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!