Sunday, October 31, 2010

And now, for something completely different...

(Apologies to the Monty Python troupe for borrowing their line.)

It's been a while again since I've written anything here, due to some circumstances beyond my control and others that were certainly within that realm but I just didn't do it. So, to quote the old song, I'll just pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again. And today's post isn't going to have anything to do with my life, or my writing--it's something written by somebody else, something I think is worth reading.

I didn't make it down to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear yesterday, but I did see it live on TV. I got a laugh from Sam Waterston's recitation of a Colbert poem, and from the "Peace Train"/"Crazy Train"/"Love Train" sing-off. But for me the best part was Stewart's closing speech. A transcript of it follows. Enjoy. Ponder.

Things here will get back to normal (whatever that is) next time.

Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear Closing Remarks:

“I can’t control what people think this was. I can only tell you my intentions. This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith or people of activism or to look down our noses at the heartland or passionate argument or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear. They are and we do. But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus and not be enemies.

But unfortunately one of our main tools in delineating the two broke. The country’s 24 hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems but its existence makes solving them that much harder. The press can hold its magnifying up to our problems bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected dangerous flaming ant epidemic.

If we amplify everything we hear nothing. There are terrorists and racists and Stalinists and theocrats but those are titles that must be earned. You must have the resume. Not being able to distinguish between real racists and Tea Partiers or real bigots and Juan Williams and Rick Sanchez is an insult, not only to those people but to the racists themselves who have put in the exhausting effort it takes to hate--just as the inability to distinguish terrorists from Muslims makes us less safe not more. The press is our immune system. If we overreact to everything we actually get sicker--and perhaps eczema.

And yet, with that being said, I feel good—strangely, calmly good. Because the image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false. It is us through a fun house mirror, and not the good kind that makes you look slim in the waist and maybe taller, but the kind where you have a giant forehead and an ass shaped like a month old pumpkin and one eyeball.

So, why would we work together? Why would you reach across the aisle to a pumpkin assed forehead eyeball monster? If the picture of us were true, of course, our inability to solve problems would actually be quite sane and reasonable. Why would you work with Marxists actively subverting our Constitution or racists and homophobes who see no one’s humanity but their own? We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is—on the brink of catastrophe—torn by polarizing hate and how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get things done, but the truth is we do. We work together to get things done every damn day!

The only place we don’t is here (gestures to the Capitol building behind him) or on cable TV. But Americans don’t live here or on cable TV. Where we live our values and principles form the foundations that sustains us while we get things done, not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done. Most Americans don’t live their lives solely as Democrats, Republicans, liberals or conservatives. Americans live their lives more as people that are just a little bit late for something they have to do—often something that they do not want to do—but they do it--impossible things every day that are only made possible by the little reasonable compromises that we all make.

Look on the screen. This is where we are. This is who we are. (points to the Jumbotron screen which shows New York City traffic merging into a tunnel). These cars—that’s a schoolteacher who probably thinks his taxes are too high. He’s going to work. There’s another car-a woman with two small kids who can’t really think about anything else right now. There’s another car, swinging, I don’t even know if you can see it—the lady’s in the NRA and she loves Oprah. There’s another car—an investment banker, gay, also likes Oprah. Another car’s a Latino carpenter. Another car a fundamentalist vacuum salesman. Atheist obstetrician. Mormon Jay-Z fan. But this is us. Every one of the cars that you see is filled with individuals of strong belief and principles they hold dear—often principles and beliefs in direct opposition to their fellow travelers.

And yet these millions of cars must somehow find a way to squeeze one by one into a mile long 30 foot wide tunnel carved underneath a mighty river. Carved, by the way, by people who I’m sure had their differences. And they do it. Concession by concession. You go. Then I’ll go. You go. Then I’ll go. You go then I’ll go. Oh my God, is that an NRA sticker on your car? Is that an Obama sticker on your car? Well, that’s okay—you go and then I’ll go.

And sure, at some point there will be a selfish jerk who zips up the shoulder and cuts in at the last minute, but that individual is rare and he is scorned and not hired as an analyst.

Because we know instinctively as a people that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light we have to work together. And the truth is, there will always be darkness. And sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the promised land. Sometimes it’s just New Jersey. But we do it anyway, together.

If you want to know why I’m here and want I want from you, I can only assure you this: you have already given it to me. Your presence was what I wanted.

Sanity will always be and has always been in the eye of the beholder. To see you here today and the kind of people that you are has restored mine. Thank you."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Old Home Week

Over the past ten or so years, I've been finding more and more inspiration in the area where I grew up, and where my family has been since the mid-19th Century--on the banks of the Erie Canal, in Western New York State. There's so much history there, so many stories just waiting to be discovered and told.

From Saturday, 7/24 through Friday 7/30, my hometown of Lockport will be celebrating Old Home Week. The last time this was done was in 1910. To quote the event's official website ( -- there are some fascinating articles under the heading of "news"): "The first Old Home Week took place in Lockport, NY, in 1910. In celebration of the 100 year anniversary of that celebration, we are pleased to bring it back in 2010. During the week of July 24-30, there will be countless events and festivities to celebrate Old Home Week. This week will be a great opportunity to come together and show our pride in the City and Town we call home."

From the looks of things, it's going to be quite a party, and I'm proud to say that I'm going to be part of it. On Tuesday, 7/27, from 2-4 p.m., I'll be signing books at the Market Street Art Center.If any readers out there are in the area, I hope you'll stop by.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Brava, Deborah Wiles!

It's been a week since I finished reading Deborah Wiles' most recent book, Countdown, and I'm still thinking about it. That doesn't happen often to me.

To quote a bit of the flap copy: Franny Chapman just wants some peace. But that's hard to get when her best friend is feuding with her, her sister has disappeared, and her uncle is fighting an old war in his head. Her saintly younger brother is no help, and the cute boy across the street only complicates things. Worst of all, everyone is walking around just waiting for a bomb to fall.

The book takes place in October,1962. I was in 6th grade then. JFK was president. The civil rights movement was underway. And the Cold War was in full swing--schools held "duck and cover" drills (I remember at least one "go home" drill--really smart thinking on the part of the school administrators...), you heard talk about bomb shelters, and the sign of a black circle with yellow triangles, that designated a shelter, was a familiar one. And for thirteen days that October, during the Cuban missile crisis, people wondered if those shelters were going to be necessary.

To be honest, I can't remember today the atmosphere of fear of those days. But this book brought back so much to me. Strewn throughout the book are ads and photographs from then, and bits of news reports, and even song lyrics. I don't think I've ever seen a book constructed like this. It grabbed me and pulled me right in--or, perhaps I should say, right back.

I think that one of the parts that moved me the most told about folk singer Pete Seeger--about his growing up and his discovery of folk music--the songs of the people; why he joined the Communist party as a young man and what happened when he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Having begun a lifelong love affair with folk music myself in junior high school, I knew much of what Deborah writes here. But what I didn't know until I read it here, late at night by the glow of my itty-bitty book light--was what he wrote on his banjo after the courts acquitted him: "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender." I read those words, and thought of all the songs this man has sung, all the causes he's sung and spoken for, all the people he's sung with and inspired to sing--and I wept.

Emotion. This is what happens with Countdown. You don't just read a good story (and it is a wonderful story). If you're old enough to remember those days, memories come flooding back. If you aren't, you'll come away with a feeling in your gut--an understanding of how it felt to live through them.

Countdown is the first book in a trilogy. I'm already impatient for the second (hurry up and write, Deb!).

(I purchased my copy of Countdown from Amazon, but I am not an Amazon Affiliate. And the fact that the author has been a friend of mine for approximately fourteen years (!!) has in no way influenced my opinion of this book.)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Put on your thinking caps!

Do you know who Katie Davis is? You should. She's a funny, smart author/illustrator, and her books are terrific.

made a little video while at BEA. To see it, click the TV link on the left side of her blog ( She asked her favorite question of many editors, writers, book bloggers and booksellers: “If you could go to the yard sale of any character in the history of kidlit, whose would you go to, and…what would you buy?” She got some great answers from amazing people, so now she's trying to think up her next fabulously funny question for another movie to be shot next week at ALA, here in Washington, DC.

She's thought of some questions but (according to her) they're mostly pretty lame, so she's having a contest (her first!). Anyone who sends her a great, funny question that ends up being used in her next video, will win a personalized and signed book plus another secret special surprise!

So, what are you waiting for? Get your curiosity on and send her your questions via the comment section at

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Pen Names

Every now and then, I'm asked if I publish my work under my own name. My response is always 'yes'--I've always figured that if I'm going to put in all that work, I want people to know it was me who wrote it. The only exception to that would be if I decided to write something I wouldn't want young readers Googling my name to find--alien erotica, or satanic dog training methods, for example. But since I have no intention of going down any such roads in the foreseeable future, any of my published work is going to show up under the name of Cynthia Cotten.

A few weeks ago, during the last big snow here in the DC metroplex, my son sent me a link to a column in the online version of the Washington Post. The author, Jo-Ann Armao, began by apologizing for her part in bringing on that snow. It seems that she'd remarked that the snowstorm before that (dubbed "Snowmageddon") didn't really qualify as a blizzard, so--either to prove her right or shame her into silence, as she put it, Mother Nature unleashed the fury that is blizzardness on the Washington region. I got more than a couple of chuckles out of the piece, since I--like Ms. Armao--am a transplanted Buffalonian and, even though I've been living in Northern Virginia for almost six years, I still shake my head sometimes over this area's reaction to the word "snow".

After reading Ms. Armao's column, I made the mistake of reading the comments posted afterwards. Chuckling did not ensue. Many of the commenters were mean--rude, even--calling her condescending and smug. One referred to Buffalo as a cowtown. While I told myself that people were probably so sick of snow that any humor about the white stuff was lost on them, these comments were an example of something that's been bothering me for some time, now.

When one wants to write a letter to be published in an ink-and-paper newspaper, one has to give one's name and (usually) address when submitting it. But when writing comments to something online, this isn't the case. Everyone gets a pen name--or, rather, a screen name. Under this blanket of anonymity, one can say anything--nice or not, complimentary or vitriolic--and nobody knows who's really doing the writing.

Sometimes I wonder if some of those things would be said if a commenter had to take true ownership of his or her words.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Vampire Ponies

I've been neglecting this blog since my last entry in early November.

No. I'm going to put a positive spin on that. "Writing It Down" has been on hiatus. Now it's back for its second season.

During much of 2009, I was in kind of a funk. The new year has gotten off to a good start. I'm working on two projects concurrently: a novel (target age range probably 9-13) and what I envision as an illustrated collection of poems for elementary-aged kids. Both are in early stages, but look good. At least to me.

Right now, I'm in New York City, at the annual mid-winter conference of the Society of Children's Bookwriters and Illustrators. Things get fully underway tomorrow, but I came in a couple of days early to meet with my agent and an editor. Yesterday, I saw a friend I haven't seen in a while. It was good to catch up. Towards the end of our time together, I joked that if I could write a series about a bitchy clique of vampires at a school for wizards, my husband could retire (and I could have that house on the shore of Canandaigua Lake I've been pining for). His response was, well, why don't you write it? I said that's really not my kind of writing. "You know," I said. "I write about ponies. Things like that." He got a gleam in his eye and with a devilish grin uttered two words: "Vampire ponies."


While I think I'll leave the story of the vampire ponies to someone else, those two words are going to go someplace prominent on my desk when I get home, as a reminder not to be afraid to look at an idea from a different angle. The novel I'm working on started out quite differently in its first incarnation, but as I progressed I could see I was headed for some real problems. So I put it aside. Then I started thinking about the characters in a different light, and that story--the new one--has just taken off.

So, here's to fresh starts, new ideas, and vampire ponies. We may only be a month in, but 2010's looking promising. Stay tuned and see what develops...