Friday, March 30, 2007


I am ready for this weekend. It's almost 4:00 p.m., and I've decided to grab a couple of portable items from my stack of professional reading and hit the nearest coffee shop. When you work from home, sometimes that transition from workday to evening — or weekend — proves less than satisfying. It's so easy to keep writing/researching/emailing "for just a few more minutes" as you simultaneously start dinner or trade how-are-yous with your SO.

So, I'm blowing this Popsicle stand (aka my basement office). It will be nice to then come home and put a definite period on the end of the week.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Write Kind of Day

It has been a great writing day for me. But let me back up for a sec. Yesterday was nice — so sunny and beautiful for a change. I was busy all day, and something about the sneak peek at spring offered inspiration and clarity for a couple of pieces I'm working on in my so-called spare time. What the day did not offer, however, was time to do anything about it. So this afternoon, I carved out some time to act on my ideas — before they got pushed aside or, worse, forgotten.

I've just had a quiet few hours of nothin' but writing. No deadline crunch or publisher emergencies, nobody needing my help or input (maybe that's bad from a business standpoint, but oh well), no real interruptions . . . just me tapping away on my keyboard.

To recap, it has been great! This kind of opportunity/mood/groove/whatever you want to call it is rare for me, even as a full-time writer, so I simply wanted to take a moment to appreciate it. And blogging it provides a nice record for the next time I'm wondering when last I did such a thing.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Upcoming Events

Just a quick promotional post about a couple of upcoming events.

My next online class for the Editorial Freelancers Association starts Wednesday, March 21. It's a 5-week course called Children's Writing Workshop, and available spots are filling up. Here's the official description:

Participants will explore the craft of writing for children through reflection, journaling, and focused writing exercises designed to foster creativity and facilitate the process of writing for young readers. Assignments include readings, group discussions, and the completion of one short, polished writing sample. Come ready to share ideas, hone your writing skills, give and receive meaningful, supportive feedback — and have a good time!

This class is open to EFA members and nonmembers alike. For more information and to register, click here.

I'm also presenting a program called "The Process of Publishing a Children's Book from Concept to Market" as part of the Bellewood Author Series in Issaquah, WA, April 4 at 10:3o a.m. After my presentation, I'll hold a Q&A session and sign copies of my graphic novels Black Beauty and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It should be a fun morning — hope to see you there!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Springing Forward

I've had a terrible time springing forward this year. I do not recall the time change mattering to me in the past, but I have been completely thrown so far with this one. Hope to adjust tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Mixing It Up

I am a creature of habit. I keep regular office hours and follow a fairly predictable routine. Doing so helps me stay focused and productive most of the time. But the last several days have been filled with every task but writing, or anything creative for that matter. And it started getting old. My must-dos included
  • invoicing/bill collecting
  • submitting project bids
  • following up on planned-but-not-scheduled projects
  • troubleshooting issues with EFA's spring classes
  • addressing glitches with my printer, desktop keyboard, and laptop battery . . .
Ahhhh, the writing life. Yes, I am my own boss and can do what I want, when I want. (Yippee!) But what I want — at least until I become independently wealthy — is to operate a profitable business. So, in addition to writing, I also serve as my own Finance, R&D, HR, PR, and IT departments. That doesn't bother me in theory or even in practice. But dealing with all that stuff to the exclusion of writing was wearing thin. I thought yesterday seemed like a good day to just mix it up and see what happened.

Here's what I did and how it affected me:
  • Kicked things off with a lunch-like breakfast of — get this — egg salad. (Not bad!)
  • Skipped my first-thing ritual of managing email, browsing a favorite discussion group, and skimming online news headlines over coffee. Had the coffee but got right to work. Did so, gasp, before my shower.
  • Shocked myself at how insanely productive I was for the next 3 hours. Decided to pause that favorite online discussion group so that I can't log on for, double gasp, two weeks.
  • Popped in a fitness DVD. Normally, I'd do that before or after work. Fully participated in the workout. Endorphins were released and stress was relieved. The 70s music I played in the background brought up story idea after story idea after story idea. Each song triggered intense memories and feelings from my youth — the increased oxygen surely enhanced the effects. I conjured young characters, realistic settings, childhood dynamics, and timeless story conflicts. (I assign music-association exercises to my writing students, and they never fail to inspire.) Some pure fun was had during regular business hours!
  • Walked Asta, my office dog. Made her don a raincoat (hey, I'm not cruel; it was raining; kinda funny, though, eh?). Took one of our favorite paths but reversed the direction. Asta did not know what to think! Left the iPod at home. Enjoyed the reverse sights and tried to keep from talking to myself out loud. (Usually, I'm trying to keep from singing.) Tried to but couldn't shake a stick at all the writing/business/life ideas swirling about. Picked a couple of early-blooming camellias from the shrub outside my front door. Stuck 'em in a vase for my nightstand.
  • Showered. Had a quick lunch while furiously jotting down some of the keeper thoughts I'd shaken loose from dormant corners of my brain.
  • Slogged for 2 hours, then stopped to clean the kitchen. Made a doggie casserole. Did prep work for the big salad I ate later. All the chopping, mixing, pot tending, etc., kept my mind blank enough for some great problem solving.
  • Served the doggie dish to a very surprised pup. It's the food she gets when she has been sick and needs a bland-diet break from her kibble. She could not beleeeeeive her luck at receiving this dish while feeling healthy. "Mixed-Up Day tomorrow, too, please," she hopped and wagged. Thought about how to incorporate some of her behaviors into future dog characters.
  • Worked for about 2 more hours. Finished everything on my list and then prepared for today's tasks.
  • Shut off the computer for the rest of the evening. No emailing, no Googling, no surfing. Read in the bedroom and realized that I had worked in the dining, living, and family rooms today, but had not so much as peeked into my office. Cool! Asta — who tends to act out of sorts when the daily routine is changed — sported a contented greyhound smile all night. Spent a couple of minutes on the floor with her looking at the room from her perspective.
Yesterday was unconventional, but it worked. I worked.

Today I went right back to my regular schedule, but let me tell you something: I felt rested, clear-headed, energized, and eager to tackle the day. And tackle it I did. I knocked out a 750-word article, and I took a little time to work on the outline for a muse-inspired YA novel I've been kicking around for a while.

Mixing it up for one day was a huge success. Can't wait to try it again sometime. You?

Monday, March 05, 2007

More Context for the Blog

I'm going to go ahead and talk a little bit about my place in the children's writing universe. I did point readers to my other sites in my first post, but since then I've decided that's annoying. You should be able to get a sense of my work right here where you are. (Did I mention that I'm an editor too? Three cheers for the context for the post on the context for the blog!)

How I Became a Children's Writer: I almost hate to say it, but writing for the younger set was never a goal of mine until I started doing it. My career and creative pursuits intersected and evolved in a way that allowed me to study massive amounts of children's literature. That familiarity bred great love, respect, and appreciation for the history and creation of kid lit. And I was hooked. I had no choice but to explore the practice of writing for children. Once I got a taste of it, there was no turning back. I knew I'd be doing it for a long time . . . quite probably the rest of my life.

My first book was Tales of Courage, retellings of classic fairy tales such as "Jack the Giant Killer" and "The Little Dutch Boy." As I wrote the stories (someday I'll do an entry specific to the art of retelling), I was filled with gratitude and creative satisfaction. It was amazing. You know, I had felt that way before. For example, I will never forget the joy and excitement of writing my first investigative news article as a cub reporter. I loved every minute of that, too. But this rush was different. This vibe seemed more permanent. Like I had (schmaltz alert!) found a home.

What I've Done Since Becoming a Children's Writer: I've been writing for children. I mean that not sarcastically, but I do mean it seriously. To do it, you have to do it, after all.

So, I continued writing books and many educational products. Some of that work was completed for my regular employers (I was an editor, but in many settings editors also write), and a lot of it was for the children's publishers for whom I freelanced on the side. I stuck with my full-time editorial career until 2002—the year I left the 9-to-5 world for the freelance life.

Special aside for those salivating over the dreamy prospect of a freewheeling freelance life (you know who you are, and my advice is to check this reality):
My typical day is often 7:30-to-6; during a crunch, it can be "All Day and All of the Night!" I am not complaining, mind you. I love it, even when I hate it. One of my 9-to-5 gigs played out like a 24/7 circus. The scary kind. It was awful, and I wouldn't go back to that type of nonstop, gets-nobody-nothin' stress show for anything. (I also wouldn't go back to the perfectly lovely 9-to-5 situations I've experienced, either.) But I never want to give the impression that life as a working writer doesn't involve lots of work. The wonderful difference between the hard work of my former life and the hard work of my current life is that I'm working according to my own vision, which I can shape and take in any direction I choose. That gives me enough satisfaction to get me through hectic times.

It has been 10 years since I wrote Book #1, and I am fast approaching Book #60. Gulp. How is that even possible? Well, I'm what is known as a writer for hire. While I can and do work on projects "just because my muse inspires me," my bread and butter comes from publishers who commission their books. They determine what types of works they wish to publish each season, very often planning specific topics, and then they call me. (That's not entirely true. Nobody picks up the phone anymore.) Or they post job ads to which qualified writers apply. In most such situations the definition of a qualified writer is someone who can write on a fast-tracked schedule and deliver what the publisher needs with little-to-no hand-holding. Writer for hire.

How I Feel About the Writing: Part of what I love about this work is the variety. I've done retellings, historical fiction, informational fiction, contemporary fiction, picture books, early readers, biographies, straight informational nonfiction, and leveled readers designed to work in various K–12 curricular areas. (As in books designed to address content standards in reading, social studies, language arts, character education, science, and math.)

Two years ago, I had the pleasure of serving as series editor for a line of "safe" graphic novels. I wrote two of the titles myself (Black Beauty and The Hunchback of Notre Dame) and thoroughly enjoyed learning how to work with a new genre from all angles. I never would have thought to try writing a graphic novel on my own. But one great thing about working this way is that once you have earned your clients' trust, they will approach you with new opportunities. Those books debuted in Fall 2006, and, along with two recently released nonfiction titles, Pilgrims in America and Ankylosaurus, they are my current tangibles. Several other works are in press, and I am always working on "the next one."

Note: Children's books can hit the market anywhere from a few months to 2+ years after a writer finishes her part. I rarely know exactly when mine will come out. Sometimes they hit out of writing order, and sometimes they never hit at all. It's true, so far 5 of my finished books will never be published. Publishing plans change and books are pulled when bigger publishers acquire smaller ones, publishers run out of money for a given season or forever, and publishers simply change their minds. When you are a writer for hire, the publisher usually owns the rights to your work and so once you provide it, it is theirs to do with what they wish. I don't like it when I finish something and it disappears into the ether, but I have learned to accept it. As long as I've been paid.

My books are not available in bookstores (some of them could be if I went that extra marketing mile and coordinated that myself, but I have not explored doing that), but they are available in classrooms, school libraries, and public libraries nationwide. Via Google Alerts, I've seen that many are also available internationally. I love that my work is in so many kids' hands. I also love that there is a way to make a living writing for children (scoring with a Newbery winner notwithstanding) and that I made it happen for myself.

What Else I Do: I do write in other genres, mostly articles, book reviews, and supplemental educational materials such as lesson plans, student activity books, and teacher guides. As an editor, I work on books of all types, curricula, and really anything. I also do speaking engagements about children's writing, editing, and freelancing; teach writing and editing classes for adults; conduct school author visits; and coordinate the education program for the Editorial Freelancers Association.

I think that's more than enough scene setting. I hope the post gives you a sense of what I do and why I do it, as well as a framework for the many posts to follow.

If you have made it to the end, I thank you and bid you a sincere adieu!

Saturday, March 03, 2007


Tonight I'm messing around with Blogger settings in front of the TV. (I'm watching but not watching Parenthood; it's good, but I saw it in the theater during its original run and then again later, I think, on video.) I've tried most of the possible templates and experimented with different layouts—at least to the extent that Blogger allows.

After browsing other blogs, I think I see a custom template in my future. But that's for another day. So far I've enabled as many features as I feel I can use right away, and I'll just have to keep checking into the others as time permits.

So, please keep in mind—for now—that this blog is a work in progress. It will no doubt take me a while to figure out what all makes sense to include. Hope you'll bear with me as I find my groove.

Also, I forgot to mention in yesterday's intro that I welcome reader comments. As I start posting more topics, I hope to get some feedback. Let me know what you think . . . or just say hi. I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Inaugural Post (for Realsies)

Welcome to my new blog!

True, I've said that before—but this time I am ready to roll with it. I first registered on blogspot in late 2003 at about the same time I launched my author site, I have maintained the site since then, but for some reason I let my little blog sit, gathering cyber dust in virtual oblivion. Poor little lonely thing. All I can say is that time flies and other stuff got done instead.

Fast-forward to November 2006, when I decided to breathe some life into the blog. First, I poked around the WWW to try to determine whether Blogger was the right fit for me. (Slowly, I determined that I am not sure.)

Then my too-affordable-to-write-off Web host recommitted to updating its sitebuilder, with upgrades to include an integrated blog, so I sort of held off for a bit hoping to test what I already pay for during the 2006 sitebuilder roll-out window I'd been hearing since 2005. But, hey, the upgrade thing—while I'm sure it will happen
sometime—is not going to materialize in concert with anything I might like to do. So it's time to get to blogging by testing this nice free provider. Which is exactly what I'm gonna do. Right . . . now.

About what will I blog?

Good question. (And my apologies to Sir Churchill.) For now the plan is to chronicle my experiences as a working writer who specializes in creating fiction and nonfiction for kids. (I use the pen name L. L. Owens for all my children’s books.)

Topics will include everything from my writing process to industry news to the day-to-day business of earning a living as a children’s writer. I will talk about the whats, whys, and hows of my work; share the perks&pleasures&pains of the writing life; and generally just ramble on about the children’s writing–related topics that appeal to me.

you are interested in learning more about my background, published works, and so on, please feel free to check out my author site and my more general editorial services site. There is more professional info in those two spots than even my most beloved loved ones wish to know, so consider yourself warned.

Until next time,