Friday, January 30, 2009

Breakfast with me

Whee! I'm bumping Friday bits so y'all can go over to Creative Construction, where the featured breakfast guest this morning is the fabulous ME!

Come by and get breakfast and say hi!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Why not a cheetah?

In which I am left uncharacteristically speechless.

Sometimes I struggle to find the story in the Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM). And then some weeks, it falls into my lap fully formed and all I can do is stare and say, "Wow."

From YahooNews and the AP:

Newspaper claims suspect transformed into a goat

One of Nigeria's biggest daily newspapers reported that police implicated a goat in an attempted automobile theft. In a front-page article on Friday, the Vanguard newspaper said that two men tried to steal a Mazda car two days earlier in Kwara State, with one suspect transforming himself into a goat as vigilantes cornered him.

All that work to transmogrify and caught anyway. Man, that's rough. My only question is: why a goat?! Why not something with a fighting chance of running away?! And is he gonna get made fun of next week at black magic burglar school or what?

We've discussed goats in handcuffs before, but never shapeshifting ones. Do you think this might explain Elise's problem?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hiding in the Basement on a Snowy Afternoon

with apologies to Robert Frost

Whose boots these are I think I know.
His socks are in the basement, though,
So I am searching for them here
Beneath the house, where fungi grow.

My toddler son must think it queer
When Mama says, “Be right back dear,”
I hear him struggle to unzip
The moment that I disappear.

He rips off hat and gloves and coat,
Unties the scarf from round his throat,
He throws his sweater on the heap
And dumps out all my diaper tote.

The cellar’s lovely, dark and deep.
But I have snotty drip to sweep,
A naked boy to catch and keep,
And hours to go before I sleep.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What Husbands Are Good For*

In which I wish The Mighty Thor were not in Vegas this week working.

What Husbands Are Good For

Part One: They take up space in the bed, so you don't have to have conversations like this:

2:45 am
Tinkerbell pads softly into my room.

TINK: Mama?

JACQUI: (snort)

TINK: (leaning on bed) Mama, I can't sleep.

JACQUI: I can.

TINK: Can I lie here with you?

JACQUI: Okay, but no talking, no touching me, no putting my hair in my nose.**

Tinkerbell climbs into bed.

JACQUI: Good night, my love.

TINK: (rustle, rustle...sniff...sniff) Mama?


TINK: There are no tissues near your bed.

JACQUI: Go get some toilet paper from the bathroom.

TINK: Your bathroom or my bathroom?

JACQUI: I don't care. Shh.

TINK: (goes to bathroom, blows nose...blows nose again...blows in danger of blowing nose off face. Opens metal garbage can. Clangs lid closed. Returns to bed.)

JACQUI: Good night, my love.




TINK: Mama?

JACQUI: (sucks drool back into mouth)

TINK: See that shadow over there? Where there's the dark part and two light parts?

JACQUI: What?!

TINK: That kind of looks like you in your glasses.

JACQUI: Tink, you have to go to sleep. It's the middle of the night.

TINK: Actually, it's 3:19.

JACQUI: That's the middle of the night.

TINK: No, midnight is the middle of the night.

JACQUI: 3:19 is night.

TINK: But it's a.m.

JACQUI: No more talking. Go to sleep. (thinking to herself: This is annoying. I have to sleep. She's going to wake up Captain Destructo and I am screwed. My wrist hurts. I typed too much yesterday. Tomorrow's blog post is hilarious. Except that one part. I should delete that one part. When did I schedule it to appear? Maybe the whole thing is bad. Yes, the whole thing is terrible. No wonder nobody reads the blog. What aboutthefivehundredthingsIhavetodotomorrow? I HAVE TO GO TO SLEEP. What the heck is Tink doing over there?! SLEEP NOW! SLEEP NOW!)

TINK: I'm thirsty.

JACQUI: (deep, aggravated sigh) Okay. Stay here. (goes downstairs, deletes whole blog post, gets milk, returns to bed). Drink this and go to sleep.

TINK: (rustle rustle, slurp. Crash.) Mama, can I ask you a question?

JACQUI: Does it have to do with sleeping?

TINK: Why is your clock table so far away from your bed? I almost fell!

JACQUI: Can we discuss my furniture placement in the morning?

TINK: But I can't reach my cup!

JACQUI: Good night, my love. (does not sleep. Can not possibly sleep now that my to do list has come into consciousness...)

A train goes past, choo-chooing in classic fashion.

DESTRUCTO (over the baby monitor): Choo choo?

TINK: (giggles)



DESTRUCTO: Choo choo! Mama! Choo Choo!

TINK: (giggles) Choo choo!


JACQUI: (thinking: what the heck is the train conductor doing? Shut up! I hate you, conductor of the train. I hate you hate you hate --)


DESTRUCTO: Choo choo!

TINK: Choo choo!

JACQUI: Stop it.

TINK: He's doing it.

JACQUI: (turns off baby monitor) No, he's not. Go to sleep.

3:35 am

DESTRUCTO: Mama! (loud enough to be heard down hall without monitor) More choo choo! My want more choo choo!

JACQUI: (cries softly to self)

TINK: Mama, what should I do with this? (reaches hand very close to my face)

JACQUI: What is it?

TINK: A booger.

JACQUI: Blah! Blah! Put it in a tissue.

TINK: I left them in the bathroom.

DESTRUCTO: Mama! My have llama drama 'bout choo choo!***

TINK: (giggles)

JACQUI: (throws self out window)

Sigh. Wish it were fiction.

Have I raved yet about the Llama Llama books by Anna Dewdney? Love them. Hilarious, completely real about kids' emotions, and the bonus perk of the phrase "llama drama," which your kids can use to refer to useless tantrums. If you have kids 2-7, I highly recommend these. And a bed that can't possibly hold any children.

* Is "For What Husbands Are Good" the grammatical choice?!
** All of these things are past infractions.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Fill in the blanks

In which we play Mad Libs with your story.

I'm on a Rick Riordan kick. Last week I read the first installment of the 39 Clues series. This week, I read The Sea of Monsters, the second book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.* If you were a Harry Potter fan and haven't checked out Percy Jackson, you gotta go find it. It's not the same kind of fantasy, but it has all the adventure and humor plus Greek mythology. And the chapter titles are the best ever, including my number one chapter title of all time: "We Hail the Taxi of Eternal Torment."

I stand in amazement at Riordan's ability to get to the point. No drawn out introductions, no "character building" scenes that go nowhere, and absolutely no question what his characters' motives are. And the goals are tangible, not "I want my mother's approval." We all want our mothers' approvals, and that need certainly drives our choices, but it can't drive your whole plot. Or most likely your plot will go nowhere. It's okay for your character to have this kind of internal motivation, but she needs an external, tangible goal too.

So, here is your challenge this week. Fill in the blanks in each of the following sentences. You can't put more than seven words in each blank. No excuses, no "oh, my book is different," and absolutely no purely internal or emotional answers.

1. What my character wants most of all is ___________________________.
... to get back to Kansas.

2. In order to get it, he/she has to ________________________________.

... convince Oz to help her.

3. The first step to achieving what's in #2 is to _______________________.

... get to Oz without being killed.

4. If my character isn't successful, the tragic and terrifying result will be _________________.
... never seeing her family again. Or, having to live with munchkins. Or, having that darn song stuck in her head forever.

Can you do it? No, seriously. Just try it.

* If you go to the Percy Jackson website, by the way, you can hear RR read the first chapters of each book.
p.s. Sweet cover image by John Rocco. Man, that guy is everywhere. I LOVE his work. Plus I sat next to him at Adam Rex's seminar in LA this summer and the under the breath comments were hilarious.
p.p.s. ALA awards going to be announced in four minutes. Stay tuned for rants and raves.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I be kreativ

In which I post blurry pictures of things that make me smile.

Brenda has passed me an award for being so creative. This is especially nice to get because it has been suggested to me by the real life peanut gallery that I have been, um, a bit, perhaps, CRANKY lately. So today I will spread sunshine all over and share with you (as the award dictates) seven things I love.

Seven Materialistic Things Jacqui Loves
A Poorly Photographed Photo Essay
(including one somewhat gross half-eaten lunch photo)

1. the buns-warmer in Thor's car

2. My witch boots, for which Thor wrote me a prescription once when I was depressed, AND

3. My woolly clogs, which I wear every day when the snow's not too deep.

4. The roasted vegetable salad with no eggplant and a side scoop of tuna from Cafe Zola here in Ann Arbor, where they once also posted an enormous photograph of me tickling Captain Destructo as part of an art exhibit.

5. Tantré Farm, the local organic community farm we joined last summer. I dream all winter of their vegetables and Destructo asks weekly, "We go market market?" which means farmer's market to him.

6. Face moisturizer. Right now, I'm using the Ultra Facial Moisturizer from Kiehl's, which can be yours for the low price of one million dollars per ounce, but any thick yummy cream will do. I love washing my face and waiting a while and then slathering it on.

7. My new gray woolly fingers-optional gloves. They are fuzzy and warm and I can type in them.

I tag, um, everyone. Post me a picture of something materialistic that you love and report back.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Sculptor's Muse

This week's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM) is not absurd at all; it's just a book I think one of you should write.

From YahooNews/AP:

Dina Vierny, the muse to sculptor Maillol, dies

I did not recognize the name Maillol immediately, though I recognized his work (my favorite, La Nuit, to the right). And I did not know Dina Vierny, but listen to her life story:

Born in 1919 in what is now the Moldovan capital, Chisinau, and was then part of the Russian empire, Vierny fled Stalinist Russia with her family, settling in France.

Through a family friend, she was presented to Maillol, becoming his model in 1935. She collaborated with the artist until his death in a car accident in 1944, inspiring sleek, bold works like "La Montagne" (The Mountain), "L'Air" (Air) and "La Riviere" (The River), one of his last works.

She worked for the French Resistance during World War II, eventually getting herself arrested. Maillol sent her to southern France to stay with his friend Henri Matisse, reportedly instructing him to use her as a model. They became fast friends. She eventually also posed for Raoul Dufy and Pierre Bonnard, who used her as inspiration for his "Grand Nu Sombre."

Vierny grew into an art lover in her own right, opening a gallery in Paris' artsy Saint-Germain-des-Pres district as early as 1947. The statement by her sons, Bertrand and Olivier Lorquin, said their mother spent a lifetime "passionately attached to art," as exemplified by works collected at the Musee Maillol.

Wow. She only escaped Stalinist Russia, inspired Maillol and Matisse, worked for La Resistance, was in prison, and started a museum? I want a biography, a well-written, possibly historical fiction based on her life, illustrated with photos of Maillol's sculptures.

And it should be in the style of, um, darnit. I haven't read enough good historical fiction for kids. Who do I want?

And which one of you will write me Dina's story?

* photo from Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My Cracked Kettle

In which I channel Flaubert and become self-aware. And rhyme unintentionally.

Today, in honor of the inauguration, I would like to write something beautiful and deep, something like this, or something like Obama's speech, that would leave you shivering and alive, something that would RESOUND. I want to RESOUND, people.

I do not resound. And I fear I am far more likely to leave you giggling to yourselves than I am to leave you shivering, unless you are visiting la Maison Jacqui, where we refuse to turn the thermostat above 64 degrees.

My very favorite quote when I was 17 was from Madame Bovary: "...human speech is like a cracked pot on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to when we would make the stars move with our melodies."*

I would make the stars move with my melodies still, but lately, I think maybe I should leave the star-moving to others. Voice is my strength. My plots stagnate and my middles are meh, but my characters' voices are unfailing. I have been asking myself, though, what is MY voice? And the answer, when I am honest, is that I am practical. I am realistic and "let's get going why are you standing around talking about stars when there's life to live?" I love to play and I love more than almost anything to make people laugh. That is me, much more than heaviness and philosophification. And the older I get, the more I am able to let go of the dream of being James Joyce, and to cling to the dream of just being me. Dancing bears are outright funny, and someone's got to bang their drums. And you know what? I'm pretty good at the cracked kettle.

I have read countless chapter books and novels for young adults and children. I tell every new writer who asks me for advice to read, read, read every classic, well-written book for kids they can find. I stand by that advice.

But after the last chapter, I am learning I need to close the door on all those other voices. I need to leave Katherine Paterson and Nancy Farmer and, gulp, even Salman Rushdie, at their own writing desks, so I can be alone at mine. And I think only then will I be able to write the novels that are my own.

So here is my challenge for you: who are you? What is YOUR voice? And if it's not in your writing, why not? No, seriously, I want to know.

* my translation, because that's how I remember it and it fits my French version
** photo from Wikipedia Commons, by Fernando Revilla

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday with Tink

My favorite conversation this week, before Thor and I's date night:

TINK: Why are you getting all fancy?* And why do we have a babysitter?
JACQUI: Because I am going out to a romantic dinner with my lover (fake smoochy noises).
TINK: Oh. What is Dada doing?

I'm not sure who she thinks is my lover. Probably the squirrel guy. But we are no longer an item since I think (hope) he took the last squirrel away. Also, I need boyfriends who arrive on time and don't leave squirrel-fur-encrusted blobs of peanut butter on my walls.

Tink published a book this week. It's called The Crisp Boo, and it's a humorous ghost story. A kid comes home to an empty house and a blood-covered note that says, "I am lost. Please find me. Love, Mom." Sweet hook, eh? Tink worked hard on it, so I let her type it on my laptop and print it out to illustrate and bind with staples. At the end of the book, she made an "About the Author" page. As she was coloring it, we talked.

TINK: Mama, you get to decide which of my stories we make into books.
TINK: And you help me fix them first.
TINK: Mama, you are like my editor!

Oh, the power!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Squirrel Bits, the Movie

In which I offend lovers of squirrels and film.

I love animals. Really, I do. But this week, I am going last scene of The Godfather on the squirrels in my attic.* If I had the video skills, I would make you a movie...

Close-up of happy squirrels at play on my lawn, in my trees, on my roof, disappearing into their entry hole. Happy music plays.

Fade to me at night. Thor snores. Tink snores. Destructo dreams of tearing paper to bits. I lay wide awake, grimacing, listening to pitter patter and squeaks of squirrels overhead. From over the baby monitor, we hear a snort, then a whimper, then a full-blown cry. They have woken the baby.

Silence gives way to Wake Up, by Rage Against the Machine. I lead Animal Control man up attic steps in slo-mo, wearing Keanu Reeves' black trench coat from that scene in The Matrix. Tink stands horrified (she's the Talia Shire figure). At peak of Rage song, it skips to Carmina Burana. Video becomes series of shots of Animal Control man descending stairs with peanut butter-covered squirrels, either alive/frantic, or dead from having spent the entire night bashing their heads against the sides of the cage. Over and over the squirrel cages come.

Fade to me sleeping peacefully, evil grin on my face...

The body count is up to three, so don't call PETA yet. The man who came to fix the "raining in the kitchen" situation put an aluminum something over what he thought was the squirrel entry point, so our fingers are crossed.

In honor of the squirrels, have you seen Scaredy Squirrel, by Mélanie Watt? Super cute and funny.

* My cousin has pointed out to me that the baptism/consolidation scene I am referencing is not, in fact, the last scene of The Godfather, in which Michael closes the door on Kay. But as I told him, "going all almost the last scene of The Godfather" just doesn't capture it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The good news and ...

In which I whine.

So we went sledding on our driveway this weekend. Yours truly wiped out and caught myself, on landing, with my right hand (yes, I am right-handed). It hurt, but I blew it off.

By Monday it was decidedly puffy and a strange shade of brown. So today I went to the doctor.

The good news is that my wrist is not broken. The bad news is that it is sprained. The doctor told me not to do any activity that hurts it.

Here is a list of activities which make my wrist ache, and which, thus, are verboten:
writing longhand
holding Shadow Country (which is great, but heavy both metaphorically and literally)
picking up my kids
pushing a stroller
working out
carrying pans, pots, jugs of milk and other things needed for cooking
taking the lids off jars
brushing my teeth
kneading bread
shoveling snow


Sigh. At least we aren't expecting up to 11 more inches of snow and sub-zero temperatures this week. Oh wait. We are.

Did I mention it is raining in my kitchen? Do you think "climbing on roof to pound ice from gutters" is on the list? What about "chasing squirrels in the attic"? No? Then maybe "running away to Paris to live on bread and cheese"?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Picture books as a second language

In which I ask you to remember ninth grade Spanish class, and then I go off a little.

I used to speak French fluently. At various times in my life, I have also been able to speak Italian pretty well, to teach a class of mostly Spanish-speaking first graders, and to read and write Japanese at the first grade level. But French is the only language besides English in which I've dreamt, and in which I've read extensively.

I can't do it now. I probably can't do any of it now and it KILLS me. I was looking through all my wonderful French novels and plays today (because I have so much time to kill and it was IMPERATIVE that instead of emptying the dead squirrel* out of the trap in my attic, I make sure every single book I own was catalogued in LibraryThing).

I picked up L'Etranger, by Camus, and thought, "I should read this." Then I thought, "But it will be so HARD" and I pictured myself not understanding and getting all tense and then it hit me. This is how first graders feel. This is how a child just learning to read feels about every single book. Can you remember it? Trying to read in ninth grade Spanish, maybe?

Reading is not easy when you are just learning. We adults can pick up a book and skim it or read a few pages and if it stinks or is mediocre, well, it's just a bit of our time. But when you are just learning to read, reading is an EFFORT. Every word takes determination.

All of which is to say: if you are writing for first graders, you'd better make it worth it. Every word had better be important. Your story must be satisfying, your language precise, your characters easily cheered for, and your whole book had better not be in service of a ridiculous "moral" that you think kids ought to hear. And for goodness sake, if you write in rhyme, don't be lazy. It is so hard to see kids struggle to the end of a rhymed couplet only to get to the last word and have it not rhyme, or not fit, or be archaic and useless just because it rhymes and fits.

So, what books do I think deliver? There are so many, but my two favorites -- for their language and carefulness and satisfying pay-offs.

1. Close Your Eyes, by Kate Banks, illus. Georg Hallensleben
A mother tiger reassures her little tiger as he goes to sleep.
This book is pure poetry, the little tiger is infinitely lovable, and Tink still uses the line "light is just the other side of dark" to reassure herself at night. Good to read aloud or to read to yourself at night after Mom and Dad go downstairs.

2. Is it cliché to say Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnston?
If you haven't read it for a while, read it. Harold is adorable, he has adventures that get my kids' pulses up, there is not a wasted word in the text, and Tink laughs at "draw up the covers" every time.

* yes, he died. Somehow, in the humane trap, he died. Live-blogging of my war on Squirreldom will continue later this week...

Monday, January 12, 2009

Draw your story

In which I actually discuss writing!

Last week I was struggling. My picture book wasn't working. It was a great idea, interesting character, good plot, lovely language, perfect beginning and ending, and yet. still. not. working. and I. didn't. know. WHY?!?! AAAAAHHHHH!!!!!! (bangs head on wall)

I got a little frustrated. I showed it to anyone who would look. Everybody agreed: it was fabulous, but then not...somehow. I was ready to feed it to the squirrels.

And then I took it to one of my critique groups and listened to Diane read it aloud.

"OH!" I said. "I see what's wrong! The story goes like THIS, instead of like THIS!" And for the "THIS" parts, I made squiggling gestures with my hands.

Because they are wonderful and because they know my peculiar craziness, my critique group did not laugh, though they did stare a bit.

"See?!" I went on. "It needs to do THIS." And I drew a bunch of squares in my notebook. "But right now, it's like THIS." And I drew a graph.

Again, you gotta love my critique group (I do) because they were like "Oh, yeah, we see," and then gave great suggestions for resculpting the story.

Today I want you to draw your story. Not illustrate it, but graph it. You can use boxes, where each box is a scene and the stairs climb up as the tension does, or climb down as things get worse for your character. Or, you can set up an X and Y axis and draw a line graph. The top graph over to the left shows how I want my story to go; things get less :) for the character until the very end. The bottom shows how it was going, and why it wasn't working.

What shape is your story? And does it have the shape you want it to? Three things to consider:

1. Where does your story really start? If the beginning of your story shape is flat, if your scenes read "intro intro intro," there's too much intro. You get one box or a small bit of graph line before we need to go up or down. Otherwise, I'm bored.

2. Is your story going somewhere overall? Or is it a series of same-sized peaks and valleys? And what shape do you want it to be? Personally, I like to be able to discern a trend amidst the squiggles; if things aren't getting progressively worse for your character, if everything comes back to where it was after every episode, I never have to get emotionally involved, since I can rest assured all will be well.

3. Where is the peak or point of no hope of your story? Part of the problem I had was that the emotional climax of the story came too far before the end of the graph. Whether it's a picture book or a novel, you want very little time between the climax and the end. One box, maybe, or a little zip up on the graph.

So today, I want you to draw the shape of your story. No, seriously, just try it. And report back what you find.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Friday Bits

In which I don't sweat the small stuff.

1. Squirrels. Yup, the terrifying attic monsters turned out to be really fat squirrels whose doom now awaits them in the form of a peanut butter trail to a big silver trap. They'd built a huge nest right on the attic door, so when Animal Control Man* opened the door to the attic, he got showered with half-chewed walnut bits. I have to be honest: I had gotten myself so worked up about the monster that when I heard the attic open, a very small part of me was disappointed not to hear "HOLY COW! RUN!!!!" followed by a velociraptor shriek. But squirrels it is. And here is a fact: squirrels are pigeons that can't even fly and I hate them now.

2. I went shopping at lunch time with my sister** and we stopped to play at the make-up counter and to pretend we know what to do with foundation and other mysterious things. They had an eye product called "Well Rested" and the saleslady stopped snorking at us long enough to recommend it.

"What does it do?" I asked.

To which my sister replied, "You take it home and it blows up your children."

3. Look at the cuteness. Tabitha awarded me this lovely butterfly and it made my day. I'm waiting to pass it on until I find something great I think you all haven't seen yet, but, well, really, I just wanted that pretty picture here.

* Who was totally dreamy and would have had every chance in the world to replace Steve as my new boyfriend, if only he had shown up within the two hour window promised.
** It is a bloggy crime that I haven't quoted my sister more to you as she is the funniest person I know.
-- squirrel photo (from Wikipedia Commons) by Aaron Logan --

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Where the Wild Thing Is

Shh. Something is in my attic. No joke. I was sitting here, surfing famous authors' blogs working doggedly on my new picture book, when I heard a clatter. "Darn cats," I thought, only to look up and see both of my cats staring up the stairs, ears back and tails straight in the air.

"Mailman," I said aloud. Because saying "mailman" aloud has the power both to calm the cats and to turn whatever it is into the mailman.

But there was no mail. And then I heard the scratching, and the clicking.

I sneaked up the stairs. Halfway up, I had a vision of a gigantic rabid raccoon dropping through the ceiling and onto my head, so I cast about for a weapon. Choices included a sock of Tink's, a ball of cat fur, and the gift bag my sister gave me with three mini lip glosses in it. I went with the lip gloss.

The scratching and clanking was clearly coming from the attic stairs, which drop down into my upstairs hall. I saw the door jiggle, and then I heard a high-pitched decidedly unfriendly squeak. There I was, five inches and a quarter inch thick wooden board away from something seriously big and angry and probably clawed. And I had a paper bag, three 4-inch tubes of PassionFruit Mama, and two seven-pound domesticated Persians to protect me.

I did the only thing I could. I stomped as hard as I could on the floor as I yelled, "AAAAAH! BLAH BLAH BLAH! GO AWAY!" And then I ran as fast as I could down the stairs to call animal control. I'm waiting for them now, hoping they get here before whatever it is figures out the door latch.

I keep thinking, "This is how horror movies start." And, sadly, I am clearly not the heroine, but the expendable character who gets mauled in scene one and then forgotten.

And even given all that, all I can do is wonder: what will the title be?

Hey! It's Thursday, and you know what that means, boys and girls. Yes! You have a book to write for me.

Today's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM) is something we here in Michigan can certainly understand:

From Reuters:

Police foil German children's dash to Africa

Apparently, a six year-old girl and a seven year-old boy got fed up with the cold weather in Germany and decided to run away to Africa to get married. They packed suitcases with clothes and bathing suits, convinced the girl's five year old sister to come along as a witness, and headed off while their parents were sleeping.

The kids were caught by police at the train station in Hanover and sent back home. Which, in real life, is a good thing. I am, of course, unconcerned with real life. So, what if they hadn't been caught? I want the story of their adult-free cross-country adventure, like From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I want to know what's REALLY driving them to Africa (I don't buy the warm weather thing). And I want to know what happens when they get there.

Ideas? Who will write me this book?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Canadian Rain Forest

In which I show why my children have no chance of turning out normal.

Tink is experimenting with sass. She's been testing us with "whatever" and eye rolls and other things that make me want to THROW HER somewhere. So last night she got sent to her room.* When she came down, she had on a straw explorers hat, a peasant skirt, knee socks with bright blue socks over them, and a pillow case full of her belongings.

TINK: Hello? Is anyone home?
DESTRUCTO: My play trains, Tinkerbell.
JACQUI: I'm glad you're back.
TINK: I'm not Tinkerbell. I'm Sarah, a traveller.**
TINK: Yes, I travel all over. I have no job, so I must, um, travel. May I stay here a bit?
JACQUI: Certainly, you are welcome to rest your weary head in our home as long as you'd like, so long as you do not say "whatever."
THOR: From where have you travelled, Sarah?
TINK: I come from a small village in the Southern Canadian rainforest.
THOR: The Canadian rainforest?
TINK: Yes.
THOR: There's no -- (gets hit with dishrag).
DESTRUCTO: My play trains! My play trains, Tinkerbell!
TINK: Who is this Tinkerbell? Is she your daughter?
THOR: She was our daughter.
JACQUI: But we sold her to the circus monkeys*** because she was acting like a poop.
TINK: No! (whispers) Pretend I am just on vacation.
THOR: She is just on vacation.
JACQUI: With the evil circus monkeys we sold her to.
THOR: Who promised they wouldn't eat her.
JACQUI: Or beat her.
THOR: But frankly, they'll probably cut her up and sell her for parts.
JACQUI: Especially if she starts acting like a poop again.
TINK: Stop!
JACQUI & THOR: (snort snort giggle)
TINK: Is this your son? What is his name?
JACQUI: His name is Hambone. And I am Queen Pajama McHoogie.
TINK: Is there something shorter I can call you?
JACQUI: Yes, you may call me "Yes, Mama. Anything You Say Mama."
THOR: And you may call me Master of the Domain.
TINK: Those names are too long.
JACQUI: Then you may just call me Yes Mama.
THOR: And you can call me Master Dada.
TINK: How about just Dada?
THOR: Okay. Dada...Master.
TINK: How about something without Master in it?
THOR: Okay, you may call me Dada, Lord of all the Realm.
TINK: Sigh! What is this toy?
THOR: It's a special toy made out of the bones of our last house guest.
JACQUI: It's a tradition.
THOR: Yes, at the end of your stay, we decapitate you, steam you, and melt your bones into a mold shaped like a train.
DESTRUCTO: My play train.
JACQUI: Sarah, please hand the train back to Hambone. I mean, Prince Hambone, future Lord of all the Realm.
THOR: Master.
JACQUI: Master.
TINK: Nnnnngh!
JACQUI: Where's she going?
THOR: I have no idea.

* "Go to your room" being the last "yes, I'm a mom" moment I hadn't yet experienced...
** You must read Tink's words in slightly British formal book speak.
*** Yes, I know, this is a terrible thing to say and probably offensive to actual circus monkeys. Apologies.

Monday, January 5, 2009

On Your Mark, Set, Discipline

(closes screen on fifteenth game of Coffee Buzz)*

I'm back. I know I said I was back yesterday, but the book list was kind of lame, I admit. I hope the break didn't make my hundreds of three readers mom lose interest.

And (drum roll), it's Monday and I know many of you are exhausted from chasing your children for two weeks eager to get back to writing. Here's something I am trying this year: discipline.

I was inspired by Anthony Trollope, the famous author of, um, er, (goes to Wikipedia) -- holy cow, that guy wrote a lot of books. Check out the list! Wow. I have read, er, not a single one of those. Huh. Any Trollope fans out there care to recommend a first read? (screws around on Wikipedia a while) -- oh, er, yes, anyway he wrote a lot of books and where was I? Yes! Discipline!

Anthony Trollope was the master of discipline. Rumor -- and by rumor, I mean The New Yorker (finds the link, trolls The New Yorker site) has it that he -- oh, look, it's not rumor; he wrote it himself in his autobiography. Maybe I should read that (spends several minutes following links for Trollope's autobiography).

In ANY case, here is what Trollope did -- by the way, the quote is from The New Yorker; I found it at Daily Routines, which is a cool site (checks out other authors' processes; wonders if reading interview with Orhan Pamuk for fifth time will make her writing as good as his). What? Oh, yes. The quote:

"Every day for years...he woke in darkness and wrote from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., with his watch in front of him. He required of himself two hundred and fifty words every quarter of an hour. If he finished one novel before eight-thirty, he took out a fresh piece of paper and started the next."

Wow. And then he went to his day job with the post office. That is discipline. When did he brainstorm funny Facebook status updates and Google himself?!

I need this. I need this like I need a personal masseuse and a week-long writing and bread eating retreat in Paris -- mmm, bread. And cheese! And French coffee! (heads to kitchen for snack). Okay, maybe I need it even more than I thought.

So I found a free online stopwatch. You can put it in your Google bar,** set the timer, and write until the alarm goes off. If you finish what you're writing, be like Trollope: turn the page and start something new. No excuses, no stopping, no internet.

No, seriously. Try it. And if even the stopwatch isn't enough for you, you can always try Dr. Wicked...

* Do not follow that link. For real, it will take over your life. It will leave you as jittery as if you'd drunk all that coffee yourself and it's not even wordily hip like Text Twist. Don't say you weren't warned.
** Does that sound to anyone else like the name of a strip club?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

How I Spent 2008

I love book lists. Mostly, I love to read them and see which ones I've read and say, "Yes! That was good!" Your last gift, which I had planned to give you last week before the whole "spend the day on the beach with the kids instead of blogging" decision, is a book list. All the books I read in 2008, in backwards order with Lizzie Bright sneaking in at the last minute on the 3oth.

Interestingly (embarrassingly?), I read two books by many authors, but the only authors from whom I read three books are Carolyn Keene and Stephenie Meyer. I wish I could say, "Oh, and I read six books by (insert name of impressive sounding serious author)," but after the 15 Classics in 15 Weeks marathon, you can see I sort of tapered off into delicious middle grade grade adventures for a while. I did read half of Foucault's Pendulum in there, but I didn't finish it.

Also, I didn't count any books I only read out loud to the kids, even though some of them took us weeks (like Little House in the Very Boring Oh My God Is He Cleaning the Gun Again? Woods). I was tempted to because it would have put me over 100, but...

In any case, enjoy. Comments welcome.

1. Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy (Gary D. Schmidt)
2. P. S. I Love You (Barbara Conklin)
3. Shakespeare Wrote for Money (Nick Hornby)
4. Artemis Fowl (Eoin Colfer)
5. The Bungalow Mystery (Nancy Drew #3, Carolyn Keene)
6. The Popularity Plan (Sweet Dreams Series #2)
7. The Luckiest Girl (Beverly Cleary)
8. The Bobbsey Twins of Lakeport (Laura Lee Hope)
9. The Hidden Staircase (Nancy Drew #2, Carolyn Keene)
10. The Secret of the Old Clock (Nancy Drew #1, Carolyn Keene)
11. The Book of Lost Things (John Connolly)
12. Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury)
13. Chains (Laurie Halse Anderson)
14. Identical (Ellen Hopkins)
15. Cordelia's Honor (Lois McMaster Bujold)
16. On Writing (Stephen King)
17. Size 12 Is Not Fat (Meg Cabot)
18. How I Live Now (Meg Rosoff)
19. Standard Hero Behavior (John David Anderson)
20. The Adoration of Jenna Fox (Mary E. Pearson)
21. Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains (Laurel Snyder)
22. Dune (Frank Herbert)
23. Peak (Roland Smith)
24. Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature (Robin Brande)
25. Faust (Johann Wolfgand von Goethe)
26. Breaking Dawn (Stephenie Meyer)
27. Eclipse (Stephenie Meyer)
28. Light in August (William Faulkner)
29. Leaves of Grass (Walt Whitman)
30. Once Upon a Time in the North (Philip Pullman)
31. Freak Show (James St. James)
32. The Underneath (Kathi Appelt)
33. Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist (Rachel Cohn & David Levithan)
34. Clay (David Almond)
35. The House of the Seven Gables (Nathaniel Hawthorne)
36. Savvy (Ingrid Law)
37. I Am the Messenger (Markus Zusak)
38. The Good Soldier: A Tale of Passion (Ford Madox Ford)
39. The Divine Comedy: Volume 1: Inferno (Dante Alighieri)
40. Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (Cormac McCarthy)
41. The Hundred Dresses (Eleanor Estes)
42. Swann's Way: In Search of Lost Time, Vol. 1 (Marcel Proust)
43. Pale Fire (Vladimir Nabokov)
44. Book of a Thousand Days (Shannon Hale)
45. New Moon (Stephenie Meyer)
46. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë)
47. Moby-Dick: or, The Whale (Herman Melville)
48. My Mother the Cheerleader (Robert Sharenow)
49. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
50. Silas Marner (George Eliot)
51. Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra)
52. The Canning Season (Polly Horvath)
53. Lock and Key (Sarah Dessen)
54. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
55. Then We Came to the End (Joshua Ferris)
56. Love In The Corner Pocket (Marlene Perez)
57. Rats Saw God (Rob Thomas)
58. If You Come Softly (Jacqueline Woodson)
59. The Wednesday Wars (Gary D. Schmidt)
60. After Tupac and D Foster (Jacqueline Woodson)
61. Reincarnation (Suzanne Weyn)
62. Deadline (Chris Crutcher)
63. Looks (Madeleine George)
64. The Squad: Perfect Cover (Jennifer Lynn Barnes)
65. Arkansas (John Brandon)
66. Our Man in Havana (Graham Greene)
67. 13 Little Blue Envelopes (Maureen Johnson)
68. Things Hoped For (Andrew Clements)
69. Waiting for Normal (Leslie Connor)
70. Little Friendly Advice (Siobhan Vivian)
71. Making Waves (Randi Reisfeld)
72. The Tale of Despereaux (Kate DiCamillo)
73. Prom (Laurie Halse Anderson)
74. Runemarks (Joanne Harris)
75. Divisadero (Michael Ondaatje)
76. The Golem's Eye (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 2, Jonathan Stroud)
77. Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty (Jody Gehrman)
78. Little Secrets #1: Playing With Fire (Emily Blake)
79. The Opposite of Invisible (Liz Gallagher)
80. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (Kate DiCamillo)
81. The Amulet of Samarkand (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1, Jonathan Stroud)
82. Dairy Queen (Catherine Gilbert Murdock)
83. Letters from the Corrugated Castle: A Novel of Gold Rush California, 1850-1852 (Joan Blos)
84. Secrets of My Suburban Life (Lauren Baratz-Logsted)
85. How I Saved My Father's Life (and Ruined Everything Else) (Ann Hood)
86. A Great and Terrible Beauty (Libba Bray)
87. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie)
88. Shooting the Moon (Frances O'Roark Dowell)
89. A Crooked Kind of Perfect (Linda Urban)
90. The White Darkness (Geraldine McCaughrean)
91. A Curse Dark as Gold (Elizabeth C. Bunce)
92. Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher)
93. The Land of the Silver Apples (Nancy Farmer)
94. The Bermudez Triangle (Maureen Johnson)
95. Letters from Rapunzel (Sara Lewis Holmes)
96. Elijah Of Buxton (Christopher Paul Curtis)
97. The Name of this Book is Secret (Pseudonymous Bosch)

Edited to add: Thor reminds me that I read Lizzie Bright earlier; it was John Green's Paper Towns that I read all night on the 30th. A worthy #98.