A Wilderness of Words

A Wilderness of Words
Photo by Mary Pierce

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Bare-naked Mickey

Banned Books Week is over.  Much was made about the recent attempts of one Wesley Scroggins to have certain immoral books removed from the curriculum of the Republic, Missouri school district.  (I find it a little ironic that this guy lives in a place called Republic, a word which generally conjures up thoughts of democracy and freedom.)  He says he's "spent the last couple of years reviewing the various curricula across numerous grades", so I'm guessing he must have quite a laundry list of filthy books.  Though for an opinion piece in the Springfield News-Leader he singles out three books:  Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson; Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler; and Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

Lots of people have blogged about this over the past week.  As well they should.  People banning books is a serious threat to any society.  Books are filled with words that shape a story which in turn helps us make sense of the world, just a little.  And we humans are the only animal who really, really need to make sense of our world.  We make ourselves nuts sometimes with the trying.  Stories help.  Books help.  It's so essential to us that long before stories were written down, they were spoken.  And those stories were passed orally generation to generation, because people thought it was important to keep the stories alive.

I read a lot this past week.  And I shuffled over to the ALA website to take a look at the list of banned and challenged books over the years.  The list is long, the reasons for wanting the books banned varied.  Too filthy, too racist, too subversive, too offensive, too witch-crafty, and even, too naked.  As in Mickey-in-the-Night-Kitchen naked.

In The Night Kitchen is a picture book by Maurice Sendak in which a young boy named Mickey hears a noise in the kitchen, goes to investigate, and discovers three jolly bakers preparing a cake for the breakfast.  Evidently, the problem for some people is the fact that Mickey falls from upstairs and lands in the kitchen.  Naked.  It's not as though he's naked through the entire book.  He falls into the cake batter and emerges in a brown suit of batter, and then gets to do fun stuff like craft an airplane out of bread and fly around the kitchen in it.  Towards the end he dives into a bottle of milk and the batter dissolves.  For a brief period he is naked again, until he finds himself in his pajamas, back in bed, where everything is as it should be.  I don't know about anyone else, but my son and I loved that book.  It's the perfect rendering of a child's fanciful dream.

So keep telling stories, people.  Keep writing books, and reading them, and most of all, keep speaking out when someone tries to stop you.

And GO, Mickey, you bare-naked dream boy.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Fforde Ffiesta is Not a Car.

In a few minutes, I will be heading to Logan airport with my husband and son.  Woohoo!  We're off to Swindon, UK, home of literary detective, Thursday Next.  We'll visit a few other places while we're in England, but Swindon is our primary destination.
Swindon you may ask?  Is that even a real place?  It is, indeed.  It is also the location of the 3rd Fforde Ffiesta.  With this trip, we will have made all three.

That's Fforde as in Jasper, the author of a series of wildly imaginative books that defy definition or genre placement.  If you have not heard of him or read his books, I urge you all to do so tout de suite.  They are brilliant, and the most fun you will have without leaving your chair (or wherever it is you generally like to read a good book).  

Some of the wacky activities we have in store for us this time (taken from the Fforde Ffiesta website):

Hamlet Speed Reading:  Fancy yourself as the next David Tennant? Then why not try your hand at our Hamlet Soliloquy Speed Reading Competition.

First Legion of Danvers: 
Enjoy dressing up in old, grey wigs and black dresses? The 1st Legion of Danvers is just for you.
Grey Angst:  Feeling dull and unimaginative? Sounds like the perfect time to create a literary work of genius for this year's competition.

And of course, no
Ffiesta would be complete without the return of ffestival favourites such as Name That Fruit!, and Live Audience Participation Shakespeare (Hamlet, Prince of Zombies).  And with the gracious backing of our ever-glorious sponsors The Goliath © Corporation (For All You'll Ever Need™) these events will now be provided in glorious 3-D technicolour!
 If you're not going to be there this week, I'm sorry.  We'll try to have fun without you.  To those of you who WILL be there, let me repeat myself -  WOOHOO!!  See you soon!

The original Ffestival fforganizers.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Authentic Drama Queen

I am passionate about many things, and when I'm talking about one of those things, I move my hands around. I get loud. When I was a kid, my parents used to tell me I should be an actress. They said this when I was being "overly dramatic," which I guess I was. A lot.

I love drama. I seek it out everywhere: in fiction, in theater and movies, music. Even historical re-enactments, of which I am fond. Every good story has drama. The vivid, highly emotional, conflicting interests that make it glorious fun to get lost inside the details.

That's why, when my husband emailed me this photo (which he found at his favorite antique auto/gear head message board -- even gear heads get embroiled in drama, which is why someone posted the picture in the first place), I had to use it. It's so me. If not physically, then spiritually. I offer it here for anyone who might stop by. So, go ahead. Embrace your passion a bit. We could all do worse than to occasionally be a truly, utterly, authentic drama queen.


Friday, March 5, 2010

Where You'll Find Me

If you're looking for me this week-end, I won't be home. I'll be attending the SCBWI writer's retreat at Whispering Pines in Rhode Island. I am seriously happy about this. Giddy, even, hopped up on endorphins, and I don't even have to break a sweat to experience that rush. My fellow attendees will recognize this state of being. It's a small retreat; a couple of dozen people who attend for the entire week-end, and a couple of dozen more who will be there during the day for the presentations. An author, an illustrator, two editors, and an agent acting as mentors for the week-end. All of us huddled together in cozy lodges surrounded by pine trees and overlooking a serenely beautiful lake. Sheer bliss.

There is very little actual writing that goes on, it's not that kind of retreat. There are presentations by the mentors, who share their wisdom and experience generously. They talk about the process of writing, of creating flesh and blood characters--whether with words or pictures--the kind who leap out of the book and whisper their stories breathlessly. This is the kind of intimate retreat where there is a constant exchange of ideas and dreams amid much laughter, and as the week-end winds down, silliness fueled by too little sleep. And at the end of it all, the endorphins are still careening through your body (tired as it is), so that you drive away, down the winding narrow road back to your real life with creative muscles pumped, head full of fresh new ideas. Jazzed about the life you've chosen for yourself, this writing for children.



Saturday, January 9, 2010


I am not a particularly avid collector. Collections, I find, take up way too much room, and requires dusting more frequently than I care to do. I do have a lot of books. They're everywhere in my house, stacks of them in fact, and only some of them are considered collectibles (i.e. are signed first editions). Most of the books are there to read, or for reference, and periodically I sort through them to determine which of them I can let go of, and then I have my husband cart them to the "book house" at our local transfer station so that someone else may enjoy them.

I do have a collection of trinkets based on the '39 movie, The Wizard of Oz. And for this, I deliberately set out to collect only small items that would fit neatly behind the glass doors of small cupboards and shadow boxes, thus taking up little room and keeping them virtually dust-free. Smart. Over time I have amassed figurines made of plastic, pewter, or porcelain, most the size of my thumb, and glass marbles painted with the heads of Dorothy and her pals. I have trading cards and thimbles, music boxes, tiny porcelain boxes with even tinier contents, and an assortment of glittery ruby slippers of various sizes. Mostly I acquired these items on eBay, or my husband has because he knows it's easy one-stop shopping come Christmas time. But small as the items are, they are beginning to require more shelf space than I currently have. I'm working on fixing that.

I have another collection I've been working on my entire life, one that needs little storage space or dusting. It's a collection of words. Words that are lovely and interesting, that have texture, and affect my senses so that I can feel them in my mouth and taste them. They are delicious. Words that conjure up colors and images for me, often unrelated to their actual meaning. Confabulate. Drupaceous. Nacreous. Rugose. These are the kinds of words I stumble upon here and there in the process of living, and I record them in notebooks. I have a lot of notebooks now, but you can keep a lot of words in a notebook. Some of the older notebooks I haven't looked at in a long, long time, and some have gotten lost entirely. It's okay. Because, sometimes I stumble upon a word I've forgotten or lost and it's like meeting a childhood friend I haven't seen in ages and there's a flicker of recognition, followed by the charm of getting acquainted all over again.


Monday, January 4, 2010

Making Things Up

One of the things I love about children is that they make things up. There are monsters in their closets and under their beds but if they shut their eyes very, very tight it is a well-known fact that monsters can't see them. My son, when he was little, could make himself invisible to monsters. Not only that, but if he ran past me fast enough he was invisible to me as well, and I wouldn't see those extra cookies he had taken, or tell him that it was time to stop having all that fun with his friends because now we had to go home. My son was also a spy. He had powers of invisibility in that capacity, too, when he needed them.

I like to make things up myself. I like to make up characters who could be true, and put words in their mouths and thoughts in their heads that might be things that I would say or do, or that my son might, or even the man I saw once who looks very much like one of the characters in the book I am writing now.

I like to tell stories. My husband's grandmother, a wise woman, used to say, "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story." By which she meant, every fact is not necessary to the telling, in the end it's the story that matters. We are the stories we tell, every one of us. It makes us who we are, as well as entertains us, and that is where our truth dwells.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


When I was very young, my mother read nightly to my sister and me, alternating between a glossy black bible filled with fables of prodigal sons and babies in bulrushes, and a battered book of fairy tales that told of goose girls and trolls. I think we had only the two books then, but they were both thrilling, and filled with wild, wonderful words that made my head spin. The first word I remember saying again and again just for the sound of it -- archangel. Archangel. Not merely an angel, something far grander and more majestic. Something powerful. And thus I learned: A word beside another word and another made sentences and paragraphs and before you knew it you were completely and utterly lost in a wilderness of words. And that was a good thing.