Friday, December 24, 2010

My Essay in a Holiday Anthology

A few years ago in autumn, an editor connection emailed asking whether I knew any Florida writers. She needed at least one new personal essay for a book called A Florida Christmas. The catch? She was calling on a Monday needing final copy on Wednesday for a book going to press on Friday. (!!!)

"I can't think of anyone," I replied, continuing as any enterprising freelancer might . . . "but I've been to Florida for the holidays, and I'd be happy to provide an essay." 

I pitched my premise that evening and wrote the essay as soon as I'd met another deadline the next afternoon. No moss grew under this particular project! The book did go to press that week, but they couldn't get it printed in time for that holiday season and so released it the next year, in 2008.

The book itself is quite nice, with a lovely design and a good selection of stories old and new. I'm happy with the essay, but mostly because it's fun to write fast, it's fun to write about personal experiences, and it was fun to give the finished book to my dad. I will say, though, that had I had another day with the writing, I'd like to think I would have cut it down by quite a bit (with a little distance, one easily sees one's ramblings and redundancies) and fixed the typo I see. But, then again, I did have a specific word count to meet and not a lot of time to work with, so who knows!

I thought my fellow freelancers would enjoy the backstory — and that, perhaps, blog readers might like to see the published piece.

"Snowbirds in Paradise"

I have never lived in Florida, but one set of my Midwestern grandparents wintered there for years. My first visit at Christmastime 1975 left its mark on me. And, as often happens with memorable events or eras worthy of reflection, that “mark” continues to shift and grow.

The family trip itself — an unheard-of winter vacation — was something to revel in. It was HUGE compared to the other trips I had been on. I enjoyed seeing the sites and trying to make sense of the different climate (it was unseasonably cold during our stay yet still nothing like any Christmas weather I’d seen). But as we crammed a host of quintessential Florida activities into a few short days, I also paid close attention to the way Grandma and Grandpa passed the time at their Winter Haven retirement community. I had grown up visiting their busy Iowa farm, where they worked long, hard days for more than 40 years. Theirs was the first retirement lifestyle I had ever seen up close, and I was fascinated.

In those days Florida was held up as the place to vacation. I mean, what landlocked people who aren’t out of their severe-winter-surviving minds don’t dream of taking a break from all the snow and ice and gray? On any given day in Iowa from November through March you can bet that most cold, weary natives are likely spending at least a few moments daydreaming of walking barefoot on a sandy beach, splashing in the ocean, or lazing under a swaying palm tree in a tropical paradise. Iowa has its finer points, but you do have to leave it to enjoy any of those pleasures. And Florida was just plain easier for us to get to then than, say, California, Hawaii, or the Bahamas.

Even as a young child I was drawn to the idea of visiting the Sunshine State. In the late 1960s and early 1970s it frequently starred in books, movies, magazines, and everyone else’s vacation slideshows. Classic TV fare such as Flipper, The Everglades, and Sea Hunt highlighted Florida’s breathtaking scenery and spun many exciting adventures across its sand, surf, and vibrant, rainforested turf.

Naturally the influence of a certain mouse called Mickey cannot be ignored. Every Sunday evening until the series ended, I sat glued to The Wonderful World of Disney. All the kids of my generation did the same, and at one time or another probably every last one of us nursed a desire to visit one (or both!) of the two most incredible amusement parks imaginable. How could we not want to see the magic for ourselves after soaking up the weekly footage from the parks and all the other cartoons, movies, and otherworldly wonders conceived by the Disney machine? Perhaps my attitude simply grew out of being old enough to remember when Walt Disney World’s® Magic Kingdom first opened in Florida. I’m not at all sure now. But it’s comical to recall my staunch childhood opinion that the Florida-based theme park was superior to California’s in every possible way. In my mind, it was newer, bigger, brighter, and all-around better. And Florida just seemed like a more interesting place to visit.

I’m 42 now, making me all of 10 years old when I first set foot on Florida soil December 26, 1975. I was excited to be there, no doubt about it. (Truth be told, I was excited to be anywhere.) Air travel was still a relative novelty, and the swanky-as-far-as-I-knew Delta flight from O’Hare to Orlando did not disappoint. The holiday spirit was palpable, and it was so festive onboard: champagne and decks of cards for the adults, Shirley Temples and plastic wings for the kids. The pretty stewardesses cheerfully offered chewing gum if your ears needed popping (check) and rustled up extra napkins advertising “Your Choice of Cocktails, Just $1.50” and Delta/Camay soap wrappers for kids on the hunt for stuff to cram into a scrapbook (double-check).

I was also worried about how the visit with my grandparents would play out. My worry had nothing to do with not wanting to see them. It was just that I liked to know what to expect before I had to live it, and I couldn’t quite figure out what was in store in Winter Haven. Oh, I’d heard all about my grandparents’ life there, but I needed to see it for myself to understand.

For example, the concepts of retirement community and trailer park were abstract to me. Talk of the many organized activities (which seemed compulsory, to my ears, as imposed by the ominous-sounding Park Association) — coupled with my impression that Grandma and Grandpa’s trailer had wheels and movable walls (huh?!) — also left me concerned. I’d heard them talk about living on a budget and slowing down in their “old age” and pictured them possibly living in some sort of camper parked in a strange nursing home–state campgrounds hybrid. Would there be electricity? A working bathroom? Would the Association make us all play Monday shuffleboard and eat prune Danish at the clubhouse?

All of those thoughts swirled around in my 10-year-old head. But the biggest question going for me was, Will we get there to find Grandma and Grandpa looking and acting like the really old people who go to Florida for the winter? Never mind that I had just seen them looking vibrant and healthy and perfectly normal at Thanksgiving. In my mind, Florida was where all the old people went to, well, get even older. Scary stuff!

So, I confess that I stepped off that plane with trepidation. When at last we exited the freeway and drove through the trailer park’s entrance, I couldn’t have been more relieved. We’d landed in a neighborhood that had streets and everything. There were real buildings and paved drives. The trailers were shaped like regular houses, and many sported strings of holiday lights. My grandparents’ home had a carport, shutters, carpeting, a real kitchen, and yes, a bathroom. Whew!

The next day after breakfast and a round of Florida-themed welcome gifts for the three kids (mine was a silver palm-tree charm), Grandma and Grandpa gave us a guided tour of the park. We met what seemed like everybody I already knew from their hometown, plus a few outsiders from Michigan and maybe a Dakota or two. We saw the “shuffle” courts where Grandpa was, reportedly, King; the sparkling, bustling, well-furnished clubhouse; and the murky swimming hole/swamp where — to my horror — “mature” gals in industrial-strength bikinis and real-live alligators routinely sunbathed. I only caught an eyeful of the former, but apparently neither sight was cause for alarm to the park residents.

This place, I learned, was neither campground nor nursing home. It was Club Med for the thrifty, settled set eager to enjoy some well-deserved R&R. Grandma and Grandpa were there to take full advantage. It amazed me that they did absolutely whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. Every day. Kind of like a typical Christmas break for me, except they obviously knew how to make every minute count for something. I also marveled that they seemed unfazed by the disconnect of putting up a tree (theirs was a foil tabletop number), singing carols, and welcoming Santa in shorts, all while the lawn needs mowing.

Each of my grandparents’ days in Winter Haven boasted a nonstop string of leisurely pursuits — enough to make them a tad tired, even harried, from all that concentrated recreation, but none of it was too over the top to complain about. They enjoyed morning coffee at the clubhouse, giant-tricycle rides around their trailer park, and late-morning golf outings. They loved their afternoon shuffleboard tournaments, early-bird dinners, and evening bridge-and-dessert parties. And then there were the group day trips to the tourist traps, weekend pilgrimages to the flea markets, and tons of “neighboring” to keep up with. Their Florida life was full, and naps were encouraged!

I’d never seen them look happier or act more carefree and the truth is, I probably never did again. They had earned their Snowbird wings, and they were smart enough to cherish them for all they were worth.

During our stay we hit as many family hotspots as time allowed. Sea World® was one of my favorites. And it was Holiday Fantasy season at Disney World®. I loved the huge nighttime parade capped off with fireworks and Santa in his sleigh. The impressive water-skiing shows at Cypress Gardens made up for my youthful lack of anything resembling interest in the whole gardens aspect of the place. And, even though we needed long sleeves and blankets the day we hit Clearwater Beach, I was beyond thrilled just to see the ocean and sit under a cabana. Let’s see, I also see from my scrapbook that we visited the Waverly Citrus Packing House. Hmm, that’s odd. Not one memory of that one. Wait . . . uh . . . nope. Nothing. (Who picked that, anyway?)

It’s funny, because even though I have photos and souvenirs from all the big must-sees, it’s Grandma and Grandpa’s “Florida” that left the deepest, most lasting impressions on me. They had citrus trees in their backyard, ’gators in the swamp a short walk from their place (again, no big deal!), and ready access to the beach, shopping, and nice restaurants. They indulged in such exotic regional fare as lobster, shrimp scampi, and Key lime pie. They learned new crafts and played new sports. And clearly, absolutely none of it was worth taking seriously as long as they had plenty of good friends, family visitors, and each other to share it with.

More than 30 years later, it is still a joy to remember my Snowbird grandparents as they were that Christmas in Florida: active, relaxed, and contented. Lucky for me, I got to see their slice of paradise up close — and I am confident I’ll find my own piece of the Key lime pie when the time is right.

Friday, December 03, 2010

End-of-Year Writing Goals

A Girl Writing.  c. 1520. Netherlandish.
I'm trying to stop myself from falling into the old "This year is already over" mindset and see the next four weeks for what they are: WORK weeks that just happen to have two big, distracting holidays thrown in. (You know, for fun. And stress.)

So, my plan is to publicly declare my end-of-year writing goals. If these are in my planner and on my blog, I can't miss. (Of course it doesn't hurt that a couple of the goals are also stated in a signed-by-me contract.)

Before the sun sets on December 2010, I hereby vow to accomplish the following writing activities.
  • Weekdays: From 8:30 a.m. (ish) to 6:00 p.m. (ish), I will work on researching and writing the six-title nonfiction picture book series I'm contracted to complete in January.
  • Evenings and weekends, whenever I can: I will make clear, measurable progress on my two pet (read: not under contract) WIPs, a picture book and a YA novel. By the end of the month, I will complete a full draft of my picture book and a revised, detailed outline of my novel.
  • December 5, 12, and 19 (all Sundays): I will share drafts of my pet picture book with workshop group colleagues.
  • December 6 (a Monday): I will wrap up official online discussions for the writing-biz class I've been teaching.
  • December 7, 14, and 21 (all Tuesdays): I will finish writing feedback on my workshop colleagues' picture book manuscripts.
  • December 13 and 20 (both Mondays): I will turn in the first two of the six nonfiction picture book manuscripts mentioned up top.

P.S. For added accountability, I've also shared my intentions over at Cuppa Jolie. Anyone else want to state your goals for December's we-will-write-it cause?

Monday, November 15, 2010

I Love to Write (and That's the Name of the Day)

Today is national I Love to Write Day — did you know?

Now, I don't need a holiday-type day to love writing or to do my writing. You probably don't either. But it's fun that it exists, and I like (a) that the founder got it recognized in the first place and (b) that he focuses on getting kids fired up about writing by providing ideas/encouragement for classroom exercises and school-wide events.

ILW has been celebrated for the past nine years. I think I've been aware of it since the beginning, but I'm almost sure the day/any hype passed outside my notice last year. I used to loosely track the day, so I just wondered to myself, "Why did I stop?"

One second of thought later, and I'm sure it's because there used to be so much less writing-related noise news coming to my immediate — and fleeting — attention. Who can keep up?

Ah, well, a topic for another blog.

Meanwhile, and back to the point:

Happy I Love to Write Day. May you write long (passages) and prosper!

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It's Banned Books Week!

I'm guessing most of you kidlit-friendly and book-bloggy readers out there already know that we're in the middle of 2010's Banned Books Week. (September 25 to October 2.) Did you know that an estimated 70 to 80 percent of the cases in which books are challenged at libraries and schools are never reported to the American Library Association? That surprised me for some reason. And then it didn't. Hard to know, of course, whether those challenges turned into bans or were summarily (or at least eventually) dismissed.

I haven't decided which banned to read in celebration of my intellectual freedom, but I'll definitely pick something tomorrow evening — 'cause that's when I plan to start reading it!

Meanwhile, I thought I'd share a roundup of the most interesting BBW-inspired links I've come across.
  • Nifty interactive map showing locations of documented challenges. Click on the pins for exact location information and links to challenge letters. Yowza.
  • ALA lists of the 100 most frequently challenged books of the decade: 1990–1999 and 2000–2010.
  • ALA's description of the difference between a banning and a challenge.
  • Article at the DePauw University site stressing the continued importance of BBW.
  • TIME article on banned books from 1938.
  • Q&A with ALA about how books get banned.
  • List of books you might not expect to see banned. (Two dictionaries made this list, people!)
  • Opinion piece on, hey!, not banning books.
  • Opinion piece that misses the mark (in my opinion) by calling age-appropriate book selection by professionals a form of book banning. (But, clearly, the writer also wants to keep books out of her child's school library based on what she doesn't want HER child to read.)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Selling Myself

I am in between projects at present. Waiting for new writing guidelines to come in. Any. Minute.

Meanwhile, I'm spending ALL of today and tomorrow (even if the guidelines get here, which they won't until Friday) looking ahead to potential new business. On my list of things to send out: a simple "Hello, I am here" email to two regular clients; an updated publications list with samples to a developer asking for same; a nonfiction proposal to a publisher I've worked with in the past; a reply to a foreign publisher asking me what I do; and a writer-in-residence application for next year.

If I still have extra time, I'll implement some sorely-needed updates to my author site and editorial services site. Those poor dears need to be ushered into 2010.

Exciting days in the life of a writer-for-hire!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Working Through THE ARTIST'S WAY

Some of you know that one of the classes formerly on deck for EFA's fall schedule was based on Julia Cameron's well-known creativity program-in-book-form The Artist's Way. It was supposed to start this week, but I had to cancel it Friday due to low registration. (And by "low registration," I mean NO registration. It happens!)

I had planned to take this course. After canceling, I looked into the instructor's other classes. Her workshops get RAVES. But the class times just weren't right for me.

So guess what. I've decided to work through the program on my own. Starting . . . before now . . . here is the plan.
  • I'll study one book chapter each week. (Did that on Sunday.)
  • I'll write daily morning pages — that's 3 pages of longhand stream-of-consciousness writing, first thing every day. (So far, so good.)
  • And I'll take myself on a weekly artist date — that's a solo activity of my choosing meant to feed my creative side. (I've got something BIG brewing to kick things off.)
Also, I'll track my thoughts 'n' progress on the blog. As I feel like it.

Wanna follow along . . . or cheer me on . . . or tell me about your own AW experience? Leave a comment here at the blog to let me know you're out there!

Meanwhile, I've got some work to do so I can justify slipping away for my date tomorrow night.

Monday, September 13, 2010

My New PB Series — Let's Be Social!

Just out from Magic Wagon is my new nonfiction picture book series called Let's Be Social! Written specifically for the school and library market (RL 3, IL PreK–4), these six books introduce young readers to the various social groups they encounter and must learn to navigate in their community: family, friends, school, teams, worship groups, and neighborhoods.

From the publisher's description:

"The Let’s Be Social series explores the social settings that have a special role in a young reader’s life and community. Easy-to-read text and bright illustrations explore the
relationships, diversity, and interactions that can be found in the world around them. Introduce your students to the groups, places, and people around them. And let’s be social!"

Concepts are correlated to state standards, and the vocabulary is appropriate for readers in Grades 2–3, as well as younger children experiencing the books as read-alouds. Illustrator Chris Davidson's fun, cheerful artwork will appeal to kids throughout the interest-level range.

Each 32-page book includes a TOC, glossary, and index, and the series was fully vetted by content consultants.

Naturally, I enjoyed writing the books! I hope teachers, counselors, librarians, and parents will enjoy sharing them with the young people in their lives. And, above all, I hope young readers will have fun exploring my take on the many forms of community.

A huge P.S. You know it's Nonfiction Monday in the kidlitosphere, right? That means you can learn what nonfiction books (or related topics) other kidlit bloggers are buzzing about by checking out this week's host blog, Rasco from RIF. Head on over there to see a listing of Nonfiction Monday posts. You can even add your own link if you're so inclined!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Clearly, I Need a Schedule

Ever since purposely going off my established blogging schedule (three years ago? more years ago?), I've struggled with resuming any kind of blogging schedule at all. The post-as-I-can approach was supposed to be temporary. A few weeks, maybe. Ha!

I've blogged more regularly this year, but "more regularly" doesn't exactly make for a truly active blog in this case. Sigh.

On my to-do list for next week: Decide what I'm doing with the blog! Honestly, I know why I've had trouble reconnecting with it. But it really is time for me to figure out what I want the blog to be from here on out. I think it needs a bit of a thematic makeover. Not sure what that will mean, though.

While cogitating, I'm going to do the least I can do for the health of my little blog, and that is to schedule two posts per week. If I add it to my work calendar, I will do it. 'Cause I do not like to disappoint the boss.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Plugging EFA's Fall Classes

It's that time of year again — time for me to plug the fall course lineup I put together as education chair for the Editorial Freelancers Association.

First up, starting September 21 in Seattle, is the NEW-to-EFA 12-week The Artist's Way Class based on Julia Cameron's bestselling book on creativity, The Artist's Way. This is an excellent opportunity to work through Cameron's program (and more!) in a fun and supportive group setting. The class meets Tuesday evenings through December 7 at Present Sense.

Next, we have a trio of online classes (by far our most popular format!) to suit a number of professional-development needs:
  • Proofreading — starting September 23. Taught by our popular copyediting instructor, this 5-week online course is a great intro to proofreading for anyone wishing to explore the topic or expand their editorial skills.
  • How to Get Freelance Writing Work — starting October 13. If you want to write great pitches, make more effective business calls, and sell higher-paying stories, this 5-week online class is for you!
  • Navigating the Children's Writing Biz — starting October 29. This NEW 4-week online class demystifies the business side of children's publishing. Lessons cover the market, must-have resources, submissions processes, and networking.
Then later in the fall, we're heading East to sponsor three more in-person workshops:
  • Substantive Editing I — November 6. This one-day clinic is held at EFA Headquarters in Manhattan focuses on editing for clarity. The instructor uses a mix of lecture, in-class exercises, and group discussion.
  • Substantive Editing II — November 13. Picking up where the first clinic leaves off, this workshop — also held at EFA Headquarters — delves deeper into the art of substantive editing. The clinic stands alone, and you don't need to have taken SE I to register. (Note that there is a 20 percent discount for those taking both clinics.)
  • Introduction to Indexing — December 4. This NEW half-day workshop in Richmond, Virginia (a new location for the education program!), gives freelancers an overview of indexing as an editorial discipline and helps them think about adding indexing to their list of services.
I am really looking forward to this season!

For full course descriptions and to use EFA's secure online registration system, visit the catalog page today. And do feel free to help spread the word!

Friday, August 06, 2010

May the Force Be with Me (or Somesuch Thing)

Han Solo, are you there?
Last year I blogged about writing six nonfiction picture books in six weeks. I thought that was ambitious.

Whoa there, kids, hang on a second. I should clarify: I knew that was ambitious.

I'll be wrapping up a book I started yesterday by the end of TOday. (Knock on wood.) (No, wait, that implies it might not happen. Must make it so.)  And then guess what?

Four more books by next Friday the 13th.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Weekend Work

Every once in a while the writer-for-hire has no choice but to work the weekend. Sometimes I work on a weekend just because I feel like it. And yes, sometimes I really do just feel like it. (What can I say, I like to work.) But this weekend I just plain need to work. Not nearly enough hours in the regular days.

See, I took on this large rush-job project only recently, and instead of trying to negotiate more reasonable deadlines, I accepted the client's timeline terms. That's despite still needing to meet a different client's deadline first. (Which I did, thankyouverymuch.)

Funny thing is, I think I could have gotten a little scheduling leeway. I've worked with this client many times. And my editor actually said, in a legal-evidence-quality email, that we could talk about spacing out dates if I wanted to.

But — does this sound strange? — I really didn't want to. (I. Know!)

It's the freelancer's dilemma:

If I'd stretched out this work and actually taken that extra time (which, to try to be clear, wasn't really extra time at all), I'd be bumping in to, or possibly jeopardizing, deadlines for a project set to start a bit later. If I want this particular project I'm working on . . . and, obvs, I do 'cause I'm working on it . . . my own schedule demands that I finish the work in time to do the next thing.

And this is where I'll leave you, my bloggy friends. Saturday night break time is over. I need 200 more words before bedtime, and I'll be hanged if I'm not going to write them.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Celebrating the Reader on the Wings of Mockingbird

Yes, yes, the big 50th publication birthday for Harper Lee's brilliant To Kill a Mockingbird was officially Sunday, July 11. It's now July 14. But I'm not done thinking about it!

(Besides, I totally missed the party Sunday while taking a lovely day to be outside, read a book, talk to family. And never mind the fact that — with all the months of birthday coverage I'd already seen — quite frankly I'd started tuning out whenever I saw something new.)

Mockingbird is one of those rare books that garners near universal acknowledgment as a masterpiece. For me, just seeing the book cover or hearing the title makes me immediately call up a feeling of reverence for this powerful story featuring timeless themes, a you-are-there setting, and distinctly drawn characters.

I really don't remember when I read it for the first time. Was it on my own, or for school? That I don't recall surprises me, as I do remember exactly "when" for so many of my other all-time favorite books, including those read first in childhood. I do know I was a youngster of the teen-type. I also know I reread it in college, for work in the early 1990s, and then again for fun probably five years ago. Or so. (Naturally, I've also seen its equally brilliant film adaptation numerous times.) I know I loved it from the start, but I don't think I truly sat in awe of it until I was older.

Obviously, Mockingbird deserves this year-long celebration. For giving us all such a lasting gift, Harper Lee — its fascinatingly private author — deserves all the accolades we can throw her way. And I have enjoyed seeing myriad journalists, scholars, celebrity authors, and celebrity-celebrities (oh: Oprah, too) reflect on their experiences with/feelings about/analyses of the book.

But what I want to know is, How do today's young people feel when they read it? (And many do read it.) How does it play with a contemporary audience who didn't read it in the context of "current" life in the 60s, 70s, 80s, or 90s? Does the book speak to today's kids? Do they love it too?

I found this amazing book trailer created by a junior high student. Take a peek.

This gave me chills. (Well done, Max Weinstein of Paideia School in Atlanta!) It made me want to dive back into the book, to recapture that wider-eyed, all-senses-firing feeling I get when I'm completely lost in a story.

While replaying the trailer, all I can think about is how happy I am to see a tangible reminder that kids today not only are connecting with this great work, but they are, in fact READING books of all types and LOVING IT. I know, this was a school project, but still. That creative kid was moved and inspired by reading.

Those of us working in publishing and education — and, of course, countless tuned-in parents —  know we're growing legions of eager young readers, but news of the world so seldom focuses on them. Much time is spent lamenting the problem of getting children to read at all. Not that it isn't a serious problem we must address; I just think the occasional good news is nice, too. So I decided to take a few minutes to reflect on those who are reading. To celebrate what they're reading and how THEY'RE affected by our beloved To Kill a Mockingbird, other classics, and all the great new literature they get to enjoy.

You know they have opinions (and one could argue those are the most important ones). And you know the books are shaping their lives — from now to when they, too, can play Remember When about their own all-time favorites.

Today, I celebrate . . . THE READER! Join me?

Monday, July 05, 2010

If You Can Dream It

Rough night here last night — it was July 4, which always means that — in addition to the known fireworks show from sundown till midnight — random firecrackers must be set off around the neighborhood from about 10:00 a.m. through the wee hours of today. (In this wee case, the last cracker KA-POWed at around 4:00 a.m.)

Anyhoo, I finally got some actual sleep between 4:30 and Later, and my hard slumber produced one of those crazy-real full-blown-storyline dreams I adore:

See, in my dreams, I was hosting a glamorous pool shindig — a launch party for my as-yet-to-be-sold WIP, which will be my first YA novel distributed in the TRADE MARKET. Yes, Universe, I'm shouting to YOU. Seemed like fun with beautiful food, live music, and 70s-chic attire. Guests included friends, family, and . . . Chevy Chase. (Delirious much, Lisa?)

What fun it was to wake up remembering the vision and knowing there was some truth to it.

I will finish and publish this novel. And a celebration will follow. I doubt the party will look exactly like the one in my dream. But that is not the point.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Looking Back, Gearing Up

This was such a productive research-and-planning-and-writing week that — after just one great weekend day — I'm already itching to get back to it.

I'll wait till Monday. Of course.

But I'm still feeling good about all those puzzle pieces snapping together. And I thought I'd better blog it so I can find proof in the next extended moment of writerly frustration (in which nothing goes right and my writing seems like drivel) that I do, in fact, love my work.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

New Blogger Template!

I've been waiting a very long time (as others have, no doubt) for Blogger to introduce some new templates. Just today I decided to work on sampling free third-party (or is it just second-party?) templates to apply. But lo and behold, Blogger has come through with a new designer and set of options.

I was waaaaayyy over the dots theme. And I think this fresher look will do for now.

Still thinking about merging my author site with the blog under one URL. No decision yet, though.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Busy Spring-into-Summer

Thought I'd better check in here before I lose my lease.

It's been a busy spring of chasing new freelance projects as a few previously scheduled ones fell through. Hate when that happens, but it is part of the biz. I constantly remind myself that I'm no different from the businesses and independent contractors I use (or don't use, or decide I won't use, or stop using). It's easy, when you're lucky enough to generally have steady, reliable work, to take a break from hunting for new clients and thinking up new ways to use your skills. But this has been a good reminder for me that keeping in touch with the regulars and introducing myself to the futures is essential. 'Cause I'm all about keeping the work coming IN.

I wrapped up my PNWA gig as a Spring 2010 Writer in Residence. I got to run a Grade 6 writing workshop at a Seattle-area elementary school. What a treat to work with students. (Not to mention my target audience.) They were sweet, smart, and so insightful.

There's been lots of hearth-and-home stuff to deal with, too, including tending to my honey of an office assistant (see sidebar for pic), who's had a very rough several months of dealing with serious back problems. I worked very late last night, and I can't even tell you how happy I was to have her "on the job" with me, just like old times — she felt good enough to supervise, so yay for that step forward.

What else is new? Well, I am thrilled to say that I'm hard at work on a YA manuscript. It's historical fiction: my favorite thing to write. I've actually been doing the research for a very long time, off and on (and mostly off). So far I've created a thorough outline and gotten unbelievably satisfying peer feedback on it — the kind that tweaks your own vision for the story in such a way that you really wake up and smell the game-changing coffee. Love when that happens. I've written a significant chunk and set the attainable goal of finishing a decent first draft by year's end. I plan to start blogging my progress, people!

And that brings me to what's going on today: In just a few hours I'll be on the horn (and Web) moderating a fun teleconference for the Editorial Freelancers Association. The topic is "Social Media Strategies for Freelancers," and my wonderful guests are writer/social media strategist Greg Pincus of The Happy Accident and freelancing expert Jake Poinier of Dear Dr. Freelance.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Poetry Friday: A Pseudo-Haiku

It's Poetry Friday in the KidLitosphere,* and today I thought I'd contribute a haiku of the sort that haiku aficionados might categorize as "pseudo" — or, you know, not really-really a real haiku. All for the Friday fun of it!

fingertips on keys —
tapping, tapping, tapping now
racing toward the sun

*Many thanks to Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast for hosting this week's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Rockin' the Drop Today!

Oh no, I'm way behind in spreading the word about this year's Operation Teen Book Drop (please click over to get details about this phenomenal annual literacy-boosting event), but I have not forgotten!

Today — April 15 — is the day to participate. All you have to do is "drop" a YA book in a spot where kids tend to gather. (In past years I've dropped at a coffee shop and a library.) Pick a book you love, or a book you wrote (loving that one is, of course, a given). Think of it as your gift to a young reader, your gift to literacy. And be sure to print and insert the special TBD bookplate so anyone finding your surprise knows about the event — and that the book is his/hers to keep and enjoy.

Later today I'm dropping a few copies of my own books at Echo Lake Elementary School in Shoreline, WA. I'm Writer in Residence in the Grade 6 classrooms this spring, and I know there are lots of readers at the school who would LOVE to come across a little surprise. Plus, the school starts its Spring Break this weekend, so surely kids are looking for something to do! (Right?)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

New Picture Book Series Coming Soon!

Early last year I wrote (and blogged about doing so) a six-title picture book series for Magic Wagon Books based on the theme of community. Finally, the series has a ballpark release date of September 2010!

Funny thing is, I only know this because I saw that the books had been added to Amazon. That means they have ISBNs and everything. Oh, and final-final titles, too, all under the series name Let's Be Social:
  • Make Friends
  • Family Gatherings
  • Go to School
  • Go Worship
  • Join a Team
  • Meet Your Neighborhood
Wish I had covers or other illustration samples to share, but right now I'm just excited to know that the books are, in fact, coming soon. This was a challenging project for me — six books in six weeks — but I had lots of fun working on it.

More later, of course!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mining the Shamrock Shake Incident for Emotionally Authentic Gold

Now that I know I'm Irish (or partly so), I feel obligated to observe Saint Patrick's Day in some small way. So before I shut down my computer for the night, I thought I'd record a holiday-themed memory that I could easily mine to help with characterization. In other words, I might someday use the personal memory as fodder for crafting some unknown future story character's attitude or behavior or something. I think of it as sneaking my life into my writing.

The following scenario — or something like it — played out when I was around 8 or 9, or 10:

Eating at McDonald's was kind of a big deal. We'd go there (rarely!) either for a quick lunch or spontaneous treat. Often, my visits happened while alone with one or the other parent — with my mom on my way back to school after, say, a dental appointment, or with my dad while riding shotgun during his weekend errands. For lunch, I'd order a hamburger with everything but onion, fries, and a small drink. Probably orange soda, sometimes milk. If on a treat stop, I'd score some ice cream or a careful-it's-HOT cherry pie (although I'm not sure they warned as such in the 1970s). Never a shake. Milkshakes gave me the heebie-jeebies back then. I didn't like it when the straw clogged or, when you were almost finished, the dregs became so watery.

But then the Shamrock Shake came onto the scene. It was green and endorsed by leprechauns; I was repulsed yet so very intrigued. Friends who'd had one couldn't describe its flavor to me, but man, did they love it, and apparently they could have as many as they wanted.

Every Shamrock Shake season for a few years in a row, I begged my dad (never my mom) to let me try this thing. Clearly, the incessant radio and TV spots had done their jobs, and I had to have it. Just one shake, for life experience's sake, and I promised never to ask again.

Dad's answer was always no. He said I wouldn't like it. That he had no interest in having to finish it for me — or in throwing it away uneaten. And no way was McDonald's going to sucker him into paying extra for what amounted to a regular shake doctored with green dye offered for a limited time only.

Meanwhile, I was sure he was wrong, frustrated that I had no say, and unable to belieeeeeeve the unfairness of it all.

Well, sometime around year three of my campaign, the two of us were hitting up the drive-thru. We were having such a nice time that, as we slowly rolled ahead in line, I risked stating my case again, but without the begging. I said that it wasn't possible for him to judge whether I'd like it. For one thing, he'd never had one himself, so he technically had no valid opinion. For two things, neither of us even knew what flavor to expect. And what if it turned out to be my favorite treat ever?

He listened to me, shaking his head just a little. And when we stopped at the intercom, he ordered a chocolate cone for himself and then paused to shoot me a wink. To my surprise and with a smile in his voice, he requested the world-famous Shamrock Shake "for my daughter, who's worn me down — and it had better be good."

Sweet victory for me!

As we pulled away from the receiving window, I took two sips of that prized green liquid. One to learn that, whatever the flavor was, it tasted truly awful, and another to confirm that swallowing even a tiny bit more of the stuff made me want to vomit.

Dad noted my reaction, stopped the car, and tasted the shake. Blechh!! (Artificial and undrinkable!) He circled back to buy me a vanilla cone and stuffed the shake into a garbage can. (Wasteful! And previously unthinkable!)

Of course the two of us laughed and laughed. This experience would be our secret for at least the length of the car ride home.

I was just a youngster, but that day — within maybe a 30-minute span — I experienced a slew of very real emotions. Just think: I was indignant about my right to try the shake and find out what I thought, incredulous that Dad thought he knew best about this, and impressed that he'd accurately predicted the situation's outcome. I was also touched that he'd bought me a consolation treat and happy that it had turned into something so fun and funny.

A child character can feel all those things, too, with equal force and in the space of a short story, passage, or even scene. It's sometimes easy as adults who write for kids to get stuck thinking too hard about what young characters and young readers can, or mostly can't, handle. But when we take a moment to step back and consider the children we know and the children we were, we can let go of some of the fear of writing "too old" and get back to telling the story, revealing the character as the action happens. The main objective has to be creating a believable situation. And even though young people are still developing and will get wiser with age and experience, I like to remind myself that they absolutely feel and react to — often with stunning sophistication — real, deep, specific emotions.

For me, staying connected to strong memories from childhood, especially those bound to such distinct emotions, is a huge help when I'm trying to write authentic-sounding kid characters. I grab bits and pieces from the youth I remember every single time I write a new story. And I assume it's only a matter of time before I'll have reason call up those Shamrock Shake emotions to help me convey a character's feelings . . . or a personality trait . . . or one of her relationships. That one memorable incident could even inform the characteristics and actions of several characters in multiple stories.

After all, most of what we write comes from our lives and is rarely crafted out of whole cloth.

What about you — how do you sneak your life into your writing?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Blogging Workshop in Seattle THIS Saturday!

I'd like to extend a not-quite-but-almost-last-minute invitation for any Seattle-area folks to register for a blogging workshop I'm hosting for the Editorial Freelancers Association this Saturday, March 20.

Here's the description from EFA's Spring 2010 course catalog:

Blogging Basics

Saturday, March 20, from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Ave, Level 4 - PACCAR Room 6

Is your creative spark threatening to go out? Is your freelance business slow? A blog can help you revive them both. Blogging is a free, fun way to get your name out there to a potential audience of millions, and in this 4-hour class you’ll learn everything you need to know to start your own blog in 5 minutes or less. First we’ll look at the “big picture” of blogging, including how it fits into the context of other social networking media like Facebook and Twitter. Then we’ll proceed to the nuts and bolts of how to set one up, how to promote it, and yes — even how to make a little money from it. Laptops are welcome but not required.

Instructor Rebecca Agiewich is the author of BreakupBabe: A Novel (Ballantine Books, 2006), which sprang from her dating blog “Breakup Babe” and was a finalist for the 2007 Lulu Blooker prize — a literary prize for books based on blogs. She is also a writing coach, freelance editor, and journalist, whose travel writing can be found in places like the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Alaska Airlines Magazine. You can find out more about Rebecca at

Advance registration is required. The fee for EFA members is $99, and it's $124 for nonmembers. Feel free to pass along this notice — and let me know if you have any questions.

Hope to see you there. I'll be the one with the cookies!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Deadline to Act on Google Book Settlement Is 1/28/10

Authors, publishers, and organizations:

A reminder that Thursday, January 28, is the deadline for you to act regarding the Google Books Settlement. The court needs to have your individual position on the record TOMORROW (a 1/28 postmark works) so it can be represented in the February 18 fairness hearing on the whole deal.

Your options are to (1) opt in and make a claim, possibly getting some money; (2) opt out of the settlement (of course that means no settlement money) in an effort to preserve your rights; or (3) do nothing, which will result in your receiving no settlement money and implicitly giving Google irrevocable rights to use your works in certain ways.

I hope you find this resources roundup helpful:

  • Official settlement page.
  • Recent webcast/workshop on the settlement, featuring a moderated panel representing various entities and viewpoints.
  • Authors Guild resources page.
  • National Writers Union FAQs on the issue.
  • Statement opposing the settlement from Richard Wright's estate.
  • Support for the settlement from the families of John Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie.
  • Open Book Alliance's third-party analysis of the settlement. (OBA is calling for the settlement to be scrapped.)
  • U.S. Copyright Office opposition to the settlement, as presented to Congress.
  • Ursula K. Le Guin's call to exempt the United States from the settlement.
  • Informative article in New York Review of Books.

This is a complicated issue, and I know people that are opting in, opting out (my choice), formally objecting, and doing nothing.

What are you doing? Care to share?

Tomorrow may be your last chance to act on your opinion.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Want Book Covers to Accurately Reflect Content?

A quickie post to point you toward a petition created by Multiculturalism Rocks blogger Natalie Mvondo, in which supporters let publishers know they want a book cover to accurately depict the actual main character featured in the story.

I recommend cruising to Natalie's January 19 post and following her embedded links to get a good sense of the issue and recent happenings.