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A little PSA:Many people are involved with the children’s lit grassroots book awards, The Cybils. If you didn’t know, the name is shorthand for The Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards, and I like to think of it as the awards-before-the-awards. Many readers love the idea of reading free books, but not as many have the time or impetus for follow through. We’d love you to join us – yes, you! – and bring along a friend or two. We’re especially hoping to encourage more people from underrepresented groups. /PSA.

Like the Grecian sibyls of old, the Cybils take the pulse of the popular reading public and usually predict at least a little of what the ALA is going to announce early the following year. While nominations open each year in October, the Cybils is a labor of love well before time. Behind the scenes there are board meetings, where we chip away at inclusivity goals and transparency, publishing PR meetings, where we seek sponsors and track nominations. There’s working on digital campaigns, and basically beating the bushes for new volunteers. It’s work – but for love of books, we’re there for it.

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opening books is
something like sunrise: fresh, new
possibilities

{don’t worry lissa, I’m leaving the pollinators alone}

In two recent notes/newsletters, author and gardener Melissa Wiley has reminded us lately that, due to the presence of hibernating pollinators, we’re not meant to be digging in the garden until we’ve had a week of nights out of the 40’s – and while we haven’t yet reached that, this past weekend we had a brisk, sunny day, and I put a few things in pots…

And then, well, I was already out there (WARNING: “putting things in pots” is just A Gateway Drug to gardening), so I had a wee shufti through the raised beds to see what leftovers and volunteers had popped up. And I found this:

(Yes, I have spared you the full, blinding glory that is my acid green sun hat. You’re welcome.) Here I’d thought this mass of greens meant I had a beet, and since it was undersized, I’d left it to overwinter… only to discover it’s a massive, woody radish! Oh, well. So much for my dinner plans.

I hope you’re finding the odd thing to make you smile this month.

{revealed: PARTLY CLOUDY, coming 2/16}

Ta-daaaah!

IT’S A CLOUD!


It’s a rainy Monday, and I’ve got clouds, folks!

I haven’t historically made a fuss over my covers, but my HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books book covers are so lively I’ve been unable to stop myself. And the upcoming PARTLY CLOUDY (coming SEPTEMPBER 7, 2021!) has got to be my favorite cover this year so far. Illustrated by the splendidly whimsical Geneva B (Dragons in a Bag, The Dragon Thief, Beyoncé: Shine Your Light, Curls) PARTLY CLOUDY somehow looks like it was done both in chalk pastels and digitally (how?) and captures all the heart and emotion of its main character, Madalyn.

Come back and see it tomorrow! Until then, enjoy your President’s Day, and… have some clouds.

{#winterlight: irony}

I found it just a bit ironic that I blogged yesterday about anger before I got on social media or read the paper, or heard anything about the attempted coup at the nation’s Capitol. After hearing nineteen million politicians blurt, “This isn’t who we are!” I feel like it’s a good day to resurrect a poem I wrote in 2017… after the first nineteen million times I heard politicians say this phrase, in defense of this indefensible presidency. Enjoy.

“…this is. And thou art. There is no safety. There is no end. The word must be heard in silence. There must be darkness to see the stars. The dance is always danced above the hollow place, above the terrible abyss.” – Ursula K. LeGuin, THE FARTHEST SHORE, Ch. 8

“you may experience feelings of momentary discomfort”

“This is not who we are,” good souls profess.
“This brief discomfort heralds changing views.”
The dream, America, is dispossessed.

And politicians wallow in the mess
Eyes rolling wild, while looking for their cues —
“This is not who we are.” Good souls profess

To understand the needs of the oppressed,
Who are not newly pressured, but eschew
The “dream America.” We, dispossessed.

“Just rhetoric and chatter,” pundits stress.
“A bigot’s dreams could never here come true.”
This IS. Not who we are? Good souls, profess!

Resist. Support, with dogged faithfulness
Those who, with courage march. We must push through
the dream and wake our country, in distress.

Distracted by your grieving? Reassess
Comfort you proffered those who are not you…
This. Is. Not. Who. We. Are. Good souls, protect
The dreamer, wakening, and dispossessed.

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Since my autoimmune disorder means I haven’t actually left the general area of My House in weeks (wow, six weeks tomorrow…) I’m fascinated by reports of what’s done in places Not My House. Himself texts me pictures of the grocery store – where they greet each shopping cart with a mist of alcohol spray, and anoint every hand with a blob of hand sanitizer. I love that people don’t have the option to skip that – we’re ALL HAVING SAFETY TODAY, THANKS. The name of the store is Safeway, after all…

two carts apart

face-masked clergy share
antiseptic benisons
shopping sacrament

{thanksful: 6}

It’s The Day! We kept Hearing About! With Exclamation Points! All hail the Midterms at last, I guess. So much depends on… so much.

force, fulcrum, pivot

hat tip to William Carlos Williams & Archimedes
given levers we
moved

one voice into
chorus

single story to
library

a monochrome world
Technicolor

May we move things again – not back to where they were, but forward, to a new reality.

{penultimate summer days}

Glue & Glitter

You know it’s beginning to look a lot like Autumn when you find a stray pile of coffee filters in the cabinet and your first thought is, “What can I use these for?” Yes, it’s true – while other people suffer from pumpkin spiced blight, my autumn ailment is the belief that I can surely go mano a mano with any crafty project that I see on the internet, or in stores, or on other people’s houses, and succeed beyond my wildest dreams. Never mind that they probably bought them, and the stores certainly did – I’m positive that I can do them myself – and make them look even better. (Now that I think of it, this may not be just an autumnal ailment…).

Today’s project was making a chalk sign on slate. Mind you, I only have fat sidewalk chalk and pastels – neither of which are ideal for real (READ: unpolished) Scottish slate – and mind you, I can’t really draw all that well. I made a WELCOME sign, and it looks… probably like you ought to stay away from my house.

Fine, whatever. It’s autumn in a few weeks, and there will be garlands of leaves and coffee filter wreaths and grapevines and scarecrows and I WILL BE READY.


BDastard Diseases

I’m grateful I have something fun to focus on, because my scleromyositis is being a beast. My doctor has named it Predator. “You know that one part in the movie, where it just bursts out of that guy’s chest?” Well, not really, but I’ve seen the clips, and yeah – that’s what this disorder feels like – something which gnaws on my innards and erupts out of my chest periodically. Mostly, I’m dealing with it. Having something sucking down your energy and brainpower like an invisible leech is not fun, but it’s been …manageable. Mostly. Lately, though, it’s started affecting my digestion, which is difficult. When you’re a vegetarian, and eat a lot of fresh fruit and veg, being told you need to lower your fat, fresh, and fibrous intake or what’s in your gut will just sit there and rot because it can’t absorb into your system… is hard. I am… resentful. And cranky. And having to haul out a whole new way of eating that includes applesauce instead of apples and cooked instead of fresh. Soft foods are apparently the trick. At least the summer is ending; one doesn’t worry so much about lacking salads when it’s cold, and soup ought to be okay. I think. Ugh. At least yogurt and I don’t have to break up. And chocolate pudding. And chocolate mousse…


To the Bookshelf!

Really, whenever there is anything unpleasant going on, I take to the books. (Yes, in fact I have been reading like mad this past year. How did you know?) Now that I can read again – and there was a scary period a week ago when I was too tired even to comprehend while listening to an audio book (TOO TIRED!? How can that even happen?!) I’ve been enjoying Deanna Raybourne’s newest mystery series A CURIOUS BEGINNING. In children’s books, I’m enjoying Robin Stevens’ MURDER MOST UNLADYLIKE series — and I do order the British ones, because the titles and covers of the American ones give me a headache. (Murder Is Bad Manners?? Seriously, American publishers??) I’m looking forward to losing myself in more adventurous novels, including Rebecca Roanhorse’s TRAIL OF LIGHTNING, which is sitting on my nightstand, and Jacqueline Woodson’s two newest, THE DAY YOU BEGIN, and for older readers, HARBOR ME.


On the Keyboard

Because people so often ask how the writing is going, I’ll say… slowly. It’s new ground I’m breaking, trying to make a conscious decision to write something utterly new for me, something out of my usual family-oriented main character. It’s tougher still with Predator as a roommate in my brain who won’t conveniently go to sleep when I need a break. It’s tough, but to be a writer, I grit my teeth and remind myself that the gig means I have to write. Yesterday I finished a scene which had eluded me for a couple of days, and even though I had to lie down afterward, the feeling of triumph was real. Every letter counts, friends.

As hurricane season unspools, clouds hover on the horizon, I hope you are glorying in the final days of an unconventional summer, and wringing from them all the joy that you can.

{these things I do}

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Years ago, when a friend of mine was in the first throes of a difficult divorce, I saw a list on her wall which read “Things I Can Do And Not Panic” or something like that, and the list was filled with simple things she was good at, which she had control over, that had nothing to do with the betrayal and drama currently going on in her life.

That …sliced me to the bone. While we both put on a brave face, I shed more private tears over that list than she ever knew. It hurt me to think that so talented and loving and competent a person was having to resort to lists to remind them of who they were. And yet. Depression – that liar – constantly tells us who we are not, and anxiety leaves us dashing about trying to prove we are better than that liar says.

So. Here I am with my lists.

This will be this administration’s legacy: lists. Lists to remind me of what I can control (nothing) and what I can do (not much, but something). Lists to act as bandages and gauze, staunching the stab wounds to my sanity Every. Single. Day. Lists. To remind me that I have to get up and keep going. Lists that remind me that there are still some thing which are…safely predictable.

I’m so impressed with what so many friends and acquaintances are doing – speaking up, speaking out, organizing efforts to raise funds and collect necessary items. I can throw money at things, when I have any (and LOL that with the writing life), but “silence, like a cancer, grows.” Anxiety and depression are some of the great stranglers, I find, and as events unfold and the national discourse goes from vicious to violent disintegration, some of us can barely think or speak. Every task takes enormous concentration to complete. We are overshadowed by a desire for unconsciousness during the day, and twitch restively with thwarted energy in the dark hours.

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And so we pull out our lists… packed with metaphors, we make our lists force sense into the world.

On my list right now are plums. There are plums on our teensy, tiny Charlie Brown tree in the backyard, and that plum tree is doing its UTMOST right now. Every day I get a couple of pounds of plums from that thing, and when all is said and done, I’m going to have forty pounds of plums or something. I go out and take pictures of my plum tree pretty much every day. The life cycle of a plum is …pretty straightforward, actually. It’s yellow-green. Then it’s green and pink. Then it’s red. Then it’s plum-purple and then it’s ready.

(As anyone with a fruit tree, I also spend a lot of time side-eying birds. There are a LOT of birds in my life right now. I name them and count them and …basically argue with them.

Hey. It’s a thing. It’s something I can do that I’m good at now: random tiny bird identification and illogical discussions with said birds re: staying out of my plums.)

Oddly, the second thing on my list is my piano. To be clear: I am a terrible pianist. Just really bad. Mainly because I was an anxious child who didn’t ever have a professional teacher, and so had to learn from an older lady who meant well, but who basically terrified me with her quavery voice and tremoring hands. Those “lessons” lasted for about six weeks before we all gave it up as a bad idea. I could play anything the lady asked me… but I never read a note. No, learning to read music was something I taught – and still teach – myself, and my playing shows it. Badly. But, right now, an anxious aadult hacking away at the mountain of Really Craptastic Playing gives me a kind of peace. Plus, when I’m not butchering Bach, I play hymns – that’s a twofer right there.

The third thing on my list is… creating. Art. Crafting. Food. Did you know Bon Appétit has videos? (Soon I’ll be fermenting kombucha in self defense. At least now I know new things to do with alllll those plums…) I may not be good at creating, but I can be relentless. That’s basically how I have to approach everything – keep trying. Which leads to …

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…the fourth thing on my list, which is, predictably, Dutch. The language is by turns impossible and then deceptively easy – and, like with piano, I am dreadful at it — but I keep hacking at it — oh, so badly, with the throat-palate-hiss sounds of g and h – and I can only hope that someday, someday I can solidly converse with a six-year-old. Someday.

Fifth is reading. Specifically, reading fairytale retellings and romances. A happily-ever-after is a requirement, a plot that isn’t too full of drama and chaos; the sure knowledge that, as in the thirty-minute sitcom, all’s well that ends. I am throwing a way a great many things which don’t fit my narrow parameters, but am happily finding a great many that do. It’s time to reread books that made me happy, where great justice prevailed over impossible odds. These are the times I reread the Discworld books, so I can listen a while to Sam Vimes.

Yes, Robin Reader. I am writing. That’s never not on my list. I am writing even though it feels like my fingers are chisels and the plot is granite. I write even though occasionally my chisel turns into a penknife and the plot is impenetrable. I hack out a few millimeters as I can. Sometimes, it’s like sand, and it all fills in the shape by the time I get back the next day. And then this beast becomes archaeology, and I take out my brushes and go dirt-diving. I find where the plot disintegrated. I carefully piece together the story’s history. And then I dig again.

These things I can do – simple, fixed things, while we do what we can. Meanwhile, the swords we beat into trowels to transplant the flowers of justice need sharpening. If you’ve turned your spear into a pruning hook, don’t forget that agricultural implements are still offensive weapons, according to Sam Vimes… what we sow, we’re going to reap, so keep planting.

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