Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Catching up at Write 2 Ignite

In preparation for next year's conference, Sally has been catching up with some of us. Please check out her interview with me at Write 2 Ignite. I'm in awe of being on the same blog as folks like Bill Reeves, Tony Snipes, and many other artists. Lots of great tips and inspiration.

Write 2 Ignite is a conference for Christian writers of children's literature and I'm so thankful to live close enough to participate. Like the Highlights Foundation Workshop I attended this summer, we are all striving to share our Christian hope with children through our stories.

I've swiped some pictures from their fun page (all taken by Sean Earnhardt -- he's Donna's husband in the second photo ... don't they look happy together?)

Donna E Jean Vijaya Donna Sean cropIMGP7628DSC_0662

Mark your calendars: March 28-29, 2014.
Where: Northern Greeneville University, Tigerville, SC.
List of authors, editors, agents here.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


Fall is here ... The water's too cold for swimming, and the air too cool for drying clothes out on the porch. But the mosquitoes are also gone. I've not bitten in a couple of weeks. I didn't realize until now that not only do I switch from a summer writing pattern to school-days writing pattern, but that I have a different routine given whether it's hot or cold, and I'm finding this transition hard. I suspect the stack of good books I'm reading or planning to read is not helping my writing one bit. But I'm going to try to do better and write first, then read. I've also begun volunteering at school and it makes me realize how wonderful all the teachers are at school. I could never do even half the things they do with a group of children. We've been so blessed. I've not met a single teacher who has not been dedicated. The Blueboard created by Verla Kay has moved to its new digs at SCBWI in one piece! Lots of little glitches to take care of, but overall, a huge success. Check it out -- the best kid-lit community online. I've been a member nearly ten years!

Doesn't that clementine look ripe for the picking? It's in our back yard. Sun ripened and sweet. We've already eaten a couple and I wonder how many years it'll take until we no longer have to buy from the stores. Fall is here. What are you doing?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Neil Gaiman on Libraries, Reading, and Daydreaming

I'm very fond of Neil Gaiman and his books and lectures. In this article, he explains why public libraries deserve our support. "But libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information."

He gives a litany of obligations, and this one is especially for writers of children's literature: "We writers – and especially writers for children, but all writers – have an obligation to our readers: it's the obligation to write true things, especially important when we are creating tales of people who do not exist in places that never were – to understand that truth is not in what happens but what it tells us about who we are. Fiction is the lie that tells the truth, after all. We have an obligation not to bore our readers, but to make them need to turn the pages. One of the best cures for a reluctant reader, after all, is a tale they cannot stop themselves from reading. And while we must tell our readers true things and give them weapons and give them armour and pass on whatever wisdom we have gleaned from our short stay on this green world, we have an obligation not to preach, not to lecture, not to force predigested morals and messages down our readers' throats like adult birds feeding their babies pre-masticated maggots; and we have an obligation never, ever, under any circumstances, to write anything for children that we would not want to read ourselves."

Read the full article here:

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Day at the Charleston Museum

A few weeks ago, we spent the day checking out the historic houses and America's first museum. Boy, would I love to spend the whole day in just this museum with my notebook and write! I've never done that but one day I will. And one day I'll also have a book set in Charleston. It may even be a historical ... though I need to learn a whole lot of history first. I already learned that it'd be a pain to go to the ladies room in a fancy skirt and hoop.

They had quite an impressive collection of Roman and Egyptian artifacts, including a mummy. If you click on the pictures, they become bigger ...

An entire room was devoted to quilts. I later learned it was a special display. But my all time favorite was the natural science area. When I was in high school, I prepared a skeleton of a frog for display ... my mother was mortified and threw away every single kitchen utensil I used. I love seeing the insides ... each creature is so marvelously designed.


Science and art blend for me ...  art is a reflection of the true and beautiful. Dioramas of various creatures in their natural habitat are true works of art. And the suspended eggs were magical.

Why yes! That's the skeleton of an enormous gator. And no, polar bears aren't native to SC, but this one is a permanent feature here nonetheless.

I also enjoyed the areas where they displayed life in the old days. Visiting the plantations is eye opening. We've been to a couple, and there are many more to visit.

All pictures were taken by Max, who has started his own blog to share his pictures. He's just getting started but I hope you'll visit him from time to time and encourage him. Thanks Max, for all the memories.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Blog Tour Q&A

When I met Becky Shillington at the Carolinas SCBWI Conference, she asked me whether I'd like to participate in a blog tour. I wasn't sure, but she said she'd email me instructions. In my physics lab the motto was: If all else fails, follow the instructions. 

What are you working on right now?
My YA historical, Emergency. I’m polishing my manuscript right now and giddy with excitement.

How does it differ from other works in its genre?
Although there have been many scholarly works published by journalists about this period in India’s history (1975-1976), there’s not much fiction, save that of Rohinton Mistry’s A FINE BALANCE, and no children’s books. Actually, this is the book that turned me into a writer, as I delved into my own memories of this period. Shortly after, I bought Anne Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD, and filled a half-used biochemistry notebook with words. My story looks at this period through the lens of a 13-year-old who is directly affected.

Why do you write what you do?
I write in a great many areas, spanning many ages. But it is curiosity that drives the writing. I write to understand, to make sense of the world we live in. I write to make a difference in people’s lives. I write to give a voice to those who have none. It reflects what I read once by Anais Nin: "The role of the writer is not to say what all can say but what we are unable to say."

How does your writing process work?
Write, Research, Revise, Rest.
Repeat as needed.
But in all honesty, I bite nails, procrastinate, read, read, read, clean house, blog, cook, walk, journal, goof-off, play, and pray far more than I actually place my BIC and write. But all these other activities feed my writing (except when they don't).

Any departing words of wisdom for other authors?

Write. Just do it. Throw out the TV. Stop browsing the web. Don't talk. Be still. Write.

Look at these writers to find out how they answer these same questions next week. I hope they all share something about their wips.

1.      Ruth Schiffman
2.      Anne Bingham
3.      Rosemary Freeman

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Weather Report in Chant

Last year, our very talented organist, Steve Collins, introduced Anglican chant for singing some of the propers of the Mass. I got into the habit of speaking in chant while speaking to the kids so that they'd get the chord progression in their heads. So imagine my delight when Steve sent me this link to the weather report sung in chant. Enjoy!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Surfing and Saints

I'm ready to dive back into polishing my historical, but not before I leave you with some beautiful pictures at the beach. As you can see, it's not at all crowded. Water temp. was in the 70s and the outside temps. in the 80s, and still I felt chilled after I came out, with the wind blowing. The waves were gentle, perfect for a beginning surfer-girl. And now matter how many times she wiped out, she was back out there, trying to catch the next wave. My son enjoyed taking all these pictures, so alas, there's not a single one of him.




This morning, I went for a walk in the drizzle and didn't get bit by a single mosquito! October is truly a beautiful month. It is the birthday month of two of my favorite people -- Charlanne and Colleen. While we lived in WA, it was always such a treat for me to celebrate together. Oct. begins with Feasts of St. Therese (Little Flower), St. Francis of Assisi and our Lady. My sister just made her total consecration, the quickest way to sainthood, and so I leave you with the Queen of the Holy Rosary.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

SCBWI Conference Recap

Can you just see the energy and excitement of these ladies beside me? It takes a lot of work to put on a conference, so my heartfelt thanks go to Teresa Fannin, Stephanie Greene, Bonnie Adamson and all the volunteers who made this possible and fun. And I especially enjoyed seeing the winners of the Art and Writing Contest.
Friday was uber-busy. I don't think I've talked this much since spring. First I met with the ladies whose stories I had the pleasure of critiquing. Then got some folks fired up about magazine and nonfiction writing. Do your homework, people! And let me know if you get something accepted. After that, a delicious supper with excellent company. Stephanie organized a PAL discussion. Except for the size of the room, which was too small to accommodate all of us, it was great. Pam Zollman, former editor at Highlights, was there and it was lovely to meet her. She gave the inside scoop to all of us at the magazine table.
Saturday, I got to attend the various sessions. Here are some tidbits. I hope you find them useful.

Cynthea Liu gave the keynote. I loved that she was the "visual" and she made sure she got a standing ovation. We were thoroughly entertained as she discussed the elements of a good plot, using her own writing life as a model. There was the younger Cynthea as well (for a PB) who bore a surprising resemblance to my daughter. Cynthea had the best heels. She told us to stand tall, no matter the setbacks. It was a great keynote.

Sarah Davies, founder of Greenhouse Literary, gave us the lowdown on contracts. She is bright, articulate, and a very good storyteller. It made me realize that I need to re-enter agent queryland again, and find the just-right agent.

Emma Ledbetter, assistant editor at Atheneum, gave a fantastic talk on the picture book, particularly the sidle-up effect. She covered the three essentials: subject that speaks to a child, language that creates a moment, and a character that feels genuine. I noticed that nearly all the books she mentioned are part of a series. However, in each case, the author had a strong first book, which children loved.

At the faculty dinner, I had the good fortune to sit next to Patti Ann Harris, senior art director at Little Brown. She had given an intensive workshop with Dan Yaccarino and I enjoyed hearing their stories. At the breakout session, she shared so much about what goes on behind the scenes at LB. Although I am not an artist, I am highly visual and over the years, have really enjoyed doing the layout for my books. I also enjoy doing photo-research. I think every PB writer should attend illustrator sessions because it's so helpful to get that perspective while we shape our stories. I was very lucky that in my first critique group, we had Kevan Atteberry. Not only did we get the male perspective on our stories, but he was great at seeing whether something would work as a PB.

Patti Ann closed with a quote from Chuck Close that resonates deeply for me: Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.

So true. So get to work!

Alan Gratz did a great job reading first pages. I will forever remember the Butt-guy. It was a brilliant PB manuscript and everybody clapped. However, most of the PBs had very little hint of conflict. Many had a MG voice. And of the novel excerpts, very few hit the mark for me. I was either confused or didn't care. The best ones were the ones with a great voice and a hint of conflict. First pages are so instructive when the editors are honest and we certainly had that with our panel.

Later that night we had an author round table (chair) discussion about the writing life, the challenges and joys. Several local authors joined us, including Carrie Ryan and Cate Tiernan. What was amazing is how many of us have done a good amount of work-for-hire to put food on the table. This isn't talked about much; the focus tends to be on trade books. But many authors have been asking me how to get started in this area because even when you are published, it is not easy to make a living wage.

The last session I attended was Stephen Barr's on setting as a character. All my novels could not occur any other place than where they do, and Stephen did a great job of showing how to use the setting in our stories, given that our characters will carry emotional baggage because of who they are and where they're from. We did a writing exercise in which a small or large element of the setting provided the central conflict. I think this is one area where writers don't pay enough attention, but it can be a powerful tool. I think of Sherman Alexie's books or Dickens' and they could take no place else but where they're set. I'm so psyched to polish my historical and send it out. Probably next year. 

I had the chance to catch up with old friends and new. Here I am with Buffy Silverman who is taking a sabbatical with her husband in NC. My husband said that I've met my match. We're both smallish, NF writers. I've known Buffy online for quite some time, so it was great to meet her. Last year, I sat across from Ann Eisenstein at supper, and this year it was lovely to cement that friendship. Samantha Bell introduced me and I'm so thrilled she has a new picture book out. And last but not least, my lovely and trusted writing partner, Deana, who made sure we arrived at the conference and returned home in time for choir practice with plenty of time to spare.

Solemn High Mass was heavenly. I managed to make all new mistakes, but the choirs of angels were there to help us. Now it's time to buckle down and prepare the Faure Requiem Mass.