{#npm: 5 – early}

Apparently no one told the weather that after Passover and Easter it was meant to be all clear skies, baby chicks, and tulips until Memorial Day. It’s swaddling fog today – I just repurposed that verb – and it was forty-two at half eight. The seed packet I read the other day made dire mutterings about not planting before all danger of frost is past – well, I’m pretty sure we’ve passed that worry, but there is certainly no soil warmed to 65° as my lemongrass would prefer. I mentioned just the other day that it’s usually colder indoors than out…? So, how is it that every year I’m beguiled into turning off the heater at the beginning of April??

too soon wool socks shunned –
breezes brush against bare legs,
gilded with goosebumps

Did you know that you can now can the saga of Star Wars like you would Beowulf, or any other narrative poetry? The whole plot has been done over as epic poetry – which, given the “long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away” conceit works perfectly. I’ve enjoyed revisiting the Icelandic sagas since visiting Iceland, and while I don’t normally love long poetry, I’m kind of intrigued by this project.

The Shelf Stuff on Instagram is honoring Beverly Cleary ahead of her 105th birthday next month. Share why you loved her work, and where it resonated with you.

Don’t forget to check the National Poetry Month children’s lit blogger roundup! And, for goodness sakes, stay warm…

{#npm4: illumined}

Happy Easter, if you celebrate today!

Still more words of shine and dazzle and blaze, even with a foggy start to the day…Once started, I can’t seem to stop the flow of light and contrast everywhere.

Incidentally, this picture was snapped in a church courtyard almost ten years ago – the little person now a much older person who probably wouldn’t be caught dead in a poufy dress Mama liked. But I loved how she danced, both she and silhouette, a lively pas de deux of shadow-sprite and sunbeam.

May you go out and do your own dancing today!

{pf: poetry peeps do the dizain}

Greetings! Welcome to another Poetry Peeps adventure on Poetry Friday!

You’re invited to try our challenge in the month of April! Here’s the plan: We’re going to write an “in the style of” poem after Chickasaw poet Linda Hogan’s “Innocence.” Does “in the style of” mean a line-by-line imitation, including the idea of innocence in the theme, or using the word within your poem? Only YOU know for sure! Interested? Good! You’ve got a month to craft your creation(s), then share your offering (or someone else’s) with the rest of us on April 30th in a post and/or on social media with the tag #PoetryPals.

Did you grow up with a family who did Spring Cleaning? I didn’t, not really – we just cleaned house like it was Spring, every Sunday. Somehow though, no matter how I didn’t grow up, we still end up doing a version of Spring Cleaning at my house. It rarely coincides with the actual start-date of Spring, but it starts out with “we should really get the windows cleaned” and devolves into a flurry of vacuuming and organizing shelves. This past Sunday, I got a burst of energy – a rarity lately with this autoimmune disorder – and tackled the dust under the futon which had been leering at me. We washed duvet covers and pillows, scoured vinegar and baking soda on the shower floor (it’s supposed to be good for granite), organized the fridge and freezer, sanded and oiled the porch rocking chair, re-potted a couple of plants, and even raked up the last of the little spiky tree balls on the lawn. I felt pretty good about all of the work we got through, until I saw the texts from my poetry group. Are you coming? Are you joining us today?

Oops. Darn it!

Sadly, as my writing group can attest, housework occasionally gets the better of me. I fully intend to be where I’m meant to, but a dusty shelf or a streaky mirror distracts me. It’s not as if I even prefer to clean than to write – not even a little tiny bit – but I had my father’s preferred activity for me pretty well braided as an extra strand into my DNA through childhood. Though it’s nice to have vacuum lines on the living room rug, I missed talking words, hearing what everyone’s reading, and discussing what we’re doing next month. So, my dizain today is slightly narrative (but since I write fiction, it’s emotionally true rather than factual).

Appointment With Art

“Appointment with the Arts” my notebook read,
but I skipped reading for a messy chore,
letting my planning for the week ahead
drain from the weekend’s restful reservoir
the freshness, verve, and life it held before.
I chose a solid thing – hard-edged, *brick shaped,
and fed my soul on duty, scrubbed and scraped –
exchanged the weekend vibe for day-to-day,
set my own snare, and foiled my own escape!
Dull Jackie chose to work when she should play.

Dizains always involve some finessing for me – I forever think I have the pattern cold, and then when I read back, realize I’ve gotten something (usually several somethings) out of order. And then I do that deep breath/eye roll thing and start over. It’s all about patience with the process! I loved the idea of work/duty/responsibility as something pedestrian and brick-shaped, so borrowed that phrase from Barbara Kingsolver’s “How to Drink Water When There Is Wine,” a poem which Tricia shared with the poetry group last week.

My Poetry Peeps have doubtless produced less dispiriting dizains than mine! Please do check out Tricia’s here. This one is Laura’s, and Kelly’s is here. Here’s Liz’s and you’ll find Sara’s poem here, and Michelle Kogan’s is here. More Poetry Peeps will check in throughout the day, so stay tuned.

Art by Marc Johns.

More poetry? Yep: Poetry Friday is gloriously blooming today at Susan Bruck’s Soul Blossom Living, where she’s doing a round-up of who is doing what next month for National Poetry Month. I’m going to try for a poem-a-day, but we’ll see where that lands. For now, here’s to sitting down with a book, or grabbing a jacket and finding some tadpole puddles, and ignoring those cobwebs for one more day. Happy Weekend.

{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.

{pf: poetry peeps make a metaphor}

Greetings! Welcome to another Poetry Peeps adventure on Poetry Friday!

You’re invited to try our challenge in the month of March! Here’s the plan: We’re going to dance forth with some “dizzying dizains.” Never heard of a dizain? Not sure why you’ll be stumbling and spun? The short version is: it’s a French form from 15th-16th c., with a 10-line stanza · 10 syllables per line · And an ababbccdcd rhyme scheme. A bit longer of an explanation can be found at Writer’s Digest, with a few helpful tips and an example. Interested? Good! You’ve got a month to spin your poem(s), then share your offering (or someone else’s) with the rest of us on March 26 in a post and/or on social media – #PoetryPals.

Our second challenge of 2021 was to roll the metaphor dice, digitally or in person if we had actual metaphor dice on hand, then write a poem – full stop. There were no other rules nor themes this month. Fortunately, the Perchance metaphor generator is …full of delightful chaos. Today’s Poetry Friday hostess, Karen Edmisten’s first metaphor made me snort-laugh – I look forward to seeing what (if anything) she comes up with. You should read Sara’s here. Tricia’s is here, and this is Liz‘s. Laura’s is here, and here’s Kelly’s. Michelle’s metaphor is here, and Mary Lee’s is here. More Poetry Peeps will be checking in throughout the day, so stay tuned!

Metaphors are wild – there’s no plausible deniability as with similes – no cushioning “like” or “as.” No, no, my dear, you ARE my sunshine, full stop, you ball of flaming nuclear goodness. My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun, but the rest of her…? She is FIRE…apparently literally.

While also a number of other things, metaphor by definition is a descriptive device, used for rhetorical effect. While I started out trying to use blank verse, the more rigid, syllabic form felt best – and don’t ask me why, except maybe it is just that metaphor is so whimsical (read: IRRATIONAL) I felt it needed some guide rails. The guidance-heavy form I selected was the Zeno, created by poet J. Patrick Lewis. As a ten-line poem with a syllable pattern of 8/4/2/1/4/2/1/4/2/1, it seemed most like time – mathematical and divisible. The fourth, seventh and tenth lines – all those with single syllables – rhyme, making it deceptively simple looking, but wresting sense and emotional resonance from such firmly structured lines is the tricky part. I found that after the first one, the next came much more easily, and the form matches really well with something so variant.

Go Set A Watchman

Honesty is a watch, well-honed,
its pendulum
hound, two-edged sword,
piercing, marrow
cleaving –

This next poem is from the metaphor dice, and is a phrase I was initially against using. It seemed to obvious, too easy – and yet, when I asked myself why, I had no good answer. Some questions… don’t.


Home is a mad thunderstorm. Wild
Hurricane stills –
Is this the eye?
The end?

And for all that it felt “too obvious,” and the form possibly too confining for emotional resonance, I think this one edges toward being my favorite.

Finally, this last effort was from a phrase that initially was poetic right out of the box. “Talent is a birdcage.” As a kid, I loved singing, but my distaste for ‘performance’ seeps through from being trotted out at church like a beribboned Shetland pony. “Oh, of course she’ll sing!” my parents gushed, smiling without asking, somehow pleased to be asked. “Why did we pay for voice lessons?” they asked in sharp whispers, when my tiny rebellions emerged. (What? Bitter? Me?) Throughout my life, I have been involved in countless thousands of performances, but there’s a way to sing without it being performance, I think? Something between sharing your soul and selling it…

These are my first try at zenos, and I’m really pleased with them, for all that syllabic poetry occasionally presents me with some real difficulties. Poetry Friday is hosted today, as I mentioned, over at Karen’s. Thank you, Karen! I hope the rest of you will take your sunshine-y presence on over that way and enjoy some more poetry.

In just a few days, it’ll be March, and we’ll have officially passed A Plague Year. It feels odd to think in terms of “celebration,” when despite several vaccines emergent, it’s not over, and its distanced-and-masked reality – and its global impact – will yet be with us. So, while we cannot truly celebrate, can we commemorate our resilience? Our neighbor’s courage? Our loved ones’ lives, lost, or carried on, though slowed and changed? Think about it… every day of a life well-lived is worth remembering. Happy Weekend.

{the acknowledgements…}

I don’t often read the acknowledgments in the back of books. Do you?

Perhaps an unpopular opinion from the writer who just showed you the one she wrote, but I don’t actually… like acknowledgements. While they’re expected in a nonfiction book that requires a lot of phone calls, interviews, research, and borrowing offices and documents, in fiction, they can feel extraneous. Some go on, unlike a dedication, which is generally no more than a sentence or two. They’re often deeply self-deprecating, emotional or personal, and give a true behind-the-curtain glimpse of the author. However, unlike many people, I …don’t always care about the author.

(Shhhh! I told you: unpopular opinion. Some of you I can just see giving me side-eye for my ungenerous spirit. I feel the heat of your glower, but I’m not wrong. No, seriously…)

Fellow middle grade author, Kate Messner, wrote about the pitfalls of acknowledgments years ago, though coming from a different – and not often thought of – area of concern. Another piece I saw a years ago in School Library Journal or Publishers’ Weekly described acknowledgments as “acceptance speeches without an award.” Even the New Yorker has had their say (and they are clearly the last word on everything). Acknowledgments are not always near to thanking The Academy, of course, but… sometimes it’s a near thing. And, every book I write – with disbelief I’m finishing up number nine now – I’m met with that moment at the end of going over Master Pass and seeing those little TK’s glowering at me. TK is publishing speech for “to come,” or “Where’s the acknowledgements, ye wee numpty?”

I’ve only really happily accepted the summons to acknowledge… once. And it was called an “Author’s Note,” and it was more an opportunity to talk about the book more than to thank anyone.

It isn’t that I don’t believe in giving thanks – nobody who reads this blog and sees the years I do a November month-of-gratitude post-a-day thing could believe that. But, saying a public thank-you that has nothing to do with owing gratitude for documents or time, to people and institutions or playlists that supported you during the work… it just feels very public to me, very exposed. That an acknowledgement is enshrined forever on the pages of a book makes it even worse… “Social media is forever”, we’re told. Yes, but for me books in print feel even more permanent still.

Today, the TK I encountered was limned in yellow, with the words “Pls supply,” an imperative highlight that made me feel like I needed …ammunition to ignore its summons. I felt like my pipsqueak sullen mutterings of “I don’t wanna” wasn’t enough, so I went looking at other recently published middle grade novels.

…Aaaand they all have them. Every one. Author’s notes. Acknowledgments. Sometimes just pages and paragraphs long. I had to go back to a novel published in 1984 before I could find a novel without acknowledgements – and that novel might only have skipped them because it was a paperback copy, fifth printing or something.


Looks like I’m on my own, here.

With love and gratitude, I’d like to acknowledge all of the cheerleaders and silent supporters who have helped me write this novel.

I’d like to thank my mother, who listened to me whine about editorial notes without fully knowing what I was talking about, or paying that much attention, to be honest, but if pressed, would be firmly on my side anyway.


Thank-you to the whimsically lovely James Margaret, whose silent support comes in the form of adorably shaped sticky notes that are pretty much everywhere, bearing lists, reminders, snippets of story and, oddly, the address of a total stranger in Ashland, Ohio. *unsticks this and examines in bewilderment*

Thank you, Tech Boy, for always trying to help me do technical things beyond my ken much, much faster; for periodically dragging me on walks; for standing in the hallway listening to me prattle when you only got up to pee and weren’t calling a basic cessation to the work day, and for not reading my manuscripts because you’re really busy, and I don’t actually want to discuss the points of punctuation you’d want to get into because I already have copy editors. Apparently three of them this time.

Gratitude to those people with babies or bunnies – and apparently loads of free time – who send me heart-melting pictures of their cuddly, chubby spawn that revive me when my brain is imploding. Ditto to the senders of Instagram memes.

Thank you to the makers of Ibarra hot chocolate, Prednisone and Imuran, the unholy trinity which occasionally keeps me upright, and to June’s Journey, the game on my phone which provides helpful hidden object puzzles for me to do while my brain plays the Jeopardy! theme and a little loading hourglass spins.

You are all, in your own way, truly helpful, truly special, truly necessary, and I adore you. Thank you all, so very, very much.

And now that I’ve thanked you here, I can skip writing an acknowledgment. Right?


{cover reveal: PARTLY CLOUDY}

Lightning couldn’t strike twice, could it?

After a terrible year, Madalyn needs clear skies desperately. Moving in with her great-uncle, Papa Lobo, and switching to a new school is just the first step.

It’s not all rainbows and sunshine, though. Madalyn discovers she’s the only Black girl in her class, and while most of her classmates are friendly, assumptions lead to some serious storms.

Papa Lobo’s long-running feud with neighbor Mrs. Baylor brings wild weather of its own, and Madalyn wonders just how far things will go. But when fire threatens the community, Madalyn discovers that truly being neighborly means more than just staying on your side of the street — it means weathering tough conversations — and finding that together a family can pull through anything.

So, without further ado…here’s Madalyn.

Look at that face – those eyes! I love how …serious she looks, yet how adorable. Madalyn is, like many middle grade protagonists, all heart. She cares a LOT about friends, family, fairness and doing what’s right. The more human beings we get on a topic, though, sometimes the more “right” is a hard word to figure out!

But, like most middle graders, Madalyn tries to figure it out anyway – ’cause that’s part of figuring out yourself.

Isn’t it beautiful? September 7, 2021 is coming sooner than you think!

{pf: poetry peeps time travel with M-W}

Greetings! Welcome to another Poetry Peeps adventure on Poetry Friday!

You’re invited to try our challenge in the month of February! Here’s the plan: We’ll roll a set of metaphor dice and write a poem inspired by your metaphor. Don’t have metaphor dice? Never even heard of them? I first encountered them in Heidi’s Juicy Little Universe, and they were invented just a few years prior by the poet Taylor Mali. Interesting, right? If you’d rather not get metaphor dice, just use an online metaphor generator, like this one. Then share your poem on February 26 in a post and/or on social media – #PoetryPals.

Our first challenge of 2021 was to visit Merriam-Webster’s Time Traveler page and explore when a word was first used in print. Not invented, but printed – the first time a word was used in the United States, at least, in a print publication – a book, a newspaper or a magazine. To begin, each of us chose a year which was meaningful to us – for whatever reason – and went back in time before diving into poetry. There were no other rules.

Time Traveler is a big old rabbit hole, and I hope you take set aside some time to dig around and see what you discover. I chose 1973, and find it surprising that no one had said “underwire” or “bralette” in print until then – although, that might be because some objects of clothing were considered “unmentionables” not so long ago, even in women’s magazines. Just imagine – people hadn’t referred to “news person” or “anchorpeople” before 1973. Concepts like a “crumple zone” or an “ACE inhibitor” were unknown. The plethora of medical words first in print in 1973 indicates the number of discoveries being made – and shared – with the general public for the first time. And I was unsurprised to discover that words like “lockdown,” “super-spreader,” and “bunyavirus” (what even is that?!) were also there. History records, and our Time Traveler confirms: viral outbreaks and lockdowns are nothing at all new.

While forty-eight years ago, no one had ever written about video games, urgent care, soccer moms, or televangelists, romance was, of course, alive and well (how else did we all get here). The clutter of Valentine’s related junk in my inbox (as frantic retailers try to make it The Next Big Holiday) together with the utter randomness of my 1973 word list came together in my head to create… a love story. Obviously. Because, what else would I write about? With apologies for the resulting cheesiness, I present to you…

Meet Cute

A Love Story With The Worst Romantic Verbiage, Ever

Who would’ve thought when first we met
A deconstruction – of Chaucer! – made him a sure bet.

His factoid filled mind jump-started my heart
8 AM edutainment – he made snark a fine art.

I kept seeing him, sending me into hyperdrive,
My space-cadet heart barely kept me alive…

I was cash-strapped and stressed, held up by duct tape
Balanced on razor wire with no means of escape.

While reverse-engineering success, I could soar
But dating? No thanks! I was no revolving door.

So we were “just friends,” and he shared his moon-roof.
As it turned out, “mere” friendship was the burden of proof

That I needed. That swooning was not such a sin.
My heart broke its lockdown: I gave up! He was in.

(Don’t fact-check me, but there’s just the teeniest bit of history in this poem. Deniability is the name of the game!)

This list of words was both frustrating and hilarious. I started trying to use the fact that the words are presented alphabetically, but an abecedarian form did NOT work. I finally settled on blank verse, which apparently any Joe Six-Pack could do, but the disparate variations of meanings and sounds made me greedy – I so wanted to use so many other words, but — honestly! — this was plenty. I had fun, and that satisfies the requirements for this challenge. Want to see the other attempts of our stalwart crew of poetry peeps? Check out Laura’s. Right here is Liz’s. This one’s Sara’s. Find Kelly’s here, and Andi’s, and this is Tricia‘s. Cousin Mary Lee’s will eventually turn up here, and Michelle Kogan’s is here. More poets will check in throughout the day, so stay tuned!

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Jan at Bookseed Studio. Thank you, Jan! It’s finally safe to say Happy New Year to everyone – it’s the Year of the Ox! Here’s to stubbornly pushing forward on the things we need to do this year. Until then, keep your food processors busy, and your hot tubs sultry, and your Earth tones subdued. Happy weekend.