Thursday, January 28, 2010

Check it Out!

My friend Suzanne Young's debut novel, The Naughty List (book one of three!) is coming to a store near you! I picked up my copies already, and you can win one with her signature here at gracetopia!

Suz is an amazing person and a terrific writer, and I could not be happier for anyone! She just had some fantastic breaking news on the book sale front as well!

Suzanne Young's A NEED SO BEAUTIFUL, in which a 17-year-old discovers that by performing the good deeds that her body compels her to, she will disappear into the Light and be forgotten, but by fighting "the Need," her fate could be even more dire, to Donna Bray at Balzer and Bray, in a two-book deal, in a pre-empt, by Jim McCarthy at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management (World English).

So freaking cool!!! Check out her blog and, again, don't forget to go enter to win a signed copy of The Naughty List! Or, you could buy a couple of your own! :)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

don't look now! it's bad poetry!

No, really. Don't look.

My students are doing this thing I do every year where we read a bunch of American Literature, and then I give them a thousand (or, yanno, twelve...) different creative writing prompts to spark their imaginations. Some of the prompts are for fiction, some for poetry, and some for personal essay. They can try all of the prompts or stick with just a few, but in the end, they have to hand in (or in our case, post to the class wiki) their best from each genre.

They always struggle with the poetry, and I mean, I don't blame them. It's not easy to write poetry, and it's really not easy to teach people to write poetry. Sure, you can give them strict forms to try (oh look! Another haiku! A limerick! A cinquain!), but for this assignment I've tried to encourage them to try their hand at other kinds of poetry, including free verse. We've studied all the poetic devices, read Whitman and Dickinson and Emerson and Poe--the whole unit is based on the Romantic Period, by the way--and then I turn them loose. Every year, I'm amazed at the fact that kids can actually produce some pretty awesome poetry when all I give them is advice like, "Don't worry. Break rules. Think about the sounds. Make us feel it. Give it a try. Start with a metaphor, maybe?"

This year's class is by far the most stressed out by all this, and in addition, my new student teacher needed an extra day to prepare his very first lesson, so this morning I had fifteen extra minutes and decided to break down and give them more guidance for a poetry prompt. We've been reading excerpts from Thoreau, both from Walden and Civil Disobedience, so I decided to ask them to do a sort of acrostic poem using the word "SIMPLIFY."

And then I sat down and wrote an example, and I like it. So despite the fact that I don't write poetry anymore (it's true; prose is all that flows now), I thought, "Hey, I'm asking them to do the impossible (they think) and write poetry. The least I can do is try, too."

But then I said to one kid, "You can do it. Look. I wrote one, right there on the board."

And he said, "Yeah, but you don't have to put it on the wiki for everyone to see."

And I said, "Yeah, but I put it right there for all of you to see. You don't think that's hard?"

And he said, "Well, maybe a little. But it's harder when the people reading it are, like, your friends and peers and stuff."

Okay, so. Point taken. So, gulp. Here's my poem, friends and peers and stuff.

...A tSunami of stuff...
.......Impressions of who I was and what I needed to buy--
.......More! More! More!
.........Life in excess--
.........I gather it into one great pile.
.The Fire takes a while to catch, but
.........Years later, I still feel the warmth.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

boxes of treasure and a shout-out to re-ewes gear...

Every so often in my life a box arrives from my Aunt M. From these boxes, amazing treasures are revealed, one by one, adorned with unique ribbons and beautifully penned notes. There is something mysterious and delightful about each item--my family gathers around in wonder as we remove and examine these surprises.

There were boxes in my childhood, but the one I remember most clearly from my adulthood showed up on Christmas Eve, the very first Christmas that David and I were parents. We had journeyed north to visit the family with our tiny, ten-day-old son cradled in his precious car seat, and the trip home through the snow in the dark was especially nerve-wracking for us because we were still quite new to the concept of transporting something so valuable. Also, I'm pretty sure he cried the whole way home.

When we arrived at our little crumbling cottage of a rental home, we found a gigantic box sitting on the back porch--a fine dusting of snow on top giving us an idea of the time of its delivery. A package, arriving late on Christmas Eve? It had to be...Santa Claus, right?

We hauled the package in, and, while Jabber nestled hungrily into my arms and I sank into the permanent divot on the couch (formed by the endless hours of nursing him there and of holding him while he slept and simply staring at him in wonder and amazement), David unpacked it and placed each beautiful box under our pathetic little Christmas tree. It was the most magical box in the universe. It was from Aunt M.

Recently we found another such box (thank you so!), and in it the usual supply of eclectic awesome. Included was a note, in which she expressed her mission to "redirect the society's excesses and rejects: recycling!"


And this brings me to my friend Ellie and the business she's been growing--the business that is all about recycling those excesses and rejects...recycling them into the softest, snuggliest, and most amazingly beautiful mittens! Her newish business is called Re-ewes gear, and it makes me so happy to hear about her successes. If I reach for something made of styrofoam, it's Ellie's voice in my head that stays my hand. (I still smile thinking of the day she brought a tub of real dishes, silverware, and cloth napkins to the staff training to protest the use of those throwaway lunch trays and soup bowls!)

Check out her new website to read about her mission, or go to her facebook fan page to look at her inventory...all lovingly made from recycled wool and fleece.

I got my mom and another aunt mittens for Christmas, and I got my Lovely Daycare Provider one of her fantastic oven mitts...though LDP says it's too pretty to use! (I insisted she use it anyway...)

So here's my mom, thrilled with her recycled treasure!

Thursday, January 21, 2010


I won a contest...

It's rather exciting.

*bounce bounce bounce*

No time to blog at length tonight, for I must finish reading Youth in Revolt by C.D. Payne tonight so that I can see the movie this weekend. I can't remember the last time I went to a movie, to be honest. Sadness.

Tomorrow's my birthday. One year ago tomorrow, I smashed up our car, Zoom-Zip, hitting a deer. David says I probably shouldn't drive anywhere. With that in mind, he is going to bring the kids to the grandparents' house for the weekend. It's too bad about this blizzard that is supposed to come through after we have them up there...I wonder if we'll be able to get them back. Maybe they'll have to stay until spring thaw? :)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

hiding out

Everybody feels the need to hide once in a while, even if we aren't quite flexible enough anymore to close ourselves into a suitcase...

Today while I was eating my lunch, a co-worker asked me to speculate what kind of life I would choose if I were to become "a big deal writer like that Stephenie Meyer"--this is a very common question when people find out I'm writing books and hoping to publish them.

"Are you going to want to be a recluse and hide out somewhere?" he asked.

It's kind of a quaint, romantic stereotype--the reclusive writer tapping away at a typewriter, refusing interviews. J. D. Salinger or Thomas Pynchon. I can't imagine that would be possible today, where success is dependent on establishing a presence, reaching people on a personal level: where books spread best by word of mouth.

I laughed and told him the same thing I tell my students when they ask this question. No, I'm not going to be Stephenie Meyer (this co-worker's first question was actually, "Does your book have vampires?"), and no, I'm not going to quit teaching.

But the question of hiding has another part to it, and this question was also asked of me today, this time by my father-in-law. If I were to sell a book, would I put my real name on it? This is a more difficult question for me to answer. I don't really make my identity a secret: I use my real name both here and elsewhere on the web. I've thought about using my maiden name or just my first and middle name, but I'm just not sure. In some ways, I think it would be the nicest thing to do for my school, a way to separate the teacher me from the writer me. Especially since I write for young adults, but...not really as young as the young adults I teach. I wouldn't want to make conflict for my job with the content of the books I write. But I can't imagine actually trying to keep it a big does the name really matter?

I'm not sure. And, well...I've got some time to ponder all of this. Right now I'm busy trying to extract a toddler from this old suitcase. (It's too bad he didn't let me wash the pizza sauce off his face before climbing in, though. Have I mentioned before that kids are disgusting?)

Monday, January 18, 2010


Jabber keeps giving me these drawings of all the rooms of our house and telling me they are printouts from his spy camera.

He just gave me a picture of "Mama sitting on the potty."

And when I said, "But I haven't even been on the potty in the last hour!" he said, "That's not what my evidence says."


(this is not, btw, the picture in question. this is a picture of "Mama at the desk, working on her computer. That's not her sad face, though. She's surprised.")

Saturday, January 16, 2010


There are so many reasons not to write.

Sleep, for one. Last night I fell asleep at 7:30 and slept mostly straight through until 8:00 this morning. This, after a week or two or ten of getting no more than six hours of sleep each night and sometimes far less.

Cleaning, for another. My drives me crazy. My floors go unswept, my mail unopened, my dishes unwashed in the sink or piled up on the counters. My laundry. Oh god, my laundry.

Rejection. I've gotten plenty of that, enough to--repeatedly--question my sanity. A lot of people think they can write. I think some of them are delusional. Obviously they are unaware that they are delusional. Well, I'm a rational person. I can connect these dots.

Still, I keep at it, delusional or not, and as a good friend and encourager and fellow-writer has (repeatedly, since I'm a slow learner) pointed out, I've made progress. I blogged earlier about becoming a writer, and since that time I've written four novels, quite a few stories, notebooks full of really annoying poetry, a whole secret deluge of angsty journal entries, and some sadly sporadic blog posts.

Each time I was ready to give up, to admit defeat, I've been given a little tiny step of forward progress that has kept me going. Slews of form rejections for my first novel are made less bitter by one precious phrase of personalized encouragement from an agent: "You have a lively writing voice." I keep writing.

Novel two and three get some personalized rejections. A request or two. And then...two agents express excitement and a desire to see revisions! Requests on the revised manuscript. Positive rejections! And finally...OFFERS.

In the meantime, it's not like the rejection's not like my house cleans itself or my children don't need me or teaching takes up less time. I can still find a lot of reasons not to write. But the progress--these tiny steps forward--this makes me continue on.

I've been promising writing news now for a while, hinting at excitement...and it's true! I have super news! I'm signing with an agent--Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary Agency!

I'm so thrilled, and I hope you'll go to her terrific site and look around. The moment she requested my manuscript, I went over to her site and found myself sucked into her amazing blog, which is fascinating in what she says about the publishing industry and her own business but which also shows so much of her as a person and a thinker and an appreciator of all things in the literary world.

I'm so happy to reach this next step in the process. I know there's still a long road ahead, and I know there will be more reasons to stop, but as I pass each milestone in this path, I gain some resolve and some courage to keep going! And I'm certainly filled with hope about the eventual places this path could lead!

And...I've said this before, but this blog was born between novel number one and two, in a long gap in my writing when I wasn't really sure if I had the strength to put words out into the world anymore. I know my professed purpose has always been to share stories of my kids and have this record of the moments that pass so quickly in life, but what I've found in this outlet is so much more than that in regard to my writing life. Thanks so much to the people who read and follow my (mis)adventures in parenting and writing and life in general.

So thanks for hanging out with me here on this exciting road, and I hope I'll have more milestones to celebrate along the way! :)

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Sometimes, if I can just successfully provide a somewhat healthy lunch for my children, I feel like the embodiment of Good Mothering. I know, my standards are low, but that's the only way I can avoid feeling like a failure all the time.

So...there's an awful lot going on in my writing world right now--I hope to be able to share good news quite soonish and last night started fiddling with a new idea that if all goes well will be my next novel--and so once again I find myself a bit too busy to blog.

*fends off menacing tower of book reports by making stabbing motions with a red pen*

So today I'm just going to share one little lunch story and then get back to that grindstone.

*applies moisturizer to nose*

Jabber: MOM! (feels bottom teeth) Am I missing any teeth anymore?

Me: Lemme see. (peers into mouth) Those permanent teeth are really coming in, aren't they?

Jabber: (looks in mirror--a feat which does require some rather precarious stacking of objects and balancing upon them, a fact I try to ignore as I heat up the turkey dogs and cut the sharp cheddar cheese into attractive little sticks that I hope will convince them to overlook the fact that it's actually sharp cheddar cheese and not kid-friendly mozzarella or American) MOM! They're almost all the way in!

My teeth are so excited for lunch! Because up until today they were so low down they never got to touch the food, and they were, like, really sad most of the time. And they kept on really wanting to get at that food, but today, Mom, I feel it! They're going to get to chew the food for real because they're so big and they're so proud! They're proud because they've become real teeth in my real mouth!

Me: (laugh as I trick Monkey into consuming broccoli by giving it to him slathered in hummus before giving him any other food so that he is basically starving and hey, broccoli is pretty okay when you're basically starving) That's awesome, Jabber!

later, same luncheon


Me: You want some applesauce?


Me: Sit down, please, and wipe that ketchup off on your...Oh, Monkey, that's not your napkin, honey. Sit down, and take another bite of your hot dog. I'll get you, that's your brother's milk. Monkey, please. SIT DOWN.


Jabber: (in an annoyingly pedantic tone) Monkey, you need to say Applesauce PLEASE. That's good manners. MOM? MONKEY DIDN'T SAY PLEASE.

Me: Will you both please go back to the table? Yes, I'll get you more milk. Yes, I'll get you another fork. Wait. What did you do with your other fork. MONKEY WE DO NOT THROW SILVERWARE. Jabber, please. SIT DOWN OKAY? WILL EVERYONE PLEASE JUST SIT DOWN?

Monkey: (sweetly) Mama, may I please have another napkin and a big fork? And some applesauce?


Jabber: Mom, he was being polite, and you yelled at him.

Me: If I give you guys this applesauce, you need to eat it NICELY. I don't want a mess all over. You need to sit down in your spots and eat with your face close to the bowl, okay?

Both Creatures: (nod seriously) WE WILL, MAMA!

Me: Okay. Here's your applesauce, extra fork, extra napkins, more milk, and seventeen other things you have asked me for. Now I'm going to sit down and take a bite of my...


Monkey: (looking up from the bowl, which is now upside-down on the floor, with wide eyes) Mama, my applesauce jumped.