Wednesday, August 31, 2011

ambition and my new six

my scrawled notes!

Writing this newest novel has been a rather intensive process. Yesterday,  I told the Sasquatch that I felt like this novel was "squeezing the juice out of me," and I really meant it! Perhaps because it was just the memorial and this book is a companion to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon which meant so much to me, I've been feeling this overpowering desire to make this book "really good."

Which is how I try to be with all my books, of course. The difference with this book is, as I mentioned before, I'm afraid that my ambitions might be greater than my abilities.  But if dogged determination and will power can do it, I might have a shot. I've been in a state of overwhelming, constant, concentration, scrawling notes in my notebook wherever I am--the subway, the bathroom, the grocery line--if I'm not at the computer. When I can't sleep at night, I tell myself if the book is bad, at least it won't be from lack of effort!

One of the things I've been thinking about is my new six, the six things that are important for me to write about in this book. Now, they are:


Interesting to see how they changed from my original six and I wonder what they'll end up being when the book is done!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A lovely review of Greta from School Library Journal

I hope everyone stayed safe and dry during the hurricane this weekend! We were very fortunate here in Northampton, for the most part the town kept power, though some of the surrounding areas were not so lucky.

Tomorrow is moving day for us, so my post is brief, just a review that recently came in for A Photo for Greta. Thanks SLJ!

"A bunny misses her photographer father when he’s gone on assignments. Sometimes she wishes she were the subject of his photo shoots. When he covers the circus, Greta imagines she is a circus performer. Then he photographs a country singer, and she plays the part in cowboy boots. When she aspires to have an important job like his, her father assures her that she already has the most important job–being his Greta. The short, sweet text offers young children reassurance as it follows the rabbit’s thoughts while she dreams of ways to be close to her dad. The acrylic paintings of an anthropomorphic rabbit family are reminiscent of those in Margaret Wise Brown’s Good Night Moon (HarperCollins, 1947) and verify the warmth of the narrative . . ."

–Carolyn Janssen, Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, OH

Monday, August 29, 2011

Booklist Interview

Monica Schroder did an interview with me that you can read here:


This is a sample:

BKL: You started as a fiction writer before you switched to creating nonfiction. Why the switch?

McCarthy: For years, I have worked in a bookstore. When I first started there, I noticed a hole in the market. Each day, we’d get boxes of new fiction titles but few nonfiction ones. I remember how my excitement turned to disappointment when the book chain put my first fiction book on the “returns list” in three months; my fiction books were getting lost among hundreds of other fiction titles. But I didn’t start making nonfiction just to stand out. I wanted to make books that would interest kids who struggle in school like I did. There’s so much boring material out there that’s supposed to teach kids something, but how can it teach anything if the material doesn’t sink in? I wanted to give kids some less boring educational options and make learning fun, because I know that it can be.

BKL: Your nonfiction books cover a wide variety of subjects. How do you choose your topics?

McCarthy: There are a lot of ways that I choose my subjects, but most often they choose me. I’ll stumble upon something interesting on the Internet, or I’ll watch an interesting program on public television. That’s usually the way things happen. Sometimes, though, I deliberately look for subject matter, and one search will lead to another and to another. That’s how I arrived at the idea to write Strong Man, about Charles Atlas. I was doing a search about circuses, which led to information about sideshows, and that’s how I found Atlas. He was in a sideshow when he was young.


Read the rest at the above link...

Hurricane Irene

Hi all,

No real post today from me, as I was in a house with no electricity for most of yesterday. My boyfriend and I decided to leave our apartment in Brooklyn and flee to a friend's house in Westchester before the hurricane arrived. The good news is that we're in a nice, stocked house with strong windows, two dogs, one kid, and friendly neighbors. The bad news is now Metro-North is still down while the subways are running, and we lost electricity here, while all accounts seem to indicate that Brooklyn was relatively fine (aside from fallen trees in Prospect Park). Ah, well. We're much more comfortable up here, but will try to make it back home at some point today. I hope our cats are okay!

Hope all of you stayed safe! Any hurricane stories to share?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Poetry in Baby Pictures

No poetry this week--just more baby pictures from a proud and baby crazy new grandmother. I've been spending a lot of time visiting with my daughter, son-in-law, and my nearly three-weeks-old granddaughter Julia Anna. I've been having a grand time!

Here are some pictures that I took this week:
Bath Time
A Young Red Sox Fan
Four Generations
L to R: My mother, my daughter Sara, me and Julia

At Wild Rose Reader, I have an original memoir poem titled Summer Ritual.

Irene Latham has the Poetry Friday Roundup at Live. Love. Explore!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A house in the woods

It's been a busy month with sadly not much writing or drawing going on. We are packing up for a move once again, this time to a little house in the country:

It's been a long time since I've lived in the woods, twenty years I guess? Since leaving home as a teenager I've lived in Richmond, Virginia, Providence, Boston, San Francisco, and most recently Northampton, Massachusetts. Lately though I've been feeling the strong urge to live in a remote, beautiful, quiet place. Maybe the work of taking care of a baby has become enough stimulation and I need more of a calm, relaxing environment. Or maybe I've just come full circle and want to raise Tilda in a place similar to where I grew up. Either way, I'm excited to see where the change of environment takes me personally and creatively.

More soon once we settle in!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Teaching Readers?

This past weekend I had the luxury of uninterrupted reading time, so I took advantage and devoured the book Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt. I soooo enjoyed it, and it moved me so much that I found myself basically crying throughout the whole novel--and you know I'm a sucker for books that make me cry. It was such a pleasure to immerse myself in the story and with the characters. I've been in a bit of a reading slump lately, as I've been trying to slog through another novel that just isn't keeping my interest

Reading Okay for Now reminded me of two articles I've read over the last two weeks. The first was the recent essay by Robert Lipsyte, "Boys and Reading: Is There Any Hope?" He says:

If we’re to counter this tendency and encourage reading among boys who may collectively resist it, boys need to be approached individually with books about their fears, choices, possibilities and relationships — the kind of reading that will prick their dormant empathy, involve them with fictional characters and lead them into deeper engagement with their own lives. This is what turns boys into readers.

Okay for Now is definitely the type of book I think boy readers would enjoy. It features a great male narrator, sports, brother-brother and father-son relationship issues, and the drama of a tough home life. But there's also horseshoes, Broadway, Audubon, art, and romance. Something for everyone.

The second was an article linked to from Shelf Awareness with the provocative title "We Can't Teach Students to Love Reading."

Personally, I think just reading this long, rather dry article would turn someone off reading. (In fact, it infuriated my friend who has been in education for over a decade and is also a student of history.) One of the article's main points:
The extreme reader, to coin a phrase, is a rare bird indeed. ("I have done what people do, my life makes a reasonable showing," Lynne Sharon Schwartz writes. "Can I go back to my books now?") Such people are born, not made, I think; or mostly born and only a little made.

I think extreme readers are made every day--how many of us have heard people (children, mainly) say that they never liked reading until they read XX book, or that after they had this teacher or read that book, they forever acquired a love of reading?

But this part gave me pause:
I don't know whether an adult who has never practiced deep attention—who has never seriously read for information or for understanding, or even for delight—can learn how.

I wonder. How many people have made it to adulthood without the love of reading, only to acquire it later? Do any of you have any real-life examples?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

JK Rowling was here

In real life, the Hogwarts Express is the steam train on the West Highland line. I have rarely seen a group of grown-ups as excited as everyone was when we went over the viaduct. Pictures to come -- I could either look or take pictures, and I chose to look. Two students I'd been chatting with DID take pictures, lots of them, and promised to send them to me when they get back to school next week.

They also showed me the pictures in their Guide book (written in Mandarin!) of the cafe in Edinburgh where JK wrote -- which now has a painting of her writing on the wall. I was very annoyed at myself for not going there -- I was in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival and the only "sight" other than that I visited was my great-great-grandparents' house, from the outside. People say I should have knocked on the door; if I go back to Edinburgh, I will do that and sit in the Elephant House, too, as the students did.

One of them said, though, that her favorite place in the UK was Winchester, where Jane Austen died -- and after that, we talked excitedly about favorite writers. When we said good-bye, we all said how glad we were that we loved so many of the same ones -- even though we're from different generations (my comment) and cultures (theirs).

And even though JK Rowling isn't one of my favorite writers, it's fun to see how proud of her people here are. Someone told me excitedly that he'd stayed in a hotel in Mycenae (sp -- in Greece, where Agamemnon was murdered by Clyemnestra) and the hotel had a board where famous people had left their comments. JK Rowling had written:
"Simply wizard!"

The house where I stayed on Coll had literary associations, too. Boswell and Johnson stayed there and wrote about it, and "drinking whiskey from a seashell, as is the Hebridean custom." My host had done that the night before, and when, after reading the book, I asked if he thought maybe the Hebrideans had been pulling Johnson's leg (the only seashells around are cocckle and scallop shells, TINY -- from what I've seen of island drinking habits, this wouldn't be the way they'd do it). He looked so disappointed when he said,
"Probably," that I wished I hadn't said anything. He added,
"It was still fun, though."

I bet it was -- he and his family were as charming as their house. The house where Boswell and Johnson stayed is now a grey stone ruin -- they left that, so the view from the road would be the same, and added a very modern, mainly glass extension, keeping the feeling and proportions of the ruin, behind it. That's where my room was and these are the views from two of my windows.

I didn't want to leave! But, I already had reservations on Iona, where I am now, and it's beautiful, too, in a different way. I could write MUCH more about the family on Coll, but I have a feeling they may show up in a's that sort of trip, even if I;m not getting inspiration by sitting in The Elephant House.

Friday, August 19, 2011


I meant to post this on my blog THE GOOD THE BAD THE UGLY, but sometimes I screw up and things get mixed up. This is because blogger puts the posting options for both blogs right next to each other just to confuse me. Anyway, I figure that I'll just leave this here. It doesn't quite fit with this blog but it's interesting, right?

I was at an antique store last week and picked up this book:



And here's the first little tale. Enjoy!

radio interview

I put on my part of the interview from Ireland on my website. I should probably edit it to make myself sound better end cut out the "ums"!

Listen here.

THE HAND: A School Poem by Mary Ruefle

It’s that “back to school” time of year. I was an elementary teacher for more than three decades and a school librarian for three years. I retired in 2004. Still, these August days bring back memories of the times I spent preparing my classroom—or my library—for the beginning days of a brand new school year and the return of students.

Today, at Wild Rose Reader, I posted some original “things to do” poems about school. Here at Blue Rose Girls, I have another poem about school that was written by Mary Ruefle.


The teacher asks a question.
You know the answer, you suspect
you are the only one in the classroom
who knows the answer, because the person
in question is yourself, and on that
you are the greatest living authority,
but you don’t raise your hand.
You raise the top of your desk
and take out an apple.
You look out the window.

You can read the rest of the poem here.


The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Dori Reads.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I recently read this article for aspiring photographers by Cheryl Jacobs Nicolai. It struck me as very true for any creative professional. Some favorite excerpts:

"Don't look outward for your style; look inward."

"Never apologize for your own sense of beauty. Nobody can tell you what you should love. Do what you do brazenly and unapologetically. You cannot build your sense of aesthetics on a concensus."

"Accept critique, but don't apply it blindly. Just because someone said it does not make it so. Critiques are opinions, nothing more. Consider the advice, consider the perspective of the advice giver, consider your style and what you want to convey in your work. Implement only what makes sense to implement. That doesn't make you ungrateful, it makes you independent."

"Excellent technique is a great tool, but a terrible end product. The best thing your technique can do is not call attention to itself. Never let your technique upstage your subject."

"Never compare your journey with someone else's. It's a marathon with no finish line. Someone else may start out faster than you, may seem to progress more quickly than you, but every runner has his own pace. Your journey is your journey, not a competition. You will never "arrive". No one ever does."

And aren't her photographs lovely?

Monday, August 15, 2011

need quick poll question answer

I'm doing a radio interview tomorrow for an Ireland radio station and the interviewer said that no one in Ireland knows about Balto - unlike here in the US where he is well known. I told him I didn't think he was that well known. What do you guys think? How many of you know or knew about him?


Last night I saw Glee the 3D Concert Movie, and really enjoyed it--it was the perfect pick-me-up on a dreary rainy day. Now, I don't know if I'd go so far as to call myself a "Gleek," but I'm most definitely a fan of Glee. I've seen every episode, own most of the music, dressed up as one of the characters for Halloween last year:
here I am as Tina from GLEE
and yes, I've even acquired two books by one of the stars of GLEE. On second thought, maybe I am a Gleek. In fact, I'm listening to the soundtrack as I write this. But I'm not the type of fan that would scream my head off and convulse with joy just for being in the same building as the stars. I'm not the type of fan who feels that this television show has changed or affected my life in any significant way, as many of the fans interviewed in the movie believe.

On the way to the subway after the movie, my friend asked me if I've ever been a fan like that for anything, and after thinking about it briefly, I said no. I think the closest I've ever gotten to being that kind of fan was for the TV show FAME (which was the GLEE of the 80s, I suppose). I remember truly feeling like I couldn't wait for the next episode, I remember fantasizing about meeting the actors/characters, and wanting to be a student at the School of the Arts. And far after the show was cancelled, I would tape reruns to watch over and over (I still have those tapes), and now I even have the first two seasons on DVD.

And I suppose I came close in my love for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988. I watched or listened to almost every single game that season, and after they won the World Series, I had a shrine of articles cut out of the newspaper and taped to the wall of my bedroom.

But I've never been truly geeky long-term about my passion for any one thing. I remember while editing the short story collection GEEKTASTIC, I called myself an "all-around geek" because I liked and was familiar with many of the subjects of geek affection. But I don't believe I've truly experienced true fandom. I am a fan of literature as a whole, of course, but no one book or property ever consumed my soul.

In the past ten or so years, I feel that the Harry Potter and Twilight series have created the kind of Beatlemania-esque fandom that I'm talking about. People are truly obsessed. They're naming their children after characters. They have tattoos. They know every little piece of trivia about the series. Part of me wishes that I could experience this type of consuming fandom.

So tell me--what have you been a geeky fan about? What would make you scream your head off in public? How far have you gone for a band/tv show/movie/celebrity/book/team/etc.?


In other news, tomorrow is my twelve-year anniversary of being at Little, Brown. And today is my two-year anniversary of joining Twitter. Happy Anniversary to me! Also, July 30th quietly passed, but it was the five-year anniversary of the Blue Rose Girls blog. It's hard to believe we've been posting together for over five years! Thank you everyone for reading.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Imagination and reality

There was one thing I didn't imagine: all the wildflowers.

So, the landscape is actually even more beautiful than I thought it would be; and yes, it does rain -- more than I thought it would. On some of the islands when the sun comes out they call it "a given day." When the sun comes out (and sometimes it does), everything sparkles, even the air, and the sea turns green and turquoise - like the Caribbean only clearer. The beaches are white sand and empty -- no one swims, it's far too cold.

I fell in love with the first island I visited -- here it is from the ferry, leaving:

There is a Scottish saying that if you want to come back to a place, kiss the corners of the room before you go. I repeated this to my English landlady (but didn't tell her I had done it). She laughed and said,
"If I wanted to come back, I'd book a return on the ferry."

I did.

Friday, August 12, 2011

My Granddaughter Was Born!!!

I'm sorry that I've only been posting intermittently on Fridays in recent weeks. I've been busy trying to get a couple of projects completed--and I was spending as much time as I could with my daughter before she became a mother.

Last Saturday morning, I was at the hospital when my daughter gave birth to her first child--my first grandchild. It was an amazing experience for me to be there to help my daughter, to give her words of encouragement, to see that feisty little baby enter the world. Doctors were monitoring my daughter late in her pregnancy. It had been thought that my granddaughter was going to be quite small. We were all surprised when Julia Anna was born. She weighed in at 7 lbs. 11 oz. and measured 21 inches.

Little Julia Anna is beautiful! See for yourself.