Saturday, May 31, 2008

Books and Covers

As I've mentioned, I've been spending way too much time on another blog having a virtual reunion with all of my buddies from the mid 1980s San Diego music scene. It's been an amazing experience reliving an amazing time and place.

One of the threads was on what we are doing now with our lives. Now, in order to appreciate this, I have to set the scene. Pretend it is 1984, around 2:30 in the morning in a back booth at a scuzzy little Denny's restaurant in downtown San Diego. In this booth are a motley bunch of teenagers - one guy is dressed in 19th century garb complete with cravat and top hat, another looks homeless with crazy hair and shoes that are more holes than leather. Two of the girls have short, dyed black hair, earrings that touch their shoulders, mini-skirts with black tights and wayyyyy too much eye makeup. There is a really tall red-headed character who dresses vaguely like Ronald McDonald on skid row and another red-headed guy with glasses and several days worth of stubble. The others at the table follow the same pattern - some of the boys with funky shoulder-length bob haircuts and others who look vaguely homeless. Tattoos and noserings are visible at a time when it wasn't so common.

You watch this group take over the back of the restaurant, noticing that everyone orders several cups of coffee, french fries and gravy or biscuits. As they sit there for the next several hours, talking about music and who knows what else, cigarettes are passed around the table and the blue haze of smoke gets so thick that their waitress, Rose E. Rose (seriously, that was her name) has to make her way to the table at her own risk. As you leave your tip, you shake your head thinking that most of these kids will overdose, become alcoholics or on welfare before they turn 25. From all appearances, you'd be right.

Except you're not. We were not angels, but as this is a blog related to kidlit, that's as much as I'll admit to. The most amazing thing that I've taken away from this reunion is that most of us are doing surprisingly well in our adult lives. Lots of us have gotten married and had kids that are not only normal, but in many ways, exceptional. Many alums of this scene have gone on to fruitful careers:
Matt R. has a high-falutin' career in publishing
Matt J. is a Federal Public Defender
Eric is in demand making custom guitars
Ray has been a successful high school teacher for 20 years
Dave F makes digital audio (if you've ever bought a Leapfrog product, you've probably heard his stuff)
Jerry (the boy in the top hat) works for Microsoft
Dave R works as a diplomat for International Development in Kenya
Pat owns a successful photography studio
several of us are writers and Paul does something with digital music that I don't really understand.

So many of those motley teenagers went on to have amazing lives that contribute in so many ways and touch so many people. Think about that the next time you're giving the stink-eye to that group of goth kids on the corner. You just never know.

On this date: In 1859, Big Ben goes into operation in London.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

He's Now on CNN Restriction

J is 'graduating' from elementary school and came home with a giant folder full of stuff from the last several years. I'd forgotten about his poetry forays until I saw this again. Forgive me if you've seen this before, but here is an untitled poem from last year:

Anger breaks the morning
When war destroys the
peaceful city
Snow falls like cotton on the
bloody red floor
Newspapers hold the
knowledge of the battle
Memories clog your head
with sadness.

-J, aged 9

Still not sure if we should get the boy an agent or a really good therapist.

On this date: In 1944, Gladys Knight was born.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Begin at the Beginning

Editors always say, start your story where it matters - don't include a lot of extranious information (lovingly called backstory in the biz) in the beginning. Let the reader figure it out as you go along. So my new novel starts where the action begins, the moment where my main character's life changes forever. Except the editors I'm working with all say that they want to see more "normal" life before this life-changing event so...I'm writing a new first chapter. Shouldn't be hard, right? Just ten pages or so to set up life-as-we-know-it for the reader. Right. Trouble is, nothing is happening.

I sent my character and her friend to the movies to open the book, thinking that they would run into enough people (and one person in particular) to set things up nicely. They're in line for popcorn, they're chatting, but not much is going on and it's driving me crazy. I keep tossing things at her, grabbing different scenarios and waggling them in front of her, hoping it would spark some action but so far she's just "eh". Just this morning however, she did spot a girl across the lobby who may indeed give her trouble, so I'm hopeful that we'll see some action tonight. If not, I might just have to make something up.

On this date: In 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge opened.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Trippin' Down Memory Lane

I was sitting at T's gym class the other day and for I-don't-know-what reason I started thinking about a couple I knew when I was in high school in San Diego, and how the last time I saw them she was pregnant and how that kid would be like 23 now. Totally freaked me out. Out of curiousity, I Googled their names and stumbled on this great blog all about the underground music scene that was happening in San Diego in the mid-80s. SO many of the people I used to hang out with were commenting on the blog it was like having a mini-online reunion. But these are no ordinary high school friends.

Back in the day, I hated (and I mean HATED) high school. Somewhere in there, I started hanging out with an amazing group of people around downtown San Diego. Totally into music from bluegrass and R&B to obscure 60s garage bands. This was way before SD got fancy. At that point, downtown was the haunt of sailors, hookers and tattoo artists - and me and my friends as we went to basement clubs on 4th street to hear all of the local bands play. I've only been back a handful of times since then and I think there's now a Cost Plus on the site of our old club.

Back then, things were real and raw and everyone was cool and unusual and very, very intellegent. And funny. I was so lucky to have found a group of people to hang out with to get me through a tough time in my life. As things go, I moved away to college and then up to SF. I saw a couple of people here and there over the years, but mostly lost touch. Whenever I thought about that magic time, I always pictured everyone else staying exactly the same,, playing in bands and hanging out while I got older, got married and had kids (and became decidedly less cool). Imagine my surprise when I saw photos of some of my old friends and...they got older too! Although, I have to say, we are the hippest group of hmhmhm-year olds I've ever seen.

Reading the comments section of the blog, I've noticed a longing pulling at me as I see names that I haven't thought about in years and rifled through stacks of old photos of those days. The nearest I can figure is that it's a longing for the person I was back then, back to that magic couple of years when life was about the music and the people and whether we were going to Balboa Park or the Presidio to hang out. Knowing all that is to come in the next several decades, I like how things have turned out and wouldn't really want to go back. Well, maybe not for longer than it would take to sit in the courtyard of Che Cafe' and see the Tell Tale Hearts and the Morlochs do a back to back set.

I haven't changed that much, have I?

On this date: In 1977, Star Wars opened.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Navel Gazing 101

Whenever we go on a long trip, we listen to audio books in the car. This involves a lot of compromise because the books have to appeal to both me and DH, have limited scenes that are inappropriate for kids to hear (they're usually listening to DVDs on headphones, but will occasionally pop their heads up for a string of curse words on our audiobook) and be available at our local library. So far, I've discovered that I like John Grisham and am okay with some Jeffrey Archer. Sometimes we get kid's books and we all listen - the last time around we got E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Because we only got through half of it, J then got the actual book so that he could finish it on his own - an unforeseen benefit.

This trip, we got a couple of books by authors I'd certainly heard of but never read, and I discovered a curious thing about grown-up books that I'd forgotten about - extensive navel-gazing. When you write and read mostly books for kids, there is usually limited navel gazing. I've been told that I need to up this amount and delve deeper into what my characters are thinking and feeling at any given time. I've discovered there are limits to this. Namely with a very famous thriller. I liked the beginning of the book and it got pretty creepy pretty fast. But then he started going off onto these weird tangents that didn't have anything to do with the action at hand. Which would have been fine if the characters were at the grocery store or having a boring day at work. It got irritating when the monastery was crawling with demonic images that meant that sometime in the next 24 hours great harm was going to come to all of the inhabitants. The MC gets attacked in a snowy courtyard by some unseen assailant, and the next thing you know he's off thinking about the texture of some particularly good chocolate chip cookies made by a nuclear engineer. For like three and a half minutes.

After several instances where the action and tension were completely suspended for a lengthy monologue about the town where he grew up, etc. I finally turned to DH to ask if it bothered him. He just shrugged, so maybe it's me. In any case, I finally couldn't stand it anymore and switched books to Peter Mayle's Encore Provence. This book is pretty much nothing but navel-gazing, but that is the whole point, so its okay. Except it makes you really really hungry for food that isn't available at any of the fast food joints off the I-5. Pate' en croute anyone?

On this date: In 1934, police kill Bonnie and Clyde.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Now What?

Just finished a good book, but there's no sequel? This is cool!

On this date: In 1859, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is born.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


I'm back! We've been on quite a tour. First we went to San Francisco:

...then we hung out at the river:

...then spent a little time in The Big Easy:

...and then saw this strange castle right in the middle of it all:

The weirdest part was finding myself upside down, strapped into an orange car and hearing the screams of my loved ones in my ears.

The bad part is that the Magic Kingdom still has yukky Nescafe as the only coffee beverage available. The good part is that they don't care if you smuggle in your own caffeine. Long live Starbucks Doubleshot - it makes a day at the park possible.

On this date: In 1881, the Red Cross was founded.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Can I Get A Meeting?

Okay people, we need to have another parents meeting. Some of you have gone soft since the last one and it's starting to show. On the agenda:

1. Ten year olds do not need cell phones. None of them do. I know, your little Katie is alone for three and a half minutes every day and might need to call. Trust me, she wont. She'll sit in my backyard texting the kid who is sitting two feet away. When you actually do need to call her, she'll have left it at home/gotten it taken away at school and you'll end up calling my home phone anyway.

2. The tooth fairy does not leave $5 for every baby tooth. At the last union meeting, $1.50 was set as the standard, but there are a few of you out there who didn't get the memo.

3. If you don't make your kid wear his bike helmet, it is difficult for me to get my kid to wear his bike helmet. He doesn't want to look stupid, and that is my specialty.

4. A fifth grader should know how to tie his shoes. With velcro and slip on shoes, a surprising number of kids go around with their shoes untied. It is not fashion, it is ignorance.

5. I don't want to see your child's underwear. Sagging should never be allowed on anyone who is young enough to be sent to his room. You are the parent - insist that he wear pants that don't regularly fall to his knees. I have set up a belt fund for those of you in the neighborhood who are short on cash. Come and see me for a grant.

6. We are having trash can and toilet seat demonstrations at my house next Thursday at 6pm. Bring your children and we will show them how to put empty chip bags in the trash and how the toilet seat goes down as well as up. Refreshments will be served.

Feel free to add any agenda items that I may have missed. Parents united, will never be defeated.

On this date: In 1904, the first American Olympiad.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I Can Only Hope She Means Up Not Out

"You just keep growing and growing, don't you?" - 1st grader, looking up at me with big brown eyes and a slightly horrified look on her face.

On this date: In 1993, Knots Landing ended.

Monday, May 12, 2008

On the Outside Looking In

Being a writer with a book that you're ABOUT to finish, or a book that is ABOUT to sell or a book that is ABOUT to come out is a lot like being invited to stand outside of the party with your nose pressed to the window watching everyone else dancing, drinking (although kidlit authors never drink) and generally having a mahvelous time. Sometimes, out of the corner of your eye, you spot another writer with their nose pressed to the window on your right and you exchange knowing looks.

Boo hoo for us. So why do you do it, you ask? Why not go get an actual job where you get paid for just showing up, and actually doing something productive is a nice bonus for those who employ you? It's not like anyone is holding a gun to your head. It's not like you have to write stuff and then try to sell it to people who will in turn sell it to the world at large. Eh?

That would suggest that most of us really have a choice, but in fact once you get a taste for writing, you really can't help yourself. That one rhyming picture book that you wrote years ago and mercifully put into a drawer is like literary crack - once you start, you can't get enough and it only escalates into mid-grade and young adult novels.

I do notice however, that my nose is starting to flatten out just a little on the end.

On this date: In 1907, Katherine Hepburn was born.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day

To everyone who is a mom, will be a mom or has a mom.

On this date: In 1981, Bob Marley died.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Writer as Actor

I'm starting to work on revisions for the hoarding YA right now which is great for me and not so great for those close to me. Or even anyone that I have to deal with for that matter. Once I start thinking about the story and the characters, one part of my brain is always thinking about it, even if I'm in line at the grocery store, walking the dog or working yard doody. I also have a habit of verbalizing dialogue which embarasses the kids to no end. It would be really embarassing if you were stopped at a light and the characters are really talking to you out loud and you look over and the lady in the next car is staring at you like you are Sybil or something. Not that it has ever happened to me or anything...

On this date: In 1949, Billy Joel was born.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Pop Up Books - Not Just For Babies Anymore

J got an academic award from the county last week (he was the only boy in the school who got it, but who's counting). In recognition, we got him a gift certificate to a bookstore. As this is the boy who is currently reading Robin Hood, the original hard-to-read version, I figured he'd probably get some hefty tome. Not so much. He chose:

That's right - the Star Wars Pop Up Guide to the Galaxy. It's actually really cool:

C3P0 and R2D2 are well represented...

... as well as that crazy bar.

Can you tell that the lightsabers actually light up? Don't know how they do it.

That got me thinking about my favorite pop-up book:

Of course it has acrophobia, the fear of heights...

..ophidiophobia, the fear of snakes...

...and every writer's favorite - glossophobia, the fear of public speaking.

On this date: In 1812, Robert Browning was born.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Young and the Restless

My characters are getting restless. Whenever I finish a draft or revision, I never want to see it again. For about a day and a half. Little by little, the characters start stirring and trying on different scenes just to keep me interested. We're between drafts right now, and they are getting itchy to move. I was getting ready this morning and the TV in my head ran a great scene between two of my main characters as part of a possible revision scenario. Hopefully sometime soon I'll let the show run and find out what the changes are going to be.

I've said this before, but I write from a show that plays in my head. I imagine a scene and then push "Play" and see what happens - what the characters say and how the story unfolds. It's like I don't really have anything to do with it - I'm just the dictation secretary. I thought everyone did this until I was having dinner with a few other writers and I mentioned the "head movie" and they looked at me weird and scooted over just a little bit. I got over it. As long as the movie keeps playing, we're all just fine in here.

On this date: In 1937, the Hindenburg disaster.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Why I Didn't Hate Iron Man

Being the mother of two boys, I've seen my share of simulated explosions in this lifetime. I'll be the first to admit that I don't really get the whole "boy" thing. I was told long ago by a two year old that I didn't play trains right - DH explained that I lacked passion. Passion? It's tracks, trains and wheels. What passion?

Mostly, I fobb the movies off on DH. Male bonding time, I say, then I get the whole house to myself for a couple of hours on a weekend. There was grumbling that I never go, so to keep family harmony I went with them to see Iron Man yesterday. Now I was not that into the beginning - wayyyyy to much action and exploding and if you ask me, the whole thing was too much for an eight year old (DH assured me that it was fine). I do have to say, I was the only one in line for popcorn during that part of the film. When I got back there was a brief but too-graphic-for-little-kids bedroom encounter where I found myself leaning forward and covering T's eyes. Yes, I really did that in the theater. For all that, I didn't hate the movie.

For one thing, Jon Favreau directed, and I love Jon Favreau. Elf is right up there with Spinal Tap and Harold and Maude as of my all-time favorite movies. Then Robert Downey Jr. came on and reminded all of us moms in the audience why we thought he was all that back in the 80s. The rest of the movie was actually really good and I wasn't wishing I was someplace else the whole time. Watch your little ones for the first ten minutes or so, then you can relax and enjoy Robert Downey Jr. Ahem. I mean, the movie.

On this date: In 1862 the Battle of Puebla occurred. Happy Cinco de Mayo.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Done! (Mostly)

Whoo hoo! The last doors went on the cabinets this morning and I LOVE IT! Even more than I thought I would. Love love love the granite counters, the new appliances, the floors you can actually clean and the drawers that don't have splinters or disintigrate in your hand. Totally worth it - I wish we'd had the means to do this ten years ago. The only thing left is the tile backsplash which will hopefully be next week. Did I mention that I LOVE IT?!?!

On this date: In 1933, the Loch Ness Monster is sighted.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Easy Research

So I found myself behind the snack bar at the baseball field last night. If it is a coldish, windy night, there are worse places to be - plus I can peek out the fencing at the game when the cheering gets loud. Last night was particularly beneficial because of my snack bar partner. I found myself next to a very cute seventeen year old girl who is a senior in high school. We chatted a little bit about community college vs a university and which middle schools were the best. Then the fun part happened. Her sister and two other friends came by, and in between doling out Gatorade (why oh why do they make TWO kinds of blue Gatorade?) and Slim Jims I got to eavesdrop on some great conversations.

They talked about their boyfriends, school, myspace, their boyfriends, how cute each other looked, cell phones, skanky girls who were after their boyfriends, one of the teachers at school, and then a little more about their boyfriends. I could have chimed in and told them what to do when their boyfriends didn't call and stayed out all night. I had some great advice about why they put up with all of the garbage from the men in their lives, but I just grinned and listened. When they started talking about what to do when they find pictures of skanky girls in their underwear on their boyfriend's cell phones, I had to actually leave for a moment to stop myself from jumping in. But it was all worth it. I got to sit and listen to late-teenager speak for over two hours just as if I was a fly on the wall.

As we were closing up, my snack bar partner turned to me an apologized for chatting with her friends the entire time (although she worked her butt off while she talked). I just grinned at her and said, "No problem. It's all research."

On this date: In 1967, Elvis married Priscilla.