Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Happy foods

It's that time of the year, when we start thinking about food -- well, actually, we probably think about it all year, but this is the season when we might actually think more about what we'll be sharing with family and friends during the all the holidays and festivities that are to come.

I, for one, do that. But I also start zeroing in on eating "happy foods" -- foods that serve as little pick-me-ups for the brain, because for me, being the sun-lover that I am, living in a place in the winter that sees more darkness than daylight, and more fogginess than sunlight (when those temperature inversions set in), I try to keep my spirits boosted any which way I can.

After making my short list (see below), I was happy to see that at least one of my personal favorites was included on many of the happy food lists posted on the internet.

1. Salmon

2. Pomegranate. Yes, I settle for juice, because I haven't the patience to dig out out the fruit.

3. Avocado

No, chocolate isn't in my top three. It's not even in my top ten. And I have to admit it's beat out by another confection of the season. ... Something that I am supposed to learn how to make (this month!) per my New Year's Resolutions back in January. ... Fruitcake. But not just any fruitcake. My grandmother's fruitcake. Although looking at the recipe, I should probably rename it Datecake.

Dates, as it so happens, are included on those famous lists. They make you happy. Perhaps, I'd be willing to bet, they'll make you even happier when you eat them as cake. I like cake. Almost as much as I like pie--with apple being my favorite. ... But that's another story. For now, I'm focusing on cake.

Grandmother's Fruitcake, a.k.a., Datecake

1 pound Brazil Nuts
1 pound Walnuts
1 pound Dates, cut in pieces
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 medium size bottles marachino cherries and juice
4 beaten egg yolks
4 beaten egg whites

Put sugar over dates and nuts. Add egg yolks. Add dry ingredients and cherry juice. Add cherries. Fold in egg whites. Makes 2 loaves. Bake 1 1/2 - 2 hours in 325 - 350 degree oven.

You'll want to oil and flour the pans, too. I suspect, if you have a convection oven, or live in lower altitudes, go with the lower heat range.

Forgive the formatting. Blogger is NOT cooperating!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A bit of books

So, last week my book club got together and between the food and catching up, we actually got around to talking about a few books we'd been reading.

Heather highly recommended Sammy's Hill and Sammy's House, two laugh-out-loud reads by Kristin Gore. Yes, she is Al Gore's daughter, and yes, apparently, quite a gifted writer. I love funny books, so this one has definitely been placed on the top of my to-read list.

Kristen had found the Shopaholic series written by S0phie Kinisella, one of my favorite authors. Her enthusiasm led me to revisit one of my all-time favorite characters, Becky Bloomwood. Heather and Kristen both wondered how anyone (meaning, Becky) could be so stupid (their words, not mine), but they loved her anyway. I said I was just thankful that not all the lightbulbs burned brightly, allowing me to laugh at her little tangles with life--even in the second and third re-readings of the books.

But wait! Now I don't have even more to look forward to! Check out this trailer from You-Tube.

Although she couldn't join us, Vicki suggested via email, The Glass Castle, a memoir (I think) by Jeannette Walls about dysfunctional parents who choose to live on the streets.

I can not imagine this actually being a choice, when one can otherwise be in a secure home, so I think this could be one of those reads that will bring me on an unexpected, new journey.

I, of course, suggested the Uglies, Pretties, and Specials, if you hadn't already noticed my latest entries on Shelfari bookshelf. I could not put these books down and finished all three books within a week.

As far as other decisions left hanging in my last post, I opted to send in my registration for the Utah-Idaho SCBWI conference in Salt Lake City on November 15. Jill Dembowski, the editor coming from Little, Brown, has liked my mss in the past, so it will be nice to meet her in person (if I'm so lucky and, er, brave to make the introduction).

This whole post is feeling rather journalistic, so I think I'll stop and jump back into the fun, free-ranging prose of my latest work-in-progress.


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Utah State Aggies Football ... What a Game!

I've come to renew my belief recently that not much beats spending a beautiful day watching a college football game. Especially when the underdog you're rooting for makes it so much fun by pulling out a series of great plays against a #8 ranked team (BYU).

If you throw out the score from the first quarter, when it seemed the Aggies were beating themselves thru mistakes (fumbles/interception) that gave 17 points to BYU, and focus on the second half of the game when they got their act together, reclaimed their confidence, and just concentrated on playing good football, the Aggies outscored BYU 14-10.

We'll take that victory in the second half. Yahoo!

The Aggies definitely should feel good about themselves, because depsite what the final score shows, the Aggies controlled the ball game in the second half. And that control kept the fans in the stadium, rooting for them until the final seconds ticked, rooting for them even though there really was no way the Aggies would win. But stay and cheer, the fans did. Because watching them out-play and out-run a very good team (BYU) was so much fun, and because we all have been waiting so long for this to happen, with the added bonus that the Aggies' game broke BYU's run of shut-outs that they'd stacked up in their last three matches.

For the players and fans alike, I hope this game fuels a new momentum for USU football.

I can't wait to watch what they do with the rest of their season.

Go Aggies!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Ramblings (Or, Yes, This Post Could Have Been Tighter)

Okay, so it had to happen someday. And even though I didn't want it to, it did.

During a recent conversation with my daughter, in transit to a soccer practice or game--I can't remember which--she used I word that I hadn't the foggiest idea of how to interpret. It brought our conversation to a halt, drew my eyes from the road, added a slight swerve to our vehicular travel, not to mention, aged me instantly in her eyes--the horror!

"What did you just say?" I asked.

She gave a giggle. "I said, 'that's so tight.'"

"As in?"

"Cool. Good." She pulled a face, one probably matching my own. "Everyone's saying it. What's wrong with that?"

What's wrong with it? What's wrong with it?

Lots, but the most grievous offense being that I was suddenly my mother 30 years ago--out-of-touch, uncool--(not that I think she is now, but I might have just a little back then) when I first dished up the word, awesome, to her, and she'd pretty much had the same reaction.

After a moment, though, I laughed. Heartily. (Which, in turn, made my daughter nervous). But I couldn't help it. That's just what the world needs, I thought. One more definition of the word tight, to really stir things up.

I mean, have you ever considered the word tight, and it's numerous contexts?

I did, but only recently. As in, five minutes ago.

According to the Compact American Dictionary, tight graces the English language with 13 definitions. 13!!!!!!

Allow me.

1. fixed firmly in place

2. drawn out fully

3. imperable in construction

4. compact

5. fitting close or too close to the skin, as in snug

6. personally close (slang)

7. constricted

8. stingy

9. difficult, as in a tight spot

10. closely contested, as in a tight race

11. drunk (slang) ---This was news to me!!!

12. securely, as in Hold on tight!;

13. soundly, as in Sleep tight!

No wonder I was confused. And to think I'd thought my daughter had suffered a bump to the head.

Anyway, here's my plea. Just drop it. Walk away. Expunge this new connection of tight=cool from your brains, please, whoever you are that started it. It's not good. And I can't see it getting any better.

So, enough of all that.

On a local, seasonaly note, the sandhill cranes returned to Cache Valley a few days ago, bringing me out the door with their sing-song, high-pitched croaking, to watch as they flew overhead. They were enroute to the wetlands down the road, which they use as a yearly stop in their migration. They'll be here a couple weeks, fueling up on the grains from nearby agricultural fields before heading off again. Although with all the developments that have been built within the past year, I hope the picking are not too slim.

The arrival of the cranes is somewhat bittersweet, though. Usually the in-laws are out visiting at this time of year, and the seeing the cranes is always a highlight. Sadly, with the fuel prices so high, they aren't with us this year. (They were going to drive).

So, here's what I have to say about that.

Down with the fuel mongers! It's all a scam! Far too few people are making far too much money, at the expense of the little people--the people that matter, which are mainly, everyone else, like me. Shame, shame, shame. (We're these fuel-people ever reprimanded when they were younger????)

Other than that, I am considering attending a regional SCBWI conference in Salt Lake City on November 15. It's a bit pricey, but Jill Dembowski, Editorial Assistant from Little, Brown will be there. As will, Ted Malawer from Firebrand Literary Agency, and Victoria Jamieson from Greenwillow, and a slew of talented writers like, Kristyn Crow, Mike Knudson, Kristen Landon, and Emily Wing Smith. .... Decisions, decisions. .... Since an early flu kept from from attenting the conference in Boise with Samantha McFerrin from Harcourt Houghton, I may have to hit this one.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Lost Notebook

I'd lost part of my conference notes. That's the only reasonable explanation I could come up with. Because I knew I'd written down the address for Beach Lane Books (the new S&S imprint being run by Allyn Johntson and Andrea Welch). In my mind's eye, I could see Allyn at the podium giving the address--see myself writing it down--checking with the person next to me to make sure I'd spelled the street correctly--AND YET, it was no where to be found in my legal notepad.

Granted, my notepad was falling apart.

Barely held together with two staples, and missing the cardboard backing, it was highly possible that I'd lost a few, if not several sheets of paper, during all of the moving and shuffling of August. As it was, some sheets were already not part of the whole.

But then, I took a day to clean my office. Go through the tote bags that were left on the floor, sort through the piles piling on my desk, and I found it. The OTHER CONFERENCE NOTEBOOK. The one I'd taken to other conferences earlier in the year and had taken to SCBWI-LA to completely fill up, lest I waste paper if I left the end papers empty. I'd forgotten about it.


There was the address for Beach Lane Books, along with notes from other speakers (some of which I posted about last time from memory).

So, here are a few more tidbits from the conference.

Diane Muldrow of Golden Books said she is actively looking for manuscripts that fit the Golden Book style (age 2-5, light on text, depicting lively stories that convey the wonder of everyday experiences that are new to a child.) Golden Books is now a part of Random House. She mentioned the Little Boy with a Big Horn, The Pokey Little Puppy, The Seven Sneezes, Cowlick, The Donut Chef, and Lucky New Year.

Two other books mentioned by Allyn Johnston were Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes. She mentioned writers Deb Fraiser and Cynthia Rylant. Andrea Welch mentioned Officer Buckle and Gloria, Black Beauty, and Because of Winn Dixie.

Regarding the sometimes tortuous path to publication, writer Paula Yoo said, "Do you want to be published or do you want to write? Do you want to get married, or do you want to be in love?" which I thought was really cool.

Abigail Samoun from Tricycle Press didn't really see her imprint as a small press. They are growing. She said her list of PB to YA titles has grown to 18 books/year, which has tripled since 2000. They are an editorial-driven house, and encourage 1st time authors. Books she mentioned are G is for Googal, Hey, Little Ant, Yesterday I Had the Blues, and Urban Babies Wear Black.

So there it is. If you saw the state of my conference notes, you'd understand why it's a good thing I'm not a secretary to the president.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Summer Conference Recap


Well, I have finally made it back from my coast-to-coast tour, after starting in Los Angeles on July 31 and leaving New Hampshire on August 26. Actually, I didn't really travel through all the states in between -- I only hit two others and those were Pennsylvania and Delaware. Such is the power of air travel!

All in all, it was a fun month, with the SCBWI conference in LA kicking things off (more on that later). And I survived a speeding ticket I hardly deserved. (As far as I'm concerned, when you're driving downhill, the laws of gravity and inertia prevail--that's physics 101!! But apparently, this course was lost on the powers-that-be who set speeding limits.) But I digress. I also outsmarted ticks looking for a way out their briny coastal wetlands and thunderous waves that wanted to thrash me around in their undercurrent.

On the brighter side, I got to run along the shore every morning in Delaware with the riplets of waves splashing around me, while enjoying the company of dolphins, pelicans, and these cute little shoreline birds I must track down the name of.

In New Hampshire, Lake Winnipesaukee treated us right. The relentless summer rain gave way after we arrived and treated us to a week full of sunshine. We waterskiied, tubed, sailed, swam, shopped, canoed, fished, .... it was a blast. But now I'm home and facing a yard and garden in dire need of attention. It's so scary and overgrown, I'm afraid to go outside. Which is probably why I'm in here in my office catching up on my blog.

The only bad thing I seem to have brought back with me from vacation is a swollen ankle. Consultations with highly qualified people like my mother and a couple friends indicate I may have a stress fracture from all that running on the beach. I suppose I should have stopped running after it started hurting the first day around mile three. Wearing footwear might also have helped. But the coast was so beautiful and inspiring, I just couldn't think of doing anything but run every morning. (Plus, the au naturale pedicure (sand, salt, water) was a bonus for the whole deal. As far as I was concerned, each step forward was a step toward baby-buff skin.) And then, when I was in NH, I had to keep running with my daughter and her friend to help them stay in shape for soccer (coach's orders). But now, here I am, with my foot propped on my desk, wondering when I should call the doctor for an appointment. I'm thinking if I stay off it for a while, it might get better. Then again, I've been popping motrins like they're candy for the past two weeks. ..... Oh well, first things first. Blog. Lawn. Writing. Garden. Soccer games. More yard. Sleep. Repeat. Along with a list of a thousand other things that need to get done.

But anywhoooo, the conference in LA was fabulous! I made some great friends, and heard from lots and lots of talented writers and editors. Perhaps one of the more entertaining, enlightening, and table-turning (not quite a word, but I'm using it anyway) was from Arthur Levine, VP at Scholastic, Inc. and Editorial Director at Arthur A. Levine Books. According to his tallies, contrary to what the publishing industry has been saying for the past few years, the picture book is NOT falling.

In fact, the picture book has been doing quite well, at least, as well as it always has done in the past. The biggest challenge for sales of picture books, however, are the depressingly high number of independant book stores that have closed. 2,840 since 1996, to be exact. That's scary.

Lesson? Buy local. Support your indies!

Those independant booksellers play a big role in hand-selling titles, especially new picture books.

Throughout the conference, numerous editors highlighted favorite books or wish lists. Of course, some of those editors are only taking submissions from agents or conference attendees, but the information may be useful to those wondering what's new, hot or wanted in the market at large.

Dianne Hess with Blue Sky Press. Loved getting the mss for Henry's Freedom Box and Adios, Oscar.

Debra Dorfman with Scholastic. Likes funny, laugh-out-loud, high concept series, like Hank Zipper.

David Gale with Simon & Schuster. Greek mythology, SF, page turners, horror (or so it seemed).

Elizabeth Law with Egmont. Mentioned the Moffats. Cheaper by the Dozen. Penderwicks.

Brenda Bowen with Bowen Press. Herbert's Worm Hole. Fresh, unusual, emotional response.

Allyn Johnston with Beach Lane Books. Looking for mss for very young "readers." Mem Fox is a favorite author.
Nancy Conescu with Little, Brown is "always looking for character driven chapter book series. She mentioned a book, This is What I Did. She likes untraditional writing styles, edgier YA with strong voice, and steers clear of quiet literary reads. She also talked about Living Dead Girl, The Patron Saint of Butterflies, and Wave. She said she'd like a YA about living in a cult.
Gretchen Hirsch with HC likes smart, sexy chick-litty novels and offbeat, funny PBs.
Amalia Ellison with Abrams is new and still developing her editorial voice. She mentioned Holes by Louis Sachar, Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, and Goosegirl by Shannon Hale.
Namrata Tripathi with Hyperion looks for voice. She mentioned John Rocco's Moon Powder, Julian Hector's The Little Matador, and a nonfiction picture book, One Thousand Tracings.

We also heard from other authors, who were all entertaining and inspiring. Here are a few tidbits.

Leonard Marcus said that in stories, it is the emotion that is important. As he shared the letters written by Ursula Nordstron from his book, Dear Genius, he showed that everyone has had self doubt, even Maurice Sendak. His advice for finishing a novel was this (or maybe it was Ursula's): write a catalog copy. What does the book say or do when the reader is getting to the end?
Alan Katz, author of OOPS! and other books, advised writers to take poetic license and make up words to make rhymes work.

Bruce Coville, author of numerous books, including My Teacher is an Alien, said the best endings turn on a moral choice between two mutually exclusive goods--not between good and bad, or between 2 mutually exclusive bads. And the choice has to be difficult for the character to make. Also, write your story by asking questions and then inventing scenes that answer them.

Rachel Cohn, author of many YAs, including the soon to be released as a major motion picture, Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist, said she asks and answers three questions in her stories. What does the character want? What is in the way of them getting it? Do they still want it after they get it?

Margaret P Haddix, author of the Missing series, asks this important question in her critique group. Why? What is your character's motivation for doing that? (and her personal real-life-nightmare is a computer hooked up to a piano keyboard that could only use the letters A thru G.) funny!
Quotable quotes...............

"If you feel like you're taking a flying leap, I guarantee you that you are." Mark Teague

"To act from joy takes more courage than to act from fear." Bruce Coville

"The first audible sound we make is through tears. The first comprehensible sound we make is laughter." Bruce Coville

"Slow down, and be patient. Become an expert in your field." Steven Malk

Lastly, from Susan Patron, author of The Higher Power of Lucky: "We, our books, are doing good in the world, and that is a fine thing."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Cheers and Other Bits, like What Makes Your Character Special?

Summer has been on its crazy roll. I've been out and about with the family through three different states the past few weeks, so that explains why it's been a while since my last post. Our first stop was in Cedar City for the Utah Summer Games where my daughter competed in a soccer tournament. Her team did well with a win, a tie, and a close loss, but the highlight was seeing Jo on the front page of the Daily News on day 2 of our trip.

Here's the photo that was published with her (in orange) running down the ball (and winning it from the opposing team).

She plays sweeper and forward, and does a great job getting the plays done in both positions. (That's me -- the proud mom!)

While tracking down this photo for my post, I also found another shot of her on The Spectrum website, which was taken during the same game.

After we returned from Cedar City, my husband announced we should plan a trip to Yellowstone. The fact that he wanted to take this trip the following week didn't seem like an insurmountable problem to him. Then again, he wasn't the one who would take the task of planning it. I was. So, I spent the next couple days figuring out the wheres, whats, and hows of making a few days with the whole family a reality.

As it turned out, planning a trip on short notice wasn't such a big deal, especially since we would be camping. We spent a couple days in Teton National Park, then a few days in Yellowstone, and had a blast horseback riding, hiking, boating, and yes, camping. The weather couldn't have been more perfect for mountain camping. The days were warm and the nights cool, but not unbearably cold.

Speaking of "unbearably" -- we did see a bear. Two, in fact. Little black bears, about 2 years old. One in the Tetons and one in Yellowstone. They looked so cute and cuddly, they seemed practically pettable, as in, "Wouldn't it be cool if we could pet them?" No. Not. I'm not that silly. We kept our distance for the most part, and kept our food properly stored at night, far away from our tents to keep wandering bears from getting any sort of ideas that our tents held a smorgasbord of flavorful offerings.

En route to our camping site, my ten year old tried to convince me that letting him "mark his territory" around the tent was a good idea. ...... Marking as in . . . ? Let's not go there. ..... Needless to say, I thought NOT, and nixed that idea in the bud, and told him that Wandering Bear might turn into Snarling, Growling Bear if he started sniffing around and found that there was a territory worth fighting for. Boys. They never cease to make me smile.

All in all, I'm happy to say we are pretty much home-bound for the next month, so I'll be able to work on my novel, and get a few other things done like, mowing the lawn and tending to the vegetable patch, which is looking a little worse for the wear in some parts. Usually I spend a Handful of Saturdays at the Cache Valley Gardeners Market selling my bounty of produce.

One customer from Arizona who spends his summer here actually called while I was driving from Cedar City and asked when I'd be back at the market with my gooseberries. Since I'm one of the few that grow and sell them here in the valley, and since they are worth their weight in gold as far as taste in Gooseberry Pie and jam goes (Snow White really did know what she was doing when she won over those dwarves), I assured him that from one gooseberry-lover to another that I'd be back in July. That's right around the corner!

Oh, and I wanted to share the good news! Have you heard about the book, Don't You Marry the Mormon Boys by Janet Kay Jensen? Janet was my co-author for The Book Lover's Cookbook, and her novel has been snagging all sorts of awards and recognition. The latest award was given at the Book Expo in LA for best new religious fiction. I couldn't be happier for her. Hooray! Check out more for yourself at her blog, where you'll find lots of good posts, and other news and tidbits, like her cool new book trailer.

As for the rest of what I've been meaning to post, I wanted to write about characters. All my driving/traveling of the weeks past gave me lots of time to think and mull, and basically I decided that when it comes to writing, one of the most important questions you need to ask and answer before you start writing is, "What makes your character special?"

While it's true that characters can be anyone or anything, the truly captivating ones are those that have something special about them. When we first meet Harry Potter we see that not only is he an orphan, but he's an orphan with a mysterious scar and strengths/powers yet to be discovered. Primrose Squarp from Polly Horvath's Everything on a Waffle is also an apparent orphan, who believes to her core that her parents are still alive--despite the fact that everyone else believes they are dead. She also has a penchant for interesting recipes. And Joey Pigza, a likeable boy with a sense of humor, in Jack Gantos's Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, cannot, cannot sit still no matter how hard he tries. The list goes on and on, but I'll stop there. I mention it here because this was something I struggled with in beginning my latest novel--trying to figure out what was missing--and with my latest drive-time/down-time, I think I've worked it out.

Have a great day!

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Good Day

So, I spent Saturday at the SCBWI spring workshop in Salt Lake City where I got the chance to meet Molly O'Neill, who is the assistant editor with The Bowen Press, a new imprint at HarperCollins Children's Books. And guess what? She loved the new middle grade novel I'm working on! Based on the premise and first ten pages, she wants to see it when it's done, which absolutely tickled my toes. I'm so thrilled. That's just the sort of revived up energy I need to carry me through the home stretch. Thank you, Molly!

Not only that, she gave a fantastic presentation titled "How to Catch (& Keep) an Editor's Attention," which focused on the beginnings of stories -- basically, what draws a reader (and editor) in. If you're wondering what sort of books Molly likes, I'd have to say, she likes a lot. (She talked about 21 different books, and that was her short list.) But here are a few she mentioned.

That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown by Cressida Cowell & Neal Layton.
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D Schmidt
Toot and Puddle by Holly Hobbie
Dovey Coe by Frances O'Roark Dowell
Orville: A Dog Story by Haven Kimmel

Happy writing, everyone! Time to get busy........

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

SCBWI Conference in LA 2008 (and other things)

OKAY! I've done it!

The tickets are bought. The registration is completed. And wha-la . . . I'm in for the SCBWI conference in LA.

Can you tell I'm excited?

Good. Because I am!!!!!!!! (And no, I'm not one to shy away from using exclamation points. In fact, I love exclamation points, especially when they are needed.)

This year's conference is going to be great with FOUR full days of children's book stuff from children's book authors, like Margaret Peterson Haddix (my daughter loves her) and Lisa Yee (who has been on my must-read list with her book, Millicent Min, Girl Genius) and Bruce Coville, whose books are beginning to line my son's shelves. Plus, there'll be loads and loads of children's book editors--more than I dare count. (Well, I could count them, but why put a cap on the excitement level?)

Anyway, I can't wait to meet other writers, maybe talk with some editors, see what's up and coming in the children's book market for next decade, AND if I'm lucky, find a way to become a part of it.

As for my last post, I thought I'd try and find some great 14th lines from some favorite books that I know. Let me tell you, this was no easy feat, because from some truly wonderful books that we know kids are enjoying, we have fourteeners like this:

She got pretty good. (Olivia by Ian Falconer)

They wait. (A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban)

My name is Percy Jackson. (The Lightning Theif by Rick Riordan)

"I'm hungry," Seth said. (Fablehaven by Brandon Mull)

So, I could have just ended it there by saying that what I wrote before about 14th lines is all a bunch of Phooey. But I didn't, and I won't. Because I still believe that everything that comes after that awesome first line of a fantastic story is linked to what came before, as well as what is going to come next. (I got that bit of insight from Dean Koontz (Odd Thomas) when I was working on The Book Lover's Cookbook. And I also won't say it, because I did find fourteeners (zingers at the fourteenth line) like this:

I knew if something wasn't done quickly, the sanitation department would have to pick up a dead dog.
(Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls)

But things can come together in strange ways.
(Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt)

He skidded to a stop and smiled right at me.
(Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo)

Not the tiniest sound could be heard anywhere.
(The BFG by Roald Dahl)

They were selfish and lazy and cruel, and right from the beginning they started beating poor James for almost no reason at all.
(James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl)

Just don't ask me to be nice.
(The Book Thief by Markus Zusak)

Did they not want me after all?
(Jinx by Meg Cabot)

So, there you have it. Intrigue, suspense, interesting images . . . they all can be found at the 14th line, or anywhere in a good book--although they don't have to be derivitives of 14, of course. But I'd be willing to bet, that in our favorite stories, good sentences like these can be found in abundance, and perhaps when we least expect it...

Write on, everyone!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Got that first line hook? Yes? How about the 14th?

My daughter's soccer coach started the season with a pep talk.

"We're only as good as our 14th player," he said. Then he added, "Of course, we don't have any '14th players.' Everyone on the team brings something unique and different to the field."

I loved it when he said that. The girls did, too. Their eyes lit up, they nodded, looked around at each other; because they knew it was true.

Sure, there are a few strong players on the team, but they can't hold their own in every position. And they can't win the game alone. They definitely need the whole team.

The fourteenth player statement got me thinking about my own work -- my books and my writing -- because I think the philosophy is a good one to apply.

Writers hear over and over again how important it is to have a great opening line, an intriguing first scene. As readers, we've experienced this. Some first lines even stay with us, long after the book is closed. . . . It was a dark and stormy night. . . . But what about every other line that follows? Do they deliver everything the first line has promised by way of a satisfying story?

If it's a good book it does.

Writers and readers may focus a lot of their attention on the first line, but it's the fourteenth line, the fourteenth page, the fourteenth scene, the fourteenth chapter, the fourteenth character . . . that keep the reader turning the page. The fourteens may be what make a book a best seller.

In a good book, from the very first line, every word that comes after is intricately tied to every word that came before. In a good book, every sentence contributes something unique and important in moving the plot forward. In a good book, every detail, every sigh, every twist, every new discovery, is what keeps the reader reading until the end; and sometimes, when the end is reached, a good book drives her to return to the beginning to read the story all over again.

What a great place to bring a story--full circle. Literally. Because of number 14.

From now on, I think I'm going to weigh my writings there.

(photo credit of #14 Thierry Henry: Eddie Keogh)

Friday, April 11, 2008


Okay, so it's been well over a month since I last posted, and I've got good reason.

What have I been doing? For one thing, I've been teaching eighth grade science (physics--aghh!) for a teacher on maternity leave. It's been fantastic, overwhelming, rewarding, tiring, and everything in between, but all in all, well worth the time spent. Plus, I've also been coaching soccer (for my youngest son's team), shuttling my other two kids to their practices and games, and getting in a last few runs of winter skiing. Put all that together, along with everyday living and writing, and it doesn't leave much time for blog posting.

But, here I am, ready to fill you in on stuff that might be worthwhile to share. Like the writer's conference at UVSC. I did go to it, and better yet, I got the chance to hear Kirby Larson speak and then later chat with her, which in and of itself, was like opening a beautifully wrapped, unexpected gift.

In the picture above, Kirby is in the middle, my friend and fellow writer, Sara Olds, is on the left.

Kirby wrote the wonderful, Newberry Honor book, Hattie Big Sky. Did you know she wrote 7 books and had them published before she got an agent? I didn't. I mean, as writers, we hear that this happens--that writers sell books on their own without an agent all the time--or, some of the time--I'm not sure on the exact "time" reference in that . . . . And we hear that it takes lots of hard work, but getting published is doable, if you take time to learn the craft and make the contacts at conferences . . . but to actually talk with another writer who has found so much success and acknowledgement for her talent by doing it that way, makes the goal of publication and pursuit of writing seem all the more tangible.

I also got the chance to hear David Small and his lovely wife Sarah Stewart. My friend Claudia bonded with Sarah and David during the last moments of booksigning. I'm so happy I captured the moment--or, the after-moment. Tears in photos can be so misunderstood. At any rate, I believe they are kindred souls.
And I couldn't leave the book store without getting David's hilarious illustrated book, When Dinosaur's Came With Everything, which was written by Elise Broach.

And I just ordered Sarah's The Gardener, which David also illustrated.

According to my friends, Sara and Claudia, this book is their favorite book EVER. So, I can't wait to get it.

Lastly, I got the chance to meet Alexandra Penfold, assistant editor at Paula Wiseman Books at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Let me just say that any author who gets to work with Alexandra is incredibly lucky and blessed. Alexandra is smart, witty, kind, and definitely knows her stuff. Kudos to them. If only, if only.

That's all for now! Happy spring!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Upcoming Conference

In four weeks I'll be attending the UVSC Forum on Children's Literature at Utah Valley State College, and I'm so excited to go. The organizers have put together an all-star group of presenters, including Caldecott Medalist, David Small (author of Imogene's Antlers and illustrator of So You Want to be President) and Kirby Larson, who wrote the Newberry Honor winning book, Hattie Big Sky. It should be a great weekend.

In the meantime, with the flu bug whipped, it's back to working and writing. It's amazing how different the world and unfinished projects look when one's feeling good. Instead of a daunting mountain, incapable of being scaled, that manuscript hangs before me like an exciting invitation, offering a fulfilling challenge to finish it.

Wherever you are, make it a great day!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Digging for gold (or maybe something sweeter)

So, I've just finished shoveling for what feels like the up-teenth day in a row, and guess what? The forecast promises more fluffy white stuff will fall on Wednesday (that's the day after tomorrow).

Since our driveway is huge, and the snowbanks are now over my head, this chore just keeps getting harder since the distance for heaving keeps getting higher. After an hour and a half of shoveling three lowly inches off the concrete, I actually have a shoulder cramp.

But today . . . today, I did get a pleasant surprise in the midst of it all -- the invigorating scent of lavender from a place least expected -- the bottom of the snow bank. My shovel had scraped the branch of lavender, and when it did, it sent that purple smell floating up through the chilly evening air, reminding me of the warmer months that are inevitably ahead. Yes, an end to all this work is in sight, even if it's hard to believe right now.

Kind of makes me want to apply the same hope to the manuscript I'm working on--that all this shoveling through words, scenes, story, drama, will inevitably lead to the unearthing of another kind of pleasant surprise--a story worth sharing after months of hard labor--but not without more sweat equity. Nothing good ever comes easy. That, I know.

So, while the weather keeps dropping more snow, I'll keep pouring over my manuscript during down-times, hoping for that moment unexpected surprise--the realization that the buried "gem" I've been laboring for months to unearth is finally within my sight.

Until then, happy shoveling!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Getting Happy in the New Year

With it being January, I suppose it's only fitting to talk resolutions. Well, I won't talk about ALL of them. Just one really. The one about staying HAPPY throughout the year. As it so happens, this resolution resides in the number one slot. (I figured putting this resoluton ahead of the others would help keep all those that follow on track.) And also, . . . maybe I was kind of cheating, . . . because how hard can it be to be HAPPY when that's all you want to be?

Well? . . . I have to admit, those after-holiday retail sales certainly helped get me off to a good start -- or, so I thought.

Unfoturately, my glee was short-lived. All because of an innocent purchase of a pair of pajamas. Yes, pajamas. Who can't not get happy over a new pair of pajamas? Warm, cozy ones, at that? I certainly did--especially when they were covered with Happy Bunnies.

Happy Bunnies like this one.

Yes, I know--they may seem slightly juvenile for a grown woman. Truth be told, my husband wondered why I'd raided my daughter's dresser. Still . . . being completely naive, I told him I hadn't. I told him I'd bought them of my own free will, simply because
1) they were so WARM, and
2) that bunny was so SMILEY, and
3) that color was so PINK, and
4) because of all that, I couldn't say, "NO," to them.

My kids filled me in on the bad news later, when they saw me sporting my new duds.

"Uh, that's the bunny that thinks he's perfect and everyone else isn't," my daughter said.

"And that's the bunny that says, 'Hi, Loser!'" my son added.

What? 'Hi, Loser?' My thoughts raced, then took a nose-dive.

This Happy Bunny isn't really happy in the truest sense of the word?

This Happy Bunny is happy, because he's so RUDE?

I couldn't believe it. Didn't want to believe it. And went into a period of denial for about a week, until I got up the muster to do a bit of research. Turns out these pjs actually come with a warning label. No joke. I found this one at http://www.toyd.com/:

WARNING: Happy Bunny products are designed for teenagers. A little too raw for the little ones.

So, . . . I'm floored. My happy-reality bubble is popped. Fizzled. All because of a stupid bunny.

There I said it. I called a happy bunny stupid.

Yeah, I'll say it again. "Hi, Stupid!"

Guess he's rubbing off on me. And guess my new year is off to a great start. Thanks, Loser! ; )

Monday, January 7, 2008

Pigs, Mice, and Stories That Speak to a Boy's Heart

First, you'll never guess what showed up on my doorstep the day after I posted my last entry. . . . Fruitcake! I found the whole experience hilarious and delicious. Just goes to show how life's surprises can make us smile.

The holidays brought lots of new books into our home. My sister gave me Alice Sebold's The Almost Moon, which I'm looking forward to diving into. My daughter, a bigger bookworm than myself, got Fablehaven by Brandon Mull, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, and Tale of Hill Top Farm by Susan Whittig Albert. My oldest son got Dangerous Book for Boys, three Geronimo Stilton titles, and the new Nixie's Song by DiTerlizzi and Black. And my youngest son's library (age 7) included three books by Arnold Lobel: Small Pig, Ming Lo Moves the Mountain, and Owl at Home. Arnold Lobel is his favorite author, and has been since he started choosing his own books last spring.

Which makes me wonder about the whole "boy" book genre that editors look to fill. These Arnold Lobel titles aren't packed with "nail-biting" action and adventure. Nor are they mystery, or science fiction, or fantasy. The characters aren't quippy, fast-talking boys, or loaded with "bathroom" humor. They're just simple stories, about simple, charming characters that find themselves in simple situations encompassing subtle, clever humor. Not to say, that my son is simple-minded. Or quiet. Or mild-mannered. He's all boy--into football, soccer, basketball, and getting dirty, or snowy, or muddy on the playground, just like anyone else. He loves pirates and science fiction and action movies. And he's super smart for his age--IMHO. A good student. Who happens to like good, solid stories. Like those written by Arnold Lobel.

Mouse Soup was his first book. And after we finished it one night before bed, he wanted to read it again. Then, after we read it about 5 times over the next few days, he discovered that there were other Arnold Lobel books listed on the back cover of Mouse Soup, and he wanted to read those, too. So, Mouse Tales and Grasshopper on the Road were quickly added to his collection.

But this wasn't our first introduction to Arnold Lobel. After organizing bookshelves over the holidays, I realized that this author had also been a favorite author of my older son. Lobel's, Frog and Toad were reread many times by both he and my daughter.

So, is there a "boy" book? A magic plot or combination of story elements that editors dream of publishing? I suppose there is. But there are also simply good stories. Stories that draw a child into another world, open their eyes to a way of being that they can relate to, or want to relate to, whether they be boy or girl, child or adult. And I guess I like seeing that experience happen in my children, thanks to authors like Mr Lobel. So, I'd like to thank him, and other authors like him, who worked and are working to bring good stories to life.

If you're looking for good books for the young child in your life, here are a few of my son's favorites (age 7, first grade).

The Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo.

Any book by Arnold Lobel: Frog and Toad, Mouse Tales, Mouse Soup, Small Pig, Grasshopper on the Road, Ming Lo Moves the Mountain, Owl at Home.

Harold and the Purple Crayon adventures by Crockett Johnson.

Olivia (etc.) by Ian Falconer

Henry Hikes to Fitchburg by D.B. Johnson

Click, Clack, Moo. Cows That Type (etc.) by Doreen Cronin

And click below to learn more about Arnold Lobel

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Fruitcake. . . . Or, How the Bubble Finally Popped.

Fruitcake was always a mystery to me. I mean, how could a dessert, that was so varied in its appearances, so long-lived in the history of cooking, have gotten such a bad rap? My great-grandmother on my father's side spent years perfecting her fruitcake recipe. Her hand-written cookery journal holds at least five different versions. And of the hundreds of cookbooks I've read over the years, I've seen as many different recipes.

So what's the deal? Surely, a sweet bread holding all this attention was worth the effort? Who cares if it needs to be carefully sawed through with a serrated blade?

How did it happen that ducking neighborly deliveries of fruitcake became a household joke around the holidays? Was commercial-mass production really to blame, as historians say?

Having grown up in a rather rural, mountainous area, I never quite grew to understand that spirited animosity. Partly I suppose, because unlike Urban/Suburbanites, we simply didn't have all that many neighbors. And partly I suppose, because thanks to a grandmother and mother who like to bake, I grew up liking fruitcake.

Yes, I grew up liking fruitcake. Eating fruitcake.

Devouring it, at the holidays, I'll admit. Just like this last one.

I'd forgotten my fondness for this dessert, actually. Having dismissed fruitcake as a dessert not worth making, thanks to popular opinion, I never bothered; and TIME, that tricky enigma, shuffled such memories to the darkest, deepest depths of my mind.

But thanks to Mom, who always has a way of doing something extra-special--who took the time to dig out Grandma's recipes and get to work long before the holidays began--those memories came flooding back this Christmas.

My grandmother, when she was living, made a great fruitcake. She'd send it out to us from Minnesota, along with her Norwegian lefse and a dozen or so cookies that she called rocks. The rocks, I didn't much care for, but the lefse and fruitcake . . . they were my favorites.

Funny, how I never quite connected THAT fruitcake -- the one my grandmother made -- with the other one -- the one everyone else seemed to hate, or pretended to hate when the holidays rolled around. Such is childhood. The bubble-world of every child's universe.

... I, for one, am so glad it finally popped. Because this year -- 12 months from now, I intend on jumping into the world of fruitcake preparation. Yep. I do.

So, neighbors and friends, watch out! I certainly hope that you'll rediscover, like I did, that fruitcake is so much worth it's every last ounce in gold, and then some.

I guess that's one New Year's resolution I'll work to keep: learn to make fruitcake.

Happy New Year!