Friday, October 7, 2011


Hey fellow bloggers and blog readers --

I haven't been around much on the Internet lately. Actually, I haven't been around much at all. My mom was in the hospital for surgery and you know how crazy it gets when you have someone in the hospital. You sort of dash around living on coffee (hey, it's from a plant source, right? add milk and you've got calcium, a cheese danish with cherries and you've got protein and fruit -- need more?) We couldn't wait for Mom to get better, get out, and our lives to get back to normal.

 Unfortunately, none of those three wishes came true. It was very unexpected and we are all left sort of in mid air. And truth being far stranger than ficiton, there are several other areas of craziness going on in my life that have coincided with this event.

I'll be back around. I'm not sure when, but  I'll come visit you all soon.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Blog Hopping and Banned Books

I'm blog hopping over to Donna's blog at Bite My Books to kick off Banned Books Week. Stop over to rant with us!

Sunday, September 18, 2011


I have always wanted to be one of those Zen-like relaxed people who nod and listen and never worry. This past summer, a woman I met was talking to me about yoga. I figured if I tried yoga, I would become more Zen-like and calm. Right? Isn't that how it works?

While she was showing me some of the positions, I was following what she did as fast as I could. Finally, in a softly, barely perceptible tone, she said, "Anne, you don't rush through yoga. You have to let things flow more."


So I did. I relaxed. Well, I thought I relaxed. I slowed down and tried to look sort of beatific and focused at the same time which is how she looked. (Go ahead - try to look that way; it's not as easy as it sounds) She finally said we should try it on a day when I wasn't quite so harried. 


Only I wasn't particularly harried on that day. That's kind of how I am. I tend to speak and move quickly, put on dinner while folding laundry, talking on the phone, and going through the mail. I have trouble driving at the speed limit. I never leave the house for only one errand: I average about four. I figure out my lesson plans while I'm grocery shopping, organize my paperwork while on the bank line, think about writing while doing dishes.

I think I'm just geared sort of twitchy, and the yoga woman is geared more gently. It's pretty much inbred. I couldn't imagine her saying to her kids, as I regularly do, "Salad or colon cancer?" "Sun block or melanoma?" or get texts back such as, "Mom, don't think I'm dead! I just had no service in the mall." No one in our house bats an eye at any of this. Then again, the yoga woman had no kids...

But I think, too, how we move, how we are geared has an effect on our writing. I don't think Emily Dickinson moved too fast - she noticed things like grasshoppers and that certain slant of light - whereas when I read Dr. Seuss, I would think from the pace of his writing that he would be a little more twitchy than most.

I'm revising a YA, yet again, and that's what I realized about it: it has a rushed quality that it can't have since it deals with a serious theme. Well, yeah, I was writing most of this late at night, and rushing, and it shows. But I put it away for a month and only noticed that during a fresh read when I was moving more slowly. 

I was contemplating how I would slow down the pace, how I would make the story unfold more easily while deleting all the spam from this blog. So in case you're wondering what happened to all the comments, I was rushing and accidentally deleted YOUR comments and not the spam. There's a lesson there. 

Still, I think I'm onto something. Rushing makes for thin, undeveloped writing. Maybe even if you're not geared to move quickly when you're writing and trying to finish, it will show. I'm wondering now if that's the essence of revision - slowing things down, having scenes and characters unfold more slowly?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Firsts! (and Mutant Wings)

We've had a lot of firsts around here in the past few days. We finally celebrated  Emma and Grandma's hurricane-delayed party (they share the same August 25 birthday) and we finally met my oldest brother's new family. And  we  I celebrated the first day of school. Celebrated may be pushing that verb a bit for the kids, but I actually think, deep down, they were glad to get back to see their friends.

Philip's artistic girlfriend, Tiffany, decorated the cake. She remembered that Emma is completely insane for zebra stripe and that's not particularly easy to translate into cake, but I think she did a great job. 

And these are our adopted grandparents, the Baos, who are as gracious and lovely as people can be. They are also calm, so I was a little worried about introducing such gentle and balanced people to my house, with my three teenagers, their friends, and half a dozen animals, but somehow it all worked. 

Eric Spollen, Jing and Chris Spollen, Grandma Bao
And Emma, now officially thirteen, is in her first year of being a teenager. She's my first girl teen, so when she came home from the first day of school, I asked the usual Mom questions. I was expecting, "It-was-ok-where-are-the-pizza-rolls?" then off to play video games. But girls are different.

She began by explaining how the rain was the perfect weather for such a terrible event as returning to the middle school. She ended with a thorough critique of one of her teacher's eyeliner application.

"You know the wing, Mom? When they extend the line up and out like on Jerseylicious?"

"Ummm, sort of."

"Well, I think she was going for that. But it didn't work. I mean, not at all. I felt so sorry for her. She was up there talking and she had this like mutant wing. I would be so embarrassed."

Maybe the best thing about firsts is that they bring seconds.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Earthquakes, Hurricanes and Thirteen

We've been having a lot of "weather events" as the news calls them. I secretly love weather events because it usually means we lose power and my kids have to unplug and actually talk to me for more than a few minutes. I like when they have to sit around and listen to lots of radio static by candlelight. It's spooky and old fashioned. Add some lightning, sirens and heavy wind and it's a weirdly connected family moment.

This weather began with the earthquake. I've been using that as a barometer to assess exactly how weird or normal my friends and family are (the results are falling very heavily on the weird side) I was folding laundry while chatting on the phone. The kids were in the yard. Christopher came in just as the earth moved - the table seemed to be tipping and I felt a shudder beneath my feet. The call dropped. My immediate thought?


Who else? I had seen The Exorcist, I knew he shook walls and floors before announcing his sinister presence.

"Feel that tipping?" I asked Christopher, "what is going on?"

"What tipping?"

I should say he's a teenage boy, and he was eating over the sink at the time. If you've ever been or ever taken care of a teenage boy, you know that when they eat, they go into a zone that not even an earthquake can shake them out of. Literally.

"The whole house is moving!"

"Huh. I don't feel anything. (still chewing) "You all right, Mom?"

"How can you not feel that? Everything is MOVING beneath our feet!"

He laughed. "Mom, it's okay. You're probably like hungry or something."

And he went outside, another sandwich in hand.

We had a few days of nice weather, then Irene. Here, in South Jersey, we had several tornado watches to go along with it all. In the middle of all these weather events, on Thursday, Emma turned thirteen. Her party had to be postponed when they closed most of the roads, but I was thinking how apt a metaphor it is to turn thirteen and have an earthquake, tornadic activity and a hurricane accompany the event. It's such perfect literary symbolism in a setting that I'll bet most editors would have us tone it down as being too obvious.

At least, I'm hoping it's setting, but most likely, it's foreshadowing.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Late Summer

Things are underway here for Emma's birthday celebration which is really more of a birthmonth celebration - her bd seems to stretch from mid-August to the first week of school. (Around the Fourth of July she begins asking for things, saying, "But it's soooo close to my birthday..." )
Her bd also means summer is nearing its end which is always bittersweet. I'm not sure I actually believe that last sentence - everyone always says it, but I never want to see summer end. Summer is my absolute favorite season and seems about as long as a three day weekend. But in honor of its end, it's time for a seasonal assessment. These are the three top things I remember about this summer:

1. We went to Exit 0 on the Garden State Parkway. I never knew there was an Exit 0, but on the way to ride go karts (see #2) we decided to travel south just to see Exit 0. I thought it was the perfect name for a YA novel.
2. My kids can talk me into almost anything. I was taking THEM to ride go karts. I brought the camera and drinks, never expecting that they expected me to actually go around the track with them. I am seriously not mechanical and these particular go karts had the look of reimagined lawn mowers. "I am NOT getting on that thing," I remember saying. Five minutes later, Philip and Emma waved as they passed me on the track.  

3. I didn't plant a garden this year, not officially. I have perennial beds of oregano and sage that I weeded a little, but I didn't do the customary tomatoes and peppers and zucchini. I kept meaning to, but time has a way of slipping past, and it never got done. This morning, I went into the backyard and found pumpkins growing where I had buried them last fall - the seeds apparently took and there are vines all over the place.

I'm keeping that surprise as a really hopeful sign for the coming year. That may sound strange, but having taught for so many years, I tend to think of the "new year" as beginning in September with new classes. And those unexpected pumpkins I'm keeping as a good omen.

What did you do this summer that you remember the most?  

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Postcard Blog

Here's what I've been thinking about lately: gators, swamps, lizardy things that scamper everywhere, and hillbilly hand fishin'.

That's right - in the middle of August, my best friend from college and I decided to celebrate three decades of friendship on the outskirts of Orlando. We're not doing the Disney thing. We did go to SeaWorld because it's one of my favorite places on earth, but this is kind of the inverse of Disney. It's way more nature-y, and let's just say that's a learning experience for me, a person who views camping as a kind of disorder.

This is the swamp  lake outside of our condo:
which seemed lovely enough with the family of mallards drifting past and the paddle boats. I definitely wanted to take a paddle boat out and go around the perimeter of the lake until I read this sign:

Florida wildlife? What does that include? Would there be mallards and people fishing if there were alligators? My friend, who has a shady history of talking me into things I wouldn't normally consider (actually, that's one of the things I like best about her) assured me no ducks would coexist alongside alligators. Wildlife, she insisted, meant things like fish and the little lizardy things. I believed her. Sort of. So I asked at the desk.

There are alligators in every body of water in Florida they told me. Why worry? They sleep at the bottom and won't bother you. Only worry if they come up on land when you're down there.

Come up on land? What? Maybe we should have booked in Disney. I didn't worry long because that's when a man with a heavy Southern drawl began talking about catfish and hillbilly hand fishin' - which I thought was some kind of regional joke.

 It's real. Apparently, it's a sport that devolves humans from using tools to catch prey. You reach into the depths of a muddy creek with your hands and grab a fish until it bites. You then pull the fish out of the water that way. It's so widely known that there's a show about it. I'm not kidding -

I can't imagine walking into that water with the sleeping gators at the bottom and your hand as a lure, but it's something I won't forget about this vacation.
Oh, and the thirty plus years of friendship is pretty great as well.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

When the Story Just Doesn't

Last night, all my kids were out of the house at the same time. This almost never happens. It felt rare and eerie, the sort of things are slightly off here sense you get when watching a total eclipe. No plates of snacks, no teens lolling on sofas, no small mountain of fragrantly wet boy-socks on the rug, no Lady Gaga pulsing from Emma's room. No noise.

No noise. Astonishing. My house like a Zen monastery.

Understanding this time would be very, very finite, I sat down to confront my WIP. Recently, I had been avoiding its chapters and it was time to come clean. I didn't like the last three chapters and I had to figure out why. I kept attempting to wrangle them; they responded by wrangling right back.

I've reached this stage with other work, so it wasn't unfamiliar. I kept staring at the sentences. They were fine, really. All grammatically correct, the story went along at a good pace, but there was something I just didn't...I couldn't find the word. The story just didn't. It was sort of like this ~

When I wanted this ~

So I took Mazy for a walk, played with the cats, and folded laundry all the while trying to think of ways to fix it. Only I couldn't name what was wrong with it. It was a perfectly respectable story yet I didn't respect it.

Then Christopher texted me. He was worried that I might be lonesome so he came home with friend in tow and towed friend had a pile of books she gave me. I had just donated half a carload of books in an attempt to renovate my writing space. I am removing the desk, most of the books, and just about everything in the space since I am going to be spending more time writing.

I started one of the new books that night. It was wonderfully written, lyrical and inspiring, and I respected it. I stayed up way too late, in love with the author's imagery. At that moment, I understood that sometimes, just like the space I was writing in, instead of a little revision, you need to take the plunge and chop. Those last three chapters, all those hours of work, the entire direction of the novel, was off.

It was painful to press that delete button. I thought of all the time I had spent getting the dialogue just right, the atmosphere, the language - all gone. But now there is space, and with space comes possibility.  Instead of revision,  sometimes you have to raze.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Deleting the Obvious

I was reading a middle grade book last night, and what struck me about the author was the way she used very simple language to create surprise in her writing. Her style struck me because the last few middle grades I read used a lot of repetition to get ideas across.

I think repetition is a pitfall of any YA or MG writer, maybe especially for MG writers. We are never sure if kids are connecting with the ideas we are saying, so we, as adults, tend to hammer them in a little too strongly sometimes. We do it in life, so it's pretty natural that we do it in writing. Kids, of course, pick up on this instantly. Case in point:

The other day, Christopher, who is now nineteen, came with me to run a few errands. He works about 30 hours a week, maintains a good GPA, has a steady girlfriend, and just completed and passed two summer classes. So, really, I should know better. Dashing into the library, I looked over at the semi busy road and called to him, "Be careful crossing that street!"

He looked at his friend, grinned, and said, "Aw hell, Mom, I'm just going to shut my eyes, run into traffic and hope for the best."

I know. I pretty much deserved that.

So now that I am writing more full time, I am doing a lot more revision. (Writing to me really IS revision - I can't go forward until I've gone back and tinkered for a bit) My new editing eye is to delete anything that is not only obvious, but anything that is predictable.

This is harder than it sounds. I remember reading assigned novels in college and skipping over long passages of dialogue or description because I pretty much knew what it would say. That's the other piece: you want to make your characters consistent, but you also don't want to make them dull. And a lot of what I had to read in college were the kind of books where characters represented ideas or theories, so it may have been worse. In kid lit, the cliched characters are lethal.

All this being said, I will leave you with this bit of advice:

Thursday, July 7, 2011


I'm back. .. and I didn't actually finish my novel, but I got the first third of it down, at least the draft of that first third. Actually, I'm sort of saying it's the first third because it makes me feel cool and organized and all sorts of in control.

The first time I went for a sonogram when I was pregnant with Christopher, the incredibly dour ultrasound tech barked at me to "evacuate your bladder until it's only one third full." She was one of those efficient human machines who work in medical lab kinds of places and she scared me more than the whole business of pregnancy did. I remember standing in the bathroom, wondering if other people (even you men) knew how to do such a thing.

So what does that weird anecdote have to do with writing? Well, I never really know how long or short anything is going to turn out until I'm done, and it was the same in that bathroom. (Just in case you're wondering, I was sent back to the bathroom because I had not estimated correctly) Some writers know they are writing a 50,000 or a 120,000 word novel. I just know I'm writing a story.

Anyway, I've been spending a lot of time reading books I don't normally read, like chic lit (sorry, not a fan), steampunk which I'm undecided about, a couple of mysteries which I found formulaic, then back to YA and MG which I loved. The problem with broadening your horizon is it makes you that much more comfortable to stay in your own little spectrum of color. Really, who can beat the likes of Robert Cormier or Harper Lee?

And I've been spending a fair amount of time walking with the kids on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. This is pretty much what it looks like:

What have you guys been doing this summer? I have to visit everyone's blog to see what's been going on. It's nice to be away from the Internet, but it's also nice to come back.

Monday, May 9, 2011

My Own Personal NaNo

Nano is six months away, or six months past, depending on your politics. But I'll be back in about a month. It's the end of school and because I may not be entirely stable, I am attempting to finish a YA that I've been tinkering with for almost two years. And I want to finish it by mid-June which is in about six weeks.

I'll be here, just not here here and I'll still be reading blogs, just spending my all too precious writing minutes on Thorn. 

Happy Spring!

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Royal Wedding and Heads Shaped Like Potatoes

I know this is yesterday's news, but I'm psychotically busy most of the time, so I just got around to watching  it last night. Well, nine minutes of it because my kids are all home on a Sunday night, and they were not quite so much into the royal wedding as their mom.

"It's history," I told them, "and I remember when his mom got married."


 "Everything you want to see is soooo boring," Philip reminded me. "But this is the worst. It's even in a church."

"Nine minutes," I reminded him, "that's not asking much. I just want to see her walk down the aisle."

Emma looked at the royal pair. "She's okay looking, but he has a head shaped just like a potato. Why is she marrying him?"


"Those people watching them," Philip announced, referring to the royal wedding attendees, "actually look boring. Like they're so boring, it shows."

It was a little dull. There's probably not much around more drowsy than British royalty. I remember reading once that Prince Charles was "madly keen on the science of sheep husbandry," which is about what you would expect looking at him.

I tried to get my kids interested. I pointed out the architecture, the dress, the hats. I wanted them to see the fairy tale aspects, the whole idea of a kingdom, of royalty. Wouldn't that interest them? Then again, my kids were never very big on fairy tales. I remember reading a few to the boys and the conversation went something like this:   

                            "And then he chopped the dragon's head off, Mommy?"

                             "Well, no. There is no dragon. He's going to rescue the princess now."

                            "Then there's a dragon and they fight? And that's when he chops the dragon's head off?"
                             and so on,

So when Emma was born, I couldn't wait to read the fairy tales I had so ardently loved as a child. We got through Cinderella and a few others. Then came one with an ogre.

Emma sat up.

I thought, Look at that. She's going to love them as much as I did.

She pointed to the picture of the ogre. He looked something like this:

That was it.

Her mouth dropped open.

She wanted to know where ogres lived, what did they eat, who says they're not real? I showed her a map of the Eastern seaboard, showed her our state and explained that ogres were not allowed anywhere near New York. Not even close.

The next day she told me again she was scared of ogres. I explained how they were not permitted in New York. She looked at me with very big eyes and said, "But they're ogres."

I got her point. Ogres would not obey trespassing rules because, well, that's not what ogres do. They don't obey anything.

So I got my nine minutes of royal yawn and after that the kids found a teen/tween kind of news show that was flashy and fast paced and full of Lady Gaga music. That's when they saw a flash of royal wedding hats on (Princess ??? not sure if she's been royally booted or not)  Fergie's daughters:

You gotta hand it to the royals.

They even invited Cinderella's step sisters.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Happy Easter!

Mom's version of rebirth and renewal ~

Teenage version ~
Holidays always seem to sneak up on me.  I think it's my resistance to the stores' insistence on mingling bunnies and marshmallow peeps alongside the Valentines cards. My brain screams, That's not real! Not yet!

It's kind of how I trick myself by setting the kitchen clock ahead ten minutes so I'm not late in the morning, then I pour another cup of coffee thinking I have way more time than I do.

Easter is late this year, and that's my favorite way to celebrate it. When it comes in the dull middle of March, it seems so...well, like it's in the dull middle of something.

Right now, here, the buds are coming out on the trees and we're leaving the heat off during the day. I've even got the kids outside helping to clean up the yard and doing the garden thing.
We're clearly not a yard-obsessed family (seeing as we found a rubber tire in the brush-clogged part of our yard we just started cleaning out), but there is something about working together to clear out brush and branches that makes you think about concepts like renewal. I've always thought we should make resolutions at Easter instead of New Year's when there is still so much chocolate left over.

So, in keeping with the spirit of rebirth, my Easter resolution is to streamline my life. In May, I am going to be working only three days a week so I can write more. It's official. I realized that as much as I like teaching, I like writing more. And the half day I have to write is constantly being consumed with orthodontia appointments or laundry or visits to the vet. I keep writing in small slivers and when that happens, not a whole lot gets completed.

I can't wait.

And I can't be the only one who thinks this way. Have you made any spring resolutions?

Friday, April 8, 2011


  I remember studying that picture in my elementary school library instead of watching the film on the Dewey Decimal system. I also remember feeling sort of scared by  it, but only in the way you can be scared in an elementary school library which is not too terribly scared.

I think it was the mysticism of the painting that alarmed me. On the whole, there is not too much mysticism in American schools, even though I was taught by returning Vietnam vets and hippies (the real kind who had lived, or at least had visited, Haight Ashbury and met Jerry Garcia, or at least had attended one of his concerts)

It was an interesting time to be a child because none of our once-upon-a-time hippie teachers agreed with anything the Vietnam vets thought and vice versa. And we could tell who they were because the VietNam vets all dressed like hippies and the previous hippies wore conservative clothing to indicate they had now changed and decided to devote their lives to working with children. Both groups told us a pretty sanitized version of what they had learned by their experiences.

We loved when they talked about their former lives.We used to steer them toward the topic and ask them questions.

It wasn't that we understood most of what they said; what we did understand was that it was really, really easy to get these young, devoted, highly sincere teachers to move and stay off the topic of say, the Dewey Decimal system. Or the exports of Guatemala. I became especially interested in learning about Vietnamese village life at the onset of math sessions.

But this is a post about time, not about Anne Spollen's politically divided elementary school experience. The above ramble actually sort of underscores what I haven't said yet...

Time is actually a concept that I grapple with every day. I don't think I am one of those people who is "good" with time in the sense that I am efficient. I do put on the wash and start dinner and help with homework all at the same time. I'll even return phone calls then and go through the bills. And I do it all really quickly, really efficiently.

 Then I take the dog out and spent twenty minutes wondering if I should put a few trellises of roses over the spot where the neighbor's hideous plastic and vinyl fence meets my property line. Or forsythia? Wait, I can't stand forsythia; they look like skeletons most of the year.

Could I put a fence up over that fence? Does that require a survey? How about vines? Yeah, vines.Only they would go everywhere. Or have thorns. On the ground that the kids and the dog would get tangled up in. So yeah, roses. Wait, I love wisteria. Is that a good name for a character? Wisteria Howard. Maybe. But how many rose bushes or wisteria vines? And so on....

I feel like I can focus in bouts, but most of the time my brain is, well, more like a tumble of vines than say a straight growing tree organized into brances. I don't know if that's good or bad for writing or how writers' brains work in general. Writers all seem so different to me.

I've tried this before, but I am going to try and create a specific period of time to write and only write. Since I have times when I work, when I sleep, when I spend time with the kids, I need to build in some part of each day to write. I think it would help focus.

How do you structure your day? Do you have  a specific time of day to write? Is it built in? Is it flexible?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


One weird thing I have noticed when I write is how easy it is to come up with names for characters when the story has ripened well enough to be written. Yick, that's an awkward sentence.

Anyway, if I am struggling with names, chances are, I don't know or understand the character well enough to begin writing that story. What's wonderful is when the name seems to float right in, almost as if the character is telling you her name.

I've always loved the name Jane Eyre - such a grounded first name, followed by the sound of "air" - perfect for that character. Then Edward Rochester - what a perfectly rhythmical name for a brooding, Byronic hero. I had trouble though with his ex wife who was supposed to be a wild, romantic nut job -- you would think, back in the days of the Brontes, a name like Flora or Stella maybe. But Charlotte Bronte chose Bertha.

I would name my diner waitress with the dark roots and the bad manicure Bertha, not the madwoman in the attic. But that's okay; the rest of the novel wasn't too shabby. 

Recently, I began writing a first chapter featuring a difficult protagonist. Only I could not think of her name. I could see what she was doing, I had her voice down, but like I said, she was difficult. I read Wiccan naming charts, looked at ancient Celtic names, browsed my old baby name books and even ate a bowl of soup while looking at a phone book. Nothing stuck. So she's not ready to be written.

My friends who don't write, and these are the ones I actually speak to, not the bloggy ones, don't understand why I abandoned the difficult protagonist because I seemed to like her so much. But I think my writing friends (the ones whose voices I have never heard, the ones whose thoughts I read instead), might get it. If you get to a certain point, and the name isn't there, it's time to go on to a different project. It's hard to explain to non-writers; I'm not abandoning my witchy character - she's just not ready yet.

It's probably because names are so important, even in life. Imagine if the Prince of England were marrying a Bambi or a Tammy. Wouldn't work. It sort of has to be a Kate or maybe a Millicent. I wouldn't name my difficult character any of those names. I was thinking of Leda, something short like that. But it didn't sound authentic.

It's not like I don't have lots of other stories to work on; I just sort of mourned that one because I could envision the plot so well. I feel like I'll be looking at a class roster one day in July, and say, "Morgana! That's it." (No, she's not a Morgana)

But I know she's not ready yet. I have no idea how other writers generate names. I know I have to disqualify a lot of names if they are anywhere near the names of my kids or their friends. And I don't want anyone's name in my immediate or extended family either. So the choices get narrower.

How do you generate names? Do you ever change them mid-manuscript if they don't seem to fit?


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Interview with A Middle Grade Reader

Today I had the double pleasure of picking up the laundry from Emma's room and helping her edit a rough draft of her life story. Just in case I was developing any kind of ego, I discovered that she loves me slightly more than her Aeropostale clothes and slightly less than her kittens. But she did agree to two offers.

One, she read the first chapter of my new middle grade (of which there is only a first chapter) and she agreed to honestly answer some questions about her own reading habits.

"You have reading habits?" I asked her.
"They force us to read at school," she reminded me.

She liked my new middle grade, mostly, but she thought the first paragraph was really boring. She's a fairly reluctant reader as she spends most of her time listening to and reading song lyrics. But her answers might shed some light on any middle grade you might be writing.

1. What types of stories do you like to read?

I only read realistic fiction or fantasy.

2. What makes those books good?

With realistic fiction, you can relate to what's going on with the characters or the plot. I love when not everything is perfect, like the character fails a subject or has nerdy friends. The perfect stuff is just not interesting.

With fantasy, I love the feeling that anything can happen. I can't stand when I can predict what will happen next.

3. How do you pick a book to read?

By the cover. Like the cover of Dear, Dumb Diary there's a girl petting a brain. That's the best cover because it makes you want to read the book. Or at least the summary.

4. How long do you read a book before you decide whether or not to finish it?

First of all, I am not mad weird like you, Mom. I don't read a book to the end even if it's bad. I give it maybe two or three pages. Then I just go on to the next one.

5. What is your all time favorite book?

The Midnight Library series. The best.

6. If twelve year olds could control what students read, what would the choice be?

Music on youtube, lyrics. After that, just nothing from a teacher. Let them go pick out what they like to read and don't force books on kids because you just ask your friends what they're about and what happens if you don't want to read them.

7. What type of setting do you like the best?

For fantasy, it has to be a different place, and creepy. An old house or a creepy lake. For realistic fiction, I like home and school only.

8. What do most of your friends read?

Boy and girl stories, romance and Twilight. I can't stand those. I like fantasy and most twelve year olds don't really like fantasy.

9. Do you have any advice for your mom's new middle grade?

Ummm, honestly?


Your first paragraph is dull. No one cares about description. But the creepiness is good. I like that. I like not knowing what will happen.

10. If I finish this one, will you read it?

Not if there's a lot of description, but probably if there's action and scary stuff.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Revision Revisited, Then Revisited Again

I have been MIA from the Internet as of late due to three things: story revision, my crazy life, and story revision.Currently, I loathe revision more than I ever have.

For Christmas, I got a bright and shiny new laptop. For a time, I felt really cool moving my laptop around. In those spare minutes when all was quiet in the house, I was working on stories. I can write that way, in short periods of time. I always read about those writers who do yoga for an hour while gazing at the sunrise, have a cup of organic green tea and summon the muse prior to beginning writing.

Here, it's more like gag some coffee down, throw wet towels into the washing machine, get the kids out, go to work, transfer wash to dryer, then grab at a few quiet minutes here and there. My muse is not hearing --

So I was getting a whole lot more done since the minute I shut my door, it seemed to trigger mini emergencies. Somehow, if I was right there at the kitchen table typing, no one seemed to need anything quite as urgently. I stayed off the huge distraction of the Internet. And I finished the revision.

I should add that I don't really like the hardware aspect of writing, as in sending files and using the computer. If a legal pad and a good Bic pen (like one that costs over $4.00) were as fast, I would sit and do the scrivener thing. But it's too slow and you end up having to type in the end, so I type from the beginning.

Okay, so finished the revision, and after one last look, ready to send. All writers love those words, READY TO SEND. file. Gone. Vanished. I had even saved it under a bright and shiny new name on my bright and shiny new computer. Teenagers were summoned. They who had computers for their Sesame Street characters (seriously, Christopher's Big Bird computer is still in a cabinet in the living room) No luck. No one could find the story. I had the old version of it on my big old computer upstairs, so I emailed it back to myself and redid the revision. This time, I had them watch me save the file.

"That's exactly what I did last time," I insisted.

"Couldn't have been," teenagers insisted, "it would still be there."

"Fine, so it's definitely there?"

They nodded. I was sure it was there. I was now on say, hour eight of revision time.

So no one could figure out what happened when the SECOND complete revision disappeared. Vanished. Gone. They searched all the files. They did things I never knew about like system restores and actions that sounded like upwill sync primes. It seemed a little like sorcery.

Still gone.

 I have given up my convenient laptop and gone back to the computer that seems rooted into an ancient part of the earth. After three days of ignoring the laptop, teenagers asked, "What's going on? Did you do a third revision?"

"Not yet. And not on that thing," I said, pointing to the laptop. "I can't stand that computer."

The teenagers exchanged glances that whispered, "How old is she now? Could she be getting..."

"Mom, you act like that computer is being mean. It doesn't have a personality.  You're just unfamiliar with the word program on that one."

"It hates me. And it's haunted. You forgot to mention that little detail."

I'm hoping the third time is a charm.

And I'm not using the laptop again, just to up my odds.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Snowlog and Potluck Stuff

While I was looking for pictures of the last snowstorm, I finally found the picture of our Christmas mantle that I thought I had never taken.

Everyone piled stuff there without any real pattern, sort of a designer's potluck. It has nothing to do with this post, but that's sort of the way February has been going around here.
Here are observations from my snowlog:

1. Cats really, really don't understand glass. Maybe buying a glass computer table to fit into the kitchen corner should have been thought through a little more.

Our cats are already nuts and now they are making themselves crazier than ever by trying to knock pens and papers off the glass. When we clear it, they try to bite each other's paws through the glass. Lots of giant skunk tails and long caterwauls that sound like: rrrrrrreeeeeeewwwwwwwoooooohhhhh. It's like living inside the soundtrack of nightmares.
2. Philip is going to church with me now. Yup, lapsed Catholics that we were. There is a much, much longer story to this, but suffice it to say, my tall boy is now listening to weekly homilies and gospel right next to his mom.

And isn't that every 16 year old boy's dream?

3. I am cleaning out my closet. Really cleaning, as in basement and attic scouring, so even the bagged up stuff that I paid a lot for and was going to fit into one day is getting washed and donated. Some of it I haven't worn since my early twenties, and that was more than a few years ago.

It's hard to imagine that I was once a size 5 with 32 inch hips. I tell myself that wider hips mean a larger heart and a size 10 is not such a bad way to end up. Besides, you can't wrangle with tweens and teens if you are frail. It takes strength to raise kids with any kind of care and vigilance. (See #2)

4. I really, really like Southern Gothic literature.

5. My new YA is finally taking shape. I have 16,000 words that I actually am happy with.

Okay, so I'm happy with maybe 10,000, but it's at that point where I am not changing the order around any more. Stuff is permanent.

And I'm working harder to write it - like closing the door and acting all moody when my kids come in and want a ride to Becky's house because she has gourmet popcorn and a vampire movie. I just watched how they acted when I asked them to do things like take out the garbage or pick up the wet towels. I give them the same looks when they interrupt me and now we are speaking the same unspoken language.

And it's the dull middle of February, nearly exactly, and I am buying potting soil tomorrow because I'm going to push spring. I saw daffodils in the supermarket on Sunday and had to buy them: they are just so hopeful.

February may be the shortest month, but since I don't really deal too much with mathematical realities, I think it's the longest. There are some nice days in March, but it's taking so long to get there with these freezing cold, windy days. Maybe we need days like this to do some planning and things like finding pictures and cleaning out our closets.

How are you keeping busy until spring?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Aligned Stars and the Presence of Dynamite

There has been a whole lot written about "balance" between work and family, and almost all of it is aimed at women. I could never work when my kids were small, particularly the boys. And I'm not talking work as in leaving the house with shaved legs and make up on. I mean work as in planting marigolds.

I actually tried to make a garden once when both boys were toddlers. Philip began "tasting" the sand and Christopher got stuck in the thorny berry patch and began howling. So I just played with them. Everyone stayed intact and the only "balance" I had in my life occurred when I got the two boys, the groceries and the dog food into the shopping cart without tipping.

But they're older now, so the other day when I got a phone call from an actual interview person, I felt really cool. And I rarely feel cool, but that morning I did. I had cleaned my desk off and my new YA was coming together and I had FINALLY bought living room curtains, so all my stars were aligned. There I was, with that new ms, an interview, and Christopher safely off at college.

Of course, my life is generally not this smooth. The other side of that day was that the living room curtains are still in the bag, the YA only has the first chapter and a half done, and it was a snow day which meant Philip and Emma were both home.

Philip and Emma have been tight playmates ever since we toted Emma to the playground with us in a Snuggli.

Life with them is something like this. This is Philip's personality:

So alone, that's not so bad. Here's what happens when Emma comes along:

And there's a bigger reason I chose those images. So there I am, on the phone, feeling cool for the first three seconds of the interview. Very writerly. Very organized. And I get this text while I'm talking about organized,writerly things: Rmbr that rocket P got for his bd a lng time ago?

I do remember the rocket Philip got for his birthday. He was turning12 and a well-meaning (childless) friend had given him a rocket to launch. Somehow, because I had put it there it ended up in a box of old maternity clothes.

Put it back, I texted, and get out of the basement while I'm on the phone!!!!!

Mom, is he lying or is this acktual dynomite? BRB

So I trotted down to the basement, still discussing character and plot and all those kinds of things. I got the rocket and wrote an old fashioned note to them: We can launch this later, when I'm off the phone. I got the interview done. I sounded, the interviewer said, very animated.

 If only she knew that it wasn't plot structure giving so much pitch to my voice.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

MG/YA Brains: The Divide

Whenever my house seems dusty and cluttered, which is a lot, I put on some real estate show and look at the adults only kind of living with porcelain objects on tables and alien things like crystal and wine decanters. It's an entirely different world from mine. There, basketballs would never roll across a living room floor (we have a small Juliette balcony which sounds so lovely, but it is at the perfect height for a basketball toss) and you wouldn't have to think of a way to hide cat scratch marks on the sofas.

I love watching those shows. It's an escape that helps me come back and hurl rogue basketballs into the garage, pick up the fossilized socks under the sofas and start the laundry with renewed apathy.

I do that with work, too. A few days ago, I was writing curriculum for a course I am less than excited about teaching. So in the middle of a thrilling lesson on apostrophe usage, I went online and looked at new jobs. These jobs wouldn't be in my classroom where the windows don't open, ever, and the air conditioning kicks in the week before Christmas. These would be in new and shiny classrooms where the students didn't text while I was talking about Herman Melville and all the apostrophes would arrive in meticulously rendered papers. I just needed to find that job.

One really interested me. It was about an hour from here and it was teaching MG and YA writing. You had to have written and published at least one book, have a current manuscript and a bunch of other requisites  that I already have. It sounded perfect.

Of course, it's impossible for me to do this job since I'm already overly committed for the spring, but thinking about teaching MG and YA was no different from my viewing of adult only houses staged for sale.

And it made me think, again, about those lines between MG and YA. They seem so definite in the bookstores and libraries. Yet books like The Hobbit confuse me - that was assigned in our seventh grade class, yet it is in the YA section in a lot of places. Number the Stars, also a book I taught in middle school, is in the YA section. Other than obvious subject matter, I'm not sure what divides them. I have an idea, though, now, after one of our pre-dinner conversations.

Christopher was saying something about sleep and the brain, and how dreaming is essential to survival. (Remember finishing your first semester of college psychology and all the stuff you found out?) The conversation went something like this:

Definitely a YA reader, with a semi mature attitude. I say semi mature because Christopher would also agree with this brain theory:

Emma, who was gluing feathers onto the cover of her report on cell function, (because cell function reports are dull) explained to Christopher that she knew, exactly, why we dream.

"When you go to sleep, your brain has nothing to look at and nothing to do. It's sooooo bored. So it makes up stories until you wake up. That's why you dream."

I think I had my answer to the difference.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Spending New Year's Eve Alone

With hubster working on New Year's Eve and nobody local available, I decided, for the first time, ever, to spend New Year's Eve alone.

 I probably could have imposed myself on people who vaguely mentioned plans, but after the ho ho ho-ness of the holidays, I was pretty much looking forward to a few hours of hanging out with Mazy and the cats. Actually, impossibly nerdy as it sounds, I wanted to write for a couple of hours.

 Yup, on New Year's Eve.

I thought if I took the kids to a nice place early in the evening, maybe some place wintry and cultural and made snacks, that would be enough of a celebration. I found this lovely lake in nearby Smithville - definitely fit the bill for wintry and cultural. I even found a video of the place I liked: 

So off we went, kids, friends and complaints. By the time we found the lake, everyone was cold. And hungry. And grumpy. And vocal about all three of those conditions. My vision of an enchanting early evening felt much more like this -

But, like most trips with teenagers, and Emma as the mascot, there was adventure. I took a wrong turn somewhere because we were looking at "old people" eating in an inn. I thought it was nice, but the kids could not imagine sitting sedately at an inn because it was rich with history.

 After the wrong turn, we drove for a really, really long time down a road with only marshes on either side. At the end was one of those bars that looks like it's falling into the swampland. I might have mentioned that the road was a perfect place for serial murderers to await prey. It's amazing how young they are - everyone got uncharacteristically quiet right after I said that.

I did find out a few tidbits: Christopher is going to study homeland security as a minor. Wow. I didn't realize you could get a degree in that. And Philip, being Philip, announced he wants to start a garden. I was so happy: all those seed plantings I took him to at the organic farm, all those nature walks and watching peppers grow had paid off.

Then I remembered, This is Philip talking. So I was ready for some kind of weird vegetable, maybe okra or kohlrabi.

"Know what I want to grow?"
"Umm, beets?"
"Nope. Tobacco. Tobacco and tea."
Don't all sixteen year olds?

I spent some of the night alone, but they all sent me texts at midnight, and Philip and I are going to find out how to grow tea in New Jersey, or maybe just leaves resembling tea.

And I'm taking New Year's Eve 2010 as an omen for 2011: I think it's going to be a year of surprises.