Tuesday, November 17, 2009

India's Children's Book Trust

Seated with me is Ira Saxena, Secretary of the Associaition of Writiers and Illustrators for Children in New Delhi. She is also a volunteer for India's Children's Book Trust, an organization that publishes books for children in hundreds of local dialects and sponsors literacy programs along with IBBY through out India.

Manorama Jafa, the Vice President of AWIC invited me via email before coming to India to participate in their monthly meeting in which twenty or more writers attended. On this particular day, they celebrated their first Hindi dictionary for children, a book the Trust had published many years ago, but had been bought by a major publisher. Royalty checks were distributed to several of the authors who were present.

On a second visit to the Children's Book Trust, Ira Sazxena interviewed me for an article she will write for Indian IBBY Journal. Our discussion roamed from the craft of writing to the underlying theme of Sufism in my novel Anahita's Woven Riddle and our favorite translations of Persian poetry, which Ira grew up reading. Her mother translated the Sufi poetry of Omar Khayyam into Hindi. Ira, a child psychologist and children's book author is presently at work on a novel set in 1800's India with an environmental theme. "Did you know the world's first tree hugger was in India?" she said. I had never given much thought to the origins of this kind of activism and assumed it may have been in the California redwoods. I look forward to reading this novel. For more details about the Children's Book Trust, its volunteers, and my trip to India, please check out the Central Asian pages on my website www.meghannuttallsayres.com

Monday, November 9, 2009

Making it Work

I am secretly (maybe not so secretly) addicted to Project Runway. Sometimes, watching the show, I've thought, what if there was such a contest for writers? Would I get to the writers' equivalent of fashion week if required to produce a well constructed, cleverly plotted tale in a genre outside my comfort zone?

Last weekend, I attended Weekend on the Water, a three day writing retreat hosted by the Western Washington SCBWI region. During the course of "Going Deeper" into plot, character, setting and voice, we attendees did a lot of writing exercises. In one, we wrote a description of a gothic cemetery, then were asked to re-write that description, adding a teenage girl who had just been asked on her dream date.

It was as if Ruta Rimas morphed into Heidi Klum, asking me to make a red-carpet ballgown from plastic grocery sacks.

But the point of that exercise, and everything else presented by Ruta, assistant editor with Balzar+Bray/HarperCollins, and Cheryl Klein, senior editor at Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, was to explore our writing more deeply. How well do we know our characters? How does setting affect their behavior? Does the voice we've chosen bring the reader close enough to the story?

The two extraordinary editors presented for a total of five and a half hours each during the weekend, as well as providing first page intensives for everyone. And retreat organizers Joni Sensel, Laurie Thompson and Jolie Stekly did an outstanding job keeping us on time and comfortable. I left with a new feeling of energy for revising my novel, and deeper insights into the creative process.

--cross-posted from Under the Covers

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wake up

Have you noticed hardly anyone pays attention anymore?

So many conversations resemble narcissists passing in the park, each chatting so busily about themselves they don’t notice the other isn’t listening. And the dialogues that consist of periodically posting links on Facebook to “Check out my latest blog".

It's the writer’s job to pay attention. But today anybody can be a writer. Anybody with a computer, internet hook-up and some tech knowledge can post a blog. Anyone with the gumption and money can self-publish a book. With the explosion of information on the web, we don’t even have to think for ourselves. We can cut and paste other people’s arguments and opinions into e-mails and send them to all our friends and relatives. None of this requires paying attention.

Good writing requires not only paying attention, but the time and facility to step back from what we see and hear to get a bigger picture. We need the patience to wait for corollaries to appear and the courage to also pay attention with the inner eye. For it is the synthesis of the world without and the world within that gives our words the weight of truth.

We can be blinded by busyness, deafened by the minutia of a day’s distractions. If we keep moving fast enough we can outrun the demons. If we have enough difficulties to worry about, we needn’t pay attention to the simple, the beautiful, or that which we know to be real and true, but can approximate only through story.

It’s a noble journey to pay attention, a great trust to name oneself a writer.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Readers Humble Writer

A writer is often humbled. An honest critique from a writing group bites, but helps improve craft. A rejection by an editor hurts, but offers a chance to decide: Have faith and stand by one's story? Or re-think and revise?

Then one day, without warning, a book you have sent out into the world goes somewhere unexpected and drops a pebble in a pond radiating ripples far beyond your expectations. This humbles in an entirely different way. It takes all the humility out of humble and replaces it with gratitude.

My middle-grade historical novel Fire in the Hole! found a home with some very unique college students. At Gonzaga University, better known for its Zags basketball team, a thriving English as a Second Language program caters to students from all corners of the globe. The department chose my novel for reading comprehension class. Instructors like the book because it has an accessible reading level for students learning English, but introduces new and varied vocabulary and a compelling story.

The novel details events in Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene Silver Mining District, where labor war exploded in the 1890’s. Students from China, Ukraine, Iran, Columbia, and Korea learned American history as well as English words like dynamite, ciders, foothill, canyon, mineshaft, pincushion, seize and surrender.

Invited to the class, I expected their curiosity about time and place. I was surprised by their many questions about my characters, and how much they cared about them. One student wrote a song, with verses to cover the plot from beginning to end. While the class sang, small groups of students acted out the scenes.

I joined their fun and laughter, while wiping tears from my eyes.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Books, Music, Sun!

Greetings from Galway, Ireland! I am here to participate in Children's Books Ireland's Book Festival. I will read at the Westside Library at 10am and the Ballybane Library at 11:30 on Thursday Oct 15th. I am looking forward to these events and excited to meet local readers.

Meanwhile, I am at work on a new novel. But given the stellar weather, I am a little distracted and want to share the moment with you in this video. The music is by Luka Bloom. He gave a fantastic performance in the Town Hall last week. Look for his new cd Eleven Songs....

---Meghan Nuttall Sayres

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Children's Lit in Ireland and India

In October I will be visiting Ireland and particiapting in their Children's Books Ireland Book Festival 2009. Please check back here for more details. I am also off to India in November where I will be meeting with children's book authors connected with IBBY India. I look forward to introducing you to them on my blog in the near future!

---Meghan Nuttall Sayres

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Weaver's Perspective on Iran

Friends of the Moscow Library invited me to speak on Iran this August about my recent experience weaving on Iran's First World Peace Carpet and my novel set in Iran Anahita's Woven Riddle. To learn more about the Peace Carpet, a project sponsored by UNESCO, please check out the Iran or Weaving pages on my website.

Modeling this Iranian Qashqa'i nomadic headpiece is Homa Assefi, who attended my talk. Many thanks to Homa! This three-pieced covering evolved over many generations. The blue beanie has been worn for centuries along with the black sequined veil. In the 1960's teenagers added the tie-dye like scarves.

---Meghan Nuttall Sayres

Celebrating Wetlands in Moscow, Idaho

This August I was invited to the Palouse-Clearwater Environmental Institute in Moscow, Idaho, to read from my children's book The Shape of Betts Meadow: A Wetlands Story. Shown here is Anika reading from Betts Meadow. Check out the video of her and other listeners' spirited participation, puppets and all, on my Betts Meadow pages.

---Meghan Nuttall Sayres

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Another great conference!

Many thanks to the organizers of the Washington-Idaho region for putting on another great conference. Mary Kate Castellani, Assoc. Editor of Walker Books, YA novelist Terry Trueman, Author/Illustrator Richard Jesse Watson and middle grade novelist Judy Gregerson all shared their expertise on the craft and business of writing. All of us who attended appreciate the time and generosity of these great presenters. See you next year! --Mari

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Author Interview

Check out a recent blogger interview with StoryForce author Meghan Nuttall Sayres on Books and Movies' Literary Road Trip.

Interview submitted by Carrie Kitzmiller

Can you tell us a little bit about your journey as a writer? Was it something you always wanted to do?

Meghan: “Writing was not something I went to school for or even thought about until after graduate school. However, while taking courses in political science my papers tended to morph toward qualitative essays. The first piece I ever published was about a rock art restoration project in Castle Dale, Utah. The article was so long, and unedited, that the newspaper there had to publish it in two parts. But, that project led to a children’s book on rock art, which was bought by the press that published my picture book The Shape of Betts Meadow: A Wetland’s Story.”

Where do you get the ideas for your writing?

Meghan: “From all the exploring and stumbling around I do in life. My ideas might come from people I meet, a far away place or time, even an unusual artifact that seems to find me.”

Read more at: http://booksandmovies.colvilleblogger.com/2009/08/27/literary-road-trip-author-meghan-nuttall-sayres/

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Upcoming Events

Monday Aug 24rth, 10:30am, Clear Water Institute Books in the Park, Moscow, Idaho. I will read from my book The Shape of Betts Meadow: A Wetlands Story.

Tuesday Aug 25th, 7pm, Moscow Library (sponsored also by Book People, an independent bookstore in Moscow, Idaho), Iran: A Weaver's Perspective about my recent trip to Iran to weave on a World Peace Carpet and discussion on Anahita's Woven Riddle, my novel about a nomadic carpet weaver.

Monday September 14th, 6:30-9pm, University of Utah Life Long Learning Center, Salt Lake City, Utah. Iran Experiential Class.

---Meghan Nuttall Sayres

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Contest at Eye Feathers

I'm on the verge of finishing a major revision of my MG novel. Despite temperatures in the high 90's for the last week, I have persevered at my keyboard with no air conditioning. I've been writing seven-days a week since the beginning of July and making great progress. However, this morning the procrastination bug bite me.

That's how I stumbled upon this contest over at Tara McClendon's blog Eye Feathers. Tara is a freelance writer currently working on a young adult novel about fairies. She also works as an editor for InspirationForWriters.com. Here's what she says about her first contest: "I’m giving away a 10,000 word edit, which equates to a $300 value. I’m going to host this for an entire month, so I’ll draw a winner on September 1, 2009."

I will have my revision complete by September 1st. Just in time to win an edit from Tara! See, procrastination isn't so bad after all.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Writing Fiction About the Prophet Muhammad, continued...

Here is a view into one of my personal hurdles while working on this collection. I had initially set out to write a story about how the Prophet Muhammad’s wife Khadijeh supported him both financially and spiritually. I found the makings of the plot in one of the hadith’s (an historic account of the Prophet’s life), which explained how difficult of a time Muhammad had when he was receiving his revelations. He lost sleep and questioned himself. From this premise, I wrote a story full of detail and tension. Months slipped by as I worked hard at pulling quotes of the Prophet from the Qur’an and using them for his dialogue. When finished I sent my draft to our Muslim proof readers with much anticipation. Their response was less enthusiastic than I had hoped for. “You cannot not describe the Prophet as having ‘walnut brown hair,’” my consultant said. “You should not imply that Muhammad suffered any strife, and, it is disrespectful to put words into the Prophet’s mouth.”

Hmm, I thought, dropping my pen. Now what? How do I write a story without the conflict that is needed to move a story as well as keep it appealing for the reader? And how am I to write a story about a couple, if I cannot let one of them speak? There has been much written and said in the news, Publishers Weekly and the blogs about recent books and cartoons that have insulted Islam. The debates rage for and against the notion that the world deserves free expression. In my case, I chose to withhold my particular interpretation of this event in Muslim history and scrap my story out of respect. I then set out to write another one. In my view, the point of pulling this collection together was to remind those of the monotheistic faiths that we have common stories we can build upon, which can help bring our people in a closer communion of spirit. Why thwart that possibility by publishing something that might likely offend?

I learned much from the stories of my co-writers Claire Rudolph Murphy, Mary Cronk Farrell, Sarah Conover and Betsy Wharton. This project continues to feed and inform my spiritual life and creative impulses. To my delight, I have since discovered on my travels to the Middle East and Central Asia that women (more so than men) throughout history have been weaving their own interpretations of scriptural stories into carpets, long before they knew how to read and write. I have literally found new and actual threads of these ancient parables to explore. Perhaps a nonfiction story of the richness of monotheistic and other spiritual cultures is on my horizon---illustrated, of course, with rugs.

Photo: I found this image on an Iranian rug of Moses in the reed basket in the Tehran Carpet Bazaar.

---Meghan Nuttall Sayres

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Writing Fiction About the Prophet Muhammad

President Barack Hossein Obama’s recent speech on Cairo was an inspiration on a great many of levels, including its literary aspects in which he quoted from the Qur’an, the Talmud and the Bible. Obama called for a need to educate America about Middle Eastern cultures and Islam. As an author of a novel set in Iran, which celebrates the beauty of Islam, the depth of Sufi poetry, and the splendor of hand woven and naturally-dyed carpets from that region, I have long been on the path of offering young readers a window into the Muslim world that delights rather than fosters fear.

In 2003, I joined four other children’s authors at Aunties Bookstore in Spokane, Washington, to launch our collection of short stories Daughters of the Desert: Tales of Remarkable Women From the Christian, Jewish and Muslim Traditions. We introduced our visions of women such as the Judeao-Persian Queen Esther who saved her people; the Jewish prophetess and older sister of Moses, Miriam, who danced with women in praise of God; the unnamed, Christian Canaanite women Eleni, who pleaded with Jesus to heal non Jews; Lydia the purple dye master who supported St. Paul during his stay in Philippi and was his first Christian convert on the continent of Europe; Khadijeh, the Prophet Muhammad’s first wife, employer, and convert to Islam.

As a community of writers we nudged, challenged and supported one another while drafting these stories. We worried that we might not represent these women in the best possible light, particularly the Muslim women since we were all writing out of our own faith traditions. Differences of opinion arose within our group as well as without, such as with our respective Christian, Muslim and Jewish consultants and even our copy editors who felt the need to inject their religious points of views just before going to press. Everyone’s input and interpretations pushed us beyond our assumptions and biases.

Next week I will share one of my personal hurdles while working on this collection.

---Meghan Nuttall Sayres

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Eliot Rosewater Award

Anahita's Woven Riddle was among 20 books considered for the 2008-2009 Eliot Rosewater Award, named after the fictional character in books by the Indiana-born author, Kurt Vonnegut, including probably the best known, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. The Award was established to honor Vonnegut and other Hoosier writers while at the same encouraging Indiana high school to read for fun and enjoyment.

High School students (grades 9-12) throughout Indiana vote each year on approximately 20 nominated books for the book they enjoy the most. Congratulations to Laurie Halse Anderson who won first place for her novel Twisted.

For more information and the nominee list:


---Meghan Nuttall Sayres

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Weaving Peace In Tehran

Easter Sunday I awoke to Tehran traffic outside my hotel window. Some wrestled the tangle of cars and pedestrians on their way to mass at the nearby Orthodox Church. I prepared for my own spiritual journey, the reason I had traveled through eleven time zones and half way around the world: to weave a knot on Iran’s World Peace Carpet, a project sponsored by UNESCO and the Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicraft Organization of Iran. For a tapestry weaver and author (my first novel was inspired by an Afshar tribal rug), tying a goodwill knot on this carpet, along with 700 others from 89 nations, seemed every bit as reverent as attending Easter Mass.

My desire to participate in the Peace Carpet stemmed from a long-held appreciation for Iranian culture, in particular its carpets and poetry, which are often literately woven together. On a visit to the carpet dealers’ bazaar in Tehran I discovered several carpets with phrases of Hafez, Ferdowsi and Sa’adi or pictorial images of these poets incorporated into the design.

I have always admired, if not romanticized, the lives of nomadic peoples and, like Iranian nomads, I learned to raise sheep, spin and dye wool with natural materials, and weave tapestries that are much like Persian gelims. I discovered that colors have meanings and rugs contain amulets against the evil eye. Themes such as these inspired my novel about a young nomadic carpet weaver, which in turn led to an invitation in 2005 to participate in Iran’s First International Children’s Book Festival. I remember how elated I had felt that February morning when my plane touched down on Iranian soil. In love with Iranian culture, I could hardly wait to meet its people, with whom I bonded readily during that trip, often more easily than with people of my own culture.

Thus, when I heard about this UNESCO peace project, I couldn’t think of a more perfect excuse to revisit these friends. It was also a way to release my long-held frustrations over the poor foreign relations between our countries and the palpable mistrust of Iranians among many Americans. I wanted to weave peace in Tehran.

Read more at: www.MeghanNuttallSayres.com

Friday, April 24, 2009

Victory for Kids, Librarians and Authors, too.

Librarians Basic to Education

For the first time in history Teacher-Librarians will be included in "Basic Education" in Washington State. What? Haven't librarians always been basic to education? You would think so. Only now, it's written into state law.

That means the state must pay for a Teacher-Librarian in every school, instead of each district scrambling to pass levies and come up with the money on its own.

Of course, in this time of billion dollar state budget cuts, kids won’t see this change immediately. But progress is progress.

The rest of the good news—this boost for libraries sprang from the bottom up. Three moms started a petition drive 18-months ago and spurred a grassroots movement that resulted in this change. Details, plus photos have been written up in the current issue of School Library Journal.

Thank you, Lisa, Susan and Denette! Your hard work and dedication to our children’s education shows all of us how to step up and make a difference.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Jane Austen - A Literary Lion

After attending the Jane Austen panel discussion at this year's Get Lit! I came home and found this:

--cross-posted to Under the Covers by Mari

Monday, March 30, 2009

Non-Fiction Monday: A trip to the North Pole

I, Matthew Henson, Polar Explorer

By Carole Boston Weatherford

Illustrated by Eric Velasquez

Two men made history in 1909, the first men ever to stand on the North Pole. Admiral Robert Peary is the one you’ve probably heard about. Matthew Henson? Maybe not. Twice on the polar ice cap, Henson saved Peary’s life. The two men faced “sudden storms, frozen peaks and ridges and shifting iceberg castles,” on their perilous journey. Patches of open water and faulty instruments made more trouble before they reached the Pole. The achievement had been both men’s life ambition. But when they returned home some dismissed their accomplishment because Henson was a black man, and Peary downplayed Henson’s contribution to the expedition.

I love everything about the illustrations in this biography. The colors, the shapes, the varied scenes. The emotional resonance and the beauty of the art makes this a powerful and stunning book. The text is unique. You will have to read it for yourself to see how this author shows Henson’s determination and strength of purpose through the sentence structure she chose. Fabulous book!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Go, Zags - Mid-major Team Inspires Spokane Author

Tonight my beloved hometown basketball team, the Gonzaga Bulldogs, plays North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen. Our son Conor will be sitting behind the Gonzaga bench with his two cousins and Uncle John. Lucky guy. The Zags are the tie that binds the Rudolf and Murphy clans with every victory, every loss dissected over the long distance and email. My dad was the first Zag fan and like my ninety-year-old mom likes to say, they attended games when the Zags were poor relations. My dad's been gone four years now. But Big Kerm loved the Zags and he loved that I am a writer.

So what do the Zags have to do with writing? Everything, including that right now I am writing this blog instead of working on my novel.

Gonzaga's run ten years ago into the Elite Eight sparked a flame that has kept flickering through good times and bad. This season has been a roller coaster, too. A great start with victories against nationally ranked teams into December. But after a loss to UConn and the February drubbing by Memphis, the team had to find their soul again. And they have, running the table in the West Coast Conference and now two NCAA tourney victories, with a different hero every night. And how about the women's team? They were within inches of making it into the Sweet Sixteen, too, while entering the tournament as a twelve seed. So enough basketball until 7p.m. PCT tonight.

We have to find our souls as writers, too, after a dry spell or rejection. So I want to write like the Zag men and women play basketball. Writing from Alaska and later Spokane, I've been insecure at times in dealing with East Coast editors, especially early in my career. But if the Zags from Spokaloo can play in the big leagues, shedding their perennial underdog moniker, so can we mid-list writers. We can survive the rejections, the days with little writing output, the bad reviews by just sawing wood, as Coach Mark Few likes to say. Dribbling out those words, nailing a three-pointer with a great metaphor, and cheering at the end of the day when we given our writing our best shot.

Only one difference between us writers and the Zags. We have to be the whole team of players. We have coaches in our editors, agents and fellow writers. But when the clock is running, it's just us. We have to be Matt Bouldin with a sense for the whole court action, the scope of our book. We have to be Micah Downs who turned his potential into reality when he finally listened to himself first. We have to block shots like Austin Daye and Josh Heyfelt, tough defenders when it comes to revising our work. WE have to light up our story with our passion like Demetri Goodson and Ira Brown. We have to keep shooting, keep writing like Steven Gray until the three-pointers, the words on the page start lighting it up again. Like Will Foster, we have to take the chances we get, even when they don't seem like enough. WE have to play like Heather Bowman even with a shoulder injury or writers' block. We have to tear up court, the page, like floor leaders Courtney Vandersloot and Jeremy Pargo.

Okay - have I beaten this metaphor to death yet? One more shot.

March Madness comes but once a year. Book acceptances and publication days, less often. But like the Zags who play summer and winter, we must write every day, even when it seems like we're fouling out. Playing well, writing well, that's in our hands - every morning. And we win, when we attach the seat of our pants to the seat of chair, as Hemingway advised. Go, Zags.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Non-Fiction Monday: Aliens from Earth

Aliens from Earth: When Animals and Plants Invade Other Ecosystems

Written by Mary Batten

Illustrated by Beverly J. Doyle

Peachtree Publishers

Izaak Walton League of Conservation Book of the Year

This thirty-two page picture book packs quite a wallop. It's on a subject that I've been concerned about, but understood very little. And I wondered how it could be be presented for young readers Through illustrations and text, it traces the history of alien plant and animal invaders arriving on our shores along with new ones that threaten our lives today. In a clear, readable manner it presents these plants and animals who have taken over our oceans and even our backyards. It’s a tough, complex subject for any age to understand. But the text and detailed illustrations invite readers, grades four and up, to explore its dangers to our quality of life. And the final spread offers suggestions on what regular citizens, young and old, can do to prevent their arrival.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Non-Fiction Monday: Listen to the Wind

Three Cups of Tea
Greg Mortenson and Susan L. Roth have collaborated on a picture book for children based on Mortenson's bestselling Three Cups of Tea. Their book Listen to the Wind is sure to be a bestseller, too. I admire the simplicity with which the story is told of Greg's adventure into the mountains of Pakistan as well as the school-building project that followed. Roth's use of paper collage is stunning and fitting for the rugged setting of the book. The use of narrative and nonfiction backmatter with photos works well together. Of particular interest is the spread in which Roth talks about how her work was influenced by artifacts from the regional culture.This book offers substance and heart. Greg's work demonstrates the good that results when compassion does not stop at our respective countries' borders. It is a book I will be giving to young friends for years to come.
~~Meghan Nuttall Sayres

Monday, March 2, 2009

Students on Strike: Jim Crow, Civil Rights, Brown and Me

This memoir by John A. Stokes, with Lois Wolfe, Ph.D., published by National Geographic in 2008, knocked my socks off. John Stokes was a teenager in 1951, one of several students leaders who led a strike of their  segregated black  school, Moton High school in Farmville, Virginia. Sick of inferior conditions and shacks for a building, these young people inspired the entire student body to walk out of school, refusing to return until a new high school was built. When national NCAAP leaders arrived to help, they were so impressed that they begged the young leaders to join the Brown vs. the Board of Education lawsuit, rather than fight for a segregated school. The students agreed. Their case was the only one in the Brown lawsuit initiated by students. When the U.S. Supreme tore down Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1954 in support of the Brown lawsuit, these students were long out of school. But they remain proud of what they did to this day.
But this 126 page book is much more than a retelling of the dramatic days of the strike. It reads like a novel. The young voice of Stokes rings through on every page and vividly reveals life growing up in the Jim Crow South, before and after the student strike. Published in a small novel-like format with eighteen çhapters and photos, it holds appeal for readers ages ten through adult. It is one of those terrific nonfiction stories that pulls you in on the first page and propels you into the future on the last page. As a reader, it makes you wish you had been brave like those students. With great details leading up to the climax of the strike, helps us understand how the students' courage grew out of despair and frustration with "separate but equal" schools, public transportation, swimming pools, movie theaters and drinking fountains. Stokes is a retired educator who speaks around the country about this case and the continued need to fight for justice and equality in America today. Though this book was co-written, it is clearly Stokes' story and an uplifting one it is. Young readers will connect to the boy who grew into a teen, so sad and depressed that he had to risk his life to make a difference. 

Friday, February 27, 2009

What Keeps Me Writing

Organizers of Spokane’s terrific April 2009 literary festival Get Lit! have encouraged local writers to post a blog on or about March 4th on what keeps us writing. So here goes.
Americans who have fought for equal rights throughout history, that’s who keeps me writing and researching. Activists like Harvey Milk in1970’s in San Francisco who led the charge for gay rights, so well portrayed by Oscar winner Sean Pean in the 20087 movie Milk. Unfortunately that battle still needs to be waged.
During Black History month, I’d like to honor Octavius Catto, a brilliant orator, educator and athlete who stood up for equal rights a hundred years before Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. President Obama has often said he stands on the shoulders of civil rights’ leaders who have gone before him. One of them is Catto, who in 1871 was murdered on the streets of Philadelphia by Democrat party bosses because of his dynamic community organizing of new black male voters. I discovered Catto during research for a book on civil rights activists.
And every day Octavius Valentine Catto inspires me to keep writing, no matter the economy or fewer readers every year. I love this man and will do my best to honor his story and other American activists by sitting down to the computer every morning. Claire Rudolf Murphy

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Money for Libraries

Wouldn’t it be terrific if libraries became a priority in our national consciousness? Just think of the impact that would make on our children and how it would ripple out across the culture.

Now is the time to make it happen.

President Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus package provides a great opportunity for more library dollars and more vitality in both school and public libraries.

The bill gives $53.6 billion in to state block grants that must be spent primarily on education. The rest of the money will be spent as the governor sees fit.

We know libraries should be a top priority. It’s up to us to speak up, take action and believe that we can make a difference, that we can change the national agenda. The door is open, and it won’t stay that way for long. Find out what’s happening your state and make your voice heard.

The American Library Association (ALA) has launched a Know Your Stimulus Web site, calling it a one-stop-shop for all things related to the new law. The Web site offers advice on how to apply for library grants, has important links to other sites, and has a complete breakdown of what each state will receive under the new law.

An extra $2 billion of the stimulus package will go to Head Start, the federal early childhood development program. This money, too, could help pump life into libraries and the children’s book business. Head Start is required to collaborate with local libraries, providing storytimes and other literacy events, and promoting library cards.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Every now and then I am reminded of why I write. A recent review of my book Weaving Tapestry in Rural Ireland gave me pause and joy. Although it was written some time ago, I had not seen it until last night, nearly two years after the book's publication. This review brought me much gratification as the project spanned roughly ten years. It is nice to know that the book is considered worthy of study, even by the scholars upon whose turf I did roam. My warmest thanks go to the author of this review Meglena Z. Miltcheva, College of Charleston, S.C., and to Dr.Eileen Moore Quinn, who undoubtedly suggested that Meglena read it...

"THE APPEARANCE OF THIS BOOK owes as much to the author's interest in weaving, harvesting and dyeing yam as to her desire to explore how an ancient craft could be employed in an innovative way to bring fulfillment and renewal to a rural community. With the assistance of local mentors, a group of Irish tapestry weavers most of whom were Irish speakers--came together in 1993 to form a cooperative called Taipeis Gael (Gaelic Tapestries). The author's account of the cooperative and its work can stand on its own as an excellent documentary and instructional source, but it is also our good fortune that Sayres has taken what could have easily been a mundane academic treatise and produced an artistically stunning volume as socially compelling as it is historically meticulous." Read the full review

---Meghan Nuttall Sayres

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Scholastic Book 'n Toy Clubs?

An organization called Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood has recently charged Scholastic, Inc with overpopulating its monthly book club fliers with toys instead of books. By the campaign's count, 14% of the book club's products are not books, and another 19% were books packaged with something else, like stickers.

While I respect the goal of CCFC, I feel that should they succeed in eliminating toy sales from the book clubs and fairs, they'll likely eliminate the book clubs and fairs themselves. My school has tried working with local bookstores to create books-only book fairs. The resulting events have been miserable failures. Further, Scholastic is able to offer huge amounts of book credits to schools providing much needed classroom and library books. Our school uses those book credits, in part, to give books away, helping kids who may not have been able to purchase any. No other book sale I've been involved with has the net result of putting so many books in the school.

The real problem here, is that schools are in a position to have to sell books in the first place. The only reason schools offer Scholastic clubs is to supplement their woefully underfunded book budgets. Washington State, where I live, provides schools $5 per student per year for library books, and about $40 per student per year for textbooks. That's absurd. Personally, I think the CCFC would do a great deal more good if they focused their efforts on lobbying congress for adequate basic education funding. Scholastic is a publisher that, despite all the furry pens and sparkly stickers, is doing a decent job getting books into kids' hands.

Cross-posted to Under the Covers

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Who Needs 4-years of Science & Math?

I’ve been tipped-off to a great e-zine for teachers, by teachers, but of interest to anyone thoughtful about our young people’s education.
teachersnet Gazette
In the current issue Alfie Kohn asks the question: Are we all to enamored with teaching children self-discipline? Awe come on…read it before you make a judgment. Could it be we just want kids to take care of themselves so that we don’t have to be bothered? Does education that focuses too heavily on self-discipline train students to see studying as a means to an end rather than to help them enjoy learning. Secure, healthy people can be playful, flexible, open to new experiences and self-discovery, deriving satisfaction from the process rather than always focused on the product. An extremely self-disciplined student, by contrast, may see reading or problem-solving purely as a means to the end of a good test score or a high grade. I find this idea quite thought-provoking. What do you think?

Another article immediately grabbed my attention: Who Really Needs Four Years of Math and Science? by Steve A. Davidson. I started asking this question in about sophomore year of high school, when I decided: not me. And I’ve survived just fine thank you. I can’t help my kids with the algebra homework, but, hey, I read them lots of books when they were growing up. I’ve heard that counts for a lot. Check out what this guy says. He taught school for 32-years!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Valentine for Children in Need

Save the Children, with the help of seven prominent children's book illustrators, has created this lovely set of Valentine's Day cards. Perfect for classroom distribution, the proceeds go to aid children living in poverty in the United States. A nice way for kids to lend a hand.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

For the past two years I have been at work editing a book of essays on Iran. While in Istanbul this fall I had the pleasure of meeting Iason Athanasiadis, a photojournalist who has lived in Iran. This weekend he opens an exhibition of his work at the California Fine Arts Museum in Los Angeles. The show will run through March 29 at 5814 Wilshire Blvd.

---Meghan Nuttall Sayres

Friday, January 23, 2009

There is enough time

This morning frustration is tempting. I sit at my keyboard to face another day of revision on the fourth draft of my current novel-in-progress. The fifth self-imposed deadline for finishing it passed two days ago.

Maybe frustration isn’t the right word. Discouraged? Depressed? A writer two generations ago might open the scotch. A writer one generation ago might trip out. A writer last millennium might pop Prozac. What is my vice of choice in 2009?

Espresso & Enlightenment.

I’ve concocted my Double Mocha W/ 2oz. Half & Half, 2 Tlbs Belgium Dark Sipping Chocolate. I’ve practiced yoga and meditated. I breathe.

“There is enough time.”

“A writer is frustrated, not because things come together slowly, but because she imagines that they will move quickly.”

I've taped these quotes to my computer monitor. I see them every day. I don’t remember who said them or where I read them. But in my experience, they are true.

I have not become enlightened yet. But consciousness is coming to our world. Writers and other artists lead the way. Let’s not give in to our temptations to wish things were different in our writing life.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A New Day for School Libraries

As if there isn't enough good news on this Inauguration Day! Looks like school children in Washington State may soon have some of the most progressive school libraries in the nation. Legislators will take up a bill guaranteeing a full-time teacher-librarian in every school.

The bill would give schools $155 per student to spend on textbooks and library books, plus $200 per students for technology.

We've told you before about the Three Spokane Moms. Their kids' schools shut down libraries half-time and teacher librarians seemed doomed to extinction because of budget cuts. These women made it their personal agenda to raise H-E-double toothpicks with the state legislature.

Here's their announcement today:

"Last spring your letters and phone calls helped secure $4MM in emergency funds. Well … you've done it again! The Basic Education Finance Task Force (charged with redefining basic
education) submitted its report, and thanks to you, it contains some of the most progressive language in the country pertaining to school library programs. It's part of a bigger vision to reform Washington's system of education and ensure all children are fully prepared for the challenges of a new economy and a new era."

Newly-elected State School Superintendent Terry Dorn says his number one priority is to push these recommendations into law.

"Change has come to America."

Want to help? Click here.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Harvey Milk and Civil Rights Today

Hands down my favorite 2008 movie is Milk, starring Sean Penn. His performance is riveting. But what has stayed with me for two weeks now is the civil rights' aspect. I write nonfiction books for young adults. And this story is for them, too. For all those gay teens who experience prejudice at school or teens who are put them down out of fear or ignorance. It is for all of us.
It’s been thirty years since Harvey Milk died fighting for the right to be treated like every other American. And yet in California this past November, Proposition Eight, the initiative against gay marriage, garnered more ink, more discussion than the presidential election. No matter what our moral feelings are about homosexuality, the United States has stated time and time again in our Constitution, in our laws and in our courts that Americans must not be discriminated against according to gender, race, religion or sexual preference. Yet all of the civil rights battles in our country have taken decades, even centuries to resolve. What are we so afraid of? As Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere, is injustice everywhere.”
In January 2009, we don’t have that kind of time to fritter. We don’t have the seventy-eight years that women publicly battled for the vote or two hundred years for people of color to gain fair access to the ballot box. Our country has too many serious problems - war around the world, the economy, the environment, health insurance, better schools for our young people - to waste it fighting against a group of people who only want what all American citizens deserve - justice - to live and love in freedom. What are we so afraid? How much better for all Americans if all the time, effort and money spent fighting for the rights of gay people could be used instead to work for peace, better schools, and a cleaner environment.
I wish that every young person in this country could see and discuss the movie Milk with their parents. It won't turn them into a gay person if they aren’t one already. Who would choose that life style with all the discrimination and prejudice it holds?
Milk is such a hopeful movie, in spite of its ending. Harvey fought his heart out for what he believed in and his passion inspired thousands during his lifetime and millions more after his death. We honor him and al those who have fought for civil rights by making sure all Americans have them. My brother and sister-in-law in San Francisco were part of that the candlelight parade, real footage featured at the end of the movie. It made the movie even more special to me. But I didn’t need their connection to cause me to think about Harvey Milk’s legacy every day since I saw the movie. The 14th amendment promises equal protection under the law. It is time that gay Americans gained that promise. What are so afraid of?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Movies for the Snow Bound

What happens when unthinkable quantities of snow keep you home bound for the better part of two weeks? After shoveling the walks, the drives, the roof (and roof shoveling, we learned, is double-shoveling. Once off the roof, then again when the resulting heaps block doors), we caught up on movies. We see fewer in theaters all the time these days, because they seldom seem worth a $30 night out -- for another $10-15 we can go to the community theater, which feels more like a night out than a movie. But I digress. Over the holidays we saw:

Mamma Mia -- Like squirting whip cream from a can directly into your mouth. Tasty, but not something you want to admit having done.
Journey to the Center of the Earth -- We sat in the dark with our 3-D glasses on, jumping back from the screen. Very silly, but good clean fun.
Wall-E -- Trivia Question: Who sings "Put on Your Sunday Clothes?" in the Hello Dolly video Wall-E watches? Michael Crawford, the future Phantom of the Opera! (Well, my daughter was thrilled by that factoid anyway.) Good flick.
Dark Knight -- I used to love action movies, but ever since I had children I've found all the gratuitous violence off-putting. But Dark Knight was a wonder. Poor Heath Ledger. What a shame.
West Wing, Season 1 -- I needed a fix.

--cross-posted to Under the Covers

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year from all of us at Storyforce in snowy Washington State.