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Cell phone pics of Barkis’s first road trip:

Barkis in the backseat

eastern Oregon

Tater Tots!…we passed by the place where Tater Tots are made. I guess it never occurred to me before that “Ore-Ida” comes from the fact that it’s located on the Oregon-Idaho boundary. Who doesn’t love Tater Tots?

It’s the ultimate wish-fulfillment story. Haven’t you ever yearned to rescue Romeo and Juliet? If you’re a writer like me, you spent many hours of your childhood “fixing” the endings of R&J, The Yearling, Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows… This is a fabulous and funny novel for the young and young at heart. Thanks to Melissa at Estella’s Revenge for a review that does it justice:

Saving Juliet
Written by Suzanne Selfors
Walker Books for Young Readers
Reviewed by Melissa

You know about the books that change your life. There are the ones that make you cry buckets. And the romances: books with characters that make you swoon. And then there are those books that leave you with a silly grin on your face because they’re just so darn cute.

Saving Juliet is one of those “silly grin” books.

I couldn’t stop smiling. Reading the book made me happy; not because it was deep, profound, life changing or even because I was totally swooning over the main characters. But because it was sweet, cute, silly, fun, snarky, and… happy. Just perfect for a cold, dreary, gray day outside.

The basic conceit is simple: Mimi Wallingford, the great-granddaughter of famous stage (Shakespearean!) actress Adelaide Wallingford, wants the freedom to choose her own life. To get away from her uber-controlling mom. To do something other than act in Shakespearean plays (she’s been acting since she was three!). To stop being Juliet to pop star Troy Summer’s Romeo. And on the day of her final performance, she gets her wish: she’s transported (with Troy) to Verona Italy, circa 1594, right in the middle of Shakespeare’s play.

It could have been a very sappy, cloying story. It was sappy, but it had a healthy dose of silly and snark to make up for it. It could have been a typical “finding yourself” teenage story. Of course it was a finding yourself teenage story, but not many teenagers find themselves in 16th-century Italy. Selfors’s writing style is charming and snarky at the same time. She doesn’t attempt to make the story serious, or to take the whole book seriously, and as a result, it works wonderfully. I loved Mimi as a narrator: she’s not above telling it like it is, even when it embarrasses her. Even when it involves bodily functions in the 16th century. And because she treats the unbelievablity of the situation (I mean really: traveling through time into a play?) with humor, it works, and you believe it.

I warned you at the beginning that you might not believe the story I was about to tell, so you’ve probably anticipated this moment. You may also have read the book’s jacket copy so you know that at some point I am going to take an unexpected trip. I did not have the luxury of a book jacket, however, to prepare me, so I felt totally bewildered.

I was hooked.

I liked that Selfors knows Romeo and Juliet inside and out; it gives her the ability to seamlessly both include and diverge from it. I liked the clever asides that Mimi makes about the situation she’s found herself in, like the realization that everyone’s speaking English (and not Shakespearean, much less Italian), and the implications that has for her adventures. I liked that both Romeo and Juliet were fleshed out, growing beyond their usual roles of doomed star-crossed lovers. I liked the roles Mimi played, from damsel in distress, to love-struck herself, to, finally, a confident young woman who knows what she wants, and feels like she can achieve it.

But mostly, it’s a very cute love story, a fun historical adventure, a smart homage to one of the greatest playwrights the English language has produced.

Which just left a smile on my face.

Jay took this shot in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. I don't think he's writing but I like the shot.In his watershed writing memoir, On Writing, Stephen King discussed his process. Early on, when I’m getting the draft down, I write with the door shut.

I’m active in two very dynamic writersgroups and I regularly bring material for critiquing. But not the first time around. The door-shut time around. A novel is complicated and confusing enough with one writer trying to juggle everything. I can only have my head filled with so many voices at a time, and the first draft belongs to the fictional voices–my characters. This is where they take on a life of their own, but the magic only works if I shut the door and listen.

How do you write? Door open? Door shut?

Here are some of my personal favorites. Some would be real longshots for an Oscar, but in my perfect world, a few of the honorees would be…

The Wizard of Oz. AKA the most watchable movie ever made. Best Picture.

The Shawshank Redemption. A masterpiece of emotional restraint, storytelling, and acting by the entire cast. If you can keep from floating away on a raft of tears in the end, you’re made of stone.

Harold and Maude. My favorite screen romance, and surely the winner for Best Soundtrack and Best Song.

Last of the Mohicans. Okay, I lied. This is my favorite screen romance. Best Score by a mile. So much better than the novel, you’ll forget there ever was a novel.

Lady JaneLady Jane. Best tragic romance, with Cary Elwes looking so handsome you’ll melt on the floor. Best costumes, for sure.

Terminator. Second-best tragic romance, and Michael Biehn will own your soul.

Breaking Away. This is one of those movies I can’t help but watch every time it shows up on TV–a classic story of a young man figuring out who he is and where he belongs. Bonus points for the opera score.

Blazing Saddles. What can I say? I’m in charge here. This movie is so stupidly funny it deserves something.

Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing take the prize for Best Collaboration by a Now-Divorced Couple–Kenneth Branagh and the incomparable Emma Thompson.

Hoop Dreams. A movie every person in America should see, along with Apollo 13.

Sense and Sensibility. The only feature film that does justice to Jane Austen.

Amadeus. This probably won an Oscar for something, surely. A flawless depiction of genius and passion.

So there you are. Just a few overlooked faves. How about you?

I’m talking and I can’t shut up! (You have to scroll down on the right hand side and click “of interest.”)

The Resort at Port LudlowWhat are you doing this Saturday night? If you’re in Western Washington, why not come to the legendary Resort at Port Ludlow and have dinner with me, author Margaret Willson and other booklovers. You can find more details about the event here. Come for some incredible Northwest cuisine and conversation.

Lit Up at the Library

Roy Blount, Jr. is one of the country’s most distinguished men of letters. Add –ist to almost any form of writing, and he’s been there, done that–journalist, novelist, humorist, panelist…And he’s also written plays, biographies, memoirs and screenplays. He starred a PBS documentary (“The Main Stream“), is a regular on NPR’s game show, “Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” and occasionally performs in the literary-themed band, the Rock Bottom Remainders with Stephen King, Dave Barry, Amy Tan and other writers.

But like all writers, his journey began at the public library. “My childhood library, in Decatur, Georgia, was a large grey-stone building, which is still there but greatly expanded and better lit inside,” Roy says. “The old one was lit well enough for me, the books lit it up, and I wanted to read all of them. Lots of orange biographies of pioneers, Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett and Kit Carson. I can’t remember reading any biographies of anybody who didn’t wear buckskin. I read all the Oz books, and the Dr. Doolittle books. It was a family joke that when I was a little boy in the library I would get so excited I would have to go to the bathroom real bad and be dancing around not wanting to leave the books. I guess that is not a very delicate story, but there it is.”

With memories like that, how could he not grow up to be president of the Authors Guild and a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers? And with a writer’s voice like that, how could we not invite him to be the keynote speaker at our spring conference, “Writing in the Garden of the Gods“?Roy Blount Jr [

Photo credit Valerie Shaff]

Another library memory can be found in Roy’s latest book, Long Time Leaving: Dispatches From Up South:

One afternoon I was in the library of a small town in Mississippi, in need of some information, so I went up to the lady behind the desk there. Ahead of me were an elderly white man and a young black woman. The white man was saying:

“….just hit me suddenly, you know, that I wanted somethin’, and then….it hit me what it was. That I wanted. It was pie.”

“Well,” said the lady behind the desk.

“A piece a pie. It’s funny cause u-sually I don’t want pie, this time a day. But I did, that’s exactly what it was, that I wanted. But I couldn’t think who would have pie…this time a day.”

“Uh-hmmm,” said the librarian.

“Miz Boyd a course serves extremely fine pie. But a course Miz Boyd wouldn’t be open…”

“I was goin’ to say,” said the librarian.

“…this time a day. So I said to myself, I said, ‘Now Wawltuh, where in town would they be liable to know…where a body could get a piece a pie.'”

“Mm-hm,” said the librarian, looking thoughtful. “This time a day.”

“I said, ‘Well I tell you where somebody is liable to know. At the li-berry.’ So I told myself that what I would do would be to just come on over here and….”

“I declare, Mr. Owsley, I don’t believe I know…where….” She raised her voice: “IOTA?”

A faint voice came from back in the stacks: “Uh-huhhhhh?”


“You mean…this time a day?”

At that point the young black woman stepped forward and said, “’Scuse me, do you have anything about the Army? ’Cause I got to get out of this damn town.”

Roy will be joined by Pulitzer-prize and National Book Award winner Timothy Egan, bestselling novelist Stephanie Kallos and other distinguished guests at Kiana Lodge on April 26. Registration for the event opens on February 1, so get out that calendar you got for Christmas and write it down now. Better yet, subscribe to the free e-newsletter at For further information about the conference, please see

The finest chocolate in the world comes from Belgium. Here are some of the chocolates Elizabeth brought home from her trip to Europe. She got them in a shop in Bruges. Belgian chocolates

The most memorable Valentines Day card I ever received came years ago, when I was a fifth-grade teacher. I had a student whose name was Melvin, and he was what was politely known as a “challenging” child. I like to think a lot of his issues stemmed from his natural exuberance. No matter how much trouble he got into, Melvin always had that special joie de vivre that made him so much fun, even when he was disrupting the other twenty kids in the class.

One of Melvin’s biggest challenges was sitting still long enough to actually write words on paper. He wasn’t very good at it. His penmanship was awful, his spelling worse, his grammar and syntax quite…caveman-like. But he never lost heart, and one Valentine’s Day, he spent the entire morning diligently working on something secret involving a posterboard and those colored fat markers that smell like fruit. (That smell still takes me back!)

At the end of the day, when it was time for the big valentine exchange and chocolate fest, Melvin proudly presented me with the biggest card I’d ever seen. It was about 2 feet tall, 100% homemade, reeking of fruit-scented markers. Inside was a giant heart with two eyes and a huge, smiling mouth, and the inscription, “Mrs Wiggs – HAPPY VD” and it was signed, Love, Melvin. It’s the only time anyone’s ever wished me Happy VD, so I’ll always remember that.

Finally, here is something to make your Valentine’s Day rich and delicious. I found this in the magazine discard pile at the public library. It’s from something called “The Week.” Below, I’ve simplified and adapted it for 2 or 3 servings. My hips can’t take anymore than that.

Individual Chocolate Souffle Cakes

2 Tbsp soft unsalted butter

2 eggs

pinch salt

6 oz bittersweet chocolate (use good quality brand with a high percentage of cocoa solids)

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla

1/4 cup flour

Place a cookie sheet in the oven and preheat oven to 400. Spray 3 small custard cups with Pam. Melt the chocolate in the microwave or in a double boiler. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one by one with a pinch of salt, and add the vanilla. Then blend in chocolate. Pour into custard cups, place the cups on the hot baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes, until the tops are firm and dry. Invert each cup on a serving plate and dust with confectioner’s sugar. If you’re feeling creative, use raspberry coulis to draw a heart around the edge of the plate.

chocolates from Bruges

So here’s what I was doing just before the phone rang:

revisions of JUST BREATHE

…and here’s what I did the rest of the day.


I did a salsa dance, too, but no way I’m showing you the photo.

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February 2008