Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Positive & purple

Happy, Happy New Year to all!!

It's resolution time again! I accomplished my primary resolution for 2008--to finish a stranded writing project--when I dusted off my middle grade novel manuscript and completed it. I didn't do as well in organizing my house, but did get more active for at least a while, participating in a race.

I'm sure I'll set various short-term goals in 2009, but instead of having a lot of individual goals to track from New Year's on, I'm setting only one main, overarching New Year's resolution, which is: Focus on the positive.

I don't just mean looking for the silver lining in bad situations. I'm pretty good at that already. I mean that, in nearly every situation, I hope to remind myself, "How can I respond to this in a positive, productive manner?" or "How can I approach this in a positive way?" So, when the kids whine "Mo-om!" for the tenth time in a row and I'd normally snap "What?!" in an exasperated way, I want to remind myself that won't make the situation better. Likewise, when I walk in the door after being out, I want to greet my family instead of immediately complaining about the mess. I want to notice the good things and say "thank you," instead of taking them for granted.

I also mean that I want to focus on the possibilities and things that could go right, instead of letting fear hold me back as I contemplate what could go wrong. When I face a challenge, whether it's revising a novel or organizing my kitchen, I want to replace "I can't do this," "This is too hard," "It'll never work," or "I'm going to fail," with "I can do this," or at least, "I can do some of this, and see what happens from there" "I'll give it a go," and "It might just work."

I hope to focus on the things that will lift me up, and that will lift up others around me. When I'm overwhelmed by the negatives, as I know I will be at times, I don't want to be overly daunted by them, but rather to dwell on the positive steps I can take to make things better and move things in the right direction.

I also expect this to be a purple year! The manuscript I finished in 2008, Purple Panic, is with an agent right now. Whether or not this agent offers to represent me, I plan to market that novel in the new year, so I've been getting into a purple mood. I'm wearing a purple shirt right now, to usher in the new year (I'll add a purple paper tiara or New Year's hat near midnight). I also bought a purple dress and a purple tote bag and even some purple high heels! So, here's to purple, and here's to a positive 2009!

2008 in review

I'll model this after my 2007 in review post, but with a few tweaks.

The year in summary: 2008 was a year of waiting for me and my family, with few real changes in our lives. It was a hard year. It had some bright spots, of course, but I'll be glad to see it go!

Most outstanding experience: The Awesome Austin Writers’ Workshop I attended in June

Some other great experiences: Connecting with old & new friends online; a trip to Galveston in April; several Austin writing events including an SCBWI conference in April and an Editor Day in December; my kids throwing a carnival for me on Mother's Day; going to my former roommate's wedding; seeing my toddler jump for joy most times that he sees me walk into the room

Favorite new people met: A bunch of writers from the Austin children's writing community (see above!)

Scariest experiences: Heavy-duty economic uncertainty; seeing my toddler (a.k.a. the fearless stuntbaby) perform wild physical feats and risk damage to himself and everything in and around our home (daily)

Saddest experiences: My great-uncle passing away; my husband not getting a job we thought was perfect

Most unexpected experiences: Getting a cat; running on purpose; my toddler jumping right into an indoor swimming pool (which also turned out to be unheated, though it was November); becoming a fan of Doctor Who; finding out my husband hadn't seen the 80s teen movie Better Off Dead, when it's one of my favorites and I thought we'd shared that point of reference for the past 17+ years (I did make him watch it after that!)

Favorite movies seen: Once; Juno; Bolt (it was a good year for one-word titles!)

Favorite TV shows: Survivor; Top Chef; Flight of the Conchords; Doctor Who

Favorite things I read:
Several books by writers I met this year (& a few by writers I haven't met); excerpts of unpublished books by writer friends that I can't wait to see in print; several little books & stories my 7-year-old wrote; some great poems my 10-year-old wrote, including a group of haikus for school and a book of "A-Z Christmas Guess-it Poems" he wrote and illustrated for me for Christmas; a request for my manuscript from an agent I queried

Biggest blessings: My family; great classes & teachers for my kids; the generosity of others; the Austin children's writing community

Most impressive accomplishments: Finishing a middle grade novel manuscript; writing a short story that then got published; winning a bunch of games of Word Twist, Scramble, & PathWords (not as many as some of my other writer friends, though!); getting good feedback on my writing; completing a 5-mile race (though I alternated walking & running)

Things I missed most: Like the previous year--sleep; free time; silence; money

Out with the old: After Hurricane Ike hit, we sadly had to bid farewell to many places in and around Galveston, some of which we'd just visited in April

In with the new: A Taco Bueno opened within 30 minutes of our house, when we'd previously had to drive 90 miles to get to one (this also qualifies for the "great experiences" and "most unexpected experiences" categories!); our niece had a baby girl in March; one of our nephews got married; our toddler started Mother's Day Out in the fall (preschool-type thing 2 mornings a week); our cat Pepper was born in April (probably) and came to live with us in June

Song(s) that will remind me of 2008: Anything from the Once soundtrack

Song lyric that sums up the year for me: "Looks like we made it."

Friday, December 19, 2008

Season's Greetings!

Good tidings to you and yours from me and mine!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Alison is alive and well and posting a Friday Five

Surprise--I have not fallen off the face of the earth. Turns out it's not even possible! I am around and even have a Friday Five.

1) There's a new blog in town... Laura's Review Bookshelf, where Laura McCarthy will be reviewing young adult books and interviewing young adult authors. Check it out! I'm especially fond of this blog because I was lucky enough to win a $25 Amazon gift code from Laura's blog comment contest last week, which I just used to buy some Christmas gifts! :-)

2) Last Saturday, I attended Austin SCBWI's Day with an Editor, co-hosted by editor (and middle grade author) Jill Santopolo of HarperCollins and author Cynthia Leitich Smith. Jill and Cynthia critiqued the first three pages of about 30 submitted manuscripts, including mine, in front of about 50 attendees, with a ton of general Q&A time mixed in. It was very informative! We also got written critique comments from other participants. And fortunately, most of the comments I got were positive. :-) There are a few photos from the event on Cynthia's blog (most of the way down the blog post).

3) Today, I had the pleasure of sharing lunch with 15 other Austin-area writers (assuming I counted right) at Central Market--what fun! (Though I was a little daunted when only about 8 of us were still there, and I realized I was the only person at the table without a published book!) Thanks to Liz Garton Scanlon for the great idea. Children's writers are cool people.

4) It actually snowed at my house in the Austin area earlier this week! Unfortunately, it only happened after midnight and was gone the next day, so the kids didn't get to see it, but my husband took a snippet of (dark) video of the snow coming down, and they did find some icy slush left in the morning. The weird thing was, it was unseasonably warm earlier that day--according to one site, there was a high of 81 that day and a low of 31!

5) My 22-month old is currently playing around me like a whirling, Looney Tunes-style Tasmanian devil, and let me tell you, if anyone needs a stuntbaby, I've got the child for you! This kid is fearless, has amazing balance, loves running, loves climbing onto everything, and loves throwing himself off things or even just onto the ground--or onto his brothers--with full force. He was just trying to do a somersault (which he can do) down his brother's back while his brother was kneeling, and happily landed on his head on the ground. If he never performs an aerial skateboard, snowboard, or dirt bike trick (or perhaps joins the circus), I'll be surprised! Also, my fondness for children's books aside, Goodnight Moon has nothing on his enthusiastic new "Bye-bye, Moooooo!" yelled out to the moon when we're driving down the street or coming into the house on a moonlit night like tonight!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Got children's books?

Got children's books? Want to buy some as holiday gifts? This article by Austin author Lindsey Lane lists some of the many children's books by Austin authors, and could serve as a good shopping list!

Another Austin Treasure: Children's Book Authors
                   from The Good Life magazine

And to her list, let me also add Philip Yates' newest picture book, A Pirate's Night Before Christmas, April Lurie's 3 young adult novels, Dancing in the Streets of Brooklyn, The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine, and Boyfriends, Brothers, and Other Criminal Minds, and Lila Guzman's many books including George Lopez: King of Latino Comedy and Lorenzo and the Pirate.

The article also didn't mention authors whose books aren't out yet, but Chris Barton's upcoming books, such as his non-fiction book The Day-Glo Brothers (coming out July 2009) will soon be worth a look! And Christy Stallop illustrated K. Pluta's adorable picture book, There's a Yak in My Bed!, from Austin's own Blooming Tree Press.

And come to think of it, also check out the other books from Austin's Blooming Tree Press, including From the Desk of Septina Nash: The Penguins of Doom by Greg Fishbone, and Summer Shorts, a fun anthology of summer-themed stories and poems for readers aged 7-12, including a story and poem by well as other selections and art by some of my online friends!

P.S. It's completely unrelated, but my former theatre buddy from 8th-10th grades, Shelley Seale, also has a local business profile in the same issue of The Good Life!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

After the candy rush

Halloween was yesterday, so today must be...Christmas! Well, at least that's what the stores seem to think. (I was in Hallmark yesterday and heard a woman say, "Christmas is sneaking up on us this year!" And I thought,'s actually 2 months away, also known as 1/6 of the year. And Hallmark has had ornaments since July, so it hasn't snuck up on them!)

Around here, though, it's Candy Day. Actually, we've been rationing it, but there's still candy everywhere I look. I have never seen so much as my kids got from trick-or-treating this year! (The older boys kept going with their friends' family after the rest of us came home, so they went longer than we normally would.)

Anyway, my 10-year-old was Indiana Jones. I couldn't find a dark jacket for him, but I think he looked pretty good.

My 7-year-old was Prince Caspian...we haven't even seen the movie, so we mainly thought of him as a knight. I saw the costume on sale and he liked it. (My older son and I have read the book, but he hasn't yet.)

So, who would win in a fight between a whip, a sword, and...a bear?

My 21-month-old went trick-or-treating in the Pooh costume I bought when his oldest brother was a toddler:

But because I'm such a sucker for baby costumes, I couldn't help buying him a monkey costume at a consigment store for his school shown in my previous post...and also a Dumbo costume at Goodwill for $5 new with the original tags still on.

Meanwhile, our cat would like everyone to know she is NOT amused to wear a chicken hat!

And meanwhile I am not doing NaNoWriMo this year. Or at least I didn't sign up. The main reason is that you're supposed to start a new novel for NaNo, but I still need to finish last year's NaNo novel! And yet...if I don't actually finish it, I might as well have started a new one, you know? Because I do have an idea... so, I need to get to work on my old novel! But this weekend I have to write a freelance article, so that comes first.

Happy November to all!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Big day for little book (and candy) lovers

After we took our little monkey to his preschool festival yesterday...

I took my bigger monkeys kids to BookPeople in downtown Austin to attend PJ Hoover's book release party for her middle grade adventure novel, The Emerald Tablet. Here they are with PJ as she signed our copy of the book.

On the right, my 10-year-old is holding (upside down) a guide to the Lemurian alphabet from PJ's book. He did a project on all types of hieroglyphics last year, so this should be right up his alley. On the left, my 7-year-old is holding the cool pumpkin bucket his big brother won for correctly remembering PJ's job before she was a writer (designing computer chips; and since I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up as an electrical engineer himself someday, I'm not surprised he remembered that!).

The bucket contained an Emerald Tablet t-shirt, a couple of glow sticks to stay up reading it, a laminated bookmark, a pencil, and a cool eye-shaped spiral notebook. There may have been more, but I'm not sure because it was buried under the candy my kids grabbed from PJ's generous bucket of candy for the kids! Both kids also got miniature pumpkin or cauldron buckets adorned with laminated Emerald Tablet keytags and filled with candy corn. What a haul! (These kids were spoiled to bits yesterday, between that and the preschool festival, where candy was also plentiful, my 10-year-old ate two slices of pie, and my 7-year-old kept playing a 25-cent game that gave stuffed animals as prizes every time, eek!)

PJ also has a detailed account of the event on her blog--she says over 150 people showed up! It was quite a crowd, and her presentation was great.

Though best, of course, was getting a copy of The Emerald Tablet. We were lucky enough to get one of the last couple of copies before they all sold out...before the event even started! I knew my kids would want to read it right away, and sure enough, Ryan started reading it on the way home and we had to take it out of his hands at dinnertime, because he didn't want to give it up to eat! Good job, PJ. :-) With luck, I will get to read it someday, too!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Writers, writers everywhere

This week my 2nd grader brought home a book from school--Cork & Fuzz: Good Sports by Dori Chaconas. I got all excited, and said, "I know her! She sent us a toy Wienermobile!" My son was slightly amused and interested to remember the toy Wienermobile & other books we'd read by her, but then added that he had just picked it because it looked like a good book. :-) I realized I do this all the time and must sound odd to other people walking past us at the library, bookstore, or school book fairs: "Hey, I know her!" "I know him!" "We already have a signed copy of that at home!" And I know my kids have told their teachers their mom is a writer (who somehow has no books). They probably all think I'm crazy...!

Speaking of writers I know, last week I went to a great Austin Youth Lit social at the fabulous home of Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith. It was fun to mingle with everyone and to meet The Gollywhopper Games author Jody Feldman, who was visiting Austin from St. Louis. Cynthia blogged about the evening...and yes, I'm the one in the vampire cape and bunny ears while the majority of guests were dressed normally! (Just to make it clear, that's not how I normally dress. ;-) )  (P.S. Apologies to Shana Burg for not trying her hard-won caramel apples!)

I also joined JacketFlap yesterday, if any other writers there want to friend me.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Busy week

Friday we had a date night (hooray), and saw Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, our first movie to see in a theater together since our 20-month-old was a tiny sleeping thing in a carrier, and our first without kids since before he was born. Even though I write YA, and liked Nick & Norah pretty well, I have to admit it made me feel old, because I was viewing a lot of it from a parental perspective, wondering where these kids' parents were while they were staying out all night long in New York City, and worrying about them enabling their drunk friend, putting themselves and other people in danger (esp. with their driving), etc.! Now technically, I did stay out until 4 or 5 am all the time even when I was just 17 and 18, and I found myself in stupid and potentially dangerous situations on more than one occasion, but I was in college at the time and these were supposed to be high schoolers, so I often found myself feeling concerned for them more than I was rooting for them. I think I have just entered old fogeydom. (Also, I always like Michael Cera, many movies or TV shows really need the same character? He wasn't playing the Nick character from the book, he was himself as we've always seen him.)

Saturday, as the world should know, the Texas Longhorns beat Oklahoma in football, and are now ranked the #1 college team...Hook 'em Horns! Not that I saw much of it--I spent most of my time shopping for necessities, and my son went to a birthday party, and my poor husband had to record the game and watch it spread out over about 6 hours.

Sunday morning, I participated in a 5-mile walk/run. I was planning to walk the whole thing, not being a runner. My main goal was not to come in last, and I was really hoping to beat 1 hour and 12 minutes, which was the time of the 200th finisher in the last results I could find online for this race. But even though that was a very modest goal, I'd never actually gone that fast before, nor had I ever gone even 4 miles at once in my life before race day. The previous night, I only got 3-4 hours of sleep, and I was having something like sinus trouble or allergies, and had only walked once the week of the race! So I wasn't too prepared, BUT adrenaline and unexpected competitiveness got me to run for probably at least a half mile of it, and I ended up coming in number 217 out of 239 people, with a time of 1:08:22, which was better than I thought I could do, so I was happy. :-) I even found myself thinking, "Hey, if that was 5 miles, a 5K would be even easier!" and looking into 5Ks... However, the knee I fell and twisted a week before the race is in pain now and I've been having to wear an Ace bandage some, so I can't get too into that idea right now.

Later on Sunday, I took my 10-year-old and 7-year-old to see the City of Ember movie. (And wow, is it ever expensive to see a movie these days! Even for a matinee, to get 3 tickets, a popcorn, a candy, and 3 drinks was $38.50!) We liked it. The City of Ember is my older son's favorite book, and he said he'd rate the movie 3.5 stars out of 5, but would rate the book a 5. The poor kid had to have painful dental work today and couldn't go back to school, so he used the day to re-read the book. My younger son also says he wants to read it now, though I kind of doubt he can/will. I haven't read it myself for 4 years. From what I remember, I thought the book was better than the movie, but both were good. The city in the movie looked very much like I pictured it when reading.  I'm shocked the movie only got 45% positive reviews (as aggregated by the Rotten Tomatoes site), but then, I can't imagine what it would be like to see it without having read the book. It could be that much of what I liked about it came from my prior knowledge of it and the fuller story. I did think it wasn't quite as exciting as it should be and that the ending came too easily--my son said the movie left out some of the most exciting parts of the book, and neither of us thought the new additions made it any better. I don't have much patience with the reviews that question the whole idea of a dystopian movie aimed at children (and really, it's about overcoming that, isn't it?), but I agree with the ones that said the movie seemed to lack urgency.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Zoo-ming thoughts

We went to the Austin Zoo this weekend, a small zoo & animal sanctuary. It immediately sent a lot of potential poem or picture book lines scurrying through my head, where they've been trotting around for a couple of days (apparently a hereditary trait, as my 10-year-old son has been making up haikus about everything lately; he made up several about the magic club meeting we went to last night). I'm pretty sure I don't need new picture book ideas until I finish other projects, but it reminded me I should get back to my languishing zoo-themed picture book manuscript. I started it years ago and got positive comments from critiquers, but it remains a bunch of good lines in search of a story arc. I'm trying to think, think, think on that one right now!

As we were leaving the zoo, I was thinking about several things at once and managed to fall off a porch I hadn't noticed was roped off! Unfortunately, my digital camera was in my hand with the lens open at the time, and it broke. I do have an older camera that still works, but can't believe I broke my good one. But at least I didn't break my leg or something. I did twist my knee slightly, so I hope that doesn't affect me in the 5-mile walk/run I'm signed up for this weekend!

Also, see if you can tell which of these photos was taken at the zoo, and which was taken at home. Is my 1-year-old a little monkey or what?


Thursday, October 02, 2008

Thankful Thursday

1) I am thankful we are still alive and, at least for today, have a little money in the bank.

2) I am thankful that an agent requested my manuscript. :)

3) I am thankful that my oldest son, a 4th grader, maxed out the reading level test at school, reading at the level expected for a high school graduate!

4) I am thankful that my middle son, a 2nd grader, has been writing up a storm just for fun, and designed some adorable bookmarks about reading for a bookmark contest at school...even though he claims not to like reading himself.

5) I am thankful my 1-year-old daredevil is still alive and adorable even though he already sets up and performs wild jumping stunts for himself and tries to lie down in parking lots...and that he touches his index finger to mine in a loving gesture nearly every time I say "I love you," even if he's half-asleep.

6) I am thankful I got my garden article turned in earlier this week.

7) I am thankful I managed to walk 3.5 miles today, even though it was so hot I thought I wasn't going to make it.

8) I am thankful I had delicious bean tacos today, even though they probably had the fat content of a small whale.

9) I am thankful my computer is working fine again, after being almost unusable earlier in the week (we made some software changes and deleted some stuff, so the hard drive is no longer basically full).

10) I am thankful that, after writing 9 other things I'm thankful for, I realized I might as well stop now because I'm thankful for so many things I could go on all day.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sweet 17

I've been married 17 years today!

Now, I certainly remember turning 17. I felt like I was pretty much grown up then. In fact, I was already out of high school, and heading off to college within a month. I don't even feel all that different now than I did at 17. So...could my marriage really be that old? Old enough to have gone through a whole life's worth experiences for a 17-year-old, as long as the time from my birth until I left home for college? Wow! It just doesn't feel that long!

We had access to a "parents' night out" Friday night, with childcare for all 3 kids, so we celebrated that night with dinner out and then a long walk in a pretty park, and we talked for 2 straight hours about our memories of the past 17 years, year by year. It was pretty cool. And in 2 days, it'll be 19 years since our first "date"!

Here we are 17 years ago, and here we are 2 days ago. Happy Anniversary to us! ;-)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hang in there, Galveston!

Wow, the fallout from Ike already looks scary on TV even 10 hours or so before expected landfall! I sure hope Galveston and all the other affected areas will make it through! I've gone to Galveston nearly every summer since childhood so it has a special place in my heart, and it kills me to see the water so high already. Some of those wooden houses and buildings on stilts look like they could be just sticks by this time tomorrow.... :( For anyone out there who is in the path of the storm, stay safe and get out if you need to! Hoping it spares all my friends in Houston, too.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The good, the bad, and the not-sure-yet

1. The Good - I got my contributor's copy of The First Line literary magazine today, with my story "Mom's Five-Star Good-Bye" in it. Also a check for the story. Oh yeah, baby!

2. The Bad - Because of the potentially scary weather Hurricane Ike is predicted to usher in, our Day with an Editor Saturday has been cancelled. :-( Of the many, many SCBWI events I've attended over the past 10+ years, this may be the one I was looking forward to the most! So, I very much don't like Ike. Though with luck the event will be rescheduled soon.

3. The Not-Sure-Yet - My husband had a job interview at the library today and thinks it went well (he did tons of research and preparation the week leading up to it), but they still have other candidates to interview, so who knows? The job seems perfect for him, and he for it, so if he does get it, this will replace #1 - The Good, and if he doesn't, it will replace #2 as The Bad!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hoping my luck holds out!

What a lucky week so far! Let's hope the pattern holds...

Alison Dellenbaugh has rocks in her house!
I won second prize in Nancy Viau's contest promoting her new middle grade novel, Samantha Hansen Has Rocks in Her Head! (See her fun blog entry naming the winners.) I could choose either a cool pail full of goodies like pencils and rock candy, or a rock collection in an egg carton. I let my kids choose, and being 2nd and 4th-grade boys who love rocks, they chose the rock collection (though it was very close and they would have loved the pail, too!). The rocks came today, and my boys were quite excited. They were also excited to find some rock candy lollipops in the box! I think this will be a great thing to take to my 4th grade son's class when they study rocks and minerals later this year, along with a copy of Nancy's book, which will be perfect for this age group!

Here's the new treasure. Also note 2 of the lollipops are already gone! :-)

How deep is my luck?
My luck is so deep that I also won Jama Rattigan's cool blog contest earlier this week to guess her and her husband's song in honor of their anniversary! Because it was their 30th anniversary, she sent me a $30 gift code for Amazon!! And in case you couldn't guess it from the heading above, their song is "How Deep is Your Love?" by The Bee Gees.

I'm thinking I will probably use the Amazon gift code from Jama to buy a copy of Nancy's book! (Among other things.) So, these wins rock all around. (Rock & disco, that is!)

Just thinking about tomorrow...
Tomorrow my husband has a job interview at the local library, and we're convinced that this would be an ideal job for him, and that he would be an ideal candidate for the job! So, here's hoping everything keeps going right tomorrow!

Take a hike, Ike!
Finally, I'm slated to go to our SCBWI Day with an Editor on Saturday, and the abbreviated forecast for Saturday on the Austin newspaper's homepage just says, "Hurricane Ike possible." Eek! How can we get a hurricane when we're hundreds of miles inland?! Some forecasts are predicting 60-70 mph winds, 6-8 inches of rain, and possible tornados! No, no, I don't like Ike! I do not like it in my town, I do not like it swirling 'round. Ike, Ike, go away, let us have a perfect day!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Things I love

Some random things I love, just because I'm feeling inspired. A very incomplete list!

Chocolate cake
Strawberry sorbet
Fruit tarts
Wide open spaces
My baby's soft, chubby cheeks and dimpled hands
Words and letters
Word games
The Internet
Going to movies
British comedy
The smell of rain
My iPod
Sleeping in
Checking the mail
Grab bags, goody bags, & other small surprises
Lemon Pepsi
Lemon creme cookies & vanilla creme cookies
Egg salad
Fried eggs
Funky forks and spoons; also sporks
Getting paid to write
Clouds against the blue sky
Improv acting
Winning contests
Frosted glass
Cobalt blue glass
Vellum paper
Porch swings
Reconnecting with old friends
Connecting with new friends
Ruins of old buildings
Intricate patterns
Art with texture
Good design
Old typewriter keys
New office supplies
French onion soup
Tapirs, echidnas, hedgehogs, anteaters, elephants, and giraffes
The moon
Cool chairs
Indiglo watches
Renaissance-style music
Theme parties
Silver or pewter-colored leather (or faux-leather)
The smell of apples
Autumn air
Bowling (rarely do it, but always enjoy it)
Songs with the sound of rain or storms in them
Making progress
Spirals and swirls
The sound of my toddler "singing"

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Weekend wrap-up

Yesterday I went to an Austin SCBWI meeting and heard Helen Hemphill give a great talk on plotting novels. Very helpful info! She's also leading a plot workshop at the Highlights Foundation next month. It was quite a packed-out meeting, too, with more than 70 writers in attendance! While there, I picked up a packet of the 34 manuscripts that are going to be critiqued at next month's Editor Day. 

Skimming all the manuscripts today gave me pause, as did thinking about those 70 people at one little children's writing meeting in one city... I mean, there's a lot of competition out there! There are a lot of good writers with a lot of good manuscripts, and I just hope, hope, hope there's at least a little room left for my books! Some days I get so discouraged. I have been at this so long, and it's hard to believe it will ever happen for me. And yet...for some reason, I don't really know why, I keep having this little thought in the back of my mind that this is going to be my year. I don't know if my mind means this calendar year, or just the next one-year period, but it's a nagging hope that things are going to start going my way, and I hope it's right! 

Speaking of years, I've been a mom for 10 of them now. My oldest son hit double digits yesterday. We had a nice celebration at a mini-golf and arcade place with his two closest friends. Two mini-disasters (a storebought cake on which the frosting literally fell off, and my middle son forgetting to wear shoes to the arcade!) were handled without much stress, and everything else went well--my son thanked us several times for a wonderful birthday!

Now, one more week until school starts!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I made a sale!

I just got an e-mail from The First Line. They are buying my story "Mom's Five-Star Good-Bye"! Hooray! The magazine is for adults, but the story has a teen narrator and a YA feel. And it will be out this fall!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Write night

Around 30 Austin-area children's and young adult writers gathered for a Happy Hour Wednesday at Waterloo Ice House. Unfortunately, I didn't even get a chance to say hi to everyone who showed up, but everyone I did speak to was great company! As usual. Thanks to Cynthia Leitich Smith for organizing the event, and Jennifer Ziegler for finding a good location for the meeting.

Here are a few pictures, and I know P.J. Hoover's blog has a few more.

Donna Bratton looks quite animated as she talks to P.J. Hoover and Madeline Smoot.

This blurry pic shows Brian Anderson speaking to Jennifer Ziegler. Just behind them is Debbie Gonzales.

Lindsey Lane, Debbie Gonzales, and Mark Mitchell were remarkably patient with my attempts to get a decent shot of them.

A very bright-looking Shana Burg (and of course she is bright!) hanging with Madeline Smoot near the end of the evening.

Recent Austin transplant (convert?) Margo Rabb with Varian Johnson, winner of this year's Alumni Award from the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program (congrats, Mr. V!)

And for the record, please note that organizer Cynthia Leitich Smith's absence from the photographs posted does not necessarily have anything to do with the fact that she writes books about vampires, who apparently do not show up in photographs. ;-)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Happy things

1) My toddler did great at the Parents' Night Out the other night! He even seemed to like it! He was there 4 hours, and the worker was sad to see him go because she said he had such a great laugh!

2) Because of that, we got to go on a real date, without kids, for the first time in 18 months!!! (Technically the second time, but the first time we couldn't stay long and he did cry nearly the whole time we were gone.) He picked up some kind of stomach bug from the childcare that made him get sick about 20 times over the next couple of days...but it was worth it!

3) My husband finally finished reading my midgrade novel manuscript last week, and told me, "I don't see any reason why we won't be seeing this on the shelf at Barnes & Noble soon." :-)

4) To my amazement, Jennifer Ziegler's daughter and son both read and liked the aforementioned manuscript when I gave it to Jennifer to read, and her daughter, who is in the target age group, said it was her "favorite book ever"!! That was so unexpected and wonderful, it probably made it worth it to write the book even if it never gets published!

5) I get to look at this every day.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday six

Six things on Friday, because alliteration is overrated.

1) My baby turned 18 months old yesterday and learned to jump off the ground with both feet in the evening! My other kids didn't learn that until around 2. This one keeps going, and going, and going... We took him to the children's museum during the day, and at night we had a mini half-birthday celebration for him with cookies he didn't care for and popsicles he definitely did.

The very happy half-birthday boy:

2) The older boys went to art camp this week at an ice rink. I went ice skating with them on Wednesday. It was fun, and I especially enjoyed the fact that skating rink music hasn't changed much since my heyday of skating in the 80s! I remember hearing The Doors, Journey, Howard Jones, and other stuff from the 80s or earlier. So, I may have liked it more than my kids did.

Blurry pic of me on ice, taken by my 7-year-old:

3. I need to finish my monthly garden article and turn it in. It's one of those months where I have so much great information, it's going to be really hard to make the article short enough!

4. We're trying a "Parents' Night Out" again tonight for all 3 boys. Last time we tried one, we were called to pick up the baby because he wouldn't stop crying. This was the first week he's ever played in the church nursery instead of crying or sleeping the whole time--still cried a lot, but played in the middle--so maybe it'll work, but I'm not getting my hopes up too high!

5. Our computer broke this week! Just what we need when we can't afford to replace it. It says it can't find the operating system--yikes. That's the family computer. I still have this laptop (with almost no hard drive space available...), so my husband is going to remove the hard drive from the other computer and hook it up to my laptop to see if the data is still accessible. I sure hope so, because it has our whole lives on, documents, music and audio clips, etc., going back about 13 years! A lot of it has been backed up, but I think we'd lose the last few months' worth.

6. I'm going to Austin SCBWI's "Day with an Editor" in September. I got in while there were still critique slots available--hooray! I think the whole thing is probably sold out by now.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Time management, tongue tattoos, & video

This morning I went to Austin SCBWI's monthly meeting to see P.J. Hoover talk about goal-setting and time management. She gave out the coolest thing after the meeting: personalized "tongue tattoo" fruit roll-ups with the name of her upcoming book, The Emerald Tablet, printed on them, along with her name and Oct. 2008 (the release date)! A friend of hers won personalized fruit roll-ups and gave them to her. Too fun!

Here are P.J. Hoover and author/illustrator Mark Mitchell showing off one of the fruit-roll ups. Unfortunately, the color in this photo is awful so you can't really see it! I don't think the fruit roll-up, which was reddish pink, was really the color of her shirt, which was somewhat orange. Oh well! P.J. (Tricia) and Cynthia Leitich Smith took close-up pics of a roll-up and will probably post those later. 

In other news, I pushed past my inexplicable bias against online videos and watched the much-ballyhooed Dr. Horrible videos last night... which turned out to be right up my alley. 

Then, probably because of that breakthrough in online video watching and my memory earlier this week of making lots of cassette recordings as a kid, it occurred to me that my digital camera will take short videos. I've used it many times to take family videos, but I just realized that I could do other things with it. So while my husband has been out swimming with all 3 boys this afternoon, I've been using it to practice reading my manuscripts out loud, and even doing some silly voices, singing, and all kinds of goofy stuff just to practice public speaking, etc.

Why didn't we have stuff like this when I was in theatre??? Okay, a couple of families had their own video cameras, but it wasn't common. They were new then, and I didn't really get to use them. I even bought a strange video camera in college so I could make my own short films, but it was bulky and didn't work with regular lighting, so it really wasn't useful. But if I could have taped myself rehearsing or working on stuff years ago, I think it could have made a big difference! Interesting... I can't see myself doing video blogs because (a) I don't really like them, and (b) I write partly because I'm more comfortable communicating in writing than in person. But every time I can see things in a different way, it inspires me!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Coming back to Earth

I still haven't come down from the high of the Awesome Austin Writers' Workshop this past weekend (see my entry about that), or recovered completely from my whole insane past week, which also included finishing a novel draft, getting my first-ever cat, getting major car repairs, and doing a whirlwind job of interviewing people and writing my monthly freelance column when the deadline got pushed up.

Yesterday, I never got out of my pajamas! I didn't sleep all day, but didn't leave the house, either (though my kitty cat went to the vet with my husband). Today, I'm slowly trying to get back to Earth. My house looks like a few clutter bombs exploded, so there's that to take care of, plus my older kids decided to share a room and we need to rearrange stuff in a few rooms because of it. But I also need to determine what's next on the writing front.

On the reading front, I can finally start reading The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, which I bought a few weeks ago and haven't had a moment to read. I also want to run out and get the new books of some of my fellow workshop participants, especially A Thousand Never Evers by Shana Burg and How NOT to Be Popular by Jennifer Ziegler.

As for writing, I have this newly drafted midgrade novel I need to figure out what to do with. With luck I can get it critiqued and get back to that later. Then I'm only 20,000 words into the novel manuscript I had critiqued at the workshop, and people there were after me to finish it (yikes, pressure!). I also have my old YA, which desperately needs a revision. My original idea was to work on the old YA next, to get a better handle on the YA form with something that's more complete, then come back to the new one and apply what I learned. But after the workshop, the characters from my new one are calling out to have their stories told!

Oh yeah, and a few photos from the workshop that I haven't already seen on other blogs...these are courtesy of Cynthia Leitich Smith. Also note Liz Garton Scanlon and Jennifer Ziegler have now blogged about this, too.

L to R: Liz Garton Scanlon, me, April Lurie (in the back row), Erin Edwards, Philip Yates

(I'm in the red again. That's Chris Barton in the center, Carmen Oliver with her back to the camera, and Julie Lake in the very back. Jennifer Ziegler is barely visible on the right.)

L to R: me, Jane Peddicord, Chris Barton (in back), Debbie Gonzales (in back), Greg Leitich Smith

L to R: Brian Anderson (in back), me, Philip Yates, April Lurie (behind Philip), Varian Johnson, Varsha Bajaj, Lindsey Lane

(And don't forget to read my previous AAWW post if you missed it.)

Monday, June 30, 2008

Awesome workshop

I spent three intense but wonderful days this past weekend at the "Awesome Austin Writers' Workshop" hosted by Cynthia Leitich Smith and Greg Leitich Smith, mostly at their home with the exception of a party at Helen Hemphill's fabulous downtown Austin loft. This involved 25 to 30 writers, in-depth critiques, and excellent food and conversation. I haven't managed to process the whole experience yet, but it definitely lived up to the "Awesome" in its name!

But it wasn't just awesome; for me, I think it even bordered on life-changing. If I look at myself at the protagonist of my own life and try to figure out what I want, what my underlying character goals and motivation are...I think I got some of those things this weekend. While I didn't achieve my external goal of getting a book published, I experienced payoff in some of the areas that make me want to be a writer in the first place. I felt that I was heard. I felt that I was validated. I felt that I was taken seriously. I learned a lot. And the creative charge was amazing!

In my teen years, I was very involved with theatre. I loved the process of acting, bringing new worlds and characters to life (similar to what I still do in writing), but much of what I loved about theatre--the thing that kept me hanging around even when I didn't get a part--was the energy and atmosphere of being surrounded by creative people, bouncing their creativity off of one another, expanding their horizons together, and challenging each other to do excellent work. I have felt a taste of that creative energy again at writing conferences and writing retreats, and even to an extent in my last job as a technical writer, surrounded by other writers, most of whom had their own creative aspirations outside the job. But in my job, we had interesting people focusing on largely boring work. We could spice it up with creative approaches, but I still couldn't get too excited about hardware driver code. At this weekend's workshop, we had interesting people focusing on interesting work, really delving into it and inspiring one another to grow and see things in new ways. This meeting of minds and ideas in the framework of a vibrant and supportive writing community was far more intoxicating than the wine served at the party portion.

At the end of the weekend, Jane Peddicord described Cynthia and Greg as being like fairy godparents for the Austin children's writing scene, and indeed the experience they helped create for us was magical! But I'm hoping that, unlike Cinderella's pumpkin/stagecoach magic, the magic from this won't wear off anytime soon. I feel that I ended the weekend in a different--and better--place than I started it in. It has motivated me to dive back into my own writing with new perspective, and I'm hoping the friendships I made there will continue.

Some of the other participants have also blogged about this: see entries by Greg Leitich Smith, PJ Hoover, and Jo Whittemore. I also found myself in the photos on Greg & PJ's blogs!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Draft done!!

I am pleased to announce I finally have a draft of my midgrade novel, Purple Panic, completed, a whopping 5 years, 7 months, and 12 days after starting it! (Scroll down to my November 10, 2002 blog entry to see when I wrote about starting it!). The current manuscript is 38,488 words long, a far cry from the short chapter book I thought it might be when I started it. I won't be sure what I think of it until it has time to sit for a while, but it's at least to a point where I can let my 9-year-old finish reading it! And now I have to print out all 144 pages.

Meanwhile, I desperately need to get a freelance article done but haven't managed to talk to my interview subject yet, and I'm trying to read and form coherent thoughts on nearly 300 pages of manuscripts for a workshop in a few days. Not to mention dealing with a crazy toddler and a two stir-crazy boys who are home for the summer! They start Magic Camp in two weeks, but for now, it's full days of wall-to-wall kids. (Indeed they do run from wall to wall and back again, leaping and jumping and crashing into things and each other with more energy than I can handle!)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Cool clusters

I've seen these on other people's blogs the past few days, and I find them fascinating! These are word clusters of some of the most commonly used words in my manuscripts. The Wordle application generates them in randomly chosen styles, fonts, and colors.

Click on them to see them larger!

Here's one from the midgrade I'm almost done drafting right now, Purple Panic, which is obviously about chewing gum! This one seems perfect to me.

And here's my favorite, from my YA-in-progress, End of the Line. This was the first one I generated, and as soon as I saw it I gasped because it looked just like something my protagonist might doodle about her own story. (I've noticed the protagonist's name doesn't appear in it, though!)

For my older YA novel that's the closest to being done, Chasing Monday, I had it generate a few versions with different fonts and colors, but I think this rather fish-shaped one is my favorite of the ones I saved. Clearly, my protagonist is a little self-absorbed...but since it's basically about her figuring out who she is, I guess "I'm" is a decent word to be the most common.

Then I even made some for the picture book manuscripts I just submitted to the mustard writing contest! Think the word "mustard" is prominent enough? It's certainly more prominent than in a typical manuscript!

And finally I did one for my abandoned NaNoWriMo novel from 2006, which I only got about 7,000 words into. This almost makes me want to go back to the manuscript!

I did a few others besides those, but most of them didn't seem worth saving.

Oh no, my template!!

I just accidentally overwrote my highly customized Blogger template, which made my blog look like part of my website. It had tons of custom images and my own navigation bar, and made everything look seamless...and now it is gone, gone, gone! I don't even have a copy of it or a printout of it! I have no idea how to modify the new generation of Blogger templates the way I had modified that one years ago, now that I've accidentally migrated to the newer Blogger platform, where everything seems to use more complicated scripts. Argh!! It may be time to retire this blog and replace it with the one I use more often, anyway... but I love the history of this one since it goes back to July 2001! I can't believe I didn't save the old template at all, but of course, I didn't realize I was about to lose it or I would have.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


I sat down to write on my midgrade novel today, and can't believe I ended up writing 5,408 words! I didn't even mean for it to get that much longer at all! It's now at 37,308 words. It's mostly finished, but longer than I wanted it to be, and it still needs a wrap-up scene, which could probably be just a thousand words long or so. I also think I made a plot misstep today, which I'll have to rethink, so I may have to revise the way things go down in the section I wrote today.

The whole manuscript has gotten sloppier and sloppier since I started working on it again this spring, and I've dropped entire characters, etc., that I didn't mean to drop, just because I didn't keep going back to previous sections to get their names and couldn't really remember them or how they fit in. I need to add several characters back in. I won't feel like I'm done with a draft until I actually write a final scene for it, but wow, I did get pretty far and I wrote some stuff today that I really liked! Now I am tired.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

No more pencils, no more books? Not quite!

In 4 minutes, my kids get out of school for the summer. I'm not exactly crazy about this, but at least homework crises will be over for a while!

As for me, I originally set a goal to be done with a draft of my midgrade novel by June 11. I thought I was going to surpass that goal and be done on Memorial Day weekend, but busyness got in the way, and now I haven't written on it in over a week. I tried at the library a couple of days ago, but got nowhere with it. I feel like I've been knocked off my horse and can't figure out how to get back on. But June 11 is still 6 days away, and our busyness is slowing down with school ending, so I'm hoping to get back on that horse within a day or two and make it to the finish line by my goal!

And speaking of my kids and writing, the week before last I helped my older son submit a haiku he wrote to the "Your Own Pages" section of Highlights magazine. When I was a kid, I very much wanted to submit something to a kids' or teen magazine (I remember perusing the readers' writing sections of Cricket and Seventeen longingly over the years), but never got around to sending anything. So I felt good about helping him get this sent off, whether they choose to publish it or not! Though actually, he was already published in our local SCBWI newsletter at the age of 3. ;-)

P.S. Wasn't Alice Cooper clever to write that "School's Out" song that radio stations have been compelled to play every May & June for years afterwards, even 36 years later? And it runs through my head at the end of the school year whether I want it to or not!

P.P.S. And speaking of the end of school, we finished paying off our student loans yesterday! Nearly 11 years after my husband got out of grad school... It was pretty anti-climactic since the debt has been low for a while, but still felt good to pay something off!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Pausing for breath...

I am thrilled that my monthly freelance article is coming together as well as it is this month. It was nearly painless getting the information. I didn't get writer's block like I did the previous two months (which probably has to do with all the other writing I've been doing lately). And all 7 businesses I requested photos from (the worst part of this gig) got back to me right away! I still don't have all the photos, and not all the photos they sent were good ones, but I have most of what I need to send, and it's pretty much ready to go, with a day to spare. Whew!

In my novel writing, I'm in a weird place. I pushed past a block and finally drafted a couple of scenes about what happens after the main character and her friend make up. I was wondering how to maintain tension when it looked (falsely) like things were mostly resolved, and finally decided that my first-person narrator could just come right out and forecast upcoming disaster. It was kind of a "duh" moment. But then, lying in bed a couple of nights ago, I had a much bigger "duh" moment when I realized I had completely dropped a big plot thread! Just a couple of scenes ago, the MC gave away a secret she'd been protecting for probably half the book. And then I wrote more scenes that didn't address that at all, and I didn't give it any consequences. So now I have to figure out what to do with the scenes I wrote after that, at least one of which I rather like, and how to make it all come back to bite her! I just can't believe I forgot about that when I was writing.

And's almost out, eek! But between end-of-the-year conferences, end-of-the-year parties, Field Day, and the 3rd grade Living History Museum tomorrow, I have to be at the school so much there's hardly any time left to get stuff done without the kids around! (Not that I'm ever without my insane 16-month-old, who, among other zany and heart-attack-inducing things, tried to jump off of a kids' picnic table this week--I caught his head about 3 inches from hitting concrete! He is fearless, endlessly active, and way too physically adept for the amount of sense he has!)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

At least I don't need a plot to blog...

I'm up to 25,482 words in my midgrade manuscript. I anticipate the whole thing will be around 30,000 words or a little more (probably more, as long-winded as I am), so I'm definitely closing in on it! But the plot, which has given me so many fits that I let the whole manuscript sit for years, is giving me more even now. Why can't this be easy?! Also, why would I or anyone else do it? Sometimes I think I'm crazy even to try to write a book!

Friday, May 23, 2008

More progress

2146 new words! I worry that my pacing is all wrong, but I'm still happy I'm making progress!

Thursday, May 22, 2008


My husband gave me a wonderful secretary desk for Christmas, which I'd already wanted for over a year at that point. Well, two of the legs broke off as it was being carried upstairs, so in all that time, I still haven't had a desk to use. I've only had my lap, or desks and tables at libraries and cafes. The furniture store ordered replacement legs for us at no cost, but they didn't come in until today!!! So, I finally have a desk of my own!!!

We set it up in the bedroom, which I thought was an imperfect solution, since it's not necessarily very private, not like my very own office. I also wanted it in a certain corner, but there wasn't room so we put it against a different wall. But I'd forgotten I mainly bought this house for the big bedroom windows in the first place, and having my desk right by the windows is so lovely! I love it! It reminds me very much of an office setup I saw in a writing course ad once, which stuck in my mind forever as an ideal-looking office.


The pictures are deceiving because they don't show the clutter, toys, etc., in the rest of the room, so it's not really as clean and spare as it looks--but doesn't it look like a nice place to write?! Also, I may have to take out the movable section of drawers that's behind the computer in the picture and put them on top of the desk so it's taller, because otherwise I can't close the desk with my computer on it. We'll see. The drawers may also prove strictly decorative, since anything I put in them will be grabbed by a crazy toddler! But still, I have my desk, and already wrote 1644 new words at it!

I'm happy with my 1644 new words. They surprised me. I wrote a scene that probably shouldn't be that long, and didn't even go as far into the story as I meant it to. It also ended with a twist that didn't fit my plans. And I'm not sure if I'll keep it going in that direction or not, but it made me clap my hands when I wrote it, and just may help things fall into place. Yippee. Writing can actually be fun. And I finally have a desk!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Writing by the numbers

1.5 hours at the library
1 midgrade manuscript
465 new words of text
574 new words of notes!

(They're pretty helpful notes this time, so I think things should go easier from here on out...)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

3 super things about today (so far)

1) My baby finally kissed me for the first time ever! (He'll be 16 months in a week, and my first two kids started kissing at about half that age.)

2) I heard Jo Whittemore speak at the Austin SCBWI meeting, and it was good.

3) I wrote 1578 new words on my gum manuscript!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Fishing for ducks and ideas

My kids threw a really cute Mother's Day Festival for me yesterday. They had a balloon/dart game (tossing rubber darts at water balloons), a feet-only dunking booth game, a ball toss game, a wheel to spin for a prize, a game with one of those paper "fortune tellers" determining the prize, and cutest of all, a duck pond game with a homemade fishing pole that allowed us to fish for rubber ducks to try to get a winning one. Most of the prizes were handmade, including a pinwheel my oldest son made from cut and folded paper, a stick, and a thumbtack. They also performed a few physical feats for entertainment, and my oldest son recited some poems he'd written. Very cute! I got some cards & gifts, too. 

On the writing front, I tried to make progress on my gum story, even going to the library for quiet space to write. It didn't help much. I started trying to write the next scene, but got bogged down in more questions, questions, questions, about where to take the plot. I tried to just write without necessarily knowing the answers, but ran into walls. So I mainly wrote more notes and questions for myself. For example, I need to figure out when and how my main character should make up with a friend she has alienated. I can't decide if it would be more satisfying if she and her friend make up now and work together to change things, then show up together to face everyone else, or my character should only make up with her friend at the very last minute, during a big showdown when she has to take a stand one way or the other. And there are 8 or 10 more things like that, some big and some small, that are all blocking my path when I try to go further! So, I came home with just a rough start to a scene and a list of things to figure out.

Friday, May 02, 2008

14 places I'd rather be right now

1) In a wide open space in New Mexico
2) Rehearsing for or acting in a play
3) On a train somewhere in Europe
4) At an 80s retro concert with friends
5) On the beach in Hawaii
6) At an outdoor cafe in Greece
7) Riding a ride at a theme park
8) Behind the scenes on Sesame Street (why not?)
9) At a writing conference or meeting, discussing writing and ideas
10) On an Alaskan cruise
11) Walking aimlessly in Wales
12) Listening to an impressive street musician
13) At a magic show in Las Vegas
14) Almost anywhere signing a book contract

Thursday, April 24, 2008

My brother's movie

My brother acted in a movie, A Plumm Summer ( link), which is finally coming out tomorrow, currently in a limited release in California, Alabama, Minnesota, and Montana. Given how many film festival awards it won, I think it should get a wider release! I was fortunate enough to see it at the Austin Film Festival last fall, and thought it was a good film...I rated it 8 out of 10. It's also family-oriented, though it does have some rather tense scenes involving the main characters' alcoholic father. The film stars William Baldwin, Lisa Guerrero, Henry Winkler, Brenda Strong, and several excellent child actors.

If you live near any of the theaters showing this movie, I recommend it! My brother plays Wally, described in Variety's positive review of the movie as "a bumbling general-store clerk." I don't think he's that nerdy or bumbling in real life, but I haven't seen him in a few years since he's gone all Hollywood, so I can't say for sure! ;-)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Choices in writing

Sometimes when I watch movies, I'm surprised by what the writers got away with writing. Makes me wonder if I second-guess myself too much!

I recently watched The Darjeeling Limted and Juno. Of course, both of those are indie movies so the scripts probably didn't undergo all the editing and script doctoring most studio movies do, but people did have to buy into them on some level. The Darjeeling Limited has some very heavy-handed symbolism, and my husband thinks Wes Anderson probably used some of it almost ironically, because it's so obvious, but still...there's one scene near the very end where I turned to my husband and said, "I would never have written that. I'd be embarrassed to write that!" I felt like if I'd written the action I'd just seen on screen, any editor or critiquer would have taken me to task for its groanworthy obviousness (and indeed, some reviewers at did mention it, but it's still in the movie, and is really almost the basis of the movie).

Similarly, in Juno, I wouldn't have ended Juno's personal story the way it ended. As a viewer, I liked it, but as a writer, I'd assume everyone would say it was too cheesy and corny for a character like her, or for most teenagers today. Not only that, but I realized one of her main choices at the end of the movie grew out of a scene where her father gave her advice. I'd be scared to write that in a YA manuscript, since people would tell me the character would have to reach her own conclusions without guidance from a parent. While of course, she did reach her own conclusions, she really listened to her dad's advice (which I found refreshing). That may be an indie film, but there's a similar scene near the end of the movie Along Came Polly, where Ben Stiller's adult character gets advice from his dad that helps him see things more clearly. I do have a scene in my Chasing Monday manuscript where a peer helps my main character get perspective on things, but I've always been a little embarrassed to have it in there, and figured someone might question my use of that scene. Yet here are movies, including the one that won the Academy Award for best original screenplay, in which characters use advice from their parents to help them make decisions. Interesting. (Now, if only my own kids would take my advice--even in elementary school, they'd usually rather not!)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Thankful Thursday

This was a hard day on which to find things to be thankful it seemed even more important that I do it!

1) I am thankful for getting to sleep in.

2) Having gone to the dentist today, I am thankful for anesthesia!

3) I am thankful we got a check today from my husband's recent contract work.

4) I am thankful my parents are celebrating 42 years of marriage today.

5) I am thankful for our short trip to Galveston this past weekend.

6) I am thankful for baby grins, baby laughs, and silly baby dances.

7) I am misguidedly thankful for cheese wontons.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Funky 15

The ever-talented and prolific Cynthia Leitich Smith tagged me, along with several other Austin writers, to list "15 weird, random things, facts, habits, or goals" about myself.

Since it's hard to think of 15 things I haven't already blogged about, I've decided to use Cynthia's own list for inspiration. So here is my list of "15 weird, random things, facts, habits, or goals about me, all inspired by Cynthia's 15 things."

1) Although I never read superhero comics growing up, as Cynthia did, I did read comics--mainly Archie but also things like Mickey Mouse, Casper, Little Lulu, and other kiddie characters. I even drew my own comic once about a girl who loved reading Little Lulu. Part of this was inspired by readng my mother's old comics from the 1940s and 50s (which she recently found!). I also read MAD Magazine, which wasn't a common choice among other little girls I knew. I'm not sure if it helped form my offbeat sense of humor, or if I read it because I already had an offbeat sense of humor!

2) I wrote my own little comics, like a recurring one called Robin Lee, and once served as the cartoonist for my elementary school paper. I also wrote my own magazines, made greeting cards from a company I named The Creation Box, and oddly, I often created fake homework assignments as done by characters I invented, then switched to teacher mode to correct it as their teachers would. I'd also draw things like, "Jenny as drawn by Sara," and then "Jenny as she really looks," and then a few years later I'd go back and redo them when I thought my drawing skills had improved! (And I did take a cartooning class once as a kid, but I still don't have good drawing skills!)

3) Now that Cynthia mentioned subscribing to 100 comics a month, I don't have to feel too weird for subscribing to so many magazines! I have subscribed to as many as 25 magazines at a time. I love them. I have no idea how many I'm subscribed to now since it's hard to keep up with the subscriptions, but I know I've let a lot lapse... I'm sure we get at least 12 or 14 now, but there are more I mean to renew. I used to excuse the expense by saying, "This is my entertainment budget; we don't have cable TV." But now we've had cable for years so, oops!

4) I saw The Empire Strikes Back 5 times in the theater when it came out, which I think still stands as the most I've ever seen any one movie in the theater (yeah, pathetic next to Cynthia's 350 for Star Wars!). As I've mentioned before, I spent my 14th birthday seeing it alone after my "boyfriend" of one week (one week ending that day!) stood me up for a Six Flags date. I also had a large collection of The Empire Strikes Back trading cards, but I came across some recently and apparently, the only ones I kept are the ones with Han Solo on them! {Blush} I used to listen to Han & Leia's theme over & over & over on my record player.... (Also, while I don't do a Kermit the Frog impression like Cynthia, my 7-year-old does an amusing Yoda. Here he is last summer at age 6, saying "Read you will" and "A Jedi master we need.")

5) When I was a child, I wrote letters to Judy Blume and Madeleine L'Engle to let them know how much I loved their books. Unfortunately, I never mailed the letter to Madeleine L'Engle and now it's too late. (Though I did get to meet another childhood favorite author, Paula Danziger, while she was still alive.) But Judy Blume wrote back. I felt guilty because my friend and I both wrote to her at the same time, and she sent my friend a brochure with her autograph on it, but she wrote several sentences on my brochure! I have no idea where it is now. I am very, very glad, however, that I never mailed the really embarrassing letter I found that I once wrote to Mork and Mindy....

6) My first car was a navy blue Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera, which I totaled on the way home from work late at night, only 7 weeks after getting it. I had already finished my freshman year of college at this point, but had to wait until I finished my sophomore year before getting another car! (By the way, I just realized I was wearing a shirt decorated with Mickey Mouse comic panels in the photo below of me with my first car.)

7) The job I was on the way home from when I totaled the car was at a movie theater. Like Cynthia, I served a lot of popcorn in my job, but I worked only at the concession stand, not at the ticket booth or as an usher. The concession stand was a different company than the theater! (And paid 15 cents more per hour, ha.) Some other odd things about the job: I never popped any popcorn (it was only popped once a week!), we weren't really supposed to chat with the theater employees (as if), we didn't have cash registers and had to do all the math in our heads (yes, it caused problems), we only had three kinds of drinks (I would dream all night about endlessly telling customers, "No, we don't have __X__, we only have Coke, Sprite, and Diet Coke"), and we didn't get to see free movies! Even theater employees didn't get free movies, unless they were Employee of the Week, though I did see lots of 15-minute portions of movies on my breaks. I also won a black and white TV from that job, and I still love popcorn.

8) I still have my polyester uniform from the movie theater job. I have no idea why, except that, "I thought I might need it for a costume someday." Even weirder... the shirt that was part of my uniform during my second summer in that job is hanging up in my laundry room right now. My husband came across it recently, apparently thought it was a shirt I currently wear, and washed it and hung it up! (Yes, my husband does laundry!! More than I do, in fact.)

9) Seeing the movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which Cynthia mentioned, was the wild way I partied down with my friends on the night of my high school graduation. ;-) Hey, it might have even been a midnight showing! (On a semi-related note, I find it pretty weird in retrospect that I went off to college 200 miles from home, at a university of 50,000 students, less than a month after turning 17. As a parent, it would freak me out to let my kid do that!)

10) My dad spent a semester of grad school in Paris when I was 11 years old, and my whole family went. We lived in an apartment in the Latin Quarter, also close to the Luxembourg Gardens as Cynthia's summer dorm was. I didn't have to go to school while we were there, but it was a really cool place to live for a while (we thought we'd be there a year, but ran out of money), and I spent a lovely Christmas Day playing soccer with my then-3-year-old brother at Luxembourg Gardens. I still miss the Kinder Surprise Eggs I regularly bought when we lived there... you can't buy them in the US because it's apparently illegal to sell food (it's chocolate) with toys inside here, as though someone would really eat a plastic capsule. Sigh. I haven't returned to Paris since, though I did visit Lyon in 1993.

11) Unlike Cynthia, I have had very few jobs. My only paid jobs have been: movie concession stand worker, office temp, and technical writer. I was an office temp in Austin, then an office temp in Dallas/Fort Worth, then a technical writer in Dallas/Fort Worth, then a technical writer in Austin. I also spent 6 weeks as an unpaid video production intern (doing very little myself), and have earned a very small bit of money from freelance writing in recent years. I currently write a monthly column for a garden retailing magazine, and my editor there is the same person who referred me to the office temp agency I worked for in Austin, 19 years ago!

12) My wedding cake was fine, but nothing to blog about. ;-) I had to go way out of my way to find a traditional cake topper with a bride & groom statue I liked, and then I actually painted the bride's hair so it wasn't lighter than the groom's! The groom's cake, a chocolate cake with a basket-weave design and chocolate-dipped strawberries on top, was a much bigger hit than the wedding cake. I took a cake decorating class a few years ago, and the best cake I've decorated was probably a castle cake for my oldest son's 6th birthday, but now that shows like Ace of Cakes are raising the bar for everyone (and I know someone who practically outdoes them...), I've pretty much given up decorating my own cakes!

13) Speaking of cakes, I spent my 21st birthday in England with some friends who were there for an University of Texas summer program at Oxford. (I was just visiting.) My friends went to a bakery and bought me a cake. They asked if the bakery could write my name on it, and the perplexed bakery worker responded, "That'll take a week!" Obviously, British bakeries do things differently than US ones. The cake had a hard white icing--not exactly fondant but more like the outside of a Ding Dong, if it was white--and there was a small toy bear on top clutching some toy balloons, and a ribbon wrapped around the outside of the cake (not getting messy, since the icing was hard). One strange thing about turning 21 in England was that I could already legally drink there as soon as I arrived 3 days earlier, so that part was anti-climactic!

14) My main fears are cockroaches (esp. palmetto bugs, eeeeeek) and snakes, and I'm also quite wary of dogs I'm not familiar with. For some reason, I've never been that scared of heights and have even wanted to skydive. But Cynthia is absolutely right to be frightened of children under 3! (Though technically, she should amend that to "children 3 and under." My older kids had "terrible threes," not "terrible twos"! And do not worry about dropping my 1-year-old; you have more to fear from him than he has to fear from you!)

15) The only very famous person I've met outside of the field of children's writing is Sting. My husband won tickets to his 2004 concert, which included a quick meet and greet with Sting. I've mentioned this before, but this time I'm sharing the photo.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

3 Things for Groundhog Day

1) One thing I resolved for 2008 was to finish one of my outstanding writing projects. In the back of my mind, I thought that following the resolution would also mean not starting anything new until I had done so. Or at least, not starting any new book-length projects. So I'm kind of annoyed to have this idea bombarding me lately for a light time travel novel.

I've decided that, although I don't plan to actively work on the idea anytime soon, I do want to start reading books and watching movies on the themes of time travel, or suddenly finding oneself a different age, or even body swaps (mine wouldn't be a body swap story, but they have similar surprising transformations)--including books I've read before and movies I've seen before--to see how they handle the changes. I know that in some of them, like 13 Going on 30, they never seem to explain the mechanism much, and I'd like it to be something like that if I can get away with it! It'd be more like magic than science. One confusing aspect is I wanted two people to go back in time, but one of them to regress in age and the other not to regress, so it seems like I would almost need two mechanisms... Anyway, so that's my homework for the year, while I'm writing other things. If you have a good one to suggest, let me know. Some I was thinking of were Debra Garfinkle's Stuck in the 70s, Freaky Friday, Big, Sue Corbett's 12 Again, etc.

Come to think of it, the topical movie for today, Groundhog Day, is a little like that, too, and that one never does explain how Bill Murray repeats the same day over and over. He just does. I love that movie anyway.

2) My own groundhogs--one from Build-A-Bear Workshop (Morris), and one who was technically due on Groundhog Day last year, though he made his appearance 9 days too early!

3) What do I want to write? I think I need to finish my midgrade novel. I'm at least 2/3 into it already. But I've also been thinking I need to seriously work on one of my picture book ideas. The more picture books I see, the more I'm convinced my favorite one would sell if I could only do it justice. The problem is, it needs much more of a plot arc than it currently has, and I've been stuck about that for years! But I need to brainstorm about that when I have spare minutes, and work on the novel when I have larger chunks of time.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

My wacky son

Technically, I have 3 wacky sons, but the middle one, who turns 7 next week, says some particularly wacky and amusing things. He's been joking with us since before he could really speak, and is quick to pick up on catch phrases, funny voices and accents, or quirky ways of putting things. He'll playfully say stuff like, "Totally rad, Dude!" or "In your dreams, Baby!" and was talking that way even at 3 or 4 years old, and even though he doesn't hear it from us. About half the time, he'll say something hilarious, and then I'll find out he was riffing on something else he'd heard somewhere, but they say that originality is the art of concealing your sources, and he does have a comedian's gift for combining things in a new way to come up with interesting takes on things. (Even in art, he's great at imitation, but can also bring together things he's seen in different places to make something new out of them.)

Yesterday, out of the blue on the way to art class, he said, "I'm writing a book, and I'm dedicating it to..." (dramatic pause) "the robot I've always loved!" A moment later he added: "The book is called How to Dedicate a Book to a Robot." (He's not writing a book, and he hasn't always loved a robot. But he does crack me up!)

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


Happy 2008 to all! For some reason, I feel joyful, buoyant, and magnanimous at the moment, so I thought I'd post before it passed!

We rang in the new year more quietly than normal, just hanging out with the kids, watching the countdowns on TV. The baby was asleep on my husband. The other kids stayed up until just after midnight, and of course we had our customary New Year's hats and serpentine, and the kids blew horns outside at midnight. It was sleepy, but nice.

And I'm making resolutions this year! In 2005, I made only two (to get rid of 1,000 things, which I more than did, and to finish my midgrade novel, which I still haven't!). In 2006, I'm not sure I made even one. In 2007, I decided to go for a theme instead, but never quite chose between "passion" and "family"! With a baby born in January, I figured it would be a year of hunkering down with the family, not doing much writing, and I was right, but I also didn't manage to focus on my family in quite the way I intended. So, this year, I'm back to good old-fashioned resolutions, and I have lots of them!

They're not completely set in stone yet, but a few are:

  • to finish a writing project that's been stranded for a while
  •  to find places for things in my house that don't have good places
  • to be more active (very easy to achieve, as inactive as I've been lately!)

Those goals have some related goals that are more making space and time to write regularly, and maintaining a certain weight, etc., and I'm writing those down, too.

And then I also have a theme for the year, which is to be more purposeful and deliberate--more methodical about getting things done, and calmer, not rushing around in a panic. My motto for the year, to help me with that is: Breathe. Just saying, or even thinking, the word "breathe" in a calm manner, immediately calms me down and helps me focus and relax. So this is the year of focusing, relaxing, and breathing. And enjoying! My secondary motto for the year is: Savor. I want to savor the year, and the moments in that year and the people in my life and the little daily joys. I have NO idea what this year will hold, not even in theory, but I'm ready to embrace it.