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The Truth about Research

research n. to travel through
 
I’ve dreaded dipping into the deep well of research for my new book project; it’s been years since I’ve been a proper student and most of my recent manuscripts are about the length of your average footnote.
 
But I’ve literally been dreaming this story, so I had no choice but to jump in.
 
Well. Lemme tell ya. I took the leap, and I didn’t drown. I didn’t even choke. It’s… refreshing!
 
Yesterday morning I mailed a revision of one of my picture books to a waiting editor (I like to think she checks her mail for it daily), and then ensconced myself at Austin Java with my laptop and a cup of decaf. I hooked into their wireless, started swimming and didn’t come up for air ‘til noon.
 
You would not believe the discoveries I stumbled upon. Everything from a new surname for my protagonist to the exact date of the most pivotal plot peak in the piece. I even hit upon a working title!
 
And here’s what felt most titillating to me. I set out with expectations of dry, grueling, academic research and instead I find myself on a journey during which “all will be revealed.” That may sound a little woo-woo to you, but honestly it’s as if I’m discovering the truth of the story rather than figuring out reasonable details to make up.
 
And isn’t that the kind of book we love – one that feels true, through and through – regardless of how preposterously fictitious it may be? If I can hang onto that sense as I move forward, I just may have a crack at writing the kind of book I’d like to read.

Poetry Friday…

… puts me in the mood to read Seven Silly Eaters, by Mary Ann Hoberman. 

I often tell my students that when editors say they don’t want rhyme, they mean they don’t want BAD rhyme. THIS kind of rhyme is delicious.

I love reading this book aloud; it’s another gutbuster.

“…Creamy oatmeal, pots of it!
Homemade bread and lots of it!
Peeling apples by the peck,
Mrs. Peters was a wreck!

She wiped her brow and heaved a sigh;
Another year was passing by. 
In fact, she realized with sorrow,
Her birthday would arrive tomorrow!
Drearily she shook her head
And wearily went up to bed.

She thought the children had forgot
Her special day — but they had not!
At crack of dawn they all began
To carry out their secret plan:
Mrs. Peters would be fed 
A birthday breakfast in her bed!
A breakfast made of all the food
That kept them in such happy moods…”

And that’s when things really get crazy.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Flakes float down as big as pie plates. Ice mimics each vein of each leaf on the Asian jasmine. The back deck is a skating rink.
 
Every ½ an hour or so, runny-nosed daughters and neighbors rush in, hungry and chilled; we pop hats and gloves into the drier so they’ll  be ready for the next jaunt out.  
 
The weather folk are calling it ICE STORM ‘O7 (read with a threatening boom) but heck, I just call it vacation. Mind you, I’m posting from AUSTIN, TEXAS, where we’re more accustomed to burning our hands on the heat of our steering wheels.
 
The delight of this unfamiliar weather – keeping us home together, reading and cooking, taking baths, playing cards, and did I mention reading and cooking? – it’s enough to shake up the most routinized among us, it’s a new new year.
 
Our 2nd grader’s science fair project suddenly entails freezing a whole variety of liquids in an ice-cube tray – outside, on our front porch! Nobody’s trying to fry an egg out there today. Her dad (who “should” be at work) has fresh pizza dough rising in the kitchen and his guitar is freshly tuned. My semester remains un-started. Even our 12-year-old dog feels frisky.
 
We are ill-equipped, to be sure. Our fleece jackets, so toasty most Texas days, seem pathetic, even doubled up. Our shoes are porous and slippery, and our windows and doors don’t seal like they ought to. The highway department reports hundreds of wrecks and the Blockbuster shelves were stripped of everything but the crankiest videotapes yesterday by noon.
 
But we ignore the bluster, crank up the cocoa to a full boil and sing, I swear, more Christmas carols. ‘Cause why not? There’s a bright white light in the air and it’s winter, even in Texas.
 

MLK

All of the MLK events planned for Austin have been cancelled because of ice. Outdoors. Clinging to the trees and wires. So we’ll be home in our sweats and slippers, reading and baking, which sounds swell.
 
My kids, though, had hoped to march – were even willing to bundle up.
 
When I collected them at school on Friday, King’s “I Had a Dream” speech boomed from the PA system. In the car, on the way home, they explained why we oughta call him “Dr. King”, to show respect. I like that.
 
But there’s also something so intimate about his legacy, isn’t there? His was a looming figure that one could imagine being at home with, over dinner or the morning paper.
 
I think it’s the serenity he held, in the face of everything impossible and abhorrent. There he stood in the storm that was the civil rights movement while the rest of us bring anxious hysteria to airline ticket counters and afternoon traffic.
 
I cannot imagine the yogic practice it must take to embody one’s beliefs that completely.
 
What if we moved more peacefully and spoke with less shrill? What if our decisions were more intuitive and less rash? What if we learned “to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools”?
 
Dr. King was shot to death on my birthday, in April, 1968. I turned one, ate cake with my plump hands, laughed in the light of the flashbulbs burning. King was dead, we were at war in Vietnam, and the sixties were exploding into the seventies. But I was full of hope. Full of hope.
 
Today, ice sheening on our streets, King’s voice like music on our radio, I still am.
 
  

Pssst…

Muchos gracias to Tasha at Kids Lit (http://www.greenlakelibrary.org/kidslit/ ), DonTate at Devas T. (http://devast.blogspot.com/ ), and Kelly at Big A little a (http://kidslitinformation.blogspot.com/ ) for calling out my blog to their fine and faithful readers. So happy to share the airwaves with you all…
 
Kudos to Baranoff Elementary School for hosting a really vivid Young Author’s Conference today. What a delight – working with all those wide-eyed kids, and chatting with so many shining writer-folk. My students crafted some real metaphoric gems, including: “horns like ski poles”… “orange as honey”… and “a dollar bill, green like a leaf and crinkly.”
Lucky Austinites: Rumor has it that my own personal and fabulous illustrator Robin Preiss Glasser is coming to town in late March. Living and breathing, up close and personal. Yea!! Stay tuned – I’ll fill you in on details when I’ve got them.
 
Hurrah for my clever friend and children’s writer Polly Robertus (The Dog Who Had Kittens, Holiday House, 1992) who’s just sold a middle grade novel to the same house. Perseverance paid off and we’ll all be the luckier for it.
 
Deep bows to the wise Carrie Contey (http://www.earlyparenting.com/index.html ) for offering her amazing insights to my beloved group of Goodness gals. She’s agreed to work with us in making the most of our art and our lives. There was firecracker energy in the room the other night as we got started. Don’t you love being around people who’ve got great big dreams?