Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Catch a Falling Leaf, part 2

Long time visitors to Jacqui's Room will remember that every fall I try to catch a falling leaf* for luck. I haven't gotten to it this year, mainly because the weather went from summer to winter with just a breath of fall in between, followed by a few days of fall, some spring rain, and today is strangely, spookily still. All of this is, of course, prelude to Michigan winter, which fills my soul with dread and my attic with frozen beasts. Remind me again why I live in Michigan?

In any case, this week Tinkerbell came home from school and asked me to close my eyes and hold out my hands. When I did, she put a small, curved brown leaf on my palm.

"I caught it for you. Because it's shaped like a J and I knew you didn't have one yet."

And here I thought it couldn't get better than catching one myself. Winter? Bring it on.

* And if you're new, the leaf post is one of my favorites, and you should try it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Yes!

Have you read Operation Yes, by Sara Lewis Holmes yet?

Why not?

Full disclosure: I love Sara. She is funny and smart and if you don't visit her blog Read Write Believe regularly, you are missing out. Her first book, Letters From Rapunzel, was lovely, too, so I was not surprised to enjoy this book.

I was surprised, however, to read something that is so wonderfully different from other books out there.

There are funny middle grade books. And there are deep or timely middle grade books. And there are middle grade books with madcap adventures, wacky teachers, and crazy plans in which the kids show the adults what up. But there are very few that are so well-written or that feel so completely realistic in terms of the child character's emotions; at every step along the way, I believed these characters, I felt with them what they felt, and I giggled and choked up and delighted.

And so will you, so go get it.

But if you don't believe me, read what Booklist had to say here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Carpet Parking

This week's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM) is photographic.

On the walk to Tink's school today, cutting through undergraduate student housing, I saw this:

In case you can't tell, that's bike parking, and it's holding a bike, a bike, a bike, a carpet, a bike, and a bike.

Other people speculated that the carpet had been washed and was set there to dry. Muggles, all of them.

Because it's clearly magic. You can't just park those things anywhere, you know.

What I didn't understand, though, is why it wasn't locked. I mean, I know it's a beige Stainmaster cheapie and not an elaborate oriental, but won't someone steal it?

And then it occurred to me: someone already has.

Who will write me this book?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Try this. Now.

Today is the National Day on Writing. You can go here to see testimonials from writers on why they write or here to join the fun and submit your own writing.

Or, you can do this:

Do not read ahead in these directions.

1. Get a pen or pencil or crayon and some paper or cardboard or parchment. Don't pick them up yet. Just leave them in reach.

2. Check the time. Give yourself 15 minutes. What's 15 minutes?! You'll do your daily 15 minute "Man, I worship Jacqui" dance twice tomorrow.

3. Now, think of that story you've always thought about writing. I don't care if you're not a writer. We all have a story to tell. Plus, you're not going to write the great American novel in 15 minutes, so who cares? If you are a writer, I know there's one in there that scares you because it's not your genre or it's too personal or too hard to pull off. Don't worry about all of that. Just think of the story.

4. Imagine this: the story is already written. You already did all the work. I have it here, in front of me. Doesn't that feel good. I look at it. I read the first line. Hmm. What is the first line? Write it down. Don't think about it. I don't care if it stinks. We are going to shred this and hide it under the coffee grounds in the trash when you're done. C'mon, it's ONE sentence. Write it.

5. Oh, that's intriguing. I must know more. What are the next two sentences? Write them down. What's that? You don't know what to say. Yes, you do. The first line's already written. Just tell me what comes next. Don't worry about craft; remember the coffee grounds.

6. Keep writing. Don't lift your pen from the paper until those 15 minutes are up. I don't care if you think your spelling or your handwriting stinks or if you haven't written anything but checks since high school. I don't care if you write the worst story ever written in the history of stories. Just keep writing. Don't read #7 until 15 minutes are done.

7. When 15 minutes are over, stop. Shred the paper and hide it under the coffee grounds. Or maybe don't. Maybe save it and tomorrow, write for 15 more minutes. Maybe hide a secret notebook that you carry on your person so nobody can find it. Write while you wait in the car line at your kid's school, when you get to the dryer and it still has five more minutes, and while you're waiting for your prescription -- all of a sudden you have 15 minutes a day. Don't think about publishing it or what the audience is or if it meets certain standards. Just write it like you used to write your diary. Write "Do Not Read This Even If I Die! I Mean It!" on the cover. That's what mine says, anyway.

No, seriously. Just try it. And happy National Day on Writing.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Bad Kitty Gets a Bath

I am still writing writing writing. I finished my notebook and moved to the next one (yes, I write everything longhand first) and it's going very well.

Whenever I am writing quickly like this, I start to wish I could draw. I think if I could draw I could come closer to getting exactly what I envision in my head down on paper. I know that if I were an illustrator, it would still be frustrating; I am sure artists feel jealous that writers have words to use sometimes. But sometimes a picture really is worth 1,000, you know?

For example, have you read Nick Bruel's Bad Kitty Gets a Bath?
A friend got it for Tink and it is the funniest thing I have read all month. It's in graphic novel format and the words are hilarious but the pictures! I could write humor for weeks and not get as funny as the pictures of Bad Kitty ridding himself of a hairball. I read it at bedtime (my own) and tried to make Thor read it with me and giggled aloud until he mocked me and then turned back to the front and read it again.

Apparently this is a series and I shall soon hunt down the rest. As should you, if you have elementary-aged readers. Or cats.

As for me, I must head back to the composition notebook and to the challenge of painting pictures with only words.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Psst! Wanna buy a granny?

Oh, happy is the Thursday when there is hilarity in the odd news. And even happier when said news is not obscene AND it would make, I think, an awesome middle grade chapter book.

This is your Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM).

From Reuters India
(Reporting by Paul Casciato; Editing by Steve Addison):

UK girl stopped from selling granny online

Apparently, 10 year old Zoe Pemberton tried this week to auction her grandmother off on Ebay. She described her grandma as "annoying and moaning a lot" but "cuddly." My favorite part? 27 people bid for her before Ebay reminded everyone that grandma trafficking is illegal.

There are two books here. First, you have a comedy about Zoe's efforts to get rid of her grandmother. Selling her on Ebay is only the tip of the iceberg. She also tries to marry her off to their neighbor Sheldon, attempting to get the senile old man to say "I do" before her grandmother figures out what is going on. She scatters ElderTour brochures around the house and fiddles with the GPS on Granny's wheelchair.

OR, and this is the one I want, what if it went through? What if you bought yourself a grandma on Ebay? You order her, save up, send all the money you saved plus some you stole from the change jar on dad's dresser, and ten days later, there's a knock at the door. Mom answers, and in walks Granny. Turns out she's thrilled to escape the brat who sold her and refuses to leave. So, like the stray dog you brought home in second grade, they let you keep her, but you have to take care of her. And turns out she is just as cuddly, but also just as annoying and moaning as advertised.

For some reason, I am picturing this in journal form. No! It's letters to the grandma whom Granny Ebay is replacing (she had a late life need for adventure and is off disabling land mines in Laos).

Poor Granny Ebay. Who will write me this book?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A clarification

I may have mistakenly given the impression yesterday that I hate the book I am writing. Apparently, some people think when you fantasize about shooting something full of holes it means you don't like it. Go figure.

But, as I told Paul in the comments, I don't hate my book. I LOVE my book. I think it is hilarious and gripping and poignant and may have the ability to cure cancer. If I didn't love it so much, in fact, it would be much easier to write it, because I wouldn't care so much about every single word being perfect for my masterpiece.*

And I don't hate writing. Obviously. Or I wouldn't do it. Don't tell the non-writers who are so sympathetic when I complain, but this struggle is part of the fun of it.**

I don't even hate squirrels that much, except when they're in my house waking my children at odd hours.

* Hmm. This reminds me frighteningly of how I feel about my children.
** For a much smarter, more beautiful explication of this, see Sara Lewis Holmes and Linda Urban's conversation. And, by the way, if you don't read the consistently thoughtful and helpful blogs by Sara and Linda, you should. And if you don't have your copy of Sara's Operation Yes yet, go find one. More on that later.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Killing Anne Lamott's birds

In which I offer some No, Seriously. Just Try It advice for giving your stupid book the beat down.

Have you read Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird? It's fantastic. Go read it. I'll wait.


Done? Just in case you missed it, one of the best tidbits explains the title. Seems Ms. Lamott's brother had to write a report about, like, ten million different kinds of birds. He left it for the last minute and was overwhelmed to the point of being unable to start.

"How am I going to do this?" he screamed.*

To which his father sagely replied, "Bird by bird."

The idea being that if you sit down to write the best novel ever written, you will be so overwhelmed that you won't be able to write a word. So instead, you take it one chapter, one page, heck, one word at a time, and you can get it done.

I love this idea, but right now, I need something a little stronger. My novel and I are in a fight. I am trying to re-write it; it is acting like a two year-old who refuses to have all of his limbs shoved into a snowsuit. It glares at me from the blank page, singing songs like "Oh, How I Hate You, Writer Wench" and "Never Gonna Get Me Right" while blowing raspberries and eating all my doughnuts.

So instead of thinking of each scene as a delicate little bird, awaiting the gentle breeze of my words to send it to flight, I am picturing them as those outlines of people at a shooting range. I've written the title of each scene left to re-write on its own index card. When it's time to write, I shuffle the cards and pick one and that's what I have to write. Right then. Whether I'm ready or not. Even if it stinks. And when it's done, I say, "Ch-ch-BOOM!" and picture myself blowing the stupid scene full of holes.**

So. Hate your own book? Embrace that feeling. No, seriously. Just try it. And report back.

* The above is my imagined re-enactment of what is told much better in the book.
** Attn newcomers to Jacqui's Room: I am, I promise, a nonviolent person. Except when it comes to recalcitrant novels. And squirrels.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

This Week's Library Haul

We have taken ten million books out of the library since last installment. But all this linking and cover-finding takes time I do not have. Also, some of our haul includes I Spy: Spooky Things That No Kid Could Find* and the such. So here are my two favorites.


The Mine-o-saur
by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, illus. David Clark

"It's mine!" screams the Mine-o-saur about everything, until none of the other dinosaurs will play with him. Now he's got all the toys, but (surprise) it's not much fun. So he returns the toys and wins back his friends. The book has some rhyming verse, some prose, which gives it a nice rhythm but keeps it from becoming sing-song.

At first, I thought, "Oh, this is cute." Then we read it. "Again," said Destructo. So we read it the next night. "Again," said Destructo. So we read it the next night. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. And I didn't get tired of it, which is saying A LOT.

Then, the other day, we were in the sand box, making spaghetti with rockballs in the dump truck as usual, when a little boy came over and screamed, "Mine!" He grabbed the dump truck/sauce pan. I expected fireworks. But Destructo just smiled and looked at me. "Dat the Mine-o-saur," he said. See that people? Books in life!

P.S. He still snatched the truck back from the other kid.



Wolves
by Emily Gravett

"Idolize" is not too strong a word for how I feel about Emily Gravett. You've heard about the snuggly fun that Monkey & Me has brought my house. And now I find this. Nobody else plays around with the picture book format like this.

A rabbit borrows a book about wolves from the library. As he reads, a wolf peels off the pages of the book. Tink giggled herself silly at the rabbit's oblivion, as he continues to read even while standing amidst the fleas on the wolf's back. At the end of the book, yes, the wolf eats him, leaving only a fur tuft on the page. The best part: Gravett adds an ending for more "sensitive" readers in which the wolf turns out to be vegetarian and shares a jam sandwich with the rabbit (and they are illustrated as taped back together, rescued from the carnage of the previous page).

It was a little scary for Destructo ("Mama, I don't YIKE wooves.") but Tink and I loved it. And every picture book writer should read it, if only to see the possibilities in the format.

* not the real title

Friday, October 2, 2009

All we can do

I had a plan. In honor of the last day of Banned Books Week, I thought, "I will read my kids THE MOST challenged book of the year!" But it turns out the most challenged book of the year is And Tango Makes Three, which Tink reviewed here last year and which we read at least twice a month in my house.*

Instead, I decided to try something different. I tried to see it from the point of view of the parents challenging these books. I thought, "What if it were something that stood diametrically opposed to something I believe? What if there were a well-written, adorable picture book that, say, supported the idea that the Holocaust is a myth?" Would I want it gone from my kids' library? Or what if Tink's librarian started making YAs available to second graders to take out and Tink let slip one day that she was reading Forever at DEAR time?

But for every example I invented, there was the same answer: I would talk to Tink about it. The fact is: we can't control the world; all we can do is prepare our children for it. We can't control other people's opinions, no matter how crazy we think they are. All we can do is raise children strong enough and smart enough to think for themselves. And honestly, we can't really control who our children turn out to be. All we can do is show them that we are there to discuss the confusing parts and to answer questions and to calm their fears, and to promise them that we will love them, no matter what life choices they make.

And as writers, all we can do is keep writing books that show kids that no matter who they are or where they come from, somewhere someone understands.

Happy Banned Books week, everyone.

P.S. For a much better, deeper post on this, read this librarian's response to a parent's concerns (thanks cath c, for the link).

* really people? Really? The absolute scariest, most inappropriate for children thing in print out there right now is a true story about two male penguins who raise an adorable baby? For real? Because I have read some books with my kids this year that were so insipid that I could look into my kids' ears while they read and see their brains rotting noticeably.