Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Writing Prompts

I'm not sure what's wrong with me these days. I just don't feel like writing. Shopping? Sure. Going out to eat? I'm there. Browsing other people's blogs? Definitely. Reading? Oh, yeah. But mention writing, and I get this glazed over, pathetic, please-don't-make-me look in my eyes. I think the agony of waiting for word from my agent about Chicken Scratch is giving me writer's block (or maybe it was all that cheese I ate). Whatever it is, I now know what it's like to be a DVD on "pause." Not fun.

This week, I stumbled upon Kay Pluta's blog (she's an editor at Blooming Tree Press) and found some great little writing prompts. They're supposed to be for kids, but hey, I'm willing to try anything at this point.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Pilgrim Trivia Answers

Well, I've made you wait long enough. So without further ado (drumroll, please), here are the answers to the Thanksgiving trivia questions:

1. 12 years (Finally a question that stumped Stephanie!)

2. Jonathan, Patience and Fear

3. the Speedwell

4. Oceanus Hopkins and Peregrine White

5. John Carver (not William Bradford as many would think)

6. Samoset (who then introduced the Pilgrims to Squanto)

7. 1621

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Penchant for Pilgrims

With Thanksgiving only 28 hours away, I thought it might be fun to post a little Pilgrim trivia on my blog. My friend, Stephanie, who shares my penchant for all things Pilgrim and Plymouth, should appreciate this! Last week, Steph graciously let me borrow a few of the books from her extensive Pilgrim collection. She also showed me pictures from her visit to Plimoth Plantation -- I'm so jealous! I keep trying to stump her with Pilgrim trivia questions, but she seems to have all the answers!

The kids and I have been studying the Pilgrims for the past few weeks, and I'm learning more and more about these brave souls and what they risked to come to America. It's absolutely amazing. Here are a few questions that may stump you (unless you're Stephanie):

1. How long did the Pilgrims live in Holland before leaving for the New World?

2. Which of William Brewster's children stayed behind in Holland and hoped to join the family later?

3. What was the name of the leaky ship that had to return to England?

4. Name the two babies born aboard the Mayflower.

5. Who was the first governor of Plymouth?

6. Who was the first friendly Indian that the Pilgrims encountered?

7. In what year did the Pilgrims celebrate the first Thanksgiving?

I'll try to post answers soon. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Blogger's Block and Rejection Letters

I haven't been able to blog lately, because, for the last three weeks, every time I tried to sign in to my Blogger account from my laptop, there was a message saying, "This content is not authorized for viewing." I tried everything I had up my very small computer troubleshooting sleeve, but nothing worked. Tonight, miraculously, the message has disappeared. Not sure what in the world happened, but for now, I'm back in blog world.

In other news... my agent sent me two very nice rejection letters from two very big publishing houses yesterday. They were actually very encouraging -- I know this is definitely a strange oxymoron: "encouraging rejection letter." At least they had good things to say about my manuscript. Although, the nicest thing to hear would, of course, have been "YES"!

I keep encouraging myself with the fact that it only takes one "yes" to be published. Right? Right. For example, well-known and loved Dr. Seuss had nearly 30 rejections for one of his stories. I'd hate to be the editors who passed him up! And novelist John Grisham's first manuscript was rejected 45 times (by 30 agents and 15 publishers) before he was published. Whoa -- that's a lot of rejection "wallpaper"! At least I'm in good company.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Four Things...

My friend Steph tagged me on her Xanga blog with this interesting little survey. Here goes:

Four Jobs That You Have Had In Your Life
1. Copy Editor at the Indianapolis Weekly (now defunct--hopefully not because of my editing!)
2. Lifestyles Writer for the Anderson Herald Bulletin
3. Product Editor at Warner Press
4. Assistant Reference Librarian at the Anderson Public Library

Four Movies That You Could Watch Over And Over
1. The Chronicles of Narnia (recent Disney/Walden Media version)
2. Somewhere in Time
3. It's a Wonderful Life
4. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Four Shows That You Love to Watch
1. Local news (because I'm a news junkie)
2. Rachael Ray's talk show
3. Joan Steffen's Decorating Cents
4. Word World (a new show on PBS that my son loves and that I think is absolutely ingenious!)

Four Places You've Been On Vacation
1. Edinburgh, Scotland (my favorite place!)
2. Nassau, Bahamas
3. London, England
4. Sanibel Island, Florida

Four Websites That You Visit Daily
1. AOL -- to read my e-mail
2. Anderson Public Library (to check my overdues!)
3. My Bank (to check on my dwindling funds!)
4. Blasted Gourds (my pastor's blog)

Four Favorite Foods
1. Chocolate
2. Pizza
3. Cheesecake Factory's Chicken Madeira
4. Cheesecake Factory's Vanilla Bean Cheesecake

Four Things you should be doing instead of this:
1. Cleaning the house
2. Doing the mountain of laundry in my laundry chute (out of sight, out of mind!)
3. Reading to my kids
4. Grading papers

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Writing and Faith...

Every now and then, you read something that really stretches your mind and makes you think about a topic in totally fresh and unique way. Cheryl Klein, an editor at Arthur A. Levine Books (a Scholastic imprint), has done this with a thought provoking article on her website titled On Writing and Faith. I had never really even thought about the connection between the two until I read her article (which she gave as a talk at her church in Brooklyn). The comparisons she draws are very interesting. Even though I don't agree completely with everything she says, as a "writer of faith" myself, I can definitely appreciate where she's coming from. Here's an excerpt I found particularly poignant; I hope you'll go to Cheryl's website to read the rest:

This actually isn't such a random comparison to draw because language and faith are intimately connected in the Christian church: We don’t dance to feel the spirit, and we rarely meditate to make it come. Instead we live in words: studying the Bible, singing the lyrics, and praying—in silence or out loud, but in language. Of course we hope with all these things to get beyond words; but language remains our primary method of approaching God, and often the only way we communicate our experience.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Writer Mama Back-to-School Giveaway

Hey, all you Writer Mamas out there... I just learned that the uber-cool Christina Katz, aka Writer Mama, is hosting a contest all month on her blog. She's giving away some pretty cool prizes, like ten signed copies of her book Writer Mama: How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids, the 2008 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market, and a one-hour writing career phone consultation. Check out Christina's blog for the official rules -- sounds like fun!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Mother-Daughter Book Club

I just finished reading The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick. What a great book! From the book jacket: "What begins as a mom-imposed ritual of reading Little Women soon helps four unlikely friends navigate the drama of middle school. From stolen journals, to secret crushes, to a fashion-fiasco first dance, the girls are up to their Wellie boots in drama. They can't help but wonder: What would Jo march do?" Frederick tells the story in four different voices -- Megan, the popular girl; Cassidy, the tomboy/hockey player; Emma the reader/aspiring writer; and Jess, the farm girl/actress. I'm not usually a fan of stories with too many different viewpoints, but it really works in this book. And, it makes me want to start my own mother-daughter book club with my two girls!

Frederick includes "Fun Facts about Louisa (May Alcott)" throughout the book. Here are some facts that I found particularly interesting:

  1. Louisa kept a "mood pillow" shaped like a sausage on the parlor sofa. When she was in a good mood, she stood it on end. When she wasn't, she placed it flat, and her family gave her some space.
  2. In addition to books for young people, Louisa also wrote for adults. Sometimes she wrote under pseudonyms, include Flora Fairfield, Tribulation Periwinkle, and A.M. Barnard, under which alias she published what she called "blood and thunder" thrillers.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Lines that make you say "Ahhhhh!"

While most of the children's writing community has high-tailed it to LA for SCBWI's annual summer conference, I am left pouting at my desk, like a 2nd grader who wasn't picked for the recess game. So, instead I'm reading about the conference on Alice Pope's blog. Not the same as being there, but at least I didn't have to shell out $1,000 bucks to go!

So, to console myself (and those of you who are pouting, too), here are a few breathtaking lines from some of my recent reads:

She was serenity. Her lips faintly smiling. Her golden skin. The glowing thread-ends of her hair. She seemed to have been dipped in sunlight and set here to dry. -- from Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Like so many of Archie's words, they seemed not to enter through my ears but to settle on my skin, there to burrow like tiny eggs awaiting the rain of my maturity, when they would hatch and I at last would understand. -- also from Stargirl

Just like real life, not all stories end happily. Sometimes friends betray us, and the people we love don't always love us back. Sometimes people die or leave us. I don't know yet if there will be a happy ending for my and my family. If life were a book, would I want to skip ahead to the ending? Or would I rather wait and read along to find out...? I'm not sure. -- from The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Hate Writing?

I haven't been getting much writing in lately. Know why? I'm avoiding it. There, I said it. I'm not really sure why, except that every time I sit down at the computer, I do everything but write. I check my e-mail, read other blogs, visit writing websites, check the balance -- or lack thereof -- on my bank account (which should be a great motivator for me) -- anything to avoid the actual ACT of writing. Well, I guess I'm writing right now, but you know what I mean -- blogging isn't going to deliver the goods, the dough, the smackers, the greenbacks... OK, I'll stop with the ridiculous money references. Thankfully, I've found that I'm not alone. Playwright Michael Kanin summed it up best, I think, when he said, "I don't like to write, but I love to have written." Jay Asher over at the Disco Mermaids blog even says he hates writing, and his book, Thirteen Reasons Why is coming out in October. And here's a great article by TV writer-turned-novelist Stephen Cannell about why writers hate writing. He really hits the nail on the head with this theory: Bad writing makes us afraid to sit down at the keyboard. Fear of failure leads to lack of effort. (OK, does this guy have a hidden camera in my office?) Cannell's remedy: Give yourself permission to be bad. It's going to happen. It happened to Shakespeare, and Hemingway, and Faulkner, and countless other famous authors. But the difference between these guys and your average writer is that they kept writing. Can I hear an "Amen"? Wow, I'm starting to get motivated now. It's amazing what writing about not writing will do! Well, gotta go -- I think I have an idea for my next book...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Oh Where, Oh Where Has My Lovely Beach Gone...

Last week at this time, I had a view like this. Today, well, you don't want to see my view, it's way too boring. Maybe "boring" is a bit harsh. I'm actually sitting in a local coffee shop, where I hang out every now and then to blog, write, and consume large amounts of sinfully delicious pastries. OK, I'm being really good tonight and so far (notice I said "so far") I've only had a salad. Don't feel sorry for me, though. It was a really, REALLY good salad with pecans, strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, oh, and some romaine lettuce thrown in for good measure. Oops, rabbit trail, sorry -- back to my vacation... As I was saying, man, I miss the beach! We went to Fort Walton Beach, Florida with my husband's family and had a wonderful holiday. The view of the fireworks from the beach was awesome! If you've never been to Florida's "Emerald Coast," as they call it, you should try it! It reminds me a lot of the Bahamas! I had such a relaxing time, and guess what? I read three books while I was gone! Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (loved it!), Unveiled by Francine Rivers (ditto), and Ted Dekker's latest novel, Skin (that man really knows how to scare the pants off a person!). I guess now it's back to reality -- taking care of my three kids (My husband did a lot of playing in the ocean while Mom was reading! Thanks, honey!), cleaning, paying bills, blogging, writing, etc. Don't get me wrong -- I am extremely blessed and thankful for the life I have! But there's just something about the beach...

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Still Waiting...

One word of advice to would-be authors: If you're not a patient person, consider a different career. Nothing moves very quickly in the publishing world. It's like being pregnant for three years instead of nine months. You write a story, send it to a few agents, and then you wait. And wait. And then, miracle of miracles, the agent says "yes, I'll represent you." And then you scream and dance around the room, and then you wait for a contract. Then you sign the contract, send it back, and then you wait for your agent to send your manuscript to publishers. And then the real waiting game begins, which is where I'm at in all this madness. A few weeks ago my agent met with Editor X at Book Expo (BEA) about my children's picture book. This is what my agent had to say in an e-mail about their meeting:

"She likes the book as she told you, and she really "gets" it, loved the newspaper story from which it was developed. She has not however yet read the revision, due to her commitments to get everything ready for BEA itself. We definitely had a great impression of her as a person, both Linda and I liked her very much, she is enthusiastic, pragmatic, sees and understands the story in the marketplace. We wanted you to know all this news which we feel is good."

I like good news just as much as the next girl, but now I'm here, still waiting. I'll let you know when the waiting game is over...

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Flu Reading

I spent all last weekend in bed sick. Not a pretty sight, was I. Reading Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (http://susanbethpfeffer.blogspot.com) while in the throws (no pun intended) of the stomach flu may not have been the best idea, but I did it anyway. Hey, I was already feeling like I was going to die, so why not throw in a little end-of-the-world reading as an escape? So, in between trips to the bathroom, when I was actually feeling like a human, I experienced, through 16-year-old Miranda's journal entries, what life would be like if an asteroid hit the moon. This may be a bit of a spoiler, but let me just tell ya, it's no picnic, folks. In an instant, the world changes forever. Millions of people on both coasts (and of course, in other parts of the world) are wiped out by tsunamis and earthquakes. Then volcanoes start erupting, and volcanic ash covers the sun. All the while, Miranda keeps her journal, which goes from being a typical teen-ager diatribe on parents, dating, friends, and the like, to a minute-by-minute fight for survival. Pfeffer so perfectly nails the voice of her protagonist that I was totally drawn into Miranda's world, cheering for her family as they lived like pioneers in modern-day Pennsylvania. A thought-provoking journey, to say the least. Almost made me thankful that all I was doing was puking my guts out and not experiencing the end of the world (although at the time, an asteroid to the head would have been welcome). Highly recommended reading for all those who want to experience contentment in their present circumstances.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Kids Books -- What's Not to Like?

I've been reading a lot of YA and middle grade fiction lately, trying to wrap my brain around the ins and outs of writing for this age level. My next idea will probably fall into one of these two genres, and OK, maybe I love reading this stuff because I'm just a kid at heart.

Here are a few of my favorite recent reads:

  • Rules by Cynthia Lord -- This Newbery Honor book is a beautiful, funny, brutally honest portrayal of how autism -- and other disabilities -- change life for everyone. The main character is 12-year-old Catherine, who is torn between her love for her 8-year-old autistic brother, David, and her embarrassment of him. To explain life in terms David understands, Catherine creates a list of "Rules," including "No toys in the fish tank" and "Flush." An interesting sub-plot involving a new neighbor and a new paraplegic friend keep the story moving. I absolutely loved this book! Having grown up with an epileptic brother, I could totally relate to Catherine's conflicting feelings.

  • How My Private Personal Journal Became a Bestseller by Julia DeVillers -- Jamie Bartlett is tired of feeling like a nobody. The magazines she reads bombard her with photos of perfect-bodied, beautiful girls, and she's tormented by the "Populars" at school, too. Venting her frustrations in her journal, she invents a story featuring superhero Isabella (IS), who with the flick of her wrist, destroys the "Evil Populars" and restores justice to ordinary girls everywhere. When the journal is accidentally printed out and handed in to her English teacher, Jamie suddenly finds herself on the fast track to publishing fame and teen "idolhood." DeVillers perfectly captures the voice of 14-year-old Jamie, who narrates the book. Hilarious, heart warming, and a great insight into what teenage girls deal with on a daily basis.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Getting Closer...

After almost two weeks with no news on the publishing front, I am finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel (God-willing, hopefully, possibly, maybe, and any other disclaimers you can use to fill-in-the-blank). I'm learning quickly that nothing's ever definite in this business until you sign on the dotted line (although I don't think any lines are "dotted" anymore). But... I got an e-mail from my agent yesterday saying that she is meeting with an editor (who shall remain nameless for now) at Book Expo www.bookexpoamerica.com to "discuss" my book. "All is now in order," her e-mail promised, although that leaves me wondering what exactly she means by that. I guess I'll just have to keep wondering, because I feel a little silly asking, "So... what do you mean by 'all is now in order'? Does that mean you're discussing deals, contracts, etc? Or just discussing whether or not she wants to publish my book?" I'm hoping it's the former, and that Editor X has already made up her mind that she wants to publish my book. We'll see. The suspense is killing me...

Speaking of Book Expo (BEA), I wish, wish, wish I could go this year. (Do you think the wish fairy will take my wish into consideration since I said it 3 times?) It's in NYC -- what better place to hold a huge publishing convention than in the publishing mecca of the world? I went a few years ago when it was in Chicago (where I grew up), and I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. Free books around every corner! And best-selling authors signing them! Whoa -- I had to take a serious chill pill to keep the excitement from making me look like a total freak. My friend, Amy, who's a graphic designer, kept making fun of me -- she was excited to be there, too, but not NEARLY as excited as I was. I think I came home with over 200 books as well as a dislocated shoulder from lugging 200 books around the convention center (OK, well, maybe I'm exaggerating, but it felt like it at the time)! Crazy! But, alas, no BEA for me this year, because, alas, no money to make the trek to NYC. Anyone want to make a donation? Sigh...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


I stared at the screen as it went through a series of sputters, gasps, startups, coughs, hiccups, burps, and wheezes. If I could have given it MTS (mouth-to-screen) resuscitation, I would have. (I know, kind of gross, isn't it?) But, in the end, there was nothing I could do to save it. And now, I'm left wondering... what in the world did I lose? I have no idea yet just how horribly this passing will affect my life. The burning question on everyone's lips, "Did you back up?" Did I WHAT? Did I WHAT? I'm sorry, but "backing up" requires admitting that there may be a problem with your computer. It requires fore-thought, and since I am in a constant state of denial (as most procrastinators are), my answer is "of course not." The bad thing is that now my husband can say "I told you so," which lucky for him, so far he hasn't. As Shakespeare once said, "Hell hath no fury like a woman whose computer has crashed." (Isn't that what he said?) Oh, well, I'll have to Google it while I'm here at the coffee shop with my laptop (it still works, but the clock is ticking, I'm sure), because I won't be able to at home. And now, I must try, amidst my grief, to craft an obituary worthy of my faithful CPU. How's this for starters? Charles Percival Under-the-Desk (aka "CPU") died comfortably at home on May 18, 2007. He was a hard worker, in fact, he never left the office once. He leaves behind two close companions and trusted confidantes, "Keyboard" and "Monitor" and an adopted son, "Mouse"....

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Office Away from Home

One night a week, I haul my trusty laptop to the local coffee shop to write without distractions. Well, unless you call a case full of beautiful pastries a distraction. At least there are a lot less distractions here than at home -- no kids (usually), no barking dog, no dirty laundry (unless you count the grungy shirt I just saw on a college kid), no phone ringing, no thousand and one other things to do beside writing. Uh, except, I can surf the Internet here at a far greater speed than my incredibly slow dial-up at home (hey, what can I say, it's the only drawback to living in the country)! But most of the websites I surf definitely relate to writing, so that counts as honing my craft, right? Well, I'd better get back to work, but first, I think I hear a bagel calling my name...

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Pure Genius

I just finished reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. One word comes to mind -- brilliant. OK, maybe another one comes to mind -- WOW -- although "brilliant" sounds a lot more intelligent, and a lot less cave-womanish. This is unlike any other book I have ever read. It's part novel, part graphic novel, part picture book, and it works. It's almost like a movie trapped inside the pages of a book. Selznick himself describes it as "a 550 page novel in words and pictures. But unlike most novels, the images...don't just illustrate the story; they help tell it."
The story chronicles the adventures of 12-year-old orphan, Hugo Cabret, who lives in the walls of a Paris train station around the turn of the century. His uncle, who was his only guardian, has mysteriously disappeared, and now it's up to Hugo to tend to the station's clocks while trying to survive by stealing from the local merchants. Hugo is obsessed with an automaton (a mechanical, human-like robot) that his father tried, and failed, to repair before he died. After a run-in with a cranky old toymaker (who just happens to have a secret identity), the plot twists and turns until it is masterfully resolved through Selznick's beautiful words and pictures.
I'd give my right eye (it's the lazy one anyway) for talent like this! This guy is amazing. Some of the illustrations are sequential and act almost like a flip book. It's so cool. You just have to see it to believe it. Wow.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

World Famous Children's Author?

So, how does someone become a world famous children's author? Good question. I'm clueless about the "world famous" part, although I am closer to the "children's author" title than I've ever been. Whoo-hoo! Sorry, I get a little carried away when I think about it.

Would you like to hear (or read, rather) the whole, long, dramatic story? Good, I knew you'd say "yes"! Here it is in a nutshell:
  • Last year I went to the Columbus Writers of Literature for Children Conference (what a mouthful!) where I met two really cool agents (literary, not secret service). At every conference I attend, I try to share a table with at least one of the speakers, so I can glean from their vast stores of knowledge (read: shameless schmoozing). So, here I was sitting with Susan Schulman (who is Louis Sachar's agent -- yes THE Newbery-Award winning author of Holes) and Stephen Fraser, an agent who used to be the exec. editor at HarperCollins Children's Books. We had an interesting discussion about YA authors, who's writing what, and so on. At the end of lunch, I asked Susan if I could sent her my manuscript when it was finished. She graciously said "sure" and handed me her card.
  • Months later, when I finally got my butt in gear and wrote my story, I sent it to Susan. A few months went by and then finally... an e-mail from her assistant. "Will you please send another copy of Chicken Scratch (that's my story) to us at our CT office?" She also asked me to send along the news article and photo that I had written as a very green newspaper reporter many years ago (Chicken Scratch is loosely based on this article).
  • So, of course, I rushed out, made copies of the article, and sent the goods to the CT office. A few days later, I get an e-mail saying, "We think your story is delightful and fun, and we'd like to represent you." Before I passed out, I managed to wake up my husband with the great news, to which he replied, "Ugh.... hmppphhh, good," before he fell back to sleep. No actually, he was a little more excited than that, although I don't think his head ever left the pillow. My kids, on the other hand, were screaming and jumping up and down along with me and planning what they would wear to the movie premiere (because, of course, Mommy, they'll have to make it into a movie)!
  • So, now, I have a real live New York City agent representing my work! And guess what, she's sent out my manuscript to 19 different publishers! And guess what else? I went back to the same Columbus writing conference last weekend and met with an editor who seemed very enthusiastic and interested in the manuscript! Whoo-hoo!
  • Stay tuned for more exciting news! I'll keep you posted...

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

My Favorite Writing Quotes

I love quotes. I collect them. I tack them to my refrigerator for inspiration. I plaster them to my office walls. I scrawl them on index cards and tape them to my bathroom mirror (well, actually, I prop them up on lotion bottles, but who's looking). I write them in a dozen different notebooks, of which I can't seem to find more than one or two (notebooks, that is) at a time. You get the picture. So, without further adieu, here are a few of my faves on the writing life:

Writing is the hardest way of earning a living, with the possible exception of wrestling alligators. -- Olin Miller

What an author likes to write most is his or her signature on the back of a check. -- Brendan Francis

The pen is the tongue of the mind. -- Cervantes

Writing is a profession in which you have to keep proving your talent to people who have none. -- Jules Renard

The two most beautiful words in the English language are "cheque enclosed." -- Dorothy Parker

The best time for planning a book is while you're doing the dishes. -- Agatha Christie

Writing -- the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. -- Mary Heaton Vorse

Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at the blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead. -- Gene Fowler