Wednesday, March 31, 2010

This Is Jim Hageman

I don't know Jim Hageman.

I know his lovely wife, Tia, teaches kindergarten at my kids' elementary school.

I know they have a happy baby together.

Jim is 30-ish. He teaches PE at Dominic's middle school.

But I want to know him more.

Because yesterday when I picked up Dominic from track, there was Mr. Hageman, dressed in black sweats and a black cap, at 4:40 on the valley floor between the Cascade Mountains and Grizzly Peak, showing one kid how to throw a discus.

It was late. It was cold. Jim had been throwing and dunking and running and batting since 8 AM.

And yet, he was still working. He was still teaching.

Jim Hageman. I don't know much about him, but what I do know is really impressive.

Monday, March 29, 2010

After the Intro

Well, I'm 9,000 words into revising, now! I'm on page 25, which doesn't seem very far, but I'm happy about where the book is going.

I overhauled the whole beginning.

"Did the agent ask you to do that?" my husband asked.

"No," I told him. But I can't redo the end without changing the intro.

And it's better: stronger, with more layers and conflict, and character development. More wanting. More mystery.

I even changed how the character dresses. And how she talks. She is softer, more fragile, mistrusting.

There's so much to do. I remember Editor Nancy Lamb saying at a conference: "If it doesn't move the plot forward, it goes."

And as I use description, setting, I'm wondering how much of that moves the plot forward.

My book, DRAIN, is a literary paranormal. A WHAT? I know, right? A literary paranormal? The seeing element is minimal, though, to my character's conflict. It interferes with what she wants, and how to get (or keep) it.

I'm a skinny writer. Not at all skinny in the physiological sense, but skinny in that my manuscripts flush out around 52,000 words.

For this voice, I'm sticking with something hollow. It's often sad and empty, like wind through a tunnel.

But today, I go back to school. For two Critical Thinking classes. And there's a stack of manuscripts I need to give feedback on in the next couple of weeks. And there's kids and laundry. But I'll get it done, DRAIN. I totally see the end, and I'm super excited to get there.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Stand Off! Tightroper Walker VS The Woman in the Yellow Dress

My friend Leslie turned 44 a couple of weeks ago. She shared her celebration with John Javna, author of Uncle John's Bathroom Readers.

The party was at ScienceWorks; Leslie's husband, Alan, and a few other hands had put together an amazing circus spread, with dart throwing, aerial silk spinners, and Cracker Jacks.

I had called Alan an hour before the party and asked if we were to dress nicely, or dress up, or what. Alan told me that everyone would be dressed as circus folk. So I wore a black suit with a red boa, some gloves, fake eyelashes, and a nice big feather. Like...a tightrope walker. Or something.

It turned out, Alan (the ringmaster) and I were the only ones in costume. After a half-hour of people thinking I was a party performer (embarrassingly, I was more dressed up than even the silk spinners), I shed some of my bling in the car, and looked, for the most part, normal.

A couple hundred of Ashland's upper tier, the now 60 year-olds who came to Ashland from Berkeley, etc., tossed rings at milk bottles, gawked at jugglers on unicycles, and filled and re-filled their wine glasses.

I visited the fortune teller, who foresaw right away what I was there for (without giving it all away, I can say it has to do with an agent and a certain MS I've scribbled). While I heartily accepted my cards that told of my lovely marriage, true friends, a happy home, I tried to defy the card I picked from the stack second-to-last, the one with the woman in the yellow dress: "He Commeth Not."

After some lemon cake and sultry singing by Javna's high school daughter, I went to my happy home to my lovely marriage, and my solid, loyal husband said that the paper woman in the yellow-dress could kiss my red-feathered ass.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Delivery or Short-Change?

The other day, Dave and I were finishing up "The Boys Are Back," a film about Clive Owen's character trying to survive the death of his wife. This was based on the life and novel The Boys Are Back In Town, by former sportswriter Simon Carr.

It took us a couple days to finish the movie because 1) I had that flu, and 2) the movie was really slow.

I thought about how YA books don't have the luxury of being slow. How they have to please with plot, and right away.

On the other hand, for a film, being visually stimulating is often enough. There might be no dialogue, no narration, for minutes on end, but music and movement and scene still happen.

All that takes pages and pages of scriptwriting (words) to create.This reminds me of an NPR story I heard years ago on the ginormous (6- or 700-page) screenplay of "Brokeback Mountain," in which, besides the famous "I wish I knew how to quit you," had minimal dialogue. But every time a cowboy brushed his hand across a horse, that was probably 10 pages of script right there. So oodles more words were added to the original short story by E. Annie Proulx.

Okay, where is all this going? Well, with the slow films, it's not going anywhere, at least anytime soon.

But with YA literature, this just isn't the case. There's no more allowance for sinking into a story through scene, through description. It's all action, right from The Hook.

Which makes me wonder: what is the fate of The YA Introduction's evolution? Is it reflective of today's young readers? Have authors pinned themselves into a corner by delivering what's demanded? What is lost by having a hook? What is gained? And where, in terms of beginnings, will we be 20 years from now?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tourettes Meets Jacques Cousteau

Our "baby," almost nine, is a reincarnation of sorts of my brother, Steven, who's 26. They are so the same brain we call them both "Rees-ven." (This is them in Cabo last fall.)

One summer in Tahoe, the two came to dinner dressed head-to-toe in the same digs. They wore camouflaged bandannas, yellow polo shirts, khakis, huarache sandals, with some crazy rag tied around their wrists.

When I'm going under from Rees' getting into stuff, and breaking things, and being hungry, and asking questions (the height of which is August, I've realized), I call Steven, crying, to ask him how our mom made it.

Both of them are brilliantly inquisitive. Steven asked me recently if memory is proof of intelligence, and when I thought about that for a few months and gave him an answer, he asked me another question about art and religion. And the other day when I begged Rees to let me just drive and listen to the "Glee" soundtrack, he said, "Okay. Just one more thing. Where does wind come from?"

Both these boys have good intentions. They are sensitive, creative, funny, and they like skeletons, Legoes, and singing Sublime songs. They make a wicked pirate team.

At Rees' school conference last week, Steven was Number One on his "All About Me" family page. His teacher relayed that Rees has lots and lots of friends, and that he's a good friend who'll keep those people his whole life. Like Steven has.

But nothing proves Rees' likeness to Steven more than last night. I was griping about my flu into Dave's side at the kitchen table, and Rees walked by. "The female cries into the arm of the male," he narrated, without stopping.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

R.I.P., W-I-P

I'm dying to revise my MS for an awesome agent. But I'm also dying of the flu.

Somehow I caught this wicked sickness.

I can't think about introduction; it hurts my frontal lobe.

The agent gave me great feedback for revising. I agree with it all. It shouldn't take super long, she told me. But this whole week is slipping away!

Okay, enough whining.

I'll get to it, I know I will. Just not today, and probably not tomorrow.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Minus One Whole Day

Today I had the flu. Not The Flu (I had that one in the fall). But just enough tummy trauma to keep me in bed all day.

It was a bummer.

Because today was also my kids' first day of spring break.

From my bed, I could hear them giggling over puppet shows, trading Legoes, reading to each other.

I wanted in!

But it was a no-go. My legs and hips wouldn't cooperate. So the fun went on without me.

Hopefully, in a few years, I won't remember this day as lost. But the memory of Reesie jumping on me at 8 AM and shoving a Starbucks Frappachino to "make sure I was alive" is probably unforgettable.

That, and Dominic and Daney offering me a huge helping of hot-off-the stove ground Italian sausage. After I just, well, you know...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

One Earplug & A Packet of Sweet 'N Low

That's what's in my sister, Erika's, car emergency kit. What does that say about Erika?

I don't even have one. What does that say about me?

How about you? What's in your survival pack? What does it say about you?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Call Me Radical

The March 15, 2010 issue of Newsweek argues that "The Key to American Education" is firing "bad" teachers. What "bad" means is not addressed. But the magazine's blame on the "relative decline of American education..." lands clearly with teacher tenure and teachers' unions.


Again, as the education system is evaluated, contributing factors are ignored. Where is consideration for poverty, for family structure, for lack of health care and proper nutrition, for the media's influence?

While I believe Newsweek's claim that "...ranked against European schoolchildren, America does about as well as Lithuania, behind at least ten other nations." But where is the comparison between single-parent families? What are those kids eating over there? What are they watching on TV? What video games are they playing?

Here in Oregon, where there is no teacher tenure, the increasing difficulty of Leaving No Child Behind can't be blamed on "bad" teachers. Simply, educating students is nearing impossible here because of everything else. Because after those students slept in a car the night before, when they've had Fritos and Pepsi for breakfast, when their mom is on meth, they are tested on a two-page writing sample titled, "My Favorite Family Tradition."

Can anyone say "Maslow's Hierarchy?"

I want American education to be better. I want it to be the best in the world. But teachers aren't responsible for that. Believe me, we're doing what we can.

How about this? How about instead of blaming teachers for America's academic failure, we look to our society. Or how about just fixing the problem?

$100,000 yearly salaries would lure some pretty qualified educators from business, medical, and government fields (The one sentence with which I agree is Newsweek's inclusion of a study which shows that American "teachers are recruited from the bottom third of college-bound high-school students," of which I was one. "Finland tales the top 1o percent.") So, yes, there's the money issue. And while we're finally spending, let's offer two high-protein, unprocessed, organic meals a day. For free. Let's hand over the problem kids to law enforcement, and ratchet up suspensions and expulsions, minimizing learning distractions. And class sizes? Under 20. With support staff. Like Japan. Curriculum? Reformed. It's out with New Math and back to basics. The stuff we learned, and understood. Memorizing times tables. Cursive. Plus deep appreciation for the arts.

It only takes money, right? Money, and a good, hard look at where education is failing, and why. And neither has anything to do with tenure or unions.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

When Delivery Trumps Plot

What if everything you were fighting for was a lie?

That's the essence of "The Green Zone," a movie in which a US soldier questions the existence of the weapons of mass destruction he's supposed to be finding in Iraq.

Believe it or not, the film reminded me of the book Abundance, a novel about Marie Antoinette.

In both cases, going in to the stories, the audience knows what's going to happen: that no WMD exist, that Antoinette is beheaded. What we don't know is how the plot will get us there.

In both cases, the story is personal. It's credible, compelling, twisty. There's an angle, a question.

Will Saddam's top man meet up with our soldier? Will Antoinette maintain her composure?

What do the characters think? Feel? HOW do they get to their end?

"Titanic" is another good example of predictable conclusion. We know it sinks. What we don't know is when, or why, or how. Or if the two lovers live or die together.

I respect stories that take an audience's common knowledge and add depth and dimension. It can't be easy to pull off. But it sure is fascinating to think about.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Field Trip!

My friends, give your fingers and your brain a little rest. Because WE are going on a field trip today! Yay!

WE will be touring Ashland, Oregon, where I've lived (off and on--another story) for sixteen glorious years. Dave and I looked all over the nation for somewhere to move from California. I liked Boston; he liked Montana. Because we couldn't find the place we both loved, we decided to stay one more year in Sacramento, and we headed to Oregon for a plain old vacation.

When we hit Ashland, a town 14 miles north of the California border, we loved it! Nestled in below the Cascade Mountains and consistently at the tops of "Best Places to Live" lists, Ashland hosts the internationally acclaimed Shakespeare Festival--and is home to cattle farms.

It was culture for me, and cows for Dave. Perfect!

But, since this is my field trip, we'll be skipping the pastures.

Instead, we'll grab a mocha at Noble Coffee. Anjie will save us a spot at the Big Table. We'll browse Bloomsbury Books and stroll the Bear Creek bike path and have Pangea's Ipanama Wrap as a grill (best secret ever, it's not even on the menu).

Next, a play. For three hours, we'll feast our eyes on the rich set and lavish costumes of Hamlet, directed by OSF artistic director Bill Rauch, whose hand I held two weeks ago at our kids' school.

"Grease" is playing at Ashland High; it's choreographed and engineered by OSF directors in their off-season.

Then there's the Oregon Cabaret, my fave. We've missed "Men on Ice," "Alter Boyz," and "The Pageant." But there is the knee-slapping "Red, White, and Tuna."

We can hike Pilot Rock or the White Rabbit Trail. Many acclaimed artists and actors have homes here; we have a good chance of bumping into a serious somebody!

We can stroll the SOU campus, check out the bubble room at ScienceWorks, watch the flame throwers in Lithia Park.

Are you tired?

For $30, we can have an hour massage, courtesy of The Ashland Institute of Massage.

Dinner? Kobe's tasty dragon roll. And because you were so much field-trip fun, a lemon tart from Mix.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The First Words

I'm thinking about introduction. How important those first few lines are. The very first words.

Because in revising, this is where the work starts. How it's set up.

Is there imagery? Action? Character? Conflict?

Last spring at the Western Washington SCBWI Conference, Delacorte editor Krista Marino plugged opening with description. With suspense. And with a third-person narrator in past tense.

On page 1 (of 1074) of his new novel Under the Dome, Stephen King nails all these: in an established setting, a plane crashes at the same time a woodchuck mysteriously explodes. It reminds me of The Grapes of Wrath--how the weather, the mountains, the roads are all significant; and the turtle metaphorically plods along. Even the format is Steinbeck-ian. And yet, something also really reminds me of "The Truman Show."

In crafting a strong intro.--compelling, descriptive--that establishes setting and character, I consulted a running list of kinds of first lines that my students and I are making: dialogue, imagery, sound, setting, foreshadowing, summary, anecdote, question, metaphor, action, conflict,.

In How to Write a Damn Good Novel, The Other (more veritable) James Frey suggests starting with either the character's status quo, or with the opposite of that, which then leads to the status quo.

One of my favorite sections in my Sunday San Francisco Chronicle is a 4" x 4" square called "Grabbers," the first lines of newly released novels. Last Sunday was one of my all time favorites--from The Serialist, by David Gordon--an intro about intros: "The first sentence of a novel is the most important, except for maybe the last, which can stay with you after you've shut the book, the way the echo of a closing door follows you down the hall."

Novel, no?

How does your book begin?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Blogging About Blogging

When I get up around 6, I go to the local online newspaper to see whether Dave had a hard or okay night at the fire station. Then I visit all of my cyber friends (like YOU!). Then I check Google Analytics to see whether that gaping hole in the southeast has filled in at all (come ON, Carolinas!).

After several minutes of that, the green tea has kicked in, and I'm ready to write. Or not.

If I don't have something in my heart to share, I either scramble spinach eggs for my cuties, or I try to make myself a cup of coffee (despite working in an amazing coffee shop for years in college, I can NOT manage to make coffee).

If there's something I dreamed about sharing all night, I quickwrite it up and slap an image on it.

Either way, I try to get off the computer fast, so it's not the first thing my kids see when they hop out of bed.

When they're off to school, and if I don't have teaching or have finished, I make Blog Round 2. Sometimes by then I've actually come up with something to blog.

Oh, and then. I do a little writing. And I mean little.

Right now, I'm revising a YA paranormal for an agent. And I'm thinking/plunking away on an adult sci-fi short story. And on a non-fiction piece on epilepsy.

And in between all that, I talk with Dave about his shift, or about what Reesie broke or Dominic built while he was gone; and I meet my friends for coffee or lunch; and I grade, clean, cook, and grocery shop. I do yoga and walk or run. I spend time in the kids' classrooms and send my brothers and sisters love notes. And I read. (Stephen King's Under the Dome sits on my nightstand like a granite boulder.) All that, so I have something to blog about.

Do you know what I mean?

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Writing is hard. Really hard. It is, according to Paul Silva of How to Write A Lot, "frustrating, complicated, and un-fun." He quotes New York journalist Wiliam Zinsser (2001) as saying, "If you find that writing is hard, it's because it is hard."

I tell myself this on days like today. Days when I need to start what will be a huge revision process. Days I avoid that by spending an hour with second graders who are trying to find whether they can use electromagnetic forces to erase gravity.

Defying gravity.

Suitable to writing, don't you think?

And now, my pen to paper, the ink seeps from that invisible pull.

(Extra love-points for anyone who knows why that image is included.)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Another Contest!

Head over to The Book Butterflyto enter a copy of Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall. A little take-home treat for everyone is a peek at Book Butterfly's spirited little sprite folk all over the page.


Monday, March 8, 2010

Contest Contessa

Elana Johnson is one hard-working writer!

And right now, she has an awsome contest on her blog. Check it out! You could win SEVEN great books!

Click here.

I hope you win!

Saturday, March 6, 2010


My BCF (Best Cyber Friend) Shannon tagged me with this meme. Shannon is wise and hopeful and I would bet anything, a really good teacher. Like her, I love a HOT cup of good coffee, and hate dirty floors, and that my sisters live so far away.

Do you want to play?

Fill in the blanks after each bold word and tag 3 of your friends with your meme!

Here's Me(me):

I like musicals: live, on disc, or in the stereo
I like mochas
I like my friends--from Mo, who I met in kindergarten, to Anjie, my new writing partner
I like the fall
I like art
I like teaching and practicing critical thinking
I like decaf green tea
I like collecting Los Dias De Los Muertos skeletons with my kids
I like living in Ashland
I like living in America
I like when my kids lay in bed and read together
I like how I feel after I do yoga

I love my incredible husband. And San Francisco

Today is a new opportunity to be a more patient mom, to be a better house cleaner, to be a stronger writer, and to serve my students and community

I hate the word "hate"
I hate doing yoga
I hate ignorance
I hate that I hate ignorance
I hate girl drama

I (secretly) like weekdays when I'm off work and have the whole, quiet house to myself

I love my two families: my little one, where I'm the mom, and my big one, where I'm the sister

Friday, March 5, 2010

At Maximum Capacity, With Room For Some Good News

It's the end of the term, of winter term. There's a stack of 30 analysis papers in my living room. And a pile of 10 billion Legoes on the floor.

Conferences are coming up. For my students. For my kids. Grades are due. Bills are due.

I didn't even realize yesterday (the FOURTH) was March, and forgot to pay the piano teacher.

I left my grading sheet (!) at school.

I left my phone at my friend Wendi's house. So I missed my first ever call FROM AN AGENT!


Things are really really good right now.

My marriage is strong, and will be even better when Dave gets off shift today.

My kids are healthy.

There's enough fruit to throw in the blender for a smoothie.

"Brookyn's Finest" opens tonight, and I'm a sucker for a good bad-cop movie.

We get to go to "Grease." For free.

The daffodils are right outside my door, if I'm in doubt that spring will ever come.

It's my friend Leslie's birthday and she's having a Circus Party.

Christy sold book rights to Russia!


An agent I enormously admire has completely renewed my faith in YA writing. I absolutely LOVED my conversation with her yesterday, and am hoping whole-heartedly.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hoping/Helping Readers THINK

The kinds of books I like best are the ones that make me think. They stay with me days after I finish them, lingering like a light mist on an early spring morning.

When I drafted Keeping Stats, a slim, YA boy-book about the downsides of being a high school athlete, it was important to me that readers think about it, as I enjoyed doing with other fiction.

But how could I write a complicated novel that promoted evaluation, in less than 200 pages?

So I read Chris Lynch's Inexcusable, and David Levithan's Love is the Higher Law.

I found that first, complexity was in theme--an original, abstruse, contemporary theme--and that theme could be shown in the main character's actions, reactions, thoughts, and dialogue.

Second, the MC had to wrestle with an intricate, intrinsic conflict. Which isn't all fixed at the end. So the reader has to do the work. There would be choice. Would the reader agree? Disagree? Understand?

How would the reader feel?

There would be questions--that the MC asks, that other characters ask of him, and that don't go completely answered. The conclusion wouldn't tie everything up, but would end with an implied projection, or another question, or a scene that would lead to the reader's assumption.

Next, the MC's voice would be unreliable. The reader would have to weigh the validity of the MC's narration to find his/her own truth. Which could be done through dialogue.

And finally, it had to have irony. The trick of all tricks, right?

In drafting Keeping Stats, I came across many more questions about writing than answers.

Does length affect depth?

Do certain genres lend themselves to more critical thinking? Or can any genre provide that possibility?

Do readers want to think? Or would they rather have the writer think for them?

And, is this thing GOING TO GET PUBLISHED???