Sunday, April 26, 2009

Finished! (For Awhile)

I’ve “finished” my chapter book (now called “The Totally Weird Substitute")—at least enough to send it out into the world. At this stage, I’m not truly finished. I’ll wait to hear back from a publisher or agent. When I do (probably four to six months from now), I hope it will be positive, of course. But even if it is, an agent or editor will probably ask for revisions. If an editor wants the publisher to buy the book, she takes it to the acquisition committee. The book is never actually accepted (sold) until it goes though the committee and a contract is offered. Even after signing a contract, the writer works with the editor to revise the book until it’s the very best work they can do.

But for now, I’ve revised and revised until I can’t see anything else to do to it. I’ve probably thrown out as many words (and whole chapters) as I’ve kept. My critique group has sliced and diced it. I’ve taken it to SCBWI schmoozes, where other writers have given me feedback. Truly, a book is seldom the work of only one person, and my fellow SCBWI members have improved it immeasurably by their reactions and suggestions.

This particular book started at the Oklahoma Arts Institute at Quartz Mountain during the Fall of 2007, where I tried writing a picture book. The picture book didn’t work, but I liked the teacher character I’d created. So I played around with the idea of a book about her and came up with a child character who could be in conflict with her. I started writing it as a chapter book in January 2008. Even for a short book, it’s a long process.

There’s a time to let go, and this is it. It’s time to move on to another project. On Friday it went into the mail, and a query letter and the first ten pages went to an agent.

Right now I’m feeling oh so creative and self-disciplined, but the next book will bring just as much hand wringing, woolgathering, procrastination, and self-doubt.

I love kids and I love books. To write books for kids is an incredible joy and privilege—even during the days when I spend more time staring at a computer screen than putting words together. On those days, I’ll have to remind myself of what writing for kids is all about:

I want to write books that make kids love to read!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Haiku Vote Results

I didn’t get a lot of votes on my haikus. Because of my site counter, I know that more people read them than actually voted. Does that mean my readers are afraid of commitment, or did they think my haikus weren’t worth a comment? Well, I never claimed to be a poet, but it was fun to whip out those lines.

It came down to these two:

all day at the beach
at night hot, red skin slathered
in sweet, cool lotion.

nights warm and muggy
watermelon juice dribbles
fireflies light the yard.

Up until Monday night, when I had to submit one for the contest, the votes were tied between them, which makes me think I should have stopped there and not written the next three. Those are the ones I liked best, too.

I entered number one, mostly because it was different from the usual summer haiku, and several people mentioned that it was a strong image. In poetry, imagery is what it’s all about. Actually, that haiku came from a memory from my teenage years, maybe because I wrote about it in my journal at the time. I grew up in southern California, less than an hour from the beach, and I got my share of sunburns. I loved taking a shower and then putting lotion all over my body (which, incidentally, fit quite well into a bikini at that time, but that’s another topic).

After the deadline for the contest, my writer friend Stacy voted for number 2, which actually put it ahead, so if I’d had more time, I would have submitted it.

Thirty-five people entered the contest, and Jenny has not yet chosen the winner. I don’t expect to win, but if I do, I’ll let you know. Thanks, everybody who voted.

And thanks to Dr. Lobo, who didn’t vote because he knows better than to say too much about my writing, but who added a bit of humor in the comments section. (“Horny toads breed tadpoles.”) Life with him is always interesting.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Writing About Summer in April

Yes, I know. You’re wondering why I’m writing about summer in April. You’ll be glad to know I have a good reason.

Jenny Han, the writer of a young adult (teen) book I read recently (SHUG), is sponsoring a haiku contest on her blog. I’m entering the contest, just for fun (and good writing practice). The haiku must be about our favorite things about summer. A haiku has three lines—five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third.

Once I warmed up, I wrote five haikus, and now I can’t decide which one to enter, so I’m asking you to cast a vote. Which do you best? Please tell me in the comment section. Or, if you’re (1) shy or (2) can’t figure out how this comment thing works, send an email to me.

all day at the beach
at night hot, red skin slathered
in sweet, cool lotion.

nights warm and muggy
watermelon juice dribbles
fireflies light the yard.

time for rest and fun
read, travel, swim, visit, love
school’s out until fall.

cool grass between toes
sizzling cement scorches soles
summer means bare feet

short shorts, halter tops
Bible School stories and songs
catching horny toads

I’ll give you the final count in my next blog.

It’s not too late for you to enter the haiku contest, so go to Jenny’s blog and join the fun before the deadline on Monday. It’s

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Parade of Procrastinators

My name is Okie Book Woman, and I am a procrastinator. I’ve read self-help books, seen the ugly results of procrastination, and beaten myself mercilessly, but I’m still a procrastinator.

Everyone knows that April 15th is the day taxes are due. And everyone who has ever procrastinated on tax preparation has said, “Next year, I’m taking care of this as soon as I get my W-2 form.”

I actually finished my part of the tax preparation a week ago, which is progress on my part, but of course I was too late to get the information to my CPA in time for him to file by the 15th. (In the good old days, when we made so little money that a third grader could fill out the forms, I did my own taxes, usually on April 15th. Now that we’ve inherited oil and gas revenues and invested a bit in the stock market, we’re solidly middle class and I have to pay someone to lead me through the maze.) My taxman said he’d file an extension for me, but since I know we’ll owe more taxes, I decided I should send in some money so that I wouldn’t owe so much interest later. I made that decision a week or so ago, but did I act on it? Of course not. I waited until it became a crisis. (Well, you know. I’ve been busy.)

So last night, about ten o’clock, we headed off to the 24/7 post office to mail a check to our friends at the IRS. We were probably a mile away when we realized I’m not the only procrastinator in town. Traffic had stopped. Everyone and his dog seemed to be headed for the post office.

Fortunately, Dr. Lobo is spatially oriented. He can tell you where just about anything is located in relation to anything else. Our 24/7 post office is close to our airport. So Dr. Lobo got drove into the airport to a point where I could see the post office. He let me out, and I walked across a couple of streets and through a parking lot until I reached my destination.

When I came closer, I could see the problem. First off, Channel 5 was filming all the procrastinators (like we need to be publically shamed). Secondly, no cheerful postal employee stood outside so that people who only needed a postmark could drive by and drop off their mail. (In the good old days when everyone believed in providing services, that’s exactly what the post office did, and it was almost fun to be part of that annual event. I know, because I was usually a participant.)

People had to park and walk inside to mail their taxes. The 24/7 post office has a rather small parking lot. Drivers were forced to wait in their cars until a parking space was available.

I walked inside and discovered a parade of procrastinators in a twisting line. Rather than get in line, I decided to trust a fellow procrastinator. I found a woman who looked honest and asked if she would see to it that my envelope was postmarked, and she readily agreed.

I walked back through the parking lot, even though I saw signs forbidding pedestrians. (I’m not only a procrastinator; I’m a lawbreaker.) Only a minute after I got back to the place where Dr. Lobo had let me out of the car, he drove up, I got in, and we were on our way.

It felt great to beat the system. Now I just hope the woman who looked honest really did mail my check.

Yes, I am a procrastinator. But I’ll cure my problem someday. Just you wait.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How I Became a Cat Woman, Part Four

One night while Little Guy still lived with us, a phone call disrupted our peaceful life with our three cats. The Blonde, also a cat lover, called to ask a favor. She and Wild Child lived in an apartment complex, and someone had moved out and left an almost grown cat to fend for himself. The Blonde and Wild Child would have been happy to take him in, but they had A Very Weird and Difficult Cat Who Did Not Play Well With Others. The Blonde decided that someone should take the abandoned cat to a No-Kill shelter. Since she and Wild Child both had day jobs and were unavailable to do that, she thought perhaps one of us would do it.

Dr. Lobo and Little Guy agreed that one of them would take the cat to a shelter. The Blonde and Wild Child had been keeping the cat in their bathroom (safe from their cat), and Little Guy volunteered to pick him up that night.

When Little Guy returned with the long, lean, and very nervous cat, he announced that he had been thinking about getting a cat when he moved to his own apartment. He thought he’d see if he and the abandoned cat bonded. If they did, he would keep the cat. If not, he’d take him to the shelter.

This cat is no dummy. He spent the night sleeping on Little Guy’s chest. They bonded—big time. By morning, the cat had a name. There was no more talk about a shelter.

Although Hektor has been a good “people cat,” he hasn’t always gotten along with his “siblings.” I’ve heard much more hissing since Hektor joined the family. He and Veto are still arguing over who is the Alpha Cat. Vern was too decrepit to join in that battle; he didn’t care who was Alpha Cat, as long as he didn’t have the responsibililty. Visa steers clear of Hektor.

Little Guy calls him “Adventure Cat.” This cat likes to explore. He sometimes wanders a bit too far from home, and occasionally he comes home with signs of an altercation with another animal.
But he is sweet and cuddly. He sleeps at our feet (or sometimes on top of one of us) most nights and spends a lot of time in laps.

Hektor likes the computer. He is becoming a wonderful writer's cat. (Veto is letting him take on some editing responsibilities, but he retains the title of Best Computer Cat.)

Yes, he is still with us, even though Little Guy now has his own apartment. When he moved, he decided not to take Hektor with him, since “it would disrupt his social life.” We didn’t complain. We’ve grown fond of the adventure cat.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Hope of Easter

This is Holy Week, and I wanted to write something about Easter, but it's also been a very busy week--even for an old retired lady. While looking through some of my writing files, I ran across this little Easter message. Most of my readers know that my mother suffered from dementia for about eighteen years at the end of her life, and I wrote this during the first year she lived in a nursing home.

On Easter Sunday, I joined nursing home residents and other family members for an afternoon worship service. From different religious backgrounds, we gathered, searching for God and something to celebrate.

Sitting next to my mother, whose mind can no longer grasp the familiar story, I thought about the early disciples at the time of Jesus’s crucifixion. Like the family members of these dementia patients, they had lost a precious, irreplaceable person. Their lives turned upside down, they were trying to imagine how they could possibly go on without Jesus.

Then, just when they were without hope, the miracle occurred. A stone rolled away. The power of God’s love overcame death and darkness. Jesus was alive!

From the time of Christ’s resurrection, Easter has offered the gift of hope. Surrounded by Easter lilies and singing the old Easter hymns, I did not hope for miraculous restoration of impaired minds. Rather, I hope that my stones of doubt and despair can roll away. I ask for assurance that God is here among us; I need confidence that love and faith are stronger than pain and loss. I dare to hope that even here, in this group of hurting people struggling to believe, Easter can still happen.

If this Easter finds you struggling with your own issues of doubt or despair, my wish is that you will find the hope of Easter.

I'll end with a bit of humor.

Have a happy, egg-filled, candy-filled, hope-filled Easter!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Hosanna in the Highest!

Today was Palm Sunday. At my church, we had a parade, led by a couple of small donkeys. The donkeys are a big hit with the kids.

Today was a cold and blustery day, so some of our members skipped the parade, but a hardy bunch braved the weather to enjoy the experience. We grabbed palm branches and followed the donkeys across the high school parking lot and up May Avenue. We didn't have to wave our palm branches. The wind (that comes sweeping down the plain) waved them for us.

We gathered at the front of the church to let the photographers take pictures. Most people in my photos seem to be looking at the other photographers instead of at me.

Then it was time to go inside for worship. The acolytes lit the candles and the children processed down the aisle waving palm branches.

The children gathered at the front of the church for the children's moment with our pastor.
Our pastor talked to the kids about Palm Sunday and encouraged them to wave the palm branches. They didn't need much encouragement. Palm branches can certainly be exciting!

Holy Week has begun.