Sunday, May 31, 2009

What's (Not) Happening?

Not much is going on in the blogosphere.


It's a super busy time of year. The days are longer; there are places to go and yardwork to do. If you have kids, they're going on field trips every other day right now. Plus, there are the track meets, music recitals, choir concerts, softball tournaments, birthday parties, barbecues, and graduations.

If you're a student or a teacher, you have finals.

Or maybe the decent weather has prompted you to get out and make some money in this sick economy.

There's some wedding stuff, too. I've wondered how the bridal industry has been hit by the recession, which has led me to thinking about depression weddings: if there were fewer than usual, if the gifts were more less-expensive or even homemade, if the feast was pared-down and the guest list trimmed.

Seriously, though. I don't have time to think.

I have All Of The Above, plus two manuscripts to revise.

It might be crazy spring, but it's time to get crackin'.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Conference Aftermath

If you want to find me, my new address is: Jennie Englund, Under A Rock, Oregon.

I had taken the college car to the writing conference in Seattle, but got back too late to return it to campus. So I kept it until the next day. But I wasn't supposed to, so I had Daney and Rees unload it--fast--before we hauled it an hour up the interstate.

Days later, I looked all over the house for my yoga mat. Rees told me it was still in the college car.

"You forgot to get it out?" I asked him.

"Well, I just shut the trunk," he told me.

Gulp. "Was... there... anything else back there?"

"A lot of stuff," Rees said.

So I kept the car longer than I should've, and I returned it with a bunch of crap still in there. All this, during the week of my review for professorship.

After losing it with Rees and Daney, and melting over the "Sorry" card they gave me, I called the Car Secretary. "Oh, yes," she said. "There was a yoga mat in there. And some other things: a prom dress." Mine. "Some really high-heeled shoes." Mine. (Long story). "A brown bra." Yes. "And..." Oh. God. "A box of feminine products."

"Uh, those aren't mine," I told her. "I don't know whose those are. But they're definitely not mine."

They were totally mine.

When I drove the hour back up the interstate today to pick up the yoga mat, the prom dress, the stilettos and the bra, the Car Secretary handed over the Tampax, and said, "I'm just going to give these to you anyway."

Yep. She knew they were mine.

Now I'm just going to crawl under a rock for a while.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Simple Little Love

My little girl has her first crush. It's a fourth grade boy with sparkly blue eyes and an appreciation for baseball.

"Should I tell him what's in my heart, Mommy?" she asked me after school. "What if I tell him and he doesn't like me back?"

"That's the thing about love," I told her. "It's a risk."

Daney took the risk and called the boy. "I just think you're a really great person," she said.

He said he thought she was a really great person, too.

He's right.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

At the Mercy of the Lego Police

What happens when you're asked to pick up your five billion Legoes ten times a day for eleven years straight?

Yep, unfortunately the Lego Police (a.k.a. "Daddy") takes away the whole thing and leaves you with 112th of what you had.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Loving the Unreliable Narrator

"The way it looks is not the way it is," says Keir Sarafian, main character of the amazing Inexcusable.

In this National Book Award Finalist, author Chris Lynch has mastered the line between truth and perception, leading the reader to draw certain conclusions from events that aren't quite represented fairly.

Curtis Sittenfeld does the same in Prep; everything Lee Fiora sees and thinks and says and does, we believe to be right. Even if it isn't.

Plotting this is tricky.

Believe me.

I'm trying to do it.

An editor has explained the narrative triangle to me: the way the character sees himself, the way other characters see him, and the way the reader sees him.

What's challenging is crafting an unreliable character who is also likable, relatable, and believable. What he says is not the way things really are, and although that's the only truth we have, we have to love him.

What do you think? Do you have any other examples of other unreliable narrators? Do you have any tips on creating one?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

So I came home from Seattle with that fun "Breakout Honor" award; some books signed by Adam Rex, John Sciescka, Keely and Velani, Grace Lin, and my hero, Ellen Hopkins; a teeny tiny Japanese maple tree; and some new friends.

What I came home to is five miles of laundry; 30 essays to grade; 2 kids with pneumonia; a car in the shop from that WinCo fiasco; and a missing sock basket.

Oh, LA Conference, you're already looking really good.

Monday, May 18, 2009

SCBWI Western Washington Winner!

Seven hours and 46 minutes after leaving Seattle yesterday, I got home at 1 AM.

It was so far, but so worth it!!!

After a gracious manuscript consultation with an editor, I won the "SCBWI WW Breakout Writer" honor!

Now, I have another manuscript to revise with another editor of another publishing house. And still, no agent. But I'm going to work on that.

Check out Keely Velani, the powerhouse team who wrote and self-published the clever and timely Davey Brown Discovers his Roots:

All best to these girls, as they pitch Davey in New York!

I'm going to be watching Kjersten Anna Hayes. LOVED her! And Kim Baker was fabulous, too.

Delacorte Editor Krista Marino was as sharp as it gets, when it comes to snapping up great books. Her last five acquisitions are exciting, with The Oracles of Delphi Keep and The Witch's Alphabet at the top of my to-buy list.

San Francisco agent Nathan Bransford was way more down-to-earth than I ever would've imagined.

Every editor, agent, author, and volunteer worked really hard to pull off the incredibly smooth weekend.

But for sure, the whole thing would've been a lot less fun without hilarious (and talented) upcoming Razorbill author Suzanne Young:

Saturday, May 16, 2009


We're one (big) day into the Western Washington Writers' Conference. Have learned oodles! There's a lot of talk about the trends, about the economy, about e-books.

Last night, NYT Bestseller Ellen Hopkins said it all: "You can't just write a good book anymore. You have to write a great book."

I love that. I love Ellen!

Illustrator Adam Rex is my new fave: he's brilliant and talented, and super quirky.

Having so much fun with Suzanne Young, and the two clever girls to whom I introduced myself (more later).

But I really miss my kids!

Enough to drive home 8 straight hours tomorrow night?


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Destination Seattle

I spray-tanned (cut me a little slack; it's mid-May and we haven't had a single day of sun) and whitened my teeth, and I'm off to the SCBWI Western Washington Writers' Conference.

Among my packed clothes are some papers to finish grading, a yoga mat, running shoes, and a cute picture of my kids.

I'm milking, having lunch first with my Auntie Mary at Evergreen Indian in Eugene. Then I'm meeting my sister, Brigit, and our two brothers, Daniel and Steven, in Portland for some Voodoo Donuts and a walk along the waterfront.

Tomorrow near Seattle, I get to see one of my best friends from high school, Kristen.

Then it's Conference Time!

It'll all be fun, I know, and I'll learn a ton. But while I'm gone, I'm missing the kids' year-end music program at school, Daney's soccer game, the annual planting of our garden, some fishing, and watching my kids knuckle down on bargainers at the neighborhood garage sale.

"What will I do without you?" Reesie asked me last night. "How will I live?"

For the billionth time since having kids, I can't believe there's love like that. Even for a mom with a streaky spray-tan.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


I'm partway through a serious revision, and because I'm in the zone, I've forgotten to dress or run or even eat today.

So of course I totally spaced that I was supposed to go on Reesie's field trip to the farm.

Tonight at Dominic's Taiko concert, Reesie's teacher came over to me, where I was sitting at the very back table, buried in my manuscript.

"I'm so sorry about the field trip," I told her, and she gave me oodles of forgiveness.

"I've been working on this thing," I said, flipping through 243 pages of cross-outs and arrows and highlighter and pen marks.

She asked me one thing: "Is it worth it?"

IS it worth it?

Somebody tell me.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wish List

If I ever make it big in the literary world, here's what I'm going to buy:

A refrigerator with automatic ice.

This Tin Man doll for Daney.

A trip to Alaska with Dave, and a trip to Finland with my dad.

A secret study with bookshelves and a bathtub.

Dinner at Chateaulin for my writing group.

A night out for all my family and friends at the movies, with bottomless popcorn and Junior Mints.

A year-long pass to yoga, during which I'll dedicate every practice to gratitude for my Big Success.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Where It Came From

Daney's neurologist has had to convince Dave and me that our daughter's recently-diagnosed epilepsy is genetic.

We've told him there's no one in either family, no one, with epilepsy. We're sure.

But I've done my own digging, (of course), and I've found that quirky things which both families do have are definitely related to the condition.

For example, Dave and his brother have had years of sleep terrors. Like Daney's seizures, these terrors occur at night, during exhaustion.

My family has a history of migraines, which are also tied to epilepsy. The National Migraine Association claims that "both disorders are characterized by paroxysmal, transient alterations of neurologic function." I think that means that it's the brain that causes these short, frequent episodes. Which brings me to the prefix "epi": a medical term derived from Greek that means pretty much any preposition.

Julius Caesar, Napolean, and Vincent Van Gogh all had epilepsy, but we aren't related to any of them.

The creepiest connection comes from something I don't like to happen, or think about, let alone bring to the public domain. It's this weird thing that happens to me after I do yoga, when I'm all tired out and laying there, breathing, in sivasena. After a few minutes, when my mind is clear (for once), the world behind my eyelids begins spinning a little, then a little more. Then it feels like my spirit or something is pulled out of my body; it starts from my head, and just rises for a second or two, hovering above me, until it it sucks right back in.

I know.

It's crazy.

I never thought it was really real. I thought maybe I was falling asleep.

But a New York Times article published in 2006 about a study in Geneva reports this occurrence (what some people, but not me, call an out-of-body experience) as a current flow, related to epilepsy.

So, I'm learning that magical Daney, our only daughter who prays for peace and read the entire Harry Potter series in three weeks when she was nine, who plays Calico Critters with her little brother for hours, who sews pillows and writes letters, love notes, and stories, this girl is an unfortunate confluence of two families' neurological conditions.

I see now how her doctor can say her epilepsy is genetic.

Which doesn't help as I hold that shaking girl in my arms, or as I watch her run in a field and wonder if she's getting too tired. It doesn't help when she has to stay up all night for a seizure-induced EEG, or when she has to have a blood test, or when I watch her sleep, zonked out by the medicine.

And it doesn't help at night, when I hear her mattress creak or crunch.

All this, after all, is just the where the condition came from. It's not why Daney got it, or how, or when, if ever, it will all be behind her.

How it helps is that I tell myself that Daney's epilepsy has come from her families, families which also have otherwise good health and happiness and strength and coping skills. She knows all that's there, and I know it, too, and that's how we get through it.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009



This, only 12 days after my uppity "Co-op Smackdown" blog:

Took the Prius to the store, and got run over by a big ol' honkin' truck.

If it all wasn't a total insurance nightmare, I'd probably be laughing hysterically.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Me, Wet But Happy

So, a super cool editor gave me some suggestions on a manuscript, and without re-reading or re-writing a single word yet, I've just thought and thought about them.

I really wanted to do what this editor was asking me to do. But I couldn't think up the vessel to deliver it.

After some serious teaching today and then a few hours of being a mom, I braved a downpour and strolled through Lithia Park (Oregon hasn't realized it's Spring yet). And by golly, it came to me! Right by the Hydrangeas!

I think I might have an idea!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Four Worlds

The Coquille Slough was amazing! In a mile and a half, 60 fifth graders hiked through four different habitats: uplands, forest, salt marsh, and mud flats.

This is a big banana slug on giant Skunk Cabbage. When we walked near the giant yellow flowers, they closed up and pointed
downwards. Creepy!

And this little salamander clung to a wall of moss. He was definitely a fan favorite.

We got to try Pickleweed!

The kids were so cooperative, enthusiastic, and respectful. NO ONE ever complained about sleeping in the yurt, or having to hike for miles, or having to eat wheat bread.

Of course, my favorite part of the trip was just being with my incredible boy.
We can't wait to go back with the whole family!