Monday, August 30, 2010

Meet Critter!

While I was in L.A., attending the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference, I met a wonderful person—Christy Evers. Christy writes children’s books, which explains why she was at the conference. However, in addition to writing, she has also been the keeper of Critter. Who or what is Critter, you ask? Read on, my friends.

Critter is a slightly bovine-looking, extremely cute chunk of art created by Ian Sands. Mr. Sands is an art teacher. According to his blog,, he encourages public, collaborative and interactive art. Sounds great, right? Wait, there is more! Ian Sands started a venture called the Lost Critter project. He made a lot of critters and set them free. This is where Christy comes in. She got her hands on one of these critters and has been sending her guy to visit children's writers and bloggers all over the country. After Critter has finished hanging out with sixteen different writers, Christy is going to auction him off and donate the proceeds to charity—St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital . How cool is that?

At this very moment, I have Critter with me as I type (actually, he’s in the front seat of my car, anxious for his first New Jersey adventure). He arrived safe and sound (and a little hungry, I think) in the mail on Saturday. Thank you USPS. So, stay tuned, Critter fans (because you are a fan by now, right?). I will be showing Critter around my part of the world and doing my best to entertain him. After we have some fun together, I will blog about our escapades. Then, Critter will be off to see author number fourteen—the talented and fabulous Jill S. Alexander, author of The Sweetheart of Prosper County. I adore her and so will you. Lucky, lucky Critter gets to go to Texas to visit Jill. Hmmm, maybe I’ll go with him. Love Texas.

Want to learn more about Critter? Check out Christy's blog:

Monday, August 23, 2010

Writing From the Heart

If you hang around people who write with the goal of publication in mind, you will most likely encounter a discussion about how much an author should consider the market when writing. Most authors that I have heard address this topic advise writers to compose from their hearts. I couldn’t agree more. It seems to me that writing the story that holds my interest to the point of giving up food and water is the way to go.

And yet. . .

I have to admit that I often dwell on what kind of story my readers most want. Considering the marketplace is like considering the chocolate cake on the counter. I know I should ignore it, yet it is there, tempting me to come closer. So, I am aware of what kids are not just reading, but devouring. But how much does awareness affect my writing?

After watching a certain thirteen-year-old that I adore finish his intense video game, I asked him (once his heart rate settled and he stopped sweating) about what books he has most loved reading. Answer: The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. Later, when I returned to my work in progress, I wondered if the previous chapters I had just finished writing were too quiet. Hmmmm.

And then I read a piece by Jerry Spinelli in the July/August Horn Book Magazine. Apparently, his first four books went unpublished. “I wanted to be read. I wanted to touch readers,” Mr. Spinelli wrote. For book number five, he stopped thinking about readers and focused on the story. This novel was published. “When I stopped aiming for readers, that’s when I got them,” he wrote. And: “I’ve since tried to write strictly for the story. . .” He won the Newbery Medal for Maniac Magee in 1991.

I think Mr. Spinelli has nailed it. Write for the story. Write from the heart.

What do you think?

Monday, August 16, 2010

People Watching at a 4H Fair?

Writers often comment about how helpful it can be to watch people going about their business. In other words, spying on the behavior of others. This is almost a requirement for writers. And when I say spying, by the way, I don’t mean the James Bond style of stalking that could lead to getting arrested. I’m talking about casually observing the antics of the general population. For a writer, people watching is a kind of research. Noting real life human behavior is a great way to develop multi-dimensional characters with depth—characters with interesting traits, quirks and sometimes full on funkiness. Because, let’s face it, most people have moments when they are hilarious, fascinating, quirky, and full of the funky. This is part of what makes us human, I think. And maybe less than boring.

So, when the local 4H fair kicked into gear, I decided to combine people watching with a night out with friends and 4H dogs, horses, cows, goats, chickens, ducks, rabbits, reptiles, alpacas (yes, that’s right—alpacas), and tractors.

What did I see? A husband and wife in a tornado of a fight over a bale of hay. Yes, hay. Writer me imagined that the screaming and arm-waving couple had an issue (dare I say issues) that went deeper than the block of hay, but maybe not.

In the food tent, I witnessed boys in a to the death, impromptu ice cream and waffle sandwich eating contest (here’s the visual: each sandwich is a two inch slab of ice cream between two frozen waffles). Nothing says twelve-year-old fun like cramming ice cream and waffles, all at once, into mouths too small to hold the mammoth treats.

Later, I caught a sweet moment where a girl was cooing words of love and encouragement to her alpaca (alpacas spit, by the way; they spit regurgitated or recently chewed grass, by the way).

And, of course, who could miss the herds of tweens and teens cruising the fairgrounds, clearly without much interest in the 4H animals? I could spend hours watching them (the tweens and teens, that is). But then, that’s probably why I write for these darlings.

So, I’m here to tell you that a fun night out with friends and animals can also lead to lots of fodder for character development. Fabulous.

Now, tell me: Do you people watch?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Workspace Interviews

Do you enjoy reading about how authors and illustrators work? Where they work? What their workspaces reveal about them? What motivates them? I do. The details about how other people write and create fascinates me. If you’re like me in this way, check out this fabulous blog:

Okay, now for the shameless self-promotion confession: I’m interviewed on this blog this week. So, a huge thank you to Jennifer and her wonderful blog.

If you find yourself with a few spare minutes, why not visit Jennifer’s blog and read some of the interviews. It’s really interesting how different people work and court creativity.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Quotes from the 2010 SCBWI Summer Conference

I’m back from another amazing SCBWI Summer Conference. My head is spinning (in a good way) from all the information, inspiration, and insights that I soaked up over the long weekend. This actually trumps the jet lag and exhaustion. Sort of amazing, really. Who needs aspirin?

Anyway, I thought I’d share some of my favorite quotes from the weekend.

Regarding writing advice: “Don’t believe everything you hear…” Jon Scieszka (He went on to say, by the way, that this advice included what he had to say in his keynote talk.)

Regarding luck and it’s significance in publishing: “You can do all the right things. . .but sometimes the dominoes have to fall the right way.” Gordon Korman

“Fill yourself up to overflowing and then give it all back.” E.B. Lewis

Regarding research: “Living people tell you things that you don’t expect.”

“Kids read to find hope.” Rachel Vail

“What you experience while writing, we will experience by reading.” Gennifer Choldenko

“Find time for your subconscious.” Gennifer Choldenko

Regarding finding one’s voice in story: “Your voice is you.” Jennifer Rees; “Voice is the heart and soul of the writer.” Jennifer Rees

I love quotes. Don’t you? I hope you loved these. : )