Category Archives: writing

Publication Arrival

PLAIN SPOKE: A Literary Speakeasy, Volume 3, No. 2 May 2009 issue has arrived in my mailbox and with it, two of my poems.

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Driving Sr. Moya

Horacio Castellanos Moya

Horacio Castellanos Moya (Photo: Heather Mull)

I volunteer with the City of Asylum Pittsburgh, and today I had the pleasure of driving one of the writers, Horacio Castellanos Moya, to a reading/q&a session at Westminster College in Greensburg, PA. I had never driven there before, so I got directions from Google Maps. We got there without a hitch, and talked the whole time– philospohy, physics, religion, writing, etc. After we got off of 79 we were in farm country and passed many Amish buggies (Horacio’s first time to see them). The Amish houses all have blue painted doors. Once there, the professor who arranged for Moya to come, along with three other professors and three students took us to dinner at Rachel’s Roadhouse. Never one to turn down free food, I had the portobello pasta. During dinner I talked with two of the professors, Camila  of Argentina who says my Spanish is good (i think her ears are kind), and James Perkins who was the only professor along from the English department (the others were from the modern languages dept). I translated some of the ongoing Spanish conversations for him and also talked about poetry and literature with him. We got back to the college and had some downtime in which I had coffee and looked at books. Camila showed me the cafeteria, the “soul” of the campus, as she said, and James showed me his favorite spot on campus, a long narrow area with comfy chairs in front of a floor to ceiling window with a view of the campus, including the man-made lake supposedly in the shape of Alabama. One of the president’s of the university is also said to have water skiied on it. Then it was time for the reading, where Horacio read from his novel Senselessness (excerpt). He read the entire first chapter and part of the sixth. I absolutely have to read it now. It is about a horrific tragedy (massacre of indigenous peoples of honduras), but also has humor. He said sometimes you have to laugh or you will cry. I say that when there is humor and lighter moments in a book, it makes the tragic ones hit even harder for the stark contrast. After the reading, he took questions. One man asked to hear the first page in Spanish, which Horacio complied with. He reads in the same rhythym in both English and Spanish, something I noticed about Russian poet Ilya Kaminsky. The Russians also laugh in the face of tragedy….I guess it is a human thing. Don’t want to get too philosophical here right now, because we got enough philosophical on the carride home to last me at least a week. We also manged to get a little lost. Those roads are sooo dark and there were no stars out even to guide us. When we realized we didn’t recognize anything anymore, we tried to back track to a point where we recognized, but somehow got off the course and ended up in a city. There was life and we could stop for directions finally. Then we realized it was Grove City so we just got on 79 and went back to Pittsburgh.

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One Word- Startled

sarah was startled by the knock at the door. how anyone had gotten through the locked front door and up the apartment building stairs to her door concerned her. she rose from her position lying on the couch and debated on whether to answer the door or pretend she was not home. but curiosity got the better of her……

one word | | startled

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one word: meant

i said one thing but meant another. i never thought i was capable of subterfuge, and i’m probably not. what i mean is, i wear my intentions on my face. i cannot tell a lie, sir. did lincoln ever say that. i don’t think so. did lincoln ever lie? no. then how did he go to sleep? standing up? har har har

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Local Woman Completes MFA, Debuts Children’s Book in Same Week

Interview with Crystalee Calderwood, author of Angeline Jellybean



Process and Mechanics

1.    When you wrote Angeline Jellybean, was it your plan to make use of rhyme scheme, or did it just come out that way as you wrote it?
It was just the way it was supposed to be written. The way you read it now is almost exactly the way it came out of my head, with a few lines tweaks, of course. I didn’t really set out to write a picture book in rhyme, but once I realized that was happening, I went with it. I had never successfully written a picture book in rhyme before, so it was a good challenge for me.
2.    What are the dangers of writing a children’s book in rhyme? Are there any rhyming children’s books that are well done that influenced you?
Dangers? Are there dangers? *laughs* Well, rhyming picture books, when well done, are extremely good for helping children develop language and memorization skills. The pitfall, of course, is that they are very hard to write well. The classic example of a flawless rhymer is Dr. Seuss, but there are many modern picture books with great rhyme schemes. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is probably one of the best out there. Ask a three-year-old to tell you the story, and they can probably do it. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom has really become an update on the “ABC Song.” It uses rhyme to teach the ABC’s and kids have so much fun with it that they don’t even realize how much they are learning.
3.    How did your background as a poet help or hurt your process writing Angeline?
I don’t know that it helped or hurt me that much. I am very much a free-verse poet, and I find that 99% of the time I try to write a poem that rhymes, it comes out trite or too sing-songy. Certainly, my background in poetry did help me hear the rhythm in my head and sort of know when something didn’t fit right. But really, I have very little experience with rhyming, so that aspect took a lot of work.
4.    Talk about your time serving with Beginning with Books. How do you think working with children and around children’s books affected you. Did it make you want to write children’s books more or less or no effect. What do you think the particular children you worked with would think of Angeline?
My time at Beginning with Books was the period in my life when I started to take this whole writing for children thing seriously. For the first time in my life, I was interacting with a large number of children, getting inside their worlds and learning about their passions and pet peeves. I was also reading a large number of children’s books, everything from board books and picture books to YA novels, on a daily basis. I was exposed to so many genres that it opened up a whole world for my writing. I learned what I love to read, and therefore what I should be writing. My time at BWB definitely made me want to write more children’s books.

I think all children can relate to Angeline to a certain extent. She is a picky eater, which is an issue many children go through at some point in their lives. She wants nothing but her favorite snack, again a common infliction amongst children. And again, the book has that rhyming aspect that really keeps children listening and interested. Most of the children I worked with deal with some very serious issues in their lives–violence in their homes and neighborhoods, drugs on their streets, broken families-and books like Angeline Jellybean can serve as an escape from reality for them.

5.    What is the difference between “good” and “bad” children’s book writing?
Good children’s book writers know children. They go to schools and interact with them. They write about issues that are important to children. They live life so that they can write about it. Bad children’s book writers sit at a desk all day and write about things they think will entertain children. They write preachy, didactic stories because they think they know everything there is to know. They don’t realize that they can learn just as much from a child as a child can learn from them.
6.    What was your working relationship with the illustrator for Angeline? How much input did you have into his process, did anything he sent you change the way you thought about Angeline?
Honestly, I didn’t need a lot of input. I looked at the first illustration of Angeline and said “That’s her.” What Stephen’s illustrations did for me was ground her in a place. I had never imagined her in this farm-like atmosphere, a little tomboy of sorts.
7.    How did it feel the first time you saw Angeline illustrated?
I was totally blown away. Stephen Macquignon is such an excellent illustrator. I adored the colors and the expression on Angeline’s face. Mostly, I couldn’t believe that those fabulous illustrations were going to be in my book!
8.    Do you foresee any Angeline sequels? More children’s books in general?
I don’t think Angeline has another book in her. But children’s books in general, definitely. I have several in different stages, none ready to publish yet.
9.    I hear that you have also written a YA Povel-any plans on getting that published? Can you tell us about it?
Definitely! Yes, I would love to get it published. It wasn’t until I sat down with some of my mentors recently that I realized how far I need to go with it to get it ready for publication. It needs stronger secondary characters, some plot holes filled in, and a subplot or two. I have my work cut out for me!

For readers who don’t know what a povel is, it is also known as a novel in verse or a novel in poetry. Povels are novels told as a series of poems. In my case, the poems alternated between the voices and points of view of two characters. Yes, it is as challenging as it sounds.
10.    How was the process different/the same in writing for young adults versus a picture book?
Writing a YA novel is much more exhausting! It took me almost a year to write my 100 page novel. Angeline came out of me in maybe an hour? Of course, neither book was perfect from the beginning. With the novel, I had to be much more organized. I had to keep track of two character’s lives, hobbies, families, struggles, boyfriends, etc. I also had multiple copies of 100 poems lying around my apartment. I had to set up a schedule for my novel. I wrote religiously every Thursday night from 6:30-9. Think about it: a picture book of less than 500 words and a novel of 100 pages. The novel has obviously taken up a much larger chunk of my life.

Crystalee Calderwood

Crystalee Calderwood

Getting to know you

1.    Did you have a vice like jellybeans as a child? If so what was it?
Oh, I think I still have that vice! haha. Chocolate. Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate. If it contains chocolate I will eat it!
2.    If you could be any color jellybean, what color would you be?
Red! No, I like the red ones too much. I don’t want to be eaten. Black. Yeah, those nasty black ones. No one eats those, right?
3.    Do you like the different flavored jellybeans, like jelly belly or the harry potter ones?
I am in love with Jelly Belly jellybeans! No others compare.
4.    What is your food guilty pleasure?
Chocolate or cheese, definitely.
5.    If you had to eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I would say chocolate except I think that would make me sick. So I’m going with cheese. A nice variety of hard and soft cheeses.
6.    If you were written about in the newspaper, on the front page, what would the headline say?
Why, can you get me a headline on the front page? “Local woman completes MFA, debuts first children’s book in same week.” On second thought, that’s not exciting enough.
7.    If Hollywood were to make a movie of your life, what actress/actresses would you want to play you?
Julianne Moore. I’ve been told twice now that I look like her. *shrugs*
8.    If someone wrote a biography about you, what do you think the title should be?
Sara Adkins, What is with the Hard Questions? or It All Happened Because of Pittsburgh
9.    Do you remember your favorite children’s book when you were a child?
I had many. I read everything I could get my hands on. But for most of my life I read nothing but the Baby-sitter’s Club books by Ann M. Martin.
10.    Do you like to be read to aloud? Do you think different things can be gained from reading to yourself and being read to?
Yes, definitely. Listening to someone read a picture book aloud is a multi-sensory experience. Characters can really come to life when a reader adds the right inflection to his or her voice. A good storytime involves the children as much as possible, gets them thinking or moving or discussing. Of course, there is always a place and time for curling up in a chair with a good book too.
11.    Any last words?
Thank you for interviewing me. I haven’t had this much fun since I volunteered at a symphony concert for kids this morning!

Don’t forget to check out the last two days of the blog tour at:

Lea Schizas at -January 3rd
Crystalee Calderwood at -January 4th

Additionally, Angeline Jellybean makes a great gift, as verified by my mom:

I got my Mom, an elementary school educator, this book for Christmas

I got my Mom, an elementary school educator, this book for Christmas

“I thought Crystalee’s book was cute. It covered the holidays, colors and promoted healthy eating. I’m sure the kids will like it.” – Darla Adkins

Available at Amazon.Com and the 4RV Publishing Store


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one word- gloss

i tend to gloss over the unpleasant memories. it’s not like lip gloss that can heal chapped lips. glossing over memories doesn’t heal anything, it only buries them deeper inside. until they well up to full and you have to explode. my intestines will shine with a glossy sheen…

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Upcoming Blog Tour

One of my best friends, CRYSTALEE CALDERWOOD, has written and published a childrens book, ANGELINE JELLYBEAN! She is going on blog tour, and Excelsior! is proud to be hosting her on January 2nd, 2009. Here is a complete schedule of the tour so you can follow it. I have received a copy of the book and am very impressed and pleased for my friend. I have completed an insightful interview with Crys, so make sure to come back and check it out!

Angeline Jellybean Blog Tour

Ransom Noble at -December 28th
Vivian Zabel at 29th
Laura Peters at December 30th
Elysabeth Eldering -December 31st
Susan Thompson at – January 1st
Sarah Adkins at -January 2nd
Lea Schizas at -January 3rd
Crystalee Calderwood at -January 4th

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