Amanda Cockrell

Selected Works

Young Adult Novel
Saints and soldiers and the Untied Church of Dog
Novels
The Hollywood blacklist and a delayed funeral
Historical novel of a Roman legion in Britain
The Horse Catchers trilogy
Mythological novel of the coming of the horse to the American Southwest
Volume 2 in The Horse Catchers trilogy
Volume 3 in The Horse Catchers trilogy
The Deer Dancers trilogy
Mythological novel of the beginning of art
Volume 2 in The Deer Dancers trilogy
Volume 3 in The Deer Dancers trilogy
Children's books
By my mother, Marian Cockrell, the story of an enchanted castle on the edge of Fairyland

What We Keep

A bug in the works

October 29, 2013

Tags: gardening, winter, bugs

With the first frost last Thursday night, the spiders are gone. I can’t say it distresses me when cutting back the browning stalks of the black-eyed-Susan, not to come face to face with one of the big black and yellow orb weavers that put out their nets for lunch just at a kneeling gardener’s eye level. But I miss their busyness in the autumn Spider Moon when they are doing their part in the insect ecosystem, the Great Chain of Bugness, even if I scope out the coneflowers and the daylily stalks before I wade in there. One took up housekeeping in the lotus this year, stringing her web between the stalks. I fear that that’s the mister behind her in the web, victim of a fatal romance.
I still see the bumblebees but they are fewer and fewer. The agastache that they love to bumble in has died back. When the Mexican sage has gone, they will too.
The milkweed bugs have left too, to wherever they go. I don’t know where they come from either, they just show up in late summer, a crust of tiny yellow dots on the milkweed and butterfly weed, progressing to orange and black nymphs and then handsome winged fellows.
Earlier in the year there was a praying mantis on the lotus. She swiveled her head at me, clearly wondering if I was edible. Too big, she decided, and moved on.
A few crickets are holding on in the basement but the garden feels empty, so many bug lives wound up. Sometimes after a frost I find small crisp bodies. I have to remind myself that a winter garden isn’t dead. Somewhere there are eggs, next year’s bugs in waiting.

Dia de Los Muertos

October 22, 2013

Tags: Day of the Dead, story, writing

Since we are transplanted Southern Californians, we miss the Day of the Dead and so we have an annual party to import our favorite holiday. For some reason I always manage to write a lot during the mad preparations for it. I have found that nobody has as many stories as the dead do.

In Mexico and much of the Southwest November 1 and 2 are celebrated as El Dia de Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. They coincide with All Saints Day and All Souls Day of the Christian calendar, but the tradition is older, with its origins among the Aztecs. On those turning-of-the-year days, when the borders between the worlds are thin, those who have gone through the door to the next world may come back to visit. The children, los angelitos, arrive first, on November 1, followed by the adults. Graveyards are spruced up and houses are decorated with skeleton figures and sugar skulls to remind us that death is just another world. Families make altars where they place the things that the departed loved. Candy for los angelitos, cigars and whiskey for the old men. I find myself shopping for them in October the way I shop for the living in December.

I like to think they appreciate it. Certainly they tell me stories. “Remember the gardener who was so good with roses,” they whisper in my ear. “Remember when he shot his wife’s back-door man and all the rose growers in town put the arm on the judge?” And I do. I remember as if I was there. “Remember Cousin Willetta?” they murmur, and I recall the family lottery of who-would-drive-Willetta, because Willetta didn’t drive, and listen to her complain for hours that no one could fit a shoe properly these days because she bought fives when she needed sixes. She was a sod widow and her sister was a grass widow and they lived together with six cats and made dreadful jam. My husband’s grandfather is there too, handsome and feckless, who sang for eight hours on a bet and never repeated a song. His wife stumps along behind him, a woman not to be trifled with, so tough that when he died, everyone called her Pa. They all come to visit, the newly lost a comfort to think of again, the distant ones just a nod through the wavy glass of the front window, their hands full of history.

Down South

October 16, 2013

Tags: children's books, Hollins, Birmingham

A fine weekend in Birmingham with the Southern Breeze SCBWI for their Writing and Illustrating for Kids conference.

My mother was from Birmingham and my childhood summers were spent there with my mom, grandparents, and a large cast of aunts, uncles, and cousins, acquiring a Southern accent and a loathing for grits. My grandmother’s front lawn had tree wells, rock-lined columns surrounding the tall pines that had been there when the house was built and the ground leveled. We regularly lost badminton birds down them and had to crawl gingerly down after them, batting spiders from our hair. We slept in one of the two spare bedrooms (my mother and my aunt in the other) in an assortment of cots, a double bed, and a youth bed that still had rails on it, arguing about who got to sleep next to the fan (no air conditioning) and listening to the squirrels bowl acorns up and down the attic floor above us. One summer we packed up the Arkansas cousins and the Mobile cousins and went to Panama City for a week, probably just to get us all out of my grandmother’s hair. My cousin Lucy, the eldest of the lot, was given the job of letting us get in her hair instead. As a teenager I drove my grandmother in her ancient black and aqua Plymouth from her house to the grocery store in English Village every day and was rewarded with limeade from the drugstore.

I wish I had had the time to drive by and see that house again. I only spent one month a year there, but I remember it as well as the house I grew up in.

This trip to Birmingham, I gave a workshop on “Is an MFA for You?” and obviously hope it is. Four of our Hollins Children’s Literature graduates were conference participants, including the SCBWI regional advisor, the redoubtable Claudia Pearson, who not only did a lot of the conference organizing (and introduced me to shopgoodwill.com, to my husband’s dismay) but hosted the faculty and volunteers at her house for dinner afterward, and sent me on the road with coffee in the morning.

If you want to write for children or teens, there is no more supportive organization of writers. You’ll find them at scbwi.org and be very glad you did. And for anyone contemplating an MFA in writing for children, the text of my talk is here:
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The Story Mine

October 8, 2013

Tags: story, family

People ask writers where stories come from, and all I can ever say is that they just are. We are stories already, even if some are inadvisable to tell.

I treasure what I remember of my parents’ storytelling. They were both writers and had been married for seventeen years before they had me, and as a child I always thought of that time as a sort of exotic landscape, peopled with characters who were now dead or mad or lost in some other way.

The Depression era house in Flushing, New York that they shared with multiple relatives and in-laws, all writers, had an interdimensional feel to me when I thought of it. Two enormous box turtles roamed the halls, the residents stocked up on groceries and whiskey when someone sold a story, and the cook carried on conversations with the cats until said whiskey was locked up. My uncle drove my aunt, the only one with an actual job, to the train station every day in a horse and buggy. When a lady in a chauffeured car pulled up and asked him, “My good man, who do you drive for?” he tipped his hat, gave his own name, and added, “the noted author.”

There were always dogs, including the ones who independently charged an ice cream cone at the drugstore the day they weren’t taken for their usual walk and cone, and the one who bit a Senate candidate. Later in California, there was a house in Topanga Canyon with a tree growing through the living room, and a goat that was serially sold to each new resident, a kind of initiation. They weren’t inclined to censor their storytelling for youthful ears, so I heard about night my [relative redacted] showed up on their doorstep with a lamp and said, “[wife redacted] threw this at me but I caught it.” I heard about the wicked multiple-great uncle who murdered his brother-in-law, and about the attic where my father made bootleg beer with a bad-influence friend while his own father, a circuit court judge, was out of town.

Why does their life always sound more interesting than mine? There is a sense of not having lived up to a sufficient number of mad friends and improbable road trips. And yet it takes a span of years for dangerous and not-thought-through to transmute into interesting. Maybe the interesting stories can safely be told only when the participants have left.






























Chocolate novios for Day of the Dead


Noon Whistle at the Lizard Works

Back yard bottle tree



The last hurrah


Delia Sherman and Ruth Sanderson, summer Children's Lit faculty

Children's Lit faculty Brian Attebery and Ellen Kushner at the end-of-term party