Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Holidays!

The Christmas Countdown is on in my house, and thanks to illness and head injuries, we are a smidge behind. So I'm going to have to take a blogging break.

Have a great Christmas and New Year - or if you don't celebrate Christmas, then have a great couple of weeks! I'm off to whip my house into shape and enjoy my in-laws and my kids for a while.

See you all in January!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Favorites: Books We Read This Year

After today, there are only two Fridays left in the year! Only TWO!

So, let's do a roundup of best books. Some of the best books I read this year, in the order in which I read them, were:

ZORGAMAZOO, MG, by Robert Paul Weston, which I loved for the sheer audacity of writing a novel in verse and pulling it off, and also for the zany wackiness of the story itself;

THE ODDS GET EVEN, MG, by Natale Ghent, for its timeless feel, so rare in novels today;

FEED, YA, by M. T. Anderson, which was right on the money for where it looks like we're headed even though it was published almost a whole decade ago, and which is set in a world so complete and real it feels like I'm already there;

THE CITY OF EMBER, MG, by Jeanne DuPrau, which is gripping and mysterious and which has the most perfect ending.

As always, there are even more great books I've read this year that aren't in this list, but these books here are works of art. Be sure to read them if you haven't already.

Now it's your turn. What are some of the best books you've read this year?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Questions, Questions

I spent yesterday evening in the ER - it's a long story involving my older son, a game of tag, and a snowy slippery slide - and I was reminded once again of how important it is to take advantage of those unusual opportunities to ask as many questions as possible. Not just about the patient, but about hospitals and emergency rooms in general. You never know when you're going to need that info for a book or short story.

And in the meantime: why do schools let the children play on equipment in the winter? WHY?

*My son is doing well, by the way. He had a concussion, but his vision has returned to normal, and he's got his appetite back. Phew!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wisdom on Wednesdays: Breathe

The holidays are always so full - decorating the house, wrapping the presents, writing the cards, mailing the packages, baking, visiting... On top of everything else, because it's not like life just stops for December, is it?

It's easy to feel overwhelmed; in fact, you just might not be human if you don't. (And if you don't, I want to know your secret.)

It's cool to take a breather once in a while. Shut down the critique groups for a couple of weeks, let your manuscripts marinate for a few days while you get some housework done, just jot down some ideas for later, after the presents have been opened and the relatives have gone. The world won't end if you turn off the computer for a few days. You won't lose out on a contract by not checking your email every 5 minutes.

In the midst of the chaos, remember to breathe.

What are your tips for getting some down time during the holidays?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Go Local!

I've always been a proponent of supporting local artists, craftspeople, and businesses, so it's my pleasure to direct you to a super giveaway on Toronto author Claudia Osmond's blog, where another Toronto author - the fabulous Helene Boudreau - is giving away a signed copy of her new book, REAL MERMAIDS DON'T WEAR TOE RINGS!

This book, focused on the trials and tribulations of an aquaphobic mermaid (who didn't know she was a mermaid), looks like a really fun read, and Helene sounds like a really fun (and smart!) lady. Go here to check out her guest post, and be sure to play the HEART/HATE game in the comments to enter to win!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Inspiration in the Little Things

We put up our Christmas tree yesterday, and my littler son was literally jumping for joy. His unbridled enthusiasm inspired a fresh idea for a picture book manuscript.

This morning, I looked out my window to see the skeleton of our walnut tree covered in a fine dusting of snow. More inspiration.

How about you? What's inspiring you today?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Favorites: Holiday Traditions

We took our sons to see The Nutcracker ballet last night, and it was just as magical as when I remember seeing it as a child. (Although some of the story elements that mystified or left me with questions then remain as question marks today.)

Another Christmas tradition in my house is watching the original animated version of How The Grinch Stole Christmas: Boris Karloff was the perfect choice as narrator for the cartoon, and Thurl Ravenscroft's grisly rendition of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" makes the show complete. Plus, it's just a darn good story.

And of course, no Christmas season is complete for us without listening to the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas, composed by Vince Guaraldi. His jazzy arrangements of classics like "O Tannenbaum" and "Greensleeves" add a different level to the music while maintaining the original feel, and his originals like "Linus and Lucy" are pure holiday funk.

How about you? What are your holiday traditions?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

On Goal-Setting

I've been thinking about my writing goals for December, and thinking about how I'm going to fit them in since my kids' week home from school with croup has kind of derailed things for a while.

And then I realized: I have writing goals for December. Concrete ones. Achievable ones, even now that I'm down a week, if I really put my head down and get to it.

I never really did that before.

I mean, I used to have ideas about what I wanted to achieve, but they were usually a little unrealistic and not really that defined anyway, and I never really felt that bad if I didn't meet them.

I think doing NaNo, which had a clear goal with a defined deadline, and taking a class, which had an assignment due every week, helped me develop my writing habit into a goal-setting habit. I like this change; I'm getting more done.

How about you? Do you have clear writing goals? Does it help or hinder you?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wisdom on Wednesdays: Look Away

When your beautiful child is sitting in front of you, pouring his heart out about how much everything hurts, and you're nodding and holding him and wishing you could make everything better, and he looks you square in the face before taking a very deep breath...


Because if you don't, he will sneeze tiny invisible droplets of sick all over your face. And you will regret it. Because everything will hurt.

How are you feeling?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Paul Greci posted on his blog yesterday about pushing through resistance in his writing, and it got me thinking: I've been facing some internal resistance of my own lately. But it's nothing to do with my writing - at least, not directly.

It's to do with Facebook. And Twitter. Which, frankly, I loathe. (Nothing against all you guys who love them; they're just not for me.) I'm not good at sifting through noise to find the sound bites that I'm interested in, and as much as I love knowing what my very best friends' kids are up to, I just don't have time to read about everybody else's kids/dentist appointments/shopping finds. I'd rather be writing. Or reading. Or hanging out with my own kids, without the distraction of constant tweets and postings popping up every few seconds.

Plus, you know: I like the phone for keeping in touch. And email. Letters. What happened to those?

I know what you're thinking: we only need to choose what we like to do, and do it well, right? That's what everybody says, right? Well. That is what everybody says, and to a certain extent, it's true. There are many, many writers and actors and artists who manage to be successful and attract a broad audience without Facebook or Twitter or any of those social media vehicles, simply because they are that good.

But I'm not talking about attracting an audience. I'm talking about connecting: with writers, with editors, with agents. I'm talking about maintaining contact with people I meet at conferences and seminars, because I liked them and I liked what they had to say, and because building relationships is what being human is all about. And those wonderful people whom I want to maintain contact with?

They use Facebook and Twitter for that.

So you see my dilemma. Now I'm going to ask for your advice.

If you were me, what would you do?

By the way, I know I'm usually much better than I have been this week about responding to all the lovely people who leave me comments here on the blog. Both my kids have croup, and we're not really getting much sleep around here. And we would probably buy stock in tissues, if buying stock were my thing. But as soon as I can get enough time at the computer, I will respond to each and every one of you, I promise.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Silly Season

A writer-friend from Down Under mentioned last night that they call the holiday season "Silly Season," and it got me thinking: between Greeting Cards, Pot-Lucks, Shopping, Present-Wrapping, and the rest, there's not a lot of time left for writing.

I know that I don't have a lot of time for writing anything new; it's mostly revising and polishing the drafts I've completed, wrapping up the drafts I've started but not finished, and submitting (poems and Picture Books - NOT the NaNo project, people! For the love of print, DON'T SUB YOUR NANO PROJECT! At least, not until you've revised it first.). And if I still have time after I've done all that AND the present-wrapping AND the pre-houseguest home reno AND the card-writing and mailing AND the cleaning AND the baking, then maybe I'll work on some of my PiBo ideas. But it's not lookin' good, folks. It's not lookin' good.

How about you guys? How are you going to spend December?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Favorites: TANGLED!


I think my picture establishes that I have long hair. But in case it doesn't: I have seriously long hair. It goes all the way down my back. And it's thick, and curly, so I generally give the impression of:

a) Cousin It (on a frizzy day)

b) a walking shrub

c) Medusa (on a windy day)

d) HAIR.

I don't go through a day without someone somewhere saying something about it, which is usually a very very very nice thing, but is very occasionally an uncomfortable or even scary thing. My hair, for good or ill, is part (a small part, but a definite part) of what defines me. (Before you get all freaked out that I need therapy, don't worry - I don't live through my hair. It's just a bigger deal in my life than in most other people's. But it's still only hair.)

So I just about screamed with excitement when I saw this trailer for Disney's new movie, Tangled, based on the story of Rapunzel.

There's a moment in the movie when some big guy sees Rapunzel walk past and he grabs hold of a lock of her hair and as it runs through his hands, he mutters, "Her hair's long."

That totally happens.  To me. All the time. Strangers, whom I have never met, grab my hair and tell me that it is long. I like the sentiment, but the stranger-touching-hair thing? A little bit icky.

And when Flynn replies, "Yeah, she's growing it out,"? Best. Comeback. Ever.

So, have you seen it yet? What did you think? How did it compare to other Disney movies that you've seen? Am I the only one who can relate to the whole hair thing?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I Heart Picture Books

I promised you guys a post on PiBoIdMo today, so I'm here to deliver.

I signed up for PiBoIdMo thinking, just like with NaNo, that I'd coast through it if I kept my notepad on me at all times and scribbled down every idea I had. NOT SO. (See how stupidly arrogant I can sometimes be? When will I LEARN?)

Picture books are hard to do, guys. The picture book author is truly a lover of books and of words, because there is no way that anyone would just do picture books for kicks or because they had a gap in between projects. They're hard to write, they're hard to revise, and they're super hard to get right. Because you have to work to a 32-page format, they're actually very technical. And coming up with new ideas was HARD. Just when I thought I had a great idea, I'd realize it had been done. And maybe you're really good at taking repeat ideas and putting a fresh spin on them - in fact, I bet you are - but I'm not. It was humbling.

So, like with NaNo, I squeaked by. I came up with exactly 30 ideas, and my 30th idea came at 10pm on November 30th. But if I do say so, some of these ideas totally kick butt.

What PiBo did for me was force me beyond the usual, old-hat, done a million ways from Sunday ideas and into the really unusual, out-of-my-comfort-zone ideas. It made me look at the world with different eyes, and it made me really listen, to myself and to my surroundings. And since PiBo, I've actually continued coming up with ideas, which kind of rocks. So it forced me into a new habit, which I hope will continue.

The other thing that PiBo and NaNo both did was show me that I can meet a deadline. I used to freak out about that element of being a "published author" - that I'd suddenly have deadlines, and wouldn't be able to meet them. But after completing both these challenges, I know I can.

Now, over to you guys: Did you do PiBoIdMo? How about NaNoWriMo? What did the experience teach you? I think as long as we all learned something, everyone came out a winner.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I'm Baaaack!

Hey, everybody!  Thank you so much for sticking with me and coming by to comment even while my blog was on hiatus. It also came to my attention that I might have an award or two floating out there that I have to collect, which I will get to in the coming days. (And THANK YOU for that! You guys are the best.) I just wanted to say that you are awesome, and having you guys come by to say hello really brightened my days while I was slogging through those 50,000 words.

Which I did! I wrote over 50,000 words of my novel! 51,636 words, to be exact, including the ending.


And I'm feeling pretty proud of myself, actually, since over 47,000 of those words happened after November 15th, and a little more than 40,000 of them happened after the 25th. Yeah. Thanks to my husband, who took over the housework and kept me supplied with caffeinated food and beverages, I wrote 40,000 words in five days. And I'm tired. But that's okay, because I conquered the NaNo mountain.

And since this is a Wednesday post, we've got some wisdom coming through the brainwaves. (But only maybe a little - I'm tired, guys.)

When I first took on the NaNo challenge, I thought it would be totally doable. Actually, I thought I'd coast through it. 1,667 words a day? I thought, That's not even two hours' worth of word-vomit. No problem. I can be arrogant like that sometimes; it's not my best quality. But when November 16th came and I was still stuck at 4002 words, I thought I was in serious trouble. And I had no outline to speak of. I had several failed attempts at an outline, but no outline.

And on November 22nd, when my word count had topped out at 6,483? I thought I was toast. Which was really disheartening, because I really didn't want to still be cranking out my rough draft in the days leading up to Christmas. I wanted to be working on my picture books and my chapter book, and letting my novel marinate. It was an important goal for me.

But here's the difference: by November 22nd, I had an outline. I had a map. I knew where I was going, and I even had a plan for getting there. I also had John Green. On an endlessly repeating loop sometimes, but I digress.

And, of course, I stopped restricting myself. If I was stuck in a scene, I threw quality to the wind and let my internal editor make her notes in the margins and on the outline (and there were a lot of notes, believe me) and just wrote my way out of it. If I was really stuck, I skipped the rest of that scene and came back to it later, when I had written more and had a better sense of where everything was headed. I even allowed myself to veer off-outline once, and later found that what I had written was SO much better than it would have been if I had stuck to the plan. And most importantly for me, I knew that there were other writers, whom I have a LOT of respect for, who knew I had signed up for this. Meeting other people's expectations is a big motivator for me.

Does a lot of my NaNovel suck? Yup. But that's okay, because I can revise it. Revision is the fun part for me; it's the gravy. Cranking out the words is just tedious, but revising the story and crafting those words into something beautiful (or in this case, gory) is what it's about. Like I said a while ago, I'm a critique junkie.

So, that's my tiny piece of maybe-wisdom today. Have an outline, have someone or something to encourage you, and make yourself accountable to someone else. And know that it's okay to suck. Okay, so that's four tiny pieces. I'm tired; the ability to count is not important in moments like this.

Of course, after that 5-day caffeine binge, I have a migraine, so I'm going to sign off. More tomorrow on PiBoIdMo, which I also did this month.

And congratulations to all the writers who participated in NaNoWriMo! Even if you didn't make it to 50,000 words, you made a decision to start, and you started, which is something, in my book.