The May Days

What I needed was a little accountability–a wee bit of momentum to light my fire. All I asked for from my Facebook friends was for encouragement to write a page or two every day in May, with the intent of jump starting a middle grade novel. What I received was amazing–a new group. Our members are both established and newbie writers. In a matter of seconds, friends were piling on the band wagon. Soon someone suggested forming a group and, for momentary lack of creativity, we formed The May Days. Now thirty + members strong, we are working toward the same goal–word production and daily creativity. And, if it doesn’t work out now and then, we keep one another going. More than anything, I am amazed by the heart these writers. When a dear friend in our group learned of her mother’s passing last night, everyone immediately sent their sympathies. One thing we all know, solace and healing can be found in the word. Here’s to many new and fabulous creations coming from The May Days.

Hidden Treasures

Yes, I know. Most people head to Cape Cod or Florida for Spring Break. What did we do? A road trip. All we needed was a Winnebago, but we didn’t have that. We had a minivan packed full with two parents, two grandparents, two kids and a loaf of bread and peanut butter. Still, what we discovered was mind-blowing. Everyone needs to drop what they’re doing and visit these amazing sites. They will make you proud to be an American, and you will go home with fluorescent rocks in your pocket.
The first is the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, Virginia. Has anyone else been here? When we entered, we had only one enthusiastic member of our party, my dad, the retired Naval Commander. When we left, we gave it a “Top Ten” ranking for museums in the U.S. History comes to life there. I had learned about the famous Civil War Battle of the Ironclads in my history classes, but I didn’t understand the magnitude of this event until the hands-on exhibits at the Mariner’s Museum. I felt part of the battle at sea while watching a movie on this famous clash between the North and South. The Monitor’s revolving gun turret is housed here, raised during a 2002 expedition off of Cape Hatteras. See, amazing: While exploring the museums many corridors, my daughters learned how to tie sailor’s knots, and lift cannon balls like those used by Admiral Nelson.
 I had a whole new appreciation of the amazing characters who have graced my history books of old. 
 And if you haven’t heard of The Miniature Ships of Winnifred and August F. Crabtree, check this out. This minature took him years to make.
All I can say is, good thing his wife was “onboard” with his project. All this for the low cost of $12 for Adults ($11 for Seniors/Military/AAA, $7 for Children Ages 6-12, and Children 5 and Under are free.
And, while I’m on the topic of hidden treasures, the Sterling Hill Mining Museum in Ogdensburg, New Jersey is another. As they say, “There’s No Other Place on Earth,” and I am witness to that. I am learning all about mines for a “some day” novel I’m working on. Boy, was this the place to go. Bill K was our expert tour guide. A geologist, civil engineer and all-around educator, Bill taught us all about the life of the miners and, in this case, the “glow-in-the-dark” fluorescent minerals they were mining. Would you want to work down here? It was like taking a roller coaster ride to work.
While it was back-breaking and hazardous at times, it was nothing compared to the dirty, dusty job of a coal miner. At least zinc mining is relatively clean. Plus, we learned fascinating tidbits. 

Look, this is how the miners kept their clothes.

See all these beauties. 
And just to add frosting to the cake, everyone selects a rock to take home. Priceless!

Library Secrets: Part 1

I have decided to blog about some library secrets (i.e. helpful tips for your research as a writer, sleuth, wannabe trivia master, and more). To start, I am including my essay about the future of the public library. This is probably not a big secret, or is it? You be the judge.
Geckos and the Future of Libraries
A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life.
                                     — Henry Ward BEECHER
You may have forgotten his name—Martin. You may have a hard time deciding which one of his ads is your favorite:  the one where he’s dancing in Texas, or his journey out of the parking lot.  But there’s hardly a soul out there who wouldn’t recognize that tiny, British-accented gecko who is the mascot for Geico Auto Insurance.  Not only is Martin a gecko, he IS Geico. Without a doubt, Geico has increased their sales and notoriety with consumers through Martin. 
The future of our libraries depends on the same—a clear, concise marketing style.  In the past, libraries have made the mistake of thinking they are separate from this business of marketing. We’ve argued, people should value us for what we are. Or, we’ve always existed, therefore we should be forever appreciated. Unfortunately, this is a harmful assumption. As much as any business out there, the library needs to make its value to the community known—consistently and constantly.  Marketing is the key to our future.
So how do we do this? More than the number of books we provide on OverDrive, more than the variety   of programs we offer children and seniors alike, it is the people behind the library’s name who serve as our best asset. As Rivkah Sass wrote in Library Journal (6/2002), “As highly touted, purely electronic tools like Questia fade into history, we should remember to market the value of what is the largest percentage of most library budgets—the staff.” Librarians bring indepth knowledge, experience, and a relationship to our patrons. We do this daily in the Outreach Department at the Morrill Memorial Library. We reach out to the community. We are in the business of touching people’s lives and making a lasting impression. This is what we do best, and this is something worthy of the patron’s attention.
In my parents’ Massachusetts town, there is a hardware store called Cataldo’s. This family- run store is a beloved fixture on Main Street. However, the day that Loews moved in everyone was worried. How could this small business survive the big competition? Turns out, it wasn’t a problem. Why? The reason for its success relates to librarians as well. Not only does Cataldo’s provide the goods. Not only do they provide the know-how. They provide the personal touch. They are there for you when ice dams crash through you ceiling. They know your children and your children’s children as they grow up. 
Just as the famous jingle from Cheers goes, we all want to go where “everybody knows your name.” The library is that kind of place. We are essential to our communities—the great equalizers of society. We need to send out this message loud and clear. Librarians are valuable. You can bet your future on it.

Awakenings Again

It’s spring again. What can I say? Most winters we wonder if it will ever come. When those first daffodils unfold, something stirs in all of us. Even the most curmudgeonly can’t help it; they have a lighter heart and step.

For those of us who have experienced the hard winter of our souls, we dip our toes cautiously into the spring waters. Maybe we don’t trust those cold swirling ripples quite yet. As writers it may be that we’ve been waiting so long for a bite from some editor out there; we’re certain our manuscripts will never be reeled in again.

That is, of course, why we cherish those stories of the long-awakenings. Authors who waited, not months, but years, to be found by an editor and readers alike. Kate DiCamillo is one of those authors, and one of my favorites. She collected 400 rejection letters for her now famous Because of Winn Dixie. It’s hard to believe there were that many publishers out there to reject her manuscript. She must have resubmitted to the same editors several times. And yet, she persisted. Her tenacity carried her through the snow drifts and blinding hail, into the sweetness of spring.

As for my own stacks of rejections, I will have a hard time calculating them. When I first submitted my poetry to the outside world, I kept a pin cushion to measure my successes. Actually I measured my “failures” first.  I would push red tacks into it every time I got a rejection. Soon the tiny Chinese men huddled around the cushion looked like they were holding up an ocean of red. Then one day in January 1999, a green tack arrived. Gradually, it became a pasture of green, with a few stray red sheep in the middle of it all.

But that was poetry. God knows, maybe I should have stuck with that genre. But here I am in a mountain of red tacks again, struggling for the next picture book manuscript to find a home. Agents and editors alike ask me, “Have you tried writing longer stories? They sell better.” And yes, I am trying that too (more on that someday), but my heart lies in the poetic picture book. [Oh, I’ve mentioned heart twice…big No-No in the halls of critics].

So here we are, you and I, waiting for spring to happen again to our writing. How to answer this cry? With words of course, words of Awakenings. It is through these words that I know, I’m a winter survivor, a lover of spring.

I am that stone
at your water’s edge,
granite flush against
a silvered brook.
Once I churned
under these woods,
a relentless fervent fire,
a magmatic torrent.
Then came the cooling,
the precise hardening,
a shifting of land and life.
I await first droplets now,
sun on snow,
snow into water,
first steamy risings

(NancyTupper Ling’s Coming Unfrozen, Blue Light Press)


Yes. It’s been a while again. I think this is my monthly blog. I had to share about the strange fall we’ve had. Warm now in December. A snow storm before Halloween. All the trees that had fallen are still being trimmed and gathered by the roadsides. It reminded me of a poem with the same title that appears in my chapbook, Coming Unfrozen.

the old
wood pile
and white
pine path,
heavy ice
birch trees—
crystal arches—
dancers frozen
in arabesque.
No one
to bind
their sullen
the storm,
no one
to bury their

souls. Surely,
spring harbors
such cruel spells.
Here and
there poplar
leaves flicker
crinoline in
April’s wind;
they remain
among the fallen
without option
or regret.

The Art of Generosity

A few weeks ago I was dining at one of our favorite restaurants. Our friendly waiter told us that he was exhausted. His wife’s family had immigrated from Shanghai and he had 17 people living in his tiny house, including one very bossy two-year-old. We marveled at his generous spirit, having put aside his own comfort for the needs of many. But his story is my husband’s as well. Without the generosity of his Aunt Sally, he would have never escaped from Communist China to a better life.

For several summers I was privileged to attend the Frost Place Poetry Festival in Franconia, New Hampshire. We were poets on the move, upwardly bound. We had talent, by God. Soon our words would be found in the likes of Poetry and the Atlantic Monthly, if only the famed guest poets would escort our poems to another level.

One man challenged our outlook with a gentle daily reminder. Donald Sheehan was the Director of the Festival and the embodiment of humility. I’ll never forget his understated wisdom: Take care of each other. Listen carefully. And if it comes down to heart vs head, sympathy vs intelligence, choose heart. While you are here for this week, it is your job to make one other person’s work stronger.

Whether author or artist, teacher or student, we are called to have a generous spirit. Yes, we want to make it in the world of publishing. Yes, we want others to fall in love with our work and to fall asleep with our words on their tongues. But to give back to another—whatever your talent, there is nothing nobler than this. The generous artist works to make another person’s work stronger….at least those are my words for today.

In memory of my mentor, Donald Sheehan

“To Pay Attention, This is Our Endless and Proper Work.” Mary Oliver

As a visiting author I often talk to students about the art of writing. I include this quotation by Mary Oliver in my Storing Up Treasures presentation. This is what is required of writers—to pay attention. We observe the tiniest details in life, things that others may pass by or over, and we hold onto them, treasure them, until we find the perfect place in our stories, poems, essays, where that detail will shine. Often I ask the students about their busy after school activities. They play soccer, basketball, baseball; they are in girl scouts or boy scouts. Then I ask who goes home and does absolutely NOTHING. A few raise their hands. They are reticent to let their classmates know that they “don’t have a life.” I surprise them. I tell them they are the perfect candidates for being great writers. Not that writers don’t have a life. Not that we shouldn’t be out there doing and observing and journaling. But sometimes we need quiet time. What are words without reflection? And when we have these still moments, we can pull out our journals and begin to put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard. As Mary Oliver said, we cannot help but to “pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”

Library Column

Just thought I’d share the article I wrote last week for the Norwood Transcript. I know some of you can relate. You can also find it here:

M is for Mother’s Day – by Nancy Ling

Posted on May 5, 2011 by MZlibrary

Nancy Ling is an Outreach Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin.

Somehow it seems fitting that my debut article for the Norwood Transcript falls around Mother’s Day. While some folks love the treats and tricks of Halloween or the long stem roses of Valentine’s Day, I’d trade them all for a simple homemade card on Mother’s Day.

Like many of you I feel a special something for all the wonderful mothers out there. My hat goes off to them: working moms, stay-at-home moms, retired moms, adopted moms, foster moms, two- in-the-morning-wake-up-moms. Still I have a special place in my heart for the woman who is often forgotten this time of year—the not-yet mother. It’s during those waiting years that the not-yet mother wonders if her deepest desire will ever be fulfilled.

I’ll never forget the despondency a woman may feel when faced with a future without children. For five years I was that not-yet mother and Mother’s Day was one of the hardest holidays to endure. It became one of those dreaded Sundays when I felt surrounded by beaming parents who couldn’t relate to a childless couple. There was one Mother’s Day that stands out, however.

Fearing the typical church service paying homage to motherhood, while at the same time overwhelmed with guilt for such resentment, I hunkered down in the pew next to my husband. I knew what was coming.

That’s when Reverend Robert Davidson began preaching about Hannah—another not-yet mother. I was shocked. Someone had actually noticed my pain, and that someone had put aside the needs of the majority for the needs of one. It was as if a floodgate had been opened. My situation wasn’t new. There were women centuries ago who’d also endured the same.

It is sometimes in the darkest moments of life that rebirth comes. I had always loved to write, but suddenly I found a new voice. I didn’t have the energy for short stories or novels, but poetry poured from my soul. Writing became healing. While there was much I couldn’t control, I could write. My thoughts. The pen. The paper. Those were under my influence. I was so consumed with writing that before I knew it I had two births…one to a beautiful baby girl, the other to my first collection of poetry: Laughter in My Tent.

Peggy Orenstein can relate. In her memoir, Waiting for Daisy, she poignantly addresses the topic of infertility. Orenstein’s subtitle says it all: “A Tale of Two Continents, Three Religions, Five Infertility Doctors, an Oscar, and Atomic Bomb, a Romantic Night, and One Woman’s Quest to Become a Mother.” That title alone beckoned me to read this true to life love story. At times humorous and wrenching, Orenstein takes her readers through the courageous account of her journey to motherhood.

And no, after this long wait, none of us becomes perfect mothers. But hopefully, we become appreciative ones. There are things we’ll never forget: first steps, first teeth, first silly giggles at the water swirling down the drain, or bubbles in the sand box. Through a collection of essays Because I Love Her highlights the bond between mothers and daughters. These personal stories reveal life lessons imparted by mothers. One of my favorite essays is by Katherine Center. Entitled “Things to Remember Not to Forget.” These first lines will give you a taste of her humorous voice: “At our house, for our kids, who are two and five, everything is better with a big side order of Naked. Jumping on the bed is good, but Naked Jumping is better. Hiding in the closet is good, but Naked Hiding is better….The only thing, in fact, that’s not better naked is bathing, which is far better done with socks on.”

It’s a happy mother who embraces a sock bath. Eww. I believe pediatrician Meg Meeker, M.D., would approve. In her book The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers, Meeker encourages mothers to reclaim their passion, purpose and sanity. Is that possible? By the end of the book, you’ll be a believer too. As my wise Uncle Norman used to say, a habit is hard to break. If you take away the “H,” you still have “a bit.” Take away the “A,” you still have a “bit.” All the way down to the “it.” But Meeker delves into habits that are worth keeping. From faith to solitude, friendship to finance, Meeker shares practical steps to becoming a fulfilled mother.

And for all of those mothers who are able to find pockets of solitude, how about a light mystery? Mother’s Day Murder (a Lucy Stone mystery), by Leslie Meier, might be just the right read to keep in your back pocket. According to Library Journal Review, “Small-town life in Maine should be quiet and safe, but feuding families, high-school bullying, and the murder of a missing 16-year-old girl makes Tinker’s Cove residents overprotective of their children and suspicious of one other. Another murder places Lucy Stone, part-time reporter and mother of four, in the thick of things.”

As for me, I’ll be reading The Night Before Mother’s Day, by Natasha Wing, to my two daughters. You’re never too old for picture books, right? In this sweet story, a mother finds all she needs for a perfect holiday right at home: a homemade cake, a homemade spa treatment and lots of love. That is, after all, what I’m wishing for all the moms and future moms out there…a chance to stop, pause and embrace those moments in life worth treasuring. Happy Mother’s Day!

The Irony

It happened again tonight. I went to feed our parakeets and fish and frogs, started a bath, decided to make pancakes ahead for tomorrow’s breakfast, put away the dishes, forgot all about my bath water getting cold. You know how it goes. Writing always takes a backseat to life. And yet that is the irony, isn’t it? Without that every-day nitty-gritty stuff of life, we would have little to say as writers. In 2006 “Literary Mama” published this poem of mine. I think it sums up tonight’s feelings. I know it has struck a cord with other writers, especially mothers, because we are sometimes too tired to even “dream a poem.”

Why I Didn’t Write a Poem
By Nancy Tupper Ling

January 15, 2006

Cream of tomato soup singed the sides of the double boiler. I bathed the girls,
bubble smiles on their tummies, zebra fish on the walls. I dressed them in pink pajamas.
dried their hair; it curled under dark like violet petals. I read Moo, Baa, and Laa,
Laa, Laa. One last water call. A prayer. A kiss. A favorite blankey lost, then found.
I followed crumbs down the hallway, under the table. Imagined Gretel, the witch,
her graham-cracker shingles and jelly bean path. I scrubbed the pan: its liquid sienna
mess, its sweet acidity. Lined chopsticks, knives and spoons in the washer rack.
Thanked God for gas and light when cold pushes hard on night’s black sills.
I paid the bills, arranged sandwiches in boxes: triangle shapes with carrots and chips.
I phoned Kate in Orlando. She holds her baby near her black eye — her lover leaves her
every five months. How to make it right? Come home. Come home to this place.
It’s 12:27. I’m gathering batiks and teacups for tomorrow’s workshop. I’m slipping

into bed. My husband turns. Groans in his sleep. I want to dream a poem.