Tuesday, September 29, 2009

getting new yorkers to laugh

Image from Improv Everywhere - Digital Photography: Agent Dippold

Am I the last person to know about this!? I found this site, Improv Everywhere, while checking out another blog I like called Black Eiffel, and haven't been able to stop looking at it - yeah, I've been procrastinating a little too much today. What it is though, is a group of people called Agents who "cause scenes of chaos and joy in public places." Their latest stunt had them posing as yearbook photographers on a subway train in New York City, snapping pictures of riders. I really laughed at some of their other stunts too like The Human Mirror, and The Circle Line Tour. It's hard to get a New Yorker to crack a smile sometimes, but these guys are managing to do it!

Monday, September 28, 2009

sendak slivers

This is interesting, did you know that the original concept for the book Where The Wild Things Are was supposed to feature horses instead of monsters? Good thing for Mr. Sendak's publisher who thought that he couldn't really draw horses, and suggested that he try something else instead. The horses were eventually replaced by caricatures of various family members who would visit him in his Brooklyn home as a child, and thank goodness, because in my opinion the things are what really makes this book!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

read it out loud!

On Monday night I went to a seminar sponsored by SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators) where I listened to children's book author, Marsha Diane Arnold , give a lecture on The 7 Magical Ways to Bring out the Storyteller in You. But before she started, she had everyone in the room go around and introduce themselves. Normally I hate doing that kind of thing, writers are usually shy people and don't like the spotlight on them, but in this case I didn't mind, because it was really nice to hear what other like-minded people were working on. Most folks there were beginning writers, and almost everybody was interested in writing picture books which is what the seminar was geared towards. Then Marsha, whose written several successful picture books including, Roar of A Snore, and The Pumpkin Runner, went on to list the seven things she believes can bring out the storyteller in you.

I won't go through all of them here, but the two that really hit a note with me were: Cause Trouble, and Listen - meaning read your words out loud!

It's important to Cause Trouble in a book, she said, either with yourself, nature or society.

Listen! Shout your words out loud. Make the language sing!

My hat is off to these two seemingly simple tasks. They should be easy, right? But causing trouble is harder than you think. Nobody likes watching people or the environment get abused, but that's what made us cry when George shoots Lennie in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, or when Professor Dumbledore dies in Rowling's Harry Potter - putting a character that you care for in a bad situation can be hard, but the lesson is, it forces you to push yourself and the story.

And this last one, reading your own words out loud, can be cringe worthy. I have to force myself to do this, I don't know why it's so hard for me - maybe it brings the book's flaws to light, or perhaps it's just too time consuming - but in order to make sure it flows correctly, it's absolutely necessary to hear your book read out loud. I mean, can you imagine reading an adventure scene that is too wordy to a group of kids, you'll lose them and you'll lose them fast. So read and rewrite, read and rewrite! I'm saying this more to myself than to you dear reader, because having just finished writing my third novel, Trevelyn's Shimmer, the other day, I'm now forcing myself to read it out loud, and I mean really loud!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

newbery finds

Newbery Honor and Newbery Medal books - is there anything better for a middle-grade writer to read?

The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg

Holes by Louis Sachar

A Gathering of Days by Joan W. Blos

Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater

I picked up these great books, and many others, for a dollar each at the Sonoma County Book Festival this past weekend. It was a bright, hot, sunny day and I had a blast digging through boxes finding great reads, listening to writer's read from their stories, and I even stopped by the SCBWI booth to say hello to some fellow members.

I started reading Holes by Louis Sachar last night which I've already fallen in love with 5 chapters in. Have you read this book? Stanley Yelnats - notice anything funny about that name (the last is a reverse of the first) - clever, right - is a kid who is sent to a juvenile delinquent camp out in the middle of nowhere to dig holes in the heat. I remember back a few years ago when I was taking a children's writing course, where a wonderful teacher/ author Lisa Ann Sandell had us read an excerpt from this book. The saying is true you know- if you want to be a better writer, become a better reader. That said, my new goal is to try and read one Newbery Medal or Honor book every other week! I'll keep you posted ~

Monday, September 21, 2009

my dad the photographer

Have I mentioned what a great photographer my dad Rick is? Well he is! There was a lightning storm near his home in southern Colorado the other week and he managed to snap some photos of it.

Have you ever tried to take pictures of a lightning storm? I have, and they've come out a blurry mess, it takes a lot of patience and skill.

Last summer, when I was visiting my dad, a storm hit while we were on a walk. It was pretty, and really cool from a distance, but when the thunder kept getting louder and louder, let me tell ya...I picked up the pace.

I'd like to start sharing more of his photography here, so I'll be posting from time-to-time, but wouldn't it be cool if he started a blog on his photography!?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

my new roomate - the grasshopper

Two days ago I went into town with my friend to run errands, and a bright green grasshopper decided to go along with us. We first discovered him at the Post-Office hanging out on the driver's side-mirror, then he took a trip with us to the dry cleaners and he stuck around all around town and back home. When we pulled into the garage he had moved up to the roof and was hanging out. I guess he was looking for a new home, but the garage didn't seem like a good place to leave him, so I took a piece of Tupperware and scooted him out until he was in the yard.

this isn't him, but what he looked like

Well, last night he decided that the yard wasn't good enough and that the house would be better, because while making dinner we spotted him in the kitchen! He flew around the kitchen (which freaked me out a bit, even though he was cute, I don't like bugs that can fly!) until once again he found himself covered with a bowl and scooted back outside.

My roommate swears she saw him fly back in, but at this point we don't know where he is! Hopefully he found a nice place in the backyard. Anyway, this all reminds me that I left The Cricket in Times Square, by George Selden, at my folk's house when I was visiting a couple months ago. It's a cute book - I'd like to finish it - but that story, combined with my new grasshopper friend has got me thinking of new book ideas...you never know where the next one will pop up - or the grasshopper.

9.19.09 UPDATE: I know, it's the news of the century, the grasshopper...is back! Last night my roommate found him crawling on the wall next to the stairs. Okay, she was right, he did jump back in the house, but he wasn't looking so good, let's just say his greenness wasn't as brilliant and he may have lost an appendage - I know, I feel terrible about that! So needless to say, he wasn't moving too fast which helped in really getting him outside this time - I saw it with my own two eyes. And, so that he wouldn't have to go stumbling around in the dark, weak and thirsty, we placed two spinach leaves next to him so he'd have something to nibble on. Well guess what! this morning when I went to check the lettuce there were holes bitten into it! My roommate says that they're probably from some other bug, but I like to think that the grasshopper had something to do with it, and that he'll make it in the big, bad backyard, even with just one leg...

the evidence! nibbled spinach leaves

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

stinky fromage...oui, oui!

I wish I was going to be in New York for this foodie event on Sept. 25th and 26th! Say cheese - yes please!

Once I went to a fromage factory somewhere in the north-east of France that produced a particularly stinky cheese. I was embarrassed to do so, since nobody else seemed to be having a problem (native French), but at one point I had to step outside to get some fresh air.

Since then I've worked my senses up to become immune to the smell (I kind of like it now since it reminds me of France), but I'm sure there's a cheese out there that's still too stinky for me.

(images from lefooding.com)

Monday, September 14, 2009

it started with a birth...ended with a marriage...and the Geese are back in town!

baby Bayliss

What an amazing, crazy, busy weekend I had (no, that's not my baby), it's my best friend Bronwyn's, who gave birth to a beautiful, healthy boy. Happy Birthday Bayliss, and congratulations BB and Gino!
I'm sad that I wasn't in town to witness his birth, but while his mom was experiencing labor pains, I was in a position much less intense, seated on an airplane and headed across the country for a wedding.
It wasn't an easy start for the bride and groom-to-be; zippers on bridesmaid dresses weren't working, flights were cancelled for friends arriving from New York, and worst of all was a tragedy in the family, but everything came together in the 11th hour and love prevailed. I couldn't be happier for my two newly-married friends. There really is nothing like witnessing the union of two people madly in love with each other and then celebrating that with good friends - congrats you guys and thank you for having me be a part of the wedding!
bridesmaid flowers

So, after all of the excitement ended and I was squished back into my seat on the plane recovering from too much champagne and tequila (wait, whose idea was that again?!) and sad to part from good friends, I passed the time by editing my new book, Trevelyn's Shimmer. A nice, older couple who saw me madly marking up the manuscript with ink scribble, said they felt bad for whomever had to make those changes - yes, me - but wished my luck and talked to me about writing and books. It would be amazing if I could write a publishable first draft that didn't need revisions (has anyone ever accomplished that before?). But my point is, it's refreshing to receive encouragement from strangers. We've all probably met someone who was laid-off recently because of the rotten economy, and so switched gears to focus on something that they really love to do (even if they get paid next to nothing for doing it) so give that person a high-five next time you see them, because the reward that comes from a planet full of happy people is absorbed by everything and everyone, and we definitely all benefit from that!

Canadian Goose (not the one I heard)

And finally, you guessed it, the Geese are back! I heard their call this morning from outside my window, which means that Autumn is fast-approaching. Do you ever wonder where these passport carrying Geese go in Canada - they do go all the way to Canada, right?...somewhere really nice I'm sure. I'm reading The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, which has got me thinking differently about the long-absent Geese this Fall. I know, they don't really walk around with chalkboards tied around their necks and write messages to people and other animals, but I think it's a great example of a story that makes us more aware of the world and different species around. That's what every children's book writer hopes to accomplish I'm sure....

So now, with the Seasons changing and love and new life in the air, and of course the Geese back in town, I'm looking forward to the rest of 2009 and what's to come. Oh, and for those of you who were curious, this time when I was gone, Sadie, I'm happy to report, what with all of the belly rubs and love from her aunties, didn't even seem to miss me, and she definitely, didn't miss a meal!

Monday, September 7, 2009

my questions answered...a completely unscientific survey

Here they are! The results from my completely unscientific study based on my middle-grade novel, Avondale. A group of 26 fifth-graders from Long Beach, CA, were read the first three chapters of the book by their teacher (my sister), and asked to answer the 11 questions below. A little background for those who haven’t read it: Fraternal twins, LeeLu and JoJohn Addoms are told by their curmudgeonly, yet wise grandfather, Grumpy, to go on an adventure for their upcoming 11th birthday. LeeLu is shy and reserved and JoJohn is a self-absorbed bully, making it even harder for these two to get along. Yet, every year, their mother forces them to spend their birthday together...but this year will be different...

Here are the questions asked of the students followed by the results and then my comments:
1) What did you think of LeeLu? (nice, mean, etc..) Why? - 97% of the kids said that LeeLu was nice because she wasn’t loud and didn’t push or boss people around. Other responses: weird, mean, and nervous. I think the child who answered nervous was the most astute actually. LeeLu has a lot of subtle, unspoken traits that maker her a nervous character (in the beginning of the book).
What I learned: When you give people examples for answering a question, most of them will use the obvious example instead of coming up with their own answer. That’s why I was so impressed with the boy who answered nervous.
2) What did you think of JoJohn (nice, mean, etc..) Why? - 100% of kids thought he was mean. They also said that he was disrespectful, strange, different, lazy and loud. One kid said that he must be fat because he was mean (unless I read it wrong, this surprised me). Another child said that they didn’t want him to scream. And most kids thought he was mean because he was disrespectful to his sister.
What I learned: Kids don’t like bullies – no surprise here.
3) Which character did you like the most? Why? - Majority says – they liked LeeLu the best because she was nice, didn’t lie, was not pushy, was smart, helpful, mature and listened to people. Three kids liked JoJohn the best because he was mean and said his sister was dead (hmmm); three kids liked Grandpa because he tells LeeLu to go on an adventure, he’s funny and weird; and one child liked Mrs. Steinberg, the bus driver, the best because she was nice and calming to LeeLu.
What I learned: Same as with question two, kids like nice people and not the mean ones (well, most anyway).
4) What was your favorite thing that a character said or did? - Now the answer to this question was a little more varied, and did surprise me actually. A little more than half of the kids liked that LeeLu let people go before her on the bus, helped in class, and was trying to find clues for the adventure, but, almost as many kids liked when JoJohn said to his friend that his sister was dead. One girl wrote that she liked that JoJohn was mean because it reminded her of her own brother who was mean but she knows that he’s just playing around. Another astute child wrote that she liked that JoJohn was mean because she thinks that in the end he will turn out to be nice (humph...pretty smart).
What I learned: Kids remember a scene more when it gets their hearts racing, and even if there is a mean person involved, they like when their emotions are ignited.
5) What do you think the “adventure” will be? (I liked these answers). Most kids thought that the adventure would consist of LeeLu teaching JoJohn a lesson, or them going to the woods or a forest because, “that is where anything can happen”. Other kids said it would be something with Grandpa, it would take place in the future or on an island, or that LeeLu would be helping people, and my personal favorite – that they would go to Disneyland.
What I learned: Kids have big imaginations, and, kids, and people in general, find forests to be mystical. I believe that this stems either from reading other books and watching other media sources where a preternatural scene occurs in the woods, or, the fact that when kids play outside they look to nature to really use their imaginations, or if you’re a city kid, a park. When I was a child, my sisters and I constantly went up into the hills behind our house to play and think of games and adventures. Now, as an adult I’m too chicken to go hiking alone, but when I was a kid it didn’t seem to bother me.
6) What would you change in the first three chapters? What part and why? - Most kids said that they wouldn't change a thing, but a few others would like me to make JoJohn nicer (these were kids who were consistent with not liking JoJohn in any of their answers, by the way).
What I learned: Maybe I’m reading into it too much, but if I'm not mistaken, most kids won’t answer negatively because they are taught to be polite (which, for the most part is good), and because my relationship with their teacher (my sister) was revealed, it’s possible that this caused them to be less inclined to open up. If I did something like this again I would ask the teacher not to reveal our relationship to her students. Or, maybe the kids really didn’t think I should change anything and I’m just being a skeptic.
7) What would you do differently? – This goes slightly against the answers and my thoughts above. Here the students were more open with their answers. Some said they would do nothing differently, and others wanted to see more action. One child wanted me to rename LeeLu and JoJohn, to Jane and John (he has this in common with my father).
What I learned: I’m going to cut one of the chapters and replace it with chapter four (which the kids didn’t read), which will bring in the adventure part sooner (keep in mind the chapters are very short). What can I say, we live in a society of escapist readers, I can’t blame them for wanting more adventure either, but, sometimes it makes me sad to think that we need so much stimulation in order to keep us entertained (or maybe my writing’s just not that good!).
8) Would you like to read more of this book? If not, what did you not like about it? - Good news, 96% of kids would like to read more of this book, the other 4% were not interested because they read different kinds of books and don’t like sci-fi/fantasy, and one kid straight up just didn’t like it.
What I learned: You can’t please everyone!
9) What chapter book/s are you currently reading? - Now here’s where things get a bit skewed. A vast majority of these students were ESL (English as a Second Language), meaning their reading level is behind a grade or two (as it would be with anyone learning a new language) so what they’re reading outside of class is a bit behind as well. I won’t list all of the books, but most kids are reading what they’re read to in class, being, at the time of this survey: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe, and then a small number of girls were reading the Twilight Saga.
10) What are your favorite chapter books that you have read? - The answers for this question were along the same line as number nine.
11) What is your favorite kind of book to read? - Most children answered either sci-fi/fantasy and adventure, or comedy.
What I learned: Kids like to be scared when reading a novel (one boy wrote that he likes when someone is in a house all alone and somebody scares you). Also, that there needs to be more books written for kids that are funny. This is also something I knew already and have heard from various literary agents and publishers.

Well, there you have it. What did you think about my unscientific study? If you are a children’s writer did it help you too?
As for me, I really appreciate when people are honest with me (not mean, honest) and give me their opinions, so this was helpful. And, as I said to an editor recently, I’m proud of this book, but, as I keep writing more and more I believe (which should be obvious without sounding like a snob) that my writing is only getting better. But nonetheless, with that said, my next step is to take Avondale to a critiquing group to receive further feedback, because I know there are always things that I can be doing better.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

postcards from heaven

I love these whimsical, vintage-looking postcards by Osaka-based artist Junzo Terada - and they were a steal - 30 postcards for $12.00, nothin' wrong with that!

I'm a big fan of e-mail for its swift response, but don't you think it's so boring and impersonal? My grandmother Betty used to send me and my sister cards for every occasion, she preferred the old-fashioned looking ones that are getting harder to come by. I loved getting notes from her, and even more, as a kid, the five dollar bill she'd slip in at times. I think we could all stand to keep in touch in more creative ways, so why not do it with a little piece of art!

There are even some to send over the holidays!

Friday, September 4, 2009

flea market finds

My sister thinks I'm nuts for buying stuff like this, but I can't resist eclectic, vintage finds and I love a kooky decanter - like this crocodile one from the 1960's. I was in heaven last weekend when the square in town filled up with antiques dealers for the day! You know what they say...one person's trash...

charley harper

This is one gallery show that I don't want to miss. Charley Harper (1922-2007) a Cincinnati-based American Modernist artist with a self-proclaimed "minimal realism" style, is being honored with a show at the Altman Siegel Gallery in San Francisco from Sept. 10th thru Oct. 31st. 49 Geary Street / http://www.altmansiegel.com/.
These are some of his works on paper that I'd love to get my hands on one day! Absolutely beautiful, don't ya think!

more maurice

Because of poor health at a young age, Maurice Sendak spent much of his youth indoors, gaining most of his information about the outside world through family visitors and books. It was at this time that he began to draw and allow his imagination to really run free.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

what I love about writing fiction

When I start to question a plot choice in a novel I’m writing I remind myself that if it doesn’t work I can fix it, or if I’m attached to the idea I can move other things around to make it work. That’s the beauty of revising, and of writing sci-fi/fantasy. The sci-fi world that I create doesn’t necessarily need to work the same as the real world does, and it shouldn’t. Parents may raise their children differently in a sci-fi world, and people can eat with their feet rather than their hands, heck, they can have four feet even - two on each leg, or four legs all together! That's what I love about writing fiction, that you can stretch your imagination as far as it will go ~