Friday, January 30, 2009


Every morning Son #4 tells me about the dreams he had the night before. I used to be the same way. I dreamed. And when I woke up I related my dreams to my mother and friends the same way some people relate anecdotes. I loved my dreams. I felt enriched by them--even the mundane or bizarre or scary ones. I looked forward to having them each night as I rolled into bed.

And then! I stopped dreaming. Or at least I stopped remembering my dreams. And I have missed them mightily. I feel connected to the part of me that writes when I remember my dreams, and I would love to have access to them again.

Any suggestions on how to retrieve dreams?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Green-eyed monster

My mom always used to say that her grandmother's besetting sin was jealousy. And I used to think how lucky I was that I wasn't jealous of my girlfriends' clothes or their boyfriends or their cool houses or their opportunities to travel. No! Not at all! I wasn't the jealous type.

And then I became a writer.

The truth is I often struggle with feelings of envy. Why can't I construct a plot as easily as this writer? Why don't my books win awards like that writer? The list of tortured questions goes on and on. I don't WANT to feel jealous. But there it is. I do sometimes, especially when things aren't going well for me.

What to do? I remember something Shannon Hale once said in a workshop. Her grandmother always used to say that hanging onto jealousy and resentment is like drinking poison and expecting it to hurt the other guy. True that. And here's something else. Listen to your best self. When somebody gets something you wanted, be the first to send flowers and notes of congratulation. I learned this from two veteran writers when I first started out--Ivy Ruckman and Barbara Williams. They were graciousness itself at all times, and I cherish their examples as much as I cherish their books.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I want an answer

Why. is. writing. so. hard?

Tell me. PLEASE.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

More discussing

Thanks, Lisa and Louise, for your insights (see previous post and comments). I think you're both on the same page--i.e. that electronic media is here to stay and that we'll adapt.

It does occur to me that the world of children's publishing may be slower to change (not counting the everybody-is-losing-their-jobs part). Kids' books--especially for younger children--almost have to take a book form, don't they? Can a pre-schooler really snuggle up in your lap to read WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE if there's already a laptop there? I don't know. Maybe. Everyone younger than I am is completely wired and tech-y these days.

The future of the novel: discuss amongst yourself


"We think of the novel as a transcendent, timeless thing, but it was shaped by the forces of money and technology just as much as by creative genius. Passing over a few classical and Far Eastern entries, the novel in its modern form really got rolling only in the early 18th century. This wasn't an accident, and it didn't happen because a bunch of writers like Defoe and Richardson and Fielding suddenly decided we should be reading long books about imaginary people. It happened as a result of an unprecedented configuration of financial and technological circumstances. New industrial printing techniques meant you could print lots of books cheaply; a modern capitalist marketplace had evolved in which you could sell them; and for the first time there was a large, increasingly literate, relatively well-off urban middle class to buy and read them. Once those conditions were in place, writers like Defoe and Richardson showed up to take advantage of them.

"Fast-forward to the early 21st century: the publishing industry is in distress. Publishing houses--among them Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Doubleday and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt--are laying off staff left and right. Random House is in the midst of a drastic reorganization. Salaries are frozen across the industry. Whispers of bankruptcy are fluttering around Borders; Barnes & Noble just cut 100 jobs at its headquarters, a measure unprecedented in the company's history. Publishers Weekly (PW) predicts that 2009 will be "the worst year for publishing in decades."

"A lot of headlines and blogs to the contrary, publishing isn't dying. But it is evolving, and so radically that we may hardly recognize it when it's done. Literature interprets the world, but it's also shaped by that world, and we're living through one of the greatest economic and technological transformations since--well, since the early 18th century. The novel won't stay the same: it has always been exquisitely sensitive to newness, hence the name. It's about to renew itself again, into something cheaper, wilder, trashier, more democratic and more deliriously fertile than ever."

The author's ultimate point is that the internet is changing everything--that more and more people will self-publish online and that the novel itself may be dispersed in a more electronic form. What do you think? Is this a good thing? A bad thing? Whatever?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sweater update!

Oh yeah. One more thing. Saw Sara (NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST) Zarr again today. Once again she totally scored on the sweater front.

Well played, Sara!

Does this count as writing?

So Ken and I went to a Sundance film called BIG FAN about a 35 year-old parking lot atendant who lives for the moment when the d.j. at his favorite sportsalk radio station takes his call. It was an interesting movie in a lot ways--funny at times but ultimately pretty depressing because come on. The guy spends ALL his time thinking of snappy responses to people who diss his team.

Well. I had my Big Fan moment and it wasn't pretty. After the rush of Tuesday (watching the inauguration , etc.) I spent all of Wednesday reading blogs and getting into cyber-snits with people who called themselves stuff like NO-BAMA and WE'LL MISS HIM and EH? and (of course) ANONYMOUS. I posted snarky comments like crazy and by the end of the day I kind of felt like . . . a loser.

Does all that posting count as writing?

Um. I don't think so.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I never want to hate a book. Never. I know how hard it is to write one. And I know how it feels when people say unkind things about your work. BUT.

I am reading something I truly dislike right now: THE GATHERING by Anne Enright. It's a Booker prize winner and really it's very accomplished. But I'm not enjoying myself, which is hard, because right now I'm kind of committed to the philosophy that you should enjoy what you read.

However, I have to give a presentation (i.e. oral book report) on this novel for my book group.

Anne Enright, if you're in my cyber-neighborhood, please forgive me for being negative. Bad blog reviews of my own novels always hurt my heart a little. But still. I wish I liked these characters I'm reading about . . .

Obama's inaugural address

So okay. I watched TV all. day. long. And was thrilled, moved, inspired, and touched. I will say that Obama's speech was a little disappointing to me at first. I didn't hear the memorable defining phrase such as "ask not what your country can do for you" or "all we have to fear is fear itself." In fact, it seemed more like a campaign speech stunningly delivered than the kind of inspiring address I was yearning to hear.

But. In retrospect, I kind of think the speech was genius. It laid out the differences in philosophy between this president and our previous president. And the sober, almost deflating tone said look. Times are tough. Things won't be easy. But yes. We can.

I feel more hopeful than I have for years.

Friday, January 16, 2009

An editorial letter to myself

DEFINITION OF AN EDITORIAL LETTER: The 3-4 page single-spaced letter from your editor detailing everything you need to address in your upcoming revision.

Okay. Ask any writer what he or she thinks about editorial letters and you can watch that person wilt, cringe, implode, OR possibly go up in flames like a drummer in THIS IS SPINAL TAP. Most of us slink off to bed for a day after reading the letter. Some of us really REALLY wish we drank when we get them. Honestly, no matter how complimentary your editor is, those letters are just daunting.

But by the next day you feel a little better. And, actually, as you read through the letter again, you realize your editor is probably right about a lot of things, and really if you just deal with one little suggestion at a time, the process won't be so overwhelming. I mean seriously. You GAVE BIRTH DIDN'T YOU? How hard can re-writing be?

Anyway, I decided to take my manuscript in hand--the one I completed in November at Betsy's farm and am just now re-working--and respond to it like my editor would. To this end I am writing myself an editorial letter, using the exact same phrasing that my own editors have used with me. Maybe I'll even take it to the post office and send it to myself.

Yes. It's true. I'm pretty much a genius.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Goals and my ah-ha (!) moment

First, let me draw attention to the (!) in my heading. I just had a column reader inform me via e-mail that I overuse the (!). And guess what! She's right! Which makes me want to use! it! even! more!

Okay, now that we have thoroughly established the fact that I'm still fourteen years old, here's what I really want to talk about today. A few years ago I had an extremely inspiring, useful conversation with the lovely Shannon (THE GOOSE GIRL) Hale, who told me that she sets weekly writing goals for herself regularly. This kind of break-your-tasks-down-into-manageable-bits action is brilliant, of course, and it's probably one of the reasons Shannon has been so successful (not to mention the fact that she's just extraordinarily gifted).

Anyway. I started doing that myself, and in certain ways it's really paid off. I have been pretty productive over the past few years. Only I've noticed with this last manuscript that I've been writing to meet the goal (FIRST DRAFT DONE BY THANKSGIVING!) instead of writing to tell the story. And, of course, the goal has been to finish! submit! publish! move onto the next project! because I want to be proflific! like Meg Cabot.

I would love to be Meg Cabot.

But somewhere in the rush to meet goals and be prolific I started to just write the surface of my stories, which is sooooo apparent in this manuscript I'm working on now. So. Here's my new set of goals for this project.

a. write every day
b. inhabit each scene as I write it so that it feels compelte

As long as I write every day, I'll finish it. I'll probably finish it in a decent amount of time, too. But I can NOT let time be my goal because then I'll just get too breathy. And sloppy.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


So now I feel bad that I resisted reading this book (see wacky title above) because I thought it would be too Anne-of-Green-Gables-y. I'm really enjoying it. In fact, I'm enjoying it so much that I'm reading it while moving my lips just to slow me down. That's the true test for me--I read slowly when I'm in love.

Here's a bit I from the novel I think is worth passing along: "That's what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It's geometrically progressive--all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment." (pp. 11-12)

That says it all, doesn't it?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Shelley asked for it . . .

Here's the word (see yesterday's post) list. I came up with "apple blossom" and then told my eighteen year-old son to come up with the rest.

Apple blossom


























Sunday, January 11, 2009

Free-writing, baby!

Okay. Sitting here waiting for the Eagles v. Giants game. GO, EAGLES!

Meanwhile, I'm thinking about a way to incorporate free-writing into my daily routine. Here goes.
1. Print up a list of nouns
2. Cut the paper into strips
3. Put the strips into a container (jar, basket, whatever) by bedside
4. First thing in the morning BEFORE ROLLING OUT OF BED pull out wordstrip
5. Free write (in the manner described by Natalie Goldberg in WRITING DOWN THE BONES) on that noun for ten minues

I think I can harvest some useful stuff this way. We'll see!

Friday, January 9, 2009

When I am old . . .

Who am I kidding? I'm more than halfway there.

Anyway. It's been an interesting week. I didn't get much writing done, but I did TALK about writing a lot. Two of the groups I visited with were women's literary clubs of long-standing, and most of the membership was older. Talk about inspiring. These ladies were amazing--so engaged, so well-read, so lively, so eager to keep learning. (And, may I add, so well-groomed. I love the way that women of a certain age and generation still dress up when they go out.)

Being with them made me want to give myself a mental headshake--to clear out a few cobwebs and recommit to the idea of growth. I don't want to petrify.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

FANTASTIC (I'm not kidding) interview with YA author Janette Rallison

I adore the genre of romantic comedy and feel honored that the lovely Janette Rallison (author of HOW TO TAKE THE EX OUT OF EX-BOYFRIEND, REVENGE OF THE CHEERLEADERS, and IT'S A MALL WORLD AFTER ALL) agreed to drop by and talk about her new book due out in March, JUST ONE WISH. I know you'll enjoy her take on things as much as I did.

1. Tell us (in three sentences or less) what JUST ONE WISH is about.

When Annika's six-year-old brother (and cancer patient) wishes that Teen
Robin Hood would come to his house to teach him how to shoot arrows, Annika
decides to make his wish come true. This involves driving to Hollywood,
sneaking on to the set of Teen Robin Hood, and trying to convince the very
famous, busy, and handsome TV star that he needs to drive back to Nevada
with her.

2. What led you to write this story?

The short answer to this question is that my editor called me the day after
the Newberys were announced and told me to write a book that would make
people cry. (This is why you should never talk to your editor right after the
Newberys.) I tried to explain to him that I write romantic comedies, and
therefore I'm not supposed to make people cry, but he was insistent.

So I spent some time thinking about the hard issues in life and what message
I could give readers that was different from what was already out there.
I've read a lot of books over the years where characters die (and I'm not
saying that Jeremy dies in this book-you'll have to read it to see how it
ends) and most of these books were frustrating to me.

Seriously, I once read a book to my pre-school daughter about Mr. Hooper
dying on the Sesame Street series. Big Bird asked when he would see Mr.
Hooper again and the answer was, "Never. When someone dies, that means they
never come back."

Like that's not going to give kids nightmares. Another popular theme in
literature is that the character "lives on in us." They will never really
be gone as long as we keep their memory alive.

My mother died when I was six years old and I find that sentiment of very
little comfort because I hardly remember anything about my mother. I don't
want her to live on in me. I want to see her again someday.

So in a lot of ways this book reflects my hopes and beliefs about death and
the purpose of life. I hope it will resound with other readers as well.
(If not, it made my editor cry, so he's happy.)

3. What did you enjoy most about writing JUST ONE WISH?

As resistant as I was to write this book, once I started, it just poured out
of me. I was able to write the whole story really fast, which doesn't
usually happen. I also enjoyed Annika's character. She's not your usual
teenage girl. She has both the drive and ability to get what she wants.

4. What did you enjoy the least?

The amount of times I cried when I wrote the book. I also cried while
researching the kids cancer wing at Phoenix Children's Hospital. Pretty
much I was a mess every time I wrote or edited--and that's kind of hard to
explain to acquaintances who call you on the phone, and you are, for no
apparent reason, weeping.

5. Do you have a favorite scene or moment from the book?

The trailer scene is one of my all time favorite scenes in any of my books.
I still loved it after editing the book a gazillion times. And Mr.
Blasingame, the show writer--yeah, he's pretty much me. He acts exactly
like I do when I write.

6. You do a great job with dialogue. What advice would you give a writer
who struggles on this front?

Authors need to examine their dialogue and make sure it's moving their story
along. I've read far too many books that have way too much pointless
chit-chat in them. And yes, in real life people have mostly pointless
chit-chat, but books are not real life. Very few people would pay seventeen
dollars for a hard back copy of real life.

7. Who are the writers that inspire you?

Most writers inspire me because they write not for the money or the fame but
because they love writing. It really is an art form and I know so many
people who are passionate about this art form. They want to tell stories,
they want to be heard. When you think of it, all novelists spend a huge
amount of time on their work before they even have an inkling of a hope that
someone will pay them for it. Truck drivers don't do this. Neither do
CEOs. With writers though, it's truly a labor of love.

8. What book could read over and over (and over)?

The Princess Bride, Pride and Prejudice, and The Phantom Toll Booth. I
obviously have a thing for P books.

9. Do you have a favorite quote you'd like to share?

This is from author Gary Provost: "People often ask me why publishing is so
hard. I tell them, 'Publishing is easy. It's writing well that's so d--

I think of this quote when I'm having a hard time writing. Sometimes it is
really hard. But it's worth it.

Monday, January 5, 2009

I'm pretty sure . . .

. . . I handed in a mildly crappy column today. It'll run next Monday. It was just one of those time when I had NOTHING to say. Unfortunately I also had a deadline.

Deadline + Nothing to Say=Possibly Crappy Column. We'll see.

On the bright side I finished reading Janette Rallison's new romantic comedy, JUST ONE WISH. I'll post an interview with her here in the next few days.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

And one more resolution . . .

Yeah, so I get that my blog is REALLY colorless. I'm not very technologically inclined. Even GETTING a blog (as well as updating my website this year--thanks, Chris Longhurst!) was a big big deal for me. But. Really. Every day I check out my friend Lisa Bickmore's fabulous blog ( and what strikes me is how truly gorgeous it is to look at. So I'm going to challenge myself to learn how to a. use my digital camera and b. upload pictures onto this blog. I think my pictures will be shots of my garden just because I like it. And it inspires me.

Stay tuned.

Friday, January 2, 2009

About Resolution #5

I have a few of our local writers to praise! And congratulate!

Carol Lynch Williams--her new book about a polygamist group, THE CHOSEN ONE, (due out in May) has already garnered advance praise from the likes of Meg Cabot. (Hey. I would so DIE from pure happiness if Meg Cabot liked something I wrote.)

Emily Wing Smith--her book THE WAY HE LIVED received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly and School Library Journal's Teens Know Best YA Galley Group.

Kristyn Crow--her witty picture book COOL DADDY RAT was named a "2008 Blue Ribbon Book" by the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books.

Sara Zarr--her novel SWEETHEARTS is a finalist for the 2008 Cybils, an award given out by the young adult blogging community.

And seriously, I also want to congratulate ANYONE who's writing regularly. Good job, people.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

I'm hereby resolved to . . .

1. Treat writing like a job--the kind you have to go to every day except Saturday and Sunday.
2. Actively pursue writing for magazines this year--attempt to submit an article a month.
3. Read more.
4. Stay upbeat in spite of rejections and disappointments.
5. Be the first one to send notes of congratulation to fellow writers (I'll have to work fast to beat out Rick Walton, the single most gracious writer on the face of the planet).

I had this moment in December when I hit a real low--I just said to myself, "I'm done." As discouraged as I've been in the past, I've never felt like I could (or even wanted to) walk away from a Writing Life. The intensity of my feelings surprised and even scared me a little because for such a long time, I've defined myself as a writer. Anyway. I think I still want to do this. And these resolutions are in response to that hope. Wish me luck.

And good luck to all of you, as well.