Monthly Archives: September 2009


In honor of Banned Books Week (9/26-10/3/09), I would like to encourage you to read banned books, encourage others to read banned books, and open a dialogue about censorship and free speech.

I recommend Laurie Halse Anderson’s post last week regarding the attempts to ban her books, Twisted and Speak.

I applaud Ms. Anderson’s calm manner in writing about this issue. And I applaud her writing. Period. She is one of my inspirations. She tackles hard teen issues in a way that teens and adults can appreciate and learn from.

Read Speak, Twisted, or Wintergirls this week, or any of the books listed on the Banned Books website.

In the comments, tell me what you think.


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In response to my own recent post On Pursuing the Dream, I now offer the QueryTracker blog’s post Overcoming Self-Doubt.

This was exactly what I needed to read at the time I was inspired to write my post. (I don’t want to get into what temporarily brought me low. Suffice it to say, this is a subjective business and I still believe in myself.) Luckily, I intuitively knew how to get over my self-doubts (with a little help from my friends). I channeled my annoyance into my writing. I talked to my critique group friends. I wrote about my dream, I tweaked my query letter (again), and I threw myself into my new WIP.

Don’t let writer’s block, or self-doubts, or negativity from friends, family or agents get you down. Soar above the doubts. Leave them behind through hard work, perseverance, and good friends. Pursue the dream.

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Tembo: A Story

Tembo the Elephant

 Tembo had been wandering in the savannah for hours.

 “How did I lose my way?” he wondered aloud.

 The sun rose higher in the sky.  Sweat ran down Tembo’s trunk and dripped onto the dry, dusty ground.  In the distance, Tembo saw a tree moving.

 “That can’t be right,” he said.  “Maybe thirst is making me see things.”

 As he got closer, Tembo realized the moving tree was not a tree at all.  It was a baby giraffe, reaching her long neck towards the green leaves in a clump of acacia trees.

 The giraffe turned toward Tembo and smiled.

 “Hi, I’m Twiga.  What are you doing out here all alone?”

 Tembo hung his head, letting his trunk sweep the grass.  “I ran away.  Now I’m lost and thirsty and tired.”

 “Try to stay out of the sun,” Twiga said, munching on a leaf.  “And find a watering hole.  It’s going to get even hotter.”

 “Asante,” Tembo said.  “Thanks.”

A larger giraffe poked her head around the clump of acacia.

“That’s my mom,” Twiga said.  “I have to go now.  Good luck out here, Tembo.”

Tembo lumbered away and found a watering hole and some shade.  He fell asleep.

When Tembo woke up, he felt cooler.  He yawned and stretched his legs and looked around.

“Oh!” Tembo gasped.  Three baby cheetahs shared his shade.

“Hi,” said one ball of orange fur with black spots.

“We’re just waiting for our mom,” said another.

“She’s out hunting for our dinner,” said the last.

“What are you doing out here all alone?” the three asked together.

Tembo said, “I lost my temper and ran away.  Now I don’t know how to get home.”

“It’ll be dark soon…” started one cheetah.

“…so be careful,” said another.

“There are hyenas, jackals and lions out here,” said the last.

“Look!” They shouted together. “There’s our mom.” And they padded off toward a streak of orange and black.

Tembo watched them go and put his trunk between his two front feet.  “What am I going to do now?”

He got up and looked around, and noticed black and white shapes in the distance.  “I must be close,” Tembo said, walking.  “I see a herd of zebra over there.”

Tembo approached the zebra and smiled.  Then his smile froze.

The zebra were all looking to Tembo’s left.  Tembo turned to his left and saw a lioness.

I must have interrupted her stalking of the zebra, Tembo thought.  She doesn’t look very happy.

Tembo lifted his trunk high and trumpeted loudly in the direction of the lioness.  Then he ran away as fast as he could.

When he glanced back, he couldn’t see the lioness anymore.  Then he smelled damp earth and hot rocks.  Tembo realized he was tramping beside a narrow river.  “I know this river.  It will lead me to my family.  Now I’d better hurry before it gets dark and I find more scary animals.”

Tembo followed the river for a long time.  He walked and walked and walked, head hanging lower as the sun lowered in the sky.

Just as Tembo thought he couldn’t lift another leg, he saw his mother, as if in a dream.

“Tembo!” a hazy figure trumpeted. “Are you okay?”

 Tembo was out of breath, but he smiled.

“I’m fine now,” he answered.  “I escaped the heat, a lion and found my family.”

He looked around at the snorting elephants of his herd.  “I’m sorry for getting so angry and running away.  I’ll never do it again.”

“The savannah can be a dangerous place for a baby animal all alone,” Tembo’s mama said.  “I’m glad you found us before dark.”

“Me too,” Tembo said.  He nuzzled against his mom and sighed.  “Can I please have some water?  It has been a long day.”

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On Pursuing the Dream

I have been writing, in some form or another, my whole life.  All through school, into college and even grad school, I wrote poetry, short fiction and started one novel.  In Rwanda I kept a journal at the beginning and wrote a series of erotic stories toward the end.

I have been writing for children, with the goal of publication, for five years now.  In that time I have worked on countless short stories and articles, and completed three middle grade manuscripts and one young adult manuscript.  I am working on a new young adult manuscript (as we speak, so to speak).

Since nothing has yet been published, I must ask myself:  am I any good?

I have to believe in myself.  So I do.

New writers are told to do certain things.  I participate in two critique groups to get feedback from my peers.  They are amazing, talented writers, some with agents, a couple published in print or online.  They keep me inspired and working.  They keep my spirits up when they flail, and also help me keep my expectations in line.

Online I follow industry newsletters and blogs, and work on my platform.  I read everything I can get my hands on.  I attend conferences, to meet and learn from industry bigwigs.  And I keep on writing.

I keep writing, despite any outward sign that I’m doing the right thing, any indication of my talent.  And I keep querying agents, with very little encouragement or constructive criticism.

No matter what, I have to write.  These stories fill my head and I have to get them out.  Someday I hope you’ll know them, too.

Thanks for joining me on the ride.

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Book News

Gennifer Choldenko’s Al Capone Shines My Shoes came out earlier this month. It is a sequel to Al Capone Does My Shirts, about 12-year-old Moose who lives with his family (including an autistic sister) on Alcatraz in the 1930s. Read more about Gennifer Choldenko.

Libba Bray’s Going Bovine will be out on September 22. The author of the Gemma Doyle Trilogy has this time penned a dark comedy about a boy with mad cow disease and his friendship with a paranoid dwarf and a non-traditional angel. Read more about Libba Bray.

Also out on September 22, Judith Schachner’s latest Skippyjon Jones picture book: Lost in Spice. Read more about the Skippyjon Jones books.

According to Maureen Johnson’s blog, she is working on 13 Little Blue Envelopes #2. I’m reading her Suite Scarlett now, and I’ve never laughed more in the first 10 pages of a book (except maybe with Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series). Read more aboutMaureen Johnson.

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Random Act of Publicity 3

Last week I read Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. What a ride! This book grabbed me by the throat with one hand and by the heart with the other, and did not let go. I could not put this down. Thank goodness I could call it research. You know, to soften the blow to my family when I sat on my bed or on the couch or at the kitchen table, reading, at every possible moment.

Thanks again to Darcy Pattison for the idea!

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Random Act of Publicity 2

In honor of Random Acts of Publicity Week (thanks to Darcy Pattison’s Fiction Notes) I plan to write about some of my favorite recently read books. Now, I don’t have much experience writing book reviews (it shows, doesn’t it?). However, I have been reading books forever (since the womb, people), and as with wine and art, I know what I like.

In Maureen Johnson’s 13 Little Blue Envelopes, a girl takes a journey of self-discovery through Europe, prompted by her dead artsy aunt. The fun premise ended in a heart-warming and satisfying way. And I just read last night that she is working on a sequel.

Strangely enough, it reminded me of all the backpackers I met in Africa. Most were Australian, traveling in ones and twos all around the world for as long as it took. If money ran out, they’d stop wherever they were and work for a bit. They slept in hostels and on rooftops, anywhere, really.

I occasionally offered them a ride in my double cabin pick up truck, and even had one or two over for a meal. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time, even though I was sharing resources that were not my own. I enjoyed their stories of all the places they had visited. And I felt like I was helping someone else out. It also gave me a glimpse into another world. It wasn’t something I could imagine doing, even though I had taken a huge leap into the unknown by taking a job in a war-torn country on a continent I had never visited.

However, I did travel alone a bit in Europe while a college student. Ginny in 13 Envelopes mostly travels alone, as well. We both experienced the loneliness of trains and hostels and wide-open public spaces. But she found some romance along the way, while I found harrassment. Oh well. C’est la vie.

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