Wednesday, September 29, 2010

First Draft Complete -- Woo Hoo!

First, I’d like to thank all my blogging friends who continue to stop here and say hello, even though I’ve been absent from most of your own blogs recently. That darn day job has really eaten into my blog reading time! I feel like it’s all I can do to get a blog posted here three times a week, and if I can find two days a week to read other people’s blogs, I count myself lucky!

Of course, being in the grip of the climax of my WIP has also kept me away from the blogosphere. I know most of the writers out there will understand – it’s hard for anything to compete with your WIP when it gets to that point! And now – IT’S FINISHED! The first draft of The Caged Graves is complete, at 72,500 words! Of course, I already know there’s a bunch of things wrong with it – plot holes, clues left dangling because I changed my mind, irregular pacing, characters who should have been introduced early on turning up unexpectedly in the middle, etc. I’ve already started digging into it and changes are underway …

In other exciting news, I was the guest of a book club in Charlestown, Pennsylvania last week. Thank you, Ellen Behrle, for inviting me and for hosting the book club meeting. It was a fun evening – great food, great wine, and lots of laughs. I’m so glad everyone enjoyed We Hear the Dead, and I loved sharing the biographies I used as resources – especially the photographs of the real people. (We also spent some time trying to “cast” the dashing Elisha Kane for the film …)

Anyway, back to work on The Caged Graves …

Monday, September 27, 2010

Larry's Adventure at the Salerni House

My husband's in California for 2 weeks, in a training module for his new employer. The washer broke down, and after a maddening snafu with the delivery company, the new washer was scheduled to be delivered at a time I couldn't be there -- which also coincided with our bi-monthly house cleaning service. Luckily, my wonderful brother-in-law, Larry O'Donnell, offered to take care of the situation.

Larry is a retired federal agent, so I thought he was probably up for the job. Turns out, the washer was not nearly as big a problem as my husband's complex home theater. Here's his story:

Larry's Adventure

It was easy to talk my 4 year old son Joe into the trip.  We were going to Gina and Gabbey's house.   Once underway, I broke the news that Gina and Gabbey were at school.  Aunt D was at school.  Even Uncle Bobby was in a school of sorts.  Joe wanted to know if Sorcia would be at school.  I was pleased to report that Sorcia was between semesters.  I explained that our mission was to see to the delivery of a new washing machine.
Upon our arrival, things went well.  The key worked flawlessly and Sorcia did the yippee-dog-whirling-dervish-slurp-like-crazy greeting.  She settled down and things went from frantic to kinda boring.  So... I decided to engage Joe with the 100+ options of TV. 
Throughout my career I’ve had to make many critical decisions where life, death or serious injury were prizes for a poor choice.  Those occasions have now faded in contrast to my cavalier decision to use an appliance without supervision at Uncle Bobby and Aunt D's house. 
I consider myself an electronic technician and I commercially ply my trade of bringing dead or sick electronic amplifiers back to life.  The only sticking point of my extensive technology knowledge is that it achieved its apex in 1962.  Yes, I am a vacuum tube, analog circuit guy. 
I picked up a remote control bearing the Panasonic logo, having already observed said logo on the TV.  I boldly pushed the red power button in the TV section of the remote.
The screen came alive immediately.  It indicated that it was in the game mode.  Then it shut down.  I repeated my sequence and was rewarded with the game screen again.  I knew that the key to this modern stuff was in the menu.  So I hit menu.  The TV went off.  I re-started the process and achieved the menu page.  The TV reverted to the game page. I pushed menu and that screen came up.  I scrolled to TV.  The TV shut off. 

I was now certain there must be some time-out feature to keep idiots from hanging out in the menu section.  I finally got the Dish TV menu and after a few more shut downs and wild variations in volume, Special Agent Oso was locked on. After wrestling with the volume, I finally turned to Joe and told him the TV was not working properly.  He proudly pointed out that he was working it fine with the remote he had...  Yes, everything I did, he had a corresponding move that checked my progress.
The cleaning service arrived.  I was still stinging from my humiliation by a 4 year old. The maids seemed to know I was recently humiliated.  They giggled a bit.  I realized I still had the Panasonic remote in my hand.  I could tell they knew.  They tittered about my faliure to have the proper remote.  I smiled and pretended I was just examining the remote for fresh batteries.  It was lame but they seemed to buy it.
So, vacuum cleaners were roaring and Agent Oso was screaming at the top of Uncle Bobby's 128 Decibel audio system's capacity.  I saw the TV telling me there was an incoming call.  I ran to the phone.  No circular dial, Western Electric, apparatus here.  I grabbed the phone.  I was awaiting the final approach of the washing machine delivery van.  I had to communicate with Delivery Guy, or he would put me to the end of the list or even put it off until next week.  I pushed the button that you push on my home telephone.  I got to select ring volume.  Delivery Guy was fast approaching voicemail.  With a mighty effort I grabbed my glasses and located the proper button.  I did steal a glance back at Joe to make sure he didn't have another telephone. 
Somehow, the washing machine arrived and the maids left. I saw that the old washer was removed and the new one didn't leak. 

I asked Joe to shut down the TV. He said for me to wait for the end of Agent Oso.  What choice did I have?  He had the more powerful remote.
I made it home and got right into a 1968 Fender Princeton Reverb amp.  I felt better after about an hour.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Promising Start!

It will probably come as no surprise that I enjoy teaching writing to my 5th graders. However, grading writing can be a drag. Nothing kills the joy of writing more than staring at a stack of expository essays that I need to assess for Focus, Content, Organization, Style, and Conventions.

I started out the year teaching descriptive writing – how to describe people in an interesting way, how to use action verbs, and how to add similes in order to put images in the reader’s mind. The first piece of writing handed in to me this year was an “action scene.”

I ended up laughing out loud while I read my students’ scenes, and that's a promising start to the year. I see potential here! Okay, their spelling is dicey and their punctuation is horrific, but I can work with that when I’ve got samples like these:

(real student work – but I’ve cleaned up the spelling and punctuation for you …)

How about a scene between two kids fighting over the last bag of Doritos in the store?

Tom knew what he had to do. He catapulted his shopping cart and nailed the kid in the back. The kid flipped into the cart and hit the cereal section. He was buried like a gopher.

I told the students they could write a scene in which they were chased by a wild animal, but I didn’t expect the humor in this passage where a girl flees in terror from a bunny.

Catherine dashed to the woods, but she could hear the bunny behind her. It was close. She could just about feel the bunny’s pointy whiskers brush against her legs!

I had several scenes involving food fights in the cafeteria, but I loved the way this one began …

Jesse told the grape catapults to fire. They did. When he told them to hold position, they would. Anything he told them to do, they would do it.

… and the mature use of language and sentence structure in this one …

“Heads up!” someone yelled. Something slimy hit the back of my head. I realized there were mashed potato globs sailing through the air like rocket ships, and that I had been hit with one. There was also gravy catapulting from one end of the lunchroom to the other. Jerry Bulbs got pegged on the side of the head with a chicken wing and went down.

The first authorities to appear on the scene were the lunch aides. They were still trying to restore order and having no such luck when Mr. Deshidio burst through the door.

They seem to have an over-fondness for the word “catapult” – which is worrisome in a class of 5th graders – but overall, I think this is a promising start to the year!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

To Kindle or Not To Kindle ...

... That is the question.

I want one, of course. Books downloaded instantly … an entire library to carry with me on vacation … I even thought the Kindle would be perfect to use at school because I could load it with all the books I teach in class and have them all in one place.

Except – once I started looking, I discovered that most children’s books are still not available in Kindle. Strike one. I made a list of about twenty books I regularly used in my 5th grade classroom and found only one of them available in the Kindle store. So scratch that idea.

Taking the Kindle on vacation is problematic, too. Strike two. Although you can safely leave your paperback novel on your beach chair on in the ski lodge, it might not be a good idea to leave your Kindle lying around unsupervised. You can also read your book during take-off and landing on an airplane, but not your electronic reader.

That leaves reading at home, and I’m sorry to say that I don’t think the Kindle can handle the type of reading I’ve been doing lately. In the past month, I’ve read only one novel – but five manuscripts. Two of them were my own, which I was editing, and three belonged to other people, which I marked up with editing notes and comments. Then I emailed them back to their owners. In other words, most of the reading I do these days involves interacting with text on a computer – and doing it in a format transferrable to someone else’s computer as a document file.

I know it’s possible to highlight text and make notes on the Kindle, but I don’t think you can transfer the marked-up document back to a computer – can you? How about the Nook? Or the iPad? I’d love to hear from someone who has one of these devices. How compatible are they with your computer?

Unfortunately, no matter how sleek and attractive and just plain cool they are, I don’t need a uni-tasker – a device used only for reading, and only at home, and only for the books available through the Kindle store. I might have to remain Kindle-less.

Thoughts, anyone?

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Foreigner

On Friday night, my husband and I attended a performance of The Foreigner by Larry Shue at The Players Club of Swarthmore. We knew absolutely nothing about this play, attending only out of loyalty to our friend Eric Crist – and the faith that if Eric was in the play, we would have a good time. As it turns out, we loved the play, and not just because Eric, as always, turned out a terrific performance! (Go, Eric! We love it when you play the handsome, charming fellow with a sneaky, rotten interior!)

As a writer, I found the premise of The Foreigner very interesting. The protagonist, Charlie Baker, is dragged against his will to a Fishing Lodge Resort in Georgia, where his friend believes he will find a welcome rest from his marital troubles. But Charlie, who is desperately shy and (in his own words) lacking in personality, dreads the social anxiety of conversing with other guests. So, his well-meaning friend tells the proprietor that Charlie is “a foreigner” who can’t speak a word of English.

When various characters begin to spill their secrets in front of Charlie, believing he can’t understand them, I thought I knew where the play was going. But the story took an unexpected twist. Much to the surprise of the protagonist himself, “Foreigner Charlie” begins to take on a life of his own, developing a personality startlingly different from the one belonging to the shy and boring fellow in the first scene.

This happens to my characters all the time. I put them down on the page with the intention of making them one thing, and they do something else entirely. A character will sometimes demonstrate bravery in a scene where I expected cowardice – or offer a hand of friendship to another character they despised in an earlier chapter. I find it’s best to follow their lead – and luckily the hero in this play gave “Foreigner Charlie” the freedom to develop, which not only conquered his own social anxiety but saved the Fishing Lodge from the Ku Klux Klan! (You kinda had to be there …)

One final connection between this play and the writing process: According to the playbill, when The Foreigner first opened off-Broadway in the early ‘80’s, it was trashed by critics as “unintelligent, implausible, and unpalatable.” The play nearly closed, but the company, believing in their show, took paycuts, distributed fliers, and gave away 80,000 lapel buttons to keep the show alive. The result? A Texas oil millionaire saw the show and, after laughing his you-know-what off, invested $60,000 to keep the production going.

The lesson here? Believe in your own work; persist despite the critics – all it takes is one fan with the power to make things happen to bring success within your reach.

PS: If you live in the Philly area, The Foreigner is still playing through October 2. Contact The Players Club of Swarthmore for tickets.

Friday, September 17, 2010


I received a beautiful present in the mail this week from Aine’s Realm – a charm bracelet inspired by We Hear the Dead. Isn’t it lovely? I’ll be wearing it for good luck at all my book events from now on. Aine designed the bracelet herself, and the charms reflect the time period (horse and carriage, sailing ship), the séances (candles, Ouija board, coffin, cemetery gate), and the romance (entwined hearts, love letter) in my book.

The bracelet came at a good time because it was otherwise a very sad week. My school district and my community are still reeling from a devastating car accident involving several high school students last weekend. I won’t blog about that here, but suffice it to say that Aine’s present was a welcome bright spot in the week. I was looking for a reason to smile. Thank you, Aine. :)

For a writer, success is not always measured by one’s Amazon rank, I think.

In other news, I’m looking forward to being the guest at a book club in Phoenixville, PA next week – and SKYPING with high school creative writing classes in Florida next month. (That is, the students will be in Florida, and I’ll be in PA.) The Collingswood Book Festival in New Jersey is also coming up in a couple weeks.

If you aren’t familiar with S.F. Robertson’s blog Wastepaper Prose, you should definitely check it out while she is running her latest Author Insight series. I am excited to be keeping company with the likes of Jennifer Hubbard, Kami Garcia, Kody Keplinger, and Jon Skovron answering questions on topics like Wait on the Muse or Kidnap Her?, Battles with Characters and Outlandish Things Done in the Name of Research.

Finally, the bracelet this week reminded me of another beautiful thing inspired by my book -- a two-movement quartet. Okay, only one of the two movements was inspired by my book – and really, it was Maggie Fox’s story, not mine. I blogged about this back in January, but think I had 3 followers at the time, so chances are you haven’t seen it. My husband’s cousin, Dr. Paul Salerni, a Professor of Music at Lehigh University, composed a chamber piece entitled Witches and Rappings, inspired by We Hear the Dead and the Witches of Eastwick, which was performed by the chamber ensemble group SATORI in January. If you have the time, check out this archived post.

Warm wishes to everyone for a charmed and safe weekend …

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Dark Roller Coasters

Apparently, I get a thrill out of not knowing where I’m going.

I never knew this about myself. I thought I liked to be completely in control – and definitely never lost.

I also thought I hated roller coasters – though I always suspected I was afraid of the height, more than the coaster itself. I’m also not fond of bridges and ferris wheels. I keep imagining myself FALLING. I don’t see how those flimsy guard rails are going to keep my vehicle from falling off the edge of the bridge, and as for roller coasters, I expect the cars to fly off the track at any time – or just break through the track on the curve and hurtle out across the amusement park …

Therefore, it was with great trepidation that I allowed my family to talk me into riding Space Mountain at Disney last month. My husband said, “It’s in the dark. You can’t see how high you are.” And although I wasn’t convinced, I did try to be a good sport. I figured, if I was terrified – he’d owe me BIG TIME. (Always a good position to be in.)

So I rode it, and as we were leaving, I turned to the family, coughed sheepishly, and murmured, “Uh, we could do that again, if you want …”

Turns out – I love roller coasters, as long as I can’t see where I’m going! Who knew? Not only did I ride Space Mountain again, but I was first in line to ride Revenge of the Mummy at Universal Studios – after I’d ascertained that it, too, is in the dark. Strangely enough, I also enjoyed Tower of Terror – in which you really are falling – and during which you have a plain view of how high you are. Mission Space – no problem. The Simpsons Ride and the Spider Man Ride – loved ‘em! I’ve got no issues being strapped into a car that bumps around a bit while being shown a movie that simulates falling and flying. (I even laughed during the Simpson ride when the roller coaster track breaks and the car hurtles out across the amusement park … arguably, a simulation of my worst nightmare!)

I thought I was afraid of the motion. Not true. I thought I was afraid of heights. Not really. I thought I was afraid of falling. Hmm … closer, but Tower of Terror was kind of fun. I’m not sure there’s a name for why I’m terrified of the itty bitty baby train that rides a skinny track overtop of Playland in Ocean City, NJ, but it’s definitely not what I thought it was.

Have you ever thought you were afraid of one thing – but turns out you were afraid of something else entirely?

Do you enjoy that sensation of not knowing where you’re going next – on a dark roller coaster – or in your current WIP?

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Diabetes Lottery

Friends and fellow bloggers, I’d like to introduce you to my cousin, Bob Abernethy, who recently joined the blogosphere. The impetus for Bob to jump into our little universe was his recent diagnosis with Type II Diabetes – and the belief that sharing his experience could help others survive and accept the diagnosis, as well as beat the heck out of the disease.

1. Bob, what made you decide to share your story by blogging?

First and foremost, I’d like to thank you for the interview.  I feel like a celebrity!   I decided to share my story by blogging because when I was first diagnosed as a type II diabetic, it was truly frightening.  I had an acquaintance that was diagnosed about ten years ago. His attitude was poor at best.  He didn’t follow any directions, didn’t change his lifestyle at all, refused medication, and the disease completely ravaged him.  In five years he was dead.  My only experience with the disease was that I knew a guy who had it, and he died in five years.  

I knew immediately that this was not the result I wanted, but had no idea how to avoid it.  So I decided I would immerse myself in diabetes education.  I read everything I could, went to classes, and consulted a lot with my doctor.  My hope is that the newly diagnosed can learn from my mistakes, benefit from my experiences, relax, and smile.

2. In your first post, you tell the story of how you were originally diagnosed with humor and honesty. Did you really take it as well as it seemed?

That might be a question better asked of my wife and kids!  Seriously though, I think I handled it very well to be honest.  Worrying is a waste of time.  If you have a problem that can be controlled – control it.  Diabetes is a controllable problem.  It’s not easy, but it is controllable.  In six months, my A1C (the test that measures your blood glucose over a three month period) went from 13.5 (waaaaay high) to 6.5 - the normal level for A1C.  In that same six months, I went from 254 pounds, to 190 pounds.  My doctor is quite pleased.  So is my wife. ;-)

3. I had gestational diabetes with my last pregnancy. The condition went away when the baby was born, but my doctor informed me that I would have an increased risk of diabetes for the rest of my life. (Thanks a lot, Gina.) Did anyone ever tell you that you were at risk for this disease?

Honestly – no.  I’m not sure how, because as I have learned since being diagnosed, I certainly tested the glucose tolerance limits of a human being.  A five foot nine inch 254 pound guy that watches way too much ESPN, while washing down Cheetos with chocolate milk: Who could have seen diabetes coming?

As hard core as I am about solving problems though, I’m even better at hiding them.  I had symptoms for years, but kept them to myself.  I assumed, (and we all know what that does) that I was just getting old.  Lesson learned.  And my other bloodwork would make Lance Armstrong jealous, so it’s understandable that I was not diagnosed earlier.

4. You blogged about your fondness for Web MD and how you misdiagnosed yourself with it. Has this tarnished its appeal at all, or do you still use it? What about all the other information available out on the web?

I love WebMD!  Do you know that they have a picture of a person on their site, and you can click on where it hurts, and they will tell you why?!  How cool is that?  I know I probably sound like a hypochondriac, but I’m not.  I just really hate to go to the doctor.  I saw a guy on ‘Tosh.0’  the other day that pulled his own tooth with a pair of pliers!  Now here’s a guy that doesn’t like to go to the dentist!  Although I think he’s an idiot on so many levels, I kind of sympathize with him. But I have learned my lesson.  With all of the information available on the web, it is not a replacement for a good diagnostician.  Go to the doctor, folks.

5. There is a strong community of writers in the blogosphere who support one another and share their experience. Have you found a similar community available for people living their lives in spite of diabetes?

The first blog I ever read was yours.  I had heard of blogging, but I am fairly tech-challenged, and never really knew what a great benefit it is.  There are so many blogs on diabetes it boggles my mind, and the support is incredible!  It’s so comforting to know that you can talk with other people who are having the same experience, and see how they are coping.  Reading about other people’s successes and, maybe more so, their mistakes, is very helpful.

6. Any words of wisdom for readers who suffer from diabetes, know they are at-risk, or have family members with the disease?

Of course I have words of wisdom! Diabetes is what it is.  It is a disease that can have horrid consequences.  You can look at it that way if you want to.  I choose to look at it differently.  I told my doctor that he sounded ominous when he told me of my diagnosis.  I suggested that from now on he say, “CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve hit the diabetes lottery!”  Goofy, right?

Consider this:  I was an obese 46 year old guy who was too tired to enjoy life.  I was uncomfortable in my own skin.  I had a 44 inch waist.  My eyesight was getting blurry.  I was lethargic.  And to make matters worse, all of these things were making me depressed.

Since my diagnosis, I have lost 70 pounds.  I have a 34 inch waist.  I have new found energy.  I’m eating right.  I exercise.  I feel like a new man!  Diabetes saved my life.
It’s all about attitude…
Now, I have a question for you.  When is the new book going to be done?  I have to know why those cages are over those graves!!!

Ha! It would be finished a lot sooner if I could find someone to pay me my teaching salary just to write!

Bob's blog is Diabetes Lottery -- informational, inspirational, and entertaining, always. Thank you for the interview, cuz – and THANK YOU FOR THE REMINDER! Ten years after Gina’s birth, that warning about diabetes had begun to slip my mind. I need to start paying attention again.

Friday, September 10, 2010

My Daughter, ZeldaGirl

There’s a reason Dread Daughter #1 doesn’t often appear on my blog. She’s too busy building her own online presence – something I only appreciated when I checked her stats on YouTube and discovered her growing popularity.

Gabrielle films and posts “walk-throughs” for her favorite video game: Zelda. I didn’t really understand what this was all about, but I was astounded by the number of videos she’s posted and the following she’s built! No wonder I hear the Zelda theme music in my sleep!

Interview with ZeldaGirl367

1. What is a video game walk-through?

A video game walkthrough is where you record yourself playing a video game all the way through and then post it online for people to look at if they are stuck in that game.

2. I can understand that someone might want tips on getting through a challenging section, but why do people watch you play the whole game?

People watch me play the whole game because they think I am funny, or because they find it interesting to watch people play video games.

3. How many kinds of walk-throughs are there?

There are two kinds. A 100% walkthrough, where you go through the game and win every mini-game, get every item, every treasure chest, explore all the areas. And then there is just a normal walkthrough, where you show only the essential parts of the game, maybe getting an extra item or two here and there.

4. How do Zelda fans find you?

Some go online and look for videos to help them with a game, and depending upon what they type, my videos might come up. Other people might find me through one of their own video game walkthroughs.

5. Who are your followers? What age group and gender?

I assume that they are all mostly Zelda fans, like me, but since Youtube allows users to be anonymous, I can’t be sure of who they are or what country they live in.

6. WHY would someone pay money for this game and then learn how to play it by watching you? Isn’t that CHEATING?

In one way...yes. But different people find different things challenging, and they might not be able to get through a specific part without a little help. So I post the entire game walkthrough, so anyone can look up any part of the game and find out how to do it.

7. How did YOU learn to play the game? Did you use walk-throughs?

I learned to play the game myself. I only used a walkthrough once when I couldn’t find a specific item that was essential to the game.

PHEW! I’m glad to know she actually learned to persevere and do her own problem-solving! If you know a Zelda fan who needs a few tips, send them to the ZeldaGirl367 channel on YouTube.

My husband says there’s a market for this. Hmmm … perhaps Gabrielle should be charging a fee?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

One Wicked Plant

This spring, on an impulse visit to a nearby nursery, I bought a rather pretty plant for my upper pond. It was a water hyacinth, which floats on the water, has interesting succulent leaves, and a beautiful blue flower.

If I had bothered to check my book Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart, I might not have been so surprised three weeks later when my pond looked like this:

Yikes! I wondered if it would be able to get out of the pond, come into the house, and eat one of my children in the night!

Apparently this lovely little plant is a pernicious weed that doubles in area every 2 weeks. According to Amy Stewart: “The crimes that this aquatic plant has committed are so great that it should be locked away forever – if only that worked.” She also says: “The plant is so horrible that it has earned its own Guinness World Record as the world’s worst aquatic weed.”

I probably would not have bought the plant if I had known this. And yet, as it turns out – no harm done. The hyacinths have produced pretty blue flowers all summer; the frogs love the pond, and our lower pond has never been so clear! Apparently the water strained through the hyacinth blockage comes out stripped of nitrogen – which feeds the algae that has been a constant problem in previous summers.

When I clipped some of the hyacinths out and threw them in the lower pond to see what would happen, they didn’t make out so well. Apparently even this hardened criminal of a plant could not withstand the mighty force of my voracious pond fish.

Have you ever invited a pernicious pest into your home by mistake? How did it turn out for you?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Quiz Answers and Contest Winners

Thanks to everyone who participated in my 100 Blog Followers Contest – and extra thanks to people who Tweeted or Blogged about the contest! I’ve got quiz answers to share with you, and contest winners to announce!

Quiz Answers

1. Who is the main character of We Hear the Dead?

Maggie Fox is the main character, although her sister Kate is also of great importance. Maggie and Kate together pulled off the prank that led to one of the biggest hoaxes in the 19th century.

2. What grade do I teach?

Fifth grade is what I teach currently. I have also taught fourth grade some years, as well as a combined fourth and fifth multiage class.

3. Which one of my daughters regularly appears here with MG book reviews?

That would be Gina. Just so you know, this question caused some unhappiness at home. Gabrielle: How come I’m not in the quiz? Me: Well, you’re the wrong answer to #3. Gabrielle: Big deal -- I’m the wrong answer to all the questions!

4. How do I feel about No Child Left Behind?

Grrr … let’s not get started on that! I hate this piece of legislation that pretends to support education, while providing no real help to students or schools at all. The only people benefiting from this law are the standardized test-making companies.

5. What’s so special about 2 graves in Catawissa, Pa that I’m writing a book about them?

They are both enclosed in iron cages!

There are 8 prizes up for grabs!
1. A manuscript critique from yours truly
2. Beautiful Dead: Arizona by Eden Maguire
3. The Secret Society of the Pink Crystal Ball by Risa Green
4. Struts and Frets by Jon Skovron (signed)
5. The Secret Year by Jennifer Hubbard (signed)
6. 13 to Life by Shannon Delany (signed)
7. Shade by Jeri Ready-Smith (signed)
8. Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Kuehnert (signed)

Prizes will be given out on a first-come-first-served basis – with the exception that any international winners will get a manuscript critique by default. I will send emails out to all the winners this morning, but if you see this post first, you can go ahead and email me at with your prize preference. It might be a good idea to list a 2nd choice!

And the winners are:

Becca B.
Sheri L.
Kristina B.
Christine D.
Stephanie L.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Last Day to Enter and Random Reflections

This is me, after 4 days of teaching, trying to write a blog post. Yeah, I’m wiped.

But I do know this. Today is the last day to enter my 100 BLOG FOLLOWERS CONTEST! Up for grabs are:

A manuscript critique from yours truly

Upcoming new releases from Sourcebooks:
· Beautiful Dead: Arizona by Eden Maguire
· The Secret Society of the Pink Crystal Ball by Risa Green

Signed copies (from PAYA) of:
· Struts and Frets by Jon Skovron
· The Secret Year by Jennifer Hubbard
· 13 to Life by Shannon Delany
· Shade by Jeri Ready-Smith
· Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Kuehnert

Email me with your QUIZ answers by today to be entered to win! (Today is very loosely determined as occurring before I wake up tomorrow.)

The first week back to teaching has been kind of a blur. Here are some of random thoughts regarding the year so far:

1. I have a lovely 5th grade class, and I already knew a lot of these students before we even started the year. My daughter is in this grade, so some of the girls in my class have already been to my home for birthday parties – including pool parties and sleepovers. (ie: these kids have seen me in my bathing suit and/or pajamas) I foresee conversations like this occurring: “Where is your math homework? You’ll be in for recess if you don’t turn it in – and oh, by the way, can your mom pick up Gina after Girl Scouts on Monday?”

2. We Hear the Dead showed up in the Scholastic TAB Book Club order for September, which caused a lot of excitement in my building. In a school, I’m not sure you really count as “published” until the book is picked up by Scholastic – LOL!

3. No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman is as big a hit as ever as my first class read aloud. I never get tired of reading it! I adore Wallace Wallace and his revolt over reading “Old Shep, My Pal!” Favorite line in the book: “Go to the library and pick out a book with an award sticker and a dog on the cover. Trust me, that dog is going down!”

4. The teaching day can be exhausting and overwhelming, but it doesn’t quite drown out the clamoring voices in my head – the characters demanding to be heard and written about. By the time I get home every afternoon, I’m ready to burst – but with the Daughters and the Dog wanting dinner, it’s hard to concentrate on anything until late at night.

5. I might need to give up sleeping. See #4.

6. Thank God it’s Friday – even if there is a hurricane on the way.

7. If this blog post doesn’t make any sense … see picture at top.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Practice Room

School’s in session!

I like my class: they're smart and well-spoken and good-looking, too! (I know they can use Google, and they’re gonna find this blog and read it sooner or later. Best to butter them up now!)

However, a full teaching day cuts into my writing time and blows my concentration. If I want to keep up my productivity, I need to schedule some dedicated writing time. Over the summer, I found Tina Laurel Lee’s blog, The Practice Room, to be extremely helpful for focus and productivity.

So I volunteered to run evening sessions.

This week, I’ll be running my first session of TPR – Thursday night, at 8pm EST. If you want to get in an hour of productive writing – or just see if I can manage this feat without a technical disaster – join me! Here’s how it works:

1. Show up at sometime in the half hour before the scheduled session. In the case of this Thursday, pop in anytime between 7:30 and 8:00 pm EST. Let me know you’re present by adding a comment to the post and establishing a goal for the hour. (You can draft new words in your WIP, write some upcoming blog posts, work on revisions, outline a new project – anything!)

2. At the designated time (ie: 8:00pm) a post will appear announcing WE ARE UNPLUGGED. At this time, close the internet and unplug (or ignore) your phone. JUST WRITE.

3. When the hour is over, return to The Practice Room. A chat box will appear (assuming I don’t screw up) for everyone to report on their progress and talk about writing. If this is your first visit, you will have to take a moment to register with Chat Roll. Returning visitors need only sign in and start chatting.

What’s great about The Practice Room is the feeling that you’re not alone in your writing. You designate a time to commit to your craft, and you know there are other people out there working beside you.

I also like the “unplugged” nature of the session. Yes, I get tempted away from my writing by Facebook and Twitter. But I also get yanked out of productive writing by the sudden “need” to research what kind of hard candy was made in America in 1867 or what train stations can be found between Reading and Catawissa, PA. Researching piddling details can derail my writing, but when I’m “unplugged,” I’ve learned to type BLANK in the text and research it later. Fluency is achieved; details are cleaned up later.

Looking forward to Thursday, and hope to see some of you there! There are plenty of other sessions, too, so check the schedule posted at The Practice Room.

Don’t forget to enter my 100 BLOG FOLLOWERS CONTEST! Turn in your quizzes by Friday!