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Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Triple Whammy...a.k.a the Holy Trinity of Distraction

First off, I tend to do things in threes: Three daughters, (I myself am one of three kids...a middle child of two middle children), usually three WIP's at a time, three cups of tea a day, that kind of thing.

So, it should come as no surprise that each year, I get to end my year with a triple whammy:

Christmas (which I love)

My anniversary (which is a blast)

and my third daughter's birthday (which also happens to be New Years Day).

That's right, folks, eleven years ago I had the first baby of the New Year for the city I lived in.

Imagine, if you will, TV reporters in your room at 3:00 a.m. interviewing you for the 6:oo a.m. News...

Reporter: So, Mrs. Thomas, (awkwardly looks at the HUGE bundle in my arms) is that your first ten pound baby?

Me: (Did he really just say that...???) Let's just say it's my last ten pound baby...(awkwardly laughs...does not make eye contact with camera).


Yes, eleven years ago on New Year's Eve, I was in labor and at 12:46 a.m., my little (not-so-little, actually) Cali was born.

So, um, the writing I get done in the week between Christmas and New Years looks like this:

















not so much.

But, next week, when I get to go back to work, then I'll have time to write...


yeah....sure...


hrh

Happy Birthday, Caledonia.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

....

I couldn't even think of a title for this post without sounding super schmaltzy. Not that I have a problem with schmaltzy stuff. Heck, I live a pretty schmaltzy life....but I digress.

Today is the 22nd anniversary of my marriage to my husband, Sean.

Now, lots of couples celebrate their anniversaries in terribly romantic ways, dinner, dancing, champagne....um yeah. But when you get married two days after Christmas, let me tell you, by the time the big day rolls around, you are totally fooded out!! Seriously, who wants to spend the cash on a nice dinner when the thought of MORE FOOD* is enough to induce a coma?

So, what are we doing to mark the beginning of our 23rd year together? One word:



AVATAR!!







Can.not.wait!!



Here's hoping all of you get to spend 22 years with someone who accepts you just the way you are and loves you...even the weird bits.


hrh

*Well, we did go out very fancy schmancy for out 19th, to a very elegant restaurant, where we got the pleasure of seeing a cute couple a few tables over receive a very lovely box at their table. After the waitress dropped the box off, we hailed her and asked if there was a ring in the box and the guy was proposing, which of course, there was and he was.

The girl refused.

It was the most uncomfortable dinner I have ever witnessed in my life. (silly boy, proposed before the meal???) And I couldn't look away....



So, bring on the hamburger joint and the movie!!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The 12 Deeds of Christmas

Okay, so I'm a bit of a mean mom...kind of. We have this thing at the Thomas house call The 12 Deeds of Christmas wherein the three Thomas children must complete 12 good deeds amongst themselves before Christmas. (12 total, usually works out to 4 a piece.)

The rules are loose:

1. It must be a selfless act.

2. It must not rely too heavily on The Bank of Mom.

Individual deeds have included picking up all the dog poop in the backyard without being asked (thank you Cali), or chaperoning a 10 year old's gingerbread party for 4 hours (Thanks Noel and Issy).

Anyway, the girls decided one of the deeds they would do would be to make a cookie plate and deliver it to an elderly neighbor. Nice, huh? I thought I would help their deed out by buying a lovely paperwhite narcissus to go with the cookie plate. I have always loved these flowers at Christmas, far better than poinsettias, and thought it would be nice.



Youngest child: (upon getting in the car) What stinks?

Me: It's probably the flower I bought for (insert elderly neighbor's name) to go with the cookie plate. It's a paperwhite narcissus. And it doesn't stink.

YC: (Leans over to smell) It smells like baked pee.

Me: (first response) No it doesn't. (second response) Ewwwww. (third response) How do you know what baked pee smells like?

YC: It just smells like pee would....if you baked it. Or maybe it smells like one of those white board markers before you are about to throw it away because it stinks so bad...or maybe a toilet.

Me: It does NOT smell like a toilet.

YC: (Grumbles from the back seat under her breath, something about the fact that the smell of the flower is going to ruin the whole cookie plate.)



So, there you have it. Good deeds abound! Cali saves the elderly neighbor from having a foul smelling plant (which now resides on front porch.)

And that, my friends, is what Christmas is all about.


hrh

(4 more deeds to go!)

Monday, December 21, 2009

In Which I Owe You a Donut....Or a Drink.....Oh yeah, and Kissing

See, what happened was that school is finally over and for the first time in, I dunno, a hundred years, I can read blogs leisurely instead of whizzing through at lightspeed. Yea and hurray!

But I got a little cocky, with my new found time. And when I saw that there was a Kissing Day today where people could post parts of their WIP's that involves kissing, well, in a moment of utter stupidity, I signed up.

Wha??!!

So, now we get to the part about the donut (or the drink). Back when I had my first writing group in New Mexico (love you Holly, Karen and June!) and it came time for me to read my stuff, I'd hem and haw around, saying things like, "I know it's really rough..." or "Don't comment, just listen, because I know it's not very good." Blah. Blah. Blah.

Well, the group got tired of hearing this tripe, and I got tired of saying it, so I challenged myself to buy a drink (or a donut) for anyone who had to hear me hem and haw around before reading my stuff.

Consider the Hemming and Hawing part done. (Maybe a virtual donut....?)

Soooooo, on to kissing.....(This is where round 2 of H and H begins in usual circumstances...be glad you are not here in person. I am stepping away from the computer...back again...okay.)

Okay, here we go. From WIP titled Wren Faire, wherein a teenage girl who works as a serving wench at a renaissance faire in the summers falls in love with a cursed boy from the 16th century.

Here we go...(Stop stalling!! Just Do it!)






He pulled on her hands, causing her to lean in towards him.

Wren resisted a teeny, weeny bit. She didn't want to just fall into the arms of the first boy that opened them to her. But then again, here she was, under the moonlit sky, stars sparkling, with a beautiful boy who appeared to be funny, charming and mysterious. And he was wearing a kilt, for heaven's sake! A kilt!

As Wren looked at his face, she felt her breathing increase. Great. Now it matched her heart rate, which was going completely insane.

Close eyes? Leave eyes open? Close eyes? Leave eyes open?

But Will just smiled at her as he moved closer. Softly, more gentle than the hint of a breeze, Will touched Wren's lips with his own.

So, so, soooo much better than when she had tried kissing Jamie back when they were both thriteen, giving Wren the shocking realization that it's not how you kiss, it's who you kiss.







Happy Mistletoe Day!

hrh

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tagged

Tagged by MG Higgins!!

Okay, I don't even know what this means! I think I have to answer these questions....which is probably a good things, since I had a really good blog post planned, but have not the brain power with which to write it...so, as an interim post, I shall answer the tagging stuff (Is it a Meme? a MeMe? How do you say it..what does it mean?)

What was the last thing you wrote? What is the first thing you wrote that you still have? The last thing was a few paragraphs of my attempt at a YA. As for the other, I still have a book I wrote in second grade. I take it to classes to show kids all the time....messy handwriting and all.

Write poetry?
If I got the time, I can bust a rhyme. (Sorry.)

Angsty poetry? If surfing hippos are considered angsty, then yes.

Favorite Genre of Writing?
Picturebook, then chapter book, middle grade, then YA.

Most annoying character you've ever created?
Not finished yet, but it has to be Extra Super Cranky Lady. She's made of annoying.

Best plot you've ever created?
No idea. Really.

Coolest plot twist you've ever created? Probably the famous Good Knight Kiss.

How often do you get writer's block? Almost never. Instead, I get Writer's-Complete-Lack-Of-Time-Itis.

Write fan fiction?
Nope.

Do you type or write by hand? Hand.

Do you save everything you write? Yes. (Can I find it? no.)

Did you ever go back to an idea after you've abandoned it? There are no abandoned ideas, just those that aren't ready yet.

What's your favorite thing you've ever written? I love the Good Knight Books! Still crack me up.

What's everyone else's favorite story you've written? Kids love the Good Knight books, too. Also they love an unpublished middle grade about a dungeon under a school.

Ever written romance or angsty teen drama? There's a love story at the heart of my YA.....

What's your favorite setting for your characters? Um...not sure really. Where ever I'm not having to think too much about the setting, probably....

How many writing projets are you working on right now?
2. Finishing a YA and also finishing an easy chapter book.

Have you ever won an award for your writing?
One of my books is an ALA Notable Book, which is a good thing. Another was a Nickelodeon Top Ten Book of the year. Also, I got an Oppenheimer Platinum Toy Award for a book, and nominated for many, many state awards.

Almost forgot, one of my books was recognized by the Anti-Defamation League. Yeah.

What are your five favorite words?
Dude. (giving it up for the new year...can't really pull it off any more, even though it pours from my lips as if I were a skateboarding-skinny-jean wearing wannabee. Sheesh.

What character have you created that is most like yourself?
I am the Good Knight. Ironically, I am also the little dragons....

Where do you get your ideas for your characters? Usually, the concept comes first, followed by the characters. So they come to me by way of "who might fit in here?"

Do you ever write based on your dreams?
My book, Somewhere Today: A Book of Peace came came from a dream I had.

Do you favor happy endings?
Most definitely.

Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?
Nope.

Does music help you write? Sometimes it really helps. Sometimes it is an incredible distraction. (Yes, Sean, I AM tired of you playing the heck out of the Jamie Cullum CD.)

Quote something you've written. Whatever pops in your head:
"The best gifts do not come from a store,
they come from our hearts and our hands,
nothing more." (The Good Knight said this in Happy Birthday, Good Knight.)

I don't think many of my answers are all that interesting, but they saved you from some lame bathroom humor, which is slated for the next post...unfortunately for you.

I am Tagging:

Laura and Lisa (but they probably already did this)
Katie and SF
Amy Tate
Corey Schwartz (that's what you get for being the first in the comments....hehehe, that was part of my evil plan, tag the first one!!)






Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Holiday Storytelling Scorecard

How the Grinch Stole Christmas: Told 13 times this season.

'Twas the Night Before Christmas: Told 15 times. Anticipate 5 more tellings.

Charles Dicken's Christmas Carol (The Story Queen Version): Told once, anticipate 5 more tellings.

Twelve Days of Christmas: Sung/Told 12 times

The Biscochito: Told 0 times.

What??? StoryQueen, you did not tell the story of the Biscochito even once??? Bad StoryQueen! Bad StoryQueen!

The Biscochito is a gingerbread man type of story, but the main character is a cookie that hails from my old stomping grounds...New Mexico. I wrote it many years ago, and it is a holiday favorite of mine. (Shhhh, don't tell anyone, but it is one of those things I wrote that didn't sell right away, so I just use it with kids as an oral-tradition type of story. And they LOVE it. I mean, how can they not with great lines like:

Run, run, run,
as fast as you can go,
you can't catch me
I'm the Biscochito.*

That's good stuff, my friends.)

I'm sorry, little Christmas Cookie. There's still time. I'll tell your tale at least once this year, I promise.

*And the fox doesn't eat the cookie at the end....a big guy in a red suit does, teehee.

Off to tell Dickens today!


hrh

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Why Would You Have a White Christmas Tree?

Because with a white tree, you can see the ornaments better! (You might not be able to see him, but Sponge Bob is on the tree, as well as Mr. Bill. That's Hedwig sitting next to Santa and the red thing on the left side is a sash Cali won in a dance competition. Behind Santa is my pop-up book collection, starring the amazing Robert Sabuda. And yes, those are mouse ears on the top of the tree.)

In case you were wondering, we are colorful mini-light people....lots and lots of color.

Why a fake tree? Well, they do last longer and I like to set up early. Plus, I kind of hate the whole dead tree thing at the end of Christmas...kind of depressing.

Favorite time to write: Early in the morning with the Christmas lights on!

hrh

Monday, December 7, 2009

Holiday Messages


Those are my Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer peeps. I love them. (I also have all of the Rudolph characters in plush...about beanie baby size, lounging under the tree)

See, Rudolph is one of my favorite holiday shows. There are soooo many layers going on. I mean, most holiday shows have the it-is-better-to-give-than-to-receive message or the Christmas-is-not-about-presents message.

But Rudolph? Man...so much conflict, so much character development....so much growth.

First, let's look at the characters, shall we?

We've got Hermie who is the elf who wants to be a dentist. (Be yourself, Hermie!!)
There's Rudolph, born different from the other reindeer. (Don't hide what you are, Rudy!)
Not to mention Donner (or Donder, depending on which Christmas story you are reading)....(You did NOT just cover up your kid's uniqueness, did you?)
There's Santa...prejudiced against red-nosed deer....

And that's just for starters.

Throw in the whole island of misfit toys (I love that flying lion king....), a monster who's maybe not so fearsome, and a gold prospector who just does his own thing and you've got one spectacular, character driven holiday epic!!

And what I love about watching the little claymation-looking puppets struggle is that the writers did not make things easy for them. They had to tackle huge obstacles, and in the doing of their deeds, they grew.

Even the youngest of TV watchers gets the theme: Be who you are. Accept others for who they are.

Right now, my little plastic elf band peeps are playing right outside of my daugher's Lego Hogwarts (which is decorated, naturally, because there's no place like Hogwarts for the Holidays). The Bumble is perched atop the tower. Rudolph is hanging with Yukon Cornelius, with Clarice trailing behind, as usual. Hermie is about to extract a molar from Hagrid (it's really been giving him trouble). Harry and Ron are playing hide and seek with Santa.

Such is life.

hrh

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Lessons from a fifth grader

The scene: 9:00 p.m. Wednesday night at the Thomas house, at the end of a very busy day. Kids are eating spaghetti made by dad. Dance is finally over for the evening and the homework begins......

Cali: (pulls out a fresh piece of lined paper from her notebook.)

Me: I thought you were done with your homework before dance.

Cali: I was...I am...but I have to rewrite Chapter 25 from Sign of the Beaver for my teacher.

Me: I thought you did that last night...you sat at the table while I was working....I remember....?(am I experiencing deja vu?)

Cali: I have to do it again.

Me: Wha?? (Okay, it's bad enough to have to rewrite Chapter 25 from Sign of the Beaver in a new way ONCE....but twice??)

Cali: Apparently, it can't be funny.

Me: (a knowing look appears on my face, I'm certain)

Cali: Mr. S is not a fan of rubber chickens, I guess.

So there you have it....there is a time for rubber chickens in writing and a time for NO rubber chickens in writing. It is a good thing to learn the difference.

hrh

P.S. Poor Cali....the little apple is maybe too close to the tree sometimes.....

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Booksignings: Then and Now

My first book signing was about 14 years ago....

It was on a Saturday.

I bought a new dress.

I did my hair.

My friends had a party for me after with cheesecake, hors d'oeuvres and champagne.

The only glitch was that they ran out of books (Houghton Mifflin had just moved there warehouses and sent only a few boxes...not expecting there to be that many people that wanted to buy my book...first time author and all. My parents had to scramble to the other bookstores in town, buy all the copies and bring them to bookstore I was at and re-sell them.)

Lovely day.

Flashforward to yesterday:

5:45 Wake-up, check e-mail, read blogs....prepare mind for day to come.

6:50 Discover that the black shirt I thought I had spotted in the closet was really a black skirt. Scramble for black shirt.

7:00 Struggle with zipper on daughter's skirt for 10 precious minutes...until we both throw in the towel and she changes. (It wasn't too small or anything....just temperamental).

7:10 Realize that teenager won't get to school on time unless prince consort, who is lounging in bed, gets up and takes her due to loss of 10 minutes. Make snarky comment* which thrusts prince consort from bed, into the car and down the road.

7:30 Stick paper bracelets in teachers mailboxes to put on kids' wrists so they won't forget to come to the book fair.

7:40 Don StoryQueen garb. Force youngest child and two of her friends to put on the dragon costumes to stand in front of the school with a sign reminding people to come to Barnes and Noble. (Laugh while the dragons do the macarena for the parents dropping off...)

8:00 Take child (not mine) who is crying and won't go to class to my room to help tape signs on my puppets (Please return me to the StoryQueen) for the scavenger hunt...BEG her to be a good girl and go to class because the StoryQueen is slammed today and just can't deal.....she consents.

8:00-2:30 Teach about a million classes (not really, just seemed that way).

2:30 spend time in office, calling parents of kids who forgot that we cancelled writing club due to the book fair to come and pick their kid up.

3:00 Race to B and N, having procured the appropriate pens at Rite Aid for signing along the way, putting on lipstick in the rearview mirror.

3:30 Me: Um....where are the books?
Them: And, who are you?
Me: WHERE ARE THE BOOKS?
Them: They are probably in some boxes in the back....
Me: Okay (taking a deep breath) what you don't understand is that in 30 minutes, the drill team is performing outside the store, and then they are coming. Andy by THEY I mean hundreds of kids and families. It is going to be a zoo. This is the only chance we have to get ready.

Them: (Strange expression)
Me: Trust me.

4:05 Drill Team performs.

4:15 Kids pour into store. I sit in the chair and sign books. My hand never stops moving.

5:30 I take a break from signing to do a reading.

6:00 Butt in chair. Signing.

7:20 Run out of two titles (Still have three titles left....) Still signing.

7:30 Take a break for another reading.

7:45 Signing again**

8:00 Things slow down due to bedtime...They find another box of my books (with the two titles I'd sold out of) but the sleepyheads are gone.

9:00 I stumble into my house. Prince consort procures some take-out and I don't even remember chewing. I drink a glass of champagne from the bottle my brother-in-law left in the fridge at Thanksgiving. (Thanks, Michael.)

So, there it is...the very glamourous life of a StoryQueen.

True, things are different...I miss the dress (for now I wear the royal garb...), the hair, the moments of soaking it in...But let me tell you, seeing kids wound around in a snakey line through the store just to have me sign their book...well...it's as close to a rockstar moment as I am likely to get.

hrh

*Okay, probably I said something like, "Darling, would you be a dear and take Issy to school? There's a good chap." Yeah. That's the ticket.

**I signed not only my own book last night...I also signed Wimpy Kid (sorry Jeff), a book by Diane de Groat (sorry), an anime graphic novel (sorry) and 'Twas the Night Before Christmas illustrated by blogging friend Richard Jesse Watson (sorry, Richard) and four autographs on bookmarks, because, it's not like these kids see me every day or anything....except that they do.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Progress

Only three hours until midnight, here. My husband, the story-prince-consort is kindly washing the last of the dinner dishes so I can finish the writing projects I took on this month.

Well...

Project 1: Picture book, working title Mugly Ugly, the Cemetery Dog. Status: Complete!
(Yay!!! I hadn't even envisioned this book until I needed a break from the other two things I was working on. I like the draft. A lot.)

Project 2: Chapter book, working title Nix the Naughty. Status: Complete! This is the one I finished tonight, with my eyes propped open so the last few pages probably don't make much sense, but I don't care. I can always fix it, right?


So, um, two out of three ain't bad, right Meatloaf?

Project 3: YA Novel, working title Wren Faire (Yeah, the girl's name is Wren and she works at a Renaissance Faire where she meets and falls for a cursed boy from the sixteenth century. Cheesy title, I know, but I think it kind of works.) Status: Er, um, well.....See, I just wanted to finish this. I was already about 30 k into the story (28k actually) and I thought I could finish it...but, well, I couldn't. I got about 20k more, but I still need about 20k more on top of that. I really wanted this done before December so it could simmer for a while before I'd touch it again. But alas, 'twas not meant to be. The most I could get on this story was 1000 words a day, without rushing it. I hate it when my writing sounds rushed.

So, I am going to try and continue with my 1000 wd goal and hope that I finish it soon. I would love a break from longer pieces then, and Chicken Wizard has finally consented to let me write his story. Mighty big of him, considering he's a chicken and all.

Happy December!

hrh

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Why Jane Yolen Rocks / Where I Will Be

Why Jane Yolen Rocks:

If you have not been to Jane Yolen's online journal, well, you need to go.

Read it.

She is awesome because she is so honest. She writes of her process, her ups, her downs, and amazingly, she does not flinch when writing in regards to rejections.

(Seriously, who in their right mind would reject a book submitted by Jane Yolen???)

But I guess it does happen. She wrote a great poem about it on her blog.

Captures it all, don't you think?

I love you, Jane.

(Owl Moon is my favorite, in case you wanted to know.)

Where I'll Be:

Tuesday, December 1st- Barnes and Nobel, Oceanside. 4-9 p.m.

This is a fundraiser for my school, Jefferson Elementary, in Carlsbad. B and N will donate 20-25% of money spent back to the school...in the form of books. How great is that? I will b e signing and doing storytimes at 5:30 and 7:30. If you are in San Diego's North County and feel like coming by, I'd love to meet you. (The photo on the top of the page was taken at last year's event.)

Saturday, December 5th- Del Mar Fairgrounds 2:00 p.m
.

I'll be at the Head to Toe Women's Expo doing a reading and signing (I think I'm supposed to entertain kids while their mom's do spa-like things?) I have yet to find out where I'll be when I get there...I think it is with the Every One A Reader booth/area, but I will post more when I know more.

If you are in the area and come to either event, introduce yourself. I'll even tell you the secret of how not to sign a book (I can't post it here...wayyyyy to embarassing).

hrh

Monday, November 23, 2009

Random Things I'm Thankful For

I was going to post about middles, having posted last about beginnings, but I just got out of the car after an 18 hr drive (yes, folks, 18 hrs.....supposed to be 16, but there was the whole snow and ice thing outside of Denver.....) and if anyone asks you if it is completely insane to drive from Denver to SoCal in one day, well, the answer is yes. (And I'm sorry I was unable to visit any blogs whilst gone...no computer. I missed you guys!)

So, since my brain is loopy and I feel like the chair is still moving under my butt, I think I'm going to save that post and just list a few random things I'm thankful for, what with Thanksgiving and all:

1. Tea bags. You know, those little tea ball things are cute and it does feel very grown up and Victorian to put your tea leaves in around, metal ball and then hoist that ball over the side of the teacup/teapot and let the magic happen, but what a pain. Messy and, well, too much work when you just got out of the car and all you want is a cup of peppermint tea.

2. Food processors. As I prepare to make stuffing, I am grateful that I have a food processor to chop the onions and celery finely enough so that I don't have to listen to people (as in 3 daughters) complain they found a chunk of onion. Blasted onions!!

3. Beds at Home. Far better that hotel beds or beds made on hotel floors with lots of pillows and such. (Hey, Hotels, just so you know, some people have 3 kids, not just 2. Whatever happened to the roll-away???)

4. McDonald's Dollar Menu. Dude, you know I love you. And I want you to know that I still love you, even though I'll not be visiting you for a very, very, very, very, very looooooooong time. (There is such a thing as too much of a good/cheap thing.)

5. Toilets That Don't Automatically Flush. Okay, so when they flush three times when you are just opening the door to the stall, well, that just makes them seem possessed. And no one, NO ONE wants to sit on a toilet from the dark side.

6. My Blogging Buddies. It is late and I have been trapped in a car longer than it took the pilgrims to cross the Atlantic yet here I am, checking blogs when I should be off in slumber land. It was hard being gone from my cyber/writing friends. I can't wait to finish reading more in the morning!

Happy Thanksgiving.

hrh

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Beginnings

Beginnings are hard...like the first time I tried to begin this post and blogger ate it.

Thank you , blogger. It probably was a cruddy way to start.

I was going to go on about how much I struggle with beginnings, but instead (since I am packing for a trip to Denver in the morning.....yikes, not ready at all) I am going to leave you with a little snippet of a chapterbook I hope to finish by the end of the month, Nix the Naughty.


September 1

My name is Nixoll Wolfric Abernathy and I am too smart for my own good. At least that is what the Lesson Master says. He has a crooked nose and crooked teeth to match.
“You, boy,” he says, for he will not call me by name, “how is it that you know these letters?”
“You taught us to them last week, Lesson Master,” I say.
“But why do you remember, boy?”
I do not know what to say, so I say nothing. The Lesson Master gives me a whack .
“I shall have a talk with thy parents!” he threatens.
So now, because I am too clever, I am to be sent away early to become a page at Castle Lemmingshire. This stinks like the moat on a summer’s day!

I will not go.

They cannot make me





hrh

Friday, November 13, 2009

Make Lots of Mistakes!!!

I've read lots of posts lately by other bloggers on blogs I love to read, answering questions from readers about how they know when their manuscript is ready, how important it is to have a critique group, things they wished they knew when they were starting, things never to do....etc...Well, this is not one of those posts.

This post is going to encourage you to make mistakes.

Big ones.

See, the thing is, even learning the ropes from other writers isn't good enough. It's like someone telling you how to ride a bike, or your mom giving you advice about love and crushes when you are a teen-ager. You just won't know how to do it until YOU jump on that bike and fall off, until YOU feel butterflies in your stomach every time you see him walk by and then he dumps you before Valentine's Day so he won't have to buy you a gift.

You have to make you own mistakes to learn. Because, really, you will NEVER understand what you need to do to be a better writer until you do. Sorry, but you're probably going to have to query too early with a manuscript that in a few years will make you cringe and become known as "the Drawer Novel". But that's okay, because you will never believe that it is a drawer novel until the publishing world claims it is. (And sometimes, people have been so good in their past lives or something like that, and they don't even HAVE to go through the drawer novel stage. but you will never know, NEVER unless you just take risk and send it off.) Take your character down a new path. Try writing in a new POV, or a new genre. Don't fear the unknown. Don't you want to be like Indiana Jones and have a snake story? You'll never have a snake story ("Why did it have to be snakes.....") and get to shake your fist in despair at the sky, while knowingly winking at others, unless you take the chance and follow your heart.

So, go ahead.

Make the mistakes that only you can make. Learn from them. Embrace them. Take them to lunch and buy them a nice salad and a carrot raisin muffin.

You have to be willing to risk to learn.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

hrh

P.S. Yes, I make lots of mistakes. I'll post about them another day. But know this, I have several books published and I still love writing, so the whole mistake thing seems to be working out for me.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Writing Lessons from Stevie Wonder

Sunday was my eldest daughter's birthday. Twenty. Whoa.

We went to Disneyland because if ever there was a girl meant to be a Disney Princess, it is Noel. Anyway, as luck would have it, they were filming for their Christmas morning parade broadcast and we got to see Stevie Wonder perform. THE Stevie Wonder.

So, aside from the amazingly coolness of the experience and because I am ankle deep in NaNoFiMo, I found Stevie my unlikely writing mentor for the weekend.

Stevie Lesson Number 1: Don't be afraid to expect more from yourself.

When they were shooting the take (which they meant to film twice), they ended up doing it four times because Stevie expected things from his performance. Great things. If he wasn't happy with his sound (Sorry, folks, I want to do it again. I didn't like my sound...) He did it again. Now, I can tell you that every single take was amazing......but Stevie's yardstick for measuring is different from mine, and he is not afraid to ask himself to measure up.

Stevie Lesson Number 2: Love what you do.

Stevie's passion for music was more than evident. In between takes, he played songs we all knew and made up new words on the spot to crack us up. He was extremely appreciative of his fans, but the performance wasn't about the size of the crowd or the noise we made. I think there could have been a crowd of five kindergartners (instead of the hundreds of families) and he would have been equally happy and engaging. He was not some SUPERSTAR gifting us with a song. He was a guy who loves music and shared it with us, and that is what made him a superstar.

So, there you go. Writing lessons from Stevie Wonder. Hold yourself to a high standard and love what you do.

hrh

P.S. We also saw Michael Buble....at least we think we did. That's our story and we're sticking to it. (Lucky day, all around. Not since I saw the back of Jamie Lee Curtis' head last October have I been so close to famous people. )

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Magical Me! (Apparently, I'm at it again....)

Okay, so my special magic touch has struck again! Good things are again happening to those whose blogs I read.....yes, it's true.

Stephanie now has an agent!
Andrea just received her contract from Penguin!
Lisa and Laura sold their book!
Laini's Lip's Touch is a finalist for the National Book Award!

Who will be next???

Leaving you with this gem from Evan:

Black is what you see in a villain's eye.
Black is the shadows of the night
or a bloodhound hunting you down.

hrh

PS. I just got a lucky horseshoe in the mail from PJ Hoover!! Oh, the magic of me!

Edited to include that the amazing Corey just sold her Ninja Pigs!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

NaNoFiMo/ Brain Research (because everything's always really about writing anyway.)



NaNoFiMo



Okay, yeah, I changed some of the letters....wanna make something of it? Actually, the Fi stands for finish. I just want to finish my YA by the end of the month. Not a lofty goal, not crazy like the rest of you folks out there who are busting you tails to complete an entire novel. I just want to finish one measly lil' book. (Of course, it needs about 35k more words.....sigh)

And, because I am crazy, I am also trying to finish an easy chapter book and EVEN started a picture book today. WHAT AM I THINKING??? It is like there's all this crazy writing energy in the air and with every nostril full, my brain conceives new junk which my hand must dutifully jot down on paper. And, even though we got that one hour back over the weekend (Thank You, God) it's just not gonna be enough to finish this stuff.....

Or is it?

Am I crazy enough do manage it? Or will I just burn out.

Time will tell.

On to the scientific part:

Part of my job at my school is that of International Baccalaureate Coordinator. (More impressive sounding than Crazy Lady in Velvet Robes with Crown and Fake Diamonds). Anyway, I am running a study group of fellow teachers and the topic is Inquiry (with a capital I).

What does this have to do with writing?

Well, I'm glad you inquired. According to research by Berlyne (cited in Kashdan, Rose and Finchman, 2004,) "whatever possesses novelty, complexity, uncertainty and conflict invites curiosity, exploration and investigation."

Think about it.

Novelty

Complexity

Uncertainty

Conflict

These are the secret ingredients of stories that are impossible for our brains to stop reading.


I am still contemplating all this, but I think it's pretty fascinating.


hrh

P.S. I'd like to thank blogger, again, for the big font. Gee, blogger, if you could give me a little warning before you thrust the old big letters at me, it might make me stop and try to write something worthy of the largeness.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Silver Tastes Like Bitter Salt

Kid writers are awesome.

I did a writing lesson with third graders recently using colors as a way to write more descriptively. The goal was to include rich details in writing that audiences remember.

Dylan wrote:

Silver smells like money.
It tastes like bitter salt.

Okay honestly, I don't even know what that means all the way, but dang, it sounds cool.

And I loved this one, too:

Gold is the sound of little birds opening their wings.

Wow.

You know, I brag sometimes that I have the best job in the world, but that is only because I do. I come home from work every day filled with hope for the future.

If the destiny of our world lies in the hands of small poets who know the sound of gold or the taste of silver, I think we're going to be alright.

hrh

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

But It's Only Halloween.....

Yep, less that sixty more shopping days until Christmas.

Now, don't start with all the whining about how it's only Halloween and why oh why do stores have to put out Christmas stuff now. I'll tell you why they do it: Because of people like me.

Here's the thing. I hate crowds. Let me rephrase that: I.Hate.Crowds. Well, not all crowds, like if there are throngs of kids wanting me to sign a book, well, that's a good crowd. But if it's throngs of people who want to look at the same stuff that I want to look at, at the same time I want to look at it at (yeah....not sure about that whole "at" thing), well folks, then we have a problem.

That's why I do the sensible thing. I do my Christmas shopping early. AEAP. Let all of the other people fight over the last Star Trek Lego Enterprise....I bought mine months ago. So, this post is for those of you out there like me, kind of a PSA to remember what is important this year when buying gifts.

Please, please, please, when you can and when it makes sense, give someone a book as a gift. (It doesn't have to be mine.)

I remember every book someone gave me as a gift. The first one was The Children's Bible, followed by a book called Animal Tales,( although I secretly coveted my sister's gift of Grimm's Fairy Tales. Sure, my book had a story in it called The Pig Detective, which I liked, but hers had Snow White and Rose Red and a story about a guy on a quest whose nose grew so long it went on for three pages. I can still see it in my mind.) Rosemary's Secret was a birthday gift from a neighbor and my best friend gave me the first John Jakes book when I was a freshman in high school.

The list goes on and on....

The Giving Tree
Jumanji
Heckedy Peg
Anna and the Bagpiper
Quite a Year For Plums
Teacher Man
Twelve Days of Christmas
The Thorn Birds
Portraits

Books have been some of the most thoughtful gifts I have received, and what's more, they really are the gift that keeps on giving.

Books are cool.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Seriously? Nay, verily........


Okay, so there's a joust here in San Diego County this weekend....and....well....I'm going! I almost titled this post, "Surely you joust" (you know, like surely you jest, but with jousting) but a better title would have been "People are Weird."

Oh, not the people who go the ren faires and dress up and ride on horses with armor and all that. Those people are cool. (My attempt at a YA takes place partially at a ren faire, which is why I am going. Research.)

But the point of my post is that ALL people are weird. I mean, isn't it strange the things we are drawn to as individuals? Some people like dark things, some people love butterflies, some love history, some love video games....I could go on and on....but I won't. I just thinks it is, well, weird the way we are drawn to the things we like. What is it about certain things that call to our souls? For most writers, the topics they choose are ones they are inexplicably drawn to, those things that call to them.

But why? Why does the thought of going to a joust totally jazz me, whereas the thought of watching the Chargers lose again (see....I'm a bit nervous posting this because I don't even remember if they lost or not....not caring that much) does not one thing for me? Why does the thought of seeing all of the castles of Ireland make my insides all quivery? Why do I secretly want my own falcon?

I could go further....why do I hate green vegetables but love fried okra? Why do I love mornings and foggy days? Why do I hate it if the TV is on in the afternoon?

See?

People are weird.

Oh well.

hrh

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Books That Changed My Life Part 3 (The Halloween Version)


You didn't think I'd leave out this one, did you?

I saved this one to discuss in a post all by itself. Not because it's the best, or it's my favorite (because asking me what my favorite is would be like asking me to pick a favorite kid!), but because I was just really blown away by this book.

This one, I wanted to read. Not for any reason except the buzz factor. There was lots of buzz. I succumbed, and I'm so glad I did.

What I learned from Neil (yes, we are on a first name basis) was perhaps the simplest, yet the most complex rule of all: Embrace the distinction between what you put in and what you leave out. I mean, choosing what to leave out in a story is just as important as deciding what to put in. In some ways, it's the same decision. Yin and yang and all that. Because for everything that happens in the story, there's other stuff that happened that the writer didn't put in.

And yet, the story actually seems more whole because of what wasn't said....


Wow.



On to other things:

Okay, so last Spring at our school's Multicultural Fair, I was auctioned off...well, my storytelling talents were auctioned off. Now it's time to pay the piper..... For a Halloween party! Now, I know lots of scary stories, but I am always on the lookout for something new, something that's not too scary (kids are my audience) but something that delivers. So, if you have any ideas, let me know.

hrh

Blogger....? Wha? I mean, I was "The Underliner" a few weeks ago....now I am the Giantess of the Font? Come on!! Shrink, I say! Shrink!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Books That Changed My Life Part 2 (the middle grade/ya edition)

I think I'll discuss these books chronologically, in the order in which I read them. Each one did something to my mind to shape the way I write.

First off:
The Once and Future King by T.H. White. I read this book as a senior in high school and it was the first assigned book ( alright, fine, the ONLY assigned book) that I didn't cheat and use the cliff notes to understand just exactly what was going on. (Please don't think less of me....but it is cruel and unusual punishment to make anyone read Moby Dick who really isn't up for it.) Anyway, I loved this book and reread it many times throughout college when I needed a break from other reading. There was just something about the way he retold the Arthurian legend in the non-stuffiest of ways. I fell in love with the down to earth narration, as if I, myself, might have met Arthur and Merlin on the street. It was my first intro into King Arthur, but I felt like I'd been waiting for this book for my whole life.

My Love Affair with Roald:

First time I read this aloud to kids, I was blown away! Loved this book....the way Dahl talks to the reader, the danger, the humor, the bittersweet ending......I wanted to BE Roald Dahl, although I never thought I could write something so long (or so good.) Now, I had loved Dahl's books when I was a kid....Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and all that, but this book made me want to write something......something that I didn't even know.......but it woke up that author inside and made me want to try new things.

Ah, Matilda. The characters in this book are so amazingly written. This book made me fall in love with the characters, even the ones he wrote so miserably awful. The unusual details he provides about his characters truly brings them to life. The Trunchbull has to be one of the greatest villains ever. Heck, I'd pick her in a battle of nastiness over Lord Voldemort any day.....

Which brings me to....
I love all of the Harry Potter books, don't get me wrong. And this one, The Prisoner of Azkaban, well, it's not even my favorite. (Half Blood Prince is the best.) But it changed me. It took me from mild-mannered Potter-fan to crazed Potter-Fanatic. The whole time-turner things just made me sit up and go, "Say What??!!" I could not believe Rowling's creativity, her moxy, her shere wonderfulness as a writer. I mean, heck, Hogwarts is her universe. She created it and she gets to make the rules. But for the first time as I read one of her books, I felt like she pushed her own envelope (which I think she continued to do in many of her other books as well). She took chances in P of A, and I think it made her a better writer. (I think Harry would have taken chances, too.)

Next......
Honestly, I didn't even want to read this book. I didn't read Young Adult Books. I either read grown-up books (for I am a grown-up) or I read children's books (because I write for children and work with children.) But my when my eldest daughter said, "Mom, their making a movie of that Twilight book, and Cedric Diggory is going to star!" I thought I'd buy it for her. (She still hadn't gotten over Cedric's senseless death at the hands of Lord Voldemort in the Goblet of Fire....but I digress) She read it in a day. "Mom, you should read this. I think you'll like it."
I read it in a day. It was sooooo easy to read.....and it made me remember what it was like to be a teenager. And it made me realize that YA is a much broader category than I thought....not all YA books are about drugs. (Okay, so when I was a kid, Go Ask Alice was the big YA book.) Meyer told a very compelling story, the one SHE wanted to tell. She created her place in the writing world. Isn't that what we all want....to make our own place at the table instead of just filling in for someone else?

Now for something serious:

I did not want to read this book either. And when I started it, I didn't want to like it. And I didn't. Not a first. But Markus Zusak won me over. He broke the rules with this book. His narrator switches from telling the story, to talking to the audience, to waxing poetic. Even the font changes depending on the mood of the narrator. Zusak didn't worry about the rules. He just wanted to tell his story in the best way he could. And he was not afraid to go places that were painful, for we had spent so much time with his characters, we deserved to know the truth.

Side note: After I first read the book, I felt like a horrible writer. I would NEVER write something so profound. (But I got over it....I mean, it's not like I wanted to write something really profound anyway...) But he inspired me to try harder, and to try to write better.

Hot off the press:


What I love about this book (by fellow blogger Laini Taylor) is that she breaks the rules, too. Three stories in one book? What? You can't do that. Nobody buys those kids of books.....Well, if they don't, they should. Laini masterfully weaves three stories together, which is an unusual book structure these days, but it is her description that makes me go, "Wow." She has a style, and better still, she seems to know her own style, and uses it to her advantage as a storyteller. When I read this book, it made me want to look at my own style, and make sure I was using it in my stories in the best way I can. (Plus, this book is awesome because it has pictures. The picture book writer in me loves the visual images......)

So, again I ask you, what are the books that changed you as a writer?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Playing Around Some

So, I have been playing around a bit in my writing.

I am trying some one sentence explanations of some stories I am working on. (For two reasons: First, for focus. Second, for the simple reason that sometimes people ask me what I am working on and I give some long, convoluted explanation that ends up making the idea sound lame. I mean, as the author, if I can't even "sell" it to someone who asked, well......that's just kind of sad.)

So, here are some of my one sentence wonders:

Easy Chapter Books:
1. Chicken Wizard - A chicken with magical powers protects an ususual egg from a dastardly alien pig. (Substitute alien pig for unethical CEO or the like....not certain of the villian).

2. Extra Super Cranky Lady - A grumpy old lady with a set of super-human false teeth saves a bunch of cats destined for the pound.

3. Nix the Naughty - A naughty page who is too clever for his own good causes problems for the residents of Lemmingshire Castle in his quest to become the youngest knight.

Middle-Grade

1. The young daughter of a famed storyteller decides to follow in her vanished father's footsteps, collecting stories and solving the mystery of his disappearance.

YA

1. A teenage girl who works as a serving wench each summer at a renaissance faire falls in love with a cursed boy from the 16th century.

So, now that I've typed them up...I'm not sure what I'm going to do with them. I am hoping they'll help me. Kind of like when you say the name of something, you summon it to you.


Let's see if it works.












Nope.



Oh well, I guess for now it is just enough that they exist.


hrh

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Outline Lies

I am not an outliner. Not even when I am writing shorter pieces. Sometimes, I have an idea of where I want to go....but often, there is only a title/concept and a pencil. Which means there are infinite possibilities, which is great.

But not all of those possibilities are good. Which is not so great.

Why I wish that I could outline is because it would be so much easier when I start to know what was going to happen. It would be easier to know if the route I was taking would pan out or not.

But I cannot outline because the outline lies.

It is a big fat liar. We're talking liar-liar-pants-on-fire-liar.

It doesn't mean to lie. I mean, it's probably nice enough. It just makes promises that it can't keep. And that is one of my huge pet peeves. Just ask anyone in my family. I mean, if you don't know when you're going to be home, just say, "I don't know when I'm going to be home." Don't say you'll be home at 9 and them come waltzing in at 11:45 and look at me like I shouldn't have been worried or anything. Because I was.

The outline often leads you to believe that a story is something that it's not. (Because, really, the outline doesn't even know what the story is until you-the-writer write it.) It pretends it knows what is going to happen, but until that pencil touches paper (or fingers touch keypad), it is just as lost as the rest of us. But the outline likes to think it has a clue, so it claims it is a structure for your story. Yeah, right.

And it is because I don't trust that little deceiving outline that I often end up taking several paths into a story before I find the one that works, the one that allows the story to reveal itself. This is a pain, but at least it's honest. At least each path tells me the truth, "Hey, lady, I don't know if this is the right way or not....."

Not like that outline, promising the road map of the true story, but offering no more than one possibility.


hrh

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Plea for Help

I hope you all can help me.

Our school has just suffered the loss of a child. I know there are children's books out there that deal with loss, but after yesterday, my brain just cannot think past The Tenth Good Thing About Barney. If you know the titles of books for kids that deal with death/loss, please leave them in the comment section.

Thank you.


hrh



RIP Miranda

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Books That Changed My Life Part I

There are books that have changed the way I think about writing. After I got over my supreme jealousy that I did not write them, I learned from them. In turn, I think they shaped my writing. I am showcasing a few of the books and the reasons why I chose them today.

Where the Wild Things Are
I read this book when I was a student teacher. It had been out long before that....believe me. It was the era of Whole Language and textbooks were the enemy. Basically as teachers, we had to create the Language Arts curriculum ourselves. We relied on trade books, collecting the titles that inspired kids to read. And this book.....wow. It taught me so much about imagination and simplicity and the use of amazing language. "They roared their terrible roars." And the last line...sigh. Sendak's illustrations won him the Caldecott, but it was his storytelling that struck my heart. His lesson: Keep it simple. And wonderful.

King Bidgood's in the Bathtub

How could anyone not love a book with this title??? This book, well loved by my eldest daughter (who in preschool even thought her own name was "Noel Don and Audrey Wood) helped me understand the beauty of wackiness and repetition. "Today, we will battle in the tub!" Kids love the repetition and in many of my own books, I can see myself picking phrases to be used in the text over and over again. This book shaped the way I shape a text. (say that 5 times fast!)



Frog and Toad and Henry and Mudge

These books showed me the beauty of the easy reader. It is possible to tell a story with heart and soul and humor and simple words. I love these books more than you can imagine. I have watched hundreds of children who are just finding their way in reading latch on to these books and become fluent readers by the simple act of reading them. These books create literate people far more effectively than any phonics reading program out there. Because in these books, the reader wants to know what happens. The reader cares.

My love for all of these books (and of course, their authors, Maurice Sendak, Don and Audrey Wood, Cynthia Rylant and Arnold Lobel) stems from the fact that I read them not only with my own eyes, but through the eyes of children. They helped me see/remember what it is like to be a child. They are a case study of what children like/need to read.

These books changed my life as a writer.

Are there books that changed you?

hrh

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Seriously???

Okay, so there are days, then there are DAYS.

See this cute little witch puppet?


She is in my cadre of puppets. Her name is Tickle She is the tickling witch. She's not scary or anything. Just fun....but you can tell by looking at her that she's a witch....right? I mean, she's not a queen at all.

However, I am in one of my classes yesterday and one of my adorable little people says, upon seeing me with the lovely Tickle...."Look, the Story Queen has a little story queen."

SERIOUSLY???

I mean, folks.....it's a witch!!! Sure, we share a common hair color....but seriously????

(Going out to buy turquoise hair color....)

hrh

P.S. I will be at the Orange County Children's Book Festival on Sunday at the Storytelling Stage at around 1:45 if anyone is in the neighborhood. Lots of famous people hang out there. Last year, I saw the back of Jamie Lee Curtis' head.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

My Big Fat Head/From the Mouths of Babes

First off, really my head isn't that big and fat. Really. But when I looked at my blog page, I realize I have taken credit for all of the success other people are having as well as claiming to know EVERYTHING that any agent/editor might want to know. Big.Fat.Head.

(And if it wasn't huge already, everyone was sooooo nice in their comments....Bigger.Fatter.Head.)

And now....school.

I was doing a lesson the other day with my fourth graders asking them to tell me, "What makes a book good."

In small groups, they discussed and listed the elements of a good book. They came up with:

good characters
excitement
humor
a good beginning
something that makes you turn the page
not boring
good vocabulary
excellent plot
scariness
a satisfying ending

Pretty great from a bunch of nine year-olds, no? But really, it was a trick question. Because the answer I really want is not what makes a book good, but who makes a book good.

Yes. The author.

The author controls all of these things. My point being that they are the authors. They have control over their writing.

Masterful.

Except that Bradley threw me for a loop, because his answer was waaaaaay better than my preconceived answer.

Me: So, this is a great list of what makes a book good. Does anyone else have an idea? I'm looking for an answer that no one has said yet. (This is where I am trickily leading them to say the author makes a book good.)

Bradley: hand shoots up.


Me: Bradley, what makes a book good?

Bradley: Hard work.


And there you have it.


hrh

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Good Things Come to Those Who Blog.......(or I am completely magic)

At first, I lurked.

Then I got my own blog, and never posted.

Then, I posted, read other people's blogs (from links on the now defunct disco mermaids blog), but I was way too chicken to leave a comment.

I read other writers' blogs for a long time before I got brave enough to comment. I'm not sure why I was so hesitant.....kind of like being at a party and wondering if it is better to just listen or to jump in, but you don't want to sound like an ignoramoose (yes, I've been to Cracker Barrel).

Finally, when I felt like I had something to say, I did. It was hard at first, because for all of my reckless bravado (can you even put those two words together?) I can really be shy. But I commented.

It felt good.

Then, I noticed something. Good things started happening to the people whose blogs I read. Believe me? Well Laini Taylor not only got awesome book deals and reviews, but had an awesome baby as well. (Her not for robots blog is a must read!!!) Kiersten White got a schweet three book deal, (I am not sure why blogger is deciding to underline all of this....I guess blogger loves you, Kiersten.

Also, Natalie snagged an agent. (Blogger, why are you still in underline mode? This must stop!)

Carrie Harris just sold her book , Katie just got an agent.

I mean, what is going on? (Besides the fact that blogger is gifting me with underlining. Is it a consolation prize of some kind?)

Then I figured it out. One of two things is going on here:

Either I tend to read blogs of people who work super hard, never give up, and have blogs that I find amusing enough to visit over and over again.....and as they blog, they improve their craft, which helps them write amazing stuff.....

OR

I am magic and if I read your blog, good things will happen to you.

Which is it?

(If you have had something great happen, let me know. It was probably because I've been reading our blog. If good things haven't happened yet, well, give it time. I can only exert a certain amount of magic every day.)

hrh


Edited to include the fact that Hilary Wagner just got her contract in the mail. The magic just keeps going on. (But evidently the underlining does not.....yay!)

Edited to include the fact that not only did Stephanie Perkins get an agent whilst I read her blog, she got a 2 book deal!

Edited to include the fact that Corey Schwartz found her agent whilst I read her blog!

OMG! How could I forget this! I started reading Neil Gaiman's blog....and guess what? He wins the Newberry!!

Monday, September 21, 2009

And now for something completely different....

So, well, the revision......it's done-ish. But I was more like this:
than Harrison Ford. (I think he looks like Al Roker a bit....?)
But he plays the movie music when you tap him on the head. I know this because I own him. Yes, I paid good money for a Tater of the Lost Art (pre-recession, of course).

Anyway, I don't want to talk about revision today. I am sick of revision. I am so sick of revision I could.........well, I won't say here because I am about to change the subject to FOOD!!

I used to be a great cook. I still am, at times. But for the past year, I have been totally burnt out on cooking. Instead of taking notes on my favorite Food Network shows, I find myself heckling them. "Yeah, Ina, let's see if you'd make that pastry from scratch if you'd been TEACHING SCHOOL all day!" I'm kind of tired of eating, too. Well, that's not true. I'm tired of eating the food that I make.

Add to that the fact that I am trying to get a lot of writing done. A LOT. Something's gotta give here, kids. I just don't have time to cook the kinds of things to which this household had become accustomed. (And, I just can't ever seem to get to excited about frozen stuff. I know it's easy, but if I ever have to see a dinosaur chicken nugget again........).

Then, we got this ginormous crock-pot:
and my life changed. Monday is crock-pot day. You just throw junk in it and it smells great when you get home. Okay, okay, these things have been around for years. But I guarantee you that if you try the following recipe, your life will change, too.

Here it is: Mom's Don't Bug Me I'm Writing Shredded Taco Meat

(also known as the easiest thing you will ever make.)


+
=
The best shredded taco meat ever.

Just throw some meat* in the pot, (I put a lot in so we can have many days of meat), open the jar** (this is usually the hardest part) cook on low all day. Salt and pepper if you want.

At the end of the day, shred the meat and let someone else prepare the tortillas (either taco shell or soft flour), grate the cheese, cut the tomatoes and lettuce.

It's great. I promise.

hrh

*my apologies to you vegetarians out there.......sorry.

**any salsa will do. I use special stuff from New Mexico, because I have cases of it. You can use any salsa.

AND NO, I CANNOT BEAR TO SEE JULIE AND JULIA RIGHT NOW....DON'T EVEN GET ME STARTED.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Valley of the Shadow

Okay bloggy friends....wish me luck! I'm going in!

That's right. I'm going to open the file I closed somewhere around the end of August. I am hoping to find something like this:

Yes! Something good! Something worthy! Just be careful....don't mess it up.......


But I am terribly afraid it will be more like this:



Yikes! What was I thinking?? Get me the ________outta here!!! How could I have ever thought this was going to work.


So, if you hear a strange rumbling and the walls start to shake, don't worry about me. Just try and save yourself.


I'm going in.


(Insert Raiders of the Lost Ark Music here.)

hrh

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Why All Authors, Agents, Editors and Publishers Should Listen to ME

Here's the scoop. I do storytimes for seven hundred kids a week. That's four kinder classes, six first grade, five second grade, six third grade, three fourth and three fifth grade classes. Seven hundred kids. That's twenty-seven storytimes* a week. And I'm talking full-on, puppet-weilding, costume-wearing storytimes per week.

Seriously.

And it's not the same story every time, folks. Each grade-level gets a different one (thank goodness or I'd go crazy doing the same thing twenty-seven times.) Half of these stories are memorized (in the tradition of the old storytellers) and half of the time I showcase a book.

People, (especially, agents, editors, publishers and authors), I know what kids like.

Truly.

Little kids like:

Funny stuff (Like the pigeon, etc. It is funniest to them if they are IN on the joke.)
Quiet books (Like Mama Do You Love Me, or Good Night Moon, or Litte Raccoon's Big Question) Books you can read in the softest of voices to great masses of kids. The kids are quiet because they can tell by the text that they should be.
Picture books that tell a great story but DON'T HAVE TOO MANY WORDS (Parents also tend to put down a book if there is too much text on the page....admit it, you've done it, too. That's because kids get restless.) A restless audience is no fun.
Books with Rhythm/predictable launguage/familiar structure (because they want to read with you before they can read by themselves...if they can predict what's coming, you get kid-buy-in.)

O
lder kids like:

Funny stuff (Like Captain Underpants and on from there....they like stuff that seems like it shouldn't be in a book.....they like to be humoruosly surprised.)

Fantasy books (Books that build worlds far, far away from school for them....but still have the kid element. Harry Potter is the classic example.)

School books (Like the Wayside School series. Books that are realistic, but not.)

Books that make them FEEL (Okay, really, kids want to love books. They do. Give them something that makes them emotionally respond. This is why Goosebumps and other Scary stuff is so popular. Being frightened is way better than being bored.)



I am the most accurate kid-book-test-marketer in the world!!

So, if I say kids love a particular book, I know what I am talking about.

hrh

P.S. So, if any agents, editors or publishers want any of my stuff, I can guarantee you that all of my manuscripts are kid-tested and approved!

*Okay, so with the older kids, we write a lot and don't have stories every week, but I ask them to show me the books they are reading for fun, so once again, I know what I am talking about. LISTEN!



Saturday, September 12, 2009

Pavlov=Smart, Genius Guy

You remember Pavlov, right? He's the scientist that trained the dog to associate the sound of a bell with food, so that whenever the dog would hear the bell, it would salivate?

What does this have to do with writing, you ask?

Well, I'm glad you asked.

I have been teaching again for the past couple of weeks. Getting back into the routine is always a little hard. My writer-brain vs my teacher-brain and all that. I find myself asking, "But when do I get to write?"

When I teach a writing lesson, we always start with a warm-up. I learned this technique from a workshop I went to years ago taught by a guy named John (or maybe Jim.....sorry) from New Hampshire (where lots of cool stuff in terms of the teaching of writing happens). Anyway, I don't give a prompt. Kids just pull out their writing books and write for seven minutes. The goal is to write seven lines in seven minutes. We are not going for perfect, here. We are going for, "Hey, brain, wake up! Start thinking like a writer! Start putting your ideas into written words."

When we warm up, we always warm up to music*. There's a lot to be said for white noise, blocking out the sneezing, pencil breaking, paper noise, feet shuffling, etc. I play the same piece of music each time we write.

I have done this for 10 years.

What has happened for the students is that after a few weeks of this, they are trained that when they hear the music, they just put pencil to paper and let the ideas come. Imagine the kids I have worked with for a few years.....?????? Yep. I come in the first day, play the music and they are writing animals! Writing machines!

Now, imagine what it does for the writing teacher, who completes (with the students) every assignment she asks of them.....including warm-ups..........Yep! I was a writing animal, too! The music came on and at once, I was bombarded with new, coo-el ideas and began writing freely, without angst, without worry about when I was really going to get to write. Those seven minutes, though short, were bliss.

Seven minutes isn't much, but when you are a busy mom-teacher-writer-wife-person, you take what you can get.This is my dog, Mikey, who salivates when he hears cheese being unwrapped.

Every writing moment is precious.

Any strange writing rituals that make it easier for you to write?

*The music, if you are wondering, comes from my Riverdance CD. We listen to track 3, the Countess Cathleen/Women of the Sidhe, then move into track 4, the lament of Cu Chulainn. It's weird because usually I find music too distracting to write to.........


hrh

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

An Abundance of Eyebrows

Okay, so I am totally dreading reading the book I finished writing at the end of August. Revision scares me. Well, the first revision anyway. The fling with the first draft is over. The first read...yikes! (So I am putting it off a little longer.)

Except I already know there is a problem. There seems to be an abundance of eyebrows in my manuscript. I mean, I guess I describe eyebrows a lot. Eyebrows going up. Eyebrows quirkily being raised. Eyebrows that are bushy, hairy or thin. Eyebrows lowered menacingly......too much with the eyebrow already! I remember writing about the eyebrows, and thinking at the time that I'd get rid of the eyebrows later.

But what does one replace an abundance of eyebrows with?

Does anyone else have strange, random things that seem to appear too frequently in your manuscripts from time to time?


hrh

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Winner is....(And introducing the sugar bowl of despair)

Okay, so I'm lame and I couldn't decide because, seriously, how do you decide which child is more deserving than another....especially if you ask their moms!! I mean, what was I thinking??? So, I had to revert to the old Tried-and-True-Solver-of-All-Disputes: The Sugar Bowl of Despair. (Named by my children, since we use it to assign the chores that NOBODY wants to do.
It's pretty, isn't it? It's Spode and the pattern is called Christmas Tree and the folks who designed it would probably just die if they knew that at my house, it was not the place for storing sugar, but the place for shaking around little papers that said things like, "pick up dog poop" or "remove all dog hair from down stairs" or "vaccuum stairs" or "three loads of laundry". Yes, the list goes on and on.

But the Sugar Bowl of Despair had a higher purpose this morning. Instead of groans of annoyance, the SBD got to hear joyous cries of, "Hooray!" (Yeah, I'm exaggerating. No one was awake but me and my youngest, who enjoyed making the slips and drawing them. We whispered, so as not to wake anyone else......)

And the Winner is: Amy Tate (whose child unfortunately has a broken butt....it's cracked, you see......) So Amy, email me your address and I'll send your book right out. (My email is storyqueen@gmail.com).

But, I am a big fat softie because both Larissa and etriv made me tear up a little with their comments, so as a consolation prize, you guys get a signed paperback of Get Well, Good Knight. E-mail me with your addresses and I will send your copies right out!

And, if you are new here or if you come by frequently, I have been persuaded by my blogging friend Tricia O'Brien to put up the little followers widget on my page (actually, she explained to me how to do it, because folks, I am the master of technology......not). Anyway, it's there on the bottom, so feel free be my follower and if you do, well, I'll follow you right back!

I was going to post more, but if I write too much, then it's more for me to proof read......so I'll just post more later when my eyes (and brain) wake up.)

hrh

Thursday, September 3, 2009

My First Book Give Away!!!

That's right, folks, hold on to your horses! I am doing my first book give away!

At stake is the following:

Personalized and signed by the author, which is me, of course!

I want this book to go to a child, a very deserving little child. So, in one sentence, convince me how deserving your little guy/gal is! This is your chance to let your inner Toddlers-in-Tiaras-Mom out! Tell me how fantastic your baby is!

If you don't have kids, don't worry! I bet you know kids.....yes?

Humor is always appreciated...make me tear up and, well, that's pretty good, too.

See you in the comments!

hrh

Monday, August 31, 2009

An Open Letter to Teachers

Dear Teachers,

Just a note to remind you of the awesome power you hold in your hands when you choose to read a book aloud to your students.

When you read a book to your class, you have just endorsed the act of reading more powerfully than those athletes who sweat multi-colored perspiration in Gatorade commercials.

And I bet you didn't know it, but that simple act of sharing a book with kids has far reaching impact.

Allow me to illustrate:

Each year, when I begin teaching writing with my 3-5 grade students, I ask them to call out the names of books that they love (the goal being to fill the entire chalkboard with names of great books). Yes, Captain Underpants and all of it's sequels receive a huge number of shout-outs. But so do books that the teachers read to kids....Island of the Blue Dolphins, Fever, Charlotte's Web, Patti Reed's Doll, The Whipping Boy, Esperanza Rising, Shiloh, The Witch of Blackbird Pond,......

Th
e best part is the appreciative sigh that winds its way through the class at the mention of one of these titles. Ah yes, that was a good book.

S
o teachers, as a personal favor to me, and as a long lasting gift to your students, please read to them. Lots.

No child is ever to old for a good story.

Thank you!

hrh

P.S. What was your favorite book read to you by a teacher? Mine was James and the Giant Peach!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Thank You.......And Another Harry Potter Reference

I just want to say a big thank you to everyone for the encouragement the other day when I was dealing with THE END.

*spoiler alert ahead....don't read if you've not read HP #7*

Remember the part in the seventh HP book where Harry is all alone, with the resurrection stone in his hand, walking to his most certain doom and there, in the dark of the forest, appear his parents, Sirius and Lupin? They walk with him, keeping him company, both there and not there at the same time. It is a path that Harry must go alone, but the invisible support makes the journey possible.

Thanks for being my Sirius, my Lupin, my James and Lily Potter.

I made it!



hrh

(Now to stuff the manuscript somewhere far away for a few weeks.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Google Surprises

Okay, so I was googling my name the other day....just to see if my blog would come up, or to see if one of my books was mentioned somewhere (it happens....one time I saw that one of my books was being featured at Dutch Wonderland! Seriously, dude. Dutch Wonderland!! I was totally jazzed. There was even a theme song that played on the website that got stuck in my head.)

Anyway, on about the sixth or seventh page, this came up

description for shelley moore thomas

''The Last Rose of Summer'' is a poem by Irish poet Thomas Moore, who was a friend of Byron and Shelley. Moore wrote it in 1805 while at Jenkinstown Park in County Kilkenny, Ireland.

Say what?

So naturally I had to find this poem that is me.

And folks, it is really lovely:

'Tis the last rose of summer

Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone;
No flower of her kindred,
No rosebud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes,
To give sigh for sigh.

I'll not leave thee, thou lone one!
To pine on the stem;
Since the lovely are sleeping,
Go, sleep thou with them.
Thus kindly I scatter,
Thy leaves o'er the bed,
Where thy mates of the garden
Lie scentless and dead.

So soon may I follow,
When friendships decay,
From Love's shining circle
The gems drop away.
When true hearts lie withered
And fond ones are flown,
Oh! who would inhabit,
This bleak world alone?



It's kind of a sad poem, but if I had to find a poem when I googled myself, I could really do a lot worse. I mean, it could have been a limerick that rhymed Shelley with smelly.......


hrh


And I was NOT googling myself just as a way to put off working on the end. Really.