Thursday, December 1, 2011
Today I have a special guest, Diane Mayr, here to talk about her online poetry collection, Kids of the Homefront Army: Poems of World War II America.
Diane is a multi-talented author, with a varied career. Before we get into your poetry collection, you just received some exciting news about your Thanksgiving book, Run Turkey, Run?
Yes, that's right. Run, Turkey, Run! will be opening off Broadway as a musical in the fall of 2012. By "off Broadway" I mean way, way, way off--downtown Portsmouth, NH! It will be performed at the Seacoast Repertory Theatre http://www.seacoastrep.org/. A talented young man by the name of Miles Burns, is the director of the children's program there. He used my book as a starting point and wrote a script and a score. It should be a fun production! I'm sure to have more news closer to the opening, so stay tuned...
Can you tell us about Run, Turkey, Run?
I was a children's librarian from 1986 though 1997 (I'm now an adult services librarian/assistant director). Back then, there wasn't a whole lot available for the story hour crowd that I thought my preschoolers would understand. Books about thankfulness went over their heads. The same for books about pilgrims. I wanted something that would be fun, and that would allow little listeners to participate. Since I couldn't find the book I needed, I wrote it myself! Ask my critique group--during my children's librarian days, I wrote a lot of holiday books! Basically the story is very simple--turkey needs to hide from the farmer, so he looks for places right in the farmyard. When that doesn't work, he heads for the woods. The book has everything you need for a preschool audience--it's silly, it requires the listener to answer questions, it's repetitive, and it has a happy ending. The illustrations by Laura Rader are perfectly suited to the story.
(Here's a little something for beginning writers--if you believe in your work, continue to submit it. Run, Turkey, Run! was rejected more than 2 dozen times! I used to say to myself, “If I ever get it published, I could die happy.” I believed in the book. I knew it would be perfect for story hour. And I wanted to die happy, so I kept submitting it.)
Our readers might want to check out Diane’s Littlebat’s Halloween Story, too.
Diane, you also have a number of nonfiction books available on a range of topics from apples to money. I wondered how you balance writing fiction and nonfiction. Is your approach to each genre different? Which do you prefer?
At the risk of sounding flaky, I'll say that fiction is a gift. Sometimes it seems as if fiction and poetry come from someone I don't know--”Did I write that?” Nonfiction is more like work. But, since I love research, it's fun work. I definitely prefer fiction and poetry right now. Writing nonfiction releases my “timidity” demons--Will I be able to research as much as I think is necessary? What if I leave something out? What if I write something and someone says, “Hey, you got it all wrong!” How scary is that?
Of course, if you're writing historical fiction, you have to get the history right, too! But the pressure is more intense with nonfiction, and, as most of the nonfiction work is on assignment, there's the added pressure of guidelines and deadlines.
The truth? I could no longer wait to be discovered by an editor who shared my vision.
Before I wrote the book, I was in contact with many people who were kids during the war years. Some of those I interviewed, or those who filled out questionnaires for me, have passed away. I felt like I was letting them down by not getting the work published. I wanted to tell their stories, and to repay the favor they did for me by sharing their stories.
I started on the project in 2001. I had planned on writing a simple nonfiction book about kids during WW II. I abandoned the project for a while, and then had an “aha!” moment in 2006 when I realized that the story I needed to tell had to be told through poems. Everything fell in place and I wrote like crazy--sort of like I was possessed. (I warned you about sounding flaky! Linda, I was glad to read your interview with Padma Venkatraman who also mentioned being possessed!) I tried to sell the book to trade publishers and a lovely local publisher, but I ended up thinking that the editors' visions weren't the same as mine. I decided to remain true to my vision for the book and that if I were to die happy, I'd have to do it on my own. So, being a fan of blogs (I have a number of them), I decided to post the book serially. I publish two poems a week, on Mondays and Fridays, at www.homefrontarmy.com.
Diane’s poems take on a variety of viewpoints. Some are written through the eyes of a child. For example, we hear young Eddy’s voice in A General. Can you share that poem with us and tell us a little of what inspired it?
I’ve been working real hard.
It’s nearly the end of the school year
and if I can earn a few more points,
I’ll get to be a one-star general!
Won’t Mom beam when she sees that!
She’ll say it was worth all those hours
helping me tie up bundles of papers
and crushing tin cans.
Grandpa will get tears in his eyes
when he sees my commission.
It was because he bought
so many savings stamps off me!
But I’ll be proudest of all!
Who cares if I got a D in 'rithmetic?
Or that teacher wrote on my report card,
"Eddie needs to pay attention."
No one will care
when I’m a general!
© Diane Mayr, all rights reserved.
WW II was truly a shared experience. Everyone participated in the war in one way or another. For a kid, especially one who may not have excelled in other areas, there was the opportunity to make a contribution. That's the feeling I wanted to relay with Eddie.
All of the poems are from the point of view of a different child. They range in age from about 8 up through the teens.
In another poem, we hear Sylvie who is leaving school and heading to California to work. She’s bursting with anticipation. Can you tell us about that poem?
Again, as with Eddie, Sylvie was presented with the chance to do something out of the ordinary and to make a difference. There's a lot of hard work ahead of her, but there's also the romantic notion California. The Hollywood Canteen and all those boys await! For someone who may not have cared for school, the increased need for women workers was the perfect excuse for leaving and going to work.
Some of your poems speak of sacrifice and the sorrow of lives lost, but others show another side of war. I was particularly struck by Marguerite’s poem, When The Lights Go On Again… Can you tell our readers a little about it?
This poem was inspired by a memory that someone shared with me. This person, a teen during the war, was able to get a good job only because the normal labor force was employed in the armed services. He told me that at the end of the war, while others were celebrating, he was thinking about how his job would be gone shortly. It was the same for women workers who were expected to go back to being girlfriends, wives, and mothers once the men came home from war. When I came across the photo of a young black woman worker, the poem came together. Who would have a job once the war was over? Not Marguerite.
Kids of the Homefront Army is illustrated with marvelous photographs, posters, and ads from the 40’s. Where did you find all this wonderful material? Did the photos spark the poems or did you start with the poems and hunt for photos to illustrate them?
Ebay! I started collecting WW II memorabilia, postcards, magazines, etc. almost as soon as I started thinking about the project in 2001. As for the photographs, most are from the Office of War Information collection of the Library of Congress. We are so lucky to have the Library of Congress make these materials available online. Great sources for the ubiquitous governmental posters are the online collections of the University of Maryland and Northwestern University Library. The internet is truly a wonder!
Many of the poems were inspired by the photos. Others were written based on stories I was told, and then, I would search out photos to illustrate them.
It's amazing to me how much I didn't know about the early 1940s before I started researching the WW II homefront. The photographs provide a visual for today's kids who are unfamiliar with the social life during the war.
Things that kids take for granted today didn't exist back then. Shortages made life more difficult. Imagine life without rubber for the elastic in your underwear! (I've got a poem coming up on that topic!) Or being limited in the number of pairs of shoes you could purchase. Or imagine writing letters! How many kids today write letters outside of school assignments? It was a different world.
When did you begin Homefront Army? How long do you think your blog will run?
I wrote 80 or so poems in 2006, but I'm still adding new ones as I go along. I started posting in June of this year. I post about 8 a month. There are now about 90 poems, so, it will be nearly a year before they're all on the site.
Do you have any ideas for future blog projects?
Not at this point, although I started a book of poems about the great New England Hurricane of September 1938. I won't finish it because it is too depressing--so much death and destruction occurred. In 1938 there was no FEMA to help people recover and rebuild.
I'm using a Facebook page to augment the Kids of the Homefront Army blog: www:facebook.com/homefrontarmy . On the page I add related videos and links. Social media is a handy tool!
Are you working on any projects for traditional media?
No. What I'm working on most often is haiga (illustrated haiku and other short form poems). Some I post on my blog, www.randomnoodling.com, some are published in online haiku journals such as Notes from the Gean www.notesfromthegean.com.
Thanks so much for stopping by! We enjoyed hearing more about Diane Mayr’s work and about Kids of the Homefront Army.
Thanks for the opportunity to speak to your readers, Linda, I hope they will visit Kids of the Homefront Army, http://homefrontarmy.blogspot.com/and share it with others!
Friday, November 25, 2011
By Linda Crotta Brennan
Whap! He whales the whiffle ball into the neighbor’s bushes
And runs wrong-way round invisible bases.
His thin body, stretched by a recent growth spurt
Can’t contain the life in his swinging arms and pumping legs.
Just before first base, he swerves,
Pouncing on the lounging golden retriever.
Boy and dog wriggle, wrestle, roll in the grass,
Then the boy pops up and continues his counterclockwise circuit.
Diane Mayr will be stopping by on December 1, when she'll be talking about her online poetry collection: Kids of the Homefront Army: Poems of World War II, http://homefrontarmy.blogspot.com/.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Today I’d like to welcome Padma Venkatraman, author of the award-winning novel, Climbing the Stairs. She’s here today to discuss her new book, Island’s End. Thank you for joining us, Padma!
I’m fascinated by your far-ranging physical and spiritual journeys. You weren’t originally a writer. In fact, at nineteen, your passion for mathematics and science led you to leave your native India to pursue a graduate degree in Oceanography in the United States.
As an oceanographer, you conducted research on crocodiles in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands off the coast of India. Your contact with the tribal people of these islands inspired Island’s End. Can you tell us about your stay on these remote islands and the people you met there? (The photos on this blog are from Padma's trip to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.)
Living on the Islands was one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had. Life had a different pace there - it felt calmer - and when I lived there in a tiny little cottage near the rainforest with next to no possessions, I felt far more satisfied than I imagined I could be. I loved the simplicity and warmth of the people I met while I was there.
Though you were a scientist, you always had a great love of literature. Your first books were nonfiction, biographies of women mathematicians and scientists. You also wrote folktales and eventually you evolved to writing novels. Could you tell us about your transformation from scientist to writer?
My love of words was and is far deeper than my love of numbers (though I do love that world as well). But at first, writing was a sort of hobby to me - something I enjoyed doing in my sparetime. And I don't consider anything that was published before my debut novel, CLIMBING THE STAIRS, appeared to be examples of me as a writer. I only took myself seriously as a "writer" during and after CLIMBING THE STAIRS appeared - and the novel is of a far higher standard (in my opinion) than any piece I did before it -I call it my first book because it feels like my first real work as a writer - what I did before seems like play, and just not comparable with my novels - which reflect the real writer me. And now that ISLAND'S END is here, I know for sure, I'll always see myself as a writer. Science fulfilled my intellect alone, writing fulfills me more deeply and completely.
You were the only woman on the research team to the Andaman Islands, and both your novels have featured strong female heroines. Do you feel a kinship between Vidya in Climbing the Stairs and Uido in Island’s End? Do you see echoes of these girls in your own life?
Undoubtedly, my experiences as a woman in a male-dominated field enter my writing. When I was writing ISLAND'S END, I was going through a lot of self-doubt about my writing abilities - and I think Uido's initial concerns might reflect my own lack of confidence. Then again, I wrote ISLAND'S END because I felt like I was hearing a voice that was telling me her story - an almost surreal experience - so sometimes I feel like "the voice" wrote the story - that it doesn't really "belong" to me - though it was through me that the story was written. I love the process of writing - especially this "hearing voices" thing. Sometime I think writers are schizophrenics who shut themselves up with a computer when they hear voices...
In some ways, Uido is the opposite of a scientist. As a shaman-to-be, she learns through dreams and spirit guides. What do you see as the relationship between science and spirit? How have these two ways of viewing the world informed your writing?
My time on the ISLANDS opened up my mind - and expanded my world view - and taught me to respect and give credence to ideas/experiences/cultures that existed beyond the mind-set and framework of science. I think I've inherited, from the Hindu tradition, a sense of spirituality that embraces and respects all paths to the higher goal of living a better life and being a better person. Spirituality and philosophy interest me - and I have a sort of scientific curiosity about different ideas of spiritual truth and reality. My scientific training also gave me the gifts of questioning and rewriting. My characters often embody questions that interest me - and as I rewrite I ask my characters lots of questions so I feel like I deeply know them - questioning helps me occupy their emotional space.
Can you tell us about your process in writing Island’s End?
Writing ISLAND'S END was different from writing my first novel - in part because I had a child (who took up a lot of my time and energy, so "real life" often intervened and it was a challenging to find the time and mental space to live inside Uido and her world). But then again, writing it felt magical, because I had the incredible feeling like I could hear the voice - a voice that sort of possessed me - in a marvelous and refreshing sort of way.
You’ve already begun another novel. Could you tell us a little about it?
My third novel, tentatively titled A TIME TO DANCE, is inspired by someone I knew - a dancer who overcame physical disability to excel at what she loved most. I'm working on it with my wonderful editor Nancy Paulsen (who also helped ISLAND'S END come alive) - and the novel will appear on her list (Nancy Paulsen Books).
Do you have any final words for our readers?
I fell in love with the process of writing as I wrote my two novels - so that's when I started to consider myself a writer. To me, equating publication with being a writer is as silly as confusing marriage with true love. Just as marriage isn't necessary for true love to exist - publication isn't a necessity for a writer. Publication - and everything that goes along with it, like acclaim and awards are a wonderful gift for a writer - but shouldn't be any writer's end goal. A writer's goal should be to remain eternally in love with the writing process.
I'd love to invite your readers to stop by my website www.padmasbooks.com - and to download the virtual lesson plan I created and the fabulous discussion guide my publisher Penguin created. Even if they aren't thinking of using ISLAND's END in a classroom or book club setting, I think some of the exercises are fun - my favorite is one that I did because a teacher who read my book pointed this out to me. Uido, Lah-ame, Danna and Ashu - were, in my head, associated with water, air, earth and fire - and interestingly, the language I ended up using (metaphors, verbs etc) to bring alive each of these characters keeps the association with these 4 "elements" - a really interesting aspect of pattern in the novel that I enjoyed (re-)discovering! Thanks again, Linda, for inviting me to be on your blog!
Thanks so much for stopping by! I know our readers will enjoy Island’s End.
ISLAND'S END (my 2nd bk) trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUcrpFNFNiQ
* "consistently engrosses...refreshingly hopeful and beautifully written"
- Starred review KIRKUS
* "a lovely novel...offering an enticing blend of mystic tradition and imaginative speculation"
- Starred review PW
* "Vividly written and expertly paced ...a moving story that will stay with readers long after the end"
- Starred review SLJ
* "succeeds spectacularly...an intricate yet wholly accessible story"
-Starred review BOOKLIST
Dr. Padma Venkatraman's author website with free downloadable resources: www.padmasbooks.com
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Here is one of my better poetic attempts:
Zucchini like zeppelins
My table sags under their weight.
We slice them,
Until the vine shrivels up and dies.
While I'm continuing my poetry, I'm going to have to take a break from blogging due to a writing assignment. But before I go into writer's hibernation, I have one more author interview to share with you. On November 16th, I'll be talking with Padma Venkatraman http://www.padmasbooks.com/ about her latest book, Island's End. Hope you can stop by!
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Friday, October 28, 2011
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Saturday, October 1, 2011
Celebrate the release of The Challengers by Greg R. Fishbone! This is the first book of the Galaxy Games series, published by the Tu Books imprint of Lee & Low Books. In this hilarious middle-grade romp through space, eleven-year-old Tyler Sato leads a team of kids representing all of Earth in a sports tournament against alien kids from across the galaxy.
Great Galactic Blog Tour
Join Greg during the month of October for the Great Galactic Blog Tour! Every day for 31 days, Greg will spotlight a different children's literature blog with book giveaways, author interviews, in-character interviews, excerpts, deleted scenes, and more. Happening right now is the Launch Day Giveaway. There are lots of ways to enter!
Puzzle Piece #1
The site of the day will also feature one of 31 "puzzle pieces" that will lead one reader to a grand prize. Here is the first piece in the contest:
- Series: Galaxy Games
- Title: The Challengers
- Hardcover ISBN: 978-60060-660-1
- Author: Greg R. Fishbone
- Illustrator: Ethen Beavers
- Publisher: Tu Books / Lee & Low Books
- Ages: 9-12
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Kara LaReau, author of a number of picture books including OTTO, THE BOY WHO LOVED CARS http://www.karalareau.com/
Kim Newton Fusco, author of the middle grade novel, THE WONDER OF CHARLIE ANNE http://www.kimberlynewtonfusco.com/
Greg Fishbone, author of the new GALAXY GAMES series, who will be stopping by on his web tour. http://gfishbone.com/
I'll have dates and further information soon!
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
I found this gem in the Library of Congress' digital historical newspapers, www.loc.gov
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
I was stymied by one particular scene. I had moved the setting back in time, and Jane, my main character, was learning how to bake biscuits in an old fireplace. I'd done my research, and managed to get in the steps involved without overwhelming the reader with information and bogging down the pacing. But something was missing. What on earth was it?
I was reading an article in the SCBWI Bulletin www.scbwi.org about putting emotion into illustrations when I realized that was what was lacking. The scene wasn't about Jane baking biscuits, it was about how Jane felt baking those biscuits. My scene finally had a reason for being.
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
I’ve been using Anita Nolan’s book mapping strategy (www.anitanolan.com/theend.html) to get a visual picture of my novel.
I discovered a weak subplot and set about revising to make it stronger. Of course, changing one part of a novel always affects another section…
I’d love to hear from anyone about strategies they use in revision.
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Spent a lovely day at the Lilac Festival at Arnold Arboretum http://arboretum.harvard.edu/ watching the Ladies of the Rolling Pin perform.www.ladies-of-the-rolling-pin.org
One of her unique suggestions is to list five roles (daughter, friend, worker, etc.) that your character has in declining order of their importance to him/her at the beginning and end of the book. It made me think of my MC's story journey in a whole new way.
Thursday, May 5, 2011
And what drives a woman to excel in a culture that downgrades her abilities?
Friday, March 25, 2011
Sunday, February 27, 2011
Rabia of Basra (717-801) said it much more poetically:
putting my hands on a pot, on a broom,
in a wash
but it was easier to fly slicing
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Two authors, whose books I've read recently, have been able to pull it off beautifully. Both women are also poets.
Kim Fusco in The Wonder of Charlie Ann and
Pat Lowery Collins in Daughter of Winter.
Both books are historical novels, and I wonder if readers are more accepting of poetic language in the mouth of of a historical character. Daughter of Winter is written in third person, and I do think poetic prose is easier to carry off in third person.
But The Wonder of Charlie Ann is written in first person. Yet Charlie always sounds like a kid. The reader always believes in her voice. Remarkable!
I need to exercise, flex my own poetic voice--and not be so afraid of it.
Saturday, February 12, 2011
So here's my contribution:
Take leftover rice. Add brown sugar, raisins, milk, and a touch of cinnamon. Heat it in the microwave for 45 seconds.
Presto, delicious breakfast!
Sunday, February 6, 2011
I just finished a new book on the Revolutionary War--History Digs: Revolution and the New Nation (Cherry Lake Publishing).
I've also been working on biographies for Women of the Ocean State: 25 Rhode Island Women You Should Know. Princess Red Wing is my next lady. She was a dynamic spokesperson for her people, the Wampanoag and Narragansetts.