Monday, November 15, 2010

Isn't that just a story waiting to happen?

Even if you weren't a writer, wouldn't this picture make you want to grab the nearest writing utensil and get down a story? Once again, I was venturing where I really wasn't invited...but there wasn't anyone there to invite me onto the property...or was there??

Luckily, I have a good friend, Doug, who happens to be a horror writer, and who gladly agrees to stop for pictures such as these. It was going to be a quick photo, so he stayed in the car. I realized later, he was just using the time to drum up material to scare me. I got back in the car and he said, "It was just like Rear Window. I think I saw someone looking out of that top window at you..." He said it calmly and matter-of-factly,
which reminded me of one of the reasons he's such a good writer. It was a little tidbit...just enough to get the hair on your arms standing up.

I would like to show a full picture of the house, but then you might see the sign that was un-inviting me onto the property...

When I looked at the picture on my camera later, I realized it was straight out of my friend's newly re-released novel, NEVERLAND. I was right in the middle of reading it, and it was as if part of the setting had popped right out of the book at us.

Here's another picture just begging for me to tell its story.
I love anything that is unlikely, like something inside that should be outside, or vice versa. I am also completely inspired by anything that is broken down and decrepit. It makes me wonder what went on there, who lived there, and what their story was.

Doug and I are going to be talking about story, etc. on Wednesday, November 17 at 7:00 at the Groton Public Library in Groton, Connecticut. If you are in the area, we'd love to have you stop by. We are both going to have some fun give-aways, so I hope to see you there!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ahead of Her Time

She couldn't carry a tune, but she sang out loudly and proudly. Her singing voice may have been off-key, but I could listen to her talk forever. I can still hear the rhythm of her voice as she recited a poem for me.

My grandma always had all the time in the world for me, and she answered every one of my annoying kid questions, happily and patiently. She was an object of fascination. She would take her false teeth out on command, and she'd hold them out and up close so my brothers and I could get a good look.

I remember waiting for her train to come in. I would stand next to the platform with my mom and my brothers, straining to hear a hint of her arrival. Her arthritis was bad, and the train conductor would have to help her down the clanging metal steps. I can still picture her black t-strap shoes as they appeared on the bottom step.

The pain from her arthritis must have been excruciating at times, but she always smiled through it. It took her several tries to get up from her chair. I would stand next to her, and rock back and forth, encouraging her to make it to a full standing position. Then we'd both cheer when she was upright.

She was born without the fingers on her left hand, but she wore no prosthesis. She used to say she could do anything except pound a nail. I loved how that hand felt in mine. It was just the right size to fit in my little-girl hand.

She was strong when most people would have given up. She taught in a one-room schoolhouse in the late 1920s, early 1930s, and sometimes she would need to stay overnight to keep the coals going through the cold North Dakota winters. Two of her babies died before they reached the age of five, and I can't imagine what that must have been like for her--waiting to bury them until the ground thawed.

My grandpa died when they still had young children at home, but she kept moving forward, raising and protecting her family. She was a hard worker through tough times, and once chased an intruder off her property with a rifle. She took in boarders to help make ends meet, but she was always willing to share what she had. Sometimes the sheriff would deputize her during the holidays so she could take an occupant of the small town jail home for a nice dinner.

The Lutheran church she attended let the men go up first for communion. Grandma went up with the men, and ignored the whispered comments and stares. She had to get to her restaurant job at the Percolator, and she had no time to waste. She had a family to feed.

My grandma was ahead of her time, and I'm sure she was looked down on back then, for some of the decisions she made as a woman. What an example of strength and patience and compassion she set for me and for my brothers. I'd give anything to be waiting to hear the clang of those black, t-strap shoes on that train platform again.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

We Were All a Long Way From Home

Moving 3,000 miles away from Seattle was unsettling, to say the least--scary, even. I quit my teaching job and we packed up the Honda, with as much as we could fit around my ten year old daughter and my five-week-old baby girl. The rest of our possessions were busy getting lost and broken in the moving van.

When we got to Connecticut, I found the grocery store and the gas station, but had yet to find the freeway. Two days later, my husband climbed down the hatch of USS San Juan and left the pier.

It was about a million degrees in our tiny rental house and I desperately needed to find an air conditioner. But where was the downtown area? My neighbor was out in her yard. Downtown? She just laughed like I'd told a really good joke. I could try to locate our fan, but I was positive it was busy getting broken in the moving van somewhere between Seattle and Connecticut.

My husband had arrived before me and probably at least knew how to find the freeway, so maybe I could call him. underwater phone. I wouldn't be able to see him or talk to him for five months.

Then the phone did ring and it was someone named Meghan. Her husband, she said, was underwater with my husband, and did I need anything? She didn't even wait for me to answer. She came over with pizza and Lee-Hannah, another wife. They were the first to baby-sit my new baby, and the first to help when three months later, our husbands were still underwater and my oldest daughter needed emergency surgery.

Please don't forget to thank a Veteran today. But I've also got to include all those Navy wives and Navy husbands out there!


Thank you so much for those who entered my A FINDERS-KEEPERS PLACE contest! Winners, your prizes are on their way...


My TeensReadToo Blog appearance mentioned in a previous post has been postponed until December 4. Please don't forget to stop by!

Last, but definitely not least, I have to mention former Air Force man, Lionel Haywood. My dad survived a heart attack last week and is looking better than ever. I love you, Dad!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

TeensReadToo Book Club

Tomorrow, I'll be over at the TeensReadToo Book Club Blog, so ... click here to hear more about A FINDERS-KEEPERS PLACE, my event-filled suburban childhood, and how I was obsessed with Judy Blume. (Okay, I'm still obsessed with her, but that's neither here, nor there.) There are also more prizes to win!

If you haven't already entered my contest, please follow my blog and watch the video below for more details.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Finders-Keepers Place Contest!!

It is ONE day until the release of A FINDERS-KEEPERS PLACE! The Backstory has a little FREE STUFF to give out a little more below:

Thursday, October 7, 2010

There's a Monster Under The Couch/Bed/Deck/Anything With a Clearance

I'm walking down the hall at school and I hear a toilet flush...immediately followed by a first grader who is (how shall I say it politely?) not all the way zipped and put back together.

We have automatic toilets in our new school (you know; like the ones at the airport--where you're not entirely done with everything and the bottom all of a sudden whooshes and literally drops out from beneath you). That's scary enough for me, but it can be just plain terrifying for a six-year-old. (The automatic sinks are a different story--HOURS could go by and there would still be fun to be had with the automatic sinks in the first grade bathrooms.)

I was afraid of PLENTY when I was six. In fact, without even trying, I came up with a pretty good list:

1) sea kelp: It really doesn't need much explanation. Especially the sea kelp from the Pacific Ocean--it has sea monster tentacles written all over it.

2) the dark: duh. My dad tried taking me outside during the night to show me all of the items in the yard. "See," he said. "It's the same maple tree that's there in the daytime." I wasn't buying any of that. Everyone knows the Wizard of Oz tree comes out at night. The poky sharp parts don't reveal themselves in the daytime. Again: duh.

3) And speaking of the Wizard of, I'm not going to say the flying monkeys--they were nothing compared to the witch flying through the air on the bicycle (you can hear the music playing in your head when I just mention her, can't you?). My parents had to hang a special sheet on my window, because my frilly white curtains didn't hide her flying by.

4) Outhouses when we were camping--it's in the monster-under-my-bed category. Best to go in the woods. Setting foot in one of those places is just asking for something to reach up for you.

5) Clowns--really, why would anyone think they would make children happy? These creatures are something the horror screenwriters claim as their own, and rightly so. If you need anymore convincing of these terror-inducing entities, just talk to my brother. He'll talk you right out of having one at your next party.

6) The monsters/snakes/(fill in the blank) under my bed. I had really well-developed leg muscles for six. And I'm pretty sure I was close to an Olympic qualifying time in the triple jump. I could take a leap from back by my bedroom door and never even skim the lower part of my mattress when I was getting in bed at night.

As I look out my window, I can see it'll be dark soon...all I can say is, I'm PLENTY happy that someone threw water on the mean lady with the flying bicycle...

Friday, August 27, 2010

Cool Things I Wish I Could Do (Part 1)

Whether people are willing to admit it or not, everyone has a desire to be cool. My teenager spends entire days convincing me of how uncool I am. So I felt the need to devise the following "I would be really cool if I could do this" list. Please feel free to add to it in the comment section.

1) Surf--not body surf or boogie board, but the stand-up-jump-the-waves Hawaii Five-O kind.

2) Write a fantasy novel--the way out there, super secret language, larger than life, world building kind.

3) Play the guitar so well, that when they played my songs on the radio, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton would think they were listening to themselves on a good day. (Yes, Tim, I know Jimi's six feet under, but my game, my rules.)

4) Sing so well, that people will turn around at church, not because I'm slightly off key, but because they think Aretha's in the house.

5) Have the Saturday Night Live crew call me up and beg me to join their writing team.

6) Pole Vault just shy of an Olympic qualifying height. Frankly, I just don't want to put in the training time, and I'm not willing to forgo the Hostess products.

7) Have Harper Lee call me up and ask to be pen pals,
or show up in my kitchen and eat a toasted cheese sandwich with me,
or (also quite acceptable) invite me over for a leisurely game of dominoes.

8) Sit around watching TV and eating Cheetos with Steve Martin and Ellen DeGeneres.

9) Have Oprah and Gail show up in my driveway to pick me up for Girls Night Out.

10) Sing Hey Jude with Paul McCartney

Stay tuned for Part 2!

Friday, August 13, 2010

It's a Parallel Universe

Who doesn't love a nice long plane trip in cozily intimate quarters with strangers intent on exhibiting all of their nasty habits? I do admit to enjoying a loud talker or two on a plane or train, and I have been happily entertained by subway performers. It's all grist for the mill. Right?

Saturday, I returned from a day-long plane trip from California, and I realized how much those passengers on the airplane mirrored the behavior of my first grade class.

First of all, there's the lining up thing. We're all going to the same place. The front of the plane is going to get there at the same time as the back of the airplane, so why do we have to push and shove each other with our giant, should-have-been-checked carry-on? Next time someone pushes me while they're frantically trying to get ahead, I'm going to get out out my teacher voice and say, "We keep our hands and feet to ourselves."

The following directions thing is almost identical on the plane and in first grade. As soon as the flight attendant starts giving the emergency directions, the passengers start talking. Next time, I might have to speak up with my teacher voice and say, "can anyone repeat what she just said?".

Then there's the snack thing. My first graders live for snack time. Have you ever seen the frantic eyes of the airplane crowd when the flight attendant is going down the aisle with the cracker box? People are practically standing on their seats, thinking he will run out or (gasp) skip them. And when he does arrive at their row, they desperately forget their first grade manners and grab as many as they possible can, as if they'll never eat again. (Okay, I'll give them that one. Who knows if you will get to eat at all on the airplane?)

And, of course, there's the bathroom thing...Just like in first grade, as soon as one person gets up to go, everyone gets the idea in their head.

And then, we have the Diva. If she's going to complain, why not just fly first class or a private jet?

My final observation has more to do with the staff room at school which, as I've pointed out before, people will eat a two month old tuna casserole brought from the back of someone's refrigerator and placed up for grabs on the staff room table. On the first leg of my flight, the plane already had passengers on it from a previous stop. The flight attendant held up a half a sandwich left by someone. A man (with absolutely no shame on his face) raised his hand and placed dibs on it. True story. I couldn't bring myself to turn around and actually watch him take a bite.

Maybe when I retire from teaching, I can start offering training at the gate.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Top Ten Foods(?) I Probably Shouldn't Admit that I Like/Love

I am kind of hijacking REFLECTION OF A SHALLOW POND's blog--okay, STEALING HIS IDEA--It's okay; I can do that--I'm a professional, aka, his sister. I have a long, practiced history of stealing/harming him and generally bossing him around. My brother, Tim, definitely rivals David Letterman in his Top Ten list skills. He has issued a challenge on his Facebook page for his blog readers to come up with their own top ten lists. My list was actually inspired by another of his blog entries--the competitive eating one from a couple days ago. So my list will be:

The Top Ten Foods(?) I Probably Shouldn't Admit that I Like/Love:

10) Hostess Ding-Dongs

9) Hostess Ho-Hos

8) Hostess Twinkies--okay, pretty much ANY Hostess product. Someone put a box of Shrek Twinkies in the staff room at work--the cream filling was GREEN, so I couldn't bring myself to publicly/casually take one--way too many witnesses at lunch time. I think I even pointed at them and said, "Ew, gross," for all to hear; sadly, when I secretly went back to get one later, they were all gone. (It's a well-known fact that you can leave back-of-the-refrigerator food in a teacher's room in the morning, and it will be consumed by 2:00 p.m.)

7) Funions--not sure if I spelled that right--it rhymes with bunions, which is pretty disgusting, in itself.

6) Hamburger Helper--ESPECIALLY the cheeseburger macaroni kind.

5) The fake cheese that they put on cheese fries and those 15 dollar nachos that you can buy at ball games--on occasion, I have considered paying double for extra fake cheese. It would be worth the thirty dollars of cheesy wonderfulness.

4) Street cart meat in New York--gyros, etc.--a few days ago, I saw a vendor flipping the "meat" on his grill, his cigarette dangling over his spatula, and I quickly put that in the things-I'll-pretend-I-never-saw category. (As my friend, Brian, always says, "Denial--it ain't just a river in Egypt...")

3) Swanson's fried chicken TV dinners. I do, however tend to skip over the mixed peas and carrots, unless enough cherry cobbler goo has flowed over into that compartment to sufficiently mask the carroty taste.

2) Pixie stix--but only if you pour the whole thing on your tongue at once--otherwise, it's just not the same effect.

1) A hot fudge sundae, with no ice cream--think about it--it's the ultimate in chocolatey delight.

**I reserve the right to change the order of preference, depending on hour and availability. Substitutions are allowed, but not recommended.

So...let's see more top tens. You can post them on my brother's blog, or, since I've got seventeen months more life experience than can post them right here in my comment section.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Seth Baumgartner's Love Manifesto

If that title doesn't grab you, you will be completely hooked by the first page of Eric Luper's newest novel, just released by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins.

Rachel Cohn, the bestselling author of NICK AND NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST, think so, too. She says, "Delightful, funny, and true, Seth and his manifesto will win your heart."

Eric's story tugged at my heart strings and brought back memories of my own teen years that made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. I rooted for his main character, Seth, from the moment he was getting dumped by his girlfriend at Applebees. That was only the beginning of life's complications for Seth. He had me wanting to run right out and find him a new girlfriend. The story, told from a delightfully fresh boy's perspective, had me shirking my own writing obligations so I could follow Seth through to the end.

I knew people would want to know more about the man behind the book, so Eric Luper has so graciously agreed to answer a few questions on The Backstory...

ANN: You have recently delved into rules for writing fiction on your blog. What is your favorite writing rule to break?

ERIC: I break them all when they need to be broken. I look at writing rules less as laws and more as suggestions to nudge you in the right direction. I think it's important to know the rules, though, so you can make an informed decision when it comes time to break them.

ANN: If you could collaborate on a novel with anyone, dead or living, who would it be?

ERIC: Hands down Kurt Vonnegut. That guy was funny and smart and wrote awesome books. Need I explain this?
ANN: You have had some interesting and unusual jobs in your non-writing life. If you could go back to one of those jobs for just one week, which one would it be and why?

ERIC: Interesting question. I would love to go back and work at the Raptor's Trust, a facility in northern New Jersey that rescued and rehabilitated birds of prey. Those birds were so awesome...except for the turkey vultures that would throw up this disgusting, stinky, vomit-slime.

ANN: I know I'll never get you to admit to the Clark Kent thing, but I do know you are a chiropractor in all of that free time that you have. Tell us a little about your work as a Red Cross Disaster Relief volunteer and what led up to it.

ERIC: After the attacks of 9/11, I felt a compelling need to get to New York City and do what I could. There wasn't a huge call for children's writers down there, but I could help out in my capacity as a chiropractor. So, I called the Red Cross, got my credentials, and went to the Red Cross Respite Center at St. John's University. I treated rescue workers as long as I could, morning, noon, and night. Closed my office here and everything. It was a moving experience, but I was doing nothing compared to those rescue workers. Those guys were awe-inspiring.

ANN: I absolutely loved SETH BAUMGARTNER'S LOVE MANIFESTO. If Seth were to appear on Oprah, what would his top break-up advice be?

ERIC: What...? Huh...? What was the question? I was paying attention to that first part of your question. Oh, break-up advice... Okay... If Seth was on Oprah, he'd likely tell people not to listen to clichés. Things like, "there are other fish in the sea", and "She was never the one for you" do no good. It's okay to be sad.

ANN: Is there a medical thriller in your future?

ERIC: Never. I like to write about things I'm learning about as I write. That way, I can put what is fascinating to me about the subject in my story, assuming it will be fascinating to others. If I were to write a medical thriller, I would include things so esoteric that they would be boring to laypeople. Does that make sense?

ANN: I know the St. Anne Institute is near and dear to your heart. (I am convinced that you don't sleep--wait... are you a ---???) Sorry. I got distracted... can you tell us a little about your latest project involving piles of books?

ERIC: Recently, I was asked to sit on the advisory board for St. Anne Institute, a not-for-profit residential/therapeutic school for at-risk teen girls. Of course, the first thing I wanted to see was the library and I was saddened to see that recent budget cuts led to a very small and very dated teen library. There were huge gaps in the selection, particularly urban fiction, fantasy and sci-fi... and that was exactly what the girls of St. Anne want to read! This was not acceptable to me, so I reached out to author-friends, editors and agents and within weeks, I had boxes of books on my doorstep read for St. Anne's. But's it's not nearly enough.

You can check the news story out at:

And if you are interested in donating a book, feel free to contact me via my website ( or to phone in a donation call The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza (, an independent book store here in Albany. They have a wish list from the girls and are offering a discount on books. Their number is (518) 489-4761.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Flaming Piccolo Petes

We woke up in the morning of July 4, looking for things to do, biding our time until it got dark. We'd be eyeing the box of Sparklers well before noon. What my brother, Tim, and I usually resorted to in the daylight hours was caps--those rolls of paper strips meant for a cap gun, but way more fun to pound out on the curb. We'd sit in front of the house, the caps stretched out on the curb between us. Then we'd search out a perfectly-shaped rock and pound on the little bumps of gun powder, hoping for a bang, or at least a small spark, usually smashing a finger or two in the process.

This quite often brought our older brother, Tom, out. He'd scoff at us, not even bothering to hide his disgust with our small-time explosives. He'd inevitably coerce us into giving up our entire supply so he could rig up something loud and dangerous.

I remember that feeling when they were gone. The acrid smell of gun powder was in the air and all we were left with was a mess in the gutter.

Sometimes we'd hop on our Stingrays and ride up to Piggly Wiggly where our mom was working in the PTA fireworks stand and beg for some money to buy more. Usually, if we were annoying enough, she'd send us home with a couple of smoke bombs or something small and we'd hop back on our banana seats and ride home.

Then after what seemed like an eternity after sunset, we'd gather on opposite curbs of sixteenth street with all the neighbors. The dads clustered in the middle of the road with the boxes of Red Devil fireworks emptied and lined up in order of spectacular danger. The small fountains were usually first. The bargains boxes were full of these, and when they lost their luster for the crowd, a couple of the dads would start grouping them together for more special effects.

And of course there was the Piccolo Pete. It was usually saved for last, because our big brother would pinch it with pliers to give it more whistle and bang.

But my absolute favorites were the sparklers. My mom would hold the burning punk to continuously light our sparklers. I still like to trace my name in the night air. Luckily, I had a short name and could sky write the whole thing before the sparkler burned my hand. My brother would try to get me to write other things, like the inevitable f-dash-dash-t word. There was nothing like a little fart in smoking sparkles to get the festivities going.

It was a little sad on the morning of July 5, as we went outside, pushing up our kickstands and gripping our high handlebars down the driveway. We pedaled past the last night's detritus, knowing we had to wait an entire year for it all to happen again.

But there were always unpounded caps to be found. And if we did a thorough search of Tom's bedroom, we might be back in business...

A safe and sparkling Fourth to everyone.

Friday, June 11, 2010

How can they leave me?

I used to say that I would teach any grade except first grade. My mom taught first grade for years, and I saw how hard she worked. She'd be up late every night and up before dawn, preparing, planning, getting ready to do it all over again the next day.

Eleven years ago, my youngest was in preschool and I was working part time in the resource room. My principal came to me. "There's a full-time opening," she said, "and I think you should interview for it."

Thoughts of my old fifth grade class traveled through my head and I started to get excited. "What grade is it?" I asked.

"First grade." She smiled, encouragingly.

It is the hardest grade I've ever taught. But I wouldn't take back my decision for anything. Where else can you see someone go from reading bits and pieces of words to reading a chapter book, and progress from writing just a handful of words to a two page story in just nine months time?

I love that sudden grasp of story that some of them get when the letters and words start to make sense. A few of them may have been struggling in the fall, trying desperately to crack the code. I love it when it finally starts to fall into place for them and they start to devour the books in the classroom.

It's almost the last day of school, and as usual, I'm not ready to let all of them go just yet. We've got more stories to write and many more books to read first.

(By the way, if you are reading this and your name rhymes with "Mack", I'm not letting another teacher have you. We'll just keep bringing in bigger desks...I was hoping we could collaborate on a monster book one of these days...)

Friday, May 7, 2010

Bus Stop Mortification

"Where's Dad?" My almost-fifteen-year-old shifts nervously from foot to foot as she puts on her 350 pound backpack for school.

"He's running," I say, unsure why this news is causing her so much stress. He's the one out pounding the streets at dawn.

She glances at her phone and her face looks even more distressed. "It's 6:25, so you know, he'll be running by the bus stop!"

"No, he won't," I say, unconvincingly.

She bites her lip and heads out the door.

Not five minutes later, my husband bursts through the front door in his Lance Armstrong shorts. "I went by the bus stop," he says.

"Oh, no..." I say.

He casually grabs some water. "There were two boys there, so I said, 'Good morning, Everyone.'" (Just trying to be polite, I'm sure). "And to you, too, Holly."

At first, I think he might be just kidding, but then he says, "The boys answered, but Holly said nothing."

Oh, I'm sure she'll be more chatty next time....if there is a next time. Holly's probably on her ever-present cell phone right now, making arrangements with one of Tony Soprano's friends for a mysterious hamstring injury...

Favorite first grade quote of the week: We were making handprints above our poems for Mother's Day. One of the kids pauses and looks very intently at his. He points at the middle of his hand and says, "I recognize that--that's my romance line."

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Peace, Love, Books...and Hudson! (Part I) and a Grammy-Award-Winning Video directed by Eric Luper

I didn't want to leave. I was in a place where everyone treasured books. As far as the eye could see were people who lived, breathed and wrote books! Over 5,000 people attended the 2nd Annual Hudson Children's Book Festival, an event so well-run, people are already using the word, "legendary" when they talk about it.

Here I am with my Henry Holt sister, Jeannine Atkins. I was exhausted at the end of our festival day, but I couldn't put down her beautiful book, BORROWED NAMES. As soon as I opened it up, I was drawn into the incredible lives of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C.J. Walker, and Marie Curie. Jeannine has profiled their lives and their relationships with their daughters with stunning clarity in the form of poems. One of the things that make these poems so unusual, is they are not just about the history-making moments of the lives of these women and their daughters; they are about the regular moments that made them who they were.

(In case that wasn't enough to draw you in, I'll give you a few of Jeannine's own words in the voice of Rose Wilder..."She turns to sort through what might be saved. A wilderness of cracked china, ashes, days when safety was as common as a roof. She folds her black wedding dress and tells Rose, You did nothing wrong. But then she whispers, We won't speak
of this fire again."

I couldn't quite catch my breath after reading that part. I told Jeannine I was adding another star to her already-starred review!

It was great to spend some time with the amazing Susannah Richards! She knows absolutely everything there is to know about
books and the people who write them; I could talk to her all day long!

Someone I wish I could have spent more time with
was my dear friend, Rose Kent, author of KIMCHI AND CALIMARI. I got to see the Advance Reader's Copy of her new book, ROCKY ROAD. (I tried to slip it into my bag, but I'm pretty sure she was on to me!)

Later in the afternoon, I got to do a panel with the fabulous Jo
(LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL and JUMPING OFF SWINGS) and the wonderful Eric Luper (BIG SLICK and BUG BOY). I love the title of Eric's new book due out next month: SETH BAUMGARTNER'S LOVE MANIFESTO!

But the best part was when Eric noticed a piano in the of course he decided we should do a music video...

Stay tuned for Part II and more Hudson...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

SCBWI Seattle

I always miss it before I'm even gone. Driving across the 520 bridge, passing the University of Washington...Mt. Rainier off in the distance...I totally took that all for granted when I lived there.

So it was pretty fantastic to combine my favorite place with my favorite kind of people--my family and my writer friends. Speaking of fabulous writer friends, here I am with Jolie Stekly and Sara Easterly.

And what great planning on the part of Laurie Thompson and those amazing SCBWI Western Washington people. Besides having an incredible conference, they
planted a cupcake place right across the street!

There's my partner-in-cupcake crime, Jolie Stekly (!

And I finally got my hands on a copy of my pal, Suzanne Young's, THE NAUGHTY LIST. They were all sold out at the SCBWI New York conference.
The person in
front of me in the bookstore line got the LAST copy! I told Suzanne I was going to have to get all Cabbage Patch Doll/Tickle-Me-Elmo ugly if it happened again. I had on my running shoes and I was prepared to use my Karate skills...

I always have a great time seeing Jay Asher. His amazing book, THIRTEEN REASONS WHY has now been on the New York Times list for 58 weeks!

It was so great to see Holly Cupola again. I
can't wait to get my hands on her new book, TELL ME A SECRET. It is arriving very soon!

And I always learn something new from Mitali Perkins . I have now gotten the opportunity to hear her speak on both coasts and I am so impressed with her generosity when it comes to the kidlit community!

I wish I could have spent more time with Joni Sensel, Jaime Temarik and Kim Baker! The last time I saw Jaime and Kim, we were fending off frostbite, searching for the perfect cupcake on a very frigid New York night! More support for the belief that true happiness is only a good book and a cupcake away...

Monday, April 5, 2010

Go Ahead and MadMen Yourself

So I've got a million things to do this morning, but my friend, Shelagh, had to go and give me the link to MadMen myself...

Okay...definitely worth it. You get to pick your hair and all your accessories and whatnot. It reminded me of when my friend had this really great Barbie fashion designer stencil set...but you had to set up the stencils very carefully, because any false move to the left or right, and Barbie's design would become Project Runway gone very wrong...

I'm looking at the clock right now, because I think there still may be time to go do my makeup like my MadMen self. I opted out of the cigarette accessory, for obvious reasons-- Barbie's stencil set never had the cigarette or martini option. When I watch the show and think back to that time, I'm always amazed at how everyone thought they had to smoke--like they would be social pariahs if they didn't during that era. They had such great clothes in the fifties and sixties. Didn't they ever think about how bad they would smell, along with their impeccably styled hair?

And I would love to have that hair. It took forever to make that perfect up-do every morning, I'm sure. My mom was always up with the latest fashions, but she was the mother of three and very busy. I'm sure she didn't have the time to properly do her MadMen era hairdo justice. Being the fashion-forward time-saving mom that she was, she solved that problem. She had a wiglet. Not a wig. A wiglet. It was pretty amazing. I used to take it out of the cupboard under the bathroom sink and bobby pin it to my hair. It looked a bit like a swatch of frosted chinchilla hair, but it was very cool. There's many a bad-hair day that I wish I had a wiglet of my own.

In my next life, I will wear hose and heels everyday and have a job in the steno pool...but then again, maybe not...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Books and Chocolate Naturally Go Together

I'm competitive. It's in my nature-I can't help it.

I am currently doing a fitness challenge at work, so I am going for broke--spinning, kickboxing, running--I am into this competition. I am even wearing a pedometer to record every possible step. I'm also working very hard on Book 3. And in order to keep my creativity flowing and my energy up, I needed to get some essential supplies...

...chocolate, of course!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Love of Jazz, Cowboy Songs, and Great Stories

I come from a long line of artists and musicians and teachers. My grandparents had a vaudeville act in the 1920s--"Haywood's Hawaiian Players". My mother was a teacher and a beautiful painter. My dad played the saxophone and has the best jazz collection of anyone I know. He also has a really good singing voice, but he won't do any solos unless he's belting out one of his cowboy songs. As a teenager, I lived in fear that he would do that around one of my friends, but now I actually look forward to it. My brother, Tom, plays guitar and bass, and my brother, Tim plays brass, a little bit of percussion, and is a talented graphic designer. All I'm going to say is, it's a good thing I can put a sentence together, because I can clear a room pretty quickly with my singing voice.

My family treasures books and good stories, but I am the first in the family to be a writer. When ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER became a reality, my brother and sister-in-law had a party at their house in Seattle. Before I got on the plane, my cousin called.

"I have something for you," my cousin, Lynn said. "I think it belongs to you."

Lynn is a special kind of relative. The kind who you love not just because you have a family obligation, but the kind you would choose for a friend, even if you didn't share a DNA pool. And the fact that we are separated by about 3,000 miles means I just don't get to see her very often. So I couldn't wait to see what she was talking about.

She arrived at my brother's with a thick brown box, the size that would fit a tall stack of manuscript pages. It was tied up with a thick white string, kind of like those wonderful bakery boxes in the Bronx, and Lynn sat down with me to watch me take the lid off. But what was inside was even better than a pastry from Arthur Avenue. It was our great-grandmother's stories. She had been a writer! My family is not quiet by any means, and I was pretty sure I would have heard about this before. My father had known his grandmother, but had not known that she was a writer.

The stories are in all of the drafting stages, from the notes she'd scribbled on the back of scraps of paper ( just like I do!), all the way through her handwritten drafts on old newsprint tablets, and to the final draft that she'd typed.

One page of notes is written on the back of an old milk receipt from the dairy farm that she owned. It was dated November, 1933, which meant she was already a grandmother at that point. Did she wait for her kids to grow up to start writing? And when in her busy day as a dairy farmer, did she find time to get out her pen and paper? And since nobody knew she was a writer, did she write in secret? Her stories are full of action and adventure and great dialogue. I picture her standing at the counter in the kitchen, dreaming about places seemingly out of the reach of her farm, and scribbling as fast as she could.

I wish I could sit with her and talk about writing. Had she ever sent a story off to a publisher? Did she dream of seeing her work on the shelves of a library? Would she love the same books that I love? Would she think Dorothy Parker and Flannery O'Connor were brilliant and ahead of their time? Was my great-grandmother ahead of her time?

But my biggest question was this: would she have ever imagined that her great-granddaughter would be reading and cherishing her stories almost 80 years later?

"I wish she could tell her about my book," I said to my critique group.

"Oh, she knows," they said. "She knows."

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Writerly Togetherness

I am always saying, out loud and in print, what a solitary life it can be as a writer. No doubt, Hemingway's bare bones existence in A Moveable Feast would have been considerably changed had he had social networking.

Would he have still gone to that cafe? Or would he have just consumed mass quantities of wine and oysters in the comfort of his own icy apartment while seated in front of his Facebook screen?

And would Gertrude Stein still have invited him over to 27 rue de Fleurus, or would she have been too busy Tweeting or blogging to talk about books with the likes of him?

He wouldn't have been nearly as lonely had he been in the Class of 2k9... I gave my take on writerly togetherness over at our new blog this morning.

Also, look for another video blog from Jame Richards and me in the next week or so. The critique group is showing up at my house this weekend. I love that they will travel miles for good dessert and stories! Jame and I might be able to convince a few guests to join the vlog. And Jame, if you are reading this, I just had this great that we have had Andrew Gutterson on The Backstory, teaching us how to beat box...maybe we could get a few of our writing peeps to give it a shot!! Oh...maybe I shouldn't have said they'll be prepared with lame excuses...

And speaking of Jame, I absolutely love the hilarious "Francisisms" that she posts on the sidebar of her blog. In the true spirit of Francis, I need to share some recent quotes from a couple of my first graders:

I am grabbing a pencil from my desk, and as usual, someone follows me...(by the way, I don't know why the school office furniture people bother to provide a chair to go with a first grade teacher's desk. It's just a place that I put my purse...)
Anyway, I'm grabbing the pencil and I hear, Mrs. Leal? I have a paper cut. Can I have a Band-aid?

Sure, I say.

Then he sighs with relief and says, Good! 'Cause I can see my bone sticking out.

Then, same week, but different kid:

Mrs. Leal? Can I tell something to the class?

Is it your sharing day? I ask.

She shakes her head. No, but it's really important.

Okay, go ahead, I say.

She stands at the front of the room: I have something to tell you guys. My dog is getting tutored tomorrow. Does everyone know what that means?

I hold my breath and get ready for damage control, but then thank God for the kid that always calls out. He says, Isn't that like getting a shot?

She nods her head importantly, Yep. It's like getting a shot.

I'm certainly glad I don't need to be tutored right now, because I hate shots.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Writer Peer Pressure

It had been not quite six months since SCBWI (Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators) Los Angeles, and I was having serious withdrawals...I couldn't wait to get to New York and see my Seattle friends.

I am originally from the Seattle area, so when I see the Seattle SCBWIers, I feel
like I'm back in the old neighborhood. My purple stingray with the high handlebars and the banana seat may be gone, but the people are just as awesome. You've got to love people who will go on a cupcake quest with you late at night in Greenwich Village when it is about thirty below zero!

We may have looked lost, but we were just huddled in the subway to get warm! On the left is the talented Jaime Temairik, aka, Cocoa Stomp and my 2k9 sister, Sydney Salter's husband, Mike. (Does that make him my 2k9 brother-in-law??)

On the right with me are my East Coast pal, Penny Piva, aka, sweetbrownpoison, and Sydney.

We finally found the elusive cupcake place and even though we were all suffering from hypothermia, it was definitely worth it!

And there I am with the wonderful,
Jolie Stekly, aka, cuppa jolie. It was the third anniversary of our friendship which spans over three thousand miles! Ours is kind of a twilight zone friendship where we led practically parallel lives for years, until three years ago when we finally collided at the writer's intensive at SCBWI New York!

On the right is me with the amazing Kim Baker. Kim doesn't know it yet, but I might be sneaking into her Seattle conference in April...I have a family event a few days later, so really, how could I not go? It's a weird kind of writer peer know you want to go...everybody's going...the next thing I know, I'm looking for plane tickets and filling out the conference form...

Looking pensive on the subway is my vlog partner, Jame Richards.

Both Ja(i)mes are amazing, and I can see as it
would be easy to confuse the two...

Jame Richards writes historical fiction and vlogs with me...

Here is her book...

Jaime Temairik has never vlogged at my house,
but I have her wonderful art on the wall in my house. It makes me happy every time I walk by it.

You can buy it on and you can
see her latest creations on her
blog, CocoaStomp. Come on, go there;
you know you want to...

When my parents tried to teach me about avoiding peer pressure, I'm sure they had no idea how persuasive writer friends can be. One second you are safely in your toasty warm hotel room, and the next second you are forming a posse on the subway in subzero temperatures. I've always said the writer's life was solitary, but not when you are at SCBWI...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Facebook Rules and More SCBWI New York

I am pulling out some of my mad first grade teacher skills and asking the question, can you identify the owner of the boot? Which author/illustrator/artist belongs to each boot? And no, Penny, it's not the same as the Sesame Street question, "which of these things doesn't go with the others"...

Well? Put your wild and not so wild guesses in the comment section.

If you would like a few hints, click on this for a video edition of The Backstory. (If you missed Part I, you can go to the blog post before this and click on "video blog"...)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Vlogging with Jame Richards at SCBWI New York

My two critique groups a good SCBWI (The Society of Chidren's Book Writers and Illustrators) New York last weekend!

I got into town a little early for a book signing with some of my Class of 2k9 siblings, along with Ellen Hopkins, at Books of Wonder...

Standing in picture on right are me, Albert Borris, Lisa Greenwald (MY LIFE IN PINK AND GREEN), Fran Cannon Slayton, J.T. Dutton (FREAKED, STRANDED), Ellen Hopkins (CRANK, BURNED, GLASS, IDENTICAL and TRICKS), and SYDNEY SALTER.

The next afternoon, I had a little down time, so Jame Richards (THREE RIVERS RISING) and I decided to make another video blog. I was worried that Jame might still be mad, because in our last vlog, I may have insinuated that Nancy Drew was historical fiction. Since Jame writes historical fiction, she might have taken that a little be the judge...does she look a little miffed? ...or is she just concentrating on the beat boxing lessons we were taking? It all goes to show you that anything can happen if you find yourself with five minutes of down time at SCBWI New York...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Love-Hate Relationship of the Critique Group

"I'm done."

Those are the two words that my elementary students love to say when they're writing. But as the year goes on, and the more they get to know me, they learn to very quickly avert their eyes when those words come out of their mouths. Because I will invariably give them my Tony Soprano eyelock (that I learned from my critique group--and at teacher school, of course) and send them back to their seat to keep writing.

As writers, we love to think we're done. But it's all just pretending, isn't it? Because we are rarely ever done! And that's where my amazing critique group comes in. I call them "the indefatigables". The are relentless and they don't allow much to slip by. In fact, after our group meets, it's not unusual to get a call from one of them saying, "You know, I was thinking about your chapter, and I really think you should go back and take a look at..."

Here's the tricky thing about critique groups, though: they have to be an almost perfect blend of personalities and writing backgrounds. Critique group chemistry can be completely thrown off by so many things, negativity being at the top of the list.

I am incredibly lucky to have been with the same group of four for over seven years. We live all the way from a New York City suburb to the Connecticut/Rhode Island border--we are scattered, but we meet diligently, once a month, in the middle.

We decided early on that we weren't getting anywhere if we were just gushing over each other's work. We are critical with a positive tone, with an emphasis on the critical part. It's the only way we can make anything better. I find that I also have to really listen to what they are saying. It is human nature to get defensive when someone is criticizing you, and a writer's words are about as personal as it gets. But you will not be there to explain things when your readers are opening your book. The words on the page must be clear and able to stand alone without you there to explain what you meant to say.

It's definitely a delicate balance. Sometimes, unexplainably, the chemistry of the group is just not there. I've tried to figure out why our group works and I can't pinpoint any one thing. It's got to be a blend of respect, friendship, and honesty. A friend of mine described a group she was in several years ago that had to disband, because one person made it too caustic; her remarks were mostly negative, and she was unable (or unwilling!) to hear anything but positive comments about her own work.

Another reason that I think our group works is because we have such a nice blend of backgrounds: one person writes middle-grade and young adult and has a heavy literature background; she has an incredibly fine eye for detail. One writes M.G. and Y.A. and is a high school English teacher; she has a fantastic talent for solving plot problems. Another is an artist and a poet and always knows how to find the perfect word or phrase.

Now, stop reading this and go write. Because you know you're not done...

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Response

For those of you who viewed my vlog post from yesterday (where I challenged/threatened my brother to do a vlog response), he has responded within the 48 hour time allotment. Sadly, he responded by phone, claiming not to have a camera. Hmmmmm.....I thought to myself, there's something wrong with this picture.

We were both raised by the KingOfTheSuper8Movie. Our childhood holidays and birthdays are heavily documented on shaky, silent film. We watched those things over and over again, begging our dad to run them backwards in certain places so we could watch Tim fly backwards onto the picnic table in our backyard in his Superman cape/towel-pinned-to-his-favorite-striped-shirt. And who didn't enjoy a repeat performance of the neighbor kids at Tim's birthday table, the wooden spoonfuls of orange and vanilla swirl ice cream coming back out of their mouths, forming a perfectly full, untouched Dixie cup?

So, no Tim, the viewers will probably not buy your no-camera excuse. And yes, you are right, I might have lied about that Bobby Sherman record being yours. (Because as you did indeed point out, had that record, or the Osmond Brothers record, actually been yours, you would never have let me escape with it. Some sort of alarm would have sounded.)

Tim has kind of agreed to appear with me on The Backstory, but since he lives three thousand miles away, I am going to have to bring in some sort of proxy. (Please leave any ideas in the comments below...) I was thinking along the lines of a tabloid personality, but I can't quite come up with the right person...

Talking about the old Super 8 movies has gotten me a bit nostalgic. I loved that sad/happy feeling I got when Dad fired up the old projector and miraculously there was Grandma's old living room come to life on our wall, complete with lace doilies on the overstuffed armchair and the velour couch where we used to hide the carrot sticks she tried to make us eat. Then around the corner came Grandma, herself, carrying a bowl of homemade Chex Mix and looking better than ever in her big clip-on pearl earrings and matching necklace. I could almost smell her old silver percolator in the kitchen. What I wouldn't give to sit down at that holiday table again!

Forget digital; where can I get myself a good old Super 8?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Tim's Challenge

Happy New Year to everyone! In this post, The Backstory and Reflections of a Shallow Pond collide. Stay tuned for the fallout...

In the true spirit of the legendary Vlog Brothers, John and Hank Green, I am offering a little challenge. To view the details, please click on the link below...