The Power of One Writer
Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books
author • speaker • teacher • volunteer

Free-spirited and precise in writing and the yard

Once upon a time, my garden was planned and–thanks to a a more orderly person than I am–in relatively straight rows. Now I’m embracing what a book I’m reading calls “free spirited.” After all, I’m focusing on a lot of native and hardy plants and self-seeding perennials. As my cowboy dad lived in many periods

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In this watermelon, the seeds stuck together

I don’t know why that title popped into my head, but I was thinking about my siblings. Some people don’t choose to hang out with their siblings now that everyone is all grown up. It stands to reason. Why not spend time with people who like to do what you like to do? But my

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Life imitates art imitates life

When I started writing about Lanie’s garden, I admit that I was mostly working from memory–drawing on the details of my Dad’s garden in Ethiopia when I was a kid but even more from my various vegetable gardens that I plotted and planted and harvested and played around in after I had kids. In fact,

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One brave turtle vs. the world

When I was asked to write the books for the 2010 Doll of the Year, American Girl flew me to Wisconsin to brainstorm about the theme–something related to saving the earth. American Girl talks about keeping things “girl sized.” As I searched my brain cells for images of myself as a girl Lanie’s age, spending

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Higgeldy-piggeldy wanderings through spring

In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Barbara Kingsolver writes that on Mother’s Day, in keeping with local tradition, they took a tomato plant to a neighbor. “Carrying the leggy, green-smelling plant, our family walked down the gravel driveway to her house at the bottom of our hollow. ‘Oh, well, goodness,’ she said, taking the plant from us and

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Starting as a clueless mess

The beginning of my rootedness wasn’t pretty. I lived in Portland, Oregon until I was two years old (look at the daffodils behind us) with a good and beautiful princess of an older sister and (eventually) a younger sister. But after my parents moved us to Ethiopia, I never lived in Portland again…until a couple

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Happy Earth Day

Earth Day seems like a good time to start my new blog thread…going from being a somewhat restless traveler to putting down roots. Literally. It all goes back to Maji, Ethiopia.Since there was no winter in Maji, my sisters and I spent huge chunks of every day outside, exploring. This is an old picture that’s

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The threads of longing and art

My first blog tour is over! Hope in a Chaotic World by Jane Kurtz Last answers (for now) about Anna Was Here. Most people wanted to know how moving was part of my own childhood–easy peasy answer there. This picture must have been taken not long after we arrived in Ethiopia when I was two (I’m the

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Anna Was Here by Jane Kurtz

Daring Greatly at least every once in a while

Like at least half of everybody I know, I’e been reading Daring Greatly and liking Brene Brown’s disarming way of admitting that she might have studied shame and vulnerability for years, but that didn’t mean she wanted to BE vulnerable.  “I did believe,” she writes, “that I could opt out of feeling vulnerable. Anna would certainly agree.

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Whew!

Teacher strike averted. So, so glad that people like my bro–who takes time to sing with his third graders and fills their brains with good books AND has built a donkey for an Ethiopia Reads Bring a Book Buy a Book project is on the job and not on the picket line. One thing that

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NYC and the swirling world going round

This is the way the world bounces. Sometimes In the good old days when schools and libraries bought many children’s books, editors used to pop on over to Book Expo (where bookstore people saw new books) and to the annual conventions of

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Despair and soaring joy

Despair. Every artist feels it, I’m pretty sure.  My feelings about the novel I’m finishing up have zinged all over the place. Now that I finally know what I want in each of my chapters, though, I can work any

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The myth of the solitary artistic genius and me

All the published authors I know are introverts. One of my friends was talking about being part of an incoming class in the Vermont College MFA in children’s writing.  At the get-to-know-you session, people were asked to move here and

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Revision…and appetite…and bring on the chickens.

Revision time. I am in Boston on the edge of my annual writing retreat…it’s shocking to think that this group has been getting together for something like seventeen years.  Our lives, our writing, our despairs, our soaring bits…they are woven

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The power of floating around

What happens when we become unmoored? The image–I think–is instantly uncomfortable.  Floaty.  At sea.  Everything slipping past. Often, though, when we become unmoored we open our eyes and hearts in new ways, which always happens to me on author visits

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School…not necessarily what you think

Ethiopia Reads (www.ethiopiareads.org) is a new oganization. Same name. Some of the same people. But a whole lot of new conversations and new people on the team and a whole lot of new programs because Ethiopia Reads programming and the

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Ben Franklin, Ben Frankllin

John Fuller writes that between running a print shop, making up the US postal system and America’s first lending library, and seed-planting for the revolution, Ben Franklin “also found time to draw up a vast collection of new devices.”  And

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Good writing is in the details

Novelist John Gardner said a lot of interesting and important things about details including this:  “A novel is another world, one with so much detail we can imagine ourselves living in it.”  As many of my VCMFA students have discovered, it isn’t as easy as it

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Uncanny patterns

I often remind myself and my writing students that life is pretty random but fiction is about patterns. One of the challenges is that writers have to use their clever brains–and their organic connections with their characters–to be careful that

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What we leave behind

I think I’m addicted to Ethiopia Reads. How can I resist with this kind of email popping into my life? “Hi we are Sami Phelps and Anna Hilterbrand, two 11 year olds who have been fundraising for Ethiopia Reads. The first

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