Saturday, October 31, 2009

boogedy boogedy boo!

Happy Halloween Everyone!!!

My sister-in-law carved this pumpkin.

My sister carved this one.

...and I carved this one. Notice it's leaning back against the wall. I thought it sat upright on its own but when I got it home it rolled over, oops.

Sadie helped to pick out the pumpkins at the local pumpkin patch. well, not really, she just kind of smelled everything. But she had lots of fun!!!

Me and Sadie. Sadie recycled her lady bug costume from last year. She went crazy with all of the "farm" smells at the pumpkin patch. I took her over to see the pigs, sheep and chickens (back right) but she just looked at them and froze. The pigs were interested in her for about 10 seconds before they went back to eating.

Oh, and Happy didn't want to be left out! She's the magical Halloween Fairy with glowing wings!!

Friday, October 30, 2009

vampire with issues

Did anyone watch the Vampire Diaries on the CW last night? I love this show. And I have to give the writers a pat on the back for having a twisted sense of humor. In last night's episode, Vicki, the town's teenage drug addict who was turned into a Vampire the previous week, felt the wrath of the craving for blood and went on a blood-thirsty rampage trying to kill her boyfriend and his sister. But that wasn't the funny part, none of it was funny really, just different I suppose, in that Vicki was a "vampire with issues" - like their overall, general being isn't one big "issue" - I mean, their dead. But then Vicki, who already has a problem and goes overboard with any number of things, now has to deal with the urge to suck blood. She can't control it, and there's no 12-step program for vampires with a former human drug addiction, no recovery home she can check herself into. No, Vicki is as pretty much screwed as any vampire can be - for sure, she's got issues.

The T.V. show the Vampire Diaries, by the way, was born from a series called Night World written by L.J. Smith. These books are now on my list to read!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

autumn sadie

Sadie was outside getting some sun, and found this pile of leaves. I call her Velcro-dog sometimes because everything gets stuck to her beard.

...and yes, she's wearing a sweater.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

what I learned from michael cera

I admit it, I like slapdash comedy and juvenile humor in movies - Dumb and Dumber, Elf, Blades of Glory, Space Balls, Strange Brew - you see where I'm going. Usually the acting in these movies is goofy and all over the place, one of the critical elements that makes them what they are. But last night, I watched Year One with Jack Black and Michael Cera, and I laughed so hard that I cried - which I desperately needed after my weekend of angst. I also, odd as it may seem, learned a lesson from that goofy looking, lovable kid, Michael Cera (that's him below).

As a writer, I don't think there's anything more difficult than characterization. It's easy to find yourself swimming through murky water when attempting to morph an unlikable character into a vulnerable, likable one (think Jack Nicholson in As Good as It Gets), you have to hit all the right notes to get your audience to actually feel sympathetic for this person who makes it so hard to love him. And in the case of Michael Cera, sometimes it's even harder just to maintain a consistent personality, such as he did, in portraying Oh, a Gatherer (as in Hunters and Gatherers) in Year One. His soft voice, slouched posture, controlled facial expressions, and perfect comedic timing, all helped to make his character believable in an utterly ridiculous, unbelievable movie. In fact, I was so engrossed in this movie, that when I went to check on the brownies I was baking, I didn't stop and think, hmm, they're still soupy looking after 20 minutes -yeah, the oven wasn't on. But my point is that, Michael Cera's consistency of character made me, as the viewer, feel a familiarity with his speech, actions, thoughts, mannerisms...traits, essentially, that I could almost predict what he would say or do in the next scene. That's what good writing is, connecting your readers to your characters so that they feel a bond with them like they're real people.

So thanks, Michael Cera. And if you want a good laugh, go rent Year One ~

Monday, October 26, 2009

scbwi conference hightlights and my writer's angst

Whelp, the Regional Northern CA/Bay Area SCBWI Conference came and went, and with it I learned a few new things, met some amazing people, and developed a little writer's angst.

First off, cheers to all of the writers and illustrators who attended the conference, because they truly helped to make the day a more fulfilling, enjoyable experience. And kudos to the agents and editors who presented. I'm sure that putting yourself at the mercy of a bunch of eager writers can be a daunting, potentially draining task. In fact, I think it's safe to say, that most of the industry people who attended, have probably been hounded one too many times by relentless, pushy writers, which in turn, can make it kind of difficult for someone like me, a non-pushy writer, to have a "normal" conversation with them, without scaring them away....

That said, I learned lots; everything from how to capture a child's voice - a tough task on its own, as it's easy to forget the quirky, yet surprisingly insightful things kids can say; to five lessons on how to plot your book; and, how to (hopefully one day) promote yourself and your book once it's published. One of the highlights of the conference though, was when an editor from the imprint of a big publishing house, picked random manuscripts from a basket, which conference attendees had added to at registration that morning, and read them out loud, then critiqued them on the spot. Eeck! First of all, let me say, what a brave editor for doing this and for thinking quickly on her feet, literally, and, although I found this exercise helpful, it was also a tad nerve-wracking, even though my manuscript was not read. Maybe it was just me, but I could feel the tension in the room as writers sat clenched with anticipation that their manuscript could be the next one read. The editor was nice with her critiques though, and kept her criticisms light and constructive. Finally, to end the day, Teri Sloat, a very creative, enthusiastic author/illustrator, showed us how inspiration and imagination can lead to creativity. She presented an animated video of her illustrations come to life, which elicited many "oohs and aahs" from the audience.

So, where is my mind today? I'm a little distracted, to tell the truth, (this post took me way too long to write and I almost scraped the whole thing) because in the back of my head, actually the front of my head, I'm reminded that I have a ton of competition out there, even though I don't like to look at it as so, it is, to be realistic, competition. Going to these conferences can be very inspirational, but, at the same time, part of me feels extremely overwhelmed. I know in order for my manuscript to sell it needs to be tight, entertaining, attuned to the current market and appropriate age group, and most importantly, very well written - this is no easy thing. I really hate when anxiety creeps up on me like this, but when it does, I try and take a deep breath, go for a run or take Sadie for a long walk, and hope that it runs its course through my system. But, then again, I know that I wouldn't be doing this if I weren't passionate about it. After all, what is it they say? No risk, no reward. amen.

Friday, October 23, 2009

the gathering of like-minded folks

It's almost here, tomorrow is the Regional SCBWI Fall Conference for California Bay Area writers, and yes, I'm attending. The last conference I went to in NYC this past January, was also the first SCBWI conference I'd ever attended, and so, I was pretty nervous with not knowing what to expect. But when I got there I saw over 800 women, and just around 100 men, gathered together in a huge room at the mid-town Hyatt with notebooks in hand, smiles on faces and ready to learn. I didn't meet one person who wasn't supportive and positive about either their possible, future writing career, or the perfect stranger's sitting next to them possible, future writing career. Maybe all of us children's book writers are just a goofy set of optimistic, dreamers who believe we can overcome the odds and make it in this overpopulated, competitive industry, or maybe we're just how everyone else should be...following our dreams and offering a pillar of support to others in the same frame of mind.

I'll report back here on Monday with all of my conference highlights, and let you know how it goes. And, oh!....speaking of the power of support amongst children's book writers, check out this hilarious blog post from literary agent, Brenda Bowen, on why SCBWI is like the changing room at Forever 21...well said!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

pig-pig and the bowl of rice

I picked up the Oct 2009 issue of Spider Magazine (part of the Cricket Magazine Group, Cobbelstone Publishing, Carus Publishing) for children ages 6 to 9 (or writers ages 30 and up... ahem) and fell in love with this story, Pig-Pig and the Bowl of Rice. First of all, the art by Oki Han is absolutely breathtaking, and the story written by Marilyn Richardson made me cry. Yes, I cried last night over a little boy and his pig. But follow along and you'll see why....

One year, Yung Soo had been allowed, for the first time, to join his grandfather on the trip. Grandfather had traded a bushel of nectarines for a skinny little piglet. Yung Soo carried the piglet home and cared for him, feeding him from a bottle, holding him like a baby, and scratching behind his ears. ...."Someday," Grandfather warned, "when that pig gets fat, we will have to kill him for food."

A general riding on a horse came up the path, followed by his army of foot soldiers.... Yung Soo was about to stand and bow to this great man when the general shouted, "Come morning, we will kill these villagers and take their food..." ....Lugging...bundles of food and blankets on their backs, the people followed the head a cave.

Three days and three nights passed. Nearly all of the food was gone. Only one bowl of rice and Yung Soo's skinny pig remained. ....Yung Soo...had come up with an idea. He didn't like his idea, but he knew something must be done. ...Holding the animal gently in his arms, he left the cave and walked to the edge of a cliff that overlooked the soldiers' camp. Yung Soo put his lips close to Pig-Pig's ear. "You must be brave..."

I've obviously paraphrased the story, but you get the idea of what's about to go down, right? Cried like a baby.....and I think part of my tears were because Pig-Pig reminded me of Sadie, my dog. She's shaped like a little piggy, and sometimes she snorts like one too, "big sigh", needles to say, Yung Soo was brave, I don't think I could be.

I'd love to write for Spider Magazine one day. I'm actually working on some stories to query them with, but under their submission guidelines it says they, "publish stories written by the world's best children's authors...." No pressure there! ;)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I read, you read, but I can't operate goodreads...

Since GoodReads has got me running scared with trying to upload anti-spyware viruses to my computer every time I try and go on the site to add the latest books I'm reading, I'm adding my current reads here. You'll notice my GoodReads box along the left side of my blog is currently empty, so here's what's up:

A Gathering of Days, by Joan W. Blos (Aladdin Books 1979), is one of the Newbery Medal books I found at the Sonoma County Book Festival a few weeks ago. See, I am still keeping up with my one Newbery book every couple of weeks! (so far Holes by Louis Sachar is my favorite).

Fudge-A-Mania, by Judy Blume (Berkley Books 1990). After reading a section of her website on how Judy Blume got started writing, a friend of mine said she noticed some similarities between me and this amazing author. Being compared to Judy Blume on some aspect, any aspect, I'll take it, and I can only hope to be as successful as her one day, but after reading about her myself, I did feel like we had some things in common, like; having to write everyday and feeling the burn of a story inside of you just waiting to get out. And, that Judy Blume had a huge imagination as a child but didn't write down her stories until later. As a kid I too was always coming up with stories and ideas of games to play with my three sisters, one summer I even choreographed a music video to George Michael's song Faith along with my sisters, which my step-dad recorded with a camcorder he'd borrowed from work - when I was 17, my sisters, by the way, thought it would be funny to show that same video to a boy I had just started dating, I don't think I could've been more embarrassed! But anyhow, I can't wait to re-read Fudge-A-Mania!

And lastly, the exceptional, classic, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (Signet Classics 1959). Originally published in 1884; I haven't read this book since junior high or high school and I'm so glad I picked it up again. I love how the gritty, crude, coarse storyline between Huck and his dad, even though at times hard to read, makes me clench my fists and feel anxiety in the pit of my stomach. After I'm done with this book I plan on reading more "boy books" so I can get into the mindset to write a gritty, coarse book myself. So far I'd say that the three novels I've written are for girls and boys, but since they all have female protagonists, I'd like my next book to have a male protagonist with real "boy" issues. I can't wait to start writing! What are your favorite "boy books" reader?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

flipside featured artist

FFA - which looks prettier italicized and sounds like a term used by the airline industry, but is not (I don't think), is actually the newest addition to my blog. Flipside Featured Artist. As we all know, I can't draw and I like to whine about it here, but I do so admire those who can and can well. So let's kick things off with my first flipside featured artist (ffa), Carol Ashley:

I found illustrator/animator Carol Ashley's work on a literary agent site and from one thumbnail showing a little girl wearing a bunny suit, and holding a basket of eggs, knew her work would be cool. Cool as in an Edward Scissorhands, Tim Burton, dark-kind of way, which I came to find out after reading her website, has a more concise term called "lowbrow" art - an underground visual art movement that started in LA, also known as pop surrealism.

This is the type of art that inspires me to want to write a magical-realism book with dark characters who have lost their way, or with creepy villains who give you the chills.

(all art from Carol Ashley, see website).

Monday, October 19, 2009

frustrated artist expresses herself thru cupcakes

My roomate and I made cupcakes last weekend for my step-dad who came up for a weekend birthday visit. The icing called for gel food coloring (Martha Stewart is fancy) but the only gel food coloring they had at the store was much for stickin' to traditional yellow, blue, red and green.

Being the non-math person that I am, I neglected to buy enough muffin tins and had to go next door to borrow a couple from my neighbor. With all of the extra icing and cupcakes I got creative and made these prickly-looking, flower-like designs.
I hope to get better at this whole cupcakery thing because it really was lots of fun and they actually tasted great. It was also a good way to express the frustrated artist in me. I plan on making Halloween cupcakes for my friends coming to visit soon, and sweet-potato cupcakes topped with marshmellows for Thanksgiving!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

balloon boy what's up!

photo from

My friend just said to me today, thank goodness balloon boy wasn't in the balloon and is alive and okay because that might've been bad for trying to sell your new book. Uh yeah, thanks balloon boy for not raining on my parade. The balloon in my book, not built by a mad-scientist dad, does eventually take flight and is powered by a person's energy and thoughts, not helium, which can be more fickle at times, but luckily easier to steer.

Honestly I am glad that balloon boy is not hurt, but what a terrible stunt to play and amazing how thirsty we all were to drink it up.

Friday, October 16, 2009

movie time with the wild things

If you've been reading the blog the last few weeks, you know I've been posting little facts about Maurice Sendak and his famous picture book, Where the Wild Things Are (Harper & Row, 1963), in anticipation of the movie which comes out today! I hope you'll get a chance to get out and see it, but to sum it all up, here are a few more details:

In 1988 there was a 7 minute animated adaptation of the book with composer, musician, author and satirist, Peter Schickele.

In 1989 a musical version of the book was performed at the Glyndebourne Festival Opera which is in East Sussex, England.

And finally, the 2009 movie is directed by Spike Jonze with Tom Hanks and Maurice Sendak himself as producers, among several others, with a screenplay writen by author Dave Eggers. The move is a mix of animation and live action mixed with live puppeteering, which I'm a huge fan of.

If you like live puppeteering too, check out these two other movies from the 1980's that are fantastic: The Neverending Story (1984), and The Dark Crystal (1982) - done by Jim Henson and Frank Oz, creators of the Muppets.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

process of creation

Horrible rendition of the red balloon's details (I'm no artist)

Sorry for the terrible pictures, I really need a better camera, but I wanted to show my writing wall for my latest book, Trevelyn's Shimmer, before I take it down and start on the next one. I haven't done a wall before mostly because I never had the space, but having done it I must say it's been a huge help. The drawing above shows the details of the balloon that my main character Marie discovers. It really helped to zone out on it between breaks while keeping my mind in the right place.

Great Appalachian Valley (courtesy Wikipedia)

My main character Marie travels far and wide and meets a musician who sings about the Blue Ridge Mountains in Tennessee, which are part of the Great Appalachian Valley. Since I've never been there, it helped to have this map.

Maps of the USA and Europe (google maps)

I'm a huge fan of Google Maps as they assisted me with plotting Marie's course over the United States and Europe. Researching parts of this novel allowed me to learn more about the Mediterranean Sea which I've never been to but would love to go one day. Learning and studying new topics about the world is one of my favorite things about writing.

Now that I'm done with Trevelyn's Shimmer, I'm starting on a couple of other projects and working on some short stories for adults. Writing short stories is really hard for me but I enjoy the challenge. I read quite a few short stories, and while I give major props to the creative writers out there who create them, it seems like many stories are about turmoil, or loss, or death and heartache, especially the ones that win awards. I know these stores are hard to write because I've tried, and my recently finished book is no cakewalk either, so that's why I'm determined to try and write something funny. Maybe writing humor is harder and that's why so many people stick with other themes, but laughing feels good, don't ya think?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

mother goose

I joined some friends with kids at a shopping event the other week called Just Between Friends, where you can buy second-hand items like clothes, toys, and books - my favorite - and picked up this Mother Goose book for five dollars! My own mother used to read these fun stories to me when I was a child. Five Toes was one of my favorites. I loved when my mom pinched my toes and made the wee!wee! noise. I read it to my friend's daughter the other week and she really loved it too. Plus, the illustrations by Blanche Fisher Wright are adorable.

Five Toes

This little pig went to the market;
This little pig stayed at home;
This little pig had roast beef;
This little pig had none;
This little pig said, "Wee, wee!
I can't find my way home."

Peter, Peter, Pumpkin-Eater
Peter, Peter, pumpkin-eater,
Had a wife and couldn't keep her;
He put her in a pumpkin shell.
And there he kept her very well.


Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
Silver bells and cockle-shells,
And pretty maids all of a row.

Humpty Dumpty
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall;
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;
All the King's horses, and all the King's men,
Cannot put Humpty Dumpty together again.

(Barnes and Noble Publishing Inc. The Real Mother Goose. New York. Checkerboard Press, Inc., 2004.)

Monday, October 5, 2009

love a witty author

I know I'm supposed to be reading Newbery Medal books right now, and I am - I just finished Holes, and started The View From Saturday - but I also love the Jessica Darling books by NY Times Bestselling Author, Megan McCafferty. Her prose and characters are witty and intelligent, and the storyline is one that almost every teenager and adult who used to be a teenager can relate to.

I read the first book, Sloppy Firsts awhile back, but I need to get over to the library to check out Second Helpings and then the remainder of the series. The fifth book just came out so I have some reading to do. Go to her website (the link is above) and check out her (retro)blog where she posts excerpts from her diary from when she was a teenager - hilarious!