Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My (Surprise) Essay in a New Holiday Book

Last year I wrote an essay called "Snowbirds in Paradise" for a Southern publisher putting together a Christmas anthology. This was one of those quick deals . . . the assignment came up out of the blue, the writing took place over a 2-day period, and the book was to go to press and hit the shelves within a matter of 6 weeks.

The setup threw up a red flag or two in my mind, but it was a fun piece of work to create, and I decided what the heck. Who doesn't love to wax nostalgic about a Christmas past? Also, the money was such that I filed the whole experience under "Just Doing This for Fun on the Side and Half-Expecting the Whole Thing to Fall Apart."

Well, from what I could tell, the whole thing did fall apart. My contact at the publisher mentioned the possibility of a publication delay and then stopped returning calls and emails. I mean REALLY stopped. I did receive my check, thank goodness, along with the executed contract delineating my rights to the essay, so I chalked it up to half-expectations-met, took the publisher off my contacts list, and thought I might run the essay on the blog near Christmas 2008.

Guess what happened last week! The anthology called A Florida Christmas showed up in my mailbox (no return address, no note . . . sneaky!), released by a sister publisher. My first thought upon seeing the book was that someone had sent me a review copy, as the title didn't immediately register. But then the switch turned on and I scanned the TOC to see whether this was "the" A Florida Christmas.

It's a lovely book, actually, very nicely designed. I quickly ordered the only copy "left" (at the time) on Amazon. Then I reread my piece to see how I felt about it. I'm pleased. I won't post the essay here this season, though, because I'm giving that extra copy as a gift. Wouldn't want to spoil the surprise!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Review: The Thanksgiving Visitor

I love this story! "The Thanksgiving Visitor" by Truman Capote (a favorite of mine) can be found in several of his collections.

I first reviewed the picture-book version for the Spring 1999 issue of Prevention Update (Committee for Children), and that article was later picked up in the September 2002 issue of Social Education. If you can get your hands on Beth Peck's beautiful picture book, DO. I wish I'd hung on to my review copy. I see that the book is out of print and fetching a good price.

Here's the article as it appeared in Social Education, featuring a full review and suggested discussion questions for classroom use.


In Truman Capote's evocative sketch of seven-year-old Buddy's relationship with the school bully, the adult Buddy reflects on his experience.

Talk about mean! Odd Henderson was the meanest human creature in my experience. And I'm speaking of a 12-year-old boy, not some grown-up who has had the time to ripen a naturally evil disposition. At least, Odd was 12 in 1932, when we were both second-graders attending a small-town school in rural Alabama.

Capote wrote "The Thanksgiving Visitor" for adults, but it is a wonderful read-aloud for third- and fourth-graders and a great read for Grades 5 and up. Of course, older students benefit from being read to as well, and this rich, lyrical text is perfect for audiences of all ages. Furthermore, the story's events, relationships, and flawed characters are guaranteed to spark lively discussions about such issues as bullying and bystander behavior, anger management, empathy, and friendship.

The Story in Brief

The kids at school fear Odd, but no one's fear is as constant as Buddy's — he is Odd's favorite target. The bullying occurs daily, before school and after, as Buddy prays that the harassment will stop. Some mornings, Buddy is so frightened of what might happen that he begs to stay home from school.

Buddy's teacher, Miss Armstrong, suspects what is happening but doesn't intervene. One day, Buddy takes the time to clean up after his morning run-in with Odd. He is late for class, and Miss Armstrong berates him in front of the other students. Buddy reports Odd's actions, calling him a "sonofabitch" in a moment of fury; he is then severely punished for his outburst.

At home, Buddy repeatedly tells his elderly cousin and best friend, Miss Sook, about Odd's actions. Instead of rising to Buddy's defense, however, Miss Sook makes excuses for Odd's behavior because of the hard life his family leads, Miss Sook says, "The thing to keep in mind, Buddy, is that this boy can't help acting ugly; he doesn't know any different."

Miss Sook invites Odd to the family's Thanksgiving celebration. She believes that the boys will be able to resolve their differences if they get to know one another.

To Buddy's considerable dismay, Odd shows up for the holiday. Later, Buddy witnesses Odd stealing Miss Sook's beloved cameo. When everyone is seated at the dinner table, he exposes Odd's crime. Miss Sook reluctantly checks her jewelry box, then lies to protect Odd in front of the guests. But Odd confesses to the theft and leaves after paying his respects to Miss Sook.

Buddy is scolded for deliberately disgracing Odd in front of the others. Miss Sook explains that while Odd was wrong to take the cameo, Buddy doesn't really know Odd's intentions and should have no reason to think he meant to harm anyone. Buddy's actions, on the other hand, were far more serious in Miss Sook's eyes. She calls what he did "deliberate cruelty" and says, "All else can be forgiven. That, never."

Buddy listens to Miss Sook. Although his first reaction is to wish he had come up with a better plan of revenge, eventually Miss Sook's message sinks in.

As the story closes, Buddy and Miss Sook reaffirm their friendship. Odd stops bothering Buddy for good; no reason is given for this, but the reader can infer that Odd is ashamed of — and that he possibly learned from — the events of that Thanksgiving Day.

Discussion Questions
  • Consider Buddy's description of how some kids watched as he was bullied: "Usually a circle of kids ganged around to titter, or pretend to; they didn't really think it funny; but Odd made them nervous and ready to please." Why do you think that nobody stepped in to help Buddy? List some ways you could help if you were a bystander in a similar situation.
  • Miss Armstrong punished Buddy for his outburst and use of inappropriate language. Why do you suppose she did not punish Odd for harassing Buddy? Brainstorm other ways in which a child could report bullying to an adult. Which ways might be most effective?
  • Buddy explained that he hated school — but only because of Odd Henderson. How might Buddy's situation affect his schoolwork?
  • Miss Sook was willing to overlook Odd's behavior because of his difficult home life. Do you agree with her that Odd couldn't help acting "ugly"? Why or why not?
  • Why do you think Odd accepted Miss Sook's invitation to Thanksgiving dinner?
  • Imagine that you are Odd, and you've just noticed the cameo in the cigar box. What thoughts are running through your mind as you reach in and take it? Why do you want it? What is it worth to you? Now imagine that you are Miss Sook. What is the cameo worth to you? Why?
  • Miss Sook lied to protect Odd, and Buddy felt that she had betrayed their friendship. Did she? Explain your thinking.
  • By the end of Thanksgiving, Buddy thought, "Odd Henderson had emerged — how? why? — as someone superior to me, even more honest." In your opinion, was Odd more honest than Buddy? Explain your respond.
  • Why do you think Odd stopped bullying Buddy? Do you think it was a realistic outcome? Why or why not?
  • Are there signs that Buddy and Miss Sook are still good friends at the end of the story?


Happy Thanksgiving — I'm off to make my pumpkin pie!

7 Random Facts Meme

Oops, it is November 26, and I'm just noticing that illustrator Dawn Phillips tagged me on her blog — and mine — for the 7 Random Facts About Me meme 10 days ago . . .

Bad, bad blogger, Lisa!

Here's my list:

(1) I bailed on a writing gig last week. My role was to write a slew of Little Readers. These books truly are fun to write. But my development-group client repeatedly changed the schedule and assignment content/tasks/fees with no dialogue, no advance notice, and no pleases or thank-yous.

I'd already been increasingly uncomfortable with the company's (lack of) communication style in the months leading up to the work. And, a quick exchange with a colleague confirmed that others out there in our small-ish world of freelance children's writers had already sworn off working with this client due to BAD experiences. So when my first assignment finally arrived, late and completely different in every possible way from what had been confirmed the day before, that prompted me to finally just say no thanks.

To other writers out there: Remember, you ALWAYS deserve to be treated fairly and with a modicum of professional courtesy. Your time is valuable, and your writing is work.

(2) I am ambidextrous. Thank goodness, so says Wikipedia, that I don't shoot for sport. Apparently, though, the condition might be good for my word-processing skills. Seems I'm in pretty good company — Michelangelo, Einstein, Beethoven, Gandhi — not bad. I like this quote I just found: "Ambidexterity is neither a goal to aspire to nor is it a gift from God. Instead, it is first and foremost the mark of brain damage." That might explain some things.

(3) Speaking of word-processing skills, I never took a typing class in high school. This was back in the day when (a) people used typewriters; (b) everybody took typing class for an easy A; and (c) some guidance counselors were still telling girls that they MUST have good secretarial skills to "fall back on." I remember being insulted that my assigned counselor didn't want to talk about my college/career aspirations and adamant that I'd be the one with the secretary working for me and so shouldn't waste my academic hours on such a useless class. Instead I needed to study world domination and such.

I started needing to type nonstop right away in college, and so, luckily, typing proficiency followed. Joke's on me that I became a writer and editor, both of which require quite a lot of the clickety-clack.

Just the other day I saw a report on the average salary of executive-level administrative assistants. Upon growing up and entering the workforce, I quickly learned that administrative professionals do demanding, highly specialized, crucial work (and that EVERYONE could benefit from developing great secretarial skills). But gee whiz, I didn't realize just how lucrative the job category could be. I think I coulda been a contender. Darn you, my smug, surly, sexist guidance-counselor man!

(4) I recently brought home a bag of half-priced books, and I don't know where I put it. I know that at first it was in my office, right under my desk. But now? No clue. What's more, I'm not entirely sure I know what all is in the bag. I just know the bag exists. One might rightly guess that I experienced a wee episode of emotional book buying. (Come on, you know you've done it too!)

(5) I replaced my dog's office bed a few weeks ago. She seems to be missing her old, worn cushion and hasn't been spending as much time with me during the day. She'll come in, sniff the new cushion and kick it around, give me a forlorn look, and then go flop down in the adjacent family room. Did I mention that the old cushion was flattened out and discolored and maybe even smelly — and old? At least now I have a better picture of what the draw was in here.

(6) I'm not really working today. I'm sitting at my desk, willing to answer the phone or an email if necessary, but I'm mostly goofing off. My to-do list includes tasks like finding a new pumpkin pie recipe, scouting shopping sites for holiday gift ideas, and burning CDs of the new holiday music I've downloaded. I needed this day.

(7) I happily post a meme when I've been tagged, but I rarely tag other people. I always either feel too busy or too lazy to check other blogs and see whether they've already participated. I suppose this practice is kinda spoil-sporty of me, but I didn't forward chain letters in the 70s and 80s and I don't pass along modern-day email forwards either. Drag!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Morning After: How Soon Before the First Children's Book Drops?

This moment will give rise to soooooo many new children's books, both immediately and far into the future.

I predict that Lincoln and Washington will have to welcome Obama to the Most-Written-About-U.S.-Presidents Club.

No doubt they'd both love the idea.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Authors Guild v. Google Lawsuit Settled

Some of you may know that the Authors Guild filed a class-action suit against Google in September 2005 after Google started scanning millions of books and offering the texts online. Some of the works were in the public domain, but many were still under copyright protection. (Google did not seek to secure reprint or electronic-distribution permissions.)

Today, the two sides have announced a settlement deal ($125 million) that will pay a small fee (up to $60 for an individual book) to publishers and authors whose copyrighted works have been scanned without permission. The possibility of future payments exists too.

Today's email from AG president Roy Blount Jr. says "Far more interesting for most of us — and the ambitious part of our proposal — is the prospect for future revenues. Rightsholders will receive a share of revenues from institutional subscriptions to the collection of books made available through Google Book Search under the settlement, as well as from sales of online consumer access to the books. They will also be paid for printouts at public libraries, as well as for other uses."

The settlement also means that readers can still get online access to gazillions of printed works — so this settlement is a win-win for everyone.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

New LJ Column: Teen Reads

I know I've been AWOL for a bit, but that can't be helped. (Well, I suppose it could be helped if pushing the PUBLISH POST button triggered a paycheck. But that's not how this blog rolls. Dang!)

Popping in today to share a new column called "35 Going on 13: Teen Books for Adults" hosted at the Library Journal site and written by librarian Angelina Benedetti (from somewhere in my local library system).

I like the premise because not only are the lines between YA and adult fiction getting blurrier and blurrier, but — as Benedetti points out — some adult readers simply enjoy indulging in a good teen read.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A to the Q: Voice

A to the Q is an ongoing series of posts in which I answer questions I've received from blog readers, workshop students, and others about writing and navigating the waters of children's publishing. My aim is to share what I know and spark your search for even more information.

Q: I read your posts about voice. Can you give a definition? I'm a little confused by the different descriptions of voice I find out there.

Put simply, voice as a literary term describes an author's writing style. Your voice plays out — in your writing — through your unique use of tone, syntax, dialogue, character, and story development. It's apparent in a given piece of writing or across your body of work.

Every author develops a unique writing style and voice. Yours will emerge with writing practice. The exercises I highlighted in my Finding Your Voice series (see links to all in Part 3) can help you connect with your natural, everyday, non-writing voice. The one that plays in your head.

Tapping in to that inner dialogue can go a long way toward helping you find a comfortable writing style, one that isn't forced or assumed (as an identity) when you sit down to write. You don't want to "put on" your writer's voice — you want it to come through naturally.

Friday, September 26, 2008

2008 National Book Festival

The Library of Congress is sponsoring the 2008 National Book Festival from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm Saturday, September 27 (tomorrow!), on the National Mall in Washington DC. (No, I won't be there — I will be on a plane heading East, but not quite that far!)

Click here for a list of podcasts by festival speakers, including several fixtures on the children's-lit scene such as Jan Brett, Joseph Bruchac, R. L. Stine, and
Ambassador for Young People's Literature Jon Scieszka.

And, here's a link to some great resources for libraries, educators, and parents about hosting your own book festivals and other book-lovers' events this year.

Some of My Favorite Writing Resources

Below is a list of writing resources I gave my students in last spring's online class Children's Writing Workshop. I've learned from and/or been inspired by each of these titles over the years, and I think that as a group the books cover tons of useful and important ground about craft, discipline, various must-know topics, and the publishing industry.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Annie Lamott

Children's Writer's Reference by Berthe Amoss & Eric Suben

Children's Writer's Word Book by Alihandra Mogilner

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books by Harold D. Underdown

Creating Characters Kids Will Love by Elaine Marie Alphin

Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom by Ursula Nordstrom & Leonard S. Marcus

If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland

On Writing by Stephen King

On Writing Well by William Zinsser

Picture Writing: A New Approach to Writing for Kids and Teens by Anastasia Suen

Take Joy: A Book for Writers by Jane Yolen

Worlds of Childhood: The Art and Craft of Writing for Children by William Zinsser, editor

The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children by Nancy Lamb

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Writing to Learn by William Zinsser

Now, go add something new to your library "hold" list!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

New Madeline Book

Madeline author Ludwig Bemelmans' grandson has produced the first completely new Madeline story in 50 years. I'm not sure yet how I feel about that. I'll check out the new book, though.

Read a PW article about Madeline and the Cats of Rome and author John Bemelmans Marciano here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

EFA's New Fall Classes

Just a quickie note to promote EFA's Fall 2008 Education Program. I resigned as education chair over the summer after putting together one final lineup (my ninth). I'll miss working with EFA's membership, my fellow board members, and the course instructors, but the time was right for me to move on.

This season's offerings cover a wide variety of professional-development interests:

  • Pricing Strategies for Freelancers (online)
  • Copyediting Basics (online)
  • Substantive Editing Clinic (NYC)
  • Advanced Substantive Editing Clinic (NYC)
  • How to Get Freelance Writing Work (online; NEW!)

My replacement on the Board of Governors is Jennifer Maybin. I know she'll be a great fit!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A to the Q: Children's Writing Genres

A to the Q is an ongoing series of posts in which I answer questions I've received from blog readers, workshop students, and others about writing and navigating the waters of children's publishing. My aim is to share what I know and spark your search for even more information.

Q: Can you define the various genres represented in children's lit?

A: Below are the children's book genre categories as I have worked with them.

Board books:
Ages 0–3; 10+ pages; very few words

Picture books:
Ages 3–6 or 4-8; 24–48 pages (32 is standard); 500–1,500 words (750–800 is the classic standard length)

Easy readers/books for young readers/early chapter books:
Ages 5–8; 48–64 pages; 1,000–5,000 words

Young middle grade:
Ages 7–9; 48–80 pages; 3,000–20,000 words (nonfiction is usually longer at this level)

Middle grade:
Ages 8–12; 80–160 pages; 10,000–40,000+ words

Young adults:
Ages 12+; up to 300 pages; up to 75,000 words

Genre classifications will vary slightly with each publisher. In general, with each step "up" on the genre ladder, you'll see more words, an increased complexity of language, reading, and reasoning skills; fewer illustrations; and more (and more tightly focused) sections within the larger work.

Works sometimes straddle genres. For example, you can find Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar in the forms of a board book and a picture book; an example of a different straddler type is Lois Lowry's The Giver, which is read as early as age 10/Grade 5 and is still appropriate and appealing to readers up to age 14/Grade 9. (Of course true genre straddlers, much like the two mentioned, are usually brilliant and therefore good for readers of a variety of skill and sophistication levels.)

For a bit more information (and you'll notice some slight classification differences) read the 2001 article "Understanding Children's Writing Genres" by Laura Backes. Harold D. Underdown's book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books, also gives a great basic genre breakdown.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Ira Glass's Storytelling Insights

This American Life's Ira Glass isn't specifically talking about children's writing in these video clips about the building blocks of story, but do take a look. You won't be sorry.

Ira Glass on Storytelling #1

Ira Glass on Storytelling #2

Ira Glass on Storytelling #3

Ira Glass on Storytelling #4

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

New Children's Bookstore in Seattle

The new children's-lit focused Mockingbird Books will celebrate its grand opening this coming Sunday, August 31, in Seattle.

This is great news for the area after losing two stores just this year (Seattle's All for Kids and Issaquah's Lilypad).

I plan to swing by soon to take a look and buy a book or 12.

Monday, August 25, 2008

What Would Patton Do? Or Hemingway?

I love a good quotable. Each day my hard-copy day planner puts two motivational snippets at my fingertips. And a widget on my iGoogle home page funnels insights from literary giants to inspire me (or demoralize me, depending on the day).

Now, I don't read the daily quotes daily. My quote-reading record is pretty spotty, in fact. But I like knowing the pearls are there, ready to illuminate, annoy, or slip by unnoticed. I tend to take more regular looks at them when I have bigger issues on my mind and, thus, need (or just take) more mini breaks.

The past several days I've been mired in the task of figuring out how to balance upcoming personal activities with the responsibilities of keeping my business healthy and strong. Naturally such decisions are in play every single day for every single one of us. But the scale of that balancing act changes from time to time, and I'm in a phase where I can count on non-work issues taking an extra-special intense center stage for known stretches of time.

Enter my quote-peeking ways!

I love it when I come across a quote at the very moment I need to see it. Last night, for instance, I calculated detailed scheduling info on my calendar pages before firing off an email to someone with the power to help make or break my best-case life-and-work scenarios. I'd had to make some prior decisions . . . you know, which projects to work on, what I can and can't try to do in this life . . . just a few little things like that. Email sent, I looked at my planner notes one last time before heading to dinner with my husband. That's when I read this quote from George S. Patton Jr.:

"Take calculated risks. That is quite different from being rash."

THAT made my night. It felt like the universe was telling me that my decision to say yes to what matters, no to what doesn't, and let the rest take care of itself was sane. Not rash. It helped reinforce my knowledge that I had rationally examined all angles — and that risks are often necessary and usually worth it, regardless of outcome.

This morning, then, I was primed to check out at all the daily quotes at my disposal. None of 'em did a thing for me. Pretty typical, really.

Later, though, I pulled out one of those pet projects I've mentioned and stared at it over lunch. This is a nonfiction thing that I just don't know how to frame. Can I really do as I want and focus on a very small piece of the much larger story? Of course I know it's possible for someone to do it, but my real question with this has been, Can I do it? No telling till I make a serious attempt at writing it, eh?

I opened up my Stickies application to jot a couple of ideas before getting back to paying work. I saw an Ernest Hemingway quote I'd saved a few months ago:

"If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water."

Big a-ha for me even though it wasn't. For my completed works, I can easily point to ways I've omitted things I know. For example, unspoken (or unexplained) character backgrounds and motivations in fiction. And reams of detailed research that just doesn't make the cut in nonfiction.

But I wasn't seeing the obvious answer to my writing dilemma (= no dilemma) because I was too caught up in overthinking it. Of course I can tell one story that's part of a bigger one. What story in existence ISN'T one tiny part of something bigger? It's not even that deep of an insight. Sheesh!

Now that I'm feeling all "one with my brain," I can also see that there was no true dilemma involved in making the life-and-work-balancing decisions I struggled with either. In writing, as with life, you make decisions when you're ready.

Maybe someday I'll be as decisive as George and Ernest in everything I do. On second thought, maybe I don't want to be. They may have been brilliant, but those dudes were crazy!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Nifty Series of Articles About Working with Picture Books

Check out Darcy Pattison's August series 30 Days to a Stronger Picture Book. I've just skimmed it so far, but clearly she has covered TONS of valuable ground.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

That's It. I Want My Own Barista.

I sat down at my desk really early today for some reason (why???), and my morning coffee gave me fits . . . and now it's gone. So I thought I'd throw out some useless chatter I'd normally direct at a lucky coworker. You know, if I had one.

I pour myself 2 or 3 nice mugs o' joe each a.m., but while I'm working I get distracted and the coffee gets cold. Yuck. And as time gets away from me, the coffee loses that fresh-brewed taste. Double-yuck. I am, admittedly, finicky about it.

My "solution" has been to TRY to remember to slam the java and make frequent early trips upstairs (I have a basement office) for refills, which I must also drink too quickly for my liking. My entire weekday coffee experience is lacking.

When our old coffeemaker died several months ago, I specifically bought one with a thermal carafe. The idea was that I'd just keep it on my desk on workdays. I thought the coffee would stay fresher (it does by a hair) and I'd naturally get to it faster from not needing to walk anywhere.

Well, this is the first time ever that I've remembered to haul the carafe to my office. (Old habits die hard.)

So far, not so good.

While pouring my first mug this morning, I dripped on my planner and a printed manuscript draft. Fine. It's just paper. With the second, I dripped on the desk and my keyboard (it's protected!) and then left a coffee ring on a library book (I wiped it clean in time!). Looks like I need special conditioning to pour, neatly, from a seated position.

As usual by my second cup, I forgot about the coffee long enough for it to cool way down. So I had to slam it at lukewarm to avoid a wasteful pour-out (and trip to the kitchen). When I wanted a third mug — I kid you not — I got out of my chair and started to walk toward the stairs. So it also looks like I'm more like my dog and my husband (hi honey!) than I realized. Meaning, apparently, I cannot deal with even a small break in routine.

Tomorrow I'll revert to my old unsatisfying coffee routine. Sigh.

Get back to work, people! Yak break over!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A to the Q: Talking Animals as Main Characters

A to the Q is an ongoing series of posts in which I answer questions I've received from blog readers, workshop students, and others about writing and navigating the waters of children's publishing. My aim is to share what I know and spark your search for even more information.

Q: I want to write a series featuring talking animals. How can I determine if it's worth the time or if, for example, talking animals are considered old hat?

A: No matter what you're thinking of writing, it's always good to (1) keep an eye on what's getting published and (2) track the trends ebbing and flowing in children's literature.

That said, I firmly believe that a strong desire to write a particular story means that you should write it. Write it first and see whether it works out the way you hope. Finish it. Then think about finding a home for it. There are no sparkly new plots, themes, or character types to be discovered. But good story is good story. Good writing is good writing. If you are excited about a story, your excitement will translate to your writing, making the effort "worth it" and helping the book you write stand out.

Make no mistake, though — it will need to stand out. Over the years I have seen many (MANY) writers' guidelines that specify "No talking animals." Anthropomorphism (the attribution of human characteristics to non-human entities, such as animals, dolls, teacups, and so on) is a popular literary device in children's literature. To be frank, it's probably the most frequently used element I've seen in the hundreds of manuscript submissions and writing contest entries I've evaluated. So I understand why some publishers (particularly small ones that publish a limited number of titles) want to nix it from the get-go.

But, the device is popular for a reason. Talking animals are cute and fun. Or scary and fun. Or insert-your-take here and fun. Kids like them, grown-ups like them, and some of the greatest children's works of all time have used them. No reason to shy away. Human-like critters will continue to crop up in children's books forever, as will wizards, ghosts, geeks, pirates, bullies, and best friends.

Quick extra note: Since you're talking series, it may be useful to keep in mind that few publishers want to see series proposals from a new writer. Your best bet is to write your first story and work on getting the manuscript accepted somewhere before trying to sell the series idea to your editor or agent.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Icy TaB and Cool Rick Springfield on a Hot Summer Afternoon

I'm all caught up with paying work today, so I'm grabbing the opportunity to do a little brainstorming on one of my pet writing projects. ("Pet" for me means nobody has assigned it — I'm simply writing it because I want to.) I've been batting it around for a while.

It's a YA novel about two friends who continually miss the boat with each other. I want to explore how even the slightest misperceptions about a friend's words, actions, and intentions can derail even the purest of relationships. And I love the idea of looking at the situation through teens' eyes. Kids, especially good friends, spend more insanely concentrated time together than adults, so the story can unfold over a relatively short time period. No idea how the whole thing will pan out, but I like having a bit of time to play with it.

After lunch I grabbed a TaB to perk me up. (I buy a six-pack when it goes on sale around here, so once a year, tops. I still love it.) The bright pink can and saccharine aftertaste never fail to elicit sunny summertime memories from the late 70s and early 80s — a perfect place for my mind to touch on as I conjure the teenage mindset. I decided to further help that mindset along by also cranking a couple of tunes from my own teendom as I settle back in at my desk.

I must say, it's fun to blog and think about the story this way. Nothing screams "teen mind" at me more than the retro-intense enjoyment of an ice-cold TaB and the still-heart-stopping-strains of "Jessie's Girl."

Time to put my freshly inspired brain back to work!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Bulwer-Lytton: 2008 Contest Winners Announced

Have you heard of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest? It's an unapologetic "bad writing" competition that San Jose State University's English Department has sponsored since 1982.

I own the 1984 book of BLFC entries It Was a Dark and Stormy Night, so named after the old-saw story-starter of the same words that inspired Professor Scott Rice to launch the contest. I recently wrote about the BLFC for a speech textbook I worked on and so remembered to look for results this month, probably for the first time in 20 years. It's still fun to read what contestants come up with!

Below are the winning entries in this year's Children's Literature category.

Joanne watched her fellow passengers — a wizened man reading about alchemy; an over-sized bearded man-child; a haunted, bespectacled young man with a scar; and a gaggle of private school children who chatted ceaselessly about Latin and flying around the hockey pitch and the two-faced teacher who they thought was a witch — there was a story here, she decided.

—Tim Ellis, Haslemere, U.K.

Dorothy had reasons to be nervous: a young girl alone in a strange land, traveling with three weird, insecure males badly in need of psychiatric help; she tucked her feet under her skirt to keep the night's chill (and lewd stares) away and made sure one more time that the gun was secured in her yet-to-develop bosom.

—Domingo Pestano, Alto Prado, Caracas, Venezuela

Dishonorable Mention
I'm convinced that the Doc is dealing drugs to most of the mining crew because they either can't stay awake, constantly sneeze, grin like maniacs, or won't look you straight in the eye (not to mention behaving like a moron) and they wonder why a dwarf gets grumpy!

—Neil Prowd, Charnwood, ACT, Australia

What do you think? Are they bad enough for you?

You can read the other winning entries, including the winner of the 2008 Grand Prize, on the contest's official announcement page.

Monday, August 04, 2008

A to the Q: Taking Low-Paying Children's Writing Work

A to the Q is an ongoing series of posts in which I answer questions I've received from blog readers, workshop students, and others about writing and navigating the waters of children's publishing. My aim is to share what I know and spark your search for even more information.

Q: I've heard it's a good idea to pursue some of the low-paying projects I see advertised to get my feet wet and build my children's writing credentials. Do you agree?

A: As you've found, pay ranges for children's writing projects run the gamut. Of course everyone has to start somewhere, and of course you'll want to move up the pay scale from your starting point. But I'm assuming that you're talking about working for peanuts — and that's something I simply never advocate.

Listen, there are some low, low, LOW fees out there. I've seen fees as low as a dismal $0.05/word, or maybe $100 for a week's worth of work. (Take a sec to do that math. Can you live on that? Can anyone?) Some writing-advice gurus advise newbie or wannabe writers to go after such "jobs." They'll even tell people to work for free to pad their writing credits. (Volunteer-type writing, such as when you're contributing content to an organization or cause that matters to you is a different matter entirely.) But I rarely hear of writers having a good experience working on pay-nothing projects, and I've never witnessed anyone parlaying such work into high fees or credibility/career viability.

Maybe you will get better projects after writing for next to nothing, but in most cases that will only happen because you move on and look for something better, not because you got great exposure or paid some nonexistent dues writing for publishers who want cheap content to feed to . . . uh, who is their audience, exactly?

Think of it this way: If you take on unreasonably low-paying work, you may miss out on decent-paying work. And worse, you'll set a precedent for your low worth as a writer. That, in turn, effectively contributes to your low-paying publisher's low opinion of writers' contributions to its revenue. If you feed that cycle, it will continue.

I realize that the issue of needing experience/specific writing credits to score assignments is a valid concern (and true in any field). As I said, you need to start somewhere, and very few people get to start at the top of a profession's fee scale. I would just hate to see you waste valuable time chasing gigs that treat the writing — your work — as something you should feel privileged to produce and give away.

Established publishers who pay fair rates know that they need to occasionally hire first-time writers to keep the pool fresh — and many are willing to take a chance on an unknown candidate who exhibits professionalism, talent, and perseverance. No reason why that candidate can't be you!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ever Try to Write While the Ceiling's Caving In?

I have carpet people here today (tomorrow, too, darn it all). They're installing new carpeting in every room on the main floor. I remember a very loud process when we replaced the basement carpet a couple years ago. But this process is SCREAMING LOUD!!!!

I honestly can't imagine the origins of some of the booms I've heard. I know they're moving furniture, pulling up the old carpets, placing screws in the floorboards to fix the creaky creaks, and laying down the new pad/carpet. I expected to hear some ripping and banging, much of it disruptive. But seriously, why is the noise level SO high?

Fingers crossed that all the furniture is still intact. I assume I'll hear screams (and silence when the work stops) if any people get hurt. I also assume that I don't really need to worry that the ceiling is going to fall on my head — or worse, on my pretty iMac.

Oh wait, I think they're stopping for lunch. Ahhhhhh! When they start up again, I think I'll see about taking my traumatized dog and the laptop to the park for a spell. It's a cool enough day that the pup will be fine tagging along on a few errands, too.

Might as well bolt — we're not getting much done around here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Literary Meme

I could use a distraction this Wednesday morning, so I'm posting a meme that's been floating around the blogosphere for a few months, especially on writer blogs.

The inspiration for the meme: The NEA reported that American adults have, on average, read just 6 out of the (NEA-selected) top 100 literary works of all time. So bloggers started posting their own "scores."

You can see from my list that I've read fewer than half the titles. Is that good? Is it bad considering my profession? Does it matter?

I don't know . . . although I read quite a few on my own, I can claim many of these reads only because they were educational and/or occupational requirements. I enjoyed all of them, though. And I've read gazillions of works not mentioned (including stuff I personally think should be on a list of musts), as have most writers and reading-inclined adults I know.

I haven't looked into the NEA's specific concerns re the list — as in whether they feel adults should have been exposed to these works in school or should be seeking them out in lieu of watching American Idol (a winning idea, btw). But reading is good no matter what. And playing with lists is fun!

The instructions:

1) Look at the list and bold the titles you have read. (For books I started but didn't finish, I've bolded a roughly proportionate amount of text.)

2) Place an asterisk* next to the books you LOVED.

3) Flag those you've read multiple times.

4) {Bracket} the titles you have viewed in the form of a movie/miniseries.

5) Reprint this list on your blog.

1. {Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen*}
2. {The Lord of the Rings - J. R. R. Tolkien*}
3. {Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte*} (5)
4. {Harry} Potter Series - J. K. Rowling (I'm reading Book 4 now.)
5. {To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee*}
6. The Bible
7. {Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte*} (3)
8. 1984 - George Orwell (2)
9. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10. {Great Expectations - Charles Dickens} (3)
11. {Little Women - Louisa May Alcott*} (4)
12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13. {Catch-22 - Joseph Heller*}
14. Complete Works of Shakespeare
15. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier*
16. The Hobbit - J. R. R. Tolkien* (2)
17. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18. Catcher in the Rye - J. D. Salinger (2)
19. The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20. {Middlemarch - George Eliot*}
21. {Gone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell}
22. {The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald}
23. Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24. {War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy}
25. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
26. {Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh}
27. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28. The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29. {Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll}
30. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame* (4)
31. {Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy}
32. {David Copperfield - Charles Dickens}
33 The Chronicles of Narnia - C. S. Lewis
34. {Emma - Jane Austen}
35. {Persuasion - Jane Austen}
36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - C. S. Lewis* (2)
37. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39. {Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden}
40. {Winnie the Pooh - A. A. Milne}
41. Animal Farm - George Orwell
42. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44. A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving*
45. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins*
46. Anne of Green Gables - L. M. Montgomery
47. Far From the Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood* (2)
49. Lord of the Flies - William Golding* (2)
50. Atonement - Ian McEwan
51. Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52. Dune - Frank Herbert
53. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54. {Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen}
55. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57. A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens*
58. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon
60. Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61. {Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck}
62. {Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov}
63. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64. The Lovely Bones
65. {Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas}
66. On the Road - Jack Kerouac
67. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68. {Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding}
69. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70. {Moby Dick - Herman Melville}
71. {Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens}
72. {Dracula - Bram Stoker}
73. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett* (2)
74. Notes from a Small Island - Bill Bryson
75. Ulysses - James Joyce
76. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath*
77. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78. Germinal - Emile Zola
79. {Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray}
80. Possession - A. S. Byatt
81. {A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens*}
82. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83. {The Color Purple - Alice Walker}
84. {The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro}
85. {Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert}
86. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87. {Charlotte's Web - E. B. White*} (3)
88. The Five People You Meet in Heaven - Mitch Albom
89. {The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle*}
90. The Faraway Tree Collection
91. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92. The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93. The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94. Watership Down - Richard Adams* (2)
95. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96. A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97. {The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas}
98. {Hamlet - William Shakespeare} (5)
99. {Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl}
100. {Les Miserables - Victor Hugo*} (2)

Monday, July 28, 2008

A to the Q: Getting Hired as a Freelance Children's Writer

A to the Q is an ongoing series of posts in which I answer questions I've received from blog readers, workshop students, and others about writing and navigating the waters of children's publishing. My aim is to share what I know and spark your search for even more information.

Q: What does it take to be hired and hired consistently as a freelance children's book writer?

A: There is no magic formula for guaranteeing that you will get hired consistently as a children's book writer, or even that you'll get hired . . . Ever. But if you educate yourself on the market, hone your children's writing skills, pick a niche* to pursue, and then persist in applying for projects and completing/submitting your own projects, you'll give yourself a leg up.

I suggest applying what you already know from your other experiences in the workforce. That means using a similar work-generating process:
  • learn about the profession
  • polish your skills
  • research your market so you know what children's book publishers want and where to look for work
  • apply for work
  • do consistently excellent work once you start snagging gigs
  • foster and maintain great working relationships with your clients
  • network with writers, editors, and other publishing professionals
  • look ahead to future projects
  • stay abreast of industry trends
  • actively seek new opportunities

In sum, as with any other job, you have to make it happen!

*I believe narrowing your focus by picking a niche — whether it's for a limited time to get you started or forever — is key.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Feeding the Self-Promotional Beast

I spent part of yesterday and most of this morning on nothing but self-promotional activities — all the stuff that writers/freelancers need to do to stay on clients' minds and initiate new contacts with peers.

Sample tasks:

Getting in touch with clients and other colleagues. I needed information from a few people, owed correspondence to others, and needed to remind a couple of folks that I still exist.

Creating a profile on relevant networking sites. I set up shop on JacketFlap , an online community of people working in children's publishing. I think I first became aware of it 2 years ago . . . so, bad me for taking so long to go back and get started. I did the same thing on BlogHer, an online community for women in the blogosphere. We'll see whether I really find/take the time to reap the benefits from joining the sites. Right now I intend to try, but only time will tell if I find them as useful as they seem . . . or if I'm just not going to add them to my to-do list.

Discussing promotional ideas with my painter. He was here doing interior work all week, and we traded self-employment stories. We're in totally different businesses, but hey, a good promotional idea is a good promotional idea. Thing is, I just haven't done anything more than send a few flyers — and that was "once upon a time" at that. It's good, though, to periodically reconsider the value of investing in advertising, mailings, giveaways, and so on. What doesn't make sense one year might be a no-brainer must-do another.

So, those are the types of PR tasks I try to fit in every now and again. How do you promote YOU?

Monday, July 21, 2008

I'm Okay with YA!

I saw this article from Sunday's NYT calling out the stigma of writing YA material. Writer Margo Rabb, a YA author herself, talks about the experience of having her intended-for-adults novel picked up by a YA publisher. Sympathy from those who consider publishing in the YA milieu "less than" ensued.

I can't tell you how many times I've had people ask me about my work, hear that I write for the children's market, assume a stance of concerned pity, and then express a sincere hope that, someday, I'll be able to make the crossover into (insert implied modifier "real") writing for adults. Happens all the time. And it makes me laugh.

Not that I have anything against writing for adults. I'm no genre-classification bigot. But what's so awful about making your way writing for the younger set? Can't think of a single thing!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A to the Q: Author-Illustrator Info

A to the Q is an ongoing series of posts in which I answer questions I've received from blog readers, workshop students, and others about writing and navigating the waters of children's publishing. My aim is to share what I know and spark your search for even more information.

Q: How would I go about being both author and illustrator?

A: As you know, I am not an illustrator, so my ability to help on this one is limited. But here are my two cents regarding things that might help you investigate the possibility:

(1) Look for a copy of the annual Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator's Markets at your library or bookstore. It always features articles on exactly this topic. When you’re just getting started, this type of resource can answer tons of questions for you. Older editions can be just as valuable as the current one.

(2) I strongly recommend seeing whether there’s an SCBWI chapter in your area. Consider joining the national organization as a first step — that will give you access to local/regional/national conferences and meetings, the various SCBWI publications, their online discussion forum, and so on. SCBWI conferences are always invaluable, even (or perhaps especially so) when you're starting out. From there you can scope out your local or regional chapter and make further decisions about whether it's a good fit. Things to consider: Are there regular meetings and events that focus on topics of interest to you? Does it seem to present good networking opportunities? Is there a way for you to get involved and help the chapter address more of your needs?

Really, the process of getting work as an author-illustrator is the same as getting work as an author only. But you will need to pitch your work in a different way. Depending on the publisher, you might need an agent, you might be required to submit a complete manuscript on your own (the ms would usually consist of the text plus rough art), you might start by submitting writing or art samples alone, or you might need to follow some other rules as laid out in the submission policies.

Now for some useful resources. Below is a link to a handy guide from the Children’s Book Council. You can view it online or download the PDF. It provides a list of publishers with info about what types of submissions they accept (specific to artists and artist-writers) and how they want to receive them.

Getting Your Book Published: An Illustrator's Guide

And, for fun, here's a list of author-illustrator sites/blogs to explore and enjoy:

Dav Pilkey's Extra-Crunchy Webstite O' Fun
The site title says it all.

David Wiesner — The Art of Visual Storytelling
Wiesner's award-winning style is something to behold, whether he's writing, illustrating, or creating a stunning wordless picture book (which absolutely counts as both writing and illustrating). Take a peek at his works, creative process, and words of wisdom.

Denise Fleming
Get some ideas of your own by seeing how this acclaimed author-illustrator works and what all she has accomplished.

Devas T. Rants and Raves
Don Tate II's blog chronicles his day-to-day life as a long-time illustrator, as well as his more recent journey as an author.

Kevin Henkes
Caldecott-winning Kevin Henkes seems to do it all — he writes for kids of all ages, and he illustrates some of the most memorable picture books of our time.

Lane Smith Books
There's no blog here, but any aspiring author-illustrator can enjoy looking through Lane Smith's catalog of notable books, checking out the rough sketches he's posted, and just hoping for some of his great success to inspire — or rub off!

Lois Lowry
This Newbery winner's site offers a glimpse at all of her groundbreaking books, some of which she has illustrated. Follow the link to her blog, too, for additional insight into what makes this treasured figure of children's literature tick.

Lundentoons Blog
Illustrator-writer-cartoonist Einar Lunden shares his thoughts about writing and illustrating.

Mo Willems Doodles
This is a fun, informative blog by the talented author-illustrator-cartoonist Mo Willems.

Tomie de Paola
Click around the site to see de Paola discuss his writing and illustrating processes, read a great FAQ section, and more.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A to the Q: Speaker Attributions

While doing a bit of electronic file shuffling yesterday, I found several documents containing Q&As from some of the online writing workshops I've taught. That triggered my memory of an email folder full of responses to questions about the children's writing biz I've sent out to students, clients, and other interested folks. So I asked myself, "Hey, why not start a regular blog feature in which I share one question (and one relevant answer, of course) per installment?" And I answered myself, "Done. I'll call the feature A to the Q." Hope you'll find the topics useful!

Q: Lisa, here is a rather basic question. What are your thoughts on he said/she said vs. nothing said, or else more descriptive verbs, like “she added,” “he whispered,” “I teased,” etc. For picture books, must we always have a person identified as the speaker?

A: Ah, how to handle speaker attributions. When writing for kids, for the most part, yes, you must always identify the speaker. In a simple running dialogue, you should ID each speaker, but certainly there are cases in which you can skip an attribution or two . . . an example would be skipping the last one on a page or in a section in a two-person dialogue.

The level and style of a picture book will also inform your actions. In a book targeted to more skilled readers, you might have more dialogue and make more assumptions that the reader can keep up. Or you could write a picture book for the very young in which you show just one character on a spread (or just one who is old enough to speak). For that type of presentation, explicit attributions — and even the conventional quotation marks — are unnecessary.

In my writing, I like to try to stick with “he said/she said” or “said Herbie/asked Herbie” (or “Herbie said/Herbie asked” . . . just use consistently throughout). I think it’s a good idea to try to avoid more descriptive verbs in favor of letting the spoken part color the speaker’s intent, but I don’t stick to that by ANY stretch of reality. Although the longer I do this, the better I get at letting the dialogue itself do the talking — I will happily cop to being able to see a clear evolution in my attribution style over the years. Of the examples you noted, I find “added” and “whispered” innocent and useful, with “teased” great when judiciously used. Some will argue that “said” is the only way to go, but my personal feeling as a writer-editor-reader is that sometimes the extra shading just works.

As for taking it a step further with verb-adverb embellishments — for example, “angrily shouted,” “proclaimed loudly,” or “sobbingly replied” — my advice is to back away from the flourish! Again, I have committed more than my fair share of attributional sins in the past, so I pass no judgment. Working with these types of picky issues is just part of the game, and anyone working hard to refine his or her craft will deal with this one sooner or later (and then forever).

Click here for a discussion that closely aligns with my feelings on speaker attribution. It’s not directed toward children’s writers, but I still think it applies.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Life Happens

I did something strange today: I read a particular ezine for the first time in, oh, about 2 years. I've subscribed to it for a long time, and I used to read it weekly — it was just part of my routine. But, along with keeping up with other kid-lit blogs, implementing concrete plans for growing my business, completing numerous household projects, spending quality time with friends and family, coordinating the final steps of "settling in" to a house/community, reading that leaning tower of adult lit I'm interested in, continually challenging my culinary skills, teaching my now-old dog a few new tricks . . . and so on and on and on . . . I let it slide.

Seems like a small thing, doesn't it? The reading of the newsletter, that is. Yet far more important activities had taken its place. Taken the place of everything for a while. As I hinted a couple of posts ago, I'm ready to stop the "coasting." Ready to move on, as it were. But in the particular life circumstance I'm experiencing, it's hard to know how to move on. All you can really do is work on it until you make it happen (or it happens by sheer dumb luck).

In keeping with my desire to keep most of my non-writing life out of the blog, I'm not going to get specific about the life circumstance I so vaguely mentioned above. Yet it's impossible to NOT have your personal life affect your work on some level, don't you think? It strikes me that this is especially true when you're a writer. For me, anyway, writing full-time takes a greater level of consistent emotional investment than, say, working as a bank teller (something I did in my young adulthood). So when practically ALL of your ever-lovin' emotional energy is being spent on people/situations you consider more important than work, getting said work done becomes difficult. Burdensome, even. So does the simple act of writing for fun. And that's no fun and no fair!

The good news is that I'm back to possessing more available head space. That means I'm slowly getting back to my fully engaged working/writing persona. Not that I ever stopped working or writing — or that I wasn't able to perform for pay as needed. But writing wasn't driving me in the same way it usually does. Instead it was riding in the trunk, stuffed in a duffel bag, waiting for me to pull it out and fluff it up after my long, crazy road trip to Not Entirely Sure Where, Yet.

If any of that makes sense, then you, too, know that Life Happens. And today, I'm going out on a limb to say that I'm glad it does. After all, who among us can't use a little fodder for future fiction?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

My Interview with FreelanceSwitch

Freelancing super site FreelanceSwitch recently interviewed me about life in the children's writing and editing business. We talked about my 15+ years as a freelancer, making the final transition to full-time freelancing, and maintaining the work. I had a good time with the questions.

Read the full interview "Freelance Writing and Editing? That's Child's Play" here. Let me know what you think — feel free to leave comments either here or there.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Waking Up the Muse

After months upon months of being buried in intense writing work and being absolutely thrown by a peak period in that never-ending work of life-writing, I've recently noticed something:

I've been waking up. And doing so has made me realize that I may have had a bit of a long-ish nap.

Has this sort of thing ever happened to you? You know, when you're busy with a capital B. When life drops orange pylons onto your course and you zig-n-zag all around, missing or barely nicking some but flattening others. When you become so focused on one problem or goal that everything else could blow up — right in front of your face — and you wouldn't know it. Has it?

That's the kind of reality I've been living in for a while. I think it's pretty normal to go through such phases. I hope so, anyway, because I've been through them before. I've always come out the other side, thank goodness. In my current not-quite-middle-age-YET-thank-you era (right? hasn't the lower end of middle age been bumped up?) — I am pretty good at not letting phases like that fully engulf me. When one arises, I still function well, maintain a positive outlook, stay on top of important business, keep up with daily hygiene . . .

But during my present re-re-re-reawakening, I've realized that the one thing I do that I wish I could altogether avoid in the sleepy phase is COAST. To me, coasting means that I'm doing little more than getting by. Things fall off my list. Important things. For example, writing for pleasure — or, to be more precise, taking pleasure in my writing.

I know, I know. We all have to cope with those pylons the best we can. The collision course will always crop up again, and sometimes you really can't do better than coast your way through it. But where my writing is concerned (since that's the only acceptable topic for the blog!), I want to work on not letting other challenges sap my energy for/delight in doing the one thing I'm here to do for myself.

Not sure at all how to accomplish that. Yet today it seems possible. My "muse" is active. Suddenly, any act of writing inspires me to do more writing. Ideas flow, solutions flow, excitement flows, WORDS flow.

At any rate, I'm awake at the moment — and I don't plan to succumb to another nap anytime soon.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Scholastic Reports on Kids' Reading Habits

I'm still buried in work and life, but I took a minute to click on this article from Publishers Weekly Daily today.

Scholastic has just released a report discussing a recent survey on kids' reading habits. The good news is that the majority of kids think it's important to read for fun — and most of them at least "like" to. But many don't get to it. Main reasons given include having more interesting things to do, spending too much time on homework, and not being able to identify enjoyable books.

The Harry Potter series seems to have had a positive effect in recent years, getting more children reading just for the fun of it. Interestingly, though, many kids would rather just make do with the Harry they've got, and 31% of the children surveyed think the series will continue . . .

You can read the full report here.