anna, book


Creative Chaos II

Friends and Family

Haiku 22 -- April 22, 2014
Everyday's earth day.
Earth tree water sky day. Right?
So. All is not lost.


FAQs from panels

Seriously, every author has answered these questions a thousand times.

1. Where do you get your ideas?

I get a lot of ideas from other art, especially when I dislike it and want to write my own version. People get ideas from lots of places. What you really need to be asking is—where do I get my ideas. And no one can answer that question but you.

2. Do you do your own illustrations/cover art?

The general answer here is no. If you publish traditionally, this isn’t something you either worry about or get much input on. If you publish yourself, then yes. But I advise finding a professional.

3. How do you get an agent?

You go to Literary Marketplace at your local library and look at the long listings of agents and write down their addresses and send them a query letter or whatever it is they ask for. Or you can go on-line to Writers Market and pay a monthly fee to get a list of agents interested in your genre there. But as a warning, it may take you a long time to find the right agent, and you will probably not find the right one with your first book.

4. How do you find a publisher?

Go to the local library and look at Writers Market. It takes a long time to look through all the listings. There’s no good shortcut in my opinion. Many publishers are closed to unsolicited submissions. You will either need to get an agent to get around this or go to conferences where editors give you a special code to get around it. Truth.

5.  How long is a MG or YA novel?

Really, the length can vary widely, but I would see a MG is about 50-60,000 words and a YA is 60-80,000 words, but genre fiction can be about 20% longer. Also, if you use bestsellers as a guide (which I don’t recommend), then you will think your books should be a lot longer than a debut author can usually get away with.

6. Do you have to know someone to get published?

No. Most authors I know get found either by the slush pile or by meeting editors at conferences and wowing them with a first chapter.

7. What is the new trend in YA/MG/adult right now?

It doesn’t matter what the new trend is now, because it will already be over by the time you’ve written something good enough to be published. So write what YOU want to see published, and hopefully you will find someone who is in sync with you, and you will convince other people that you’re brilliant. And write another book, and another one, until you find the right match.

8. Should I send my son’s manuscript in for him?

No, please don’t do this. I strongly believe teenagers’ manuscripts shouldn’t be published and that parents shouldn’t push this. When your kid is ready to submit, they’ll figure it out on their own. I’m not saying kids shouldn’t write or try to be published.Only that they should do the driving themselves, and that they should be judged the same way anyone else is, and not as cute kids who are prodigies.

9. Why are terrible books like Twilight published?

If you want to get into a rumble with me, start saying misogynistic things about Stephenie Meyer or her fans. If you want to have a genuine conversation about problems with Twilight and you’ve actually read the book (preferably the whole series), I’ll happily sit down and talk about it. However, please remember that different people like different things in their books and that any author who has found so many readers is doing something right that you probably need to learn from.

10. Do you have to have romance in your books to get published?

No. But there’s nothing wrong with romance, either. I personally love romance, especially when done well. I love that publishing has realized that there is a significant teen girl market out there and that they love romance. I was a teenager who read a lot of adult romance because there wasn’t anything else. I would have adored teen romance.

11. Why aren’t there any good books for boys being published today?

Ha! There are lots of good books for boys being published today. Just because every book isn’t for boys doesn’t mean there’s a problem here.

12. How much do you get paid for a first book?

To be honest, I would say $5,000-$10,000 is a decent advance on a first book. I don’t recommend going with a publisher who pays no advance at all. I think at least a token is nice. But on the other hand, I also think that it’s not very polite to ask about how much money someone makes in public. Maybe the simpler answer is to say—don’t quit your day job when you sell your first book.

School Lunch Hero Day will be here on May 2nd!

Encourage good citizenship in your kids, and a sense of pride in your lunch staff on May 2nd!

One of the greatest privileges that I have had over the last several years has been meeting the "lunch ladies" at the various schools that I've visited. These folks work incredibly hard to provide our children with healthy meals on a daily basis, and so seldom get the credit and recognition that they deserve. My initial intention in creating the Lunch Lady graphic-novel series was to just draw a lunch lady fighting off robots with fish sticks-but it became so much more! Cafeteria workers nationwide have thanked me for creating a hero in their likeness, and I later learned just how much it meant to the original inspiration for the series, my childhood lunch ladies. 

Last year, I asked you to celebrate the lunch staff at your school, and it was simply amazing. We spread joy to countless cafeterias. I recently gave a talk at a district-wide meeting of School Nutrition Professionals in Indiana. One of the women approached me after the talk and told me, "You know what I got out of this? That I'm important."

I shudder at the thought of anyone thinking that they are unimportant. On May 2nd, I would love it if you would take time to say thank you in some way to the folks in your school's cafeteria. These hard-working people feed 32 million children every single day, and we should surely remind them just how important their good work is!

I encourage you to inspire your young ones to get their creativity going on a special project. Last year, kids came up with the most amazing ways to say thank you. (I catalogued many of them on Pinterest.) You can also download free School Lunch Hero Day thank-you cards on the dedicated website. (They come in both English and Spanish!) 

Thank you so much for your consideration!


Download here!

My tweets

Gotta hang up now. Jimmy's shooting the shotgun off the front porch...
It's a misty Tuesday, and Kiffen has taken Olive, beloved wiener dog, to Los Angeles where she is chewing on her rawhide, a parting gift from Trader Joe's, a place we always frequent upon leaving Nashville, because Birmingham doesn't have Trader Joe's, and they should build one - immediately.

Olive was very good on the plane, although bug-eyed even dosed with a "Travel Calm" pill, and managed to chew through her dog-carrier and break the zipper. That's the second carrier she's destroyed, and I think that Kiffen, for the first time, was actually relieved that her back legs are paralyzed because she couldn't jump out and raise down the aisle, although he said from the gleam in her eye, the spirit was still very willing. The good news is though that Olive had a great visit with the small animal physical therapist, Dr. Cindy Grant, yesterday, who thinks she might get a kind of "drunken gait" back in 6-8 months, so to hold off on the cart for now, because the sling is working so well, and she's in such a good such shape after the winter trauma/drama of injury/surgery.

What else? I haven't been writing as much as I would like to these days, so I plan to ease/jump back into it now that classes are done. What a relief, although I had some wonderful students this semester, but it's hard for me to let go of their stories sometimes when I sit down to write my own.

I took hundreds of pictures in Nashville. Why? I don't know. I never took that many pictures when the kids were younger because Kiffen was the one taking pictures - he had the better eye, the same way he can still spot four-leaf clovers in seconds, and I stare and stare, willing them to appear and nothing. Back then, he also had the more complicated camera, and then Lucy graduated to being family photographer and Flannery, the family filmmaker, which is why we have so many pictures and movies of Norah, even though she was the baby of the family. We took plenty of pictures of all three kids, but not nearly enough now, and I regret it. So I just wanted to capture these moments. I even raided some photo albums.

On our visits, we always bring Kiffen's mother, Mama Frances, yellow roses, her favorite flower, but I'd forgotten how her husband, Jim, who died when Kiffen was sixteen, wrote her a song called "Yellow Roses." We will all gather back in Tennessee in July for the memorial of his brother, Jimmy, the first of the thirteen children to pass away last year, not long after his favorite holiday, 4th of July. I remember one 4th of July years ago when Frances yelled over the phone, "Gotta hang up. Jimmy's shooting the shot gun off the porch," (a tradition he liked to do to Jimi Hendrix's rendition of "Star Spangled Banner" playing on the record player.) The family planted a pignut tree in his honor at Warner Park Nature Center, and all 12 siblings and families will be there with Mama Frances too. (I'm hoping for a breezy, cool, springlike July in Nashville but I know better.)

So here are pictures from the weekend...and so much more to say, but I'm anxious to get back to HOP THE POND, ARE YOU THERE VULCAN, and LAURIE ANDERSON IN THE RICE FIELDS. One is adult novel, the other a novel for kids, and the last, a memoir of China, parenting, and whatever else I figure out what to throw in there...My ancient novel of yore, OFFSIDES, is coming out with FOREVERLAND PRESS in May, and I like the new cover very much. The back jacket has a picture of our family in the Pitt Stadium, and I'm going into the 7th grade, although I look 30, and had just received my first purse - a jean purse of course.

My new novel for kids, FIFTH GRADE, WEREWOLVES, HAMLET & ME, is still out with three editors, cut/honed/trimmed to a neat 176 pages after a fat/globby/expositional 250 pages in an earlier round, and so I wait and gaze at trees and ponder pseudonyms like Myrtle Mae Puckett or better yet, a guy's name like maybe Gabe Sullivan or Sam Glutz (my dad's favorite pseudonym that he used whenever someone shook hands with him and had a limp fish handshake - Sam Glutz, a guy my dad invented, had never learned how to shake hands with any strength of character or backbone, so Dad taught us how NOT to shake hands like Sam Glutz). Or maybe I could try even initials like P.L. Shaughnessy.

We leave for Manchester, England a week from Thursday, Norah's first trip to England, and my third. I lived there for a year during the "24-Hour Party People" reign only I was in a cold flat in Rushholme reading MIDDLEMARCH much to my son's despair, quite oblivious and just happy to be living in England instead of Knoxville, which is the new/old novel setting, both Manchester and East Tennessee.


And here come the pictures from the last few days and decades...

Frannie and Olive

Olive and Norah and Jane Eyre

Sister Tomi and Mama Frances (Sister Beanie slipped out before I could catch her.)

Easter plates from the window

I don't want to think about the number of jellybeans I ate from this dish that kept getting magically refilled

Daddy and Frannie (Steve came in from the road to celebrate Easter)

And let's slip in a little John Prine from a conversation at the Country Western Museum on Saturday where he told incredibly beautiful stories and sang this wrenching song.

Brad and sweet cousin Emma :)

Silas, Warren, Kiffen, and Olive with Silas giving me great OFFSIDES' advice

Frannie the fairy and playing amidst the red oak trees and mountain laurel and trillium

Tomi and Warren playing football at dusk

Brother Silas, the chef :)

Four leaf clover heaven

Kiffen taking care of first things first and little Frannie at the kid's table - just one kid at an old fashioned school desk with an inkwell too.

Rebecca O'Brien told us to gather so she could take this picture, and I'm very glad she did...a long time ago in a bed Kiffen built.

Olive meeting Dr. Cindy Grant in Homewood and getting some therapy tips.

Sweet little Lucy and Kiffen

Flannery in the sixth grade when he wrote an essay about Mama Frances and won, and we flew to Sacramento together.

This picture is Jim and Frances with the first five of the thirteen children. They were twenty-four or thereabouts. :)

OFFSIDES new book jacket



Mental Illness and what you can do

Talking to a depressed person as if you are talking to a mentally whole person is only going to end with you being frustrated that the depressed person “takes everything the wrong way.” Of course they do. That is the symptom of their problem. It isn’t that they are doing this willfully, however. Don’t imagine that they *want* to remain depressed, though it may seem that no matter how stubbornly you present the “real” facts to them, they won’t listen.

You can talk all day long about how grateful they should be about the good things in their life. And none of those good things will matter to them. They can’t weigh the good and the bad. They can’t feel happy just by thinking about good things. They can’t because they’re depressed and that’s what depression is. It means they can’t just turn a switch like a normal person can who feels a little blue—but isn’t clinically depressed.

When I look back at my experiences as a depressed person and think of the people who said things that hurt me, I am aware at the same time that it is entirely possible I am remembering every single one of those conversations incorrectly. It may be that if there were some objective view of the universe that we could go to, rewind the tape, and see it again, I would be astonished to discover that not only do I have the intent wrong, but all of the words wrong, too. I could have made things up that other people didn’t say simply to fit with my depressed mood.

I don’t think that’s what happened, but that’s another one of the effects of depression, that you end up unable to tell what’s real and what’s not. It’s another reason why people who are depressed tend to stay away from other people, which in some ways deepens the depression because all humans have a basic need for social interaction. We aren’t sure that we are being rational and we don’t want to think that we are causing other people hurt. Even if our brains aren’t working, that doesn’t mean that we’re mean (not usually). We can’t trust ourselves, and so we do this self-protective thing to keep from doing crazy stuff.

You can’t just fix this with a book on how to be happier. You can’t fix it with love (though love certainly doesn’t hurt).

Right now, Robison Wells, a good friend and someone who suffers with multiple mental illnesses needs help right now. We can’t help in many ways, but we can do this one little thing. Please, donate!

From my Mail

"Where did you get all of those funny sentences from?"

I love that. :)

Guest Post: Guadalupe Garcia McCall on Writing & Teaching Poetry
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I love poetry, but not like other people love poetry. No.

I mean, I love poetry.

But it's not that I just love it, I think I actually need it. Just as nourishment, and sunlight, and oxygen sustain me—Poetry sustains me. Just as religion, and family, and nature center me—Poetry centers me. Just as writing, and reading, and teaching fulfill me—Poetry fulfills me.

One of my favorite things to do in my classroom is to bring in the poetry.

I love to share great poetry, like "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes, "Patterns" by Amy Lowell, and many, many more greatly beloved gems from literature.

However, I also love to share my own poetry with my students. It makes the lesson more valid when I ask them to write, and they see that I am not asking anything of them that I don't ask of myself.

One of my favorite ways to sneak it in poetry is by tying it in with something that's part of my curriculum. It's actually the only way I get away with it these days...oh, how I long for a creative writing class where I can really cut loose and teach the art of writing, but that's a blog for another day!

I recently wrote a poem called, "With a Machete, My Father," from the point of view of the character of Nwoye in the novel, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958). It wasn't anything spectacular or mind blowing. It was quite a simple little poem, really, but with that one little poem, I taught point of view, poetic structure (including the "twist" at the end) and figurative language like imagery, symbolism, foreshadowing, personification, simile, etc.

As a follow up, I asked students to write a response poem to Nwoye from any other character's point of view in the novel. They really got into the assignment, it was like we were having a dialogue on paper—a poem from them in response to a poem from me in another character's point of view.

Complex and challenging, but fun and uniquely their own!

That's what poetry is for me, and that's what I want my students to discover—a unique, fun way to involve themselves and address poetry in a natural way, a way that speaks about their point of view as they explore literature, nature (including human nature), and life.

Here's a look at that little poem for those of who are interested:

"With a Machete, My Father"

Cut him down, severed the tie
That pulls a man away from himself.

So that he might be seen as
Strong, my father ended my brother’s life.

Ikemefuna’s voice called out.
For help he called, confused, bewildered.

Sunlight filtered through the leaves
of our forest, like an ancestral spirit, witnessing.

It glinted off his blade. Metal moved
quick as lightning, loud as thunder, wet as rain.

I did not see Ikemefuna in death, but I
Felt his shadow walking quietly behind my father.

When he entered his obi, my father
Did not speak, but sat down to drink palm wine.

I know why Okonkwo mourns.
It must be hard, to lose two sons in one day.

Guadalupe Garcia McCall, February 2014

Another one of my favorite ways to share, discuss, and explore poetry is to bring in excerpts from a small collection of nature poems I have entitled, "On Prairie Road."

I've been working on this collection for years. It's nowhere near finished, and I suspect I won't ever be finished with it because these poems come to me when I least expect them. They are little moments of truth that just hit me when I sit on my porch or meander around my property to stir and wake the poetic voice.

They are bits of life, mine and the world around me, and thus, I suspect, they will always be a work in progress.

I use these short little nature poems, these visceral snapshots, to teach theme.

I give my students a handout with three or four poems from the collection. I never know which ones I'll use because I always try to tie them in with the literature we are reading at the time.

When I first ask students to read them, it's a cold read, not really tied in to the book or story we're working with.

"Just read," I say. "Try to figure out what it means...what the poet was thinking...why she wrote it."

(I usually don't tell them I wrote the poems unless they ask if they are mine. Then I don't lie, I say, "Yes, it's part of something I'm working on," and we move on to the lesson).

After they do the cold read, I ask them to think about theme: What is the message behind the poems, what is the author trying to tell you about life? We discuss the first one together; we stir the mud using the well known SIFT strategy (Symbols, Imagery, Figurative Language, and Theme) to try to get to the bottom of it. When we all agree on a theme, we write it down beside the poem, quoting textual evidence, of course, to tie it to the novel/story we are reading.

Next, I ask a student to read the second poem to the class. This time, they talk to their elbow partner and try to SIFT through the poem together to find the theme. When everyone has a theme written down, we share and try to come to consensus as to the theme that best relates to the novel/story.

As a third stage of the lesson, the students read the last poem by themselves, SIFT through the poem, find a theme of their own and relate it to the novel/story.

As a follow up, students write their own nature poems to try to relate the theme of the novel/story we are reading to the class.

Once again, we have that dialogue on paper, that back and forth sharing of point of view and ideas between author, teacher, and students—only this time they see that they can find courage and wisdom in nature, and in their own observations of nature and the world around them, to make connections to the text.

This lesson always works because most nature poems are universal enough to fit any novel or story. I can usually find several to match whatever literary piece we are reading at the time.

Before I started writing my own, I used a number of nature poems I loved, anything from well known nature poets like Edna St. Vincent Millay to contemporary poets like Wendy Barker was food for my classroom.

In any event, here are the three poems I used with Things Fall Apart for those of you who might be interested:

"On the Grass"
by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Two eager grackles walk on stilts.
Raven heads held high. Their golden
Eyes astute, foraging for generous
Seeds to feast upon.

Then, a grub worm, fat and slippery,
Clutched in a black bird’s claw, ripped apart,
Torn open, devoured by one who knows
Its creamy, yellow guts are more substantial.

"Along the Barbed Wire Fence"
by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

An oak has matured. Its golden heart
Pierced by the barbed wires of the
Barricade it has engulfed. Four lines of
Barbaric fencing, swallowed up, imprisoned

Within one hundred rings of bark. The
Anchoring posts push, pull, tug with
The passing seasons, but the oak is stoic,
Unmoved, its heavy trunk incorrigible.

"Across the Road"
by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Cows migrate in unison, slowly, quietly,
Plowing against the forceful rains. Heads
Hung low, shoulders determined,
Eyes to the ground, as if in prayer.

They do not wait for the waters to rise,
The lip of the creek to curl up cynically,
Swallow them up, drag them downstream,
They walk steadily, calmly, don’t look back.

Using poetry, our own or anybody else's, to make connections within and across texts is a fun, easy way to expose students to poetry and its value—not only in literature but also in life.

Exposing students to poetry, its depth and beauty, its relationship to the world we inhabit and the way we live and learn, is one of the best things we can do for our students. It goes beyond educating them—hopefully, it leads them to a love of poetry and a true appreciation of it.

Who's to say? It might even someday sustain them.

Cynsational Notes

Guadalupe Garcia McCall is the author of Under the Mesquite (Lee & Low, 2011), a novel in verse. Under the Mesquite received the prestigious Pura Belpre Author Award, was a William C. Morris Finalist and received the Ellen Hopkins Promising Poet Award, the Tomas Rivera Children’s Book Award, and was included in Kirkus Reviews’ Best Teen Books of 2011 among many other honors and accolades.

Her second novel, Summer of the Mariposas (Tu, 2012), won a Westchester Young Adult Fiction Award, was an Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Finalist, and was included in the 2013 Amelia Bloomer Project List, the Texas Lone Star Reading List, and the 2012 School Library Journal’s Best Books of the Year.

Her poems for adults have appeared in more than twenty literary journals across the country and abroad, and her poems for children are included in The Poetry Friday Anthology (2012), The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School (2013), and The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science (2014), all by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong.

Guadalupe was born in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico. She immigrated with her family to the United States when she was six years old and grew up in Eagle Pass, Texas (the setting of both her novels and most of her poems).

She is currently a high school English teacher in the San Antonio area and lives in Somerset with her husband, Jim, two (of three) sons, Steven and Jason, two dogs (Baxter and Blanca), and one cat (Luna).

22 APRIL 2014

YOU DON'T KNOW JACK And maybe I don't either. Today is Jack Nicholson's 77th birthday. Happy Birthday, Jack! What I don't seem to know about Jack—or more specifically this illustration of Jack—is when it came about. Oh, it's stamped with a 2007 watermark, so at least I should know where to start as I sift through the blog archives. But in last night's search, I was unable to come up with an answer.

It appears it was rendered in colored pencil, then "electrified" in Photoshop.

Then Jack became "Jack the Ripper" in this digital collage of a few selected lines from Bob Dylan's "Tombstone Blues."

The sweet pretty things are in bed now of course
The city fathers they're trying to endorse
The reincarnation of Paul Revere's horse
But the town has no need to be nervous.

The ghost of Belle Star she hands down her wits
To Jezebel the nun she violently knits
A bald wig for Jack the Ripper who sits

At the head of the chamber of commerce.

But I don't know when. Oh well, there's "no need to be nervous."


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Alabama-Bound . . .

Just a quick note to say that this Friday I’ll speak in Huntsville, Alabama, at the 2014 Annual Convention of the Alabama Library Association.

The following week, I’ll also speak at the Tennessee Library Association Annual Conference 2014, but I won’t have to travel far for that one. It’ll be in my own back yard, so to speak (Murfreesboro, Tennessee).

If any of my blog readers will be at either conference, by chance, please come say hi!

Until Thursday …

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