Thursday, August 28, 2008

What a difference a year makes

This is so sad.

Last year, at our annual visit to Lime Rock race track.

This year.

He said...she said

If you need to waste some time, check out the Gender Genie linked from Augusta Scattergood's blog entry. It's fun to fiddle around with - especially if you're trying to get the voice of a character right.

Crossed off my list

Raise your hand if you've ever used a jackhammer?

My husband seems to think that it is pretty much a waste of a human life if you've lived without ever having used a jackhammer.

So, at his insistence.....

Trust me, that thing jumps around, is heavy, makes a lot of noise, and is meant to be used only by hairy men in steel-toed boots.

But, while I can't exactly say it was high up there on my bucket list, I can now cross off: Use a jackhammer.

(Notice the safety goggles...)

(Notice the name of that thing - the "Wacker")

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My drumming class

So here's a little snippet of an audio recording of my African drumming class.

The person at the beginning of the tape who goofs up is me.

The person who is laughing is me.

The person who is playing really well is not me.

The beautiful singing voice is my teacher, Mohammed.

If you make it through to the end (i.e., if you aren't bored to tears immediately), I actually get a little better.

(Warning to anyone reading this blog at the office: this has SOUND - and it does not sound like that conference call you were supposed to be making with IBM.)

(And by the way, here's why this is a "video": I have this great little digital recorder that is not Mac-compatible. So the only way I could figure out how to get an mp3 file onto my computer was to record the recording with Garage Band. Then import the file into iMovie. Then upload it to You Tube. That is either pure genius or total moronic stupidity. I'm not sure which.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Writing Tip Tuesday

Yogi Bera said: You can't hit and think at the same time.

I would amend that to say: You can't write and think at the same time.

By that I mean, sometimes (most times), your best writing will come when you don't think so hard about it - when you let it just flow out of you in a zenlike way.

That is certainly true for me.

I can feel when my writing sounds forced - when it doesn't flow well.

And those times are almost always the result of thinking too much.

Natalie Goldberg calls this writing with your monkey mind - as opposed to your wild mind (in her book, Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life).

Katherine Paterson says: 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.

So my advice is to save your monkey mind for revising - but while you are creating, use your wild mind.

Don't think too hard about it.

Make sense?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Alvin Ho

I. love. this. book.

It is funny and charming.

The illustrations are adorable and add a lot to the book.

Lenore Look is now on my list of Authors I Love.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Porkenbeans, y'all

A recent discussion with my husband had me thinking about pork and beans.

Growing up in the South, I never used or heard used (at least not in my house) the term "baked beans."

We always said "pork and beans" - even if there was no pork in there - which there usually wasn't - or just one itty bitty little slab of salt pork or some weird fat-looking thing like they put in the top of Campbell's Pork and Beans. (And btw, we pronounced it "porkenbeans" - like it was one word.)

It made me realize how easily we let our own ear slip into our writing.

In Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia, there is a line:

She cussed at me and threw a can of pork and beans clear across the room.

I never would have written: threw a can of baked beans.

Yesterday I was listening to country western music on the radio.

There is a song by Sara Evans called When You Were Cheating.

It goes like this:

How do you like that furnished room
The bed, the chair, the table?

The tv picture comes and goes,

Too bad you don't have cable.

How do you like that paper plate?
And those pork 'n beans your eatin'
Maybe you should have thought about that...when you were cheating

So, I guess it's a Southern thing?

Or is it just me?

At any rate, I think it's important to stay in touch with your natural ear.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Dolores and I watched a Shirley Temple movie together yesterday (Curly Top).

So, here's the plot:

Shirley is an orphan.

She lives in a beautiful orphanage owned by a handsome rich man.

She has an older sister who is beautiful and who works in the kitchen of the orphanage.

Their parents were actors who died in a car crash.

Shirley has a pony and a duck that her parents used to use in their vaudeville show.

She is so dang cute that the handsome rich man adopts her and buys her a pony cart for her pony and gives her hula lessons.

Shirley wants to raise money for the poor orphans who are not as cute as she is and didn't get adopted, so she puts on a musical and sings Animal Crackers in My Soup and her beautiful sister plays the ukelele.

The handsome rich man falls in love with the beautiful sister and marries her.

Now that is a plot!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Here's the stuff we scored at the antique fair. (I told you I'd make a bad monk.)

An engraved napkin ring:

A baby cup engraved with "Clark."
Don't you wonder where Baby Clark is today?

My favorite - these great little silver knives with mother-of-pearl handles:

A drying rack that hangs on the wall:

And folds up when not in use:

My husband found this - an antique fire truck. (We have a weird little recessed shelf that needed the perfect funky "thing.")

A lightning rod for the garden:

Another lightning rod for the garden:

This one has a great milk-glass "bulb" with stars:

And one more garden ornament:

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ann Reit

I just learned the news of the death of Ann Reit, longtime editor at Scholastic.

Ann played a key role in my writing career.

I was in a critique group with Leslie Guccione, who, at the time, was writing for Scholastic. Ann was her editor.

Leslie offered to send my manuscript of Beethoven in Paradise to Ann.

Ann liked it and asked if I would be willing to work with her on revisions.


Of course I was willing to work with her on revisions!

We fiddled around with the manuscript for about a year.

Finally, Ann called and said it just wasn't working. The book wasn't right for Scholastic. I should get an agent.

She offered to make a call to an agent for me.

On Ann's recommendation, the agent agreed to take me on.

That agent sold Beethoven in Paradise to Frances Foster at Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

That was about 13 years ago.

I still have that wonderful agent and am still publishing books with Frances at FSG.

So - I will always be grateful to Ann Reit.

Writing Tip Tuesday

When it comes to novels:

Just because it really happened doesn't mean it "works."

Just because it really happened doesn't make it interesting.

Just because it really happened doesn't make it credible.

Writers draw from real life.

Of course.

That's often what sparks our imaginations.

That's what adds "life" to our writing - gives it the sensory "glow" it needs, the characters who seem so real, the dialogue that draws the reader into the story, etc.

But fiction writing is still fiction.

It usually needs a heck of a lot more "spark" than real life.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard a writer respond to a negative critique or questionable comment about their story by saying, "But that's the way it really happened."

My response to that is: "Yeah. So what?"

If it isn't interesting...

If it doesn't "work"....

If it isn't believable (even if it really happened!) ...

It probably needs a dose of FICTION.

So my advice today is: Draw from real life. Use real life for your spark, your seed, your first breath. But if you're writing fiction, add a layer (or two or three), twist it in a new direction, shake it up, throw in some spice, take it farther.....

You're writing FICTION.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A real life eBay

I would be a bad monk.

I love stuff.

Not big stuff, like yachts or Ferarri's.

But little stuff.



This past weekend was heaven.

Hubby and I went to an antique fair in Bouckville, New York - just south of Utica.



And more stuff:

There were even taxidermy chickens. (Yes, those are real chickens.)

And then, right in the middle of our cruising all the stuff, a wicked storm:

Thunder. Lightning.
Ironically, we had just bought two lightning rods (for my garden).
Luckily, my husband was carrying them, not me.

So the rain forced everyone into the tents, which was a little, um....claustrophobic.

But then the storm passed and all was right with the world. (That guy's shirt says: I Buy Guitars & Amps.)

Back to shopping for more STUFF.

This was like the world's largest real life eBay.

I'll show you some of the STUFF I scored later this week.

The. Best. Weekend.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


My next door neighbor from Venice Beach, California came to visit me!

We hadn't seen each other in NINETEEN years!!!!!

We both looked EXACTLY the same.

She brought me WYOMING!!!!!

Thank you so much, Kennalee!!!!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Summer goals check-in

Mary Lee over at A Year of Reading has challenged us summer goal-setters to come clean.

How did we do with our goals?

Here were my goals back at the beginning of the summer:

  1. Take African drumming lessons
  2. Sign up to be a Meals on Wheels substitute driver
  3. Spend as much time as possible on my screened porch
  4. Update all my brochures and create some new promotional materials
  5. Remember how lucky I am
So how did I do, you ask?

Wait, first let me get my umbrella to protect myself from all the rotten tomatoes that will be flung my way...

Because I did GREAT!

1. Not only did I take African drumming lessons - but I'm still taking African drumming lessons - and actually getting better!

2. I wasn't needed for Meals on Wheels, so I am a "friendly visitor" - with a new friend named Dolores, whom I visit every Friday. We watch Animal Planet and documentaries about migration and sea life. Next week we are going to watch a Shirley Temple movie together.

3. I am ON that porch, baby! Every spare minute of the day - and night.

4. Updated brochures? Heck, yeah! New promotional materials? Heck, yeah!

(Those are pdfs. If you can't open them for some reason, you can go here or here to check them out.)

5. Remember how lucky I am? Every day.....

So - go ahead - fling those tomatoes. My mission is accomplished.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Slip sliding away

I hate the thought of summer slipping away.

I'm savoring these early evenings on my beloved porch.

Sipping a Cosmo.

Watching the hummingbirds.

Listening to music.

Waiting for my husband to finish grilling.

What could be better?

In a blink, I'll be slogging through a snowstorm to visit a school and summer will be a hazy memory.


(By the way...that's my latest eBay state map tablecloth - New Mexico.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sad, but true

I got some new furniture for my bedroom and got rid of a bureau that has been in the same spot for a million trillion years.

When I moved it away from the wall, in addition to 40 pounds of dust, there was this:

An alligator claw backscratcher.

I know......


Sad, but true.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Writing Tip Tuesday

So, I thought I'd continue the theme of "not every rule/process/technique is right for everyone."

Sometimes (well, okay, a lot of times) writers say to other writers, "Don't worry about that messy writing right now. Just keep going and you can fix it later."


"Writers should write every day."


"You need to practice writing. It doesn't matter what - just jot down stream-of-consciousness stuff or whatever - it's the practice that counts."


"Writers should keep journals."

But you know what?

That advice just doesn't work for me.

Trust me, I've tried all those things.

Like my post about character development exercises, I feel strongly that every writer is different.

What works for one doesn't work for everyone.

I think it's important to try new ways of doing things, but to ultimately find your groove and your style.

I can't just "keep going" on a piece and "worry about it later." I need to tidy up as I go along. That's the way I work.

I hate, loathe and despise writing for the sake of writing.

I write when I have something worthwhile to write that feels good writing.

I don't want to "practice" by writing crapola that means nothing to me.

That kind of writing does absolutely nothing to help me as a writer; it only frustrates me and makes me want to watch Judge Judy reruns or vacuum my closet floors instead.

AND - I don't feel that I have to write every day.

Some days I need to think about writing.

Thinking about writing is part of the process of writing. My BEST writing is a product of much thought.

And some days I need to watch Judge Judy reruns.

That's my style. That's what works best for me.

As for journaling? I've tried it.

I've bought the most beautiful journals you ever saw - leather ones and satin ones and embroidered ones. I even have some I got in Italy with buttery soft leather covers and little straps that wrap around them and handmade paper.

Those journals end up saying stuff like: "Dang, today I ate way too many potato chips." Or "Got this adorable jacket on sale at Nordstrom. Woohoo!"

Maybe it's because I'm just shallow like that, but journaling does NOTHING for my "real" writing.

So my tip is this:

Listen to advice from other writers. Learn what processes/exercises/habits work for them - especially writers whose work you admire.

Try those processes/exercises/habits.

Then decide what works best for YOU.

If that means writing every day, then by all means, do it.

If that means journaling, do it.

If that means writing only when you have something you want and need to write about, do it.

If that means watching Judge Judy reruns, do it.

And my final thought?

If you don't write every day, I say:


P.S. to teachers: Keep in mind that some of the tips I offer here won't necessarily apply to youngsters. Most of my tips are intended primarily for my fellow grown-up writers who write for children. I understand that 4th graders may very well benefit from journaling, for instance. And fifth graders may need to write every day. And sixth graders probably need to practice writing by just writing "stuff".

But like many things in life, the "rules" that apply to children don't always apply to adults, and vice versa.

Sometimes kids need to just "do as I say and not as I do" until they are "fully cooked" enough to do it their own way, right?

There - that's my disclaimer.


Monday, August 11, 2008

My amazing husband

I have a garden that my family refers to as "Your Dad's Garden" because my husband and son made it in memory of my dad when he passed away. (I sweet, right?)

But it needed a trellis for privacy from the next door neighbor.

We wanted something interesting for the base of the trellis.

We went to an architectural salvage place in Boston and found this fantastic old porch railing.

I love how it turned out.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Talk about a character!

I heard an interview with this gal (Lee Israel) on NPR today.

What a great character!

She is smart and hilarious - and WHAT an interesting story!

This is definitely going on my "to read" list.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


I've made a breakthrough!


I tell ya, for a while there, I was REALLY worried.

I've NEVER had writer's block.

Every time I've finished a book, another idea popped into my head right away.

Maybe just a hazy hazy hazy idea....but, still....something to work from.

I have just wrapped up a book. (Working on copyedits as we speak...)

But a new idea? Um........

Knock knock.


Anybody in there?


My idea box looked like this:

So I've been really worried.

I've been thinking and thinking and thinking and thinking.

I have a character. (Actually, a couple of characters.)

I have a first sentence.

But no title. I can't start without a title. (I know, I know.....kinda weird)

And, um, no STORY.

But I made an itty bitty breakthrough.

A title.

And a sorta kinda story.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Who knew?

I'm working on copyedits (copy-edits? copy edits?) for my next highly intellectual and extremely classy book: The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis.

Who knew toe-jam is a hyphenated word?

Who knew swearwords is one word?

Who knew that if you call someone a skinny-headed ding-dong, you have to hyphenate ding-dong?

Who knew that when you say, "Oh, for criminy's sake" - criminy is not spelled with an "e."

Who knew tar paper is two words - or

Headlocks is one word - or

Chicken-wire is hyphenated.

I told you this book is highly intellectual and extremely classy.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Blueberry Crumb Bars

I decided to give these a try.

They are fantastic.

The magic word? BUTTER

I know, I know....nothing whatsoever to do with children's books - but, hey, it's blueberry season. Think Blueberries for Sal.

Writing Tip Tuesday

I have a confession to make.

You know those character development exercises where you answer all those trivia questions about your characters?

Like, what's in her backpack or what's his favorite pizza?


Hate 'em.

I never ever ever do them.

Here's another confession: I was in an SCBWI workshop years ago and the workshop leader asked us to do one of those exercises.

Like a junior high brat, I sat there and wrote "I hate this. I hate this. I hate this."

And then I pretended like I had to go to the restroom and left and never went back.

Here's why I hate those exercises: I get to know my characters by living with them in my head, and, later, on paper, while writing their story.

All those trivial questions seem just, well....trivial.


Those questions are out of context of the story.

Knowing my characters is a feeling - not an exercise.

I get to know my characters best by writing their story.

So, my tip for today is: Don't fret if you don't know what's in your character's backpack.

Fret if you don't know how she is going to act/react/speak/move/look in your story.

My other tip is: Every writer is different. I know that those character development exercises are great for some writers, so please don't send hate mail.

BUT those exercises aren't for every writer.

At least, not for this one.

So if they aren't great for you, it's okay to write "I hate this. I hate this. I hate this." And then pretend like you have to go to the bathroom.

And then go write your story.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Bats at the Library

My good friend and fellow critique group member, Brian Lies, has the most wonderful fabulous amazing new book out: Bats at the Library.

I was there from the get-go - watching this glorious book grow from a seed of an idea to a reality.

This one's gonna go places. You heard it here first...

Read about it here.

Go, Brian!