December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Tomorrow it will be 2011.  Kind of hard to believe, isn't it?

So what are your resolutions?

I'm really good at making resolutions.  I can always think of things that would be very worthwhile to accomplish.  I am somewhat less talented, however, at following through.

There is apparently a method, a proper way if you will, to make resolutions.  It involves small, measurable steps as opposed to vague global statements.

So I guess become the most famous author of all time is out :)

Fond as I am of vague global statements, I will try to scale down.  Here I go:  I think I will resolve to take a writing class to further my education (I'm already signed up!), try to do better with the Picture Book Marathon in February this year than I did last year (it's supposed to be a picture book a day for 28 days - I only got to 17 in 2010 - although between school visits and the writing course it might be hard...), write at least one novel (you never know, this could be the year!), sell at least one new manuscript (really I hope that will happen or I may have to pursue a career in competitive knitting!), eat fewer cookies (though I will certainly not resolve to swear off them altogether!) and get more exercise (so I don't have to swear off cookies altogether!)  How does that sound?  My writing buddies, Scout and Jemma, are all in favor.  (That's because they think they will be the lucky recipients of both more exercise and the cookies I don't eat, which fits in perfectly with their resolutions to spend more time roaming Blueberry Hill and eat as many cookies as possible!))

Now, I hope each of you will make your resolutions (feel free to share - sometimes it's easier to be in things together... anyone else want to write a novel this year?) and I hope you all ring in the New Year with health, happiness, and hope!

See you in 2011!

December 30, 2010

Technology 101: Book Trailers

I told you I was off to work on the book trailer for April Fool, Phyllis!, and I am.  But let me assure you, it is uphill work!

I read an article or a blog post somewhere (sorry, no idea where) which described people as falling into one of two categories: digital natives and digital immigrants.  My children are digital natives - they have grown up with computers and other electronic devices of all kinds and seem to have an innate understanding of how they function.  They also have no fear whatsoever of experimenting with said devices to see what they can do.  I, on the other hand, am most definitely a digital immigrant.  Technology of all kinds eludes me.  I require large amounts of handholding to try anything beyond Microsoft Word, and I am afraid to experiment lest I cause my computer to spontaneously combust, thereby costing me my ability to check my email 4,000 times a day and play Sporcle.

So you can see how creating a book trailer could be uphill work!

There are some famous authors out there whose publishing houses get their book trailers made by professionals.  I am not one of them.  There are other slightly less famous authors out there who do well enough to pay a professional to make book trailers for them.  I am not one of them either.

I use imovie and badger my computer-savvy children with endless questions until I hack my way through the trailer.  Possibly not the most efficient or popular method, but it gets the job done.  If you're interested in viewing my hack jobs thus far, please click this link: SLHILLYouTubeChannel

(While you're there, please feel free to subscribe to my channel, "like" the trailers, and/or write glowing reviews marveling over the creative and technological genius clearly at work behind both books and trailers :))

This is how it works.  I turn on imovie (I can do this because all I have to do is click on it.)  Then I can't remember what to do next, so I shriek loudly, "HELP!" at which point one of my long-suffering children comes to my aid.  This happens a few more times while I import images and color blocks for text.  This is followed by a long period of pondering exactly how I want to use the images and what I want the trailer to accomplish.  Some confuse this period with daydreaming or playing TextTwist, but I promise you, it is all about intense thinking.

Once I decide where I'm headed, I just have to put it all together.  This, unfortunately, is a very nit-picky job requiring A LOT of patience, a commodity of which I am in short supply.  I am frequently forced to sustain myself with oatmeal raisin cookies and excessive caffeine in order to soldier on through.  I then make everyone in the house watch the result numerous times and give feedback, which is followed by more tweaking and the members of my household becoming mysteriously hard to locate.

But when at last the trailer is done, I love having it.

Opinions vary as to whether book trailers are useful in any way, but here is my theory: in this day and age of online shopping, consumers looking for books are not in a position to pick them up and leaf through them to get a feel for what the books are like.  A book trailer gives you a little of that experience.  Ideally, a person looking to buy your book can click on the trailer and get an experience similar to holding it and skimming through it in the book store.  I think that's helpful, especially with picture books where the art plays such an important role.  So that is why I make them.

What are your thoughts on book trailers?  Do you watch them?  Do you find them helpful?  Do they influence your decision to buy or not to buy?

And now, back to work.  I'll let you know when this one is done, but don't hold your breath.  Any spontaneous and completely unsolicited mailings of sustaining cookies and/or chocolate will be much appreciated!

December 28, 2010

Pretty On Pink

As a writer, I spend a lot of time writing.  Flabbergasting, I know.

Some days, ideas and words flow easily.  Those are great days.

Other days, I hit the delete key so often it's a wonder I haven't made a hole clear through the computer.  And the kitchen table underneath it.  And the floor underneath that.  Those days are less great.

On a few truly awesome days, I get an offer for a new manuscript (that's the absolute best!), or I get to see a new piece of a book en route to publication (also amazing as I get to see my idea coming to fruition!)

Christmas Eve, as it turned out most appropriately, was just such a day.  I went down to my mailbox (which happens to be over half a mile from my house) and what should be waiting for me but this:

F&G of April Fool, Phyllis!
Definitely worth the trip to the mailbox!  What a thrill to see my new book nearly finished!  Especially as it came with this note:

I cannot wait to hold the first bound copy in my hot little hands!

Maybe it sounds silly to be so excited, but I am still at the stage where every new book is a source of pride and delight.  Truth be told, I think I will always be at that stage.  There may be writers out there like Jane Yolen who have written and sold over a hundred books who have a more ho-hum approach and can take their success for granted, but if I am lucky enough to publish a hundred books, I will be just as thrilled by the hundredth as I was by the first, and I don't think I'll ever take anything for granted!

April Fool, Phyllis! is due out February 21, 2011, so I really should get to see the finished product soon. I will be sure to share it with you when I do.  Jeff Ebbeler has once again done a fantastic job with the art.  The colors are beautiful, the details imaginative, the characters' expressions just right.  I can't wait for you to see it!

I am very likely to think up a contest with an advance copy as a prize, so stay tuned if you're interested!

Now, I should probably get to work on the book trailer, because no matter how many opportunities I give it to create itself, nothing seems to be happening.  So off I go!

But don't you think Phyllis looks pretty on pink :)

December 27, 2010

Meet Kathy Troidle Jackson

I am so pleased (at long last, after a few delays, but now with great fanfare!) to have the opportunity to introduce you all to the talented author/poet Kathy Troidle Jackson!

Kathy Troidle Jackson
Kathy works for IBM, but she still manages to find time to write.  Her books White Dog Haiku and Things I've Learned From My Westie were self-published on Lulu.  Kathy's website is under construction but due to be launched imminently.  The tagline is write here, write now, and her new blog of the same name will be launched concurrently.  Write Here, Write Now describes how she thinks of good Haiku - the poet writes the moment as it is happening now and invites the reader in to feel it with her words.  Kathy's other  blog, Ghent Fever, celebrates her life in New York's upper Hudson Valley where she lives with her husband and their rescued Westie, Islay Bear.  Kathy recently had two Haiku poems published in Berry Blue Haiku - an online Haiku magazine for children.  She is available to teach Haiku workshops (if interested, please contact her at kathy [at] kathytroidlejackson [dot] com), and she would love for you to follow her on Face Book and Twitter, and to join her White Dog Fan Page!  Welcome, Kathy!

SLH:  How long have you been writing?

KTJ:  I have been writing as long as I can remember.  I grew up the oldest of four girls and nothing made me happier than to entertain them with funny stories and poems.

When given a writing project as a child, I not only did it but overachieved.  One assignment I remember was to write an idiom and illustrate it.  I put together an entire illustrated book of them including some choice ones like

He’s all thumbs
He flipped his lid
It blew her socks off
The drinks are on the house

There was something about combining art with words to paint a picture that captivated me even way back when. 

SLH:  When did you become interested in haiku?

KTJ:  I learned about haiku as most kids do in grammar school – the traditional three line 5-7-5 syllable format is accessible for all ages and fun to write.  But it wasn’t until recently that I got hooked on it in a big way.  I have been putting a lot of effort lately to live more in the moment, appreciate the abundance I have in my life, and celebrate the small things.  Haiku and my dog have helped me do that.

I never was allowed a pet growing up but my husband and I rescued a 5 ½ year old Westie (West Highland White Terrier) in August of 2009.  Islay Bear has been a joy to get to know and living in the moment is all he knows.   Once while I was away on business, my husband who discovered that people were doing haiku on Twitter, tweeted a couple haiku to tell me what the dog was up to….mostly to make me laugh out loud in my business meeting as he knew I’d be checking my blackberry during the meeting.  Here’s what he tweeted:

Islay Bear (pronounced eye-la)
White Dog walks
Gentle sprinkles fall on tree
Dog is now empty

He certainly accomplished his goal!  After that, I was delighted to find a whole community of haiku writers on Twitter.  @baffled puts out a word of the day that he calls the #haikuchallenge and we all write haiku with that word in it.  For a year now, mine have all been about the White Dog.

SLH:  Are there "tricks" to writing haiku that can make it easier/more accessible to beginning writers, especially children?  Or ways that teachers can use haiku in the classroom?

KTJ:  Good haiku uses words as imagery, contrast and seasonal words to invite the reader into the world of the poet and conveys a feeling of a particular moment in time in the poet’s life.  

Haiku can be a fun way to get kids interested in writing by asking them to write a three line poem about their favorite animal, describe what the animal is doing as if it was right there in the room right now.  A fun way to use haiku in a classroom is described in the latest issue of Berry Blue Haiku where a teacher brings in a bunch of photos of animals and/or nature events. The kids are asked to choose one and write a haiku about it. 

Another creative idea I like, also described in the December issue of Berry Blue Haiku, is to work with kids at holiday time to describe what the recipient might do with a gift they are giving with a haiku which is written up as the tag and placed on the wrapped item.

One of the best ways to describe haiku that I resonate most with is from the book The Haiku Apprentice by Abigail Friedman, where a haiku master asks her students to think of haiku as “a vessel into which you pour your feelings.”

Writing good haiku is not as easy as it first seems.  The three line 5-7-5 format came out of Japan, where the concept of haiku originated. Haiku was intended as a poem you could say in one breath.  In Japanese what is counted are sounds, not syllables.  There are a lot more Japanese sounds than syllables in most words.  Although the three line 5-7-5 syllable format can make the definition of haiku more tangible and perhaps easier to teach to children, it is thought now that strict adherence to the 5-7-5 syllable format forces poets to pad their thought with words like “a” and “the” and in Japanese these haiku would no longer be read in a single breath. 

Haiku groups, like the Haiku Society of America, now suggest that good haiku is more like 10-14 syllables, not the 17 of the popular 5-7-5 format.

SLH:  What is your typical work day like?  You have a job besides writing, so how do you fit writing time in?  Do you have work "rituals"/habits that help you think or be creative?

KTJ:  My day job is selling IBM services on Wall Street.  I am celebrating 23 years with IBM this month.   I sometimes work from home but often go into NYC on the train. I try to use at least part of the time on the train (2 hours each way) to work on my writing, add to the large White Dog haiku collection I have amassed.

Writing haiku is something I can fit in even on a busy day.  Some of my writing rituals include writing three pages in my journal every morning before I let the rest of the world in.   These are often just random thoughts clogging up my mind, odd dreams that I woke up remembering, to dos that are hanging over my head that I have to get done that day.  But sometimes, all sorts of haiku ideas come through – new ideas for books, my Write Here, Right Now Haiku Workshops, or my web site.  It’s a great way to get the creativity flowing.  

I also keep a gratitude journal and write a few haiku every day to remind me of a moment I particularly appreciated – usually something about Islay Bear but not always.

SLH:  Why did you decide to self-publish?  What was that experience like?  Advice for other authors considering self-publication?

KTJ:  I self published my first book, White Dog Haiku, in 2009 as a Christmas gift to family and friends, never expecting to take it farther than that. 

Since then I’ve submitted White Dog Haiku book and magazine ideas to several publishers and have submitted some individual haiku to a few online publications.  I have gotten some rejections, some constructive criticism and suggestions, and am waiting for the process to take it’s course in a few other cases.  The two haiku appearing in this month’s issue of Berry Blue Haiku is my first third party published work. This is a very slow process!  

Self publishing gave me a much faster sense of accomplishment and I had a copy of my book within just a few weeks of finishing it at  They provide templates you can use and all you have to do is bring in your content. They’ll even help you get an ISBN number and market it on Amazon and elsewhere.  It is on the expensive side though so my cost for the books doesn’t leave much room to make any money on them.  I donate my proceeds to Westie Rescue. 

There were a few lessons I learned through this process including to just do it!  The minute you write something down you are a writer!  Write it down and get it out there in the world. Enter writing contests, take writing challenges.  The mysterious world of publishing is changing fast in this uber-connected world and it’s less about being published by a big name publishing house and more about building and marketing to a community of “peeps” or followers that love what you have to say and eat up your material.

Also, get a coach…or a bunch of coaches!  At Christine Kane’s Uplevel Live event which I attended in 2009, no one in that class would let me call myself a budding author.  We were encouraged to set an intent, practice “imperfect action” and do something, which in my case meant write.  In my case, that got stuff out from my head, onto paper, and into print. Connecting with other authors at local SCBWI meetings, book fairs and signing events is another group of people who can guide and support you.  I regularly read great blogs like yours, Susanna, to keep me current on what’s going on in the world of children’s books.

And maybe most importantly, don’t let the process discourage you. Celebrate all successes.  Even a rejection is something to celebrate because it means someone looked at your work and if you are lucky has put some thinking into how it could be improved and shared that with you in the rejection letter.  Long after the event, the UpLevel Live participants continue to support each other’s successes, no matter how small they are and help each other get the word out about the release of our genius works.  Other authors on the SCBWI group lists support each other’s successes as well and that’s a great way to find out about local book signing events.

SLH:  Tell us about Berry Blue!

KTJ:  I am so excited about it! Berry Blue Haiku is a new quarterly digital magazine about haiku targeted to kids up to 13 years of age.  In addition to haiku of a seasonal nature, the magazine has sections for projects that use haiku as I have described above, articles on haiku writing techniques, and pointers to haiku resources. 

I heard about it at a local meeting of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and have been submitting White Dog themed haiku to them since January 2010.  After reading through their submission guidelines and trying a few times unsuccesfully, they accepted two of my haiku for the December issue and you can find them on p. 17. 

SLH:  Do you write prose?  What kind?  For what audience?

KTJ:  In addition to haiku, I do have several picture book manuscripts done – all based on characters I have invented for my stuffed animals.  I am working on revising them with the knowledge I have gained at children book writing conferences and plan to submit at least a few of them this year.

SLH:  What are you working on now?  Do you have mss out for consideration?

KTJ:  I have a haiku board book for younger readers out for consideration with publishers now and am working up several other ideas for older kids all with a White Dog theme, including a workbook I can use for presenting/teaching haiku at school visits.

SLH:  What are your inspirations? Most difficult obstacles?

KTJ:  My inspiration comes from a passion to get kids to read and appreciate the value of the written word to capture a moment.  I am inspired by local authors like Susanna Hill, Hudson Talbott and Alexandra Skye who have created books that kids just love to read over and over again.

The biggest obstacle for me right now is that I don’t have a network of school contacts but hope to fix that this year.  Also, my first book does not have an ISBN so it is hard for people to find it easily.  Since I have come so much farther in my understanding of what makes good haiku, I may just leave that first book as is and go for ISBNs and eBook options for my future books.

SLH:  Do you do your own illustration/art/photos?

KTJ:  I am not an illustrator.  White Dog Haiku was done with photographs I took of Islay Bear.  Berry Blue Haiku had Doreen Dioro, one of their regular illustrators, do the drawing on the page with the White Dog haiku they chose to include in the December issue.  The manuscripts I have submitted to publishing were without illustration also.  

Kathy and Islay Bear

Thank you so much for joining us today, Kathy!  You and Islay Bear are an inspiration!

Readers, if you have questions for Kathy, please post them in the comments section!

December 23, 2010

Happy Holidays!

HINT For Beth's Birthday Hunt Clue #6

If you still don't get it, email me :)
(Also the blog address is in my sidebar :)

Here's the deal.

What with it's being 2 days before Christmas and all, I figure it's highly probable that you guys don't have time to read the blog I don't have time to write.

So I have declared a brief hiatus, which was unanimously voted on by me and thus passed without argument.

I will submit only one parting cheery tidbit: The Teacher's Lounge blog listed 25 Great Children's Books, including such current favorites as Llama Llama Red Pajama, and such classics as The Giving Tree and Tuck Everlasting, and FIRST on the list was Can't Sleep Without Sheep - a pretty nice holiday present for me (who wrote it) and Mike (who illustrated it!)  Check out the link and see the list for yourselves!  (It was actually posted on November 24th, but I just found it :))

And now, I wish you all a wonderful holiday, whichever one you celebrate, and I'll be back on Monday, hopefully ready with Kathy's interview!  Have a great one!!!

December 22, 2010

The Writer's 12 Days of Christmas

HINT For Beth's Birthday Hunt Clue #5

A  B  C  D . . .
1  2  3   4 . . .

If you still don't get it, email me :)
(address in sidebar :))

I know.  I promised an interview with the uber-talented Kathy Troidle Jackson.  The interview is ready to go.  (Or at least, it will be when we get the word... you already know about me and the necessity of deadlines...) but we are still waiting on her website to be up.  Perhaps tomorrow...

So in the meantime, let's all have a mug of mulled cider and a song, shall we?

I was thinking The Writers 12 Days of Christmas would be fitting, so I have made it up.

Technically the 12 Days of Christmas run from December 25 until January 5, but it seems like the 12 days should come before, and a rousing song is always cheering, so here we go!

(And no rude comments about my singing voice!)

(And no complaints about meter - we're going for concept here and the things a writer wants don't necessarily fit the meter.  I don't actually know of any writers who want 10 lords-a-leaping... although I'm sure there are some...)

(And also, let's remember we're talking ideal scenario here - not reality - but without being too greedy :))


On the 12th Day of Christmas my true love gave to me
12 Fresh New Ideas (per month)
11 New Blog Followers (per month)
10 New Fans on Face Book (also per month)
9  Book Sales per Hour :)
8  Uninterrupted Hours per Day for Writing  (ha ha ha! - sorry, that one's just too funny!)
7  Rave Reviews
6  Complimentary Fan Mail Letters (per week - because there's no mail on Sunday)
4  School Visits (per month)
3  Famous Book Awards
2  Writing Buddies (human or canine - I'm fortunate to have both already :) - or feline if you like)
and an Editor Who Totally Loves You!!!

Now, don't you feel cheered?  I'm sure, with that to hum to yourself, you're all ready to go wrap stuff.  I, as you know, will be leaving that to the last minute because my sister has just arrived from Georgia and it is far more important that I visit with her and my nephews and niece than squirrel myself away to do something so boring as wrapping.  (Besides, in my opinion, unwrapping is a lot more fun!)  And I still have 3 whole days... :)

Hopefully Kathy's interview will be up tomorrow.  It will give you something to look forward to!

December 21, 2010

If You Give A Writer Wrapping Paper

HINT For Beth's Birthday Hunt Clue #4

If you still don't get it, email me :)
(also, the blog address is in my sidebar :))

You guys are going to be so proud of me!

I have squeedged my way through my office door!  And let me tell you, it wasn't easy!

Not only that, I have cleared a path all the way from one side to the other!  (I know.  It boggles the mind.)

"Hello, my friends!" I said to my beloved writing books as I saw their colorful spines for the first time in weeks days.  "Greetings!" I called to Phyllis and Woolliam (who were sleeping in my school visit bag and did not appreciate the interruption!)  "Achoo!" I sneezed, just because I felt like it and not because there was even the tiniest speck of dust in the air.

So now, let's just be happy with a little progress in that department and not talk about the fact that the path is very narrow, piled high on either side with Christmas presents and wrapping paper and piles of books that need to be shelved and writing/school visit paraphernalia of all kinds.  Rome wasn't built in a day.

Let's talk about something else entirely.

I work very well with deadlines.  But if there appears to be plenty of time, I am the queen of procrastination.  I shall give you an example.

I've got all these Christmas presents to wrap.  Christmas is 4 days away.  If I start now, and wrap a few gifts at a time, I'll be done by a reasonable hour on Christmas Eve.  But that is not the way I work.

I squeeze into my office (still thrilled that I can get in - it'll be a while before that wears off!) with the honest intention of wrapping.  But there's a lot to wrap.  Which present should I do first?  I look around and see the gift I picked out for my niece and nephew, and it reminds me of when my kids were that age, which reminds me of an amusing anecdote, which gives me an idea for a story, and the next thing I know I've found a scrap of writing paper and I'm jotting down notes for a story on the back of it because, really, I've still got 4 days to wrap, and if I don't write down an idea when I have it, I might forget!  This is what happens when you give a writer wrapping paper.  She uses it to write, not wrap.  The same holds true for napkins, ATM receipts, and the inside of the red part or the foil part of a KitKat wrapper, although the outside of the foil is useless.  In case you were wondering.

A person who is a writer can turn any occasion into an opportunity to write.  That is because we are creative!  And what better way to use our creativity then to turn a mundane task like wrapping, vacuuming, or closet organization (stop that - I hear you snickering!) into a useful time to think up a new story?  And write it on the back of whatever comes to hand, whether it be an old grocery list, a corner of the english muffin box, or that speeding ticket field trip form...

So, I have a sneaking suspicion that Christmas Eve will roll around and I'll be up wrapping until 4 AM.  I know this because it happens every year.  But if I'm lucky, I might have a couple new story ideas come Christmas morn :)

December 20, 2010

Feng Shui Writing

HINT For Beth's Birthday Hunt Clue #3

Really?  Okay :)  Look in the mirror :)

I need to Feng Shui my house.


At this moment, I cannot actually get into my office.

Which is why I am writing at the kitchen table.  (Also, it's sunnier here, but that is just an added bonus.)

I would take a picture, but I'm afraid the visual would be so frightening that it might take you weeks to get up the courage to return to my blog.  Also, I'm not sure I can even fit the camera through the office door...

This whole clean-up-the-office thing will have to be addressed imminently because that's where the Christmas presents are, so I'm going to have to get in there and wrap.  But it will have to wait until I'm done with this.  And a few other things.  Which is probably why I never seem to get around to it...

Feng Shui, in grossly oversimplified western terms, has to do with de-cluttering.  In actual fact, Feng Shui is an ancient Chinese system for improving life by receiving positive energy, and it has more to do with auspiciously orienting objects in space than with cleaning up.  Either way, it can be applied to more than just my house.

Think about picture books.  Some of the very best have spare writing.  Where The WIld Things Are could not be much simpler, yet its message has resonated with children for decades.

Think of poetry - how a few choice words can convey such beauty and emotion.

All the best writers have learned to pare their words down to the necessities and to orient their ideas in the most auspicious ways.  And if you are a writer of picture books, this is a valuable and necessary skill indeed.

I have a ways to go, but I am getting there.  In the beginning, my picture book manuscripts rarely came in under 2,500 words (yes, I know how completely ridiculous that is!)  Now, almost without exception, I can bring a first draft in under 800 words.  Progress!

I hope you're impressed with how I managed to turn cleaning my office into a discussion of writing.  I think that was a prime example of auspiciously orienting ideas :)

And now, pay attention, this is important and the most auspiciously oriented part of the whole post:  tomorrow, (or possibly Wednesday, depending on the speed and efficiency of her web designer), we will be having a guest!!!  None other than the multi-talented Kathy Troidle Jackson, poet/author extraordinaire, who writes Haiku!  Now I realize, of course, that Haiku is Japanese in origin, not Chinese, but I think it fits admirably with the discussion of Feng Shui because Haiku is also about sparity (an invented word herein meaning that which is beautiful and spare, evoking emotion with few words:)  Anyone who can think of a better invented word than sparity is free to contribute!)

And now, since this post is threatening to become VERY wordy, after I just told you how much better I'm getting at not being wordy, I will end here.  But please be sure to check back in the next couple of days for Kathy's interview.  It's very interesting and full of helpful tidbits!  And cute pictures of her dog!

December 17, 2010

A Ram In Writer's Clothing

HINT for Beth's Birthday Hunt Clue #2

A  B  C  D . . .
Z  Y  X  W . . .

If you still don't get it, email me :)

I have the exact wrong kind of personality for being a writer.

I hate waiting.  I'm a total plow-ahead type.  I'm impatient and overly fond of instant gratification.  I'm liable to act first and think later more often than I care to admit.  And I want results now!  (Come to think of it, I sound a lot like a preschooler, which may explain why I write for that age group :))

I blame it on my zodiac sign.  I'm a ram, after all, and they are not known for their tiptoe-along-the-sidelines approach to life, but rather for barging headlong at whatever is in their path!

Anyway, take all that burning impatience and match it up with a career that requires months and months (well, let's be honest, often years!) of waiting - for the writing process itself, which takes time; for my agent to decide whether a new ms is good enough to submit; for editors to read and ponder and pass or accept; and if they do accept, for an artist to be chosen, and then draw/paint the book; and then for printing, shipping, and finally publication if I'm lucky -  and you'll see why I should really stay away from caffeine :)

But I'll tell you why I stick with being a writer, in spite of the frustration, the waiting, the lack of guarantees.

It's because I love to write and can't imagine doing anything else.

It's because every now and again, a little idea I had becomes a new book, and that book makes its way to classrooms and homes where it hopefully brightens the day a little, whether by encouraging a child to believe in himself the way Phyllis does, or help a child know she's not alone in her conflicted feeling about the arrival of a new sibling like Rose, or just learn about something new that they find interesting, like freight trains or airplanes or construction vehicles.

It's because sometimes, when I visit kids in classrooms, one shy hand will go up and its owner will give voice to the dream he or she has of becoming a writer, and the fact that he or she has had the chance to meet a writer makes that dream feel more possible.  And that writer is me.

So the next time I'm banging my head, ram-like, against the wall in frustration and proclaiming that I'm not cut out to be a writer but should go get a job at the local Stop-and-Shop, you may feel free to tell me sharply to knock it off and get back to work!

Because a writer is who I am.

December 16, 2010


HINT for Beth's Birthday Hunt Clue #1

athisy  list  ban  thinto

if you still don't get it, email me :)

I stayed up way past my bedtime last night.

No, I was not partying!  (It was Wednesday, people.  In my house, that's a school night!)

But the end result is that at this point in the evening I can barely string enough words together to make a sentence and my eyes are threatening to close in spite of strict instructions to the contrary.

So we'll keep this short and simple.

My friend, Kathy, (and yes, I have five friends named Kathy, four of whom are writers, and I'm not going to try to explain which one!  The Kathy in question will be able to recognize herself by the details to follow!) but anyway, one of my five friends Kathy posted a comment on Face Book a little while ago.  She said she was riding on the train, and an older gentleman across the aisle from her was taking a picture of a stuffed animal looking out the window.  Right away, she wondered what lucky child would be the recipient of that photo, or whether he was taking the photo for a scrapbook of his own.

The very fact that she would notice, and wonder, tells you she is a writer.

On school visits, one of the questions I get asked most frequently (right after how old are you? how much money do you make? and what are your dogs' names? - serious writing questions all!) is where do ideas come from?  I answer that ideas are all around (because they are!)  You just have to keep your eyes and ears open.  And you have to wonder.  About everything.

I dropped a note back to Kathy:  write the story!

I hope she will, and I hope she'll share it with us!

December 15, 2010

Contest Contest

My poor little contest from last Wednesday is suffering an inferiority complex.

Here's how a contest works, my friends.  You have to ENTER!

Thus far (and today being the original deadline), only 2 brave souls have ventured entries - not enough for a contest.  And so my little contest feels sad and unloved :( and is threatening to sulk and possibly gnaw the furniture.

I find myself wondering, do you, my faithful readers, not like contests? or was the prize not motivating enough? or was it the wrong kind of contest?

Please share your thoughts!  I want the contests to be fun!

In case you haven't figured it out yet, I have a bit of a competitive streak.  I myself cannot resist contests, games, or challenges of most kinds (although if anyone challenged me to join a Polar Bear Club - you know, the kind where you cut a hole in the ice on New Year's Day and take a swim? - I would turn that down no problem!)

Because I like contests, I am announcing a NEW CONTEST - a contest contest if you will:  submit ideas for contests you think would be fun and prizes you think would be motivating.  Whoever wins, we'll use your ideas and I will credit you by adding your name to the contest title (e.g. Mary's Famous Character Contest)!

Meanwhile, I will extend the deadline of the original contest (see post from December 8) through Sunday Dec. 19.  If I wait any longer than that, the winner won't get their prize in time for the holidays.  Please brighten my sad little contest's day by submitting at least a few more entries.  You can think of it as your daily contribution of holiday cheer!

Looking forward to your ideas!

December 14, 2010

*#@*! or What To Give?

It's 11 degrees on Blueberry Hill this morning.  Snowflakes are falling steadily, frosting the trees and feathering down into enough fluffy ground cover that we're having our first 2-hour delay of the year.  It's as tranquil and lovely as the days leading up to Christmas should be.

Should be, but aren't, because somehow holiday shopping gets in the way of tranquility.

Traffic.  Crowds.  Trying to find a parking space at the mall, searching for the perfect gifts for you family and friends, but also for the school bus driver who you don't even really know...  Definitely not a recipe for peace of mind!

Don't worry, though.  I am here to help!  I have the perfect answer to everything and you don't even have to leave the comfort of your pajamas!  Ready?  Here it is!

Mother Reader

I found this link via The Reading Tub Blog and what a gem it is!  I love giving books and I love getting books, and Mother Reader here presents fantastic (and easy!) ideas of how to jazz up your book-giving.  Best of all, you can order your perfect gifts right from your couch - no travel on treacherous roads, no traffic, no parking headaches or mall crowds, no temptation to indulge in McDonald's french fries just because they're there... You will find fabulous gifts that everyone on your list will love.  And, as promised, you can even stay in your pajamas!  What could be better than that?

Happy Shopping!  (...and you're welcome :))

December 13, 2010

Sing A Song of Story

Today I will share a little known fact about me:  I'm a closet songwriter.

(Although I have to confess, I'm playing it fast and loose with the concept of "songwriter"!)

I cannot write music.  But I do like making up words to other people's songs.  Hence, Phyllis and Woolliam and Captain Bright and the Train Engineer all have songs to go with their books.  (The Train Engineer doesn't have a name, by the way, and I think that needs to be remedied!  She looks like Peppermint Patty to me, so that's how I think of her.  But I digress...)

Phyllis's songs are cleverly titled The Groundhog Day Song #1 and The Groundhog Day Song #2.  Catchy, no?  Woolliam's song is The Counting To Sleep Song (can you guess what it's about?), Captain Bright's song really isn't his - it's called "I'm A Little Airplane" (bonus points to anyone who can guess the tune) and the Train Engineer's Song, much like the Train Engineer herself, doesn't actually have a name, so feel free to suggest one.  It's about an engineer driving a train - not a great leap since that's what the book is about :)

Making up songs serves two purposes.  #1 it gives me something fun to do with the kids when I go on school visits.  Kids are very willing to join in the fun of a silly song.  #2 it makes me feel multifaceted as a writer if I can claim (however inaccurately) to be a songwriter, and a little self-esteem boost never hurt anyone right?

I may be able to just squeak by passing myself off as a songwriter, but I could never pretend to be a singer.  So I let Phyllis and Woolliam do the dirty work.  No one seems to mind if a groundhog or a sheep have less than pleasing voices.  In fact, it just adds to the fun :)

Feeling inspired?  Suggest a name for the Train Engineer and/or her song!

December 11, 2010

Holiday Book Drive!

Yes, I realize it's the crack of dawn.

I also realize it's Saturday, which is not a usual posting day for me.

But I have something important to share that couldn't wait, so here it is:

Lit World, in partnership with the International Book Bank, is having a children's book drive for the holidays.  Please visit KidLit for full information.

I know you'll visit KidLit and get all the details there, so I won't bore you with repetition here.  I just want to say, this is a very worthy cause, and I encourage everyone to donate used picture books they no longer want to the poverty-stricken children in Liberia and Sierra Leone, children who will get such joy out of them.  Added bonus: your house will have less clutter in time for the influx of new holiday gifts!

Thanks for reading and considering a donation.

Now, go have a great weekend!

December 10, 2010

Prime Time

I'm practically a caveman.

Well, a cavewoman, I guess, if you want to get technical.

Why, you may ask?

Because I don't have cable or satellite.

Sheesh!  I heard that gasp of horror all the way up here on Blueberry Hill!  Calm down before you start hyperventilating.  It's not that bad.  Think of all the commercials I don't have to watch!

And remember - I do have internet which, in addition to allowing me to chat with y'all and waste time playing Sporcle,  lets me indulge in my secret addiction to Grey's Anatomy the day after it airs :)

That is not the point, though, and I do have a point, somewhere.

Oh, yes.  My point was that a lot of television is a wasteland and we should all spend more time reading. And especially we should encourage our children to read so they don't grow into a generation of people who don't know what a book is :)

Lane Smith's book is both funny and a little alarming because, with the advent of Kindle, Nook, iPad, iPhone aps, etc. it's beginning to seem very possible that a time could come when books as we know them might not exist.

I have no problem with ebooks up to a point.  I actually have a few.  In terms of environmental friendliness and the fact that I won't have to build a new wing on the house to store them, they have some positive sides.  But I'd hate to see books go out of style altogether.  No matter how high-tech an ebook might be, how engaging on a certain level, in that format it's not the same thing.  I hope we will never lose the ability to sit with out children or grandchildren in our laps and hold a book in our hands, feel the paper, smell the ink, turn the pages, and allow words and art to fire our imaginations.  To me, that is prime time.

What do you think?  Are ebooks good?  Do you like the experience of reading them or do you prefer traditional books?  Do you find them easier or harder on the eyes?  Do you think sharing an ebook with a child is as good, better or worse than sharing a traditional book?  Please share your thoughts!  And while you're at it, share the title of a book you've read recently that you really liked.  I'll start in the comments :)

December 9, 2010

Now, Here's A Challenge!

Hi Folks!  I had a totally different idea in mind for today's post when I stumbled across a game!

I cannot resist games!  So, I'm passing the fun along to you!

The game was started by Michelle McLean:
In 100 words or less, write a story using the words ride, post, soulless, local, dehydrator, girdle. Your story may take on any form you wish. The only two rules are 1. you can't simply list the 6 words; you must actually craft them into something creative, and 2. you must use ALL six of them.

Wow!  Some challenge, right?  Here's my attempt:

It was 3 AM when Betty’s car conked out.
“Darn this cold!” she groused.
She posted a note on the windshield for Sheriff Goodbody, then she pulled her hat low, wrapped her scarf an extra time around, hitched up her girdle, and started walking.
Clunk!  Cough!  Hank Bowman’s beat-up pick-up emerged from the darkness and grumbled to a stop beside Betty.
“Need a ride?” he asked.
“Much obliged!” said Betty.  “The local bakery can’t be without holiday cookies on Christmas Eve!”
The truck was hot as a dehydrator, playing soulless music on the radio.  Betty switched to carols and smiled.  (100 on the nose!)

You can add to the fun by seeing what other people wrote.  Check out Shannon, Cole, and Abby!

Then make it even more fun - write your own and post it in the comments.  I can't wait to see what people come up with!

Ready, set, GO!

December 8, 2010

A Little Fun... and a Contest!

Are you singing those stuck-in-the-middle-of-the-work-week blues?

Never fear!  FUN is here!

First, for our writing audience, A Writing Prompt in case you're stuck in more than just the middle of the week!
In deference to yesterday's discussion of pioneer life:)  Electricity is a recent discovery.  Think of 10 things to do when there's no power.  Now, use them all or pick just one or two, whatever blows your hair back, and write a story or a poem!

Next, for our teaching/parenting audience, A Fun Activity.  Print the Punxsutawney Phyllis and/or Uncle Phil paper doll kits from my website.   and
Help your students/children color them in holiday-themed ways, cut them out, hang them on red, green, silver or gold ribbon, and use them to decorate your classroom/home/xmas tree etc.  For further fun, make up a holiday story for Phyllis!

Finally, for all audiences, A Contest!  Submit an idea for the tagline for this blog (it currently says "author of many books for children... with more to come" but that's what my website says - I want something different and fun!)  Submit your ideas in the comments section.  You may submit as many as you like.  If I choose yours, you win!  If none of them suit me, we'll have a vote on which one blog readers think is best, and that will be the winner (although in that case, I might not use it.)  Three requirements: 1. to be eligible to win, you must be a follower of this blog (anyone can vote if we come to that) 2. Entries must be submitted by Wednesday December 15 (one week from today) and 3. I must receive at least 10 entries.  The prize for the winner will be a personalized signed copy of whichever of my books they would like in time to give as a holiday gift if you so choose :)

Now, isn't your Wednesday looking up?  Have a great day!

December 7, 2010

Good Ol' Pen and Paper

I would just like to say that I would NOT have made a good pioneer.


I'm way too fond of modern conveniences like coffee makers, central heating, and indoor plumbing.  How did those poor people face the day without a nice hot shower?  Lyndon B. Johnson, our former president who wasn't even a pioneer, said, "Every man has the right to a Saturday night bath."  Really?  Once a week?

Not only that, but as soon as cold weather hits I'm all about staying warm.  I don't know about you, but heading out into sub-zero temperatures to fetch water and slop the hogs wearing nothing but buffalo skins or whatever does not sound fun.  No down jackets or GORE-TEX or thermacheck fleece for the pioneers!

So it may come as a surprise to you that I like to write my first drafts by hand.

That's right.  Good ol' pen and paper.

There is something about physically writing down the words that helps the cogs turn.  I like the feel of the pen in my hand moving across the paper as the words flow from my mind.  Somehow, it helps.  Once I've got a first draft, I type it into my high-tech very un-pioneer-like Mac book and revise from there.  But the initial ideas always begin as ink on paper.  Is that backward?  Or just quaint?

Now don't go thinking I'm turning all old-fashioned on you.  I didn't say parchment and quill.  I'm not about to trade in the Dogmobile (for the uninitiated, that's my 2002 Toyota Sienna) for a horse and buggy.

Although I do love horses.

And actually, what with the holidays approaching, a sleigh and some jingle bells might be kind of fun...

Maybe there's a hint of pioneer in me after all!  But I draw the line at slopping the hogs if I'm only going to get a bath on Saturday!

What about you?  Do you like to write on a computer or by hand?  What's your favorite modern convenience - the reason you couldn't be a pioneer?  Please share your comments!

December 6, 2010


Lest you be wondering why you did not hear from me Saturday or Sunday, let me hasten to assure you that I was NOT slacking off at the post!  (I know, I'm such a punster!)

Since this is my blog, I get to call the shots (mwa-ha-ha, such power!) and I have decided that I will post on weekdays when there is serious work to be avoided, and not on weekends when I can legitimately be away from my desk without feeling guilty :)  Good plan, no?  And I intend to stick with it until I change my mind, which may happen at any moment!

Now, on to today's important topic:  Mondays.

Poor Mondays.  They get such a bad rap.  Through no fault of their own, everyone hates them.

Except me.  Being just a tad contrary by nature, I actually like Mondays!  Mondays are like morning:  full of possibility.  Who knows what good things could happen this week?  I could get a great idea and write the best story I've ever written!  My agent could call and say the four little words that are music to my ears - I've got an offer!  I could know all the answers to the Sporcle Minute Morsel!

I realize my fondness for Mondays springs from the fact that I am one of the fortunate few who love what they do.  Which is not to say it's easy.  As A.A. Milne said, "Ideas may drift into other minds, but they do not drift my way. I have to go and fetch them. I know no work manual or mental to equal the appalling heart-breaking anguish of fetching an idea from nowhere."  Truer words were never spoken!

Except these by Elizabeth Berg:  What you have to be is in love. With writing. Not with ideas about what to write; not with daydreams about what you’re going to do when you’re sucessful. You have to be in love with writing itself, with the solitary and satisfying act of sitting down and watching something you hold in your head and your heart quietly transform itself into words on a page.”

I guess it's about achieving balance.  Writing is hard work.  You have to love it to do it.  But although it can be frustrating and difficult, it can also be so satisfying and rewarding that it can make every day, even Monday, worthwhile!

Share your views in the comments!  What's your favorite day of the week and why?  What's writing like for you - pleasure, pain, or somewhere in between?  And, perhaps most importantly, how good are you at Sporcle?!

December 3, 2010

Fame and Fortune

I know this will come as a shock, but I am not famous.

Really, it's true!

Not only that, I have yet to amass my personal fortune (although I'm sure when Dreamworks comes to its senses and decides that Punxsutawney Phyllis has all the makings of the next blockbuster animated children's feature for Groundhog Day, all that will change :))

Much as I would like to be a household name like J.K. Rowling or Stephanie Meyer, or even Jane O'Connor, (whose name you might not know but whose work you almost certainly do - Fancy Nancy!), I have not (yet!) achieved that level of recognition.  Truth be told, the vast majority of children's writers are just like me - hardworking mid-listers.  We show up at our computers every morning, drink more coffee than is technically good for us, and write the best stories we can write, hoping to sell some new ideas from time to time and reap modest book sales.

So imagine my delight to be listed as a Featured Author!  Doesn't that sound famous?  My faithful writing buddies (Scout and Jemma - see attractive photo in yesterday's post) and I are fairly tingling with excitement!  (Well, let's be honest - it's entirely possible that my writing buddies' excitement has more to do with the squirrels under the bird feeder who SHOULD BE CHASED than with my claim to fame, but who can say for sure?  My excitement is legitimate!)

The Reading Tub, a fantastic volunteer-driven, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting reading and literacy, has listed me as a Featured Author and posted both an article and an interview on their website and blog.  Please follow this link to read it:

This is the first time I've had the honor of being interviewed online, so it is a red letter day here in the land of Hill.

While you are over at The Reading Tub, take a minute to see what they're all about.  They really have an important mission.  Subscribe to their blog so you can keep up with their great reviews of children's books (which include themes and suggestions for use in the classroom, as well as pros, cons, and both little and big kid reactions.)  Thanks so much to Terry Doherty, who wrote the article and conducted the interview, for giving me this opportunity!

Now, back to my 2nd 3rd current cup of coffee and some serious writing.  Who knows?  I might think up a great story today, the one that assures me that fame and fortune :)

December 2, 2010

Must Love Dogs

So apparently today is National Mutt Day!  Who knew?

I am always game for a celebration (and no, to answer your question, not just because it's an excuse for cake!  Although, now that I think about it, cake is not a bad idea...)

Mutts are the best, especially those who have been rescued.  I have had three over the years, (two of whom are practicing their considerable powers of mental telepathy on me right now in the hopes that I will get the message that it's time for walking not writing!) and they are the best dogs in the world.  Not that I'm biased.  Or prone to hyperbole...

While there are some great kids' books that star dogs (Officer Buckle and Gloria, Biscuit, Lad A Dog, etc.) most of them are purebreds (German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Collie, respectively.)  Off the top of my head, the only kids' story with a mutt I can think of is Benji.  There should be more!

Which is why I am writing some.  Yes, some - plural.  I currently have 3 dog stories in the works, all of which star mutts.  They just aren't finished.  Maybe that's because I'm blogging instead of working on them... hmm...  But I guess they'll have to wait another half hour or so until after the walk.  Apparently mental telepathy works :)

For your viewing pleasure and in celebration of the day (with or without cake) let me introduce you to my 2 mutts.  Please share your mutt and rescue stories in the comments!
(That's Jemma on the left and Scout on the right - sorry they're a little blurry!)

December 1, 2010

Trying Something New

To blog or not to blog?  That has been the question for days weeksmonths.  And then, this morning, my horoscope said (and I quote) "It's a good time to try something you've never done before."  (Really!  I am not making this up!)  Call me a peanut butter and pickle sandwich but I thought, what the hey?  Maybe this is the sign I've been waiting for.  As signs go, it's pretty unambiguous.  Unless by "something you've never done before" it meant wearing something that isn't jeans...  But no.  The universe would never torment the fashion-challenged like that!  It almost definitely meant blogging.

So for better or worse, here we go!  And guess who the guinea pigs are :)

Remember when your mom told you to try new things?  And (with the notable exception of lima beans) she was usually right that it was worth the try, even if it seemed scary at first?  Well, I'm taking her advice and jumping in with both feet.  Hopefully there's water in the pool :)

My purpose in creating this blog is to increase the opportunity for interaction between myself and other writers, parents, teachers, librarians, and kids who enjoy the world of children's books.  There are lots of fantastic blogs out there already (see the side bar for a few of my favorites!) so I am not going to attempt to reinvent the wheel!  I'm hoping to let you see the view from my side of the desk (well, the kitchen table anyway... or the classroom, library, book fair, writer's conference etc.) and hoping you'll share your views as well.  We'll talk about writing and school visits and our favorite books, literacy and the state of the book market and whatever else sounds interesting.  And we'll have games and contests and prizes because they're fun!

So please join me on this new adventure.  Spread the word to your friends and relations and encourage them to join too - the more the merrier!  Let me know what you'd like to talk about.

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