Friday, September 28, 2007

Robert's Snow Gallery Showings

You can view the beautiful snowflakes made by children's book artist's for the Robert's Snow Cancer Cure project at The Child at Heart Gallery in Newburyport, MA and Danforth Museum of Art in Framingham, MA.

For information on both galleries, check here.

And remember, I will be featuring artists Brian Lies and Robin Brickman in the coming weeks.

Quote of the day

Now here's an interesting quote, from Kurt Vonnegut:

Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

I'm heading off for the weekend - to a car race in the Berkshires (Connecticut). Yes, I said a car race.

I've been once a year every year for about 15 years now. Whodathunk it?

But, it's really beautiful there....and Paul Newman was there last year - racing - at age 81 - and lookin' good!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Gay Paree...

I was just checking my stats for my blog and somebody from PARIS, TENNESSEE looked at my blog.

Paris, Tennessee??!!

Who knew?

(probably Kerry....but not me)

Before and After

My garden last week:

My garden this week:

That's all I'm saying....

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

No Holes in Holes

Since I suffer from OHD, I'm going to share some more of the highlighted stuff from Les Edgerton's book, Hooked.

He breaks a well-written opening into clearly defined parts. I am particularly intrigued by the terms "surface problem" vs "story-worthy problem" and "surface goal" vs "story-worthy goal."

("Surface", of course, means just that - the specific, clearly defined problem that might set the story in motion. "Story-worthy", on the other hand, is the larger, big-picture problem woven throughout the story - what the story is ultimately about as far as theme, etc.)

Here is how Edgerton breaks down the opening of Holes by Louis Sachar:
  • Opening backstory: The curse on Stanley's family; why Stanley is on the bus going to juvie camp
  • Setup: Camp Green Lake and the warden; intro to Stanley
  • Inciting Incident: Stanley sent to Camp Green Lake
  • Surface problem: To find a way to survive camp and the warden
  • Surface goal: To return home
  • Story-worthy problem: To overcome the family curse
  • Story-worthy goal: To become a "self-sufficient young adult who no longer allows himself to be a victim"
I love those labels. They're nice and tidy and organized.

But did Sachar really think about them while he was writing the first draft?

A good writer is certainly aware of structure and uses it wisely during first draft - but I think that the real solid walls of structure probably come during revision.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I feel better now (I think)

I've had a little niggling worry about the first chapter of my WIP (that's "work in progress").

Normally, I love to hold my nose and jump in the deep end - right in the middle of the action - or as close to it as I can get. That's the "rule" about children's writing - get to the point and get there fast.

But the first chapter of my WIP is all setup.

At the end of the first chapter, the reader still doesn't know what the story is about.

The action hasn't started yet.

The sole purpose of the first chapter is to set the stage for the story that follows.

The "rule" says this is usually not a good thing.

But I really feel like the setup is crucial. (In a nutshell, the first chapter sets up how boring things are for the main character. Nothing to do. Boring. Boring. Until.....something happens - which is why the book is called The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis. He finally has, duh, an adventure.)

So then I'm reading Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One and Never Lets Them Go, Les Edgerton, and agent Julie Castiglia says:

Never ever start with weather, dreams, setup, or a passive scene that takes the reader nowhere.

...and now I'm really starting to worry.

But then, last night, I get farther into the same book (further into the same book?), and Edgerton has a chapter called, "Balancing Setup and Backstory in Your Opening."

He gives some exceptions to that "rule" about not using too much setup in the beginning. One of those exceptions:

"A third instance in which a longer setup is crucial is when a deeper sense of context is needed to establish mood and set the stage for the events to come....A longer setup is essential...because the whole thrust of the novel depends on the contrast we see at the beginning."

So - yay!

That works for me.

It's my setup and I'm sticking to it.

Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One and Never Lets Them Go; Les Edgerton; Writers Digest Books; 2007

Monday, September 24, 2007

Review of How to Steal a Dog

My new favorite fifth grade teacher has posted a really nice review of How to Steal a Dog over on her teacher blog.

Thanks, Megan Germano!

Quote of the day

Sure, it's simple, writing for kids . . . . Just as simple as bringing them up.

Ursula K. LeGuin

Friday, September 21, 2007

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Problem solved

My desk at home:

What I see at my desk at home:
  • All my special things (photos, etc.)
  • Dogs at my feet
  • Cat by the door
  • Birds at the feeder
  • Laundry in the basket
  • Piles of dog hair by the vacuum
  • Bills to be paid
  • Food to be cooked
  • E-mail to be answered
You get the picture....

What I hear at my desk at home:
  • Dogs barking
  • Phone ringing
  • Dryer buzzing
  • E-mail alert chiming
  • Plumber at the door
  • Neighbors at the bus stop
  • Dry cleaners delivering
You get the picture....

My desk at the library:

What I see at my desk at the library:
  • My manuscript (please notice - no laptop - i.e., no internet - okay, okay, that might be a cellphone over there on the left, but I didn't use it)

What I hear at my desk at the library:

You get the picture....

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

It's only the beginning

I've been thinking about the importance of beginnings lately. (Book beginnings, that is.)

...which reminded me of an experience I had with my first novel, Beethoven in Paradise.

We were all wrapped up with the manuscript and ready for the galley proof stage.

In the meantime, the cover artist, the fabulous Caldecott illustrator, David Small, (of So You Want to Be President fame) was reading the manuscript in order to prepare the cover.

He made a casual comment to my editor that he thought the story really started at Chapter 3.

My editor wrote to me:

Dear Barbara, Brace yourself for a last-minute suggestion for Beethoven in Paradise.

Uh, oh.... not what you want to hear at this point in the process, right? (Especially the "brace yourself" part.)

But she went on to say:

What would you think of starting the book with your present chapter 3? It has the punch we were looking for and introduces the conflict..."

And of course, I had one of those head-thwacking DUH moments. Why hadn't I thought of that?

Now here's the interesting thing: That change did not require changing a single word. Not one. We literally lifted chapter 3, moved it to the beginning, and let the original chapter 1 follow it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Blogging for a Cure

The wonderful Robert's Snow Blogging for a Cure project is taking off! It's the brainchild of Jules and Eisha over at Seven Impossible Things. The idea is for bloggers to feature this year's Robert's Snow artists to attract attention to the auction. The response has been terrific.

The complete list of participating blogs is here.

I have the honor of featuring dear friends and amazing artists: Robin Brickman and Brian Lies.

So, stay tuned....

Monday, September 17, 2007

Can't Resist

I need another blog to read like I need a hole in the head...


...since I love teachers...

...and I love fifth grade teachers...

...and I love fifth grade teachers who are into children's literature..... can I resist adding this one?

Before and After

Rough draft of first paragraph of Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (exactly as written):

TWO ONIONS, FOUR GALRIC [sic] BULBS SERENDIPITY AND A DOG NAMED WINN DIXIE my dog's name is winn dixie on account of that is where i found him. he was in the produce department and you know they don't like dogs mixed in with the fruit and vegetables. the produce manager, he was all excited, waving his arms around and chasing winn dixie, screaming, "that dirty dog. who let that dirty dog in here?"

As published:

My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog. This is what happened: I walked into the produce section of the Winn-Dixie grocery store to pick out my two tomatoes and I almost bumped right into the store manager. He was standing there all red-faced, screaming and waving his arms around.

"Who let a dog in here? he kept on shouting. "Who let a dirty dog in here?"

From "Drafts as models of craft: Ten things learned about Kate DiCamillo", by Sandra Imdieke; The Dragon Lode; Volume 25; Spring 2007
Draft courtesy of the Children's Literature Research Collection; University of Minnesota; Kate DiCamillo
And "Because of Winn Dixie" by Kate DiCamillo; Candlewick Press; 2000

Friday, September 14, 2007

Childhood favorites with my twin

My friend and fellow writer, Kimberley Griffiths Little, suggested we do a twin blog about favorite childhood books. Sounded like a great idea to me! (Be sure to check out Kimberley's favorites.)

Her suggestion was a result of my post about one of my all-time favorite books as a kid, The Pink Motel by Carol Ryrie Brink.

I read a lot, but didn't read many of the classics (Roald Dahl and Madeliene L'Engle and such) until I grew up. The only classics I remember reading were Little Women and Black Beauty. A relative gave me Treasure Island for Christmas one year but I only looked at the pictures. (I think that was the same relative who gave me underwear and socks, too.)

A bookmobile came to my neighborhood every two weeks and I crawled along the dirty floor to comb though the children's books on the lower shelves, pulling off whatever caught my eye. (Dogs and horses and mysteries always caught my eye.)

I devoured all of the Trixie Belden books - loved 'em, loved 'em.

I read most of the Nancy Drew books, but didn't love her as much as Trixie.

I actually read Grimm's fairy tales, Aesop's fables, and Uncle Remus.

I also had this great big, beautifully illustrated book called Shirley Temple's Fairy Tales. I loved it so much I took it everywhere with me. When I was about 8, it was in the back seat of my dad's car when a service station guy drove the car to be serviced and had an accident. When I got the book back, it was all banged up and had little shards of glass in it. I was thrilled. I dramatically showed it to all my friends, who were also impressed. (I still have that book - minus the glass.)

I read this book over and over. ??? Not sure why.

I read Babar a lot because it was the only book my grandmother had.

The Bobbsey Twins and Five Little Peppers (that really dates me, huh?)

I also vividly remember loving The Water Babies. Now I have a feeling I adored the illustrations more than the story. In fact, I may not have actually even read the story. But, oh how I loved those illustrations - those adorable little babies swimming around like that!

I read a gazillion comic books. (Does that count?) Casper, Archie, Little LuLu, Nancy and Sluggo, Donald Duck, Baby Huey.

Mad Magazine, of course!

And this may not count, but I found these two books in a junk store once and had a heckuva deja vu. I had these as a very (very) young child and adored them! They actually had words, but mostly I loved the illustrations.

Fun with Decals actually had decals in it, which my mom put on a stool just like in the book.

Now scoot on over to Kimberley's blog and read about her childhood favorites.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Book Cover Meme

I came across this fun meme over at Reading With Becky and decided to give it a try. (Just curious, you know...)

You type your name into the title field of the advanced search on Amazon and choose the most interesting title that comes up.

When I just type in my first name:

(Go ahead, ask me anything about love, sex, and relationships.)

But that isn't even close to interesting compared to what I get when I type in my full name (alas, no image available):

An authentic narrative of the extraordinary cure performed by Prince Alexandre Hohenlohe on Miss Barbara O'Connor, a nun, in the convent of New Hall, near ... false reports and misrepresentations
by John Badeley (Author)

Quote of the day

My most important piece of advice to all you would-be writers: when you write, try to leave out all the parts readers skip.

Robert's Snow

If you blog, I hope you'll consider participating in Blogging for a Cure.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Bikers with books

We should all have one of these! It holds about 80 books.

Check out the little reading lamp.

And it has compartments to hold stuff (highlighers? reading glasses? Twinkies?)

Thanks to Gizmodo for this.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Hook 'em at hello

As part of his research for Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One and Never Lets Them Go, Les Edgerton surveyed several editors and agents about problems with manuscript beginnings:

Jodie Rhodes
When it comes to selling your book, the most important words you’ll ever write are those on page one. Unless you grab our attention immediately, your book has no chance. Countless writers have told me (often vehemently) that their book gains power as it goes along, that it really gets exciting once a reader gets into it, so please give it the chance it deserves. That will never happen and you just have to accept it. If you want to interest us, you’ve got to do it on page one.
Never open with scenery! Novels are about people, about the human condition. That’s why we read them. Yet writer after writer starts off with descriptions of cities, towns, streets, forests, mountains, oceans, etc. Of course I know why. They’ve learned how to describe landscapes in language that seems literary, and hope we’ll be impressed. We are not. We are looking for life.

Mike Farris
We see two fairly common mistakes. The first is the beginning that isn’t really a beginning of the story but is simply the backstory or static introduction of the character. These openings usually consist of multiple pages of narrative, none of which move the story forward or get it started. Sometimes they even go backwards--“As John looked out over the vast expanse of wilderness, he thought back to how he had gotten there. Two years earlier he had…”

The other mistake is the effort to hook the reader with something exciting that turns out to have nothing whatsoever to do with the story. Explosions and murders can be exciting, but if they don’t get the current story started, leave them out.

Toni Weisskopf
Not clearly identifying a point-of-view character’s particulars. I need to know fairly soon, in the first few paragraphs, if the narrator or viewpoint character is male or female, young or old, sophisticated or innocent. The fallback assumption from the reader is that the sex of the viewpoint character is the same as that of the writer; if it’s going to be different, the reader needs to know right away.

After that, too many would-be writers assume an interest in what’s going on from the reader they haven’t earned yet. I can’t be interested in a character crying or a character in peril if I don’t know that character yet.

Julie Castiglia
The story should begin on the first page, but often it doesn’t, so there is no reason to read on. Give us a reason to turn that page. Never ever start with weather, dreams, setup, or a passive scene that takes the reader nowhere.

Janet Reid
Opening statically, not dynamically. Description of just about anything instead of movement. Opening with the weather, a dream, a prologue with a character running the day s/he got involved with whatever.

Anonymous Senior Editor, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Every bad beginning is bad in its own special way.

Bob Silverstein
Front-loading of information. Too much tell, not enough show.

Barbara Collins
Writers tend to begin with the backstory and also overload the reader with details and descriptions of the characters.

Thanks to Leslie Davis Guccione for passing this along to me.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Favorites of the year (so far)

MotherReader is compiling a list of favorites of the year and encouraging participation - so, I'm in!

I read mostly middle grade, rarely picture books and occastionally young adult, so my focus here is on middle grade.

Here are my favorites of the year (so far):

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban

Louisiana's Song by Kerry Madden

The Aurora Country All-Stars by Deborah Wiles

The Thing About Georgie by Lisa Graff

Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little by Peggy Gifford

....and one young adult:

Alabama Moon by Watt Key

P.S. I'm sure I've probably forgotten some....


Writer Heidi Ruby Miller has posted an interview with me on her blog. (She has lots of interesting interviews with a wide variety of writers.)

You can check it out here.


I'm recycling a blog post from back in April.

I know, I know....there's probably a rule about that in the blogger's handbook somewhere.

But I'm doing it anyway -

retelling the story about the REAL dog, Willy - who got lost (sniff) and whose owner posted a reward sign (sniff) and..... well, here it is.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Kickin' it up a notch

First day of school here in New England. Sigh...

Summer is over.


So, it's time for me to move from lazy, summer-will-last-forever work mode into kickin'-it-up-a-notch work mode.

September goals:

1. Work on (and finish) my presentation for the FAME (Florida Association for Media in Education.) conference in Orlando in October.

2. Work on (and finish) my talk for the Florida division of the International Reading Association dinner in October.

3. FINISH (or come dern near close to it) my work-in-progress (middle grade novel). Currently at page 92.

4. Replace that nasty carpet in the guest room. Oh,'d that get in there? This blog is about writing.

Monday, September 3, 2007


I told y'all about this cool Scrivener program a while back.

I'm still loving it.

See those little pushpins holding the index cards onto the corkboard? They are color-coded. They can represent anything you want them to, but in my case, they represent the setting.

So I can see at a glance where my chapters are taking place.

I can also bring up all the chapters containing a specific character or any other keyword I want to use.

I can see an instant outline of the whole manuscript.

I can rearrange those index cards (i.e., chapters) just by dragging them around.

I can even concentrate on what I'm supposed to be doing and write.