Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Cover! A Cover!

A cover! A cover! I actually got a cover for my upcoming picture book, Rope 'Em. This is a red letter day (or, in this case, purple :-)

We writers spend most of our lives waiting. Waiting that centers around the slow but steady movement of an idea to a rough draft to revisions (If I could, I'd put in one of those repeat symbols for music because this is where waiting turns into something like Beckett's Waiting for Godot) to a manuscript to finding an agent to a sale to revisions - or, again, lots of revisions - to corrections, to ARCs, to, dare I say it...an actual, bona fide, hold-in-my-hands book.

The waiting can sometimes get to us writers. We suffer. Despair. Call each other and vent or moan, or both. But when that cover arrives, oh, is all the waiting worth it. So worth it!

So, here it is. The gorgeous cover for my next book. The hope that, yes, Stacy, it will really appear as a book in March. Really!

I am in love with the illustrations. So light-hearted. Fun. Silly. The illustrator, Bret Conover, is from San Diego, which is where the publisher, Kane Miller, sits as well. Barrie, San Diego really is the place to be, isn't it? This is his first picture book, and I think he hit a home run. Yeay!!!!

In other, slightly less exciting news, the new silkworms arrived. They have started to hatch. Two have already died on the artificial formula, but we have at least ten going strong. Oh, let them go all the way. Let there be silk!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ode to a Silkworm

Ode to a Silkworm

Small eggs so black and fine
Unbend and crawl and dine
But not on everything
Even if it's green
One treat alone will please
Leaves! Mulberry leaves!
Soft and fine and new
But shake off all the dew
A connoiseur can drown
While chomping through and down
We may die anyway
If leaves are hard as hay
And leave you wondering
Why did I start this thing? 

It's true. The silkworms are no more. We tried everything. I even steamed mulberry leaves - like steaming veggies for older people with wonky digestive systems. No go. They died. The silkworms, that is. Every last one. Fortunately, the company I ordered them from is sending us a fresh batch and artificial silkworm food. Hopefully this will work.

Oh, the things fiction doesn't tell you about real life! But we press on.

Despite our bad luck with silkworms, we adopted a new family member. We had two dogs for about ten years. Then, about two years ago, our beagle died. Just got old. After getting over missing him, we decided a new dog might be good for us and for our surviving, lonely dog. On Saturday, we finally found the perfect match. We tried the SPCA, but the dog we picked out didn't get along with our Mulligan. The one that did, wasn't terribly interested in us. So, we went to the city animal shelter. There, it is less a question of whether a person will find a dog to take home and more, can I limit myself to just one?

It was hard, mostly because they all wanted to come home with us, but we cannot adopt 65 dogs, as much as we would like to. Seriously.

After much deliberation, we decided on one.

She's pretty sweet and chill. The perfect writing partner. Lays on the carpet in front of my desk and keeps me company along the lonely path of writing. If only she could get the potty-training thing down...before the next batch of silkworms arrives.

If this were fiction, I would so make that happen!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

You might be a writer if...

I've been let out on good behavior for a few days having turned in my revised critical thesis. This basically means that I have time to take care of those fires that have been burning so evenly around my house. One is the Dr. Doolittle room, which goes straight to the heart of this blog: You might be a writer if...you try to make books come to life.

I don't mean the books you write because, of course, you try really hard to make those come to life.

I don't mean the books you read when you were a kid. Raise you hand (mentally) if you're one of those kids who tried to levitate rocks like Luke Skywalker or wondered if you really could tesser if you just thought about it hard enough.

No, I mean that you're still doing that today.

Guilty secret: I am.

Only, it isn't so secret anymore. You see, the summer residency at Vermont College assigned Linda Sue Park's Project Mulberry. Three other books were assigned with hers. We only had to read two. Being the good student I am, I only read two. But then, being the guilt student I am, after residency was over, I got the other two and read them (and I did not just write that in case any faculty members are reading my blog. Really).

Project Mulberry was assigned because of its format. Instead of Park remaining an unseen, unheard, unexperienced author, she steps in and has conversations with her main protagonist. The question posed was whether this got in the way of the actual story, if it pulled us readers out and whether that ultimately worked or was a hindrance.

Granted, all of that was interesting, but what really hooked me was the actual story. Two children raise silkworms, make thread and then embroider a project from the thread they've made to enter at the state fair.

In the words of ten year olds everywhere...Awesome!

So when my kids came home from their Montessori school needing a creative project for the year (they are in 4th and 6th grades in the same classroom), BANG! I had the perfect idea for them.

And they liked it. Yippee! Super Mom gets to secretly do good and make her favorite read come to life. Could life get any better?

It could get a whole lot more real, but I'm skipping ahead.

We ordered the worms. The girls quickly pointed out (after having read Project Mulberry, too) that the worms were more expensive in real life than in Park's story. I tried to explain that a few years had gone by, inflation, that kind of thing. I think they were still upset that reality did not exactly mirror fiction (as was my pocket book).

We pressed on, setting up shop in the garage since it's got the perfect incubating temperature at the moment, a balmy 85. Teh eggs arrive. We carefully placed them in the habitat, sprayed them with water...waited...sprayed...waited. In only six days, they began to hatch (faster than in Park's story, but no one complained this time).

Then the trouble started. We have a mulberry tree on our property, so food shouldn't have been a problem. We picked some leaves.

The worms wouldn't eat them.

Uh-oh. Silkworms eat mulberry leaves and mulberry leaves only. ONLY. What were we going to feed them?

My oldest pipes up, "the brochure the eggs came with said sometimes fall leaves are too tough."

Why didn't she tell me this before? (Let's not get into why didn't I read the pamphlet the eggs came with. I read Project Mulberry!).

So, I called my parents who always have a wild assortment of young trees growing in their yard. It was raining (storming actually), but I pleaded the case of the dying silkworms. My mom, who really must have wondered how old I was at that moment, agreed to trudge out in the deluge and check the leaves. We raced over to collect them.

Silkworms saved!

Until two days later. The temperature in Oklahoma shot up to the mid-90s. My husband, who has this thing about closing the garage door immediately after he pulls in his car, no matter how hot outside it is, did. The garage heated up.

Silkworms started dropping, like, well, like flies.

We ER-ed them into the laundry room. Painstakingly moved them from the dried out leaves to fresh, new, young, clean, delicious leaves.

Silkworms saved!

Then this morning, they started dropping again. Won't eat their leaves. Won't move. Might be in the sleeping stage, but we can't be sure. Frantically, I went online for advice. The only thing I could guestimate is that it could be mold on the leaves. Carefully, I created a new habitat, washed new leaves, and have now transferred all of the worms to their new home. My kids helped until carpool showed up.

Silkworms saved?

I really hope so because if we have to start from scratch, I will never get another word written on my novel. I have become a 24/7 silkworm caregiver. (This is not to mention the 30+ tadpoles we saved from soaring 100 degree temps in July and are now raising right next to the silkworms, of which, currently, 7 have sprouted all four legs and have greeted me mornings in the sink, on the faucet, on the sponge...).

I guess the motto of all of this is: Be careful what you wish for. I have never ever had a book come to life in such an exciting, frantic, uncertain, real way.

Does this mean I am becoming an amazingly great writer...or is my imagination finally getting the best of me?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Who is Justin Bieber?

The challenge has gone out over at Red Room to try and get a grip on the insane amount of success, or is it fame?, the pop singer, Justin Bieber, a mere 16 year-old, has risen to in just over a year's time.

Those of my generation are shaking their heads. Justin who? How? What?

Me, I'm a children's author, plus, I have two girls. I'm in the throes of experiencing all of this from many angles. Granted, my eleven year-old is not a must-go-to-his-concert-or-I'll-die kind of fan, but her best friend is. And let me tell you, the giggles roll in mouth-covering waves when Bieber's name comes up. She knows all of his songs. She follows him in Seventeen. And she will watch any show, ANY, even if Justin is only a tangential part of it.

Why? Why, why, why bemoan parents? Why is he so special?

If you're a writer, you may, like me in my darker moments, feel a distinct twinge of, dare I say, jealousy? Why does he get all of the spotlight? Why his songs? What about my books? Or, to be somewhat more objective and less me, me, me-oriented, Katherine Paterson's? Yeesh. There's a woman who can write. Why don't kids put a huge poster of Katherine on their walls with a shrine of candles and library receipts from all of the Katherine Paterson books they've checked out, and the stub to the Bridge to Terabithia movie in a sealed glass case with light-sensitive glass, preserved for all times? In all fairness, I'm not sure that would really be up Katherine's alley, but you get my point. Why don't kids worship book writers like they do boy singers?

Tricky question. Very tricky.

T.S. Eliot's objective correlative clearly speaks to the answer, but let's keep it simple, shall we. Let's just let the object work on us:

Did your heart skip a beat? Were you swept back to the late seventies, the Partridge Family, hours of pining away for that perfect boy with the perfect hair and who can sing? (Note: this is a 2006 calendar. There are some of you still pining!)

Not feeling it yet?
Try this one:
Yeah, few can resist the sirene's call of Leif Garrett. That hair. Those eyes. That smile. That open shirt. Sigh. I don't know about you, but man, did I want...want...

Want what?

That's the real clincher, isn't it? What do these boy heart throbs stir in the girly breast (Did you titter because I said breast? Come on, admit it. After those pictures, we're all thirteen right now, aren't we?)

Possibility. The possibility of romance. Of being liked. Of having someone crush on you with that quivering, knee-knocking, heart-stopping intensity that you feel when you look at them.

And, in my great grandmother's words (fake a Hungarian accent when you read this), "They're such nice boys." They'll take care of us. Be good to us. Love us. And yes, even feminist extraordinaires want to be loved. So these figures are working on our deepest emotional desires, even if we do not want to admit it.

Bieber goes a step further. Take his song, "One Time". In the video, Bieber sings about how he is going to open up. He's going to tell the girl. The video shows him finally doing this. And what happens? Cool, ultra popular, singer spills out his heart and...the girl checks her watch and leaves! Rip the teenage girl heart out right there! Why? They know exactly how he feels. They've pined away for a boy who never notices them or worse, disses them. Bieber's video turns the table, making him the vulnerable one, the one needing to be taken care of and loved. 

It's the perfect girl dream.

Now, as an adult, if you're still asking, why him?, I clearly haven't put in the right terms yet. Let's talk as adults for a moment, shall we? 

Huge financial backing. H.U.G.E.

Usher discovered Bieber. He signed the boy wonder-to-be onto his record label, and then promoted the bajeesuz out of him. And wala, Bieber is a success. Usher could have chosen any kid - and there are tons who fit the boy heart throb bill - spiffy-ed him up, taught him how to sing, and given him a cool hair cut and they would have done the job just as well. Not buying it? Just see the David Cassidy and Leif Garrett pictures again. And again. And again. And again. It should sink in.

Justin just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Which only adds to the mystique, by the way. He is the quintessential nice boy from next door.

Getting back to the source of this blog challenge, Red Room, a group of writers, here's my last, all-out effort at putting Bieber success in writer's terminology. Think New York Times bestseller list. You might be a writer if, you've learned that the books that make that list are ones chosen in the quiet of a publisher's office by a group of editors who decide, "this is the title we are going to push". Marketing gets behind with the full force of their sales staff and advertising dollars. Ads are placed. Interviews lined up. An author tour arranged. And low and behold, the book makes the NYT bestseller list.

Does that mean the book isn't worthy? It's just dollars working? Absolutely not. But there are probably ten to fifty other books that, given the right marketing push, could have risen to that intense fame/financial success given the same sort of marketing support.

In the end, fame (and to some extent financial success) are about getting a lucky break. Luck: where preparation and opportunity meet. We writers can control the preparation. Write. Write on the edge of reason, taking all chances, no holds barred. We can even expose ourselves to opportunity by getting out of our writer's caves, speaking at conferences, doing book-signings at book stores, going to ALA and BEA.

In the end, however, whether opportunity and preparation actually meet, well, that's up to fate. Now if somebody could explain that nebulous entity to me, I'd be eternally grateful!