Monday, August 31, 2009


So I'm flippin' exhausted today, after my own first day of school, but not too exhausted to CELEBRATE Jabber's very first EVER day of school! Yay, Jabber, and welcome to the educational system! Because of my schedule and David's schedule and money and a bunch of other factors, we never sent him to any kind of preschool, just a lovely home daycare, where he played like a champ and slowly learned to stop biting and hitting people (though his brother obviously doesn't count as people). I've worried just a little about how he would deal with school--with the structure and the long hours (he goes from 8:30-4:00 every day!), but he did a splendid job on the first day of kindergarten.

Here he is, back full circle to hanging out in my classroom in the mornings, attending the teacher meetings and eating his breakfast out of tupperware while Mama makes copies. When Jabber was an infant, David worked from some godawful early hour to 8:00 am, when he would come and pick up the baby from my school and care for him the rest of the day. I have lots of memories of Jabber jabbering through morning meetings or maybe sleeping in my sling or even exploring the amazing treasures of the art teacher's closet, but my favorite memory of that time has got to be the day my boss made the mistake of trying to lead our meeting while eating a banana. Jabber basically would not let the meeting proceed until he had relinquished it.

Anyway, I like having my little guy around once again, and I feel good that his first bus ride is a short trip with no stops (and no middle school kids on the bus).

And here he is on the bus itself, though I had only a moment to snap it in between explaining his allergy to the bus driver and trying to show him what you do with a backpack the size of four kindergarteners in the cramped confines of a bus seat. He was brave and happy on the bus, and David says he had no trouble finding his way to the classroom once he arrived.

His first day went well, and he fell off to sleep this evening with the words, "I'm even more excited for tomorrow!"

We kind of thought it might be an adjustment for Monkey to be at daycare all alone, but when D. picked him up, they had this conversation.

D: Did you miss your brother today?
Monkey: Who?
D: Um, your brother? Jabber?
Monkey: Ohhh. Yeah. Where is he, anyway?

So apparently not. :)

Hoping for an equally good tomorrow, for both of us! And now, sleeeeeep.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

editing wisdom from a toddler


Monkey: Mama, what's wrong? I kiss you and make it all better?

Me: Oh, honey, it's all right. I'm having problems with the timeline in my story.

Monkey: I can help you.

Me: *laughs* You want to help me fix my timeline?

Monkey: No. I didn't said that. I said I CAN'T help you.

Me: Yeah, probably right, baby.

Monkey: You gonna have to help yourself, Mama. You gonna have to help yourself.

Friday, August 21, 2009

so many books...

So I bought a bunch of books, and it ended up depressing me. How does that work? Well, unlike the adult fiction at the sale, which are mostly donations, a lot of the YA books there were books that have been withdrawn from the library--maybe because the library has extra copies, maybe because they didn't circulate, maybe because they're old...for whatever reason, looking at all those discarded books made me sad. (Even though it means the library is replacing them with new books!)

(I searched and searched my brain just now for the word "discarded", and it simply wasn't there. Eventually I had to ask David, who promptly supplied the word and then said, "How's that for a son of a librarian?" /random aside)

So anyway, back to my woeful depression.

There are a lot of books in the two big grocery bags I came home with. A lot of books that I haven't ever heard of. Books that, quite honestly, don't look very good. And that could be depressing from a *whine whine* "But how come my books aren't published when there are so many dumb ones that get published?" *whine* kind of way, but I have been paying close attention to publishing for long enough to understand that those comparisons are pretty meaningless, really.

Instead, I'm depressed to see so many books that are so...forgettable. They have been discarded. They were published (hurray! the big pie in the sky goal!), they made it to the library (and maybe even the bookstore!), but for whatever reason, teens didn't read them.* They were not big hits. I have not heard of them. I haven't heard of their authors--those people who slaved away just as I have slaved away over an idea so nebulous and maddening, over characters and dialogue and conflict and query letters and revisions and marketing. Only to have their book, still shiny and new, tossed into a huge bag by a middle school English teacher who looks at it, raises her eyebrows dubiously, and says, "Well, you never know. Someone might like this one."

In a way, it makes me grateful that my first novel did not sell, since at the time I finished it I knew only enough to be mildly dangerous. In the last three years or so, I've learned SO MUCH about every part of the writing process, including the part that comes after the book sale, as more and more of my writing friends have books published before my very eyes!

(Check out Bethany Griffin's Handcuffs, Cindy Pon's Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia, Hannah Moskowitz's Break, and Suzanne Young's The Naughty List, by the way!)

Obviously I'm still terribly ignorant, but I'm learning more and more every day.

I'm rambling rather idiotically, but I guess what I'm feeling is a combination of my usual Barnes and Noble Syndrome: "Oh my god look, there are a lot of books in this world. How is there even room for one more? Why would anyone possibly need mine?" and the sadness of seeing so many books discarded and unwanted, left languishing for the three dollars a bag crowd. "I used to be somebody's baby, but now no one will even pay fifty cents for me," they whisper. Even if they are bad books, I feel sorry for them. But I'm a weirdo, I know.

I'll get over it. I'll keep writing. I'll keep hoping. And I'll keep trying to learn more about how to keep my own babies out of that discard pile, should they ever get to the point of being books outside of my own imagination!

Speaking of babies. Enough of this writing chatter. This morning I was getting ready to go to the library, and the kids were fighting about something or other. I asked them to stop, and Jabber replied with his usual anger word, a fiercely hissed, "STINKIN'!"

Monkey looked shocked (as though he has never yelled the same thing at me). "Mama's not stinkin'!" he said, patting my face with his sweet little hands. "Mama is Beeeeyooootiful!" Hard to feel too depressed for too long with that kind of lovin' in the house.

*I do realize that books are discarded for a variety of reasons, not always because they're miserable failures. I've found some really spectacular and successful books in the discard pile. But the general feeling I got from the books I picked up today was a sort of air of dejection--books that never really found their following. It may be that the authors went on to be perfectly successful; after all, there are a million brilliant authors I've never heard of. It's also highly possible that I just happened to pick up a particularly dreadful pile of books.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

moar books!

I just came home from a routine Target run bearing a "small" stack of books "for my classroom" (okay, I don't really bring David Sedaris in for my seventh graders, it's true. But the others are all young adult books! That's responsible! I mean, it's practically like working--for the YA writer elissa as well as the teacher elissa! See? It's like working DOUBLE TIME!)

David gave me a Look. The same Look he gave me when we were young and adventurous and living on the road with our belongings all in the trunk of our car and my path brought me dangerously close to a bookstore. He didn't say it out loud, but there's a good chance he was thinking that a hefty stack of books was not, in fact, on the List. (The List is mandatory for all Target trips, for all the good it does...that store is pure evil.)

To be fair, David came home yesterday from the library book sale with a pretty hefty stack of his own...I don't honestly think I could live with a man who wasn't at least mostly okay with the fact that my interior decorating skills revolve around arranging bookshelves, crates of books, stacks of books, boxes of books, and a general scattering of books on all available surfaces. Granted, many of those books now feature colorful illustrations of animals wearing overalls, but hey, Monkey's pick at Barnes and Noble the last time we went was The Manchurian Candidate, so perhaps there's hope for the grown-up books to make a comeback soon to the main floor of our home!

So speaking of the library book sale...tomorrow's the day! The BAG SALE! A whole bag of books for only three dollars! A whole room just for MG and YA what if I currently have four full bookcases and a rotating wire rack full of books in my classroom? I'm there.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

draft two, in which she sharpens her machete...

So I know I write first drafts like a plague of vicious weeds--a blackberry tangle in the Pacific Northwest, perhaps.

My first pass of editing consists mainly of reading over paragraphs and thinking, "Why the hell is this even here?"


Slash and burn.

I used to go in there all tentative--poking at the soil a little, trimming back adverbs. Now I'm more of a clear-cutter. I raze entire acres of this jungle draft. Acrid smoke billows up in my wake.

I'm ruthlessly ripping apart this scene. But I can see something, trickling down through the foliage. Sunshine.

Tiny tendrils of new words uncurl, all the more vivid green against the blank backdrop of my earlier demolition.

Draft Two, in progress. Ten of forty-six scenes are now pruned.

And just in time. I hear a Monkey waking from his nap upstairs.

performance anxiety

So all day yesterday I had this window open. Yeah, this window. The NEW POST window for the blog. I've got a lot to say, some pictures to show, you know. But nothing really...interesting.

Oh, god, not that old thought, I'd say. Delete.

You already told that story somewhere else.

Elsewhere in my online life, I've been talking with people about internet personas for writers. Like, the author website, the facebook page, the author blog, the interviews, you know. Your author brand. Branding yourself.

It all makes sense. Writing novels is not about only writing novels, or not if your goal is to publish novels. To sell novels.

An author's online presence can be huge. So okay. But that's scary. Here I am, puttering around on my little blog, thinking, but oh no! What if posting a picture of the Monkey after getting into a rumble at daycare:
makes people not want to read my books??!? (he was smacked in the face with a plastic train track, I guess? Monkey is badass.)

What if I post a bad review of a book on my LibraryThing account and make people not want to buy my book? Or not want to blurb my book? Or simply hate me forever? Do I need to stop reviewing books in order to not offend someone I'm trying to impress?

Or if there's a really strange blog at an address similar to my name, and people think it's me?

What if I say something OFF-BRAND?


So I've given it some thought, and I've decided I can't really handle having an "internet persona"--I'll just be a person on the internet. A person who sometimes is funny and sometimes is dull and sometimes posts cute pictures of her kid. And I have corners of the internet for being a mom and corners for being a writer and corners where I write my teaching blog, too. And places like this, where it all kind of comes together in a mish mash of me.

And here's a cool list I read a few weeks ago that talks about publicity and all the smart things writers should be doing as they write and sell a novel...I thought it was interesting and helpful,, and I bookmarked it for the time I may find myself farther down the list!

What You Can Do: Twelve Easy Steps

I liked that. Anyway.

One of the things I have done as a person on the internet is make friends, and last week I got to spend some time with some of the people from my online writing group, which was really cool. We all got in the minivan and took the kids to see some bears at a bear sanctuary way back in the woods. I was expecting something very roadside attractionish--a couple of tame bears maybe, but it turned out to be pretty amazing!The only complication was a minor temper tantrum when Monkey decided that he *really* wanted to touch the bears. I mean, we all did. He threw himself about in my arms for a while, wanting to get down off the platform we were on.

"I want get down and touch them!"

"I know, baby. But you can't touch the bears. They're wild animals, and they might hurt you."


Uh huh. Here he is pouting.Yes, he was clean when we left the house. Or mostly.

Okay, now I've really got to do some editing.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

a tangential slalom course of a post

I go through these jags where I listen almost exclusively to Minnesota Public Radio when I'm driving my car, and I'm in one right now. If you were to see me driving somewhere, you'd probably be able to tell. I might be chuckling. I might be nodding thoughtfully. Most likely, though, my car will be parked and inexplicably idling at my destination--the children straining at their seatbelts while I shush them.

So yesterday I hopped into the car (I keep calling it that, but it's really a mini-van, sighhhh) to pick up the boys from a morning at daycare while I was writing, and this Harvard psychologist, Dan Gilbert, was speaking about happiness, or more specifically, why people mess up so much when trying to predict what will make them happy. A long time ago, I remembered watching this video of a shorter talk he did at some other...ideas thingy...because I remembered the interesting experiments he did with a photography course.

Short story is that he had college students take a bunch of meaningful pictures and create two beautiful prints, and then they had to choose one to keep and one to leave with the instructor. Half the students were told that they could change their minds in four days and switch pictures, and the other half were told that they had to choose and it was a final decision. In the end, the people who had an opportunity to change their minds were less happy with the pictures than the people without that chance. Like, a lot less happy.

Then he asked a new group of students which group they would rather be in, and over sixty percent of them chose to be in the group with the choice. They chose the class that would eventually make them unhappy with their photo.

This was interesting.

I started thinking about shopping, about the difference between the way I shop and the way D. shops. First, I make decisions and then I don't look back. Let's say I'm looking for a new pair of shoes to wear to work. I'll go to the shoe store, find my size, look around at all the options, try on a few pairs if I don't already have a tantrumming toddler, pick one, buy it, and I'm done. Those other shoes that I didn't buy? They aren't in my head anymore, unless I've made mental plans to come back for them after I've earned another pair of shoes or something.

David does pretty much the opposite. He will scour shoe stores for several weeks, repeatedly going in and trying on different pairs. He will research the finalists thoroughly on the internet. He'll read reviews of the shoes. He'll go back and try them on again. He'll pit the stores against each other to get a better price (seriously, he does this all the time, not necessarily with shoes, but I wouldn't put it past him). Finally, he'll make his selection, but much of the time it's a close decision, and he may waver a couple of times as he works through all the pros and cons of each.

The next thing is that I don't do returns. So let's just say I don't like shoes when I get home. They actually pinch a little. Wow, I didn't realize they made that weird little sighing sound every time I take a step. That will be awkward while I'm creeping around my classroom. I totally didn't notice that they made my feet look so boxy. Boxy doesn't really look good on my feet. I shrug and tuck them in my closet. Give them away to someone. Possibly I have slightly pinching, boxy, sighing feet for a while until I have a chance and the funds to try again. But it doesn't really occur to me to bring them back. I don't know why...I just feel like it's a lot of trouble. I made the choice, no big deal. I don't usually feel unhappy about the shoes. Shoes are great, but I'm not going to go crazy over a pair of shoes.

D. comes home from shopping and doesn't take the tags off of things until he's certain. Really certain. And then maybe he'll sleep on it. I guess I can't speak to his happiness with those final purchases, but from my point of view, it seems like if he realizes that there's a flaw in his purchase, he's more likely to wonder about that other option...maybe I should have bought that other one...I saw that one review about this on their website, but everyone else said it was seems a little like agonizing, to me.

Agonizing =/= Happiness.

So Gilbert talked about how choice--freedom--makes people less happy. Because you can wonder about whether you made the right choice? Because you also have the freedom of regretting the choices?

Oh, dear. This is not what this post was supposed to be about. Warning! Tangent! Where did it start? *traces back*


Second paragraph. A likely place for a tangent to crop up.

What I meant to write about was the tiny snippet of the Aspen talk aired on MPR that was about CHILDREN. And how they make us less happy. I believe his three reasons that we still think of our children as sources of joy were Armani socks, Heroin, and Baseball. Maybe I'll blather on about that tomorrow. Or maybe there will be another tangent. What was I talking about?

Monday, August 10, 2009

infer what you will...

Jabber, coming home to find me sweeping the house,

(yes, sweetheart, we are expecting company, why do you ask?)

looks around excitedly.

"Where did you put all the new toys I haven't seen in forever?"

I finished!

I wrote the ending of the first draft of novel number four, A Tangled Web! It's almost 1:30 in the morning, but I'm on the edge of singing and dancing!


I will read through it and see how much crap it is made of! And then I will revise!

But first I will sleep. Whee!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Little House in the Big Chaos

So I bought a number of new skirts on Friday (shopping downtown was a part of our Friday Date Afternoon), and this morning I had to hand wash them in the tub before I can wear them.

I admit, I do not always wash my clothing before wearing it (and in fact there may have been a time in my life where doing laundry was such a pain in the ass that I bought new underwear rather than wash the ones I had...yes, I know, I could have washed them in the sink, but if you haven't figured out by now how lazy I am when it comes to cleaning stuff, you're a lost cause), but this particular store has a very lovely smell that I can handle smelling for about twelve minutes before it makes my head feel like it has been violated by an ice auger.

(please do not make any wild assumptions about my writing ability based on that sentence, thx.)

Anyway. So I'm hunched over the tub, my hands ice cold and raw, my back straining under the weight of all that heavy, stinky fabric, and I'm reminded of the book the boys and I are reading--that lovely classic Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I started thinking about how Ma washed all their clothes in a couple of washtubs with water hauled up from the creek bottom all the way up to the prairie. How Pa had suggested that she go down and wash the clothes in the river like the Indians did, spreading them on the rocks to dry. How she had been offended and insisted she would do the wash like civilized people do. How much more work that seemed to Jabber and Monkey and me when we read about it.

(Incidentally, I'm very interested in any great non-fiction book suggestions on Native Americans, since this book is generating a lot of discussion among Curiouser and Curiouser...)

Yesterday afternoon Jabber and Monkey and I made cornbread, just like Ma. "Hey, Mama, let's play Little House," said Jabber.

"Little House onna Pare-Ee!" shouted Monkey, jumping all crazy on the top of the step-stool.

"Okay," I said. "I will be Ma." (I lack imagination.)

"Can I be Laura?" asked the Jabberwock, jumping too, though from a sensible floor-level.

"Sure," I said.

"Okay! I'll be Laura, and Monkey can be...." Jabber looked over at Monkey, who was sitting on the kitchen floor shaking his head from the fall off the step-stool--a little rattled but trying not to let it show. "Well, I guess I'm Mary, 'cause I'm the biggest. And Monkey can be...."

It all started to fall apart. He looked up at me. "Can Monkey be Mary but still I'm the biggest?"

"Laura's the most interesting, isn't she?" I said.

He nodded. "Mary isn't very much fun," he said.

"Yeah. Maybe Monkey could be Baby Carrie."

"Yeah. And then I can still boss him."



Saturday, August 8, 2009


The words,

"Mommmm! Monkey doesn't have any pants on!"

shouted from the second floor

seldom mean anything good.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

to the washerwoman go the spoils

It's an unwritten rule, of course, that the person responsible for sorting and washing and hanging and folding and putting away the laundry gets to keep anything s/he finds in the pockets.

Last week I made $8.00, no lie. Not bad for fourteen hours of work.

Now, I suppose it's the difference between asking David to collect his dirty clothing for me like I did today and simply going into the bedroom and scooping up all of his clothing off the floor (even digging it out from under the bed!) like I did last time, but today the spoils of my labor consist only of one orange toy car, a dime, a rubber wheel, and a pink plastic drink sword.

I'm sorely disappointed.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

save it

Yesterday I read CDP's post in which she describes her son struggling with some of the same issues Jabber has struggled with regarding banks. Specifically, the idea of a savings account.

For a child who was thrust almost three years ago into a perpetual state of acute possession-awareness ("Don't let Monkey get my stuff, Mom!"), handing over the cash and coin, which he has been carefully threading through the slot in his porcelain piggy bank all his life, is not easy. I mean, this is literally his life savings. Why would he possibly want to give all of that away, to some lady he's never met before at a place we had to drive across town to get to?

"But what if I want my money back?" was his biggest question.

We've been doing mini-math lessons for most of the summer--Jabber's been learning to write his numbers, tell time, use a calendar, and count by fives and tens. We've been practicing by counting the money in his piggy bank. And although he has a lot of money, we decided to start with depositing forty dollars into this mystical and poorly-explained place called the bank.

Jabber agreed to open his first savings account.

So we get to the bank (the name and location of which shall be kept top secret, for security reasons but also because you know who you are, lady. More on that in a bit.). David and Monkey are with us this time (not like the last time we tried this and I forgot Jabber's social security number), so Jabber and I take a seat at the woman's wide desk and start answering her questions. Jabber answers like a champ: He tells her his full name and then writes it clearly on a form she had him fill out. He tells her my full name and his dad's full name. He points out his "sosha scurty" number and lists each of the digits for her. He repeats his phone number three times while she enters the information into her computer. He counts out his money carefully--three tens and two fives--and although he stumbles a little between $30 and $35, he gets it the second time through.

"And what's your address?" she asks.

Jabber spits out his phone number again.

"Oh, no, sweetie," she says, flashing a weird look at me. What was that look? "I mean, what street do you live on?"

"Oh," he says, and he tells her the street and also mentions the avenue that we are close to.

"But what is the house number?"

He shakes his head. He can't remember.

She gives me that look, again, and now I get it. It's disapproval. Judgment. "You're five, right?" she says to Jabber. "It's about time for you to learn your address. Before you go to school. That's very, very important." She gives me a final pointed look.

He nods, and the moment is gone. We finish up with the savings account, but now I'm irritated.

Save it, lady. Save the judgment. He knows his name, his parents' names, our phone number, and the two streets that intersect 25 feet from his front door.

This was such a tiny incident, but I found myself still annoyed by the attitude hours later while David and I were cleaning up from dinner. He said something, and I reacted, and then I said, "You know, maybe I'm too sensitive. Did you know I was seriously angry at that lady at the bank today when she made it sound like I was the worst parent on the face of the earth because Jabber didn't know his house number? Was I imagining that? Am I reading too much into people's innocent comments? Am I putting more pressure on myself as a parent that is just imaginary stuff?"

David laughed and shook his head. "No," he said. "She was just a bitch."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Do you actually, like, write?

I had a couple of hours of daycare yesterday morning, time for me to write, and I thought I'd try to figure out what I actually did during that time. To be fair, I did write about 2,000 words on my WIP (the Twelfth Night with talking seagulls YA story set here in my home city), but that's only a fraction of what "writing time" means for me.

So yesterday morning, I:

  • read through my subscriptions to various writing-related blogs, noting items of interest to share with my online writing group
  • discovered a newer agent to query and entered her information into my query spreadsheet for The Dharma Bum Business.
  • discovered via the blogosphere that one of my favorite agents (I mean, favorite in the sense that I enjoy reading blog posts she writes and interviews she's strange how writing becomes sort of a spectator sport at times!) is open for some types of submissions for the next month, and hey, my project fits one of those types!
  • researched both of those agents for submission guidelines, etc.
  • reread the first seven pages of TDBB that I include in my query letters with an eye to polish it up even more.
  • added a comma, removed an adverb
  • took away the comma
  • used a thesaurus briefly
  • deleted the whole sentence that used to be home to the adverb
  • followed a complicated process of saving as text to, one hopes, preserve the formatting when pasting the sample pages into an email (this process was maybe seventy-five and a half steps long and involved some burnt offerings and at least a dozen languages)
  • personalized my query letter
  • sent four queries and updated my color-coded spreadsheet
  • read several agent threads on a writing forum as research and updated spreadsheet
  • noticed that my google reader showed that several agents had updated their blogs
  • read blogs
  • made coffee
  • opened notes file for WIP and read through the summary of scenes I have left to write.
  • realized that the last time I was writing, I completely and shamelessly veered away from the "outline".
  • adjusted "outline". (okay, so the actual words I wrote were: "Oh no, I just realized this will all fall apart after that last scene, so...figure it out, all right? fix this. make it clever and shit.")
  • made toast to go with second cup of coffee
  • wrote 100 words of WIP
  • whined to writing group about how hard it was
  • posted excerpt, received praise
  • wrote another 100 words
  • checked email, found a rejection
  • cried
  • updated spreadsheet
  • reread query letter, trying to figure out what was wrong with it
  • took a spin over to Query Shark to look at query letters that *had* to be worse than mine. Instead, the entry is an example of a perfectly awesome query that I sure wish were mine
  • found that as usual, queries sort of all look the same to me, especially after I read a few in a row
  • got a headache
  • cancelled tentative plans to become a literary agent's assistant
  • wrote 500 words of WIP in a fit of pure, unadulterated genius
  • read a tutorial on synopsis-writing, and then another one
  • tried to start a synopsis
  • banged head repeatedly into desk
  • searched cupboard for jelly beans
  • sent myself a test email to make sure it wasn't malfunctioning
  • checked clock, found only thirty minutes remaining before I had to leave to pick up the kids
  • read over the last 700 words of WIP, found them to be utter crap
  • deleted and wrote 1000 serviceable first draft words
  • whined to writing group about how hard it was
  • checked clock, found that I was now going to be late to pick up the kids
  • sped away in the minivan like SuperMom, except unshowered and tardy and with no plans for lunch.