Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Going to the dogs

Really, there's no better present than a book. My husband, Ken, gave me THE MODERN DOG by Stanley Coren (he went to four different bookstores on Christmas Eve to find it--so it's a book with a story in more ways than one!) and I've been reading random bits of it. Anyway. I'm kind of in heaven. The book is full of interesting little factoids (most playful dogs include English springer spaniels and miniature poodles, least playful dogs include bloodhounds and bulldgos), as well as a lot of great anecdotes. Coren's style is friendly and unaffected, making him easy to read.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Jennifer Aniston

During church this morning, I made a list of books I want (or am obligated) to read in the upcoming month. Among others I'm excited to read the novels two of my sons gave me for Christmas--a mystery by Donna Leon (FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES) and a new novel called THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCEITY. I have to confess that I'm put off by the title--sounds a leetle too Anne-of-Green-Gable-ish for my tastes. But people really love it, and I love that my boy gave it to me on the recommendation of the fabulous Margaret Neville who works at the King's English bookstore.

It excites me to make a reading list for myself because I need to take myself in hand and STOP reading The Star, which seems to be featuring a lot of nearly nude perky pictures of Jennifer Aniston these days. Poor Jennifer Aniston. She's doing the thing Meg Ryan did right before she turned 40, i.e. ripping off her clothes and telling folks how she never felt happier or sexier. It all feels kinda desperate and sad to me.

But probably I'm just jealous.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

What I bought at Target (and how I'm going to make this relevant)

When I started this blog I made the decision to keep it fairly focused on things pertaining to writing. And yet I find myself wanting to tell you what I bought at Target today (in addition to a blender with money from my mother-in-law). So okay. Here goes. I bought two sweaters (on sale) and NEITHER WAS BLACK. I have a goal for 2009 which is to stop wearing so much black, a habit I picked up the year we lived in New York, because as everyone knows you are only permitted to wear black in New York.

And now I'm going to make this information relevant to the writing life. What color do writers and other artistes ALWAYS WEAR? Yes. You're right. Black. But I totally feel like bucking this trend this year and I. am. so. going. to. do. it.

Off to put a purple sweater on right now.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Some thoughts on the current state of affairs in publishing

I meant to post something last night, but I got distracted by the Packers/ Bears game which lead me to make the following observations:
1. The Bears were beyond lucky to win.
2. Aaron Rodgers cannot catch a break.
3. I would never ever ever ever sit outside anywhere to watch a game if the weather was as bad as it was in Chicago last night.

Okay. Now that I've got THAT out of my system, I want to talk about the World of Publishing Today--which is kind of depressing, actually. As you probably know, a number of big publishers have cut jobs recently. All of us who write (or edit) feel shaken by these developments. Where are we all headed? And the answer is that I don't know. I'm not sure anyone does. So how does that affect what I write?

I've given this a lot of thought and in the end I just keep on coming back to what I've always maintained--a person should write the thing he or she wants to write. Fantasy in a post-Harry Potter world is still hot, hot, hot. Does that mean you should write fantasy? Only if that's what you really want to do. Life is too short and writing is too hard to take on a project you don't love.

Anyway. Just a thought or two . . .

Friday, December 19, 2008

A focused twenty minutes

So okay. I haven't been writing much this week. Or even this month. I did make a deliberate decision to lay off the book for a bit but this has drifted into bad stuff--not writing because I'm afraid of failing, not writing because I'm discouraged about rejections, not writing because I'd rather stare at my tree and eat fudge.

My friend Laura Torres, who always had a busy career in addition to her writing life, used to say it's amazing what you can get done if you just write with focus for twenty minutes every day. So I need to re-commit to that idea. That's on my To Do list today. RE-COMMIT.

So that's what I'm going to do today. Re-commit. Also buy Christmas presents for my kids, including a Jimi Hendrix wah peddle and a Where the Wild Things Are t-shirt for my youngest son. I can post stuff like that here because my kids never read this.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


I'm having a lovely Christmas season this year, but the writer in me is feeling kind of grumpy. I just got word that a manuscript was rejected. This has happened before, of course. Many, many, MANY times. But for some reason I kind of went into a tailspin this time, asking myself why I'm doing this and so forth. (It's sort of like being in high school and asking boys to go to a girls' choice dance with you and being turned down over and over. WHO NEEDS THAT?) Not that I haven't asked myself these questions before. Many, many, MANY times. It's just that I thought I was better at taking rejection at this stage in my career.

Okay. I think I'll write some more Christmas jokes just to cheer myself up. Here goes. What did Mrs. Claus say to Santa when she looked out the window? "It looks like rain, dear."

Yes. I'm feeling much, much, MUCH better now. Pity Party officially over.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

And a good time was had by all!

Phew! Busy weekend! Ken and I bought the tree (a real one--always a real one at our house) Friday night. It is, of course, big enough to fill up the entryway of the governor's mansion because that's how we like 'em. Or did when we were young and energetic. And now we're stuck with this tradition of buying and decorating insanely large trees. So let this be a lesson to you. Do NOT buy the biggest tree on the lot when you're bursting with youthful good health because dude. You will NOT always feel like Paul Bunyan.

Saturday I met up with Carla Morris and Sara Zarr (who did NOT disappoint on the sweater front) at Sam Weller's for a nice afternoon. The weather kept customers (and the paparazzi) away but family (my son Alec and his adorable wife, Randi; my nephew Chris and HIS adorable wife, Karim; my husband and our adorable son Quinton, and Sara's adorable husband, Gordon) stopped by to say hey. Adorably.

Tonight we had the fam over for our annual Christmas party, which includes a visit from Santa and the ritual opening of Christmas crackers. My favorite bit about the crackers are the jokes, which always inspire me to write little holiday jokes of my own. (Sample: What do bell ringers like to eat for dessert? Hostess Ding-dongs. DUH!)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sam Weller's this Saturday

I got a little Christmas shopping done this morning WHICH REMINDS ME--if you want to buy your nearest and dearest a book (or two), you should show up at Sam Weller's book store on Saturday between 2:00 and 4:00. Carla Morris, Sara Zarr and I will be there chatting and signing books and possibly eating cheese and crackers. Also, I will be checking to see if Sara is wearing another fab sweater.

Meanwhile I am enjoyIng the season A LOT. Seriously, it's just so much easier to have good times in December--eating fudge and so forth--if you're not taking finals. Or giving them either.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I love Hires

i've been reading a mytery by Bartholomew Gill called THE DEATH OF A JOYCE SCHOLAR. Gill clearly has great affection for Dublin, the story's setting--I can almost see him rub his hands together in glee as he mentions a favorite pub or a familiar church. I know how he feels. I love to write about Salt Lake City. It's fun to mention real places--such as Hires.

Hires is a local institution--a place where people have consumed burgers and fries (also fry sauce!) for a couple of generations now. My family eats there regularly and no one ever gets tired of it. Which is why I have this lofty goal--to give Hires a shoutout in every book I write.

Which could present a problem if I ever try to write a fantasy . . .

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Read, she said!

You've heard this bit of advice before: if you want to write, you have to read. A lot. So that's what I'm doing tonight. I'm reading a lot because yes! I want to write!

Only I'm not sure if reading cooking magazines is what the original advice giver had in mind. Can't help myself though. In particular I'm reading cookie recipes. Just finished one for "Buttery Shortbread Cookies." Next I'll read a recipe for "Clove Snaps," which (among other things) calls for a little black pepper. And then after that I'll tackle the bit about "Ginger Bars."

M-m-m-m-m. Ginger Bars.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Commitment (and also a plea for Christmas sweaters)

So here's the deal. All of a sudden I have IDEAS! For novels! Lots and lots of novels!

This is really, really unusual for me. I'm the kind of writer who's always sure that this will be my last post. Or column. Or article. Or novel. BECAUSE I WILL NEVER EVER HAVE ANOTHER IDEA! Yup. That's right. I'm positive that the old Idea Well will have gone dry the next time I go drilling. But for some reason right now, baby, I am Jed Clampett striking oil. And that's (kind of) my problem right now. To mix my metaphors here, I don't know which idea I should persue, commit to, marry, have a kid with, etc. Because I think that's what you should do. Commit. Otherwise you'll end up chasing possibilities and never eally setling down to anything. Still. It's hard. Because yes. There are just a LOT of good-lookin' ideas out there . . .

On another completely unrelated note I went to the Festival of Trees with my friend Doni this weekend. AND I wore a Christmas Sweater, which takes a certain amount of confidence these days because they're always telling you on HOW NOT TO DRESS that no one except the elderly and first-grade teachers should wear holiday sweaters in public. But come on. Who can resist a turquoise sweater with pink and lime green applique snowmen on sale for half-price at Smith's Marketplace?

Not me, apparently.

Friday, December 5, 2008

How you might NOT want to write instructions for a 3W Nozzle Washer (Black) Made in Tawain

Copied word for word from the back of the package . . .


1. Release the nut. Take down the car sprayer, and pull out the water pipe.
2. Intall our product. Lock the nut, collect water pipe again.
3. After installing and finishing. Adjust the direction of gushing out the water polo, Expire by and is suitable for it.


1. White installing. It is to lock for nut to ask, so as not to cause and rupture.
2. Finishing install, when teh water pressure squirted is insufficient. Please--check the floowing several items.
A. Whether the water pipe bends, whether the gushing hosepipe has impurity that cause the water pipe to block.
B. Whether the motor is too old to spray water, therefore thrust is not enough.

My husband says he totally relates to Part B.

This I admire

I had such a fabulous experience yesterday speaking to a group of 7th and 8th graders who attend Cosgriff, a Catholic school here in Salt Lake City. Anyway, they'd all read LOSER'S GUIDE and were full of great questions about the book. (Side note here--author visits are just so much more effective when students have been prepped beforehand. This isn't just ego-driven-by-a-desire-to-sell-books talking here, but teachers shouldn't invite authors to speak to a class cold. It's so much more beneficial for the students if they've actually read something by said writer beforehand.)

Anyway. One of the kids asked which authors I admire most. Normally I would have rattled off names like M. E. Kerr and Madeleine L'Engle, who were important influences on me. But instead I said "Anybody who can finish writing a book, whether they publish it or not."

Writing a novel is hard. And if you've done it, you should congratulate yourself. My hat's off to you.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Italia, ti amo

The rights to LOSER'S GUIDE have been sold to an Italian publisher. Hey, Italy! Thanks for buying my book, you guys! As of today, you are totally my favorite country! Just got word of the Italian title yesterday--HO SCOPERTO CHE TI AMO which means I FOUND I LOVE YOU. Back at you, Italy! I love you, too.

(Actually, Ken and I are thinking of going there for our next major wedding anniversary--Rome in particular, which I've never seen. I want to go in April because I think there might be blooms then, right?)

So. Anyway. HO SCOPERTO CHE TI AMO is coming soon to a bookstore near you. IF you happen to live in Italy. (My favorite country.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

May I make another suggestion?

I was going to post today about the importance of shopping local this holiday season, but then I remembered that Sara Zarr has already done that. SO! I'm encouraging you to head on over to her snazzy (I love it so much!) website ( for a nice little discussion on the subject.

And speaking of local--if you live in the area, The King's English will host its annual Christmas party tomorrow night from 5:30-7:00. There will be books, eats, and authors. Come see us!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

May I suggest?

I love Christmas picture books. I buy one or two (or three or four) every year. I have to say, though, I haven't found any titles that really send me this holiday season. SO SAD! I brought a pile home from The King's English to peruse before buying (one of the perks of being a bookseller), and these are on my short list.

1. THE CHRISTMAS ANGELS by Claire Freedman, illustrated by Gail Yerrill. I like the art in this one--sweet and blue and purple-y and sparkly.
2. SANTA DUCK by David Milgrim. The cartoon-y art is appealing--I especially like the dialogue balloons that stand apart from the text itself. Cute story, too.
3. SNOW by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Lauren Stringer. As I read through this I thought, gee, this reminds me of WINTER IS THE WARMEST SEASON (which I like a lot). And there's a good reason for that. Lauren Stringer illustrated both. Rylant's sweet, graceful voice is hard to resist.
4. SNOW PARTY by Harriet Ziefert, illustrated by Mark Jones. This is the book I'll probably end up buying. I'm sort of surprised that Ziefert would write a story that is so similiar to the Buehners' snowmen books. But it's fun and the art is GREAT!
5. HURRY! HURRY! HAVE YOU HEARD? by Laura Krauss Melmed, illustrated by Jane Dyer. Melmed is the author of THE RAINBABIES, possibly one of my favorite picture books ever. The story here isn't as special but it's nice. And Dyer's animals are adorable (I especially like the border collie). If I were a kid, I'd really love this book, I think.

Anyway. I'm open for holiday suggestions.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

How, I ask you. How?

So my dad called yesterday and said, "I think you should write a book about vampires." Apparently he's just caught wind of the whole TWILIGHT phenom and (because he loves me) he wants me to get a piece of the action. Meanwhile tonight at the movie theater (my men and I went to see the new Bond movie), I was TRULY surprised at how many women there were in the bathroom. I've never seen so many women in a bathroom at a movie theater before--not even in New York City. And I asked myself, "Why are there so many women in this bathroom with me?" Then I realized they were all there to see the new TWILIGHT movie. And really, it was almost kind of frightening.

Which brings me to tonight's completely unoriginal question: how does a book become a phenomenon?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Morning (or Two) After

Okay. So I felt a euphoric rush after finishing a draft of a new book on Monday. Wow! What a feeling! And all that jazz! Only here's the part the comes after--you don't know what to do with yourself. You feel at loose ends. You have a hard time focusing. You feel bleh.

I guess I could dive IMMEDIATELY into re-writing, only I've learned from experience that it's good for me to put a project aside for a little while. I come back to it with fresh eyes that way, which helps me in the revision process. But I do feel this hole in my writing soul for a bit.

I've beeen trying to decide what to do until January, when I'll start re-writing. Fortunately the holidays provide a pleasant distraction. Bring on the lights! The music! The cheeseballs and bacon-wrapped scallops! I guess I could start another novel--I have a few ideas in mind--but for me it's hard to commit to a second novel while I'm still involved with the first. I'm kind of monogamous that way. Maybe I should focus on generating a few magainze articles. I just sold one to THE WRITER. Maybe I ought to go there . . .

Anyway. There you have it. The ups and downs of it all.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


My friend Emilee tagged me, so here goes!

Eight Shows I Watch
1. The Office
2. Thirty Rock
3. Jay Leno
4. Monday Night Football
5. Hardball
6. Secretos
7. KUTV News at 10:00
8. Jazz games

Eight of My Favorite Restaurants
1. Rio Grande
2. Hires
3. Mazza
4. The Ginza
5. Bombay House
6. Tin Angel
7. Joe Vera's
8. Market Street Broiler

Eight Things that Happened Yesterday
1. Took a walk with Betsy
2. Finished a column
3. Went grocery shopping
4. Raked up leaves in my back yard
5. Read a bunch of stuff online
6. Talked to my parents on the telephone
7. Made enchiladas and Spanish rice
8. Took Quinton to his guitar lesson

Eight Things I am Looking Forward to!
1. Cleaning my house (I'm not kidding)
2. Planning our Thanksgiving dinner
3. Shopping for our Thanksgiving dinner
4. Fixing our Thanksgiving dinner
5. Playing darts with Dylan
6. Going to the new Bond movie
7. Watching PLAINES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES with the family
8. Allowing myself to listen (finally!) to Christmas music

Eight Things on My Wish List
1. A trip to Ireland
2. A new blender
3. A new rice cooker
4. A new body
5. Heatlh and happiness for all my kids
6. Health and happiness for all my friends' kids
7. A chance to spend some time with my brothers and their families during the holidays
8. More time with Ken

Eight Things I Love in No Particular Order
1. My husband
2. My kids
3. My parents and brothers (and their families, too)
4. My daughters-in-law
5. My in-laws
6. My dogs
7. My friends
8. My garden

Eight Things I Can't Stand
1. Do people count as things? Because I'd have to put Ann Coulter on the top of my list--
2. Boring meetings
3. Inversions
4. gauged ears (at least on my own kids)
5. Dallas Cowboys
6. Denver Broncos
7. Boston Red Sox
8. Diet drinks

Eight People I am Tagging
Anyone who wants to do this!

Monday, November 24, 2008

What I did this weekend at Betsy's farm

1. Took several long satisfying walks around Francis and Kamas
2. Read some of COVER-UP AT THE SUPER BOWL by John Feinstein
3. Read some of THE 39 CLUES by Rick Riordan
4. Read a few short stories by Guy du Maupassant until I realized I didn't want to read stories about French peasants torturing animals
5. Had lunch with Barbara and Betsy at the Gateway Grille (I had fish and chip-age! Thanks for asking!)
6. Took a tour of Skip and Barbara's Amazing Technicolor Dream Motorhome
7. Watched 20 minutes or so of THREE COINS IN A FOUNTAIN before losing patience with it--although it was a pleasure to hear Andy Williams' voice again after all these years
8. Ate ribs and salad and artichokes and shrimp at night
9. Watched the tragic BYU/UTAH game with the sound turned down
10. Watched the San Francisco/Dallas game with the sound turned down
11. Watched the Indianapolis/San Diego game with the sound turned down
12. Did NOT watch the tragic Philadelphia/Baltimore game with the sound turned up OR down

And oh yeah. Did I mention? I WROTE 50 PAGES! And finished a first draft of a new middle-grade novel. It's soooooo rough. But still.

And wow. Thanks to you for your encouraging posts!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Getting Away From it All!

Like grieving, novel-writing has its stages. Right now I'm at the stage where things are suddenly starting to come together, to pop! If I can get away for three or four days and do nothing but write (also eat) I can have a complete draft on my hands. That's why I'm taking off in 10 minutes. I'm going away for three-and-a-half days. And when I return to Salt Lake I'm hoping I have a book in hand . . .

Dudes! Wish me luck!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

You've got a problem if . . .

I like to give books to my friends and family for Christmas. That's what happens when you've worked as a bookseller. YOU LIKE TO GIVE BOOKS TO YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY FOR CHRISTMAS. They see you coming and they're just all hey! I wonder what she's giving us for Christmas THIS year?

Anyway. I bought books last night for my brother's three youngest boys who are 13, 11 and 8 years old. I decided to take them home and read them before wrapping them (another reason why I like to give books--I get to read them myself first). I started with the book I'm giving to the 13 year-old--a mystery set against the backdrop of professional sports. He'll love it.

My thoughts so far. The writing itself is kind of pedestrian, even a little awkward (or as we former English teachers like to say "AWK"). But after reading the first few pages I knew EXACTLY where the book is headed. By this I mean I know who the main characters are and what the problem is they have to solve. I can't tell you how much I admire this. One of the criticisms I often receive from my writers' group is that they don't know what the book I'm writing is about soon enough. Does that make sense?

Your characters must have a problem to solve. And it has to be clear what that problem is early on. And (referring to my title up there) you've got a problem if you don't have a problem.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Word to a Columnist

Had lunch yesterday with a very good friend who's also a columnist. Anyway, we got together to discuss an idea he has for a novel. It's a great idea, and he's just the guy to write this particular book. He was fretful, though--worrying about certain legal issues in connection with the story, as well as how it might be received. About midway through our meal (I had an excellent tuna and cheese panini btw) I said dude! Have you written the book yet? He said he hadn't. And I (because apparently I am a genius) said then write the book first and worry about all the other stuff later. Worrying about it now is a form of avoidance, a topic ON WHICH I AM AN EXPERT. I avoid avoid avoid like crazy.

So here's today's free advice to writers everywhere. Don't worry about agents. Don't worry about reviews. Don't worry about what you're going to wear at your first signing. Just. Write. The. Book.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thanks, Jewel!

Jewel reminds me that blogging counts as writing. So yay! I'm totally getting my pages in!

Actually, I spent the day writing a column for the Desnews. It's a Thanksgiving piece about how my mother nearly murdered my father one year when he asked her to pray AFTER she'd spent the day cooking in the kitchen. "Well," she said, "I might as well. I'VE DONE EVERYTHING ELSE." The column runs next Monday.

I love the holidays actually, and I love to write about them. Man, would I ever, ever love it if I could publish a Christmas picture book that stuck around for a couple of seasons. Something like Julie Vivas' NATIVITY or WOMBAT DIVINE by Mem Fox. I'd die happy then. Maybe.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

That's What I'm Talking About

So after last night's post detailing what I did instead of write, I felt so guilty I wrote a page. That's my goal right now. To write at least one page. Every. Single. Day.

Writing one page is kind of hard, though. It's like running the first mile of a 10k race. The first mile is the WORST. Same with writing one page--it's just torture. You second-guess every word choice while wrestling with big stupid sentences that don't make much sense.

Still! It's better than not writing!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

What I Did Today Instead of Write

1. Go grocery shopping
2. Fill up the car
3. Take assorted crap out of my car such as a box of kitty litter, a present for my niece, and several empty Dr. Pepper cans
4. Make chicken popovers for my niece's shower
5. Drive to Bountiful and buy cupcakes for my niece's shower from Parsons Bakery, which is usually an outstanding bakery, but okay I really have to give today's dry and messy-looking cupcakes a failing grade
6. Give my niece a shower (actually my mother-in-law threw the shower--we just used my house)
7. Watch the end of the BYU/Air Force game
8. Watch the Utah/SDSU game
9. Read IN TOUCH magazine to find out if Angelina is pregnant again and if Brad does, in fact, feel trapped

Friday, November 14, 2008


Shelley posted a comment yesterday that got me thinking about reviews and critics and THAT whole world. When I was writing my first novel, I was blissfully unaware of its existence. When I was writing my second book, that world cast a long, long shadow. At times I felt paralyzed, worrying about how my second book would be received. Meh.

I have a lot more experience now with being reviewed. Sometimes the reviews have been positive, sometimes they haven't. And after all these years, a negative assessment can still sting. It's not like I deliberately set out to write a crappy book or article or column. But still. Being reviewed is part of the game, part of the deal. And at a certain level it's kind of exciting to think that we can all enter the conversation--writers, readers, critics, bloggers.

How do I handle criticism? I don't know. Usually I go eat something. (Today, for instance, I will go to Mrs. Backer's Bakery on South Temple, buy a cupcake with a frosting flower on top, and eat it while wondering if it's bad to write clean YA novels.) But I try not to go negative back at someone because seriously, what's the point? I learn what I can and put the rest in a box on a boat and send that stuff out to sea.

What else are you gonna do?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ms. Clean

SLJ recently reviewed LOSER. It was a decent review, but here's the deal. When the reviewer said the book is "clean," he/she sort of made it sound like a perjorative.

Hmmm. Not sure exactly how to react here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Dogs and Cats! Cats and Dogs!

So I have to say I prefer dogs to cats. This is due, no doubt, to the fact that a fabulous fawn-colored boxer was my constant companion from the time I was born until she died nine years later. There isn't a picture of me when I was a kid that doesn't include my peerless dog. I still have dogs--Aggie (a sweet, mildly neurotic Field Spaniel) and Zora (an enormous Newfie who slobbers A LOT). Can't imagine my life without them, frankly.


A writer needs a cat to sit on her desk while she writes. That's because writers are trying their hand at magic--conjuring up something from nothing. And as everyone knows, conjurers need their familiars. Which is why I have three cats. Can't imagine my life without them either.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What I Like Best About Writing . . .

. . . is re-writing. I read somewhere once that Meg Cabot doesn't love the re-writing part, which interested me A LOT, because that's where things start to take off for me. I know where I'm going by the time I re-write, which eliminates a certain amount of stress for me. It's also the time when I throw in the fun stuff-quirky little details and flourishes.

I say this because today I finished up a re-write on a new novel I'm trying to sell. AND IT WAS FUN! I felt so proud of myself I celebrated by raking up leaves and putting my garden to bed. I also made some chocolate chip cookies.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Well done, Emily!

I just returned from The King's English where I heard Emily Wing Smith read from her new book. SO GOOD! What I liked were the tangible specific details--right down to the cornflakes on top of the funeral potatoes. The bit she read was poignant and heartbreaking and funny all at once. Wow!

I saw her dad, Bob Wing, who was in my Spanish class in high school along with Rick Walton. He pointed out his contribution to Emily's book (a debate ballot) (way to go, Bob!). I also loved talking to her mother, Diana, who grew up in Alaska.

I would die of coldness and lack of light-ness if I grew up in Alaska. (BTW, Emily's mother did NOT sound anything at all like Sarah Palin. Where did Sarah Palin's accent come from?)

This is why I like my job, people!

It's raining here--that kind of cold, bone-soaking rain that I JUST HATE. I didn't feel like getting out of bed, so I kind of didn't. In fact, I'm still here with my laptop, writing up a storm (column, two pages on new novel, a bit of re-writing).

And THAT'S what I like about this job!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Book Talks, Baby!

WHAT I'M READING NOW: Carol Lynch Williams' new novel PRETTY LIKE US--a story about a shy girl who befriends a new student at school suffering from that disease that makes you age (can't remember what it's called and I'm too lazy to get out of bed right now to grab the book). Anyway. It's one of the better things I've read lately. The writing is gorgeous and the characters are completely memorable. I love the book's southern setting, too.

WHAT I'M READING NEXT: Emily Wing Smith's debut novel THE WAY HE LIVED. Emily is having a reading and signing at The King's English tomorrow (Monday, November 10) at 7:00. This book is getting all kinds of good buzz and I'm excited to read it. (On a personal note, I knew Emily's dad in high school. HER DAD. We took Spanish together, along with picture book writer Rick Walton. Dude. I feel old. But really, really happy for Emily.)

Friday, November 7, 2008

What Every Writer Needs (Besides a Book Deal)

I met up with my writers' group the other night where we discussed manuscripts and ate oreos. So that was all good. Anyway, as I read through everyone's comments later I was struck (again!) by the notion that every writer needs at least three types of readers.

The Cheerleader/Mom Reader: This reader loves, loves, loves everything about your manuscript and also YOU and doesn't care who knows it. It's good to have someone like this in your corner when you're busy beating up on yourself because you think you're worthless. My mother is this person for me. (She wasn't a cheerleader BTW.) (But she was a rodeo queen once.)

The Intelligent Lay Reader: This is the person who you hope will buy (and like!) your book. Typically this person is a reader with innate good taste who reads for pleasure and enlightment. You know. The way YOU used to read before you started writing. This person isn't looking to find better ways for you to tell your story, necessarily, but he or she IS good at picking up on the things that don't make sense. My neighbor, Kathy, fills this niche for me.

The Writer Reader: This reader writes, too, and is therefore focused on elements of craft. You can find these people in writing classes, online, and in writers' groups. Lucky me. I have some REALLY experienced people in my group. A word of caution, though: in the end it's still your manuscript. A potential downside of groups is that people occassionally start writing by committee. You might want to avoid that.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Sara Lovely Zarr

I was lucky lucky lucky to have a nice long conversation with Sara Zarr yesterday. Sara, as you know, is the author of the fabulous STORY OF A GIRL and the also fabulous SWEETHEARTS. (READ THEM! I mean it.) Anyway. Sara is as smart and funny and truly gracious as you would want someone whose work you admire to be. Plus she has great taste in sweaters.

So here's what I want to say. It's a lovely thing when people who do the same thing (write, paint, raise kids, teach, whatever) can support instead of merely compete with one another. Sara goes out of her way to connect with and encourage her peers, and seriously I think I want to be her when I grow up.

Monday, November 3, 2008

What I did instead of write today

1. Check my e-mail
2. Surf the net
3. Do the wash
4. Go to TJ Maxx and buy Christmas present, even though it's early November
5. Talk on the telephone
6. Handwash all my cookie sheets
7. Check my e-mail some more
8. Surf the net some more
9. Take Q. to his guitar lesson
10. Hang out at the library and look at gardening books

And now I'm going to bed. And now I wish I'd taken the time to write something down--even if was only an auhtor's name!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

I'm b-a-a-a-a-c-k!

Okay. Blogging is harder than I thought it was. Like I ran out of ideas somewhere in the middle of September. Or maybe August. But I am re-committing. Here's why. I happened to check my blog and saw that the always lovely Jewel posted. And then I found two of my favorite students ever here! Kristi! And Janine!

So now i want to blog again.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Nothing Wasted

So right after CHARLOTTE'S ROSE was published, I started a new book, a book about which I was really passionate. I loved (LOVED!) the characters, and I felt like I had total control over the story and language. Anyway. I did draft after draft after draft because I wanted to get. it. just. right.

I sent it out when it was finally ready. And it was rejected. Frequently. Thoroughly. Soundly.

I've been rejrected before. It took a few years to place THE LOSER'S GUIDE, for example. But the rejections on the new book were different. They held out no hope at all. I put the book away for awhile, and when I returned to it, I saw that the criticisms were justified. It was one of those books that was just wrong-headed from the get-go.

For a long time I looked at the box holding all my drafts as my own personal Box of Shame. How did this happen? Maybe I really DIDN'T know how to write a book after all. Maybe I was a fraud.

Well, a few years have passed, and I have a different perspective now. I'm glad I wrote that book. It was the book I apparently wanted and needed to write at that time. I grew with my characters, and I'm pretty certain that they'll show up in another book someday. Meanwhile, I've got some great back story.

See what I mean? The time I spent working on that book was NOT wasted time.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Turning Pain! Into Profit!

So I write a column every week for the Deseret News--the same kind of domestic humor column Erma Bombeck wrote (just not as wonderful). Anyway. I've been doing a version of the column for over twenty years now. And yes! Sometimes I don't have anything to say!

That's when I review the week I just had and identify the moment when I was feeling the worst--the angriest, the most embarrassed, the saddest. And THAT'S what I write about. Only I try to make it funny, which is much less difficult than you might think. Humor resides in the gulf between what is and what should be.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


People often ask if my kids care that I write about them. Let's ask them, shall we? KIDS! IF YOU READ THIS, PLEASE POST A RESPONSE!

I can promise you that they won't be posting a response any time soon. Which is why I've felt free to write about them all these years. They don't read what I write.

Actually, people never recognize themselves when you turn them into characters. Why? We see ourselves differently than others do, I think.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I shoulda taken my own advice . . .

Finished a column and sent it off posthaste to the Des News. Didn't let it cool off. Didn't read it aloud. Thought it was fine.
I just now read it to my husband AND IT WAS FULL OF MISTAKES. Okay. I'm embarrassed. And now I have to send the paper a revised revision . . .

On a much happier note, The King's English (fabulous bookstore) is hosting a super event this weekend at the Anderson Branch Library here in Salt Lake. Many muy of our local authors will be there signing their new releases. How's this for a line-up?Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, Nathan Hale, James Dashner, Jessica Day George, Mette Ivie Harrison, Kimberly Heuston, Sara Zarr, and moi.

Join us!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Another Kind of Journal

My friend Stephanie Rosenfeld (also a writer--her short story collection WHAT ABOUT THE LOVE PART is one of my favorites) inspired me to keep a Writer's Journal. Here's the idea. After you finish writing, take ten minutes to note in your journal what kind of experience you had that day. How much did you write? What problems did you solve? What problems do you have to solve still? And most important, how do you feel about your work?

Later, when you've finished (and even published!) your manuscript, you can look back at the journal and realize that you were able to power through the tough times. You'll have that most useful of tools--perspective.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Revising . . .

A YA writer I admire a lot, Meg Cabot, made the comment she doesn't like to revise. Or at least I think I remember reading that somewhere (my apologies if I've misrepresented Ms. Cabot). Anyhoo. It occurred to me today that, actually, I DO like to revise. Why? Because I already have a manuscript (mine) in front of me, thus eliminating the sheer terror I experience in front of a blank screen.

Revising. It's a good thing.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Arty Awards!

So, this is kind of cool. THE LOSER'S GUIDE was nominated by our local indy newspaper (CITY WEEKLY) for an Arty Award (see explanation, as well as voting procedure at SWEETHEARTS (another YA novel!) by the terrific and talented Sara Zarr was also nominated.

I have to say that I'm really honored. There's something very, very nice about the recognition you receive from the people who work in your field in your town.

Okay. Bragging time over.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Writer's Block Revisited

Must. Write. Today.

But I don't feel like it because I'm pretty sure I'll write crap. Still. I better get busy. I can write for fifteen minutes. Just fifteen minutes. That's all. Anyone can write for FIFTEEN MINUTES.

At the end of fifteen minutes I'll see how I feel.

And that's Tip #2 for dealing with Writer's Block.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Publish or Perish

That's what it says on the cover of a notebook given to me by my friend Lisa Adams. And it's true that sometimes we writers think we absolutely WILL perish if we. don't. get. something. published. I'll be honest. I LOVE to see myself in print.

But here's the deal. After doing this for years (and having some success on the publishing front), I've learned that there are things that are way, way, way more important than publication. When I'm really feeling the love, I'll even say stuff like "I have five kids and twelve books to my credit, but I'd rather have twelve kids and five books."

Which isn't true. Twelve kids would kill me. Especially the laundry and feeding part. But still. I mean it while I'm in the moment.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Cooling Off

Yeah. It's summer. AND IT'S HOT. But that's not what this post is about. I'm talking about letting your manuscript cool down before you send it out into the world. Finish a draft. Put it away. Come back to it later. (Um. I returned to THE LOSER'S GUIDE three or four years after I'd written it, for example.)

No doubt you've received this advice before--but that's because it's truly excellent advice. I'm always way happier with the columns I set aside for a day than the ones I send off to the paper (THE DESERET NEWS) as soon as I'm finished.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Books In Reserve

My friend and most excellent middle school librarian Jeannie Keddington introduced me to the concept of "a reserve pile"--a pile of books you KNOW you're going to love that you've put aside for a rainy day. Or a day when you've overdrawn at the bank or totaled your car or discovered that your identity has been stolen. The reserve pile is for the kind of day when you really, really, REALLY absolutely must escape into a fabulous novel.

Books currently in my reserve pile: SORCERY & CECELIA OR THE ENCHANTED CHOCOLATE POT by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, GREEN GROWS THE CITY by Beverly Nichols, and PRINCE OF CLOUDS by Gianni Riotta.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Writing Rituals and that Zen Place

This summer at BYU's terrific Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference, the brilliant (and funny!) Claudia Mills talked about her daily ritual which involves making hot chocolate, snuggling up with a notebook, turning over A REAL LIVE hourglass and writing until the last grain of sand drops. Having this established ritual puts her in that special Zen place, and over the years Claudia has managed to publish something like a thousand books even though she's a professor and a mom, too.

What's your writing ritual?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Read it Clear! Read it Loud! (Part Two)

So as long as we're talking about the value of reading your own stuff out loud--I've recently decided it's also important to listen to other people's stuff read out loud. This is where the whole books-on-tape thing comes in.

I'm kinda new to books-on-tape, actually. I love listening to music so much (recent favorite discovery--the Black Keys) that I've always resisted books-on-tape. Seriously, I thought only people touring America in Winnebagos went in for them. BUT! I was wrong. Being read to is a pleasure--you feel like a kid in grade school again. You come in all hot and sweaty from recess, put your head on your desk and let the wonderful words of WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS wash over you.

Best of all, you get to HEAR how the pros do it--how they structure their sentences and manage stuff like dialogue and description. Lately I've had fun listening to all the Hamish Macbeth novels (so yeah I'm a sucker for a kilt and an accent). Meanwhile I've picked up a few hints from M. C. Beaton (prolific author) about how to create lasting visual images with a few quick broad strokes.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Read it Clear! Read it Loud! (Part One)

Heard from my good friend and former editor Chris Hicks yesterday who reminded me that I've been writing a newspaper column for over ten years. TEN YEARS! My oldest son was in high school when I started up, and honestly I didn't think I'd survive his adolescence, but lookee here! I'm still alive! And so is he!

Right now I'm looking for new ways to keep the column fresh--meanwhile I try to read each new piece aloud so I can see if at least I still SOUND fresh. Over the years I've relied on a few honest friends to listen while I read and give me feedback--my friends Lisa Bickmore and Becky Thomas and my funny brother Jimmy Edwards. And of course my husband is a great listener. I can tell if something is working (or not) by their reactions. Meanwhile I can pick up problems I might not see if I simply read the thing silently.

My point? Reading what you write OUT LOUD is one of the single best things you can do to improve your work.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Overcoming Writer's Block: Tip Number One

Last week when I was at the Orem Public Library talking about my new book (that would be THE LOSER'S GUIDE TO LIFE AND LOVE) with a group of young readers, one of the kids asked if I "believe in Writer's Block."

ME: You mean I have a choice? I can NOT believe in Writer's Block?

Turns out that a previous visiting author passed along the observation that Writer's Block isn't real--it's just a figment of our imagination, don't you know.

Well, I told the group that I not only believe in Writer's Block, I experience it on a really, really sadly regular basis--which is why I'm happy to pass along tips (free of charge!) for powering through Writer's Block. The lovely Shannon Hale (one of my favorite authors and human beings) says that the fear of not being good enough is the greatest cause of Writer's Block. So how do you get past your fear as a writer? You give yourself permission to write a wretched first draft while exercising a little faith that you can make it better.

More tips to follow . . .

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Hey! Look at me! I've got a blog now, thanks to my computer genius pal, Chris. (Thanks, Chris.) Anyway, welcome to my blog where I'll be discussing all things related to the writing life. I hope you'll visit often.