Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Insomnia has its advantages. Don’t get me wrong; I’d never recommend it. But interesting things happen in the quiet of the night.

Sometimes I see a raccoon visiting the birdbath on our deck. He or she appears unafraid of my reading light.

Sometimes I see deer licking seed from the bird feeder. They are visible only on winter nights when everything else is covered with snow.

Sometimes I figure out what ails my current revision plan.

My protagonist needs a specific reason to dislike/fear/hate my antagonist. My original idea was too wishy-washy. My new idea was too similar to a billion other YAs. I know what needs to be done, but I don’t yet know how.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Overheard #27

"I don’t know if this was supposed to come apart, but it does now."

The Fall Conference

I had second thoughts about attending the SCBWI-MI Fall Conference. Now that it's over, I'm not positive that I should have gone.

I didn't sign up for a paid critique or the first page panel. I chose not to read at open mike. Perhaps I should have.

I loved seeing old friends and meeting new people. I enjoyed hearing Paula Morrow and Barbara Seuling read inspirational excerpts from their favorite books. Matt Faulkner's art is amazing. Kate Sullivan's talk was full of useful information. I will follow her suggestions to plot tension vs. page number and to list the reason for every scene.

But, I left early - right after breakfast this morning. My younger son (Jeremy) turned 15 today and I was eager to hear from both boys about the parade, football game and dance.

Here are a few words of wisdom from the conference.

"Heart can't be taught, but it can be caught." -- Paula Morrow

"The one thing you have to put in a children's book is hope." -- Barbara Seuling

"Don't I have the right to tell an American story?" -- Matt Faulkner

"... Another amazing service provided by your librarian. I like librarians. I'm married to one." -- Bob Morrow

"The hard part is saying why I didn't like this part." -- Kate Sullivan

Friday, September 26, 2008

My Team

My older son (Sam) and I are reading the same book. We have one copy so we share. This isn't a problem because by the time he finishes school, football practice and homework, I gladly hand it over. I'm not going to mention the title, but I will say we've read two other books by this author.

Sam said, "This author needs a critique group, people who will say, 'You're better than this. Now go sit in the corner.'"

Sam has never accompanied me to a critique group meeting, but somehow he gleaned what goes on there. In The World's Greatest Critique Group, we bring out the best in each other by pointing out what needs improvement and recognizing strong points.

Perhaps having an excellent critique group is like being on a winning team.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Random Thoughts on Wednesday Morning

The SCBWI-MI fall conference begins in two days. I'm trying to drum up some enthusiasm, but mostly what I feel is congested. How long could this head cold possibly last?

My younger son wore a tuxedo to school today. They are taking pictures of the choir this morning. Don't worry, he brought normal clothes for the rest of the day.

One of the things I like about football is no one expects the boys to keep their uniforms clean. This is SO not true of band and choir.

The tempo of my revisions seems to be stuck on largo, but I'm hoping to accelerate to andante or allegro once my head clears.

The Through the Tollbooth Blog has some valuable information about character and plotting on the September 22 and 23, 2008 posts.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Hit the Road

Hit the Road

by Caroline B. Cooney

Delacorte Press, 2006

This book is my life – except that it’s funny.

Teenage drivers, assisted living, the importance of cell phones, well-meaning adult children and the resentment of their aging parents, memory/vision/hearing loss, powdering noses, rain hats and first crushes. I suspect people who aren’t dealing with these issues will also find Hit the Road hilarious.

I had some quibbles with the plot. The protagonist’s boyfriend solves the problem for her, and this is another novel where the antagonist spills his guts in an unlikely confession at the end. That aside, I recommend it


Photo by Z.F. Burton

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Photo by Z.F. Burton

This was too good not to share. Let me know if it sparks a story.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Overheard #26

"Coconut is the celery that grows on trees."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Out in the Toolies

I was caught speaking Californian again. I left the Golden State a long time ago, but old habits and speech patterns die hard. In an email to The World’s Greatest Critique Group, I referred to the rural suburb where I live as “the toolies.” I was unsure of the spelling so I asked Tim Bogar, our resident spelling bee champ, to help me out. He looked it up and sent me this link.

Tules or toolies refers to bulrushes or the swampy area where they grow – in California. I took these photos 2.5 miles from my house.

Is this not a swamp?
Are these not bulrushes? Okay, the plants aren’t the same species that grow in California, let’s not split cattails.

I feel compelled to mention the tule fog. Once as a foolish young college student, I tried to drive from UC Davis to Los Angeles through a tule fog. I survived, but that was pure dumb luck.
Tule Fog photo from flickr.com

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mom

My mom is 92 today. She was born on 9/16/1916.

What else was happening in 1916?

World War I (1914-1918) was about half over.
Mexican Revolution was in progress.
Claude Monet painted Water Lilies.
Pygmalion was published by
Bernard Shaw.
The light switch was invented by W.J. Newton and M. Goldberg.
J.R.R. Tolkien married Edith Bratt.
women’s fashions, hemlines raised to allow a flash of ankle.

Lots of interesting people were born in 1916. Among them are:
Jackie Gleason, Dinah Shore, Gregory Peck, Beverly Cleary, Olivia de Havilland, Roald Dahl, Fran├žois Mitterrand, Walter Cronkite, Kirk Douglas, and Betty Grable.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Rainy Weekend

Michigan is a long way from Texas, but Hurricane Ike drove rain at us all weekend. The swamp in the backyard is now several inches deep. My husband and I didn't let the rain stop us from our weekend bike rides. The roads weren't too slippery for our mountain bikes, and once your clothes are soaked, a little more rain doesn't matter.

On Sunday, we had an early birthday celebration for my mom. Her birthday is tomorrow. I made salmon (her favorite) and rice. I had green beans and salad fixings from the farmer's market, and I baked a chocolate cake.

It never rains in southern California, so Mom hasn't had to go out in wet weather for decades. She called and left a message saying she didn't want to come. But when I arrived, she had face powder and lipstick on and was changing her blouse. I got her into the elevator where another visitor complained incessantly about having to drive in the rain, despite my shushing pantomime from behind my mom's wheelchair. My husband drove the car right up under the awning, and Mom didn't feel a single drop. (What a guy!)

Note added at 11:20 AM
This morning when I visited my mom she said, "I went someplace for dinner last night."
I told her it was at my house.
"You're the one with the two big boys?" she asked.
Memories come and memories go, but this time the important part stuck.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Overheard #25

"Somewhere along the line, people need to develop an interior monologue."

The Piggy in the Puddle

The Piggy in the Puddle

by Charlotte Pomerantz

illustrations by James Marshall

Aladdin Paperbacks (Simon and Schuster), 1974

This book is still in print, and it was a Reading Rainbow selection. When my sons were small, The Piggy in the Puddle was a family favorite. Beyond that, it is a fine example of combining rhyme and near rhyme, using meter to enhance the story, employing the page turn effectively and getting a young listener to interact with the book.

Why am I blogging about a 34-year old picture book? It poured rain though last night's football game, and my older son plays nose guard and defensive tackle. His gym bag resembles a swamp. Perhaps I am overly sentimental, or maybe I'm a typical mom, but I was happy to see this giant young man, who is racing toward adulthood, have so much fun playing in the mud.

Friday, September 12, 2008

What Was I Thinking?

I need to stop trying to do it all.

This morning I helped serve breakfast to 50 varsity football players at a local diner. My job was putting two slices of bacon on each plate. The plates already held two large pancakes (5" in diameter), hash browns and scrambled eggs with sausage. Those boys can eat.

This evening at the game, I need to bring a fruit platter for the Varsity Parents Potluck, and thirty 20-ounce bottles of Gatorade for the players to drink after the game. I also need to bring home one or two dozen pairs of band uniform pants to wash. Unfortunately, the band room is not near entrance to the locker room. I suspect football players can quench their thirsts more rapidly than band members can change their clothes. After I dispense the drinks, I'll pick up the pants.

This weekend is nothing compared to homecoming weekend (September 26-27). What stroke of insanity possessed me to register for an SCBWI-MI conference the same weekend as a parade, a football game and a semi-formal dance? My husband can get our sons to the dance. He's way better at tying ties and taking pictures than I am. The main problem is getting the Sousaphone to the beginning of the parade route without using my roomy station wagon.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Choir Auditions

The ninth grade men's choir had auditions to test the range of each boy's voice. The boys chosen as tenors have to tolerate some teasing from the others, so I was interested to learn outcome of my younger son's audition.

Me: What part do you sing?
Son: Bass
Me: Really?
Son: Yeah, I've got this tuba thing going.

Work vs. Play

Editing this chemistry article feels like WORK. This is not parallel play.
I persevere.

But, I've cut close to 1000 words, and now we're only 59 words above the limit.
I'm making progress.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Confessions, Excuses and Explanations

I haven't been writing ANYTHING.

My WIP is at finishing school. I mailed it to three friends and fellow writers for comments. Since then, I’ve done almost no writing. There were several Life Issues that needed my attention, but most chores can be beaten into submission eventually.

Now what?

I have been toying with the idea for another YA novel, but when I mentioned the concept at a critique group, it was thought to hold little interest for teens. I’m now wondering whether the problem is with the novel's premise or my ability to describe it. Meanwhile, the characters aren’t talking to me. Clearly the idea needs both brainstorming and cogitation.

For the past several years, my writing goals have included submitting an article to ChemMatters Magazine, but I never got around to doing the research, let alone writing anything. Eventually my husband wrote the article. It is both interesting and of value to high school chemistry students. I started working on it today. This week, I hope to finish editing and query the magazine.

Maybe next week, I’ll get an idea for another YA manuscript…

Monday, September 8, 2008

Mount Everest Math

At the assisted living facility where my mom lives, one of the physical therapists proposed the Mount Everest Challenge. He claimed staff members could climb the equivalent of Mount Everest by taking the stairs a certain number of times.

When I visit my mom, I always climb the stairs to her 5th floor apartment. But somehow the Mount Everest Math seemed wonky to me. Today, I finally got around to redoing the calculations.

Sparing you the details of the math, I climb 33.25 feet to visit my mom. Mount Everest is 29,029 feet above sea level or 873 trips up the stairs. Assuming I visit her every day, it will take me about 2 years and 5 months to reach the top of Mount Everest.

But wait! Most climbers, taking the southeastern ascent, fly into Lukla (9,400 feet) then hike up to Base Camp (17,700 feet). The climb from Base Camp to the summit only requires 340 trips. I’m way past that. I’ll have made the climb from Lukla by next February.

How many people have carried laundry up and down Mount Everest?

Photo from Getty Images

Sunday, September 7, 2008

What Football Means to Me

Photo by Z.F. Burton

Overheard #24

"There'll be retribution for this, and it's a'comin'."

No political or religious implications were intended in this statement. It came from my sons teasing each other.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Homework Help

This afternoon my younger son asked me about transitional sentences. I offered what I thought was a cogent explanation. He said, "I thought you were supposed to be good at writing."

Then I looked over his geometry homework. The book explained that mathematicians do not draw using perspective. What? All these years of drawing cones, cubes and prisms and I never realized I wasn't using perspective! Well, my shapes are drawn in perspective, if the vanishing point is infinity.

Conversation snippet:
Me: Don't you think infinity is blue?
Husband: Only during the day.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Overheard #23

"I have a library card, and I know how to use it."

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

First Day of School

Summer vacation is over; my sons go back to school today. The house will be quiet, and I'll have to eat lunch alone. Later in the week, I'll post my fall writing goals, but today I'm going to catch up on neglected chores.

My younger son starts his day with choir and finishes with marching band. Doesn't it seem pleasant to begin and end the day with a song? My older son has math-based physics first and AP calculus last, and I suspect he will also find that entertaining. I used to like the sort of classes where you could simply calculate the answer and move on, without undue discussion.

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