Thursday, December 31, 2009

Auld Lang Syne

Times Gone By

Professionally, 2009 was a discouraging year, but to focus on the bright spots:
  • CBL will be getting a professional critique in 2010. I’ll start another round of revisions soon.
  • TAoCBS needs to be expanded and enhanced. The going is slow, but I’ve made some progress.
  • I’ve started researching a new project (SSA), and so far, it’s a ton of fun.
  • My photography improved greatly in 2009. Sometimes I think this blog should be mainly photography, and perhaps it will ease in that direction.
I wish you a happy New Year!


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Overheard #89

"Leftovers don’t stand a chance against us."

Monday, December 28, 2009

Mysterious Messages

Mysterious Messages: a History of Codes and Ciphers

by Gary Blackwood
Dutton Children’s Books (2009)


This book will appeal to math enthusiasts and history buffs alike. Gary Blackwood shows how codes and ciphers have been used from 1500 BCE to the present. He relates fascinating anecdotes of encoded messages that changed history. The book includes descriptions of different kinds of ciphers, deciphering tables, directions for building deciphering devices and instructions on how to break ciphers and codes.
Interesting Tidbit That I Learned:
Throughout history, people have been drawn to the romantic appeal of creating or solving an “unbreakable” code, but in reality, most ciphers are merely delaying tactics. Military codes and ciphers, for example, should remain secure until the attack has been initiated. After that, there is no secret to protect. In today’s world, where super-computers rapidly perform complicated calculations, an encryption needs to remain secure long enough for the information to be transmitted and retrieved, then the cipher is changed.
Get this book for all the curious kids you know.
Review at The Bookbag
Interview with Gary Blackwood

Sunday, December 27, 2009


The same branch from a different angle.

Click on the pictures to enlarge.

Photos by me.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

It’s Christmas Eve and time for family. I’m delighted to have Sam home from college and Jeremy hanging around the house for the next couple days. While I cook a big dinner and worry about the impending ice storm, I’ll think about the people I love.

Have a safe and joyous holiday.

Please stop by on Sunday. I plan to post a couple new photos.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

All I Want for Christmas

with apologies to Don Gardner

All I want for Christmas is a new subplot
A new plot thought, yes, a new hot plot.
Gee, if I could only have a new subplot,
Then I could finish my novel.

There are excellent reasons why I don’t write in rhyme. Most of them are exhibited here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Overheard #88

"Who needs Google when you can make things up?"

Monday, December 21, 2009

Home for the Holidays

As an ongoing service to other YA writers who may not have teens readily available for observation, I provide this slice of life.

Sam came home from college with a cold. Jeremy is sick too. I found them sprawled on the sofa, quite close together as they are large and the sofa is not. Each was wrapped in a blanket. They shared a box of tissues and a wastepaper basket. As they watched TV and talked, occasionally one swatted the other. The swat was blocked, and they’d go back to talking.

Ah, brothers.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Someone decorated the woods near our house again this year.  (Last year's picture)

 Here is a reflection of me taking the picture.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Jeremy has a bad cold, so yesterday I went to the high school to pick up his tuba. Visions of Jeremy practicing over the Christmas break danced in my head. The tuba case is in the repair shop, so I wrapped the tuba in an old blanket and wedged several pillows around it so it wouldn’t roll around as I drove home. Unfortunately this adventure, “Bedtime for Tuba,” was not recorded for YouTube.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Overheard #87

"Snowflakes roasting on an open fire … "

Monday, December 14, 2009


Lately, I’ve been thinking about the length of novels, not the number of words or pages, but the duration of the story. The Harry Potter novels run the course of a school year. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Play List spans one very long night. Clearly, different stories require different time frames.

I’ve started planning a new novel that occurs over spring break, and I’m enjoying the constraints of the time limit. Not only does my protagonist have to accomplish his elaborate goals in 9 days (one week plus the adjoining weekend), the background noise of the ticking clock adds another level of tension. If he fails to complete his task by Sunday, he either has to admit defeat or cut school, and cutting school will create enough havoc for another novel. My protagonist and I simply have to get the job done on time.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Photo by me.

I confess I adjusted the exposure and color on this one.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


I like to use a calendar to revise novels. G&G is historical fiction, and the climax had to occur on a specific date in history. I blocked out a calendar on paper and planned backwards from that date. The protagonist had basketball games, practices, school, chores and church, so I had to schedule my novel around his busy life.

Calendars are also useful for novels that use the ticking clock to increase tension. If the protagonist has to accomplish something by a specific day, advances and setbacks can be charted on a calendar.

Yesterday, I plotted TAoCBS on a calendar and found a huge hole in the middle. Hmmm, that might be the best place to start revising.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

All's Quiet on the Blogging Front

Don’t think the paucity of posts on this blog means I’ve been revising like crazy.

But I have been thinking, and reading, and thinking some more. Yesterday I read a post on Writing a Hot Plot by Mary Kole. Click on over and look at the line graph. I was relieved to realize that G&G and CBL follow this pattern. Unfortunately, TAoCBS (the novel I’m supposed to be working on right now) does not. Specifically, it’s missing The Rise between points 1 and 2.

I haven’t figured out how to achieve The Rise in this novel, and according to the plan, it should account for 16.7 to 25% of the story. I wonder if the situation for my hapless protagonist could improve without him realizing it.

While I ponder, I’m going to work on making The Fall even steeper.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Overheard #86

"They do kind of shun fun in that household."

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Photo by me.

The forest is mostly gray and brown this time of year. Last week I found a few leaves that kept their fall color and were lit by a ray of sunlight.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Blogs, the Next Best Thing to Being There

Yesterday, while researching the setting for a new project, I discovered Travel Blogs. They can be a goldmine of information because they include timelines and actual experiences.

I learned that riding a bus from town A to town B takes two hours, and the hike from town B to the campsite is seven miles and mostly flat. Unfortunately, the pit toilets at the campsite are hideous. (That kind of information tends to be missing from touristy websites.)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Zombie Spiders

Imagine you’re a wolf spider that lives in salt marshes. When the tide comes in, your number one priority should be to get to higher ground. Spiders are terrestrial organisms that require oxygen, so rising water seems detrimental to survival.

Recent work by Julien Pétillon and his graduate student (unnamed in the article) at France’s Université de Rennes, demonstrated that one species of marsh-dwelling spider, Arctosa fulvolineata, can survive up to forty hours of submersion in salt water by lapsing into a “coma”. If the spiders are allowed to dry out for a few hours, they recover.

While this adaptive mechanism is interesting, I do not think that drowning spiders is an appropriate activity for scientists.

Science: 324: 571 (2009).

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Snowflakes and Fern Frost

Photo by me.

This was my first attempt to photograph snowflakes, and I wasn't completely satisfied with the result. The Michigan winter will provide opportunities to try again. Click here to see the difference between fern frost, rime and hoarfrost.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Overheard #85

"It’s hard to bully a ninja."

Monday, November 30, 2009

Pseudo WriMo

I didn’t participate in NaNoWriMo mainly because of the Honesdale Workshop, but I wanted to get into the NaNo spirit, so I devised an Excel file to keep track of my writing-related activities. It has columns to note what I did (revising, planning, critiquing) and which manuscript and chapters I worked on. It also has a column for distractions and excuses.

This turned out to be a great idea. When I’m writing a first draft, I can look back at the number of words or pages I’ve written and feel like I accomplished something, but it can be hard to quantify progress when revising. The Excel file lets me see in a glance that I did quite a bit of work this month.

Yep, I plan to keep an Excel file in December too.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Friday, November 27, 2009

Panning for Gold

The only disappointing part of my Highlights Workshop was my inability to write anything decent during the writing exercises. Sam said spontaneous writing is either great or terrible. There’s no gray area.

I think that’s right. Ad lib writing is like panning for gold. Either you find a nugget or you end up with a plate full of mud.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I have much to be thankful for. I won’t type the entire list here, but as you’ve probably guessed my family and our health top the list. My critique group is right up there too.

Yesterday I received an email from a wise woman I met at the Highlights Workshop who wrote that she was thankful for her teachers and mentors (I am too), and also for her challenges and obstacles because they make her a stronger person and a better writer. I wanted to share her thoughts with you.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Overheard #84

"Arrogance is bliss."

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Photo by me.

Sailing ship?
My husband says this resembles a bugeye ketch.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Heart of the Story

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the pivotal idea inside my manuscripts. This isn’t the theme, the elevator pitch or the query letter summary. The heart of the manuscript is fulcrum on which the plot balances.

Many years ago, I had the great fortune to have a manuscript critiqued by the brilliant Audrey Couloumbis. The story was about two boys who got separated and lost in a thick fog.* The protagonist realizes that if his friend had been with him, the experience would have been fun. Audrey pointed out that this was the heart of my story. If the boys were together, they’d be having an adventure, not a scary experience.

Yesterday, as I was revising CBL, I came across the line, “The final confrontation would be between his reality and mine.” This is the heart of my novel. Yes, I need to have action and excitement, but the mind games are even more important. The plot balances on the relative sanities of the characters.

What is the heart of your story?

* The fogs in California are so thick, we could play hide and seek in them.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Joy of Cooking

I would be remiss if I failed to write about the heavenly food at the Highlights Founders’ Workshop in Honesdale.

Before each meal, Marcia, the chef, would describe each dish with pride, love and absolute joy. She explained the ingredients and seasonings with delight. Marcia clearly loves creating wonderful food and is justifiably proud of her labors.

I was reminded of that first heady rush when an idea for a new novel sparks in my brain. As I plan characters, scheme plot lines, and fall in love with my idea, joy reigns supreme. Sometimes the love of the work gets lost while slogging through revisions, weathering harsh professional critiques or withstanding rejections. But in the end, there is only one reason to write fiction, and that is the joy of creation.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Overheard #83

"We just take turns being human."

Monday, November 16, 2009


This was my personal cabin at the Young Adult Novel Writing Workshop in Honesdale, PA. If you look closely, you can see my name on the sign in the window. It was so cozy. Check out the inside view and the private porch – complete with an electrical outlet for laptop charging.

I didn’t spend much time there though. Most of our time was spent in the farmhouse learning, critiquing and thinking. Rich Wallace is an amazing writer and teacher. I finally understand novel structure. Nancy Hinkel, Publishing Director of Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, was friendly, kind and nurturing. Our critiques were fabulous. I may even be able to fix what’s wrong with CBL.

I made some new friends and leaned about my novel. Someday, I hope I'll be able to go back.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Photo by me.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Writing Workshop

Tomorrow morning I leave for the Highlights Founders Workshop on Writing YA Novels. I hope to:

  • learn much
  • accomplish a ton
  • take numerous pictures for this blog
  • generate ideas for future posts.
I won’t post for a few days, but please stop by on Sunday. I have one of my nature pictures scheduled to appear.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Overheard #82

"What’s with you and squeegees?"

Monday, November 9, 2009

Monday Musings

On Learning:
The master of my sons’ Tae Kwon Do studio said, “You learn more from the tournaments you lose than the ones you win.” If that applies to writing conferences, I must know a lot.

On Critiquing:
I don’t critique as much as I used to, and the manuscripts my critique group produces are of superior quality. But I find that when I think hard about someone else’s manuscript I often learn something about my own.

On Experimenting:
One of the cool things about having a digital camera, is that photography is free – after the initial expenditure for the camera. Since I don’t have to think about the price of film or developing, I take a lot of pictures. I’m free to play with camera settings, light, distance, etc. The same can be said of writing. In my last revision, I tried some new perspectives. I need to experiment more often.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Friday, November 6, 2009

Time To Save The World Again

Buy A Book, Save The World starts tomorrow (11-07-09) on National Bookstore Day.

Last year, there was a blog where people could list the books they'd bought and see what other people were buying. If something like that happens again, I'll let you know.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Grist for the Mill

In truth, my writing mill needs a more powerful river to run its water wheel, not more stuff to grind up, but I don’t know a quaint expression for that.

I’ve started a new project and produced a few pages of notes so far. There is much I need to learn about my characters and their adventures. I don’t know yet what has happened to make them the way they are or how they will change during their time with me*.

I’m also helping distribute concert uniforms to the high school band. The guys wear tuxedos, and unfortunately the size labels in the pants have worn away with time. Imagine a cramped hallway filled with young men, stripped to their boxers, trying on tuxedo pants. Grist for the mill.

* I’m trying to work in water under the bridge and you can’t step in the same river twice, but perhaps I’ve ground up this metaphor.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Overheard # 81

"Embrace your inner nerd."

Monday, November 2, 2009

November Challenges

I applaud all who are participating. My critique group has a NaNo spin off in which we will all try to do some writing every day. I made an Excel file to record my efforts. (I love Excel files.)

Saying Goodbye – or at least See You Later
After the SCBWI-MI fall conference, I decided to put aside TAoCBS. Maybe someday, I’ll figure out how to fix it.

I must finish my current revision of CBL in the next few days. It needs some breathing room before I take it to the Highlights Founders Workshop on Writing YA Novels later this month.

New Project
A novel idea has been percolating for some time. I’ll begin planning it while CBL is breathing.

Gray Skies
Now that it’s November, we’re unlikely to see sunshine in Michigan until the end of March. Overcast skies didn’t bother me until I became the delighted owner of a digital camera. My Sunday series will become an extended experiment in muted lighting.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Photo by me.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Little More NaNo

I admit to feeling a little smug about NaNoWriMo this year. I'm in the midst of revision, so I don't have to play.

Wrong again.

Lori VanHoesen alerted me to NaNoReVisMo.

There's no escape.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Seasonal Links

Some creative elementary school kids decorated pumpkins to honor their favorite characters in children's books. My personal fave is the one modeled to look like The Pout Pout Fish, a picture book by Debbie Diesen and illustrated by Dan Hanna.

This year, I'm carving only one pumpkin, the Viking, to honor the local high school.

I have to miss the Halloween band performance. The Sousaphones are going as Pacmen this year.

An east African spider called Evarcha culicivora prefers mates that have recently fed on blood-filled mosquitoes. This could explain a lot about current literary trends.

I'm in revising mode, plus I'll be attending the Highlights Founders Workshop on Writing YA novels in November, so no NaNo for me.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Photo by me.

In case you can't quite remember that poem ...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Overheard #80

"Let’s convert this into pennies and swim in it."

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Black Belt Approach to Writing a Pitch

On Saturday, I watched a Belt Test at my sons’ Tae Kwon Do studio. Students were asked to name the most important thing they’d learned in the past six months. For me, it is learning to write a pitch. I'm certainly not a Black Belt pitch writer, but at least I’m no longer stumbling aimlessly around the query letter mat.

1. Float like a butterfly. I started by writing the voiceover script for a book trailer. This exercise gave me one very good sentence, and it reminded me why I liked my WIP - which I'd mostly forgotten in the pitched battle of writing pitches.

2. Sting like a bee. I read Elana Johnson’s book, From the Query to the Call. Elana provides a simple formula and worksheets for pitch writing. Here are Casey McCormick’s review and Beth Revis’ author interview.

3. Don’t let your guard down. I checked my work by reading Mary Kole’s post on queries. Mary Kole is an associate agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

4. Rest between sparring matches. I let the query letter sit. Usually, I like my pitches right after I write them, but the problems become obvious in a few hours.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Writing Advice

Lately I’ve been getting advice from Jeremy about my writing.

On revising CBL, he said, “Use foreshadowing and metaphor. If your readers are anything like my English teachers, they’ll jump off the roof and start square dancing.”

On writing a query letter, he said, “You gotta put in the shiny stuff.”

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Writing Exercise: Desire

A lot of writers hate writing exercises, so if you fall into that category, just click to the next blog in your Google reader. I find writing exercises most useful in the initial stages of writing because they help me get to know new characters. This is the exercise I brought to Write Night. We concentrated on first person point of view, although it would also work for third person narration.

1. Choose a character, and list his or her name, age, gender and time period. Also write something the character wants but does not or cannot have. Have your character describe what he or she wants. Include details and the reasons why your character wants it. Concentrate on voice.

2. Repeat with a different character who wants the same thing. Make sure the voice is different.

3. Write a scene in which the two characters interact about what they want. Choose one point of view, but make sure the personality of the other character shows.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Overheard #79

"That’s one of life’s little chemistries."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Query Contest

Mary Kole, an associate agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, is holding a query contest. The winner gets a 30 page critique. Click here for the details.

Thanks to Beth for the link.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Photo by me.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Overheard #78

"There’s always time to be a little bad."

Monday, October 12, 2009

You Ate What?

After Jeremy went out to dinner with some friends, he said, “The quesadilla was horrible. It was filled with vegetables like Brussels sprouts.”

Quesadillas with Brussels sprouts?

It’s an interesting theory.

Sam is taking Korean in college. For a homework assignment, he had to go to a Korean grocery and ask the proprietor a few questions in Korean. While he was there, he decided to stock his dorm room larder. He bought lots of goodies including …

squid jerky.

He says it’s good.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Photo by me.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Suffering for Your Art

The instrument in the photo is a Sousaphone. This member of the tuba family weighs 35 pounds and the large bell can act as a sail on windy days.
As an ongoing service to other YA writers who may not have ready access to teenage conversations, and to assuage my eavesdropping guilt, I'll provide a transcript of a Sousaphone-related conversation.
Cast of Characters:
J = Jeremy of teen driving fame
S = female section leader of the tuba section
N = tall and skinny freshman Sousaphone player
Mr. ___ = band director
J: That wind was bad today. I was worried about N. I was worried about you too. I saw you moving.
S: I fell over once when I was a freshman.
J: You did?
S: Yeah. And people marched over me. Mr. ___ didn't notice and I had to yell so he'd stop the band. Then I couldn't get up because the Sousaphone was on top of me. Mr. ___ pulled me up, then I almost overbalanced and fell the other way, but he ran around and caught me.
J: That's terrible.
S: And when I got home my mom said, "Your pants are muddy. I'm mad at you." I can never tell if she means it.
Doesn't it seem a lot easier to be a writer?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fall Conference Report - Harold Underdown

Harold Underdown spoke about turning off the literary critics in our heads and focusing on the emotional impact of writing. The exercise is simple and tremendously powerful.

Read a few lines of writing.
Jot down what you are feeling.
Repeat with the next section of writing.
See how your emotions change.

This technique is terrific for revising your own work and for analyzing other people's writing. It's fun to do as a group because reactions vary so much.

The hard part is quieting that internal literary critic. In the first example Harold gave (The Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston), the scene opens with a boy riding a train by himself, and outside it's raining. My first reaction was: Oh no another sad scene in the rain. Tired metaphor. But when I forced the literary critic to sit down and shut up, I realized it wasn't a sad scene, and the rain was simply part of the setting.

Go ahead. Try it. And let me know how it works.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Overheard #77

"In the Russian roulette of life, she got me."

Monday, October 5, 2009

Fall Conference

Last week, I promised conference reports here on this blog. My brain (and my house) are still pretty cluttered, but I hope to distill a few drops of wisdom to present here in the next few days. Unfortunately, something seems to be wrong with my camera or my eyes because most of the pictures I took are out of focus.

The conference organizers did a marvelous job. I know how much effort goes into planning an event like this.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Photo by me.

Friday, October 2, 2009

SCBWI-Michigan Conference

Today I'm heading out for the SCBWI-MI fall conference. It's supposed to rain all weekend, but I'll be inside learning how to improve my craft, right? I plan to bring my camera and notebook, and with any luck, a few conference-related posts will appear here next week.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Road Test

We showed up at the driving school with all the necessary paperwork. Then there were forms to sign. As Jeremy scrawled his name, the examiner said, “That says you won’t be alone in a car with a girl until you’re 30.” Jeremy was so nervous, he didn’t even look up.

The road test went pretty well, although I won’t dwell on that frightening left turn in front of an oncoming truck. We drove a long way on the highway, the one driving experience Jeremy has had little of. When we finally returned to the driving school, the examiner recited such a litany of “things you need to work on” that Jeremy and I both thought he failed.

But he passed.

Then the examiner said, “Mom, you did a good job.” I sat up straighter, thinking he was going to compliment my driving instruction. “You didn’t scream,” he said.

On the way home, Jeremy had to drive along a tricky stretch of roadway where two lanes suddenly become one.
Me: Let that trailer go ahead of you.
Jeremy: I just passed my driving test, so I must have some level of ability, but you’re going to baby me forever.
Me: I still baby Sam.
Jeremy: sigh

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Overheard #76

"There will be no running and no throwing of objects."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Looking Ahead

I'm squinting out at a busy week.

The SCBWI-Michigan conference begins on Friday, and I need to gather up odds and ends like driving instructions, a packed suitcase and snacks. The pitch session requires a printed copy of a manuscript. I'll also prepare a table of contents with brief notes about each chapter and page numbers. That way I can easily find whatever it is I'm supposed to be looking for in the printed copy.

I'm channeling my inner pachyderm for the first page session. Sometimes that forum gets brutal, because each panelist has a limited amount of time to say something meaningful about every manuscript. It's all meant to improve the manuscript, not crush the writer.

Jeremy takes his driving test on Wednesday.

A tuba audition will be added to the usual potpourri of music lessons, band rehearsals, homework and Tae Kwon Do.

At least I'm ready for next Sunday's nature post. Last night a raccoon came onto our deck and begged to be photographed. He even walked to the part of the deck that is lit by the outside light. Who knew my blog was so popular with wildlife?

Sunday, September 27, 2009



If you've been wondering how much wood ...

This woodchuck is quite shy and doesn't like to pose for the camera.
Photos by me.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Oh, Now I Get It

So tell me, when you finally figure out what ails a writing project, do you:

1. bang your head against the monitor and grumble, "Why didn't I think of this sooner?"
2. put on your thinking cap and say, "Well of course that's the problem, but how do I implement the solution in my manuscript?
3. pull up your socks and get to work.
4. dance around the house shouting, "YES!"

This isn't a real poll, because all the steps are probably necessary.

I'm at step 1 and hoping to move to step 2 before the weekend is over.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Every time I read a book by Laurie Halse Anderson, I learn something important about writing. I recently finished Wintergirls, and it has me thinking about character obsession.

In Wintergirls, Lia’s obsession with weight loss almost results in her death, so I’m going to rate that a 10 on the obsession scale. She thinks constantly about food and counting calories. Her behavior (getting people to think she’s eating and gaining more than she actually is) mimics the mental obsession.

In some books, at least at the beginning, the protagonist’s life is Brownian motion. The main character is buffeted by whims of fate and doesn’t act to change that. I’d rate that a 1 on my obsession scale. The example that jumps to mind is Prom, also by Laurie Halse Anderson. When the novel starts, Ashley likes her boyfriend, her family and friends, but isn’t concerned about much else.

Wintergirls taught me to look at character growth in terms of obsession. I’m going to spend the next few days analyzing the protagonist in TAoCBS, ranking his mental and behavioral obsessions and calculating how they change.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Overheard #75

"Pokémon taught me to read."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Literary Rambles

Today, I'm over at Literary Rambles. Casey McCormick used my entry for Research Tip Tuesday. Thanks, Casey.

Monday, September 21, 2009


60-70 million years before Tyrannosaurus rex dominated the dinosaur world, a smaller version of the famous and fearsome predator lived and hunted in what is now China. The newly discovered fossil resembles T. rex but is 1/100th the size (8 feet long and 175 pounds). Scientists named the dinosaur, Raptorex, the king of thieves. Raptorex shares many characteristics with its gigantic evolutionary cousin, such as huge jaws, well developed brain and olfactory center, powerful hind legs and tiny arms. These traits therefore developed before massive size.

The skeleton is nearly complete. Isn’t it beautiful?

Dr. Paul Serano discusses Raptorex and shares his ideas about the purpose of those tiny arms in this video.

Science Express
New York Times
The Guardian
Not Exactly Rocket Science blog

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Magic and Gadgets

Recently, I’ve been on a spy kick. The Spy Goddess Series by Michael P. Spradlin involves elements of both fantasy and espionage, and it got me thinking about similarities between the two genres.

Fantasy and spy novels often involve an unlikely hero or heroine fighting Overwhelming Forces of Evil, and the hero or heroine gets help from magic or gadgets. Early in the novel, the protagonist has to learn how to use magic or get access to the gadgets. Things look good for a while, until the Overwhelming Forces of Evil use even better magic or gadgets. In the end, evil is conquered by the protagonist’s ingenuity rather than the magic or the gadgets.

How’s that for a simplistic genre analysis?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Writing Exercise: Sins and Virtues

Last night, I brought the exercise to Write Night, and it didn’t work as well as I’d hoped. So, to make amends, I’m posting the new and improved version.

Step 1: Brainstorm words and phrases that apply to your current project. Consider setting, period, clothing, slang, food, entertainment, smells, tastes, textures, sounds and sights. Use anything that is characteristic of your Work In Progress. For a terrific example, see Angela Ackerman’s blog, The Bookshelf Muse

Write the words and phrases on small slips of paper.

Step 2: Write the Seven Deadly Sins* or the Seven Heavenly Virtues** on other slips of paper***. Last night, we wrote two scenes, one for Sins and one for Virtues.

Step 3: Each participant draws one of the Sins or Virtues and three of the phrases and writes a scene about the Sin or Virtue (without mentioning it) and using the three phrases.

Step 4: Participants read the scenes aloud and the others guess the Sin or Virtue.

*As a refresher, the Sins are Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Greed, Gluttony and Lust.

** The Virtues are Humility, Kindness, Patience, Diligence, Charity, Temperance and Chastity.

***Why the Sins and Virtues? No good reason. I was inspired by a humorous essay Sam wrote last year about how owning a car would help him indulge in the Seven Deadly Sins.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Overheard #74

"Champions need worthy opponents."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Weekly Goals

1. Improve the parents in TAoCBS. Last night while reading, I realized the dad needs to show some weakness, indecision and regret. This morning while doing sit-ups, it occurred to me that the mom doesn’t get angry enough. If these problems don’t consume all of my writing time for the week, then …

2. Start a new revision of CBL with an eye to increasing the protagonist’s plausibility. In the mean time, maintain …

3. Parental involvement in 3 music lessons, 2 band practices (1 involves tuba transport), 1 choir parent meeting, 2 trips to Ann Arbor, and 1 trip to the Tae Kwon Do studio. Return 11 pairs of band pants that I washed after Friday’s football game and mail Sam his Black Belt which he accidentally left here. Which brings me to a partridge in a pear tree …

4. Photograph something other than an insect for my Sunday nature picture. I seem to be in a bug rut, and I hope to find a different subject this week. The wetland by Pet Smart often hosts water birds. Perhaps I’ll take a detour after dropping off the band pants …

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

by Carrie Ryan

Delacorte Press, 2009

I read few post-apocalyptic novels because they all:
1. are so bleak
2. involve a society consisting of two groups of people, those damaged by the apocalypse, and those who mysteriously escaped
3. depict the normal society as secretive, controlling and unconcerned with individual needs
4. portray the protagonist as a rebel against the controlling society.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth fits all these criteria, and yet the beautiful writing and compelling characters drew me into its bizarre world. I loved the way the protagonist got what she wanted before the end of the book, but didn’t appreciate it. Such a human reaction!

You can see the trailer here, and lots of other blogs must have described the plot, so I’ll provide a one-sentence summary. Zombies meet A Canticle for Leibowitz.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Overheard #73

"Promising premise; ponderous presentation."

Monday, September 7, 2009

Photographing the Loch Ness Monster

Yesterday while canoeing along the marshy edge of the lake, I spied a 2-foot long snapping turtle. At first, I thought it was a submerged log, but logs rarely paddle with webbed feet. I tried to photograph the turtle, but I had no lenses or filters, so the pictures show sunlight reflected on rippling water.

Sometimes revisions are like that. The monster is disguised as an innocuous floating log. Then it slithers away, while the writer attempts to turn the canoe and take out the camera at the same time. The writer tries several angles and approaches, but all she captures is glare.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Photos by me.
Yesterday was a good day for dragonflies.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

If I'd Written the Scene ...

If I’d written the scene where the parents drop their son off at college, I would have included a few details to show the newness of it all, like without knowing the last four numbers of his social security number, the boy couldn’t unlock his room. I would have included a section where the two roommates meet and work together to arrange so-much-furniture in such-a-small-space, to foreshadow a peaceable co-existence. In the written version, the boys’ possessions could have provided clues to their personalities.

I would have drawn the parents, eager to help and loath to say goodbye, taking him out to buy books and an Ethernet cable, and then being frustrated when only one professor bothered to notify the bookstore about required texts. I would have had to decide if that was enough of a setback for one chapter or whether to include the bit about the Ethernet cable not working. Perhaps future plot twists would have determined which frustration to describe.

If I’d written the moment of goodbye, the mother would have hugged her son and been inwardly surprised to notice that her head rested on his chest, even though she saw him every day and knew he was tall. And of course, at the end of the hug, the boy would get suddenly busy, looking around for his flip flops. If I’d written that scene, the mother would have understood right away why the need to find flip flops was so urgent.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Today these size-13s pitter-patter off to college.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Overheard #72

"Use your galaxy."

Monday, August 31, 2009

I Won the Lottery!

Two lotteries, actually, but not the monetary kind, the SCBWI-MI conference kind. The first page of TAoCBS will be analyzed by the panel of experts, and I will be able to participate in Jennie Dunham's workshop on writing a pitch.

I've been to several first page panels over the years, and I know the comments tend to be absolutely honest. I'm channeling my inner pachyderm, and reminding myself that if my first page is not compelling, I need to know ASAP, so I can fix it.

Each participant in the pitch workshop is supposed to bring a completed manuscript, and I'm not sure which novel to bring. I'll probably present this conundrum as a discussion question at Saturday's critique group.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Photo by me.

This is a fly masquerading as a bee. It's called a bee fly.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


We had about one week of summer this year. The cool, wet weather made it seem like I was on vacation in the Pacific Northwest - except the trees are different.

School is starting way too soon.

Next week my older son goes to college. I'm proud, excited, sad and scared.
(My writer friends are scribbling "show don't tell" in the margin, but that will have to wait for later posts.)

My younger son had his first highway driving experience. Not all the bad things that happened were his fault.

I'm reading through TAoCBS, and the pacing is too fast at the beginning.

I signed up for the SCBWI-MI fall conference in hopes of getting chosen for the first page analysis or the pitch workshop. I've heard the number of entrants in these lotteries reached record highs, so it all depends on luck or statistics.

I also applied for a Highlights Founders Workshop on writing YA novels. I'll let you know if I'm accepted.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Parallel Parking

The Michigan road test includes parallel parking, so a few days ago I gave Jeremy his first lesson. He did pretty well, partly because I drew him an diagram and said, “Make the car do this.” He practiced a few times and then …

Me: Are you ready to go home now?
Jeremy: I have the wheel, and you can’t stop me.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Getting Closer - Progress Report

I haven't posted much about writing or revising lately, but I am working. Usually when I have a novel ready for critique, I get two or three people to read it, but nearly everyone in my critique group wanted to read TAoCBS. So, I've been pondering and balancing the disparate comments of six highly intelligent individuals. Trust me, it's not easy. The comments are all good, but they don't all mesh, and in the end it has to be my novel.

Revising is a long and arduous process, so I'm taking it in small chunks. At the end of each day, the manuscript should be better than the day before, or at least my ideas about it should have progressed.

I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Overheard #71

"The dynamic marking is mp, which does not mean mighty powerful."

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Photo by me.

Friday, August 21, 2009

An Equal and Opposite Reaction

The light changed to yellow, and Jeremy stopped the car.
Jeremy: I didn’t block the crosswalk, and I didn’t slam on the brakes.
Jeremy: But your head hit the headrest.
Me: I didn’t say anything.
Jeremy: Actions speak louder than words.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Brainstorming vs. Head Banging

My revisions are stuck have been stuck in the sludge. A scene in Chapter 12 needs a major alteration, and this change will affect scenes in several later chapters. Every time I think of a way to fix A, I see what will happen to B and realize that what must happen to C won’t work.

I’ve been banging my head against the monitor instead of brainstorming.

Yesterday, I compiled a list of who, what, why, where and how questions pertaining to the sequence of plot events. I started typing answers. When I ran into problems, I added additional questions. If the problems persisted, I started a new set of answers at one of the previous questions, and color coded the solution threads to keep them straight.

The result? I have a plan. I still have to write it, and sure, it might not work, but at least I’ve escaped the sludge in Chapter 12.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Overheard #70

"You should pretend that was deliberate."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Kreativ Blogger Award

Casey McCormick of the wonderful Literary Rambles blog nominated my blog for the Kreativ Blogger Award.

WOW! I’m so jazzed. So, I’m supposed to list my seven favorite things and nominate my seven favorite blogs.

Seven favorite things, in no particular order:

1. Laughing with my family. They are a hilarious bunch.
2. Bodysurfing. Unfortunately for this one, I live in Michigan, and no, you can’t ride the waves on the Great Lakes.
3. My writing group, aka The World’s Greatest Critique Group, is a constant source of intelligence, inspiration, fun and friendship.
4. Solving a creative problem (in writing, photography, parenting or life).
5. A glass of red wine enjoyed with people I love.
6. Nature. Pretty much any ecosystem will do.
7. Daring to dream.

Listing seven blogs is a harder task. One of my faves seems to be on sabbatical, another is brand new, and the ones I read most often are written by agents or editors who might not want to take time to play this game. I managed to come up with five.
My favorite blogs, again in no particular order:

Jacqui’s Room. The entire world should enjoy life as much as Jacqui Robbins. I tip my hat to Tink and Captain Destructo.
Jumping the Candlestick. Debbie Diesen's blog provides a dose of intelligence and humor. Check out Michigander Monday and Poetry Friday.
Ellie McDoodle. Ruth McNally Barshaw doesn’t post frequently, but her blog sparkles with her warmth, creativity and wonderful illustrations.
Life on the Bookshelf. Boni Ashburn provides great updates on what’s cool in picture books.
5. Sarah Miller: reading, writing and musing. Sarah writes awesome book reviews, and her blog is where I find much of my "to read" list.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Music Animation Machine

I recently discovered this YouTube rendition of Clair de Lune. What a marvelous way to introduce intervals and rhythm to beginning music students.

Here are links for Music Animation Machine and the composer, Claude Debussy.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Stone Age Rock and Roll

No one knows when prehistoric people started making and using complex musical instruments. The August 6, 2009 issue of Nature reports the discovery of bone and ivory flutes dating from 35,000 years ago. The flutes were found in caves in southwestern Germany.

The bone flute (picture) was made from the radius of a griffon vulture. Bird bones are hollow, which makes them ideal for flute construction. The flute had five finger holes, and was marked with fine evenly-placed scratches near the finger holes. The scratches may have been used to measure the location of the holes for tone calibration. Anthropologists believe the two V-shaped notches in one end of the flute served as a mouthpiece.

Fragments of two ivory flutes were also unearthed. An ivory flute was more difficult to make than a bone flute. First the mammoth tusk was shaped to the rough form of a flute. Next, the tusk was split longitudinally so the inside could be hollowed out. Finger holes were drilled, and the two halves were cemented together with air-tight seals.

It's hard to guess what the earliest music sounded like, but it probably wasn't like this.

Conard, N.J., Malina, M. and Munzel, S.C., New Flutes Document the Earliest Musical Tradition in Southwestern Germany, Nature, 460:737-740 (2009).

Friday, August 14, 2009

Two Unrelated Conversations

Me: Steer away from those mailboxes.
Jeremy: Aww. They're friendly.
Me: Until you hit them.

Now you might think that friendly-until-you-hit-them is one of those universal truths, but it isn't.

Yesterday I received an email from a member of my sons' Tae Kwon Do studio about an upcoming event. When I replied, I identified myself as the mother of Sam and Jeremy because my last name is different from theirs. The gentleman wrote back, "I'm very familiar with your sons. Sam has kicked me in the head a few times." He meant it as a compliment.

There's also friendly-even-after-you-hit-them.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Little More on Teen Driving

As an ongoing service to YA writers who may not have the opportunity to teach a teen to drive, I offer yet another car conversation.

Me: Slow down for that turn.
(Jeremy reduces his speed, executes the corner beautifully, but hits one of Michigan's ubiquitous potholes.)
Jeremy: See what happened?
Me: You were supposed to slow down and miss the pothole.
Jeremy: I'm not that much of a ninja.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Overheard #69

"Move nebulously."

Monday, August 10, 2009

Birthday Rose

Photo by me.

Yesterday was my birthday, and my husband gave me roses.

Band Camp

Last Friday, I volunteered at Band Camp and found myself immersed in a teenage world that is different from the one my kids display at home. I observed teen fashion trends and learned about the intricacies of pocket texting (sending text messages from a phone that is hidden in a pocket). I watched freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors interact. I listened to the way kids spoke to their parents, teachers and mentors. Some students loved Band Camp while others were clearly suffering. Band Camp was a kaleidoscope of experiences, but two points stand out in my recollections.

1. The protagonist of my Work-In-Progress would fit right in at Band Camp.

2. Hope is the great motivator.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Things I Should Have Realized a Long Time Ago - Part 6

This evening, while waiting in line at a small local grocery store, I overheard a conversation between a box boy and a box girl. The box boy was wearing a rubber wristband that said Prom 2009. The box girl looked to be about the same age.

Box boy: Why does your mom want you to have blond hair?
Box girl: She wanted me to have highlights for my senior portrait. And she said my roots were showing.
Box boy: It must be difficult to maintain it, with all those different colors.
Box girl: (shrugs)

Okay, if I put this conversation in a manuscript, my critique group would never believe a boy would be so interested in a girl's hair color. [I never discuss my hair color with my husband or teenage sons.]

I guess, if a boy is really interested in a girl, he'll talk about anything.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Back in Michigan

I forgot to bring the camera on an evening walk out to Picnic Point so I couldn't photograph the full moon over the Capitol dome. It was a magical evening with moonlight reflected on Lake Mendota, and fireflies zooming around us.

I saw old friends, colleagues and mentors.

I still can't explain why I am a former scientist. (See sidebar bio.)

Madison seems to be experiencing an economic boom. The recession is much more obvious in Michigan.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Overheard #68

"If I thought more slowly, it would be safer."

Monday, August 3, 2009

Greetings From Mad City

You know you're in Wisconsin when the rest stops have signs that say Cheese Gifts. So far, mostly I've visited with old friends and eaten too much. We stopped by the Henry Vilas Park Zoo this morning, but the flamingos and the rhinos weren't quite awake.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Lazy Person's Reading Group - August Update

Hmmm. I guess I've been lazy since my July update.
10. A book that pertains to a skill you do not, and never will have.
Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Brain Surgeon Exposes Life on the Inside by Katrina Firlik. Don't read this book when you have a headache, especially if you have a tendency to self-diagnose. Sections of this book were fascinating, but other passages, I just skimmed. The most important take-home message is WEAR A SEAT BELT.
8. A book that has recently received rave reviews. Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy by Ally Carter. This is the second book in the Gallagher Girl series, and again the voice and the rising tension combine to make an enjoyable read. This time around, I could see some of the plot twists coming.