Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Why I'm Thankful for Realistic Fiction

I have lots to be thankful for this holiday season. Friends, family, nice writer people. And hey, no one cried during touch football this Thanksgiving! Did I mention that I have no reason to go to Toys 'R Us this year? That's huge.

My kids are getting older, and while that can be bittersweet, one thing that happened over Thanksgiving weekend made me really happy. After spending black Friday shopping with my almost 14-yr-old (her first time), we still had enough energy to go out on Saturday. She asked to go to the bookstore. Wait for it - then she asked me to help her pick out some books in the young adult section (ok, so they were books she wants me to buy for her birthday, but still). As a librarian for all her life, I've brought many books home for her. Some she's read, some she's had no interest in. Some she even laughed at when I tried to read them with her.

The one constant in her reading life has been realistic fiction. One of her favorites as a child was the Art Lesson by Tomie DePaola. Real enough kid, real school situation. She loved Junie B. and Cam, even Emma and Alice. She usually doesn't select books with magical anything, even going so far as to sneer at the suggestion of Harry Potter. When she was in 4th and 5th grade, she went through what I like to call, her Cupcake period. I spent a good amount of time finding every book that had anything to do with cupcakes. Cupcake stores, friends who sell them, how cupcakes brought the family together, etc. If it was written about a cupcake, she read it.

She's had to veer off the realistic path on occasion, for school mostly. At one point I worried that she wouldn't physically be able to read a book that was fantasy or science fiction! But I love that she loves realistic fiction. That this sometimes quiet and shy girl finds answers to situations in her own life in the lives of these characters. It reminds me how many of us of a certain age devoured Judy Blume books like it was our job.

So thanks to all you writers of realistic fiction. Thanks for books void of wizards and space travel, mermaids and fairies - Wait! She did go through the Daisy Meadows fairy books at one point. Maybe there is hope she'll expand her reading repertoire after all. But if not, that's okay. What I really hope for is more days spent with her in the book store or library, quietly reading jacket flaps and checking out displays, maybe getting coffee drinks after.

Oh, and if you're interested, here's what she selected:

                     A maybe on this one.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

It Happened Yesterday

Like most writers, I've become accustomed to rejection. Or maybe I should say, it's definitely gotten easier since the first time. But yesterday, something new happened. And I'm not happy about it.

The middle grade novel I  had sent out is something I've been working on forever. It's not new to rejection either. But most of the comments I've gotten about it have been about plot structure or something like "it's not right for my list." But this last one targeted the one thing I thought I had right - the voice! Other writers (and an editor or two) have always told me that the voice was great and that they really loved the main character. Then...this.

"I'm just not connecting to his voice quite enough to take on this project."

Ack! Where does one go now??? It's hard not to dwell on the fact that every single aspect of your novel may have issues. But I'll try to remember that is only one editor's opinion. And then I'll go take a walk with my novel-rejection playlist. And finally, I'll find some awesome quote on Pinterest to make me feel better. Or read that last pin, "How NOT to Write A Novel."

And then, who am I kidding, I'll send it out again.

(reblogged from swoonreads)

Monday, August 17, 2015

Prepare for the Creative Randomness

I'm not the neatest person when it comes to most things, but I am pretty good at maintaining and organizing my family pictures. See here:

Photos from my digital SLR and iphone are added by month and year, and sometimes special categories like trips, etc. But since I'm always snapping pictures of random things, I find photos here and there that aren't anything I need to keep, but I feel the need to share with someone. So you, lucky reader, are getting a glimpse today at the random pictures I've taken over the last year and a half - never fear, they generally have something to do with books, writing, or creating - I think. 

My neighbor's daughter created this awesome display of altered books for one of her college classes. What I find amazing is the time it must have taken - I would never have spent that much time in college on a project!
 The  New Britain Museum of American Art is located in the city I grew up in, and has always been a favorite place of mine. Last year they had an exhibit on Maurice Sendak that I brought my girls to. (I can never resist sticking my head in those holes).
I took a pic of this book, which was included in a display of all of Sendak's written or illustrated books on a wall. I was a teaching assistant under Francelia Butler at the University of Connecticut one semester for a Children's Literature course. She was a great lady who was so knowledgeable about her field - she is truly missed.
 This next 'selfie' is of myself and author Lisa Papademetriou, taken at a NESCBWI Conference. Despite the fact that our noses look weird, I'm including it because she was such a great speaker. She was truly inspirational and left us with this great quote, "Sucking at something is the first step to becoming sorta good at something." Thanks Lisa! Check her out here: lisapapa.com

I often find myself wandering in book stores, as you may too. I found this in something I can't recall, but I liked it because I too, often hang out in the 'dark night of the soul' area.
But then, I see stuff like this below, and feel like I should be a happier person, so I go with it.

Sometimes, this is required to get from dark night to amazing day. I can't say enough about this particular flavor - visit Salem Valley Farms and try it for yourself!

 The next set of random pics were taken at School Library Journal's Day of Dialogue and Book Expo in 2014. My co-worker Patty and I were starstruck to meet these people! Lois Ehlert (how about an honorary Caldecott for this lady?), Raina Telgemeier (who's cooler than her), Chris Raschka (like him better with a haircut), I Wonder if that's R.J. Palacio (couldn't help it), and just for kicks, Alan Cumming who had a book coming out.

 This one is just funny and qualifies because cookbooks are well, books. Taken at the Brooklyn Flea Market, this is my co-worker and often times partner in crime Patty trying to look nonchalant after she discovers chef Paul Prudhomme. The face cracks me up.

And finally, some words of wisdom from a phone screenshot - maybe it explains this entire post. I like to think I often love the crap out of everything, which is why I take so many pictures!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Ok, So This Is Really About Reading

(You can't be a good writer unless you're a good reader - right?)

Over the last 5 years or so, making a Summer Reading List has really become a thing for me. In May I start looking around for lists and titles that are coming out soon. But the books on my list don't have to be new - they can be something I've been meaning to read, or just hadn't gotten to over the last year. And since I'm a Child/YA Librarian, the books on my list run the gamut from chapter books thru teen to adult. You aren't likely to find any books about sports on the list, or much chick-lit romance. These books are solely for my own reading pleasure, and often involve family stories, mysteries, medical mysteries, and historical fiction. My boss and I were joking the other day that murder is a perfectly good thing to read about in the summer - forget the books with the ocean and beach chairs on the cover! So these titles may not be for everyone, but I always get asked what I'm reading and what's hot...so here!
I started the list when we began making the drive to Maryland and back each summer - I love to read in the car. How do I know if something on my list is good? The car conversation will go something like this:

Husband: Can you look and see what the next exit blah blah blah coming up is?
Me: Silence.
Kids: I'm hungry. I'm thirsty. Can we stop? I have to go to the bathroom blah blah.
Me: Silence.
Husband: Can you please pay attention to us! Get your head out of the book!
Me: Can everyone just be quiet! I'm on the last chapter and it's really good - and you're ruining it for me!

So I looked over my list on Goodreads, and found some really good books from past years that were 'summer books' on my list:

 I can't guarantee the titles will be good - I've even hated a few of the titles on my own list before (sorry Charlotte Rogan, The Lifeboat and I just didn't get along). 
And I can't forget to mention those titles that are ALWAYS on your list, yet you never quite get around to reading them. My two big ones are:

 I don't know what the problem is really - I'm sure I will LOVE both of these. They just keep getting pushed down the list. (With Pillars of the Earth, I usually decide I will have time to read during the summer, then when the summer comes, I decide it is more of a winter book.)

So here's what I have for 2015 so far:


 (I've already finished one and am starting #2!)

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Perspective: We Are Not Small

As a Children's Librarian AND aspiring writer, I often find that my worlds overlap and intersect like a crazy Venn diagram. Last week, I shared a relatively new book with some Kindergarten classes that came to visit my library. It's called You Are (Not) Small by Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant. (And incidentally the Theodore Seuss Geisel Award winner for 2015). It's all about perspective - how the little creatures (bears?) are only little when compared to the larger ones, and vice versa. (Don't miss the adorable parachuting REALLY little critters - check it out!)

Last weekend, I also attended the NESCBWI Conference with many fellow writers and illustrators. While the theme was "Think Outside the Crayon Box", (and believe me, I LOVE a theme) what I took away was just like the readers of that book - a new perspective. I heard two different agents mention that those of us in attendance need to think of ourselves as BIG - the Top of the Heap - NOT small. Sure, they could just be saying these nice things, but I think we, especially aspiring writers, need to remind ourselves that we are exactly that. We go to conferences, read blogs on writing, join critique groups, search out other writers, and spend endless amounts of time writing - or at least thinking about it! We are not small.
So instead of thinking that we are all such tiny bears in that forest of writers gathered in the ballroom at NESCBWI, let's think of ourselves as the BIG bears, who took the time to be there and to be inspired.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Power of the Written Word

I had a very busy weekend. My daughter's good friend made her Bat Mitzvah on Saturday. Her parents are also good friends of ours, so our whole family had the privilege of attending a beautiful ceremony at their temple.
Alternately, my uncle, whom I am very close to, has been very sick and in the hospital for almost 2 weeks. On Sunday, my family attended a mass in his name at the Catholic church he attends.
I'm sure there are many comparisons that can be drawn between the two events - youth vs. age, Judaism vs. Catholicism, etc. But the two moments that struck me the most, that brought tears to my eyes, both involve the written word and how the smallest gestures have the greatest impact.

In simplest terms, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah is a symbolic ceremony where a 13-yr-old Jewish child enters adulthood. Lauren chose to have a 'Twinning Ceremony' as part of her celebration. Approximately a million and half Jewish children were murdered during the Holocaust - children who never got to make their Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Sources such as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum can provide names, ages, and sometimes photographs of those that did not survive. This data, words and small things that when put together, make a life. Wrote Lauren of the girl she chose as her 'twin', "Her name is Loren Salmut of Satu-Mare, Hungary. She was only 5 years old when she perished in Auschwitz along with her mother Regina and father Daniel. Because she and so many other children were unable to become a Bat Mitzvah, Lauren will carry on this tradition today in their memory."
I was also struck by how Lauren was so excited to include Loren, even in her candle lighting ceremony later that night. Meanwhile, I was a blubbering fool in the audience watching this young girl truly become an young woman. Mazel Tov Lauren.

Skip ahead to Sunday after mass, where I was visiting my uncle in the hospital. He is on a ventilator which helps him to breathe, and though he can't speak and is on pain medication, he was very lucid and often tries to communicate. The hospital provided a clipboard with sheets of letters and pictures that he could point to if he needed to say something. He would often try very hard to write things on paper, though one hand is barely useable due to IV's and sores from medication. Pointing to the letters on the clipboard could take quite a long time and was often not successful, resulting in frustration on his part and his loved ones.

So when I walked in on Sunday, my mother showed me something that a relative had created. Leanne is an awesome teacher, (which explains a lot). She had simply gone to her computer and made a few pages, probably in minutes. One list had the names of all his friends and family that come to visit, so he can simply point to the name of the person he is talking to or about. The second list looked something like this:

Change the channel
I feel pain
I'm cold
Please get the nurse
I'm sad

A whole list of simple requests or emotions. Something that her 'teacher brain' instantly thought of that could make a huge difference for my uncle. I was so touched by this gesture, especially the "I'm sad" part. It must be hard enough to communicate your wishes about life-saving steps and critical care when you are very sick, never mind when you can't speak. I'm so glad these simple words are there for him.
The power of the written word. Whether the words are hugely important or fictional stories that share the human experience - they matter.
I leave you with this quote from Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel:

 "I write to understand as much as to be understood."

Sunday, April 5, 2015


"Apply butt to chair." The first piece of writing advice that ever stuck. It seems fairly simple, yet I have such a hard time with it. I do my best writing while driving in my car. Alone. (Fear not! The writing is in my head, not on the steering wheel.) Writing with pen and paper on the couch works sometimes too. But I have difficulty with the whole, "set aside a certain time each day and sit at the computer and write" thing.
Today for instance, is Easter Sunday and I am home alone with a pukey kid while everyone else is off celebrating. She is napping, and I have procrastinated by playing games on my phone, raiding the kids' candy stash, painting a piece of furniture, and now, blogging.
I don't fully understand how I can want to write, NEED to write, then avoid writing at all costs. Once I get started, I'm good to go. I can get lost in it and completely lose track of time. But getting there is tough.
ABC...I have changed it to "Avoid Book at all Costs".
Happy Easter, Happy Passover, Happy Writing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


I'm still in a bit of a foggy haze after the SCBWI New England Whispering Pines Writers' Retreat this past weekend. So many inspirational ideas, talks, lessons. So many great writer folk and new friends. It's going to take me a while to get everything in order.

When this is what you see upon your arrival, you know you are in for something special.

I didn't take many pictures, because I wanted to absorb everything without the distraction. But I did take this one to send to a friend who isn't the biggest fan of the little critters. It will give you a sense of the rustic feel of the retreat center (and someone's obsession with squirrels.)

So, the only 'con' that I can come up with from the weekend was that I gained 5 lbs due to the delicious food. Among the pros - a great roommate buddy, new friends from a great community of writers, tons of inspiration. Here's some of what I learned, and quotes that spoke to me:

Don't set unreachable goals. Baby steps. "You are a writing day starter." - John Cusick/Greenhouse Literary

I may have been a Journalism major back in the day, but my grammar can still use a little help.

I love exclamation!!!!!! marks too much. Really. Use them only when absolutely necessary!

You don't have to follow trends. "Good books define the market - they change it when they appear." - John Cusick

"You are only a debut once." - Joan Paquette/Erin Murphy Literary Agency 

 Think about what your character wants and needs. And how those things are sometimes at odds with each other. - Kendra Levin/Viking Children's Books

"Your character should change, and their world view should change too, by the end - in response to their journey to get what they want." - Mallory Kass/Scholastic Press

Tension. Drama. Intrigue. These will keep the reader turning pages. - Sylvie Frank/Simon & Schuster

And my favorite takeaway:

Have a conversation with your main character. Or all your characters. Amazing things will happen.