One of us lives on the east coast. One of us lives on the west.

One of us lives in a rural community. One of us lives in a city.

Both of us wander. Both of us witness. Both of us write.

This is a record of what we find.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Eunoia—The Landscape of Oulipo

Eunoia (“beautiful thinking”) is the shortest word in English to contain all five vowels. (It’s also a wonderful collection of poems by poet Christian Bök) 
I’ve been a fan of writing games/word games for quite a while. I find them quite useful for not only filling a page when I don’t know what to write yet feel like I should be writing, but also useful for generating new ideas and for playing around with voice and form. ‘Play’ is the key word here and we all know that play and creativity go hand in hand. 
Some years ago, writer/teacher extraordinaire, Tim Wynne-Jones, gave me a list of “Games to Play While You Wait For an Idea” which I’ve turned to from time to time both as a writer and a teacher. Basically, they’re writing constraints—rules to follow that limit choices and in doing so, create a unique form.

Sort of like Bonsai. 

I just learned (from another writer/teacher extraordinaire, Barbara Henning) that there is a whole movement with a name that goes along with these constraints.


It’s French, pronounced ‘ulipo’ and is short for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle; or "workshop of potential literature" and is defined by the group as "the seeking of new structures and patterns which may be used by writers in any way they enjoy." Founded in 1960 (seems like yesterday!) by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais, it’s a loose gathering of mostly French-speaking writers and mathematicians who use writing constraints to trigger ideas and inspiration and to create new work.

While there are many, one interesting and notable example of Oulipian writing is Raymond Queneau’s Exercices de Style, the retelling 99 times (!!!) of the same episode where a man witnesses a disagreement on a bus trip, with each account unique in tone and style.

Here are some other examples of Oulipian constraints:

S+7, (sometimes called N+7): Replace every noun in a text with the seventh noun after it in a dictionary.

Snowball: a poem in which each line is a single word, and each successive word is one letter longer.

Lipogram: Writing that excludes one or more letters. The previous sentence is a lipogram in B, F, H, J, K, Q, V, Y, and Z (it does not contain any of those letters).

Palindromes: Sonnets and other poems constructed using palindromic techniques. (In case you’re wondering, a palindrome is a word, line, verse, number, sentence, etc., reading the same backward as forward, as Madam, I'm Adam or Poor Dan is in a droop.

Univocalism: a poem using only one vowel, although the vowel may be used in any of its aural forms. For example, "born" and "cot" could both be used in a univocalism, but "sue" and "beau" could not.

Using Oulipian ideas, writers and poets without a current idea can explore these and other constraints like perverbs, antonymic translations, homophonic translations, spoonerisms, centos, heterograms, pangrams, and a myriad of other forms instead of staring at a blank page.

There’s also something that happens when you focus your conscious mind on form: your unconscious mind—the place where all the best inspiration and creativity comes from—is free to do its thing. While you struggle to make sentences out of words that only contain the vowel “a”, your muse tiptoes in and goes to work. If you don’t believe me, give it a try! 

Approaching the writing process in a different way, searching for fresh forms can only enrich the landscape of our writing. And even lead us into the land of Eunoia. Once you’re there, you might never want to come back.

Take Good Care,

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour --- Tam

It is my turn on the Writing Process Blog Tour!  Deep thanks go to Kelly Bennett for asking me to participate. Kelly's answers to these questions are on her blog—be sure to check them out!  And here are mine…

What am I currently working on?

I am in the process of revising a middle grade novel titled Marble Boys, a story about two ten year old boys who have experienced tragedy in their respective lives—one in New Orleans and one in rural Vermont—and how they end up becoming friends and helping each other heal.  This book was just bought by Schwartz and Wade and will be published in August 2015.

I am also working on two picture books. One is about to go out on submission and I am revising the other one.  I like having both novels and picture books in process—I do well moving from one to the other.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Hmmm…I'm not sure how my work differs from others in their genres, but I can tell you that no matter what I am working on—picture books or middle grade or essays, even—I am exploring connections: the ways people connect (especially when they don't think they do), the ways they connect to the landscape, the ways they connect to their own selves.  It is true that most (maybe all) of my work has a touch of magic realism in it too.  My work is character-driven, contemporary, and full of hope.  And, finally, I am most compelled by multiple points of view (see my love of connection above) and often write from the hearts and heads of a few characters.

Why do I write what I write?

I love middle grade novels and picture books.  I just love them.  That middle grade time of life is so full of transparency it makes my heart ache.  With sadness sometimes but, most often, with joy.  Watching ten, eleven and twelve year old kids find themselves is a privilege—and getting to write about them is too.  I suppose I love the picture book crowd for the same reasons, actually—honesty and emotion—but also because they just feel like they own the stories that they read, they truly feel like they are in them, and they are! 

I write what I write because I believe in those kids.  I write what I write because I want to connect with those kids.  I write what I write because creating those stories makes me infinitely happy.

How does my individual writing process work?

Man oh man…this has changed over the years.  For a while I wrote painstakingly slowly, writing my stories in order—beginning middle and end—stopping and waiting when I would get stuck, and then starting again.  And then jumping into a revision and writing and imagining it and writing it all at the same time.  I have evolved from that process though. (Which is not to say that it is a bad process, but it doesn't work so well for me anymore.)  Now I write whatever scenes inspire me, in any order.  Often that is still page 1 followed by page 2, chapter 3 followed by chapter 4—but not always.  If I get a burning idea for the climax, I will write it.  If I know the ending, I will write it.  Then once I have a rough draft, I will do some outlining and character development.  I will try to take a break from the story too at this point.  (And work on a picture book or two!  Those are shorter processes, of course.  In terms of getting the story told, not in terms of getting the story right!)  I just learned a great exercise, which consists of telling my story to someone who doesn't know it well, and then listening to that person's reactions, confusions, ideas and questions.  I have also just learned how to plan my revision before diving into it. 

Let's see.  I work best in the morning.  I work best at On The Rise Bakery, my local restaurant/community center at the end of my block—preferably with a mocha latte on the table!

Truth be told though, I am still learning about my process.  So stay tuned!

And who’s next? 

I’m tagging the amazing Debbie Gonzalez AND the incredible Nan Marino! 

They will be blogging on May 26. Don't miss them!

Debbie's been a classroom teacher, a school administrator, an educational consultant, a curriculum designer, a former adjunct professor, a creative writing workshop instructor, and once taught PBS's Barney kids in a one-room off-set Montessori classroom. She earned  her MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Art in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Deb currently works on about a zillion free-lance projects and is a proud contributor of ReaderKidZ, a website committed to fostering a love of reading for kids ages K-5. Debbie lives in magical Ann Arbor, Michigan with her husband John and Tripod, her three-legged chocolate lab.

Nan Marino is a middle grade book author and young adult librarian. She lives in the  Pinelands of New Jersey with her husband and a large goofy dog.  Her most recent book Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace was named a 2103 NPR Best Book of the Year.

In the meantime, while you wait for Deb and Nan's posts, you can read other posts on this writing process blog tour at:

Thank you!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour!

This writing process blog tour is spreading through and connecting our writing community like colorful, branching lines on a road map! Tam was just tagged by Kelly Bennett and will be posting next week. I was tagged a week and a half ago by my author friend, the lovely Frances Lee Hall. You can read her fascinating answers to the blog tour questions HERE

So, the first blog tour question is:
What am I currently working on? I am just finishing up a deepening revision of a historical YA adventure romance, THE LIES AND ILLUSIONS OF LUCY SPARROW. Set in San Francisco in 1876 on San Francisco's notorious Barbary Coast, it’s a story about a proper young lady named Lucy who arrives in San Francisco on her own, hoping to find her twin brother, but when everything goes terribly wrong she does the only thing she can to survive—dress as a boy and join a girl gang of ex-prostitutes who dress as boys and pick-pockets for a living. Of course, there are many complications including a fun mistaken-identity-romance triangle that nods at Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
There are no other YA stories set in San Francisco in the late 1800’s (that I know of) and it was such an amazing time and place! In 1876, the young city was bursting with new wealth from the influx of gold and silver and was cultured, glamorous, wild and full of extraordinary characters, many who have woven their way into the fabric of Lucy’s story including Jeanne Bonnet, Emperor Norton, Miss Piggott and Herrmann The Great. San Francisco’s notorious Barbary Coast was the city’s criminal district, home to hoodlums, depraved denizens and vicious criminals, earning its well- deserved reputation for vice and iniquity. I bet you didn’t know that he word ‘hoodlum’ was coined on the Barbary Coast in the late 1860’s and popularized in the 1870’s, as was the word ‘shanghaied’ which referred to the common practice of drugging and kidnapping unsuspecting young men into forced labor on ships bound for Shanghai. Of course, shanghaiing hoodlums make their way into Lucy’s story as well!

Why do I write what I write?
I write the stories I long to read. I always start with a burst of “what-if” frenzied creative energy where ideas are flying at me from all directions. Lucy Sparrow’s story came to me a few years ago when my husband David, an avid non-fiction reader, was reading about San Francisco’s history and the Barbary Coast in particular. He kept reading aloud these outrageous, hair-raising accounts of what was going on and at one point, I started thinking, jeez, what would happen if a young, innocent teen girl landed here on her own? How would she survive? And then Lucy walked into my consciousness and I had to write her story to find out what happened to her.

How does my individual writing process work?
Whether I’m writing contemporary YA, fantasy or historical fiction, the beginning is a flurry of ideas, with a setting, a character and a circumstance. I try to get down all the possibilities, all the ideas, then start connecting the ones that have the potential to be causally linked scenes. At the same time, I start developing my character and she (so far my MC has always been a girl) usually invites other characters that also get profiles. Then I take a big (BIG) piece of paper and write down all the possibly connecting scenes with the characters surrounding them. From there, I start to put together what might be vaguely (very vaguely) called a plot. I’m a very visual person, so I need lots of visual aids—I draw maps, cast my characters and print out their photos, find pictures in books, old albums, online and in magazines to cut out use as visual references. And then I start writing. The story never ends up following my initial pretend plot, but thinking I might have a story with a real plot gives me the false security to keep going and allows all the wonderful surprises that happen along the way to happen.

I’m not one of those writers who can just whip out a shitty first draft. I labor over words, sentences, passages. It’s not very efficient, but I can’t get up until the writing feels right. I do allow myself to write some bad dialogue, knowing that it will come out better in later drafts once I know more about my characters. The same for getting the emotion just right on the page. That comes with time over many, many drafts.

So who’s next? I’m tagging super blogger and author Debbi Michiko Florence! She’ll be blogging at DEBtastic Reads about her writing process on June 3rd  

Debbi is the author of two nonfiction children’s books, Japan: A Kaleidoscope Kids Book and China: A Kaleidoscope Kids Book (Williamson Books), and also writes children’s fiction. She interviews authors and shares book buzz on her blog DEBtastic Reads! A native Californian, she has lived and traveled all over the world. She currently lives in coastal CT with her husband, rat terrier, and two ducks.

Also, be sure to watch for Tam's writing process post here next week!

In the meantime, while you wait for Tam and Debbi’s post, you can read other posts on this writing process blog tour at:

ALSO, we have a winner from last week's interview/book give-away with Elizabeth O. Dulemba talking about her new novel A BIRD ON WATER STREET. Drum roll please...

Jen Wolfe Kam is our winner again!!! Congratulations Jen!!!

Take Good Care,


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Interview with Elizabeth O. Dulemba about her new novel A BIRD ON WATER STREET

I am just thrilled to welcome Elizabeth O. Dulemba here today!  Her wonderful new book, A Bird on Water Street, came out on May 7:  

When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.

It is a Southern Independent Booksellers Association (SIBA) OKRA Pick, the 2014 National Book Festival Featured Title for Georgia, and a GOLD Mom's Choice Award Winner!

Tam: Hi Elizabeth!  To jump right in, it is so clear that you did tremendous research, Elizabeth, about landscape for A Bird on Water Street.  From the dry, dusty opening to the small signs of green – the weeds and tadpoles and garden…your sensory details are amazing.  For instance, it was easy to smell the dirt and feel it in my own lungs as I read. How did you gather and then articulate the details of this landscape?

Elizabeth: Oh Tamara, I’m so glad you think so! What a wonderful compliment. I did do a ton of research for A Bird on Water Street, and we visited some of the areas that hadn’t yet been revegetated. But I think it also might have been a combination of this area being part of my awareness for most of my adult life combined with being an outdoorsy person and an artist - I’m a naturally observant person when my head isn’t in the clouds.

Tam: What is your personal relationship to the Red Hills?  (You live there right?!!)

Elizabeth: I used to drive by the miners on strike on my way to go camping, back in the early 90s. At the time, I didn’t understand what the strike was all about, but I could see the bare vista. We called it the “rape of the land.” Then in 2001 my husband and I got married and combined our lives by jumping a bit off grid to a log cabin nearby. By then, the area had mostly been revegetated. It took trekking down windy dirt roads to see the remains of what it had looked like back in the copper mining days.

But what really got me tied into the area was when we first moved there and were trying to make friends. We were invited to a town meeting between the (closed) company and the copper miners. The company wanted to open a scenic railway going north from town around an interesting and rare railway switch. They wanted to pay for it by reopening the mine and sending out one shipment of sulfuric acid (a byproduct of copper mining) a week. Miners stood up one by one, bent and thick and strong, wearing denim and plaid flannel. They listed all the loved ones they’d lost to cancers, all thought to be caused by the mines. They made thinly veiled threats that if the company moved forward with their plans, they would sabotage the tracks. That was the moment the muse took hold of me and demanded I write the story.

Tam: Oh wow.  I can see why—

Elizabeth: We’ve since moved away, down to Atlanta, but we still visit the area and the friends we made there are friends for life. So we still feel very connected.

Tam: For me, landscape is almost always a character.  What do you think of that idea?

Elizabeth: Oh yes! The landscape is most definitely a character in A Bird on Water Street! Just as Jack touches a tree and relates it to a holy experience (imagine having no trees in your life), I think the land has a voice as well.

Tam: Do you think most people feel that?

Elizabeth: Children seem especially plugged into it. I used to be. It fades as we grow, I think (or it did for me, at any rate), but I keep trying to get it back. I think that’s why people do so much damage to the environment—they’re not listening or they simply can’t hear. If they could, I think they’d behave in a much more responsible way.

Tam: That is so eloquent and deeply true. 

So to continue along that train of thought, what do you think about the idea that landscape holds stories? The way a piece of land is, for instance, itself shaped over time and what that means for the people (characters) walking and breathing within it. Life happens over and over again on the same piece of land. Do those life stories get told?  Or are they felt? 

Elizabeth: I think you’re absolutely right. Some people would call the stories ghosts, or maybe left over energy, I don’t know. I’m truly not a new-ager, but I do think there’s something to all this. I’ve been to places on this planet that feel so familiar to me, like I’d been there before (Normandy, France and the Maasai Mara in Africa come to mind). And I’ve been to places that feel completely alien to me (the US Rocky Mountains). Whether that’s because of something already there, or something in me, I don’t know. But it feels too palpable to be disregarded.

Tam: In A Bird on Water Street, in particular, what does this idea mean when the land has, for the most part, been stripped and dug dry?

Elizabeth: Even when the land is damaged so severely, I think there’s an energy, a feeling to that as well. It’s probably simple biology - we probably feel life, even microscopic life, around us. Maybe we hear it on a sub-sonic level. And some part of us probably senses its lack as well. It feels eerie, creepy, wrong somehow.

Tam: Yes!

Elizabeth: Although there were folks who loved those Red Hills. Imagine no snakes, no poison ivy, no allergies, no mosquitos. I found it so interesting that some people actually resented the return of nature.

Tam: That is interesting!

But Jack is not one of those people, right?  He is just so desperate and excited about the possibility of nature returning.  What does landscape mean to him?

Elizabeth: Jack is a lot like me in his regard for nature. He feels it thrumming through him, he feels connected to it. For him, trees truly are holy, as is the diversity of life within nature.

Tam: Can you talk more about that? What landscape means to you?

Elizabeth: It’s why I garden (although my current yard is not so great for it and I have less and less time the more I write). I love to run my hands through rich earth and plant things—create life. I’ve often referred to myself as a kamikaze gardener or “She-ra of the Forest.” At the cabin I used to dig up Hemlock trees out of the woods and drag them to wherever I wanted them to be. (I’m not so good at respecting man-made property lines - it’s all Mother Earth to me.) The scene where Jack’s mom teaches him to jump on a spade was how I’ve always done it. There’s a lot of grunting and sweat. And sometimes a tree would really take and turn into a stunning showpiece. I loved it.

Tam: Finally, I am curious about your take on the relationship between landscape and home.  Jack's deep quest for a sense of home was so palpable, and the process of him coming to terms with his own definition of that, and his MAKING of that (his research and his garden, are two examples of that), were so moving.  Do you think landscape helps create home?  Do you believe our inner landscape and our outer (environmental) one must be in synch?

Elizabeth: Again, I am so flattered A Bird on Water Street touched you in this way! I do think our landscape can help create or define home. Pardon the pun, but it grounds us. I have iris bulbs that have followed me to three houses now.

Tam: I know just what you mean! I have irises and a few other plants from my mother's gardens; from my childhood home, and they are essential to my sense of place too.

Elizabeth: Yes! Every time I put mine in the ground, it connects me to where I’ve been and to where I am now. I treasure them. Establishing them establishes me and brings all those good memories forward to my present. I can’t imagine not having a garden in which to continue those threads in my life.

Such wonderful questions Tamara! Thank you for making me think about all this!

Tam: Oh Elizabeth! Thank you so much for coming over here to share your thoughts and your wonderful A Bird on Water Street.

Win a Free Book!

Elizabeth has generously offered to give away a copy of A Bird on Water Street to one lucky person who leaves a comment below.  Leave a comment!  Get yourself a chance to win this book!  I read it, and you don't want to miss it!  The deadline is May 13 at midnight EST. The winner will be drawn at random and announced here at Kissing The Earth on May 14th.

Elizabeth will be visiting Kirby Larson's blog next, on May 9.  Don't miss her! 

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Also!  The winner of last week's giveaway is Jen Kam!  Congratulations! You win Linden McNeilly's amazing Map Art Lab!

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 Elizabeth O. Dulemba is an award-winning children's book author/illustrator with two dozen titles to her credit. She gives back to the community that supports her as Illustrator Coordinator for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Southern Breeze region (Alabama, Georgia, Florida panhandle) and as a board member for the Georgia Center for the Book. She is a Visiting Associate Professor at Hollins University in the MFA in Children's Book Writing and Illustrating program. She also teaches writing and illustration at other venues and speaks regularly at schools, festivals, and events. Her latest picture book is LULA'S BREW (Xist Publishing) and her debut historical fiction mid-grade, A BIRD ON WATER STREET, will come out Spring 2014 (Little Pickle Press). Her "Coloring Page Tuesday" images (free to parents, teachers and librarians) garner around a million hits to her website annually with over 3,000 subscribers to her newsletter. Learn more about her at her website.