Friday, December 31, 2010

wrapping it up--2010

Christmas Fireworks
One year ago today, I wrote a post outlining my writing goals for 2010.  I...could not even have imagined, 365 days ago, the thrilling successes I would experience--finding my dream agent, selling my YA debut, working with a brilliant editor, finishing a draft of another YA manuscript, meeting so many amazing writers (and having them come here, to my blog, to say hi and offer their support! WOW!)...and so much more.

I do think it's funny how cyclical writing is, though.  Case in point, my first goal last year:
I'd like to remain thoughtful, objective, gracious, and rational about anything that happens with this book.
This book?  At the time, it was known as The Dharma Bum Business, and shortly after I wrote that, Sarah Davies offered representation, and we started working hard to make the book the best it could be before putting it out on sub to editors.   The letter arrived--pages of questions, suggestions, cautions--pushing me to take my book to the next step.  I kept those words from my goal in mind (I'm not going to say I always succeeded, but I tried!), and they helped me as I revised the book now known as Kiss the Morning Star.

Thoughtful, objective, gracious, and rational.  Well, a year later, and I'm still pushing this book--still working to make it the best it can be, this time working with the feedback of my editor, Melanie Kroupa.  A year ago, I was close to putting this book away, "trunking" it.  I had gone through many revisions, many rounds of querying agents, and I thought I had pretty much done everything I could for it.

I have a long and unfinished post saved to my drafts folder about the process of this book becoming what it is, and someday, when the process is actually over, I may post it, but the moral of the story is...time and again, I have believed that the book is as good as I can make it, and time and again, I have been proven wrong.  And every time, the bar is higher, and the process is harder.  And I say those words like a mantra--thoughtful, objective, gracious, and rational.  And now, as I project this manuscript into a future where it will have a shiny cover and real pages and--OMG!--readers, who will be more than willing to give their feedback, I will cling to those words for support.

So I think that needs to be a permanent goal.

My other goals from last year were all accomplished:

Next goal is about the next book, and that is to finish editing it and send it out there spinning into the world as well.
 Done!  And though I still love this ms., it is sitting to the side for now until it fits better into the plan (it's a fantasy story.)

Third writing goal is to decide on the next project.... I'd like to get one more novel rough drafted by the end of this year.
 Done! My Cassandra WIP needs another go-around of serious revision, but I finished a draft, showed it to Sarah, and I hope I will be able to wrestle it into a shape worthy of submitting during 2011!

And last is for me to keep working on the one story, you know the one.
 Done! Not much done, but this book is making baby steps in and among the other projects, and it still excites me.  In addition, I wrote half of my very first attempt at middle grade with my summer-camp ghost story WIP, In the Hanging Shack.  So overall, my 2010 was a year of writing.  Tomorrow I'll share my goals for 2011, since this post has rambled on long enough, but I think a few more of them will focus on the personal life outside of the writing life.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Contract!

Took a short break from my editing (by the way:  AAAAAACKKKKK!!!) to sign my contract!  Hooray!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

dangerous sweets

If there's one thing I shouldn't hate about Christmas, it's the cookies.

In fact, I love the cookies, the candies, the sweet and elaborate creations that come from the kitchens of those amazing people who manage to carve out time during the busy holiday season to slave over double boilers and bubbling confections.  YUM.

But with Jabber's confirmed peanut allergy and both kids untested for all the tree nuts, I sort of find myself hating these goodies, or at least hating the danger and uncertainty they add to my son's life.

The thing is, we don't know--and I'm hoping we never find out--what will happen if Jabber eats a peanut.  We carry our epi-pens and antihistamine and keep our house safe from cross-contamination.  We set up health plans in the school and accompany him to birthday parties with his own safe cupcakes.  But even with all our preparations, there are so many things that could go wrong, so many variables we can't control.  And that's scary.

Christmas Eve, for example.  Jabber feels safe with all his family around, and I looked up and found him eating one of Grandma's sugar cookies.  Instantly, I jump up, confiscate the cookie, track down the plate he got it from, and inspect it for nuts.  Sure enough, there were peanut-butter cookies sharing the plate, but my mom assured me that she had personally chosen a cookie that wasn't touching any of them.  How sure am I that the cookies hadn't shifted at some point?  How do I tell my son, who is insisting he feels fine--and of course he insists, since those are good cookies, and everyone else is eating them!--that I don't feel comfortable with him eating it?  How do I explain later, when my grandma offers both boys cookies from another plate, that they aren't allowed to eat any of the treats?  How do I keep him safe from this entire family of people, all of whom are now potential dangers, walking around with peanut-butter cookie crumbs on their clothes, peanut proteins on their hands? 

It's hard to find the balance between keeping my child safe and depriving others (demanding that everyone wash their hands and all surfaces they have touched, locking the unsafe foods that people slaved over in a forbidden cupboard?)  It's hard to explain why we won't let Monkey eat any of the foods, either, even though we're not sure if he's allergic (why risk it?)  It's hard to speak up, and it's even harder when it's not family. 

At one point during the festivities, another child was eating a slice of potica at the "kid table", where Jabber and Monkey were eating, too.  I watched the crumbs going all over the tablecloth and imagined how someone could scatter those little walnut particles all over the living room with one unthinking movement as they collapsed the card table and got the room ready for present opening.  I thought about how my kids could be sitting there on that deep shag carpeting, opening their gifts, and have a reaction to the tiny allergens.  And it was so sad to have this delicious food suddenly turn in my mind to a very frightening enemy, as I carefully gathered up the cloth, washed the table and chairs, and double-checked that the bottle of antihistamine was handy.  What if I wasn't there?  What if I didn't see the potica, or know that it has nuts in it? 

How many people in Jabber's life will be walking around completely unaware of the fact that their food is potentially dangerous to him?  Is this any different from the hundreds of thousands of other dangers that could befall my children?  I'm not trying to be overly dramatic in this post, but I know parenting is a fearful journey for everyone--there is only so much we can do to keep them safe, and it only gets harder as they get older and move away from our control.  Sigh.

I don't hate Christmas cookies.  Thank you, to all those wonderful people who stirred and dipped and frosted and rolled and sprinkled and arranged their holiday sweets.  They were delicious.  And I'm just a little bit glad that they are gone.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Happy Birthday, Jabber!

When he was nearly three, Jabber patted my gigantic belly and said he would share his toys, he would share his bedroom, but he absolutely would NOT share his birthday with his little brother. So how did that work out for him?  Well, I have to admit that he only readily shares the toys he doesn't much care for.  And the two brothers only peacefully share their bedroom for about sixty seconds a day.  But when Monkey was born the day before Jabber's birthday--an act merely the beginning of a long series of "ME FIRST" moments--Jabber handled the situation with a graceful sort of resignation.  He is...to the best of his abilities, a kind and patient and generous big brother. 

One thing Jabber savors is stories.  Over the last couple of nights, we've been telling stories of the kids as babies, and Jabber hangs on every word.  He loves to listen to a book read out loud, especially books about heroes just a teensy bit more adventurous than he.  He feels deeply, right along the characters, his whole body twisting with anxiety when the action gets tense.  For a while he hated reading--cried and freaked out every time he was asked to do it. He could read.  He could sound out the words.  But it was so much effort--how can you enjoy a story when you have to sound it out letter by letter?  I fought him to get the homework done, and I simply hated the fact that our favorite activity, story time, was turning into a stressful battle. 

Finally I managed to get to the bottom of this issue and I talked with him about how, once you get a lot of practice at reading, you can identify whole words or phrases in one glance.  We used the word automaticity, and he giggled as he said it.  We started reading each page in a book in unison, twice, and then he would read it on his own in his "automatic reading voice."  Which meant fast.  Instantly, all our fights about reading disappeared.  Jabber wanted to practice reading so that he could get automatic: he just wanted to move beyond the letter-by-letter decoding stage and back into the enjoying stories stage.

I can't believe how far he has come in the last year, between age six and age seven.  I look at him sometimes, or overhear some tidbit of wisdom he is either mumbling aloud or trying out on me, and I can't even believe he's for real.  He's such a thinker.

This morning we were, as we often are, running late for work.  It was his birthday, and I was trying to go easy on him, to let him enjoy the feeling of waking up with the whole day belonging to him. But the clock keeps ticking, and the van needs scraping, and the younger brother--tired out from his own ME FIRST birthday--is grumpy, and...well.

"Jabber," I said, as he stood in the bathroom with his toothbrush in his hand, in exactly the same position I'd left him five minutes earlier.  "Why aren't you doing anything? Come ON."

"But I was doing something," he said, slowly lifting his toothbrush up to his mouth.

"You were not doing anything," I argued.  "You were just standing there, holding your brush."

"I was thinking," he said.  And of course he was.

(It's a Pikachu cake)
Happy Birthday, my Daydreamer!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Happy Birthday, Monkey!

Monkey is four today, and it's a ridiculously busy week, like it always is on his birthday.  Midterms have gone out, so my inbox is full of dutiful parents checking up on their children's assertions that they have, indeed, completed and turned in all that work that was missing, and the students themselves are in rare, pre-holiday form.  Sickness has trampled its way through the family and back again.  We are behind on every possible mundane task imaginable, and I remember--

--I remember a very similar week, four years ago.  Monkey still wasn't due for several weeks, but I had a feeling he was coming early, so I had been working like a crazy person to get sub plans in place that could be stepped into at any time, and by anyone, in case my sub wasn't ready yet when I went into labor.

Sure enough, I remember one morning--the day before Jabber's third birthday--when I got up and thought, "Oh, no way.  I really cannot see how I am possibly going to keep doing this for the next week and a half." It felt like there was no possible way there was even a millimeter more room in my abdomen to house that lively child, and there wasn't a chance that I was going to be able to find the energy to complete a single thing that evening.  Nothing, that is, except labor and birth.

And then...everything stopped.  Life grew slow and syrupy sweet, and whole stacks of hours passed doing nothing more productive than snuggling and gazing and nursing. 

He's still that person, even at his craziest, most frenetic pace.  He can stop time, for a while--erase obligations--with the magic of his hugs. 

Happy Birthday, Snuggle-Buggle. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Portals Arrived on the Young Heroes' Birthday...

What perils will the Heroes face? What adventures will they have? Happy Birthday with the family--Saturday, December 11, 2010.

Thank you, Aunt Sharon! 

Friday, December 10, 2010

sick day homeschool

So all three of us were out sick today with a creepy, fever-cough flu-thing, so I was lying in my bed drifting in and out of consciousness while the boys were supposed to be "resting" in their bedroom.

Before long, I heard some rather organized imagination play going on.  From the sounds of it, Jabber and Monkey were playing school.

For a while, things went well.  Jabber got out some paper and pencils and labored to teach his brother the art of  proper letter formation.

Jabber:  Oh!  That's a very nice E!  Normally, we only use three lines going across, but you got it facing the right way and everything.

Monkey: *makes siren noise*

Jabber:  Monkey! It's time to do the R!  Come on.  Start with one line down, like this.

Monkey:  WhoooooooooOOOOOOOOoooooooo!

Jabber:  Are you even listening to me?  Monkey!  Monkey.  Come on.  This is serious.  See my R?  See if you can do it just like that.

Monkey:  *jumps up and down*

Jabber: You can't make your R look right while you're jumping.  Please sit down.  PLEASE SIT DOWN!

Monkey:  I did it already!  I'm done!  I'm done! *jump jump jump*

Jabber: (exasperated)  MONKEY.  Where is your paper??

Monkey:  (completely unconcerned comment tossed out in between his enthusiastic gun-shooting sound effects)  Oh, that paper?  I dunno.  I threw it on the floor over there somewhere.

Jabber:  What?  We don't throw our papers on the floor, Monkey.  You have to turn them in to your teacher.

Monkey:  *cackles loudly, interspersed with more gun sound effects*  Well, go pick it up then.  I don't care.  SCHOOL IS BORRRRRRING!

***

Oh, dear.  That is all.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Dear Life...

I found this"letter to life" in the process of going through my old computer and copying all the near-forgotten files (nostalgia running amok amok amok!) and realized it was written nine years ago to the day (yesterday).  And...I liked it.  It was sort of interesting to see how closely some of the thoughts fit in with the thoughts I've been thinking recently (does that mean I'm always thinking the same things, or does it mean that my introspection spirals round in predictable cycles?) 

Anyway, this photo was another lost-n-found treasure--that's me on New Year's Eve, 2001, at the Eugene First Night Celebration.  I thought it fit with the retro blog post...reflecting on the past, thinking about the future.

Dear Life,

I'm sorry it's taken me so long to write.  You've been busy.  I know I've taken you for granted a lot, but I want you to know I don't mean to forget you.

I've hiked a lot of trails carrying a heavy backpack, and the way was sometimes very rocky.  I remember a trail in the Grand Tetons where the switchbacks climbed endlessly, carved out of the mountain in thick, stony steps, uneven--each step forcing me to heave all of my weighty self onto one raised knee.  I cursed that trail, and I hated that heavy load upon my back, even though I knew it was there to help me stay well--to sleep comfortably and eat and drink fresh water.  And I remember another trail in Glacier, stepping through shoulder-high foliage on a slippery, uphill path covered with bear tracks, fear pounding in my heart. 

Sometimes, Life, you're that dreaded, cursed trail, difficult to follow.  And sometimes a piece of me folds her arms and sits down by the side and refuses to carry her backpack one step farther.  And even then, Life, what do you do but send a swarm of mosquitoes to drive me from my perch.  Bitch.

Still, as I climbed, and as I sang loudly to the bears to mask my fear, I became more whole.  My vision grew.  I became brave.  I carried the things I needed and left the rest in the car.  Without that path, where would my journey lead?

What more can I say to you, Life, in these muddy, clumsy words...these words that stomp impatiently in pastures, yearning for the grasses of other places?  Your beauty can only be captured in the sideways glance, stuttered in the soul, perhaps in a line of poetry.  Only the guttural sounds of the most primal language could come close--the gasp, the sigh, the shiver that runs like lightning up the back of my neck and slides down my arms in a shower of gooseflesh.

Thanks for helping me learn to be patient.  I know I get whiny sometimes.  I'm sorry I've hated you.  Cheated on you.  Cried and wailed, begged you to change.  We don't need to get into the details, Life.  I know I'm the one who changes.

It's okay that I'm not famous yet, Life.  I like the present better when I have dreams about the future.

It's okay that I'm poor, too.  I hope I'll always remember to keep it simple.

I wanted to thank you also for music, poetry, and light.  For the colors of the autumn leaves, the smell of sunny raspberries, the joy of an icy snowball packed with raw, cold hands in spring, the sound of children laughing.

Thanks for forgiveness,
for enthusiasm,
for trial and for error,
for the madness and the serenity.

Thanks for not giving up on me when I give up on you.

Anyway, Life, there was a reason I wrote to you, actually.  I was thinking about all the things about you I'd like to enjoy, and I mean, I can imagine so much to do (thanks, Life, by the way, for imagination), I mean besides being a writer and a backpacker and a poet and a teacher and a photographer and a wife and a graphic designer and an artist and a dreamer in this life, I also would really love to be a painter and a dancer and a tree and mother and a carpenter and a crazy woman and a geologist and a singer and a film director.  And Life, these are only the things I want to do right this second.

So I guess what I'm saying, Life, is please, slow down! Help me remember to play, to learn, to question, to get involved.  Don't let my time get so parceled off to various places that I never have a moment to be alone, to stare into the sky or to whisper a prayer, to paint in the afternoon or to dance with my husband in the kitchen. 

And I promise to write more often.

Love, (thanks most of all for love)

Elissa Janine

Monday, November 22, 2010

What do you wanna be when you grow up?

I remember when my senior AP English Lit. teacher--a seriously awe-inspiring English teacher and probably the whole reason I thought maybe teaching might actually be an enjoyable endeavor--stood up in front of us all and started talking about what she had wanted to be when she grew up, back when she was a little girl.  Of course she wanted to be an English teacher, I thought.  She was so gifted as an educator; I couldn't quite place her anywhere else, outside of that familiar classroom.

So I was a little shocked when she confessed her dream of being an astronomer.  An astronomer, really?

Periodically, my husband and I discuss what we want to be when we grow up.  He's still deciding, torn between several important but not all that lucrative passions.  I have a lot of careers I dreamed of pursuing when I was younger...actor, fine artist, graphic artist (did that, sort of, and...it was stressful!), heavy metal guitarist (shut up), geologist, a professional book reader (except I was scared of New York City), a Spanish translator, and the ever-present dream of being a writer (except I'm pretty sure I always thought I would primarily write poetry). 

I still can't quite pinpoint the moment I decided to be an English teacher, to be honest.  Like...I know I went into college a declared major, so it was before that.  And I can remember conversations with my mother about "back-up plans" and...you know.  Loan repayment.  So I think it was sort of a practical girl's English major--the practical girl who paid for her own schooling and knew she needed to have a real job like five seconds after graduating.  I think my plan at the time was to keep on going to school until I would be able to be a professor.  Academia seemed like the place for me. 

Reading books, facilitating enlightening discussions, researching my passions, writing and publishing...things (this was about where my imagination failed me), and...

Wait.  Why didn't I get my doctorate?  Oh yeah.  School.  That I was paying for.  With borrowed money.  That I needed a real job to pay back.

So I started teaching high school, and every so often, it was actually like that.  I mean, not the writing and publishing things part, but the reading books and sometimes even having enlightening discussions.  But it was so difficult, all the time.  And I was only twenty-three.  And I was teaching in the same little town I grew up in.  And my boyfriend wanted to take off and explore the country.  And I saw--with not a little fear--my life stretching out in front of me in one small town, alone in front of a never-ending pile of ungraded papers (which were a lot less brilliant than the ones from my imagination).

So I took off with him, and after several months of hiking and camping and wandering around enjoying the view, I found what I hoped would be a shit job at a printing company.  Basically my job was to develop large sheets of film, place a mylar strip on them (part of my job title was "stripper"--so fun to tell my mom on the phone from across the country!), put the film on top of a plate, burn the plate, process the plate, and run it down to the printing press.  Mostly brainless, which was the way I wanted it.  I could read my book or write in my journal in ten second bursts as I moved the plates and labeled them and taped them together neatly. 

In the meantime, I referred to myself as a "Recovering English Teacher" and purchased my first computer so I could write and get published, which I had decided should be my "real" job.

And it's funny, because after about a year of this, someone realized that I was not utilizing all the brain power I could be, and they started having me do other prepress work--typesetting and page layout and simple design and then more complicated design until...TA-DA! My brainless shit job was now a stressful and complicated job.  And I admit, there were occasionally some pretty cool intellectual discussions, but more often then not, there was simply a lot of cursing at computers and a pretty serious case of font-resentment.

Where is this post going?  Ah, yes.  So.  I ended up back in teaching...I'm a little ashamed to admit it was not because I couldn't stay away but because there wasn't enough prepress work to keep me busy in the cruddy economy, and I wasn't really qualified to do anything else anyway.  I interviewed for my current job over the phone WHILE CLEANING OUT MY FRIDGE because I was so nervous I had to do something with my hands, and by some miracle I was hired, sight unseen.

And then I found out that--although we're more likely to have lengthy discussions about the merits of keeping one's rude and disrespectful opinions inside one's head than about the literary merits of several challenging poems--for me, middle school is where it's at. 

At least...it felt right today.  (Which is saying a lot since it was Monday.)

Unless.  I still really wanna be a geologist...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

three weeks in three photos?

I'm still here, just so you know.  Most of my online presence in the last three weeks has been something along the lines of fkaosdig;aoinb;aoifaldskfj....or maybe a little less eloquent.  But I'm here.  And even though the last time I posted, it was all about writing difficulties, and even though I've had play rehearsals and book report grading and student learning conferences for my own students and for Jabber...I've managed to get my fake-NaNo MG ghost story up to 15k and also made three pages of revision notes for my Cassandra WIP, which needs...a lot of work. 

(Side note--as though any of this is not a side note--we found out tonight at Jabber's conference that he's doing well in all areas, and though I'm not saying I didn't *believe* Ms. S. when she said he only needed reminders to stop acting silly "every once in a while," I do believe I saw a bit of an eye-twitch when she said it.  Probably blocking out the trauma.  I mean, I'm pretty nice in conferences, too--for instance, usually I try not to say things like, "Well, I kind of wanted to scream at your kid fifteen times in fifteen minutes this morning, but then when I saw him in the hall, he waved at me, and I thought he kind of seemed like he might turn into a fully functional human in about eight to ten years," and besides, sitting there nervously next to their parents, they do actually seem like the sweet, interesting people they someday will become.)

(I also found out in a secret, late-night snuggle-conversation last night the name of a girl of whom Jabber says, "I really, REALLY like her, and I might want to marry her," but I would never tell, even if I did make him show me her artwork on the wall this evening at school--she has quite passable handwriting for a first grader, and she doesn't color too carefully within the lines...)

Oh, dear.  This is what happens when I don't post.  I forget how to be coherent.

So.  Picture number one is from Halloween.  I had a ninja (with a glowing light saber and a cowboy pistol) and a Spiderman (with the mask turned into a hat and a toddler who asked, of his padded muscles, "Mama, does my costume have nummies?")

Picture two is from our 9th Anniversary.  I got a new Day of the Dead ornament from D., and it just may be my favorite one yet.  Luckily my husband remains thoughtful (and a good shopper) enough for the both of us--I gave him a Halloween card and permission to buy himself a new knife.  So romantic.  I'm actually not sure how anything in my real world would get accomplished if it weren't for David, so it's probably a good thing he's been around for the last nine years.  I would be constantly doing things like...oh, driving on a flat tire, serving the children cereal for supper, and getting buried underneath a bunch of snow because I have no idea where a shovel might be.  (These are all just things I have done in the past week.)

The last picture is two of my old journals, which I have been reading my way through lately for some reason.  Actually, both of these are from the months leading up to my engagement and wedding, which was kind of fun to read, so close after the anniversary.  I've learned a lot about myself in this trip down memory lane, but I think I'll sum it up into three neat bullet points.  Maybe I can even avoid using parentheses (but I cannot give up dashes) (okay, starting in the next paragraph!)
  • I learned that I've made a lot of progress as a writer, both in terms of craft--I'm a better writer, a more confident writer, especially in fiction--and in terms of business.  A lot of the time that I was writing in these two journals, I was dreaming of being published someday.  Of course, I had hoped at the time it would be soon, but I've been persistent and patient, overall.
  • I learned that probably the biggest point of unhappiness in my life had to do with finding a balance as an introvert and as a person who likes the company of interesting, intelligent people.  I still have to work to find the balance between solitude and loneliness, and I still get overwhelmed when I don't have alone-time to recharge, but do better when I'm forced out of that alone-time to interact with others.  
  • I learned (and in all cases, "learned" is more of a "reaffirmed my thoughts about") (damn, I got SO FAR without parentheses, too!) that the times in my life that I have taken a big risk, stepped completely outside of my comfort zone and tried something that was really difficult for me, it has turned into a hugely valuable experience for me.  
Okay.  So there was the last three weeks of my life, in which I have failed to blog but only because there are not seventy-six hours in each day, and because sometimes, I need to spend my time lying in the dark next to my nearly seven-year-old son, learning the names of the people he believes he might marry.  (That way I won't have to find out on facebook!)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

internal editor

Really, I've been trying to write.

I sit here with my fingers diligently hovering over the keys, and I admit it's not ideal since the LCD screen on my laptop died, and I had to rig up this old monitor from ten years ago so that I can see what I'm doing, and none of it fits on my nice, new desk anymore that I had all set up so that I wouldn't have to go to physical therapy anymore, which was costing a lot of money and also made me feel stupid since my nerves or whatever would never hurt while I was there...

What is your point, and would you get to it, please?

So I thought I'd write about how my sixth grade class is going to participate in the Young Writers' Program for National Novel Writing Month, and how exciting it is and how excited I am and how excited they are and how exciting everything is, but like, really.  So it's exciting. 

Oh brilliant.  Who cares?

And then that kind of fizzled out because how many times can I say the word exciting?

Oh, good, you did it one more time just to be extra stupid.

And so I dredged about in my brain for two hundred and fifty words about a boy and a ghost and a summer camp, which is the absolute minimum I'm going to let myself get away with writing each day--

And where are those words tonight, hm? I mean, you had those two ridiculously awful paragraphs written earlier this evening, but thankfully you understood my significant throat-clearing sound and my exaggerated eye-rolling and deleted them quickly, before they had a chance to ruin the rest of your story, which pretty much sucks anyway, but not as much as it did with those paragraphs...

Look, I'm trying to blog here.  This isn't real writing, okay?  It doesn't have to be perfect.  It doesn't always have to be interesting and creative and funny and thought-provoking or whatever.  Sometimes I can just write about my life and my family and--

--and bore everyone.  

--and it doesn't matter, okay?  It doesn't matter that those last two paragraphs of my ghost story WIP were awful or that I'm not sure how this scene ends or that I keep wanting to write a post inspired by last night's #yalitchat about LGBTQ books and about how I never set out to write a book about a girl who discovers she's a lesbian or bisexual or about how her accidental coming-out might impact her minister father or her dead mother or her best friend, but how I simply wanted to write a book about a journey, and about love--love that is real even though it's precarious and fragile and too soon and too complicated and how the inevitability of separations makes this love more precious than ever.  And I wanted to write about how the girl has to open up to love, even though that means opening up to the possibility of loss, and how that has little to do with sexuality and everything to do with humanity.

But you would mess it up.  You would start off on some weird tangent and end up talking about grizzly bears or that time that Monkey kissed your cheek while you were yelling at him, and it would get all jumbled and distorted and wrong.  So you'd better not write that.  In fact, you shouldn't write at all.  Maybe tomorrow.  Maybe next week, you'll be smarter, and the words will come out perfect. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Boo! spooky stories...

The boys and I got out the crayons, colored pencils, and markers this morning and drew some Halloween decorations for the front windows.  I love spooky things--movies, costumes, but especially stories.  Ghost stories, unsolved mysteries, Gothic stories, stories of paranormal phenomena--the ones that thrilled and terrified me were always my favorites. 

I never liked my spooky books to be too safe.  I much preferred creepy tales with unexplained, somewhat twisted endings or, better yet, the possibility of it being a true story, to the neat, Scooby Doo endings.  Tucked into my safe bedroom, I savored the fear, the unforseen, the uneasy. 

On the night before we got married, David and I hiked in through the old growth forest, about an hour before midnight, with the full moon up above us.  On Hallowe'en night.  We wore our flower crowns the entire night so that we were in disguise, and we left a candle burning outside our tent, a little dish of wine set out for the spirits while we soaked in the hot springs in the dark. 

Last Halloween, I wrote a flash fiction piece for a contest on Absolute Write.  I never write short fiction.  I'm terrible at it.  I can't stop, and every piece I write wants to be a novel all its very own.  So...I struggled a bit with the five hundred word limit, and eventually, that little story is now in the process of inspiring not only one novel but TWO!  One, currently without a title and  known simply as "My Cassandra WIP", features all three of the characters from the short story and the purple hearse as well, but in a slightly less terrifying story.  The short story also inspired my very first Middle Grade WIP, a ghost story about summer camp on the shore of Arrowhead Lake and the desperate ghost of iron miner Otto Jarvi and his long-drowned daughter Lucia.  In this book, the Ouija board and its frightening messages make another appearance.

I'm very excited about both WIPs, so I thought I'd share the story that started it all.  It's 499 words, including the title.



The License

“Put out the light, and then put out the light…”

“I thought a hearse would be appropriate.”  Kayla slaps the handmade invitation down on my desk and peers into her compact, adding another layer of black eyeliner.  “You’d better come.”

“You’d better pass.”  I pick at my nail polish.  Kayla’s birthday is on Halloween, and tonight will be the first year that one of us can drive.  If she doesn’t screw it up.

“You’d better bring the Ouija board.”

I look at the little hearse.  Perfect.  “Séance in the grocery getter?”  I say.  Kayla’s driving her mom’s old station wagon.

She laughs.  “Drew is going to piss her pants.”  It’s true, but Drew’s like that.  She’ll dress up in a princess costume so she doesn’t scare the crap out of herself.

“Be ready at eight,” Kayla says.  “Plath’s Lookout.”

Last winter a car full of kids skidded off the edge of a hairpin curve driving down from the Lookout.  Six dead.  We’re hoping they’ll talk.

“You’d better be driving,” I say.

###

Drew squeezes closer to me, and the sharp point of her glittery pink wing stabs me in the neck.  “God, Drew.  I’ll be bleeding for real.  Relax.  It’s a toy.  Look.”  I hold up the little piece of triangular plastic.

“Cassandra, stop!”  Drew snatches the planchette out of my hand and slaps it back on the ouija board.  “We didn’t say goodbye.  The spirit could escape!”

Kayla and I exchange a glance, but we touch our fingers back to the planchette and slide it across the word “Goodbye”.  Halfway through, the little triangle jerks away, and my fingers almost slip off.  “Kayla, stop it.  You’re freaking Drew out.”

“I’m not doing it.”

I look at her face to be sure, but I can tell by her voice she’s not kidding.  The planchette swings in erratic circles around the board, and then it settles on a rapid succession of three letters.

D-I-E!  D-I-E!  D-I-E!

Drew whimpers.  The air in the back of the wagon grows colder; the two candles are flickering.  My eyes are drawn to the little paper hearse Kayla taped to the window.  “Live it up,” says the invitation.

When I’m scared I get reckless.  “You’re not real,” I say.  “You can’t kill us.  You can’t even blow out our candles.”

D-I-E!  The triangle flies across the board.

“Blow out the candles, if you’re so powerful!  Put out the light!  You can’t even do that!”

“Cassandra!”  Drew screams and grabs my arm.  “GOODBYE!”

We wrestle the planchette across the word, and it falls silent and dead.  We stare at it.

“It’s just a toy,” I say.

“Let’s get out of here,” says Kayla.  She climbs up to the driver’s seat and starts the engine, spinning the tires in her haste.

“Be careful,” Drew gasps, reaching for her seatbelt.  “The curve--”

We’re going too fast.  The corner ahead, the abyss beyond--nothingness lit up by our headlights.

“DIE!” screams Drew.

The headlights go out.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

one for the list. the awesome list.

Happy book release day!!
to my friend and hardcore beta reader, Rae Mariz, on her debut YA novel,  

Go listen to Rae talk about the book on this podcast, read about The Unidentified  story, and you will not be able to stop yourself from wanting this book NOW!


Congratulations!!!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

confessions of a children's book lover

Illustrations by Sharon Wagner
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators--SCBWI--Minnesota Annual Conference in St. Paul, MN  October 2, 2010

My first writing conference was...well, it was so nice that I fear I will overuse the words "great!" "wonderful!" and "amazing!"  I will try to rein in the exclamation points, but the conference was a fantastic experience, and I came home excited about writing.  Which is always a good thing.

The day before the conference, I did a search on twitter and found a few people who had tweeted about the conference, and then I took a look at Anne Greenwood Brown's website, and read about her Lake Superior mermaid WIP.  I also have a Lake Superior mermaid manuscript, in a way, so I sent her a message.  We sat together, and she is a delightful person.  I have my fingers crossed for excellent publishing news in her future, and I'm so glad I got a chance to meet her!

Jay Asher, author of Thirteen Reasons Why, gave the keynote speech  about how to sell a book in twelve years or less; he very humorously related his entertaining path of a dozen years, from his very first picture book submission in 1994 to the publication of his first YA novel in 2007.  As I listened, I started thinking back to my own first attempt at publication and realized that I, too, have been submitting writing for twelve years. I, too, have tried to submit picture book manuscripts in that time, and yes...I, too, have vowed to quit writing, have found myself with an idea I was not yet ready--for a multitude of reasons, in my writing and in my life--to write.  At the book signing, I talked with him about my book blogging students having an opportunity to interview him about the process of becoming a writer, as many of them are very interested in writing books.  So exciting!

In a later session, Jay also gave us useful advice about injecting suspense in every book, every story.  What he said was clear, helpful, and again--funny as hell.  The guy is  a PowerPoint Performer.  The notes made me excited to take a look at my Cassandra WIP with a new eye for the role of story structure in the creation of suspense.

Next Heather Alexander, editorial assistant with Dial Books for Young Readers, gave a presentation about the tools editors use to convince their editorial board about a book, and the way the same tools are revised to sell an author's book to bookstores.  She read us a story and allowed us a chance to practice using the tool on a picture book.  It was interesting, and I gained a better perspective on some of the discussions that my editor, Melanie Kroupa, and I have had--especially the conversation we had before she offered on the book, before she presented KISS THE MORNING STAR to her board.

Poet Susan Marie Swanson gave an amazing talk about creating metaphors for our writing, about the value of literature and the joy of children's poetry.  She was full of glowing recommendations for amazing children's poetry and beautiful readings of all her favorites.  I spoke with her about my students and bought the book This Place I Know: Poems of Comfort an anthology of poems created for New York City schoolchildren after 9/11 (hers is titled "Trouble, Fly").  I came away with ideas not only for my teaching, but also for my writing.  Almost everything I've written has poetry in it in some measure, and I'm struggling a little with the poetry in my Cassandra WIP, so I was inspired on a lot of levels. 

The next session was pretty fascinating...Anne Ursu, author of The Cronus Chronicles, a middle grade fantasy series that looks terrific (my blogger students are going to freak out to read The Shadow Thieves) and also a teacher at the MFA in Writing for Children program at Hamline University, spoke with her editor, Jordan Brown, who edits with Walden Pond Press and Balzer + Bray at HarperCollins. 

The two of them talked about the whole process...the way they work together, how they first started, the steps they've taken at each stage, their thoughts along the way.  The presentation was entertaining and very enlightening--I thought they did a  terrific job making the panel move seamlessly forward.  I really liked what they said about how readers can only read what's actually on the page, and how difficult it can be, as an author, to understand that we really didn't transfer the story of our head as neatly onto the page as it might seem to us.  I could relate to that.  :)

Also helpful was the First Pages critiques, where Jordan Brown and Heather Alexander gave critiques to a number of first pages that were sent in by conference attendees.  I imagine this is a tough job--to articulate their thoughts on a single page, on the spot and in front of a crowd, one of whom is the author of the page.  The two of them did a fantastic job giving helpful and specific criticisms to the writing we heard.  I didn't put any pages in because the Cassandra WIP isn't ready for that level of scrutiny just yet.  I sort of forgot about A TANGLED WEB because writing a fantasy book isn't my focus right now, but it was interesting anyway to hear their thoughts on the other people's first pages.

Overall, an amazing day for writer elissa!


Friday, October 1, 2010

comfort zone

So tomorrow I'm going to the Minnesota conference for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators in St. Paul...my first ever conference for writing, and I'm nervous!

I'm excited about listening to the speakers and learning about writing craft and the publishing process, and I'm very excited to meet more writers from Minnesota who are on the same path as I am.

But I'm nervous, too--mostly I think because this will be the first time I'm officially going somewhere as a writer.  Like, if I introduce myself to someone, I will be telling them that I write books for young adults--this is what I do.  This is real.  And that's kind of a step outside my comfort zone, to be honest.

Being an aspiring writer is walking a very fine line between being hopeful and being delusional, it seems to me.  So although I may talk about my writing with people who know me and know I write, there's always that measure of uncertainty when talking to new acquaintances.  What does it mean when you tell someone you're a writer?  What are they thinking when they nod and smile?  Is that bemusement in their eyes?  How long will you get into the conversation before they ask what books you've written, where they can buy them, how their uncle wrote a book and self-published and have you thought about going that route instead, since it seems like you've been working at the traditional publication route an awfully long time...

Even after getting an agent, even after selling my book, it still seems like a dream that might disappear if I breathe on it too hard, if I look at it directly.  My friends, my mother maybe, might bring it up to someone they're introducing me to--"Did you know Elissa's a writer?  Did you know she has a book coming out?"--and it still makes me feel shy and uncertain.  What questions will they ask?  How much do they want to hear?  Being a writer, talking about being a writer, is still this sort of half-secret mumble-mumble-blush-smile yeah, wow, it's REAL! kind of moment for me. 

So I'm excited, and I'm nervous.  I hope I'll learn some great things that I can come back here and talk about, and I hope I'll step outside that comfort zone and meet some terrific people, too.  (And also, I'm hoping to buy some good books from awesome Minnesota writers!) 

:)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

the perfect moments

The young birch trees stretching up through the slanting sun, the rattle of their drying leaves in the sweet, crisp breeze.  The little hand in mine, Monkey's voice so soft with wonder.

The sight of Jabber walking proud up ahead with his Daddy, stepping into all the puddles with his black rubber fireman boots and his blaze orange cap.

The soft needles of a new white pine, the twisted hardy stand of jackpines waiting for a fire to loosen their seeds, the woody and steady curving limbs of ancient cedar.

The smell, somewhere between maple syrup and burned sage.

The contrast of the blue, blue sky with the red maple leaves and the wavering flight of the turkey vulture.

The kingfisher perched watchful on the beaver dam.

The wolf sign, fascinating us and sending little shivers down our spines.

The glimpse of water behind the trees, the opening up to find glistening waves, bordered with vivid splashes of autumn colors.

The abandoned wasp nest all papery and silver.

The sound of birds, squirrels scolding, children keeping their voices all hushed and breathy with excitement, exclaiming over all this and more.


My favorite season,
my favorite place,
and my favorite people to share it with. 

My perfect moments.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

the devil is in the details

Growing up, my favorite books had nothing in common, on the surface.  I was as deeply in love with the historical feel of Little House on the Prairie as I was with the fantasy elements (science fantasy?) of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, and my favorite book for a long time was this strange paperback my grandma had picked up at a flea market called Charley, or The Girl Who Ran Away--a somewhat bizarre, feverish story about a child living on her own in a chicken coop, crawling through hedgerows and going to Sunday School with dying wildflowers in her hair.

It didn't matter what the book was about; what I wanted was for it to feel so real, so thick with details and rich settings and characters who seemed so entirely believable that I would get wrapped up in the story so tightly that I would forget where I was.  I loved being lost in a book, so far gone the sound of my mother knocking on my bedroom door would make me startle, confused and disoriented in the real world. 

As an adult, that feeling is harder to capture, but to this day, the books that truly amaze me are the books that feel...deep.  Sometimes I think of it as having layers, but other times I think of it like a thick, heavy patchwork quilt.  Every stitch was deliberately placed by hand. Every scrap of fabric has a history you can hear if you're still, if you study it long enough.  There are varied textures and funny smells and a weighty, comfortable feeling in your hands, on your lap.  And when you put it down, set it aside, there's a little moment of longing--a sad little shiver.

I want to write a book like that.  I do.  I'm trying.  But man, does it ever take a long time!

All this was sort of a lead in (or it was supposed to be, anyway) to talk about how I read through the first draft of my Cassandra WIP and scribbled notes about every other paragraph that said, "GO DEEPER HERE!" and "EXPAND THIS!" or "SLOW DOWN AND GIVE THIS SCENE A CHANCE!"  It feels so thin, so very far from that heavy quilt.  It's not even one of those double-layer fleece blankies with the fringes on the edge--the kind anyone can make, provided they can operate a pair of scissors and tie a simple knot.  This book is like...maybe a flannel sheet.

So almost everyone in my online writing group has at least attempted to do literary agent Mary Kole's 100 Declarative Sentences exercise to flesh out characters or settings.  I'm not sure if anyone has actually made it to one hundred, but even so, we've all discovered some useful tidbits about our characters in this way.  I made it to 45 sentences about Cass while I was writing the first draft, which was super helpful.  Some of the sentences actually helped me keep details straight as I was writing, like this:

14.  Cassandra has a sister Dicey, age 15; a sister Lexie, age 8; and a brother Eric, who is eleven months older than she is and will turn 18 at the end of this month.

So mainly, that kind of sentence helps me keep my continuity.  I have a hard time keeping track, for instance, of what color eyes and hair my characters have, or like, if I mention at one point that eating cheese gives them hives.

Other sentences end up telling me more about the character--sometimes giving little bits and pieces of their past lives that may not actually end up in the book, but which may give that bit of different texture to the patch that makes up that place in the quilt.  I learn things about them, like this:

22.  Cass has a vague desire to be a scientist when she "grows up", but she's worried that this is a little too nebulous...what do scientists actually do, in the real world?  She pictures herself in a lab coat, bending over beakers, but...doing what?  All the pictures in her head come out of that old biography of Marie Curie she read for a report in fourth grade.

Now, on my second draft, I'm making sentences for Darin, and Drew, and maybe even Kayla.  So far I'm on Darin number 24, and it's hard, but I've already got some notes in a different colored pen next to "EXPAND THIS!" and "GO DEEPER HERE!"  My favorite discovery is the first moment he ever noticed Cass:

15.  Darin noticed Cass for the first time on an eighth grade field trip to the underground mine.  Something about her face when the tour guide mentioned the underground physics lab reminded him of Meg Murray from A Wrinkle in Time, and he daydreamed a bit about traveling with her through space and time.  Or at least sitting close to her on tall stools, their heads bent together over a Bunsen burner.  He lagged behind the group for the rest of the tour, his mind far away.

So here's hoping that by the time I finish this draft, this story will have a little stuffing!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

in the middle


So my computer has been sick (I think it still is, tbh, but since my computer doctor is also sick, I'll wait and see for a few days while religiously backing up everything I do), and middle school has been overwhelming, and the weather has been amazing...all of which leads to one full week without a blog entry.  Again.

I know, that's boring.

Starting over.  So my middle school students are starting a book blog.  And at first, I didn't really think we'd make our own blog.  I thought it would be enough to simply read blogs, comment on them, maybe look at the qualities that make up a good review.  Possibly we would talk about the difficulties of writing a review of a book that isn't the greatest--how do you maintain honesty without being a jerk?  This is a concept that many middle school students (and a fair number of non-middle school students) struggle to wrap their heads around.

But.  On the first day, it became apparent that these students...they are WILD about books.  They are full of awesome ideas and an amazing amount of energy that, if we can focus and harness (and proofread!) it, will result in a terrific chance for them to interact with authors and bloggers and readers not only at our school, but all over the world.  And even though I am in the middle of editing one book and second-drafting another and assistant-directing a play (soon) and playing tooth fairy (Jabber lost another tooth today!) and mentoring a student teacher and checking the dilation of Monkey's pupils (fell off a step stool and cracked his head on the cast iron tub)...I find myself in the middle of another project.  A middle grade/young adult book blog, written and developed by my students!

Aptly, the name of the blog is "In the Middle (of a good book)" and the identity we created for the blog is "inthemiddlereading"--middle schoolers reading.  Our first post went live today, so please come by and share your favorite book with us! 

Middle school is a strange time for reading.  While a sixth grader may still be startled or even outright shocked at the appearance of a minor cuss word, an eighth grader may be devouring very mature books written for adults.  Another sixth grader may read nothing but unabridged classics, while another eighth grader may be just beginning to move from chapter books to middle grade novels. 

However, despite these differences, what has become very clear to me in the last nine years teaching middle school, is that when tweens and teens find a book they enjoy, it can change their whole lives. You can see them become a reader.  They argue passionately about books; they feel personally offended by disappointing movie adaptations.  They love their favorite characters so fiercely that they never want a series to end.  They get so excited about books at times that they will jump about in their chairs, barely able to wait their turn to share their thoughts about books.

And I hope that we'll be able to keep up with this blog, even after my little elective class is over, so that they can continue to have a real audience for their thoughts, and so they can continue to make connections with authors as real people--to read reviews by other bloggers and wait anxiously for new releases and become a part of the literary community in a real, interactive way. 

Thanks so incredibly much to Kari, who gave us links to her favorite blogs, ideas for the class, and a lot of support as I contemplated this idea in its infant stages.  Her book blog, and the others in our blogroll, are an inspiration to my students!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

*peeks out of cave*

This lovely image of Lily, the black bear star of the den cam at the North American Bear Center last fall is the perfect image to represent me tucked up in my editing cave--bleary-eyed, confused, hungry, and rather annoyed with anyone who dares to desire my attention.  (I'm sorry, family!)

So last night I sent another draft back to Melanie, my lovely editor at Marshall Cavendish, and I'm hoping that as she reads it she will find things that she thinks are improvements.

I'm now in the middle of the third week of school, and I'm working on my sixth graders, trying to get them all shaped up into middle school students.  They're a lively, spirited bunch, and my "homebase" group makes me laugh constantly, even when their exuberance gets a little frustrating.

So, reeling a little from a Friday afternoon session of craziness and everyone-talks-at-once and everyone-blurts-every-thought-without-filtering, I decided to put together a little list of talking points for Monday morning.  I called it How to Be a Human and a Sixth Grader Instead of a Little Monster in a Sixth Grader Uniform.  I don't really think my sixth graders are little monsters, but...we all have our moments, right?  rawwwrrrr.

I organized my points into "R" words.  Sort of.  They listened, and I think they thought I was moderately funny.  In any case, I feel like maybe we may have a future that doesn't involve growling at each other.  I'm pretty sure it still will involve lots and lots of shouting and jumping around, but they're getting used to my quirks, I hope.

1. REALLY. We are here to help you, not torture you. Give us a chance to do our jobs as teachers.
2. REMINDERS and REDIRECTIONS don't mean you're in trouble. RELAX and just do what we're asking you to do.
3. RESPOND with a simple, "OK". We're not interested in what you didn't do or why you were doing it or who did it first.
4. RESPONSIBILITY: take some. for your actions and your words.
5. RESPECT: we all have to earn it.
6. RETALIATE, and you will get caught. No, we won't see the person who struck first. That person's actions alerted our spidey-senses that something was off-kilter, and now we see YOU.

Then we spent our afternoon playing a team-building game that involved possibly excessive amounts of volume but also excessive amounts of smiling and cooperation, so that was cool.

/boring teacher post*


_____
* it's okay, though.  I was thisclose to boring you all to tears with a Teaser Tuesday, so you can thank me in the comments.  :)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

do you ever?

Do you ever look around you and realize that you haven't stopped to take a breath in like two weeks?

This is my deck, which I finally finished painting on Labor Day--also the day I started my second pass of my KtMS manuscript so I can see if the edits I finished two weeks ago actually make sense. 

Today began the second week of school, and I realized around 3:00 that I hadn't stopped to use the restroom all day.  And, since at that time I was besieged by sixth graders (who all wanted to escape Language Arts class to use the restroom, by the way), the realization was once again pushed aside until 4:15, when my own son got off the bus and made his way to my classroom, freeing me to finally leave.

Except by then I was in the middle of previewing an online training module, which I have to present to the staff meeting tomorrow morning at 7:30.  And since I'll be in the meeting tomorrow morning before class starts, and since my sixth grade homeroom needs way more attention and assistance in the morning than my eighth grade homeroom did last year, I decided I'd better get my chalkboards set up for tomorrow as well.  I had two documents open on my computer, and I was pecking away at a lesson plan outline for my boss and a compilation of book blog addresses for my teen book blogging elective, at the same time as I was fixing a snack for Jabber and scheduling a complicated classroom swap with two colleagues. 

Still had not peed.

At last, I realized that I was way too busy to keep poor Jabber at school with me until I was done, so I called D. and asked him to come pick the boy up...annoying to D. as he was in the middle of making an experimental dinner recipe (which turned out to be delicious, when I consumed it out of the microwave an hour or so later!), but I was busy planning and photocopying and distributing files full of links into shared folders while I filed IEP notices, answered emails to parents, and double-checked two of my sixth graders' schedule changes.

I did finally make a trip to the bathroom--at home--and during this activity I was visited by a small child who needed help with putting on his socks.  Also several arguments/wrestling matches broke out at this time, which I broke up.  I heated up my coffee and my dinner while loading the dishwasher and then listened to Jabber read while eating and making out a check for his school photos.

Fixed bedtime snacks.  Signed reading minutes.  Cleaned up snacks.  Wrangled kids a bit.  Cleaned kitchen.  Went to gym and worked out (while reading the book I am going to start teaching on Thursday, which I've only taught once before, years ago), showered, made lunches, and sat down to revisit those edits.

Except, oh crud, I still haven't blogged.

*Breathes*

And now it's bedtime.

Monday, August 30, 2010

first grade!

Jabber started first grade today, and then came home with a fever up over 102.  He's now up in his bed shivering and moaning and fighting dreams in which "terrible things keep happening over and over and I'm afraid they'll become real."  Poor little guy.  He's so tough, even when he's basically miserable.

Friday, August 27, 2010

sucked into a black hole of work? check.

The first full week of work is now behind me (no students until next week!), and I know...I haven't checked in.  This is how my  life works around this time of year:  back-to-school.
  • gazing in a stupor at the four walls of my classroom as though I cannot picture them containing any sort of knowledge?  check.
  • back-to-back twelve hour workdays during which my children forget what I look like? check.
  • never-ending to-do list? check check check...(oh! that wasn't on my list, but I did it so I'm going to write it on my list so I can check it off! check!)
Summer vacation used to be this long stretch of lazy days and reading books and babysitting my little brother and slowly growing so bored that I actually looked forward to climbing on that yellow school bus with its bad shocks and its freckle-faced bullies and its inevitable arrival at school.

I liked wearing my new outfits and arranging my new school supplies.  I liked seeing who got their braces off and who got a bad permanent (um, me...) and who had grown six inches (um, not me...) and who had emerged from the cocoon of summer looking all sexy (um, no comment.)  After that, it was pretty much downhill in my eyes, but at least I was good at sneak-reading and had the ability to do my own thing while absorbing what I needed from the lesson with my spidey-senses.  (I know. I was rude and insolent and snarky and lazy.  I know it was obnoxious of me to still get straight A's.  Believe me, I pay penance for my middle school self every day.)

As an adult, though, summer seems to shrink every year.  I have big dreams that second week of June--all the wonderful things our family is going to do, all that lovely together-time.  We'll go camping; we'll go on amazing road trips.  We'll have fires on the beach and hang out with friends and read giant stacks of delicious books.  I'll paint a masterpiece to hang on my living room wall.  Hell, I'll paint my back deck before it rots right out from under me.  And then, about halfway through July, I realize that I'm only going to accomplish a tiny fraction of those dreams.  The camping/road trip money is spent replacing a dead clothes dryer, and then on replacing the washer, which dies shortly afterwards of a broken heart.  The husband has to go to work in the middle of the night and can't really stay awake for a bonfire or many nights out with friends.  The kids fight each other with tree limbs in the backyard while I wonder if the stain will even stick to the deck in 96% humidity.

So this year summer was simply not quite long enough for me to paint my masterpiece.  (Um, or even finish painting the deck...but before you judge, it's a HUGE deck, with all this underneath stuff and skinny rails that needed three coats and walls of lattice...and I've still got time before the snow flies!)

It was just exactly long enough for me to finish a first draft of my newest novel.

It was long enough (plus one day) to finish my first pass of edits on KISS THE MORNING STAR.  (YAY!)

It was nearly long enough for me to forget all my passwords at work.

It was enough time for me to read somewhere between 25 and 30 books (several of which were chapter books I read out loud to the boys--Oh, how we love Ramona and Beezus, Laura and Mary, Peter and Fudgie!)

And it was just about exactly enough time for me to be able to look out at a crowd of middle schoolers (which I would possibly have referred to as a horde of hoodlums mere weeks earlier!) and think, "Awwwww, look at how cute and shiny they all are!"

So happy back to school season, and I will try to squeeze a little blog post here in between the book reports. 





Tuesday, August 17, 2010

making a difference


There is a difference between a book of two hundred pages from the very beginning, and a book of two hundred pages which is the result of an original eight hundred pages. The six hundred are there. Only you don't see them.  --Elie Wiesel

I'm fifty pages from the end of my first pass of edits for KISS THE MORNING STAR (and six days away from my personal deadline for finishing said first pass), and I thought I'd give you a glimpse into why I haven't been posting very coherent blog posts lately.  I looked up at my screen, and that's really what it looked like:  four documents all competing for my attention on my little monitor, a sixteen-foot-long banner of colorful notes taking over my keyboard, plus the eight tabs of firefox, my itunes, and three more documents minimized at the bottom.  (Document titles:  KTMS August 2010, July 14 melanie thoughts, answering melanie3, Hoole more revision notes, Editing KtMS3, scraps, kerouac quotes and sources.  Tabs open on firefox:  not telling.  :P)

This is exciting.  The yellow-highlighted notes on the document on the left of the side-by-side view (Editing KtMS3) are notes about scenes I've rewritten, progress I've made, additions, subtractions, successes, haphazard attempts, experiments, and in other words (as if that weren't enough words), STUFF I DID TO CHANGE THIS BOOK and, I hope, STUFF THAT MAKES IT BETTER. 

This next fifty pages, I'll admit, need the most work.  The world won't really end if I don't finish before school starts, but I know it would make me feel better overall.  I also know this is only the first pass--the first round of changes I've made for a real, live (and brilliant!) editor.  I know some of what I'm writing will never see the light of day, and in fact, some of it will never even make it through my next pass before going to Melanie. 

I've been approaching these edits with a very open mind, thinking of the whole book more from a "What if this would work?" or maybe a "Hey, maybe I should try that?" or possibly even a "Wouldn't it be sort of crazy if I went in this direction?" kind of mindset, knowing that if this doesn't work, or I really shouldn't have tried that, or yeah, this direction is really crazy and not in a good way...I can always go back a draft or two.  I have at least twenty to choose from, after all!

And now.  Yeah, you know it.  Back to work.

Friday, August 13, 2010

because someday soon he won't let me post these stories...

Monkey is upstairs on the potty.

Me: How you doin' up there, Monkey?

Monkey: DON'T SAY THAT.

Me: What should I say?

Monkey: SAY, 'HOW ARE YOU DOING UP THERE?'

Me: How are you doing up there?

Monkey: DON'T SAY THAT!

Me: What should I say?

Monkey: SAY, 'HOW ARE YOU DOOOOOING UP THERE?'

Me: How are you doooooing up there?

Monkey: DON'T SAY THAT!

Me: Well, what should I say???

Monkey: SAY, 'HOW ARE YOU DOOOOOING UP THERE, BUTTHEAD?'

Me: I'm not going to call you a butthead.

Monkey: FINE. THEN JUST GET UP HERE AND WIPE MY BUTT INSTEAD.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

don't get a big head

Monkey: (grins) I'm growing!

Me: Yes, yes, you are.

Monkey:  (grins even wider) I'm going to be big as Daddy soon!

Me:  (grasps at good parenting opportunity)  Yes, someday...that is...if you go to bed nicely every night.

Monkey:  (grin fading)  But MOM.  Is my head going to grow, too?

Me:  Well, yes.  All of you will grow.  You'll be in proportion, don't worry.

Monkey:  (horrified look)  BUT I DON'T WANT MY HEAD TO GET BIGGER!

Me:  (pointing at David)  Look at Daddy, though.  Wouldn't he look silly if his head were little but the rest of him were big?

David:  It happens to some people, you know.

Me:  It won't happen to you, Monkey, don't worry.

Monkey: (wailing and pressing his hands to both sides of his head)  I DON'T WANT TO GET A BIG HEAD LIKE DADDY!  I DON'T WANT TO LOOK FUNNY.

(yes, this is a cheater post.  no, it has no point.  yes, I'm editing like crazy.  no, I'm not getting a whole lot done with these charming and hilarious children around.)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

things you shouldn't really do in a skirt



I'm terrified of heights.  When my body is a certain distance above the ground, my blood pressure (non-scientific description) forces every molecule of blood into my hands and feet, making them feel simultaneously numb and somehow inflated, like all four of my limbs culminate in blown-up latex gloves.

This makes me clumsy on ladders, coupled with the fact that all that blood has also vacated my brain, leaving me a little lightheaded.

(Have I mentioned this also happens when I watch movies of people who climb mountains, drop out of  helicopters, scale the sides of skyscrapers or basically anything else David would like to watch?)

Despite this aversion to heights, I sometimes tend to seek them out, finding ways to face my fear.  Maybe I hope it will disappear altogether?  That its power will be diminished?  In any case, I've made it a point to go on roller coasters and ride chair lifts and even a little bit of mountain climbing.

And today I climbed a ladder to the very peak of my house, my inflatable hand struggling to clutch my camera, in order to face my fear and take a picture of D. working on the chimney.  (While D's brother and father joked about the awkwardness caused by me wearing a skirt...)  And I did it!  Up above you can see a picture of my house--the ladder was standing up on that deck, which is already one story up, and stretching up to the peak, which is outside the top frame of the photo (and you can also see a bit of my deck-painting project, though I'm farther than that right now!)  And you can see the photo I snapped with my hand all shaky and tingling--D.'s surprised smile when he realized it was me peering over the edge of the roof.

About halfway up the second story of the house (I looked down to roll my eyes at some comment of my father-in-law about my skirt and got a little dizzy...), I almost gave up, but then what would have been the point?  And it's sort of stupid--a lot of people climb ladders--but it made me feel so awesome to climb up there despite my fear.

And now...to battle my fearful (but similarly exhilarating) edits!  *straps on parachute*

Saturday, August 7, 2010

picture this!

Having a husband who is a photographer means a lot of things.  It means that my children are charmingly documented in a parade of beautiful portraits capturing their every change and mood from birth to the present.

It means that when I need an author photo taken, I can count on him to help me out at a good price.  It means that even when there's nothing actually wrong with the photos that result from our first shoot, when I tell him, "These just...aren't quite me enough..." he smiles, looks more closely at the photos, and says, "Oh! Well, of course!  The problem here is..." and then he goes on to tell me a complicated explanation involving light temperature and bounce-flashes and white balances that have NOTHING to do with the fact that I'm squinting my eyes a little funny and tipping my head at that awkward angle that makes my chin multiply into the plural form.

It means that we can't go anywhere or do anything without a complicated packing process and six camera bags.  It also means that we're almost never caught in that, "If only we had a camera..." position.

It means that the bottom drawer of our refrigerator is full of high speed black and white film.

And it means that up until yesterday, the last time we had a family portrait that included David was actually three days before Monkey was born.  I'm so happy to finally have a photo of all four of us to hang on my wall!  Thanks to David, for taking all those wonderful pictures at our family gathering last night, and thanks to Mom for snapping this shot so he didn't have to sprint madly into place while everyone else tries desperately to remain in place and looking pretty.