Friday, August 31, 2007


One of my favorite books as a child was The Pink Motel by Carol Ryrie Brink.

Now, I confess that I barely remember the story - but I DO remember that one thing I absolutely loved about that book was the cover.

Thanks to the miracle that is eBay, I nabbed a copy and every time I see the cover, I feel like I'm ten again.

I just love those little pink cottages and the flamingos and that family.

Now look at this nasty old cover. Eeeyew. What the heck are those kids doing, anyway? Wrestling alligators, I think. Why'd they have to go and ruin it for me....?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Quote of the day

Being a fan of country western music, I love Loretta Lynn.

When asked in an interview, "How did you make it?" - her response:

You have to be first, different, or great. If you're one of them, you may make it.

I think this piece of advice could certainly be applied to writing, don't you?

Bad reviews, schmad reviews

This girl's got a good attitude! "Embrace the badness...."

P.S. I really liked Elsewhere and am reading Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac right now.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Community hug

As many of you already know, Robert Mercer, the husband of children's author, Grace Lin, lost his battle with cancer this week.

Robert was the inspiration for Grace's lovely book, Robert's Snow and the wonderful fundraising project for Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

I know Grace more on a professional level than on a personal level - but I know her to be lovely, gracious, sweet, smart, and charming. Her huge circle of friends and supporters is certainly a testament to that.

I never met Robert, but clearly, he was loved.

I know that the children's literature community joins me in sending heartfelt thoughts to one of its own.

Hugs to you, Grace.

OHD kicking in again

I hate to drive.

I am a slow reader.

I have a giant stack of books I want to read.

The perfect solution = books on tape.

So I'm driving along yesterday and listening to The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.


I'm overcome with the need to highlight.

Love, love, love her writing.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Where did summer go?

I worked on my porch today - a glorious weather-perfect day - and couldn't help but notice fall in the air.

My flower garden is fading away, so I'm cherishing what is left.

This is my favorite flower. Could there possibly be a more beautiful color than the blue of a Heavenly Blue morning glory?

High five, Linda Sue

I love that Linda Sue Park posted this photo of her recent editorial revisions. She even counted them. (141)

It's easy to forget that fabulous, wonderful, uber talented writers like Linda Sue have to REVISE!

They don't get it perfect the first time (or probably the second, third, or twentieth).

Who knew?

So, thank you, Linda Sue, for reminding us that even the best of writers have to work - and REVISE.

P.S. Linda Sue and I are DDR soul-sisters. She is the only other person I know over the age of, ummmmm, 40 (?) who does DDR.

Monday, August 27, 2007

FSG September/October Newsletter

Farrar, Straus & Giroux: September/October Newsletter


In addition to OMD, I also suffer from OHD (Obsessive Highlighting Disorder).

When I read words I love, I must highlight them. (Disclaimer and defender of my integrity: I do not highlight in library books.)

When I started reading The Aurora County All-Stars, by Deborah Wiles, my OHD hit me with a vengeance.

I grabbed my highlighter. (I have many - kept close by at all times.)

The first two chapters of that book blew me away. The writing was so beautiful. The scene - at the risk of cliche here - just achingly poignant. That old man dying! That boy sitting there next to him! (Note: No spoilers here - it happens in the first sentence.)

Here are some of the words I highlighted:

  • He died at the simmering time just before daybreak. Crickets tucked themselves under rocks for the day. Blue jays chitter-chattered in the pines. High above the treetops, cirrus clouds wisped across a slate blue sky.
  • All night long the June bugs had tap-tap-tapped against the glass panes at the open bedroom window, trying to buzz into Mr. Norwood Boyd's room and touch the lamplight.
  • Mr. Norwood Boyd died a quiet death attended by sky, clouds, crickets, birds, bugs, snakes, and one human being: House Jackson.
  • Swallow your toads early in the day, his mother used to say, and get the hardest things over with first. When he was six, his toads were easy to understand: Make your bed! Clean your room!...As he got older, toads got harder to swallow: Apologize! ... Tell the truth!

Now those passages are highlighter worthy!

But then, after the first two chapters - no more highlighting!

That's not because the rest of the book was bad. It certainly wasn't. But interestingly, it jumped from dark and sad (with all that beautiful, highlighter-worthy writing) to upbeat and comical in one big leap....

...from that old man dying to that cast of quirky characters (Finesse, Honey, a dog named Eudora Welty).

Maybe I was reading as a writer, but I found it fascinating how Wiles moved back and forth and in and out with the "tone" of the story. She managed to intermingle some rather dark stuff with some rather silly stuff. And she did it very successfully, I think.

Conclusion? I guess all our writing doesn't have to be highlighter-worthy, does it?

I guess some of it can be just good storytelling.

Friday, August 24, 2007

A shout out to Tracie

Children's author and reading specialist, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer offers over 200 - that's TWO HUNDRED - free teacher guides (including one for my book, Moonpie and Ivy.)

I thought that deserved a shout out....

You go, Tracie!

Showing my socks

How can I resist Linda Urban's sock challenge? I mean, why would I be writing when I can be taking pictures of socks?

First, let me say that I have A Crooked Kind of Perfect because my friend, Kim Marcus, raved about it.

Second, let me say that she was right to rave about it. It's wonderful. It's funny. I loved it. (Loved the way she handles the parents, too.)

So, Linda, because of you, I am revealing a sad truth. I'm afraid my socks might reflect a part of my personality that should have been kept under wraps: the plain-white-socks side. And not just plain white socks. Peds from Target. Only Peds from Target.

I know, I know.....

But I'm with this guy, when it comes to practicality. But, um, I think white is a lot geekier than black, huh?
I have a lot of them. Clean ones...

And dirty ones:

BUT, I do have one very old pair of cashmere argyles that were my husband's. They shrank in the dryer, so now they are mine:

Thursday, August 23, 2007

More starter dough

When I first started thinking about my current work-in-progress, I knew that the story would involve boys and a creek and little boats floating down the creek. Originally, the boys were making the boats (out of bark? not sure...) and floating them down the creek.

Then, luckily, I had a DUH moment and realized it was much more interesting if the boys found the boats (instead of sent the boats).

But I still envisioned the boats as made out of bark or something.

Then one day I was reading the livejournal of author Tamra Wight. She had a post about what B did on a rainy day - he made a boat! And not just any ole' boat. A YOOHOO BOAT!

Eureka! Talk about serendipity! Talk about starter dough!

I love that little boat so much! (That's a race car inside it, by the way. Pretty cool, huh?)

So I wrote to Tamra and told her how much I loved the boat and asked if I could use it in my story (because I'm ethical like that) and she said I could and even sent me B's terrific directions for making the boat:

First I put the straw in and drank it. Then I unfolded the top to be the front of the boat. Then I cut out the top right side. I didn't use any glue or tape.

Thank you, thank you, Tamra and B for that fabulous Yoohoo boat starter dough. (Now if you could just finish this novel for me, that would be great!)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


I love to read obituaries (as mentioned here).

Did anybody catch this one yesterday?

Pretty interesting.

And am I the only one who has never even heard of phone phreaks?

Just wondering.....

Starter dough

Writer Alice Munro refers to the real life things that inspire us to write as "starter dough."

These things were starter dough for Greetings from Nowhere:

  • A vintage postcard
  • A charm bracelet
  • A rhinestone poodle dog pin
  • A patch my dad got when he was in the Army Air Forces in WWII

Comments about starter dough from Alice Munro.

Mailing lists

For those of you who maintain mailing lists of children's bookstores, author Kathleen Duey has a nice list on her web site.

A pretty cool thing to do, Kathleen!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


This is the product of my day today.

Writing words.

Scribbling out the words.

Writing words.

Scribbling out the words.

I never do that. Well, at least, not this much.


At one point, I wrote this: "She tossed the three cartons into the crate and said....."


That's the sound of screeching brakes. Coming to a cold, dead standstill.

What did she say? Ummmm, she said....ummm, she said.....

My mind went totally blank.

I think I'm losing it......

Quote of the day

From Jeffrey Eugenides, author of Middlesex, when asked, "What's the best thing about being a writer?":

The best thing is also the worst thing. It's that, no matter how long you've been at it, you always start from scratch.

Monday, August 20, 2007

I heart Sarah Miller

I loved reading this blog post.

I am so totally a basher.

I've tried to be a swooper. (I love that Sarah calls it "letting go of the handlebars.")

I admire and respect swoopers.
But, I'm being honest here: Swoopers annoy me when they want me to swoop, too.

They say: "Oh, just keep writing and worry about that stuff later."

But that just doesn't work for me. I so second Sarah's sentiments: "This is not fun."

I so second Sarah's description of her writing process as "one step forward and two steps back." (But that does create this situation: The House That Jack Built.)

I nominate Sarah Miller as the President, Queen, Empress, and Big Kahuna of the Bashers Club of the World.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

My empty nest

Just took my only child back to his junior year of college.


My empty nest is echoing again.

One site that stabs me in the heart every time I look at it is this:

We love to sit here at the end of a summer day and chat.

There's Papa Bear.

There's Mama Bear.

But, hey, wait a minute....where's Baby Bear?

Oh, yeah....



Saturday, August 18, 2007

Who needs the gym?

Moved my son into his NYC apartment. Six flights. Six. Not two. Not three...



Heavy stuff.

Temperature outside? 86

Temperature in that hallway? 186

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Big Apple

I'm off to New York City for a couple of days to take my son back to school (Parsons School of Design).

This event is much more effective than going to the gym. He lives in a SIXTH FLOOR WALKUP (i.e., no elevator).

Huff, puff, pant, pant......

The things we do for our kids, right?

My writing day yesterday

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Just in case...'re not familiar with the Children's Literature Network.

Here's a little shout-out for 'em.

These folks are awesome.

Monkey POV

My booking agent, Janet Zade, of Zade Educational Partners, sent me this from the New Yorker, which I pass along for a few chuckles today:

Research, Part 2

Some of the motorhomes in this terrific spot (see below) have porches added to them and overflow with lots of living.

Only one Airstream in the whole park, which is too bad - cause I think they're so funky.

Some of them have million dollar ocean views.

Some of them are green.....

....and some of them are blue.

I love them all! I think I could make up a story for every one.

But the weird thing is that the motorhome in my novel is a Holiday Rambler and there's not one of them in this whole park. I wonder why. ??

Okay - research done.....back to work.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

It really was research

In the novel I'm working on now, some of the characters live in a motorhome. So yesterday, I took a walk through an awesome motorhome park near my house - in the name of research.

This park is on the tip of a bluff overlooking the ocean. The view is amazing.

There are motorhomes of every size, shape and color.

That's the ocean in the background there.

It is a writer's heaven. Each motorhome has such personality and says a lot about the families inside.

Some have lots of kids. Some have only elderly couples.

Some are quiet.

Some are noisy.

Some have vegetable gardens.

Some are big.

Some are little.

Monday, August 13, 2007

I tried to write today...

...I really, really tried.... but Charlie just wasn't having it.

Greetings from Nowhere

The artist who did the cover for Polly Horvath's new book also did the cover for my upcoming novel, Greetings from Nowhere.

His name is John Hendrix.

I'm really happy with it and will post it soon.

How much do I love this book?

SOOOO much!

I absolutely adore Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little by Peggy Gifford.

Love it.

Love it.

I think it is funny and fresh and adorable. I LOVE the photos. I love Moxy. I love the chapter titles.

I literally laughed out loud, which I rarely never do when reading a book.

AND - it was interesting to note that Gifford addresses the reader, as in "Reader, can I describe the expression on Mrs. Maxwell's face?"

There seemed to be a bit of a TO-DO about the author addressing the reader in The Tale of Despereaux . All those "Dear readers" in there seemed to bother a lot of people (but not me). I haven't read that many reviews of Moxy Maxwell, but I don't recall anyone complaining about the author-addressing-the-reader stuff. (Just wondering out loud here...)

At any rate, it's an interesting way to present the story and it totally worked for me.

Barbara O'Connor does love Moxy Maxwell.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Scrivener for free

By the way, you can try Scrivener (see post below) for free for 30 days.

Cool software

Dear Shaken & Stirred: I don't know you. But I love you. You introduced me to Scrivener, the coolest writing software ever. (For Macs only. Sorry, you PC guys...)

It turns my chapters into these cute little index cards all tacked up there on the bulletin board, with a synopsis of each. (And I love those little pushpins.)

With the chapters lined up on the left side there like this (index cards big; or index cards little).

It shows my whole manuscript in this way-cool outline form:

Or I can see the manuscript on the screen like this, with everything else blacked out, and I can just scroll thru it:

I can stamp each index cards with something like "Revised Draft" or "To Do" or "Final Draft":

It does lots of other way-cool things. You can move text around like crazy and insert all kinds of notes and highlight and annotate and footnote and save snapshots of drafts. You can even sort chapters by POV or keywords and, and, and..... This is the coolest software ever.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The perfect book

Today at my writers group meeting, Kim Marcus was raving about a mid grade novel coming out this September called A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban (and I so want to steal that title and am mad I didn't think of it first even though I have no story to go with it).

So, I was putzing around on the internet to check out Linda Urban and read her thoughts on The Perfect Book - which I thought were great. I particularly liked this line:

There is no perfect book. But there is a novel to be written that is perfectly you.

I love that.

Then that triggered a memory: Quite a few years ago an editor, who rarely comments on other writers' books to me, commented that she thought Because of Winn Dixie was "an almost perfect book."

Now, this was waaaaay back when that book first came out - before the Newbery - before anybody knew who Kate D. was - back in the day....

So, Kate was doing a booksigning at a small bookstore near me. I had read the book and loved her writing, so I went to the signing. As I said, this was before all that big time star book stuff. There were, maybe, 15 people there.

Kate did a quick reading from a then-unpublished The Tiger Rising.

When I got my copy of Winn Dixie signed, I told her that an editor had called it "an almost perfect book".

Me (jokingly): "But you know, I will write the perfect book."

Her: [smile]

Then, because she has a great sense of humor, she signed my book (I have erased her signature - this is the internet, you know. And notice that cute little wagging-tailed dog she drew on there.)

Note to Kate: I'm still working on that perfect book....but, look out - I'm comin'!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Would you repeat that, please?

In an article about musician, Arlo Guthrie, in the Boston Globe yesterday, he was quoted as saying:

"If you do anything for 40 years, you can do it comfortably. And it will always be good. But unless you're willing to risk it being bad, it can never be great."

That sounded very similar to what Twyla Tharp meant when she talked about failure (in my post below) - specifically, the failure of repetition.

I think some of the best writers often take risks and write outside their box once in a while. They're not afraid to risk trying something different. Some of them succeed at it and some of them don't.

One author who comes to mind in this area is Kate DiCamillo. She could have stayed in that box of contemporary realistic fiction that she started in with Winn Dixie and Tiger Rising. But instead, she took a risk and wrote something different - Despereaux, Edward Tulane, Mercy Watson.

I adore her writing. She writes with heart and great skill. (And, oh, the sappy drama of some of it. But I like sappy drama.)

She finds perfect words in perfect places.

She's not afraid to take risks. (Another one of Twyla's failures is the failure of nerve. Ms. DiCamillo does not lack nerve, IMHO.)

She doesn't get too comfortable in repetition.

You go, Kate.

Another author who comes to mind is Jack Gantos. I mean, Rotten Ralph vs those creepy Rumbaughs? Joey Pigza vs Hole in My Life?

You go, Jack.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Sick of Twyla yet?

Okay, so I know y'all are getting sick of me yapping about Twyla Tharp, so this is the last time, I promise. (But you must own a copy of her book The Creative Habit. There - I said it again.)

She has some good stuff to say about failure.

Every writer, of course, experiences failure in various forms at various times: rejection letters, bad reviews, writers block, etc. (By the way, I love how, in Louisiana's Song by Kerry Madden, rejection letters are referred to as "no thank you letters." Sounds so much nicer, doesn't it?)

Per Twyla:

"Private failures are the first drafts that get tossed in the wastebasket, the sketches crumpled up on the floor, the manuscripts that stay in the drawer....The more you fail in private, the less you will fail in public."

She goes on to list what she sees as the reasons for failure:

1. A failure of skill (you have an idea but lack the skills to pull it off) Tharp says this failure is "unforgivable: If you don't have a broad base of skills, you're limiting the number of problems you can solve when trouble hits."

2. A failure of concept (i.e., a weak idea)

3. A failure of judgment (e.g., you leave something in that should have been discarded or you let someone else's judgment substitute yours)

4. A failure of nerve (you don't have the guts to support your idea and explore the concept fully)

5. A failure of repetition (clinging to past successes). Tharp says: "...constant reminders of the things that worked inhibit us from trying something bold and new."

6. A failure of denial ("when you see that something is not working and you refuse to deal with it or convince yourself you can get away with it") [Note: This is where my critique group comes in. They never let me get away with anything. I love those guys.]

Monday, August 6, 2007

Work glove Willy

This is Willy, the dog in How to Steal a Dog.

He's made out of a work glove.

He was made for me by a total stranger!

She made him to thank me for signing two of my books for her daughters.

Isn't he just the cutest?!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Quote of the day

From Twyla Tharp:

Knowing when to stop is almost as critical as knowing how to start.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Mem Fox

If you've never checked out Mem Fox's web site, you should. Lots of good stuff there.

Here's something from that site that I particularly like. I'm not a picture book author, but I think many of these (all of them, maybe) also apply to novels. (Except maybe "the delight of happiness" - we gotta have a few good tear-jerkers every now and then...)

My favorite of those qualities below is "perfect words in perfect places." (Linda Sue Parks says "The best words in the best order.")

From Mem Fox:

A good picture book for the young child has most of these qualities:

• Trouble

• One of two themes: ‘the stranger comes to town’ or: ‘the quest.’

• Characters whom readers care about deeply
• A universal theme that speaks to any child, anywhere in the world

• Perfect words in perfect places

• The delight of happiness

• No preaching

• Subtle signposts to living in a social world
• An impact that affects the heart of the reader or listener

• Strange or unexpected use of language
• A complex story that requires the mind to be attentive to detail, to be active in problem-solving, to roll through tunnels of prediction and meaning-making, and to tumble down hills of emotion and up again

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Quote of the day

If you are a writer, a painter, a dancer, a musician, a songwriter, a playwright, a sculptor, a quilt-maker, or any form of creator at all, you must own a copy of Twyla Tharp's book, The Creative Habit.

With that said, the quote of the day is from that wonderful book that I own and love and read over and over:

There's a difference between a work's beginning and starting to work.

Not a bad way to start the day

The view on my walk yesterday morning (6:30 a.m.)

Can I go in the water now? Puh-leese?



Not a bad way to start the day, huh?

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Woof woof

In order to get out of the coon-doghouse, I am issuing the following correction:

The coondog cemetery tie (below) was the brainchild of the husband of Leslie Guccione.

Woof woof