Sunday, November 30, 2008


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,
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.


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?


MUNCHIE: Can you please check?

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


JACQUI: Is Steve there?


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

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


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


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


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

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


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: 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


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

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?