Tuesday, May 25, 2010

sick day

I'm too sick to blog about anything with much thought. When I'm sick I have the attention span of a gnat. I started to blog about the beauty of character development in the original Star Wars trilogy, which I watched for over six hours on the Spike network on Sunday, but then my head started to hurt. Watching television without guilt is really the only benefit of being sick, isn't it?

So since I'm too congested to put together any concrete thoughts, for now all I can manage to do is post a photo of Sadie. With a little burst of energy this afternoon I tried to get Sadie to play, but she wasn't having it - she's more into food than toys. To get away from me she slid between her bed and the wall. What can I say, she's just not a play motivated dog....or maybe it was my hacking cough...

sadie in an attempt to hide from me

Thursday, May 20, 2010

fear of birds

I was lying in bed with a fever last night, feeling terrible, when Modern Family came on and despite the chills and aches, I laughed...which kind of hurt, but was well worth it.

I'm a big fan of this show. I really admire the talent of the writers who put together such great, funny story lines week after week.

A segment from last night's episode shows Mitchell's partner, Cameron, singing at a wedding, while Mitchell is at home watching their baby, Lily. Somehow a pidgeon gets into the house and Mitchell freaks out. The clip below is when Mitchell decides to take matters into his own hands in an attempt to extinguish the pidgeon, with break-aways of Cameron singing:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

race in america

Has anyone been watching CNN Anderson Cooper's 360 doll study special on Race in America? Tonight was the second installment of the four-day series on how children view skin color. This is just a pilot study performed on a little more than 100 children of different backgrounds and races, but the results were profound. CNN says that the goal of the study was "to determine the status of children's racial beliefs, attitudes and preferences as well as skin tone biases at two different development periods. Specifically, kindergarten children and middle childhood youngsters attending grade schools in either the Northeast or the Southeast regions of the United States of America were tested by same race female testers. However, the post-test interviews conducted with children and/or their parents were not matched either by race or gender of the interviewer." You can read the full results of the CNN doll study here.

For the study, a child was shown a chart consisting of cartoon-like children, all the same in terms of body-type, dress and facial expression, the only difference being the skin color which ranged from white to black in five different shades. The child was then asked a series of questions and told to point to what skin color they thought was the answer. The interviewers asked what skin color would they most like and least like to have? Which skin color belonged to the nice child and which belonged to the mean child? Or which child would you like as your friend, and which not? An overwhelming amount of fingers (both white and black) pointed to the darker-skin cartoon child on the chart in response to the negative questions. There was also a small amount of children - usually the older ones - who said they could not answer which child was dumb or smart based on their skin color because they would need to talk to them first to find out.

Experts in the field were then shown discussing the results with Anderson Cooper. They pointed to social media, lack of parents taking time to discuss race, and/or parents discussing races other than their own in a negative way, as some of the explanations for the astounding results. And on tonight's show, one of the experts talked about the children's answers having to do with Essentialism, or rather, the idea that a child will group herself with other children of similar skin color and characteristics like height, dress and speech, as a way of identifying herself and fitting in.

I tried to imagine how I would have answered these questions as a child, but I'm not really sure what I would have said. That's why a study like this is done on children, because their minds are still quite pure. I don't really remember my parents ever talking to me about race - although I know we had the "birds and the bees" discussion because my sister reminds me, I was just too young to remember. I grew up in a fairly "white" town in Northern California, very close to San Francisco. There were children of other races at my schools, not a lot, but I was always friends with everyone, no matter what their color. That said, I can see how, even if a child has friends of every race, that they might pick their own skin color as a preference because, if they're anything like me as a child, they're most likely scared of giving an answer that will make them look bad. It seems obvious that when a child is asked who is the smart child, that that child will respond with picking the cartoon character most like them, while choosing the child with the opposite skin color as the one who is dumb. They're associating themselves with their answer and most children will want to give the positive traits to someone who looks like them, wouldn't you if you didn't know better? But, if this CNN pilot study is any indication of how the rest of our country's children would respond, I think we really need to start doing a better job of educating children about discrimination and race. That should probably start with more books and positive shows featuring children of all different colors. Watch some of the clips from CNN below and tell me, what do you think?

one was johnny: a counting book

One Was Johnny: A Counting Book (Harper Trophy, 1991)

One Was Johnny: A Counting Book (Harper Trophy), originally published in 1962 by one of my favorites, Maurice Sendak, is quite a little treasure -and by little I mean that it actually fits in the palm of your hand! I stumbled upon this book when I was browsing the picture book section at Barnes & Noble the other day. I love almost anything Maurice Sendak, but this just might very well sit at the top of my list. One Was Johnny teaches kids to count to ten in a clever, fun, rhyming way. Done with simple illustrations and a minimal use of colors - various shades of blue, green, yellow, gray, black and brown - Johnny is shown as number one, sitting on a small stool near a table in his house, while peacefully reading to himself. A rat appears as number two, jumping on his shelf, followed by a cat, three, who chased the rat, then four, a dog who came in and sat.

Sendak runs through the numbers one through ten, filling up poor Johnny's room with a cast of rowdy characters, until Johnny gets annoyed and tells them that they'd better leave while he counts backwards from ten, otherwise he will eat all of them!

Johnny's facial expressions change from pleased with himself - for thinking of something so clever, while he begins to count - to angry when the monkey steals one of his bananas, to once again at peace as he happily resumes reading his book, all alone - they way he likes it!

I read this to my friend's toddler, Isabella, and she could not get enough. Normally, Isabella tends to have a very short attention span - that of a two year old! - but she planted herself right in my lap while I read One Was Johnny, not once, but twice! By round two I had her pointing to and naming all of the different animals in Johnny's room, and when we got to the picture of the turtle - who enters as number five and bites the dog's tail - Isabella pointed to him and said "Turtle's ornery!" Isabella's mom and I looked at each other and laughed - earlier that morning her mom had called her little brother ornery when he was being stubborn about getting dressed.

Below is a YouTube video showing a singalong version of One Was Johnny. I don't think the illustrations live up to the original ones in Sendak's book - Johnny wears a blue suit, not a cowboy costume - but maybe cowboys were really popular for little boys that year....

Sunday, May 16, 2010

model tyra banks pens a YA fantasy series

Model Tyra Banks has written a book for teens called Modelland (Delacorte Press). The first of the three-book, YA Fantasy series is scheduled to publish in the summer of 2011, according toPublisher's Weekly. Modelland is about a teen girl living in a make-believe society, competing for a way of life that is both revered and out of reach at a model academy consisting of the world's most exceptional models called Intoxibells, of course. I guess we'll have to wait until next year to find out if Banks hit the right notes. Will her tale tell the timeless story of teen angst? Will it be a coming-of-age fantasy-drama? It will be interesting to see if she's mastered the YA voice and genre - as I discuss here.

Model Tyra Banks via TV Fanatic

I guess Banks does get all sorts of hands-on experience dealing with young girls and most definitely models. I caught a couple episodes of this season's America's Next Top Model. The young lady who won, Krista White, had tried out for the show twelve times I think she said, before she even made it on. She never gave up. She stuck it out until the very end, winning a modeling contract and other nice prizes. I'll admit, there's a lot about ANTM that's a bit cheesy and at times hard to watch, but I admire someone who doesn't give up on their dreams. It takes determination and drive to see your dreams become reality - especially when those dream also happen to belong to hundreds, thousands of others. Maybe we can all learn something from that...?

America's Next Top Model winner Krista White. Photo Credit: Monty Adams/Pottle Productions Inc ©2010 Pottle Productions Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

rude, sad and rude

What makes a person say something rude - unprovoked - to a perfect stranger? Does it make them feel better to put another down? Is there something that reminds them of a bad experience they had which makes it necessary for them to take their anger out on an innocent person?

Today I had my feelings hurt. Today was a crappy day.

I left to run an errand at lunch and saw a blind man tapping his cane against the sidewalk. He wasn't near anything. No crosswalk. No mailbox. No entrance anywhere. Clearly he was lost. People were passing him by left and right, looking at him, but not helping. I approached him and and asked if he was looking for the crosswalk. "I'm just trying not to obstruct the crosswalk," he said, laughing uncomfortably. I felt something drop in my stomach - the crosswalk was at least 100 feet away. So I told him. "The crosswalk is to your left. About 100 feet." He thanked me and seemed uncomfortable, so I left. But I couldn't stop looking over my shoulder. He wasn't moving. I turned the corner. Why didn't I just grab his arm and bring him to the crosswalk? This is what I kept asking myself. But I felt awkward. He didn't seem like he wanted any more of my help. Maybe he was scared because he was lost. I of all people should know what it's like to feel scared so much so that you're frozen and can't react.

So that was on my mind as I walked back to my office. I ascended the steps to the revolving door of my building, where a man wearing a white cap with print was exiting. He had earphones in but I was the only person around. As he passed me I smiled as if to say, "Good afternoon," when I heard him say, "She thinks she's attractive, but she's just plain ugly." I kept walking, knowing full well he was talking about me, before I turned to look at him. But his back was facing me as he continued to walk and mumble about how I was ugly.

I know I shouldn't take it personally because clearly this guy was a nut job. But how could I not take it personally? When someone tells you that you are ugly, it stings.

So my question, as I asked at the top, why do people say hurtful things to someone who they don't even know? What was it about me that made that man feel the need to insult? Was he a little off his rocker? Just got the urge to be mean? Why would I get offended, you ask, by a perfect stranger? I wish I could say that it didn't' bother me, but it did. Mostly his comment made me sad and made me wonder what goes on in a person's mind sometimes. It makes me sad that people can be so negative and callous. I'm not looking for compliments, I'm not. I just don't like being talked to like a piece of garbage by a complete stranger - by anyone for that matter - who does?

Sorry that I'm not my usual positive self tonight. I just feel sad and discouraged. I hope that tomorrow will be a better day....

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

bugs, bugs all around

Sadie recovering from her ordeal....

What a day for bugs! What is it about the month of May that brings them out? Whatever it is, they were in full bloom at my house. Sadie woke me up at 5:45am, jumping on the side of my bed like she was gonna blow, and then after she went out all she wanted to do was eat - what's new? Anyway, her behavior had me all freaked out because she was acting exactly how she did last year when she had a mast cell tumor - bad, bad experience for both of us. So I scanned her over and sure enough found a bump on her side. It didn't feel the same as a tumor, at first I thought it was a skin tag, but when I shined the flashlight on it I realized what I was looking at - a tick! Ahhh! A tick! Nasty little blood-suckers. Sadie's had a tick before, but I've always caught them before they've burrowed into her skin. Eeek, the thought alone gives me the chills. So I iced it, picked it out with tweezers, then dunked the little-sucker in a cup of water. After that I washed all of the sheets and doggie beds in hot, hot, hot water. I called the vet to see if I could get the tick tested but was directed to six different numbers before getting an answer! Can you believe that? Six different numbers only to find out that nowhere in Contra Costa County do they test ticks for lyme disease. Perhaps if I was calling on behalf of myself they would have given my call more precedence. But for my dog.... no. Eventually I was re-directed to the mosquito infection control center where I was supposedly going to be told what to look for in a lyme disease infected tick. Tell me, what does mosquito control have to do with ticks? At this point I threw my hands up. If six different health organizations all within Northern California weren't concerned about my dog getting lyme disease, then why should I? I hope I don't regret my decision. Not that mosquito control could have done anything. Now I'm just going to watch Sadie like a hawk to make sure she doesn't show any signs of the dreaded Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium. I'll be kicking myself if that ever happens.

Meanwhile, while Sadie was resting up from her ordeal, I went on a run where I encountered bees, bees and more bees. Three ginormous bees flew at my face and one tried to crawl into my baseball cap. I must've looked like a freak to the car passing me by as I ripped off my ball-cap like a maniac and shook it out. Then as I neared my house I saw two men standing under a tall, yellow tree looking up. I knew what they were looking at. The week before I had walked under that same tree when I heard a synchronized buuuzzzzzzzz. Bees. Lots of 'em. Sure enough they had a nest. Reminder to stay away from that side of the street.

Now can I help it if I can't stop itching.....

Monday, May 10, 2010

what's your genre, baby?

The May/June issue of Writer's Digest has some great articles on Mastering your Genre. One article in particular for the YA (young adult) writers called YA Today, had some helpful advice from a round table of agents and editors specializing in the teen market. Even if you don't write YA (I do middle-grade) I think you'll take away something valuable about writing for a somewhat fickle audience - teens. Aimee Friedman, Senior Editor at Scholastic, says that "Today's teens in particular tend to be remarkably mature, articulate and pop-culturally aware." She says that in regards to the styles and voices that YA readers respond to, "...teens have an amazing radar for inauthenticity- for "phonies"...YA readers really respond to an authentic voice- one that doesn't feel pandering or dumbed down in any way." This is the same for middle-grade readers, finding the right voice for that age group can also be tricky, but if you keep it honest and real, fresh and frank, as Wendy Loggia, executive editor at Delacorte Press, says, then you're on the right path to continuing the hallmark of what teen fiction is.

here's a pretty good book trailer, too...

One of the most creative sci-fi/fantasy series for YAs I've seen in a while, Scott Westerfeld's The Uglies (Simon & Schuster, 2005)...and the illustrator Keith Thompson was one of my ffa's - flipside featured artist, for the artwork in Leviathan...

The esteemed members of the WD article on YA genre offered their opinions on what they'd like to see more of pop up in their inboxes: well-written paranormal; a good gay novel where sexuality is not the issue, only part of the fabric of the story; and dark-edgy fiction, and historical fiction with a paranormal twist. They also discussed what topics have reached a saturation point for YA readers - vampires! One thing that's for sure, according to agent Stephen Fraser, is that "books about disenfranchised teens will always be around... Books about a struggle with the world will always be around."

I also liked Stephen Fraser's thoughts about about being tired of receiving manuscripts with a dystopian view (hmmm, maybe I should query him) - "Let's be more creative and see something more positive. How about humor? How about surprising kindness? And let's give human beings more credit than to think everyone is basically greedy and hateful."

Are you feeling more prepared to submit your manuscript now, all of you YA writers? Are you sure about that? You might want to read Editor Anica Mrose Rissi's list of nine points that every writer should consider before submitting. The top three are: 1) Revise, revise, revise! (hey, I'm doing this!). I don't want to read your first draft ever. 2) Start with conflict and tension to raise questions, arouse curiosity and create the need for resolution. (this is currently why I am so caught up on chapter one of my book Trevelyn's Shimmer. Chapter one needs to be spot on!) and, 3) Start with the story you're telling, not with the backstory. Throw the reader directly into a conflict and let her get to know your characters through their actions. (...also something I'm doing with my book, although it's easier said than done. For some reason we newbie writers like to make sure that our readers really know exactly, precisely, specifically who and what they are reading about! We don't want anyone getting lost in the woods! Providing a road map for someone driving to your house is all fine and dandy, but it doesn't work in writing. So just stop this. Stop it, now. Trust that your readers will figure things out.)

So, what were the top five golden nuggets of advice that I grabbed from the WD Mastering the YA genre article? These:
1) Emotional truth
2) Compelling plot
3) Strong hooks
4) Unforgettable characters
5) and most importantly, Stay focused on and write about what excites you

Now are you ready to start writing the best YA ms ever? Ready. Set. GO! ...and I'll see you on the bookshelves.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

life and fate....and happy mother's day!

Last night my family and I watched my mom perform with her chorus at the local community civic center. Over 100 men and women - the women dressed in black, velvet tops and dark-red skirts, and the men in tuxes with dark-red cumberbums - lined the stage on rows of bleachers. They sang songs from some of the most beloved American jazz singers - Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Before each song, the chorus director gave a little background on each of the classic jazz singers' lives, explaining how their road to success was born. Almost all of them were lead to music through happenstance....

Ella Fitzgerald, for instance, orphaned at a young age, homeless at one point, and in trouble with the police, had a hard life. But one day, her path took her to New York City's Apollo Theatre for amateur night. Armed with a dance routine and ready to perform, her plans to dance took a backseat when a group of girls before her called the Edward Sisters, also dancers, wowed the audience with their performance, forcing serendipity to step in. Ella, knowing there was no way she could compete with the dancing trio, changed her act at the last minute. Yes, she decided to sing. Can you imagine if the Edward Sisters had gone on after Ella, instead of before? She probably would have danced and America and the rest of the world would never have been blessed with all of the amazing recordings of her talented voice.

Duke Ellington also had an interesting story. His mother was overprotective, so when he got hit in the head with a bat during a baseball game, he was given a new activity - one far less precarious - depending on how you look at it, I suppose.... piano lessons. Without those piano lessons that his mother made him go to, do you think he would have discovered his love of music? Maybe. Maybe not. I guess we'll never know unless someone invents time travel and goes back to change the course of history. In any case, he became the musician he was because someone took him by the hand and lead him around a corner where he met a fate that would change his life forever.

The Unforgettable Nat King Cole via Wikipedia

Give your heart and soul to me and life will always be, la vie en rose...Louis Armstrong via Wikipedia

All of these stories made me think of how interesting life and fate is. A book called Outliers by one of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point (2000), Blink (2005) and a new book, What the Dog Saw (2009) - I can't wait to read!) talks about the phenomenon of why people become successful at something. Where do successful people come from? They're not just grown in cabbage patches overnight. No, their talents are harvested over years and years, or hours, 10,000 to be exact, before their practice really pays off and they are appreciated for their talents. Sometimes it just takes getting hit in the head with a bat before one's true destiny steps in. Sometimes it just takes someone doing something better than you, as the case with Ella Fitzgerald, to find your true calling. And sometimes people - family or friends, or maybe a stranger - are there to give you a guiding hand and help you out in life.

Last night was an exciting night for the choir singers...and not all really in a good way. Towards the end of the first act, a woman in the front row got a look on her face like she'd seen an alien in the balcony. Her cheeks went pale. Her eyes got big. And she started to sway. Seconds later and slowly, very slowly, her body went limp and the two women on either side of her, aware that their peer was falling in the middle of singing the song, ironically, When the Saints Go Marching In, caught the woman who had passed out. They held onto her arms tightly as her body continued to fall. She came to for a moment and looked like she was going to be okay, when she passed out again. This time, her two saints caught her and brought her down to sit on the steps of the first row of bleachers. She had a dazed, lost look on her face. The audience was holding their breath. But as the song ended the woman cheered up. She had support on both sides of her. She had strong hands holding her firmly. And she was not alone. Two women sat on either side of her. She was not alone. This just made me think about all of the stories told throughout the night. It's so important to have the right people by your side to catch you when you fall or to help nudge you forward when you need a little push.

A Katie Couric interview with author Malcolm Gladwell

Not that I am an Ella Fitzgerald or a Malcolm Gladwell - not by far - but I'll never forget the two incidents that I believe helped strengthen my love of reading and writing. Both happened when I was in third-grade. One was when my teacher, Mrs. Laubaucher, read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911). I'd never been so enraptured by a book. And the other was the summer before third-grade when I got in a fight with my sister and I fell off of my dirt bike. I had to get ten stitches in my right knee. It was kind of hard to bend my leg and walk for the weeks that my knee was healing, so instead of playing outside I was in my room reading books. Not that I minded, but I'll never forget how meaningful that summer was and how it strengthened my love of stories.

So what's your story? Was there someone at your side to catch you when you fell, or to propel you in a different direction of life? What or who helped to get you where you are today?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

flipside finds face lift

I'm making some changes to the ole' blogaroo. First, I've performed a little face lift. I got rid of the polka dots. I'm trying to keep things simple. Also, you'll notice (if you've ever read this blog, anyway) that I've added a sub-title called ...and naive advice from a newbie writer. Yes, naive advice, because like many a new writer who is trying to find her way in the writing world, I often stumble upon little treasures of advice that I feel help me as an aspiring one-day-hopefully-in-this-lifetime-to-be-published writer, and I like to share them with you.

Between my naive advice (which actually sometimes isn't naive at all, but, rather, advice I gather from very established professionals writing in very professional magazines and blogs, etc.) and examples of what other published and esteemed writers are doing and writing and saying, I think that, eventually, all of these little golden nuggets of wisdom might actually pay off for me and you (if you happen to be a writer). And by pay off I mean that one day I might finally get paid for something that I write...wouldn't that be nice.

And one last thing....I know that a couple of months ago I said that I was going to add some chapters from the three middle-grade novels I've written (Avondale, Hipster the Crime Sniffer, and Trevelyn's Shimmer). I was also going to include a timeline and agent/editor count to show how many times my novels have been rejected, and a revision count to show, well, how many times I've revised them. I know I said that I was going to do something like that. And I plan to! I'm just not very technically savvy. Also, I'm not ready to share with you the first chapters from my three books. Trevelyn's Shimmer is on her way, but not quite ready yet...

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the face lift and thanks for staying tuned!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

futuristic clothing

Glowing dresses, sparkling t-shirts, flashing silk chiffon...the future of clothing is here. I like to refer to Back to The Future Part II, as you'll notice, when talking about the future, especially when it comes to fashion. I was particularly fond of the self-drying jacket Michael J. Fox wore in the second BTTF movie, and his self-lacing Nike Kicks. Futuristic clothing is something that I get really excited about, so when I saw the footage of singer Katy Perry in a light-up CuteCircuit dress at the Met Gala in New York City last night, I was very happy....

Katy Perry's dress, made by the London based company CuteCircuit, was done in silk chiffon and decked out with over 3,000 LEDs hidden inside the fabric. Throughout the night, Perry's dress morphed from something simple to something magical. She was definitely the bell of the ball, if you ask me. Now I want my own Twirkle t-shirt!

Monday, May 3, 2010

another encouraging rejection

I think I might be one of the world's healthiest writers, because when I receive a rejection I don't run and cower inside of a small, dark hole. Maybe I should want to? Maybe that means I'm not sending out enough work to get rejected therefore I haven't earned as many form letters as one needs to wallpaper a room? Or maybe it's just because I honestly believe that if I work hard enough, one day, this writing thing will actually happen for me, so why exile myself to a dark room?

I got a fresh rejection from Highlights Magazine today for a short story I wrote called The Amazing Deirdre. This was the first piece I've ever sent them, so I guess I can't get too discouraged. And I feel like the rejection was promising - one that makes me think that my writing doesn't totally suck (another reason against self-inflicted exile). Highlights' form letter lists a slew of reasons why your manuscript is being returned. A check mark indicating the reason that applies to your story gives you more insight into the whys. Reasons listed vary from: "It lacks a fresh approach," to, "It has too much narration or description," to, "It involves stereotyped roles," or "It lacks a tight focus." The reason my manuscript was rejected: "It is not suited to our present needs." Okay. I'll take that! I feel like that was one of the more benign reasons. Plus, the editor who reviewed my story wrote me a personal note thanking me for thinking of them.

So what do I do with The Amazing Deirdre now that she's been rejected from my top two picks? Hmmm....that's a good question. Well, I send her onward to the next appropriate magazine. I've got a whole list of em'. I'll wait the average 3 to 6 months that it takes a magazine to reply, and I'll work on other stories and revisions for my book Trevelyn's Shimmer - when will I not be revising Trevelyn's Shimmer? Geesh. One day that book will be all cleaned up and it will rock and you will like it! In the meantime, I'll also be continuing to repress the urge to crawl into any small, black holes.