Book Review – CRAZY BRAVE by Joy Harjo

Crazy Brave

I came across an article celebrating a female poet from Oklahoma winning a great poetry honor. She was from Tulsa, and I had read some of her poetry in a collection of Oklahoma poets, so her name was familiar. I read on and learned this award was the Academy of American Poets highest honor, the Wallace Stevens Award, for proven mastery in the art of poetry. How exciting! I knew right then I had to read this book.


Crazy BraveCRAZY BRAVE by Joy Harjo

Published by: W.W. Norton &

Release Date: July 9, 2012

Genres: Autobiography, Memoir, Poetry



Plot Summary:

In this transcendent memoir, grounded in tribal myth and ancestry, music and poetry, Joy Harjo, one of our leading Native American voices, details her journey to becoming a poet. Born in Oklahoma, the end place of the Trail of Tears, Harjo grew up learning to dodge an abusive stepfather by finding shelter in her imagination, a deep spiritual life, and connection with the natural world. She attended an Indian arts boarding school, where she nourished an appreciation for painting, music, and poetry; gave birth while still a teenager; and struggled on her own as a single mother, eventually finding her poetic voice. Narrating the complexities of betrayal and love, Crazy Brave is a memoir about family and the breaking apart necessary in finding a voice. Harjo’s tale of a hardscrabble youth, young adulthood, and transformation into an award-winning poet and musician is haunting, unique, and visionary. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

The writing is nothing short of mystical. I connected with it as an artist right away, but in a way that was not easy to define. It all just made complete sense to me. Harjo was speaking my language. I was entranced by her story, and I weeped at the end when she found her way back to poetry.

I couldn’t stop crying. It may have had more to do with where I am in my life right now, but I was still very moved by her story.

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning :


East is the direction of beginnings. It is sunrise. When beloved Sun rises, it is an entrance, a door to fresh knowledge. Breathe the light in. Call upon the assistance you need for the day. Give thanks.

East is how the plants, animals, and other beings orient themselves for beginnings, to open and blossom. The spirit of the day emerges from the sunrise point. East is also the direction of Oklahoma, where I was born, the direction of the Creek Nation.


Once I was so small I could barely see over the top of the back seat of the black Cadillac my father bought with his Indian oil money. He polished and tuned his car daily. I wanted to see everything.

This was around the time I acquired language, when something happened that changed my relationship to the spin of the world. It changed even the way I looked at the sun.

This suspended integer of time probably escaped ordinary notice in my parents’ universe, which informed most of my vision in the ordinary world. They were still omnipresent gods.

We were driving somewhere in Tulsa, the northern border of the Creek Nation. I don’t know where we were going or where we had been, but I know the sun was boiling the asphalt, the car windows were open for any breeze as I stood on tiptoes on the floorboard behind my father, a handsome god who smelled of Old Spice, whose slick black hair was always impeccably groomed, his clothes perfectly creased and ironed. The radio was on. Even then I loved the radio, jukeboxes, or any magic thing containing music.

I wonder what signaled this moment, a loop of time that on first glance could be any place in time. I became acutely aware of the line the jazz trumpeter was playing (a sound I later associated with Miles Davis). I didn’t know the words jazz or trumpet. I don’t know how to say it, with what sounds or words, but in that confluence of hot southern afternoon, in the breeze of aftershave and humidity, I followed that sound to the beginning, to the birth of sound. I was suspended in whirling stars. I grieved my parents’ failings, my own life, which I saw stretching the length of that rhapsody.

My rite of passage into the world of humanity occurred then, through jazz. The music was a startling bridge between familiar and strange lands. I heard stomp-dance shells, singing. I saw suits, satin, fine hats. I heard workers singing in the fields. It was a way to speak beyond the confines of ordinary language.

Not the typical beginning for an autobiography, and yet, it was the perfect voice for Harjo’s life story. In between the storytelling, I found a brutally honest examination of a life, with no excuses, and a deeper understanding of humanity. And above all, a way through, with bravery.

Needless to say, this book has found a special place in my heart, and I know it will touch yours as well.


Learn more about Joy Harjo here.

Follow Joy on Facebook here.

Subscribe to Joy’s YouTube Channel here.


SCBWI OK FALL RETREAT 2015 – Fan That Spark


During the fantastic SCBWI OK Spring Conference this past March, we all got our Spark Ignited.

The next step?

We gotta fan that spark!

Come to our unbelievable Fall Retreat. You won’t want to miss it!


This two-day event, from Friday, October 9th through Saturday, October 10th, will have specially designed tracks for illustrators, picture book writers, and novel writers built in to the programming. There will also be a first pages panel & discussion, and an entire day devoted to editing. Manuscript critiques will also be available. (For full details, visit the OK SCBWI website.)

Meet our speakers:

stacks_image_43Tim Jessell – Tim illustrates the best seller series Secrets Of DroonDog DiariesAmare Stoudemire’s STAT, Stan Lee of Marvel Comics first children’s picture book, and covers for the reissue of Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s Newbery Honor Books. Jessell is also the author and illustrator of two picture books, Amorak and FALCON.


Learn more about Tim by visiting his website:


trasler - photo with puppet-crop-u483Janee Trasler – Janee writes and illustrates clever  and funny picture books like the Chickies series, MIMI AND BEAR IN THE SNOW, CAVEMAN A.B.C. STORY, and BENNY’S CHOCOLATE BUNNY. She’s also been known to sing silly songs and play with puppets.

Learn more about Janee by visiting her website:


AnnaMyersphotoCAnna Myers – This award-winning Oklahoma author has published 20 books to much critical acclaim. She has won the Oklahoma Book Award four times for SPY!, ASSASSIN, GRAVEYARD GIRL, and RED DIRT JESSIE. She was also awarded their lifetime achievement, the Arrell Gibson Award, in 2012. She writes historical and contemporary fiction for young readers. She also had her first picture book, TUMBLEWEED BABY, published in 2014. Most importantly, she was our Oklahoma SCBWI Regional Advisor and fearless leader for 14 years.

Learn more about Anna by visiting her website:


LindaUrbanLinda Urban – Linda writes picture books and middle grade novels from subjects as varied as an angry mouse expressing emotion (MOUSE WAS MAD), a red-headed boy searching for independence (LITTLE RED HENRY), a girl who dreams of playing pianos only to end up with a wheezy organ (A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT), and a girl who tries to fix a horrible mistake with a birthday wish (THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING). Urban’s characters are written with so much heart, yours will burst while reading about them.

Learn more about Linda by visiting her website:

For full details on the retreat and how to register, visit the OK SCBWI website here:

Hope to see you there!

TweetSome of our speakers and manuscript critiquers may be making guest appearances on upcoming sessions of #okscbwichat on Twitter prior to the retreat, so stay tuned!



Art & Fear – An Exploration, Part I

We all have to face fears in our lives at one time or another.

My daughter drops whatever she’s doing and runs inside at the sight of any flying insect with a stinger (mostly bees, but on occasion she has run from butterflies by mistake). My husband has to put on his iPod and listen to Pink Floyd whenever he goes to the dentist. What can I say? He had a bad experience with a dentist overseas once who didn’t use anesthetic. I don’t really blame him for that one.

I recently faced one of my fears around Halloween. This one had to do with my son, Trevor.

I had been dreading Halloween for weeks. I remembered the year before how Trevor had been so much bigger than most of the kids going around the neighborhood and even though he went out with a family friend who was in grade school – something of a holiday tradition – we still got some puzzled looks. No one said anything mean, but I felt uncomfortable all evening. And I knew this year, with Trevor being even bigger and older, things would only feel more tense. I couldn’t get Trevor to understand that he was too big for Halloween and I’d tried the year before to have him stay home and help me pass out candy, but that didn’t work out.

My fear was that he would be turned away. Shunned. That he would receive hurtful stares or ugly comments – not that he was likely to notice (unless he didn’t get any candy), but I would. And it would hurt. No one wants to see their child be rejected.

So, I thought of a different strategy. I’ve been doing some part-time work for our local autism group and that inspired me to do some outreach of my own.  I’d open up and let our neighbors in. THIS WAS WAY OUTSIDE OF MY COMFORT ZONE. I am not good at asking for help or reaching out to people, so this step was huge. But then, it wasn’t for me. It was so my neighbors would understand who my son was and welcome him.

Here’s the message I posted on our Neighborhood Association Facebook page:

Trevor Halloween Story

There was such a huge positive response to this post that I was overwhelmed. And even one other family in the neighborhood told about their young child with autism, too. They hoped to have their child be able to leave the comfort of his stroller and go door-to-door this year. (Stretching the boundaries of social difficulties that accompany autism.) How nice was that? Finding another family who shares our same issues?

When we went out trick or treating, Trevor was recognized several times by neighbors who went out of their way to introduce themselves.  Later people posted how nice it was to meet Trevor and how sweet and polite he was. Now, when we take our dogs for a walk, more of our neighbors say “hello” than before, and more greet Trevor by name. We even met an actual firefighter who invited us to bring Trevor down to his station for a tour. That made Trevor’s night.

One fear conquered.

Fear & Art

When it comes to dealing with fear in our writing or any medium of art, it can have a crippling effect. Even keep us from making art altogether.

Being a writer can be so thrilling when everything is coming out just right. The words are flowing, the characters are bending to my will, I am the master of my imaginary universe!


And then that tiny little voice of doubt creeps in. This isn’t working. I suck, my writing sucks, my characters suck, nobody will ever want to read this drivel. EVER!

Creative Process Pic

Sound familiar?

During our SCBWI OK Fall Retreat in September, Romney Nesbitt did a workshop on Conquering Procrastination & Self-Sabotage. One of the first things she had us do was name off all the different ways we procrastinate.

Some of the examples tossed out were fairly typical:

The Serial Projects excuse (“Just as soon as…then…”)

The “I don’t have time excuse” (too many responsibilities)

Perfectionism (waiting for the right conditions/right moment)

Social Media (worse than television)

So I voiced my own reason. The one thing that holds me back from moving forward on projects more than anything?

Fear of Failure.

Romney responded that this is actually a “problem with expectancy”.

That answer surprised me.

Expectancy meant it was coming from me. It made me realize I was in control of that fear. And that meant I could change it.

I also knew I wasn’t the only one who grappled with creating art and fear. Not just of failure. But of what others would think of what we created. Even of success.

I wanted to explore this further.

So, this month, I’m doing just that. I’m forcing myself to do some things to push past this fear.

One thing I’m doing is taking the NaNoWriMo plunge and vowing to actually complete the 50,000 words in one month challenge. I’ve participated for a few years now, but I’ve never made it to the finish line.

I’ve also started reading ART & FEAR OBSERVATIONS ON THE PERILS (AND REWARDS) OF ARTMAKING  by David Bayles & Ted Orland. I’ll be sharing some of my insights from that book later in the month. So far it’s quite enlightening.

How about you? What are you afraid of as far as your art is concerned? What do you do to combat that fear?

Variations of the Mona Lisa – a TGNA Post





It’s Writing Wednesday over at The Great Noveling Adventure and I am so excited about today’s post! The idea for this craft post came to me a few months ago when yet, again, I was having a discussion about reading and why it was important for writers to be well-read.

Cue the excuses from some novice writer why they didn’t read/couldn’t read.

Cue my head exploding.

How could I get my fellow newbie writers to understand, to maybe see from a different perspective, how reading was not detrimental but essential to their growth?

This post entitled Variations of the Mona Lisa (Why Studying the Masters is NOT an Exercise in Futility) is my love letter to them, my misguided peers.

Here’s a preview:

Mona Lisa by Da Vinci (She's smaller because she IS small.)
Mona Lisa by Da Vinci

I consider myself to be a fairly open-minded individual. I understand that mine is not the only opinion on any given subject and that each person brings a different perspective to a discussion, shaped by their own unique life experiences. I’ve never met anyone that didn’t have something to teach me or that didn’t have an interesting story to tell.

That being said, there are some hot button topics that will put my strong sense of open-mindedness to its ultimate test. One of those issues is whether or not a writer needs to read books (and read a LOT of books) in order to be a good writer. Want to see me bend over backwards to restrain myself from mentally body-checking someone? Let me hear someone say, “I’m afraid I’ll take on another author’s style if I read too much” or “I don’t have time to read.”

Flames. Flames will shoot out of my eyes.

To demonstrate why these and other asinine arguments just don’t cut it, I thought I’d turn to another art form to demonstrate how studying your craft by studying the masters of your medium – which is what reading IS for writers – can not only lead to you mastering your craft, but it can also lead to you discovering your own artistic voice.

To read the full post, click here.


My Favorite Quotes and Some Pics from this Year’s SCBWI LA Summer Conference

scbwi la banner 2014

Things have been moving at a break-neck pace ever since I returned from the SCBWI LA Summer conference earlier this month. My less-than part-time job has picked up substantially and the group blog I participate in is coming back from vacation next week with a bang – all new format, a few changes to the line-up, and one hell of a fabulous contest with a gazillion prizes, including books and critiques! (Details on that coming very soon.) Not to mention squeezing in all the important revising that must continue. And I haven’t even talked about our Fall Retreat that’s (ack!) in just a few weeks.

Despite all of the chaotic activity, I really wanted to get started with my yearly conference-inspired blog posts. To tease you all a bit with what I have in mind, I thought I’d start with some of my favorite quotes from this year’s event.


“Imagination and the ability to tell a story will make anyone better at anything, with the possible exception of politicians and accountants.”

– Meg Rosoff

“Craft means making choices. It’s part of the process.”

-Dinah Stevenson

“Teletubbies, better than a valium.”

-Judy Schachner

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block; you’re just editing too early.”

-Stephen Chbosky

“When stealing from real life, there’s a process of subtraction.”

-Maggie Stiefvater

“Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth…Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words and they backhand them across the net.”

– Megan McDonald reciting from famous E.B. White quote

“You never again love a book the way you do as a child.”

-Linda Sue Park

 “I’ve always struggled with my own smallness.”

-Sharon Flake

“Being an artist is the way you live your life.”

-Tomie de Paolo

“I was brave in my writing in a way that I wasn’t in my life.”

-Judy Blume

Yes! Judy freakin’ Blume! Her talk was the perfect way to end the conference, I have to say. I actually teared up just watching her cross the stage to the podium. LOVE HER!!! She’s so freakin’ adorable and moving and everything you imagine that you just want to hug her to pieces and then stuff the pieces into your mouth. Too weird? Sorry. But it’s Judy freakin’ Blume!

Snapping out of my fangirl fog, let’s get back to the quotes for just a second. See if you can guess how these fantastic little tidbits will play out as blog posts in the weeks ahead as I dole out the jewels of wisdom I received on my journey out west. Until then, I leave you with some vacation pics. Enjoy!


Me and my lovely critique partner Barbara Lowell at the PALS event where she just about sold out of her first book! Love her!
Me and my lovely critique partner Barbara Lowell (remember when I did an interview with her on the blog?) at the PALS event where she just about sold out of her first book! Love her! (Probably didn’t hurt that Bonnie Bader used her book as an example during one of her talks. Impressive, no?)


Insanely gorgeous art installation/wall of plant life at the mall across the street.
Insanely gorgeous art installation/wall of plant life at the mall across the street.



The Jerry Bennett allowing me to admire him for a moment as we both show our excitement for Stephen Chbosky's keynote.
The Jerry Bennett allowing me to admire him for a moment as we both show our excitement for Stephen Chbosky’s keynote. I have a sad update for all of  you Jerry fans – he has had a facial hair accident of unknown origin and is currently beardless. It’s shocking to all of us, but we’ll should try to help him through this sad, trying time.


And then I got to admire Stephen Chbosky for a moment where he told me story about how nervous he was accepting an award right after Bill Clinton spoke - "Yeah I wasn't as good."
And then I got to admire Stephen Chbosky for a moment where he told me story about how nervous he was speaking at an awards show right after Bill Clinton spoke – “Yeah, I wasn’t as good,” he said.



Me and some more of our Oklahoma group, Brenda Maier and Catren Perks-Lamb at the Golden Kite Luncheon.
Me and some more of our delightful Oklahoma group, Brenda Maier and Catren Perks-Lamb at the Golden Kite Luncheon.


A beautiful night in LA.
A beautiful night in LA. Can’t wait for next year!

Close your Eyes and Just Listen – An Audio Journey

Do you ever just feel like hopping aboard a plane and leaving for destinations unknown to explore? Want to get a feel for the atmosphere of an Irish pub or a Buddhist temple, but can’t afford the air fare? Maybe you should close your eyes and take a sound journey instead.

I heard this really cool thing on NPR today that could be such a great inspiration spring board for writers, musicians, artists of all kinds really, that I just had to share it. Sound Transit is an audio experience where you travel the world through sound. You book a trip, with up to five stops, and it randomly selects your route and the sounds you’ll hear along the way. With over two thousands sounds in its catalog, your trip will be different every time.

You can also use their search feature to look up individual sounds or search for sounds by country. It’s just fascinating.

Here’s a trip I booked:

I departed from Skaftafell, Iceland, and was greeted by the sounds of  “A simple mountain stream, nothing more, which flows down a moss-covered hillside, falls into a small rocky hollow and continues on its way to the sea.”

Grey Lines by antgirl courtesy of cc via Flickr
Grey Lines by antgirl courtesy of cc via Flickr












next, via Cabo Ortegal, Galicia, Spain, I experienced a “storm in ‘Cabo Ortegal’, Galicia, Spain. november 2003”.

Nubes amenzantes by David Cornejo courtesy of cc via Flickr
Nubes amenzantes by David Cornejo courtesy of cc via Flickr











Tilburg, Netherlands, was next with some urban sounds described only as, “This recording is a part of my Tunnelproject. A noise investigation.”

Tilburg Netherlands by  Victhor Viking courtesy cc via Flickr
Tilburg Netherlands by Victhor Viking courtesy of cc via Flickr











On to Baracoa, Cuba, where I heard this “insane gathering of crows near a small river, in Alexandro Humbold park on
the lush eastern coast of Cuba, not far from where Cristopher Colombus is
said to have landed in the new world.”

(I love the details given in some of the descriptions. That alone set my imagination wild with ideas.)

A cloud of crows by Vladimir Agafonkin courtesy of cc via Flicker
A cloud of crows by Vladimir Agafonkin courtesy of cc via Flicker










At my next stop, halfway around the world in Kefalonia, Greece, there were different birds singing, “A treeful of finches chirp and flap early one morning.”

Assos by PapaPiper courtesy of cc via Flickr
Assos by PapaPiper courtesy of cc via Flickr











Finally, I arrived in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, to the sounds of a bustling metropolis, “subway journey underneath copacabana. train drones, whistles, brakes, high pitch, speaker information, automatic doors, ambience. M-Audio microtrack -16bit – 48khz.”

P1000943 by Ed Johnson courtesy of cc via Flickr
P1000943 by Ed Johnson courtesy of cc via Flickr

I played around with this for most of the morning and had many different experiences. One was even unsettling, with bomb sounds in Lebanon. Every trip was unique.

You can listen to my journey described above for yourself here or book your own here.

Have fun with it! Be inspired!


Accidental Vacation

While on vacation in Santa Fe and Los Alamos, New Mexico, I took an unintentional, but much needed and extended vacation from my blog. The company was too engaging, the scenery too inspiring, the WIFI too sporadic.

I took it as a sign.

I needed a break.

Then when I came home last week, I found the desire to write had not yet been rekindled. My muse was still lounging in her pjs, dreaming of southwestern skies. To add to my procrastination vacation, my modem died…or so I thought. It was actually playing possum until the repairman showed up to debunk its fakery. (I guess my modem also needed an extended vacation.) With just a few tweaks of some knobs or some such magic, the mighty repairman had my modem working, again.

Now, after a wonderful visit with some writer friends last weekend, all is back normal; writing fire rekindled and modem functioning properly. (My muse is still wearing her pjs, but frankly, most of the time so am I.)

Before we return to our regularly scheduled programming, I thought I’d share some of the beautiful sights from my vacation that inspired me.


My daughter outside our hotel in Los Alamos one morning.
My daughter outside our hotel in Los Alamos one morning. (Yes, she’s was reading ALLEGIANT.)



Daughter and husband walking around in a park in Los Alamos.
Daughter and husband walking around in a park in Los Alamos.



Son greeting an elephant statue in the park.
Son greeting an elephant statue in the park.



Daughter with Dr. Oppenheimer statue.
Daughter with Dr. Oppenheimer’s statue. They love him in Atomic City.



Wildflowers on a morning walk.
Wildflowers on a morning walk with the husband. We snuck out while the kids were sleeping and even had breakfast together. That rarely ever happens.



My husband standing past the barrier to take a picture. Me documenting his possible demise. (He did survive, thankfully.)
My husband, Tim, standing past the barrier to take a picture of the spectacular view just outside of Los Alamos on the stretch of road I came to call Suicide Hill, with me documenting his possible demise. (He did survive, thankfully.)



Coming into Santa Fe where there are pueblos as far as the eye can see.
Coming into Santa Fe where everything is pueblos as far as the eye can see.



Walking through the Railyard district of Santa Fe with my best friend since childhood.
Daughter walking with her godfather and my best friend since childhood. We walked through the Railyard arts district of Santa Fe and spent the day there seeing the sights. We had lunch at a new local place run by a friend of David’s called Shake Foundation. The Adobe Mud shakes were excellent. Later Tim took the kids to see a movie so David and I could talk without distraction. It’s always good to catch up with him.



My son and David playing on the slides at the playground in the Railyard.
My son and David playing on the slides at the playground in the Railyard.



David preparing for his turn down the slide. (You can see why we're friends right here.)
David preparing for his turn down the slide. (You can see why we’re friends right here.)



Me and my bestie at lunch.
Me and my bestie at lunch.



Russian sage is everywhere.
Russian sage is everywhere in New Mexico.



The Plaza district has a mixture of old world culture like this...
The Plaza district has a mixture of old world culture like this, the Santuario de Guadalupe…



...and fantastic displays of art, like this gallery with, yes, a dragon on the roof.
…and fantastic displays of art, like this gallery with, yes, a dragon on the roof.


Art was everywhere in Santa Fe. It was beautiful to see and inspiring to the mind.

Another great thing about the long drive there and back, I had plenty of leisure time to read. I tore through four books in a little over one week, which was such a pleasure.

So tell me about your vacation plans. Have you been anywhere exciting? Read any great books this summer?

My summer traveling isn’t quite over. I leave for the SCBWI LA conference in one week. So much to do before then! And when I get back there will be loads to share. (Maybe even some signed books!)