Thursday, February 26, 2009

Woman melvins burglar until police arrive

This week, from my spot in hopefully sunny Florida, I am offering a Thursday News of the Absurd That Made Me Giggle Because I Have No Inspiration To Spare moment.

From the AP:

Woman uses wedgie to capture suspected thief

What can I possibly add? And it's not a play on words; check out the story.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

18 trillion miles to see the sun

In which I indulge my inner kid who loves space stuff.

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

From the AP, by Seth Borenstein, AP Science writer:

Backward green comet makes one-time only visit

Apparently, an "odd, greenish backward-flying comet is zipping by Earth this month, as it takes its only trip toward the sun from the farthest edges of the solar system."

Okay, there is so much cool about this:

First, it's the ONLY time it will EVER come past Earth.

Second, any time something in space is green, it reads like a sci-fi adventure. And then the article says the green glow comes from poisonous gas!

Third, it was discovered by a Chinese teenager. If this is the only time it's going to come close enough to Earth to be seen, how did he find it? Wait! I looked it up. It's an AWESOME story: Quanzhi Ye has been wanting to find his own comet since he saw Hale-Bopp when he was 7. Okay, one of you has to write me his book too.

Fourth, its name is Lulin. I am not joking. It's named for the Taiwan observatory where it was first photographed, but it's a perfect character name, I think.

Fifth, there is commentary in the article from one "Donald Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near Earth Object program." That is the coolest job title I've heard this week. Plus, this comet is going to be 38 million miles away at its nearest-to-Earth point; talk about a range of influence.

Sixth, it flies backwards. Orbits in the opposite direction from most comets and its tail appears to go first.

I want a picture book, I think, about the adventures of Lulin the backwards green comet who travels 18 trillion miles to see the sun. Maybe her friends think she'll never make it. Maybe she's been saving up since she was a wee comet. Maybe you have better ideas you can share???

Also, the amazing photo above is by amateur astronomist Jack Newton, who also runs the coolest bed and breakfast in the world, and who was kind enough to give me permission to post his image here.

Now. That is a lot of material for you. Who will write me this book?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

That Evil Writer-Hater in Your Head

Ever have days when ALL of the world's problems weigh on you? Like you're trying to write your cute middle grade mystery/adventure novel and the evil writer-hating voices in your head say things like, "There are children starving all over the world and this is what you're doing?!" or "How long are you going to stick your head in the sand while Michigan's economy tanks? Go ahead! Fiddle around with words while Rome burns."

"Shut it," I tell the voice. "Gabriel Garcia Marquez said the best thing a writer can do for the world is write."

"Oh did he? When? In what book?"

"HE SAID IT! See? It's copied neatly here above my desk."

"He never said that."


Why don't you Google it and prove it?"

"Fine!" I yell. "I will."

Thirty minutes later, I hear giggling.

"Shut up," I say. "What's so funny?"

"Google Google Google. You got nothing. And meanwhile, the polar ice caps are melting."

I put down my pen and weep. "I know. And I love polar bears! But what can I do?"

"Nothing. You're useless. Put away the laptop and go get a donut or a bag of chips."

And she is right. And I have to obey.

What? That never happens to you? Oh. Well. Me neither. I was just speculating. Nobody crazy talking to herself around here.

Munch munch munch.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The hardest part...

... of being a picture book author who can't draw worth a lick
is when the greatest,
most fabulousest,
falls into your lap and your mind, fully formed and ready to go,
and you realize:
it's wordless.

Sigh. What's your hardest part?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Use the Force

In which I justify leaving The Mighty Thor to do bedtime for both kids so I can wander aimlessly.

I've been a little stuck on my work-in-progress. I'd tried a lot of things, but it needed, um, it needed, er, something. And I didn't know what. Then, the other night, I felt an overwhelming need to get out of the house. I wandered to the car with no idea where I was going. I ended up at the bookstore trolling the writing inspiration shelves researching. I had no idea why I was there or what I was seeking. Then, I came across this:

The Writer's Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christopher Vogler

"Interesting," I thought to myself. And it was. But it was too dense to read at 9:30 at night.

"I know," I thought. "I'll go to the library tomorrow and look at it there."

The next morning, I couldn't write a thing. So I headed to the library, telling myself I was researching. Because what every middle grade novel needs is more mythic structure. Sigh. Obviously, I was desperate.

I found the book. It didn't help me. But near it on the shelf was this:

"Ooh!" I thought. "That might help!" So I grabbed it. And it was very interesting (and who doesn't love Joan Lowery Nixon?). But it didn't help.

I put it back. And next to it, was another mystery-writing book. And another. And another. And WHAT AM I DOING?! WHY AM I SPENDING DAY CARE TIME READING ADVICE ON SETTING UP YOUR SERIAL KILLER?!?!?!

"Enough," I told myself. "This is useless. Put these back."

And then, as I was reshelving it all, this fell out:

How to Write KILLER Fiction, by Carolyn Wheat.

And because I was avoiding writing at all costs open to new experiences and ideas, I picked it up. And glanced through it.

And there it was, a castaway line in the middle of a chapter I wasn't even really reading. A castaway line in the middle of a chapter I wasn't reading in a book I never should have had.

And it was EXACTLY what my work in progress needed. And I started writing immediately and haven't stopped.

Was it just an accident, a master procrastinator getting lucky? No. I like to think it was some Star Wars-like writer's Force, guiding my light saber. Now, if only I could find Yoda.

So long until tomorrow. And may The Force be with you.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The House at Jacqui's Corner

In which I compare myself to A.A. Milne.

You probably know that all the Winnie the Pooh stories started as bedtime stories for A.A. Milne's own kids. Haven't you wondered what the bedtime stories in other writers' houses are like? They must be fabulous, yes? Full of art and talent? Of course they are. Witness.

by Jacqui (for Tink, enacted using her two favorite stuffed animals)

One day me was walking along when me saw cookie. It look delicious. It all brown with honey dripping on it. Me knew it was Black Bear's cookie, because me know Black Bear loves honey.

Me know it wrong to eat Black Bear's cookie. But cookie so delicious! Me look at cookie. Me look at Black Bear. Me look at cookie. Me look at Black Bear. Me know friends most important thing in world.

Nom nom nom nom nom. Forget you Black Bear. Nom nom nom.

2. THE FAMILY, take 1
by The Mighty Thor

Once upon a time, there was a family. There was a beautiful, handsome and strong and smart father. There was an okay mother. And there were two kids, the Lady Piggybottoms and Sir Squigglimadoo.

(collapses in laughter at own joke, unable to finish story)

3. THE FAMILY, take 2
by Tink

Once upon a time, there was a family. There was a pretty and smart mother and a pretty and smart daughter. There was a hairy ape father. And a bear. STOP! MOM! MAKE HIM STOP TOUCHING MY STUFF!!!!!!! (nails brother with Black Bear)

4. THE FAMILY, take 3
by The Mighty Thor

As I was saying, there was this family with the parents and Lady Piggybottoms and Sir Squigglimadoo. They lived in a beautiful castle in Michigan. And then one day a Cheerios monster ate them all up. Nom nom nom nom nom.

The end.

My children have no hope of normalcy, I fear.

Dinos vs. Doctors

In which I wish I had the fantasy life my children have.

I was ready to give up on this week's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM). And then I came downstairs after the kids' bedtime tonight and found this:

This is our Playmobile hospital. It is usually full of smiling doctors, miniature medical equipment, and healing children. Tink and Destructo were over here having a blast while Thor and I made dinner. Let's zoom in, shall we?

Something is afoot at the Playmobile hospital, methinks? Where is everybody? And all the equipment? What is that dinosaur doing? Whose baby is that on the ultrasound machine?!

Why is this woman wielding a spatula and a transparent gun?

It gets better. Check out the poor patient with the IV in the background:

Her hair has escaped and is running across the floor.

Lastly, I found these two shady characters in the broken elevator:

If I could imagine half of what was in my son's head while he did this, I'd be a far better writer for it.

But you, dear readers, YOU are full of imagination and powers of deductions. What do YOU think happened at the Playmobile hospital today? Who will write me this book?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Spam me any time

In which I take what I can get.

This arrived in my inbox this week:

Dear jacqui,

I have been to your blog and loved it!

Having embraced the light of your essence that is your online garden of the self , i felt compelled to write and compliment you on a job well done. You have created a path of light that expresses the flowering within. I enjoyed learning who you are and what you do. The heart of your destiny and soul of your existence are inspiring. Know that your life and work are respected and celebrated. By sharing your story , gifts and abilities you enrich and enlighten those blessed to view your pages. You are an authentic and original person of character whose refreshing presence motivates and enchants. Thank you for being you. I wish you a lifes journey where peace and harmony reign supreme.

Now that's the kind of letter people should be sending me. Sure, I know he's probably never seen my blog and really wants me to wire money to his account in Nigeria. But, the heart of my destiny and the soul of my existence are inspiring? Sweet.

I had forgotten, until I got this letter, about waving to honkers. In high school, whenever someone honked at me, I'd pretend it was not because I had cut him off or because my left headlight was out, but because I was so irresistibly fabulous. I'd turn and flash a movie star smile, or wave and blow a kiss, mouthing "thank you." Puts you in a lot better mood than the alternative.

So I'm taking the words to heart. I AM an authentic and original person of character whose refreshing presence motivates and enchants.

Oh, and thank you for honking. You look great too.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Give it up

I've been stuck. I hate it. You know the feeling, when you've written parts one and two and four and five and part six is calling you and part seven, well, who knows what's going to happen in part seven? Those other scenes are already dancing around in your head, bits of great dialogue and action flitting in and out of your consciousness even when you're not writing. And then there's part three.

I hate part three. It sits there, or rather it DOESN'T sit there because it doesn't yet exist. You haven't written it and you have to because it has all sorts of information or transportation or other STUFF that has to happen before part four. So you have to write part three and oh! I just thought of the greatest idea for another book! NO! Must. write. part. three. Blah.

Part three, I loathe you. But I am going to write you, I promise. Just as soon as I reorganize my entire office and go through all the children's clothes to see what still fits and make this call and play one more hour's worth of this game and eat this entire box of chocolate chip Bunny Grahams.

And then there's the guilt. I SHOULD be writing. I hate the guilt even more than I hate part three.

"Just agree to yourself that you're going to write something bad," everyone says. So you write something really bad and sometimes it works: it's not nearly as bad as you think and hey! It's written!

And other times you are unpleasantly surprised to find that when you set out to write drivel, often what you get is, well, drivel. And still part three is not what it needs to be.

So I am trying something new. I'm not writing part three. Face it: if it's this boring for me to write it, it is never going to be interesting to read. So now there IS no part three. And there might not be a part nine either. In fact, I have decided that any part of my book that I am not excited to write, any part that doesn't have me hurrying the kids along in the morning just so I can get to the page, I'm not writin' it. Yeah, I'll have to figure out how to squeeze that information and that transportation and that other stuff elsewhere. Or not. It's possible I'll never miss it. We'll see.

So, in this week's No, Seriously. Just Try It, I release you. If it's not fun to write, don't write it. Or figure out how to make it fun.*

Take that part three. Spend an eternity in the oblivion of the unwritten. I'm over you. And hello part four!

* Thor and Space Chicken would like to offer some suggestions...

Friday, February 6, 2009

Friday bit

Yeah, just one bit. But it's a good one.

I got nothing today, people. But poet, friend, and Rock Sugar Beet* girl Jill Corcoran is bringing the verse over at her blog, Jill Corcoran Books. She's posted original poetry all week. I was going to pick my favorite, but it's...all of them. So be sure to scroll down. Seriously, go. Now.

And I will see you Monday for a brilliant installment of No, Seriously. Just Try It...

* In case you have forgotten, the Rock Sugar Beets are the fabulously talented and supportive fellow writers I wrote about here. And if you haven't already, you should check all them out too.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The tree that looks like a chicken

In which I bring the silly.

As promised, it's back to the picture book here in Jacqui's Room, including this week's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM).


The tree that looks like a chicken

According to the article, it just grew like that. According to one local arboriculturalist, "There are all sorts of reasons why trees grow into the shapes they do." Apparently, the locals are baffled.

(photo also from

I am not baffled. I know why it looks like a chicken: because it IS a chicken! Maybe she was practicing black magic and got even more messed up than the car thief. Maybe she had a magic pebble and blew it even worse than Sylvester.

Or maybe someone is turning farm animals into flora.

I want the chicken mad, not worried. I want her grumbling in the "Oh, you have got to be kidding me" voice of Bea Arthur from The Golden Girls. I want groaner puns and a bleary-eyed fox who sees the tree and runs for his life. And on the endpage, I want the tree left behind shaped like, you guessed it, an egg.

Who will write me this book?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Memorable Moments, continued

In which I wrap up the 95 hours and 58 minutes during which I was not talking to Richard Peck.

Jacqui's Room Goes to SCBWI-NY: Other Memorable Moments

1. I got to see and talk to the editor of my first two books, Richard Jackson, now-retired editorial legend and discoverer of such talents as yours truly (oh, and Judy Blume and Virginia Hamilton). He gave a monumentally inspiring speech, including my two favorite quotes:

On selling books: "It's what they story wants that matters, not the market."

And on text: it is "a sharing between writer and reader through fearfully abstract signals."

Oh, retirement. How I loathe thee.

2. How in love with Bruce Hale am I? A lot. He wears good hats. He gave a great speech, which you can find described here. He invited us to "bring the funny." And he said something that sparked something that poofed a memory into my head that crystallized into this line:

"Rachel Rogan is peeing in my basement."

Which is how my next chapter book will begin. The line, setting, story, main character, and plot fell into my lap with that one spark. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I go to these things.

3. Jack Gantos taking us on a tour of great books from board book to novel with rabid book enthusiasm and laughter. Now, I know writers are not their characters, but between his endearing roughness, mischevious humor and vaguely Jersey accent, well, let's just say Jack Gantos is not UNLIKE Rotten Ralph.

4. On Monday, I had a talk with someone smart and funny who also loves picture books. So often, novels get all the lovin' in the lit world. Monday I got to celebrate the power of a great picture book: 600 carefully chosen words with all the emotion, tension, and story arc of a 200 page book, plus some of the most innovative art around. Yum. You can bet there will be a Respect The Mighty Picture Book moment soon. And before I get to Rachel Rogan and her pee, work has begun in earnest on my next picture book.

5. I would be remiss if I didn't mention all the lovely people whom I saw this weekend, new friends and old friends, many of whose names you see a lot in the comments section here. Thanks for all the smiles and compliments on the blog!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

My Moment with Richard Peck

In which I spend 900 words talking about ninety seconds.

Jacqui's Room Goes To SCBWI-NYC Memorable Moment #1:

Have you read A Year Down Yonder? No? What about A Long Way From Chicago? ANYTHING by Richard Peck? No? Okay. Dear readers, I have failed you. I don't do this often. Turn your computer off and go to the library. Take out one of those books, or any one of Richard Peck's thirty plus fabulous books for young readers and READ IT.

There is nobody (and I mean nobody, not Salman Rushdie, whom you know I adore, or Katherine Paterson, or even me) who strings words together with the precision and beauty of Richard Peck. Witness:

Summing up exactly why I write: because "books show us that even our most secret fears are shared."

On writing: "we look to make a blank page sing with voices that are not our own."

On why kids should read: "if you cannot find yourself on the page early in life, you will go looking for yourself in all the wrong places."*

Peck's books have humor, adventure, emotion, vivid settings, unique characters with strong voices, and satisfying yet surprising endings, all in that gorgeous, exact language. I read The Teacher's Funeral on the way home on the plane and laughed out loud from line one:

"If your teacher has to die, August isn't a bad time of year for it."

ANYWAY, I was in New York for the 10th annual Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) winter conference this weekend. Richard Peck spoke there last year and he was brilliant and afterwards I introduced myself and thanked him for existing and got a little light-headed. This year he wasn't on the agenda.

And then, all of a sudden, there he was! He's made an SCBWI master class DVD on writing novels for young people and came to introduce it.

And THEN, as he was walking in to give his speech, he passed by, looked at me and said, "Oh! Hello!" and shook my hand.

AND THEN he said, "Good to see you again. Looking forward to Two of a Kind."

Okay, I made up that last part. But still: Richard Peck recognized me.

After his talk, I found him and Linda Sue Park** at his signing table and we got to talk a bit. As in, he asked me about myself and I said, "Aggle flabble klabble" and "It's an honor to meet you sir."** And then Richard Peck signed my book and wished me luck.

And then my new friend Michie gave me cheddar goldfish. So life was perfect.

Coming tomorrow, two more Memorable Moments...

* I may be misquoting all of these. This is because I cannot even take notes when Richard Peck is speaking. I just sit there and think, "Yes!" And occasionally drool.
** Who was very sympathetic to my star-struckness, and who has, in addition to many great books and a Newbery medal, the kindest smile in kidlit.
*** I am not a formal person, but "sir" rolls off your tongue effortlessly when you talk to Richard Peck.