Confessions of a Children's Author

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Addicted to Books

I had the best of intentions this morning, really I did. I was going to return a couple of books to the library (one of which was the fantatic Storky by Debra Garfinkle), and pick up a few that I'd placed on hold. I walked there, considering it was a nice day for walking, and I wasn't going to be bringing that many books back with me. Yep, only a couple. That I already had on hold. Let's just say that letting me browse in a library is like letting a fashionista loose in Bloomingdales and telling them, "sure, take whatever you want--just get it back to us in three weeks." And I didn't even venture into the Adult Fiction department this time. So, just when my library pile had gotten down to five books, and I thought that as soon as I finish those I'll finally get to the ones I've actually bought over the past several months that are sitting on my bookshelf (not as much pressure to read those right away, since Bloomies...I mean, the library, doesn't need them back). On my nighttable alone are Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (I'd promised myself when it came out that I'd read it right away so I wouldn't hear any spoilers--by now, too late!), Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time, Rebel Angels, Flowers for Algernon (read this in 8th grade and loved it, bought it recently to re-read), The Secret Life of Lobsters (who can resist a non-fiction book about "the Mysteries of Our Favorite Crustacean"??), and The Shadow of the Wind (a "grown-up" book that someone recommended). Every time I reach for a tissue or my water glass or to turn my alarm off, I'm afraid that book tower will come tumbling down, but I keep telling myself not to put them away because I'll get to them soon (which, as we all know, is a relative term).

So, what did I succumb to today? Bucking the Sarge and The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963, both by Christopher Paul Curtis (I thought his Bud, Not Buddy was brilliant), Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata (my goal is to read every Newberry winner and honor book), and Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson (loooooooooooved Speak). So, my library pile is back up to twelve. Harry Potter must wait yet again...

I've realized, though, that with access to the library (and the fact that I can have any book in their system transferred to my local branch--though sometimes I'm far down on the hold list...for Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, I'm currently 523 in the queue--which is actually an improvement from my initial place in line, which was 734), that I'm reading a lot more than I would without. For one thing, neither my wallet nor my already-bursting bookcases would be able to withstand the steady onslaught of books if I bought all the books I've read lately instead of checking them out from the library. For another, as evidenced by how poor Harry and Stanford and the lobsters get pushed down my priority list, if I didn't have a deadline to read some of these books, I fear that I just wouldn't make the time to read as often as I do. As it is, I try to set aside some time each night to read in bed before I go to sleep (DH has started to do this more often, too, re-reading the Narnia books for the first time in many years--a Christmas gift from his thoughtful wife, of course...).

I guess I don't know too many people besides me who could be perfectly happy in a book or music store for several hours...without even buying anything. I guess I'm not the only book addict out there, though--I just read about an author named Markus Zusak who, as of 2005, was attempting to read 52 books in 52 weeks...and then write a book about it. I can't even imagine attempting that. I wonder if he did it...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Feeling Peevish

Maybe it's because I'm still ticked about seeing "King Kong" on Sunday (I'm so annoyed that part of me wants to write a letter to Peter Jackson, not just demanding back my $9.50, but also the three hours of my life that I wasted while watching his dreck of a movie), but today I thought I'd air out some of my writer's pet peeves.

1. Just because I don't get a regular paycheck for my work-in-progress, it doesn't mean my writing is not "real" work.

Case in point: Sister-in-law A (I have several of them) once asked me, "So, are you still at home writing, or did you get a job yet?" Inferred subtext: "when are you going to get off your butt and earn a paycheck like the rest of us working slobs instead of sitting around eating bon bons?" Huh. I don't even like bon bons, anyway--I prefer Junior Mints.

2. Writing is not as easy as some people think.

I'm not saying I'm hammering out a plan for world peace or doing rocket science, but apparently some people think that "writing" is just a matter of sitting down with a pen and paper (or computer) and that everyone can do it. Truth is, NOT everyone can do it. I'm not even saying I can do it that well sometimes, but it is a craft, and I am working on it, and I like to think that I have some idea of what I'm doing. Case in point: Sister-in-law B has a friend who asked me what I do. "I'm a childeren's writer," I replied. Sister-in-law B then pipes up, "Yeah, we have more than one writer in the family--Sister C has written stories, too." Inferred subtext: "hey, what you do isn't so hard--even my sister, who has stories stashed in her closet somewhere, can call herself a 'writer'." Well, at the risk of sounding like a snob, I would say there's a difference betweeen someone who has written something for their own enjoyment and someone who is honing their craft and striving toward it being a full-time career. And I am the latter.

3. Just because I don't have anything published yet doesn't make me less of a writer.

Whenever someone asks me what I do, I'm always a bit hesitant to say "children's author" or "children's book writer", because the next question is invariably "Do you have anything published?" More often than not, after I say "Not yet," the person's eyes glaze over and they say "Oh." Inferred subtext: "if you don't have anything published, then you can't really call yourself a writer." Well, yes I can--I write, I'm trying to get published, and I believe in myself enough to think I will at some point...which leads me to the next peeve:

4. For most people, it doesn't take five minutes to sell your manuscript.

Yes, there have been stories of people being plucked out of the slush pile, or they have their first manuscript end up in a bidding war and sell for six figures, but more often than not, I've heard of people sending their manuscripts out for years, rejection letters piling up, or their third manuscript selling before their first. Did you know that the movie "E.T." got turned down by multiple studios before Universal decided to make it (and we know how that worked out for them)? Sometimes it just takes getting your project into the hands of someone who has an appreciation and a passion for it. So, to all those well-meaning friends and family who constantly ask me such questions as "Did you sell your book yet?" no, I haven't, but that doesn't mean it's not good, and it doesn't mean I'm not really a writer (see peeves 1-3). And just because I sell it doesn't mean it will be on the shelves of the local Barnes and Noble right away, either--I've heard of novels being released almost 4 (four!) years after the manuscript was purchased--and it can take even longer for picture books. All I can say is, someday...

There, that wasn't too bad, was it? My peeves didn't even take up one hand (in fact, you don't even have to use your thumb). Now, off to be a writer...

Friday, January 13, 2006

Little Things

So, yesterday was a contrast in opposites, in that I learned that there can be little good things and little bad things. (Duh, right?) I mean, little things that can REALLY piss me off, or little things that can make me think, "so this is why I'm so glad I'm alive!" Cases in point:


Yesterday I went grocery shopping, which in itself can be filled with good and bad little things (helping someone reach something on a top shelf--good thing; person on cell phone blocking the whole aisle with their cart while they tell someone about their great date the night before--bad thing), but yesterday was the best (worst?) bad little thing in a while. I got the things from my list relatively unscathed (and saved almost $5 on store specials of things I was buying anyway--don't you love when that happens?), and walked out to my car...just in time to see the man who was parked next to me finish putting his groceries in his car, then push his cart away. Not away to the cart corral thing. Not away to the front of his car in that certain spot where the fronts of cars parked facing each other meet and there's usually enough room for a cart and for people to still get in and out of the spots (oh come on, you've all left your cart in that spot at least once, haven't you?). No, he wheels it away from his car and positions it directly behind my back bumper. Which makes a lot of sense...well, not to me, but maybe to someone in Backwardsland. So I blurt out, "Excuse me, you'll have to move that cart. I can't get my car out." So the stupid jer...I mean, elderly gentleman, does what anyone would do--turns and glares at me like I'm speaking Martian. I then repeated myself, a bit more forcefully (sans profanity, though), and he mutters something. "EXCUSE me??" I asked. "I said just a second!" he said, like I asked him to disrobe and dance the hokey pokey. He finally moved the cart, and I got in my car and got out of there before he could key my door or something.

Now, I am not usually a confrontational person (I said USUALLY--ask me what happened when a girl pushed her way through the line to get ahead of us at a theme park recently), but the sheer idiocy/lack of consideration of this guy before my very eyes just astounded me. So, yes, the ratio of the positioning of a shopping cart to how angry it made me is my example of a Bad Little Thing.


Also yesterday, I took a bit of time out of my day to finish up a book that was two days overdue to the library (The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer--excellent!), because I was more done than not and I couldn't bear to not finish it just because I couldn't renew it, so it cost me .50 in fines (a small price to pay for the joy of reading a great book, I think). So, I was sitting on my couch, no TV and no music--so I wouldn't be distracted and could just READ--and one of our cats decided to join me on the couch, a cushion away (she's like a teenager sometimes--"I want to be near you but not THAT much"). Then another one of our cats climbed up between me and the first cat, curling up against my leg. She's not usually very cuddly, so it was a particular treat for her to deign me with her presence. Then, to my great surprise and pleasure, our third cat, who's even less cuddly than the second cat, decided he needed some "mommy time," and proceded to climb onto my lap and happily make biscuits (you know, when kitties are happy and contented and they knead whatever's in front of them that reminds them of nursing on their moms when they were little). Then, he started making biscuits on his nearby sister, who in turn turned to the first cat and started licking her head.

So I'm sitting in my quiet living room, curled up with a good book, purring kitty on my lap and surrounded by other kitties, a lawn mower droning outside that reminded me of spring childhoods, for some reason, and I thought, "this is the perfect moment." Which is why it was a Good Little Thing.

And I started working on my novel again, which is a Great Big Thing--for me, anyway.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Getting Started (again)

Yes, it's been a long time since I've posted. I've convinced myself no one has really noticed, anyway. But just in case someone has, I'm back now. I just sort of jumped onto my computer right now before I could make up any more excuses as to why I should continue to put it off: being intimidated by reading other great writers' interesting and roaringly funny blogs; not feeling like I have anything worthwhile to say at the moment; having too many other things to do; and simply not feeling like it. But I'm back. If Meg Cabot can work on umpteen books a year and still have time to blog, if Jane Yolen can work on umpteen-squared books and deal with her husband's illness and still have time to blog, if Laurie Halse Anderson can go to a multitude of school appearances and conferences and still have time to blog, then so can I. No matter that I've been through some trying and emotionally busy times lately, no matter that I've had on-and-off writer's block and have despaired that my work may never be "good enough"--stop whining and start writing!!!

That's all for now...I better post this before I convince myself that I should write something more brilliant and put it off any longer! Welcome back, me!