Monthly Archives: March 2010

Dot-Connecting Snippets: SCBWI Bologna 2010

With spotty wireless access at our Bologna hotel — four WiFi providers in four days — blogging became a contact sport. Now that I’m back home, I can share a few snippets about the personal connections I made in Bologna without fear of losing internet connection.

Bologna Book Fair Logo

My sister Aimee, of Aimee Louise Photography, flew up from Dallas, Texas to travel with me to Bologna. She offered her services to the SCBWI Bologna organizers for the conference. They graciously accepted. YAY! How fun for us to attend together! While Aimee documented events at the symposium and Bologna Children’s Book Fair, I attended the writers’ sessions and manuscript critiques. Aimee shared a few of her pics with me — like this one of Illustrator John Shelley’s tie. Her blog has more pics.

Illustrator John Shelley's tie

Illustrator John Shelley's tie. Photo credit: Aimee Woolverton

John, one of the organizers of the SCBWI Bologna 2010 event, wowed us with his wardrobe choices and colors. Red seems to be a theme for him. I’m not sure yet what it reveals about him, but he’s hard to miss in a crowd. Delightful. Unique. Engaging. The tie says it all!

I enjoyed chatting with Leonard Marcus, Children’s book historian, author and critic. Aimee used his book reviews in Parenting magazine to pick books for her boys. Leonard is interested in putting together an art exhibition of childrens’ books on space. What a great idea. We have a NASA Art Program. Might be a good fit.

"Do" of Tara Books. BolognaRagazzi Award winner

"Do" of Tara Books. BolognaRagazzi Award winner

What a privilege to speak with Gita Wolf of Tara Books in India. They search for local artisans to translate their art into book form. “Do!” — text by Gita and illustrations by Ramesh Hengadi and Shantaram DhadpeGita — won a BolognaRagazzi Award in the New Horizons category. I love how a magnificent book like this can bring rich traditions of India to children around the world.

Funny story about Neal Porter of Roaring Brook Press. We could only get wireless down in the lobby at our hotel — when we could get it to work. Aimee was processing her conference images, selecting the top dozen to submit to the SCBWI organizers, but couldn’t get her internet access to work. She put the images on a thumb drive for me to email her selections. I was waiting for the images to upload into email. Took forEVER.

While I waited impatiently, Neal Porter walked into the lobby with colleagues. His image stared at me from my computer screen while he settled on a couch nearby. So bazaar. I walked over and showed him Aimee’s picture. He loved it and asked us to email it to him. I did. Of all the hotel lobbies in all the city….

Neal Porter. Photo credit: Aimee Woolverton

Neal Porter. Photo credit: Aimee Woolverton

I met new friends and reconnected with writers I’d met in Bologna two years ago. The amazing Candy Gourlay typed furiously in front of me during the conference, trying to capture notes from our presenters. Her blog, Notes from the Slush Pile, is delightful. I was blown away by Candy’s writing in during the 2008 symposium — lyrical, musical language. She’s a gifted writer. Her post about Richard Peck captures his “call to action” for us as writers.

Sarah Towle , founder and creator of Time Traveler Tours, gave us great advice on best places to eat near our hotel. She’s writing a wonderful historical novel about the French revolution. Based on the excerpt she read to us during one of the sessions, I can’t wait for a publisher to snap up her manuscript.

Author Sandra Nickel. photo credit: Aimee Woolverton

Sandra Nickel. Credit: Aimee

I met a kindred spirit: Sandra Nickel from Switzerland. She’s writing a story about a haunted French chalet. Sounds intriguing. She signed with an agent in the last few weeks, so things should get moving for her. She’s so much fun. I wish we lived closer!

Marjorie Van Heerden is a children’s book writer and illustrator from South Africa. My daughter is moving down to South Africa in July to work with Bethany House Trust as a counselor, so I was thrilled to spend time with Marjorie and soak up her stories about my daughter’s new home.  Marjorie illustrated over 100 children’s books which have been published in 33 languages. In her spare time, she serves as the co-regional advisor of the new South African chapter of SCBWI. She invited us to visit her in Cape Town. We just may take her up on her offer.

Space Cat by Doug Cushman

I met Doug Cushman, author/illustrator of over 100 books, during lunch at the conference, then kept running into him at the Bologna Book Fair, the shops in Bologna, and on our flight from Bologna to Paris (his home base). He’s warm and unassuming — though he thought we were stalking him. 😉 Nice, nice guy. Bonus points for a guy who writes about a Space Cat!

The manuscript critiques, as much as I hate them, really gave me great insights into how to make the stories better.

Ellen Hopkins, author of multiple New York Times bestsellers in teen fiction, as well as numerous non-fiction books, critiqued “Purrgus, A Cat of Olden Times.” She suggested the story should be about a boy, rather than a cat; and challenged me to consider nonfiction. So many possibilities. Thanks Ellen. Her newest in the “Crank” series, “Fallout,” comes out this fall.

Literary Agent John Cusick of Scott Treimel NY critiqued “The Ultra Secret Lives of Xandri and Jam.” He liked the concept but thought little Jam should be older — 5 or 6, possibly 7. Makes sense. He offered great insight on how readers relate to characters. I look forward to my next rewrite with his comments in mind. John’s young adult novel, Girl Parts, will debut this fall. How cool is that?

Purely by happenstance, I was given the opportunity to pitch “Xandri and Jam” to Ginger Clark, Literary Agent for Curtis Brown in New York. I’d actually met Ginger briefly at a 2007 writers’ conference in Texas. Ok, we didn’t actually meet. She stood beside a group of us at the reception and I offered for her to join us. Ginger doesn’t carry fond memories of the conference or Texans, for that matter; but is willing to overlook my Texan heritage. Good thing.

At the Bologna airport, we befriended Erika Pedrick, Subsidiary Rights Supervisor for APA Books/Magination Press of the American Psychological Association. She stood in line in front of us at the Air France baggage counter for over an hour, only to get turned away and told to return in 30 minutes for the next flight. We became traveling buddies. What a nice surprise out of a frustrating experience.

SCBWI Bologna Fair Booth. Photo credit: Aimee Woolverton

SCBWI Bologna Fair Booth. Photo credit: Aimee Woolverton

A big THANK YOU to Team Bologna:


Filed under Africa, artists, NASA, space, writers

Bits of Wisdom: SCBWI Bologna 2010

Bologna International Children's Book Fair 2010

Bologna International Children's Book Fair 2010

Wifi access hampers my ability to share tidbits from our SCBWI Bologna conference in a timely manner. With the expectation of instant access to information these days, a 48 hour delay from spotty service feels frustrating.

Hard to imagine the days of old when written word travelled by foot, horseback or boat.

Here are my hastily-typed notes from Monday’s conference.

Fiona Kenshole: Taking the Mystery out of the Movie Deals

Fiona Kenshole: Taking the Mystery out of Movie Deals

Fiona Kenshole: Taking the Mystery out of Movie Deals

Fiona heads up the Acquisitions Department of Laika Entertainment, the Oregon- based feature animation studio. They recently produced the Academy Award-nominated animated film, Coraline.

“I am a personal shopper for filmmakers.”

What are movie studios looking for?

  • Ancillaries — merchandising, and more;
  • Spirit and theme of story that translates well on screen;
  • Best selling book not necessary to make good movie; and
  • Interested in a “brand.”

The Holy Grail = a story that appeals to boys and girls and is contemporary and relatable.

We often option book of Genesis, but make the story of Moses.

Small independent producers still make lovely films from non-brand books.

Each film takes for years to make. I’m looking for options in 2020.

Option process:

  • Option deal – give film producer the right to work on story to film – one year-18 months.
  • Sometimes authors get money up front. Sometimes not.
  • You, the author, give the studio ALL rights to your book.
  • Even though your book is optioned for a film, doesn’t mean a film will EVER be made.

The studio investment in a film is so huge, movie studios need merchandising to make their investment profitable.

Fox is the most book-friendly studio.

Warner – 180 options each year, make 10% of them each year.

Development process — from book to script and beyond.

When reading a book, the magic of the journey is the interpretation inside your head. Film is about what people say and people do in on the screen as you watch.

  • No one will sit in the theater long enough to have the entire book unfold.
  • Film translates the “spirit” of the book.
  • Screenwriters may need to add or delete character.
  • Screenwriters shift the point of view of the book from inside to the outside view of film-makers.
  • Writers lose control of what happens in book. Decisions by film-making crews.
  • Control: writers have none.
  • Best thing you can have is a great relationship with film-makers and trust the process.

Book to film: 1 page = 1 minute = $1M!

Sometimes we work for three years to sift for the nugget of the story to craft a good screen-play adaption.

Dressidea Cowell – “How to Train your Dragon” – “superficially, the film is not like the book, but the theme is still there…!” Book optioned in 2003 for 2010 debut.

Making Coraline:

  • Coraline’s sweaters knitted by hand with knitting needles the size of human hair!
  • Every vowel sound has a different face – over 12000 faces!
  • 6 seconds a week for animation!

Holly Black of Spiderwick Chronicles managed her expectations about her movie option. At the end of filming she asked, “Can I be excited now?”

Fiona’s Advice:

“Take the money and run!”


“Be careful what you wish for.”

Ellen Hopkins: The YA Renaissance

Ellen is the award-winning author of twenty children’s nonfiction books, and six New York Times bestselling young adult novels-in-verse. She also critiqued one of my manuscripts — giving me thought-provoking ideas on a change of characters…and perhaps a non-fiction book, as well.

Her thoughts on the Young Adult (YA) market and how it’s changing:

  • YA pushed into 14 and older.
  • Edgier.
  • 9-12 = Tween fiction.
  • Newer grey areas in categories.
  • New middle ground above the YA market.
  • Tween fiction – stories with positive family interaction.
  • Notable exception in Tween Lit – Lemony Snickett and JK Rowlings – adult characters aren’t good guys.
  • Tween for girls – Lizzy Maguire, Hanna Montana.
  • Tween for boys – graphic novels, Harry Potter.

YA authors should write for readers aged 11 to 70, but aim at the older teen.

Why write YA ?

  1. It’s a hungry market.
  2. YA readers buy their own books.
  3. Buy independently from their parents.
  4. Write for your audience, not parents and librarians

YA writers – we feel responsibility to our readers, we write better literature.

  1. To shed new light on old problems
  2. To make a positive difference in a young person’s life

It helps if you’ve never quite graduated.

Where will your journey start? Don’t underestimate your readers.

Start with a premise:

Has it happened to you? Your family? Kids? Someone you know? Or maybe it happened to someone you read about. Or hear about.

“Tricks” about teen prostitutes – I spent a week in Vegas with Vice Squad, talking to teens on the street.

Build characters: 2 month process before ever putting words on paper.


  • Antagonist
  • Friends
  • Foils
  • Adults

Hugely important to have characters relate to readers.

  • Characters should have flaws, Let us see them and let us know how each character feels about having flaws.
  • Bad guy could be a werewolf, a blizzard, addiction, a computer – what if a chat room took on a life of its own?
  • Understand not only the victims, but also the perpetrators.
  • Break stereotypes. Challenge yourselves so you can challenge your readers to break stereotypes.
  • How can friends propel your story forward?
  • Foils are human obstacles that stand in the way of your protagonist getting what he or she needs of wants….
  • Create realistic, musti-layered characters.
  • No flat characters.
  • What is their background, motivation, philosophy on war, drug use, college, future on this planet.
  • If they’re hopeful, why? If not, why not?


  • How will you tell this story to make it uniquely your own?
  • Think visually. Unsusual formatting – including verse, journals, letters, etc.
  • YA novels are often told 1st person, to put the reader solidly into the characters’ heads.
  • Beware of didacticism and slang – date your book.
  • Don’t stomp on your characters’ voices with your voice as a storyteller.
  • What is the most impactful way to tell story.

Recommended authors:

Richard Peck

The adorable Richard Peck received the National Humanities Medal in 2002, the first Children’s book writer to receive the award. His remarks at SCBWI conference had us laughing and cheering. I’m thrilled to share his advice to writers of children’s books.

“Stories for the young must move in a straight line to where they should go.”

Our opening lines – our minefield.
Are we writing with invitation simplicity?

EB white uses simple language: “Where’s papa going with that ax.”

As authors, we can doom ourselves with our own words.

“You are writing for a generation of youth whose facebook pages grow hot into the night, long after parents go to sleep.”


  • Adverbs destroy the rhythm of our speech.
  • Boys don’t use adverbs. Why write with them?
  • If you see an adverb, shoot it.


In the lonely front of the classroom, I was handed another career – writing. When you’re a teacher you have no time for your own problems. As a writer, you have no time for yourself either because your characters are clamoring for attention.

  • Third person = distance.
  • Speak as they speak.
  • I learned how to talk in no other voice than the young character I’m writing about.
  • Story is about the reader, not the writer.
  • No one in this world wants to read your writing, except your own mother.

“My students kicked the living autobiography out of me.”

The Story:

  • Story is an alternative reality. Not what wasn’t but what should’ve been.
  • Story must entertain above all else.
  • The hook upon which all stories hang – universal truth that all actions have consequences.
  • If actions have no consequences, the book falls apart.
  • Consequences: Least attractive proposition for young readers.
  • Sermon is not entertainment.
  • But if you can’t preach, add paranormal science fiction to grab their attention.
  • Use anything to lure readers into our story.

Children’s book writers: “We have a higher calling, a deeper craft.”

  • Live on our reader’s turf without invading it.
  • Because of Mark Twain, the Mississippi River flows through all our stories.
  • We never write about anyone who can walk away.
  • Our stories must end with more hope than that of “moving home after college.”
  • We must go on the road to act out the book to our readers – to readers who don’t read reviews.
  • Every book is a survival manual.
  • We always throw our characters into the deep end.
  • We turn up the heat!
  • A book, like a school, should provide what is no longer available in life.
  • A book should be a tighter community than in real life.
  • Scenes strung together by an invisible wire….

Character development:

  • Characters take on life based on luck – Characters become another human being on the page when we get outside ourselves.
  • A story is always about something that did NOT happen to the writer,

“If Earnest Hemingway had really caught all those fish, or climbed all those mountains, or loved all those women, he would never have had time to write…nor the need to.”

While the text message is always fiction, it is never literature.

Social networking: A book unites, what the computer divides.

Nobody but a reader ever became a writer…

Twice as many college graduates get degrees in social work than in literature or foreign language combined.

“If you can’t find yourself on the page, you’ll go looking for yourself… in all the wrong places.”

First pages Agent Panel

Kristen Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency, Stephen Chutney of The Chutney Agency, Francis Plumpton of Richards Literary Agency, Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary Agency, Rosemary Stimola of Stimola Literary Studio, Marcia Wernick of Sheldon Fogleman Agency, Kendra Marcus of BookStop Literary Agency.

SCBWI agent panel

SCBWI agent panel

Kristen Nelson – What grabs our attention? The turn of a phrase, character resonance…not action for action’s sake.

Rosemary Stimola – Don’t wax nostalgic, that’s an adult thing. Kids don’t look back.

Sarah Davies – Titles sell books. Invoke an intriguing spirit of the story through the title.

Kristen Nelson – Interested in simple writing. Need to write complex concepts with simple language.

Marcia Wernick – Rhyme needs to work really well. Otherwise, no point. Need brilliant writing to pull off rhyme.

Rosemary – Rhyme: what’s the driving force? Story should be in the driver’s seat. Rhyme shouldn’t drive the story.

Sara – Don’t force words into the rhyming line to tell story.

Kristen – Read your own words aloud. Smooth out dialogue.

Stephen– A decent middle grade = 40-45k words. You can always tell a novel in fewer words.

Kristen – I see tons of manuscripts about “waking up…in a dream…etc.”

Marcia – First few lines need to draw reader in – grab reader, throttle them.

Kendra – What is your book about? Why should I care? We also read tons of: “First day of summer vacation…”

Rosemary – If your character is starting summer vacation, start it!

Rosemary – A times, language gets in the way of the story. I’m not against imagery, but my attention is pulled away from the story.

Sarah – Agents see lots of overwriting, easy to overload a pieces with adverbs and adjectives. Keep it simple!

Rosemary – Take care with “regionality” – words, descriptions unique to a certain place. May not be understood across areas.

Rosemary – Spiraling: story moves forward then slips backward. Not good.

Sarah – I see “travel” stories each week. Not too interested in stories to teach children about “places.”

Rosemary – Photographic novel in fiction (unless you’re the photographer) is harder to sell, but nonfiction might work.

Agent summary:

Kendra Marcus

  • We’re looking for young, middle, YA.
  • We work hard for good stories.
  • Not interested in trends.
  • Want stories that sound like a child and relates to children.
  • Love non-fiction. Send me some!

Marcia Wernick

  • 3 agents: Sheldon, Linda Pratt, Marcia.
  • Love to find new talent, but don’t take new clients.
  • Looking for prolific authors.
  • Mean-spirited stories don’t appeal to me.
  • Love voice.
  • Character-driven story + voice compels and attracts me.

Rosemary Stimola

  • Eclectic tastes.
  • Dystopian realm – Suzanne Collins of Hunger Games.
  • Don’t follow trends but like setting them.
  • Love new talent.

Sarah Davies

  • Sarah + Julia Churchhill in UK.
  • All about new talent.
  • Business only 2 years old.
  • Very editorial.
  • Complete rewrites.
  • Fiction rather than non-fiction.
  • Heartland: middle grade, tween, YA.
  • Doing quite well with middle grade – beautifully voiced middle grade.
  • Would love to find more Kate DiCamillo-type girl stories.
  • Like great commercial ideas.
  • YA – looking for fresh voice, different.

Frances Plumpton

  • New Zealand clients only.
  • Picture books.
  • Like whole gamet of stories.

Stephen Chutney

  • Great book = wonderful characters, great voice, great settings.
  • Historical fiction – looking to fill hole in marketplace — Templar Trilogy, etc.
  • What’s really selling now? Realistic contemporary fiction with characters and voices and situations that leap off the page.

Kristen Nelson

Nelson agency — learn more at:

  • Fiction: YA + adult + middle grade.
  • Glad to make NY Times list without blood and guts.
  • Query letter – all electronic.
  • Email us.

Kendra – publishing is a pendulum. It will swing back.

Marcia — picture books: market is quite fierce

Publishing Today: from Idea to Marketplace.

Dierdre McDermott of UK WalkerBook Publishing, Stephen Roxburgh of Namelos US electronic publishing, Gita Wolf of Tara Books in India, Sara Grant of Working Partners UK, Tessa Strickland of Barefoot Books UK, Sarah Foster of WalkerBook in Australia & New Zealand, and Neal Porter of Roaring Brook Press.

SCBWI Bologna Panel: Editors and Publishers

Stephen Roxburgh

  • No longer tied to ink on paper.
  • Hard cover and paperback – print only on demand.
  • Electronic version – immediate download.
  • Publishing for young people who don’t care about medium of delivery.
  • Surface you read on shouldn’t determine what you read.

Gita Wolf

  • Make books entirely by hand.
  • Tactile experience.
  • Collective of writers and artists making books we want to see out in the marketplace.
  • Use the strengths we have – people who paint walls and floors – and nudge tradition along to a more contemporary field.
  • “Do” – award-winning book – 2010 BolognaRagazzi award.
  • Brings back the craft of bookmaking.
  • Bookmaking artisans.

Sara Grant

  • We are writers.
  • Work with Sarah Davies Greenhouse literary agency.
  • Work out story line to fill gaps.
  • Look for writers to write the samples from storywriters based on sample outline.
  • Sample chapters shopped around to publisher.
  • New story coming out: David Beckham meets James Bond.

Neal Porter

  • Started as small independent house, now owned by McMillian.
  • 60% picture books.
  • “A Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring.”
  • Took five years to bring into being.

Tess Strickland

  • Where language is image other than words.
  • 12-16 new projects per year.
  • Young fiction program – bringing into the English language wonderful stories that haven’t made their way into English.
  • “The Gift” – Carol Ann Duffy and Rob Ryan Peters.
  • Looking for books that will stay around for sometime.
  • The title is very important – title WAS “The Plot” but was changed to “The Gift”

Sarah Foster

  • Walker Books in Australia & New Zealand.
  • Sister company: Candlewick press.
  • “Simpson and His Donkey.”
  • “Pearl Verses: The World,” by Sally Murphy Illustrators by Heather Potter.
  • Picturebook making is very slow.

Question/Answer Session:

Question: Digital revolution – is this hopeful news? How is the revolution affecting your editorial/publishing process?

Sarah Foster – We make it up as we go. Agents don’t think through what they’re asking editors for.

Stephen Roxburgh – Publishers don’t know what to do with e-books. They don’t know how to re-gear. Business model has to be dealt with. In the meantime, books are being withheld.  Model – it’s a partnership. We split 50-50. But we don’t know what we’re splitting. It may be 50% of nothing.

Dierdre – A good story is good story. No matter the medium.

Question: Is the picture book is the last book standing?

Tessa – Books not going away. Just like TV didn’t do away with books. Making our books available e-books. YouTube videos from picture books. Internet plays an absolutely central role in what we do.

Gita – Marketing question. We use internet/youtube We have oral storytellers. We put the bards (who sing) on YouTube. Book is the intermediate step.

Neal Potter – Penguin did iPad models of books. Spot: DK Guide to Rome (GPS map). Vampire Academy series. Changed my feelings about digital books. GPS applications of DK is revolutionary app. Allows us to go beyond the 32 page format. 32-page format is a great economical model – works to constrain authors/editors.

Question: Print on Demand model. Do authors and illustrators still need publishers?

Tessa – Illustrators enjoy online media. Blogging is a great medium for writers. Marketing directions really exciting.

Stephen – Traditional publishers brought set of capabilities to the table. Access to distribution from publishers. Traditional set of functions on the table will change. Publishers need to give authors what we need.

Neal – Editorial process. It’s what we do. It depends on how authors value what we do. As publishers have gone more corporate. Editorial process diminishing with how fast market process moving.

Sara Grant – Glad I never took to market some of my apprentice novels – aka – garbage.

Stephen – Brilliant editors let go. You can find editorial help outside the publishing houses.

Question: How is this changing editorial process?

Sara Grant – New generation of editors – proactive about the type of fiction they want to create.

Tessa – 25% new authors.

Neal – 25% new

Dierdre – 2 new – finding new picture book writing hard.

Stephen – 80% new.

Sara – 1 new writer – great training writers to work with editors.

Sarah – majority new.

Question: How do you find voices?

Sara – Online forum, speak at conferences, form online with sample writing. Collaborative effort, not original stories

Gita – We travel a lot to find best artists, community art. We find only one or two people each place who are willing to work in a new art form or format.

Question: Global market – which countries are the fastest growing?

Gita – Is India really as hot a market as hype would have it? Not convinced.

Neal – Americans are great navel gazers. We’ve avoided selling our books across the world. Americans are more culturally insular.  To turn it around, I come here to Bologna to see what I don’t see in U.S. – new and fresh.

Dierdre – If your book can make it to America, you can make it everywhere. Millions of people with money to spend. Good books will go anywhere.

Sara – Find an agent with an international base.

Stephen – Distribution. In cyberspace, everything is around the corner. Not today, but talk to me tomorrow.

Question: How important the BUZZ is to make the book survive?

Neal – Issue of maintaining or starting the buzz. Authors must take proactive role in selling book. Editors and marketers cut from budgets. What money is left is concentrated on big names.  Blogging, networking, facebooking helps authors. How do you separate the quality sounds from the rest of the noise?

Bologna Fair 2011

Bologna Fair 2011


Filed under artists, writers

Launch Water Day 2

Quick Recap of Launch Water Day 2:

Innovator Stephen Kennedy Smith: Verticrop. “Large-Scale Vertical Hydroponic Ag System

Innovator Stephen Kennedy Smith

Innovator Stephen Kennedy Smith

VertiCrop water savings

VertiCrop water savings

Innovator Shahram Javey: Aquacue. “Water: Tapped and Untapped

Innovator Shahram Javey

Innovator Shahram Javey



Innovator Dr. Marc van Iersel: “Affordable Soil Moisture Sensors

Dr. Marc Van Iersel

Dr. Marc van Iersel

Soil Moisture Sensors

Soil Moisture Sensors

Innovator Dr. Julien J. Harou: “HydroPlatform

Innovator Dr. Julien Harou

Innovator Dr. Julien Harou



Astronaut Ron Garan: “Manna Energy Projects in Rwanda” — on his own time, not as an official NASA rep.

Astronaut Ron Garan

Astronaut Ron Garan

Manna Energy Status

Manna Energy Status

Manna Energy Carbon Credits

Manna Energy Carbon Credits

Innovator “Speed Dating” Impact Rotations:

Launch Water Day 2 Impact Rotations

Launch Water Day 2 Impact Rotations

Before heading off to the reception and dinner at the Kennedy Space Center Rocket Garden, the amazing Dr. Anil Gupta spoke on “Water, Wisdom and Well Being: Learning from Grassroots.” He told a wonderful story about the need to empty ourselves before we can be filled. Great advice for our innovators as they met with thought leaders in the impact rotations. We realized, after the fact, that he should have been our kick-off speaker to inspire us with humility and the possibilities of the smallest kernal of innovation at the grassroots level. I had the great fortune to sit with him at dinner. Now I can’t wait to travel to India to “walk” with him through the villages and honor the small innovations he finds among the people.

KSC Rocket Garden

KSC Rocket Garden

NASA’s Mr. Space Station, Mark Uhran, spoke to us at dinner on the topic of “Water Far and Near.” I’ll post a link as soon as we get his remarks up on the website. I was inspired and awed by his remarks on the importance of water in the universe and why it’s important for NASA to follow the “water of life.”

“Water lies at the very foundation of NASA’s reason for being. The search for life in the universe is a search for water, becase life, at least as we know it, cannot exist without water.” NASA’s Mark Uhran.

Thanks Mark! Wow!

We capped off the evening (and Mark’s talk) with a toast to water — with shot glasses of recycled waste water from NASA trials at the Johnson Space Center. NASA’s Marybeth Edeen brought the water with her from Houston. Marybeth, you ROCKet!

Recycled Water Shots!

Recycled Water Shots! Here's to our astronauts who drink this every day.

Here’s to WATER — on and OFF the planet!

Crosspost on OpenNASA.


Filed under Africa, AIDs, astronaut, Earth, environment, federal government, humanitarian aid, leadership, NASA, poverty, space

LAUNCH Water Day 1

After working on the LAUNCH:Water concept for the past year, we finally kicked it off yesterday — along with our cool new Nike-designed website.

LAUNCH team prepping for innovators

LAUNCH team prepping for innovators

We started the day with Lori Garver, NASA’s Deputy Administrator and LAUNCH Water Host.

NASA's Deputy Lori Garver

NASA's Deputy Lori Garver

Majora Carter: Welcome

Peter Gleick, President and Co-Founder Pacific Institute, “21st Century Water: The Role of Technology and Innovation”

Innovator Mark Tonkin, DTI-r: “Subsurface Vapor Transfer Irrigation

Innovator Mark Tonkin

Innovator Mark Tonkin

Innovator Andrew Tinka, UC Berkeley: “Floating Sensor Network

Innovator Andrew Tinka

Innovator Andrew Tinka

Innovator Ashok Gadgil, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab: “ElectroChemical Arsenic Remediation

Innovator Ashok Gadgi

Innovator Ashok Gadgil

Innovator Mark Sobsey, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill: “Low Cost Bacterial Water Test

Innovator Mark Sobsey

Innovator Mark Sobsey

Lili Anna Peresa, “The Comprehensive Approach of ONE DROP: Water for All, All for Water”

One Drop Foundation: Lili Anna Peresa

One Drop Foundation: Lili Anna Peresa

Partner Head Table

Partner Head Table

Each of the innovators rotated through focused discussion sessions to help shape their success strategy. I like to call it: Innovator Speed Dating.

Innovator "Speed Dating"

Innovator "Speed Dating"

Impact Rotations

Impact rotations

Innovator Impact Rotations

Innovator Impact Rotations

Launch Water Impact Rotations

Launch Water Impact Rotations

Launch Impact Rotations

Launch Impact Rotations

So many incredible stories to share. Stay tuned.

Crosspost on OpenNASA.


Filed under Earth, environment, federal government, humanitarian aid, leadership, NASA, space

Heavenly Answers for Earthly Problems

I’m SO excited to share details about NASA’s newest, coolest, never-been-done-before sustainability initiative, LAUNCH:Water.


Launch:Water logo

Accelerating Innovation for a Sustainable Future.

We’ve been working on this project for some time — an innovative collaborative process to “launch” ideas, or disruptive green technologies, that address some of this planet’s growing pains.

All props to NASA’s Robbie Schingler, who envisioned a barcamp-type atmosphere to discuss sustainability challenges. We’d been looking for ways to tell our Space Station green story, and this concept fit the bill. We pulled together a team of creative folks, all bringing together different strengths, to birth the LAUNCH:Water incubator we’ll debut next week.

We wanted a TED-style event but with teeth, where we can chomp into issues and mash-up new approaches and solutions.

We created LAUNCH as a global initiative to identify and support the innovative work that is poised to contribute to a sustainable future. We want this process to accelerate solutions to meet urgent challenges facing our society. That’s the goal: to make a difference, leave this world better tomorrow than it is today.

We chose water as a logical starting point because it’s an issue we deal with on Space Station every day in orbit. Not only is water a critical commodity for our orbiting pioneers, but for so many living on our home planet.

Scarcity within a hostile environment is something we Earthlings and space travelers share.

So what is LAUNCH:Water? We are working with our founding partners, USAID, State Department, and NIKE, to allow 10 water-related emerging technology innovators the opportunity to present their ideas to a small group of thought-leaders from varied disciplines for a two and a half day conversation about possibilities. We break into small impact rotations to discuss content-focused issues/opportunities that affect each innovator individually. We have a team working with the innovators to develop how we shape these impact sessions for maximum benefit. Our hope is to use these structured conversations to leap-frog these ten innovators further down the path toward success in solving water issues facing our planet.

Why NASA? Because we’re problem-solvers — against all odds.

We solve problems. That’s what we do. I like to call it our brand reduction sauce– after all the ingredients are thrown into the pot and cooked and the essence is left behind. So why not convene a group of expert problem-solvers in various disciplines to address issues we face both on Earth and in the heavens above? LAUNCH is a gathering of problem-solvers to solve one MAJOR problem:

how to sustain life ON and OFF Earth.

We’ll live-stream the innovators’ presentations on Tuesday March 16th and Wednesday March 17th, so you can be part of this glorious experiment with us. We have a LAUNCHorg twitter account that we’ll keep updated, as well.

Astronaut Ron Garan

Astronaut Ron Garan

I’m looking forward to meeting all the innovators in person next week. I’m particularly excited about one of the innovations that bubbled up in the process: Manna Energy, run in his spare time by astronaut Ron Garan or @astro_ron on Twitter. You can go to their website or @MannaEnergy twitter feed to learn how they’re deploying water filtration devices in more than 400 schools in Rwanda, along with biogas generators and high efficiency cookstoves at 300 locations. Gives me goosebumps.

We’ll have so much to share as we move toward our inaugural event next week. We plan to serve “recycled water” just like our astronauts drink on Station, BTW. I guess we can’t serve it in paper cups or plastic bottles — neither are friends of the environment. Yet, if we serve in glass cups, we’ll have to wash them with water and detergent — not nice to the our planet either. Our most sustainable option will be to squirt “reformed urine” directly into the mouths of our guests. Now that will be a sight to see, won’t it? Good thing we’re live-streaming the event. 😉

Stay tuned for frequent updates from the field.

Crosspost on OpenNASA and GovLoop.



Filed under Africa, Earth, environment, federal government, humanitarian aid, leadership, NASA, social media, space, water

Nobel Peace Prize Orbits Earth

When NASA’s Alan Ladwig spoke at the International Space University Symposium, “Public Face on Space,” he suggested the International Space Station partnership deserved the Nobel Peace Prize.

What an absolutely BRILLIANT idea!

Orbiting Outpost

Nobel-deserving International Orbiting Outpost

Think about it. Space agencies  in the United States, Europe, Canada and Japan worked together for years planning an orbiting laboratory in space. After the fall of the iron curtain, Russia — a former adversary — joined the partnership. Unprecedented. Our Cold War rival now our friend?

Our quest to move beyond the boundaries of Earth’s atmosphere lifted us high above political, cultural and language barriers that divide us on the surface of this planet.

15 nations came together IN PEACE to design, build, launch, and assemble our orbiting outpost — 22o miles overhead 24/7 orbiting every 90  minutes at 17,500 mph.

15 countries came together to build the International Space Station

Senior government officials from 15 countries agreed to partnership.

Here is a portrait of senior government officials from our international partner countries who came to Washington D.C.  on Jan. 29, 1998 to establish the framework of cooperation upon with the partnership was formed — representatives of Russia, Japan, Canada, and participating countries of the European Space Agency (ESA), including Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

And it wasn’t easy. Just ask anyone who worked in the Space Station program.

I was actually hired to come work in the Space Station program back in 1985. At the time, Station was but a series of drawings, hopes and dreams — not to mention crossed fingers. In a staff meeting not long ago, Bill Gerstenmaier made a comment during a Space Shuttle mission that really struck me. He told us how amazed he was that all the assembly details that kept him up at night over the years came together flawlessly. It’s pretty incredible that we assembled ON ORBIT all the hardware, cables, and software built at locations all around the world by workers in multiple languages.

So what about Alan’s  Peace Prize idea? How would that work? Curious, I looked up the Nobel Peace Prize nomination process. You may not be surprised to learn that only a select few can submit proposals. No self-nominations. Snap.

According to the Nobel Prize website:

The Norwegian Nobel Committee is responsible for the selection of eligible candidates and the choice of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. The Committee is composed of five members appointed by the Storting (Norwegian parliament). The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo, Norway, not in Stockholm, Sweden, where the Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and the Economics Prize are awarded.

Nobel Peace Prize process

Nobel Peace Prize process-- Credit:

So, from what I can tell, we have until September. We need to find a qualified nominator who believes the Space Station international partnership — that successfully designed, built, launched, assembled, and continues to operate our amazing Peace Laboratory in Low Earth Orbit — is worthy of nomination. Right?

Peace signHey, what about our Norwegian partners? Surely they have qualified friends, wouldn’t you think? If you know anyone who fits the bill, give them a shout for us. You can help us spread the good word — two words, actually: Peace Prize!

It’s amazingly noble — this international partnership in space. Why shouldn’t it be Nobel too?


Filed under Earth, federal government, leadership, NASA, space

Earth Moves. NASA Measures.

Mother Earth just seems to be quaking from the inside out. Doesn’t she? We’re still reeling from the Haiti quake and Chile get pummeled with an Earthquake 500 times stronger. Now we find out this week’s 8.8 earthquake in Chile may have

shortened each Earth day by about 1.26 microseconds.

Furthermore, the quake may have

shifted Earth’s axis by by 2.7 milliarcseconds — or three inches.

I don’t know about you, but that’s just freaky and amazing to me. Freaky that an earthquake can shake the world off it’s foundation and amazing that we can measure it — thanks to our space program.

Earth as Blue Marble. Credit:NASA

Earth as Blue Marble. Credit:NASA

After spending time at the International Space University Symposium, “The Public Face of Space,” I’m still processing all the “why space” conversations. The general public-at-large, though positive about contributions from a half century of global investments, doesn’t really get what space has to do with their lives.

We haven’t told our space story in a way that connects YOU to space in a personal, intimate way. We haven’t engaged you in a way that you can’t imagine your life without space. Instead of bringing space home to you, we’ve pushed it farther away — untouchable, unachievable, only for the Right Stuff guys/gals who get to strap themselves onto a rocket to blast-off our planet’s surface. Does that about sum it up?

Many think we’ve made space boring, as you can see in the SpaceUp presentation. I can’t disagree, but I can only offer you the world as I see it through my starry-eyed space spectacles (my Hubble contact lenses). Here’s what I see:

Space isn’t about who or what gets to ‘go’ outside Earth’s boundaries, but rather how my life is affected by the discoveries we bring back home to Earth.

And this one little NASA/JPL press release about a shorter Earth day and 3-inch change to the Earth’s axis just really brings home the point — space is part of who we are as citizens of this planet in 2011.

Our eyes on this planet — robotic and human — give us data to make informed decisions from crop management to disaster planning to global warming to sustainability challenges.

Geological Safari: Crater Highlands, East Africa

Geological Safari: Crater Highlands, East Africa

What can I say. I’m biased. But you could be too. Just put on my starry-eyed glasses for a while and look around. You might discover some amazing things about how space touches you personally.

NASA's Interactive program to find space in your life.

NASA Home and City program.

I leave you with Carole King’s I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet.


Filed under Earth, environment, federal government, leadership, NASA