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

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


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.

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?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I had big plans for that millisecond


Chile Earthquake May Have Shortened Days on Earth

Apparently, the recent earthquake in Chile actually moved the Earth's mass vertically, changing our rotation and shortening the length of a day by 1.26 milliseconds.

Unfortunately, scientists report the quake had no measurable effects on the length of my daily to do list.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Over at the Castle

Hurrah! Boni Ashburn, author of the hilarious and adorable Hush Little Dragon and frequent visitor to Jacqui's Room, has a new book out today.

We love love love Hush Little Dragon. I have read it 80 times and never tire of it. I even sing Boni's version of the song to my children instead of the original. So even without reading it, I can whole-heartedly endorse Over at the Castle, although I have heard there is no feeding on humans in this one.

Go over to Boni's blog to win a copy. And then go buy one anyway.