Thursday, March 26, 2009

Childhood Impressions, Book 1

Kids always love to hear that I've written over one hundred stories but I've sold only three. Struggling writers absorb that piece of information with significantly less enthusiasm.  I've been out visiting schools talking about my books this month and answering loads of questions from kids about where I get my ideas for my stories. Here's my personal connection to the my first book, The Wonderful Thing About Hiccups:

Some of my favorite childhood memories were of going to the library on hot summer days (yeah, air conditioning!) and getting to check out books. My frugal family did not have a ton of money, and I can't recollect a single visit to a toy store or being allowed an impulse buy at the grocery store. Ever. Most of what I played with had already been through my two big sisters. There wasn't a Barbie left in the house that didn't have her face scribbled on with permanent marker "make-up" and her lovely, silky Barbie hair, if it wasn't completely pulled out, was ruthlessly trimmed short and lopsided. I mostly played outside with my little brother.

The realization that anything can happen in a book was a big one for me. I was a daydreamer. The middle of five kids. I found the confines of rules and restrictions inconvenient on some days, unbearable on others. Books opened up new dimensions to my fantasy world of play. The Wonderful Thing About Hiccups blends three lasting impressions from childhood: 

1. Libraries are wonderful places.
2. Books offer a world of escape where anything is possible.
3. Being a little sister can really suck.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Novelist and the Poet

I adore my two nieces, Katie and Sarah. Katie is twelve and Sarah is nine. Katie is the super-focused high achiever. She started reading big, fat chapter books in kindergarden, and her amazing writing skills soon followed. She writes stories for fun, page after page after page after page. She is the kid in school who completes an eight page essay when the assignment was to write five pages. Katie thinks big. Her abilities and intelligence are unquestionably impressive. Her creativity boundless.

Sarah is sensitive. Sweet. Less confident. Amazingly observant to every detail. Empathetic. As a toddler, if another child started crying, she would cry because she felt their sadness. She is a true friend to her peers and well-liked. And with every passing year, I see a quirky sense of humor start to emerge. If assigned a five page essay, she becomes frustrated after a few pages. Stuck. She questions herself. She criticizes herself. She compares herself to her big sister who never gets stuck.

"They are so different," their mother wonders. 
"They are," I agree. "You're lucky, though, to have one of each."
"Things don't come as easily to Sarah," their mother worries. "Katie is going to grow up and write a novel some day."
"Don't worry," I tell the mother. "Sarah will write the poem. Don't you see it? you have one of each. A novelist and a poet."

That's what I try to explain to kids who get stuck or feel overwhelmed with writing. Kids who label themselves "bad writers" because writing doesn't come easily to them. Writing comes in so many forms - comic books, blogs, letters and e-mails, journals, poems, novels. It's a matter of finding the style that fits how they think. We all store information, organize our thoughts, and communicate to the world in our own way.

Some will be the novelist, some the poet. Both equally amazing in my book.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Little Writers

I'm doing a mini-writing clinic at my kids' school. I take a group of four kids and meet with them once a week for three weeks, then I rotate to a new group. Heads up, folks, there are some great writers coming down the pipeline! I'm having fun, and I think most of the kids are getting something out of the experience. My one problem is that I am incapable of controlling unruly kids. That's why my limit is four. If they all decided to stage a major revolt I would be in serious trouble. Hopefully, none of them read blogs. They are, after all, only 3rd graders. 

So, my last group had two quiet, compliant kids and two hooligans. Hooligans are AWESOME kids, by the way. The term hooligan, for me, is used to describe a high-energy (and many times highly creative) child that I am incapable of keeping focused on the task at hand for more than a few minutes. About 25% of all kids fall in this category.  So I am just pointing out that my last group hooligan ratio was at 50%. Our discussions ran off topic at times towards subjects such as, "What is that sticky stuff stuck under the table?" My answer: Gum? Boogers? Please just don't touch it. Soon everyone was looking under the table. You get the picture. 

I read from Because of Winn Dixie every week gushing over examples of great writing. I pass around old, edited manuscripts of my two books and let the kids compare them to the finished, published book. On the last day the kids edit an intentionally poorly written very short story of my creation. Before they start in on the last project, they read the story and tell the group what they do not like about it. Now, that's a real Writer's experience, hmmmm? You can never start early enough teaching kids the art of dissatisfaction, criticism, and rejection, right?

The hooligans surprised me at one point in a writing exercise where we were discussing multi-sensory description. We were coming up with different ways to describe flowers that included not just sight - but smell, taste, sound, touch. The two hooligans took a break from flinging their pencils at each other and tipping their chairs back at terrifying angles to start a high-speed brainstorm back and forth on flower description. The ideas were flying. Finally, the discussion came to rest with the angelic voice of The Master of All Hooligans offering to the group that, "the sound of flowers in a meadow is that of heaven touching the earth."

Sigh.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

What's in your backyard?


I have rabbits. And now to change the subject completely. I was waiting in line at Bath and Bodyworks with my daughter (age 11) and the lady in front of us peed on the floor while being helped at the register. No one noticed until she left the store. I almost stepped in it, but I didn't. It was a big, yellow, smelly, splattered-looking puddle and we were all quite sure she did not have a dog with her. The sales clerk grabbed a mop and pail and cleaned it up. She understood why we refused to stand anywhere near the spot while paying for our purchases. There are so many unanswered questions here:
1. Why? Did she have to go really bad and and then lost control? Does she have a medical condition? Was she just another strange Santa Cruz citizen making some obscure statement about Bath & Bodyworks?
2. What was she wearing, or not wearing, to be able to pee so effectively? 
3. Why was that mop and pail so readily available?
4. What did she look like exactly? I'm annoyed with myself for not taking a closer look. All we were able to remember was that she had really big hair. Not helpful.

Okay, I just had to get this off my chest. Enjoy your day!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Back from the dead

My mother-in-law dropped dead in the grocery store last month. No worries, she didn't stay dead. Her pacemaker-defibrillator thingy she has imbedded in her chest gave her a zap and she woke up without even realizing she had been gone. The ambulance came and took her vitals. Sent her home in a taxi. We didn't even realize her heart had stopped until I took her to the cardiologist three weeks later. We were amazed.

On the ride home we were talking about it. "Weren't you dizzy? Tired?" She felt same as always. Mind you, my mother-in-law is one sick woman. Stroke survivor, congestive heart failure, diabetic. She was supposed to die many, many times over in the past eight years. She refuses. It is almost funny how resilient she is. It was a twenty minute car ride back to her house. We fell silent. I have no idea what she must have been thinking. As she got out of my car, I tried to say something encouraging. "Well, you know Lonna. When it is your time to go at least you know it will be fast." Not the right thing to say.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Seriously, you can't take me anywhere


Last Friday, one hour before I was to leave for a children's writers conference, the trunk of my car closed on my face. I know, it's hard to picture. I should mention that the trunk door is unreliable and slightly evil. It closes, unsuspectingly, and with surprising force, on a regular basis - most often while I am unloading grocery bags. I can usually dodge the door, but many times I have had the back of my head pounded with dizzying speed. It's more than a little painful and occasionally draws blood. Like most broken or free items in and around my house, I've learned to live with it.

I was looking forward to this conference. Writing is lonely! I have no coworkers, and very few people to talk to. I usually like it that way. But once a year, I look forward to Asilomar and the SCBWI Golden Gate Conference. I get to meet editors, writers, and really cool people in the industry. I was stuck doing all that and more with a big scab between my eyes. Nice, huh?

Back to the trunk injury. As I put my suitcase into the trunk, I briefly looked up from my task only to be whacked across the bridge of my nose by the trunk door closing. The end result, after much bleeding and swearing, is a scabby zigzag that would do Harry Potter proud. It is right where my third eye should be, if I ever decide to buy myself one. Tempting.