Monday, December 29, 2008

Ta Da!

Thanks to Amy and Justin at Stonecreek Media, I now have a real live website! Check it out at As weird as it was to put up a whole website just about little old me, I think it's pretty cool.


On this date: In 1936, Mary Tyler Moore was born.

Monday, December 22, 2008

O' Christmas Tree

I think the favorite part of the holidays for our family is decorating the tree (okay, second favorite part for two of us). Our tree doesn't have any plain ball ornaments on it because there isn't any room - and because our tree is one of those that you drag out of the garage every year, it's not getting any bigger.

Opening the ornament box is like opening a time capsule every year. Every ornament tells a story and brings back a flood of memories.

(Note the foster kitten at the bottom about to pounce on a present)

Like the elf "me" that I would put on the tree every year as a kid. My mom found it and sent it to me a couple of years ago and to me, it's one of the best things on the tree.

And no tree is complete without a black Santa. This is one of J's favorites.

What mom can resist preschool homemade ornaments?

Or the ornament we got at the Tower of London one year.

I always thought this was Frosty the Snowman, but I've been told recently that it is actually Santa Claus. Who knew?

This one is from the first Christmas that DH and I were living together.

And this one is from J's first Christmas. Every year, Santa brings them an ornament of something that they are into that year. Telletubbies ruled in 1997.

Dr. Seuss. Enough said.

Mom got this because it bore a striking resemblance to my dreadlocked DH at the time.

If I don't see you, have a lovely holiday, whatever your flavor.

On this date: In 1949, two-thirds of the Bee Gees were born.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Good Holiday Read

I just finished a fun little book that was a collaboration of three of my favorite YA authors:

It's the story of one snowy night written by three different characters who all sort of come together at a Starbucks in the end. V. cute and totally appropriate for any teen or tween on your list. As I was reading I was thinking how much fun it would be to write something like this with other authors. As soon as I get some books under my belt I should get on it - Jay, Robin, Eve? Ya wanna do a foursome?

On this date: In 1937, Jane Fonda was born.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

All I Want for Christmas

Me: That's a nice bow you've got on your head.
T: That's 'cause I'm your present.
Me: Awesome. I've always wanted one.
T: You don't even know what I am.
Me: Okay, what are you?
T: I'm a hug machine.
Me: A hug machine?
T: Yeah. See how I work? (Demonstrates)
Me: I was right. I did always want one. Let's see that again.

On this date: In 1843, A Christmas Carol is published.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Done...for now

It was still technically the 15th on the West Coast when I sent my revision to my editor, so I'm counting that as on time. Yes, I did get it done and fairly painlessly, my pissing and moaning notwithstanding. This one was easy - it's the last one that is going to be hard. This time around, I know I have another chance. MK is going to write all over it in pencil and pop sticky notes in the margins and send it back to me for at least one more go round. I still have another chance. The revision that is giving me nightmares is the last one - the one where, once I turn it in goes to copyediting and then on to the printer to be set in stone for ever and ever. Ack!

On another note, it turns out that Clarion is going to make posters of this cover:

It is going to have a time zone map on the back to encourage schools and libraries to get a copy. Whoo hooo! Do you think it will be too obnoxious to plaster my car with these? Put one on the front door? Hmmm...

On this date: In 1775, Jane Austin was born.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


I love Tivo. I originally got it for my hubby as a gift, but it has become my best friend. I tend to work from about 8-midnight or so, and I would miss all of my shows (CSI:Vegas - Miami and NY are cheap imitations, What Not to Wear and endless reruns of Two and a Half Men) if it weren't for the bedoop bedoop magic of the Tivo.

As we were bedooping through the commercials last night, I started to wonder if they still impregnated their message on your brain. Just because they are going by at lightening speed, doesn't mean we aren't taking them in. Even though I only sat through seven seconds of a thirty-second commercial, did the message still take? Do you have to actually look away from the thing not to be affected in your subconscious?

These are the questions that keep me up at night.

On this date: In 1928, An American in Paris debuted.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bad, Bad Blogger

I've been shirking my blogging duties lately and I apologize. I don't have any good excuse except I'm F-R-E-A-K-I-N-G out about so many things. My revisions on the novel are due on Monday and I'm at the point where I'm not sure if I've gone far enough, if the themes are strong enough, if the character comes away with the right attitude...basically feeling like I want to scrap it and start all over. I think that is stage 4.5 in the revisions process (see post of November 26th if you have no idea what I'm talking about). Luckily I get at least one more go at it sometime in January.

I'm also working on a website and doing that thing that I always do when I try to decide what to be. I just get settled on one type of website - the look, the feel, the tone of the whole thing when I see someone else's website that is TOTALLY different and think, how cool - I should do mine that way. I think that if I make any more changes my web designer is going to reach through my laptop and strangle me into unconsciousness.

Things should be back to holiday-normal next week and if the gods are smiling on me I'll be less frantic. But I doubt it.

On this date: In 1936, Edward VIII abdicates the English throne.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Art and Real Life

Most of you know that my new YA Dirty Little Secrets is about hoarding, specifically about a girl who has lived in a hoarded house for most of her life. My 'elevator pitch' for the book is: When 16 year old Lucy comes home to find her mother dead under a stack of National Geographics, she has to decide how far she'll go to keep the family secrets safe. I got the idea for the book from reading a magazine article about adult children of hoarders and how they grew up. I made up the 'dead mother' angle, because I needed a story to go along with the situation.

There was a story in yesterday's NBC Los Angeles that shows that nothing is fiction anymore(thanks to Lindsey for the link):

Elderly Woman's Mummified Body Found in NoHo Home

Updated 6:31 AM PST, Thu, Dec 4, 2008

Related Topics: North Hollywood | Hamilton

Authorities say the mummified body of an elderly woman -- possibly dead for a year -- was found in a trash-filled North Hollywood home where she had been living with her adult son.

Watch Video

Police are learning more about a woman whose mummified remains turned up this week inside her home in the San Fernando Valley.

More Details Learned in Mummified Body Case


Officers were sent to the residence in the 6700 block of Vantage Avenue on Monday evening, said Officer Julianne Sohn of the Los Angeles Police Department's Media Relations office.

The Daily News quoted neighbors as saying that 48-year-old Robert Hunt lived in the home with his mother, Barbara, who is listed as the owner and who would be 86 if alive. Police do believe it is her body. Although it's not clear why Hunt never notified authorities of his mother's death, he is not a criminal suspect in his mother's death, police later said.

The mummified remains of what appears to have been the man's mother were found in a barricaded back bedroom, the newspaper reported.

"We found the remains of an adult; we were not able to identify who that individual was," LAPD Lt. Alan Hamilton of the North Hollywood Station told the newspaper.

"I can tell you it was in female clothes, old lady clothes," Hamilton said. "We guess that the time of death was at least one year (ago)."

Police said they went to the home after being contacted by a mortgage broker who said the residence would revert to the bank at midnight Monday after going through foreclosure.

Robert Hunt was at the scene when police went to the home and was interviewed but was not arrested. No homicide investigation was started, Hamilton said, but the case was forwarded to elder abuse investigators.

Neighbors described Barbara Hunt as a woman who used a wheelchair and who rarely left her house. Neither she nor her son had taken out their trash in 30 years, despite court orders to do so, the neighbors said.

Besides the trash and debris, dozens of cats also lived in the house.

Interesting and very sad. I like to think that I do justice to people in this situation with the book, but reading real life stories about hoarding puts even more pressure on me to get it right.

On this date: In 1991, hostage Terry Anderson is released in Lebanon.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Outta My Head

Yesterday afternoon I was in a real funk-emotional and a little weepy tinged with unexplained excitement. I swear I could not figure out what was wrong. And then, as I was walking to pick up T from school, I figured it out and it was all my main character's fault.

Between Thanksgiving and now 'conference scheduling' (which means 1 week of short days and lots more bonding time with my son and his friends) I haven't been able to work on my manuscript the way I usually do. Most days, if I'm writing fiction, I like to ease into it like a hot tub on a winter's day...check out my writing buddies' blogs, read over a few chapters before I actually get down to business. With all of the craziness and only a few hours to work every day I've had to dive right in.

Yesterday, I dove into my favorite part - the last few chapters. That has a 'first kiss' scene (yes, there is romance in a hoarding book) that still leaves me all tingly and an ending where I'm cranking up the emotion by a lot. I really got into the smell and feel of the scenes and it left me a little spent. As I walked up to school, I realized that I was feeling all of the emotions that my main character was feeling and that she was totally in my head.

Weepy or not, that's a good thing, right?

On this date: In 1967, the first human heart transplant.

Friday, November 28, 2008

For No Reason...

...other than this picture sort of sums up the season for me. T LOVES to go to the next door neighbor's house and help with their baby. I happened to be passing by the window the other night and caught him feeding her in their dining room.

I'm thankful for great kids, a wonderful husband and fabulous neighbors, friends and family.

On this date: In 1925, the Grand Ole Opry debuts.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Five Stages of Revising

I'm at that point in my novel revisions where everything is crap. Every sentence seems contrived, the main character is shallow and setting...what setting?

I would be plunged into total despair, except that I recognize this as stage three of the revisions process. I've decided to list the five stages of revising so that when I reach stage four and want to toss the whole thing in the shredder I might feel a glimmer of hope.


1. Unabashed optimism. This is the stage where you get that bubble-envelope in the mail, read over the editors comments and realize that you don't have all that much work to do. After all, your project was pretty much perfect when you sent it in, so what's a little tweaking?

2. Creeping dread. As you dive into the revisions process, you start to read between the lines of your editorial letter. What does "explore this further with a deeper level of complexity" mean exactly?

3. Craptastic. This stage lifts the veil from your eyes and you see how bad the whole thing really is. You read other people's books and realize that your work is never going to come near that in terms of prose and characters. Basically, it stinks. It is at this point that you consider rewriting the entire thing in third person to see if that will help.

4. Deconstruction. In this stage, you will lay all of the pages out on the dining room table, the floor, the bed and every other horizontal surface to try and rearrange them in some sort of meaningful order. Why in the world did you put Chapter 3 before the point where she meets the guy? Stupid. It obviously has to come after. But that affects the relationship with the best friend, so the last half of Chapter 5 has to come before the first half of your new Chapter 3. At this point, your editorial letter is tattered and stained with coffee rings and tears of frustration.

5. Resignation. Your due date is looming and the manuscript is a mess. As the hours tick closer and closer you just try to cobble the thing back together so that the narrative makes some sort of sense. As you're skimming it for blatant spelling errors, you read that one sentence on page 127 that rings so true and so right that you allow yourself to think that it might have a few redeeming qualities after all. Maybe the editor will get it and be able to salvage something of the original idea and they won't cancel your contract and ask for the advance money back. Maybe.

In the end, you finish up this process with the knowledge that in a few weeks, you'll get another bubble-mailer with another print out and another editorial letter. And off you go for round two. See #1.

On this date: In 1922, Charles M. Schulz was born.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Zen Shorts For the Rest of Us

J, 8:53pm: "Mom, when does west stop being west and start being east?"

On this date: In 1888, Harpo Marx was born.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Yay Julie!

The day started with my usual perusal of my favorite blogs, and when I got to the famous
Fuse #8 I started jumping up and down. Not only did Ms. Bird feature my friend and crit partner (and cute - Ms. Bird says so herself) Julie Phillipps who just got a copy of her fab new book:

but she posted an image of the cover and all but guaranteed a good review! Julie has a fan in Fuse #8. Yay Julie! I'm so getting a signed copy when this comes out and I suggest that you all do the same. Not only is Julie a great writer, but she does all of her own illustrations - mostly cut paper. Amazing and utterly unfair.

Now that I've been at this awhile, I'm starting to see writer friends around the blogosphere, recognize their books at bookstores and read about them in writerly pubications...which brings me to my next question: When can you say you know someone? It used to be, that it wasn't such a difficult question. You knew when you knew someone, but now, not so clear.

I've decided to redefine knowing as I know it. Posting on someones blog, or having a back and forth in a forum thread does NOT count as knowing someone. Meeting them briefly at a conference or chatting as they sign your book also NOT knowing them (bummer - I don't really KNOW John Green or M.T. Anderson, as much as I'd like to think I do). Even having the same agent doesn't count as knowing someone, although it gets you much closer. Friending them on Facebook is a little fuzzy and has to be defined by your actual real-life relationship.

In my new definition, you can say you know someone when you've exchanged meaningful private emails back and forth. You can know someone without ever meeting them, especially if you are in an online critique group together. Some of my closest friends I've never met as they live on the other side of the country, but we've shared our rawest, roughest first drafts with each other and if that isn't KNOWING someone, then I don't know what is.

All of this isn't really going to help me when I'm in a bookstore with J and he picks up a book and asks if I know the author. Well, kinda...

On this date: In 1962, Jodi Foster was born. I don't KNOW her.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Excuses, Excuses

I've been a little lax on the blog lately, and I blame this:

My wonderful editor Mary Kate sent back my (5 page, single spaced) revision letter and manuscript for Dirty Little Secrets with some great suggestions. Now all I have to do is take those suggestions, turn them into brilliance and get the whole thing back to her in a few short weeks. No problem.

On this date: In 1978, the mass suicide at Jonestown.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Words to Live By

"Sometimes it's painful being 'it'."

On this date: In 1956, Elvis' first movie Love Me Tender opens.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

It's Here!

I got a fabulous package from my editor yesterday - the cover and beautiful pages for my picture book! (See it at a store near you on July 20th.) I can't post the pages, but if you come over for a cup of coffee I'll show 'em to you.

On this date: In 1968, my sis was born - Happy BDay W!!!!

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Stick

Late last week, the National Toy Hall of Fame entered the lowly stick as their newest exhibit. This was particularly timely for us as an example of news imitates life (or is it the other way around?).

T did what he usually does at his brother's soccer game on Saturday - wandered aimlessly around the field. Except this time, he came away with a treasure - the perfect stick.

He embellished the perfect stick with a pirate skull and crossbones just so that nobody would mistake this for an ordinary stick and throw it away or burn it in their fireplace. I had to take a picture of it while he was in the shower, because otherwise it has been in his possession ever since.

For those of you non-violent types out there who tsk tsk the whole gun-thing - I'm betting you don't have small boys. They are indeed a different breed. I learned this when my oldest was about 5. We went to a friend's birthday party in Berkeley (If you don't know how Berkeley is, then never mind. If you do, well then you know what I mean.) in a very non-violent household. No guns, no Nerf, no electronic toys. So what did this group of 8 little boys do? They went into the bedroom, made guns out of Legos and ran through the house shooting each other and falling over in very loud, very dramatic death throes.

I draw the line at mature video games, gory movies and realistic-looking weapons (they do all of those things at their friend's houses). But if a kid is going to make the best gun in the world out of a stick he found at the soccer field, I'm not going to take it away. Plus, the price was right.

On this date: In 1969, Sesame Street debuted.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

MT Anderson

Last evening, J and I drove into San Francisco to see him speak at Not Your Mother's Book Club (although as I was there, for J it actually WAS Your Mother's Book Club - but I digress):

He was great and very friendly. J had tried to read the first volume of Octavian Nothing, but it can be slow going for a sixth grader, so he read Burger Wuss instead. Mr. Anderson read the first chapter of Octavian to the group and I saw J's eyes light up. He leaned over to me and said: "Wow, it makes so much more sense when he reads it out loud".

As we got him to sign this:

Mr. Anderson graciously agreed to come to our house at book time and read this out loud chapter by chapter. Just a reminder in case he's checking this blog - book time is at 8:15 sharp. Jammies are recommended, and hot vanilla will be served if you're good.

On this date: In 1860, Abraham Lincoln is elected President.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


The White House will never be the same. The best part was watching the returns, and then his eye-tearing speech with my own half African, half American boys. It really can happen.

On this date: In 2008, the world woke up to a new sense of hope. Yes we did.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Take Your Child to Vote Day

One of this best things about this historic voting day has been sharing it with my kids. DH took T to the polls first thing this morning and I took J right after school. I let him fill in the box for President and he was so pleased I thought he would burst. The cafe around the corner is having an Election Returns party and we're all going to head over there this evening, hopefully to celebrate a new era for the country in so many ways.

Now we just watch and wait...

On this date: In 1922, King Tut's tomb is discovered.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Agent E sent me my contract on Friday and I had the pleasure of signing it and sending it off today - all 12 pages of it! It makes it even more real to be the "author" of "the work" named herein over and over again. I made a comment about a part of it to Agent E and she laughed and said "You read it?" "Of course I read it," I told her, but the part I didn't tell her was that I only read it to see how many author copies I was going to get. Let's just say that unless you are an immediate family member or someone I owe a lot of money to, you're going to have to buy your own. I'll sign it for you though...

One thing that came to mind as I waded through the publishing legalease was how grateful I was to have an agent. She had made several changes in earlier versions that would never have occurred to me (actually I didn't even understand them, so I wouldn't have known about what I didn't know about).

If any of you out there are wondering if you really need an agent, answer is unequivocally YES!

On this date: In 1956, The Wizard of Oz debuted on TV.

Friday, October 31, 2008


On this date: In 1892, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is published.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halloween in the Hood

A lot of my neighbors really get into Halloween - lots of decorations, some of them kinda scary...

And of course, every neighborhood needs their own haunted house. This one is right next to the elementary school and every year they spend weeks decorating.

We take a stab at some decor...

But this, hands down, is my favorite piece. Next year, I'm going to find out where to get them and buy a whole flock for the front yard:

On this date: In 1938, Orson Welles broadcasts War of the Worlds.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

One of Those Days

It's been one of those days where right now is the first time the tushy has had contact with chair all day. I drove on a third grade field trip today, forgetting at the time that it was one of those all-day affairs. This was my second time on this particular field trip, and I suddenly remembered that it wasn't one of those sit-back-and-be-entertained trips, oh no. Parents had to help with the fieldtrippin' learning process. Okay, deep sigh, but I'll get the freelance work done later.

Except that later, DH tells me that he has a conference call with Hong Kong (yeah, he the kind of job that requires lot of conference calls to Hong Kong, or Egypt or Rotterdam) and I would have to take T to soccer practice. The only time we had between school-fieldtrip and soccer practice was taken up with scooping the guts out of unsuspecting pumpkins because Halloween was a'comin and we didn't have any other time between now and then.

After an hour of sitting on the sidelines and freezing the aforementioned tushy almost off, we made a quick dash to the taqueria for burritos, because cooking dinner just did not fit in there anywhere. DH was on yet ANOTHER conference call after dinner, so I had to sit and listen to T read for half an hour before bed.

It was while I was sitting on his bed, arm wrapped around my eight year-old that I noticed how small his hands are. I can still wrap my entire hand around his little one, and I realized that in just a year or two his hand would be as big as mine, and these little, quiet moments would be over. Right then, he stopped reading, leaned up against me and said "Thanks for coming on the field trip today." I gave up.

This is why we budget and work around my spotty freelance career and even spottier book sales - so I can go and kill an entire day with 20 third graders learning about the history of our little town (I got to run the mock-bucket brigade). So what if I have to stay up until 1am to meet my Friday deadline? I got to go on a field trip, gut pumpkins, watch a soccer scrimmage and listen to my kid read a book. I can't imagine time better spent.

On this date: In 1929, the Stock Market crashed.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Don't Adjust Your Monitors...

It's not you, it's me. I haven't been blogging lately because I felt like I didn't have much to say. My BFF called me up to ask if it was her computer acting up or something, which made me feel a little bad about it, but no sense mucking up the web-waves with drivel if I've got nothing interesting to post about.

I now have things to say because I got to go to a SCBWI conference over the weekend, and - even better - hang out with the amazingly wonderful Agent E for the better part of TWO DAYS! She's lucky that she lives so far away, otherwise I'd be making batches of chocolate chip cookies to bring over just to give me an excuse to hang out with her. I hope to make that woman a lot of money some day because she deserves it.

Agent E actually braved dinner over here at the house, and I think she gets now why I hesitated at first. Even with the boys on their best behavior, it's...frenetic in this place. You can't have a conversation because everyone else is begging for attention, I'm all distracted and trying to keep the plates in the air (sometimes literally) and even the dog is in your face with his disgustingly damp toy bear. God bless her, she didn't even blink when T started climbing the dining room door molding until he could touch the ceiling.

The conference was awesome, editors Julie Romeis and Gretchen Hirsch spoke and were informative and adorable. Erin's talk was fab, even though she actually used my query letter as an example (of what to do, thank God) which was really weird, in a nice way. By the end of it, she had everyone in the place wishing she was their agent, and all I could think was "Can you believe she picked ME!" Andrea Brown Agent Jennifer Laughran was hilarious - if you ever get a chance to hear her speak, jump on it. She's so passionate and blunt about kidlit and YA in particular - we were wiping away tears of laughter when she was done.

I think the best part of the day was at the first break when I found myself standing next to Jennifer Laughren outside the theater. I'd met her once at an event at her bookstore in SF (Books Inc. in Opera Plaza - M.T. Anderson is coming on Nov. 5, and J and I are going), so I started to introduce myself again, but before I could finish, she looked at me over her glasses and said "I know who you are" (helped no doubt by the big white nametag stuck to my left breast). I stuttered a bit and said, yes, that I'd been to a bookstore event, and she gave me that look and said again "I know who you are." I hafta say, it was awesome. For the first time, I felt like one of the cool kids. Jen Laughren knew who I was. Awesome.

I went with the intention of finding a writing buddy - not so much to write with as to kvetch with - and I did! My sometimes Berkeley friend Heather Mackey was there, and we had such a great time together that we swore we're going to get together more than twice a year. She has a book coming out with Bloomsbury in 2009 about werewolves that is going to be great.

I was listening to Erin speak when the most perfect book dedication in the world came rushing into my head. I quickly wrote it down, and today it still looks perfect. Too bad all of you will have to wait until Spring 2010 to read it!

On this date: In 1955, Rebel Without A Cause opened.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Race Card

I found it! After hearing all this talk about the race card, someone actually sent it to me. The illustrious school district to be exact. Here it is (don't adjust your eyes, it's a little crooked):

My favorite part is that they ask for a Primary Ethnicity - and you can only choose one. Me being me, of course I called the Assistant Director of Research and Program Evaluation down at the school district and left a message asking him which parent should be secondary - me or my husband? As he hasn't called me back, I'm assuming he doesn't have a good answer.

Our community has a large number of biracial and multiracial kids of every possible combination. This just goes to show that the government is still choosing to ignore the fact that for many people there is no primary identity. They insist on collecting the information so that they can divide test scores along racial lines, except that no matter how I answer this, it will be wrong. In the past, I've always put "declined to state", but that is no longer an option.

Our next president has the same basic genetic background as my boys. Despite the fact that his mother was white, he's still almost universally classified as black. No matter what the talking heads say, race will play a big part in this election. I heard a woman interviewed on the news today say: "I'm not voting for that black guy because he doesn't believe in the flag." Uh huh.

My kids are varying shades of tan and they identify with both my husband and I equally. Maybe sometime in the next four years the government will get it through their thick heads that for my kids and many others, identity means only one thing: American.

As an aside: I also heard a (different) woman on the news today respond to someone who said they couldn't vote for a black man with : "Well, he's half black and half white. Go ahead and vote for the white half."

On this date: In 1882, Bela Lugosi is born.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Darwinian Halloween

There's always a fight around Halloween. We need to find the delicate middle ground between my need to avoid the ewww factor and my adolescent's need to be scary. This year, I let him get this mask:

Which he is planning to wear with a thrift-store suit and a purple velvet hat, so I'm not entirely sure what the idea is. My favorite part was the warning that came on the tag:

"If the holes need to be enlarged, trim the mask with a sharp pair of scissors. DO NOT TRIM MASK WHILE WEARING IT. Do not wear mask while: Driving, Smoking, Sleeping, Swimming."

On this date: In 1951, I Love Lucy premiered.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Thousand Words

I was going through some old photos over the weekend, and came across this - one of the favorite photos from my childhood. Not for how great I look (I'm the one in the blue sweatshirt), but for what I remember about it.

It was taken on Cape Cod in 1973. That's my cousin Billy holding the fish, my cousins Laurie and Suzie, my sister and my Uncle Scott in the background (he's the big one). Check out the look of awe on our faces and the look of absolute, positive determination on Billy's.

Billy woke up that morning and decided that he was going to catch a fish. We played, picked blueberries, swam in the pond and jumped off the dock, but he would have nothing to do with it. He had a fish to catch. He sat by the side of the water with his pole all dang day, until we started to tease him about wasting his time. Right as the sun went down and the entire day was wasted, there was a tug on his line and voila, Billy's fish.

I like to think I learned a lot about perseverance that day. I don't remember what happened to the fish - if we ate it, or if it got thrown back - but it sure made a heck of a moment and one heck of a photo.

Here's a shout out to the Billies of the world.

On this date: In 1959, Marie Osmond was born.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Location, Location, Location

I've been plugging away on my new book, but I hadn't really been 'feeling it'. It's been going okay, and I'm up to Chapter 3, which isn't bad for a week's work - but it's been tough. I never really got into the groove of the thing. And now I know why - I was working in the wrong place.

Apparently, all freelance work (and I have a new freelance job - even pays better than the last one, yay!) has to take place here:

And all fiction/fun work has to take place here:

Swap places and all heck breaks loose. Now that I know, I won't mess it up again.

On this date: In 1940, John Lennon was born.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Last Minute Panic

My picture book When It's Six O'clock in San Francisco is in proofs and about to be printed. It's a book that shows what other kids are doing all over the world when it's six o'clock in SF. Like when it's six o'clock in San Francisco, it's 2 o'clock in London and kids are playing soccer at school I have only seen a couple of pages of the art, but I got the galleys with the words to check way back in May of last year. Crossed that to-do off the list, and now all I had to do was wait and see the final printed product. Or was it?

My fab editor over at Clarion sent me a bone-chilling email yesterday - there was an error in the book. All of a sudden, the time for one of the countries was off by an hour. How can that be? I doubletriplequadruple checked it, along with the copy editor. We were about to go to print, so any major changes now were going to be mucho expensive and not appreciated by the publisher. After doing some research, I found out that the government of Argentina, in all its wisdom, decided to adopt daylight savings time starting last December. And they didn't even ask me.

After a few panicky emails (on my part) and a few comforting emails (on her part), we figured out a good solution that worked well for everyone and was also cost effective. A couple of days of uncertainty, but maybe it will make a good anecdote at the book launch.

I may even be able to post a cover in the not-too-distant future.

On this date: In 1982, Cats debuted.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Free Books!

Now this is what I got into the business of writing for: free stuff! The lovely man in brown brought me a surprise package from my editor Mary Kate today. I'm so excited I can hardly stand it. All great titles and I'm in fabulous company at Walker.

Now if everyone would leave me alone long enough to get some reading done...

On this date: In 1847, Jane Eyre is published.

Friday, October 3, 2008


I try to leave the politics to the grownups, but this was just too much awesomeness not to post. It comes from the Picture Book People for Obama. Feel free to copy it, download it and print it.

On this date: In 1995, OJ Simpson was acquitted. He's still out looking for the real killers when he's not in court.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Taking the Plunge

Starting a new book is a lot like diving into a pool that you know is going to be cold. At first, it is a shock to your system, but once you get into the rhythm of it all, it starts to get warmer and easier.

There is a thing in the writing world called NANORIMO (I think I got it right - it stands for National Novel Writing Month). It starts November 1st and the idea is that you get the entire first draft of a book done in a month. I like the idea, but I think the stress would kill me.

I've been putting off actually starting the new book just because once I open a file for it, I have to do 1,000 words per day, even if they're garbage. I decided that October 1st was as good a date as any to start. Until last night at almost midnight when I finally finished my freelance work and started making excuses to myself about why I couldn't possibly start the new book NOW. Heck, it was really late, I was really tired and had had a crazy day what with volunteering, the cross country meet and soccer practice. Guilt (I'm really good at that) finally prevailed, and I opened a new file and started writing. When I closed the computer (yes, it was after 1am) I had a brand spanking new 1,111 words on my story.

I could put pressure on myself and keep a running tally on this blog...but I'm not sure I want to.

On this date: In 1985 Rock Hudson died of AIDS.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Since the premise of my new YA was published in PM last week, I've had a lot of people emailing me about the secret hoarding that has touched their own lives. It seems that almost everyone knows someone who is a hoarder to whatever degree, but almost nobody talks about it. It is estimated to affect over 3 million American families, yet virtually everyone who grows up like this feels they are alone.

In a nutshell, the 'elevator pitch' for my book Dirty Little Secrets goes like this:
When 16 year-old Lucy arrives home to find her mother dead under a pile of National Geographics in their hoarded home, she has to make a snap decision: Does she call 911 and have the family's long-held secret exposed to the world, or does she try to 'fix' the problem before anyone finds out her mother is dead? Over the next 24 hours, Lucy digs in and discovers that everyone has secrets - some are just bigger and dirtier than others. Only she can decide what lengths she will go to to keep the secrets safe.

I'm not a hoarding expert, but in the course of writing the book, I met several people who are. There is a great hoarding community online called the Children of Hoarders. The woman that runs it is amazing and the people who are online have an enormous amount of knowledge about the disorder. They have resource information and what to look for in hoarding behavior. I urge anyone whose life has been touched by hoarding to go to the website. Just reading that you are not alone can be a really cathartic experience, although I warn you, the videos and stories can break your heart.

Squalor Survivors is another great website that can be invaluable in recognizing this disorder. They have a "degree" scale for hoarding, starting with a first degree hoarder who is simply getting behind in household tasks and the piles are starting to interfere with their life. They would be embarrased to let people in, but they would still have people over. The degrees go all the way to a fourth degree hoarder who is under a great deal of stress from the piles and mess that have caused a loss of habitability, loss of household functions such as plumbing or heat and presence of human or animal waste. Lucy's mother was a third degree hoarder.

As I was writing, the focus changed from simply telling an interesting story to making sure I got it right and recognizing the responsibility I had to the hoarding community. With the help of my experts and my new editor, I'm sure we will.

On this date: In 1955, James Dean died at age 24.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Techno Rant

I love technology, don't get me wrong. I can't imagine being a writer without the Internet. Blogs, writer's forums (not to mention my freelance career is entirely web based) and my beloved Google. My first book is set in nine different countries, and although I'd been to a few of the locations, most of them I wrote based on Internet descriptions and photos. Writing that book would have been near to impossible without the Internet.

People who know me know that I don't love my cell phone. Keep it charged, don't forget it, blah blah blah. I hate its insistent ringing when I'm doing something else, like talking to the cashier at the dry cleaners or picking up a book at the library - or listening to award winning author Patricia Polacco speak in a hushed room. Yes, I know you can set it to vibrate, but then I'd forget about it altogether. I always think that for the most part, people can leave me a message and I'll call them back when I get home. I'm not so important it can't wait. When 'the call' came from my agent I was smack in the middle of Target, and she was as surprised as I was that I actually picked up the phone (purely coincidence, I assure you). I couldn't squeal and jump up and down like I wanted to - instead I just hyperventilated until I was dizzy and we had to vacate the premises.

Now there's texting. I so don't get texting. I tried to write a texting scene in my last book, and got some tutoring from the teenager who was working the baseball snack bar with me. It was hopeless, so I just switched the scene to a cell phone. Now, texting while driving is going to be illegal in California. Go Arnold! Finally, a logical piece of legislation. Holding a tiny phone in both hands, pecking away at tiny little keys while steering with your knees and using your peripheral vision to see might be a wee bit dangerous. But wait! I heard on the radio this weekend that they are coming up with technology so that you can continue to text hands-free. That's right, you can call a number, speak into the phone and they will convert your message to text for the recipient. The recipient can do the same thing - they will convert their text to voice so that you can listen to it on your cell phone. Hold on to your hats people, we've had this technology already for several years. It's called the TELEPHONE! Talk to each other already. Sigh.

On this date: In 1907 Gene Autry was born.

Friday, September 26, 2008


I can finally put that in my subject line! Yay! This is the announcement that was in Publisher's Marketplace today:


Cynthia Jaynes Omololu's DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS, in which the garbage-filled world of a 16 year-old girl comes crashing down around her even as she gets her first glimpse of what it might be like to be "normal" rather than living cloaked in the secret shame of her mom's out-of-control hoarding to Mary Kate Castellani at Walker, by Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency (world).

From the minute I got the idea for this book, I loved it. Erin felt the same and never stopped cheering for me, even when I wallowed in angst. I had so much great help from the folks at the Children of Hoarders forum - special shout out to Donna Austin, my wonderful critique partners who gave their all in emergency critiquing and from my fabulous friends and family who never thought I was a joke. You guys rock!

Mary Kate is going to be a wonderful editor, and I can't wait to get started. She ran with the book right from the start, and it's so great to have someone so excited in your corner. So many of the editors who saw the book had such nice things to say that it just goes to show what a great group of people kidlit editors are. I wish I could have worked with all of them.

I have to go toast this news with a strong cup of coffee and get on with my day. Celebrating with champagne and caviar, you might wonder? Nope. Yard duty and soccer practice. Some things never change.

On this date: In 1957, West Side Story opens.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I See Fake People

Those who know me, know that I firmly believe that writing is a power greater than I am. I believe that the stories are already out there fully formed, just waiting to be uncovered and discovered. You try on pieces of the story, and when they're right they click, just like the pieces of a puzzle. Other than being a typist, I often have little to do with it.

The next book that I'm working on contains a lot of opera. I know nothing about opera, so I had coffee this morning with our local opera expert Mark. In a previous discussion, he had given me a few good suggestions, which included naming the secondary character Mimi after the character in La Boheme (which, I swear, I know nothing about). This is how our conversation went this morning:

Me: So I did name her Mimi. Well, that's what everyone calls her anyway. It turns out that her real name is Lydia, but she changed it.
Mark (looking at me funny): Wait, did I tell you the story?
Me: What story? You just suggested that I name her Mimi.
Mark (laughing): In the very first act, Mimi tells Rodolfo that her name is really Lucia, but everyone calls her Mimi.
Me: Huh. I didn't know that. Interesting...

Freakish, yes, but not surprising. Sometimes the fictional people take over my life.

On this date: In 1936, Jim Henson is born.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

King of the Dog Bed

If the Big Hairy Dog ever had delusions that he is the king of the house, they have been dashed recently.

Every time we have a set of kittens who get big enough, they take over his comfy bed and leave him on the hard floor. And every time he goes willingly.

On this date: In 1846, the planet Neptune is discovered.

Monday, September 22, 2008


John Green had a nice post on his blog today containing numerous quotes. I loved them, but it made me even more aware of a major deficiency - I have a memory like a pair of fishnets after Burning Man. Not only can I never remember stellar quotes, I can never remember the name of the person who said it. I read something and I think, God, that is great, I'll remember it for sure. Two minutes later..pftt, it's gone. I keep that great writing quote by E.L. Doctorow on my blog only because I'll lose it otherwise.

The interesting thing is that, like most people, I'm great with lyrics. I just put together a new CD for the car (including my new favorite Pink song, but not - to his chagrin- including some heavy-metal garbage from Psychosocial which is J's current fav) and there I was, singing along to a Smith's song that I haven't heard for 20ish years.

It too, has some quotable moments: And if a double-decker bus, crashes into die by your side is such a heavenly way to die. And if a ten ton truck, kills the both of us, to die by your side, well the pleasure, the privilege is mine. See, I did that from memory. That amazing quote from Maya Angelou (I think it was her) I read in a magazine last night...gone.

Maybe if you hum a few bars, it'll come to me.

On this date: In 1862, Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Note to Self

When a child says he has a stomach ache, don't put him to bed on the top bunk. Vomiting, when done from a height of six feet, has a five-foot splat radius.

On this date: In 1973, Billie Jean King beats Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes

Thursday, September 18, 2008


As a biracial family, we're always on the alert for racial questions, although they come up less often than you might think. I thought we were going there today on the walk to school:

T: You know, even though everybody thinks I'm more you, I'm half you and half Daddy.
Me: That's true...
T: Yeah. Like you know how both you and I are tall and we both wear glasses? Daddy doesn't. And Daddy and I both like tomatoes and spicy foods and you don't. So that makes me half you and half him.

Exactly right.

On this date: In 1960, The Twist hits number one.

Character Soundtracks

For my last book, fabbo Agent E sent me Priscilla Ahn's entire album which helped set the mood for the character. That character had a lot of issues going on and I love listening to the music and think about what she would do in a situation and where she would go.

For the next book I'm about to start (I am about to start actually writing it, I promise), one of the secondary characters picked her own themesong. It's Pink's new one So What. This kid is quite the bada**, and this is the perfect song for her as she rails not against a boyfriend but about all of the people who have let her down in life (and theyr've been a lot). Trouble is, I listen to it so much I can't get it out of my head. Good thing I like it, because it's playing in an endless loop 24 hours a day.

On this date: In 1970, Jimi Hendrix died.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Written in the Stars

This was my horoscope in yesterday's SF Chronicle:

It turns out you're not the apple of someone's eye. Ego-bruising to be sure, but you won't be left hanging for long. You've other takers.

If it's in the newspaper, it must be true.

On this date: In 1965, the Smothers Brothers debuted.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Hit or Miss

I was checking out of the grocery store today (not my usual grocery store, mind you) when the twentysomthing clerk referred to me as "miss". As in, "How are you today Miss?" I just looked at him because:
A. I was old enough to be his mother. I actually sat and figured it out. As long as he was under 27 (and I guarantee he was, because he was talking about going to State with the cute girl in the San Jose State sweatshirt right in front of me), I could have theoretically given birth to him.
B. Nobody has called me "miss"for over a decade. Not even those cutsie guys who are trying to get on your good side by carding you for buying wine. Please. My driver's license picture is older than they are.
C. It bugged me. When he said it a second time it really bugged me. I can only guess that this is because it was obviously said ironically. These guys probably sit in the back at the end of the shift and tell each other stories about the old ladies that blush when you call them "miss" like we all think we're being mistaken for one of their peers.

Or maybe he thought he was just being nice.

On this date: In 1620, the Mayflower left England.

Monday, September 15, 2008

What's in a Name?

Unfortunately, a lot. The right name can make a character lovable, vulnerable or distant. You could name the main character Hugo, Elmer or Jackson and even though it is the same character with the same issues, it will bring up different things for different people. In their lifetimes, most people only have to come up with names for a couple of kids (unless you're John and Kate), a few cats, a dog or two and miscellaneous goldfish. Writers have to come up with names for all of the characters in every book, main or not.

I say 'come up with' loosely, because it's more a process of deduction than creation. My characters seem to already have names and it's my job to figure out what they are. I tend to use my kid's elementary school directory for clues. I get a feeling for a character and try each name on - actually say it out loud to see if it's the right one. Is this kid a Cory or a Kevin? A Jasmin or an Emily? When you get close, the name settles down on a character like a nice winter coat that they parade around in and try on for size. If it seems to work, then I write it down in my handy-dandy story notebook so that I don't forget it. Now I have to find a last name to go with it.

I used to name characters based on names I liked rather than the names they liked. The first book I ever wrote contained a secondary character called Olivia, a name I wanted to use if I ever had girl children. Rather, I tried to call her Olivia, but apparently she insisted on being called Nina. It went on like that, jumping between Olivia when I was paying attention and Nina when I was so into the writing groove that I wasn't, until I just gave up and named her Nina for good. Now I'm a little wiser and save myself all of that "find and replace" nonsense.

On this date: In 1963, the First Baptist Church in Birmingham is bombed, killing four schoolgirls.

Friday, September 12, 2008

I Love Mondays

And I'm no longer a big fan of the Friday. Of course, I do like spending time with my family on the weekend, it's just that most of my weekends are spent watching this:

Which is okay, it's just that there is so much of it. But that's not the real reason. The real reason I don't love weekends anymore is that editors and agents tend to take the weekend off (I know, the gall). This means that there will be no exciting good news phone calls, no obsessive monitoring of email (okay, I still obsessively monitor emails, but I know realistically that nothing is coming) and the giddy feeling of possibility that greets me every morning has to wait.

Come Monday, everyone gets back to work and the possibility that everything can change starts all over again. Bring it on!

Happy soccer weekend to you all.

On this date: In 1963, Leave it to Beaver ended.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Saxophone Lessons

J has been playing alto sax in the band since last year, and since last year, we've been renting one for the lofty sum of $43 per month. Now that he's in middle school, he's decided to keep at it, so yesterday, thinking about how smart I was, I got on Craigslist and found a great alto sax for only $300. We went, he played and I shelled out the cash. He got his own sax, a backpack case for it and some music. Good move, right?

Fast forward to this afternoon, when he comes home from school all excited because the band teacher asked him if he would play tenor sax because he's doing so well. Sigh. Maybe T will want to play alto when he gets to fifth grade.

And so it goes.

On this date: In 1993, The X-Files premiered.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Stuff I've Learned

One of the best things about being a writer is that you actually get to learn things through your research. The more you don't know about something, the more you have to research so that you don't look like a complete idiot and have some 11 year old call you out on the details. Here are some of the more interesting things I've learned over the years:
1. Raccoon daddies don't stick around. If you see more than one raccoon, it's a mama and babies.
2. How fast a body will decomp at just above freezing temperatures. You can watch fast-motion videos of pigs decomping on the internet. Thought I'd throw that out there in case you're having a slow night.
3. That I shouldn't try to write in rhyme. Ever.
4. The best way to strip the skeleton of an armadillo is using bugs in the backyard.
5. That the bony armor of an armadillo is called a scute. I used that word in Scrabble a couple of weeks ago, so that little detail has come in very handy.
6. You can go tandem hangliding just north of San Francisco. No lessons necessary, just strap yourself in and jump.
7. It takes one day, 19 hours and 20 minutes to take a bus from Austin to San Francisco.
8. Campus police can arrest you in Santa Barbara.
9. You need to open a window in the back of the house in order to get fire to spread there.
10. That there is a paid scholarship program for young singers at the Metropolitan Opera. That would have been so cool - if I could sing, of course.

On this date: In 1956, Elvis appeared on Ed Sullivan.

Monday, September 8, 2008

LIttle By Little

So now that my new character Eli has begun dragging me into his drama, I've put off actually starting writing in favor of a little research. As you are supposed to write what you know, there are a few issues with this MS:
1. It is set somewhere in the midwest (or at least somewhere that has tornadoes). I've never been in a tornado, and the only place I've been in the midwest was Kansas City, and I didn't leave the hotel where the conference was being held.
2. It involves opera. I know less than nothing about opera. Luckily I know someone who does.

3. One of my secondary characters is a foster kid. I have to learn a little more about the system.
4. There is also some diving, karate, football, piano and baseball. Not really and expert on any of these. Sigh.

It's also a matter of commitment. Once I open a new computer file and start writing, I have to write 1k words per day (anyone remember the last MS?). This means that I have to make sure I'm not unduly distracted for the next month or two. Of course, I started the last book right before Thanksgiving last year (what was I thinking?), so that might just be an excuse.

On this date: In 1966, Star Trek premiered.