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Thankful Thursday-A Tough One


The thankful part is for all the wonderful friends I've made on LiveJournal the last few years. The tough part is that I've decided I need to close down my LiveJournal blog.

Wait! I'm not going away. :)

Most of you, but not all (?) may know that I also blog at my wordpress website,
www.beckylevine.com. I started this site/blog last fall, when I knew I was for sure getting to write the critique book and wanted a better, more professional site. At that time, I couldn't stand the idea of letting LJ go, and I thought I should keep the posts at my website more...not sure what. Yes, professional. Maybe instructive/helpful? So I got into this blogging-at-two-places thing.

Ack.

It worked for a bit, but I've been feeling spread thin, in terms of blogs, for a while now. And--here's the rub--because I need to keep a post or two a week up at the other blog, I'm doing less of my fun, more personal blogging here. And that's not making me happy. So...I'm going to combine it all. At the other place. I'm going to close down the LJ blog and move myself and my more casual posts about life, writing ups & downs, and kids' book reviews and contests over to the wordpress blog. (I'll still be trying to get one "meaty" post up once a week-ish.) So, if you like this blog, you don't have to miss me. :) I've got an RSS feed up on the site, and many months ago, the generous
Susan Taylor Brown created a specific-to-LiveJournal feed here, in case you want to add the other blog to your LJ Friends page.

I'm not shutting down the account, because I'll still be reading your posts on my own Friends page, and I'll be commenting! The writers and other bloggers on LiveJournal are such an incredible community; you guys are my drawing-board, my support system, my reality check. You're one of those big parts of life that remind me why I'm doing this work. Again, that's the THANKFUL part. It's also the sad part.

But...I'm hoping, truly, that you'll all come along for the ride. Even though this move isn't going to change anything for me, in terms of actual numerical minutes of time, my hope is that it's going to loosen things up for me over at the other site, and I can get back to loving to blog. 'Cause that's where I want to be. :)

See you all around the blogs, one way or another!

Thankful Thursday


1. I'm thankful the latest heat wave decided to only hang around a couple of days. The house is cool enough to work and think again.

2. I'm thankful my son is having a good time at his cousin's--going to the Exploratorium, riding some concrete slide thingy, and doing the Alcatraz tour this weekend. It means I can have long hours of productivity AND non-productivity without feeling guilty.

3. I'm thankful for people who are happy to help with research. Yesterday, I talked to a museum librarian in Chicago, and was so nice--completely welcoming about my questions and my upcoming visit. I also emailed back & forth with....IDA B. WELLS' GREAT-GRANDSON. OMG.

4. I'm thankful that husband and I are getting fun time together this week. Last night, we saw The Proposal and pretty much laughed the whole way thru. Tonight, we're meeting friends in Santa Cruz at a Sri-Lankan restaurant we've never tried. We may even go for ice cream.

5. I'm thankful that I've got things relatively together for the Chicago trip and that I got thru the copyedits for the critique book. (They're working on the page design now!) This means that I'm actually going to be able to step back into the WIP a bit this week & get reacquainted with the story.


I just finished reading Mary Pearson's The Miles Between, and I loved it. I posted over at my other blog about secrets today and what I've learned from seeing how Mary uses them for tension in both this book and in The Adoration of Jenna Fox.

Everybody's been saying this--that The Miles Between is very different from Jenna, and I'd agree. But I really loved it--the quirkiness of the kids and they day they have and what it leads to...wonderful.

So I'm supposed to post photos of the book in my hometown. Well, I don't live in a hometown--we're about five minutes outside of Los Gatos, California, just a bit up into the mountains. I knew, though, when I saw the contest, exactly where I wanted to take the photos.

Here's the ARC.


And here's me, the ARC and both of los gatos.


 
This driveway is just off Highway 17, the road that leads from Los Gatos over the hill to Santa Cruz. It's at the end of a big parking lot, at the other end of which is The Cats restaurant. The restaurant is in a really old building, up against the hillside--and it used to serve great steaks in a very funky atmosphere. Last year or so, the owner decided to retire and sell. We've held our breath, hoping someone would take it over and keep it funky, that it wouldn't be torn down for something new and shiny. And it looks like we're going to get our wish--it's going to reopen, and all reports point to the new owner staying true to as much of the old aura as possible.

I have no idea what the cat statues are about. The funny thing is that I have never seen anyone go in or come out of that gate. I think I always thought of that driveway and whatever was up there as abandoned. Nope. Just as we were packing up the book and camera & getting ready to leave, a shiny, new, bright yellow SUV (land rover, maybe?) drove out. And I'm not going to give away anything about the book, but after reading it, that just seems such an amazingly perfect thing to have happened, on that day.

So, that's where the ARC made it to this week. And today, as promised, I asked son to draw the name of my contest winner, so we can send the book further along on it's roadtrip.

And son drew...Jeannine Atkins! Yay! :)

Jeannine, my turn to need YOUR mailing address. Send me an email & I'll put the book in the mail! And Mary's "rules" for the roadtrip are here at her blog.

Two Pieces of Happy News on a Wednesday


Two hours ago, I sent off the email with the latest set of revised files for the critique book. Okay, there are two tiny files still coming my way, but I don't expect any changes of real size, so I'm calling myself "done." I think the next step is the page design, and since I am completely artistically challenged, I am beyond pleased to think of this job in someone else's creative hands. And I can't wait to see what it all looks like. In each of the the how-to-critique sections, I've got examples of an overall written up critique, and a page of line-editing critiquing. When I typed in the info, it got the point across about what I wanted to do, but it looks pretty much like...garbage. I'm really excited to think about these being transformed into, well...not garbage.

The second thing is that I decided, once again, that this is not the month to do lasik. Maybe, hopefully, not the year. I know, I know--just lay down, open my eyes, and let them cut. And I might still go there. But my wonderful, genius, patient-saint-of-an-eye-doctor has come up with another way to try and make it all work with glasses. And, yes, while you will now get to see that old-fashioned bifocally line across the lenses when you meet me, I will hopefully have a vision tool I can work with.

Plus I got to pick out new frames, which is always fun. These are just a little less John Lennon/Benjamin Franklin and a little more...oh, I don't know. I'll have to get a new profile pic, and you can tell me.

So today ends with me once again revision and eye-slicing free. Which makes me perhaps a wimp, but a happy wimp.

Tired Tuesday


If you're interested in being a stop on the road-trip of Mary Pearson's ARC, The Miles Between, don't forget to leave a comment at my contest post. We'll draw the winner Friday.

Got myself to push through a LOT of chapters today, just checking last stuff on the copyedits. My eyes are bonked, but it feels good. A couple of things to finish up in the morning, then...off they go.

Son is having a mini film-fest/sleepover here tomorrow. My plan, curl up with a binder of research from the web and just let myself skim it for goodies. Maybe I'll even do that in front of the movies--they're renting BOTH Men in Black films. :)

And we'll be offering son's friend my father's gourmet invention: A peanut-butter-and-jelly omelet. Hey! Stop that gagging noise. You haven't even tried it yet. Son, who is normally rather...choosy, likes them, and his friend will supposedly eat anything.

We have bagels for back-up.

Off to rest my eyes with someone ELSE'S book! Ta. :)


Okay, this is not the official picture:



I haven't read the book yet, and I have to get husband and camera and me and the book together in the next couple of days, but I wanted to get the blog contest started!

This is not my typical blog contest in which you get to keep the book. Instead, you get to participate in the road trip for Mary Pearson's ARC of
The Miles Between, on its way from Mary to her editor in NYC. The official rules are posted here, at Mary's blog. The basics, though, are that you take a picture of the book somewhere in your hometown and post that on your blog, then pass the book on to another lucky "traveler."

It's summer, and things are complicated enough, so I'm keeping this contest simple. Just leave a comment, and you're entered. (If you don't have a LiveJournal ID, do leave some kind of name/nickname for me to draw out of the hat!) I'm going to run this contest until Friday only, so drop your name in now! And be sure to stop back in on Friday to see if you win.

Thanks to HipWriterMama for making me a stop on the road trip. And good luck to everybody!

Prepping for Research Trip


Yesterday, I had a revelation. It wasn't a big one. Probably, it was one that most of you had and didn't really notice or pay much attention to. Here it is:

OMG, it's July.

Did my first draft get written in June? No. I'm okay with that. I've made progress and will make more and the draft is moving forward. I have some feeling that, with this story, moving a little more slowly may be the right choice (rather than just an inability to get it together, on my part). It may be the best way to understand my characters and the choices they will/won't make. I hope.

But...here's the other thing about July. In one month, I go to Chicago to do research for this WIP. And I need to put some time into that, so I don't want into those museums with a big "Um!" thought-bubble over my head. And I haven't really, ever, done historical research. So the "Um!" is there, and I'm trying to figure out how to make it go away.

Here's the tricky part, probably oh-so familiar to those of you who write history/historical fiction already. I've got BIG things I need to find out about, like: 

  • Every connection that Ida B. Wells had with Hull-House
  • Every connection Hull-House had with the suffrage movement in the 1910s
And I need answers to very specific questions like:
  • Which railroad station did the Chicago suffrage train leave from, to take suffragettes to the march on Washington, D.C.?
  • Were Ida B. Wells and/or Mary Terrell on that train? Were they traveling together?
  • If they weren't on that train, how did they get to D.C.?
And so many other things, both big and small. Not to mention, I'll have some questions about Ida B. Wells & Jane Addams for a NF picture book I'm contemplating.

Ack!

I only have a couple of days max, to visit several museums and do as much info-collection and hands-on research as I can. I feel like I need to, at once, be as pre-organized as possible and stay flexible/open to research paths I won't know about till I get there. Organized AND flexible.

Yeah, that's me. Not.

I'm going to start by just making as long a list of questions as I can think of, then try & break them into categories. I'm going to send an email to each of the museums, saying that I'm coming, WHY I'm coming, and asking for any tips on how I can best work with them to find the info I need. I'm really hoping to meet some people with whom I can communicate, by email or phone, later, as the story progresses. Some people who might want to read for accuracy/general feel of the book when it's close to done.

That's where I've got so far on the planning. Any tips from research wizards would be seriously welcome!

Six on a Saturday


1. It is hot. And it will be hotter tomorrow. The fans are up and on, and the window shades down. And I made ice cubes. Survival likely, if not pleasant.

2. Started working on my copyedits for The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide. Pretty clean, so it's mostly a matter of reminding my brain to make connections between what's marked on a page and what I know might be related somewhere else. Lots of page-flipping, at least the metaphorical kind, since I'm working in Word files.

3. We are deep into Season 4 of Angel. I did a bit of reading ahead online, so I know a bit more about what's coming than do son and husband. No spoilers coming out of this mouth, though!

4. I can't believe next week is the 4th of July. Time during summer seems to go through bizarre warps and wefts (??), slow then...zoom! We may skip fireworks this year and opt for the opening of Ice Age 3. LOVE those movies.

5. Son starts his video-game programming camp on Monday. This means mornings free for me, and another mom and I are carpooling, so I should make some more progress on the WIP. And on the copyedits.

6. Trying to remind myself that writing is a journey, not a single, immediate accomplishment that turns life around with a snap of the fingers. Remembering that every step I take, every hour I am working with words is getting me closer to...something. :)

This is my library.



I usually go to the Bookmobile's twice-a-month stop at my son's elementary school, but during the summer I sometimes drop off and pick up books at a different stop, later in the day. I did that yesterday. They know me so well and are so great to me and wonder when I don't show up. Yesterday, I felt as if I should be calling "Honey, I'm home!" as I came up the steps.

One of the bookmobile librarians, in particular, reads a lot of YA and sci-fi and fantasy and we trade titles back and forth. This week, she wasn't there. I think she was actually at Comicon (if I have the dates right), because she was telling me last time about the Star Trek and Steampunk costumes she was making.

Anyway, we got into what the heck steampunk is, and I found out I've actually read and liked some. Who knew?

This week, with my hold books, she'd left me an article about Steampunk Fantasy. It's "Full Steam Ahead" by Stephanie Klose and was published in the March 2009 issue of www.rtbookreviews.com. In the article, Klose quotes Jeff VanderMeer's equation for steampunk:

"Mad scientist inventor + [invention (steam x airship or metal man divided by baroque stylings) x (pseudo) Victorian setting] + progressive or reactionary politics x adventure plot = steampunk."

Who could resist?

She also left me a stack of reviews for steampunk novels to add to my to-read list. And, lucky you, I'm going to share them here.

Enjoy!

I'm reading Jim Butcher's newest Harry Dresden book--Turn Coat. I love The Dresden Files series--the books are funny and fast, and the writing is beautifully tight and trim.

But I'm being reminded once again about a particular aspect of Butcher's brilliance--the way he gets the entire relationship between two characters (or three) into a scene. He knows his characters so well; he knows who they are, who they've been, and how they have connected with each other over all the years of their history. And with a few lines of dialog and action and humor, he layers it all in.

This is not just because the book is number 11 in the series. This aspect of his writing, this storytelling skill has been present in all of the books, since Book 1, Storm Front.

If you want to see how a master craftsman plays with his characters, I can't point you in a better direction.

Back to the book!

Friday Five


1. At the end of a very unstructured, first-days-out-of-school week, I have remembered once again that I don't DO unstructured well. My son is slightly better at it, but even he is ready for something to happen. Today, I called friends & got him to email and we will be sociable and productive next week. Maybe even this weekend.

2. I'm reading Skunk Girl, by Sheba Karim. Somebody out here recommended it, and I owe you a thanks. This is a wonderfully written, really fun book. It's about being Pakistani-American in small-town America, but it's not just about that--Karim has hooked into the universal teen girl problems with a really nice balance of pain and humor. And she has picked wonderfully specific details to show Nina's struggles with not fitting in, with trying to make her parents happy, with her own mixed feelings about who she is. This is not vague angst, but a strong, concrete world. Lovely.

3. I had a great writing session with friends today. I realized the other day that I'm not only not happy with the voice of my WIP, I'm actively unhappy with it. Enough so that it was making the actual writing I was doing...unpleasant. Today, I took a chance and started the next scene in a different tense--I switched from first person, present to third person, past. You tell me why my sentences got shorter and less run-on, randomy. You tell me why I ended up with probably twice as much white space on these pages as I've been getting on the others. You tell me why the words came out faster, why I could write scenes instead of feeling the need to stick in big, bracketed questions for later.] This is why, if I could have done math, I might have been a neurologist. Our brains are so beautifully mysterious. When they're not driving us crazy.

4. This weekend, we start cleaning my son's room. Actually, cleaning out would be a better description. He has the most storage space of any room in the house, which--on the one hand-- is very nice for him (and me, when I want him to just do a quick clean-up), but which--on the other hand--does lead to, shall we say...collecting. It is time to shovel out the stuff that's sat on a shelf for two or three years gathering dust. It's the kind of pile you just can't, with any kindness, send the kid in to do alone. Besides, extra hands are needed to hold the trash bag open.

I predict loud music wil be needed. My son suggests The Doors.

5. What movie should we see this weekend? Sandra Bullock's The Proposal just opened in town, but--even not knowing what it's about--I'm guessing I can't get my son on board for it. The Taking of Pelham something-something-something looks more like his & husband's thing, but I want to wait to hear what the R rating is about, from someone who's gone. My son keeps asking about Land of the Lost, but Will Ferrell and me...meh. Probably we'll settle on Night at the Smithsonian, because it's on its way out. Any recommendations?

Happy weekend, everyone. And tell me, during summer vacation, how is that different than, say...Wednesday? :)

Review: MOUSE WAS MAD


I've been having crazy luck lately winning blog contests. Last week (or the week before?!) I entered Cynthia Lord's contest for a copy of Mouse was Mad, by Linda Urban.



I really didn't expect to win. I mean, the luck had to break sometime, right? I just couldn't resist. Cynthia wanted us to comment with our favorite tantrum from kids' lit, and I don't pass up any chance to remind people about Mary out-screaming Colin in The Secret Garden.

And I won. :)

I really love this book.

Too often when I read very young picture books, ones with "simple" storylines and just a few sentences on a page, I find myself relying on the art to really show me the personality and conflicts of the animals. Henry Cole's illustrations are perfect, and they certainly add wonderful layers to Linda's story. But the story itself, the words in Mouse was Mad caught me, all by themselves.

Just a short excerpt, from when Mouse gets "standing-still mad." 

     "Impressive," said Hare.
     "What control," said Bear.
     "Are you breathing?" asked Hedgehog.

Even if we didn't have the picture of Mouse, frozen in place, this dialog would tell us how dramatic his anger is, the power he has achieved in not moving. And what parent doesn't remember that feeling, that Urban gets in so beautifully, of watching their child in full-anger mode and wondering if their face isn't turning just a little too red, if they can possibly be getting enough oxygen?

Each of the other characters has their own distinct personality. My 13-year-old son picked up the book shortly after I read it. He said that Bear clearly has a bit of a "superiority complex," and I think he's right. Hedgehog reminds me of people I know, well-meaning, but a bit pedantic. He's got one of my favorite lines in the book--"The best rolling is achieved when the body is a perfect sphere." 

By the end of the book, I was not just smiling, but I was laughing out loud. And knowing that this is a book that will not just entertain, but help. Probably one of the reasons I've always loved Mary's tantrum in The Secret Garden is that I had my own share of anger fits when I was young. Okay, and when I was (am) not so young. My son knows that feeling of being so filled-to-the-brim with frustration that you have to hop, or stomp, or scream, or roll. He's learned much earlier than I did that the best thing to do with this feeling is be still, and he knows that a book is often the best place to find that stillness.

Mouse was Mad is, I think, a book that young children will carry with them, to read and reread, and to remind them that they, too, can find ease within themselves.

Statusy Thingies


This feels more like a Friday Five than a Thankful Thursday, but the thankfulness is woven through the post.

1. The writing goes well. Relaxed mode works MUCH better than not-relaxed (I know, I can hear the big DUH! from all of you), and the words are coming. They words are not good, but the ideas that are coming with them may be. Although, honestly, I just don't see how I can weave fairy tales into this story. Perhaps my muses are being tricksters this week, or have come to the wrong GPS coordinates. If anyone else thinks the fairy-tale thing works beautifully with their WIP, give a whistle and get these guys out of here, will you?

2. School. Ends. Tomorrow. I'm not sure what it says about school that it's almost as big a relief to me to have summer here as it is to my son. Homework last night. Really. A test in the same class where they already took a final. No backpacks allowed the last three days of school, which-IMHO--just increases the chance that the one piece of homework won't make it to 5th period, where it is due. And I keep thinking that writing will become easier when I'm NOT juggling it with last-minute run-around things. (Yes, that last statement COULD be delusional.)

3. Because School. Ends. Tomorrow, we of the carpool are celebrating today with frozen yogurt. Apparently, everyone else in the world except me has been to the frozen yogurt shop in town where 13-year-old boys (and, yes, 50-something-year-old men) cannot finish the medium size with toppings. I'll pick the kids up, call the other mom to meet us, and go inhale, literally, mounds of cold chocolatey things. Did I mention I exercised HARD this a.m.?

4. I think we are finally going to see UP tomorrow night. My nephew told his mom that it was really intense, as in some sad stuff. And I've been reading that people (okay, mostly moms) have cried. This is why I love Pixar. They do animation AND story. Plus, they give me a chance to eat junior mints.

5. If anybody knows Tamora Pierce personally, please tell her she has saved my sanity this month. I have a stack of books on my nightstand, all with her name on them, and I am dropping in and out of them whenever I need to relax out of the day, to take a breather before I get back to writing. Son picked one up last night &, about 25 pages in, said, "Okay, I'm hooked."

6. I have joined kidlit-kim and carriejones and solvangsherrie  and goodness knows who else in the Push-Up Challenge. I did my test yesterday. Okay.... And I did my first day's push-ups. I will state here that I did NOT use my test as the first set of the day! I don't honestly expect to be able to do 100 push-ups ever, but I'm pretty sure I'll make a personal best that's better than the test!

7. Saturday is pretty much given over to the Bar Mitzvah of one of my son's oldest, if not THE oldest, friends. Bar mitzvahs (or bat mitzvahs) have never been part of my family's life. My dad just told me the story of when my g-grandfather brought a rabbi out to the farm near L.A. where my grandfather grew up, probably to start teaching him and his younger brother Hebrew, in prep for their bar mitzvahs. Apparently, Grandpa and my g-uncle set off firecrackers under the rabbi's chair. There went THAT tradition. :)

But my son met this boy at preschool, before they were two. I remember the day this little toddler ran into the "infant" room and said, CLEARLY, all the names of the Sesame Street characters on the wall. We have photos of these two digging in the sandbox together, I have memories of them playing make-believe games hour after hour after hour together. They're taking a video-game programming camp together this summer. They've stayed close even though they haven't been at the same school since they were four.

I don't speak Hebrew and I'm not up on the ceremony. It'll be long hours of not quite knowing what's going on. It doesn't matter. I'm pretty sure I'll still cry. Lots.

Have a wonderful weekend, everybody, and Happy Summer Vacation!

What I'm Bringing with Me


It has been a week since I wrote on my WIP. I knew this was going to happen--it's the time of year for craziness and fun distractions, after all. Yesterday, my Illinois sister came through on the way to help ship her son and his stuff home from his first year at college. She and I looked at maps of Chicago and hotel websites and got some planning done for my trip out this weekend. We shopped and went out for sushi. We ate ice cream.

She's heading out soon to meet her son at the dorm and see whether he's actually put any of his stuff into a suitcase or box. :) When she's gone, I'm going to sit down in my office and open up the WIP. After a week. Yipes.

Surely, I learned something in this week that I can bring back with me to the book. Surely, something was sitting in my brain bubbling away. Maybe.

What I actually think/hope I am bringing with me is a more relaxed state of mind. I wouldn't have said so going into this past week. I was in a very tight, twisted knot about how the first draft wasn't going smoothly OR fast, and how I was going to make NO progress on it, etc. etc.

Well, who can write like that? Not me. And I realized that if this is how I start my summer, then I will be perhaps productive through it, but I will very likely be a nut case by the end of it. (More so than usual.) And I will not be happy about the hours I have spent with Caro.

Blech.

So, yes. I will still try and get through the draft by the end of June. I will put in hours every day I can, and I'm actually thinking about rearranging my writing time, so that I'm writing evenings into night and not pushing myself out of bed so early in the a.m. I'm going to clear deck time in the middle of the day for what I call "available time" with my son. I.e., he may want to have nothing to do with me, but if/when he does, I won't be so wrapped up in getting back to the computer. And I'm going to stock up on Tamora Pierce novels, which I just discovered, and make sure I get some relaxing, pleasure reading in every day. Without multi-tasking through it. I'll be trying very hard to spend less scattered time online, but will try to chunk it out and maybe catch up every couple of days, not stay caught up each day. This is hard for me, not just because of habit, but because I do get energy from connecting with other writers and what they're doing. I'm just going to have to take in that energy less often and build on the energy from focused writing instead.

Do-able!

I want to love this story, not hate it. And the amount of words I can get onto the page in frustration and stress are going to be words I don't want to work with later, so that pretty much nullifies the quantity.

Whew. So, yes, that's what I'm thinking this week off brought me. That and family and friends and Ben & Jerry's Phish Food. Sounds like a good deal.

Six Things I Saw Today & Yesterday


Yesterday morning, we took off to head down the central valley and up over the mountains to watch a niece graduate from college. For any of you who haven't been in California's central valley, well, let's just say you know that California is a rather looooonnnnngg state, and this valley runs the length of it. We didn't do the whole length, but there isn't a lot to look at other than cars a few buildings and a lot of trees and fields. For a while there, someone was putting up little blue signs identifying the crops--which gave everything a sort of Burma Shave feel--you could stare at trees or the rows of plants and guess, then check the sign. Maybe someone decided it wasn't working, or maybe the economy has gotten rid of the blue-sign placement job, but there were a lot less than there used to be.

What we saw:

1. Alfalfa fields.

2. Corn fields. I've been driving up and down California for 40+ years now, and it's only in the past few that I've seen corn growing. We don't seem to get it up to an elephant's eye here, like in Oklahoma, but it's green and tall and very pretty. Plus my writer brain can't help checking the space between rows to see whether, if the bad guys were chasing you, you really could squeeze in there and hide. :)

3. Plum trees. Some green and some dark red.

4. Maybe pistachio trees? Almond trees? No sign! Okay, there isn't a sign for the corn, either, but you know--I can figure that one out!

5. Dr. Seuss trees. Also known as Joshua Trees.



Okay, these weren't in the valley, but in the high desert we drove through at the end of the trip. Or the beginning, depending on which day you're talking about. They're pretty much blurring together.

6. A beautiful young woman, taller than me even WITHOUT those heels, who I held on my lap as a colicky baby while her parents went out to see the fireworks on 4th of July many years ago. It was well worth the drive.

Wacky Wednesday


Only because it falls out of the standard pattern of my days.

Normal Wednesday:

1. Get up. Get son up. Feed son and myself. Get son off to school.

2. Exercise.

3. Try and write. (Should be "Write," obviously, but last week was definitely more of the "try and..." variety.

4. Get son from school. Feed son. Get son started on homework.

5. Try and write. (Ditto)

6. Assemble dinner. (I don't really cook. Yesterday had its own wackiness, because I did cook. And bake. And make salad.)

Today's Wednesday.

1. Get up. Get son up. Feed son and myself. And mother. And father. Get son off to school.

2. Read pieces of mom's memoir. SO cool. She's been taking a class for a few years and has assembled most of the pieces. Now she wants to figure out what she wants to do with those pieces. She wants some kind of organized structure, but isn't sure what, and we talked and brainstormed. We even talked about showing, not telling. I'm such a geek.

My mom has had one of those lives that really does call for a memoir. She left Germany at three, with her family, in 1938, and grew up in London, then came to California (with family AND Old English Sheepdog) when she was about 12. She was one of the first 8 women to go to Vet School at UC Davis, and she built a practice with my father that they ran for 30 years. Plus many, many other things. We didn't hear lots about her life growing up--not because she didn't want to share, but because she isn't a storyteller (as opposed to my dad). But the writing thing and the "Do this piece" pattern has been her way of getting these details out. So this will be the first time for me (and my sisters) to hear about a lot of events in her life and her feelings/thoughts on them.

3. Went to REI with Mom and Dad. Tried on clothes. Blech. Bought new running shoes. Nice. And a new flavor of Cliff Bars--white chocolate macadamia nut. Oh, you know you couldn't have resisted either. Went to Trader Joe's with Mom and Dad.

4. Came home. Fed me and Mom and Dad. Sent them off to Santa Cruz to take a photograph of a tree. Yes. That's what I said. Got on line to catch up. Greeted son when dropped off from carpool.

5.Will go out to dinner tonight at local brewery. I don't drink beer. But the food is great. And son can get a hamburger.

So, obviously, a lovely day, but just different enough that I feel slightly disjointed and discombobulated. I am clearly TOO much a creature of habit. And perhaps am suffering from just a bit of withdrawal from that whole trying to write thing. :)
 


A Bit of Shakespeare


June is Shakespeare month at Kelly Fineman's blog. I'm already enjoying her posts. I didn't think I'd be doing much with the theme here, though. Then son came home today with a contribution.

We're lucky to live about 20 minutes away from Shakespeare Santa Cruz, a wonderful theater that does two or three Shakespeare plays each summer, plus something else they usually throw in to the mix. This Thursday, in one of those outreach programs theaters do, they're coming over the hill to son's middle school and giving a condensed performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream. (Seems like everybody Shakespeare is doing Midsummer-I have a theory that this is tied to the economy; they're doing the plays that will get the most people feeling comfortable with Will!).

Anyway...son was supposed to read over/learn a synopsis of the play so he'd know the story when he went to the play/condensed version. Being who he is, he read it, got it, and then decided to fill up time/paper with his own creation.

I give you an even MORE condensed version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, in what he swears is called a Comic Nonalogue.

LYSANDER: I love Hermia.

HERMIA'S DAD: You're a son of a biscuit.

HERMIA: Let's run away.

TITANIA: I like the changeling.

OBERON: Too bad. Puck, dose him.

PUCK: Oops, Bottom's an ass. (Drip.) Ok, your wife loves a donkey.

DEMETRIUS: Hey, Helena. Let's find the two lovers.

OBERON: I feel sorry for Helena. Dose her boyfriend.

PUCK: Sure thing! Now who does she love? Oh, well...oops.

THESEUS: Hippolyta, I almost killed you, let's get married.

LYSANDER: Well, even though I loved Hermia so much we ran away for no reason, I now love Helena.

OBERON: If you want anything done in this play, you've got to do it yourself.

DEMITRIUS: Hey, now I love Helena, too.

HELENA: Oh, both of you, shut up.

OBERON: That's enough. I'll magically make everyone happy...except Hermia's dad, who I'll forget about completely.

SNOUT: I am a wall.

EVERYONE: YAY!!!

This is the original. Of course, when he went to type it into his blog, that dratted internal editor took over, and he made changes. You can see the current version here.

Six Things (Under My Control) On a Saturday


1. The fact that the house is NOT clean. I put this off by choice to exercise, relax with Terry Pratchett's witches, and get a small project out of the way.

2. The small project. I'm hoping to do some young-reader books for a publisher. Obviously, getting the projects is not under my control, but the writing required for the samples is. SO much more so than that novel that was flinging me around this past week.

3.  The decision to NOT try and work on that novel this week. Family coming, a graduation trip, and--oh, yes--that currently not-clean house. I saw this coming, which is why I dug into the book last week. It's going to be tough stepping back in after a week off, but not nearly as tough as keeping myself sane in the next few days if I try to do it all!

4. The music I listen to. Thanks to the little thumbs-down icon on Pandora, I can tell my radio station that, no, I do not consider The Eagles or James Taylor as similar to Crosby, Stills, & Nash. I'm not even sure I'd put Neil Young in with them. A simple click with my mouse--such power.

5. How fast my laptop runs. Well, this is not completely under my control, since I can only upgrade it so far, and I did have to do a reality check with tech-guru brother-in-law that I was buying the right stuff. But yes, it has been ordered and will soon be flying it's way at light speed to my house.

6. The fact that I do NOT have to be followed on Twitter by someone whose tweets are all in a different language. One I don't speak (or read!). I mean, really, what IS the point?

If you sense a frantic grasping at these items, a sort of lighting of a very flickery candle in the darkness, you've got it. With a novel that is not yet telling me what it wants to be, a week that looks to be all incoming and outgoing, and a governor who has obviously decided that Illinois has been getting WAY too much attention and is plotting to CLOSE THE STATE PARKS FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE 1902!!! ... well, yes, at this point, I'll claim control where I can find it.

Breathing calmly for seven days until life, probably minus those parks, settles back into sanity.

I'd Forgotten What this Was Like


Two days into this first draft, I'm remembering what doing this brain-dump thing is all about. It's new discoveries and ideas, characters turning out to have unexpected personality traits, moments of hitting the absolutely right voice, and writing some sentences that you fall instantly in love with.

It's also a sense that you are not just working with a mass of unformed clay, you're pretty much producing that clay, in that unformed state. It's knowing that you've just written a bland scene and fighting off the temptation, pull, need to go back and "fix" it, because you haven't written enough to know yet what that fix would be. It's leaving bracketed placeholders for info you don't have yet--descriptions, settings, historical details. Lots of bracketed placeholders.

And it's a piling up of pages in the binder, pages that give you at once an incredible sense of accomplishment and, at the same time, shout at you that you'll be doing them all over again, so, please, don't get too excited here.

It's wonderful.

Contest Winner: Mathematickles!


Today, son and I drew the winner of my contest for Betsy Franco's Mathematickles! Everybody's entry was so convincing; thank goodness, I didn't have to make a considered choice. Random was good!

We needed something special to draw the winner's name from. So we sent the zombie salt-and-pepper shakers after the fruit to keep them all busy....



while we borrowed the fruit bowl.



Son reached in to pick one of the pieces of folded paper.



You can see he had to be quick, because the zombie s-and-p shakers decided he was way more interesting than the apples and pears.

Son picked [drum roll....]



Yay, Tara!! Email me at beckylevine at ymail dot com, with your snail mail address, and this fantastic picture book will be on its way to you. I promise NOT to send it by zombie.

FYI, I am not really foolish enough to share my living space with zombie s-and-p shakers. My parents brought these guys back from one of their many trips; in fact, they brought a set for each of my sisters and me. This is how they really work:



See, it's actually very sweet. They're hugging.

Or perhaps they're whispering to each other, hatching some vicious zombie plan...

Tomorrow....I'm Off!


No, I'm not leaving town. I'm writing a novel. (Man, I love saying that!).

All the research and thinking and planning is coming to a head, and I start my first draft tomorrow. A couple of writing friends are joining me in writing first drafts of their books, starting June 1. I looked at that week and realized we had family visiting and were going out of town, and I decided the "game rules" allowed me a head start!

My "count" goal is to write as many non-weekend days as I can, and write a minimum of 10 pages written on those days. 12 would be better. The real goal, though, is to write all the way through from the first scene to the last and do my best to get some real things happening in between. I haven't managed to plot all the way through, so I know I'll need to spend some time plotting forward as I go, but I'm going to try and do little bits at a time and still keep moving forward on the page count.

I have a feeling I'll still be posting plenty on my blogs, because when I get into a project like this, my brain tends to bubble with all sorts of ideas. I'll try to include a page count/progress status when I do post, just to help me on that accountability thing. You may see fewer comments from me over these weeks, but I'll be reading your posts, too, just maybe not being as chatty back!

I'm facing all this with that mix of excitement and fear. Yes, I could really do without the fear, but it and I are making a deal. I know I can't stop it from popping in every now and then, but I don't have to be nice to it. Any visit will be greeted with a firm, not even polite, door-in-the-face.

Here's to a great writing month for everyone! :)

For All You (Other) Research Geeks


In the midst of plotting yesterday, came some realizations of MORE stuff I need to learn. Natch. So, browsed around and ordered the following: 



  • Challenging Chicago: Coping with Everyday Life, 1837-1920
  • The Female Economy: The Millinery and Dressmaking Trades, 1860-1930
    (Working Class in American History)
  • For the Love of Pleasure: Women, Movies and Culture in Turn-Of-The
    Century Chicago
  • At Home in the City: Urban Domesticity in American Literature and Culture, 1850-1930
I know. On the one hand, it just makes you drool, doesn't it? On the other hand, sigh...Evelyn Wood, anyone? 

Friday Five


1. I'm trying to learn to "chunk" time for online/social-networking stuff. I'm putting it on the calendar, along with other writing and non-writing tasks. Next week starts my first-draft blast, and I need to be a bit less scattered, if I want to get that draft done by the end of June.

2.Reading Jeannine Garsee's Before, After, and Somebody In Between, and loving it. Fast, fast, fast. And POWER.

3. Why does having a spotless kitchen feel so good, while making it spotless, or even THINKING about making it spotless gives me a headache?

4. We are having THE perfect weather this week. 75-80, with a slight breeze. I could live in this all year long.

5. Trying to teach son's cockatiel to whistle the first "line" of Hall of the Mountain King. It would probably work better if I could whistle it.

Publishing Lightbulb Jokes


Thanks to Greg Daniel of Daniel Literary for the link.

http://antickmusings.blogspot.com/2009/05/publishing-light-bulb-jokes.html

My favorite:

Q. How many writers does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. But why do we have to CHANGE it?

Have a great day, everyone!

I am in love with this book.



I met Betsy Franco at Books Inc this weekend, when I went to hear Susan Taylor Brown read, for Kids Otter Read. Betsy was checking out a YA book I was buying, and I was looking at the picture books on the authors' table.

And I found Mathematickles!

I had to buy it, even though I knew I didn't have anyone to give it to. My son would have loved it when he was young, but he's 13 now and, while he'll definitely pick up and read a picture book that's laying around, he's not giving them much long-term shelf space. Well, okay, except Dr. Seuss. Most of my friends have kids around the same age, and, while I may very well become a great-aunt sometime in the next decade or so, it's not yet part of my job title. (And, no, I'm not hinting, you guys!)

I want a child to have this book. I want it to be a child who loves both math and words, and whose eyes will light up at the magic of seeing them combined as Franco has done. Here's one of my favorite pages, just to give you a sample.



So...I'm having a contest. Think about the kids you know--yours and other people's. Think about which one would join me in falling love, would be saying, "See, Mom, it's 'cause a tadpole is partway to being a frog--about 2/3 of the way there!" Which one would take this book and sit down at the table with a pencil or a crayon and start making up their own math-word combos. Which one will just totally geek out over this? :)

Leave me a comment to enter. Obviously, you don't have to give me the child's name, or proof-positive that they exist (and that you're not JUST entering for yourself, because this book is so cool. I give you permission here and now to gently read it before passing it on!). Just tell me something that shows you know the perfect child for this book.

Son will pull the winner out of something on Monday, Memorial Day. I mean, what else does he have to do that day, with no school?

Good luck!

Edited to add: Vivian at HipWriterMama is having her own blog contest today, 10 chances to win a package with both of Jo Knowles' fantastic books--Jumping off Swings  AND Lessons from a Dead Girl. Stop by and comment about a time when you felt carefree.


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