Thursday, July 30, 2009

In the High and Far Off Times......

When I did my student teaching (back in the time of the dinosaurs) I was introduced to a book that was to become one of my favorite read-alouds of all time: Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. The first time I read it, I actually had to stop silent reading and read it out loud, to myself, in my small bedroom. In the high and far off times, oh best can you not be compelled to read a story that begins this way?

Since then, I have actually memorized a few of the stories (The Elephant's Child, How the Camel Got His Hump, How the Whale Got His Throat, How the Rhino Got His Skin) and they are part of my storytelling repertoire. I looooooove them.

Stories like these BEG to be read aloud. They demand it. That is what I am working for in one of my WIPs.........words that make someone want to read it aloud, just to hear how the words sound against the breath of the wind.

Yeah, I know that I'll probably not ever write anything on my own that I can perform as good as my rap version of Green Eggs and Ham (seriously, you have to see it to believe it.......but probably you don't want might haunt you). But to capture those words that beg for the reading......that is the ultimate goal.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

On Suspending Belief (Or Why I am too Stupid to Drive)

We make a deal with the author when we read a book.......the deal is I will believe you.... if you don't let me down.

If you read a lot, you go into this deal easily, not even at bit skeptically. You say, Heck, I'll buy it! Calgon, take me away!

If you are a writer, you are even more gullible. It's not a bad thing, being most cases.

But then, if you are me, maybe you suspend your belief a little too easily.....hence the title: Why I am too Stupid to Drive.

Here's what happened:

Last night, I was driving a visiting friend (one of my fabulous writing/teaching buds from Albuquerque) up to visit her relatives in Redondo Beach. (About an hour and a half from my house). We stopped for some shopping on the way and eventually reached our destination after dark. So far so good.

It was on the way home that things got strange. We were on the 405 going south.
We passed a sign for Loyola Marymount.
"Mom, I didn't know Loyola was this far down....I thought is was further north," said my nineteen year-old, charged with the task of keeping me awake.
(clue #1...........duh)

"Wow, that plane is flying really low!" said my seventeen year old from the back seat. "And it's big, too!"
(clue #2.......duh)

"Oooooh!" I squeal. "Giant Severus Snape!!" I point to the gigantic poster, bigger than several stories, which was dwarfed by the huge skyscrapers is was nestlesd against.
(Clue #3....and yet, we continue driving)

This is where things got mindblowingly weird.....we passed a sign for the Getty Center. I had been bummed that we hadn't had time to drive Holly up to the Getty Center to see Van Gogh's Irises while she was here (next time, Hol). The Getty Center is near Malibu. MALIBU!

And still.....

"Can you believe this? We would have had time to go to the Getty was on the way to Redondo the whole time....(sounds of synapses instantly springing to life)
"NO WAY!!!"

Finally, we realized that we were actually on the freeway going NORTH....and had just driven about 40 minutes out of our way!

How could we not notice LAX???? Downtown LA??? And what? I actually though I had been wrong the whole time about where the Getty really was???

We checked the backs of our necks for alien abduction implants, as we wondered what the heck had just happened!!! (Eldest daughter had a wormhole theory....)

We really thought we were headed for home, so none of the little signs that conflicted with our belief registered.

My mind is still partially blown

I guess as a writer, the goal is to create a story in which people aren't distracted by road signs which say this could not be real! This could not happen! A story that people just want to go with......As long as you don't let them down in the end.

No one want to find out they were going the wrong direction on the 405.

No one.


P.S. Eventually, we were able to swerve across 4 lanes of traffic and get off at Getty Center Drive and turn around. I wonder what might have happened if our brains hadn't woken up. Heck, I'd probably be in Portland!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The (Ugly) Truth

Okay, so after my self-congratulatory post about how I met all of my goals, it's time to look more closely.........(I have a feeling I'm not going to like this nearly so much.)

1. Yes, I did finish a middle grade book, and revised it a great deal, mostly dealing with structural issues. I learned so much from this process. Mostly that when I start a long book I can finish it. (Which is good). And also, well, the first draft is, um, well, maybe not so great. Structural issues, over-writing.........yikes. And yet, if I try too hard in the first draft to correct these problems, I get stilted junk. Which means that I have to settle for cruddy first drafts. Followed by very focused revision, and lots of work.

2. Okay, about those 12 drafts....well, the reality is that only 6 of them are polished and shiny, and only 3 of them were sent anywhere. SERIOUSLY. Why?? Why??? (Well, the truth is that I don't like the other half of them enough to do the polishing. I have lost the belief in these pieces so they will sit until either something comes to me to make them brilliant or I chalk it up to learning.) But why did I only send 3 out?? WHY? Because I really, really, really need to work on my organizational skills.

3. So, the true reality is that I write a lot of stuff that will never see the light of day.....and that didn't change just because I became a published author. I sometimes wish it would. I sometimes wish that everything I write would have that faerie-dust sparkle to it, that special magic.

  • So, if you look at the stats: I like only half of my drafts (this does not include the non-guided free writing I engage in every day.)
  • Only half of the stuff I revise even gets a chance due to lack of business skills.
  • Only one of the twelve was liked enough by my publisher.
So, I guess if I want to increase my chance of getting published, I just need to write a heckuva lot more.

Or write better.

Or both.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Goals old and new

I started this blog one year ago, as part of my writing goals for the year. July is always the month when I make my writing resolutions. January is always so busy. July (well, the end of July anyway) is usually a more reflective time. Reflection helps.

So, last year's goals:

1.Start a blog. (check). The reason for the blog was basically just to see if I could do it. And I needed some type of website to send people to that listed all of my books and I didn't know how to make a "real" website". Of course, my husband said he'd help me, but he still hasn't painted the bathroom that he bought the paint for three years not holding my breath.

I like having a blog. I like writing about writing. It makes me reflect.......

2.Draft a picture book manuscript each month: (err, check, I think). That would mean I should have 12 new drafts....hmm. I'll have to check for sure.*

3.Write one page a day on my middle grade novel. (check). It worked. I finished it in March! And then I revised it and such, but I really missed working on a longer piece a page per day, so I started two more projects that I try to finish a page on each day. Seriously, I write a page on these guys every day. (I even wrote on Christmas!) It might seem extreme to some, but it was a little attempt to honor a self-imposed oath of..........of what? I guess to take more seriously the part of me that writes.

4. Follow-up better on submissions. (err.......?). This is the hard part for me. The keeping track of which publisher I sent which manuscript to....because, ladies and gentlemen, they don't all like the same things! I sold one of the picture books this year, but I still struggle with keeping manuscripts "out there".

Goals for next year?

*I just checked.....12 new drafts this year!!!


Sunday, July 19, 2009


So it's no secret that I love reading blogs about writing, especially those where writers, published or not, write about their process.

But I started to wonder, as I struggle through these two WIP*s that I am currently struggling through, (You see, the brain is mush. Yes, I could find a synonym for struggle, but that would be a pain......or a struggle. Dang, there it is again.), if my process is kind of weird.

No, I don't outline. When I start to write, it is often with only a title or the whisper of an idea. I don't know what is gong to happen. There is no road map. I just write and see where it goes. Mostly I write this way because it is tons of fun. (And, when I have too much of an idea or it is already too planned out in my head, I tend to freeze up. What if it's not as good as I imagine?) The only way I can really get stuff on the page is to just sit down and say to my self, "Well, self, let's just see where this goes today, shall we?"

About halfway through the project, I start to wonder/worry about structure and what I'm really going to do with all of this junk I have written. It is at this point that I ask myself questions about what kind of book it's going to be......? This is the hardest part for me.

This is the part that I am at right both books simultaneously. Sigh.

I often wonder if other writers, those who have more of a plan when they start, run into the same issues. Or how other people handle the middle....


*I am currently in the middle of a middle grade draft and a YA draft. In addition to being in the midst of 2 picture books and 4 easy readers. Variety helps me. Really

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Cool Blog I Just Found!

I just found this blog, Book Aunt which is written by author Kate Coombs. I had been looking for a site just like that talks about picture books! And, she gave me some really nice reviews, so I feel like the luckiest author today. So, take a look at her blog and definitely check out her website. I can't wait for Runaway Dragon to come know I have this thing about dragons.......


Thursday, July 16, 2009

New Mexico

  • Over the 4th of July, I blitzed back to New Mexico to celebrate my parent's 50th anniversary. Wow. So cool to see what they looked like way back when. Sooo cute!

Of course, we had to eat as much green chile as possible. So Cal's version of chile is, well, lame. We went to a place called The Frontier, which is a gigantic diner type of place that looks like a big, yellow barn. The inside is adorned with huge velvet paintings of John Wayne and Elvis
. The make these western hashbrowns that are too DIE much cheese, so much green chile, so much crispy potato! Sigh. I'm hungry again.

But better than the hashbrowns was the amazing interaction between myself and the girl behind the counter:

Me: 10 western hashbrowns,* 5 frontier rolls**(don't ask....all butter, sugar, cinnamon and FAT), 2 fresh squeezed ora-

Girl: Shelley?

Me: Yes?

Girl: It's me, Aja. I was in your first grade class! (I should mention here that, despite the dorky scarf she was forced to wear onher head, Aja is completely gorgeous).

Me: No Way! (I look hard at her....yes, same big brown eyes.) What are you doing these days?

Aja: Getting ready for college. I'm going to Cornell in the fall. (I always knew she was a smart girl!!)

Me: Wow.....(awkwardly takes tray of tons of food, after exchanging e-mails)

I was amazed for two reasons:

1. Aja remembered me.....first grade was a long time ago. I had made enough of an impact in my teaching that she remembered.

2. Aja recognized me!!! I have not lived in NM for 10 years......she was in my class 12 years ago....and she still recognized me! My hair has turned completely silvery white in the those years.........and she still recognized me.

So, Aja, you go out and kick some butt at Cornell. You were smart enough to tell your former first grade teacher she hadn't changed a bit!


*not all food was for me!

*Not really the hashbrown...I think huevos rancheros, but you get the idea.

**World famous Frontier Roll

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Newest Titles:

Here are my latest sequences of words to tickle my brain....

Bad Little Baby (draft already done)
Ugly Babies (draft already done)
Extra Super Cranky Lady (not based on me.....really)
Surfiesta (don't even ask)
The Runaway Tantrum (draft already done)
Once Upon a Planet (draft done and revised)
Megsy Bubbles (I'm not sure, just like the name)

Chicken Wizard.......(still no plot.....curses)

Having so many projects going at a time is crazifying. I should focus on one. But when the story is small and you push it too hard to reveal itself, sometimes you accidentally squish it. I have to give these little guys time to get brave enough to let me finish them.

I wonder which of them will end up being really good and which will end up stinky.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Captain Obvious and his Sidekicks

This morning I got in the car (a Prius....which gets great gas mileage) only to hear a beeeeeeep on the dashboard which signifies a lack of gasoline. Crud. Not that it is a pain to put gas in the car.....I just don't particularly like to do it. So, my husband comes oustide to wave me off (and make sure that I get out of the driveway okay.......whatever) and I roll down my window and utter this amazing pop-culture zinger, "Hate to be Captain Obvious, but thanks for leaving me with no gas."

(Yeah, I know, brilliant.)

Naturally, he looked stricken at the thought of inconveniencing me.....(okay, not really, but he did kind of apologize) but as I drove away with the lovely droning beeeeeeeeeep for accompaniment, I started wondering about Captian Obvious. Does he have a sidekick?

Yes, he does.

Meet Major Sarcasm! And their little helper: Private Agenda!

Their arch nemesis? Need you ask?

General Dismay!

Oh, to defeat the evil General Dismay, it's going to take more than Major Sarcasm with a Private Agenda.........

Not that I'm Captain Obvious or anything.....


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Outsider Looking In

I live my life on the outside looking in.

I don't mean to do it. It's just what kind of happens. And I wonder if it is because I am a writer that I walk on the fringes instead of through the big, fat middle of life, or did I become I writer because I am a fringe-walker?

Chicken vs Egg, huh?

What do I mean by fringe-walker? Well, you tell me? Are you one, too?

I bet you know if you are.

But sometimes, the outside feels a little lonesome. Like today.
And sometimes, I want to walk right into the big, fat middle. And I do.

But I don't stay.

I explore for a moment, then go back to my wanderings,
around the edges of the excitement,
maybe perching for a bit from time to time,
so as to get a better look at what is really going on
in that big, fat middle.

But I am a fringe-walker.
A dreamer.
A writer.

A writer in need of either a nap or more caffeine.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Hogwarts Lives!!

Okay, so before you read any further, I must explain myself a see, most of the things that I instigate in my life are for the sole purpose of self-amusement. That's right. I am always trying to make anything I have to do amusing to myself. (Yes, it is sad....."all about me" and all that....but really, I can either be miserable or amused. I choose amused.)

So, when I decided to teach summer school this year (long story....boring story), I thought, wouldn't it be great if I could teach at Hogwarts? Wouldn't it be great if these kids could go to Hogwarts instead of regular old, boring old summer school? (The students in question are third graders, referred to summer school due to academic need.)

Well....would it not be great?

So I created Pigwarts Academy of Reading and Comprehension. (See, we are smaller, so, like, we don't need a hog, just a little ole pig...)

We have houses (Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin). They achieve house points, they have house challenges and are encouraged to READ and THINK.

They are loving it.

And I am completely amused! (The sorting ritual was a blast....what I love is how the houses come together as one, they really help each other. Awesome.)

But Storyqueen (you are asking) wouldn't it be more fun if there was magic involved?

To which I answer...........oh, but there is.

We are reading. Is there anything more magic than reading?