Ah, Sweet Procrastination

Example NOT to follow:

Every morning this week I’ve awakened with my mind juggling subjects, wondering which I should pick this week. And this morning, as soon as I finished breakfast and exercise, I cleaned out my roll-top desk—first time in years. Since I didn’t take a before picture, you would not be impressed with the after picture. It’s better though, trust me.

Waterfall by the zoo administration building

Sun bear living up to his name

Then my husband and I went to the zoo, which is actually justifiable since I’m working on a book about bears. My husband, who wishes to be known on-line only as Johnny Danger, graciously took photos of the bears. You’re probably able to detect the sharper focus with his steady hand.

Sloth bear, also living up to his name

Now I’m going to take a short break to make a quilt block.

Speaking of quilts, neither my sister nor I felt that the true ugliness of the fabric for our ugly quilt contest was apparent in the first photo posted 10/18/12. So here goes the second attempt to establish the depth of the challenge, which is still ahead of us rather than behind. See title.



The green fabric is the basis for our ugly quilt contest.

Same fabric against different background


Almost done with the block–a block for a wedding quilt—not the ugly quilt contest. Back in a couple minutes.

Block for the wedding quilt







Can pro . . . crasti . . . nate no longer.


Three non-fiction books about bullying:

Last week, I told you about the Olweus program to prevent bullying and the book NOBODY KNEW WHAT TO DO. I showed three covers of the books I was able to find at the library, but hadn’t yet read.

For primary children, LEARNING HOW TO STAY SAFE AT SCHOOL, written by Susan Kent and published by PowerKids Press in 2001, is a useful read aloud for the youngest  school children and helpful for independent readers. Various topics, like bullying, peer pressure, or avoiding trouble, are covered in one page with clear advice for children including when to ask for an adult’s help. This is a book I would have read to my first graders an issue at a time so the tips could sink in.

BULLYING, part of the Introducing Issues with Opposing Viewpoints series, published in 2008 by Gale, Cengage Learning is for middle school students and older. The three chapters address specific questions: What Causes Bullying? How Can Parents and Others Combat Bullying? and How Can Bullying Be Reduced?

Each chapter is made up of 4 – 6, sometimes conflicting, responses to the question. The Olweus Program is contrasted with Izzy Kalman and his Bullies to Buddies program which asserts that victims need to do the standing up for themselves or they will continue to be victims.

The book is good for overviews of differing perspectives, which often offer solutions that fit different situations or could be used in combination. Students can find options. Adults can get an introduction to bullying issues.

PLEASE STOP LAUGHING AT US, written by Jodee Blanco and published by BenBella Books, Inc. in 2008, is for young adults and older. It follows her memoir PLEASE STOP LAUGHING AT ME, which told about the severe bullying she endured as a child. The effects of the bullying followed her through adult life. After she wrote the first book, she still sat trembling in the parking lot afraid to go to her 20th high school reunion. It was good that she did.

PLEASE STOP LAUGHING AT US continues her story when she left her successful PR firm to follow her desire to help other bullying victims. This choice extracts a high emotional price as she speaks to students, parents, teachers, and administrators and relives the years of abuse. But her story is ultimately one of hope and forgiveness. I haven’t finished reading this book, but I’m hooked so far.

Take some time to think about the kids who are afraid to go to school, to use the bathrooms, or to walk home. Although none of us individually can solve the problems of bullying or school violence, we can help tip the balance. One simple thing is to teach our children to notice the child who is alone and to invite that child to play.

What else?

Steps to Ending Bullying

My old elementary school undertook a pilot program within our district to deal with the issue of bullying. I felt so proud of our principal and our school and so pleased to be part of the task force that worked on the implementation. We used the Olweus Program, an approach backed by research. It provides staff training, support for parent involvement, and a number of materials for classroom use and for the school as a whole. There is a financial investment involved.

While many schools have tried to find free bullying prevention programs in these years of tight budgets, some of the available programs advocate practices that Olweus’ research finds unhelpful, at best. Dan Olweus began the program in Norway. It has been around long enough to evaluate the results. If your school or other organization is looking for a program, here are two sites you might want to visit:  www.violencepreventionworks.org  and www.clemson.edu/olweus  (Clemson University does research on bullying.)

One of the main tenets of the Olweus program states it’s the adults’ job to establish the school culture and to deal with bullying. While you teach children things that they can do, the onus is not put on children to take care of the problem themselves. Since bullying involves an imbalance of power, this can be impossible for a victimized child to handle.

The program teaches the children to tell an adult at school and an adult at home if they are the victim of bullying or if they observe bullying. Observing bullying has documented negative effects on non-targeted children also. Children are also taught to be aware of children who have no one to play with and to invite those children into a game. Many victims of bullying are the children who are isolated at school. And some of those children become bullies themselves.

The program teaches both children and adults the difference between true bullying  and teasing or arguments between friends. The school sets up a system to document instances of bullying—first to help differentiate between isolated events and patterns of behavior and also to make sure consequences are consistently and predictably applied.

A picture book that dovetails well with this program is Nobody Knew What to Do: A Story About Bullying, written by Becky Ray McCain, illustrated by Todd Leonardo, and published in 2001 by Albert Whitman. I used to read it with my first graders. One criticism I’ve seen of the book is that it makes bullying sound so simple to solve, but within the context of a story for younger students, it illustrates workable responses to bullying. A boy, who witnesses another child being bullied decides although frightened, he must report the on-going mistreatment. The adults respond appropriately and the school becomes a better place for everyone.

There are many books about bullies and I’ll be reviewing others in the months to come. The related photos of covers are a few of the books I found at the library, but haven’t had a chance to read yet. Many of the ones I have read and looked for on the shelf are currently checked out—a good sign, if a bit frustrating.

Please let us know about any books about bullying that you think are helpful and engaging.

Past and Future Faire

Last March I attended Meet the Authors and Bookfaire at the Ruth B. Shannon Center for the Performing Arts of Whittier College (my alma mater). It was a wonderful day with authors—mesmerizing opening and closing keynote speakers. (Last year, Lisa See derailed my plan to leave a bit early for the long drive home. I could not make myself get up and leave.) There are two additional sessions, one before and one after lunch. Each session has a choice of one of three authors. So each attendee gets to hear four authors speak about their work. Because the event is relatively small, it’s possible to talk to the authors in the sessions, at lunch, and when they are signing books.

This year, Bookfaire will be held on Sat. March 23, 2013. I will send out more information later (including this year’s speakers and the cost). But if you live in Southern California and this is your idea of a lovely day surrounded by book lovers, keep it in mind. I will be introducing Laura McNeal, an author of young adult novels. Her books will be featured in an upcoming post.

Meanwhile, “Go, Poets!” (How can you not love a school that cheers poets at football games?)

And tomorrow, I’m off to meet my sister at The Road to California Quilt Show. Happy fabric to all.

Random Acts of Reading

When I was a freshman at Whittier College in nineteen…mumble, mumble, every student in the freshman class did a final paper on Moby-Dick, written by Herman Melville and first published in 1851. Not only did we do a paper, we had to first construct a classification on some aspect or topic of the book. This was not a five paragraph essay. The huge project had people buying rolls of shelf paper to roll out in the dorm hallways just to have enough room to work on the classification. Most students were annoyed or angry that we had to do it; but, as a team-building exercise for a whole student body, it was brilliant. And everyone who attended Whittier in those years has a Moby Dick story.

So when one of my critique groups decided, in the spirit of learning good writing from good writers, to read Moby-Dick (intro and notes by Carl F. Hovde and published by Barnes & Noble, Inc. in 2003) together (as in “aloud together”) I was game to go back and compare a current perspective to my teenage perspective.

The group found incredible richness and humor in Melville’s allusions and references. We also found that it would probably take three to four years to complete the book using our method (very fun and very slow).

However, in the course of our investigations, I came upon a condensed version of the full-length 655 page epic.

Twin brothers Jack and Holman Wang are making Cozy Classics board books—twelve word versions of classic works of literature. One brother writes and the other makes needle-felted illustrations. When I read that they had discussed doing twenty word versions but decided that would bring in sub-plots, I knew I had to have these books.

Both Moby Dick and Pride and Prejudice finally came out in the fall of 2012, published by Simply Read Books. I love them. How fun to read with a child, who can later find a mature version of a favorite childhood book. The illustrations are wonderful. I’ve heard adults laugh out loud at the simplicity of the language. And, as I get close to 400 words, they are models to writers of the art of being concise (anybody know the noun form of ‘concise’ that I can substitute for four words?).

After I wrote about Red Sled (“More Christmas Books for Children and a Blatant Ad” post of 12/20/12), I decided I should take my own advice and asked two preschoolers if they would “read” the story to me using the pictures. What Fun! We laughed and had a great time. I didn’t give the book to my great-nephew after all. Maybe next year or the year after that. I have to read it a few more times first.

The middle grade book of the week is The Lightning Thief, the first book in The Olympians series by Rick Riordan and published by Disney*Hyperion Books in 2005. If you love Greek mythology, if you want to love Greek mythology or just need a reason to care, if you know a kid with ADHD who needs a hero, check this book out. It’s an exciting adventure as Percy Jackson discovers his missing father is actually a god and that he, Percy, must race to avert a war between the gods—a war that will have disastrous results for humankind.

Finally, for young adults and older, look for Between Shades of Gray, written by Ruta Sepetys, published by SPEAK, the Penguin Group in 2011, and winner of The Golden Kite Award. Do not confuse this book with the other “shades of gray” books. They are not alike. Ms. Sepetys’ novel deals with a piece of history that was overshadowed by other WWII horrors. The author chose historical fiction to emotionally protect people in Lithuania who are still afraid of Stalin.

The very first sentence is simple and compelling. “They took me in my nightgown.” Ms. Sepetys does a masterful job of jumping right into the story and providing little nuggets of back story as the events unfold. I was able to hear her speak about the process of discovering her family’s history while learning more about herself as she researched and wrote the book. Both stories haunt the reader or listener. There are very good reasons her fellow authors picked her for The Golden Kite.

WARNING: don’t start the book late at night.

Does this log look like a crocodile to you?

Eureka! This week the post is finished by Thursday. Now go read a good book.

Indies, Chains, and On-Line Sales

At a women’s program years ago, we were asked to find a partner. I sat facing an older woman I knew well-enough to know I liked. In the exercise we were given, one partner was to take five minutes telling the other woman what she wanted. If it wasn’t your turn to talk, of course, you were supposed to listen deeply. Then the second person would have five minutes of “I want __________. I want __________. I want __________.”

Something else I want–especially in my back yard.

I didn’t want to sound trivial, especially since my partner wasn’t a trivial person. She carried  heavy burdens—the death of her husband and a son with AIDS (at the time, it was pretty much a death sentence). She had important things to ask for in her life and in her hopes for the world.

So did I, but not five minutes worth. Towards the end of my time, I realized (with embarrassment) I really wanted a beautiful dress that fit well and had a good line on a short person. (If a sundress makes you feel that you resemble a Roman legionnaire, you know what I mean.) After wants of justice and peace in the world, a deep desire for her son’s health, a dress just seemed too, too trifling. But I was supposed to say what I wanted for those pesky five minutes, and I try to fulfill my social obligations, so I said it.

There was such a sense of liberation in acknowledging the desire for things both high-minded and those that are insignificant. Somehow all my parts felt claimed. We shared the good and the selfish—although I don’t remember anything trifling from her.

It’s a great exercise and I recommend it.

This door used to lead to the basement bookstore where I worked. Now I think it’s an alternative music venue, but I’ve never seen it open. There also used to be a used bookstore right across the street. I think you can eat there now.

Now I find there is something to add I’d like to add to my want list that I took for granted then—bookstores, especially independent bookstores. I very much want them to continue to exist. They are endangered. There used to be a bookstore in La Jolla in an old house that overlooked the ocean. Different rooms contained different sections. I don’t remember, but surely the kitchen housed the cookbooks, the coffee table books were in the living room, and the children’s books set in one bedroom ready for a bedtime story. It was a magical place that no longer exists. Neither does the well-known and also long-established children’s bookstore also in La Jolla. Within the last year, a small independent children’s bookstore in my city had to close its door.

The children’s bookstore near my home that used to be there. Now you can get cards.

Every link is important. The independents especially provide a personal connection. After a time, the staff alert you to what they think you’ll like. How do I know if I want to buy a picture book until I’ve read it? I need a place where I can hold and look at the picture book to know if it’s one I can’t live without. It may scream to be shared or it’s message makes it one I want to read again and again.

If you are like me, a self-published author, you need the indies. They may be willing to carry your book. They often provide an opportunity to sell and sign your book. Chains usually won’t even consider us.

But the brick and mortar chains are there for readers when we need a book right now. We can amble through the shelves to see what speaks to us, Since the chains are also scrambling to stay in business as they compete with internet sources, particularly The-Company-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, we have to patronize them if we want them to continue to exist. Please don’t use them as a 3-D catalogue and then spend your money on-line. It’s pretty much impossible for a handful of us to keep one going on our own.

John’s Bookstore in a set of the San Diego Model Railroad Museum.

But The-Company-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is also an important link. No library or bookstore can possibly carry everything. The number of books in our world is astounding—scary even. The internet makes it possible to access out-of-print books or more obscure books in a way never practical before. E-books (which I’m still working up to) provide another avenue for independent authors who otherwise wouldn’t get a foot in the door or who write for such a specific audience they are not likely to find a publisher no matter how good the writing. So I’m thankful for The-Company-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, but I’m happier if I put them at the top of the food, I mean, book pyramid.

And before something else that I take for granted is endangered, I want libraries to continue to exist and to be open every day.

One last note. Just one week after stating my goal of posting every Thursday, I blew it. (I was helping my elderly mom.) I promise not to do it again, at least not until it’s been long enough that I think you will have forgotten.

Call to action? How about giving a shout out for your favorite bookstore and it’s location.  Mine is The Yellow Book Road in Liberty Station, San Diego, CA. I really, really, really want them to thrive.

Second call—make a long list of what you want and see what you find.

Starting the Year Write

First of all, thank you for reading Hundred Book Pile Up. As of today, the twentieth week of posting, there have been 353 visits to the Welcome post. The individual post with the most hits so far is “Lin Oliver’s List Challenge” of 8/30/12. In the world of the internet, I’m sure that’s not impressive. In the world of blogs by unknowns, I have no idea if that’s any good. But I’m happy, and the speed of visits to new posts is picking up. Some posts took a week or more before they were read at all, but the last two weeks have had a number of hits within the first day. I’m taking that as a good sign.

Thank you, thank you.

My plan had been to up the number of postings to two or three times per week. That was before I realized how much time one post a week takes (and how I have to leave what I wrote alone long enough to see what needs to be edited out). So I will continue at once a week with the usual posting day sometime on Thursday. On the first post of the month, I’ll try to get in something I know about writing. (See below for January’s advice.)

I have read that a good blog makes sure there is a “call to action.” Hmmm? “Buy THE PIG AND THE DRAGON” comes to mind, but that’s just way too bossy.  So please let me know what works for you and what doesn’t in the blog. What pulls you back? What wastes your time?

Writing Advice for the New Year

The good news is last year’s advice has not been rescinded, but I neglected to start at the beginning. So here’s the most basic, the simplest, and, simultaneously, the most difficult writing advice I know.

If you want to write, spend time writing. If you don’t know what to write, write a letter, write a to-do list, anything, but write. When my students used to tell me they couldn’t think of anything, I told them to write about what they would rather be doing, go ahead, whine about being stuck in a chair with an empty playground outside. I thought they could really get into that, but the kids usually thought it was just a dumb idea and they’d come up with their own.

Hey, it’s still a good idea. If you don’t know what to write, write about what you suddenly feel compelled to do instead, even it it’s only carefully arranging paper clips. Write about how you feel about not knowing what to write. See where it takes you. Keep it—you never can tell when it will help with a character.

The daffodils are starting to come up.

So, Step One in Being a Writer is WRITE! That’s all it takes.

Now, if you also want to be a writer whose work is read. Step Two is actually Step One.  It is also basic, simple, and, simultaneously, as complex as you care to make it. READ! Read lots. You’ll absorb many conventions and rhythms; you’ll see if there are particular forms for the genre or type of writing you want to do; you’ll see how different authors handle different literary issues; and mostly, you’ll enjoy yourself.

If you have begun moving toward the goal of writing, but haven’t yet taken the plunge, there is a book written for you. TWELVE STEPS TO BECOMING AN AUTHOR: A WRITER’S STORY OF BOOK PUBLISHING SUCCESS, by Linda Loegel and published in 2012 by Unlimited Publishing LLC, tells the illustrative story of fictional Rhonda as she journeys from a writer who stopped writing after one rejection, but still feels incomplete. A few years later she nervously attends her first writers’ group, where she  learns her craft.

If you know you want to write, but don’t know what comes next, this is a good book for an overview of steps to take and issues to investigate. The book has an appendix of resources including other books for authors, magazines, social media, self-publishing sites, writing groups listed by state, and more. You can find out more about Linda at www.lindaloegel.blogspot.com

Last week we had rain which froze. This is what we found on New Year’s Eve morning.


or, if you prefer,
And if you’d like my copy of TWELVE

Is this cool or what! Hey, it’s a big deal here.


Our “coral reef” succulent garden on 1/3/13.

And Happy New Year!