Thursday, March 31, 2011

10 Minutes

Busy week.

It is late and I am tired and tomorrow is another busy day, along with being April Fool's day...a big favorite among teachers.  NOT.  Teacher, there's a spider on your arm.  Teacher there's a spider on your head.  Teacher, there's a spider on your nose.  I am half tempted to go to school covered in black plastic spiders so that when the inevitable spider joke comes, I can say, "Tell me something I don't know."

But alas.  Wrong time of year for black plastic spider shopping.

I started something new with the fam this week which is working smashingly, if I do say so myself.  You see, I was getting totally snowed under with writing stuff, school stuff and stuff around the house and I just couldn't keep up.  (I mean, the house....well,.....if you threw a grenade at some of the messes, the grenade would halt itself mid-flight and turn around crying for its mommy. True.

Now, I hate to nag.  Hate it.  And I hate to assign chores, because when you assign chores then you have to remind people to do their chores and when you remind people to do their chores, they always respond, In a minute, I'm________________________. (fill in the blank with the appropriate excuse.  My kids like "I'm doing homework" because they know that, as a teacher, homework is my kryptonite.  I am powerless against it.  A teacher's kid has to do their homework.)

Thus, the work never gets done.  Except by me.  And when I drop the ball, it's pretty awful.

So, to make a quickly becoming boring story short, I initiated the 10 minute rule.  Everyone must donate 10 minutes per day to the upkeep of the casa. (And your own room doesn't count.  Must be for the greater good.  And it can't be something you are already responsible for.  But really, 10 minutes isn't going to kill anyone.Even homework can wait 10 minutes.)

I let them choose anything they want to do, because everything helps.  And 10 minutes times 3 kids (4 if you count my husband) is about 40 minutes a day....that's like 4-5 hours of extra housecleaning that gets done a week.

I am amazed by my brilliance.

(Hopefully, it won't go by way of the sugar bowl of despair....good one week, obsolete the next)

Do you have any tips for keeping up with "the house?"


Monday, March 28, 2011


In June, I will be giving a workshop at SDSU entiled:  Telling Tales:  The Impact of Storytelling on Early Literacy Development (or something like that...)  What I am focusing on is not writing/storytelling, but good, old-fashioned sit-around-the-campfire storytelling or bard-with-a-harp-in-a-castle-hall storytelling.

The oral tradition.

So, even though I don't tend to plot out my stories, I do plot out my workshops.  And I already know a lot of what I want to say (and need to say).  However, I thought it would be interesting to ask my friends out in blogland if they have any questions about storytelling or storytellers.

The how, the when, the why, the why not.....or anything you always wanted to ask a storyteller but never had the chance.

Well, your chance is now.  Ask away!  (And if you don't have a genuine question yourself, feel free to think up something that a future teacher might ask.....)


P.S.  I am starting to jot notes on a new project.  It is not the one I thought I'd be working on next.  It is a strange one that just kind of reared its head a week or two ago, but I keep stumbling across things that bring it to the front of my brain.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lessons from Other Authors: The YA Edition featuring Setting

If you are busy because you are working a job and such as well as trying to write a book, or maybe your time is filled with kids, homework, school, or perhaps you have very little disposable income, do not despair!

If you would love to go and hear authors speak at some type of awesome conference where you rub elbows with editors and agents and cool authors, perhaps there is even hob-nobbing (I wouldn't know, never having been to said conference), but can't find the time/cash/time/babysitter or whatever, do not despair!

You can learn TONS of stuff from other authors just by reading their books.


In the last few months, I have noticed that several books I read (most are YA arcs from ALA, but not all) did some cool things with setting.  Basically, these authors wrote their settings so strongly and with such voice, that the settings exist as almost  characters themselves.

For example:

We have some real, actual places:

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins uses Paris, lovely Paris as the third wheel in her teen romance.  Hmm, let me see....Etienne or Paris?  Which would I choose?  (Luckily, I don't have to!) Actually, Paris isn't the third wheel so much as a magical cupid's arrow that draws everything together.  You can NOT read this book and NOT want to go to Paris.  Like right now.

Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard allows the badlands of Wyoming free reign throughout her compelling novel about the electric friendship between two very different girls. The desolate beauty of the badlands is ever present. Unpredictable. Extreme. And the town the story takes place in, Washokey, well, I dare you to find a town with a funner name to say.

And then there are those writers who create their own place:

From the small:

In the Liar Society by Lisa and Laura Roeker, the prep school is called Pemberly Brown.  Seriously.  What a great name.  Already the place is infused with personality just by the cool hoity-toityness of the name.  Ivy covered and pretentious, what more would you expect from Pemberly Brown?

To the medium sized:

Swampsea, the town in Frannie Billingsley's Chime, is just about the weirdest, strangest, most Gothicly eerie town I have ever, EVER read about.  It defies description, just promise me you'll read it.  There are stories that you can move from one place to another and it wouldn't really matter.  Chime is not one of those stories.  Swampsea is Chime.

To the vast:

Across the Universe by Beth Revis has a setting which is both big and small.  The big being the universe and all that (and Beth didn't really create the universe) but she did imagine a fantastic ship called the Godspeed.  First off, the name is amazing (it's a pattern with me and names, I think), secondly she describes everything in such detail that you can really, truly see it.  And again, without the Godspeed, there would be no story.

So, when workshops seem impossible or far away, remember you can always use existing authors as your mentors.  I mean, they wrote the book on....well.. writing the book, I guess.

Blogger's note:  All of the books above are teen books, which I recommend for teens and up.  But if you are not a teen or above and are reading this, do not despair!  Lessons from Middle Grade writers coming soon!


Monday, March 21, 2011

Real People vs. Imaginary People vs. Virtual People

Ah yes.  The delicate balance. Real vs imaginary vs virtual.

Of course, real people should come first, right?

Followed by the imaginary people (these are the people that inhabit your stories, your brain, your soul...they give life to your can't ignore them.)

And last but not least, the virtual people....those out in cyberspace.

Seriously, but I don't see how some writers do it.  I mean, don't get me wrong.  I love my blog friends, but how can a person really balance the real, the imaginary and the virtual effectively?  I struggle with real vs imaginary all the time (Come on, girls, keep it down in there, Mommy is writing), but the addition of the virtual piece....wha?  how?  I'm barely hanging on here with my little blog, trying to connect twice a week.  It's not a chore, mind you, and I love reading other writers' blogs, but there is no way that I can comment as much as I'd like to.  I mean, I can only JUST manage to post my own thoughts twice a week. How do folks manage with facebook and twitter as well?

And I know I am not the only one who works a full time job in addition to being a writer.  There are others of you out there, I am certain.

But I fear that my real and imaginary worlds would suffer if I let the virtual world have a bigger piece of me.  Again, how do folks manage to do it?

Jugglingly yours,


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Issy's Feet

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

So, early this morning I had to drive Issy over to the high school so they could film her feet for the school live news show before she and the troupe went out to dance in the local elementary schools.

Yes. That's right. Film her feet. Such is the life of an Irish Dancer on St. Patrick's Day.

I thought it would be cool to post a quick video of her amazingly fast feet, so I had Cali film her feet while the cameraman was also filming her. Unfortunately, Cali kind of filmed the camera guy's backside most of the time. Actually, all of the time. Occasionally, you can see Issy's feet peeking out from behind the cameraman, and you could definitely hear her (for she was wearing her hard shoes), but I just couldn't post it. (The cameraman may or may not have had sagging pants.....)

So, you'll have to make do with a still shot of Issy's feet, taken by a nice gentleman from the Irish Pavillion at the World's Fair in Shanghai last June.

A mom knows her kid's feet anywhere.

Except here. A mom isn't sure which kids' feet are her kids' feet here.

What's a show at the Irish Pavilion at the World's Fair in Shanghai without a few mid-air Cotton-Eyed Joe heel clicks?

With that, I'll leave you to continue enjoying your day!


P.S. If you are wondering which girls are mine in the photo, they are the tall ones with dark hair.
Yeah, I know. Impossible to tell!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The End of the Line (Edit)

I'm going to be honest here. When I started working on the line-edits for The Seven Tales of Trinket, I wasn't looking forward to it that much. I mean, on the positive side, the book is that much closer to being real. On the negative side, well, it's a lot of work. Not really HARD work, because most of the notes are small and easy to fix. But then there is the occasional question written in the margins that makes me go Oh Crud! You are right, that doesn't make much sense that way does it? Hmm. Now I need to go back and change page 153, too. And page 87, for that matter.

But now I am on page 221. Which means the end is near, and I'm kind of dreading being done. I feel like I've gotten to know my editor in a whole new way by pouring over her suggestions. I laugh a little at some of her funny comments and am truly touched by others. Last night, when I was working on a very difficult section (one that makes me cry every time I read it), I felt like she was right there, holding my hand as I crafted the words of that scene to make it even stronger. And as I near then end, it feels like we are really in this together (even though we've never really met and only talked by phone or e-mail.) She is closer to Writing Shelley than anyone in the world right now.

And I will miss the feeling.

The process has helped me recognize few of my writing demons:

1. I have consistency issues (as in I forget where my characters put stuff, or where they are standing, etc.) which means I sometimes contradict myself. Relatively easy to clean up, but I am more aware of my tendency to do it now.

2. I play fast and loose with commas sometimes. I tend to hear the tale being told in my head, and imagine the pause in breath a storyteller might make, and stick a comma in there (whether or not it is the right place.) Other times, I imagine the internal teller talking quickly, and totally leave commas by the wayside. I used to be dang good at comma-fying, but now....not so much.

3. I tend to make up words (ie: comma-fying).

4. I get stuck on words. It's like I'll use a word and then need to use it again and canNOT think of a good synonym that sounds right. So, I'm stuck with five he lookeds on the page. Not good.

5. I have the worst keyboard in the world. (Since the crash of October, the cursor jumps around of its own free will, adding words in the middle of sentences that make no sense.) I would not wish the possessed cursor on anyone.

These are all such helpful things to know about my writing self, especially when I go to revise the next book. I have internalized a little bit of Beth's (my editor) eye. I can recognize what is going to bug her and can hopefully tweak it before it even goes to her.

More March News:

This Friday, I will be at the San Diego County Office of Education for their annual Author's Fair.

The first batch of corned-beef and the first loaf of soda bread have already been made and consumed. More on the way! (But no cabbage. Yuck.)


Friday, March 11, 2011

A Strange Day

My school is a couple of blocks from the beach. So you can imagine the scene in the office this morning...lots of tears....lots of kids afraid of being left off at school. What if it comes? What if the tsumani comes?

Of course I told them it wouldn't, and that everything would be okay.

And it was.


For us.

But things like this remind me of how unprepared I am. I have no plan...and maybe it is impossible to plan for such events, but this morning as I drove from where I live (high ground) down to the school (low ground), I realized that I had no idea if everyone (in my family) had actually charged their cell phones so I could reach them if I needed to. We hadn't planned any times to check in with each other, or places to meet, or decided who was going to get the pets.

I mean, I even took the good car. I should have taken the crummy car if it was at all likely that it could be washed away in a parking lot. What was I thinking?

I wasn't thinking. I was just doing. Because that is what we do. We just go on...and we pray for those who weren't as lucky as we were today.

But I started thinking today that I need to give all of this a bit more thought. I mean, I live in SoCal. It's not a question IF an earthquake will strike, but WHEN.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Things I Love Right Now

1. Driving by a car that has a dog hanging out of the window, ears flapping in the wind.

2. A baguette with melted Dubliner cheese, Granny Smith apple slices, a bit of brown sugar and a smidge of cinnamon. Yum.

3. Blackberries and sliced strawberries.

4. Heirloom tomatoes.

5. Monday evenings (far, far better than Monday mornings.)

6. Teachers who don't assign too much homework.

7. My cheapo green writing desk. (It is a Goldilocks desk...not too big or too small.)

8. Page 244 of line-edits (there are no corrections/changes/questions on this page!)

9. When one of my kids charges my phone for me, knowing I'll forget to do it myself.

10. Libraries that arrange for me to visit them (thank you! You know who you are!)

11. The Good Knight Theme, which I will be sharing with you soon. Yes! the GK has his own theme song, composed, played, recorded and all that just for him (and the dragons, too!)

12. Parentheses (obviously).

Loving something right now?


Friday, March 4, 2011

What I Did This Week

1. Had a debate with a 12 year-old over which book was better: CATCHING FIRE or MOCKINGJAY. (I was for CF myself.) It's pretty cool to have literary discussions with kids. I might just like them better than with adults, because with kids, you get to a point in the discussion where you just have to draw your wand or your lightsaber, you know? Grown-ups don't always get that. They just want to talk things out. What gives?

2. Had take-out twice. One time burritos. One time sub sandwiches. Neither was great, but there was just no time to make food this week.

3. Acted as backstage chaperone for highschool choral show. (Actually, I haven't really done that yet. I have to do it a few minutes to be exact. Wish me luck. I'll need it.)

4. Oh, and this:

Yes, that is a little toilet seat on the very top of the wagon. Don't ask.

The Good Knight (and his mustache) direct the wagon packing.

The annual Good Knight/Read Across America Play at my school. This year, we did the brand new story: A GOOD KNIGHT'S REST. It was really tons of fun, probably because there was lots of falling down. Except for me. I didn't fall down, though I did get a squirt gun to the face and a gigantic fluffy-puffy marshmallow stuffed in my mouth. Good times. Oh, to live in your own story, even for a moment. Sigh.

What did you do this week?


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Auld Sod

When my daughter Isabelle was 12 she qualified for the World Championships of Irish Dance which were held in the west of Ireland.

We could barely afford it. We scraped together enough to send her and Sean (my husband) to Ennis. She was the first from my side of the family to back to Ireland, the first to touch her foot on Irish soil since my forefathers (and foremothers) bravely sailed across the ocean to create a new life in America.

The first to touch her appropriate that her feet came back to dance!

So, just a peek into Irish dance life. This is the trailer for the film Jig, a new documentary that releases in Ireland in April.

Here's hoping it will come to America. You can imagine how jazzed we are!

(Shhhhh, I am going to tell you a secret. There is a little bit of Irish dancing in The Seven Tales of Trinket, but you will have to wait until 2012 to read it. But, um, there is not any big, Shirley Temple hair.)

Happy March!