Celebrating 1 Year: An Interview & A Giveaway

The contest is now closed. Congratulations to Melissa Crytzer Fry for being selected by a random number sequence generator to win a copy of Chuck’s book!

Today is my one-year blogiversary! One of my main goals when I started this blog was to write more—and without any hesitation I can say I met my goal. I posted my first blog last year on this day, you can read it here and this is my 210th post. I’ve written another 100 blogs I never posted, and I once figured out I’ve written over 100,000 words for my blog. I also finished a novel and wrote parts of two others. 

I’ve been thinking about how to celebrate—not only my accomplishment but more especially how to show my appreciation of you—my blog readers. When I started blogging, I honestly did not believe anyone would ever read my blog! Thank you for reading my blog!

As I considered my options for this post, the answer fell into my lap last week when I got an email from Chuck Sambuchino, the editor of the Guide to Literary Agents. Chuck told me the great news that I’d won a copy of the 2012 Guide to Literary Agents from a comment to his post on Writer Unboxed. It was a little bittersweet because two days earlier I’d purchased a copy of the book (I’m starting to research where to query!).

But then it hit me. What if I had a giveaway for my blogiversary and offered the same contest to my wonderful blog readers!? And then another idea hit me: what if along with the giveaway, I interviewed Chuck? I knew this was a longshot because he’s such a busy writer and editor (see his bio at the end of this post), but I got up my courage and sent Chuck an email introducing myself. I told him I was going to be querying soon, and I was interested in this: do agents pay attention to what querying writers are blogging about…or is it all about the manuscript? Chuck graciously agreed to give the book to one of my blog commenters and also to an interview!
First I’d like to say: Thank you Chuck! And now, without further ado, here are Chuck’s answers to my questions. And please remember to leave a comment before midnight (EST) on Friday to be entered into the drawing for the 2012 Guide to Literary Agents! I’ll draw a name on Saturday, February 11th!
When a writer queries an agent: do agents pay attention to the content bloggers post on their blogs or is it simply a matter of checking how large a following a blogger has? Or do they ignore the blogs and think only about the manuscript under submission?

If the writer is a novelist, I think the agent clicks through out of curiosity and checks out their blog. Most of the time, these writer blogs won’t be sizable and that is A-OK. However, if you have a sizable blog and Twitter following, that is a good sign, and may influence the agent. If the writer is penning nonfiction (a book proposal), then the web presence and social media presence is crucial. There has to be some impressive things going on different levels. This is what’s called writer platform. When a nonfiction author contacts Writer’s Digest Books to sell us a book, we examine their platform in depth before considering the idea and sample chapters. In order words, without the ability to sell a nonfiction book, the book itself matters little.

When a blogger is in the midst of the querying process, is it a good idea or a gaffe to post about the progress they’re making in the querying process?

I really can’t see how this helps too much. I understand people want to blog and have to find something to blog about, but they could write more entertaining and informative posts than, say, a status update on querying. That said, this kind of thing doesn’t hurt, per se. It just does little good, in my opinion, and people’s energies could be spent elsewhere.

From an agent’s point of view, are there some topics that are better to blog about than others? Should some topics be completely off limits? Do you think blogging about writing is best or is it okay (or preferable) to post about whatever you’re interested in?

Obviously, avoid boring stuff or TMI. For example, don’t blog about what you had for lunch or how your dog is constipated.

If you’re writing nonfiction, you are hopefully blogging in your area of specialty. For novelists, there is no “correct” subject matter to tackle. Ideally, you’ve chosen something (anything) and are addressing it well enough to get page views, followers and an occasional discussion.

As for the typical “starter writer blog,” I do not think these help much. The problem is that there are 10,000 of these out there—blogs where aspiring writings chronicle their writing and querying journey. The writing in these posts is not bad, it’s just not unique enough to capture attention. So my advice is to set yourself aside by adding some value. Garden variety example: What if you only wrote about your writing journey SOME of the time, and the rest of the time you interviewed up-and-coming science fiction writers? Those interviews give your blog unique value; people will come back to read the interviews, and said interviews will also show up on Google, and that means more page views. This is just an example. Add value to your blog by doing what others are not.

I read on your website: “Building and expanding a platform is part of being an author in today’s market. Even if you’re not published, platform construction and maintenance help you cultivate a relationship with readers who will eventually buy your book.” You named giveaways as one way to do this. What are some other ways bloggers can demonstrate they have cultivated a relationship with their readers?

Again, give value—and try to have a clear theme.

What is the theme of my Guide to Literary Agents blog? How to get an agent and build your platform. Bam—done. What value do I give? I alert people of new agents, I do agent interviews, I post lots of guest content, I advise people on upcoming writers conferences where they can meet agents, I share stories of how people got their agents, I pass along platform tips, and more.

Here’s a general tip in building your blog and online presence: It should not be easy. Most people never get over that platform hurdle because they are afraid to put in the time. Doing it right takes time. It means a TON of e-mails to people. It means linking to people. It means researching online. It’s hard work—but the hard work pays off.

Most blogging writers I know are also on Twitter. Are there topics writers should avoid tweeting about, especially while they’re in the midst of sending out queries? Do you think agents pay attention to what writers tweet? Might agents consider a writer’s tweet history when deciding if they want to represent a writer?

This concern is very similar to an agent examining a blog while looking at a writer. Again, if it’s a nonfiction author, then social media takes on a very serious role in choosing to sign a writer. If it’s a fiction writer, this stuff is taken with a grain of salt. If you’ve got 2,500 followers, that’s great—bonus. But if you only have 75, that will not sink your submission. I doubt an agent has time to look through a writer’s tweeting history much, unless that writer has a lot of followers and the agent wants to examine what they’re doing right.

Follow on question about Twitter: I always feel a little uncomfortable the first time I tweet anyone new—but especially an agent who I might be querying at some point. How do agents feel about an unknown writer tweeting with them?

I don’t think it’s any big deal. Most people tweet to engage in a worthwhile way or just to say something nice. Agents and editors can get dozens of new tweets and followers each day, so it is no big deal to get a tweet from anyone about practically anything. Most people are smart enough not to tweet something useless like “Hey I got a great book—are you an agent? Wanna rep me plz???”

Again, THANK YOU for the interview, Chuck, and thank you for the giveaway! Please leave a comment to be entered into the drawing for the 

2012 Guide to Literary Agents!



Chuck Sambuchino is an editor and a writer. He works for Writer’s Digest Books and edits GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS as well as CHILDREN’S WRITER’S & ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET. 

His humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, was released in Sept. 2010 and has been featured by Reader’s Digest, USA Today, the New York Times and AOL News. The film rights were recently optioned by Sony and director Robert Zemeckis. 

In addition, he’s also written two other writing-related titles: the third edition of FORMATTING & SUBMITTING YOUR MANUSCRIPT (2009), and CREATE A WRITER PLATFORM (Fall 2012). Besides that, he is a produced playwright, magazine freelancer, husband, cover band guitarist, chocolate chip cookie fiend, and owner of a flabby-yet-lovable dog named Graham.

Thank you and 7 (More!) Random Things

I hadn’t planned to post a blog this morning… but…then…I found out that Lisa Kramer at Woman Wielding Words gave me two awards today! 

Receiving these two awards—out of the blue!—was very sweet in itself, but the words Lisa wrote on her blog post today made her awards all the sweeter:

I literally found Julia’s Blog, Wordsxo a few days ago. But, I am so impressed by her writing and her insightful comments. I look forward to exploring her blog more thoroughly, and hope she accepts this honest award. I think many of you will enjoy and understand her post about writing in the summer from yesterday, as many of us seem to be struggling to find balance this summer. Go, read, enjoy and celebrate her awards.

Lisa is a new blogger friend, but I love her blog already! She writes from the heart about things that are important to her (and probably to many of us!) To Lisa: thank you is not a good enough word (okay, not a good enough TWO words) to express how I feel this morning. I’ve written in a vacuum for many, many years with very little feedback—so it is very, very sweet to have started blogging (just four short months ago) and be accepted and encouraged and appreciated by so many other wonderful bloggers and writers. That is the only “award” I really need, but this is just sweet icing on the cake. So thank you Lisa, so much!

The conditions of these awards are to name seven random facts about me and then to present the awards to other favorite bloggers. I recently named fifteen of my favorite bloggers in this post when receiving the Versatile Blog award, and I will refer you to that blog to hear about some of my favorite blogs.

And just in case you aren’t bored with me yet, here are seven more really very random facts about me (I hope they’re new facts!):

1. My favorite candy bar (today) is Baby Ruth. Tomorrow it will be something else!

2. I had a short romance story published in Woman’s World magazine.

3. I once wrote a 400 page technical manual in 2 weeks (after the writer who was supposed to be writing it in the group I managed at HP had a “nervous breakdown” AKA she procrastinated).

4. I’ve been to two live performances of A Prairie Home Companion (one in Laramie, Wyoming, and one in Portland, Maine).

5. My favorite pizza is Hawaiian (yes, ham and pineapple) and I always put hot pepper flakes on it!

6. We have a very small oak tree (named Oakie!) in our yard that we grew from an acorn.
7. I’m afraid of heights but I once rode a gondola to the top of Keystone Mountain Resort in Colorado, took a tram up the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps, and even once visited the top of the World Trade Center.

Please leave a comment and share a random fact (or 7!) about you!!

Cheers (and thanks again, Lisa!),

p.s. Another big thank you to Liz of a belle, a bean, and a chicago dog for giving me a +K in writing on Klout (a new-to-me social networking index I’m just learning about)! I would encourage you all to check out Liz’s blog and her recent syndication on Blogher!

Ducky Day Video of the Coast of Maine

Sunday, June 5, 2011, 1:26 p.m. EST, 70 degrees F

A beautiful day on the coast of Maine: bright and sunny low-70s. We took a break from the all-weekend gardening (planting vegetables!) to visit the bridge overlook and take a video.
Close up of the family of ducks
A family of ducks floats by in the video! It’s high tide, but there was still a very small piece of beach right below the bridge we were standing on—and if you hear voices, it’s because right out of camera range there were about 15 people sunbathing and playing in the water. For my bird watching friends, we also saw a bald eagle fly overhead, but didn’t even get a still shot of it. There is a bird call at the end of the video; any guesses what it is?
From the garden this week, the white Rosa Rugosa (sea rose) shrub is blooming in our yard—beautiful, fragrant, and fragile looking, these roses are incredibly hardy and tenacious!

Rosa Rugosa, Sea or Beach Rose

The Envelope Please….And the Award Goes to….

ME! I’m happy to announce that last week, I was presented with The Versatile Blogger award!

Ado, who blogs at Momalog, presented me the award, giving me—as she calls ither “stamp of approval.” But why does this make me so happy? It’s because through blogging, I’ve had the opportunity to write everyday while making friends with other writers like Ado—and you—who read, comment on, and retweet my blog posts! It’s nice to have made such good writer friends!
To formally accept this award I need to do the following:

1. Thank and link to the blogger who gave me the award.

2. Share 7 things about myself.

3. Share this Award with at least 15 other bloggers.

4. Contact these bloggers to let them know that they got the award.

Here goes, a BIG thank you!

Thank you to Ado @AdoTheMomalog who writes Momalog, a funny, heartfelt, entertaining, really well-written blog that ALSO has some very cute pics of her two little girls and places she goes—check it out! Thanks again, Ado!

7 Things About Me

1. Even in the winter, I prefer to wear slip-on, clog-style shoes. I don’t own even one pair of heels.

2. I love coffee, but I hate flavored coffee.

3. My favorite flower is any one in bloom in my garden or any one in a vase on my table. My favorite weed is dandelion—they’re beautiful!

4. My passion for gardening comes from my two grandmothers: one who gardened and picked wild mushrooms on the banks of the Yellow Creek in Ohio, and one who lived in Manhattan but gardened and picked wild berries at her lake house in Putnam Valley, NY.

5. I love long car trips and train rides. I hate flying.

6. I have crawled on my hands and knees through the Great Pyramid of Giza, taken a boat excursion down the Nile River in Uganda, visited rain forests on two continents, and lived in houses within view of both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans…and I was born in France; I’ve also lived in Kenya, Uganda, and Belize (and of course the U.S.); I’ve visited Canada, Mexico, England, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Egypt; I’ve lived in 5 states; and I’ve visited 31 others plus Washington, D.C. I consider myself a Third Culture Kid.

7. I started as a pre-med Zoology major and ended up getting a degree in Journalism. I attended three colleges, switched majors four times, and got married before I finished college. (Did I mention that my parents both have PhDs from Harvard, are college professors, and that my father almost disowned me?)

15+ Versatile Blogger Awards

I hereby present The Versatile Blogger award to these wonderful bloggers—whose blogs I check every day to see if they’ve posted something new! (And you should check in on them, too!)

Cynthia Robertson, Writer, who blogs about “Thoughts on all aspects of writing and getting published, book reviews, and the occasional rant.” I love Cynthia’s writing tips; she’s an amazing writer who is incredibly supportive and encouraging!

Melissa Crytzer Fry who writes (and posts amazing desert pictures) at what I saw…a springboard for creativity and awareness,” is not only one of my favorite blogging writers, but she is also a wonderfully supportive, encouraging, and funny writer friend.
Jen Walker at My Morning Chocolate, “Delicious Inspiration for People who Wake Up Thinking about Food,” who guest posted here on my blog yesterday! I share Jen’s passions for food and writing.

Natalia Sylvester, whose blog is “finding truth through fiction.” Natalia is an amazing writer who writes consistently strong blogs, and sometimes we seem to communicate via ESP about what we blog about!
Christine or CM Grote at Random Thoughts from Midlife, writes (and posts amazing photos) in “A journal — reminiscence, rambling and rants.” Christine’s garden is incredible, she posts great daily posts (like I try to do), and she writes great blogs about self publishing.
Nina Badzin blogs and writes about “The Writing Life. Married Life. and Motherhood.” I look forward to Nina’s blogs because they are so well written, and full of humor, spot-on life reflections, and great advice, too.
Leah Singer at Leah’s Thoughts, which is “A journal of musings, essays, life lessons, recipes and whatever else comes to mind…” Leah and I are frequently on the same wavelength, and I love every blog she writes. Her photos are wonderful, and I love hearing about her adventures with Sophie.

Jolina Petersheim at The Happy Book Blog, “Adding a splash of Technicolor optimism in a world turned to gray.” Jolina is a writer with a strong voice who writes with humor and poignancy, and I often leave her blog with a smile or tears or both!

Erika Marks whose blog is…“On Writing, Publishing and Other Delicacies.” Erika is a wonderful writer with a big heart who I have a strong Maine and birdwatching connection with. She is another supportive, encouraging writer; and she has a book coming out this October!
Another of my favorite blogs is “Scraps & Scribblings” from Amanda Hoving at Amanda’s Wrinkled Pages. I can count on Amanda to make me think and make me laugh, always. Amanda was the first one who encouraged me with 1K writing hours!
Hallie Sawyer, at Write for Me, “An aspiring author blog about writing, books, and her life.” Hallie offers wonderful reflections on the daily life of a writing mom and is a great supporter of other writers. She frequently gives me fresh ways to look at my writing habits.
Aisha Iqbal who blogs about “Musings of a Pakistani-American on marriage, motherhood, writing, and more.” Aisha is a long-time blogger who blogs about her young son, cooking, current events and, of course, writing. She frequently makes me laugh and remember what it’s like to be a mom to a very young child!

Liz, who blogs at a belle, a bean & a chicago dog: an autobiography of marriage, parenthood & life, in general. I can always count on Liz to make me laugh! Liz also blogs about social networking, and we enthusiastically got our iPhones at about the same time. Her photos and blogs of her girls are priceless, and she recently vlogged for the first time!

Kenneth Hopkins at Kid Stuph, “wisdom from the mind of a grown up kid…” I love Kenneth’s reflections on life and fatherhood, with humor and a lot of heart! I often find myself nodding my head in agreement to his observations of life.

V.V. Denman, “Christian Writer, Avid Reader, Random Blogger.” V.V. blogs about a wide variety of subjects; all her blogs are well written and entertaining. I love her writer riddles!

Milli Thornton who blogs at Fear of Writing (home of the 10K Days!) about “putting the fun back into writing” and about travel at Milliver’s Travels. Milli has a positive outlook on life and is an enthusiastic advocate for writing and writers.

Thank you to all these wonderful bloggers for entertaining, informing, befriending, and encouraging me! Who would you give a blogger award to? Always looking for new blogs to follow!!


Best Books for Boys: A Book Review

This post is a departure from my usual wordsxo blog. A few weeks ago I was asked, and happily accepted the opportunity, to review a new book by Pam Allyn, founder of LitWorld, about how to engage boys in reading. I come from a long-line of voracious readers, and as a mother of two and a writer of children’s literature, this is a topic near and dear to my heart. I’ve heard a lot of news lately about boys reading less than girls and about boys underperforming in school, so I was curious to find out what an expert had to say about it… Why are boys not as enthusiastic as girls about reading? Why are 300,000 boys dropping out of high school each year? Why is this important to all of us? Why do we not give boys what they want to read? And what can we do about it?

Ten years ago, Pam Allyn began a program called Books for Boys to bring books to boys in New York City’s foster program—an experience that “ultimately became transforming” for her. Since then has seen “hundreds of children enter the program alienated from reading.” 

Pam Allyn expands this important discussion about why we need to focus on books for boys in her book Best Books for Boys: How to Engage Boys in Reading in Ways That Will Change Their Lives.

I like Allyn’s easy-to-read writing style; she is empathetic as she addresses key reasons that cultivating boys’ cultural literacy is important, while at the same time providing ways to encourage boys to read.

This is an important book because according to the 2010 Kids and Family Reading Report, sponsored by Scholastic, “only 39 percent of boys say reading books for fun is extremely important, versus 62 percent of girls.” Further, in national testing, boys routinely perform at much lower levels than girls on standardized reading assessments.

This book will be valuable to both parents and educators because first Allyn shares the elements that will help boys build reading confidence. Then she shares a comprehensive list of recommended books—organized by themes—“according to what boys themselves told us they like best.”

What I really like about this book is that it contains background research and information about why it is so important to focus on boys’ reading—for example, boys are more likely than girls to do just enough work to get by and boys are less confident in setting goals for the future. The Key Questions and Answers section outlines the importance of the “READ (Ritual-Environment-Access-Dialogue) Model” to help encourage boys to read. This Q&A section also offers answers to 24 Key Questions, including: “What should boys read?” Hint: Everything (yes, video games, graphic novels, comic books, and even blogs!) and “When should I stop reading aloud?” Hint: NEVER!

The third part of the book provides a comprehensive, over 120-page best-picks-for-boys list of books that is divided by category (everything from Action and Adventure to Math and Numbers) and by reading level age codes (E for Emerging, D for Developing, M for Maturing). It also includes a synopsis of each book, talking points for categories, and suggestions of other similar books to read.

As a parent of two kids (a boy and a girl), I found myself feeling very lucky as I read this book—both my kids started as very early readers and have been strong readers ever since. Without realizing it, I was following a lot of the advice that Pam Allyn offers in this book. We always have books around the house, but I also let my kids pick whatever books or other reading material they want to read—we make frequent trips to bookstores and the library. And we always talk about everything they read.

In addition, my husband and I both read a lot, and when our children were young, my husband read aloud to them every night and also made up stories for them. At the time, it was just for fun, but after reading Allyn’s book I now realize that my husband has been a strong and positive role model for our son’s (and daughter’s) interest in reading and ultimately their academic success.

Finally, I was happy to see some of my kids’ (and my) favorites on the reading list, to name a few: Frindle by Andrew Clements, the Calvin and Hobbes series by Bill Watterson, The Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osborne, Babe the Gallant Pig by Dick King Smith, several books by Roald Dahl, the Animorphs series, The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, and, of course, Harry Potter.

If you are an educator or the parent of a son (or actually, even as the mom of a daughter I found this book very interesting!), I strongly encourage you to check out this book—it is a source of important information and also a great resource.  If you are a writer of children’s literature, then you may also find a lot of useful information in this book about how to make writing more interesting and accessible to boys.

Do you have a son? Does he enjoy reading? How would you compare his reading experiences to that of your daughter’s? Do you write for children? Do you think that writing should be different, depending on whether you’re writing for boys or girls?



p.s. Happy 3rd month blogiversary to wordsxo with love from Julia Munroe Martin!! 

Sometimes All We Can Be is Afraid

We had to take an emergency trip out of town, to take care of one of our very nearest and dearest. Unfortunately, because of the last minute nature of the trip, we had to take our dog with us. Abby is old and not used to traveling. She’s a dog set in her ways: she doesn’t like new sets of stairs, and she likes a good walk in the woods every morning.

But with this emergency, there was no time to spare. A strange set of stairs the poor old 75-pound black lab had to be carried up; then this morning, worse, no walk in the woods. Instead, a fenced garden with a lovely flagstone patio. A city view not familiar to the country dog’s sensibilities.

Abby is like me, she’s scared. She is befuddled and uncomfortable by her surroundings, and she’s almost too scared to move. We are all faced with unexpected and frightening challenges in life; but we all need to keep going. Even though sometimes all we can be is afraid.

Mamas, Please Make Your Babies Grow Up to Be Librarians

When I grow up, or maybe in my second life, I want to be a librarian. Second choice: I want to be Marilyn Johnson. Because she is friends with so many librarians/cybrarians.

I just read This Book is Overdue! by Marilyn Johnson. As I was reading it, I told @Marilynajohnson (on Twitter) that I’m now an official “librarian groupie.” It’s true. Librarians are very cool, and probably have about the coolest job out there: they love books and other written materials (and get to be around them all day long), they get to (like to!) do research and provide information to others, they get to organize stuff, they are on the cutting edge of technology and new information, and they have the power to issue library cards! And they’re funny! And that’s just the obvious!

I might even go back to school become a librarian, except I like dogs more than cats, I don’t want to deal with poop at work, I am not so crazy about Second Life, and I am (apparently) a prude. Other than that, I’m pretty sure I’d fit right in. So, my only question is: why doesn’t everyone want to be a librarian?

This Book is Overdue! has been reviewed many places on the Internet, and I can’t compete with the reviews in the NY Times or Wall Street Journal, so I won’t try. I’ll just say that you should read this book because it’s amazing nonfiction, superbly well written, and because you will fall in love with the book and all the people in it.

Here are a few (ok, more than a few, and it’s my short list!) of my favorite things I learned in this book:

  • A sheet of Bounce inserted into the pages of a musty book will absorb the odor.
  • Sweden has small automated “library branches”—kind of like RedBox Video Rental boxes—and they are starting to be used some places in the U.S., too.
  • I probably suffer from “information sickness,” but there seems to be a simple treatment.
  • There are real, actual librarians who call patrons “mofos” behind their backs (LOL). So I’m now also in serious awe and also slightly afraid of librarians.
  • There are a LOT of librarians (about 150,000 of them), and many of them have blogs in the biblioblogosphere—with a list of many of these at This Book is Overdue!‘s official website (listed at the end of this blog). I won’t list any of the blogs by name here (even though they have great names) because I can’t play favorites; they are amazing, informative, amusing, and thoughtful blogs!
  • Librarians apparently deal with poop (“rogue turds”), and other gross things.
  • “Few principles rouse librarians more than the right of free access to information and the right to privacy in our choices” (one of the reasons I feel so akin to them!). And some Connecticut librarians proved it.
  • There were street librarians during the 2008 Republican Convention in Minneapolis.
  • To an emphemerist, one person’s trash is another person’s history.
  • “As a breed, librarians tend to share a sense of humor that is quirky, sardonic, and fully of wordplay, but nothing captures their gift for self-mockery quite as vividly as the push cart drills.”

This is potentially one of the clearest indicators to me that I should’ve been a librarian. Back a long time ago, when I worked as a lowly tech. writer in a cube farm in Corporate America, we used to have “luge” races, scooting as fast as we could down the aisles of Hewlett-Packard. This came to an abrupt end when I almost ran into the Director of Operations in a hallway. She was not amused (I was). YOU GO, PUSH CART RACERS!!

  • (Many) librarians love Second Life.
  • There is a dog librarian (to be perfectly clear, this is a person, not a dog) at the American Kennel Club.
  • One of the librarians at the New York Public Library is known as the writers’ librarian.
  • There is a right way and a wrong way to save digital archives.
  • The Library of Congress began an experiment with Flickr in 2008, posting a fraction of the million digitized photographs in its archives to help identify the images.
  • And, finally, I loved the final words in the last chapter (about librarians): “…I knew they wouldn’t disturb me until closing time.”

See? What’s not to love!?

And more! Here are some of the very cool web resources I got to know while reading the book:

  • archive.org (“Universal access to all knowledge”)
  • worldcat.org(to “find items in libraries near you.” And you can also find libraries, too!)
  • wolfram alpha (“computational knowledge engine.” Very cool!)
  • The website of the New York Public Library. Marilyn Johnson says if she could have just one web address, this would be it: “It could keep you entertained for months.” Librarians available 24/7 by chat!

Finally, a huge thank you to Marilyn Johnson for writing one of my new favorite books! And more…on the book’s website, Marilyn Johnson has wonderful information about the book and more! I especially like the “Index,” “Updates,” and “Find a Librarian” links where Marilyn lists many of the librarians in the book—including their blogs and twitter IDs—so you too can be a librarian groupie!



p.s. What do you want to be when you grow up? And more importantly….who is your favorite librarian? That’s an easy answer for me: the director at my town library. I’m glad to say she’s also a friend! THANK YOU, H.G., and all the other librarians at my wonderful town library!





Wednesday and Everyday It’s All About Observation

Observation (noun) from American Heritage Dictionary via wordnik.com

1. The act or faculty of observing.

2. The fact of being observed.

3. The act of noting and recording something, such as a phenomenon, with instruments.

As a child I lived in Africa for three years. Mostly Kenya, but briefly Uganda. Was living in another culture life changing? Undoubtedly. But how these experiences changed my life, I will never truly know.

An observer by nature, I sometimes wonder: was I deeply affected by my surroundings because I am so aware or was it the very experience that made me become so aware? Again, I will never know.

Some of the places I went, people we met had never before seen a white person—and then we were engulfed by curious humanity, and I became the observed. How has this experience of being the observed affected my perceptions in the world? Again, I have no way of knowing the answer, but I would guess: heartily.

What I do know is this: If I had to choose one word that described me as a writer, it would be observer. And in my research, my writing, my being, I conduct daily observation. I find this mildly ironic because the reason I lived in Africa was to accompany my parents—cross-cultural social scientists—as they conducted observational research. My mother, in fact, invented a tool coined spot observation: whereby an anthropologist takes a “mental snapshot” as a rapid sampling of an observed activity.

As a child I didn’t pay much attention to the specifics of my parents’ work. I only knew that we were in a place that was at the same time frightening and intriguing, completely unfamiliar yet eventually home, welcoming and friendly but never truly a part. It was many years after her death that my father told me about spot observation and my mother’s role in it.

When he told me, it made sense. I had watched and observed my parents conduct these mental snapshots. I overheard and stored away not just my surroundings in a foreign land but the surroundings of my family. And although I was at a distance from my far away home in “the states,” I was also distant from my closest neighbors, and even from my parents busy together with their research projects.

The nuances and memories I have gathered, along with my skills and interest in observation, make me a richer and more curious writer. Through being both an observer and the observed, I have learned to hear instead of merely listen, to see instead of merely look.

Finally, I leave you with a small excerpt from one of my current WIPs, a YA novel about an American girl coming of age in Kenya.

After dusk, the dark, dark night closes in. On cloudy nights with no moon, it’s dark like you can’t imagine. No street lights, no house lights, no stars. Darker than close-your-eyes-dark. Or even go-in-the-closet-close-the-door-and-stuff-a-coat-in-the-crack-under-the-door dark. But the quiet is even more startling. Like someone took away all the sounds in the world and the heavy air hangs without reason around your ears. Is there a word for silence like darkness? No people sounds, no animal sounds, no sound at all unless you make it or speak it?

It is in this world and its darkness that I must make it to the outhouse. Less than one-hundred-steps from where I stand, I can’t see even a suggestion of the small shack. So I hold my breath, clutch my flashlight, and run for my life.



p.s. What are the words that describe you as a writer? What makes you a richer writer? Are there places or people or experiences from your childhood that you come back to again and again?

Finally, I would like to thank two blog writers for inspiration for this Wednesday Word: Jennifer Walker, through her blog about W. African groundnut soup on her blog My Morning Chocolate and Melissa Crytzer Fry for her blog posting Home on the Range. Thank you!