Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Gratitude and attitude

Mostly attitude.

Dahlings, I am walking the red carpet. Tabitha awarded Jacqui's Room the Lemonade Stand award. While I did not go crazy tracing the origins of this award through the blogosphere, I did learn that it is an award for showing "gratitude and/or great attitude."

Clearly Tabitha has only been pretending to read my blog. Or maybe she loves Jacqui's Room, but nobody has yet invented an award for whining in the face of tremendous luck and generally being ranty.*

I am to post the graphic above (check), link back to Tabitha (check), and nominate 5 other blogs. I'm not nominating any other blogs right now. This is not because I am an ingrate with a bad attitude. It is because nobody is more gratitudy and attitudy than Christy, but she's already won this (twice?). I promise to spend many hours scouring the internet for deserving recipients of whom you have never heard and to post them for your viewing pleasure.

In the meantime, if you haven't checked out Tabitha's blog, I do recommend it. She has some of the most thoughtful book reviews and essays on writing around.

* I am kidding, of course, and am much appreciative. It is always good to be smiled on by great folks.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

I don't need to blog...

... about how I feel about writing today, because Joan Bransfield Graham has already written a poem about it.

Oh, how sad I will be when 30 Poets/30 Days ends.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I have one of sprites and goblins

O, for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention!

Had Jacqui such a Muse, she would have more
Than bits and plagiarisms to explore
On this -- o happy day -- the twenty-third:
The birthday of the greatest smith of word
E'er to pen a line or poem write. Sigh.

Because the truth is: long ago, in addition to all the other kinds of dork you know I have been and continue to be, I was, and am, a Shakespeare fanatic. The first play I ever directed was The Winter's Tale, so it's my favorite, but they all make my heart go pitter patter.*

I can't go to Chicago to "Talk Like Shakespeare Day." And as great as the Shakespearean Insult Generator is, it wasn't enough.

Next, I tried to write you something hilarious. But I didn't get far in Captain Destructo's Ode to Hamlet:

To nap, or not to nap, that is the question:
Whether ‘tis better in the crib to suffer
An hour trapped within the bars of torture
Or to take arms against the crowd of stuffed friends
And to jettison them.

Meh. And then a vision filled my head. It was my agent (who is a black belt and also a wise woman). She was glaring at me and saying something, what was it? Oh, yeah, it was "What the heck are you doing you have a book to write have you lost your mind don't make me come over there!"

Look over there! (scurries back into office to write)

* Except King John. What is up with King John?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Out of Order

In which I announce the (occasional) return of the No, Seriously. Just Try It feature.

I'm done writing in order. I used to be a "who needs an outline?" kind of writer. I'd start and go along, writing and making it up as I went. I scoffed at planners and plotters and crowed about my free-wheeling spirit.

Now I'm a convert. I've got an outline. And a spreadsheet. And graphs of emotional development and tension. And it's possible I also have a stack of index cards, each representing a scene, which have color coded information and notes on them, including a little box to check gleefully when that scene is written. And a map.

So I know what's going to happen. And every day, I can write whichever part I want, depending on my mood. Usually, I'm excited to write what comes next. But you know those days when you sit down and groan at the scene for the day? When you stare at the page and you can't think of a single word? Or those days when you know you've only got 30 minutes to write and no paper and you're writing on a napkin? Those days, I just write something. Anything. Two paragraphs from chapter 12. The last three lines. The scene where Ant pretends to be on the swim team.

Then I take all that writing and I put it in order in the manuscript. And sometimes, a miracle happens: I go to write chapter eight, and I find... it's already written. And then I think: I rule!

So today's No, Seriously. Just Try It is out of order. Don't try to write what comes next. Just write the part that interests you, even if it's three lines. Then write another three lines from another bit. It adds up. I promise.

Monday, April 20, 2009


Recently, I was enjoying a perfectly nice conversation with someone I don't know very well. It wasn't a serious conversation, just one of those getting-to-know-you, trading stories talks. And then my new friend said something and I did an internal double take. It was like the LP needle was dragged off with a scratch. In my head, a voice said, 'That's a lie."

In short, my baloney radar went wild.

She kept telling the story. It was probably funny and really, who cares if it was 100% fact? I am certainly not one to judge someone who, um, embellishes. But in my head, the voice kept saying, "Nope. Lies. Don't believe that. Not true." At the end of the story, I smiled and nodded, but the flow of conversation was interrupted and hard to get back.

Recently, I read a book a lot of people like. It was probably good and really, it's a book; who cares if it's 100% fact-like? But somewhere early on, one of the characters did something and I stopped reading and there was that LP scratching noise again. And the voice in my head said, "That's a lie."

It's all lies in fiction, I know, but I want truthiness. And a "that would never happen" realization kills a book for me. I may finish the book, but I become critical of everything I read, which keeps me in my own head and out of the characters' experiences.

These days, "careful" is one of my highest compliments for a writer. I want a writer I can trust not to seduce me in and then set off my baloney radar. I want a book where every word has been considered, where nobody has ever said, "Well, it will be fine like that." I want a book I can sink into, where even the biggest surprises make me say, "Of course" after I gasp.

And for my own part, I'm hoping for the energy and patience to make that book.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

More shark story, please

Which I hope makes you giggle like it does me.

Don't read the article for this week's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM). It's actually sad. But the headline made me smile:

From the AP:

Rare megamouth shark caught, eaten in Philippines

Apparently, fishermen caught a 1,100-pound, 13-foot megamouth shark. It died and they ate it, despite the begging of a WWF guy on board. But forget that part. Just look at its name. The megamouth shark.

From the minute they caught it, it wouldn't shut up. Blah blah blah. Salty enough for ya in the ocean? Blah blah blah. What's a shark gotta to do get some krill around this place? Hey you over there! I gotta itch my fin.

Did you ever read Martha Speaks? I'm picturing that kind of endless chatter, or maybe the Eddie Murphy donkey from Shrek. The WWF guy is begging everyone to let the shark live, but in the end, even he can't take the constant yammering any more. Fricassee it is.

But I need a title, and a good name for the shark. I want some good puns. Can you help? And who will write me this book?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Why is it...

... that the mere knowledge that someone is going to read your writing can entirely change the way you feel about it???

I don't mean writing for an audience or the validation that comes with being published. I mean this:

I may have mentioned (100 times) that I am writing a chapter book and that I love love love everything about it. Frankly, I think it rules. I read it to myself and giggle. It is a full on narcissistic love affair with my own words.

"I have to share this," I thought to myself, even though it is unfinished. So I asked some trusted bookish friends to read the first three chapters.

"What will they say?" I asked myself as I composed the "do you have time to read this?" email, words like "hilarious" and "fantastic" and "best book ever" running through my head.

I got the first email back. "Yay!" it said. "Will read this weekend."

And despite all the confidence and the love and the brilliance, my first thought was,

"Oh no! I hope it doesn't suck. It does. It does suck. It is drivel and I'm mortified I sent it."

Sigh. Does this happen to anyone else?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Bake-Offs, sharks, and rubber chickens

In which it is clear I have all the ingredients for silliness.

This week's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM) was inspired by Professor Paula Vogel's "Bake-Off" for playwrights at Brown University. MFA students have 48 hours to write a play based on a literary character (one year it was Don Juan, for example); plays must also include the necessary "ingredients" (such as a master and servant, sword play, a statue, etc.).*

Off topic: This reminds me of college, where to entertain ourselves my roommate and I would assign each other phrases that had to appear in our essays. We started with academic phrases like "diametrically opposed" and eventually devolved into such things as "hide the money and run out the door."**

In any case, I am also cooking for Passover this week, so I am thinking about ingredients.

And then, a rash of strange thefts hit the news:

Thief nabbed with 68 tubes of toothpaste (Reuters)

Man pleads guilty to serial shrimp shoplifting (AP)

Man offers $69 for Klondike bar after shoplifting

And this site, at which you can read about how El Pollo Loco's 20 foot high rubber chicken was stolen and Manuel Noriega's wife ripped off $485 worth of buttons.

So here is my question: what if all these people were in cahoots and the stolen items were the ingredients? What dastardly plan could they possibly have created that would require:

- 68 tubes of toothpaste
- a ton of shrimp
- one Klondike bar
- a 20 foot high rubber chicken
- and all the buttons from the clothing section at a department store?***

Here's my idea:
They're keeping something big happy. Like a great white shark. He needs lots of shrimp to eat and man, that shark's breath stinks afterwards. So someone has to brush for him with toothpaste. Lots of it. The rubber chicken is the only thing big enough and soft enough to pass for a great white shark toothbrush. And, um, the dastardly plan is to release the shark into Lake Michigan to terrorize people, but he only has so much salt water survival time so they have been training him to follow a trail of buttons back to their underwater lair. The Klondike bar is going to be tied to the shark's fin so humans will see a delicious snack instead of a scary fin, and will not scream or swim away.

What's your story?

* Thanks to my friend Erika for the link.
** which I actually squeezed into a psych paper, thank you very much.
*** It is possible that it was not the buttons which were necessary, but the NOT having buttons on the clothes

Monday, April 6, 2009

Feeling Onomatopoeiaish

The grass along Tink's walk home from school had been sprayed last week. Little white signs warned us off it with skulls and crossbones.

"Don't walk on there," I told Tink and her friend.

"Why not?" they asked, in unison, because already at age 6 anything your mother recommends must be met with skepticism.

"Because it's been sprayed with pesticides."

"Ewwwwww!" they shrieked in unison, because when you are six year old best friends, you say everything in unison.

A few minutes later, Tink's friend said, "What's pesticides?"

I chuckled and asked why she'd said "ew" if she didn't know.

"It SOUNDS bad," she said. "It doesn't sound, like, natural."

It doesn't, does it? Say it. Pesticide. Yuck.

So after I explained the Latin "-cide," we talked about onomatopoeia, because you don't come over to Jacqui's house without expecting a literature lesson.

I write picture books. I have 400-700 words to tell my story. Nothing pleases me like a word that sings its own meaning with its sounds. I like "slithers" and "zig zag" and "pop" and I like the more subtle ones like "pesticide" and "snuggle." Sometimes the word even looks the part, like "dazzle" and "loopy."

And sometimes, I can hear my sister saying, the word is perfectly descriptive in every way. Like "dork."

She's right, but I don't care. Onomatopoeia makes me smile. And who doesn't need to smile in a world full of pesticides?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sunday bits

1. A poll:
Do you ever give up on a book you're reading? And if so, do you feel guilty afterwards, or freed? I just gave up on a book. Halfway through (and "halfway" = about 250 pages) I not only didn't want to keep reading, but if the book had disintegrated in my hands and ceased to exist entirely, I would have felt nothing but relief. So why am I still thinking about it?

2. Here is a book on which you should not give up*:

Beach, by Elisha Cooper

I must admit I am partial because
1. it's dedicated to the North Avenue beach in Chicago, where I spent many a run,
2. I sort of know Elisha from college, which is why I picked it up, and
3. we are about to head to the beach for a quick spring break and I can't wait.

But my bias aside, you really should check it out. It is a gorgeous, simple, charming story starring the beach on a summer day, and it captures that hot, sandy, relaxed, salty mood perfectly, so much so that Destructo sighed contentedly at the end and Tink said, "Mama, he is really, really good at drawing people doing things."

3. If you haven't been obeying my linky commands and checking out GottaBook daily during National Poetry Month, you have been missing out. As I commented there, it's like getting a present every day. I loved today's, OWL, by Ann Whitford Paul for its ending.

* up on which you should not give

Friday, April 3, 2009

An update from fairyland

I have important writing to do today involving disruptive beagles, 26 pounds of macaroni and cheese, and a tattered copy of The Canterbury Tales.* But I have to report an update on Tink's Fairy School.

Yesterday on the monkey bars, I learned that Tink is still accepting applications from her fellow students for fairy school. Apparently she has three students. Only one of them has made it to Level 12, where she will be taught to fly. The other two have been unable to advance past Level 11's invisibility challenge. Several other students have been denied spots in the class due to failure to believe enough or to having at some point chased girls. Sadly, class has been disrupted for disagreements: certain fairies swing from side to side too much when they skip a bar on the monkey bars, making it impossible for other fairies (who are less skilled at skipping but more skilled at not swinging) to pass them. This is fairy-frowned upon.

Also, one of the students wondered aloud if I knew that Tink only sleeps one hour a night, during her special one hour sleep time. After that she awakens and spends the rest of the night in fairyland.

Further revelations about fairyland were suspended while the girls pretended to be humans playing soccer. I will keep you updated as I gather more.

Meanwhile, I writhe with jealousy at how much more fun they have all day than I do.

Oops. Poem. I love love love Charles Ghigna's What's a Poem?, from today over at GottaBook.

* Have I mentioned a million times yet how much fun writing this book is???

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Wake me up before you go go

There was absolutely no inspiring, appropriate, odd news this week. I was intrigued for a bit by the mysterious flash and boom over Virginia. But on Monday, they revealed it was a Russian space rocket.* And then on Tuesday, they said it was a meteor after all. I was kind of hoping Wednesday, there'd be further corrections along the lines of "scientists report the mysterious flash and boom was not, in fact, a meteor or a rocket, but..." and then say something absurd. In any case, my new rap name is "The Mysterious Flash and Boom."

And then, last night, just in the nick of time,** the Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM) was saved: we got a message on the answering machine from one of Tink's friends.

"Hi, it's Belinda***," she said. "I am calling to ask if Tinkerbell could remember please to come to my house and gently wake me when she's on her way to fairyland tonight. I repeat, can Tinkerbell please come gently wake me so I can go to fairyland? Thank you."

I asked Tink, who answered. "It's because I turned her into a fairy and now I'm training her."

"Huh," I said, wondering how long it will be before I get a call from this kid's parents asking me why she sits outside the front door with a suitcase full of glitter every night.

And then I realized two things:

1. How is Tink convincing other kids she's a fairy and then dragging them into the fantasy with her any different than what I do as a writer?

2. This is a book, but it's not Tink's book; it's Belinda's. I want an early middle grade growing up story where the little girl meets a friend who convinces her they are both fairies. I want elaborate descriptions of fairyland and fun playing. I want other characters who may or may not be trolls and other fantastic creatures disguised as humans. And I want it totally ambiguous whether the fairy girl is really a fairy, really imaginative, or downright bonkers. The story is Belinda trying to figure it out and learning that, in many ways, it doesn't matter.

Who will write me this book?

And, to quote my favorite poet on the topic:

If you see a faery ring
In a field of grass,
Very lightly step around,
Tip-toe as you pass,
Last night faeries frolicked there
And they're sleeping somewhere near.
If you see a tiny faery,
Lying fast asleep
Shut your eyes
And run away,
Do not stay to peek!
Do not tell
Or you'll break a faery spell.

~ William Shakespeare ~

* This is a sign of the times, I think, that something in US air space can turn out to be "just" a Russian space rocket.
** What IS a nick of time? Anyone know the origin?
*** Not her real name.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Shall I compare thee

to a summer's day?
Thou are more crunchy, and more full of mint.

It's National Poetry Month. Now, I'm no poet (obviously obviously and very obviously). But it's impossible not to love poetry when you like words, emotion, and metaphor as much as I do. So to celebrate, I have big plans. BIG plans. HUGE plans that took MONTHS to pull together.

Chomp chomp. I ate your brethren all away,
And though I meant to buy some more I di'nt.

Okay, I have no plans. But Gregory K. Pincus does. Go to GottaBook, where he will share a previously-unpublished poem by someone fabulous every day. Here's the announcement.

Sometimes too hot the toaster oven shines
And often in it pizza's cheese is burnt;
Oh, every pear from fresh sometimes declines,
And grapes can only last so long I've learnt.

For my part, I wrote chapters 4 and 5 and 6 and 7 and even some of the very end this week...

But thy plasticky chocolate shall not fade
Nor lose the cookie goodness that's within;

Which does not explain entirely why this rip-off ode to Thin Mints stinks so much.

Nor shall Tink touch you after she has played,
For who knows where those dirty hands have been?

Oh well. I promise better celebrations later.

So long you'll rest in your exalted space,
Til Easter comes, and cream eggs take your place.