Showing posts from 2007

Pink Poodle Envy

Kids really do teach us how to live. Here are ten profound lessons my four-year-old daughter taught me today at the mall:

1. Buy pink things.
2. Skip and sing as you go from place to place.
3. Notice everything pretty, sparkly, cute, and cuddly.
4. If you hear music playing, stop right where you are and dance.
5. Wear a backpack with a pink poodle sticking out of it.
6. If you notice a kid with pink-poodle-envy, flaunt it.
7. Try on some glitter lipstick, then wiggle your hips and smile like a diva.
8. Act like you could afford to buy every single item you see, but just don't feel like it right now.
9. Believe you are a princess, and you will be one.
10. Capture the fun moments, and laugh while you’re doing it.

The Coke's On You

Being a mother has so many rewards. One reward came today in the form of a little ceramic-something-or-other that my eight-year-old son made. It's painted in colorful strokes, it's about the size of a shot glass, and it has all the wonderful imperfections that come from little fingers and thumbs squishing it into shape. "It's for you, Mommy. Merry Christmas." He flashed me a toothy grin.

"I love it! It's beautiful. I love the colors."

He went on to explain all of its many uses. "You can put candy in it, or stuff in it, or just look at it, or other things. But I don't know if you can drink out of it because it has paint."

"It's great. And I know just where I'm going to put it. Right on the kitchen window sill where I can see it all the time."

There were more rewards to come. "Now Mommy, here's a joke. What happens if somebody throws a porcupine at you?"

"A porcupine? Ouch. I don't know. What happens?&…

What a Book in the Hand is Worth...

Last week I received a surprise package in the mail. It was my very first hard-bound copy of COOL DADDY RAT. What a surreal experience it was to hold it in my hands. The rhythm drove me along as I wrote this story. I could hear a smooth saxophone and some low drums with a few faint cymbals behind them. It was a jazz rhythm, cool and lingering, the kind that gives you a whole new walk and a breathy talk. You've gotta snap along with it--that's what I thought, but didn't know whether anyone else would "feel" it too. Setting up the internal rhyme was tedious: "He bowed proud to a wowed crowd."
As the manuscript survived countless rewrites over the years, I similarly went on a personal journey of change, growth, and introspection. Revision, especially revising oneself, is always a struggle. To hold COOL DADDY RAT in hand now feels a little bit like swimming underwater though a long, winding channel and finally coming up for a delicious breath of air.

Release Date for Bedtime at the Swamp

It looks like there's a tentative release date set for Bedtime at the Swamp... and it's July 22nd, 2008. At least that's what is announcing. It's interesting that my first two books will be on the shelves just months apart. The sale of Cool Daddy Rat came years earlier than Bedtime's sale. Yet because two different publishers and illustrators are involved, schedules vary. We had to wait a while for an illustrator for Cool Daddy Rat, postponing the production process. But Mr. Lester was well worth it. His "Times Square" spread is my favorite. And I'm thrilled with the rich landscapes and darling characters Mr. Pamintuan created for Bedtime. Here's a sneak peek.

Searching for Sparks

Last night I had the opportunity to be a judge for the annual "Reflections" contest at a local elementary school. There were probably one hundred entries in the literature category, and I was asked to select five who would receive an award plaque and move on to a larger state-wide contest. The theme was, "I can make a difference by..."

It was fun. Elementary school kids write silly things like, 'I can make a difference by picking up trash in my neighbor's yard and not kicking my little sister." Some children had long lists of chores and duties they could do to make a difference. Many entries--at least fifty--were about picking up litter and recycling. Some even talked about saving the planet and eliminating pollution, but couldn't offer any specific ways to accomplish those lofty goals. (Do any of us really know how to save the planet and eliminate pollution?) As the other judge and I carefully read each entry, most were easily placed in a "no&…

Why the Beatles Belong to Me

It started with a radio program in 1980 when I was thirteen years old. (Now you must realize that this is before Itunes, before MP3s, and before Gwen Stefani. The stone age.)

I tuned my radio to the station getting the best reception. "OOooh, I like this song," I said. The song that came next was also familiar. "I like this one, too." And the next. I didn't know a whole lot about music or which artists played what tunes. I figured this was just a great station. How had I missed it? I remember laying on the floor of my bedroom, listening intently. And then the announcer said, "We're doing a Beatles A to Z weekend."

I was fascinated. These were all Beatles songs. The same band performed them all. Each piece initially sounded so different, especially when played out of chronological order. Yet every one had the same powerful, connective energy. On that day, I took down my John Travolta poster and declared myself a Beatles fan.

I became a student of the …

Long Live My Bonsai

Do other writers...

cool their overheating laptops on a bag of frozen peas
have the strange habit of using a unique word, then absent-mindedly using it again, so those identical words are too close together in the manuscript and one must be excised,
worry that their last sale will be their last sale,
feel as though they’re constantly floating in a strange state of manuscript submission limbo,
decide several times a day that they’d rather have their tombstone say “author” than “her house was always immaculate,” and
spend time reviving a dying Bonsai tree for inspiration

like I do?

Life in Lighted Windows

Everyone has a story.

Now don’t mistake this for “true confessions of a peeping Jane,” but for years I’ve had this strange interest in looking at houses. I especially love the charming or grand homes--driving past them at night and seeing their lighted windows. Sometimes I'll catch a glimpse of the homeowner's d├ęcor or a flash of activity, and then imagine the stories going on within those illuminated windows.

I’m also intrigued by mountain shacks you sometimes see all alone beside a stream, or curious little houses tucked away in a grove of trees. Who lives in those places? Perhaps a family of gnomes? A deranged killer, hiding out? An elderly lady who believes she owns any creature that crosses her property line? And if I lived there, what would my life be like? What would my story be?

Years ago when I lived in New York City, I had that same lighted-window awareness. My apartment faced the Empire State Building, and I could see it standing in the distance. The surrounding buildi…

Losing Claremont

This summer I must say goodbye to my childhood home in Claremont, California. My father has sold his house and will move away forever in two weeks. I feel like I'm reading the last few sentences of a cherished novel.

My parents and I, along with my two younger sisters and brothers, moved to Claremont from Rolling Meadows, Illinois soon after the Chicago blizzard of ’76. It was a record-breaking storm that left snow piled so high you had to dig yourself out of your front door. For a kid my age, playing outside was like navigating an alien planet. You’d go out in your puffy astronaut attire, and your feet would begin to sink all the way down to your waist. If you weren’t careful, you just might be sucked into a cold white, endless void and disappear.

So Claremont was a foreign, but welcome place. As we arrived at the airport and headed toward our new home, the California palm trees beckoned us like pillars along a palace entrance. Dad had purchased a new house already, and it was empt…

Painful Writing Itch

I remember when I used to say, "If only I could get one story published--just one--that's all I'd ever need. One book on the shelves. One publication. If I could get a single book published, I'd be satisfied for the rest of my life."

Well, that's a big fat load of hogslop.

After I learned that COOL DADDY RAT had been purchased by Putnam, it started all over again. "If I could just get one more book published, I'd be a legitimate author. I'm only a one-hit wonder with one book. Anybody can do it once. One's a fluke. I've got to have two to be real."

Another enormous lie.

Three is still not enough. So I write and submit and wait. Write, submit, wait. A torturous undertaking, but I'm hopelessly compelled. It's not that my previous books don't matter, because I am delighted to see each one in print. It's a rewarding thing when those illustrations arrive, smelling like crisp paper and ink, and I get to meet my characters for t…