Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tech Time Savers

When it comes to technology, I am a brontosaurus. I refuse to give up my cute Mac Clamshell, I don't own a cell phone, nor have I ever had my own PDA (do people even call them that anymore?).

Thankfully, I'm married to a tech-head-gadget-guru. Without him, I probably wouldn't even know what a blog is, let alone have dozens that I read daily.

A month ago, the tech-head noticed his brontosaurus wife reading a book while waiting for her bookmarked blogs to load, one-by-one.

"I can fix that," he said. "There's a way to get them all in one place. Easier. Faster."

"Noooooooooo," my five-year-old dinosaur self cried. "I like doing it this way."

Tech-head rolled his eyes and left me alone.

This past weekend, after I read three chapters of Adam Rex' The True Meaning of Smekday while waiting for a particular site to load, I lowered my head and asked, "Can you still do that blog-reading-help-thing on my computer?"

Five minutes later, I had this miraculous one-click spot on my bookmark toolbar that pops up all the latest entries of all my favorite blogs!

It's almost 2010 and I have finally moved into the 21st century. Well, almost. I still don't like microwaves, refuse to have a cell phone, prefer handwritten cards in my mailbox, and read books printed on paper.

What about you? Any major advances in your technological lives? Also, does anyone know what we're calling the decade we've just survived? What will we call the next one? I've pondered this for the past twenty years...

WHAT I'M READING THIS WEEK: The True Meaning of Smekday (A.Rex)The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z (K. Messner) Secrets of Truth and Beauty (M. Frazer)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


A direct correlation exists between the clutter in my physical space and the productivity of my writing.

Less messy begets greater creativity.

Simple solution=clean house.

But sometimes the mess is in my head.

Mind clutter--a much trickier thing to tidy up.

How I unclutter my mind:

*Stream-of-consciousness journaling
*List making
*Focused meditation
*Unprocrastinating (yes, I made this word up)

What about you? How do you unclutter?

WHAT I'M READING THIS WEEK: The Thief (M. Whalen Turner) Fire (K. Cashore)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ten Things That Keep Me Healthy

When I'm not well, I don't write well.

And I want to write well.

And feel well.

So after two months of annoying unwellness, I must remember what makes me strong.

My Wellness List:

Healthy physical food

Daily exercise

Hearty spiritual food

Cat play

Fabulous books

Window-shaking music

Time with friends

Positive thoughts

Pajama days

Cheerful giving

What about you? What helps you stay well?

WHAT I'M READING THIS WEEK: Opposite of Invisible(L. Gallagher) Going Bovine(L. Bray) The Day My Butt Went Psycho(A. Griffiths) I Hadn't Meant To Tell You This(J. Woodson)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

SCBWI Western Washington Professional Series Meeting

Despite the frigid weather, I dragged myself away from a cozy fire to attend my first Professional Series meeting in Seattle with the SCBWI Western Washington family.

So glad I did. Not only did I have the pleasure of putting real faces to those I've known only by name or blog, but I also got to meet and greet loads of new ones. Plus seeing others I remember from schmoozing together this past year in Bellingham.

The program included the fab-u-lous Martha Brockenbrough who facilitated interviews with Young Adult Novelists Lisa Schroeder and Liz Gallagher. Favorite tips? Lisa encouraged us not to feel pressured to do everything (ie. blogging) unless we enjoy it. Both Liz and Lisa showed us that even if we have a full-time day job, we can still find time to create great stories.

The hour flew by, and then the icing on the cookies showed up in the form of Jolie Stekly who shared a fresh look at voice by using songs on the top of the charts right now. Lots of "aha" moments for us in the audience. Thank you, Jolie!

The dreaded three-hour drive home became a delight when my carpooling driver gave me the gift of the most romantic how-I-met-my-husband story I've ever heard! I was afraid I'd be dropped off at my car before it ended, but she didn't leave me hanging. Thank you for sharing!

WHAT I'M READING THIS WEEK: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time(M. Haddon), Bronx Masquerade (N. Grimes), Smiles to Go (J. Spinelli), and Honey, Baby, Sweetheart (D. Caletti)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Critique Partners


I hate to think where my writing would be without you...

WHAT I'M READING THIS WEEK: The Secret Life of Prince Charming (D. Caletti) Waiting for You AND Take Me There(S. Colasanti) Reality Leak AND The Farwalker's Quest (J. Sensel)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Expect the Unexpected

One of the things I love most about writing first drafts is the joy of discovering the unexpected. Even though I open the blank page each morning with an idea of where the story's going, I never know exactly how I'm going to get there. The journey is the fun part, especially when it takes me to a place I never imagined going. More often than not, the unexpected makes me giggle, but sometimes it makes me cry.

What about you?

WHAT I'M READING THIS WEEK: Marcello in the Real World ( F. Stork) The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (J. Kelly) Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything In It (S. Frazier)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

On Research

Research is the chocolate frosting on my writing cake. And I'm wild about chocolate frosting. Why do I adore hunting down information so much?

Digging for information often sparks my imagination and sends me flying in an unanticipated creative direction. Like yesterday. I spoke with an old friend, a retired bio-chemist, who introduced me to buckyballs. I can't stop thinking about them and how I will use them in my current work-in-progress. Just saying the word buckyball makes me giggle.

What about you? Do you love doing research? What fun things have you discovered?

WHAT I'M READING THIS WEEK: Room One (Andrew Clements) Blind Faith (Ellen Wittlinger)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

SCBWI Winter Conference 2010

This week I registered for the 2010 SCBWI Winter Conference and I have lots to be excited about.

My husband and I moved away from New York September 10, 2001 (yes, that means one day before 9/11). We haven't been back since. Besides the joy that comes with seeing old friends and being in the city again, I am quite excited to attend the conference.

On Friday, I look forward to participating in the Writing Intensive.

The three breakout sessions that caught my attention on Saturday are:

Literary Novels (Alvina Ling, Senior Editor, Little, Brown)
Contracts (Edward Necarsulmer, Agent, McIntosh & Otis)
Writing for Teens (Ben Schrank, Publisher, Razorbill)

So, are there any of you out there who also plan to attend? Please leave a comment!

WHAT I'M READING THIS WEEK: A Brief Chapter in my Impossible Life (Dana Reinhardt) Hoot (Carl Hiaasen)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Setting Goals

Without goals, I get nothing done. Not even simple things, like cooking dinner. When it came to writing my first novel, I set a date--six months to finish the first draft. I achieved that goal and many others during the same six-month period. Whatever I'm working on, I have to give myself a deadline. If things come up, I adjust, but I try to stick close to the original goal.

This month my goal is to finish the final revision of my Work-In-Progress so that I can send it out to my beta readers for critique. Once that's done, I have the goal of finishing the first draft of my MG novel. I haven't set a date for completing that yet, but will do so as soon as I get started. Since November is NaNoWriMo, perhaps I'll set the goal to get it done by the end of November. Hmmm...

When it comes to submissions, I also have to set goals. Queries are the easiest thing for me to put off since it takes great courage and discipline to push that send button. Manuscript requests in the Inbox are my payoff.

What about you? Do you set writing goals? Do you reach them?

WHAT I'M READING THIS WEEK: Atonement (Ian McEwan) Hattie Big Sky (Kirby Larson)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Why I Write to Music

My writing playlist: Baroque, Classical, and Romance (piano and orchestra) Chris Botti and Italian Opera (instrumental only).

I can write without music, but not very well. I think it has something to do with brain hemispheres. Music puts me in that imaginative and mysterious place (where spelling flies out the window and ideas pop up like dandelions).

Writing with music does something else for me--it makes me feel less lonely.

What about you? Do you listen to music while you write? Why?

WHAT I'M READING THIS WEEK: Crash Into Me (Albert Borris) Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (Dai Sijie) Corelli's Mandolin (Louis De Bernieres)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

How Do I Climb This Mountain?

After two and a half years and five revisions, how do I find the strength to continue pouring fresh energy into this novel?

The mountain metaphor again. I climb this mountain one step at a time. Some days one step is all I can take--one page of revision. Other days I can take a few more steps--three to five.

Years ago I worked through Julia Cameron's delightful handbook The Artist's Way. One of the great bits of advice I learned from her is to keep my creative well full.

So when I feel like I can't possibly take another step, I stop at a clear stream and fill up my canteen. How? By reading great books and watching great movies. Another thing that fills me up is reading anthologies of writers on writing.

What about you? What fills up your creative canteen?

WHAT I'M READING THIS WEEK: Viola in Reel Life (Trigiani) Twisted (Halse Anderson) Catching Fire (Collins)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hard Work

Yesterday I received an encouraging e-mail from an author who reminded me that writing is hard work.

I agree, but sometimes it's more than hard work.

Today the work has been Herculean, arduous, formidable, and painful.

If you've ever climbed a mountain, you may have experienced a false peak. It's that point you focused on while your legs and lungs burned like fire. You poured out your last bit of energy because you just knew you'd reached the top. And then? You raised your eyes to a five hundred foot vertical incline carpeted with loose gravel.

That's where I am today. What am I going to do?

I will get some rest and nourishment so that tomorrow I will have the energy to put on my boots and move forward.

WHAT I'M READING THIS WEEK: Tricks (Ellen Hopkins)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

We're Not Islands

Why are so many writers connecting with each other through the internet, even though it bites (sometimes hard) into our writing time?

Because we need each other. We love to stay in touch and share our challenges and success stories. The Parisians had their salons, we have our Twitter, our Blogs, our Websites et al.

Here's something special: The fabulous Edith Cohn has posted her first author interview (with author Jo Knowles) on her blog. Check it out here: http://tinyurl.com/q2z8af

I am so grateful for my writing tribe and am thrilled to see it growing!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


So last week I got the news that I won the SCBWI Work-In-Progress Grant for a Contemporary Novel. I've spent a week thinking they must have made a mistake. I just read the announcement on the SCBWI website. It must be real, right?

What does winning this grant mean? I'm not sure, but I think it must be REALLY REALLY REALLY good news. My first reaction was disbelief. Then I said, "Yikes, I've gotta get that final revision done."

A day later I said, "Cool. Maybe I could attend the 2010 SCBWI Winter Conference in NY... Yikes. I've gotta get that final revision done."

So basically, what this grant means is that I've got a lot of work to do. A work I love.

Thanks to all of you who helped make this possible.

WHAT I'M READING THIS WEEK: Fever 1973 (Laurie Halse Anderson)

Thursday, September 3, 2009


What helps me to write everyday?

I love to read.
I love to write.
I love to read what I write, mostly.

What inspires you?

WHAT I'M READING THIS WEEK: A Bad Boy can be Good for a Girl (Tanya Lee Stone) Prom (Laurie Halse Anderson) All the Broken Pieces (Ann E.Burg) Kaleidoscope Eyes (Jen Bryant)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

First Drafts

This week I started working on a new novel. It's been over a year since I've put fresh ink on paper, so to speak. Each morning I ask, "How do I do this again?".

"One word at a time, until you get at least 250 of them." I answer.

The story is moving along, but I can't seem to turn off the revision/editor part of my brain. I'm not sure I need to turn it off, just maybe turn it down.

What about you? Are your first drafts super rough, or do you edit as you go?

WHAT I'M READING THIS WEEK: Loose Threads and Hold Me Tight (Lorie Ann Grover) Very Valentine(Adriana Trigiani)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Aha Moments

Introspection is always my challenge.

The answer was there all the time, but until yesterday morning, I didn't see how to structurally integrate my main character's disturbed inner voices into the story.

Now I know.

The aha moment!

Revising this novel has been like exploring a cave. The deeper I go, the darker it gets. I do see a beam of light ahead, but it's taking an awfully long time to reach it.

Aha moments. One of the many joys of writing.

WHAT I'M READING THIS WEEK: The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Muriel Barbery)When You Reach Me (Rebecca Stead)Secret Letters from 0-10 (Susie Morgenstern)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


So many important words in a writer's world start with the letter "p". Here are a few that come to mind:


But the most important and troublesome word in my writer vocabulary is:


How does a naturally impatient person like me exercise patience? I take the advice of the collective professional wisdom that encourages us writers to KEEP WRITING. Immersing myself in a new project is the best remedy I have found.

What about you? What helps you to be patient?

Do you have more "p" words to add to my list?

WHAT I'M READING THIS WEEK: The Dead and the Gone (Susan Beth Pfeffer) The Treasure Map of Boys (E. Lockhart) Red Glass (Laura Resau)

Monday, August 3, 2009

Writing and Computers

What I love about writing on my computer:

#1 The delete button

#2 Instant on-line access to dictionaries, Thesaurus, foreign word translators, search engines, et al.

#3 The Find/Replace option in Microsoft Word

#4 The heat that radiates from my laptop (winter)

What I hate about writing on my computer:

#1 Microsoft Word's mysterious glitch that occasionally makes my days saved work disappear without a trace. Finally found a solution after many stomach-wrenching failures.

#2 Instant on-line access to loads of enticing sites

#3 The grammar/spelling option in Microsoft Word (thank goodness for the ability to disable it)

#4 The heat that radiates from my laptop (summer)

WHAT I'M READING THIS WEEK: The Countess Below Stairs (Eva Ibbotson) September Sisters (Jillian Cantor)Every Soul a Star (Wendy Mass)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Revision and Perfectionism

I recently read somewhere about an author who was known to go into bookstores, pull his books off the shelf, and pencil in changes. I fear if I am ever published, I could become that author. In a publishing climate where the words "outstanding" "exceptional"and "perfect" are the standard for submission, it is hard to know where to draw the line. Honestly, I could probably tweak just my first page for the next ten years and have fun in the process. I believe my first novel is done. I don't believe I could make it perfect in my lifetime. I am satisfied, but I could always find things to make it better. Sometimes I just have to let go and move on.

WHAT I'M READING THIS WEEK: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perlilous Journey (Trenton Lee Stewart)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What a Great Book Does

I just finished Justina Chen Headley's North of Beautiful.

It is a great book.

What makes a book great for me?

A great book introduces me to people I'd like to have in my living room, takes me somewhere I've never been, makes me think about things I've never thought of, and teaches me something I knew nothing about. A great book also makes me say, "Yes, life is like that!".

What about you? What makes a book great?

WHAT I'M READING THIS WEEK: North of Beautiful (Justina Chen Headley)and Along for the Ride (Sarah Dessen)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Strangest Thing

Everyday I fire up my laptop, Bertie, eager to work on one of my novels and everyday I must battle the powerful force field that prevents me from opening my works-in-progress files. It's the strangest thing, I have no problem opening my e-mail, no problem checking out my favorite blogs, no problem reading the latest headlines. But when it comes time to click the button that opens the manuscript, I spend at least five minutes fighting to break through the invisible barrier.

Once I'm in, hours disappear faster than a package of Mint Milano cookies. With joy and satisfaction, I close the files, eager for the next writing session (and often scrambling to eat, get dressed, and make it to work without being more than fifteen minutes late).

Learning that other writers experience the same powerful force has brought me much comfort. Are there any writers out there who don't? I'd love to hear from you.

Now, it's time to break on through to the other side!

WHAT I'M READING THIS WEEK: Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover (Ally Carter)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Writing and Gardening

Is it just a coincidence that all of the authors I know love gardening? For me, it's the thrill of watching things grow from day to day. A lot could be said about gardening and writing, but I'll save that for another post. I'd be quite interested in seeing the results of a survey of writers in which they were asked if they garden and why. So if any of you are out there, tell me, why do you love gardening?

WHAT I'M READING THIS WEEK: Come Juneteenth (Ann Rinaldi)

Sunday, June 7, 2009


Exactly two years ago I joined The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. I am so grateful for this organization and the people I've met along the way. Here's a shout out for the Bellingham Network and the Western Washington Region. The road to great storytelling and publication has been a whole lot smoother thanks to the hard work of the many delightful people who have graciously helped me along my writing journey.

WHAT I'M READING THIS WEEK: The Mysterious Benedict Society (Trenton Lee Stewart) and Burning Bright (Tracy Chevalier)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

So Many Stories, So Little Time

The stack of books on the table beside my bed grows daily. This doesn't bother me. The only time I freak out is when that stack gets down to one or two.

The pile I'm concerned about is the invisible one, the books that I have not yet written. That pile is driving me batty.

I have two completed novels, twins, in their second year of revisions. The two stories get along with each other and rarely compete for my attention. I was joyfully working with them at a comfortable pace when out of nowhere, four more stories show up and demand to be told. Quadruplets.

These unwritten novels are so impatient. Their characters wake me up early in the morning, telling me what they're doing, jockeying for my attention. Each story shoves the other aside like five-year-olds at snack time, insisting their story must be the next written.

Don't take me wrong, I love these stories like children. But their older siblings require my full attention right now. Once they're all grown up and leave home for good, I will have to face the challenge of deciding which story gets to come out first. In the meantime, I hope none of them decide to run away from home.

So many stories, so little time!

WHAT I'M READING THIS WEEK: Wintergirls (Laurie Halse Anderson) If I Stay (Gayle Forman)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Writing Routine

In the summertime, a chain reaction dictates my writing routine here in the foothills of the North Cascades.

Robin Red Breast and his choir hail the new day before the little hand reaches 5, waking His Royal Catness who insists I meet him at the glass door to revere the beauty of the dawn and escort him onto the balcony where we can enjoy the wonders of creation together.

Fully awake, I come inside and fire up Liberté (aka Bertie) my ancient clamshell iBook, and get to work.

Having done their part to assure my success as a writer, the robins go foraging for worms and the lapcat struggles to usurp the laptop for prime napping real estate.

So I guess what I'm saying is that my writing routine is dictated by animals.

WHAT I'M READING THIS WEEK: Life As We Knew It (Susan Beth Pfeffer) and I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You (Ally Carter)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

SCBWI Conference

This weekend I'll be attending an SCBWI conference in Redmond, Washington. With eagerness, I anticipate the encouragement that comes with chatting up fellow writers and publishing professionals. One of the sessions I'm most excited about is a poetry/verse workshop with Ellen Hopkins.

UPDATE: Conference blew my circuits. Reality exceeded expectations. Must recharge.

WHAT I'M READING THIS WEEK: Unwind (Neal Shusterman) Beautiful Americans (Lucy Silag) Squashed (Joan Bauer)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Guilt-Free Reading

My older brothers used to be embarrassed to walk to school with me because I always had my nose in a book. Things haven't changed much, I still embarrass them and I still read at every opportunity.

Before embarking on my writing career, I often felt tremendous guilt for indulging my reading addiction, like I should have been doing something more productive. Now I devour books without a speck of guilt. Reading is part of the job description. Hooray!

WHAT I'M READING THIS WEEK: Envy (Godbersen) Good Night, Maman (Fox Mazer)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Writing Music, Writing Stories

Two notes combine to form a promise
A premise
Another note, another chord
An emerging theme

Tone, pitch, pace, rhythm
Forte piano, major minor
Largo allegro staccato legato

A scene, a single note
Oboes, drums, electric guitar
Conflicting players
Rise to a powerful climax
Fall to a gentle conclusion

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Tenacity: Persistent determination

I love saying that word. Te-nac-it-y.

It makes the nose crinkle and comes out of the mouth like a cool breeze.


My refrigerator proudly displays a quote by Winston Churchill:


My writing motto.