Thursday, January 31, 2008

Hot off the press!

Look what the mailman brought me today!

Advice from the trenches - Part 2

More advice on school visits:

  • School visits are hard work. Make it easier on yourself by staying in your comfort zone when you need to. For instance, I hate eating lunch in the teachers' lounge. I'm tired of talking all morning and hate the thought of feeling pressure to make small talk. I need quiet down time. My solution is to tell them I'm going outside for some fresh air and a walk. That seems more polite than "Shut up and leave me alone." The walk really helps my energy level and the quiet time recharges me. But then, that's just me.
  • If you go outside the building at lunch time, you may find yourself locked out. Many schools nowadays lock their buildings after the morning arrivals and require that you be buzzed back in. Don't panic. Ring the buzzer, which is usually located within plain site of the door. Someone from the office will do a quick fingerprint scan, run an FBI check, and buzz you back in (unless your morning presentation was particularly crappy or you failed the FBI check).
  • Most schools are stretched for money, so they want to get as much out of an author visit as possible. "How I Became a Writer" isn't always enough. Try to add something to your presentation that teachers can use in the classroom - preferably some concrete writing tips for the kids.
  • Since I do so many school visits, it would be too costly to take bookmark give-aways for each student. Instead, I take a template of a bookmark, personalized for each school and with my autograph. Teachers or volunteers can then make copies for the students. Many schools copy them on colored cardstock and even laminate them. The kids love them.
  • The signed bookmarks also help ease your guilt when you turn down a request for an autograph. Trust me, if you say yes even once, you'll find yourself with a mad mass of kids shoving teeny weeny scraps of paper under your nose when you only have five minutes before your next presentation. And if you sign a few but say no to the others, you will feel like a schmuck.
  • I also take templates of worksheets that reinforce one of the writing techniques I brainstorm with the kids. I know, I know...some folks shudder at the word "worksheet." But I personally like them (I'm anal like that). They give teachers something useful for their classrooms and adds another layer to a program that might otherwise be your usual "how-I-became-a-writer-and-how-I-get-my-ideas" kind of presentation.

Part 3 tomorrow....

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

In other news...

Phoebe is recovering from yet another medical procedure.


None of my pets came with a warranty.

This is Phoebe after hip surgery at 10 months:

Matty with a marrow bone stuck on his lower jaw (which had to be removed under anesthesia with an electric cast cutter):

Charlie after the neighborhood bully cat won the fight:

My pets also did not come with good-behavior guarantees:

Advice from the trenches - Part 1

I've done a lot of school visits over the years. Like anything else, I've learned some things the hard way. For anyone new to school visits - or anticipating doing them - I thought I'd pass along some of the more nitty-gritty advice from the voice of experience:

  • Always follow up with your contact person one last time just prior to the day of the visit to remind her of arrival time and equipment needs.
  • Ask about any parking problems you might anticipate. (Some schools have funky parking lots with sections reserved just for teachers or with gates that lock after a certain hour. Urban schools sometimes have limited parking and nightmarish street parking.)
  • When you see the sign that says Buses Only 2:30 to 3:00 - do not park there if you are doing an all-day visit - unless you want to be waiting for thirty minutes while 25 school buses load 1248 kids before you can leave.
  • Keep an energy bar, trail mix, Snickers, apple, Twinkies - whatever - in your bag. You never know what you can expect for lunch. I've had everything from potluck lunches prepared by parents to a pear and brie panini to nothing.
  • Bring your own water - but don't store it with your laptop unless you have really good insurance.
  • Always check in at the office first. Sign the visitor book. If there is a visitor's badge or sticker, be sure to wear one.
  • Don't be surprised if the receptionist in the office doesn't know who you are or why you are there. That information isn't always related to others. Make sure you have your school contact name with you so you can tell the receptionist who is in charge.
  • Leave plenty of time to set up any technical equipment in case something goes wrong - but make sure your contact person knows you will be arriving early so someone will be there to meet you. (Trust me on this one. It's a bummer to arrive 30 minutes early and there is no one there to help you get started setting up.) It's also a good idea to request that your contact person alert the office receptionist that you are coming early.
  • Bring your own extension cords and power strips (with your name on them), batteries, adaptors, etc.
  • Have Backup Plans A, B, C, and D in case something goes wrong with technical equipment. I bring my own laptop and projector, but I also have the presentation on flashdrives and CDs. I even have transparencies tucked in my bag in case I have to resort to an overhead projector.
  • Bring duct tape to tape down cords. Trust me on this one - you will have 200 kids walking over your cords and the odds are one of them is going send your computer or projector crashing to the floor (and you'll need that really good insurance that you wish you had).
  • Some schools prefer that you not use the students' restrooms and that you use one designated specifically for adults. Ask.


Part 2 of this post tomorrow....

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Writing Tip Tuesday

Two more tips about character:

  1. The character must be active in the story.
  2. The character should change or grow.

These are about as basic as you can get with a tip, but I have a couple more comments to make about each that are important to remember.

1. The character must be active in the story.

It's important that you don't get caught up in just letting the story happen to the character - letting the character just exist with the action swirling around them - letting the character just observe the story.

The character should be ACTIVE in propelling the story forward - in making the story happen - in altering the direction of the story.

Motto for the day:

The character should drive the story forward.

BUT....

...the character's actions should revolve around the central question or problem.

Personal experience:

When I first had the seed of an idea for Moonpie and Ivy, the "story" was a girl who is abandoned by her mother. Oooo-kaaaay....and? The story is what? Um.....

I realized very early on that Pearl (main character) needed to be instrumental in driving the story forward. She had to DO something. The story couldn't just happen to her.

Thus was born: her relationship with Moonpie and her reaction to it, her acting out (stealing) to gain attention or to demean Moonpie, her quest to understanding the meaning of family, etc.

2. The character must change or grow.

This is Children's Writing 101. But sometimes writers forget that this change or growth should not be TOLD.....

....It should be SHOWN.

The reader should witness the change - not just be told about the change.

Monday, January 28, 2008

In case you're wondering

I've prepared a few posts about school visits entitled Advice From the Trenches - in four parts.

I hope to post the first one on Wednesday.

Part 2 got published prematurely (by mistake) - so I deleted it and will repost later in the week - after Part 1.

If you use a blog reader, it may have picked up that Part 2 post - but the original is no longer available for viewing until I repost it later in the week.

Sorry about that.

Are you smarter than a fifth grader?

And can you write better than a fifth grader?

I just finished up a month-long residency with fifth graders who wrote biographies of someone they interviewed: a parent, grandparent, neighbor, teacher, etc.

As many times as I've done this, you would think I would no longer be surprised by the quality of the writing.

But I still am.

I came away with pages and pages of examples of knock-your-socks-off writing produced by those kids.

Here are some examples of opening lines written by fifth graders:

1. This was a FIRST DRAFT, following a discussion about trying to show setting, particularly seasons:

Fiery leaves were blowing in the crisp cool wind. Smoke rose from fireplaces and the smell of turkey filled the air. While most people were putting the finishing touches on the table and drinking apple cider, a baby entered the world.

[Note: She even spelled "fiery" correctly without looking it up!]

[Second note: When I read this to a few people later in the residency, they thought she must have written that at home. But I saw her write it class right before my very eyes.]

2. Once again, showing seasons:

The snow was beginning to melt and the bears were waking up.

3. An opening line that shows setting and hooks the reader (i.e., why not the Johnson family? What are they doing?):

Cars honked, travelers wandered, and everyone was outside enjoying the summer in NYC, but not the Johnson family.

4. A great hook for a first sentence:

Jan had a little secret.

5. Showing setting - both time and place:

The leaves were just beginning to change and fall off the trees outside the White House.


6. We brainstormed ways to start a bio with action. One way was to find information in the interview about what the person liked to do - hobbies, interests, sports, etc. - and start with that. Here's a great example of that:

The small fingers of a second grader glided over the smooth white keys of a piano.

[Note: This also gives the reader information about the age of the subject - what I refer to in the workshop as a "time marker."

7. This kid wanted to show that his subject grew up in an apartment building:

The neighbors on the floors above came down to see their newest neighbor.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Finishing up

I just finished a month-long residency with fifth graders. These kids were amazing. Here they are hard at work REVISING. I'll post some of their work in later blogs.

Here I am with Mr. White's class. He is Georgina's teacher in How to Steal a Dog. The kids were so excited that their teacher was in a book.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Reading Meme Thingamabob

I've been tagged by Sarah, the Empress of the Universe.

Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews?

Feed.

I know, I know.....but I just can't wrap my head or heart around that genre. I'm a realistic fiction kinda gal.

If you could bring three characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be?

Cletus (from Missing May) - because how can you not love Cletus?
Moxy Maxwell (Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little) - because how can you not love Moxy Maxwell?
Shiloh - because you know what a sap I am for dogs....

The event? Hmmm - how about a long walk in the woods? (I know, I know...but my clubbing days are over. Besides, you can't take a dog in a night club.)

(Borrowing shamelessly from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde): you are told you can’t die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for awhile, eventually you realise it’s past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave?

I'm going to heaven with Sarah: Ulysses

Come on, we’ve all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you’ve read, when in fact you’ve been nowhere near it?

The Bible. (Everyone thinks I'm so saintly - but I've got em fooled.)
Pride and Prejudice.

As an addition to the last question, has there been a book that you really thought you had read, only to realise when you read a review about it/go to ‘reread’ it that you haven’t? Which book?

I can't say that I've thought I have read a book - but there have been times when I've thought I haven't read a book, then started reading it and had that deja vu thing going on - because I'd already read it. That just happened to me with I Am One of You Forever by Fred Chappell.

You’re interviewing for the post of Official Book Advisor to some VIP (who’s not a big reader). What’s the first book you’d recommend and why? (if you feel like you’d have to know the person, go ahead of personalise the VIP)

Something fun and kind of quirky - maybe A Prayer for Owen Meany (Irving) or Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (Robbins) - or maybe some Kurt Vonnegut.

A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with?

Spanish. (kind of a boring answer, huh?)

A mischievious fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread once a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick?

The Liar's Club by Mary Karr

I know that the book blogging community, and its various challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What’s one bookish thing you ‘discovered’ from book blogging (maybe a new genre, or author, or new appreciation for cover art-anything)?

I've definitely been turned on to new books that I might not otherwise have paid attention to. I don't blog as much about books as I do about writing, so I've learned more about that - expressing various stages of one's writing process.

That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she’s granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leatherbound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favorite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead-let your imagination run free.

I prefer hardbound over paperback, for sure. And lots of em, of course. But the MAIN thing I would want is lots of great ambience: big overstuffed chairs (maybe leather - with ottomans), cozy groupings of sofas and chairs and tables (piled with magazines), and a fireplace, for sure. And really nice lamps that let off a warm glow - I love that. Very low classical music would be nice (a little Yo Yo Ma playing Bach). And since we're dreaming, how about a butler walking around with a silver tray offering little crystal glasses of port. I'd never go home!

I tag:

Kim
Sara
Megan
Kimberley
Jennifer

Toot toot

A little horn-tooting here:

How to Steal a Dog has been selected for the 2008 NCSS-CBC Notable Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies bibliographic list.

Books selected for this list emphasize human relations, represent a diversity of groups and are sensitive to a broad range of cultural experiences, present an original theme or a fresh slant on a traditional topic, are easily readable and of high literary quality, and have a pleasing format and, when appropriate, illustrations that enrich the text.

Toot, toot.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Moving right along

When writing biographies of family members, some kids just want to get to the point and move time along.

Check out this excerpt from a first chapter written by a fifth grader:

She had a lovely childhood and before you know it she was in high school.

Here's another one, moving time right along:

It was April 24, 1962; a baby girl was born in Springfield, MA. Her name was Kaitlin P. That was the happiest day of her parent’s lives. Time flew by really fast.

At the age of 15, Kaitlin became a cashier at a little convenient store.


[She sure was lucky to have a convenient store.]

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love kids!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

We the people...

Remember a while back when I posted about my love of diagramming sentences?

I just came across this! (In case you don't recognize it, it's the Preamble of the United States. Remember that?)


...from this website....

....thanks to BB-Blog.

Writing Tip Tuesday

Most children's writers know that it is important that the main character solve the problem or answer the central question....

...not another character....

...and especially, heaven forbid, not an ADULT.

And the problem should not be solved by happenstance.

The main character must actively DO something to solve the problem.

BUT....

....it's easy to forget something else that is just as important:

Motivation

The main character should have motivation to solve the problem.

Why is the character doing what he is doing?

AND - that motivation must be clear.

Lack of character motivation = a problem.

Personal experience:

TAKING CARE OF MOSES is about a boy who knows who left a baby on the steps of a church - but he keeps it a secret.

In the first draft, there was no motivation for Randall to keep the secret. He just wanted to keep it a secret. But the whole story revolves around that - so with no motivation, the story had no tension and just fell flat.

My writer's group (God bless 'em) kept asking me why Randall was keeping his secret.

Why, why, why?

And I kept stubbornly telling them, "Just because he wants to, okay?"

But, of course, I knew in my heart that it wasn't working.

Randall needed motivation.

In the revised (and final) draft, a new story element is introduced that provides motivation for Randall's secret. I won't bore you with the details (hey - you could read the book) - but it has to do with Queenie Avery having Alzheimer's and wandering at night and folks wanting to put her in a home, blah blah blah - but out of that came Randall's MOTIVATION.

After that, everything made sense and the story fell into place.

So - ask yourself, WHY does my main character want what she wants and/or do what she does?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Is it done yet?

When do you officially stop writing and declare your work over, done, fini?

When you type The End....is it really The End?

I have a feeling many (most?) writers have the experience of changing, fixing, tweaking, dotting, crossing, moving - every dang time they reread their work.

I am most definitely one of those writers.

But, with a first draft, I've learned to follow my instincts, which, thankfully, get better with experience. I've gotten better at listening to that gut feeling that tells me I may be reaching the point of diminishing returns - when my changes are no longer improving the work and may even be hurting the work.

I've learned to listen to myself when that voice inside me says, "STOP. Step away from the pencil. Get this thing in the mail to your editor immediately!"

With a final draft, it can be a little trickier - particularly with regard to the actual writing - the choice and placement of words - as opposed to the overall storyline. (Does that make sense?)

I recently read a terrific exercise to help with that "When am I finished?" feeling.

This is from one of my 893 books on writing: Off the Page: Writers Talk About Beginnings, Endings, and Everything in Between, edited by Carole Burns:

Writer John Dalton says:

As for the question of whether the writing has reached a level where it can be considered finished, I'd suggest printing out all the pages and making a proud stack of them on your dinner table. Then start flipping open the manuscript randomly. Begin reading wherever your gaze falls on the page. If you keep doing this and what you read continues to strike you as compelling and elegantly composed, this may be a sign that you're finished.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A wealth of information

Hey you authors out there:

This website is a great way to find out if your books have been nominated for state children's choice awards.

They sell sets of each state's books. I've found out about quite a few nominations before my publisher did.

As a matter of fact, I just found out that Taking Care of Moses is on the 2008-2009 Iowa Children's Choice Award list and How to Steal a Dog is on the 2008-2009 South Carolina Book Award list.

I hate the maid

Another gem from a fifth grader's biography of his grandmother:

As a child, Lenore disliked two things: her brother's brown cocker spaniel and the maid.

[I swear I'm not making these up, folks.]


Thursday, January 17, 2008

What shall I wear....

....on the red carpet?



From yesterday's Los Angeles Times (copied below in case you have to register to read the Times article):

BOOKIT
Barbara O'Connor's 'How to Steal a Dog' Finds Hollywood Home
Small proves to be in the eye of the beholder.
By Josh Getlin
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

January 17, 2008

The deal

Les Franck (co-producer of "Loggerheads") and Tracy Kilpatrick (local casting director for "The Great Debaters") option Barbara O'Connor's children's novel "How to Steal a Dog," the story of a homeless girl in rural North Carolina who steals a dog to pocket reward money and get her family into a real home.

The players

O'Connor is represented on literary rights by Barbara Markowitz and on film rights by Sean Dailey of Hotchkiss and Associates. The book is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

The back story

When it comes to adapting books for film, small is in the eye of the beholder. Dailey was instantly struck by the cinematic potential of O'Connor's book, and he pitched it to a dozen studios and production companies. Although the novel was aimed at young readers, he described it as a timeless story about making the right choices -- and the scourge of rural homelessness -- as seen through the eyes of a plucky fifth-grade girl.

Hollywood deal-makers gave him the same answer: "It's too small." Producers loved the story but didn't bite because O'Connor's novel had no wizards or gremlins. Nor did it hold out the promise of "Harry Potter"-like profits. Never mind that low-budget adaptations of dog-friendly novels make money. ("My Dog Skip" cost $6 million and had a domestic gross of $34 million; "Because of Winn-Dixie" cost $14 million and earned $33 million.)

Franck and Kilpatrick didn't think the book was small, either. They decided the novel was a perfect fit for their production company, Going Again Films, which specializes in low-budget, Southern-based movies that appeal to wide audiences. "I'm from the South, not Hollywood, and I know this is a powerful story," Franck said. "It doesn't have a fairy tale ending. It's about larger truths."

O'Connor was also puzzled by the notion that her book was too small for the movies. "I wanted to get inside the head of a child and tell a story that would resonate with adults too," she said. "Every author has red carpet fantasies, but I can hear the soundtrack music. I really can see this as a film." To Markowitz, the Hollywood verdict was bizarre: "Too small?" she asked. "I guess they'd say the same thing today about 'To Kill a Mockingbird.' "

[Note from me: This is an option. Who knows how it will end up...but, hey, a girl can have a fantasy, can't she? So, what shall I wear?]

The O'Connor Oscars

And the winner for Best Video of a Children's Book about Stealing Dogs goes to:




Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Looking ahead to 2008

Because all the cool kids are doing it (yeah, yeah, cyber bud, I stole your line...so sue me) - some of the books I'm looking forward to this year (in no particular order and probably forgetting something wonderful):


Trouble by Gary Schmidt


The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson


Jessie's Mountain by Kerry Madden


Bird Lake Moon by Kevin Henkes (and yeah, Sarah, I stole your image, too.)


The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower by Lisa Graff


Shooting the Moon by Frances O'Roark Dowell


Jump the Cracks by Stacy DeKeyser

And - no cover available (that I could find): Keeping Score by Linda Sue Park

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The geek in me....

...is kicking in.

I want this!!! (the World's Thinnest Notebook...)

Writing Tip Tuesday

From The Pocket Muse by Monica Wood:

Most good stories, even unconventional ones, contain these classic story elements:

Setup: Three bears go for a walk while their porridge cools.

Complication: Blonde perpetrator breaks in.

Rising Action: Perp chows down, breaks a chair, gets some shut-eye.

Meanwhile: Bears get home and survey the wreckage.

Climax: Discovered in Baby Bear's bed, perp screams and flees.

Denouement: Bears live happily ever after.



Yes, Gusty, this is one of the 145 writing books I own because of you.

Monday, January 14, 2008

ALA Awards

This was my first time watching the ALA awards announcements via their live webcast.

So exciting!!

Congratulations to all the winners!

Some I've read and some I haven't.

My to-read list just got longer.

Of the ones I've read - my favorite scene is the "hoop snake" scene in Elijah of Buxton. I adore Curtis's humor.

I'm reading Feathers at the moment. Love the writing!

No waste

On a list serv recently, someone posted the results of a mock Newbery conducted by Bank Street College with young readers as the voters. One of the honor winners was A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban.

The post listed some of the comments of the readers about each of the winning books.

A twelve-year-old reader said about A Crooked Kind of Perfect: "Not a word was wasted."

1. A pretty astute comment from a twelve-year-old, I think.
2. I couldn't agree more.
3. A nice goal to keep in mind with one's own writing.

P.S. The winner of that mock Newbery, by the way, was The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Book trailers

More and more book trailers are popping up in the children's lit world - or maybe I'm just noticing them more since I just finished one of my own.

Here's a new one (direct link) from author Mitali Perkins:


Friday, January 11, 2008

Just another chapter in life

In the biography workshop I conduct with elementary students, we spend a little time talking about chapter titles.

I tell the kids that chapter titles generally do one of two things:
  • Give the reader a clue about the information in the chapter; or
  • Make the reader curious about what the chapter is about
I like to stress that sometimes you can think of a clever and interesting title and sometimes you can't. I always see a look of relief on some kids' faces when I say that - because some kids come up with super snappy titles, and some kids just come up with: Childhood or College or Work.

And that's okay - because:
  • They still have a chance to think of something else during revision
  • Even if they don't, they've accomplished one of the goals of chapter titles: to give the reader a clue about the information in the chapter
Here are a few of the chapter titles from a recent workshop:

Worker Bees and Funeral Fees
School Days, Pool Days
Wedding Bells and Stinky Diapers
Crack-a-lack-a-doodle

Pretty good, huh?

[Note: I work with kids a lot. I think it's important to remind them that they should never worry about writing something that isn't that great - or clever - or creative - or snappy - or lovely or perfect.

I like to remind them that the goal is to get your thoughts, ideas, or information onto the paper and not to worry one little bit if it's not super duper writing....because....it can be fixed later....

But....

YOU CAN'T FIX WHAT YOU HAVEN'T WRITTEN.


I have witnessed firsthand the stress that this lifts off of many children when they approach their writing....permission to be just-okay - or permission to even be a little crappy.

I've been a little crappy more than a time or two myself.

Raise your hand if you've never been a little crappy.]

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Chicken hair?

There is one person in the universe who actually found my blog by Googling "chicken hair."

Wouldn't you love to know why that person was Googling "chicken hair"?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Ta dah!!!

My new book trailer for Greetings from Nowhere




Writing Tip Tuesday

Good characters are critical to a good story.

I know this because I write character-driven stories (as opposed to plot-driven stories).

You don't want the reader to just see and hear the story.

You want the reader to feel the story.

In order for the reader to feel the story, she has to care about the characters.

You can have the best darn plot in the universe. But if the reader doesn't:
  • know
  • like
  • care about
the main character, then she won't care about the story.

So, how do you create, i.e. develop, a character?

Here are some of the best ways:
  • Dialogue: The character speaks in a way that matches her personality.
  • Interior monologue: The character's thoughts are revealed to the reader.
  • Imperfection: Neither completely good nor completely bad (makes for a more believable, and therefore, more realistic and likable, character)
  • Beats: I love beats!! I'll talk about them more on another Tuesday. But for now: beats are actions sprinkled throughout dialogue. Make those actions unique to that character to help develop character.
  • Show, don't tell: Show as much as possible about the character (their traits and feelings), rather than telling.
  • Relationships to other characters.
  • Treat them like humans: Humans disagree, forget, stammer, stop in the middle of sentences, change their minds, make mistakes, etc.

But, let the reader get to know your characters the way you get to know real people - a little at a time. You don't need to dump the whole character out right away.

Next Tuesday: More on characters

Monday, January 7, 2008

Righting the wrong

I got a letter from a student not long ago, who told me:

"My mother is righting a book."

I like that!

Righting a book!

I'm getting ready to hunker down with revisions to my latest novel.

I think I'll refer to it as "righting a book."

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Personality

My vacation is officially over tomorrow, when I start a month of biography workshops with 5th graders.

To get myself prepped, I've been reading over student work from past workshops.

Here's one by a kid who wrote a bio of his grandfather, Mark. Does this kid's personality jump right off the page or what?

He didn’t tell me how, but Mark got married to my now late grandmother, Sandra K and had 9 kids! So basically if it wasn’t for Mark, you wouldn’t be reading this essay now would you, (I know cool, huh?)

Here is how the same kid ended his biography.

He lives here with me, my mom, and my creepy little brother. He no longer works and likes to stay home and watch T.V.

Sometimes he goes to the gym to swim to stay slim (I love to rhyme☺). He is a good man and now does lots of charity work. He does much for the community and world.


I love it when kids aren't self-conscious about putting their personality into their writing.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Better than Cliff Notes

When I attend book functions where there will be authors I know I might be mingling with, I try to read at least one of their books beforehand.

But, sometimes, well.....so many books, so little time.

I was once invited by my friend, Ann Cameron, to attend some of the festivities surrounding the National Book Awards in New York City when her book, The Secret Life of Amanda K. Woods, was nominated.

I scrambled to read as many of the five nominated books as I could before I went. (Louis Sachar, Jack Gantos, Anita Lobel, Ann Cameron, and Richard Peck.)

Alas, I ran out of time and was not able to read Richard Peck's. (I think it was A Long Way from Chicago, but I can't remember now...)

One of the events involved having lunch with the authors. Everyone was assigned to sit at one author's table to discuss the book. There were only about 6 or 7 people at each table.

You guessed it.

I was assigned to Richard Peck.

I sat there like a total idiot and couldn't say anything remotely intelligent about the book.

But NOW - if that happens again, I'll be armed: How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

FSG Notes

FSG Notes Special Award Edition

Out with the old and in with the new

I love that once-a-year tossing of the calendar and date book - and starting a brand new one - all clean and BLANK.

Because I'm a middle-of-the-night-thinking-about-stupid-stuff person with a bad memory, I write down everything - and I mean everything.

This is last January:

It includes the following important chores [I swear I am not making this up]:
  • Put battery in laptop
  • Pay Visa
  • Unplug Xmas lites [??? I swear, that's what it says. I have no idea what that means.]
  • Tape Apprentice
  • Tuna dip
Maybe this January's datebook should be more impressive:

  • Do homework for Japanese literature class
  • Make and freeze 37 loaves of whole wheat bread and deliver to senior center
  • Start committee for responsible recycling and write promo pieces for local newspapers
  • Tape Apprentice [oops, how'd that get in there?]
  • Research Scandinavian herb growing for next spring's community garden project
Or maybe not.....

Maybe I'll just get a book published and do 58 school visits....

...and tape The Apprentice.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

An impressive book list

Imagine a 12-year-old.

Imagine a 12-year-old who loves to read.

Imagine a 12-year-old who reads 78 books in a year.

Imagine a 12-year-old who keeps a record of every book she reads.

Imagine that you could see her list.

Well, guess what?

You can!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Writing Tip Tuesday

To ring in the new year, let's talk about timeline and chronology of events in a middle grade novel.

It's important to go back and look at your novel as a whole to make sure the sequencing of events is accurate and logical.

One of best tools to help with chronology, as well as structure and pacing, is my handy dandy story map.

Personal experience:
I speak with the voice of experience when I say that it's easy to forget about the timeline when you're all tangled up in the story.

How to Steal a Dog was in the final stages of production when some annoying, er, I mean, very observant copyeditor got her mitts on it. She made this really annoying, er, I mean, helpful chart of the chronology of events, noting the days of the week. She also revealed a problem. My main character was going to school on weekends and was not in school on school days. Dang! I hate it when that happens. Trust me when I say this was not an easy fix - but I managed to do it. Live and learn.

After that grim experience, I now add the days of the week and/or the date to my handy dandy story map.

Golden Fuse Awards

Check out Fuse #8's annual Golden Fuse Award for best cover!