Madness Poetry Returns: 2018

Madness Poetry competition is back, and I’ll try once again to best the best. I’ve had a series of one-off experiences as an “authlete.” (One against Jane Yolen!) My first poem has been submitted and will be published tomorrow for voting. One big change this year is that both my opponent, Gabi Snyder, and I have to use the same word — overkill — in our poems. I love this because the students, other authletes, and the general public will get more of an apples to apples judging experience.

Please follow along and vote, vote, vote!

Edited to add: Here’s the permalink to my match up with Gabi.

Bartending: The hippy, hippy shake

This weekend, I took a bartending class. Have you seen the bartenders in “Coyote Ugly?” Do you remember the flair of Tom Cruise slinging drinks in “Cocktail?”

That’s not me. Not yet.

However, this weekend I learned from the best. Troy from The Dogfish Company has over fifteen years of experience behind the bar and in management. He led us through the basics of bar set-up and break down procedures, recipes, safety, and portion control. Added to my customer service experience and artistic bent, this may be the thing that allows me to focus more on my writing and art.

My recent efforts to make a living have depended on my writing, and editing skills which often leave me unwilling and uninterested to face the computer after hours. A deep dive into words has seemed totally unappealing after a long day of editing other people’s writing. My creative work has been languishing. I hear it moan from the pages of my notebooks when I’m zonked on the couch at the end of the day. Perhaps I need to make my money doing something totally different.

I’m eager to build speed and flair and maybe someday soon I’ll look like this.

Poetry Friday: “One Today”

For many bloggers, Friday is for poetry. I was so pleased this week to attend a reading by poet Richard Blanco. In his presentation, the poet, civil engineer, and city planner spoke about the importance of place addressing the questions:  Where am I from? Where do I belong? Who am I in this world? Not only were the well-crafted essays and poems  a joy to experience, but I was also able to meet the lovely Mr. Blanco. Even though I was at the very end of a very long signing line, he still took the time to address each of us personally and with intention.

I first heard Mr. Blanco read in Portland’s Merrill Auditorium soon after President Obama’s inauguration in January of 2013. I couldn’t believe an auditorium that seats 1900 was filled—for poetry! When he read “One Today” for us, I had an overwhelming feeling of joy that real change was on the horizon—that we were moving forward.

In Falmouth this week, I had a decidedly different feeling. How was it that in five short years we’d gone from a nation celebrating “all of us” to…this?

There is no poetry in the presidency now. There are no books, no decorum, no diplomacy. There are only bits and pieces of anger and outrage, racism and division. There are short memories and shorter-term fixes.

Every day brings a new scandal that causes us to forget and diminish the scandal that came moments before. And all of these scandals are screens to the real changes in our country and government: lifetime appointments of ultra-conservative judges, a new “Conscious and Religious Freedom” division in the U.S. Department Health and Human Services whose purpose is to deny abortions and transition surgeries to transgendered individuals if a health provider has a religious issue with the medical procedure, free speech and freedom of the press is constantly under attack, and Dreamers and children without healthcare are used as pawns in a political game of will-we-or-won’t-we-shut-down-the-government.

Tomorrow, I will be out in the January cold to march for the home about which Mr. Blanco writes in the final stanza of his poem. Join me and vote in 2018 for the home you imagine.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together.

-Richard Blanco


You can check-out the picture book One Today at your local library or purchase/order it at your local independent bookstore.



2017 Wrap-up

I know I’m not the only one who felt as if each day seemed like a year in 2017. This year was the first time I thought a 24 news cycle might be necessary. It isn’t. Constant pinging from my phone made me crazy more than once a million times this year. (Cue notification settings.) I attended the Women’s March in January and wrote constantly to my elected officials thanks to ResistBot. I had many driveway moments after NPR stories where I’d whip out my phone and text a fax to Senators King and Collins.

The political was personal this year, and I had to remind myself more than once that creating art and writing is a form of resistance. When I couldn’t write, I turned to TV.

My ability to binge on story through streaming was both a help and hindrance. I started the year with the newest season of Orange is the New Black; I enjoyed the ongoing telenovela Jane the Virgin; I was rooting for Ayana Ife in the most recent season of Project Runway; I loved  Younger, a show about a 40-year old who gets an assistant’s position in publishing by lying about her age (ahem, is that how I do it?); and I got freaked out by one of my favorite books turned television show, The Handmaid’s Tale. I learn a lot about storytelling and what keeps people watching from episode to episode. Binging multiple seasons allows me to see how the arcs are similar from one season to the next. Okay, maybe that’s all justification but it’s also fun.

I set up my 2017 Goodreads Challenge to read 52 books this year and ended up with 36. I’m not too upset by that. I read more books for adults this year and more with heavy subjects and hefty word counts ie: Outlander, Swing Time, Underground Railroad, and The Librarian of Auschwitz.  I also didn’t use Goodreads to list the books that I read to research my current WIP.

My favorite YA books of the year featured strong girls who didn’t start off knowing they were so kick ass: Gillian French’s, The Door to January (Yes, this is from the publisher I work for, and I really loved it); and Jennifer Mathieu’s, Moxie.

I upped my freelance magazine writing this year. You can read my work in Maine Women Magazine and Art New England.

I signed with a new agent early in the year and delivered a new middle grade manuscript to her. While I wait to hear from editors on that submission, I’m busy writing a YA historical time travel that I started during NaNoWriMo. I got the first 13,500 words done in November and I’m at 18,910 today.

Personally, I sent one son off to his first-choice college this fall and helped the other through his college apps. We found out in mid-December that he got into his first choice early action. It is beyond beautiful that my boys are turning into such amazing young men. It is the one thing that fills me with hope. As part of the sandwich generation, I’ve also traveled to be with my parents. Aging sucks (in case you didn’t know) and can be filled with infirmity that begets pain and depression—but that’s another post.

Well! After looking back at my year I feel like the protagonists in my favorite YAs—a strong girl who didn’t start off knowing she was so kick ass. Bring it on 2018.



Time Travel Thoughts

I’m currently in the Research & Development phase of my Work In Progress which reminds me of the character Conrad (Jason Bateman) in the movie The Longest Week:

Narrator: …At present, he was working on his magnum opus – a great New York novel in the tradition of Fitzgerald and Edith Wharton. It was widely speculated as to where he was in the process of writing it. When asked, he would simply reply…

Conrad Valmont: I’m in the gathering stages.

Narrator: Conrad had been in the “gathering stages”for several years now.

This seed has been around for several years as well, but for various reasons the time has come to push it to the front of the idea list. The idea includes a time travel/historical element and since that has been done before it is hard to make it not derivative. These concerns keep putting me off, and yet, I keep coming back to the drawing board.

The actual act of time travel requires many world building solutions to everyday questions: what’s so special about this character that s/t/he/y gets to travel through time, what is the time travelers purpose when s/t/he/y is in another time, why time travel and not just historical fiction, how does the time travel work, does it work only to a single specific time/multiple times/past & future, can the traveler go back & forth or forward & back at will, can the traveler determine the time before s/t/he/y go, how does the main character return? (I’ve been reading and watching a lot of time travel movies/shows.)

Here’s a quick list (to organize my thoughts) of how time travel tends to work in fiction.


  • Time Machine or device (Back to the Future, Bill & Ted, Annum Guard Series (YA), Into the Dim (YA series). This allows the character to go to different pre-set times/worlds unless something happens to the device. TARDIS.)
  • Geometric (tesseract ala A Wrinkle in Time)
  • Wormhole
  • Tachyon
  • Rip in universe
  • Hypnosis
  • Time ray (comics often villain has this)
  • Remote Control
  • Radiation
  • Alien assistance
  • Cryogenics
  • Gaseous fog
  • Weather or Earth event
  • Interaction with Future Traveler who has superior technology

Endowed Magical Object/Person:

  • Book (Magic Tree House series: Morgan Le Fay is “Time Librarian.” Inkheart series. Really world traveling but still.)
  • Fairies, Witches, Ghosts (Christmas Carol)
  • Guardian Angel (It’s a Wonderful Life)
  • Artifact in pieces (The Story of the Amulet)
  • Artifact (Time-Turner in Prisoner of Azkaban)
  • Artifact + magical words
  • TARDIS (Fits here as well because it looks like a regular police box. Note: I’m not a Dr. Who super-fan so don’t skewer me.)

Magical Portal:

  • Fog (The Fog of Forgetting)
  • Wardrobe (Narnia series)
  • Door (The Devil’s Arithmetic)
  • Gate
  • Large historical structure ie: Standing Stones (Outlander)


  • Genetic issue (Time Traveler’s Wife)
  • Heart attack
  • Blow to the head (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court)


  • Sleep (Rip Van Winkle)
  • Fainting (Peggy Sue Got Married)
  • Random flash of light, etc.

This list is not at all exhaustive and I’d love for others to chime in (in the comments) with their own thoughts and examples.

Book Review: The Librarian of Auschwitz

I received this ARC through a MacMillan/Shelf Awareness giveaway. The book is scheduled for an October 10th launch!


The Librarian of Auschwitz is marketed as a novel but it reads as creative nonfiction in the journalistic style of Susan Orlean. Author Antonio Iturbe’s interviews with the real Dita Kraus and information from the interviews with Rudolph Rosenberg make the novel more true than not. Anne Frank and her sister show up in the book as well. The narrative quality of the writing makes it a little difficult to ascertain what portions of the book are fictitious (but we can assume that specific conversations, some scenes, character actions and reactions have been embellished for the story). I would have liked an author’s note that makes clear to teen readers what is true and what is not.

The book was originally written in Spanish and is translated by Lilit Thwaites.

The specifics of the Holocaust are horrendously and horrifically true, yet teenager Dita’s amazing story as protectorate of books for the children of the “family camp” school was new to me. Her strength and the strength of those around her in the face of their inhumane treatment is inspiring and humbling. Dita, the other children, and their teachers find refuge in the stories and facts from the eight illicit books they have and hide. It is this refuge, that allows Dita to hold on to her own humanity and to stand up for others. The novel is truly an ode to the power of books. If you liked “The Book Thief,” “The Librarian of Auschwitz” will keep you up all night reading.

I read a lot of YA and children’s Holocaust literature in my late 20s but haven’t been able to stomach it until recently. Perhaps my renewed interest comes from our current xenophobic and racist policies, the rise of authoritarian governments, the lack of concern from our young people regarding “democratic legitimacy,” or the Syrian atrocities and others going on right under our noses that make the cry “Never Again” a fallacy. Nevertheless, I am interested now. Here are some excellent pairings to go with The Librarian of Auschwitz. (There are many, many more.)

From those who were there or had family members there:
Night, Elie Wiesel
The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
Maus,(1 & 2) Art Spiegelman
I never saw another butterfly, poetry from the children of Terezin edited by Hana Volavková

The Devil’s Arithmetic, Jane Yolen
Briar Rose, Jane Yolen
The Book Thief, Marcus Zuzak
Paper Hearts, Meg Wiviott
Milkweed, Jerry Spinelli

Younger children:
Number the Stars, Lois Lowry
Benno and the Night of Broken Glass, Meg Wiviott
The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark, Carmen Agra Deedy

Henry Holt/MacMillan has a  The Librarian of Auschwitz teacher’s guide.

Let’s Stand Together

“If you were on a airplane that was hijacked, and they said Jews go to left and everyone else go to the right, what would you do?”

I was at a non-denominational summer camp when this question came up. It was the summer of 1984; I was thirteen-years old, identified as Jewish, and there had been three hijackings in the news. My friends and I had just talked a Florida camper down from tears. She was sure that her plane would be diverted to Cuba.

These are the conversations you have when adults aren’t around. They are conversations that force you to face who you are and figure out what, if anything you would stand for. I remember my question to the questioner: “Wait. Do you know that the hijackers are against Jews?” The answer. “No. You don’t know if something is going to happen to the Jews or not.”  “Then no,” I answered. “I don’t want to die. I’d say I wasn’t Jewish.”

Because of how I choose to present my Judaism, it’s pretty easy to be overlooked as a just another white person who might raise a tree on December 25th (I did in 20 years of marriage to a non-Jew) and eat chocolate bunnies in the spring. (Who would pass up chocolate—not me.) But that ability to pass, often makes me privy to microaggressions and anti-semitism that sometimes happen within closed groups. To avoid that, I often declare myself as Jewish early in new work relationships. I’m no shrinking violet and it’s my moral imperative to not only speak up for all underrepresented people in negative situations but also to advocate positively for diversity and equality.

The growing anti-semitism in our country goes hand in hand with other messages of hate and othering against: Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ people, and all brown and black people. The recent comments (from those who sit in the whitest White House in recent history) about Emma Lazarus’s poem on the Statue of Liberty and our President’s on-going reaction to the racist and anti-Semitic events of Charlottesville  bring me to tears. There is no doubt that KKK and neo-Nazi members, and others who label themselves as white supremacists are emboldened by the friend they have in President Trump. I am equally aghast whenever I see Jewish organizations supporting this president.

What does one do when it looks as if our entire country has stepped into a time machine that takes us back to (reveals that we never left) an amorphous period between 1890 and 1969?

I recently found this New York Times Article, “Revocation of Grants to Help Fight Hate Under New Scrutiny After Charlottesville.” In summary, President Obama earmarked $400,000 to the organization “Life after Hate” to help members of hate groups out of extremism. When President Trump took office, he rescinded those grants. I’ve donated to the organization in the hopes that, as President Obama Tweeted:

In addition to my donation, I will continue to shut up and listen to those who face bigots daily simply because of the color of their skin. I will stand up, speak out for, and ask difficult questions about equality, diversity, and peace in my art, writing, personal, and professional life. I will suggest wonderful books to children and families that provide empathy and education. And if, G-d forbid, I am put in a situation where I have to declare my identity and face possible harm, I hope we will all stand together on the same side of that plane as human beings.

A Reading Rumpus

It’s been a reading rumpus here.

The other day I spent a good long time at my local AMAZING library (Curtis Memorial Library) with our incredible Youth Services Librarians and my Goodreads TBR list. Of course my eyes are way bigger than my metaphorical reading stomach can handle. The mathematical equation of my relationship with library books looks like this:

Check out time allowed – my reading speed = not enough time for everything I took.

Sometimes that doesn’t matter because truthfully, there’s nothing like the feeling of walking out of the library with a massive pile of books and more on the way from Interlibrary Loan (A Psalm for Lost Girls by Katie Bayerl).

After the library, I finally (how did it get to be August) excavated my patio chaise lounge from the back of the garage (still haven’t gotten to my bike *covers head in shame*), dusted off the cobwebs, and set it in the Maine sunshine to read.

The picture book haul was excellent. For me, Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin (Random House Kids) was a delight. It is wordless and uses sequential art and framing as in a graphic novel. Reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz, the blue-grey monochromatic palette gives way to full color as the main characters travel from the real to the fantasy world through an topiary archway.  I was “reading” the book to my man-children and they were frustrated with my narration of the silent story. (Mom. We can see what’s happening.) Perhaps the book is best for consuming on one’s own or allowing the child to tell you what is happening.

My review of Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes on Goodreads. More to come. I will renew books if necessary by golly.

by Anna E. Jordan

Consuming story
The pile never shrinks
More hours in the day please