I’ve been glad to see that reviews of WHEN MY SISTER STARTED KISSING have been positive and appreciative. As I wrote this book, I thought about the young people I know and it struck me that most of them are really nice people. I know, of course, that “mean girls” exist, and that boys can be aggressive to girls and to each other, but I wondered if I could write a book without that kind of people.
I wrote an entire draft where there was a lot of drama having to do with people mis-treating each other, and I asked myself how much of it was necessary. In re-writing the story, whenever I came to a decision about how the characters would behave in a conflict, if I found myself tempted to include meanness or aggression, I asked, “what if this didn’t happen?” Could there be drama and a compelling story without it?
It was interesting to see how the book evolved–I think the characters are realistic, not too good to be true, but still thoughtful and considerate–just like most of the readers who meet them, now that the book is out in the world.
March 28, 2017
It’s going to look like all I do is travel around the world. Not true, but this year, I have been on two big trips. The one to Germany in December, and then, a few weeks ago, to Myanmar for our second trip with a Sister Cities group. This time was a student exchange between IPFW, a University in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where I live, and Mawlamyine University in Mon State, Myanmar. There is a large community of people from Myanmar (Burma) in Fort Wayne, and it is wonderful to learn more about the country they came from.
We were able to visit schools, monasteries, homes, pagodas, and markets, in addition to some of the spectacular sites that Myanmar is famous for.
Our hosts at Mawlamyine University gave us a beautiful house to live in for the two weeks we were there, and they, along with others in the community, fed us, drove us, and introduced us to many wonderful new friends. Altogether unforgettable.
As we did last year, we exchanged books, filling suitcases with books donated by our library to children there, and returning with books donated to us by a high school we visited, as well as some we bought, so that parents from Burma who use the library in Fort Wayne wil have access to books in their language, or bilingual books, to share with their children.
I know my knowledge of the country and culture are still very superficial, but this small taste has made me want to return again.
December 30, 2016
December has been a month I will remember forever.
I was invited to Freiburg, Germany, to be present as a stage version of CROSSING STONES was performed at the Pädagogische Hochschule (a teachers college). It was a small cast, with most cast members performing two or more parts, as well as playing instruments in the musical interludes and scene-transitions, a beautiful production. The play was in English (part of the English department there) and I loved hearing the soft German accents of the actors as they spoke the lines I had written.
It was especially moving to me because the book raises so many questions about war, and the necessity for soldiers to think of the people they are fighting as “Enemy.” In World War I, of course, the enemy was Germany, and through the thoughtful and skillful portrayals of 1917 Americans by German actors, these same questions were raised to German audiences, both adult and school-age. I wondered how the teenage audiences would respond, and was pleased to participate in the good conversations that followed each performance.
I also had many good conversations with new German friends about literature and politics in the United States and Europe. 2016 has been an intense year, politically, and we are all keeping our eyes on the currents that affect the world–people and planet.
Chad (my husband) came to Germany for part of the time I was there, and together we enjoyed hiking in the Black Forest (a light-filled place we could get to in a short train ride from Freiburg); visiting museums in Germany and Colmar, France; shopping at the Weihnachtsmarkts (Christmas Markets) in many towns and cities; and practicing our German with people who nearly always spoke better English than we did German. Towards the end of the trip, I swam in warm water through cold air in a spa in Bad Homburg (the word “Bad” means “Bath” and in cities with that as part of their name, you are likely to find these wonderful, relaxing spas.
There’s more to say, and pictures to post, but this is enough for now.
May 17, 2016
I haven’t yet written about my trip to Myanmar (Burma) in February. We (my husband and I) went with a delegation from our city, Fort Wayne, Indiana, for the purpose of formalizing a “Friendship City” agreement with the city of Mawlamyine, in Mon State, Myanmar. This is the first step towards a Sister Cities designation.
The formalities were impressive–we met with the U.S. ambassador, the governor of Mon State, and many other dignitaries as well as representatives of NGO’s, and artists, writers, academics, and monks. We considered ways of establishing connections between people in different parts of our communities.
We visited Mawlamyine University, a high school, a hospital, a marketplace, a home, a factory. We travelled along a busy highway between Yangon and Mawlamyine, and drove on a small city street to an artist’s studio. We learned a little bit of history, a little bit of language and culture–just enough to make us want to return to see and learn more.
We didn’t have time to visit the beautiful places we heard and read about in other parts of the country, but others in our group were able to do that after we left, and they shared their pictures and stories with us.
What an interesting, exciting, and beautiful country.
November 16, 2015
Wow–it’s been a long time since I added anything to this part of my website. Not because nothing has been happening, but because I’m working hard on a novel. The novel will be finished in a few weeks, and I’m hoping to re-vamp my website, and perhaps start a blog or in some other way, do more to support our community of readers and writers.
But for now, a quick update on my forthcoming books:
Spring, 2016: Among a Thousand Fireflies, a collaboration with Rick Lieder.
Fall, 2016: Applesauce Weather, a novel-in-poems for young (ages 7-10 or so) readers, with illustrations by Amy June Bates. I’ve seen the sketches and love them, and the cover.
WAKE UP: Another collaboration with Rick Lieder about new life appearing each spring.
And also Spring, 2017, this book I’m working on now:
WHEN ABI STARTED KISSING, a novel-in-poems for middle grades (ages 10-14 or so).
Back to work!
April 19, 2015
I just scrolled down to see when I first mentioned bluebirds, and I think it was four years ago that they first explored the bluebird house we set out for them. Today we have a nest and new babies! Four of them, plus one blue egg that probably won’t hatch. This is fun! I expect them to fledge in about a week. I wonder if I will see that.
December 20, 2014
Yesterday I received my advance author copy of SWEEP UP THE SUN (publication date is March 10, 2015), and I read it from cover to cover as a new reader might. Of course I know it by heart after working on it for so long–adjusting the poem and photographs to read smoothly both verbally and visually–but the experience of reading it as a book still took me by surprise. Rick (the photographer) works with Rachel (the art director at Candlewick) on the layout of the pages, and while I have some input into the process, I had not realized that the images are arranged so that they alternate between wings up and wings down, or open and closed. This gives a sensation of flight as you read the book, turning the pages from beginning to end. It was a delightful discovery for me.
I’ve been learning Tai Chi this past year or so, and this sensation of opening and closing while moving forward reminds me of some of the Tai Chi moves and sequences. I wonder if learning Tai Chi has afffected the way I write poetry.
I haven’t written much here in the past few months (it’s been a busy fall!). But I am grateful for each of my readers and others who visit my website. I wish you a joyful holiday season and everything good in 2015.
September 30, 2014
Gregory Thiesen found my poem “Shore” in Sam Hamill’s 2003 anthology, “Poets Against the War” and wrote this music. (The poem can also be found in my book, “as if a dry wind”.) There’s a recording of it on this website if you want to listen. It sounds just like the birds looked.
September 29, 2014
Speaking to students at South High School in Worcester, Massachusetts last week, I realized that I wrote KEESHA’S HOUSE before many of them were born. I was happy to realize that it is holding up through time.
This weekend I will be speaking about HIDDEN to middle school students in Kansas who voted for it to win the William Allen White Award. I’m looking forward to meeting the students and others in Kansas, and to seeing the home of William Allen White. I love the fact that so many states have awards for children’s literature and often name them in honor of those who helped bring children and books together.
I’m looking forward to the publication of SWEEP UP THE SUN, a new collaboration with Rick Lieder, with a publication date of March 10, 2015. This one features birds–in flight and at rest–with a poem celebrating birds and speaking to all the ways we go out into the world to explore.
June 18, 2014
Frances Foster–June 3, 1931-June 9, 2014
I have been so lucky to work with one of the best editors in children’s books for more than ten years. Frances Foster edited seven of my books and taught me, in a completely respectful and gentle way, how to take a book from the seed of an idea to a pull-it-off-the-shelf actual book.
She would ask questions in such a way that I would step back and realize I was on the wrong track (“Helen, do you think you are making this harder than it needs to be, by having a dog musher in a wheelchair for most of the book?” she asked about an early version of Diamond Willow, and I saw that the accident should happen to Roxy, not Willow.) She rarely suggested a way to fix things, just said “I know you can do this.” And even when things were very hard, I always found, eventually, that she was right, I could.
I will be forever grateful that Frances and I had an opportunity to work together and become friends. She is a treasure in my life.
In this corner of my website I post news about books, travel, backyard birds and flowers, maybe a few recipes and photos. It’s interesting to look back through the archived posts from the first ten years on my previous website and see when birds arrive, when I traveled to different places, and how books occasionally change titles.