Wednesday, June 27, 2007


I love to travel, but unlike in my younger days when I could literally sleep on the ground with a boot for a pillow, my sleeping needs have changed. I have a small arsenal of pillows I take with me and some other tools for assuring that I get a good night’s sleep when attending conferences, retreats or inspirational weekend getaways.

First, I always take a CD player with headphones and a CD of soothing music. Because I’m an introvert (drawing my energy from within), I need that kind of thing to re-energize. Whatever CDs work for you is best—I prefer either quiet nature sounds (such as Sounds of Yosemite or peaceful music, such as Yanni’s Love Songs or Enya’s In Memory of Trees). Listening to this as I drift off to sleep really does help me to wind down and silence my mind from the day’s events.

Another thing that I always carry in my suitcase is earplugs. I’m not a fan of wearing earplugs when I sleep, but sometimes I find myself in situations where it’s the lesser of two evils—like the time my room was located near a noisy city street, or the time it drizzled all night and the drainpipe was by my window, or when I took a chance and roomed with a conference roommate whom I’d never met, only to discover that she snored. You get my point.

Lastly, I’ve recently discovered the value of keeping an eye mask in my suitcase. I use the black “40 Blinks” model from TravelSmith. I love these! They have an adjustable strap, are foam-molded and when worn make it pitch black. I bought a pair after attending a retreat at an old California mission. The dorm-style rooms had uncovered louvered windows above the doors, but the problem was that the hall lights stayed on all night, lighting the rooms considerably.

Being from the desert, I’m used to near total darkness at night and only the occasional sound of a coyote, but thanks to these tools, I’m ready for any sleeping arrangements that my travels take me to—so long as I don’t have to use a boot for a pillow!

Monday, June 18, 2007


I love my critique group and feel very fortunate to belong in it. It’s composed of a group of writers from my SCBWI region, some published, some not-yet-published (but definitely will be). We’re an online group, because our region is vast and we live too far apart to meet in person on a regular basis. There are six of us, and each person brings something unique and special to the group, not only with her writing, but with her personality as well. I think what find most valuable though, from my critique group, is that they’re supportive in all the right ways. And I believe that any good critique group does the same.

A good critique group knows when to be honest with each other, to have the courage to say when something isn’t working in a story (isn’t that what having a pair of fresh eyes is all about?). Honest, thoughtful suggestions are what help to move one’s work forward. Blind, superficial praise does nothing to improve writing (although it might make the recipient feel good—but feeling good isn’t going to get your work published).

A good critique group also knows when to give each other a kick in the pants, on occasion. Members will look out for each other and not feel threatened by each other. Mutual respect is felt amongst the group along with a sense of helping each other toward their writing goals.

I have a friend who once belonged to a critique group and after every meeting, she would complain to me about them. She commented that they were either mean-spirited in their comments, or would blindly praise each other’s work—meaning, there was never any constructive criticism offered (“If I want to feel good about myself, I’ll let my husband read my work and tell me how brilliant I am.”) When she finally felt comfortable enough with the group to make suggestions for improvement on someone’s story, she was shut down. One person even told her that her suggestions were stupid.

My response? “That group is poisonous. Get out!” A critique group experience should leave you feeling hopeful, and anxious to dive into making improvements. You should feel a bit enlightened (“Hmm, I never thought of it that way!”). Your mind should be spinning with the excitement of digging into work, not like it’s been thrown into a ditch and there’s no way to climb out—whether you’re doing the critiquing or being critiqued.

So, what’s my point? Critiquer beware. Critique groups can be a valuable part of your writing experience, but enter with caution. Make sure that they’re helping you to improve your writing. And if not, politely “exit stage left” and move on. Maybe try a different group or maybe decide that critique groups aren’t right for you. The important thing is to find out what works for you.

Note: Check your local SCBWI chapter to see if they have a critique group coordinator to help you find a group in your area.

Saturday, June 9, 2007


Let’s face it—nobody likes receiving a rejection letter. Yes, there are things we can learn from them, but the bottom line is that a rejection is still a rejection. No sale. Nada. Zip. But once in a great while, a rejection letter makes me laugh—like the one I received today.

I sent the manuscript for The Blackberry Bush to a publisher (who shall remain anonymous) in August of 2005. Yes folks, that’s right. August of 2-0-0-5. Today, June 9, 2-0-0-7, I received a rejection letter on the story. Now, normally this would have really ticked me off (even though I’d have given up on said publisher long ago). But since The Blackberry Bush is now under production as Blackberry Banquet with the ever-insightful Sylvan Dell Publishing, I could laugh at this latest rejection letter.

So take heart--not all rejections will bring a howling cry of frustration. Sometimes they bring a howl of laughter--at the glacial speed of this business, or at the delight in knowing that someone else "discovered" your story while others missed that golden opportunity. It's a crazy business we live in, isn't it?

Thursday, June 7, 2007

FRIDAY FUNNIES: Recipe with a Laugh

What’s a sailor’s favorite snack?
Chocolate ship cookies!
(from Greatest Goofiest Jokes, Sterling Publishing)

And what’s an author’s favorite food group? Chocolate, of course (do I really need to ask?).

Therefore, for the pleasure of sailors and authors everywhere (or sailors who write and writers who sail), here is one of my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipes.

Chocolate Chip Malt Cookies

1 c. butter flavored shortening
1 ¼ c. light brown sugar
½ c. malted milk powder
2 tbsp. chocolate syrup
1 tbsp. Vanilla extract
1 egg
2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 ½ c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 c. milk chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375. Combine shortening, sugar, malt, chocolate syrup and vanilla; beat for 2 minutes. Add egg. Combine flour, baking soda and salt’ gradually add to creamed mixture, mixing well after each addition. Stir in chocolate chips. Shape into 2” balls and place 3” apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at for 12-14 minutes. Cool 2 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool.

And remember, calories don’t count—unless they’re in math class.

Blackberry Banquet Update

I found out yesterday that the publication date for Blackberry Banquet is August 2008 (not spring 2008, as noted earlier).

The good news is that Book Expo America will be in Los Angeles next year (May 29-June 1), so (hopefully) I'll be there to sign advanced copies.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

BLACKBERRY BANQUET: The Birth of a Cover

I was tickled purple when Donna German (at Sylvan Dell) sent me Lisa Downey’s rough illustration of the cover for Blackberry Banquet (see more of Lisa’s work here).

Here I go, like a new mom showing off her baby, but really...isn’t it adorable? I’m so pleased with the design and can envision the colors popping out and grabbing the attention of children. I can't wait to see the finished piece!

I have a profound respect for picture book illustrators—they really are the ones who I put on a pedestal, in this business. Why? Because unlike fine artists (not to knock fine artists—I like Van Gogh just as much as the next girl), they have to bring the illustrations to life in order to create an entire story. They breathe life into the text. They don’t just paint a child or an animal; they show the movement, actions, and emotions of the characters. And they do it for thirty-two pages! Simply amazing, in my opinion.

Many people don’t realize that writers don’t get to choose their illustrators. Editors and/or art directors make that decision (good thing too—they know far more illustrators and have a tremendous understanding of what makes a good picture book). But this is a hard concept for some writers to get used to—letting go and trusting someone else to take “your baby” (especially if it’s your firstborn). Trusting that your editor will find an illustrator who will connect with your words, while also putting their own spin on them. Someone who will create pictures that will intertwine with your words to create a beautiful dance on the page. This is whom we want our editors to choose. And they do. But first, we must trust.

One of the things I’ve feared was seeing the artwork for one of my books for the first time, and not liking it. Well, it hasn’t happened yet. And every time I have to let go of one of my stories, I just tell myself, “Trust your editor. She will choose wisely.” It’s my mantra.

After all, she wants to create a beautiful book that will beg children to read it. And to keep it real, yes, sell books. Many, many books (it is a business, after all). And a book with the perfect balance of words and art will touch more children and sell many more copies than one that doesn’t. So, when the time comes to “let go,” take a deep breath and remind yourself, “Trust your editor. Trust your illustrator.”

Monday, June 4, 2007

GREAT WEBSITES: The Purple Crayon

Occasionally, I like to mention great websites and blogs that I enjoy reading, which leads to Harold Underdown's website (including his blog), The Purple Crayon. This website is so full of information that it'll make your head whirl. You'll find articles on all aspects of children's writing and publishing. And what's really great about it is that Harold is such a nice fellow. I had the pleasure of meeting him at an SCBWI summer conference one year (for more details on this year's conference, click here).

Harold Underdown has been on the editorial side of the business for many years and is the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books. He is warm, friendly and takes time to respond to questions or comments. He's just one of those "all-around nice guys"--and it's reflected in his website.

He recently posted a fascinating article on the Acquisition Process, which clearly explains WHY it takes so long for most editors to respond to our submissions. If you find yourself tapping your foot or feeling forgotten, read the article and you'll feel better--or at least you'll understand why you aren't getting that snappy response you'd hoped for.

Happy reading!

Friday, June 1, 2007

FRIDAY FUNNIES: Five Things That Make Me Laugh

Have you ever watched someone who’s so tickled at something that they can’t stop laughing, then that gets you laughing so hard that you can’t stop either? There’s nothing like a good belly laugh, is there?

Well golly, when Greg Pincus tagged me this week with “8 Things Meme” it got me to thinking that this could be even more fun with a twist of humor. So, I’m starting my own game of “blog tag,” called “Five Things That Always Make You Laugh.” Here are the rules (following the Meme format)—you have to list five things that make you laugh, on your own blog (it could be anything—even specific jokes). At the end of your list, you then “tag” three or more other friends on their blogs, leaving a comment on their blog and challenging them to join in the laugh fest.

Here is my list of things that never fail to make me laugh:

1. My husband’s impression of Chubby Checker singing, “The Twist.”

2. Listening to a five-year-old tell a joke.

3. The “vitameatavegamin” episode of I Love Lucy.

4. My son's impression of Forrest Gump.

5. Comedian Bill Engvall doing any bit on family life.

Okay, now it’s my turn to payback Gregory K., so he’ll be my first choice. Next, will be my writer friend Barbara Beitz, and last but not least, the ever-cheery Tina Nichols Coury, who may need to expand beyond just five things...

Laugh on!