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