Friday, August 29, 2008

What Do I Want?

In no particular order:
1. World peace and a cure for all horrible wasting diseases.
2. For my kids to be grandparents when I die.
3. A great Indian restaurant to open in our little town.
4. For my kids to get college scholarships because their 529 plans are looking a little skimpy.
5. To learn to play the guitar.
6. For soccer season to go by fast.
7. For all of the crickets that are currently loose in the house (see previous post) to either die or escape into the great outdoors and stop the infernal chirping.
8. A Moose Munch bar that is low calorie but still tastes the same.
9. A zero credit card balance.

It's that last one that is becoming problematic. For about a year, I had the best freelance writing gig - assigned topics, pay every two weeks, no chasing after the money. Then it ended. Then the one I got to replace it never materialized. The lack of money suddenly appearing in my account has made me sit down and take a hard look at what I really want to be doing.

The problem with writing fiction is that it can take years from the day the word gets onto the computer screen to see any compensation. First you write. Then you show it to your agent who marks it all up so you can barely see your original words and gently suggests a complete overhaul. So then you revise because she's pretty much always right. Then you show your critique group and they all have more and brilliant suggestions that you go back and incorporate. Then you show your agent and she just has a few more wee tweaks, then it goes to editors who may want you to do an entirely new overhaul before they can agree to publish your work of art. See, actual years.

In the short term, I've been a little panicky and thinking about all the things I can do to bring some cash into the house. Recently, these have included: Starbucks barrista, pre-school teacher, grant writer, resume writer, housecleaner, dog walker, office grunt, payroll grunt, library assistant, daycare provider, waitress and online writing teacher. I've been so all over the place that on our long walks, the Big Hairy Dog has asked me repeatedly the question that is heading this post. And I've discovered that the true and honest answer to this is that I want to write fiction and then go out and give author talks and school visits. Then write something else and start it all over again.

As they say, you've got to keep your eye on the prize and don't let yourself get distracted by the minutia. Like money. Although, in between writing fiction, I'm studying furiously how to write a winning resume so that I can be certified by the Professional Resume Writers Association (PRWA). That credit card bill isn't going to pay itself.

On this date: In 2005, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year...

That's right - it's the first day of school! I love my kids, but as I'm trying to get my work life in order, I'm craving structure and pattern and breathed a huge sigh of relief this morning as everyone went of to their assigned schools and jobs. The house is quiet, and if I pick up a room, it will stay picked up for the majority of the day. The back door isn't slamming every 45 seconds and no child is coming up to me and whining that there is nothing to eat.

Of course, being that one was going to the first day of middle school and one was now in third grade, I was not allowed to make a fuss or take pictures. Because of that, I had to content myself with looking at photos of past first days. Here is the first day from 2002, when they were going to Kindergarten and Preschool respectively:

Hard to believe we've come so far so fast. I miss that Thomas the Train backpack. Yikes.

Now I just have to get a job...

On this date: In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech at the march on Washington.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Lepora and the Crickets

We are, once again, caretaking the class leopard gecko until school gets into full swing. Funny thing is, I actually enjoy Lepora. She makes these cool squeaky noises when you pick her up and it's fun to watch her eat.

I know as a kidlit author I'm supposed to be champion of the underdog, but I really have no love for the cricket, Jiminy notwithstanding. I pop a few of the crunchy little guys into Lepora's tank and watch in fascination as she stalks and then grabs one, little legs waving out of the side of her mouth. She always licks her lips afterward, as though our brand of cricket was worthy of a few Michelin stars.

Apparently, crickets are smarter than I was giving them credit for. I'd noticed that we were running out of crickets fairly quickly, but just chalked it up to the kids sneaking her food when I wasn't looking. That is until yesterday, when I found a cricket in our bathroom behind the toilet and one was chirping all night from behind the turtle tank where it is totally inaccessible. J finally spied one squeezing out a tiny hole next to the carry handle in the cricket keeper. I have to say, annoying as they are, I have to admire the ones who escaped. Perhaps they'll find a way out the front door, or find a crack next to an ill-fitting window. There must be a picture book in there somewhere.

On this date: In 1953, Roman Holiday opened.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

In The Neighborhood

It was an unusual evening in our little town. Even on a warm summer day, anytime after six is usually jacket weather - but not tonight. The night was so pleasant that I grabbed the leash and Big Hairy Dog and I headed out after dinner. Rather than my usual sweatshirt, a warm breeze wrapped around my bare arms as we strolled down the street. I love this time of night in the 'hood. Our part of town is made up of old houses (ours was built in 1916 - the "new" ones were built in the 40s), each with its own mood and style. Lots of Mediterraneans, next to Craftsmen Bungalows, next to Storybook Tudors with the odd Cape Cod thrown in for good measure. On many blocks, tall trees grow on either side of the street and meet in the middle to form a natural outdoor canopy.

I get a little thrill walking past houses and experiencing two-second snippets of people's lives. Tonight, windows and screen doors were thrown open and the sounds of the end of many ordinary days could be heard out on the sidewalk. Silverware clinked against glasses as dishes were done in the sink, the nuns were laughing and toasting someone at the table in the big Tudor in the cul-de-sac and amber light shone in the lamps of the darkened Bungalow next door, giving a cozy fall air to the warm summer night. Someone down the block was being so generous with their garlic that it was all I could do not to knock on the door and invite myself in for dinner. On my corner, the smell of a backyard firepit jerked me instantly back to our camping trips by the reservoir and I found myself longing for a slightly burnt marshmallow.

It was such a lovely walk that I found it hard to stop and by the time we got home, the sun had set and the Big Hairy Dog was in need of a very long drink of water. I managed to keep the walk about right now and enjoy the sensations that each house left on me, if only for that one moment.

What did you do tonight?

On this date: In 1939, the first Major League Baseball game was televised.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Looking For Ms. (or Mr.) Right

I've told a lot of non-writer people about the YA of mine that is has been making the rounds for a week or so. When they hear what it's about and how it's written, most of them think that it will sell in a minute. It's unusual and slightly edgy. Does that make it an easy sell? Not necessarily.

I was a little spoiled, because finding the right agent was a snap. I queried exactly one person, who turned out to be Agent E. We'd met at a conference and when the time was right, I sent her a manuscript (not the current one, BTW) and long story short, we signed a short time later. Now we're trying to match this manuscript to the one editor out there who will read it, love it and want to make it the best book it can possibly be. I'm more on edge about this book than any of the others I've written because even after countless revisions and rereadings, I still love it the most.

Finding the right editor is compounded by the fact that this MS includes death, a little bit of decay, maggots, mold and a love story that still gets me a little tingly when I read it over. It's the kind of book that will make one editor shudder and hold it carefully by the edges while the next one comes to the words "The End" and thinks "Yes. This is exactly what I've been looking for." I still believe that this second editor is out there, hopefully with a certain YA manuscript on the laptop screen as we speak.

On this date: In 1954, Elvis Costello was born.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Se Habla Books

I just discovered a fringe benefit of reading lots of current MG and YA books - instant bonding with middle school teachers. I took J to his middle-school orientation today, and one of the English teachers had tons of books for the kids to take if they wanted. J's eyes grew wide as he tried to decide which one to pick (apparently this called for much more thought than you would think). As he perused, I found out that this particular teacher works for an awesome bookstore here in the extended Bay Area during the summers. Of course, we got talking about local authors, and turns out she's in charge of having some great ones come and talk at the middle school. I got to drop a few names (sorry Jay!) of authors I've met in real life or "met" online and I felt an instant kinship with her. I promised that if the older books sell, I'll drop in for an author visit. I still may come in for career day when the picture book comes out next spring, but the kids will probably not care as much.

We got new foster kittens the other day, and the Big Hairy Dog is just as involved as ever. They both follow him around like he is the Big Giant Momma Cat and think he's the best thing ever. The only problem is that their heads are usually slobbery from his licking of them .

This is a shout-out to my mom who just got her first laptop and is now online! Everybody -we can't talk about you-know-what's here. Shhhhh.

On this date: In 1950, Althea Gibson becomes the first African American woman on the U.S. tennis tour.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Blame it on the Olympics

I haven't made very much progress on the new YA so far. I'm blaming the fact that school doesn't start here until the 28th (and I'm tired of reading about other parents whose kids have started school and are jumping up and down about it) and the fact that they Olympics are eating up my nights. I don't usually watch TV at night. Tivo takes care of my must-see shows (What Not to Wear, Scrubs, CSI (Vegas only - the others are cheap rip-offs) and John and Kate Plus 8 in case you were interested). I'll catch one of these when I can, but usually work after the kids go to bed. Tivo-ing the Olympics feels like you're a few horses behind in the parade, even though it's not live here on the West Coast, ever.

Speaking of the Olympics, I have some issues with them:

-If we are forced to watch the women's beach volleyball played in bikinis, then the men's beach volleyball should be played in Speedos. Fair is fair.
- Why can't we have the Olympics on TV earlier here? I know they can't watch gymnastics until midnight on the East Coast, but as my first picture book is about time zones, I know that when it is midnight in New York, it's only 9:00 in San Francisco. How can we inspire kids with the Olympics if they are all in bed?
-Would the new "experts" in any sport please be quiet. I've always loved gymnastics, although my 5'10" height at age 12 put a damper on it. Now I hear people who have never watched more than ten minutes of my sport in their lives tell me "That step is gonna cost her. You betcha." I however, am now an expert in beach volleyball, handball and trampoline.
- Don't interview sprinters or swimmers within five minutes of their races. You can't hear them through the panting and I just feel bad about it. Give them time to recover for goodness sake.
- When someone falls off the beam or trips over a hurdle, get the camera off them. We don't need super-tight shots of athletes whose entire lives have just turned to garbage in that one split second.
- I love Michael Phelps as much as anyone, but I don't need to see any more close-up shots of his feet. I must be getting old because instead of having a crush on him, I just think about what a wonderful son he is.

Soon the kids will go back to school and the Olympics will go dark and I can get back to work. Right now the 3 meter springboard finals are on, so I have to go.

On this date: In 1981, Charlie's Angels ends.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Marking Time

We don't have many deciduous trees that change color here in Northern California. - we leave that to the East Coast as a consolation prize for having to live with snow. Mostly we mark the seasons by how brown the hills are. If they are green, it's winter. If they are brown, it's every other season. The seasons are often marked by my local Target store. If the back-to-school supplies are sold out and the winter coats are being put on display, you can be pretty sure it's the middle of August. If they are starting to sell bathing suits, it must be February.

Luckily for me, I have two oaks or chestnuts or something right across the street that are a constant reminder of what is to come courtesy of Mother Nature.

These trees always seem to be a few weeks ahead of me - they know what's going on season-wise way before I do. Just when I get so tired of dreary, gray weather in winter, I'll notice tiny green buds on these trees and feel the rush of excitement that only spring can bring. Yesterday afternoon I was out front talking to a neighbor and noticed a tinge of red on some of the leaves and felt the pang of summer ending and the roller-coaster that is fall and the holiday season beginning.

Real life is coming people - ready or not.

On this date: In 1977, The Police played their first gig.

Friday, August 15, 2008

My Pretend Life

Admit it - you've scripted your Oprah interview. Mouthed the responses that you'd give her when you sit down and talk about your book/music/amazing life. Mimicked the facial expressions that would come across as commanding yet sympathetic. I'll not only admit to that, I'll admit to preparing for a life that I don't have (yet).

I've bought shoes thinking that they would go well with the suit I have hanging in my closet should I be called upon to give a panel speech at the SCBWI national conference. Last year, I bought a cute little jacket that would be the right mix of formal and casual - perfect for a book signing. I recently got a new laptop case for all that business traveling that I don't do at the moment.

I still hold out hope that all of these things will come in handy someday. Someday soon, so they will still be in style when I stand up to give that big talk.

On this date: In 1961, the Berlin Wall was finished.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Fifty Dollar 'Fros

We're up in the pristine Sierras, enjoying the pine-scented forest and crystal clear Lake Tahoe.

What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Tahoe? That's right - retro skate night! The good thing about vacationing with my BFF Karen is that she forces us to do things that we wouldn't ordinarily do. Like dress up in 70's garb and go roller skating at one of the ski resorts. The boys looked great:

Turns out there was some stiff competition.

But out of all of the crazy retro skaters, the boys walked away with the $50 grand prize (not to mention the $30 dinner certificate and the $1 some guy threw at them).

I'm so proud!

On this date: In 1945, Steve Martin is born.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Get Rid of It

My new mantra is: Sometimes the best revisions are really deletions. Agent E and I were having issues with the revised first chapter of the novel - it was working pretty well, but it lacked the punch of the first version. After going over it again and again, I finally decided to chop the last scene out and lose about two pages of dialogue. Viola! The pace picked up, it got a little darker and a little more intense - just what we were looking for.

I picked up the Tahoe Weekly this morning (we're on a little family vaca) and read my horoscope. And I quote:
"Keep the best and leave the rest. This quaint phrase matches the planetary influences for you now. This implies knowing what is of true value. Clean out the rest to clear the way for more quality"

So if things aren't working for you right now, take a look around. What can you afford to lose?

On this date: In 1921, Alex Hailey is born.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Forward Motion

It's finally coming together. After a year and a half of delays, my first picture book is definitely coming out next spring! It got a quick retitle - now it's called: When It's Six O'clock in San Francisco - A Time Zone Journey Around the World. My publisher even sent me this fall's catalog so I could see what it will look like next spring. I don't have a cover or galleys yet (that's an unbound mock up of the book as it will look when it's done), but as soon as I can I'll post the cover.

My publisher decided that they wanted family photos for the back of the book. Because the book is multicultural and so are both mine and my illustrators families, they thought it would be an interesting footnote. I hemmed a little on that, but finally said that if the illustrator agreed to do it to, then we would. He said yes, so Sunday found us in our backyard with a photographer (thanks Michelle!) and surprisingly cooperative kids (once I took all the gum away). Eighty-nine pictures later, we came up with one I can live with. As it will soon grace the back cover of (hopefully) lots and lots of books, here it is:

Now I only need to come up with an entire website by September 5th so that it can be included in the catalog. As far as I'm concerned, websites are made by magic people, right up there with the telephone and TV, so I'm going to have to go with a pro. Do any of you have things that you love/hate about author websites so that I can include/avoid as necessary?

On this date: In 1962, Marilyn Monroe is found dead.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Sloggin' Through the Ghetto

Yesterday I found myself in a place with a lot of old magazines. Having nothing else to read, I picked up the September 2007 Entertainment Weekly. There I was reading along, surprised and pleased to see a review of Jenny Downham's Before I Die (which I read and liked - so did the reviewer apparently).

I was happy to see the full-page, positive spin on the book until I got to this sentence: "Unfortunately, Downham's publisher has handicapped Before I Die by labeling it a young-adult novel, thus ghettoizing this gem to the back of most bookstores." Um, excuse me Mr. Geier? Ghettoizing? Harumph.,There's a little-bitty series by Stephanie Meyers that is sold as YA and that doesn't seem to be doing it any harm. Oh, and another little ditty by a lady in England that involved wizards and boarding schools. But don't read it because it's really for kids.

This article so annoyed me that it got me to thinking (which is apparently the best way to get me thinking). Not only can a good book transcend labels, but the advent of internet bookselling has helped to blur the distinctions between genres. Let me get this straight - I am all for bookstores, particularly indie bookstores. Nothing is better than the smell of fresh paper and coffee and a big comfy chair to absorb both for hours. But when you have an actual store and an actual book, you have to decide where to put it. Does it have a young main character? Put it in the young adult section. Is someone dead in the first chapter.? Mystery is where it goes. If the main theme is a love story, put it in romance where nobody with XY chromosomes would ever pick it up.

If you're online and are looking for a book, you might be able to stumble upon something new, something in a genre that you would never enter the aisle for in an actual bookstore. When you hear about a good book and type in the name at an online bookstore, it doesn't pop up with a warning: Danger. This is a Young Adult book. Get out of the ghetto while you still can. Online book-buying isn't limited by genre or placement in a bookstore, so books may find their happy way outside of their target audience. Not that you have to buy all of your books online. Once you have read a YA or a mid-grade book and liked it, you may just find your way to the dusty back shelves in your local bookstore. But watch out. We're havin' fun here in the ghetto.

On this date: In 1961, Barak Obama was born.