Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Parent Jitters

I wish I could blog about how thrilled I am to have completed my first semester at Vermont College, what a ride it's been, how much I've learned, how much better my writing has gotten, all of that good stuff, but today, this week's professional accomplishment has been entirely overshadowed by something so much bigger.

My oldest goes in for minor surgery tomorrow.  She's having her adenoids removed and turbinades shrunken. She's a mouth breather, is going through the joys of orthodontic work, and needs more breathing room.

It's minor surgery. Twenty minutes tops.

But it's a full anesthesia. Granted, that's what my husband does. Not that he's doing hers. Not a good idea to work on your own loved ones. He'll be in the OR, though, which is great. Still, I'm worried. This is my baby. My little girl. My responsibility.
Will everything go all right? How will her recovery be? Is the pain manageable?

I don't even want to go to that one question that circles around on the perimeter of all the other worried parent questions. It's like, if I give voice to that question, I'm inviting disaster.

I'm not the only one who worries like this, am I? Am I overdoing it? Okay, maybe. I keep telling myself it could be a lot worse. There are greater things to overcome. But denying my feelings isn't working all that well today.

So, I guess I'm going to bury myself in my writing. And when my baby gets home after school, hug and hug and hug her.

Somewhere, in all that, I hope to find my courage.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Honey, I'm Home...

They say role reversal can pep up your marriage.  My husband is home this week chilling on the couch. I'm at work.

Okay, okay, I don't normally spend my days when he's not home on the couch in front of a roaring fire popping bon bons, but, you know, I sometimes get the feeling my husband thinks I do. I'm a writer. What else can I be doing for long stretches of time while he's off working?

Other writers know what goes on in the daily life of a lonesome wordsmith - a lot of quiet time, a lot of typing, lively conversations with imaginary friends, and sometimes, when the typing isn't happening, small sacrifices to the muse.

But husbands? Spouses? Significant others?

It's a big black box, surrounded by bon bons and free time.

Which is why it has been so cool having my husband home this week. For the first time, he's gotten a chance to see what I really do all day.

Granted, my monosyllabic responses--"write"--to this question over the years haven't been helpful. I guess I needed to show, not tell.

This week I've shown.

And he's watched.

Even listened when I ask him if I can read something out loud.

It's been fun. So much fun that I'm really going to miss him next week. It's neat having a pair of eager ears. And a lunch buddy. A friend. My best friend. 

It may not have been role reversal this week, but it has definitely added spark to our relationship. My husband "gets" what I do.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Book Review Club - Bull Rider

Bull Rider
by Suzanne Morgan Williams

upper middle grade/ya

Drugs, sex, teenage pregnancy, you name it, children's authors write about it. Suzanne Morgan Williams is no different. She has taken on perhaps the mother of all controversial issues for this country, the war on terrorism. Bull Rider's story is current, it's controversial, but far more importantly, it's really really well-written. Any book can take on controversy, but take it on without becoming preachy, now that's good writing.

Cam O'Mara's older brother is a marine. He goes off to fight in the Middle East, is injured, and comes back home a very different person. Cam's family struggles with the effects of war on their own world, the world at large, and the way people see them. Cam, a skateboarder by passion, turns to bull-riding, a time-honored family profession, because it is the only way he can escape the discomfort and uncertainty of his life. In the end, he chooses bull-riding to help his brother realize that if Cam can face his fears and straddle a thousand pounds of bull, then his brother can face his, learning to walk again.

This isn't a light read. It isn't a comfortable one. But it is unforgettable. Williams isn't preachy. There are no easy answers to war, not for those opposing, those waging it, and especially not for those fighting it. Her characters are well-shaped, offering all sides to the debate but no judgments. Family, love, hanging in there for each other, these are the driving force of her story.

Read it. It'll make you think.

And for other great reads this crazy December month, hop over to Barrie Summy's blog.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Book Review Club - Butt Wars

Butt Wars
By Andy Griffiths
Age Range: ? ? ?

My seven year-old brought this book home. It was the party favor at a birthday party.

She was disappointed. Butt Wars? It sounded so boy boy boy.

I was puzzled. Butt in the title...of a middle grade?

I had to read it. Right after I convinced her she should at least try it. It was outside her comfort range because of the boyishness. And seeing as I wasn't opposed to the butts, or the crapalanches, or the aresteroids, or the flying brown blobs (I read a lot of German kidlit, and kids curse a lot more in middle grade German kidlit. Even in British kidlit, for that matter), I wanted her to try something different. Granted, this is a little out there, but nonetheless.

She loved it. LOVED IT. It's the longest book she's ever read.

Then I read it.

Butt Wars, The Final Conflict is the the third and last in the Butt War trilogy in which Zack, together with his butt, has to save the world from the Great White Butt. In this story, he travels back 65 million years to battle his arch enemy, and the double (or triple, I kind of lost count) agent, Mutant Barf Lord. I have to admit, I got a little tired of the butt talk. Buttasaurs, stink butts, cocobutt trees...if you can stick a butt in it, Andy Griffiths did. But (no pun intended) I think it's exactly that irreverent, crude potty talk that makes this book so endearing to a young audience (it was originally marketed in Australia as a YA). And I have to say, there is plot. Poopy plot, but plot.

What, however, does the infiltration of crude language into middle grade mean for writers? Profanity is definitely still a rarity, especially gratuitous profanity (for the exception to the rule, read or listen to Orson Scott Card's scifi middle grade, Space Boy), but crudeness?

Until Butt Wars, I hadn't seen it in this magnitude. Even more interesting, Butt Wars is an Australian creation brought to the U.S. market by Scholastic. We imported crudeness, which may have been easier than letting one of our own break down that wall.

But what does it mean? Before, crudeness-like profanity still is for this genre-was a sonic boom that could be used to catch the reader's attention. Now, it is fast becoming the norm. That makes the palette of language possibilities a little more colorful (yeay!), but our jobs a little harder. We need a new sonic boom.

Will it be profanity?

Or will it be something entirely new?

Curioser and curioser...

If Butt Wars just isn't your thing (or even if it is), check out Barrie Summy's blog for a whole host of books that'll have you talking and reading well into December!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I know. I know. Sustainability is actually one of the big millennia buzz words, usually referring to important things like, saving our planet. Recycle. Reduce. Reuse. I get it.

But right now I'm really worried about sustaining my hair. It's all because of the gray. Gray changes everything. It makes your hair wiry. And changes the whole styling thing. It pretty much makes you reassess your haircut and ask if there isn't something that can be done because, basically, you don't want to look like your kids grandmother just yet (okay, ever!).

I've thought about dealing with the gray by going short (I have long hair).

But I had a bad experience with short. A few years ago, after I had my second child, I let my hairdresser convince me to get a bob. It would be easier than having long hair, he said. I gave in.

He did a great job. It really looked good. Amazing. Effortless.

Until I washed it.

And then all of those layers went every which way but down. Horror. What was I doing wrong? I suddenly remembered with a sinking feeling how my hairdresser had started to sweat as he dried my hair. How he'd labored at those layers. They weren't effortless at all.

Ack! How was I supposed to manage this?

I let it grow out.

Which was great until the grey started to appear. I mean, it's not exactly like it's going to go away now (despite my complaint with the gene pool. They so are not returning my phone calls).

So, color, right?

But there was that one study they did that one time that showed a correlation between coloring and bladder cancer.

I don't want vanity to give me bladder cancer.

Okay, green freak, go all gray. Easy enough. Yeesh.

But I don't want to look like Barbara Bush.

Then cut it all off!'t that one of those options that sounds a lot better than it looks?

Why don't men have these problems???

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Maunscript Diet

Have you ever had a manuscript gain an unsightly number of pages, so much so that you cringe at the cost of printing it out?

I am usually a short writer. When I started college, I trembled at the thought of ten page papers. Ten pages? Who am I, Charles Dickens?

When I wrote my dissertation and managed a whole 250 (including 25 pages of bibliography and tables), I was flabbergasted. I'd maxed out. That was for sure. Never would I write anything longer. Ever.

And I didn't.


I started my present WIP. It's about a boy and a dolphin set in late 19th century New Zealand, and I even got to go to New Zealand last November for on-sight research. At that point, the ms was still a manageable 285 pgs.

Over the last year, I think my WIP secretly gorged on adverbs, Anne of Green Gables poetical monologues, and New Zealand scenery because it grew to a whopping 420 pages. A real full figured dame.

Given another era, another economy, another stage of existence in the publishing industry, and it might have been fine. Dickensian (or Botticelli) full, but fine. But it's a hard sell in today's market.

After a lot of thought, and talking with other authors, and speaking with agents, and pretty much hashing until I had come to terms with the inevitable, I put my ms on a diet. A serious diet. No liposuction here. I mean serious, word-counting, shave-off-the-excess pagery reduction.

I started three weeks ago. Being the slightly obssessive compulsive neurotic writer that I am, I'm keeping a "diet" journal. At the end of each day of revisions, I weigh in. The rule is that the ms word count cannot be any higher than where it was at the beginning of the day. I strive to make it a lot less. So far, it's been working. I have successfully shaved 11,000 words off, and I'm only through the first 120 pages.

Oh sweet success. I can almost taste the adverbs.

No, No! Bad writer. Stay away from the adverbs!

See how hard ms reduction is?


Please keep your fingers crossed. Pray to any and all writing muses. Send me parsimonic vibes. My ideal ms weight: 70-75,000 words (285 ms pgs), and I want to reach that by Winter Break. Which means, no adverbs on the side. No waxing poetically about scenery. Cut. Cut. Cut. Snip. Snip. Snip.

And, every once in a while, celebrate the hard won successes.


Now back to counting words...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

There is No Secret Handshake

The jig is up. There is no secret handshake. No magic formula. No deus ex machina for writers.


I was. Next thing you know, they'll be telling us there is no Santa Claus. Yeesh.

Leaving the big red guy out of it for a moment, I have to admit, when I started out writing, I was certain there was a secret formula. All I had to do was figure it out and the bestsellers would flow from my pen. I mean, honestly, it wasn't the craziest idea I've ever had (there have been crazier, like the time I decided I could prove girls are every bit as good as guys and jumped from a bridge into a river after a guy. Don't ask.) So what was it for writing? Writing for exactly two hours each day? Or writing nonstop, foregoing sleep, until I'd birthed my idea? Or if that wasn't working out, how about writing standing up, like Hemingway. Or drunk?

I will shamefacedly admit, I've tried all of these "formulas" out and then some. None of them worked. So finally, I resigned myself to the fact that I'm not clever enough to decode the secret handshake and will have to plug along writing as best I can.

It wasn't until I read Stephen King's On Writing a few weeks back (after four picture books and a middle grade novel, hundreds of school visits, and I don't know how many conference speeches) that I had my "Eureka!" moment. There is no secret formula to writing.

Not, at least, in the way I was thinking. I mean, the big secret is, to write. That's it. Everything else is fluff.

What King showed in his book was enlightening for me, or maybe I really had finally hit that "clever enough" to understand it point. His journey to authorhood, i.e. the early years of his life and what prompted him to want to write, couldn't be more different than mine, or thousands of other writers. It's eclectic, unique, what makes Stephen King, Stephen King and not Stacy Nyikos. His candid, tell all approach to describing his life as a writer made that clearer than anything I'd ever read before.

The thing that separated him from thousands of other writers is stubbornness. He plugged away at writing, day after day, year after year, rejection after rejection, until he had honed his skills - his, not Charles Dickens's or John Grisham's or anybody else's - to the point that he had mastered them.

And then he kept writing.

The best piece of advice he ever got in all those years of struggling and writing was a line scrawled at the bottom of a rejection letter from an unknown editor: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft - 10%.

Okay, so there is a formula.

But that's for revisions.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Book Review Club - Horns & Wrinkles

Horns & Wrinkles
by Joseph Helgerson

middle grade

I have to say, I've had this book for a while. I picked it up. Put it down. Picked it up again. And then put it down.

Finally, last week, I made myself read it. I don't know why I hesitated, but after reading John Gardner (yes, I am haunted by Mr. Gardner), Horns & Wrinkles was the perfect antidote. Funny. Insanely creative. Set up north where I grew up, so it felt like slipping into a comfy old chair that had been hidden away and forgotten. Gloriously complete.

Horns & Wrinkles is the story of a girl, Claire, whose cousin, Duke, has a spell put on him for being such a pain-in-the-you-know-what bully. Every time he bullies, he turns a little more into a rhino. Until all is really lost, and he becomes one, only he doesn't mind. And Claire, who hates all of his bullying, finds herself repeatedly trying to save his happily lost soul, help the river trolls find their fathers, turn her grandfather, aunt and uncle (and their dog) back into humans (they've been turned to stone), and hoping all the while that she's not actually a river troll disguised as a human herself.


Imagination cubed.

I couldn't have come up with this in a million years, and now I totally want to get to know Joseph Helgerson. His style in Horns & Wrinkles is a combination of irreverent Mark Twain, folklorish Mississippi-river, and Helgerson hilarity. I grinned. I chuckled. I even laughed. And I kept wondering, "what in the world will he come up with next," and try as I might, Helgerson kept surprising me. Amazingly refreshing.

For more fun reads, pop over to our fearless leaders website, Barrie Summy, and dive into the delicacies listed there. So many good books. So little time!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Commercial Books - All Sugar and Sprinkles Donut with sprinkles. Just thinking about one makes me want to ditch my blogging and find the nearest donut shop.

Okay, no. No, I'm a big girl. I can resist the urge (for twenty minutes).

But isn't that the effect commercial books have on our brains? Sugar rush pure. By commercial I mean dime store reads that make beach life perfect. I have guiltily indulged in them time and time again. My favorite, the Shopaholic series. Yep. Totally love those. Too much of them, though, and I start to feel a sugar rush coming on. I need a little meat-and-potatoes, and soon. Time to reach for a Lisa See.

So what is the value of commercial reads? They get such flack. They aren't National Book Award material. They aren't Pulitzer worthy. Worse, in the world of kidlit, commercial reads have been dodge balled for rotting out kids' brains, much like too much candy will rot their teeth.

Are they really that bad?

I don't know about you, but after I finished Where the Red Fern Grows a couple of weeks ago (and for anyone who has not read it, it's the Everest of dead dog books, two dead dogs!), I was glad the next books on my MFA reading list were my third grader's Rainbow Magic Series Shannon the Ocean Fairy and Joy the Summer Vacation Fairy. Fluff. Cotton candy fluff.

And just what I needed. I didn't need anymore emotional upheaval. I needed lightness.

That experience got me thinking about the value of commercial reads (and, I'll admit, the stuff for a much-needed second critical paper for my Vermont packet).

If books like Where the Red Fern Grows are the meat-and-potatoes reads (Barrie Summy's parent's terminology. I'm indebted to them for life) then commercial books like the Rainbow Magic Series are dessert. And dessert definitely has its place in a meal.

Dessert is the reward for finishing that meatloaf, or the perfect touch after a filet mignon, or the prize after a mystery meal cooked by (insert name).

At the kidlit level, commercial reads are also educational (just don't tell young readers that). By holding plot, characters, setting, and format constant, emerging readers can focus on the really tough issue at hand, learning to read. They are the chapbooks of our generation.

While I was reading my daughter's Rainbow Magic Series books (which thrilled her to no end because we could talk about them), I got her to read Sarah, Plain and Tall (Newbery winner that is still short enough for her to tackle). We both learned something. Dessert tastes pretty yummy. And meat and potatoes isn't so bad after all. It's all about balance.

Now where's that donut...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

You Might Be a Writer If...

The kids are back in school. The dog has gone back to her full time occupation - sleeping on the couch. And I have the freedom to obsess about writing once again.


I've hunkered down with John Gardner the last couple of days. Writer/professor/Breadloaf speaker, most known for his nonfiction works on writing skills - The Art of Fiction and On Moral Fiction. I am in an MFA program. There will be challenging (read, it makes my brain hurt to try and understand) craft reading. John has tried his best to teach me what it means to be a true writer. To delve deeply for Truth, Beauty and the Good. Between you and me, I think I tend more toward that nebulous line he draws between the mad and the artist. I mean who isn't when -

You might be a writer if you revise everything, including your clothing.

It's true!

Just yesterday, I found myself in a day long outfit revision. It's not entirely my fault. I've been presented with unusual dressing conditions. It is normally in the 90s this time of year in Oklahoma. Not this year. We saw the low 50s this morning. The low 50s! This has forced us sunshine worshippers into the murky realm of "layering." You know, a t-shirt, sweater, maybe a jacket, all to be peeled away as the day warms up. Northerners are pro. True artists. Not so much those of us in down below the frost border.

Shivering but still fully in John-Gardner-delve-deeper-to-find-Truth,-Good-and-Beauty mode, I did not grab the first thing I saw (a wool sweater) but delved deeply to find my Truth about the art of cool weather dressing. I ended up with a dark memory of northern German dressing practices. I lived in northern Germany for 5 years. Number one rule when living right on the Baltic Sea where it is constantly windy and cool - wear a scarf. It's an absolute must.

I pulled out a scarf.

The problem was, because I was still sort of in summer mode, I pulled out a very thin (as in narrow) scarf. I threw it casually around my neck, grabbed my leather jacket (another northern German must provided it's not raining. That calls for fleece-lined oilskin jackets) and went out to walk the dog.

Because the scarf was so narrow, it wasn't exactly keeping my neck warm. So, I tried wrapping it snugly and knotting it on one side. Much better. My neck was warm. And it looked good.

But now the necklace I was wearing suddenly seemed superfluous. An adverb made redundant by a good verb. Off came the necklace.

Which, of course, meant I needed to change the earrings.

That made the background all wrong. I changed shirts.

The jeans stayed, though. I didn't edit out everything...exactly.

But the shoes definitely had to go (No, I was not trying to get away from revisions on actual writing yesterday...much). The tied scarf's, how shall I say...French sophistication called for much snazzier shoes than the sneakers I'd thrown on. So I changed shoes.

Finally, it was perfect. Ready for the world to see.

Which makes it sort of ironic that I was at home alone. I had created an Emily Dickinson outfit. Flawless but never to be seen until posthumously.

Hold on.

Does that mean I need to revise my will now too?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Out on Good Behavior

The ivory tower is granting me a one day pass to go out and see the real world. The things good behavior will get you!


I'm being let out to speak at Oklahoma's school librarian conference, EncycloMedia. I'm excited. Thrilled. And a little nervous. Okay... a lot nervous. I'll be out with real people. I have to talk. I have to talk intelligently, in complete sentences, with no editing, about my middle grade novel, Dragon Wishes. I have to sound like I do this regularly. But all I've done for weeks now is sit in the ivory tower with my imaginary friends - and a few dead writers - and write. My social skills have sort of fallen by the wayside. Ask my kids. My husband. My dog, even.

Fortunately, should my skills waver, I'll be in amazing company and so hopefully no one will notice. I'm speaking with Eileen Cook, What Would Emma Do, Cynthea Liu, Paris Pan Takes the Dare, Jenny Meyerhoff, Third Grade Baby, and Suzanne Morgan Williams, Bull Rider.

We're followed the next day by P.J. Hoover, The Navel of the World, Jessica Anderson, Border Crossing, Barrie Summy, I So Don't Do Spooky, Donna St. Cyr, The Cheese Syndicate, and Zu Vincent, The Lucky Place.

Beforehand, we're being interviewed for a televised program that the Metropolitan Library of Oklahoma broadcasts throughout the state. Please, please, please let my hair cooperate so that I look like someone who actually styles her hair every once in a while, rather than pulling it back in a haphazard ponytail because dead writers and fictitious characters don't care what your hair looks like. And after that, there is a luncheon with librarians. Gulp. Can I carry on a coherent conversation for a whole hour? Or will I get that far off, I-have-an-idea look and start scribbling on my napkin? Librarians will understand if I do, right?

Maybe after all of that real world experience, I'll be ready to lock myself away in the ivory tower again, but I have a feeling, it'll be the other way around. I used to be a pretty social person, some time in the distant past...I think. Either way, I think that seeing, talking and interacting in a spontaneous way with real live people who don't need me to edit their dialogue could be, what's the word?

Oh wait, I know...FUN!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sleeping with the...Scorpions?

I couldn't help but break with my regular, frenetic, MFA writing/studying routine to post about this. I was lying in bed the other night (reading frenetically, of course). Where the Red Fern Grows. A classic I've avoided because it suffers from the painful dead dog syndrome, actually two dead dogs. But, in the name of higher education, I'd decided to tackle it.

I was just getting to the good part where Billy catches his first coon. He races back to the farm to tell his family. He's screaming and jumping and hooting and hollering. He's so worked up, his mother thinks he's been bitten by a snake. She drops everything and runs to help him.

When she discovers it's not a snake bite at all but a captured raccoon, she threatens to give Billy a sound thrashing.

Pretty exciting stuff, right?

Now add to that that this story takes place in the back country of the Ozark mountains in northeastern Oklahoma, about an hour and a half from where I live. As close to home as it gets, really. Plus, it's nighttime. The kids are in bed. I'm alone. With the dog. And I'm reading about snakes. Yeessh.

Something tickles my arm. I reach over to brush it off, thinking my imagination is really getting the better of me. Out of the corner of my eye, I see something scurry off across my bed. I bolt upright. I look.

It's a scorpion.

"Holy Sh**!"

At least, I think that's what I said. I was busy rocketing out of my bed as far away from the scorpion as possible. Practically hyperventilating, I dash to the phone and call my dad. Yes, I'm five again, tops, and hoping my father can fix it all. His advice: Kill it.

Gulp. I have to kill a scorpion. In. My. Bed.

Sorry, Wilson Rawls, but now Where the Red Fern Grows not only suffers from the dead dog syndrome but also the dead scorpion one too. After I'd beaten the scorpion very very flat, I called my husband and told him he had to come home right now.

When he finally got home and found me, a shell-shocked bundle of jumpy nerves huddled up under a blanket upstairs on the sofa as far away from my bed and any other scorpions that might be lurking, he had a hard time taking me seriously. In his defense, I must have been a comical sight, only I didn't feel a comical sight. I wanted sympathy. Indignation. Deadly, bug-killing chemicals.

But my husband is from Germany. They don't have scorpions. He doesn't get the whole, "They can hurt you" factor. To make matters worse, he is a Scorpio. He joked that I shouldn't have smashed one of his family members. Ugh.

Seeing as I was not going to get the needed overdose of understanding and sympathy from him, I called my girlfriend down the street, who hates bugs, ALL bugs. Okay, so maybe that was a little selfish, but I needed a lifeline! My friend really rose to the occasion. She listened. She was sympathetic. Indignant. Offered bug-killing chemicals. But in the end, there were two of us not sleeping that night.

Many many dollars later (I called the bug guy out to douse the house; so did my poor friend), it is safe to say, the only scorpio(n) I've slept with for many nights now is my husband...I hope.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Book Review Club - Weedflower

by Cynthia Kadohata
ISBN: 978-1-4169-7566-3

It has been a whole month since my last post. I blame it all on my MFA program. I can't quite seem to eek enough time out of the 24 hours allotted to us mortals per day. Just two more hours! Just two. I could get it all done...I think.

Nevertheless, I've taken a break in frantic learning for Barrie Summy's amazing Book Review Club. I wouldn't miss this for anything, not even sleep. So here goes, Weedflower.

One of the most stirring Supreme Court cases I read while teaching constitutional limitations was the 1941, U.S. vs. Korematsu, which posed that the U.S. government had violated the civil rights of Japanese-Americans who were forced by the government into internment camps during World War II. The Supreme Court ruled that while the U.S. government had violated its citizens’ rights, the state of war the country found itself in outweighed those rights and made the internment legal.

This background knowledge and prior, personal conflict with the legal aspects of internment made Kadohata’s novel all the more moving for me. It was rewarding, albeit hard, to step into the emotions of what internment must have felt like. Through the eyes of eleven year old Sumiko, Kadohata does an amazing job of showing what it was like for Japanese Americans during this excruciating time. Fear, exhaustion, broken families, paranoia, unusual friendships, the slow rebuilding of a productive, hard-working immigrant population, the uncertainty of starting all over again, bravery, loyalty, love of family and land. It's all in here, deftly woven together in a luminous tale.

The craft aspect of this book I enjoyed the most was that I was not sure where or how the story would end. Would Sumiko and her family ever get out of the camp? Would the war last ten years? By staying very close to Sumiko and her feelings in a Solzhenitsyn, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich kind-of-way, Kadohata powerfully conveys the endlessness of internment and uncertainty of the Japanese plight during WW II.I was on the edge of my seat to the very end. And when the novel was over, I was left thinking long and hard about why it ended the way it did. The ending begs for discussion.

This is a book to learn from. To enjoy stylistically. To get lost in. I really loved it.

For other great reads, hop over to our fearless leader's website and meander through the rich panoply of choices. That pile next to my night stand grows exponentially each month. I hope yours does too!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Book Review Club - The Uninvited

If you are thinking about ending your summer reading with a deep, diverse, moving but in tune with the up-and-coming young adult generation book, look north. Canada north. Ontario, to be exact, where Tim Wynn-Jones’ piece, The Uninvited, takes place (and where the author himself lives).

A little bit mystery, a little bit drama, The Univited is the story of three young adults, Cramer, Mimi and Jackson, ages 18 – 24, who share the same father but do not know of their common link. They discover their common link over the summer at a small house owned by their, unbeknownst to them, common father. Sitting on an island created by a side channel, a snye, off of the main river, Eden, the house and its island are “magical”, not in the fairies and demons sense but in the “getting away from it all to think” sense.

Each of the members of the trio escapes to the island to search for something different – inspiration, safety, recognition. They find their soul’s desire, albeit in ways that bind them together forever.

The aspect of this book that really mesmerized me was how Wynn-Jones deftly uses the river Eden and its offshoot, the snye, as mirror reflections of the meanderings of the three siblings as they weave in and out of each other's lives and life itself. The watery mirror intensifies the book’s emotional core like water intensifies the sun’s rays, making the book that much deeper, that much more unforgettable.

If you are a writer looking for a book that expertly reflects aspects of craft, READ THIS BOOK. If you’re just looking for an unforgettable summer novel, READ THIS BOOK. If you’ve ever wanted to read a book set in Canada because, well, because it’s there and you’ve always wanted to see it, READ THIS BOOK.

If I haven’t come up with a reason to woo you over to The Univited, well…READ THIS BOOK anyway. You won’t regret it. Scout’s honor. It’s that good.

For more compelling, zany, thrilling, or just plain fun reads, visit our fearless Book Club whiz, Barrie Summy’s, blog: You won’t regret that either!

Friday, July 31, 2009

There Will Be...Ice Cream

After the hard work of residency, I opted for a little down time before jumping right into my first packet. Hopefully, if any of my advisors are reading this - Tim, Ellen - they won't be upset with me for skipping school those first few days.

I had to get some psychic distance, honest!

And fulfill a twenty-two year yearning. I'm not exaggerating.

It all started with the Sound of Music. Like every other person my age, I watched that movie every single Thanksgiving throughout my childhood, and fell in love with Rold even if he was a trgic hero turned bad, and wanted to be Christine, and wondered what ever happend to the family. When my roommate at Notre Dame told me her family vacationed every summer at the Lodge the Trapps built in Vermont, I just had to see it. Somehow.

Somehow turned into a twenty-two year wait. And fortuitous luck.

When I found out the first residency for Vermont College was in July, I emailed Julie, trying to keep my excitement to a low but pretty sure I totally failed, to ask if her family was, you know, just maybe, on the off chance, um...going to be at the Lodge say, July 21-24. They were!

Sometimes fact really is stranger and more coincidental that fiction.

So, on Tuesday morning, after a night of celebrating the fact I'd survived my first residency, I met my old roommate in my new dorm. It was pretty surreal. Pretty cool. The perfect ending to my first stint back in college life.

When I walked out of the dorm, I felt drained. It had been an amazing residency, but my head was mush, full of stuff to sort. Stowe, Julie, the Trapps, the mountains, running, sleeping, chilling out, shopping...just being, rather than thinking, put me back on the road to writing. I filled up again, especially on Ben & Jerry's ice cream. The plant is about fifteen minutes from Stowe and Jules and I took a tour. They give you ice cream at the end! Perfect temperature, not too mushy, not too hard. And it was a new flavor. So delicious.

Hiking up to the Trapp family chapel was pretty amazing too. It's not often I get that far out into nature. Jules had me petrified of bears, but anyone who's read my post on the bear encounter in the Shenandoah's hopefully understands my paranoia about bears in nature. The only thing we ran into were gnats. Huge relief.

Then there was the shopping in Burlington. And eating at the Trapp Family Lodge. Tasty. Very very tasty.

But most of all, there was spending time with a person I'd lived together with in the closest of quarters for a year during college. Someone who knows as much about me as probably only one other person because of that intense dorm living, and who, after all that, still likes me.

It. Was. Awesome.

I can't wait to do it again.

Whaddya say, Jules? I promise, you won't have to pose with me in the Ben and Jerry's ice cream lid again...probably. I think.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Wayward No More

Bless me father, for I have sinned. It has been way too long since my last post. I have a couple of good excuses...I think. First, without my husband, I spent the latter half of June in Germany picking up my kids. They were going to school there with the children of friends of ours. They got a real taste of German elementary school, and loved it! When school was over, we toured Germany. We went to Bremen to see the Stadtmusikanten (pictured left), then to Kiel for the huge regatta held there every year, and finally to Berlin where a friend of mine lives. We even made it to Frederick the Great's Sans Souci. Awesome awesome trip.

Only to be followed by a 10-day residency in Montpelier at Vermont College. I decided to take the plunge and applied to their MFA in Writing for Children. Even more amazing, I was accepted. It is a two year program. Each semester begins with an on-campus residency during the summer months.

How can I describe that experience? Eye-opening. Elevating. Chocolate-craving stressful. Enriching. Writer's mecca. Those days were packed with more kernels of ideas and thought on craft than the last six months of my life. I'll need another six months to process it all.

If you are thinking about honing your writing skills, man, Vermont College is the place to go. I learned so much, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. I'll be spending the next two years writing critical papers, reading way more than I already do, and rolling up my sleeves and learning how to use a few more tools of the trade. POV, metaphor, prologues here I come!

Seriously, Vermont College is a writer's dream. I got to talk shop with people as interested in writing as me. A writer can really let her hair down and wax on about the finer points of writing in this program (or the stuff you just hate, can't understand, want to change!). It's awesome.

If that wasn't enough, I got to revisit dorm living. Not that I was missing it. Still, it turned out to be pretty fun. I lucked out and got an amazingly wonderful dorm roommate. We bemoaned and celebrated together. And hey, this time, I was old enough to buy my own beer. What's more, I could afford the good kind.

I'm psyched to get going on my first packet. Can't wait to dive in and try my hand at critical papers on craft.

Of course, after I get that first packet back, I may be groaning a little more than usual because I'll probably have loads of revisions to do, but growth is painful, any kind of growth, right?

Friday, June 19, 2009

You Might Be a Writer If...

Has your son or daughter ever followed you around the house repeating every single word, gesture, expression of yours? Or have you seen your children do it to each other with the secret desire of driving each other nuts, and, of course, succeeding?

Imitation is the best form of flattery, they say. But what about when it's involuntary?

You might be a writer're a better parrot than your kids.

Most writers will admit pretty quickly that inspiration for their characters sometimes comes from quirky aspects of their own personalities, emotions they've been through, even kids they knew when they were growing up, or know now. We writers do pilfer on occasion, which I disclaimed on a while back. But what about when it boomerangs back on us and we start imitating our own characters?

When I'm revising heavy sections of a work (this happened with Dragon Wishes), I sometimes go through a low myself, carrying the emotional weight of my characters around with me after I turn off the computer. It's not so fun, perhaps necessary to make good writing into unforgettable writing (or at least decent writing), but not one of my more favorite forms of imitation.

It's not the only form, though. Oh, no. Not even close.

I'm working on a YA set in late 19th century New Zealand, and have been for the last 13 months. I've eaten, slept, drank, read, written and pretty much been in 19th century New Zealand for over a year. I even went to the modern day version for real in November 2008. I really did my research. Really went to live in the moment. It was well beyond 'imitation.' It bordered on total immersion. The imitation came later.

I started saying, "eh" at the end of my sentences. I have to say, it is a Canadian thing. Only, I'm not from Canadian, so I wasn't exactly sure why I was suddenly doing it. And I couldn't stop. My husband teased me about it. My daughers laughed. But it was my seven year old who got to the heart of the matter in perfect, no-nonsense kid fashion.

"I like how you talk like Charlie now," she said one afternoon after my umpteenth "eh" that day.


Who? What was she talking about?

Then it hit me. Charlie Mueller, the salty lighthouse keeper in my novel (Like any slightly obsessed writer, I've read my novel to my kids). Charlie's got this great "ye aren't the fastest ship in the harbor, are ye, laddie" kind of brogue accent. I really love writing his dialogue. I guess I love it so much, I started imitating it.

So what does all of this mean? Imitation is an occupational hazard?

I bet my kids would love to use that on me. "I have to imitate you, Mama. That's what kids do. It's an occupational hazard of being a kid."

How many moms would by that one? I know I wouldn't. Parroting really gets old after a while.


Does this mean my kids can threaten to send me to my room if I don't stop parroting Charlie right now?

I'm in trouble.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sinful Nature

Green Girl tagged me with this sinful post:

"Sometimes you can learn more about a person by what they don’t tell you. Sometimes you can learn a lot from the things they just make up. If you are tagged with this Meme, lie to me. Then tag 7 other folks (one for each deadly sin) and hope they can lie."

Whew. The pressure is on. Good lying. Here goes:

What is your biggest contribution to the world?

Gosh, what a tough question. It's a real toss up between those highly acclaimed academic tomes on the principles of cold fusion and my spicy spaghetti recipe.

What do your coworkers have that you wish was yours?

Anonymity. I get hounded all the time by eager tweens begging me to please, please, please write a sequel to Dragon Wishes.

What did you eat last night?

Monte Cristo sandwich, fries, and baked fudge with ice cream and whipped cream. It's a real tragedy to have one of those metabolisms that just won't let you put on any weight. What's a girl to do but eat?

What really lights your fire?

Apathy. I'm so tired of men who know what they want. Couldn't they be wishy washy for a change? Not know what they want? Take years to propose? Why do they have to hurry us so?

What is the last thing that really pissed you off?

The recent election demonstrations in Iran. How dare those forward thinkers try and bring about democracy, or even fairness in election voting returns. What do they think this is, the 21st century?

Name something you hoard and keep from others:

Manuscripts. Move over Emily Dickinson. Just wait till I die. Oh, the treasures the world will find.

What’s the laziest thing you ever did?

Gave one word answers to open-ended questions.

Disclaimer: I may be an author, but I'm not sure I'm the wittiest one when it comes to answering questions like these. It's all that Catholic upbringing. I can feel the weight of Purgatory bearing upon me as I fudge the truth. I swear! May these writers be more unencumbered in their yarn spinning :-)


Gutsy Writer

Hello Ello

Keri Mikulski

Lilly's Life

Rena Jones

Writing it Out

Friday, June 12, 2009

You Might Be a Writer If...

The empty nest I've been brooding over this past week has given me plenty of time to think. Letting go of those little babies is one of the hardest things ever. Letting them fly. Letting them find their own wings. Any parent experiences a certain reluctance to cut the cord and bid them adieu.

But what about a writer and her work?

You might be a writer launch your finished manuscripts into the world the same way you launch your children, with a jumbled mix of excitement, worry, fear and hope.

Similes and metaphors comparing writing to having children abound. Incubating an idea. Laboring over a story. Nurturing a plot along. Giving birth to a finished product. And letting go?

There is definitely some joie de vivre involved in putting the keyboard down and launching a finished story into the world. And trepidation. It's your creation. You've labored over it. There have been days when you really feel like you've sweated blood and tears to turn raw material into unforgettable prose. And days when you've waxed on and on and on, moony-eyed in love with your little creation.

And then comes the day when you wake up and know, today is the day. I've done all I can do. The last word has been written. The last change made. Much like a parent with a child, it's time to take a step back and launch them into the world. Let them fly. Will they crash? Undoubtedly. Will they get up? Please God, universe, whatever deity or higher being is out there watching over them, let them get up.

Will they soar?

That's any parent or writer's greatest hope. That their labor of love will soar, will influence others in a good way, leaving them changed or entertained or thrilled. Or maybe a little of all of the above.

And so we parents and writers launch our little loves into the wide wide world. Our hearts are practically bursting with pride for them. We worry for them. We're even a little fearful. But more than anything, with all our hearts, we hope that they will soar.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Empty Nesting for Culture

I fell off the radar temporarily last week. Lost all communication. It was a combination of the end of school, huge trip, and finishing my WIP, Pelorus Jack.

Most of all, though, I was an emotional wreck. My kids and their father left on Friday for Germany. I stayed at home in the empty nest.

My husband grew up and lived most of his live in Germany until I "imported" him to the U.S. after we got married. Since the girls are a blend of two cultures, we try really hard to get them over to Germany once a year to visit family and friends. This year, we decided they were old enough for a deeper "cultural immersion" program. We're sending them to school there. Which means, I won't see them for several weeks. A lifetime.

I was scared and nervous. They were scared and nervous. I'm pretty sure I sprouted countless new gray hairs within those last hours leading up to their flight. The closer it got, the more I asked myself, Why am I doing this? Is it that important for them to be able to speak and understand German?

After I had a good cry, a glass of wine, and a serious portion of Jane Austen, I came to the same conclusion I'd been coming to all year. Sometimes doing what is best in the long run means surmounting some steep short run costs.

My motivation is all experiential. My family is a big, Hungarian family. My generation, however, is the first that didn't learn to speak Hungarian. My grandfather (1st generation American) speaks, writes and reads it. My father (2nd generation) learned only to speak it, and gradually lost it when he grew up. I (3rd generation) only learned to curse in it. Not very useful when trying to communicate in Budapest at age 19, let me tell you.

More than that, though, my whole life I've always felt like there was this big part of my family, my culture, my own history that was lost to me. Moving to America was definitely a step up for us, but we left behind family and traditions in Hungary. Ones I will never really get to know because linguistically, I've lost the tying thread.

I don't want my kids to feel like that. I want them to feel a part of both of their cultures. I also feel like tolerance grows from a more organic and personal relationship to various cultures. One begins to see that things can be done differently and it's still great. Diversity is the spice of life.

So, they start school on Thursday in Germany. Our friends with whom the girls are staying have two boys the same age. They live in a small town. My kids will be the star guests at their school. I'm so excited for them. It's going to be the experience of a lifetime.

If only I could miss them a little less....

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Book Review Club - Shift

Jennifer Bradbury
May 2008
ISBN: 978-1-4169-4732-5
Retail: $16.99

Jen and I spoke together on a panel at NCTE, and I got her book then. I've been meaning to read it ever since. I'm so glad I finally did.

is the story of two 18 year-old high school graduates, Win and Chris, who bicycle across America the summer before college starts. It's a journey of self discovery, a YA coming of age story about how the journey is the goal, where you end up may not be where you were headed.

The story is told in retrospective. Chapters alternate deftly between reflection and present day events. Win disappears on the trip shortly before the two reach the West Coast. When he doesn't show up to start college at Dartmouth, his wealthy and influential father begins a search for him. He sends his FBI buddy to Chris at Georgia Tech to start the search, ultimately forcing Chris to find his friend before Win's father ruins Chris' life.

Author, Jen Bradbury, took a similar trip with her husband after they were married, a two month trek across America on a bike. Her experiences give this story an organic, I've-been-there feel. It makes me want to pull my mountain bike out of the garage and give it a go. It also reminds me a little of Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance and the idea that nature, landscape, the world around us can only truly be experienced if you put yourself in the middle of it,not watch it pass by through a window.

This is a great summer read. It'll have you longing for open spaces, the taste of a hearty meal after a day of grueling exercise, the welcome softness of the cool earth against your back and the glory of the wide open spaces, creeks, rivers and plains that beckon us to experience them firsthand. If ever there was a road trip book, this is it! Sign me up.

For more great reviews and must reads, head over to Book Review Club central, Barrie Summy's site. There are some real temptations waiting there that even the most reluctant reader won't be able to pass up.

Friday, May 29, 2009

You Might Be a Writer If...

In these trying economic times, we all need a little lift now and again, a little ray of hope on the horizon. Some of us even resort to games of chance to lift our spirits or improve our lot. I hear the lottery is doing well everywhere. I used to play, when I was a very poor graduate student. I even won something like 64 DM one time. It amounted to roughly $32. A lot of money back in the day.

Writers have their own twist on games of chance to improve their fortune.

You might be a writer if...your version of the lottery is submitting manuscripts to publishers.

You're smiling, aren't you? But think about it, sending off to publishers really is like playing the lottery. Honest. I'll show you.

Let's take the entry fee. Minimal. For a lottery ticket, a couple of bucks. For a submission, 44 cents. Even less than the cost of a lottery ticket! (Which is good because we writers are a poor lot. Poorer than the average lottery player, I'd wager.)

A lottery player lingers long over the numbers, trying to discern which ones might be the winning power ball combination, just like a writer lingers over phrases and plots, trying to create a winning combination that will win the heart of an editor.

Playing leaves you feeling good, happy even. Even if you don't win, if you get the dreaded form rejection letter, for a brief moment, there is that indescribable high that playing brings. That full body rush that zings and sizzles all the way to the tips of your hair when you hand in that lottery ticket or drop the submission envelope into the mail.

While both are games of luck - getting your numbers pulled vs. finding an editor who resonates with your work - you can actually stack the deck in your favor with editors guessed it, good writing. No matter how perfectly you fill in those little round circles on power ball, it's still all up to the gods of chance whether you'll win or not.

Nevertheless, regardless of which game you're playing, there are minuscule chances of winning. Take heart, though, fellow writers. Getting your manuscript pulled from a slush pile, read and then accepted (can you see the looming mountain?) still has a higher likelihood than winning the regular lottery in any state or country. Far fewer people play the publishing lottery.

Be forewarned all you lottery players out there. Playing the publishing lottery isn't for the faint of heart. It takes courage, a certain level of willingness to inflict self pain (via rejection), and the stamina to get up and play all over again.

Still, whether you're putting your money on words or numbers, one universal stands true: hope springs eternal. Next time, you might just win.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Let's Go Fly A Kite

Memorial Day started out kind of slow. I snuck into the office to write. My daughter vegged out on cartoons. Until my father suddenly appeared with a kite.

We hadn't been kite flying in ages. Suddenly, the house was a blur of action. Kite flying. It was contagious. We couldn't get out the door fast enough, despite clouds that threatened rain (and a Ben Franklin kind of kite flying experience should thunder show up too). We were off on an adventure to the park.

Only problem. Not a lot of wind. We were running all over the place trying to get that kite into the air. I was beginning to despair.

Then again, there is nothing quite like the determination of a seven year old. If there was even the hint of a breeze, we were going to find it.

And we did!

The only thing was, once my daughter had gotten a taste of kite flying, there was no holding her back. We stayed until the cows came home (all of them).

Which didn't bother any of us. It was a blast.

Even the ice cream man showed up. There really is something about the ice cream man that screams excitement. I couldn't get the dollar bills out fast enough before my daughter was grasping them in her fist, throwing the kite string to the wind (which I then ran after), while my father ran after her, trying to keep her from zigging into traffic just to stop the ice cream truck.

I think every ice cream driver gets a kick out of seeing how fast he can get those kids running. Personally, I think if they wanted to really break records at track and field events, they should pull out an ice cream truck. American runners at least would be reaching new speeds, I'm telling you. My daughter did.

She got her ice cream.

Then we eased out under a huge, old tree and watched her slurp down a crushed ice, while we built imaginary cities out of twigs, old leaves, dandelions and acorns.

Best Memorial Day ever.

Friday, May 22, 2009

You Might Be a Writer If...

Some weeks, I can think of at least three things I could write about in this Friday post. Other weeks, I'm praying to the gods of inspiration for, well...inspiration. Of course, I could do the high functioning thing and write down the extra two ideas in the creative weeks, but somehow, it never happens.

The save came this week at the eleventh hour, literally (11 p.m.), as my husband and I were walking out of the movies.

You might be a writer've been told you've got an overly active imagination.

That's what my husband told me. He wasn't the first, just the latest. Poor guy.

We went to see the latest Star Trek movie last night. I admit it. I'm a trekkie. A huge trekkie. It's not my fault. I blame it on bad Sunday TV programming during my formative years as an adolescent. Sunday morning was such a let down after Saturday cartoons. Plus there was all that time to kill before church, the comics read and reread, my brother soundly aggravated and totured. What was a kid to do? Enter, deus ex machina extraordinaire, Star Trek reruns.

The original, of course. It was the 1970s. I watched them all, many times over. The only problem was, my brother and I hardly ever got to see an episode through to its end because we had to leave for church. We used to push it to the very last minute, begging our parents to let us finish.

Maybe it was all that unfulfilled longing that made me such a trekkie. Either way, come movie time last night, I was giggly with excitement. I hadn't read any of the previews, watched few to none of the trailers. I wanted to let the latest script writers do their thing.

It was great for me. I was thrilled, scared, excited, moved. If only my husband had remembered how moved I can get. More than once, the alien coming out of nowhere had me screeching or jumping or...well, I hit him one time so hard, I kind of hurt him. Poor guy. He spent the rest of the movie with his arms crossed, scooched away from me, avoided all contact for fear I might accidentally injure him again.

"You have an overly active imagination," he said as we were walking over. "Big time."

It's too true. I can't deny it because the evidence is overwhelming.

I tried levitating rocks with my mind after seeing Star Wars.

I slept with my neck covered for years after seeing a Sammy Terry midnight marathon of the early Dracula movies.

When my mom had to pull a splinter out of my hand when I was five or six, I got kind of emotional. "Everything is getting dark. I can't see anything. It hurts too much!" (Yes, I actually remember saying that.) My mother: "Open your eyes."

Oh yeah.

The only reason I think I was able to read Lord of the Rings as a child was because I imagined all of its black and sinister creatures more a sort of tarnished grey. And that still had me scared to death. After I saw Peter Jackson version of them, I didn't sleep for weeks.

I have an overly active imagination. I didn't know what to do with the thing, until I became a writer. Now all of those insane ideas can weave themselves into something that makes sense. Whole books come to me in the blink of an eye, and people ask me, "How did you think that up?"

Overly active imagination.

My characters don't just inhabit my brain, they dance around my office. Go shopping with me. Advise me on how to talk to my children.

Overly active imagination.

Bedtime stories for my kids come so easily, maybe too easily. We constantly miss bedtime.

It's a talent now, not an oddity. I love it. I just have to remember to buy my husband some protective gear for our next movie outing!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Double Digit Mania

My oldest hit the double digits this Friday, and oh, what celebrating there was!

I was all ready for that. I'd made one cake, bought another, wrapped the presents, gotten the house ready for the onslaught of ten year who would pour into it the next day. We were ready to celebrate.

What I wasn't expecting was the trepidation. Not mine. Hers.

DD: Mama, should I be excited?

Me: (trying to hide surprise) Sure. You're turning ten. That's a big deal.

DD: I don't want to get older.

Me: Why not?

DD: I like being nine. I want to be nine for forever.

Me: Really?

I didn't totally get it. I was one of those kids who was nine going on nineteen. So come Saturday night, I went into the slumber party/night of silly 10 year old fun trying to catch glimpses not only of the allure of kiddom she sees but of its magic.

You know, I must have been blind as a kid. There was a Jupiter Jump, cookie cake, water balloon fights, sleepover with ten girls, movies - The Indian in the Cupboard, Hotel for Dogs, Marley and Me - gummy bears, popcorn, donuts, swinging, and laughing. Oh, was there laughing!

Most of all, there was abandon. Abandon to swim in it all, in the moment, in the fun, the silliness, the excitement, and the total exhaustion.

What was I thinking trying to grow up so fast??

I understand now why she is worried about getting older. Worried about losing that part of childhood and all that goes with it.

She's a smart kid, smarter than her mom. Hopefully, some of adulthood will eventually appeal to her. But after Saturday night, I get why there's no hurry getting there. There's so much to see until then. I'm glad I get to see it with her.

Friday, May 15, 2009

You Might Be a Writer If...

Ooh, after the week I've had with babysitter woes, I have really been looking forward to my Friday post where I get to let my hair down, sit back, and ponder the inane, quirky habits of that ecelectic species, writer.

This week's spotlight gelled for me in a dream last night. I haven't had the best luck with working things out in the subconscious before, but man, last night, the stars must have aligned because when I woke up, what I dreamt actually made sense.

You might be a writer swoon for writers like they were rock stars.

I mean the Leif Garrett/David Cassidy kind of swooning, where your heart gets up to some crazy erratic pace and your head feels so hot, you think you might lift off the ground or explode. Yep, that's what great writing does for writers.

Sound melodramatic?

Okay, maybe just a little, but what writer hasn't had that moment when a turn of phrase in a piece stopped them dead in their tracks. Where they sat there, saying it out loud, letting the words roll and bump across their lips as they savored the flavor of great writing.

And then became insanely curious to learn about the person who wrote that. So much so you, say, maybe googled them? Checked out their wikipedia page? Looked for interviews. Driven by the haunting memory of that amazing combination of letters and sounds that became greater than the sum of its parts.

I know. I'm swooning again.

I didn't used to swoon so for writers, not before I became one. I always read a lot, tons, but honestly, I wasn't all that into remembering author names. It was all about book titles, or even more simply, the story itself.

Now that I am a writer, now that I'm constantly working to improve my craft, I've become a closetcase fan of other writers. Then again, it may only be me who thinks my curiosity and interest is secret. I've seen my friends give me that funny look when I start going on and on and on about how I'd love to have Markus Zusak and his family over for a grill party. Kids would be playing on the swing set (I have no idea if he has kids. I do.) Spouses would get along great. And we'd talk about whatever. Not necessarily books, but life. I mean, who wouldn't want to kibbutz a little with the person who wrote:

As it turned out, Ilsa Hermann not only gave Liesel Meminger a book that day. She also gave her a reason to spend time in the basement - her favorite place, first with Papa, then Max. She gave her a reason to write her own words, to see that words had also brought her to life.
"Don't punish yourself," she heard her say again, but there would be punishment and pain, and there would be happiness too. That was writing.

Do you have a lighter lit and are waving it in the air like me? I mean, gees, that's just one line. The whole rest of the book is just as strong.

Zusak is just one example on my ever growing list of authors I'd love to meet and talk with. I don't mean interview talk. I mean Paris, early 20th century, Picasso taking on Modigliani talk. I mean, Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald. You know, arguing and debating, chewing and reforming and rewriting what makes good art in a seedy bar with a good French wine. They argued. They debated. They drank. They lived. They created. They changed the world.

God, what a time that must have been. An unending concert of ideas matching pitch and being reworked into something new and brilliant.

I'm swooning just thinking about it.

*****On a very little side note to rising fame and writer fortune, my book, Dragon Wishes, was an Honorable Mention in the San Francisco Book Festival this week. I feel like a rocker who's finally playing decent venues. Hopefully, one day, it'll be the Met.

Monday, May 11, 2009

What Happened?

This weekend supplied me with countless material for an edgy teen novel, or at least, a realistic one.

It all began when I had to go away for one weekend with my husband. We have two kids, seven and ten. So, we needed a responsible person to take care of them. We asked our really great grad student babysitter who is awesome with the kids. Only hitch was, she was graduating this weekend. We went to option B, a high school senior we've known since age 12, who's babysat for us for about six years. She's been to Europe with me, on author tour. However last year, she went a little teen nutty when she got into her first serious relationship. Still, she's graduating in a few days, and I thought, she's almost nineteen, what sort of trouble could she possibly cause in a day-and-a-half?

I learned this weekend that you never, never, never ask that question when a teenager is involved.

The kids are all right. The house didn't burn down. However, I've had a few eye-opening experiences into today's teenage world.

Said babysitter snuck her boyfriend in for a sleepover of her own. I say snuck because I was never asked. Also, he "left" when the kids went to bed, but his truck stayed parked in front of our house all night long. He "returned" at 7:15 by letting himself in through the front door. And she told her parents he didn't stay over. And I guess she figured no one would ever be the wiser.


Doesn't she realize there are no secrets in a house with children? (Diane Sutterfield made a whole book around that very idea, The Thirteenth Tale)

Didn't she ever see Bill Cosby perform stand up or watch his TV show, even in reruns?
The seven year old is the informant.

Did she forget my husband and I were teenagers once as well?
My husband knew all of the right questions to ask our seven year old. And I did a little around the neighborhood investigative journalism. It was pretty easy to put the pieces together and figure out what went on.

It didn't get worse from there, just consistent. She didn't ask if she could have a girlfriend come over and spend the night Saturday night. She told my girlfriend, who's daughter she took along with mine to the movie, the girlfriend was just visiting.

She call me and didn't ask what she should feed the kids when the glaring leftovers in the fridge, the fresh bread, the milk, the fruit, the cold cuts, the ready make mac and chees, pasta, cans of tomoato sauce, frozen pizzas my husband stocked the fridge with on Friday left her without a clue. Instead, she called her parents and told them I hadn't really left any food in the house for my kids and she needed money to take them out to dinner.

She didn't ask if it was okay to go into my bedroom and use my bathroom repeatedly for long baths.

She didn't bother to refill the dog's water bowl and put the dog outside for six hours, then told me she did refill it when I called and asked.

I was never asked. It was the "better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission" weekend.

I'm ranting. I know. I feel incredibly violated. I feel really disappointed. I feel hurt. And I feel like it's my fault. I should have known, right? What can I say in my defense? She used to be a decent kid. I mean, I've known her for almost seven years. My kids adore her. She's never, to my knowledge, exhibited this kind of irresponsible behavior before when work was involved. And I know kids go through trying times. I was a teenager, however long ago it was, but I remember when I was working, man, I tried to up my game, tried to seem responsible at least.

And this kid, she's almost nineteen. When does maturity and responsibility kick in? My husband said this is teen reality today. They don't want to be responsible. This is their life.

I am so out of touch.

As a human being, I ask myself, where are we going? And, how did we get here? As a parent, I ask myself, is this what I'm going to be up against? As a writer, I ask myself, is this my readership?

Because if it is, man, I've just had an intensive weekend seminar on how some teenagers at least function, what's important to them, and what to write about. It's gonna take a while to process all that. Reams of material.

In the meantime, anybody out there got the name of a decent babysitter???