Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Iowa City Part 2

Iowa City totally rocks!

(Thanks for the posters Horn!)

I met the kids at Horn and Roosevelt:

The kids from Roosevelt made these great posters of my book covers:

(l to r) Joan, me, Anne Marie

Me with Iowa City students

Monday, October 27, 2008

By the way...

If you noticed that judge's gavel on the bookcase to the left - in the second photo (of video-guy Scott) - that was given to me by my family because of my deep love and affection for Judge Judy.

Some people think I'm kidding when I tell them I tape Judge Judy every single day.

But there's my proof.

I told ya so.....

Hollywood is not calling...

On Saturday Scholastic Book Fairs came out to film a video of me for their author DVD series for How to Steal a Dog.

Here is producer Larry and sound-guy Juan:

Here is video-guy Scott:

Here is Larry pretending to be me so they can test the lighting:

Trust me, despite the sign on that trunk, I will never be a Film Star.
I think I'm going to have to stick to writing.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Hitting the road

I'm heading to Iowa City, Iowa on Sunday for a week.

I'll be doing a residency as a component of a Community Reading Month that is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

I'll be speaking to students from 19 Iowa City schools.

Past author residencies for this program have included Ashley Bryan, Pat Cummings, Jerry Spinelli, Brian Jacques, Gail Gibbons, Chris Crutcher, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Lynn Reiser, E. B. Lewis, and Peter Catalanotto.

Last year's author was Deborah Wiles, so I have some big shoes to follow!

No, wait a minute, that's not the right expression. You FILL big shoes, not follow them, right?

And I am certainly not implying that Deborah Wiles has big feet.

She's a Southerner. I'm sure she has lovely little feet.

It's a hard act that you follow, not big shoes.

I have a hard act to follow.

But I'll give it my best shot.

Friday, October 24, 2008

My two minutes of fame

Scholastic Book Club is coming to my house this weekend to film me for their Author Video series for How to Steal a Dog.

I am, of course, flattered.

But....a little worried.

First of all - it takes four hours to film a two-minute video.

Second of all, they are bringing a CREW and, um, want something interesting.

A crew?


This is part of the info I received from them:

The best is when we go on location to places that relate to your book. Recently we took an author out on a boat with alligators while another was filmed in a cheese store in NYC.

Uh oh.

What the heck am I going to do?

Me at my desk?


Me at my computer?


Me watching Judge Judy.

No way.

Me playing my African djembe drum?

I don't think so.

Heating up some Lean Pockets for dinner?

Guess not...

Me with Hello Kitty?

Thanks for the suggestion, Sarah, but I don't think so.

Me stealing a dog?


That might work...

I don't know about this......

At least I got new slippers.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


A couple of noteworthy revisions from last week's writing workshop - fifth graders working on "show, don't tell."

Before: He loved football

After: He loved the feeling of making tackles and running for touchdowns.

Before: He was shy.

After: He didn’t start conversations and tried to stay unnoticed.

Before: It was spring.

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Off to a good start

When I teach biography writing workshops, I spend a fair amount of time talking about beginnings.

I know that the first sentence is often hardest.

The students have three pages of interview questions in front of them and sometimes have no idea where to start (writing biographies of a parent, grandparent, etc.).

I give them four choices - and cite examples of each:

1. Start with action.

I suggest that they look at their interviews in the section where there are questions about childhood activities, hobbies, sports, chores, etc. I give them an example of how they could choose one of those activities to start the chapter.

Yesterday, a fifth grade boy chose to start his biography with the answer to the interview question: Who was your best friend and what activities did you do together?

The answer on his interview sheet was: Packy Kennedy; we climbed trees

That student started his biography like this:

Feeling the breeze in his hair, hands sticky with sap, Carl Martin looked down at his best friend, Packy Kennedy.

2. Start with setting.

I give them examples of how they can show the setting - perhaps the season - maybe the geographic location.

One student started her biography this way:

As Jake climbed to the top of the tall pine tree, he could make out the large water tank in the distance. Welcome to Concord was painted in red on the side.

3. A hook that makes the reader curious.

I give them several examples of this, including the opening of my biography of Isadora Duncan (During the summer of 1887 in San Francisco, California, visitors to the seaside were sometimes met by a rather unusual sight.)

One student started his biography:

Jan had a little secret.

4. Get the baby on the paper.

That means just starting like this: John Smith was born on June 2, 1953 in Rome, Georgia.

This is the "last resort" beginning - but it offers a comforting safety net to those students who just can't manage a snappy, creative beginning.

I always notice a look of total relief on the faces of some children when I tell them it's okay to start like that.

And I remind them that maybe they can think of a different way to start later on - but YOU CAN'T FIX WHAT YOU HAVEN'T WRITTEN - so get the baby on the paper.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

FSG November/December Newsletter

Writing Tip Tuesday

From Rosemary Wells in an essay entitled: The Well-Tempered Children's Book (From Worlds of Childhood: The Art and Craft of Writing for Children; Zinsser):

Writing about anything is a mistake. The only books that work are those which fly through the air - the ones you let happen, not make happen.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sad times

I was in an elementary school recently that had a Lock-Down drill.

Cops inside and out.

No one allowed in or out of the school.

Kids locked in their rooms with lights off, shades drawn.

Isn't it sad that we would even have to contemplate such a thing?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Reading Timelines

I love these.

They are timelines that kids made focused on books that were important to them at various points in their lives.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

If you are a writer...

...this is NOT good.

That bandaid on the left looks itty bitty and harmless. But it is there for an incident involving a fingernail and the word MAJOR OUCH!

That ridiculous looking thing on the right is there because of, um, [deep breath, deep breath] ARTHRITIS in my thumb.

For a writer, this is NOT GOOD.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Writing Tip Tuesday

Today's tip is short and to the point.

Once again, I quote from Jack Prelutsky, in Worlds of Childhood: The Art and Craft of Writing for Children (Zinsser):

Children love to be surprised.

Enough said.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Corny fun

The weather was absolutely amazing this weekend so my husband and son and I decided to have a good old-fashioned family outing.

We went to a Cranberry Festival.

It was a corny little small-town affair.
All American family fun.

There were dog shows:

I met Hello Kitty:

My son and I reaped the rewards of my husband's vast experience playing darts in bars:

There was lots of delicious junk food:

I ate an Italian sausage sandwich for the first time in about 20 years:

There was lots of corny stuff:

And the inevitable team spirit:

A good time was had by all!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

End of an era

It is with a heavy heart that I discard my Ultimate All-Time Favorite Slippers in the Universe:

And begin the long, lonely road to breaking in the new ones:

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

If I could turn back time

August 2; 6:31 a.m.

October 2; 6:31 a.m.

(Note the speed....and I was not sitting in my driveway - I was on the interstate.)

Correction: My husband has just informed me that that is the tachometer...not the speedometer. Who knew? Heh.... (Why do they have to make cars so dang complicated.)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Cool geek

My favorite Geek Writer Bird-Sitter Water-Sipper Person-Who-Reads-More-Books-Than-Anyone-in-the-Universe has a cool post here.

Writing Tip Tuesday

In an essay by Jack Prelutsky entitled: In Search of the Addle-paged Paddlepuss (included in an anthology entitled: Worlds of Childhood: The Art and Craft of Writing for Children; edited by William Zinsser), he says:

One of the main differences between a poet and a non-poet is that a poet knows he is not going to remember what happened. Therefore he is smart enough to carry a notebook and write it down....Another secret of writing, along with taking notes, is keeping your eyes and your ears open, keeping your mind and your heart open, and being aware of what's going on around you.

I think it's important for writers to pay attention to the extraordinary in the ordinary - to notice the small things around us that the average observer might not notice or note to memory.

And when you notice those small things, WRITE THEM DOWN.

Now, granted, I have to write down, "Get up in the morning," but, still....I try to write down the little things that catch my attention.

Example: While visiting my friend, Dolores, last week, she told me that when she was a little girl, she loved going to visit her aunt in Vermont. One of her most vivid memories about those visits is what her aunt always served her three things - one of which she loved and two of which she hated.

The three things were:
No matter how often she told her aunt that she hated tripe and Moxie, her aunt still served them to her when she came to visit.

Now, I don't know about you, but I find that pretty interesting.

And as much as I'd like to think that I will always remember that, I wrote it down.

Some day, I will need to draw from my well of extraordinary things and there will be that list.

Monday, October 6, 2008


From a fifth grade boy during a writing workshop last week:

The sun-warm sand sifted through my fingers like the frayed end of a silk scarf.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Great expectations

Since I'm getting ready to start a new year of school visits, I was thinking about:

Basic Expectations

What should a school expect from an author?

What should an author expect from a school?

On the most basic level.

Here's what I came up with:

What a school should expect from an author:
  1. The author will be prompt. (Prompt means early enough to meet the contact person, set up any equipment, use the restroom, and be ready to start at the designated time.)
  2. The author will bring all necessary equipment. (That means any equipment that the author has not asked the school to provide, such as laptops or projectors.)
  3. The author will have a well-planned, well-timed presentation. (That means staying focused on the subject and not finishing earlier or later than scheduled.)
  4. The author will understand and respect the school environment. (That means the author isn't frustrated by tight schedules or less-than-perfect facilities.)

What an author should expect from a school:
  1. Someone at the school will be there to greet/escort her - or at the very least, someone in the office will be aware of the scheduled visit and the location for the presentation. (And if the author has specified that she is arriving 30 minutes early to set up equipment, someone is there 30 minutes early.)
  2. Any previously requested equipment will be set up and ready. (And someone will be available to help in the event of an equipment glitch.)
  3. Students will know who she is and be familiar with her books.
  4. Students will arrive at the presentation on time.
  5. Teachers will remain with the students.
  6. Teachers will take on the responsibility of disciplining students, if necessary (and not leave that to the author.)
  7. Some authors (not me) expect to sell books.

Pretty basic, huh?

(Yeah, I realize that there are more expectations on the author's side, but, hey, I'm an author. Heh...)

Of course, there are lots of other things on the part of both the school and the author that go beyond the basics that make an author visit the best that it can be:

Like here
And here
And here
And here
And here

Thursday, October 2, 2008


My first day back to school.

I can totally relate to Grace Lin's nervous feelings about the first day of school.

I always have that I've-forgotten-how-to-do-this feeling - even though I've done it 3342 times.

But once I get started, it all comes back to me like I never missed a beat.

And these fifth graders got me off to a great start. Check out these samples:

... the rusty hinges making a larger complaint than usual. [showing the setting of an old attic]

The garden in her heart had found winter. [showing, not telling - the feeling of sadness]

...the calm waters interrupted only by the dolphins. [showing the setting of the beach on a summer day]'s back to breakfast in my car.

(Yes, those are grapes and Cheerios...I know, kind of pathetic, huh?)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Feeling the love

Well, shucks....I got THREE I-Heart-Your-Blog awards!

In the immortal words of Sally Field, "You like me! You really like me!"

Thank you to the talented author/illustrator Grace Lin.

Thank you to the amazing book-loving team of Karen and Bill.

Thank you to the ever wonderful Empress Geek Girl, Sarah Miller.