Wednesday Wonders: Falling Back



“For this weekend, you get to call yourselves writers loud and proud instead of in a small voice at the end of a long list of other things you do.”

My writing teacher Lois Brandt said this (or something very like it) at the beginning of our Weekend on the Water retreat with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.


Lois wasn’t lying. All weekend long, I talked and heard about books. I talked about my books in progress, I heard from debut authors, and I listened to the faculty tell of how to write as well as what they as editors and reviewers look for when they read. I chatted with my group about their writing and heard what they had to say about mine.

It was glorious. 

Sometimes, I learned, it’s good to be stuck. Sometimes it makes me stop, look at what I’m doing, open my eyes and ears, and hear something new. Sometimes the stuck let me hear old things in a new way.

Gradually, I felt the cement blocks on my creative feet and fingers lifting.

When I got home I found a contest to submit to and the deadline is soon. After that I have my short story who sits so close to my heart I have to crack her open and send her out as soon as I can find a possible home.

And my middle grade novel. This weekend I felt my character wake up inside me as I listened to another writer give me story idea after idea from his own experiences with characters like mine.

Here is what I learned in my two full days at a former convent in Des Moines, Washington:

We do not create alone. 

Even as I sit at this keyboard, far away from everyone I met this weekend and from any of you reading, I feel all of them and you with me.

It’s crazy sappy, yet I have to say it because it’s truer than true.

May you find joy in the people who love life like you do.

And do remember the anonymous quote Kim Baker told us as we went our separate ways:

“You are a ghost driving a skeleton made of stardust on a rock flying around the sun. Fear nothing.”

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The published works of the writers I got to meet over breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 





Last on this post, but first in my heart, Amanda Hosch. She told me her book journey from the summer of dreaming about her character to the 6 weeks of writing it in a flurry to the agent to the book deal after three years. She was so elated and bubbled over with book joy. Amanda is now one of my heroes. MABEL OPEL PEAR AND THE RULES FOR SPYING hits the stands and the websites in the fall of 2017. Hooray!!




Wednesday Wonders: How a Retreat Can Help (I Hope)



I am hovering on the edge of doing anything writerly lately. I look at the work I need to do, lift my pen, scribble a few words, and then put the pen back down.

The keyboard isn’t much better. I’ll open programs, stare at a screen, and then wander away to vacuum. Or worse. I’ll click on the Facebook time warp and come up for air thirty minutes later, thinking it must now be time to go to the day job.

Today I had an even better excuse for not getting this blog post started: my internet was on the blink. I fussed for a good half hour with network connections before waking the teen and getting some help.

Instead of all this frittering away, I need to finish character sheets, follow plot lines, and most of all move forward. Somehow.

In an attempt to pull myself out of the funk, this Friday I am going to the Weekend on the Water through the the Western Washington chapter of SCBWI.

I hope the writers and editors there will inspire me and shake the muse back awake. At the same time, that little voice in my head is telling me how many other more motivated people will be there. (If I had the energy, I’d give that little voice what for. But I don’t.)

I can’t even decide if I should drag along the laptop or disconnect for a few days.

So it goes. Sometimes ennui is a wonder all by itself. 

May you find more pizzaz than I have this Wednesday-

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Wednesday Wonders: What Would You Say to the Past of Yesterday and Today?


I’ve struggled with what to write this week. Much has happened.

A double funeral with dear friends who lost a mother and a father in two days.

The kindness of neighbors who could have hurt us but didn’t.

Neither of these are my stories to tell, though. So I won’t.

I did see something that grabbed my eye from another friend on Facebook, however.


I posted these words:

Stay in Germany longer. 

I wish I had.

But then I had another thought. I even braved the process of making a meme to put it together here.


I saw many post things to their 17-year-old selves that imagine I might later say to my today self.

Listen to yourself always. 

Know who you are.

Shut up and listen.

Be kind to yourself.

Do less, love more.

It will be okay.

Chill the (heck) out.

I think I might say all of this to myself. I might also say:

Keep writing. It matters.

At least I hope I’ll say that.

Wherever you are in the world,  I’d love to know what you would say to your 17-year-old self. (Especially you in Brazil. I see you on my stats page and have always wondered how you found me in the wide web.)

I’d also love to know what you think your future wisdom for yourself might be.

May you know love past, present, and future-

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Wednesday Wonders: How to Walk from Poetry over to Sculptures


Last weekend, I went to Western Washington University for the first annual Poetry Camp. After the end of the sessions and right before Jack Prelutsky, the first Children’s Poet Laureate, gave his fantastic reading of ‘Rat for Lunch,’ I went for a walk around the campus where I once went to school.

I was hunting the outdoor sculpture collection. 

A few pieces stood out in my memory from the time I went there and I looked for them like old friends. Others I had forgotten but as soon as I saw them I wondered why they hadn’t stuck around in my mind.

And some were new. Many of those were installed in 1999, several years after I left Bellingham.

Seeing them all felt like another kind of poetry all together.

Here was my view of ‘For Handel’ by Mark di Suvero from the 6th floor window of Wilson Library. It is huge, orange, and unforgettable, even for me.img_8400

This is one ‘Untitled (Steam Work for Bellingham)’ by Robert Morris. The steam wasn’t running that day, but when it does, you can use your imagination to create sculptures from  what you see.


This new one was massive and on a newer part of the campus.

‘Feats of Strength’  by Tom Otterness was my absolute favorite of the new ones and maybe even of all the sculpture collection. I loved the sense of play and the balance of those rocks.

The buildings begged to have their pictures taken, too.

And I wasn’t the only one with the idea that afternoon.


I didn’t get to photo them all or even put everything I found here. You can check out the spectacular photo gallery online for more. Or better yet. Walk around that campus some day.

In my twenties as a new English teacher, I gave my Japanese and other international students tours of the campus. Over and over they would point to some object with no practical purpose and ask me what it was with a puzzled look.

Back then I said, “If you don’t know what it is, then it’s art.”

Thinking about it more this past weekend, I would change my tour guide statement. Now I think:

“If you don’t always know how it makes you feel but it absolutely makes you feel more than you did before, then it’s art. For sure.”


Which is, of course. too long. My students learning English would have looked even more puzzled. I’ll have to go back, soak up those sculptures, and come up with something better.

I hear they will have a Children’s Literature Conference in February.

May you find art and may it find you looking-

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P.S. Inside Wilson Library was also amazing! What a place for poetry to happen.

Wednesday Wonders: Door of Doom Update



This will be a short post. The door is done! Done! (I ache to replace the hardware with silver but have no more oomph for that sort of insanity.)

For now, I’m back to my usual groove of teaching and writing. A new quarter begins this Monday and I am gearing up for a poetry workshop followed by my favorite retreat of the year.

The home improvement stores can rest easy once more.

From the blasted start to the blessed finish:


Wednesday Wonders: How to Get Yourself to Write


How to get yourself to write in nine easy steps:

  1. Tell yourself to take the week off.
  2. Give yourself some terrible, awful, no good house chore that you think will be fun like painting your front door. (Simple laundry or bathroom cleaning chores won’t work. It must be something dreadful.)
  3. Ask at least three cranky over-worked and underpaid home improvement store workers how to paint over a (maybe) oil-based stain.
  4. Take the cranky advice and buy super toxic striper that has dire warnings on the can.
  5. Follow all the advice about cleaning and wearing chemical proof gloves. (Here you will begin to wish you were writing already. I swear. It’s like magic.)
  6. Attempt to strip the door. Despair quickly at the 2 hours it takes to remove stain from a 4 X 12 inch section.
  7. Wait two days and try not to hate yourself for the terrible, awful, no good idea to paint that raser-fracking door with the impossible lion carving, of all the ridiculous things. You know you will never get that lion striped. Never.  (Here you will sneak in some research and a coffee shop write. No joke.) 
  8. Whine to your sympathetic, wise, and not-at-all cranky mother.
  9. Take her advice and do it ANOTHER WAY. While you are sanding those snarling lions, you will mentally compose a blog post about the whole adventure and look forward fondly to the time when you will go back to teaching and writing as usual.

In all honesty, those steps are about as easy as pulling your toenails off with the screwdrivers you used to loosen the second door. But they work.

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Wednesday Wonders: The Conceit of Blue Snake Poetry



Warning: This post has reptiles. If slithering snakes give you the heebie jeebies, you may want to skip this one. 

For my birthday this year, I went to see the Reptile Zoo in Monroe, WA. From this trip with my husband and six-year-old, I managed to squeeze a poem.

I suppose I should start by saying that poetry has been haunting me lately. It started when my friend Lorie Ann Grover posted that she’d be teaching at a poetry camp in Bellingham this October. The idea of it intrigued me and reminded me that, once upon a time, I thought poetry would be my thing. I considered signing up and then poetry was suddenly everywhere.

When I went to Seattle, I even saw it on the side of a bus demanding that I “Write a Poem” in letters so bold and big I could not ignore them. I gave in to the universe and registered to go to that camp. (Apparently, poetry on buses is a thing. It even has it’s own website.)

Then a free online class popped up in one of my newsletters. I began the course with Douglas Kearney at the California Institute of the Arts.

In the third module, I came up against the assignment to write a conceit–a metaphor that makes the reader stretch into the ridiculous. An example of this is The Flea by John Donne where the poet compares a parasite to the marriage bed. It would embarrass me to explain the connection but here is a clear explanation of what that far-from-prude Donne was going on about.

I thought of how I would write my own conceit and what sort of ridiculous connection I could make of my own and decided to tie together reptiles with poems since they seem so far apart and since I knew I would make the trek to Monroe.

I let those ideas hang loose in my mind as we made the hour and a half drive from our home through some seriously traffic infested areas of our state. I don’t remember where but somewhere along the line, I came on the idea of skin shedding and writing a poem. By the time we got to the zoo, I was set to look for more information on snakes and how I could use them in my poem.

I’ve said it before but one of the best parts of the writing life is the way it brings meaning and focus to every moment of my life even when I am not sitting at the keyboard or with a pen in my hand. 

After my field study (which my six-year-old enjoyed even more than I did), I researched snakes geeked out on how they shed their skin.

Pasted far below you can see what I came up with. It’s still a draft and it scares me to post it here. Poetry has a personal exposure for me that my prose does not. But I like those snakes and this particular exuviae enough to take the risk.

May you find your own conceits in the adventures of your day-

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In the Blue


Skin dull

Spectacle covered




Blind with nervous behavior

Not eating

(Or eating baked Cheetos by the pound).


Seeking rough surfaces

Like coffee

Or long walks

Or daydreams

In the red minivan

On the way to the Reptile Zoo


Molting at last

The exuviae

Shed on the page


Poem written

Ecdysis over


The poet’s skin

Shines vibrant now


More colorful than before


And the spectacle

Is transparent once more