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Too hot today on our little mountain. Sweltering and cranky for many hours.

Move fan in front of door and turn it on. Hey, magic!!

Like I couldn't have done that hours ago. Sigh.

Friday Fun


1. Reading Forever Princess by Meg Cabot. This will keep me going strong on the treadmill--I won't even notice the pain!

2. Do you want to be part of the road trip for an ARC of
Mary Pearson's The MIles Between. Leave a comment on Mary's blog here, and enter Mary's contest to be a pit-stop on the ARC's journey from Mary to her editor.

3.
Kids Otter Read Read Day Around the Bay is tomorrow (Saturday, May 16!). Find a bookstore close by and go listen to some wonderful authors read. Son and I, unless homework or life-craziness intrudes, are going to hear Susan Taylor Brown and a few other great writers read at Books Inc in Palo Alto.

4. Star Trek and X-men. We are going to see one, maybe BOTH, of these movies this weekend. I always want to go as soon as they come out, but I also hate crowds, so I force myself to wait. It may be just the right time for an overdose of sci-fi geekdom!

5. Reading, reading, reading. I went to the library yesterday and totally scored. Forever Princess,
The Language of Bees, Dead Man's Puzzle, My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters, & Before, After, and Somebody in Between. Is it possible to drown from so many wonderful books?! :)

Have a great weekend, everybody!

Peering into the Future

So here's one result of spending more time on social-networking sites, especially Twitter. You hear a lot more about electronic books and about how they're the future.

I don't have an e-reader. I don't think they're a bad thing, but I don't see them as a tool I need. I don't travel that much, and I actually like browsing in airport bookstores when I do--it's a good way to make discoveries of books I probably wouldn't have picked up otherwise.

On the other hand, I totally see their use. I love that agents can put submissions on their e-readers and not have to print out the manuscripts. And if I was planning a trip of much length to a country where I wouldn't have a lot of choices for books in English, I'm pretty sure I'd budget an e-reader into the cost.

This is not a rant or a rave. What's coming is coming, and readers will read and have ways to make that happen. Pretty easy for me to say, I know, because I don't see electronic replacing print in my lifetime--at least not until I'm old enough for my eyes to be really happy about the ultra-zoom feature I'm assuming exists or will exist!

But this does bring up some questions for me about what life and the world will or would be like without print books.

  • What could possibly replace this as the most beautiful home-decorating choice ever? What would I put on my walls? I guess I could get used to painting and photos.
              

  • What will libraries fill their space with? I was talking to the Bookmobile librarian about this, and she said that, today, when you interview for a library job, one of the most common questions is along the lines of, "How can you/we keep people coming here?"
     
  • What will happen to all the books we do own? When my grandmother died, my mother and I went through her books and kept a few, but then a used book dealer came and took the rest. Is that going to be an option in a few generations?
     
  • What will we check out when we come into a new friend's (or prospective mate's) house for the first time. I understand some people head for the medicine cabinet. Not me--I'm browsing the books.
     
  • Will Ziplock come out with a baggie that promises protection for e-readers taken into the bath? Will there be a new piece of furniture that holds your e-reader up for long hours of reading in bed (I hear they're not SO light as to be super comfortable), or will the readers just get smaller and smaller and lighter and lighter?
Really, trying not to be negative! But we're the ones with the imaginations, and this boggles mine. I'm sure people way back when were feeling something similar when the printing press came along, and individuals faced the possibility (surely scoffed at by many) that they could have their own books in their own homes. What did they get rid of to make room for those books? And what will we use to fill up the space that we might be on the verge of regaining?

I'm not giving those shelves over to my son's bottle cap collection. :)

Getting Started...Almost!

I'm getting ready to write a first draft of my YA. With a few friends, I'm supposed to start June 1st, but I looked at my calendar, and I pretty much don't have that first week in June. So I'm going to try and start the week before. I want to get this draft written!

So of course, laying in bed this morning, I'm thinking about the opening. Do I start here? Or maybe here? What's the goal? What are the obstacles? And of course I start hearing some words. I got up and wrote the first page of the first scene of the book.

Knowing, all the time, that I will do that same thing somewhere between a dozen and a gazillion times before the book is truly done.

I know there are phrases that are wrong. Maybe the voice is too young. Does brick actually feel colder than the air around it? Maybe there shouldn't be an alley next to the house. Is it a trolley or the El she's rushing to catch? Does she have to rush? Is this even the place I want to start the story?

This is the point, though, where I have no choice but to write. Oh, I have a little bit more planning to do. When I wrote the first draft of my mystery, I set myself up with a one-page file for each planned scene. On each of those pages, I typed some basic information:

  • Where the scene takes place
  • The basic event/moment in the scene
  • The hero's goal for the scene
  • The obstacles to to that goal and who throws them at the hero
I'm going to do this in the next week or so, for Caro's scenes. Again, I know that so much of this "plot" will change, but I find it a huge help when I'm trying to get that first draft out quickly, as one big dump. I wrote the mystery's first draft in a week; I'm giving myself about a month to write Caro's. The trick to going this fast, I found, is ignoring all the moments we would normally take a break--at the end of a scene, the end of a chapter, the end of a chunk of dialog. The trick is to close one file and--immediately--open another. If, instead of a blank page, I get a quick reminder of where I'm heading, that makes a huge difference in whether I keep writing or not.

Other than that, though, it's all up in the air. Some people tell me I plot too much before writing. If I could do it, if I knew how, and I had the patience, I'd plot twice as much as I do. The hardest thing for me to do in life is step forward without seeing the next stepping stone, set firmly and clearly in front of me, and I want those stepping stones in my writing, too.

And yet the other part of me is ready to let Snoopy whiz by and grab the blanket. There's an excitement to this point that is unlike any other stage of the writing gig. After this draft, I will know so much more about my story, my characters. And, as wonderful as that will be, it will also put constraints on--give me a form into which I really need to start making everything fit. The first draft, with all its doubt and worry, all the beautiful words that we have to let go, is freedom unlike anything else.

I'm just about ready for the ride.

Monday Musings

May 11. As my son pointed out this morning, he gets out of school on June 12, so--yes, we're down to a month before summer hits (the real summer, as defined by summer vacation, not the one printed on the calendar). He's, obviously, looking forward to it.

So am I.

This is not actually typical for me. I love my son, obviously, and love having him around. Summer, though, is unstructured time which--for both of us--is good in short bits, but not necessarily for long stretches. And let's face it, there are less hours for writing--especially in big chunks of time. Finally, there's the heat. In which Pooh doesn't  I don't do so well.

This year, though, I'm with my son. I'm ready, and I'm waiting. And I'm wondering why. The possibilities:

  • My son is 13 now, which means he needs less help from me to stay entertained and, frankly, he wants less time with me hovering around. So, really, if I get my act together, there will be lots of time to write. And to go for walks, swap books, and play board games with said son.

  • May and June are different in middle school than they are in elementary school. I don't know if it's the state standards for the schools, or that teachers want to get kids used to being busy at the end of the year, to prep them for high school finals, but the last few weeks of school just seem to get nutso busy. And my son isn't into after-school activities like band or sports. Summer looks much more like a needed break this year, for me and him, than it did when he was younger. Sleeping in, pushing away schedules, and goofing off sound really good.

  • It's been a long, long winter. No, we didn't have piles of snow like so many of you, but many months of extra cold. It's been a winter of hard economy, too. I'm seeing signs of life coming back in that area, too, and I can't help but believe people and companies will do better with warmth and sunshine than they do with freezing temps and gray skies. This year, I'll take the heat, thank you.

  • I have specific writing/book things I want to do, which--other than getting my YA's first draft written in June, will fit nicely into niche time. I'll be plotting out the second draft on that book, working on promotion ideas for the critique book, and playing with my picture book ideas. AND I'll be making my research trip to Chicago--how cool is that? (Even in the heat!)

  • To repeat the first possibility, my son is 13. Next year, 8th grade, the year after that high school. He's strong, healthy, and happy, and watching him grow up into such a great person is perhaps the biggest miracle of my life. He spends some time pushing away from me and some time pulling me into his life. Half a dozen of these summers left. Why would I want to skip any of that. (Yes, I know, talk to me at the end of August, and I'll have a list, but still...)
So today, I'm going to spend as much time as I can focusing on the words, on my writing, and my time. And I'm going to let a little happy anticipation simmer beneath it all.

Friday Five

Five things that happen when you've been under deadline for a few months, you meet the deadline, and the next one is looser.

1. The house looks cleaner. Not a lot cleaner, but--you know--on the surface. Amazingly, the laundry still does not get done.

2. The day suddenly has time for exercising. Which, on my treadmill, means more reading time. And off my treadmill means walking with friends. And then napping.

3. The desk gets messier. Not sure how this is correlated to number 1, but I'm sure there's a connection somewhere. Or maybe it's that napping in #2.

4. Son gets perhaps ANOTHER sinus infection???? 

5. You buy this and tuck it into the cat's usual spot, hoping they will become friends.


Slightly Selfish Stimulus

Yesterday, I realized Mother's Day was this weekend. Today, I went shopping for my mom's present. Those of you who live nowhere near the Bay Area and have no plans to visit can skip this, go on to another blog. For anyone who lives nearby, though, I'm going to tell you a bit about the store I went to.

The selfish part? I want this store to survive.

The shop is called
Azuca. They've been open less than a year, I think, and they occupy one of the skinny little spaces on Santa Cruz Ave. They're on the same side of the street as the theater, down toward the south end of town, past The Great Bear. From the front, it looks like another little jewelry/art store like so many others on the street, but I'm here to tell you that it's different.

I can walk in there, knowing that I will find a gift for 9/10 of the people on any of my lists. I just found out that one of the owners makes a lot of the jewelry they sell, and I LOVE her stuff. They buy a lot from other local artists, too. Then they have lots of things of the doo-dad variety and some larger art, and everything is really nice and just more interesting than you see many other places.

And perhaps the biggest "selling" point?

Their prices are completely sane. I can pick up stuff to look at that I wouldn't touch in another store, knowing that I won't want to spend what they're asking. I can pick out a couple of things for someone, instead of just one. And I could (and do) spend long minutes just drooling over the stuff I want for myself. (I'll be subtly pointing the store out to husband every time we stroll through town this summer!)

Anyway, normally I wouldn't use the blog for this. But I figure this is the time to think differently, to help the economy...okay, to send a few people along to a store I want to keep visiting!

If you're down or up this way, check it out. I really don't think you'll be sorry:)

Pete Seeger: A Brief Tribute

I grew up with Pete Seeger. Not literally--that would have been tough, me living in a small town on the coast of California, him off in New York, or traveling all over the place. But figuratively. In my living room.

While I did live through some of the big events in the sixties, I was a bit too young to be any kind of active participant. Mostly, I was making my way through elementary school, wearing my hair in a very curly pixie cut, sporting the stretch-and-sew t-shirts my mom made, and trying not to gag or fall asleep over the horrible SRA "books" I was supposed to read.

My parents were liberals, but not radicals. Okay, my dad had a beard, which--in those days--was still a biggie, and my mom worked--which was also a biggie. They were starting a business and raising a family and building their own places in the community where we lived. They spoke in favor of and supported all the same causes I would have, if I'd been old enough. But I'd say the biggest influence the sixties had on my life was the music my parents played. The folk music.

And that pretty much meant Pete Seeger.

Oh, yes, there were other singers. The rest of The Weavers. Joan Baez. Peter, Paul, and Mary. Bud and Travis. The Kingston Trio. Arlo Guthrie.

But really, behind all of them, was Pete. He, along with Woody Guthrie, was the root off which all these others grew. And he was always there, singing along with whichever of them had another space on the stage. He seemed to me to epitomize friendship and tolerance and love.

As I grew older, I still loved the music, but I got, perhaps, just a little bit disillusioned. As I said, I was tucked into a pretty safe childhood when I was young and missed the protests and the war and the anger and the hope. In my twenties and early thirties, when I looked around, it seemed to me that everything Pete and the others had been singing about, against, was still happening. I wasn't seeing that any of their songs or their dreams were making changes happen. I wasn't, honestly, sure how or why they kept singing. I still loved the music, but I often felt like I was singing along with them into some kind of black hole, a void where they echoed around but didn't do much good.

Sometimes, I still feel that way. Other times, though, I see glimpses of what may or may not be change. Maybe it's just the wheel turning, so that the things I value as important are at the top for a while, instead of the bottom. And maybe, I think, that's all we can keep trying for. Maybe that's why we keep singing, to keep the wheel turning.

And maybe we keep singing, just because Pete does. And because all the branches that have come from his root still sing as well. His tree just keeps going.

Yesterday was Pete's 90th birthday. And, of course, because it's Pete, the celebration wasn't just for him, but for Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, the group Pete founded to help clean up the Hudson River. And, again, because it was Pete, he didn't just sit in a chair and listen.
He was singing, too

Happy Birthday, Pete.

Review: Say the Word

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to win a copy of Jeannine Garsee's Say the Word. I know Jeannine from her LiveJournal blog, Elusive Sanity, but hadn't read this, or her other book--Before, After, and Somebody in Between. Guess what's now on my to-read list?

Shawna Gallagher's mother left when Shawna was seven, and now--at seventeen--Shawna hasn't seen her in three years. That's until she gets a phone call from her mother's partner, Fran, that her mother has had a stroke and is not going to live. And so we're thrown onto the path that is going to rock the not-so-solid foundation Shawna has built for herself in the last decade. (BTW, Jeannine totally blows out of the water the rule about NOT starting with the hero waking up to a phone call!)

Honestly, this isn't a spoiler, because it happens so quickly and so definitely, but Jeannine does not pull the "nice" twist of having Shawna's mother live and reconciling with Shawna. Instead, her mother's death brings Shawna back into contact with Fran and Fran's two sons, cracks open the fragile, unhealthy shell Shawna and her father have been living in, and pushes Shawna into choices she never would have considered before, let alone made.

This is what I like most about Jeannine's story--the choices. She doesn't give Shawna any easy ones, and she doesn't let Shawna opt for the predictable path. She does a great job of showing us both sides of the coins Shawna is handed, and--often--neither side is all that wonderful. Shawna makes some mistakes, some bad ones, which makes it all that much tougher for her to clean up the story's messes and all that much tougher for us to watch her struggling to do so. In the end (no, no spoilers here), we don't get a happy ending. Instead, we get what Shawna herself must settle for--satisfaction with the path she has chosen and hope for the possibilities she has woven into her future.

Jeannine writes tightly, which I always appreciate. She draws wonderful, fully complicated characters, none of whom are perfect, many of whom don't come anywhere close. They're real, though, very real. Shawna's brother, Schmule, is my favorite, and Jeannine touches brilliance with her portrayal of his anger, tension, and depression. He scares Shawna, and he scared me.

Nicely done.

Finding the Story in the History

I spent a couple of days this week typing up a VERY basic outline of, I guess you'd call them...plot highlights. Nothing new, just filling out the "required" details of one of the appendixes of Maass' workbook. I certainly don't have a plot yet.

This last exercise made it very clear WHERE I don't have a plot.

I think this is part of that research thing. I know where I want Caro to find her "place." I know with whom I want her to end up. And I've been reading lots and lots about that place and those people. I know the world, I know the attitude, I know the general feel of it all.

What I don't yet know is what Caro will/wants to do there.

I know that lots of my specific research will keep going as I write and much of it I won't even be able to do until I've got a draft or two out and can really see what specific facts I need. But these holes--these actions and active choices that Caro will be making--these are the big plot points I really need to have figured out before I write.

Which means that I have some choices to make. I have to start down a few roads, pick a few paths Caro could stride along in this community, think of a few steps for her to take and then, I guess, test them in my gut. See how they feel--both for me and for her. And then, back up, find another possible fork in the road and send her a little ways down that one. It comes back to my goal of not just showing someone living within history, but writing a STORY with history as a layer. I have to keep thinking about who Caro is and what in this world would catch her, would make her angry or frightened or set off some kind of spark within her. And I have to do this while reading all I can about this world and what the real people within in were actually doing.

So, yes, this means a lot of time with books and a notebook and pen. In between, of course, getting those revisions done on the critique book. I don't know about you, but it sounds like a pretty lovely balance of jobs for the next couple of weeks. :)

Thankful Thursday

1. I am SO thankful that I finished Donald Maass' workbook yesterday, and that now I get to PLOT!

2. I am thankful that my editor is happy with my manuscript.

3. I am thankful that Spring got real and cooled off. I know, I know, but I just don't "do" 95 degrees.

4. I am thankful that there is this wonderful NESCBWI conference for so many of my blog friends to go to, and I am only the teensiest bit jealous that I'm not going, too. Really.

5. I am thankful that my sister is loaning us my nephew for the weekend. Cousin-time needed! I am not thankful, really, that he is skipping his Saturday soccer game to do this, because of the stitches he just got in his leg, when he crashed running after a soccer ball at school. Although, for our family, a SPORTS INJURY is a big deal! :)

6. I am thankful that friends are coming over Saturday night, so my husband is making his gumbo. YES! This almost makes up for number 4.

7. I am thankful, thou beggarly fly-bitten horse-drenches, that William Shakespeare was born 445 years ago! Go
here for more Shakespearean insults, here to find out about Talk Like Shakespeare Day, and here to read Jama Rattigan's great post on the bard. 

8. Edited later to add: I am extremely thankful as I browse through the comments from my editor. Everything looks totally doable, and his comments feel right on target. Whee!

Critique Book--Small Squee

Heard from my Writer's Digest editor today about when I'll be getting his revision comments (soon). He sounds very happy with the manuscript. He used what may be today's (this year's?) favorite word...

           Clean.

Happy-dancing with relief and other good feelings.

Endings

One thing I hear all the time is that, too often, writers start their story too early. Too much setting, background, info before the really critical action and big event.

Is it possible we also drag our endings on for too long? Tying up too many threads, revealing too much that happens after the other big event? Playing a little too hard at being Hercule Poirot?

How do you all feel about endings that leave the future unresolved? Obviously, I'm talking about books that do this WELL, not books that just don't finish the story. :) Do you like the chance to play, in your mind, with possibilities? Or do you just want to know what happens?

Playing with a few thoughts on my own WIP and wondering.

Six on a Saturday

1. Two nights sleeping in the vanagon.

2. One not-so-long, but VERY tall hike on Friday.

3. One also-not-so-long, not-very-tall, but WARM hike on Saturday.

4. Many very sore, but happy muscles.

5. Discovery of acai-blueberry-pomegranate vitamin water, which is an absolutely ridiculous, pampering, but perhaps NECESSARY treat after 2 & 3.

And...DRUM ROLL PLEASE...

6. TEN audio recordings (on my cellphone--yay, technology!) of story ideas, resulting from brainstorming with husband and son (my heroes!) during #2 (to keep minds OFF the tallness) that TOTALLY uncorked plugged brain about WHY Caro chooses WHAT at the climax. To quote Walter Mathau as Albert Einstein riding a motorcycle in the movie "IQ"...WAHOO!!!!

A Shared Dream

This week's research reading is Mary Antin's The Promised Land. The book is Mary's autobiography, which she wrote and published after 15 or 20 years in the United States. About the first 2/3 are the story of her childhood as a Jewish girl in Eastern Europe (Russia, I think), with all the restrictions and dangers and (yes) delights she experienced there. Then her family comes to Boston, and the girl who's personality and curiosity had just been budding in Europe basically opens and blooms...with force.

The biggest factors? Her family, public (free) education, and the public library. Mary had some little opportunities to learn reading in Europe, and when she comes to America and gets to go to school and can take a book home from the library every day, she pretty much goes crazy with happiness.

And she writes. At 12 or 13, she writes an incredibly heartfelt poem about George Washington and walks, alone, from her house to the newspaper district until she finds an editor who reads it, interviews her, and publishes it with her bio. She is, as you can guess, a HUGE sensation in the neighborhood. And she writes and she reads and writes and reads...

Including the encyclopedia.

And there grew in me an enormous ambition that devoured all my other ambitions, which was no less than this: that I should live to know that after my death my name would surely be printed in the encyclopedia. It was such a prodigious thing to expect that I kept the idea a secret even from myself, just letting it lie where it sprouted, in an unexplored corner of my busy brain. But it grew on me in spite of myself, till finally I could not resist the temptation to study out the exact place in the encyclopedia where my name would belong. I saw that it would come not far from "Alcott, Louisa M."; and I covered my face with my hands, to hide the silly, baseless joy in it.

Who hasn't gone to the bookstore and seen where their books would be shelved? Me, I'm right next to Gail Carson Levine. And just past her--the fact that gives me the "silly, baseless joy"--is C.S. Lewis. I "am" one author away from the creator of Narnia.

Here's to Mary's dreams and all of ours.

 

Where Creativity Goes During Spring Break

Apparently, it does not yet go to the mother who finally got taxes out the door and is running to the grocery store and the post office and the doctor's office. Clearly, it goes instead to the son who is out of school for aforesaid spring break and, despite having either bronchitis or pneumonia, is going full-steam ahead writing and drawing his latest comic book.

Case in point:



Despite the eye-patch and peg-leg, this is NOT a Pirate Taco. It is an Old-Salt Taco, come to warn the brave, adventurous Taco-Hero away from the oncoming sea serpent. Which warning, of course, Taco-Hero will NOT listen to.

Maybe if I hang out with the artist long enough, some creativity will seep back in my direction.

Wintergirls


                         Wintergirls Cover

Wintergirls.

I don't have the words to say how brilliantly heartbreaking this book is. I try to imagine what it would be like to read it as a teenager, instead of an adult woman, a mother, and I can't. Honestly, truly, I hate so much that there are teenagers, children, adults who have to live this reality, for whom reading this book is a recognition. On the flip side, I wish/want so much that for them to read it, to even know it has been written, may give some kind of hope.

I don't know. I just know that Laurie Halse Anderson is beyond amazing.

 

Picture Book Question

Quick question for the picture-book writers out there. I know that, when you submit a picture book, you use the standard double-spaced paragraph format, just like with any other manuscript. When you're writing the book, though, what works best for you?

Do you keep to that standard format for the early (and later?) drafts? Or do you play with line breaks as you go, so you have an idea how the story might look (and sound) in its final form?

Thanks for any tips. Everything goes straight into the learning-curve box!

My Friday Five

Here are the five books I'm using for my picture-book studying/thinking this week:

1. Picture Writing by Anastasia Suen

2. Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell HobanLillian Hoban

3. Miss Spider's Tea Party by David Kirk

4. One Present from Flekman's by Alan Arkin

5. In a Blue Room by Jim Averbeck.

I can, officially, highly recommend every one of them. I also just discovered my son is a brilliant picture-book brainstormer, but--while you can often find him at the bookstore—you can't take him home.

Happy Weekend, everybody!

Quick Link

Just a fast post, if you didn't see it at my other blog--Andra Maquardt posted an interview with me at her blog:

http://almarquardt.com/blog/2009/04/author_interview_becky_levine.html

Stop by if you're looking to kill a few minutes!

Forget the Mona Lisa

Isn't this one of the most beautiful pictures you've ever seen?

                    
 
I can't remember a time when a new notebook and pen didn't look, feel, and smell like dreams.

Today, I decided it was time to start thinking about a couple of picture book projects I've had in the back of my mind for a while. One is fiction and has a character in it I've probably needed to write about for ten years. The other is a nonfiction biography coming out of some of the research I've been doing for my YA WIP.

And I realized that each of these books needed it's own notebook. I started reading Anastasia Suen's Picture Writing, and while I don't know that I'll use the notebook for all the things she suggests, one aspect of her technique struck a chord with me--the idea of taking time over a picture book.

When I write a novel, for whatever age, there are so many words that--in a sense--all the time I spend getting them on paper also acts as thinking time. Not that there aren't a gazillion revisions ahead, but still--I can muse and imagine and create at the same time as I type. With a picture book, that seems less true to me. I already did one draft of the fiction PB a few weeks ago, and it took about 20 minutes to get into a computer file. NOT enough time to actually think about the story while I write, to develop new ideas or consider multiple, alternative paths.

I've talked with Jeannine Atkins about this some, too, and I think--for my picture book writing--I need to slow down the process. Which--at least as I get started--means backing away from my 100-words-per-minute keyboard and getting out the notebook and pen again.

Normally, I keep my writing projects in a binder--I can print things off the computer or scribble notes and keep everything together. I can also rearrange and reorganize at will. But here, with the picture books, I'm going to try another different thing. I'm going to back off--again--from the three-ring set-up and just enter whatever about the picture book into the next available page in the notebook. Each page will have something like a character trait or a plot arc or a few lines of story on it. An occasional page may have a piece of art, a sketch I make or a picture from a magazine or the web that connects me to my story. Anything visual is a SERIOUS rarity for me, but I think it may be a tool I want to play with on these projects. And the order of all these things will be just page-by-page-by-page, so that--I hope--I can develop and get acquainted with an entire sense of these stories of so few words.

I couldn't find the post on Susan Taylor Brown's blog, or maybe I've just heard her tell the story, but I'm hoping for something like what she experienced when she started writing Hugging the Rock. Susan, I apologize if I get this wrong, and please correct me if I do (and if you know the post, you could throw a link to it into the comments!)--but maybe the story I took away from yours is what will work for me. Anyway, as I remember it, Susan didn't have time for much writing, but she decided she had time for a poem. And another poem. And another. And she wrote them as isolated, individual pieces until she started seeing the form and shape of the characters and of the plot. And then she started to mold the poems into the direction they needed to go.

(Edited to add: Susan posted the link to this post in the comments, but I wanted to put it here, too: http://susanwrites.livejournal.com/190106.html. )

I'm hoping that using the notebook and having to take it all page-by-page, piece-by-piece will help me--not just to write a story--but to learn and understand more about the whole picture book process, to which I feel very new.

That's the plan, anyway. For today! I'd love to hear from anyone who does write picture books about their tools and their way of approaching this very different (for me) story form.

Laura Salas Launches STAMPEDE!

Are you sipping your second cup of coffee yet? Or having a break between chapters. Well, take a few minutes to go to Laura Purdie Salas'online launch party for Stampede! Poems to Celebrate the Wild Side of SchoolThere are games, highly recommended animal snacks, and a chance to listen to some of the poems in the book. Laura also makes it seriously easy to put in a request at your library for them to buy the book--which is an idea I just love!

Stop by and celebrate with Laura!

Apr. 3rd, 2009

Mary Pearson says that Kate Messner says that today is officially "Say Something Nice" day. Who am I to argue? ('Cause that would be, you know, not nice!) I guess I'm supposed to Twitter these, but I'm not there yet, so here--only in blog form--are my five for the week.

1. Re queryfail & agentfail (since this is what prompted Kate): I'm sorry, but I just can't go there. Too many people complaining and not enough people appreciating. I know there are agents out there who are harsh or don't do a good job. Guess what? There are writers like that, too. And there are engineers. And there are doctors. And there are mechanics. And there are chefs. And...and..and...Have you seen how many comments Nathan Bransford gets on his blog. And--you know what--he reads them all! And how many queries and submissions do all agents get--if they wrote nice letters to everybody, they'd get no sleep. Or food. Or have time for their clients! So here's my first nice: I think agents work their %$^%$s off! And deserve some credit for it. :)

2. The librarians at my bookmobile. I probably should have (or maybe I did) posted this in one of my comments for WriterJenn's library challenge, but they treat me so well. They tell me what books I should read, and they put them on hold for me even when my hold list is already full. They (okay, one of them specifically) keeps me up-to-date on what sci-fi series DVDs I should be bringing home for the family and...yes, puts them on hold for me! They bring piles of books and movies to their spot 5 minutes from my house, and they smile and welcome me every time I walk up the steps.

3. PJ Hoover, author of The Emerald Tablet, which is so on my to-read list. I just started reading PJ's blog a couple of months ago, and I just love her energy and optimism and her smile (I just read Bonny Becker's A Visitor for Bear, and the description of the mouse--"small and gray and bright-eyed" makes me think of PJ. Without the small, gray part.

4. The people who I pass (only going the opposite direction!) when I go out and run. They smile and give me a head-nod or a wave, instead of breaking out into laughter at how slow I am and how red my face is (I'm sure!). That's moral support!

5. My husband and son who support my evenings out (like tonight's trip, with Susan Taylor Brown and Beth Proudfoot to hear Jill Wolfson read from her new book Cold Hands, Warm Heart  at Books, Inc in Palo Alto.) They kindly and graciously make sure I have everything I need and escort me out the door before slamming it behind me and racing to push Start on the DVD remote.

Join in--it'll make you smile!

What Makes a Person Exceptional?

I don't mean--what does a person do that shows them to be exceptional? I mean--what in them gives them the strength, power, drive...whatever you want to call it to be an exceptional person?

I'm currently reading Ida B. Wells--Mother of the Civil Rights Movement by Dennis Brindell FradinJudith Bloom Fradin. In the last few months, I've read a lot about Ida B. Wells, but I basically can't finish a chapter, or even a page, without just thinking...Wow. At one point, the Fradins describe an early meeting of the National Afro-American Council, in which

the council issued an "Address to the Nation," which was a compromise between the militants, such as Wells-Barnett [Ida B. Wells' married name], and the Bookerites [the members of the council who supported the choices recommended by Booker T. Washington]. It condemned President McKinley for ignoring lynchings, yet accepted "legitimate voting restrictions," including educational qualifications, that were used to exclude black voters.

The next paragraph goes back to Ida B. Wells.

Wells-Barnett was bitterly disappointed that black leaders were willing to compromise on matters or right and wrong. She didn't yet realize it, but by becoming more militant, she was moving far ahead of her time and was making enemies not only among white bigots and government officials but also among her own people.

Here's the thing. After all I've read, I'm pretty sure that--even if Ida B. Wells had realized what she was doing, she wouldn't have stopped. For her, there was an absolute right; there were hundreds of absolute rights, and she never made the choice to moderate her thoughts, words, or actions about any of them. If a problem arose, it was hers to fight. If a cause got started, it was hers to carry. And while she herself admitted that she had a temper and that she often stormed into a situation in such a way that people wanted to push her back out, I can't imagine her ever saying that the things she saw didn't deserve that anger. 

So why, out of all the people in America, was she the one that never gave an inch, never accepted less than she felt she and other people--black and white--deserved? Yes, from what I've read, her parents were pretty wonderful, but they died when she was sixteen, leaving her to care for her younger siblings.  What was in her that made/let her face this experience with strength and courage? What was in her that made her face every experience that way--with power seemingly beyond the capacity of any of the other people around her? 

Somewhere, amidst all the awe and gratitude I feel about this woman, there's food for thought about character development, as well! (There--the writing connection, at the very end!)

By the way, if you are looking for a good book, I'd recommend anything by the Brindells. This is the second biography of theirs that I have read (the other was of Jane Addams), and they're both excellent. They have clearly done a TON of research, their writing is clear and engaging, and the books are just a pleasure to read.

Looking for Recommendations

It's probably way too early in the "writing" process to be thinking about this, but that's never stopped me before. I'm musing about structure and backstory today. I'd love to read a few books (preferably YA, but they don't have to be) where a certain piece of backstory--something that happened before the book opened, not that's going on in the background as the book progresses--is woven into the story's forward movement. I'm sure I've read many of these, but I'm drawing a blank trying to remember them.

In the "old days" I probably would have just been writing a few chapters to create the hero's ordinary world, and I would have been able to make this backstory part of that. But that kind of structure isn't really working these days, and I haven't yet reached a point where I can visualize an alternative.

So if you've got any titles for me, I'd love to see them in the comments!