Thursday, April 30, 2009

We're Not The Center Of The Universe

Agent Kristin of Pub Rants has an interesting post on specific kidlit titles in the U.S. vs. the UK.

She also has a post on What UK Children's Editors Want.

Training Report: Two uninspired segments for the 365 Story Project. Some modest desk cleaning. However, my desk doesn't get anywhere near as horrible as it used to because I bought some horizontal files that look very much like this. The beauty of these things is that you can keep just as much garbage on your desk as you ever did, but it's organized so you are tricked into thinking your desk is clean.

That is important writing how-to knowledge that I'm passing on here. How to keep your desk from overwhelming you.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How Great Is This?

I saw a friend this morning from my old writers' group, and...she has an agent! One I've heard of and seen interviewed on blogs. Talk about a major step forward.

I will report back when the agent sells something for her.

This news has started me thinking once again about how I might be looking for an agent soon. As part of my preparation for that ordeal, I've skimmed some of Nathan Bransford's Be An Agent for a Day posts. He put up 50 query letters so that his hundreds of followers could play agent and respond to them.

Note that many of the letters begin with a carefully composed hook. Query letter advice articles tell you to do that.

Here is what I'm thinking of for my hook:

Look, I've been around the track a few times. I'm tired of making the trip by myself, but I want to remain in the driver's seat. I do not like to ride with others. I get nervous when someone else is behind the wheel. I find that other drivers often have too heavy a foot. Or else they go the other way and take forever to get anywhere. Or they tailgate. Or they don't pay attention to what they're doing. What I'm really looking for is someone to ride shotgun for me.

I think that makes my point, don't you? Or am I over extending the metaphor?

Training Report: Two segments done and several planned. I also did some desk cleaning and found some promotional material I picked up last summer for Clarkesworld Magazine. Note the editors' very clear instructions about what they consider hard sells.

All Things Picture Book

Booklights, a new children's book blog at PBS Parents, opens with lots of discussion of picture books.

Author Paula Yoo is establishing National Picture Book Writing Week, which will be coming up May 1 through 7. She's shooting for 7 picture books in 7 days.

I'm wondering if just anyone can start up a national week, and, if so, what kind of national week I'd like to set up. I will probably be dwelling on this for months, if not years.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Not To Be Confused With...

ShelfTalker: A Children's Bookseller's Blog

The Shelf Talker

ShelfTalker is a member of the kidlitosphere. The Shelf Talker is "a weekly rundown of news, gossip and recommendations from and about authors on tour."

There just aren't that many names out there.

Critique Partners

Tomorrow I'm meeting for coffee (or, in my case, hot chocolate because I'm already quite over stimulated, thank you very much) with a friend I met in a writers' group. We met twice a month, took work home to read, discussed it at meetings, etc. The usual thing. I was the only published writer in the group, and I did miss the networking type chat that you get from meeting with other writers who are at your same rung on the ladder. (I don't know how much networking I'd be able to do with the authors of international bestsellers.) But several of these people were very fine readers, and the friend I'm going to see tomorrow actually put her finger right on what was wrong with the picture book manuscript I was working on that eventually became A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat. The manuscript needed to be A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat, not a picture book.

Since I'm seeing Lynda tomorrow morning, I have writers' groups on my mind this evening. So I was interested to see Becky Levine's blog post Critique Partners--Why Start With One? In it, she talks about building a critique group and suggests you start with just one critique partner.

It's an interesting idea.

Training Report: In spite of another chaotic day, I managed to get two segments done for the 365 Story Project. The need to report here does force me to try harder.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Good Sunday

Yesterday I walked over to the UConn Co-op from a family member's home, a little under a two-mile walk round trip. I went over the weekend before, too, but hadn't brought any money with me. Thus the return trip. The UConn Co-op is an independent bookstore, unlike some college bookstores that are run by chains. So you don't get the same old, same old when you're walking through its offerings. Take graphic novels, for instance. When I look at the graphic novels at chain bookstores, I see a lot of superhero stuff and manga. The Co-op had a lot of the more unique, individual novels told graphically that I tend to be more interested in, as well as nonfiction, such as French Milk, that looked appealing. I overheard something interesting while I was there. For some reason, a lot of parents and family groups were wandering around yesterday. (Perhaps the elders were there to make sure their kids hadn't been arrested at a spring break party.) One young man directed his family's attention to the book area by saying, "There's the Barnes & Noble stuff." Then he pointed out where the computer items were kept and maybe the tee-shirts, etc. Think about it: When the big box bookchains first opened, they were modeling themselves on bookstores. Now people have to compare a bookstore to a Barnes & Noble in order to understand what goes on in one? What are they teaching these young people at college these days? Anyway, I blew my entire Christmas Co-op gift card on Leonard Marcus's Minders of Make Believe. I have a copy from the library, but I've already renewed it once, and I've only read a few pages. But those few pages made me want to underline like crazy! Lots of facts! About Puritans! I love the Puritans! Plus Marcus uses footnotes. Do you know how often I read nonfiction that has no footnotes? Do you have any idea how much that annoys me? So I decided I wanted my own copy. So I'm walking back with my purchase, and I'm thinking that I can't start reading it until I finish reading Budo Secrets by John Stevens because I read only one nonfiction book at a time, and a guy from the dojang loaned me this thing maybe half a year ago. I would never mention Budo Secrets here because it's not related to my blog subjects, but as I was walking back to my in-laws' house, I suddenly realized that I could use a Budo Secrets-type book in the 365 Story Project! That means it is related. I also realized that the 365 Story Project has no grandparents, and what's that about? The kids in the episodes are only ten and fourteen years old. What are the chances that all four of their grandparents would be dead? I decided I had to do something about that. So it was quite a productive hour--a nearly two-mile walk, a happy wander in the Co-op, a book purchase, and some 365 Story Project work. Training Report: I was away from the house a lot last week, which is why posting here was spottier than usual. I managed to get seven episodes written for the 365 Story Project, though, and a short story manuscript submitted to a journal. I was able to do that much because on Monday I happened to work out what the next seven or more episodes would be about. This means that either A. my father was right and a job well planned is a job half done; or B. I have now reached that stage at which if I'm given any topic I'll blurt out something about it no matter what. I've got to step it up a notch or five or six because I'm still more than a month behind with these 365 Story stories. Trying to catch up is keeping me from working on other projects. I knocked off three segments today, though.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Can You Believe It? I Found Still Another Dad Book

Four or five weeks ago, I was in a library and decided I wanted to read something I'd heard absolutely nothing about. I was going to pick a mystery book off the shelf. (By which I mean not the genre but a mystery to me.) I settled on When the Sergeant Came Marching Home by Don Lemna because it's set after World War II (historical novel) in Montana (where a family member lives). It was a good choice because though the book was reviewed in journals, including a starred review in Booklist, I didn't find a whole lot about it on-line. Most mentions came from library blogs, posting about new purchases.

When the Sergeant Came Marching Home is a retro boys' book. It reminded me of the Soup books by Robert Newton Peck, which were popular at Chez Gauthier a few years back, in that they're realistic tales about two young boys set in an earlier period in the twentieth century. My impression when visiting schools is that most kids no longer know who Soup is, and I wonder if any of those old boys-having- adventures-while-growing-up books are read much anymore. I still hear a lot (at least on-line and at listservs) about Little Women and Anne of Green Gables but not so much about Homer Price. So today's young readers may be ready for Sergeant's ten-year-old narrator Donald and his younger brother Pat.

The basic story line that holds these stories together involves Donald's dismay when his father comes home after World War II and moves his family away from the small city where they'd been living without him to a quite rundown farm. Rundown as in no electricity and an outhouse. Donald is so distraught about this turn of events that he can't bring himself to refer to his father as anything but "the Sergeant," his title when he left the military.

For those of us familiar with the old boys' adventure stories, a lot of the situations in When the Sergeant Came Marching Home will sound...ah, well, familiar. But they didn't seem stereotypical to me. I think, instead, I might call them classic. You have your outhouse story and your pain-in-the-neck minister Dad doesn't like coming to dinner story and your build a spaceship story. Plus you've got the red-headed Irish mom who doesn't take any crap from the Sergeant even though he did clear the Nazis out of Europe and the beloved teacher at the one-room schoolhouse.

Perhaps these tales go down so well because Donald can be very drole. The beloved teacher, for instance, "had actually trained for a singing career and had only been held back from it at the last moment by her voice." Plus the father-son story adds a little twist, making these adventures a little more than unrelated episodes.

Adult readers of this book can have some fun with a few of the characters. A squatter on the family's land, who may or may not have known Lawrence of Arabia, and a very funny neighbor in the market for "a good Christian workin' woman who don't take to fancy-dancing around and all that prettifying stuff" could, with just a little tweaking, become the guest villains on Law and Order SVU. I was reading along going, "No, kids, no! Don't go in there!" "No! Don't eat that!" "For the love of God, don't get in his truck!" Ah, but the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. Heinous criminals were fewer and farther between back in the era in which this book is set. It was interesting the way I kept projecting my present day fears unto those quirky guys from another time.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Pondering Adult Characters In Children's Books

Tim Byrd, whose book Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom will be published next month, and I were getting acquainted over at his blog yesterday. He started me thinking about the possibility of adult protagonists in children's literature, and you guys know that anything I think about has a good chance of ending up here. Tim says that he's "not a huge believer in the necessity of making kids the sole, or even primary, viewpoint characters in fiction aimed at them." He talks about all the books "focusing on adults" that he read as a child. He adds that "in choosing stories to read, the age of the characters was never a consideration." I think kids probably aren't aware of seeking out characters of a certain age. And they don't have to. They have access to all the kinds of books Tim talks about reading when he was a kid--"Tarzan, Conan, Sherlock Holmes, Robinson Crusoe, The Three Musketeers"--as well as the spy stories and mysteries I latched onto while still pretty young. They can find pretty much whatever they want. I don't think there's any compelling need to place adults in primary roles in what we think of as children's literature. Tim describes his editor as leaning toward wanting to see a child in a protagonist's role in children's books. When I started publishing children's fiction, I had an editor who definitely believed that. She made a believer of me. In large part, this is probably because I like definition. I like to try to focus and remain on task. If children's books aren't about children, then what the heck are they? How am I supposed to go about doing what I do? But in part I'm with my editor about the need for a central child character in children's books because I believe all of us read to make connections with others, to feel a sense of community with someone like ourselves or someone we would like to be. Children can read adult books for those times when they want to connect with someone like Sherlock Holmes, someone they want to be like. Children's books ought to provide them with with opportunities to connect with someone more like the selves they are now. Adult main characters can work in children's books. But I think that happens when the adult characters are outsiders of some type. Think Skullduggery Pleasant, for instance, who, as a skeleton, can't be said to fit into society very easily. Or at all. Our social order is run by adults, making children outsiders. Outsider child readers can connect with outsider adult characters. Diana Wynne Joneshas said about the protagonists in children's books, "It follows that they usually have to be fairly strong, dynamic characters, and some of them have to be people that children will follow willingly into the action. For this reason, it was thought at one time that the main characters always had to be children. This turns out not to be long as someone in the story is likeable, understandable or a loveable rogue and so on." By likeable and understandable, I assume she means likeable and understandable to a child reader. And what is a "loveable rogue" but an outsider? Think of Howl in Wynne Jones own Howl's Moving Castle. Perhaps these rogues also work best in a buddy story, one in which the buddy is a child or at least a younger character. Think, again, Skullduggery Pleasant and Howl's Moving Castle. As a result of reading Tim's post, I've decided to move Minders of Make-Believe by Leonard Marcus to the top of my To Be Read pile. I'm hoping he'll discuss this subject. Have we always felt that children should be center stage in children's books? Or back in the day when books for children were more instructive were they filled with adult characters for them to model themselves upon?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

This Caused Me To Take A Second Look

Today I received an e-mail with "New Book: Ultimate Guide to Submissions" in the subject line. The book in question was not an ultimate guide to submitting written work for publication but Tap Out Textbook: Ultimate Guide to Submissions for Grappling.

Seriously, I saw that subject line and thought about manuscript submissions. Nothing else.

Training Report: Over the weekend I managed to get two segments written for the 365 Story Project. Then I did one yesterday and two today. I also finished revising the short story I've been working on and submitted it today, which means I have four manuscripts out. That's a lot for me. We also got the press kit up at the website this morning. By me, of course, I mean Computer Guy.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Blomance And Training

By way of Jen Robinson's Book Page, I found The Trouble With Blogging at Sarah Miller: Reading, Writing, Musing...".

Sarah raises a couple of interesting "con" points in her discussion of the pros and cons of blogging. For one thing, she wonders if the kidlitosphere is less dynamic than it used to be. Personally, I think that what has happened over time is that we've become less wild and woolly. Kidlit blogs are no longer a ground-breaking idea. The frontier aspect is gone. What's more, when the kidlitosphere first began to explode, there was a lot of excitement because bloggers were finding each other. Let's call it...blomance. Now we've all known each other for a while. We know what to expect from each other. But we're missing the wildness of our youth.

The second interesting point Sarah makes is about how fragmenting the number of Internet opportunties have become and what a problem that is for writers. (Probably for people in other fields, too.) Blogging and social networking do take time from a writer's work, and then if you're keeping journals of some kind, as Sarah mentions, that's another activity that takes from the big writing project.

There are solutions to that problem. The one Sarah is trying is to take a break from blogging for a while. My solution is that I've made the decision that I won't do social networking.

Why am I sticking with blogging instead? In addition to believing that it has helped market my writing, I'm continue to blog because it is writing. I've been listening to Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. In that book, Gladwell says that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery in any field. By that he does not mean 10,000 hours cranking out manuscripts that are immediately embraced by publishers and turned into books. He means 10,000 hours of grunt work, rehearsal time, practice, study, and learning the ropes before you get to the point of succeeding in a field.

That just happens to fit in very nicely with the training model I've been thinking about in relation to writing. You never stop training, you never stop honing your skills, you always expect that you need to improve the most elementary things you know about your field. Training is and always will be a part of your life, you train for the sake of training, you train because you want to train.

Blogging is nonfiction writing, and I'm interested in writing nonfiction. Blogging, therefore, is part of my training.

Are These Covers Telling Us Something?

I suspect this is all in my mind, but take a look at these two covers of children's books in which an adult character plays a significant role.

In the Moribito cover, the child character is totally passive. He is being saved by an adult. We don't even see his face, suggesting he isn't of very much significance. And, sure enough, this is a book that is primarily about the adult on the cover, not the child.

In the Doc Wilde cover, the adult character is above the children, suggesting his superior position. He's also looking pretty powerful in a fighting pose with his shirt in shreds. However, the kids, though they're looking surprised rather than powerful, are physically active. They are also in front of the adult character, suggesting they have a role of some prominence in the story. And in this book there is much more balance between the adult and child characters.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Now That's A Dad!

Come on. Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom is a father book. I can't be imagining this.

I was being way too analytical while reading the first half of Doc Wilde by Tim Byrd. I'd received a copy of the ARC, and ARCs always make me nervous. I want to be able to help new books make their way into the world, much the way that I want to tell everyone their baby is beautiful. I get really nervous when I have to see a new baby, too. In fact, my husband and I used to rehearse in the car what we would say when visiting a family with a new kid. But "He's so small!" and...well, actually, "he's so small" was all we had, and we used to fight over who was going to get to say it. "It's so small" is definitely damning with faint praise when it comes to an ARC.

So I probably put more thought into my reading than I should have when I started Doc Wilde. What's going on here? I kept wondering. Why is this kids' book called Doc Wilde, a very adult name? Do the kids have an important enough part in this story? Okay, this bit about Doc Wilde carrying extra shirts in the trunk of his car because the one he's wearing is always getting damaged, thus exposing his incredibly muscular, toned body is funny...but is it funny enough? And will kids understand it? Don't you have to be familiar with schlocky movies with studly stars exploiting their sexuality with torn clothing to get this joke?

Then I got to the halfway point when the family's autogyro started to fall out of the sky, laughed out loud, and was won over.

Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom doesn't really have one main character. It's the story of a family. The kids have important places in the story. They do exciting things. They are capable of saving the day. The dad is a fantasy father. Seriously. He's a brilliant inventor and adventurer, wealthy and world famous. He's ripped, too. (Take a look at that cover illustration.) He can do absolutely anything. (His kids are chippies off the old block, by the way.) The sun reflects off from Doc Wilde causing him to glow when he's out in public. People stare. The mom...well, the mom is dead because in adventure stories the mom is almost always dead. No mom would allow a kid to rappel down the side of the Empire State Building. You have to get rid of them in order for the kids to be able to do things.

This book is described as being a "homage" to classic pulp adventure stories, most of which I'm only vaguely familiar with. Jonny Quest is the closest connection I can make, and I wasn't a regular viewer. Still, I think the basic premise behind the book is very clever, and the quality of the writing is excellent. Over and over again characters just happen to have just the device needed to get out of the most recent danger tucked into a pocket of their vest. That's the kind of thing that could easily become far-fetched and tedious. But everything about this world is far-fetched--that's the point. You're not supposed to believe it. You're in on the wry, inside jokes.

I mean, look. The grandfather in this story is in his nineties, looks to be in his sixties, and can still lug a grown man through a cave. He has trouble keeping his shirts in one piece, too.

I did wonder if I was getting all the jokes, though, because, as I said, my only familiarity with the genre being dealt with here is a few episodes of Jonny Quest. The vocabulary is sophisticated, as are the literary references to writers such as Thoreau and Dante. (The references are appropriate within the context of what is happening in the story, too.) I'm just not sure whether or not the vocabulary and literary references are too sophisticated for child readers.

It's possible that this book could work on two levels. The chapters are short, the plot most definitely does not drag, and there are all kinds of mutant frogs. Perhaps one kind of child reader will be attracted to that aspect of the book. Then there is the sly wit regarding a perfect family that knows all and can do all and is full of love for one another because who wouldn't be full of love for relatives who can invent things and speak Greek and hold their breath under water for an incredibly long time? Another kind of child reader may totally buy into that.

I think that next week I'm going to offer my Doc Wilde ARC to the home schooled kids who train with me at my dojang. I'll see if they're interested and what they have to say if they read the book. Brian and Wren Wilde are martial artists, like the kids I know, after all. Plus, they appear to be home schooled, too.

By their father, the doc, of course.

Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom will be published next month.

Coincidence: A Jonny Quest movie!

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Hiking Story With Fairies

I killed more than half the day hiking on Wednesday. My group went to a park within a state forest. The park is also the site of some kind of kids' nature camp.
The guy who was leading the walk kept talking about the "fairy circles." He wanted to be sure that we hit the fairy circles before we left. I thought he meant those fairy rings you see on lawns. We do about five miles, stop for lunch, and he says that we'll finish up on the whatever trail so we can see the fairy circles. I'm thinking, These better be the best toadstool leavings I've ever seen in my life after all this.

As we're walking along, I'm telling one of my friends how I'd just received two books from a publisher and, wouldn't you know it, they were about fairies. I'm going on about how I'd gotten all excited when I saw the package only to be totally disappointed to find they were fairy books. "I hate fairies!"

I went on like that for a while.

All of a sudden, I notice the people ahead of me looking down at the ground. What they were looking at were arrangements of little buildings, painted rocks, little chairs made by nailing a piece of wood to a stump. Toys were artistically arranged. We saw little teepee-type structures built of saplings and things (a dreamcatcher, for instance) hanging from trees. And there were little signs indicating that we were walking through a fairy village.

The fairy circles went on for a ways and were adorable. The scene was totally unexpected even though someone had been talking for a couple of hours about how we had to see the fairy circles.

You can bet that somehow this will make its way into the 365 Story Project. So, see? Hiking wasn't a waste of time at all.

Training Report: I forgot to report yesterday, even though I had a pretty good day. I did two segments for the 365 Story Project, renewed my membership in Association of Booksellers for Children, and started revising a short story I want to submit. Today I did three Story Project segments and more on the short story. I'll have more to say about the short story another day.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Elsewhere On The 'Net

We used to read Paul Jennings' short stories here at chez nous. The Sydney Morning Herald has an article on him and his most recent book, The Next. Notice that it's recommended for readers 15+. I like that. That's a group I think gets lost in the book marketing stampede.

Elizabeth Gilbert, of Eat, Pray, Love fame, gave a talk on creativity back in November. My main interest is the part on views of creativity at different periods in history and the Ruth Stone story. Have I ever mentioned that my friend Pam says one of Ruth Stone's daughters was in our eighth grade math class? (I do remember her, but only from that one class.) Ruth Stone lives in one of the six or seven towns that sent kids to our union high school, so it's possible. None of us knew who Ruth Stone was then, though.

And Happy Kid! received a lovely review from a middle school library blog.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My Latest Marketing Ploy

It took me two or three days to do it, but I've managed to start a blog at Amazon that will appear at the Amazon pages for my four in-print books. I could just link this blog over there, but I do sometimes get all ranty or serious over here or talk at length about other authors' work and that hardly seems like good marketing now, does it? So I'm going to periodically do something lighter while at the same time more promotional over at Amazon.

What exactly that will be I'm not sure.

Training Report: Thank goodness I did that Amazon marketing bit because otherwise I didn't do well today. (Mainly because of a six-mile hike that I'll talk about tomorrow.) I did spend some time going over the order of half the February segments of the 365 Story Project, and I did a rewrite of one segment. I really shouldn't be doing that until next winter, but I have a hard time pretending I don't know that that kind of thing needs to be done. It hangs over my head like church on Sunday.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Perhaps Kids Read Differently In Japan

One of the first things I had to learn about writing for children back when I was getting started was that kids' books were about kids. They got the best lines. The action needed to be around them. In a good kids' book, the kids saved themselves, adults didn't save them.

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Yehashi, winner of the Mildred L. Batchelder Award, breaks that rule in spades.

Take a look at that beautiful cover. The stunning spear-wielding warrior is a thirty-year-old woman described on page one as having a face "tanned and beginning to show fine wrinkles." The cover illustrates the opening scene in which Balsa, a martial artist for hire, saves an eleven-year-old prince. Note that we don't even see his face. The balance of power between characters is made clear before the book is even opened.

The story opens with Balsa. It closes with Balsa. She is the character who changes as a result of the events in the story. An argument can be made that nothing changes for the prince, who functions as a sort of vessel for a spirit egg that has been placed inside him without his knowledge.

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is told in the third person with point-of-view shifts among characters by chapter. These shifts occur among adult characters until half way through the book when a chapter from the child's point of view appears. Later in the book, point-of-view shifts appear within chapters, including shifts to the young prince. I don't believe he gets another chapter to himself, though. That's probably just as well because he's nowhere near as interesting as all the grown-ups around him.

One strange YA book? Yes, indeed. Until you realize that the Mildred L. Batchelder Award is given "for the most outstanding children’s book originally published in a language other than English in a country other than the United States, and subsequently translated into English for publication in the United States." (Got that?) Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is a Japanese book translated by Cathy Hirano. It's the first in a series that's supposed to have sold 1.5 million copies in Japan and has appeared there in both anime and manga.

I know that one title does not make a statistically significant number, but after reading Moribito I'm wondering if kids in other cultures do read about adults, whereas here, not so much.

Cartoon Network's Adult Swim aired the anime version of Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit last year. That ended in January, though.

Scholastic will be publishing Moribito: Guardian of the Darkness this summer.

Training Report: Between yesterday and today I did four 365 Story Project segments. That would sound a whole lot better if I hadn't missed three, maybe four days for the holiday weekend. Plus, I've decided to replace a couple of yoga segments I did a while back with an ice skating segment I did today and another I plan to do tomorrow. So I'm thinking I'm just getting further and further into the hole. I also spent some time today trying to sign up for AmazonConnect, which is supposed to allow authors to do some kind of promotion on the pages advertising their books. However, when I tried to do something called "verifying," I got a message saying there was some kind of problem, hope you don't mind too much. Yes, this is minor Amazon news compared to what was happening there this weekend.

Someone's Going To Hit The Ol' Mother Lode

I can't say that I'm familiar with the Winston Breen books, but I have heard that the character/author will be placing puzzles at seven blogs over seven days starting on April 16th. Readers can solve the puzzles and submit the answers to the appropriate address (Check that link I just gave you for appropriateness.) each day to be elgible to win a copy of the new Winston Breen book, The Potato Chip Puzzles.

Here's the twist to this contest: The winners of the last day's puzzle will be eligible for a drawing to choose the winner of the grand prize, "Every single book in G.P. Putnam's Sons Spring 2009 childrens' and young adult catalog plus advance reading copies of numerous Fall 2009 books!"

That's a sweet deal.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Working On A Holiday

So after a day and a half of meal prep, eating, and some clean up, in that period before you find someone to make another pot of coffee while you haul out too much dessert, I was talking with a family member who's a graphic artist. He asked what I was working on, and I told him about the 365 Story Project and how much time I'd spent last week trying to track the various story threads. We were talking about how complex this book of little stories about kids just living their lives on the same street was becoming.

He wondered if I was making this too difficult for myself. He suggested that I go back and look at the original book that inspired me and recall what it was that I loved so much about the book when I was young that I wanted to replicate. Did that book have threads? Maybe a child reading this book doesn't need threads.

He made some good points. I do have to keep in mind what it was I wanted to replicate. On the other hand, I want to keep the threads. While I don't think real threads or arcs appeared in the original, certainly the same children kept turning up. As a writer, I need the threads. The individual daily "bits" aren't stories all by themselves. The arcs are becoming the stories that weave in and out among the children's days. Without them, I'd really have to come up with 365 unrelated complete very, very short stories. I no longer believe that's going to happen.

In the course of the conversation, the word "segment" came up several times. I've been toying around with some climactic events at the end of the year. That could end up making this some kind of novel. Perhaps I will describe it as a "segmented novel." Now I'm beginning to think quite differently about this book.

Aren't holidays wonderful?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Done In By Another Holiday

This morning I finished a very interesting book, by which I mean I finished reading a very interesting book, not writing one. I'd love to tell you about it, but I'm burned out on Easter preparations. Though, really, I've held up quite well. I can still stand up.

If tomorrow doesn't break me, I may try to drone on a bit more tomorrow night.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

This Is War

A little before five o'clock this morning I received one hundred and seventeen pieces of spam that would have been spread over years of post comments. But I have moderation for posts over seven days old (I received five or six hits among those posts this morning, too) and the enemy was foiled!

Whenever this happens I feel quite a powerful surge of victorious adrenaline. Then I worry that my opponents somehow know their missiles didn't hit and are mad. They may be planning something worse against me.

By the way, I know for a fact that one of my posts from last year has sixty-sixty pieces of spam in its comments. I keep thinking that if only I had little kids living here, I could pay them a nickel a comment to clean the thing out. Okay, okay. I should pay them a dime. But since those kids don't exist, I'll have to wait until I have a free day--maybe when I'm living in a nursing home--to do the job myself.

Today's Training Report: This was an interesting day. I spent about half an hour checking out a possible marketing scheme before deciding it wasn't for me. Then I spent some more time researching literary journals for potential submissions. I now have plans to send two short stories out after I've tinkered with them some more. But while looking in my filing cabinets I decided that I have decades worth of stories in there and only four I think are submittable. I need to do something about that, though I'm not sure what. And, finally, I spent some time charting out three more story threads for the 365 Story Project and did some work on backstory for a TV show the kids watch. Though I'm a month behind with that, I still have close to 60 vignettes/pieces/whatever we should call them and keeping track of them is a pain because I thought it would be cool to handwrite this thing in a notebook. How do people who insist they don't use word processors manage? Thank you, God, for technology.

This Isn't Good For Me

My sources tell me there has been some discussion about agents elsewhere on the Internet. I have nothing to add, since I don't have an agent. Nor did I read any of the comments from authors who presumably do, because I've been thinking...for years...sort of the way I used to think for years about going to graduate school...about looking for an agent.

I'm not looking forward to the hunt, anyway, and I certainly don't want to hear that having an agent isn't going to make my life one hundred percent easier, better, and more rewarding.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

So Do You Suppose Someone Will Write A Novel About J.K. Rowling Sometime In The Twenty-second Century?

I finished reading The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl last night. Pearl writes historical mysteries in which real historical figures appear--fictionally. In The Last Dickens he creates a mystery around the ending of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, since its author, Charles Dickens, died before finishing it.

Dickens appears in the book during his final tour of the United States. According to the author's notes, a great deal of the detail included in the novel is historically accurate, including a stalker. Pearl describes lines for tickets, speculators (what we'd call scalpers), and "bookaneers," what might be described as mercenaries hired by publishers to steal manuscripts from England as they arrive in the United States by ship and transcribe public readings of authors' unpublished works. (I couldn't "bookaneer" on-line being used in that way.) Copyright laws appear to have been a bit iffy back then.

I guess when people talk about how publishing used to be a profession for gentlemen, they don't mean during the nineteenth century.

Even though Dickens died one hundred and thirty-eight years ago, I don't see how someone today can read about the frenzy around his American tour without thinking of J.K. Rowling. In 2145 will people still be talking about her appearance at Carnegie Hall? Will someone living in 2169 write a novel about a "lost" Harry Potter?

Have any writers between Dickens and Rowling received the kind of acclaim they did?

Today's Training Report: I know I said I finished that long bio yesterday, but, really, I finished it today. And I did just one story for the 365 Story Project.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Looking For Undiscovered Gems

Sheila Ruth at Wands and Worlds is looking for undiscovered gems in a bestseller world. You can go over and post a comment about "your favorite children's or YA books published in 2008that were not widely buzzed, reviewed, or awarded."

Sheila's blog post is similar to one I did last week. She, however, is going to do something proactive about the situation. She's planning to compile a list of 2008's overlooked treasures.

Today's Training Report: One 365 Story Project piece, and I finished the long bio for the website press kit. I found doing that pretty boring. I certainly don't mind talking about myself (hence the blog), but in this particular case it was all stuff that I, myself, had heard before. And sometimes written before in various ways for a variety of different press releases over the years. The idea, though, is that this superbio will be used by others writing press releases about my appearances at their schools, etc. At the very least, it should be easier for me to write them if I have to with this thing at my website for me to crib from. I had to keep reminding myself that I've been wanting to do this press kit thing for a month or two. So while I was bored today, I now feel a sense of accomplishment. Not the kind of accomplishment I would have felt if I'd done the equivalent number of pages of an essay or short story, but accomplishment nonetheless. I mustn't allow myself to become too attached to any one kind of accomplishment. Ommmm.

Monday, April 06, 2009

The Turkey From Hell Survived The Winter. What Were The Chances Of That Happening?

Last year, I became attracted to running, much like Colleen at Chasing Ray. Though in my case, we're probably talking more about gentle jogging. In intervals. I didn't get very far with it and gave the walk/run thing up altogether toward fall because of various kinds of pain. But then I started doing around ten minutes of yoga three or four times a week, and yoga cures everything. Plus, I read some things lately that suggested I might have been doing something wrong. So I'm giving it another shot this spring.

I was out in the street for the first time this morning, doing my little running intervals, which are built not around time but around flat sections of road. I get to the end of the street, and I'm on my way back when I suddenly remember...the flippin' turkey. We'd seen it just a couple of weeks ago forcing a car to back down a driveway. And I was right in its stomping ground.

I didn't see anything, but, sure enough, just a minute or so later, I hear it gobbling. There it is, in the driveway it often takes over, along with its sidekick. (Seriously, if I lived in that house, I would have eaten that thing by now. Yum, yum.) I casually cross the road and start looking for something I can use for a jang bong and try to control my breathing in case turkeys can smell fear. No problem today, though. Wild Tom had other things on his mind, and I was able to finish my trip in peace.

Now, I'm sure some may think it odd that a person who has had nearly seven years of martial arts training would feel this much anxiety over the prospect of a run-in with a bird. I'd just like to point out, though, that this thing is one hell of a big bird. (Did I mention that I saw it take on a car a couple of weeks ago?) On top of that, I was instructed that the best opening move in a conflict is a roundhouse kick to the thigh, and the reason it's a good opener is that you're hoping to hit some nerve that runs down the leg. (That's what I was told in the dojang, but these guys aren't M.D.s.) Do turkeys have a nerve running down their legs? I'm not betting my life on it.

By the way, the wild turkeys on our street already made their way into A Girl, a Boy, and Three Robbers. Wild Tom is going to appear in the 365 Story Project, and this morning I started thinking about including these turkey incidents in one of my black belt essays. (Another project on a back burner.)

Today's Training Report: Two pieces for the 365 Story Project, plus one over the weekend. While I'm not catching up, at least I'm not falling further behind. I also did the short bio for the press kit we're working on for my website and half the long bio.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

I Didn't Go Planning To Do Research

The 365 Story Project involves daily life for children on a street in a smallish town. If you're covering 365 days, you're going to have to include 52 Sundays.

Hundreds of thousands of kids in this country are getting some kind of formal religious instruction related to the faith their families practice. Just the fact that they are attending formal religious lessons, no matter what the faith, interests me. Therefore, many of my main character's Sunday mornings are spent in Sunday school. He attends an unspecified (so far) mainstream Protestant Sunday school because, though I started out life as a Catholic child, I taught Sunday school for 11 years in a mainstream Protestant church. Catholics don't even call their children's religious instruction what it was called when I was young. Protestant Sunday school is what I now know.

So today I got myself into church for the first time in probably two months. It's Palm Sunday. I like Palm Sunday. (Though I must say, when I was a child we were given palms in church that were like a freaking branch. Now all we get is what I think is the palm equivalent of a leaf. Oh, the glorious days of my youth.) No sooner had the service started, then I began getting ideas for the Sunday entries for the 365 Story Project.

And I started taking notes. In church. With the pencil the deacons leave in the pews for filling out the prayer intention cards.

To be perfectly honest, I've done that before. Seriously, church is so inspiring for me workwise, you'd think I'd get myself in there every week. But what seemed wrong this time was that I filled up the equivalent of half an 81/2 by 11 sheet of paper. It was the back of one of the program inserts!!!

I mean, I've made notes on the program before. (Lots of times I lose them after I get home, if I even manage to get them home.) But this time the material just kept coming and coming, and I kept picking up the pencil again and again and writing more and more.

For instance, all the kids from the Sunday school came up to the sanctuary to do a little palm parade. I sat there checking them out to see how long the boys were wearing their hair and was there someone there I could use as a physical model for a couple of my girl characters? I did find a hairdo I liked for my main girl character, as well as a couple of very stylish cuts on preschoolers that I wouldn't have minded for myself.

I had to struggle to control myself and sit with my hands folded while the minister was praying because, you know, it didn't seem right to be making a note about my main character and his brother using their palms for sword fighting while the minister was asking God to remember all those in need. And then Communion came and no way should anyone be working during Communion. But it went on forever.

I think that what happened would be bad, very bad, if I had gone to church intentionally planning to harvest material from the experience. But I didn't. I went to get a free palm. I'm hoping instead that all those ideas I was getting were divine inspiration.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Big News From ShelfTalker

When I said earlier this week that I was having trouble finding blogging booksellers, I'd forgotten all about ShelfTalker, which is, indeed, "A Children's Bookseller's Blog." If I ever actually blushed, my face would be quite red because I was just blogging about ShelfTalker, myself, a couple of weeks ago.

And I'm going to blog about it again today because there's big happenings over there. A couple of new booksellers (at least new for ShelfTalker) are going to be taking over blogging duties at that site. Elizabeth Bluemle and Josie Leavitt of The Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, Vermont (right on Rte. 7, folks) start posting on Monday.

I enjoyed Alison Morris's reign at ShelfTalker. But it appears that she'll be guest blogging, so we won't have to do without her entirely.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Now This Sounds Like A Useful Blog

By way of Nathan Bransford's blog I found Come In Character, a blog writers can use to help develop characters.

Today's Training Report: I actually did quite a bit today, even though I only finished one and a half 365 Story Project pieces. But I also did a lot of work on organizing threads for various characters and events within the manuscript, which is going to be useful down the road. I also got started creating a "media center" type page for my website. It will be a while before that makes its appearance, since I have to do a little writing for it.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Writers, There Is Hope For Us!

Stop the Internet, I want to get off! claims we can find Freedom at last. But only if we own Macs.

Today's Training Report: One and a half pieces for the 365 Story Project. I'm going to have to do several a day and work weekends because I am more than a month behind right now. I also got started on creating two more story threads, which I hope will speed things up. And, finally, I did some revisions on a couple of website pages, which Computer Guy should have up very soon.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

How Odd Was This?

I met someone new today while off in the woods with my hiking group. While I was making some notes about skunk cabbage (I have a friend who's seriously into flora), it came out that I'm a writer. I believe the first thing my new walking companion asked was how many books I'd written. The second thing she asked was, "What awards have you won?"

When I told this tale at dinner, someone asked, "Was that rude?" I don't know. I wasn't offended, but I was...stunned. I was able to cobble together some award-like facts about my writing, so I wasn't left feeling humiliated by any means. But I kept thinking, Is this how people think about writers, writing, and books? I realize that one person isn't statistically significant and this poor woman whom I know felt uncomfortable as a newbie to the group was just trying to make conversation, but I wondered if she were representative of the public.

I think she might be because I believe ours is a culture that's overly fixated on winners. It's true in all fields, but with books the race to identify and promote the "best" (assuming we even know what that is) in all kinds of categories means that we miss out on so much that's creative and exciting and new. Already bloggers and listserv members are beginning to speculate about next year's big kidlit winners, narrowing the field and sucking attention from thousands of fine books that aren't making it to the top of the heap, for whatever reason. This desire to hunt for winners can actually limit the reading experience. While we're chasing after the next big thing, we're not even noticing the books that would have been the perfect match for us.

As a writer, I think awards are certainly nice, and I'm happy to pick up whatever I can. But as a reader, I like going rogue. In fact, all the serious readers I know I would probably describe that way. They're familiar with awards, but they've learned to take them with a grain of salt. They're feral readers.

A couple of us walkers do discuss books while we're out in the woods. (One walker/reader went to hear Marilynne Robinson speak last night.) If we have a chance for book talk with our newbie group member, we'll try to encourage her to go wild with her reading.

Today's Training Report: As you may have guessed, except for acquiring some material on skunk cabbages (as well as some juicy stuff about jack in the pulpits), I didn't do much today. I was able to spend some time researching journals for possible short story submissions. But I ran into the same problem I often run into when I do that--I only like a fraction of the stories I read. Or try to.