme fraiche, applewood smoked bacon, and onions and an upside down tuna tarte that was magically good with diced fennel, japanese cucumber & red and white onions, raw tuna, and a sweet sesame cracker. For entrees I decided to be adventurous and in the end wasn't happy with my dish; a cavatelli "carbonara" with pancetta, mushrooms, and escargots. I asked the waitress for a white or sparkling wine to cut the excessive salt in my dish and her reccomendation was affordable and perfect. Dessert was unbelievable wonderful- a pistachio dark chocolate dome and an apple cobbler with prune armagnac ice cream.

5 Ninth
1/25/09  The dining room was warm, inviting, and lovely. Appetizers were fine but the entrees and sides stole the show. I had a skate fish with mushrooms that was light but still seemed decadent. The brussels sprouts were yummy. My citrus dessert was waaaayyyyy too small, and,although good, did not compare to the richer and yet larger chocolate desserts that my friends ordered, a hot chocolate with absinthe marshmallows and a chocolate infused with bourbon pot de creme. All in all the food was simple with earthy flavors, but the tranquility of the dining room heightened the experience.

1/23/09  The food was sublime. Stand outs were the Butternut Squash Soup, Pollack with mashed potatoes, and for dessert some sort of vanilla mousse with cookie crumbles that I can't remember the name of.

City Lobster
1/21/09  Dessert was awful. Entrees were fair. Appetizers were fine. Not at all worth the cost.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


I have no words for how deeply this pains me...

"The Rev. Cecil Blye, pastor of More Grace Ministries Church in Louisville, Ky., said the president's reference to nonbelievers also set off major alarm bells for him. "It's important to understand the heritage of our country, and it's a Judeo-Christian tradition,"’ period.

But his even bigger beef with the president, he said, is that a disproportionate number of "black kids are dying each day through abortion. President Obama is supportive of abortion, and that's a genocide on black folks. Nobody wants to talk about that as a civil rights issue."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaugural Poem

Inaugural Poem by Elizabeth Alexander

Praise song for the day.

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others' eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, "Take out your pencils. Begin."

We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, "I need to see what's on the other side; I know there's something better down the road."

We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by "Love thy neighbor as thy self."

Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light.


Amazing. Man did she look nervous! I wanted to run up there and give her a big hug. But her delivery was so level and focused. She conquered her nerves and let the power of her words guide her; her message manifest. Bravo. 

Inauguration Day

"A battle lost or won is easily described, understood, and appreciated, but the moral growth of a great nation requires reflection, as well as observation, to appreciate it," - Frederick Douglass.

I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out why I did not go to Washington DC for the inaugural festivities.  I had the time and the resources and the desire. But, in the end, I made a choice not to go. I decided that I needed to spend some time readying myself for a new semester at school; tying up loose ends on over due work projects, cleaning and organizing the clutter in my home, acclimating to a new computer and work station, reading, writing, and spending time alone, in reflection.

Over a decade ago, while a student in an Experimental Theatre Program, I boarded a bus to DC with two classmates I hardly knew.  We had no set plans as to where we would stay or how we would get around, but we knew that there was an experience to be had and a movement to join. The mall was to be covered by the world's largest quilt, one so large, in fact, it wold never be shown again in its entirety. The AIDS quilt was beyond anything I had ever seen and the impact of that experience has never left me. We marched in silence with hundreds of other people, holding candles, holding hands.  There was a concert, speeches. I was part of the collective; we sang "We shall Overcome."

Perhaps I've had my moment, perhaps I don't need another.  Perhaps I've aged and lost my spontaneity.  Perhaps my need for comfort and solitude has trumped my need to experience things communally.  Or perhaps I feared the extremity of emotion that such a trip would invoke.

I am here in my living room, in warm pajamas sipping my freshly brewed Pete's coffee. I have WNYC on the radio and the muted images of CNN on the screen. I am filtering the stimuli and thereby controlling my reactions. Moderating my tears with my need to follow through on my responsibilities and work obligations.

A reoccurring theme in the rhetoric of Obama is the idea that individual responsibility and the need to better oneself leads to the betterment of the community. Amen. To the best of my ability, I've been preaching and practicing this for years.  And every day, every decision, perhaps even the one to stay in New York and honor this day on my own terms, brings me closer to the sort of self-actualization that can truly make a difference.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Yes you can!


Hope does not come naturally too me.  
Sure, I have wants, but I don't sit around and hope they happen; 
I make them happen.

When Barack Obama burst onto the scene and started shaking things up, I did not feel hopeful. I watched everyone my age fall into line with him and his rhetoric of hope and change and I couldn't bring myself to swell alongside them. All I saw was the potential for dashed dreams. What would happen to an entire generation who found their way into political living though the notion of change if that change did not occur, if that hope was left unfulfilled? I feared that an even greater sense of apathy would reign if people felt their efforts and passions had been in vain.  Like the child who finally decides to take control of their education and study for an exam, and wind up with a failing grade and an even stronger sense that action is irrelevant and success will never come. 

As someone who has taught high school in the Bronx for nine years I feel as though I have lived a political life. I didn't simply offer up my money or my time, I offered my self. Perhaps those years of giving, of working toward change and experiencing first hand the devastation of expectation not met, have hardened me to promises of it. 

Change will not come without action. 
Hope alone is not enough; we need hard work and sacrifice.  

Obama, although he already had my vote for President, finally had my whole being when he spoke to the crowds in Chicago on November 4th.   

"But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And, above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation, the only way it's been done in America for 221 years - block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand. ... This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. ... It can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.  So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other."

In this speech, one that could have been simply celebratory, he spoke directly to my concerns for he is a man who has committed his life to action and expects that others do the same. 

I am inspired by Michele Obama saying that Martin Luther King Jr. Day should be looked to as a day of service for America. Ideally, a day to begin a life long commitment to service. 

The Subtle Knife


Normally when you think of a trilogy it isn't the middle one that stands out; often it is uninspired, a necessary, yet pedantic, transition alone. Back to the Future II, anyone?

But not this time.

Granted, I haven't read Book III yet, but no matter its brilliance it will not detract from the amazing pull of The Subtle Knife. This book introduced the anti-religious themes much more explicitly and complicated the plot ten fold. It raises interesting questions about the nature of consciousness, choice and purpose.

Not only is the story compelling, but the writing is surprising at every turn.  For an example of the florid language you can't beat this quote from page 15:
He discovered that he was still holding the bottle he'd taken from the cafe.  He drank from it, and it tasted like what it was, ice-cold lemonade; and welcome, too, because the night air was hot.

Normally this overwrought style would drive me bonkers- for he could have simply said, He sipped the refreshing lemonade- but in this work I actually enjoy it; it contributes to the fantastic, yet slightly familiar, world in which the story takes place. 

I'm so grateful that Ghenet loaned me all three books at once!  I'm excited to see what happens next...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Golden Compass

Well, I'm about a decade behind the buzz. That sounds about right!

Last night I finished the first book in Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy.  It captivated me in a way I did not expect. 

Fantasy is not my go-to genre, in fact, I've barely read it all. I've never had a Tolkien bone in my body. Star wars, eh. Harry Potter, never touched the stuff (and I feel no void in my soul).  I was in a theatrical production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in junior high and went to see the recent movie version purely inspired by nostalgia (it was boring and, although I understand C.S Lewis filled the book full of Christian symbolism, I was APALLED by the Aslan-walking-alone -on-the-beach-leaving-only-one-set-of-footprints imagery that evoked the Christian guidance counselor poster or SPAM email story about Jesus carrying you when you thought he'd abandoned you). 

I was most intrigued by the notion of the daemon, the ever present source of comfort and strength: a conscience manifest.  It was one part id, one part ego, one part super ego, one part pet, one part body language reader, one part reputation, one part friend, one part parent. I want one!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Andrew Newell Wyeth (July 12, 1917 – January 16, 2009)

"I do an awful lot of thinking and dreaming about things in the past and the future -- the timelessness of the rocks and the hills -- all the people who have existed there." 

“You can lose the essence by detailing a lot of extraneous things.”

"Emotion is my bulwark, I think that’s the only thing that endures, finally."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I once wrote a paper that should have been called 
The Enigma of Billy Budd 
and thanks to my quick-fingers and dim-wit 
I hit CHANGE ALL on the Spell Check
and turned in a lovely paper called 
The Enema Of Billy Budd

If anything like this has ever happened to you, check this out!

Aargh, we can!

If you haven't been to see The Story Pirates yet, well, just get there as soon as you can!

Pink and Green

I went to a reading at The New School awhile back where Lisa Greenwald was generously giving out autographed copies of her debut novel My Life in Pink and Green.  I began reading it as part of the research phase for my upcoming collaboration with the artist Rebecca Vicars on a picture book called Oscars Overhauled Overalls that introduces environmental issues to children.  I finished reading Greennwald's novel today and it has left me in such a good mood, eager to work more diligently on my own contribution to the growing body of work out there that can help change the ways that we all think about and address our environmental crises.  

My Life in Pink and Green is the perfect book for the middle school girl who is beginning to think about her identity and value system. Such a confusing time as middle school is, a book like this could certainly offer guidance. At its core it addresses how young people are capable and intelligent and can contribute to bettering the planet, but it's also a perfect presentation of how to be a good friend, how to handle a crush, and, last but not least, how to apply and wear makeup. My mom never taught me how to shave, or wear makeup, or do my hair and for many, many years I felt woefully behind. This book provides basic rules for how to wear makeup so that one doesn't look like a clown and how to use make-up to enhance, not replace, one's sense of self-confidence. It endorses light, natural colors and that they be used to enhance the inherent beauty of the wearer. How many tweens have you seen running around with heavy eyeliner and overly lined lips? Yikes! Thank you Lisa, for helping to stop this environmental problem!

At one point in the book Lucy's best friend's parents decide to donate an expensive massage chair to her burgeoning spa.  I wept.  Actually wept.  I was so moved by the understanding and action of her friends parents; it was such a beautiful reminder that even if it doesn't always feel like it, there are people watching and paying attention to you, and that there are kind, loving, responsible adults out there. 

I look forward to following Lucy and Sunny through the completion of the spa renovations and the transition to high school. I hope Lisa Greenwald is out there typing it up and her publishers are smart enough to make it happen!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Baby Mama Drama

This is not a new phrase. It has been around for quite some time. As I understand it, the phrase refers to a man who has had a baby with a woman, generally out of wedlock, who is now causing him strife in his new relationship. As in:

Justin: I was going to go to that new club on Webster with Sheila, but my baby's mother be actin' up sayin' she gonna show up and give Sheila a beat down.

Rodney: Yo, man, I don't know how you deal with all that baby mama drama. I'm so glad I ain't got no kids. I don't need no baby mama fuckin' up my flow. 

Justin: Word. 

Now, I am a not impressed with myself for knowing this, nor do I feel it bolsters my street cred, because this term is ubiquitous and it's meaning obvious. Well, obvious to everyone except Sheila P. Moses, author of Joseph, and her editor. 

Yesterday I found myself thumbing through her newest book at Barnes and Noble, a novel aimed at readers twelve years old and older, and given the front cover design and back cover blurb, twelve year olds with a morbid curiosity about the sordid details of the lives of those poor, black kids from the urban ghetto.  After reading the first fifty pages I wanted to barf. Barf and write her an angry letter. Barf, write her an angry letter, and storm the offices of her publisher.  Instead, I am writing this post.  I also wrote my first ever review on

This book had the potential to be important and moving, but it failed. Although there is a definite need for books dealing with this subject matter and written in this voice, that does not excuse the overwhelming flaws of this text. I can't believe this was published. The writing reads like a draft, and I don't mean a final draft. Moses is obviously an outsider to the community she writes about and therefore the voice does not sound authentic. She misuses slang terms and forces in so much exposition that it reads like a messy character sketch. All in all, a total disappointment.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Glorious Day

Today was a good day. Is a good day. 

I woke up feeling tired, but eager to start. This is not often how I begin my day.  I had a loving man in the bed next to me, quick with a sleepy smile, and somewhere to be.  I went to brunch at the cozy and artfully beautiful home of a dear friend who fed me the most healthful and delicious food and a delightful mimosa, or two.   All present were in the midst of interesting, creative projects and I found myself eagerly listening and becoming more inspired to focus on my own projects. It was refreshing to speak of things outside of ourselves.  I had to leave prematurely for a work meeting that I was dreading, but even that was time well spent. I met with two intelligent and thoughtful people to discuss literature and write curriculum that connected it to the history of America in the 20th century. There was no tension or conflict and the planning flowed effortlessly.  The meeting wrapped up early and I came home for a few hours of solitude. Now I wait for my best friend to arrive for an evening of cathartic television, delivered nachos, and some good old fashioned girl talk.  What a glorious day! I hope to hold on to the feeling of this day to ward off the nefarious gloom that often befalls me in the cold, dreary days of winter. 

Saturday, January 10, 2009


"But mistakes are what I like about the process; there is no way to fix it except through new choices." -Nikki McClure (artist)

Yes! I love this quote. A mistake is only a mistake if you contextualize it as such. It can be an opportunity, a source of inspiration, a revelation, or just a simple fact.

How many times have I watched people flummoxed by a simple mistake? The artist angrily starting over because her drawing does not look like the image in her head, the student crumpling up the essay because a sentence does not work, the actor starting an entire monologue over because of one skipped word. And let's not forget those that will do anything to keep mistakes at bay; never starting something at which they might fail or keeping the process completely hidden from view, using one journal for brainstorming and another for the final product. And that is really what this is about: a culture that only values slick and polished products as opposed to the process. Gone are the days of visible labor. 

Perhaps that is the charm of Nikki McClure's work. Her images represent complete moments but still offer the viewer a point of entry. They illicit a visceral response without being overly sentimental. The harsh lines and stark colors could feel very impersonal if it wasn't for the delicate nature of her medium, paper cutting. Each line is labored over, precise, yet imperfect. 

Recently I went to a exhibition of children's book art at the Society of Illustrators and was struck by how lifeless the digital art looked hanging alongside the various paintings, collages, and drawings.  The colors in the digital art were vibrant and the characters engaging, and had I seen them first on the pages of a picture book I probably would have thought nothing of their origin, but in direct comparison with art made by hand, they appeared dull. The painter who has to layer pigment to achieve the desired color leaves a slight trace of that effort in even the most perfectly blended inch of canvas.  The brushstrokes, no matter how smooth, bear witness to the fact that a human hand was at work. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Today was an input sort of day. I read an essay about each of the following topics: Barney Frank; cricket fighting in China; nostalgia for a life never lived; Serbia; and running for Self-Transcendence. I feel: inspired by tenacity and reason; intrigued by tradition born from pastoral boredom; the power of objects as symbols; that nothing changes; amazed at what self-promotion can bring about in the minds of lost souls and celebrities needing to be part of the next, big thing.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


"Celan reflected on his experiences as a Holocaust victim, saying, 'Only one thing remained reachable, close and secure among all losses: language. Yes, language, in spite of everything, it remained secure against loss.'" -Hilton Als, The New Yorker

O Little Root of a Dream
by Paul Celan
O little root of a dream
you hold me here
undermined by blood,
no longer visible to anyone,
property of death.

Curve a face
that there may be speech, of earth,
of ardor, of
things with eyes, even
here, where you read me blind,

where you
refute me,
to the letter.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

A Backward Glance

I stayed up late last night reading through old journals after having a lovely impromptu reunion with a man I had met, and rescued so to speak, seven years prior on Las Ramblas. It got me to thinking of my past and the notion of personal history. I was interested in comparing my somewhat dim memories of that time with the reality as I experienced it. My journal was an excellent source document complete with ticket stubs, menus, candy wrappers and the leaf of a yellow rose gifted to me in gratitude. It told me of things and thoughts that occurred that would otherwise have been lost forever, but it also made me wonder about what had happened that I hadn't noticed, or deemed worthy of recording. As I read I wondered how much of my writing was true fact versus interpretation. I know that at the time I did not consider journal writing as a form of documentation, it was a space for exploration and discovery. Although I asked more questions than I took the time to answer, I was definately using it as a place to sort out my thoughts not simply transcribe them. What was most profound about reading through these scribblings was the realization that I have lost a lot of wonder over the years. I also find that I am less inspired now by art and my surroundings than I was when I kept journals. I'm glad I wrote so much and regret not keeping it up over the past few years. I have begun again, in a charming journal designed by Keri Smith entitled Wreck This Journal, and hope to re-inspire my sense of wonder and awe. My journal will still be a private, messy space for thinking things through and doodling. This blog, which I had decided to keep before my sudden burst of nostalgia and journal reading, will be neater, I hope, and, obviously, public. My goal here is to begin to be comfortable with the idea of publication and public response to my thoughts, interpretations of experiences, and phrasings.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Numero Uno

I feel obliged to say something meaningful.

I could tell you about the two best picture books published in 2008:
The Little Yellow Leaf by Carin Berger
Not a Stick
by Antoinette Portis

Or the three best YA novels I read in 2008:
Feed by M.T Anderson
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part -Time Indian by Sherman Alexi
Tyrell by Coe Booth

Or list some notable events in my personal life:
I quit teaching after nine years of devotedly caring more than now seems humanly possible. I became a student again and attached the adjective Writer to my identity for the first time, and published a picture book in Korea. Rachel got married, and I held a baby and liked it.

But I really just want to tell you about the awesome manicure and massage I got at Pinki's on 73rd and Amsterdam: It was awesome.