Friday, May 30, 2008

A lousy criminal

I'm a lousy criminal.

I just can't seem to do anything wrong and still look normal.

Trust me, I've tried.

So, I was in Barnes and Noble the other day.

They had this nice big display in the center of the children's books area: New Arrivals.

Greetings from Nowhere was not there.

So I look on the regular shelves and they had several copies.

I glance around, then scoop up the copies, intent on putting them on the New Arrivals display table.

I round the corner of the shelves and there is a beady-eyed store clerk.

Me: Tra la la (whistle, whistle)

Beady-eyed Store Clerk: Can I help you?

Me: Who, me? Um. No, thank you.

Beady-eyed Store Clerk: [narrows eyes, purses lips]

Me: [pretends to look at picture books while clutching four copies of Greetings from Nowhere and turning abnormally red]

Finally, Beady-eyed Store Clerk leaves.

I plop my books onto the New Arrivals display table and hightail it out of there.


Note to Clyde: If you need a Bonnie, I'm not your gal.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

King of Kong

If you have any love in your heart for video games (like me), especially Donkey Kong (like me), you must see this movie (a documentary).

P.S. I used to be a pretty darned good Donkey Kong player back in the day.... (I beat every 8-year-old in the 'hood.)

A puzzling omen

I found this on the ground yesterday:

I believe in omens and good luck signs. A jigsaw puzzle piece plays a role in Greetings from Nowhere. So, I'm seeing this as a good luck sign of some sort. I'll keep you posted....I'm off to buy a lottery ticket.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Great editors

In the book Off the Page: Writers Talk About Beginnings, Endings, and Everything in Between, author Claire Tristram said:

It was just the most lovely feeling to have someone tell me what I had hoped I had written. Then he made me work very hard. But all the time I felt he was helping me write the book I wanted to write, rather than what he would want me to write.

I totally get that.

I have one of the best editors in the business (Frances Foster).

I could list 345 reasons why she is a great editor, but for now, I'll just tell you one:

She helps me write the book I want to write, not the book she wants me to write.

I'm so lucky.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Writing Tip Tuesday

Which came first - the chicken or the egg?

The character or the storyline?

The majority of my books started with character. The character came to me. I knew her/him through and through. But I didn't always know what the heck their story was.

AND - even if I have a story, I can't put pen to paper until I know the character completely.

Not so with Stephen King:

The situation comes first. The characters - always flat and unfeatured to begin with - come next.

Here's another interesting tidbit about Stephen King's writing:

In some instances, the outcome is what I visualized. In most, however, it's something I never expected...I am, after all, not just the novel's creator but its first reader. And If I'm not able to guess with any accuracy how the damned thing is going to turn out, even with my inside knowledge of coming events, I can be pretty sure of keeping the reader in a state of page-turning anxiety.

And why worry about the ending anyway? Why be such a control freak? Sooner or later every story comes out somewhere.

I find this very comforting - since I tend to get frustrated when I don't know where my story is headed.

So - what's my point?

My point is that we all have different styles and different approaches. What works for one writer may not work for another.

But, perhaps more importantly, what works for one book may not work for another.

Stephen King quotes are from On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


I've been waiting for this puppy a long time! (I've been on the waiting list since way before Christmas.)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Sorry, I'll be busy

Remember when I said I was busy in the Spring of 2010?

Well, now I'm free, after all.

But I'll be busy in the Fall of 2009 - cause that's the new pub date for The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis!


Friday, May 23, 2008

State #5

How to Steal a Dog has been nominated for the 2008-2009 North Carolina Children's Book Award!

That brings the list to five (South Carolina, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Maryland, Texas) - but who's counting?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Book signing

Last Sunday, I went to a book signing for Padma Venkatraman's new YA novel, Climbing the Stairs (which has already received two starred reviews!).

Padma and me:

Padma demonstrating sari wrapping on her friend, Adam:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Writing Tip Tuesday

One job of a writer is to relate information to the reader as seamlessly as possible. (Good ole "show, don't tell.")

But that is sometimes tricky and takes a lot more effort than a non-writer might realize.

Making that skill all the more difficult is the fact that you, the writer, know information that the reader does not - so it's sometimes hard to gauge what to leave to the reader to find out as she reads along vs. what to go ahead and give her right away.

One of the most valuable "tools" for a writer is a pair (or two) of fresh eyes, i.e., a cold reader.

A cold reader can tell you what she doesn't understand, what she needs to know sooner, etc.

Let me give you two examples from personal experience:

I recently had a teacher relate to me that her students liked the way I didn't tell them who Ugly was in the opening scene of Greetings from Nowhere - that they had to read another paragraph or two to find out.

"Harold would have known what to do," Aggie said to Ugly. She tossed the unopened envelope into the junk drawer on top of the batteries and rubber bands, old keys and more unopened envelopes. "Let's go sit and ponder" Aggie said.

So, the reader doesn't know who Ugly is.

If I had gone on much longer, however, young readers would probably have gotten frustrated. I needed to get the information in there soon - but as seamlessly as possible.

She scooped up the little black cat and shuffled across the dirty orange carpet.

There - now we know.

I kept the reader waiting just long enough to make them curious - but not frustrated.

But in my current work-in-progress, I wasn't as successful:

When the BB hit Henry square in the eye, she had screamed bloody murder and carried on so much that when Velma came running out of the house to see what all the fuss was about, she had thought it was Charlene who’d been shot in the eye.

It wasn't until another page and a half that I identified Velma as his grandmother.

Initially, it just felt too telling to insert "his grandmother" in front of Velma.

I knew who Velma was - so it was hard for me to gauge whether or not the reader really needed to know this right away.

Apparently the reader did need to know.

Two topnotch editors - reading with fresh eyes - wrote "Who is Velma?" in the margin.

I'll be honest with you - I didn't really want to insert "his grandmother" - and it felt not-very-seamless to me - but I knew I had to do it.

Sometimes, you just have to listen.

I heard an agent speak at a conference years ago and I will never forget her "formula" for a good children's book: Make 'em laugh; make 'em cry; and make 'em wait.

I realize the "make 'em wait" part applies primarily to plot - but I also think it should apply to "smaller" elements of the story, as well.

But this can be one of the trickier elements of writing for children - how long to make 'em wait for information.

I think the answer comes from a combination of instinct, experience, and the value of cold readers.

(I realize that I've imparted zero information in this supposed "tip" - but sometimes food for thought is as good as a tip. At least, that's my story and I'm stickin' to it.)

Friday, May 16, 2008

What he said

All writers love E.B. White quotes, so here's one of my favorites:

"We should all do what, in the long run, gives us joy, even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry."

P.S. The laundry part would not be on my list.....

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Has anybody noticed how many people listed worrying as one of their bad habits on the meme that's going around?

I'm worried about that....

Gardens and Liars

I've had a couple of perennial gardens for almost 19 years.

Last fall, we had some new walls put in.

Me to Wall Guy: I'm concerned about my flower gardens.

Wall Guy to Me: Oh, Mrs. O'Connor, you don't have a thing to worry about. I'm always very careful and never ever destroy gardens.

Me to Wall Guy: Liar liar pants on fire

Me to Wall Guy: $#%&

So now I'm starting from scratch, which is actually fun (as long as I have plenty of money and Motrin).

Happy Birthday to Willy.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Foundation for Children's Books

New England Voices: Three Area Authors Read from their New Books

Free & Open to the Public

Tuesday May 20, 2008 7:30 p.m.

Join us for an evening of readings from Barbara O'Connor, Susan Goodman and Lita Judge

Barbara O'Connor will read from her latest middle-grade novel Greetings from Nowhere. Barbara has written 14 novels and biographies for children and her books have won the Massachusetts Book Award and the Parents' Choice Award.

"O'Connor's knack for well-developed characters and feisty protagonists is evident, as is her signature Southern charm."-School Library Journal

Susan Goodman will read from See How They Run: Campaign Dreams, Election Schemes and the Race to the White House. Susan is the author of dozens of non-fiction books for kids.

Using witty anecdotes and clear explanations, Goodman takes readers from the birth of democracy to the Electoral College; from front-porch campaigning to hanging chads. Illustrated by Ellwood Smith.

Lita Judge will read from One Thousand Tracings: Healing the Wounds of World War II, a 2008 ALA Notable Children's Book, which she wrote and illustrated.

"Based on a true story of the author's grandmother and mother, this touching bit of history humanizes war and demonstrates the difference a few people can make."- Kirkus Reviews

Note: new location at Walsh Hall, Boston College (behind Vanderslice Hall)

This event includes book sales from the Children's Book Shop and signing, as well as refreshments.

Free and Open to the Public. No registration necessary. Bring your friends and colleagues to introduce them to the FCB!

Where and When:
Walsh Hall, Boston College

Tuesday, May 20 7:30 p.m.

For more information:
The Foundation for Children's Books

The Foundation for Children's Books
P.O.Box 320284
21 Stratford Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02132-0003

The Foundation for Children's Books (FCB), a nonprofit, educational organization, was founded in 1983 to assist the professionals who most directly influence young readers: teachers, librarians, and parents. We achieve this through professional development programs, including a dynamic speaker series, innovative conferences and workshops, as well as through author visits and residencies in under-served schools.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


I've been tagged by teacher extraordinairre, Megan Germano, for the following meme:

1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.
3. At the end of the post, the player then tags 5-6 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read the player’s blog.
4. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer.

What were you doing ten years ago?

The exact same thing I'm doing now - only thinner and less wrinkled - and I could stay up later. I had one novel published (Beethoven in Paradise) and another on the way (Me and Rupert Goody).

What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order):

1. Go to the liquor store.
2. Go to Trader Joe's.
3. Go to the bank.
4. Pick up son's photographs at frame shop.
5. Work in the garden.

(I got my revisions FedExed to New York yesterday - so today was my first FREE day in a long time.)

What are some snacks you enjoy?

Goldfish crackers
Anything chip-related (pototo, nacho, corn, etc.)
Anything with peanut butter

What would you do if you were a billionaire?

Celebrate our retirement.
Rescue a bunch of dogs.
Donate to charities that are important to me.
Travel with my family.
Throw away my GPS and hire a chauffeur.

What are three of your bad habits?

Worrying too much.
Not eating enough vegetables.

What are five places where you have lived?

Greenville, South Carolina
Columbia, South Carolina
Kenner, Louisiana
Venice Beach, California
Duxbury, Massachusetts

What are five jobs you have had?

Cocktail waitress
Pots and pans salesperson
Insurance manual editor
Dance teacher

What three people do you want to tag? (I reduced it from six....just in case everybody I know is already tagged.)

Kim Marcus
Kerry Madden
Augusta Scattergood

Writing Tip Tuesday

I've been travelling (IRA and TLA) and have revisions due Writing Tip Tuesday is going to be short and sweet.

I've said it before and I'll say it again:

Resist the urge to explain.

(To remember that - think RUE.)

Monday, May 12, 2008

I just love kids

A few words from kids about Greetings from Nowhere:

Greetings from [name of town]! I really love your books, but I think that Greetings from Nowhere was your best yet! My most favorite part of the book was when Loretta got all her mother’s earthly possessions. I liked that part because it was sad for her but good at the same time! Thank you for being an awesome author and thanks for all your hard work.
Love, your biggest fan E

Ello-hay. My favorite part is when they got at the bottom of the pool and talked Pig Latin.

My favorite part in Greetings from Nowhere was when Aggie, who used to own the motel, was told by Willow, the daughter of Mr. Dover who now owns the motel, that she could stay at the motel. That’s my favorite part.

I really liked Greetings from Nowhere. It was fantastic! My favorite parts were when Kirby finally admitted that he had the poodle dog pin of Loretta’s and the part about Dorothy believing that if you walked into a cobweb that you’d get a letter from somebody that you loved. I could go on and on about this, but I can’t.

Greetings from Nowhere is by far my favorite of your books. The character I liked best was Loretta. I am like her because I am peppy and hyper too, and if I was wearing a charm bracelet, I’d jingle it all the time too. Which character do you most relate to? Can’t wait ‘til your next book comes out!
Your friend,

Thursday, May 8, 2008

IRA Part 2

I finally got to meet the famous Peepy!!!! And look who he brought along!

(l to r) Deborah Garfinkle, Lisa Yee, me, Peepy)

Me and Peepy

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

IRA Part 1

The panel on Wednesday morning was so much fun - a real diverse group of styles, genres, personalities, etc. It's always great to finally meet authors whose work you've long admired.

The presentation was titled: Engaging Girls with Adolescent Literature: Let's Hear It for the Girls - moderated by Claudia Katz of National-Louis University in Skokie, Illinois.

(left to right) Kelly DiPucchio, Wendi Corsi Staub, Shannon Hale, Lisa Klein, Rachel Vail, me

Rachel Vail (left) and me

(l to r) Shannon Hale, Lisa Klein

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Made it

Just arrived - ready for the IRA conference.

Writing Tip Tuesday

I realize that it is rather presumptuous of me to disagree with Mark Twain.

But Mark Twain once said: If you find an adjective, kill it.

I agree that there are some adjectives that deserve a quick and painful death:

1. Adjectives that can be replaced with action.

Kill those guys.

Think action, action, action (which translates to, um, verbs).

Here's an example (albeit, a rather lame one): instead of describing the sidewalk as being icy and slippery - have the character slipping and sliding and falling.

2. Adjectives that can be replaced with showing.

Kill those guys, too.

For example, instead of saying he had a messy bedroom, for pete's sake, just show the darn room - you know, with the bed unmade and the pizza box on the floor and the clothes all over the chair and etc. etc etc.

So where do I disagree with Mr. Twain?

I think that adjectives that are part of the showing process and that are specific...

....and that aid in the job of visualization (i.e., help the reader see the image clearly and specifically)....

...deserve to live.

Do not kill them.

Here's an excerpt from How to Steal a Dog. Imagine this scene without adjectives:

The house smelled damp and moldy. The floor was littered with leaves and corns. In the front room, a lumpy couch stood underneath the plywood-covered window....Stacks of yellowing newspapers were piled in one corner. Two empty cans of pork and beans sat on a rusty wood stove. I followed Mama into the kitchen. The cracked linoleum floor was sticky and made squeaky noises as we walked across it. I wrinkled my nose and peered into the sink. Twigs and dirt that had fallen through a hole in the ceiling floated in a puddle of dark brown water.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Sunday stuff down South

Today I decided to attend church services at a teeny little church my dad belonged to about 7 years ago. It's way out in a teeny little town in South Carolina. I hadn't been there in a while, so I wasn't sure I could find it. So I tried to use the GPS.

There were a lot of churches....

A LOT of churches.... But not the one I was looking for.

I drove and drove. I drove past the Pop-a-Top. (But since it was Sunday, no tops were being popped.)

And then I found it!

On the way home, I saw this. Now, do you suppose this is a class that teaches you how to carry a concealed weapon???

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Friday, May 2, 2008

Southern stuff

I've got one foot out the door, heading to the airport, heading down South.

Here's a great website to help you waste more time. The link takes you to my favorite page of Southern goodies, but check out the other stuff - the great clothes, etc.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

International Reading Association

I'll be heading South on Friday.

First, a few days in South Carolina with my mother.

Then to the International Reading Association annual conference in Atlanta.

On Wednesday, May 7, 9 a.m. to 11:45, I'll be speaking on a panel entitled: Engaging Girls with Adolescent Literature: Let's Hear It for the Girls!

Moderator: Dr. Claudia Katz (National-Louis University)

Other authors on the panel:
Rachel Vail
Shannon Hale
Lisa Klein
Kelly DiPucchio
Wendy Corsi Staub

I'll be signing at the FSG booth (#2654) from 1 to 2 p.m. on May 7.