Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


Coming Home

This past week at the Spalding University MFA residency in Louisville, KY, I was privileged to meet up with fellow spud, Stephanie Stuve Bodeen.  At some point during our time there, we both mentioned how it felt like "coming home"-- very much like the feeling we had when all ten of our spuds got together at the Anderson Center last April.

The Spalding University MFA program truly is a home to all the faculty, students, and returning alums, who share the literary heart.  In fact, at the start of every residency, program director Sena Jeter Naslund's first words are "Welcome home!"

I was there as part of the Writing for Children and YA faculty to give my lecture on the non-linear narrative form and to lead the creative thesis discussion for one of my graduating students.  Stephanie came to discuss her novel The Raft, which was the book-in-common for all W4CYA students, and to give a second presentation entitled, "After the MFA: A Cautionary Tale."  We also had the pleasure of meeting and visiting with Pam Muñoz Ryan, author of Esperanza Rising and other award-winning books for children and young adults, as well as talented author/faculty members, Lesléa Newman and David-Matthew Barnes.

What a wonderful week of teaching, learning, encouraging, inspiring, and celebrating!


Gertrude Stein

I'm not sure if it's my turn to post.  Don't I follow Edie?  It just looks a little lonely on our blog, so I thought I'd check in.

With a few young children's books under my belt, my brain is asking me to work on something different, but I was surprised to find my mind wandering to Gertrude Stein (Oh, no, I'm rhyming again!).  She popped into my head when I was daydreaming at church today - don't tell the minister - and I've started doing some research on her!  I'm not sure if children would want to know about her, or why she made an appearance in my daydream, but I guess it's worth the time to find out. She's interesting to me, and I wonder if I can make her interesting to 4th and 5th graders.  What great company she kept!!

Here are a few photos of summer in Utah.  I think it's one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Chris rock climbing at Red Rock.

Scott and Chris at Zion.

Chris at Red Rock, feeling very proud of himself.  I won't tell you that behind him is a set of stairs and a bridge!!  :)



Eight years ago I attended a summer residency at the Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA program.  That’s where I met Stephanie Bodeen and Kirby Larson, both of whom were teaching in the program.  (Stephanie would later be the driving force behind creating this blog).  Although I found the program on Whidbey to be a very inviting and supportive community of writers, I never had the opportunity to return to another residency or attend any of the many other literary events sponsored by WWW, until just a few weeks ago. 

It was residency time again and on the last night there was a faculty reading scheduled at the Captain Whidbey Inn.  Carmen Bernier-Grand, a current faculty member and also a member of One Potato . . . Ten, was listed as one of the readers.  Carmen had invited me to a reading last year, but I was unable to attend.  When I met her at this spring’s retreat, we laughed about how we both traveled all the way to Minnesota to finally meet each other, when she teaches only 20 minutes from my house! 

This year, I determined to finally make the trek to Coupeville for the faculty reading.  I joined a vibrant group of perhaps 40 people in attendance.  During a break in the readings, I walked up to Carmen and said, “Hey, stranger, I finally made it to a reading.”  Carmen looked at me for a moment with her face scrunched up in that universal expression of “who is this nut talking to me?” before I reminded her who I was.  As the light of recognition dawned on her face, tears welled in her eyes.  We hugged and laughed and talked for almost an hour after the reading . . .

And so now, after finally meeting my fellow bloggers at the spring retreat, I have seen both David LaRochelle and Carmen Bernier-Grand on my home turf in the last few months.  At this rate, I expect another of my fellow spuds to arrive on the island any day now . . .


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??



Right now I am in the midst of the Spalding University MFA residency in Louisville, Kentucky, relishing the intensity of daily workshops, lectures, readings, panel discussions, and individual meetings with my students,
                                                                                                                     ...and enjoying the elegant surroundings of the Brown Hotel.

But just over a month ago, I was basking in the serene and inspiring atmosphere of the Anderson Center in Red Wing, Minnesota with my fellow spuds and writing up a storm.

What we as writers need is community--whether it be the intensity of a writing program or a quiet, more inspiring time to gather with a trusted group of writer friends, who give freely of their wisdom, expertise, and encouragement.  As other spuds have mentioned, the Saturday afternoon workshop session was a favorite part of our 5-day retreat.  I will always treasure the sharing of voices, the honest feedback, the brainstorming of ideas, and the camaraderie of our group.


This was our first gathering of all ten spuds, but I know it won't be our last.

P.S.  And if it weren't for the Spalding MFA program, where I met Stephanie and Betsy, I would never have been a part of One Potato...Ten!


A Different Menu

Anderson Center
Mis diez papitas
In my house in Portland, Oregon I have half a basement for an office. The room has two large desks, a love sofa, and a bookcase packed with books. I am often alone in the house, so I can write anywhere. But sometimes a writer needs a change of menu.

I wasn't going to attend our blog retreat at the Anderson Center in Red Wing, MN. My father had diedthe previous month and I thought I'd missed the retreat. But as soon as I heard otherwise, I began to plan.

I'd met Stephanie, Lauren, and Edie. Even though Mark lives in Whidbey Island, where I teach for the Northwest Literary Arts MFA, I'd never met him. I felt I knew Christy because she illustrated a Juan Bobo book for Felix Pitre. My grandsons love David's books, so I felt I knew him, too. The other papitas  I didn't know as well. Meeting them tempted me to take the trip. I wasn't disappointed. What a warm and talented group!

I could go on and on praising the group and telling about the fun moments we had together, but my intention here is to tell what happened when we were not socializing.

I've been for years trying to write a middle grade novel. Actually, I've written multiple terrible drafts. I knew that, if I could write a satisfying first chapter, the rest would follow smoothly. But despite the silence in my house, the first chapters had too many characters, told too much, lacked action, didn't entice the reader to keep on reading. That was the project to take to the blog retreat.

There are inspiring writing vibes at the Anderson Center. We all wrote and wrote and wrote. We wrote all morning every morning. We wrote all afternoon every afternoon. On Saturday, the ten papitas got together to share what we'd written. As I read my chapter, I glanced to see the reaction of my listeners. I knew then that I got it! I came home and finished another draft of the novel. A draft, all right, because I know an editor would ask for changes here and there. But this is the first time I am satisfied with a draft. I even added Doña Estafanía (Stephanie), Doña Laura (Lauren), and little David to a scene that talks about things they said at the critique.

For this I thank not just the papitas but the Anderson Center for their inspiration.              



This past year has been filled with many, many school visits and lots of book events for me, and I'm truly grateful for each one. But doing all these events has come at the expense of working on new projects, spending time with friends, and even unpacking at my new town home.

Spending five days at the Anderson Center with the other Potatoes gave me a break in my busy spring schedule. One of the things I enjoyed most during our retreat was just taking time for some long walks along the Canon River. It reminded me of how much I miss spending time outside, and how good that is for my soul.

It's difficult for me to say "no" when asked to speak at a school or a library. It seems that everyone around me can juggle so many things (families, jobs, multiple book projects, dozens of speaking engagements); shouldn't I be able to do the same thing as well? Once again I'm learning not to judge myself by what others can do, and to respect the slow pace at which I work.

I promised myself not to agree to any new speaking events for this summer and to give myself time to be creative again. For the most part I'm following through on this promise. I had a taste of that leisurely pace today, when after a morning book event I allowed myself to attend a friend's art show, then go for a walk around one of the lakes in Minneapolis. This afternoon of leisure helped me relax a bit, and I came home with a new idea for a picture book. Whether that idea goes anywhere or not, I don't care, but it felt good to experience that spark of creativity. I hope a slower-paced summer will give me lots of those sparks, because those sparks make me happy.



Each new group I’ve joined and every class I’ve taught or taken undergoes a kind of alchemy as the previously unconnected members interact and form a new unity. GOLD!

I relish the alone time I have to create but I do need others, and this One Potato Ten group is an important source of community for me. My favorite part of our recent five-day retreat was the Saturday afternoon workshop session. Each of us read a work-in-progress or solicited help brainstorming ideas for a new project. Such original voices and a wide array of ideas from my fellow writers! I was further amazed by the sensitivity and creativity of all the supporting listeners.

Here are some of the reasons I need community as a writer:

Accountability: I am motivated knowing that I will be regularly reading for a writers group or posting on the blog. I don’t want to let others down.

Listeners: I need to hear how my work sounds as I read aloud or “e-hear” as I submit my posts to the blog

Continuity: In my writers group we know the history and development of each other’s work. The long virtual relationship for One Potato Ten made our first group meeting feel like a reunion. We have been invested in one another for four years.

Honest criticism: I want to get better at writing; I want to sharpen and expand my ideas. A writing community can analyze “the work” and offer ways to improve it.

Exchange of info about the industry: We shared lots of insider tips—agents, advances, contracts, and more!

Multiple perspectives: We each bring something different to the table. Vive la différence! We benefit from shared knowledge and experience. Also, seeing something from different vantage points can help me clarify my own POV.

Yield: Since joining writers groups and the blog I have published more work. Now have the support I need.


And we're back.....

Yes, the polar vortex got the better of us this winter and apparently made us unable to type or post. Just kidding. I have no idea what happened so I 'll blame it on the weather. BUT we are back! After a lovely five day writing retreat spent at the Anderson Center in Red Wing, MN, the Spuds are ready to begin spouting about writing and the writing life once again. Here we are, all together for the first time:

When I formed this blog about four years ago, I never dreamed we would all meet in person. This is not unlike when I spend months writing a book and am stunned when it actually becomes a book. Everyone meeting for the first time meant to much to me, because it was affirmation that we have developed a deep bond from our email correspondence. As Christy Hale said, it is like we have been pen-pals for years that finally get to meet. For five days, we lived in the same house, made meals together, watched pouring rain together, drank pots of coffee and tea, and got to know one another better. (We also got a lot of writing done!) Many events I've been to this past year, I have been the oldest writer. In this group, I am the youngest, and I cherish the wisdom and support I get from these wonderful writers. I'm honored that they said "Yes" when I asked them to join me in my silly idea of starting a blog, and I was so sad to say goodbye to everyone and cannot wait until we all meet again.
Our blog format will change a bit. Instead of two week cycles with everyone posting each day, we are going to expand each person's time to a week, and have ten week cycles. So I hope you will join us as we begin the next phase of this blog journey.
AKA One Potato


Welcoming the New!

This old potato has started the new year out with a bad case of pneumonia. However, sometimes even resting in bed can be productive. During the first two weeks of 2014, I have sat in a mist filled room, taking antibiotics and cough medicine, drinking lots of tea and building a new website along with a new blog. I am feeling accomplished! Take a peek here.

If you read the blog, you will see that I like to-do lists. I also like to spend time at the first of the year planning and imagining the year ahead. Let me clue you in on some of the highlights while I am here:

  • I have a new book coming out in May. Deer Dancer, written by Mary Lyn Ray and illustrated by me. You will hear more from me about it as that day comes near. 
  • It looks like the Minnesota Orchestra might have finally come to an agreement after a horrendous year and a half lock-out. What this means for me is that in April, if all continues well, there will be a series of school and family concerts featuring my book, When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky. Again, you will hear more from me if this happens.
  • This is my last year of script writing and set design and painting for Circus Juventas, since it is also my son's last year of classes with Circus Juventas. This summer's show is Neverland, a variation on J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan. The script is finished and the sets are in the process of design and construction. From June through the end of July, you will find me painting daily in the arena while performers rehearse. My son is "Hook" this year-- a wonderful role for him!
  • I am also beginning sketches for a new picture book written by Cynthia Rylant. The title is Everyone Loves Leaves. Updates will follow as things progress.
  • My writing continues as well-- lots of stories in the works. 
My son graduates from high school this spring and we are waiting patiently to hear from two Circus Colleges in Canada. 2014 will be a year of great changes in my family life and professional life. I welcome it!