Friday, February 26, 2010

Long or Short?

I'm wondering...which type of post do you prefer reading?

Short and sweet?

Long and lovely?

Who cares about length, as long as it is (fill in the blank)?

As for me, at first glance I prefer the short ones. But then I find myself writing these terribly long posts and I wonder if anyone else scrolls to the end and whines "Oh, maaaan. Not another long-winded writer. I hope this post is worth the read."

(For the record, I know mine are.)

(Don't argue with me on this.) :)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Where Are All the New MG Boy Books?

I went to the library last night, and while I was there I thought I'd see what books have recently come out that are similar to mine on submission. Though, honestly, I'm not sure where mine fits, exactly. Still, I like to wander the aisles and see if something jumps out at me.

Last night, however, I thought maybe I should get some input from the children's librarian. So I did.

Remind me never to do that again.

Granted, she wasn't the "real" children's librarian, but she said she has been working in the children's section of the library ever since she had been hired. You think she would have picked up a few things. She was very nice and tried to be helpful, but the only books she could tell me about were older bestsellers or the Star Wars books. Apparently those are the only books ever checked out by boys at my library.

I was supremely frustrated. Honestly? There are no fun books for boys other than Ender's Game and Star Wars? Oh, and Percy Jackson was on her list, too. She mentioned a few other fantasies that were nothing like what I had said I was searching for, which were contemporary mysteries and/or funny books. She couldn't think of one that fit my criteria.

So this makes me wonder about my book on subs. It's a light, fun MG mystery for boys with lots of crazy drawings (no, I didn't draw them, I just explained what my MC was drawing). Is there a place for this kind of book? Because I'm sure as heck not finding anything like it on the library shelves. That could be a really good sign, or a really bad one.

Though that could just be my library system.

If any of you know about a book or a series that has come out recently (or will be coming out soon) that fits my mystery or fun(ny) boy book criteria, please share. I should mention that mine is lower MG, so even some great chapter books suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Please prove to me that there are new MG books for boys out there!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Need a Story Idea? Clean Out a Box!

My in-laws came for dinner yesterday, and my father-in-law called beforehand and asked if he could get copies of all the genealogy I've been working on for him. (Yes, I happen to like researching names of ancestors, even ones not technically mine but my husband's.) He was ready for me to pass the torch, so to speak.

The problem? My files were still in boxes from our move sixth months ago. So before he came I took some time to clean out a few and find the files.

And guess what I found? An old list of story ideas I'd completely forgotten about. And I also found the beginning of a story (I write a lot of those, and they can usually be found in the middle of one of the million or so cheap spiral bound notebooks I have floating around my house), and luckily the beginning showed some real promise.

And that's real treasure, I tell you. Especially since lately I've been struggling to find a great story idea. Hooray for ideas that come in boxes!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

February: The Madness

I am so thankful that I have survived The Onslaught That Is February. True, Feb. isn't over yet, but half of the craziness is, and I'm always glad to be over the hump. Let me explain...

In February this year I have:

My brother-in-law's birthday (9th)
My kids' homeschool group which meets at my house (12th)
Valentine's Day (14th)
My extended family birthday party (14th)
My dad's birthday (16th)
My older daughter's birthday (17th)
My cub scout pack's blue and gold banquet--I am the MC and in charge of preparations as well (17th)
My birthday (19th)
My grandmother's birthday (20th)
My older daughter's birthday party (20th)
My husband's extended family birthday party (21st)
My wedding anniversary (23rd)
My kid's homeschool group at my house (26th)
My younger daughter's birthday (technically the 29th but celebrating on the 28th this year)

And it is like this EVERY year. Oy. Like I said, I'm really grateful to hit the middle mark every February.

I am also grateful that I finished the first working draft of my manuscript last month instead of trying to fit it in during The Madness. Tomorrow my agent is calling to discuss the revisions for that manuscript and to talk about the next project I hope to start after The Madness is over.

Now I'm going to go and sit on the couch for the rest of the day. It's practically the only day I have to veg until March, and I'm taking advantage of it.

Oh, crap. I just remembered I've got to get to work on those decorations for my daughter's birthday party. Looks like veg time is already over.


Monday, February 15, 2010

The Winter Olympics and My Book

Like 95% of the nation, I have been dealing with a nasty cold over the weekend (okay, I just made that percentage up, but it certainly describes my household). I've been doing a lot of sitting on the couch, staring at the TV (yes, it's been tuned into the Olympics since Friday night) and wishing my head would stop floating away from the rest of my body.

But just because I haven't been writing doesn't mean I haven't been working on my next WIP. I've done some serious thinking about what I should work on next, and my writing career in general. I can't say that I've made a decision, but I'm getting closer to making one.

(Hey, I've been dealing with a cold, remember? Making decisions is really hard when your body would prefer to take a nap.)

But it's amazing how, in those few lucid moments, you can get a clear picture of where your future lies, and the path you need to take to get there. And my vision was incredibly strong. I now know where my life is supposed to be headed.

Yes, I now know I am meant to become a Gold Medal winner of a Winter Olympic sport.

Okay, so maybe that was the cold talking.

But in all seriousness, I did find quite a bit of inspiration from all the Olympic spirit going around. And the one I'm clinging to the most is the idea that there are always those who emerge from the ashes of defeat in previous Winter Games and go on to find a place on the podium.

I'm feeling a little bit like these Olympians. No, I'm not in the best shape of my life and plan on heading out to the slopes or the skating rink any time soon. But on a writing level, I'm right there with them. Though I really haven't had any defeat (I'm still on submission, so it's like I'm still right in the middle of the competition), but I see all these other writers getting a book deal (and in many cases, their second or third or fourth deal) and it's hard not to think that it means there is one less place on the publisher's list for my little book.

But I do believe that someday, somewhere, I'll find a place on that podium, too. It may be the smaller in stature but larger in surface area Podium of Published Authors and not the elite Podium of NYT Bestsellers (though, confession: I do have delusions of grandeur everyone once in awhile), but I plan on getting there someday. Someday soon.

And by soon, I mean this year if things fall nicely into place. And if not, in the next year to two or three or four--since that's still soon in publishing terms. I'd love it to be the little book on subs now (and, editors, if you're reading this, so would a lot of other complete strangers who have read the first page on my contest win--I'm just sayin'...) but I'm ready to write another one and another one and another one until one of them clicks.

So, published authors everywhere, save me a little corner of the podium, okay?

Thanks. I'll be joining you soon, relatively speaking.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Late (and Somewhat Embarrassing) Friday Five

1. I'm between projects right now and I feel a little lost. Like I'm floating on a lake without a paddle. (Which, by the way, I've never actually done in real life. Been in a boat on a lake, but always with a paddle. We did drop a paddle once, though, but since there was a second paddle in the boat we were easily able to grab the first and get back to shore.) I think I need to learn how to enjoy life, since I'm always complaining about how hard the work is when I am writing something, and now I'm complaining about not having something to work on even though I'm deliberately taking a small break before diving into the next project.

2. Today my kids sat down and watched the first four episodes of this season's The Biggest Loser. I'm not going to bring up how many hours that meant my kids sat in front of the TV watching someone else exercise instead of getting up and exercising themselves. (In their defense, they did work out with my husband earlier in the day when he did is Total Body Workout DVD.) And I'm also not going to bring up the fact that I watched it with them. (Hey, I did my workout today, too.)

3. Speaking of tv...last night I thought it would good for my boys and I to watch something "educational" together on the television before heading off to bed. So I turned on a documentary about South Africa. Of course, the documentary decided to film the Zulu reed dance, which, if you didn't know this (I certainly didn't before watching the show) means that all the Zulu girls show up to the dance COMPLETELY NAKED ON TOP. Doh! *Smacks forehead* Yes, our "educational experience" included frontal nudity. #parentfail

Don't worry, folks, I played it cool. "Gah! Don't look!" I screamed as I covered my own eyes.

4. I haven't watched this much TV in one week in a very long time. I don't know about you, but I'm thinking that not a lot of tv might be the right choice for me. Because apparently me picking the tv shows is not a good idea (see #3 above). Getting back into another writing project will be a good thing, in more ways than one (see #1 and [again] #3 above).

5. All this downtime has been good for one thing, though. I think I've come up with a good design idea for my website. I'm slowly learning the coding end of things and building a site from the ground up. Now I've got to switch gears and do the design part for awhile. I'm looking forward to seeing if my idea works.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Writing Humor for Kids

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I would dearly love to be considered a funny person. And being considered a funny author would be even better.

So I’ve been thinking about what it takes to write humor for kids. There’s got to be more to it than adding the word “underwear” somewhere in the book, right?

Today I thought I’d share my personal take on what it takes to be funny. I mean, my personal take on what it means to write funny things. I mean…er, oh…whatever. Just read on.


Have you ever thought about the definition of humor? What is humor, anyway? This is such a hard thing to define, since what is humorous to one person might not be humorous to another. For example, I find it hilarious to contemplate the idea of two twin four-year-old boys snorkeling in a very large bowl full of milk. Their mother, on the other hand, wouldn’t find that the least bit hilarious. (BTW, I have no idea if that has ever happened in real life. But maybe someday you’ll get to read about it, since that is a scene in my unfinished humorous novel about a homeschooling family, titled [for now] Life is a Mess.)

So what is humor? The very best definition I have ever come across was given by my mentor (and all around funny author guy), Rick Walton. He says:

Humor is surprise without threat or promise.

I won’t go into great detail to explain what he means, but basically humor is something that surprises us, but doesn’t threaten us or promise anything. For example, Rick states, if someone pulled a gun on you, it would certainly be a surprise, but it wouldn’t be funny. And if Publishers Clearing House showed up on your doorstep and offered you a million dollars, it would be a surprise but you probably wouldn’t find it hilarious. I suggest you read his essay, What Is Humor?, if you want a more detailed explanation . It’s a great article, so read it. Seriously. (Sorry. There had to be something serious in this article about being funny. But now that we’ve got that out of the way…)


Now that we know what humor is, we should all be able to sit down and write copious amounts of it, right?


There is so much more to writing humor. From my research*, I’ve compiled a list of the three most important things you need to know about writing humor for kids.

1. The most important thing about writing humor is: rewriting. As far as I could tell, most writers who are hilarious said that their humor doesn’t come out in the first draft as much as it does during the revision process. So if what you are writing isn’t funny enough, keep rewriting it until it is.

For example, let’s take my snorkeling in milk idea above. Let’s say the first draft the boys just pulled the milk out of the fridge and dumped it on the floor. That would have been an okay scene, but not nearly good enough to tickle my funny bone. So, in revision, let’s say I decide to add something surprising (the snorkeling gear and a large bowl), and voila! Instant humor.

2. Pacing is VITAL to a funny story. I’m betting that those who are naturally good at pacing may have an easier time being funny. But since there is no empirical evidence on that, I can’t say for sure. On the other hand, for the most part I’m pretty good with pacing, so I’m hoping in this case I’m right. That would be a good sign for my chances at making it as a funny author, anyway.

Most people aren’t funny because they haven’t perfected their pacing, not because their ideas aren’t funny. For example, Dave Barry mentioned in an interview I read that people either a) take forever to get to what is supposed to be funny, or b) get to it then say it over and over again and never let it go. He says the best way to be funny is to not let the reader see what is coming, then hit them over the head with it, then get out of there fast and go on to something else the reader doesn’t see coming. I’m not going to give an example, because that would mean I would have used my snorkeling in milk concept one too many times and it wouldn’t be funny anymore (see b above). Yep. I’m thinking like a funny person now.

3. Know your audience. No, this doesn’t mean you should go out and get a degree in psychology and early childhood development. But you should have a basic understanding of what each age group finds funny. And sometimes that can be the hardest part when writing for children. I suggest you ask kids what they find funny. You might be surprised at what you learn. (Though I suggest you be careful with this. There is a slight chance that they will say something that not only isn’t funny but doesn’t even make sense. For example, my six-year old told me that he thought a story about a boy going on a trip and breaking his fork would be hilarious. I’m still scratching my head over that one.)


Don’t take yourself too seriously when writing humor for kids. I never take myself seriously, and that seems to be working for me. Seriously**.

Now get to work, funny people!

*My research consisted of slogging through a bunch of articles that weren’t nearly as funny as they should have been. You are so lucky to have me translating them for you. You’re welcome.

**Oops. Sorry. That second serious bit slipped into this article while I wasn’t looking. My bad.

It is Finished

The first draft of my WIP, that is.

*bows and waits for applause*