Summer Shape Up – June, Week 2

Spending last weekend at home after two weekends away was heavenly. I had a hugely productive week – and met most of my goals (that darned fitness goal got me again, though…).

1. Get caught up with work for my critique group. I have a few chapters to read and comment on this week.
    Critiqued pieces of three great stories for my mid-grade critters.  All caught up.

2. Finish read-through and revision notes for WIP.

3. Make first round of revisions on chapter 1.
    Got through first six chapters on my first round of revisions.  I’m trying out bits of Holly Lisle’s One-Pass manuscript revision process and have found lots of her suggestions to be useful. Full disclosure, though – I’m not really doing it in one pass because I can’t think about all those things at once.  I still need to go back and weave in some threads that I’m developing.

4. SPITFIRE study guide – finish Chapter 3.
    Got through six chapters of study guide, even though I wanted to be writing new stuff instead.

5. Run 15 miles for the week to make up for ice cream cones consumed over long weekend.
    Well…it turned out to be closer to ten miles. They were run with great enthusiasm and spirit, though.

 I also did some more research for my new historical novel, booked a couple more summer/fall events to market SPITFIRE, and added a list of appearances to my website.

Goals for this week:

1. First round of revisions on 3-4 more chapters of WIP.
2. SPITFIRE study guide – Chapters 7-8.
3. Send in confirmation paperwork for NYS Reading Association Conference in November.
4. Continue research for new historical project.
5. Run 15 miles for the week.  Or at least 12.5.

Brownies?  Can I have my virtual brownies now?  And do they have chocolate chips in them? Mmmm….

Three books I loved~

~ They’re wildly different from one another and all amazing.

I sank into our cushy denim couch this weekend and disappeared into THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET by Brian Selznick.  This is a book that’s impossible to stop reading, and it’s a genre all its own:  part novel, part graphic novel, part sketchbook, and part classic cinema. Somehow, it does all of those things beautifully.  Through beautiful drawings and spare, lovely prose, Selznick tells the story of Hugo Cabret, an Oliver-Twist-type character living in a Paris train station and trying to reconnect with his lost father through a mysterious mechanical man he saved from a fire.  Like parts of the automaton, the pieces of this story turn and lock into place to reveal a magical mystery.  My favorite excerpt is a bit of dialogue from Hugo to his friend Isabelle as he looks out over the city from behind the glass clock at the top of the train station:

Sometimes I come up here at night, even when I’m not fixing the clocks, just to look at the city.  I like to imagine that the world is one big machine.  You know, machines never have any extra parts.  They have the exact number and type of parts they need.  So I figure if the entire world is a big machine, I have to be here for some reason.  And that means you have to be here for some reason, too.

A magical message from a magical creator of worlds.

TRACKING TRASH by Loree Griffin Burns is a trip to a different world — our oceans. 

won a well-earned Boston Globe – Horn Book Award for this work of non-fiction that’s as transporting as any novel.  My kids – 5 and 10 – were entranced as I read out loud about huge cargo spills of sneakers and bath toys, where the items washed up on beaches all over the world, and what it taught scientists about ocean currents.  They were horrified — and so was I — by stories of “ghost nets” that are abandoned in the seas to become garbage magnets and death traps for wildlife.  This is an important book that teaches stewardship without ever feeling preachy, and it’s well-deserving of the honors it’s receiving.

And finally — I’ll be honest here — it took me a while to warm up to AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES.   I started the book convinced that I’d love it, because how could the author of LOOKING FOR ALASKA let me down?  John Green’s voice is every bit as authentic and funny in this book, but the math bugged me.  Here’s the premise.  Child prodigy Colin Singleton gets dumped by 19 girls named Katherine, takes his wounded heart on a road trip with his friend Hassan, meets a spectacular cast of characters in a dying factory town called Gutshot, and tries to cement his place in history by coming up with a formula to graph romantic relationships.  Really, I thought.  Who thinks this way?  I love words and tolerate numbers, at best.  I do not have a math brain, so I wasn’t buying into it.  Until my 10-year-old son, who does have a math brain, came home from school and showed me the graphical representation he’d made of his two groups of friends, predicting how those two groups might interact when they leave their two elementary schools next year and join together at the middle school.  It was like John Green was standing over my shoulder with a smug look, saying, “See??”  I read the rest of the book with a much-improved attitude toward the math and loved the connections, the karma, and (mild spoiler ahead…) the fact that the nice guy gets the girl in the end.

I am not afraid of spiders. However…

Here is a picture of my fabulous husband cleaning out my kayak from the winter.

And here is a picture of the fabulously enormous spider that crawled out from under the seat.

EEEEK!!  At least he was cooperative enough to hang around while we went to get the camera and a quarter for perspective.  But still…EEEEK!!  I can guarantee I would have leaped out of the kayak if I’d discovered him out on the water.

After a thorough check under the seat for this guy’s friends and relatives, we went out for a lovely paddle on a calm lake before the winds picked up. Also got the vegetable garden in today, planted flowers by the mailbox, and finished reading TRACKING TRASH by Loree Burns and THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET by Brian Selznick.  Both amazing and unique, in amazingly different ways.  I’ll post reviews soon, but I’m being summoned for a bonfire now.  Virtual s’mores to my LJ friends!

Robert Frost Challenge

I’m rereading great bouquets of Robert Frost poems now for a project I’m working on, and I’m rediscovering how much I love his work.  So many little gems embedded in simple walks in the woods.  Can any Frost fans out there identify which poems these are from?  (I’ll post answers next week.)

  1. Earth’s the right place for love.
  2. Good fences make good neighbors.
  3. We have ideas yet that we haven’t tried.
  4. So all who hide too well away must speak and tell us where they are.
  5. ‘Men work together,’ I told him from the heart, ‘Whether they work together or apart.’
  6. ‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.’
  7. It’s a nice way to live, just taking what Nature is willing to give.

If you live in New England, check out the  Robert Frost Trail in Ripton, VT some day.  It’s a beautiful walk through woods and meadows, short enough for small kids.  You can stop along the way to read Frost verses that correspond to the landscape.  We stopped to catch frogs, too, on a trip when my son was little. The website says it will be closed for work for a few weeks in June but will be open in time for blueberry picking season.

Joseph Bruchac Presentation

What a fabulous Friday!  Storyteller and author Joseph Bruchac visited my school for a presentation to our sixth and seventh graders this afternoon.   I am in awe of this man, who kept 200 middle school kids spellbound for an hour and fifteen minutes.  I can’t say I was surprised, though. If you’ve ever heard Joe Bruchac speak, you know what a captivating storyteller he is.


Joe’s message, for the kids and all of us, is to honor the stories that are  part of our lives.  Stories can teach us, keep us safe, and give us courage when we need it the most.  My class had just finished listening to SKELETON MAN as a spooky read-aloud this morning (nothing like cutting it close), so the kids loved asking questions about the book right away.  They’re working on their own fictional pieces now and relished the opportunity to chat with such a prolific author about his writing practices. Joe’s advice to writers, young and old, won’t come as a surprise:  If you want to write, spend lots of time writing. If you want people to read what you have written, spend lots of time rewriting.  Joe’s latest book, BEARWALKER, is due out from Harper Collins in July. 

Memorial Day Weekend

Memorial Day Weekend brought a trip to the Finger Lakes to visit family on Canandaigua and Keuka Lakes, both lovely and swimming with activity (and both warmer than Lake Champlain, I might add!).  Weekend highlights include:

  • Shopping with Mom and Sis in a belated Mother’s Day celebration.
  • Eating an ice cream cone every day.
  • Catching three fish.
  • Joyfully watching J and E play with rowdy, fun cousins.
  • Laughing at husband and brother-in-law wearing wet suits to help install dock (no pictures…even though they were entertaining).
  • Visiting the grave site of one of my main characters in SPITFIRE…
    My historical novel SPITFIRE has two main characters – a fictional 12-year-old girl who disguises herself as a boy to fight in a Revolutionary War naval battle on Lake Champlain, and a real 12-year-old boy who was a documented crew member on board one of the vessels in the Battle of Valcour Island.  His name is Pascal de Angelis, and after that battle, he went on to do some privateering as the Revolution continued, spent some time in a British prison, and ultimately, settled down to found a village in Oneida County, NY.  That village, Holland Patent, is along Route 365 — one of the roads that leads from my house on Lake Champlain to our parents’ homes in the Finger Lakes.

    On Saturday, we stopped in Holland Patent to visit Pascal, who is buried in a cemetery not far from his old house.  It’s the first time I’ve been there since I spent a day at the Holland Patent Free Library, researching his life as I prepared to write SPITFIRE more than five years ago.  It’s also the first time my family has been with me to “meet” Pascal. It was like introducing them to an old friend.

    Today, Holland Patent is a pretty community with tree-lined streets and friendly people who are passionate about remembering their past.  The village green showcases a memorial to veterans, dating all the way back to the American Revolution. 

    P.C.J. is our Pascal.  (The CJ stands for Charles Joseph.  His son shared the same name.)

    If you keep driving along Route 365 through town, you come to the house where Pascal de Angelis lived when the village first began.  It’s easy for me to imagine the spirited young boy from SPITFIRE growing old here with his wife Elizabeth and their children.

    Not far from the house is the cemetery where Pascal and his family are buried.  It is truly a lovely resting place, full of tall old trees and creeping vines, and Pascal is surrounded by family and early villagers in this place that he made his home.

    This cemetery is beautifully tended, but somehow the flag that marks the graves of veterans had fallen down and blown from Pascal’s grave.  I’m not family, but I feel like I know him well enough that it bothered me, so I made sure it was back in the ground, secure, before we left.

    It may sound silly, but I told him about his book, too.  It seemed like the right thing to do.  Here was a boy who had already seen some rough waters at the age of twelve.  His father had died on a ship as the family moved from the Caribbean to the Northern Colonies.  The captain of that ship married Pascal’s mother almost immediately, and then when he got Benedict Arnold’s call for seamen on Lake Champlain, he took 12-year-old Pascal along with him.  The boy marked his 13th birthday on the day the  American ships were fleeing up the lake, with the British in hot pursuit.  Quite a coming of age.

    I wish Pascal had left behind more documents to tell the story of what kind of man he became, but unfortunately a journal from his days on Lake Champlain and a pension document at the end of his military career were all I could find.  I would love to know more about the man he became when the guns were quiet.  For this Memorial Day, though, it was enough to drop in and say hello, to let him know that children will soon be reading his story, and to honor the boy who grew up too quickly so many years ago on the waters that I now call home.


Question: Where are there three sets of wet clothes hanging up in my bathroom tonight?

Answer:  It was hot here today. Really hot.  The kids and I went to sit on the steps that lead down to Lake Champlain to feel how cold the water was (47 degrees was the official reading in Burlington).  Here’s how it went:

Firstborn child: I wish I could swim.
Snarky mother who thinks he is bluffing:  Go ahead.
Firstborn  leaves before snarky mother has chance to explain that she didn’t mean it, reappears with swimsuit and towel.  He jumps in.  It’s cold.  He jumps out.
Secondborn child:  I want to swim, too.
Mother (sighing because fair is fair):   Go ahead.  We’ll dry your clothes later.
Secondborn jumps in.  It’s cold.  She jumps out.  Firstborn points out that her hair is not wet, so she doesn’t get credit.  She jumps back in.  Wets hair.  Still cold.  Jumps out.
Firstborn:  Who do you think will be last in our family?  You or Dad?

At this point, a well-adjusted grownup chuckles and collects the towels to head back to the house.  An overgrown kid removes sneakers, jumps into lake, dives under (so it counts), and returns home with wet hair and wet children to await Dad’s arrival for bragging fest.  My legs are still numb, but it was worth it.

It’s supposed to hit 90 degrees tomorrow.  Anyone up for a swim?

It’s exciting, but…

Hurray!  SPITFIRE has been mentioned on a website that’s not mine!  I’m presenting this November at the NYS Reading Association Conference, and the workshop description is posted online now.  I’m workshop #110.  There’s just one problem….

The title of my book has been changed from Spitfire to Spitfir.  Makes it sound like I’ve written a story about a diabolical evergreen that lurks in the forest waiting to hock loogies at unsuspecting hikers. 

I sent an email to the conference organizer, thanking her for the listing and asking if my title could be fixed. She promised to have their web person deal with it soon.  I thought I’d share the moment, though, since it made me laugh.

An Invitation

Last weekend at NE SCBWI, I learned more about the Class of 2k7, the group of talented debut authors who got together to promote their books.  It got me thinking about how writers can work together to promote reading and books.  During my morning run today, I realized that I have a great opportunity this fall.  In November, I’ll be presenting a workshop at the New York State Reading Association Annual Conference in Saratoga Springs. The topic is “Historical Fiction as a Bridge to Content Area Reading.”  I designed the workshop as a way to share my Revolutionary War novel SPITFIRE and its study guide with teachers, but I’m also going to talk about other works of historical fiction that would work well in the classroom.

Here’s the invitation part. If you have a work of historical fiction that’s been published with a traditional publisher and you’d like me to include your book in the workshop, please let me know. At the very least, I’ll display it and include it in my handout, and I’ll feature some of the books in my multimedia presentation as well. I already have a list of books prepared, but I know there are so many more fantastic titles out there, and I don’t want to waste an opportunity to promote them. The presentation is part of the middle school strand of the conference,so I’m interested in MG and YA novels, as well as older picture books and picture book biographies that could be used with grades 4-8.

If you’re interested, let me know in an email or comment so that I can contact you.  Include the title of your book, your publisher, a brief synopsis, and a link to your website.  If you have writer friends who might be interested, feel free to share this link with them. 

Can’t forget about Bruce!

How in the world did Bruce Coville get left out of my NE SCBWI conference photos?  What an incredible speaker. I heard him at the World of Children’s Literature Conference in Lake Placid, NY six years ago and couldn’t wait to see him at SCBWI last weekend. He was funny and smart and worth every minute of waiting.