Going Behind The Fence-Year Five…So far…

We had no idea when our Pay It Forward class convened in January 2020 what would befall our world. We were only able to have two in-person classes before the Lane Murray Unit went into Co-Vid induced lockdown. While I know the year isn’t over, I want to take a minute to share what’s been going on behind the fence with our class. Remember, these women are but a small microcosm of what is going on in jails and prisons around the world.

As soon as we knew we couldn’t do in-person classes, we pivoted to monthly correspondence which included news, homework, creativity. Below are news snippets from letters. Followed by apology haiku poems and answers to homework questions. Thank you for reading and keeping these beautiful women in your hearts.

News from letters:

“We wake up early to have our temperature taken. Then we receive our breakfast johnnies. Then we lay down and read or sleep. All we can do is wait for this to be over.” April 14

“I pray we’ll be able to contact our families soon. They haven’t heard from us and I’m sure they are worried.” April 15

“We haven’t had a real meal since April 6. I’ve gained more weight on all the bread alone.” April 20

“Lunch/dinner on a good day: Hamburger/Chicken Patty/Fish Patty. If cheese is included it’s really good. Lunch/Dinner on a bad day: Corn dog/Bologna/Salami/Beef roll/Burrito…only made marginally better if cheese is included.” April 22

“Being right on top of each other makes for straining situations.” April 22

“They give us masks. But no cleaning supplies. Only when someone gets sick do they come in and spray with bleach. It’s virus pandemic mayhem.” April 22

“As of April 19, I was removed from the dorm because of a high temperature. I had to do a nose swab. Ouch. That shit brought tears to my eyes.” April 26

“I’ve been in isolation since April 21. I am not feeling well. I can’t contact my children because the phones are off limits. Please don’t let me die in here.”  April 30

“All of us are wearing masks. Even to the bathroom. Only time we don’t have to wear them is in our cubicles.” May 7

“No one is going to school. No priests for Wednesday mass. No transport for medical to Galveston. I was supposed to have my last treatment for liver cancer this month but that’s not happening.” May 7

“I tested positive for Co-Vid 19. Please pray for me.” May 10

“I’m so sad to write to say the J was diagnosed with stage four bone cancer in April and was sent home. She was able to see her nine-year-old son for a few weeks before she died in May. She was only twenty-nine years old. We’re shocked.” May 20

“OMG. They are putting in AC. It’s about time. I can’t wait.” June 18

“I had a slight headache and lost my sense of taste and smell but I did not get sick.” June 30

“Lots of construction going on. Able bodied offenders are moving upstairs. Disabled offenders live downstairs. We’re moving around a lot and it’s raining men! Hallelujah. We can’t talk to them but the testosterone on the unit makes the virus situation tolerable.” June 30

Apology Haikus

Bunky. Rude. Yelling.
Says shut the F—K up
Tears. Sorry. Alone.

I beg for pardon.
Remorse. Hung by guilt
Feelings murderer. Okay, onward.

A place blind to love
Where kindness is abnormal
We are all one blood

Who’s following me?
Oh, that is my own buttocks!
Fast. Cleanse. Work it off.

Dang. What? Why? Where?
Cloudy mind. Forgot
Why I was in my lockbox.

On Radical Self-Acceptance:

“I have a self who likes to think ugly things when people make me angry. I can usually feel better if I am left alone to think or meditate.”

“I have a self-conscious self when people look at me as if I’m from another planet. If I remind myself that their opinions do not matter, I can usually find my peaceful self.”

“I do not like to accept things that I think are not right or just but when I can find my compassionate self and remember we all are not perfect, then I can usually find my way to making them a cup of coffee.”

“I have a needy self when I haven’t heard from home. When I remind her that she is not alone and has value, I can find my way to happy.”

“I have a paranoid self who trusts no one. Sometimes I have a generous self who loves to give secretly, without recognition.”

“I have an angry self who doesn’t know why things are happening to me. If I can find my way to understanding, I can help calm my angry self.”

“I have a mean self that shows up when I don’t agree with how people do things. If I can find a way to laugh, I get an attitude adjustment.”

As always, the women close their letters praying for our good health and safety.

They are: Amazing grace.





Inspiration from the SCBWI Summer Spectacular

Last weekend, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators hosted their annual summer conference virtually. They dubbed it the Summer Spectacular and it earned that moniker. Normally three hundred people attend in person. This year, five thousand people from all around the world listened to the best and most generous thinkers in children’s literature. Here are a few inspirational quotes from the five-day conference.

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the most important things in the world.”
Sir Phillip Pullman

“The storyteller’s responsibility is to tell the story as well as you possibly can.”
Sir Phillip Pullman

“When you write for kids, you have to be on their side.”
Judy Blume

“Write what is inside you. Throw knowledge away.”
Judy Blume

“Surround yourself with yes people who support you because writers are tender with self doubt.”
Kwame Alexander

“The ability to draw matters less than your understanding of design.”
LeUyen Pham

“Beautiful sentences have to have an emotional life. The writer’s heart must connect with the reader’s heart.”
Jill Santopolo

“It’s important to know your unique voice and what matters and is important to you. That’s the connection between you and the reader.”
Julie Strauss-Gabel

“I have no idea what the world will look like in 2023 but I do know publishing will adapt.”
Neal Porter

“Seek your truth; not the market. Reveal your truth on the page. It will stay with you through the vicissitudes of the business.”
Namrata Tripathi

“Take more chances.”
Stacey Barney

“If you write outside your culture, criticism isn’t canceling. Criticism is part of being an artist. You have to be mature and know the waters you are swimming in.”
Laurie Halse Anderson

“Build on every tiny success. How you connect with others matters. Your career is your relationships with writers, teachers, librarians and readers.”
Meg Medina

“The desire line is vital. It is the driving force of human nature and it creates a steady momentum to drive the story forward. Knowing your character’s desire makes for great suspense when conflicts are introduced.”
Linda Camacho

“Everyone is the hero of their own story. From the protagonist to the antagonist.”
Brooks Sherman

“I try to write responsibly and not hurt people.”
Jacqueline Woodson

“When I was writing BROWN GIRL DREAMING, I didn’t know what I was trying to say. But I kept trying to figure it out. That’s what editors do. We have many worlds, many stories in us. Editors help us figure out what those many stories in us.”
Jacqueline Woodson

“The most important elements in writing picture books are: Compression, Lyricism, Arc and Visuality.”
Jane Yolen

“Earning your ending means finishing the arc of your story. The beginning and the ending must shake hands.”
Jane Yolen

Writing in the hard times: “Untie the anxiety and tap into creativity. Pick out what is bothering you and turn it into beauty to remind you of the good things during this time.”
Jane Yolen

“I hope that my legacy is: I never compromised my work; I always said yes I can and I was a good sharer.”
Jane Yolen

“Anyone can write. But a real writer is someone who can rewrite and fill out the story.”
Caitlyn Dlouhy

“You don’t have to do all the work for the reader. Leave room for them to figure stuff out. That’s their part in the book.”
Jason Reynolds

“Separate yourself from your work. Don’t let perfection haunt your work.”
Nic Stone

“Writing is hard because that’s what makes books great. Lean into the difficulty.”
Jason Reynolds

“I know it’s a picture book when the pictures are telling a different story from the written story.”
Grace Lin

“If you love it, stay with it. It will pay off.”
Alvina Ling

The agents’ panel answered this question: What prompts you to work with an author?

  • “An author who is willing to collaborate.” Regina Brooks
  • “Trust.” Linda Camacho
  • “Chemistry, communication style, no fear of connection and collaboration.” Rosemary Stimola
  • “Someone who knows the heart of the story and is willing to go to the mats for it.” Brooks Sherman

SCBWI Executive Director Lin Oliver closed out the conference with this quote:

“All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say is, “I love the world.’”
E.B. White

Well done, Lin Oliver and the SCBWI team. It was perfect.

Snuggle up with Snuggle Mountain

When I first saw Melissa Iwai’s sketches of Emma, the main character in Snuggle Mountain, I fell in love with her, from slipper to nose. It is my pleasure to share these coloring pages with you so you can fall in love with Emma too and ‘color her up’ any way you want with these free coloring pages for your little one.

I hope you and your little artist have as much fun with Emma as I did creating her story of climbing Snuggle Mountain.

Snuggle Mountain Coloring Sheets



2020 Books by Austinites

Take a look at all these wonderfully talented Austin authors and illustrators with books coming out this year!

Picture Books

RAD!, by Anne Bustard, ill. by Daniel Wiseman (Abrams, May 2020).

PERKIN’S PERFECT PURPLE, by Debbie Dunn, ill. by Tami Brown (Disney Hyperion/Little Brown Young Readers, Oct. 2020).

PORCUPINE CUPID, by Jason June, ill. by Lori Richmond (McElderry/Simon & Schuster, Dec. 2020).

BEARS MAKE THE BEST SCIENCE BUDDIES, by Carmen Oliver, ill. Jean Claude (Capstone, Aug. 2020).

Middle Grade

TWINS, by Varian Johnson (Scholastic/Graphix, Oct. 2020).

DRAGON OPS, by Mari Mancusi (Little Brown Young Readers, May 2020).

THE CAMPAIGN, by Leila Sales (Abrams, Aug. 2020).

Young Adult

FAULT LINES IN THE CONSTITUTION: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL, by Cynthia Levinson (Macmillan/First Second, Sept. 2020).

FROZEN 2: DANGEROUS SECRETS: THE STORY OF IDUNA AND AGNARR, by Mari Mancusi (Disney Press, Nov. 2020).

ALL THESE MONSTERS, by Amy Tintera (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, July 2020).

THE INSOMNIACS, by Marit Weisenberg (Flatiron Books/Macmillan, Sept. 2020).


LISTEN TO THE TREES, by Sean Petrie (Documentary Media, July 2020).

Gail Shepherd

Gail Shepherd

I met her at a Writing Barn retreat. She was one of the quiet writers. We connected off to the side, preferring the one on one conversation to the group gab. At the end of the weekend, she asked if she could get a ride into town. She was meeting her wife at a B&B for a week of fun. Happily, I put her suitcase in the back of my car, stopped for tacos and shared our love of books, the ocean and the quirky writing life. When her novel The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins came out in 2019 to great acclaim, I sent her a congratulatory note and again we talked about oceans and visits and please contact me when…or if…you are nearby.

It never happened. And now she is gone. Way. Too. Soon.

Publishers Weekly posted this beautiful notice about her.

We clomp around like life will go on and on and on, but it is so fragile