Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Writing Life: SCBWI, Lessons Learned

First, a Tip of the Day: Do not wash your cell phone with your laundry!
Second: Is 12/12/12 a cool date, or what??
Third: I'll post the photos that go with this at FB, Edith Hope Fine, because they do not feel like downloading here today.

Had fun wearing three hats at the SD SCBWI meeting last Saturday. Joy Chu, the amazing graphic designer was under the weather and, not wanting to share (!), she chose the Wisdom hat from our crazy hall hat rack when she dropped off fliers about her online illustration class. A curling stone hat, yes, that’s what that is—the 40-pound granite stone with handle—for Karen Mueller Coombs whose curling team had a final game at the exact same time as the meeting. For zany me, a propeller hat, of course.

This hat-wearing business was for the annual December “Lessons Learned” meeting with members sharing experiences and info gleaned over the past year. Always a success, giving the eager audience lots of things to think about and plenty of encouragement. Our San Diego chapter’s leadership and members are especially good about support.

When I wore Joy’s Wisdom hat, I gave info was about her upcoming online UCSD Extension class, a nine-week class, January 7 to March 9. You’ll find more info about how illustrators create characters, plus other important topics Joy will cover, such as pacing, drama, shapes, rhythm, and the importance of white space at Joy’s “Got Story? Countdown” blog:

In Karen’s curling hat (glad the grey stone hat didn’t really weigh in at 40 pounds!) I read from her script, which covered some of the ins and outs (and potential stinostifications) of ebook publishing. She has transformed her out-of-print book Bully at Ambush Corner into both an ebook and a paperback. Check out the archives of Karen’s year-long anti-bullying blog at  Karen’s YA book Sexted will be out soon. And, yes, she was the skip (that’s like captain) of the curling team and they won their game bigtime. Very exciting.

In my propeller hat and as head of the published members’ group, I did my usual “you have 15 seconds to show me something you can hand to a stranger with info about your writing or illustrating.” Lots of hands went up with bookmarks, brochures, cards. But not enough. It goes back to my Girl Scouting days, Juliet Low’s “Be prepared” in spades. That means having samples of your art, or copies of your book at hand at all times. (I know, nag, nag, nag. Just do it.)

I discussed thinking outside the box and being both brave and creative in spreading the word about your work. In my propeller hat, I urged saying “yes” to school visits, libraries, book sales, book fairs and other opportunities. (I admit there was one this year where we sold zero books but the people-watching/ character-observing opps. were fab and we had lunch afterward!) This is the year my biography of Barbara McClintock came out as an ebook, thanks to And I did something I’ve never done before, brought my out-of-print CryptoMania! Teleporting into Greek and Latin, into paperback. Originally with now (sadly, sadly) defunct Tricycle Press, it goes with my 34-week CryptoKids Decoder Program for schools and homeschoolers, so I’m super excited that it’s available once again at Yellow Book Road in San Diego and from me. Also blogging once a month as the Grammar Patrol at eFrogPress with Judith Josephson in conjunction with our Nitty-Gritty Grammar guides. I also mentioned the Square, with which you authors and illustrators can sell your wares with a swipe of a card (smart device with Internet connection needed).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Reading Life: How Can I Give Away These Books?

In a true effort to cut down on my huge collection of books, I lurk warily before the bookshelves in the hall. I guess this one can go. And this. And perhaps all the paperbacks that belonged to my mother. Or not all. Some. A few. Maybe. Because when I riffle the pages, I find her penciled notes in many of the margins and it would be like giving away a part of her. Despite the yellowed paper. And the pinched print. (How did it become so small?)

A peculiar, miscellaneous assortment of fiction and non-fiction stands on parade dress before me, from Stephen King to Malcolm Gladwell. Could never give away King’s The Green Mile. I’ve read it perhaps six times, annotated it, underlined, highlighted, all to study how King pulls readers in. How the whole plot of the book, everything, is revealed in the first few pages. As readers, we just didn’t know it yet. Genius.

The test is whether I could get the book now from the libe, even download from the libe to my eReader, or borrow it from a friend. Weed, weed, weed on down the line.

“And yet,” borrowing that fateful phrase from Nicole Krauss’s History of Love . . .

And yet. I could never give away these Nevil Shutes. Or Jessamyn Wests. Or Rumer Goddens. And here’s that lovely, remarkable My Family and Other Animals  by Gerald Durrell, brought to life so lovingly on PBS some years ago. I waltz it to the tipsy pile on the nightstand for re-reading.

And what about My Mother the Cheerleader by Robert Sharenow (is that a great surname or what?). Like the work of Christopher Paul Curtis, Pam Munoz Ryan, Bette Bao, and many other writers, this book layers fiction upon fact, upon history. One courageous, real-life six-year-old named Ruby Bridges is embedded in a plot that movingly introduces the twists and terrors of the Civil Rights era to young readers who weren’t alive, and whose parents weren’t alive, when she walked with four tall federal marshals into a school in New Orleans under court-ordered desegregation. How she didn’t eat her sandwiches for lunch for a month because a horrid protester, one of many lining the sidewalk to the school, hissed that she was going to poison Ruby’s food. The naiveté of the young narrator. The slow build-up of understanding. Nope. Can’t give that one away. But this book can move to the lending library in the living room for my critique groups, grands, and others.

I work on, walking my fingers over spines, remembering the feel of the pages, the inability to stop reading deep in the night due to cliff-hangar chapter endings . . . Uh-oh. Here’s Oldest Living Confederate Widow tells All by Allan Gurganus. I know before I open it that I’ll see the note I wrote myself after finishing its 900+ pages: “I will keep this book forever.”

That’s it for today. Bibliophilism wins over weeding. One and a half boxes for the Friends of the Library do count. But the BFFs stay put.

Monday, November 12, 2012

November 11, 2012
Thoughts from the Regular Life: Veterans’ Day

On this solemn day, I think about the men and women who have defended our country. Of the horrifying losses in the Civil War, the astounding numbers of dead and wounded in WWI. Of my friend whose uncle died in WWII and the many Veterans’ Day ceremonies we attended each year with her family on the shores of Lake St. Clair to honor an uncle she never knew.

In our living room is a small framed picture of my Uncle Norman in his Army uniform. Young, handsome, looking out as us as we look back at him each day. I think of him often now that he’s gone and consider how little I know of his service. WWII. France. He served with a tank unit, the obvious reason for his permanent hearing loss. But the experience itself? Details? Places? Feelings? Aftermath? In my memory, never talked about. What any of us today can gather from WWII is mainly secondhand, from diaries, documentaries, history books, family stories. Being human, we have the ability to mentally assess the destructive forces of war on mind and body. But as thoughtful and well-meaning as we may be, empathy and intellect are poor substitutes for the reality—the battlefields of that war and others—the direct effects of battle.

It is impossible to go to war and return unscathed. In the Civil War, what we now call PTSD was known as Soldiers’ Heart. Read Gary Paulsen’s book by that eponymous title, five years in the writing, about the wrenching changes that took place for the young men and the nurses and doctors who were part of that bloody endeavor. Consider the horrendous post-war treatment of our Vietnam fighters or the wide-ranging penetration of PTSD in the ranks of our Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers. And, at last, with civilians and those in the ranks and the medical profession is evolving a slowly changing attitude and understanding of toward reaching out and supporting the men and women who have served multiple tours of duty in faraway lands.

Living near Camp Pendleton, we hear heart-rending news of the injuries and deaths of young Marines and the effects on their families of long separations, terrible injuries, and, in many cases, loss of life. It’s remarkable how these brave returnees and other across the country do, in fact, soldier on. Witness the units on the east coast that have banded together, using their training, to help those hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy. One, working with his former comrades, said that banding together and reaching out has been more effective for returning vets as a way of handling what they have been through than other means have been. We honor our veterans all, the living and the dead.

Since 1987, this day has, for me, had an added layer. Twenty-five years ago my friend Frannie was on her way out to visit us on a business trip. Her cousin discovered her, lying on her couch with a tall stack of books beside her, no longer with us. She was only forty-four and her death was shocking, close to unbelievable. We’d been pals since second grade, and our houses were close, a hop of the fence away, so we could have Social Tea cookies at my house and then go to her house to do homework. Such memories really never fade away. A recent Ted Talk on memory noted that memory is not static, fixed. Our minds reinvent things each time we turn mentally to certain events, which explains why my mother and aunt would argue vociferously and with absolute certitude about specifics: “That’s not what happened, sister, dear.”
But I feel with vociferous certitude that some things I remember are true. That my mom and Fran’s were co-leaders of Girl Scout Troop 940, how we worked on badges, caroled in the old folks’ home, ate rattlesnake meat on St. Patrick’s day (okay, that was my mom, not Fran’s), went on field trips, planted seedlings on hillsides to prevent erosion, learned to leave a place better than we found it and, on a deeper level, learned about friendship and doing the right thing and listening and caring. And we joked that we were going to rock together on the porch of the old folks’ home while Girl Scouts sang to us.

Thus, as with many of you, Veterans’ Day for me is both broad and encompassing, narrow and deeply personal.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Elsewhere. Sun Rising in the West.
The Regular Life

Come October, the rising of the sun (well, our turning toward it) comes later. So that when I, often a night owl, woke early and headed to the pool at the rec. area, the world was still in shadow. Unlike many previous mornings—misty, grey, overcast—the sky was clear. I eased into the water (which, admittedly, seems colder and colder as summer fades), facing west, and began my routine of fast jogging (as fast as you can jog in water, which is slow), the brain going elsewhere. My quiet half hour that starts the day.

The view across the street turned into a stage set, complete with lighting. At the highest tip of the liquid amber tree, its foliage the elongated oval of a giant grapefruit spoon, two lone leaves turned from dull grey to copper as if a spotlight had been turned on. To the north, stand two huge old eucalyptus trees, the bark of their trunks smooth, tinted several earth-tone shades. Another spotlight flicked on, turning uppermost leaves golden.

Copper slowly painted the liquid amber leaves, save for a strange semi circle that remained the dull color of early dawn. And it dawned (uh-oh, little pun there) on me to turn, facing east, to study the shape of the big tree that had been behind me to see how it had blocked the sun from the section of the liquid amber I’d faced.

Instead of following my usual routine (ten minutes in shallow end doing press-downs with empty milk bottles, my uberly expensive exercise equipment, then ten with aqua-belt in deep end, then ten of laps), I kept up the run, jog, walk to watch the sun rise in the west and north. Hypnotically, majestically, more and more of the onstage tree brightened; color climbed down the trunks of the eucalyptus, until the sun kissed the deck, turning a nondescript faded pink to, hmmmm, the color of marigolds . . .

That half hour of nature’s theater took the place of my usual day-planning, plot unraveling, mental guinea pig wheel To Do list. Critic’s assessment? Golden. Riveting. Mesmerizing. Not to be missed.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

October 2012. How did that happen? I'm back to Blogging. I promise.

I know. Long time no see. Or no read, as the case may be.

When I do author visits, I tell the kids that I lead three lives, thus the construction of my blog. I’ll report on the Regular Life (everyday stuff—getting the brakes fixed, etc.; you know the drill; you have this life, too), the Reading Life (afraid I’m more than a bibliophile; let’s say biblioholic—that fits), and the Writing Life (and with due admiration for all the writers out there who can concentrate on one project at a time, my hat’s off to you; I’ll bet your houses are totally tidy, too; glad you all don’t have computer eyeballs that can see this office, but much gets done here, often several projects in the works at a time). This three-pronged approach means I can write blog entries about any blips that occur on my mental radar.

For example, I can’t seem to pull my nose from a thesaurus or dictionary. Today, pelagic, which I kind of guessed, but it’s so cool cuz it’s from the Greek pelagos, sea—so it’s “of or relating to open oceans or seas.” Wait. Wait. Archipelago. Yes, arkhi is chief, so the terms first meant the Aegean Sea—being full of island chains; then it was extended to “any sea studded with islands.” (Thank you, Online Etymology Dictionary for that euphonious definition.) Wait. Wait. Found 15 “pelago” words—how about abyssopelagic (you can guess that one) or epipelagic (think “upon” for epi)?

Oh my word (literally), this is what happens when I aim in one direction and end up in another. Focus. Focus.

Back to My Three Lives. Today, a brief recap of all three.

Regular Life
So much going on. Grands back in school. How did two get old enough for seventh grade? A recent school visit at Valley Elementary in Poway—great kids and so well organized; a book sale there the following Saturday where, I kid you not, the temp. was 100 degrees; an AAUW book sale (I’m a longtime member—it’s one of the reasons I wrote a biography of Barbara McClintock; AAUW gave that genuine genius/scientist/Nobel Prize winner early support when no other organizations had yet recognized that McClintock’s research had the potential to change the world of genetics); a really fun baby shower here with a simply delighted and delightful mom-to-be: she got a kick out of everything, and who says a “tea” can’t involve iced tea?! Prepping . . . for this year’s Festival of Books on October 13 at the super-popular Encinitas Library; . . . and a signing at CRA October 20; . . . and an event for the One Book, One San Diego 2012 event on October 25 to celebrate our Armando and the Blue Tarp School picture book being named a companion book to Luis Urrea’s Into the Beautiful North (get it; read it; I loved it) at the Children’s Discovery Museum in Escondido. And cleaning out the garage. And having nice company.

Reading Life
I often have three+ books going at a time. One may be a mystery/thriller (what’s not to love about Hieronymus Bosch, Brady Coyne, Stoney Calhoun, Jack Reacher, V.I. Warshawski and others [I read these with big AAA maps to follow where folks are headed]?). Another may be young adult—currently into great reads by Ruta Sepetys, Gary D. Schmidt, Clare Vanderpool, Karen Cushman, and others); and other meaty books such as Urrea’s The Devil’s Highway, Alan Brennert’s Moloka’i, and Brian Coyle’s remarkable Mink River. And My Name is Mary Sutter, historical fiction about a young woman who want to be a surgeon—the era? The Civil War. Whoa, Nellie. More on the latter later, as it were.

Writing Life
As mentioned, never one to do one thing at a time, I’m working on a project for older readers, a workbook for kids on basic Greek and Latin roots to go along with my CryptoMania! Teleporting into Greek and Latin with the CryptoKids (now available in paperback), grammar blogs at by the Grammar Patrol, plus a group project my Wednesday critique group dreamed up. Crazy, huh?

I love semicolons. And, apparently, brackets within colons.
Time to head back to the writing life . . . although this counts, right?


What are you reading that you can’t put down?