May 31, 2007

This really got me cranked up when I read it. Cynthia Leitich Smith has a website loaded with resources and advice for writers. So in the course of my exhaustive (minutes at a time!) research into the writing life and the publishing industry, I came across her site and read through much of what she has to say. A lot of it sounded like good advice and I was really glad that she collected all of that information and made it available to writers like me. Then I read,

You must read. You must read like you breathe, only more proactively. You must read so much that when anyone mentions a children’s or YA book, you are familiar with it or at least its author and/or editor, or you are jotting the title down to check it out. You must be better read than your independent bookseller and your public librarian (if you live in an amazing book city like Austin where this last goal is impossible, you must nevertheless still TRY). When someone announces the, say, Newbery winners, you should have read so much that there are no real surprises to you. You must study the books you read, the good ones and the bad, and be able to clearly articulate what does and doesn’t work and why. And if you think that you have no time or money to do this, get a different goal because you don’t deserve to make it. Libraries are a godsend.

I have a problem with that kind of thinking. Isn’t that like saying that I should have a P.H.D in food science or I don’t deserve to make a really good cheeseburger? Of course I don’t agree with that. Yes, it is good to know what you’re getting into when you write a particular kind of book. Yes, it is good to educate yourself about the market and what has been written and what has been successful and what hasn’t. I don’t think, however, that a thorough understanding of the whole market is absolutely necessary for a writer to create a great story. Cynthia Leitich Smith’s opinion that there are those who “deserve” success and those who don’t based on how much they have been involved in the Children’s and Young Adult book scene is really self-serving and exclusionary.

This is not me being defensive, either. The kind of involvement and research she claims is necessary is exactly what I like (and need) to do. That’s my personality. I don’t think it applies to everyone, though. There are many musicians who have created music that has changed people’s lives despite the musician being unable to read a note of music. Then there are other musicians who spend their whole lives studying and learning music history and theory. Everyone must find his or her own path.

It is possible that I’m just being nit-picky about the way C.L.S. has expressed her opinion, but I trust that a writer as accomplished and successful as she has chosen her words carefully and says what she means. I just don’t agree with that small part of it.

Kind of a busy weekend here so far. We had a couple of baseball games (kids) to go to, we started prepping the pool for the season and we are still in the process of painting the porch. I haven’t had much writing time in a few days, but I have had a little reading time, so I guess that counts. I’m reading How to Write and Sell Your First Novel by Oscar Collier and Frances Spatz Leighton and I’m really enjoying it. It contains a lot of stuff I’ve read elsewhere, but I still like reading it. Whenever I do something for the first time, I tend to do a lot of research beforehand. That’s what this is.

At the beginning of June, I head out to Chicago for a little R&R with a few old friends. I’m really looking forward to it. That reminds me that I have to get the new essay up before I leave.

dipping into the well

May 22, 2007

Yesterday, I went to the Post Office. I thought I could make a decent, little blog entry out of the story, so I opened up a new Word doc and started writing it all out. Once I hit 700 words, I decided that it was a bit long for my blog and thus was born next month’s essay. The essay itself will not have the same boring opening that this blog entry has. :0)
It was a pretty satisfying morning overall, but I’m still beating myself up for delaying work on the book. Instead of writing, I went to the library yesterday and grabbed a copy of M.T. Anderson’s The Game of Sunken Places to read for research into the genre. Also, I’m still working my way through the audiobook version of Sarah Vowell’s Assasination Vacation. I only listen to it while I exercise (about 45 minutes at a time) so I guess I’m actually woking out my way through it.

bad joke, but I like it.

All right, here are your quickies:

Chelsea won the FA Cup. Nice job. Maybe next year, the Champion’s League? Maybe?

I bought some coffee made by Papa Nicholas. Cinnamon hazelnut flavor. It’s ok. In my experience, cinnamon hazelnut coffee always sounds better than it is. Of course, that doesn’t stop me from buying it.

I found a great deal on iTunes for all you John Mayer fans. They have an ep called “The Village Sessions” on which you get Mayer playing 6 acoustic versions of his songs and also an 18 minute video documenting the creation of “In Repair”. Price? $4.99. I’d probably have paid twice that.

Little man

May 19, 2007

My four-year-old son is getting to the point where he wants to help me do everything, so I have begun letting him take our Schnauzer (who I call “Schnozzie” due to her penchant for nudging things with her nose) out for her afternoon walk to the end of our backyard. I won’t get too graphic here, but her afternoon walk is when she does her “number 2”. She’s on a schedule. It’s very important to me that she stay on her schedule, since that frees up me up from having to constantly watch her and ask her over and over again if she has to go out. No one likes to have their day revolve around what might be coming out of a dog’s butt. So the point is that the afternoon walk is a big responsibility and is key to my daily sanity.

I, in my wisdom, have assigned this duty to a pre-schooler.

Since it’s so important to me that the Schnozz stay on her schedule, I have implemented a daily debriefing session with the four-year-old (Bud) immediately upon his completing of his dog walking duties. Here’s an example:

ME: How’d it go?
BUD: She did only one thing.
ME: Was it poop?
BUD: Yes. And pee.
ME: Wait a minute. Did she only do one thing, or did she do both things?
BUD: Only pee.
ME: She didn’t poop?
BUD: Yes.
ME: Start over. Did she pee?
BUD: Yes.
ME: Did she poop?
BUD: Yes.
ME: Ok. Thank you. Good job.
BUD: She only pooped.
ME: C’mon Dude! Did she pee or poop? Which was it?
BUD: Only poop.
ME: Are you sure? Only poop?
BUD: Yes. Only poop.
ME: Only poop.
BUD: Only poop.
ME: Thank you.
BUD: And she peed a lot!

The debriefing lasts twice as long as the dog’s walk and at the end of it, I’m never quite sure if the walk was successful or not. Bud, on the other hand, feels very good about himself and his ability to do a “grown-up” job and feels that he is really helping me out. So I let him continue to do the job in the hope that, someday, he actually will.


May 16, 2007

There are many times when I should be writing or doing chores around the house, exercising, planning more healthful meals, single-handedly saving various species from extinction, brokering peace agreements in the Middle East, etc., but all I really want to do is catch up with my friends and internet-based acquaintances by checking their websites, blogs and MySpace pages.

It is rarely a satisfying endeavor.

Most of the time, the pages and blogs haven’t been updated since I last checked them and I find myself thinking things like, C’mon! Something must have happened in the past two weeks! and Gimme a break. Say something! Then one day it struck me. Dummy I thought, you call yourself a writer. YOU are supposed to provide the content. You’re too busy reading other people’s writing (or trying to) and you should be writing your own stuff. I guess the problem is that I can’t imagine that any of the things I would put in a blog like this would actually be interesting for other people to read, despite the fact that I’m very interested in reading theirs. The truth is, though, that it doesn’t really matter if people read it or not. Writers write. I need to write in order to become a better writer. Train the brain, so to speak. Work the muscle.

So I’m going to update my blog more often. The other website ( will continue to host new essays every month, since I put more time into those, trying to make them a little more polished and publishable (my spellchecker assures me that is a word). This is much more informal. I’ve got to tell you, it’s a strange feeling to recognize in yourself the very things you complain about in others. Enlightening, but painful.


It figures

May 15, 2007

Well, here I am, thinking I’m all evolved and stuff. Then my new “friend from afar”, Cecil Castellucci, has a link on her blog to some sort of a personality test. I’m not usually interested in internet tests, since most of them seem to be written by 15-year-old boys who want to know if I’ve ever kissed a girl before or if I’ve ever been drunk. Not interested. However, the test Cecil linked to is part of the marketing for a movie called “The Golden Compass”, which I’ve never heard of, but it asks a bunch of questions about your personality and then shows you your “Daemon”, which is your soul in some sort of animal form.

Got all that?


Here is mine:


A GIBBON?? Come on! My soul has taken on the form of a small ape? That’s what I get for answering the questions truthfully.