Poetry and Contest Preview

I’ll be doing the drawing for the Wordamour Giveaway later today, but first I wanted to post a poem I’ve been working on

Pecan Year


With staccato notes they strike,

 roll like billiards

down the shed’s freshly tarred roof.


Gathered up, their hulls clack together


A shy child’s blocks in a silver bowl. 


Each ebony streak contains a universe,

each mottled shell a native land.


Giveaway reminder, and Christmas survey

Just a reminder, the Wordamour giveaway is still going strong.  I have copies of Coraline, Nevermore and Evis and Olive to give away, and anything else I can scare up.  Anyone who comments on Wordamour between November 19 and December 19 will be entered (once for each comment).  I’ll do the drawing on the 20th and send out the goods the 21st.

So, it’s officially the holiday season, marked by the number of radio stations that have gone all Christmas all the time.  What is your favorite holiday song?

For me, it’s a three way tie:

1. Silent Night.  Can’t beat a song that got troops to stop fighting in the trenches on the Western front during WW I.  Also, Franz Gruber, the music teacher who wrote the music and played it that first night, Christmas 1818, on his guitar (the organ was broken) is my great, great, great, great grandfather.  I’m way too proud of this connection but there it is.  One of my life’s goals is to spend some Christmas eve in the Silent Night Chapel, in Oberndorf, Austria, where they recreate the scene of the song’s birth every year.

2. The Christmas Waltz.  “It’s the time of year, when the world falls in love. . .”  Well, I fell in love hard Christmas 1989 and the rest, as they say, is history.  So this song has special meaning for me.  ‘Nuf said.

3. Christmas in Dixie.  I’m such a sentimentalist, but I love this paean to my adopted South.  Ned Perme’s Christmas in Arkansas is a close second. So, weigh in. . .what are your holiday favorites?

The Best Kept Secret in Wales is. . .

First, while I have you in suspense, a little backstory.  Last summer, at the Great Writing Conference, in Bangor Wales, I got to hear Harrison Solow, writer, teacher, and relatively recent LA to Wales transplant, read part of her essay on the best kept secret in Wales, which would be published in the fall Agni Review and which, during the session, she still managed NOT to reveal (nor have I, yet). 

“So, what IS the best kept secret in Wales?” I asked cheerfully during the question session at the end.

“You’ll find out when you read the Agni Review,” Ms. Solow replied coyly.

Now, the good news is, thanks to my husband’s dedicated  support of literary publishing, we actually get the Agni Review. And the “issue where all is revealed,” arrived at our home last week.

Backing up a bit more.  In her essay about the best kept secret in Wales, Harrison Solow commits a cardinal sin, at least in my mother’s eyes. 

For years, growing up, my mother tried to temper my enthusiasm for life (and people wonder where my 11 year old gets his) by gently suggesting that, “if you build things up too much when you tell about them,  people will invariably be disappointed.”

Well in her essay about the best kept secret in Wales, tenor  Timothy Evans, (there, the cat’s out of the bag) Solow really laid it on thick.  A humble mail carrier who’s studied with tenor masters and beat out lots of famous tenors you have heard of for international awards, Evans’ voice, according to the besotted Solow, guaranteed to invoke tears. 

Please stop, cringed this tenor-lover as she read this nonetheless engaging essay, her mother’s voice echoing in the recesses of her mind.  I just know I’m going to be disappointed if you keep going on like this, especially if I don’t cry when I hear him.

Yes, I am an amateur tenor lover, the kind real opera fanatics love to hate, who can usually be moved to tears with Nessun Dorma or Recondita Armonia.  Having mourned, just recently, the great Pavarotti, I wasn’t sure I could be so moved by anyone else just yet.

But of course, dear reader, as you must be predicting by now, after I put the cd that came with the journal (go Agni!) in our stereo(go Agni review!) and listened to the first track, it’s true.

I cried.

And so did Denise, over at the Newpages blog.  So I’m not alone.  Right now, there’s no way you can hear Mr. Evans unless you go out and buy a copy of the Agni Review or order a copy of it online.  But I’m telling you–you won’t regret it.

I’m always telling you that, aren’t I?  But really, it’s true.

Yes, Mom, I’m still overselling stuff. I can’t help it.

In other news, we were in Memphis last weekend for the St. Jude’s Marathon, which my husband ran for the third time!  Now, true to my nervous nelly form, marathons in which my husband runs are always a source of worry for me.  First, there’s just the idea of running twenty six miles for this non-runner (who’s no slouch-I do walk and enjoy a stationary bike 4x a week).  Then there are all the medical disclaimers in the race materials about how it’s not their fault if you collapse during the race.  And the ambulance parked at the finish line.  Finally, there are all the joggers themselves, grimacing and hobbling over the finish line or collapsing in pain just after they cross it.

Needless, to say, a lot of prayers get offered up in our house in the weeks before a marathon.  Silently, of course,  because to do so out loud would be to insult our determined runner.

And then my husband, who trains fastidiously for months before (the secret to his success), crosses the finish line, grinning like crazy, looking for all the world like he could just keep on going.

And I wonder–what was it I so worried about?

Home at last. . .and a book discovery to share

In which our graying heroine is kidnapped just before Thanksgiving and brought to Lowell, AR,  forced to relax with family, eat delicious food (3 different kinds of risotto!) and endure FIVE days without web access!

Seriously, those five days and my travels have put me rather behind in more ways than one,  but I’ll make up for it.  So what did I do during those days, besides the activities mentioned above?  I read, madly, deeply, in ways I haven’t read since before the internet–and discovered a wonderful not-so-new author, Irene Nemirovsky.  What a find.

A Russian living in France in the pre-WWII years, Nemirovsky was a celebrated author when the Germans invaded and she was removed to Auschwitz, where she, and later her husband, were killed.  They left behind two young daughters, who were hidden and kept safe by loyal friends, and Nemirovsky’s journal, which the daughters carried from hiding place to hiding place.  Years later, when their children, now grown, could finally bear to read this record of the last year of their mother’s life, they discovered instead,  the novel, Suite Francaise.

Suite Francaise is about the German occupation of France in 1940-41 and it’s absolutely riveting and wrenchingly moving.  Comparisons to War and Peace (perhaps my favorite novel of all time) are not exaggerated.  No, it’s not that long but Nemirovsky had planned for it to be–if she was allowed to live.  Unfortunately, we only have the first two parts, roughly 350 pages. 

One would think that a novel written in the midst of such an occupation, with an axe literally hanging over the author’s head, would be a stinging condemnation of the German invaders.  But in actuality, no one truly escape Nemirovsky’s critical and yet generous eye.  She writes with the sure knowledge that the occupiers and the occupied are all pawns of fate, of powers far greater than they.  People fall in and out of love, they behave nobly and meanly, act selflessly and selfishly, concerned only about their own skins.  French class structure plays a large role and the French “collaborationists,” those who worked with the Germans to save themselves, often come off worse than the invaders. 

Included with the book is an enlightening preface to the French edition, as well as Nemirovsky’s letters from the years before she died, (heartbreaking, as they grow increasingly desperate) and notes for the novel (which details the other sections she hoped to write). Indeed, more novels should be published with such notes, they are that enlightening.  Should I ever teach a class in novel writing, I will include Suite Francaise simply for the notes. 

How did I discover Suite Francaise?  I picked up an advance copy of another of Nemirovsky’s novels, Fire in the Blood, which just came out, at the NWP conference.  Fire in the Blood, a novel of family intrique set in the south of France was very different, not at all on the level of Suite Francaise and disturbingly predictable.  But it was good enough to get me interested in the author’s story and I got hold of her masterpiece as soon as I could. I read it straight through in four days, stopping only to eat, admire the lovely ways in which my nieces and nephews (and sons) are growing up, adjudicate the occasional sibling argument, and watch the Razorbacks make football history.

So, there you are.  Run, don’t walk, to your nearest library or bookstore and get yourself a copy of Suite Francaise.  You won’t regret it.
Coming soon–the best kept secret in Wales and how my husband blew away the St. Jude/Memphis Marathon!

Thoughts at 35,000 feet, and naming the goodies

I’m going to detail the specifics of the giveway first before I get into the post I wrote on the plane last night, ruminating on my general dislike of flying.  So you don’t have to read further unless you’re interested. 

Goody Giveway:

Anyone who posts a comment on this site between today and December 19 will be entered in a drawing for the following (I may add more but this is it so far):

Advanced Reader’s Copy(ARC) of Coraline, Neil Gaiman’s story in graphic novel form.

Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere in paperback.

ARC of Elvis & Olive by Stephanie Watson.

You can enter more than once.  I’ll mail the goodies to the winners after the drawing.

Even with packing a small box to send home, my bag barely made the weight limit at 46 lbs. 

Books are heavy.  Words do have weight.

Flying Fears

Sunday November 18, mid-evening.  I’m on the flight to Little Rock, feeling happily melancholy.  Melancholy because I’m on a plane, a tiny one at that (although my fellow passengers are a jovial bunch, for which I am grateful) and no matter how I try to get around it or how smooth the flight actually is, I just hate to fly.

Happy because the plane is bearing me home to all I hold dear, my husband, my kids, my cats, my friends/colleagues, my students, and now my mom (last but not least), all at the end of this cloudy rainbow.

Also, I’m on my second glass of wine.

Strangely, I love to travel.  I just don’t like the en route part.  Some years ago I discovered the root of this fear, since, I’ve never had a really bad flying experience to base it on.

But my father has.  Add this to the fact that my father is a great storyteller and you have a terrifically anxiety provoking combination for a little pitcher with big ears.  That is, by the time I was a teenager, I had heard the stories of 1. flying through tornadoes in Louisiana and 2. the landing made sans landing gear in which the priest took out his rosary and began a droning prayer, and everyone was directed to assume the crash position, so many times that subconsciously I don’t think I believed in the possibility of a relatively smooth, uncomplicated flight.  The kind I’ve had, mostly, in the twenty years I’ve been flying, with a lot more regularity than my Dad. Thus, every time I walk off the plane I want to throw my arms around the stiffly smiling pilot and thank him profusely for keeping me alive another day.

So, old habits die hard.  I don’t blame my Dad.  They were good stories.  But at mid-life, I wish I could rewrite the script rolling in my head.  Instead of the mental ground-kissing I do every time our wheels touch down, it would go kind of like this: “Wow.  Another amazing flight.  Don’t you just love to fly?  I do.  There’s nothing like it.”

Well, maybe someday.  There’s always hope.

My friend Monda commented on my use of y’all despite my urban roots.  It’s one of my favorite words, has been since we moved to Louisiana lo those fourteen years ago and in my adopted home of Arkansas, I’ve only come to love it more. So, even though it’s probably not incredibly unique in the blogosphere, I think I’ve found my sign off.

Bye, y’all.

Wordamour Goody Giveaway: A Teaser

Posts have been lean this week as I’ve been at the National Writing Project conference since Wednesday and they’ve kept me running.  Spent yesterday at an NWP Rural Sites Network workshop about site bibliographies that was amazing (NWPCA leadership team: I’m thinking I could modify this for a great leadership retreat).  Today was the General Session and workshops.  Also my day to visit the book fair.  Jump back, readers, I came, or rather, staggered,  out of that book fair with goodies GALORE.  In fact, despite having packed incredibly lightly, I am now a little worried about going over the 50 lb weight limit. I stocked up on pens (my personal fav; on principal, I never buy pens but snag them at conferences), advanced reader’s copies (Kevin Brockmeier’s latest!) children’s book posters, books to keep and books to give away, stocking stuffers and a even few goodies for The Perfect Grandson (no kidding, Monda, wait’ll you see).  And that’s what I can remember off the top of my head.  What treasure there was to be had this year.  And it was a madhouse.  Seriously, turning a bunch of teachers loose on this place when the doors open is kind of like the moment at a birthday party when the pinata finally bursts and spews candy everywhere.  Someday, somebody’s gonna lose an eye.  I swear, this year at the Scholastic booth, they came close.  So, this is going to be a short post but tune back in early next week when I detail the specfic items I will be giving away in my DECEMBER WORDAMOUR GOODY GIVEAWAY.  A working day tomorrow, planning spring and summer events for the Rural Sites.  Right now, my amazingly soft Marriott bed is calling to me.  Good night, y’all.

Arkansas Literary Forum. . .and, a contest!

The Arkansas Literary Forum, the annual online journal of Arkansas writing edited by Marck Beggs, has hit the wires, so to speak.  And what a liteary smorgasboard.  Great stuff from great writers, too many to list without repeating the table of contents.  A special section by and about Damien Echols, one of the West Memphis Three, incredible art from Nancy Dunaway.  And, yes, a personal essay from yours truly and a story from my husband, John Vanderslice.  Check it out.

In the midst of workon my book, Burning Down the Garrett: Revising Creative Writing in Higher Education, I am knee deep in reading about every MFA program listed on the Associated Writing Programs website, with the goal of creating an honor roll of programs breaking the mold and spotlighting a few particularly cutting edge programs.  About halfway through the fifty states (with several big states to go, phew), I can make a couple of perhaps not-so-suprising observations, namely that: programs housed in schools of art tend to be particularly forward leaning, as are programs in universities that in or near cities (though this is not always true).  It’s the rural programs that tend to be more old school.  More on this as it develops. 

In other news. . .

It was a good weekend: crafting, bread baking, chili-making, flu-shot obtaining (we’re all covered now), library visiting, UCA football (we won although my son’s favorite player, Brent Grimes, didn’t get the kind of playing time he usually does), and cruising the Sunday holiday open house downtown.  In spite of the fact that I was fighting crankiness about heading off to a conference this week.  Not that I don’t love conferences once I’m there, but I miss my husband and kiddos.  Also, this is the beginning of my annual November push where I’m away from home three weekends in a row; National Writing Project conference, Thanksgiving in Fayetteville  (with some of my favorite relatives), then Memphis for the St. Jude’s marathon my husband runs in.  Even though the latter two are great family fun, it’s hard to be away three weekends in a row just before the Christmas season begins.  Keeping one’s clothes laundered, for example, is a particular challenge.  The only time of year when I wish I had more underwear.

I am looking forward to the book fair at the conference, though, and am leaving LOTS of extra space in my suitcase for all the goodies I will inevitably bring home.  This year I even plan to bring a poster tube for all the gorgeous children’s book posters the publishers give out.  Last year’s highlight was the advance reader ‘s copy of Trenton Lee Stewart’s current bestseller, The Mysterious Benedict Society.  Tell you what, keep checking back at this blog and next week I’ll post some particularly choice goodies and have a drawing among people who post on this blog from November 19-December 19.  Sound like fun?

I’m off to pack, even though I don’t leave till Weds. on an ungodly seven am flight.  Some years back, my very well-organized sister-in-law, Polly, pointed out that if you pack a few days before you leave, you avoid all that last minute laundry/allnighter/packing stress.  Although I will never be as organized as she is, I do take this advice to heart and find it really does make for a much better leave-taking experience.   

More soon, ta for now.


Readings, Standing Ovations and Once More to the Pokemon Shirt

Every act of violence is a betrayal of language.

Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Nye gave a reading here last night and finished with a lullabye about a chicken that drew a well deserved standing ovation.  Her reading was so powerful I’m almost at a loss for words.  Suffice it to say that she told us that she leaves a reading satisfied when she feels as if, “words have weight again.”

Well, my friends (as Nye would say), words have weight again.  Or more weight, I should say.  It is readings like that, the many opportunities I have to celebrate the sacredness of the word with my family, my friends, my students and writers like Naomi Nye that remind me what a blessed, blessed life I lead. 

In Other News. . .

Things have been relatively quiet wardrobe-wise, since we found Jerzees sweatpants at Dollar General last Friday for $5/pair.  We stocked up and both kids now have them in every color.  And Will is a happy, happy boy as long as he has his sweatpants on.

However, I did get to witness another philosophical discussion about the yellow Pokemon shirt.

John: (holding up the shirt) Ok, since you’re going to be wearing a sweatshirt today, you can wear this shirt under it.  That should be fine, right?

Will: (giving John a withering look)  Daddy, it’s not winter yet.  I can’t wear that shirt until winter.

John:  I should just give it away then.  For some reason, you won’t wear it.

Will:  I’ll wear it.  When it’s winter.

John: So, I’ll give you another long sleeve shirt and you’ll wear that under your sweatshirt?

Will:  Yes.

John: What’s the difference?

Will:  It’s not winter yet.

Children.  Master’s of the circular argument.  I have to say, though, winter or not, things are just not looking good for the Pokemon shirt.

Big learning curves: with writing and blogging (and a tidbit about Natalie Wood)

Learning curve re: blogging (among many):  Pat Walsh sent me a comment thanking me for the review and I can neither find it or see that I approved it for posting on this blog.  Not sure how I did this but, Pat Walsh, if you’re surfing the web again and find this blog, can  you re-send?  And let me know if you have a website or a blog so I can link to it.

Bri Spicer, one of my students, picked up on something in my review of Pat’s book, which is that publishing is something that you really shouldn’t consider until you’re really, really ready.  And needn’t necessarily be an end goal of writing at all.  Besides which, I’m publishing right now, aren’t I?

But back to Bri’s comment:  you absolutely must separate the idea of publishing from your writing, especially early on.  Not the idea of a reader, which is based on give and take and important to the writing process, but the idea of a publisher, which is completely marketplace driven.  Considering publishing and all that comes with it can be crippling if it’s done too soon.

Unfortunately, family and friends and even our own alter egos, have a way of pressuring us to see results.  Several examples: the beginning student writing a children’s story in my writing for children class years ago who asked, “You think I could publish this?” To which I responded, diplomatically, “Well, you could try,” and she replied, “Good, I could use the money.”

And yet another undergrad confessing angst about a novel, just begun, and whether it should be written at all, because will it ever be publishable? 

If all writers approached their early drafts with that question, given the odds in publishing, we’d never even start.

You need to write because you have a story to tell, something to say.  If you stay with it, publishing, in one form or another, will probably come someday, though monetary rewards, in any great Amy Tan/Stephen King-like numbers, will probably not.

Meanwhile, you have to learn.  And you can only learn by writing.  There is no other way.  And there is no failure except in not writing. 

In other news. . .


Comes not from our usual source but from our older son, whose interest in things sartorial continues to be nonexistent except when it comes to Natalie Wood.

At his insistence, because he’d watched in music class and LOVED it, we rented West Side Story for family movie night.  Yes, you heard right, not Shrek 3, not Happily Never After, our usual family movie night fare, but West Side Story!  And we sat rapt for the whole 2 1/2 hours, for although it is dated, there’s a reason why it won 10 oscars.

And older son may have revealed a few things about his tween self, basically that he seems to be crushing on Natalie Wood (we haven’t had the heart to tell him what became of her).  During the early scene in the dress shop,  Maria tries to get Rita Moreno to lower the neckline on her dress and complains endlessly about being the only one at the dance in a white dress.  Then she puts it on and all bets are off as she appears transcendant.  At which point our eleven year old, turns to us and says,

“You have to admit.  That is one beautiful dress.”

Out of the mouths of babes.