NOTE: I don't post to this blog super-duper often anymore, because I'm busy writing, well, books. (Read more about that here.) For more up-to-date, day-to-day ramblings, visit my Facebook page.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pet Peeve: All Ready vs. Already

Okay, grammar fans (usage fans, whatever): This is a misusage I see all the time. The down and dirty of it:

all ready: Completely ready. You couldn't be readier. Or: Everybody in the room is ready. No one's left out.
"Are you all ready to go?" asked Mrs. March.
"Hardly," Amy said. "Beth, as usual, is too shy to stick her nose out the door, so we'll probably miss the fair."
already: Previously. Before. Been there, done that.

"It doesn't matter," said her mother. "After all, Beth has already been out this week. Let's leave her to her piano."
Already is also used to express frustration:
"Just go already!" Beth fumed.
Think of all ready as meaning all set. You'd never write alset, right?

I didn't think so.

image: By Trailer screenshot (Little Women trailer), via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Life of Dickens in 5 Minutes or Less

An informative and fun cartoon video on the life of Charles Dickens, one of my very favorite authors.  Courtesy of those clever folks at the BBC:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Deal Announcement!

Well, I may have spent three years writing the book, six months searching for an agent, six months revising (again), another month on submission, several more weeks revising (again) ...

But the idea of publication, of my little book going to a printer's and finding a home on a Barnes & Noble bookshelf, still feels very fresh and new to me, especially today. Having polished up our baby and readied it for copyediting, we were ready to formally announce the book to the world. Here's my birth announcement, posted at Publisher's Marketplace by My Lovely Agent, Chris Richman of Upstart Crow Literary Agency:

That means more wine for me!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Pet Peeve: Lay vs. Lie

I haven't written a grammar peeve for a long time, mostly because this blog has been up, down, live, dead--you name it. But this point does peeve me from time to time.

Quick lesson:

To Lie (verb):
1. To tell an untruth : Don't lie to me. You didn't watch the Super Bowl, did you?
past tense: lied : Okay, I lied. I didn't even watch the commercials.
past perfect tense: had lied : If I hadn't lied, you would have made me watch the highlights on the DVR.

2.  To repose in a prone position : If football gives you a headache, why don't you go lie down?
past tense: lay : I lay down for an hour, but it didn't help.
past perfect tense: had lain : She had lain in her room for about an hour before her husband noticed that she wasn't present during the halftime show.

To Lay (transitive verb):
To set an object down: Lay down your book and watch the damned game, why don't you?
past tense: laid : I laid down my book for ten minutes, but the game gave me a headache, so I picked up the book again.
past perfect tense: had laid : If I had laid my book down sooner, I wouldn't have missed that touchdown. Oh well. Big whup.

So yes, I admit, too many of these words sound the same, and the tenses get all mixed up in each other's business. Just memorize a few key phrases that are correct and you'll remember the rule for this verb:

Lay down your weapon!
I must go lie down now, even though I lay down ten minutes ago.

Just remember: You can never "go lay down." Lay down ... what? Lay needs a direct object. You have to lay down a book, a magazine, your gun--something. It means put down, or set down.

And you can never "lie down a book." (Not as many people make this mistake.) Lie down is an intransitive verb; it can't take an object. Just lie down your own damned self and be done with it.

image: Madame Recamier by Jacques-Louis David.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Review: DEADLINE by Chris Crutcher

DeadlineDeadline by Chris Crutcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eighteen-year-old Ben Wolf has a terminal illness--this he tells us right off the bat. But when will he tell the rest of his friends, family, and his amazing new girlfriend? In his quest for a "normal" year, Ben has the least normal year of his life. And Chris Crutcher is kind enough to share that year with us through Ben's voice.

Don't let Crutcher's glib dialogue and Ben's smart-aleck comments deceive you. This is a heavy topic. But as I heard Crutcher say in a keynote address to the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators not long ago, if you as a writer are going down the tragic road, you've got to go just as long down the comic road--and thankfully, he does just that. Through Ben, we get to know a cast of small-town characters, each with his or her own secrets, some as heavy as Ben's. How could you not love Ben's long-suffering father, who lovingly cares for his bipolar wife? Or Coach Banks, who has returned to this podunk high school after fleeing it years before? Or Rudy McCoy, so haunted by his past that only Ben really comes to know who he is? This is not an author given to lovingly crafted sentences, but one who writes people who live and breathe and sing off the page. Is this a sad novel? I shed tears, but it didn't depress me. It reaffirms life and love. We should all be so lucky.

Maybe you've heard that all of Crutcher's books have been banned or challenged, and Deadline is no exception. For those of you with delicate ears, be on the lookout for the f-word and the s-word. They do appear. There is some premarital teen sex presented about as pristinely as you could hope for. And yes, sorry, but teens do utter opinions in this book that may offend some conservative, pledge-allegiance-to-me sensibilities. You've been warned. But unlike some other reviewers, I didn't find this book to be a political tract. To me, it was about a boy who, having nothing left to lose, finally lives. So much of the time, we stifle the opinions of young people. We discard them, slough them off, silence them. Ben Wolf is not to be silenced. God bless him for that.

One other point: The book's got a lot of football in it. I don't know anything about football and don't want to. I have no interest in the Super Bowl or even the commercials that air during the breaks. And yet, I found even the footbally parts of this book compelling. And anyone who knows me knows that only a very gifted writer could persuade me to read anything about this sport, much less make it compelling.

Read the first chapter. Then see if you can put the book away. Go on, I dare you.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Books to Drool Over

Hooray, dreams fulfilled! Ever since our cute little micro-Borders closed last year, I've been mourning the dearth of bookstores in our area. Like most large suburbs, we have the venerable Barnes & Noble--in fact, two of them here on the Kansas side of the metro--but there's something special about having a little bookshop on the corner, as it were. I suppose someone somewhere heard my sobbing, because some of the former employees of our now-defunct Borders Express got together and retooled the space into Shawnee Books & Toys, which is only blocks from where I live! I finally got around to stopping in today and I couldn't leave empty handed. I had to get ...

last year's Newbery winner is a fellow Kansan from Wichita!
14 writers spin tales around Van Allsburg's haunting drawings

been meaning to get this forever because the lovely Nova Ren Suma writes so wonderfully

recommended all over the place--gotta read it
 this just looks like pure fun--a mystery, puzzles, a dead magician, and sequels!

Happy Valentine's Day to me!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Review: WONDERSTRUCK by Brian Selznick

WonderstruckWonderstruck by Brian Selznick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you look at my reviews and ratings, you'll notice I almost never give a book 5 stars. I also don't review books that I absolutely can't stand (though I may rate them), because I don't see the point of trashing someone in public. But here, for Wonderstruck, is one of my oh-so-rare 5-star ratings. Why?

First of all, you have to give Brian Selznick big kudos for essentially creating a new genre--the picture book for big kids. Secondly, he has a rare gift for storytelling: Working in basic, yet somehow luminous language, Selznick spins two tales, one through pictures, and one through words. The first is about Ben, who in 1977 has recently lost his mother and doesn't know his father. When he discovers clues about his dad's identity, he has to follow them--and so do we. The second story tells how Rose, a young deaf girl in 1927, feels isolated and trapped in her silent world. She too makes a journey and tries to connect to her parents. Woven into both of these tales is the marvelous, sprawling city of New York, its museums, and their endless wonders.

With drawings so exquisite you feel like you're living inside them, and words so perfect you wish you had written them, Selznick tells another great story backed by his boundless curiosity and careful research. I was just as enchanted with this book as I was with The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

View all my Goodreads reviews

Friday, February 10, 2012

Writers Speak Out Against Censorship

Love this! It was produced by Penguin back in December, but I just found it. Rock on, writers!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Cool Stuff From My SCBWI Weekend

I'm not a frequent traveler--pause for sad sigh--but I am an avid traveler. I love traveling, and I love nothing better than traveling light and thumbing my nose at the baggage-check line.

So when I decided to go to New York for the SCBWI Winter Conference, I swore I would bring back nothing that I hadn't left with--no souvenirs, no gadgets or gizmos. I got on the plane in Kansas City with my super-compact weekender bag and my new, superfun Swissgear messenger bag (superfun to me, because I love luggage). It's a testament to my will that I went home with the same two bags--but yes, they were considerably fuller than they'd been in KC. Here's what I came home with:

a gift from My Lovely Editor, Ruta Rimas, at Margaret K. McElderry Books

Signed by the authors! I even had a photo taken with the Fonz.

Chris Crutcher's keynote speech was so good I had to buy two copies: one for me & one for my sis.

one of Crutcher's recent books

authored by one of our presenters, and a great gift for my kid
and, finally ...

a gift from my dear friend Gilda, who I hadn't seen in 18 years
Traveling light can be overrated.

Friday, February 3, 2012

What I Learned About Conferencing: Part II

This past weekend (yeah, I know, days ago) I went to my very first SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators) conference. I posted about some of what I learned yesterday, so to continue, here's what I learned about ...

I know--scary, right? Especially for the terminally shy? Remember Debbie Ohi's brilliant cartoon? Well, I'm here to tell you, straight from the trenches, that SCBWI folks are nice. Why? Because most of the people there were writers. And writers tend to be introverts (notwithstanding those writerly party animals; they do exist). So when you go to a conference, scared to meet people, you're in good company.

I can't tell you how many people I talked to who said, "I was so scared to come here." Or, "I'm so nervous!" It was sort of like climbing into a community lifeboat. We were all going to make it, we decided; and we all did.

So really, it's as simple as realizing that you're talking to other writers and artists. They aren't high-power stockbrokers who are going to sneer at your dream. They share your dream. And they're the most supportive people around. No one I met acted like I was her competitor; we're all in this book thing together. Everyone wears a nametag, so you don't even have to be good at remembering people. So get over your high school self. Do this:
  • Walk up and say, "Hi, can I sit here?" (You can. Okay, you may.
  • Ask about their babies. "What's your book about? Do you have a business card? Which sessions are you going to?" 
  • Be interested in their answers. 
  • Smile big. 
  • Be ready to answer their questions. You rehearsed your elevator speech, right?
  • Go to events, even if they're "not your thing." 
  • Be generous. Offer to share notes from the breakout session that so-and-so didn't get to. Invite her along to the bar. 
  • Hand out your card. Share your Twitter handle and Facebook page. Take down people's cell phone numbers so you can text and connect later on. (Texting can be the shy person's savior. How easy is it to type, "Want to meet for dinner?" and hit SEND? You can  do that.)

Listen & Learn.
You never know who you're going to end up talking to for half an hour. Don't invest time in people in order to get something from them, but realize that everyone has something to offer. Make social connections, not just professional ones. Don't bug agents and editors or shove manuscripts in their hands, but do say hi and mention how much you appreciated their talk or panel. They won't remember your name, probably, but when you submit to them, you can at least say, "You made a great point about the current trends in YA fiction at the conference in January." A little personalization goes a long way.

Transcribe Your Notes!
I mentioned before how I used my downtime to transcribe my handwritten scribbles onto my notebook computer. Do that while the material is fresh in your mind--on the plane or train home, if need be.

Connect from Home.
Email, Tweet, Like, whatever--before those people you met forget who you were. I paid a lot of money to attend that conference, and I wanted to make sure it was worth it.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

What I Learned About Conferencing: Part I

What a fantastic weekend! Okay, I know, it's Thursday, I should be over the weekend by now and ready to head into my next one, but it has taken me fully this long to assimilate everything I learned at the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) international conference this past weekend. And while I may share the tiniest tidbit of wisdom (the material is under copyright and SCBWI is understandably stern about, say, blogging someone's entire speech), I can certainly share these general highlights of what I learned about conferencing in general. (Conferencing: a word? Webby: Nuh-uh. It's a noun, not a verb, dingy.)

(1) Dress Code.
Here's the great thing about writers, especially those who write for kids: They sit behind a desk all day (or as often as they can). They may own fluffy slippers with rabbit ears on them. Flannel pajamas illustrated in different coffee logos. In other words, no one goes to a writer's conference dressed in Armani. "Business casual" might mean a lot of things to different people, but for me, it was:
  • black slacks (mine had a little stretch to them, thanks)
  • colorful shirt/blouse
  • basic black blazer, for layering (some rooms are hot, others cold)
  • comfortable black shoes
I was neither overdressed nor underdressed, and most important, I was comfortable. The first day I sat in a room from 8:00 a.m. till 5:00 p.m. We had one lunch break and one coffee break. So comfort is key.

I opted for nice jeans with this same kind of ensemble on Sunday morning. I figured Sunday was more relaxed, I was getting on a plane later, and anyway, the email they'd sent me said jeans were fine. Again, that worked out perfectly. I could've gotten away with nice jeans all three days, but since we went out to a bar and then one night there was a cocktail party, I was glad to have the black slacks.

(2) The Proper Use of a Laptop.
I borrowed a notebook computer from my mom to take on the trip. I was very glad that I hadn't dragged along my home laptop, which is too big and heavy for the purpose. I did not use the notebook to take notes during conference sessions. Our packet info warned us that tapping on iPads or notebooks could be distracting to others, and a couple of people I talked to did complain about that. I kept mine in the hotel room safe and used it to transcribe notes at the end of the day. Because SCBWI provided us with free Wi-Fi during our stay, I could easily check email too.

(3) How to Pace Myself.
The information we received was so plentiful, so overwhelming, that our heads were reeling, especially after the Friday Writers' Marketing Intensive. I learned that if I needed to take a quick bathroom break, people were okay with that, as long as I was quiet and didn't interrupt the proceedings. I decided I didn't need to go to the afternoon all-conference speech on Saturday before the second round of breakout sessions; it wasn't a topic I was interested in. So I took a long lunch and went down to the Union Square farmers' market.
Did it feel a little like playing hooky? Yeah, kind of, but it was my weekend, to do with as I needed. And I needed to recharge a little, step out in the sun (the weather was gorgeous), and just be in New York. The farmer's market was the perfect diversion. I was raring to go for the next round of sessions, drinks with my agent, and the cocktail gala that followed.

Hey, But What About Networking and Stuff?
Yeah, I learned some of that too. More tomorrow. Your eyes are getting tired.