Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Timing of Inspiration

Like diving into a pool on a sweltering day, writing is a relief. It breaks over me in a refreshing, sometimes shocking, way. I'd really like to dive into writing right now. I've managed to revise the first four chapters of Kissing Glass to a point where I'm almost happy with them--you know, for now, anyway. One more chapter and I get a free set of steak knives! Okay, not really. But I still want to get to the five chapter mark before I submit it to my critique group. I've got incentive, I've got the desire, I'm feeling inspired....but I can't do it right now.

Why? Because I'm still working my way through a stack of grading the size of Terrell Owen's ego. It shouldn't come as a surprise to me that inspiration chose now to strike. The size of the stack usually seems directly proportional to how loudly inspiration screams in my ear. It leaves me wondering why inspiration and free time avoid each other with such stubborn enthusiasm.

As an elementary school teacher, I get summers off. One would think that amount of time off would lead to an explosion of new writing from my pen (or, more accurately, from my keyboard.) Yeah, doesn't. I do take graduate courses and work on curriculum for the following year, but for the majority of the hours between mid-June and mid-August, I'm completely free of grown up responsibilities, completely free to follow my muse...

So do I?


Because said muse is nowhere to be found. Maybe it does some sort of reverse hibernation thing. I don't know.

Inspiration, it turns out, is an ornery little booger.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Confessions of a Book-a-holic

I once read an author bio wherein the author said she grew up in a house "stuffed with books." That's a perfect description of my life. I grew up (am still, in some ways, growing up) in a life stuffed with books. I like it that way.

At the age of two (maybe younger) I would crawl up on my Pop Pop's lap and beg him read the same book to me over and over again. I don't remember him ever complaining about it, even after a long day at work. My grandmother bought me more books than I could count. Up until about second grade, I cherished the time right before bed, when my mother and I would snuggle on my bed while she read aloud to me a chapter book that was still a little too hard for me to read on my own. Heidi was one of my favorites.

Books were treasures to me for as long as I can remember, so I don't understand people who don't like to read. My older brother, for example, always hated to read. My grandmother tried everything she could to get him interested, up to and including bribery. She offered to pay him $5.00 for each book he read one summer. He flat out refused. When I quickly volunteered for the same deal, she told me I'd bankrupt her.

It was probably true. I read nearly everything I could get my hands on, from my mom's old Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew hardbacks to Sweet Valley Twins, Babysitter's Club, and the Mandie mysteries (and there was some more quality literature in there too.) I kept books in my desk at school to read whenever I became disinterested in what I was supposed to be learning at the time (which was often.) I kept books under my pillow to read by the stripe of light from the hallway that fell across my bed long after I was supposed to have been sleeping. Being sent to my room with orders to tidy what was invariably a complete disaster zone and not to come out until it was clean? Yeah, that happened only until I cleared a path to my bookshelf. Then I'd contentedly lay on my bed reading until my poor mother just gave up. Once I discovered, in third grade, that I could write my own stories, I split my undercover time between reading and writing.

I never outgrew it.

I still leave books laying around practically every room of my house. I have Chekov's The Cherry Orchard in my bathroom, Pride and Prejudice on my dresser, shelves full of books in my office/living room/storage room, and a whole stack crammed inside, beside, and underneath my nightstand. I have books in my gym bag, in my skating bag, and in my car (Don't go getting visions of me reading while driving; you just never know when traffic will grind to a complete standstill for an hour or more, and I'm a firm believer in "Be prepared.") My classroom library is busting at the seams. Before my shoulder got messed up, I usually carried a book around in my purse. I'm not to be trusted in a Borders or Barnes and Noble on payday, and let's not even talk about my amazon wishlists (yes, listS.)

So yeah, I own a LOT of books. With that many sitting around, who can read just one at a time? Right now, for instance, I'm reading Shannon Hale's Forest Born (again,) The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch, 45 Master Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, a book on backward (curriculum) design, a book by John Piper, and a whole slew of others.

Although I do read works on philosophy, history, science, math, theology, education, and the writing craft, fiction is (and I suspect will always be) my first love. There's just something about a story that's magical in and of itself--the way it draws you in and allows you to leave the real world behind.

And in this world, who doesn't want to do that from time to time?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sick (as in, I am)

Okay, first things first:

Last Thursday, I bit the bullet and got a flu shot for the first time in ten years. Yes, I not only let some anonymous nurse jab me in the arm with a needle full of dead virus to keep me from getting sick, but I paid her to do this. And now here I sit five days later, in bed with a fever.


I had to take a day and a half of sick leave, which I tend to hoard in Gollum-like fashion (my precioussssss) and despite being in bed for the past hours, I cannot sleep. So I'm updating my blog. I don't have anything particularly weighty to contribute right now, but I'm bored, so here goes.


Things I Should Be Doing Right Now Instead of Updating My Blog

* laundry (it's not like it'll make me sicker)

* grading last week's reading tests (which, judging by the first couple, might actually make me sicker)

* revising Kissing Glass

* revising Reflection

* trying to figure out Autorealm (Thanks, Caryn! It's awesome; I'm just horribly dense)

* starting a synopsis for Kissing Glass

* revising my synopsis for Reflection

* practicing my query letters

* trying to figure out how to write description like Shannon Hale, Alison Croggon, and Cheryl Reifsnyder without just copying them ('cause that's illegal, rude, and they probably wouldn't like it so much...)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Dear Shannon Hale,

I want to write like you.



I'm not even kidding. I first discovered Shannon Hale's work a few years ago while trying to catch up on my Newbery reading. As an elementary school teacher, I have a built in excuse to read children's literature. Convenient, huh? Anyhow, I read Princess Academy and loved it. So I looked up her other works on and bought The Goose Girl. I'm a sucker for a reluctant princess, for a misfit, for pretty much everything Princess Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee is in the beginning of the story. I don't want to say too much about her character here, as I don't want to spoil the story for those of you who haven't read it, but the evolution of her character throughout the book is amazing. As impressed as I remain by Hale's flawless characterization, what really leaves me green with envy is her ability to describe her character's world so it reads like a symphony.

I hate writing description. It's the bane of my existence (along with synopses, first pages, query letters, the dallas cowboys, and people who drive five miles an hour in the left lane.) Seriously, why can't you people just see what's in my head and let me ignore that pesky "establishing setting" stuff? Bah.

But Shannon Hale is a master of establishing a rich, full world without you even realizing she's doing it. She weaves all these threads together so deftly, so intricately that you, as a reader, don't even notice, and pretty soon you're staring at the whole darned, absolutely gorgeous tapestry where there was just a bare wall before. The way she turns phrases and chooses verbs that wouldn't normally go with their subjects--I can't do that. I can't even come close to doing that.

So yeah. I'm a bit of a Shannon Hale fan. I was so excited when I learned she would be at the 2009 National Book Festival in Washington D.C. Now I hate traffic and politics, but occasionally living in the D.C. area has its perks. (Oh look! National Book Festival! Perk!) I got to hear her speak as part of a panel on The Exquisite Corpse Adventure, which I may blog about another time. Very cool idea.

Additionally, I schlepped my hardback copy of The Goose Girl aaaaaaall the way down to D.C. on the Metro. She wasn't scheduled to sign books until 3 p.m., but my group had learned by standing in the Kate DiCamillo line and almost not getting our books signed (except that she very graciously extended her time another forty-five minutes) that we needed to stake our claim super early. We got in line a little before 2. And yes, I stood in line for over an hour--in the rain for the last twenty minutes--to get my book signed.

She apologized for the rain. I asked her if it was her fault. That part was probably funnier in my head, but she laughed anyway. I did have a few kids with me, so she may have thought she was signing my book for one of them. I don't know. I don't care.

She signed it,

For Timanda, who can change the world.

Hmmmm maybe. Probably not. At the moment, I'd settle for describing it.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Mirrors and Magic Frogs: the Beginning

Who am I?

I'll begin this blog by saying something I never say out loud to people I meet: I'm a writer. Why don't I tell people? Because inevitably people ask, "Are you published?"

The short answer is no, I'm not. That leads to either more questions or uncomfortable silences or well-meaning but utterly unhelpful suggestions or...that look. You know, the one where the person gets this smirk on his face and you know he's holding back the "you're deluding yourself" comment just to be nice. I guess it never occurred to him that an amateur writer is already aware of how tough it is to break into the publishing industry. She could have, you know, actually researched it and might know a bit more about it than the average layperson. Because that would make sense. (Incidentally, this is the part of the blog where you learn a bit more about my personality--I tend to err on the side of sarcasm. Who would have guessed?)

So no. I haven't been published.

At any rate, the long answer is I'm working on it. I'm a member of the Society for Children's Book Writer's and Illustrators (SCBWI.) I've been to writer's conferences on scholarship and gotten some positive feedback from editors. I'm not actively trying to publish my work at the moment because I know my writing is not yet at the level it needs to reach before I seriously pursue publication or representation by an agent. Rome wasn't built in a day. I'm guessing no one out there can tell me how long it actually did take, since cities grow and decay and grow some more. Writing is sort of like that.

What do I write?

Children's fiction. I've dabbled in many genres, but fantasy draws me in like a fire on a cold night. There's just something so comforting about it. I love being able to create the entire world where my characters exist, of throwing things that have a more modern flair into a world with a more medieval flavor to it. In a work of fantasy, characters can do anything and be anything, the lines between good and bad are usually quite clear, and good traditionally triumphs over evil. Wouldn't it be nice to live in a world where that always happens? Obviously, we don't. So I write about worlds with magic frogs and mirrors that reflect more than just surface images.

I had envisioned my first post being a tad longer, but I have to go defrost an old freezer now (which, btw, do not exist in any of my fantasy realms.)