Wednesday, September 30, 2009


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."


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

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


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.)


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
a good beginning
something that makes you turn the page
not boring
good vocabulary
excellent plot
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.


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.


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.....


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.)


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'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.


*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.


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.)


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.


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.


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.)

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.


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.........


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?


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's cracked, you see......) So Amy, email me your address and I'll send your book right out. (My email is

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 I'll just post more later when my eyes (and brain) wake up.)


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!