a few days to fill up

On the way home from Chicago, I took a few days to sleep, talk, listen, eat, cook, walk, and write, whenever the mood strikes, with good writer friends who've been retreating together for 14 years. Can you tell where we met? Do you know who the others are? 

We started meeting in October 1996. Some of us (including me) weren't published. Today we are all published and boast a couple of National Book Award finalists, a Boston-Globe Horn-Book Award, a Caldecott Award, and so many Notable books we've quit counting.

Some years, this is the only time we see one another. We come from all over the country (and Canada) We arrive with stories we're working on, with tales of the year's adventures. We make a stop at the local Trader Joe's so we can stock up on the necessities. We share cooking and clean-up. We spend our days writing in the seacoast quiet. We take breaks and walk to town when we need to. We spend evenings talking into the night about our lives and our hopes and our dreams... and, sometimes, our losses. We have held one another up in the darkest of hours, and we have celebrated our sweetest successes. We understand that those successes are about so much more than publication. 

Our children have grown. Husbands have come and gone (so have publishers and editors and more). Hearts have broken and mended. Lives have been transformed. 

Some of us are grandparents. We are growing old together, something we never considered 15 years ago. We hold pieces of one another's history. We are part of one another's story. I'm honored to be part of this amazing group of women who know how to laugh, cry, eat (!), tell tales, and write like their fingers were on fire. Long may we meet each October.

Special love today to our compatriot Dian Curtis Regan, above, who took the last two photos in this batch (well, not the one of HER -- she's toasting us with our leftover kitty money this morning). Go gently, good friend. Remember to carry us in your pocket.

all in a day

No, really. I'm serious. All in one day. Outside Chicago, in Lamont schools, and then in Skokie, at National Louis University's CTCB -- Center for Teaching through Children's Books.
An amazing librarian and new friend, Donna Sifling.

These are photos of the set-up at the Center for Teaching through Children's Books at National Louis University. I didn't take photos of the lovely crowd we had, and it was a lovely crowd. Thank you all for coming out to the Center for Teaching through Children's Books, and thanks so much to Gail and Jody and Junko, and -- as always -- Robin Hoffman at Scholastic Book Fairs and the amazing Chicago team, for making this event possible.

And I must point out these cupcakes! Countdown cupcakes! Heavens to Murgatroyd!

It's Mr. Schu! He showed up early, and was #1 for the book signing line. We've been twitter friends, and now we are real-life friends. Thanks for coming, John.

One more Chicago day.  I crashed into bed last night and got six solid hours of sleep.

Boston tonight.  I'm good to go.

going and coming

 Leaving Wisconsin, here is the Wisconsin SCBWI fall 2010 retreat faculty:
I had fun with y'all, and I learned a lot. A very smart, savvy, witty, compassionate faculty, even if I do say so myself.
 And here are our photographers! Pam Beres, regional advisor; Judy Bryan, assistant regional advisor, and JoAnn Early Macken, member (and writer) extraordinaire. Thank you, thank you, thank you again!
I left Wisconsin with my friend Robin Hoffman, Queen of Scholastic Book Fairs, who came to pick me up this morning. We drove to Chicago together, yakking all the way, and made a stop on the way to our destination. Robin knew just what I was looking for:

Here I was, just a week ago, thinking I needed to set book three of the Sixties Trilogy in Berkeley in 1968 -- even ready to find a short-term rental there for next summer. Now I think maybe I need to set book three in Chicago, of course.

Whew! Well... I don't have to decide about 1968 now. I need to finish book two. But first... Chicago. Tomorrow I work with Scholastic Book Fairs in three Chicago schools and then speak at National Louis University, at their North Shore Campus at 4:30pm. Here is your invitation to come out and hear me talk about Countdown!

Please come, if you're in the Chicago area and can make it -- I'd love to see you.  I promise not to look this tired:

One more photo to add to this one and this one, in Robin and Debbie's Big Adventures.

come to the water

These pastoral photos belie the activity going on here at the Siena Center in Racine, Wisconsin, on the shores of mammoth Lake Michigan this weekend. The Wisconsin chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators is holding their annual fall retreat here among this beauty, which includes the Dominican nuns who populate this convent.

We are surrounded by their presence as they go about their work and take care of us. It's a serene atmosphere punctuated with the sounds of writers at work, and speakers who have come to share their stories -- editors, agents, art directors, and writers, including one Atlanta author of a certain new book for young readers, Countdown.

Here's who I'm working with this weekend. Cool, eh? Between sessions and critiques and late night chats, I managed a walk to the lake with fellow Vermont alum and friend, Sheri Sinykin. This helps, too.

Thank you to Pam Beres for inviting me and making it possible for me to come, and a huge thank you, too, to these wonderful, *wonderful!* Wisconsin writers, who have made me feel so welcome. It is such a pleasure to be with you.

Tomorrow, Chicago. Sleep well, y'all.

what helps

I've had several sweet emails asking me how I'm staying upright. Ha! Thanks for that. I'm always busy with travel to schools and conferences each fall, but this fall has been the busiest in my memory, as you can see from my September and October schedule, as I'm also on the road, promoting Countdown.

What helps with the craziness of the road warrior are the pockets of peacefulness I find in the midst of hard work. Like these cinnamon buns hand-made by my friend Robin Smith in Nashville.
... like this homemade breakfast conversation with new friends at Robin Smith's and Dean Schnieder's in Nashville during Southern Festival of Books. What a glorious break to have full-table conversation with such generous folks. Look hard and you'll see Dean at the head of the table followed by illustrator Shadra Strickland from Atlanta; Ellen Wittlinger; Shadra's brother Mark (aka Strick da Menace);  Squire Babcock from Murray, Kentucky; Ellen's husband, David; Robin; Ellen's daughter, Kate Pritchard; and her brand-new husband, Mark Letcher. A lovely, sunshiny morning in Nashville.
What helps is driving home from Nashville, sleeping like the dead, then opening the refrigerator, rummaging, and pulling what's in it, out, and beginning the chop-wood-carry-water work of daily living. Boiling eggs. Sauteeing asparagus.
Found some carrots.
What helps is doing a mundane chore like tossing stuff out and cleaning the fridge.
What helps is a call to my daughter Hannah, who says yes to baking and catching up on a month's worth of conversations.

What helps is grounding, connecting, centering. And a whole lot of staring at the wall. I can try to catch up on email, but can't seem to address fiction -- writing requires a different part of the mind, and I just couldn't call it up in my four days home, couldn't coax it or force it, even though I spent those hours in the pink chair.

After four days home to regroup, I flew to Wisconsin. I'm having a good time here. Every moment is filled; my mind can't turn itself off, so I sit up into the wee hours and piddle on catch-up, post photos, and wind down.

Thanks for asking. I appreciate the kindness. I'm good, and all is well.