Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

I know you have real world gifts to unwrap and songs to sing, so this is a quick one. It serves double duty because it's hilarious and it reminds me of the real version, so I get all warm and fuzzy inside.

Gift #4 is here.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Virtual Book Reality

In which I prove that we are biologically programmed to like good books.

I read this week about a study on perceived pain. Subjects were hooked up to virtual reality machines and given glasses that allowed them to "see" through a virtual character's eyes. After "walking" around for a while as the character, subjects witnessed (through the glasses) someone coming at them with a knife and cutting them (as the character) in the stomach. The subject were not cut, of course, but they overwhelmingly reported feeling pain as if they had been.

I can't find the study now, but it doesn't surprise me. If you read good books, this happens to you all the time. Otherwise, why do I cry every time Charlotte dies? Great writing puts us into a character's shoes, makes us "see" through his glasses, and then makes us feel what he feels. And the most wonderful part is that even when those feelings are sad or terrified, the sensation of feeling them along with the character is pure deliciousness. Otherwise, why would I have read Charlotte's Web one million times? And why does it make me smile warm and broad when I remember a really good book?

So, for your third day of Hanukkah gift, I offer you Jacqui's top five non-Charlotte's Web books that had that delicious, feel it with the character effect on me. If you have read them, your present is that "yes!" feeling that comes with remembering them; if you haven't, your present is the introduction.

5)The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami. Reading Murakami can make you feel like you're crazy...and it's wonderful. The main character in this spends some time at the bottom of a well. The moment I finished it, I turned on the radio and by one of those absolutely unfathomable random coincidences, that Mike Doughty song, "Looking at the World From the Bottom of a Well" was playing. It was the first time I had heard it and I FREAKED OUT.

4) Time and Again, by Jack Finney. Made me think I'd slipped into winter 1882. Spent the week shivering and not sure I wasn't a 19th century woman.

3) Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. During the week I read this, I actually tried to do magic in real life. Seriously. I forgot and literally tried to lift something without touching it.

2) Is it cliché to pick The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje? Ondaatje is a master of sucking a reader into the mood. I felt everything along with these characters. And the end! Oh! The end! The yearning! The sand! The frustration and injustice! It is Simply. So. Good. Yum. Must go read some now.

1) Blindness, by José Saramago. Utterly unrelenting. Was surprised to be able to see whenever I looked up from the page, which was not often. Absolutely my top choice. Also, I asked Thor for his recommendations without telling him mine and Blindness was his top choice too.

Huh. These are all books for grown-ups. Will have to make my kidlit top five some day. Meanwhile, what's on your list?

And here's the Doughty video, just cause I like the song, and it reminds me of the book.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My Favorite Sound

Happy Hanukkah, Day #2.

Don't look; just listen. Ain't it the best?

Now I must go shovel. Again.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Hanukkah, evil genius

Oh, there is so much about which to blog -- Ohio! The solstice! What the heck is wrong with my big toe!

But last night was the first night of Hanukkah, and I have to give you your first present. I got this idea from my local NPR station, who is taking requests for "sound gifts" this season. The one I heard was someone who loved the call of mourning doves (my favorite bird also; click on the link to hear the call), but who had moved somewhere she never heard it. So, as a gift, they played 30 seconds of mourning dove calls.

And I thought, I want to give my bloggy readers something to say thanks for coming by. I have had much more fun here in Jacqui's Room than I ever thought I would, but I never would have made my initial six month trial period if nobody had listened. So, mush mush love love thanks. And for the next eight days, I will be sharing things I hope make you smile, things that make me feel the world might be okay after all, starting with

Gift #1: Jonathan Coulton singing Skullcrusher Mountain, a song about an evil genius in love. Because I couldn't make a half-pony monster. Listen to the words. And if you like, go to his website and listen to the Sir Mix-a-Lot cover or any one of a gabillion other good tunes...

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Honest Scrap

Rena was kind of enough to nominate Jacqui's Room for the Honest Scrap, an award for telling it like it is. Which I fear is a euphemism for "unedited oversharing," but we take our kudos where we can get them around here.

This time, I did not spend all night attempting to trace the origins of the award. But that is only because I spent all night trying to download a printer driver. We will have to trust that the Honest Scrap award did not originate somewhere terrible.

I am to post 10 honest things about myself and then pass the award on to seven other blogs who tell it like it is. This is hard; I mean, you already know my house is in chaos and I'm a big dork. But I'll try.

10. Sometimes I make inappropriate jokes to myself and laugh out loud. I'm doing it right now. Imagine all the horrible things I could write on this list. Heh heh.

9. I listen to loud music that is not appropriate to share here. Sometimes I listen to my iPod and giggle at the vast space between how I look and how it sounds in my head.

8. It is possible I have a small addiction to the internet.

7. Someday I really, really, really, want to direct another play.

6. When my sister and I get going, I think we're the funniest people on earth.

5. I have never broken a single bone in my body.

4. I am so superstitious that I almost didn't write #5 and I will have to knock on wood every time I read it.

3. Which I will do a million times, because I obsessively read my own blog posts before I publish them.Link
2. I have a monster ego. Seriously. Gigantic. But somehow I'm also always convinced everyone hates me.

1. I don't deserve this award. I am actually a great liar. It's true. Don't tell.

And to pass it on. I can't think of seven. I always try to pick blogs I think you may not have seen, so I'm limited, but check out:

Holy Guacamole, where T writes my secret fears,
Colorado Writer, who writes the ups and downs of writing without hiding anything, and
Resident Alien, who is not afraid to explore and share her thoughts on a variety of topics.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

And I thought I liked to lick the spoon

Today's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM) reveals the lengths to which I might go for cake.

From YahooNews and the Tampa Tribune:

Armed Burglars Demand Man's Eggbeater

According to the article, "two men entered a man's home early Sunday and demanded his eggbeater. One suspect was holding a pistol while the other brandished a knife to the resident's neck."

There's only one question to ask here: WHY?


1. Something is hiding in the eggbeater. Treasure or money or a long-lost note?
2. They are writers and have been revising too long and REALLY needed some cake.

But I like this one:

Old Mr. McGhee loves cake. Man, he loves cake. He makes cake all day long. He makes cake all night long. His favorite cakes are whipped light and fluffy using his 1943 SuperFluff super loud electric eggbeater.

Downstairs from Mr. McGhee live two newbie criminals. They planned the perfect murder, carried it off, and rented what they thought would be a quiet place to split up the loot and hide out from the police.

But all night and all day, all they hear is the BZZZZZZZ of Mr. McGhee's eggbeater...

What's your idea?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Honeymoon

In which you get a glimpse into my writing process.

Today we are celebrating that I finished a first draft of the first chapter of the book that scares me. Yup. Wrote it longhand and fixed it and wrote it again and trashed it and wrote it again and typed it up and read it and hated it and decided to go back to teaching and waited two days, then re-read it and loved it and spell-checked it and sent it off to my critique group before I could change my mind. Nope, that is no exaggeration and yup, that's pretty much my writing process for everything. For the first draft. After that, it gets even messier.

The first chapter is always the fun part for me. Anything can happen. All my dreams for the book are still alive. There's still hope that it will be as earth-shatteringly brilliant on the paper as it is in my mind. The manuscript is not yet littered with notes like "fix this" and "argh! write this better!" I have all the time and patience in the world and I am the best writer ever.

I was riding so high today that I wrote a whole new picture book. In rhyme (that will change). I'll go back to the picture book whenever it finds me for the next month or so, like sneaking candy during the vegetable course. And I did it all in an hour, so I still had time to snuggle with Tink and listen to her giggle at old episodes of Tom and Jerry during Destructo's nap.

These are the days I have to remember on the other Viorst-ian days.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

In the Nick of Time

I'll be honest. I almost gave up today. I looked all over for a good story for today's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM). Nothing. I was momentarily amused, but ultimately uninspired by YahooTech's:

GPS, hidden cameras watching over Baby Jesus

I was ready to confess and call this post "I Got Plenty of Nothing."

But then this came in and gave me the chills:

(from YahooNews):

Wait a second: 2008 gets extended by timekeepers

Along with the economy, the Earth itself is slowing down, requiring timekeepers to add an extra second to their atomic clocks to keep in sync with Earth's slightly slowing rotation. So an extra second will be tacked on to Dec. 31 after 6:59:59 p.m. and before 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

This is crazy to me. Who knew you could just add a second?! And can they add me an hour or two? And how much is the Earth slowing down that adding a second will make a huge difference?! And what time will it be during that second, 6:59:59 part deux?

But seriously. What if that adding that one second has drastic consequences? If we can stop all the world's clocks for one second, to give the Earth a chance to catch up, are we sure we can start them again? And what if we couldn't? What if it all screeched to a halt and people everywhere were frozen in the middle of dinners and bedtimes and getting ready for New Year's Eve, in the middle of crimes and secrets? Droplets of water suspended mid-air in the fountains. Absolute silence.

And what if, for some reason, you were the only one who escaped? You don't know how much time you have before the gears start grinding again. What do you fix? What do you change? How much messing around can you do before you upset a delicate balance and destroy us all?

And what is that noise? It sounds like footsteps. You're not alone. Someone else is out there. You can feel his presence in a subtle breeze, an echo that shouldn't be. All around you, the world is paralyzed. There's nobody to help you. And you're being hunted.

Who will write me this book?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008



Today we are celebrating your local independent bookstore. I love Nicola and her bookstore, not only because they have a fantastic kids' section that goes well beyond the standards and celebrity lit, but also because they do great author events, supply all the books for my school visits, always have my book in stock, and have given me tons of ARCs when I was researching what's out there. If you are an author, seriously, you've got to love on your local indie. If you are a book lover, especially one who likes to read things that aren't what every single other person on earth likes to read, you must love on your local indie, who is far more likely to carry mid list books than the chains. If you love someone who loves books, you must love on your local indie because they can help you find great gifts. If you hate books, you should love on your local indie anyway because it's just good karma.

What's that you say? You do all your shopping at Amazon. Okay, that's fine. I am no Amazon hater. BUT, I am in LOVE with IndieBound. Have you seen IndieBound's "Shop Local Online" feature? Click on that link. Search for the book you want. A window will pop up, asking if you want to shop local online. Type in your zip code and it will direct you to a listing of your local indies who have online ordering. Voila. As easy as Amazon. Try it. You can even set up a wish list. And make friends. Find me!

What? Are you still there? Sorry. I got distracted at the Indie Next List. Mmm. Books. Me like books. Nom nom nom.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Catching up with the muse

Welcome to yesterday's installment of No, Seriously. Just Try It.

But first, we interrupt this program to thank Candace for naming this month's festivities. After careful analysis, I've decided we are definitely Decemberserking these days. If you enjoy puns, Candace (aka Sudo Nimm) is your woman. If not, well, why not?

For today's No, Seriously. Just Try It feature, I want you to get your pencil and paper, or your laptop, or your wax tablet and stylus. Now I want you to take those writing devices and toss them aside. We are not writing today. We are channeling the muse.

Here is a secret about the muse: she's subtle. She gives you hints and ideas all the time, but you keep missing them. Today, I want you to go somewhere you have never been before, preferably somewhere crowded. Pretend you are the main character in a middle grade chapter book mystery where some beneficent stranger is dropping clues for you everywhere you go. For everything you see, everything you overhear, everything upon which you stumble, think, "What is my muse trying to tell me? How can I use this?"

For example, graffiti. It is not just graffiti. It is a message from your muse. Today at the library, somebody had written, "Live for yourself. I did. Guys suck." on the wall. Clearly a message from my muse. You go to the museum and lo and behold! A special exhibit on ancient Persian pottery. Clearly a message from your muse. You turn the corner and someone's giving out fliers advertising a performance of a play called Jimmy and the Goat Man. Clearly a message from your muse.

What's that? You want to know what these messages mean? Ah. Dear child. That is for you to interpret. The muse is a complicated and cryptic woman. But when one of her messages hits its mark, you'll know.

I struggled with a plot problem all day. I stepped into Tink's music class this afternoon in time to hear the teacher casually mention an obscure fact about J.S. Bach. It was like inspiration rained down on my head. Her random comment was EXACTLY what I needed to figure out the problem I'd had all day.

So get out there and listen and watch. And report back what you hear from your muse.*

* Is anyone else marvelling at how many "muse" puns I DIDN'T make in this post?! Tink's muse-ic class. A-muse-ment park. Muse-eum. Stan Muse-ial. Okay, that last one makes no sense.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


In which I talk a lot about running, so if it bores you, see you tomorrow for a special December installment of No, Seriously. Just Try It.

Today we are celebrating fleece-lined running tights, hot soup, and legs.

I ran the Jingle Bells 5K race at 9am this morning to benefit the Arthritis Foundation. It was 17 degrees outside; even with the fleece-lined running tights, I ran about 30 seconds per mile faster than I usually do, because I spent the whole time chanting, "The faster you run, the sooner you're done."

The best part is that The Mighty Thor accidentally got registered as a woman. He is thrilled to announce that he won the "female ages 35-39" group. I came in 7th.*

The thing is, Thor actually has arthritis. Not crippling, can't run arthritis, but enough that his knees ache pretty constantly all winter long. So today we are celebrating having the luxury of deciding to run a 5K in 17 degree weather and having strong legs to take us through it. And while I'm at it, I'll celebrate having arthritis-free hands and wrists; writing is hard enough without associated physical pain.

And lastly, we are celebrating hot noodle soup, steaming in a big ceramic bowl that warms your hands while you slurp it.

* Yes, there were more than 7 of us.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Ant wins

Today we are celebrating characters that won't quit and writing the novel that scares you.

Ant has won. The plan was to trash him and the rest of his miserable novel that I wrote for NaNoWriMo this year. But he won't shut up. He keeps popping into my head, standing on chairs and screaming, insisting I re-read his first chapter. So I did. And guess what? It's funny. I laughed out loud. Thor laughed out loud when I made him listen. The cats laughed too, I think. Or they are just starving.

"Okay, Ant," I said. "You win. I'll read the rest."

Guess what? It doesn't suck. Okay, it DOES suck, but there's a lot that's usable. And reading it sparked one of the coolest ideas for a book in the world. One of those make your brain hurt, can't believe you thought of it, if only I can carry it off ideas.

"Okay, Ant. You win. I'll write it," I said. And I sat down and, well, nothing.

I love Ant. I love his book. I love the ideas I have for it. I think it could be the greatest thing I ever wrote.

Consequently, I am frozen in terror, unable to write a word.

But we are celebrating anyway, because if I do get it written, it's going to rock.

What are YOU writing these days?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Decemberserking continues

Today we are celebrating two things:

FIRST, it is the 53rd anniversary of the beginning of the Montgomery bus boycott. I missed the 1st, the anniversary of the day Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus (which is what I used to celebrate with my class).

You most likely know the story. What you might not know is that 12 years earlier, Ms. Parks had been kicked off another bus for boarding through the front door. The driver insisted that she get off the bus and re-enter via the back door, but when she did, he closed the doors and drove away, leaving her in the rain. Here's the kicker: James Blake was the bus driver in both circumstances. Rosa Parks recognized him when she got on that bus in 1955. Which I think makes her all the braver for standing her ground the second time. And, as a writer, it makes an even more fascinating story.

As long as we are talking about promoting understanding between different races (okay, it's a stretch, I know, but I wanted to share this), you can go here, where they are celebrating National Buy a Book By a Black Author and Give It To Somebody Not Black month. Which I love, and not only because it has a million words in it like all of my projects.

And SECONDLY (drum roll), we are celebrating the fact that this building exists in the world:

It's the Kansas City Public Library. Has anyone been there? Does it really look like that?! Have you EVER SEEN anything cooler?!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Arthur the Squid Goes Holiday Shopping

Were you worried that just because I've finally gone off the deep end it's December I would leave you inspiration-less? Have no fear, this week's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM) is here!

From ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) News:

Colossal Squid Stops Traffic in Wellington

A giant squid has brought traffic to a standstill in the New Zealand capital of Wellington.

The 500-kilogram sea creature, which developed a world-wide following when it was defrosted over the internet,* has been moved to the country's national museum, Te Papa.

The headline is a bit of a rip-off. In reality, the squid didn't stop traffic; the police escort surrounding it did.

But in the book you are going to write me, it was the squid. Arthur. And he is not in a vehicle. He is just trying to get his holiday shopping done. Someone call David Wiesner and ask him to draw me a 200+ pound squid in an enormous sparkly red sweater with snowflakes and reindeer whose noses actually light up on it. I want shopping bags on his tentacles, and a Starbucks cup in one of them. Arthur, is oblivious to the stunned chaos he leaves in his wake. Ooh! Wait! It's the 12 Days of Christmas! As in, "On the first day of Christmas, my pet squid gave to me a Jane Fonda DVD" (with accompanying squid in exercise wear pictures...).

Who will write me the other verses???

* How do you defrost something over the internet?! I have gotten pretty "frosted" at AT&T this year, but never thawed.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Snow! Snow! Snow!

In which we celebrate snow.

Is it snowing there? It's snowing here, and so cold my nose fell off on the walk home from Tink's school.

If it's snowing there, step away from the computer. Put on your coat and your boots, a hat and some gloves. Go outside. Don't shovel or sand or build anything. Find a clear spot where nobody's walked and lay down. Make a snow angel. Watch the snow falling. Examine the flakes as they land on your coat. Listen to the blanket of quiet a good snow brings. Let the wet cold seep into your bones.

When your lungs burn, run inside and stand near a fire or the radiator and strip your outerwear off and jump until you can feel your toes again.

When your fingers can bend, get a pencil, and write it. Write for 20 minutes without stopping or crossing out. What did you find?

If it's not snowing there, well, you can make a snowflake, or make a snowflake. Or you can go play at Raymond Briggs's magical website for his magical book, The Snowman, which every child should read.

Or you can read these:
Snowflake Bentley, by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illus. Mary Azarian
Fascinating and gorgeous true story of Wilson Bentley, snow scientist

Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen, possibly the most beautiful poetic picture book ever written

Snow Crazy, by Tracy Gallup (my lovely critique group friend): celebrate a day in the snow, illustrated by hand made dolls

For the toddler set, there's Snowballs, by Lois Ehlert.

And when the kids are asleep, curl up with Orhan Pamuk's Snow, which is structured like a six-sided snowflake in a way that is so complex and cool it makes my brain hurt.

So, what's your favorite snow book?

Monday, December 1, 2008

It begins...

It began with a Thai Festival of Lights. Back when I worked at the best bookstore in Chicago and my boss was the best fantasy writer I know, we celebrated Loy Krathong. We used tarp and a hose to make an actual flowing river in the middle of the children's section and everyone released rafts into it and watched them float. I think I can safely brag that it was the coolest bookstore event ever, rivaled only by the hunt for an actual bear that we staged later.

(image by Robert Pollai; from Wikipedia commons)

As a kid, I got tired of answering, "Are you Hanukkah or Christmas?" and "Do you really get eight presents?" As I got older, I got bitter every time someone wished me a Merry Christmas.

"I don't celebrate Christmas. Not everyone does, you know," I wanted to grumble, even though it was a lie: I do celebrate Christmas, because it's darn fun. But I wanted people to acknowledge that for a significant portion of the world, December 25 is just another day. It didn't help that Christmas lights started appearing before Halloween and people started referring to Christmas as "a secular holiday." Explain that one, somebody, please.

So when I became a full time teacher, I struggled. How to celebrate Christmas in the classroom, or Hanukkah, without leaving someone out?

And then I remembered the Thai Festival of Lights, and everything I learned as an anthropology major, and I decided: we would just celebrate EVERYTHING.* Every single holiday I could find. And we did. I made December's official social studies curriculum "Holidays" and invited representatives from every major religion (including atheism) to come talk to the class about their most important holidays and about how their communities answer life's big questions.

It is still my favorite unit I've ever taught. And I am still a strong believer in celebrating everything.

And guess what starts today? DECEMBER! (cue carnival music)

So hold onto your seats. Every day in December is party day in Jacqui's Room. Adventure! Prizes! Special guests! Useless font color changes!

But I will need your help. And today, I need a name for the Decemberpalooza. I hate "paloozas" ever since a friend gave my ticket to the first Lollapalooza to a boy who didn't even like her back. So what shall we call the December fun? Comments ideas, please.

And check back tomorrow, when we will receive our first visit from...
the magic present-finding guru,
who will answer all your most sticky gift-buying questions.

* I didn't have any Jehovah's Witness students that year, by the way. Also, I cleared this with all parents, administration, etc. Everyone loved it.