Poetry Challenge #74-Where I'm From

A few weeks ago, at the Kindling Words gathering author VCFA Faculty Uma Krishnaswami turned me onto the I Am From Project , celebrating our unique voices through poetry (my summation of the project, not the official word.). The project’s goal is “to create a national river of voices, reminding America that diversity is our origin and our strength.” Uma shared a poem and invited us to join it. I’m inviting you to do the same.

Poetry Challenge #74

The Stuff of Me

Write a poem describing where you are from, your ancestors, roots, family, and or your own personal journey. Scroll down for one shining example by and the link to #iamfromproject.

Begin with the words:

Where I’m From . . .

Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon

I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening,
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.

I’m from fudge and eyeglasses,
from Imogene and Alafair.
I’m from the know-it-alls
and the pass-it-ons,
from Perk up! and Pipe down!
I’m from He restoreth my soul
with a cottonball lamb
and ten verses I can say myself.

I’m from Artemus and Billie’s Branch,
fried corn and strong coffee.
From the finger my grandfather lost
to the auger,
the eye my father shut to keep his sight.

Under my bed was a dress box
spilling old pictures,
a sift of lost faces
to drift beneath my dreams.
I am from those moments—
snapped before I budded —
leaf-fall from the family tree.
— http://www.georgeellalyon.com/where.html
Where I'm From.jpg

*Cindy Faughnan and I began this 7-Minute Poetry Challenge 1027 days ago and counting . . . We now take turns creating our own prompts to share with you. If you join us in the 7-Minute Poetry Challenge let us know by posting the title, a note, or if you want, the whole poem in the comments.

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Poetry Challenge #25-Double Dog Dare You Not To . . .E!

How Dare You Dare Me . . .

How Dare You Dare Me . . .

When it comes to “don’t dos” I’m like a bull in a ring and that’s the red flag. It’s almost impossible for me to resist doing what I’m told not to do.


And yes, that does make me a lousy at word games like Password and Taboo.  

As hard as it is for me (and maybe you) to resist using a word or phrase on purpose, it’s fun to try. As having fun with words is the purpose of these 7-Minute Challenges, for this prompt I double dog dare you to put on your logologist’s hat and write a lipogram.* Say what?

Poetry Challenge #25

Double Dog Dare You to Delete the E

A lipogram consisting of writing paragraphs or longer works in which a particular letter or group of letters is avoided. In its easiest form, a writer avoids using uncommon letters like X, J, Q, or Z. Or avoids words with “ing” or “ed” endings. More difficult lipograms avoid common letters like A, T or E—E being the most common letter in the English language.

If you think avoiding using E is tough, consider this: Ernest Vincent Wright wrote an entire 50,000 word novel, GADSBY, without using the letter E.


Well, dang. If Wright could write a whole novel without "E", surely you and I can write a poem without "E", can’t wii?

Begin with a poem you’ve already written. Revise it by deleting every “E” word and replacing it with another word, if necessary.

Or, if you’d rather, revise the poem using only “E” words.

Or, try writing an entirely new poem without the letter “E”.

(And no fair intentionally mis-spelling words to avoid using “E”, that’s cheating.)


For Inspiration:

American logologist A Ross Eckler Jr. recreated Mary Had a Little Lamb six times, excluding different letters each time. To see the results of his efforts, click over to Wikipedia.

Set the timer for 7 minutes.

Select a poem to revise.

Start deleting "E" . . . I dare you!

*We have award-winning author/VCFA faculty advisor Tim Wynne Jones to thank (or curse) for this prompt. He shared his passion for logology during a VCFA lecture last summer.

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The White Chick in the Room

I'm This Chick*

I'm This Chick*

The children's lit world is a-buzz over diversity! Everybody’s talking about how we need diverse books and diverse writers (and to a lesser extent, diverse illustrators), and they should be . . .  But nobody is talking about the white chick in the room—especially not the white Writer chick in the room.  I’m that chick.

There are two parts to the diverse books issue. Both of which, as a reader, educator, grandmother & citizen I recognize. Neither of which—beyond letting my book buying dollars speak for me—am I in a position to do much about. And, both of which are making middle-aged, female, marshmallow ME want to pull back into the corner I crawled into as a child to read, and crawled out of when I became a writer.

Social Media is to bless . . . and to blame.

Back in my youth (the second half of the last century), writers—authors—were invisible. What we young readers focused on was the story: if a story was compelling, interesting, engaging we read it, and shared it.  With the exception of a select few we studied in school, none of us knew who wrote the books we read. No one cared much either, except when it was time to check out a new book.

This anonymity was both good and bad. Lightly brushing the surface, on the bad side, anonymity was partially responsible for the gross stereotyping, misrepresentation, and historic inaccuracies in literature we are trying to correct by pushing to support diverse writers, artists and books.

On the good side, this pre-social media anonymity allowed this white chick writer to hide behind my words. I was the girl who, while learning cursive back when we used No. 2 pencils and were graded on spelling and punctuation, wrote as lightly as possible so my teachers would have a hard time reading what I wrote, or notice any mistakes. The girl who, used books as invisibility cloaks at home. The girl who wrote her feelings because I would have had the crap beaten out of me if I’d dared say what I was thinking. Children in our house were only supposed to do what we were told—quietly—and smile.

I loved to write, and teachers praised my writing. But, lacking confidence in my own stories, I found my voice by telling other people’s stories. I could be anything I wanted to be, and write about anything I wanted to—Poof! Use initials and I’m a man! A pseudonym and I’m an abused wife! An Indian—(with tribal approval)! A Cambodian! A boy! Poof! Poof! Poof!

YES! Those who cares about literacy, education, community—children—know: We absolutely do NEED diverse books. Children likeand deserveto see themselves and their ancestors accurately reflected in stories; children learn about others by meeting them in stories.

For a better look and the explanation, click over to   "Picture This"

For a better look and the explanation, click over to "Picture This"

The graphic above shows books published in 2015 (and represents 2016 percentages too, according to Associate Professor and author of the post "Picture This", Sarah Park Dahlen, author/teacher Molly Beth Griffin & illustrator, David Huyck , the trio responsible for recently updating graphic.)

A huge majority of newly published books for children, 73.3% depict white characters; 12.5% animals, trucks & others,  and the whole rest of humankind depicted in a mere 14.2%, while according to Wikipedia, about 62.6% of Americans identify themselves as white. BTW: no figures were included for gender, religious, ableness diversity…Due cause for another chart?)

YES! We do need people of diverse backgrounds writing for our children! For the same reasons stated above and more. If every story was the same, who’d ever need to read, or hear—or buy—more than one? (And goodness knows, as a kid, I wanted to read about anything else but my boring old self.) This isn’t the reason no one is talking about the white chick the room. In truth, much of the Diversity Matters talking is being done by white chicks.

As Sarah Park Dahlen noted in her post unveiling the graphic, the Minnesota Children’s Lit community which supported this updating is, "comprised mainly of white authors, illustrators, and editors working to promote anti-biased and anti-racist children's literature, support writers and artists from underrepresented communities, and remove barriers to inclusivity." Similar groups are forming all over America, including WNDB, We Need Diverse Booksand my own VCFA’s Young Writer’s Network connecting authors with children in an effort to “raise a new generation of diverse writers.” (I can’t speak for the world efforts...)

Who better to tell diverse stories than diverse authors and illustrators? This is the diversity question that has everyone ignoring the white chicks in the room. But is it the question we should be asking? Really? 

Blogger, Kevin D.Hendricks a “work-at-home dad [who] wrestles with faith, social justice & story", charted the books he’d read during 2014, and wrote about his findings in his Jan.8, 2015 post “Defining Diversity is Kind of Tough.” When explaining his findings, Hendricks noted, “Sometimes you don’t know an author’s or a character’s ethnicity," and went on to explain: "In this case I made my best guess and counted any book with a non-white author or primary character (I didn’t chart other kinds of diversity—gender, sexuality, disability, religion, etc.—just because it was getting complicated). I’m sure I’m off in places.”

Defining diversity is kind of tough. Sometimes you don’t know an author’s or a character’s ethnicity.
— http://www.kevindhendricks.com/2015/01/08/why-we-must-pursue-diverse-books/

Writer Chick Me cringed when I read this. Not because Hendricks charted his booklist with an eye to reading more diverse stories. And not because he included authors (not illustrators, BTW) in the list. I cringed because he seemed disappointed that it was “kind of tough” sometimes to know an author's ethnicity from "the writing." Isn’t the goal of good writing for the author to be invisible?

Yes! Yes! Yes! Diversity in our literature, especially in our increasingly more global, changing, interconnected world does matter. We need to nurture and “support writers and artists from underrepresented communities, and remove barriers to inclusivity." 

But does it have to be an OR situation? When it comes to writers & writing, should:

  • WHO wrote the story matter to a reader sounding out her first books all-by-herself?
  • WHO drew illustrations that sucked that child so deeply into that story he can’t even hear the TV matter, either?
  • Should Diversity Matters mean AND?

If it shouldn't, then where does that leave white, middle-aged, marshmallow writer chick me?

Right now, striped of my invisibility cloak, I'm feeling more like a plucked chicken: raw, exposed, maybe even a tad too close to my sell by date, than I am a chick.  What are my stories to tell? . . .  Animals? Trucks? Songs about Rainbows? 


White Chick in the Room Playlist:

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Big Wheel Keeps on Turning

Big wheel keeps on turning, churning up snippets so long forgotten they might not be rightfully considered mine anymore. (Reading over that line, I'm feeling a little too much like Miss Daisy...better get some of that there "blueing shampoo." 

A name, in author and VCFA faculty advisor, Sharon Darrow's Write at Your Own Risk post, "The Imagination Has Its Orders," prompted the stop and pried the cage open this go round. Bonnie Riedinger, not even the correct name--off by one letter--but close enough. Yep, like horseshoes and hand grenades, memory works that way. 

Halloween, Junior Year, my BF Valerie is Alice. Get what that leaves me? We were having too much fun to graduate!

Halloween, Junior Year, my BF Valerie is Alice. Get what that leaves me? We were having too much fun to graduate!

My senior year of high school, I only had to take two required classes, Government and Senior English. I didn't need to take either really, could actually have graduated early, but why? I had a good paying job--school hours only, weekends and holidays off--in the Career Guidance Center, (I would have had to quit if I graduated.) My friends were all still in school. I wasn't ready to be big.

Instead, I padded my schedule with Volleyball P.E. with a plan to slide through my senior year.

A certain Huntington Beach High School English teacher named Mrs. Riedlinger (note the "l") was my is responsible for turning my slider into a home run. 

People ask why I became a writer.  It took reading that one-letter-wrong name all these years later for me to come up with an answer: Mrs. Riedlinger.  I doubt she'd remember me (even a year later.)  I wasn't that kind of student. But Mrs. Riedlinger was that kind of teacher.

Going round and round and round in the circle game. . .
— Joni Mitchell

Here's what I remember from Mrs. Riedlinger's class: We read the Odyssey AND Travels with Charlie. She taught poetry, by way of the classics--AND Dylan AND Elton AND Mick. Unheard of! (This was 1975-76, back before the age of reason.)

She assigned 10 SAT words a week. "Define them and use them each in a sentence."  

That name stopped me. I Googled my teacher and 2 yearbook pages popped up. Judith Riedlinger,  teaching at HBHS in 1971-1985.

That name stopped me. I Googled my teacher and 2 yearbook pages popped up. Judith Riedlinger,  teaching at HBHS in 1971-1985.

I raised my hand. "Do we have to write one sentence each?" I asked. "Or can we use more than one word in a sentence."

(The smart girl in the class, Deirdre, who by the end was my friend and still is, thought up the question. She was a sophomore who'd already skipped a grade or two, and unlike me, had every intention of graduating early.)

"Use as many as you like per sentence. Use them all in one sentence if you can. But," Mrs. Riedlinger challenged. "If you want it to count, it had better be a proper sentence."

Each week of that semester Deirdre and I went for it. Doing so took much more time, no doubt, but we managed to cut our sentence production. And at least once we succeeded in correctly using all 10 of that week's words in one sentence. If memory serves, two of those were sagacious and parsimonious

My story, of a passionate teacher changing a student's life, isn't unique. Still, it's lovely to know it happens--can still happen--especially as this brand new school year begins. Here's hoping our students connect with their Mrs. Riedlinger!

To keep the feel good going, here are my top 5 Favorite Teachers in Movies: 

  1. Danny Divito as Bill Rago in Renaissance Man
  2. Sidney Poitier as Mr. Thackeray in To Sir With Love 
  3. Michael Cane and Julie Waters in Educating Rita (not sure who's the teacher?)
  4. Robin Williams as John Keating in Dead Poet’s Society
  5. Peter O’Toole as Mr. Chipping in Goodbye Mr. Chips 

If that's not enough, here's a list of MORE inspiring Teacher/Student Movies.

This blog's playlist: 

--Thanks for reading! 

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A Pregnant Pause

















As the millworkers sing in CarouselJune is bustin’ out all over…”  Flowers are budding, birds are chirping, bees buzzing and as a recent grandmother to Ben,

Bennett experienced the wonders of Indepencence day: Parades, fireworks & watermelon!

Bennett experienced the wonders of Indepencence day: Parades, fireworks & watermelon!

Great aunt for the second time: 

                        Welcome to the World Felicity Allain Smith, born June 9th, 2014.

                        Welcome to the World Felicity Allain Smith, born June 9th, 2014.

And recently revealed gran-to-be:

    Lexi & Ryan are expecting, their baby’s due the end of the year.

    Lexi & Ryan are expecting, their baby’s due the end of the year.

I have babies on the brain, literally and literate-ly.

They—Farmers in the know— say trees always produce best after a “hard” year (“hard” being either an especially cold winter or hot, dry summer). Which might be the reason for the largess . . . although I’m not questioning or complaining. Rather, I’m simply, joyfully, reveling…and pondering gestation:

Elephant gestation takes 547.9 – 669.6730 days (the longest period for mammals).

Salamanders—tiny as they are—about the same. And, considering it, size-for-size, mother discomfort, bulkiness, effort-wise, probably the same elephantian experience too.

Velvet worm—actually NOT a worm and NOT velvet—takes up to 456.553 days,

Velvet worm—actually NOT a worm and NOT velvet—takes up to 456.553 days,

From conception to birth cat's gestation takes 58-65 days. (No wonder they're such hussies!)


Manatees 396 days on average.

Manatees 396 days on average.

Donkeys, "Jennys"  330-440 (with lots of variables), camels take 410ish.

Giraffes between 400-460, rhinos about the same, seals and sea lions: 330-350 days.

Giraffes between 400-460, rhinos about the same, seals and sea lions: 330-350 days.

Whales and dolphins: 517.426 (on average with some sperm whales taking 578), humans: 268 days give or take . . . 

Whales and dolphins: 517.426 (on average with some sperm whales taking 578), humans: 268 days give or take . . . 

 As for novels??????

Cause for my literary revelry stems from a cluster of new books by writer friends. With one exception, all by classmates of mine from VCFA. As I have been there through all of these books since inception, in some cases offering a shoulder, always watching admiringly, I’ve declared myself “auntie” to them and as such entitled to muse:

Here are some of the Unreliable Narrators at VCFA last summer.  B.R: Trinity, Cindy, Sarah, Barb, Cynthia; F.R:  Tam, Kelly, Erin.  I fully expect all to be published authors!

Here are some of the Unreliable Narrators at VCFA last summer.  B.R: Trinity, Cindy, Sarah, Barb, Cynthia; F.R:  Tam, Kelly, Erin.  I fully expect all to be published authors!

I’ll begin with the exceptional Russell J. Sanders, who I first met back in/around 2000 when he was a newly retired High School English/Theater teacher and wanna be author at Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston. Russell recently celebrated the birth of his second novel, which is garnering excellent reviews, Special Effects (Dreamspinner Press, 2014): More about Russell:

How long did Special Effects take from idea to sale?

About 2191.45 days . . . 

Gestation:  about   2191.45 days (with, as Russell noted “ some stops and starts”

Gestation: about 2191.45 days (with, as Russell noted “ some stops and starts”

Erin Moulton’s third novel came out this June. This being her third, one might think the whole “birthing a novel” thing would have lost its novelty for her. Maybe that’s why Erin “made things interesting” this year, but combining the birth of her newest novel, Chasing the Milky Way, with the birth of her first human baby, Tucker! Oh, yeah, and if that wasn’t excitement enough, timing it all to coincide with the date her new manuscript for her work in progress was due. More about Erin: 

Gestation: It's a bit of a blurrrrrr

Gestation: It's a bit of a blurrrrrr

Jennifer Wolf Kam's path has been by award-hopping to publication! A 3-time finalist for the Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing, Jen first won publication of her ghost story, White House, in Hunger Mountain. Spectacularly, publication of her debut novel came as a result of writing 2 of 5 finalist in the NAESP 2013 Children’s Book ContestMore about Jen! 

Gestation:    5 years: 1826.21 days

Gestation:  5 years: 1826.21 days

Sarah Tomp, author of my often lauded, put-it-back-in-print fav, The Red, White and Blue Goodbye, had a relatively easy time of it with her debut moonshine novel, My Best Everything, which “walks the line between toxic and intoxicating” The gestation time was only 1 1/2 years=547.9632996 days!  More about Sarah:

Gestation: about 1 ½ years:  547.863298611 days

Gestation: about 1 ½ years:  547.863298611 days

Tamera Ellis Smith, who’s writing credits include a first-person essay in  BREAK THESE RULES: 35 YA Writers on Speaking Up, Standing Out, and Being Yourself,  welcomes her debut novel Another Kind of Hurricane, August 2015.  (Publication is scheduled to coincide with the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.) Here's More about Tam!

So, Tam, how long did it take to write Another Kind of Hurricane?:  Almost 9 years . . . 3287.18 days, with “A lot of starts and stops along the way.  Sometimes big stops.”

Last but not least for this crop: Teresa Harris, author of the spunky picture book, Summer Jackson: Grown-Up,  won two prizes (one for humor) for this novel-in-progress while we were still at VCFA.

Teresa's WIP, acquired by Clarion, is forthcoming (I could not find a pub date on the web.) So by my calculations, gestation time: 5.6 years=2045.36 days. However, if you count post-sale as gestation,* the interview announcing the sale was Feb of 2012 and Teresa’s book hasn’t been published yet, gestation's is ongoing. So make that 2921.94 and counting . . . More about Teresa 


Why the disparity?

I like to think of it in shark terms. Sharks are K-selected reproducers, (as are, cats aside, the other animals noted above.) Rather than producing a large number of poorly developed offspring, “they produce a small number of well-developed young.” In this way offering their offspring the best possible chances of surviving. Additionally, in these animals, birth can be delayed depending on a variety of external pressures.

That’s why I’m thinking shark. Maybe it isn’t’ about how badly we want to publish . . . what brilliant writers we are . . . the fantastic story premise we’ve dreamed up . . . Or about everyone, anyone, our expectations. Maybe there are other forces beyond our control determining how long it takes.

“You can feel it in your heart/
You can see it in the ground/
You can see it in the trees/
You can smell it in the breeze/
Look around! Look around! Look around!”
— June's Bustin' Out All Over by Rogers & Hammerstein

* The question of whether a book is “gestating” in that time between being sold and publication is up for debate. Might this time be the equivalent of Novel neo-natal?--It certainly adds to the w-a-i-t-i-n-g t-i-m-e. . . tick-tock

Care to give a little listen?? JUNE IS BUSTIN' OUT ALL OVER on Utube

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Battling the Buts

When my friend Teri was in Paris, a few years back,  I went to visit her. Paris_-_Eiffelturm_und_Marsfeld2One day she came home all a-twitter. She had been invited to a party by a guy she had seen, often, at an internet cafe. senior-man-in-beret (A handsome, Frenchman).

Later, she and I, her brother Anthony and a guy friend of his, discussed whether she should go to the party or not:

"But . . . do you think he really meant to invite me?" she said. "Maybe he was just being nice . . . "

"Did he look at you?" Anthony and friend asked.


"Then he's interested."

"But . . .

"Did he smile at you?" Anthony and friend asked.


"Then he's interested."

"But . . .

"Did he talk to you you?" Anthony and friend asked.


"Then he's interested. . . . GO TO THE PARTY!!!!"

It's the same with writing, or any creative, non time-card activity. When it comes to our definition of "working" or not, we go all middle-grade and dismiss all that goes into the process with that 3-letter word: "But . .. that doesn't count... "But . .. I'm not really...

The UNs had a "few" middle school moments at the VCFA Alumni-rez this July

To counteract those insecure boogies, I've created this litmus test. (I've used "writing" as my creative endeavor. Substitute yours for it.) Then print it out and post it prominently. The next time buts get the better of you, give yourself the test.

Am I Writing?

Are you thinking about your story?

You're writing!

Are you doing research for your story?

You're writing!

Are you reading words written by other writers, especially those you admire...or not?

You're writing!

Have you written words today? A grocery list? An email? Notes for your story? ...any at all?


--Read. Respond. When in doubt, repeat. Repeat as needed.

Written Words are a renewable resource!


Spending My Summer Vacation

Were your "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" Back-to-School essays fact or fiction? Or like mine, some of both.

I used to think you had to "go somewhere else" in order to have something "interesting" to write. I'm learning what Tam Smith and Sharry Wright, blog sisters on Kissing The Earth

seem to have known all along, and what led young reader-me to spend countless satisfying summer days curled up in a cozy spot, reading: the landscapes of a book can be a real, as captivating, as life-altering as any. In case you're wondering why  I haven't been posting, it's Summertime. I'm spending my Summer Vacation. I'll write you all about it, later. . .




Handle With Care

I walked into the most enticing antique shop in La Mesa, California, today. The window display pulled me in; Candlewick glassware and vibrant Fiesta dishes-transparent and dainty juxtaposed with bold, hearty ceramics.  

So like me; so like most of us. . .

In her recent posting on Write at Your Own Risk, the unofficial Vermont College of Fine Arts Faculty blog, Coe Booth discusses her novel-in-progress when it’s at what she calls “The Fragile Stage.”  When, as she describes it, “We're excited about our ideas, but we haven't hit that stage in the writing process where we can see the path to the end.”

Anyone who’s ever painted a picture; planted a garden; rearranged a room; cooked a meal, moved. . .  has been there. You know: that time when you can so clearly picture exactly what you want the end result to be, but. . .  But right then, with the necessary ingredients unpacked, scattered, detritus here and there, parts missing,  it looks like a mess, garbage, hodge-podge, heap of junk?

Oh yeah…THAT “Fragile Stage.”

When a project is in The Fragile Stage, Booth notes, our “own self-talk can make ‘That's a good idea!’ into ‘Ugh, that sucks’ so fast your head doesn't have time to spin.” Self-talk makes or breaks you.

Lured by the Candlewick and Fiesta ware in the window, I stepped into the Antique Shop with—no surprise to anyone who knows me—one paw already on my wallet. I was sure I’d find that something I needed to buy waiting inside. A sign with big, black on white bold lettering posted just inside the door set my Candlewick Core quaking:


What to do?  If I start browsing, I risk chipping something; if I don't browse I won't find the treasure; I'll miss out on finding my prize; I've worked hard all week, I so deserve a prize, but. . .

I’ve had to buy something I broke before—most recently a jade good-luck talisman in a Bali Shop, which the saleslady wrapped up and gave me, saying I could “glue it together.” (Yeah right, as if gluing it back together will put the good luck jube-jube back inside.)

As Booth says: “Listen to your self-talk.”

Negative self-talk “can stop us before we put word on the page,” or plant in the ground, paint on the brush, fork in the drawer or foot through the door.

Positive self-talk “keep us motivated as we find our way…”

And, if your inner-critic is shouting too loudly, stifle it the way the guy did in the song, Make up your own little sign:



Post your sign in a prominent spot, tune your inner-station to a happy song and get after it!

Read Coe Booth’s May 14, 2012 blog posting, "The Fragile Stage" : http://writeatyourownrisk.posterous.com/the-fragile-stage