characters – another one bites the dust (I think)

 Sometimes you think there’s a character who belongs in the book. Let’s call him, oh say, the grandfather. You describe the grandfather. You write scenes the grandfather. You have a list of plot points between the grandfather and the main character. He’s a fun character to write.

Then you think about the book and how because it deals with adoption you already have a set of birth parents and adopted parents and an adult in the book who is sem-parenting the kid already and you ask yourself, if there’s a grandfather in the book is he going to do something important? And you answer yourself, well sure. Then you ask yourself, is he doing something that could be done by someone in the book? And as much as you hate to admit it, you know the answer is yes.

There’s really not a compelling reason to keep the grandfather in the book.

At least not THIS book. Muhhahaha!!!

PS to Kelly – please mark this down as one day of progress on VZ

Monday, November 19, 2007|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , |4 Comments

and suddenly a door opens and plot unfolds

 It’s always amazing to me when a book makes a shift from being just an idea or a concept to an actual story with a life of its own. 

Sometimes it’s a result of changing format, like when I moved from straight prose to free verse in Hugging the Rock

Sometimes it’s because a book has percolated long enough that it just bubbles to the surface in a boil that pours onto the page (after over 25 years of simmering as it did with Can I Pray With My Eyes Open?)

Sometimes it’s because you just keep asking your character the same question over and over again until he finally answers you just to get you to shut up. And then you make a phone call or two or three or ten (I lost track) to verify what’s real and what’s not and before you know it, you have piles of conflicts and questions without answers and people keeping secrets and dozens of scenes waiting to be written.

And so it begins.

And not all of it takes place on solid ground.


Thursday, October 25, 2007|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , , |11 Comments

One true sentence

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.” Ernest Hemingway

My current WIP is an old story. By that I mean I have been writing it for most of my writing life. (over 20 years) I have had it coming from the POV of a teenaged boy and and teenaged girl. I tried it as a YA romance. I tried it as a diary. I recently came to the realization that I was too wrapped up in all the stuff I’d written that didn’t work. I kept trying to cut and paste and tweak and edit my way to a good book. That’s not writing, that’s an art project.

I made the decision to read through my old stuff once and then not look at it again while I went back to work on VZ. It is both exciting and terrifying. Especially as I had been away from writing for so long.

This is a typical writing session for me now:

I sit at the screen and stare at it. I type the main character’s name. I delete it. I type it again and realize I have no idea what he is doing. I leave my Word doc open and go off to read blogs or do some online shopping or anything that ISN’T writing. I pick up my student pilot manual and read some of it until my eyes start to glaze over. I go back to my Word doc and look at the character’s name. I sigh and decide to go brush the dog.

But the book is there, just nibbling at the edge of my subconscious. I want to write it. I have to write THIS story at THIS time in my life. I know it is the right time. And then I remember Hemingway’s quote about writing just one true sentence. I think I can do that. Just one. It doesn’t even have to be a long one.

I go back to computer and start playing with verbs. 

He runs . . .
He sees . . .
He thinks . . .
He likes. He likes….hmmm….I can’t work with that. 

Wait, he doesn’t like. That’s better. Conflict. What doesn’t he like?

And then I have it – one true sentence. I know one thing about my MC that he doesn’t like. I know that for a fact. And when I know what he doesn’t like I know a few things he DOES like. So I write another sentence. And then a couple of more.

It’s not even a full page. Just a very small paragraph. But it’s a start.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , |22 Comments

music that makes you want to cry

Okay…so this subject is very subjective, I know, but I’m building a list of songs for a writing mix and what I am looking for are songs that for some reason or another elicit a very strong emotional reaction and could easily (if you are in the right mood) bring you tears. Now just because a song affects you like that, doesn’t mean it will do the same to me, but I think it could be interesting for me to hear what songs have that effect on other people.

I listen to all sorts of music so go ahead, give me your best “brings you to tears” (or pretty darn close) songs.

Friday, January 13, 2006|Categories: Random|Tags: , , |44 Comments

Well duh – if my main character is me then

it all makes perfect sense.

When a good friend reminded me years ago that my main character, DC, feels the same way about planes as I do about writing I agreed and then let it go. But this week as I have been trying to do as much pre-writing and prep work as I can on the book I am learning how I know tons of stuff about everyone else in the book EXCEPT the main character. I know the main character wants to know about his dad. I know all the bad guys. I know what a father is willing to do for the son he loves. I know that some people don’t make good parents and that the best parents aren’t always those you’re related to by blood. I know who’s willing to help the MC reach his goal and who will throw up the blockades. I know the very blackest moment, though I’m not sure what the reaction will be. But I still hardly know the main character.

Then I realized that if DC and his love of planes is a mirror of me and my love of writing, then DC is standing for me in some way and for some reason I am afraid to acknowledge that part of myself. All that therapy gone to waste.

I shared that thought with a friend who came back with an answer that had me doing the “duh” and forehead slapping routine. She pointed out that I have always had a desperate need to know my father but because my mom doesn’t remember/won’t talk about it, his memory is lost to me. It’s over. Done. And there’s not a darn thing I can do about it.

And there’s the difference between me and DC. I have to get in touch with that part of me who screams for the truth, but may never get it. DC will keep searching and fighting until he DOES find the truth.

It will be total jealousy and grief when DC gets his answer, and I don’t.

Thursday, January 12, 2006|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , , |0 Comments

Character flaws, ALA & other writing rambles

My editor told me today that we have to go another round of revisions on Hugging the Rock. I sort of expected it but each go around makes me worried that I’ll mess up the book or not be able to do what she asked me to do. She also said that they’ve printed up “The First Day” which is the first 14 poems in the book as a “teaser” for mid-winter ALA. So if you’re going to mid-winter be sure to stop by the Tricycle Press booth and take a look.

I woke up this morning and realized I have no idea what DC’s character flaw is….or much of anything defining about him outside of his love of flying. Oh my. The more I move forward, the less I know about the book. It reminds me of a favorite Ray Bradbury quote, “You’ve got to jump off cliffs and build your wings on the way down.”

Here’s hoping I can fly.




Wednesday, January 11, 2006|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , , , , |12 Comments

I just realized

how much of the old versions of DC’s story were based on real stories a real person had shared with me. It was obvious how much of the book was trying to fit pieces of my real life into it and it wasn’t a good fit. Not then and certainly not now.

Now that I have finally admitted to myself that I am writing something completely made up…I feel very free.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , |0 Comments

A whole lot of words

but not a lot of story. I went through the old version of VZ again. Back then it was called FMBTY, something that makes me gag when I say it now. I jotted down on index cards a note from each idea I might want to keep and carry forward into the next version. I have 35 cards. It’s not a book but it’s okay.

It’s enough to build a skeleton and a skeleton is all I need to get started.

Monday, January 9, 2006|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , |2 Comments

How many versions does it take

before a story becomes a book?

I don’t know. But I spent time today rereading the last complete version of VZ. The last time I had tried to tell the story from start to finish was over 12 years ago. I was both surprised and pleased when I finished the reading. Oh, it’s a long way from anything that should be published. But I had more plot than I had remembered which was a bit of a comfort since I am often plot-impaired. And I had a couple of well defined characters that I can carry with me. I could also tell that the new ideas I had should work well into the shell that is already there. The best parts of it were, of course, the flying scenes. I say of course because that’s where I had done such tremendous research and it showed. And when I shopped this book around in the past, those were the scenes that editors always commented on positively.

So there’s more to work with than I remembered and that’s good. I’m stalling. I know it. I could say simply that I don’t know where to start but it’s more than that. It’s almost like I am afraid to start. I don’t want to call trouble to come looking for me by listing what I might be afraid of so I will, instead, make a few commitmentsfor my writing week.

This week I will block out all the scenes I already know in the book so I can see what needs more attention. For me this means a stack of index cards and each one has a line or two about the scene I know I want. I’d like to have that all done by Friday night so we’ll see how much I can get done each night after work.

In addition I’m giving myself a sleep suggestion every night before I go to bed. It’s the same one every night until I figure it out. For now the question is

“Where did DC’s sister find the piece of paper that changed DC’s life?”

Sunday, January 8, 2006|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , |4 Comments

Saturday thoughts

DC is starting to talk a little louder, at last, but if he’s not careful his sister Allison will drown him out. She’s a feisty little sister who isn’t afraid to speak her mind. DC is more of a thinker, prone to keeping things locked inside. Allison tries too hard to be the woman of the house, even though she’s only 10 or maybe she’s 12. DCs 16 so I think she’s 10. She needs to be verbal enough to spar with him but young enough to be in danger.

I feel so much better about the family dynamics now that I got rid of the mom. Whew!

I started rereading a bunch of my flying books today and realize I need to talk to some experts about one thing before I even get started because it concerns the title and I want to weave subtle references to the title throughout the work. Anyone out there a pilot who wouldn’t mind answering a couple of quick questions?

Saturday, January 7, 2006|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , |7 Comments

A day in the life

of a writer. Well, this writer.

Go to work at the non-writing job and spend most of the time working but with half of my brain thinking about VZ and when he first meets B at the airport and wondering whether or not B really knew DC’s dad or if he’s bluffing or if it’s just a non-issue. In other words, even though I was working, my brain was writing.

After work I went to a local school to pick up Oliver  where he spent the last couple of months. I was hoping to hear some feedback from the teachers but thus far, nothing. Then I went over to triple A to order my personalized license plate but couldn’t because they wanted cash or check and I never carry much of either anymore. Bummer. So I came home and did it online. And if you want to know what license plate I ended up with, email me. LJ friends have helped me get paranoid so I’ll not post it here.

Then I gathered up all my notes on DC and the research books on flying but haven’t put a word down on paper. Still. Why?

I don’t know.

Friday, January 6, 2006|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , |4 Comments

I love it when a plot comes together

When I decided that I was pretty sure that I would go back to work on VZ, I started asking myself a lot of questions about what was wrong with the 20+ other versions I’d written over the years. There were a lot of things. Everyone in the book was too nice. The main character talked to himself and “thought” everything instead interacting with people. I had a mom that did nothing, added nothing to the story and another character that asked questions I never answered. It was FILLED with cliches. Oh and plot? Barely visible.

So I killed off the mother and brought the stuff that happens with questioning character to the front of the book. I kept the planes and the dog and the cross-county move but I lost the orchestra and maybe the fire. I think I’m keeping the gang but they need some help and a name.

I gave the main character a little sister but I needed something to weave her deeper into the story, something to connect her to her brother at the same time as it pushes her away. And last night, after many hours of not being able to sleep, I figured out what that is. Oh my. It excited me so much I wanted to get up and write but I knew the alarm for work would go off in a few hours and I needed sleep. Which was a joke because of course my mind was racing with the possibilities of what this could do to the plot. And I barely slept at all. And then today, after brainstorming with a friend, I realized I could add another layer (and take advantage of some great research that has been sitting in my drawers for 15 years).  Whew!

Exciting stuff. Now if I can just get the darn thing written. And after all these years with the book I never really could tell anyone what it was about. Obviously I didn’t know the story very well or wasn’t telling the right story. But now I know the basic theme. And feels right.

What makes a family and when is it okay to keep a secret?


Thursday, January 5, 2006|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , , |16 Comments

How far do you have to run before you can tell the story?

Hemingway said, and I can’t remember the exact quote so I’ll try to paraphrase it, he said that he couldn’t write about Paris when he lived there. He had to leave Paris before he could put the words on the page that would describe his experiences. While living there it was too much, too intense, too something and it skewed his vision. He needed distance and the passage of time before he could tell his story.

Some stories, while not easy, can still be written while you are in the midst of living them. When my kids were little I wrote about events within weeks or months of them happening. It was fun, like putting things in their baby scrapbooks. I recorded their awkward moments, their growth, and many of our special family memories. I told stories about our family and I got paid for it. Now I can go back and reread those old articles and it’s like picking up an old teddy bear and paging through a scrapbook of their childhood.

But other stories, perhaps those that touch the most painful parts of us, lay fallow for many years before the words begin to venture forth. I believe our emotions go into self-preservation mode and give us time to heal before we’re strong enough to attempt share a piece of ourselves through the telling of a story. My first picture book, Can I Pray With My Eyes Open? rested deep beneath the surface for over 25 years before it burst forth, near fully formed in one sitting. I can tie that story to an exact moment in time, when I was 10 years old, and I know that the book was an answer to a question asked long ago. Hugging the Rock is a novel about fathers and daughters, but more than that, it is about making peace with things you cannot change. I never knew my father and I wondered about him for many years. I can’t remember when I finally stopped searching but when I did, I realized that my own story was inching closer to the surface, closer to being ready to be heard. Hugging the Rock is also about picking up the pieces after a divorce. Though many friends advised me to, I couldn’t write about my own divorce in the years immediately after it happened. The pain was too immense, the emotions too raw. But time was a helpful balm. Eventually my emotions bubbled to the surface telling me when it was time to write the story. In the process of the writing there were still some deep and painful moments but because I had waited, I was strong enough to go to the dark places and still come out alive. Enough time had passed that I could accept the blame for what was mine and let go of the blame for anything else. I could see the details through the tears.

There are other childhood events I want to write about someday but they’re still simmering and I’m still healing. Those stories will have to wait a bit longer. It’s been over 8 years but I know I am not yet ready to write about my time in New Orleans. I don’t know how long it will take before I am brave enough to face those demons head on. Not all my writing is tied to a piece of my past but I am making an effort to mine the treasures I have within because I do believe that’s where the juiciest stories wait to be told.

What does all this have to do with my current project? Everything and nothing The new project, the old project which I have returned to doesn’t really touch on a truth from my own life. I don’t fly planes, I’m not adopted, and my dad wasn’t famous. But I know what it’s like for the main character to obsess about planes the way I obsess about writing. I know what it’s like to wonder where you came from and how that might affect where you’re going. I know what it’s like to feel lonely even in the midst of a family.

When you’ve been working on a book for over 15 years, like I have with VZ, the story becomes so wrapped up in your own life that sometimes it’s hard to remember what happened to me and what happened to DC. Was it DC or was it me that found the box that held so many secrets? Was it DC or was it me that met someone who knew their father and answered questions held silent for so long? Was it DC or was it me that finally realized the true meaning of family?

I hope it is both. I hope I can tell that kind of a story, one that feels like it happened to you.

I hope 15 years of running is long enough.

Tuesday, January 3, 2006|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , |13 Comments

Happy New Year – in which I resolve to blog more

Boy, I hadn’t realized it had been a month since I had been here. Life was just a wee bit too hectic to squeeze time for blogging into my day. But since today is the day of resolutions I will resolve to blog more, even if just a few lines of what’s going on in my writing life. For now I can say that much of December was spent working on revisions for Hugging the Rock. Several rapid go-rounds and the book was sent to the copy editor just before Christmas. We’re right on schedule. The publisher plans to print the first section of the book to hand out at ALA mid-winter in January.

Now I’m in that limboland of not really being committed to my next project. I know, I know, across the last few months I’ve thought I’ve known what I was doing next but Frankie and Max have gone mostly silent. I think, after wrestling most of the month with it, I’m going to work on the YA novel, VZ. There’s also a historical PB I want to do but I keep hearing my agent’s voice telling me to let go of PBs for a while and concentrate on the novels. Sigh.

I’ve been off two weeks for the Christmas shut-down and other than the revisions for Hugging the Rock and some clean-up in my office, I haven’t done anything writing wise and it makes me crazy. My friends remind me that this is my process, that I finish a book and then go through the “oh my gosh I don’t know what to do know and I’ll never write again” phase. I think I’ll never be able to write another book. I don’t remember how to start. I don’t think my ideas are good enough. I hate this insecure side of me but I do recognize that it is something I go through at the end of every project. Sigh.

I’ve been wrestling with the plot of VZ, which is the novel that I’ve been working on for over 15 years. Maybe longer. I’m not at the writing things down phase but I did pull a bunch of my old versions and read through them all. I’ve decided to add a younger sister because the main character was entirely too introspective and I’m hoping I can get more into scenes with a sibling. And I hope she’ll help me mirror some of the book’s theme. And I might have a new opening to the book, one that’s more of a grabber. At least I’m thinking writing thoughts. Here’s hoping I can keep it up once I have to go back to work on Tuesday.

Happy New Year to my LJ friends everywhere.

Sunday, January 1, 2006|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , |17 Comments

Begin at the beginning or not?

Once I know the next project I’m going to work on it never really leaves me, even when I’m busy doing other stuff (like looking for a car). So it’s no surprise that yesterday as we zipped along the backroads through the redwoods on our way to Santa Cruz, that Frankie and Max popped back in my head. I’ve got about 45 minutes of good thinking time there and I put it to use trying to decide where to start the book. A couple of months ago I thought I knew. I had the opening line even. But yesterday I realized if I started there I would have skipped the day that was different. That day that sets everything else in motion for the story.

“Make it a flashback,” said my husband.

 I made a face.  “Or not,” he said, quickly changing his mind. The trouble with a flashback when you’re not that far into the story it’s hard to care about what’s happening to the characters. But if I start with the day that is different, the day that changes Frankie’s life, I worry that the focus will be on what is no longer there than on Frankie and Max. I mean, the day that is different changes things for Frankie but it’s not the big black moment that comes later in the book. I started trying to figure out if the day that the really REALLY bad thing happens is the place to start or not. Would it have more impact if we see the characters in a happy normal life BEFORE the really REALLY bad thing happens?  I mean don’t you have to care about the characters for there to be a strong impact on you when things happen to them? Then I thought maybe I’d write the big chapter and then after that would be a page that said six months later or one year later but then I wondered if that was cheating the reader somehow.

In my head I backed up the story a bit more, just one chapter I’m thinking to show the relationship with everyone, lull the reader into a gentle read, (which means the voice would have to be 100% compelling, I’m just not sure. Or I could just write a short scene of the

My husband let me ramble for most of the ride and then ventured another suggestion. “I think you should just right about IT and then you can add a new beginning later, if you want to.” And I know he’s right because it will plunge me right into the story but boy, it’s going to be really tough writing. Another thing to do would be to show the black moment right at the beginning and then go back to the beginning of what led up to it all. I don’t know if that would work or what readers thinking about that type of story. I’m going to have to go to my bookshelves and try to find books were written that way. Right now the only one I can think of is When Dad Killed Mom by Julius Lester

This is just me, thinking out loud, and trying to get brave enough to write about the really REALLY bad thing.

Sunday, October 30, 2005|Categories: Writing Life, Writing Process|Tags: , , |15 Comments

Hodpodge mirage

Really, I am trying to get back into the blogging habit and I am trying to not feel guilty when I don’t blog but so far it’s one of those things that’s great in theory but the execution is a bit tough. Sigh. First off, some thank yous. Big thanks to the talented children’s artist Don Tate for all the wonderful words he wrote about Oliver in at his blog. Also a big thanks to for the interview she posted of me over at YA Books Central. Kim writes, does book reviews and interviews, is a mommy of 3 and STILL has energy left to brainstorm great publicity ideas. Don and Kim were two of the very first blog friends I ever made. Let’s see, other updates,   is still in New York with getting to know the kids at Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academy. Tonight’s the night I will reread Hugging the Rock one more time and then send it off to my editor. Then begins the painful waiting and chewing of fingernails while I await her response.

In non-writing news my car is sick, again (it’s been happening a lot lately) and my husband shocked me last night with the idea that we should buy me a new car. Gulp. And what did I do when he made the suggestion? Did I throw my arms around him, smother him with kisses? No. Goofball that I am, I burst into tears. I know, I know, I’m dingy. After that I DID commence with the hugging and kissing but it’s a bit scary to think about. We haven’t had a car payment in years so that part makes me nervous. I will confess that I won’t be sorry to say goodbye to my Kia. I bought it New Orleans and it is the last negative connection to my not-so-great time of living there, so saying goodbye will be easy. The darn thing is a ’96 with only 76,000 miles on it and the Blue Book, if they actually gave me that for trade in (hahahaha) is only $865. Oh well. Better to be done with the thing. My husband wants me to stick with either Honda or Toyota so we’ve pretty much decided on the Honda Civic Coupe. Since we already have a SUV there’s no need for another sedan. I never have anyone else in my car except for my dog. The big thing to check is to make sure that I can see out of the car okay because I am, well, a wee bit undertall. I’m going to stop by the dealership on my way home and check that out. Whew! Wish me luck. Then there’s that HUGE decision of what color do I want? The choices are: Atomic Blue Metallic, Alabaster Silver Metallic, Galaxy Gray Metallic, Nighthawk Black Pearl, Rallye Red, Royal Blue Pearl, Taffeta White. Hard to know until I see them in person but I am leaning toward white or gray. Maybe I should do a poll?

Oh and that mirage I mentioned in the title? It appears to be Frankie. He and Max are a bit out of focus right now and I am trying not to worry about it.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , , |20 Comments

sleep is good

Boy, I knew I needed my vacation but didn’t realize how much. For the last two nights I’ve slept 12 hours each night. During the week I usually get about 5-6 per night so this has been heaven. Saturday I allowed myself to be a total slug and did nothing the entire day but read and catch up with TiVo. Yes there are revisions to be done but I think I need rest first and then I can bury myself in them this week.

Oliver is in NY waiting to be found. FedEx didn’t deliver him to the right floor so now I will be in a bit of a panic until I hear that the teacher actually has him on Monday. It’s funny, waiting to see how the kids react to him and the classroom activities is almost as bad as waiting for reviews of the actual book. Oliver has also gone off to visit the kindergarten classes at Eisenhower school in Santa Clara, Ca. (Shush, don’t tell the kids that he’s been cloned.)

Frankie is getting impatient for me to finish up with Rachel and Hugging the Rock and get back to telling his story. The title is still in question and the subplot is still MIA but Frankie’s voice is getting stronger. I just hope he doesn’t decide to shut up as soon as I have time to write down his words. I mentioned hearing Frankie’s voice to a co-worker last week and he asked a bunch of questions about me “hearing voices” and came away with the conclusion that I was more than just a little crazy. It’s impossible, I’ve discovered, to explain the creative process to non-creatives. Heck, sometimes I can’t explain it to myself.

Sunday, October 16, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , |0 Comments

Working title, maybe. Questions, oh yeah.

Maybe I have a working title for the WIP. Maybe.


What do you think? Max is the dog, not the main character. I’m not sure but I’m playing with it right now and maybe it will make me think of something else.

In somewhat related thoughts, anyone have any guesses as to how much weight an eleven-year-old boy could carry and for how long? Said boy is a slight build, always hungry (probably because there’s not a lot of food in the house.)Weight I’m thinking of having him carry is about 75 pounds.

And in still yet other news, I’m excited that Oliver over at is ready to start his travels. He’s got plans to visit New York, Virginia, Georgia, Illinois and Nebraska. How cool is that?

Thanks to friends everywhere who keep spreading the word.

Tuesday, October 4, 2005|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , |0 Comments

Titles – Take two

Oh dear. I have had the title for Frankie’s book for some time. Almost longer than I have known Frankie but now, now I think, no, I know, I need a new working title because the current one no longer fits. Not even close.

Why? Well I’m not writing about Frankie at the moment (still doing those revisions) but I can’t help thinking about him. A couple of weeks ago I sent a request to an organization about the legalities of how a particular scenario would be handled. I got a response today and it led me down a complete different road with the plot, in a very good way. I have been wondering for some time what it is that Frankie wants, what he wants so bad that he is willing to do anything in order to get it. And now I know. It was right there in front me all along but I didn’t see it until now. It only goes to prove how important research is to your story. And when you don’t know what’s supposed to happen, do more research. The answer could be right there waiting for you.

There are still a lot of plot holes of course that won’t be filled in until I write and rewrite the story but now I have at least the basic story problem. What I don’t have is a title. And that bugs the heck out of me. It doesn’t do any good to tell me that the right title will come to me as I write because I can’t start to write until I have the title. Sigh.

Let the great title quest begin.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , |8 Comments

Research ramblings

Today was off to Santa Cruz day for errands and research. We got a late start so we only had about an hour and a half to wander around and scout out places for me. I knew a few landmarks I would have in the book and I wanted some pictures of them but I can get them any time. I was really looking for where Frankie’s mom might work and most importantly, where he lived. I took some pictures but nothing felt just “right” so I was fairly resigned to another trip and more thinking to figure it out. We took care of our errands and had dinner. After dinner there was still a little bit of light left, the sun was setting but it wasn’t down yet. I asked my husband to drive down to the boardwalk though I knew that was more of a background than an actual setting for me. We dodged the few remaining tourists and suicidal bicyclists, but still, nothing felt right.

“There’s always Beach Flats,” said my husband.

I uttered a very firm “No.” There was no way I wanted to set my story in that run-down scary part of town that was forever being fought over and/or trashed in the local newspaper. No. I knew Frankie had troubles but there was no way he lived in Beach Flats. Nope. Not on my watch.

We headed down Riverside and I’m basically looking straight ahead, not really absorbing anything except the fact that the sun was going down and it really wasn’t an area we wanted to be in after dark. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the sign for The Peter Pan Motel and I got one of those wonderful little shivers. That’s it! That’s where Frankie’s mom works. I did a 180 in my seat to snap a quick picture and didn’t pay attention to the fact that we were driving deeper into Beach Flats.

We turned the corner at the little psychic shop (picture taken, of course) and my idea machine shifted into overdrive wondering if there was a psychic in the book and what that might mean to the plot (that plot that still eludes me)

And then I saw it. Frankie’s house. I  KNEW it was his house. It was perfect. Not what I expected but I knew it was the right one. I could see one of Frankie’s hiding places and the porch where Max liked to sleep. I snapped a few pictures but the one-way street was so narrow that I couldn’t get the roof, or a nice full picture. My husband wouldn’t let me get out of the car and said we’d have to go back in the middle of the day when it was 100% daylight. I knew he was right (he’s got all the common-sense in the house) but boy it was hard not to jump out of the car and pace up and down the street. I doubt he’ll ever let me do that.

We zig zagged up and down a few more streets and actually found a tiny park called, appropriately, Beach Flats Park, and some other interesting areas. All in all I shot 63 pictures which wasn’t bad.

My husband indulged me on the ride home with my ramblings and brainstorming about the elusive plot. I do wonder about the phsyic. She? He? could be very interesting, especially if I add in the Tarot card idea. But that set off another whole discussion – if I use Tarot cards in the book some people will be against the book (not that that is a bad thing) and of course, those same people will be against the psychic idea too. Ditto the crystals. Yet all of that is very much a part of the Santa Cruz scene. I know we shouldn’t let society dictate what does and doesn’t belong in our stories, that power belongs to the story and what is the right way to tell that story. But I’ll admit to thinking once or twice that maybe I should just play it safe.

Sigh. I don’t know yet. I have this problem with playing it safe. I’ll end on a high – I finally figured out what kind of dog Max is (after many hours of searching through Petfinder.com) He’s a Rottweiler/German Shepherd mix and he looks scary but he’s not.

Bedtime for me. Tomorrow it is ALL about Rachel the revisions for her book. Okay, and mailing out some of the publicity stuff for Oliver.

Saturday, September 24, 2005|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , , |21 Comments

no sleep but Frankie

says this is more important than sleep . . . the first line for Frankie’s book. It came to me when I was tossing and turning and waking up the dog. It’s as important (to me) as the title of the book and the name of the main character when it comes to getting started.

I know….I should be thinking Rachel, verse poems, and finishing revisions. But there he was, hiding, and the line came to me and I knew I was seeing the opening scene to Frankie’s book. One doesn’t turn away gifts such as these.

Of course I wish the ASPCA would answer my request for information about a situation so I would know what to do with another scene. And then, sometime in the way dark middle of the night, I wondered if Frankie really had a sister at all. Whoa – now that shocked me even more awake. Last thing I remember before I grabbed an hour’s nap was wondering why someone who lived in such a fancy house was stealing food.

Friday, September 23, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , |6 Comments

a non-writing sort of update

Frustrating but not devastating sorts of things: Ordered some “props” for Traveling Oliver and I am not too crazy about the quilts and the pickles are scented and they smell horrible so I had to throw them away and buy different ones. And the bunny slippers are way too small and I should have just had them made. Grrr. I hate wasting money.

The house is completely trashed with my clutter all over the place but there won’t be any cleaning going on around here until I get the revisions done. (Thank you to my indulgent husband for putting up with it and cooking for me and making sure that I get something to eat every night.)  All the publicity stuff has come to a halt too. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day when I have to do the day job thing – not whining, just stating facts. I make notes of things to do and leave them at home. Then I make new ones at work with different things on them and forget them at work.

I’m looking forward to going to Santa Cruz on Saturday and even though I can’t work on Frankie’s book I can take some pictures of his neighborhood.

Please let me sleep more than 2 consecutive hours tonight. I need it.

Thursday, September 22, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , |0 Comments

Turnaround Tuesday

Today is going to be better than yesterday. I so deem it or is that supposed to be I deem it so? Lack of sleep notwithstanding, of course. Yawn.

In non-writing news we went to go visit my brother-in-law’s brand new 6 week old puppy (German Shepherd). Poor guy had ordered one from a breeder back east who, at the last minute, decided to sell the pup to someone else. Luckily he found a more local breeder and picked his new baby (still nameless) up this weekend. She’s adorable but I’m reminded of how much work a new puppy is (kinda like a new baby). Before we went over there I thought I would come home with puppy envy and want to get another pup right away (which is silly because Chelsie, the current dog in residence – would not tolerate another dog in the house at all and she still has many years with us.) Anyway, it was good to know that neither my husband nor I had any desire for a pup. More dogs, yes, but when Chelsie is gone we both prefer the idea of a rescue dog or two.

I can link this to writing, really, because I am trying to figure out what kind of dog Max might be. I thought I knew but now I’m not so sure. I will have to go look at rescue dogs online and try and figure it out. I started mapping out Frankie’s neighborhood yesterday, figuring out what streets would be normal for him to run around on. Since this is based in a real town I went looking for landmarks and got all excited when I found a low-income housing project right in the area. It was perfect. But then the more I read about it the more I learned how much trouble the area was having with gangs and now I don’t know if I want or should use it. This book is writing itself in a completely different way than anything else. I’ve never done so much thinking ahead of time, I’ve usually just plunged in and wrote but I am still in that limbo-land knowing I have to do the Hugging the Rock revisions soon. (The revision letter is due today – we’ll see.) But the thinking is good. I’ve been able to discard a bunch of stuff plot-wise that either doesn’t work or doesn’t interest me and hopefully I have primed the subconscious pump to be working in the background. Time will tell.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , , |0 Comments

the non-writing side of the writing biz

Whew. The entire weekend was spent doing almost nothing but publicity stuff. I can’t say that it is all done but at least it is closer to being done. I’m getting ready to do my postcard mailing plus a bunch of review copies of Oliver need to go out. And if I am sending a review copy I need to send a press kit and mine was woefully out of date and missing stuff. At least now all the master copies are done, a bunch printed out, and tomorrow night after work I can stuff and address envelopes. I still need to finish my list of schools to mail to but that will have to wait a little long. I wish I could afford to pay for some help with this kind of thing but it is hard for me to rationalize spending money on things like that. Oliver’s traveling bags are just about ready too. One or two more items to tuck into them and I can cross that off MY to-do list.

The office is approaching being done. The new curtains that had to be hemmed will be ready this week. I went to the Container Store and bought all kinds of neat storage boxes. If I had a couple more days in my weekend I might even get it finished but alas, it’s back to work in the morning.

Writing update: Frankie doesn’t trust people being nice to him. I don’t blame him. Dr. M might be a friend. Also RD. Max is still sick.

Me. I’m off for bed, perchance to dream.

Sunday, September 18, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , |0 Comments

the limits of a sound wall

Color me tired. My house is 3 houses from the sound wall for the freeway. The freeway isn’t much traveled at night and, actually, for the last year we’ve been really pleased with how quiet this house is. Until last night. Oh my gosh! CalTrans – the company that does the California state road repairs, must have been working on some stretch of 85 last night because about 10:30 some big machinerary started up REALLY LOUD and kept it up until 4am this morning. Since I get up at 5, well, let’s just say I had a lot of time to think about my WIP. It’s a good thing today is Friday because I know that by noon, I will be barely able to hold myself up at the keyboard. Yawn.

On the publicity side of things, did a beautiful review of Oliver’s Must-do List over at YA (& kids) book central. Thanks, Kim! (Edited to add:) Kim also has a new LJ at
And I think Oliver “might” have his first visit all on his own real soon. I should know something next week.

Writing progress? Like I said, lots of thinking time last night. I know something happened at the amusement park and I’m not looking forward to that research. And there’s a dentist, who would have thunk it? Frankie said he needs a bike.

Friday, September 16, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , , |5 Comments

Where does your story take place?

posted some notes about a recent conference she attended and one of the comments was that we should ground our characters in a specific place. I’ve been writing picture books for quite a while and while place is important, it is different than with a novel. With the current WIP I am thinking about place a lot. (Okay, so maybe I should have been thinking about it more on the last novel too but that was more of an internal journey.) Years ago, many, many years ago, I wrote a YA novel where place really mattered. I set it in a ficitional town near a real town that I knew well. I found that once I did that, landmarks and names wove their way into the story naturally and events unfolded correctly (and sometimes surprisingly) all because of where I set the story.

Since I’m in the thinking hard about a lot of things part of this new book I knew that the setting was important for me to know before I could really dig in and write very far. I had the title (can’t start to write without one), had the MC name (also can’t start to write without one), and I was thinking about place and the other characters in the book but nothing felt grounded in a location that seemed right for the story. Until yesterday. When Frankie ate a piece of chocolate and I knew where he got it, how it he got, and where his story would take place. I got that wonderful, hard-to-describe but physical feeling when you know something is right. From that piece of chocolate I learned where Frankie lived. I knew one of his hiding places. I knew two people who befriended him. And I learned what really happened to his little sister. There’s a lot still to learn and that will come in the writing of the story, but having this place, this perfect place for the story to take place, puts it all into prespective.

mentioned that she likes to visit the places where she sets her book and gather things to take back and remind her of that place while she is writing. I think that’s a good plan for hopefully this weekend. I need to explore the area a bit more and make sure I understand how a couple of things work. Take some pictures. And of course, eat some chocolate.

Thursday, September 15, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , , |11 Comments

Does your writing scare you?

Because the topic of my current WIP is less than pleasant and deals with some not very nice things happening to some pretty nice kids, well, it’s hard to write. I’ve always had a difficult time putting my characters into peril for a scene or two but this story feels like I am on a runaway train. I don’t even know anyone that has had these sorts of things happen to them so I don’t know where Frankie and his story comes from. I worry, as many writers do, that people (non-writers) will think the story is about my life. I worry, as many writers also do, that I won’t do the story justice.

To pump myself up I’ve been rereading some of my past writings about fear and emotional honesty in our writing. For me at least the two seem to go hand in hand. When I do it right – when I dismiss the editor on my shoulder and silence the critical voices in my head, when I shut my eyes, open my heart and let myself feel EVERYTHING, when I peel back the skin of the story and write with emotional honesty -writing scares the hell out of me. Everything I think and feel is right out there in the open for the world to see and that’s a terrifying and often paralyzing thought. But that’s what good writing does, splits you wide open and spills you into the world covered in nothing but guts and raw emotion.

I have to remind myself of this all the time, that my voice comes from honest emotion. But it’s hard. Excruciatingly hard. Because once the words are out there for the world to see people will make judgements about the person behind the words. They can’t help it and that fact intimidates a lot of writers (like me) to the point that much of what they write comes out sounding unbelievable.

So how does a writer do it? How do you move beyond playing it safe with your writing and move to new ground? Is it a matter of guts? Of instinct? Of a writing group with a really good cattle prod? Do you tie yourself in the chair and not let your spouse untie you until you’ve completed a certain number of pages? Lately it seems the more I try NOT to do it the more the fear and emotion come gushing forth. I wake up in the middle of the night, my heart pounding, and I realize it is because I saw Frankie and I knew what was going to happen to him, and knew there wasn’t a thing I could do to help him.

When I teach, I encourage my students to tap into their own emotional experiences and then channel that emotion into their stories. I try to do the same with my own work. My middle grade novel, Hugging the Rock, didn’t really come to life until I let myself feel the true depth of negative emotions I still carry about growing up without a father. The novel isn’t about that, it’s about a girl who stays with her father after a divorce and how the two of them build a new relationship together. But I allowed the pain of not having a father during those growing-up years to surface and then poured that emotion into the main character’s feelings about her mother during the divorce. I relived the longing for a father and the uncertainty of what having a father meant and used those emotions to fuel my character as she worked through her own new relationship with her father. The result? A character you can care about. A story that makes people cry because of the honest emotion. A book that people tell me rings true. Was it easy? No way. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

What can I tap into this time? The same pain, yes, but Frankie’s pain is different. His pain comes from a pain of only wanted to be loved and not understanding why the people who were supposed to love him hurt him instead. His pain comes from a feeling of helplessness that he doesn’t have the power to change his life. His pain comes from the belief that somehow he deserves all the bad things that are happening for him. When I see it listed out like that of course I know just what I have to tap into to tell the story but boy, I don’t want to go back to that dark place. It’s like standing outside the door to a cage and you know the monster is in the cage and you know you have to get into the cage and face the monster.

All creating, writing or music or art, all creative work demands courage from the creator. In order to write believable fiction we often have to be willing to bleed on paper. Go ahead and let yourself be scared. Let yourself feel every emotion – the pain, the anger, the longing, the laughter, the love. Let it bubble up until it boils over and then pour it into your writing. Rollo May, in his book Courage to Create, says, “If you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself. Also, you will have betrayed your community in failing to make your contribution.” Because of who you are and what you have experience, there are stories only you can tell. Feel the fear, dig deep and start writing.

Here I go – into the cage.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , , , , , , |12 Comments

Whew – first review

Received the first review for Oliver’s Must-Do List yesterday. It was with Kirkus and since they are famous for their zingers I feel I have dodged the bullet. They only had a minor quibble with the illustrations which is fine because I think it is more of a style thing. (Others have said they really like the illustrations.) I can only share about 20 words for fair use which makes it hard to decide what to use for quotes. Right now I am leaning toward:

“Cobwebs, dishes and shopping will wait­children will only be children for a short while.
Adorable…a heart warmer.”–Kirkus Reviews
Color me happy even if Starbucks forgot the whipped cream in my mocha this morning.

Writing progress: Frankie is one smart kid, Max likes pickles, and I know enough about his sister to make my stomach hurt.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005|Categories: Susan's Books|Tags: , , , , , |47 Comments


Saturday night I went to Books, Inc at the invitation of the wonderfully enthusiastic
(who recommended an awesome place for Cuban pressed sandwiches – yum yum.) I also got to meet and and we all had the pleasure of listening to one of my idols in the business, Chris Crutcher. Sigh. I love it that it seems children’s writers, no matter how famous they get, are all so wonderfully open and approachable. (He let me take a picture with him – here’s hoping that some of his magic will rub off on me.) Chris is one of today’s most censored children’s writers. He shared some of his stories of why it was important for writers to be true to the story that they were telling. You never know where in your audience is the girl or boy (or librarian or teacher) whose story you are, without even knowing it, telling. You are the voice for those that cannot yet speak up. What was most interesting to me was that as he was talking about this I felt a physical reaction in my gut and my eyes watered for a minute and all I could think about was Frankie and how hard it is to tell his story. But I sat right there in the audience with one part of my mind on Chris’s voice and the other part reassuring Frankie that I would help him tell his story.

Even more interesting was my husband’s reaction. (It was thanks to him driving me into the city that I even got to hear Chris because I don’t drive in San Francisco.) When we got in the car to go home and were discussing some things that had been said, my husband said, “You know that part when . . .” And it was the very part where I had had the intense reaction. He went on to say,”When Chris was talking about that, all I could think of was you and Frankie and how you have to do that for him.” Whoa! My husband isn’t a writer and isn’t one prone to the touchy-feely stuff that drives much of my life. He listens to me talk about my books (and is very proud of me) but he reads fantasy and science fiction and prefers logical you can see to the emotions that you can only feel. So I was really surprised to hear such a thing from him.

The rest of the weekend was spent working on the office (yes, still). The new bookcases are up and all the YA books have been moved there and alphabetized. The remaining 12 shelves of MG books had to be completely reorganized too. The curtains I bought are too long so I need to take them in to be altered. (There was a time, when I was MUCH younger, I would have done it myself but not anymore.) The room is shaping up nicely though.

Writing update: I know how Frankie got his nickname and I’m pretty sure I know what happened to his sister. I don’t know the whys behind many of the things in this story but I am just going forward with the idea that they will, eventually, reveal themselves to me.

Monday, September 12, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , |7 Comments

Promotional brainstorming & independent bookstores

Last night I attended a meeting of the Northern California Children’s Bookseller’s Association  (a division of NCIBA). There was some frustration expressed, rightly so, from some of the booksellers. Some writers send bookstores info about their books and push the bookseller to promote the books but when the bookseller visits the author website, there is no mention anywhere of independent bookstores. No mention of the wonderful BOOKSENSE program which allows people to shop online, just like Amazon, but with Booksense the sales go through your local bookseller. Instead, said one bookseller, all she found were links to Amazon. She said she didn’t expect authors to only push the independents, but to at least have a link to Booksense right there next to Amazon. (for those who don’t know, Booksense also has an affiliate program.)

 I asked some questions about what authors, authors who weren’t big name draws, could do to improve their relationships with the independent booksellers. They stressed the importance of keeping the bookstores informed of where authors are speaking so they will have books on the shelf. You’d think it would be a common thing for authors to do but evidently that’s not the case and booksellers aren’t mind readers.  Shelf space is a premium and independent booksellers are working hard, long hours trying to stay afloat. Many booksellers had similar stories to share about being surprised when some popular books not only weren’t on the shelf but hadn’t been ordered for a while. Things fall through the cracks. To make sure it doesn’t happen to you don’t assume that your book will be in stock the week of your big event, keep the bookstore informed. One member suggested authors keep a list of who should be updated and every month send them a copy of their calendar.

One great thing our local NCCBA group has done in the past years is to develop the WIN guide, for the writer and illustrators network. For a small fee writers and illustrators can get one page in the guide that tells about themselves, their books and their availability to speak. The WIN guide is sold at independents throughout the region. The NCCBA also hosts, twice a year, a reception where they invite the media people and librarians from local schools to come mix and mingle with local authors. I’d love to hear about sorts of things other authors are doing to build relationships and gain exposure with, for and through the local interdependent booksellers.

This has been one of those weeks where, if I don’t count the time I spent at the dayjob, I’ve been immersed in all sorts of writing business/publicity stuff. I love it. Sometimes doing all the promotional stuff makes me feel more like a “real writer” than the writing does. I suppose one day I could get organized and not have a bunch of stuff that needs doing all at once but hey, where’s the fun in that? I would love to have some sort of PR brainstorming group that we could all share ideas and help each other when there was something new they were trying to promote. In the absence of that, I’ll ask a few questions.

What’s the best thing you have done to promote your book? What have you done out of the ordinary, other than mailing postcards, creating bookmarks, updating your brochure? What have you done that you won’t do again?

For my last picture book,  CAN I PRAY WITH MY EYES OPEN? I wrote an article called 10 Things Your Child Should Know About Prayer. I sent it out to various newspapers as a press release type of article, all ready to drop into place in the newspaper. It worked and the article not only got a lot of coverage but I got some newspaper interviews as a result. Later I posted the article on my website and offered it to be reprinted for free. The book came out in 1999 but I still get letters every few months about some place that is reprinting the article. For OLIVER’S MUST-DO LIST  I created Oliver to travel to schools and his blog to report his adventures. Only time will tell if this is a hit or not.

Writing progress: I saw Frankie the other night. I don’t think he meant to let me see him and I’m sure he didn’t mean to let me look right into his eyes, but I did, for a few seconds. What I saw nearly broke my heart. I tried to ask him about his sister but he ran away. Max is still with him, trying to keep Frankie safe and offering love in the way that only a dog can do. This poor kid needs a champion but he still seems to be so alone.

Thursday, September 8, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , , |0 Comments