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1. Bookmaps and Storyboards using Photoshop. Part 1-Why digital tools?


In January I gave a series of talk at Kindling Words east and can now share a bit of what I talked about during the breakout sessions with the illustrators. May 27th will mark the release date of Sleepytime Me by Edith Fine, my next book with Random house so it best to focus on this title for this series of posts.

First I need to address the question of why I am using digital tools. Not for myself, but because I am asked...all the time. Technique and materials are really of little interest to me. Photoshop is a tool. Pastels and charcoal are tools. I am more interested in what you create with them. However, the question is always in the air so I will give you the cliff notes version of my thinking on the debate.


I started using photoshop when I began work as a visual development artist working on animated films and have found the program to be an invaluable tool in my book production work. First a quick note to all the skeptics who ask: "Don't you miss traditional materials?"Quick answer: No. While there is a learning curve, I have been able to customize my tools to create a process that not only replicates my traditional technique but removes many of the limitations of working in pastel and acrylic. Here are two examples of work. The one on the left is from my pastel work on the Redwall  picture books, the image on the right is a detail from my book due out at the end of August 2014,  Baking Day at Grandma's by Anika Denise. The image on the right was created using only digital tools.


I am impatient with my art. I work best when I can act and react. With digital tools changing the piece as it begins to emerge is far easier and I can get to the fun stuff faster. The goal is not necessarily to shorten the production time, though in this day  of ever tightening deadlines and shrinking advances this is clearly a very good byproduct. The goal is to get as much of original inspiration down on the page as possible. With digital tools, I can cut right to the chase and then have the flexibility to edit, change, and repaint the piece to suit the needs of the entire book.

In the next post I will focus on the previously time consuming process of creating a bookmap with Photoshop.

0 Comments on Bookmaps and Storyboards using Photoshop. Part 1-Why digital tools? as of 3/17/2014 2:15:00 PM
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2. Why retreats matter

at Kindling Words West 2011On Sunday I'll be flying to New Mexico for the Kindling Words West retreat. I can't wait.

Retreats have always been an important part of my writing. When I lived in Florida, I went on a few with writing friends--to the beach and to a cabin in the woods. My critique partner and I have had our own cabin and house retreats, too. And then there is Kindling Words, which I can't recommend highly enough. 

I like retreats for a few reasons. The first is that I typically get a ton of work done. I revised an entire draft of DROUGHT at Kindling Words West, one year. But even more important is the chance to talk about craft and life and creativity with other writers. We are so often stuck in our own little holes, without face-to-face contact with other people who are the same flavor of crazy. Social media helps, but you can't beat sitting down to dinner with four other authors. We don't always "talk shop"--we might talk about someone's chickens, or our favorite television shows, or the best places to hike. But there is always an undercurrent of understanding and belonging. At retreats, I get to hang with my tribe. That nourishes me.

Retreats also give me the chance to be entirely my creative self. I don't have to wear my work hat, or my mommy hat (thought I miss my kid tremendously), or worry about any other Grownup Necessity. I can play. I can be the same core self I've been since I was five or six. Sometimes I forget that girl is in there. 

But a retreat always brings her back. 

I'll be sure to post a retreat report upon my return.

 

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3. My First Trip to Europe

Dining Hall, Christ Church College, Oxford

I come from people who don’t travel overseas except in uniform. Or in chains. My ancestors came here a long time ago—mostly from England, Scotland, and Ireland—likely in chains. Once here, they pretty much stayed put. And it never occurred to me that I would be among the first to break through the family inertia.
Susie in Oxford Garden
            I worked my way through college in a minimum wage office job. In those days, a person could pay for college that way if she lived at home and went to dollar  movie nights at the university. Me, I was paying my tuition and also saving up money to get my teeth straightened, something my parents couldn’t afford.
            And then my friend Susie suggested that I go with her to Europe.
            She had signed up for an English literature tour through the university, and also planned to travel the Continent on the cheap, with a Eurail pass and a series of  $5 and $10 a night hotels.
            Cheap was still extravagant to me. But I did it anyway. I took that orthodontics money and squandered it on a trip to Europe.
It was the best decision I ever made. It changed my life.
Ralph Sykes and Bus
In England, we traveled in a little bus that could get to those narrow places that history happens.

3 Comments on My First Trip to Europe, last added: 3/26/2012
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4. Kindled - but in a good way

This is a seriously overdue blog, since I got back from Kindling Words almost two weeks ago. But the minute I got back I got the third pass proofs for LIFE, AFTER, with a deadline and then the political blog I wrote for shuttered so I moved to another one and then I was determined to tackle my taxes.

But...*takes deep breath* as always, taking those few days in Vermont with some of the brightest and thoughtful writers and illustrators and editors around left me inspired and re-kindled and invigorated for another year of writing and creating.

When you spend your days in a basement lair, your only contact with people through the virtual water coolers of Livejournal, Facebook and Twitter (and we spent a lot of time talking about how to manage the TIME SUCK and actually WRITE) it was so, so, so, unbelievably wonderful to be able to hug the actual people. Like [info]writerross :

From Blogpics


And here's me with two of the Hot Men of Children and YA Lit: Mark Shulman and [info]eluper Eric Luper.



They aren't just hot, they're two of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet.

It's funny, with all the hoo-ha going on between Amazon and MacMillan, I was hesitant to even use the word "Kindle" in terms of my positive experience at KWE - it's like it started to have connotations of the Dark Forces. But then I thought, "Hey, Kindling Words was a force for creative energy and inspiration before slashing the prices of e-books was a twinkle in Jeff Bezos'eye!" So there, Amazon. "I fart in your general direction."


One of the best things that came out of KW this year was a heartfelt and passionate discussion about multiculturalism and race in KidLit - an issue that was already being discussed in the Kidlitosphere in the wake of Bloomsbury's treatment of the LIAR cover.

All of us emerged from the experience determined to make a difference, and you can expect to hear more about that, hopefully sometime in the near future.

I've consciously tried to keep my politics out of this blog, but I was horrified beyond measure by Tom Tancredo's opening speech at the Tea Party convention in which he attacked "the cult of multiculturalism, aided by leftists, liberals all over who don't have the same idea about America as we do."

As Rosalia, one of the characters in my upcoming novel LIFE, AFTER says "What about ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free’? It

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5. Kindling Words Inspiration

I spent this past weekend at Kindling Words, a retreat for children's writers, illlustrators, and editors.  It was four blissful days of workshops, group meals, and talking with other people who discuss fictional characters with the same passion as if they were real family members or friends.  And writing.  Lots of writing. 

I didn't take many photos this year, but I came away from the long weekend with two picture book drafts that are now complete, a chapter one of a new maybe-project, and a middle grade mystery that is many hours closer to ready than it was before I checked into the inn.  Thanks to my KW colleagues, I also came away with some new thoughts on writing goals, the future of the industry, and the vital role that imagination will play in that future. Good things, all.


Me, Laurie Halse Anderson, Kathryn Hulick, and Loree Griffin Burns


The Kindling Words Bonfire, in which rock-solid marshmallows were roasted (it was -3 that night!) and little slips of paper were burned, sending dreams up to the universe in smoke.

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6. LA getting RealTalk in May; Good News

Denver teatro readings.
East LA Rep extends Black Butterfly run.
Tia Chucha's reopening

RealtalkLA Launches magazine to hit streets in May.

Watch out Tu Ciudad! There's a new lifestyle magazine coming to town and it's pointing in your direction. The big difference is RealTalk LA is a free monthly magazine and website that intends to carve its nickle out of the LA Times, LA Free Press, Pasadena Weekly.

Publisher Jay Levin and staff threw an open house recently to launch the magazine. Located a mile north of the Spring Street headquarters of the Los Angeles Times, the old industrial building has been spiffed up into a modern-day information factory.

A magnificent stage set painting by Margaret Garcia greets the visitor to Real TalkLA's studio. It's a warren of spaces partitioned into ten foot walls. Bundles of cable snake their way in the shadows at the walltops. Muy high tech place, a web and print design studio like this. A panorama of Garcia's larger paintings lines the corridors. I turn a corner and there is Margaret and her prima Cookie.

Real Talk LA's web executive Kamren Curiel admires Garcia's work and took the opportunity to sit at the tequila tasting table and chat about Curiel's collection. Publisher Jay Levin stopped at Margaret's table to say "hello." Culture Clash's Ric Salinas arrived a few moments later, and the actor and publisher shared a few quick laughs.

Real Talk LA is not Chicana Chicano media, but it'll have an influence and be influenced by. The target audience is 600,000 mid-twenties to low fifties second and third generation ethnics of all flavors. Gente who pump at family rates around $70,000 a year into the local advertisers' pockets.

In Los Angeles, this is code language for a lot of Mexicans. The publisher knows Black and Asian communities make up a lucrative chunk of Real Talk LA's market. Given the look and feel of the launch, there's almost a guarantee of better diversity here, than say, the LA Times, whose westside bias censors arts coverage of the Northeast and Eastside of town. Lastima. Pendejos. And with color and polished paper covers, a better value than newsprint, so wacha LA Free Press and Pasadena Weekly.

Advertising positioned in a package like this gains instant credibility. Levin's slick package has the gloss and high style to make the product sizzle, in so far as the team can put forth a quality piece month after month after month. The temptation to lean to the west, toward Hollywood must loom in the editor's mind.

Levin has good people working with him. Culture Clash, for example, is discussing a monthly humor and culture column, according to Salinas. La Bloga hopes the magazine and website will feature monthly literature and reading columns. Real Talk LA's staff will be the secret ingredient. Judging by the open house, most of these are: Young. Attractive. Dynamic go-getters. I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do.

mvs

Denver Troupe Brings Teatro to the Frontrange

email from the Troupe to Manuel Ramos...

Su Teatro announces Spring Reading Series

El Centro Su Teatro proudly announces its Spring Reading Series—a vehicle for new play development aimed at discovering and nurturing new and innovative playwriting talent through live reading, examination, discussion, and critique.

The Spring Reading Series will kickoff Wednesday, March 28 at 7pm at the Laughing Bean Café on 10th and Santa Fe, and the series will continue each Wednesday through April 18—same time, same place. Su Teatro company actors and guest artists will read the select playscripts and audience members will be invited to participate in talkback discussions.

Leading off the series will be “Braided Sorrow” by Marisela Treviño Orta—a poetic meditation on the unsolved murders of female maquiladora workers in Ciudad Juarez. “Braided Sorrow” won the prestigious 2006 University of California Irvine Chicano/Latino Literary Prize, and it will receive a full production this fall, kicking off Su Teatro’s 2007-2008 35th Anniversary Season.

“Braided Sorrow” will be followed by “Las Monedas de Ismael” by Aaron Vieyra (April 4), “The Kinetic End” by Valarie Castillo (April 11), and “El Blanco” by John Kuebler, which was a finalist for the 2007 Rocky Mountain Theatre Association Playwriting Award (April 18). All four plays explore contemporary themes that challenge our beliefs and test our resolve, including economic exploitation, alcoholism, terminal illness, and identity politics.

For more information about Su Teatro’s Spring Reading Series, please contact El Centro Su Teatro at (303) 296-0219 or readings@suteatro.org. Also visit www.suteatro.org, www.myspace.com/elcentrosuteatro, and www.myspace.com/thelaughingbeancafe


East LA Rep captivated everyone who saw its staging of Sandra Cisneros' House on Mango Street.

EAST LA REPERTORY THEATRE COMPANY PRESENTS...

Black Butterfly, Jaguar Girl, Pinata Woman and other Super Hero Girls, Like Me.

created by Luis Alfaro
written by Maria Elena Cervantes, Sandra C. Munoz, & Marisela Norte

Feb 23 - April 1, 2007
Friday & Saturdays @ 8 pm
Sundays @ 3 pm

Admission: $8-20 Sliding Scale

El Gallo Plaza Theater
4545 E. Cesar Chavez Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90022

For info and to RSVP please call (323) 276- 1868
jcarrillo@eastlarep.com
www.eastlarep.com or www.myspace.com/eastlarep


The upsanddowns of bricks and mortar indie bookstores have more ups than downs this week, in news from the San Fernando Valley...

email from Luis Rodriguez to Daniel Olivas

>
Come to Tia Chucha's Grand Opening of our New Space -- March 31
Grand Opening of Tia Chucha's New Space -- March 31 from 4 to 8 PM

I'm glad to invite everyone to the grand opening of Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural this Saturday, March 31, from 4 to 8 PM. It will be at the new space that we've finally painted and organized after we were forced to vacate our old store/center in Sylmar (the new location is only 10 minutes away from there).

This will be an easy-going evening of food, poetry, raffles, and presentations by our instructors and some of their students from our various workshops, including Son Jarocho Mexican traditional music, Guitar, African Drumming, DJing, Reiki Healing, Danza Azteca, Mexikayotl Indigenous Cosmology, and more. Books will also be on sale as well as sign-ups for our events and workshops.

Your humble servant will be your host.

We will also be starting our regular schedule for "Noche Bohemias" (guitar, song, and poetry, mostly for our Spanish-speaking community), Open Mic (poetry, Hip Hop, Song for anyone), Film, and more (this schedule will be available on Saturday).

The new space is nice and clean, located at 10258 Foothill Blvd., Lake View Terrace, CA 91340 (on the corner of Foothill and Wheatland, in front of the Number 91 Bustop). Our new phone number is 818-896-1479.

Please join us as we try to re-weave the amazing tapestry of song, dance, words, theater, art, and ideas that temporarily unraveled with our move. However, we have the regenerative power as community to start anew, to continue our important work, and to prepare for better days ahead. You'll love our new space.

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7. Kindling Words

What do you get when you take 75 people who care passionately about writing, illustrating, and editing children's books, put them together for four days, feed them a lot, and build a blazing fire on a cold January night?

Magic.



I'm home from Kindling  Words, full of inspiration, ideas, new friendships, and rich desserts.  Homemade ice cream and pastries aside, this was an amazing weekend.

Laurie Halse Anderson's author strand on character and plot and Linda Sue Park's talk on scene as the bedrock for story were inspirational and immediately practical. When I sat down to write after each session, it felt like Laurie and Linda Sue were there over my shoulder, whispering in my ear, "Remember, make him uncomfortable..." and "Do you really want all that internal monologue?"  (Linda-Sue-Over-My-Shoulder thought not, so I cut a lot of it.)

The retreat also left room for informal "white space" discussions, and I had the chance to connect with friends and meet so many amazing, talented writers, illustrators, and editors whose work I've admired for so long.



Jane Yolen and Linda Sue Park catching up in the lobby...



I was thrilled to see Rochester Book Festival pals Kathleen Blasi (left) and Sibby Falk (right), and just as excited to meet Cinda Williams Chima (center), who not only writes but sings beautifully, too.

Hey, [info]elizabethcbunce...  Look who else I met!



That's me on the left, next to Cheryl Klein, Elizabeth's editor for A Curse Dark As Gold, which comes out in March.  I enjoyed chatting with Cheryl because we discussed weighty matters like books and whether chocolate or caramel sauce would be better on the brownie sundaes.



Here's LJ pal Sarah Darer Littman ([info]saraclaradara) with Wendy Mass...



...along with Laurie Halse Anderson, Linda Sue Park, and Gregory McGuire.



Patricia Thomas (left) celebrated her birthday at KW on Sunday.  That's Michelle Edwards in the middle and Janni Lee Simner ([info]janni) on the right.  Janni's stories about Iceland make me want to book a flight there immediately.



I also met Katie Davis for the first time and was in awe of her energy.  I've been called hyperactive.  Katie makes me look like I'm standing still.



And here's Donna Freitas with Sara Zarr.  I emailed Sara back and forth a couple times this month because I'm hosting a stop on her blog tour, but it was just last week that we figured out we were both going to the same retreat.  It was fantastic to chat with her in person.

It might sound sappy to say it, but everyone was nice here.  And interesting.  And talented. Everyone.  I wish I had photos of each person whose path crossed mine over the past four days.  (If you're a fellow retreater and I didn't catch you before the blog-cam ran out of batteries, please know that I loved meeting you, too!)

Here's a huge group shot from the Kindling Words Caravan at Phoenix Books.  More than 40 authors & illustrators signed books for kids and their families Thursday night.



Super thanks to Natacha, Renee, & Mike at Phoenix for taking on this enormous event!



I made one more cold and shaky attempt at a group photo during the actual retreat.  (Be gentle with the photography criticism. It was dark and I had climbed onto a big slippery rock.)



Here we are, all bundled up for the traditional KW bonfire.  There's a longstanding tradition here that retreat-goers write down something on a piece of paper -- something they need to let go of, or a wish -- and then drop it into the flames. 

On the way to the fire, one author worried aloud about people putting them both in the same fire.  What if you wrote the title of your novel on the paper as a wish that it would sell, but the Universe thought you wanted it gone and erased your hard drive while you were off roasting marshmallows?  I suggested that the bad things would all filter quietly down into the ashes, while the good things were carried off on the smoke to the writing goddesses.  Maybe, she said.  Then she labeled her paper WISH, with an arrow pointing to it.  Just in case.

Here's my wish on its way to the flames...



I won't tell you what it said, but I'll let you know at the end of 2008 if it came true. 

I'll share some other wishes, though -- staying in touch with the wonderful people I met this week and returning to fan the flames at Kindling Words again.  It was truly a magical gathering of wisdom, wishes, and words.

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8. ReKindled

Well, I'm back from another wonderful, refreshing, rejuvenating, inspiring Kindling Words retreat. I can quite honestly say that KW saved my writing life the first time I went in January 2006. Back then I was miserable and depressed, having had several ideas for a second book rejected, and was starting to feel like the first book was a fluke and I'd never write another.

Thanks to some stellar advice from some wise and special writers (mostly during 6am workouts in the miniscule gym) I realized that I had to get back in touch with my process and write the book I needed to write, not what I was being told I should write.

So I did. I got a part-time day job to make ends meet, to remove a little bit of the desperation. And then I just wrote, without showing what I was working on to anyone. I worked on a novel based on a writing exercise Ellen Wittlinger had us do in her workshop. And that book became PURGE.

I spent a lot of this weekend working on the line edits and revisions for PURGE. I hadn't read it in many months, because I'd wanted to wait for the revision letter before I re-read it. The good news is that when I did read it again, I thought, "Wow. I can't believe I wrote this."

The bad news is that my next thought was: "Holy @##%^! I'll never be able to write something like that again."

But it's good to have insecure thoughts like that at a place like KW, because you're surrounded by extremely accomplished authors, most of whom will admit to feeling exactly the same way. As Laurie Halse Anderson, who lead the author strand, said, when she sits down to start a new book she realizes she lacks the tools to write that book. Every book requires a different tools. Some you might carry with you from a previous book, but inevitably you'll need to discover some new ones.

I love that image. I find it very comforting. I think I'll have to put it in neon letters above my workspace, every time I try to write another book.

Anyway, enough philosophy. I'll give you what you want, what you really, really want: PICTURES!!

This is one of my favorites:



We were heading up to the hospitality suite for some late night socializing when in the foyer of this New England inn I spotted...a MENORAH!

Of course I to have a picture taken of Hebes and the Menorah - L to R you'll see the amazingly fabulous Vera Williams, Kim Marcus [info]kmarcus, moi, and Pamela Ross [info]writerross. It was so wonderful to meet livejournal friends Kim and Pam in "real life".



On Saturday night, after the candlelit readings, we trekked out to the bonfire pit to cast our wishes into the Universe. I won't tell you what my wish was, but I'll let you know if it comes true.

here's the amazing Laurie Halse Anderson [info]halseanderson Nora Baskin, with whom I spent the 5 hours each way from CT to VT in the car talking non-stop, and the prolific and wise Jane Yolen. Jane gave me her name tag at the end of the retreat. I hope some of her talent rubs off.



Did I say that Laurie is amazing? Well, it bears repeating. What you should know is that I only look like I'm almost as tall as she is because she was bending heavily at the knees.



I was also thrilled to get the chance to meet the uber-cool and incredibly smart Cheryl Klein. I told her how psyched I was that she's going to be working with Gbemi (aka Mrs. Pilkington).



Ellen Wittlinger is the fairy godmother of my book PURGE. The pink button I'm wearing says " I look like myself" - Ellen had them made for her book PARROTFISH.





As always, I came home exhausted but inspired.

In other news, I'm happy to report that [info]the_webmeister survived a weekend of looking after my children.

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9. Dance Around the Fire

I'm home. Vermont was a dream come true. I didn't know how much I needed to kindle until I walked into the room and felt surrounded by soul comrades. My imagination is filled with so many images and reflections in this post-Kindling Words retreat state of mind. I wish I had a way to take it from here--pointing to head-- and put it here-- pointing to the screen. I believe we call this an info-dump in editorial circles.

Laurie Halse Anderson reached into a frightened place in my heart this weekend and found my faith again. She is my personal lightning bolt. May I be able to thank her one day for the gift of her words. To me and to us.

After our fireside readings Saturday night, we trudged through the soft snow to the traditional Kindling Words bonfire. My toes were cold despite my heavy boots and triple-layers of socks. But the companions and the music and the laughter and the spirit infused heat and light and love around the circle. I wrapped two pieces of paper into my gloved hands, closed my eyes, kissed the air and made offerings of these papers into the fire, praying for words to come true. My wishes danced slowly, sinking into the wood, and soon caught flame in the kindling. (It didn't hurt to be standing next to Jane Yolen while I made these wishes. Talk about a Fairy G-dmother in your midst.)

One wish was for me.
One was for all of you.

I shall return after I collect my thoughts.
Which are many.
Which are magical.


There's nothing better than being snowbound with writer friends. They bring out the best in me. Thank you, fellow Kindling friends, for dancing around the fire with me (and a special hug to Linda Sue Park for asking to sing Bruce's HUNGRY HEART with me... She knows the way to my heart, doesn't she?!) Long may the flames burn.



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10. slwhitman @ 2008-01-29T11:41:00

Since I'm short on time, I'll just point you to a couple other who have already posted about the weekend.

Pictures at [info]halseanderson and [info]kmessner.

Cheryl has a recipe from another editor that's to die for.

Oh, and an unexpected highlight--I met the author of a picturebook I'd enjoyed as a kid! I never knew it was written by Patricia Thomas until I saw the book in the KW library and remembered that this was the book I'd been trying to remember all those years. (I'd thought it was Horton Hears a Who until I read that book and realized it was nothing like "Stand Back," Said the Elephant, "I'm Going to Sneeze!" which was a big favorite of mine. An elephant warns his friends that they'd better back up, and I think they do (I'll have to look at it again), but eventually he sneezes and just blows everybody away. It's so funny!

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11. Those Legendary Kindling Words Meals (Make sure you watch this on an empty stomach) ;>

When you dine at the New England Culinary Institute, only the best will do.

Unfortunately, I was so busy working on my book I forgot how to dine among the good gentlemen and gentleladies of Kindling Words. I had to brush up on table manners before I walked into the dining room. No way was I going to be caught dead selecting the wrong fork in front of Gregory Maguire.

It's good to have good people looking out for you. My culinary consultant, Chuck, passed along these helpful, courteous hints-- and let me tell you, no one at Kindling noticed I was once a mouth-stuffer. ;>

Save this for future reference. You, too, could be guilty of putting your butter knife on the wrong plate.


This is how we do it: stretching the brain, putting fire in the fingertips, before the day begins





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12. Thankful Thursday

It's not quite Thursday, but I'm feeling thankful for:

...SNOW!!  We didn't get as much as expected (I think [info]jbknowles stole it all when the storm swung to the south), but it's still beautiful, and the skiing will be great this weekend.

...the delete button on my keyboard.
  I just finished a rewrite of a chapter book that my agent said needed to lose some weight before it sees the light of day.  
                Before:    15,300 words
                After:         9,988 words
 (She was right, too.  The new version is simpler, funnier, more universal, and more kid-friendly. One more revision pass, and I'll be ready send it off.)

...March Novel Madness, a get-moving, springtime writing project born at the Kindling Words retreat last month.  My goal is going to be 5000 words per week, which should carry me to the end of my new middle grade novel.  I'm especially thankful for the talented, organized, and fabulously fun  Alison James, who sent out inspiration packages to the writers participating in MNM.  Once I figured out that the lumpy envelope in today's mail wasn't anthrax, I was delighted to find a word count calendar and peanut M&Ms inside.

...a Map of the World to guide my March writing. 



At one of Laurie Halse Anderson's Kindling Words workshops, she discussed the importance of setting details -- and how hard it can be to "see" those details when you're writing a contemporary novel.  I have a much easier time with historical novels, when all the rich setting details come from my research on real places and time periods.  What's a writer to do with a neighborhood she made up?  Make a map?  That's what several writers suggested to me, so I sat down with colored pencils and a huge piece of poster paper and mapped Zig's neighborhood. 

It's all there -- the school, his best friend's house, the diner, the rock skipping spot...everything. Already, it's so much easier for me to envision the places that are part of his life.  It was really, really fun.  While I was drawing, I figured out something important about a secondary character's backstory and discovered some spots in the neighborhood I hadn't known about before.  Try this strategy!

Bonus for writers with kids at home:  They can do this right along with you.   E spent two hours adding details to her map of our neighborhood while I worked on mine.

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13. The fashion report, New York, and cameras

I'm sitting in my friend's New York apartment having just finished a rousing discussion on each of our personal existential crises. There's always something that makes you think, "What do I *really* want to do when I grow up?" isn't there? As things change, you have to adjust, and there's always some negotiation as you figure out how you fit in the bigger plan.

Also, I'm making chocolate chip cookies.



And finishing a critique (you know who you are! almost done!).

I was going to spend the afternoon at a museum or something, but it's rainy and slushy out, and I decided it was time to just sit and not be running around. Plus, the heel part of the sole came separated from the leather one of my shoes as I was taking it off last night. Random. But I think it's fixable. I just need to find a good shoe repair place at home. They're much less common in Orem than they are in bigger cities.



So as I was heading back to my friend's house from a quick visit to Alvina's office this morning, I stopped by at a Payless and found a cute pair of boots on sale, which makes me happy because I've been looking for boots. The shoes that broke are Mary Janes--cute, but impractical even if you're just running through the snow from the car to the house and vice versa, and even more so while running around New York in the slush.



But obviously they're new boots, and they have a little bit of a heel, so they need some breaking in to be comfortable for everyday wear. It was either them or a pair of flat white suede boots with really weird leather fringe trim, and that was just not happening.

But I'm happy to have some cute boots before I head up to Vermont, even if it's not the most practical thing to have un-worn-in boots, because they're calling for snow and I think I want to go out on the snowy trails. I wonder if there's snowshoe rentals up there? I had a great time earlier this month going snowshoeing with my friend in Utah. I don't believe I ever shared anything about it on this blog at the time, because I was still trying to figure out how to get the pictures off my phone. Well, here you go:



Yes, that is me falling over. It happened several times. Have you ever tried standing up again from snowshoes in five feet of snow? That tree behind me? It's the top limbs of the tree I fell in. It's normally at least 10 feet tall.

But that won't stop me from going again. It was a great workout--very invigorating. When I wasn't feeling how impossible it was to get back up from falling.







Also, while I'm at it, a fun shot I took with my cell phone at the Salt Lake Library. Boy, do I miss my good SLR! But it's fun to get some nice shots out of a little 2 MP camera.

If you ever get a chance to see the Salt Lake Library (the downtown branch), definitely check it out, by the way--it's gorgeous.

I just found a great point-and-shoot camera (Sony Cybershot, 8.1 MP), so at least I'll be able to get my snapshot fix while I work on replacing the good camera (and actually, the shoe and cookie shots are made with that camera). But I'm still sad and going through photography withdrawal.

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14. Kindling Words



This weekend, I attended Kindling Words, a retreat for published authors, illustrators, and editors of children's books.  KW is a little difficult to describe because the whole is so much more than the sum of its parts.  There were workshops and readings and informal discussion.  There was also painting, yoga, South African drumming, a January bonfire, writing time, and lots of dessert.  Together, it added up to four days of magic.




Keynote speaker and Renaissance man Ashley Bryan kicked off Friday night with amazing performance poetry.



Authors Sibby Falk, Kathleen Blasi, and Eric Luper


A Kindling Words community drum circle


That's Cinda Chima drumming on the left, Eric Luper on the right, and Janni Lee Simner with another nifty percussion instrument in the background.


Elizabeth Bluemle and Tracey Campbell Pearson



Mary Jane Begin, Christine  Taylor  Butler, Elizabeth Dulemba, and Rotem Moscovich


KW co-director Tanya Lee Stone


Author strand leader Nancy Werlin


KW Bonfire Magic... That's Alvina Ling of Little Brown in the gray coat with the hood, either warming her hands or conducting the chorus of campfire songs.



KW legend holds that a wish for the coming year tossed into the bonfire will come true.  This worked for me last year, so I found myself feeling very superstitious and made sure to bring my wish-paper to the fire again.


My critique buddy, Eric Luper, is the author of BIG SLICK and the forthcoming BUG BOY (FSG - July, 2009). Doesn't he look like he's wishing for July weather in this picture?


That's me on the right, smiling to be hanging out with Laurie Halse Anderson, who led last year's KW author strand.



Here I am with Ammi-Joan Paquette, who was my very first Kindling Words friend last year.  Her first picture book, A TIPTOE GUIDE TO TRACKING FAIRIES, comes out this spring with Tanglewood Press!


I took a seat next to this author at dinner the first night of the retreat, took a look at her name tag, and gasped.  "I read your book at least 700 times when my son was a toddler!"  This is Lindsay Barrett George, author/illustrator of IN THE WOODS: WHO'S BEEN HERE, which my son loved and asked for over and over and over again.  I am always so happy when the person behind a beloved book is as delightful as the book itself.



Another retreat highlight for me was meeting my brilliant editor for OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW, Melissa Manlove of Chronicle Books, who was here for the editor strand.  We've been working on our book together since last spring but hadn't met in person until I got in line behind her to check in on Thursday.


The retreat included big chunks of writing time, too.  This was my revision hangout, complete with a mascot (he stowed away after my Thursday school visit) to make threats.  "Get back to work or I will bite you!"

He even helped out with the revision from time to time when I needed a break.




Everyone is so helpful at Kindling Words!

A couple people were curious when I mentioned I'd take a ferry part of the way home today.  Someone (maybe Janni?) asked how the boats get through the ice on Lake Champlain.  They have ice cutters on the front, so there's  always a channel in the lake where the ferry passes.  It looks like this...





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On my drive home, I saw some snow kiteboarders out on one of Lake Champlain's frozen bays.  They were buckled into snowboards, holding tight to enormous, colorful kites and flying across the snow, their sails full of wind.  Heading home from Kindling Words, I knew exactly how they felt.

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15. Writer Rituals

I like hanging out with other writers. We usually begin by complaining about those things we CAN’T control—the price of necessities such as paper, ink, and food; the state of the publishing business; bad reviews or, worse, no reviews; rejection; spouses who expect that we actually make a living; and agents and editors who don’t put us at the center of their universe.
After we’ve worn that out, sometimes we discuss craft.

I like to ask my colleagues about their writing process, especially in those areas where we disagree (writer throw-down, anyone?)
I ask questions such as: Do you write in the early morning or the dead of night? Does your muse live at home, in a dedicated studio, at the beach, or at the local coffee shop? Do you write to music or demand silence? With or without chocolate? On the computer or in longhand on handmade paper? Mac or PC? Times New Roman or Courier?
Do you seek critique from others, or does early feedback kill your creative spirit? Do you like to travel in a pack or seek isolation?
Do you do extensive outlining and preparation before you sit down to write, or do you just launch, assuming it will somehow work out? Once you begin to write, do you write headlong, barely pausing to eat or sleep, or do you write for two hours and quit for the day? Is your daily word count 250? 500? 1000? 2000? Do you measure your progress in pages? Words? Time? Pounds of cashews?
When you revise, do you edit their original draft, or rewrite the thing entirely from the first paragraph? (that notion gives me the shivery-shudders, but that’s just me). Do you write the entire piece, and then revise? Or revise as you go?
Do you look forward to sitting down in front of your computer—hand-stitched journal—audio recorder—private stenographer—to write, or is it actually painful? Do you have to be “in the mood” or do you create your mood by forcing the issue, by sitting down and getting your hand moving?
Ask a few dozen successful writers the answers to these questions, and you’ll get many different answers. There is no one right way to write, and very few unbreakable rules. The wisdom of other writers can be helpful to you—but writing by its nature is a solitary endeavor. Each person has to find her own best method, and her own true path.

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