A Few More Odds and Ends

Q:What do introverts get for Christmas?

Check out the Shrinking Violets “Twelve Days of Christmas, Introvert-Style.” Twelve days of fun giveaways, and reminders that it’s okay to take time outs, breathers, disappear and do what you need to, to save your sanity!

There’s all kinds of fun distracting stuff online today – but the most distracting thing for me is trying to finish a WIP while another story idea is edging around in my brain, waving its hand and asking to be written. WHY is it that every time the WIP gets tough, there’s another idea trying to flirt with me, waving its arms, winking, and leering at me from around the corner??? WHY!??!

My muse is occasionally a faithless pain in the behind.


Via Buzz, Balls & Hype, NBC Nightly News reports that library usage is up 46%! Who knew — in tough times, there’s still a place you can get books for free! The report is a little cloying; a librarian says that sometimes things are a little wild with so many patrons. Says the voiceover: “‘Wild’ is not a word you normally associate with the library.” Um, obviously this person hasn’t been to a library lately. Try going over when school’s out, and there’s a bunch of kids needing homework help, or trying to find something halfway interesting for a book report. And the shallowness just keeps on coming. “There’s Wi-Fi, and movies!” Really? Duh. NBC News: you should get out more.

Congratulations to Lorie Ann Grover on her new board books! SO very cute! I knew Lorie Ann was a YA writer… how did I totally miss the artist thing?!

I had the most fun this weekend going through all of our blog posts for the last year! We chose one of our best (after much waffling) for the Blog Carnival at Jen’s place. Please go over and check out our favorite, as well as the favorites of a whole bunch of others, and definitely wish Jen a happy blogversary! We had so much fun interviewing Sherri L. Smith that we’re doing it again in February — more talk about race and writing YA literature. Definitely stay tuned for that, we had a great, engaging conversation last time.

Speaking of engaging conversations, there are some really great suggestions on revision going on — I’m taking notes, too!

Much to my shock, the word is that Ursula LeGuin is going to allow someone to film another one of her books!! After the SciFi Channel basically firebombed Earthsea and then spat on its remains, I’d be a bit wary, but …she’s apparently going to try again. And good luck to her. (Hat tip, Galleycat.)

I’d never heard of the Unesco Artists for Peace project, but UK author Lauren Child has traveled the world on their behalf in the last eighteen months, meeting kids everywhere, and basically doing school visits with them — in homeless shelters and orphanages. It’s a pretty neat project, really, to travel the world and tell stories.

Two more days ’til I get on a plane and go back to Sunny California — hah, hah! It’s now colder in my home state than it is in Glasgow!! What’s wrong with this picture!?!?

Back to work.

Thoughts on *&#$%! language

Over the weekend, the Poetry Princesses launched back into the fray with work on the sestina project we started six months ago (oy!) and were talking about a certain excellent poem, which is rich in imagery and feeds the senses. We discussed the uses of language in poetry — specifically, some language which could be described as evocative and “salty,” which might raise brows and produce blushes. It was a good conversation, as we spoke of our strengths and limitations in terms of language. I didn’t add much, but it was good to be a part of the circle.

I’m always in awe of the Princesses, because they’re so very real — in ways that I am not, and fear that I can never be. It seems that I am not yet grown up enough to get past the way I was raised, the voices in my head are still ones belonging to my parents and other adults — and I don’t yet see myself as tall enough to escape from their shadows. My writing struggles — like a worm on a hook — to escape. I feel sometimes that I’m standing in the stirrups, cranking back the reins on a runaway horse, which is pawing the air and doing its level best to throw me off and pulverize me. I hold back, I hold on, I censor and edit myself, and I fear that not only can I not do that, but that I can never be a great writer because of it.

A conundrum, in a way. But a necessity in another way.

Our talk about language got me thinking again about the conversation I had with my S.A.M. about a year ago, in which he exclaimed in frustration, “#$%&%! Let the character’s swear!” It was actually a pretty hilarious moment, as far as that goes, but I could not take his otherwise good advice. It wasn’t how I was raised (oh, that again), and it also seems in many ways as big a linguistic shortcut as dropping brand names in a manuscript.

(Now, I’m blogging about this because I’m thinking it through — please don’t jump down my throat and criticize what I’m saying. I really don’t care if or by what you swear or not. I’m just thinking “out loud,” here.)

I remember reading a very popular book a couple of years ago that got a lot of Cybils kudos, but we discussed it in terms of, “Wow, great story — wow, that’s a lot of language.” We went round and round about whether or not it was realistic to the setting (it was), or the ages of the characters (it was), but even having drawn those conclusions, a few in the group had some serious qualms.

Some print reviewers drew some of the same conclusions, and actually alluded to the idea that language and setting together were just iconic earmarks, a kind of hipster in-speak that meant less than nothing. The book received very mixed praise — which probably didn’t mean that teens didn’t read it — and we went on to the next book…

— but that incident stuck with me, and I’ve mulled it over for quite awhile.

Do some words seem to carry with them a kind of cachet, a kind of …intangible attitude? Does a character using profanity automatically allow us to assume other things about them — class? Religion or lack, race or ethnicity? I am not sure — and as long as I’m not sure, I want to use other words to allow readers to come to their conclusions about the characters I write in different ways. I don’t want assumptions or to use characterization shortcuts — unless that’s deliberately what I’m after. So many people have written that unless you’re disturbing the universe with your work, you’re not truly writing… that you’re not being real.

This is how it’s been explained to me: Using profanity in one’s writing is like… not ending a sentence with a preposition (English Major Nerdom Alert). You really avoid going there, if you can, but there are some times — especially in dialogue — when this makes the speaker sound overly stiff and clunky — that you simply have to recalibrate the sentence, or you’ll end up using it. What you’re talking about must be more important than how you talk about it. Surely if how you talk about it gets in the way, there must be a problem…

Are there times when you absolutely positively have to use vulgarity or profanity? Probably not. BUT…

As I write, the universe remains undisturbed. I cannot yet figure out how to disturb it, and keep true to where I’m at…

The Power of Positive

It’s been hard to read Galleycat for the last two weeks — so many publishing houses are hitting hard times — but Firebrand Literary Agency still believes in writers. According to agent Michael Stearn’s Cynsations interview on Tuesday, Firebrand is accepting first chapters in lieu of query letters from December 15th thru January 15. The details are also on the website, and honestly, it’s too good of a deal to pass up, writers. Hat tip toFuse#8).

Also via Fuse earlier in the week, I discovered AuthorsNow!, which is “a collaboration of debut children’s book authors and illustrators who are the fresh and emerging voices in children’s and young adult literature today. Created with the parent, teacher, librarian and bookseller in mind, AuthorsNow! is a one-stop-shop to learn about all of our authors and illustrators.” They already link to Readers’ Rants, so we’ll definitely keep checking back with them. How awesome to find someone willing to celebrate authors and their new books!

Mitali is a friend I’ve not yet met — and she has such a good heart. Instead of spending time bemoaning the publishing industry this year, she’s turned to a positive mental space — and turned others with her. “About a week ago, I started thinking: why not show them some author/illustrator love by planning a massive multi-author signing event? Great idea, right?” Just starting with a little Twitter about how she appreciated independent booksellers, Mitali’s now opened a floodgate of affection and respect for our industry and who we are and what we do — and turned it back to sellers and patrons and kids, which is what this is all about. KidsHeartAuthors.com — is an extraordinary valentine to New England. Which is so very sweet.

Thanks for restoring a little of our faith in the world, Mitali.

I read with amusement the Guardian’s live-blogging of Beetle the Bard, which just this week outsold Twilight. Whee! It’s tiny and it’s not at all HP Book 8, as so many have wished, but it’s out there, and the proceeds go to charity, so that’s a good thing. However, I’m still more amused that it’s bumped Twilight into the …um, dark. And have you seen the Twilight dolls? (Or, wait — is the Edward thing an action figure??)

Oh, all right. If you’re still jonesing for a vampire story, you can download one by L.J. Smith for free until December 21. Thank-you, L.J. Smith! (Via our buddy at Cynsations.)

Earlier this week, SF Signal talked with R.A. & Geno Salvatore, the father-and-son team who are currently finishing their blog tour. I bookmarked the interview to reread later, then discovered to my happy surprise that both Becky and Charlotte got to take part in the tour.

I’ve read quite a bit of R.A. Salvatore, so I’m excited to read this YA/MG book, which is also a Cybils nominee! Definitely go back and visit all of their blog tour stops — some really good comments on SFF and the idea of YA as a marketing target, trying to feed the post-Harry reading gap, writing for kids without dumbing anything down, and the introduction of a strong girl character who will reappear. Boo-yah! Can’t wait to get home and read this one.

I’d never heard of Vera Nazarian until I read about her on John Scalzi’s blog. People in the children’s lit blogosphere are close and supportive, but I love the cohesiveness of the SFF community — how amazing is it that one writer was able to raise over $3K just with people donating after reading a story of his? Or that the combined efforts of a bunch of writers could raise over $20K, and help save this woman’s home and family? I’m not a big fan of holiday sentiment — The Gift of the Magi actually ticks me off — but stuff like this makes me think, “Yeah. We aren’t all sucky.” Which is Very Good Indeed.

I love my little icon about being self-centered. Bad times sometimes bring out the whining narcissist in all of us — but I just love all of these examples of goodwill and balance and reasonableness and positiveness. They help me move forward. I may have to revisit this…

Poetry Friday: Finding My Center

I had so much fun reading Sara’s post a few days ago — because I’m in the process of renewing my visa to stay in the UK another two years and I’m reading the absolutely insane questions that require me to “tick yes or no.”

In times of either peace or war have you, ever been involved in, or suspected of involvment in, war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide?

Have you engaged in any other activities that might indicate that you may not be considered a person of good character?

Tick yes or no.

No. No. No. No. No.
And a thousand times more.

And yet, the last question is sticky. Have you engaged in any activities that might indicate that you may not be considered a person of good character?

Who are you, then?

Meg Kearny’s whimsical, elegant Creed attempts to establish part of an answer to that — and even as thorough as this poem is, we still see only an outline of the poet.

Isn’t that the way it always is.

by Meg Kearney

I believe the chicken before the egg
though I believe in the egg. I believe
eating is a form of touch carried
to the bitter end; I believe chocolate
is good for you; I believe I’m a lefty
in a right-handed world, which does not
make me gauche, or abnormal, or sinister.
I believe “normal” is just a cycle on
the washing machine; I believe the touch
of hands has the power to heal, though
nothing will ever fill this immeasurable
hole in the center of my chest. I believe
in kissing; I believe in mail; I believe
in salt over the shoulder, a watched
pot never boils, and if I sit by my
mailbox waiting for the letter I want
it will never arrive—not because of
superstition, but because that’s not
how life works. I believe in work:
phone calls, typing, multiplying,
black coffee, write write write, dig
dig dig, sweep sweep.

from An Unkindness of Ravens. © BOA Editions, Rochester, New York, 2001.
—read the rest of this poem right here.

From the Earth, only one side of the moon is visible — ever. No matter how any of us may appear, we are only the sum total of the moment we are in — a moving picture of who we have the potential to become. We believe that we see all we are, and judge each other — and ourselves — so harshly, despite the fact that few of us are ever fully whomever we could be.

Life is more than yes/no, 0/1, either/or. This I believe.

Find your own creed this Poetry Friday at Wild Rose Reader, who has invited us for brunch. I think I’m late, but there will surely be leftovers.

Students of History, Unite and Write!

Toon Thursday, pie makers, is all about you. And you know your love for nutmeg. Every once in awhile, though, you can take a breather from your deathless prose, and write something a little more immediate — or encourage the writers in your family to do so. If you’re a high school or college student — undergraduate or graduate — attending an American high school, college or university, you’re in luck.

NLS Publishing is excited to announce the 2008 Students for Change Essay Writing Contest. The contest is open to high school seniors, undergraduate and graduate students who will attend a regionally accredited college or university in the United States in the Fall of 2009.

Students wishing to enter the contest are required to submit a 1000 to 2000 word essay describing “what the election of Barack Obama, the first African-American President, means to you and your family.” Students are encouraged to discuss this historic event with their parents and grandparents, and to incorporate these discussions into their essays. Students may submit up to three (3) photos with their essay.

The top three (3) essay contest winners will receive a $1,000 scholarship towards tuition at a regionally accredited college or university for Fall 2009. Essays will be reviewed by a group of judges selected by NLS Publishing. Selection criteria will include:
• Organization
• Content
• Quality of Writing
• Originality
All entries MUST be accompanied by an Official Entry Form (which will come up as a .pdf), including the signature of the student (and parent, if the student is under the age of 18). Only one essay may be submitted per student. Essays must be postmarked / received no later than January 20, 2009, before 12:00 midnight.

Essays must be typed, double-spaced, and in MS Word format. Essays can be submitted via email, file upload OR U.S. Mail. Here you can find:
the Requirements for essay contest entries via Email ,
Requirements for essay contest entries via File Upload , and
Requirements for essay contest entries via U.S. Mail

If you’re going to take part, r.s.v.p. so that you can receive updates and additional scholarship information from the company. This sounds like a great little project for Christmas break!

*Essay contest winners will receive notification by April 30, 2009

Random Notes and Ramblings

The Literacy Evangelist strikes again! Jen is collaborating with some awesome people to create the PBS Parents Children’s Book Blog! Wow. PBS is getting a really great resource in Jen and all of our awesome kidlitosphere folks, including MotherReader and Susan from Wizards Wireless who is hoping someone can help name the blog. Head over if you have some ideas.

Nice people occasionally get super awesome book covers. (The reverse is also true, but then it has nothing to do with karma, and everything to do with the little black dots on the sun.) Check out Laurie Halse Anderson’s cover for Wintergirls.

Are You There, God? It’s Judy! Check out the classic cover for that book! I really like the reissue cover for Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Just the titles bring back memories. Good times!

“TRYING is such a huge step. You can’t get anywhere until you try. Hearing the truth is FRIGHTENING. I once received very similar advice…basically: write was is true. Write what scares you. Find out WHO YOU ARE in your wip, and dig deep. At the gut level, there must be fear and love.”

Kellye Carter Crocker is at the Tollbooth today, where they’re talking about what keeps a writer in her chair. I’ve really enjoyed the Writing Secrets series lately — some of the truths and secrets really resonate. And speaking of resonating, Liz in Ink is figuring out for me how the world works, and then encapsulating it in blog form. Thanks, Liz!

I first got a heads-up for this very cool necklace Etsy site from from Sara’s Gifts For Readers and Writers, and now via Betsy’s Etsy ravings, I’m back at the amazing Lioness’ Den Etsy page. The necklace that reads, “Go, my book, and help destroy the world as it is,” kind of gives me chills. The one that reads ANTAGONIST, though, that one I could see wearing that on days when people need to KNOW the mood I’m in! Everyone has been pairing books with other gifts — for the older reader or writer, I could see giving these necklaces away with the books from which they quote. Or, find a book to give from Chicken Spaghetti’s Best of 2008 book list.

I’m struggling to write today — a guy named Paul is drilling a hole through the three foot thick sandstone wall outside the living room… it’s a bit loud. And cold, since he’s opened the window and outside it’s 37°. However! Soon I will have hot running water, so all will be well!

The Basics

A Letter In Response To My Young Friend Who Wrote And Asked Me What “The Basics” Were To Writing A Book:

Dear M:

The basics of writing a book are to remember that every story has a beginning, middle and an end. You’d think that would be the easy part, but most people can only start, and never finish.

Think about what you want to write. You might make an outline or even just a list of the things you want to cover so that you remember them all and can touch on them in the way that you want to as you write.

The next thing you have to do is decide to whom you’re telling the story.

Find your audience. Think of one person in the world – a real person – to whom you’re telling the story. And then sit down and type it up. Double space, just like for a school paper. You should use spell check and grammar check so that your grammar is as intelligent as possible.

Every day when you start to write, read what you wrote the day before out loud to yourself. Make the corrections you need to so that it sounds good.

The other basic thing you need to do – while writing – is to read. Read the type of books that you want to write. This will give you some idea of style and the right vocabulary to use. It will also get you familiar with the names of publishers, if that’s the plan for down the road. You can make a list of the publishers, and then research them online to see what their requirements are, and how to approach them. (Every publishing company has Author Guidelines online; it’s just a matter of searching the site ’til you find them.)

Basically, that’s it – you write until you reach the end. It’s ideal to have a group of writers around your own age to read it for you, and discuss it with you – or a writing teacher/English teacher from school can help.

Publishing a book is a different matter, but writing a book – once you decide you’re going to do it – can be pretty uncomplicated. Not easy – but it’s a pretty straightforward job. The most important thing is that writers… write. Every day. So, it’s a matter of discipline, of sitting down and just doing it.

Hope that helps,

(I’m pretty sure that did not help. I think what the author of the letter wanted was for me to tell them, step-by-step, the fail-safe, what-I-have-to-do to get published. I think she figures since I did it, it must be easy. I could have told her that, yes. But see, that’s not what she asked, was it?

See, this is what happens when you ask a teacher a question and you’re not specific…

Wha? Oh, Poetry Friday? Um…

My novel, dear people, is kicking my behind, so I’m going to have to send you over to Miss Rumphius’ Poetry Stretch to see the climbing poem I wrote the other day. Meanwhile, you’ll find the Poetry Friday Round-up between the pages of Mommy’s Favorite Children’s Books.

P.S. — It’s David E’s birthday. Go wish him a happy.

Stars Are Shining!

It’s time again to celebrate another fabulous success! Congratulations Justina Chen Headley on your starred review at PW for North of Beautiful! Justina — and now Jackie — have introduced me to the notion of geocaching, and since it’s in the novel, I think it’s going to be a VERY cool.

Justina’s just back from a sadly truncated year in China, and this is a great welcome home! Yay!

A second but equally BIG YAY goes to our friend C.K., she of the just-being-interviewed-at-Cynsations fame, and the Best Books of 2008 kudos from Kirkus. Woot! Woot! Don’t miss the book trailer for I Know It’s Over at the end of the interview.

Miss Piggy’s beauty routines and a Home Depot barn are possibly secrets to a stunningly gorgeous person. That, and hot chocolate and Arnold Lobel books. The irrepressible illustrator Cece Bell is stopping by at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast during her blog tour of Bee-Wigged, which sounds flat out hilarious.

Happy Thursday!

And, for a further answer to "why we read"…

…you’ll want to read this piece in the Telegraph, which talks about how story is central to who we are. Narrative is never going away, huzzah, and it seems that someone else was as baffled by the whole MIT plan to “keep meaning alive” with their “Center for Future Storytelling.”

EDITED TO ADD: Oh, dear. A writer for SLJ is discussing why boys don’t read. And once again, I’m sad to report assumption and stereotype are lining up. Via Miss R again.

Also — check out the cover of Cynthia’s newest vampire novel, Eternal. Oh, my.