Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Punishing You with Spaghetti

I have a dear friend from Bosnia.  

I've been spending the holidays at my parents' house and she visited this evening.  When I teased her about a small mistake she'd made this afternoon, she declared, "Fine!  I will go punish myself with spaghetti."  

Mom had prepared spaghetti for dinner this evening and protested that eating it wasn't punishment.  (It wasn't.  I should make that clear.)

"No," said Enesa.  "You know, I will hit myself with spaghetti."

Then, as the heavens opened and angel choirs sang, I asked, "You mean beat yourself with a wet noodle?"

"Of course!"

Of course.  

I love my friend, and I suppose that if you're a low-carb fiend, I could, indeed, punish you with spaghetti.  

Soon to follow: Random Word Facts about something that puzzled Dickens.  (I so need that Muppet Show Pigs in Spaaace music and voiceover for a moment like this.)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

How is a flamingo like a matchbook?

The other night at our meeting we did more celebrating than critiquing. On the subject of holiday travel with kids, we started talking about DVD’s in the car. Not surprisingly, even those of us who are parents cringed at the idea. Whatever happened to old fashioned word games?

A few of us shared our favorite family word games. In my family we had one called “irrelevancies.” One person named an object. Another person then named something completely irrelevant to that object. The third person had to figure out some way they were related. Like one time when my sister said “flamingo,” and my dad said, “matchbook.” (Flamingoes were a favorite obscure item.) I thought about it and decided that they both have something you can pluck off of them: feathers and matches.

That got us thinking about animals. Why do different kinds of animals have different names for a group of them? For example, why is a group of sheep called a herd, while wolves are a pack? And why do some animals get a cool group name, like a pride of lions? So we started inventing names for groups of animals. One person got to choose the animal, and whoever picked the best name for a group of them got to choose the next animal. So the next time you come upon a family of porcupines, according to us, that would be a prickle. Naturally.

Anyone else want to post your favorite word games?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

When You Can't Remember What You've Read

I read a lot. This probably comes as no surprise to you, whether you know me or not, because the one thing you do know about me is that I’m a writer, and writers read. I also work in a library. Temptation in the form of reading material is moving across the desk in front of me all the time. But like most of us these days, I’m getting to the point where I just can’t remember what I have and have not read.

About two years ago I started a journal of all the children’s books I was reading. At first it was a traditional journal, real paper pages and everything. Each book got a page: date read, title, author, publisher, year of publication, CIP summary from the back of the title page, and then my own thoughts about the book. Eventually I got to the point where I wanted to look up a book I had read, but had a hard time finding it in the journal. I started copying all that information into an Excel file. Much easier. I could do a search by author or subject or even by publisher if I was sending out submissions and needed a reminder of who published what.

Recently I found out about a website that helps you do all this electronically. Online. And quickly, too. Check out You can create a virtual library of everything you’ve read, and if you want, you can rate it too.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Random Word Facts- The Tinker Really Was Swearing!

I'm such a geek.  This is getting addictive.  

After Michelle's comment about toeing (not towing) the line, I thought I'd add something about a tinker's dam.  I'd read something about how a tinker used a bit of clay to help him "flood with solder" the metal he was repairing.  The clay would be useless afterwards and so you have a useless dam. 

I remember laughing once when someone wrote about a "tinker's darn".

According to the folks at this website, however, tinkers were known for their cursing.  (My father always talked about cursing like a one-eyed carpenter.  He had to explain the whole one eye, no depth perception, mashed fingers part to me.)  Long before there was talk of a clay dam, there were expressions like "tinker's curse".   Apparently, tinkers had a wide and varied vocabulary after all.

Oh well.  I liked the "dam" story better- it gave you something to talk about.  

Random Word Facts

Am I the only one who discovers a word or phrase and loves it?  Instead of annoying only close friends and family, I now get to annoy the blogosphere as well.

Today's installment?

Short shrift.

I must say, I thought it was "short shift," as in the manager doesn't like you and schedules you, say, 30 hours a week instead of the full 40.  Kind of similar to the actual meaning of "curt dismissal."

Please don't laugh.

So, the archaic definition of "shrift" was (according to my awesome dictionary widget- bless you, Apple!) the penance imposed by a priest after confession.  The archaic expression of "short shrift" meant a short time between a judge's condemnation and punishment.  

There you have it!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

On Why the Submissions Process is Like Dating

Here I am, not waiting by the phone.

Last year I was listening to an editor speak at the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Fall Conference, and she said that finding an editor is a lot like dating. Just as you may go out with someone who is perfectly nice, but just not right for you, an editor may like your story, but it isn’t what they’re looking for at that time. It doesn’t mean you are a bad person or even a bad writer, they just want something else.

Recently I sent the manuscript of my middle grade novel to an agent. We were supposed to have had a meeting at a conference, but he was unable to attend. I spoke with one of the conference coordinators a few weeks later, and she put me in touch with this person, who graciously agreed to look at my work. As soon as I sent it, I felt like I was on a blind date. Beating heart, sweaty palms, the works. I kept telling myself not to place too many expectations on this. After all, people get lots of rejections from agents. Besides, he probably got dozens of submissions just in that day. I’m sure that in his world, my beloved book was just one of many. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I wondered if he was “the one.” The possibility that my work was in the hands of someone who could make things happen lurked.

After a day or two, I stopped thinking about it so much. I still haven’t heard back from the agent, and that’s okay. He’s busy. I was never the kind of girl to wait by the phone for a guy to call for a second date. On the other hand, if the phone rings and I answer and it’s him, I’m pretty sure I’ll have butterflies in my stomach.

William C Morris YA Debut Awards

I read this this morning and wanted to share. Is anyone familiar with any of these works? This is a category in which many Slushbusters are writing, so we should perhaps try to read these.

(I think it quite comical that they went to the trouble of including a pronunciation for the last name "Bunce" but not for "Lecense"....)



Library association launches award for teen books
Wednesday, December 10, 2008 3:18 PM EST The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Five novels for teens are finalists for the American Library Association's first-ever William C. Morris YA Debut Award.
The prize is given for books that "illuminate the teen experience and enrich the lives of its readers through its excellence."
The nominees, announced this week: Elizabeth Bunce's (rhymes with once) "A Curse Dark as Gold"; Kristin Cashore's (ka-SHORE) "Graceling"; James Lecesne's "Absolute Brightness"; Christina Meldrum's (MEL-drum) "Madapple"; and Jenny Valentine's "Me, the Missing and the Dead."
The winner will be announced Jan. 26.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Best book gift ideas of 2008

Hello all,

Me again.

My daughter's middle school has a weekly email newsletter. They sent this out this week, and it says feel free to share, post, link etc. So I thought I would! See below.

These are not my picks, and I don't endorse or recommend this list, just sharing what was sent to me.

I would LOVE to hear what everyone else is giving this year, children's book-wise. You already know I recieved Knuckleheads. I'm giving a book by Emily Gravett (Wolves) to my 3 year old nephew.
My middle school daughter has run through all the Warrior cat series and is now onto the "Clique" series. Yikes. My dyslexic 4th grader loves the Animal Ark series and the My Secret Unicorn series. They aren't too hard for her but they are of high interest to animal-crazy kids.
And my 9th grader was just recently complaining that he doesn't have time to read for pleasure during school. He's right, actually, he is a VERY busy kid. But he last enjoyed the last Eragon book, Brisinger, by Christopher Paolini.

Me? I am re-reading one of my favorite historical novels, Dear Companion, by Kelly Joyce Neff. It's a first person narrative of Martha Jefferson that starts the day she met Thomas Jefferson, until her death. And of course Pride and Prejudice is always there on my bookshelf awaiting a comforting re-read as well.

What are you giving? What do your kids enjoy? What are you reading? Do you agree with the list below?



Books, of course, make great gifts. It's just a matter of choosing the right one. Well, we're here to help. After carefully culling through our Best Books 2008 list , we came up with 21 irresistible titles chosen for their sure-fire kid-pleasing appeal. Click here for the list--and feel free to copy, forward, post, link or otherwise pass it along.

Paste in this link:

Monday, December 8, 2008

Kids Say Amazing Things

My 14 year old said something amazing the other day. He has no idea how it affected me.

He was talking about his English teacher. He said, "I really like Mrs. A_____. She's really really smart. She's, like, the smartest person I know."


"She's almost as smart as you, Mom."


Took my breath away. Here I am, stay at home Mom, bemoaning how people don't know how smart I am because they only know me as a stay at home Mom. Feeling less because I don't have a PhD or a high-powered job, even though I am smart enough to have either or both if I had made different life choices.

And along comes this goofy 14 year old kid, himself an honors student, to say something like that in such matter-of-fact manner. He wasn't meaning to compliment me, which made it all the better to me.


I have lists of other amazing things my kids have said or that I have said to my kids, but I think I will let this particular one stand alone. Forgive me while I bask?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

So Why Am I Doing This?

With all the talk of this past week's "Black Wednesday," and posts about how we shouldn't write for money and how publishing houses are undergoing incredible upheaval, I began to think about my own writing.

I mean, if I'm not going to get rich and/or famous, why am I doing this?

(Until I find a font that oozes sarcasm, you'll just have to believe the best about me and such statements. Can I say, though, that it was a little satisfying to type something so petulant and self-absorbed?)

Many great writers have written about why they write. Some did it so well that they didn't even need a clever title.

I am (certainly) not those writers and this is not going to be that sort of post. But this past Wednesday, I did begin to wonder why I write. I couldn't begin to calculate how much time I've spent writing: evenings and mornings and in-between times devoted to spinning worlds that no one else might ever visit. Then there's the time that I've spent thinking about what I should write when I can get to the computer. I've even taken classes to learn how to write better.

If I'd spent all that time in a lab (and if I had a clue what to do there), I could have cured the common cold by now. Or at least some sort of minor rash.

I'd like to think that I do it for all the people who might read my stories. I wish I could write so selflessly. The truth is, though, that I rarely imagine them when I sit in front of the computer.

I think the closest reason I can come to is that I want to recognize something. You know that moment when you're reading a book and the author nails- absolutely nails- a moment or an emotion? You know know exactly what she's writing about.

I write and revise for those moments when my words sing, when they distill an experience and hold it there, right on the page. Maybe that's important to me because it means I better understand my own life. Or maybe it matters because it means I can at least describe the world I want to live in.

I'd love to think that perhaps other readers will have a chance to recognize something or someone in my writing. Yet if that never happens, there's still the satisfaction of wrestling with a portion of my story until it becomes more than the words I've used to write it.

Of course, there's also the satisfaction of having fellow Slushies give their approval. Believe me, it isn't granted lightly!

This doesn't mean that I know why I write. It's just my best guess at the moment. I'm still not sure that I could logically justify all that time I've spent. Believe me, though, I'll keep writing. Because I have to.

So, why do you write? Yes, you. (I'm hoping there's someone else out there reading this. Perhaps this post should have been about why I blog. I'm still pondering that question.)

And if you know of a sarcastic font, please let me know.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Starting a Critique Group

I use to hate it when a new couple would visit our Sunday school class. Everyone went around the circle telling their name and what they did for a living. "I work in the home," I'd say.

Everyone was always nice. "Oh that’s the hardest job there is," They’d say.

I kept reminding myself that I loved being at home, and that there were lots of parts of working that were no fun, and that I was lucky. Sometimes, though, I wished that I could say something more prestigious about myself and that I could contribute money to the family.

If only I could get published, then I could say, "I'm a writer." I would make money, too.

Instead of making money on my writing, though, all I did was spend money. I took an expensive ICL class. It was great. I loved it.

Next I saw a writing class advertised in UVA's continuing education catalogue. I asked for that class as a Christmas present. I loved it, too.

In my UVA class the students had to critique each other’s work. The first time they critiqued my work I got mad. They were harsh, and they didn’t understand what I was trying to do. The next day, though, when I looked at my paper, I realized that I had failed to make them understand. From then on I welcomed criticism.

After being in the class I knew that I wanted a critique group, but I didn’t know how to find one. I went to a local SCBWI event and asked if there were any critique groups that I could join. They told me that all the critique groups were filled up. They said that I should start my own, but I didn’t know how.

Then I saw another writing class advertised. This one was called "Writing for Children." That’s the kind of writing that I did. I had told myself not to spend any more money on my writing, but I couldn’t resist. I signed up for the class. The teacher was great and the assignments were fun, but the best part of the class was the critiques from the other students.

One day during class I looked around and realized that people who had been willing to spend money to improve their writing surrounded me. If I could convince them to form a critique group with me, we could give each other the best part of the class for free.

Three other students were interested so we began. To help us grow I posted fliers in the libraries and invited everyone that I knew who had ever mentioned being interested in writing.

After the first six months none of my first three members were coming but by that time three other women were coming regularly. We carried on.

Today none of the members from my initial group are part of Slushbusters, but I am grateful for everyone who ever came to a meeting. They helped me stick with my writing and enabled the group to survive.

So far I still haven’t made any money on my writing, but it is a hobby that I love and now it is a FREE hobby!!

The case of the Slushbuster and the Ex-Boyfriend

A package arrived for me the other day. I wasn’t expecting anything.

I looked at the return address and saw that it was from my ex-boyfriend from high school. Ex meaning like, I’ve been happily married for 22 years and haven’t seen this guy for at least 25 years. He’s married too, 600 miles away. We hadn’t kept in touch until we started emailing a few years ago through the magic of the internet. Like many other people, I am finding that through Classmates, Facebook, MySpace, etc, people from the past keep popping up. People told me I shouldn’t be emailing with an ex-boyfriend. Hey, I even email with his wife, who I have never met. We bonded over a shared love for Sting.

Anyway, I have this package. It’s not my birthday. He’s not prone to sending me gifts out of the blue.

So I open it up and it’s Jon Scieszka’s new book, Knucklehead.

Okay. Love Jon Scieszka. Been meaning to get this book. Cool!

It gets better.

Now, here’s a peek at the inside:

Very cool!

Last spring, the Slushbusters attended an author’s party en mass. Jon Scieszka was the author-of-honor. We all got at least one of his books and got them signed and had a chance to talk to Jon. He was promoting Knuckleheads, which was not out yet. So we saw a few galleys and heard him speak about the new book. (He is a hilarious speaker. If you ever get to go and see him, or if you are ever in a position to choose an author/speaker for a conference, put him on top of the list.) I couldn’t wait to get Knuckleheads, but I’d have to wait for publication. Meanwhile, I picked out Smash,Crash and had Jon sign it for my ex’s son, who was 3 at the time. I saved it until his birthday and sent it up to him. Apparently he loves it. It’s one of his favorite books. (The lion blanket I sent him the year earlier was a big favorite too. Am I good or what?)

Mystified by the inscription, I hop on my computer and email my thanks to the ex and his wife. It seems that recently Jon was up their way at a book signing, so they returned the favor and picked up a copy of Knuckleheads for me, explained about Smash, Crash to Jon, and LO, behold the inscription on my book. VERY COOL!!

Whoever said it was a bad idea to keep in touch with an ex-boyfriend? Don’t believe it.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Distractions - Motorcycles and Moving

My son has a toy motorcycle that he won’t let out of his sight. He sleeps with it. He bathes with it. He tries to eat with it, but I won’t let him. He loves his “motor.” He has a “papa” that sits on the front and a “mama” that sits on the back. When I say something he doesn’t like, he rips the mama off the back and throws her to the ground. Later, when he’s happy with me, he demands we look for the missing mama. No matter what I’m doing—cooking, cleaning, writing—he pulls on my hand and leads me away saying, “Help, mama, help.” That’s what toddlers do, I suppose. And most times I’m happy to go. He’s an easy-to-justify distraction from my work.

Harder to reconcile are the little distractions of daily life.

St. Augustine is supposed to have said, "Even the straws under my knees shout to distract me from prayer." I don’t pray, but I know about distraction. The refrigerator hums, the clock ticks, a bird chirps, and they each remind me of something. There are endless cups of tea shouting to be made, a parade of dishes calling to be done, and so many views out the window waiting to be stared at that it’s amazing I ever write a word. Oh, and then there’s my son, who is just too cute to ignore.

Weeks ago, when I was packing up my life to move to the Netherlands, I got so much writing done. It distracted me from the more daunting task of deciding which items deserved a spot in one of our six allotted bags. I can spend hours dickering over word choice, but that seems like play compared to these decisions. Now I’m semi-settled and back to fending off distractions from writing.

I suppose it’s about choosing your distraction. I choose the toddler but not that third pot of tea. I choose the quiet evening with my husband but not the random browsing of the internet. I will let myself be led by the hand up the stairs and to the bedroom where together we grope beneath the bed to find the mama and put her back on the motor. We do it again and again every day until it becomes a ritual.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

On marrying foreign men- and Skype

Lisa's leaving us!  

Let this serve as a warning- do not marry a man from the Netherlands, no matter how wonderful he is.  (And Michiel is wonderful.)  Lisa and Michiel will be settled in the Netherlands by Thanksgiving, and the rest of us Slushies will have to figure out how to incorporate Skype into our critique group.

We meet at a local Panera (free WiFi!) and I have a PowerBook.  We hope Skype will allow Lisa to play a part in the critiques, even though our meeting won't even start until after midnight for her.  I can just imagine us passing around my laptop.  And what happens if we start fighting about someone's work?  (That's one of my favorite times: a few Slushies absolutely for what one person wrote, other Slushies completely against.  Always a sign the writer's on to something good.)  Our fights- passionate discussions, rather- aren't exactly orderly.  What happens to my laptop then?  I doubt we could pass it around fast enough, and there will be poor Lisa in the Netherlands, mug of tea in hand, watching a deserted screen pointed at some random spot in Panera- probably at someone who chews with his mouth open.  

Anyway, we'll let you know how it goes.  Our first international Slushbuster meeting won't happen till after Thanksgiving.  

Goodbye, Lisa!  We love you.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What is a Slushbuster?

Slushbusters is the name we chose for our children’s writing critique group. Why? Because one of our goals is to make our way to the top of editors’ slush piles. So now you’re asking, “What’s a slush pile?” Those of you already involved in publishing, bear with me a moment while I explain. When an unsolicited manuscript is sent to a publisher, it goes in with all the other manuscripts that don’t get routed straight to an editor’s desk. It may be months before the envelope is even opened. Usually the slush pile manuscripts are read by an assistant or an intern, and only the very best are sent along to an editor. There are a couple of ways around this process, such as having an editor request a manuscript because they met you in person at a writing conference. “Breaking out of the slush pile” is what many new (and not so new!) authors want, because it means that the people making the big decisions are reading your work.

But Slushbusters with a capital “S” means more than that. We help each other become better writers. We support each other through road blocks and rejections. We offer criticism when work isn’t the best it can be. We share good books and blogs and websites. We go to conferences where we can meet other writers and learn from them. And somehow, in the middle of it, we’ve become friends who happen to have a pretty good time.

We decided that seven was as many people as we could handle in the group. There’s only so much time for critiques! But we’re having so much fun we’re ready to share. Here you’ll read our thoughts on critique groups, children’s literature, and taking the baby steps (and falls!) every writer must on the way to publication. Welcome to the Slushbusters blog.