Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Tomorrow I start NYNN (New Year, New Novel). I'll be attempting to write 2000 words per day, six days per week, in an effort to complete a first draft of a new novel. I made a rule for myself that I'm not allowed on the internet AT ALL until I've completed my word goal for the day. I'm afraid there will be very few days this month when I'll be checking e-mail, reading blogs, playing on Facebook, or updating this blog. Boo hoo! But won't it be worth it? A first draft in a month? It sounds like heaven.

May 2009 bring us a revived economy, pride in our president and country, good books to read, peace on earth, and joy and laughter with our family and friends.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Winter Break Rhythm

We sleep as late as Ozzy lets us (8:00 today... a record!). Eat a big breakfast and stay in pajamas till around noon. Read, watch movies, bake cookies, play games (like Monopoly, Apples to Apples, Whoonu, and Rock Band), play with Ozzy, go out to dinner, light Hanukkah candles, open presents, watch TV, then head to bed.

It's the perfect amount of laziness.

I love this break from the hectic day-to-day business of our regular lives. It fosters family bonding and allows time for creative and clear thinking. For about a year now, I've known I wanted to do some kind of summer camp book tour to celebrate the release of Jemma Hartman Camper Extraordinaire. But I could never figure out what I would actually do up at the camps. It's not a school visit, that's for sure. It would have to be something fun and meaningful and camp-like. Suddenly, yesterday, the perfect idea came to mind. It was one of those ideas that jumps out at you and makes you want to click your heels and shout "Eureka!"

Drum roll please...

It's a Time Capsule! Every cabin will choose or create an object that represents a story they want to remember forever. Then they'll present their stories to the camp and put the objects in a time capsule to be opened 20 years later at a camp reunion. There will be awards for silliest, most memorable, and most creative stories/objects. I'll talk about some of my camp memories and show how they ended up in my book. Then we'll sing songs, I'll sign books, and everyone will feel a little bit closer and more appreciative of their amazing camp experience.

Now I've just got to get some camps to put me on their schedule.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What Do You Love About Writing?

Lately, I've been fickle, like a woman who falls madly in love with a man only to lose interest a month later. Of course, I'm still happily married to my actual husband. But I keep falling in and out of love with my plots. I start a new manuscript, thinking This is the One, only to soon wonder what I ever was attracted to in the first place.

It's not a very productive way of writing. And it makes me feel yucky.

I talked it out today at critique group. Have I told you how much I love my critique group? As usual, they had great advice for me. Jenny thought I should tell myself my next book would be my file drawer manuscript, the novel I wouldn't publish. She thinks the pressure is getting to me, and she's right about that. But unfortunately, I don't think I can trick myself into thinking I'm writing for nobody. Carol told me I should write about a character with the exact problem I'm having right now... a girl who thinks she has nothing interesting to say. That has its appeal, but it doesn't feel compelling enough for me to dedicate myself to it for a year or more. Plus, I don't like this feeling! Why would I want to immerse myself in it? Ellen asked, "What do you love about writing?"

That was a good question.

I said, "I love trying to answer a question. With Julia's Kitchen, the question was, 'Why does God let bad thing happen, and how do you deal with the worst possible thing?' With Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire, the question was, 'What do you do when a friendship that you thought would last forever starts to fade?' I love living vicariously through these characters as they figure out the answers to these questions."

So then, of course, Jenny, Ellen, and Carol asked me what I wanted to know the answer to now.

Another good question.

I'm thinking about it. And hopefully, when the right question comes to me, I'll fall in love with a character and plot and be able to commit, at least for the next year or two.

What do you love about writing?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Book Trailer Creativity

I'm not sure if book trailers are a fad or something that will take hold. And I'm not sure if they make any difference in terms of buzz or sales. But I do know one thing for sure... they are an area of creativity that is wide open for exploration and development.

And that is fun!

Check out this rap video trailer for Perfect Chemistry, by Simone Elkeles:

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Feeling Silly

I am an honorary silly chick, and you can be one, too!

The Three Silly Chicks (a terrific blog by Andrea Beaty, Carolyn Crimi, and Julia Durango about funny picture books) has organized a drive for donations to Heifer International.

For only $20, this charity will give a family somewhere on this globe a flock of chicks. And then Each starter flock has from 10 to 50 chicks. One flock gives a family in a developing country a much needed source of food and income.

Did you know that chickens:

lay up to 200 eggs in a year.

require little space.

thrive on readily available food scraps.

control insects & fertilize gardens.
Can make an enormous difference in a family's life?

And you thought chicks were just cute and silly!

Please join The Silly Chicks in helping families from Cameroon to the Caribbean. Donate now and send a notification card to Or send a copy of your receipt to as proof and they will name you an Honorary Silly Chick and give you a post on their website! (Note: The receipt does not contain any financial information!)

Friday, December 05, 2008

I'm a NYNNie

Have you heard of national novel writing month, NANOWRIMO? Well, my friend Carmela Martino has now created NYNN, New Year/New Novel. It's just like NANOWRIMO, but it takes place in January, and as absurd as it sounds, I'm going to try to do it. The idea is to write a 50,000-word draft of a manuscript in one month. Participants are called NYNNies (or writing fools). Today I had nothing major to do for myself or my family, so I decided to test out the feeling of writing 2000 words in a day.

I ended up with 619. And now I'm so sleepy I just want to take a nap.

Is it possible to write 2000 words in a day? Is it kind of like lifting weights in the way it gets easier if I do it on a regular basis? Will I be able to care for a family and a puppy and still write that much? Will I have to take a break from karate? Laundry? Grocery shopping? Will my family pick up the slack?

I definitely like the idea of turning off my inner critic and whipping out a first draft like this. I like the intensity of it. I like being called a NYNNie. And January looks pretty open on my calendar.

I think this might be the closest I'll ever come to running a marathon. People train for marathons, right? So I should think of this time as training. 619 isn't so bad. It's like running a mile or two. You gotta start somewhere.

I think I can I think I can I think I can...

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Loving Your Characters

When I write, I try to love the characters I create... even the villains. But I especially have to love my main character. I'm asking readers to go along for a ride with her, to root for her, to laugh and cry with her. It wouldn't be fair of me to expect readers to do that for someone I didn't think was totally worthy.

That's why I aim to create wonderfully flawed, vulnerable, spirited, and resilient characters whom readers (and I) can identify with or try to be like or at least want to get to know.

And that's also one of the reasons why I'm having trouble with my main character in my work-in-progress. See, she is popular, and I have a thing about popular girls. I tend not to like them.

I'm not proud of this reverse-snobbery. It started in middle school when I was completely intimidated by a group of popular girls. They were so cool, and I was so not. I stayed away from them, and instead of admitting that they scared me, I found reasons to hate them.

At first glance, it might have looked like jealousy, but I never wanted to be like them or to be included in their group. If anything, I wished they would be more like me. Maybe then I wouldn't be so threatened by their perceived superiority in practically every area of life.

Thankfully, once I grew up, I stopped being intimidated by popular girls, and the reverse-snobbery faded away, but I know it's still there, under the surface. And as I sit here, trying to write about a popular 8th grader, I'm finding it challenging to get past my bias. It's so much easier for me to love the outsider.

But I realized something yesterday. Popular girls don't call themselves popular. That's a term other people use to label them, to exert some power over them. So I'm going to stop calling my character popular. She certainly wouldn't describe herself that way. She would actually be annoyed by the term and all that it implies.

Hopefully that will allow me to get a little closer to her heart. And she to mine.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Rationalizing 101

Why I Hate First Drafts:
1. I don't know who my character is. (I mean really and truly who she is.)
2. I don't know what the story is. (I mean the actual truth of the story.)
3. I don't like writing badly. (And I've yet to find the magical pen that writes beautiful first drafts.)

How I'm Trying to Avoid These Problems with My Work-in-Progress:
1. I'm thinking about my character as much as possible, imagining what she would say or do if she were with me all day long. She's practically my invisible friend!
2. I'm outlining and re-outlining and re-re-outlining in an effort to get to the one essential truth of the story.
3. I'm not writing at all.

I realize at some point I'm going to have to actually write something. A chapter. And another chapter. And so on. That's kind of the key to writing a book. (Duh.) But until then, I'm not going to feel bad that I have nothing to show my critique group, my agent, or my editor. (At least not too bad.) I'm not going to focus on the fact that I started developing this idea four months ago. (Yikes!) This isn't procrastination or writer's block or any other negative sounding label. This is just the way I work. (Life is busy with three teens and a puppy, you know.)

Maybe all this thinking and pre-writing will help in the long run. Maybe when I finally write this draft, the story will come out in the beautiful and magical way I'm imagining it.

It doesn't hurt to hope.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Extreme Makeover - Website Edition

Check out my redesigned website! Isn't it pretty?

A round of applause for web-designer extraordinaire, Maddee at She is the best!

In the spirit of creative renewal, I've decided to give this blog a new name... it shall hereby be called Fresh Baked Bits.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Author Visits

Sunday night I spoke about Julia's Kitchen at a mother-daughter book club. I loved meeting these smart, cute sixth graders and their moms. It was such an intimate setting, especially compared to the 450 kids I spoke to in a gymnasium on Friday! To be honest, I enjoyed both speaking engagements. I guess I don't care how many people are in the audience. It is truly such an honor to be able to do these kinds of appearances. I'd love to do more of them, but I wonder what the perfect balance is.

When I talk to my author friends, they all confess that they spend at least a day worrying about the visit beforehand, even if they're doing a presentation they've already done dozens of times before. I confess that's true for me, too. I am always tinkering with my presentations because a) I'm trying to make them better, and b) I don't want to bore myself by saying the same things over and over!

So if you lose a day of writing by preparing, and you lose another day of writing with the actual presentation, how many presentations should you plan to do in a year? Maybe 2-3 per month is just right.

I recently hired a booking agent to try to drum up more school visits for me (Hi Mick!), because I would really lose writing days if I spent them calling schools! It will be interesting to see if she's able to make a difference. Whatever the case, I'm glad to have her try. That frees me up to do the important work of writing my next book.

What do you all think? If you could design your perfect calendar, how many school visits would you do in a year?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Free To Be 35 Years Later

This just in...
According to Publishers Weekly, there is an anniversary edition of Free to Be You and Me coming out. I know just what I'll be getting my cute nieces for Hannukah this year!

And to think... I just posted about Free to Be last week! I must be psychic.

Busy Days Ahead...

Sometimes I go days and days living my regular life... squeezing in writing between the laundry, grocery shopping, karate, carpooling, dog walking, and errand running. But every once in a while, my writing life takes over. 

I actually love when I have a deadline looming... when my husband calls on his way home from work and doesn't ask, "What's for dinner?" but rather, "What should we order for dinner?" When the kids watch too much TV and play too many computer games because I don't tell them to turn it off. When I say no thanks to lunch dates, let my hair go curly, only do the laundry when everyone is totally out of underwear, and basically live inside of my head. 

I feel like a real author then. Like it's my full-time job. Like I'm on my way to writing a bestseller, a Newbery award winner, a break-out novel that will propel our family to a life of luxury and leisure.

Of course, those little spurts of creative mania only last a short time. Then it's back to the balance of my real life. And I'm not complaining. I have a pretty amazing real life. But it's invigorating and validating to focus 100% on being an author.  

These next few days I get to do just that. Even though I won't be writing much, I will be doing authorly things. Tomorrow I'm doing a school visit at Ludwig Elementary School in Lockport, Illinois. Saturday I'm going to Prairie Writer's Day, where I'll get to connect with my fellow SCBWI-Illinois authors and illustrators and learn from industry professionals Cheryl Klein, Harold Underdown, Caroline Meckler, Martha Mihalick, Sharon Darrow, and Jennifer Rofe. Then on Sunday I'm presenting at a mother-daughter book club in Northbrook. 

I'll just leave the take-out menus on the kitchen counter.

Friday, November 07, 2008

When Is a Book Better than Cookies?

Eight years ago, I was living in Austin, Texas, when there was a house fire in my neighborhood. I didn't know the family in the fire, but I heard the story... that a father and son had died, and that the mother had died two years earlier in a car accident. There were two brothers who survived all this tragedy, and they came to live with relatives down the street from me.

Everyday, I drove past the burned out house. I took in the yellow caution tape, the boarded-up windows, the smoke stains along the walls. I couldn't help but cry. I cried for the mother, father, and young boy who died. But mostly, I cried for the two surviving brothers. How would they ever get through this? Who would they go to for comfort and strength? What would their lives be like from here on out? I wondered what these boys thought about God. What kind of God would let this happen, anyway?

I wanted to do something for these boys, but I didn't know what. I didn't even know their names. I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies and brought it to the home of the relatives. I don't remember what I said when the woman, apparently their aunt, answered the door. But I left feeling like I had done something ridiculously small and inconsequential. Cookies? Their parents and home were gone! What in the world could cookies do for them?

I kept thinking about these boys. I wished for them resiliency. I wished for them faith. And eventually, I wrote JULIA'S KITCHEN, a story about a young girl dealing with grief after her mother and sister die in a fire. My main character finds all the resiliency and faith that I wished for these boys. That was the best I could do.

When the book got published, I tried to find the names of the boys, but I had no luck. I no longer lived in Texas, and I was probably not the best researcher. It was a lost cause. Or so I thought.

Turns out, when you publish a book, magical things can happen.

Imagine a young girl in Austin, reading JULIA'S KITCHEN for school. She tells her mom about the book, and her mom looks it up online. Now her mom comes across an interview Cynthia Leitich Smith conducted with me. About halfway down, the mom reads about my inspiration for the book, and the story of the fire is very familiar to her. In fact, she's almost certain I'm talking about her friend's nephew. She sends her friend the link to the interview, and the friend sends it to her nephew.

And her nephew contacts me.

This young man in now a freshman at Boston University. He wants to someday be a writer or perhaps a psychologist. He is charming and sweet and clearly a man who possesses the resiliency I wrote about in JULIA'S KITCHEN.

He's looking forward to reading the book that he unknowingly inspired. And I'm looking forward to getting to know him.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Free to Be...

For me, the true joy and all the tears came when I saw the Biden and Obama families standing together on that stage in Grant Park. As much as I hoped this would happen, I was scared that, like before, I had the minority opinion, and that The White House would represent a voice that had nothing to do with me.

But seeing their two families together... I was just blown away. This never would have been possible even a few short years ago. I was raised on Free to Be You and Me. I always believed skin color and gender didn't matter. I believed I could grow up to be anything I wanted as long as I worked hard enough. That belief gave me the courage to go after my dreams. But many people, especially many minorities, didn't have reason to believe that. Now they do. What a wonderful time to be alive. To be an American.

I am so hopeful and optimistic. We have a lot of work to do in this country and in this world. I have faith that all the people who have been so inspired by Obama are ready to help make it happen. I know I am.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day is Here!

I can't believe it's actually here. I mean, we've been talking about this election for forever! And now it's here. And maybe, just maybe, we will know who our new president will be by the end of the night. And maybe it will even be Obama.

(Please, please, please, let it be Obama!!!)

Please vote! If you need a reason (other than the fate of our country and perhaps the world), Starbucks is giving away FREE COFFEE to anyone who votes.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

You're Invited! (Or... what to do after the election)

Do you live near Vernon Hills, Illinois?

Are you free Thursday evening?

If so, please join me at the Hawthorn Mall Barnes & Noble. I'll be presenting "Top Tips and Secrets to Getting Published," signing copies of JULIA'S KITCHEN, and giving away some of my famous chocolate chip cookies.

Thursday, November 6th, 5:30 p.m.

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Great and Powerful Ozzy

Ozzy has arrived!

So we didn't name him after the Wizard of Oz (even though we love children's lit).

And we didn't name him after Ozzie Guillen (even though we love the White Sox).

We named him after a reality TV star.

Seriously. Maybe I should be embarrassed about that, but I'm not. Our family loves Survivor, and we watch it together every Thursday night. And anyone who is a fan of Survivor is a fan of Ozzy!

You may remember when I first started thinking about getting a dog. It was after my cat died, my house (and all my diaries) were robbed, my editor was let go, and worst of all, my grandmother passed away. There was a lot of yuckiness, and it seemed we needed a dog.

Now we have one. :-)

It feels like getting married, or having babies, in the way I know my life will forever be divided between Before Ozzy and After Ozzy. I don't really have this puppy thing down pat. I haven't figured out how to balance the rest of my life with taking care of him. I don't know how I'm going to give him a bath or train him. And I don't know when I'll have time to write. But I do know that Ozzy was meant to be a part of our family.

Faith and her new BFF

Monday, October 20, 2008

Five Days and Counting

In five days, I will be bringing home one of these puppies.

I remember when I was pregnant with twins, and I wished I could store up sleep to cash in once the babies were born. (In case you're wondering, that doesn't work.) When the babies were about a month old, I was so exhausted that I actually fell asleep at the dinner table.

I feel sort of the same way now. I wish I could store up this calm, quiet feeling in our home, this freedom to be gone all day, to not worry about a puppy chewing or peeing or pooping on something important.

But on the other hand, I'm getting a dog!!! Yippee!

If we choose the male, the black one, we're naming him Ozzy (after Ozzy from Survivor, one of our family's favorite shows). But if we choose the female, the brown one, we don't know what we will call her! Any suggestions?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Three Things on a Thursday (and a contest)

1. Jacob and Faith, my 8th graders, have been studying literary devices. They had to search in books to find examples of everything from "allusion" to "understatement" (and everything in between). I had fun helping them with this assignment, but I became aware of something... I don't use many literary devices in my writing. I just sort of tell the story. Hmmm...

2. There are 19 days until the election! I'm so nervous. The more Obama pulls ahead in the polls, the more I worry that people will think he's got it in the bag so they don't need to vote. Please... all you Obama supporters out there... don't forget to vote! 

As for you McCain supporters, if it's too cold on November 4th, you might want to stay inside. I mean, you don't want to get sick, right? Or what if it's raining? You for sure better stay home in that case. I mean, your hair will get all frizzy, and who wants that?  

3. Writing news (in three parts): 

a. After Michelle Andelman left Andrea Brown Literary Agency, I was reassigned to Caryn Wiseman. She is wonderful, and I am now quite certain ABLA only employs amazing agents. 

b. I'm writing a very detailed outline for my next novel. It almost feels like writing a first draft, but without the torture. 

c. I finally received my revision notes for THE YUCKIEST DROOLIEST STINKIEST BEST VALENTINE'S DAY EVER. Not too much left to change in this manuscript. Yay! It's all about the refrain. I go to sleep at night thinking about cynical wisecracking rhymes about love, and I wake up in the morning with a few more possibilities for the refrain. Don't you love being able to work in your sleep?

The first person to find three literary devices in this post will receive a FREE copy of JULIA'S KITCHEN!

Friday, October 03, 2008

I Dare You Not to Laugh

A little sunshine for your weekend...

My sweet niece, Billie:

Don't you wish you knew what she was laughing at? Talk about an "inside" joke!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Lunch with Judy Blume

“If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would it be?”

That was the question that started it all. The year was 1998, and my husband and I were at a party. I had recently rekindled my love of children’s literature and I’d finally had the courage to try to become a published author, so for me the answer was simple: Judy Blume.

Judy Blume wrote the books that made me fall in love with reading. I connected with her characters and wondered if Judy had a secret camera or a portal into my heart and soul. How else could she know me so well? Her characters filled a void in my life. Collectively, they were the big sister I always dreamed of, understanding, loving, and guiding me through adolescence.

I imagined sitting down to dinner with Judy Blume, telling her about the impact she had on my life and taking in all the wisdom she had to offer. Judy Blume! Seriously, is there anyone cooler?

Two years and many rejection letters later, my husband, Alan, wanted to surprise me for my birthday. He wrote a letter to Judy Blume telling her about me and proposing that he would fly me anywhere anytime for a meal with her. Although Judy decided not to take him up on his offer, she wrote me a wonderful letter, and that was enough for me. It was then that a secret wish took hold in my heart-- someday Judy and I would meet, not as adoring fan and esteemed author, but as colleagues.

Over the next few years, I worked harder and harder at my writing, and in 2004 I sold my first book, Julia’s Kitchen, to Farrar Straus & Giroux. Of course I wrote to Judy to share this exciting news, and to my delight, she wrote back. Judy Blume and I were practically penpals!

The next year, the American Library Association’s conference was in Chicago, and a librarian friend of mine was invited to a party where Judy Blume would be speaking. She knew how I felt about Judy, so she invited me to come along. I was thrilled. And terrified. What would I actually say to Judy now that I had a chance to meet her face-to-face?

It turned out I had nothing to fear. Judy was as warm and down-to-earth as you could possibly imagine. She hugged me hello, introduced me to her friends and industry insiders, and even mentioned me in her speech. It was a magical evening. And again, that would have been enough. But the universe had more in store for me.

Judy and me in 2005

Fast-forward three years to Judy Blume writing a blog entry about Sarah Palin called “Hockey Mom.” I forwarded the essay to a bunch of my friends and wrote to tell Judy how much I loved it. She wrote back to thank me and to tell me she would soon be in Chicago for a Banned Book Readout. She said she didn’t have her schedule yet, but maybe we could meet for a meal and catch up.

Meet for a meal and catch up? Like old girlfriends? Judy Blume and me????

I didn’t think the meal would actually happen. Her schedule wouldn’t permit it. Or there would be an earthquake. Or a tsunami. Or something. But Judy Blume had invited me, and that was more than enough.

As her Chicago trip got closer, though, our plans firmed up, and yesterday I found myself in my car, driving to the city to have lunch with Judy Blume. With butterflies in my stomach and happy tears in my eyes, I thought about all the things that came together to bring me to this moment. Her books. That party. Alan’s letter. My wish.

Lunch was like getting together with an old girlfriend. I didn’t have to tell her how her books impacted my life, and she didn’t have to offer me her wisdom. Instead, we connected person-to-person, not just as colleagues as I’d wished for all those years ago, but also (dare I say?) as friends.

Wishes and hard work. Luck and generous people. These are powerful forces. I hope you believe in them. I know I do.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Puppy Update

We are really and truly getting a dog. The puppies were born September 3rd, and we'll be able to take one home at the end of October!

Will we choose Izzy?

Or Ozzy?

Puppy advice apprectiated!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

How to Ignore the Internet

I love the internet. But I also hate it. What a huge time sucker!
How easy to answer my critique partners' e-mails about their manuscripts rather than think about mine!
How fun to read other people's blogs!
How mindless to look at the status of my friends on Facebook!
Tick. Tick. Tick.

Today I'm trying something new.
See this cute little candle in the heart shaped holder my son gave me for Mother's Day?

I have just lit it.
And I will work steadily on my manuscript as long as it burns.
I wonder how long that will be.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Third Grade Baby

Jenny Meyerhoff, sans curls

As promised, here's my interview with Jenny Meyerhoff, author of Third Grade Baby...

How did you come up with the idea for Third Grade Baby?

Third Grade Baby started with a title, a different title. Once I thought of the title, I wrote a book to go with it -- it was a fanstasy about the tooth fairy. Once I changed the fantasy elements and made Polly Peterson, a very real third grade girl, the main focus, I changed the title. Not much of the first version remains. Except for the scene where Polly tries to eat steak and corn on the cob for dinner with her loose tooth. That used to be the first chapter, and now it’s chapter 3, I think.

I love that scene and can totally feel Polly's pain! 

What challenges did you face in writing and revising the manuscript, and how did you conquer those challenges?

Since this was the first book I’d ever written, I’d say the biggest challenge was just trusting myself that I could do it. I worked around this problem by telling myself that I wasn’t writing for publication, just for practice. Just to learn how to write a novel. That made it much easier to let go. After all, if I failed, the stakes weren’t that high.

Fancy little mind trick there!

What role did your critique group play in the process?

Oh, I have no doubt that I never would have finished the book if I hadn’t had the encouragement, support and discipline of being in a critique group. They taught me (and still teach me) so much about writing, structure, suspense, characterization. They really helped me see why the first version of my story wasn’t working (too many logic problems,) and I think it was you, Brenda, who planted the seed of making the whole book into a realistic story.

Wow! I didn't realize that. But I'm happy to take credit for it. ;-)

Polly Peterson is a character who does not want to be seen as a baby, even though she is the smallest kid in her grade and still hasn't lost any baby teeth. How does this theme relate to your own life?

Well, I really did know such a third grader. It was very hard for her to be the only one with all her baby teeth. She wound up getting some teeth pulled. But on a personal level, it seems I am often writing about characters who need to prove, mostly to themselves, that they are “bigger” than they feel they are. I definitely struggle with insecurity, so I guess this is one of the ways I work through it.

Hmmm... I wonder if all this writing success will help with that insecurity. Check out the line at Jenny's first book signing!

Tell us a bit about your road to publication.

It’s often said that you have to know someone to get published. And in my case it turned out to be extremely helpful. I knew the right editor to send my manuscript to because I knew through one of her writers, you, that her favorite thing to edit was chapter books. HOWEVER, I don’t think this means hopeful writers should throw up their hands and walk away from the field just because they think they don’t know someone. Join SCBWI, go to conferences and classes…make those connections. You and I met before you were published, and even if you hadn’t found an editor who also turned out to be a great match for me, the things I’ve gained from our connection are still too many to count!

So true. Connections help. Knowing the business helps. Luck and timing and patience all help. But the most important thing is a fabulous manuscript. Nothing can happen without that. And I'm happy to say THIRD GRADE BABY is fabulous. I just read it again. The funny parts were still funny. And the heartwarming parts still made me tear up. Good job, Jenny!

What can fans expect next from you?

My YA novel, THE IMPOSSIBLE SECRETS OF ESSIE GREEN, is due out from FSG in the spring of 2010. In fact, I’m supposed to be revising it right now. I’d better get back to work!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Introducing Jenny Meyerhoff

I am so excited because one of my critique partners is celebrating the release of her first book this week! I'm talking about the one and only Jenny Meyerhoff and her fabulous chapter book Third Grade Baby! 

Want to know what the book's about? Check out this book trailer Jenny made:


Jenny is going to pop over to my blog for an interview as soon as she finds an opening in her calendar. (I'll have my assistant call her assistant!) But for now, I bring you a very special treat... an up close and personal view of Jenny Meyerhoff by those who know her best... her critique group.

Our critique group meets every other Wednesday morning, and we share our writing, our angst, and even our beauty tips (if time permits). We've grown so close over the years that we call each other "writing sisters." There are four of us. You already know me, so allow me to introduce you to Ellen and Carol.

Ellen Reagan is working on a mammoth young adult historical fiction fantasy novel that will knock your socks off. If I ever write half as beautifully as Ellen does, I'll feel I've accomplished something big. Carol Grannick writes lyrical picture books and heartfelt realistic fiction. She is also a licensed clinical social worker, which comes in handy for delving deep into feelings - both characters' and our own.

Clockwise from top left: Jenny, Carol, Ellen, Me

So, without further ado, here is a critique group take on Jenny Meyerhoff:

What makes Jenny such an amazing writing sister/critique partner?

Brenda: Jenny's comments on our manuscripts are always spot on and delivered with sensitivity. Also, she is a huge producer. I'm always inspired by how quickly and well she writes and revises. 

Ellen: She is a consummate professional who takes her craft, and her partners' efforts, seriously, and keeps us all believing that we can meet the incredible demands of the creative life.

Carol: Jenny's perpetual gifts as a critique partner/writing sister are a unique perspective on a manuscript and an ever-giving spirit to challenge, encourage and support. Her capacity to view a manuscript as a "whole" often seems to me to be the intellectual version of walking into a chaotic, messy room (speaking for myself, here) and reordering it so that everything has a place (and of course one of those places is the garbage can or as Jenny calls it, her "clip file"). But this is not Jenny's only area of brilliancy. Her incredible talent with word choice, voice and plotting, and her breadth and depth of literary understanding, are invaluable for revision work. Her generous and loving heart make her a priceless critique partner and writing sister. I am beyond lucky to know her.

If you could have one of Jenny's strengths (or superpowers as I like to call them), which would you choose?

Brenda: I'm convinced Jenny has a time turner... the kind Hermione uses in Harry Potter. How else can you explain how Jenny reads five books a week, whips out first drafts faster than I can write a chapter, comes up with amazing marketing plans (check out her online contest for third grade classes!), all while taking care of three cute kids? So yeah, that's the superpower I'm after... Time Travel.

Ellen: Jenny is always saying that there are two types of writers -- egg layers and egg polishers -- and identifies herself as the former. Sometimes I wish I were an egg layer instead of a meticulous egg polisher.

Carol: I would choose the ability to view the overall "whole" of the story, then sort out what's right, what's not right, what's misplaced, and in what order it all goes. Oh, and the ability to plot the way she can...Oh, and...

How does Jenny take care of her curls?

Brenda: She almost never washes her hair and instead uses conditioner, and she towels dry with a t-shirt, not a towel.

Ellen: She never touches them with sodium lauryl sulfate, combs or terry-cloth towels. (A husband's T-shirt is a curl's best friend).

Carol: I know the secret...

Why does Jenny's skin always look so flawless?

Brenda: Jenny introduced me to Bare Minerals. Fantastic light make up. You can't even see you're wearing it, but it smooths your skin beautifully.

Ellen: Clean, healthy living? A pure soul? (It doesn't have anything to do with sodium lauryl sulfate, does it?? Or a cotton T-shirt instead of a towel?)

Carol: Gotta be her genes. Can I borrow a few?

Write a blurb for Third Grade Baby:

Brenda: Move over, Clementine and Junie B. Jones! Make room on the bookshelf for Polly Peterson, a third grader who will capture your heart and tickle your funny bone. Debut novelist Jenny Meyerhoff is a fresh new voice to watch!

Ellen: Readers will lose their hearts to Polly Peterson, a third-grader with gumption . . . and a long-awaited hole in her gums.

Carol: First novelist Meyerhoff gives readers a great new heroine with a unique voice, and a funny and important story about being as big as your heart and mind can make you, even if you haven't lost your first baby tooth yet!

Monday, September 01, 2008

Labor Day Update

Happy Labor Day Everyone!

This post comes in three parts...

1. Labor around the house: I'm cooking and cleaning to get ready to host a family bbq. Have I mentioned how lucky I am to have my family all nearby? My parents live in the house I grew up in, ten minutes from me now. My brother lives in my neighborhood, just a short walk away. My sister lives in the same town as me, seven minutes by car. And my other sister lives in Chicago, which seems far in comparison, but is really only a half hour away without traffic. Pretty amazing! Today, everyone is coming over with their kids for a bbq and also to celebrate Jacob and Faith's birthday. They are turning 14 on Wednesday!

2. Labor as a writer: My latest Book Look column (featuring The Nature of Jade by Deb Caletti) is online here. Check out the whole Prairie Wind newsletter for great articles. Two of my critique partners have terrific columns you won't want to miss: Revise Yourself by Carol Grannick and Tales from the Front by Jenny Meyerhoff.

3. Labor in terms of birth: Jordan, the wheaten terrier is going to have her Mini Whoodle puppies any moment now! That means we will soon get to choose our puppy. In eight short weeks we will be a dog family. Holy Moly!


One of Jordan's puppies from her last litter

Thursday, August 21, 2008

When People Talk Behind My Back...

...It's not always a bad thing. Today I was at the grocery store, and I ran into one of my favorite high school English teachers, Mrs. Benjamin. (Isn't it fun to see your teacher at the grocery store?!) She told me that the other day she was at her health club, taking a shower, when she heard some women talking about me.

Now, I have to interrupt this story to tell you that over the last year, there have been a handful of nasty women in my town gossiping about me and my family in a very obnoxious way. Not that gossip is ever NOT obnoxious, but when grown women gossip about a thirteen-year-old girl, I find it particularly pitiful.

So, when Mrs. Benjamin said she overheard people talking about me, I feared the worst. Did my beloved teacher hear a rumor about me? Did these women stoop so low as to talk about me in a locker room? And was Mrs. Benjamin trying to find out the true story right here at the deli counter?

No. No. And no. Phew!

Instead, Mrs. Benjamin told me that the women were talking about my book, JULIA'S KITCHEN, and that one of the women said, "I could never have gotten through my mother's death without that book." Mrs. Benjamin almost jumped out of the shower to say, "I know Brenda Ferber! I was her teacher!" But she decided to finish shampooing instead.

It's weird how the world works. Here I am, struggling with emotions and dramas I haven't experienced since high school--being gossiped about... being judged... feeling misunderstood. And who do I see? A teacher who was like a lifeboat my senior year. Mrs. Benjamin always believed in me. And because of that, I believed in me, too. And because of that, I wrote a novel and didn't stop revising until it was good enough. And because of that, it got published. And because of that, a random woman read it and found something within it to help her deal with a horrible time in her life.

Makes you think, doesn't it? Even when you are in the middle of tough times, there are good people out there rooting for you. The positive energy in life will find its way to you whether it's in a parent, a friend, a teacher, or even a book. You just have to keep your head up and let it in.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Have you ever been "dropped" by a group of friends? Have you ever done the "dropping"? I am doing research for my new novel, and I would love to interview by phone or e-mail girls or women who have experienced this unfortunate rite of passage. It doesn't matter if the "dropping" happened last week or fifty years ago. It's one of those incidents that is not easily forgotten. So please, if you or someone you know has a story to share, leave me a comment or shoot me an e-mail at BrendaAFerber at

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Back to Basics

My husband and kids went to the Sox game today, so I had a nice chunk of time to work on my current manuscript. I decided to read what I had written so far, just to see where to go next. And you know what? It stinks. I mean really Stinks. Not in a way where I can revise it to make it better. But in a way where I feel absolutely no heart connection to the material anymore. The thought of spending another year on this novel makes me shudder.

Meanwhile, I've had a whole other story tugging at my heartstrings for the last couple of months. A real life yuckiness that is begging to be turned into fiction. So although I may have just wasted half a year of writing, I'm filing away this unfinished novel and starting something new.

Deep cleansing breath.

I am now opening up my old Institute of Children's Literature material, the program I followed when I wrote Julia's Kitchen. And I'm starting at the very beginning.

Wish me luck!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Just Keep Writing

Thank God I'm a Taurus. I honestly don't know what I'd do without my stubborn streak... or when looked at kindly... my persistence.

How else can you explain this insanity? I am on about page 85 of the first draft of this new novel. And it is terrible! I get to this point with every one of my manuscripts. Where I have absolutely no idea what the story is about, where every character seems flat, every plot line seems stupid, and the whole project seems like a big fat waste of time.

I would very much like to quit.

Yet I persist. I know that I have to just keep writing. I'm like Dori in Finding Nemo. "Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming..."
I know that eventually I'll get to the end. And I'll revise and revise and revise. And out of all this work, something worthwhile will emerge.

I always tell kids that Real Life + Imagination = Story. But I've got a new equation to pass along: Stubbornness + Optimism = Dreams Coming True

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Books That Make You Go "Oh!"

I completely forgot to link to my latest Book Look column in the Prairie Wind, so here it is! For the summer issue, I wrote about how National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr used secrets to help create tension in her powerful young adult novel, Sweethearts. Check it out, and try to put a few secrets into your work-in-progress.

I've already found my next book for my column. In fact, I have a total author crush/book envy thing going on. (More on that later.) But if you've read a book that made you go, "Oh!" please let me know about it in the comments.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Psychology of First Drafts

I have always wanted to be one of those authors who can whip out a first draft in no time. Every time I start a new novel, I say I'm going to do just that. Write without stopping. Get the story down. Don't look back. But my inner critic never lets me speed through this process. I'm slow and careful and analytical. You would think all that slow and careful writing would result in amazing first drafts. But nope! It doesn't work that way. I still end up revising like crazy. I change just about everything. I write many drafts over a couple of years before I even get close to the story I envisioned when I started.

So when I told my sister and husband that I was going to make the most of these last eight days I have with no kids home by writing as fast as possible, maybe even ten pages a day, they were supportive but doubtful. They've heard it all before.

Yesterday, though, I was able to do it! Here's how it worked. Instead of telling myself I have to write something good, something worthwhile, something I'll love and something my critique group won't shred to pieces, I told myself I have to write the worst ten pages ever! Not mediocre... Terrible! No stopping. No showing it to anyone. No feeling good about it. Just 10 pages of story unfolding.

Let me tell you... It was seriously bad. Some pages were only dialogue. Some pages were only thoughts. And I'm sure some pages were plain gobbly gook. But aha! The story unfolded. And that's the whole point!

Do you play tricks with your mind to help you with the writing process? If so, I'd love to hear about them.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Libba Bray wrote the funniest post ever about how writing a novel is like falling in love. I'm so glad I'm not alone in my craziness.

Check it out:

Meanwhile, I've got to get back to my first draft... I'm supposed to be madly in love with the story at this point. Hmm....

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Five Things I Love

A random sample of things I'm loving lately...

1. My MacBook. This computer is so amazing!!! I watched a video tutorial for iMovie, and within minutes I was making movies. Seriously! It is so easy. I am having a blast. (I am also totally procrastinating. I only wrote three pages of my w-i-p today, which is not a lot considering I have no kids at home.)

2. The Horn Book Magazine. I just read the July/August issue, my favorite each year because it contains the Newbery and Caldecott acceptance speeches. When I read the speech by Laura Amy Schlitz, I was in tears. No, not because I wish it were my speech! But because she is such a fabulous writer! I loved A Drowned Maiden's Hair, but I haven't had a chance yet to read Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Must add to my to-be-read list (which keeps growing thanks to the enticing reviews in The Horn Book).

3. My critique group. We meet tomorrow, and I'm so looking forward to it. I love my writing sisters!

4. Weeds. Did you see it last night? Nancy is crazy! They are all crazy. I love them.

5. Swingtown. Have you started watching? This is my favorite new show. Great characters. Great tension. Fun.

What about you? What are you loving this summer?

Sunday, July 13, 2008


I bought a camcorder.
I drove seven hours to Camp Birch Knoll.
I shot tons of footage and interviewed a whole bunch of campers so I can make some fun book trailers and other videos for Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire.
I drove seven hours home.
I uploaded the video onto my computer.
I watched the video.
I saw feet.
I saw grass.
I saw sky.
I realized I should pay more attention to that stupid little button, you know the one. You press it once and it starts recording. You press it again, and it stops. And if you're like me, you reverse it and record when you think you're stopped, and you stop when you think you're recording. And you miss about half of your interviews!


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

My "Process"

The truth about my writing process is that it is constantly changing. What worked for Julia's Kitchen (detailed outlining) didn't work for Jemma Hartman. And what worked for Jemma Hartman (starting with a setting and a climax) isn't working for my current work-in-progress.

Someone wise once told me that each book has something new to teach you. Just because you've written one novel doesn't mean you know what you're doing. And I am pretty sure I don't know what I'm doing.

Yet I persist. It's the journey that I love anyway, so here I am, learning again how to write a novel.

This novel started with a character and a voice. The pages flew out of me. I wrote in vignettes, not thinking about plot or structure or anything. I wrote because I had to understand this character. I wrote thinking I would never be brave enough to try to publish this novel. It was too edgy. Too hard to believe. Too close to reality. So I wrote with utter freedom.

Then I started to show some of the pages to my critique group. And they loved it. Still, I didn't think I would ever really finish this story or attempt to publish it. I was just playing around. I went to a workshop where more people told me they loved my main character's voice. And Richard Peck himself told me I would finish this book and that it would open new doors for me.

So that's when I got serious. I decided I needed more than a character and a situation. I needed an actual plot. So I wrote a one-page synopsis. And I froze up. For months I procrastinated and found other projects to work on.

But I'm feeling braver now. And I've been back at work on this novel for the last week or so. I started over. Kind of. I've got about 40 pages written, and the story is surprising me. I'm determined to finish a first draft before I show any more pages to my critique group. In my dream writing life, I whip out a first draft in a couple of weeks. But I know myself. I'm slow. I will write a few pages every day. I can't give myself a deadline. I've got to just keep taking baby steps until I get to the end.

So what am I learning about this process? That I need to be free. I need to let the voice shine through. I need to write as if I am only writing for myself.

Here I go.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Vacation All I Ever Wanted

You know that overwhelming feeling you get when you arrive home from a vacation and you think about all the stuff you have to catch up on? Well, joy of joys! I don't have that feeling at all. Alan and I just got back from a fantastic week in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and here's the fun part... our kids are away at summer camp for the next five weeks, so the "vacation" continues!

Wondering what there is to do in Jackson Hole?

Well, you can meet a moose:

You can hike up into the Grand Tetons and play in the snow:

You can drive to Yellowstone and see Old Faithful and other cool geysers:

You can be take in gorgeous sites like this one of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone Park:

And this one of the Grand Tetons:

You can even pretend to be a cowgirl and buy the right hat:

You can't really get away with wearing a cowboy hat in Deerfield, Illinois. But one of my critique partners, Carol Grannick, is writing a fabulous novel called Cowgirl. And when she sells it and has a launch party, I'll have just the thing to wear!

Off to write!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Fake Book Trailer

What do you think about book trailers? They seem to be the next big thing in promotion, and I'm considering doing one for Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire. So I talked to my 12-year-old son, Sammy about it. He thought it would be fun to do, and today he made up a fake book trailer to sort of practice. It's awesome. Check it out here:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Reader's Shock

I know I swore in a prior post not to read any more books until I finished the first draft of my work-in-progress, but I have never been good at diets, and that kind of silly rule was bound to be broken. So, just like when I used to cheat on my diets in high school, I have been reading on the sly. 

Tonight I read Shooting the Moon by Frances O'Roark Dowell. And I gotta say, it's a masterpiece. Seriously. Everyone should read this beautiful book. As for me, I am now in Reader's Shock -- wrapped up in the emotions of the book and feeling that I might as well give up being an author anyway because I can't possibly write something as lovely and meaningful and perfect as Ms. Dowell did. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Cover Art!!!

I have a cover!! And not just any cover, but a beautiful cover that I love, love, love! My hat is off to the amazing artist, Greg Swearingen, and to all the folks at FSG who helped create such an inviting package. (There is even a map of Camp Star Lake at the beginning of the book!)

Authors have just about no say in their cover art, so when you end up with the cover of your dreams, it is really exciting!!! 

Some people have asked me who that girl is, but it's not a photograph of a real girl. I guess the best way to answer that question is to say, "It's Jemma."

I am now officially a Greg Swearingen fan. He captured Jemma's heart and soul in this illustration, and the setting is exactly right, too. 


Now I only have to wait until spring 2009 to see this beautiful baby in book stores!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Braeside School Visit

I had a terrific afternoon at Braeside School in Highland Park. I was the keynote speaker at their wonderful annual Writer's Conference. This program is outstanding! Librarian Anne Shimojima runs the whole thing. All the fourth and fifth graders wrote and revised stories in their classes. Anne read every story and divided the kids up into groups of eight. Then she sent those manuscripts to professional writers who volunteered to read and critique the stories ahead of time. There was a Newsweek reporter, Chicago Tribune sportswriter, fiction writers, non-fiction writers, etc. 

Today, we all had lunch together, I did a little presentation, and then we broke off into our critique groups. Lucky me... I got the best of the best manuscripts. I honestly was blown away by how talented the kids were. It was such a privilege to read their stories. I am 100% sure we will be seeing some of these kids in print someday. And besides all that, these were the nicest bunch of kids I think I've ever met. I had each child comment on the first page of everyone else's story. I didn't have to give them any kind of guidance. They simply heaped on the praise (commenting astutely on all the things I felt deserved complimenting!), and when they had something constructive to say, they worded their comments as gentle questions. I think the kids gained so much from the experience! And so did I!

Meanwhile... I'm guilty of no progress at all on my first draft of Novel #3. Today I was busy with karate and the school visit. Yesterday was just crazy. But tomorrow I have critique group. Hopefully that will help me get back on track.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Dream Job

I often tell people how lucky and blessed I am to be a children's book author. It is definitely a dream job. But I have a secret. I'm dreaming of a different job. I'm dreaming of becoming a professional reader. 

Can you imagine if that job really existed? If someone paid you to read?? How fun and easy would that be?! 

I just finished reading through the May/June issue of The Horn Book Magazine, and I circled all the books I want to read: 6 picture books and 15 novels. 

I would love to take the summer off and just read! But alas, I have a novel to write. And the truth is, I want to finish a first draft this summer. I hate first drafts!!! I am the world's slowest writer. And I can't read while I'm writing a first draft. I need to totally focus on my characters and their stories, even in my down time. Also, I am the Queen of Procrastination when it comes to first drafts. There's no better time to clean out your closets, rearrange your office, or surf the net than when you have a huge, scary first draft to write. Right?

So here's the plan: I will make a list of all the books I want to read. And as soon as I finish that draft, I will gorge myself on every single one of those books! And to keep me honest, I will post my writing progress here. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Countdown to Summer

Some people think of Memorial Day as the beginning of summer. I think it's more complicated than that.

There are eight more mornings to get my kids off to school.
There are twelve days (counting weekends) until school is officially over.
There are eighteen days until Jacob and Faith leave for overnight camp.
There are twenty-four days until Sammy leaves for camp.

But today I happen to have a day with just about nothing on my calendar. The kids are at school. I have a few errands to run. But mostly, I plan to write all day. 

Deep sigh of gratitude!

Monday, May 19, 2008

I've been tagged.

I've been tagged by Jill Esbaum!

What were you doing 10 years ago?
Best guess... changing a diaper.

What are 5 things you need to do today?
1. Go to karate.
2. Babysit niece.
3. Get estimate to fence backyard for future dog.
4. Take son to doctor for check-up.
5. Write? Oh yes... write!

What are some snacks you enjoy?
Anything chocolate

What would you do if you were a billionaire?
Spend a year sitting on a beach reading. Then I'd figure out how to make the world a better place with all that cash!

What are 3 bad habits?
1. I hardly ever make my bed.
2. I check my e-mail way too often.
3. I constantly play with the edges of the pages of whatever I'm reading.

Name 5 places you have lived:
1. Highland Park, Illinois
2. Ann Arbor, Michigan
3. Chicago, Illinois
4. Austin, Texas
5. Deerfield, Illinois

What are 5 jobs you've had?
1. French-fry maker at Boardwalk Fries (best fries ever)
2. Ice cream scooper at Stucchi's (best ice cream ever)
3. Script typist and proofreader at Leo Burnett (first job out of college)
4. Production assistant (my job was to pick up dog poop for the dog in the commercial)
5. Children's book author (by far the best job ever, not counting being a mom!)

Who do you want to tag?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bucket List

Eve, over at the Disco Mermaids, posted about her "Bucket List," or the things she wants to do before she "kicks the bucket." She's quite an adventurous gal! I'm not so much. 

Here's mine:
Get married X
Have children X (times three!)
Write a novel X
Get it published X
Visit Europe
Go on an African safari
Visit Australia
Meet Judy Blume X (she's amazing!)
Earn my black belt in karate (I got my purple today!)
River raft through the Grand Canyon
Go rock climbing X
Train a puppy (coming soon!)
Own a second home on a beach somewhere
Have drinks with Brad Pitt and George Clooney
Celebrate my 60th wedding anniversary (coming in 2050!)

And here are some things that are on lots of people's Bucket Lists that don't interest me in the slightest:
Go skydiving (Jacob and Faith are planning to do this when they turn 18 and I can no longer say no.)
Run a marathon (The most I ever ran at one time was two miles. That was plenty.)
Bungee jump (Does this need an explanation?)
Learn to fly a plane (There seems to be a theme here... I guess I'm not a fan of heights+motion)

What about you?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Doggie Decisions

I'm going to get a mini whoodle!! We've chosen a breeder, and now we just have to wait. This feels like I'm going through infertility again... but without the stress and anxiety. I should know in the next month whether or not Jordan (the mommy dog - I don't think I can say the b-word on my blog!) is pregnant. 

Here's a picture of Jordan:

Doesn't she kind of look like a small polar bear?

And here's Oliver, the dad:

Not so manly, but super cute! Barbara, the breeder, says he has the best disposition.

And here's what one of their puppies looks like at around 3 months old:

Have you ever seen anything cuter in your life?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Doggie Developments

(standard whoodle)
So now I think we're going to get a standard whoodle instead of the mini. But it all still depends on me meeting a whoodle and falling for her. That won't happen until June when we can get to the breeder. Then we may have to wait a long time for an available puppy. For now, I'm reading tons of books about dogs. I feel like I'm pregnant again. Today the kids and I started thinking about names. Jacob wants to name the dog Slagathor. Any Scrubs fans out there? You would get the reference. Sammy, Faith, and I are thinking about Lola. Or maybe Angel. Or Honey. Or Sugar. But today Lola is the front runner. I suppose we won't really be able to pick a name until we pick a puppy! Any suggestions for a shaggy cutie pie?

Monday, May 05, 2008

I've Gone Dog Crazy

I think I want a dog. I mean, I really think I want a dog! I'm trying so hard to convince myself I don't want a dog. But I do. I want a dog! I've never had a dog, and for some reason, it seems like I should have one. The dog I'm thinking about is a Mini Whoodle. Have any of you heard of that? It's a cross between a mini poodle and a soft coated wheaten terrier. It's so cute! It doesn't shed. And it's supposed to have a great temperament and be good with kids. I'd love to meet one in real life. If anyone knows of a mini whoodle in the Chicago area, please let me know.
So what do you think? Have I gone crazy, or should I get a dog? Can anyone talk me out of this?

Friday, May 02, 2008

A Tribute to My Grandmother

My wonderful grandmother, "Mommy Flo," passed away on Saturday. This beautiful picture is of Mommy Flo at my book launch party for Julia's Kitchen two years ago. Can't you just tell by those eyes and that smile that she was something special? Mommy Flo was 93 years young, and she taught me so much about how to live life right. For example...

1. Always tell the people you love that you love them.
2. Never speak badly about someone else.
3. Always give the benefit of the doubt.
4. If something is free, take it.
5. If something is on sale, buy two and give one away.
6. After you have children, don't forget to keep loving your husband.
7. Remember birthdays and anniversaries.
8. Don't complain about your aches and pains.
9. Get on a plane and be there to celebrate your family's milestones.
10. Be generous.
11. Make someone laugh.
12. Listen to beautiful music.
13. Sing and dance.
14. Be yourself.
15. Don't judge others.
16. Believe in love.
17. Create something beautiful
18. No matter how old you get, you can always learn something new.
19. Teach what you know.
20. Smile.

I am so lucky to have had Mommy Flo in my life for so long, and although her memory will live in my heart forevermore, I will truly miss her.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Recent Reading

I've been much pickier lately about the books I'll actually finish. Seems very little is giving me that can't-stop-reading feeling. I love getting carried away by a book, but if a book is just not for me, or not for me at this particular time, I will put it down and walk away, no matter how great the book is supposed to be. 

But... I did just read two terrific books:

SWEETHEARTS by Sara Zarr. I loved how she used a secret to create tension in this story. In fact, I'm going to write about it for my next Book Look column.

SOMEDAY THIS PAIN WILL BE USEFUL TO YOU by Peter Cameron. What a great coming-of-age novel. I read this in the car on the way to Florida, and I kept laughing out loud and reading excerpts to Alan. It's the story of James, a boy/man on the cusp of adulthood during the summer between high school and college. It made me laugh and cry and think about life... for me that's the mark of a great book. I hope it will be read by tons of teens as well as adults! 

So what are you reading? Do you have any recommendations for me?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Fan Mail Excerpt...

After I received a really cute letter from a 10-year-old fan, I wrote her back, and then she wrote this: 

Everyone wanted to read your letter when it arrived! Thanks so much for saying that I'm a good writer!!! You don't know how much this means to me, I mean, it's like writing to Hannah Montana!

How cute and funny is that??

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Life Stuff (as opposed to writing stuff)

Passover is coming. And although I enjoy the seders (big, long family dinners with yummy food and the story of the Exodus), keeping Passover for eight days is not so much fun! We are not that observant in our family, but we don't eat any bread or flour products. And let me tell you... flour seems to be in everything... especially birthday cakes! 

This year, Sammy's and my birthdays both fall during Passover. So to shake things up a bit, we had a surprise birthday party for Sammy last night (one week early). While Sammy was at Hebrew school, Jacob decorated the house with streamers. I baked a chocolate chip cookie cake. My parents and siblings and all their kids came over. We ordered pizza, and I made lasagna and a salad. I love that my family lives so close!

Sammy was totally surprised. And then when he saw that his grandparents and we had bought him the guitar he'd been wanting, he was one happy twelve year old kid!

Speaking of instruments, Faith and I saw her clarinet teacher play in a concert over the weekend, and now Faith is totally inspired to be a musician when she grows up. 

And Jacob quit his drum lessons because he never liked to practice. But now we have that Rock Band video game, and he is playing the drums constantly for that. If only we could turn French and Language Arts into a video game...

Friday, April 11, 2008

My Workspace

I share my office with my whole family, but I have my own desk. It's almost always a mess. But I've been nesting! I bought desk accessories (never had them before), so now there's a place for everything. Yay! And check out my new awesome MacBook. Woo hoo!

I look out onto my street, so I get to see joggers and dog walkers all day long. I love seeing the different seasons out my window. And the kids walking to school. And the moms with their strollers. And the mail carrier. I love my mail carrier! Though, I have to admit, when I get too distracted by outside, I sometimes close my shades and focus, focus, focus.

Right above my window is this...

It's a quote that starts off JEMMA HARTMAN. One of my critique partners found this wall sticker and gave it to me for my birthday last year. Isn't that great?

Time to get to work at my very organized desk. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dear Birch Knoll/A Writer's Doubt

Today I was listening to some music when the beautiful Joni Mitchell song, "Both Sides Now," came on. All of a sudden I was transported back to my summers at Camp Birch Knoll. It's weird because I've mined those camp memories for the last couple of years while I wrote JEMMA HARTMAN, but for some reason I hadn't remembered that song. And all of a sudden... there it was.

We didn't sing "Both Sides Now" at camp, but we sang a song to that tune. 

The opening went like this:

Dear Birch Knoll it's hard to find
the words and music which combined
express the feelings in our mind
and thoughts we have of you.

I just sang the whole song for my daughter - a Birch Knoll girl herself, and even though she laughed at how badly I sang, she loved the sentiment. 

The thing is... this opening totally addresses my fear about JEMMA HARTMAN. What if I haven't found the right "words and music" to express my true feelings about camp? I hope I've captured the magic of camp. But I have no idea if I was successful or not. 

I remember being similarly anxious about JULIA'S KITCHEN. After the copy editing and before the book comes out, you've got this long period of time in limbo. You're not working on the book to make it better. But you have no idea if it will be well-received or not. How could you not worry just a bit? Perhaps this doubt is part of the creative process. What do you think?

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Next Chapter of My Life

These days I'm feeling like a pregnant Mom. Not that I'm having another baby! But I'm nesting. I want to clean out my closets, organize my office, get rid of every pile of cutter in my house. These are not normal urges for me. But in the last three weeks, my cat died, my house was robbed, and my beloved editor left FSG. I also finished the copy-edits on JEMMA HARTMAN and started working with Kathy Dawson at Harcourt on YUCKIEST DROOLIEST. I have a brand new laptop, a blank diary, and I've just picked out a new front door. 

Life is changing!

And I'm okay with that. 

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Stolen Diaries!

If you've read my website, you know I'm a huge fan of writing in a diary. I've been doing it since I was ten years old, and it's helped me in countless ways. A while back, I bought a safe to protect my diaries from fire -- and from curious children.

Last week while I was on vacation with my family, burglars broke into our home. Among other things, they stole my computer, my jewelry, and the safe with all my diaries!

The computer was backed up. The jewelry was insured. But my diaries!!! They're gone!

I am not sure if the burglars will be able to open the safe. It won't be easy. I picture them working for days and days on it, finally prying it open expecting to see jewels and cash, but instead finding a bunch of diaries! Ha! I'd love to see their faces then.

Actually, I'd love to see their faces in court. I am putting my faith in our police department. I hope they catch these thieves.

As for my diaries, I am sorry they are gone. But the act of creating them was more important than actually possessing them. I didn't go back and read them all that often. Still, it was comforting knowing my whole life was documented. I guess this is a lesson in letting go... a theme I write about quite often.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I Love Copy Editors

I've been carrying around my JEMMA HARTMAN manuscript for the last four days, pulling it out of its padded envelope and working on it in very odd places including a doctor's waiting room, the library, my daughter's basketball game, my son's volleyball game, and even while getting a pedicure. I could never do that if I was writing or revising. That takes way too much brain power and--for me anyway--silence. But I'm working on the copy editing, and that is fun, fun, fun!

You see, copy editing is really done by the copy editor. All I have to do is go through all the changes and ok them or alter them. That's easy work. But there are those pesky little questions the copy editor asks. For example: Why do the girls go to breakfast in their pajamas? (Answer: I don't know. They just do.) And...Is it really possible for Jemma to wake up to birds in late summer when birdsong is rarer? (Answer: Um, good question. Let me look that up on the web.) And... Wouldn't the girls come watch their friends in the sailing race? (Answer: Not if that means I have to rewrite an entire scene!)

But seriously, the copy editor is an amazing creature. She catches everything! Like calling a girl Tracey on one page and Tracy (no E) about a hundred pages later. Or in JULIA'S KITCHEN, the copy editor noticed I had Thunder the kitten eating from a can of tuna on one page and out of a bowl on another. Little mistakes like these are really hard for me to find because I am way too close to the story. If a copy editor hadn't called them to my attention, they'd be in my book forever. Ack!

Have you had a copy editor save you from making a dumb mistake? Or did something get by the editing process, and now you have to look at that glaring misstep every time you open your book? If so, leave me a comment. I'd love to hear your stories.