Monday, December 21, 2009

Still Alive...but barely

Wow--I've really been absent from blogging these past few weeks. The VCFA semester came to a screaming end, sort of. The first week of Dec. required my last packet to be submitted. It was bittersweet. Really. I was relieved that I had accomplished the last packet and felt good about the work I'd submitted, but then again, it was the last packet. My last one! I've grown to enjoy receiving feedback from my advisor and seeing how I can improve my writing. And I've loved immersing myself in the picture book genre this semester. I know I'll never have another experience like this for the rest of my life. That's the "bitter" part.

The second week required me to submit to the admin office the "secret sixth packet" which consists of evaluations, summaries and writing samples from the semester. Not hard work to compile, but it did take time and took some thought with my responses.

And all the while, I'm still working the bugs out of my PowerPoint presentation for my panel presentation for the winter rez. The four other PB Semester students and I each have 15 minutes to give a talk, then our advisor gets a few minutes at the end. I have my talk finished, but I keep having glitches in the actual slide show. and I DO NOT get along sometimes. It really is a love-hate relationship. But I'm doing everything I can to assure that it'll be running smoothly by the time I get to the residency. Fingers crossed. Toes too.

Oh, and there's this little thing called Christmas looming...

Monday, December 7, 2009

I'm Back But Not Really...

No, I haven't completely abandoned my blog... I took a few days off to visit my family in New England, came home to a two-day migraine (travel does that to me), and have been playing "catch-up" ever since.

Last week was the last round of manuscript critiques between my fellow PB semester students (Mary, Meredith, Barbara and Abby--you all totally rock!). It was actually a bit sad, having that last round of stories to share. These writers are highly creative, solid in their skills, and give amazing feedback--I'm going to miss them so much! (not to mention Kathi, our fearless leader).

Today I sent Kathi my final packet, complete with one new story plus three revised pieces. Honestly, if she'd have taken five mss, I'd have sent her five. Or six. Or seven. It was tough to decide which ones to put under her skilled eye and mind for the last time. I'll also miss working under her guidance and direction, and can't imagine what next semester will be like without my little "PB family." But as it is with every little bird, they must be pushed from the nest and learn to fly on their own. But Kathi might have to shove me really hard ;-).

Now I'll have to focus on the panel presentation our group will give at the winter rez. Each of us gets to give a 12-15 min. talk that highlights our long essay from this semester. I'm talking about anthropomorphism with a focus on cats. Of course, once I started reading my essay out loud, I realized that I could not have chosen a more difficult word to say out loud repeatedly! Oy...anthropomorphism. What was I thinking?

And next week I have one last "sixth" packet to turn into the college admin; a sort of summary of this semster's work. And then I'll have to start preparing for the winter rez in January (Down coat? Check. Wool cap? Check. Winter boots? Check. Electric blanket? Check. Etc....).

So, my blogging will be limited in the near future. Hopefully though, I'll have some new Mini-Views coming up in the next few months, along with some other interesting points of interest.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I'll be off for the next few days.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sylvan Dell New Blog Feature

Sylvan Dell Publishing has begun a new feature on their company blog, called "Teachable Moments." They intend to share tips and suggestions for teachable moments with teachers, media specialists, parents, book store personnel…anyone who could utilize their books and free educational materials (what teacher couldn't utilize free educational materials??). They'll be featuring this once a week. Today they're kicking it off with the new moon.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Quick Note

Just a quick note--check out the new photo on the right, Blackberry Banquet's # 1 Fan. Isn't that just too cute? Now, that's what I call putting your nose into a good book! Thanks to my writer friend, S.W., for sharing the picture of her adorable granddaughter while reading her favorite book.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling

MARILYN BRIGHAM is an editor at Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books, where she has been working for over 5 years. She edits everything from picture books and chapter books through novels for both middle grade and young adults. In addition, she oversees Marshall Cavendish Classics, a line of previously out-of-print titles by award-winning authors and illustrators, as well as Board Buddies, Marshall Cavendish’s board book line. On her own time, she loves sports, concerts, the beach, cooking, watching television shows meant for teenagers, and reading magazines while taking a nice hot bath. She wishes she had time to read adult books . . . but there are just too many fabulous kids’ books to be reading. . . . She is enjoying life as a newlywed and lives in Tarrytown, NY, with her husband.

How do you define your role as a children’s book editor at Marshall Cavendish? What have been some of your favorite projects you've worked on?

I definitely think of my role as an editor as a helper and co-conspirator with the author; I love the relationships I have with authors where we discuss our vision for the book and I help the author get it there and make it the best book possible. Sometimes the editing process can be a seemingly endless process and takes a while to come together, and sometimes the pieces of a book just fall into place really easily; either way, though, it’s always this great journey and so much fun for me (I do have one of the best jobs on the planet…). And, of course, I love for the kids who read it to have the last word and for the books to really speak to them and who they are right now in their lives—that’s the ultimate goal with every book I work on.

One of my favorite projects to work on was the first novel I ever edited, RETURNABLE GIRL by Pamela Lowell, which followed a 13-year-old foster child in middle school, who ultimately has to decide between her birth mother and her foster mother, and between “being popular” and being true to her best friend, an emotionally disturbed girl who is bullied incessantly for being overweight. I think this book has stuck with me for so long not only because it was my first book, but also because it spoke to the universal experiences—trying to fit in and the need for all of us to have a safe place to call home. It also showed how one person can make a huge difference in your life—the main character and her foster mom really develop this amazing relationship, which is also scary for the main character because loving someone puts you at the risk of being hurt by them as well. I do have a thing for books about foster children—WHITE OLEANDER by Janet Fitch is another amazing book (although that one’s for adults).

Another book I edited that’s definitely high on my list of favorites is PRINCESS PEEPERS, a picture book by Pam Calvert, illustrated by Tuesday Mourning. This is a quirky tale of a not-so-average princess—she’s kind of clumsy and she has this fabulous collection of funky glasses. But when she starts attending school with other the princesses, they make fun of her glasses, which forces the princess to go without them. Well, our clumsy princess is even clumsier without them and has all these funny mishaps . . . until the day she runs into Prince Peerless. Turns out the prince wears glasses too. In the end, Princess Peepers snags the princess and sets off a new trend at the castle (last illustration shows the other princess, royal horses, and other characters from the book, all donning funky glasses). The illustrator did a great job of capturing our special princess, and I loved that overall the story had a great message about being true to yourself and defying stereotypes but that it got across the message without being preachy. It was a familiar concept for a picture book, but it was written and illustrated in such a way that it stands above the competition and has lasting power; I think kids will come back to it again and again and that’s the true test.

We know that all editors are looking for well-written stories, but could you summarize your specific taste in books and which kinds of stories usually catch your attention (or possibly send you fleeing down the hallway ;-)?

I love edgy YA fiction with contemporary settings/issues, chick-lit for MG or YA, funny boy books (particularly for middle grade—see THE ADVENTURES OF BENNY, written and illustrated by Steve Shreve), and books with sports themes (see THROWING LIKE A GIRL, a novel by Weezie Kerr Mackey, and my forthcoming picture book WHEN JACKIE AND HANK MET by Cathy Fishman, illustrated by Mark Elliot, about Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg). I am also developing a taste for sci-fi and fantasy, as long as it’s not too high-fantasy (talking animals don’t really do it for me in older fiction, but I love interesting worlds and futuristic societies in which the rules have changed). I also like books that have a multicultural angle or unique perspective (see THE FIESTA DRESS by Caren McNelly McCormick, illustrated by Martha Aviles—sibling story but with multicultural angle). I tend to veer toward quirkiness and humor in picture books, although I also have some picture books coming up that are very sensitive and sweet. I’m not currently looking for folktales. I’m not hugely into rhyming picture books—I think so much more can be done with the language when you’re not confined by rhyme schemes. I’m also not really into historical fiction or nonfiction—but occasionally the right subject matter can grab me.

What is your favorite children's joke?

Oh, man. This is a toughie. Well, the first thing I thought of was not actually a joke but something my big brother would sometimes sing to my mom when I was a kid: “Hey, Mom, what’s for dinner? Go up your nose and pick a winner…” (How’s that for boy humor?) I think he had a few other rhyming sayings like that. My mom would always laugh it off and tell him to stop being gross. I thought it was pretty funny, too.

Also, my grandfather used to tell a joke about a man who meets a genie and gets to make three wishes; I don’t remember the whole story, but somewhere in the midst of trying to think of his third wish, an Oscar Meyer Weiner commercial comes on the TV. The man starts singing along: “Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Meyer wiener, oh, that is what I’d truly like to be…” and he gets his wish. That always cracked me up, picturing a grown man in a wiener costume.

Actually, any joke featuring an adult in a compromising position is pretty funny to me, even today.

Thanks so much, Marilyn!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Packet #4: Done. One more to go...

I've turned in and already received the feedback on my fourth packet. Phew!!! Another great experience.

Have I told you how much I admire and adore my advisor Kathi Appelt? Not only is she a fabulous, Newbery Honor-winning author, but she's a cat-lovin' Texas gal with a passion for picture books. Now, Kathi has an extraordinary way with words when it comes to the pen, but she's also the most astute critiquer I've ever worked with. Her ability to find what needs work in my writing is so spot-on that I totally trust her opinion and am willing to try anything she suggests (seriously, she could tell me to run out in the street and swing a dead chicken over my head five times to stimulate my creativity and I'd do it!).

Back to the packet; a couple more mss near finished. A brand new one that's a good start but definitely needs some work (which is expected). Best of all, I'm pushing myself creatively and finding that it's not so scary after all. And I've now got the okay on my long essay and can begin focusing on my presentation for the winter residency. My topic is anthropomorphism with a focus on cats. Yes, CATS. Surprise, surprise. It should be a howling good time. >^..^<

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

10 Ways to Tell If You're a Vermont College Student...

Only a meager three months into the Vermont College MFA Writing Program and I've already discovered there are signs that indicate such enrollment. I'm up to ten so far, and I'd love to hear any others from my fellow classmates. So, here are the signs that let you know you're really doing the VC MFA program:

1. You know your public library card number by heart.
2. Your public librarians all know you on a first name basis.
3. Dust bunnies have overtaken your house. And you're okay with it.
4. Your living spaces are consumed with piles of books, notepads, writing implements and computers.
5. You develop a taste for convenience foods.
6. You need new glasses. But won't take the time to see your eye doctor.
7. You have to ice down your writing hand nightly.
8. Your friends stop calling.
9. Your spouse actually knows what a "packet" is.
10. So does your cat.

(but you're still smiling!)

Okay, any of your Vermont College students out there, let me hear what your signs are!

Rather than have you read through the comments, here are two more from fellow VCFA-ers:

1. The employees at your local post office know you by name, and already have your return postage stamps ready when you walk through the door (TP: Bet I can guess who your advisor is! ;-).

2. Your spouse/partner not only knows what packet is, but makes dinner for you the few nights before your packet is due.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

Erin Clarke is a senior editor at Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, where she has worked for eleven years. Authors and illustrators with whom she works include Markus Zusak, Julia Alvarez, Meghan McCarthy, Lesley M.M. Blume, Anna Alter, Mark Alan Stamaty, Karen Foxlee, Mick Cochrane, Barbara Jean Hicks, and Sue Hendra. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and one-year-old daughter, who enjoys eating broccoli (albeit with lots of butter).

How did you discover MONSTERS DON'T EAT BROCCOLI and what was your reaction? What are your hopes for this title?

I first saw Sue Hendra’s illustrations for the project in the UK in 2005, and I instantly fell in love with her monsters. Sue had written a text for a novelty book, which is the format in which the British publisher originally wanted to publish MONSTERS DON’T EAT BROCCOLI, but I thought it would work well as a traditional picture book. I had just worked with Barbara Jean Hicks on a wonderful picture book called THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER KITTY and thought her sensibility would match Sue’s illustrations perfectly.

My hope for this book is that kids will want to read it again and again and again (the real sign of a successful picture book in my mind). The text is bouncy and fun to read aloud, and the illustrations are hilarious, vibrant, and full of details to pore over. Of course, I love the message about eating healthily and the fact that it is conveyed in a completely non-didactic way.

The bold, colorful artwork in MONSTERS is a perfect match with the text, as it not only supports the words but enhances them. Can you tell us about the process you went through in matching up Barbara Jean Hicks and Sue Hendra?

I think I answered this above, but with all picture books, you want to the text and illustrations to work together equally to tell a story, and Barbara and Sue managed to do just so with incredible humor and fun. They share a similar sensibility even though they use different mediums.

What's your favorite children's joke?

My favorite book-related joke:

Q: What do Sea Monsters eat for lunch?
A: Fish and ships

Thanks so much, Erin!


Happy Hagfish Day!

It's finally here--the first annual Hagfish Day, to celebrate the "beauty of ugly." Ooze on over to the WhaleTimes website for more information on the hagfish and other less-attractive but important marine creatures.

Hagfish, Queen of Slime
Mass-producing gallons of
Ooey, gooey, ooze.

Okay, now it's your turn to write a hagfish haiku. Any takers???

Monday, October 19, 2009


Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

BARBARA JEAN HICKS lives in Oxnard, California with her partner Michael and a bad-tempered cat. She is the author of five children’s picture books. MONSTERS DON’T EAT BROCCOLI is her second book about monsters and her third book in which food is an important element. She is working on her relationship with vegetables but has a monster appetite for fun! To learn more about Barbara and her books, visit her website.

MONSTERS DON'T EAT BROCCOLI is a rollicking book with lots of fun concepts and language. Can you tell us a little about how the story came to be?
An interesting story: the pictures came first! Sue Hendra had created a dummy for a pop-up book that was about all the crazy things that monsters eat. Erin Clarke, the editor I had worked with on THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER KITTY, loved Sue’s monsters but wanted them in a traditional picture book. I feel so fortunate that she decided to ask me if I might be interested in working with the sketches Sue had already done. I fell in love with Sue’s cheerful, colorful monsters! I wanted her to be able to use at least some of the fun, funny sketches she’d already created, so I decided to keep with the eating theme. When I found a sketch of the monsters having a food fight with vaguely broccoli-looking trees they’d been munching on, I immediately thought of the way so many parents get their kids to eat broccoli by calling it little trees.

I turned the “what monsters eat” theme on its head and focused instead on what monsters (and their child counterparts) often don’t eat—their veggies. A phrase popped into my head from the old fairytale JACK AND THE BEANSTALK, and I turned that on its head as well. Thus: “Fum, foe, fie, fee, Monsters don’t eat broccoli!” I rearranged the sketches, leaving out some and suggesting others to make the book a little longer, as part of the process of writing the text. I had lots of fun, and the text came very quickly.

MONSTERS sends a great message to kids about healthy eating. I know you're active in promoting healthy eating for children. Can you tell us a little bit about this and how you're hoping that MONSTERS will help the cause?
The creative process is so fascinating. When we write (or draw, or sing, or do any number of other creative things), our subconscious draws from many disparate memories, ideas, emotions and experiences and makes connections we aren’t even aware of on a conscious level. I wrote this story thinking it was about the power of a healthy imagination—which it is. But it’s also, perhaps even more, about healthy eating habits. I grew up with a father who loved to garden and was crazy about fresh vegetables—and a mom who didn’t much like vegetables. So we had opportunities to eat lots of fresh vegetables but were never forced to eat them. I had my favorites (like corn on the cob and peas right out of the pod), but other veggies have been an acquired taste. Many of them I’ve discovered just in the last year, when my partner was diagnosed as pre-diabetic. We went on the South Beach diet, which is heavy on vegetables and whole grains. This new way to eat totally reversed the blood sugar problem, and we both dropped pounds as well. We discovered a lot more vegetables we liked, and those have become a regular part of our diet.

When the reviews started rolling in for MONSTERS DON’T EAT BROCCOLI, every single one commented on the “healthy eating” aspect of the story that I hadn’t even realized I’d written! I also got lots of comments back when I sent a notice out to my e-mail list that the book had hit the bookstore shelves. One was from a school superintendent I had worked with in the past who asked if I would be interested in partnering with the district to encourage healthy eating habits in the elementary schools. I realized that many kids don’t have the advantage I had as a child of a big garden in the back yard, and I liked the idea. Obesity and diabetes are increasingly significant problems in this country, not only for adults but for children, and poor diet is the main culprit. Lack of exercise is a second element that I’ll also address in the program I’m developing for the district, which we have dubbed the Rio Healthy Kids Initiative.

My book launch for MONSTERS DON’T EAT BROCCOLI was part of a weekend long fundraiser in cooperation with our local Barnes & Noble for the Initiative. We not only had great fun, we taught kids the “broccoli chant,” engaged them in a healthy-eating poster contest, and had a slide show about ways to eat healthy even at fast food restaurants.
I’ve discovered that several members of my local SCBWI chapter have developed or worked with nutrition curricula for elementary school children and are willing to share their materials and experiences with me as I develop the program for the Rio Healthy Kids Initiative, which I hope to make available in other schools as well.

What's your favorite children's joke?
Appropriately enough, when we’re talking about healthy eating, it’s a fruit joke.

Q: What was Beethoven’s favorite fruit?

A: Ba-na-na-na (sung to the tune of the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth!)

Thanks, Barbara Jean! For more information on Barbara Jean's blog tour schedule, read on!

SATURDAY OCTOBER 17: Review: Elizabeth Bird for School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. “More fun than a book with a message should ever hope to be.”

SUNDAY OCTOBER 18: Book Trailer: Monster reviewers Gene Sisko and Roger Elbert go two thumbs up for BROCCOLI!

MONDAY OCTOBER 19: Interview: Terry Pierce talks to Barbara about children and healthy eating.

TUESDAY OCTOBER 20: Interview: Little Willow talks to illustrator Sue Hendra, editor Erin Clarke, and Barbara in a single interview.

WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 21: Interview: Sherrie Petersen talks to Barbara about the switch from writing romance to writing children’s books.

THURSDAY OCTOBER 22: Interview: Terry Pierce interviews editor Erin Clarke (Random House Knopf).

FRIDAY OCTOBER 23: Interview: Jaime Temairik and the Zombie talk to illustrator Sue Hendra in sock puppet form for Zombie Broadcasting Services. You’ve never seen an interview like this one!

SATURDAY OCTOBER 24: Podcast Review: Mark and Andrea’s Just One More Book audio blog. “Gasping, gobbling, grinning, crunching and belching, seven sherbet-coloured monsters revel in outrage at their broccoli-loving readers in this rhyming enticement to eat green.”

SUNDAY OCTOBER 25: Book Trailer: Cecilia Olivera-Hillway of Polar Twilight animates Sue Hendra’s cheerful monsters as giant broccoli falls from the sky.

MONDAY OCTOBER 26: Photographs: The Broccoli Book Launch, August 28, 2009, Barnes & Noble Ventura. Seen: Chow, Chompers, and Barbara Jean the Story Queen!

TUESDAY OCTOBER 27: Downloads: For kids, Sue Hendra’s coloring pages for MONSTERS DON’T EAT BROCCOLI. For adults, The MONSTERS DON’T EAT BROCCOLI Broccoli Fan Cookbook!

WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 28: Podcast Interview: Suzanne Lieurance talks to author Barbara Jean Hicks about BROCCOLI, her life, and writing on Book Bites for Kids (Blog Talk Radio).

Friday, October 16, 2009

Revisions: Climbing to the Top

I am learning so much this semester in the Vermont College writing for children program. I’ve been writing with purpose for about ten years now, so I thought I had a little bit of a handle on picture books, but I’ve realized there is so much to learn. So much more.

One of the things that I’ve found most fascinating is revision. Revisions are a part of writing; we all get that. First drafts are one thing. Revisions are another. This is where an author rolls up her sleeves, puts on her editorial hat and starts analyzing her work. She figures out what needs to be improved, shows her work to other writers for feedback, and takes out the machete to cut words and the polish to make her writing shine. Yeah, I “got” all that.

Then I started the Picture Book Intensive semester. I now see revisions not as a “one-stop” reworking attempt where I try to make my work shine in one fell swoop but instead as working my way up a series of steps. Now, each revision feels much more deliberate because I know that sometimes I have to climb up to the next step, in order for me to gain steady ground so I can climb up to the next level (eventually reaching the top).

For example, one particular piece I started with was over 800 words long. My first revision challenge was to cut it by 80%. I did that, feeling quite proud of myself; but then despite its 200-word length, I still had to cut more to eliminate places where I was doing the illustrator’s job (meaning, describing too much). Okay, that was the next draft. Once I had my story down to 100 words, my next revision challenge was to write it in rhyme. Okay, I did that, and quite happily. I’d thought about writing this piece in rhyme before, but I was so lost in my overly narrative language that I didn’t know where to begin. You see, I had to go through all of the other revisions so I could climb to a place where I could see my work in rhyme. Kind of like climbing a cloud-encased mountain until you can break through and more clearly see the view. After I wrote it in rhyme, my next challenge was to improve the format and structure. Which I’ve done. And working on.

My point is, it’s been eye-opening for me to now see revisions more as climbing to the next level, so I can see my work differently, thus allowing me to again take it to another level. Like mountain climbing.

Now, I must give credit where credit is due. My advisor acts as the rope and pitons that keeps me safely secured to the mountain. She has guided me along and given me many challenges to help me work my way through my stories, much like a climber works his way up the face of a granite dome. And my classmates are like my climbing buddies—belaying me, guiding me, letting me know I’m not alone.

It’s seeing the revisions as a series of levels, which must be reached before proceeding to the next that I find so fascinating. Not one fell-swoop, but necessary steps for the climb.

Hagfish Day...just around the corner!

Need I say more?
Seriously, if you're just itchin' to write a haiku involving slime,
I want to hear it!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Hagfish Haikus: Hagfish Day October 21

Okay, I know you're wondering how on earth Hagfish Day ties into writing. Or perhaps you're even wondering, "What's a hagfish?" "And why does it deserve a special day?" Read on. It WILL make sense. Scouts honor.

I'm priviledged to be part of the board of directors of Whaletimes, Inc., an educational non-profit organization that promotes marine science awareness to K-12 students and their teachers. This year, they're kicking off the first national Hagfish Day on October 21 (it will always fall on the third Wednesday of October). You might ask, why celebrate hagfish? Well, the idea is to celebrate the beauty of ugly (and trust me, after one glance at this picture, you can see why the hagfish qualifies).

Let's face it, not every sea creature can be an adorable seal with those big brown eyes, or have the striking markings of an Orca, or the charming personality of a dolphin. Some animals are just plain ugly; but that doesn't mean they're any less valuable in the web of life and don't have their own merits. Hence, Hagfish Day was created!

After you finish reading this post, click here to discover all kinds of information about Hagfish and some other ugly sea creatures. Whaletimes has developed activities that include an Ugly Beauty Contest, classroom activities, Hagfish Haikus and Wish Poems (see--this is the part where it ties into writing--I mean, who hasn't been tempted to write a hagfish haiku? You know you want to!). In fact, if you write a hagfish (or other ugly marine animal) haiku, send it my way too. I'd be happy to post it here on my blog, on Hagfish Day!

And while you're at the Whaletimes site, check out the other cool things going on--like the new Creep into the Deep program (done in cooperation with NOAA), which puts kids as close to being on a deep sea dive as they could get.
Happy writing!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Vermont College: One more down!


I turned in my third packet today! I made the halfway mark for this semester.

Now for a snack...

Friday, October 2, 2009

Blackberry Banquet Art Activities

This morning I discovered some fun art activities to use with Blackberry Banquet, on the Growing & Learning by Leaps & Bounds blog. This clever mom showed her children how to paint with blackberries AND they created blackberry Playdough. How fun would that be? I can just see the little berry-stained hands of small children and the berry-scented Playdough as it squishes through their fingers. Definitely worth checking out!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

VCFA Workload

This morning a friend called to see how I was doing. "How's the MFA going?" she asked.

I laughed and said, "Well, I'm so punchy from writing and researching that last night it took me three tries to put on my facial lotion--first I picked up the toothpaste, then the sunscreen, and finally on the third try, picked up the jar of nighttime face cream. Then this morning I emptied my cats' water bowl and left it in the drying rack. The cat sitting by the food mat reminded me to refill it, as he was obviously thirsty. Oh, yesterday I was so punchy I walked into a wall. And this morning I realized I ordered the same book twice from Amazon."

"Oh no, are you regretting that you signed up for the program?" my friend asked.

"Heck, no!" I said. "I'm loving every minute of it!"

And that's how it is, really. I don't know if I've ever been this busy in my entire life, or put out so much mental energy. Maybe I did in college, but that was a long time ago, when I had a few thousand or million more brain cells. As soon as one project is done, there's another waiting. It's kind of like the Russian front during WWII. You know how the Russian soldiers just kept going up against the Germans, and if the soldier in front of them dropped, they picked up his weapon and kept moving forward. This has that same never-ending feel to it. But without guns. And nobody fires anything at you. And there's no death or destruction. Maybe that wasn't the best analogy...

There are times when I can't sleep at night because my mind won't shut down. I feel guilty if I take a full day off (oh wait, I haven't done that yet. Never mind). And there is an ever-growing pile of picture books, research materials and three laptops in my living room that seem to have taken up permanent residence.

Yet, I love it. I cannot think of a single thing I'd want to be done differently. I love that my advisor pushes me to try new things and see things in a different light. I love reading and critiquing the work of my four other classmates and receiving their feedback on my own work (they're brilliant) . I love the support the students and faculty give each other. I love the critical aspect of the program (I never dreamed I'd actually enjoy writing critical essays--who knew?). I love trying new forms of writing, like the biography I'm working on right now.

Yes, life is good in the VCFA MFA program.

Even if I do fall asleep on my keyboard sometimes.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Book Review: Monsters Don't Eat Broccoli

If you’re looking for a wholesome book for your child or students to chew on, try picking Monsters Don't Eat Broccoli, by Barbara Jean Hicks (illustrated by Sue Hendra). It’s a rollicking rhyming story where, in the voice of “monsters,” we hear all the reasons why they will not eat the healthy green veggie.

We’d rather snack on tractors,
or a rocket ship or two,
or tender trailer tidbits,
or a wheely, steely stew.

The monsters describe what they love to eat, and what they absolutely won’t abide by, but by the end of the story, they realize that those wonderful yummy trees they’re munching on are in fact, broccoli!

The art is bold, colorful and lively yet offers enough detail to give many additional “hunting” opportunities for the reader (such as the monster movie posters in the background on the nighttime rocket scene). Hendra also does a nice job at the end, where she transitions the monsters to a home scene where we see that the monsters eating broccoli are actually children.

Hicks has done a terrific job of making broccoli fun and inviting. This is a healthy pick for any parent or educator who wants to get kids to “go green” with their eating habits, and promote healthy eating.

Monsters Don’t Eat Broccoli by Barbara Jean Hicks/ISBN 978-0-375-85686-0/2009 Alfred A. Knopf.

* Click here to view a cool video of Monsters Don't Eat Broccoli.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

GOOD NEWS: Blackberry Banquet

Blackberry Banquet has been named to the 2010 California Collections. The book list is compiled by the California Readers (click here for full list). Listed books must display "excellence in literature" and be written or illustrated by a California author or illustrator.

I'm proud to be a part of the California Collections once again (Tae Kwon Do! made the 2007 list).

Doing the Snoopy Dance now...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Have You Ever Been So Busy That...

You almost left the house without wearing any pants. Yep. Last week was just that crazy-busy for me.

I'd turned in my second packet, received the feedback, and was working hard to get a revision done that was due today (as Kathi Appelt says, I was "writing like my fingers were on fire"). My head was filled with research ideas, dancing animals, an Italian educator, cats and a T-ball game (yes, it was crowded in there).

Amidst all this, I wanted to see my chiropractor. So, when his office called and said they could see me right away, I ran upstairs to change clothes. I got distracted with something while changing (can't recall what it was). Minutes later, I got to the top of the stairs and thought, "What am I forgetting?" I looked down and realized I wasn't wearing any pants. OOPS!!! Yeah. Working on my MFA keeps is keeping me just that busy...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Packet #2: Done!

Wooohooo! I survived turning in my second packet! Yesterday I heard back from my advisor, and as always, received thoughtful, encouraging and challenging advice. I'd love to stop and take a breather, but there's no time for that. Packet #3 is due in less than four weeks, and that one takes the essay up a notch to a longer length. Plus, there are all those revisions...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"Feel Good" Fun

Mary Cronin, a fellow student (and fabulous writer) at VC, shared this video link with a group of us. It's just one of those "feel good" kinds of things that everyone should watch.


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Wow, another week has already rolled by? Where IS the time going?

I'm getting my second packet ready to submit on Monday, going over all the final checks. I only had one scare, when ALL of my files were missing from my flashdrive (yikes!!!). Why on earth they would not open on my laptop but would open on my desktop is a mystery to me. I've never had such a love/hate relationship as I do with computers.

On a lighter note, this website came across the Ventura/Santa Barbara listserve this week; kind of fun to look at and play around with, especially if you're concerned with words going the way of the Dodo. It's not for the fottopees of the world (or maybe it is...).

Happy Labor Day!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Check Out These URLs

This week, two URLs came to me from my SCBWI Listserve that are well-worth looking into.

The first one was shared by Barbara Beitz. It's a great site called Beyond Little House that's dedicated to the Little House books written by Laura Engalls Wilder. For fans of this classic series, this is a must-see. I adore these books, even though I never knew of them as a child. It wasn't until I took a children's literature class in college that I discovered them. So, check it out. You'll get all goose-bumpy and sentimental and leave feeling good inside.

The other URL was shared by Alexis O'Neill. This is is a must-read article for yet-to-be published writers regarding The Seven Biggest Myths of Publishing. I nodded my head through the whole article--"Uh-huh. Yep, been there, done that. Oh, how true!" Thanks to Anastasia Suen and Alexis for spreading the word about this one.

One last one I've been meaning to share comes from the website of Cynthia Leitich Smith. Cynthia has a section called, Kit Lit, where her cats have reviewed cat-themed picture books (for reals!). This is so clever and fun to read, especially if you're a cat lover.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Just Catching Grasshoppers...

This story really is writing-related. I promise.

Years ago, on my first ever backpacking trip, my husband and I did a summer hike in Kings Canyon National Park, in the Sierras. We were green as the meadows (experience-wise). Not one lick of overnight backpacking experience. But off we went, ready for adventure. Well, our first night out, all of our food was stolen by a very dexterous raccoon (he managed to untie the straps on our backpacks). The real miracle was that a bear didn't get to it first, as we didn't even hang our food (I said we were green) and we were in the heart of black bear country.

So there we were, the big adventurers, with no food. My husband gave out a big sigh and said, "Well, we'll just have to catch some grasshoppers." I was taken back. "I am NOT going to eat grasshoppers!" I declared. I had my limits. After he stopped laughing, he explained that he needed grasshoppers as bait to catch trout. Oh. Heh, heh. Yeah, bait. Good idea. (can you see why I married this man?)

So there we were, in the middle of a meadow, lunging around attempting to catch the feisty little critters. And they're quick! After what seemed like hours (probably more like minutes), we caught plenty enough for my husband to catch a nice dinner's worth of trout. Okay, that was a stretch. I didn't catch any. My husband had all the success. I just wasn't quick enough. But I still got to eat that night (again, see why I married this guy?).

Okay, how does this relate to writing, you might wonder? Well, I've discovered during my brief experience with Vermont College, that researching is a lot like catching grasshoppers. VC has a fabulous library, the Gary Library, which gives students access to multiple research possibilities. But sorting through all that's out there is a lot like catching grasshoppers. At least for me. I find myself spending hours of time and energy sifting through information, getting close, almost there, that grasshopper is j-u-s-t within my r-e-a-c-h, only to let it get away because the data isn't quite what I needed. Sigh...onto the next big juicy victim. At the end of my time, I might only have one, two or even no bits of information to add to my project, but it's what I have to do in order to survive. Kinda like catching grasshoppers that summer afternoon so many years ago.

So, for those who do research with academic papers, articles or non-fiction work (like this picture book project I committed to then realized I probably have six months of research to do before I can even begin to write), happy researching!

And remember, sometimes all it takes is one grasshopper to eat well.

Monday, August 17, 2009

VC Update...Survived My First Packet!

Phew! I've been busy, but I wanted to say that I've survived my first "packet." What is a packet, you might ask? Well, as part of the VC MFA requirements, during the semester, under the guidance of an advisor, students complete a certain amount of required work each month and turn it into his/her advisor for review/feedback. This monthly submission of work is referred to as a "packet" (because it's all submitted to the advisor at once).

For the Picture Book Semester (what I'm enrolled in this semester), once a month I turn in an annotated bibliography (min. of 25 books), a critical essay, 2-4 manuscripts (at least one has to be new, others can be revised mss), and a letter to my advisor discussing my progress. Amazingly, my advisor gives me thorough feedback within a day or two. Then it's time to begin the whole process again...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Website Face Lift!

I'm so proud to announce that my website has recently undergone a major face lift. Pleeease come on over for a visit!

Illustrator and website designer Kathryn Hunley deserves the credit. Didn't she do a fabulous job??? I couldn't be happier with it!

New Sylvan Dell E-Books!

Sylvan Dell, my wonderful publisher of Blackberry Banquet, has launched its "new, improved next generation ebooks" on their site. Company publicist Sara Dobie has all the details on her blog. Check it out!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

SCBWI Conference

The SCBWI summer conference is coming up on Aug. 7-10. I love this event as it has so much to offer writers and illustrators; craft workshops, editorial advice, industry news, cameraderie, and fun! I've learned so much about writing from this event. I highly recommend it to people who are new to children's writing. And everyone else, for that matter!

But this year, unfortunately, I won't be able to attend (for a variety of reasons). However, I thought I would mention here a couple of past posts I've done on the the SCBWI Conference tips and travel safety for women. If you've never attended the conference, or are feeling a little uncertain about traveling alone to get there, have a look; and enjoy!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

More Photos: Fall '09 Picture Book Semester Class

What? You mean we were there to learn something? ;-)

Here are some of the picture book lovin' crowd.

Fall '09 Picture Book Semester students: Meredith, Me, Mary, Kathi (our advisor), Abby, Barbara.

Me and Kathi Appelt, advisor extraordinaire.

VC Pictures: Batch #2

Now that you've seen the landscape of VCFA, here are a few of it's residents...

"First semesters" at the Mexican restaurant in Montpelier (Meg, Anna, Me, Hannah, Katherine).

Escaping to the great outdoors for dinner.

"First semesters" big night out to Barre, to see Harry Potter.

Dinner at Positive Pie (thats' Sue and Anna).

Helen, Katherine, Me, Caroline at Positive Pie.

Pix from the VC Rez

I'm doing this a little backwards by posting pictures after the rez, but dang it, I couldn't figure out how to download them from my camera (new camera) to the laptop. Oh well! Here they are, by the batch.

Dewey Hall, the VCFA "Hilton" and home to fine dining. That's me and my son in front.

My dorm room. Only hit my head on the block wall twice the first night. :-\

Other side of my room.

Majestic College Hall, home to sore knees (they put the admin offices on the fourth floor).

The brand new VCFA bookstore. It has everything from aspirin to clothing to a wide assortment of books.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Writing Tip on Tales from the Rushmore Kid

Last week Tina Nichols Coury posted a writing tip of mine on her blog, Tales from the Rushmore Kid. The post before mine, she shared an interview with award-winning author Kathi Appelt, my VC advisor for this semester. How serendipitous! Hop on over for a look!

All My Bags Are Packed...I'm Ready to Go

The 2009 summer residency is officially over, yet I'm still here. Why? Well, with flights such as they are, I thought it would be much more enjoyable to hang out here, rather than an airport. Sooo, I don't leave for the aiport until later this morning. I really wish I COULD leave sooner, but it just didn't work out.

This morning I was so excited that I woke up at 5:00. Couldn't get back to sleep, so I finally crawled out of bed at 6:00. Praddled around a bit and had my leftover coffee drink from yesterday. Then I walked my "dorm box" of "stuff" that I'd mailed to myself here, back over to the VC mailroom to ship it back to myself at home.

I ran down to the cafeteria for some juice. Couldn't stomach eating anything. Couldn't bear to go into the dining room. Just the smell made me want to leave. It's not that the food here is always bad, it's just that it's bad often enough to cause one to tire of it quickly. And really, even if it were delicious, how often can one eat off a plastic tray and stand in a chow line without it becoming a bit old? I was reminded of the infamous scenes from M*A*S*H when Hawkeye and BJ would sniff the food followed by some hilariouis comment about the cuisine.

Anyway, I'm eager to get home, unpack, hug my family and get to work. My head is spinning with ideas so I want to get to it!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

VC Residency: Day ??? Oh Jeeze, I have no idea anymore...

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel of my first residency at VCFA. It's been quite an experience thus far, with the rez definitely taking on a life of its own. It got quite intense there for a while, but then yesterday was the Good vs. Evil Symposium, where we had guest lecturers speak (Margo Lanagan, Deborah Noyes and Nancy Werlin) and some special activities. It also seems that in the past couple of days, there were a few more chances to grab some time to head into Montpelier for a meal, steal some library time or grab a catnap. Or blog.

On Friday, Kathi Appelt gave a lecture titled, Blurred Lines. I wish the world could hear this lecture. It was so moving. Like a piece of well-crafted writing, her talk pulled me in, made me laugh, touched my heart and mind, and all tied together beautifully in the end. If you ever have a chance to hear this lecture, GO. You won't regret it.

Let's see, what else? I've turned in my study plan, which is basically the work that my advisor and I agree that I will do for the upcoming semester. Write 12 picture books? No problem. (gulp). Critical essays? Sure! Love 'em to death. (gulp, gulp). Bibliographies? Heck, I read all the time anyway, why not add a few more titles to my regular reading regiment and annotate them while I'm at it. (gulp, gulp, gulp). When I was a kid, I loved the Matterhorn roller coaster ride at Disneyland. I'd wait in that far-stretching line, inching-inching, hearing the screams, knowing I was going to be terrified but yet I couldn't help myself from trying. This feels the way. Yeah. It's a little like that.

Two days and counting until I get to climb onto the bobsled...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

VC Residency: Day 7

Semester study plan looming.


Monday, July 13, 2009

VC Residency: Day 5

Okay, this place is awesome, and awe-inspiring. I had my first workshop session yesterday and I was blown away at the insightful comments on the work being critiqued by the students and advisor, Uma Krishaswami. Uma has a calming energy along with keen eye and amazing insight into picture books. I was totally floored by our workshop session. Tomorrow is my turn for getting my two stories critiqued, and Kathi Appelt should be there as well, which I'm really looking forward to.

I've seen six faculty/graduating student lectures thus far, on a variety of topics. Very interesting and packed with information.

The dining experience has been...hit and tonight, when my fellow first semester students opted to go into Montpelier for dinner, I jumped on the chance. It was kind of funny--it felt like we were breaking out of the big house or something (not that VCFA feels like a prison at all, but we've just been confined to the program for five days now and all felt the need for a little break...out). And even though it wasn't quite like the Mexican food I'm used to in CA, it was still good.

Tomorrow AM I hope to walk into Montepelier and get some real coffee (not the cafeteria stuff). I'm craving a decent cup of coffee like you wouldn't believe!

Until then...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

VC Residency: Day 3

Unbelievably, I have a few mins. of spare time so I thought I'd squeeze in a quick post. It's the morning of day 3 here at the rez and this is when I feel the real work begins. Today we have our first "workshop" (group critique session). I'm super-excited about this as we'll be immersing ourselves in our picture book manuscripts. I'm also eager to meet and work with Uma Krishniswami, last semester's PB semester advisor (Kathi Appelt won't be here today, as she's at ALA receiving her Newbery Honor Medal for The Underneath). I've heard fabulous things about Uma so it'll be a pleasure to meet and work with her.

Today I also will hear three faculty lectures. Much to my disappointment, I had to miss last night's opening faculty lecture because I had a migraine. It killed me to miss out on hearing Tim Wynne-Jones, but I knew I needed to take care of myself in order to prevent the headache from worsening.

Friday evening and yesterday involved a lot of orientation (how many times can one state their name, where they're from, and an interesting tidbit about themselves?). We were flooded with info on using the library's vast amount of resources for research (a good thing--but wow--so much to absorb at once) and finally in the late afternoon joined the returning students and faculty. Yes, I slept well. Exhaustion will do that to you.

Two frustrating things thus far are that I can't seem to access my email very often (very hit and miss), and I can't seem to figure out how to download photos to put on my blog. That might have to wait until I return home.

But so far, so very good! I can't wait to get started with today's events. I'll keep you posted...

Friday, July 10, 2009

I'm Here!

I've checked into the VC dorms and will soon begin my MFA adventure. My son and daughter-in-law drove me up and helped bring my bags to my room. Yes, life is full of ironies--the son drops his mom off at college. He even warned me, "It's okay to experiment in college, just don't make it a habit." ;-) Hmm...experiment with writing--sounds like a good plan to me. And if it works, I'll definitely make it a habit!

The dorms are...uh...sparse? Yes, sparse, that's a good word to describe it. But that's okay. This isn't a vacation and my focus is on the writing program, not feeling pampered. The room definitely has an institutional feel to it, but it has the basics (even a big fan, which feels very nice right now considering the warm temps today). Because of my potential for migraines, I'm in a single room, which is fabulous because I can spread my "stuff" all over.

Today the new students check in; tomorrow the returning students arrive then we let the games begin!

I couldn't sleep last night, a million thoughts swirling in my mind, so I'm looking forward to getting a good night's sleep tonight. It may be my last for a while!

Monday, July 6, 2009

In New England

I'm in New England now, enjoying a little family time before I start my first VCFA rez. You know, since I've been here, I've noticed a couple of differences between Rhode Island and California. First, the drivers. Folks here don't seem to honor traffic lights and signs as much as those do on the west coast, so I've found that I have to watch carefully before crossing any streets! (yep, hold hands and look both ways).

Second, people here don't use Bluetooths or other hands-free cell phone devices. This morning I strolled down to a local coffee house and bought a drink, some freshly ground coffee for home use, and a muffin. I was talking to my husband on my cell phone and realized that I didn't have enough hands to carry everything plus the cell phone, so I put on my Bluetooth. As I was sitting in the park chatting with him, and later walking home while continuing our conversation, I received many a raised eyebrow from passers by. They must have thought I was talking to myself. One person even purposefully avoided me, giving me a wide berth as he walked past, staring at me like I was crazy!

I also received the schedule for the residency, which begins in four days. My initial reaction was, "Holy cow, don't those people EVER sleep?" It's a ten-day packed schedule of interesting lectures, activities, workshops and social events. Kind of like an SCBWI national conference on steroids--but longer! Today I'm going to sit down with the schedule and prioritize the "must-see" events, the "really want to see" events, and the "if I have any energy left" events. And I still need to re-read all of the mss from my workshop group to refresh my memory, and finish one book from the recommended reading lecture list.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Packing for VT

Tens days and counting! My body is still in CA but my mind is in VT.

I've finished all of the manuscripts for my workshop group (wow, some pretty great writing!). I mailed myself a CARE package for my stay in the dorms. Today I received one more book I want to read before the rez begins so I'll dive into that tonight. And I've got a three-page list of all I need to do and pack before I leave--ahh, don't you just love making lists?

I'm hoping I'll have the time to make posts during the rez, but until I'm there and living through it, I won't know. Folks say it's exhilarating, educational and exhausting, so we'll see what the schedule allows.

Until then...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Eighteen days and counting... (okay, is this too much? Am I overdoing the countdown?).

I've finished the "required" reading for the rez and am now turning to the "optional" reading. I'm also fully focused on the manuscript critiques for my workshop group. I've done about 1/4 of them and I must say, WOW! The quality of writing is amazing and definitely makes me second guess what I had submitted! (you know how we writers like to doubt ourselves).

I'm also starting to think about the details of housing and life in the dorms. Not being a "spring chicken" anymore, I don't travel quite as lightly as I used to. It amazes me that I used to be happy spending my nights in a sleeping bag on the ground with a pile of clothes for a pillow and an occassional mouse darting over my legs (from my backpacking days).

For the rez I'm going to ship a box of "comfort" goodies to VC--soft sheets, towels, pillow, coat hangers, maybe a coffee maker, etc.). Not that these things aren't supplied by VC--they are! (well, not the coffee maker), but if you don't like scratchy sheets and small, threadbare towels, then they recommend you bring your own. But at least they'll hold your package for you so it's all there when you arrive. Nothing like the comforts of home to make a long stay somewhere more enjoyable!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Vermont College: More Preps

Twenty-four days and counting to VC!

I've been busy organizing my thoughts, making a ka-zillion lists, doing the suggested reading, and yesterday I received a lovely packet of twenty-four picture book manuscripts that I'll need to critique before my arrival. The manuscripts are all written by the nine other people in my workshop group for the residency (which I'll call "the rez" from now on, to expedite typing). I'm so excited to read them and get a sense of the other writers I'll be working with. Five of the students have just finished the Picture Book Semester and the other five are those who will be doing it this fall (including myself). Talk about hanging out with like-minded folks!

And fun of all fun, last weekend I went to Staples to buy new school supplies. Yep, I'm just THAT big of a nerd that I get excited over buying new school and office supplies :-}.

Monday, June 8, 2009

More on Preparing for the VC Experience...

A few weeks after my acceptance to Vermont College of Fine Arts, I had to start thinking about what I wanted to do in the fall. You see, there is the regular program and there's the Picture Book Concentration / Certificate Program, which is a one-semester intensive Picture Book concentration. Students can enroll in this as a single-semester certificate program, or the MFA students can do this as one of their four semesters in the program. I was definitely interested, as I love to write this genre, but first I wanted to know who was teaching it.

Well, when I heard that Kathi Appelt was scheduled to teach it, I jumped at the opportunity! Only after waiting to hear if she indeed would be teaching it (there was some concern that she might not--apparently, writing a Newbery Honor Book puts some demands on one's schedule ;-). But she was teaching it, so I put in my request for a spot and submitted a sample ms. After a few weeks, I received news that I’d been accepted! Wow, I was--no AM-- so stoked! To study under Kathi will be amazing! I've always admired her work (she's a master of rhyming PBs and targeting the preschool audience). I can't wait to meet her and work together.

In the meantime, I've also submitted housing forms for the dorms, arranged my travel plans, and submitted two mss for the summer residency "workshop" (critique session). And there's the reading list--I'm on the first of many books we have to read for book discussions at "the rez." Speaking of which, I should be doing that now!

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Last week I read a delightful blog post on Family Briefs: A Few Briefs Along the Parenting Journey sharing how the reading of Blackberry Banquet actually saved a blackberry bush from sure death (a near tragedy, for sure).

Apparently, the encroaching bush was merely doing what all blackberry bushes do, taking over everything around it, which included the blogger's family garden. Mom was prepared to get rid of the bush, but through the insistence of her children and their desire to see if Mouse, Bird and the rest of the characters in Blackberry Banquet really were right about the delicious nature of blackberries, the bush was spared (but it doesn't sound like Mom was too thrilled ;-).

In my mind, I envisioned Mom heading towards the bush with an axe, the children at her side, begging her to stop (yes, a bit like Fern trying to save poor Wilbur).

For a sweet chuckle, and the full read, click HERE.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Back from Ventura and Easy Reader Workshop

I had a great time giving my workshop on The ABCs of Writing EZ Readers. We had a nice turnout and everyone was eager to learn about this often overlooked, but oh-so-important genre. I always welcome the opportunity to share my views on easy readers with folks.

I can't say enough about how important it is to write beginning readers that kids can actually READ with MINIMAL FRUSTRATION. It's so important to challenge young readers but not so much that it turns them off to reading.

So, a big thanks to the Ventura/Santa Barbara SCBWI for inviting me to present the workshop. And an especially big thanks to Kathryn Hunley, Joan Bransfield Graham, and Jody Fickes Shapiro for making it a fabulous day (oh--and Yuki Yoshino for helping out with book sales!).

Friday, May 29, 2009

Off to Ventura for Some "Easy" Living!

I'm packing up to head down to Ventura for my SCBWI workshop on Saturday, "The ABCs of Writing EZ Readers." We've got a good number of folks signed up so it should be a fabulous afternoon on learning, interacting and reveling in our craft!

And yes, this desert girl will definitely breathe in some of that moist ocean air!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Another Book Bites the Dust...

I just got word that my very first picture book, Two Tales of Hawai'i (Island Heritage Publishing), is going out of print. I'm saddend, but I know I shouldn't be surprised. Given the current economy, book publishers are forced to take a much harder look at what they're keeping in print and what they're letting go. And Two Tales has been in print since 2003, so it's outlived many other picture books.

But was my first "baby" in print and I'm left with a hollowness inside, as I envision it taking wing and joining all the other out-of-print titles in "book heaven."

Monday, May 25, 2009

VC Journey: Application, Acceptance, Absorption

I promised I'd chat a bit about my experiences thus far with the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Since my studies don't officially begin until the July residency, I thought I'd give an idea of the things that happen before that time--the "pre-residency" phase of enrollment. By the way, if you're not familiar with the Vermont College MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults Program, click HERE to read a very nice overview of it, by former graduate Erik Talkin.

I applied in the fall of '08 (the deadline for fall 2009 wasn't until March 2009, but I'm the kind of person who likes to get things turned in early, if at all possible). The application packet consisted of an application, two letters of recommendation, college transcripts, writing samples and two essays--one personal essay that addresses questions posed by the college, the other being a critical essay on some aspect of writing for children.

I found out in mid-February that I had been accepted. Yea! Snoopy dance time! (quickly followed by a big, "Oh my gosh--what have I gotten myself into? Can I really do this?" moment. ;-)

The folks at VCFA have been incredibly friendly, generous with answering my endless questions/concerns, and helping me in many ways. And when I say, "folks”, I mean the administrators and students (current and past). Everyone immediately suggested I join the student forum (online) where I could ask questions and introduce myself. There is also an extensive FAQ page, packed with tons of info about everything from academics to housing. The students I've cyber-met on the forum have been so nice, and very helpful! I can't wait to meet them this summer; my fellow travelers on the VC MFA journey.

I have to say though, that I've relied on three of my regional SCBWI buddies, and former VC students, (Sherry Shahan, Dianne White and Mary Ann Dames) to chat with about the program, answer questions and give me a very real sense of what the experience will be like (thanks, ladies--you all rock!). I must admit though, this feels eerily similar to my pregnancy experience, where everyone smiled, told me it would be life-changing, generously offered words of wisdom—but none of it *really* prepared me for it until I was right there in the trenches actually living through it. And both experiences seem to involve extremely hard work, lack of sleep, exhaustion at times and hopefully not too much crying!

Next, I'll talk a bit more about the next decision I had to make--what to do about the fall semester...

Monday, May 18, 2009

A New Path

Beginning in July, I'll begin a journey down a new path in my life, as a part of the Vermont College of Fine Arts Master's in Writing for Children and Young Adults Program. I'm very excited about this! I've dreamed of enrolling in this program since I first heard about it, many years ago. Now, with my son out of college, it's finally my turn!

Am I thrilled? Yes! Excited? Oh yeah! A little nervous? Absolutely! Terrified at times? You betcha! (but just once in a while and that's when Mary Ann and Dianne talk me down :-).

But it was time. Time for me to move on to something different--something that could take me to places I've never been before with my writing. New levels, new commitments, a whole new world.

And for anyone interested, my hope is to focus my blog on my VC experiences (which would entail the next two years). I have a feeling I won't have a lot of time for posting, maybe once a week or so, but for anyone who is interested in the program, maybe it will give you some insight.

So, there's my big news... Next week I'll give a little more details about what's happened up to this point. So please, stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Just a quick bit of shameless self-promotion here...

I'll be presenting an SCBWI workshop on Easy Readers on Saturday, May 30 from 1:00-4:30 PM in Ventura, CA. For anyone interested in attending, or learning more details, please click HERE. It should be a fun (and informative!) afternoon. My goal is for attendees to leave feeling like their heads are overflowing with information. And the packets I'll provide...ah, the packets!

I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

VALERIE HOBBS did not set out to write novels for young adults, but ever since critics praised her 1995 coming-of-age story, HOW FAR WOULD YOU HAVE GOTTEN IF I HADN’T CALLED YOU BACK?, she has been a respected author of fiction for teens. At the rate of approximately one book per year, Hobbs has crafted character-driven tales about young people on the verge of adulthood, forced to make serious decisions about the direction their lives will take. Often the young protagonists are confronted with circumstances beyond their control--the death of a guardian or a boyfriend, parental divorce, or physical disability. How they deal with these challenges forms the core of Hobbs's works.

By receiving this year's California Young Reader Medal in the Intermediate Category for your middle-grade novel, SHEEP, you've added another award to your extensive list of honors. You say, "Writing is the hardest work I've ever done, but by far the most fun." With so many award-winning novels and such a positive attitude, can you share with us how you keep the writing flame burning so brightly?
Oh, were it always bright! I do a good deal of butt-in-chair with no lights burning, believe me. But a terrific award like this one elevates the chair quite a bit, that's for sure.

I have to ask a question on craft. Could you tell us a little bit about your story creation process? Do you have any tips/advice for someone who wants to write a novel but doesn't know where to begin?
I always begin with a character and that character is invariably me, though I never intend it. These characters were once the young ones, now they're getting old. So I identify with Pearl in Defiance, but the cow and Toby, too, and with the grandmother in The Last Best Summer (Spring 2010). I've mined a lot of things from my own life. I always recommend fictionalizing events drawn from our own lives because getting in touch with what we remember and know really deepens what we're writing, gives it an authenticity that's harder to create when a story is entirely made up. Or so I think. "Sheep", for example, is based on having a homeless Border collie for three weeks, "Sonny's War" came out of having a brother who went to Vietnam, and my first novel, "How Far Would You Have Gotten If I Hadn't Called You Back" is pretty much a rip off of my 16th year.

So my advice would be to dig into the past, even the "awful" stuff and freewrite about it without judging the person who you were or the writing you do now. The stuff that makes your heart beat harder will usually do the same for a reader.

What's your favorite children's joke?
Well, right now anything with "butt" or "poop" in it because that's what cracks my six year-old grandson up, and anything that cracks him up cracks me up.

Thanks, Val~ and congratulations on winning the California Young Reader Medal!