Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Double Prizes!

I arrived home yesterday to a box in the middle of the kitchen floor (?!) and found: Books! Mine!! Books wot I wrote! Bluebeard... at last.

And today, was awarded Notable Story Pick of the Week on the Writer's Digest flash-fiction prompt competition!! My first creative writing "award" for a prompt called "Photogenic Stranger." If you're interested, see the link here:,category,NotableStoryPicks.aspx .

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Of Editing and Banter

Spent the day yesterday at a "Writers at Work" day sponsored by the Kansas SCBWI, with guest speaker: writer Lorri Cardwell-Casey. It was really interesting to get the perspective of a veteran, and the anecdotes were fun. I think I enjoyed most the opportunity to think about writing for an entire day, without being able to do any... and to meet up with two of my Kansas City critique partners for lunch, as they were also attending the event.

And since I am rather new to navigating myself around the big 'burbs, I was not thrilled at the games MapQuest chose to play (it was NOT on the left, MapQuest, but on the right). But since the event was a Saturday morning, the roads were as near to empty as possible, and so without time pressures it was the perfect opportunity to drive around in loops and get a feel for what's up there.

Returned, to have this conversation:

Daughter: Is this dinner?
Me: Yes.
Daughter: What does "dinner" mean?
Me: It's the meal we eat in the evening.
Daughter: What does "meal" mean?
Me: Food.
Son (deciding this sounds fun): What's food?
Me (undaunted): Nutrition.
Son: What's nutrition?
Me: A biological necessity.
Son: What's a biological necessity?
Me: Something your body absolutely needs in order to function.
Son: What does your body absolutely need to function?
Me: Chocolate.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Now, Like Jane Austen, I Am An Aunt

Welcome to newest family member, my (first) niece Priya, who was born yesterday in London. Daughter likes the name, but says "I wish she was called Thumbelina." Perhaps that can be silent? Son is happy that he and his first coz share a day (23rd) if not a month. Daughter, used to being the baby, is impressed that she will always be 5 years older than Priya, who is now the youngest. Congrats to bro and sis-in-law!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Shoe Brand Slogan

I did creative writing as an elementary school student. I remember being sent, terrified, to the headmaster's office, only to be told to read my story aloud to him (thanks for the heads up, teach!). I did creative writing in high school, as our English teacher lobbed writing prompts at us for an hour when she just couldn't bear to teach Macbeth another day. I published some "pomes" as a graduate student, all but one of them in college mags. But at some point, I got excruciatingly self conscious, and stopped. At least, that's what I thought had happened. But the other day I pulled out of obscurity a binder full of scraps of writing. All pretty awful, but still. There they were!

Now, academic books are not much in the way of creative writing, true. And the first one reads like you'd expect a dissertation to read. An award winning dissertation, but still. If there was an award for the most polysyllabic diction, it'd be mine. The past five years (plus one for the publisher to actually make the book) have been near daily writing, but I didn't think of it in very creative terms. I did aim for a truly readable, enjoyable as well as informative book, so audience and purpose were firmly in place. But I was chomping at the bit to write fiction. Not academic prose, and not poetry.

And finally, this is the life, just as (sorry, Hallmark moment:) I'd hoped for in high school and earlier. (I do actually have one piece that survived elementary school, and typing that sentence I just remembered my earliest story, about a group of nomadic aborigines in the Australian desert...which is amazing for the similarity in concept to one of my chapter books). And the writing muscles are well pumped, thanks to years of academic writing, and (being an English teacher) professional reading. So there are two things that are different now: 1) I've lost the self consciousness, thanks to 2) having children and rediscovering over the past seven years the fun of children's lit.

Moral of the story: look at how much fun this is, and how great it can be, as well as how much slog, and if you're hemming and hawing about writing, don't put it off until "one day when...".

Now, in case all the hand inscriptions add up to something, what's on daughter's hand in ink today: "crickets" (for the toad, Rufus), and on the other hand: "Thumbelina" (the movie, for daughter to rent).

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Barbie can Sing Because She Doesn't Get Shots

As hubby was deep into a monologue about the relative merits of three different Barbie "princess" movies while making breakfast on Thursday morning, I had an "I heart you" moment. Not so much for the breakfast, although he's the short order cook in our household (toast is the only thing that deviates from cold food that I'm capable of mastering in the morning). But the complete, devoid-of-sarcasm engagement across several bad CGI Disney films that both demonstrated he'd watched them with daughter, and thought about what messages they were sending as well (not as bad as your reflex would like to believe). His conclusion, since I realize you're dying to know, was that "Island Princess" was the weakest thus far, but he hearts Thumbelina.

And a shout out to daughter, who had her second varicella (chicken pox) vaccine yesterday. She survived all four shots at kindergarten roundup, although she was nervous about them. So we followed a similar formula: tell her three days ahead, so she's not ambushed. Friday is the day. She then requested that we write "shot" on her hand, in double dark letters, so I did. (The last thing to be written there a week ago was "sprinkle donuts," make of that what you will.) She mentioned it a few times, as in "I want to skip Friday and have it be Saturday," but otherwise coped. We said she could go morning or afternoon, because we didn't need an appointment. But I was nonetheless a bit ambushed myself when she woke me up yesterday morning, announcing that she wanted to get it over with, so I needed to get up and take her there, and she wanted to wear a dress. So, she had her shot: at 9am. In celebration, with time delay, we watched a Barbie movie (the one that is weakest thus far) and had chinese takeaway, sitting on a picnic mat on the floor, as requested.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Neverland Comes to the Metropolis

My daughter is having ontological crises at bedtime (end of the day... end of childhood fears... yes, she's five). Last night she figured that even though my parents are still living, when she grows up, at some point she 1) won't be able to marry me 2) will miss me, because we won't live together, 3) will eventually bury me, and then miss me more. But, she reasoned, she can recall me from the dead by habitual trips to... chuck e. cheese's. Because, she says: "a kid can [ie. always] be a kid" there. You have to admit, the reasoning is sound!

Starbucks II went well, but was lightly attended due to a competing gig (every child going to free swim, free hotdogs and hamburgers at the aquatic center to mark the end of the baseball/softball league). However, Starbucks III is AUGUST 25 (5pm-6pm for preschoolers; 6pm-7pm for elementary, with an elementary youth open mic from 7pm on): mark your calendars! With more than a month to promote this one, I can't wait to see the results! And remember, Starbucks gives free cookies and kid drinks to all children in attendance. And my daughter loves the strawberry frozen lemonade they had last night.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

If Goneril Had Had a Brother

The kids (son, daughter) were wrestling yesterday when son begins to cry loudly. Daughter exits the room and comes to sit with us. She shrugs. "What happened?" we ask. "We were just wrestling, and then he started to cry and cry," she said. "She STOOD on my HEAD and it HURT!" shouted son. "Aaaand I did that," she said. "By accident."

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mileage is Deductible

I had wondered at some point while undertaking the two hour drive up to Borders if it would all be worth it. I mean, a two hour drive each way seemed a lot (I know, I don't get out much...). But after the two hour critique session with four other writers, I had no hesitation to commit to doing this once a month. Which is a pretty big deal, since it will involve leaving right after the kids get home from school, meeting at 6pm, and getting home around 10pm at the earliest, on a weeknight, with classes to teach in the morning. Not whining, just putting in context. And still, can't wait for next time!

Starbucks has called again, so have another reading on Tuesday. I'm hoping the blender goes on the blink for the duration, though. I must admit that's the only part I'm dreading: using a pleasant and well projected voice over the blender, full of ice. READING ALOUD LIKE THIS IS, SADLY, BOTH TIRING AND NOT CONDUCIVE TO PICTURE BOOK FUN.

So, in addition to preparing the reading, revising the picture book that was critiqued, and working on the chapter book, I'm now catching up on some middle grade reading. Somehow, I'd missed Number the Stars (in my defence, I did not grow up in the USA, and New Zealand has its own holocaust curriculum) and have now remedied the lack. My neighbor invited me to her fifth grade class in the fall, so I will have to work on a program that fits the age group. I doubt any school would turn a writer away if you offered to speak to a class, but if so, drive to a smaller town and pretend you live there.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Good Reads

I have thoroughly enjoyed Goblin Wood by Hilari Bell (terrific story telling, fully realized characters, lovely style), and rushed off to the public library to secure another couple of hers. I'm looking forward to The Last Knight, as the premise is great and the blurb is enticing, and I already know I can trust her style. If you write, check out her website for "writer's tips."

I also enjoyed The Lost Flower Children by Janet Taylor Lisle as much as I had hoped and can now continue to another of hers on my bedside table, The Great Dimpole Oak. I enjoy the slower pace of the storytelling, and her ability to establish a very moving backstory and characters in which we fully invest in a slim volume.

Good reads, people!

Monday, July 6, 2009


So, thanks to the tireless efforts of the moving force behind the Kansas regional chapter of SCBWI (Soc of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators), I get to go up to Kansas City this week to the inaugural meeting of a new picture book critique group. I'm excited! First, because I haven't been up to KC in ages (that two hour drive...). Second, because the meeting place is a huge Borders bookstore... ! Now, I like our local Hastings, but there are some limitations. Like when I asked if they stock the CWI Market (2009) and they said "oh, here it is online, but we can't order it." And yet amazon can ship it to me? What's the deal? I worked in bookstores. I'm pretty sure books can be ordered. The new one isn't out until fall... (The same guy said there were no books in the store teaching guitar for children, and of course there were.) Anyway, I'm in danger of overdoing it on lattes and Newbery award and honor books... YAY!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

In Praise of Public Library Youth Services

As a lifelong reader/hoarder of books, and former employee of university bookstores, once the kids came along I went out and spent consistently on ... books. We never "needed" to go to the public library. And how on earth to keep track of library books in a house full of books? But, don't despair. At some point I did realize that the library was a great place we simply were never getting to, and turned it around. So, in praise of public library youth services... the wonderful, crazy people who know our kids' names, dress up as teapots and serve Valentine's tea parties every year, who run story times five times a week for little kids, and again for big kids, who run a homework clinic every school day and a reading program with giant party every summer, who photocopy your kid's story and give it a shelf mark so they can check it out, who forgive your fines nearly all the time, and who will happily spend an hour upstairs and down when you mention that your kid might be interested in books about (fill in the blank), but will spend the same hour if it's really just me doing homework for a story. You guys ROCK!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah...

First camp survived! Trials and tribulations. The first irony only took us sixty feet inside the camp perimeter: after spending four hours the previous night (Saturday night, of course) in ER an hour away to get son's 7-days-in-a-row headaches checked out (referred there by nervous PA in our town, given the nervous all-clear), a mere and literal thirty seconds inside the camp gates son gets stung between the eyes by a wasp... = first visit to friendly medic. The cubbies did archery, leatherwork, panning for gold, shooting BB guns, swimming, flag retirement, campfire skits, running around (no running in camp!) after dark with glo-sticks... the works. But also, of the five cub scouts in our group only two were left standing at the end. One had to leave early with a parent who was having surgery; another threw up at 4am and then again all over the mess hall (now I know... oh, never mind); and still another was picked up by the medic for suspected heat exhaustion. I would like to blame my camping inexperience and ignorance of native flora and fauna for my son's own 67 chigger bites (yes, we really did count them). And the tick in the ear removed by the medic with tweezers was actually a scab... although son has no memory of what might have created such a thing deep inside his ear... But, we are both just thrilled with ourselves.

Today, in need of a debriefing for reentry into civilized life, and struggling to remember which day of the week it is. Have grading to do... Sadly, checked amazon and now see that the release date for book is listed as August 1, so champagne will have to wait another month. Ah well, other books to write while waiting!