Sunday, April 7, 2019

Book boxing


Box up the books in my office.

The thought being that my husband can take down the built-in bookcase and I can freshen up the paint on the walls, making the room "pop" as our realtor likes to say.

I figured it would take me like, an hour to box up the books, and then I could tote the three or four boxes downstairs and stack them in the garage, a nice surprise for my husband, who's away on a weekend trip.

Flash forward three hours later and the boxes are stacked where I packed them (WAY too heavy for me to tote), on the floor in the office, which isn't exactly popping at the moment.

Also, it took seven big boxes to fit the books and I'm still not finished emptying the shelves. (note to self: Don't get side-tracked by the Marie-Kondo Does this bring me joy? question. Or I don't know. Maybe it is a good idea to ask that question. Already I'm thinking about how I am going to have to unpack these same boxes at some point in the near future. Do I really want and/or need all of these books?

And this is only one room. We have a built-in bookcase in the living room, bookcases in both of the kids' old bedrooms, a bookcase in the kitchen to hold all of my cookbooks and gardening books. Fun fact:

When I was growing up, I had only two small shelves of books.

The complete set of the original Trixie Belden series, 1 through 16, a handful of paperbacks I'd bought at Scholastic book fairs over the years back when you could buy a book for less than a dollar, one leather-bound volume (not sure where I got this) of America's Best Loved Poems, and

Linda Goodman's Love Signs.

When I was twelve years old it was my favorite book. I have no idea why, but for most of my middle school years I was obsessed with astrology, memorizing all of the signs and symbols, their respective characteristics, and the most suitable match-ups of the signs in both friendship and in love.

I mean, I'm a Cancer. It makes sense that I would want to know, what with Cancers being so sensitive and self-reflective.

Anyway, I remember reading and re-reading Linda Goodman's Love Signs, taking copious notes, building lists in a notebook of all of the people I knew and their signs, and analyzing how best to interact with them. For example, the boy I liked in middle school was a Sagittarius, a fire sign and clearly not a good match for Cancerian me (water).

Which turned out to be prophetically true (although I had to date that bozo for nine years to be completely and totally sure.)

Weirdly, Linda Goodman's Love Signs is the only book I took with me from home when I went 1250 miles away to college. I kept it on a small shelf in my dorm room, not believing in astrology anymore, but every once in a while, paging through it to look up a person's sign and see if he might be a good match, more out of habit than anything else. (Example, the boy I met senior year, a Capricorn (earth), was a much better choice for watery me, according to Linda Goodman, and I quote:

"you can see there are powerful magnetic forces pulling these two together from the start."

which also turned out to be prophetically true because reader, I married him, and now he's on his way home and I'm hefting boxes of books around in my office, thinking about how the only book I own from the first eighteen years of my life is this one,

before I slip it carefully into a box.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

What to write about when you don't know what to write about

well, there's always what's been going on during the week.

The job you quit, for example, the one where you shelved 500 books every day, a dream job for a writer and reader, the meditative routine of sorting books and finding books, the never ending circulation loop, the quiet,

and the job you started, 

at another library where you won't have to shelve much at all, but instead, do the kinds of things you thought you'd be doing in the first place. Helping patrons pick out books and doing searches through the catalog, checking in books, a conversation with a little girl about what she is reading that spirals you back for a moment to your own childhood,

and the rush back and forth between both jobs, which overlapped for a few days, the writing conference you helped plan, late nights of sorting folders and counting lunch selections and tallying up money, fielding the last minute registration questions, and then the day itself, one moment of quiet in the back of the auditorium when you remembered why

you do this. Write,

except first, you have to clean the entire house because you're putting it on the market and there might be a buyer stopping by to walk through it IN TWO DAYS, which means deep deep cleaning, digging through closets and under beds, trying not to get sidetracked by a folded note in an old sixth grade backpack, a stuffed bunny once loved, tossed on a shelf, gathering dust, 

and finally finally finally

the book you've been working on for nearly two years, the seemingly endless picking your way through scene by scene, sometimes sentence by sentence, getting stuck and somehow getting unstuck, the ever-present fear that maybe this one won't sell either, but suddenly a flash of excitement: 

You understand what it is now. 

And for today, anyway, that's all you need to keep going. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

To All the Cars I've Loved Before

(**inspired by being lost, again, at the Car Show in downtown Columbus)

Dear Brown, Tank-sized Station Wagon from the 1970s,

thank you for being there when I first learned to drive, and for teaching me to master parallel parking and the K turn, and for that day

when I was taking my driver's test and the guy yelled at me for driving down the center of the abandoned street and I started crying because I thought I had failed my test, but then the guy said, FINE, Go take your picture for your license, and I was crying and didn't want to take my picture but I did, and then my mom said Yay! You got your license, wanna drive home?

And I said NO! I hate driving! I never want to drive again!

And thank you, Small car, although I don't remember what color you were and never knew your make and model,

it was You who taught me to always wear shoes when I drove,

and to never ever ever drive in a nightgown to go pick up my boyfriend at one o'clock in the morning, where I would be sitting at a red light when a speeding car, --those headlights forever in the rear view mirror growing bigger and brighter (he's not going to stop HE'S NOT GOING TO STOP) hit me so hard I smashed my face on the steering wheel and totaled you-- so when the ambulance came to load me up, I had the great horror and shame of stumbling out of your accordion-wrecked body barefoot and nightgown clad.

And thank you, Chevy Spectrum (is that what you were called?)

a gift from my generous doting New England aunt when I graduated from college in Memphis, O how i loved you

until my aunt told me you had no air conditioning, --but Jody, do you really need air conditioning? Just turn on the fan. -- how (not) fondly I recall sitting in you, those 100-degree sweltering days, the bumper-to-bumper traffic, the only car with the windows open, the fan on full-blast blowing

hot air on my sweaty face.

Dear dear Bright Aquamarine Mini Van,

thank you for helping me schlep the kids all over town, the car seats and booster seats, the tossed toy cars and chewed on doll heads, the forever yellow and crispy McDonalds french fries tucked in your cushions,

the seemingly endless loop of carpools to preschool, elementary school, middle school, soccer practice, piano lessons, viola lessons, concerts, games, the friends multiplying in the back seats, the chatter/giggles/tantrums that sometimes gave me a headache but now in their absence make my heart ache.

All of you, Cars,

I forgive you your breakdowns, your heat, your flat tires, your cracked windshields, your dropped fan belts in the pouring rain.

In the end you did what you promised. You took me where I needed to go, and when the trip was over, you brought me home.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

When I met W.S. Merwin, all I could think about was

how he once knew Sylvia Plath. At twenty-two I was still wildly enamored with her brute black-booted daddy poems and the story of how she'd lost her mind in a cold flat in London and gassed herself while her toddlers slept in the next room. Part horror, part fascination, only a small part understanding. I knew next to nothing at age twenty-two,

but I knew enough to be excited that W.S. Merwin was visiting my MFA program to do a reading and later mingle with us at the wine-and-cheese.

I expected to meet the dark-haired Heathcliff-looking Sylvia Plath friend from the 1950's, but this man was white-haired and ancient,


he had piercing blue eyes, and when I mingled with him while drinking my wine and eating my cheese, I want to think that I didn't mention Sylvia Plath,

that instead, asked him about his poems or at least sounded halfway interested and serious,

What I probably talked with him about was his poem "Air" because I'd used it in a poetry workshop when the assignment was to write a poem using another poem as a model, writing yours with the same number of syllables per line,

or I might've talked to him about his poem  "For the Anniversary of My Death" Every year without knowing it I have passed the day 

because I was blown away by how obvious the idea was and yet I'd never thought about it before,

but who knows what we talked about. That was almost thirty years ago. I think he signed his latest book for me...


I just now checked, and the small volume of poetry is there on my bookshelf, proving I do have half a brain.

Today, the "Poem a Day" in my email said: "Remembering W.S. Merwin." Apparently, he died two days ago, March 15th.

And so we both passed the day without knowing it.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

While Not in Rome

Last week my husband met up with our daughter and her roommate in Rome for the girls' spring break. Every day I would wake up to glorious pictures of linguini and gelato, the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum, the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel.

Then I would let the dog out, dart off to work, shelve 400 books, come home and settle in to write.

It was kind of a reverse retreat. The house was quiet, with no reason for me to stop working. I made a vat of potato soup and ate it all week. I read two books, one that was so crappy I wanted to fling it across the room and the other that restored my faith in the power of literature. When I needed to hear another human voice, I listened to a podcast.

(and lest you think I am too highbrow in my entertainment choices, I also binge-watched the raunchy Netflix cartoon Big Mouth and then, of course, took a bubble bath.)

It's strange living alone for a week.

I have never done it for much longer than that in my entire life. My husband and I have been married for 29 years. Before we married, I had roommates, and before that, I was a child living in a loud house with a lock on my door.

At one time I was afraid to be alone at night. My husband's traveled a lot over the years for business and I was fine when the kids were home, but once they moved out, the first time he left for a trip, I was worried that my old childhood fear of the dark would creep back.

It didn't.

Maybe it's the dog. I talk to her when I am alone and I swear she listens to me. When I'm parked too long in one position, she noses me until I get up and take her for a walk. At night when the house is settling and creaking and shadowy, she curls up at my feet on the bed. I know that she would bark away a ghost.

Not that I believe in ghosts, but you never know. I make up stories for a living. And by "a living" I mean, it is what I do. Night Number Eight alone, I mix it up a little. Eat leftover spaghetti. Scroll through the latest Roman holiday pictures. Settle in to write.

Later, I'll reward myself with a bubble bath.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

An Interview with Marcia Thornton Jones on Writing for Kids

What seems like a million years ago I was working in Lexington, Kentucky at the county board of education's gifted and talented department, filling in for a teacher friend, Marcia, who was home-bound after foot surgery. For six weeks I sat at Marcia's desk, working, but sometimes stealing a few minutes during lunch to write. Back then I had dreams of being a writer, although I didn't talk about it with many people.

Something funny, one day at work I opened the newspaper and found Marcia's photo on the front page under the headline: Marcia Thornton Jones: Kentucky's Best Selling Author. 

Turns out my teacher-friend was the co-author of the best selling Bailey School Kid series. To say I was stunned is putting it mildly. My daughter was a huge fan, and suddenly, sitting at this woman's desk felt like serendipity. Could Marcia point me in the right direction on my own writing path?

Short answer: Yes!

Longer answer: Marcia's been a good friend and mentor ever since.

If you want to learn how to get started writing for kids, but you don't happen to be working for a best-selling author immediately after she's had foot surgery, I've got the next best thing:

A new book on writing for kids, called appropriately enough Writing for Kids: the Ultimate Guide, by Marcia and her long-time writing partner Debbie Dadey.

The book is available now and because Marcia is darling, she's agreed to let me interview her today!


Jody: What inspired you and Debbie to write this book?

Marcia: When Debbie and I started writing, we were clueless. We knew we wanted to write, and we knew we had stories to tell, but we had no idea how to successfully put those ideas on the page and get them published. We really wished we had someone who could help us; someone to guide us. Mentors who could show us the way.

We didn’t, so Debbie and I took classes, we researched, we wrote, and we learned from trial and error. I think one of the biggest benefits of having a writing partner is that we challenged each other to learn and to develop our writing skills—and we kept each other from giving up because, let’s face it, writing can be frustrating--

Jody: Especially all of the rejections. Twenty years-- yikes!-- since my first rejection and it never gets easier.

Marcia: So true. And this is another benefit of having a writing partner, you figure out how to get past those rejections together, which Debbie and I did, and we kept going, learning how to navigate the writing and publishing world, meeting others along the way who were as clueless as we were.

When Writers Digest Books approached us about writing the first book in a planned series for children’s book writers, we realized it was an opportunity to give back to the writing community. That book, Story Sparkers, was intended to be the first book in a series, and our mission was to write about generating ideas for kids’ books.

Since drafting Story Sparkers, I’ve been teaching writing as well and coordinating the Carnegie Center Author Academy in Lexington, Kentucky. I start the first session of my classes asking students what they want to know…what they need to learn in order to realize their goals as writers. Then I develop lessons with focused writing prompts based on their needs.

When the Writer’s Digest series didn’t pan out thanks to a change in editorial staffing, Debbie and I decided it was our opportunity to build off Story Sparkers, by writing a book that included all facets of the writing process, from generating ideas to marketing your finished book.

Jody: Which is what led to Writing for Kids: The Ultimate Guide... 

Marcia: Exactly. It's the book we wished we had when we were starting out together.

Jody: I love that you and Debbie worked on this book together-- and that you've written over one hundred!? books together. I'd love to hear more about how that partnership came about. 

Marcia: Debbie and I started writing together when we both worked at an elementary school in Lexington. We wanted to write the kinds of books that resonated with students. When we first started working together, we sat side-by-side at the computer and typed the stories as we spoke them. After Debbie moved from Lexington, we developed a system where we took turns writing chapters based on a rough outline.

Jody: Did you have a similar process working on Writing for Kids:The Ultimate Guide? 

Marcia: Not quite. We knew we had a beginning, thanks to the work we did for Story Sparkers. From that, we developed an outline based on the elements of the writing process. Within that framework, we wrote with the intention of providing information and concrete tools that help writers develop ideas, draft their stories, hone their craft, and navigate the publishing world. 

All those years of developing lessons and writing prompts focused on the specific needs of students in my classes at the Carnegie Center became an integral part of Writing for Kids: The Ultimate Guide!

Since we wanted to make this affordable, we decided to self-publish it. Debbie took on the task of formatting it, but we did seek help from an agent as well.

Jody: Give me a teaser...  Say I am a beginning writer or someone further along in the process who's not quite sure how to break into the publishing world. Why should I want to read your guide? 

Marcia: I have a personal motto:  Give people TIME. 

TIME stands for Teach, Inspire, Motivate, and Empower. That’s exactly what Writing for Kids: The Ultimate Guide does. It teaches information and skills writers need to know about writing kids’ books. It inspires and motivates writers to write—and keep writing. And it empowers writers to achieve their goals of writing for kids.

Jody: Okay, you've got me. I am not a beginner but one thing I've learned over the years about writing is I always have more to learn. I downloaded the book last night and am eagerly dipping in!

Readers, if you want to take a peek Marcia's and Debby's latest guide for children (or at any of their other joint or solo ventures) See below:

Writing for Kids: The Ultimate Guide to buy on Amazon. 

Marcia Thornton Jones has traditionally published more than 130 books for children with sales totaling more than 43 million copies world-wide. Her works include Woodford Brave, Champ, Ratfink, Godzilla Ate My Homework, The Tale of Jack Frost, and Leprechaun on the Loose. She is the co-author of seven popular series: The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids, Keyholders, Ghostville Elementary, The Bailey School Kids Jr. Chapter Books, Triplet Trouble, Bailey City Monsters, and The Barkley School for Dogs.

Marcia and her books have received many awards and honors including the Elementary Library Book Award (ELBA), Minnesota Maud Hart Lovelace Book Award, Milner Award, the Humane Society of the United States KIND Children's Honor Book, and International Reading Associations Children’s Choice Award. She was also honored as a nominee for the Surrey Schools' Book of the Year and Kentucky Bluegrass Awards. She was listed as a top 100 author by the Educational Paperback Association, selected for the Children’s Top 100 Books list by the National Education Association, and the Publisher's Weekly Bestsellers list.

Marcia, lives in Lexington, Kentucky where she is the Coordinator of the Carnegie Center Author Academy, an intensive nine-month writing certificate program. She also teaches Carnegie Center writing classes, seminars, and is a writing mentor. She enjoys presenting at schools and conferences.  As a veteran teacher with more than 20 years of experience, she easily relates the importance of writing to students of all ages.

For information about Marcia’s classes, mentoring, and the Carnegie Center Author Academy, please visit The Carnegie Center or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Debbie Dadey has traditionally published 166 books for children with sales totaling more than 43 million copies world-wide. She is the co-author of seven popular series: The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids, Keyholders, Ghostville Elementary, The Bailey School Kids Jr. Chapter Books, Triplet Trouble, Bailey City Monsters, and The Barkley School for Dogs. Some of her individual series include the Mermaid Tales and the Swamp Monster in Third Grade

She also co-authored the Slime Wars series with her son Nathan.  Her works also include Cherokee Sister, Whistler's Hollow, King of the Kooties, The Worst Name in the Third Grade, Shooting Star, and Will Rogers, Larger Than Life. 

Debbie and her books have received awards and honors, including the Colorado Author’s League Children’s Fiction Award, Golden Reader Author Award, Elementary Library Book Award (ELBA), Milner Award, Kentucky Bluegrass Award nominee, and several International Reading Association’s Children’s Choice Awards. She was listed as a top 100 author by the Educational Paperback Association, selected for the Children’s Top 100 Books list by the National Education Association, and ranked in the Publisher's Weekly Bestsellers list. She is an Author for Earth Day.

Debbie is a former teacher and librarian who enjoys visiting schools and speaking at conferences. With three children, two dogs, and one husband she has plenty of fodder for new stories, but loves doing research for even more inspiration. She lives in a cabin in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. 

Please visit her at, on Facebook and on Twitter.  

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Stories of Joy and Murder

They're eager to get started, game for anything I suggest. Make up a character? They're in. Chart out story arcs with marker on poster-board? No problem. Write the first scene? Let's do it.

I don't know why I am surprised. Kids are like this when it comes to writing. And these fourth and fifth graders in the writing program I've been teaching for the past few weeks, are particularly smart and creative.

Open to trying new methods, happy to use pen or pencil on paper or whatever I give them. Although, one girl has brought her laptop and another tells me she writes all of her novels on her phone. Only a couple of the kids are stuck, asking me to clarify the directions, stumped for a moment about how to start, but with just a little push, off they go.

Most are eager to share what they've written, read aloud their scenes and display their plot plans.

One surprise: the majority of their stories are dark. Evil government conspiracies and dead parents. Kidnappings. Murder. It's all presented matter-of-factly, though, and I try not to bat an eye. Hmm, okay, so in Act Two the main character finds the dead body? All-righty-then. Let's write that scene.

Who am I to judge the mind of a nine year old? They're the ones finding joy in this exercise.

Contrast this with adult writers. Contrast this with, um, me, daily on the phone with my critique partner whining about how hard it is to sit down and get to work.

Maybe the word "work" is the issue here. The fourth and fifth graders write because they want to. They signed up for this class. Two hours every Saturday for five weeks. I'm not sure what I can teach them. The most important lesson is one they already know:

If you want to be a writer, you write.


This moment.

Take out a piece of paper or open a file on your computer (or phone?) and go.