Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Getting feedback from kids

So my managing editor’s daughter, who is way cool, was in the office today. She has read some of my middle-grade manuscripts and is a big fan. I’ve loved talking to her about what she liked about the different manuscripts. One of the things she liked was how the chapters ended with cliff hangers and she just had to keep reading to find out what was going to happen. So that was cool. My young nephew also read these manuscripts and said the same thing. Maybe I should pull together a little reader advisory council comprised of kids in the appropriate age range to send my manuscripts and get feedback. What do you think? Don’t they do that with new toys and stuff? Bring kids in and have them “test” the toys and provide feedback? I know when a syndicate rep brings comics for me to consider buying for the newspaper, I send them to numerous people to get feedback (graphic artists, reporters, copy editors, etc.). I also bring them home for my son, a comics fan, to read. And I have to say that this has worked pretty well. There have been times when everyone has said, “You must get this comic,” and I have and it’s a big hit. So, why not a reader advisory council? Could be a lot of fun. Has anyone ever done this? If so, how has it worked?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fall means...

Crisp apples
Toothy jack-o-lanterns
Patchy scarecrows
Friendly Caspers and Wanda Witches traipsing through the neighborhood
Chocolaty treats
Vibrant mums
Shorter days and longer nights
Colder days and even colder nights
Visits from Jack Frost
What else? Please add to the list.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Passing the peace

Whenever we pass peace in church, I feel so blessed to be part of a wonderful church family. It surprises me sometimes the love found in handshakes and hugs. We just don’t stay in our seats and shake the hands of those around us. We get out of our pews and walk up and down the aisle greeting as many brothers and sisters in Christ as we can. There’s Bert, who I’ve known forever. And Sarah Jane and Dawn. And Wendy and Rick and Dave. And Mary Ann and Lauren and Jeane. Just too many friends to count. It makes me smile and feel warm and loved. I thank God for a congregation full of wonderful caring people. I wish that everyone could feel this way. Anyway, thanks for letting me ramble.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

YA Contest alert

Hey fellow writers, here's a YA novel contest from Delacorte Press Books, with a starting postmark deadline of Oct. 1, 2009 and a deadline of Dec. 31, 2009. Good luck to everyone!

Friday, September 25, 2009

I hate goodbyes

I hate goodbyes. Truth is, I’ve had far too many of them in my life. Mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law, numerous friends and relatives.
Sometimes, I feel as if I’ve spent a lifetime saying goodbye.
So instead of saying goodbye, maybe we should say, “See you later.” It focuses on what will be instead of what has passed. There’s hope in that. And peace. And, I don't know about you, but in this crazy world we live in, I need all of the peace I can get.
So, see ya later:)

We can't control every moment

It’s always a treat to hear from readers. Skip Fengfish, a minister in Orlando, Fla., read the following article on the Web. Skip is the brother of Randi White, who I wrote about. We had a great e-mail exchange. I’m continually amazed that folks, like Skip, find my work on the Web and care enough to share their thoughts. It’s great knowing that something I wrote a couple years ago continues to touch and inspire others. So thanks, Skip, for getting in touch.
In memory of Randi, here’s the column again:

It was an unlikely place to share her faith, but that’s what Randi did. We were at a friend’s party, sitting on the couch, margaritas in hand. The music was loud. People were laughing and dancing. And Randi talked about her love for the Lord.
I’m not even sure how we got on the subject, but somehow we did. Maybe she sensed that I was struggling with my faith and needed to hear what she had to say. I remember telling her how envious I was of her relationship with God and how I must be a terrible person for feeling that way. “Why couldn’t I feel the way she did?” I thought.
And in her sisterly way, she told me that I wasn’t the one in control. That God hadn’t abandoned me even though at times I felt like he had. All this party chaos was erupting around us, but for those few moments, on that sofa, in that room, we were in the eye of the storm — just Randi, me and Christ. It’s a moment I will never forget.
Several months later, Randi White got sick and died. That horrible disease, cancer, took her away from all of us much too soon. She was only 48. She left behind her loving husband, Rick; children Jessica, Josh, Richie and Philip; an incredibly warm family; and too many friends to even think about counting.
We were all searching for answers and asking why. Why had someone who was doing so much good in the world and making a difference in other people’s lives have to die? I was overwhelmed with grief. And I was angry at God for, once again, allowing someone I loved to die. But then I remembered the conversation on the couch, the last real conversation we had before she died. I couldn’t help but think that we were supposed to end up on that couch, having that conversation, experiencing that moment.
I’ve been trying to follow Randi’s advice. It’s not always easy, but I’m trying.
I miss you, Randi. Thank you for a moment I will never forget.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Some writing tweets

Here are some of my writing tweets. Enjoy. And please share any you have.
· Writing is like opening an unexpected gift. It surprises us and makes us smile. I love unexpected gifts:)
· Sometimes the writing just comes and we're like, oh yeah. Gotta love when that happens.
· Writing can be agony and joy and every emotion in between.
· Revising is like surgery. Cut. Cut. Snip. Snip. Cut. Snip. Cut. OUCH! All better.
· I am so over you, Rejection. You can't get to me like that anymore. I won't let you squash my hopes and dreams. (Slams door) So there!
· Why is writing sometimes like trying to get gum out of your hair? Ouch! It's a mess & hurts. Sometimes you just have to cut it out. So there.
· Writing is like making rich delicious chocolate for our minds to savor and enjoy.
· Writing is like peeling an orange. You pick away at the shell until you get to the delicious fruit inside. And then enjoy it.
· Writing is like opening a treasure chest -- you never know what you will find.
· Writing that inspires us is like getting candy as a kid - a delightful treat:)
· I'm in love with writing, but sometimes I swear it hates me. Doesn't want to cooperate. Can be stubborn and downright nasty. Listen up, U!
· Writing is the key that unlocks the stories battling in our brains to get out.
· If I write as well as I golf, I'm in trouble!
· Writing is like eating dessert -- you can never get enough of it.
· Writing sweetens our day and makes life so much richer.
· Letters make so much more sense to me than numbers. I guess that's why I'm a writer:)
· Writing is a mental massage that soothes our soul in ways nothing else ever could.
· Writing is as natural and essential as breathing.
· I think that following your passion is a gift you give yourself. I hope that you are giving yourself this gift.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Catching Fire: Peeta or Gale?

I absolutely loved Catching Fire, but I am torn more than ever between Peeta and Gale. I've really come to love Peeta in this second book. And I think that Katniss loves both of them, but maybe in different ways. What do you think? Whose camp are you in?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What would you tell yourself?

I love the words to Braid Paisley’s “Letter to Me”

If I could write a letter to me and send it back in time to myself at 17, here are some things I’d say:

Acne doesn’t last forever.
It’s OK to fail, as long as you learn from your failures.
Sometimes you have to lose.
Watch your speed limit on North Hills Road.
Study for the chemistry exam instead of going skiing with your boyfriend.
Who cares about a silly pageant anyway?
Keep playing the violin.
Don’t go parking on that dark country road. The cop shows up.
You will survive the breakup and your life won’t end, in fact, it turns out pretty great.
Tell your mom and dad every day that you love them. And Wendy, too.
Apologize to your dad for keeping him up pacing the kitchen floor at night, worrying until you come home.
Don’t hog the bed and give your little sister some room. She’ll never forget how mean you were.
Don’t worry so much.
Tell your teachers how much they inspire you.
Mom and Dad really do know what they're talking about.
Be a better daughter, sister and friend.

I could go on and on, but how about you? What are some things you would tell yourself? I’m sure it’s way different for guys, too. Waiting to hear from you guys.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My box has become a gift

This occurred to me yesterday. Think it has possibilities?

Annie's Gift

It started like an ordinary day, sunshine sneaking through the cracks in the blinds and spilling into the bedroom and the whiff of bacon snaking through the quiet house.
It started like an ordinary day, but it was anything but ordinary.
And it all started with an unexpected gift.
.. .. ..

Annie rolled over and hugged her stuffed lion, which was missing a brown eye and some of its tan fur. The lion was a present for her fourth birthday and every night for the past ten years she had slept with it. Well, except for when she stayed overnight at a friend’s house. She didn’t want the other girls to think she was a baby, so she left Charlotte at home. That’s what she named him – Charlotte after her mother who had died shortly after giving Annie the lion.
She named everything Charlotte. Every doll was Charlotte and every stuffed animal was Charlotte and every goldfish she ever won at the fair was Charlotte. Her dad, Will, figured it was Annie’s way of keeping her mother close. Charlotte had told Annie that the lion would give her courage. All Annie had to do was squeeze its right paw and say “a posse ad esse,” which Annie later discovered meant “from possibility to reality.” It didn’t make any sense to Annie, but she did it just the same. Anytime she needed a little courage, like when she tried out for the cheerleading squad, she’d squeeze Charlotte’s paw and say “a posse ad esse” and she always felt better.
The doorbell rang. Annie rolled over and looked at the alarm clock. Who’s that at 7 on a Saturday, she thought. Annie whipped back her pink sheet and ran to answer the door. But when she opened it, the porch was empty. She stepped outside to look around.
Still, no one.
That’s when she saw it – a gift wrapped in pink paper and topped with a lime green bow, her favorite colors. It was beside the chipped black rocker her dad loved to sit in and read. Annie took the box inside and put it on the kitchen table.
“What’s that you got?” Will asked.
“It was on the porch, but no one was there.”
Will walked over. “Is there a name on it?”
“Yeah. Mine. But it’s not my birthday or anything. Who would give me a present for no special reason?”
Will picked up the gift and shook it. Whatever was inside slid from one end to the other. “Seems OK to me. Go ahead and open it. Maybe there’s a letter inside telling you who it’s from.”
Will nodded and patted Annie’s head. He couldn’t believe how fast his little girl was growing up. With her curly blond hair and green eyes and long arms and legs, she looked more like her mother every day. God how he missed Charlotte. He dated some over the years, but no one ever came close to his Charlotte. He just couldn’t bring himself to open his heart to anyone else. Maybe someday. But not now. Now was for Annie. He would concentrate on raising Annie to be the young lady her mother always dreamed she would become.
“Mind if I open it upstairs?”
“Want some privacy, huh?”
Will smiled. Yes, his daughter was a typical teen – spending hours in her room, listening to music Will couldn’t stand and needing lots of privacy. It was hard for him to get used to at first. They had spent her childhood doing everything together. But he understood that she was growing up and needed her space. God he wished Charlotte was here. Wished they would have caught the hit and run driver who had hit her. She’d know just want to do. Annie needed a mother, and all she had was him.
Annie carted the box to her room. She wanted to open it in private in case it was sent as a joke from someone at school. It would be just like The Sisters (They weren’t really sisters but the group of popular girls called themselves that.) to pull such a prank. Get Annie all excited about a getting a gift only to open a box with some sort of joke inside. Like a pair of granny pants. They did that once to Petra, Annie’s best friend. Gave her a gift bag in the middle of the cafeteria and when Petra pulled out the granny pants everyone laughed. The Sisters ere mean. And, well, if it were them, she didn’t want her dad to see. He already worried about her enough. Thought she studied too much and needed to have more fun. Annie tried, but it didn’t come easy to her. She felt more comfortable with her nose between the pages of a book. And, besides, the other girls laughed at her when she tried out for cheerleading. She hadn’t told her dad, but after the first practice she didn’t go back. She went to the library instead and read until it was time for him to pick her up. When she didn’t make the team, he told her how proud he was that she had at least tried. She hated lying to her dad. But what she hated even more was disappointing him. Maybe one little lie, the only one she had ever told, wasn’t so bad if she didn’t do it again. Cheerleading wasn’t for her any more than playing basketball or softball was. She hadn’t made those teams either.
Annie sat on the bed. She took off the lime green bow and unwrapped the gift, peeling back the tape at the seams so the pink paper would remain in one piece. That’s how she approached life, carefully and methodically. She wasn’t the type who’d rip into a gift and have a million pieces of paper everywhere. She folded the pink paper and placed it next to the box. She’d find some use for it. Maybe she’d use it to wrap Petra’s present. Her favorite color was pink, too. Annie shook the box again, trying to guess what was inside. Then she opened the lid and her mouth dropped.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Confessions of an Obsessaholic No. 12: Refrigerator

So when I opened the refrigerator to put the ketchup away, what did I find but condiments and dressings and toppings all out of place. Ugh! The mustard was sandwiched between two bottles of salad dressing, the mayo beside the A1, which was beside the strawberry jelly. No. No. No, people. Let’s get this right. The salad dressings all go together, the jellies all go together, the mustard and ketchup and mayo go together, the chocolate syrup and bottles of whipped topping go together. NOT everything just thrown in the side of the refrigerator wherever it fits. So, of course, I take the time to move this and that to their proper place. Just another example of my crazy (but lovable, I hope) self.

The power of observations

I think writers are observers. We often see things that others don’t. We pay attention to details that might later be weaved into a narrative or provide inspiration or direction in our writing. Here’s one example of an observation I made yesterday and where it led me in thought. Do you have an observation you’d like to share? I’d love to hear it.
The “family” pew where I sit has scratch marks on the back made by my late father-in-law’s suspenders. He sat in this spot for decades and the marks are a lasting reminder. When I think about the scratch marks, I think of the marks we leave in life – some good, some bad. It reminds me to live life thoughtfully because we never know when we might leave a mark that might be harmful. We are powerful in that way, whether we realize it or not, and need to be careful not to abuse that power. How many times have we left marks that have hurt people? I once had a teacher who said something to me that I will never forget. Many years have passed since, and the words still sting. That’s the power of the marks we leave behind. Like the pew, the scratch is always there. We might be able to sand it and apply new stain, but it remains underneath. It’s what we do with the marks in our life that count. Use them to make us better and stronger and wiser.
And that’s where the observation yesterday led me. Now your turn.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Opening the box

By the way, I'm opening the box (see earlier posts) today so we'll see where that takes me. I always know how I'm going to start a story and where I think I'll end up. But the middle? Well, not so much. I'm not a plotter when it comes to writing. That probably will surprise a lot of people given my obsessive nature. But when it comes to writing, I love the discovery, seeing where my characters will take me and what they will do and how they will overcome whatever conflict they face. It's like riding a roller coaster for the first time and not knowing exactly where the twists and turns are. It's like so much fun. It's exhilarating in a way that nothing else is. So what about you? Are you a plotter or a fly-by-a-seater like me? And why does whatever way you write work for you? Love to hear from fellow writers.

Catching Fire

Finally got my copy of Catching Fire and am so excited to read. For those of you who have read it, what to you think? Please share.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Opening The Box

I’ve been thinking about my box story (see earlier post) trying to figure out which way I want to go. The problem I’m having is that there are so many choices. I’m hoping my characters will talk to me. They usually do if I sit still enough to listen. I have to admit that this whole box idea occurred to me and then I was a bit crushed when I read about an upcoming movie, titled (guess what?) The Box. I mean, I had no idea there was a movie by the same working title of my newest middle grade (maybe I should change it). How does that happen? You have an idea for a story and you’re on your merry way and then you realize that there is a book or a movie or whatever with the same idea. Well, not quite the same. I mean, what’s in my box is totally different then what’s in their box. And my box will be delivered to a middle-schooler and send him/her on quite an adventure. Anyway writers, Does this ever happen to you?

P.S. I tried to shelve the box story but it keeps wanting to be opened. It’s hard for me to resist and then I figured, why even try. Go along for the ride and see where it takes you. What do you think?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Confessions of an Obsessaholic No. 11: Check-out

So I went to the grocery store, parking right next to the cart return rack (see Confessions of an Obsessaholic No. 5) like I usually do. I snake through the store tossing this and that into the cart, ending up with far more than I had planned buying (no big surprise there). I finally get to check-out and I load the groceries onto the belt, organizing the items.
Frozen and cold food together.
Cans together.
Boxes together.
Vegetables together.
Bread and rolls together.
Paper goods together.
And, to be honest, it looked pretty – all neat and lined up and separated with barcodes, if possible, visible at first glance.
“I wish everyone was as organized as you,” the cashier said. “It makes it so much easier. Some people, they just dump everything on and then they get mad if something gets squished.”
Oh yeah, I’m thinkin’. Finally found someone who appreciates my obsessive self. And, like, that was way cool.
So are you a dumper-on-topper or an arranger like me?

Take that, Rejection

I am so over you, Rejection. You can’t get to me like that anymore. I won't let you squash my hopes and dreams. (Slams door) So there! (Back to writing).

How do you handle rejection? Do share.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The box

It started like an ordinary day, sunshine sneaking through the cracks in the blinds and spilling into the bedroom and the whiff of bacon snaking through the quiet house.
It started like an ordinary day, but it was anything but ordinary.
And it all started with a box.