Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy New Year!

Trying to keep up with two kids instead of the usual one has kept me away from my computer, so I'm just popping in to wish everyone a happy New Year! I'll be back in action after the holidays and after my son goes back to school.

Meanwhile enjoy this lovely rendition of Auld Lang Syne!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Honest Scrap

I have been nominated for the Honest Scrap Award by my blogger buddy, Kelly.

“Scrap means left over, discarded material. Many times truth and honesty are discarded material, considered fragments and left over. This award is for people that tell it like it is, and let the scraps fall where they will. There are 2 guidelines for receiving this award. One, you are to list 10 honest things about yourself. Make them interesting, even if you have to dig deep. Two, present the award to other bloggers.”

Ten honest things about me are –

1. I knew I was going to marry my husband on our first date—drinking coffee and talking about Rousseau and family for five hours. Oh, and I asked him out.
2. I tried to “pick him up” by making him play the Sentence Game.
3. My biggest fear is that someone will break into my house in the middle of the night and steal my kids away.
4. I weep every time I hear the Beatles' song "Yesterday".
5. I trained for a triathlon when my son was a year old. However, instead of participating on the day of the event, I went out for pancakes.
6. I actually completed a half marathon!
7. I am an obsessive calorie counter.
8. My favorite song to sing Karaoke is Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”.
9. I dread talking to people on the phone, and I practically freak out when I have to talk to strangers.
10. I never know what to say to people in casual conversation—all of my best friends have been excellent conversationalists.

Whew. That wasn’t so bad.

I tag Tabitha, Mary L., and Marva.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Heat Miser

This time of year we get to revisit all of those classic “specials”—holiday programs—that we watched when we were kids. “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, “Rudolph’s Shiny New Year”, “Jack Frost” and of course “Frosty”. My all time favorite is “The Year Without a Santa Claus”. Not only does it have the best song, “Blue Christmas”, that makes me weep every time I hear it, but it has some of the best characters too. What would the Christmas season be without the Snow Miser and his fiery brother the Heat Miser? Their constant bickering with a bit of intervention from their mother—Mother Nature of course—always makes me laugh. And now my kids get to watch and laugh with me too.

My son, who is home sick with me today, poor guy, suggested that the Heat Miser’s idea of having a green Christmas isn’t so bad. I have to say, when it’s fifteen degrees outside and the wind chill is fourteen below, I have to agree. Imagine a winter without pulling on seven layers of clothes only to run to the grocery store! Or playing outside without having to worry about frostbitten toes!

But then I think about Christmas morning, with the pink sun rising up over the forest behind my parents’ house, glistening like diamonds on the blanket of white snow. Isn’t that better than the sun coming up over wilted brown grass—not very holly jolly. And how would we play Fox and Goose without the snowprint circle to run around?

I guess we’ll have to get used to the Snow Miser’s chills. Maybe we can cut a deal with Jack Frost and that silly Groundhog Pete to let spring come a bit earlier?

Monday, December 8, 2008


This morning, a friend wrote about Character on her blog Writer Musings. She nicely summarized a presentation given by Martha Mihalick at the Prairie Writers’ Day conference we both attended in November.

I’ve been reading Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird, which is a great guide to writing, and I just happened to read the chapter on character. Maybe the fates are telling me that I need to get to know my character better. I thought I’d pass on some questions that she writes that would help us to understand our characters better.

How do they stand?
What do they carry in their pockets or purses?
What happens in their faces when they’re thinking, or bored, or afraid?
Whom would they have voted for last time?
Why should we care about them anyway?
What would be the first thing they stopped doing if they found out they had six months to live?
What sort of first impression do they make?
What do they care most about, want more than anything in the world?
What are their secrets?
How do they move? How do they smell?

There are more, but this is a great place to start. Once you get to know your character, not everything needs to be revealed to the reader, but some of the details will come out in the story. What’s important is that your characters are complex and real.

Now, I need to go get to know Victoria better.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Poetry Friday: Brrr!

Yesterday I took my kids sledding. Their cheeks were pink and their eyes glowing as they spooned marshmallows off the top of their cups of cocoa. This morning the weather channel said it was 7 degrees! Brrr! When it’s so cold outside, I long for the warmth of the strong sun, the humidity of the beach, and the cool of the pool.

For Poetry Friday, I’m going to share a beachy poem I wrote when my son was a baby.


They swoop and spin
Together in a spiral
An air dance
A dive
A swirl
A cry
They lift their feathers
They gently land
All together
As quietly as the wind
That carries them

Then still
They sit
And look about
And suddenly
Swoop and spin

Monday, December 1, 2008

Here Comes the Cheese!

I know it’s hard to get back into the swing of things after a holiday when we have so many exciting things to think about—decorating our homes for Christmas, shopping, digging out our boots and hats after the first snowfall, wondering where those four pounds came from and why they settled right there… So, here’s a little writing exercise for those of us whose thinking caps are clogged with leftover turkey gravy sandwiches. Time yourself for five minutes, ala Natalie Goldberg, and write about all the things that you love. Don’t worry if it sounds silly, and don’t edit, just keep your hand moving!

Some of the things I love…

I love California. The beach at Malibu where my son spent the happiest day of his life, digging and drawing unrecognizable shapes with a random stick, chasing after seagulls, hoping for a glimpse of dolphins or whales. Santa Barbara’s pier and seal lions, the pink sun setting over the Pacific. Mendocino’s craggy waterfront, the sea caves and witch-broom-kelp, the Tiki head and spouting whales, and the lighthouse in the distance.

I love sledding. That anticipation just before you plunge over the edge for the first time—even though you’re thirty-six years old and you’ve done it a million times. I love the thrill of snow flying in your face as you speed down the hill and then the successful landing. I love the tingle in my pink cheeks when we finally go inside and pull on dry socks.

I love walking in the rain and in the dark especially when I’m sad, because the sap in me believes that at least the sky understands me.

I love spaghetti night! I love thin spaghetti steaming with plain red sauce and loads of parmesan cheese melting and giving texture to the noodles, and a side of hot buttered wheat toast, because I know that the kids will eat it.

And that’s it. Five minutes—if not great writing, at least you are writing!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


With Thanksgiving approaching, I’m going to jump into the cliché. I’m grateful for so many things in my life right now—a lovely family, healthy children and loving husband, my beautiful home, warm clothes and food to eat. I’m going to focus this blog on giving thanks for things related to my writing.

1. Thanks for a mind overflowing with ideas, some of which end up on the page.

2. Thanks for my brilliant and extraordinarily patient critique group who has helped me immensely, plodding through my WIP (which I’m about to revise so drastically, they’ll probably have to start from the beginning again (sorry gals!))!

3. Thanks for my conference buddy, Kelly, who gives me the courage to overcome my schoolgirl shyness to talk to the editors and agents.

4. Thanks for the speakers at the SCBWI Prairie Writer’s Conference for giving me valuable insight into my own WIP, helping me to understand the elusive Voice, and breaking my block.

5. Thanks for the rejections coming back from agents who truly encourage and give me advice about how to improve my piece.

6. Thanks for my former students who encouraged me and taught me about young adults and about YA literature.

7. Thanks for my children who are patient and loving and so good at sharing the computer with me.

8. Most of all, thanks for my amazing, hard working, beautiful husband who gives me the freedom to write everyday if I choose to do so.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


We had an intimidating oak tree in our back yard with a menacing branch that reached out toward our roof. On windy and especially on icy winter nights, I would lie in bed worried that the branch would fall. Images of my husband and me being crushed under the weight of the tree, covered by the debris of shingles and roof fragments, frozen rain pelting us through the gaping hole above us, would keep me awake.

It had to come off.

Yesterday morning a crew came and hacked off the thick branch, hauling away the brush, chain sawing the rest into usable logs, which they stacked like a fortress at the edge of the woods. Just like that, it was gone. Now, the logs’ rippled xylem and phloem stares out at me like so many glaring eyes, planning a revolution.

I have to admit, I’m a little sad for the tree. To have worked that hard for years and years, seeking the largest portion of the sun, splaying protective shade on our back yard in the summer, showering us with piles of crunching leafy fun in the fall, only to face the betrayal of pruning? This was more than a mere haircut. And the Old Oak is feeling resentful.

This entry was going to be about how I will now need to work toward self-sufficiency. I will need to go out and get a wedge and a sledge to chop the logs into more usable firewood. But as I type this, I hear Mr. Oak gathering up his forces behind the barricade, plotting his revenge.

So, I’m sorry, Old Mr. Oak, for amputating your limb. I hope that we can work toward mending our relationship. What’s that? You’d like to have a meeting? On your side of the yard?

At least our roof is safe now, right?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Praire Writer's Day

This weekend, my writing buddy and I (and about 175 others!) attended the fourth annual SCBWI Prairie Writer’s Day conference in River Forest, Illinois. It was our first real writer’s conference, so we were like two little schoolgirls—sleepless the night before, and blushing in front of the celebrity editors and agent. Like the schoolgirl persona I took on, I learned so much during the day!

Harold Underdown, purveyor of The Purple Crayon website, with the help of his friends Mr. P and Mr. O, gave us a half empty and half full look at the state of the industry.

Martha Mihalick, editor at Greenwillow, spoke about character. She gave us excellent questions to ask ourselves when thinking about our protagonists, such as What is the character’s sense of style? and How does she treat the people around her? Questions that may not necessarily be revealed in the text, but when answered, the reader and author really begin to know the truth of the character. A great character is one the reader can trust.

Senior Editor from Arthur A. Levine Books, Cheryl Klein discussed plot from two angles: character driven and structure driven plot. Using examples from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and some from my favorite Jane Austen, she walked us through the different types of plot including the Conflict Plot, the Mystery, and the Lack.

I was happy to realize, while listening, that my WIP really does have a plot. Her talk combined with Martha’s and Caroline’s helped me to see what exactly I need to do when I start my revisions.

My buddy and I had the great opportunity to eat lunch with Caroline Meckler from Wendy Lamb Books. She graciously answered our questions about the process of publishing, all the while trying to get at least a bite of her veggie wrap and mentally preparing herself for her upcoming talk about voice.

Ms. Meckler had the difficult task of defining the indescribable, insurmountable Voice. She used examples from some recently published Wendy Lamb Books, and unbelievably, I think I actually understand what Voice is now, and how to find my own!

Agent Jennifer Rofe, from Andrea Brown Literary Agency, set us straight about revision. Authors need to revise. And revise. And revise again. There’s no way around it. And then agents will make you revise again. And again. And then editors will make you revise again. And again. And again. And then some day, when your book is finally in print, you can stop. She was very straightforward and funny—and she had to speak in front of her mom! I couldn’t do it!

Along with stretching breaks led by Mary Loftus, a pep talk about Learned Optimism by Carol Grannick, a teaching session by Sharon Darrow, not to mention the beautiful cake shaped like a book, I learned so much from this experience. I can’t wait until next year!

But now, I need to go revise my WIP again. And again. And again!

Friday, November 14, 2008



A doppelganger is a person’s double. You can only see her through the corner of your eyes, and if you dare to look her in the face she vanishes. She’s only a shade of a person, but she’s your exact replica.

William Wilson, in Edgar Allen Poe’s story, meets and competes with his doppelganger in school. The creepy copycat, who even shares the same name and birth date, begins to take on all of William’s qualities down to the whispering voice and the arrogant stride. He is lucky to have someone else to blame for all of his debauchery, but unlucky that no one believes him. As Wilson’s actions become morally reprehensible, the similarities between him and his double increase, ultimately leading to his downfall.

William Wilson’s double is a scapegoat, but other legends claim that a doppelganger is a harbinger of death. When someone close to you sees your doppelganger, legend says you will fall ill. If you were to actually see your own replica you would surely die.

Sometimes I think I have a doppelganger.

We share the same name, and while I’ve never seen her, evidence of her is everywhere. She may be a writer. She may be an actress or a playwright in London—in which case, maybe I’m the doppelganger. Whatever she is, it seems like she’s always one step ahead of me. When I tried to sign up to order pizza on line, she had already used my name. She preceded me on my favorite message board, and now everywhere I turn, my name is being used.

It is a lovely name.

I have no true fear of seeing my doppelganger and falling ill, or having my life usurped by a stranger with the same birthday and name.

Still, it’s my name, and I want to be able to use it to order pizza.

Monday, November 10, 2008



They swoop and dive
Swirling together
In formation
Chattering directions
Or is it gossip?

The black ribbon of birds
Flowing and flapping
Snapping in the wind

Over the fields
Golden in the
Weakening sunlight

Over the crimson trees
Fiery and alone
In their richness

Up into the North sky
Feeling the chill
Ready for their
Southern trek.

Take me with you!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day

The sun is shining, the skies are blue, and leaves are falling from the beautiful trees. Oh, and the water heater is broken, I probably won’t get a chance to volunteer at my son’s school or go to the gym, and Ben had a major freak out about losing his political button this morning so I had to make him a new one. I have about fifty things on my to do list for today, and I’m sure I won’t get half of them done.

Still, this day is unlike any other day! Today I made history. I voted!

No matter what wrenches are thrown in your gears today, make sure you participate in this historical event.

Monday, November 3, 2008


What a thrilling time to be living in America! Tomorrow, November 4, 2008 is Election day! It has been a long two years of campaigning for the candidates, and for those of us who have become “political junkies” in the meantime, tomorrow it will come to an end. Some of us will be disappointed, some ecstatic. Whatever the case may be, I hope that you all do your part and vote!

Why vote? For those of you who think, “My vote can’t matter—I’m just one voice.” . You’re wrong. Just think of all of those sitting there thinking the same thing. If each one of you did vote, it could have major consequences. Every vote is important. Every vote can sway the election

Be proud that your voice is a part of this amazing process! Do your homework, make your decision and hit the polls!

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Our neighborhood had Trick-or-Treating on October 25th from 1-5 in the afternoon. I took the kids out in their costumes and enjoyed watching my wee one really get into the spirit of begging for candy. At the same time, my insides were turning over.

Who ever heard of Trick-or-Treating in the middle of day under blue sparkling skies? I understand that our neighborhood wants to consider the safety of the children—and I appreciate that. But why do we have to suck the fun out of childhood? Isn’t the point of Halloween to get scared? Even if it’s just a little bit?

My son and I were watching “The Great Pumpkin”—the classic Halloween special starring the Peanuts gang. We laughed at Snoopy’s dancing and antics. We giggled when Charlie Brown kept getting rocks while the others got piles of candy. But while we watched, I could only focus on one thing. There is something so beautiful about the night sky in that cartoon. It is mysterious and deep and beyond our imagination. Its darkness sends lovely little chills up my spine.

Halloween is the one night of the year when it’s acceptable to skulk about in the darkness. There is something thrilling about becoming someone or something else and lurking in the shadows—even though you know your parents are right there behind you, and your friends are at your side, and no one is really scared by your costume. The feeling of becoming part of the vast darkness is freeing and chilling.

I am saddened by the fact that my kids won’t get to experience the Halloween I remember. It seems like childhood is so structured and controlled now—with organized activities and playgroups instead of pick-up games of kick the can in the backyards. I would love to give my kids the gifts of spontaneity and adventure.

Maybe this Halloween, when all the other neighborhood kids are safe in their beds, I’ll take my kids out and do a little skulking in the dark.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Carpe Diem!

Welcome to my blog. I’ve never been very good at first paragraphs, so I thought I’d jump right in.

Dead Poet’s Society has always been one of my favorite movies—every time I see it I’m inspired all over again. Something about the boys, with all their youth and impressionability, running through the dark forest in those blue woolen coats to read poetry tickles my adventurous side. Every scene makes me want to Yawp! or to cry out at the injustice of having to live out someone else’s dreams. But the scene that simultaneously haunts and inspires me the most is when Robin Williams takes the boys to the lobby of their prestigious school to visit the past. They stare at the black and white faces of their predecessors listening to their teacher rant, and then, as they lean in closer to listen to the past, Williams’ voice begins to hiss “Carpe….Carpe…. Carpe Diem! Seize the day boys! Make your lives extraordinary!”

Ok, dry your tears.

Sometimes we need to remind ourselves not to get caught up in the bitter mundane details of life. “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may!” Every day is a gift. Every moment is precious! Instead of living an average life, think about what you can do to make your life extraordinary. I’m not telling you to quit your job and backpack across Europe—because that is not always practical. What I’m trying to say is appreciate every moment that you are blessed with. Is there something you’ve been putting off? Writing that first novel? Running a marathon? Reading War and Peace? Or even volunteering at the local food bank? Do it! And while you’re doing it, enjoy every moment. You’ll change your life and the lives of those around you.

by Robert Herrick

GATHER ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying :
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he's to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer ;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may go marry :
For having lost but once your prime
You may for ever tarry.

Seize the day boys! Make your lives extraordinary!