London’s Book Benches and other Book Art

Twr of London, book bench (2)

I spotted the first book bench inside the lobby of the British Library. ADORABLE! I couldn’t take a photo of it because no photographs were allowed inside the Library. Also, there was a man sitting in the middle of it. Too, it was poor lighting. (Poor lighting in a library, you say? Yes, I answer, for photography, anyway.) Later we spotted another book bench at the Tower of London and later yet near St. Paul’s Cathedral.  They are new. There are more. This trip wasn’t intended as a treasure hunt for book benches, but I could see that as a London goal! It was fun stumbling upon three of them. They are very unique and whimsical.

With more and more readers reading from electrical devises, this artsy-bench is a lovely throw-back. I mean, can you see yourself sitting on an iPhone bench? Not quite the same feelings as on a book bench. Besides, what about those unintentional phone calls when you sit down?

When we visited Canterbury, I spotted a lovely little second-hand bookstore (yes, I HAD to buy a book in there). On the tip-top self, out of reach without a step-stool, they’d displayed books with folded down pages into different art forms. I wasn’t quite sure if I was offended or delighted with this. If it were one of my books, I’d be offended. However, if they were made from books which the owner found disgusting or would never-ever sale, then changing them into true art is an entirely different matter.


EBooks are handy and available, and my own books are available in both print and eForm. But how could you ever (even how horribly written it might be) make an art form out of an eBook?


(For an article on the London Book Benches, check out: )
Sandy on Book Bench

What is success?

Today, a friend congratulated me on my success of being a published author. Maybe it’s because I’m coming down with a cold, but instead of responding to what he said, I merely stared back. (Belated sorry, Brian.)

“Don’t you feel that it’s been successful?” he asked.

Some more creepy sickie-staring on my part before I sucked in a breath just to let him know I was still alive. However, his comment gave me honest pause. My book, THE TOWN THAT DISAPPEARED, has been available for about a month. I haven’t read any stats about how many books are sold by authors in the first month of their first book, so I ignorantly have nothing to compare it with. Instead, my whole sickie-throught-process made me not worry about what success means to others, but what success means to me.

I decided I love the creative act of storytelling and writing. Being able to do that in itself feels successful. Writing regularly and sending chapters through my critique group on schedule is successful. Completing any project is successful. Setting it aside, starting another, and coming back to the first for a few dozen revisions is successful. But most of all, sharing with kids and teaching them about writing and history feels awesome.

In summary, yes, I feel successful because I completed a project and equally because I get to teach kids. Is my book successful? I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

When’s your next book coming out?

One question several people ask me is, “So, when is your next book coming out?”

I should just answer, “Why, thank you. This summer.” But I don’t.

When I explain that it took eight years for his particular story (THE TOWN THAT DISAPPEARED), from story seed to publication, the asker usually pops open his or her eyes. When I explain that for the past thirty years I’ve been learning the craft of writing by reading books, participating in critique groups, attending writers conferences, joining writing organizations and listservs, taking classes, etc., their look changes to, “I’m sorry I even asked.” But masochist that I am — I mean, teacher that I am — and wanting non-writers to realize what all goes into becoming a good writer and a published author, I continue on that as a self-published author, I must also do all the marketing, promotions and publications. By this point their eyes are glazed over, staring over my shoulder at something in a tree behind me.

Short answer: This coming summer!

Morality and the Writer – Reader

(Preclaimer: last week’s post had some stimulating discussion both here and on my FaceBook page,. Thanks to all who participated. This week is a follow-up, and definitely writing-related. I will probably go back to my writing challenges in the following weeks.)

Does our society have morals? Should we writers have our characters display morals to parallel today’s society? What and where are the standards? The Ten Commandments from 4,000 years ago only recently were outlawed in public schools, with a quick and dramatic increase in activities counter to those ten simple “rules.”

You would think to not tell a lie is a rather basic moral choice: Truth, good; Lying, bad. Three off-the-top-of-my-head acceptable to society examples of lying today involve cheating on tests to get into schools (e.g., stealing answers or taking drugs to enhance metal abilities) , or not paying income taxes, or fabricating stories in memoirs. Even the leaders of our country do this. What about our doctors or other health care people?

On sexual behavior (or some who use moral standards like those 4,000 year old guidelines may call misbehavior) — what are the consequences of our actions? And bottom line, who pays for said consequences? If one engages in sexual activity outside of moral laws, of course, that is one’s own choice. But if said person insists that others (e.g., the government or insurance companies) pay for the consequences, who owns the individual behavior?

So my question comes down to, if we can no longer use ones which have worked for thousands of years, then what are the moral standards today?

I challenge you to make your own list. Even thieves and murderers have their own standards they follow. Can we writers for children and teens agree that there is such a thing as morality today, and if so, what are those new standards?

The Writing-Gardening Analogy

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There’s a part of me which loves analogies; another part exhibits a gag reflex “if I hear just one more.” Disclaimer: Today I’m in the former mindset. Read ahead… if you dare.

Four years ago, I went to the Tulip Festival in Holland (Michigan). I shot more than 200 photos, until I thought I could make it through the rest of my life without ever seeing another bloomin’ tulip again.

Flash forward in time.

More than a week ago, news reports in southern Michigan stated that the tulips in Holland were in bloom, and they were concerned there may not be many left for the annual Tulip Festival, held each year on the first Saturday of May and the following eight days. Sometimes I hear, “No you can’t,” my rebel spirit emerges and I hear myself respond, “Oh, yes, I can,” whether I really have the desire to do said something or not. So, last Wednesday — April 4th, and 31 days before the Tulip Festival is to start — I drove the ninety minutes to the west coast to check out the flowers for myself.

Yep, the tulips are in bloom a month early; and, nope, I didn’t take over 200 photos this year. Instead, I spent some time on the deserted Lake Michigan beach and made a video of a Nursery Rhyme. I went to the Holland Museum and folded an orgami tulip. I went to Windmill Park and made a different Nursery Rhyme video, also taking a dozen or so photos. I trekked out to Veldheer Tulip Gardens because they plant 3.3 million bulbs each year. I’m guessing that next month for the festival, the city of Holland will have to hire people in tulip costumes to line tree lawns and cluster together in parks.

All this burst of colorful gardening reminded me of writing. (Do I hear a heavy sigh of “At last!” from those analogy-lovers?)

How I see writing like gardening:

First, you must plan your garden, plan where to plant what. In writing, a story starts with a seed, and then as the story grows, the author must organize and plan chapters, sometimes transplanting a scene elsewhere, or tossing it onto the compost pile. You also must plant seeds in good soil, and keep adding good soil and fertilizer. For the writer, this means knowing your craft, constantly learning to write better, and keeping up with what is getting published in today’s market.

Secondly, comes the planting of your garden. This is the rough draft, the throwing out of all sorts of seed, which you know you may have to thin back at a later date.

Next the gardener weeds and waters. This parallels to critique group look-overs and author revisions. It’s a lot of hot and dirty work, but necessary for a good result.

After that, maintenance must be kept up. For the writer, this means to keep the story looking fresh and beautiful for submissions to agents or editors.

Finally (if there hasn’t been a hail storm or tornado ripping your crop to shreds), comes the harvest. Yes, my friends, that’s a contract with expectations of publication.

Go work in your writing garden.

An Evening with Jane Yolen

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I blame my ignorance about learning of the event on last May’s tornado, which continues to hold a grip on me. I blame my stumbling upon the event to nothing less than divine intervention.

Last Sunday, I happened into our public library to complete an overdue critique group assignment, where I discovered that the very next day, my favorist author among all my favorite authors, Jane Yolen, was coming to my little town. How could I have missed knowing about such an influential writer speaking just a few miles from my house!

Sunday was crazy-busy for me, but on Just-hanging-out-Monday, I felt like I was getting ready for a prom date. That night, I’d see Jane Yolen in person! There was that nervous stomach thing going on, a tightness in my throat, the turning upside-down of my library trying to find and then decide which books authored by Jane I should take along, the wondering why the day seemed seven times longer than usual. Does she like blue? Maybe I should wear red instead?

I arrived at the building as soon as the doors were opened, expecting to find a line going down the street to the entrance. The parking lot was empty. There wasn’t a line. My heart sunk. Had the event been cancelled? Or maybe something happened that Jane couldn’t make it? (I found out laster, she had transportation and food difficulties.) Perhaps people hadn’t arrived because of the 82 degree summer-like weather, or because of the parent-teacher conferences going on. Whatever the reason, besides the book sellers, I was the first to arrive. I bought a couple of her new books, then wandered into the empty auditorium. I still felt stunned wondering where everyone was. I knew my teacher-friend who normally attends author visits with me <wave to Becky> couldn’t come at the last moment (conferences). I headed towards the front. I looked up to see Jane Yolen — THE Jane Yolen — gliding alone across the dark stage from the book-signing table to the podium. I felt both bold and at the same time like a small mouse. This was/is Jane Yolen, but, after all, we are friends on FaceBook. I may have leaped right up there, or I may have taken the side steps, but within seconds I was shaking hands with Jane, praying I wouldn’t purst into tears and that I’d be able to remember my own name. Eventually, about two hundred people came.

Jane’s Books and Booksigning:

Jane has written more than 300 books for children and teens, and a collection of poems after her husband died. Monday evening, she signed books both before and after her talk, personally inscribing each. I lingered nearby for the before-talk signing, hoping some of her authorship and experience would gently blow over me. She made eye-contact with each person as they handed her a book. She engaged them in conversation, asking questions. Most impressive to me was that if an elementary school aged child handed her a YA book to sign, Jane held the book in her hand, looked directly at the child, and after ascertaining her age, told her or him that the book was written for older kids, not really for her/his age group. She then turned and addressed the parent and made sure they understood, adding. “I’ll sign this now, but I don’t want you to read it for a couple of years, all right?” Of course, the child verbally agreed. Personaly, I would have wrapped the book in satin and kept it under my pillow until my 12th birthday.

Jane’s Hour Talk:

She explained how she was first going to read some picture books, and then, before she read some of her YAs, she would not feel insulted if younger kids and their parents got up and left. However, there were only a handful of teens, and many younger children. I’m thinking she adapted the talk on the fly, depending on the audience. She integrated her writing life and personal life as she read some poems in BUG OFF and five picture books, including OWL MOON. Her words and expressions sounded like her written words, e.g., “… these insects are really icky… and wonderful.” She told the story of how nearly everyone she knew knew before she did that OWL MOON had won the Caldecott Medal, but they weren’t allowed to tell her until illustrator John Schoenherr was told.  She concluded by reading SNOW IN WINTER.

About Writing:

Both of Jane’s parents were writers — her father was a journalist, and her mother wrote short stories and crossword puzzles. So child-Jane had the impression that all adults were writers. She acknowledged there were other jobs in the world, but assumed they were all authors when they weren’t working their non-writing jobs.

There were several times when I thought, I felt, I knew Jane was speaking directly to me.

She told us that she’s been other things, but she’s always been a writer. Like dancers and athletes who train and exercise every day, Jane writes every day, even if it’s as simple as title options or journaling or jotting notes for another story. I’d mentioned to her before her talk, how Emily Dickenson only had eight of her poems published while she was alive. Jane ammended that by saying it was seven poems. Then, during her talk, she brought up that very thing, adding that Emily Dickenson was “a neighbor,” living two towns away (when she lived). Jane quoted one of Emily’s poems called “Tell It All,” looking at life slantwise and how writers need todo the same.

Question and Answer Period and Beyond:

Six children came to the microphone to ask Jane questions. Two of the answers I find worthy of repeating here. 1) Q: How many years or days did it take you to write a book? A: The shortest was three days; the longest was twenty years. 2) Q: How much do you like writing? A: I’m never happier than when I am writing. I was mean when I wasn’t writing.

When I mentioned to her before the talk, that thrice my manuscipts have made it to acquisition groups, she assured me that I just hadn’t found the right editor, and urged me to keep trying. After the talk another teacher friend and her teenaged daughter <wave to Jodine and Marissa> and I talked about Jane for a while, and then as they went up for a book signing, I decide to have Jane sign a third book for me. When I reached her, Jane reminded me not to give up (writing), and then, as she handed me back my book and I reached for it, she didn’t let go. She looked deep into me and said, “Keep in touch.” I was certain she meant I was to let her know as soon as I get that elusive book contract.

Oh, how I love my heroine, Jane Yolen. I want to be just like her when I grow up.

From the Old to the New

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I had need to use my old baster the other day. Pitiful thing. I didn’t mind it, didn’t notice it being old nor pitiful, UNTIL I’d bought a new one for my daughter-in-law. That new one was so slick. It sucked up the juice real fast-like, filling up the entire holder in less than a second. Using my old dripping, half-filled, semi-functional one made me think of writing. Of course, it did. For all roads lead to writing in a writer’s mind.

 Here’s the parallel: what was good and classic 35 years ago, doesn’t cut it in today’s writing world. Can writing be less wordy, more proactive, and certainly more tight, and still be(come) a classic today. You bet. What used to be acceptable in writing 50 or 35 years ago just doesn’t cut it today. Things have even changed in that past 20, or 10, or 5 years. Writers may not whine, “But I just want to write.” Writers today must not only be writers and marketers, but aware of yearly writing trends.

So how do we keep from being 35-year-old basters? By tossing out the old and get started with the new. Whiners are not allowed here. Keep the old that works, certainly, but pay attention to the new that works slicker and more effectively. Read books on writing. Go to conferences. Listen in on focus groups and listservs. And by all means W-R-I-T-E!

Why Write? (part II)

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I feel like standing up and saying, “Hi. My name is Sandy. I’m a writer.”

I haven’t confessed to too many people that I actually have four blogs. I don’t post on them all regularly, but they are four very different blogs on very different subjects. For instance, I also have a humor blog where I write true funny family stories, but also stick in some good old clean jokes now and then. That blog is strictly for sharing the funny. Another blog concerns my husband’s occupation — b.o.r.i.n.g. to most people.

Why four blogs? For compartmentalizing different focuses.

I also have written nonfiction articles, as well as stories cross-genre and cross-age, from PB to adult thrillers. (The last is under a pen name, so as not to confuse my dear children readers.)

When I was a freshman in college, my advisor — a very plump woman threatening the existence of her chair, with narrow eyes which burned into your very soul — asked me what I wanted to be (when I grew up). I got all fluttery and replied, “I just don’t know. I love being outside, but I love working with kids, and I want to help people, and I want to explore places, and –” She slammed her hand to her desk to stop my babbling. I was startled because, after all, she’d asked. She waggled her finger at me and said, “Focus. Decide on one thing and do it.” Then she waved me out of her presence with the back of her hand. I was devastated. But then, I ended up in a profession which did all of the above. I was an elementary school teacher, and a girl scout leader, later becoming a wife and mom and cub scout leader. I really COULD do it all. Ha on her!

Coming back to my wide interest in writing… I feel my former advisor shaking her pudgy finger in my face with a “Focus!” Will I ever learn? Could I focus on just one series and write a bazillion stories with those characters? Not sure it’s in my varied personality. But because of my families adventuresome spirit, I don’t need to do tons of research for what it would be like in many situations. We’ve been there. OH! something I hadn’t thought about because it is far too scattered to focus into one book — a memoir!

March’s 20,000-Word Challenge

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Now you see! With thirty-one days in the month, and no scheduled holidays off from school or work, THIS makes for a much better writing challege month (v.s. November/ NaNoWriMo when it’s not only one day shorter, but has THREE holidays thrown in the mix, plus the holiday weekends often with family buzzing about).

So… simple dimple writing challenge: Write 20,000 by the month’s end. It does not have to be edited. It could simply be Raw Writing (writing without thinking with the editing coming later).

An Evening With Gary Paulsen

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Last night I hd the privilege of attending a library-sponsored “Evening with Gary Paulsen” at the W.K. Kellogg Auditorium in Battle Creek, MI. Known for his Newbery Honor Books, HATCHET, THE WINTER ROOM, AND DOGSONG, at 73-years-old, Gary looks like a cross between Santa Claus and Red Green. Although his hour-long talk was biographical, listening to him was as much fun, and certainly as interesting, as reading a book by him. It isn’t that Gary has led a good and lucky live. Quite the contrary. His real-life adventure demonstrates a fascinating and interesting life of a writer.

Gary grew up in northern Minnesota with both parents drunks. As a kid, he was never a reader. His life changed when he escaped the cold one winter day, by stepping into a library. The librarian asked if he wanted a card. He never had anything with his name on it before, plus, someone took an interest in him.  It took Gary a long time to finish that first book, but when he did, he went back for another, and another. Each book took less time to read. He is the author of over two hundred books. 

At 17, he forged his parents’ signature and joined the army, mostly to get away from his parents. He worked as an engineer on missiles and satellite tracking. In 1963, he was making “two grand” a month, at a time when teachers made two grand a year. He decided one night he wanted to be a writer, got up, turned in his security badge, and quit his job. He wrote a story involving missile guidance systems, forcing the FBI to question him, thinking he was a spy. He was so excited with his first book that he didn’t tell them they misspelled his name for fear they wouldn’t publish it.

He went to Hollywood where he got a job by lying about his writing credentials. He made a penny a letter, which amounted to about $380 per month. He knew he wasn’t a good writer, but there were good writers where he worked. He wrote westerns. Gary approached three of them who agreed to meet with him each week to critique writing, insisting he write a chapter a day during the week, and three chapters over the weekend.

With no money, he left Hollywood, just like he left engineering. He paid $25 per month for a cabin on a Minnesota lake, snaring rabbits for food. He wrote all winter and in spring, he sold two books. He went to New Mexico where he started drinking for the first time in his life, and became “a full-blown alcoholic.” In 1973, he got sober and went back to writing. He signed a 20-book deal with a children’s publisher, but the book club never sent him money for his books. He went from rich to poor, and moved back to Minnesota.

Minnesota passed a law that it was legal to trap animals by dog sled, but not with motorized vehicles. So Gary invested in dogs and a dog sled. This experience changed his life. He didn’t have a lead dog, but he saw a dog lying in the back of a pickup truck, ready to be “put down.” Gary took the dog, fed it two beavers, and the dog, Cookie, survived and because his lead dog. Cookie also saved Gary’s life when he fell through some ice and was sinking in the water like a rock. He grabbed a dangling rope and Cookie pulled him to safety.

Gary heard about the Iditarod in Alaska, and businesses in MN supported him, allowing him to participate. He came in 42nd place on his first race, and was hooked. He wrote the Newbery Honor Book DOGSONG after a young Inuit boy approached him during a race, wanting to see what a dog looked like.

I could only post a few of Gary’s stories here. I could easily have listened to him for hours. Gary Paulsen is a fascinating man with fascinating adventures, and, of course, excellent writing skills.