Monday, November 30, 2009

It's the last day...

... of NaNoWriMo, and I only have ONE MILLION words to go in my novel.

How about you?

Monday, November 23, 2009

This Week's Library Haul

Here is an unintended trend this week: authors writing books about things that clearly actually happened to those authors as adults.

The Bear Upstairs
by Shirley Mozelle, illus. Doug Cushman

The writer bear downstairs is upset when a VERY LOUD BEAR moves in upstairs and interrupts her quiet life of tea and typing. Fortunately, he owns her book and wins her over her with omelets.

Destructo didn't really understand the joke here that the downstairs bear is charmed by the upstairs bear being a fan, or that she's pleased he'll be gone at work all day starting the next week. Tink got it and kind of giggled. Mainly, though, the fun is in reading out loud -- VERY LOUD -- the noises the upstairs bear makes.

The Great Gracie Chase

by Cynthia Rylant, illus. Mark Teague

Gracie (like the upstairs bear) likes a quiet life. When the painters come and make a ton of noise and put her outside, she runs away. The whole town chases her. When they collapse, tuckered out, she goes home. At the end of the book, the author bio reveals that Cynthia Rylant has a dog named Gracie.

The illustrations of Gracie in this book are so darn cute that I had to like it. Also, I love how simply it explains the quintessential dog act of taking off running and then, seemingly with no reason, turning around and coming home. Gracie had to run, Rylant tells us. People were chasing her.

Parental bragging moment: Tinkerbell pointed out that most of the book is from Gracie's point of view (though it's written in 3rd person). However, the text twice says, "Silly little dog," which bothered Tink because "Gracie would never call herself silly." She's a GENIUS, I tell you. Seriously, I wish most adults who write for kids could understand that subtle difference.

And then there's the authors writing about things that clearly happen to real children, over and over and over...

Sheila Rae, the Brave
by Kevin Henkes

Sheila Rae is not afraid of anything, but her sister Louise is a scaredy-cat. Er, scaredy-mouse. Anyway, one day Sheila Rae gets lost and Louise gets to be the brave one and rescue her.

I love me some Kevin Henkes. This despite the fact that EVERY SINGLE one of his books breaks rule #8 of Jacqui's Cardinal Rules for Picture Books: "the kid must solve his own problem." Whenever I talk about #8 in a workshop, someone says, "But what about Kevin Henkes?!" Well, what about him? The man is a picture book making genius and if you can make books like Kevin Henkes you have my permission to break nine of my rules. The rule you may not break is #6, on not talking down to kids and not moralizing to them, because this is what makes Henkes so great: he ALWAYS writes from the kid's point of view and never trivializes their concerns.

In any case, my kids loved this book.

One For Me, One For You
by C.C. Cameron, illus. Grace Lin*

This is my favorite book of the week. Two animals have a playdate. They do okay sharing four cookies, but then there are only three trucks. Tears, pulling, and time-outs ensue.

This book is in rhyme, with maybe 10-15 words on a page. The text is sparse ("If I take three, it's fine with me, but..."), yet Destructo and I knew exactly what was going on. And what was going on is near and dear to the two/three year old soul.

Richard Scarry's the Great Pie Robbery and Other Mysteries

Destructo loves mysteries. This is entirely because Tinkerbell is making her way through all my old Nancy Drew books and all the Encyclopedia Browns in the library. So when we saw a Busytown book with mysteries, it was a must have.

The first time I picked up a Richard Scarry book with my own kids, I wanted to scoff. The mom is always in the kitchen, etc. But when I opened it, my heart went "Oh. Aw. I remember that." and filled with warm. The illustration details are hilarious. The stories are fun. And the mysteries in this one are just solvable enough to be interesting for preschoolers. We have read it seven million times.

Rainbow Fairies (assorted Pet Fairies and Weather Fairies)
No author listed, which should tell you something.

Tink had these recommended to her by a friend who hates to read but loves these books. I am all for her friend, who would not read otherwise, reading them. But Tink refusing to read the genius that is Karen Hesse's Sable because she is reading about Shannon the Ocean Fairy is like, like, well, I don't know what it's like, but it makes me want to BANG MY HEAD. Hard.

* links to websites for artist and author not working

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bits of yumminess

1. I had two great critique groups this week and now I am even more excited about my new love affair. Writing, writing, writing... I love it when it's like this.

2. The Winter Blog Blast Tour ends today (boo hoo). You can find the whole week's worth of awesome at Chasing Ray's Master Schedule. Truly, there is some fantasticness and inspiration to be found. Today, you can go see:

Lisa Schroeder at Writing & Ruminating
Alan DeNiro at Shaken & Stirred
Joan Holub at Bildungsroman
Pam Bachorz at MotherReader
Sheba Karim at Finding Wonderland
Robin LaFevers at HipWriterMama

3. I don't know what you heard, but nobody around here is taking the rest of the day off to do anything having to do anything with this. Nope. No sirree Bob.

Mmm. It's like doughnuts for your brain.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Day in the Life

I recently read Annie Dillard's The Writing Life, in which she describes the daily schedules of herself and other prolific, well-known authors. It's remarkable how similar MY daily schedule is to hers. Here, for example, is Wednesday's schedule:

6:00 am Get off red-eye flight on Atheneum jet home from Bildungsroman.
6:30 am Yoga, quiet meditation
7:30 am Pensive walk through woods behind house
8:15 am Chop firewood, make coffee, 100% organic whole wheat banana pancakes
8:45 am Kiss children (who have quietly prepared themselves for the school day) off to school
9:00 am Write 1,700 words.
11:00 am Stop at local independent bookstore to pick up Thor's manifesto on Faust. Be mobbed by adoring fans.
12:00 pm Luncheon with two of smartest women I know. Discuss educational philosophy and the gifted student, transcendental characters in literary theory, and Dante.
1:00 pm Write 1,700 more words.
3:00 pm Soup kitchen
4:30 pm Pick children up from school. Serve homemade organic blueberry muffins with 2 pounds spinach (from our hydroponic greenhouse!) blended into batter.
5:00 pm Work with children to thresh wheat, harvest squash, etc. for hand-rolled gnocchi with fall vegetables.
6:00 pm Family volunteer night at local animal shelter
7:00 pm Family dinner. Discuss highlights and lowlights of everyone's day in calm, non-combative atmosphere. Brainstorm together possible solutions for individual difficulties. End by linking arms and singing Kumbaya.
8:00 pm Family read aloud from classics in children's literature
8:30 pm Children sleeping peacefully. Romantic dessert with Thor.
9:15 pm Write 1,700 more words. Also, re-tile master bathroom and plant 150 tulip bulbs.
10:00 pm Make tomorrow's lunches, pick tomorrow's outfits, clean house, get breakfast ready to go, brush cats, hang "reminder" notes for kids.
10:15 pm Yoga, floss, 15 minutes organic avocado anti-aging mask
10:35 pm Read this year's dense but rewarding Booker/Nobel/Pulitzer Prize winner.
11:00 pm Fall soundly asleep. Dream plot to best-selling and literary masterpiece.

What? You don't believe me? But who would read a writing book that tells the truth about the daily schedule...

6:00 am Give up trying to get toddler back to sleep. Get up.
6:30 am Have already said, "Don't touch that" 15 times. Hear toddler wake up sister.
6:31 am "What was that?!" "She hit me!" "Did not! Besides, he woke me up!"
7:30 am Everyone downstairs for breakfast of frozen waffles. Make lunches, locate coats, hates, and one glove each, give up on lost library book. Forget to feed cats.
8:15 am Discover green booger-like slime ball in container of soy milk. Do not vomit.
8:17 am Announce, "We are leaving NOW."
8:35 am Leave.
8:45 am Kiss daughter. Throw her in general vicinity of school.
9:00 am Stop at local independent bookstore to pick up Thor's book on the NBA. Try to keep son from eating books in front of proprietor.
11:00 am Storyhour at library.
12:00 pm Luncheon with two of smartest women I know. Discuss educational philosophy and the gifted student, transcendental characters in literary theory, and snot.
1:00 pm Pick daughter up early from school for the big "buy a new fish" adventure.
1:15 pm To PetCo. Choose new fish. Return home.
1:45 pm Wash rocks for fish tank. Son falls while climbing. Try to determine if that is actually a missing chunk of tongue he has bitten off.
2:00 pm Flood daughter's dresser with overflowed fish water.
2:30 pm Son consumes mouthful of dried fish flakes.
3:00 pm Blue's Clues. Attempt to write.
4:30 pm Release fish into tank of water. Assure children fish are acclimated.
5:00 pm Realize dinner of salmon was risky choice given the new pets. Assure children that salmon eat zebrafish and that zebrafish will be thrilled we have turned the tables.
5:30 pm Make chicken nuggets.
6:00 pm Family dinner. At no point will all four members of family be seated, nor will anyone be allowed to finish a sentence. End by checking on fish, who seem sluggish. Assure children fish are adjusting to new home.
8:00 pm Family read aloud from Richard Scarry's Busytown Mysteries. Again.
8:30 pm Twitter.
9:15 pm Fall asleep writing own story.
9:30 pm Brush teeth. Sort of.
10:00 pm Read Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally).
11:00 pm Fall asleep. Dream brilliant solution to thorny plot problems. Forget it immediately.

7:00 am Flush dead fish.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Five Reasons Why... must love Little Willow.

1. She created my totally awesome and other adjectives of praise sweet new website! Go check it out. Fabulous, eh? I am in love with the little stars.

2. During the making of said website (did you go look yet? Why not?!), she was unfazed by my multiple mind-changings, lengthy delays in response, and failure to deliver certain copy, like, ever.

3. She made The New Girl...And Me one her of "best books of September 2009," so you know she has great taste.

4. She reads A LOT of young adult books, reviews them intelligently and fairly, and believes in the power they have to help kids beyond the pages of the book. To wit: her list of YA books that deal with tough issues teens face, categorized by issue.

5. She interviews fantastic people like...ME. Yup, I'm over at Bildungsroman today as part of the Winter Blog Blast Tour. PLEASE come by and say hi, okay?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Winter Blog Blast Tour

The Winter Blog Blast Tour is here! What's a Winter Blog Blast Tour? It's an invention of Chasing Ray's. It's a series of author interviews. It's a traveling conversation about writing and books. It's a party.

And I am much excited to be a part of it. I'll be over at Bildungsroman on Wednesday, talking picture books with Little Willow. Check out the whole week of fun at Chasing Ray. Here's today's line-up.

Megan Whalen Turner at Hip Writer Mama: "As much as I love short stories, they come rarely—like little presents left on the doorstep. There's no ordering them online with guaranteed delivery, no matter how much I save up for it."

Frances Hardinge at Fuse Number 8: "Expect kidnaps, betrayal, chocolate, moonlit chases, traps within traps, consequences, fire from above, death-defying chimney incidents and an extremely important radish."

Jim Ottaviani at Chasing Ray: "So the notion that heroes are defined by the strength of their opposition couldn't be more true in this case and I wanted to show the Russian engineers and cosmonauts as the formidable competition that they were. And, as I hope the book showed out, they really were competitors, not enemies."

Courtney Sheinmel at Bildungsroman: "I'm definitely more afraid of dying than speaking in public, but I still get nervous when I have to do it...."

Derek Landy at Finding Wonderland

Mary E. Pearson at Miss Erin

Saturday, November 14, 2009


In which I answer your most pressing questions.

1. What is PiBoIdMo?
It's Picture Book Idea Month, the picture book lover's alternative to NaNoWriMo, in which you think of a picture book idea every day for a month.

2. Cool. I'll try it. So, what should I write about today?
Funny you should ask! I am guest blogging over at Tara Lazar's blog today! Come on by and be inspired. And check out Tara's brilliant PiBoIdMo contest; you could have an agent check out five of your favorite picture book ideas.

3. Wait! I was already over at Tara's. That's how I got here. Now what?
Welcome to Jacqui's Room! Come on in and have a look around. Ideas for getting started are to your left under "New to Jacqui's Room? Try these." If you are doing PiBoIdMo, you may especially like the Thursday News of the Absurd Inspirational Moments. And come back again soon!

4, What are some bad puns you made up that didn't fit anywhere in this post?
Why, I'm so glad you asked. I was just going to cook some pumpkin PiBoIdMo.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Least You Need to Know: I Wrote a Book. Now What?

Jacqui's Advice on Getting Started

1. Ask yourself: who is the audience for this story? People get caught up in the mystique of being published, of being on book store shelves. But not every book has to be published to be a success. If you wrote a story for your daughter and she loved it and you print it out and she illustrates it, it may be the most special book in her library. My own kids have plenty of books like this. That doesn't mean they'll be special to every kid. It also doesn't mean they're worth less than a book that sells in a store. So ask yourself, who is the audience for this story? Or, a harder question, if I heard someone else wrote this story would I buy it?

2. If you decide to forge ahead with publishing, your first step is to wait. Wait until the story is distant enough that you can sit down and read it and be surprised. This may be a few weeks or a few months or even years. Then re-read and revise accordingly.

3. Read your story to some kids who don't love you. Your own kids will love it because you wrote it. So will your niece. You need an objective audience. Better yet: get another adult to read it to them while you watch. Pay attention. Take notes. Do they laugh in the right places? Do they yawn? Do they shrug and say, "It was good" at the end, or do they want to hear it again? Revise accordingly.

4. Get some other people's opinions. Find a critique group, online or in person. Join the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). You don't have to be published to join and they are a wealth of information and resources. Your local chapter may be able to refer you to a local critique group. After your critiquers comment, revise accordingly.

5. But don't ask me. I'm sorry. I can't offer to read your book for you. I get a lot of requests and I barely have enough time to do my own writing, so my agent has forbidden me to read anyone else's work, outside my critique groups. Unfortunately, this is true of most authors.

6. Instead, go and look at the Jacqui's Room Rules for Picture Books. Revise accordingly.

7. Do your research before you submit. Children's Writers and Illustrators Market (CWIM) is a great place to start. The SCBWI site has good articles on getting started. Editor Harold Underdown's site has great information on the basics, as does his Complete Idiot's Guide to Children's Publishing.'s "How Do I Get Started As A Children's Writer" is good too. All of these resources will help you choose the best editor, publishing house, etc. for your specific story.

8. Follow the rules. Publishers and editors have individual requirements for submissions. Follow them.

9. But what about an agent? Yes. Having an agent makes things much, much easier. Agents are hard to snag, though, and most of them are looking for clients with a body of work that goes beyond one book. If you decide to go agent hunting, step 7 still applies, except now you are looking for someone who is a good fit both for your work and for you.

10. Go write another book. Don't sit around and wait to hear and waste away. Children's publishing moves very, very slowly. Use your time to keep moving ahead. And good luck!

This is a follow-up to The Least You Need to Know: How to Write a Picture Book.

The Least You Need to Know: How to Write a Picture Book

Lately, I've had a ton of questions about picture books from people who are just starting to write them. I realized this: I have very strong opinions on what makes a good picture book. Here they are...

Jacqui's Rules/Suggestions/Thoughts

1. Read 100 first.
Immerse yourself in the great picture books that are already written. Start with
Fuse #8’s list of the Top 100 Picture Books of All Time.Check out the Jacqui's Room top ten list. Ask your local librarian. Ask a five year old. Read them all. Study what you like and don't like. Eavesdrop on story time and hear what kids like. Then go write, but don't try to sound like a picture book. Write something totally different.

2. Picture books have 500-700 words. Or fewer.
When the act of sounding out each word is hard for readers, you need to make every word count. Plus, you don't want to be that book parents hide because it's too long for bedtime.

3. Picture books are 32 pages long.
1 half page to start, 14 two page spreads, and 1 half page to end.

Don't think about this while you write your story, or when you format it for publishers (if you do). But when you're done, make a "dummy" version of the book where you split the text into pages and imagine the art for each page. If your story won't fit the format, you may need to revise.

4. Each page much have something newly illustratable.
Nobody wants to read a book where ten pictures in a row show the grandma and kid talking. Something new has to happen on each page.

5. The text of your story must stand alone.
Don't write with art directions or explanations. Use your words to draw the pictures in your reader's head. If you have to explain the story, figure out a way to make those things clear in the text.

6. Don't talk down to children or moralize to them.
On talking down: Kids are young; they are not stupid. In fact, they are much harder to write for than adults. Kids' problems may seem small or cute to you, but to the kids they are everything. Don't write "top down." Put yourself in their shoes.

On moralising: I am guessing you never got really excited about a book because someone told you, "This is going to teach you about compassion!" Focus on a story, not a lesson.

7. Your story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Good stories do.

8. Your story must have a conflict or a problem, and that problem must be solved by the kid.
Without a problem, it's hard to have a story where I care what happens. And if the kid doesn't solve it, how can kids feel great about it?

9. Show, don't tell.
I want the juicy details. Don't tell me how she feels; put me in her shoes.

10. If you write in rhyme, your rhyme and meter must be perfect.
Absolutely perfect. If I am six years old and I try to sound out your book letter by painstaking letter, I rely on your rhyme and meter to help me read. If I'm a parent, I am far more likely to read your book if it makes my mouth happy to do so.

If you are writing in rhyme,
Make it rhyme all of the time,
Don't let your meter get wonky,
And put too many syllables in your not-really-rhyming pay-off line.

11. Forget numbers 2-10 until your story is written. Just start writing. Worry about the rules later.
And have fun.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Why Do Fools Fall in Love?

You know that friend you have, who's in love with someone new every eight months? Who keeps saying, "Oh, that's over. But this new guy/girl..." Three months later all she can do is complain about how badly it's going. Six months later she's heartbroken. Seven months later she has sworn off love forever.

"Never again," she vows, shaking a fist. And then, at eight months, "This NEW one..."

So, I started this new book. And this NEW going to be the best book ever.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Dear Tinkerbell,

I don't care how many times you have read Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone. You must stop referring to your brother as "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."

In addition:

1. It is not okay to hide jars of "potion" in the corners of the basement, particularly if said potion contains large quantities of vermin-attracting fruit juice.

2. I know what the "Petrificus Totalus" spell does and I do not appreciate having you shout it at me during lectures on your behavioral faults.

3. You cannot invent magic words. Specifically, if your father asks, "What's the magic word?" when you rudely demand something, you may not answer, "Monkey bars." Further, you may not then use "monkey bars" in the place of "please" in making requests, as in "Get my homework folder, monkey bars."

Lastly, for the 100th time, no, the book I am writing is not as good as Harry Potter. Yes, I wish it were too. Thanks for the tip about the juicy details. I'll work on it.

Your Mother

Thursday, November 5, 2009

What Kids Want

Or, Why I Love My Local Indie Book Store

Hey! You know what makes a great gift for any holiday you might celebrate? A signed, personalized copy of TWO OF A KIND!

"I wish!" you exclaim. "But how can I get one?"

Well, you're in luck, because Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor rocks. Here's what they're doing for us:

If you order Two of a Kind (or The New Girl...And Me) online through Nicola's,
specify in your order that you want it signed,
and then email me and tell me what you want the dedication to say,
Nicola and I will sign, wrap, and ship it for you.
If you order by December 10, you can have it in time for Xmas.

Don't the kids in your life deserve a great book? Don't they deserve ten or twenty copies each? Think how cool you'll seem when they're signed and personalized!

Now, go buy one million copies.