Monday, November 28, 2011

Florida Panthers - and Other Critters

This evening I am attending a Panther Program for children at our county library here in Southwest Florida. Florida panthers are highly endangered. Their first serious encounters with modern man came with hunters arriving to what then was wilderness to track down trophies. Today the panthers' challenge is to outrun the many cars speeding on the highways.

Great efforts are being taken to safeguard panthers here. The small panther is being brought to the library tonight by the Kowiachobee Animal Preserve so children may see what a baby panther looks like and so they can learn of the efforts to protect these precious panthers.

For a children's writer it's going to be fun and interesting to watch the children observing this tiny but exotic cat. And what great story seeds might sprout from here!

In our travels this year we have seen numerous and wonderful animals that would be intriguing subjects for children's books. When traveling in Bhutan we were hoping to see a yak, but alas, yaks only come down to 10,000 feet or so in the winter and in the summer and warmer months graze at around 12,000 to 14,000 feet in the mountains. But we did meet well built oxen that pulled us in carts through green rice fields one evening to visit a local village. We rode elephants, perched on wooden saddles, to tour Chitwan National Park through the jungle. Perhaps the most fascinating were the Gharial crocodiles that we viewed at a crocodile farm preserve near the park. These crocodiles are protected at the farm and efforts are made to encourage growth of their population. The Gharial crocodiles have an astounding snout! From the long tapered snout that resembles other crocodile types is an extension that is 14 to 22 inches long and an inch or so wide and looks like a pirate's sword! They appear to be an amazing leftover from prehistoric times!

What incredible creatures and critters to pop up on the pages of children's books!

I'm going to watch closely this evening and perhaps come home with a glimmer of a new story.

What critters have you encountered lately? .

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanks for the Words

If you find that you need to ‘butter someone up’, or wonder if the elderly man is ‘as old as the hills’, at ‘death’s door’, or about to ‘bite the dust’, you are thinking in biblical terms. Surprised? I was.

The Bible is a masterpiece of authoring and editing. Culturally so ingrained, often we don’t realize we are referring to it. Consider some of the phrases the Bible introduced into our lexicon:

• Turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6
• Apple of my eye (Deuteronomy 32:10
• The root of the matter (Job 19:28
• The skin of my teeth (Job 19:20
• Fell flat on his face (Numbers 22:31
• Pour out your heart (Psalms 62:8
• Wits’ end (Psalm 107:27)
• From time to time (Ezekiel 4:10
• Blind leading the blind (Matthew 15:14
• Scum of the earth (1 Corinthians 4:12-14)

National Geographic has just highlighted these and other fascinating insights in its December 2011 issue.

With re-readable plots and subplots, a balance of dialogue and description, and a thread that pulls the story from beginning to end, the original Bible text was, in some cases, inscribed on papyrus.  Notwithstanding those tedious chapters on lineage, and even with divine inspiration, how do you pull that off in a draft or two? 

In addition to the Greek and Hebrew-speaking authors, Latin and English translators (e.g., default editors) deserve some credit. Under King James I in England, the well-known English translation was first produced more than 400 years ago. And today, over 100 million Bibles are sold or given away each year. 

Since to everything there is a season (Ecclesiastes 3:1), Thanksgiving seems an appropriate time to stand in awe (Psalms 4:4) of the writers and editors of the Bible. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Monday, November 21, 2011


Okay, I’m not gonna lie…my mind is in a million different places at once. It’s all good – nice, fun sort of stress, but still – coming up with a witty, exciting, fresh post for y’all is challenging today. Seeing that we’re three days away from Thanksgiving, I’m going to talk about GRATITUDE.

I know, not original or fresh, but I told you…I’m stressing here!

I’m grateful for so many things in my life, but since this is a writing blog, I will stick to, well, writing and why I am truly grateful to be in this sometimes (ha!) crazy business.

Truth: writing doesn’t always make me happy. (shocker!) At times it makes me downright miserable. A crappy writing day can spill over into the rest of my life, and suddenly nothing seems right. I’m moody, short with those I love and even the slightest look in my direction can send me into a downward spiral of “Why do I do this again?”

Conversely, an awesome writing day, well wow, does it get any better? Even when it rains and dinner burns and you realize that you’ve been using your vacuum as a coat hanger and the floor is so full of lint you could probably fashion a stocking cap out of it…none of it matters because you’ve been in the zone.

Oddly enough, I’m grateful for both kinds of days. The bad ones because they make me dig deeper. The good ones don’t need any explanation, do they?

I’m also grateful for the people I have met on this journey. I have been blessed to be a part of not one, but two awesome critique groups. I was more than a little heartbroken to leave my NJ group, good crit partners (and friends) are HARD to find! But before I even unpacked my boxes here in my new home, I sent a shout out to my local SCBWI listserv and immediately connected to another writer, who now is not just a writer bud, but a true friend. We started a group and BAM – the five of us have fashioned our own little writer family to support each other along the way. Just last week, I came to the meeting in a not very positive place. I was frustrated with a chapter I’d been revising and the whole process which sometimes seems to flow at a glacial pace for me. As I spilled my guts to people who could really understand where I was coming from, I felt lighter. I left the meeting…dare I say…happy? Ready to tackle revisions again. Throw in a cinnamon sugar bagel and coffee, and what more could you ask for?

Another person who I'm grateful to have met along my writing journey is my agent, Tamar Rydzinski. Having someone believe in my writing always gets me through those rough days I described above. And the gentle nudges now and then don't hurt either!

And last, but most definitely not least, I’m grateful for you Paper Waiters – for reading, commenting, being a part of this online community. It’s nice to be able to make connections through our writing! Happy Thanksgiving!

So, what part of your writing journey are you grateful for?

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Why Bears Sleep All Winter

Just received copies of the December HIGHLIGHTS with my story "Why Bears Sleep All Winter: A Tale from Lapland."

No, I have no ancestral family stories from Lapland. I found this charming story in a tattered second hand volume of Scandinavian folktales published decades ago. The moral of my discovery (ditto the folktale) is to do good works. I was volunteering at a church book sale when I pulled the volume from a dusty donation box.

I've always loved the how or why (pourquoi) stories. One of my favorites is the old African-American one called "Why Dogs Hate Cats." The story begins with dog and cat best of friends until the day they go to town and buy a big ham. On the hot, dusty road going home, they take turns carrying their prize dinner. When dog carries the ham, he always chants, "Our ham, our ham," but when cat carries the ham he always chants, "My ham, my ham." Well, you can see it coming - not far from home cat scrambles up a tree with the ham and eats it all. Dog declares, "I can't get you now, but when you come down out of that tree, I'm going to chase you 'til you drop."

What's your favorite folktale?

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

An Inspiring Author Visit

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a Suzy Kline author visit at the elementary school where I teach K-5 art. She is the bestselling author of the Herbie Jones and Horrible Harry chapter books.

Suzy opened with a greeting and then a disclaimer (paraphrased): If there's only one thing you remember from my presentation today, it is that I keep a notebook in my pocket wherever I go, and you should too!

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a Suzy Kline author visit at the elementary school where I teach K-5 art. She is the bestselling author of the Herbie Jones and Horrible Harry chapter books.

Suzy opened with a greeting and then a disclaimer (paraphrased): If there's only one thing you remember from my presentation today, it is that I keep a notebook in my pocket wherever I go, and you should too!

She shared how she jots down a sentence, phrase, or a few words in her notebook. Even one word can lead to a “seed” or idea for a new story. She shared stories from over 25 years as an elementary teacher and, with the help of a few props, showed how these “seeds” grew into whole characters in her books.

Suzy described her path as a writer and her long journey to being published. She displayed artifacts from laminated copies of childhood stories to her very first rejection letter from a publisher. With an impressive display of published books, Suzy illustrated how her persistence paid off. Suzy inspired the students to write, write, write and never give up!

With a little help from the faculty, including the principal, Suzy brought a scene from a Horrible Harry book alive with an impromptu dramatic performance. The students loved it!

Suzy did a phenomenal job of spreading her contagious enthusiasm for writing with the next generation of writers. At the end of the presentation, each student was given a small pocket notebook.

The least I could do was whip out my journal during my lunch break and jot a few things down. Thanks for the inspiration, Suzy!

Have any of you attended an author visit or illustrator presentation? What did you gain from it?

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Time to Celebrate!

There are the blog posts where I question and the blog posts where I wonder. There are the blog posts where I doubt and the blog posts where I discover.

And then there are the blog posts where I... celebrate!

I love to celebrate!!!!

My book, "Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night?", has a cover! An adorable cover by the fabulous Christian Slade! I am so excited!!!! (I know, exclamation points are my weakness. I should use less of them, but I really am sooooo excited!!!!!)

It is amazing to see my words illustrated so beautifully. And, somehow, seeing my book's fantastic cover makes this whole "getting published" thing feel a bit more real.

Before I know it, it will be May 2012 and I will be holding an actual book in my hands.

Eek! I've got a website and some business cards to make before then!

So, thanks for celebrating with me! And now, back to work. It's time to revise another manuscript...

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Friday, November 4, 2011

What Kids Demand in a Novel

I came across an interesting article in the October 29 Weekend edition of the WSJ, by novelist, Maile Meloy, "What Kids Demand in a Novel." I've been asking myself this question for years.

The article answered this question. I have condensed the points she made:

1. Don't worry about what category the book belongs in. Just write it.
2. Don't write down. Kids read up.
3. When you do have to explain things, it can't feel like an explanation. Try to tell your story through mentors or other characters, preferably while "on the move."
4. Stuff has to happen. Right from the beginning. Kids are highly critical and they lose interest quickly.

Thank you Ms. Meloy. I'm keeping your list taped to my computer.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Searching for Success

I'm a great believer in passion. I want to be passionate about what I write. And so far I have been. I can almost reach delusional about my characters, they become so real to me.

But what about marketability? Isn't that important, too? I'm not suggesting abandoning the passion and writing to trends, but a market tweak here and a trendy tweak there, might be the difference between publishing success and publishing silence.

I recently finished Nova Ren Suma's beautifully written Imaginary Girls. The family-based themes of parental distance and abandonment and sibling reverence and rivalry ring loud, clear and true. But the undercurrent of mystery and magical realism give this book a real twist. I'm certain the author was passionate about her characters, but by placing those characters in her magical world, she's done something really different. Something trendy? Maybe. But when wonderful characters, plus great writing, plus plot with a touch of trend, equals success, who can argue?

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