Monday, December 31, 2012

Best Books I Read in 2012

I read so many good books this year! Mostly it was because grad school forced me to focus my reading, and the faculty and my classmates are so tuned in to the industry and my needs as a reader that they gave me some fantastic recommendations. And now for the hard part—my favorite books from my 2012 reading list.

Fantasy

This book also gets my favorite audiobook of the year. It's a fast-paced adventure, has fascinating characters and the story is totally timeless.

An honorable mention goes to A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, well, really all of Patrick Ness' books.

Historical Fiction

Shakespeare, baseball and modern American history. What more could a girl possibly want?

An honorable mention goes to A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly and her fascination with etymology.

Novel In Verse

This book broke my heart and then pieced it back together again. Porter truly understands the storytelling power of the poetic form and utilizes every line of it.

An honorable mention goes to Thomas and Beulah by Rita Dove, though it's actually a collection of poetry and not a NIV.

Nonfiction

I'm still processing my feeling about this book though it's been six months since I read it. Any book that makes me take copious notes that I go back to again rates pretty high in my bibliography.

An honorable mention goes to "The Apology" by Plato, which was a re-read for me.

Series

I have never been so sad to see a series end. I don't read a lot of high fantasy anymore (although it was my regular fare in my late teens), so to find a series this engaging was totally unexpected for me. I can't wait to see what Cinda comes up with next.

An honorable mention goes to The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd, but only because she hasn't finished writing the series yet.

Reading List Analytics
Out of the 85 books I read this year, there were 31 picture books, 25 novels, 21 audiobooks, 8 nonfiction. I gave 21 books five stars, 38 books four stars, 17 three stars and 9 books two stars.

Best Books of 2011
Best Books of 2010

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Putting Off the Apocalypse

Tomorrow is 12/21/12, and there's no way the world can end. I have big plans for 2013, and after the rather harrowing year I've had, I'm looking forward to many good things in the year to come. It's become a bit of a tradition for me to look at the past year while setting some goals for the next. So here's a look back as well as a peek at what's to come.

PAST: My year started with a trip to the ER followed by emergency surgery. While it took my mom a couple of days to come take care of me (I'm always glad to have my mom visit), there was an amazing community of people right here in Northern Virginia who stepped in when family couldn't. Friends brought me to the hospital, picked me up, made meals for me, changed my bandages, picked my mom up from the train station, and kept me company while I recovered. I will always be grateful for the family I've discovered in my own back yard.

FUTURE: I look forward to the many opportunities I'll have to show my love and appreciation for my friends. I look forward to attending kid's soccer games, going out for celebratory dinners and finding the perfect gifts for baby showers and bridal showers and graduations and birthdays. While I might not look forward to it, I'll happily help friends move, grieve with them when they lose a loved one and take them to a movie when they need a little break.

PAST: Working with writers' groups have not only made me a better writer, but they have also made me some wonderful friends. Together we've explored new worlds and learned about the past, laughed at silly boys and gone on great adventures. These men and women encourage me and teach me and love me, and in the past year, I've never needed them more. I would also be remiss if I didn't mention what an honor it is to be a member of SCBWI and work with my local chapter. Becoming a member of that organization four years ago was the best decision I ever made.

FUTURE: There are so many amazing books I'm looking forward to reading next year. I'm fortunate to have a lot of really good friends with upcoming publications, so bare with me as I do some name dropping. Sara Zarr, Mike Martin, Megan Shepherd, Lisa Papademetriou and Anne Marie Pace already have books slated for release, and I'm sure I'll read a dozen more.

PAST: Starting grad school was terrifying and thrilling all at once. I never realized it was possible to be stressed out and totally at peace at the same time. I had an amazing adviser who taught my to write broadly until you find your story and encouraged the poet within me to be brave. I quickly made some of the best friends I could ever imagine in my fellow VCFA classmates. School also allowed me to discover Vermont summers and cross the boarder into Canada where I actually used my rusty French in real conversations.

FUTURE: Right after the New Year I get to see what White Christmas was really all about when I go to Vermont for my second residency. I'll bring my new ice skates and winter coat to play in the snow as well as a fresh notebook and plenty of hot cocoa to get me through lectures. For summer residency I'll go up a few days early, and (hopefully with my brother in tow) visit Cooperstown and hike in the Adirondack Mountains.

PAST: I discovered my Natitude this baseball season. Excuse me while I get a little misty-eyed just thinking about it. I have loved baseball all my life and the White Sox will always be my first love, but I've watched the Nationals grow from their very first season into a championship team. I was in agony when Jayson Werth snapped his wrist, heartbroken when Rick Ankiel didn't make the cut, excited when Bryce Harper and Tyler Moore were called up, and astonished when Teddy finally won the race. I was at Game 4 to cheer on their first post-season run, and it will be an experience I'll never forget.

FUTURE: What more could a life-long baseball fan ever wish for? Oh, yeah, to see their team play in the Wold Series. I can't wait for April.

PAST: With my project for grad school, I've learned a lot about my family this year. I've spent a lot of time combing through documents and listening to family members tell stories. In doing this, I've also learned a great deal about myself. Mainly I learned that I come from a long line of kick-ass women (my mother, grandmothers, aunts and sister among them) whom I can only hope to be like.

FUTURE: My little brother comes home from Hawaii next summer, and I'm excited to be a lot closer to him once again. I'm sure my sister and parents will be down for visits, and I know I'll see a few aunts, uncles and cousins throughout the year. I love my family, and more than anything, I hope the New Year brings them happiness and success.

I know the past year has been very difficult for many people. People I know and love continue to struggle financially, and words cannot describe the horrible loss that happened last week. The world is full of war and hunger and unhappiness. But there is also goodness, kindness and hope in the world. I hope in the coming weeks we can all remember the things that are worth living for. From this natural-born pessimist to you, may 12/21/12 be just another day in this holiday season and may it bring you a little closer to family, friends and joy.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Fifth Grad School Reading List

My semester is officially over. After five months of reading writing, researching and driving myself crazy, I'm not sure how to fill all of this down time. You know, to edit those two manuscripts I've been promising to get done, catching up on work and sleep and friends, reading texts for next residency... Okay, so maybe there's not a lot of down time after all.

Getting back to the point, here's my final reading list for my first semester of grad school. It's pretty much all history/historical fiction and novels in verse. (If you haven't picked up on this over the past five months, I'm working on a historical fiction novel in verse.)

Writing Great Books for Young Readers by Regina Brooks: I’ve wanted to read this book for a while now and was excited to read some contemporary advice on writing for young adults. This is a fantastic book for brand-new YA writers, but it didn’t have the depth I was looking for. Though there are some really good reminders, especially in the chapter on dialogue.

My Mom's Having a Baby! by Dori H. Butler, illustrated by Carol Thompson: The plan was to read this book for Banned Book Week in October. That didn’t happen, but I still read it looking specifically at what makes age-appropriate content. While I found a one-page spread that I felt talked about sex a little too graphically for the audience, I can understand why many parents would be comfortable sharing it with their own children. For a book that tries to give a scientific look at birth in an accessible way, I respect Butler for making the hard decision to be as frank as she was.

Columbus by Demi: I’ve been a fan of Demi for a lot of years now. She chooses the most fascinating subjects to explore and her illustrations reflect the historical traditions she tells. With very little judgment and great respect, Demi manages to balance the hero we celebrate with the fallible man whom he really was. As for the illustrations, the seascapes are especially impressive, but the Portuguese court scenes also deserve special mention for their attention to detail and beautiful overlays. Unfortunately, I felt like I was reading the captions on paintings in a museum rather than a historical adventure.

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly: While I didn’t love this book anywhere near as much as I loved Donnelly’s Revolution, she’s still a wonderful storyteller who knows how to create a well-rounded narrator and somehow make history seem so freaking contemporary. Her skill makes me jealous.

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse: This was a reread for me, but I haven’t read it since it first came out while I was in high school, so I might as well have been reading it for the first time. And rereading it reminded me of why it won so many awards. Hesse is a master of the novel in verse and weaves an amazing story steeped in history and compassion and hope.

My Book of Life by Angel by Martine Leavitt: There are so many things to love about this novel in verse. There’s emotion and mystery and a true poetic structure, though I could have used more breathing room from the sadness. While the poetry was more abstract than I write, I loved the way I could get into Angel’s head and really understand her situation in life that is totally foreign to my own. I’m finding that there are kind of two schools to novels in verse: those influenced by modern free-verse poetry and those influenced by traditional epic poetry. And I was fascinated that this book of contemporary verse uses and epic poem (Paradise Lost) as a backdrop.

Winnie’s War by Jenny Moss: I think this book came at the perfect moment for me as it deals with the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918. While the beginning was a little rough, the ending got better and better until I almost regretted coming to the end. It had me laughing then crying and finally ending with a smile.

The Wright Brothers by Lola M. Schaefer: This was a history written without much excitement. If there’s one thing I’ve learned this semester, it’s that through research and solid facts don’t always translate to a good book, but without them, you can’t have a good book either.

Amazing Sharks! by Sarah L. Thomson: Granted, this book was sponsored by the Wildlife Conservation Society, but it was a little too preachy without enough informative content. I actually agree with the principles in this book, but instead of telling me that we need to save the sharks, I would have liked to see more about what make them interesting creatures, critical to their ecosystem and what is causing their demise. Why not teach me more about sharks and let me draw my own conclusions as to why we need to save them.

Young Fredle by Cynthia Voigt: I’ve only ever read Voigt’s realistic fiction for older readers, so it was interesting to see how she handles an animal fantasy for younger readers. You could totally see the influence of E.B. White in this adventure novel that gives you a new perspective on family and growing up.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Remembrance Day from the Homefront

To the many family members, friends, teachers, neighbors, coworkers and acquaintances who have not only served our country but have also given of themselves to protect their various home nations, I thank you. While some of you are no longer with us and many of you bare the scars both physically and mentally of the battles you fought, your service and sacrifices have not gone unnoticed.

Veterans' Day might be a convenient time to vocalize that gratitude, but I often have the opportunity to reflect upon why I have so much respect and admiration for veterans. Not only are many of the people I interact with on a daily basis both veterans and active members of the military, but I also see the WWII Memorial, the Pentagon, Arlington Cemetery, the Marine Corps Memorial and the Navy Archives practically every day as physical reminders of service men and women. Because of the historic area I live in, I drive past battlefields and along military access roads, and I live directly along the Pentagon's flightpath. These are all constant reminders that though we do not have a current war on American soil, this nation was built upon the land where battles took place and the lessons learned--both good and bad--from those battles.

Today I am also grateful for the many books that have helped me understand war. I have never served in the military, nor have I ever seen the devastation caused by war, so books help me understand and connect with something that is so foreign to me. Kathy Erskine posted a wonderful list of books about war this morning, but I'd like to add a few of my own about coming home from war.

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
I'll Be Watching by Pamela Porter
All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg
Peace, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson
Operation Oleander by Valerie O. Patterson

Friday, November 9, 2012

Fourth Grad School Reading List

I felt a bit of a shift in myself while reading for this packet--that inevitable change from reading as a reader to reading as a writing. As I'm in the middle of a creative writing program, I expected this to happen, but I didn't expect it to be so obvious.

Dear Teen Me: Authors Write Letters to Their Teen Selves edited by E.K. Anderson and Miranda Kenneally: I was sent this book for review and asked to participate in a blog tour promotion for the book. I know and love several of these authors, and it was fascinating to see what happened in these authors' teenage years that directs what they write today. I wish essay compilations like this did better in the market so we could see more of them.

The Crimson Crown: A Seven Realms Novel by Cinda Williams Chima: Reading Cinda’s books gives me hope. I’ve known Cinda since before her first book was published, and it amazes me to see how good she’s gotten. Not a single line was wasted, which is an incredible feat for any fantasy novel, let alone a 600-page last installment of a quintet. If you want to learn about creating characters and sustaining/organizing complex plots, Cinda’s a master.

Little Owl’s Night by Srinivasan Divya: I’m a big fan of night-time concept books, and this one is adorable. I loved the sparse words and high-contrast illustrations. It’s a message book with no message for little owls who want to stay up to see what happens in the night.

A Possum’s Remember the Alamo and the Legend of Davy Crockett by Jamey L. Long, illustrated by Brandon Wood: Great history and tidbits at the end, but the writing wasn't fantastic. What did fascinate me was talking to Jamey at a book event about how he’s built an entire educational brand behind these books. It really opened my eyes to an entirely different kind of non-fiction writing for children.

Who’s Faster? Animals on the Move by Eileen R. Meyer, illustrated by Constance R. Bergum: Another concept picture book with fantastic endnotes. You can really see the research that went into such a simple book. (I just wish the publishing house had put more faith in this book and given it better packaging.)

Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri: I will admit, I picked up this book because of NPR’s 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels list, a.k.a. NPR’s 100 Whitest-Ever Teen Novels list. It got me thinking about how white-washed my own reading list is, and made me think about what I can do to prevent this same thing from happening in my writing. This book was interesting in that it took a culture that is traditionally rural and European and turned it on its head.

I’ll Be Watching by Pamela Porter: It broke my heart and then pieced it back together again. And the poetry...just...wow. Porter truly understands the storytelling power of the poetic form and utilizes every line of it. The multiple first-person point of view with a bit of the supernatural thrown in was a bold and captivating choice. The story of the Loney children is very familiar in my own family. Though it was during WWI and in America, both of my grandmothers were orphaned at an early age, and I know they shared many of the same tragic experiences featured in this book. And though both of my grandmothers have passed on with much of their own stories gone with them, I'd like to think that they found the same humor, tenderness and inner-strength that the Loney children did.

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt: Schmidt never ceases to amaze me with his well-rounded characters and the way he shatters stereotypes and misconceptions. Great use of repetition, sarcasm and humor.

Red Knit Cap Girl by Naoko Stoop: This book does a wonderful job at merging culture’s without taking us from home. In an odd way, it’s like The Forest of Hands and Teeth where the zombies aren’t really the story, they just are, and here, Japanese culture isn’t the story, it’s just the backdrop.

You might have noticed that there are only nine books listed here rather than the ten I'm supposed to read for each packet. Let's just say I got an early peek at an upcoming sci-fi trilogy that's going to blow your mind. I promise to give more details as I get the okay from the author and publisher.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Stormy Weather

This morning, the beautiful and talented Jean Gralley posted an old poster of the Lena Horne and Bill Robinson movie Stormy Weather, which I loved when I first saw it as a little girl. So in honor of Jean, Lena and Hurricane Sandy, here's my Stormy Weather playlist that I'll have plenty of time to listen to as work's been cancelled today with a possible closure tomorrow as well.

"Stormy Weather" by Lena Horne
"Lightning Crashes" by Live
"It Blew a Living Gale" by David Baumgarten
"Rainy Day Women" by Bob Dylan
"A Little Fall of Rain" by Les Miserables Cast
"Downpour" by Brandi Carlile
"Come Rain Or Come Shine" by Billie Holiday
"Butterflies & Hurricanes" by Muse
"Drops of Rain" by Carbon Leaf
"Don't Rain On My Parade" by Glee Cast
"Ill Wind" by Billie Holiday
"She Gathers Rain" by Collective Soul
"Blow the Man Down" by Stan Hugill
"Blowin' in the Wind" by Bob Dylan
"Don't Do Sadness/Blue Wind" by Spring Awakenings Cast
"Us Amazonians" by Kirsty MacColl (from Tropical Brainstorm)
"Darkshines" by Muse
"Somewhere Over the Rainbow" by Ella Fitzgerald

Stay safe, stay dry and stay inside!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dear Teen Me: Embrase Every Opportunity

Dear 14-Year-Old Kathryn,

What amazing adventures you are about to have! From this side of high school, that might be difficult to believe. You've had the worst summer of your life (trust me, the next 17 summers will truly be a vacation in comparison), and you don't feel particularly intelligent, beautiful or friendly enough to make any kind of difference. You won't be valedictorian, voted homecoming queen or give the commencement address, but you are about to meet some of your best friends, discover your biggest supporters and figure out who you are.

Freshman year will start off better than you expect. You'll be cast as Patty in a local production of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and you'll enjoy singing, dancing and acting with a group of people who will continue to be a part of your life for years to come. Enjoy every minute of your time in the spotlight.
14-year-old Kathryn sings "The Book Report" in You're a Good Man Charlie Brown.
As you begin your sophomore year, you'll be asked to take on a bigger role in the high school band. Let's face it, you won't be an amazing clarinetist, but you'll do just fine as the second-clarinet section leader in marching band, and you'll get to play percussion—chimes, xylophone, glockenspiel, cymbals and even timpani. At the end of the year, when you're asked to switch to the bassoon, be brave! It will lead to a college scholarship.
15-year-old Kathryn marches in the West Aurora High School homecoming parade.
You've always been pretty good at math and science, so junior year, when you're invited to participate in Saturday Morning Physics at FERMILab, don't hesitate to say yes. You'll learn from Nobel Prize-winning physicists and get a peek inside the particle accelerator where the down quark was discovered. You'll also have a conversation with Leon Lederman that will change the way you look at the universe and your place in it.
16-year-old Kathryn walks through the particle accelerator at FIRMILab.
Your senior year will be incredibly challenging, but you are up to the task. How many 17-year-old students can say they've worked in the governor's press office? You will. And you'll watch as he becomes the first governor since the Kennedy Administration to go to Cuba, you'll be a part of a moratorium on executions, reform of handgun laws, implementation of children's health insurance, review of zero-tolerance policies in schools, and yes, even be there when an old scandal resurfaces. The governor will later go to jail for his crimes, but you will continue to make politics a huge part of your career.
17-year-old Kathryn meets with other internes on the steps of the Old Capitol Building.
Not everything that happens during the next four years will be exciting and fun. You'll experience death and illness on a very personal level, and your faith and abilities will be put to the test. But the thing about opportunity is that it makes you better, stronger, more equipped to handle trials.

Right now, you look at yourself as an awkward girl in thick glasses and too much fat who doesn't know how to dress or do her hair. Your family's not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, and you can't imagine being able to afford to go to college. Well, those things won't really change, but your perception of yourself will. You'll soon realize that it's the experiences you have that define who you are.

So grab every opportunity that comes your way and live a life well lived. I promise, you won't regret a thing.

With Love,
30-Year-Old Kathryn

This post is a stop along the Dear Teen Me Blog Tour. The Dear Teen Me: Authors Write Letters to Their Teen Selves anthology by editors E. Kristin Anderson and Miranda Kenneally will be available from Zest Books on October 30. Don't miss this amazing book that features insights from some of my favorite YA authors, including Tom Angleberger, Daniel Ehrenhaft, Carrie Jones, Kekla Magoon, Jenny Moss, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Sara Zarr and more.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Welcome to My House


Yes, I saw all 13 pitches of Jayson Werth's walk-off homer live at National Park this evening. This is a game I will not soon forget and a team worth remembering.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Annual Fall Conference: Children's Publishing in 2012


There are only a few more days to register for the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Annual Fall Conference on October 19-20, in Sterling, Virginia. The keynote speaker is Karen Cushman, author of Will Sparrow’s Road and the Newbery Award-winner The Midwife’s Apprentice. Other faculty includes Tracey Adams, Kwame Alexander, Mary Amato, Ellen R. Braaf, Cynthia Cotten, Kelley Cunningham, Lezlie Evans, Amanda Luedeke, Emily Meehan, Daniel Nayeri, Anne Marie Pace, Valerie O. Patterson, Mary Quattlebaum, Candice Ransom, Joan Waites, Tina Wexler and Carolyn P. Yoder.

Visit www.regonline.com/scbwimidatlanticconf for more information and to register.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Don't Forget to Vote

Please forgive the following political post. I'll try to keep it as non-partisan as possible.

I am one of those people who is going into these elections totally undecided. While I don't like watching the debate and pretty much hate all campaign commercials, what is said and how the campaigns are handled will make a huge difference in how I vote next month. And as a voter in a pivotal swing state, I understand how much my vote matters.

If you live in Virginia and have not registered to vote, you must do so by October 15 to be able to cast your ballot in November. To register or change your address, download the Virginia voter registration application here.

If you aren't sure if you're registered or think you might be registered in the incorrect district, check your record here. You can also use this link to find the polling place where you are assigned to go.

If you live in another state, check with your State Board of Elections to find out how and when your registration must be completed. Everyone over 18 has the right to vote in the United States, and we should never take that for granted.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Third Grad School Reading List

This reading was very research focused. I wanted to look at books popular during the time period I'm writing about and books that write history in creative ways. I continue my journey in exploring poetry and novels in verse, and I collected a few odds and ends along the way. This eclectic list makes me wonder what books I'll discover in October.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland; Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by John Tenniel: The Disney version of Alice freaked me out as a kid, so I've never felt any desire to read the book. However, in recent years I've fallen in love with books like Peter Pan and Winnie the Pooh, which made me want to give this one a try. While I wasn't a huge fan of Alice's Adventures, I was amazed by the nonsensical meaning in Looking Glass. It's the type of book that makes you look deeper and think more about the meaning of every detail. And Carroll seems to do it so effortlessly.

My Antonia by Willa Cather: I wanted to read a book that explores more about the immigrant experience, and I knew this one was set in Nebraska. While it it's earlier than my piece takes place and about a rural experience, it’s truly beautiful novel. I hope that I can portray the same kind of hope and sadness, fulfillment and disappointment in what I write about the turbulence of Eastern-European immigrants in America.

The Whispering Rabbit by Margaret Brown: I often think of Brown as an author of "quiet" books, so I almost laughed when I found this one. While this bed-time book probably wouldn’t get published in today’s market if this was a first-time author (it’s far too long, the plot is slow, the writing lacks rhythm), I can see how it would appeal to nostalgic Brown fans.

One of the Family by Peggie Archer: This book is a good example of the highlighting family dynamics. Though to story centers on a new baby just beginning to show her personality, you get to know her through the distinct personalities of her older brothers and sisters.

Thomas and Beulah: Poems by Rita Dove: I read this book in about two hours and immediately turned back to the first page and started reading again, slower this time, so I could savor the imagery and beauty in the simplistic details. This is the far superior precursor to the modern novel in verse. It is a story woven by poetry rather than a story forced into poetic form. No wonder it won the Pulitzer.

Size 12 and Ready to Rock by Meg Cabot: I usually read Cabot's books for mindless fun, and I was surprised to find myself annoyed by the final installment of one of my favorite series. Cabot might be funny and romantic, but her writing lacks finesse. I found large chucks of the exposition repetitive, and her rambling stream-of-consciousness style is at times difficult to follow (i.e. I’d find myself forgetting what was happening in a scene because of so much random internal dialogue). But for what it is—fluffy, mainstream fiction—I still liked reading this book.

Who Was Louis Armstrong? by Yona McDonough, illustrated by John O'Brien: This was a good introductory biography to Louis Armstrong, and hopefully it will lead readers to more advanced biographies on the musician. When I read books like this, I can’t help but think, "I could totally do that." And with my love of history and research, it would be a lot of fun.

Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman by Marc Nobleman, illustrated by Ross MacDonald: One of my favorite parts about this nonfiction picture book is the use of real quotations to create dialogue within the story. It’s also a great subject matter that holds a cross-generational appeal.

Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell: There is a wonderful story somewhere within this mess of free-verse poetry. I’ve long been fascinated by Arthurian legend, and "The Lady of Shalott" is probably my favorite Tennyson poem—both of which Sandell uses well and honors with a unique perspective. However, the dialogue speaker-tags were difficult to follow in this structure, and there were so many words that it read more like prose with funny line brakes.

Polish Classic Recipes by Laura and Peter Zeranski: Some of my best childhood memories are of sitting in my ciotka’s kitchen while she made pierogi and kielasa z kapusta, but long ago I stopped caring about these traditional Polish foods. However, the same day I received this book in the mail, and I read it cover to cover, and the memories and smells and tastes flooded me all at once. I especially loved the authors’ stories about the history of each food and the family that helped them create each recipe.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

October Baseball

In case you missed the memo, I'm a bit of a baseball fan. I grew up watching and loving the Chicago White Sox, and baseball came back to DC the summer I did my internship here.

Because they're in two different leagues and 700 miles apart, I've never felt divided by my duel-fandom. When the White Sox won the World Series in 2005, I didn't have to feel sad that the Nationals barely eked by with a .500 record. When the Nats hit the very bottom in 2008, the Sox still had a post-season run. I will admit, 2009, 2010 and 2011 were some dark baseball years, but this season makes up for a lot of that.

This year has been amazing. Though the White Sox didn't quite make it to the post season, they were still a team to watch. With Philip Humber's perfect game early on and fighting to the bitter end, I'm proud of my Boys in Black. After all, they started the season with a new, untested manager in Robin Ventura. I remember watching Ventura play through my teen years, and I was anxious and excited to see his return to Chicago.

And the Nats. Wow, the Nats have blown me away this season. I've fallen a little in love with Gio Gonzalez, and I'm kind of in awe of how Stephen Strasburg and his coaches have handled his rehab. I feel like I've watched Bryce Harper grow from a moody teenager to...well, okay, he's still a moody teenage. I've seen the Nats win and lose, gotten sunburned and soaking wet. At Nationals Park, Teddy won his first President's Race (although I was working when it happened), the Shake Shack opened, and I attended my first sell-out game in Washington. This Nats team has become my team.

It was seven years ago I pulled a Tom Cruise and jumped up and down on my couch and screamed so much that my down-stairs neighbors came to make sure I was alright. Good thing I live in a townhouse now, because I see a lot of couch-jumping in my near future.

I love baseball in the fall.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Meeting My Rock Stars

It doesn't matter how many authors I've met or how famous they are, I go all fangirl with each one.

During George Mason University's Fall for the Book festivities last weekend, I got to meet Neil frekin' Gaiman. Granted, it was in a room with 1,500 other people, but there were only four rows between me and the author of Stardust, the creator of The Sandman comic series, the writer on Doctor Who, the bad-most-baddest bad guy on The Simpsons.


"The [books] I enjoy writing the most I also hate writing the most... I ask my agent, 'Why did you let me do this? I could have been a gardener!'"

The week before, I also attended The National Book Festival. I caught bits and pieces of several talks, including Walter Dean Myers, James Dashner and Lois Lowery, but the crowds were insane this year and I couldn't get a seat at anything.


My YA librarian friend came down from Pennsylvania, and we caught the end of Maggie Stiefvater's talk. And because we're both a bit gaga for The Scorpio Races, we bought copies of her new book, The Raven Boys, and spent the rest of the afternoon waiting in line to get the signed.


I guess I'll have to watch the presentations once they're post online. If I go all fangirl in my living room when no one's around to see it, will that still make me a nerd?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Mistrial

Last week, a second mistrial was declared in Prince Okorie's murder case. I'm a bit torn by this. No innocent person should have to suffer for a crime they didn't commit, but there also needs to be some kind of closure for everyone involved.

I look at the evidence presented in this case, and all I can think about is how I want justice for Prince and his family. I want the streets to be a little safer and fewer kids put in the horrible situations both Prince and this young man on trail found themselves in.

If this case is dropped or this young man takes a plea or he's found innocent, perhaps he gets away with murder, or perhaps an innocent man goes free. I'm almost ashamed to say I want him to be guilty--I want this to end. But I'm not judge nor jury in this case, nor am I God. I don't know what happened on the 800 block of Fifth Street NW the afternoon of November 30, 2010, and I probably never will.

Monday, October 1, 2012

What will you be reading?

It's the American Library Association's Banned Book Week. Every year there are fewer and fewer books on this list that I haven't read, but this year I think I'll pick up some of the picture books. Censorship abridges freedom of speech, which is against the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. By reading banned books, you can decide for yourself what you believe.


"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Next Big Thing

There are two schools when it comes to talking about your work in progress (WIP). The first is that you don't talk about it at all. Period. The second is that you talk about nothing else. I'm kind of a combination of both, and over the years I've become much more of the second. But my current WIP necessitates me talking about my work with a lot of people, and it's taken over such a huge part of my life that it's basically all I think about. So when the talented, beautiful, amazing Jessica Cooper asked me to participate in The Next Big Thing blog game, I agreed.

Here are ten questions (and answers) about my current WIP.

What is the working title of your book?
Okay, maybe this isn't going to be as easy as I thought. Right now it's just kind of labeled "Grandmother Poems," but that is just about the worst title possible and kind of makes me dread scrolling to the top of my manuscript. I've been tossing around some ideas like "Forest of Things" and "Children of No Country," but my working titles usually go through several amalgamations before I settle on something I don't hate.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
After complaining to a friend that I can't finish anything, he asked me the most basic question: "Why?" That made me think far more than you would expect. It also made me realize that I couldn't get to the end of anyone's story because the beginning of my own is all muddled. So I started at the beginning, writing about the grandmother. How very meta of me.

What genre does your book fall under?
Creative nonfiction is kind of the catch-all for what I'm working on. It's parts poetry, biography, memoir, speculation. Who knows what it will be in the end.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
All unknowns. My characters are very vivid in my head, so I'm not sure I'd be able to say who would "fit" the part best. Good thing I'm not a casting director, or even a screen writer.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
I will be the one to mark her grave: Leona Rodak Gaglione, 1917-1979, beloved wife and mother.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I can't imagine what agency would be willing to represent this type of book, so it might end up being self-published. But hopefully my other WIPs will get my foot in the door of an agency that's willing to take a chance on this.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
This is a WIP and very much in the early stages, but I'm hoping to have a draft finished within a year.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
It's a little like A Step From Heaven by An Na with elements of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer and Thomas and Beulah by Rita Dove. (Yes, I did just compare my mess of a WIP to Printz Award-winner, a classic novel, a New York Times best-seller and a Pulitzer Prize for poetry. And yes, I am aware that this could possible be the most ridiculous comparison ever made.)

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My grandmother's family immigrated from Poland a few years before she was born, and their lives were far from easy. My grandmother made some very bad choices in her life that still affect my family, but I've also seen how my father has been able to forgive and overcome the past. This book is an exercise in forgiveness.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
When most people think of immigrants in the early 20th century, they mostly think about New York City and the Ellis Island Experience. This WIP, however, is set in Omaha. When a lot of people think about Poland, they think about a country in Eastern Europe that gets invaded by just about everyone that is now a member of the European Union. This WIP, however, is about the strong cultural identity of a people with no country. I like exploring the unexpected, and I think others will like it as well.

I'm not a big fan of "tagging" people, but if you do a Next Big Thing post, let me know. I'd love to find out what you're working on!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Stepping into the Past

I've always been told I look just like my grandmother Leona Rodak. I've also learned enough about her to know that she made a lot of really bad decisions in her life, decisions that continue to affect my family even though she's been gone for almost 35 years. Though I never met her, she's had the single most influence over me behind the members of my immediate family--influence that hadn't always been for the good. So I've started a journey to make peace with my grandmother.

I've decided to embrace my Polish heritage and learn about immigrant life at the turn of the century. I've been contacting family members who knew Leona and her siblings, and I've done more research on Omaha from 1910-1930 than I ever expected to do. I've spent the past two months trying to piece together the lives of people who are no longer around to tell their story. I've also written page after page of poetry and prose, fiction and nonfiction about my grandmother's family. And I've learned a lot of unexpected things.

My grandmother was a pretty amazing person. She went through a lot in her life, and my family has left an amazing legacy of women who were independent, powerful, compassionate. Yes, her life was filled with mistakes and horrible tragedies, but it was also filled with incredible stories of survival and love. I've spent so many years resenting my grandmother that I never really took the chance to know her. But maybe looking like my grandmother isn't such a bad thing.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Second Grad School Reading List

I was helping some friends move yesterday, and probably my favorite part of "helping" was playing with their four-year old to keep her occupied while her parents tried to get something done. After her nap, all Little Miss M wanted to do was read books. It didn't matter what they were about or how old they were or what type of illustrations they featured as long as she got to hear a story.

M is often my source for picture book recommendations. Her mom takes her to the library and lets her pick about a dozen books to check out. With very little guidance, M ends up with a good mix of award-winners, best-sellers, old favorites, and some odds and ends. If we get through the entire book, I know it's a good one. If we talk about it afterwords or read it more than once, I know it's a keeper.

So in honor of M, here is my eclectic reading list for my second grad school submission.

Barnett, Mac. Oh No! Not Again!: (or How I Built a Time Machine to Save History) (or at Least My History Grade) by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Dan Santat: I like seeing how text and illustrations work together to create a narrative, but the illustrations carry this book. But it is a creative concept that plays up on funny moments.

All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg: This book is my favorite read from this packet. It’s great poetry, a solid plot and complex characters all rolled into a tight package. I’ll probably come back to this one again.

Vivaldi and the Invisible Orchestra by Stephen Costanza: Interesting theory on why the Four Seasons include poetic notes. Love that this is based in history but interjects plenty of artistic license. Gave me some good ideas on how to mix history and fiction.

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher P. Curtis: When I started this book, I found the stories mildly amusing, but after awhile, the vignettes about the town and its quirky residents got a little old. There was so much story here, and it wasn't coming together. Then, about two-thirds of the way through the novel, everything changed. The action started and the vignettes began to come together to create a powerful plot. I also liked the way the author used sound (specifically onamonapia) to add another dimension to descriptions.

Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going: The ambiguous ending feels like another beginning and makes me keep writing Troy and Curt's story in my head. For a child of the '90s, I felt an especial affinity for the homage to Kurt Cobain, yet this book manages to be contemporary and authentic, which can probably be attributed to it’s fantastic dialogue.

My Garden by Kevin Hanks: This book was sweet, cute and imaginative, but it was missing Hankes' usual flair for vivid characters, which is why I picked it up in the first place. I was hoping to see how is used character to drive plot in such few words. The “punch line"” at the end was clever even if it did lack the power Hankes' books usually carry.

Dinosaurs Before Dark by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Sal Murdocca: I will admit, I was surprised by how much I liked this book. I love Jack and Annie's relationship and how they work together to solve problems. This is a great example of how simple details can build characters in a short manuscript.

Vampirina Ballerina by Anne Marie Pace, illustrated by LeUyen Pham: This is a cute story that uses plot well. It’s kind of a high concept picture book: Twilight meets Ballet Shoes maybe. It was an interesting choice to use a second-person narration, but it works with this content.

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose: This is one of those books I’ve wanted to read forever but has sat collecting dust on my bookshelf since it was published. I’m really glad I finally picked it up as it contains some great theories on how to read looking at craft but still allow yourself to enjoy it.

Chasing Brooklyn by Lisa Schroeder: So I have this thing about emotionally manipulative books, and I think novels in verse are the biggest culprit. While I read this book fairly quickly and stayed engaged in the story, I was also slightly annoyed by it. Why the line breaks? It felt like the poetry was used as a framework for being overly emotive rather than being a catalyst for the story.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Where did we go wrong?

The first thing I read this morning was about a teenager being shot by another student on the first day of school in Baltimore County. I wonder if the victim was excited to head to school today, to see friends he hasn't seen all summer, to start new classes, to try out for a varsity sport and get ready for Homecoming. I even wonder if the shooter knew what he was going to do when he woke up this morning or if he had planned this act all summer. Did he feel bullied or threatened or just wondered what holding a gun would feel like?

Perry Hall High School is like many other high schools across America. It's located in a middle-class community and suffers from overcrowding. It has decent sports teams with an especially impressive baseball program. It boasts academic and art clubs, theater and dance. It was even where the 1987 version of Hairspray was filmed. And now it will forever be marked by a school shooting. The name of the victim has not been released as he is a minor, but I'm sure that he is loved by many people, probably a lot more people than he realizes. Classmates and teachers will worry until his status is released, and all of the parents who have students who attend Perry Hall will sigh in relief when they are able to see and hug their children again.

This was especially sad for me to read as just a few days ago, an honors student in Prince George’s County was killed in her home. I didn't know Amber Stanley, but I'm sure many of her classmates at Charles Herbert Flowers High School felt her absence when they returned to school the next day. After all, school has just started and they are already missing one of their own.

I can't help but remember the loss of one of my tutoring students to a senseless shooting almost two years ago. I often think about what Prince would be like today, how his family would be different, how his friends would be different. A shooting has far more victims than those who feel the impact of the bullet. Even a teen shooter represents a life lost as s/he will more often then not be tried and sentenced as an adult, end up committing suicide or spend the remainder of her/his life under psychiatric care rather then finishing school, getting a job, having a family of her/his own.

Too often we take children for granted. We think of them as future resources or in terms of their potential instead of looking at what they offer and accomplish in our communities today. We lump all teens together and call them lazy or ungrateful, that we adults were a better version of them in our day. In essence, we are teaching them that they do not deserve respect, encouragement or our investment. It's no wonder teens see themselves that way and treat other teens with the same contempt.

I'm not a parent and I no longer work with teens on a daily bases, but when I wake up to a news story like this, I can't help but feel like I have failed. Like we all have failed.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Making Some Noise

I'll be honest, I didn't really feel qualified to post about ethnic diversity in children's books, but then I read Linda Sue Park's blog post about this and she encouraged me to "make some noise." So while she probably said it much better than I'm about to and has a lot more experience with this issue, here's me, making some noise.

After reading NPR's list of "100 Best-Ever Teen Novels," I couldn't stop asking myself, "Where is the diversity?" Where's Matt de la Peña, Coe Booth, Lisa Yee, Walter Dean Myers, Rita Williams Garcia, Pam Muñez Ryan and Cindy Pon? Seriously, not even Maya Angelou, Alice Walker or Toni Morrison? I could keep naming YA authors of color for pages.

Granted Sherman Alexi manged to make the list at number thirty-one. Harper Lee's To Kill a Mocking Bird is third on the list, but that is still a white perspective on race. But this issue goes so far beyond books dealing with race issues that I'm not sure where to start. Many of the above mentioned authors don't even write books that address race relations--they simple write books with characters of color who represent the diversity and melding of cultures that make America great. We are stronger for our differences, and history has proven we are capable of change, even if it is hard and slow in coming.

Maybe we can excuse this because it is an NPR list, and their audience tends to be middle-class white people like myself (which is probably why I knew about this list in the first place). But isn't that even more of a reason to include diversity in our reading experience? We read to learn, explore, escape, so why are we reading so many books about the exact same type of people? Sure, you want to relate to the main character, but it shouldn't be skin color or even heritage that makes a character relatable.

In writing this, I also became fairly disappointed in myself. Why couldn't I think of a single YA author of Middle Eastern heritage? (Although I did think of Suzanne Fisher Staples's Shabanu, which is an amazingly powerful book.) I even checked my list of ten favorites on GoodReads, and not one of them features a character of color. So why is diversity missing from my own list?

The more I think about the NPR list, the more questions it raises about my personal reading choices, what books we expose children to and why we gravitate towards books featuring main characters of our own race. I don't know how to fix this problem other than to make a conscious decision on my part to read more diversely, but at least that's a place to start.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

First Grad School Reading List

My friend Heather Demetrios inspired me to post my reading list for grad school. As I don't have a lot of time to write in-depth posts and I won't write about the content of my grad program, I thought posting my annotated bibliography is the best way to keep everyone informed about what's going on in my life. After all, my life pretty much revolves around reading and writing now. Maybe you'll even get some hints about my current projects.

My Father’s Summers: A Daughter’s Memoir by Kathi Appelt: I’m fascinated by creative nonfiction, especially since we seem to like making nonfiction as boring as possible for kids. The prose poems and timeline of this memoir were fascinating, and I love how the author dealt with the themes of love and forgiveness.

Art and Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayler and Ted Orland: This book was recommended to me because I tend to become paralyzed by fear, so this book was very much written for me. The solution I discovered? The best remedy for fear is to work.

The Elephant Wish by Lou Berger, illustrated by Ana Juan: I usually don’t read picture books unless they are recommended to me via friends, awards or reviews, but this one I picked up because I liked the illustration on the cover. While this book was imaginative, it was a little too abstract and metaphorical for the lack of content.

D Is for Dancing Dragon: A China Alphabet by Carol Crane, illustrated by Zong-Zhou Wang: Now I know why they say if you're going to rhyme in a picture book, do it well. The informational sidebars were good, and the illustrations were okay, but overall, this book is kind of forgettable.

George Washington: Soldier, Hero, President by Justine and Ron Fontes: While this book is decently written and a good overview for the intended age group, I was disappointed by some of the historical content. It glossed over some of the most important details of Washington’s life and even had some, not necessary inaccurate, but most certainly misleading information.

Rapture of the Deep: Being an Account of the Further Adventures of Jacky Faber, Soldier, Sailor, Mermaid, Spy by L.A. Meyer, narrated by Katherine Kellgren: It's fascinating how the author increased tension and developed characters in ways that are only obvious when the book is read aloud.

The Tale of Benjamin Bunny by Beatrix Potter: Potter uses simple words to convey vivid images—you almost don’t need the illustrations. And the characters practically hop off the page (bunny pun intended).

The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter: I loved how the narrator would sometimes switch to second person and directly address the reader to bring it to a personal level for a child.

The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordon, narrated by Kevin R. Free and Katherine Kellgren: Riordan utilizes all of the sensory descriptions to surround the reader with the action. His stories might not be unique or moving, but they sure are fun to read. Listening to this as an audio book is also a fun experience as the protagonists are “recording” their experience for Riordan to publish, so it lends itself to the medium.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, narrated by Steve West and Fiona Hardingham: The characterization in this novel is brilliant. By using humor juxtaposed to harsh reality, Stiefvater makes Puck a unique, relatable character. I also love how she grounds us in a physical place in the present before inserting flashbacks and memories.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Name Dropping

I survived my first residency at VCFA. If you want to read about what residency is like, head over to my classmate Lisa Papademetriou's blog or learn a little about my faculty adviser Kathi Appelt at Through the Toll Booth.

As some of you know, I also took a jaunt up to Montreal for a couple of days after residency and climbed Mont Royal, watched Shakespeare in the Park, ordered some food in French, visited a library and saw a lot of churches. Here are some pictures:



Now that you're all caught up on my life, I really need to get back to homework. I've still got a ton of reading and writing to get done before Monday (like ten pages of creative work, one more critical essay [which is almost finished] and four books for my annotated bibliography). But I'll leave you with a new list: a few books by my classmates. (Sorry if I missed any of you! Let me know and I'll update the list.)

Haiti Noir by Ibi Zoboi
Lantau Life by Jane Houng
The Moon Came Down on Milk Street by Jean Gralley
Sixth-Grade Glommers, Norks, and Me by Lisa Papademetriou
The Color of My Words by Lynn Joseph
Tina Cocolina: Queen of the Cupcakes by Pablo Cartaya
Little Lions, Bull Baiters & Hunting Hounds by Shelley Ann Jackson

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Life Ever Changing

As I sit here, taking a break from packing for grad school, I can't help but think about all the different adventures I've had in my life. I left home when I was 17 for an internship in our governor's press office, and I feel as though I've been on the road ever since. In my eyes, that's not a bad thing. I've been lucky enough to put down roots in many different places across the United States, and no matter where I am, I'm never in want of a friend.

Getting my master's degree in creative writing for children and young adults wasn't exactly in my life plan, but now that I'm about to embark on this new chapter in my life, it feels so right. My roots will extend a little farther, and my experience will extend a little further.

I feel I need to make a little disclaimer about my grad program attendance. While I often post highlights from book talks, writing conference and literary events on this blog—and will continue to do so—the content of the lectures I attend, communications with my advisors, discussions with my fellow students, etc. will not be shared on this blog. That doesn't mean I won't post my personal, general impressions and pictures of outings with classmates, but the content of the program will not be featured.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Storm Update

Growing up in tornado country, you spend a lot of time cleaning up after storms. You spend at least one weekend every summer shoveling muck out of a basement, cleaning up downed branches or picking up debris. And then serving a mission for my church in hurricane alley... Well, let's just say I saw my fair share of floods, over-turned trailers, uprooted trees and water-logged garbage.

But I've always been the lucky one. My home has always felt like the calm in the storm. Knowing my mom and dad would take care of us, that the power would be turned on soon, and that friends and family would be there if things didn't turn out so well.

This weekend has been a strange mix of the two. While I was without power for only 25 hours and I had plenty of nonperishable food and emergency supplier on hand, many people in my community haven't been so lucky. None of the stores have reopened, a lot of the traffic lights are not yet working, many cars are still buried by branches and the garbage is piling up everywhere. Emergency services still haven't been fully restored, and there is a lot of uncertainty around here. Probably the worst part is that I didn't have my family right around the corner to help.

Then again, I had several friends come and check on me when our cellphones weren't working. Another friend invited me to spend the hottest part of day at her pool and then welcomed me into her home to charge my phone, check my email and get some homework done. Though she had family visiting, another friend made up a bed for me so I didn't have to spend the night alone in my overheated apartment, and yet another friend two states away was ready to have me as a last-minute houseguest if my power hadn't been restored.

I still don't know when everything is going to be back to normal. Heck, I don't even know if my office will have power in the morning. But what I do know is that even when the unexpected happens, there are always people willing to help.

Monday, June 25, 2012

My Internet-Free Saturday

I decided to go without the internet on Saturday to try to minimize distractions for a productive day. And while there were some annoying side-effects (I wasn't sure what time the library closed, the name of an actor in a movie I was watching escaped me, I couldn't check Facebook to see if my friend had her baby), I was more than pleased with the results.
  • I finished a friend's book, D-day And Beyond: A True Story Of Escape And Pow Survival, which I've been trying to find the time to read for a month now.
  • All the documents that have been piling up on my desk are now in my filing cabinet.
  • I laughed aloud while reading the delightful Z Is for Moose by Kelly Bingham, ill. by Paul O. Zelinsky.
  • I cooked, yes, as in used my kitchen to prepare meals.
  • My sister would be proud: I made a pie.
  • I went to the library, recycling drop off, grocery store, library, gas station...
  • I taked to my mom and my sister and looked up flights to Chicago for my cousin's wedding.
  • The manuscripts critiques for next month's workshops are nearly finished.
The list could go on forever. I don't know why I'm always surprised by how much I accomplish when I go internet free. We think technology has made us so much more productive, and while in some ways it has, it's also giving us more resources to waste our time.

So in July, I'm going to limit my internet time to one hour each night. I still have to be online for work and will check email throughout the day, but I seriously need to cut back on how much time I spend online. We'll see if I can exercise any self control.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Daddy's Girl

I haven't always been a daddy's girl. In fact, there were a few years there in my late teens/early twenties when I thought my dad and I would forever have a strained relationship. Maybe it's because we're both so stubborn and set in our ways that we never really tried to understand each other. Then one day—quite out of the blue—I realized I was what needed to change about my relationship with my father.

So here we are, ten years later and 700 miles apart, and I'm closer to my dad than ever. I thought about him often this week. Practically everything I did came as a direct result of something my father taught me to love. I work in Washington, DC, because my father knows the importance of being politically active; even the field I work in is directly related to my father's work. Every time I downloaded a new song on my mp3 player, I thought about sharing it with my dad because he's a musician and music lover. I watched old Star Trek (Deep Space Nine and Voyager) episodes because I grew to love the series when my dad watched The Next Generation with us. As I listened to baseball games (both Nationals and White Sox), I thought of the games my dad took us to and how we used to complain whenever he'd steal the remote on Saturday afternoons and turn on a game. Each time I opened up an assignment for grad school, I thought of how proud my dad is that I'm getting an advanced degree because he never had the chance to finish college.

Then last night, my thoughts turned sad when my dad posted on Facebook about how much he missed his own father. My grandfather passed away many years before I was born, when my father was still in high school. My father's gone about 40 years without his father there to ask career advice, to watch a baseball game, to chat about the day. It made me think about how lucky I am to be able to miss my dad and then pick up the phone and hear his voice. How blessed I am to have had 30 years, more than 11,000 days, to have my father there for me.

I know this is a really sappy, but it's Fathers' Day after all. So even though there were a few years in there I'm sure I didn't say it often enough and miles prevent me from saying it in person, I love you, Dad. I always have, and I always will.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Boys of Summer Playlist

It's been a long time since I've posted a new playlist, but I couldn't resist when I started thinking of how great it would be to have all my baseball songs in one place. Now I listen to it practically every day on my way home from work to put me in the mood for the Nationals or White Sox game (both if the timing works out) I'll be listening to. In honor of the Boys of Summer, here's a list of my favorite baseball songs:

"The Boys of Summer" by The Ataris
"The Ballad of Russell Perry" by Vigilantes of Love
"What a Game" by Ragtime Cast
"Mrs. Robinson" by Simon & Garfunkel
"Piazza, New York Catcher" by Belle & Sebastian
"Brown Eyed Handsome Man" by Chuck Berry
"Cubs In Five" by The Mountain Goats
"Sure Shot" by Beastie Boys
"Heart" by The McGuire Sisters
"Catfish" by Bob Dylan
"Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?" by Natalie Cole
"T-E-A-M (The Baseball Game)" by You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown Cast
"A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request" by Steve Goodman
"Whatever Lola Wants" by Sarah Vaughan
"Tessie" by Dropkick Murphys
"Glory Days" by Bruce Springsteen

If you need more songs about baseball, check out the soundtrack to Ken Burns' documentary Baseball, which is an amazing collection of a century's worth of the sounds of baseball. It also includes seven different versions of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

Monday, June 11, 2012

And the Tables Have Turned

I have an intern. Yes, after all the internships I've done over the years (there were three, the first when I was 17-years old), I now have a poor, unsuspecting college student to dump all of my crappy projects on. Okay, you know that's totally not true. The teacher in me would never allow myself to do that. Even though the next few weeks will be ridiculously busy, I know how important this learning experience is for both my intern and me.

In honor of Intern Maggie and her excitement to expand her skills and be a productive member of our staff, here are the five greatest lessons I learned as an intern:
  1. Always give more than people expect. One supervisor was over the moon when she found out I know my way around Adobe Creative Suite and loved that I had experience with library catalogs and could organize all of her books. I used to work in a billing department? I have no fear about talking to total strangers on the street? I'd coordinated an office move before? I could write a letter-to-the-editor? It's good when people have high expectations of you, but it's even better when you have high expectations of yourself.
  2. Learn to love whatever you're doing. I've been asked to do some pretty boring tasks as an intern—including filing an entire year's worth of papers and reading 25 newspapers a day to compile clippings. You might be socked to learn I enjoyed both of these tasks because they allowed me to read and learn and know what was going on in the world. Finding something to love in the menial means you can feel fulfilled no matter what you have to do.
  3. Love where you are. I've been an intern in Springfield, Illinois, and Rexburg, Idaho, both Podunk towns to this city girl. But after years away, I can still tell you my favorite picnic spots, the best places to eat lunch and 101 fun things to do without having to step foot in a club, museum or sports arena. Every town, neighborhood, building has something unique to offer.
  4. Write your own syllabus. The summer I interned in DC, a friend and I created a for-credit class, which meant we could spend one day a week doing whatever we wanted. We explored the alphabet soup of DC, listened to House debates and interviewed government officials. Not many classes can offer as diverse an education as an internship can.
  5. Keep in touch. I love seeing what my fellow former-interns are up to, and it always makes me happy when someone I used to work with has a new success. Business contacts are good, but friends are even better.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ray Bradbury: Changing the Direction of American Literature and My Childhood

It had to be the most ridiculous book I had ever read. Making booze from weeds, a broken-down carnival game, a Podunk town in Illinois. Seriously? I couldn't believe my English teacher was making me read such a stupid book for my first reading assignment in high school.

It wasn't until the following summer—long after the tests and essays and in-class writing assignments were over—that I truly read Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine. But somewhere in the nine months of my freshman year, I became ready to understand. Maybe summer allowed me to see the beauty in bottling up the magic of childhood. Or maybe I was finally ready to put away my adolescence and start becoming an adult. But in my second attempt at reading about Douglas, Tom and Charlie, I understood that even as we grow up and move on, a little part of us stays a child forever.

Since my first experience with Bradbury more than 15 years ago, I've read many of his other books. None of them had the same impact on me as Dandelion Wine, but there are several bottles in the cellar of my soul, each with a label of a book that changed me:


So thank you, Ray Bradburg. You might not be with us any longer, but your words will stay with us forever.

Ray Bradbury (August 22, 1920-June 5, 2012)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Books, Brainstorming and Baseball

I can't believe it's June! Seriously, where did May go? Or for that matter, what happened to April?

My first writing assignment for grad school was due this week. I had to put together a 20-page submission for critique groups that I will participate in this summer. I was shocked by how difficult I found it to pick what to submit. This is the first exposure my classmates will have to my work, and perhaps more importantly, I'll be getting feedback from a wide variety of readers. That's a lot of pressure—to pick something that still needs work but isn't so rough that my fellow kidlit-lovers will think I'm a hack. I finally settled on a piece that I'd love to be working on but has taken a backseat to other projects.

VCFA also sent the lecture list for the coming semester and recommended I read at least some of the source books for the lectures. To get started, I read The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt. As some of you may remember, I heard Schmidt speak at the National Book Festival last year, and his words had a profound affect on me. And now that I've read one of his books, I respect Schmidt all the more. He made me laugh and cry by weaving Shakespeare, baseball and modern American history into a great story.

On Wednesday I attended another lecture for the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum's First Amendment Center. This was a panel on religious freedom and the press in Iran. Wow, what a powerful subject. At some point I'd like to write a more detailed blog post of some of my thoughts and highlights of this event, but in general, it made me realize how woefully undereducated I am on this subject.

October might seem like a long way off, but planning for the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Annual Fall Conference is in full swing. And I still can't get over the fact that I'll get to meet Karen freakin' Cushman. That's right, the award-winning author of Catherine, Called Birdy and The Midwife's Apprentice will be our keynote speaker. The fangirl in me is already squealing. I just hope I don't embarrass myself in front of one of my childhood idles. Honestly, there's not a chance that I will get through this meeting with any semblance of dignity and grace.

I was supposed to attend last night's baseball game between the Nationals and the Braves, but a severe thunderstorm put an end to the game before it even started. Instead, my friends and I stood in the pouring rain, sharing our favorite baseball stories. The rain delay also meant I got to listen to an awesome win by the White Sox. I still can't get over how lucky I am to have my hometown team be in first place in the American League Central and my adopted hometown team be in first place in the National League East. Can you imagine what I mess I'll be if they face off at the World Series? I know it's bad luck to speculate about these types of things, but I can't seem to help myself.

But today? Today I claimed my own little piece of sunshine and soaked in the rays with a good book (Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore in case you don't recognize the cover). My desk might be a mess and my laundry might remain in a pile, but I can't think of a better way to spend my day.