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So, school is out, camps not yet started, end-of-year shenanigans completed (5 teacher gifts, 3 crossing guard gifts, countless end-of-year party donations, 1 full day chaperoning…someone hand me a drink). I have, I confess, dropped every ball I was juggling except for the ones that were either, 1) flaming (and thus required my attention, or 2) were desperately urgent. This means that everything from the electric bill to wordage on the YA Paris book to revisions have all gone untouched. And now, in the quiet that follows the storm, I’m clueless of how to pick back up again. Especially the writing. I can’t seem to figure out what I want.

This is me lately:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, much like this kitten (but far less adorably) I seem to be spending my days chasing my tail around, certain that it’s a valuable pursuit, only to discover that it’s not moving me forward as much as I hoped. So what does the non-feline. writerly version of this look like?

THIS:

 

 

 

 

 

THIS:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or even THIS: (It’s research, dammit! I swear I’m not just looking at pictures of Paris because…oh fine. Yeah, I’m just looking at pictures of Paris because.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(This is Rue Mouffetard. My old street and possibly one of the very best marchés in all of Paris. Le sigh.)

Anyway, what I’m not doing ANY of is writing. And I miss it.

I recently had a fascinating conversation with a child psychologist about how video games are serving the purpose that recreational drugs used to serve for disaffected kids. The games provide the same feeling of relief, of a better world, of success (regardless of its lack in real life). She discussed how satisfying these games were to kids, and how difficult it was for them to find life outside the games equally enriching. As I think about the fascinating blogs I follow, the witty conversations on Twitter, the vital relationships I sustain in cyberspace, I have to wonder how much the internet is my drug of choice. That’s not to say there’s no value to online social media. Writing is lonely and can be isolating. I’ve found amazing critique partners, great friends, loads of information about agents and publishers, and an incredible wall of support – all online. But what I haven’t found there? My revisions or my next novel.

So I think I need to try cutting waaaaay back. Facebook can live without me. Twitter (where I mostly stalk others) I’ll just avoid. And even my amazing online friends…well, maybe I’ll check in at the end of the day and report to them how many words I wrote.  As for this blog? I’ll be back sometime soon. Just hopefully after I’ve finished revisions or written a few chapters.

Happy Summer!

 

 

 

This one is pretty self-explanatory…I don’t even know who I would be without them.

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Gratitude is a slippery thing; very hard to keep a grip on. One moment I am deeply grateful for how lovely my life is. The next I’m swearing a blue streak at the idiotic computer that won’t load.

With a number of personal and family highs and lows I decided that I need to spend a little time on gratitude. And little time is all I have. So each day this week I’ll post a photo of something that I am grateful for. Some are self-explanatory, others less so.

What about you? What are some things, great or small, that help you find that kernel of gratitude?

It’s been a glorious summer. Truly wonderful. Small Daughter and Large Son are at an incredible age where they relish their independence but also enjoy time with us, the parental units. They can keep up in the big waves, and on the big trails. We had a blast.

It looked a lot like this:

And like this:

And plenty of this:

And some of this:

I planned on blogging, really I did. I had big plans to write about the books I was reading, about the middle grade novel I’m around halfway through writing, about all sorts of things literary. But somehow it never happened.

Now we’re back. The days are getting shorter and there is a definite tang in the air. The first Jersey Macs are at the local farm, as well as an insane pumpkin crop that would make Linus proud.  And school has started up again, heralding another year of relentlessly fast-moving hockeysoccerskiingbirthdaypartytravelhomeworksciencefairreportslife that takes over. I love the fall, and all the colors, smells and sounds it brings. But saying goodbye to summer is always hard.

Here’s to next year!

It’s a lot of this:

Some of this:

A little of this:

 

Some of this:

And a couple of these:

HAPPY SUMMER!!!!

 

  It’s another Road Trip Wednesday, and I’m on the road with the good folks of YA Highway.  Today’s question:

Who in your life has most inspired your writing?

Well, that’s both easy and  a little bit hard. I mean, when I’m writing YA hot and heavy romance I can’t help thinking of the Husband, who I was lucky enough to meet when I was seventeen (all the angst, drama and attraction I’d ever need to reference, wrapped up in my now-one-and-only). And my mother and sister and I always share books, talking about the characters as intently as if they were our dearest friends. And there’s my amazing aunt Liz, known to the literary world as Elizabeth Levy, who has written over 90 children’s books, and who always taught me the power of imagination.

But right now, I’m just starting a new middle grade book, and the inspiration for the story looks an awful lot like this:

Many of my favorite books were written 30, 40, 50, or even longer ago. HALF MAGIC by Edgar Eager, THE FOUR-STORY MISTAKE by Elizabeth Enright, or SOUP by Robert Newton Peck all captured the utter hilarity and nonsense that’s the best part of being a kid. More recently, THE PENDERWICKS series by Jeanne Birdsall covers some of the same ground. I loved all these books, and my kids love all these books.

And here’s the thing.  As the mother of Small Daughter and Large Son in the new millennium, it’s amazing how little has changed. There might be an app for every need under the sun, and Small Son might have heard about Xbox Call of Duty at school. But snakes, marshmallows, mud, practical jokes, the first snow of the year, the first crocus of the year,  the Empire State Building, helicopters, and dress-up still rule.

So while these particular forms of inspiration (and distraction) have only been on the planet for 9.75 years or so, they certainly inspire me. I want to write books that Large Son quotes out loud, as he does with his favorites. I want to write books that Small Daughter has to put down sometimes because “it’s too sad at this part!” I want to write books that make them laugh out loud.

We’ll see how I do.

GotYA: Monday Guest Blogging: Writing Meets Field Hockey.

Today there was a fun post from a new-to-me blogger about how writing and acting as a field hockey referee have much in common.

And while I have never reffed a field hockey game, I used to play ice hockey (lo these many years ago), and recently both Small Daughter and Large Son have taken up the sport.  So, in homage to GotYA’s guest blog, here is my post on how writing is like playing ice  hockey:

Sometimes you need to go in hard: In writing, as in hockey, it is always best to use skill and finesse to meet (or score) your goals.  But there is such a thing as being too nice.  If you’re too afraid of getting yourself (or your characters) hurt, you’ll never accomplish anything.  As a writer you have to put your characters in difficult, sometimes horrible, situations, and let them deal with the consequences.  In hockey, you need to go in hard to the corners, even if you know you’re going to get smashed up, if you want to make the play.

But don’t play stupid. If it looks criminally dumb and dangerous, don’t do it.  Similarly, if you know deep down that the airplane you have your heroine hanging out of probably couldn’t really fly so low that she can jump off and land in the convenient hay bale…well, better to stick to a modicum of reality.

Don’t be put off by others’ preconceived notions: Say hockey player and there’s a stereotype of a toothless, mullet-headed thug.  Visions of Slapshot might dance in your head.  Say writer, and an image of a flaky artist, surrounded by half-finished manuscripts and endless cups of coffee, might pop up.  Sure, some people live up to the stereotype, but I know climate scientists, nonprofit presidents, stay-at-home moms, and accountants who play a mean game of hockey.  And most writers these days are also working as lawyers, as teachers, as anything and everything to support their writing habit.

Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork. Several times this weekend, during a hockey game that his team lost by double digits, I watched my son fight through the thicket of opposing players on a breakaway.  We were all on our feet, cheering, as he moved down the ice.  But when he looked up, the defense was closing in and there was no one open to pass to.  He got boxed in, missed the shot, and the score remained dismal.  The point? Hockey is a team sport – without someone to pass to there is no winning, period. Writing is not, or is it?  Most good books become great books during the revision stage.  Trust your beta readers, listen to the feedback, try hard to be gracious.

Don't go it alone...

Celebrate. Even if the score is 11-1, even if the best thing that happened is that you lose by less, but you’ve improved, there is something to celebrate.  And when the big win comes…look out!  In writing, you need to celebrate milestones.  Hit 50k words? Time to celebrate. Got a first draft off to your critique group? Celebrate again! Got 10 rejections from agents but three of them wrote really nice personal notes…yep, time to break out the Veuve Cliquot again.  Celebrations keep us all going for the gold.

Oh, Canada...

Canadian Thanksgiving was last week.  American Thanksgiving is next month.  And for a certain small percentage of people in the world (who also read this blog) they will understand why my symbol might be the “My-Canada-Includes-Quebec-Free-Trade-Cactus”* 

For those who don’t, I’ll simply say that the Husband is Canadian, I went to school in Canada, and my amazing in-laws and college friends are all part of that noble tribe. I am course, am from the land that deep fries Twinkies and elects George W. Bush (and Obama…let’s not forget the big O).

 

I am NOT thankful for you. I would only be thankful if this turkey compromised your manhood. Permanently.

 

So, in honour (get that – it’s the Canadian spelling!) of the two Thanksgivings, I am giving a brief list of things I am thankful for this week.

1) I am thankful that the Husband pulled up his big-boy pants and dealt with the smell emanating from behind the fridge. I am even more thankful that I was nowhere near when he and our neighbor, acting as wingman, excavated a dead and maggoty mouse. Yes, you read that right.

2) I am thankful that the massive branch that just fell in our yard today missed the car and the shed and only did minimal damage to the fence.  Holy crap that was close!

3) I am thankful that I’ve come up with a first sentence (ok, first few sentences) for my next book and I am kind of in lovey love with them. So far.

4) I am thankful that I’ve started getting feedback from the triumvirate of amazingsauce beta readers who are plowing through 76k words of mermaid angst and finding some nice things to say.

5) I am thankful that I have friends that invite me to a Jerk-Off Thanksgiving (that would be a jerky competition…get your minds out of the gutter!) and that said friend would then ask me -“since you’re the writer” – to come up with Dirty Jerky Award names.  You just can’t buy flattery like that.

6) I am thankful that the same friend is making stuffing with bacon, apple, and caramelized onions. *goes to happy place*

So there it is!  My between-Thanksgivings thankful list!  What about you guys?  What are you thankful for today?  (Yes, you can still answer in November when American Thanksgiving rolls around).

*So you really wanted to know? Well, Quebec wants separate from Canada – seriously – and be its own country, but we would prefer to keep it, and all the beer and fromage found there, as part of the motherland, and of course free-trade…o.k., look, that’s what Wikipedia is for if you don’t already know!  As for the cactus…well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it?

 

One of my Canadian friend's single most favorite thing about this country...the pardoning of the turkey. Note that Malia does not look impressed.

 

 

So I, along with bazillions of others in the blogosphere, am reviewing a banned book today at the invitation of the fabulous Tahereh and the Rejectionist – two amazing book bloggers.  Without further ado…

*Tension builds. Weak women faint. Strong men fall down*

TA-DAH!  The amazing Robie Harris’s deeply dangerous and controversial books, It’s Not the Stork, It’s So Amazing, and It’s Perfectly Normal.

Why these books?  There are so many incredible novels on the banned book list, including some that probably rank in my very favorite ever in the Whole Wide World (as Small Daughter is wont to say).  But Robie’s books play a different role in my life, or rather, they pertain to a different role that I play; that of parent, rather than reader.

These books talk without shame or awkwardness about all the mysterious-wonderful-strange-interesting things that happen to our bodies, with our bodies, and from our bodies.  As the names suggest, these books start with the basics of biology for very young children and move to pre-adolescents tackling subjects like masturbation and birth control.  The drawings (by the talented Michael Emberly) are accurate without being scary, and the language is honest and fun.

The wild controversy? Well, these books don’t just offend those that believe in Creationism.  No, they go further into the quagmire by showing loving couples of all colors, shapes, physical abilities, and genders.  They acknowledge that families, and love, come in a variety of forms. They tackle the hard conversations about inappropriate touch and what to do about it.  They mention (in the ones for older readers,) abortion, HIV/AIDS, and more.

As a reader, there are a million other books I would rather curl up with.  After all, I am already able to identify all my body parts, thank you very much.  But as a parent, there is no book I would rather keep accessible to children and their families.  These are important books.  They discuss subjects that even the most liberal of parents don’t always know how to talk about.  They cover material that might save lives, and they don’t let a veil of embarrassment keep the potential for conversation under wraps.

In our house, I left It’s Not the Stork out from the time my kids were around four or so, figuring they could glance at the pages and ask questions as they wished.

Of course, at our house, the copy is signed, with love.  Robie Harris is my cousin.  How lucky am I?

Three things:

1) Small Daughter turned seven this weekend and I am realizing anew that time only flows one way, i.e. she will not be six ever again and my days of being able to grab her and pick her up and squeeze her until she squeaks are limited;

2) Large Son had his first ever hockey game on a team with many kids who have been playing for five-plus years already, and I watched him lumber out on the ice with great trepidation, not that he would get hurt but that he would be yelled at or humiliated or scared by mean people;

3) I sent drafts of my first ever completed manuscript, The Dangerous School, Class of 2030 out into the world.  People are reading it, even as I type.  In some cases, relative strangers are reading it.  In others, dearly loved family members are reading it.  I’m not sure which is scarier.  I’m just glad there are no graphic sex scenes.  (Well done, all you romance authors who share your work and don’t dissolve into giggles when critiquing each other.  You can tell why I writer for the teenage market!)

Anyway, I would say it’s been an interesting week of learning all over again to let go and jump.  I’ve learned that lesson oh so many times before, in wildly diverse settings both literal and figurative.  But the triple-play of this past week and weekend have reminded me that no matter how well I’ve done at being brave in the past I have to relearn it all over again.  It’s a lesson I learn best from my kids, and that I hope will show up in everything I write.  Because as the photos of Small Daughter and Large Son show me, letting go and jumping off can be the most fun in the world.