Two announcements

*taps mike* *readjusts* Good morning! I just thought you should know that the submissions of all the finalists and alternates for the first-ever FicFest contest (okay, including me) have been officially posted for the next round. Check it out here. I like a lot of these submissions and hope to be buying the books someday. FicFest has been a good experience — in revising my submission per my (extremely nice) mentor’s suggestions, I even went a little bit further, and ended up with a much-improved manuscript. Revising has been a difficult thing for me to get a handle on, so getting a revision to work well is kinda empowering.

Also, Kidlit Summer Schoolbadge-final-4x4-brighter-heart.jpg officially starts tomorrow. I signed up for this online series last summer and really enjoyed it — the Nerdy Chicks, who are all fabulous writers and/or illustrators, offer really useful, in-depth writing advice, plus writing exercises, Twitter writing prompts, webinars and giveaways. I was even reading these posts during vacation so I could keep up (don’t tell my husband). If you write kidlit, come and be my “classmate.” Also: signing up is free. Also again: How cute is this chick?

This concludes our announcements. Please enjoy your Sunday.

Things I’ve learned

  1. Devoting a weekend to your craft is always worth it.

My belated thoughts on NJSCBWI: It was a fine conference and I got encouraging words on two manuscripts, which I’m certainly happy to hear. We’ll see what happens next. Ginger Clark is absolutely the agent you want to talk about contracts with, because her workshop on the topic was incredibly detailed and honest. Kurestin Armada made a great suggestion about querying: Run your query past someone who hasn’t read your book, to see how well it lands. (Blake Snyder says the same thing in “Save the Cat!” which I recommend highly.) Michelle Witte’s session on voice gave me a whole new to-read list.Wendi Silvano gets extra credit for giving us a detailed handout on how to write a picture book text to account for the eventual illustrations (for instance, using words and phrases that set up the artwork to show what happens next) — and sending the handout around ahead of time so we could follow along.

Oh, and keynote David Wiesner was funny and relatable (we’re fans of “Mr. Wuffles!” around here), and closing keynote Suzy Ismail, explaining why diversity in books matters and how to address it, was wise and occasionally heartbreaking.

2. Be careful what you wish for.

I wanted my kids to learn more about American history, since they don’t seem to be getting it in school yet, and since we live in a state that is teeming with historic sites. And yeah, okay, since I’ve been obsessively listening to the “Hamilton” soundtrack. That too. So I found this picture book at the library:51uJJMpSx5L.jpg

Which, funnily enough, cites as one of its sources the same Ron Chernow book that Lin-Manuel Miranda used to write the musical. (Side note: Must read Chernow book.) It’s well done — it doesn’t include every detail, obviously, but it does a good job of showing the parallels between Hamilton and Burr, and how the duel destroyed both their lives. The duel is handled fairly tastefully as well.

I left the book out for the kids to discover, and they were both fascinated by it, especially when they found out Hamilton and Burr were real people. And we all agreed that duels are stupid.

And then the kids took sides.

My daughter said Burr was the better guy. My son sided with Hamilton. They argued about it. I swear they came to blows in the back seat of the car.

Well, I did want them to care about history.

3. Stories matter.

This is more of a reminder to myself. I’ve been so upset and horrified by the news of the past week that it’s hard to fathom how anything I could write could make a difference amid so much sadness. But I have to think that it does. I know every story I read when I was young made a difference to me, taught me something. (Including comic books, incidentally, which taught me that with great power comes great responsibility. Not at all a bad thing to learn.) If the stories we tell ourselves determine who we are as people, then we need as many good stories as we can get. If I can be a part of that in some way, then — apologies to Eliza — that would be enough.

Where things stand

Busy. Things are busy. I will never complain about being busy. But I might skip a post or two.

So apart from the day job, I am revising a story for FicFest, because I am a finalist. (*ahem* Whoo hoo!) The finalists in other categories have novels to rewrite; I have a picture book. So, definitely they’re churning through more words per second, and they have my admiration. My version of rewriting is, change a few words, put it down and contemplate it, change a few more, put it down, etc. Intense in its own way. My mentor offered some helpful feedback, and I’ve got a good feeling about this story, so we’ll see how it goes.

Also, the NJSCBWI conference is coming up, and that is always a whirlwind of instruction and fun times with friendly fellow writer people. So I’m excited and nervous and already planning my outfits because this is what I do.

My other work-in-progress is close to done, and there are already about a thousand things I’m planning on changing in the next go-round. But that’s fine. First drafts are supposed to be messy. I started it as more of an experiment than anything else, so I’m glad the experiment seems to be sort of working out-ish.

And I’m debating whether to drop this pen name and just go with my real one. (Which probably means a new website, but oh well.) There was a point where, professionally speaking, it made sense to separate day-job me and writer me, but I don’t think that’s the case now. Though I think I’ve been pretty open about the fact that both me’s are, well, me.

I’m looking forward to the next few weeks. And if any friends are heading to NJSCBWI this year, I’d love to see you.

The writing chair

There is a black leather (but probably pleather) chair in my house. It used to live in the corner of a room downstairs and no one sat in it. It didn’t quite match anything else in the room. Occasionally it served as impromptu toy storage. Mainly it just existed there, like a sad pleather shadow.

In the course of moving some furniture around, we lugged the chair up to our bedroom to create a sitting area. And suddenly I began to use the chair every day. I’ve been writing a new project in it. My new ritual is, go upstairs at night, settle into the chair, write as long as I’m awake. I’ve been making slow but steady progress.

It’s amazing how a simple change of scenery will change things so dramatically. The chair that I used to ignore has become essential to my daily routine. All it needed was a room where it actually belonged.

I don’t know if this is feng shui, or chair karma, or just the advantage of having a chair in a room that didn’t previously offer one. But it proves that the simplest changes to your surroundings can sometimes yield the biggest results.

So here’s a suggestion, if you’re struggling with writer’s block or skipping your writing time: Move some furniture. Change your surroundings. Sit somewhere different.

And it doesn’t even have to be pleather.

Lights. Camera. Action! Hildie Bitterpickles and I Make Our KidLit TV Debut

Here’s what I love about Robin — she wears a witch hat to read her witch story. (And it’s a great witch hat.) Take a listen, it’s a funny book!

A few weeks back, Hildie and I ventured down to KidLit TV to record a reading of Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep. (Here’s a link to my previous post.) And I’m thrilled to finally say, voilà, here it is. Enjoy!*

THANK YOU, KidLit TV! You made my year—and then some!:)

*If you like what you see, please give it a big thumbs up, share it with friends, frenemies, witches, goblins, ghouls, and your favorite zombies on social media, and feel free to leave a comment. Be sure to check out all of the incredible programs KidLit TV has to offer.

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Book vs. movie

We’ve been reading the Narnia books around here — or more accurately, I’ve been reading the Narnia books and the kids have been demanding just one more chapter and then counting the pages to prove the next chapter wasn’t that long, Mommy, come on. I loved these books when I was a kid — Susan’s shutout at the end of “The Last Battle” notwithstanding — so I’m happy my kids are enjoying them as well.

For movie night recently, I showed them the recent version of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” which I thought was generally well done, with a good cast, a well-animated Aslan and enjoyable added time with Mr. Tumnus. (Also: Susan actually gets to use the bow and arrow. Honestly, why give the girls weapons if they’re not supposed to do any fighting? Totally misleading of you, Father Christmas.) The prologue scene, showing the Pevensies hiding in the backyard bomb shelter before being shipped off to the country, seemed like a necessary way into the story for kids who haven’t learned about World War II yet. It served two purposes for me: It gave me a starting point to explain World War II and why the Pevensies needed to leave their home in the first place, and it illustrated what I’d been telling them about how the book is always different from the movie. The movie can’t fit all of the book, I explained, because then the movie would be way too long, so the people who made the movie had to decide which parts to focus on and which parts to leave out. I figure if I’m going to introduce them to the arts, they should understand what they’re looking at.

They caught on quickly, noticing other things in the movie that hadn’t been in the book, and vice versa. My son pointed out that when Father Christmas dropped by with gifts for the children, he neglected to also leave the tea service (and didn’t even mention anything for Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, poor things).

What I want is for them to see that the book and the movie are separate works of art, and for them to appreciate each in its own right. The book is almost always better (says the writer), but sometimes the movie handles a character or a scene more elegantly than the book did. For instance, giving Susan and Lucy more to do in the movie. Or suggesting that Peter and Edmund are each motivated in different ways by their father being away in the war.

The kids enjoyed the movie so much that we’ll have to see the next one soon, though the Disney-Walden Media versions stop at “Voyage of the Dawn Treader” (supposedly “The Silver Chair” is in development). In the meantime, we have to get started reading “The Silver Chair.” We took a break to read “The Little Prince,” since the movie was originally supposed to open last weekend. And then Paramount dropped it, and Netflix is going to air it instead, and who knows when that will be? But at least whenever they do, we’ll be prepared.

Sadness is a lobster

This is Sad Lobster.

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I am sad.

He got his name because of his eyes. Look at him. Isn’t he the saddest, most soulful-looking crustacean you’ve ever seen? Don’t you want to just buy him a lollipop and give him a hug? Don’t be sad, Sad Lobster!

(My parents were on a cruise and emailing photos of their fabulous seafood lunch. I wrote, “Where’s mine?” And this is what they brought me. Now you know where my sense of humor comes from.)

The kids adore Sad Lobster, to the point where he frequently goes missing from my desk and I have to search for him. They also like to hear him talk. “Woe eez me!” he declares, because apparently he speaks with a French accent (a very, very bad French accent. I am no Meryl Streep). “I am so sad. You mock my sadness,” he says. The kids apologize to him, giggling.

“Ennui!”

(Someday they’ll be old enough to know what that word means, and then it won’t just be funny to me.)

It’s been a sort of running joke around here. But apparently the symbolism has taken on a life of its own.

For an activity in religious education class, my son made a mural showing different emotions and aspects of his personality. This is how he represented “sadness.”

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I can’t decide whether this is a good thing. Is it making light of actual sadness? Is it potentially causing confusion down the road? Is my son going to be uncomfortable in aquariums?

Or am I overthinking it? Maybe a lobster is a perfectly good representation of sadness. Maybe the sheer ridiculousness of the image is enough to chase sadness away. Maybe picking your own symbols for things isn’t such a bad idea.

As symbols go, at least, he’s quite huggable.