Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Dangers of Quotations

What with tomorrow being the first day of my writing group's first ever writing retreat, I thought I'd be rather clever and kick off this post with quotation about "retreat." So I nosed around in and found a good one: "You have to know when to strike and when to retreat." To which I was going to reply, "I know just when to retreat: tomorrow!"

But then I got all distracted by the fact that the quote was from John Oates, musician. And I thought, "Who's John Oates?" And then I realized, oh, yeah, half of Hall & Oates. Which got me wondering, which half. Turns out, the mustachioed half. Then I thought, Well, I wonder what the heck he's doing these days? After all, it's been, er, twenty-plus years since high school when Hall & Oates songs were all the rage. So then I had to go nose around his web site. And then, well, of course I had to know what happened to Daryl Hall. Turns out, he's got a web site, too -- does anybody not have a web site anymore? The whole process was actually not very interesting to me (I wasn't that much of a Hall & Oates fan to begin with), but curiosity being what it is, there I went. Is it any wonder I never get anything done?

Which leads me to conclude that of the many things I'm thankful for about this writing retreat, the one I'm currently most thankful for is: No Internet Access!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

SoCal Book Award Finalists

The Pout-Pout Fish is one of the finalists for the 2008 Southern California Independent Booksellers Association book awards. Kudos to Dan Hanna!

Winners will be announced in October at the Authors Feast. With an event name like "Authors Feast," one hopes authors are not the main course.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Michigander Monday: Hope Vestergaard

I'm happy to have Hope Vestergaard here as this week's Michigander Monday profile. Welcome, Hope!

Debbie asks: Tell us a little about yourself.

Hope replies: I've always loved books and stories as both a consumer and a producer. When I was a kid, I was quite a I grew up, I learned to channel that impulse a little more appropriately! I didn't know I'd be a writer, although I always wrote to entertain myself and friends. I was a preschool teacher for many years and the act of reading so many books to young kids made me think more about the structure of stories and books. I write on all subjects and for all ages, but so far I've been most successful with young picture books -- most of them rhyming.

Debbie: And, of course, we want to know all about your latest book!

Hope: My latest book is called I DON'T WANT TO CLEAN MY ROOM: A MESS OF POEMS ABOUT CHORES (Dutton 2007). It started out as a picture book (I thought) called LAUNDRY DAY, all about a little girl who's obsessive about doing laundry with dad. My editor liked it, but wanted it to be part of a collection of poems. I went back and forth with her doing revisions on the collections until I thought it would never be finished. And then they bought it!

Debbie: And your other books, and any books and projects on the horizon.

Hope: I recently revised a humorous middle grade novel that is making the rounds. I have a non-fiction picture book called NOT JUST PEANUT BUTTER, about African American inventors, being published with Hyperion. I also have a humorous rhyming picture book being published with Sterling. And, this fall, I have a rhyming dictionary coming out with Perigee. It's called NOTHING RHYMES WITH ORANGE: Perfect Words for Poets, Songwriters, and Rhymers. It's a revised edition of the former Capricorn Rhyming Dictionary.

Debbie: Any upcoming appearances we should know about?

Hope: My glamorous life as an author (insert wry grin here) has lately taken a backseat to my starring role as soccer mom, chauffeuring my two sons to their various games and trainings and social events. Summer's only lazy for the kids -- I'm looking forward to fall!

Debbie: Your favorite place in Michigan?

Hope: My favorite place in Michigan would have to be on one of our many beautiful rivers. We live right down the road from the Huron river, and have logged a lot of water miles on the Huron in and around Ann Arbor. I also love the AuSable, up north. I spent many summers working at Camp Nissokone in Oscoda, and my unit took teens out on three-day canoeing, biking, or hiking trips. Lovely! (Nissokone is also where I met my husband. We actually had our wedding reception there!)

Debbie: Favorite Michigan event or happening?

Hope: I really like the summer agricultural fairs -- the Chelsea Fair and the Washtenaw County 4-H fair being my favorites. I didn't grow up on a farm, but my husband did and we have a small farm with a few animals now. I love seeing kids with their animals and I love hearing the old farmers talk shop.

Debbie: A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

Hope: You asked about fun Michigan people -- but I am going to suggest fun Michigan places...summer camps. They are such treasures! I think every kid should go to camp at least once. Most kids thrive and grow at camp. I've had friends most of my life who I met at camp. Just do it!

Debbie: Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about our state.

Hope: People who have never been to Michigan don't know what they're missing! I've always thought this was true, and have noticed so many guests who are surprised by how much we have to offer. We have the rural life and a rich artistic tradition. Best of the city and the country.

Debbie: Some residents of Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: Are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?

Hope: Definitely a Michigander. "Michiganian" sounds like a practitioner of something strange, to me.

Debbie: Thanks, Hope, for being this week's Michigander!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Better Late Than Never

The June progress report on my 2008 Writing Goals is now up over at my web site.

Something Fishy Going On...

Oh, the joys of googling. I googled "National Fish Lit Day" and found that, no, there isn't currently a holiday devoted to the role of fish in children's literature. But this doesn't mean there can't be, does it? What's that positive thinking mantra (no, I don't generally use it, but it's scuttling around the brain here somewhere - ah, yes, here it is): If it's going to be, it's up to me. So I guess I'll have to unilaterally establish one. Bluuuub!

First I'll have to decide when Fish Lit Day should fall. It'll be a day to read a good fish story (I already have a good start on a Fish Lit bibliography, thanks to Lori's Fish on a (Time) Line write-up) as well as a day to eat some fish crackers and fish-shaped cookies. And, gosh, every holiday needs a song or anthem, so I'll have to whip one of those up, too.

I'll take any and all suggestions in comments, or by email. Bluuuub!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Getting Rid of Old Favorites

Those of you who know me can attest to the fact that I'm a fifty-fifty split of "super-organized" and "total slob." For those of you who don't know me, suffice it to say that I'm a self-contained Odd Couple. But lately, the Oscar aspect of me (the slob, for you non-TV watchers) has been threatening to become the bigger half, so I'm thinking it's time for Felix take back some territory.

I don't know how Felix approached things, but baby steps tend to work best for me. So today I took on the small project of cleaning up my Favorites folder in my web browser. Before the clean-up, I had probably 200 links spread across 20 or 25 folders, with most of the folders labeled by topic. For all the ostensive organization of this system, it was really quite a mess.

So I streamlined. I reduced the number of topic folders to just a handful, and kept only the truly useful links in those folders. And then for the array of blogs and misc. sites that I periodically visit, many of which are difficult to classify by topic, I used a functional approach. Places I like to visit every couple of days or so are now in a folder labeled "Daily." There's also a "Weekly" and a "Monthly." I don't intend to treat the daily/weekly/monthly labels as schedule setters, but they do make useful umbrellas under which to arrange things.

Now I'm feeling so Felixy that I'm off to tackle my junk drawer!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Poetry Friday

Two Views From Shore


He wears his badges --
scraped knee,
freckled nose,
wide grin --
and pans for gold
in the thick wet sand

without unearthing
even the smallest nugget
of doubt.


He knows by now
of the structural instabilities
inherent in sandcastles,
but he builds them anyway.
Earnest engineer.
Scowling optimist.
He is undeterred by the waves.

"A vacation without a beach," he says,
"Is like a Thanksgiving
without jalapeno pretzels."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

2009 CWIM

It'll sound too much like I'm tooting my own horn if I mention that the 2009 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market, now available at your favorite bookseller, includes a profile of yours truly in the "First Books" section. So I won't mention that you'll find that piece starting on p. 141.

What I will tell you is that you can read about the talented and very funny Dan Hanna in his "First Books" profile (see p. 144), and, as a bonus, get to see the cover and several interior pages of The Pout-Pout Fish. Don't miss Dan's "Tips for Getting Published" on p. 146.

You can also get to know Boni Ashburn (p. 139) and Sue Thoms (p. 136) -- who are both absolutely fabulous people who happen to live here in Michigan -- in their respective "First Books" profiles. Another Michigander, Lisa Wheeler, has an article "Great Opening Lines in Picture Books" (p. 37).

Editor Andrew Karre, who doesn't know me from adam but who last fall gave me some very useful feedback on my YA novel manuscript (which I'm still plugging away on...) writes about YA Fiction on pp. 78-82.

And there's so much more -- more articles, plus oodles of market and agent info -- but if I list everything, this blog post will be as long as CWIM itself. Suffice it to say that if you're a children's book writer or illustrator, you should probably think about taking a look at this resource, if you haven't already.

And we should all thank Alice Pope daily for putting it all together. Thank you!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Michigander Monday: Kelly DiPucchio

This Monday's Michigander is Kelly DiPucchio. Let's get to know her!

Debbie asks: Tell us a little about yourself.

Kelly replies: I'm pretty sure I'm the only person at the gym who has Barry Manilow downloaded to her iPod. I have one husband, two brothers, three kids, four house plants, five unfinished novels, six excuses for why I can't finish a novel, and seven published picture books. I love reading, shopping, coffee, Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Blizzards, surfing the web, and movies. I dislike cooking, shaving my legs, and talking about myself.

Debbie: And, of course, we want to know all about your latest book!

Kelly: My latest book is called SIPPING SPIDERS THROUGH A STRAW (Scholastic Press). It's a collection of campfire songs for monsters. The uber-dark and twisty Gris Grimly illustrated the book and the art is wonderfully wicked. I had wayyyy too much fun writing this poetry collection. What other career pays you to write about goons in underwear? Well..maybe we shouldn't go there.

Debbie: And your other books, and any books and projects on the horizon.

Kelly: BED HOGS (Disney-Hyperion) won the Michigan Reads! award in 2006, which was very pig news. GRACE FOR PRESIDENT (Disney-Hyperion), illustrated by the lovely and talented LeUyen Pham, came out in February and spent four weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. That was quite a thrill. My next book is called, HOW TO POTTY TRAIN YOUR MONSTER (Disney-Hyperion). From politics to poop. Hmmmm..that's a stretch.

Debbie: Your favorite place in Michigan?

Kelly: I love the Traverse City area. I live in south-eastern Michigan where the topography pretty much consists of one elevation - flat, so it's refreshing to see a little variety in the landscape. And any place that has a beautiful beach, charming stores, good chocolate and better wine, is pretty much my definition of paradise.

Debbie: Favorite Michigan event or happening?

Kelly: Spring!

Debbie: A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

Kelly: I visit a lot of schools in Michigan which gives me the opportunity to meet so many fun, funny, wonderful teachers. I'd like to tip my writer's cap to all of those dedicated, patient souls who somehow manage to maintain a bright and sunny disposition in battle field of education day after day.

Debbie: Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about our state.

Kelly: There's more to our state than automobiles, crime, and a losing football team.

Debbie: Some residents of Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: Are you a "Michigander" or a"Michiganian"?

Kelly: I'm more inclined to say I'm a "Michigander" but a "gander" is a male goose. A female goose is just a goose, so I guess that makes me a "Michigoose"?

Debbie: Thanks, Kelly, for being this week's Michigoose!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Building Castles In The Sand

I'm back from a week in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, feeling relaxed and happy. I'm a bit behind on email (217 await me in my Inbox), but if you've been in touch recently, I should be responding within a couple of days.

We spent our time in the Manistique area. It's a beautiful part of the state, and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. More about our vacation over the coming days; plus you'll have to suffer through a Beach Poetry cycle for many Fridays to come...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Poetry Friday

This is a completely silly poem, written for no other reason than that Ann's comment on my Rainy-Sunny post prompted me to want to play around a little with the new words I recently discovered. I didn't manage to work all three in with their -ial forms, but two's not bad, and I had fun with some other words, too.

Vividly Vacationing

Olivia and Vivian,
Despite their car’s effluvium,
Did venture to Virginia
To a valley of alluvium.

The people were convivial.
The countryside was fluvial.
O & V filmed DVDs
Until the clouds turned pluvial.

“A flood,” observed Olivia,
As Vivie packed the movie in,
“Would be an apt activity:
This Volvo’s prediluvian.”

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Words At Sea

It's such a distration, a dictionary. I can't seem to look anything up without giving a good 30-40 minutes over to the lure of words. Here's another fun word I found on my way to something else, though it's admittedly not one I'm going to get much use out of: spindrift. It's a noun, a "spray swept by a violent wind along the surface of the sea."

Now you know.

(Oh, and anyone needing a writing exercise Writing Prompt, how about seventy words on a spendthrift who encounters a spindrift. Perhaps he's shifty, or fifty, or weight-lifty. Perhaps not. You decide. Feel free to leave your attempts in the Comments area, as long as they're appropriate for a family audience.)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Michigander Monday: Leslie Helakoski

Leslie Helakoski grew up in Louisiana, and has lived in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania; but luckily for all of us, she now lives in Michigan. I'm pleased to feature Leslie as this week's Michigander Monday profile.

Debbie: Could you tell us a little about your latest books?
Leslie: My two latest books were released this past January. One is a sequel to Big Chickens called Big Chickens Fly the Coop. It is about fear again (surprise!) but this time the chickens try to follow their dream but play it safe by running back to their coop every time they become afraid. It is primarily for pre-school through 2nd grade, and filled with lots of fun verbs and adjectives.
The second book, Woolbur, is about a sheep who does not follow the flock and how the herd handles his differences. This book was on the Book Sense list this spring and won the Great Lakes, Great Book Award for picture book 2008. It is a finalist in the GLBA awards (winners announced in August) and is on the Harper Collins UK list for Australia and New Zealand (big sheep country, don't you know?)

Debbie: And tell us a little about your other books and projects.
Leslie: I enjoyed being part of the Michigan Reads! program this year with Big Chickens as the one state, one picturebook book for 2007. School visits kept me busy but I enjoy reading to kids and traveling around the state. I recently sold a third chicken book to Dutton. It is called, Big Chickens Go to Town, and this time the chickens are lost in a big city. I'd originally thought of it set in NYC but decided to set it in my favorite city, New Orleans, instead. When I told Henry Cole, the illustrator, about it, he loved the idea. We then went to New Orleans with our editor to scope out the scenes we wanted to use. It was not really necessary but totally fun and exciting. I can't wait to see that book.
I'm currently working on a couple of other picture books--always my favorite thing to work on. I'd like to illustrate one of these books myself and am having a bit of a dance with publishers about it. Some publishers like the art and not the manuscript while others like the manuscript and not the art. I should have bought that voodoo doll back in New Orleans.

Debbie: Any upcoming appearances?
Leslie: I'm taking most of the summer off to write and paint and spend time with my family. I am heading to New York in August, though, for an interview with Spoken Arts, a company that makes DVD's of picture books. They will be filming me introducing the book, Woolbur, and placing me inside the artwork. I'm anxious to go to NY but nervous about sounding like a piece of wood.

Debbie: What's your favorite place in Michigan?
Leslie: Oh, my favorite would have to be the Sleeping Bear Dunes area. Absolutely gorgeous, it feels like another country. I can't go there enough. I like it all--hiking the dunes, swimming, tubing, sailing, the islands, the history, everything!

Debbie: And your favorite Michigan event or happening?
Leslie: I love harvest time when you can ride by the vineyards after a warm day and smell the grapes in the air.

Debbie: Care to tell us about a fun Michigan person we should all know about?
Leslie: Many of you already know Lori Eslick, the fabulous Michigan painter and illustrator. She's helped me more than she knows with her honesty and sincerity.

Debbie: Finally, some residents of Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: Are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?
Leslie: That would be "Michigander," Debbie, but I always feel a little like a goose saying so.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Her Blog Is Better Than Mine

I'll no doubt use the blog-post title above over and over again. I suppose I could get it over with and list all thirteen million blogs superior to my own in one giant posting; but instead, we'll take them one by one, starting with: Ann Finkelstein's blog called Misplaced Electrons.

Class dismissed -- head on over and see what Ann has to say.

(But be sure to come back day after tomorrow for Michigander Monday!)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Poetry Friday

My Tired Eyes, To the Light

Midsummer, five a.m., and the fireflies are few and far between.

Just hours ago, the lawn sky fireworked
with their phosphorescent love songs
and the showy bright light of species survival.
Now, only a few remain, blinking slowly
as sunrise slips past
the raw edge of

And what of them?
Are they earnest? Or merely addled?
Or thoroughly and unrequitedly besotted?

And whoever can know?
Surely not a middle-aged coffee-clutching specimen of humanity
who remarks, to no one in particular,
at the unselfconscious willingness of the fireflies
to greet the dawn with their light;
and who observes
that fading illumination

is the most amazing

fact of fireflies

ever known.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Rainy Words On A Sunny Day

On my way to looking up something else (I'm one of those people who gets easily distracted by the pages of an open dictionary), I found a word that's new to me: pluvial. My dictionary defines it as an adjective, "of or pertaining to rain, esp. much rain; rainy," but I also see in an online dictionary (Merriam-Webster online) that it can be a noun, a "prolonged period of wet climate." (Sounds like a synonym for Seattle.)

If you like the sound of pluvial, you may also like its rhymes fluvial (of or pertaining to a river) and alluvial (of or pertaining to alluvium, which is a deposit of sediment formed by flowing water).

Any other fun water or mud words I should know about?

Monday, July 7, 2008

A Cobbler By Any Other Name

The crumbs of Friday's dessert are a distant memory, but I've still got cobbler on the brain. Gosh, I love the stuff. Being plum out today, I decided to feast on a little googling instead, reading up a bit on the history of cobbler.

In the process, I discovered a whole realm of fabulous historical words for similar fruit and crust dishes. Get a load of these tasty terms: crumbles, crisps, brambles, slumps, grunts, fools, buckles, crumples, betties, roly-polies, crunches, and -- my personal favorite -- pandowdies. What a satisfying smorgasbord of savory sounds!

Aren't words delicious?!

Michigander Monday: About This New Feature

Most Mondays, this blog will be featuring a Michigan children's book author or illustrator. I've started this new series -- which kicked off last week with a Boni Ashburn Q&A -- in order to help draw attention to the extraordinary children's lit talent pool that Michigan has.

Many of the profiles will feature authors/illustrators with whom you're already familiar but may not have known reside right here in Michigan. Other profiles will introduce you to folks you've not heard of but who will become your new favorites as soon as you get to know them. So stayed tuned on Mondays for more profiles.

For a few of my thoughts on being a "literary localvore," click here. I encourage you to show your pride in the great state of Michigan: grab a book (or two, or three, or forty) by a Michigan author, head to your favorite Michigan spot, and enjoy!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Cobbler = Delicious

My kids lobbied today for cobbler. Late afternoon, we got to work in the kitchen and assembled a delicious one. If my taste buds have any say in it, we've got ourselves a new Fourth of July tradition. Yum!

Michigan Reads -- A Great Program For Which I Can Take No Credit....

A quick but important clarification:

I was interviewed recently for a profile piece on WCMU Radio. It was a wonderful experience, and I was honored by the opportunity to speak about my book and my writing. I will write more about the experience, and about the great folks at WCMU, in a few days.

At the time of the interview I was, as you can imagine, more than a little nervous. I'm not the best of public speakers (probably why I went into writing...!). When I was being interviewed, one of the questions was about my involvement with children's literacy efforts. Literacy is something I feel very strongly about and try to incorporate into my writing and my story times; in addition, I also feel very passionately about the tremendous writing and illustrating talent pool we have here in Michigan.

Trying to think on my feet, I mentioned the Michigan Reads program, and Nancy Shaw's book Raccoon Tune. But my clumsiness in answering left the impression that I am involved with Michigan Reads. That was not in any way due to interviewer error, but rather was my mistake in expressing myself.

So I just want to make clear that, though I very much think the program is a great one -- and I'm a huge Nancy Shaw fan! -- I don't take any credit for the wonderful Michigan Reads program. It's a Library of Michigan program: learn more here. By following the link, in addition to learning more about Nancy Shaw and Raccoon Tune, you can read about past Michigan Reads authors Leslie Helakoski, Kelly DiPucchio, and Rhonda Gowler Greene -- terrific writers, every one.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled 4th of July! :)

Poetry Friday

I'm caught up in the summer season spirit, so here's a small poem of joy and gymnastics:


Across the lawn --
Her arms begin,
Her legs go on.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Mileage and Your Chance To Win Big

I'm veering a bit off topic here, but I thought I'd note a milestone in passing: yesterday while driving I had the pleasure of glancing down and seeing the odometer hit a bunch of zeros in a row. My car now has 70,000 miles on it, to be exact.

So, here's your chance to see how well you know me (this assumes there's some correlation between "nature and frequency of blog posts" and "driving habits" -- well of course there is!). A signed Pout-Pout bookmark goes off in the mail to the first commenter who guesses the year of my car. I'll toss in a couple of Pout-Pout cootie-catchers if you can come up with make and model as well. (No fair guessing if you know already, but even if you've seen my car, you're welcome to guess the year if you don't know it.)

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines -- er, your guesses!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Writing Advice #2 (in need of a re-write)

Here's another bit of gleaned writing advice, this one addressing the issue of manuscript length. I've heard it from several sources over the years:

"Keep it long enough to cover the topic, but short enough to keep it interesting."

Good general advice, but... When dispensed to me many years ago, this was referred to as "The Bikini Principle"; and I've also heard it referred to as "The Axiom of Skirt and Essay Length." Er, ahem, pardon me, but this packaging of an otherwise good piece of advice seems a little, well, dated at best.

So, smart people, what say you? Can we come up with a new image for the advice, one that gets us away from the female clothing/legs realm?