Saturday, December 20, 2008
I think this will be my favorite Christmas "card" of the year, and it comes from illustrator Jay Stephens in Canada. Jay created THE SECRET SATURDAYS for the Cartoon Network, and used my book TALES OF THE CRYPTIDS for inspiration. Today, he sent me this fantabulous holiday greeting, so who can blame me for wanting to share? Gotta love the fun folks we get to meet writing away. : )
Ho, Ho, Ho!
Here's a shout out our fellow native Northwesterner David Shannon (though he now calls SoCal home). His Too Many Toys, was named a Top Ten Children's Book of the Year by Time Magazine. Mr. Shannon was recently here in Spokane, for Whitworth University's annual Writing Rally. He never fails to entertain. Congratulations!
--Under the Covers
Friday, December 19, 2008
I've been in basically two places the last two days, out shoveling a record snowfall from my driveway or in my study writing. I'm not complaining about either. I love a snow day! The whole town practically closed down and it feels like a vacation. Except that I work at home in my study, so no excuse to skip writing.
At HipWriterMama Vivian posted a photo of her writing space yesterday, and links to several other writers who also posted theirs. The voyeur in me loved seeing them. The show off in me wanted to post my own. So here it is. All that white you see out the window is snow. Don't miss the coffee cup. I can't write without my double mocha.
Having my own space with my own clutter all around me is important to my writing process. My study is a sun porch off my bedroom, so my kids have to go through two doors to get to me. My husband makes me clean up my piles of books and papers in the rest of the house, but in my study I can pile all I want to. It's cold in winter, especially now when the temperature is falling below zero, so I have a little space heater under my desk, and I put heated rice bags in my lap. They are fabulous, if you need a way to keep warm. Also good for those pains in the neck and shoulders. What's the best thing about your writing space?
Thursday, December 18, 2008
While researching a current novel I spent this fall in Turkey, following in the footsteps of St. Paul. I took this photo in one of the cave churches in Cappadocia. I couldn’t believe how vivid the colors of the frescoes remained after so many centuries. Something about the utter simplicity of these caves, including the caches of mineral pigments I saw in the soil on the trails leading to these places---left me awestruck in a way in which no European cathedral has. There is something so much more raw, unadorned and unself-conscious about these sacred spaces. Remembering them helps brings me closer to the spirit of Christmas during this busy time of year.
---Meghan Nuttall Sayres
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
The following two articles were first published in the Western Washington SCBWI newsletter in August 2008. Since then the economy has nosedived and like the rest of America, publishers are facing hard times.
By Hannah Trierweiler, January 2009 Hamline MFA graduate
True confession: I began the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program in writing for children at Hamline University with some reluctance. For months prior to sending in that deposit check, I debated whether or not an MFA would be worth the time — several writers told me I’d learn just as much from working on my own — or the money — not a small sum, considering that if and when I ever get published, my advance will likely be less than one semester’s tuition. But ultimately, I leapt, and now, a year later and well into my third semester, I’m absolutely thrilled that I did.
Hamline is a new program. The first class will graduate in January 2009. But from the beginning, it has operated without the roadblocks you’d expect from a program in its infancy. In part, this is because core faculty members, including Jane Resh Thomas, Phyllis Root, Ron Koertge, and Liza Ketchum, are veteran instructors from the Vermont College MFA program. But the Hamline program also owes much of its success to Dean Mary Rockcastle, who is a writer herself and deeply invested in the program. Mary attends every lecture during residencies, sits with students at meals, and is unfailingly open to discussing questions and concerns. I’ve never met another administrator like her, and I know she’s determined to make the program the best it can be.
Hamline functions much like other low-residency MFA programs. There are two eleven-day residencies per year, one in January and one in July, each followed by a semester of working one-on-one with a faculty advisor. In addition to those listed above, the faculty includes Jacqueline Briggs-Martin, Kate DiCamillo, Kelly Easton, Lisa Jahn-Clough, Ron Koertge, Alexandria LaFaye, Mary Logue, Alison McGhee, Marsha Qualey, Claire Rudolf Murphy, Gary D. Schmidt, and Marsha Wilson Chall.
This group is overwhelmingly open and generous. Faculty members make a point of getting to know all of the students—not just those they advise or who attended their own workshops during residencies. While each faculty member tends to specialize in one or two genres, most are open to working on projects outside their direct area of expertise, and there’s a good balance between those focusing on fiction and nonfiction for picture-book, middle-grade, and young-adult readers.
Thus far I’ve worked with Jane, Gary, and Phyllis. Each has made me feel as if I’ve won a writer’s lottery. Every packet of work that I’ve sent in has been returned with a detailed cover letter and line edits, and I’ve heard similar reports from my classmates.
Going to the residencies is a bit like going to summer camp. It is my busiest 22 days out of the year, as well as the most inspirational. Workshops have made me rethink and re-imagine my novel, making it much stronger in the process. Lectures about the challenges of the writing life have made me cry (in a good way). I’ve gotten a sneak peek of works-in-progress from some of my favorite authors. And I’ve met some of my heroes, including visiting writers M.T. Anderson, Lois Lowry, and Emily Jenkins (E. Lockhart). And I can’t forget the late-night, wine-and-cheese bonding sessions I’ve had with fellow classmates.
You wouldn’t think I’d be thrilled to go to Minneapolis in the dead of winter or during the hot, muggy summers. But the Minneapolis/St. Paul area offers a wealth of resources for children’s writers, including the Children’s Literature Network and the Kerlan collection at the University of Minnesota, which has archived original manuscripts and editorial correspondence from hundreds of children’s authors. There are also several outstanding bookstores a stone’s throw from Hamline. While I live in New York City, the heart of the publishing world, I’ve loved having the opportunity to become involved in another community that cares so much about children’s literature. And I’m excited to see how Hamline—and my fellow classmates—will be a part of enriching that community in the future.
Why Teach in a MFA Creative Writing Program?
I love being part of Hamline’s MFA program. I believe low-residency creative writing programs have taken off because manuscripts today need to be almost publication ready before a contract is offered. With sales driving the bottom line, editors must devote more time to marketing and less to editing. Skills developed through students’ creative and critical writing in the program can lead not only to publication, but to editorial, teaching and book review opportunities. Since an MFA is a terminal graduate degree, it gives a writer the needed credentials to teach at the collegiate and graduate level.
At my first Hamline residency in January 2008, I told the students I had longed for a program like this while earning my MFA twenty years ago. Back then I wanted to jumpstart my writing career, but since none of the faculty wrote children’s books I was instructed not to include YA characters in my stories. I studied the craft of fiction and great literature, but had to learn about children’s books on my own.
At Hamline, students study all genres in children’s literature and are encouraged in write in every genre during their five-semester program. Mentored by a different writer each semester, they learn to how to work with varied editorial styles, an important skill for one’s career. Students send a packet of 20-80 pages four times a semester. The instructor responds with written comments and an editorial letter and occasional emails and phone calls, much like the editorial process with an editor. Mentoring writers has challenged me to articulate what I know about my craft and search out what I don’t. I recommend exemplary literature and craft books in their genre. This term my students all began working on shorter nonfiction projects, but some manuscripts evolved into historical fiction picture books, contemporary novels and longer nonfiction book proposals, as they explored the best way to tell their story. In every packet, I encouraged them to reflect about their own writing process and to identify their passion for each project, the enthusiasm needed to carry them through the rigorous revision process.
Faculty and students hail from all over the country. Contact me any time with questions about the program: email@example.com.
Monday, December 1, 2008
The phone rang as I tossed sautéed vegetables with pasta. My husband said, “It’s for you. It’s Sue Burgess.”
I thought of reminding him I never take phone calls when I’m cooking dinner. But Sue Burgess rang a bell. The name piqued my curiosity.
Sue told me she was calling to announce I had won this year's Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Nonfiction Work-in-Progress Award.
“You’re kidding,” I screamed. So much for original phrasing. She said she wasn’t.
“I can’t believe it,” I screamed. “I’m so excited.” My family stood in the kitchen staring at me. “Thank you. Thank you.” I kept screaming. Sue probably began to wonder if the $1500 shouldn’t go to someone with a few more words in their vocabulary. But she was very kind and said she loved making calls like this.
I don’t know if the pasta dish was finished, or if anybody ate it. I told my family the good news, and then phone all my writing buddies to tell them.
The grant money will fund research for a biography on Fannie Sellins, an early 20th Century labor activist. Sellins had a passionate belief that workers deserved better lives and the charisma to convince them to believe it too. She knew coal miners would not give up their paycheck and walk a picket because their children would starve, so she found food and clothing for their families.
A compelling speaker, she stirred wild applause, often evoked tears and inspired hope. Hats filled with money for the union cause wherever she spoke. Ordered by a West Virginia judge to stop speaking in public, she refused. And went to jail.
She was so successful unionizing miners in Western Pennsylvania that coal company operators threatened her life. She refused to be bullied into leaving and was shot to death on the picket line in 1919.
I am passionate about telling this woman’s story and it means so much to me that the awards committee believes it’s worth publishing. The grant is endowed by SCBWI Board member James Giblin. The noted author and editor named the Anna Cross Giblin award after his mother who enthusiastically supported his own non-fiction writing for young people.
“I can’t imagine anything that would have given her greater satisfaction—or be more appropriate tribute to her memory….” Giblin says, than indirectly helping encourage other nonfiction writers.
~~Mary Cronk Farrell
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Days ago I set out to find a Christian Orthodox church with a living breathing community. I recently found this in a neighborhood along the Golden Horn called Fener, which refers to light. It is the home of the seat of Eastern Christian Orthodox Church and has been here in Istanbul since Byzantine times. The Patriarchate of the Greek Orthodox church has been in this particular neighborhood since about 1601. I read that the present church of St George was built in 1720. There are relics inside of at least three saints and the throne supposedly dates to Byzantine times. What stuck me about this sanctuary is its modesty. I happened upon it on a Sunday when a Mass was underway. The chanting or hymns sung before the priest entered the church sounded like opera mixed with the type of hum one might hear from Buddhist monks. Tourists flooded in and out, snapping pictures and taking video recordings.
Walking the streets in Fener that surrounded this church revealed a multifaith community. Women wearing head scarves and women dressed in black chadors—the covering more often seen in Iran—went about their errands. In this part of the city the homes maintain an old-style charm, colorful with bay windows and situated on steep cobble stone streets. Apparently, UNESCO is investing in restoring this area and another nearby neighborhood of Balak. To me, it had the atmosphere of an inner-city village of decades past. Quiet and few cars. There are other churches here as well. The one whose name caught my interest was St. Mary of the Mongols, if only because I’ve never heard the word saint associated with the word Mongol. St Mary’s story is a fascinating tale of a Christian who was sent to wed a Mongol khan in Persia. She converted many to Christianity and after the death and assassination of her two subsequent husbands, she went back to Istanbul and started a convent. As an aside, after reading Jack Weatherford’s book Genghis Khan, little would surprise me further about Mongols. Weatherford reported that Genghis held interfaith debates, they were like festivals and lasted days. He allowed freedom of religion across his vast empire.
Further up the Golden Horn I visited the neighborhood of Eyup and its mosque, which after Mecca and Jerusalem it is likely one of the most sacred places of pilgrimage in the Islamic world. The burial place of Eyup (Job) Ensari, the friend and standard-bearer of the Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon them. I hadn’t known this about the mosque the afternoon I covered my hair with a scarf and entered, but it became evident that this holy site was of special significance. People flocked here on a Sunday, a day other than Friday. The courtyard had a celebratory air. People picnicked, fed pigeons and let their children run free. Inside the mosque itself, I sensed a cheerful feeling, more so than any other mosque I’ve visited. A large tree, perhaps hundreds of years old, bended toward the earth in the middle of the courtyard. Men and women lined up to touch the grill overlooking the site where I believe Eyup Ensari was buried. Blue and green tiles covered one wall of the inner courtyard. It is a mosque I wish to visit again. People seemed very welcoming of me and my American friend.
It is interesting that in Istanbul two of the most important sites belonging to both Christianity and the Muslim world have co-existed for centuries in neighborhoods that are nearly side by side.
One of my favorite moments in Istanbul was my second visit to the Kucuk Ayasofya mosque by the artist atelier that I mentioned in an earlier blog. I left my shoes at the door and walked inside to find an empty carpeted room. The quiet made my ears ring and it was then that I realized how much noise I had adapted to in the previous weeks. Several chandlers hung from the high domed ceiling, which was painted in delft blue hues on white. Sunshine streamed in through windows high up on the wall. It seemed much later before my hearing readjusted and I heard the random gleeful cry of a child outside and then the hum of traffic and the horrendous rush and roar of the tram that sprinted by. Its unnatural and frightening sound seemed a crime against this peaceful sanctuary.
My eyes fell on prayer beads that lay on a platform beside me, awaiting whoever may come to use them. Soon, two people walked in, a man and a woman without her hair covered. They sat on the platform besaide me and I soon heard the clicking of the glass beads as the man moved between his fingers in prayer.
Sometime later, a woman wearing a deep red scarf wandered in and sat on the platform that the man and woman vacated. Her soft murmurs, small utterances drifting my way. When she left, I found myself reciting the words, Hail Mary full of grace....
Hail Mary’s in a mosque. In a mosque that was once a church. St. Mary of the Mongols. The distinctions begin to blur. Blur so sweetly, peacefully.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Sahafler Carsisi, Second Hand Booksellers Market
Wondering through the oldest market in the city, the Second Hand Booksellers courtyard is probably one of the most quiet and leafy and pleasant of all the markets in Istanbul. It has been located at this same spot since Byzantine times, where book makers and paper makers worked. Today, bookstalls and bookcases and tables covered with books spill onto the walkways together with sellers of pens, reading glasses and the perfect browsing snack, simit, Turkish pretzels. Everything seems available, such as antique miniatures taken from 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th century books, Korans in all sizes and colors, dictionarties, travel books as well as popular Turkish, Russian and Western writers works.
In a miniaturist’s stall I found images painted in shades of indigo of Noah’s Ark, and Jonah and the Whale, both Noah and Jonah wearing turbans. I also saw 17th century paintings of astronomers and alchemists in the Topkapi Palace as well as my favorite, a miniature done in red and gold and black and white of a writer at work. He sat in front of a desk that looked liked a three-dimensional triangular box, which served as an easle-like desk. The author painted his words in calligraphy.
While strolling I stopped at a stall that happened to have the translation of a novel by Michael Gurian Turkiye De Bir Amerikali Mistik, American Mystic in Turkey, a writer from my hometown Spokane, Washington. The book was situated just outside the door of a bookshop, at eye level. The world shrank in that instant and I marveled at the odds that I had stumbled on Gurian’s work.
When the call to prayer permeated the market from the nearby mosque, men clogged the foot traffic as they stopped to wash their hands and feet—the ritual cleansing before entering the mosque—in the marble sinks that line one of the main lane of the market. In the Sahaflar Carsisi —as in a good novel—life and work and prayer are one seamless story.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Saturday, October 25, 2008
There are rabbits in Istanbul too, but as far as I can tell, there are only iki—two—and they tell your fortune. People stop and pet them and some, like me, ask for a fortune. The rabbit fortune teller offers them in English or Turkish. His rabbits sniff out a fortune for you from a board that is stuffed with tiny pieces of paper, inside which are morsels of lettuce. I chose a fortune written in Turkish, which my Turkish teacher read but unfortunately would not translate for me during class time. After much anticipation, and much trouble while using my oversized Turkish-English sozluk, I showed my slip of paper with the fortune typed on it to the clerk at my hotel. Ufuk, who studied English for two years in New York. relayed the good news...Whatever problems I may have had with my work in the past, after taking a respite (which, coincidentally, I am doing just now, in Istanbul), will be gone when I return and/or I will bring back new insight with which to deal with these problems. I understand this fortune to mean that after my stay in Turkey I will discover exactly how to revise my current novel, and that the manuscripts my agent is presently trying to sell, will be sold by the time I return! A guzel fortune indeed. Cats and all.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
"Yok, kucuk, Agha Sophia" No, a small Agha Sophia, I explained, hoping he would understand that I meant church. My Turkisk-English dictionary, too heavy to carry, I had left in my room.
"Kucuk? Kucuk?" he asked, because undoubtedly I wasn't pronunciating correctly.The policeman rested an arm on the machine gun strapped across his chest. "Small? Small Agha Sophia?"
"Yes!" I smiled and nodded.
The elder man walked at least a half of mile with me out of his way toward the church. Along our route he asked people of its exact location. "Dort cadsessi," the fourth street, a fruit vendor had told him. When we reached the correct street the old man waved good-bye but stood waiting for the traffic to pass and for me to cross the cobbled stone road. When he thought I was hesitating, he waved me on, pointing to the church. I dared not waste a second to look for a landmark so that I could retrace my steps in this knot of a village within the city, as I was afraid he would waste even more of his time by taking me by the hand and leading me the rest of the way there.
Down this lane, I first came across a pile of split wood, perhaps half of a cord, wondering how it got there as there were so few trees in sight. A few steps further, I received an answer to my question when I came upon a wood artist's studio. A man and women inside welcomed me. Munir Erboru offered me a seat and told that he has been wood-burning images for twenty years. His student Hasipekaya has been studying with Munir for two years. She is also a computer programing student at a university in Istanbul.
When I asked them about the church at the end of the alley, they smiled and said it was a mosque. It hasn't been a church since 1453. Stepping through the gates to the old church, now the Kucuk Agha Camii, or mosque, I could see remnants of what might have been a cloister wall, which later became part of a medresseh, a religious school, and now served as an artists colony. Ney, reed flute musicians, wood furniture restorers, jewelry makers and miniaturists gather here to work and teach.
This church-mosque-artists studio and street felt imbued with a creative spirit of no specific and yet all faiths.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Orhan Pamuk on Historical Fiction
I have yet to spot Orhan Pamuk, Turkish writer and 2006 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, but found his latest essays Other Colours for sale in The Book Shop, a store devoted to English translations of everything having to do with Turkey and regional culture. Ali Tuysuz is the owner of this Sultanahmet establishment along with a twin store across the street. A busy tram cars runs between them every five minutes carrying commuters and tourists.
As I paid for Pamuk’s collection, soon to be released in the U.S., I asked one of the employees his opinion on historical fiction. Did he feel that it helps us understand the world today. "Of course!" Sener, said.
"Can you give me a specific example?" I said.
Sener smiled but clammed up. "Well...take a look at this book, for instance," he reached for the book Birds Without Wings, by Louis de Bernieres and opened it to the page full of blurbs. "Even the guide book for Turkey, Lonely Planet, says, ‘If you read one book about Turkey, make this it.’"
On the rooftop garden at my hotel, I pulled out Other Colours, choosing to read the essay where the book fell open. It was an essay on Dostoevsky novel Demons. This "greatest political novel of all time," according to Pamuk, explored "man’s will to power, his capacity for forgiveness, his ability to deceive himself and others...." What Pamuk said in this essay couldn't have been more pertinent to my quest for the truth about historical fiction. "And so, when as a young leftist I read Demons, it seemed to me that the story was not about Russia a hundred years earlier but about Turkey, which had succumb to a radical politics...I remember asking myself at the time why no one talked about the revelations in this book. It had so much to tell us about our own times."
Do you think historical fiction is relevant today? Do you agree with Sener and the Nobel Laureate or the Governor from Wasilla?
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Near the Orient Express station is a warm book nook called Polat Kitabcilik Ticaret Ltd.
Children’s books covered the surface of a bookshelf, which stood in the center of the store. Hopeful to meet local children’s book writers, I asked the clerk, whose name is Ilkay, if there were any children’s authors living in Istanbul. We had trouble communicating, but I believe her answer was yok, no. Browsing among the titles were several from the late Turkish writer Omer Seyfettin, such as Diyet and Verman, who died in 1920. I kept searching, hoping to find a living Turkish author whom I could meet. But the other titles were translations of Harriet Beecher Stowe, R.L. Stevenson, Charles Dickins, and Alexander Dumas The Three Musketeers. I bought the latter, hoping that I might be able to read phrases or even whole sentences from this novel when I have finished my course.
Finding all these historical fiction books brought two thoughts to mind. One was Govenor Sarah Palin’s recent comment to Joe Biden during the vice presidential debate, "There you go again Joe, talking about the past." To which Senator Biden replied, "I like to think of history as prologue." My other memory was the discussion last spring on the Cooperative Children’s Book Center list serve. Someone made the comment that much of what is published in the U.S. for children that is set in the Middle East is historical fiction, which offers little help in understanding the region today.
As a writer of historical fiction I was surprised by this CCBC and Palin’s comment. Like Biden, I believe there is a direct relationship between past and present. Part of the solution to a current problem lies in knowing what caused it. Perhaps if Govenor Palin traveled to a city like Istanbul, she would see tangible evidence of how the past and present co-exist, particularly in the architecture, such as Christian cathedrals, turned mosques, turned museums. Or old Ottoman wood homes turned into souvenir or convenience stores. Istanbul is a palimpsest of traditions and eras all influencing each other. The city’s history of cultural intermingling has produced a positive outcome in everything from cuisine to music to the good-natured people themselves, who appear remarkably unstressed for a city of 10 million. It’s most evident on their subways, the place where one would expect to witness coldness or impatience or belligerence. This relaxed behavior seems everywhere. Men are often seen laughing with one another or relaxing and drinking tea outside their shops. I even saw a waiter inside a bank—just one week after the news of the Wall Street collapse—walking among the office desks serving cay to employees as they chatted quietly among each other.
I believe historical fiction has much to offer contemporary readers, particularly as a comfortable vantage point from which to learn about events and circumstances that happened long ago, which directly apply to issues today. Topics that have not gone away from century to century, such as war, abuse of women and children, love, loss, and discrimination. My novel Anahita’s Woven Riddle, a story about marriage customs in roughly 1900 Iran, is relevant to women around the world today. Muslim or not, the tension between tradition and progress, as well as the notion of choice are topics with which all nationalities struggle, including the United States. I was pleased to learn that Anahita helped a young woman I had taught in Doha, Qatar, when she was considering her predicament of wanting to attend college outside of Doha. She said that after reading the novel she began to think of ways in which she could respect her tradition and yet work out a solution with her parents about her education. "It’s never about throwing out all of the past," she said. "That won’t help change things, but only cause more resistence."
While exploring the bookstores of Istanbul, I decided to get the Turkish perspective on the matter of historical fiction. First, from Ilkay, an obvious booklover. It involved a bit of work. I sat on a on a stool and looked up each word I needed to say to her in my newly-purchased, OVERSIZED, Turkish-English dictionary. After about ten minutes, during which time dozens of people stopped in the store to talk with her and buy books, I had my words for her to decipher: Ben yokluk gorussme sen kakkinda tarihi roman. Bin soru. Bir gun sonra (Turkish punctuation and accents omitted). I want to interview you about historical fiction. One question, someday soon. She knew I meant with a translator from our previous attempt at conversing. Ilkay took my note pad and read it twice, consulting her co-worker. They furrowed their brows and scrunched up their faces. Then Ilkay looked up. "Does anyone speak English?" she asked. I knew this because I recognized the word Inglizce and was fairly certain I must have scribbled gibberish. After several inquiries, one highschool girl said yes. So, I said to her, "Back home some librarians feel that historical fiction offers little toward understanding issues of today. I would like to hear Ilkay’s opinion."
Through my young translator, Ilkay said, "Historical fiction is read here much, it is becoming a...a fashion."
Since I am not sure my question was put forth accurately, I plan to interview Ilkay and several other booksellers along this stretch of the cobble stone road beside the old Orient Express with a transaltor. For now, their thoughts on the matter must remain a mystery.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
My intensive Turkish language class is tough but fun. I’ve learned much in just two days but my jet lag kicks in during the fourth hour when I become worthless.
Just when I thought I had traveled far enough from home to leave behind the last several weeks of the presidential debates and the economic capriciousness, I met Engin. En route to the tram that takes me to Taksim Square, where the Tomer Language School, is, I have had the pleasure of visiting with this local rug artisan who refashions pieces of Oriental carpets and kilims into hand and travel bags. He has invited me to join him for tea to practice Turkish and I plan to take him up on his offer. Meanwhile, this is what he said to me when I ducked in to ask him where I could buy a fan for my room.
"For electrical appliances you must go to a part of town called Karakoy. It is like Wall Street in New York, with lots of banks. Only they have money."
I grinned. "Can you believe the mess the U.S. is in?"
"They are all stupid. It’s all about getting people in debt," Engin says, putting down his leather tools so that he can gesticulate better with his hands. "They spend 500, even 5,000 on a dinner in New York and yet people elsewhere feel lucky to have bread. Stupid! But there are people like them here in Turkey, too. Everywhere."
When I visit Engin again, I will ask him how he would deal with the Wall Street debacle and who he would like to see become the next president of the United States. Perhaps after that, I’ll leave politics behind...
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
I couldn't have dreamed of a more lovely and inspirational view from my Istanbul writing desk. I am here for two months of soaking up the local culture while I study theTurkish language. I awoke this am to the sound of a muezin, calling the city to prayer from this mosque, which is called the BLue Mosque. It stands opposite the Agha Sophia, once a Byzantine cathedral. Ships are floating alongside clusters of fishing boats in the Bosphorous behind. A sea breeze is sweeping across my keyboard. More to come when I am less jet lagged...
Monday, October 6, 2008
Weiss argues that bland characters sell more associated toys. Based on the number of mermaid dolls my daughter owns, I might disagree. Weiss notes that the original Rapunzel somehow got pregnant up in that tower, and what parent wants to buy her daughter a pregnant Rapunzel? (Well, Sarah Palin, maybe, but that's for another post...) I think there's more to it than marketing. Fairy tales get a bad rap, but they deal with some complex emotions. For the Little Mermaid, the story's subtle message is that sometimes love means letting go. Maybe we assume children can't understand nuance in a story because we struggle with nuance ourselves.
Watch the audience graph droop during the presidential debates when a candidate attempts to explain a complex issue. We grownups need our information in black and white, in bullet points, in sound bites. Save the gray areas for those wacky academic types! It's possible that by spending a little more time in some old-fashioned fairy tales, we'd all do a little better handling reality.
-- cross posted to Under the Covers...
Monday, September 22, 2008
It all started with three “Tough Moms”—see them on the September cover of the national magazine, School Library Journal.
But they have only just begun. Stories keep coming in from districts where the school year started with more cutbacks in library programs.
Lisa Layera Brunkan e-mailed supporters: Perhaps the most heart-wrenching story has come from a Central Washington elementary school located on the Yakima Indian Reservation -- the school serves 1200 children, 96% of whom receive free or reduced lunch. In June, the teacher-librarians there purged 2,000 titles from the collection because the copyright was 1979 or prior.
There are no funds to replace these books. One of the librarians reported that, despite contributing $1,000 of her own money last year to purchase materials and prizes for the kids, still the most popular fiction paperbacks are scotch-taped together every 3 months. Many of these books don't make it through the year because the thickness of the
tape renders them unreadable.
The mom’s campaign, Fund Our Future Washington, continues to lobby the State Task Force on Basic Education, inform citizens on the issue and gather signatures. Last week their petition topped ten-thousand signatures.
Check out photos of the latest rally. As authors of children’s literature, we understand the importance of getting good books in the hands of students. Can a school succeed in preparing students for the 21st Century without school libraries? NO.We’re joining this effort and we hope you will, too: take action.
Monday, September 15, 2008
Ruta Rimas, Editorial Assistant with HarperCollins new imprint, Balzar and Bray, kicked things off with a talk on "Making Your Picture Book Work." She reminded authors that having a "story" means more than what happens in the book, but distilling the story to its core theme. A good lesson for writers in all categories.
Storyforce's own, Claire Rudolf Murphy, spoke about Setting in her talk, "Writing Your World." Claire first asked us to think about the setting where we do our writing every day, and whether or not that setting effectively helps us to have, "more pages at night than you had in the morning." Then she led the attendees through exercises that showed how setting reveals character, theme and plot.
Cherie Winner, who is the science writer for Washington State Magazine and has written 22 non-fiction books for children, spoke about "Finding the Angle" in your non-fiction writing. She instructed participants to pick a topic you love, because the road to publication is long and you need to stay passionate about the material.
Finally, Andrea Brown associate agent, Jamie Weiss Chilton, helped us understand how an agent benefits a writer's career. She noted that when an author gets into a sticky situation with an editor, the agent can play the bad cop. When selecting clients, she said she's not a stickler for mistakes in the format of a submission. However when a writer doesn't follow guidelines she sees a red flag in terms of how that author will work with an editor.
A Very Useful Conference! Thank you SCBWI Washington/Idaho!
-- cross posted to Under the Covers...
Monday, August 25, 2008
I recently came across a research paper by Anita Clair Fellman, on the relationship between Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose Lane. Fellner paints Laura's childhood in different strokes than Laura herself did, describing it as unstable due to their frequent moves, and filled with demanding responsibilities. As a devoted Little House fan, I must have read Big Woods through Golden Years at least a half dozen times, and never would have used Rose's words, "a hard, narrow, relentless life," to describe the journey.
When Rose, an established writer, convinced her mother to write stories based on her childhood, Laura produced "Pioneer Girl." First-person and written on a more adult level, it languished with publishers. As Rose worked the manuscript, complaining to her diary that her mother wanted, "prestige rather than money," she at last found a publisher interested in seeing one part of the manuscript expanded. This eventually became Little House in the Big Woods, but not without plenty of writer-editor, mother-daughter tension. At one point, Rose wrote to her mother, "you must listen to me…If you don't do what I tell you to, you must at least have good hard reasons for not doing it." Good advice from an editor, but the daughter continues, "Just because I was once three years old, you honestly oughtn't to think that I'm never going to know anything more than a three-year-old."
Fellner notes that through the books, Laura recast her family and her childhood with a "golden glow" that never really existed. Meanwhile, Rose, without whom the books might not have taken shape, never could take credit for work which became more celebrated than anything she produced under her own name.
--cross posted to Under the Covers...
Friday, August 15, 2008
In Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, a new library building opened last year has already recorded a 73-percent increase in library checkouts.
When I was a child I never visited a bookstore once, but Wednesday was Library Day, the one day our public library was open. My sister and I would walk a mile there and back with a stack of books every week. The librarian limited us to six each, but since we since shared we had enough. I can't imagine growing up without a library.
While public libraries are booming, parents and teachers worry school libraries may be an endangered species as school districts suffer funding shortfalls. I posted about this a few days ago and a parent e-mailed me with information on Washington States school library funding drive. They are near reaching ten-thousand signatures urging legislators to define basic education to include school libraries and librarians. Duh! Let me go on record: libraries are even more necessary than schools. Basic education? I think so.
Click here to help with the petition drive.
~~Mary Cronk Farrell
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Q: How many people does it take to convince the Washington State Senate to request $12-million for school libraries?
A: Three moms who refused to give up.
The moms, of course, told me they didn’t turn the light bulb alone. They created a website Fund Our Future to connect supporters, media, legislators and students, registering more than six-thousand signatures in favor of funding a teacher librarian in every public school in Washington State.
It all started when Spokane School District cut back teacher/librarians to solve funding problems. They couldn’t put one over on 7-year-old Isabel. She came home from school and told her mom, “It’s not a library anymore.”
Her mom Lisa Layera Brunkan investigated. “They literally turned out the lights, unplugged the computers and locked the door. The library was dark 2 ½ days a week,” she says. When the librarian was there, she had no time to help Isabel find suitable books.
Lisa joined two other concerned moms and began to speak out. “What were our chances?” says Lisa. “They told us, When pigs fly… We couldn’t wait until then. Our kids would be grown.”
They discovered they had to frame their message right for people to take action. “We know school libraries matter. We know test scores go up in schools with libraries, but saying that wasn’t enough,” says Susan McBurney. “We needed buzz words." What worked? Our kids deserve a 21th century education.”
“Compared to some other states, Washington is in the dark ages,” Lisa says.
When they talked about preparing students for a global economy, about providing a relevant education that will keep them competitive, everybody started to listen, politicians, business people and voters alike.
Another talking point: Equity. A student in rural Steven’s county with no computer at home cannot compete with students at a Lake Washington school who take a camera on a field trip, then come back and create a podcast.
Next blog I’ll tell you how these moms set a fire now spreading to other states.
~~Mary Cronk Farrell
Sunday, July 13, 2008
PUTTING A FACE ON IRAN.
PHOTO CAPTION: Middle Schooler I met in Kerman, Iran. Girls asked their American and UK visitors in English, "Which would be better to study, electrical or mechanical engineering?"
When I spoke with Greg, I thanked him for sharing with the audience Iran’s positive role in his work in Pakistan. During his talk Greg explained that in order to build schools in northern Pakistan, he needed permission of Iranian clerics, the Supreme Leaders, whom the local Shi’a mullas looked to for guidance. When word finally came, he was invited into the Imam Bara Mosque where he sat among eight members of the Council of Mullahs, who had gathered there to read the dispatch from Qom, Iran. “Dear Compassionate of the Poor,” it began, “our holy Koran tells us all children should receive education, including our daughters and sisters…you have our permission, blessings and prayers.”
So often during the talks I have given on Iran, the setting of my novel Anahita’s Woven Riddle, I am asked if women in Iran are permitted to work, drive cars or go to school. The answer is yes to all of these. Many hold advanced degrees and they work in every sector of society. I have been told that they are better represented in government than women in the U.S. The young women I met in Iran who lived in orphanages, attended middle schools or universities spoke more than one language, many knew two or three.
Thank you, Greg, for your good deeds, good words, good thoughts.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
As a writer of nonfiction and fiction and a teacher of writing, Claire Rudolf Murphy loves to explore how different genres can be brought together to help students better understands events and topics of history. She compiled this list for her presentation at the Illinois State Reading Conference in Springfield, March 2008.
"It has been a delight to put this together this list for teachers, librarians and students and to honor the terrific writers in children's literature," says Claire. "Please contact her with suggestions for further additions. The possibilities are endless."
To read more...
Sunday, March 9, 2008
Some of Claire’s favorite women’s history resources:
(Books for young readers starred)
*Amelia to Zora: Twenty-Six Women Who Changed the World, by Cynthia Chin-Lee, illustrated by Megan Halsey and Sean Addy.
*America in the Time of Susan B. Anthony by
America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines, Gail Collins.
*American Women: Their Lives in Their Words, Doreen Rappaport
* Fanny Lou Hamer and the Fight of the Vote, by Penny Colman
* Demanding Justice: A Story about Mary Ann Shadd Cary by Jeri Chase Ferris
*I Could Do That! Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote, by Linda Arms White
*Jeanette Rankin: Political Pioneer, Gretchen Woelfle; Jeanette Rankin: First Lady of Congress by Trish Marx
Jeannette Rankin: America’s Conscience by Norma Smith
Iron-Jawed Angels, HBO movie, starring Hillary Swank, set in the 1916 suffrage battle. These incredible women were willing to die for the vote.
Living Voices: Brings Life to History – Seattle - 206-328-0798, www.livingvoices.org
firstname.lastname@example.org. Variety of live programs available for schools.
*Luba: The Angel of Bergen-Belsen by Luba Tryszysnska-Frederick, picture book set in Nazi POW camp
* Mama Went To Jail for the Vote, by Kathleen Karr, illustrated by Malene Laugesen
*Rabble Rousers: 20 Women Who Made a Difference by Cheryl Harness
* Radical Red by James Duffy, out of print middle grade novel about suffrage
*Victoria Woodhull: Fearless Feminist by Kate Havelin (older nf)
*We the People: The 19th Amendment by Michael Burgan
Winning the Vote: The Triumph of the American Woman Suffrage Movement, P.J. Cooney, TERRIFIC RESOURCE - in collaboration with the National Women’s History Project www.nwhp.org.
*With Courage and Cloth: Winning the Fight for a Woman’s Right To Vote, Ann Bausum
Women’s Voices form the Western Frontier, by Susan G. Butrille
“Women’s Votes, Women’s Voices, 1910-2010” Washington Centennial Suffrage Commemoration
Commemorations around the state on February 25,2009 and November 8, 2010. Email or sign up with Claire Rudolf Murphy (email@example.com) to help plan events for Spokane area.
For more information:
The Women's History Consortium, part of the Washington State Historical Society, dedicated to preserving and making available resources about Washington women's history.
211 21st Avenue SW
Olympia, WA 98501
Here at StoryForce our goal is to be a Force for children. Sometimes we meet or read about someone who inspires us through their own actions on behalf of children. Writer Lynn L. Caruso introduces us to one such a person in her latest book "Honoring Motherhood."
First South American Woman to Win the Nobel Prize in Literature
Poet, Educator, Diplomat, Reformer
- Chilean 1889-1957, pseudonym for Lucila Godoy y Alcayaga
- Often referred to as the “Mother of the Nation” because her poems often referenced children.
- First Latin American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature (1945)
- Started her career as an elementary and secondary school teacher in
- Later worked with government educational reform programs in
and Chile minister and diplomat. Mexico and as a cultural
- And later as a professor of Spanish literature in the
- Mistral wrote on the dominant themes of motherhood, love, childhood, nature, and death. She was an advocate for children, particularly those living in poverty.
- Mistral experienced many hardships in her life including the suicide of both her fiance' and her adopted son. The first collection of poems for which she received recognition addressed her lover's suicide.
- Four of her poems are included in Honoring Motherhood (pp. 24, 35, 72, and 91).
- The Franciscan Order of Chile requested a monetary donation to “the impoverished children of
” as compensation for reprinting her poems in Honoring Motherhood. In this small way, her life’s work/legacy continues -- both her written work and her advocacy for children. Chile
- The Franciscan Order of Chile requested a monetary donation to “the impoverished children of
Saturday, March 8, 2008
It is our hope that Washington voices can help reverse the trend of serious reductions to our school library programs by calling on our leaders to ensure that teacher librarians, library programs and technology training are no longer at risk. It is our wish that our children and their teachers have full and equal access to the literacy and collaborative opportunities provided by our school libraries and certified teacher librarians. It is our belief that information literacy and the technology training facilitated in our school libraries are crucial to our children, and that the teacher librarian's knowledge of student ability allows them to place "just right books" into the hands of students, fostering a love of reading and life-long learning.
If you want more information or to contact your legislature:
Thursday, March 6, 2008
American Women's History: A Research Guide
Digital Collections of Primary Sources
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is a national research library devoted to collecting, preserving and providing access to resources documenting the experiences of peoples of African descent throughout the world. This portion of their Web site has full text of biographies by or about African American women of the 19th century, arranged alphabetically by author.
Digital Schomburg: African American Women Writers of the 19th Century: Biographies and Autobiographies
A project of Brown University and Honors English Program at South Kingstown High School, RI. This site is mainly composed of twenty six oral history accounts of grandmothers by their granddaughters. It also includes a glossary, a brief WW II timeline and several articles on women and WW II.
What Did You Do in the War Grandma?
WWW Virtual Library Women's History
The main purposes of this virtual library are to list women's history institutions and organizations, locate archival and library collections, and provide links to Internet resources on women's history. In addition, also included are a list of women's studies journals and a few comprehensive link collections useful as a starting point for searching the Internet for women's studies in general.
Study on women looking at pages from Ladies Home Journal 1889.
Women Working, 1800 - 1930 focuses on women's role in the United States economy and provides access to digitized historical, manuscript, and image resources selected from Harvard University's library and museum collections. The collection features approximately 500,000 digitized pages and images.