Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


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.