Friday, February 29, 2008

Babies of All Shapes and Sizes

Yesterday I got a special delivery - four of the pages from my picture book that will come out (hopefully) sometime next year. It feels like I've been pregnant for years with this book, but when I pulled the pages out of the envelope, I had an unexpected reaction. I was happy and giddy and excited and then....I freaked out a little and had to put them away. I've taken them out to look at them several times today and I really do like the art a lot and the pages are soooo beautiful. It was more the shock of seeing ideas that have up until now only existed in my head down in full color on a piece of paper. It is so much more real now, it's almost scary. My artist is Randy DuBurke and you can tell he's put so much thought, research and craft into every painting. Holding the entire book in my hands will probably put me into a catatonic state.

In other birthday news...eight years ago tomorrow my youngest was born (he missed being a February 29th baby by mere hours). It was one of those not-even-a-Tylenol kind of births (not by choice) and one thing I remember vividly is wanting an apple fritter more than anything else when it was all over. Now, it's not like I eat these things all the time. Up until then, I'd probably only had a couple in my whole life, but apple fritters it was, and apple fritters is what I got. T must have figured this out somehow, because now every birthday he wants me to bring donuts for his class. And, every year when I go and get donuts, I buy an apple fritter for myself and eat the whole thing, thinking about that day eight years ago when a little blonde bombshell came into this world.

Today was donut day at school, and eight years have gone by so fast that I'm feeling a little melancholy. And a little bloated.

On this date: In 1972, Hank Aaron signed a record-breaking deal with the Atlanta Braves.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Question of the Day

Q: If you didn't have any butt cheeks, would your farts be silent?

Apparently, this is what keeps the seven year-old mind up at night.

On this date: In 2003, Mr. Rogers died.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Are You Smarter Than A Second Grader?

So there I am, sitting in Ms. Smith's second grade classroom today on my volunteer time. She is talking about "a" and "an". I'm smiling.

"So, if you have the words 'excited chipmunk', would you use 'a' or 'an'.?" Still smiling. I knew the answer.
One boy raises his hand. "You would use 'an'."
Ms. Smith: "That's right. Do you know why?"
Little boy: "Because it sounds good." Everyone laughs. My smile is starting to slip, because that is my answer too.
Ms. Smith: "That's true, but it is 'an' because the first letter of the next word is a vowel. If it were a consonant it would be 'a'." If you look closely, my smile is still there, but it looks just a little plastered-on at this point.

I did not know that.
Seriously. Probably every other writer out there knows that rule, but I must have missed that week in second grade because I swear that this is the first time I have heard this interesting piece of information. I hate it when my kids' teachers ask me a grammar or spelling question for the simple reason that I probably don't know the answer.

I'm thinking that this doesn't completely doom my career as a writer. I view myself as more of a conduit for ideas than a putter-together-of-words. My spelling stinks and my grammar is worse. I only learned to spell grammar correctly recently. I do try to pick up things as I go, but I apologize in advance to anyone who has to work with me. Thank God for spellcheck, hands-on agents, critiquers with an English background and editors.

On this date: In 1919 the Grand Canyon was designated as a National Park.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Difference Between A Writer's Retreat and Disneyland

Both are fun and both are better when attended with friends but there is one major difference:

Apparently, most writers run on caffeine so there was an ample supply of coffee at every venue (unlike Disneyland). God bless juiced up writers.

Yes, I finally got to go to the writer's retreat at Asilomar in Monterey this weekend. It rocked. The retreat center is right on the beach with different "houses" complete with Julia Morgan designs, wood paneling and fireplaces.

The weather on Friday was okay, but by Saturday, the rain was pelting, the wind was blowing and the sea was roiling - perfect weather for sitting up half the night talking to Cassandra, Linda Joy, Meg, Pam and all the rest of the amazing writers who came for the weekend.
Paul Fleischman was there and he gave a wonderful talk about using your childhood (and lots of clippings from the newspaper) for story ideas. I've found a new way to get my kids to behave. "If you don't XX right now, I'm not bringing you a signed copy of Weslandia!"

If you ever get to hear Patricia Polacco speak, don't go without an ample supply of kleenex or nice soft sleeves. Sniff. She had the whole room laughing and crying at the same time. She walked us through this book:

...and when she was done toying with our emotions, she says "So, would you guys like to see the actual quilt?" Um, yeah. She brought it out from a little bag and showed it to everyone in the room. It was like seeing the Shroud of Turin - you could have heard a pin drop.

David Schwartz gave a talk that made math exciting (still not sure how he did that) and uber agent Andrea Brown gave it to us straight about thinking commercially when we're writing our books. Patricia got up after her and said, "Now, I like that woman. She knows what she's talking about."

Except for the whole lack of sleep thing (for which I blame Cassandra entirely), it was a perfect weekend. I'm already on board for next year.

On this date: In 1964, Cassius Clay knocked out Sonny Liston.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Leaf Gatherers Anonymous

My name is Fat Stanley and I have a leaf problem.

See, there's this loquat tree in my backyard.

Every night while my people are sleeping, I go to the tree and get the big leaves that fall down underneath and bring them to the same spot in the dining room. Sometimes I just get one or two....

Some nights I get seven or eight.

You see, these leaves are so much easier to catch than pesky mice or lizards, and my people seem to appreciate them because they pick them up and save them in a big round bin. Every night I bring them more.

And then I go to sleep.

On this date: In 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Oh What A Night

I bought the CD of Jersey Boys when my dad and I went to see the play a few months back. It has stayed in the car ever since, and now both boys know the entire thing by heart. They even know the snippets of dialogue that are between the tracks. As my seven year old was belting out the words to Oh What A Night yesterday in the car on the way to gym I started wondering if it was entirely healthy. Not only are they singing (loudly) about a guy losing his virginity, but they know most of Frankie Valli and the Four Season's hits. Will that damage their street cred if word gets around?

On this date: In 1962, John Glenn orbits the earth.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Tricked By Find And Replace

Some of you may remember my struggles with MS Word's "find and replace" feature in the past. Did I learn? Nooooo.

Sometimes my characters rebel against their given names and I am forced to change them in the manuscript. It happened again last night - apparently Matt wanted to be called Josh, and who am I to argue with him (particularly since he has those dreamy brown eyes)? I went to "Find: Matt" and" Replace with Josh". It did occur to me that there were a lot more replacements than I thought there would be, but I wasn't sure why until I came to the following sentence: "It doesn't Josher," I said, looking at my watch. Yeah, I know. ANY word with "matt" in it got replaced. It took me over an hour to fix it (and I'm still not sure I got them all).

On this date: In 1847, the Donner Party was rescued.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Best Candy Bar Ever!

Shown is the Simultaneous Submissions Pack.

On this date: In 1965, Canada adopts the maple leaf flag. Eh?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Be My Valentine

Robin over at Discomermaids had a blogpost today about first crushes that was so cute and got me thinking about my boys.

My ten-year old officially has no crushes and doesn't plan to have any in the near future. My seven year old is apparently way ahead of his time. We had this conversation walking home from school today:

Me: "So, did you give K her special valentine?"
T: "Yes" (Dimples flashing.)
Me: "Did she notice that it was special?" (It had extra stickers and was the only one in his class that was personalized.)
T: "I don't know! I'm not going to tell her that I like her until I know for sure that she likes me."
Me: "So how are you going to find out?"
T: "I have a plan."
Me: "Do you now?"
T: "Yes. I have it all worked out with Maddie. I'm going to sit on one bench at recess and Maddie is going to take K to sit at a bench around the corner. That way, she will think I'm still sitting on that one bench. Then I'm going to sneak up around the corner so that I can hear what they are saying and Maddie is going to ask her if she likes me. That way I'll know for sure."
Me: "Sounds like a good plan."

I'm not too worried really, as the K in question has for the second year in a row invited him to her birthday party - the only boy invited. Plus, we're talking second grade here, and I don't think it goes much farther than "I like you, do you like me?"

It all did get me thinking though about what I was going to say when they really get their heart broken - or worse, break someone else's heart. I'm going to have to brush up on that chapter in the parent handbook.

On this date: In 1929, Penicillin was discovered.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Karma Kids

Don't be lulled into thinking you've finally gotten the upper hand on a good night sleep. Don't work until 12:09 in the morning, ripping through three chapters of your new YA, smirking at the thought that you're still going to get almost seven hours of sleep, and that's pretty good. Don't take some Nyquil and then top it off with a little Robitussin insurance to make sure that this hacking cough won't keep you up all night again. Nope, this time you are going to get a solid seven hours. Don't spread out in the giant king sized bed with the wonderful new Egyptian flannel sheets that you have all to yourself because DH is on the other side of the world on business because tonight you're going to get a nice, quiet seven hours sleep. Don't put the fact that you only have two more days to write four web articles on a tight deadline behind you. You aren't going to let that keep you up tonight - nope, tonight you sleep. Because if you do....

...that's when your eyes will pop open at 2:36 am and your mind will race, wondering if that noise you heard was one of the kids. Yes, there it goes again, a plaintive little cry from the bathroom. Mo-om! There you will find one of your children hunched over the toilet, puking his guts out and shivering from a headache and fever. After countless hours sitting on the cold bathroom tile with his head in your lap, you finally maneuver him back into bed and then climb in beside him. After all, somebody has to hold the bucket.

Ah, well. Sleep is vastly overrated.

On this date: In 1898 the U.K. had its first auto fatality.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Early Spring

I have nothing interesting to say today, so I took a photo of the daffodils blooming in the front yard. Enjoy!
On this date: In 1999, President Clinton was acquitted.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Aha Delirium

I caught some sort of creeping crud from one of the millions of kids that hang out at my house and I feel like garbage. There is an upside, however.

At 2:35 a.m., all doped up on Nyquil and Advil, I was getting up for the seventh time to blow my nose when there was this voice in my head that I immediately recognized as the main character for my new book. All she said was: "She's the mayor, you idiot." Right. How could I have been so stupid? I hadn't even really been concentrating on the mom in the story, but somewhere back there I must have been wondering how to raise her stakes. And now I know - she's the mayor!

The only downside was that at the same time, my brain concocted the most perfect sentence in the world - no need to change it, it was beautiful and held the entire story in a scant few words. I didn't write it down because in my medicinal fog I was sure I'd remember it - it was so perfect, how could I not.? Of course, now I don't even remember what it was about. But, she definitely is the mayor.

Two ounce cups of Nyquil all around!

On this date: In 1992, Alex Haley died.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

It's Done!!!!

Whoo Hoo! Excuse me while I happy dance all over the room.

Okay, I'm back. I finished the first draft of my YA last night and that lets me breathe a big sigh of relief. I'm finding that I'm the "get the cra**y first draft down and then go back and make it pretty" sort of writer. When you're working on the first draft, it's like the ideas for the book are floating around as big soap bubbles and if you can't catch them fast enough and commit them to paper (or laptop as it were), they will float away and be gone forever at which time you are saddled with a half finished MS and no idea where it's going.

Now at least there is a beginning, a middle, and an ending and I can go back and make it pretty. I have a whole notebook full of cryptic notes like "make sure you put the slippers in somewhere in the first fifty pages". This is the part I like best - revision!

I can't wait to tell you what the book is about, but it's going to have to wait until things have solidified. It's pretty cool though. Makes a good "elevator pitch" if I do say so.

Back to work.

On this date: In 1964, the Beatles arrive in New York.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Mouths of Babes...

Picked up T at school and headed straight for the polling place yesterday. Of course, up until last year, my polling place WAS at the school which would have been insanely convenient, but the wisdom of the powers that be has now moved it across town. No matter, we were not deterred.

Unusual for me, I was still undecided on the big issue as we walked into the polling place. Apparently, the election has been getting a lot of play in second grade and T had his own opinions. I let him come in the booth with me, because I wanted him to see how it was all done.

Me (whispering): "See, you just make a mark like this across the number and that means you choose this one. These are called propositions."
T (also whispering, although as it was 2pm, the place was pretty empty): "How come you're doing that so fast?"
Me: "Because I already know how I'm going to vote before I get here. You get a big booklet to read."
T: "Oh, so it's like homework."
Me: "Right. You have to do your homework."
T: "So are you going to vote for Barak or Hillary?"
Me: "I like them both. What do you think?"
T: "I think Hillary. We've never had a woman president before and that would be neat."
Me: "Well, we've never had a brown president before, and that would be pretty neat."
T (thinking about it for a second): "Yeah, but he's still a man so it wouldn't be all that different."

Touche. I even let him wear the "I voted" sticker for the rest of the day.

On a side note: my DH who is Nigerian and married to me who is not, always comments about Barak being called Black. Does this mean that his white mother is just an asterisk? That he a fully-formed from his father's ribcage?

Ten year old J asked me a few weeks ago what Barak was. I told him he was just like them - half African and half American. Why then, he asked, does everyone say he's Black when he's really biracial? I didn't have the heart to tell him that he's not Black enough for a lot of the Black voters and he's not White enough for the white voters, so I just said that it was because the media is stupid. He's biracial already. We call it brown around here.

On this date: In 1891, the Dalton Gang commits their first train robbery.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Travelblog Unplugged

I spent the entire weekend with no laptop, no cell phone (which really isn't that much of a stretch, as I never have it on anyway) and no internet access. We decided to head up to Yosemite which is about 3 1/2 hours drive from our house. We were hoping there would be snow - and there was. I love going there in winter because it isn't crowded and the scenery is amazing.

And then it started to snow. And snow. And snow. We woke up to a winter wonderland.

And then we had to dig our car out ....

But at least we weren't these people:

The most wonderful part of yesterday was that once we were done frolicking in the snow, we got into our car and drove out of the valley, leaving the snow behind in about 20 minutes. I seriously don't know how you cold-climate people do it every day. Seriously.

On this date: In 1789, George Washington is elected the first US President.