Friday, October 29, 2010

Poetry Friday: Travels

The last few weeks have been full of travels. Some for business. Some for pleasure. Last week I flew to Portland, Oregon for a sweet visit with my daughter. Portland is a colorful city, even when it's gray.

Here's a travel poem to celebrate Poetry Friday. Stop by The Writer's Armchair for more poetry.

Night Journey

Now as the train bears west,
Its rhythm rocks the earth,
And from my Pullman berth
I stare into the night
While others take their rest.
Bridges of iron lace,
A suddenness of trees,
A lap of mountain mist
All cross my line of sight,
Then a bleak wasted place,
And a lake below my knees.
Full on my neck I feel
The straining at a curve;
My muscles move with steel,
I wake in every nerve.
I watch a beacon swing
From dark to blazing bright;
We thunder through ravines
And gullies washed with light.
Beyond the mountain pass
Mist deepens on the pane;
We rush into a rain
That rattles double glass.
Wheels shake the roadbed stone,
The pistons jerk and shove,
I stay up half the night
To see the land I love.

Theodore Roethke

Friday, October 22, 2010

Poetry Friday

Time for poetry. Here's one I wrote a few years back. It still needs some work, but a poem is never finished, as they say, just abandoned.

Tortoise or Hare

I would be the tortoise

If I could choose.

Tender parts

Carefully guarded

By a hard green shell.

A portable hiding place

For those awkward moments.

No need to run,

Just pull in the appendages

And breathe slowly

Until the danger passes.

But some pernicious muse

Had other plans

And without consulting me,

Took my secrets

And made iambic feet

For a bunch of mad rabbits

That care nothing for poetry.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Conference Overload and Anagram Angst

In the last month, I've been to:

1) the Infantry Conference to learn about TOW, UAVs, and M14s. And for the NIA to give OSM awards,

2) to GACIS in Athens to man the Delaney booth on the display floor for instructional specialists to stop and look at instructional stuff,

3) to the local Chattahoochee Valley Writers Conference where I was the registrar -- no time for photos!

4) to GAYC in Duluth, again manning the booth on the vendor floor. This time with Dr. Jean's material.

And oh my goodness -- the things they let those preschoolers play with!!

5) and last weekend to SCBWI in Birmingham where I learned
more about "voice" in the one day intensive than I've ever heard anybody explain. Darcy Pattison took the mysticism out of this topic that is typically described by most editors as "I'll know it when I see it." We worked with the building blocks--sounds, words, sentences, passages. It was the most practical workshop I've been to in a very long time.

After #5 I rode the train from Birmingham to Hattiesburg to be with my younger daughter.

I came home long enough to wash clothes and go to a few appointments. I leave tomorrow morning to visit the other daughter in Oregon.

I'm not feeling very poetic or even creative at the moment, but I did manage to edit over half of my WIP and outline the next two books in the Virginia Geographic Regions series. I will spend the flight time tomorrow proofing the first pass pages from my editor for the explorers book.

Time for dinner with my sweet husband, who just told me that I'm never done. But he was smiling.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Twelve Days of Christmas in Georgia

Just out -- a new Georgia book!

There are never enough books on Georgia for second grade teachers who struggle to find information on Georgia regions, Georgia rivers, and Georgia habitats. Susan Rosson Spain and Elizabeth Dulemba have teamed up to write and illustrate The Twelve Days of Christmas in Georgia.

A trip through Georgia and the Christmas holidays. What more can you ask for? Activities, that's what. Visit Elizabeth's website for activity pages tied to the book.

This is a great resource for meeting those Georgia history standards. And it's a book the kids will love.

I don't know why the print is red, but I can't seem to make it black. Sigh.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

More with Vicky Alvear Shecter

Vicky Alvear Shecter is back with me today. In yesterday's post, Vicky talked about her new nonfiction book, Cleopatra Rules. Today we're switching genres to talk about Vicky's upcoming YA novel, Cleopatra's Moon.

Thanks so much, Vicky, for taking the time to visit.

DoriReads: Your YA fiction book, Cleopatra's Moon, is scheduled for release next year from Scholastic. The subject matter is an easy fit with your other books, but talk about the change from writing nonfiction to fiction. Can you tell us about the narrator? Is it in first person, third? Does your narrator carry that same sassy tone or is there a difference?

Vicky: Good questions! I think people might be surprised just how different my character’s voice is compared to my nonfiction voice. My character is strong but not necessarily sassy. Written it in the first person, my character experiences a lot of loss and pain so, obviously, I needed to be true to those experiences rather than the “fun facts” of history.

The biggest challenge I had in moving from nonfiction to fiction was dealing with a criticism I heard often from my agent and editor: that I was “too enamored” of the history. It took me a while to understand what they meant, which was that sometimes I went off on tangents about a point of history that was not at all related to the arc of the story, the plot, or the character’s growth. I had to be willing to cut those fascinating factoids out. I have what seems like hundreds of pages of scenes related to historical facts that got cut!

DoriReads: Who is your best cheerleader? Who is your best critic?

Vicky: My best cheerleaders are my friends in SCBWI. What a supportive group! In terms of my novel, I am indebted to my writing buds—Elizabeth Dulemba and my writing groups—who encouraged me to keep on writing, no matter what kind of setback I experienced. As for my strongest critic, that’s easy—me!

Cleopatra's Moon will be released in 2011 from Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic. I can't wait to read it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Interview With Vicky Alvear Shecter

I'm delighted to have Vicky Alvear Shecter here today to talk about her new nonfiction book, Cleopatra Rules. Vicky has a knack for giving her readers "history with a twist." Check out her blog when you leave this post. Vicky's conversational style and her irreverent tone has kids asking to read ancient history. That's an accomplishment.

DoriReads: Let's talk about ancient history. Well, maybe not so ancient. Who was Vicky Alvear Shecter before she was a famous children's author?

Vicky: I didn’t know there was another Vicky Alvear Shecter out there who is famous! I’ll have to meet her one day. ;-) As for me, I’ve always been involved with writing one way or another. I wrote for businesses as a hired hack for years.

DoriReads:The tone/voice of your first book, Alexander the Great Who Rocked the World, was distinctly sassy. One reviewer went so far as to label it a "smart-aleck" tone. Another called it "irreverent." Does Cleopatra Rules radiate that same tone?

Vicky: I’m glad you asked about this because I have learned that not everyone is completely comfortable with the tone. The “old guard” especially (Kirkus BCCB, etc.) never fail to make some sort of dig about it—one saying that it sounded like it came straight out of a gossipy blog (which was, of course, the intention!). Thankfully, the research, documentation and vetting process is so thorough, they usually end up praising that instead.

I have found, however, that teachers, librarians and parents often thank me for using a voice that speaks directly to their tweens and teens. I often get comments like, “This is the first history book my kid ever wanted to read.”

DoriReads:Tell us a little about your journey developing that voice. Is it your unique voice or is it a persona narrator you, as an author, created to tell the history of these characters?

Vicky: The development of the voice came from the fact that, when I started researching these characters, I often found myself chuckling at their antics. Really, if you dig far enough, history is hysterical! I knew I couldn’t be the only one who found the funny and absurd so enjoyable. I incorporated the playfulness with which I approach history and the voice just took off from there.

DoriReads: So were you a smart aleck as a teen?

Vicky: Ha, not in the least! I was shy and accommodating (though my parents may have a different view, of course).

DoriReads: Reviewers of Alexander speak highly of your extensive research. I'm sure you've done your work on Cleopatra, as well. How long did it take you to research Cleopatra? On a subject like this, you could probably spend your life researching. How did you limit the research?

Vicky: You’re absolutely right—you could spend your whole life researching these fascinating characters and some academics do! In my case, the boundaries of writing for children is what limited me. After all, I couldn’t go on and on or I would lose my readers. So I stayed focused on the most pertinent facts. But because of the voice, I knew I would have to balance it with research that backed up my assertions.

As a defense mechanism, I find that I don’t continue reading too many books about my subjects after mine come out because I end up driving myself crazy by finding yet another fact or tidbit I could have used. Research never ends but at some point you have enough to back-up/prove your claims and that has to be enough.

My thanks to Vicky for talking with me. And thanks to my readers for stopping in. Come by again tomorrow when Vicky will talk about her upcoming YA novel set in the same time period.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Lessons Learned on the Highway

Last week I spent several days in Athens, Ga. The Georgia Conference of Instructional Specialists was there, and I helped man the vendor booth for Delaney. The conference itself was fairly uneventful. I met a few new people, made some contacts, those things all conferences afford.

It was the journey there and back that is worth remembering. There is no easy route from Columbus to Athens. You either travel the legs of a right triangle, north to Atlanta and west to Athens, or you drive along the hypotenuse over two-lane roads through a lot of small towns. The hypotenuse is shorter in distance, but the legs of the right angle are faster.


I knew I would hit Atlanta in traffic, but my GPS said to go that way. Google maps said to go that way. My brother said to go that way. My gut said to go the hypotenuse, but who am I to argue with the experts? I went t
o Atlanta. After about 15 minutes of I-285 bumper to bumper traffic moving at 20 miles an hour, I ditched the highway.

I found an exit that wasn't backed up past the exit ramp and headed into the winding roads of suburbia Atlanta until I found a two-lane road that would take me to Athens. It took a while. I wound around the back side of Stone Mountain on a slightly scary, rock quarry truck kind of road. At one point, I passed a sign that said "Between City Limits."

Do you live in Between? How far is it to Between? It's just Between us.

I made it to Athens in only about half an hour of extra travel time.

On the return trip, I knew I needed to be home before 7:00. I was acting as registrar for the local Chattahoochee Writers Conference that began Friday evening. Despite my gut, which was still saying to go the hypotenuse, I took the legs of the right angle back home. It was only 2:00, and I thought for sure I would miss rush hour traffic. I forgot it was Friday. I didn't even make it to Atlanta before the four-lane highway was again bumper to bumper.

Turn left, head southwest.

I wandered and meandered through who knows where until I finally found the road that formed the hypotenuse. You don't want to know how long it took me to get home. I did make it before the speaker started--barely.

All during this trip, I was wrestling with a decision concerning a contract for a book I've written. It's a small publisher in the UK. The entire process and the contract details have been fairly nontraditional--at least in my experience. Logic says to say no, to go a more traditional route, to find a US publisher and take my chances on a better deal.

That reasoning sounds an awful lot like taking the legs of the right triangle. By the end of the trip, I had come to the conclusion that I would be kicking myself all the way through "Between" if I went that direction.

So, I'm going the back way where there is peace and a lot of joy in the journey.