March Madness Poetry 2014 Gets Real. No Foolin’!

Perhaps you were one of the kind people who voted for me in the first round of the #MMPoetry 2014 competition. If so, you were one of a minority. The majority voted for Queen of Children’s Literature, Jane Yolen. Her humorous poem had to include the word svelte (Which I thought was Yiddish in derivation and so the bacon reference especially funny… actually the word has an Italian derivation.)

My word was bemoan. I always try to write two or more poems in the time we’re given (under 36 hours). Some of the drafted poems end up being very bad. For bemoan, I wrote three, two of them decent. Because it would be published on the first day of spring, I went with the more serious. Perhaps that was a mistake.

You can read both poems from the competition here.

A huge thank you to Ed Decaria for organizing and mediating the logistical beast that is the March Madness Poetry competition. He puts in a ton of time and energy all to fulfill the honorable mission of getting kids excited about poetry.

Here for your viewing pleasure are all three of the poems I wrote in advance of the competition.  These are the first drafts. Feel free to make comments below and while you’re feeling critical, head over to the Think Kid Think website to judge the #MMPoetry 2014′s “Elite Eight”!

The Sub

John plays music while we work
he lets me change my seat.
His stories make us gasp and cringe
we email, chat, and tweet.

We sang Bohemian Rhapsody
he’s epitome of cool,
We all bemoan tomorrow
when Miss Phlegm returns to school.

Poet’s Note: The concern here was, would people know that the named John was the sub in question.

First Day of Spring (this poem appeared in the competition.)

I never though the day would come
when I’d bemoan the snow.
Instead, my nose against the glass
I’d watch the white stuff grow.

But now I crave some color
some warmth, and sun, and rain.
The calendar says springtime
but the snow has come again.

Poet’s Note: Here I was concerned that the poem was too quiet and serious for my audience but I liked the rhythm and the wording. In the comments of the competition, many people connected to the imagery in the line “nose against the glass” which made me happy.

Brotherly Love (a limerick)

There once was a boy who played flute
His brother preferred drums and lute
He’d often bemoan
The flute’s squeaky tone
So he rendered the instrument mute.

Poet’s Note: Because there were two boys, the second he is difficult to understand. Plus, I didn’t have enough lines or syllables to be explicit about what happened to the poor flute.

March Round-Up: Part Three, VCFA Novel Retreat

This past weekend was wonderfully relaxing. I played catch with my kids, went to see Divergent, enjoyed the spring ritual of going to Fat Boys drive in and binge watched How I Met Your Mother. But March was full of travel for me. Check out the March Round-Ups Part One:The Brunswick Inn  and Part Two:Brooklyn & NYC or just read on to hear about Part Three: VCFA Novel Retreat.

This was the second year that I’ve driven up to Montpelier in March to meet with writers, my people, in the safe and supportive writing community that is Vermont College of Fine Arts (FMI: Writing Novels for Young People Retreat-VCFA). Last year I signed up for the critique track which allowed me to get feedback from other authors, and industry professionals about my work in progress. This year, I chose the writing track which gave me time to write and revise.

Vermont Alum at the Novel Writing Retreat

No matter what track one chooses, all participants enjoy lectures from the guests. This year, those guests were author Jennifer Richard Jacobson, author Rachel Wilson, and editor Martha Mahalick from Greenwillow Books. Rachel kicked off the weekend with a wonderful theater-based workshop on allowing yourself to play. I’ve already gotten her permission to borrow some of the great theater games for my “Active Mind, Active Body,” presentation at NESCBWI in May. Jennifer took a wide look at emotion on the page and I ended up with pages of notes. Martha discussed revision, the problems that she sees most often, and ideas about how to fix them. She let us have an inside view to the relationship between an editor and her authors. All the presentations were inspiring!

The change of place, the helpful presentations, the wonderful company all allowed me to write again after an stress-induced hiatus. I completed a the first draft of my WIP, printed it out, and started my read through. The other wonderful thing about the weekend is the public reading. One night, we are all welcomed to take the floor and read 2 pages from our manuscripts. I love reading my work (probably because reading was a part of the VCFA curriculum when I was there). However, I hadn’t read from the work before and found myself nervous and a little breathless. Still, it was well received and it’s always good to take advantage of a chance to read aloud. Especially in such a supportive environment.

VCFA Novel Retreat Reading Night 2014

This week, my goal is to complete my first read through and to write myself an editorial letter. This is one of my favorite revision techniques. I get to pull back from being an author and just attack the manuscript. Sure, I’m still personally involved, but I try to give the story some tough love. When I read the editorial letter in a week or so, I’ll have the hard job of hating my editor (me) and trying to figure out how to resolve the problems in the manuscript. (A little schizophrenic I know, but it works for me.)



I made a chart with the first sentences of each of my chapters yesterday. That’s right folks, I am revising again. My reading at the PEN New England award ceremony is 12 days (and a wake-up) away and then… THEN!… my YA manuscript will be submitted to publishers as the award winner. 

The upcoming award triggers my Impostor Syndrome (See a great blog post about this at PubCrawl.) but the love from participants at his weekend’s New England SCBWI conference put those fears to rest. Still, I know that I’ve been working a lot on those first 20 pages one sends with their query and not at all on the other 200 pages. I wanted to do a polish on the entire manuscript.

One of the comments I had from an agent who declined was that the writing was too “diaristic.” The comment has been niggling at me, as comments that ring true do, but I hadn’t been able to pinpoint the problem. Time away from the story, and inspiration from the conference have allowed me to see it fresh this week– thus the chart.

My chart revealed many things. I have three chapters where my character “woke up”, many that include time or setting markers, and a significant number that try to catch the reader up on what happened just before the chapter starts (backstory). Diaristic.

Just as cartoon character runs in place before they shoot forward, I’ve written these throw away sentences to tell the reader what is going on.

(I wanted to put a video here but all I could find was this sound clip. Still funny.)


What would be more effective? Sentences with emotional resonance that grab the reader so that when they finish the previous chapter, and are about to go to sleep, they peek at the next chapter, read the sentence and say to themselves, “Just one more.”

In a future post, I’ll show you all the spreadsheet with the old and new first chapter sentences. For now, I #amrevising.

Five on Friday and a Poem

1. The SCBWI Conference was a great break from the studio. I’m back, and working with the ideas from the Revision Workshop with Cheryl Klein. I’d like to report that I’m moving forward at great speeds but that would be a lie. I spent the week writing a letter to myself, processing the good, the bad, and the ugly about the manuscript. I also wrote the flap copy and tried the “summarize your novel in one sentence exercise.” Perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. I urge my own students to spend time on prewriting to make the writing easier– this is all necessary pre-revision work that will save me time later on.

2. I’d be less hard on myself if I wasn’t aware of all the time I “wasted” this week. As you can see, I’ve moved my blog to in part because of the page building aspect of the site. My website was terribly outdated and I appreciate the ease with which I can change things in WordPress. However, like everything, there is a learning curve (with all of its fumbling, backtracking, exploring, searching) takes time away from writing. Also, most of it goes on when my children are asleep which means I am up too late and tired through the day. This too, slows production and puts me on shaky emotional ground. Yesterday, just before I had to pick up a kiddo  I thought I had lost all my work. I rolled up to the school 15 minutes late, exhausted, and weepy. “What am I doing?” I asked my very wise yet young son. “This stupid website is supposed to advertise my writing. If I’m not a writer, what’s the point?!” He patted my shoulder, “Shhh. You are a great writer. You just need a nap.”

3. My efforts with two other members of the Brunswick community to make April 26th Poem in Your Pocket Day is moving along nicely. We have a variety of events that are being planned including a community poetry open mic night, and a presentation by Wesley McNair our Maine Poet Laureate. We are applying for grants to cover the cost of flyers, school visits/programs, and stickers. On April 26th people are encouraged to wear the sticker and carry a Poem in their Pocket to read to others. Please visit our newly minted Facebook page and “like” us.

4. The deployment is officially one month down. I’m humbly accepting Sunday dinner invitations for my family.

5. The triathlon season is just around the corner. First tri, April 15th. Writing down publicly makes it much more real and imminent. Happily, I signed up for a spinning class that fits my schedule perfectly. The teacher said she’d also be teaching a tri prep class on Mondays and Fridays. While I could train on my own, I know that I’ll be much more consistant if I join the class.

A Prayer
by Anna Boll

Oh, Dear Tech Gods,
let technology help me today.
Allow me to be more productive,
not less.
Watch over my computer
do not let it crash.
Keep my documents safe.
May my website, web
my downloads, load
my plugins, plug
my widgets, widge.
As I tweet
and blog
and update
and friend,
grow my platform.
Protect me from hackers
so I may keep my identity
to procrastinate another day.

Busy Writer/Mom/Triathlete Links on Life

Oh goodness. It has been over a month, a month? since I’ve posted and I’m so sorry. That means I’ve done NO book review Wednesdays for a month. Ack. (And I thought those would keep me blogging.) March has been a month of deadlines and to excuse my absence I quickly fill you in on some of the deadlines that I’ve been meeting and working towards. If you follow me on Facebook, you’ve probably see a lot of this already so my apologies.

March 1: Final illustrations for the book Fufu and Fresh Strawberries You can see some of those illustrations here.
Forum assignment for my Picture Book Certification Semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA)

March 15: Final egg paintings for the Great Goose Egg Auction. You can see the eggs here.

March 17: My 2nd packet was due for VCFA

March 22: Forum assignment for my Picture Book Certification Semester at VCFA

March 23: I did my first multisport event. An indoor triathlon at the Naval Air Station Brunswick. The event was a 1000 meter row on an ergometer, a 5 mile bike on a stationary lifefitness cycle, and a 1.5 mile treadmill run. You can see pictures of me and Mike (the gentleman paired with me)  in the event and read more about it in the captions here. I used this indoor triathlon to train for an event that I am doing in May, The Tri for the Casco Bay Y. If you’d like to donate a small bit to the scholarship funds and to my team the MIghty Mamas, please take a look at our fund raising page where you can donate online. I’ll be swimming and cycling and my friend Rachel will tag off to do the 5K run.

This past week I’ve been revising and polishing the first 10 pages of my novel, working on the synopsis and query letter for the deadlines associated with the New England SCBWI spring conference critiques and quick queries. While the Friday and Saturday registration is full, there are still spots for Sunday so check it out.

I also just got back from the post office, where I was sending a picture book to for the April 1st scholarship deadline at VCFA and a trip to the library where I was stocking up with a new load of 25 picture books for VCFA Packet 3!

All of this with my husband out of state for the first three weeks of March and two kids who need me.

So you see, I’ve been an extremely busy Writer/Mom/Triathlete but we’ll see if April, with its extended sunshine hours, allows me to find more time to blog. Happy Passover to all who celebrate. Look for my Wednesday review of the book: The Matzoh That Papa Brought Home.

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The Mythology of Epiphanies

 I’m working on my final project for my drawing class. Last Tuesday we picked pieces of paper from two cups: a phrase and a word. I ended up with "The mythology of…" and "epiphanies." 

The funny thing is that this phrase is very meaningful to me.  and I have been corresponding about "doing the work" necessary to create a book that is honest, and authentic from its dialogue to theme, to emotions. A work of fiction or art is never born fully formed as Athena from Zeus’s head. It is built little by little, year after year upon the backs of the previous drafts and thumbnails, research and revision. 

My journey to this realization has taken a while. I’m still thrilled when I learn a new trick of the trade, or an interesting bit of wisdom on revision but the fact is that nothing creative comes easy. Even for those who are wonderfully talented. 

I was unsure of the image I would create for this final project. I’ve been drafting thoughts and listing words that come to me. Birth of ideas, the story behind the story, tales of success, fish stories, tales, eureka, lightbulbs… Using words in the image seemed like a cop out, using a symbol or iconic image seemed too cliche’. Then I got to thinking of the work I’ve done. The images for portfolios that got ripped apart by well-meaning art directors. I decided to rip them apart myself.

I took out my old work and portfolios and started tearing. It felt great. I made piles of color and created a mosaic type, collage, background of blue gradient from all the skies I’ve tried to do in my paintings. Then I started to think of these as the scaffolding, the girders that allow me to climb higher in my understanding of illustration and design. I immediately thought of the photos by Hine in the ’30’s of the workers building the Empire State Building. 

Look at those amazing lines! What an epiphany! I immediately started sketching thumbnails. Tomorrow, I’ll draw on top of my mosaic sky to recreate an abstract version of the girders in the building. It is due on Wednesday. Hopefully I’ll have a picture to post by then. 

A Poetry Friday Post on Sunday

 I’m a little behind on my postings. I wanted to tell you all about my visit to Newport, RI last weekend and the amazing group of volunteers at the workshop committee meeting, how thoughtful and considerate everyone was. This is not that post. This post really should be on Friday (as in Poetry Friday) but I’m posting it now because I have time. 

A scene from my home on Thursday last:

E: Mommy. I was on the bus and I made a poem. 
Me: Do you remember it? I’d love to hear it. 
E: Uh-huh. Red, blue, yellow, green, my favorite colors, especially green. 
E: But green isn’t my favorite color.
Me: Right, I thought it was purple, has that changed?
E: No. 
Me: What do you want your reader to feel when they read or hear that poem.
E: I don’t know.
Me: I think you have a really good first draft. Sometimes, that’s the hardest part, getting past the white paper and writing down an idea. Remember when I came into your class we talked about creating a picture for the audience with words.
E: We used your toolbox.
Me: Right, metaphors and similes. But how do those colors make you feel. Close your eyes. What do you feel or see when I say red?
E: Hot. 
Me: What about blue?
E: (Closing eyes) Blue is like a cool breeze at the ocean.
Me: E. that’s beautiful, and it’s a simile. You’re using the tool box. 
E: (excited) I’m going to do it again, I’ll be back.

The new poem…by E.C. Boll, reprinted with permission.

blue like a cool breeze at the ocean
red on a hot summer day
yellow like a sandy park
green like morning dew
purple like the sky at sunset
the best of all

Edits we can believe in…

 I’m actually sharing this Obama video for a writer reason. About 2/3 of the way through, Senator Obama is sitting with the speech writer making edits. Before the camera goes into the room, we see a sign that says Edits Changes we can believe in. I thought you all would appreciate that. The family interactions are also so sweet.
Watch the video…

Almost two weeks?!

I’m shocked that it has been almost two weeks since my last posting. Shocked, but not surprised. My fingers have been tingling like crazy. Do you get that? That, oh-my-gosh-I-haven’t-been-writing feeling. So there it is. The admission. I haven’t been writing, when I was most charged up to do so. We have been on a long coastal journey which I will tell you more about in paragraph three, but it includes 1400 miles, a job interview, and matzah.

I have been drawing and revisioning my Roar, dummy…AGAIN.  Actually I got a great brainstorm while on my recent journey. Another secondary character, a mouse, who watches the action unfolding. I’m excited to finish this up and get it to my agent. Secret agent man has given me permission to put aside the Ballet project for a while.  He says that it is best not to put too much work into a non-fiction work lest it be changed by the publisher who is interested in the proposal and first chapter. Instead, Secret agent man has advised me to get to work on the novel that the editor at the conference wants to see. That is all good with me. The characters have been calling to me as I re-read Bird by Bird this week and I am eager to see what they have to say.

The journey started on Friday 18th when we drove from Maine to Pennsylvania to visit with my parents. We admired their forsythia bushes and awoke to lovely birdsong. On Saturday we had Passover Seder #1. It was very casual as we really made it our own, inviting comments and linking the traditional with current events and issues of the day. I love including everyone in the Seder, especially kids. I & E were great and had a lot of wise things to say. Passover Seder #2 was at my cousins’ home. Thanks Robin and Bob! A much bigger and more traditional event, it was great to see the whole fam damily.

Monday we drove to St. Mary’s county where Chris had an interview. Things went well and we are awaiting an offer from the company. Assuming this all goes well we will move from our wonderful home in Maine to a new adventure south of D.C. (Anne Marie are you out there?) I grew up in Northwest DC and I’m looking forward to being closer to my parents, cousins, sister and one of my brothers. It will be tough to leave our home that Chris built for us and our community of 14 years. However, we are planning on renting out our current home for a couple of years until things are clearer. The best thing about blogging is that I know that I will still be connected with all of my writer friends when and if we move. LiveJournal and writing are portable.

But wait, there’s more!