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 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