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?

 

So I just signed up for the Saturday session of KidLitCon, which is going to be held in Sacramento this October. Yay! I can manage on just one hotel night and some caffeine for the late night drive home. I’ve been wanting to go to this for years, and I was waiting for it to come to our neighborhood. Thanks so much to Jen Robinson of Jen Robinson’s Book Page and Tanita Davis and Sarah Stevenson of Finding Wonderland for pulling this all together.

I thought, for a Saturday Six, I’d do six reasons that I want to attend this year.

1. You may have noticed I don’t appear at my blog all that often these days, although I’ve been trying to shift back lately. I’m feeling like I need a new burst of blog energy, and where better to get that at a conference for kidlit bloggers?

2. I am a huge fan of Jen Robinson’s Book Page and, even more, of Jen’s commitment to literacy and reading and all things kids books. Anything she’s a part of is going to be good.

3. Mitali Perkins will be Saturday’s keynote speaker. Since I got started with blogs, Mitali has been challenging us to think outside our auto-perspectives, to stretch our writing and reading, and I want to hear what she has to say. It’s going to be important.

4. I’m feeling like I want my blog to be facing out a bit more for a while, less directed–as they say–at my own navel. The theme for this year’s conference is “Blogging Diversity in Young Adult and Children’s Lit: What’s Next? I posted about #weneeddiversebooks early on in the movement, and I’ve definitely been reading more diverse books, but if I’m doing it just for me, then–really–I’m doing it too quietly. Maybe this is the “out” I want to face.

5. Kind of a corollary to #3 is that I talk a lot about writing at my blog and, often, about writing for kids. But, you know, I wouldn’t be a writer if it weren’t for the kids’ book that made me fall in deep, deep love with the whole reading thing when I was little and that keep me reading in that genre years after I’ve given up jumping rope, trying to keep a hula hoop above my ankles, and writing angsty 12-year-old thoughts into my diary. Kid Lit gives me air to breathe and passion to create. I’m pretty sure that, at the conference, I won’t be the only one who feels that way.

6. This program. And this list of attendees.

 

Here’s what I said about Katherine Rundell’s Rooftoppers on Facebook.

Katherine Rundell’s ROOFTOPPERS–a little Roald Dahl, a little of Kate DiCamillo’s THE MAGICIAN’S ELEPHANT, and a layer of Shel Silverstein’s values, if not his style. Plus something that must be 100% this author, from whom I hope to see many, many, MANY more books.

Sometimes, I think I’m an easy touch–give me a book with beautiful prose, characters that are quirky and solid, a voice that makes the book feel like there’s magic in it, even when there isn’t an actual drop–and I’m in love. But I don’t think I’m really that easy, because getting all those things right is anything but.

Katherine Rundell does it. Beautifully.

At (probably) one year old, Sophie survives a shipwreck, to be discovered–floating in a cello case–by Charles, who has also made it off the ship alive. Sophie’s mother did not. Or so Edward and everybody else keeps telling her. Because Sophie’s mother was a cello player, and 1) women can’t play the cello (Let’s all say HA! together!), and 2) there were no women playing in the band on the ship. Sophie doesn’t believe Edward or everybody else, but she grows up very happily with Edward who is one of the Roald-Dahl-ish elements–the rare and special Good Grown-up (a la the grandmother In The Witches)–and serves them meals on piles of books until Sophie outgrows her tendency to break plates. She doesn’t feel the need to actively do anything about finding her mother until Miss Eliot, a Definitely Bad Grown-up, from the National Childcare Agency, decides Sophie is too old to be raised by a man who doesn’t use a blackboard to teach lessons and who lets Sophie wear trousers (said in appropriately horrified tone). A lovely temper tantrum leads to a clue that gives Sophie and Edward a reason to escape–Sophie’s mother may be alive and living (and playing cello?) in Paris. In Paris, while Edward deals with bureaucrats and red-tape, Sophie discovers the homeless children who live on the rooftops (and in the trees), the joy of roaming about the city at night, and the faint thread of cello music…from where?!

I also said in my Facebook post that I thought there was a little of Shel Silverstein in the book and a little of Kate DiCamillo’s The Magician’s Elephant in it. I’m actually not sure why I felt like Shel was woven in there, but I think it has to do with placing importance on what really matters and not, at all, tolerating fools. And possibly the whole living with joy thing? (You read it, and then you tell me!)

The connection with The Magician’s Elephant comes, I think, in the fact that, while neither book is a fantasy book and there are no wizards or unicorns or elves (If I remember right about TME), both have a strong sense of…fate? Connections? Love? pulling the story along, making things possible that–in a story world of more realism–you just couldn’t count on, or even hope to expect. For me, books like these are pure escapism–on the one  hand, I don’t have to sit in tension about the outcome (I know, we’re all supposed to write tension, but, honestly, as a reader, it’s nice to occasionally let it go, yes?). Sophie can race all over the rooftops and, sure, there were some wonderfully gasping moments, but I can essentially relax and enjoy the feeling of delight and freedom that she’s living in. She’s escaping, and I get to go with her.

I’ll admit that (not really a spoiler) when Edward fades into the background through a large slice of the story, I missed him–I absolutely loved his character, and I loved the dynamic he and Sophie have. But I’m pretty sure that most children won’t feel that way–he is “replaced” by the rooftop children, who are at once more solid and undefinable, more intriguing, than Edward can be, and I’m guessing younger readers will welcome the shift. Besides, Edward is being true to himself in the steps he takes, just as Sophie gets to be true to her own self–the one she is discovering through her above-the-streets journeying. The one that takes her to…

Nope. Sorry. Get the book and follow the cello music. Then you’ll know.

Okay, so the boy has been dropped at college, seems to be happy there so far, and we have been home and back to work for two days. May I say, I highly recommend setting up a vacation, so you have a short work week and then your next weekend. Definitely helps the transtion!

And now I guess we’re at the point where my husband and I step back into a pattern that has a new, subtle shift in it, and we…see where it goes. There’s a tiny piece of me that is listing all the new changes I could try out, but I’m resisting the pull for now. Life has felt compressed for a few months now–all about making sure X and Y happened by a certain time, a certain day. I’m ready to let things expand into a long view for a bit and just watch to see what space I do have and what I might like to do with it. I’m going to restart with a chiropractor and see if we can do something about the low-grade but chronic ouches in my hip and back, but other than that I’ve made a semi-commitment to myself to stick with the existing for a while. I’ve got my job, which I’m still enjoying a lot, and I’ve got yoga–which has, honestly, been off the schedule a bit too much the past few weeks. I’ve got a picture book in the query queue with a few agents, and I’ve got this first draft of my MG novel to get written–I’m somewhere about halfway through, I think.

I came home to a stack of books that didn’t quite grab me, and I found myself going back to my Mrs. Pollifax mysteries for a reread. I don’t think it’s an accident that I’ve turned to those. If you haven’t read them, I highly recommend the first half dozen or so (not sure what happened to the series after that, but it didn’t keep the same magic for me). They’re fun, light, well-written mysteries, but they’re more than that. Dorothy Gilman did a brilliant job of painting a character who truly gets what living in the moment means, in a way I think Gilman herself must have. From the page in The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax where she finds herself standing at the edge of a roof–possibly a second away from stepping off, possibly not–and then takes action to change the life that has brought her to this moment, Mrs. Pollifax is someone who looks closely at who and where she is. She constantly makes choices that–for her–represent incredible risk but also offer the chance for huge growth. I know, it’s typical of me that I would have a fictional hero, but, hey, they’re where you find them, right? Anyway, reading the books gives my brain a rest from all the changes that have been happening and reminds me again that change is a much better place than stagnation. They also remind me that there is a quiet place in the middle of change, almost always, for recentering and taking a clear look at your own “now.”

So, me and Mrs. Pollifax, that’s what we’re doing.

I don’t think I’m the only one who, as I get older, mark sections of my life by the milestones. You know: When I was in college. When I had my first job. Before marriage. Before the baby. After the baby. After the baby became the teenager. After…you get it. Usually, I tend to think about these milestones as just that–moments that, once they move into the past, become a dividing line between life sections. A line, as if the moment itself is only there for a second, a demarcation, but nothing else.

And then there are the times when you’re actually in the middle of a milestone, when it hasn’t yet become a line drawn in sand. (Or, if you’re anywhere near my age, a line drawn between two sides of a bedroom on The Brady Bunch. Oops–digression.) At this stage, a milestone feels much more like a transition.

Like this summer. We’re now on the countdown of less than a month before my son goes off for his first year of college. There are other events that I know, when I look back, will be those milestones I’ll build patterns around–my own going back to work full-time, the niece’s wedding we’re going to next month, the departure of one of my favorite cars (the very old, little red BMW). But the biggie is definitely my son leaving home. Who knows what the future holds, but the now–the right now–seems already full of befores and afters.

Before he leaves, we have (and will have):

  • Shopped for dorm supplies.
  • Bought him a new suit, the last one being purchased piecemeal for some friends’ Bar Mitzvahs way back in middle school, and this one being something he’ll wear at many jazz performances for the next few years. (And he’s holding onto the other as back-up!)
  • Replaced the very old, little red BMW with a not-QUITE-as old, but pretty darned near, Volvo wagon, which will actually let him transport his bass and one or two other members of whatever combo he’s playing with. The drummer will have to get his equipment there some other way.
  • Watched him clean out layers of history from the closets and drawers in his room, all the time knowing there will be more left to do later, but accepting what I get.
  • Nagged at him a million times, hugged him another million, and wondered at times if there were actually enough huts to hold me till the first visit.

After he leaves, we will:

  • Take a mini vacation before coming home to an empty nest.
  • Get back and touch with each other, wife and husband, and the whole relationship that we have today, as opposed to “before the baby”
  • Do some final tidying on his room and then pass his doorway a currently unimaginable number of times without going in.
  • Stop buying “Ian food” at the grocery store, except for non-perishable foods to be sent in a care package.
  • Struggle mightily and then reeducate ourselves with the TV or Wii remote don’t work, and we can’t get to where we want on Netflix.
  • Feel the emptiness of that third seat at the theater as the next X-men, Avengers, Spiderman, Pixar, Shakespeare, fill-in-the-blank movie comes out.
  • Send him first draft chapters or picture books that I just want him to read.
  • Text and email silly funnies and (hopefully) get his version back in return.
  • Wonder how, at the age that still feels so young, I got to the stage of being a Woman-Whose-Child-Is-Off-At-School. Wondering also who the heck that person even is? And being kind of happy and excited about finding out.

Yeah, those are the things on either side of the line. But today, this month, and for a few more weeks, I’m Mom in the Middle. In the middle of it all as it’s happening, experiencing a layer of something–a complication, an emotion, a passage? It’s there every single day, almost every single moment, even when we are doing everything the way we used to and not taking a single active step toward the way we will do it after.

Milestones. Transitions.

Feelings.

 

 

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