Monday, June 23, 2008

Words in the Woods

Just got back from Words in the Woods, a wonderful children's writers retreat near Springfield, Illinois. Joining us for the retreat were speakers Barry Goldblatt (agent extraordinaire); Holly Black (author of the Spiderwick Chronicles, among other excellent books); and Namrata Tripathi (super-savvy editor, Hyperion Books for Children). For me, one of the most valuable aspects of the retreat were the suggestions and feedback from my critique group on my manuscript. I'm intent on finally finishing my revision of Into the Fire this summer, and I came away with some great ideas. From the speakers, lots of great stuff on plot, building characters, setting, and revisions.

The super-duper organizers of the retreat, the Springfield Scribes, wrote some incredibly funny skits to introduce some of the sessions. I'll try to post a video of one of the skits later. In the meantime, I got to play Pink Pain in the character catwalk. Apparently I had an alter ego I never knew about:

Yes, that's a whip I'm wielding. And I'm told I handled it convincingly.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Remind me why these the the legal union of these two women, in a committed relationship for over 50 years, pose a threat to the institution of marriage:

Congratulations, Phyllis and Del.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Happy Day After Father's Day! (That's only an official holiday in my house.) Did you know that Father's Day was not recognized as a national holiday until Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1972? Me neither, until I heard it on NPR.

My dad, like many of his generation, was not a particularly hands-on kind of parent. It wasn't that I didn't see much of him--quite the contrary. A dairy farmer is seldom far from home, and we were often together, milking cows and doing other chores. But the business of overseeing schoolwork, music lessons, etc.--you know, parenting--was mostly left up to Mom. Not that she minded; I think Mom loved raising us.

A funny thing happened when my siblings and I became adults. Dad began reaching out to us in ways that he never had when we were younger. A few years ago, he began sending us letters on Father's Day, telling us how important we are to him. I always open his Father's Day letters with a mixture of gratitude and resignation, because I know that in addition to his now kind of sappy expressions of love there will also be a good amount of preaching. I know he still hopes to bring this strayed lamb back into church, but I guess the bright side is that he won't give up on me.

So, thanks Dad, for the Father's Day gift. We may disagree on many things, but I think we both agree that we love each other.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sexism and the media

In keeping with the idea that Ida B. Wells did not receive her due in part because she was and independent, outspoken women, I'd like to offer up this excellent video by the Women's Media Center:

You can sign a petition to send a message to the media that "Sexism Sells, But I'm Not Buying It!" here.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Books, art, and rain

It was that kind of weekend. The Great Basement Flood of '08 is small potatoes compared with the terrible floods in Indiana and elsewhere in the Midwest; I know that. Still, I had been looking forward to the Printer's Row Book Fair and the 57th Street Art Fair in Chicago for weeks, and I really needed to get away from that basement.

Am I glad I did! On Saturday afternoon, Eli and I picked up my sister and her daughter from Park Ridge and drove down to Hyde Park for the 57th Street Art Fair and a chance to use our 20% member's discount at the 57th Street Bookstore. I have a real soft spot for Hyde Park-- that's where Tony and I met and began our lives together. But I also have fond memories of the Art Fair, not least because that's where we discovered Aaron Macsai, the jeweler who would make our wedding rings. And of course, the bookstores. Just as it began to rain, we hit 57th Street Books, and Powells, a terrific used bookstore right across the street from our old apartment (and place where I spent too much money back in the day).

The next day was even more bookish. Eli, my niece and I (my sister had to work) took the train into the city for the Book Fair. First on my agenda was a talk by Paula J. Giddings, the author of Ida: A Sword Among Lions. Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching. Her talk, which was being taped for CSPAN (archived on Book TV), was interesting, particularly her observation that Wells' campaign against lynching went unacknowledged or was marginalized in the writings of white and black activists of her time. Giddings noted that the oversights could be explained, in part, by her reputation as a "difficult" woman. She writes,
Wells was certainly that, even when taking into account the double standard applied to assertive, independent women. During the latter period of her life, Wells was more militant than all of the reform figures mentioned above and publicly crossed swords with them...On the other hand, history books are filled with the names of combative and highly individualistic people...I concluded that Wells's legacy was the victim of those same progressive movements of which she was a part. Predominantly white reform organizations could never subscribe to her views about race; those with race-based agendas, sucha s the NAACP, the NACW, and to a lesser extent the Urban League, could not accommodate her views regarding leadership and class.

After the reading and booksigning, I browsed the bookstalls for a few minutes. It was starting to sprinkle when I popped into the poetry tent to join my niece to hear Maxine Kumin's poetry reading. It wasn't long before the sprinkles turned to torrents, and for once a poetry reading was jam-packed. She gamely read on, if a little rattled, as the wind and rain whipped the sides of the tent, and thunder periodically drowned out her words. At some point, soaking fair organizers ran into the tent and called the reading to an end, saying that they would have to turn off the power and get us to a safer place. As I was leaving the tent, I couldn't help but notice that all of the tents had metal spikes in the middle, surely tempting targets for Zeus's lightening bolts.

There was so much that I missed at the book fair: my pal Beth Finke; Chicago Tribune Young Adult Book Prize recipient S.E. Hinton; Marianne Wiggins, who wrote Evidence of Things Unseen, one of my favorite books ever and more recently The Shadow Catcher, which will probably be one of my favorites when I get around to reading it. But all in all, a great bookish weekend.

On the drive home, we had to detour around a section of I-57. The reason, I found out when I got home, was downed power lines due to a tornado touch-down. Enough already!

Thursday, June 5, 2008


Pat Bracewell, a writer friend and reader of this blog sent me a link to her most recent essay, "Circles," in the June issue of Skirt!.

She writes about singing Joni Mitchell's "The Circle Game" for at her friend's 20th birthday party, and then playing it again for her friends 38 years later. And now, of course, they all have sons and daughters of their own, and the words take on a new meaning. It's a good read, and if you, like us, also have college-age kids, it may even bring a few tears to your eyes.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A day to remember

I love this picture of Barack and Michelle doing a fist bump before his speech in St. Paul. It marks a historic day in American politics, and I can't wait to see them in the White House. (Note to Hillary: you lost. Really. So it's time to admit it and rally your troops around the Democratic nominee.)

But June 3 was memorable, to me anyway, for another reason. I woke up around 3:30 a.m. that morning to a terrific thunderstorm. I made the rounds, closed all the windows, and settled in on the couch beside a very agitated Gracie, who panted and whined until the storm died down. Neither one of us got much sleep. So I was not in a very good state of mind when I got up at 6:45 yesterday morning. And then I found an inch of water in the basement.

A piece of advice: put on rubber boots and rubber gloves before picking up your son's live X-box 360 from an inch of water. Because otherwise you might get a little shock. I speak from experience.

Our main sump pump chose this moment to die (although I guess you wouldn't know if it died when it was dry, would you?) and the valiant little back-up sump pump just couldn't keep up.

So I spent the day cleaning up a big mess (it's still not done). And of course, Tony was in Geneva. We have a joke that some calamity always happens when he's gone, and it's at least partly based in reality. When the girls were toddlers, one of the hoses in our aquarium popped off, pouring 40 gallons of salt water onto the floor. Tony? At Fermilab. When Alison was a little older, she fell down the basement steps. You now where Tony was. Of course, he feels terrible about this, but there you are.