Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Filmed, Feted, and Fed

I had a lovely time in Portland Friday and Saturday, hobnobbing and being interviewed and reading at Bull Moose. In addition to the general wonderfulness, it was therapeutic to get out of Brooklin for a while. There have been strings of days lately when I haven't even left the yard. This cannot be healthy.

Carrie Jones, Maurissa Guibord and I gathered first at MPBN (Maine public radio) for a Maine Things Considered interview with Keith Shortall, a lovely bearlike man who calmed us right down and asked great questions. Encouraged, we went off to WCSH and 207 host Rob Caldwell, less bearlike but equally calming and good to talk to.

We're lucky we didn't have a Live Mic incident. As we were being miked, the experience reminded Carrie of wearing a wire and pretending to be a hooker in Lewiston during college, aiding the police. She held forth at some length as the shots were being set up, which I suppose could have been entertaining if the cameras had been on. She never got a chance to explain exactly why she was aiding the police in the first place, so I look forward to that story sometime.

My potential embarrassment was that I mugged and waved at myself when the m onitor came on (again, not when we were being filmed, thank god). Such a grown-up.

The video of the TV interview doesn't seem to want to embed, so here's the link if you're interested. The radio interview hasn't aired yet.

I spent Friday night with my friends Zoe and Sosha, a mother/daughter duo who took me out to dinner and generally coddled me. They used to live in Brooklin--Zoe was in my writers group and I worked with Sosha at the school, plus she was a reader for SMALL PERSONS. So it was a thrill to hang out with them for a bit.

Here's Carrie (left) and Maurissa (in background, in black) in action on Saturday, after our reading at Bull Moose.

Many, many thanks to Tia and Brian at Bull Moose (as well as the previously hailed Gillian Britt) for setting up the event and treating us so well.

The knitting report: Finished my last sock, and I have to buy yarn in order to start my sweater. I'm noodling with a dishcloth as an alternative to fidgeting.

The Maine Politics report: Governor LePage secretly removed the embattled mural from the Department of Labor over the weekend, fearing that the opposition would sit in to prevent it going out the door. (Which they would have. Including me, probably.) Research is under way as to the legalities, since it's a Percent for Art project and could conceivably have required consultation with the artist before it got moved.

The New York Times had a good editorial. But, as usual, E.B. White said it best. The occasion was the 1933 battle between Diego Rivera and Nelson Rockefeller about a portrait of Lenin in a mural Rivera was creating for Rockefeller Center. (If you saw the movie "Frida" you know that Rockefeller's goons ended up taking sledgehammers to the mural.)

White wrote a poem called "I Paint What I See," which was published in The New Yorker. It's here. My favorite part right now is the end (the speaker is "John D.'s grandson Nelson"):

"For this, you know, is a public hall

"And people want doves, or a tree in fall,

"And though your art I dislike to hamper

"I owe a little to God and Gramper.

"And after all,

"It's my wall."

"We'll see if it is," said Rivera.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spring and Art and Interviews

Ah, spring in Maine. Gorgeous one day, eight inches of wet snow the next. But there's something about the light this time of year that makes the world smile and gives you a sense of hope, no matter what's underfoot.

That is, unless you pick up the morning paper and actually read it. For those of us who are anywhere left of the Tea Party, times are tough in the ol' Pine Tree State. This morning, the news was that our governor thinks a percent-for-art mural in the Labor Department lobby is too pro-labor and not "business-friendly" enough. (Maine is "open for business" now. The gov. was pictured at the state line last week hanging up a sign saying that, so I guess it must be true.) Apparently, only government-approved art is allowed these days.

At risk of being business-hostile, I would just like to say that tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, when 146 workers died because the bosses locked the doors and stairwells. This event as much as any other led to the formation of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union and started us on the road to today's industrial safety standards. Some of them are silly (talk to a volunteer firefighter about OSHA some time) but by far the majority were badly, badly needed. We're lucky we have the luxury of complaining about them.

A group of artists are protesting under the mural tomorrow at noon. (All of them probably ingest heavy metals using their mouths to put a point on their brushes. Don't tell OSHA.)

The writing report: I finished reading the rough draft for CONNOR'S BANSHEE. I am considering going to work in a shirtwaist factory. One day at a time, Ellen, one day at a time. *Commences deep breathing.*

The knitting report: I'm heading for the toe on my second cotton sock. When I go up to the attic to look for my suitcase (more on that below), I will try to find the old Portuguese Fisherman's Sweater pattern. Oh god.

Infuriating waste of time update: I spent two hours on the phone with Microsoft this morning after downloading a critical update that turned my computer into a large plastic boulder. The update turns out to be something that checks you for pirated software, begging the question "critical for whom"? I did not download it a second time. (I don't pirate software, by the way.)

The shameless promotion report: Tomorrow, I go to Portland to meet Carrie Jones and Maurissa Guibord, first at MPBN to tape a brief interview for Maine Things Considered, then to WCSH-TV (Channel 6) for a brief interview for 207. The radio thing may air at 5:30 tomorrow night, but not if there's too much news about, for example, the governor attacking murals. The TV thing will air tomorrow night at 7.

The three of us will read and talk (not at the same time, most likely) at Bull Moose in Scarborough at 2 p.m. Saturday. And may I just say All Hail Gillian Britt, who has organized ALL of this and is a genius of shameless promotion.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Happy Paperback Birthday, Medford!

THE UNNAMEABLES comes out in paperback today, and what better way to celebrate than to subject yourself to total humiliation? So here I am, reading bits of it aloud:

In other news: SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS got its very own paragraph in The Washington Post over the weekend, in a Book World special section on children's books. I'm ridiculously happy about it. So shallow.

The knitting report: I finished a cotton sock. Started another. The first one looks extremely sloppy in the upper ankle area, so I am trying to be A Better Knitter in this second one. But I figure, hey, nobody's ever going to see my upper ankle area when I'm wearing jeans, right? Depraved as I am, I can't see me wearing navy-blue cotton socks with shorts. (And a spectral voice intones: Never say never.)

The writing report: Back to CONNOR'S BANSHEE today. I'm printing it out in order to read it in hard copy. *shudder*

Everything else: Please, please, Qaddafi, just go to Sharm el-Sheikh and relax under the palm trees with Mubarak. (Spectral voice snickers. Yeah, right.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Life goes on

Like everyone else, I'm glued to any internet reports I can find about the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. My friend Di (discoverer of the fairy-on-a-motorcycle pin) lives just north of Tokyo, and her Facebook updates have been calmness itself. Although her family, like everyone else, is being affected daily by power outages and transportation difficulties--not to mention aftershocks--she suffered only minor losses in the earthquake and was well out of range of the tsunami. Nevertheless, "nerve-wracking" is a vast understatement.

And of course the devastation in the tsunami areas is unbelievable. Add radiation to the mix, and you just want to rush over there and DO something.

YA author Maureen Johnson (also represented by my agent Kate Schafer Testerman) incited many of us to donate books for prizes in her efforts to raise funds for Shelterbox, a truly amazing organization that ships completely equipped shelters to disaster areas. That was great--her efforts raised some $14,000 for Japan and, earlier, $15,000 for Christchurch. (The Japanese number is smaller, I suspect, because of the whirlwind nature of the effort-- it was all over by Sunday morning.) But it feels profoundly unadequate, and I know we'll all be looking for other ways to help.

Johnson did all her fundraising on Twitter. Di keeps us posted on Facebook. Say what you will about social networks, at times like these they're worth their weight in megabytes.

Meanwhile, life goes on. It's town meeting season around here--ours is in a couple of weeks--and last week I got to cover Deer Isle's for The Ellsworth American. It was an uneventful year with nothing astounding on the warrant and the budget about the same. I loved it, though--even the most stultifying town meeting has that moment "when democracy sat up and looked around," as E.B. White wrote about a Brooklin town meeting years ago.

This time, citizens raised questions about recycling and building debris at the solid waste transfer station, support for the shellfish commission, and brush-clearing on the roads. A splinter group decided the town's long-time animal control officer needed a substantial raise to help with truck maintenance. The voters gave him another $100 a month even though he'd only asked for $15 or $20 more. He said he "doesn't do the job as good anymore" because he no longer cleans up roadkill. (The crows handle that nicely.) He does, however, keep stray dogs at his own house as much as he can. He's been looking for an apprentice, but "nobody loves animals like I do."

Here's what it looked like:

The crowd gathers in the Deer Isle Municipal Building--town offices upstairs, fire department downstairs. About 68 voters ended up attending.

Voting. In this case, whether to consider holding future town meetings on Saturday rather than Monday afternoon. (Stonington, the other town on the same island, also meets Monday afternoon. They used to call off island schools on town meeting day, but I don't think they do that anymore. That's what happens when you build a bridge to the mainland.) (They built it in the 1930s. Still.)

The Deer Isle selectmen (seated) and the town meeting moderator. The selectmen look grim here but they're really very nice.

After the meeting, Town Clerk Rebekah Knowlton explains the ins and outs of the school board vote. Since Deer Isle and Stonington share a school system, both towns vote on the same school board candidates. This can get tricky, because Deer Isle is much bigger than Stonington and can swing the vote if it wants to. Generally, though, the two towns get along pretty well.

The Wildlife Report: This morning, the cat learned how to open the door to the Milkbone cupboard, and stood aside while the dog gorged herself. The cat keeps trying to ingratiate herself, but after four years of effort the dog still won't let her snuggle up.

The Knitting Report: I'm still on my first cotton sock. It looks very sloppy--cotton turns out to be less forgiving than wool--but I'm hoping It'll All Come Out in the Wash.

The Writing Report: I'm taking two weeks away from CONNOR'S BANSHEE to gain perspective. I thought I'd work on something else but I seem to have frittered one week away on chores. I did spend a day reading about Death. That was cheery.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Read Aloud!

It's World Read Aloud Day, and in its honor (and because apparently I have no shame left) I've made a video of myself reading aloud. From SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS, naturally, for the reason stated above (the one about having no shame).

The video quality is horrible, because the words and picture went out of sync at a higher resolution. Just as well, because my visual quality is horrible today, too. It's my very first video, so think kindly of me.

So here goes, such as it is:

In other news: I have a guest post over at Cynsations, the blog of estimable children's book author Cynthia Leitich Smith. I loved writing it, so I hope you'll go over and read it. It's about when Issues in children's books become side issues (with a lower-case "i").

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Dr. Seuss in Our Little Town

I got to read OH, THE PLACES YOU'LL GO to the Brooklin School this week, which was especially wonderful because that happens to be a Seuss book I'd never read. I found it a bit repetitive, frankly, and not as wildly inventive as, say, HORTON HEARS A WHO or my longtime favorite, GREEN EGGS AND HAM. And I had to keep inserting "or girl" every time he used the word "guy" in addressing the reader. But it's an inspiring and truthful book, no question, and the kids did laugh, so that's all to the good.

March 2 is Dr. Seuss's birthday, in case you didn't know, and the National Education Association chose it years ago as the date for Read Across America, when community members visit schools to read aloud. In Brooklin, as in many other schools, it's also Pajama Day. (I sleep in a T-shirt--TMI alert--and don't own pajamas, so I contented myself with wearing a bathrobe over my clothes.)

As you will see in the photo below, music teacher Mike Schrader also is pajama-challenged. He solved the problem by wearing a plastic bag on his head. He and the second grade led the school in singing "Dr. Seuss, We Love You," to a devilish tune that stayed in my head all day and drove me NUTS. (IMPORTANT SANITY TIP: When that happens, go here.)

After the reading and the singing, a special guest appeared: none other than The Cat in the Hat, played by school staffer Cookie Mangels. She was the right choice for the job, never having met a kid or a dance move she doesn't love.

And then there was the cake, donated by Tradewinds Marketplace in Blue Hill. It was 8:30 a.m. so, wisely, no one cut into it. The kids would have it for dessert at lunchtime.

After the festivities, I went home and had a truly horrible writing day. Fortunately, true to the spirit of OH, THE PLACES YOU'LL GO, I then had a great day Thursday. Then a nothing day Friday and not much of a day today. So tomorrow will rock!

In other news: I signed up to do Skype author visits. I probably will die of fright the first time I do one. Very cool idea, though, especially for those of us who live miles from nowhere.

The knitting report: I seem to have hurt my arm skiing. I finally fell, in spectacular fashion, and had to thrash around in the snow for a while before I managed to stand up. Not sure when my right arm took a hit, but I decided I probably couldn't type AND knit. So, in a spirit of self-sacrifice and WANTING TO GET THIS FRIGGIN' DRAFT OVER AND DONE WITH, I've stopped knitting for a few days.

The writing report: Not even 25 pages left to go on this deeply ugly first draft of CONNOR'S BANSHEE (ETA: Maybe not even 10) and suddenly a minor character from mid-story has returned and wormed his way into my heart. He has absolutely no function at this point in the story. He might be the "darling" referenced in the old saw, "kill your darlings." Or not. One way or another, this'll be blood-curdling.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

March Book Review Club

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@Barrie Summy

March! Spring! Well, except for the two feet of snow/slush on the ground. (I just typed "snot" by mistake. Not sure that's far wrong.) Anyway, still woodstove weather, and what could be a better companion than an illustrated encyclopedia--short bites, suitable for a frost-bitten brain. And pictures!

Don't forget to click the icon above, which will whisk you away to more book reviews. Think spring!

Abbey Lubbers, Banshees & Boggarts: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Fairies
By Katharine Briggs
Illustrated by Yvonne Gilbert
Pantheon Books, New York, 1979

Katharine Briggs took her fairies seriously. She was a folklore scholar, with several Oxford degrees, and did not think fairy tales were strictly the province of children. The tales she liked were those handed down over generations by people who believed in them, as opposed to the ones “made up as a pretty fancy.”

This book is a popularized, illustrated version of Briggs’s AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FAIRIES, with more tales and fewer scholarly treatises. I guess it was intended for kids. Born in 1898, Briggs was 81 when it was published (she died a year later), and her foreword sometimes brushes against that patronizing tone writers used to adopt when addressing children. “I hope you will enjoy the book,” the introduction concludes, “and perhaps become a folklorist, collect stories for yourself, and tell them to other people.” (My second grade teacher talked like that.)

Once she moves into the body of the book, however, Briggs is all business and forgets she is supposed to be writing for the kiddies. Describing the horrible Peg Powler, who dragged children into the River Tees, she comments: “If Peg Powler was not invented by careful mothers you may be sure that they made her sound as terrifying as they could, for the Tees was a dangerous river.”

Briggs's youthful readers have to be sturdy of psyche. Her tale of the Each Uisge, the Scottish water horse, ends with the livers of seven little girls washing up on the shore.

Briggs wrote scads of books, among them THE PERSONNEL OF FAIRYLAND and the four-volume DICTIONARY OF BRITISH FOLKTALES IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE. She’s supremely comfortable with her material. She doesn’t attempt linguistic fireworks—who needs to, when children’s livers are washing ashore?—but she writes with an endearing, understated wryness. She tells the story, for example, of a young man who, when dancing with a Scandinavian elf-woman, notices that she is blessed with a tail. “But he did not betray her. He said, ‘Pretty maid, you are losing your garter.’ His tact was rewarded by good luck all his life.”

Other elven women, we learn, “were beautiful from the front, but they were hollow behind, like a rotten tree. Because of this they never turned around in their dances.”

Fun fact: Why are fairies allergic to iron? Because they’re from the Stone Age. Duh.

The book is presented as a mini-encyclopedia, with entries alphabetized and cross-referenced. It’s intended for browsing, though—no table of contents and no index. Yvonne Gilbert’s illustrations are funny, lovely, or harrowing, depending on need. If I’d read this as a child I would have flipped quickly past the color plate of the Nuckelavee, a centaur-like Orkney sea-monster that is the stuff of nightmare.

I flip quickly past it now, come to think of it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Winners and Bloggers

When a task requires intelligence, good humor, charisma, deftness, and absolute integrity, who do you call?

A librarian, of course.

And so it was that I descended earlier today on Friend Memorial Public Library, Brooklin, Maine, carrying a failed knitting project and nine slips of paper with names on them. And sure enough, Library Director Stephanie Atwater was ready and willing.

We put the slips of paper into the FKP. Stephanie went to work.

And the winner of signed copies of SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS and THE UNNAMEABLES is ... Anamaria! (Email me your address, Anamaria, and I'll ship them right out.)

In other news: SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS is having its own private party over at RT Book Reviews. I burbled out a guest post -- which has yet another book give-away detailed at the bottom -- and on top of that there's a lovely review.

Also Library Media Connection recommended SMALL PERSONS as "a fun, magical read."

The knitting report: Rob wore the socks I knitted out in public Saturday night, and they did not unravel. They didn't even itch, he said, although I don't think I can take credit for that. Despite my burning desire to knit myself another Portuguese fisherman's sweater, the task of finding the 20-year-old pattern (in the wasteland of abandoned craft projects that is our attic) was beyond me. So I'm knitting myself a pair of cotton socks, which was the original goal anyway. I started last night. The air was blue with cuss words. And yet I persevere.

I have to read Dr. Seuss's OH, THE PLACES YOU'LL GO to the Brooklin Elementary School tomorrow, which is all about perseverence. Maybe I'll talk about knitting. Or...maybe not.