Friday, May 29, 2009

History: How it really happened

CHAPTER 45: The end of the Civil War

The scene: I am making rhubarb marmalade (don't ask). Tink and Destructo have dismantled the sofa and are jumping back and forth from the ottoman to the floor.

TINK: Good morning, Honey!

DESTRUCTO: Good morning.

: Now, where is that serving girl? Serving girl, wait, pretend Ernie's my servant girl, okay?

: Ernie MY serbing girl.

: We share her, because I'm Princess Vashti* and you're the prince, okay? No, wait. You're Abraham Lincoln.

: I Abaham Yinkin (falls backwards off couch cushion). Ow.

: (balances on edge of ottoman, talking into pink Barbie phone**) Serving girl! Come in here! Now listen. You know I am Princess Vashti so you know for breakfast I shall have a bagel with cream cheese and a side of corn muffin. Now bring me my phone (hangs upside down off edge of couch to pull phone from wherever it's hidden from Destructo).

: Honey?

: Yes?

: I going to jump around.

: Okay, Abraham Lincoln (who does indeed jump around like a rabid jackrabbit, ending up panting in a heap at the other side of the room).

: Now, servant girl, we have to talk about the problem of the Civil War. Because I am a fair princess and I don't like it. Get me Abraham Lincoln on the phone. Hello? Abraham Lincoln? This is Princess Vashti. We need to have no more war. So you stop the war and figure out a way for both sides to win so nobody feels bad, okay? I order you to do that. Abraham Lincoln, do you hear me?

: I eating some 'nack (eats something, I have no idea what, from behind pretend kitchen).

: No, there is no time for snack. Do it now. There, it's decided (tosses Ernie doll to her brother). You can have the servant girl. I need a nap (lays down with hand on forehead, then lifts head to look at brother). Did you do it?

: Yeah.

: Mom! I just ended the Civil War. Good night.

Now, if only we had Queen Vashti and Abraham Lincoln in the Middle East.

*Presumably the daughter of Queen Vashti from the Purim story, who defied the king and was banished.
** Which mysteriously appeared in my house one day without explanation, sparking daily battles for its use amongst my kids. Darn anti-feminist house elves.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The path to paradise

Today's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment breaks my heart.

On NPR this morning, I heard a story.* The reporter was discussing the use of "suicide camps" for training young people to become suicide bombers, particularly in Pakistan. The man he was interviewing (again, apologies for the failure to cite any of this), told him of a new phenomenon. It seems that some people are purchasing children and training them to be suicide bombers, not as part of any jihad, but for revenge killings and other dirty work. The story the interviewee told involved a young boy who was bought from his family and told he was going to be trained to become a martyr, but was instead sent to bomb the next door neighbor's after a dispute.

Even the NPR reporter, after a pause, said something to the effect of "That is the most sinister thing I have ever heard."

I want this kid's story. I want to see, from the kid's point of view, how one of these camps can take a child and mold him into someone who is willing to kill himself for a cause. I want to see his opinions changing, his doubts erased, his mind narrowed. I don't want any judgment or religious opinions; this is an emotional journey, not a political piece.

I don't know how I want it to end. Part of me would pray, of course, for intervention, for the kid to be caught before he can go through with it, like that kid that went public on CNN about feeling tricked. Or for him to figure out he was being used in a way he hadn't imagined. But part of me knows the story is better if in the end we see the carnage and the destruction and not an angel in sight.

Who will write me this book?

* which I had on in the car and could subsequently not find or link to here. Sorry.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A sneak preview, just for you

I don't usually share snippets of my writing. This is because I want to encourage the rest of you, not cause you to throw your pencils down and yell, "WHY? Why in the name of Laurie Halse Anderson do I continue to write at all when I will never compare with the literary genius of Jacqui?!"

But, as a special reward, to thank you for all your help with The Tale of Ant, here is a sneak preview for you lucky loyal readers.*

I present to you, in exciting blue font, the end of chapter 8 and the beginning of chapter 9, as they appeared in submission to my critique group** last week:

“You know what that is?” Devra asks.
“Part of a phone number?” Ant guesses.
“Possibly. But it’s also our first real clue.”
Ant opens his mouth to say something clever, but he never gets it out.
(Dear critique group, what does Ant see? I am at a loss. Think of something, please.)

Chapter 9
(Critique group, this is where they will quickly resolve the issue you made up from last chapter)
They sit at the teacher’s lounge table with the scribbled numbers and the pastries between them. Or rather, Devra sits. Ant starts in a chair, but soon takes his pastry on the move...

Are you breathless at my brilliance?

* both of you
** bless their patient, tolerant souls

Thursday, May 21, 2009

You gotta feel for the vulture

For the second week in a row, today's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM) has vomit in it.

The Leslie Science Center came to Tink's school this week, along with their collection of rescued birds of prey.

"We saw a red-tailed hawk!" Tink raved. "And a great horned owl."

It sounded very cool. I asked questions. Tink rattled on.

TINK: ...but I felt bad for the poor turkey vulture.
JACQUI: The poor turkey vulture?
TINK: Yeah. He was just rescued, so he hadn't been on any adventures to schools before.
JACQUI: So he was nervous.
TINK: Yeah. He got so nervous he threw up on the gym floor!

Oh, the poor turkey vulture. Imagine it. Franklin is a turkey vulture. He is supposed to be a scavenger, a bird of prey, a fearsome beast. Instead, he is elementary school student-a-phobic. The red-tailed hawk spreads his wings and the kids ooh and aah. The great horned owl spins his head to look behind him and hoots. And Franklin? Franklin barfs and tries to hide.

Clearly, somebody has to write this book. NOBODY has written a fiction picture book with a turkey vulture main character. Sure, there's April Pulley Sayre's lovely Vulture View, but the turkey vulture kids fiction market is wide open!

Who will step to the plate???

photo of turkey vulture by Mjobling at Wikipedia Commons.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

(growls in frustration)

In which I don't spoil the ending, but I do give a hint about it.

Wallace Stegner and I are in a fight. I finished Angle of Repose. And, as I wrote over at Goodreads, the "ending is...disappointing. Not nearly magnificent enough to fit the rest of the book. And Stegner, whom I was holding up as my example of a writer you can trust, sweeps the rug out from under his own story with a cheap trick, and then leaves us hanging. I almost tossed the book across the room."

I love a good ending. I savor a great surprising but satisfying twist. I love an "aha!" I can take ambiguity and questions. I'm even occasionally up for a slightly unrealistic but makes me smile happy as a banana split tie it all together ending.

What I cannot stand is for an author to sell out his own story, and with it, his readers. I respect story. I respect beginnings and middles and ends. I think beginnings are promises and middles are journeys and the end has to be some sort of destination and fulfillment of the promise. If your beginning is the first slice of bread, and the middle is turkey and cheese, your ending cannot be beef nachos.

I know life is an unsure journey. And I am sure better Stegner scholars than I could eloquently justify the "WHAT?!" moment in the first sentence of the last chapter of this book. But me, I feel cheated.

I'm going to read The Last Olympian. Rick Riordan had better not let me down...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

(sighs in contentment)

I am a very fast reader. I have been known to skip the boring parts or to rush to the end to see what happens.

Sometimes, though, I pick up a book like this:

And nothing, no nothing, could make me speed through it because it's just. that. good.

Here is how you know Angle of Repose is brilliant. Not because it won Wallace Stegner the Pulitzer Prize. Not because Stegner's descriptions are so beautiful they make you think it would be cool to move to the middle of nowhere on the back of a mule and build your own house out of rocks. Not because Susan grapples 130 years ago with the balance between her family and her art, or because the narrator's efforts to imagine his story ring familiar to any writer, or because the tale is simultaneously so sweepingly universal and heart-wrenchingly specific. Not even because I dare secretly compare it to East of Eden, which you know rocked my world.

No. The way you can tell how much I am loving this book is that I have, on my bedside table, these:

Yet even the call of Percy Jackson and The Hunger Games is not enough to make me rush a single of Stegner's words.

Yum. What are you reading?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Baaaad boys

I was pondering a very cool, deep Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM)*. And then I went to the petting farm with Destructo this morning. We took a hay ride into the middle of the cow pasture, where the farmer stopped the truck and scattered feed. Immediately, we were surrounded by cattle, some of them horned, mooing and jockeying for position. They were gigantic but gentle. Destructo was fascinated. He cooed over the mamas with their babies. He reached over the side of the hay ride to pet them. He mooed back. It was totally adorable.

Then the hay ride went on and dropped us at the petting barn. Destructo climbed up me, clawing at me like a baby monkey.

"NO!" he shouted. "No go in here!"

"Why not?" I asked. There didn't appear to be any monsters or even loose animals. But Destructo tried to crawl into my skin.

"I no like THAT!" he screamed, pointing.

I looked. And oh. my. God. I saw this:

Yeah, it's a baby goat.** About the size of a large house cat. By far the cutest thing (other than my kids) that I've seen all week. The little black one was the evil demon that had Destructo up in (my) arms.

It baaed and Destructo screamed. 700 pound horned cows=cute, but tiny long-lashed baby goat=Cujo, apparently.

And then I thought, "Maybe Destructo knows something I don't." Maybe he speaks goat. And maybe the goat is saying, "I am going to kill you." Or maybe he can inherently sense what that goat would do to his lovey.

There's a book here. I want horror, where the cutest animals in the barn are evil and nobody but the main character can tell. The baby goats are killers and Fern wouldn't want to be anywhere near the runt of the pig litter. It has to be a graphic novel, I think, so we can get pictures. And I want the main character to get caught wrestling the animals and for his mom to think he's crazy.

But no attack bunnies; that's been done.

Who will write me this book? And who can think of a better title than "Baaaad Boys" for it?

* I actually was; it will come next week, I think.
** Sorry so blurry; it's hard to take pictures with a terrified monkey on your head.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The very hungry writer

With apologies to Eric Carle.

In the light of the moon, a little writer sat at her computer.

One Sunday morning, the warm sun came up and pop! The little writer had a fabulous idea for revising her chapter book.

Naturally, she decided to look for some food.

On Monday, she rewrote two chapters and ate some celery. But she was still hungry.

On Tuesday, she rewrote another chapter, and ate a turkey sandwich. But she was still hungry.

On Wednesday, she wrote 500 words, and ate a slice of pizza. But she was still hungry.

On Thursday, she wrote a few emails and a boring blog entry, and ate a bowl of pea soup and a roll. But she was still hungry.

On Friday, she wrote no words. She ate a hunk of Argentinian skirt steak with a side of homemade potato chips anyway. But she was still hungry.

On Saturday, she wrote a to do list and a check for the overdue water bill. She ate one slice of swiss cheese, one pumpkin pie, three of her kids' juice boxes, fourteen Bunny grahams, one coffee shake, one Snickers bar, and 14 glazed donuts. And a water buffalo with chocolate sauce.

That night, she had a stomachache. Also, she decided her chapter book stunk.

The next day was Sunday again. The little writer ate through one bunch organic red kale. It was disgusting and didn't make her feel any better. But she also wrote a new scene, which did.

Now she wasn't hungry any more, and she wasn't a little writer anymore either. She was a big, fat, inspired writer.

She made a small closet called an "office" in her basement. She holed herself up inside of it for three days.

Then she ate her way out through the drywall, and...

... she had a beautiful first draft.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Picture Book Mamas, a list

In honor of Mother's Day, I thought, well, I thought I'd run away to the Bahamas with a suitcase full of books and Chompo bars, but that didn't happen.* So instead, I bring you a Respect the Mighty Picture Book Mother's Day moment:

Three Picture Book Mamas You Have to Love

1. Frances's mother (from A Baby Sister for Frances or A Birthday for Frances,** by Russell Hoban, illus. Lillian Hoban)
Frances pitches a fit because Mom forgot the raisins. Frances shakes a coffee can full of rocks while the baby's sleeping. Frances catches Mother and Father self-medicating with cake and asks to share. Does Mother put the baby lock on the outside of the cabinet to which Frances runs away? No. The woman is a rock of patience. And yet, you get the sense she and Father laugh at Frances. A lot.

2. Patrick Edward's mama (from Monster Mama, by Liz Rosenberg, illus. Stephen Gammell)
She's a monster, but she loves him with "the sweetest touch in the world." Monster Mama and I are kindred spirits in the "turn into a raving lunatic if someone hurts your kids" thing. And yes, she understands the value of a tasty cake.***

I also love her because Publisher's Weekly called her an "impish-faced woman experiencing a decidedly bad hair day and needing a manicure." Um, that's me every day.

3. Mama Llama (from Llama Llama Red Pajama, by Anna Dewdney)
Yeah, we're still obsessed with this one in our house. Picture books need more mamas with some attitude, I think. Enough of this, "If you turn into a sailboat, I will be the wind and blow you where I want you to go" and more "Baby llama, what a tizzy!/ Sometimes Mama Llama's busy."

So who did I miss? Who's on your list?

* Other ways I am not celebrating Mother's Day include starting Captain Destructo's baby book and having a moment's peace.
** Confession: I hate
Bedtime for Frances (plugs ears to avoid hearing the screams). Yes, well, come talk to me when YOU have had to read Bedtime for Frances every single night for several months. Do you know how long that book is?! Plus, I am guessing you have forgotten that Frances only finally goes to bed after her father threatens to wallop her.
*** Note to graduate students: do you notice the frequency of cake in these stories? There is a thesis here. You should write it. Or you should go bake me some cake.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Puke Fairy

Warning: this week's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM) is about barf.

Christy's kids were sick this week. Over on Facebook, she lamented that the "puke fairy" had been for a visit. "Blech," I thought. "Poor thing."

And then I thought, "What if there WERE a puke fairy?"

Wouldn't it stink being the puke fairy? I mean, who wouldn't want to be the tooth fairy, who delivers shiny coins in exchange for old teeth? Or even the boob fairy, who my mom always told me came later? But the puke fairy?!

Let's face it: nobody likes the puke fairy. What's a little puke fairy to do?

David Shannon has a sweet book called Alice the Fairy, and Alice will be starring as the puke fairy in my version of this book.

The puke fairy's interactions all start very nicely. Glitter, sparkles, girly nonsense and giggles. And then, sure enough, BLAGHAGHAGHGAHAGH. Hee hee.

All the other fairies make fun of her. No little girls want to be her. Everyone screams when they see her coming. Mean kids throw apples at her. The little puke fairy just wants to be friends. She doesn't MEAN to make them spew. They just do.*

Now, wouldn't it be nice if at the end of the book, the puke fairy got to save the day?

Yeah, I can't figure out how either. But in case someone wants to write me this book, here are some names of famous people that mostly rhyme with "puke fairy:"

1. Luke Perry
2. Duke Harry
3. Drew Carey

*See, I even got you started with an unintentional rhyme.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Putting flesh on the skeleton

Remember when I decided to write out of order? Last week, it got to be too much. I had more writing in my "bits of writing" file than anywhere else. I had no idea what I'd written already and what I hadn't. I'd used a legal pad, a journal, and a composition notebook, plus some I'd composed on the computer. In short, the story was a mess.

So this weekend, I sat down and put it all in order, all in one document. And guess what? The book is almost written!

Sure, there are those large chunks where it says things like "this is where Ant saves the lizards." There are plenty of places where it says "they do something fun (styrofoam?)." And I'll admit, there is one place where I wrote, "They find the big clue that ties it all together. Note to self: figure out what the big clue is."

Details, details. The point is, the skeleton is there. And on my "to write" list for the week, I have only this: "Put flesh on the skeleton."

Now, is my book finished? No. Is there still a ton of writing to do? Yes. But somehow, seeing it all on the skeleton, in one document, in order like that, makes it seem finished. And the book being finished makes what's left to write seem trivial and fun, instead of this inconquerable mountain that looks ahead of me.

Tinkerbell is reading Honus and Me, by Dan Gutman,* this week. It's a fun baseball book, and has a great bit of advice, which I paraphrase as "The secret to being a great ball player is to trick yourself into thinking you already are one."

Maybe the secret to getting your novel written is to trick yourself into thinking you've already written it.

* It is fun, though I warn that the later books in the series tackle much more mature content, which I didn't discover until I had already let her take them out of the library and start them. Bad mom.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The first of May

Holy cow, there is way too much to celebrate today! Let's get to it.

1. It's May! This weekend we shall hide the winter coats and corduroy and pull out the open toe shoes.

2. It's Buy Indie Day! Go buy a book from your local indie. Even if you don't go buy, consider linking to the IndieBound site instead of or addition to Amazon at your blog or website. I am going over to Nicola's later to get a few things. Hmm. What shall I buy? Maybe...

3. ... Moon Zoo, by England's first female poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. After passing over Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Christina Rossetti, it's nice to see they now have their heads screwed on straight. Has anybody read Moon Zoo? It looks gorgeous.

4. Or maybe I will buy Catch-22, which I have never read. It's Joseph Heller's birthday. Imagine if you wrote a book that was so good that the title became a widely-used idiom. Crazy. Also, he was a pretty good writer, I hear (begins list for next project involving books she should have read a long time ago).

5. But the biggest thing to celebrate today involves a writer far more brilliant and dedicated than Heller or Duffy. Yes, it's me. Today marks the one year birthday of this blog. Read here to see how it all started, and for directions on starting your own blog. I considered doing BIG BIG BIG things here in Jacqui's Room to celebrate, but...

6. ... I have only three more chapters to write and Ant's first draft will be done, so I am writing madly. Of course, some of it is, um, all "This is where they find the thing and then something happens." But still!

Have a happy first of May.