Archive for July, 2009

Practice Swings

July 26, 2009

When I stepped up to home plate last Sunday night for a friendly game of softball,  I was a bit worried.  It had been almost six years since I’d faced an opposing pitcher.    Most of my practice swings since that time had come during various school visits around Michigan.

Posing with my props at a Kenowa Hills middle school

Posing with my props at a Kenowa Hills middle school

During one of my talks, I share ways to make action come alive on the page.  One of my favorite techniques has its roots in the work I did on FUNDAMENTAL SOFTBALL for Lerner.   I demonstrate to the students how I would get up from my computer  desk and go through the motions of pitching, batting and sliding so that I could break it down and describe it accurately.    I’ve used the same technique for other projects in articles, short stories, and novels.  In fact my very patient son let me tackle him about twenty times for one of my works in progress.

So as I stepped into the batter’s box, I silently went through the advice that I gave to readers a long time ago. Then I took a few practice swings.  The first pitch was high and outside.  I let it go. The next floated in on a path that would take it right down the middle. Closer.  Closer. Closer.  CLANG!  I drilled the ball down the third base line. The third baseman caught it in the air, but I could tell by the reaction from my bench that I’d put a little something on the ball.    I’ve had worse starts.


Peachtree Publishers: People Who Share Books

July 18, 2009

I’ve never liked selling things.  In fact, I could hardly sell Girl Scout Cookies. I did try, but I usually felt physically sick as I climbed the steps to press someone’s doorbell. 

As a writer, I have to sell my words.  But one lovely aspect of this, is that I typically don’t have to make a pitch in person.  I used to put things in the in the mail and then wait for a response.  In writers’ guides like the CWIM (Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market) editors always made it clear that they didn’t want writers to contact them by phone.  My response to that policy has always been ‘Perfect!’

But signings are quite different. A very nice community relations person at Barnes and Noble encouraged me to engage with people walking through the store.   Smile.  Talk.  Say hello.  My stomach recommended against it.   Plus I didn’t want to be like one of those people selling lotion in the middle of the mall. 

Strangely enough, I have no trouble with school visits.   I walk around. I make eye contact.  I wave my arms.  It helps that I’m talking about subjects I love, books and writing.

But I decided that I was going to be brave at ALA.  I told Leslie Rowe, a member of Peachtree’s staff, that I was going to talk to librarians from Kentucky, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota and Missouri.  

“Why not talk to everyone?” she asked. 

I shared my longtime fear of selling things and explained that I’d have an easier time making connections with people from those states.  SAVING THE GRIFFIN is on the master lists for the Kentucky Blue Grass Award and Georgia Children’s Choice Award.   SAVING THE GRIFFIN features characters from Minnesota.  DEFENDING IRENE features characters from Missouri.  I’m currently living in Michigan.

“We don’t feel like we’re selling books,” Leslie said. “We feel like we’re sharing them.” 

So I made an effort to share my book, but I still looked for  common ground.  Due to my WorldCat habit, I knew that SAVING THE GRIFFIN was in a library in Papillon, Nebraska.  This had delighted me when I saw it, because my husband had been stationed down the road at Offut Air Force Base.  So I said hello.  I spotted a librarian from Provo, Utah.  Due to my narcissistic Google habit, I knew that a librarian from there had given SAVING THE GRIFFIN an enthusiastic review.  So I reached out to her as well. 

Sigining at the Peachtree Booth (ALA 2009)

Sigining at the Peachtree Booth (ALA 2009)

And occasionally, a librarian would reach out to me.  I enjoyed talking to a librarian from Tampa who really connected with THE GRIFFIN.  

So here’s a photo showing some of the great Peachtree people from our dinner that night. 

Peachtree staff, writers, and illustrator

Peachtree staff, writers, and illustrator

ALA National Conference

July 13, 2009

It was such a pleasure to spend a couple of days in Chicago at the ALA National Convention talking to people who love books.   Jeanie Franz Ransom and I kept returning to the Peachtree booth like a pair of homing pigeons.

Showing off books with Jeanie Franz Ransom

One highlight for me was getting a chance to meet the talented illustrator, Yoshiko Jaeggi, who did the cover art and thumbnail sketches for SAVING THE GRIFFIN. 


Yoshiko Jaeggi


I hope to post a few more things about ALA, but I have special company this week.  My sister is visiting from Egypt.

Letting Go For Awhile

July 9, 2009

I’ve been struggling with a new first chapter for a novel revision.  It’s been a process of arranging and rearranging words instead of adding to the plot.   But it can be really difficult to draw the reader into the world of your character especially if it’s a fantasy.  It’s important to throw out clues about the setting while appearing to follow the thoughts of your characters who really don’t care about making sure that the audience gets it.  

As a way to pretend that the beginning is set for the moment, I’m sending it off to a few readers. 

I’m might just have to imitate my friend Lynnea, who is having a personal NoWriMo (Novel writing month.)   I like seeing word counts pile up.  It might help me move forward.   I now have 42,084 words.  I don’t imagine that I’ll get much done while in Chicago this weekend for the ALA National Conference, but inspiration can strike at any time.

Chicago Bound!

July 3, 2009

I’ll be signing books at Peachtree’s booth in “The Stacks” during the ALA National Conference on July 11 at 12:30.  Please feel free to drop by and say hello. I’d be delighted to answer any questions about SAVING THE GRIFFIN or DEFENDING IRENE or talk about the process of writing them.

NaNoWriMo in July

July 1, 2009

Late last week one of my writing friends sent out a notice. Somehow she missed the fact that she was supposed to bring a completed novel to a master class with Linda Sue Park at the SCBWI National Conference.  Clearly this was a writing emergency that required drastic measures. Lynnea decided to embark on a LyNoWriMo.  She’s blogging about this journey at

With her permission, I’m posting my cheerleading letter below:

Go, Lynnea!  This is a good time of the year for you to do this.  I’m betting that your looming deadline will help unblock you.  In times like these, the perfect is the enemy of the good.  Don’t be afraid to use spaces in the text instead of elegant transitions.  I have to say that I’m most productive with café writing.  And I’ve found that you don’t necessarily have to go to a café to do it.  Just set up something at home if necessary in which you have to keep the hand moving.  I managed to do quite a bit of editing and smoothing when I typed the text into the computer. 


Fans and dishwashers can provide white noise to screen out other sounds.  When I lived in Missouri, I actually did a lot of writing at the Civic Park Pool once my kids were old enough to be supervised by lifeguards instead of needing me to loom over them constantly.  

Don’t feel like you have to write sequentially.  If you know what your climactic scene is going to be, write it.  Sure, it might need a bit of revision once you get there with the rest of your plot, but you’ll also have something really solid to shoot for.  I wrote my YA mystery a bit like the transcontinental railroad.  I wrote the first three chapters. Then I wrote the last three chapters.  Then I wound up picking away a chapter at a time from one end or the other until I the novel finally met in the middle.  

I tend to write slowly myself.  I tried the NaNoWriMo, and it just didn’t work for me.  But I remember how I had about a week to knock out a couple of practically ready-for-the-printer chapters for SAVING THE GRIFFIN.   The scene with the Signora DeChecchi’s cousin and Fabio leaped out of the ground as though I’d sown the scene with a dragon’s tooth.

And so that could be a helpful metaphor as you launch into Writing the Dragon.  Good luck!