Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The End!

Over the weekend, I drove 700 miles to find my conclusion.

I didn't know what it was, but I knew who had it: my brother-in-law Ryan, a native- New-Yorker-turned-student-teacher who's 36 as of last week.

So I left the kids behind and headed to Buca di Beppo in Sacramento. My sister Erika, my dad, and Ryan all chatted over the Saltimbocca, but I waited a long time for my turn. Because I had a question. When it was my turn, I read the one-sentence summary of my work-in-progress, and I asked how the whole book ends.

Erika and my dad came up with some good stuff, but my eyes were on Ryan. When he sat there, quiet for a full minute, rubbing his chin with his thumb, I knew he was onto something.

And then he laid it all out.

I cried.

I mean, seriously. I seriously cried, and the Bucca staff all came over with cake, clapping and singing "Happy Birthday" to Ryan, and I was bawling, and he sent them away.

I can't tell you the big reason why I was crying yet. But I can tell you the little reason, which is that this was the end! After one year and three different endings, this was it! It sang!

In fact, when I threw the kids and suitcases and Game Boys and iPods back into the car and pretty much flew back to Oregon, I realized that this was what I'd been writing all along.

For two straight days, then, I wrote without stopping. I didn't eat, or sleep, or take phone calls.

And last night, I cried and cried again, as I scribbled out the last three chapters.

Tonight, I brought it to my fabulous writing group. "It's okay if you hate it," I said after reading it aloud. "Because this is it for me. This is the end."

And the end passed. I think I can say it even got some big thumbs-up!

Now, why Ryan?

Why not all my author-friends or friend-friends or family I emailed, begging for help?

Because Ryan has one thing I really lack. Clarity. He can see things clearer more than anyone I know (besides my great man, who gives excellent advice on day-to-day living, not so much literary insight.)

Ryan has the ability of stripping off layers and layers, revealing the essence. Exactly what Drain needed.

So, Ryan, you incredible, smart, authentic guy, next time, the Saltimbocca's on me. That, and the crazy tiramisu.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Have You Ever

had three hours of work just vanish into thin air?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Drain, Watergate, & Plantar Fasciitis

"What was the Vietnam War about?" Daney, 11, asked as we hit the California border, fourteen miles from home.

Already, I was thinking about my Work-In-Progress, Drain.

"Did we win that war?" Rees, 8, asked.

"Most people would probably say we didn't," I told them. "I'm thinking about my book, though."

"Why didn't we win it?" Dominic, 12, pressed. "Didn't we have better weapons?"

And so my W-I-P was shoved aside so I could talk to the kids about the war, which then turned into a discussion about the Peace Movement, which somehow turned to Watergate.

"So Nixon got in trouble because he lied?" Daney said. "But all the presidents lie now. So he wouldn't get in trouble now, right?"

After 20 miles, I told the kids that if they wanted to know any more about Nixon, they could ask their Poppa when we got to his house.

There were a few quiet miles, two and a half maybe. I was just starting to get back into thinking about Drain. Until Daney asked why the achilles tendon is such a tender part of the human body.

"Achilles. The god," I answered.

Of course that wasn't enough. It just opened this huge discussion on Greek folklore and whether one of the gods was responsible for the plantar fasciitis I had suffered from three years ago, and what is plantar fasciitis, anyway, and why exactly did it hurt.

We were in Redding by then.

The kids wanted In & Out. So until Anderson, they were busy chewing their double-doubles-plus-pickles-minus-onion. Which bought me some thinking time.

"So can I tell you guys this new ending I might try in Drain?" I asked them.

"We're tired of talking," they all said, turning on their iPods and Game Boys.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Out. Of. Here.

I'm running away from the Chicken Pox. With my kids, who have the Chicken Pox.

But if we can't change their virus, we can change the house we're stuck in all day.

We're packing up and heading to my dad's, near Sacramento.

I love my Big Family. They make me laugh. And I get to be a daughter, a sister, an aunt, along with being a wife and mom.

My dad will show me things he's bought off E-bay and clips from "Little Rascals." Mackie will tell me where he's planning on going to college. Erika and I will share a good cry. And Amy will make us pancakes at her house before we head back.

So, bye Blog!

I'll check in from California!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Winning Week in the House of Pain

I LOVE this week! There's only been one day in it so far, and I've already won two things.

First, Jennifer Laughran with the Andrea Brown agency chose my entry as one of the winners in Authoress/Miss Snark's critique contest. You can read the first 250 words of Drain here.

You'll notice two typos: no space between the first paragraphs, and a run-on sentence. I'm mortified! And yet, despite some technical problems, I won a ten-page manuscript and query critique.

It was an honor to be part of the contest. Look at all the wise comments Miss Laughran left on each entry! Incredible!

And now, for my second win: a signed copy of Holly Cupala's Tell Me a Secret. Holly is A.Dorable. She was a speaker at the SCBWI WW Conference over a week ago, and I signed up at her table to win a copy of her mystery. Here's a picture of Holly and me. I know, she's a twig! The cutest little stick in the world! And I can't wait to get my eyes on TMAS.

Not to be smuggy or anything, but our home here in Ashland could use a little lift. My boys are suffering from chicken pox (yes, they were vaccinated), and my man had a root canal today.

Isn't it funny how things go?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Chirping Up The Wrong Tree

"There's this certain rain forest bird," Dominic (12) told me the other night about the National Geographic film, Earth. "And the male, he spends a long time cleaning his room. He, like, scrapes all the branches with leaves, and kind of sweeps the floor. Then he stands in the middle of his clean room and sings for the female to come in. Well, she comes, and she stands on a branch outside, and the male does this crazy dance for her. He moves his head back and forth and makes his feathers all big, and he struts around and around like that."

Dominic was laughing while he was telling it, so I knew it had to be pretty funny.

"And the male just keeps dancing, and the female pretty much ignores him. Until after a while, she just flies off. Like he wasn't impressed at all. Can you believe that?"

That was when I started laughing. "You know?" I told him. "I kind of can."

(The picture is the real deal: a male Superb Bird of Paradise from Papua New Guinea.)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

HOW Good Is My Man?

SO good that he'll come running from the other room when I break from revising to yell, "Babe! The computer's dying!" to get the cord that's right beside me and plug it in.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Finding Nemo's Lovely Bones

Last year at the fab SCBWI Conference, Delacorte editor Krista Marino plugged pitches that marry one existing title with another. Like ___ Meets ___.

This year, HarperCollins hottie Jordan Brown reinforced the same thing.

I couldn't think of anything last year to apply to my WIP. But this year, it totally came to me.

Drain is "Finding Nemo" meets The Lovely Bones.

I know...that's pretty out there.

But "risk," right. The thing we heard over and over and over again.

(The picture is an ANGEL fish. Get it???)

Monday, April 12, 2010

In the Trenches...After Being in the Trenches

Today, I taught in tennis shoes. The sleeves of my sweatshirt were pushed up, and my hair was pulled back in a ponytail. By 9:30, I had chased a(bad) cup of coffee with Diet Coke on ice.

A half-hour later, I was in front of 30 eager community college writing students, denying my exhaustion to share what I'd learned over the weekend at the SCBWI Western Washington Illustrators/Writers Conference. So between each pair of students I'd set a different postcard from a conference illustrator's portfolio sample.

Our class opened with a quickwrite. The students each had to tell the story behind the postcard. After they revised, they read to their postcard partner.

Of course, the stories were wildly different. Is there any better way than art to prove plural perspectives? It's all about interpretation.

After two classes, I was wiped out.

I can't begin to imagine the hours of work the Conference committee puts in to pull off a show like that--and to make it look as smooth as it does.

This year was abundant with inspiring writers and artists, agents and editors. Wasn't this blue just invented for author Mitali Perkins?Mitali's keynote was another good reminder of having faith in vision and voice.

And here's fan-favorite teacher/librarian Chadwick Gillenwater. That guy was all smiles 48 hours straight. I loved him even though he wouldn't spill how I could get a "Diva" name tag like his.

I posted this previously, but she's so noteworthy, I'll say it again: Egmont editor Elizabeth Law rocks. I mean, what New York editor just plops down at your lunch table and asks what you want to know? "L-Bone" is witty and real, and she lives for "Glee." Just don't submit anything about dreams to her.

Jordan Brown, HarperCollins editor, is also pretty awesome. He plugged and plugged and plugged the success writer's achieve by taking risks in their work.

Clarion Editor Lynne Polvino took a big plunge, herself--by suggesting that before the recession, the children's book market was overpublished. Interesting...

Harvey Klinger agent Sara Crowe was brave, too. She courageously left a nine-month old at home in New York to share her wisdom with us: to really know our characters.

And new-to-California agent Michael Bourret? If he'd let me, I'd be his best friend.

Arree Chung won the Art Award for his fantastic creations, including this ninja:

I could've used today to re-read my pages and pages of notes. I could've re-written some scenes, revised some plot points, taken some risks and refined my vision.

But I had to wait till tomorrow.

Because today, in tennies, I was in the trenches.

And, it was good.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

What I Learned So Far At The Writing Conference

It's been 11 months, and I'm at the same conference in the same hotel. I had the same first dinner at Pasha Grill, only this time, author and wonderful human Mitali Perkins was there, too, and we were talking about gyros.

It's been 11 months since the last SCBWI Western Washington Conference, and paranormal is dominating, and voice is still the deciding factor in publication.

The same Starbucks coffee is dripping from the same endless vats, and Kim Baker is still running around, making sure the keynote speakers are all wired and starting on time.

It's mostly the same, here, after 11 months, but it's incredibly different, too.

Because last night, when I stepped onto the Redmond Town Center cobblestones, I realized how much of my life has changed.

After what was undoubtedly the toughest year of 39 for me, I learned more than I thought I would here--just by getting out of the same car: that I am enormously blessed that my husband really loves me, that our daughter might be sick, but that inside she's the same girl she's always been. I learned that if I never publish, there are four amazing people in a little gray cottage in Ashland who think I'm brilliant and talented and can fry up a serious pancake. I learned that, though I may be missing the three-book deal, I'm a survivor because I came through 333 days of a lot of crap, and I'm still breathing, at least, and maybe even smiling a little bit.

And after all that, I can definitely twist up my plot a little, as HarperCollins Editor Jordan Brown suggested today. I can put on my striped hat and let creativity free flow, like former Farrar Straus & Giroux editor Lisa Graff said. I can take big risks with character and plot, as Egmont Funny Girl Elizabeth "L-Bone" Law urged.

I can and I will do all of those things, but I'll hug my handsome husband more, too, and I'll tell my daughter how smart and strong and pretty she is, and I'll kick the soccer ball around with my boys, and I'll let my laundry pile up to the ceiling.

I'll be glad--I'll be grateful--that I have a gift--that no novel could possibly give me.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

To Washington!

Tomorrow, I'm leaving my good husband and our three babies, and our town that's just beginning to bloom with blossoms and tourists. I'm going to Seattle, or near it anyway, with my friend and talented writing partner, Anjie.

We're all signed up for SCBWI Western Washington Conference.

Here's what I'm hoping: I'm hoping to learn, to be inspired, to be a better writer. Stronger. With more depth. With a fresh perspective. Descriptive.

I'm taking along tuna. To increase my attention span. And to hold me over between those fabulous chocolate chip cookies (if, fingers crossed, they have them like last year.)

I'm taking my running shoes, too. In case I need some fresh air. Which I will.

Oh, and pens. Lots and lots of pens.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


It could've been the slim little Love is the Higher Law. Or Pobby and Dingan. Or even Metamorphosis.

It could've been any one of a thousand skinny reads.

But it wasn't.

I lost the 1074-page Stephen King book Under the Dome.

It's gone.

Seriously gone.

I know it's gone, because this house is only 1,300 square feet, and that book is one foot by one foot its very self.

It didn't slip through the couch cushions. It's not under the bed.

Thirty-five dollars: that's what the library is charging me for it.

The most expensive book I've ever "bought."

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Giving My Lying Self a Dose of the Truth

Something wasn't working.

I had blown through revising the first 70 pages of my MS. The conflict was clear, the characters were introduced and flushed out, the scenes were set. Stuff was cut. (A lot of stuff was cut). Stuff was added.

And then....crickets.

One-third of the way through, I had hit a wall.

All the action had slowed down. The flow stopped. It. Was. Boring.


I took a walk, a long, rainy, Easter walk.

And I thought. What would be unexpected here? What would be a good twist? What could move the conflict forward? Deepen the character? Up the stakes in her choices?

I didn't come up with anything yet. But I will.

Because just identifying the problem, telling myself I needed to completely undo and redo it, instead of trying to justify that I could tweak it a little bit, was a huge relief.

I'm free.

So until Tuesday, I'll be taking a little break. Inviting the possibilities. Not forcing anything.

I'm excited!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Home Improvement

So the other day, I offered my husband some tips on how to be a better dad (like taking the kids hiking on their day off instead of watching two movies in a row). Needless to say, this advice--or much other--was not well-received.

Without sounding sexist, I'm wondering if perhaps one gender is more open to "suggestions" than the other? Does one gender have more of a desire to evolve?

There's that, and this: I am critiqued, criticized, and even rejected daily. Writing group, query letters, "art" is constantly being hammered.

In the beginning, of course, it hurt. I didn't know how to receive or even really give constructive feedback.

Two years later, though, I see how critical it is to making my writing stronger. With more developed characters, tighter plot, twists, fluid sentence structure. Especially that last one never would've happened without the influence of my talented writing partners.

I had to learn to put aside my ego, and try their suggestions. To think critically, which is to consider plural perspectives--the perspectives of Anjie, Christy, and Julie.

Last Wednesday night when we met at Starbucks, my new first chapters garnered lots of praise. There are hearts and stars and happy words all over my sample.

I have a long way to go, but I am growing.

I want to.

Now about that obstinate but completely adorable husband of mine...