Happy Birthday to Me

Friday, I got the most wonderful birthday present. 

I have a Google Alert set to search for my name.  It popped me a notice that Kristi Holl had mentioned one of my articles in her blog, Writers First Aid.  The post, Danger: Rush Jobcake, discussed her problems in outlining her new book.  She commented that my article, “Fight the Good Fight Against Writer’s Block”  (The Children’s Writer Guide to 2009) reminded her that taking the time to work out the details now can save you a lot of time when it comes to revisions. 

Have you ever heard someone quote you and suddenly you get it.  BOING!  If only you’d listened to yourself when you said it instead of waiting for someone to repeat it back to you.

At least now I understand some of my problems rewriting my work-in-progress.  I’ll stop and work out the rules of my fantasy universe.  Then I’ll go back to rewrite chapter 2.  Somehow I think it will go a little more smoothly when I know how the world in question works.   

Thanks, Kristi! 


Reconnecting with Your Past

On January 20, I blogged about what to do When Life Hands You Lemons.  One of the things I mentioned that has worked for me in the current market (lack of centaurwork and pay) is getting back to past passions.  I am once again drawing maps. 

When I worked in archaeological illustration, I worked for the University of Missouri — St. Louis.  When I started this job, I was an undergraduate, earning a BA in Anthropology.  I kept the job for a while after I graduated and loved being on the University campus and the whole exchange of ideas.  I attended guest lectures and poked around in the bookstore at the beginning of each session. 

When I met with the professor for whom I’m doing the map, I was tempted to pop into the bookstore where I saw stack after stack of texts.   But I can’t afford to take a class right now or stock up on those fantastic highly specialized books.  And I knew I would want to.

But then Lynn Viehl came to the rescue on her Paperback Writer blog.  In her post  “Ten for Free” she included information on — The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) OpenCourseWare (OCW)and the UK’s OpenLearn site.   While I’m sure Lynn meant for me to get all excited about the literature and humanities courses (MIT does offer a neat lit course on Darwinism in literature), poking through the MIT anthropology courses was like Christmas.  Anthro classes for free!   I downloaded the materials for  both “Magic, Witchcraft and the Spirit World” and “Myth, Ritual and Symbolism.”  I think both will come in handy for my current chapter book project.

How am I going to fit two classes into a crowded schedule?  I’m going to actually create a schedule for myself.  I’ll have to report back later on how that goes. 


Calming Your Mind to Write

Attempts #3 and #4.
Attempts #3 and #4.


Attempts #1 and #2

What do you do when you can’t transition from one job for the day to another?  When your mind is bouncing around, focusing on nothing?  Do you check your e-mail?  Read a few blogs?  Or maybe you check the stats on your own blog?  They could have changed significantly in the last 15 minutes. 

All of these things take up time but they don’t help you focus.  Your mind will still be vibrating, possibly even worse, when you’re done. 

I bought a Kirigami daily calendar.  Kirigami is the Japanese art of paper cutting.  I’ve been mildly interested in it for years but never really played with it.  Each calendar page is a pattern complete with fold lines and cutting lines. 

This week, when I couldn’t get going with my chapter book, I pulled out the page for January 1.  First I had to figure out how to do a snowflake fold.  Next I pulled out my desk scissors and snip, snip, snip.  Soon I held a flower-shape.  I don’t know that this will work when I get to the complicated patterns but with the simple ones my mind is only engaged while I fold the paper.  When I’m cutting, my hands stay busy while my mind wanders around and relaxes.  Maybe its working on my story problem.   Whatever its doing, its not being overstimulated. All I know is that one Kirigami shape later, I’m back to my writing.   

How do you find your center when your mind is going every which way?  What gets you back on a focused writing path?


What Do Parents Do? by Jeanie Ransom, illus. by Cyd Moore

What Do Parents Do to get their kids to read?  If they’re Atlanta Falcon fans, maybe they go online. ransom

Peachtree Publishers teamed up with the Falcons to create “Read with a Falcon” .   The on-line videos give kids the chance to read their favorite books along with Falcon players and cheerleaders. 

I found out about this program after Cyd Moore, the illustrator for What Do Parents Do?, sent Jeanie Ransom, the book’s author a link to their video.  What a great way to get kids to read who might not think reading is cool.

I loved watching Michael Boley’s reactions as he read Jeanie’s book.  I cracked up when he read the line “Somebody always gets hurt when you play rough.”  You could definitely tell when something struck him as funny.

You may not know a football player or other athlete, but your little grey cells should be sparking.  What could you do to publicize your book? 


New Alloy Unit

While many publishers are cutting back, Alloy Entertainment is branching out, launching a new unit that will accept unsolicited manuscripts and also pay a royalty.  Check out this PW article

Alloy is the creator of both the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series and Gossip Girls.  According to PW, they plan to acquire 12 books annually, emphasizing women’s fiction, YA, middle grade and chapter books.  

I’ve interviewed Alloy staff for articles in the past and was impressed by their upbeat, enthusiastic attitude.  Not that most publishers and editors aren’t both, but even in a field where people love what they do, Alloy stuck out in my mind. 

Those of you who write chick lit may want to keep an eye on this market.


Newbery, Caldecott and other ALA awards

I keep telling myself that you’ve seen this posted elsewhere but as much trouble as I had finding it on the ALA site (what’s wrong with the front page, folks!) , maybe you haven’t.  So here is the full list of winners.

Newbery Medal:

“The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman, HarperCollins Children’s Books

Newbery Honors:

“The Underneath” by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by David Small, Atheneum

“The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom” by Margarita Engle, Henry Holt

“Savvy” by Ingrid Law, Dial Books for Young Readers

“After Tupac and D Foster” by Jacqueline Woodson, G.P. Putnam’s Sons


Caldecott Medal:

“The House in the Night,” illustrated by Beth Krommes and written by Susan Marie Swanson, Houghton Mifflin Co.

Caldecott Honors:

“A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever” by Marla Frazee, Harcourt, Inc.

“How I Learned Geography” by Uri Shulevitz, Farrar Straus Giroux

“A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams,” illustrated by Melissa Sweet and written by Jen Bryant, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers


Batchelder Award:

Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc., publisher of “Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit” by Nahoko Uehashi, translated from the Japanese by Cathy Hirano

Batchelder Honors:

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., publisher of “Garmann’s Summer” written and illustrated by Stian Hole, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett

Amulet Books, an imprint of Harry N. Abrams, Inc., publisher of “Tiger Moon” written by Antonia Michaelis, translated from the German by Anthea Bell

Belpré Author Award:

“The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom” by Margarita Engle, published by Henry Holt

Belpré Author Honors:

“Just in Case” by Yuyi Morales, a Neal Porter Book published by Roaring Brook Press

“Reaching Out” by Francisco Jiménez, Houghton Mifflin Co.

“The Storyteller’s Candle/La velita de los cuentos” by Lucia Gonzalez, illustrated by Lulu Delacre, Children’s Book Press


Belpré Illustrator Award:

“Just in Case” by Yuyi Morales, a Neal Porter Book, published by Roaring Brook

Belpré Illustrator Honors:

“Papa and Me” illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez, written by Arthur Dorros, Rayo/HarperCollins Publishers

“The Storyteller’s Candle/La velita de los cuentos” illustrated by Lulu Delacre, written by Lucia Gonzalez, Children’s Book Press

“What Can You Do with a Rebozo” illustrated by Amy Cordova, written by Carmen Tafolla, Tricycle Press


Geisel Award:

“Are You Ready to Play Outside?” written and illustrated by Mo Willems, Hyperion Books for Children

Geisel Honors:

“Chicken Said, ‘Cluck!'” written by Judyann Ackerman Grant, illustrated by Sue Truesdell, HarperCollins Children’s Books

“One Boy” written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, a Neal Porter Book published by Roaring Brook Press

“Stinky” written and illustrated by Eleanor Davis, The Little Lit Library, a division of RAW Junior, LLC

“Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator” written by Sarah C. Campbell, photographs by Sarah C. Campbell and Richard P. Campbell, Boyds Mills Press

Odyssey Award:

“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” written and narrated by Sherman Alexie, produced by Recorded Books, LLC

Odyssey Honors:

“Curse of the Blue Tattoo: Being an Account of the Misadventures of Jacky Faber, Midshipman and Fine Lady,” written by L.A. Meyer, narrated by Katherine Kellgren, produced by Listen and Live Audio, Inc.

“Elijah of Buxton” written by Christopher Paul Curtis, narrated by Mirron Willis, produced by Listening Library, an imprint of the Random House Audio Publishing Group

“I’m Dirty” written by Kate and Jim McMullan, narrated by Steve Buscemi, produced by Weston Woods Studios, Inc./Scholastic

“Martina the Beautiful Cockroach: A Cuban Folktale” written and narrated by Carmen Agra Deedy, produced by Peachtree Publishers

“Nation” written by Terry Pratchett, narrated by Stephen Briggs, produced by Harper Children’s Audio/HarperCollins Publishers

Sibert Medal:

“We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball” written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children


Sibert Honors:

“Bodies from the Ice: Melting Glaciers and Rediscovery of the Past” written by James M. Deem, Houghton Mifflin Company

“What to Do about Alice?: How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy!” written by Barbara Kerley, illusrated by Edwin Fotheringham, Scholastic Press


Wilder Medal:

Ashley Bryan, author and illustrator of numerous books, including “Dancing Granny,” “Beat the Story-Drum, Pum-Pum” and “Beautiful Blackbird.”

Now, go see what’s still on the shelves of your local library or bookstore!


Pinewood Derby

Shark and Webkinz Car.  Photo Dan Edwards, 2009
Race Time. Note: Shark and Webkinz Car. Photo Dan Edwards, 2009
My Husband's Oscar Meyer Mobile, My son's Webkinz Car, Photo Dan Edwards, 2009
My Husband’s Oscar Meyer Mobile, My son’s Webkinz Car, Photo Dan Edwards, 2009

My son’s Cub Scout pack just ran their pinewood derby.   As always, half the fun was checking out the great cars.  One boy crafted a shark, complete with a dorsal fin.  Another painted his car with the U.S. colonial flag with 13 stars.  There was a vaguely bullet shaped car that was varnished but not painted.  “Pinewood derby, get it?” the craftsman asked.

Once its time to run the race, you get to watch the boys cheering each other on across the finish line.   When one of the younger boys does well, the older boys give him a thumbs up.  A boy whose car does badly gets cheered on by boys who hate to see a fellow racer down.

But if you Googled pinewood derby, you might get the wrong idea.   Computerized racing systems that calculate scores to the ten thousandth of a second.  Wheels balanced within specific tolerances (I don’t even know what that means).  Powdered pumice for polishing axles because its finer than sand paper.  If you didn’t go to  a derby, this might be what you chose to pitch to Boy’s Life. 

I asked my son what types of articles he’d like to see.  “Every boy who builds a car is a winner, Mom.  It takes a lot of work.  Or maybe something on good sportsmanship.   It isn’t just about the trophy.” 


Does Your Title Earn an “A” or a “D-“

Do you spend a lot of time coming up with your title?  I have a writing buddy who runs lists of possible titles past her critique group.     Dozens of possible titles.

Not me. 

I’m really impressed if I come up with  one title I can live with.  Dozens?  Not unless I find a title tree.   

A writing buddy recently showed me Lulu Titlescorer (http://www.lulu.com/titlescorer).  The program was created when statisticians analyzed approximately 50 years worth of best sellers by their titles alone.  Obviously, the title alone doesn’t drag a a book to best seller status, but is there something these titles have in common?

Just playing around, I plugged in one of my favorite titles — Wolf Guilt.  I answered the required questions.  This title scored 63.7%

Next I plugged in one of those titles you stick on the manuscript because you have to have something to put above your by-line and in the header — Rat Race.  That score?  69%. 

So then I tried out a few more.

Malcolm MacGowen, 45.6%.

Ocean Blue and Jungle Green, 26.3%.

The Princess and the Garden, 55.4%

Ink and Paper, 10.2 %.

I’m not sure if this tells me anything at all.  I don’t think “Ink and Paper” is significantly worse than “The Princess and the Garden” as titles go.  But it may be something fun to play with.


How To Take a Critique

groupDo you have a critique group?  If not, you should.  Everyone needs feedback on their work and people who know you and your writing are the best place to get it.

This isn’t to say that when someone gives you a critique that you should make the changes as if you are going down a check list.

  1. Fix spelling error.
  2. Move comma.
  3. Her eyes were green in paragraph 2.  When did they turn brown?
  4. Does anyone actually say this?

What it does mean is that you need to read their comments and see what isn’t working.  If they question a character’s motivation, you may not have done a good enough job setting it up.  Do you use both scenes and sequels?  Sequels can be incredibly short, just a line or even a few words, but they give your character a chance to reflect on recent events. 

If your critiquers think your story ends too soon, you may not have tied things up neatly.  This doesn’t mean you need to use their suggested ending, but do look at your climax and denouement.  Is it satisfying?  Or does it feel like you’ve cut things off?

When two or more people make similar comments, pay attention.  This may be a weak point in your manuscript.  You don’t have to use any of the suggested fixes, but you should look at this part of the story and see what isn’t working and how to fix it. 

True, some people simply won’t “get” your work and their comments may not be terribly helpful.  But if you constantly write off the critiques you receive, you’re probably missing an opportunity to grow.  How can you help your reader grow if you aren’t willing to do it yourself?