One Potato...Ten!

Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


Busy, busy!

I have just returned from the beautiful Northwest—a road trip through Ashland enjoying productions at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, a visit with extended family in Salem, then several days relaxing on Bainbridge Island with my in-laws. 

I flew back early to work on art for How Sophany Saved the Cambodian Dance, a true story of a Khmer Rouge survivor by Daryn Reicherter, to be published by Tuttle. Here's the tiniest sneak preview of finished title page art and an early spread in the first phase. I'm combining traditional and digital methods as I create art.

The hours are too few for all the projects I have cooking. After this due date (Sept 1), I'm on to illustrations for Ansty Ansel, a picture book biography of Ansel Adams for Holt. Meanwhile I'm doing further research and additional writing for a new Lee and Low project; Tilbury has requested a book on another topic; I have another author-illustrator project almost ready to pitch, but in the midst of this yet another idea keeps tickling and distracting me. I need horse-blinders!

Also this summer I am helping my daughter develop her first picture book. She's written a fun fictional story with nonfiction backmatter in response to a Madagascar trip she took with a Stanford genetics project to work with lemurs. Following that trip she created art to include in her college admission portfolio. Perhaps you can see why I wanted to nudge her into creating her own book. She was a guest at my writers group a couple weeks ago and received helpful feedback and soon will meet with someone from my illustrators group to get assistance with her dummy. I don't think she will necessarily pursue this path in the big picture, but she will inevitably find her own ways to combine word and image.


Summer summer summer....

I can't believe summer is halfway gone. School supplies are already out in the stores, yikes. So my summer started with my oldest daughter graduating from college. Here's me and Hubs and our kids at Ripon College. (I'm not that short. They wore heels.)

And next up is the release of the first volume of my new middle grade series. This is my first foray into writing for middle grade, so I'm both excited and terrified. But feel free to check it out on Tuesday, July 29. I'll be having a launch party at The Red Balloon Bookstore in St. Paul at 6:30 that night:

 And perhaps even more monumental, after ten months of living in a rental, we finally found a house. If all goes well, we will close and move in on August 15. I can't wait to finally be settled. 80% of our things, including ALL my books, have been in storage since last September. Also, our pets have been living with my parents, so I'll be glad to have Ficus around again.

Here's hoping your summer is wonderful:)


Looking Forward

Well, switching to a weekly schedule does not seem to have improved my ability to keep track of my place in the line of potatoes!  I was supposed to contribute back in the second week of June, I believe, but missed my turn.  Since then, I have been waiting for a chance to sneak in and add my own reflections about our April retreat at the Anderson Center.

I concur wholeheartedly with all that has already been written about the communal vibe of support and creativity that permeated our five days together.  Every conversation seemed to inspire me, and I realized this is something I am NOT getting enough of in my normal daily life: time with other writers and artists.  I have quite a few creative friends, naturally, but by this point in our lives we are fairly spread out around the country, with only a couple living close enough for regular visits.  Though email and smart phones make staying “connected” easier than ever before, it cannot replicate being in the same room with another person, feeding off each other’s energy.  My critique group accomplishes this, but the retreat showed me how much I value just “hanging out” with others who share my passion for art.  This realization has prompted me to renew my commitment to attend local writing events (of which there are many here on Whidbey Island) with the hope of cultivating new acquaintances and expanding my social network.

As for the value of the Saturday critique session with the other nine members of this blog, what can I say?  Before the retreat, for most of last winter, I’d been mulling an idea for a picture book; I loved the idea, but figuring out “how” to write it had me stumped.  After 10 minutes of feedback/input from my fellow spuds, however, I gained so many new ideas and options for developing the story that I am still riding the wave of inspiration, over two months later!  During breaks from other projects I have written several drafts of the story, whereas before the retreat I had only a few pages of notes. 

Perhaps most importantly for me, the time spent in that old farmhouse with my fellow spuds boosted my confidence and gave me the drive to forge ahead on several projects.  For that gift, I am eternally grateful to each and every one of them.

(The picture above was taken in the sculpture park adjacent the house where we stayed.  The turtle was one of the sculptures in the park that inspired me, too.)


When Picture Books Become Performance

Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall with When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky

Taking a bow with conductor, Courtney Lewis, and the Minnesota Orchestra
Every once in awhile a picture book leaves the intimate environment of reading between parent and child or the shared classroom reading between teacher and students for the big stage. That is what happened to my book When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky.  The story and pictures, inspired by the historic premier of The Rite of Spring and the riot that it caused in Paris, 1913, caught the imagination of Jim Bartsch, a couple of years ago, when he was the director of education and youth outreach at the Minnesota Orchestra. While I was still painting the illustrations and editing the text, we met several times to plan a performance of the book with the orchestra for young people's and family concerts. However, the Minnesota Orchestra was just starting its historic year and a half long lockout, so our plans were shelved until further notice. 

Meanwhile, us Spuds here on this blog, decided to finally organize a retreat, which you can read about in many of the posts below. Thrilled to finally meet everyone in one place; work together, share together, and play together, I did not pay much heed to the possible conflict of The Rite of Spring concerts being the same week as our retreat. The lock-out of the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra seemed endless.

However, in mid-February I was contacted by the orchestra-- the lock-out had ended and there would be twelve performances of The Rite of Spring which would include my reading my book aloud with the orchestra! Meetings with producers, organizers, and the conductor ensued, as well as voice lessons. (Reading aloud to a child in your lap is very different from reading aloud to an audience of several thousand!) While my fellow Spuds gathered for the retreat at the Anderson Center in Redwing, I took to the stage twice a day for six days, reading my story aloud with pacing and drama to go with the accompanist and the illustrations from the book projected on a huge screen, to busloads of school children and families. It was truly the thrill of my life. Listening to the orchestra play The Rite of Spring live twelve times was also thrilling! What a piece of music- no wonder it caused a riot! 

For one night and part of a day between concerts, I was welcomed by my writing Spuds at our retreat. I felt instantly at home, sharing food, conversation, and our writing. It was just a taste of this amazing group of writers, but enough of a taste to want more. I was even able to settle quietly into a chair in the upstairs yellow library to work on some of my stories. A gift. And even more of a gift to see all of the Spuds in the audience at Orchestra Hall on the last day of the retreat. Magnificent!


                                           Old Pelican and I feeling grateful.

The interior work of a writer is private by nature, yet inside of the solitude of creating story, there is a communal, almost universal sense of being that merges with craft.  It’s an opening that allows time, and place to be driven, known, used by character, and the story is born.

The sharing of that experience in the companionship of fellow authors at the Anderson Center was a bit of a metaphor for the writing process, itself.  Together, John, Lauren, David, Stephanie, Mark, Christy, Edie, Carmen, Diane and myself found a private-communal writing home for five days.  Our retreat was the external expression of who we are as a group and how we have evolved through the years shared.  We have become colleagues, friends, a support system, and a word and heart family. 

One potatoes' success is a gift to all of us. 

Since that time spent together, my work has taken root, bloomed, words becoming story and finding its way through me.  The gratefulness I feel to my potato family is deep and heartfelt.

-Potato Number Nine.


A mini gathering of potatoes

My last two school visits of the year took me to Washington state. I turned the trip into a vacation with my friend Gary, and while he was visiting his cousin on Whidbey Island, I was able to have lunch with Mark, who graciously showed me his beautiful home and took me to a deli where I had one of the best meals of the trip. Although I had only met Mark in person for the first time less than two months earlier, seeing him again felt like seeing an old friend. In our short time together, as we sat by the ferry on Puget Sound, we got to talk about our current writing projects, as well as the hope for future spud retreats.

And congratulations to Lauren and Stephanie for having books on the prestigious Kids' Indie next list (DEER DANCER and SHIPWRECK ISLAND), and to John, Lauren, and me for having books listed on the 2014 Bank Street's Best Children's Books list (HOOP GENIUS, WHEN STRAVINSKY MET NAJINSKY, and HOW MARTHA SAVED HER PARENTS FROM GREEN BEANS).

Go Spuds!


Thank you!

My sister and I are ten years apart, but we must have a thing about dressing alike!  Note above photo, and our purple jackets in Redwing!!  Needless to say, we have a good time together, especially when we travel.  What a blessing it was to have her join our group at the Anderson Center.  It was a healing trip in so many ways, and good for our souls.  Thank you all for just being your wonderful potato selves!!

I returned to a book signing at Barnes & Noble, as well as our local bookstore, Frugal Frigate.  Still struggling with the last 15 words for my latest book, but my agent is pitching a book to Peachtree this week.  School is almost over and my eyes are worn out from reading so many papers.  This summer will be recovery, reading some classics and some y.a., and letting my old brain rest for a little.  It will also involve looking at my sister's book about our retreat, remembering conversations at the dinner table - thanks for making us laugh so hard, John, reliving the wonderful taste of Mark's fresh salmon and Betsy's garlic potatoes, relishing the secret passageway to the magnificent works of art, smiling at the height difference between Tall Dave and Tall Carmen, quiet talks with Edie, wonderful advice from Christy about playing with art, getting lost with Stephanie on the way to Vasa, and reading stories with my fellow potatoes. I will also remember the symphony to beat all symphonies, and Lauren so bravely reading her story on that giant stage.   You all are so talented.  It is an honor to be a part of this group.  When can we do this again??