So here we are, a mere 9 days away from PiBoIdMo 2014.

I have my notebook. I have my pen. I have my imagination. That’s all I need to spend 30 days having ideas pour out of me, to be ready on December 1st when I can start magically weaving them into amazing stories.


Well, um…

Yes, to a certain degree, that’s all I need, and that’s all you need. Honestly, the simplicity of PiBoIdMo is one its best features. (When I think of all the novel writers starting on NaNoWriMo in that same nine days, I want to toss rainbow confetti and four-leaf clovers their way and hand them large amounts of chocolate. Except I may need some of that chocolate myself.) You can do PiBoIdMo simply, easily, and I guess what I’d call the Down and Dirty way. I’ve done it myself, and it works. It works great. Every year, I’ve gotten 30+ ideas in that month, and at least a few of them have turned into possibilities and, some, into actual stories.

This year, though, I’m feeling a need to shake it up a bit. Just recently, when I went back to my lists for a new idea, I came up empty. Oh, the list was there, the ideas were there, but none of them grabbed me. I’ve been thinking about why, and I’ve come up with a few things I want to do differently this year.

  • Spend more time on “looking at” an idea. In past PiBoIdMo years, I’ve tended to rush through the idea-finding, kind of grabbing anything out of the air as it floats past me and tossing it into the notebook. It’s effective, yes, if I’m going for quantity–and I am–but I think I want a bit more this year. I want to bring a bit of mindfulness to each ideas–I want to give them some space to find me and a bit of attention as it drops into my brain. Yes, PiBoIdMo is about going fast, about gathering a big list, then looking for treasures. But I’m thinking I could slow down just a bit below Mach 5 (whatever that means!) and still be good.
  • Go for more than just an idea. I think part of the problem with my lists is that–with so many of the items–I can’t even remember (almost a year later) what I was thinking. Maybe for some of you younger whipper-snappers, this isn’t a problem, but for me…yeah. A gift for you: If you can figure out what I meant by “Salt, no pepper. Pepper, no salt. Ketchup, no mustard,” the idea is yours! I want to add a few details, think about a character, maybe toss in a problem. Just an extra layer or two of idea frosting, if you will.
  • Stay away from concept-book ideas and shoot for story-based ideas. This is not any kind of judgment on concept books; I am in awe of writers who do them well. But I seem to still need a story to keep me interested and to engage me in turning the original idea into a book. During PiBoIdMo, those concept ideas come at me like little sparkling fish–I reach for my net, grab them, and toss them in the tank notebook. And then, a month or three or eleven later, all they do is swim in circles and make goggle-eyes at me. Whereas stories…oops! Sorry! Got distracted staring out the window and thinking about all the places a story can take me.
  • Play with titles. There’s a rhythm in a title, a little bit of music, even–sometimes–that first taste of story. The picture book I’m working on now, which I’m pretty much head over heels in love with, started as a title. Who knows whether the title of that book will stick, or whether any will that I attach to a PiBoIdMo idea, but as a brain-grabber for me, as a lead-in to a character or a plot, they may be a new tool for me.

If this is your first year doing PiBoIdMo, don’t fret it too much. If you have a fun idea for doing a little extra, or if something in my list grabs you, then go for it. But, really, the best way to get started is to dive in, scribble something down, turn a page, and do it again. (Oh, ONE TIP: number our ideas. When you get 2/3 through the month and you start to panic about consider whether you have enough ideas, you do NOT want to have to go back and count them. You want to be able to look at the last page, read the number 25 and know just how close you are to the goal)

If, however, you’ve done PiBoIdMo before, maybe several times, think about adding something new this year. Maybe the title thing, maybe you want to come up with ideas only for concept books. Maybe you’ve got some great ideas of your own. Toss them in the comments to share!

And I’ll see you all over at Tara Lazar’s blog for PiBoIdMo 14! Counting down: 9…8…7

Believe me, I get that prose–without plot, without characters, without setting and dialogue–isn’t enough. I’ve read enough books and manuscripts where the words flow pretty darned well, but everything underneath those words is thin–right. No scaffolding, no story.

But…I am also a sucker for beautiful prose, for the phrase or sentence that just nails it, that makes you suck in your breath, reread it, and then read it again–out loud to whoever is in the room, whether they really want to listen or not. The prose that makes them realize they really did.

It’s been a couple of weeks of reading authors who can wield words with beauty, like Van Gogh with his sunflowers, like Thor with his hammer, like B.B. King with Lucille. Authors who, yes of course they have all the other elements down pat, but who draw you along with the power of that prose. You absorb the story and the characters through osmosis, but you breathe in the words like the sweetest, purest oxygen.

If you’ve been following me on Facebook, you’ve heard me rave about the authors I’ve been breathing recently, but I’ll mention them here again.

  • Jandy Nelson. I remember really liking The Sky is Everywhere, so I picked up I’ll Give You the Sun. It knocked my socks off. Yes, story out the wazoo, but omg the beauty of the words, the way she mixes everybody’s special magic in with the less magic world they move through, the way they turn that world into magic for themselves and the reader. And two points of view, people…TWO.
  • Jan Karon. On a recommendation from a Facebook friend, I started Karon’s At Home in Mitford. I loved it. Sort of like Barbara Pym, except somewhere in the South instead of England, and without the depression. Without any depression. I put Book 2, A Light in the Window on hold at the library, but only Book 2, because you know…sometimes that first perfect book and then the rest not so perfect. Let’s just say that 50 pages into A Light in the Window, I zipped over to my library website and added Books 3 and 4 to my hold list. The books read like a river, one you’re safely and slowly traveling down–in the warm sunshine and not a drop of seasickness, with a pitcher of lemonade and a pot of tea waiting for you somewhere along the way. Even when Winter comes, you’re on that river, bundled up a little more against the cold, but still traveling happily, knowing its just the season and it will roll along into Spring and Summer.
  • Joshilyn Jackson. Years ago, I read Between, Georgia, which falls into that small bubble of books that may qualify as the single best book I’ve ever read. I’ve loved every one of Jackson’s books that I’ve read, but Between…it’s 17 stars out of 4. It goes on your must-read list NOW. And then pick up Someone Else’s Love Story, which I’ve been reading all morning and which is looking to be Jackson’s best one since. Kind of like Jandy Nelson, except entirely different, Jackson uses her power over words to place her character’s perceptions on the page and make them real. Again, two points of view here, and amazing, amazing, amazing. Different words, different phrasing for each of them–one kind of musical and light even when the darkness curls up at the edges, and the other a boulder just starting to shift on the slope of a mountain…just threatening to roll and pick up steam or maybe settle back down again and stay solid. With a few tiny sun-sparkles off the quartz embedded in its surface.

There are dozens of other writers who get me with their words–Steve Kluger with My Most Excellent Year, Kristin Cashore with Bitterblue are a couple that come to mind quickly. How about you. Who makes you almost not care that their storytelling and characterization is wonderful, because you’re so happy just to lose yourself in the prose? Leave some more suggestions in the comments!


October is my Stay Away From The MG WIP month. November will be my Now Step Into Revision month (along with PiBoIdMo-yikes!) And so, of course, what’s twiddling along inside my brain is how best to get started.

I’m feeling like I need to do some notebook work–the low-tech kind. I have some biggish questions I want to, if not answer, spend some time with. And I think if I can stay away from the computer at first, I might be able to resist the temptation to just dig in and start changing words, instead of ideas.

This doesn’t sound easy to me. I love my computer. While I still have nostalgic affection for the notebooks of my childhood, I haven’t been successful with them for years. At the base level, I can barely read my own handwriting these days. And at the higher (?) level, any ideas I do manage to come up with seem to come with a pretty strong tug to get back to my keyboard and type as fast as I can to get it all down, put it into a scene, formulate and form it.

But I’m going to give it a shot. I’m going to see if I can get myself to a library or a coffeehouse a couple days of days a week after work, or take my notebook into my bedroom–away from distractions–and I’m going to ask myself some questions and see what I can do about stepping toward some possibilities.

Do you use a notebook? At what stage in the writing/revising process? What do you use it for? And how do you go back to whatever it is you’ve scribbled on the pages and make it useful?

All tips and suggestions welcome in the comments!

So October is my step-away-from-the-MG month. I’m taking four weeks between finishing the first draft and starting to revise. Why? Well, mostly, because everybody (right?) says it’s a good thing to do. And you can probably add to that that I’m a bit nervous about this revision, just because it’s been a while and my head is telling me all sorts of things that could go wrong. Which will totally be cured by waiting a month to start (right?).

What am I doing with that month, though? Oh, several things!

  1. I drafted a new picture book and sent it off to my critique group. It was a new idea mostly because when I looked back at my past PiBoIdMo ideas, nothing shouted “This one! This one!” I’m going to look through again this weekend and actually, you know, think about some of them.
  2. Looking forward to PiBoIdMo 2014 and thinking about how I might want to do it differently. Like maybe I want to write down 30 titles. Because titles are so much easier than ideas. Ha. And buying this awesome 2014 PiBoIdMo notebook from CafePress.
  3. Watching summer turn into fall and thinking about how this will be the first year in many that I’ll be driving to and from work in the dark, thinking about ways to stay alert and productive once I’m home, at least a few nights a week, instead of just heading right for the pajamas and cat snuggles. Tips and suggestions welcome!
  4. Making some trips. Next weekend I’m going to KidLitCon in Sacramento. So excited to meet people who are part of a world I love and to hear more discussion on diversity in books and what bloggers can do about it. Then my husband and I will make a quick run up and back to see my son in his first college concert.  His latin jazz combo will be playing here. How gorgeous is that? And the acoustics are amazing.
  5. Reading, reading, reading. Right now I seem to be on a mystery kick–just finished and really enjoyed Annette Dashofy’s second Zoe Chambers novel, Lost Legacy, and moved on with a Yay! Finally! to Deborah Crombie’s newest, To Dwell in Darkness. Then, happy dance, I found two more books by favorite authors at the bookmobile today: Elly Griffiths’ The Outcast Dead (If you haven’t read Griffith’s Ruth Galloway series, start now) and Jill Paton Walsh’s The Late Scholar, a new one in her “Based on the characters of Dorothy L. Sayers” series (and, Sayers’ fans, Walsh’s books are a very, very good continuation of Sayer’s own books). So, you know. I’m set for at least a few days!

Happy October, everyone!

I’m responding to the Book Challenge sent to me by Stephanie Pingel DeAugustine. Here’s what you do: In your status, list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes and don’t think too hard. They don’t have to be the “right” books or great works of literature, just ones that affected you in some way. Tag 10 friends, including me so I can see your list. I’m not going to tag anyone, but, hey, play for fun. And, (edited to add), four books in I’m apparently adding “whys” to my list–we’ll see how many fit. Oh, heck. I’m going to copy this into a blog post and link to it!

1. J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Hobbit. This is the first book I remember staying up reading after everyone else in the house had gone to bed and sitting and just SOBBING through a particular near-the-end scene, which I’m not going to mention because–although I can’t believe it–I know there are those of you out there who haven’t read the book and are waiting for the end of the third movie to find out how everything plays out. So no spoilers. Even though you should go get the book and read it.

2. One of the Agatha Christie mysteries, not sure which–maybe the one in which Rosemary died a long time ago and everybody is back and talking about it. All I know is that there was a horrible green-faced woman on the cover of my mom’s copy and, if that wasn’t bad enough, I opened the book to the page where the victim’s death by strangulation or poison or something is being vividly described. I think I was twelve. I shut that book and didn’t actually discover and fall in love with Ms. Christie until I had burned out on long Victorian novels in grad school and turned to mysteries for several years of reading recovery.

3. Every teen mystery written by Phyllis Whitney, but probably most of all Mystery on the Isle of Skye. Been to Scotland twice and haven’t made it up to Skye and have possibly never pushed myself all the way north because I won’t have all the little red packages Cathy has from her grandmother to open along the trip and solve a mystery about. I’m pretty sure that I was reading Whitney’s books when I decided I wanted to be an author.

4. Arthur Ransome’s We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea. Because, all of a sudden, the sailing adventure weren’t just make believe anymore, and this one got really, really scary, but the kids did it! Plus, seasickness.

5. Dodie Smith’s 101 Dalmations. Because the 101 Dalmations movie is the first one I remember seeing in the theater (I think it HAD to be a rerun–did they do that in theaters back then?), and Cruella scared me more than anything ever had (I hadn’t read Ransome yet or looked at Agatha Christie’s books!), and…puppies! And then I found the novel as a grown-up, and it’s just as delightful in its own way, and, OMG the most beautifully delivered sarcasm when the vet says how delighted he always is to come out on Christmas, or something like that. Maybe other people thought that line was serious, but as the child who almost always had her Xmas-present openings interrupted by a call to her parent veterinarians, I KNEW the sarcasm. (Addendum: My parents did always take the call, and they did always go with patience and care, and Xmas interruptions got much better when I was old enough to go and watch actual non-animated puppies and kittens being delivered!)

6. Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. I was reviewing books for The Horn Book Guide, and somehow, magically, this arc ended up in my review pile. I think this book was probably my introduction to young-adult fiction and talk about being dropped head first into the fire. Pain and power and beauty like I’d never read before.

7. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. Because the hero whines. And screams. And doesn’t have enough strength or breath to jump a skipping rope more than a few steps at a time. And recognizes a kindred spirit in Ben Weatherstaff. And Dickon. And, again for those of you who have only seen the movie, the Mary in the book does not, in any future beyond the pages, grow up and marry Colin. Team Dickon, all the way.

8. L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. Because Anne was a child with overly strong emotions, a child with a too-fast temper. And she wasn’t ashamed of it, no matter how much people told her she should be. And…Gilbert and the slate on his head! And for you movie goers, THIS one you can see if it’s the PBS series with Megan Follows and Colleen Dewhurst and Richard Farnsworth. Because they are all genius.

9. Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. The kiss on the wall. Enough said.

10. J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Because reading about Diagon Alley to your, what–seven-year-old? when there has been no Harry Potter in his world yet, ever, or in yours for that matter? Hard to say who falls fastest and hardest in love. The sparkle in his eyes and your own raw sore throat tell you he’s caught. You’ve got him. He’ll be a reader.

Okay, so I have six scenes to go in the first draft. My goal for today was three scenes, which would have gotten me down to five left, and I wrote those six scenes, but one was a surprise with perhaps a little magic in it and a possible focus for one story thread when I start revising. So it’s staying for now, but the math says I now have six scenes to go.

Oh, math.

Anyway, I am getting closer to revision, and I’ve been letting the idea of it simmer in my head this past week. I wish I could say I meant “shimmer” there, but I’m actually a little nervous this time around, so “simmer” it is. I thought I’d do a little reading about revision to perhaps lessen the butterflies, and I thought I’d share some posts with you guys.

Here’s some of the treasure I found while browsing around the web.

From Robin LaFevers, two posts. One I basically intruded into her busy world and asked her for, over on Facebook, when I was hoping for some ideas about how to use software/spreadsheets in plotting timelines. The post she linked to is here. And another one here with some great questions to ask yourself before you start revising.

From Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds, this post is probably more “colorful,” than you’re used to if you visit my blog very often, but it’s very funny and pretty much spot on. (See, in particular, numbers 19 and 23.)

A very detailed, very good revision checklist from Nathan Bransford.

And another great revision post he links to, from Jennifer R. Hubbard, about revision fatigue.

I’m always looking for structure, so I like the to-dos in this post from Kristin Elise.

And some wonderful opinions/processes collected from other authors and posted at The Enchanted Inkspot.

Enjoy. And happy revising!

Five Septembery things:

  1. One more month until October, which is my FAVORITE month.
  2. I am going to finish the MG Fast First Draft this month. Oh, yes, I am!
  3. I may even start revising this month! I do absolutely love revision, but it’s another stage where I got stuck and tangled in the last WIP, so there are some nerves. Hopefully, I can find the balance between figuring out some major changes and combining those with the loose, fast, “more later” drive of the first draft. Because there will SO be “more later.”
  4. The weather forecasts and the thermometer on my car say the same number of degrees that I kept seeing there in August. And, yet, it’s cooler. Why? See Item #1!
  5. Alice always, to me, smells like summer–dusty and warm and with a hint of yellow California foothills. Will she keep smelling that way into winter? Wouldn’t that be nice?

What do you love about September?



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