Monday, October 11, 2010

ATTENTION PEOPLE OF JACQUI'S ROOM

We have your "Jacqui." We have been tracking her for several weeks but she refuses to write our chapters. Sure, she wrote character sketches for us and has written thousands, THOUSANDS of words for this book, but WE do not yet appear. Nobody even knows who WE are. Jacqui knows, but she ain't talking. Or writing. How can we perpetrate our evil, dastardly, very lucrative, somewhat ridiculous plans if we don't yet EXIST???

So we took her. She made a valiant effort at escape this weekend -- even hopped a train to Chicago and ran 26.2 miles. This was clearly to avoid us (why else would anyone run that far?!), but it was misguided since she ran it in a big circle. We let her stop to take this photo for proof. But then we got her.

Now you may not have her back until we have finished with her. Oh, we'll give her the essentials, like food and water and access to Facebook. But other than that, she writes only for us until OUR book is written to OUR satisfaction so the world can know of our greatness.

Yes, World! YOU SHALL KNOW OUR NAMES. You know, once we have names.

Sincerely,

The Bad Guys in Jacqui's New Book

Monday, October 4, 2010

I, robot

We did it! Or, rather, you did it and I suffered the consequences (explanation here).

YOU donated almost $1,000 to help kids learn to write at 826michigan. I ran the Big House Big Heart 5K dressed like this:

Yes, faithful readers, those ARE dryer vents on my arms. They are surprisingly warm and inflexible. And yes, that button does say "Disco" and yes, I did disco whenever someone pressed it. Fortunately, only Tink thought to press it. Unfortunately, she did so about a million times.

And yes, I did appear in front of a gabillion people, up on the Jumbotron, but no, I could not take a picture because race officials would not let me stop in the race chute. But I gave a little dance anyway, because I am a woman of my word.

NOW, some of you are kicking yourselves because you forgot to click HERE and then on my name and donate. Good news! You can still do it. PLUS, someone has donated a free massage to the fundraiser who raises the most money and I have a chance of winning. But there is stiff competition, so get there by the final count Friday at noon! Donate now! I WANT MY MASSAGE, people.

But most of all, thank you. Thank you thank you thank you, from me and 826michigan and a ton of happily writing children. Thank you.

Friday, October 1, 2010

My son loves pink, a rant

Warning: extended, only remotely related to Banned Books Week rant below. Please find a more indicative sample of our regularly scheduled light-hearted silliness here.

Dear World,

Yes, my son loves pink. He loves his glittery “do you believe in fairies?” shirt and his Hello Kitty water bottle and most of all his hot pink prairie skirt that twirls and that is, along with some boxer briefs, really the perfect summer play outfit.

Yes, I know he is wearing a skirt. And I know it is pink. No need to keep pointing that out, stating the facts as though you aren’t making a judgment in your head. Stop laughing; stop shaking your head. Stop congratulating yourself on your open-mindedness by saying, “That’s so great you let him wear it,” as though maybe I shouldn’t. In fact, please stop bringing it up in front of him at all because every time you do, you teach him that as much as he loves it, there’s something wrong or at least remarkable about that. And who wants to hear that it might not be okay to love something you love? Over and over, at the mall, on the street, at school, at your own family’s house?

While we’re at it, stop “reassuring” me that “it doesn’t mean anything.” What does that even mean?! Are you trying to say that his love for pink at age 3 doesn’t prove my son is gay? Thanks for the insight. Here’s a clue: the idea of him being gay doesn’t worry me. Here’s what worries me: it’s 2010 and my pink-loving son still has to defend his right to like a freaking COLOR. It’s 2010 and there are still people out there so incredibly homophobic that they CANNOT STAND the sight of a three-year-old boy in a SKIRT. It’s 2010 and my son wore his pink shirt to school the first day and there was MASS GENDER CONFUSION on the playground because some kids already, by age 3, are so gender-indoctrinated that they REFUSED TO BELIEVE he was a boy.

It is 2010 and every single time he wears his favorite color, my son’s feelings get hurt. Every single day, he gets told it’s not okay to be who is he is. I’m not worried about him liking pink or what it “means.” I’m worried that someday people are going to make him feel so bad about himself that he wants to jump off the GW bridge.

It’s 2010. It’s time to stop hurting people’s feelings with closed, terrified minds. It’s time to stop trying to prescribe other people’s lifestyles and families and reading material. It’s time to admit that reality is complicated and surprising and full of questions to which you don’t have answers. And it’s time to let my kids – and everyone's kids -- fully participate in that deliciously diverse reality without having to worry about the whispers.

It’s 2010, World. My son loves pink. Get over it.


Love,

Jacqui


P.S. Thanks for the chocolate donuts, though, World. Those things are awesome.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

From the Jacqui's Room Office for Outer Space Affairs

My Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM) news this week turned out to be a hoax!

I was disappointed to hear that, contrary to many media sources (all of whom should be really embarrassed for repeating it without doing any fact-checking), the U.N. did not actually appoint someone Earth's official "first contact" with alien life forms. Apparently, there is not someone in an office in Malaysia whose job is to wait for aliens to contact us.

This is very disappointing because one of you was going to write me a hilarious picture book about the bored bureaucrat sitting filing her nails, cracking gum and fielding the alien phone calls. ("Hello, Department of Earth's First ExtraTerrestrial Contact. How may I direct your call?") The official first contact was Malaysian, but I was picturing her from Jersey. And of course she was unfazable, regardless of what crazy aliens came in. "I'm sorry sir. There are no further openings for attempted invasion and take over of New York City this month. Please fill out Form P-2987 and submit it with November's application fee. Next."

Mostly, I'm disappointed nobody has to answer me this: it's all fine and well for US to know who the first contact is. But who's going to explain it to the aliens?

Oh well. At least U.N.O.O.S.A.* really exists. That's enough to feed the imagination for a while.

* the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tink, on Roald Dahl

This week, Tink is reading George's Marvelous Medicine. It, like many Roald Dahl books, has been challenged from time to time by concerned parents. So I sat Tink down for a Jacqui Reads her Children Books That Are SURE to RUIN Them FOREVER discussion.

ME: Tink?
TINK: (reads)
ME: Tink?
TINK: (reads)
ME: TINK?
TINK: (reads)
ME: TINK!
TINK: WHAT?!
ME: I notice you're reading George's Marvelous Medicine.
TINK: It's my Accelerated Reader book. (reads)
ME: Well, you know about Banned Books Week --
TINK: (deep sigh) And this is one of them.
ME: Well, sort of. What do you think?
TINK: (reads)
ME: Tink!
TINK: (blows bangs off face by spewing air with lower lip stuck out) Here's what I think: Yes, it's maybe not so appropriate in some places. But people! It's Roald Dahl. What did you expect? (returns to reading, turning back on me)
ME: (ponders several things, including how else to celebrate Banned Books Week)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Jacqui Reads Her Children Books That Are SURE To RUIN Them FOREVER


It's Banned Books Week!

Two years ago, I celebrated with Jacqui Reads Her Children Books That Other People Think Are Bad For Them. Last year I read them Even More Books That Other People Think Are Bad For Them. We've read a ton of terrible, child-harming evil, and yet, miraculously, my children's moral fiber remains frustratingly intact. So THIS year, I decided to condense the exposure AND to hit them with the biggies. I present to you:

Jacqui Reads Her Children Books That Are SURE to RUIN Them FOREVER

We started this weekend with these:

Heather Has Two Mommies
by Lesléa Newman, illus. Diana Souza



Daddy's Roommate
by Michael Willhoite

Nothing subtle there, eh? My kids were sure to be doomed.

We ran into trouble immediately. Destructo couldn't have cared less how many mommies Heather had. He was mainly worried that on the cover of her book, it looks like Heather is about to be EATEN BY A WOLF.*

Heather's story is very straightforward. Two is her favorite number; she has two hands, two eyes, and two mommies, both of whom she loves best. When Heather starts a playgroup, though, the kids talk about their daddies. Heather doesn't have a daddy and gets sad until the other kids in the class talk about how all their families are different and the teacher delivers a speech on love.

This is an important book, and a very lovey and reassuring book. It is not subtle though, and not particularly informative for modern kids with 21st century mindsets. BUT it becomes VERY interesting, terrifying even, if you think Heather's pet dog is a CHILD-EATING WOLF.

Punchy, but undeterred, we moved on to Daddy's Roommate. In the book, a little boy's parents are divorced and his dad has moved in with another man. The book is all about the fun the boy has with Daddy and his roommate.

First, check out that fantastic mustache! Thor had total facial hair envy.

Second, regardless of your politics, you have to respect an author who isn't afraid to speak his true thoughts on his book (and his whole lifestyle) being challenged.

But to the actual story. This book does not beat around the bush. It has illustrations of the men hugging in bed, it talks about their love for each other, it says they sleep together. As I read, I was thinking how red in the face Daddy's Roommate must make closed-minded book haters. But then Tink spoke up, on the page where they're at the beach.

"I know why some people think we shouldn't read this book," she said, pointing to the picture of Daddy's roommate in a Speedo-style bathing suit. "He's almost naked!"

Hmm. Later, she decided that what the book-banners didn't like must be the picture of the men wearing Red Sox hats. Because nobody should cheer for the Red Sox, I guess.

In the next episode: Underwear, the Sex Pistols, and Tink on Roald Dahl. Stay tuned.

* This is not to knock Ms. Souza; the illustrations within are cute. But you can see why he thought that.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Who is the author?

Today's Thursday inspiration comes from Tink, who had this idea:

"What if you didn't know who the author of the book was and the book was like a mystery where you had to find out?"

I am fascinated by this. You could write it as a scavenger hunt through the internet or even, gasp, the real world, where you had to figure out what historical figure was supposedly the author.

But I want fiction. A middle grade mystery with changing points of view, one of whom has written the book but doesn't admit it. In the story, a certain book has powers of some sort. Something important* hinges on who the author is, but nobody knows. After a few chapters, we realize the book in question is the one we're holding and WE have to figure out who wrote it. I want it sort of terrifying, like if we don't figure it out before the book is over something dreadful might happen to us in REAL LIFE.

I want a smart mystery with a brand-new structure and definite chills. Who will write me this book?


* No, I don't know what powers or what hinges. And this is why YOU are going to write the book.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Vacansopapurosophobia

Which means fear of the blank paper.*

I don't have a fear of the blank page. I love a good blank page, a whole blank journal even. It's so full of potential. Imagine all the fantastic, beautiful, hilarious things that could end up on there!

No, I have a fear of a half-filled page of bad writing. Call it vacansocrapurosophobia. The flip side of that blank page full of potential is a scribbled-on piece of garbage that I'm embarrassed to recycle without shredding it first. That's what haunts me.

I have a new book idea. It might be my favorite book idea ever. It's so pretty right now, so hilarious and yet touching, so unique and yet universal. And so completely unwritten, and therefore so fraught with the looming specter of total, heart-breaking failure to carry it off in a way that is at all close to my beloved vision for it.

This is the writer's dilemma: I have to be madly in love with an idea in order to even consider starting, given the amount of time and sweat (well, mental sweat) and energy I know it's going to take. But if I'm too in love with it, I'm terrified of blowing it.

This summer, though, I got a wonderful piece of advice: Redefine failure. As in, whenever you find yourself not trying something for fear you'll fail, redefine what "failure" will mean in that situation. For me, for any writer but in particular for those of you who have "always wanted to, but...", maybe failure shouldn't mean "unpublished" or "not as perfect as I hoped." Maybe failure should mean "never tried." And there's one obvious way to make sure that doesn't happen.

Excuse me, I have a book to go start.

* Also the title of an 826michigan student publication of just the kind you'd be supporting if you'd already signed on to force me to dress up like a robot and dance on the Jumbotron.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Help kids, humiliate Jacqui*

Things Jacqui Has Been Doing Instead of Blogging, part 1

Here are two things I love:
writing
teaching

And here is 826michigan, one of my favorite non-profits, which is dedicated entirely to teaching kids to write. You will not find another organization making writing as fun, as creative, as appealing to all kids (even reluctant writers), or as cool as 826 makes writing. We have a ROBOT STORE, for goodness sake.

You can learn more about all the 826 outfits here. This is something I believe in whole-heartedly. I'm on the board. I work in the robot store. Last year I spent all day every Friday volunteering during writing workshops at an elementary school in Ypsilanti. And sometimes, I humiliate myself. For example, this picture of me dressed as Brutus killing Robot Julius Caesar.

Now, here are two things I hate:
humiliation
asking for money

So I figured, why not combine them?

The Big House Big Heart is a 5K race that runs through downtown Ann Arbor, into the University of Michigan stadium, down the middle of the field and across the 50 yard line, where finishers are videotaped stumbling along and projected, giant-sized, onto the field's Jumbotron, for all to see.

And on October 3, with your help, it is possible I will run the Big House Big Heart Race and breakdance robot-style across the finish line while being projected giant-sized onto the Jumbotron. All while dressed in a full body robot costume.

Total humiliation. How can you make this happen? Help me raise $826 for 826michigan.

Yup. For a meager $826, I am going to line up with 10,000 other people, in broad daylight, with dryer vent tubes on my arms and a sign that says, "I get my fix at Liberty Street Robot Supply and Repair."** And I am going to post pictures of the whole thing. Online, for all to see and mock.

Here's how you can contribute to the Help Kids, Humiliate Jacqui plan:

1. Click HERE to be directed to the 826michigan race page. Then click on my name to go to PayPal.

2. Mail a check or cash to 826michigan, 115 E. Liberty Street, Ann Arbor, MI, 48109. Put "I want Jacqui red-faced on the Jumbotron" or something similarly evil in the memo.

3. Toss cash at me as I run past you in the race. This is, of course, less effective.

And then either sit back and pat yourself on the back for doing good and helping kids learn to write, or sit back and giggle maniacally at how embarrassed I am going to be out there. You know who you are.

* a blog title that shows the importance of carefully placed punctuation.
** or something else equally mortifying

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

School has started...

... and there is not a person in my house who isn't thrilled about it.

Everyone started new schools and everyone is in love with the new places. Though yesterday Destructo was upset because:

"We were learning to wash our hands and I saw a giant X marks the spot on the floor and it could be real pirate treasure and NONE of my teachers would GET ME A SHOVEL!"

It is also possible he insisted to his Sunday School teachers that his name is "Buzz."

Methinks it could be a long year...

Tink's new school uses the Accelerated Reader program: "MOM! Can you believe my HOMEWORK is to READ A BOOK?! Like I get extra credit for reading a book! Reading! For HOMEWORK. Like it's hard" (shakes head, chuckles to self, and disappears into armchair for hours).

As for me, in the last two weeks I had Tink's birthday (complete with Black and White themed almost sleepover), the first day of new schools for both Tink and Destructo, Rosh Hashanah, my birthday, Thor's 40th birthday (for which I planned a surprise weekend away with 10 friends), minor household crises (everyone is fine), an unintentionally thawed refrigerator, a barfing cat, minimal child care, house guests, a total of nearly 80 miles run, mysterious lights on in the car,

And yet, as part of my new "no excuses" policy, I will be sending everything my agent wanted by Thursday to her. Today. Yup, two days early. And yup, I am crowing about it.

So lemme just finish formatting this one thing. And then I will be back in Jacqui's Room to tell you all about it.

Monday, August 30, 2010

How do they do it?

You've seen the bios:

"So and so is a stay-at-home mom to three adorable children under the age of five, two dogs, a cat, and a bearded dragon named Louie. When not writing, she enjoys building houses for Habitat for Humanity, hand-making all her family's clothes, and acting as mayor of Dubuque. She recently finished her thirteenth solo ascent of Everest. This is her sixth novel in the past year; her first collection of self-illustrated poetry will be out in July."

Who ARE these people? WHERE did they buy their time-turners? And, while I'm asking questions with all caps, WHO THE HECK STUCK THIS EXTRA WEEK OF NO SCHOOL IN BETWEEN AUGUST AND SEPTEMBER???

I try. I do. I know people send their kids to play and shut the door and go write masterpieces. But I have to assume those people's children don't think up games like "Carry the Cat By Her Tail," "What Happens When Dry Erase Markers Get Really, Really Wet?" and the classic "Sit on Your Brother's Head Til He Screams." The only time my kids are silent enough for me to write without leaving one ear and some brain space available to monitor them is when they're up to something really naughty.

So today I planned myself some writing time with a playdate. That fell through. Child care? Nobody available. I planned a pool trip; at least I could jot down ideas while they played, right? We lotioned, got dressed, and biked down there. Immediately upon our arrival, someone else's kid vomited vast and chunky all over the shallow end. Pool closed indefinitely.

"Go play," I ordered when we got home. They went upstairs to play Harry Potter School. I opened Word. And it's broken. Won't start at all. I spent five minutes re-starting and swearing at it before the door to Tink's room opened.

TINK: Mom?
JACQUI: What?
TINK: Mom?!
JACQUI What?!
TINK: MOOOOOOOM!
JACQUI: WHAT?!
TINK: We need you to come be the werewolf!
JACQUI: No. I'm busy.
TINK: Please?
JACQUI: No.
TINK: (runs down stairs) PLEEEEEEEASE? PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE? (dances circles around living room)
DESTRUCTO: (bounces down stairs) Pyeez pyeez pyeez. (spins in nauseating circles, narrowly avoiding every pointed edge in room)
JACQUI: Stop. No. Go away. Shoo! (holds laptop like shield)
TINK & DESTRUCTO: PLEEEEEESE! PYEEZ! TWO MINUTES! PLEEEEEEEEE -- (continues until blue in the face) -- SE!
JACQUI: (Deep breathes. Closes laptop. Weeps)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Taming of the Critter

Oh my. Tink and I had such big plans for Critter. Sunset walks on the beach, tickets to the symphony, late Sunday brunches with asparagus omelets...

But Critter? Critter was out of control. We tried to interest him in books, like some other bloggers did. We took him to our favorite places in Ann Arbor -- the downtown library...
















... and Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair.*
















But Critter just kept trying to sneak into Pangea Piercing.
















When they asked him for ID, he ran and hid behind one of Ann Arbor's many fairy doors.**




















Eventually, the fairies delivered him back to my house with a note that said, "Never again." Tink and I felt bad for Critter. Maybe he just needed some coddling. We cooked him a healthy farmer's market dinner. He ignored it. He said he wasn't hungry. Then, later, we found this:
















It was obvious to Tink and I: Critter needed finishing school. We got right to work. We set him up a strict behavior management system with Twizzler Bits as rewards.

We taught him to cook.
















Tink gave him a more formal wardrobe. Finally, Critter was ready. Look, how lovely and peaceful he is now!
















"Our work here is done," Tink said. And it's true. I don't know how long the pink lacy phase will last, though, so we have shipped Critter off with all due speed to Tina Ferraro, who writes young adult books, and is, thus, better able to take care of recalcitrant Critters. Apparently, Tina may be taking Critter to Las Vegas.

I hope he doesn't gamble away his new ballet slippers.

* which is the storefront for 826michigan and also where I work on Mondays and also the coolest store in town

** Yes, there are really fairy doors all over Ann Arbor. If you come, we will tour them and you will be all "Aww" and your kids will stand gape-mouthed and whisper, "I believe."

Friday, August 20, 2010

What is a Critter?!

Ian Sands seems like a very cool person. He makes public, interactive art in North Carolina. Like, his art is on the side of a bus. Or, you might be walking down near the water in and see this, that Ian made:

That would make me so happy. Someone did public art in the Huron River here in Ann Arbor, but it was all rusty wires and then it blew away in a tornado. Sad.

Anyway, Ian started a project called the Lost Critter project. He made a lot of Critters and then set them free...


Christy Evers is also a cool person. She writes books for kids. You may know her around Jacqui's Room as the eternally encouraging commenter C.R. Evers.

Now, somehow, Christy got a hold of a particularly cute Critter:

She is sending him all over the real world to visit children's writers. At the end of his travels, Christy is going to auction Critter off and donate the proceeds to charity (I told you she was nice).

And now, this week, Critter is in my house. I got him in a padded envelope along with the directions to "have fun" and a hint that Christy expected "mischief."


Mischief? Me? Stay tuned...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Working is in progress again

Remember when I was writing so hard that I had to stop blogging and write a poem about how hard I was writing?

This week, I don't even have time for a poem. It's good news: my agent loved all my new ideas and wants to see them all ASAHOIPOS.* And my agent is wise and I always do what she says. Also, she is a black belt and can beat me up. So no blogging for me for a few days.

That said, we have a visitor at our house this week. And, oh, the adventures we have had. Already, there has been dress-up and candy and a robot vs. objet d'art brawl.

Have you met Critter? You will...









* As Soon As Humanly Or Inhumanly Possible Or Sooner

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Living with your inner critic

You know that voice inside you? The one that says, "This is no good. You're never going to get it right. You may as well give up." Mine is strong and mean and persistent. It beats me up, and it also uses logic ("Does the world really NEED another book? You know who needs you? Your kids!"). And it doesn't just bug me while I write. As I've been training for this marathon, it's started in while I'm running. "You're never going to make it. You may as well stop. You're probably about to injure yourself. C'mon, slow down."

I hate it. I used to try to ignore it, or to get rid of it. But lately I've stopped.

I went for a run in LA with the amazing Sara Lewis Holmes, and we got to talking about the voice, both in running and in writing. Here's what we realized: it never goes away. You can win 15 National Book Awards and a Pulitzer, you can run 95 ultramarathons, you can be the most accomplished anything in the world. But the voice will still be there. Every time it gets hard, it will be there, feeding on your insecurity and trying to convince you to quit.

And then Sara said the wisest thing. She said maybe you have to learn to live with it, to say, "Oh, hello. I recognize you," and then to go on.

Earlier this week, I went running with Tink. She rides her bike alongside me and it's usually great. But this run, she was cranky. She started whining at the farthest away point and she screamed and kvetched at me for two miles. She was making me CRAZY. But the more I talked calmly back and kept running, the more ridiculous she got ("I am going to DIIIIIIIE!"). I could laugh at her. And of course, we made it. Now, when I am running and the voice starts in, I just pretend it's Tink kvetching. And I go on.

I am about to start a new book, and I know soon thereafter the voice will start. But I'm not going to ignore it. I'm going to say, "Oh, hello. I recognize you." Because I am less nice than Sara, I will probably add "You stupid voice."

And then I will go back to writing.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Why my children have no hope of being normal...

Part 357: the omen

...because I promised Tink we could do "Harry Potter camp," just she and I, this week. Today is Potions. I printed up a simple baking soda and water recipe in a fancy font and labeled it "Revealo Totalum." I told Tink we were going to learn a simple potion that you paint on a plain piece of paper to reveal secret messages, or the future.

Then last night, I snuck downstairs, took the "plain piece of paper" and, in vinegar, wrote "THE DARK LORD RISES! BEWARE! BE NICE TO YOUR MOTHER!"

Heh heh heh.

Monday, August 9, 2010

This week, we are obsessed with...

(books you should read)

1. Once Upon a Time, The End (Asleep in 60 Seconds)
by Geoffrey Kloske, illus. Barry Blitt

For any parent whose kid ever insisted on "One more story!" ten million times until you were left exhausted and skipping entire pages and telling stories like, "Once upon a time a kid wouldn't stop asking for stories and his mother went INSANE. The end."

Includes such classics as The Two Little Pigs and (my favorite) The Princess and the Pea ("Is there a pea in your bed? No? Then what's your excuse? Go to sleep."). Hilarity.




2. Iggie's House, by Judy Blume

Winnie's best friend Iggie moved away, leaving Winnie miserable. When the Garber family moved in with three kids, Winnie was thrilled. But the Garbers were the first black family in the neighborhood and not everyone was as thrilled as Winnie to have them there.

From the publisher: Winnie, a welcoming committee of one, set out to make a good impression and be a good neighbor. That's why the trouble started. Glenn and Herbie and Tina didn't want a "good neighbor." They wanted a friend.

This book was first published in the 70s and re-released in 2002 with this new cover (which Tink & I both I hate, though we can't articulate why; I think it's because the kids look so happy, which they are definitely not in the book). It feels a little dated (I had to explain to Tink what "Negro" meant). But what is both amazing about Judy Blume (and terribly depressing about the world) is how not dated it is. The awkward way Winnie and the Garbers learn to make friends with each other as individuals and not representatives of their respective races, Winnie's ignorance, and the thinly-veiled excuses Winnie's neighbors give for not wanting the Garbers around could easily have been written this year.

3. Cool dates. As in, today is 8.9.10. We will definitely be having a dance party tonight at 6:07. Who's in?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Who can help me find these things?

Attention Jacqui's Room reader(s):

I need your help finding something: July.

Like the whole month. I lost mine, apparently, because it's almost over and I can't remember what I did with it.

I mean, from the looks of this blog, you'd think I hadn't posted in two week, when in fact, I have been posting brilliant and hilarious items TWICE DAILY.*

I looked in my bag of marbles and it turns out most of them are lost too.

It's a household wide problem. Yesterday, I listened to Tink and Destructo have an extended argument entitled "Uno: are we or are we not playing with a full deck?"

In other news, I heard an all too familiar thumping and scratching sound in my attic this weekend.** Is it possible a new generation of flightless pigeons is out to get me?! Did they not read this blog last spring? Or do I now, in addition to everything else, literally have bats in my belfry? I will keep you updated.

* In my head.
** No joke. All three of these things actually happened this week. This is my life.

*** Photo from 826michigan's Liberty Street Robot Supply and Repair Store website. You can buy loose screws there, if you don't have enough already.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Our weekend, by the numbers

Number of laps of the outside of our house done by Thor in his imitation of Iniesta's celebration of Spain's winning World Cup goal: 1

Number of shirts removed as part of said imitation: 1

Number of laps of our house done by my children in imitation of their father: 2

Number of clothing items removed during laps: all of them

Number of laps done naked: 3

Number of laps done wearing each other's clothing: 1

Number of laps done wearing underwear on their heads and screaming with giggles while their father chases them, trying to corral them into the bath: 1

Number of neighborhood block parties we are likely to be invited to this summer: sigh.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sssurprisssse!

Today's Thursday News of the Absurd Inspirational Moment proves we should all watch more nature TV shows.

From Yahoo!News:

Mass. school janitor finds 3-foot python in locker

Apparently, a janitor cleaning up at the end of the school year opened a locker and a giant snake popped out, prank can of peanuts style. Except it was a real python. When it tried to attack him, he "grabbed it behind the head as he had seen on nature TV shows."

I think this is the last scene of the book, the one that rolls with the credits in the film. It's the last loose end to tie up: "But what happened to the python?!"

So you tell me, what is the rest of the story?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Obsession

You know you are obsessed with your book when...

... while pondering your book during morning "make the lunches and run around collecting stuff" time, you forget to eat breakfast.

... while pondering your book during a write-in with a friend at the library, the solution to your plot problem hits you and, before you know what you are doing, you holler "I got it!" and leap from your chair.

... while pondering your book during a run, you become so absorbed that you forget to watch your step and fly to the pavement in the middle of the street, battering your shoulder and scraping your knees and palms. Yet all you can think as you continue the run (with blood dripping down your leg) is "She could totally wipe-out like that in Chapter 8."

... even in the face of all this, you still find yourself happily pondering your book during dinner...and bedtime...and during the second half of the Brazil-Chile World Cup game...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Writing Lessons from Elementary School, part 2

This is the second post inspired by my amazement at the great writing in Don't Stay Up So Late, a collection of stories by Erickson Elementary (Yspilanti, MI) students who worked with volunteers from 826michigan. See yesterday's post here. And then go to 826michigan and get yourself a copy, if you can.

10 Things Elementary School Writers Know They Should Do
and Their Stories Are Much Better For It
(i.e. Things I Wish More Grown-Up Authors Remembered)

1. Something has to happen in your story. A list of things you like is not a story. A list of what someone did that day ("And then we went to Joe's. And then we played Wii. And then we ate dinner.") is not a story.* Neither is a 40 page treatise on your thoughts on the nature of fiction, even if you put it in quotes and write "he said" at the end.

2. Your story has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. "End Book 1" is not an ending.

3. Use lots of juicy details.

4. Spelling and grammar DO count...

5. ... but not on your first draft messy copy.

6. Books with pictures are best.

7. In a good story, a character learns something or changes somehow. But you don't have to write "The moral is..." and beat us in the head with it.

8. Stories are meant to be read. By other people. Preferably out loud. So somebody besides you has to be able to sound out and understand your story, and enjoy it. It's not a good story if you have to sit next to the person and explain everything (or if I have to buy a "Reader's Guide" to understand what you were trying to say).*

9. Writing stories is hard. It takes a lot of work. You have to practice and you have to find somewhere you can concentrate. And you have to see it through to the end.

10. A book is not a real book if you only SAY you are going to write, but never start, or if you tell everyone about it but never finish, or if you finish it and are afraid to show the teacher. If you see it through to the end, and you revise it and edit it, and if you give it a title and make pictures for it, and if someone who is not you reads it and enjoys it, it is a "real" book, even if nobody ever buys it on Amazon.

* Unless you are James Joyce and the book is Ulysses

Monday, June 28, 2010

Writing Lessons from Elementary School, Part 1

This post and tomorrow's were inspired by Don't Stay Up So Late, a fabulous collection of bedtime stories written by students at Erickson Elementary in Ypsilanti, as part of 826michigan's work at their school this year. I helped out at Erickson last year and wrote the intro to the book. Come get a copy at 826michigan.

10 Things Elementary School Writers Don't Know They Shouldn't Do
and Their Stories Are Much Better For It

(i.e. Things I Wish More Grown-Up Writers Tried)

1. Name your main character after yourself. Make her fabulous or make her evil. Either way, do not worry for a minute about whether or not readers will think it's really you.

2. Write your fantasy.
Once upon a time there was a girl named Jacqui. She was very nice, but at school everyone was mean to her. She told on them and they all got in big, big trouble and had to miss the field trip and they never bothered her again.*

3. Establish character in the first lines. Don't overwrite this part. Move into the story.
Jason was a bad guy. He liked to beat up kittens and eat bunnies. One day...

4. Make stuff up. Like crazy stuff. Nobody ever put down a book and thought, "Yes! That was totally realistic!"
And then he turned into a butterfly and flew away.

5. Find yourself hilarious. Put stuff in there just because it's funny. In fact, write the whole story as if you were trying to make the kid next to you laugh or say "Whoa!"

6. Do not fear the absurd.

7. Write about everyday playdate drama. Making the stakes high doesn't mean every book has to be about life or death situations. Sometimes we all like to read a book about someone who reminds us of us, with the problems and worries that we hide inside us, and who makes it out of a normal childhood. Ask Judy Blume.

8. Have a moral. Better yet, have a moral we don't expect. At the end of your story of the produce thief who gets caught, write: "Moral: Don't eat all the bananas."

9. Don't wrap up every loose end. At the end of your story of the class field trip to a zombie house, write:
Lucy and John escaped. They went to tell their teacher. Then they realized their teacher was now a zombie! She ate them and nobody ever heard from Lucy and John again.
Do not worry about what happened to the rest of the class; we can guess. Or, it doesn't matter.

10. Rehabilitate your bad guys, instead of annihilating them. Sometimes we need to know there's a chance we can change.
But when Franklin saw how sad Lizzie looked about her puppy being stolen, he felt bad. He decided to give her puppy back. Lizzie was so happy she said she'd be his friend, if he promised never to steal again.

* All quotes are made up by me, and are similar but not as awesome as ones from the book.1

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Granny vamps

This week's Thursday inspiration is more ridiculous than anything.

We were discussing vampire books in critique group this week and someone pointed out that part of the allure of vampires in these books is that they all got frozen in immortality at the ripe young, gorgeous age of 16 or 17.

"Where are the books about old and ugly vampires?" someone said.

Which got us started giggling. Can't you see the cover of the book? With three or four seriously old vampires glaring in the "I know you think I'm sexy" way over the top of their bifocals? Vampires who have to have their blood pre-sucked and put in a cup with a straw. Vampire early bird specials. Vampires in house slippers.

Oh, the video I would make you, had I endless time and technical skill: I keep picturing Bella Swan's voice from the movie previews saying, "You're impossibly fast" and seeing a vampire played by Tim Conway from the old Carol Burnett shows. But, alas, I cannot make it, seeing as how I have much kitten-watching to do today. So who will write me the book?

And because I cannot pass up Tim Conway...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tulip

This is Tink's new kitten, Tulip, whom we brought home yesterday from the Huron Valley Humane Society (thanks in part to Diane who chose Tink "the cuddliest, cutest one.").

She is 1.8 pounds of cute and all we could do all afternoon was stare and coo.

"How long have we been sitting here watching her?" Tink asked.

"An hour," I replied.

Tink sighed. "Oh boy," she said. "This is going to ruin my writing career."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

And this week, we are obsessed with...

Have you seen this book?

A Birthday for Cow, by Jan Thomas

We are totally obsessed with this one this week, me and the kids. It's cow's birthday and Pig and Mouse are going to make him the best birthday cake ever. Duck, however, has other ideas. Hilarity ensues.

There's something of the pigeon in Duck's humor, so this would be a great gift for a kid who loves Mo Willems, too. Plus, your kid might ask to try a turnip...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Take a different path

In which I discuss running, writing, and goose attacks.

So I am training for this marathon, which is partially to blame for my lack of regular blogging. Friday, I set out for an 11 mile run. I charted myself a course along trails, down near the mighty Huron River. I had my little belt full of water bottles and my half a size too big shoes and yes, I was seriously dorkalicious.

At mile 5, the trail narrowed to about 6 feet wide as it ran between the river and a little pond. As I came around a bend, I heard the flapping and honking of Canada geese. I had scared a gaggle of about 20 of them (with my feather-light footsteps and delicate breathwork). They were heading from the pond to the river, so I jogged in place to let them by. Then they stopped. The babies sat down, right in the middle of the trail. I could not pass.

"Excuse me!" I called pleasantly and started jogging around them. The mama geese hissed and snapped at me. When I got closer, they tried to whap me with their wings.

"Okay, okay!" I called and ran back down the trail. I stood and watched them for a minute, sure they would move on. The babies put their heads down and the adults stood guard, watching me.

"Move!" I yelled. I hid behind the bushes and screamed, "Vroom! Vroom! Big truck coming!" I tossed small rocks and sticks at the trail just in front of the geese.

Nothing. No movement. And every time I got close, the mamas started hissing.

I stood there, like an idiot, waiting for someone smarter or braver to come along. Nobody came. I hunted for a side route around them. I tried to cut through the campus of a factory and got stuck behind a barbed wire fence. I circled back in front of the factory and ended up crossing a loading dock in front of 17 unloading truck drivers (again, remember the little belt with the water bottles and did I mention the pigtails?).

And here is where it relates to writing: I could have taken a different road. A road that could go anywhere in Ann Arbor was 300 yards away, but it would have lead me on a different route. So instead of turning around and taking it, I considered scaling a 20 foot high fence. I was so stuck on the idea of getting back to MY path, and so unable to stop thinking about the geese, that I wore myself out stubbornly trying to get back to the original plan. The original outline. Are you seeing the metaphor?

I admire perseverance and doggedness and effort. But sometimes the reason a scene or a chapter or a whole book is hard is simply because it's never going to work. We have to turn around and let the failure take us on a whole new path.

I finished my 11 miles and it was a lovely run, minus the geese. Sure, I was bummed to leave my pretty path through the woods and run on the pavement in the exhaust. But the real tragedy would have been if I'd never let it go and kept running.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Snap back to reality

I went on a real bona fide kid-free vacation last week. Yup, four nights in which I got to sleep the whole night through, eat dinner slowly, and not have to do dishes. It was lovely, but the fact is, it could've been the HoJos around the corner and I would've been satisfied with the sleep part.

Three questions:

1. Do you come home from vacation all full of "things are gonna be different around here, yessiree we are gonna make some changes" ideas? I do.

2. And then do your kids do their best to ruin any relaxation or motivation you've brought home?

3. Can you guess which of the following my children did NOT fight about today?

a. Whether or not the sugary pixie stick Tink got at her end of year party is magical,
b. Whether or not said pixie stick gives Tink the power to turn Destructo into a giant pile of poop, should he choose to blow another raspberry at her,
c. Whether or not blowing a raspberry at someone, in the absence of flying spittle, still constitutes a violation of the "No Spitting" rule
d. What specific sound a giant pile of poop makes,
e. Whether or not the previous question refers to poop in the toilet or on the floor,
f. Who gets Dada to do his/her bedtime (and, therefore, who gets stuck with me), or
g. Who gets to give Mama her next backrub.

Friday, June 4, 2010

At Least She's Honest, part 2

We were punchy at bed time last night. A visit to the school end of year party, complete with cotton candy, Hawaiian Punch, and ice cream, will do that to you, especially if your mom usually controls your sugar intake enough that strawberries are dessert.

When it came time to tell stories, I told a whopper, the climax of which involved Tinkerbell convincing a gaggle of geese to rescue Destructo and her from the Huron River.

"How did they know what I was saying?" she asked.

"You spoke Geese, of course," I explained. "You learned it in Heb-goose school."

That got a good laugh from everyone. "Oh boy, " I admitted. "That's like the stupidest pun I've ever made."

"No, Mom," Tink assured me. "You've made lots of much stupider ones."

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Morbidia meets the grim eater

I REALLY REALLY want this week's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Write Me This Book Inspirational Moment (ThNoftheAWSWTBIM) to exist for reals and for trues.

From YahooNews and Reuters:

Funeral home steps in the stop the "grim eater"

Apparently, a funeral home in New Zealand had to step in after noticing a man who attended up to four funerals a week, despite obviously not knowing the deceased. Why? The guy carried a backpack full of Tupperware; when mourners weren't looking, he'd steal the funeral food and bring it home.

This is awesome. Genius. You gotta love someone who says, "You know who deserves to be ripped off? People with recently dead relatives! Heh heh. Mourning suckahs."

But I don't want him to be a bad guy. Here's what I want:

Elaine is a "normal" high school student who dresses all in black, permanently in mourning over the stupid problems caused by stupid people in the world. She's so full of angst and drama that her parents (who are good parents but who don't take her seriously) have started calling her "Morbidia." One day, she wanders into a funeral. Nobody bothers her, nobody looks at her strangely, and everyone is dressed in black. So Morbidia starts going to funerals whenever she can.

But after a while, Morbidia notices this other kid, the one with the backpack. He's often there too, and Morbidia can tell he doesn't know the dead people either. She sees him pretending to pay his respects and then filling his Tupperware. Morbidia is fascinated.

And so they meet, Morbidia and the Grim Eater. And what follows is a quirky, darkly humorous, bizarrely romantic story (like Six Feet Under* in a YA).

It must be written. No! I am already writing two books. One of you has to do it.

Crap. Now I'm obsessed. Save me.

*Oh, how I (who watch next to no television) miss Six Feet Under and my six free months of HBO. Sigh. Peter Krause, where have ye gone?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Why You Should Not Read To Your Children

We hear all the time about the benefits of reading to your children. The book-loving, library-using establishment wants you to think it's all fun and games. It's NOT. I know from ACTUAL EXPERIENCE. Here are just a few of the possible, disastrous consequences reading to your children, or, indeed, letting them read to themselves, can have on your health and the health of your children.

1. Children may decide it is hilarious, every time they hear the sound of fingers snapping, to strip down to their underwear, don their shirts as capes, and run around wherever you are screaming, "Tra la la!"

2. Children may ponder ingesting worms, fried or otherwise.

3. Head wounds may result from repeatedly opening the doors to and trying to fit inside of a cabinet that resembles a wardrobe.

4. You will be spied upon. And your actions will be recorded in a notebook. Depending on whether the perpetrator is Harriet or Nancy, such records may contain an overabundance of exclamation points.

5. Sever brain atrophy is a definite possibility.

6. Certain books may carry multiple deleterious consequences.

7. Your child may demand, in public, that you outline the geneology of the line of gods and half-gods descended from Cronos. Without Wikipedia.

8. Your child may threaten to punch you in the head.*

9. Child may demand a pet prairie dog.

10. Your child may learn that there are people who are different from her, that sometimes women fall in love with other women, and that the world is not the black and white moral checkerboard she has been led to believe. Also, what a scrotum is.

There is only one solution: ban them all. Ban them all, I say, and let kids engage in safe things like skateboarding and their 1,680 minutes (average) TV watching a week.

Bonus points if you know what books caused all of the above in my children...

* Sorry. So very, very sorry.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

One Million Gribbits

It's been a while since I had a good Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment, (ThNoftheAWSPWTBIM). I couldn't pass this one up.

From the New York Times via AP:

Flood of Frogs Shuts Down Major Greek Highway

Apparently, Greek officials had to shut down a major highway in the north of Greece this week because more than a million frogs were hopping in the street.

First, the best thing about this article is that the author clearly had a field day with the words "large group" and Thesaurus.com.

Officials said the frogs had probably left a nearby lake in search of food. Yeah, right. All more than a million of them. At once. And they decided tarmac was their best bet.

Obviously, there are two more plausible explanations:

1. Comic dark magic. Because if it were real dark magic, the frogs would be dead or headless or something. I might love a book written from the frogs' point of view. I mean, nobody ever considers how frogs (or locusts, for that matter) feel about being dragged from place to place just because they're annoying and great punishment.
2. The gods are angry at the highway. Or, they are angry at young Niko, the new Chief Road Engineer, who has declared that his new highway tarmac material is "stronger than the gods" and can withstand any kind of weather. The trouble is: he's right. No matter what the gods throw at it -- rain, blizzard, lightning, locusts -- the highway stay open.

What do you think?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Did Amelia Earhart cry?

It was on this day, seventy-eight years ago, that Amelia Earhart flew solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She was only the second person, and the first woman, to do so.

Here is what I wonder:

Did Amelia Earhart, when the idea first struck her, think, "Oh, but that would be so much work!" and "I could never..." and "But nobody has..."?

When she sat there in Newfoundland, everything packed, about to take off, did she look out at the darkening sky and think, "What am I doing?!" Did her throat close in panic? Did she sweat?

Did she wish for a moment that she were at home with a cup of tea and a fantasy, instead of belted into a steel trap with a plan to defy logic and gravity and social convention?

Then, when gasoline leaked into her cockpit, when her plane suddenly dropped 10,000 feet, when fire shot out her exhaust pipe and the altimeter and the steering and EVERYTHING broke, did Amelia Earhart cry? Did she think, "I can't do this!" and want to curl up or collapse or call for Superman?

And if she did, if it turns out she wasn't as confident or as fearless or as much like "Amelia Earhart" as we think she was, if Amelia Earhart cried,

Then what does that say to the rest of us?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Your Personal Trainer

So, I'm training for this marathon. Thor bought me this chip that you tie to your shoe. It sends messages to your iPod and computer voice comes on and tells you how far you've gone and how fast you are going: "You have been running for THREE minutes. You have gone POINT FOUR miles." It also came with this running coaching mix, complete with the voice of many-marathon-winner Alberto Salazar telling you when to speed up and when to take a break and how fabulous you are for running at all.

I love this voice. Alberto (whom I saw win the New York Marathon in the 80s, so he knows his stuff) starts with a motivational speech about getting out the door. Then he says, "Ready? Go!" and great warm up music comes on. I'm running along, and suddenly, there's Alberto telling me, "You're doing great. Now I want you to speed up. Picture your opponent running ahead of you. Ready? Sprint!" Appropriately upbeat music comes on and I sprint, encouraged by Alberto, "You are so fast!"

I want this for writing. I want a writing coaching mix. I want to put on my headphones and hear, say, Salman Rushdie: "You are going to have a great writing day. You are a brilliant and prolific writer. Ready? Open your laptop. Go!" and then hear good writing music. I type and type and on comes, "You're doing great. Only thirty minutes left. Keep writing!" When I'm done, I want him to say, "Wow. Doesn't that feel good? Take a break. Go get some coffee and I'll meet you back here in ten minutes. Don't be late!" and then play "Praise You" by Fatboy Slim, like Alberto does at the end of the sprints.

I want a chip like I have for my shoe, but for the computer, so I can press a button and hear the computer voice: "You have been writing for THIRTY-FIVE minutes. You have written ONE THOUSAND words. You have updated your status ZERO times. Good job!"

Who will write invent me this book thingamajig?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

At least she's honest. Sort of.

In which we see how being the child of a writer makes you weird.

Bedtime tonight. We are discussing Tink's class production of Strega Nona.

JACQUI: How did the play go today?

TINK: It was hilarious. This kid's hat fell off and he kicked it into the audience. It landed in front of some guy... (hijinks ensue) ...and then the paper pasta came landed on a fifth grader ... (more hijinks)...and he threw the hat and it kind of floated for a minute -- the door was open and some wind had come in and --

JACQUI: Wait. Tink. When did this story stop being true?

TINK: (chuckles in acknowledgement) Yeah. A long time ago.

JACQUI:

TINK: Can I finish now? It's a really good story.

JACQUI: Yeah sure.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

In which I preach patience and mix metaphors

(crawls up out of hole, squinting into spring sun)

On our last episode of Jacqui's Room, Jacqui disappeared into her office with a book idea. It's been a month, and the real life peanut gallery is curious: "Is the book is done yet?"

I would love to tell you the book is done. But then again, I wouldn't. Any book that I could write that quickly, even a picture book, is probably not very good.

Recently, someone told me about her book series. "We'll be releasing one a month..." she said. And all I could think was "One a month?! That's literary fast food."

The question is: do you want your food fast, or do you want it carefully crafted and delicious? If you want to write it right, you have to be patient with yourself. Sometimes you have to let it simmer, you have to beat on high for the full two minutes and then taste it. You have to go slowly.

The worst part is this: sometimes, you have to wait and see how it comes out. You can't tell from the outline or the recipe if it's going to make a good dessert. You have to write as much as you can, stop blogging for a whole month, become totally obsessed, and just get it onto the darn page. And then, once it's out, sometimes you read it and, well, crap. It doesn't work. It's fallen soufflé.

Sometimes we get so attached to what we've written, because it's really good or because we've already spent so much time on it, or because someone, somewhere once said they thought it had potential. Plus, we've heard all these stories about writers who did eleven drafts or got rejected 126 times and THEN the book was great. So we spend hours and weeks and maybe even years banging our heads against the wall, trying to add sugar or prop up the collapsed side, ruining the poor thing even further with our tinkerings, when what we need to do is scrap the soufflé, no matter how hilarious and brilliant it is (and trust me, it is hilarious) and write another book. If writing a book is a love affair, sometimes you have to break up. There are other fish in the sea.

Now, the good news is that sometimes, once the words of that ex-boyfriend book are done screaming in your head and bothering everyone around you,* when you can hear more clearly, another, quieter voice pipes up and calls you. If you don't let the first book go, you can never follow the next one. And who knows how great that next one is going to be?

* and trust me, they were bothering EVERYONE around me: I got a call from my agent and she said, "I was up thinking about your book last night."

Friday, March 26, 2010

Working is in progress

I cannot mail your check today.

I cannot have a date to play.

I cannot go where Grandma lives,

Or wash your SpongeBob SquarePants skivs.

I will not read your manuscript

Or listen to your hissy fit.

I'm leaving stale milk in the car.

I have to turn off NPR.

I cannot change the kitty litter,

Or waste the day away on Twitter,

Write that months-late thank you note,

Or figure out which way to vote.

Dishes pile up in the sink.

Honestly, my kids both stink.

Birds are nesting in my hair.

I know it seems like I don't care,

But I do. I promise. It's just, you see,

I have a book inside of me.

And though my heart is full of doubt,

I have to let the book come out.

When my head is full of words,

The other stuff is for the birds.

So I can't find your other clog.

I can't walk the neighbor's dog.

I can't lift and I can't jog,

And sadly, sadly,

I can't blog.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Midnight Knitters vs. the Quilting Vigilantes


In today's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM), I turn yarn-loving samaritans into a gang of hooligans.

From Richard Degener at press ofAtlanticCity.com:

A good yarn? West Cape May tries to unravel the mystery of the midnight knitter

Apparently, someone was going around West Cape May in the wee hours of the night decorating signposts and tree trunks with elaborately knit leg warmers. In the latest developments, an anonymous group known as Salty Knits took credit. But now the knit cozies have disappeared.

Everyone assumed the anonymous knitters were trying to beautify the city. But what if they weren't? What if the bad guys were a group of salty knitters bent on the destruction of life as they know it in Cape May?

The question is how. How will dressing trees and signs up in silly sweaters doom everyone? What can the rival gang of do-good, mystery-solving quilters do to stop them?

Most importantly, who will write me this book?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

LeBron and Me (a lie)

I write fiction. Which means I lie.

Last Tuesday I implied on Facebook that I had a date with LeBron James. This was untrue. I did go see the Pistons play the Cavaliers that night, but it is entirely possible, I suppose, that LeBron failed to notice me, despite the fact that our seats were, no joke, in the SAME ROOM where he was playing basketball.

A "friend" dared to imply that the idea of LeBron James taking me out on a date was preposterous.

It is preposterous. It's also a terrible lie, for a couple of reasons (warning: writing metaphor ahead):

1. I had no details. The key to a good lie is in the details. If you make the scene so vivid that people can't help but picture it in their heads, they'll believe it. The more specific the details, the better. Make them see, smell, taste, hear, and touch it.

2. I didn't commit. Don't imply: insist. If you are tentative in your lie, it'll never work. You have to throw your whole heart into it and never doubt for a minute that it will be believed.

3. It wasn't big enough. Or, it was too big. You have to find the balance between mundane and delusional. If your lie goes just slightly farther than is believable, it's more likely to work. If your story is something everyone has done or experienced, nobody's going to care if it's true or not. Make it extra-ordinary, a millimeter beyond realistic.

4. It was illogical. I mean, I am so far out of LeBron's league* it's simply not plausible that I would date him. Plus, I'm married. Your story has to stick together without gaping holes or contradictions.

5. And lastly, never fess up. Once you have people believing you, once you've drawn them into your invention, you can't betray their trust. You can't say, "Remember when I said...? Well, really, er, I meant this instead." Don't backtrack or change stories midstream. You won't only lose them on this lie, you'll lose them forever.

So, tell me. What kind of lie gets you every time?

* Even if I do lower my stock with bad "in his league" puns.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What makes me smile

I'll bet you thought in today's post I was going to be all "Darn you, Winter! I believed you were gone! I shelved my down jacket and now this?! 35 and about to rain?!" To which Winter would be all, "Ha ha ha ha! She's been in the mid-west since the early 90s and my patented "Spring is here" March fake-out still gets her every year. Now I am off to jack her furnace. I love my job."

But, too bad for you, Winter, because I am all warm and fuzzy from hanging out with teachers, librarians, and other Michigan writers all weekend at the Michigan Reading Association conference, so even the fact that I will undoubtedly be blamed for Tinkerbell's freezing legs even though I told her ten times she needed tights cannot shake my good mood.

Other things that make me smile:

1. This is awesome. Next up for these scientists: Mr. Weasley's flying car.

2. This is awesome too. Though years from now, only the Legos will remain.

3. The deer have returned to my back yard. There's a crowd that's mostly females and a crowd of young-looking males. They eye each other from opposite edges of the yard. I am totally hosting Deer Prom.

4. But mostly, I got a reminder this weekend of why I started writing to be published. A second grade teacher came to me, asking to have Two of a Kind signed. She held it out and said, "I hadn't read any of your books before. But this is happening, this exact thing, with the girls in my class and I haven't been able to figure out what to do. I'm reading them this book first thing tomorrow morning." And then she thanked me for writing it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Less Curious than Furious...

Honest to goodness, sometimes the Thursday News of the Absurd choices just write themselves.

From YahooNews and the AP:

Fire in Houston blamed on inflatable gorilla

"Fire department officials said an out-of-control inflatable gorilla was blamed for a rooftop blaze at a Houston shopping center."

I think the only question is this: what made him so mad???

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Okay. Make it worse.

Someone who read yesterday's post about a kid named Toast turning up in my "Let's Make a Story" bit asked for the rest of the exercise. It's pretty simple, really, but we haven't done a No, Seriously. Just Try It moment around here for a while, so...

1. First, think of a character. What's his or her name?

2. Now, tell me: what does this person love to do more than anything else in the entire world?

3. Good. Well, bad news! This morning, when this person woke up, something astonishing had happened. Something terrible. Something that made it so this person can never, ever do that thing he loves again. What happened?

4. Well, what's he gonna do about it?

5. That fails miserably. Why?

6. Okay, now, make it worse.

7. Ooh, that's bad. Now, make it worse again.

8. Ugh, poor guy. What's he gonna do now?!

9. Yeah, that didn't work either. Now things are even worse. How?

10. Right about now, things are as horrible as they can possibly get. Oh, wait. Turns out they can get even worse. What happens?

Etc. etc. etc. At Jefferson, the kids decided Toast loves making toast (of course). He loves it so much that he dreams of opening a restaurant called Toast, where all they serve is stuff on toast. But he wakes up one morning and an evil genius* has stolen all the toast. What's worse, the cops think Toast stole it. So he runs to his grandma's, because who can you trust if not Grandma. But she's talking to the cops! Toast tries to escape the whole town and go in search of toast elsewhere, but toast everywhere is gone. And now the peanut butter and jelly is missing too. And the local peanut butter and jelly mob is sure Toast stole it, so they're after him too. To make it worse, Toast falls down and knocks out all his teeth, so now he can't even eat toast! Etc. etc. etc.

So, who's your character? And what does he love? No, seriously. Just try it.

* The kid who thought of this part gave the evil genius his own name, which I loved.

Monday, March 15, 2010

His name is Toast

I did school visits almost every day last week, and they were all much, much fun. But my favorite visit had to be Jefferson Elementary in Redford, Michigan. I got to present to the whole school (in two groups), and have lunch with some awesome kid writers. The best moment, though, was when I started my "Let's Make a Story" bit with the 3rd-5th graders.

The point behind making a story with a whole crowd is to show even when you don't think you have a single idea, if you just think of SOMETHING, the ideas will follow. If you invent a person, questions about that person just naturally arise. And it's your job to write until you find the answers.

So I said, "Let's invent a person. What's this person's name?" And the kid in the front on whom I called responded, "His name is Toast."

Toast. Toast?! That may be the best name for a chapter book character ever. And, oh, the questions! Is that his real name or a nickname? And how did he get it? And, and, and...

I challenged the kids at Jefferson to write me the story of a boy named Toast. But really, I want Toast (and toast) all for myself.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Two words

Today's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSWMTBIM) comes from a dinner conversation about poor Destructo's misunderstanding of death and it can be summed up in two words:

Zombie Grandma

Because it would be so hard, wouldn't it? Your grandma still wants to love on you, to bake you cookies, to take you to tea. You love her, of course, and you don't want to hurt her feelings. But, dude, she's undead, and honestly, she's starting to smell even funnier than she did when she was alive.

And now, for your listening pleasure, from musical and songwriting genius Jonathan Coulton, the greatest zombie song evah, performed in ZSL (zombie sign language) by someone else.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Dorky Parental Pride Moment #351

If you ask Destructo what he wants to be when he grows up, he usually says, "Roger Federer." Or "Batman." But this morning, he was playing near the bookshelves and he announced, in a voice full of admiration:

"Mama, when I grow up, I am going to be a LIBRARIAN."

Monday, March 8, 2010

Shh!

There's a new story in the corner. But it's afraid to come out and show itself.

It keeps making little peeping noises, sticking out a leg or a scene, or one line, and then darting back into the subconscious parts of my brain where I can't write it. Honestly, I think it's seen what I've done to other stories who were braver and now it's terrified. Who can blame it?

This coaxing out of a story is delicate work. I can't start too soon or I spill that intoxicating initial rush of energy and voice before I even know what I'm writing. But I can't ignore it too long, or it will wander off in search of acorns elsewhere.

I used to catch chameleons, when I was little. You have to pretend you don't know they're there. You have to go about your business, whistling and saying, "What? I don't see any chameleon," even as, all the while, you are sidling closer and closer to one. And then when you are ready, not at all skittish about touching a lizard and really ready to commit, you pounce. The key is to pounce from two sides: one hand behind and one hand in front, in order to trap him as he tries to run. So you can't have anything else on your hands.

I've been whistling at this story for a week. Today, I think I'm ready to pounce.

Friday, March 5, 2010

This week's library haul

It was a good library week. Destructo was in the "too sick to go to school - too well to stay home another day" mode, so we read a TON of books and only brought home the good ones.*


1. The Uglified Ducky (book and CD)
by Willy Claflin

You must listen to this book on the CD, told "in the original Moose" language by storyteller Willy Claflin. It is absolutely hilarious. You know the story: a baby moose wanders off and finds itself a cozy spot in the nest of a mother duck. When the mother duck finds her baby moose, she assumes he is an uglified ducky. Giggling ensues, with such adventures as flying lessons and a trip to Dr. Quack, duck therapist. Credit to Destructo's teachers and The Mighty Thor for finding this one. I will be purchasing this one, and possibly "Sleeping Beastly and Other Tales."


2. Bunny Party**
by Rosemary Wells

My children ARE Max and Ruby. The first time we read one of these books, Tink couldn't stop laughing. Honestly, Destructo looks remarkably like Max, down to the pure white fur and gigantic head. And Tink can be, um, a bit Ruby-esque in her bossiness. So we love these books. In this one, Ruby is throwing a birthday party for their grandma, but she's only invited her own stuffed friends, not Max's Jellyball Shooting Spider, etc. Max, of course, finds a way to make space for the spider et al, and it is much fun. Also, there is good counting/math in here.


3. Yoko
by Rosemary Wells

Yoko brings her favorite sushi to lunch and the other kids tease her. When she cries to Mrs. Jenkins, Mrs. Jenkins tells her the other kids will forget about it soon. How is this supposed to make Yoko feel better? I don't know. Of course, they tease her again when she has red bean ice cream. So Mrs. Jenkins throws an "international lunch" where everyone brings something and everyone is supposed to "try everything." But nobody tries Yoko's sushi. Why? I don't know. Why doesn't Mrs. Jenkins MAKE them try it, after she stressed that everyone would need to try everything? I don't know. While Yoko's sad about it, Tommy comes along, still hungry, and tries a crab roll. Yoko teaches him to use chopsticks. Where is Mrs. Jenkins while one kid cries and the kid maws leftovers? I don't know. Tommy loves the crab roll, he and Yoko push their desks together and are BFF. Why do writers persist in writing about making friends like it's a piece of (rice) cake? I DON'T KNOW.

TeacherFAIL aside, this is a cute book that my kids enjoyed. It's a nice platform to talk about making fun of other people's lunches/traditions. AND, it had the added benefit of convincing Tink to try sushi, because it really does look delish in the illustrations.

* Sometimes, when we have less attention span, he just grabs, say, all the M books he can hold and throws them in the bag.
** Hint: do not attempt to locate this book by Googling "bunny party." Apparently, this means very different things to readers of certain obscene periodicals. Aak.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

How to tempt karma and frustrate your muse

1. Take two weeks off writing due to situations beyond your control.

2. On your first "work" day back, be unable to remember how to string words together. Spend the whole time "getting the house back in order" so you can "really get down to it" tomorrow.

3. As you brush teeth that night, have great idea for new picture book. Fall asleep smiling with the thrill of inspiration and the relief that there will be no karmic repercussions for having blown off a writing day.

4. Hear screaming. Lots of screaming. All night long. Take three year old's temperature. Shriek.

5. Call day care.

6. Pound head on desk.

No Thursday inspiration this week due to aforementioned evil Destructo virus. But, while trolling for odd news, I did find this: Apparently, a naked man stole a bunch of children's books from the Ypsilanti library. It's horrifying and there's nothing funny about it. But what the article doesn't say and I am dying to know is this: WHICH BOOKS?