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,......

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.

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!


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!


(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 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.......


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

Monday, August 24, 2009

The End.....?

Part of my job is to teach kids to write. (Truly, the best job in the world....the other part of the job involves dressing up as the Story Queen and telling them stories....yeah, I know I am lucky). When I work with my fifth graders, there is a project we do each year whilst studying the writing form of narrative. Naturally, they have to write one. But I got quite tired, year after year, of reading fabulous stories that ended, well, lamely.

"......and then I woke up."

I hate and-then-I-woke-up.

So, I devised a way to make ATIWU disappear from their writing! (Forbidding it did not you would know if you ever tried to forbid a fifth grader from doing anything.) I created a project in which all they had to do was to write the best FIRST chapter they could. Write a chapter that made me beg them to write more.

Genius, no?

Well, it worked. I got to read amazing, exciting chapters. The kids really let themselves go and created situations in their writing that they didn't have to worry about "getting out of." Yay kids! Yay writing teacher!

Except that I totally get it now. Totally.

You hear that, kiddos. I get it.

See, I am at the end of writing a book that I promised myself I'd finish before August 31. It's a middle grade and, well, I have had the idea for eight years. I wrote about 80 pages several years ago, only to lose them in the great computer crash of 2002. I got brave and started it again (from scratch) in April. No, it won't be polished and shiny, but a draft will be done before school starts. Which would be good and wonderful EXCEPT for the simple fact that, well...........

.....I kind of created some situations that I am not sure how to get out of........

....and I hate endings/goodbyes....that kind of thing. When I moved away from NM after living there fore thirty years, I escaped out the back door of my going away party. When I read the last chapter of the last Harry Potter, I read it sooooooo slowly. I just wasn't ready for the end.

So, um, now I have one week, that's right ONE WEEK to figure out this mess.


UNLESS....maybe, this is all a dream......and I'll wake up.......


Friday, August 21, 2009


I have this pencil, see. It is a very special pencil. It is kind of fat, but not like those big, fat, first-grader pencils I used once upon a time. However, it is thicker than the average pencil. Round, smooth and no ridges either. And no eraser.

Okay, so, I think the pencil is magic.

This Spring, I decided to let myself try writing something very different for myself. I had an idea, but it just wouldn't fit into a picture book (HA!) or a middle grade. The concept needed a little more freedom, more room to breathe. It needed to be written as a YA.

But I was kind of scared to try and write it. It was new to me and every time I sat at the keyboard, I froze up.

Enter Magic Pencil.

I decided that I was pre-editing too much. I wouldn't even let the thought reach the keys before I silenced it. So, I felt around inside my desk and grabbed the first pencil I could find, pulled out my composition book and started writing. (I always write picture books free-hand. Delete buttons are dangerous when shaping an idea. I like to see what I have crossed out, sometimes that is where the good stuff begins.)

This pencil has written every single word of this book, which is now about a third of the way done. I think of it as my little writing buddy. We're in this thing together.

Imagine my shock when I couldn't find it the other day!!! My special magic pencil!! Oh sure, there are other pencils....but this one is special. The one keeps the internal editor quiet. Maybe he says things like: "Oh, don't worry, Mrs. Editor, she's not working on anything you need to worry about....look, she's using me, a primary kid's pencil...serious writers use computers or fancy schmancy pens, not pathetic, fat, little yellow pencils. You can come back later, you know, say half an hour? Fine then."

Luckily, after tearing the room apart, I found him, under the couch. Whew!

But it started me thinking about my little writing superstitions:
*I am quite convinced that this "magic" pencil must write the entire book.
*I always copy down all of my ideas on the first page of a new writing book (my idea page) before I allow myself to write anything else in it.
*I always must begin a new writing book when there are at least 10 pages left in the old one. (For some reason, I must leave a few blank pages....?)

Writing superstitions, anyone?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Did You Ever.......?

Did you ever think of a really great idea for a book and get so excited for it that you couldn't stand it? Did you start brainstorming ideas, and maybe even an early draft or two, and it all came out soooo easy? Did you burn with excitement, finally convinced that you had found the HOLY GRAIL of ideas?

And then, did you run your title through Amazon, just to see, you know, if there were already similar books out there........and you found one..........yeah, me too.

Which makes me think that I don't know if having Amazon at your fingertips is such a good thing sometimes. For example, when my book Good Night, Good Knight came out, I saw an article about a new picturebook coming out a few months before mine called Good Knight. It also dealt with going to bed. Now, therein lie the only similarities, and each book tells its own story. However, had I seen there was a book with a similar title, would I have stopped working on mine?


And that's the sad part. I might have stopped working on I book that I loved because it had "been done."

But I didn't. Which is good.

I should just disable my computer from googling titles and such......because once I see something similar, it just kind of ruins it for me.

Ironically, I tell my students all the time that nobody can write a story in the same way they can. We sometimes do exercies where we all take the same idea and everybody addresses it in their own way. And the results are cool. So cool.

But I have a problem with listening to myself.


Sunday, August 16, 2009


Okay, so there was NOTHING on the television the other night, even though we have like a billion channels, but, seriously folks, it was all cruddy. And, I felt like having something know how sometimes even if you don't really want to watch something, there are those times when you just want something good on. Maybe there's a positive energy thing there......I dunno.

Anyway, after great debate between Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius and Pirates of the Caribbean, POTC won out. Ahhhh, pirates..........*sigh* (except for the grunginess......ewww).

My favorite part deals with the Pirate's Code. "Well, they're really more like guidelines." And it started me thinking about my writing code. What IS a writing code, you ask?

Well, a writing code is that which you demand of yourself in order to make yourself feel like a writer. (Yes, jumbly sentence, I know.) In other words, it's the deal you make with yourself.......the sacred oath........the vow of whatever.......savvy?


1. Must write everyday. On real stuff (blog does not count).
2. Must complete at least one page per day on "pet project."*

Okay, pretty easy, no? And I think last year, I probably did it 360 out of 365 days. Not bad....for a pirate.

New one:

3. Once a week, must deal with the business end of things.......(keeping track of submissions, follow-up, e-mailing editor (not every week or Lucia would kill me!), re-sending.....all of the stuff I forget to do.)

That's all. Not anything lofty or earth shaking......but these are my pirate guidelines. They make me feel like a writer even more than looking at the bookshelf and seeing my books. The books are only the product. The writing is the process.

Life is all about the process.


*if you write 1 page a day for a year, you'll have a novel at the end of it! Seriously. Maybe two middle grades!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Hard Thing About Writing Picture Books

Disclaimer: All writing is hard. All writing is easy. Um, yeah......

The hard thing about writing picture books (if you are not the illustrator) is that you don't necessarily tell all of the story. You tell most of the story, you provide the guts of the story, the flashy words and language for the story, but you must also leave a bit of mystery in the writing, so that the illustrator can do their job. The text should need the pictures as much as the pictures need the text.

Which makes getting feedback on a PB kind of hard, and the selling of a PB manuscript even more subjective than other types of writing.

First off, if you want feedback, your readers must be people who read a lot of picture books......either kids or teachers or parents or librarians or those rare souls who just really love PBs (these are some of the most wonderful folks in the world). They can tell you if you are off the mark.

Second, the subjective part on selling the idea is HUGE! What is one editor's been-there-done-that manuscript screams with possibilities to another. After all, think about it. When the editor reads a PB manuscript, it has to create a vision in her mind. It has to make her think, "Wow, if I paired this writing with so-and-so's artwork, hmm......we just might have something here."

Selling the text of a picture book is like trying to sell a dream.

Actually, writing the text is like trying to capture that dream that you had last night and can only slightly remember because your brain is still foggy from sleep but you can see it, hiding right behind your left-eye in your brain and if you could only capture it.........

......before it disappears altogether.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Ghosts of August

I am drawn to titles......perhaps the title of this post would be a cool title for a book, someday.

But I digress.

I hate to say this too loud, but I really don't like August. And not just because it is the month when school starts......I'm a teacher, I like school and all, but there's just something about August.......ick. I should be loving it. I don't have every minute of every day scheduled. I am able to do the dishes each night, instead of walking into the kitchen every Thursday and explode, "What happened in here????" I don't have to make school meetings to sit through.....

And yet, I just don't like it. Even when I was little, my least favorite months were February and August. Ewww. (At least February has the decency to be short.)

I shouldn't even have a least favorite month!! Everyday is a gift.....blah, blah, blah.

Maybe I don't like August because August is just a big tease. "Oh, look at me, I'm August. You are going to have tons of time and get lots of stuff done because I have thirty-one days! Thirty-one-derful days! And you are going to be so relaxed because I'm August, leisure month of the year."

And then it's like a time-warp or a black hole or a just a giant cosmic time sucker because you wake up and August is gone and you didn't paint the house, clean out the closets, go on week-ends away, get organized, finish your novel, sort the recycling, steam clean the carpets, go to the dentist, make food each week from a different country...........August, with her promise of time and fun......gone.

Leaving behind her ghost to gently mock you as you wonder "What the heck did I do for the last month?"

But you only get the chance to ask yourself that question once, because it's September......and the rules for September change completely.


Friday, August 7, 2009

When the Writing Won't be Rushed

Sometimes, I wish I could write more in a day than I am able to. I mean, right now, I have TIME to write. That is the most important commodity, andI am missing it most of the school year. When school is in session, I have to snitch little snippets of time here and there to get any writing done. I sit at my desk during lunch at school, typing away. I dash off a couple of lines before I make dinner (which is always far too late in the day in this house!). Any chance I get, I squeeze in what words I can.

So, now I have time....and after half an hour, I am blown. I hit a road block.

Which is kind of a bummer.

Except that when I sit down to try again later (sometimes the next day) the road block is gone. Suddenly (or not so suddenly), I have new ideas or have managed to wiggle my way out of the difficult writing place. It is like my conscious mind keeps creating problems in my writing (not bad problems, more like conundrums........) and it takes my subconscious time to figure out what needs to happen next.

This is all pretty good, actually. It fits the fact that I write in small chunks.......EXCEPT when I have TIME like NOW. But the writing will not be rushed. Because when I try to rush it, it sounds like I am rushing it.

And I hate when I write like that.

Worse is when the perfect idea is sitting out there (Chicken Wizard and the Egg of Destiny, Extra Super Cranky Lady, I AM talking about you guys!) but when you try to start it, the prose sounds stiff, forced or (cringe) trying too hard. I wonder how long it is possible to sit in the chair and write.

Rereading this, it is just really a gratuitous whiny post....probably brought on by the whole SCBWI thing.

(I have been reading the scbwi blog and it does kind of make me feel like I am there.....except for the elbow rubbing with the stars.)


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ordinary Things

1. When I was six, I got a sunflower seed from school and when I planted it and tended it, the sunflower grew taller than my dad, who is 6'3".

2. French fries vs. potato chips- french fries!

3. I kissed the Blarney Stone in Ireland.

4. Pecans are the best nut.

5. I was once told by a student teaching supervisor that I'd never be able to command the attention of children because my voice was so unusually Minnie Mouse-ish.

6. Cake or pie- pie!

7. Books I have read the most times:
Aloud to an audience: Good Night, Good Knight by me
To myself at home: The Once and Future King by T.H. White

8. I make the best corned beef in the whole entire world. (It's a well known fact.)

9. Sleep in or wake up early- wake up early!

10. Favorite drink in the work: Barry's Irish Breakfast Tea.

Random ordinary things, anyone?


Monday, August 3, 2009

SCBWI Pity Party

So, this was going to be my year. Finally, after years of feeling I should, I joined the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. I was so excited, see, because THIS YEAR I was going to go to the ultra coo-el conference and, well, hang out with all of the coo-el author-agent-editor-illustrator type of people. It was going to be so great!!

But then, even though the event is but an hour and a half away*, I, alas, cannot attend.

Sniffle, sniffle, sob, sob.

What happened is that I have a very dear friend, one of those "like family" friends and there is one of those amazing fly-in-from-out-of-town parties** for this friend's 5oth birthday. ON SATURDAY.

I plan on spending the time I am not at the birthday party feeling sorry for myself and moping around aimlessly. (or....maybe I'lljust write a lot and get farther ahead than those SCBWI-ers!!)

So, if there is anyone else out there that wants to join my pity party, let me know. I'll bring the snacks. I'm thinking cajun crab cakes with some homeade remoulade sauce for starters.


*Unless, of course, I go the wrong way on the 405, then it could take me days to get there.

**The last party I went to held by these friends was, hands down, the best party I have ever been to, (folks are coming all the way from Alaska to attend).....(except for Cali's 8th birthday when I transformed the house into Hogwarts.....)