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

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