Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Fall

Last night, the world shifted a bit. Its colors grew sharper, its magic stronger, its capacity for love consuming. As I sat with my 11-year-old son and my beloved husband, I watched the most amazing piece of storytelling unfold in our living room. If you haven't seen THE FALL yet, you must. As a writer, I know of nothing that speaks so perfectly of how our lives are transformed by a story. As a member of the human race, I know of nothing truer than the passion that made this movie possible.

A story is more than words frozen on a page or fallen from the mouth of the storyteller to hang lifeless in the ears of the listener. It is a vibrant, transformative interaction between the writer and the reader, the teller and the listener (and for that matter, the story itself). Once you have read or heard a story, the narrative itself will never be the same. You, the reader, become a part of it, it becomes a part of you, and it is something wholly new. The reader brings meaning as much as the writer, and as Roy discovers in the wonderful movie, a good story feeds the soul—a great one saves it.

This film is so rich with visual beauty, spiritual exploration, and exquisite narrative form. The layers of narrative reach right out of the screen and pull the viewers into the experience just as Alexandria is pulled into Roy's stories. Our hearts break for Roy and for the child. Our desire to save them both and to be saved by their story fills us up in a way that no one could expect.

Tarsem's passion for this tale is evident in every detail. This was the quintessential labor of love. From the vast reaches of endless locations to his joyous unity with the actors to his attention to the most minute details of costume, light, or sound, Tarsem sculpted this story to perfection. The cast was equally devoted and inspired.

Buy THE FALL, watch it with someone you love, open yourself up and drink it in.

I'll say it again: A good story feeds the soul, a great one saves it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cover Me

I can't help myself. As I'm dreaming of that big book contract that's just on the horizon (perhaps a belated Christmas present?), I've been noticing book covers and dreaming of what my own could be. The blue boards hosted a thread about covers, I think, and with Ghost Hunk home, I was able to have a chat with a real live person about the trend in book covers.

Is it true that YA/teen covers tend to be photographs, while MG covers are illustrated? So far, this truth seems to bare out. Mostly. But what do I want for my cover? Hmmm... (that's assuming I could even have any input—but this is my dream, right?)

Here's one of my favorites, which I just discovered today: It's brand new and surprisingly close in tone to my own book—Avi's The Seer of Shadows. I LOVE this cover. (And the book, too!) Now to be fair, the book is about a photographer, so that choice was sort of a given.

Then you have the alluring covers, like the Gemma Doyle trilogy that add a little sex appeal to the historical fantasy. A very different tone, here, but both books deal with historical settings and paranormal or fantastical elements. Libba Bray's book is definitely aimed at a slightly older, more feminine audience, while Avi's is less about the girl and more about the mystery.

What about those illustrated covers? Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book pumps up its own fantastical atmosphere with some fabulous art:
I love his writing, and the art on this cover certainly stays true to his sense of mystical, creepy, beautiful, dark fun. (sorry, I can't help but go all George Orwell with the adjectives.)

I guess part of the cover's job is to set the tone and reveal something about the story—and sell books, of course. Do you get a sense of these stories? I do.

Now, what about my own fabulous book, which has many interesting elements that could adorn the cover. I'm afraid a certain type of illustration will make it seem too campy, but the wrong photographic approach could make it more about the hunk on the cover than the cool ghost story inside. I definitely want the spook factor, but with the proper historical context. For now, I'll keep dreaming about holding that 2-pound piece of my soul when it is final bound and swaddled in its own magical artwork.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Black Wednesday...Silver Futures

No, this isn't a post about the stock market.  But it is a time to take some stock of things in our business.  With all the layoffs at S&S and the shakeups at Random House and so many other reorganization strategies around the world of publishing, it would be easy to start spouting doomsday messages.  I'll just throw on a sheet and stand on the corner in NYC with a sandwich sign about the end of the (publishing) world...  

Actually, no.  It isn't the end.  I won't be so saccharine and cliché to say "it's a new beginning" (hold the gag reflex, please).  But I will say that this is not all bad.  Nathan Bransford has blogged about this topic more than once, like this and this.   And Caren Johnson reflects on yesterday's events in her most recent blog.  Both have a positive perspective on things.  

But add in several of my writer friends in their blogs, on FaceBook...all over.  And one can only imagine what the people waiving their pink slips in the air are thinking.  Plenty of people are nervous.  This could be our Chicken Little moment.  

But hang on.  Can you ever imagine a world without books?  That could be the one thing that would instantly eliminate me from Fear Factor! (shudder...)  Thank you, Ray Bradbury, for your glimpse of such a world in Fahrenheit 451.  

That said, we need to consider what all these shifts in the business really mean.  After all, publishing is a business, as much as we love to think of it purely as an art.  Writing is the art, the craft.  Publishing is the business.  So what does the future hold for us?  

First of all, books might begin to look a little different, but there is simply no reason for them to disappear.  With all the fuss about Kindle and the Sony Reader, digital books may have a stronger foothold in our libraries than we once believed.  Is that a bad thing?  

As Caren suggests in her blog, advances may have to be adjusted—and that doesn't mean you'll get paid less if you write that Printz-winning best seller.  What it could mean is that your advance could be a little smaller, and your royalty check a little bigger.  That's "real-time" money.  Money actually earned out by your book.  As a soon-to-be debut author (I believe, I believe...) my fantasies about a great advance might be dented, but I've always known the cold realities of first-time advances.  That doesn't mean I won't keep dreaming...or keep writing.

So what is the silver in our future?  My guess is a more efficient publishing machine.  Perhaps a broader reading audience thanks to technology and better marketing strategies.  Even a more educated, lit-savvy readership who hunger for more.  

At least, that's what I'm going to hold my breath for...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Writer's Tool Box: Top 5 Reasons Why the Internet Belongs There

A few months ago, I discovered the fabulous playground known as Face Book. A place for friends to gather and buy each other cyber drinks, go green, and send a host of outrageous gifts back and forth. Aside from throwing the odd sheep now and then, I love to send and receive little treasures from the Writer's Toolbox—time to write, copy paper, a million fans, a book contract, an agent,... How fabulous is that?

And then I thought, there is one thing missing...the internet. Imagine the old days, those wonderfully romanticized images of Eric Blair huddled over his crappy desk in a dark hovel, alienating his wife and cutting himself off from all human contact so he can scratch out 1984 only to die completely broke and under-appreciated.  Okay, maybe not so hot.  Of course then you have Ernest Hemingway, always the life of the party, constantly trying to prove his manhood by running with the bulls and heading out to the high seas to hook a marlin...until he shoots himself in the head.    

Hmmmm...ya gotta wonder.

At least in the world of children's books, today's authors have a little more spunk and a stronger sense of life.  Maybe it's because we're closer to the font.  The source of youth and joie de vivre.  Or maybe it's the internet.

Let's start with the most practical reason why the internet should be in our Writer's Toolbox, and move toward the more metaphysical:

  • #5.  Research:  No matter what kind of book you write, whether it's historical fiction, fantasy, or the edgiest anthem to modern teen angst, you do research.  If you're old (like me), you might not be in touch with what an EMO is or get the latest fads or slang.  Hit the internet.   And even more practical, who's publishing your kind of stuff or representing it, or reading it?  The list is endless.
  • #4.  Speaking of queries:  Not only can you research the publishing industry and all its fabulous fodder, but you can submit via email or online forms.  Oooooh...and get the answers that much faster.  And even better, you can check your email 150 times a day in the privacy of your own more skulking to the mailbox, out in the open, for all your non-writer neighbors to gawk at.
  • #3.  Distraction:  Hallelujah!  When you get that 247th rejection on your teenage vampire/spy/beauty queen novel, you can get lost in a variety of online games and other mindless distractions.  Of course this cuts both ways.  Instead of working through that writer's block in the middle of your 10th revision, you can waste time visiting 100 different blogs.  You might find inspiration...then again, you might find out that everyone else is having more fun than you—or not.  Best to set up a daily routine and limit the distractions (can you tell it's working for me?)
  • #2. Community:  Voila!  There it is.  THE BIG ONE.  This is the thing that keeps us from pulling the trigger.  We have FRIENDS.  Face book friends, LJ friends, Blue Board friends, Blogger friends,...  There is a whole world of human contact out there.  Okay, maybe not exactly human contact, but it's real and active and something we come to count on.  When your non-writer friends have no clue what a hook is or what a galley looks like or what the hell a good synopsis looks like, you have cyber friends.  People at all stages of their writing careers who are willing to show you their bloody wounds and battle scars.  They'll commiserate with you in your failures and celebrate like no one else in your successes.  And when you travel two states over for a conference, they'll even welcome you into their home, feed you, and haul you around even though they've never seen your face before.  Because the know you from the internet.  I know, that could sound a little creepy, but children's writers are a different breed.  They understand compassion, empathy, and good old cathartic key-banging.  I don't know what I would do without my connections (in case you missed it, that was a pun...okay, not a very good one, but...).  
So there it is.  The top reasons why the internet should be in any writer's toolbox.  Oh, wait!  One more?  That's right.  
  • #1.  Where to find Your Book!  Yep, the internet will have the Publisher's Marketplace announcement of your deal, your ecstatic declaration on the Blue Boards and on your blog, and the cover image on Amazon (shhhh...we still support the independent book sellers!).  

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ghosts of What Should Be

What a strange mix of joy and longing. The last two weeks have brought a variety of news, good and bad. The great news, of course, is that I have a wonderful agent. More good news came last week when I went to parent/teacher conferences. Yes, folks, they are a good thing. And particularly sweet this time around. My dear dyspraxic daughter is doing brilliantly, thanks to a truly gifted teacher. I'm so very proud of Ghost Daughter. She has worked hard to stay focused and get into the groove of public school. And what's more, I think I have another ravenous reader in the making. And Ghost Son is knocking it out of the park as always. He is just such a neat kid. Little miracles, both of them.

I'm not sure if this is good or bad news, but the editor who has had my manuscript for the past year finally decided to pass on it. There goes that fantasy! But my awesome agent is so positive and has such great insight into my book, that she really has me pumped to move on to the next opportunity. I'm revising, and thrilled with what's happening. I know there will still be things to do when I'm done. Editors will always find something to fix, and that's okay. My babies ain't perfect! But I'm really excited about the possibilities.

The toughest things seem to have come crashing around me over the last few days. Thursday night, the wind is howling and along about 5:30, the dark outside is already falling. I'm watching the news while dinner simmers and I'm expecting something. That insatiable anticipation of the normal. That any minute, Ghost Hunk is going to walk through the door and tell me about his day. Except that Ghost Hunk is still in Georgia. It just can't be real. I ache for him. Just to sit next to him and babble on about my great news, and not-so-great news. I won't get all maudlin, now, but something has got to happen soon. Somebody buy this damn house so we can get on with it!

To top it all off, we get a phone call from the mega corporation that was sort of courting Ghost Hunk as he debated leaving academia for the big money. They strung him along and then went silent for months. Now all of a sudden they are interested in talking to him. What the hell is that?! That job would keep us in PA...and pay twice what he's making at the university. But is it really what he wants? Is he ready to leave his career for that? Holy crap! We're just trying get used to the idea of living in GA, struggling to deal with the rapidly collapsing economy and praying for our house to sell so we can get life started again.

Somebody up there is having a good laugh. What a tease! At least I know that my book will BE. That my little ghost family will be together...eventually. That Ghost Hunk will choose the right job (if there is a choice to be made).

For now, I think I just need a margarita (salt please)...

Friday, November 07, 2008

Pinch Me...!

It's Fall—my favorite season—the grass all dappled with red and orange and green and yellow. Smoke on the breeze. My favorite meal in the oven spreading its intoxicating aroma through the house—oniony pot roast, mmmm.... I can relax now. Happy in the best news I've had in months.

I am so thrilled to announce that I have an agent. A FABULOUS agent! Elana Roth from the Caren Johnson Literary Agency is taking The Well of Spirits out into the world and helping me to build my career as a YA writer.  When I talked to her last week, I knew right away that we were in sync.  I liked the way she saw things unfolding and the way she "got" my book.  Her instincts for revision were dead on, and her professionalism right on key.  I was flying!

Now, believe it or not, I still had two other agents reviewing my manuscript.  I emailed them to let them know that I had an offer.  And (to my surprise) they both responded that they would like to have the week to finish.  One of them had been my mentor at the Rutgers One-on-One, and I really liked her.  She is sharp and savvy and interested in the actual history behind my books.  She did call and say that she would like to see some revision before she made an offer.  While we didn't get into a lot of detail, the revisions she had mentioned earlier were not exactly what I was seeing for this book and the size of her client list and agency was a little daunting.   

As I suspected, I had met the right agent already.  What a great feeling!  Woohoo!  So, my agent and I (ooohh, I love the sound of that) have a plan, and things are starting to move.  I can't wait to get my teeth into publishing and actually start writing that next book.   

For now, I'll sink my teeth into some pot roast.  And maybe wash it down with a little champagne! 

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Flotsam File

I have one. A file full of the flotsam that clogs my brain at night when I'm trying to fall asleep or that distracts me to dangerous ends when I'm driving. Those little nuggets of gold that may (or may not) someday make it into one of my books. (Yes, I plan to write a lot!) It could be a piece of dialogue overheard somewhere. Perhaps a completely incongruous image that popped up on the road along the way. Even a name that cries out for attention. Lots of little pieces of nothing that might become something.

So I'm on my way to the store the other day, and here comes one of those bits of flotsam, jaunting up the road, oblivious to the world. An RV. Not just any RV. An RV boldly branded with the words, "THE INTRUDER". As if Winnebago isn't nerdy enough. So my brain went to a teenager, forced to spend his vacation traveling with Grandma and Grandpa in an RV emblazoned with that unforgivable moniker. A true and glorious king of nerd-dom might embrace it and revel in the irony. But most teens would be mortified.

Of course, I could always add in that fabulous image of a giant head of Eddie Murphy traveling down the road in front of them (or even in tow behind them!)!


Sunday, October 19, 2008

What It's About...

First, a big shout out to Linda Bozzo, who generously opened her home to me this weekend and to Lisa Mullarkey and all the blue boarders for a fabulous party!

As I return from a tremendous Rutgers One-on-One experience, I'm a bit introspective about how I got started on this road.  

I've been at this for 7 years—writing, attending conferences and workshops, honing my skills, submitting manuscripts—and the evolution of my perception of things has been unexpected and surprisingly sneaky.  

Let's start with the big question, "What am I all about?"  I'm not sure anyone can answer that in the space of a blog, at least not one anyone would read, but I'll narrow it down.  First and foremost, I'm a lover of books.  But connected to that is my desire to teach, to share my own violent passion for stories with teenagers.  And as a high school teacher, I stoked the fires everyday, and even, I think, made a difference in at least few lives.  But truth be told, they fed my soul as much as I led them to the feast.  

Always in the back of my mind were my own stories that must be told.  So I finally began to give them their voice in 2001.  I started with a few picture books, not because I thought those were easier—I was never that naive—but because that was the sort of story I had brewing in my brain.  I even submitted a few for publication.  It didn't take long to figure out that PBs are not my gig. I was far too sentimental.   So what to do?  Of course! Go back to that piece of my soul that I had shared for so many years and the people I shared it with—teenagers.  

Ah, these were the stories that really screamed to be told.  I'm still a little too sentimental, and I tend to use far too many adverbs, but the stories are authentic.  And my perspective on my own writing continues to sharpen as I speak to editors, agents, and other writers.  Yes, I want to get published, to share something with young adults, to give them another voice, to imagine. 

So often the keynote message at conferences is the same—persistence and good writing.  Well, I've got that, right?  I'll say yes to the persistence part, but the writing is still in process and as far as I'm concerned, it always will be.  

However, I've also learned that just because one editor, or even ten, doesn't like your work, it doesn't mean that you suck.  And you should want more than instant editorial approval.  You also have to be willing to be guided, inspired.  It's easy to presume that you know what your doing and everybody else just has to be convinced that you're right. I'm not saying you should abandon your own opinion, but if twenty editors tell you that your first two sentences just don't work, perhaps you should consider trying a different approach.  

I have a least one editor who has inspired me to keep at it until I get it right, even if she's a little slow in the response on my final manuscript.  And this weekend, a wonderful agent took real time with me to talk about my ideas and my approach to the story.  Some of it she likes, some of it she would do differently.  Again, it's an opinion, an educated, thoughtful opinion, and my thanks go to the Rutgers Council for such a good match.  I'm looking forward to talking to her more.    

When it's all said and done, my new perspective is as much about me as it is about my writing.  I value my craft more than I used to.  It's not just the desire to get a story out there, but to craft it well.  But even more, I value myself as a writer, (not as a wannabe) and walk in with a little more confidence, however hard-won it has been.  I've accepted that I'm on a journey, one of my own choosing.  And every student I ever taught, every text I've written or read—published or otherwise—is part of what I am all about.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Growing Up Ghost Girl

*This was originally posted on my LiveJournal, but since the season has arrived, thought I'd bring it up here. 

So why “Ghost Girl”? Perhaps it’s time to explain. Could be my fascination with ghost stories. Yes. My mad desire to write about the spirits. Uh huh. But where did that come from? Growing up in a haunted house might have something to do with it:

In 1973, my family moved into a brand new house, built on the edge of a small river valley in rural Northeastern Indiana. I was 9 years old and the quiet country life was something new to me. But as I would discover in the next several years, it was anything but quiet.
It started with a feeling. This huge house full of new, interesting rooms, even a shadowy, unfinished basement where we could walk through the walls and play hopscotch on the floor. But that feeling only fluttered through my guts in one room. The brightest, cheeriest space in the house.

My older sister’s bedroom was in the far corner at the top of the house, plastered with flowery wallpaper and grass-green carpet and banked by a solid wall of windows. It was a meadow all its own, full of light and bright colors. But the moment I stepped into that room, something, some indescribable thing dragged my spirits down and seemed to smother all the vibrance in the room. We never could explain it.

We had lived there for a few years before anything significant happened, but happen it did. It’s hard to say which came first, but I think it was the three fingers. Three tentative, questioning fingers. You see, my sister had awakened in the middle of the night. She couldn’t say why. She just suddenly woke up to a silent, moonlit room. So she rolled over on her back and waited for sleep to return. But something else arrived first. As she lay there, patiently waiting, she felt something lean on the bed, as if a cat had crawled up on the mattress and was walking towards her.

Her breath caught heavy in her chest and her heart pounded so loudly in her ears that she was sure it would wake up the house. And then, it touched her. It felt like three fingers pressing gently on her thigh, as if to see if she was real. And then it was gone. And so was sleep for the rest of the night...

Pop back in for more details of my haunted childhood home. And believe me…they get more interesting, especially by the time I go to college.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Come As You Are

Wednesday Night, I had a first speaking engagement as a writer.  No, I'm not published, yet.  No, I'm not even remotely famous—or infamous—yet.  And quite frankly, there is no real reason anyone should care what I have to say about anything.  But I am a writer.  

Yep, there it is.  I AM A WRITER.  

It began with an unexpected phone call from a new acquaintance who is certainly now a friend—for a host of reasons.  She has a book club comprised of a variety of women, most of whom are mothers in their 30s.  Many of them are artists.  All of them are book lovers.  So, they had decided that instead of choosing a book for the group to read, each member would bring her favorite children's book and share why they love it so much.  But there was a bonus—at least that's how my friend saw it, and to my surprise, so did the ladies of the book club.  I was the bonus.  A real, live writer.  

My assignment:  talk about my life as a writer.  That's it!  They don't care that I'm not published, yet.  

So what did I have to say to these intelligent, thoughtful, accomplished women?  More than I expected.  It started with a brief description of how I began, but it quickly evolved into some bits of advice for claiming your dream.  Here are the basics:

  • Own Your Passion — Write because you simply can't not do it and never make excuses or apologies.  When someone asks you what you do, say "I'm a writer" and mean it.  Don't look away, launch a nervous giggle, and meekly offer, "Well, I'm trying to be a writer." Does an athlete say, "I'm trying to exercise?"  Just because you're not published yet does not mean you're a hack or a fake.  Just because a runner hasn't won the Boston marathon yet, does that mean he's not an athlete?  By the way, no one ever asks you if you are a good writer or a bad one...well, almost never!

  • Claim Your Space — This can be a tough one.  I know I'm not alone as a reigning queen of the clutter zone.  Yes, my space is in the playroom, surrounded by piles of toys and discarded art projects, and far too often, noisy kids.  But it is my space.  There is an invisible force field around my desk, and the kids know that penetrating that barrier carries serious jail time.  And now that they are both in school all day (2 sighs here, one of relief and one of wistful longing), my space is peaceful, momentarily less cluttered, and all mine.  

  • Make Time for Your Craft — No matter how hectic it gets, with lacrosse practice, doctor's appointments, the dentist, the vet—the 1001 things we always have going on—carve out time for your work, even if it's only 20 minutes a week.  You'll find that once you actually give yourself even the tiniest window of time, you'll guard it ferociously and crave more.  Let your hubby handle dinner or run the schpunts to sports practice or heaven-forbid clean the house!  And when necessary, take yourself to the cafe or the bookstore, where you can choose which voice bounces around in your head.  

  • Take Yourself Seriously — If you don't, nobody will.  

  • Find a Community — Writing is a very solitary pursuit, as is most creative activity.  Maybe that's why so many creative geniuses are stark raving mad—too much isolation!  This is one advantage to the technological explosion of the modern age.  You can find supportive cyber communities many places.  One of my favorites, of course, is Verla Kay's fabulous message board. The SCBWI also has a discussion board for its registered members. And there are others for more precise niches, like YA Fiction.   There are many more, and you can often find critique groups or just a whole new set of friends who "get" you.  

  • Feed Your Writer's Soul — As a writer, I have a million ideas flying around my brain and all kinds of theories as to the best way to splatter them onto paper.  But you know what they say about theories.  Allow yourself to attend a conference or workshop from time to time.  Not only do you get some surprising illumination about the craft of writing (despite the fact that you know it all already) and the business side of things, but you meet more people like you, and you network and make contacts that could potentially lead you to that next goal, whether it's publication or a critique group or a new knitting circle!  

  • And finally, Come As You Are — You carry within you entire worlds.  You see with eyes that no one else can look through unless you bring them behind the curtain.  It's not the package they will want to see.  Sure, it's nice when its pretty and tied up with a fabulous glittery bow.  But folks, writing ain't pretty!  Don't be afraid to open that package and see the bare naked truth.  All those little worries and insecurities and failures make a promise to the writer that you will become.  And need to make a promise to the writer you are.  Just come as you are and pour yourself into a pot of ink and spill it all over.  Dance in.  Make a mess.  Love it.  You are a writer. 
Okay, so that's the gist of my little chat.  Oh, I shared some tidbits of my books, which will be published any day now (wink), and my WIP and other elements of my journey, too.  And I got to recommend a host of kids books, some written by people I know, to all these eager readers.  It was amazing to see all those faces looking at me as if I actually know something exceedingly cool.  

...hey, I guess I really do.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A Little More about YA

I just returned from a great weekend at the SCBWI Eastern PA Fall Philly conference, where Lin Oliver shared her wisdom and the hilarious story of how SCBWI actually came to be.  Matt Phelan gave a fabulous talk on his own journey into the world of illustrating for children's books, in spite of our technical difficulties which left his beautiful illustrations in the laptop instead of on the projector screen for all to see.  (There's more irony here that I'll share later)

And a panel of class of 2K8 authors shared their wisdom and their amazing books with us.  Out of that forum came several brilliant observations, but I'm going to share one.  The question came up about how do we define YA.  (Imagine that!).  Everyone had great comments on this topic, but I really liked what Laurel Snyder had to say.  

In a Middle Grade book, the main character is looking out at the world, trying to figure it out. In a Young Adult book, he is trying to figure himself out, looking inward and trying to find his place or identity.

I think that is brilliant!  If you are struggling to decide if your approach is cutting it as a MG or YA story, take a minute to consider what your MC is going through.  How does he see the world?  Where is his deepest struggle?  Against the world or against himself? (maybe a little of both)

That's not to say that YA novels don't question the world and try to figure out what the hell's going on, but if you look at your hero's journey, ask yourself where did it start?  What was the original purpose of his quest.  And what answers did he find?  Did they all lay outside him or deep within?

Monday, September 22, 2008

What's Your Style-Genre?

In my last post, I talked about the definition/parameters of YA literature.  Now I'd like to consider the whole style-genre question.  (And forgive me if that is a lame term—I just can't think of anything else to call it).  
  • The Edgy Novel — Kudos to all those who write and enjoy this particular adventure, but it's not for me.  Take, for example, the latest news from Candace Bushnell's camp.  Sex and the City for YA?  Editorial Ass launched a discussion about this one, which yielded some interesting responses among the adults who loved the show.  Most, however, are quite dubious about the potential quality of the YA version.  As for me:  Why is this whole "sex sells" mentality seeping into YA lit in the name of the "edgy" novel? I'm no prude, but frankly, it's less about the sex than it is about the bitchy attitudes and lack of emotional morality (and maturity) that gets me.   Is that what makes a YA edgy?  Drugs, murder, homelessness—I don't have a problem with these in YA per se, but what is their purpose?  Is it just for the shock value and all in the name of edginess?  And is the teen protagonist really a teenager or an angsty adult masquerading as a teen?  Books like Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak or Jay Ashers Thirteen Reasons Why offer the real deal and tackle tough subjects with authentic voice and sensitivity.  They don't glorify the bitch factor. my soap box, now.
  • The Commercial Novel — This is a tough one to pin down.  Check out a couple of discussions here  and here.  What do you consider commercial content/style?  I suppose it's a book that brings with it automatic merchandising appeal or mass marketing potential.  But does that mean it may not have longevity as part of the literary canon?  Not necessarily.  Is it all a matter of money?  I hate to sound cynical, but in this economic chaos, why would anyone want to publish a book that won't be a huge commercial success? (Okay, now I'm a little depressed...)  What books to you consider "commercial"?
  • The Literary Novel — Is this another one of those, "I can't actually define it, but I know what it is" deals?  Here's an interesting definition courtesy of GreenFrog on the Blueboards: 
    According to my Literary Analysis textbook and professor, "literary" fiction takes a look at human nature and exposes some truth about humanity by the end of it. "Commercial" fiction is written for entertainment value and escapism. Most works fall somewhere between the extreme ends of either classification, but i would say that many of the books in the chic lit, action/adventure, romance and mystery genres tend to be commercial. The works that fall into either camp are often subject to debate. I would claim that Libba Bray's books: "A Great and Terrible Beauty" and "Rebel Angels" are literary pieces. Although they are hugely popular, they have characters that are deep and fully developed, and they have a clear, deep theme. A true literary piece will live the reader with some realization about themselves, about the world and/or about life.
Read more of this discussion on the Blue Boards.  From this I take it that commercial often  skimps on the character development for the sake of a quick and compellingplot.  But is there more to it?  And what about "High Concept"?  

Bottom line:  when you write, what are you actually setting out to do?  After you decide on the story (or it decides on you), how do you view the craft?  Do you pay attention to such external goals as classification or is the thing that drives you the intrinsic momentum of the story itself?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Let's talk about YA—What is it?

     After writing 2 YA novels, you would think I would have the answer to that one. I can’t tell you how many people just think of YA as watered down adult fiction or kid lit that happens to have a teenage protagonist. Of course most of these brainiacs never read a book they didn't have to.

     But as writers, we can't escape the question: What exactly is “YA” literature? Who is its audience? What defines it as “young adult”?

     Now that I’m on my 3rd novel for young adults, you would think I might have the answer. But as I’ve found when it comes to agents and editors, "YA" can mean very different things to different people. Let’s start with the basics: The Young Adult Service Division of the American Library Association defines the age range of an adolescent or young adult as ages 10-19.  

Does that help? Hmmm… Then we have the age breakdown:  
  •      Early adolescence (Elementary or Middle School or grades 5, 6, 7)
  •      Middle adolescence (Junior High or grades 8, 9, 10)
  •      Later adolescence (High school or grades 11, 12)

It’s all clear, right? As lead…

     Now I could get into a history lesson about how adult literature was hijacked for teenagers before we had a legitimate YA classification, or how decades ago a wise librarian set aside a section of the library specifically for young readers or even the various accounts of which author first set out to write specifically for teens.  But I won’t.  Suffice it to quote a little piece from Donna Niday’s ENG 394 class at Iowa State:
Definition of a Young Adult Literature: Literature written for and marketed to young adults. Young adult literature is usually given the birth date of 1968 with the advent of S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders. Other forms of literature prior to this date may have had young adult protagonists (such as Huck Finn), but it was usually intended for an adult audience. Characteristics of a young adult novel usually include several of the following:

(1) a teenage (or young adult) protagonist
(2) first-person perspective
(3) adult characters in the background
(4) a limited number of characters
(5) a compressed time span and familiar setting
(6) current slang
(7) detailed descriptions of appearance and dress
(8) positive resolution
(9) few, if any, subplots
(10) an approximate length of 125 to 250 pages

Check out an Australian's take on the subject here.   Or this one from a Stanford scholar. 

     As a matter of craft, I need a firmer grasp of things. Yeah, I have a story that I simply must tell, but how I tell it is key. So where do I start? Is it the voice the separates the YA from the MG or the adult? Is it length? Is it depth or breadth of ideas? Vocabulary? Sentence structure? Do I have to write in first person? (which I don't do) 

     And what about style-genre (for lack of a better term)? Edgy, Literary, Commercial, etc. How do you classify your work? When it comes to selling your masterpiece…to an editor, agent, or the readers…this is can be an important moniker. How conscious of your style-genre are you? Do you balk at the need to validate your work with a label like “literary” because you don’t want to be presumptuous? When you begin the first draft, is your goal to make it edgy? Is there one right way to do it? It can be a bit overwhelming.  Take a look at this discussion on TheCheers.  We could spend weeks discussing the cultural implications of YA subject matter.  But that's for another time.  

     So, when you are crafting your YA masterpiece, what drives your style the most?  

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Word is Out! (...and so is the book)

Ghost Hunk's book has hit the shelves.  Yes, you can now pick up a copy of The Porning of America by Carmine Sarracino and Kevin Scott at your local bookstore or on Amazon.   To get a look at their thesis, check out our hometown newspaper's interview here.  If you have children, especially young girls, this is a must read.  (Okay...I'm only a little biased here.)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Remembering 9/11

It's almost the same crawl it was 7 years ago.  Sitting here, going about my morning routine, then watching these horrifying events unfold as MSNBC replays the events of that terrifying day.  This time, however, it's like slow motion, a brutal, bone-chilling crawl. You know what's coming.  You know you can't stop it.  All you want to do is pray—as if you could change it.  

Just as in 2001, I cannot tear myself away from the television.  Disbelief as thick as the smoke pouring from the towers and the pentagon.   My brain just cannot unhitch my eyes from the TV. Why?  Why do I want to go through this again?

So I never forget.

At 8:42 am in 2001, I was getting my 4-year-old ready for preschool while my 7-month-old was getting some extra sleep in her crib.  I flipped the TV on for a quick breakfast-time cartoon before Ghost Son and Ghost Hunk took off for their school day.  And there it was.  Something so incomprehensible.  At the moment, it still looked like a freak accident.  But before my men left the house, the second plane hit, and there was no longer any question about how this happened.  But still, this had to be an isolated event, right?  And just as the boys were heading out to the car, the pentagon was hit.  Oh my God...

And while Ghost Hunk was heading off to school after dropping our son at preschool, the first tower fell.  It just disappeared from the skyline.  I cried and prayed.  Unexpectedly, Ghost Hunk came through the door, still stunned and numb, unable to take himself to the university just yet.  When I told him the first tower had fallen, he didn't really understand.  But as I stood in the shower, the bathroom door flew open and there stood GH, his face wet with tears. "It fell down!  It just fell down!  They're both gone!"  He understood, now.

I know history tends to objectify such events, at different rates—by years, decades, or centuries. As each epoch passes, the impact of the incident seems more distant, less personal.  I wonder how long it will take for 9/11 to seem less personal.  And I know it effected more than New York, more than America.  The Western world took this personally.

For all those who have been more closely affected by this tragedy, those who lost loved ones and the precious souls who left us that day, we still pray, we still cry, we still remember... 

Monday, September 08, 2008

Call me paranoid, but...

Yes, I actually called the cops last night, terrified that I would either find one on my front step or at the other end of the phone informing me that Ghost Hunk had been mugged or totaled his car or something.  Why? you may ask.  Because I called and called all day and could not raise the man on the phone!  Not even to say goodnight to the kids!  If any of you know Ghost Hunk, you may think that he's just being the absent-minded professor as usual.  True, he is every bit that stereotype (except that he's really cool, too!  A very low geek factor).  But it was a Sunday.  And he never misses saying goodnight to the kids.  And he's 5 states away!  I had no one to call to say, "hey, have you seen my hubby today?"

I'm not the nervous type...well not in that way.  But I've got a basement drain that's plugged and two kids who are really riding the sunless train to depression as we wait to sell this house and join GH.  Not to mention...I gotta write!  Somewhere between the vacuuming, lawn mowing, house dusting, meal making and kid wrangling, I have to find the energy, time, and motivation to sink my teeth into my WIP.  

Hurry up and wait is the mantra of my powerless life, right now.  AAAGGHHH!  Yeah, ghost kids, I know exactly where you are.  I've finally got myself into a rhythm and took a little time to work on my writing.  But worrying about Ghost Hunk just fired up that creative, let-me-think-of-a-million-tragedies part of my brain.  Get a grip, Ghost Girl!  

Well, as it turns out, Ghost Hunk was home all day.  With 9 "missed calls" and 3 voice mail messages on display, you would think his cell phone actually had a purpose other than creating and uncomfortable lump in his back pocket!  Apparently, he had flipped off the ringer and forgot.  I new I would be proven a bonehead after I called the cops, but when I haven't spoken to the man since Saturday night, and it's past bed time on Sunday night and he hasn't called to say goodnight to ghost kids...can you blame me?

All right, St. Joseph.  Do your work.  Get this house sold so we can be one, whole family again...

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

My Southern Wish List*

First, let's begin with All the News from HolyCrap Creek:

Athens, GA— Police arrested a woman who they said mooned motorists after she received a ticket for jay-walking. The 23-year-old and a friend had both been drinking and were disorderly, according to Athens-Clarke police. An officer noted in his report that the woman did stay within the crosswalks while shaking her butttocks. The arrest was for misdemeanor public indecency.

~USA Today, September 2, 2008

Yep, this is our new territory. Gotta love it! Of course there was a time when many counties in the South were dry...even in the 1980's. At least if you can stay in the lines, you can skip the extra jay-walking ticket!

Ghost Hunk left for Georgia again this morning and we are all in a funk. We took the kids to school together, though Ghost Daughter insisted that she'd rather ride the bus. However, the rare opportunity to introduce her daddy to her awesome 1st-grade teacher quelled her frustrations. Ghost son had to fight back tears. I think his teacher thought he (the teacher) was in trouble...the look on his face when he saw both Ghost Girl and Ghost Hunk coming down the hall, probably looking a little stressed ourselves, said "Holy Crap! I see trouble!" Poor guy. We just wanted him to know that Ghost Son wouldn't be himself for a couple of days.

Now for the wish list. As I was daydreaming about finally making the inevitable move and joining Ghost Hunk, I realized that there are a whole lot of details that most certainly have escaped my vast reservoir of knowledge about the world because, let's face it, my world is apparently flat and it ends at the Mason/Dixon line. So here are a few things I need:

  • A good book about gardening in the Southern States—an absolute must since I like to grow things outside, especially veggies and low-maintenance flowers. (I kill most indoor plants...we won't even go there!)

  • A good book about the wildlife in Georgia. (As we discovered at the PA Renaissance Faire this weekend, Anoles shall hereafter be referred to as "baby dragons").
  • A guide to trees in Georgia. (other than peach and pecan, of course!)
  • And even though I would love to maintain the fantasy that bugs don't live in the South, I should probably be aware of whatever creepy-crawlies wend their way through the subterranean mecca that will be our crawl-space. All advice appreciated.
  • Cook books all about Southern Cooking.
  • Any information about absolutely essential amenities that I should demand when looking for a new home in the South.
  • Any other indispensable knowledge/advice that a Yankee absolutely must take Down Yonder. 

And for all my new friends in the SCBWI Southern Breeze chapter, I'm looking forward to meeting all of you and taking part in some fabulous events.

For now...back to cleaning and and packing...trying to and packing...

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Give me the Funny Farm!

Please!!! Give me the funny farm! How many of us writers dream about the scenario that Chevy Chase laid out so well in his hilarious movie? Well, at least the successful writer part. That film came on one of the networks the other day and I just had to laugh. Of course, it's the wife who ends up the successful book writer, while dear hubby learns to stick to what he writes best—a sports column. Here I am, hoping to make a smooth transition to a new house in a new state and daydreaming about that fabulous house with the perfect little writing space for me and lots of space outside. Of course mine would include a horse barn and a few acres to ride on. How likely is that? Sadly enough, not very.

But where we are headed offers a lot more of one or the other for our money—land or house. I doubt we can get both. I am hopeful, however that there is at least one extra room for me to claim as my own, after years of having a little station amidst the plastic clutter of my children's playroom. One could argue that being surrounded by toys and kids would be inspirational for a writer of children's books. But an army Fisher Price Little People™ amputees (thanks to Whitman the Wonder Pup), the raging refrain of "Mama, will you play with me?" and the head-banging strains of Guitar Hero™ tend to take the bloom off my literary rose a bit at times.

Give me a room with a row of windows on one wall and a line of bookshelves all around the rest. A door, a real door that I can close! A little shelf for Ruthie. Give me a barn where I can think up the next bestseller while I muck out stalls, saddle up my horse, and run the paces. Ahhh...give me the Funny Farm!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


As Chuck would say..."Rats!" And I couldn't believe it, but that's what my realtor said at 8:30 this morning. Yes, there has been some interest in our house already, (YAY!) but one couple got a little freaked out by "the rat in the basement," as they so coldly put it. Their agent included a smiley in the email to my realtor, but still...

Come on folks! She's adorable! She's in a cage! She has pink litter!

Well, we had another showing tonight and we've decided to throw a blanket over her cage for future showings. Poor disparaged girl. But...they people who came through tonight are interested. No offer yet, but they're thinking. We have another showing tomorrow.

Sorry Ruthie. If it's any consolation, the blanket over your cage was the blankie my grandma made for me 30-some years ago. That's some love!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

"Experience is What You Get When You Didn't Get What You Wanted" ~ Randy Pausch

...And some of us have a lot more experience than others! An amazing man shared these words of wisdom, as many of you may already know. I never met Randy Pausch, but even from a distance, his spirit has touched me.

Given our recent trials, (BTW—Ghost Hunk is safe and sound in GA, now) these words ring in several truths about my own life. But even more, I look back at my more-than-averagely wretched childhood...and believe me, it was...and I believe I wouldn't be who I am today without all that misery. And could some of that be what drives an artist? I mean we all know the stereotype of the tortured painter or anti-social writer. And does that really mean that we have a better understanding of the universe? The more misery the more enlightenment? I don't know.

When it comes to my own work, my characters could certainly use a lot of "experience" or I'd have some pretty boring books on my hands. We know that problems are really what drives a story. Conflict. Challenges. Especially insurmountable challenges. But also a great depth of emotion and deprivation.

It's good to keep this gem in mind as I construct my next YA...and the rest of my life.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Always a Wrench in the Works—Hrumph!

Literally...Ghost Hunk set out for GA yesterday with a buddy, and they got no farther than VA. The car started overheating. At first they thought it was the luggage rack they had added to the top of this fabulous VW bug (not suited well for towing or car carriers). I'm glad our dear friend Marc is with him on this journey. He called this morning to say it could be the thermostat or the head gasket! Big difference! Why does there always have to be a wrench in the works? There is no cash for this situation. Once again, we'll have to rely on a friend and it's wearing us both down.

This kids are dealing with things all right. Ghost Son is awesome...constantly reminding me that he loves me and that he appreciates how hard I am working. (Give that kid some extra squeezes!) He really had a hard time letting go of Daddy yesterday, but he pulled through. Ghost Daughter exhibits her trepidation differently. She said goodbye as if Ghost Daddy was heading off to the market. But when it came to leaving the house so the realtor could show it or getting her bath later, the little gremlin of grief reared its ornery head. But I was able to help her pull those emotions out and really look at them so she could deal with them a little more effectively.

And this morning, I had two cuddly kids crawl into bed for a good long ghost cuddle. We'll get through this. Another showing scheduled for Thursday...maybe we'll get to GA a little sooner.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Here We Go...!

My heart is in my stomach as I watch Ghost Hunk pack up his clothes and as much of his teaching material as he can fit in his VW Bug (which ain't much, folks!). Ghost Son is really struggling with the whole separation thing. But Daddy has given the man some good jobs to distract him—like helping Mama around the house and keeping things ready for those showings.

Speaking of showings, our house officially went on the market Tuesday afternoon, and we have our first showing tomorrow afternoon. (Whoa, stomach!) I've stripped down the basement so it doesn't look so much like a toy war zone. I still have to touch up paint and scrub down the half bath and clean up the laundry area... My head hurts just thinking about it.

In the meantime, I've status queried my favorite agent possibility. Another reason to hold my breath. I think if I survive the next few months, I can handle almost anything. This kids are going to have a tough time, but I have to say, I am awfully proud of Ghost Daughter. At the dinner table the other night, we were talking about the move and trying to find all the positive stuff. GD wanted to go back to the Waldorf school, but she'll have to start the year at the public school. Bummed at first, she brightly smiled and said, "I'll meet new girls to be my friend in first grade!" And then she thought for a minute and added, "And in Georgia, I'll have a whole bunch of new friends to meet!"

Gotta love that!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

OMG—No Do-Overs? The Woman's Mid-life Crisis

So here we are, in our 40's, getting ready to start over again. How did that happen? We all know the stereotype: Man in mid-life crisis ditches his wife for a 20-something blonde bimbo and trades in his family sedan for a completely impractical, fire-engine red, sporty convertible with a mega-engine that announces his manhood 15 blocks before he arrives. (BTW, Ghost Hunk is no stereotype). But how does it work for a woman? I mean do we really think we are that superior that we don't suffer some kind of break down?

I think I have that one covered. It's not that flimsy sense of lost youth that men love to blame for their asinine behavior. No, it's more than a vague sense of our own mortality. It's that brain-numbing, heart-freezing realization that there are no do-overs. That we can't go back ten years and fix things. Those mistakes we hoped would just wash out with the years suddenly start bashing the back of our brains to a pulp and remind us that we can't do it over. We did that bone-head thing, made those wrong choices, and there is no going back. That's what snatches my breath away the instant I think about it. That's what makes my heart suddenly seem so fragile, like I could drop dead any minute and I didn't do it right. Mortality ain't so vague, afterall.

As a mom, my first thought is, "How do I fix it?!" I count all those times I lost my patience with my kids or failed to hear them or gave the wrong advice and wish I could erase it. It's overpowering, this sense of disappointment, of failure. I can see why prozac is such a hot seller in the over-40 group!

But I have to believe that do-overs are irrelevant, because in the end, it's the sum of our experiences, good and bad, that make us who we are. If I did everything right, my kids would be absolutely irretrievable messes! They would never have learned how to handle pain, how to accept imperfection--in others and in themselves. It would be like the Lotus Eaters--so blissfully ignorant that happiness would have no value.

So while my stomach flips 360 degrees and twists itself into a pile of knots whenever I think, "OMG—No Do-overs?!" I have to remember that I'm learning how to be human every day of my life (all the way to the end of it). And I'm teaching my kids how to be human, too.

Perhaps it's not a crisis...but a breakthrough.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

LOUS's and the Long Journey Home...Wherever That May Be

Here's the word for now: Columbus, IN is officially out of the offing, Arkansas is officially in, and the other two are still an annoying question mark that could mess a lot of things up for a lot of people. Yikes! In the meantime, we are frantically attacking the mess that is our beloved home, tidying, packing, sending things off to storage. Next week we will contact a real estate agent. Whoa there, stomach!

But I must document our journey out West a little. I've mentioned the LOUS's, Landmarks Of Unusual Size, though I suppose the first one is not technically a Landmark since it's mobile. Imagine my surprise as I'm driving down the Pennsylvania Turnpike, winding through our mountainous terrain, enjoying the ripples of summer foliage, when out of nowhere appears a giant head. Not just any head. EDDIE MURPHY'S HEAD!! Holy Freakin' Cow! No white line fever on this trip. If that doesn't wake you up...
There's something just a little disturbing about that frozen, gap-toothed smile—mustache and all—wending its way through the Pennsylvania landscape in front of us. It was a promo for his latest movie (cough), and the van hauling this tricked-out trailer (Ha! Pun intended...totally!!) was covered in info and images from the movie. It's unforgettable, I'll give them that! Sadly, it doesn't make me want to see the movie any more than the video trailers did.

We dropped the kids in Indiana and then Ghost Hunk and I lit out for the West. Of course, on our way to the Natural State we had to go through St. Louis, MO. Truly a LOUS. I've been to MO before, but never through St. Louis, so it was fun to see this classic landmark up close and personal...okay, from I-70 anyway. And St. Louis definitely looks like a "happenin'" town. Our journey continued on through the Show Me State on to Branson and Springfield where we encountered another LOUS, although my memory is a bit blurred, and this could have cropped up somewhere in Illinois on the way back East. They don't mess around! There were other LOUS's, like the 3-story high farmer in a red-checked shirt, spinning his arms and touting the best pies in three states, or the 15-foot tall family of hamburger-toting campers, circa 1950, perched atop an old mobile home. Quite an interesting trip.

The day after we returned to Indiana and the Ghost Kids, we got the official offer from Arkansas and word that GA would not let us know until July 21st or 22nd. And wouldn't you know, AR wants an answer by July 18th! One job in hand...can't squander that on the indefinite hopes of another. AR is a beautiful place to live. But this job means the end to Ghost Hunk's career as a scholar, which breaks my heart. Now he becomes a Social Worker for Academia. The pay is not good, the retirement plan stinks, and there's no room for advancement and no time to continue scholarly pursuits. But it is a job and the people are wonderful there. It's also in a beautiful part of the country. We'll see if any other questions get answered...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Can a Girl get a Decaf Soy Java Chip Frappaccino in Indiana?

So far, the answer to that one is "no." Yes, it's sad to say that even a Starbucks can't offer that in Columbus, Indiana--holy quacking cow! It's been one of those days, when all the emotion of 9 months comes crashing around my hypoglycemic brain and pushes me to the verge of tears over the dumbest things. It wasn't just the coffee, but it does give me pause about the degree of civilization that we might be diving into.

Of course I know that this little city is civilized, but it has really surprised this farm-grown country girl how citified I've become. Most of me aches for those 5 acres and a barn and my horses again. It always aches for that. But another twisted part of my brain asks, "but what about the bookstore where I can sit for hours with my cup of tea?" "What about being able to pop down the road a tiny piece for a gallon of milk?"

So is this our future home? Or is it Arkansas. Or even Georgia? I have to say that Arkansas seems to offer the best of both worlds, the country and the civilization, and at a decent price. But the job is not the most enticing. We have yet to receive any other offers, so it may be a moot point. But what if Columbus offers a little more money and a slightly better position? or Georgia? Is the living going to be as sweet? What exactly am I hoping for at this point? Yikes!

More questions from the road that need a little more time to play out. Keep those prayers coming--please...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

More Notes from the Road...

UPDATE: Early this evening we got our first offer, from Arkansas. We have to turn the other irons in the fire before we make a decision, but at least we have one option right now. Let's see if we have any others.

Well, we have returned to Indiana, a little road weary and a lot confused. Arkansas is beautiful, and the Bentonville area is a wonderful place to live. Unfortunately, the job doesn't pay as much as we would like and it is not exactly what Ghost Hunk was hoping to do.

However, he is interviewing with the school in Indiana on Tuesday (so I guess we're going to extend our little vacation a bit.) Again, it's not ideal, but it's something. Still waiting to hear from Georgia. And still more confused about what to do "if"...

I'm afraid I dropped the ball a little on my WFMAD pledge over the last 2 days, so I'll have to work 45 minutes today. And wouldn't it just figure that I left my laptop at home! I didn't think I'd be ready for the actual drafting before we got back to PA, but I'm itching for it, now. But when it comes to the actual writing of the first draft, I'm a computer slave. Just can't function the same way with a pencil and paper. My fingers can't keep up with my brain unless I have a keyboard under them. Anyone else have that trouble?

Stay tuned for the LOUS's...that will put a smile on your face.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Notes from the Road...

The kids (and the dogs) are safely ensconced with Grandma & Grandpa in Indiana, and we arrived in Arkansas just after dinner time. It's been quite a trip so far--beautiful scenery and LOUS's (I'll explain this in another post). But can you believe, as we are driving somewhere through Illinois (or maybe Missouri), we check the messages on the home answering machine.

Ghost Hunk got another call for an interview at a college in Indiana. Yes, you read that right. INDIANA

I'm heartbroken to be leaving the East, but I wasn't really hoping to end up in Indiana. Yes, our family is there. (In my case, 'nuff said) :-) And Ghost Hunk would love to be closer to his parents, so would I. But I had started to get used to the idea of the Big Move. Okay, nothing is decided yet, and there is a lot left to be discovered about each of the jobs. Tomorrow GH has his interview here in Arkansas. The interview in Indiana will probably be on Thursday. And still no word from GA, other than no final decision has been made...but any day now.

WFMAD Update:

I have managed to keep up with my writing on the road. And...I have a plot!!!! Finally, I've figured out where to go with this one. Ghost Hunk is great for that, too. He helps me bounce ideas around and come up with a direction. Yep...Love that hunk!

More later...

Friday, July 04, 2008

On the Road...

Yes, we are striking out to find our fortune. Okay, maybe not quite that dramatic, but with the crazy poverty-driven elements of our latest job search, we have decided to drive out to AR and maybe GA (fingers crossed). We'll be stopping off in Indiana to leave the kiddos with Ghost Grandma & Grandpa while Ghost Hunk and I head out to Arkansas for his interview. Some of you may have heard that they called him out, but at the last minute said they couldn't pay for his flight. Neither can we!

The town is supposed to be one of the best places to live in the US, though the job isn't all that GH was looking for. But it could be a good job. So why should a college's lack of funds and our poverty line keep him from potentially getting real work in this economy? So we're hitting the road. We may also get a call from GA, and with any luck, it will be a good call.

It all works out because I get to see the place and evaluate housing potential, schools, etc. AND the kids get to see their grandparents, who haven't seen them in almost a year and a half.

Will Ghost Girl be writing on this trip? You bet cha! I'm living up to Laurie Halse Anderson's WFMAD challenge. So far, I've started mapping out the main characters and some of the plot. Yikes! The Plot! That's another post. Are you WFMAD-ing?

Wish us luck in the Midwest and South East! (And pray really hard...)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Creative Correlative

As my sanity wanders dangerously close to the abyss, my creative urges start gurgling and swishing in all directions (and unfortunately nowhere in the vicinity of my next novel). My bones ache to create something, and in this case, something useful and fun. My neighbor, a dear young friend, is having a baby shower this weekend. It will be her first little bundle of ecstasy, so I really wanted to do something special. But let's start with the end of the process...the card.

Today, we have a brief oasis before the scorching 90's return tomorrow, so I spent most of the afternoon outside—eating, reading, drawing, PAINTING. Yes, it's been years, and I mean years, since I got the watercolors out for my own enjoyment. So today I decided to paint a card to go along with the gift I made for little baby Neighbor. And Ghost Daughter has been inside far too much, so I roped her into bringing her new paints out on the patio, too. And voila! Her work of art. She painted it for her brother, his "welcome home from Boy Scout Camp" gift. (ouch...missing him again...)

While she splattered sky all around and grew a watercolor flower and a happy camper, I sprouted a jungle. Now remember, it's been years since I did anything like this, so I'm a little wobbly with the brush...and the pencil. But, I wanted to carry over some of the fun of the gift I made for baby neighbor. Yes, the theme is a baby jungle. No particular reason. I just know that my friend is doing the nursery in yellow and green and they don't want to know the baby's sex until he/she is born. So off to the fabric store for something baby, but unisex. A Jungle! Why not? I found these cute fabrics and they just seemed to fit. And with the final approval of Ghost Children, the theme for a brand new baby quilt was born (sorry about that pathetic pun!)

So, since my writing impulse has been stunted by all this waiting and worry, my creative flow had to find another pipeline, and that would be the quilt. Little baby monkeys, elephants, giraffes, lions, and hippos all peeking through the jungle foliage. How fun! So, in a week or so, I had made a pin-wheel quilt, complete with hand-sewn binding. (Let's hope it doesn't unravel and become a baby hazard...hand-stitching is definitely not my talent!) I love putting these together, though. I've done quilts for both my kids, and they still use them. So far, they haven't come apart...after 8 years, too!  Cards are always hard for me. I tend to like the funny ones (Farside and other twisted humor) or the clever ones. But this time, I really wanted something that drew the color and brightness from the quilt, so I made my own. And, as part of the gift, I'm also including the board book Goodnight, Gorilla. I don't know what the jungle swallowed me up on this one, but I hope it's not too much for my neighbor. There is still a lot of baby here and whether it's a boy or girl, every little schpunt loves jungle babies...right?

Yes, there is a high correlation between creativity and sanity. At least between my creativity and my sanity! When I get stuck in the worry bog, I simply have to find a way to make something new so I spend less time racing through that doomsday scenario over and over again. Ah...creativity therapy.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


We've got it bad in our house. In so many ways. First, Ghost Son is away at camp for the week, the first time he's been on his own for more than a night. We shipped him off Sunday morning with a footlocker full of necessities, including a can full of Slim Jims and a cell phone. He called twice the first day, full of excitement and eager to start working on those merit badges. He sounded so happy and ready for his week away. Sure, we could hear a little homesickness in his voice, and he owned up to it, but said he knew he could handle it.

Last phone call. (Poor Ghost Girl) We figured he was having too much fun and that's just fine.

Today, he called after lunch. There it was. That crack in his voice. That shadow of disillusionment behind the words he chose to describe his experience. Our boy isn't shy about admitting his feelings, and he fessed up to his homesickness right away, but he was handling it, and he wasn't going to cry or carry on. The reason he didn't call last night: Thunder storms moved through the area and knocked out the power. He didn't realize that he could still use his cell phone!

The news for today: he lost his wallet already and was put in a swim class with younger kids, which makes him feel like a loser. But he's still trying to be positive. And at least he is sharing a tent with one of his best buddies.

But here's the killing kind of homesickness: last night, he told his buddy that we might be moving. It was a tough moment, and they handled it like men. They made a pact to visit and stay in touch, no matter what happens. This kicked me hard in the guts. I hate that our little guy has to worry. Worry about where home will be. I hate that he's had to know about it this so long. To be dragged through the anxiety that we have been swimming in for the last 8 months. No 11-year-old should have to feel that. But we had to tell him what was going on back then because so many changes were already set in motion.

This will all pass soon. We know it. But there is going to be a lot of adjustment no matter what the final outcome is. Any day now, we should have an answer. Any day...

There are a lot of positives on the horizon, but even positives mean change and adjustment. I'm ready to find our home, wherever that may be--Georgia, Philly, Arkansas... Just tell us where home is. Soon...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

OOOO! The Ax Has Been Stayed Just a bit Longer!

Yes, it's true. I got an email yesterday--and it wasn't a rejection! It was a congratulations-on-making-it-to-the-final-round-and-could-you-please-do-some-revisions email! This little gem concerns my very first novel, which inspired the name of this blog (the title of the book will be revealed later). The editor's comments were dead-on, and I really hope she'll give me a chance to work on it with her. I've done the revisions already and just have to clean up that nasty synopsis (bane of my existence!).

As for book #2--still waiting. In the meantime, I've sent it in for the Rutgers One-on-One Plus scholarship. Hey, gotta keep getting it out there, right? Something is going to break soon. It's got to!

4:45 pm--Update! I just sent the revisions and synopsis off to BTP. Back to holding my breath. Man! I'm getting dizzy...

Friday, June 13, 2008

A Breakthrough: Character

How many writers begin with an event, the primary plot of the story? How many start with the setting? I have to say that I've done both. In my first YA, there was vague idea of plot floating around, but it really started with a place. My second YA was sparked with a curious historical event that took me to amazing places. As I begin my third novel, I am starting from a whole new place--Character. Yes, character was important in my first two books, but perhaps I should have spent a little more time with them before kicking them out the door. As I await the ax on those two, it's certainly something to consider for revisions.

And now, for YA #3. I begin with character, and with a twist: this is my first stab at a first person narrator, but the story is not about her. It's about someone she's watching, inescapably drawn to her, flitting in and out of her world (literally). A little like Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby. Since her voice is telling the story, I really need to get under her skin and walk around in it for a while. Oh, and one more kicker--she is a real person, not just a fictional character. No pressure there, huh?! Her role in history was rather limited, so that will give me a little room, but the character she is watching has a significant historical presence. OOOO {squeal!} this should be fun!

Now...I hope my family are bracing themselves for a wacko mom, running around the house, muttering to herself. (well, I guess that's nothing new!). This time, I really want to flesh out these characters before I even start writing. So back to my English teacher, lists, sketches. Anything to "get" these gals in my brain...

And in my heart.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A Handful of Hope

Yesterday was a busy day, full of those wonderful little bits of hope and joy that keep you going. First, I attended the SCBWI Editors panel in Bethlehem, where I met some fabulous writers and editors and caught up with friends I haven't seen in a while. Sally Keehn is just a lovely woman who truly loves good storytelling. She was a delight and a great source of inspiration. And Debbie Dady was another fabulous writer who has recently moved into our area from Colorada--we are so lucky! Paul Acampora organized the editor's day and was a terrific host. I love his stories about the Rutgers One-on-One conference! We heard several first pages and the editors gave their responses, most of them very good. There was some quality work offered for their review and the editors offered some solid feedback. I also got a lot of encouragement in my own paper chase for the elusive book contract from these wonderful writers who shared their experiences.

When I got home, an exotic treat awaited me in my lonely old mailbox. Finally treated to something other than bills, my trusty post box yielded a gift my most loyal editing client. We just finished his dissertation, which was submitted for publication in May, and he sent me a treasure from Japan as a "thank you." A beautiful pen that writes in both black and red (perfect for the editor/revising writer!). He is from Japan and we have often corresponded via email across oceans of distance (literally). It's been a joy to work with him, and this little treasure will be a dear reminder.

And the biggest news...da dada DA!!!! Presenting the world premiere of the latest short by C. M. Scott...BIONICLE STORY II! Yep, last night Connor unveiled his latest stop-motion film at the EPES Talent Show. And how awesome is it when not just kids, but parents ask you for your autograph?! The Scott family was puffed up with pride, and shortly after the show, Rita's Italian ice! Keep an eye on Youtube in the next few days. This blockbuster will be making its way to cyberspace soon. What a night...

Now, back to hoping for that book contract, for that perfect job, for a little financial breathing room...

Friday, May 30, 2008

Could it be a Peach?

We need lots of good vibes and prayers. DH got the call and he has an on-campus interview at a small college in Georgia! At this point it is hard to know what to wish for. I don't know what the pay will be, and it's a huge move. But...DH would still be a professor, which really is his true calling. We told DS that this might be a possibility. He got teary and expressed himself so clearly. He would really rather not move, but he wants his daddy to have the kind of job he likes. And that's actually a big deal to DS. He has seen us work and embrace our jobs (even my Waldorf insanity) and he has come to value that sense of truly enjoying your work. He knows that there are financial considerations, but our little guy is a remarkable, thoughtful soul who has always been "spiritually" in tune. He gets the idea that money isn't everything.

So, our task now is to learn as much about the area as possible. I've checked out the school system in the town itself-- I'll wait to comment on that one. Housing prices are decent. DH is learning as much about the college as he can and figuring out what he will talk about in his "scholarly presentation." In the meantime, he is still chasing down non-academic job possibilities.

We love it in PA, but Georgia could be grand as well. It would certainly be better for my RA-ravaged bod. But I want my DH to be happy. If he's not happy, none of us will be. I can write from anywhere. So there it is. Please pray that the right answer will come...whatever that may be. (And pray that it hurries!)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

In a word: STRESS

I hate that word, especially when it comes to my kids. My son is 11 years old today (HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BUDDY!) It just kills me that he came home from school yesterday, his face drawn tight with tension, and his big brown eyes sitting in a shallow pool of unshed tears. "I'm just so stressed, Mama."

It seems both his personality and the merciless tack of the NCLB crap are taking their toll on my not-so-little guy's self-esteem. He explained that a lot of work has just "gotten away from him" and he is so afraid of ending the year with a bad report card. Like is father, DS can be a bit scatter-brained and disorganized. That's how assignments slip through the cracks. He is also in the gifted program, which is a pull-out program, and that means he has to initiate requests for work that he may have missed. Okay, we can work on that. But the pressure that is generated by the whole "gotta pass the test, gotta excel on that damn PSSA..." above all else (including learning). That is crap! Plain and simple.

I know that he as arrived at that age when things like grades and success matter in more tangible ways. I know that I cannot protect him from stress and pressure and all that comes with growing up, especially the oncoming train wreck known as adolescence. We had a great talk about things and came up with a plan for handling the end of the school year, but I deeply resent the extra pressure that NCLB has created for the kids. Even more, I loath the attitude that so many administrators are taking--"Gotta save my ass so these kids had better perform!" I won't even go into the hell my kindergardener went through last year--when a 5 year old stresses out about an 89% on a math test?!!!! What 5-year-old should even know what a math test is, let alone and 89%?! I mean, come 5 years old, she can barely count to 20!

Sorry about the rant...just had to blow off a little steam. It's just that DS is such a laid-back guy, so when I see the stress actually get to him, it tears my heart out. He has a lot to deal with right now--potentially moving to a new state, changing schools, moving away from friends...And no clear plan yet. Oh yeah, and we just had the sex talk, too! Poor kid...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Query Weary...

By now, I think I've finally figured out what the query is about. That doesn't mean I write them any better, but I think I'm getting closer to the underlying element that has been so elusive. Be ME. Yep. It's that simple. The last two that I wrote were genuinely Ghost Girl queries, full of my real voice and experience. Now whether that will attract an agent and/or publisher has yet to be determined. But I feel better about my query, as if I truly own it.

So how did I finally get here?

First, I did my research. As you've already guessed, I surf the blogosphere not only regularly, but passionately. And I have two excellent launching pads: QueryTracker and AgentQuery. Here, you sort through the agents that "do your thing," whether that be historical fiction, chick lit, urban fantasy...whatever. Then you can get profiles on each agent and find out if they are open to queries, email or otherwise. Read their links and blogs. You might be surprised to find that agents are actual people--with real life experiences, predilections, and opinions of their own. (Don't forget to check The Blue Boards for updates on response times and other info).

Next, I found myself and put it on the page. The more you learn about an agent, the more you see that there is a good fit and a not so good fit. Which one will mesh with your personality, not just handle books like yours? When you figure that out, it's easier to let yourself spill across the page and relate to your agent professionally but also personally. I've spent so much time worrying about making the right impression that I forgot that I have to represent myself as well as my work, especially to an agent, the person who will be your advocate, your support, your biggest cheerleader out there in the market. He/she should know you. Afterall, you are embarking upon a partnership, and with any luck, one that will last a long time.

So, I have just sent out a query to probably the best match I've found so far. I hope she thinks so too. And so the wait begins yet again. Here's hoping...

Friday, May 16, 2008

Blue Boarders Rule!

Hurray! For all of you fabulous Children's writers and illustrators out there, support Verla Kay's website and discussion board--haven for all of us who bash our heads on our keyboards every day, trying to write or illustrate something wonderful for kids--go to Cafe Press and order your magnet or button today!

Verla has built one of the friendliest, most informative forums for kid-litters, full of supportive colleagues, stimulating discussion, and spot-on industry info that has helped me in more ways than I can name. It's more than a discussion board; it's a community. She also has some great articles and tips for writers and artists, links and info for teachers and for kids, too. And she's done this all on her own dime. So give a little back and show off your blue!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Taste for Tea

Anyone who knows even a little bit about me knows that I am a huge tea drinker. Winter, spring, summer...doesn't matter. I pretty much always have a hot cuppa nearby, especially if I'm writing. As some of you may also know, I often have a certain buddy nearby as well. But who would have guessed that my fuzzy little muse liked English Breakfast Tea as well? (Decaf, of course) As you can see, she more than likes it. Poor little thing, though. She didn't expect the mug warmer action. When she hopped off my cup and put her tiny foot on that black pad...Ouch! It doesn't stop her from hopping back in my tea, though. Stinker! Perhaps I should take one of Maisie's dainty tea cups and pour a wee bit for Ruthie. A tea party!