Introducing Writers at Work – Care and Feeding of Ideas (Part 1)

ANNOUNCEMENT: I’m delighted to tell you that Ken Slaserik, from Phoenix Arizona, is our August Hall of Fame Poet. Former winner, Mary Nida Smith, received the highest total but is not eligible to win again during this twelve month cycle. Two other former winners, Steven Withrow and Liz Korba, tied for third. Thanks to everyone who contributed to the fun this month and special congratulatons to Ken. I also want to thank Taylor McGowan for her steadfast efforts and good, strong writing each month.

BULLETIN: The word of the month for September is BOOK. Go!

BULLETIN: The winner of a free signed book by April Halprin Wayland is Taylor McGowan. Congratulations, Taylor, and thank you again, April!

August 31, 2010
Topic 1: Care and Feeding of Ideas
Response 1: Sandy


David and Sandy chat about writing

Today I’m introducing a new segment on the blog: WRITERS AT WORK. My longtime friend and colleague, Sandy Asher, and I are starting a conversation about our work – not the technique or marketing aspects, but the real day-by-day nuts and bolts of doing it. Nothing fancy or formal. Most writers receive questions so we decided to list some of the most popular ones and tackle them one by one.Some subjects may elicit more than one response. Sandy says something that makes me want to respond, which makes her want to add something, and so on. For some of the meatier topics, we may have to agree on when to quit and move on. As you can see, we’re nothing if not casual and flexible.

Once we get the kinks out, WRITERS AT WORK may appear on a regular basis. For now, all we know is that we want this to happen naturally. We want it to be fun for us. And we want the result to be helpful to others. To double our pleasure, Sandy plans to also post our WRITERS AT WORK on America Writes for Kids ( ).

So here is Sandy to lead off our first discussion for WRITERS AT WORK. The question is a broad one about ideas. Technically, it’s a family of questions. Does Sandy go to her desk every day expecting an idea to greet her there? What does Sandy do when she has a fresh idea to consider? Does she jump in and start writing? Mull it over for a time? In short, let’s talk about the general care and feeding of ideas. Sandy?

SANDY ASHER: I do mull over ideas, as long as I possibly can. I have two good reasons: (1) I’m lazy, and ideas aren’t hard work at all if you’re just thinking about them; and (2) the best ideas tend to grow and change and get even better during the mulling time, while the glow fades from the worst ideas and they reveal their inadequacies and slink away.

When everything is going just right for me, I have a lot of projects in various stages of development at once, and I’m working on one while mulling over another. Or more than one other. So it doesn’t matter if something mullable comes to me every day. I’m working on whatever’s most pressing at the moment and making notes — mentally and physically — on something else as the ideas present themselves. New ideas have a way of trying to push to the head of the line when I’m busy working on something else.

But everything doesn’t always go just right! As mentioned, I often mull something over only to discover it’s not worth pursuing. Sad to say, that realization has been known to hold off until I’ve written several drafts. And there are times when nothing is presenting itself at all. It was a great comfort to me to hear Richard Peck say that he has one idea at a time and, while writing his current book, is always quite sure he’ll never write another.

I don’t go to the desk hoping something will happen. Writing doesn’t always happen at the desk anyway. Typing happens at the desk. And when I go to the desk, it’s because I’ve got something planned to do there. That’s why when people ask me if I write every day or how many hours I write, I say “24/7.” They’re thinking hours spent at the keyboard; I’m thinking what goes into the work itself. My whole life! That’s where my ideas come from. It’s all I’ve got. It’s all grist for the mill.

How about you, David?

NOTE: I’ll do my best to answer the bell by next Tuesday but I’ll also provide a link back each time to the previous chat to help you keep up with the theme. Let us know what you think.


Family Voices

BULLETIN: Today is the last day to vote for the August Hall of Fame Poet!! If you haven’t done so yet, be sure to pick your choice and vote before 10:00 p.m. EST. Go to this link,, click in the circle by your choice, and click on vote at the bottom of the box. If you want to reread the poems, they’re listed below the ballot box.

I’m involved in a project to stimulate parents to read more often to their preschool children. We’re in the process of recording voices of area celebrity readers to create a library of good books read on a CD. When we’re finished, we’ll add the voices of parents to personalize each CD, then give it and a free book to the family. Here’s an article that appeared in Springfield News-Leader last week.

FAMILY VOICES, Connecting Generations with StoriesThis fall, several child advocates will launch a project called Family Voices: Connecting Generations with Stories. The goal is to help your children succeed in school. We’re going to do it by reading stories to them.

Sound radical? It is in many homes.

Only 54 percent of our nation’s children under age 5 are read to at home on a regular basis. That drops to 36 percent in families living at the poverty level; 31 percent when neither parent is a high school graduate.

That’s like withholding tools a child needs for a good life. Literature’s words through stories build a child’s language skills, and kids who are good with language are more likely to succeed in school. Poor readers at the end of first grade are likely to remain poor readers after fourth grade, and become prime candidates for dropping out of school.

Family Voices is an effort to make more parents aware of the positive long-term effects of reading daily to their preschool children. Beginning this fall with a trial effort at Boyd and McGregor elementary schools, project volunteers will record parents reading to their preschool children. Age-appropriate books will be selected by children’s librarians and provided at the recording session.

The parents’ voices will be preserved on a CD along with the voices of more than a dozen community leaders reading more stories. The result will be a treasury of more than one hour of stories for young children, read by adults who want kids to grow up loving books and literacy.

Each participating family will receive the CD that includes their own voices, and one free book for each child under age 5 in the family. Even when a parent is unavailable to read to a child, the CD will provide opportunities to listen to good stories read well, and help the child develop a love for books and the magic of words.

Family Voices is an independent committee of literacy advocates whose members represent Drury University, Springfield Public Schools, Springfield-Greene County Library District, Parents as Teachers, and community leaders. The project is sponsored by Drury University’s School of Education and Child Development and chaired by its poet laureate, David Harrison.

Let the voting begin

BULLETIN: Someone is about to win an autographed book by April Halprin Wayland. I’ll announce in the next day or two.

THANKS: To April Pulley Sayre for being my featured guest yesterday. Many people dropped by to enjoy her words and work. If you haven’t had time yet, you’re in for a treat. April, thanks again.

REMINDER: This month the voting process is shorter than usual. We have only three days to select our August Hall of Fame Poet — today, Sunday, and Monday. On Tuesday I’ll announce the winner and give you the word for September.

Below is a list of this month’s poems to refresh your memory. In cases where a poet posts more than one poem, I go with the first one unless instructed otherwise by the poet. We also had another fine poem by our lone young poet, Taylor McGowan. Her poem is posted below the adults’.

For Linda Casella

The day I failed my driver’s test
for backing a tire over the curb,
you sat in the back seat,
silent, a light purse on your lap,
behind the dour DMV man
busily signing his report
while my tousled teenage brain
began to imagine a car-less future—
not some magic kingdom of monorails
or a zeppelin city from comic books,
but me, alone, without a license,
feeling the forever shame of sixteen.
My mother, your sister, was home
with my brother and a daycare baby.
You’d offered to bring me,
let me drive your car, a compact,
patted my shoulder after it was done,
and said don’t worry, there’s always
next time, and you’d come along
again, if I wanted, for the ride.
I tried my best to explain it away
as nerves, a lack of practice time,
and you kept the radio on low
as you drove us back to my house.
Another day, twenty years on,
I stand outside Uncle Charlie’s
crocodile green convertible
watching you napping on
a neck-pillow, passenger side.
It’s my daughter’s birthday—
she’s three—and you won’t know me
when you open your eyes.
Remind me again how this goes:
your careless hope, your
kind and reassuring calm
no grinding failure can abrade.
— By Steven Withrow

For Lesley Ann

Squirrels play there, by the low
stone marker, where lie
Thomas and Constance Porter:
Died Together. 1793.
I dream they met each other
young, stayed poor, had nine
daughters, then a son who won
a medal in the War of 1812.
How they died, I do not know,
Tall Tom, dirt farmer,
with his once and only love,
but this is my dream, and their hands are clasped.
Did I hold you then?
Were you the stalwart mother
who mourned our first four darlings at their births?
And was it fever took us?
Did I ache for you,
those brute New England winters,
raw skin scraped off my knuckles with the cold,
when hard rime clothed my body?
Could it be our souls
metamorphose over time,
as mine-deep, pressure-heated protoliths,
anthracites from common coals?
When we, at this life’s finish,
tug loamy covers snugly overhead
and bury all that makes us
who we are, perhaps…
We’ll randomize our atoms
and rearrange each letter in our names
till masonries of longing
have etched us new lives.
Thomas and Constance Porter.
Died Together. 1793.
My dream, yours. Our hands are clasped.
Squirrels, still playing.
— Steven Withrow


Comfort me now I am lonely,
Humor me now I am old,
Promise me when I have only
Phantom memories not to scold.
Nod at me when I remember
Torrid lovers we once were:
Fire dwindling in the embers
I try desperately to stir.
Favor me with wine and gladness.
Pity not your fading mate.
Reckon how, despite the madness,
I so long confounded fate.
Spare me news of my condition.
After all, I’m getting on.
Lie beside me, dear physician—
Make sure that the curtain’s drawn.
— J. Patrick Lewis


The word love is confusing to me.
Is it just a word tossed around
to come and go, to be turned
off and on as hot and cold water.
When needed, is love expressed
the same way when God is needed.
The word love is often spoken softly
calling you closer with the promise
of paradise beyond dreams.
When love feels warm and fuzzy
it disappears like a ghostly emotion
fading in and out like shadows
on a cool foggy day.
— Mary Nida Smith©


Embers, ashes where’s the flame?
Two fireflies don’t feel the same.
A love that once was without doubt,
now it’s gone, the fire’s out.
Sizzlin’ fireworks there’s the flame.
Two fireflies don’t feel the same.
She feels a love with certainty
and hooks up with the bumble bee.
Where’s the fireworks and the flame?
Two fireflies don’t feel the same.
Then in his heart he feels a tug
and moves in with the ladybug!
— K. Thomas Slesarik


When I look into your eyes,
I feel secure in your embrace,
There is respect and grace.
No worries, only compassion
And a heart full of passion.
Words at times cannot express,
My feelings nor describe how.
No need to impress.
The key to my heart is opened now.
I have never been here before.
Yet it feels familiar, my home.
I recognize you…my Soul mate.
So deep inside my bones, this is my fate.
These feelings are genuine and strong,
Because this is where I belong.
— Lucia Renzo©


Take my dreams higher,
Live my life stronger.
I will open the door wider,
I will fill my heart with love.
Run a bit further,
Shout a bit louder,
Jump a little higher,
My heart is filled with joy.
Take a step further,
Move a little quicker.
Rejoice a little deeper,
Today my love is true.
Cry the tears of joy,
Laugh the laughter of truth.
Hold my head a little higher,
I finally have my love.
Spread my wings and fly,
I can touch the sky today.
Raise my hands much straighter,
I want the world to see.
Stand on the High Mountain and shout,
Let everyone know that it is real.
My love has come home to me,
There is no fear, doubt or staying awake at night.
— Silindile Ntuli (Souldose)


The challenge was to write a poem of love.
It didn’t seem too daunting, but it was.
How do you describe love without using
flowery words? I found it so confusing.
Don’t write about abstractions is the rule.
So how do you write of love when any fool
knows it is pure abstraction to the nth
degree? I quit. I do not have the strength
or will to muddle on with this. I’m through.
To hell with being poetic. Love is you.
— Barbara J. Turner


and divide
or where
God is.
I have one reply for all.
I read it somewhere important.
What more is there to say?


Love is constant.
It goes through many phases.
The initial spark of a hand touched.
The sigh of a look caught across the space.
The friendship building to flame.
Desire to keep his name.
Writing it, saying it, over and over.
Finally the feelings flowing between the two, are named, “love.”
Marriage arranged and carried out.
Years of new experiences and moving into old age, together.
Children, grandchildren and greats.
Each day love expands, and bounds beyond belief.
Time brings with it grief.
Love remains. It is the same, but has also changed.
— Janet Kay Gallagher


Pablo Neruda and Shakespeare,
E Barrett Browning and Keats,
Elvis (Costello & Presley)
Wrote of love and its infinite sweets
And its cruelty and heartache and cheating,
Its pain, sure to last evermore.
With such a great love in your life, girl,
Why wouldn’t you show him the door?
He wooed you with promises plenty,
“Red wine for red lips,” so he said.
Not quite the Khayyam–still you bought it–
The words going straight to your head.
Now Nazareth, Joan Jett, and Petty
Sing love’s truer tale to you.
Watch out for poets, my darlin’,
Or they’ll get the better of you.
— Jane Heitman Healy


When I saw her eyes,
it was unconditional.
My baby. My love.
— Beth Carter


Love is in the air.
But where? I’ve looked high and low.
Cupid eludes me.
— Beth Carter


I’ve seen the limbs of Lazarus
laid upon the stone
I’ve seen his rueful sisters
by his side.
But you, my greening lover, are made of flesh and bone—
I’ve seen his ravaged body
wreathed in blood and bile
I’ve seen his sisters
cover him with cloth.
But you, my greening lover, are made of flesh and bone—
I’ve seen the funeral flowers
placed upon his grave
I’ve seen them bow
their shriven heads
and die.
But you, my greening lover, are made of flesh and bone—
I’ve seen the rheumy Lazarus
leave his barren tomb.
I’ve seen his joyful sisters
wipe his brow.
But you, my greening lover,
made of flesh and bone,
will ever lie beside me—
for you are moss
and I am loam,
this earthen bed
our sacral home.
— Julie Krantz


Across the field,
somewhere beyond the pond,
I watched as poor Aunt Suzie kneeled
in prayerful pose, as though to correspond
and thus behold
the lover long ago
who kissed her lips a thousandfold.
Though elegance enshrines her old chateau,
she still prefers to pray
in fields of summer hay.
— Lee Ann Russell (c) 2007


Ask a Daisy.
Any one.
Daisy’s know.
It’s lots of fun.
Pick a petal
One by one.
See if love is
Lost or won!
Ask a Daisy.
Daisy’s know.
Loves me – YES or
Loves me – NO.
Pick a petal.
Here I go!
One by one…
Does he love me?
I can’t guess.
Soon I’ll know.
Near the end now,
Almost done…
Think I’ll ask
Another one.
— Liz Korba

I love my horse, a cowboy’s friend

L eading me home at trailride’s end.
O ver bluffs, sure-footed he goes–
V alleys give way to river’s flow.
E bony coat with silky mane;

M idnight Rider deserves his name.
Y onder, beyond the sunset’s glow,

H ome awaits–our refuge from foes.
O n he presses ‘neath moon’s pale light;
R unning resolute through the night.
S afely home, by the sun’s first course,
E xquisite animal, my horse.
— V. L. Gregory


Bathed in moonlight,
enfolded in its leafy heart-cradle
a spiraling pink bloom dreams…
Dreams of color, of light, and
of green;
of clouds, of sky, and
dreams of pollen, of buzzes,
and bees;
of breath, of birds, and
of breeze…
While I slumber through the pre-dawn light,
an angel blossom stirs,
softness uncurls, Glory unfurls;
outstretched wings radiate light,
glorious, shimmering,
deep from within.
Dreams burst alive, more dazzling
than bloom could envision.
All morning long it sways on the vine,
till mid-afternoon it rocks in the breeze
beaming, frolicking, delighting;
loved by life and in love with life.
Bathed in shadow-light,
enveloped in its leafy heart-cradle
Bloom, withers and curls-
fading off to sleep, in the late afternoon,
and dreams…
Dreams of dawn, of sunbeams,
of angel-spun blooms;
of bees, of buzzing,
and pollen-dust wings;
dreams of beauty, of being, and
forever-believing . . .
Entwined in infinity, a fleeting memory stirs
and Bloom remembers…
its unique place in creation:
the luminous morning glory it was.
Just a glowing, moment ago.
Eternal . . .
— Cory Corrado


I draw hears around your name
forget how to speak and can’t breathe
won’t remove your letter jacket
with the 12 on the sleeve
I feel my heart pound
let out heavy sweet sighs
butterflies flip and flap
when I look in your eyes
I get lost in day dreams
about how it’s gonna be
for we’ll scale tall mountains
splash in foamy seas
true love always forever
I can totally tell
see you in the hallway
after 6th hour bell!
— Jackie Huppenthal

And thanks to Taylor McGowan for representing our young poets so well again this month.


A flashy male blue jay lands in a tree,
He calls a lovely song: look at me, look at me!

The female blue jay hears him sing,
Actually interested, she chirps and takes wing.

The male jay is glad to have attracted attention,
Will he win the prize? Or get honorable mention?

Turns out it’s neither; she flutters away.
But he won’t let one loss ruin his day.

His voice rings out in a brand-new tune,
Surely, this one will bring females soon!

Yes! Another girl comes and circles above,
Her posture is stately, yet she’s graceful as a dove.

This is the one! Thinks the male jay with glee,
My, my, thinks the girl. He’s a sight to see!

She comes a bit closer, her voice raised in song,
What a beautiful voice! Not a single note wrong!

He lifts into the air with a beat of his wings,
Satisfied, the pretty girl sings.

Together they dive, twist, and twirl,
The male dances more, impressing the girl.

There voices lace until they ring out,
The male laughs as other boys pout.

The boy and girl dance until dusk,
Then together they nibble on a delicious corn husk.

A few days later, a nest is built,
On a straight branch, so it doesn’t tilt.

When the eggs are laid, the male takes to the air,
completely ignoring his mate’s puzzled stare.

When he returns, he beckons to her,
But she won’t leave the nest, which is as soft as

The male simply pushes her towards the edge,
Until she sees what he does: a tasty orange wedge.

She finally gives in, and together they dive,
In a tree, they both arrive.

The orange is speared on branch that hangs farther down,
As they fly downward, they both wear a smile, not a frown.

After a delicious meal of the orange and some seeds,
They both return to the nest, which is woven from reeds.

A week or two later, the egg shells crack,
The male looks at his feathers, which his children lack.

The mother feeds them the plumpest worms,
She laughs as the chicks writh and squirm.

Over time, downy feathers grow,
One by one, row by row.

Eventually, the male and the female teach them to fly,
They dried their tears when they’d fall and cry.

And after a long time of lessons, they leave the nest,
And the male and female can finally rest.

The chicks are full-grown, their hard work is over,
Their lives held the luck of a four-leaf clover.

Then they remembered, that this all went right,
Simply because of love at first sight.

— Taylor McGowan

April Sayre today

BULLETIN: I’ve moved the voting for this month’s Hall of Fame Poet from today to tomorrow. I didn’t realize that the date conflicted with my Friday Featured Guest spot. Be sure to check tomorrow for the ballot box and cast your vote for our August poet. Thanks.

Yesterday you met April Pulley Sayre through her bio. Today you meet the real thing. April gives us a musical tour of her book, Howler Monkeys and, when you click on her website, she even lets you listen to the monkeys themselves! Read on.

If I had my own jazz band, my new book, Meet the Howlers, would not exist. That’s because I first imagined it as a song. Specifically, it was song sung in a jazzy swing by a finger-snapping Frank Sinatra wearing a silver suit. Yes, I actually imagined that. (Fiction has no monopoly on strange book backstory, folks!)

The book started simply. There we were on a tower in the Panamanian rain forest. My nephews and I were watching howler monkeys and one of my nephews said, “He’s a howler.” It’s an innocent enough phrase.

That’s all it took. One little alliteration can set me off. I started singing. “He’s a howler, dooby, dooby-dee-doh…” This became the refrain. (As you can now imagine, I am one of the world’s most embarrassing aunties.)

Once I had this melody, I needed verses. So, I sang those as well. My nephews contributed an idea or two, but mostly just looked on, skeptically. We often brainstorm book ideas together but the singing was a new thing. Later, at home, I did the major work of crafting the song. This included all the usual nonfiction steps of research and fact checking. Fortunately, though, I’d observed howler monkeys for years and also studied primatology at Duke University.

The song had rhythm and rhyme and facts. After some more struggling it had structure. Sorry, Sinatra, but the perspective of the song shifted to that of a child. My imagined narrator was a child bemoaning all the things wild howler monkeys can get away with a child wishes he/she could. Yet the book doesn’t really have a child as a character. That child is just in my head, the source of the nonfiction voice used in this expository piece about a howler family.

The problem with my song? Well, again, I lack a band. Where IS my band? Every girl needs a band . . . Anyway, the second problem was this song’s conversion to the picture book form. I’ve often lectured about the connections between song form, story form, and picture book form. (I discovered this song/picture book connection while on a long school visit drive when Loretta Lynn was on the radio. Her songs use a form called the Nashville turnaround which, I noticed, was a classic picture book structure.)

Alas, despite the similarities between songs and picture books, the differences can get you into a pickle during conversion. This, the book’s editor knows. The whole thing had a wild, syncopated jazz rhythm that she and I wrestled to iron out. It was in my head and I could have taught it to you in a minute. But it would have driven a reader mad. Next, we moved on to Woody Miller’s illustrations, which sparked new ideas for structural changes in the original text. And so the process goes!

Sorry, Sinatra, no new song. But we did get a beautiful picture book. And it’s full of sounds—howler monkey sounds, not the sounds of swing or jazz. Now, if I could just get that original finger snapping rhythm out of my head . . .
If you want to hear the real howlers call, you can check out the recordings I made in Panama, now posted on my website:

April Pulley Sayre

Big book, One Is a Snail, Ten Is a Crab

Meet the Howlers

Turtle, Turtle, Watch out! (New edition)

If You’re Hoppy (Coming, Feb, 2011)

Vulture View *Theodor Geisel Honor Award