Thursday, June 27, 2013

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

It's Not Thursday

...but here's something I love: I love getting fan mail. What author doesn't?

And then there are letters like THIS:

Dear Barbara O'Connor:

I liked the book The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis. It was really cool how you made it sound like you were actually in South Carolina. 

I also liked how you used words like drip, drip, drip. It made me feel like I could really hear that in my heart. 

I liked how you made your book come alive. I also liked how you used vocabulary words and I liked how you told us what they meant so we weren't curious, but wondering is good.

I hope I read more of your books and people that read it like it as much as I like it.

Your biggest fan ever

Friday, June 21, 2013

Old dog

I'm thinking that this old dog needs to learn some new tricks.

I'm in a bit of a writing fog/funk.

My current work-in-progress is sputtering more than I would like it to and I'm feeling much more frustrated than usual.

So I've been thinking a lot lately about why that is.

I've narrowed my problem down to three things.

1. I cannot stop the habit of incessantly starting from the beginning almost every time I sit down to write. I tell myself I need to do that in order to get my engine recharged and to get back in the flow of the story. But from the beginning? Really?

I call this method of writing The House That Jack Built.

I talked about this little problem of mine way back in 2007. Five years ago, people! And I'm still doing it.

This process results in very polished beginnings and really sloppy, rough middles and ends.

It frustrates me.

2. A similar problem/habit I have is revising incessantly as I go along instead of just moving forward with a ROUGH draft. 

I was recently thrilled to read that the fab author Mary Pearson has this same affliction. 

Read about her woes HERE. 

I especially related to this part of her post:

Another thing I did was NOT incessantly revise as I wrote.  I had a habit of spending as much or more time revising each day as I did writing.  That was a hard habit to break.  I like to see things pretty and perfect and my words to sparkle and they definitely weren't doing that.  Also, revising is so much more fun than heading into uncharted territory. But this time, I was writing a true ROUGH draft.  This actually made more sense because why spend hours making something perfect if it might get cut in the revision or totally overhauled?  Still, I love playing with words and getting only the most essential ones down, and getting the emotional tone fine-tuned, so I had to get tough and turn a blind eye to the crappiness.  The carrot I held out to myself was that when I was finished I could revise to my heart's delight--my favorite part of the process. 

[Fist bump, sister!]

3. I'm not an outliner. I want to be an outliner. I want it very, very badly. I want to know the beginning, the middle and the end.

But the cold hard truth is that I'm not an outliner.

I want to be a vegetarian, too, but I love sausage - a lot. So there you go.

And then I read this hilarious post by Libba Bray and I felt better. 

If I complained to her, she would understand. 

Libba, call me. 

Of course, that doesn't fix anything, but I feel a little better that somebody else is as miserable about their inability to outline.

So now I have identified three sources of my frustration.

I am still frustrated with my process and I'm thinking this old dog can't learn new tricks, but now that I have it in writing, I'll be able to read about it again in five years.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Hey book lovers...

10 reasons you should bid on a book at this auction:

1. You will help a little girl's dream come true
2. You will bring comfort to her grieving parents
3. You will be helping support a meaningful cause for animals
4. You will feel good about yourself
5. You will have a tax deduction
6. You will help an author
7. You will have something awesome to donate to another fundraiser, if you so choose
8. You will have an amazing gift to give someone (or yourself)
9. You will spread book love
10. Because I'm asking you to and I've been so NICE to you lately

Such a lovely gift

As a thank you to me for helping students with THIS great project, I just received this amazing gift!

I can't wait to start reading.


Monday, June 17, 2013

Lessons from Dead Matter

I recently received the dead matter for On the Road to Mr.
Mineo's, so I figured I might as well continue my traditional "Lessons from Dead Matter" blog post.

[Note: "Dead matter" is the term used by the publisher for the stacks and stacks of the manuscript during various stages of production. It is, indeed, very dead.]

I wrote about my Lessons from Dead Matter for Greetings from Nowhere here.

And for The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis here.

And The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester here.

It's a little depressing to see that after writing lots of books, I'm still making the same stupid mistakes. But, hey, that's what copyeditors are for, right? Or is it copy editors? I can never remember.

So, here are some of my lessons from dead matter:

1. Why can I never, ever remember that the following words are one word? (I think I need an editor for that sentence.)
  • backyard
  • flowerpot
  • shirttail
  • cornfield
  • toolbox
  • pigsty
  • streetlight

And the following are hyphenated:
  • flip-flop
  • hickory-nut
  • chicken-wire
  • run-down
 And that lawn mower is two words.

And it's screened porch, not screen porch.

For this book, it was suggested that we hyphenate gol-dern so as not to confuse it with the word "golden." (I know, I didn't get it either.)

It was also decided that this is the correct version of:
ding-dong doodlebrain

(And I am once again reminded of how good I am at insulting people.)

2. After much debate, diddly-squat won out over doodly-squat and hyphenation was required.

3. Sometimes you sit in a chair and sometimes you sit on a chair. 

For example:
"She plopped down in one of the lawn chairs" was changed to "on one of the lawn chairs."

But "How he longed to go back up there and sit in the lawn chair and play cards all day" was left as is. 

*scratches head and ponders this*

4. I'm forever disagreeing with decisions about commas - not because of correct punctuation, but because of the sound of the writing.

For example, there was a lot of discussion about the following sentence because of the doors of the van being left open (but that's a whole other thing....):

Luther took his fishing rod out of the back of the van, and he and Edsel went inside the restaurant to eat pork lo mein.

I don't like that comma there because I didn't want a pause in that spot. I wanted the sound of the words running on. But either I lost or I gave in, I don't remember which.

The same goes for the following, only it's the opposite situation:

But now, a little glimmer of sadness was starting to buzz around him like a pesky fly.

Copy editor took the comma out. I liked the pause it created, but I agreed to take it out. (See how agreeable I am?)

5. We had a great discussion about the phrase gold-ern criminy cripes.  Evidently, both criminy and cripes are euphemisms for Christ. (Who knew?) Would I get run out of town for using those words in a children's book? Well, the words are still there and I'm still in town, so there you go.

6. Some Southern expressions prove just too confusing for the average bear, so I give up and take them out. One of them is the expression pure-T, which means 100% or completely. Here's the original sentence from the manuscript:

I know she's pure-T red-hot mad at him.

The copy editor wrote in the margin, "purty?"

[Note: I think my Southern writer pal, Augusta Scattergood, says pure-D, instead of pure-T. The Dictionary of American Regional English actually has both. But it shows pure-T as being more prevalent in the Carolinas, which is where I'm from.]

7. Dear Copy Editor: Please leave the word hisself alone.

8. A giant hickory-nut tree casts shadows that move in the warm breeze, like fingers wiggling over the dandelions in the lawn.

Was changed to dandelions on the lawn.

I still don't like it.

9. Stamp her foot was always changed to stomp her foot.

10. And last, but this one is very, very important, there are no periods after:


So there you have it: Lessons from Dead Matter

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Pssst....hey, authors

Like many other authors and illustrators, I'm often asked to donate a signed book of mine for a silent auction or other fundraiser for a worthy cause.

While I can't donate to them all, I do the best I can to help those causes that are particularly close to my heart.

SO, when author Bobbie Pyron organized this wonderful fundraiser to honor the memory of Catherine Violet Hubbard, who lost her life at Sandy Hook Elementary School.....

.....I had a good idea.

I placed a bid on a pretty awesome book.

If I win, I'm going to save it to donate to another fundraiser the next time I'm asked.

Now THAT'S the gift that keeps on giving.

Soooo, if you're so inclined, head on over there and bid on a book. (You have until midnight on June 17.)



Thursday, June 13, 2013

Things I Love Thursday

I love GIANT Yoohoo boats like this one Henry made!

Thanks to Ms. Kilpatrick and the students of Mill Pond School in Westborough, MA for a great Skype visit. 

(Too bad about that FIRE DRILL, though. haha)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Great teachers make great students

My pal, Kirby Larson, writes a weekly blog post called Teacher Tuesday. 

Today is my Teacher Tuesday.

I've had the good fortune of becoming friends with elementary teacher, staff developer, author, and all-around super duper person: Patrick Allen.

Patrick is one of those teachers who is passionate about reading. He generates book-excitement in the classroom, lets his students choose their own books, and then encourages thoughtful discussion.

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

Great teachers make great students.

[Note: Ironically, Patrick just posted the following quote by Alfie Kohn online: "You don't have to watch truly extraordinary teachers to appreciate their quality; you need only watch their students." That's a much more eloquent way of saying the same thing.]

I recently Skyped with Patrick's 4th graders. I visit a LOT of students and get a LOT of questions, but never have I gotten questions with the level of thoughtful maturity as these.

(These are FOURTH GRADERS, people!!)

Adam:  I’ve noticed that most of your books are pretty emotional, which book was the most emotion-filled to write?

David:  Do you come up with a story randomly or do you get an idea from your surroundings?

Jason:  When you are writing your books do you think about the story beforehand or do you make it up while you write?

Kailey:  I’ve noticed that in your books you seem to always make the situation almost “dark” and you seem to put a light in the story, like a “chance” for the character.  Do you do that intentionally, and why?

Zachary:  How do you get amped up to write when you don’t have the energy?

Tobias:  If you rewrote your first book, would you write it differently?

Morgan M:  We have been studying sensory images and I have noticed that in all of your books there is a gloomy image that slowly transforms into a lighter image.  Can you explain why you do that?

Abby:  When you’re writing about the friendship of your characters, do you go back to your own childhood and do you think of a particular person?

Gracie Brianne:  Do you purposely create a rhythm for the readers because in your books I have noticed that you have put lots of structures of three that have some sort rhythm because I can feel it in my heart as I read?

Jaxon:  Mrs. O’Connor, what has been giving you that fire, will, determination, and stamina to write in all of your years?  P.S.  I love so many structures you use in your writing, like the three things that appear like tumble, tumble, tumble, crack!  I love all the books you’ve wrote and can’t wait for a new one of your books to come out.

Cailin:  When you sit down to write, what are your goals for writing your books and why?

Krystal:  How do you decide which personality each character is going to have because what I’ve noticed is that the characters in most of your books are all so different, but in the end they all come together? 

Tatum:  What book impacted you the most and why? 

Amanda:  I noticed in the books I read of your books the characters always live in a not very nice town and do you base that on something that happened in your life? 

Bryan:  In the books I’ve read there’s always a nosy person, a worried person, a person who wants to change something, and a guardian angel.  Why?

Macie:  How do you decide what the idea is when you start to write the book.

Morgan K.:  Have you ever met someone who made you realize you could write an amazing book with their story and/or personality and why did they make you realize “it”?

Chloe:  I have noticed that in your books sometimes the mood is dark and sometimes the mood is light.  If you were to rank your books, which book would have the lightest mood?

Marcus Xavier:  How did your dad inspire you to write?

Maddie:  On the cover of How to Steal a Dog I noticed it said, “Georgina Hayes may be homeless, but not hopeless.”  How did they decide to write that?

Jade:  Out of all your books, what’s your favorite line.  Why is it your favorite line and what is that line?

Would you ever get together with an artist to create a picture book?

Blake:  Why in The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester did you choose to write about a submarine and Tooley and is there a connection to How to Steal a Dog?

Seneca:  I’ve noticed in some of your books that there are kind of mean kids and mean adults.  Do you do that purposely so maybe some people will start to stop bullying?

Now, those kids have a great teacher.

You should check out Patrick's blog here.

And some of his books here

And DVD here

Thank you to Patrick and all the other great teachers out there.

Students love you.

Authors love you.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Through the efforts of author Bobbie Pyron, over thirty authors (including me) have come together to honor Catherine Violet Hubbard, a little girl with a big dream: to provide a sanctuary for homeless animals. Tragically, that dream was cut short when Catherine was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Since then, Catherine’s parents and The Animal Center in Newtown have set up a fund to raise money for the Catherine Violet HubbardSanctuary

So....want to bid on a signed copy of On the Road to Mr. Mineo's (or lots of other choices)?

Then go HERE now and do it!!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Body Image

Yesterday, I was reading a review of one of my books that mentioned my "body of work."



I have a body of work?

Maybe it sounds odd, but that took me by surprise for a minute. 

It's like that moment when you suddenly realize that your kindergartener is graduating from college.

I mean, how did THAT happen?

All writers remember the "to-do" that led up to getting their first book published. The writing and rewriting and submitting. The rejections and rewriting and resubmitting.

And then it happens! You get a published book!

And you spend a lot of happy time savoring that (as well you should). It's glorious and validating.

And then you get another book published.

And that's cool!
And then.......the next thing you the blink of an eye.....(as long as it takes a kindergartner to become a college graduate) have a body of work!

I admit that reflecting on that phrase does make me reflect on that "body." 

Are there recurrent themes? Is the voice consistent? Has the writing changed over the years? How do the books relate to one another? What are the similarities? The differences? Do I use similar references? (Students once pointed out to me that several of my books have ticking clocks and heart-shaped things. Ha!) Do any books not meet up to expectations based on my body of work?

And now, as I work on another manuscript, I confess that in the back of my mind is the question: How does this fit with my "body of work"?

Yet another thing for neurotic authors to stew over.

But just as I'm proud of my college graduate, I'm proud of my body of work.

(Although it does make me feel kind of, um, old.)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


[Note: This is a recycled post from 5 years ago. It still applies today.]

This is not dust.

This is pollen!

Pine pollen.
This is the inside of my vacuum cleaner. The color doesn't do it justice. Trust is yellow!

Pollen, pollen everywhere:

The driveway after a good hosing:

Gross, huh?

Ultimate Summer Reading List

Read Kiddo Read's Ultimate Summer Reading List



Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Writing Tip Tuesday

I've been reading Nobles' Book of Writing Blunders by William Noble and making a list of all the blunders I make.

Here's one:

Blunder #13: Don't add adverbs and adjective to prettify your prose.

My first thought was: Oh, I never do that.

But then I read this:

The key is, adjectives should be used only when they highlight something the noun can't highlight.
For example: He slipped into the darkened alley.
Not all alleys are dark, so now you know this one will be.

But suppose this had read: He slipped into the narrow alley.
Alleys are usually narrow (if they aren't narrow, they're called streets or road), so the adjective isn't telling any more than is offered by the noun. This is "prettifying" the prose, and it isn't pretty at all.

And that got me to thinking that I am guilty of that blunder from time to time.

Because I'm all about the rhythm of writing, I am guilty of inserting an adjective for the sake of rhythm and maybe doing more "prettifying" than I should.

Oh, how my blunder list continues to grow....

But THEN, the very next thing that happened was that I was reading an article about Emma Thompson in More Magazine.

And guess what?

The second sentence in that article was this:

"I had my heart broken there," she says as she strides down the narrow alley beside the tavern.

Ha! What are the odds?

So, that got me to thinking.....maybe prettifying your writing isn't such a blunder, after all.

I mean, maybe those extra adjectives serve to enhance the image, contribute to the rhythm, or just simply sound nice.

Is that really a blunder?

[Note: I realize that there is not one thing useful about this supposed tip. Consider it merely food for thought.]