I’m not sure how to explain this video. Um….

It’s a bit of pre-Newbery/Caldecott dinner madness combined with Project Runway reactions. So it’s kind of silly and fun and you might get a charge out of watching it. The masterminds behind the piece are Maria van Lieshout, Jim Averback, and Betsy Bird helped, too.

They also posted longer bits from their interviews with people like Ambassador Scieszka, Mo Willems, Roger Sutton, Linda Sue, Park, Betsy Bird, John Green, Yuyi Morales, Matt Faulkner (who illustrated THANK YOU SARAH, and INDEPENDENT DAMES), Brian Kenney, Don Wood, Nathan Hale, Sid Fleischman, Ellen Hopkins, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, Susan Kusel and Jen Robinson, Samantha McFerrin, and Mark von Bargen. Very, very fun! Thank you Maria and Jim and Betsy!

Today’s goal: Write for 15 minutes.

Today’s mindset: silly.

Today’s prompt: Write a picture book. You have 16 two-page spreads and 500 words in which to tell a story. You need a character, a conflict, rising tension and resolution. Oh, and a beginning, middle, and end. The character needs to solve her own problem. Don’t spend much time describing how things look – the art will take care of that. Focus on action and dialog. Hint: verbs are your friend today.

Do not despair if it takes longer than 15 minutes to do this. My picture books take months and months. But you can get started today!


When maps don’t know where you are & WFMAD Day 15

No, we don’t live that far north.

While I would never want to live in Los Angeles, an upcoming art exhibition makes a trip tempting. Dave McKean’s work will be at the Merry Karnowsky Gallery 7/19-8/16.

From the comfort of your own home you can enter David Macinnis Gill’s ARC Giveaway Contest!

My desk is aswarm with note and books and articles, my head is buzzing with voices that I am trying to get down on paper. While I’m researching and writing, I’m making a little time to sketch a little, too. There are so many vivid images in this story, I’m trying to understand them in as many ways as possible.

Today’s goal: Write for 15 minutes. Maybe draw something, too.

Today’s mindset: seeking.

Today’s prompt: Write about a family secret. You can burn the paper when you’re done if you don’t want anyone to know. Or write about a family secret that you wish were yours. Or about a family secret in your character’s life that s/he doesn’t know about.


Stumbling and Balancing & WFMAD Day 14

Allow me brief rant about messing up.

Kids do it all the time. Teenagers are the lord and masters of messing up (though it makes them cringe and their face break out). By the time we get to be adults, most of us will do anything to avoid messing up because it’s embarrassing and horrifying.

We hide our mistakes, we blame others, we bury the shame by swilling beer, chowing down seven-layer dip, partaking in illegal substances, watching American Idol or Real World marathons, and pulling our hats down to cover our eyes. Because we feel bad when we mess up. We feel stupid and worthless.

But to be human is to mess up a lot.

So the choice is this – you either acknowledge that you are not human, which means you are an Immortal, which means you should feel like crap if you miss a day of writing or forget to change the oil in your car or blow off a date with your best friend. You’re Immortal – go back in time and fix it! And stop whining!

If you’re human, then you get a little break. The trick is to be honest with yourself, get up, dust yourself off, and go at it again.

Have you missed a couple of writing days this month? Had you planned on being published by now? Were you convinced that not only would you be published by now, the movie of your book would be out and you and JK Rowling would be taking your kids to Chile to go skiing in August?

Nothing wrong with that. Dreaming is the first step. But if you’ve fallen a little short of your goals, do not reach for the seven-layer dip and the remote. Dust yourself off and admit what’s not working. If the goal is really important to you, set another milestone (perhaps one that is a shade more realistic) and go back at it.

I have fallen way short of my running goals recently. I overtrained for the Lake Placid half-marathon and wound up with pissed off tendons and muscles in my calves and feet. I’ve taken almost a full month off from running to recover and I’ve spent about nine-tenths of that time yelling at myself. Which is ridiculous.

I”m going to try and start running again this week, but I know I need to be more balanced about my exercise. (Balance = a concept that eludes me; I usually go at a project a hundred miles an hour, then I crash and burn and wonder what went wrong.) I just bought a bike so I can crosstrain more and so my legs and feet will forgive me. I’d like to run another half-marathon in the fall, but I’m not going to obsess about it. The goal is to try and get in some kind of exercise every day, just like I write every day.

Me geeking out on my new ride.

Today’s goal: Write for 15 minutes without scolding self.

Today’s mindset: balanced.

Today’s prompt: Take a couple of minutes to evaluate how you’re doing on your writing goal for the year and if you need to recalibrate. “Write every day from now until December 31” is a reasonable, achievable goal. “Get an agent, score a four-book, six-figure contract based on this really good idea I have” is not reasonable.

Extra prompt – freewrite descriptions of clothing worn by your characters. Push for exquisite specific details about those jeans or that suit or her bra strap that tell us as much about the person as the clothes.


The Fog of Research & WFMAD Day 13

My head hurts. I overstuffed it with facts and dead bodies and ghosts yesterday.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

BH and I drove out to a couple of Revolutionary War sites and met with a man who has been studied the events that happened there his entire life. I took a million photos and asked half a million questions.

I’ve already done the background research for this novel and I have a pretty good sense of how the events in the character’s life unfold in conjunction with the historical events he’s caught up in. Now I’m doing the “boots on the ground” research: visiting sites and bugging the experts for the small details; the real-life stuff that many academic historians don’t put in their books, but that make scenes come to life for readers.

As always, going on location helped me see my story with new focus. We stood on the site of a ferocious battle. Cattails and grape vines are growing out of the dirt that was soaked with blood 231 years ago. Despite the heat, I shivered and had to fight back the tears.

The sense of time evaporates in places like that. It feels like the battle happened yesterday, or it’s about to happen in the next hour, or in the next five minutes. The enemy is ready to explode out of the woods without warning, tearing across the cattails and marsh grass. Musket balls will rain across the field, dropping horse and ox, biting into the trunks of the beech and ash trees that line the road. We and They will fight hand-to hand with bayonet blades and hunting knives and axes. Our muskets are used as clubs because there isn’t enough time to load and shoot. Fathers and sons and husbands and brothers will die in this forgotten bit of woods. The survivors will weep and dig shallow graves for the dead before hurrying away, knowing that the enemy is hiding in the shadows.

Then the cattails will start to grow again.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Right now it feels so close to me, I can feel the weight of this coat on my shoulders.

I’ll spend today putting my notes from the trip into the proper scenes. But if you’re looking for a WFMAD prompt, here it comes.

Today’s goal: Write for 15 minutes.

Today’s mindset: daring.

Today’s prompt: I’m calling this one Fork in the Road. List three significant choices you’ve made in your life, then list the alternative to that choice. Choose one of the paths you didn’t take, and write abut what might have happened if you had chosen that instead.

OR! List some of the life choices your character makes and change one of them. Write out how it affects the rest of the story; what are the unfolding series of consequences from that decision?


Write 15 Minutes a Day Challenge (WFMAD) – Day Eleven

Warning: cherry jam can be habit-forming. I am sneaking back to the orchard as soon as it opens for another fix. My works? A cherry pitter, clean glass jars, pectin, and a large vat of boiling water.

I keep misspelling cherry as “cheery.” There is subtext in that, I think.

Two recent blog bits saluted my new book, INDEPENDENT DAMES. The Columbus Dispatch reviewed it along with my friend Kay Winters’ COLONIAL VOICES (thanks, Kay, for the link!), and the editor from L.A. Parent had nice things to say, too.

Public Safety Interlude: I hate to sound like a nag, but sometimes I don’t have a choice. Wear sunscreen and stay away from tanning salons! Note to new readers: I had melanoma in 2002. Two spots were surgically removed, both Stage 1 cancer. I’m still figuring out how to tattoo the scars. I never visited a tanning salon but had a lot of sunburns as a kid. Now I am the Queen of Sunscreen.

Today’s goal: Write for 15 minutes, then find fresh cherries.

Today’s mindset: poetical.

Today’s prompt: Even if you never write poetry to be published, I believe you should dabble in the form. Poetry allows us to focus on language and rhythm much more than prose. Reading and playing with poetry with absolutely make you a better novelist.

Visit Poetry Daily and wander around a bit. Find a poem or a poet that you like and write your own poem in the same style or using the same theme. I took a workshop from Molly Peacock and am a big fan of her work. (She has a new book out!) If you can’t find another place to start, read her poem Pedicure. If the thought of writing a poem is too intimidating, write for fifteen minutes about how irritated you are with this stupid prompt. Or take a risk and fly on your words.