Pie-of-the-national-poetry-month-club: Susan Blackaby

April 6th, 2010

As part of an ongoing celebration for a pair of pie-related books that I have coming out later this year (“Babyberry Pie” and “Pies & Prejudice” learn more here), I recently launched a pie-of-the-month club to showcase new books by friends and colleagues.

This being National Poetry Month, I have a special treat on the menu:  my dear friend Susan Blackaby, who stopped by to chat about her new poetry collection and to share her favorite recipe for — what else?  — pie!

Susan Blackaby

Suz’s day job is writing for the educational market.  She’s published over 100 leveled readers, as well as the picture book “Rembrandt’s Hat” (Houghton) and the biography “Cleopatra: Egypt’s Last and Greatest Queen” (Sterling).

Suz and I live in the same neighborhood (a corner of Portland that goes by the charming name of Garden Home), our kids went to the same school, and we get together often at a local coffee shop to talk about writing, cheer each other on, and most of all to laugh.

What have you been busy cooking up for readers, Suz?  Tell us about your new book, and how it came about.

My new book is called Nest, Nook & Cranny (Charlesbridge).  It is a collection of “home poems,” focusing on the cozy, crawly places inhabited by animals.  It started with a terrific writing teacher in 3rd grade and got a significant boost at a Haystack workshop with Ann Whitford Paul and a little hermit crab who shall remain nameless.

Can you give us a wee taste of one of the poems in your collection?

Sure.  Here’s a cinquain:

Skinks sneak

From cool crannies

To catnap in the sun,

Making themselves at home on slabs

Of stone.

How about your favorite pie-in-the-sky moment as a writer?  Have you had one of those “I never dreamed it would really happen to me” moments that was special to you?

Well, you can pinch yourself silly once the acceptance letter arrives, but I can think of two moments I’ll never forget even when I’m 100 and my cheese has totally slipped off my cracker.  One was when I got to see the finished artwork for my picture book Rembrandt’s Hat—the editor flipped up the protective sheet of tissue paper and I totally came unglued.  Rapture is similar, but not quite so heady.  The second was the night that you gave me your PW review copy of Rembrandt’s Hat—it was such a thrill to open the actual book (a thrill that repeats over and over, I might add), and sharing that with you was really special.

[Note:  In a previous life, I was a contributing editor for Publisher’s Weekly, and one day I opened a box o’ books they had sent for review, and lo and behold there was a copy of Suz’s new baby — which she hadn’t even seen yet.  Although alas I couldn’t review it — conflict of interest — I could and did hop in the car THAT VERY MINUTE and drive over to her house with it!]

Has there ever been a moment in your career when you had to eat humble pie?  (I did, big-time, that time I showed up at a major chain bookstore for what I thought was just a signing and found to my chagrin was educator night – dozens of shining faces looking at me expectantly, and I hadn’t prepared a talk…)

Ooh. I once told an editor that none of the major publishers (including hers) know beans about producing leveled readers.  Just because something is true doesn’t mean you need to be the one to say so….

Now let’s REALLY talk pie.  What’s your favorite kind?  Do you have a favorite pie memory?  How about the recipe you’re sharing – can you give us a little background on it?

Making pie is, for me, closely connected to picking the apples, apricots, peaches, or huckleberries that go into the pie.  Especially huckleberries, which are the size of teeny peas.  It takes forever and a day to pick a pie’s worth.  In California my folks had an apricot orchard that produced bushel upon bushel of fruit.  My mom made apricot pies like mad, but she had a nifty trick: She froze pie fillings in a perfect pie shape and stacked them up in the freezer like frisbees.  What holiday dinner is complete without fresh, home-grown apricot pie for dessert?

Miffy’s June-in-January Apricot Pie

For each pie, mix the following together:

4–6 C fresh apricots cut into quarters

1 C white sugar

¼ C brown sugar

1 T fruit fresh

2 T minute tapioca

1 T lemon juice

Crisscross a pie plate with two long strips of foil and fill with apricot mixture.  Bring the foil up over the filling and crimp closed.  Put the pie plate in the freezer.  When the filling is frozen solid, slip it out of the pie plate and store it in a Ziploc freezer bag.  Wait until the dead of winter.  Make your pie dough, unwrap the frozen filling, drop it into the bottom crust, cover it with the top crust, pinch the edges, add a few slits, and bake at 425° for a half hour or so.

(This works with peaches, too; it takes all day and all the neighbors’ pie plates to turn a lug of peaches into a stack of pies.  Apricots are easier because you don’t have to peel the fruit.)

Yum!   I don’t  think I’ve ever had apricot pie.   That needs to change, and soon.  Thanks, Suz!

To read other selections on the “pie-of-the-month club” menu, check out my interviews with Jane Kurtz, Toni Buzzeo, Lisa Schroeder, and Jennifer Ward.  Be sure and drop by again soon, because throughout 2010 I’ll be serving up more stellar books by some of my favorite authors and illustrators.  Oh, and pie is on the menu, too, of course.   Pie is ALWAYS on the menu here on my blog.  Enjoy!

Hip hip hooray!

January 18th, 2010

Today is the equivalent of the “Oscars” in the world of children’s books, with all the big awards from the American Library Association announced this morning, and I just have to give a shout out to pals Libba Bray, who won the Printz award for excellence in young adult literature for her book “Going Bovine,” and Tanya Lee Stone, whose “Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream” received a Sibert medal for non-fiction.  Wahoo to you both, and to all the other stellar authors and illustrators who were honored today!  (I was going to say click here for a full listing of winners and honorees, but I think the ALA website — www.ala.org — has crashed… hey, it happens.)

Writers at work

September 12th, 2009

Writing is solitary work, but it doesn’t have to be lonely.

Once in a while, I find it’s fun to shake things up a bit and get out of my rut.  So I like to hie me someplace other than my office and write, preferably with friends.  Writing “solo together” can be energizing, plus you have somebody right there to talk shop with when you’re ready to take a break.

Fellow children’s authors Jennifer Jacobson and Jane Kurtz are in town this week (Jane’s visiting her brother Chris Kurtz), so the four of us met up with our laptops yesterday morning at a local coffee shop.  The answer is yes, we worked — and I have the pictures to prove it.  We also had fun in the process.

Jane Kurtz and Jennifer Jacobson

Jane Kurtz and Jennifer Jacobson









Chris Kurtz

Chris Kurtz









I was behind the camera, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that I was working, too.  Here I am showing off our city’s fabulous Rose Garden.

Heather and Jennifer and Jane

Heather and Jennifer and Jane


Where’s your favorite out-of-the-office place to write?

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