February 27, 2012

Three Books for Kids That Are Great Fun for Writers . . .

I found these three books thoroughly enjoyable:

Henrietta doesn't let rejection slips and a terrible review from the "Corn Book" dampen her EGGcitement for getting her book into the hands of enthusiastic young readers.

This PUNtastic book teaches the right way to write writing.

A boy figures out his own problems through sustained correspondence with his favorite author.

What other kids' books would be great fun for writers to read?

February 21, 2012

Better, Stronger, Faster . . .

When I was a kid, I had a major crush on Lee Majors of The Six Million Dollar ManMajor crush.  Lee Majors.  Get it?

Anyway, I realized I was not writing nearly as much as I should have been.  Whole days would pass and I'd look back and wonder, Why haven't I written anything?  I mean, the dogs got walked, I exercised, cooked the meals and took care of the promotion side of the business, but WHAT HAD I WRITTEN?

I needed bionic writing powers!  But since that wasn't an option, I had to become a bionic writer on my own.  Sheesh!

How did I create bionic writing powers?  I made one simple change that changed everything.

I put my writing first.  I gave it my best energy.

This is not me.

Every day for two weeks I got to my writing chair within fifteen minutes of waking.  (Including weekends and President's Day.  I might even work on important holidays like Groundhog's Day and Take Your Chihuahua to Work Day.  I'm that jazzed about being a bionic writer.) 

At the end of the two weeks, I discovered something startling.  The dogs still got walked.  The meals still got made.  (Just not always by me.)  And I had made significant progress on more than one book.  Since I showed up at the same place at the same time every day, that fickle Muse knew exactly where to find me.

I'm not alone in this bionic writing thing either.

Gail Shepherd of the awesome blog Paradoxy began rising at 5:30 when she got a full-time job.  She puts in 1-1/2 hours of writing every day before work.

Gary D. Schmidt has SIX children and a full-time job.  He writes two pages a day and continually produces amazing books.  Here he is talking at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C.

Louis Sachar writes two pages a day, too.  And last time I checked, he won the Newbery for a little book called Holes. 

Two pages a day?  Oh yeah, I can do that.

Heck, I can write a dozen pages now that I'm all bionic about it.

There's only one thing missing -- that cool music that played in the background when Lee Majors (Steve Austin) was doing all his cool bionic stuff.  Now, if I had that playing in the background, just imagine how much I'd be able to write!

February 14, 2012

The Truth -- Failure IS an Option

I tend to share writing successes and the shiny parts of my life on this blog -- book sales, publication days and fun family moments. 

The truth is that most of my writing life and personal life is not shiny.  It's dull, mundane and heaped with unsuccessful effort and failed attempts.  

The path to success is messy, filled with failures.

A bit of wisdom by comic Demetri Martin

Sure, there's the occasional good news that I celebrate mightily.  And sometimes there's devastating news, like a family member's suicide last week -- the third to touch our family since the start of the year (the other two were a neighbor and a young man at our son's school).

And then there are the everyday difficulties. 

Every day, we deal with the truth that one of our sons has a serious mental illness.  There were dark, difficult years -- DARK, DIFFICULT YEARS -- until we found a diagnosis, medication and therapy.  In short -- help and HOPE! 

Why am I so publicly open about our son's illness?  Why is our son completely open about his illness? 

Because we understand it's not the illness, but society's shame and stigma that keeps people from seeking help.  We stand behind NAMI's (National Alliance on Mental Illness) mission to eradicate the stigma attached to brain illnesses.  We hope brain illnesses can be looked at like physical illnesses, like diabetes, so people feel free to seek treatment without worrying about being judged or discriminated against.  Would you give insulin to your child if she were diabetic?  Of course!  Brain illnesses, from depression to anxiety to bipolar disorder (which our son has) to schizophrenia, often require medication, too.

As far as my writing life, I'm just now allowing myself to embrace and accept my writing life without hijacking my own efforts -- thinking I need a "real" job, chasing small writing jobs for "quick" money, worrying about the future and a host of what ifs.  I'm just now able to embrace this writing life for its opportunity to connect with creative people, examine the endless complexities of life, people, nature and live a rich, fulfilling life of the mind.

It's been over two years since I finished writing Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen.  Two years of sending my agent a few picture books, novel premises and a completed novel that all weren't publishable.  There have been nine -- NINE -- failed projects since I wrote Olivia.

My agent -- bless her patient soul -- thought I was frustrated with her repeated "No"s.  I wasn't.  I'm not even frustrated with my repeated attempts and failures.  I've finally learned that failure -- repeated failure -- is part of the process.  I wish it wasn't.  I wish this writing life were easier.  But it is exactly what it is supposed to be.   We must try.  We must fail.  And we must try again.

This week I'm starting again.  I've got an idea I'm excited about.  And I hope this time I can push aside the fear of going deep emotionally and create my next publishable novel.

I hope.

February 8, 2012

Read It Forward and . . . Change the World

I LOVE when enthusiastic school librarians come up with nifty ideas to get kids jazzed about reading.

Kay Hawkins, a Texas middle school librarian, is putting 70-80 copies of a certain book around her school.  (Hint:  It has to do with a hamster, Jewish apple cake and The Daily Show's Jon Stewart.)  The students are encouraged to find a book, read it, sign their name in the front cover and leave it for another student to find.

Random acts of reading!   Who doesn't love that?

To culminate the reading adventure, Kay has invited me to do an author visit at her school and another school in the area.  Whoopee!

But does she stop there?  Nope.  Because uber-librarians never stop there.

She's put QR Codes on the books, then taught the students -- during morning announcements -- to scan the codes to be directed to my Web site or to this video trailer that she created:

I love this video.  I love Kay's enthusiasm and the Read It Forward program.  Can't wait to meet Kay and visit the kids.  And it has nothing to do with the fact that she promised me good food and bowling while I'm there.  Who doesn't love good food and bowling? 

And one more great idea to make this planet a better place (Thanks, Marsha!) . . .

Okay, young people, here's your chance to CHANGE THE WORLD (or at least your corner of it):

Youth Service America Invites Young Change-Makers to Apply for Disney Friends for Change Grants.  Youth Service America and Disney are accepting applications for its Disney Friends for Change Grants program.  This program offers young change-makers in the United States funding to help make a lasting, positive change in their communities and the world.  Youth between the ages of 5 and 18 in all fifty states and the District of Columbia are eligible to lead a project and apply for a $1,000 grant.  (Applicants younger than 13 years of age must have an older person submit the application on their behalf.)
For complete program guidelines, the eligibility quiz, and the application form, as well as information on previous grant recipients, visit the YSA Web site.
Deadline:  February 29

February 2, 2012

A Few Fantastic Resources and Some Super News . . .

There are two things I look forward to on Wednesdays -- a new Modern Family episode and a fresh podcast from Katie Davis's Brain Burps About Books.  Episodes provide industry information, book reviews, marketing tips from Dianne de Las Casas and enough inspiration that I feel like I've attended a mini-conference.

So far in 2012, I've learned about Julie Hedlund's blog, Write Up My Life, and her innovative picture book challenge 12x12 in 2012.  (Have you written your January picture book?  I have!)

I learned about creating picture books from editor, Emma Dryden.  Oh, and check out the popovers the size of one's head! 

In a previous episode, I discovered a new favorite author -- Erica Perl -- and her hilarious book, When Life Gives You O.J.

From Katie's weekly podcast, I also learned how much author Nancy Werlin makes per year.  There was the interview with Newbery winners Linda Sue Park and Rebecca Stead.  Let's not forget the episodes about school visit tips, how to make a book trailer and Bruce Coville's harrowing escape from Egypt.

2.  Did you read this interview with Marla Frazee?  She's one of my favorite illustrators.  And Mrs. Biddlebox is one of my favorite books that she illustrated.  (She mentions it during the interview.)

In the interview, Ms. Frazee shares hard-earned wisdom that applies to both illustrators and writers.

3.  Agent Jill Corcoran offers rock-solid advice in her blog post:  What Makes a Book Sell?.  This post offers a great reminder of what we need to keep in mind when we write the next book . . . and how to begin writing the next book.  Thanks, Jill!

Onto the super news . . .

1.  In addition to the starred Kirkus review for Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen:  “This tale will have readers cheering for the resilient, resourceful Olivia,” Publisher's Weekly just released a fabulous review of Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen:  ". . . this tender, triumphant novel . . ."

With these lovely reviews coming in, Ken Jennings' blurb on the back cover and my Jeopardy!-obsessed, 84-year-old dad's whole-hearted endorsement, I can't wait for Olivia to make her way into the world on March 13th!

2.  On Goodreads, a school librarian in Illinois, Mrs. B, posted this review of How to Survive Middle School:  "I definitely expect this to appear on the Rebecca Caudill list in the next 2-3 years . . .  I read it because a 6th grade girl brought it back in and said it was the best book she ever read."

Well, a few days ago, an e-mail (that landed in my spam folder!) began with one of my favorite words:  "Congratulations!" 

The e-mail went on:  "I am pleased to inform you that How to Survive Middle School is among the 20 books on the Illinois Rebecca Caudill Young Reader's Book Award shortlist for 2013."

The Illinois State Reading List for grades 4-8!  Could you hear me whooping and hollering at your house?  I sure was loud enough.  Our dogs heard me!

Five years worth of books are considered for this list.  A dedicated committee of hard-working professionals narrow the choices down to 50 books.  Finally, the committee meets at the end of January and selects the 20 books that will appear on the list.

Mrs. B, from Goodreads, I'm so glad your sweet prediction for my book came true.

I leave you with a quote from the late author Rebecca Caudill, for whom the award is named:

“The first essential in any book is that it have something significant to say --a book that leaves the reader with bigger ideas than when he began reading - that stimulates his thinking, stretches his mind, deepens his feelings. A good book sticks to your ribs.”  -- Rebecca Caudill