Thursday, January 28, 2021

Playlist for all the Karens...

 by Charlotte Bennardo

Photo by Vlad Bagacian from Pexels

 The theme this month is Playlists. Generally, the themes revolve around the writing process, the publishing community, and all things books. Unlike almost everyone, I don't like to listen to music while I write. Gasp! Right? I find it distracting. If a song comes on that is catchy, I sing. If I sing, I can't write. If a melody plays that is sad, and I'm trying to write a happy chapter, I can't set the mood. If a tune makes my imagination create a shiny new idea, I can't work on the manuscript I'm in the middle of. 

No music. 

Silence, please.

That's the only way I can work.

But the theme is playlists, and well, I'm feeling a bit cranky because there are too many idiots out there endangering others by not wearing masks or social distancing, acting entitled and feeling like they have rights that supercede the very lives of everyone around them. You know who these people are- we call them 'karens.' (My apologies to sweet ladies who have this name and are nothing like the yahoos who make the rest of us miserable. My favorite aunt was named Karen so it pains me too.) So I decided I would put together a playlist for those annoying people. 

In public places: Don't Stand So Close to Me (The Police)

If you won't wear a mask: Don't Come Around Here No More (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers)

If you're sick, but don't want the vaccine because you don't listen to science but to stupid stuff on the internet: I Need a New Drug (Huey Lewis and the News)

When you whine about your life/routine being disrupted because you have to protect others: Changes (David Bowie)

When you think the pandemic is the 'Blue Flu' or a hoax and not that many people have actually died- Tears in Heaven (Eric Clapton) or Fade to Black (Metallica)

For those denying that Covid-19 is deadly or has lasting or long term effects: In My Time of Dying (Led Zeppelin)

For being a b*tch when things don't go your way: Rich Girl (Hall and Oates)

I specifically chose older songs because a good number of the karens (and the kens) are older and not listening to rap or hiphop. I know there must be a ton of good songs by rap and hiphop artists and I wish I had a better knowledge of them. Now I have to go make a playlist that makes me happy. 

Be safe, be courteous, be good to yourself. 

Publishing Process Playlist

Speed of Sound (song) - Wikipedia

Before I signed with my first agent, the song "Speed of Sound" by Coldplay was popular at the time, and it seemed to sum up my feelings: "How long before I get in? Before it starts, before I begin?" I naively thought that once I was agented, everything would move at lightning speed. Um, not so much.  

Tom Petty - TOM PETTY THE WAITING vinyl record - Music

Probably a better song to sum up the whole publishing journey is Tom Petty's "The Waiting." So much of the publishing process is waiting: waiting to finish the book, waiting for an agent to sign you, waiting for publishers to respond to the agent, waiting for a deal, waiting to reviews, and waiting for the book to finally come out. 

But there's also another song that I associate with the publication process, and that's Billy Idol's "Dancing with Myself." Whenever I get good news that I've gotten an offer or a starred review or something else wonderful, I just want to dance around the house alone. One, because I'm a terrible dancer and no one should have to witness that; and two, because I usually can't tell anyone about the deal or review until it is made public. So I have to have my joyous moment mostly by myself and with close family. But every single time, it's just as exciting as the first. 

Billy Idol - Dancing With Myself (1983, Vinyl) | Discogs

Ginger Rue's next book, Wonder Women of Science, is now available for pre-order. Co-authored with rocket scientist Tiera Fletcher, who is currently working with NASA on the Mars mission, the book profiles a dozen amazing women (besides Tiera!) who are blazing new trails in their respective STEM fields.  




Monday, January 25, 2021

Hair Band Love (Writing Playlists) Holly Schindler

Back in the late '80s, early '90s, I was a hair band addict. 

Not just any addict. I mean serious. If I wasn't glued to MTV, I was listening to the radio or trying to get my hands on a concert ticket.

If I couldn't actually go to a show, I was autograph hunting. I had a friend of a friend who worked at the hotel where all the big names stayed in town. I knew the check-in times and what block of rooms were usually reserved for them. I've been kicked out of this particular hotel more times than I can count. 

Me and a member of Tesla.

Do we ever get over our first-music love? I, for one, don't think so. To this day, when I get really sluggish and need to rev myself up again, I watch a few hair band videos on YouTube. 

It's a guilty pleasure. A second wind.

And this time, I don't kicked out of the room. 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Tension of Order and Disorder Held in the Imagination--Smack Dab in the Imagination by Dia Calhoun

This grabbed my attention:

“When . . . Frost defines poetry as ‘a momentary stay against confusion,’ he is acknowledging the significance of thresholds as a place where disorder and order meet and are held in dynamic tension by the power of the poet’s imagination.”
--A Primer For Poets Gregory Orr. Page 49

Maybe this resonates with me because of all the order and disorder tumbling through the country right now. I am fascinated to consider how my own imagination might be a container for, or perhaps a resolution of, order and disorder. Orr also quotes Theodore Roethke: “The edge is what I have.” Then Orr writes:

“Each of us has his or her own personal threshold: the place where order passes over into disorder.…"

“In poetry, the threshold is that place in the poet where disorder and order meet…"

Most of the time my imagination feels chaotic or disordered. But imagination is more than the raw streams of the unconscious bursting forth. Imagination is also a shaper of that streaming over the edge, using the tools of intellect, craft technique, and experience. (Revision!) When I think of Orr’s idea that way, then I feel more persuaded that perhaps my writing--fiction, memoir, poetry--is some kind of container, some kind of momentary resolution caught in form of the tension between my own order and disorder.

Here, for your further consideration, is more of Orr’s idea.

“Poets tend to go to their thresholds to create their best poems. Why? The first reason would be that the thresholds are places where energy exchange is happening, or something real is at stake for the poet. In his essay “The Figure a Poem Makes,” Robert Frost put it this way: “no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader. “The poet must go to his or her threshold and authentically experience the disorder… in order to move the reader… The threshold that poets must approach is a place where the ordering powers of imagination are responsive to the stimulus of disorder. When, in the same essay, Frost defines poetry as “a momentary stay against confusion,” he is acknowledging the significance of thresholds as a place where disorder and order meet and are held in dynamic tension by the power of the poet’s imagination.”

Yes, the imagination has the power to hold great tension, to hold opposites, and resolve them into that third, new thing: a piece of art, compassion, understanding. We need that now in so many ways. So artists, writers, poets--go to the edge and bring back a container for the rest of us.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Music in my Work

Writers work hard to make their writing authentic.  They work to create characters who connect with each other on the page, and they endeavor to cultivate reader familiarity by tapping into universal experiences and emotions.  There are many ways to do all of that, and music is one of them.  

Music plays an important part in each one of my middle grade novels.

In This Journal Belongs to Ratchet, Oldies play on the radio in the background of the garage where Ratchet fixes cars with her dad, and it's these songs that end up being one of the important ways Ratchet connects with Hunter, the boy who becomes her first friend.  

Abigail in Always, Abigail, connects with her best friends, Ali and Cami, through their dance routine music, as they chase their dream to become middle school pom pom girls.  

In my summer camp story, Just Like Me, I remind readers of their own summer camp experience by describing the songs Julia and her cabinmates sing around the campfire. 

In Elsie Mae Has Something to Say, Elsie and her cousin, Henry James, while chasing the hog bandits they hope to capture in their endeavor to become heroes, listen to the crooks singing "Suwannee River" as they hideout in their shelter.  The song gives an authentic detail about the time and place where the story happens, putting the reader right in the middle of the plot.  

And the music in When I Hit the Road, a story of Samantha traveling on a widow's bucket list karaoke road trip with her Gram, exemplifies how music in life and in books is just plain fun.  

Music, no matter what style or kind, no matter how old or new, no matter how slow or fast can be used by writers to connect characters and readers by adding a layer to writing which, though often unnoticed, can be a powerful thread woven into the fabric of a story.

Happy Reading & Writing,

Nancy J. Cavanaugh  

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Stories are in the Music

Life is full of stories. From our novels to newspapers, to magazine articles and the back of a bottle of wine, and over to music lyrics and poetry - stories are everywhere, in so many forms.

As a middle grade and young adult novel-writer, I didn’t initially expect to apply a playlist to my writing routine. The more I became embroiled in the plots of my books-in-progress, however, the more I saw and heard my story all around me. I learned that music was a great way to bolster my book-writing process and listen for my characters in other ways than I expected. 

I became a person who keeps playlists.

So much like I have playlists for running or sad days or summer vacations, I structured playlists for each book. They usually started with just one or two songs as I worked on building up my idea and starting that first draft. By the time I was editing, I typically had a full list established. I don’t typically listen to music as I’m writing. Which isn’t to say the playlists haven’t been helpful. Because even if I don't listen to the playlist as I am editing, I  listen in the car or out walking and I can feel the story unfolding and hear my characters in the ways that I needed to know them for later. It keeps me in the mood of the book, in that same place I need to be as the writer. 

The playlist is that world in that book, so when I hear it, I’m instantly taken there. If I need to switch gears, I can change the station or the playlist and easily slip from world to world. 

Songs evoke nostalgia, feeling, attachment, emotion. Just like each book or chapter we pen.

Part of the joy of playlists is that when the songs come on randomly, I smile as I’m taken back to some world-building I wrote years ago or maybe just months ago. It’s like hearing from old friends. 

Happy reading!

AM Bostwick

Friday, January 15, 2021

Oliver Twists!

I’ve written about how, a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, before the first Enterprise took flight, before the TARDIS was stolen, there lived a sickly child. And, as it turns out, this sickly child read a lot.

Way back then, I lived in the wild, wild west on the front range of Colorado. Colorado Springs was small then, full of open spaces. The public library was way, way on the other side of town. There were no bookstores. The only library available to me was my school library. I checked out every book I could read. By fourth grade, my favorite authors were Anne McCaffery (dragons are my patronus!) Jack London, and Charles Dickens. 

                         Frontispiece and title page, first edition 1838. Illustration and design by George Cruikshank

One of the first and favorite books was Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens. You may remember, Charles Dickens wrote the story in part to expose the hypocrisy and cruel treatment of orphans in mid-19th century London. Dickens blended a grim realism with satire to describe the effects of industrialization, creating a story of an innocent child trapped in a life with no hope. What better story to entertain a sickly child!

One of my favorite characters in Oliver Twist was Jack Dawkins, otherwise known as the Artful Dodger. The snub-nosed, flat-browed, common faced pickpocket and leader of the gang of child criminals. He was not without heart, however.

         George Cruikshank original engraving of the Artful Dodger (centre), here introducing Oliver (right) to Fagin (left)

It is the nature of reading that every story we’ve read stays with us, and its characters become a part of our lives. We are the product of all the stories read and lived. Even as we become characters in each other’s story. These stories settle within us, blend with our experiences – for why else could we become so attached to these characters, unless we see them as friends– and work their magic on us. They engage, and encourage, and guide.

And, when we least expect it, especially as one becomes a writer, such persistent characters ooze to the surface in some form found in our own works. Many light years down the road, when I read about the history of San Francisco, about the plight of the poor and that gallery of characters that walked those cobbled streets along the Barbary Coast, it was no accident that I envisioned Oliver Twist meets the wild, wild west.

My character became Jack London, in honor of my old friends, and not by coincidence:

“Jack of all trades, Lady Jane had called her. Pickpocket, escape artist, and a bold little rascal. A kid after her own heart, said Lady Jane. 

“Despite being so common, she carried herself with the dash of one standing six feet tall. She wore a man’s coat over her tattered dress, one that nearly touched her boot heels. She had turned the cuffs back so she could use her hands, and stuff them comfortably into the large pockets.”

 As she skips away, down the road, tipping her bowler, she sings out to me, “ Once a villain, you’re a villain to the end!”

And I call out: “And you, Jack London, you’re my friend! To the end!”

What favorite reads did you have as a child? How did they influence your life?

Thank you for spending time with me!

--Bobbi Miller

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Modern Mixtapes

I have been a teacher for roughly 17 years and a lot has evolved in the profession during that time.  As a student, I was taught to sit in rows silently, and that was still the expectation when I did my student teaching.  That was the approach I used when I first started teaching. It was familiar and I thought it was the correct way to properly educate my students.  Somewhere along the way, the stuffy rows and lack of “fun” was a little too stifling for me.  That is where music comes into play.  I think it became apparent to me that music was something to incorporate into my classroom when I was teaching first grade.  Kids loved adding music to the day and it provided me a source of enjoyment too.  We started with “calendar and days of the week” songs and graduated to a daily song we sang together, will i am’s song “What I Am.”

From that point on, I moved to starting the day with music as the kids enter the room.  I think there is something to be said about walking into a room playing music versus a silent room.  Fridays are typically reserved for Disney playlists, and singing is encouraged.  The school that I work at also has “dance party Friday” pre-COVID we would play music in the halls and students would dance before the day began.  It was such a fun way to start the day with students. Hopefully we will be able to get back to that.

Friday dance party

Another time I play music during the day is when students are writing.  I like to play quiet instrumental music to set the tone for the piece of writing we are currently working on.  It has also been fun when we read/write poetry and set up our “coffee shop” to have music in the background.

(pictures were taken pre-COVID)

        Poetry Reading                                          

For me, music wasn’t something I naturally embraced in the classroom to begin my career because it wasn’t something that was modeled for me.  However, I believe the benefits of music in the classroom are worthwhile. This new way of thinking makes me never want to go back to a completely silent room.  Music can set the tone for a calm work environment or it can make a Friday seem like a magical Disney getaway.  

One of my favorite things to do is have students submit their favorite songs (school appropriate of course) and I create a playlist of their songs.  School should feel like a comfortable place to be, and what is more comforting than familiar fun songs!   

There are always ways to enhance day to day experiences and grow with students on the educational journey. I’m glad to have found music to be one of them!

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

My Ultimate Playlist Might Surprise You

by Debbie Smith

The theme this month is playlists and the fact that they get inside a person’s head. Yep, I’d have to agree with that. Mine is continually in my head. Do people listen to playlists while working, exercising, driving? Yep. 

Since I am retired, my work is the fun job of reading, creating pictures with books (bookstagram),  and reviewing books. Plus the not-so-fun job of exercising, laundry, cooking, cleaning the house,  etc.


Here is where we might come to a Y in the road. You might turn on your music playlist, while I might travel the path less traveled. I work so much better if I turn to my audiobook playlist


Do I love music? Yes! But when push comes to shove the winner will always be a book. When I drive, cook, clean, and work outside . . . my books follow me.




Nothing gets inside a person's head quite like a playlist,

 and this month I've shared my unique playlist.

Do You Have An Unusual Playlist?


Tuesday, January 12, 2021

2020 Book Reviews. My Best of List, by Darlene Beck Jacobson



Welcome to the third annual list of some of the books I've read in 2020. AS AN UNKNOWN AUTHOR, I FEEL IT IS IMPORTANT TO SUPPORT FELLOW AUTHORS AND SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT GOOD BOOKS THAT MAY OFTEN GO UNRECOGNIZED. All 45 of these books were noteworthy and exceptional enough that I posted reviews for them on Goodreads, Amazon, and my blog.

The order of the list is the order in which I read these gems. So, if you are looking for good books to read, to gift, or to add to your own list, take a look at these kidlit wonders. Some of our Smack Dab Authors are on this list!


·  CRUSHING THE RED FLOWERS (MG) - Jennifer Voigt Kaplan

·  MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD (PB) - Vivian Kirkfield

·  NUMBERS IN MOTION (PB) - Laurie Wallmark


·  WAY PAST MAD (PB) - Hallee Adelman

·  PIRATES STUCK AT "C" (PB) - Brooke Van Sickle

·  THE LAST SENSOR (YA) - Josh Bellin

·  THE BOLD, BRAVE, BUNNY (PB) - Beth Ferry

·  TWO BICYCLES IN BEIJING (PB) - Teresa Robeson

·  DIG (YA) - A. S. King

·  TODAY IS A BEACH DAY (PB) - Nancy Viau

·  WE ARE THE WATER PROTECTORS (PB) - Carole Lindstrom

·  FOR SPACIOUS SKIES (PB) - Nancy Churnin


·  SWASHBY AND THE SEA (PB) - Beth Ferry

·  OUR FRIEND HEDGEHOG (CB) - Lauren Castillo

·  SHIFTER SERIES (all 3 books) (YA) - Louise Cypress

·  THE ONE AND ONLY BOB (MG) - Katherine Applegate

·  HELLO FROM RENN LAKE (MG) - Michele Weber Hurwitz


·  IN A JAR (PB) - Deborah Marcero


·  I AM ENOUGH (PB) - Grace Byers

·  WAITING TOGETHER (PB) - Danielle Dufayet

·  THE SMUGGLER'S DAUGHTER (adult) - Claire Matturo

·  SYCAMORE LANE (YA) - Stacey Horan

·  TWO TOUGH TRUCKS (PB) - Corey Rosen Schwartz

·  MOOTILDA'S BAD MOOD (PB) - Corey Rosen Schwartz & Kirsti Call



·  OPERATION FROG EFFECT (MG) - Sarah Sheerger

·  A PLACE AT THE TABLE (MG) - Saadia Faruqi & Laura Shovan

·  GURPLE AND PREEN (PB) - Debbie Ohi & Linda Sue Park

·  LIBBY LOVES SCIENCE (PB) - Kimberly Derting

·  MY MONSTERPIECE (PB) - Amalia Hoffman

·  THE CANYON'S EDGE (MG) - Dusti Bowling

·  PIPPIN PALS (PB series) - Donna Marie

·  WHOOO KNEW - THE STORY OF OWLS (PB) - Annette Whipple

·  WAY PAST WORRIED (PB) - Hallee Adelman

·  THE ROOSEVELT GHOSTS (MG) - Diane Salerni

·  THE GIFT THAT IS RUBY'S PLACE (adult) - Holly Schindler

·  PLANET EARTH IS BLUE (MG) - Nicole Pantaleakos

·  THE GREAT FOREST (YA) - Josh Bellin




If you want to know more about these books, please check out my reviews. 2020 was a crazy year for all of us, but great books came out and are still being written. Spread the word and give a gift to your favorite authors by posting kind reviews of their books. I guarantee it will make their day!

Monday, January 11, 2021

In the Process, Music! (or not)

by Jody Feldman

As a person who came in 3rd place in an all-campus Name That Tune contest back in my college days, you'd think that I'd be in the forefront of building playlists for all my works-in-progress. It hasn't worked that way for me. Several reasons.

1. Whenever I listen to music while I draft or revise, I get lost in the music and accomplish way too little.

2. If I were to go down the rabbit hole of assembling a playlist to inspire me, I might as well skip ahead and change my occupation to Playlist Creator.

3. The only time I managed to drum up a brief playlist, the book never went anywhere, in that it never made it past my agent. Not that I believe that the playlist tanked it. It was more that, honestly, it didn't do anything to make me a better, more inspired writer. 

That said, I occasionally happen upon a song that becomes the anthem of my main character or the premise of the book itself. 

In The Seventh Level, Travis Raines is not only small for his age, but he’s that kid whose antics make it hard for people to take him seriously ... until. I was still in brainstorming mode for 7th when John Mayer's Bigger Than My Body played somewhere. That song – throughout my process from first draft through revisions, copy edits, everything – kept reminding me that even kids like Travis have all the qualities to become a force in life.  

Next was the instance of a yet-to-be-published-because-I-messed-up-but-will-eventually- revisit-it book. The Fool on the Hill by the Beatles became the atmospheric anthem of this story. Whenever I hear it, even now, it reignites my passion and makes me want to drop everything and go through the arduous task of rewriting this story from the POV of the right main character. (Yes, it was that type of mess up.)

As for my current WIP, so young that I haven't yet named my MC, maybe, hopefully, I'll stumble across the right anthem for her or for the story. Or maybe, just maybe, I'll try that playlist thing again. 


Saturday, January 9, 2021

How Playlists Boosted Reading in My Classes

by Debbie Poslosky

The sound of should be a movie!  I cannot imagine a world without music!  Especially not without my own personal playlists.  Before this topic was given to all of us, I did not realize how much certain songs help me navigate everything in my world!  Any emotion, any time of your life can be paired with particular songs.  Although I have always loved listening to music personally, I happened upon the incredible effect music had on children when I first began teaching. 

Early in my career, I was blessed with “that 4th grade class”.  I mean the class that struggled to become a community, were very self-centered, and were also struggling readers.  I had not developed too many tools for my toolbox at that juncture of my teaching, so I relied on talking over and over and over about how I wanted the children to think about each other and themselves differently.  On my way home one day, I heard the theme song from “Cheers” on the radio.  (Yes, that is how old I am!)  As I sang along I remember thinking, wouldn’t it be so nice for my students to feel like they belonged and that I was really happy we were all here together!  For those of you that do not know the song, here are the parts I used with my students:

“Making your way in the world today Takes everything you've got

Taking a break from all your worries

Sure would help a lot

Wouldn't you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go 

Where everyone knows your name

And they’re always glad you came

You want to be where everyone knows your name.”

Every single morning after that I played the song as the kids entered the classroom.  At first they were uncertain - not knowing whether or not to like it, make fun of it, or ignore it.  As I listened to their reactions, I took a few minutes explaining  why I was beginning this new tradition for our classroom.  Little by little, the kids began to really like hearing it as they walked into the room.  After a week, I put the printed lyrics and on their desks and asked them to read the words and highlight the ones that meant the most to them.  It was the breakthrough I had been looking for! Because it was so successful I added more songs to reflect whatever it was we were experiencing! 

Because they struggled so much, I started playing “Miracles” by Mariah Carey.  I told them so many times that I believed in them and that miracles do happen, but you have to believe they can!  It wasn’t until I started playing the song, printed the words, that true change happened.  I became intentionally aware of the learning needs I was seeing, and used more and more songs to help their brains be receptive to new ways of thinking and expressing their ideas without them feeling they had deficits!  It was amazing!  

Since reading was and still is the pinnacle of learning and of life in general, in my opinion, I really used music as a different way to create an understanding of words, phrases, and new ways to look at things.  The trajectory that took us on was then, when a child was struggling to read or write, we would go back to how that songwriter used language!  I also would challenge them to go to their favorite books, or listen carefully as I read aloud for either the same phrases or words, or similar ones in our books.  They LOVED that!  It became something fun to do with a book, when previously it was only a reminder of what they could not do.  Students started suggesting songs of their own to play because the words spoke to them!  At the end of the year I would create a “playlist” of songs from our year and copy it onto a CD and give one to every child as an end of the year gift.  

Unexpectedly, it really boosted reading for these kids.  They understood the power of words and how they can make you feel, and what has more words than books?  Even if the text was hard to physically read, they WANTED to read it to figure things out, and that internal power is what drove them to want to not only read, but be changed by what they read!  The bridge between songs and reading became very clear to me. After a while I would allow students to "audit" groups of readers who were talking about books where the text was too hard for them. The kids would do anything to be able to audit another book club. BOOKS! And the talented authors who understand the gift they have to change the trajectory of a person’s life is inspiring.  Music, to me, is such a beautiful way to help all of us understand and learn how to say things, and how to live our best lives!  It reinforces we are not alone, and there are ways to do something we might not have thought of.

Friday, January 8, 2021

A "PLAY" IN A LIST -- by Jane Kelley

When I work on a novel, I try not to rely just on dialogue and visual descriptions. Adding sensations and smells are really good ways to bring a moment to life. I especially love to include sounds. Not only do they enhance the reality of what I'm writing, they can add a rhythm to the prose, make a pause, or provide an exclamation point.

Could sounds alone tell a story? Of course I can "see" in my mind what I intended. But will it make any sense to you? For this blog, I decided to give myself-–and you the challenge. Finding intriguing photos often inspires my blogs. This time, I won't have any visuals--not even fun fonts. : - (  




































Monday, January 4, 2021

A New Playlist!

Over winter break, my mom and I have enjoyed binging the new Netflix series Bridgerton. The show is set in the the middle of the Regency era of England, so it was quite a surprise to hear Ariana Grande's "thank u, next" play in the middle of the first episode. The series boasts a lot of modern changes to the stories made popular by Julia Quinn's novels, and modern music rerecorded as orchestra pieces is one of them. This was a fun aspect of the show for me. I played the violin all throughout middle and high school, and one of my favorite concerts was a Pop Culture Show where my teacher/conductor let us play current hits like "All About That Bass" by Megan Trainor. 

Most of these rerecorded songs were performed by the Vitamin String Quartet. I've found they have a ton of other orchestral covers of current music and have slowly been working my way through them and picking my favorites. That being said, I wanted to share a screenshot of the new playlist I've been working on! It's great for writing because the music is familiar and fun, but not distracting. (I find myself wanting to sing along a little too often when lyrics are present!)  


Sunday, January 3, 2021


My newest middle grade novel D-39: A ROBODOG'S JOURNEY will be released from Charlesbridge in May. It's a dystopian verse novel about a tinkerer-girl named Klynt who finds (and fixes) a robodog—a robodog with a big secret. When the deathstretch* reaches the Worselands, they set out on a perilous journey and learn what it truly means to be a hero.

I didn't actually listen to music when I was working on this book. I find music to be distracting (unless we're talking birdsong or the swish of the dishwasher or the low murmur of my husband's tv show in the other room). 

Which is weird, because otherwise I LOVE music. I'm married to a human jukebox. And I play the cello. A lot. In fact, my Spotify list for 2020, of which I've listened to just ten songs so far, are all cello pieces! 

But it's not cello that comes to mind for this book's playlist. It's this:

When the government outlaws dogs, seizes property, closes schools, shuts down the internet: "Uprising" by Muse

When Klynt discovers an antique D-39 robodog in the barn: "Mr. Roboto" by Styx 

When Klynt hears her dead mother's voice calling, "Come to Everlake," and she decides to set out on a seemingly impossible journey: "Guaranteed" by Eddie Vedder (as featured in the movie INTO THE WILD)

When the journey comes to an end... and inspires a new beginning: "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" by Israel “Iz”Kamakawiwo'ole


*The book features A LOT of made up words. Deathstretch = war. Pre-orders available now. Thank you for reading!
Irene Latham lives on a lake in rural Alabama. Winner of the 2016 ILA Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, she is the author of hundreds of poems and nearly twenty current and forthcoming poetry, fiction and picture books from publishers including Penguin Random House, Macmillan, Lerner, Charlesbridge, Boyd Mills/Kane, Candlewick, and others. Her books have been recognized on state lists and honored by NEA, ALA, NCTE, SIBA, Bank Street College and other organizations.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

An Aspirational Writing Playlist for the New Year!


Hi everyone. The theme for this month is to create a playlist that relates in some way to writing. This playlist is not what I actually play when I’m writing (but maybe I should). It’s more of a thematic journey through my writing process. It also demonstrates that I am very OLD!


This being a new year, I am filled with resolutions! I’ve made lists of writing projects I’d like to begin. I’ve ordered research materials, some of which have arrived. Given that I’ve written almost nothing during the pandemic, the first resolution is to write. Write every day.


So the first song on the playlist is Everyday I Write the Book, by Elvis Costello. I can sing it to myself on mornings when I wake up and feel discouraged, like perhaps on that particular day I will not be able to write the book. It will encourage me.


The second song is Lady Writer, by Dire Straits. Maybe I can be on TV, like the Lady Writer in the song. I do know something about history, as she does. Even though the song seems to be comparing the Lady Writer somewhat unfavorably to another woman, she’s still a writer. So that also should encourage me.


Third, we have Paperback Writer, by the Beatles. How could I leave that out? I would like people to read my book! It did take me a long time to write!


Moving on, we should probably address the issue of actually getting the book published. Querying agents. Querying publishers. It’s enough to make a lady writer despair. What do I need? RESPECT! Cue Aretha Franklin.


So there I am, writing the book. And often I struggle to make the plot work, or the characters work, or the tempo work. Days go by and it still seems wrong. Until one day, something clicks into place and I stare at the computer screen, amazed. It’s actually working! It actually seems…dare I say it…good! And the appropriate song for that feeling might be You Are the Best Thing, by Ray LaMontagne.


Of course, then a few minutes later my neuroses creep back in, and I think, well, it’s not really that good, is it? Maybe I need to change it. Maybe I need to go for a walk.


Then there are times when the characters take off and do things I never expected them to do. Like in one of my middle grade books, when a character walks into the chess club meeting who I never had imagined would walk into the chess club meeting. A total surprise that made me realize this character had a lot more to him than I’d realized. My characters move in Mysterious Ways, as U2 might say.


And then one day, after writing and revising and revising and revising, I get to the point where I might actually be done. I question myself, but I realize it’s time to show this fledgling manuscript to my wonderful family and friends. An appropriate song here could be At Last, by Etta James. The relationship between myself and my book does represent an odd sort of love, doesn’t it?


I’ll end with a word of caution. There are days when I feel the need to do some errands and leave the computer behind (at least in the pre-pandemic days. Now I mostly order things online). Errands can be a good way to procrastinate. If you live in Montgomery County, Maryland, where I’ve lived for a good portion of my life, the odds are that you might do some of those errands in Rockville. In fact, I spent some time yesterday in the Curbside Pickup line at Best Buy on Rockville Pike instead of writing this blog post. So the best song for this phenomenon would be (Don’t Go Back to) Rockville, by R.E.M. I don’t want to waste another year.


Thanks, and happy new year!


--Deborah Kalb