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.


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.


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

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?


People are weird.

Oh well.


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....


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.


Blogger....? Wha? I mean, I was "The Underliner" a few weeks 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.)

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 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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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 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?