Sunday, March 29, 2009

Nickelodeon KID'S Choice Awards???

I spent part of yesterday at a memorial service for a 14 year old -something that should never, ever happen. I came home and curled up on the couch with one boy on either side just to get some kid time. They were watching the Nickelodeon Kid's Choice Awards and while I was enjoying hanging out with them, one word kept coming out of my mouth - inappropriate!

Come on Nick! These are kids we're talking about, not tiny teenagers (and there is a difference, although that distinction seems to be lost on Nick execs). Pussycat Dolls gyrating on stage with very little in the way of clothing (I counted 6 bellybuttons between them) - inappropriate! Two of the nominees for best picture: The Dark Knight (NOT for little kids) and Iron Man (which was iffy, particularly the first 15 minutes). The winner for the best book: Twilight Series - inappropriate! How many nine year olds are (or should be) reading that series? This was what annoyed me in the 30 minutes I watched, but I'm sure there was more.

I'd get off my horse if these were the Teen Choice Awards, but they are aiming for the very preteen market between about 8 and 11 and so much of this was trying to make kids into tiny adults (don't even get me started on the Naked Brother's Band - I had a blog post lying around here about them a few years ago). I don't consider myself a prude or anything - I write edgy YA after all - but it's all a matter of audience and material and Nickelodeon is wildly off the mark. No slime for you.

On this date: In 1973, the last US troops pull out of Vietnam.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Art and Life Once Again

Yesterday, there was a small news item in our local paper (thanks Cassandra for the link):

Investigators were called to a home about 8 p.m. where workmen hired to clean an abandoned home had discovered a cache of human bones that are now believed to be that of the woman who lived there, and was considered missing for seven years, an officer from the Oakland Police Department said.

The home was reportedly filled from floor to ceiling with hoarded belongings, and preliminary reports indicate the victim may have died by being crushed or trapped by collected piles of junk, and was simply never found, police said.

About once a month or so I hear about one of these situations, although I'm probably more sensitive to hoarding stories because that is the subject of my upcoming book Dirty Little Secrets. When I had the main character's mother dying in her hoarded home, a few people thought that was unrealistic. Apparently, not so.

Although I don't consider myself any kind of hoarding advocate, I do hope that my book will be the first step in a dialogue about this totally hidden epidemic.

On this date: In 1998, Viagra was approved by the FDA.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Name Game

Sometimes a character's name comes to you easily and sometimes it's like they're hiding it from you in a sadistic game of cat and mouse. For my WIP (which is more W than P at the moment), I hit on the girl's name way before I started pulling everything else together: Jordan. It fit her perfectly (honestly I was listening to The Great Gatsby on audiobook and the Jordan character jumped out at me) - sort of straightlaced, TypeA parentpleaser. The male MC's name has been a struggle. All I know about him is that his parents are nature-types that have made it big in the natural-foods business and have a very relaxed attitude toward parenting.

For a few days I thought his name was Kai. Perfect - it means "ocean man" in some language (I've forgottten which) a little nature-bound without being too wierd. Then I pictured him in action and Kai just didn't quite fit. So I started writing other names down: Sage, River, Zen, Pax, Vaughn and Micah to name a few. It's not so much that you decide on a name for them as you hold up names to their character and see if they fit. We've been working with another name for a few days now that better stick, as I'm tired of writing X in my notes whenever I come to him.

Oh, which name did we use? You'll just have to read the book to find out ;)

On this date: In 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in NY.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Little Bit of Cute News

In the middle of all the sadness last night, a friend came by with three two-week old kittens that someone had found in the basement of a foreclosed house. Of course, I tried to get them put back because it's really not good to take them before about four weeks old and they are really hard to take care of when they're this small (they're all about 1/2 a pound and would probably lose a fight to a hamster). Because of circumstances, that couldn't happen, so now they're living with us for a month or so. Apparently, they're all spoken for by my friend and the people who found them (who promise to get them all fixed), so I just have to bottle feed them and then get them up and running on their own. The biggest downside is that I heard them crying at about 6:45 so I had to get up and feed them - no more sleeping in for awhile. Cute though...

On this date: In 1940, the first episode of Truth or Consequences airs.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


The big brother of T's classmate died last night and I can't get it off my mind. We all knew he was sick, but the last we'd heard he was out of the woods and getting better. In just one short month, he'd gone from a vibrant, healthy eighth-grader to someone fighting for his life. I can't even begin to imagine what his family is going through.

Griffon went to middle school with J, and a bunch of the kids are getting together to wear green tomorrow because it was his favorite color. This is the first time that death has really hit so close to home in a way that the kids can grasp and I really don't know what to say to them. J started worrying that he was going to die soon too, and of course I promised he wouldn't but we both knew it was a lie. There are no guarantees, and this instance proves just how vulnerable we all are. Griffon's parents did everything right - they made sure he wore a seatbelt when in the car and a helmet on his bike. He ate well and was a happy, normal kid until a routine illness took this beautiful boy away from them.

I can't even begin to imagine.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Chipping Away

I think it was Michelangelo who said that the figure was always in the stone - it was his job to chip away the unwanted pieces to find the statue inside. Okay, I'm paraphrasing, but I like the idea. That is the way I feel about my books - the story and characters already exist - I just have to chip away at the pieces to uncover the story.

I'm at that part of the process where the characters are revealing themselves to me bit by bit, and they tend to do it at the weirdest times. I was brushing my teeth last night when I discovered a really interesting trait about my main character and then a few minutes later I realized that one of the other characters had dreadlocks. Of course he does, why didn't I see that before?

In order to write a book that is true, I have to leave myself open and just let the images and details come. Unfortunately, I can't make my characters do anything - believe me I've tried. A lot of it is instinctual - you know when something doesn't feel right, and the story isn't going to flow. At the same time, when you hit on something that is perfect, when you've figured out something about the character or story that is right, you get a little thrill.

It's about 2% skill and knowledge and 98% magic.

On this date: In 1852, Uncle Tom's Cabin is published.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

For the Love of Geekdom

I am a geek. I get palpatations when I walk into an office supply store. Imagine my glee at discovering this website: I could spend hours making a list of all of the cool stuff on here, but these are a few of my favorites:

Cubicle playsets complete with IT department expansion sets...

the ubiquitous slingshot monkeys (we had one around here but he's been slingshotted elsewhere)

paper email!

and inanimate object stickers for all your boring office supplies!

OMG - I love it all!

On this date: In 1762, the first St. Patrick's Day parade.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Name Game, Part II

Got an email from my lovely editor today that all systems are go, the revisions are good and it's off to copyediting for the next couple of weeks (there was a part of the email that included the words "chomping at the bit" - how much do I love that!). Now we're talking about sales meetings, covers, acknowledgments and all of that stuff that makes it more real.

One of the final things I have to decide is what name I'm going to publish my YA under. (Those of you who have been here before may want to skip down to the "On this date" portion of our program.) The picture books are coming out with all three veerrry looonngg names: Cynthia Jaynes Omololu. For a bunch of reasons (hand cramps being one of them), I'm thinking of publishing the young adult books under C.J. Omololu. Still obviously the same person if you think about it, but just a little different...a tiny bit edgier maybe? I like the whole "C.J." part - gender neutral, yet my actual name.

C.J. Omololu - look for it at a bookstore near you next February!

On this date: In 1964, the Beatle's Can't Buy Me Love is released.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Magic Binders

Ain't it pretty? This is my brand new story binder for the YA that I'm starting. Each story gets its own binder, and getting a new one is a lot like the first day of school. The edges aren't crumpled and its pages are white and pristine, just waiting for brilliant ideas. I don't actually write the book in the binder (my handwriting is illegible) but its the place for notes, name ideas, character studies and research. It has to have a pocket in the front for all of the stuff that I print out on the computer.

Each binder also reflects the story I'm using it for. The binder for Dirty Little Secrets was plain and black because that's how the story felt. As you can see, this story is a lot lighter - romantic and fun with a twist.

On this date: In 1781, Uranus was discovered.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Thank God for the Internet

Finished a new picture book last night and got that nicely satisfied feeling that you get from a good writing session. It's almost as if the creative monster is lurking inside you and when you do a bit of good work he's fed and mellow and doesn't keep you up at night - at least until the next day when you'd better do it again or he'll get all uppity.

The new picture book is a follow-up to When It's Six O'clock in San Francisco, and frankly I'm wondering what took me so long. It's the only logical follow-up and because I wrote it in the same style and in a similar format it really wasn't all that hard. Now I just have to get it to pass muster with Agent E (after the critique group has had a crack at it) and hope that Clarion thinks it's as nifty as I do. Oh yeah, and write an author's note that sums up a very complicated subject so that a five year old can understand it. The author's notes are ten times harder than writing the book itself. For Six O'clock it was like: "Can you explain the history and meaning of time zones so that kindergarteners will get it? Oh, and do it in under 200 words." No problemo.

Can't tell you what it's about yet, but here are a couple of my "inspiration photos" for the new book:

Figured it out yet? Because my picture books are often set in countries where I've never actually been, I find images on the web and use them to build the story around. I guess they came out pretty good, because someone from South Africa read my section that was set there and wanted to know when I'd visited last.

Back when I wrote Six O'clock, YouTube wasn't such a big thing, but this time I got to watch a whole bunch of videos about street food in Nairobi for one of my segments. Almost as good as being there.

On this date: In 1989, Cops premiered.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Title Angst

Picking a title is a lot like choosing a name for your kid. Pick the wrong one and you could turn an aspiring jock into an A/V nerd or vice-versa. What would Twilight be if it had been called The Boys of Forks? Harry Potter if it had been Trouble at Hogwarts? Maybe they'd have grown into their names, but maybe not.

I've been wrestling with the title of Dirty Little Secrets practically since I thought of it. It wasn't always called that - we'd gone through about five different titles before sending it out, but nothing felt quite right. Dirty Little Secrets was a bit of a "hail mary", and it seems to have stuck. I still have my doubts - is it a tad exploitive? Too commercial? Not commercial enough? I've polled critique groups, talked to my agent and my editor and everyone agrees that it's fine. Right, it's fine. Good title, fits the story with just enough intrigue to make someone want to pick it up. Fine.

Which was all well and good until J came home from school yesterday. Seems he's writing a report on my book (apparently it's okay even though it's not a "real" book yet) and a couple of the kids in his class thought that Dirty Little Secrets "maybe sounded kinda like a wierd title".

OMG - I'm right back to that place where I'm not sure about anything anymore. Somebody help me.

On this date: In 1959, the Rebellion in Tibet.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Don't Adjust Your Monitor...

Yes, I got bored and changed my blogspot layout. Hope you like it. Change is good!

Enforced Jellin'

There is a mandatory period of time between when you get the spark of a great idea and when you can actually open a file and start writing something. I used to think that time was optional, that if I was really excited about a project I could just dive in and start writing. That always works until about page 10 when you lift your head up, look around and wonder what in the heck comes next.

Now I let the idea jell in my subconscious for a few weeks until all of the pieces have magically floated into place. On the current "thing I've been thinking about" I just thought of a great subtext to the story while I was drying my hair yesterday. These great ideas often come when you're doing something mundane - I thought of the project while I was on the phone talking about something completely different. It's like my brain was busy thinking about one thing, so my writer brain held up a sign with a great idea written on it, wondering if I was going to notice. I try not to get impatient with the jellin' process because if you hurry it up, you miss lots of good stuff. In the meantime, it's not called staring off into space - it's called working!

On this date: In 1941, my mom was born. Happy Birthday Mom!

Sunday, March 8, 2009


One of the editors at Asilomar was talking about her "year without fear" - which resulted in a ride on a mechanical bull for her. I liked the concept and have decided to embrace the "year without fear" - to a point. A lot of the time, you go into "Mom-mode" and sit and watch while the kids go down the waterslide or on the roller coaster. I'm not going to go crazy with it, but instead of sitting and watching I'm going to try to get involved and share the experience. Which is how I found myself in a large, plexiglass enclosure hovering about 10 feet in the air on Friday night:

Yes, indoor skydiving. I have to say, it was one of the the coolest things I've ever done. Basically, there is a giant fan below you blowing at speeds up to 200mph. At one point, the instructor went with me and we "flew" up into the chamber, about 30 feet in the air - a little scary, but doable. Plus, I figure it's all research, right? Now I just have to come up with a scene where the characters need to fly and I've got it down. As for real skydiving - uh, it's the year without fear, not the year without brains. Why would I abandon a perfectly good airplane.? But Ifly - we'll definitely be back.

On this date: In 1971, Ali battled Frazier for the heavyweight championship.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Future Illustrator?

T has taken up drawing, and I mean really taken it up. After he "goes to bed" at night, he quietly spends an hour or two drawing bugs. Right now, it's just bugs because he's got a bug book and he looks at the book while he draws the pictures. I think I have to get him a book about something else soon.

I love this kind of stuff because I didn't figure out what I was good at until I was 38. All I had was a list of "can'ts". Can't sing, can't dance, can't draw or paint, don't like cooking, cubicles make me break out in hives and acting makes me throw up, There is a temptation to leap on every hint of talent or interest, so you have to walk a fine line between encouragement and smothering. In a way, I wish I'd figured out the whole writing thing a lot earlier and I hope they find their passion early in life.

Not bad for a (just turned on Sunday) nine-year old though.

On this date: In 1933, FDR was inaugurated.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

What I Read and How I Liked It

Okay, maybe that was lame, but I stayed up too late last night finishing this book:

Right from the start, I loved this book - great characters, a setting so real you could feel it and a twist that I didn't see coming at the end. All around, a great read for either upper MG and older YA, even those who feel that historical fiction isn't their cup of tea. So, okay, it won the National Book Award this year and it's gotten great reviews - I'm not the first one to love it. Try it and you will too.

On this date: In 1887, Helen Keller met Anne Sullivan.

Monday, March 2, 2009


Whew. Just got back from a fabulous weekend retreat/conference at Asilomar near Monterey, California.

It was amazing - got to hang out with superstar authors Ellen Hopkins, Suzanne Morgan Williams and Jaqueline Woodson, agents Stephen Barbara and Amy Weiss Chilton and editors Kaylan Adair, Nancy Conescu and Emma Dryden. Every building at Asilomar has a common room with a fireplace and comfy chairs and Friday evening found (lucky!!) me in the lounge for hours talking to all of these wicked-cool people and sharing my Moose Munch bars.

The funny thing about this year was the deer - they were everywhere! I opened the curtains on my room that first morning and there were two of them eating grass about two feet from my patio. I was obviously unprepared for wildlife, because my first thought was "Why are there German Shepards running around the property?"

When I checked into my room, I noticed a lonely suitcase sitting outside of the room next door, so I knocked. Author/illustrators Ted and Betsy Lewin (of Click Clack Moo and Horse Song fame) opened the door and thanked me for rescuing it. The next day Ted commented that they needed to watch out for me as I was the notorious bag stealer. Hey, Ted and Betsy, you are welcome to call me anything you want, just call me! Their presentation was amazing - they think nothing of going to Mongolia and spending the week with the nomads and eating nothing but fermented horse milk while they sketch and photograph for an upcoming book. They don't even seem to fight. DH and I argue when we go to Disneyland, so I have no idea how they do it.

It was chill-inducing to hear Jaqueline Woodson (Feathers, Show Way, etc.) read and then tried not to be nervous when I got to talk to her about such important topics as our kids and who was the "bad cop" in our respective relationships. Ellen Hopkins (Crank, Impulse, etc.) was hilarious, and really knows her stuff when it comes to promotion and the Internet. She continued our conversation with a presentation the next day - her handouts on promotion and timeline of what you need to do before and after publication are my new bible. I got to talk to her editor, Emma Dryden and really wish I had something for Agent E to send her because she rocks - and she's close to my age! (For those of you who aren't in the writing community, editors are notoriously 25 and cute as a button - not that there's anything wrong with that...). Agent Stephen Barbara would be a great agent for any writer, even though we were secretly calling him Hollywood because he's got that little bit of cool flash even though he lives in New York.

The only downside was my roomate Cassandra who forced me to stay up talking wayyyy past when I wanted to go to bed and almost let us die from carbon monoxide poisoning from the fireplace upstairs. On the upside of the "smoky room" incident, we figured that if we died, they'd probably put a plaque on the room and might even start a scholarship in our names. We lived, so it's a moot point, but everything I took with me has that smokey, Girl-Scout camp smell.

Sunday lunch was awesome, but it was one of those times where you got into wildly interesting conversations with people right before you were set to leave. Jamie Weiss Chilton is an agent with Andrea Brown and if you are looking for a knowledgeable, earnest and very nice agent, check her out. Blogger extrordinaaire Lee Wind and I got talking right as we walked out the door and I wished I'd discovered him on Friday so I could have spent the entire weekend soaking up his Internet know-how. Frank Cesar (Ramirez) is so awesome with web-advice we were trying to convince him to run a web-building workshop next year. Frank, if you're reading this - we weren't kidding! Do it!

Even in these economic times, I'm not giving up Asilomar, so I'd better sell something soon so I can go next year. It's not just the cost of the trip, but the amount of books I buy so that I can get them signed by the people that wrote them. Hey - it's a write-off, and I get to support authors and a great independent bookstore right? I'm almost ashamed to show you the amount of books I bought this year:

Only one whole year before I get to go again!

On this date: In 1904, Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) was born.