Thursday, November 29, 2012

Things I Love Thursday

This little pillbox my husband brought me from England years ago.

On the top:

Our England is a garden that is full of stately views
Of borders, beds and shrubberies and lawns and avenues
--Rudyard Kipling 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Writing Tip Tuesday

Today's advice from Stephen King again. (Hey, the guy does know a little about writing).

Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story.

Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot.

It's not just a question of how-to, you see; it's also a question of how much to.
Reading will help you answer how much, and only reams of writing will help you with the how.

You can learn only by doing.

Description begins with visualization of what it is you want the reader to experience. It ends with your translating what you see in your mind into words on the page.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Writing Tip Tuesday

Today I turn once again to the master himself: Stephen King (From On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft):

I think locale and texture are much more important to the reader's sense of actually being in the story than any physical description of the players. Nor do I think that physical description should be a shortcut to character. So spare me, if you please, the hero's sharply intelligent blue eyes and outthrust determined chin; likewise the heroine's arrogant cheekbones. This sort of thing is bad technique and lazy writing, the equivalent of all those tiresome adverbs.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Dear Barbara O'Connor

I received a great letter from a class recently who had thought up titles for the chapters in The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester.

I think this is such a clever idea because it gets the students thinking about the essence of the chapter, its content, and how to interest the reader without giving too much away.

They were also quite creative and humorous and captured the tone of the book.

Here is a sampling:

Chapter 3     Trouble
Chapter 4     Take That Viola! Rocket!
Chapter 6     Doofus
Chapter 9     Niggle Remover
Chapter 13   Niggle, Now Punch
Chapter 15   Won't You Die, Viola
Chapter 16   We Need a Frog Medic
Chapter 25   Mission Killing Stumps Complete
Chapter 26   Underwater Romance
Chapter 40   Oh Man, I Hate Sad Parts

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Poem I Love

I recently got an email from a 4th grade teacher and literacy coach at The Pike School in Andover, MA. Her class had just finished The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis.

Among other activities, the students made Yoohoo boats and put special messages in them.

Isabel wrote a poem and agreed to let me share it with you:

The 4th grade class of 2012,
has done very, very well.
We were rewarded with a chocolate drink,
and we made a boat that doesn't sink.
We read The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis,
and it was a great book.
We wrote down all the vocab words
and then just had to look.
2 boys formed a friendship,
that lasted for awhile.
Elvis was a cool kid,
and Popeye had denials.
We have now finished it,
and it left us at a cliff,
and we were all surprised that it ended
at that bit!

PS We took a vocabulary test to see if we knew the meanings to all the vocabulary words! 

Isn't that great?

AND guess what? They knew ALL of the vocabulary words!

Go, Pike School 4th graders!!!!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mr. Mineo brings home the silver

This is a wall in my office displaying Parents' Choice Awards I have won in the past.

That empty space on the lower right has just been filled!

On the Road to Mr. Mineo's has won a Parents' Choice Silver Award. 

Things I Love Thursday

My egg cooker.

I know, I know. Kinda lame.

And you're thinking: Oh, great. Another useless appliance to take up space in my kitchen and end up in my yard sale.

But I'm telling you, this thing makes the BEST, most perfect soft-boiled eggs ever.

And for deviled eggs or egg salad? Great.

I really do love it. (Cause I'm kinda lame like that.)   

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Naughty Ruby

Ruby is back to her thieving ways. 

She ran off this morning and stayed gone for about 20 minutes (while I drove around the neighborhood in my pajamas).

She came back with this giant rawhide bone, which she STOLE.

She was NOT sharing it with Martha. (In fact, she would not share it with me until I offered roast chicken.)

No, I do NOT see you back there, Martha.

Naughty Ruby! 

Ciao bella, y'all

I was cleaning out paperwork in my office the other day and came across a letter from the Italian publisher of How to Steal a Dog noting some changes that were made when the book was translated to Italian.

Among the edits they made were to "change some words that for us are too hard." That included:

-- Eliminated the word "idiot"
-- Changed "dern world" to "stupid world"
-- Changed "Mama would kill us" to "Mama would punish us"

And my personal favorite:
-- Changed "I like to died when I saw" to "I like to stink"

They also changed the following Mama's action because in their opinion "it's not a good example for young readers":

"The bread we had in the milk crate in the trunk of the car had turned green with mold and Mama tossed it out the window" was changed to "...Mama threw it in the bin."

Also thought it best to eliminate all references to religion:

-- Eliminated "My other car's a broom. Honk if you love Jesus" [a bumper sticker]  

Interesting, no? 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

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 the rough draft of The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis, 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.)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Dear Barbara O'Connor

Received from a fan:

Beautiful and graceful
Adoring and helpful
Reading means a lot
Breathtaking words
A lot of hard work
Really a good person who not only cares about herself but the whole entire world
A lot of great books and effort put into them so they sound great

Aren't kids great??!!  
I LOVE 'em!!! 
(And I do care about the whole entire world.) 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Things I Love Thursday

Work glove Willy!

A co-worker of my husband's made this little Willy (from How to Steal a Dog) out of a work glove.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Writing Tip Tuesday

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

Resist the urge to explain.

(To remember that - think RUE.)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Fantastic diorama

Check out this wonderful diorama of a scene from The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester.

It was made by Daniel, a 4th grade student from Jupiter, Florida.

The scene is one in which Owen and Viola get the submarine into Graham Pond and find Tooley (the bullfrog).  The diorama is below the water surface.

I love all the details and how he managed to make it look underwater with the duck and the water lily floating on top.

Thank you, Daniel!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Kid Lit Cares

Children's author Kate Messner has organized an amazing charitable online auction to raise funds for those affected by Hurricane Sandy.
From the website:

What is KidLit Cares?

It’s an online talent auction to benefit the Red Cross relief effort for Sandy. Agents, editors, authors, and illustrators have donated various services to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, with donations being made directly to the Red Cross disaster relief fund.

What kinds of things are included?

 Manuscript critiques, in-person and Skype author visits, virtual writing workshops, school & library marketing consultations for authors… you name it.

I've donated a 30-minute Skype session and six signed books.

Check out the other awesome donations and bid NOW!