Saturday, February 25, 2006

Unexpected side effects of writing

My husband & I were just discussing why our kids think our house is a playground. At the same moment, I had to tell one son to stop doing flips over the couch and smashing the cushions, and the other son to stop jumping on a wooden chair. "Why do you always want to do that in here?" I asked them. "If you want to climb, go to the tree fort outside!" I figured out where to place blame. "I know--it's because restaurants started putting playscapes inside, and now kids think that indoors is a good place to climb!" The couch-flipping son soon proved it wasn't just climbing, when he put on a pair of roller skates & tried to skate around the living room. "Guys!" I said. "You can play like that outside, not inside! The inside isn't the same as the outside!"

"It is in that poem you wrote," said the chair-jumping son matter-of-factly, "about the inside out house."

Ack. He's right. I brought it on myself! And here I thought he didn't listen to a word I said.

I may have also unwittingly influenced Guideposts for Kids, because they're currently having a contest for their members to win carpet skates! (Though my kids might ask, who needs carpet skates when you can use the regular kind?!)

Friday, February 24, 2006

To write or what to write, that is the question

How do you decide what to blog about? Sometimes it's obvious, but usually it's not. Throughout the day I come up with lots of blog ideas, & then I think better of most of them. Today, it's all random: 
  • After saying I was seeking environments that are creative physically as well as mentally, I should have been excited about Mommy & Me dance morning at my son's arts preschool, instead of dreading it for a week. Instead, I did dread it for a week, & then it turned out to be rather short, without much to it. (Under 45 minutes, half of which was just talking.)

  • One nice change in my life: I can now sit on my front porch, rocking in my porch swing while being online with my laptop (as, in fact, I am doing now). My old house didn't have a front porch you could sit on, and my old laptop wouldn't work for more than 10 minutes without being plugged in.

  • Oh yeah, and we have a DVR (digital video recorder) here! I'm not a big TV watcher...but how did I ever live without this?! Survivor or the Olympics? No problem, Survivor and the Olympics! Even if I'm not home when they come on.

  • Some of my former co-workers are blogging about turning points in their lives. I think it's a neat idea, & leads to some interesting posts, but I'm not sure I'm up for it. It's so personal! But if anyone else wants to share, I'd love to hear it. ;-)
As for writing...assuming I should start writing again in earnest one of these days, and realizing that if I wait for an organized living space it may never happen, I compiled a list today of manuscripts I could work on. Which one to work on should be obvious, too, but it's not. Here's what I can choose from:

  • YA novel #1: Thoroughly revise existing draft with last critiquer's suggestions in mind. This is probably the wisest choice, but it needs such a major overhaul that it's really daunting, so I wonder if I should start with something easier.

  • YA novel #2: Finish a draft of the stupid thing. I've been stuck 8 or 9 chapters in for years despite having a full synopsis. But somehow I can't get the voice right anymore, & I'm having second thoughts about a lot of what I've already written.

  • MG novel: Decide whether to plow on through to the end (I'm maybe 2/3 along), or rewrite from the beginning with a different tone & faster pace. Then do it. I've lost interest in this one after a great start, because it got so weighted down as I went, & stopped being fun to read or write. Sometimes I think I should just get to the end & then go back; other times I think that I'd be getting to the end of the wrong story & need to start over now so I'll even know where to go with it.

  • Chapter book: Pursue currently vague idea for a chapter book series, possibly mysteries. They would be light & pretty short, & might be a fun way to get writing again, if I could think of a plot for one, and if I could decide if the characters should even be people or animals! (I do have several titles and characters for them, but that's almost as far as it goes.)

  • Children's play: Draft a play with the idea I currently have. It's a fractured fairy tale, which is probably completely out right now with theatres, but it's the idea I have & I like it.

  • Picture book: Figure out plot and/or new characters for my zoo book! I have this rhyming PB manuscript about a zoo. All the critiques have been favorable, except that it has no plot arc, and that's a doozy. When it's in tight rhyme, changing the story is almost like starting over. And I will almost start over, except all my brainstorming has still not given me a single idea I find worthy of pursuing.
I also have several other PB manuscripts that are theoretically finished but seem completely unmarketable, an idea for a dark, difficult YA short story I don't even want to touch right now, and a whole bunch of other midgrade, YA novel, & picture book ideas that haven't moved past the idea stage, or maybe a few pages of text. My list of novel ideas currently has 15 ideas on it, including 1 idea for a midgrade series but not including the chapter book series mentioned above. Again, I'm thinking of Linus saying the greatest burden is great potential! (Or, according to one source, "unfulfilled potential.") I'd sure hate to die with all this stuff unwritten, when so much of it is already real to me.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


The first week of my senior year in high school, everything seemed wrong. I didn't have the same lunch period as the friends I normally ate lunch with, I didn't have friends in most of my classes, & I didn't even seem to see them in the hallways. I wasn't impressed with my classes, and even my after-school drama program had moved to a new location that seemed wrong. A week into school, I was despairing, sure that it was going to be a horrible year. In fact, it turned out to be my best school year. I loved my senior year. And in some ways, it probably changed the course of my life for the best. So, I'm going to assume that just because Florida hasn't grown on me after 3 weeks, and just because everything still seems wrong now, that doesn't mean it won't be amazing.

I did join the Florida Writers Association yesterday, just to feel somewhat connected here, but it may not have much to offer for children's writing.

Of course I watched Olympic figure skating last night, and two quotes particularly stuck out to me. One was from Sasha Cohen: "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten." Aaahh...that explains a lot. Eek. Another was something Dick Button said about Sasha Cohen, which I later found out was a line from Linus in a Peanuts comic: "There's no greater burden than great potential." In any case, I felt like it was the story of my life! I've heard about my potential, or the potential of my manuscripts, many, many times without ever crossing over from the purgatory of the potential. So there's where I am right now, trying to figure out how to stop doing what I've always done, being stuck in that position of having "potential," and transform the potential into reality, or into accomplishment.

Meanwhile, I'd say that Florida has potential.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Play. Write. Create.

We went to the kids' playwriting workshop today, under the big top. I decided to stick around and watch, considering my interests in writing & acting. There were only 14 kids there, and I think most were circus kids (that is, kids of the circus performers--I definitely saw a couple I recognized as the circus clowns bringing their young son in!). A group from a local theatre presented a playwriting workshop. First they performed 3 short plays (more like skits) written by winners of their young playwrights festival, then they led the kids in coming up with two more skits that they acted out on the spot as the instructions were given. Last, they led the kids through coming up with one more skit which they actually wrote down, explaining how to write down & format dialogue, stage directions, etc. My kids got antsy by the last part, but enjoyed the first part, and my first grader got to play the role of the baby dolphin in one skit--one of only 4 kids to be an "actor." (He was also curious how to write down stage directions, & is considering entering the playwriting contest.)

Sitting there on the bleachers, in the tent, watching the actors perform and just soaking up the whole creative environment, was invigorating & frustrating at the same time. I realized that I spent much of my life, especially my young life, in creative environments--a nurturing private school that valued imagination, occasional dance classes, several theatre groups, TV production classes, and finally SCBWI (conferences & retreats in particular)--and I need that. Even my last workplace was a more creative environment than others I'd worked in. I thrive on that sort of thing, and I miss it a lot right now. It's been years since I've felt like a creative environment was part of my day-to-day life. I really need to figure out how to turn my home into a creative environment, and I need to find some other creative environment to be, play, grow, & create in, preferably with other people. As introverted as I am, I love hanging out with other creative people when I get a chance. And even though I'm so cerebral I sometimes find my body unnecessary or even bothersome, I would ideally like to find an environment that is creative physically as well as mentally. I liked acting partly because it involved all of me, not just some of me. (You think maybe I should join the circus? Ha ha ha ha ha. I'm so out of shape that at the science museum yesterday, I found out my hand strength is less than HALF of what it should be for a woman my age! Ack!)

For other creative types out there, how do you find creativity in your lives, other than just sitting alone writing? How do you create an environment where your imagination can thrive? Where in your 3-D, offline life do you find other like-minded people...or do you?

Friday, February 17, 2006

My little writers

I'm pumped right now because the circus kids' club I signed my kids up for has already invited my kids to a free playwriting workshop this coming week! Which will give me an hour or more of babysitting, while getting my kids involved with two of my all-time favorite things, theatre & writing. I'm not sure what playwriting has to do with the circus, except that there's a former ringmaster associated with a theatre here that has a big playwriting program. So they're running a workshop for the kids. I am so glad we got involved with this club! They will also get to learn some magic & juggling later this year, which will be wonderful for my older son, to help replace in some small way the magic camp he had to leave behind in Austin.

But I'd better watch out so they both don't end up surpassing me in writing! My 7-year-old was actually published at the age of 3, with a story called "I Want to Buy Groceries" in the Austin SCBWI newsletter. And today, for the fables unit at his school, he's taking in a spiral-bound fable he wrote & illustrated at his old school. That's one of several stories he's already written & illustrated. And he doesn't even want to be a writer, he wants to be a scientist & inventor. He'll probably be one of those people who can do everything, like invent a transporter (his goal in life) while also writing a few sci-fi movies on the side. My 5-year-old, on the other hand, is in arts preschool now & seems like he might be a born performer. But he's already written a story or two himself, not to be outdone by his brother, so he may well end up writing, too, or at least doing a lot of improvisation! I am itching to get back into theatre myself, but all the theatres here seem to be professional rather than amateur, and I'm certainly not ready for prime-time. Maybe I'll take a class next time I can find one...or maybe find a church with a drama group.

I also have an idea for a children's play, and I'm thinking that might be the best thing for me to work on right now. I can't wrap my head around my novels right now, but a silly play could be a fun change of pace, and who knows, my kids might even be able to give me some pointers after their playwriting class!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


On Valentine's Day, 14 years & 5 months after our wedding, we renewed our vows on the beach, along with about 230 other couples:

It was actually COLD here yesterday for Florida (30s & frosty in the early morning!), but I only had a short-sleeved dress to wear, & it warmed up enough I could wear it for a few minutes there without a jacket (about 50 degrees). Our kids were awful, awful, awful during the ceremony, & made it impossible for me to even say all the vows because I was busy trying to wrangle them, so I would advise anyone to find a babysitter for the kids before doing something like this! But it was still nice, & I think it was a good way to kick off our "new lives" here in a new state.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Boyfriends, Truth, & Progress

I finished reading E. Lockhart's YA novel The Boyfriend List today. It immediately won me over with its fun use of footnotes. Being a rather parenthetical thinker myself, I tend to love footnotes in fiction. Two of my favorite recent books, Susanna Clarke's adult novel Jonathan Strange & Dr. Norrell, and M.T. Anderson's midgrade novel Whales on Stilts, have almost nothing in common, except that both make generous use of footnotes. I especially loved the way multiple footnotes tracked Ruby's thought process in The Boyfriend List. I thought Ruby's parents bordered on being caricatures, but that probably is how she would see & describe them, & I loved how different they were than the parents in most novels (for those who haven't read it, her mom is an angry performance artist, her dad constantly talks in touchy-feely psychological mumbo jumbo, and they live on a houseboat). As for the rest of the book, there were a few places where I began to think E. Lockhart had been spying on my teen years.... It especially amazed me when Ruby thought the same wacky thing I would have thought, with the same goofy reasoning, when I didn't realize anyone else thought about things that way!

This brings me to the best writing advice I've picked up recently. When we were driving through Louisiana, I went into two decent-sized convenience stores looking for a magazine to read, & couldn't find any, but I did find a free regional paper so I picked that up. I read an article about Cajun musician D.L. Menard, who had once met his hero, Hank Williams (Sr.). Hank Williams told him that everyone does things every day that they never stop to think about, and if you write about those things, your audience will love it. I realized it was true for books as well as for songs. Books (and movies, and plays, and comedy acts...) capture our attention when they ring true, and especially when they tell us something about ourselves that's been true all along but we've never noticed! I love it when I read something new or unusual that I've never thought about before, but I'm also blown away when I recognize myself on the page, and realize I am not alone in some thought, feeling, or experience. So, I aim to work harder than ever to make sure I put truth into my writing--true moments, and especially particular, small incidents and thoughts and feelings that may cause a reader to think, "Yes! That's just how it is!" Which may mean putting more of myself into my writing, which is scary, but I realized last night that if I don't take a chance on sharing what's real, my writing may not resonate with anyone.

The second piece of advice Menard got from Hank Williams was not to worry about naysayers, especially those further along than you who point out how far you have to go, because tomorrow you may be better than them. Menard realized he wasn't getting better, & set out to correct that. It's a daunting question to ask oneself: Am I better today than I was yesterday? I need to ask myself, and keep asking myself, that question in regard to my writing (I flinched big time the first time I asked myself that), as well as in other areas of my life--relational, spiritual, even organizational! Eek. That's about all I can handle for today.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Groundhog Day!

I've always loved Groundhog Day--in fact, I once threw a "Great & Groovy Groundhog Day Eve Party," and I have a stuffed toy groundhog somewhere. This year, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, which is supposed to mean 6 more weeks of winter, but here in Florida I'm not too worried. It's 68 degrees F right now & supposed to get to 78 this afternoon. It's also supposed to be 78 in the Texas town we just moved from, though the morning low there was much lower (40s instead of 60s).

My kids started their Florida schools yesterday. I was hyperventilating a bit about the change, but both kids did great. I'm still a little stressed because their schools are 8 miles apart & start at the same time, & this 1st grade class has more homework than the one we left, but it's working out all right so far. My 5-year-old is acting absolutely crazy here, including running away in public constantly, so I am on edge trying to deal with him, but I'm hoping this phase will pass as we get more settled in...if he survives that long!

I can't begin to think about writing with a house full of boxes, & I have nowhere to put all this stuff in a smaller house with less storage. There's not even room for a lot of the furniture. Thankfully, my laptop seems to be intact except for the monitor, so I'm using it now with our desktop computer monitor, but the desktop PC has yet to be unpacked, & my spacebar is sticking so it's very slow to type! The only writing-related thing I've done is to contact the Florida chapter of SCBWI to get on their mailing lists. I also checked out the public library yesterday, & was pleased to see all the author events on their schedule, not to mention a very nice children's book section.

The lack of Dr Pepper is getting to me. Of course stores carry it, but they don't carry the decaf version I can get in Austin, and most restaurants don't have it. I live on it, so I'm flummoxed. And the Taco Bell here doesn't have tostadas, & I've seen both Slurpees and Icees here in Pepsi flavor but not Coke flavor, so I'm seeking out small comforts where I can find them. I plan to seek Sarasota-style comfort soon in the form of pies from the much-ballyhooed Amish restaurants!