Thursday, July 31, 2008

Enough already

Yoohoo boxer shorts?

Okay, okay, enough already...

I'm off eBay.....

....for a while.

I don't think so...

Yoohoo pencils are great.

But Yoohoo earrings?

Um, I don't think so.....

Only on eBay

Check this out - 108 little Yoohoo pencils!

My next novel, The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis (Fall 2009), centers around little boats made out of Yoohoo cartons.

So, of course, I had to have these!

Nice little give-aways, don't you think?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

An award!

I was honored with another blog award by Deb Renner Smith, a fabulous teacher who is passionate about writing and teaching writing to children. (Thanks, Deb!)

The award is the Atre y Pico Award.

I'm going to follow Deb's lead and pass along this award to a few blogs that I think are terrific contributions to children's literacy:

Of course, who is more deserving than Franki and Mary Lee over at A Year of Reading? Love those guys!

Becky's Book Reviews is amazing. That gal can do some reading! Talk about devoted!

And Hip Writer Mama is, well, a hip writer mama.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Blueberry Crumb Bars

This has nothing whatsoever to do with writing for children, but, dang, these look good.

(Jama, you should make these and let us know how they are....)

Writing Tip Tuesday

Speaking of action.....'s some food for thought with regard to your story:

Is the character a critical element in the ACTION of the story?

Is she instrumental in driving the story forward?

Does she MAKE the story happen?


Is the story simply happening to her or around her?

Here's the million dollar question:

If you took your main character out of the story, would the story/action/event still happen?

IMHO, it's not enough to have a character simply experiencing the story, relating the story, observing the story, etc. It's not even enough for the character to just participate in the story.


And that means....the character needs to DO something - not just see something, feel something, tell us something, experience something, etc.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Word clouds

I had never heard of Wordle.

But thanks to Professor Nana, now I have.

Here is a "word cloud" of Chapter 1 of The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis:

Chapter 2:

And Chapter 3:

Uh oh - I just noticed how big the word "said" is.

I think that might be bad.

Friday, July 25, 2008

I'm so brilliant

I was given this award by the world's-best-map-creator-drawer-painter and children's book illustrator, Jennifer Thermes.

Thanks, Jennifer!

So now I get to choose some of my favorite blogs and spread the love.

Here are the rules:

1) Put the logo on your blog.
2) Add a link to the person who awarded you.
3) Nominate at least 7 other blogs.
4) Add links to those blogs on yours.
5) Leave a message for your nominees on their blogs.

I'm choosing The Empress of the Universe (ha! I knew you'd have to click that link to find out who the heck that is), Sarah Lewis Holmes, Grace Lin, Gusty Scattergood and Lisa Yee.

Now, because I'm such a Royal Rulebreaker aka Rebel (okay, okay, maybe because I'm lazy), I'm not following the rules. I only nominated five and I didn't post at their blogs. They have to read mine to find out. Ha! That'll teach 'em....

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Back in the saddle

I've been thinking lately about critique - that oh-so-delicate part of writing.

You may receive it from a friend, a fellow writer, or an editor.

Naturally, we all like to hear what others love about our work.

But the point of critique is to hear what others don't love about our work.

What's missing?

What's confusing?

What's too slow? Too boring? Too long?


I have experienced - and witnessed - a critique knocking you out of the saddle and causing you to get off track - to lose your way - to lose your vision - or, worst of all, to lose your voice.

Over the years, I've learned how to get back in the saddle:

I follow my instincts.


It's important to listen to feedback from trusted and respected readers.

But it's also important to know how to use that feedback without sacrificing your creation.

So in addition to listening to trusted and respected readers....

....listen to yourself.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Just call me Granny

The cashier at the grocery store gave me the senior citizens discount today.

But she just called it "the discount."

I saved 63 cents.

Writing Tip Tuesday

Part 2 of discussing There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom by Louis Sachar:

In addition to creating a lovable bad boy, Sachar uses a unique technique in this book.

He adds a wonderful layer to the main character of Bradley Chalkers by having him live in a fantasy world with his collection of toy animals.

First of all, this fantasy relationship between Bradley and his animals is so dang sweet you just HAVE to root for Bradley, no matter how often he lies or otherwise engages in naughty behavior.

How can you NOT love this kid?

But what I love most about the way Sachar uses this device is the way he does it - by literally switching from realistic fiction mode into fantasy mode - just as smooth as smooth can be.

He was talking to his collection of little animals. He had about twenty of them. There was a brass lion that he had found one day in a garbage can on the way to school. There was an ivory donkey that his parents had brought back from a trip to Mexico. There were two owls that were once used as salt and pepper shakers, a glass unicorn with its horn broken, a family of cocker spaniels, attached around an ashtray, a raccoon, a fox, an elephant, a kangaroo, and some that were so chipped and broken you couldn't tell what they were. And they were all friends.

And they all liked Bradley.
[Note: Can Sachar write a powerful sentence, or what??!!]

"Where's Ronnie?" Bradley asked. "And Bartholomew?"

"I don't know," said the fox.

"They're always going off together," said the kangaroo.

Bradley leaned across the bed and reached under his pillow. He pulled out Ronnie the Rabbit and Bartholomew the Bear....
"What were you two doing back there?" he demanded.

Ronnie giggled. She was a little red rabbit with tiny blue eyes glued on her face...

"Nothing, Bradley," she said. "I was just taking a walk."

I love this! It takes the reader right into Bradley's fantasy world and it's just so much fun.

Oh, and remember that language test he cut up into a gazillion little pieces earlier in the story?

Bradley reached into his pocket and took out a handful of cut-up bits of paper, his language test.

"Look, everybody," he said. "I brought you some food!"

He dropped the bits of paper onto the bed, then scooped all his animals into it.

"Not so fast," he said. "There's plenty for everybody."

"Thank you, Bradley," said Ronnie. "It's delicious."

"Don't play with your food," the mother cocker spaniel told her three children.

"Pass the salt," said the pepper owl.

"Pass the pepper," said the salt owl.

"Let's hear it for Bradley!" called the lion.

They all cheered, "Yay, Bradley!"

Ronnie finished eating, then hopped off by herself, singing, "doo de-doo de-doo."

Then she said, "I think I'll go swimming in the pond."

The pond was a purple stain on Bradley's bedspread where he had once spilled grape juice.

And so it goes - Sachar using this fantasy world to help the reader love Bradley.

And it totally works.

And then.... when Bradley's sister barges into his room while he's chatting with his animals:

"Get out of here!" he snapped at her. "Or I'll punch your face in!"

I love that kid.

What's my tip here, you might be wondering?

My tip is:

Don't be afraid to try something new. Wanna intersperse some fantasy with some reality? Wanna take us inside your main character's world, even if it means leaving your realistic setting?

Break a rule or two.

Go ahead.

Try it.

I dare you.

Quoted from There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom by Louis Sachar; Alfred Knopf; 1987

Friday, July 18, 2008

Off to Maine

I'm heading up to Maine to visit my son for the weekend.


(I have to stay at this crummy place, but I guess I'll just suck it up and make the best of it.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Pardon me while I have a good cry.

One of my novels has gone out of print.

This is a first for me.

I'm partial to all of my books, of course.....but I have a special place in my heart for this one.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I feel a little better

I lost Wisconsin, Minnisota and Michigan -

but I got New Mexico!

You can get a good idea of the rarity of various states by how much they go for.

Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan went for $158.

New Mexico went for $38.

If I ever find North Carolina, South Carolina, or Georgia - look out! I may have to get a home equity loan....

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Writing Tip Tuesday

My friend and mentor, Ann Cameron (who is brilliant and has many years experience over me) once told me that she thinks There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom by Louis Sachar is one of the best children's books ever written.

That book was published 21 years ago.

I recently pulled it out of my teetering pile of books and started reading it again.

I was struck by a couple of thoughts.

One: Louis Sachar is a brilliant writer.

But the second thought that struck me was what a great character Bradley Chalkers is.

I am sure that kids adore him.

And here's my theory as to why: He's a lovable bad kid.

He says naughty things.

He does naughty things.

But he has a good heart.

Here are the first two paragraphs of There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom:

Bradley Chalkers sat at his desk in the back of the room - last seat, last row. No one sat at the desk next to him or at the one in front of him. He was an island.

If he could have, he would have sat in the closet. Then he could shut the door so he wouldn't have to listen to Mrs. Ebbel. He didn't think she'd mind. She'd probably like it better that way too. So would the rest of the class. All in all, he thought everyone would be much happier if he sat in the closet, but, unfortunately, his desk didn't fit.

Now, I don't know about you, but I love this kid already.

As the school day progresses, Bradley spends a lot of time scribbling, "sometimes on the paper and sometimes on his desk."

The pencil point breaks.

He tapes the broken pencil point to "one of the gobs of junk in his desk."

His desk was full of little wads of torn paper, pencil points, chewed erasers, and other unrecognizable stuff, all taped together.

[Is anybody else thinking Joey Pigza besides me?]

When the teacher hands back the language tests, Bradley has the only F in the class. He cuts his test paper into tiny squares. [Note: Remember comes in again next week when I discuss this book again.]

I love that.

In the meantime, a new kid is introduced to the class. The new kid tries to make make friends with Bradley.

Bradley thought a moment, then said, "Give me a dollar or I'll spit on you."

End of chapter one.

Now, first of all, that is a killer chapter ending.

Tell me there is one kid on the face of the earth who would STOP reading at that point.

And tell me there is one kid on the face of the earth who isn't intrigued by Bradley Chalkers.

I'd bet my bottom dollar, most kids LOVE Bradley Chalkers.

He is a lovable bad kid.

I'm going to talk more about Bradley Chalkers next week, but my point for today is: take a good look at your main character.

Is he perfect?

Is he always nice? Always good? Always right?

If so.....come on, give the kid some BAD.

It doesn't have to be a lot - just enough to make him human (and lovable).

Quoted from There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom by Louis Sachar; Alfred Knopf; 1987

Monday, July 14, 2008


You know my obsession with vintage state map tablecloths?

Well, I was ecstatic to find this one:

Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan - on one tablecloth!!

I LOST it in the last minute of the auction.... $2.50.


I am convinced I will never live to see another one like it.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Mem Fox

I adore the work of Mem Fox. She has a great web site with some really useful information for writers.

This is particularly good information and smacks of experience.

While this is aimed primarily at picture book writers, I think all children's writers should heed most of this advice.

The tidbits I am particularly drawn to, though, are the ones about rhythm, like these two:

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…

DO NOT forget that the rhythm of the text is the element which will, or will not bring the reader back to the story again and again.

For me and my writing style, rhythm is critical. I know when it's on track and I know when it's off.

The way the writing sounds is as important as what the writing says.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Knock Knock

Knock knock

Who's there?


You who?

Yoohoo - I need your knock knock jokes

Okay, okay....that was lame.

But I need some knock knock jokes.

Got any?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Four words

You know how George Carlin had those seven words that should never be said on TV?

Well, here are my four words that should never be said in the dentist's office:





Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Writing Tip Tuesday

One word.....


Children's books need action, action, action.

You know how "everyone" says you should be able to describe your book in one or two sentences?

I'd go a step further and say that you should also be able to describe what your book is about in terms of ACTION.

"This book is about a girl who ______."

The blank should contain action.

"This book is about a girl who DOES SOMETHING."

Not just....

"This book is about a girl who grows/wishes/longs for/hopes/realizes/decides to, etc."

Sure - the girl can (and should) grow/wish/long for/hope/realize and decide.

But she should also DO something active while she's growing, wishing, longing for, hoping, realizing and deciding. (In fact, it's the doing that should lead to the growing.)


This book is about a girl who steals a dog in order to make money so her family can get a place to live.


This book is about a girl who struggles with her conscience when circumstances drive her to make a wrong decision for all the right reasons.

The first example is the action of the story.

The second example is the underlying theme of the story.

Both are important elements for children's books.

But the character must do something (usually to solve a problem) - and along the way, she can grow, long for, hope, decide, yada yada yada.

So don't forget.




Monday, July 7, 2008

The mysteries of gardening

I fell in love with this annual salvia last year (the pink blooms). It's called Coral Nymph.
Here it is last July.

Here it is this July:

I had some left over this year so decided to stick a few into a container.
Here it is in the container:

So, what's up with that?

The mystery of gardening, I guess.

By the way, has anyone ever noticed how many writers love gardening, birds, nature and dogs?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Cure for writer's block

Great cure for writer's block = eBay.

(Well, okay, it doesn't give you any ideas, but it takes up a lot of time that would ordinarily be wasted on thinking up ideas.)

I love to collect things.

Like Smoky Mountain memorabilia.

And antique silver baby cups.

And state map tablecloths.

I have Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Ohio, Texas, Washington, the Western States and New England.

Some states are easy to find, like Florida and California.

Some states are hard to find, like Iowa and New York.

Some states are impossible to find, like South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia.

And some of them are almost impossible to find, like Maine.

But now I have Maine!

Thank you, eBay.

And speaking of eBay, check out this screen door push bar I just got:

Okay, I'm signing off to think about writing.....

P.S. If anybody out there knows where I can get South Carolina, North Carolina, or Georgia, let me know.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


Most writers I know don't like to talk about a work-in-progress - or even an idea about a book.

Superstitious or something.

Not me.

I have a little note on my computer where I have jotted down some of the really really really really hazy thoughts/images/characters/phrases/places that are s-l-o-w-l-y percolating.

I have always worked like this. Some of those jottings eventually disappear into the cosmos - but many of them come together, hold hands, do a jig, and become a book.

Here are some of the notes of my really really really really really hazy ideas/images yada yada yada:

Knock Knock

It had never snowed in Carter, Georgia. Not once.

a mountain to the north
an ocean to the south
in the middle was a one-whistle town (train)

finds crate of novelty items

Lives over the dry cleaners

Owen Jester tiptoed across the gleaming linoleum floor and slipped the frog into the soup.
It swam gracefully under the potatoes, pushing its froggy back legs through the pale yellow broth. It circled the carrots and bumped into the celery and finally settled beside a parsnip, its bulging eyes staring unblinkingly up at Owen.

[Note: Please do not contact PETA. The soup is not hot, people, okay?]

Itchy and Scratchy
Joleen Berkus
Tooley Graham

[Those are names that have popped into my head. Catfish and Squirrel were REAL people I met in the Waffle House in Simpsonville, South Carolina. Itchy and Scratchy are dogs.]

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Writing Tip Tuesday

The ending of your story is critical.


But what I mean by "the ending" doesn't mean just the end of the storyline.

I mean the feeling the ending leaves the reader with.

That feeling is critical.



How do you want your reader to feel after reading the final page of your book?

One thing that contributes to the feeling left by the ending is whether or not the reader is left with a memory of how the story evolved.

That is often accomplished by providing a connection to the beginning of the story, even at the end.

Does that make sense?

I'm going to offer up a personal example that may seem rather trite, but to me, it is a good example of reconnecting the reader to earlier parts of the story at the end and, thus, producing a satisfied feeling that encapsulates the story as a whole.

In my next novel (The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis), the two main characters discover boats made from Yoohoo cartons floating down a creek. Inside the boats are notes written on strips of paper and folded.

The boys excitedly open the notes:

Three times.

This is repeated several times in the story (for the first few notes).

At the end of the book, one of the boys is sending a boat and a note down the creek.

My brilliant editor suggested that he fold it:

Three times.

(She refers to that as a "refrain." I love that!)

Well, DUH!

Of course that's what I needed to do.

That simple addition took the reader back to the beginning of the story in a wonderful, satisfying circle.

That addition left the reader with a memory of the early part of the story and, thus, an "aura" of the story as a whole, not just the end.

So I suggest that you might consider if there is any way to "bookend" an element of your story - to bring back at the end something important from the beginning - to give the reader a reminder of the evolution of your story - to connect the beginning and the end to leave the reader "full".

Just a thought....