Friday, November 26, 2010

Turkey Decor

My nine year old friend and I combed the neighborhood for pine cones, and she did the rest! I plan on bringing these lovelies out every Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The 1300's--One Horrible Century

When I get down about our modern world, I'll remember to refer to my recent research on Europe in the fourteenth century. No sooner were the famines over (a period when some resorted to cannibalism) than the plagues came. (Smallpox is pictured above.) I'm currently attempting to incorporate real-world atmosphere into an old fairy tale and finding that the abominations of reality are eclipsing the wonders of the tale. I'm actually considering creating an all-out horror story! My only concern is whether I'll have produced something appropriate for kids 9-12. It's strong stuff, but fascinating...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Remembering Mary Sheehy Heriza

My Grandmother Mary Heriza died on September 21st, just a month short of her 99th birthday. Though blind In the last years of her life, she was still doing crossword puzzles and emailing and writing on her computer. She loved poetry and could recite reams of her favorites (Milton, Tennyson) by heart. When her eyesight failed, her son called her weekly for a private poetry reading. With the help of my mother, Grandmother wrote two charming autobiographical chapbooks about her childhood which were celebrated in her hometown of Baker City, Oregon.

For many years, Grandmother was the "Story Lady" on KBKR in Baker City, Oregon. She read children's stories on the air on Saturdays and always said a special hello to us grandkids when we were visiting. I feel that I'm a recipient of her love of words and stories. She raised my mother who passed on her love of books and writing to me. My own children are readers and writers. I could go on about Grandmother's sterling attributes and lists of accomplishments, but it is her literary legacy that I'm most thankful for. She's gone now, but the love continues.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Bon Voyage to Me...

Once every thirty two years, I like to visit London. Last time I went, I prepared for my trip by listening repeatedly to the Sex Pistol's NEVER MIND THE BULLOCKS--on vinyl. Now that I'm in my Montovani period, I've prepared by reading a bazillion travel books and covering my map of London with sticky dots I bought at Staples. After London, we chunnel to Paris. Paris, I like to visit every fifteen years. This time, I'm celebrating my silver wedding anniversary and my son's graduation from college.

I hope to get some fantastic story ideas. Get my imagination sparked. Renew!

Be back soon!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Pride and Prejudice in the First Draft

Like most writers, I have an unwritten list of things I try never to include in my stories. This is essentially a compilation of my prejudices and is completely subjective. Sometimes I'm tempted to include something on the list simply because I've exhausted my alternatives or my brain is flatlining. But as soon as I weaken, my pride kicks in and says, "If you don't erase that now, you will be embarrassed forever and ever." And I hit the backspace button as fast as I can.

Some examples:
The word "awesome." I used it once in AGNES PARKER HAPPY CAMPER. I figured that the word was part of the kid lexicon, so it was okay. I also told myself that I get one AWESOME per career. It will never happen again.

The word "grin." I can't tell you why this word gives me the heebie-jeebies. It is unbearably corny and, to me, insincere. Add "wry" and you have me doubled over and aching.

Crazy Old Coot characters. I recently abandoned a book that had not one, but two eccentric old people. Everything they said sounded as if it should be followed by a rim shot. One codger had a blinding smile due to super white dentures and could lift heavy objects even though she weighed 90 pounds. The other coot was crusty and said "MyFace" for "MySpace." I backspaced over both of them. Old people are easy to caricature, and I just have to think of my beloved grandmothers--beautiful, intelligent, witty and extraordinary women--to make me hang my head in shame.

Down-home wisdom of any kind. "My granddaddy used to say..." You know what I mean.

Super weird names. And this is coming from a writer who named a character Ophelia Peeler. So I'm talking about names that are even weirder than that. Like, "Lawn Furniture Applehead Jones."

Kid Geniuses. J.D. Salinger mined this vein and I'm not going to try to best him. It's a cheat, I think, because you allow your kid character to avoid age appropriate observations and vocabulary. Basically, as a writer you are still sitting in your grownup chair wearing a kid costume. If that makes any sense...

Okay, this is a sampling. Purely personal and prejudicial. If one of the above is actually a favorite of yours, well, that's what makes the world go round!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Banging Your Head Against a Wall?

Well, that's just what we hard-headed gals do. Dance with me!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

First Pages

I'm working on a book almost ready for copy editing. That means that it's practically in its final form and structurally sound. All except--in this case--the first pages.

The first paragraph is a load-bearing beam for the rest of the novel. It establishes the tone of the book and piques the reader's interest. Usually, I like to give a mini-picture of the main character's current circumstances as I release them in mid-action. But with my current work-in-progress, I haven't hit on the right scene yet.

The funny thing about writing a story is, if you're perplexed, you have to stop and think. Sometimes the thinking goes on for days. Panic can set in when you lose trust in your brain's ability to come up with novel solutions, and you can end up with a nice case of writer's block.

The best thing, I think, is to think and to trust. Take the walk. Wait for the morning. That first paragraph is out there somewhere readying itself for delivery to the mail slot of your mind. Please, please Mr. Postman...

Friday, August 6, 2010

Big Bad Barbie

My friend, YA writer Melissa Wyatt, sent me the early reader BARBIE GOES TO A PARTY (pictured left) knowing how much I adore that doll. As it happens, Melissa owned the same book when she was a kid and loved it. (Incidentally, she grew up to be an accomplished doll maker herself.) The gist of the book is, what will Barbie wear to the party? She tries on outfits for her mom, then decides. That's it. No message except, perhaps, that wherever one goes, choosing the right ensemble is the first priority. And that's bad. Right?

The current prevailing notion is that Barbie is a harmful influence on little girls. She's fluffy, inconsequential, vain, and silly. Her measurements are distorted. She's an advertisement for body dysmorphic disorder. Some women my age (old) claim that they never loved her! They disdained the tiny open-toed stilletos, the strapless evening gowns, the fur-collared boleros, white cat-eye sunglasses, zebra-striped swim suit, tight capris with filmy cocktail coat, the winged stewardess cap and exquisitely detailed flight bag! I could go on about my favorites and the bumpety-bump my heart made when I dressed my titian-haired bubble head Barbie in them. But that would be wrong.

Here's what made Barbie fabulous to me: 1. She was forbidden by mother for all the forward-thinking, female-empowering reasons listed above. It wasn't until I was taken to the hospital for a nasty tear on my mouth that my parents relented. Bleeding as I passed a little display case featuring a Barbie nurse and Dr. Ken, I thrust my hand out and whispered, "Barbie! Barbie!" as best as I could with a torn lip. The next day, my dad brought her home to me for being brave and enduring the stitches. I declared it was the HAPPIEST day of my LIFE! If I'd known that all it took was a facial injury to get my hands on that beautiful doll, why I would have fallen off the fence ages ago.
2. Barbie's fabulousness spoke to my heart. I was living in a shoebox house in a little rainy lumber town in southern Oregon. My mother, a gorgeous woman, had four kids under the age of 6 and an extremely limited budget that went largely to pay for our out-of-pocket antibiotics, stitches and casts. Barbie spoke to me of a possibly more glamorous future. She was my fantasy, and I was passionate about her--as, I'm sure, were many little boys who dared-not-speak-her-name. (You'll find them competing on Project Runway.)

To this day, I love fashion. It is a spectator sport for me, but no less pleasurable for that. When I see her old clothes on ebay, I feel the same glow that I felt back in the days of the New Frontier! I'm partial to the old Barbie--the one who wore a ton of eye makeup and didn't smile so much. But I won't despair for any little girl who adores her today.

Just don't get me started on Bratz...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

SCBWI LA Conference--A Family Affair

I brought my son Charlie, an aspiring writer, with me to the national SCBWI conference in Century City last Saturday. He loved it. We split up for breakout sessions. He says that Carolyn Mackler's workshop on building character was entertaining and informative. I shared my info with him on what Hyperion/Disney is looking for to fill holes on their list. At lunch I introduced him to our Los Angeles RAs, Edie and Sara, who encouraged him to attend the writer's retreat in September.

I'm excited that Charlie wants to write fiction. He's good, I think. (And I promise that's not just because I'm his mom.) Who knows? Maybe we'll do the NY conference next. He's great company.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Stuck? Walk it off...

When my editor asked me about my writing habits, I told her that I include walking as part of my writing time. According to my brief research online, I'm not the only writer who does. Something about the rhythm of the walk aids meditation. The scrambled, desperate voices that harass you when you're stuck on a point in your story melt away. Other doors in the mind open and options appear. Soon, you're weaving new threads in your story or going back and filling in the missing pieces. It's sort of miraculous.

This weekend I walked for a couple hours on the beach in Santa Monica hoping that something writerly would kick in. I'm having trouble starting a new book--partly because I loved the last one too much. (All my new ideas seem pale by comparison.) Putting one foot in front of the other, I waited on my brain to catch up with me. It took awhile, but fragments started appearing to me. By the time I finished, I felt that maybe I had found my way. I plopped down on my beach chair feeling greatly relieved. Then the sun came out! It was an excellent non-writing writing day.

Incidentally, the walking technique works best when you walk alone. Just you and your little blocked brain is all the company you need.

Enjoy while the walking weather is good!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Head Writing vs. Heart Writing

I spoke too soon. No way can I write this boy book. I've tried and my characters aren't coming to life. I'm making up the things they say and moving them around, but they aren't real.

Yes, I said it. Some characters are real and others aren't. Real characters take on a life of their own. They speak to the writer even when she isn't writing. The boy I tried to write about was only an idea about a boy. And because he wasn't real, he left me to do all the heavy lifting with this story. As a result, I am exhausted.

So onward to yet another experiment. The next book might not be everyone's cup of tea, but it will have a girl in it. A girl with a beating heart! A girl to commiserate with as we ramble through the succeeding chapters! I look forward to it.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

One for the Boys

I'm almost done with THE AVIARY, my spooky historical fantasy due out in early fall 2011, and starting a new book--with boy main characters. This is a first for me, and you'd think it'd be easy considering just how boy-centered my life has been. I have two boys, a boy husband, a boy dog. We've had our boys' friends and other boy relatives live with us. I have seen first hand what boys do, how they speak, what they love and not love so much. But I've had a bit of a rocky start.

Now after scrapping my old beginning, I think I may be on to something. I like the boys in this book. They are going to have an adventure that is guaranteed to scare the ! out of them (and me). We're in this together for the long haul! Maybe my own boys will even read this one when it's done. (Girls will like it too, though. How do I know? I'm a girl.)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Apple MacBooks are Lactose Intolerant (and other things I learned on my summer vacation...)

So I'm eating a bowl of raisin bran, browsing my email, and I spill milk on the trackpad of my laptop. Doesn't work so well after that. Kind of sickly. Now that I've got a new trackpad, I've learned my lesson: I'm using lactose-free milk the next time I spill. Maybe that will help?

Here are some other things I learned in Palm Desert:
There is nothing on TV when you want to watch it.
The show on world's worst drivers is actually pretty compelling.
108 degrees feels like 112 degrees.
Sunset in the desert is dreamy and the falling shadows make the world a living painting.
The best food in town may be found at the Cary Grant estate.
Swimming is the best medicine.

Now back to work on a working computer.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

And Now? Palm Desert...

What's funny is, we reserved our time share for the hot summer just so our kids could join us. But now that the kids have jobs, they can't go! It's going to be a working vacation for me anyway. I'm digging in to my new novel and intend to get a lot done poolside, under an umbrella with a cool drink. For fun, we're having dinner at a restaurant on the old Cary Grant estate--so we'll manage to get some tourist time in as well.
103 degrees, here we come.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Back from NYC

What a great trip! First we met up with my nephew Carl, his girlfriend Laura and our family friend Brian at the Gramercy Tavern. Then I joined my childhood friend Tanya Becker for a day at the theater and a late trip to the Empire State Building (my first time to see the view at night). The fabulous illustrator Julie Fortenberry and her family met us in Greenwich Village for a great Italian meal. Then there were visits to the Metropolitan Museum and my favorite Neue Gallery, with its gorgeous Viennese restaurant. I was in museum heaven.

As I do almost every year, I met with my trusty agent Marcia Wernick to catch up with what's going on. And last, but not least, I had the opportunity to meet with my new editor at Knopf, Joan Slattery, for the first time. She is a delight, and I feel lucky.

I'm so encouraged by the progress we're making on THE AVIARY. It'll be out in fall 2011 and will include some surprises in its design. It's gonna be a beautiful book!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

To Random House I Go...

This weekend, I'm off to New York City where I'll hit the museums, see a show, meet up with old friends and touch base with my editor and agent. This will be my husband's first visit to Random House, and I'm sure he'll be as impressed as I was when I first saw the floor-to-ceiling bookcases full of venerable first editions in the foyer. I love New York. I consider myself lucky to have an excuse for an annual excursion. Until next week, farewell!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Why Not?

I'm in the process of dreaming up a book with a gorgeous male protagonist. I think he's going to look and act like Montgomery Clift--the loveliest movie star ever, in my opinion. Looks like I'm going to be spending the whole summer with him, judging by the length of the manuscript. Not bad, eh?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Oh Happy Day...

Last weekend, we celebrated my son's graduation (with honors) from Pitzer College. He worked like a dervish these last few weeks, staying up into the wee hours, consuming pots of coffee for that final thesis paper--all for this moment. Sometimes you just have to stop and say hallelujah.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Some Enchanted Evening...

Yes, that is Tim Gunn. With me! It is not a cardboard cutout. My friend Amy and I went to Kate Spade where Tim gave fashion tips and answered questions about Project Runway while the crowd sipped champagne. He is adorable. I love him, even my husband and son love him, and they don't care about fashion. We were giddy, Amy and I! I believe I'm gonna put this picture on a tshirt--right after I find out who won Project Runway. (Thank goodness for Tivo.)

Monday, April 19, 2010

It Just Looks Like Lazy....

I was just telling a friend how unfashionable I feel. I can't multitask. I do one thing at a time and I go deep into the zone while I'm there. Sitting is a favorite activity, along with staring out the window. A lot goes on in my head, but I don't break a sweat. It looks like lazy from where you're sitting, I'm sure.

I also talk to myself. I'm constantly interrupted mid-conversation, too. So that looks nutty. I know I should be training for a marathon and booking school visits and cleaning the garage all simultaneously, but I'm happy eating a banana. In a chair. For like an hour.

And when I get up, I feel like I had a little adventure. But you wouldn't know it, because it looks like garden-variety sloth and lack of ambition from the outside.

Maybe I should mention that I do take a daily walk. It's part of my writing routine, really. Gets the juices flowing for more hours of sitting and sporadic typing. Oh, and I make coffee. That's pretty industrious, isn't it? I like to think so.

Monday, April 12, 2010

SCBWI Writer's Day Redux

Thanks to helpful SCBWI-er Rita Crayon Huang, I now have pictures of the Writer's Day speakers. From top to bottom: Libba Bray, Jill Corcoran, Rachel Abrams, Lisa Wheeler and me. And a good time was had by all.

I enjoyed reconnecting with Lisa. Her straightforward presentation on rhyming picture books made me want to try one (again). Meeting Libba Bray was a pleasure. I suspect she has a much more roomy brain than I do. She's a marathon writer with great scope. Jill Corcoran's talk on submitting queries made me realize that thanks to the internet, the game of submitting and researching potential agents and editors has changed greatly since the olden days. And Rachel Abrams, editor at Harper Collins, touched on every single thing a submitting author must know if she hopes to see a first book in print.

I talked a whole lot about the emotions a writer goes through trying to break in, doing revisions, getting dumped and succeeding at last. I wanted to hug everyone in the audience after I was done, because (as Marvin Gaye once said) we're all sensitive people. Sure, publishing is a business, but everyone is in it out of love. Keeping open is sometimes hard, but as writers, we don't know how to do it any other way.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Wish I could be with you to dance to this!

Happpppppyyyyyyyy DAY!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Hip hip hooray! It's Writers Day!

I'm so looking forward to meeting these speakers and all the rest of the SCBWI-ers attending this event. Hope you'll come too!

Saturday, April 10, 2010
8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Clairbourn School
San Gabriel, CA

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful...

I adored this Cinderella when I was a kid. Leslie Ann Warren is an ocean of emotion--she yearns until her large brown eyes brim with tears. Just as quickly, when her hopes are dashed, she's reduced to chin-quivering desperation. She sits in "her own little corner" and lives a lot in her head. What's kept her going through a life of drudgery and serious underestimation? Her rich fantasy life! Even when she's dressed in a ball gown and enchanting a prince, she sings, "Is this the sweet invention of a lover's dream?" She's been dreaming so long, she can't quite accept it when reality finally lives up.

I swear, I spent most of my young life in that same space in my head. Life was actually pretty boring and not at all glamorous--but in my head? Fabulous. My favorite state of mind was a fervent yearning that bordered on ecstasy. I confess that I still go for it once in awhile. In my own little corner, of course.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Hanging w/the Grownups

I had the pleasure to attend a day-long conference in Long Beach last weekend that featured a slate of accomplished women writers. Literary Women has been run by a staff of book-loving volunteers for the last twenty-eight years. For my friend, Marcy Moody, working on the LW staff has been a labor of love. I'm grateful for her invitation to attend, as I was anxiously waiting on revisions and particularly needed a writerly shot-in-the-arm. A special treat for me was lunching with Jane Hamilton, an author perhaps best known for her novel A MAP OF THE WORLD. She's vibrant and fun--and one of the most entertaining writers I've heard speak.

Anyway, when I got those revision notes in my mailbox the next day, I felt refreshed and ready to dig in and do the work. Usually I have to lie on a divan and fan myself for a good week. But no vapors this time! You can bet I'm putting Literary Women on my calendar every year.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Frug Therapy

I'm the go-go girl in the cage upper right...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Skeletons in My Genealogical Closet

    Seeking out one's roots can be either exhilarating or mortifying--especially when you come across documents that add to or contradict your "family myth."  I've found out so many things that no one ever talked to me about while I was growing up, and all the revelations concern grandfathers.  (I suppose this is because it's often more difficult to find documents regarding the maternal line.)   
   So far, I've found a census document showing that one of my beloved granddads had a first marriage to a much older woman.  (Never heard of her!)  And then there is the jailed Confederate sympathizer who was chased out of Missouri.  (The family story had it that he had left for the West because he didn't want to take sides in the war between the states.)  I have also found that another ancestor, Levi Scott, one of the blazers of the Applegate Trail, was involved in some battles with native people that easily could have and certainly should have been avoided.  
   But now this!  I'm a direct descendant of one of the witnesses against Sarah Cole, accused witch.  I've found the document from the 1690's and have posted it above.  
   What's odd is that when I was in grade school, I went through a period where I was obsessed with the Salem trials.  I remember reading a book filled with woodcut illustrations and struggling with the text which was written in that old-timey type that substitutes the letter 'f' for the letter 's'.  I tried to put myself in the shoes of those people.  What had they actually seen?  What were they really so afraid of?
    Funny, I might have been reading about my own relatives.  

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Day at the Playground

     During a trip to the playground at our local park, I thought I'd join my nine-year-old friend in some gymnastics.  I remembered hanging upside down from the bars by my knees and dismounting by flipping backward like a jumping jack when I was a kid.   Well, first I had to get up on the bar.  That, in itself, was nothing like my memories.  Talk about limited range-of-movement...  Anyway, after I had ungracefully hoisted myself up and dangled upside-down, it occurred to me that I felt as heavy and inflexible as a grand piano.  No way was I going to dismount with a back flip.  So I tried loosening one leg separately, lost a shoe and slipped earthward, butt into the sand.  It was so odd, having this "body-memory" of litheness and ease. Was that really me back then, or did I dream it?
   Next, I thought to conquer the swings.  No big deal, right?  Just swings.  But I found that as I pumped higher and higher, I felt vaguely queasy.   Maybe that previous upside-down stuff was the culprit?  But if you had told me when I was nine that someday I'd be queasy on the swing set, I would not have believed it.  
    I want a do over!  Next weekend I'm going back with my friend and try it again.  I can't accept it!  Surely it'll all come back... with a little practice?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Because I've Been Thinking of Birds...

                                                                                               (photo: Wired Magazine)
Littlefoot, 19,
[This is the bird hour]
by Charles Wright
This is the bird hour, peony blossoms falling bigger than wren hearts
On the cutting border's railroad ties,
Sparrows and other feathery things
Homing from one hedge to the next,
                                           late May, gnat-floating evening. 
Is love stronger than unlove?
                                            Only the unloved know.
And the mockingbird, whose heart is cloned and colorless.
And who's this tiny chirper,                          
                          lost in the loose leaves of the weeping cherry tree? 
His song is not more than three feet off the ground, and singular, 
And going nowhere. 
Listen. It sounds a lot like you, hermane.                                                           
                                                               It sounds like me.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Happy New Year! Getting Back to Work...

     My (soon-to-be-nine-year-old) friend, Alexia, and her big sister Missy are both back at school and busy with homework.  We're usually here together at my house on weekends, bent over our computer screens.  Alexia plays games that reinforce her memorization of times tables.  Missy, a student at UCLA, writes papers on international politics.  I, on the other hand, am usually combing the Gutenberg Project,  researching nonfiction from the Victorian era for a potential book.  There's an equal wealth of entertaining and appalling advice to be found.
An example of wisdom from The Ladies' Book of Useful Information:

A child born on Sunday shall be of long life and obtain riches.

A child born on Monday will be weak and effeminate.

Tuesday is more unfortunate still, though a child born on this day may, by extraordinary vigilance, conquer the inordinate desires to which he will be subject; still, in his violent attempts to gratify them, he will be in danger of a violent death.

The child born on Wednesday will be given to a studious life, and shall reap great profit therefrom.

A child born on Thursday shall attain great honor and dignity.

He who calls Friday his natal day shall be of a strong constitution, and perhaps addicted to the pleasures of love.

Saturday is another ill-omened day; most children born on this day will be of heavy, dull, and dogged disposition.

    As a person born on Saturday, I object!  (Okay, maybe I am a little dogged.)   And if you're born on a Tuesday?  My sympathies to you!

   Even if you aren't writing an historical novel, the Gutenberg Project can provide endless distractions from whatever work you are avoiding at the moment.  I highly recommend it.