Like many of you, I love autumn, especially since I’ve moved to the desert Southwest. Cool nights are a blessed relief as the bosque begins changing colors. Cottonwoods are beginning to turn their gorgeous yellow. In another week, they will be brilliant!
Here is a poem I wrote a few years ago about autumn and love.
It’s a little like love, don’t you think?
The way those leaves, those blowy leaves,
tumble alongside you? Then surround you
and spin in gusts behind your back,
where you can’t even see them? Leaping,
lifting into the air … all those leaves.
How they flutter, red-rust-yellow-purple-brown,
like butterflies all around. Those leaves.
Those crackly leaves, scattering down the street,
tap-dancing around your toes.
Those steadfast leaves.
They’re not as close as they sky,
which is everywhere, nor the wind, so nearby.
But those leaves, those leaves are there:
apple, aspen, pomegranate, peach,
walnut, willow, cottonwood, plum.
All those leaves. Is there anything friendlier
than how the trees let go their leaves,
and those leaves, they spend their days
swirling, whirling, twirling, waiting …
… waiting just for you?
On August 1, 2023, I LAY MY STITCHES DOWN: POEMS OF AMERICAN SLAVERY arrived in paperback after a long 11-year run. I am so thrilled! Illustrated by the talented Michele Wood, and published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, it is just as beautiful as the hardcover.
At the wildlife clinic yesterday, we worked with extremes. Four hawks came in, an injured mama hummingbird, her nest and eggs, and some baby sparrows and house finches. I fed hawks for the first time. Quite thrilling!
As some of you know, I’ve drafted several manuscripts since I began working in the clinic. Here are a few of my favorite birds books of late:
In early June, I had the good fortune to attend a writing retreat with a dozen or so colleagues at Norbertine Abbey in Albuquerque. It was an amazing weekend and I got a tremendous amount of work done. I am ever-grateful to New Mexico Writers for awarding me a grant that enabled me to attend. I’m also grateful to writer Chris Eboch and others who worked hard to pull the retreat together.
Some of you know I am pulling together and polishing several manuscripts taking place in and around the Southwest, and I have to say the wildlife around the monastery was spectacular! So many birds! The jackrabbits were giants! And the clouds, as always in New Mexico, were breathtaking.
Here are some favorite nature, desert, sky books of late:
Zap! Clap! Boom!: The Story of a Thunderstorm by Laurie Purdie Salas, illustrated by Elly MacKay
Dark on Light by Dianne White, illustrated by Felicita Sala
Whale Fall by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Rob Dunlavey
The Tree and the River, by Aaron Becker
April 22-23: St. Pius, Albuquerque. Book sale and signing, 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
I’ve begun work in a Wildlife Rescue Clinic and baby birds are my charges. In the short amount of time I’ve been in training, I have generated 3 manuscripts! I am so excited to be doing something new, something useful, and something that feeds my creativity. And, it’s spring. What can be better?
Research and Writing
In recent weeks, a couple of writing colleagues and a former student have asked what my process is, and whether it is the same for fiction as when writing nonfiction, and is it the same for writing picture books as it is for longer works. I can certainly develop a long piece about my process, but in a nutshell it looks like this:
Image Research (if necessary)
Revision, Revision, Revision
Of course, it isn’t this neat. I research, I draft, I research, I draft….. but, this is close to what I do. I have different ways of researching, which is another post or two or three. As I get back to blogging, I may post more if you are interested!
What I read feeds what I write and vice versa. I’ve been writing about water, which has led to reading about water, which leads to more writings about water. Will my water writing become a collection of poems? A nonfiction book about the water crisis? A story set on the coast or a river? All three? Something else entirely? I’m in the place I love– immersing myself in a topic, brainstorming, scribbling, daydreaming… all about water.
One of my younger brothers recently texted a list of books that he read in 2022—a long, impressive list! So, I thought I’d do the same here. A number of the books on his list are on my list because he texts me the book covers of everything he’s reading and likes or wants to talk about. And I do the same—a two person book club.
2022 was a fairly busy, and also, a somewhat slow, reading year for me, because of research I’m doing for my next book(s). I took lots of notes on my natural history reading. In 2022, I read way more nonfiction than fiction, a change for me. I don’t track the audio books I listen to. Nor do I record the picture books that I read, of which I read hundreds each year, but maybe I will in 2023… nah, who am I kidding?
I went on a John O’Donohue binge last year, an Irish poet, philosopher, and thinker I admire. And my natural history research has been so illuminating and fun. In total, these are the numbers, though, for a librarian, I am not the best record keeper in the world …
2022 Reading List
Adult Fiction: 10
Adult Poetry and Plays: 8
Books on Writing Craft: 5
Other Adult Nonfiction: 35
Middle Grade and Young Adult (fiction, nonfiction): 15
So there you have it. I don’t have a plan for 2023’s reading, except to finish my research (and writing the novel based on that research). We’ll see where the year takes me.
Ten Years as a Published Author and Counting …
This past year, 2022, marked my ten-year anniversary as a published writer. In ten years, I have gone from working full time and writing on weekends, to writing full time. I have had three picture books published, and I have written at least ten more picture book manuscripts. I have written dozens of poems, and have two novels in progress. I have had poems and essays published in anthologies and journals. I have won three literary prizes, two for published books, and one for an unpublished picture book manuscript. I have received more rejections than I can count and have attended classes, retreats, conferences, and webinars.
- My first book, I LAY MY STITCHES DOWN: POEMS OF AMERICAN SLAVERY, will be released in paperback in August 2023.
- My second book, LIKE A BIRD: THE ART OF THE AMERICAN SLAVE SONG has gone into new paperback and digital editions.
- My third book, WRITE TO ME: LETTERS FROM JAPANESE AMERICAN CHILDREN TO THE LIBRARIAN THEY LEFT BEHIND, has been translated into Japanese.
TEN QUICK THINGS I HAVE LEARNED ON THIS JOURNEY:
1. To have time to write is a privilege.
2. Publication is riddled with ups and downs.
3. Word-of-mouth publicity is your best friend.
4. One creative act leads to another.
5. It’s necessary to replenish the creative well.
6. No writing is ever wasted.
7. There is room for everyone.
8. Mentors are all around us.
9. Kindness will be returned.
10. Generosity moves mountains.
Like many of you, I hope to have a contract or two, or three in hand by the end of 2023, but I will not count on it.
The Biggest Little Farm
If I could have one wish for the future, it would be that everyone under the age of 75 view this film: The Biggest Little Farm.
Saving the earth is possible. Nourishing our soil is possible. Growing healthy food with sustainable practices can be done. Sharing our lives with other living beings is right and just. We only have to do it. It can be done.
Visit Apricot Lane Farms for more information.
I have done my small share, by changing the landscape of my front yard, from nothing but rock mulch and a few native grasses, to a bird-friendly, pollinator-friendly yard with trees, bushes with winter berries, groundcovers the gophers like, and herbs and other plants that repel the gophers enough to keep them from digging up everything entirely.
Organic mulch nourishes the soil so that each year, more grows. I tuck herbs and vegetables in between the native plants. At any given time I have 500 gallons of rainwater, here in the high desert, so I am not using more city water than I need for the household. Monsoon rains no longer run off the property and into the street each summer; they sink into the ground and quench the thirst of everything beneath our feet.
Featured at N.N. Northern Lights
My first book of poetry, I LAY MY STITCHES DOWN: POEMS OF AMERICAN SLAVERY is featured this month over at N.N. Northern Lights in their books for Middle Grade readers.
As a former sixth grade teacher, I have always loved picture books written for older readers, and I’m glad I had mine published before that changed!
If only I could make this a “scratch and sniff” photograph.
This one Spanish broom has the whole street smelling heavenly.
And I love the roses.
They begin as peach buds, then bloom and fade to pink.
It’s April, it’s springtime, it’s National Poetry Month …
Hold your hands out to the sky.
Bend into the morning light
the way a musical note bends into silence.
Who’s to say we don’t tend toward love.
Day of Remembrance
This weekend, museums, parks, and civil rights organizations are commemorating and honoring the survivors of the unlawful imprisonment of more than 120,000 Japanese American citizens as the US entered World War II. February 19, 2022 is the 80th anniversary of FDR’s signing of Executive Order 9066, which allowed such a miscarriage of justice.
I have much to be grateful for and much to celebrate these wintry months:
My first published book, I LAY MY STITCHES DOWN: POEMS OF AMERICAN SLAVERY is ten years old in February!
I’ve heard from classrooms and individuals in grades three through twelve from all over the country– students performing the poems, classrooms creating quilts, individuals writing their own patchwork of poems around a given theme.
My second book, LIKE A BIRD: THE ART OF THE AMERICAN SLAVE SONG, has gone into another print run– hardcover, paperback, and a new digital edition — at the beginning of January! Thank you, readers, for your interest, commitment, and loyalty!
A new favorite line by poet and philosopher John O’Donohue:
” … a book is a path of words, which takes the heart in new directions.”
Some Amazing News!
I can finally announce that a poem I wrote placed as a finalist in the Astra International Picture Book Writing Contest. I had completely forgotten that I’d entered the contest a year ago, and lo, you let something go, and it comes back to you.
Congratulations to every finalist and winner!
View the Awards Ceremony here!
I am especially proud of this accolade because I have never doubted this manuscript. I wrote it after a particularly lovely hike along the Rio Grande, then revised it over the next year two years. I’m indebted to my writing groups and early readers and look forward to sharing it on a larger scale.
The Rebellious Miss Breed
San Diego Public Library and the Japanese American Incarceration (September 2021 – January 2022)
I will be a part of this enormous grant funded program undertaken by the San Diego Public Library, which will include, too, a Postcard Exchange with Fresno Public Libraries: “Writing is Rebellious.” Take a peek here at all the goings on to celebrate Miss Clara Breed of San Diego.
The Occasional Book Review and Recommendation
Whenever a picture book written by Marion Dane Bauer is delivered to my doorstep, I wait before reading it. I wouldn’t call it ritual, exactly, but I make sure I have some hot tea or lemonade nearby. And plenty of time before I sit down to read. I don’t even read the flap copy. I wait because I want to immerse myself in the entire experience from front flap copy to the end, savoring every rhythmic sentence and its companion art throughout.
Just the other day, when I went out to the front courtyard to see how the roses survived the latest monsoon rainstorm, lying on the table beside the front door, was a package stamped “media mail.” I hadn’t heard the familiar chime alerting me to someone at my door, so I don’t know if it was delivered that day or the day before.
It was a new picture book: The Animals Speak: A Christmas Eve Legend, written by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Brittany Baugus, and published by Beaming Books. It will release in October, and I’m telling you, it is a gem.
There are numerous legends and stories about animals being granted the power of speech, often at midnight. Ms. Bauer has retold the story of the animals that speak the night Jesus, the Christ Child, was born.
The story is familiar, the animals are familiar, but Bauer’s spare, sonorous retelling, and Baugus’s luminescent illustrations make it new again. Bauer’s repetition of “Long and long the story has been told …” with all those “o’s,” a favorite vowel of mine, gives the story the gravitas it requires.
And here, “ … angels, sheep, the wooly sheep” and “..of … magi, camels, the swaying camels ….” These rhythmic, repeating asides slow the story down, getting us ready for midnight, the first Christmas Eve, a night filled with “silent awe until the animals found words of praise.”
Interestingly, the animals do not speak in the text, except for one “Rejoice!” though they speak in the illustrations. It is not only the sheep and cows and camels around the manger that gather to rejoice. Animals on every continent gather, from elephants on the savannas to whales swimming in the seas. Bauer, too, brings the story into the present with the story told in churches today, and including the pets in our homes, rejoicing, thus connecting all living creatures past and present, who celebrate the Christmas season.
Marion Dane Bauer is a master of the prose poem, those stories with the concision and intensity of poetry. I urge you to seek out The Animals Speak: A Christmas Eve Legend for the children in your life. The story has been told and retold, but this retelling is worth its weight in gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
We all saw a rabbit …
Commemorate and Celebrate Juneteenth!!
A new chapter …
There are writers who teach and teachers (and librarians) who write. I’ve done both. For the first part of my working life, I taught and then later became a librarian. I wrote in the summers and on school breaks. During that time I had numerous poems, essays, and articles published, and finally, my first book of poems: I LAY MY STITCHES DOWN: POEMS OF AMERICAN SLAVERY. Also during that time, I wrote professional book reviews, sat on award committees, and later started a poetry blog. I stopped reviewing around 2007, stopped blogging around 2012.
In 2015, I became a writer who teaches. I left my day job, and began writing full time and teaching poetry workshops for adults and tutoring middle schoolers in reading and writing, part-time. I’ve had more poems published in print and online, and two more books were published: LIKE A BIRD: THE ART OF THE AMERICAN SLAVE SONG and WRITE TO ME: LETTERS FROM JAPANESE AMERICAN CHILDREN TO THE LIBRARIAN THEY LEFT BEHIND.
I am at a crossroads again. The pandemic has changed many of our lives, including mine. I’m not sure what’s coming next. As my mom would say, “We’ll have to wait and see.”
One year later …
Joseph’s Coat climbing rose … our first pandemic project, along with the trellis …
A surprise delivery from UPS yesterday!
Write to Me is now available in Japan, published by Hyoronsha
As part of the 2020 One Book One San Diego celebration, I had TWO television spots: a short segment on CBS 8 Morning Extra, and I was part of a one-hour program on KPBS!
Las Cruces Public Library BIG READ 2021
Every year on February 19th, the Japanese American community, along with its allies, note this anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066, which resulted in the sweeping roundup and incarceration of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans.
Homes, farms, and businesses were stolen, vandalized, and destroyed over the next 3 1/2 years of World War II. The political climate and the racism seen today parallels that of the 1940s in many ways.
It is important to learn and remember our history so that we can evolve into a better people, a better nation, a better world. Join the Las Cruces Public Library in their BIG READ 2021 this month to honor, commemorate, and remember the national tragedy.
I’m interviewed here by Carson Williams, Youth Services Librarian in Las Cruces. We talk about the war, the children from San Diego who were incarcerated, my work as a librarian, and how I came to write my most recent book, Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind.
I had wonderful news this week!
The city of La Mesa, in San Diego county, has issued a proclamation that January 30 shall be known as the FRED KOREMATSU DAY OF CIVIL LIBERTIES AND THE CONSTITUTION.
La Mesa is one more city joining numerous cities and states across America honoring the civil rights work and legacy of Fred Korematsu and his family as they protested the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII.
Within the proclamation, the public is urged to read Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind, along with George Takei’s graphic memoir, They Called Us Enemy.
Truly, One Book, One San Diego has become the gift that keeps on giving!
“may the blessing of light be on you …”
step into the light
as if wrung from the morning rain …
Today’s the day!
One Book One San Diego has chosen Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind as their 2020 children’s book selection.
he Adult/Young Adult & Spanish language selection is George Takei’s graphic memoir They Called Us Enemy– the first time all selections have been on the same topic.
Celebrate! Read books! Buy books! Support the Festival!
In these dog days of summer, we have watermelon!
Almost ready to be picked!
Celebrating African American Music Appreciation Month
Did you know that each poem in I Lay My Stitches Down contains a musical reference or a line from an African American spiritual? Part of the joy of reading poetry is discovering unexpected pleasures.
Can you name the spiritual contained in this poem?
Birds in the Air
At morning’s hush, when stars begin to fall,
she’ll toss a pan of corn down behind the
quarters, whistling pure and sharp. Like the wren’s
song, she hits the grace note just so. Soon, we
see wings aquiver; sky fills with birdsong.
Through a thick weave of Western clouds comes a
feathery carpet of birds. In makeshift
nests, they leave us their eggs. She makes her way
to the Big house to work, but not ’til we’ve
given thanks for her heavenly breakfast.
Commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, June 19, 1865, when those enslaved in Texas were the last to be freed.
It is June, 2020, and many of us are still…
sheltering at home because of corona virus and COVID-19; we are still grieving and protesting the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and so many other African Americans whose lives have been cut short by police brutality; it is the month the LGBTQ community would be celebrating with PRIDE their own lives and protests against discrimination.
The presidential election campaigns are about to ramp up and it is almost a given that the campaigns will be unforgivably mean; teachers and their administrators are meeting and planning to figure out if and when the school year should begin; parents don’t know how their children will be cared for when they return to work if the schools do not open; recent graduates, from high school, college, and graduate school do not have the opportunities that they normally would have.
There will be an end to this chaos, confusion, and fear. But until then, here are a few links that may help you get through the next few months.
Teachers, Parents, Friends!!
As Asian Pacific American Heritage Month draws to a close, be sure to catch me reading Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children from the Librarian They Left Behind over at the Charlesbridge website. It will be up through the month of June. Lots of Charlesbridge authors are reading their work!Check them all out.
The first roses make their appearance, just in time for a mid-April snowfall.
In times of uncertainty …
… I like to keep busy. Keep my hands busy. I’ve been cleaning, gardening, painting, gardening, playing ping-pong, gardening, and petting our rabbits. When it warms up, we’ll paint the garage with some leftover paint from another project. So far, my family and friends remain healthy, though I’m worried about a few.
To my readers, I wish you good health, hope, love of family and friends, and something to do that soothes your heart.
New Mexico friends!
Come see Gospel star, Kelontae Gavin, and accompanying Gospel choir (of which I am a new member, along with a few other writers) singing Sunday, February 16, to mark New Mexico Black History Month.
And while you’re at it, consider purchasing
either one of my first two books–still in print!!
And after that, wander over to Erica’s at What Do We Do All Day? for more books to celebrate African Americans.
February 19 marks the anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066, when more than 120,000 Japanese American citizens were imprisoned by the US government for the duration of World War II.
In honor and remembrance of this day, I will be reading, signing, and speaking about Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind.
Friday, February 7: Georgia O’Keeffe Elementary, Albuquerque
Saturday, February 8: Special Collections Library, Albuquerque. Program begins 10:30 a.m.
Wishing you a warm and safe holiday…
see you in the new year
I have one more event scheduled in 2019!
December 7: Barnes and Noble, Coronado Mall, Albuquerque
On this anniversary of the bombing of Peal Harbor, I’ll be sharing Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind.
Not only did the US enter what would become known as World War II on this day, but the lives of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans would be changed forever.
While you’re here, shop around.
The New Mexico chapter of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) will receive some of the day’s proceeds, which enables us to provide scholarships to conferences and offer free workshops on writing and illustrating.
I’m excited to announce that Write to Me will be released in paperback in mid-October, and released in Japan in November!
It has recently received two awards: Virginia Library Association’s Jefferson Cup, and the International Reading Association’s Social Justice Award.
Over the next couple of months, this is where you’ll find me:
September 17: Albuquerque, NM – Bachechi Open Space, teaching Poetry through the Seasons – Autumn
October 23-24: Norfolk, VA – Virginia Library Association Annual Conference – Jefferson Cup for Children’s Biography!
October 27: Albuquerque, NM – Page One Books, 3 pm.
November 16: Albuquerque, NM – Return of the Crane Festival, Open Space Visitor Center – Migration and Poetry Workshop, 10:00 am-2:00 pm.
December 4: Albuquerque, NM – Bachechi Open Space, Poetry through the Seasons – Winter
Offline for the rest of summer ~ enjoy.
Next week . . .
Poetry through the Seasons (Summer)
Bachechi Open Space, Wednesday, July 17, 10:00 – 11:30 a.m.
Celebrate the moon…
Celebrate the 50th(!) anniversary of the first lunar landing with Moonstruck! Poems about Our Moon, an anthology of poems for young readers. Twenty classic moon poems and 20 new poems, including one by yours truly. Available June 1.
4 February: Adobe Acres School, Albuquerque, New Mexico
29-30 March: New Mexico Historical Society Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico
13 April: Gallup Book Festival, Gallup, New Mexico
18 April: Back to Adobe Acres!
24 April: Poetry Workshop — Bachechi Open Space, Albuquerque, NM
27 April: New Mexico Battle of the Books, Rio Rancho, NM