May Day Bouquet

When I was a little girl, on the first day of May every year, I would gather wildflowers from the sides of the drainage ditch next to my house, wrap the stems in a bunch of wet paper towels and some tinfoil, and sneak across the street to Catherine and Leon’s house. I would put the flowers down on the elderly couple’s doormat, ring the bell, and run away as fast as I could.

Every year. I never forgot.

I can’t remember where I got the idea. My mom? My sister? Someone, somewhere, told me that was what you did on the first day of May, to celebrate spring. A gift and a practical joke all rolled up in one. What kid could resist?

Some years there were better flowers – years like this one’s been, when the winter was rainy as all get out, and the bluebonnets and daisies answered the call to show off. Some years, it was a straggly handful of henbit, purple verbena, and some rain lilies that wilted almost before the door opened.  It didn’t matter. Every year, hiding in the bushes, I would hear the door open, and Catherine would cry out. “Why, Leon! Come and see! Someone’s left flowers here! I wonder who it could have been?”

I loved those neighbors. Their door and refrigerator was always open to a latchkey kid who had dropped her key somewhere (again), and their candy dish was always full of those peculiar delights: Atkinson’s peanut butter bars. To this day, all I have to do is smell one of those candies, and I am six years old again, my teeth stuck together, listening to Leon playing in the living room with his local wash tub band.

Catherine and Leon were old way back then, and they’ve been gone for decades. But I remember them. On top of my computer desk is Catherine’s favorite vase, given to me after her funeral — an elegant, peach-tinted blown-glass cone, filled with dried flowers all year long.

And every year, on May 1, I wonder: Will there be a barefoot, laughing neighbor girl when I’m old, who hides in the bushes and laughs while I open the door and shout for my husband to come and see the bouquet?

Happy Spring, Writer Friends.

Recommended Reading

There are so many books to read, it’s hard to know where to start. And just because someone recommends a book doesn’t mean you’re going to like it. (Trust me, I have a stack of books I bought after a friend’s recommendation, all of them sitting with a bookmark on page 11 or so. I’ll read them right after the Rapture, okay?*)

But I just finished a book you will ALL LOVE. I don’t care if you’re a man/woman/child/spawn of Cthulhu.

Although if you’re a child, you might want to wait until you’re, um, at least 13, let’s say, to read it. Parents, be warned! Or you will have some ‘splainin’ to do. The book? Yeah, I know, I live under a rock. You’ve probably all read it already. Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Sad, wonderful, deep, shallow, so funny I had to close the book and catch my breath from laughing at regular intervals. I only recommned a book every three or four years to my husband (because he likes hard-core sci-fi, bleah!), but he’s reading this one now.

Today, I cracked open When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead. I have a good feeling about this one, too. But enough chatter! I’m away to revise ANOTHER novel. As Ren and Stimpy would say — Happy happy, Joy joy!

Help! I had a request from a friend for books for her mentally challenged adult sister to read. The reading level would need to be around 2-4th grade, but on topics an adult wouldn’t mind reading about. (So, not learning to ride a bike or tie your shoes.) Any ideas?

* For those of you who don’t know me as well, I refer to the Rapture fairly frequently. But I don’t actually believe in it, in the exact sense that many of my friends do. Well, I believe in the kind of rapture I feel after I eat a bowl of gelato the size of my head. Just to clear that up.

Shameless

Writer Friends, I am pleased to report that my dear Writer Friend Lori and I both made our word quotas for the week. And that means you will not have the special treat of reading the fiery invective I had prepared — insults involving her parentage, her hygiene, and especially her writing technique — for at least another week.

That is, if she agrees to hold me accountable for another 5K next week. (Lori?)

This is a happy day. The only thing that makes me less happy is that I fully recognize the 5,000 words she sent me (to prove her accomplishment) far, far outclass the 5,000 I wrote this week. She is writing the funniest, coolest, most mind-bogglingly commercial YA rural/urban fantasy EVAH. Go, Lori, go!

Now, other news. I sold two essays today – Yay! Links in May when they appear. I am also working/writing  on my new Mac Book. Fun! Also, scary, as I am computer-challenged.

Tomorrow, I attend Chris Barton’s book party for his new picture book Shark Vs. Train at Bookpeople tomorrow. (You HAVE to check out the book trailer, free downloads, and poster at THIS SITE. Seriously, it’s genius marketing stuff. Ideas to steal for weeks.) If you have kids, know kids, or know people who have kids, you need to buy this book. Hilarious, great art, and clever.

Now, go away Internet. I have Old Novel revisions and New Novel word quotas, plus two essay ideas that keep pestering me. Must write more.

Write well, friends!

Stay Tuned For Public Shaming

Okay, today is the big day. I have a Writer Friend who has agreed we should hold one another accountable for reaching a certain number of words on our WIPs each week… and today’s the day we show what we’ve got. Only, I haven’t *quite* reached my magic number, so it’s a head-down, fingers aching, three cups of coffee, “kids, make yourself dinner” kind of day.

If I don’t make my quota, I’ll link to where you may witness my public humiliation (and this Writer Friend is very witty and clever, and will probably think of horrible ways to shame me. Eek!). If she doesn’t hit the mark, I’ll be up all night writing horrible things about her.  Some of them might even be true.

While you wait, trot on over to Austin YA writer and writing instructor Brian Yansky’s blog, read through a few posts, and learn to your dismay *exactly* what it is you’ve been doing wrong all these years. (What? I have to show character development in EVERY chapter? Khannnnnnn!!!!) He’s a darn good writer and writing teacher, and shares the goods for free on his blog.

Write well, Friends!

Book Fairy!

Ah, bliss! The Book Fairy came today. But her teeth look pretty sharp.

Let me explain. I received three pacakages in the mail from a silent auction I went bidaholic on a few weeks back. Many, many books from that moneysuck, I mean, worthy charitable donation opportunity,  are now or soon will be in my possession. My mailbox was stuffed full of enormous yellow packages. Love that feeling: imminent pleasure. (Um, wow. That sounds a little more exciting than the reality. LOL)

Also, my good friend Shelli went to the TLA Conference in San Antonio and picked up a bunch of ARCs for me! (I’ll be reading those and posting reviews as time permits this spring.) Her thanks for doing so: not having to bring any food to Literary Salon meetings for a month. Fair deal, right?

So, I have an enormous stack of books on my bedside table… and another one on my computer desk… and another one in my kitchen. Honestly? They’re getting a bit unmanageable. In fact, they’re starting to look a bit less imminently wonderful, and a bit more scary. Any of you ever experience anything like that?

I’m afraid the Book Fairy wants to take an enormous chunk out of my time. My writing time, that is. To which I say: Back off, Witch.  I just got back in the groove – cranking out 5,000 + words a week on my latest project —  and I refuse to let anything pull me off track.

Oh, wait. The stack on my computer desk just fell over. (Not kidding; this actually happened.) I’ll have to go now and pick those books up. Am I strong enough to resist? Maybe just a chapter or two?

Help keep me honest. I’m up to 16,800 words on the WIP. If I don’t report 21,000 by Friday, shame me publicly. Please. And whatever you do, don’t send me any more books for a week or two!

Write well, Friends.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

I should probably be wary of taking song lyrics as blog posts — someone might think I had a delusion that this blog were fabulous like Betsy Lerner’s — but what the heck. I wanted to talk about writing books today anyway. Not the act of writing books, no. I mean books about writing, written for writers. (Procrastinating writers like me, who spend long hours poring over them instead of finishing manuscripts. Oops.)

I recommended Betsy’s The Forest for the Trees a few months back — an excellent book which I have since loaned out and, therefore, will never see again. (Which one of you Writer Friends has it? I can’t even remember. Ah, well. Que sera. It’s the Circle of (book) Life, or some such.) For my birthday this week, I received a copy of Jane Yolen‘s (on whom I have a humongous writer-crush) writing book called Take Joy: A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft.

I’m not even halfway through this book, but I can already tell you — I will NOT loan this one out to anyone. I’m going to need this one again and again. So hie thee to a bookstore and get your own darn copy. Why should you spend your money on this little, watermelon-colored book? She doesn’t say anything in it you can’t pick up from other books, from the Internet, or from your writing buddies over a few glasses of wine. There’s not that much new in what she says. But, oh, Writer Friends. HOW she says it.

Sigh.

So, in honor of Jane Yolen, tomorrow is a designated BIC day – Butt In Chair. I’m turning off the phone, leaving the dishes in the sink, avoiding the Internet like the plague, and writing. Nothing else.

Writing all day long.

Now THAT’S taking joy, if you ask me.

The Chickens Are Circling

My life is full of chickens. I have the actual living, clucking kind here on my pretend farm in the Hill Country, the hens who lay their darling little brown eggs, rendering every day of my life an Easter egg hunt in miniature — oh blissful country life! (Dang. Where is that sarcasm font?)  Also, I have the metaphorical kind. The chickens who come home to roost in weeks like this one. (I’m not planning to go into detail here. Suffice it to say that those long weeks and months of ignoring everything except my manuscripts, basic hygiene and housekeeping, and keeping the dogs/fish/kids/hens alive came back to bite me in the backside this week. Ouch.)

And sometimes I’m the chicken. Writer Friends, you know what I’m talking about. Too chicken to take that risk — the one that will make your writing/life stronger and more meaningful. I’ve been clucking around long enough. I think I have to act slightly more chicken-hawkish this week.

Anyway, I thought you might enjoy this for National Poetry Month. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan talks about chickens, cartoons, finding your work in unexpected places, and writing exactly what you like — NOT what the world tells you you should write.

On that note, I’m skipping church tomorrow to stay home and write just that — exactly what I like. I think the Big Guy will understand. I’ll be writing about Him anyway.

News: I had a short story for children accepted by a new online children’s magazine called Bumples. It should appear in mid-September. Hooray! Also, my essay Excellent Stock came out in Sasee magazine, although it is not featured on the website. Darn.

On the continuing education front, I went to the local SCBWI meeting today and heard author Janet Fox talk about character and plot. More on that later in the week. Write well, friends.

The Dreaded Poetry Post

April is, as you are all no doubt aware, National Poetry Month. Many of my Writer Friends and Writer Acquaintances have very bold plans for the month, like writing a poem every day. Seriously. There’s tons of them doing it.

It makes me tired to think about this.

Because I love you (I do, I assure you, love every last one of my handful of readers) and do not wish to alienate you at this early, fragile stage of our e-relationship, I will not follow suit. I will, however, give you a very few nuggets of poetic gold and/or horse manure to ponder. You be the judge.

For today, please enjoy/disdain/mock/scorn/delight in the very first poem I ever had published (in my hometown newspaper, no less!), a copy of which is even now hanging on the wall of my nonagenarian grandmother, confusing anyone who stops long enough to read it. (You’ll see.) I wrote it when I was nine and had fallen hopelessly, haplessly in love with Miss Edith Hamilton and her wicked, wickedly thorough book of mythology. Norse, Greek, Roman gods, all with their similarly gleaming muscles, cruel appetites, and casually incestuous, forked family trees? She exposed them all to my wondering, innocent eyes. Ah, Edith! You ruined me.

Brace yourselves.

Apollo was the god of the sun,

Zeus the Father of All,

Aphrodite, the goddess of love:

Troy, Greece, a broken wall.

A war can kill so many,

but the will of Zeus decides

whch of the ages should live

and which should die.

A giant horse rolled in one day

and it would be his will —

Zeus destroyed near all of Troy,

all Trojan blood was spilled.

Voila, my literary debut, written years before I knew what a Trojan was.

I’ve written a few others since then. Who knows? With enough encouragement and a few dozen margaritas, I might post some of them here this month. If you show me yours, I’ll show you mine.

Prank You Very Much

Happy April Fool’s Day!

I love this holiday. I don’t get QUITE as into it as some of my friends (like the one who painted her sons’ fingernails in the night, and – oh, no! – couldn’t find the remover before school this morning), but I do my share.

This morning, I pranked my Zumba class by replacing the warm-up song with the Coconut Tree Cha Cha for Go, Diego, Go! Imagine 30 middle-aged women doing the “Baby Jaguar” Cha Cha over a pile of invisible coconuts… and trying not to let their growing feelings of horror, shame, confusion, and despair show on their faces. It was awesome. (If you don’t know what Zumba is, just know that we usually dance to groups like the Cumbia Kings, Pitbull, and Lady Gaga.)

I also sent a very special manuscript to my agent for her to consider. Hey, it’s not every day you get a rhyming alphabet picture book about roadkill, is it? (A is for Armadillo, scaly and cold…)

Although, from what I’ve heard about the slush pile, it might happen more frequently than I’d like to think.

Agent Suzie had some fun with her own April Fool’s joke — check it out. Just one more reason to love her… gotta love an agent who fights dirty. And you really, really want her to be fighting on YOUR side.

(I’m totally going to do the nail polish one next year, though.)

Winning the Silver

Hi, Writer Friends! Did any of you hear that news piece a few weeks back during the Olympics, about the relative psychological ramifications of winning the silver versus bronze medal? It went something like, yeah, gold is what you want, but if you have to win silver or bronze, you’ll be happier with bronze in the long run. The silver medalist, as it turns out, second-guesses him/herself for the rest of his/her life, while the bronze winner just thinks “Dude! I lucked out!” (Ah! Found it.)

Well, I’m no Olympian, but I think I would be happy enough with second. In fact, I won a second place today in a writing contest. Woo hoo! Also, this prize comes with money, which makes my mercenary heart go pit-a-pat. (Actually, I sent in three pieces, two kid’s short stories, and one essay. I got second place on one story, and Honorable Mentions on the other two. Not too shabby, eh?)

Still, if I had to pick one thing to keep from today, winning the prize wouldn’t even come in second. I would have to keep my kid’s faces after their games this morning – Son Number One beaming like the sun after he helped score the winning goal at his soccer game, and Son Number Two smiling with all those missing teeth as he raced for home plate. Score!

I hope you all have a week filled with whatever treasures your little heart desires. And maybe a book contract from the Easter bunny, hmm? Now THAT would be golden…