Monday, December 29, 2008

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

I thought, perhaps, I should blog about the severed Barbie head photo that I put up on Facebook.  She has created quite a stir--and probably caused terror ridden nightmares for a few of my close friends.  She even inspired a blog post written by my friend Christy Raedeke.  

This head belongs to one of my childhood Barbies which was given to me in a huge batch of Barbie paraphernalia by my babysitter.  Notice that she has real eyelashes--she's from the sixties (and in pristine condition probably would have been worth some $$).

How did she get in this eerily disturbing condition?  Anyone out there have a big brother? Well, I do.  He is five years older than I and spent much of his childhood figuring out ways to psychologically torture me.  My brother had GI Joes complete with jeeps, guns, and a giant orange surveillance tower. Whenever I would be happily playing with my Barbie Star Stage and Galleria, my brother and his friends would carefully plan a strategic ambush of my hot pink world.  They would storm in and kidnap as many Barbies as they could fit into the jeep.  Then they would strip them down, cut their hair and hang them naked from the top of the GI Joe tower.

Here, you see the sole survivor of these torturous raids on Barbie-land.  I'm not sure what has happened to her body.  The last time I saw it, it was covered in teeth marks and planted by our swing set.  

So, I ask you, is it any wonder I have written and illustrated a creepy picture book full of spiders and headless dolls?  And, should I be worried that my five-year-old actually enjoys playing with the severed doll head??


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Katie's Ski Trip

Hey there! I am back. We had a spectacular ski vacation but sadly, I can't get any pictures to upload? You can see them all on Facebook.

I can't think yet about writing except that I was STOKED about my killer new book idea that involves snowboarders. So I read snowboarding magazines all the way home to get cool with their lingo. And it cracked me up! I can't wait to write about it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008

Aahhh Revision...

I recently finished my third serious set of revisions and guess what? I LOVED it! And here I was believing revision sucked.

I think I was in such a rush to write the book, that it always felt like an ADD supersonic tangle of ideas and emotions. And although I got everything down, there were scenes that didn't fully capture what I wanted to say. But SF found those areas in her critique and left me notes that said things like, "Kick this up a notch!" or "I need to feel her pain more!" Interestingly, after talking to some other writers about this, I've discovered that most people hate these kinds of requests. But for me, revision allowed me to be still and really enjoy my book in a way that I had not experienced while writing it.

It felt like slowly savoring a delicious chocolate torte. The process was relaxing, thoughtful and yummy. Honestly, I adored getting into some large mess of dialogue and smushing it all around until it was perfect. In fact, I had a cool idea yesterday and may revise a little more.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Today, I got to participate in a real live book signing with the "Red Dog Writer's Group".  They are a group of talented, award-winning Mississippi writers who have published short story anthologies for the last couple of years. They were kind enough to ask me to submit something for their latest book Mad Dogs and Moonshine.  

While I don't usually write for the adult market, I do have a few short stories lurking around in the files of my computer.  So, I sent one to the editors (full disclosure here--one of the editors is my aunt :-)) and it was included in the anthology.

I really, really appreciate this group for allowing me to be included in their latest publication. They have been writing together and going to conferences for years, and a few years ago, they decided that they wanted to get some of their work in front of the public.  Their short stories are as diverse as the group, and they give all of their profits to the Humane Society.

It was fun to get a glimpse of what a book signing will be like . . . someday  . . . when one of my children's books gets published . .

A HUGE thank you to everyone who came out.  Thanks for being such supportive friends!!!


Friday, December 12, 2008

One Step Closer...

So today I met SF at my office (ie: the coffee shop. Yes - it has a fireplace and leather club chairs!) in order to hear her critique of my wicked cool manuscript. (I'm still calling it that even though it has suffered a beating and is slightly less cool than previously thought.) The critique was wonderful, and hysterical, and thoughtful, and challenging. I have much to do.

We are laughing in our picture not only because my favorite coffee guy Tim was forced to photograph us (Thanks Tim! He swore he'd read our blog now.) But also because SF found SO many problems in my manuscript that I couldn't help but laugh at times. And I think I could laugh some more at the idea that I almost sent this gem out before it was ready! WHOA NELLIE! Patience Katie, Patience...

Anyway, after it was all over, I was unexpectedly fired up to get back to work. In fact, I was secretly sad that the kids get out in one week (I'll take that back if you tell anyone), because I truly want to just sink into that leather chair and disappear into my computer for a few weeks.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Critical Eyes

First of all, I want to say that the picture to your left has absolutely NOTHING to do with this post.  I'm just a little jealous of all of Katie's cool pictures . . . except maybe I'm trying to look "critical".

I've been reading manuscripts over the last week for some of my writer friends.  First, I read a very cool YA thriller by Shelli Johannes Wells which is full of amazing, page-turning suspense.  Great characters . . . great book.  I can't wait to see it on the shelves.

Right now, I'm in the middle of Katie's very sexy, very intriguing YA novel.  I don't want to give anything away, but she's right--it's wicked cool.

Critiquing manuscripts is tricky business.  I tend to be overly heavy-handed with my comments, and I always try to remind my writer friends how subjective critiques are.  My new favorite website is Shannon Hale's.  In the section of her site called "Mincemeat",  she gives some really juicy advice for writers.  She also addresses how to take (and dish out) critique suggestions. She says, ". . .remember--others can identify the things that aren't working, but no one can tell you how to fix them.  Unfortunately, that's the sole burden of the author."  She also talks about the importance of recognizing when someone understands what it is you are trying to do as a writer.  If you feel like someone doesn't "get" you, you should not give a whole lot of weight to that person's comments.

So . . . I'm trying hard to write notes suggesting problems without suggesting how to fix them.  And, I completely expect my writer friends to ignore any comments that they think are completely off-base.  That said, I'm loving doing this, and I'm learning so much about the craft and structure of writing novels.   I've had a bit of a break from my own WIP, and I'm ready to get back to it with fresh, critical eyes.

Friday, December 5, 2008

I've Kissed and Told.

I am FINISHED! Woo Hoo!

word count : 56,726

pages: 240ish

Title: Kiss and Tell

Genre: YA Suspense

Premise: Top Secret and Wicked Cool

Now what? Submit and wait... and wait....

Mental State: Half excited, half terrified!

I think I wasn't prepared for the anxious fear I would have at the thought of people reading it. Not other writers so much (except I really hope they like it), but more like my parents, and my non-writer friends.

Also, I have found that since I'm not yet published, when I talk about "my book" to most people, they are like, "uh huh... So when is soccer practice?" Or they say, "You're finished with your book? What did you read?" So, I've realized that to discuss trying to get a book deal is almost as strange sounding as if I was casually talking about the lottery that I was waiting to win.

Anyway, all of that aside, having just finished writing my first ever novel, I feel like a large and wonderful weight has been lifted. I didn't expect this feeling either, because I literally LOVED the process of writing it. And while I am looking forward to thinking of another one, at least I can leave my laptop at home now, and enjoy skiing with the family over Christmas.

Wish me Luck!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(P.S.This weird photo is how I've always envisioned the cover - except with my young teenage main character, instead of moi. And a very wise little bird told me that a boy's face should be coming in from the side all puckered up to kiss her. What? I don't have a say in the cover? ...of the book that hasn't yet sold? Sheesh! Can't a girl dream?


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

'Tis the Season

As I type this post, I'm licking the last few luscious drops of peppermint ice cream from my chin.  I love all things Christmas--the chaos as well as the quiet moments by the fire (who am I kidding?  what quiet moments??).  I tackled the snarls of twisted lights, garland and ribbon over the weekend as I began my haphazard method for decorating my house.  I'll let you know when I get it all thrown together . . .  

During this season, I also feel like I can take bit of a break from the publishing quest--not the writing, just the letters to agents and editors and the mailbox stalking.  I doubt anyone in the publishing industry is reading queries and manuscripts with fervor right now, and I have plenty to work on until January when I feel like it will be safe to send things out (i.e. when my manuscript won't be in danger of being stuffed under a fruitcake on someone's desk . . . . only to be forgotten for years and years).

So enjoy the madness everyone and get your peppermint ice cream while you can!


Friday, November 28, 2008

No Pain, No Gain

"You can't be an artist without tragedy in your life," my mother-in-law said to me, one morning over coffee.

She was relaying the story of a young girl who went away to art school. On the first day of class, her professor spoke these very words to her. Naturally, she was quite put off, believing herself to be very talented. But you see, this young girl had led a very privileged life, without many worries, and her art evidently reflected it. (I'm assuming her paintings were rather one dimensional, and lacked a certain depth.)

The night before, M-n-L and I read SF's novel, Paper Tiger and were discussing how SF described the tension that is necessary for great art. Her novel, combined with the professor's story of the girl, swirled around in my overly-thinky brain for a day, and I realized that it was true. The only way to really evoke deep emotion in our stories is to have suffered at some level ourselves.

This same day, I had been talking to another writer about his rather long journey towards publication, and how, in retrospect, he could see how everything, good and bad, had prepared him for his eventual success. And I thought about life, and that where we find ourselves today is a direct result of what came before.

Therefore, if we view our lives as artistic masterpieces, our life paintings will be more beautiful if we have endured hardship. And the same goes for our writing. For some odd reason, I found it comforting to imagine that the harder the journey, the more beautiful the story. Not only yours, but the one you will write. And to endure pain is to grow in beauty :-)

P.S. That strange photo is me being overly-thinky while writing this post... and also playing with photo booth :-)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Early Christmas

We got an early Christmas present this week HERE! And even better, it's the gift that keeps on giving :-)

First of all, it arrived in all of it's glory, from the beautiful and talented Irene Latham who writes incredible poetry and historical fiction for children.  Her book The Witches of Gee's Bend will be released by G.P. Putnam and Sons in 2010.  Please, go and read about it on her website. We absolutely cannot wait to read it--especially since we love quilts with all of their artistry and storytelling.   The world needs books about tactile pieces of artwork and history, especially in our computer driven age.   Irene, it means so much to us to receive this award from such a smart and talented person!

So today, (drumroll, please) we would like to pass it on to one of our new favorite reads, Juvenescence, by Christy Raedeke.

We met Christy in Los Angeles this year and became fast friends. She is funny and fascinating and knows how to tell an engaging story. In fact, we are on pins and needles waiting for her books to come out in 2010 and 2011 with Flux.   She combines some very cool math, science and ancient history with YA fiction.  We're honored to know such a talented writer.

We hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving!

sf and katie

Friday, November 21, 2008

RANDOM PANIC - number two.

I told you I might have a few of these Panic posts. But seriously, is this going to be me, at age 80? Still writing my book, and still trying to sell it?? Please say no. Please say no. HAHA
She does kinda resemble me in my leather chair at the coffee shop...

So, lately, I decided that perhaps what I need is a good read of my story. Specifically the first 75 pages. So last week, after "Random Panic - number one," and before "Random Depression," (oh, we are sick) I emailed drafts to three people. The following day I received a call from Critiquer number one. She had so many great ideas and changes that I felt sick and overwhelmed with just trying to figure out where to begin. Because I really loved a lot of her ideas!

But then, within minutes, I got a call from Critiquer number two. (you gotta love these girl’s speed!) Her take on my story was almost the polar opposite of number one! Yikes! What to do? Panic set in fast. I decided to take a day off, and just think. But lately this is hard to do, because all I want to do is WRITE, WRITE, WRITE. What do you do when you have such opposite advice??

After pacing the house a few hundred times, I got another call. It was my precious neighbor and long, lost, best friend. She said, “Hey Katie, I haven’t seen you in so long that I miss you! How 'bout you come over tomorrow night for a glass of wine?”

Ahhh - I thought. That’s what non-writer friends are for :-) a glass of wine and mindless chatter. SURE! THANKS!!!

P.S. I have since received a review from C3, and she had even MORE ideas. My brain is feeling heavy and explosive.

P.P.S. I got an iphone, and it is helping with the chaos :-) I highly recommend one!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Sick House

I've just returned from a weekend trip to Birmingham with my oldest daughter.  It was her birthday, and she wanted to forego the birthday party and go shopping for something "cool" for her room.  As you can imagine, I was ecstatic.  No slumber party with insomniac, crying, emotionally hysterical ten-year-old girls?  Woo Hoo!!!  (although I probably missed out on some great research for my middle-grade)

While in Birmingham, I had a fantastic lunch with Lindsey Leavitt and Irene Latham, both authors with books coming out in 2010.  I had met them at our regional SCBWI conference last year and couldn't wait to catch up.  We talked about all kinds of wonderful writer things--at least as much as we could without boring my daughter and Irene's son into a stupor--and Irene asked me when I wrote my first novel.  Hmmm.  When?

I wrote it after I had my last baby--when I had a newborn.  It hit me what a gift it was for me as a writer to have that little, helpless baby in my life.  The thing about newborns is that they don't do much, and they can't get into trouble.  They just lie around looking adorable, and they sleep a LOT (okay, there are body functions that have to be taken care of from time to time, too).  But, having a baby who took morning and afternoon naps did something for me . . . she forced me to stay at home with nothing else to do.  I couldn't run out to the gym or grocery store.  I could say "no" to field trips and other mom obligations.  That little baby actually enabled me to get my novel written!!

Before and after my trip this weekend, my family has been plagued by a wicked stomach bug. Once again, I've been forced to stay here at home.  I couldn't leave right now to go to Kroger if I wanted to because I've got an eight-year-old napping upstairs.  And what has happened these last few days???  I have been camped out on my living room couch surrounded by writing books, conference notes, and my computer--and I've been cooking on my latest novel.  Cooking, I tell you!

So, what have I learned from this little lesson?  I think it is to treat my novel as I would a sick child--I won't leave the house while it needs my attention.  And, the bonus is that there will be no body functions to clean up!

And, Happy Birthday Katie!!!!!

Sunday, November 16, 2008


I decided to postpone Random Panic - number two until next time. Today I was helping Kate with her snow crystal science project, and I thought, "My God. Snowflakes are the most beautiful things on earth." So just for today, I think I will focus on the beautiful, and lovely. And I will remember the blessings, and not the panics.

Her project made me think that we are all, in a sense, exactly like human snowflakes. All beautiful, and not one is the same.

I have been asked to speak to a large group of students at the University. As I have been thinking about what to tell them, I have decided that I want them to remember that we are all born with certain gifts. Surely they know this, but many times I think we try to be another kind of snowflake because that's what our parents expect, or that is what we think makes more money, or we are shamed into thinking our snowflake is defective (Like that poor, little, imaginary warrior dude in Role Models). I want them to know that if they are in a major that they hate, that they can stop. It's never to late to start over. They need to allow their own snowflake to be exposed. Even if it seems unconventional.

I was the artsy little girl who slaved away for years in accounting, statistics, and business classes. I believed my parents, and bosses, and teachers when they said that design and art is not really a good idea. That I wouldn't make any money, and couldn't "go places." And so I spent many unhappy and unfulfilled years daydreaming storylines while selling real estate etc... Thank God I came to my senses before I was too old to dream :-)

I don't know what the point of this oddball-snowflake-inspired post is? But just to say that-- just like when you hear writing people say that no one else can write the book you will write, because there is only one you... I'd like to add that no one can do ANYTHING you were born to do, because you are an individual. And if you stay true to your own gifts and desires, you WILL be successful, no matter what. 'Cuz just like the ICE, you are one of a kind. Unique. And beautiful....


Friday, November 14, 2008

Random Depression . . .

Okay, I don't know how many of you out there read Nathan Bransford's blog, but his post a few days ago sent me straight to the Godiva ice cream.  Read it here if you think you can handle it, but it basically says that the economy is terrible.  Book stores are having trouble paying publishers  for the books that they've ordered.  Fewer and fewer and fewer and fewer books are going to be published, and houses are going to be looking for blockbuster books.

What's a newbie to do????

My bud Lindsay Leavitt has some good advice here.  She is an advocate of giving away all of your old books to make room for new books (that you will go to the bookstore and BUY).   Great advice, but can we bloggers make a big enough dent in our national economy to make a difference?

And . . . as if it wasn't hard enough . . . is a publisher really going to sign a new author with all of the doom and gloom news out there?  

I guess all we can do is dig in our heels and SCREAM . . . wait, no.  Dig in our heels, buy a bunch of books and write that blockbuster.  Right?

Sarah Frances

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

RANDOM PANIC - number one.

I titled this post "Random Panic - number one" because I assume that random panic might be the norm for me, so there will likely be a number two, three and so on. Here is an episode of said panic in the last week.

I have been camped out at the coffee shop for a couple of weeks working on my YA novel. Last week I had a mini panic attack. Not the kind that requires medicine, or makes you want to vomit, or faint... But the kind that requires a glass of wine and some “You can do its!” from mom, SF and other friends.

Maybe these periods of self-doubt are normal? Since I have never written a novel, I am not sure. It’s all new to me. I feel so good about my story, and yet there are places that feel dry, and large unwritten voids that I wondered if I would be able to effectively fill.

Oddly, as soon as I gave myself permission to back up and re-group, I felt better. And the ideas started flowing again. But for that one night, I felt depressed and worried. I sure hope those nights are few and far between, and I can crank out the story that my body literally aches to tell.

I'm choosing to think positive. I'll keep you posted.

P.S. Positive thinking doesn't mean random panic doesn't occur. At least not in my world. Oh! and I finally found some good music to listen to.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

You know you've arrived when . . .

You have your own tour bus.

And, a giant hedgehog who travels with you. And, a standing-room-only crowd at your book presentation and signing. Whew!

This is Jan Brett, folks.  Author/Illustrator extraordinaire.  She came to visit our favorite indie bookstore, Square Books, on Saturday night.  She spoke to a packed house about where she gets her story ideas (she often retells folk tales and ancient fairy tales) and about some of her artistic tricks and techniques.  She demonstrated how a character's emotions can be seen in his or her eyes by holding her hand over her mouth and having us guess what she was feeling just by looking at her eyes (this was my children's favorite part).  She also said that it took her an HOUR to draw an inch of one of her drawings and that it took her a full year to complete a book.  If you are familiar with Jan Brett's work, this makes sense--her painstaking detail in her watercolor illustrations is stunning.  If you are not familiar with her work, go NOW and look at one of her books.  You will become lost in her magical world

Once again, I feel so lucky to live in a town with a bookstore that is able to draw such inspiring figures from the children's book world.  And, I am inspired.


Friday, November 7, 2008

Finding my Groove.

For as long as I can remember I have been addicted to music. As a little girl, much to my parents dismay, I would fall asleep with headphones on. And as an adult, my ipod is never far from me. Music has been a near constant companion to me. I should have been that person that chooses the songs for a movie soundtrack. I would rock that job!!!

So, as I have started to get cranking on my novel, I have searched for a great compilation to write to. My musical tastes are so diverse that it has been a joy, and a struggle to find just the right mix to blare into my ears while creating this wicked cool story. Usually, I am a fan of movie soundtracks - specifically the score. But I have been unable to find a score that I am not already familiar with. I need a new one. One that compliments the action in my story. A strange, long lost score. Songs with words generally distract me because I find myself either listening to the words, or singing them. And mixed with trying to write different words, I get all ADD confused.

Last night I downloaded the soundtrack to Twilight. (Only two more weeks!!!) I immediately LOVED Supermassive Black Hole by Muse. It's the kind of song that makes me want to drive way too fast and wear tight black leather pants. Seriously, it does. And just to emphasize my diverse tastes, my second favorite song on that soundtrack is Clair de Lune, which is a beautiful, classical piece that I will no doubt find useful in my writing. It's romantic, and thoughtful. Perhaps a first kiss kind of song. Innocent. I love it. I also love Eyes on Fire, by Blue Foundation. It's groovy, serious, and either extremely sexy, or potentially sad. I don't even know the words to these songs, I am basing my analysis on how they make me feel.

Hmmm.... what to do, what to do.

At least I am ON FIRE with thinking about, and writing my delicious story :)

P.S. I am reading a book called Feathers, by Jacqueline Woodson, in which one of the characters is deaf. He plays a game with his sister where she asks him what he thinks a guitar sounds like. And he signs, "Like rain, coming down real soft when it's warm out and you get a little bit wet, but not cold. That kind of rain." Fascinating.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Laurent de Brunhoff was in Oxford at Square Books, Jr., on Monday, and my girls and I went to have our beloved Babar books signed. 

Laurent is actually the son of the creator of the original Babar books, Jean de Brunhoff ,who died in 1937 at the age of 37.  I was delighted to find out that the original Babar story was based on a story told by Jean's wife to her sons when they were sick. When Laurent and his brother told their father their mother's wonderful story about an elephant,  Jean (who was an artist) thought the story would make a delightful children's book.   Jean's brother happened to be in the publishing business and thus Babar was born.  

Laurent took over the creation of the Babar stories and illustrations inspired by his father after his father died.  He has been the creator of Babar since the 1940s, and many people do not realize that the stories have father/son creators--their styles and delicious stories are so similar.  

Laurent is now in his eighties, and I am truly honored to have met a man who has created and sustained such an endearing  character in children's literature.

Long live King Babar!  SF

Friday, October 31, 2008

Here's what happened . . . to me . ..

In response to Katie's last post in which she wondered where all that wonderful writing time and energy had gone . . . here's where mine has gone.  Notice the pictures--pumpkin patch field trips, tricking up my house for Halloween, dirt-and-worms cupcakes for school Halloween parties, PTA newsletter, and the gi-normous, thirty-foot "shining stars" mural that I painted at Oxford Elementary School.

And, this all happened THIS WEEK.  And, I haven't even mentioned the saga of the Halloween costumes--which involved more painting and driving and sweat and tears.

Katie and I recently had a great discussion about pruning--not our gardens, but our lives.  I have noticed that when I'm using my creative energy to do anything--writing, painting, or volunteering--I feel pretty good.  I loved, loved, loved painting all of those giant stars on the wall of my daughter's school.  When I'm doing something that goes against my natural tendencies, I dread it--for example, the PTA newsletter was not so much fun and I had a pretty bad attitude.  

New goal--prune out the stuff that doesn't fulfill.  Somebody else is gifted in that way and will probably do a better job than I would, anyway.

Now, I'm off to my preschooler's Halloween party with my wormy cupcakes.  This week was gonna be a wash anyway.  I can't compete with Halloween!
Enjoy your pumpkin carving!!  sf

Monday, October 27, 2008

What Happened?

What Happened? I got back from LA and was on fire! I wrote 25,000 words in one month, which for me, is like white lightening, baby!! And then... life seemed to get in the way.

After a month or so, of soccer games, dance competitions, sickness, substitute teaching, Bible Study, lots o' cooking and cleaning, my poor novel has sat dormant over there on my desk for tooo long. When will I ever make it back?

Maybe next week....sigh.

P.S. This is me and my friend Whitney working her booth at a holiday show last week. Although it was a necessary distraction, I did get a pretty cool idea for another screenplay while I was there. Man I love writing! If only I had more time...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Dream Big

"I wanted so badly to study ballet, but it was really all about wearing the tutu."  Elle Macpherson

When I first started writing for children, it was all about the tutu.  Sure, I did the work and wrote the books.  I even had several people read my work and give me great advice and encouragement. The problem was that everyone was SO encouraging and positive about my impending publication and success, I kind of got caught up in the "tutu"--the Newbury Awards, the Oprah interviews, the adoring fans . . . 

When success didn't happen as quickly or surely as I thought it would, I realized that I had some work to do.  I started going to conferences and started seeking out readers who wouldn't simply cheerlead my work as genius--they would point out flaws and weaknesses (an actual critique).  

So, here I am a few years later.  I do still dream of the tutu--who doesn't?  That's the most fun part, and I think we can all agree that Elle Macpherson's dreams of wearing the tutu came true in a big way.   I love the thought of hanging onto that big ole dream out there in the sky while I do the grunt work that I have to do to prop it up someday.  I think this quote sums it up:

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost;  that is where they should be.  Now put the foundations under them."  Henry David Thoreau

So, enjoy your dreams.  And then--get to work.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Introducing Edwin...

Allow me to introduce you to my new love, Edwin...

He was a gift from my father and mother whom I adore, and to whom I owe my very life. They are HUGELY supportive and helpful and I am just overwhelmed by their generosity. Thanks y'all! Really!

NOW... Let me describe Edwin to you.

He's only been around a week or so, but I have found him to be insanely smart, and almost a tad nerdy in all that he knows and can do. Yet I find him utterly fascinating. His sleek body only emphasizes how sexy and ultra powerful he is. So powerful that it blows my mind sometimes.

Ahhhh Edwin. I love you.


P.S. One of my favorite things about Edwin is that he has a feminine side too. He arrived with the most beautiful and delicate pale pink peony as one of the preset screensaver options. My favorite flower. He knows me so well :)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Time Management

I remember reading a blog recently in which the writer mentioned that she had made Excel spreadsheets for all of her main characters to keep track of...I forget. What could she possibly need this for? Now that's dedication!

And yet the other day, I found myself having to not only figure out high school schedules for five of my main characters, but I had to then figure out a whole semester's worth of football games, dances, test dates, date-dates, and a slew of other stuff.

YIKES! I promise, I had no choice. My MC kept running into people in random classes and then I would see later that there was no way those two girls could have that class together. Or I would have some guy ask a girl out for an event that was two weeks prior. Arrghh...This is no doubt due to my non-chronological method of writing. Who knew writing could be so technical at times?

Is this like the unpublished back stories that you hear people like J.K. Rowling talk about? I heard her once say that she had volumes of writing about Harry's grandparents etc... My mother asked me the other day why one of my characters did something, and I said, "Oh. Well, her parents...yada yada yada..." And then I realized that her parents barely enter the story, but I knew the root of why she did what she did. So, anyway, now I know everyone's schedules and life is much easier. Does everyone do this?

P.S. I'm not sure, but I am thinking that maybe, just maybe, Scrivener has some way to do this better. I'll let ya know.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ahhhhh. . . beach.

This weekend is Fall Break which means no school for the kiddos on Friday or Monday.  What a perfect time to sneak in a little beach trip!

I am fortunate enough to have a generous aunt with an empty beach condo this weekend, so we're heading down this afternoon.  My poor husband is in the financial biz, and I think it will be good for him to be out of the office for a couple of days (although, he's a little worried about being gone right now . . . okay, he's a LOT worried, but we will have telephones and wi-fi).  My dad will also be there with his boat, and he says the redfish are biting.  

I know I'm probably being a little too hopeful in thinking of doing some writing this weekend, but I'm going to try.  I'm still working on my WIP with the help of Scrivener.  By putting synopses of each chapter on notecards and getting to stand back and look at my work as a whole, I have discovered tons of plot holes.  But, I think I've found a really cool way to fill these holes, and I've been doing lots of strange, kooky ebay research.  My favorite thing about Scrivener is that I can look at my research file--pictures, text, web pages--in split screen while I'm typing my manuscript.  No more back and forth clicking between different files and bookmarks--it's really cool.

I think Katie's even a convert to the Scrivener way of writing . . . 

Monday, October 13, 2008

Katie's Trip to Atlanta

I have just returned from a delightful long weekend in Atlanta. Last year at our regional SCBWI conference I was overjoyed to win the big door prize of a free website design by Bilan Inc. marketing in Atlanta. I know - cool, huh?! So This past Friday I cruised over and met with the delightful and brilliant Shelli Johannes Wells. She also happens to write YA like me, so I was especially excited to talk shop with her. After our website meeting, we met another writer, Jessica DeHart for dinner and talked more shop and some politics. Then, I went and spent the night with Jessica and her adorable family which consists of four boys, or rather men. (I always think this is odd, since I live with only one man, and two girly girls!) So there was a bunch of sports equipment laying around, not to mention - paintball planning, late night flashlight tagging, and early a.m basketball gaming. Quite different from my usual experience with toenail painting, late night dancing, early a.m. costume dressing, and art project doing. anywho, I digress.

From there I went on to my dear old friend Fleming and Shawn McCrystal's house for a couple of days where we talked no shop, but just hung out, ate and shopped. And joy of joys, at their church Sunday there was a "Blessing of the Pets." This meant that almost the entire congregation brought loads of dogs, cats, birds and even a hamster to be blessed at the altar. It was the cutest thing ever! I took a zillion pictures. Dogs were sitting in pews, and howling during songs, and walking in the aisles and just being their lovable selves. Too fun!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Our Guest House (aka "Duck Camp")

We were lucky enough to be able to snatch the house directly behind ours when it went up for sale a couple of years ago.  We bought it gutted--the previous owners had begun a "do-it-yourself" renovation then decided that they had bitten off more than they wanted to chew.  After lots of thought and number-crunching, my husband and I decided to do a massive renovation of the 1950s eight hundred square foot house (our fourth house renovation to date--and our last--no really, I mean it this time).  The renovation included adding the ultimate screened porch which we connected to our backyard with a garden path.

We furnished the house with comfy couches and beds with yummy sheets, and we rent it short term whenever we can.  Because we live two blocks from the historic Oxford Square (see our debate pictures if you want to know how cute and hip downtown Oxford is!), we get plenty of renters.  

The only downside to the whole guest house gig is that I am "Flossie" the maid, and she is especially busy this time of year.  What is the big deal with the fall, you ask?  It's Football Season, and tens of thousands of people flock to the Holy Grail of Tailgating (see Katie's earlier post about the Grove scene) for all of the home games. Since Oxford is a small town with few hotels (and only one hotel downtown), we are in a prime spot for the football weekend renter. And, you know . . . supply/demand--Flossie gets paid well for her efforts this time of year.  Actually, most of our rental money goes to our house note and into the girls' college funds, but Flossie gets a little cut which she puts into her SCBWI Conference fund for Sarah Frances.  Isn't Flossie a sweetie?

But, the very best thing about our guest house is that it is a great escape from the clutter and noise of everyday life.  This is why my friends and I have dubbed it "duck camp"--we decided that our husbands' real reason for going off to duck camp during hunting season is to get away from it all and bond with their male buddies.  There are no stacks of mail, no laundry mountains peaking out from the utility room (like the pun?), and no telephones.  I can take my computer over there when I need a fresh perspective, and write away.  I've even spotted Katie over there sneaking in a little writing retreat on our screen porch a time or two.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Scrivener... is making me looney!

Yep. That's me - freaking out on my roof! Wait! Don't panic. Let me give you a little history. For the last few years, I have plugged along on my adorable little Mac ibook. However, lately, my precious laptop has been acting a bit wonky and the operating system is just, well, OLD.... Which led to me start shopping for a newer, cooler laptop.

BUT, since the economy is behaving badly, I just can't afford a new one right now. This realization made me very, very sad as I watched SF going to town on the seemingly fabulous new program - Scrivener. (Scriv won't work with my dumb OLD operating system) After whining to SF and my family for a few days, I remembered that my daughter has a brand new Mac in her room!!! It's a desktop though, which means I can't carry it to conferences and the coffee shop. Sigh... But I thought that I could def. download Scriv onto it and just type my book up in her room. she has a big desk and three large windows. I mean, what could be more relaxing?

So, yesterday, after I returned from a glorious trip to Atlanta (which I will blog about next) I went out and bought a new yummy candle to set the mood (I really did) and a gigantic iced tea, and headed over to SF's for a pre-work tutorial. She glided effortlessly through the explanation and I was psyched to go home, light my candle and get to work.

Let's just say that actually using the program by myself, without help, almost made me lose my ever lovin' mind. And I finally busted out of Kate's window to de-stress on the roof. SF called and counseled me some more and I have gotten a bit further, but dang if new software isn't hard to figure out?!! And I am IMPATIENT!!!

So, I have had to take a chips and salsa break, take a shower, make a few phone calls and vent to my hubby for a bit - and now I am back at the computer (but obviously I am blogging rather than scriving. ) Oh well. I can tell it's gonna be great! As soon as I get comfortable with it. Pray for me....

P.S. When we built this house, I was excited for my daughter to have a rooftop lounge area 'cuz I had one when I was a kid and we sunbathed on it. So it's not quite as scary as it looks. It is now officially the Rooftop Spa and Calming Room. Come on over!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Scrivener--where have you been all my life??

I just downloaded a free thirty-day trial of Scrivener on  (sorry all you PC users--it only works on a Mac), and I am in LOVE!  What a great writing program!

I was a little skeptical when I began to use this program--I often find things like Scrivener to be more trouble than they are worth.  For example, I have tried using a palm pilot for scheduling, but I prefer carrying around a small dayplanner in my purse, and I (gasp!) write things on it with an actual pen.  I love the pen-to-paper exercise and the ability to circle things and to physically mark them off.  So, I approached Scrivener with the expectation that it would be a procrastination tool, at best.  Boy was I wrong!

I watched the video introduction that is offered on the website, and then I went through the guided tutorial a couple of times.  It took me an afternoon to really get comfortable with the program and to figure out what all it would do for me.  It really is an easy program to use--and I really mean it.

Scrivener allows you to put an entire manuscript into a virtual binder which you can divide up into chunks of text.  You can easily manipulate these chunks of texts around, view them together, and merge or separate them.  You can write synopses of these chunks of texts which Scrivener will put onto color coded index cards for you--and you can view them on a virtual corkboard.  The program will also put these synopses into an outline form for you. Manipulating and experimenting with text is simple (and, the program allows you to take a "photograph" of your text before you switch things around--so if you change your mind, you can restore it to its original layout).  

I have exported my middle grade novel into Scrivener, and I am going through each chapter and writing a synopsis for each one.  I am color coding my chapters based upon which plot line is developed.  I am about halfway through, and it is unbelievable how many plot holes were revealed to me through this exercise.  When I read the notecards in order, there were some very noticeable gaps that I needed to fill.  Plus, I noticed four green cards in a row--four straight chapters that dealt with one certain character, so I quickly realized that I needed to break up these chapters with some different storylines.  I finally feel like I am making some real progress!

Scrivener also has a place for you to write plot notes and research notes or files.  You can view these pages in a split screen form which is incredibly helpful.  For example, one of my characters is bipolar, and I had several research files bookmarked and downloaded in my computer.  I was able to drag all of those files into my binder, and I could look at that information while I was typing away on my manuscript without opening another file.

I do miss the physical pen-to-paper revision process a little, and I have run into a few problems because I'm working with the rigidness of a computer program (some chapters deal with two plot lines, for example, and I'm not sure what color to make the card).  Overall, though, it is an incredibly efficient way to plot and revise, and when my thirty day trial is over, I'll be forking out $39.99 to own this gem of a program forever.

Sarah Frances

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Power Plotting

I have the capacity to get into a project, like my novel, and feel this urgency to finish, finish, finish!! But, it's like my daughter playing soccer -- sometimes she is running so fast that, when she gets to the goal, she has blown right past it before she can slow down, refocus, and bomb her power kick into the goal. (She's beautiful to watch though.)

Yesterday I was talking to my writer friend Shelli, who I will be excited to see in Atlanta this weekend! She said that she wrote her first novel using the non-linear method in which I am currently working. However, it caused some problems with her plot. She just finished writing her second YA and found that it worked best to outline the whole book repeatedly, and keep this outline open as she wrote. She worked on the novel, and the outline simultaneously. She explains her process much better HERE. And trust me, it is worth reading, printing and possibly tatooing.

Our conversation made me stop my mad dash to the finish line, and re-examine my plot structure. Like I said before, I have all of the major plot points in place, and am now trying to fill in the empty spaces in between. So I have decided to do "The Shelli." But before I do THAT, I am going to print THIS, which was gifted to me by Mermaid Robin and is a fantastic outlining and plotting tool (also found in Our Favorite Places). 'Cuz what's the point in being the first one to get to the end of the field if you miss the power kick into the goal?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Inside the Presidential Debate!

First, everyone is asking how we got our debate tickets . . . so, here it is.  Jim Lehrer was supposed to stay in our guest house while he was here in Oxford.  The Debate Commission ended up moving him to another location that was a little closer to the Ford Center which is where the debate was held (disappointing!).  We got to keep our "golden tickets", though.  Sorry for all the secrecy, but Lehrer wrote the questions for the debate--which obviously meant that he knew the questions that were going to be asked before the debate took place. People didn't need to know where he was.

At around 5:00 yesterday afternoon, we went to a parking lot about half a mile from the debate venue.  We parked and walked up to a huge white tent, and there were signs everywhere on the outside of the tent saying "No cell phones!  No cameras!".  Since we had been told that we could bring cameras, my husband told the volunteer at the door that we would just take them in and check on it for ourselves (love that man!).  We asked our friend from the Debate Commission what to do about our camera, and she asked the secret service agent who was screening everyone.  He told her we could bring them in--just to turn them off.  Done.  We scarfed down some great hors d'oeuvres since we knew we wouldn't be eating again for five or six hours.  Then we went through security--metal detectors and bag search and boarded a bus for the Ford Center.

When we arrived, we were tunneled by barricades right into the door of the venue, and people were directed to their floors.  We stood around in the lobby for a while . . . waiting . . . .waiting, and then the doors opened.  The place looked amazing--you saw the stage for yourself on TV. We were on the lower balcony, so we had a great view of everything.  About half of the seats on the back of the lower orchestra level (about 200 or so seats) had been removed to make room for the six major news networks who were allowed inside the venue.   Platforms had been built and six mini televisions studios had been partitioned off.  This is where people like Katie Couric, Tom Brokaw, and Shepherd Smith were broadcasting from.  The rest of the press (3000 or so people) were outside in the press tent.  More about that later . . .

We walked around and talked with people for a while, and then everyone started heading for their seats.  At 7:15, it was lockdown.  You could leave the room--but you could NOT come back in for any reason.  The pre-show began at 7:30 and the Debate Commission directors spoke about turning off cell phones and cameras (they pretty much drilled that one in).  They talked about the role of the Commission for Presidential Debates which is a private organization--not sponsored by the government or any party, and their mission is voter education in presidential elections.  Our Chancellor Robert Khayat spoke next.  He spoke with his usual endearing eloquence and mentioned that earlier that day, someone had been putting in an irrigation system in Morton, Mississippi, and accidentally cut the fiber optic cable feeding the entire debate venue.  Only in Mississippi!   He did mention that they had put in two of everything so that a back up would be in place--but you didn't want to have to be using your backup before the debate even began.  Whew!  He also revealed that as chancellor of the university he was given 150 tickets, and he gave them all to students through various essay contests and lotteries. He asked all of the students who were present to stand.  This is one of the amazing things about our chancellor--he could have given those tickets to wealthy donors and VIPs, but he gave them to the students.  Lastly, Jim Lehrer spoke to the audience about the debate format and about his expectations for us as an audience--we were basically to remain completely silent.  He even threatened to specifically point to disruptive people and take time away from their favorite candidate if they misbehaved.  

Then the debate began (I won't rehash the specifics of the debate since you all saw it on TV--but I did think both candidates were great).   My friend at the Debate Commission had told me that when the candidates walked out onto the stage, it had to be perfectly orchestrated so that they would arrive in the middle at exactly the same moment so no one would appear to have an advantage.  Also, McCain's podium was a little shorter so that more of his torso would show--to even the playing field in the all important "height" issue!

After the debate, we were herded back out to wait for the buses, but our friends who work for the debate commission asked us if we would like to come with them to "Spin Alley".  Well, of course we would!  We jumped the barricade and walked down to the gigantic "tent" that was put up about a month ago to house the thousands of journalists from around the world.  We were soon shoulder to shoulder with cameras, people, lights and general chaos and craziness.  At one point I turned around and found myself staring at Madeline Albright who was being interviewed by about twenty different news organizations.  My mom actually spotted me on TV in the background of several interviews as she flipped channels post-debate (I'm so famous!!). We saw Hannity and Colmes, Rudy Guliani, Trent Lott, Howard Dean, Senator Danforth, and hundreds of newscasters whose names I could never remember.  We went by the hospitality tent for a beer but were sad to find it closed--so we headed back and caught the last bus to the parking lot.

Then, we went to the Square to people-watch and attend after-parties which were winding down by the time we arrived.  John and I sat at the Lyric rehashing the debate before calling it a night.  I wish I had gotten lots more (and better!) pictures, but the camera issue was a little "iffy".  The last thing I wanted to do was be thrown out for taking a picture when I wasn't supposed to be.  Scroll down to the next two posts to see the pictures that I did take.

I just cannot express how proud I am of our town, state and university for pulling this off without a hitch--especially with all the uncertainty on Friday.  The Debate Commission, Secret Service Agents, and the international press consistently said how impressed they were with the people they worked with from the university.  They all said that this debate was handled beautifully with perfect organization and capability.  Mississippi gets a bum rap a lot of the time (and sometimes we deserve it), but I'm thrilled that we were able to shine at an international level.  

And, I haven't even mentioned the Ole Miss Rebel victory over Florida today!!!!!  We've definitely got some good karma workin' for us here in Oxford.


Presidential Debate Pictures (Part 1)

John and I before the debate.

Trent Lott

Sean Hannity (Alan Colmes is on the left--no pun intended)

Okay, I think that's Cindy McCain in her red suit exiting after the debate

Before the debate begins!!

Pictures from Debate Night (Part 2)!

Okay, my husband John has many, many talents . . . but photography isn't one of them!  Because he is tall, he took all of the pictures from "Spin Alley" last night, and either TV cameras were bumping into his arms while he was snapping away or he had a serious case of the jiggles.   Anyway, here they are . . .   This is Guiliani

Madeline Albright--I accidentally bumped into her

Howard Dean

Okay, I'm getting frustrated.  I can't figure out how to put captions under my pictures.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Debate Week Pix

Okay, I walked to the Square with my camera today.  Here's some pix . . .

Our Motto

Our Motto