Tuesday, March 31, 2009
I feel just like Steve Martin in "The Jerk". But instead of running around like a crazy person, shouting, "The new phone book's here!", I'm running around screaming, "Big, Bigger, Biggest" is finally released!
This never gets old. It is such an amazing feeling to have a book come out. I promised myself way back in 1992 when my first book, "Good Night Sigmund" arrived that I would always be just as excited seeing my new books no matter how many of them I managed to get in print.
And I've kept that promise.
And it seems that others have been excited about my new book too. It's been called, "An ingenious treatment of not only comparisons but also synonyms and antonyms that all the while exposes children to some fantastic vocabulary".
Fantastic vocabulary - like meteoric, rapacious, and my hands down favorite - lackadaisical.
You can get excited too. Remember, "Big, Bigger, Biggest" is OUT TODAY.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
I've had my share of the little guys as well. My wiener dogs of course, but also a scrappy yellow Pom mix who arrived with the unfortunate name of Rots, and looked a lot like the dog above. The new puppy we got last week is the smallest by far - pretty much a hamster as far as size goes.
But whether my dogs are tipping the scales at near 100 or teeny enough to fit in Paris Hilton's purse, they all have something in common - they're dogs.
I've been thinking a lot about that lately. You see, right now I'm both working on a YA novel and a picture book manuscript. On the surface that can seem like two completely different universes. And if you're only judging these projects by word count, you'd be right.
But you're wrong.
(Is it wrong that I like to say, "You're wrong?")
Just as big dogs need love just like the little dogs, just like the tiny guys need to eat just like the big bruisers, just like you need to pick up the piles of you-know-what after they've done their business, it helps me to treat both my writing projects the same. They're both projects.
Do they have a compelling character? How about a setting? Tension? Dialogue? How about a clear beginning, middle, and end? One of my stories should come out at around 75,000 words. The other one I'd like to keep at about 500 words. And I'm sweating over both of them.
This new little puppy is just as much challenge to train as the big Briard. She's just as lovey and fun too.
So enjoy all your writing projects. I know you've heard differently, but -
size doesn't really matter at all.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Do not be fooled by the cute expression.
This is truly the face of evil.
4 pounds of trouble.
Superpower - silent running.
Dutch, the wiener dog is one part amused, two parts mad as hell.
Any thoughtful posts on art and writing will have to wait until I'm done tearing my hair out.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
The veterinarian dream was quickly squashed when I found that my gerbil had eaten all the little heads off her new babies. Shudder. I realized that unless being a vet consisted only of petting kittens and playing with puppies, it wasn't the job for me.
Being a clarinet player held more promise. I spent untold hours locked in my room practicing scales and etudes until I was probably paid by my parents to stop playing. I got pretty good though. But then, in High School, I found that all the popular girls played the flute. I was already tilting dangerously close to the nerd category - so the clarinet and that dream were ditched as well.
I had some great teachers in school like Mr. Hoots, my art teacher, (if you're reading this Mr. Hoots, you rock) but, and no offense, Mr. Hoots - they all seemed so - old. I couldn't ever imagine myself ever being like them. I was always going to be a teenager, right? Let's just say I was good at finding many other interesting things to do than attend class regularly, so my grades were - I don't know - bad. I didn't exactly set myself up for the college fast-track.
So that left my FINAL option - artist. And you know, I actually did it. I took the hard way - school of hard knocks and all that. But the school of hard knocks isn't all bad. Yes, it can be very expensive, but if you make sure you take at least some of the right classes it can in the end be worth it. I ended up partnering with another artist and opening a studio gallery in Downtown Portland - actually making a living.
I had fulfilled my dream, right? So why did it feel like something was missing? I dove deeper into my art, working with new mediums and designs - switching from still-lifes to pieces that were inexplicably more character driven. The titles on my work grew longer and longer until I began to run out of room for them. Before I knew it, I was a writer. And a couple of years later, I signed my first book contract.
That was 20 years ago and I just signed the contract for my lucky 13th book. I can't imagine not being a writer now and that's a good thing, because even though writing wasn't a lifelong dream, it was writing that allowed one of my old dreams to actually kind of come true. I get to be a teacher.
I've taught gaggles of kindergartners, herds of middle schoolers, a parade of grownups, and every age and grade in between. I have no favorites because every group comes to the table with their own particular brand of excitement and passion. An adult may be totally into integrating conflict into their story, while a 5 year old wants to write about a blue duck. And if you don't think that a story about a blue duck is really all about conflict, then we got nothing to talk about.
I finally sold my clarinet last year. I wasn't sad about it. I decided long ago I'd rather draw clarinets (see art above) than play them. And I'm certainly not sad about not being a vet, though I do sometimes wonder about my career choice every time I pay an exhorbitant bill whenever my wiener dog eats a shoe or chugs a glass of merlot. Just in case you think I'm careless, that short-legged little booger can climb, I tell you.
But really, what I'm getting at here is that dreams really never go all the way away. Sometimes what they need to come true is for you to have a new dream to come into the picture. Go ahead, dream.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
First I’m going to tell you a story: A teacher stood before a class with some items before her on her desk: 2 empty jars and 6 full bowls – two of the bowls contained equal amounts of rocks about 2” in diameter, two held smaller pebbles, and the remaining two were filled with sand.
The teacher picked up the first empty jar and poured into it one of the bowls of sand. There was barely enough room for the pebbles after that and none for the rocks.
The teacher then picked up the other jar but this time proceeded to fill it with the rocks. After the bowl of rocks was empty, she picked up the bowl of pebbles and poured them into the jar. She shook the jar lightly and the pebbles rolled into the open areas between the rocks. Finally, the teacher picked up the bowl of sand and poured it into the jar. The sand sifted its way into the remaining spaces.
“Always deal with the big stuff first,” she said. “If you don’t, you won’t have room for what’s really important.”
Now I’m going to ask you a question: Have you ever started a project only to become immediately mired in the details? Then you may be in a sand mind-set. Better to think rocks first and ask yourself some questions.
What is the point of your story? This may sound obvious but it is the base from which you will build on.
Is your idea strong enough to support an entire story? The last thing you want or need is to have everything collapse because of a weak premise.
Does your main idea lend itself to being filled with the life-giving details? That is a pretty heavy load to carry.
By starting with the big stuff first, you have plenty of time and room to sweat the small stuff later on. And odds are your project may be stronger for it. Besides, the next time someone asks you if you have rocks in your head, you can say, “Why, thank you. Yes, yes I do.”
Disclaimer:The penguins above definitely do NOT have rocks in their heads. They're thoughtful, detail-oriented birds, friend to children everywhere.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Last week, I went to one of those wholesale/warehouse type mega-stores.
Okay, it was Costco.
There, armed with an oversized shopping cart, I ran free to partake of the goods stacked to the ceiling, filling every aisle and dwarfing the mere mortals that scurried among the giant packages. I quickly filled the cart with huge crates of cereal, industrial-size bottles of vitamins and of course the obligatory case of toilet paper, but it was something else that caught my eye. There, between the toaster ovens and men’s athletic socks, stood a treasure trove of jelly beans.
I immediately hefted the plastic jug, nay, barrel of all that is delicious and right with the world into my cart and, like a rat with stolen bits of tinfoil, I scampered away with my booty. Once home, the eating of the jellybeans began with gusto. I gave little thought to the individual nuances of their flavors - it was the total jellybean experience I was going for. I scooped and devoured handfuls of the things until my skin attained a definite greenish tinge and sugar shock was imminent. Only then did I slow down and actually start picking out my favorite flavors from the pile.
Sure I was I was full, but they tasted so good.
This process of thoughtful selection was much different from the feeding frenzy that preceded it. I picked up the candy, bean by bean, regarding each color and shape before popping it in my mouth. I paid attention the sharpness of the peppermint, the salivary gland-cramping tartness of the lemon, and hey - there really is a difference between cinnamon and red-hot cinnamon.
Even though more than half the jug remained full of jellybeans, I never did go back to shoveling them down. Good thing – they probably wouldn’t have stayed there.
Now before you think that I never intended on making an actual writing point, I have been all along - at least from the jellybean part on. When I start a writing project, whether it’s a five hundred-word picture book or a fifty-thousand word novel, I’m a glutton. I immerse myself in my story and revel in the characters. I’m always surprised and amazed at the wealth of language that’s available. And then, finally, I write the words ‘THE END’. And even though I may be feeling a bit sick of my project, I’m not near finished. Now it’s time to start being picky.
No matter the length of a manuscript, every word matters. Each one is a delectable individual that must be considered for flavor and color. This is a very different experience from the first excitement of throwing words on paper, but it is still in its own way, just as satisfying. It’s here that you begin the editing process that will refine and define the smorgasbord you intend to present to your reader. Will your words blend together to form a to-die-for entrée? Or - will they be the lemonade/chocolate-milk mash-up of the literary world? Here’s where you get to figure that out.
So, go forth and write, stuff your face and enjoy. The English language (and all the others, too, as far as I know) is free for the taking. But you know, those jellybeans didn’t cost much either.
They were on sale.
Oh, and I know the piece of art at the top of this post doesn't really fit the theme. But it's close enough - PLUS it's for sale. Email me about it. I'll confirm the accuracy of that statement.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
So I look out the window yesterday morning thinking my daffodils are just about ready to bloom
and instead of seeing those happy little yellow heads bobbing in a sun-freshened spring breeze, I see - wait for it - snow.
Now before you Northern types get all huffy Northern on my case, remember - I don't live in Boston for a reason. I don't live in Minnesota for a reason. I DON'T LIVE IN NORWAY FOR A REASON. Don't get me wrong, they're all fine places - for certain people - say, certain people that aren't all that interested in expecting winter to know when it's simply not wanted anymore.
I, myself, like to be warm - not hot, mind you. I'll leave that to you Arizona types. The reason I live in Portland, Oregon is because it's supposed to be temperate. I thrive in temps ranging from 45 degrees to about 78 - I'll go 80 if someone plunks a daiquiri in my hand. But this winter, Portland has been anything but temperate - which has been a good deal for the gas company, but a not so good deal for me.
So, I've had to adjust to my new climate. And that started me thinking about how us artistic/writer types are adjusting to our new economic climate. I've stepped up my teaching. I've had to. Art sales are waaaaay down. And that makes me sad. I love to create art - but I don't love having it languish away in a flat-file drawer. But I still do create art - because that's what I do. I'm just having to get up that much earlier, or call it a day that much later in order to fit art in because paying work rules right now.
A few weeks ago, some I'm sure well-meaning person came up to me at an author presentation and said, "I'd love to do what you do - but I just don't have time."
I cocked my head at them - "does not compute" alarms going off in my brain. Time? Time? Who has time these days? As artists and writers, we're being forced to create time in order to create our projects - especially - if in this economic climate, our art isn't supporting us the way it did.
We just might be looking out our windows for the foreseeable future and see winter, folks. Yesterday, I put on an extra sweater to stay warm. I'm going to have to continue to adjust my livelihood plans as well. But I'll be dreaming of better days to come.
Spring has to return some day.
Wednesday, March 04, 2009
I don't know when life became a balancing act. It always feels like it just happened. I mean, it was never this crazy before, was it? Take today for example. I'm faced with multiple things to worry about. I'm behind on my teaching - so I'm up at 5 o'clock to keep chipping away at editing those writings assignments. Are they done yet? Nope.
I'm also on a huge deadline and teetering close to the day of reckoning when the copy edited version of my new novel needs to be returned. But I can't get to that until I finish my teaching.
And I can't finish my teaching this morning because I'm going to actually be on TV - live TV -this morning to talk about my books, my art, and gadzooks - me. And that has me worried plenty. Will I be able to string two coherent sentences together? I'm not sure. They told me to wear a solid color top but the only top I have that works (and fits) has a pattern on it. But I'm hoping that because it's all the same color, it technically qualifies as solid. That makes sense, doesn't it?
And what if I burp or have something between my teeth? Will the hosts discreetly swipe at their noses, giving me a meaningful look and nudge the tissue box at me if I need it? The imagined horrors are endless.
But after the show I have yet another thing to worry about - my team's tennis match. My game's not exactly what you call consistent which is the reason I'm not going to be on TV talking about my stellar tennis career. But I have to bring my A-game this afternoon, and not because I'm worried so much about my opponents.
I'm worried about my doubles partner. Because if Sue ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. But if I try hard, work hard, and do my best, then all's right in the tennis world as far as she goes.
And I guess that applies to my art, my writing, my teaching, and the rest of my life, including tennis matches. Even if you can't get everything done - even if you're worried - even if you fail -
If you at least try -
You're balancing with the best of them.
UPDATE: If you want to see my teeth and gums in all their glory as well as listen to me talk a million miles an hour, looky: http://www.katu.com/amnw/segments/40722347.html