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...

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 "" 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?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Seven Reasons WhyMo

In today's No, Seriously. Just Try It I encourage you to make your families hate me even more than they did when I convinced you to spend all summer inside reading.

Why try NaNoWriMo?*

1. Because practice makes perfect and even if nobody ever sees a word of what you write, you'll have learned something.

2. Because you're like me and you do your best writing when you trick your Inner Editor into shutting down because you're "just messing around."

3. Because even if you're not a writer you always wanted to write a novel and you know deep down it's never going to happen unless you do it fast.

4. Because you can be my writing "buddy."

5. Because "I must finish my novel!" is a great way to get out of Thanksgiving dinner clean up.

6. Because there are absolutely zero consequences for signing up and failing to finish.

7. Because it's so much fun.

No, seriously. Just try it. Who's in?

* National Novel Writing Month. NOT just for professional writers. Click for more info.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fairies Live in There

"Fairies live in there," Tink whispered when she saw our backyard this morning.

And for just a minute, I forgot to be a grumpy grown-up and think, "And weeds, and mosquitoes, and I think a skunk" and I could see the fairies. Can't you?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Writing Like Butter, Part One

In which I tackle lumps in your writing porridge.

It's like Hanukkah early in my house. I'm about to finish the book I'm reading (more on that later), and was wandering the bookshelves, wondering what I should read next. There, tucked away with old baby books and my Japanese text from first year of college, was Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose. Which I have never read, and which I had totally forgotten The Mighty Thor and I had bought ourselves cheap at a local indie one day.

I love Wallace Stegner. Crossing to Safety is on my top ten novels list.* So I grabbed Angle of Repose and fondled it like the last piece of candy in a plastic pumpkin months after Halloween but well before Valentine's Day.**

"Yum," I thought, reading the first paragraph. "Smooth."

"Smooth" is a word more used for brandy and pick-up lines than writing. But it's what I'm thinking about today.

I want my writing to be smooth. I want it to go down so smooth the reader forgets he's reading. I want him so into the story and the character that years later he'll start to relate something he thinks happened to him and only halfway through the story say, "Wait, that was a book."

I do not want my reader to be interrupted by lumps in my writing porridge. You know the lumps. The ones where, in the middle of losing yourself in literary deliciousness, you stumble, and look up, and say, "What?!" and remember that someone sat in a chair in some Starbucks and made up everything you've been taking so seriously.

Today, the lump on which I'm choking is the unnecessary or ridiculous metaphor. An okay metaphor makes the reader say, "Yes! I never realized the connection there. I understand perfectly." A great metaphor slides along with the rest of the story into the reader's subconscious where it deepens his understanding or makes him smile or reflects the main character's take on the world around him, all without the reader really noticing.

A bad metaphor makes my reader say, "Huh?" and look up and realize, yeah, maybe he should mow the lawn after all.

This week, the New York Times ran an article on an infection that's defying antibiotics in kids. It's a pneumoccal infection, the article told us in pretty scientific language, of which there are many kinds. Researchers are hoping to find a common link between the pneumococci, "in the way a quiche, an omelet and a custard pie are all versions of eggs."

What?! I don't even get the metaphor. A quiche is a "version" of an egg? Like Quiche = Egg 2.0?

Two other examples I read recently (quoted with permission):

"Her head hung low like a sock with a tennis ball inside." Huh? Her neck was stretched three feet and made of wool?

"He stumbled, flipping like a dead leaf dancing down the street in the autumn wind." Okay, I made that one up to make a point. Dead leaf dancing = nice visual image, though overused. Doesn't fit a guy falling at all. Also, if your metaphor takes longer than what it's supposed to be illuminating to read, something's wrong.

My advice? Cut them all. All your metaphors. Put back in the ones whose absence seriously diminishes the voice, or without which the visual image is not as clear. Oh, and same goes for similes, okay?

Now, go write like butter.

Stay tuned, soon, for more lumps. In the meantime, if you want to read more fabulously bad metaphors, click here.

* Along with about 19 other novels.
** Yes, I know that's a terrible metaphor. Keep reading.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Lumpy the Turtle and the Golden Spurtle

This week's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM) means no offense to lovers of porridge.

From the Golden Spurtle press release:

"Porridge enthusiast, Ian Bishop beat off tough competition to take the title of World Porridge Making Champion 2008 as expert porridge makers from far and wide gathered in the Scottish Highland village of Carrbridge on Sunday to compete for the coveted Golden Spurtle* Trophy."

Apparently, Mr. Bishop, who finally won after 15 years of trying, attributed his victory to his secret ingredient: "the water he uses which comes from a bore hole tapped 100 feet down into an underground river."

River water? Not a magic pot?

Do you think the judges go down the line of porridge bowls tasting and muttering, "too hot" or "too cold" until they find the winner that is "just right?"

Has the contest ever been interrupted by guys in bear suits running through screaming, "Mine! Mine!"? Because that's what I would do. And then I'd get beat up by porridge enthusiasts. And next year's "specialty" category champion would be Porridge Con Guts de Jacqui.

Okay, I know there's a great way to make this a picture book, but I need help.

One idea: Lumpy the Turtle is living a normal turtle life until a porridge enthusiast begins draining Lumpy's home for his "secret ingredient." Curious, Lumpy tries the porridge and falls in love. Now Lumpy devours porridge. More, he makes the best porridge in the world. But the Golden Spurtle competition is only open to humans. How can Lumpy convince everyone his porridge deserves to compete and to win the grand prize, a t-shirt that proudly reads "Porridge: Thicker Than Gruel"?**
I want Lisa Campbell Ernst's fabulous Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt. But with a turtle and porridge instead of gender bias and quilting.

Meh. I know you can think of something better. Lumpy need not appear. I just find porridge hilarious. Will someone please write me this book?

* A spurtle is a utensil for stirring porridge. Not what comes out when the water fountain is broken. Or a Spanish turtle.
** Oh, how I would love to spend the rest of the day coming up with advertising slogans for porridge:
"Keep some porridge in your storage."
"Don't forage. Eat porridge!"
"Porridge, because look what comes with curds and whey."
"Featuring Mama Bear's Po-riginal recipe!"

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Monkey Me!

A Respect the Mighty Picture Book feature aimed at the two and under crowd.

In Captain Destructo, jealous of the attention his sister and father have received lately, tells you about his three favorite picture books.*

1. Monkey Me!
(Monkey and Me, by Emily Gravett)

Bat! Kang'roo! Effant! MONKEY! No, mo' monkey page. Mo' monkeys! MO' MONKEYS! Heh heh. Monkeys. Heh heh. Yogurt. Again.**

2. Tuck Go Bumpa!
(A Truck Goes Rattley-Bumpa, by Jonathan London, illus. Denis Roche)***

Bumpa! Bumpa! Tuck go bumpa!

(the first morning after we return the book to the library): "Bumpa? Where go Bumpa?!" (throws every book out of book box) BUMPA! (screamed not unlike Brando screamed "Stella!")

"Honey, we returned it to the library so other babies could read it."

"Baby? Bumpa. Sigh."

(every morning since then): "Bumpa? Baby all done? Bumpa? Ovver baby done! All done! BUMPA!" (tears and stomping ensue)

3. Guh Guh Guh-Guh
(Goodnight Gorilla, by Peggy Rathmann)
Monkey open door! Li-yuh out! Effant out! Go to house! Wake up wake up wake up wake up wake up! Back to zoo you.

"Say thank you, Destructo."

"Tank-ooh! B'bye!"

* And you know I wouldn't let him blog about them if I didn't love them too.
** For an actual summary, click on the link and listen to Emily Gravett herself talk about the book.
** Also reviewed by Destructo at Goodreads

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sonnet #116: Ode to the Mighty Thor

In which I confess to The Mighty Thor, who loves me anyway. There should be a line in there about spending all my time blogging, but Shakespeare failed to anticipate the need for that in our time.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it dirty laundry finds,
Or when it notes dustbusters filled with goo.
Oh, no! It is an ever-fixèd mark*
That looks on tantrums and is never shaken;
Through waist-high grass it mows well after dark,
Though at 5:30,** both the kids awaken.
Our diapers, pipes, and shingles all have leaks,
Which in inspector’s searches did not rise;
The boxes will be closed and packed for weeks,
But bear with me, e’en as I do revise.
I swore I’d work, but must confess, my One:
I never writ, nor errands did I run.

* Not unlike the ever-fixèd mark shoes make on walls when hucked them in frustration
** That’s a.m., people.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Why Fight the Evil Grobs?

In which I ask you to forget you like your main character and really stick it to him.

Today's episode of No, Seriously. Just Try It was sparked by a conversation on the playground.*

Everything in this conversation was screamed at full blast.

MRS. TUTTLEBUM:** (sitting on bench at outskirts of playground) Joey!
JOEY: (running across playground away from said bench) What?
MRS. T***: Joey!
JOEY: What?
MRS. T: Aren't you cold?
JOEY: What?
MRS. T: Do you want your coat?
JOEY: What?
MRS. T: Your coat. Do you want it?
JOEY: What?
MRS. T: (sigh) Never mind.
JOEY: (running to his mom) What?
MRS. T: It doesn't matter.
JOEY: (reaching his mom, panting) What?
MRS. T: Never mind. It doesn't matter.
JOEY: Then why were you screaming?!

Indeed. If it wasn't that important, why go through all the trouble?

We all know good characters have to want something. They have to be motivated. And any good pre-writing exercise has "What does your character want?" as one of the first questions. Today, I want to talk about WHY your character wants it.

"My character wants to be prom queen." "My character wants to have freckles." "My character wants to find the one true Stunstone that can defeat the evil Grobs."

Why? Well, who wouldn't want to be prom queen or have freckles or defeat evil Grobs? But is that enough?

The question for you today is this: how can you make the motivation even more important to your character?

Answer me these questions (no reading ahead before answering, okay?):

1. What does your main character want?

2. Why does she want that?

3. So what? What could make her want it even more? List three ideas.

4. Nah. I still don't care. What could make her want it even more than that? List three more ideas.

5. I know. You're out of ideas and into "I'd never really write it like this" territory. But I still don't care. What's the one giant thing that could make getting what she wants the absolute most important thing in the world, more important than anything else she's ever wanted, even oxygen?

6. Okay, now go write it like that. No, seriously. Just try it.

In case that makes no sense, here are sample answers:

1. What does your main character want?
She wants to defeat the evil Grobs.

2. Why does she want that?
Because they're enslaving her people.

3. So what? What could make her want it even more? List three ideas.
She has something she has to do that she can't do from their prison

4. Nah. I still don't care. What could make her want it even more than that? List three more ideas.
The something she has to do is go back and rescue somebody. Her younger sister. Who's happily waiting for her in their hiding place, expecting her to come back with dinner.

5. I know. You're out of ideas and into "I'd never really write it like this" territory. But I still don't care. What's the one giant thing that could make getting what she wants the absolute most important thing in the world, more important than anything else she's ever wanted, even oxygen?
Her sister will starve without her. Her sister has no idea the Grobs are advancing on the hiding place. Oh! Her sister wears the Stunstone around her neck; the Grobs will try to steal it, which will rip her chest open, exposing her entrails, which the Grobs find delicious. Her sister will die a gruesome death thinking all along that my character's abandoned her.

Oh, wait. That's The English Patient. Sort of. You get the idea. Now, go and write.

* and adapted from an exercise in D. Maass's revision workbook Writing the Breakout Novel, and lots of other places.
** Names have been changed to keep parents at my playground from knowing I eavesdrop on them constantly protect the innocent
*** Anyone else picturing Mr. T in drag? No? Oh. As you were, then.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Liar, Liar

In which I rant.

"Hello!" said the dental assistant this morning when Tink and I walked in. "Are you ready to come back and play with me?"

Tink looked at me, one eyebrow raised. It's been a year since her last visit to the dentist and I'd prepped her on what might happen. Playing wasn't part of it.

"C'mon," the dental assistant called as she walked down the hall. "This is going to be so much fun."

"No, it's not," I thought. "It's a trip to the dentist. It's going to be dull at best, painful and terrifying at worst."

Tink grabbed my hand when we got into the room. "What is all that stuff?" she whispered.

"That's the equipment the dentist will use to check your teeth," I said, pulling up a chair so I could sit right next to her.

"This is weird," Tink said to the dental assistant.

"You're doing great, honey," the dental assistant said. "See? Being at the dentist is fun."

I am proud to report that neither Tink nor I strangled anyone at the dentist's this morning. Now, I know the dental assistant was trying to allay Tink's fears. I don't blame her; I know there are kids for whom the super positive attitude helps.

But Tink is not one of them. And I don't believe in lying to kids. Particularly not in the face of something that might be painful. How many of you believe it when you hear "This won't hurt a bit" from a doctor?

Which brings us to today's writing rant: lying.

When I was little, "liar" was a bad word in our house. I remember someone explaining to me that lying to a friend showed a lack of respect for her, as if she didn't deserve the truth, or couldn't handle it.* and **

Children are people. And as such they are deserving of our respect and honesty. And if you think they can't handle the truth of what you're writing, you shouldn't be writing it for them.

Jacqui's Four Most Despised Ways Books Lie to Kids

1. Portraying making friends as easy. If you smile wide enough, you'll meet someone the first day. Making friends is NOT easy. For anyone, child or adult. The playground in second grade can be a brutal place and it's totally reasonable to be anxious about it. Stop writing stories where everybody loves everybody by the end.

2. Non-scientific explanations for scientific and natural phenomena. I'm not talking about folktales that explain how zebras got their stripes, which I think kids recognize as folktales. I'm talking about outright not being able to explain the science clearly and fudging it or going with a "thunder is caused by God moving his furniture" theory. There's enough scientific misinformation out there, and kids will remember the science in your story as fact. So make sure it's true and clear.

3. Unresearched historical fiction or unresearched settings. I know some people will disagree with me on this. I feel that if you're going to use a setting, historical or otherwise, that you are inherently telling people that you know something about that setting. Kids learn from stories. If you set your book in 1347 in a rural village in China, I'm going to assume that in reading it, I will learn something true about life in a rural village in China. Make sure what I learn is true.

4. Life is 100% sunny. This is a big one. Picture books in particular are guilty of it. Adults forget entirely how scary, confusing, and big the world seems when you're young. Or, like the dental assistant, they think if they ignore the bad feelings, they'll go away. They won't go away, any more than a trip to the dentist will be fun just because you say it is. And in ignoring them, we're just sending kids the message that either we have no idea what's going on with them or we think it's unimportant or unacceptable.

"Okay! You're all done! Great job!" the dental assistant said when Tink was finished.

"I'm going to be tardy," Tink announced.

"But when you walk in, everyone is going to notice how white and shiny your teeth are."

Tink looked at me. I shrugged. We made her next appointment and walked out. I congratulated her on having no cavities and on being a big girl during the appointment.

"That was not fun," Tink said.

"No, I'd imagine not," I said.

"I hate the dentist," she said.

"Most people do," I said.

I'd like to say that Tink said something hilarious and yet poignant here. But that would be a lie...

* Go ahead, say it, Jack Nicholson fans. You know you want to.
** This, by the way, relates to politics, which I usually don't touch here. When politicians lie (or dumb-down the truth or skirt the question), I think it represents the same thing: a lack of respect for me as a voter, or distrust of my ability to understand the truth. And if he/she doesn't respect me, how can I trust him/her to lead with my best interests in mind?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A List For Fall

Reasons Not to Sink Into Deep Depression That Summer is Over and It's 40 Degrees Outside:

1. butternut squash soup
2. Halloween candy
3. apple picking
4. Huh. Oh! Tink looks really cute in footie pajamas.
5. Um. Um. Wow. Hmm.

Nothing. I got nothing else. And this list is not going to stand a chance against a list that includes the likes of:

1. Have no idea where winter clothes, gloves, boots, scarves, etc. are; locating them will require major overhaul of basement "organization" system
2. Kids already complaining about winter wear, throwing tantrums over coats, losing mittens...
3. Skin on hands flaking off. Also, throat sore with beginning of what will surely be cold that lasts until May
4. Baseball season ending. Baseball play-offs on too late at night for me to stay awake. No teams I like left anyway.
5. Forgot to demolish kids' dancing plastic ghost that sings chorus of "I Want Candy" all October long

As Toad* says when Frog tries to wake him up to enjoy winter, "Blah."

What's on your list?

* Toad is my idol when it comes to handling the seasons. In fact the Frog and Toad books are some of my favorites. Hilarious, even on the 100th reading.

Monday, October 6, 2008

You Can't Go Wrong With Dripping Letters

Today's episode of No, Seriously. Just Try It. is brought to you by The Mighty Thor who reports, "Lately, I am thinking about book covers."*

I worked at a bookstore for five years. I shelved hundreds of books for kids and adults. I know about book jacket marketing and book jacket dynamics. I know that, as The Mighty Thor said just now, "the cover doesn't even have to represent what's in the book; if it's a cool cover, people will buy it." Despite all this, I am still a sucker for a good book cover.

For today, though, I want you to forget that book jackets are marketing devices. I want you to think of your cover as one visual image encapsulating your whole book. It needs to convey the title, the mood you want to set, the one mental picture you want people to have as they start reading, and maybe a snapshot of your setting -- all in one image.

With that in mind, design your book cover. No, seriously. Just try it. I don't care if you can't draw. Lay it out. What goes where? Cut things out of magazines if you have to. Steal pictures of kids off other people's blogs.** What is your title? What font will it be in? What scene is so pivotal it can represent the whole book?

The hope, of course, is that having to answer these questions will crystallize what's important to you in your book. Also, if the cover's done, it'll be just like the book is already written, right?

The Mighty Thor did have some suggestions:
1. Dust sprinkled across the background (think Philip Pullman).
2. Killer zombies killing someone.
3. Cave trolls. In fact, Thor has announced that he's going to write a book and the whole thing is going to be an ode to cave trolls.
4. "You can't go wrong with dripping letters."
5. He will under no circumstances buy your book if the cover features stills of the actors in the film version.

So, with all that in mind, what does your cover look like?

* These are the kind of conversations we have all the time in our house.
** Not really, okay?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Look under there!*

In which I discuss underwear.

You thought Banned Books Week was over, but no! We have one more thing to do, and that thing is (drum roll)


Because what's not funny about underwear? Nothing, that's what.

This week, I read Tink Dav's Pilkey's masterpiece Captain Underpants, the king of all underwear books...

JACQUI: This is another one of those books people don't want you to read.
TINK: Why? (truly baffled, probably because there's no gay marriage in it)
JACQUI: Well, Tink, it's because this book talks about...underwear.
TINK: (giggle giggle giggle) No, really!
JACQUI: No, really, that's it.
TINK: Okay, that is dumb. Those people are dumb. I'll tell you what book they should not want me to read. They should not want me to read Tarantulas Have Long Legs.** We read that book in reading group and everybody is going to have nightmares. Those people do not want me to know about underpants?
JACQUI: I dunno, Tink. Shall we read?
TINK: Tra la la!

And what a great book it is. Hilarious. Definitely my fourth favorite book about underwear.

Do I have you curious? Have no fear! Right now, in honor of underwear, and as one final "take that!" to the book banners, I bring you Jacqui's Room's top three books involving UNDERWEAR (in no particular order)...

Underwear Do's and Don'ts (by Todd Parr)
"Do go shopping for underwear with a hippo. Don't let her try it on." Nuff said.

Underwear! (by Mary Elise Monsell, illus. Lynn Munsinger)
Bismark the Buffalo is grumpy. Nothing will cheer him up, except the one thing nobody can frown through: saying "underwear" ten times in a row. Try it. If you're six (at heart or for real), it's impossible to stay straight-faced. Plus, the animals in underwear illustrations are awesome.

Sad Underwear (by Judith Viorst, illus. Richard Hull)

"Knock, knock.
Who's there?
Someone with sad underwear.
Sad underwear? How can that be?
When my best friend's mad at me,
Everything is sad.
Even my underwear."

And other fabulousness from the most true-to-kids author out there.

And now, as an extra special underwear day bonus treat, here are four things that rhyme with underwear:
Wonderbear (orsine superhero)
Plunder/share (the age old unattended Halloween candy bag dilemma)
Funder care (kissing up to your donors)
Shunned her hair (what Rapunzel's prince did after she dumped him)

Did I miss any?

* Did you think it?! Did you think "Under where?" Please tell me you did.
I looked. I can't find it anywhere.
By the way, the underwear above is an image from Bloomers 4U, where you can also buy "hip capri bloomers." I'm not sure "hip" and "bloomers" belong together...

Friday, October 3, 2008

Uncle Bobby's Wedding

It's still Friday, right? Welcome to the final installment of Elise's Banned Book Challenge, in which

Jacqui Reads Her Children Books That Other People Think Are Bad For Them*

Week #6:
Uncle Bobby's Wedding
by Sarah Brannen

When Chloe's Uncle Bobby announces he's getting married, Chloe worries she'll be replaced in her favorite uncle's heart.

Thoughts: I love this book. It's a sweet story, with realistic kid emotions, adorable illustrations, and a palpable absence of schlock.

I asked Tink to review it.

TINK: OOOOOOHHHHH! Chloe is so CUTE! Mee mee mee mee! (Mee mee" being the noise impossibly cute guinea pig babies make, I guess.)
JACQUI: Can you guess why people don't want you to read this book?
TINK: Yeah yeah yeah. Whatever. Can we read it again?

In case you can't tell from the cover, the reason it's been challenged is that, by the way, Uncle Bobby is marrying another male guinea pig. The book's been cited as "about gay marriage," which fascinates me, because it's not. It's about jealousy and change and the very real kid fear of losing adults' love. The character just happens to be gay.

Which is really the best part. My favorite "issue" books are those where the issue isn't an issue. Sometimes I think we put ideas into kids' heads even as we're trying to teach them tolerance. It wasn't until I read Garth Williams' The Rabbits' Wedding (and talked about how dumb it was when people complained that one rabbit was white and the other was black) that Tink ever mentioned the different races of her friends' parents. The best books, for my part, are the "just happens to be" books, those which normalize what the author is trying to normalize by not making it an issue.

I was talking about this yesterday vis-a-vis children with disabilities. It's hard to find good books with disabled main characters where the book isn't all about the disability. Ditto adoption. And a variety of other topics.

So, I ask you: what are some of your favorite "just happens to" books?

* For explanation, see here.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Am I Not the Only One, Then?

It's still Thursday, right? Phew.

Sometimes the Thursday News of the Absurd amuses me. Today, I am fascinated. I apologize for quoting straight from Gopal Sharma's article; there's just so much there to ponder.

From Reuters:

Move over priests - Nepal state names "living goddess"

Nepal's new Maoist-led government has appointed a 6-year-old girl as a "living goddess" in the ancient city of Bhaktapur, for the first time snapping the link between the ancient ritual and the ousted monarchy.

For centuries, the head priest of the Nepali monarchy appointed the "Kumaris" in several towns in the Kathmandu valley. But with the abolition of the monarchy in May, that position has also disappeared.

Instead, officials at the state-run Trust Corporation overseeing cultural affairs appointed Shreeya Bajracharya as the new Kumari of the temple-town of Bhaktapur near Kathmandu, Deepak Bahadur Pandey, a senior official of the agency said.

Shreeya was enthroned on Sunday amid prayers by Buddhist priests and will be worshipped by devout Hindus and Buddhists until reaching puberty...

There are going to be so many great layers to this middle-grade novel (when you all stop screwing around on the internet and write it for me)!

1. She's six and has been declared her a living goddess that others should worship. How does this feel?! Or, more interestingly, how does it feel for her thirteen year-old sister, from whose point of view I want the book? According to the article, Shreeya will be worshipped until she hits puberty. I want her sister already there and for those issues to color her view of the story.

2. I don't want the spiritual aspect of this cheapened. I want the girls to both truly believe in Shreeya's new role. Imagine the pressure! Imagine the conflict in the sister, who must be so proud and get so many benefits from this, but also so envious and so tired of picking up after "The Goddess" (as she bitterly calls her under her breath).

3. It's the first time she wasn't monarchy-appointed. How does this work? Do people trust the government's choice? Is there another, more deserving girl whom people were expecting to be chosen? No! The other girl's NOT more deserving; she's just better at acting like she is. Really, she kicks Shreeya all the time and sticks her tongue out when nobody's looking. Or is it Shreeya's best friend and now Shreeya feels unworthy and guilty?

4. Why did this Trust Corporation pick her? I want shady dealings* to add an action/adventure twist to the book. What do they want from her family? Who is this Deepak Bahadur Pandey?

5. Furthermore, according to the article, Shreeya's predecessor, Sajani Shakya, retired earlier this year under pressure after religious authorities criticized a trip she made to the U.S. to promote a British film about the Kumari system. She's definitely a character in the book. Is she jealous? Mad? Or after nine years was she tired of it? Or was she forced out for some other reason, maybe having to do with #4?

AND it all takes place in the four square mile ancient city of Bhaktapur (see stunning picture above).


* I invented this -- no evidence of shady dealings in the real story.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Maked! Me Maked!

In which I explain why that one last teeny tiny chapter is not yet written, but do not discuss writing at all.

In my efforts to preserve my free and nap time for writing, I will admit that I try to get many things done while pretending to play with Captain Destructo. The poor kid thinks visiting the meat counter at the grocery store is a play date.

He's outwitted me now though. He's figured out how to destroy diapers.

Every time I turn my back,* he strips, rips the tape right off the diaper (rendering it useless), kicks it off, and runs through the house screaming, "Maked! Me maked!" and cackling insanely. He is not potty-trained. I have no choice but to chase him, which delights him no end. Then, when I go to grab a new diaper, he takes off again, reaches onto the countertop and swipes anything he can reach to the floor (today's count: two tomatoes, one paring knife, a pot full of water, and my orange juice). We wrestle. I win, because I am not afraid to throw a leg over him, carefully pinning him to the ground while I re-diaper him.

"No naked," I tell him.

"No maked," he says contritely. "Socks off?"

"Yes, you may take your socks off."

I return to my task. Fifteen second pass and I hear, "Socks off. Giggle, giggle, giggle, SSQQUUIT.** Patter patter patter. Me maked!"

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

I fear the only possible end to this madness is that I lose it entirely and join him.

* And by "turn my back" I mean cast my eyes aside from him for two seconds; it's not like I ever leave him alone.
** Yes, that is the sound diaper tape makes when ripping off.