Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Tie one on

Remember when I visited this cool place while on my roadtrip down South?

Well, my friend (and awesome writer), Leslie Guccione, had this tie made from that photo! Isn't it cool?

Quote of the day

From Toni Morrison:

I type in one place, but I write all over the house.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Bird is ready to fly

Just got the cover copy for the paperback edition of Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia (due in Spring 2008).

Not much change from the hardcover except the back text - BUT, I love the addition of "Bird is ready to fly" to the front!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Partying with my peeps

Thursday night my critique group had our semi-annual potluck dinner.

It's always fun to finally be together and just shoot the breeze and yak it up. During our crit meetings (once a month), we only allow the first 30 minutes for chitchat and then it's down to business. (And, of course, I'm the one wielding the dreaded timer.)

So - lots of great food, great drink and great company - and LOTS of laughs, with my peeps:

Carolyn DeCristofano
Deanna Garland
Valerie Kerzner
Brian Lies
Kim Marcus
Wiesy MacMillan
Delia Weikart
Mary Wisbach
And...in absentia...Leslie Guccione

I love my peeps!

Friday, July 27, 2007

A Year of Reading

A Year of Reading has some nice things to say about How to Steal a Dog.

Thanks, Year of Reading!

Quote of the day

I had never heard of Angela Giles Klocke, but I saw the following quote, attributed to her, and I love it:

The title to a work of writing is like a house's front porch....It should invite you to come on in.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Picture this

I'm in awe of picture book writers. How do they do it....tell a story with so few words?

I guess I'm just a novelist by nature. I tried to write a picture book a few years ago.

It was called Four Fine Friends at the Sleepy Time Motel.

It was set in the Smoky Mountains (at a motel - duh).

One of the main characters was an old lady named Aggie and her dog Willy.

I failed.

My editor said it was "most promising."

Then came the BUT (you know how you're always waiting for that word - like the other shoe dropping).

"But there's something that keeps it from being completely satisfying...."

She gave me some specifics and some good questions to ponder and left me to figure it all out.

I couldn't.

I tried and tried but I just could NOT fix that picture book.

So here's what I did: I took that dog Willy and wrote the novel How to Steal a Dog - and I took the character of Aggie and put her in the Sleepy Time Motel in the Smoky Mountains and wrote the novel Greetings from Nowhere.

There! Fixed it!

(But, um, why is it so much easier for me to write MORE words.....?)

Progress report

Today I finished page FIFTY.

I still don't know how this thing is going to end - but at least it's moving along.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Play it again, Sam

I love this quote from Katherine Paterson:

Send your inner critic off on vacation and just write the way little children play. You can't be judge and creator at the same time...

Oh, Katherine, you are so wise and wonderful....

But I also love my inner critic. We've become such good friends.

Because of my anal compulsive obsessive detail-oriented personality, I often find myself judging more than I'm playing.

I write by hand. That's the time when I write freely, without my inner critic.

But by the time I've polished it and begin to type what I've written onto the computer, my friend, the inner critic is with me all the time.

Yesterday, I found myself subconsciously typing words or phrases that were not written on the paper - and I actually did it a few times before I realized I had done it. This probably sounds perfectly normal to perfectly normal writers, but for me, it was unusual.

Totally free writing.

The way little children play.

My inner critic was on vacation.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Somebody up there is telling me something

I'm trying to write.

At this very moment.


There is MAJOR construction going on next door to me. Close your eyes and imagine the sound of jack hammers. Now imagine that excruciatingly annoying beep beep beep sound that equipment makes when it backs up.

Okay, so I can't work on the porch.

I come back inside.

I'm sitting in the kitchen.

A MOUSE is running back and forth across the floor.

He is a teeny tiny baby mouse but he is freaking me out.

I have two choices:
1. Go get my super duper mouse catching cat.
2. Throw a towel over the mouse and take it outside.

I am trying for option #2 but it is not working.

I'm wearing flip flops. I am terrified the teeny tiny mouse is going to run over my toes.

Maybe I'm getting cosmic signs to stop writing today.

Here, kitty kitty.....

What ever happened to the good ole days?

I never chew gum. Haven't chewed gum in years. Therefore, I haven't bought gum in years.

Remember those chewing gum wrapper chains you made as a kid? One scene of my work-in-progress involves a gum wrapper chain. So, to procrastinate, um, I mean, to enhance the authenticity of the writing, I decided to make one.

I can't find gum with wrappers! Not good ole Juicy Fruit. None! What the heck???

When did that happen?

I actually had to get some on eBay!

Quote of the day

My favorite writer to quote = Mark Twain:

Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.

Monday, July 23, 2007


Isn't it great when you find some cool way to procrastinate and can justify it? You know, like research?

Today I needed to write a scene inside a motorhome - so I got to spend hours and hours cruising around on eBay motors looking at photos of the interiors of motorhomes.

Hey - I was working, okay?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Oh, to be young and dumb again

My son is a photography student at Parsons. Last night he got home from three weeks at a photo workshop in Maine, where he's gone for several years now. The workshop is attended primarily by adults and college students, but there is one designed specifically for high school students (which my son attended when he was in high school).

On the last night of each session, all the groups get together to view a slideshow of work by all the students. My son commented that the high school students had the best work, creatively.

Me: Really?

Him: Oh, yeah. That's the way it always is.

So that led to a discussion of why that was so. We both agreed that one reason that the high school students were creatively freer is because they didn't know enough to censor or judge themselves or to even think that much about how others will perceive their work. In addition, perhaps their lack of technical knowledge allowed them to be freer creatively - they didn't get all bogged down in the "rules" and the technical stuff.

That discussion made me think about my own creative work as a writer. While I know that I'm a more skilled writer now than when I first started, I also think that I haven't written as freely and "joyfully" as I did my first few books.

Back when I was new, I wasn't thinking about reviewers. I wasn't thinking about whether my books would be read in a classroom. I wasn't thinking about the "rules" of writing for children. I wasn't thinking so much about structure or pacing or worrying that much about whether the main character had grown enough, yada yada yada.

I just wrote.

I think those first books were the "purest" books I've ever written. And I know that they spilled out the quickest and the most freely.

Pure, un-self-conscious writing.

Interestingly, those earlier books required less revision than my later books.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying most writers don't get better with experience. I'm just wondering out loud, I guess, if sometimes the inexperience produces a purer form of creativity.

Does that make sense?

For example, to my naive surprise, I got some negative feedback about mild profanity in my first two books. That profanity came out without a thought - because, in my mind, it belonged there. It never occurred to me to not use it.

When I was working on my third book (Moonpie and Ivy), one of the characters (Ruby) has an argument with her sister. She says: Mind your own damn business.

That is exactly what that character would have said.

I stewed over that line. Should I leave the profanity in? Should I take it out?

Fortunately, I have a wise and wonderful editor. When I posed the question to her, she said to me, with a tinge of surprise in her voice: You're censoring yourself!

And she was right, of course. I was censoring myself.

Because I had more experience.

I was now thinking about how others were going to react to my work, rather than writing freely and purely and honestly. (By the way, I left that line in.)

There's a country western song by Toby Keith that goes:

I wish somehow I didn't know now what I didn't know then.

Amen, Toby.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Room with a view

I wrote for hours on my porch today (my summer office). All day, I watched the recent invasion of grackles we have at the feeder.

My husband hates them. He thinks they are loud and obnoxious and bullyish and messy.

I love them. I find them sassy and humorous. They tease the cat and taunt the dogs and rule the roost. All day, while I wrote, they argued and fought and totally pigged out. That green box on top of the fence has peanuts in it. The bluejays and squirrels come to get the peanuts and the grackles holler at them.

Not a bad view from the ole office window....

My day

To describe my writing day yesterday, I will quote Oscar Wilde:

This morning I took out a comma and this afternoon I put it back again.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

FSG August Newsletter

Farrar, Straus & Giroux Books for Young Readers: August 2007 Newsletter

FSG's brilliant book designers

It takes a village to make a book.

In addition to having brilliant editors and brilliant copyeditors, FSG has brilliant book designers.

I was thrilled with the design of How to Steal a Dog. Thank you, Barbara Grzeslo. (Love those little paw prints inside. And the cover? I mean, come on! You're da bomb, Barbara!)

I'm just as thrilled with the design of Greetings from Nowhere. I'll share the jacket art later. It's by John Hendrix, who just did the cover for Polly Horvath's newest novel.

But I thought I'd share the inside design, which I just love. It's by Irene Metaxatos. One important element of the story is a postcard from the Great Smoky Mountains, so Irene used that theme in her design. It's a multiple viewpoint story (four characters), so each character's chapter gets its own design.

Cool, huh? (The scans aren't too great, but....)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Beating around the bush

I'm at that frustrating part during the process of trying to tell a story when you know where you want to go but you keep beating around the bush getting there.

I had talked to myself about the going-nowhere creek scene...

...but I had to go back to that creek today because that's where SOMETHING IS FINALLY GOING TO HAPPEN.

The problem is....I keep beating around the bush - again.

Me: But I've got to tell the reader about that girl and how she wears tap shoes.

The other me: Just get there, would ya?

Me: But I've got to show the brothers fighting and all.

The other me: Just get there, would ya?

Me: But, but, but......

The other me: Would you GET THERE already!? Sheesh.

So - guess what?

I finally got there.

Something happened.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I wanna get in trouble

Quote from Mem Fox:

DO NOT assume that plot is the most important element in a story, or even the only important element in a story. Character comes first. Next comes the precise choice of words and the correct rhythmic placement of those words. Then, trouble…

Okay, so, for my work-in-progress (and I use the term loosely):

Character? Check

Precise choice of words? Check (well, sort of.....at least, for the few I have on paper, anyway)

Correct rhythmic placement of those words? Check (at least for the first two chapters, which I've now reread about a bajillion times)

Trouble? Um.....hmmmm.....trouble......I knew I was missing something.

Okay, I'm off to find some trouble for those characters to get into.....

Monday, July 16, 2007

Quote of the day

It takes a heap of loafing to write a book.

--Gertrude Stein

P.S. Ever notice how many of the quotes I like have to do with thinking about writing instead of writing?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Now THIS....

....is how you sell boiled peanuts! He puts them in that big ole pot you see there on the back of the truck, heats the water using those propane heaters, and there ya go! Real honest-to-goodness boiled peanuts - not those sissy kind you get at the 7-Eleven.

The P-Nut Man usually sits on the side of the road all day selling peanuts, but at the time of this photo, he was inside the Waffle House eating pecan pie. (And, um, I'm thinking maybe he's due for some new tires.)

Okay - that's it. I head back up to New England tomorrow.

Who says....

...a church has to look like a church. Right?

A good idea!

Granny Ellison's Memorial Toy Library!

Gotta love those Southerners

A dog's life

My dad was the biggest dog lover on the face of the earth. The day he died he had nine dogs. I'm sure he wished he had nine more.

When I was a child, there was an Air Force base near my home. It closed years and years ago - but much of the ruins of it are still there, particularly the runways.

They are all overgrown and lonely. When my son was 9 or 10, my dad and I used to let him drive the car on them. He would drive and drive and my dad would sit in the back
seat so happy. (I know....I know.... irresponsible parenting. Please don't call DSS - it was a long time ago.)

My dad owned Syberian huskies with lots of energy. He used to take them there and let them run and run and run beside his van as he drove up and down the runways. It was one of his favorite things to do.

Before he died, he requested that he be cremated and that his ashes be strewn out there by those runways.

So that's what we did.

Once a year, I go back and visit. It's very, very quiet there. The kind of quiet that engulfs you. It's also very peaceful there.

The first year after he died (six years ago), I went to "visit" him. We had a little "chat" - and then I looked down, and there, embedded in the runway were.....

Dog prints!!

I swear they weren't there before that.

Today - I went there again. When I was walking back to my car, I noticed something beside my car.

It was a dog!

Now, trust me when I tell you that this place is far from anything. Anything. I scrambled to take a photo but you can barely see him. That little black dot of a thing just to the right of the car is a dog.

When I got back to the car, I followed him. He ran a long way. He was a very confident, I-know-where-I'm-going-and-what-I'm-doing-so-leave-me-alone kind of dog. He got as far as a private aviation center of some kind that is out there at that old Air Force base, but I couldn't get close enough to him to say hello.
Just one of those life-is-funny kind of experiences, you know?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Red dirt road again

You know how I was talking about that red dirt road and all (a couple of posts below)?

Well, tonight was a beautiful hot summer night and I was driving around blasting country western music on the radio - gettin' my groove on and all.....and guess what song came on?

Red Dirt Road by Brooks and Dunn.

Now, I don't know if you're into country music at all - but the lyrics go like this:

It's where I drank my first beer.
It's where I found Jesus.
Where I wrecked my first car:
I tore it all to pieces....
I come to know,
There's life at both ends,
Of that red dirt road.

See? Red dirt roads are important to Southerners.

So take THAT, copyeditors.....

Think about it

It's sometimes hard to convince your spouse and friends that you're really working when you're sitting on the back porch watching the birds.

But thinking can be as important to writing as actually writing.

If you don't believe me, ask Agatha Christie. (pretty cool web site, by the way).

Here's what she'll tell you:

The best time for planning a book is when you're doing the dishes.

(But notice I said sitting on the back porch, not washing dishes.)

Don't worry about it

My Smoky Mountain soul sister friend, Kerry Madden, has a way cool collection of sayings that she saw on church signs down South. So I've been thinking about her whenever I see them - which means I'm thinking about her a lot because those signs are everywhere.

Here is one I saw today. I like it! (The problem is, how to do you STOP worrying?)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Red dirt and all

I recently had to do some copyedits on Greetings from Nowhere (Spring 08) that involved cutting out a reference to "red dirt" - because I had used that reference a few times and enough is enough with the red dirt.

But today I was driving around (in South Carolina) - and was struck by how much RED DIRT there is. And, it really is red (well, okay, maybe more orange, but...anyway).

See? I took that photo today. Red dirt.

I have very vivid memories of red dirt.

Red dirt roads.

Red dirt yards.

Red dirt driveways.

The bottom of my feet stained orange (red) from that red dirt in the summer.


So, I just can't help myself.

Thank goodness for copyeditors.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


....today for lunch I had a HOMEMADE pimiento cheese sandwich (thank you, Aunt Margaret) and sweet tea (thank you, Cousin Libby).

Welcome to my world

Here's where I am:

Beautiful downtown Fountain Inn:

Traffic hour:

Andy, Barney and Opie were just seen here:

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

See y'all later

I'm heading down to Fountain Inn, South Carolina to visit my mom for five days.

Sweet tea!

Boiled peanuts!



Quote of the day

The hard part is getting to the top of page one.

--Tom Stoppard

Characters from real life

The gentleman on the right is the real-life Mookie - one of the main characters in How to Steal a Dog.

He lives in Fountain Inn, South Carolina. I'm headed there tomorrow. I'm gonna look for Mookie!

Monday, July 9, 2007

Now, this is fresh!

I finished The Thing About Georgie by Lisa Graff last night. Really liked it.

Such a fresh story! I mean, when's the last time you read a book about a dwarf? (Snow White doesn't count.)

The main character (the dwarf) is just this adorable, realistic, likeable - no, loveable - kid. And the "bad kid" (the annoying girl) is a perfectly presented annoying character. (And I even liked her!)

Great dialogue, too.

And Graff uses this gimmick where she addresses the reader - presenting various challenges to help them understand Georgie's physical limitations. A successful gimmick and a nice touch.

This is Lisa Graff's first novel?


Disclaimer: I am not a book reviewer and I don't play one on TV. I just read 'em (and write 'em).

Conversation with myself

Lousy-writer me: I just wrote this scene that was, like, so much fun. These two characters are playing in a creek.

The other me: So what?

Lousy-writer me: Well, I mean, they're playing in this creek. And they're catching crawdads and minnows and all.

The other me: So what?

Lousy-writer me: There's this great dialogue. It's really funny and sort of character-developing.

The other me: So what?

Lousy-writer me: There's some really good descriptions of the setting - ferns and rocks and running water.... The water's cold and gurgling - and the ferns are all green and ferny - and...

The other me: So what?

Lousy-writer me: I'm starting to hate you.

The other me: Oh, pipe down. Just answer this, would you? Does the scene have a purpose?

Lousy-writer me: Um, no.... but I like it. And I worked on it a long time.

The other me:Does the scene contribute to the story?

Lousy-writer me: No....but I like it.

The other me:Does the scene move the story forward?

Lousy-writer me: No...but...

The other me:If you ripped that scene to shreds and stuffed it down the garbage disposal, would anybody miss it?

Lousy-writer me: Alright, alright...I get the point.

And so, lousy-writer-me slinks away to jam three hours of her day down the garbage disposal.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Dear Mrs. O'Connor

A recent letter from an elementary school student following an author visit:

I wrote an article about you for the school newspaper. I told the students about your writhing strategies. Along with teaching us, you made it amusing and fun to watch you.

My public comment to the PTA president:

Dear Mrs. PTA President: I swear I did not tell those kids about my writhing strategies. Honest. I did not.

I also did not demonstrate my writhing strategies. Honest. I did not.

Friday, July 6, 2007

New paperback

Just got word today: Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia will be out in paperback in Spring 08. Yay!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Strawberry

I live ten miles from a nuclear power plant.

One of those things the realtor doesn't tell you.

Today I bought strawberries at a local produce stand.

Hmmmm. I wonder if it glows in the dark.

The house that Jack built

I have a habit that might be good or might be bad.

When I'm writing a rough draft, I tend to read it through from the beginning - every time.

So after a while, I've read those first few chapters a lot more times than the last few chapters.

I read an article about revision somewhere that called this "the house that Jack built" method of revision.

Is that good or bad?

I'm not sure - but that's the way I like to do it. I need to get back in the total flow of the story, and sometimes (usually) that requires starting from the beginning again.

One thing I do know: those first chapters are pretty darned polished!

As for the last chapters? Well, maybe...not so much.

...that tossed the dog,
that worried the cat,
that killed the rat,
that ate the malt
that lay in the house that Jack built.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Shut up and write

I was listening to an NPR program about talking today. They said that the average person speaks 16,000 words a day.

If only we could shut up and WRITE 16,000 words a day!

Stories in a cup

I have a collection of antique engraved silver baby cups that is great fuel for the writer's imagination.

I love thinking about those babies. Where were they born? Did they live in a big house in the country or a tiny apartment in the city? What were their families like?

Who did those babies grow up to become?

And what the heck were those special cups doing on eBay in the first place?

I have one that's engraved: George Scoville Higginbotham with a date of 12/25/02. A little Google research revealed that baby George was actually born on September 6, 1902, so I guess that cup was a Christmas gift. He died at the age of 13 in a hotel in Atlanta.

I have one engraved to Edward Mason Williams from Grandpa; 11/9/1871 (my birthday. Well, not 1871, but you know what I mean....). What did Edward do for a living? How many children did he have?

I saw one on eBay once that had FIVE generations engraved on it. Now why in the world was that precious cup not being kept in the family? A great story in there somewhere, I'm sure. (By the way, that one went for big bucks.)

But here's my favorite:

[It says: Unky Hoffy to his little shrimp; Helen Johnston; June 30, '09]

Don't you wonder about that Unky Hoffy? I'm sure I would have liked him - calling himself Unky and all like that. And "his little shrimp?" He MUST have been sweet. But then, maybe he was a scoundrel. The family cad. The black sheep of the family. But Helen must have loved him. Or then again, maybe not....

So many stories in those little cups.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Cool cat?

Not so cool cat. This is Charlie. He got in a fight with the neighborhood bully. He had some nasty surgery and has to wear this collar. He is not cool.

He is not happy.

(This is one week after my DOG got in a fight and ended up at the emergency vet. Sheesh!)

Problem solved

Okay, I've solved Problem #2 (see below).

According to Kurt Vonnegut, who, I guess, knows a thing or two about writing:

Give readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

There! Problem solved!

I'll tell my editor that cockroaches ate the last few pages, but it's okay, because the readers will finish the story themselves.

That was easy!

(For the record, I hate to disagree with the Kurt Vonnegut, but.....)

Monday, July 2, 2007

Two problems

I was feeling pretty good about my new novel, but over the weekend, I realized I have two problems.

Problem #1: I'm 20 pages into it and the reader knows:
  1. Who the main characters are
  2. What the setting is
  3. Back story (but not too much)
  4. The overall tone of the story
  5. The voice of the writing


....the reader does not know what the story is about.

That's a problem.

I'm on page 20 and I haven't revealed the central question (to use a scriptwriting term).

I like to reveal what the story is about very early on.

In How to Steal a Dog, the first sentence - the FIRST SENTENCE - is:

The day I decided to steal a dog is the same day my best friend, Luanne Godfrey, found out I lived in a car.

Problem #2: I don't know the ending.

This is not a problem for all children's book writers.

But it is a problem for me.

I'm not one of those writers who loves to just "see where the characters take me." In fact, I hate that. I want to know where I'm going. I don't mind not knowing exactly how I'm getting there, but I want to know where I'm going.

Longfellow said: Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.

But, hey, what the heck does Longfellow know about anything....

Sunday, July 1, 2007

I'm not making this up, I swear

I use Google Reader to read the 432 blogs I read daily.

Yesterday I installed this button they recommend that goes onto your bookmark bar. It's called "Next."

Now, I confess, I didn't really understand what the heck it was supposed to do, but I installed it.

Just now, I clicked on it and this is what came up (and I swear I am not making this up):

The End of the Internet


This is the last page.
Thank you for visiting the End of the Internet.

There are no more links.

You must now turn off your computer and go do something productive.

Go read a book, for pete's sake.