Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

I know you have real world gifts to unwrap and songs to sing, so this is a quick one. It serves double duty because it's hilarious and it reminds me of the real version, so I get all warm and fuzzy inside.

Gift #4 is here.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Virtual Book Reality

In which I prove that we are biologically programmed to like good books.

I read this week about a study on perceived pain. Subjects were hooked up to virtual reality machines and given glasses that allowed them to "see" through a virtual character's eyes. After "walking" around for a while as the character, subjects witnessed (through the glasses) someone coming at them with a knife and cutting them (as the character) in the stomach. The subject were not cut, of course, but they overwhelmingly reported feeling pain as if they had been.

I can't find the study now, but it doesn't surprise me. If you read good books, this happens to you all the time. Otherwise, why do I cry every time Charlotte dies? Great writing puts us into a character's shoes, makes us "see" through his glasses, and then makes us feel what he feels. And the most wonderful part is that even when those feelings are sad or terrified, the sensation of feeling them along with the character is pure deliciousness. Otherwise, why would I have read Charlotte's Web one million times? And why does it make me smile warm and broad when I remember a really good book?

So, for your third day of Hanukkah gift, I offer you Jacqui's top five non-Charlotte's Web books that had that delicious, feel it with the character effect on me. If you have read them, your present is that "yes!" feeling that comes with remembering them; if you haven't, your present is the introduction.

5)The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami. Reading Murakami can make you feel like you're crazy...and it's wonderful. The main character in this spends some time at the bottom of a well. The moment I finished it, I turned on the radio and by one of those absolutely unfathomable random coincidences, that Mike Doughty song, "Looking at the World From the Bottom of a Well" was playing. It was the first time I had heard it and I FREAKED OUT.

4) Time and Again, by Jack Finney. Made me think I'd slipped into winter 1882. Spent the week shivering and not sure I wasn't a 19th century woman.

3) Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. During the week I read this, I actually tried to do magic in real life. Seriously. I forgot and literally tried to lift something without touching it.

2) Is it cliché to pick The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje? Ondaatje is a master of sucking a reader into the mood. I felt everything along with these characters. And the end! Oh! The end! The yearning! The sand! The frustration and injustice! It is Simply. So. Good. Yum. Must go read some now.

1) Blindness, by José Saramago. Utterly unrelenting. Was surprised to be able to see whenever I looked up from the page, which was not often. Absolutely my top choice. Also, I asked Thor for his recommendations without telling him mine and Blindness was his top choice too.

Huh. These are all books for grown-ups. Will have to make my kidlit top five some day. Meanwhile, what's on your list?

And here's the Doughty video, just cause I like the song, and it reminds me of the book.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My Favorite Sound

Happy Hanukkah, Day #2.

Don't look; just listen. Ain't it the best?

Now I must go shovel. Again.


video

Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Hanukkah, evil genius

Oh, there is so much about which to blog -- Ohio! The solstice! What the heck is wrong with my big toe!

But last night was the first night of Hanukkah, and I have to give you your first present. I got this idea from my local NPR station, who is taking requests for "sound gifts" this season. The one I heard was someone who loved the call of mourning doves (my favorite bird also; click on the link to hear the call), but who had moved somewhere she never heard it. So, as a gift, they played 30 seconds of mourning dove calls.

And I thought, I want to give my bloggy readers something to say thanks for coming by. I have had much more fun here in Jacqui's Room than I ever thought I would, but I never would have made my initial six month trial period if nobody had listened. So, mush mush love love thanks. And for the next eight days, I will be sharing things I hope make you smile, things that make me feel the world might be okay after all, starting with

Gift #1: Jonathan Coulton singing Skullcrusher Mountain, a song about an evil genius in love. Because I couldn't make a half-pony monster. Listen to the words. And if you like, go to his website and listen to the Sir Mix-a-Lot cover or any one of a gabillion other good tunes...

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Honest Scrap


Rena was kind of enough to nominate Jacqui's Room for the Honest Scrap, an award for telling it like it is. Which I fear is a euphemism for "unedited oversharing," but we take our kudos where we can get them around here.

This time, I did not spend all night attempting to trace the origins of the award. But that is only because I spent all night trying to download a printer driver. We will have to trust that the Honest Scrap award did not originate somewhere terrible.

I am to post 10 honest things about myself and then pass the award on to seven other blogs who tell it like it is. This is hard; I mean, you already know my house is in chaos and I'm a big dork. But I'll try.

10. Sometimes I make inappropriate jokes to myself and laugh out loud. I'm doing it right now. Imagine all the horrible things I could write on this list. Heh heh.

9. I listen to loud music that is not appropriate to share here. Sometimes I listen to my iPod and giggle at the vast space between how I look and how it sounds in my head.

8. It is possible I have a small addiction to the internet.

7. Someday I really, really, really, want to direct another play.

6. When my sister and I get going, I think we're the funniest people on earth.

5. I have never broken a single bone in my body.

4. I am so superstitious that I almost didn't write #5 and I will have to knock on wood every time I read it.

3. Which I will do a million times, because I obsessively read my own blog posts before I publish them.Link
2. I have a monster ego. Seriously. Gigantic. But somehow I'm also always convinced everyone hates me.

1. I don't deserve this award. I am actually a great liar. It's true. Don't tell.

And to pass it on. I can't think of seven. I always try to pick blogs I think you may not have seen, so I'm limited, but check out:

Holy Guacamole, where T writes my secret fears,
Colorado Writer, who writes the ups and downs of writing without hiding anything, and
Resident Alien, who is not afraid to explore and share her thoughts on a variety of topics.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

And I thought I liked to lick the spoon

Today's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM) reveals the lengths to which I might go for cake.

From YahooNews and the Tampa Tribune:

Armed Burglars Demand Man's Eggbeater

According to the article, "two men entered a man's home early Sunday and demanded his eggbeater. One suspect was holding a pistol while the other brandished a knife to the resident's neck."

There's only one question to ask here: WHY?

Ideas:

1. Something is hiding in the eggbeater. Treasure or money or a long-lost note?
2. They are writers and have been revising too long and REALLY needed some cake.

But I like this one:

Old Mr. McGhee loves cake. Man, he loves cake. He makes cake all day long. He makes cake all night long. His favorite cakes are whipped light and fluffy using his 1943 SuperFluff super loud electric eggbeater.

Downstairs from Mr. McGhee live two newbie criminals. They planned the perfect murder, carried it off, and rented what they thought would be a quiet place to split up the loot and hide out from the police.

But all night and all day, all they hear is the BZZZZZZZ of Mr. McGhee's eggbeater...

What's your idea?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Honeymoon

In which you get a glimpse into my writing process.

Today we are celebrating that I finished a first draft of the first chapter of the book that scares me. Yup. Wrote it longhand and fixed it and wrote it again and trashed it and wrote it again and typed it up and read it and hated it and decided to go back to teaching and waited two days, then re-read it and loved it and spell-checked it and sent it off to my critique group before I could change my mind. Nope, that is no exaggeration and yup, that's pretty much my writing process for everything. For the first draft. After that, it gets even messier.

The first chapter is always the fun part for me. Anything can happen. All my dreams for the book are still alive. There's still hope that it will be as earth-shatteringly brilliant on the paper as it is in my mind. The manuscript is not yet littered with notes like "fix this" and "argh! write this better!" I have all the time and patience in the world and I am the best writer ever.

I was riding so high today that I wrote a whole new picture book. In rhyme (that will change). I'll go back to the picture book whenever it finds me for the next month or so, like sneaking candy during the vegetable course. And I did it all in an hour, so I still had time to snuggle with Tink and listen to her giggle at old episodes of Tom and Jerry during Destructo's nap.

These are the days I have to remember on the other Viorst-ian days.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

In the Nick of Time

I'll be honest. I almost gave up today. I looked all over for a good story for today's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM). Nothing. I was momentarily amused, but ultimately uninspired by YahooTech's:

GPS, hidden cameras watching over Baby Jesus

I was ready to confess and call this post "I Got Plenty of Nothing."

But then this came in and gave me the chills:

(from YahooNews):

Wait a second: 2008 gets extended by timekeepers

Along with the economy, the Earth itself is slowing down, requiring timekeepers to add an extra second to their atomic clocks to keep in sync with Earth's slightly slowing rotation. So an extra second will be tacked on to Dec. 31 after 6:59:59 p.m. and before 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

This is crazy to me. Who knew you could just add a second?! And can they add me an hour or two? And how much is the Earth slowing down that adding a second will make a huge difference?! And what time will it be during that second, 6:59:59 part deux?

But seriously. What if that adding that one second has drastic consequences? If we can stop all the world's clocks for one second, to give the Earth a chance to catch up, are we sure we can start them again? And what if we couldn't? What if it all screeched to a halt and people everywhere were frozen in the middle of dinners and bedtimes and getting ready for New Year's Eve, in the middle of crimes and secrets? Droplets of water suspended mid-air in the fountains. Absolute silence.

And what if, for some reason, you were the only one who escaped? You don't know how much time you have before the gears start grinding again. What do you fix? What do you change? How much messing around can you do before you upset a delicate balance and destroy us all?

And what is that noise? It sounds like footsteps. You're not alone. Someone else is out there. You can feel his presence in a subtle breeze, an echo that shouldn't be. All around you, the world is paralyzed. There's nobody to help you. And you're being hunted.

Who will write me this book?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

IndieBound

indiebound

Today we are celebrating your local independent bookstore. I love Nicola and her bookstore, not only because they have a fantastic kids' section that goes well beyond the standards and celebrity lit, but also because they do great author events, supply all the books for my school visits, always have my book in stock, and have given me tons of ARCs when I was researching what's out there. If you are an author, seriously, you've got to love on your local indie. If you are a book lover, especially one who likes to read things that aren't what every single other person on earth likes to read, you must love on your local indie, who is far more likely to carry mid list books than the chains. If you love someone who loves books, you must love on your local indie because they can help you find great gifts. If you hate books, you should love on your local indie anyway because it's just good karma.

What's that you say? You do all your shopping at Amazon. Okay, that's fine. I am no Amazon hater. BUT, I am in LOVE with IndieBound. Have you seen IndieBound's "Shop Local Online" feature? Click on that link. Search for the book you want. A window will pop up, asking if you want to shop local online. Type in your zip code and it will direct you to a listing of your local indies who have online ordering. Voila. As easy as Amazon. Try it. You can even set up a wish list. And make friends. Find me!

What? Are you still there? Sorry. I got distracted at the Indie Next List. Mmm. Books. Me like books. Nom nom nom.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Catching up with the muse

Welcome to yesterday's installment of No, Seriously. Just Try It.

But first, we interrupt this program to thank Candace for naming this month's festivities. After careful analysis, I've decided we are definitely Decemberserking these days. If you enjoy puns, Candace (aka Sudo Nimm) is your woman. If not, well, why not?

For today's No, Seriously. Just Try It feature, I want you to get your pencil and paper, or your laptop, or your wax tablet and stylus. Now I want you to take those writing devices and toss them aside. We are not writing today. We are channeling the muse.

Here is a secret about the muse: she's subtle. She gives you hints and ideas all the time, but you keep missing them. Today, I want you to go somewhere you have never been before, preferably somewhere crowded. Pretend you are the main character in a middle grade chapter book mystery where some beneficent stranger is dropping clues for you everywhere you go. For everything you see, everything you overhear, everything upon which you stumble, think, "What is my muse trying to tell me? How can I use this?"

For example, graffiti. It is not just graffiti. It is a message from your muse. Today at the library, somebody had written, "Live for yourself. I did. Guys suck." on the wall. Clearly a message from my muse. You go to the museum and lo and behold! A special exhibit on ancient Persian pottery. Clearly a message from your muse. You turn the corner and someone's giving out fliers advertising a performance of a play called Jimmy and the Goat Man. Clearly a message from your muse.

What's that? You want to know what these messages mean? Ah. Dear child. That is for you to interpret. The muse is a complicated and cryptic woman. But when one of her messages hits its mark, you'll know.

I struggled with a plot problem all day. I stepped into Tink's music class this afternoon in time to hear the teacher casually mention an obscure fact about J.S. Bach. It was like inspiration rained down on my head. Her random comment was EXACTLY what I needed to figure out the problem I'd had all day.

So get out there and listen and watch. And report back what you hear from your muse.*

* Is anyone else marvelling at how many "muse" puns I DIDN'T make in this post?! Tink's muse-ic class. A-muse-ment park. Muse-eum. Stan Muse-ial. Okay, that last one makes no sense.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Decembrrr

In which I talk a lot about running, so if it bores you, see you tomorrow for a special December installment of No, Seriously. Just Try It.

Today we are celebrating fleece-lined running tights, hot soup, and legs.

I ran the Jingle Bells 5K race at 9am this morning to benefit the Arthritis Foundation. It was 17 degrees outside; even with the fleece-lined running tights, I ran about 30 seconds per mile faster than I usually do, because I spent the whole time chanting, "The faster you run, the sooner you're done."

The best part is that The Mighty Thor accidentally got registered as a woman. He is thrilled to announce that he won the "female ages 35-39" group. I came in 7th.*

The thing is, Thor actually has arthritis. Not crippling, can't run arthritis, but enough that his knees ache pretty constantly all winter long. So today we are celebrating having the luxury of deciding to run a 5K in 17 degree weather and having strong legs to take us through it. And while I'm at it, I'll celebrate having arthritis-free hands and wrists; writing is hard enough without associated physical pain.

And lastly, we are celebrating hot noodle soup, steaming in a big ceramic bowl that warms your hands while you slurp it.

* Yes, there were more than 7 of us.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Ant wins

Today we are celebrating characters that won't quit and writing the novel that scares you.

Ant has won. The plan was to trash him and the rest of his miserable novel that I wrote for NaNoWriMo this year. But he won't shut up. He keeps popping into my head, standing on chairs and screaming, insisting I re-read his first chapter. So I did. And guess what? It's funny. I laughed out loud. Thor laughed out loud when I made him listen. The cats laughed too, I think. Or they are just starving.

"Okay, Ant," I said. "You win. I'll read the rest."

Guess what? It doesn't suck. Okay, it DOES suck, but there's a lot that's usable. And reading it sparked one of the coolest ideas for a book in the world. One of those make your brain hurt, can't believe you thought of it, if only I can carry it off ideas.

"Okay, Ant. You win. I'll write it," I said. And I sat down and, well, nothing.

I love Ant. I love his book. I love the ideas I have for it. I think it could be the greatest thing I ever wrote.

Consequently, I am frozen in terror, unable to write a word.

But we are celebrating anyway, because if I do get it written, it's going to rock.

What are YOU writing these days?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Decemberserking continues

Today we are celebrating two things:

FIRST, it is the 53rd anniversary of the beginning of the Montgomery bus boycott. I missed the 1st, the anniversary of the day Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus (which is what I used to celebrate with my class).

You most likely know the story. What you might not know is that 12 years earlier, Ms. Parks had been kicked off another bus for boarding through the front door. The driver insisted that she get off the bus and re-enter via the back door, but when she did, he closed the doors and drove away, leaving her in the rain. Here's the kicker: James Blake was the bus driver in both circumstances. Rosa Parks recognized him when she got on that bus in 1955. Which I think makes her all the braver for standing her ground the second time. And, as a writer, it makes an even more fascinating story.

As long as we are talking about promoting understanding between different races (okay, it's a stretch, I know, but I wanted to share this), you can go here, where they are celebrating National Buy a Book By a Black Author and Give It To Somebody Not Black month. Which I love, and not only because it has a million words in it like all of my projects.

And SECONDLY (drum roll), we are celebrating the fact that this building exists in the world:


It's the Kansas City Public Library. Has anyone been there? Does it really look like that?! Have you EVER SEEN anything cooler?!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Arthur the Squid Goes Holiday Shopping

Were you worried that just because I've finally gone off the deep end it's December I would leave you inspiration-less? Have no fear, this week's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM) is here!

From ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) News:

Colossal Squid Stops Traffic in Wellington


A giant squid has brought traffic to a standstill in the New Zealand capital of Wellington.

The 500-kilogram sea creature, which developed a world-wide following when it was defrosted over the internet,* has been moved to the country's national museum, Te Papa.


The headline is a bit of a rip-off. In reality, the squid didn't stop traffic; the police escort surrounding it did.

But in the book you are going to write me, it was the squid. Arthur. And he is not in a vehicle. He is just trying to get his holiday shopping done. Someone call David Wiesner and ask him to draw me a 200+ pound squid in an enormous sparkly red sweater with snowflakes and reindeer whose noses actually light up on it. I want shopping bags on his tentacles, and a Starbucks cup in one of them. Arthur, is oblivious to the stunned chaos he leaves in his wake. Ooh! Wait! It's the 12 Days of Christmas! As in, "On the first day of Christmas, my pet squid gave to me a Jane Fonda DVD" (with accompanying squid in exercise wear pictures...).

Who will write me the other verses???

* How do you defrost something over the internet?! I have gotten pretty "frosted" at AT&T this year, but never thawed.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Snow! Snow! Snow!

In which we celebrate snow.

Is it snowing there? It's snowing here, and so cold my nose fell off on the walk home from Tink's school.

If it's snowing there, step away from the computer. Put on your coat and your boots, a hat and some gloves. Go outside. Don't shovel or sand or build anything. Find a clear spot where nobody's walked and lay down. Make a snow angel. Watch the snow falling. Examine the flakes as they land on your coat. Listen to the blanket of quiet a good snow brings. Let the wet cold seep into your bones.

When your lungs burn, run inside and stand near a fire or the radiator and strip your outerwear off and jump until you can feel your toes again.

When your fingers can bend, get a pencil, and write it. Write for 20 minutes without stopping or crossing out. What did you find?

If it's not snowing there, well, you can make a snowflake, or make a snowflake. Or you can go play at Raymond Briggs's magical website for his magical book, The Snowman, which every child should read.

Or you can read these:
Snowflake Bentley, by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illus. Mary Azarian
Fascinating and gorgeous true story of Wilson Bentley, snow scientist

Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen, possibly the most beautiful poetic picture book ever written

Snow Crazy, by Tracy Gallup (my lovely critique group friend): celebrate a day in the snow, illustrated by hand made dolls












For the toddler set, there's Snowballs, by Lois Ehlert.

And when the kids are asleep, curl up with Orhan Pamuk's Snow, which is structured like a six-sided snowflake in a way that is so complex and cool it makes my brain hurt.


So, what's your favorite snow book?

Monday, December 1, 2008

It begins...


It began with a Thai Festival of Lights. Back when I worked at the best bookstore in Chicago and my boss was the best fantasy writer I know, we celebrated Loy Krathong. We used tarp and a hose to make an actual flowing river in the middle of the children's section and everyone released rafts into it and watched them float. I think I can safely brag that it was the coolest bookstore event ever, rivaled only by the hunt for an actual bear that we staged later.

(image by Robert Pollai; from Wikipedia commons)


As a kid, I got tired of answering, "Are you Hanukkah or Christmas?" and "Do you really get eight presents?" As I got older, I got bitter every time someone wished me a Merry Christmas.

"I don't celebrate Christmas. Not everyone does, you know," I wanted to grumble, even though it was a lie: I do celebrate Christmas, because it's darn fun. But I wanted people to acknowledge that for a significant portion of the world, December 25 is just another day. It didn't help that Christmas lights started appearing before Halloween and people started referring to Christmas as "a secular holiday." Explain that one, somebody, please.

So when I became a full time teacher, I struggled. How to celebrate Christmas in the classroom, or Hanukkah, without leaving someone out?

And then I remembered the Thai Festival of Lights, and everything I learned as an anthropology major, and I decided: we would just celebrate EVERYTHING.* Every single holiday I could find. And we did. I made December's official social studies curriculum "Holidays" and invited representatives from every major religion (including atheism) to come talk to the class about their most important holidays and about how their communities answer life's big questions.

It is still my favorite unit I've ever taught. And I am still a strong believer in celebrating everything.

And guess what starts today? DECEMBER! (cue carnival music)

So hold onto your seats. Every day in December is party day in Jacqui's Room. Adventure! Prizes! Special guests! Useless font color changes!

But I will need your help. And today, I need a name for the Decemberpalooza. I hate "paloozas" ever since a friend gave my ticket to the first Lollapalooza to a boy who didn't even like her back. So what shall we call the December fun? Comments ideas, please.

And check back tomorrow, when we will receive our first visit from...
the magic present-finding guru,
who will answer all your most sticky gift-buying questions.


* I didn't have any Jehovah's Witness students that year, by the way. Also, I cleared this with all parents, administration, etc. Everyone loved it.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Hallelujah



50,400 something words. It's drivel, but it's done. Now I must sleep.

The December fun starts tomorrow... stay tuned.

Friday, November 28, 2008

I Am Lucy

5,000 words to go on my novel for National Novel Writing Month.
So few, and yet SO MANY.

I was reflecting on my novel-finishing strategies, which consist of:
useless wordiness,
irrelevant sidenotes,
procrastination,
and repeated word counting,
and I couldn't help thinking, "I've seen this before. This is IN something."

It took me a long time, but I found it. I am mostly Lucy (especially at the very very very end), but there's decidedly a bit of all of them in me. And we can always use a little Charles Schultz, I think.

Enjoy.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Beulah at the Arch-Off

This week's No, Seriously. Just Try It is about choices and endings.

A few weeks ago, I asked you to make me care about what your main character wants. Okay, so now I care. But I have another question: what does she have to give up to get it?

You've made it hard on her. You've created obstacles, dropped her into difficult situations, put a really evil Grob on her tail. Now I want you to make it even harder. I want her last obstacle to be herself. Right as your character's story is about to wrap up, I want you to give her a choice, a Sophie's choice, an impossible, either way she chooses she has to lose something that can never be replaced choice. And then I want you to let your main character write your ending.

Here's the trick: the choice has to be set up so that we readers cannot possibly know which way she will choose until the moment she does. And then, whatever she chooses has to not only make sense for her character, but also fill us with a "Yes! That's what I was hoping!" flood of satisfaction.

Okay, what am I talking about? Say your character, Beulah, loves archery.* She's an expert archer, but she's never won the local archery championship; she comes in second every year to snobby Gilda McGhee. This year, the last year she's eligible, there's a cash prize that Beulah's family desperately needs. She's been training and training, practicing every morning early. The day of the big arch-off arrives. The competitors are preparing their bags of arrows.** Gilda McGhee is called over to the judge's desk to talk with the local media. She leaves her stuff unattended. Beulah is double checking her equipment when she trips and falls onto Gilda's bag. She dents, ever so slightly, Gilda's three favorite shooting arrows.

Most likely nobody will notice. Most likely the bend in the arrows will send them just a bit off course. Like just enough to overcome the tiny lead Gilda always has over Beulah. If she says something, she risks disqualification, but at least it would be a fair match. If she says nothing, it's cheating. She might win even without cheating, but she might come in second again. Her family needs the money. But she thinks her grandmother, whom she adores and whose respect and love she values highly, saw her hit the bag and would know what happened. Under normal circumstances, Beulah would never cheat. But you've thrown her into a place where "normal" doesn't apply. What does Beulah decide?

So, what is the choice your character faces just as her journey's about to end? How does she decide? And what does she have to lose?

No, seriously. Try it. And report back; I want to hear what she decides.



* about which it will soon become apparent I know nothing
** quills? skewers?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Steve, The Munchie, and Me

My boyfriend Steve from AT&T has been cheating on me. I called him last night and his new girlfriend answered the phone. She said her name was Munchie.* I asked for Steve.

I hope I won't sound too catty when I say, Steve's new girlfriend? Not so smart.

I told her my AT&T U-Verse service wasn't working.

JACQUI: I'm getting a strange blue screen that says AT&T U-Verse.

MUNCHIE: Is it plugged in?

JACQUI: Yes.

MUNCHIE: Can you please check?

JACQUI: If it weren't plugged in, how would I get the blue screen?

MUNCHIE: What?

JACQUI: Is Steve there?

MUNCHIE: What?

JACQUI: Nothing. I promise. It's plugged in.

MUNCHIE: Do you have your AT&T remote control?

JACQUI: Yup.

MUNCHIE: Can I ask you to please replace the batteries?

JACQUI: What?

MUNCHIE: When was the last time you replaced the batteries?

JACQUI: Maybe I wasn't clear. It's not that I can't change the channel. It's that I have no service.

MUNCHIE: Yes, I see. But we have to trouble check everything.

JACQUI: Why?

MUNCHIE: What?

JACQUI: Why do we have to check things if there's no way that's the problem?

MUNCHIE:

JACQUI: Okay. (lies) I changed the batteries.

MUNCHIE: Now can you please press the 'AT&T' button?

JACQUI: Okay.

MUNCHIE: What do you see?

JACQUI: Same screen.

MUNCHIE: And now please press 'OK.'

JACQUI: Same screen.

MUNCHIE: And now please press 'channel up.'

JACQUI: Same screen.

MUNCHIE: And now please press 'guide.'

JACQUI: Same screen.

MUNCHIE: Okay, and now please --

JACQUI: I'm sorry, but what are we trying to do?

MUNCHIE: We're trying to find out what's wrong with your TV.

JACQUI: Yes, but what do you THINK is wrong with the TV that pressing all these buttons can help?

MUNCHIE:

JACQUI:

MUNCHIE: Okay, and can you please press 'input'?

JACQUI: (explodes)

Oh, Steve. We could have had it all. Don't worry about me. I opened another box of the treasure trove from my mother's house. ** I don't need you, Steve. I have all my old Norma Klein books and I'm gonna curl up all weekend with this:




And this:


And this:


Life is so good. See you Monday.











* That's what it sounded like, I swear. I think Munchie was very far away.
** I know. You were hoping for more evidence of my dorkiness. Don't worry; I'm sure it's in there somewhere.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Knuckleballer on the Kobe 9 Cruise

Welcome to this week's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM).

Earlier this week, Tinkerbell said to me, "But I will have to do something else, because girls are not allowed to play baseball."

"What?" I said. "Of course girls are allowed to play baseball."

"Are there any girls on the Tigers?"

Oh. You mean REAL baseball. Um, there's softball? And. Er. Sigh.

And now this!

From Sports Illustrated:

Japanese team drafts teen girl

Apparently, 16 year old Eri Yoshida, a pitcher, has been drafted by the Kobe 9 Cruise, a professional baseball team in Japan. Not only that, she's a knuckleballer, which is so cool.

Okay, first, I want her to continue to hold male hitters hitless, like she did in her one inning tryout. And then I want a picture book for Tinkerbell to read. I want a simple biography. I want schlock. I want something for little girls to look at and think, "Darn you for trying to tell me I can't!"

And I want easy to follow directions for throwing a knuckleball at the back.

Will someone please write me this book?

p.s. There's a young adult book here too, I think. Anyone on it?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Check me out!


Winter is gloomy. Summer seems miles away. But look what's keeping me warm!

I present to you, the cover for Two of a Kind, written by yours truly, illustrated by the fabulous Matt Phelan, due out from Atheneum this July, and officially available for pre-order from Amazon and other places.

I am thrilled with the artwork. If I sound muted, it's because I'm still somewhat in disbelief that it's going to appear in book form, as it has had a long, long trail from contract to publication. But inside, I am doing a happy dance.

Monday, November 17, 2008

AutoSummarize in time for Thanksgiving

Today's No, Seriously. Just Try It is inspired by the AutoSummarize feature in Microsoft Word.*

If you use Microsoft Word and you're really, really bored,** you can use the AutoSummarize feature. It's in the Tools pull down menu. Choose to have a summary at the head of your document and set the percentage to 10% and the computer will autosummarize your work. It turned my whole work in progress into the following:

Ant stopped.

Ant nodded.
Ant yelled. Ant yelled. Ant yelled. Ant ran. Ant yelled. Ant walked. Ant stopped. Ant yelled.

Apparently my main character yells a lot.

Don't you wish it could REALLY AutoSummarize your book? Because at some point, you have to answer the question: "What is your book about?" In fact, you will probably have to answer the question next week at Thanksgiving. What will you say?

I'm not talking about query letters or "elevator pitches" where you have to sell the book. I'm talking about knowing what your book is about, whether it's a picture book or a novel. It's so simple it sounds stupid, but try it. You may be surprised.

So. Pretend I'm a friend who cares. Wait. I AM your friend and I DO care, so just pretend it's me. Except it IS me asking, so you don't have to pretend. Aargh. Just answer the question, okay? What is your book about? Can you tell me in a 5 sentence paragraph? Remember, you're not trying to sell me the book (so no "In a world where justice is dead, one boy stands alone...").

Now, pretend I am your Aunt Emmaline. "So, honey, I hear you're writing a book? Great! What is your book about?" You've got two sentences before I go baste the turkey.

Next, pretend I'm your mother-in-law and I need something to tell my friends when I report back with news of everyone from Thanksgiving. "What's your book about?" You have 10 words.

Okay. I'm your cousin's boyfriend and I'm only pretending to like you until the pie is served. "So, er, what did you say that book was about?" You've got 5 words.

I'm your great-grandma and I can't hear a thing. You get one chance, one single word, to scream at me when I put my soft hand on yours, beaming with pride and say, "I'm so proud you're writing again. I still have that duck story you wrote in third grade. What's your book about?"

So, what is your book about?

* AutoSummarize was featured in the time-wasting suggestions section of the NaNo website this week.
** Like the snowflakes aren't even mesmerizing any more bored.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Scraping the Plaque

In which I explain how my dental hygienist is my new role model for revising a book.

My dental hygienist is not afraid of my teeth. She does not stare at them, ignoring them even though she can't stop thinking about them, while she pretends to focus on other things. She doesn't whine about how hard it's going to be before she even starts. She greets my teeth with an eager smile that makes them feel like great teeth. She washes her hands of problems from other patients. Then she grabs the tools she needs, reviews her notes from my last visit, and dives right in.

My dental hygienist does not pussyfoot around. She takes that giant hook scraper thingy and digs into my gums until they bleed. She ruthlessly cuts off the plaque, the tartar, all the nastiness keeping my teeth from being all they can be. She never says, "Well, a little plaque never hurt a mouth" or "But it took so long to get the plaque there just right!" She doesn't save the plaque scrapings in a separate file because she's attached to them. She just trashes it, all of it, and focuses on my teeth.

My dental hygienist does one thing at a time. She doesn't stop to polish while she's scraping. She doesn't get all excited about someone else's teeth as an avoidance mechanism. She doesn't stop in the middle to blog about my teeth or to reward herself for being half done with a quick game of Minesweeper. She scrapes and scrapes and when she's finally done, she checks again before moving in with the spinning polishing shrieking thing. And she waits until that's done to floss.

My dental hygienist didn't ignore the whatever it was she found on that one tooth even after she was all done. She didn't say, "Aargh! I already fixed that once!" or "It'll be fine; let's wait and see if my agent notices." She went back in with the scraper thingy, even though it meant polishing and rinsing and flossing all over again.

At the end of it all, my dental hygienist rinses my teeth and sucks out any remaining drool with that mouth vacuum that makes you feel like it might turn your head inside out. I don't know what part of the revising metaphor that is -- except that revising makes me feel like turning my head inside out.

I will say this: my dental hygienist did all of the above without a drop of coffee or a single Snickers bar.

I guess nobody's perfect.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Choochy the Poodle

I'm back from the dentist and ha ha ha to all of you who thought my little affair with the corn made of candy was going to doom me. I am fine, and inspired by my dental hygienist, about whom I will blab tomorrow.

But today is Thursday, and you have a book to write me.

From the AP and USAToday:

Runaway poodle delays flights at Boston airport

Oh, yum. We're back to funny picture books. The article even gives you the first line. It begins:

"Choochy the poodle is a runway runaway."

I love it.

Apparently, Choochy escaped from her kennel and "scampered across runways and taxiways," successfully escaping "15 police, firefighters, operations personnel and even electricians" for more than 17 hours.

You go, Choochy!

Start with "Choochy the poodle is a runway runaway." I want the rollicking rhythm of Donna O'Neeshuk Was Chased By Some Cows. I want detail-filled illustrations of the airport in chaos. I want the 15 police, etc. travelling in a pack, slipping on airplane oil and backing into each other while Choochy ducks behind the curtain of a slow-moving luggage transporter. I want to notice something else hilarious every time I see the illustrations.

And I want to know WHY was Choochy on the run? What could have been so terrible? Was it something she learned about where the plane was headed?

OR, was she stalling? Was all Choochy's running just a cover for something else? Or someONE else, up to no good?

Most of all, I want funny. I'm tired of deep.

Will someone please write me this book?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Sensational Weirdo

In which I explain why some of you saw my superhero name briefly this weekend.

It was bad enough when The Mighty Thor and I sat down at the Golden Compass website to discover our daemons. Thor got a snow leopard. Sweet, eh? Yeah, mine was a raccoon. Dissatisfied, I took the whole thing over. Raccoon again. So my daemon, my alter-ego, the reflection of the inner Me, is a rat in a mask.

Sunday, I was revising avoiding dishes screwing around on the internet and came across the Superhero Name Generator.* And got this:

Your superhero name is...
The Sensational Weirdo


Sigh. The Sensational Weirdo. It's so true, I fear. And I was laughing so hard I hit "publish" which makes me both weird and technically unqualified to blog. Double sigh. At least there is chocolate. Oh, wait. I ate it all.

*Someone linked me there. I can't remember who. If it was you, I'm sorry not to give you credit.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Magic Objects

In which you must not laugh at my quickly-penned writing example.

Today's No, Seriously. Just Try It* was inspired by leaf catching and by this hilarious video envisioning the sales pitch for the Harry Potter series.**

I love the "magic batteries" part.

Yesterday I took Tink out leaf-catching. We came back in and Captain Destructo saw her clutching the leaf she'd caught.

"My hab it?" he asked, using his favorite three words.

"No, you can't have it," she told him. "You can have one of those."

"It's just a leaf," someone said.

I thought, It's not just a leaf. She caught it.

It's a MAGIC leaf. And it's the story that makes it magic. Even if you don't write fantasy where talismans and seeing stones come in every bag, you can make magic objects in your writing. And they will use their magic to show (not tell) whatever you want them to.

Answer me this: What object does your main character always have with her? It can be anything: a seashell, an old box of raisins, a pair of shoes. I've used a paper bag full of candy, an old backpack, and a spray bottle of bleach.

Describe the magic object. What does it look like? How does it feel? Where does she carry it? How does it affect the way she walks? How has her carrying it changed it? Make us able to smell it, to feel it in our hands.

12 year-old Mira always carries a deflated balloon in her pocket. It's rubbery and sticky. It used to be bright red, but it's faded to pink. There are bits of hair and paper and lint stuck to it, but it still smells faintly of cherry lip gloss from the day she gave it a victory kiss.

Okay, tell me the story: why is it magic? Here's the catch: your story can't be "she got it from her (insert name of special person here)." Too easy and overdone. Make the story your character's own.

Mira won the balloon tossing a ping pong ball into a cup at the Welcome to Summer Fair at her church. Her dad bought her cotton candy, a stuffed cow, and three chances with the ping pong balls. An hour later, she'd eaten the cotton candy, lost the cow, and fallen off the Donkey Ride and broken her arm in three places. Two hours later her dad had explained why he was being so nice, and then kissed her goodbye. By three weeks later, all she had was the deflated balloon, stuck in her pocket everyday as a reminder what happens when you think things are going great.

Lastly, now that you've introduced us to your magic object, when can you bring it back? When in the story can your magic object appear, right when the character needs it, or realizes she no longer needs it? How can it change your story?

"Okay!" Mira agreed. She'd try it. She knew it wouldn't work, but it might be fun, and if David wanted to take her, she ought to give him a chance. She grabbed her shoes and her backpack.

"Do you have your bus pass?" David asked.

Mira reached into her back pocket for the bus pass. It wasn't there. Instead, she pulled out the balloon, faded and torn and glaring at her.

"What's that?" David asked.

"It's nothing," Mira said, stuffing the balloon back in her pocket. She handed him the key. "Look, this is stupid. It's never going to work. You go ahead. I have homework to do anyway."***

What is your character's magic object? How did it get to be magic, and how does it change your story? No, seriously. Just try it. And report back.

* No, Seriously. Just Try It is an ongoing (until I get bored of it) Monday feature with ideas for making your writing shinier. There's an explanation of how it started here.
** WARNING: a naughty word appears in this video.
***It's a quick idea to make a point people; stop gagging.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

ReadKiddoRead

In which I give you an idea of where to spend your next several hours.

James Patterson (yes, that James Patterson) set up ReadKiddoRead, a site all about great books that will make kids want to read.

I wanted to hate it. I wanted to be snotty and say, "What does James Patterson know about kids' books?!" But I can't. I love how it's set up. I love that the books they've chosen include some well known and some lesser known suggestions. I love that they have "if you loved X, try Y" ideas. I love that real book folks are on the board.

I do not love that the recommendations page for picture books does not read something like, "But if you really want a treat, read The New Girl...And Me. We think it's the BEST BOOK EVER." But you can't win them all. I am sure it's an oversight.

Thanks to Lisa Yee for the link.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Catch a Falling Leaf

In which I do not present a video Little People-u-mentary of Fahrenheit 451 because I did the below instead. It's coming, I promise.

You may remember I have a little bit of anxiety about the approaching Michigan winter. Today I realized why it's so bad this year: fall can't be fall until I catch a leaf.


Have you ever tried to catch a falling leaf? One that's come off the tree and danced on the wind? No?

Go try it. It's the most fun you can have in fall.

The best thing to do is to find a giant tree. An oak will do. You need a windy day and some friends. Twenty-five first graders will do. Stand under the tree and wait for leaves to make the leap off their branches. Pick your leaf as it falls and try to catch it before it hits the ground.

It is much harder than it sounds. The leaves dip and get carried off. You chase them in circles. looking up, hands out and mouth hanging open. You crash into friends and fall into the mud. Your hair blows into your mouth. And the feeling of satisfaction when you get one is delicious.

I went for a run today and the oak leaves were flying. I saw the one I wanted, reached out, and caught it without breaking stride. A teenage girl was running by in the other direction.

"Sweet grab," she said, and I beamed. When I turned back, she was trying to catch one as she ran.

When you find your leaf, bring it inside and put it somewhere safe, where you can glimpse it while you go about your business. It will bring you luck, someone told me, and a reminder that the seasons keep changing and all the whining in the world can't stop them. And that's okay.

Winter is coming and we'll be locked inside soon enough. Today, go catch a falling leaf.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Mission: Write Me This Book

Which you should read while humming "Secret Agent Man" to yourself.

Welcome to this week's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM).

From Reuters:

Official fined for leaving secret files on train


A
senior civil servant who left secret intelligence files relating to Iraq and al Qaeda on a train was fined 2,500 pounds on Tuesday.

Apparently, 37 year-old Richard Jackson* claims to have "inadvertently" taken home two files and "mislaid" them on the train from London Waterloo to Surrey.

In other news, Richard Jackson has a bridge to sell us.

I mean come ON. One of the files was labeled "Top Secret." They were found when they were sent to the BBC. And we're supposed to believe there's no other story here.

There is another story here and you are going to write it.

First, you're the kids who get onto a train from London Waterloo to Surrey and find the files. You've intercepted a drop, the final delivery of information after weeks of espionage between Richard Jackson and Insert Country Here. Now, you're caught in the middle and you're not sure your own countrymen are the good guys.

I want action action action, but it needs more. Why should we care? Maybe Richard Jackson is your uncle, or your father, and you have to choose between not wanting to destroy him and doing the right thing. Plus, your family is broke and could really use the money one side is offering for the information, if you can trust them. Oh! The files contain information about something that's going to happen, something big, that you have to try to stop. But you're no hero. You're just trying to stay invisible long enough to pass fifth grade and to live down the embarrassment of having to be carted out of the fifth grade sex ed movie because you gasped and choked on your chewing gum.

Oh, and you hate the other kid who found the files with you. You were only on the train together because you're mother insisted you be nice to him because he's new. But he's younger and louder and maybe you don't trust him, don't like him. And he's got an impossibly annoying habit of leaning forward and poking your chest when he makes a point. Not a kid you'd ever hang out with in real life, but now you're irrevocably linked to and reliant on one another.

I want Mission: Impossible but with a reluctant ten year-old Tom Cruise and Superfudge as a side kick.

And the title is, um, up to you. Some spy novel pun on trains and files.

Who will write me this book?




* Presumably not MY Richard Jackson, the amazing editor formerly at Atheneum who discovered yours truly and published The New Girl...And Me.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

You Know That Feeling

Regardless of how you voted or how you feel about the outcome, today you have to find yourself thinking, "This is important." I'm a little speechless* and exhausted, and I know others who specialize in such things will blog about last night far more eloquently than I can. So I'm going to stick to what I know, writing, though I get back to history eventually.

I used to direct plays, in high school and college and just after. One technique actors sometimes use is an emotion memory exercise, where, in order to put themselves into the shoes of a character experiencing a certain emotion, they remember a time when they themselves felt that emotion, and try to recall all the sensations associated with it. The joke is that any time anything happens to an actor, it's material. So when your actor friend gets dumped and he's miserable, you tell him, "Use it."

You can see the connection with writing.

Today I am wondering how I would write this feeling. You know that feeling? When you're shocked out of your everyday existence and you feel un-ignorably part of history. You come out from behind your sinking into the sofa with your laptop self and find yourself part of the world. There's a physical sensation: faster pulse, quicker reflexes, you're quick to tears or to giggle. There's frustration with people who don't understand,** with having to eat or drive to work or make lunch. How can I have to pick up the dry cleaning when All This is going on? All you want to do is talk about it, process it, celebrate it, in part because you're shocked there's not more to it. Why does life seem so much the same, when Something Bigger is afoot?

I can't write it. I can't even think of the word I want. It's not quite "shocked" or "important" or "overwhelmed." We may need to invent a new word. Can you help?


* And by "speechless," I obviously mean "able to blather at length."
** Who, say, upon hearing about the historic moment in which she is living, ask, "Is that whole English muffin for me or do I have to share?" She came around later, after some calories. No use trying to explain anything to an empty stomach in my house.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The best part...

...of writing is that sometimes you start and it stinks. It stinks and it stinks and you keep writing it even though the whole time instead of the voice of the story, all you can hear in your head is the voice of reality saying how much it stinks.

And say you HAVE to keep writing, like you've blabbed your big fat mouth all over the wide world of the world wide web that you're not only going to write this book, but it's going to be 50,000 words and you're going to write it in a month. And say you've even bragged about how much fun it is going to be to write this book that has, so far, no plot, no beginning middle or end, and only the hint of an idea and the vaguest sense of who the main character is.

You keep writing until you just can't take it and it is absolutely no. fun. at. all. You write 2,000 words, if you can even call this drivel "words" or "writing" and you couldn't care less if they get saved or tossed into the abyss.

So you trash them. And you start over with absolutely nothing, not even that vague notion of a character or the hint of idea. You start with "Once upon a time," because you have no idea what else to say.

And when you get to the word "time," you keep typing and typing and the words fly off your fingers and you don't have to think about them at all because it's like you're channeling from some invisible and extremely generous ghost whom you also find hilarious.

And when you have to stop, you are disoriented and wonder for a moment at finding yourself not in Principal Caukler's office with Ant and Devra but at your mom's house.

And before you have to go join real life, you look it over, just in case.

And it is so good it makes you smile and think that you can't wait to get back to it tomorrow.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

It Was a Dark and, um, er...

Aah. Peace and quiet. November 1st. Time to start NaNoWriMo. Yippee. This is going to be so. much. fun. I can't wait.

Wait, I need a sip of coffee. Blech. This needs microwaved. Watch it spin. Spin spin spin. Beep! Mmm. Coffee. Ow! Hot. Duh.

Sit down. Open up Word. Where's the flashdrive? Oh, it's already in. Good. Time to write.

Was this chair always this uncomfortable?! What the heck? How am I supposed to write anything in this? How can I CREATE GENIUS in a FOLDING CHAIR?!

Okay, okay, okay. Stop stalling. Save the file so it can autosave. What to call it? No title. Of course you have no title, you have no plot. Oh my god. I have NO PLOT. Calm down. No plot, no problem, right? Gulp. Here we go!

Save as (typing) nanowrimo2. Begin. No really. BEGIN, moron.

Type type type...

Insert Clever Title Here
by Jacqui Robbins
.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven words. 49,993 to go. Woo-hoo!

Type, type, type...

Insert gripping first sentence that will leave readers unable to put book down here.

backspace backspace backspace...

...unable to put THE book down.

Okay, how many is that?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween: a User's Manual

Step 1. Eat lots of this:








Step 2. Read this:

Boris and Bella,
by Carolyn Crimi,
illustrated by Gris Grimly









Step 3. Find some six year-olds to be around. Nobody else celebrates Halloween with the gusto of first graders.

Step 4. Well after dark, after most kids are in bed, go outside. Turn your outside lights off and stand in silence. If you live in the city, go to your basement or your apartment building furnace room. Go somewhere scary. Shut your eyes and tell yourself there's nothing out there.

You're wrong. There's something out there. Can't you almost hear it?

Shiver. Shudder. Feel the fear. Then turn and run as fast as you can back to your bed and hide your eyes under the covers and giggle.

Isn't it delicious?

Happy Halloween

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Will You Write Us All This Book?

I don't get political on this blog, not because I don't care, but because I have such strongly held views that it's hard for me to be mature about them. But for this week's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM), I have a request.

This coming Tuesday, go vote. Go vote before then, if you can. I don't care for whom, I just want you to do it. There will be long lines, maybe hours long, and bad weather and you don't have child care. I know you don't live in a swing state and you think your vote for President won't count. I know the government's corrupt and last election it seemed like entire boxes of votes went floating away on the Atlantic. I know you have deadlines and gas costs and a head cold and...

Vote anyway.

Wait, I'm not done. I don't just want you to vote. I want you to think about it. Most of us are pretty sure about our presidential choice. Think about it anyway. Make sure you are voting with your own mind and not the minds of your news anchor or your pastor or your friend who's a lawyer and seems to know a lot about these things. If you need help, try here or here or here or even here. Read about the issues that are important to you, and then choose based on knowledge and on what you really want, not on fear or on rumor.

And when you're done deciding who you want to be president, or if you just can't decide, well, who do you want to be your County Clerk? Honestly, our local elections probably far more directly impact our daily lives, and yet we know so much less about them. So find out. And choose wisely again.

Wait, there's more. Help someone else vote. Make sure your elderly neighbor has a ride. Offer to trade child care with a friend. Bring coffee and umbrellas to your polling station. Pass this post along, if you think it will convince someone.

And if the lines are long and the machines are confusing and you're not sure whether voting straight party ticket will nullify your vote for president* or whether you need a government issued photo ID** then do something. Talk to your local election board. Offer to hold someone's place in line. Educate the people around you. And vote anyway.

Imagine that on Tuesday, we live in a country where almost all of us think carefully and hard about who we want making the decisions that will reverberate from our living rooms to the ozone layer. Imagine that for just a second, we forget about all the reasons we can't make a difference and everybody votes, like you dreamed it happened when you first learned about it, with everyone's heads down on the desks raising a hand in second grade and the teacher counting the votes and declaring the winner.

Will you please help me write this book?


* This has apparently been an issue in some states. To make sure all your votes count, don't vote "straight party ticket" or whatever it says; select each choice individually.
** You don't (in Michigan -- check your state's .gov site for more info). You will, if you don't have one, need to sign an affidavit stating that you are you.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I Got Plenty of Nothing

Remember when I tried to convince you to write a novel in a month? I talked about how fun it was, and how I was doing it, how all the cool kids were, how it would make you feel good?

So I sat down today to ask myself the kind of deep questions we writers ask ourselves before we begin our novels. Important questions the non-writers amongst us may not understand, like, "What the heck am I going to write about?"

And the answer that came to me, gift-wrapped and practically written already, was, um. Er. Maybe? Nah.

I got nothing. Nil. Zilch. Zippo. Boomslang.

I'm going in blind, people. I don't have a character, a setting, a plot, or a clue. I've toyed with my post-Olympic Athenian adventure, or the kid whose grandma's a serial killer, but basically I'm starting from scratch without a recipe.

The funny thing is this: I was going to write about how terrifying that is. But really, it's not. I'm thrilled. Imagine it: ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN. Makes me downright giddy.

So. Ideas?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Bottom of the Ninth

In which I explain why I love baseball, and why your writing should mimic it.

The Phillies played the Rays on Saturday night in Game 3 of the World Series. The score was tied until the bottom of the ninth, when Carlos Ruiz came up to bat. The bases were loaded. Now, Carlos Ruiz is not a great hitter. And he'd already hit one home run in the game, so odds were he was done. Carlos Ruiz is also slow. He's so slow that Tampa pulled one of their outfielders into the infield to keep him from getting a hit. This is like your older brother and his friends letting you play, but yelling, "Bring it in!" whenever you come up to bat. There were Rays players all over the place. So what were the chances of him hitting the ball and making it to first before being thrown out? Zero. He had no chance.

And get this: the reason the game is tied? Ruiz blew it with a throwing error earlier in the game. So he already feels bad.

Also, there was a ninety minute rain delay, so by the time Ruiz gets up, it's almost 2:00am. Everyone's exhausted. And soggy. And they have to play again Sunday.

The pitch comes and Ruiz makes contact. He hits this bouncing, slow-motion dribble down the third base line. Evan Longoria, the Rays' third baseman*, charges the ball. The guy on third is sprinting for home. Carlos Ruiz is chugging to first. Longoria fires the ball towards home.

And 46,000 fans scream. 46,000 fans who sat through rain and delays and a bad call by the umpire and their team blowing the lead, and they're all still there. Philadelphia hasn't won a sports championship of any kind in 25 years, but there they all are, screaming.

Because in baseball, there is always a chance. You can't leave. You can't turn off the TV and think, "They'll never come back." Because time can't run out and the team that's ahead can't kneel for three downs or play keep away around the court. They have to keep pitching the ball. So you just never know. You have to stay standing up and screaming.

Why am I telling you all of this? Two reasons:
1) I'm a baseball evangelist.
2) This is what I want you to no, seriously, just try this week. I want you to make your book like baseball. I want you to look at your story as a whole. I want you to print it out or lay it out on the computer so you can see every page. Now tell me: in which scenes are your readers going to be standing on their seats, praying and holding hands and screaming? In which scenes is Carlos Ruiz at bat and fans all over the world stop breathing? Circle those scenes in green, or decorate them with stars or do something to celebrate them.

Now, in which scenes are your readers going to sit down? When will they go get another hot dog? Cross those scenes out. Seriously. You want your readers refusing to pee because it would mean putting the book down. Don't give them a commercial break, and don't ask them to stick around for hours after your climax, watching your team run out the clock.

Sometimes we get so caught up in making sure our plots work, making sure our readers have the information they need, that we forget to leave them breathless. So this week, I challenge you to make sure every page of your book finds me tense with anticipation, and screaming on my seat because, like baseball, I just never know what. might. happen.

Oh, and I know. I didn't tell you what happened. You can read it here.

* no relation to Eva

Friday, October 24, 2008

From Alison to Zari

In which I reveal the depths of my childhood dorkiness.

Oh, the things I have found this week! My parents moved recently and sent me this:

17 boxes full of stuff from my childhood. The pile includes all my old books, every card anyone sent back RSVPing to my Bat Mitzvah, and a box I haven't opened yet which my sister has labeled "Jacqui: Toys From College."

Tonight I reached randomly into the first box and found treasure: my Names Notebook. For three years, I kept track of every single girl's name I could think of or came across. I wrote them all down in a black composition notebook, one letter of the alphabet per page, like this:

There are 568 names in here, starting with Alison, ending with Zari, and passing Efraziti (which I have to use in a book someday) and Moon Unit ("as in Zappa!!!" I wrote), though not including Tinkerbell or her actual name. The cool thing is that I'm not positive why I decided to keep the Names Notebook, but I have a hazy memory that it was so that I'd have names for characters someday, if I ever, gasp, got to be a real, live author.

Now, you may be thinking, "That's not so dorky." Just wait. Peruse briefly that first page where I have invented 45 punny names from "Idy Testchew" to "Bo Nannah." Now flip to the almost end of the notebook. No, not the last five pages, on which I seem to have written and solved long division problems involving fractions, apparently just for fun, which I then circled and numbered in order of difficulty. Go to the Z names, and then turn one further, which brings us to this:

Yup. That's a dated running record of how many names I'd collected, including a key to the symbols I used to codify the words by spelling, uniqueness, and gender ambiguity. It's updated almost every time I added a new name. Note my excitement at 500. Yup, that says, "Let's party!!" Twice.





Don't laugh. At least I know my dork cred is legit. What you got?

And if you need names for your NaNoWriMo characters, you know where to come...

EDITED TO ADD:
Concerned I might either out-dork him or run off with Cindy (see comments) The Mighty Thor (failed Eagle Scout) admits: "You know how Boy Scouts have merit badges? I was unhappy with the merit badges that existed, so I made up 50 of my own. I designed actual badges for them and painted them onto cardboard circles so I could display them. These extra badges included such achievements as "Illuminati" (for playing the board game Illuminati well), "Communist" (where you learned a lot about Karl Marx), and "Calculus" (self-explanatory).

Oh my. Do we deserve each other or what?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

We the People Hate on Texas

Welcome to this week's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM).

From UPI:

Nevada man's "micro-nation" bans Texas goods

"A man who declared his own nation in Nevada says his wife's recent move to Texas led him to ban all the state's products from "Molossia."

Kevin Baugh, 46, of the Dayton area, who 10 years ago declared himself ruler of his 1.3-acre micro-nation that also claims his two adult sons as citizens, said the defection of his soon-to-be ex-wife to Texas led him to outlaw all Texas-related items from the land under his rule, the Reno (Nev.) Gazette-Journal reported Monday."

Okay, first, this is the best post-break-up ex punishment I have ever heard. If the Mighty Thor ever leaves me, I am placing an embargo on all goods from his state.

Second, what if Mr. Baugh, or someone who did something similar, had another child besides the adult sons? What if he had a twelve year-old daughter who was just starting at her middle school? What if he made her sign up as a foreign exchange student?

I don't want angsty; I want a funny but touching middle grade novel, like Linda Urban's A Crooked Kind of Perfect. Don't make fun of the dad. Play with the possibilities for the kid. Imagine parent-teacher conferences. Imagine bringing a boy you like home to meet your dad/president of your sovereign nation within the state of Nevada. Imagine explaining to a friend's parent why you can't eat the Texas grapefruit she is offering.

Who will write me this book?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

How to Use Jacqui's Room

I'm still new enough to this bloggy business to be amazed when someone besides my mother visits Jacqui's Room. It charms me to no end when people I wouldn't expect* tell me they've been here. "You should comment!" I tell them.

Then the other day, I was talking with a friend and I mentioned Jacqui's Room. "You should come by," I told her.

"Oh, I've never been to a blog," she demurred. "I wouldn't know what to do."

I remember feeling like that. I remember someone inviting me to join a group blog, with a bunch of well-established bloggers. I started poking around others' blogs, never staying for more than three minutes because I was sure they could see me. I was positive everyone online knew each other and if I commented, the response would be, "Who is that?! Get out!" or that I would break some invisible blog rule, some unspoken (or spoken before I got there) online social code, and I would look like a major fool and they would all be able to see through my secret identity and know just who I was and they would laugh and laugh.

Basically, I thought the internet was like middle school.

Turns out, it's not. I can't SEE you, beyond your IP address, and trust me, it means nothing to me. I don't know both most of the people whose comments you see, beyond the fact that they visit here and leave comments and I go and check out what they have to say sometimes. And, nobody here is going to laugh if you comment; I'm so happy whenever anyone does all I can do is beam thanks. So it IS kind of like middle school, I guess, only you found the kind of dorky, secretly coolest crowd.

I told my friend all this and she didn't believe me. So I thought I should make it easy for her. Thus, I bring you:

The Jacqui's Room Manual: Instructions For Daily Use

1. Type "www.jacquirobbins.blogspot.com" into the little rectangle at the top of your screen.

2. Read today's post. Laugh, ponder, or weep salty tears of exhilaration, as appropriate.

3. Decide to throw me a bone respond. Click on "Post a Comment" at the end of the post. A new window will open up. Do not be afraid. Peruse the hilarity others have left. Don't be intimidated. Type your comment into the big box. Might I suggest, "Dang, woman! You are the funniest person ever!" or "Thank you, thank you, for changing my life so drastically for the better with this simple idea!" Other readers also seem to enjoy telling me what foodstuffs they spat out upon reading my work. When it doubt, you can always say, "I wuz here."

4. At this point, the computer will ask you to type some letters as you see them. This is to make sure you are not a robot. If you ARE a robot, email me and we'll arrange something.

5. Now it gets tricky. Remain calm. The directions ask you to "Choose an identity." If you aren't sure, click on "Anonymous." That way you can be, well, anonymous. If you want me to know it's you, sign your comment (back up in the box) as in, "Holy cow! I can't stop laughing! Love, Your old piano teacher."

6. You can preview your comment by clicking "Preview." Or you can click "Publish." Go ahead. Take a deep breath and do it. Click!

7. Oh my God!!! Your comment didn't appear!!! Where did it go?! Do not panic. I must approve all comments before they appear. If yours doesn't have bad words in it, or try to sell me something, it will undoubtedly pass and should be up soon, as I check for comments several times each minute throughout the day.

8. Sit back and say goodbye to your productivity. Then email everyone you know and tell them what fun you had in Jacqui's Room. I mean it. Go tell them.


* the dad of my best friend from high school, my son's day care teacher , my cousin -- hi guys!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Flashback: 1977

In which I invite you to embarrass yourselves.

Okay, this is just fun. Jay Asher, author of 13 Reasons Why, posted his senior pictures this week and challenged other young adult authors to do the same (thanks to the formerly-very-big-haired Fuse #8 for the link).


I have a pile of ten boxes in my living room. My senior picture is buried in one of them. So, here I am, at age 5-6, when I might have been enjoying picture books like the ones I write now. I'm on the right, in the fashionable short-sleeved cable knit sweater and green turtleneck. The dazed-looking toddler is my sister, whom you'll meet in a later post. Check out our sweet color block shag rug!

So, now I want to see all of you, when you were the age of your readers. Who's brave enough?