Sunday, October 21, 2012

Write On!

Well, I've neglected to blog of late and it's the usual culprit: writing! I have had the great fortune to be writing on a series of work-for-hire readers and devising new, high stakes scenarios has been taking most of my creative energies. I'm home alone this weekend to get some writing done in fact.

That said, I'm also enjoying life down in New Zealand. Hard to believe we are half way through our six month stay already. The kids have begun the last school term of the year, and today I went and bought sunhats for both of them. They are a required item for school, and the kids won't be allowed outside at recess without one! Spring is gorgeous, and given that I'm usually land-locked it has been amazing to be closer to the sea again. Who knew I'd miss it so much?

I hope your season is going well, whichever hemisphere you're in. And I also hope you are writing!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Clever Milly

Introducing... My first picture book Clever Milly!
Milly is the clever hen of the henhouse, and when Mr. Fox comes a-calling she has a plan to find out what he's up to. Her own survival depends on it!
A few notes about the picture book:
  • It's an original retelling of Mr. Fox, an English folktale.
  • Mr. Fox is a variant of the Bluebeard stories (courtship by a mysterious and possibly dangerous stranger).
  • It is kid-friendly both in text and illustrations!
  • I published two Bluebeard academic books, and now this is "my version" of the story!
  • It is self-published. The Bluebeard fairy tale has fallen out of favor with children's publishers since the early twentieth century. I'm hoping this kid-friendly variant reintroduces it to readers!
  • It is available from but, to keep the book's price as low as possible ($6.50), I haven't used the expanded distribution channels for Europe. To do so, amazon would have required the book to be 50% more expensive again than it is now. I hope it is still readily available to folks not in North America and hope this doesn't inconvenience you too much!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Not Dead Yet!

Okay, you may have thought I dropped off the face of the earth... Not quite, but I did slide down the face of it somewhat. Am now stationed in New Zealand for six months. It took quite a bit of my writing oomph getting the rental house set up, kids in school... But all is well, and we missed the harshest part of winter. It's around 15 degrees, daffodils are up, lambs are bounding... You get the idea.

I have a cautionary writing tale to share, just so you don't think it's all fun and games. I submitted a work-for-hire ms two months ago and, as is par for the course, got it back with revisions to do. But I got it back on Wednesday, with a firm deadline to resubmit on Monday. It was pretty bad timing, as hubby left Wednesday to return to the US (at which point, our little sojourn "got real real"!) And then... the internet went out at home.

A few tears, a long call to Telecom, and gritted teeth later: internet restored, revisions nearly done.

I thought I'd been so relentlessly rosy on the blog of late (well, you know, when I was keeping it up nicely) that I thought I should let you in on the not-so-rosy times too.

Hope all is well in your writing worlds, whichever hemisphere you inhabit!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Summer, Writers and Readers!

Well happy 4th of July, those of you who celebrate! At casa kidlit we have friends staying. That means double the number of girls practicing Katy Perry's "Firework" for a relatively impromptu backyard concert performance of same later today, and double the number of boys in pyjamas playing video games and ignoring the early morning dance party.

I haven't been very active blogging lately, which is not a sign that I'm any less opinionated than I was... Just been happily writing, really.

But I've also caught up a bit on reading. I was woefully remiss in not having read John Green's YA blockbuster The Fault in Our Stars. That oversight has been remedied and I enjoyed the read. I'm now back in my post-apocalyptic groove though with Karen Thompson Walker's The Age of Miracles. I'm still in the thick of it, but love the writing style.

If you are looking for two engrossing 2012 YA reads, look no further!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Random Lessons from Paraguay

In no particular order, here are some interesting things learned this past month, in Paraguay, as I was teaching one class to Paraguayan college students for my university.

*horses and carts are still used in the city to transport people and goods
*there really are things called Bodegas. While I didn't go into one, they looked sultry and exotic.
*although it is winter, it is very warm. However, it is winter, so it gets dark early. That is confusing.
*one semester of basic spanish conversation a few months before coming here really was invaluable.
*when you don't know the word in Spanish, you say it in French. Apparently, your brain tells you that's okay.
*it is no good to say something well and with good accent if you can't understand the response you prompted.
*a "grande americano" from Starbucks is called... a "grande americano."
*at some point, the math of dividing all those zeroes on the local currency by 4 becomes reasonable.
*it is invigorating to be in a country where you barely understand the language. It is more invigorating to be in a country where people just look at you with pity when you say "lo siento, pero no comprendo. Hablo ingles."
*you can teach your way through the recurring teaching nightmare you have had every semester for 15 years and, hopefully, be stronger for it.
*group work is better in a collective culture than the same group work done at home.
*the Spanish have an expression meaning "all clear": "no Moors on the coast." Students will reference this in their Othello essays.
*it is difficult to plan and be organized when the power goes out, internet access sometimes goes out, or is painfully slow at the university.
*having everything in cloud storage is only as good as your downloading capabilities from the internet. See previous.
*on any given class day, and despite all kinds of carrots and sticks, only 1/3 of the class will be in the room when class actually begins.
*there are many large, stray, hungry dogs. When the doc said "stay away from stray dogs" so I didn't have to get a rabies shot, I didn't realize it wouldn't be an option.
*there is a plywood slum exactly 10 parked car widths from the front doors of the university.
*private security guards carry rifles.
*if a motorcylist hits a cyclist, the moto is at fault. If a car hits a motocyclist, the driver of the car is at fault. If a mercedes on its way to pick me up hits an underaged and uninsured motocylist who, miraculously, is not killed, the motocylist runs away.
*it is rather nice to have students do the cheek kisses as in France, when saying goodbye.
*at some point when it is very clear that you just can't recognize which white mercedes is coming to pick you up every day from the college, the security guard at the university door will take pity on you and start to call your ride.
*the amount of diesel coming in giant black clouds from every bus and many other cars will cause you to taste gas for hours after you get home, leading you to suspect you have lost months from the end of your life.
*in the space of 4 weeks, your children can go from sobbing on skype to living their lives and cheerfully including you at the dinner table or piano with them, to answering "no, we're good," when asked if they want to speak to you.
*if you aren't careful and are, say, lounging on the bed when your husband skypes you, you can suddenly find yourself staring at a bunch of people in a restaurant. Lesson learned.
*if you are scared enough to see one in the "wild," all the tarantulas will be courteous and stay out of sight.

These are the first musings from the trip, before it is even really over. They aren't very profound. I'm hoping profound will follow.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Farewell, Retreat!

I've been teaching in South America for a month, now, staying in a guesthouse, teaching every afternoon. I miss the family enormously (skype notwithstanding). But it has been great for writing! I outlined a chapter book sequel, because if the publisher who is considering the first one wants to talk series, then I'd best be ready, right? And a lot of short stories for another publisher, two of which are currently green lit to revise. I have very much enjoyed the writing boot camp, and will have fond memories of it. Not to mention that I have a store of images in my head that were not there before, such as the giant untethered pig eating grass on the narrow mid-city median strip of a four-lane highway today. No human anywhere to be seen. I think it would have come up to my waist, had I had the courage to go anywhere near it. Or to stand on the median strip in Paraguayan traffic... See? These things will show up somewhere later, I just know it.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Useful "Gatekeepers"

I used to think of self-publishing as academics think of self-publishing, and it bore all the stigma of being painted in tar. But of course the times have changed. As when cheap mass printing technology and distribution made chapbooks feasible in the 1700s, and the rise in mass literacy made readers of nearly everyone, the digital printing age has revolutionized book creation and distribution again. I realize that means a very democratic mass can enter the marketplace, and that a very great deal of what is available has less literary merit as a result. But it's very Darwinian as well: survival of the fittest, and all that. I have read many an article and blog post arguing either side of the debate. So, here's where I weigh in: I'm the "cosmopolitan rat" of Isaac Rosenberg's war poem, who travels back and forth between the trenches. On the one hand, I see enormous value in the gatekeeping function of editors. I am currently writing stories at the rate of a couple a month for consideration by one press, and getting feedback on them from three editors. What amazes me every time is that when I think the story is done, and even good, the feedback always points out fundamental things that the story requires. I don't just mean tweaking, but fundamental issues with the story and what's going on. I feel challenged, and frankly honored that these editors are willing to put in this time and work with their authors to make the end results so much better. (And at this point I'd remind you that I have enormous hubris as a writer, having a job in the profession and a PhD in English. I mention this because I usually think what I submit already rocks!) And at the same time, there are certain works that won't get to the market any other way. They may have limited mass appeal (like family memoires), or they don't reflect a publisher's shaping of their lists. And in those cases, why not self-publish? Musicians make CDs all the time without signing with a recording house, and with a lot less stigma. Sometimes the music is good, and sometimes it isn't. The market gets to vote with its money, right? And that's why I think the term "indie-publishing" better reflects the current self-publishing state. Still, even with my wonderful hubris, there is no way I would self-publish anything without having a PROFESSIONAL EDITOR work on it for fundamental issues (not just proofreading). Over these last years of writing, submitting, revising, and starting over I've learned that no matter how good I think I am, a good editor is going to dismantle a manuscript and make it better.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Know Thy Kid

So my Son is 10.5 years old (the .5 matters to him. a lot). He has a college age reading level, but is still a little pre-teen sweetheart. I say this because the entire middle school recently adopted The Hunger Games as a school-wide read, and then they had some "hunger games" activities. (No, they didn't provide weapons or a style team.) As a result of the publicity that earned, many of the upper elementary students have been wanting to read the books. My son is finishing up 4th grade. Several of his mates have read the book. My son is begging to read it/them. He is not used to being the last to read something... he enjoys his status as a reader of all things. That's why he purchased his own kindle with his own birthday money. Sidebar: when you have two kindles on the same amazon account, don't be fooled by the question "where do you want this purchase sent?" Because specifing ONE kindle doesn't mean squat. My son, unbeknownst to me, had ALL my books in the "archived items" section of HIS kindle, and was merrily reading them. We discovered this when I asked what he had been reading in order to fill out the school weekly reading sheet and he said "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Fortunately, he hadn't made it past page 10. He now needs permission to download anything from Archived Items. But anyway, I find myself in the awkward position of trying to compare disturbing scenes to determine if he's up for it or not. I mean: the peeled baby thing in Harry Potter... pretty disturbing, right? But is that of the same caliber as THG? The title is there, in his Archived Items, of course. I wonder if it's only a matter of time before he takes matters into his own hands, and then he won't even feel he can ask questions about the book because he'll be reading it against our wishes. HHm. Advice?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

To Market, To Market!

Returned home (to sleep out, under a massive storm, with the girl scouts) from a wonderful master-class yesterday hosted by the local chapter of SCBWI (Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators): Susan Raab, of Raab Associates. Her company specializes in marketing writers and creators of children's and teen products. Susan spoke, rapidly, in 90 minute segments, and I believe if we had a week to spend together she could have filled it with useful and interesting advice and context for us.

I'm writing an article for Children's Writer's Newsletter featuring services like this, and Ms Raab graciously allowed me to begin an interview with her which we will complete by phone. I'm amazed at how indefatigable she seems!

Before I went, I thought of myself as a basic-intermediate level self-promoter (I don't just mean random bragging, at which I am an expert). I think I did fall in that place on the scales Susan laid out to help determine the cost/benefit ratios (costs including time) of the types of promotional activities to engage in. But, as I hoped I would, I came away with a lot of insights and ideas!

You can have your own pocket consultant with Ms Raab's book: An Author's Guide to Children's Book Promotion. I'll let you know when the CWN article comes out, probably in the fall.

Here, though, is the starting point to get you going: YOU are the brand. Not your book, not your latest genre (necessarily), but YOU. So, what do you have to offer the market?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Writing Life

I often feel selfish when I'm at the computer--something I already use excessively for my job--and am writing at home. I shush the kids, and decline invitations to make cupcakes with them. I leave to go to writing groups on school nights. I leave for longer periods to go on fabulous writing retreats with various colleagues. I have frequently questioned the parental economics of this. Sometimes I feel guilty, other times defiant, and still other times just lost in a piece of writing and indifferent to the environment.

But this week the conversation at our house shifted from the usual ("but why won't you come and do X with us?"; "have you written that story I wanted you to yet?") to something new ("I want to write a story on the computer like you"; "I want to start a writing group").

I was quite happy to finish up my story and open a new file so my daughter could get typing. She managed two paragraphs, and kept having insights through to bedtime. She couldn't get to sleep with the excitement of planning a writing group at school. In order to get that started, we talked through possible objections her teacher might have (available time during the school day, equal access to everyone who wanted to join). Daughter made extensive notes about things a writing group at school could accomplish. And then we ALL had to get up 30 minutes earlier, and do everying in our morning routine 30 minutes ahead, in order to get to school the minute it opened and talk it over with her teacher.

By the time we finished proposing what Daughter had in mind, her lovely teacher had already begun to think of ways to implement the idea: perhaps when they each finished their research paragraphs they could go to the back room and begin if they wanted to? And later that day, several did. Daughter came home and told us that several kids in her class had decided to do a collective story, beginning with some illustrations "to get character ideas down."

I have done a couple of writer sessions at school in my Son's class, and even met one on one with students from his class to work on story maps during school time, at his teacher's request. But with my Daughter's newfound interest in wanting to be a writer herself, I'm enjoying a new sensation along with my writing time: lack of guilt.

It's early days, but I like Daughter's decision: if she can't get me away from the computer, she might as well join me here. She also suggested that she and her brother blog their travels later this year when we go overseas. We already set up the site. It looks like a fun way to write, to journal their trip for archival purposes, and also for them to stay in touch with their friends and classmates for the six months they will be gallivanting about. I see tussles over computer access in my future, but I'm okay with that.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


One of the things I'm very grateful for as a writer is editors! Each time I write something, I do it as well as I can. And then, when I submit it to the editor I hope they like it. But, and without exception, I have been delighted when revisions are suggested because they always make wonderful sense, and they are never something I had already thought of (because otherwise, well, I would have done it that way already!).

Each time an editor gives feedback, it improves the end result. I consider myself an excellent editor of others' work. Heck; I'm a professional! And I like to think that I edit my own work pretty rigorously before it goes anywhere--and I don't just mean the mechanics of English, which should be a given.

And yet, editors have circumspection. They know the reader, they know their client buyers, and they bring all that to bear. I do appreciate hearing that my story was much discussed in an editorial meeting, and that they had several suggestions to make. Because now I have a project! And I know the end result is going to be so much better for their expertise.

In the past few weeks I have been very fortunate to be working with two presses and four editors over several different projects, and the editors have all been wonderful, enthusiastic, hard working and insightful folks. (Don't worry; I don't think they read my blog, so I'm not just kissing up here!) It has felt like a professional master class. Bliss.

Let's hear it for editors!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Classical Studies

So, this was a reminisce about two great teachers from my past, in a "creative non-fiction" frame of mind. I hope you like it!

I've only worn a toga to class for two teachers in my life. The first was my Classical Studies teacher for two years in high school. With Mrs. Evans, at an all-girls high school, we read Homer's Odyssey. All of it. We learned the architecture of the Parthenon, in Greece. To be fair, they were on the national exams curriculum, but discussing Plato wasn't. I'm pretty sure that just came up in conversation.

Mrs. Evans had a dry sense of humor. That epiphany was suspiciously late in coming, given that it occurred at some point during the evening meal one night in the school library while we students were serving our teachers their food. The teachers were reclining on one elbow on cushions on the floor, and eating Roman-style. We had dates, and honey. I'm sure we had other food to eat as wel, but they all had to be Roman recipes. Mrs. Evans sent a recipe book home with us, and our mothers had fits in kitchens all over town.

As a Brownie Girl Scout later in life I had earned a "Hostessing" merit badge by helping Brown Owl to cook scones, make tea, and then serve the results to parents. I remember carrying a tray through a swinging door in the basement of the church where we met. I was terrified that the teapot would slosh, or smash, and either way I'd be robbed of a merit badge. I think fancy may have supplied the cup and saucer later, but the teapot was certainly there.

For Mrs. Evans' Roman dinner we all wore togas: teachers and students alike. Maybe that was another reason why our mothers had fits, but I don't think it would have occurred to anyone to get up to anything salacious in the school library. If they did, I never heard about it.

I remember that if it was hard to wait tables as a Brownie, ten years later it was harder still in the complete absence of tables. I remember clamping my teeth together and sweating as I tried to serve teachers who were lounging on the floor. Surely I would spill something on a teacher? And if by some intervention of the gods I didn't, then I would destroy a cushion or (worse) incur the wrath of the Harpie librarian by getting honey on the library carpet. Mrs. Evans laughed a lot that night, but all of it was kindly meant. I would have walked on lava for her.

So I signed up for Roman Studies my freshman college year. The professor, Norm Austin, was a Rhodesian who had published a book on Roman spying techniques. He was so popular his classes met in the drama lab to fit us all in. Inspired by the setting, he crouched, leapt, and pantomimed every doomed elephant getting Hannibal across the Alps. From Norm, I learned what a Pyrrhic victory was and so have been able to have many of them since.

It turned out I wasn't well suited to learning history: dates looked too much like math and I've always been more literate than numerate. But it was for Norm that I donned a toga and roman sandles to present a tutorial, and it was from Mrs. Evans that I borrowed the toga. (The roman sandles were part of the high school summer uniform, so they were not hard to come by and may have provided some of the inspiration.) If I would have walked on lava for Mrs. Evans, I would change in the bathrooms and walk the halls of the university in a toga for Norm.

He referred to that memorable incident often in the years I visited his office as an undergrad and later a grad student returning to visit. He died of cancer just after I got my first teaching job. I haven't worn a toga for anyone lately, but I often think of him talking about the Roman army as "these boys," as if it all happened recently and their exploits just came up in casual conversation. I haven't had a student don a toga for me, or feed me dinner while I recline on cushions, but I don't teach Roman Studies so it wouldn't really be appropriate.

Still, I've seen the occasional glint of fervor in a student eye every now and then, and some students have gone several extra miles on a project. One group of my students convinced the university to turn on the lights of the baseball diamond so they could do a night shoot for a class. I know I have Mrs. Evans and Norm Austin to thank for that.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Just Writing!

Well, it has been a couple of weeks since the last blog update. Looking back, it has been enjoyably "ordinary." A lot of writing going on, and a lot of feedback from various quarters. I have had emails from different editors about different things, all of them resulting in writing more, so good news. Nothing specific enough to broadcast as yet, but things on the stove.

My writing group was locked out of the library tonight (both meeting rooms were booked), so we met at my house instead. Much writing happened! The vibes were lovely, as were the gluten free snacks.

And... that's about it. Just writing! Happily ordinary!

Monday, February 13, 2012

What Was I Thinking?

The children have been a united front for a couple of years on this topic:

  • they want a phone.

  • they want it now.

  • they don't want to hear the (many) logical reasons why their parents think the request is far-fetched to the point of farcical.

So, they waged a siege. And then, they made the compelling case: if we purchase them tracphones, they will buy the minutes.

The proposal had these benefits, they argued:

  • no contracts!

  • no parental expense!

  • child learning opportunity!

  • no money = no minutes = not a parent problem!

And, I bought them (first the argument, and then the tracphones).

This weekend, both children received them. In bed last night, Daughter hummed happily: "I have a phone... I have a phone... I have a phone..." And then, "I can't believe I have a phone..." And then: "I can't believe you bought an eight year old a phone..." And then: "I can't believe you fell for it!"

Hmm. I've been duped.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Five (New to You) Blogs to Love!

Hi all,
Thanks to Ali B over at Literary Lunchbox for my second Liebster Blog Award! It is for blogs with fewer than 200 followers, to help spread the love. Here are five random things about me you (probably) don't know, and then five Liebster-worthy blogs to share with you.

  1. I did not finish Bleak House the first two times I had to (and did) pass an exam on it. Sorry, Charles Dickens. (But Happy Birthday for yesterday!)

  2. I have an aversion to sponges, and anything "spongey" looking. Don't know why. Just do.

  3. I have the first chocolate of the day about an hour after breakfast.

  4. I mucked out a barn for the very first time last Saturday afternoon (and loved it).

  5. I went to graduate school in Toronto, Canada (for six years, mind you) because I was a fan of Margaret Atwood. That isn't why I stayed, but it is why I went.

And now for five blogs, different from last time!

  1. Another shout out to Ali B from Literary Lunchbox. A new, go-getter blog focused on children's writing and generous sharing of the blogosphere. I read Ali B to remember why we blog at all.

  2. Fairy Layers, for all-things fairy tale reviewed. All genres of lit, TV serieses, films... astute and conversational both.

  3. Lawral the librarian reviews YA (not always favorably--she can't be bought with ARCs!) over at Lucy Was Robbed. She favors sci-fi, fantasy, and books featuring positivie LGBTQ themes and characters. Well-written and even-handed, her reviews are worth the read!

  4. Jennifer Lee Young over at Castles in the Sky. She just won her second Liebster award a week ago (and lo, a third!) but she still gets my shout out because her blog is fun, free wheeling, and she has her first picture book coming out!

  5. Lizzie Millar, the Shelf Elf, who reviews children's lit, raves about yarn bombing, and pops in a recommendation for Downton Abbey, all of which I love. She is a middle school librarian, a member of the kidlitosphere, and I look forward to getting to know her blog better! I hope you do too.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Peter Pan

I'm an enormous fan of the live action Peter Pan film, in particular. Jason Isaacs is a wonderful Father/Hook, Richard Briers is a perfect Smee, Mrs Darling (Olivia Williams) really does have a kiss in the corner of her mouth, and the right-on-the-brink-of-adolescent cast is just right.

But I hadn't read Peter Pan before, so I sat down this week and found myself utterly enchanted. The story line is already familiar, but the style is such a surprise. I plan to finish it this weekend and will try to select a quotation or two for you.

Have you read the novel (or the play)? What did you think of it?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Chip Off the Old (OCD) Block!

Found, this list, after a rain or two, in the back yard. (Yes, those are bullet points...)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Or Something Like That...

Son: Who trained the first horse trainer? Hey! I'm a philosopher!


It has been a productive writing month! One non-fiction title for high school readers completed and submitted to the book developer (the go-between for the authors and the presses), and creative writing too. Now, what we need is a really good blizzard (in which the power never goes out) so we can spend a few days holed up in the house, reading...!

I hope everyone's new year is Happy so far!