Thursday, December 29, 2005

Random thoughts: Today was the day we originally planned to move. I can't imagine! At the moment I'm worried we won't make our revised move date, either.... I watched part of Planes, Trains, & Automobiles on TV tonight. I love that movie. I remember seeing it in York, England, and being surprised that the British audience sometimes laughed at different parts than we Americans did (sorry, I'm really too southern to call myself a "Yank"). Until I did an impulsive search on iTunes, I had no idea there were so many songs, other than Elvis Costello's, with Alison in the title. Many or most of them seem to have negative elements or even explicit lyrics, but there are a couple I can go for..."Alison's the Bomb" has a nice ring to it, for instance. ;-) Orange doesn't go well next to purple. Better at least make it the official University of Texas burnt orange (web color #CC5500) to be true to my alma mater. UT is playing USC for the national championship in the Rose Bowl next week. Hook 'Em Horns! Speaking of alma maters, I once sang that I'd be true to Arlington High all of my days and owe my fortune to it, but to my relief, the AHS staff hasn't been knocking down my door looking for a piece of my relatively mediocre fortune so far. Wow, it's hard to have thoughts stay random...those last two sure were linked. My dad used to challenge me to quickly say five or six words in a row without any logical connections between them, and it drove me nuts I couldn't manage to do it! Of course, part of that is because our brains can find connections between nearly anything. So let me go back to the topic of songs. This time of year, I often find myself listening to "A Long December" by Counting Crows. It usually seems applicable, and yes, I hope this (next) year will be better than the last! Also, if you haven't heard Sufjan Stevens' song "Casimir Pulaski Day," you can download a legal MP3 of it FREE. I think I must have been one of the last people to hear about Sufjan Stevens, but the first time I actually listened to the words of this song, it blew me away (also made me cry!). Don't miss it. What's that? Make the colors stop? OK, sorry. In case you couldn't tell, I'm in a strange mood!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

News of the day:
  • Our rabbit Pablo is 9 years old today. Happy Birthday, Pablo! (Or should that be Hoppy Birthday?! Groan!)

  • We had a very nice Christmas. My favorite gifts were an iPod dock/charger, and a Texas-themed charm bracelet to remember Texas by (as if I'd forget). My favorite moments were sharing good food, singing, laughs, & conversation with my family, including my parents and grandparents.

  • Although my YA story didn't place in the recent short story competition, I got notice that it's being considered for publication in the anthology of winning stories, so that's cool!

  • I wish you all a joyful remainder of 2005 and a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

5 days until Christmas! Better yet, 2 days until my husband comes back to Texas for 2 weeks! Of course, they'll probably be the most grueling 2 weeks we've had in years, trying to get our stuff ready to move, but at least there's Christmas to kick it all off with, which I'm really looking forward to.

The past week has been crazy, with 3 kid birthday parties, 3 class Christmas parties, and 1 preschool Christmas program. Since then, my kids spent a couple of fun nights with friends outside of Austin, and have spent a day at winter break gymnastics camp. They are having a blast, at least. And I'm basically done with my Christmas shopping and got nearly all the presents wrapped this week, except for a couple that are going in bags (too kid-tempting to put under the tree now!), so I can face the holidays in a fairly relaxed manner. I'll just try not to think about the fact that Christmas may be the last time I see my parents for a year... :-/

Saturday, December 10, 2005

It's bad enough for my husband to be 1,200 miles away, but it's worse when I'm sick. I have a bad cold & a raging headache, & I've almost completely lost my voice...not the easiest way to take care of 2 very active kids. I can't even call my husband to commiserate because I can't talk well enough! Oh well, at least it's Saturday, with nowhere we have to be. We did go to Walgreen's earlier, but that's about all I've been up for.

In January I made two resolutions: to get rid of 1,000 things, and to finish my novel Purple Panic. I'm afraid I made very little headway on the novel. It's been a crazy year. At least I made some progress on it, but let's hope for better in 2006. As for the other resolution, between charity, trash, and passing things on to friends, I'm sure I've now gotten rid of well over 1,000 things. Too bad it has barely made a dent! I hope to double that number before I move. Which I now think will be in late least I hope it won't be later than that!

Quote of the day from my younger son: "I'm a pretty cool 4-year-old, aren't I?"

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Customer Service Cheers & Jeers: My husband works in user experience design, which means he helps make web sites intuitive and user-friendly, and he's always had a customer service focus, even when he was working at the library reference desk. So I'm especially attuned to good or bad customer service when I see it, and to good or bad consumer web sites. Giving someone a good feeling about your company can be worth a lot more than advertising, and I see no excuse for poor customer service. Two companies have made impressions on me this past positive and one not!:

Cheers to Paragon Gifts! When we didn't receive our order from them, a week past the time their online order status checker told us we should have received it, we e-mailed them about the problem, and they immediately sent a replacement order for no extra charge! Wow! Guess I'll be ordering from them again! (Edited later to add: Got it!)

Jeers to! After I placed my order, they offered me other products I could add to my order with no additional shipping. I selected one to get a better look at it, and to see if I could get it personalized with my name instead of my husband's, which was shown on the sample. Based on all my experience with that site as well as other sites like it, I assumed that if I clicked on it, I could edit the personalization, and if not I could at least decline to purchase it. But as soon as I clicked it, it said that it had already been added to my current order & already been charged to my account, & they allow NO changes to any orders that have been placed! I find that outrageous! My husband wouldn't want the product shown, so I decided to ask them to change the personalization anyway. They had an online customer service form, which I filled out at length & sent. I then got an automated e-mail reply from them, saying they only offer customer service by telephone!! Yet they had an online customer service form, and it's an online-only business! I decided to suck it up & call despite my phone phobia, only to find out they don't offer customer service at all on weekends. Funny, they somehow managed to send me an advertising e-mail on a weekend. This is not a company I want to do business with again.

Uh...sorry to be so commercial in this one. In other news I am going crazy trying to get ready for a move and Christmas at the same time. The move may get pushed back.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Happy Belated Thanksgiving! My husband came back from Florida & we had a nice holiday with my family in Dallas. My extended family wasn't thrilled about the outcome of the Cowboys game, but at least they liked the football-shaped cake I made for the occasion...and the Texas Longhorns game yesterday rocked!

Now we're home with too many things to do, but I'm killing time online (call it denial). I saw a blog meme asking you to alphabetize the songs in your current music rotation & share the first song beginning with each letter, without repeating artists. I've got an iPod so I just went by the songs that are on my iPod right now--it was kind of an interesting exercise. Here are mine:

A Campfire Song - 10,000 Maniacs
Baby, I Can't Please You - Sam Phillips
Cader Idris - Bruce Cockburn
Daddy Untwisted - Over the Rhine
Easter - Raspberry Jam
Face the Change - INXS
Gardening at Night - REM
Hall of a Hundred Doors - Trout Fishing in America
I'd Run Away - The Jayhawks
Jamboree - Guadalcanal Diary
Keeping Awake - The Innocence Mission
La La Land - All Star United
Make the Music Go Bang - X
Name - PFR
O Sole Mio - Men Without Hats
Pain of the Next - The Throes
Quadrophenia - The Who
Rabid Child - They Might Be Giants
Sad Face - The Choir
Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go - Soft Cell
Unable - Harrod and Funck
Van Diemen's Land - U2
Wait - Wang Chung
X&Y - Coldplay
Yellow is a Happy Color - Charlie Peacock
Zerox - Adam & the Ants

I noticed that the iPod puts all songs beginning with "The" under the letter T, and alphabetizes punctuation before letters (putting "I'd" before "I Am," for instance). If I correct for those things, and also correct for songs that begin with the word "A," the songs for A, F, I, L, Q, & S all change:

About Love - The Choir
(The) Face of Beauty - The Violet Burning
I Am The Sea - The Who
(The) Lady Don't Mind - Talking Heads
Quiche Lorraine - The B-52's
Sal - The Connells

Thursday, November 17, 2005

It's not that I have nothing to blog about lately...I actually have so much I can't narrow it down. And no time to do it.

Some of the things on my mind lately: faith, death, relationships, and modern retellings of classic children's stories.

What should be on my mind: getting my house ready to move out of!

What I have to do now instead of blogging: take my younger son to the Thanksgiving lunch at my older son's school.

Stupidest (and scariest) thing that happened to me today: Getting my coat zipper stuck in the slot where my seatbelt buckle goes, so that I couldn't get unbuckled or get out of the car. It took about 10 minutes of concerted effort to get it out, while my 4-year-old looked on. Now the seatbelt thingy has a chip out of it, and several parts of the zipper broke off of my coat. It's always something!

Monday, November 14, 2005

As of today, my husband is in our new rental house in Florida. He starts his new job tomorrow. This is starting to seem rather real! Except of course that I'm still in Texas, with a house not at all ready to move out of, and with two very loud, active children currently making me wonder how anyone can handle being a single parent! We plan to join my husband in Florida around the end of the year (with him coming back a few times in between, I hope!).

With the upcoming move, I have approximately 83,422 things to do, so obviously I'm not doing any writing. But I did submit something this week.

I also just took a little test about my sense of humor: It says I am the Wit (57% dark, 15% spontaneous, 36% vulgar):

your humor style:

You like things edgy, subtle, and smart. I guess that means you're probably an intellectual, but don't take that to mean pretentious. You realize 'dumb' can be witty--after all isn't that the Simpsons' philosophy?--but rudeness for its own sake, 'gross-out' humor and most other things found in a fraternity leave you totally flat.

I guess you just have a more cerebral approach than most. You have the perfect mindset for a joke writer or staff writer.

Your sense of humor takes the most thought to appreciate, but it's also the best, in my opinion.

You probably loved the Office. If you don't know what I'm talking about, check it out here:

PEOPLE LIKE YOU: Jon Stewart - Woody Allen - Ricky Gervais

Link: The 3 Variable Funny Test written by jason_bateman on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

I'm surprised I came out dark (and especially that I scored higher on darkness than 69% of women my age!). I do appreciate dark humor, but I also write some of the lightest humor around. Some of my stories are so light it has been a real liability, considering it's for YA & adult audiences! But the description is pretty much on target.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Yesterday, I read an article in Real Simple magazine about a woman's list of 100 things to do in her lifetime (though her list really only had 67 items). I was surprised to realize I'd never made a list like that, being a list aficionado myself--as a teen I was fond of the Go-Go's song "Girl of 100 Lists." Later in the day, doing a web search about something completely different, I just happened to come across the 43 Things site, where people share 43 things they want to do in their lives and track their progress. Okay, okay, I thought, maybe I'll make a list....

I tried my hand at one and only got to 14 items before I put it aside, and most of those had to do with writing or travel. I'm sure there are many more, but it occurred to me that 20 years ago, I probably could have come up with 100 in a matter of minutes. Back then, I felt I had plenty of time to accomplish anything & everything, & probably would have written down anything that crossed my mind. Now, I feel the crunch of time, & was trying to write things that I really cared about doing, instead of just things I'd kind of like to do. Plus, some of the things I would have written once (skydive, learn to juggle, swim with dolphins) just don't seem important anymore. They'd still be fun, but I won't regret it if I die without doing them. And a few I hoped to do in the near future (like having a big bouncy castle party for my 40th birthday in a couple of years) are looking less likely as I plan to leave this state. But I do want to embrace life, and really live instead of always just planning to live, so I think the list is probably a good idea!

Oh, and speaking of lists and "baby" brother turned 30 this week, and one of the things I got him was the Book of Ages 30, which is quite a fun read. At the same time, I picked up The Big 40! for myself, to figure out what I need to accomplish in the next couple of years! (But so he wouldn't feel too old, I also got my brother a Darth Tater. I adore the fact that someone came up with such a ridiculously punny product & actually managed to get it made. And of course I have one, too!)

Friday, October 21, 2005

I am moving to Florida. So let's just hope it doesn't all blow away in Hurricane Wilma this week.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Greetings from sunny Florida! We're here for my husband's job interview, which is taking place even as I'm typing this. I don't think I have enough information to comment on the job or Florida yet, so instead I'll comment on the writing conference I attended over the weekend.

Saturday I went to Austin SCBWI's fall conference. I heard talks by two editors and an agent, and got a helpful critique on a YA manuscript. The manuscript I submitted has been critiqued many times (in different incarnations--this was a brand new rewrite but still retained much from the old versions), but this editor made points no one had ever made about it before, and they were definitely points worth pondering! In addition, I was gratified that he made it sound like my original vision for the manuscript could work. I had changed some things to suit what I thought was more acceptable or marketable, and some of those changes were the very things he questioned. I've tried to tell myself for years not to sell myself short, and I felt like I got some validation for following my own vision. Meanwhile, he gave me food for thought about some other aspects of the manuscript I hadn't thought about before!

The rest of the conference also had some great moments. I loved the encouraging talk by the agent, really enjoyed the lunch from Chango's, got helpful information at the round tables, was excited to win a door prize of theatre tickets, and particularly loved getting to meet a few online friends I'd never met in person before--Jessica, Kay, & Pam! (Hi to Kay's friend Susan, too!)

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

I finally read Dunk today, after checking it out weeks ago. I really enjoyed it...I'm glad I didn't accidentally return it without reading it, like I thought I had! Although the plot is unique, it's thematically similar enough to a couple of my YA manuscripts that it was a really helpful read for me.

My mind has been on a million things. I took some winding paths through Wikipedia yesterday & today, reading all kinds of things that gave me food for thought and possible fodder for my writing. With a continued possibility of moving & my immediate future up in the air, I haven't felt able to concentrate on any one writing project, but I've brainstormed (or should I say "thought-showered"?!) about tons of them. Lately it's mostly been about the novel idea I would probably pursue for NaNoWriMo if I'm not too overwhelmed to participate this year, the one I was going to call This is the End. Now I'm thinking a better title might be Closure, but I already have another project with a very similar title, so I haven't gotten, closure on the topic.

I got the latest issue of ByLine & was a little bummed to find an article about what writers can learn from actors. Bummed because I had just been planning to write an article on that topic myself! Mine would be different enough that I may do it anyway, but ByLine was where I thought I'd try selling it. Meanwhile, I also got the latest Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market (CWIM) & a book called Story Structure Architect, kind of a compendium of plot types, character archetypes, etc., that I hope might help me with my plotting difficulties. So far, I find it rather daunting--though very attractively designed! (I love the rounded corners of the book and the skewed o's in the headline font...I can't say as much in favor of the CWIM's design, but at least its content is useful as always! They could publish the CWIM on a paper towel and I'd probably still buy it.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Lucky me, I got to see the ever-talented Lisa Wheeler at my son's school today! I first met Lisa online 8 or 9 years ago (!), and took her fantastic picture book workshop here in Austin this past March. She lives in Michigan, so I was surprised but delighted to find out she'd was doing an author visit at my son's school, of all places. She mentioned that it's already snowed in parts of Michigan this fall (!!), so I'm sure she wasn't thrilled to come experience the record-setting streak of triple-digit temperatures we've been having here (it was officially 107 yesterday, though my van's outside temperature gauge registered up to 112 at one point...)., but I'm glad she braved the heat, as it was a treat to hear her speak.

I'd never seen an author's school presentation before, so I was very curious. I went to the presentation my son attended, for 1st graders, then stayed on to hear her presentation for 3rd & 4th graders, which was completely different. She did a great job, with lots of fun props & stories, & I found out I'd have to get a lot braver than I am now if I ever wanted to do school visits myself someday! I have no problem acting a part on a stage in front of people, but having to command the attention of 100+ first graders and their teachers while speaking as myself seems really scary! I bought a copy of her fun book, Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum, had her inscribe it to my kids, & snuck it into my son's backpack while he was at lunch. He was excited to find it there. He read it to himself on the way home, & I read it to my four-year-old when we all got home. I highly recommend it as a read-aloud book. I was also amused that Lisa got the idea for Sailor Moo while eating at Wendy's, since I've had an article published myself about how many of my ideas have come while eating fast food! (Hmm...think I should go to Wendy's tonight?)

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Thank goodness Hurricane Rita didn't cause the kind of destruction that was feared! I hope everyone who stayed in the affected regions is okay. We stayed up until almost 4 am watching the live coverage, but were relieved to get up and find nothing worse reported than what we had already seen.

As if I didn't already have too many writing ideas, today my husband & I came up with a concept for a humorous chapter book series, possibly mysteries but maybe just funny stories. We don't have actual plots, but came up with several titles and ideas. We cracked ourselves up, anyway.... I've just been experimenting with the possible voice for the books, trying to figure out whether first person or third might work better, and much more importantly, whether the main characters should be animals or people! It's certainly easier to write about people than animals, but the animal idea lends itself to more zaniness. Then if they're animals, we'd have to decide if they live in human-type homes, animal-type habitats, or what. It's crazy to even entertain this idea when I've got so many other projects, so it'll probably go on the back burner, but it seems like something that would be really fun to write. We read so many chapter books and chapter book mysteries to our kids that I'm at least much more familiar with the genre than I was a year or two ago. We're also considering collaborating on them, which is a weird idea in itself!

I also wrote more notes today for my possible children's play idea. That one poses some problems, too--should it be written for child actors or adult actors? I suspect it could make a difference in the size of the cast. I'm leaning towards a large cast, though that might make it hard to market.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

So I didn't win an SCBWI work-in-progress grant. Again. I always think these things won't bother me because I don't expect to win anyway, but they usually bother me anyway. I feel like a poser right now, for being at this so long with so little to show for it.

I can't believe another hurricane is coming. We may get storms from it even here, 4 hours north of the coast. Rita, Rita, go away! Dry up now, don't hit the bay!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The biggest news at our house this week was my older son, who turned 7 last month, finally lost his first tooth! It wasn't even loose until a few hours before it fell out. His 4-year-old brother drew him this picture to commemorate the occasion:

For bedtime reading that night, we read two books about loose teeth or the Tooth Fairy (who did find our house that night), and I shamelessly shared a poem I'd written about losing teeth. (Still seeking a market for that one....)

Second biggest news was that my younger son started his 4's preschool class on Monday. It's a new school for him, but he seems to really like it so far--on Thursday, he asked how many days until he could go back.

Third biggest news was that Wednesday was my husband's & my 14th wedding anniversary. We had other obligations in the evening, but while the kids were both in school, we celebrated with a morning date at a 24-hour bowling alley (fun!), followed by a nice lunch at Hill Country Pasta House.

At the library this week, I checked out about 15 books for the kids, plus 2 for me: Dunk by David Lubar, and Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta. I've read a bunch of the books for the kids, but we'll see if I can get to the ones for me!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

I'm so impressed with Austin! We went to the Care for the Coast donation drive at the grocery store Friday, & they already had huge trucks and containers FULL of donated water, food, & diapers, with people driving up to bring more all the time, & that was only one of multiple donation sites. Meanwhile, several thousand hurricane evacuees have come here (including a new boy from Louisiana in my son's first grade class today), and an apartment complex opened some units to house evacuated families rent-free for a while. They were soliciting donations of basic living supplies, furniture, cookware, etc., for that complex and possibly some others. We took over some donations on Saturday, & planned to take another van load on Sunday, but they reported they were FULL for the time being, with nowhere to store any more donations! We figured we'd donate another load to the city's official donation drop-off location this week, but today the newspaper reports that the whole 400,000 sq. ft. warehouse is also full! So they're only taking cash for now (Austin residents--check the Austin Freecycle forum for updates on where to make non-cash donations). My local SCBWI group is also collecting book donations for evacuees this Saturday, my son's school is collecting necessities, there's a benefit concert planned with Willie Nelson headlining, and there's a city job fair for evacuees here this week. I'm sure it's not just Austin...I've heard such stories all over the net, and seen people on all my online groups just looking for ways to help. With all the negativity and blame being passed around, it's heartening to see this kind of response! (And props to celebrities like Macy Gray & Sean Penn for actually volunteering in person, instead of just criticizing relief efforts from a comfortable distance.)

For most of the past week I was too horrified by the hurricane to even think about writing, or to read anything but news and message board posts. For Labor Day, I decided to take an escapist break and finally read David Lubar's novel Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie. I really, really enjoyed it! I'm glad I took a chance on buying it instead of waiting to check it out at the library. When Cynthia Leitich Smith blogged about this book, she mentioned she'd never been a high school freshman. Same here--my high school started with 10th grade, and I don't recall a class caste system as such, so I didn't really relate to the freshman experience aspect. Yet on another level, just being human and having lived through high school, I related to so much of it! And special kudos to David Lubar for mentioning Dorothy Parker's excellent, snarky story "The Waltz," one of my favorite short stories ever. I once did a reading of it at a speech tournament. David Lubar also has some hilarious humor on his web site, including a Young Adult Novel Kit I just saw yesterday that made me laugh so loudly that my 7-year-old asked why I was laughing and I couldn't explain.... I also love his guide to literary fiction (a must if you've ever tried to write it, as I have!) and his aptitude test for potential book reviewers for "Carcass Reviews." (He's also got a daughter named Alison, so that's got to count for something!)

Anyway, the book was a welcome diversion, as well as thought-provoking and even somewhat educational. But as I got to the end, it brought me right back to reality with a passing reference to New Orleans on the penultimate page (penultimate being one of the narrator's favorite words). Who could have imagined that the mention of a concert in New Orleans would sound jarring enough to send a shudder down my spine, mere weeks after the book's release? So strange. I hope it doesn't sound jarring this time next year. I only went to New Orleans once, for the World's Fair in 1984. My souvenir of New Orleans was a pair of ceramic comedy & tragedy masks I bought in the French Quarter. It seems almost eerie now, thinking of that tragedy mask as a symbol of New Orleans. But comedy and tragedy are interwoven, and in the city where, as Rick Bragg wrote so eloquently this week, death has long been faced with music and humor as the saints go marching in, I hope the smiling comedy mask comes out triumphant, as the people of the region rebound and have the last laugh.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

I read on someone else's blog that this is Blog for Relief Day for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. So, I'll join in the urging for everyone to help however they can. Here are direct links to the hurricane relief donation pages for the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross. Of couse there are many other wonderful groups you can donate through...I chose those two because they already have so much help organized, mobilized, and underway in the affected areas. Note that both sites are very slow today, which I hope is an encouraging sign that they are being bombarded by donors!

Here in Austin, a Care for the Coast relief drive is going on this Friday, September 2, from 6 am to 6:30 pm at the following H-E-B locations: Hancock Center (41st at Red River), Highway 620 at Anderson Mill, Highway 71 at Bee Caves Road, 500 Canyon Ridge Drive, and also at the Capital Area Food Bank at 8301 S. Congress. They are asking for donations of these five items: peanut butter, canned meat & tuna, granola/cereal bars, water bottles (consumer size), and diapers. The Capital Area Food Bank will also collect monetary donations at those locations. And here's a long list of other donation drives and ways to help in the Austin area. Please turn out to donate for those in need!

Meanwhile, I'm feeling nearly physically ill seeing and contemplating all the devastation, and I'm not at all encouraged about the prospect of moving my own family to the (Florida) Gulf Coast!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

I survived my son's pirate party--barely!--and even managed to make this cake for him (I cropped out the busy background):

I wrote some little poems for treasure hunt clues, & to my surprise the kids clamored to read the clues aloud. I think that was the best part of the party. (The treasure they found was a piƱata.)

My son has also survived 7 days of first grade, & seems to be thriving. Even the early mornings haven't been a problem yet! I am very happy with our public school, and with his class and teacher. Meanwhile, my husband interviewed in Florida & apparently did pretty well. He'll probably go back for a second interview, in which case I'd probably go with him to check out the area. But I'm not in a hurry for any decisions to be made! He brought me a flamingo figurine to commemorate my picture book manuscript about flamingos, which I need to submit somewhere soon.

Tomorrow I'm really busy, but as soon as I get a chance I plan to read Sleeping Freshman Never Lie, by David Lubar.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Well, I felt horrible when I got out of bed this morning, but I didn't seem to have a fever. Now, however, I do, and I feel even worse. Yuck! But it's not all bad...chilling in bed all afternoon gave me time to read the whole novel I bought earlier today! (If you're interested, the "pretty girl capital of the world" is none other than here in Austin. Cool!) And in a complete non-sequitur, I won a charcoal grill & smoker by sticking my e-mail address in a drop box at Whole Foods this week! I must have been the only person in Texas who has had a backyard for years but has never owned a grill, so I really wanted one. And I won it only 2 days after entering. Hooray!
I just got back from the monthly Austin SCBWI meeting, where I heard author Brian Yansky speak about what characters want, and how their yearnings drive the story. I was late, unfortunately, because I can never remember where the turn-off for the bookstore is...but what I heard of his talk was helpful (it already gave me ideas for strengthening one of my manuscripts), and I bought a copy of his YA novel, My Road Trip to the Pretty Girl Capital of the World, which I've been wanting to read for a long time. I also got to meet Varian Johnson in person, which was nice after meeting him through our blogs!

Lately I’ve been busy planning a pirate party for my son’s birthday next week, and getting him ready to start first grade on his birthday. He’s changing to public school from a small private kindergarten, so it’s going to be a big change. (It also starts at, gasp, 7:45 am! I don’t think I’ve even seen 7:45 am in months!) My younger son doesn’t start preschool for a month after his brother’s school starts, and that may drive us all crazy! He hates when his brother has somewhere to go & he doesn’t.

Of course, the whole preschool thing may be moot because my husband is interviewing for a job in Florida soon! I'm trying not to think about it, especially since an interview doesn't necessarily mean a job. But I've lived in Texas all my life (except for 6 months as a baby), and planned to live in Texas for the rest of it, so it took us a while to decide to go ahead with the interview. Today, though, I was thinking a big change might be just what I need. But I'd also have to sign up for a frequent flyer program for frequent visits to Texas!

Sunday, August 07, 2005

I got the new issue of Once Upon A Time with my article "In With The Old" in it. Fittingly, it arrived right around my birthday! (But my mom served my cake on Strawberry Shortcake plates, so I must not be too old...right?! Never mind that I was already too old for Strawberry Shortcake when she was first introduced!)

A week & a half ago, I had to submit a manuscript for critique at the October Austin SCBWI conference. I was stymied. I first thought of submitting a picture book, but doubted it was the best fit for the critiquer. Then I printed out first chapters from 3 different novel projects, to see which one I wanted to submit. I had several versions of the first chapter of Can't Beet It and had never been happy with any of them, so I stayed up pretty much all night rewriting it. While I liked the new version better, I still felt it wasn't quite right. The next day, I was leaning towards Purple Panic, but asked my husband to look at all three first chapters and tell me which one caught his eye most. He voted rather strongly for Can't Beet It--he really liked the rewrite--so that's what I ended up submitting, to my surprise.

A few days later, I dreamed that the regional advisor of our SCBWI chapter showed up at my door, telling me she'd sent all the other critique manuscripts but had lost mine. I told her it was no big deal, and that the critiquer couldn't have read them all yet, so I'd just Fed Ex mine right away. She looked unhappy with that, and I suddenly noticed she actually had my manuscript with her. I realized she hadn't sent mine because she thought it was so bad that it reflected poorly on our whole chapter, and she would rather the critiquer not see it! I told her it had once been recognized in a contest (true) and that I had 4 other manuscripts I could send if she didn't like that one...but in the end I was going to Fed Ex it and pay to send it myself, and was sad she was so disappointed in my manuscript and in me as a writer. In real life, I got word that she sent all the manuscripts, including mine, but this dream sure brought out my writerly fears!

The day I took my manuscript to her in reality, I told my kids I was going to deliver a manuscript to someone from my writing group, and we had this lovely conversation:

6-year-old son: "Is it going to be published?"

Me: "I don't know. An editor is going to read it and tell me what he thinks, and maybe if it could be published."

4-year-old son: "I think it will, because you're a good writer."

Big praise from a little person! I didn't know my 4-year-old even realized what "published" meant or that it had to do with being a good writer, nor that he had an opinion about my writing, but he definitely knew how to warm his mother's heart!

Monday, August 01, 2005

I've been tagged by Varian Johnson...I feel honored! I had no idea what tagging even meant until I did a search. Looks like I'm supposed to answer the same questions as he did in his blog entry, then tag 5 more people...kind of like a chain letter without any dire warnings about what will happen if I don't do it! I'm game:

20 years ago – I was 2 days away from turning now you know how ancient I am! I was working at a movie theater popcorn stand, I had recently totaled my first car, and I had already finished one crazy year of college at UT-Austin and was about to go back for another. It was a completely bizarre summer, as anyone I knew that year can probably attest to.

10 years ago – I'd been married for nearly 4 years & had lived in Austin (again) for 2. I'd had my first publication 8 months earlier. I was working as a tech writer at National Instruments while my husband worked on a master's degree in history. We made some good friends through a grad student reading group that year. Also made my first web page, and I still haven't updated my 10-year-old HTML skills!

5 years ago – I was staying home with my first son, then nearly 2 years old, and pregnant with son #2. I started the novel Can't Beet It I'm still working on! (It goes on & off the back burner regularly.)

1 year ago – Mom of two young boys, still writing...about the same as now!

Yesterday – Missed church, ack. Ate at The Black-eyed Pea for the first time in at least a year, yum. (Son #1: "This is the best turkey I've ever eaten." Son #2: "I can't imagine anything better than this!" Wow.) Shopped for gifts for the two kids' birthday parties in a row we're going to next week.

Tomorrow – We're going to my hometown of Arlington to celebrate my birthday on Wednesday.

5 snacks I enjoy – Popcorn, Twix bars, ice cream, powdered mini donuts, Munchos potato chips

5 bands I know the lyrics to most of their songs – MOST of their songs? I'm not sure if any fall into that category! There are plenty of albums I know most of the lyrics on, though. See my way old (circa 1998 or 1999, that is) music web page for a few clues to my tastes.

5 things I would do with 100,000,000 dollars – Tithe, pay off debts, buy & furnish a house (I currently want one with a game room and soda fountain!), travel, support causes I care about.

5 locations I’d like to run away to – New Mexico, Wales, Greece, Canada, California

5 bad habits – drinking soda constantly, staying up too late, hitting the snooze alarm too many times, skipping breakfast, misplacing things

5 things I like to do – write, act, enter contests, go to amusement parks, hang out on the Internet

5 TV shows I like – 5? I don't watch that much TV...though I do watch Survivor most seasons.

5 famous people I’d like to meet – Madeleine L'Engle (my dad has met her but I haven't!), Kevin Henkes, Louis Sachar, Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and/or Wes Anderson (they were both at UT while I was getting my film degree, but they went on to get nominated for Academy Awards in screenwriting while, didn't). And let me sneak in Lance Armstrong since he's a hometown hero!

5 biggest joys at the moment – Laughs & hugs from my family, the funny & smart things my kids say, my iPod (pathetic but true), getting some things in order around the house, making breakthroughs in my writing

5 favorite toys – My long-lost Fisher-Price castle, my Humpty Dumpty pillow doll (my kids have them, too!), my long-lost Fisher-Price Main Street, Legos, & the rubbery spiny echidna toy I bought myself at Toy Joy! I'm also keen on my kids' Fisher-Price Fun Park with a loopy roller coaster we like to run Hot Wheels, & somewhere I have a great blue mouse puppet that sticks out its tongue and squeaks.

5 people to tag – Most people I considered tagging have already been tagged with this! I'll tag Pam Calvert, wry_tang in Australia, and taking an idea from Linda Joy Singleton's 7/30 entry...if you're reading this, tag, you're it!

Monday, July 25, 2005

I got a note from Austin writer Chris Barton, who had noticed I hadn't updated my blog for a while. I appreciated that anyone had noticed my blog in the first place! I haven't done much online at all lately, and I don't know why, except perhaps that I've been spending way too much of my computer time playing Mah Jongg...I got my best score ever tonight, so maybe I can stop now and blog instead! Here's what else has been up:

Writing: I got a notice that my article, "In With the Old," is in the new issue of Once Upon a Time, due to arrive in subscribers' mailboxes any day. I also have to return my contract and some minor revisions for my pieces in the upcoming Summer Shorts anthology from Blooming Tree Press. And most pressing, I need to submit a manuscript for critique at an upcoming conference. I got a highly coveted critique spot, and now I'm panicking about what to send. Many of my manuscripts have already been critiqued since I last revised them, so I don't think I need more critiques on them yet. But my other manuscripts seem wrong for the critiquing editor. I'm having nightmarish visions of the editor hating my manuscript so much that it permanently damages my reputation as a writer and gets me blacklisted...or at least disliking it enough to sigh at me with disdain and wish bitterly that conference critiques weren't part of the job.

Reading: Today I started The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark's due back to the library tomorrow so I need to hurry through it! I also read a bunch of books to the kids. The two most fun were The Scrambled States of America by Laurie Keller and Alphabeasts by Wallace Edwards. They both have art that demands to be studied.

Listening: I keep wanting to hear They Might Be Giants' first (self-titled) album, especially "Everything Right is Wrong Again" and "Don't Let's Start." After 19 years, this album still amuses me greatly every time I hear it.

Watching: In between the stacks of chapter book mysteries my almost-7-year-old son is plowing through this summer, we've been reading some of Jon Scieszka's Time Warp Trio books, so he is happy there's a new Time Warp Trio TV show. (And while Sam bears a resemblance to Harry Potter, he looked the same in the books, which predate Harry!) He's also thrilled there are finally new episodes of Cyberchase this week. As for me, I watched the 1939 movie of Wuthering Heights the other night, with Laurence Olivier. I'd seen it before, and read the book, but I was struck by what an odd story it is. I kind of wanted to tell Heathcliff, "Just get over it, man. Move on!" I'm also weird enough to like Stella on Comedy Central. And I watched Mike Myers on Inside the Actors' Studio last night. I was impressed that he wrote the Wayne's World script in 3 weeks. I wrote a novel in 3 weeks myself, but Wayne's World was a hugely successful movie and my novel manuscript is still floundering nearly 3 years later...and speaking of 3, it's 3:30 am, so I need to get to bed!

Saturday, July 09, 2005

My Can't Beet It manuscript has been bugging me for years, since I can't seem to get the right voice, or tone, or something. Some people have suggested I make the protagonist younger, but the plot requires him to be older, & I haven't come up with a way to change the plot & still care about it. I've considered changing the protagonist from the guy, Dan, to the girl, Whitney--either putting her in his role, or keeping them in the same roles & telling the story from her POV, but neither change works at all. Today I had this chain of thoughts:

  1. Hey, maybe I could keep Dan as the main character, but let Whitney narrate the story! I don't know if that could work for YA, but seems like it worked in The Great Gatsby & Moby Dick...of course, Dan doesn't die in the story, but could be interesting...

  2. I'd still have to let him talk some. Maybe she could interview him, or he could butt in to tell his side. Might be worth trying as an exercise, anyway.

  3. Maybe I should just write the story as a screenplay. I've started it as a screenplay before & I still think it might work. Too bad it would languish forever & never get made.

  4. I have a film degree...wouldn't it be cool if I could make a film of it myself? Write and direct or produce it or something?

  5. No way could I line up all the actors & locations & all that stuff. I'd need permission from a mall to use their food court! Too bad it wouldn't work at all as a stage play, because with stage plays you can use almost anything as the set.

  6. Maybe I should just write stage plays instead. I still have theatre connections. What could I write about?
So now I have three pages of notes for a possible children's play with a fractured fairy tale theme! I think it would be really fun, so I just may write it. Now if only discipline came as easily as ideas.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

I tried the lyric-writing exercise, & actually came up with something! I started with a story I didn't think I knew enough about yet, & had no idea what a song for it could be like. The next thing I knew, I had lyrics to a song. The first verse goes, "Jill, Jill, who's the pretty one now? Jill, Jill, who's the smart one now? Who's getting the accolades? Just look at the mess you've made." I envisioned it being sung by a pop punk girl band, but the tune in my head was vaguely reminiscent of a song I finally recognized as the 70s song "Rock On" by David Essex (you know, "still looking for that blue jean, baby queen, prettiest girl I ever seen," etc.), but faster. Odd, but I was glad I managed to do it! I haven't attempted lyrics for my other stories yet, but I did compile a list of all of my novel ideas and ongoing projects, along with a summary for each, and then did the same for my picture book and short story ideas. It's the first time I've ever written up some of that information and definitely the first time I've had it in one place and easily accessible, so I felt really good about it.

I did not feel so good about not placing in the W.I.N. contest. I didn't expect to place so I didn't expect to be upset about it. And indeed I was not upset about my YA entry not being a finalist. In that case, though, I knew my approximately 1,000-word sample didn't fully represent the actual 2,500-word opening chapter, & I know the manuscript does need more work, & I've already had outside validation that the novel has promise. It was the picture book category that got to me, I think because the picture book runners-up and honorable mentions were all described as needing more work. If my submissions didn't even place, how much work must they need? Sigh. My guess is that most of my picture books are just too quiet or too ordinary to stand out, so rewriting probably won't be enough to save them.

I half-thought I just throw in the towel, thinking how bad my chances will be in the slush piles of the world. But today, I knew I really must be a writer. My husband and I were arguing and I felt quite horrible about the whole situation, but even in the midst of it I found myself wondering how I could use it in a story! And then made a note to use a related fight in my next YA novel! Crazy, huh? I also finally came up with a working title, This is the End, for the next YA, and a probable name, Jessie, for the main character. I'm still working on the names of the other major characters--or rather, which character should have which name! But of course, this is not the project I mean to be working on right now, so these are just notes!

Friday, July 01, 2005

Weird idea of the day: I was listening to an album (The Connells - Fun & Games), & started thinking about how albums are usually made up of a number of songs that each tell a different story (concept albums notwithstanding). I thought, I have so many stories to tell, I almost wish I could just make an album of them instead of having to write so many different books! As it is, I tend to be drawn more to character studies, moments of insight, & snapshots or glimpses of people's lives than in typical plots with a lot of action--action is possibly my weakest point as a writer (and, one might argue, as a person)! So then I thought, why not? The yet-unnamed protagonist of my next & yet-unnamed YA project is a lyricist, so it might be good practice, as a writing exercise, to write poems or lyrics to capture the essence of each of the stories I want to write. Besides, I have some extra time to kill while waiting for the winners of the 2005 W.I.N. contest to be announced! (Just don't follow up to see if I actually DO this exercise! Like I said, action is not my strong suit!)

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

I read an article today that questioned the purpose of children's novels on depressing subjects & made the common suggestion that such books are more popular with teachers or librarians than with kids. I realized that even though I adore humor and nearly always choose comedy movies over other types, some of the children's books that meant the most to me as a child, the ones that stayed with me over the years, were the ones on depressing or difficult subjects. There was Constance C. Greene's Beat the Turtle Drum, about a girl whose younger sister dies in an accident the same week she finally gets a horse for a week; Zibby Oneal's The Language of Goldfish, about a girl facing a mental breakdown as she enters her teens; my favorite novel from age 13 on, Madeleine L'Engle's A Ring of Endless Light, which deals with death, grief, and depression in a hopeful way; and Britt Singer's edgy YA The Petting Zoo, about a young woman trying to stop her boyfriend from killing himself. I still own all four of those today, even though I have very few other books from my childhood. Something about them resonated with me, not in a weird voyeuristic way, but in trying to make sense of the world. That makes me feel better about my own forays into darker material, although of course I love my fun stuff, too!

This article also suggested that kids need to know they don't have to solve their problems alone, unlike book characters who find themselves isolated with a great deal of trouble. While I think that's a valid point, & editors do insist that protagonists solve their own problems rather than being rescued by some deus ex machina solution, the characters in many children's books solve their problems with the help of others, whether it's a team of kid detectives working together, or a depressed character reaching out for help in the end instead of retreating further into herself or himself. Vicky in A Ring of Endless Light is helped by relationships with both people and dolphins! I think one way a character may solve his or her own problem is by choosing to request or accept help. My characters tend to get advice and insight from people around them, whether they solicit it or not (and I do worry editors will balk at this, if it happens too much!), but what each character must do alone, and what we all must do alone, is come to a point of decision. In my film classes, we were taught that the narrative arc of a traditional story is driven by the decisions the characters make. Others can advise us or give us a hand, but only we can decide which advice or path to take, and the choices we make can determine whether or not we live happily ever after! Sure, I think it's important for kids to know, for instance, that they don't have to suffer in silence when picked on by bullies, but many kids do deal with a lot alone, and I don't think literature would do them favors by ignoring problems, or assuming that everyone has the same resources. I also think that those of us who have hope, and believe that we do not have to suffer alone, need to try even harder to get our hopeful messages out there for those kids who are struggling with existential worries and drawn to books that deal with tough issues.

All that said, I agree it's often preposterous how many tragedies kids in books (and animal kids in Disney movies!) are sometimes confronted with, and how many ways writers and filmmakers concoct to get kids into situations where they're on their own. The Lemony Snicket books poke ironic fun at all that, and Louis Sachar also swipes at the depressing book phenomenon in one of his hilarious Wayside School books. I'd also recommend that folks sick of depressing stories read Gordan Korman's funny midgrade novel No More Dead Dogs! The protagonist of that one is sick of them, too.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Song in head: "Fixing a Hole" by The Beatles

Mood: Optimistic

Drinks I've won today: 1-liter Dr Pepper from Dr Pepper bottle cap, 2-liter Pepsi Lime from Call Upon Yoda contest online

I've been drinking a ton of Slurpees lately, for two reasons: (1) I love Slurpees, & (2) to get "free" iTunes downloads. Of course the code-laden Slurpees cost 40 cents more than just buying a download, but downloads alone aren't nearly as slushy and refreshing. I think I love Slurpees especially much for the nostalgia factor, because I grew up a block from a 7-11 and used to walk there all the time.

The iTunes are giving me a nostalgia fix, too. I recently came across a whole bunch of my old 45 rpm singles, some of which are embarrassing now. I realized my friends and I used to buy singles the way we used to buy...well, t-shirt transfers, if anyone else is old enough to remember flipping through all the transfer displays at the mall t-shirt stores! It wasn't that we found something we were crazy about and had to buy it; we would pick out something just to buy something, just because we were at the store. Hence my ownership of singles by artists such as Eddie Money and Donnie Iris! I've thought about music in terms of whole albums for years since then, but with the iTunes, I'm back to singles again and having a blast picking them out. Old songs, new songs, one-hit wonder songs, etc. I'm also trying to get most of my old music transferred to the right format for my iPod, so I'm listening to albums I've neglected for years...A Flock of Seagulls, anyone?!

Sunday, June 26, 2005

More quotes about seizing the day, which seems to be my theme o' the week:

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." --Mark Twain

"Let not our longing slay the appetite of our living." --Jim Elliot

"Get busy living, or get busy dying." --The Shawshank Redemption

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

So it's the longest day of the year. Which ideally, would be a perfect day to seize, if I could figure out how to seize the day. If I can't Carpe Diem, I may have to just Carpe Dig'Em--seize the frog!

(And yes, I spent at least 15 minutes of the day I was supposed to be seizing making that little picture...but it's something I've joked about doing probably since Dead Poets Society came out in 1989 and made everyone say "Carpe Diem" all the time.)

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Weirdness abounds. As does car trouble. I wrote a humor essay in...oh, 1992 or so, about our seemingly endless bouts of car trouble, but they amazingly did end. (Psst, want to publish it?? It got honorable mention in a contest, but I've never found a market for it.) So I hope we're not starting another story like that! We're having our car towed today from a store parking lot, for failure of the alternator belt we just got fixed. I assume it wasn't fixed right the first time around, considering that the brand new belt is now ripped, curled, & generally mangled!

I finally had a chance to read Storky last night. Subtitled: How I Lost My Nickname and Won the Girl. At first I was happy with the ending. Then, pathetically, I found myself thinking, "So...why does a 9th grader need to get the girl, anyway?" I was jealous! OK, I got the guy between 9th & 10th grades, but it only lasted a week, and then he stood me up on my birthday. After that...let's just say it was a long time until I got the guy again. You see why I write YA fiction? I guess I haven't quite gotten over my teen years! But I liked them. Meanwhile, this whole grown-up thing is seeming like a raw deal to me. I'm feeling the need to change things. Not to stop writing, but to write more. To live more fully. To take the words I've been quoting to myself for years and make them mean something in my life. Like these words in Tennyson's poem Ulysses: "How dull it is to pause, to make an end, To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use! As tho’ to breathe were life." And these: "Come, my friends, ’Tis not too late to seek a newer world." (Easier said than done!)

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Yesterday: 16 years since I met my husband. We met at a Jason's Deli, eating with mutual friends, so now we go to Jason's Deli every June 11th. Their broccoli cheese soup is very good.

Today: Church (good sermon on Narnia, C.S. Lewis, & not being alone with our pain), lunch at McDonald's (what, no broccoli?), saw The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D (poorly reviewed, but perfect for my 6-year-old).

Tomorrow: Too soon to know.

Been thinking about: Closure. It only recently occurred to me that we aren't guaranteed closure about anything. For some reason I'd always kind of assumed I'd eventually get closure about various incidents, relationships, etc., or that confusing things that have happened would start to make sense at some point...and suddenly realized that may never happen, and in most cases probably won't. Shouldn't be a revolutionary thought, but somehow it was. I may explore that a bit in my next YA novel. That is, if I ever get even the least bit of closure on my other novels-in-progress!

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

It's Summer Reading Club time at the library again, which means our house is even more filled with books than usual. We went to the library last night & came home with 22 children's books, 21 of which were mainly for my kids, and 1 of which is for me: M.T. Anderson's Whales on Stilts! It's truly hilarious--I think I'll have to buy it. Considering my love of wacky surrealism for kids, I'm surprised I don't write more of it. My beet and bubble gum novels lean that way, but always stop short of actual surrealism, and seem to get less wacky as they go. I wonder if I'm playing it too safe, or dull. Hmm.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

What a freaky weird week it's been. After my husband filled out the paperwork for a new job on Tuesday, the job was eliminated on Thursday! It ended before it began, sending us from celebration and preparation to stunned disbelief. Saturday we went to my hometown for a night just to get away--and get some babysitting from my parents. (Got to see Star Wars Episode III, anyway.) Tonight we got home, where I found another rejection letter in the mailbox. Whee. Tomorrow our older son starts Magic Camp--maybe by the end of the week, he'll be able to wave a wand and make everything better! Well, at least I got my favorite foods this weekend.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

I got a rejection yesterday on something I had high hopes for (though admittedly, my hopes had been dwindling). So I guess it's fitting that today we're celebrating Oscar the Grouch's birthday, which we learned about from Sesame Street Magazine last year. I have Oscar cups, streamers with Oscar (among others) on them, an ugly green tablecloth & napkins, green silly string, & Oscar goody bags I'll fill with sour gummi bugs, toy traschcans filled with candy trash, "Mean Green" blow pops, & Shrek/swamp-themed M&Ms. Last year we read a book about Oscar, made Oscar crafts (green pom-poms with googly eyes glued into film canister trashcans), played with "goop" (cornstarch and water--try it), and mixed up a dirt & worms snack (chocolate pudding with crushed Oreo "dirt" and gummi worms) in some toy-sized plastic trashcans I found. We also watched "I Love Trash" and danced to "Doin' the Grouch" on our Sesame Street videos, followed by a showing of Elmo in Grouchland. I assume we'll do something similar this year, but I hope we can skip the craft and do an Oscar game online instead. And in the past year I've gotten an Oscar shirt, socks, and fuzzy slippers for myself, as well as a stuffed Oscar toy! Last year my older son also wrapped up a box of trash to give Oscar as a gift...when Oscar didn't show, we dumped it in the trash where we hoped it would get to him! But really, we only love trash and grouchiness one day a year. I'm normally partial to Ernie (on Sesame Street, that is...for regular Muppets, it's Beaker all the way!).

So, which Muppet character are you? Today I came out as Elmo, which made me feel a bit ill, even if it did say I am cute and everyone loves me. Then I tried again with a few different (but still accurate) answers, and came out as Gonzo! At least that goes with my "inventive duck" and "freeform writer" answers from my May 7 entry. Might also explain why my 4-year-old thinks it's funny to call me "Big Nose," when I didn't think my nose was that big! (And re: "inventive duck," note that my 6-year-old just got an award for being the most "inventive" in kindergarten.)

Monday, May 30, 2005

Wow, the 26th was definitely memorable, and not just in the ways I expected! First, my husband accepted a new job that morning! Then, we had already planned to go to Galveston (on the Texas coast) for a short family vacation, but once we had our van all packed up and ready to go, it wouldn't start! We figured we'd just jump start it with our Mazda, but it didn't work. Not only that, but a belt broke on the Mazda while we were revving it, sending bits of rubber flying across the driveway! Eventually, we had the van towed to a car repair shop. We thought we might rent a car for our vacation (our hotel room was pre-paid and non-refundable), but the repair shop workers said they'd move us to the front of the line and get our van fixed & out of there within a couple of hours. Instead, my husband had to wait there for five hours before the van was fixed! We ended up leaving town in the early evening and not reaching Galveston until 11:30 pm! The kids woke up when we arrived there and we let them stay up a bit, even to 2 am or it was definitely an unusual day all the way around! But the trip was a good one, and though storms were predicted for the whole weekend, it never rained or stormed until we were on our way home last night. (Of course, now we have to get the Mazda fixed!)

And more good news, besides the job! I submitted two pieces to Blooming Tree Press for their upcoming Summer Shorts anthology, and both were accepted! One is a reprint of my "High Dive" poem, and the other is my short story, "Owen Nolan's Square-Wheeled Bike." Hooray!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

My datebook entry from 22 years ago today: History exam, School out 12:30, Tap recital, Musical Theatre recital, Saw Return of the Jedi with David, Kristin, Pat, & Chase.

Just ran across that old datebook last night & found it oddly relevant, since the Jedi have returned again! That was a pretty busy day, but today may be even busier or more memorable...will update later once I see if it is so!

Friday, May 20, 2005

What I'm Reading & Watching: I just got Daniel Pinkwater's The Artsy Smartsy Club and Alison McGhee's Mrs. Watson Wants Your Teeth. I have Debra Garfinkle's Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won the Girl on order, along with the Season 1 DVDs of The Adventures of Pete & Pete. I haven't seen many movies lately. We rented Chicken Run for a family movie night this week and Primer a couple of weeks ago (my first thought was that engineers in Dallas either dress much more formally than engineers in Austin, or the director just assumed that's how they would dress), but otherwise my husband & I have mainly been watching documentary-type shows. We watched the show Star Wars: Empire of Dreams (an odd title, I thought, given that the Empire is the bad guys), the Word Wars documentary about tournament Scrabble players, a show called Brainman about a man with savant skills in dealing with numbers, and a couple of episodes of Mythbusters. I've also been watching several end-of-the-year school programs, with at least one more to go!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

I was looking at some old image files on my computer, and ran across this fortune I got in a cookie a year and a half ago, which I'd thought was worth taking a picture of:

Still waiting.... (Editors? Agents? Bueller? Anyone?)

Meanwhile, I can't believe there's a new character on Cyberchase (my kids' favorite show) named Creech. Creech was one of the names we joked about naming our child before we had kids! Ours was a boys' name, Creech Trantham, but this Creech is a girl with some lovely antennae. Other boys' names we claimed to be considering included Stranphthner, Tavist D (after the medication), Bruceville Eddy (from a highway sign), Dylan Bob (try this with Dellenbaugh), and the Biblical name Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. For girls, we rejected Abnera DeWaynette, Ornith Corinth, Clabbie Klempenstadt, Lacy Lakeview (another highway sign), Prunellabelle Stanielle, the Biblical name Oholibamah, and Onkaly Muldween. Think we need to have more kids so we can use them? Actually, one of our names, Pug DeMoss, has become a crucial character (or really, a family of characters--Pug DeMoss, Sr., Jr., III, and IV) in my Purple Panic novel! Guess I'd better hurry and finish the novel before a TV show uses that one, too.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Happy Mother's Day, whether you're a mother or not! Two cute things from my life as a mother:

My 6-year-old, Ryan, got to have his own crazy hair on Friday (see his brother's look in my April 26 entry). For Field Day at his school, all the kindergarteners made purple tie-dyed shirts and sprayed their hair purple. No spikes, though...darn!

And my 4-year-old, Kyle, had the sweetest thing planned for Mother's Day (which also made me sad because I hate to see him hope for something and be disappointed when it doesn't work). Knowing that popcorn is one of my favorite snacks, Kyle took it upon himself to plant a popcorn kernel in the backyard the other day, and has been watering & checking on it in hopes of growing a popcorn plant for me! That makes me teary-eyed just thinking about it! (Though never fear, he did get to give me some pretty flowers in a pot that he painted in preschool. Ryan gave me a box that he painted and decorated at school, and both kids made me cute pictures and cards.)

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Someone just pointed to me this quiz about what type of rubber duck you are. I am apparently an:

Inventive Duck

Er...I think that's another way of saying I'm an "odd duck"! But I can live with that. And inventing stories (often odd ones) is indeed what I do. Along the same lines, the What's Your Writing Style? quiz told me:

I am a freeform writer

"Individualistic with sense for the different and challenging, Walt Whitman and his poetry lacking meter and rhyme is just what the doctor ordered. You're quick to write something that the rest of the world doesn't accept as poetry, quick to separate yourself from the average joe.* An author with a true sense of self, you have confidence in your abilities and aren't afraid to show it." Again with the odd duck stuff! Not that that's news to me.

I have no writing news. No acceptances. No rejections. No new publications. No breakthroughs. One new submission, but that's not exactly news. Is no news good news? I don't know, but even if it is, I'd still rather have some more obvious good news!

* Note the blatant use of what my friend Joe Kissell calls "Joeism," as seen in discriminatory phrases such as average Joe, Joe Schmo, Joe Blow, etc. That example even puts "joe" in lower case, making the name so average it's generic. (And despite my individualism, I admit that my use of an asterisk in a blog entry is shamelessly stolen--er, I mean, flatteringly imitated--from Cynthia Leitich Smith. I'd love it if online help-style pop-ups were available for parenthetical remarks and links, but in their absence, a good old-fashioned footnote does the job!)

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Typical bloggy stuff:

Mood: Frustrated...can't make any progress today on Purple Panic manuscript. Even chewing purple gum (Juicy Fruit grapermelon) didn't help. Brainstormed ideas for the next plot direction but couldn't wrap my head around it.

Song in head:"I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts" by X, oddly battling it out with "Down in the Lowlands" by Charlie Peacock. That's how confused my mind is right now!

Last person I spoke to: My 4-year-old

Last person I wrote an online message to: Jen, who just found out her forthcoming YA book Golden was mentioned as an exciting debut novel in the UK publication The Bookseller--wow!

Immediate plans: To take the kids to IHOP for dinner, so I won't have to hear them ask about it 7,342 more times in the next week. Don't ask me how IHOP became the most exciting restaurant in the world to them, but apparently it is. I guess they've never gotten over the time we all hopped to IHOP in Galveston, TX!

Last movie I saw: Holes on DVD two nights ago--my husband hadn't seen it yet

Next movie I will see: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which we're planning to see on opening night tomorrow. The advance reviews are only so-so (54% positive at the moment on Rotten Tomatoes, which they consider more rotten than fresh), so they probably ruined the story, but I still love the book too much not to see the movie.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

I've already shared this elsewhere, but I just love this picture of my 4-year-old decked out for Crazy Hair Day at his preschool yesterday. We happened to have this book at home (we seem to have books for every occasion), so he took it to school and his teacher read it to the class. So what do you think--is he ready to join a band? Actually, I'm not sure the world is ready for him yet!

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Does it count as a brush with fame if my brother is on TV? He does background extra parts all the time, but tomorrow, April 25, is the night he's a featured extra on NBC's Las Vegas (9pm/8pm central), and throws a wad of $100 bills with his picture on them to create a distraction. I don't think he has any lines, but he does have a character name (Vic "Vid Kid" Kenner), so that's cool! Note that it is rated TV-14 (parents strongly cautioned).

In other news, I got a wonderfully helpful critique on my YA novel from a published author this week. I've been stymied on revisions for it for 2+ years now. Lately I'd been thinking it might be dead in the water, or would at least require a complete overhaul to make it into a very different book. But this critiquer gave me some insights that were truly eye-opening, and now I have hope for the book again! I kind of expected her to tell me it was a nice try but not interesting enough to spend more time on, but to my surprise she volunteered that she thought it was a story worth telling, and her understanding of the heart of the story actually clarified it for me! Now I'm thinking that it doesn't need to be completely ripped to shreds, but rather strengthened and chiseled into shape throughout, and the critique gave me some great ideas for improving it. Considering that I'm 2/3 done with my midgrade novel, I'm thrilled to think that I may be able to have both of these novels completed by the end of the year!

And naturally, we went to Dairy Queen for Shakespeare's birthday yesterday (see the last part of my April 10 entry). I got a yummy banana split Blizzard, but the code on my cup didn't get me an instant win in their online scratch & win game, and horror of horrors, we didn't think to read any poetry.

Monday, April 18, 2005

According to my web visit counter, someone found my site today by searching for the phrase "bunnies are terrible pets." How odd! What they found was my article "Rabbit Fever," but I don't think my rabbit Pablo (the tan lump between the boys) would agree that bunnies are terrible pets.
I can't sleep lately. I keep staying up until 3 am. I aim to stop doing that, but meanwhile I blog.

An old friend sent me a link to a dryer lint page, saying he thought I'd appreciate it. Hmm...what does that say about me?! (Not that I don't enjoy removing the dryer lint from the lint screen, because I do.)

I thought of another favorite song, which I considered my theme song in the early 90s, while working at a brain-sucking data entry job and wishing to be a writer instead. At the time, I wrote, "She tried taking her notebook to work, but the ink curdled up on the page and ran off, spilling to the ground like so many teardrops." A little melodramatic, perhaps, but The Innocence Mission song "Notebook" captured my feelings perfectly. (You'll have to scroll down or search on that page to find it--and the lyrics are wrong there, but less wrong than on the other sites that purport to list them.) Coolly, I got to thank singer/songwriter Karen Peris for it in person when I saw the band play in Dallas once.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

A few of the many favorites that didn't make it into my Blogger profile:

TV Show: The Adventures of Pete & Pete - it's a kid/teen show from the mid-90s, though I didn't see it until 2002 or 2003. It's surreal, brilliant, & hilarious. It also had some amazing guest stars. I was thrilled to discover today that they're finally releasing the first season on DVD next month. Another good Pete & Pete site is here.

Song: I can rarely name a favorite song, but the Flaming Lips song "Do You Realize?" stopped me in my tracks when I first heard it, and was the first song I downloaded from iTunes (even if it did later become part of a car commercial!). The first songs I downloaded were a rather odd, mostly moody collection...see a screenshot. Since then I've mainly been relying on my husband to convert our CDs to digital files.

Play: I already cheated and listed my favorite play (Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead) under books. It's intelligent, witty, and shows Hamlet from a different perspective. My high school made it to the state one-act play competition with it my senior year. Unfortunately, I was only an alternate, but did get to play Ophelia in one performance, & got to go on all the trips as a crew member.

Musical: Merrily We Roll Along, a Sondheim musical that apparently bombed badly on Broadway, but blew me away when I saw it at UT in about 1988. The UT production had been brought back for a second run due to popular demand. I'm not sure it would resonate as much for people without theatre backgrounds, but the way it traveled backwards in time, with reprises occurring before the original songs and the characters growing less jaded and more hopeful as they got younger, amazed me, and the female lead did a particularly outstanding job. My favorite musical to perform in (a joke, since I can't sing!) has been Free to Be...You and Me, which I did in a repertory group as a teen and got to do again with some of the same people in 2004. (In the teeny tiny black & white picture on the lower ride side of this page, I'm the teeny tiny person seated at the bottom right.)

Color: Cobalt blue, blue violet, or other similar deep, rich shades of blue and purple. It kills me that Crayola retired the violet blue crayon a few years back. I recently ran across an old one and still thought it was gorgeous.

Restaurant: Don Juan's Romantic Mexican Food, a hole-in-the-wall fast food place in Grand Prairie, TX I've been going to since I was 2. Their bean burritos are possibly my favorite food on earth. Also Candlelite Inn in Arlington, TX, another place I've been going to that long. Many people think of it as a Mexican restaurant or steak place, but I mainly go there for spaghetti with meat sauce. (Check out their pralines, too.) I'd prefer either of these places to an upscale gourmet restaurant any day! In Austin, I'm fond of Chuy's and Kerbey Lane Cafe. (And I don't eat a lot of burgers, but the best are at Snuffer's in Dallas.)

Place: One of the best days in my life was a day I spent all alone in Cardiff, Wales in August 1988. The weather was perfect (odd for Wales, I know), the scenery was beautiful, and I didn't have a care in the world. I still want to "stand on some hillside in Wales" with my husband someday. I also love New Mexico. And Six Flags Over Texas! (And, though it's been a while, I also like being on stage, or backstage.)

Sunday, April 10, 2005

I've decided to enable commenting in my journal, so people can leave comments, which scares me somewhat! So please play nice, so I don't have to delete comments or turn them off. And please try to keep any posts kid-friendly. Thanks!
Thursday I visited the Texas Library Association (TLA) conference exhibits with a friend who founded the Austin chapter of SCBWI. I bought a great new book on space (right up my older son's alley!) from Austin author Jane Ann Peddicord, and picked up way more publisher catalogs than I could reasonably carry (especially several blocks back to the car), and my hands and arms are still a bit sore from the bags!

It was interesting to see what's coming out from all the publishers this year, though I also found it daunting. Ever since I looked at all those books and started looking at the catalogs, I've been questioning what I write and whether I'm concentrating on the right things. My quirky stuff doesn't seem quirky enough; my realistic stuff doesn't seem edgy enough (nor do I want it to be edgy). I actually started thinking my best chance for a book contract would be a rhyming picture book, even though they're supposedly the hardest books to sell! I have had success with rhyme thus far. I'm not really giving up on my other stuff, though. In fact, I aim to be a prolific writer because there are so many stories I want to tell, so I need to get cracking!

By the way, I edited my second old journal entry from my last post to add a photo I just found that was taken the same week I wrote it, at a mini-party I threw for getting a decent grade. This has inspired me to write a list of Unusual Things I've Thrown Parties For:
    · Getting a B+ when I expected an F
    · Groundhog Day Eve
    · Thanksgiving (not a turkey dinner, just a pre-holiday party)
    · Advent
    · Pre-Columbus Day
    · Oscar the Grouch's Birthday (June 1)
    · My kids' half-birthdays
We also go to Dairy Queen every year on Shakespeare's birthday (April 23). We celebrate both Shakespeare and his contemporary Spenser, whose exact birthdate is unknown and who wrote The Faerie Queene (well, where else would you celebrate a poet whose most famous poem title rhymes with Dairy Queen?!).

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Author Linda Joy Singleton has been including some of her high school journal entries in her blog--from the same day of the year but many years earlier. I thought it was such a fun idea I decided to see if I could find anything of my own to post. I found very little that was actually from April of any year, and most of what I did find was too long-winded (pages long!), too boring, too personal or embarrassing, or some combination of those. But I found one from 22 years ago today that is kind of amusing, and slightly embarrassing but not TOO embarrassing. (I promise I didn't always use that many exclamation points.) The most potentially embarrassing thing about it is that all these years later, I'm currently on an e-mail list with 2 of the people mentioned in the entry! But I assume they'd find it humorous.

It seems like I wrote much more in the fall than I ever did in the spring. So, in light of what I wrote yesterday about autobiographical writing, I thought I'd share this entry I found from October 1985. (I don't believe I ever really wanted to write an autobiography, though! I was probably being slightly facetious.)

Monday, April 04, 2005

I've heard that most first novels are autobiographical. So far, none of mine have been. It would be difficult to find many traces of my life in any of the three novels I've written significant portions of so far, or most of the others I've jotted ideas for. However, the one I've been contemplating lately (the YA that would involve a death) would include incidents inspired by events in my own life. I don't want to write about the actual events from my life, or the actual people I knew, partly because that would be weird and seems dangerous, and partly because the actual events were too bizarre and convoluted to be believed in fiction (Greg Leitich Smith has a great blog entry about this). But it's still a very difficult thing to approach, and it's hard to figure out how much of real life I would need to include, or what the most important elements of the story are. I want to include some things I actually wrote back then, because I don't think I could do a better job now of getting those raw, powerful emotions onto paper, especially in the voice of a teenager. But that makes it tricky, because then the character would have to face situations that are somewhat similar to mine without being the same. I also have to think of an ending to it all, and that's hard, too. So, for now I just have ideas swirling in my head, and am leaving most of the writing until later. I definitely need to finish my midgrade novel first in any case!

I recently wrote a crucial scene for the midgrade, though I'm not too happy with the way it turned out. I'm trying to write the book without major revising, just making notes for future revision as I go along, but in this case I may rewrite the scene before moving on. I'm pleased today, though, because I thought of yet another twist I might add that could tie several loose threads from the story together. If it works, it could solve some of the logistical problems I've been having with the story, as well as adding a bit more quirky fun to the manuscript. Here's hoping it does!

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

This weekend I went to Dallas/Fort Worth to hear award-winning YA author Amanda (A.M.) Jenkins speak on rewriting and revising at an SCBWI meeting there. Her talk was fantastic! I took away a ton of useful insights and information, some of which I can start applying right away. I was a bit amazed to hear such a great talk at a free meeting instead of a paid conference! Before the meeting, I had a nice lunch with Kathryn Lay, author of the new middle grade novel Crown Me!, as well as more than 1,000 (!) short stories and articles. I'm always amazed I've been able to meet so many great writers and learn from them!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Hooray, I wrote 2,460 new words on my stalled middle grade novel today--2 new chapters! I have to stop now (and considering that it's late afternoon, it might be good to finally have some lunch!), but I'm so happy to have gotten past my block on this book, and I know what needs to happen next. I also came up with another idea for the book that will explain a little better why the main character's seemingly goofy problem is such a big deal to her. That will involve some rewriting later, but I'm thrilled to have made a small breakthrough!

Monday, March 21, 2005

I just saw in Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog that she's proudly announcing her first published story "featuring in part a romantic relationship in which no one dies." I had to laugh out loud at that. Especially because I've spent much of this afternoon contemplating (and writing part of) a new novel idea featuring in part a romantic relationship in which someone does die. Yikes!

Speaking of which, today I read Sonya Sones' whole free verse novel One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies while standing in front of the library shelf when I was supposed to be hurrying home so my husband could go to the post office! Oops. I didn't mean to read it...I was just going to look at it, and got so engrossed that I kept reading until I was done. Anyway, I thought it was well done and it gave me hope for my own new idea. I don't think mine would be free verse but it would include poetry and possibly be told in a choppy, somewhat verselike style, and I had also been worrying that it wouldn't be possible to start a book with a death but then go on to other things (like romance), not focusing on the death all that much later on, without seeming callous. But Sones does exactly that and it works great. There were also a couple of passages in the book that I strongly related to on a personal level. Actually, at one point the main character is on a plane, dreaming that her boyfriend comes down the aisle and saves her, and my semi-completed YA novel has a scene with my main character on a bus, daydreaming the same thing! I guess it's a common fantasy. I wrote that because I used to daydream that my crush of the moment would suddenly appear to rescue me from whatever boring class I was stuck in!

Sunday, March 13, 2005

I was surprised to find Daniel Pinkwater, a regular NPR commentator & author of about 100 (!) books, in a writers' chat room I popped into last night. He writes the kind of absurd, humorous children's books I especially love, and the books he reviews on the radio become bestsellers. Another writer and I chatted with him for more than 3 hours! It was absolutely fascinating, not to mention entertaining--I felt like I'd gone to a private writing conference. He shared lots of stories and advice, and I found it heartening that even after 35 years as a children's writer and plenty of ups and downs, he was still interested enough in writing to want to discuss it in the middle of the night. One statement he made resonated with me enough that I asked if I could quote him on it, which he said I could: "Seeing your name on a book gets old really fast, but trying to make one that sings all the way through can be endlessly interesting." Now that is something I look forward to, and it also reminds me to keep raising the bar on my own expectations for my writing! Be sure to keep an eye out for his next novel, The Artsy Smartsy Club, which he thinks is possibly his best work yet.

In other news, my 6-year-old, Ryan, created his own little vanity press the other night. He set up a "writing stand" in our living room. The rest of us were supposed to come there and write stories with the pens, pencils, & paper he provided. Then he would make a cover, illustrate the stories, & bind them with staples. (Amazingly he decided not to charge for that service, though he charged 5 cents apiece for sharpening pencils, and managed to need 4 of them sharpened for his illustrations.) It was challenging to write a story on demand while he waited, especially one that would be very short and easy to illustrate, but I wrote an extremely low-conflict story about a pig's journey to Jupiter, with too many pages, and he patiently illustrated the whole thing and made a color cover with the title written in a "fancy font". Too funny! (And knowing Ryan, within a few years he may have invented his own printing press to do the job right!)

Also, my brother in Hollywood is a "featured extra" in an upcoming episode of the TV show Las Vegas. He plays a crook who gets chased through a casino, and he creates a diversion by throwing a stack of $100 bills in the air. Only they aren't ordinary $100 bills--they have his picture on them, and they actually made up fake bills with my brother's picture on them! If my brother ever comes up with a list of 10 things he's done that most people haven't, it would put any list of mine to shame.