Friday, December 26, 2008

Snowy Arches

We took a walk through the woods on Christmas Day and encountered many, many snowy arches. At times I felt as though I were walking through a doorway, to a different world, different possibilities ... as I quietly dreamed of the writing possibilities in the year ahead.

Monday, December 22, 2008

White Christmas

Cue music: I'm dreaming of a white Christmas ...

I do so love snow in the winter. I still think it's like magic. And we don't get much of it here in Western Washington so we're eating it all up, literally. That's Pup's first snow and she loves prancing through it, finding a buried branch, tossing it through the air and pouncing upon it again. Such fun to watch her. Pure joy. And a bonus for me is not having to clean up a muddy dog (I did a lot of that in Nov.).

Schools closed three days before official winter break and we've had a lot of fun. We got a foot or more of this fluffy white stuff. It's been perfect for sledding. It's warmed up a bit, so it's perfect for making a snowman. My kitchen smells divine, with soups simmering, cookies baking and Christmas music filling the air.

Here are two BFFs -- best furry friends. They were both watching the birds and squirrels, but turned around politely for a picture. The cat lets the pup know when she's gotten too close.

As this year comes to a close, let me say a heartfelt "Thank You" to all my family and friends, furry or not. You've made our lives richer, sweeter.

Cue music: We wish you a Merry Christmas ... and a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


When I first started writing, I focused on children's magazines, and I'd come across Anna Levine's work in the magazines I enjoyed -- Highlights, Cricket group, etc. So when I came across a book of hers in the library, I immediately checked it out. Running on Eggs was her first book -- a story about the friendship between a Jewish and Arab girl, and the choices they must make.

Fast forward a few years. I was serving as a judge for the SCBWI Magazine Merit Awards and Anna had a touching story about a young girl whose mother battles cancer in "The Wednesday Club" (Cicada, Jan. 2006). She took second place for fiction that year. But she walked away with the grand prize for poetry. "Saxophone Summer" sizzled with the syncopated rhythm of red hot jazz, also published in Cicada (June 2006).

When I contacted her for an article I was writing about judging the awards, I had to know whether she had other books incubating. And she let me know about Freefall. I've been eagerly awaiting it's arrival and what a pleasure it was to stay up late and read it in peace.

As always, you can trust Anna to tell a good story. Here we discover what it's like to serve in the Israeli military. It's not a matter of choice -- it's compulsory. Does Aggie have what it takes to become a combat soldier? Find out in this fast-paced book. A rich cast of characters test their love and loyalty.

Mazel tov, Anna! You've done it again.
If you want to know more about what it's like to be eighteen and serve, check out Anna's blog.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Writing Novels

I haven't been going to our local SCBWI meetings because of all the kiddie sports and activities. Gosh, if there's a night I can hang out at home with my kiddos, that's the thing to do. But not even a headache was going to prevent me this time. Molly drove (thank you). Love my carpool buddies -- Molly, Jeanie and Sue. Always nice to visit and it makes the drive more pleasant.
What a pleasure it was to meet up with writing friends, celebrate the successes of our local authors and illustrators, especially Kevan and Jolie, eat all those Christmas cookies, and finally, after passing on the SCBWI Co-RA hats to Joni and Laurie, listen to the fabulous, pink-haired Laini Taylor on the strategies she uses to finish books. She is smart, funny and gracious and I urge you all to read Not for Robots. I think there's something there for each and every one of us who is trying to finish a book.
Thank you Laini, for a wonderful and inspiring talk.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Once someone stole a picture from me. I complained about it here. Upon closer examination, I found myself guilty of doing the same thing -- not checking to make sure that the image was in the public doman. I've removed the two pictures on my blog and will try to get permission or find other pictures.

I urge you all to make sure that the pictures and excerpts you use are in fact allowed. Here's a link to discerning what constitutes fair use. It's not always clear and if in doubt, leave it out.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Waiting, Waiting, Waiting ...

It is Advent. The season of waiting. The kiddos can hardly contain themselves with Christmas on the horizon. Both said that Christmas was their favorite holiday, followed by birthdays because of all the presents! Well, who can blame them? They are also excited about celebrating a birth that happened two thousand years ago. I think Jesus is already in their hearts, as He is in mine.
I'm learning much about patience, as though publishing, with its glacial pace hasn't taught me enough. Hah!
This is the first (and only) Christmas tree ornament that I ever purchased (the rest are gifts). I bought this when we were living in Belgium. We had gone to the Christmas fair in the little town of Monschau near the Belgian border, and I loved this simple angel, made of a rounded wooden piece, wood shavings and a feather. He reminds me of my guardian angel ...
I am waiting for the holidays to begin, for my stories to be accepted, for midnight candlelit Mass. Tell me, what are you waiting for?

Friday, November 28, 2008


I am thankful for my faith, family and friends. They have given me love and laughter to last a lifetime. And to think that some people lose these three essential things is heartbreaking. I just finished reading The Outsider: A Journey into my Father's Struggle with Madness by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer and it shows how this can happen. It is beautifully written, and I can only imagine the lumps the author had to swallow as he wrote this book. It is an honest book.

The rest of this author's books are for children and they are just as thoughtfully and beautifully made. His most recent one is The Origami Master. It's an unusual tale of friendship and freedom with gorgeous illustrations by Aki Sogabe.

I am also thankful for good books to stretch my mind.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving and Birthdays

I love Thanksgiving. It's my favorite American holiday and not just because the focus is on thanks and giving and food, lots of food. See, my mother's birthday falls near Thanksgiving and I can't help but think about her and what an extraordinary woman she was.
Recently, my uncle emailed me some old pictures (I don't have a scanner) so it's lovely to share this picture of my mom at age 22. Isn't she simply beautiful? I can almost hear her voice, her silvery bell laugh. She's married, keeps house, is a mother of two boys already. My sister and I haven't yet arrived on scene. She died over twenty years ago at the age of 51. I still miss her.
I share stories about her with my children and she will live in their hearts long after I'm gone. I'm writing a few vignettes -- things I remember, things she told me -- and I hope it will paint a fuller picture.

Not only was she a character in real life, but I've borrowed many of her traits for mothers in my stories. Driving Lessons, my young-adult short story contest winner (Children's Writer) a few years ago, captures her voice. I really should find a home for that story ... ah, the writing life. I am thankful to have one. Very much.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Gates of Excellence

A couple of years ago, I read Gates of Excellence by Katherine Paterson. Since I had read many of her books, it was like visiting a good friend. So many things she said in that book have stuck in my head ... but one statement in particular (thank you, Darcy for getting the exact quote) resonates:

I was writing — learning and growing along with the children — until eventually I was writing fiction worthy of publication. It might have happened sooner had I had a room of my own and fewer children, but somehow I doubt it. For as I look back on what I have written, I can see that the very persons who have taken away my time and space are those who have given me something to say.

This is so true for me. My children, my pets, the very responsibilities that I wish I could take a break from are the ones that inspire me to write. My very first magazine pieces that were accepted are actually family stories about quite mundane things, like sorting socks, weeding, mending clothes. And I'm delighted to have these stories beautifully illustrated.

I have put away my novel for the remainder of the year. I've been juggling so many new activities since this summer -- teaching, an insane football practice schedule, the new pup who is now entering her doggie teens (she's 5 mo. old), and church -- that I am not able to focus on the novel at all. I was surprised that I don't feel bereft, rather enriched a hundredfold by all these experiences.

Giving myself permission to stop working on my novel has freed up my mind to work on other things ... and I'm again writing short pieces. Oh, it's wonderful. I've missed this. And thanks go to Kathryn Galbraith for inviting me to speak to her class about magazine writing. It was a fantastic reminder to get busy myself. I tell you, teaching really lets you learn those lessons well.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


I think of writing as a lifelong journey. What I didn't realize when I began writing for children is how profoundly it would change me, and how it would cause me to take another journey. I can't precisely pinpoint the transition, but for the past couple of years, much of the writing I've done hasn't been for publication, but solely for myself. I've been examining my faith or lack thereof. And there are places in my notebook where the ink runs because of the tears -- tears of sadness for the lost years and tears of joy because I am the prodigal daughter ... and I'm returning not just by myself, but bringing my entire family back into the welcoming arms of God. And so, I embark on another journey ... and this time I know I'm not alone. I am blessed.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Go Vote!

Tomorrow will be a busy day. My son is sick but I'll cart him to the polling booth anyway. I was nineteen years old when I was naturalized as a citizen of this great country. And I've been proud to cast my vote every election since that time. So do your duty -- go vote tomorrow -- even if it's with a sick kid in tow!

And later that night, I will fight traffic to give a talk on writing for children's magazines at the University. I feel like a magazine-evangelist. But I truly believe that writing for magazines has much to offer a beginning or seasoned writer. This past year I haven't spent as much time on magazine pieces and I've truly missed it. There's never enough time to work on all the projects but as I slog through my novel revision, I am tempted more and more to set it aside and work on little poems and articles that bubble up to the surface. A confession: last week I did put aside my novel. Sigh. But I know I'll pick it up again.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I Love Your Blog

I am very new to blogging so I was delighted to receive this nomination from Molly who blogs at Seize the Day. She didn't tell me, but I love her blog and have it on a feed and that's how I discovered. Thank you, Molly.
Here are the rules:
1. Add the logo of your award to your blog.
2. Add a link to the person who awarded it to you.
3. Nominate at least 7 other blogs.
4. Add links to those blogs on your blog.
5. Leave a message for your nominees on their blogs.
I'm going to pull a Molly and not say anything on the blogs that I'm nominating, but folks, if you're reading my blog, go check these out:
1. itty bitty kitty committee -- I wrote about them earlier. If you need a kitten fix, check them out. Can you hear me say, "Aw!"
2. The Daily Coyote -- ditto as #1 except it's a coyote. More ooohs and aaaahs.
Are you wondering whether I'll ever have any writing blogs? Here they come ...
3. The Bookshelf Muse -- Angela and Becca have done an incredible service with their Emotion Thesauraus, and they've begun their Setting Thesaurus. Check it out.
4. Random Thoughts -- Bish has the most interesting thoughts, though they don't seem random at all. I've learned much about island life from her.
4a. Freefall -- Anna Levine has a new book and a new blog. And I'm learning a bit more about her daily life in Israel.
5. Revision Notes -- Darcy Pattison is an incredible teacher. Read her blog. Read her books.
6. Planet Esme -- Thoughtful, insightful book reviews and more by Esme Raji Codell.
And now I depart from writing blogs to ...
7. The Doctor Is In -- A physician looks at medicine, religion, politics, pets, & passion in life. That subheading on Dr. Bob's blog says everything. Some day I hope to be able to articulate as well.
I know I cheated, but hey, rules are meant to be broken ... Besides many of the blogs that I read regularly have already gotten the love. Probably some of these as well.
Happy reading folks. And remember to keep writing as well.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


I'm fond of critters and subscribe to two blogs that satisfy my critter-picture-needs: The Daily Coyote and itty bitty kitty committee. On the Daily Coyote, there's a picture of a coyote, a dog and a cat all curled up together. Awwww, too sweeet.

I'm still waiting for my kitties to feel the love for the new pup. Today, I rested with the pup beside me and the cat on top of me. It took quite a while for the pup and kitty to settle down but it did happen. And then the kids came home and mayhem ensued ...

Here's a picture of the kitty tolerating the pup. How I wish I could capture the moments right before, with the pup sitting, watching the cat, tail thumping wildly, and the cat saying, "Don't you dare come any closer."

The pup is four and half months old now ... and how she's growing!


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Letters of Merit

My critique group rocks!

Allyson Schrier and Molly Blaisdell both got Letters of Merit for the Barbara Karlin grant (for picture book) and SCBWI WIP grant (YA contemporary) respectively!!!! Woo-hoooo!!!

I know, too many exclamations!!! But I can't help it. I'm so proud of these ladies for sticking to it and submitting their work and getting this recognition. Way to go!

See, I controlled myself (but I'm grinning ear to ear).

Monday, September 22, 2008

Do It for Love

I just came across this advice from Walt Disney: "find a job that you like so much that you'd do it without compensation; then do it so well that people will pay you to continue."

Gosh, how this resonates with my life -- scientist, mother, and now writer.

I needed to hear Disney's words as I revise.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A No Good, Horrible Weekend

I'm trying to get into the writing groove and finding it sooooo hard to do the revisions on my novel. Where's the love? I am not getting the same satisfaction from polishing a chapter as I get from polishing a short poem or article. When I work on a short piece, I can say that I'm finished. I don't see the end in sight for my novel.

The first half of the book is in decent shape. The second half, not. So I've decided to borrow a trick from my singing days ... start working on a piece backwards. Yes, I've sung Mozart and Verdi and Brahms and the only way to finish with a bang is to make each and every cell of your body knows the material. And you do this by working backwards. Because you practice, practice, practice getting to the end, you can finally not just sing the notes, but feel the music in your bones. That's what I want to accomplish with my words. As Dr. Green would say, "Once more, with feeling!"

I'm good at beginnings. I love writing when the characters are literally telling me the story and all I'm doing is transcribing. But characters are fickle. They stop talking (perhaps I'm not listening) or do something I'd rather they not do. Sustaining a story for fifty-sixty thousand words is hard. Making it sing (with feeling) is even harder. So, I'm going backwards, and I must admit that working on the ending has put me in a better mood. I'm leaving these characters in a better place ...

So what does this have to do with a no good, horrible weekend? Nothing, except, when the worst thing that can happen is twisting your ankle so you have to keep off your feet, ice it and rest, life's actually pretty good.

So, tell me, how do you fall in love again so that you can make your stories sing?

Friday, September 5, 2008


The first week of school went surprisingly well. I feel grateful that not all the extracurricular activities started this week. I only had to deal with soccer and football. Dance and piano will be added next week. I've been a lazy mother in the past. I mean, I didn't even take my son to preschool because it was so much nicer to hang out at home, throw rocks in the pond, weed the garden, and read books.

Then they got old enough for school. Kindergarten was a blast. And just for two-and-half hours. But when my son started Grade 1, my daughter missed him terribly. He was gone six long hours. I missed him too. I looked around for other kids, but they were ALL busy -- in preschool and other activities. There were mothers who tried to fit in a playdate between gymnastics and kindermusik. I said, No thank you. So I enrolled my daughter in preschool. I think it was good for her. She seemed to enjoy it. But she was happiest at home.

I tried avoiding organized activities for as long as possible, but two years ago, my son wanted to play baseball. He was seven, and I felt it was too early for team sports, but gave in. Well, I was right. These kids were happiest when each of them had a ball to toss. What a difference a year makes. Last year, the kids were awesome. Not only did they learn the rules of the game, but they worked together as a team.

My daughter is seven and plays soccer. She's improved tremendously. But I have a feeling that all these kids will play not just for themselves, but for the team, in another year.

I have turned into a suburban carpooling mom, schlepping kids to this, that and the other thing. I wouldn't have believed this about myself even three years ago. I miss our evenings together. I miss not having to hurry supper. I miss my kids.

We do have some downtime. We walk together with our pup. We take long baths. And when one is busy with sports, we have time to spend with the other. I cherish this one-on-one time.

And the bright side of school is that I have time alone to be with my own thoughts. Granted, this week I have been getting the house in order. I let a lot of things slide this summer, especially after getting the new pup, but I cannot think in such chaos, let alone write. I am terribly envious of people who can tune it all out and just write.

My mind is finally quieting down, and my story people whisper a few things now and then. If I don't pay attention, they whisper a bit louder. They're not yet clamoring to be heard but it's their time now. It's fall. And I want to fall into my stories again. Wish me luck.


Sunday, August 24, 2008


Some more wonderful books I've read over the summer:

Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman
Wow! A book that promised a glimpse into 1940s British India and so much more. The central character, Vidya, is forced to question the customs by which they live by, the very beliefs they have after her father is brutally clubbed by the British police. Although the title is aimed at Vidya *climbing the stairs* to gain knowledge, I found her brother's story much more riveting. At times Vidya appeared too naive for her age (she is 15) though this probably reflects our own reality now with children growing up too fast.

A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce
This book was clearly crafted with a great deal of love. The author chooses her words with extreme care. This retelling of Rumplestilskin was fresh and different. I confess that despite the gorgeous writing (and cover) I didn't identify with Charlotte Miller. Perhaps because Charlotte is business-minded, the older sister ... and I am neither. I felt much more connected to her impetuous younger sister.

The Humming of Numbers by Joni Sensel
Not many books are set in tenth century Ireland. I didn't realize that Vikings were raiding this area so often. Another beautifully rendered historical fantasy. And the romance between Aidan and Lana crackled just perfectly. Gorgeous cover.

Head Case by Sarah Aronson
This was one gritty book and reminded me of the time I spent working in the spinal-cord injury ward at the Veteran’s Hospital. I’d play chess or rummy, read books to the patients who practically lived at the hospital because they had so many other medical problems. They had few visitors and loved a good game. And these brave men reminded me daily how lucky I was to walk out of there. Ms. Aronson doesn’t spare us on what it could be like to live with quadriplegia. Frank Marder narrates his grim story, with humor, without sentimentality: Two people are dead. I have to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the neck down. And you read ahead and find out how a nice boy like Frank ends up like this.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
This book reminded me of To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee because the narrator is looking back after many years. From the inside cover: It is the story of eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove -- a black girl in an America whose love for its blond, blue-eyed children can devastate all others -- who prays for her eyes to turn blue: so that she will be beautiful, so that people will look at her, so that her world will be different. This is the story of the nightmare at the heart of her yearning, and the tragedy of its fulfillment.

I've also been reading a lot of how-to-raise-dog books and my favorite so far is Bill Tarrant's Retriever Pups: the Formative First Year. Beautifully written and full of practical advice on living with your dog.
I hope your summer's been full of good books, rest and relaxation and good times with your family.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Underneath

I haven't been writing much, but reading tons. And even though I read The Underneath by Kathi Appelt a short while back, her voice and characters are in my head, and I wonder whether Ranger sings the blues again, whether the kittens, Sabine and Puck, have kittens of their own and what new stories the trees harbor.
I have mixed feelings about this book. It's luminous. The author is clearly a poet -- every word has been chosen with care. But I wondered whether this is a book for children, whether children would enjoy it. My nine-year-old, who is a voracious reader and mature for his age, put this one down. This is a boy who read Where the Red Fern Grows when he was seven, who couldn't put it down, even though he could barely read through the tears. We were all reading it together, but being the way he is, he read ahead and discovered tragedy for himself, alone. Later he told his then five-year-old sister what happened (to more tears). But I digress.
We aren't strangers to Ms. Appelt's books. My kids loved her Bubba and Beau series of picture books. And I discovered her memoir -- My Father's Summers. What a lot of memories that book churned up for me. But The Underneath is Ms. Appelt's best book. I'll say this inspite of all the kvetching I'm going to do, which isn't much.
The book starts off beautifully: There is nothing lonelier than a cat who has been loved, at least for a while, and then abandoned on the side of the road. Immediately I have this intense longing to pick up this calico cat. How her life and those of her kittens unfolds is the central thread. But Ms. Appelt interrupts the thread with several others -- the trees, the snake, the alligator, and many more. They all eventually come together, and I sighed a huge sigh of satisfaction at the end. Because like a Victor Hugo novel, everything is accounted for, explained. There are no loose threads. And I thoroughly enjoyed the magic realism, reminiscent in the stories of South American authors Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende.
I could hear Ms. Appelt's voice (and I do not know her), her Texas accent, telling me this story. She is a master. From the first sentence you can trust her, inspite of the maddening interludes (which aren't really interludes at all). I will read this book aloud to my children when they are older. And I know my son will read ahead ... and discover pain and anguish for himself. And love too. It's power.
I'm thinking Newbery :) What about you?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Brewing, Composting, Percolating

I've been doing a fair bit of scribbling in my notebook. Nothing earth-shattering. Just processing ideas, writing about the pup, the kids, about me not writing productively (that is, no deadlines). A couple of days ago, a voice emerged. "This is my purpose," she said. And my hand is aching as this girl tells her purpose, or what she assumes is her purpose. It's a story that explores duty and freedom. I have been thinking of this for years and years and years. And finally, there's the voice, the perfect characters to explore this idea with.
Almost all my stories, both short and long, have an extremely long gestation period. We're talking years here, not months. My historical YA has been percolating for a good twenty years. The novel I wrote last fall had been composting for a couple more decades. And this one -- I don't know what it is yet -- but I've been thinking about this in some way for close to thirty years. I'm in my 40s, so yes, I was a kid when I was first thinking about this. To finally have words to express these ideas is exhilarating. This is what I love about writing.
So tell me, how long do your stories brew in your head before you actually start writing?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Do the Right Thing

Just by chance, I saw one of my pictures on someone else's blog, unacknowledged, without my permission. Folks, this is not right. In the words of Kevan Atteberry, "What would your mother say? Hmmm?"

As I am fond of saying to my own children, "Do the right thing, even when I'm not watching." This is good advice for adults as well.

Fair use means taking without permission. But it doesn't mean not to acknowledge the source. Please folks, always, always acknowledge your source. As a writer of nonfiction, I am highly aware of this. The source of every quote and fact I choose to include in my article is meticulously recorded should I need to refer to it. Plus, it allows my readers to go further with their own reading, should they choose to.

I enjoy taking pictures. I'm not a professional but I've been complimented many times on the pictures I've taken. It makes me feel good to share a few images from my life. Why would anybody want to take them without acknowledging the source? And it's all the more distressing that it's another person in the business.

Do the right thing. It's easy.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Feed Me!

We spied four eggs, and three have hatched. Mama and Papa Junco feed their babies countless times a day. These babies aren't cute per se, but we sure love their cheeping.
I'm loving this summer. Writing is on the backburner. Now that my children go to school full-time, I don't even try to carve in productive writing time when they're home. It's enough to just scribble in my notebook. Time is going so fast ... before we know it, the baby birds will fledge and my kiddos will be heading out of the house. I also believe in the power of the subconscious to keep working in the background. Or perhaps it's my excuse for being lazy ...
Tell me, do you ever use your kids as an excuse?

A New Addition

I had forgotten what it was like to have a new baby in the house. Here's our baby of the family. She's a two-month-old, mostly golden retriever, a love. The cats are wary but adjusting surprisingly well. I hope to post a picture of the three of them cuddling up together soon.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Speaking Engagements

Last year, I spoke to a small group of very talented writers in Bellingham, WA about writing nonfiction. I loved the responsive audience. This year, I spoke about magazine writing at one of *my* regional SCBWI monthly meetings (picture). Again, I was delighted with a wonderfully attentive audience. And the best part was seeing them again a month later at the annual conference and hearing some of their success stories.
I am so pleased to be invited to speak again in the area. The first one is coming up in November, on magazine writing, at the University of Washington Extension class on Writing for Children and the second is coming up much later in April on work-for-hire writing as part of our local SCBWI monthly series. I'm pleased that nonfiction writing is getting some attention.
I know that people almost always think of writing The Great American Novel when they think of writing at all (myself included when I was a newbie writer), and many of the classes are geared towards novel writing. However, it's much easier for writers to break into the magazine market, particularly with nonfiction. What's fascinating is that children begin writing with nonfiction. I do lots of class visits and the majority of children write about their families, pets, friends, etc. Towards the end of Grade 1, I see fictionalization of real events. I wonder why writers shy away from nonfiction ... it is truly in our bones.
When I first started writing, almost everything was geared towards fiction. I love reading and writing nonfiction and told myself that I would try to bring it more attention in our area. I doubt I can ever make it as sexy as fiction, but again, I revel in these small successes.

Monday, June 30, 2008


Summer flowers (these are Kalmia -- very showy, no? -- even the buds are interesting) and new life (those are junco eggs in our fuschia) give us so much pleasure. We're having very lazy days reading, playing games, watching the birds and squirrels in our backyard, going swimming, even napping. I had hoped to work more productively on my novel revisions, but find that I'm too tired to work at the end of a lazy day.
What I am doing is writing in my notebook -- I usually start out with a writing prompt from this wonderful book: Prompts and Practices by Judy Reeves. After a few minutes, it invariably leads me to some random bit in my novel. I write for as long as I can, usually about 20 minutes or so, before my train of thought is interrupted. But it's enough for now. I hope I can find all the good bits in the fall ...
I realize that I need to be able to write daily to keep my equilibrium. Writing is how I make sense of the world, how I process thoughts and ideas. I get cranky without my daily writing fix. My trusty notebook and pen go everywhere with me.
Tell me, how do you stay disciplined during the summer? Or do you take the summer off and just recharge, be lazy? Before school days, I worked only on short stories, I mean very short stories, those you can scribble out a first draft in 10-15 minutes, but I find that for longer works I need more than 15 minutes to make progress. An hour with no interruptions is the bare minimum. And I can carve out that time at night ... but I'm sorry to say, my discipline is flagging.
I've been reading some wonderful books instead:
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson is the kind of book that makes you think -- deep and hard -- about what it means to be human. As a scientist who doesn't always believe in progress (just because you can do something doesn't necessarily mean you should do it), I found this to be a thought-provoking book. I am usually not a fan of novels written in the present tense, but it is just the right voice for this book.
The Doctor by Patricia Duncker is historical fiction that imagines the life of James Miranda Barry, who was discovered upon his death to be a woman. I was instantly reminded of Rough, Tough Charley by Verla Kay, who was able to encapsulate the life of a certain Charley Parkhurst in just 32 pages. Mem Fox was right when she said, "Writing a picture book is like writing War and Peace in Haiku."
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling is probably my most favorite book out of the series. We are finally reading these books together with the children and they are enjoying them immensely. Both kids are also reading ahead, but reading together is something I hope we will continue for a long time to come.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I Asked a Tiger to Tea

My seven-year-old daughter received this book as a birthday present. It appeals to her sense of whimsy and word-play. She enjoys writing and since her brother got to do a review, she wanted to review this book. Here it is:
I Asked a Tiger to Tea is a funny book with very funny poems. It has new pictures [by Melanie Hall] to go with old poems [by Ivy O. Eastwick]. My favorite poem is The Extraordinary Puffin because there is a puffin trying to learn all he can -- history, geography, algebra, wisdom and wit. I want to be as smart as he is.
May is my birthday month and the poem "May" feels like it was written just for me.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Mysterious Universe

This is what my nine-year-old son has to say about this book:
I think THE MYSTERIOUS UNIVERSE is a great book because it describes everything it talks about very well. It has lots of facts about light-years, dark energy, supernovae and black holes. It has really great photographs by Nic Bishop. There are even parts that are funny. This is a great book on astronomy. Anybody from 8 to 88 can read it and understand it. Happy Reading!
I think my son might well be the first child to have read and reviewed this book. I agree with him. Ellen Jackson and Nic Bishop have done a beautiful job explaining this mysterious universe. Read an interview with the universe here. And get ready for some very interesting conversations with your children.

Monday, June 2, 2008


Despite a very busy weekend filled with baseball (what else?), June is starting off good on the writing front. Tonight while working on the messy second half of my book, my cat came up for cuddles and pets, so I took a little break and pondered, while the cat purred on my lap. I reached over to take this picture once I'd had my epiphany.
Bingo! The entire section that I removed (because I was giving my character a break) made me realize how my main character can get to where she needs to be organically. I love it when the plot falls into place. The sad part is that the solution was under my nose all this time, but it never even occurred to me until tonight.
I want to stress that a book must come to not just its natural conclusion, but the inevitable conclusion, that things had to be this way and no other. I already had the ending, but there was this gap, where I didn't know how to make my characters go to that place. I made up something, but it was too contrived. Now one thing leads to another and the various threads make a tight braid. I can't help but have a big grin plastered on my face.
Never, never settle for less. I think we know in our bones what the right story is. I also think it helps to pet the cat ... the purr-fect solution eventually does present itself.
Corollary: do not give your characters a break. They don't need it. Neither do your readers. Make them suffer (the characters, not your readers).
The cat and I bid you goodnight.
Ciao Meow.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


That's my son batting at the beginning of the baseball season. He has improved so much over these past two months ... he no longer waits for the perfect pitch, but takes a risk and swings. And good things happen -- he hits the ball, he gets to run. I need to take those same risks with my writing. Too many times, fear stops me. I didn't realize I was afraid of so many things -- failure, disapproval, even success. This year (I know that it's almost half over) I am going to try to write fearlessly in just my notebook and see where it takes me.
These past two months have been hectic. Between the practices and games, we're often busy with baseball every other day, and most weekends. But seeing the kids getting better, learning teamwork and now with the weather improving, I am almost sad that this is coming to an end. My daughter and I enjoy sitting on the blanket, watching the game, playing games of our own and just relaxing together. I've learned much about baseball and knowing the rules makes watching a game much more meaningful.
And as always, watching the kids gives me lots of story ideas. Who knows, some day I may write a story involving a ball :)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Tagged ... Five Things

Fiona tagged me again to play and I'm feeling mighty playful. However, a meme of five things should really have five questions to make it a perfect square.

1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.
3. At the end of the post, the player then tags five people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they've been tagged and asking them to read the player's blog.
4. Let the person who tagged you know when you've posted your answer.

What were you doing five years ago?
I gave away most of my science stuff because I started to write seriously, two hours every night, after the toddlers and husband were tucked into bed. Writing brings me home.

What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order)?
Finish revisions on a magazine article, pick fresh spinach and lettuce for supper, refill bird feeders, write to my sister and two aunts. Mission accomplished since it's late in the day.

What are five snacks you enjoy?
Tim's vinegar and sea salt potato chips, spicy chewda (fried spiced lentils), samosas (spicy potatoes in a pastry), cherry red tomatoes off the plant, blueberries off the bushes.

What five things would you do if you were a billionaire?
Become a publisher, write more, travel more, rest more, give more.

What are five of your bad habits?
Chewing my fingernails ... gosh, that's the only one I can think of. Feel free to tell me more.

What are five places where you have lived?
India, Belgium, and in America -- Pullman WA, Long Beach CA, West Lafayette IN. I love small university towns, wheatfields for miles and miles around.

What are five jobs you've had?
Dishwasher, fortune-teller, teacher, scientist, mom (and I'm still washing dishes).

Five people I'm tagging:
Let's see, who hasn't been tagged yet --
Bish at Random Thoughts
Rachel at Rachel Writes for Kids
Darcy at Revision Notes
Jacqui at Jacqui's Room
Peggy at A Sound from My Heart

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Kudos for Frankie Stein

This is one happy dude. The sole male and the sole illustrator in our critique group, Kevan Atteberry, has every reason to be gloriously happy.

Frankie Stein, written by Lola Schaefer and illustrated by Kevan, is the winner in the picture book category of the National Children's Choice Book Award. I'm not one bit surprised. Here's what my kiddos had to say about:

Daughter (age 7): Frankie Stein is a very funny book because Frankie's mommy and daddy are scary but Frankie is not. And when he tries, it's even funnier. I like the family tree with all the scary relatives.
Son (age 9): Frankie Stein is a really funny book because the parents are so silly. When Frankie tries to act and look scary, he looks like someone dressing up in a Halloween costume. The ghost and cat are very funny. You can spend a lot of time looking at the pictures of the scary furniture and toys. This is a great book that will bring laughter to people aged 2 to 102.

Friday, May 16, 2008

A Taste of Summer

Looks like I brought back some of that sunshine from Conn. I'm having a taste of summer and it is glorious. Clothes flapping in the breeze, birds singing, nibbling, taking a bath. I write in my notebook outside.

The rhodies are bursting open (they're late this year -- they're always in full bloom for Mother's Day). This chipmunk scolded me for getting too close. I guess I'd better stick to the writing.

This weekend, a birthday celebration. My daughter has turned seven. She's invincible.


Thursday, May 15, 2008


I've just returned from an intensive training session at the Institute of Children's Literature (ICL). I took their basic course several years ago. Loved it. Loved my instructor -- my mentor, really. And I can see why after meeting the wonderful folks at ICL. Now I'll be joining them in making dreams come true. So bring me an apple! I'm ready to teach.

I've been teaching in some form or another since I was kid. I started teaching English to my friends who didn't speak it in India. I taught them bad words and incorrect meanings for hilarious results. But even with all the monkey business, I managed to teach my friends a decent amount of correct English. In high school, I continued to help ESL students (no monkey business) but also started tutoring kids in science and math. During the college years I taught organic chemistry. I was set for a career in academia but I never knew how much I'd want to stay home with my children. And I reclaimed an old love -- writing.

And as a mother, I'm never not teaching ... But I do regular teaching as well, writing and science workshops in my children's classes, writing workshops for adults who want to write for children. So I'm not surprised that my writing journey is leading me back to ICL.

The best part? I can do it in my pajamas.


Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Best Part

I saved the best for last. My dear friend, Fiona, stayed with me for the conference. Not only did we have a marvelous time staying up late and gabbing, we also worked on our articles that were due right after the conference. I think this is the first time we'll be sharing an issue. It's going to be in KNOW.

Fiona was gracious enough share the galleys of her book, BUBBLE HOMES AND FISH FARTS. It is a collection of the amazing ways that animals use bubbles. I don't know how often I said, "Cool, I didn't know that." It's sure to be a kid pleaser. Carolyn's illustrations bring the text alive and I can't wait to see it in book form! Good thing time flies.

Here they are, Carolyn and Fiona, meeting for the first time. I hope they make more books together.


Saturday, May 3, 2008

Conference Perspectives

I was touched to meet many people from the conference who introduced themselves to me and told me that they had written a nonfiction article or a poem or a story, that they sent it out. And now are waiting for a response. It takes courage to put your work out there. So Bravo! Some people told me of their acceptances. Thank you so much for sharing your success.

You see, last year, I did a workshop in Bellingham on writing Tantalizaing Truths. It was a small group of very talented writers, with varied backgrounds. They were eager, took notes furiously and did a number of exercises. I very much wanted them to finish what they had started, so I made sure to talk about middles and endings as well. They went home and did the hard work of finishing, polishing their pieces. And a year later ... they are published!

I presented a more general talk on magazine writing two months ago and again, I am so happy that the attendees finished what they started at the talk. One got a speedy acceptances (note the plural) from Highlights! How cool is that?

I am so happy to know that a little prod and encouragement from me has resulted in so many people finishing their pieces and sending them out. It's a big step. Congratulations!

Meeting and talking to you was another of my highlights of this conference.

Since I probably won't have time to do another post for quite some time (you'll find out why later), I will direct you to my fellow attendees at the SCBWI conference who have blogged about the conference: Molly, Rachel, Linda, and Annette.

Happy Reading and Writing.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cynthia Lord Rules!

This was the first time that our regional SCBWI had a weekend conference instead of the usual one-day jam packed affair. It was terribly well-organized, thanks to our Regional Advisors and their excellent team of volunteers. I am very proud to be part of this vibrant community in the Pacific NW.

Mo Willems entertained us with stories of how he came to write the Pigeon stories. And Arthur Levine spoke about the elements of great books. The local success stories were so inspiring. The common thread among all of them was to keep at it, not giving up. My favorite sessions were craft-oriented and I attended as many as I could.

Two outstanding sessions were both given by a first-time novelist: Cynthia Lord. Yes, the author of Rules, which won a Newbery Honor. Someone in the audience asked whether she knew all this stuff when she was writing her first book. Laughter arose. "No," she said. It's the writing and revising that taught her all these things. For me, the highlight of the conference was listening to her speak.

Here is Cynthia with Peggy King Anderson, my first writing teacher.

Here are some tidbits. I hope you will find them useful and inspiring.

Publication, acknowledgment, awards all make you feel good, give validation. But it's the time in between, when you're working hard, honing your craft, that is most important. -Margaret Chodos Irvine.

Never forget the reason to keep writing. -Royce Buckingham

Know your audience. -Cynthia Lord

Cynthia is a former school teacher and does numerous school visits. If she's presenting anywhere near you, GO! She's a pro. And very nice, too. Here's what some of her young audience had to say about books they like: funny and adventurous, things at school, just about kids.

A book makes a promise. Fulfill it. -Cynthia Lord

Don't be afraid to be the evil author and explore the shadow side. -Cynthia Lord

Agents, editors are superfluous. Write a superlative book. -Mo Willems

Literature is there to reflect reality. -Chris Crutcher

When you have an idea, write it down. -Arthur Levine

Monday, April 28, 2008

Look Who Came for Supper this Weekend

The chickadee, the chipmunk, the finch, the squirrel, the woodpecker and Fiona (not pictured because I don't have a picture of her eating, though I do have pictures of her working, playing and visiting with writerly folk). These critters and many more were here for the food, but Fiona came down for the regional SCBWI conference. It was wonderful as usual, but more about that later.


Friday, April 25, 2008


The gift of time followed by a multitude of writing assignments: test passages, magazine articles, sample chapters for books. I've put aside my novel for these wonderful projects. I know many people who wouldn't touch these types of writing gigs because it would take away from their own ideas and projects, but for me, it's a win-win situation. Not only do I get to work on fascinating topics, which means I learn all kinds of new things, my writing improves under the guidance of an editor, and I get paid for all of it.

My pet projects wait patiently and when I return, some of the pesky problems are already solved (thanks to the subconscious that never stops working) and the time away means I come back with a fresh perspective.

So, do you write-for-hire? And how do you feel about it?

This weekend is our local SCBWI conference. Time for shop-talk, visiting with writing friends, and soaking up all that inspiration and wisdom. I hope to see some of you there.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Gift of Time

We had rain, hail, sleet and snow this weekend. The baseball games were canceled and we had the unexpected gift of time at home. Oh, we did the usual things, cooking, cleaning, putzing around in the garden, but we had all that extra time for playing, reading, some sewing. I love having this unexpected time with my family.


Friday, April 18, 2008

Playing Tag .... Nearest Book?

Fiona tagged me ... bad, bad girl because she knows I'm up to my eyeballs with writing assignments, but this is a fun Friday night break. These were the rules:

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people and post a comment to Fiona once you've posted your three sentences.

Well most of you already know that I love science so it should come as no surprise to you that the nearest book by my side is BIOLOGY by Helena Curtis. It's my college textbook. Wonderfully lucid. Except of course for page 123 which is Review and Questions. Still ...

Sketch an animal cell. Include the principal organelles and label them. Prepare a similar, labeled sketch of a plant cell.

Not so exciting right? But these sentences bring back wonderful memories of drawing what I observed under the microscope. I have never forgotten how exciting it was to peer into a different world. All that motion. Such beauty inside a cell. All those amazing scientists from long ago, like Louis Pasteur and Robert Hooke, made detailed drawings of what they saw. They were artists.

Here are some pictures to whet your appetite:

This is Robert Hooke's drawing of a flea, published in Micrographia in 1664.
[Image removed, pending permission]
The red rods are stained E. coli bacteria, a staple of every microbiologist.
[Image removed, pending permission]
This is a picture of an animal cell in which one of the components of its skeleton is lit up with a fluorescent dye.
To keep the game going, I'm going to tag:
Laura at Laurasalas
Molly at Seize the Day
Natalie at Italian Moments

Monday, April 14, 2008

Poetry in Nonfiction

I adore a book that packs so much in so little. The Monarch's Progress: Poems with Wings by Avis Harley is one such gem. Ms. Harley brings the world of poetry to the monarch.

In the introduction, we learn a little bit about poems, their forms, and why Ms. Harley chose the forms she did. Each spread has a gem of a poem that tells of the Monarch's life along with beautiful pictures.

Consider these excerpts from three poems:

Feet Treat

If we would let our toes seek what we eat,

what smorgasbord would greet our eager feet?


Wondrous Wings

The perfect patternings unfold

in tapestries of crimson and gold.

Abstract art grown huge and bold!


Wintering Over









These poems are so much fun to say out loud. The language is rich and playful. They make you want to write your own poems about the things you find beautiful in nature. I was inpired to write about the pinesiskins that flock in our backyard. I also picked up my children's colored pencils to draw. No matter that I ended up with a pinesiskin that looked more like a mouse.

Ms. Harley includes a section at the back, titled Small Matters, with more information for each of the spreads. This book has everything -- facts, poetry, even philosophy. I highly recommend it.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008


We ended Spring Break with a wonderful movie by Eric Valli. Although this is fictional, it captures the way of life of the Dolpopa people of Tibet.

My husband and I watched it by ourselves one night, and decided to share this incredible movie with our children. Good thing they can both read, though we would've read it to them :) The children were enthralled not only by the majestic backdrop but the story itself -- a struggle to claim leadership in a small village during their annual salt trek. And so much more. I highly recommend this movie.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Writing Life

Let us, then, be up and doing
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

These four lines speak to me not just for the writing life, but for life in general.

But let's discuss this in terms of writing: It's not enough to dream of books with our name on the spine. We must write, write, write. Then polish our work and send it out into the world, which may or may not accept it. Only the writing is in our control. So we work at it, and a few years later we see that we are better.

Waiting can be the hardest part but goodness gracious, when that acceptance arrives, it's sweet.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Spring Break

.... or Christmas?

This weekend was for building snow-bunnies, snow-forts and sledding. A most magical beginning to our Spring Break.

I know this is not unusual for some folks, but here in the Pacific NW, the end of March is typically rainy, not snowy.

I was glad to see my little hummer feeding. See him? Hope he's staying warm in his nest.


Thursday, March 27, 2008


This is harder than I thought. It's quite one thing to revise 150 words, making each word shine. I can't even think about the words right now for my novel. I need to think of the big picture. Does this chapter even belong? Shouldn't this little bit come before that bit? Would my character do this? During the writing of this novel, I've gotten to know her better, know all these story-people better. And what fits the plot doesn't necessarily ring true. So, must rethink. A lot of re-visioning. Parts of it are dead on ... and other parts ... dead beat.

Sometimes I do math ... a little number-crunching is not only relaxing but puts things into proper perspective. A short story typically takes me a month to write and about a year to polish. Sometimes more, especially if it's poetic, where every word counts. Sooooo, if a thousand words takes me one year to polish, will fifty thousand take me fifty years? I hope not. I'll be in my 90s by then ...

I have to remind myself that I like to revise, make every word shine, but I also feel overwhelmed at the task at hand. I know I'll be very happy when the overarching things are fixed. Then I can get to examining each sentence, each phrase, each word ...

How do you approach revisions?


Thursday, March 20, 2008


A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson -- Most of this stuff in this book I'm aware of. I know it sounds highly conceited to say this, but I've taken serious courses in physics, chemistry and biology. Still, I'm thoroughly enjoying thinking about everything -- life, cosmology, dinosaurs, inventions. This is a lucid account and the the extensive bibliography means that if I really want to get into a topic, I only have to look in the back.

Hermux Tantamoq mysteries by Michael Hoeye -- The first one, Time Stops for No Mouse, was an absolute delight. Hermux is a watchmaker who inadvertently falls in the middle of a mystery. The writing sparkles with wit and humor and the pacing is pitch perfect. I'm a wee bit disappointed in the later books. Too much going back and forth between the main characters. I like staying in one person's (or in this case, one mouse's) head for the whole story.

Which brings me to point-of-view or POV for short. I tend to prefer single POV stories. There are very few writers who do multiple viewpoints or omniscient well. Books that were good in multiple POV or omniscient that I've read in the past few months:

Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Flipped by Wendelin van Draanen
The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsberg

What do you prefer to read and write? Single POV? Multiple POV? Omniscient?


Monday, March 17, 2008

The Basics

It's almost bedtime and I am pondering what to say in this newfound tool of communication -- the ubiquitous blog.


Over the last few weeks I've had an overwhelming urge to shout out all the wonderful things happening in my critique group and it felt appropriate to toss these words into the blogosphere.

We've been together five years now, and how we've grown. Jen has a new book out! So does Molly! I gave my first talk to my local SCBWI. So here we are celebrating (you can click on the picture to get a better view of the book):

We write in isolation, but to test whether we wrote what we meant, a critique group is a must. And the fringe benefits are priceless: friendship, trust, growth. Tell me, how do you grow as a writer? Do you share your manuscripts with a few trusted writers? Or do you show your work directly to your agent or editor?