Thursday, March 29, 2007

Blog haiku

Haiku2 for ambd
imagine it as
a rope to hoist himself out
of the theater
Created by Grahame

Monday, March 26, 2007

Blogs I have known

I've been tagged by Liz Scanlon to list 5 blogs I read regularly that are not related to children's literature. I've been putting this off, because...well, most of the blogs I read are related to children's literature. And the ones that aren't are mostly personal blogs of people I've known in real life, not necessarily intended for mass audiences. So I've been wracking my brain to think of a few to list.

One of the funnest I've come across lately is SenseList, a blog of interesting lists created by an old friend of mine. He also runs the Interesting Thing of the Day blog, although it's not quite daily at the moment. (But I noted that SenseList actually did have a post related to children's writing--in this case, writing by children--recently.)

I've also been known to check out some blog communities such as British Comedy and Dr Pepper Freak, and meme sites like The Friday Five (or metablog The Daily Meme).

And, more locally, I sometimes check out

Seems like this meme's been around a while, so I'll just tag anyone who still wants to play.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


I am so sad right now. We didn't get to see my parents after all, or introduce Blake to my family. Our car broke down halfway there. It's now at a repair shop far from home, while we are home, thanks to a nice tow truck owner who drove all 5 of us home in his large pick-up truck...but we're home with no car. (We're trying to rent one, which has proved very difficult on a Sunday, but looks like it will be possible with help.)

I feel almost a biological need to show off my new baby, and I'm soooo sad his grandparents can't meet him! My mother has already said we live too far for her to come very soon, and she also doesn't want us to visit her because she's not up to having us over. The baby was also supposed to meet my great-uncle, step-grandmother, uncle, and some teenage cousins. What a lousy day. (Though at least Blake has been sleeping peacefully in his carseat almost all day...5 hours so far, except for one 15-minute feeding while we were stranded!)

Saturday, March 24, 2007


I've heard from people online that I am quoted in the new (April 2007) issue of Parents magazine, though I subscribe and still haven't gotten mine or seen it yet! Someone in one of my writing groups had asked if she could include my story in an article about toddlers making messes, so the quote should refer to the time my middle son got into the peanut buttter at 15 months old (pictures here).

My current adorable baby is 2 months old today and my parents should finally get to meet him tomorrow, when we go to a family gathering halfway between our homes to celebrate my great-uncle's 92nd (or 93rd?) birthday. My mom has been too ill to do anything since my baby was born, so this will be her first big trip out. She still doesn't feel up to a long visit, but can at least meet her new grandson!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Thoughts for a Thursday

I've gotten caught up in all the talk on various blogs and boards about "hooks" in writing & pitching novels, but the fact is, I don't need to worry about selling a novel right now. I need to worry about writing a novel right now. And rewriting one. And none of the talk about hooks is really going to change what I'm writing. These are the stories I have to tell right now. Obviously I want to make them as compelling as possible, but I'm unlikely to change the basic storylines. (And very unlikely to add, say, mutant reptilian zombies from outer space to punch them up a bit.) So, I just need to stop worrying and start writing!

I'm grateful to Megan McCafferty for writing in the 2007 Children's Writers and Illustrators Market that it's okay to write what you're passionate about instead of what seems marketable but that you have no interest in. Even if the book you want to write is yet another teen angst book. (Here's hoping publishers agree.)

And, on the topic of selling books, I think I may submit a picture book manuscript. It's been a long time since I've submitted anything, and PBs are particularly hard because most agents don't represent them, yet most publishers don't accept unagented manuscripts. But I realized I have two manuscripts sitting around that seem done to me, and I might as well get at least one of them out there. They aren't stories with a main character and a real plot, which seems to be what editors want from PBs these days, and one is pretty quiet. That's why I've been slow to submit them, but I still like the manuscripts, so might as well try. I also have a PB manuscript that I love, but it's nowhere near done (requires a complete overhaul) and I don't think I have the brainpower for that one right now!

Also, I'm so happy to have a new digital camera and even happier to have something like this to use it on:

Saturday, March 17, 2007

It's easy being green...

Last night, my enterprising 8-year-old designed a new, improved leprechaun trap for 2007, since the 2006 version hadn't worked. He made an elaborate diagram, and then he and his 6-year-old brother worked together to make the trap.

A trail of fake gold coins would lure the leprechaun up the Lego stairs to the top of an overturned moving box, where more gold coins waited. But in front of the coins on top of the box was a trap door, covered by tissue paper, so the leprechaun would fall in when he tried to walk across. My son was concerned that the leprechaun could hack his way out if he happened to have an ax, so he wanted to fortify the sides with wood, but settled for heavy books.

The result--a message from the leprechaun, spelled out in fake coins: HA HA.

It appeared that the leprechaun had used a computer mouse he found around our house as a rope to hoist himself out of the box & get away. But he left behind treasures anyway, some gold-wrapped chocolate coins and some Spree candy in green bags. Also a leprechaun-themed rubber ducky with a note: "Hee Hee. You can't catch a real leprechaun, and you can't have my real gold! Better luck next year!"

The kids were a bit astounded that the leprechaun left them chocolate coins in bags with the "Coins of the World" label on them. "It has a tag on it!" they said about one of the bags. "He got that at a candy store!" They wondered how a leprechaun could shop at a store. "Wouldn't they notice he was a leprechaun?" they asked. My 6-year-old then figured out how he could have gotten the candy, which makes perfect sense for the high-tech leprechaun who used a mouse cord as a rope. "Maybe he bought it on eBay," he said.

For breakfast today, it was Lucky Charms, of course, and later we had our annual green dinner (lunch in this case). Our special guest was the cutest leprechaun in the world! Oh, wait, that's just my baby. ;-)

And after lunch, the 6-year-old lost his first tooth...that was lucky! We expect to go to the park pretty soon to look for four-leaf clovers--one year we found quite a few! HAPPY ST. PATRICK'S DAY TO YOU ALL!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Small world after all

A couple of days ago, I happened to read a blog post from Jennifer Barnes (again), writing from England, about a new YA novel coming out that day, Prom Dates from Hell by Rosemary Clement-Moore. The author's name struck me as sounding familiar somehow. I realized I'd known a Rosemary Clement when I was growing up. Turns out, it's her! We did children's theatre together years ago. She was actually in the Musical Theatre class I had just mentioned in my blog the previous day! I realized if she hadn't kept the Clement in her name, I could have read her book and never even realized the author was someone I knew. Anyway, I plan to get the book as soon as I can, and I'm still amazed that I found out from someone in England that someone I knew growing up in Texas is now a YA author.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

More plot thoughts

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that some writer friends and I were having trouble with our largely emotion-based, rather than action-based, plots. This week, Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein wrote a great blog post dealing with this very thing. Her responses in the comments give even more insights. (Boiling it down...try to include both kinds of plot.)

Last night, I caught the end of the movie Ghost World, which I'd seen before, on TV. The existence of that movie proves to me that you don't have to have much of a plot...and particularly not an action-based one...but then, you probably won't rack up huge sales figures, either. These days, it seems to be all about the plot, or the hook, so I think I'd better try some plottier stuff before I go too quiet or artsy! Anyway, Ghost World is an interesting movie for me, as the main character, Enid, is very much like Lydia, the main character in my YA Chasing Monday, while the subject matter--facing life after high school when you don't have a plan--is pretty much the theme of my YA Can't Beet It, though Ghost World is much darker and, I'm afraid, more stylish than either of my novels. Can't Beet It is a humor novel with a basically happy ending. Chasing Monday is a more typical high school story, and at least aiming for happiness at the end.

Ghost World, I realized, has sort of the same ending as the movie The Graduate, despite having little in common with it other than an originally aimless main character who just graduated. The Graduate, which we had to dissect endlessly in a college film class, was driven by the actions of the character Ben, who was literally going after (even speedily, racing his car down the freeway) what he'd decided he wanted. Enid is never sure what she wants and doesn't do much at all. In Ghost World, unlike The Graduate, what really happens at the end is open to different interpretations, yet the endings are very similar on a surface level. Interesting.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Britcoms & multiple writers

I was amused this weekend to see Jennifer Barnes' blog post about being in England, pining for her American TV shows, while I'm here in the States, where I've never watched any of the shows she mentioned, and instead have been watching British shows all week! We watched some Extras (okay, so it's half-American, sort of), and Series VII of Red Dwarf (again), and we just rented Season One of A Bit of Fry and Laurie, which we also saw years ago. But my favorite this week has been Spaced, a rather brilliant (though often crude) sitcom from the folks behind the movie Shaun of the Dead. It apparently hasn't been released on Region 1 DVDs for some reason (I guess the video store made their own copy with a multi-region DVD player or something)...very annoying as I'd love to see the DVD extras, which this version didn't have. Anyway, it's clever and sometimes surreal, which makes it right up my alley, and one of the lead characters is a frustrated writer, though she doesn't get around to much writing.

At one point in the show, the writer character, Daisy, is working in a nightmarish job at a nacho restaurant with a power-crazed boss. She finally tells the boss off, saying she doesn't belong there, cleaning the kitchen. She's a creative person, not a mopper...she's a writer. The evil boss proceeds to tell her that all the hapless employees are writers. She motions to several of them, in turn. One writes haikus, one writes scripts, and one particularly skittish employee had a short story published once, a few years back. But there they all are in this horrible nacho sweatshop. I found it hilarious, scary, and sad, all at once! Now, I have a YA manuscript about a humiliating fast food job, and I've also written a story about a taco restaurant (in the desert...), but I hope there's more hope for my writing than those fictional writers had! I did work as a technical writer where it seemed like more than half my co-workers were also frustrated creative writers (creative writers in waiting?), but at least we were writing, and our bosses weren't insane. ;-) Um, but I am about to have some nacho chips & queso. Hmm.

My husband noticed that the British shows we've watched tend to have 2-person writing teams, often writers who have collaborated on a number of projects. We also saw an interview with John Cleese in which he said that Monty Python had two 2-person writing teams with different tastes in sketches. Off the top of our heads, we couldn't think of many similar writing teams in the U.S. Which got me to wondering...have any of you out there collaborated with other writers? I think it would take just the right person and I'm still not sure I could do it. Maybe for skits, but seems like it would be harder to collaborate on something long. Once in a Musical Theatre class, my class wrote a short show together, which worked out pretty well, but that's about my only experience with it. I tried to write skits with some friends in college, but most of our writing sessions degenerated into just hanging out (which basically led to my first date with my husband!), and when my writer friends from high school tried to improvise our way into a writing collaboration, it just changed our writing club into an improv club. I have long thought it might be interesting to co-write something with my husband, but I'm not sure what it would be. I assumed it would be non-fiction, probably not a children's book--more like humor or a collection of interesting facts--though we've talked about working together on my chapter book series idea. But I imagine him contributing mostly ideas, and research, and funny lines here and there, with me doing most of the actual writing. I'm sure we'd drive each other crazy, but I usually drive him crazy asking for feedback on my writing, anyway!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Plot and hooks

A writer friend called me this week to say she'd come across a copy of my YA manuscript, which she'd misplaced after I gave it to her for critique a couple of years ago, and had just spent about an hour reading and thinking about it (!). I had included some of the comments I'd gotten about it from other critiquers, and she said the comments I was getting were very similar to comments she and another friend of ours have gotten from editors and agents. And they all boil down to the fact that we can write, but we're not great in the plot department. We get bogged down in feelings instead of showing action, and not enough really happens.

So, she and the other friend dissected some well-plotted books and came up with a basic plot outline, almost a formula--pretty much the basic stuff, such as a problem, obstacles, etc. They plan to apply this outline to their books, to see if they can make their plots flow better, and she invited me to try it, too. I can see how it would fit a simple story, with one main problem and a linear narrative, but I'm not sure how it would fit complex YA stuff, with multiple storylines and problems, or sub-plots, and also not sure how it would accommodate flashbacks or other such deviations. But it probably would fit my midgrade stuff, and definitely the chapter books I want to write, so I ought to give it a serious go, as I really am plot-challenged! Though sometimes, when I outline a story and know exactly where it's going, it's harder for me to actually write it, because the voice isn't necessarily there and it sounds like a forced trip from point A to point B, and/or it feels like I've already written it when I know what's going to happen at each step.

I'm not hot on the whole plot-driven thing, in any case. I do think my novels should have plots, and I know that is their main problem, but the "hook" critiques I saw at an agent's blog yesterday just depressed me. I rarely write stuff with clear "hooks," and that's not really what I read for, either. It's not just what the story is about that draws me in, but the characters, the language, the way the story is told, etc. It's whether it's a world I want to spend time in, or a character I want to spend time with. The concept may get me to open the book, but it's what I see on the page that determines whether I'm going to read the book. I also wince at the idea that every book needs a wildly different plot hook than every other book before it--people don't even know what to do with stories that are too different. Half the movies in Hollywood have predictable plots we've all seen a hundred times, but they keep getting made and people keep buying tickets. If someone likes one kind of story, they usually want more that are like it. That's why series books are popular, or romance novels, or whatever. Not that I want to write stuff that's been done to death--I doubt I'm running that risk with my novel about beets, anyway--but I don't think every novel needs a stunningly new conflict, or extremely high stakes. Maybe it just needs an interesting take on a time-honored concept.

So, I'm grumpy about the hook idea. I'm hoping to sell my books based on the writing, not the concepts, because a concept is worthless to me without good writing to back it up. 20 writers can start with the same interesting concept and come out with 20 exceedingly different novels, and I'm sure not all would end up compelling! But some writers could take a quiet, everyday concept and come up with a brilliant novel about it. On the other hand...I'm probably just protesting too much because plot isn't my strong suit!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Answers to my Friend Test

Answers to my friend test from Wednesday's post:
1. My drink of choice is Dr Pepper. I drink a lot of it. (Though years ago, I drank Coke almost exclusively. I then stopped drinking Coke at all for a long time, and now I can stand it again, but I'm really a Pepper!)
2. I have 1 sibling, a brother 8 years younger.
3. I would never want to be on American Idol (can't sing), Survivor (too hard & you have to wear skimpy clothes!), or Trading Spaces (I have no decorating instincts, & the show usually does horrible things to people's houses). But I've always kind of wanted to do sketch comedy, so out of the choices I listed, I'd pick MAD TV--but nearly any comedy show would do. (What I'd really love to be on is the old Carol Burnett show!)
4. I have fiction manuscripts about bubble gum, beets, and slushies, but not popcorn. I have also written about tacos. (But popcorn is my favorite snack, & my first job was at a movie theater popcorn stand.)
5. I have had 2 rabbits, a duck (for about a week, as a child), and a guinea pig, but I have never had a cat.
6. As a child, I was the only girl I knew who didn't aim to be a veterinarian. I did say I wanted to be a garbage collector, though! (I also wanted to be a writer and actress, but garbage collector was right up there.) It's my 16-year-old cousin who wants to be a meteorologist.
7. I never took a class in knitting. I tried to sign up for one once, but it was full, so I'm still handicraft-challenged. I took cartooning and ice skating classes as a kid, and actually took Mayan hieroglyphics as an elective in college, which turned out to be a bad choice. I figured none of the students would know anything about it coming in, but I was probably the only non-anthropology major in there, and everyone else knew and cared much more about the subject than I did, so I had trouble keeping up!
8. I have a college degree in Radio-TV-Film. Why, I'm not sure. ;-)
9. I have won musical electronic drumsticks--basically a toy--from a Coke promotion, and a glowing martini glass, as well as a martini shaker, from an online contest a few years back. I won 32 lbs. of Tootsie Rolls (144 jumbo-sized ones) from a prize drawing on the University of Texas campus during a Texas Independence Day festival (22 years ago today, I believe), and had to lug the whole big, awkward box of them across campus to my dorm, which I barely managed. I'd been trying to win an old vinyl record, but oops, I got the grand prize! I did make lots of new "friends" in my dorm after that, but the friendships dried up when the girls started blaming my candy for making them gain weight! I have never won a $50.00 red velvet cake, by the way, but I've been entering to win one from!
10. My husband's name is Mark.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


Nobody had any comments about the bad hair photos of myself I linked to in my "harrowing hair tales" post yesterday?! Methinks no one must have read the post!

A couple of nights ago, I read back over the 7,000+ words of my unfinished National Novel Writing Month manuscript from last fall, hoping it would turn out to be good, and I'd feel spurred on to get back to it. No such luck! If anything, I found it depressing that there were a few, mostly buried gems of ideas or characters lost in a story I don't think is good enough to finish. Also, I had set the story in Sarasota, Florida, where we lived last year. It was the first story I ever tried to write that was set in a real, identifiable place, and for that alone I found it noteworthy--I wanted to write it as a tribute to somewhere I might soon forget. Unfortunately, it seems I have already forgotten Sarasota! I started the manuscript just 1 month after moving away. Now, 4 months after that, even the landmarks I wrote about in the story had largely slipped my mind, and I realized I could never finish it with the same realistic descriptions now, from here, as out of touch as I am with that area already. Very strange. How quickly we forget!

On a brighter note, I also looked back over some sample intro paragraphs I'd written for a chapter book series I'd like to write. And I liked them! What the novel manuscript lacked most of all was voice, and the chapter book idea seems to have it. What it doesn't have is plots, or even definite characters...I still haven't decided if the characters are humans or animals! So I don't feel ready to start it right now. But I do think it's worth batting around, while my kids are still at chapter book age so I'm familiar with the genre. I'm thinking I should probably finish one of my YA novels first, though, if only because I'd prefer to make a name for myself in midgrade or YA first, since they are my first loves. But if I figure out a plot for one of the chapter books (I have titles in mind, oddly, but not specific plots), I may start writing it and see what happens. 

I'm also not sure which YA I'd want to work on--one I have a full draft for, which needs massive revisions I've been putting off, or one I only have partially written, which has given me fits for years. All of the characters deserve to have their stories told, so I'm not sure who should win! And then I begin to doubt that any of their stories is really interesting enough to tell. I've been reading the novel "hooks" some other writers are posting in their blogs, and I know my novels don't really have hooks. When one of them had a first chapter critique at a conference some years ago, the editor critiquing it said it was fine as far as it went, but it needed "more." More what, I asked? She couldn't say. Just "more." I'm still mulling over that! For ages I thought she meant deeper themes, or more going on in the plot, and I even tried to add in some edgier stuff that another editor then told me didn't fit. But now I'm thinking maybe it just needs to be more vivid, more sensory, more tangible--areas I often struggle with--so it pulls the reader more deeply into the world of the story. Hmm. Part of me wants to work on that, and the other part of me thinks I should write the chapter books because they have simple storylines by necessity, and won't require so much of that elusive "more"! (Not that I think they'd be "easy" to write--just that they might be an easier fit for my natural writing style.)

Now go laugh at my hair pics!