Oct 10, 2010

The Best Engineers Play with Toys

Electric hugs to Patricia Wiles and the participants at the MidSouth SCBWI conference who contributed hundreds of books for schools in need. The responses were celebrations of reading.
     "I delivered 147 board and picture books, donated by the conference attendees, to the special ed classes at West Broadway Elementary on Friday Oct. 1," wrote Patricia to the MidSouth group. "The teachers were so excited! One wrote this to me in an e-mail: It's Christmas on Broadway!! "
     "It gets better ... after receiving two more boxes of books in the mail, on Wednesday, Oct. 6, I delivered 400 books from our conference attendees and other SCBWI friends to Alternate Day Treatment, AKA the school without a library. Well, it has one now -- thanks to you!!!!! The kids SWARMED the boxes! They picked up books and asked me about them. Some asked me if there were books by specific authors, which authors signed their books, or if there were books in particular genres. One saw books by a certain author in the stack and spoke of how he'd read several in the series, and did we have any more of his books? This was all so sweet ... especially as I thought of the people (none of you, of course) who had said to me, "Those kids probably don't know how to read anyway," and "Those kids have computers. They don't need books."
        Nashville readers will learn about the donations from MidSouth and friends in the newspaper this weekend. Could there be any more delightful celebration for us who love reading to hear?

But sometimes the connecting of child to book hits a snag. Also within the blogging of writers came this week a note concerning parents who push their children to read only at a challenging or "age appropriate" level and are anxious about children who want to go back to picture books. Teachers also fall in this category of reading coach, pushing reading to learn as the goal of class time reading. Many writers sent in tales of their own reading habits as well as those of the children who now occupy the households. Words are words, characters are warm-blooded role models, no matter how they are drawn, and situations that thrill or delight, that invoke giggles or trembles are just life in a teaspoon.

It's like jokes about space travel: objects may be farther away than they seem to be.

Don't we all remember "Don't judge a book by its cover."

As readers and writers, I suspect we all agree, "What you see isn't necessarily what the child is getting."

I fear those parents and teachers who restrict reading to "appropriate age" only have forgotten the delight in conquering. When a hummer has conquered the lyrics, she sings. When a reader has conquered a story, he makes up his own dialogue with the characters. When an older reader returns to picture books, or from "real age appropriate" books to chapter books, it's like re-tasting the icing on the cupcake; all comfortable, reassuring, familiar, and yes, a sweet memory of the other many times the book has shared its magic.

Knowing the outcome means rewriting it in the imagination, perhaps dreaming of different illustrations, even adding or deleting characters. Heaven knows, we see picture books, myths, and fairy tales retold over and over in movies. Of course that goes on in the colorful minds of children "reading down." Where would we be without artists like Disney and all his cartooning loonies who went back to picture books and made us the dreamers we are?

Perhaps parents and others who would restrict book choices don't realize that the best engineers play with toys. Simple things make clear to us the structure, the flow of energy, the dependency of parts, and the grace of design versus function. Reading is just another way to engineer our minds, to be creative, to be emotionally safe or challenged by choice, to control our universe for awhile--before all the rest comes crashing in. How curious I am to see if anyone has ever asked the child to rewrite the ending, to tell what the story means to him, or to pick up crayons or brushes and paint a scene in the story that the illustrator left out. Now wouldn't these activities 'tell a story.'

I hope children whose parents are worried about 'age appropriate' reading keep right on exploring the old and the new. The fact that they are making choices and building their own mental libraries tells me they're growing at a phenomenal rate. For teachers and parents, it's time to reassess the restrictions and remember reading is an adventure that takes us all far far away.

Sep 18, 2010

You've got blood on your hands once you kill somebody!

The moment was tense; my peace of mind in a dangerous condition. A Seer would have to be present to detect the evidence. But I knew. I knew I was guilty--a character I really really really wanted to keep was killed off with one tap of my index finger. The highlighted area of the page blinked out, into the ethernet forever. Never to be seen again.
I stand by my decision...with luck the mystery will be stronger and the plot tighter, but the character was driving the story. My MC was struggling to keep up; his sweet nature, his old-fashioned manners falling to the side of the road whenever this guy came into a scene. He HAD to go. And he was so wicked, so evil, that most of my readers refused to go farther than the first full scene. He frightened adults.........how could I send him out to middle graders? So I done it. He's gone. finis.

Now comes the weird part.  .  .
I went hunting, like a good blogger, for a picture, an image of a typist with bloody fingers. All in good fun.
And Lordy, Lordy! There is a whole genre of sick minds posting bloody hands and fingers on the Images files. They even have t-shirts! There's a dozen re-tellings of the Bloody Fingers camping out in a tent story. There's also an APP for the Iphone with spinning knives and your fingers dodging them in tighter and tighter circles. And amazing enough, a recipe for Bloody Fingers to eat. Who knew?

Bloody Fingers for Kids

1 pack blanched white whole almonds
red food coloring
egg - beaten with a fork
As many as you need: Frozen fully cooked breaded chicken strips

Pre-heat the oven.
Dye the almonds. Glue them to the chicken strips with egg.
Arrange them on a cooking sheet and toast until ready.
Serve with drizzles of very red (Prego) basic pizza sauce, it's thicker than spaghetti sauce.

And last, but not least (as they say)...........you can send your friends and loved ones a Bloody Finger email. Like that's something they'll cherish for a long long time to come?

I'm closing the door on this revelation and getting back to work.

Sep 4, 2010

Dorrie and the Magic Elixir

What would I do without Chuck Sambuchino and Nathan Bransford and their digests? Or Deborah Halverson and Darcy Pattison for a tidbit a day? Or wonderful challenges from writers like Ms. Snark whom I adore. They are my writing buddies in absentia. My back-up crew unpaid save by admiration. They cheer us on and redirect us when we ramble,
just like Dorrie kept an eye on her Mother as the battle continued against the machinations of Wink, the rotten lizardly Wizard.

We all begin as little witches with an adoloescent knowledge of writing skills garnered from the books we've read and oh Lordy, we do read. We read everything from memoirs of people we've never heard of to junk mail to dreams of worlds beyound the Van Allen belts to steamy close encounters to blogs. And we leap, schemes and plots in hand, into the writing world like daughters and sons of Calliope, aware of all the baby spells we've learned and intrigued by the adult spells we hunger to perfect.

I look upon the advice so freely offered online from writers, editors, and agents as secrets to the Power. And I am studying the Big Book of Magic Spells as hard as I can.

Jun 20, 2010

A Bird's Eye View of your WIP, just what your editor ordered!

One of the latest hints we've heard about analyzing your WIP involves copying your whole book on tiny pages so you could color code where the plot turns occur, the character shifts begin and end, the surprise of complications, and how far along in the manuscript certain facts are revealed, etc.

Check out Tim Koch's personal discovery.
A bit of trivia for you: a 90000-word story fits on 15 11x17 pages at 6 point and 6 columns. LOL

He's using LEGER size paper. It's worth having around if you have kids because it's 'poster' size to a 4-5 year old. One ream lasts forever. Tim Koch is the author of two fierce YA novels about young adults running from mind/body control in a futuristic inner/outer space in the universe and the voodoo that teens hoodoo so well. This is a great way to see the energy flow of a whole book.....and it takes only 15 pages. And a place to hang it on the wall or a bulletin board so you can really see it with a bird's eye view.

Don't try to read the fine print, SEE the transitions and hum the rhythm.

Jun 15, 2010

Catching Up with writers caught in action

I sat tonight for quite awhile and read. Read the blogs I want to follow more closely. Read the 'next' and 'previous' blogs. Read about new contests. Read about personal successes and woes. I took the time to enter lives of other writers to do the pick-me-up injection of perseverance I've been needing.

Try it yourself. When you're down and lonely and it's too hot to go out and there's not enough inspiration to stay in.....try reading 50 blogs of other writers. Blogs of poetry. Blogs of rhyme. Blogs meant to let off steam. Blogs begging for followers and someone to relate to. Blogs of youngsters who write. Blogs of seasoned writers who have had so much success they seem to be untouchables. Just read.

From webpage to webpage, I found desire and desparation. Joy and anticipation. Urgency and patience. All possible antagonists among emotions common to writers, to those who keep trying even when the strokes are few.

Give yourself a pat on the back. Read for an hour uninterrupted. Don't stop to answer, make a note now and then for later. Absorb the fire. Be the fire. Be the change in your own tomorrow.

"In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for contructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone." ~Rollo May

Jun 6, 2010



Thirty some-odd contests for poets from far and wide.
Take the plunge, win some cash, and enjoy writing
in another style.  It's a summer challenge!!

All poems due September 1st and they take the deadline seriously.


REBLOGGING is alive and well

Now, as any ordinary person might admit if pressed, I find TWITTER a pain in the neck! All those urgent announcements, all that egocentric hoopla, is hard to make sense of. BUT retweeting is a fine way to pass on great successes, good contests, congratulations and so forth. I am in favoring of spreading the best of the best whenever possible. Go forth all ye writers and REBLOG! It's bound to create a whole new audience.

REBLOGGING Kristin Gray's "Another Gray Day"
TOP 10 Topics of novels for children

Always yours,

Kate Lacy
Editor for Hire
Reading and critiquing for writers of MG and YA
contact: voicedancer2002 at yahoo dot com.

If a June night could talk, it would probably boast it invented romance. ~Bern Williams

May 30, 2010

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Editing as a Way of Life.

Elie Wiesel once said, "There is a difference between a book of two hundred pages from the very beginning, and a book of two hundred pages which is the result of an original eight hundred pages. The six hundred are there. Only you don't see them."
          When I was looking for something to recommend my style of editing for writers in my critique groups and those I meet at conferences, I wandered through quips and wisecracks until this popped up. The "only you don't see them" is the gemstone. When all that is unsaid is apparent in the here and now of the novel, it has not been lost. It has not been forgotten or swept away under a thick black line. The life of the character and the enchantment of the setting are richer for things experienced by the bye.

If you are in need of editing, I am now, as of this very moment, a "professional" in that I have secured my first for-payment client, a talented writer named Beverly. Five books and going strong. If I've made her life a little more exciting by handing her a list of challenges after reading one of the books, then I'm happy.

And while I love the slow pace and great Ozark weather, summer is a huge chunk of wasted time for me. I need deadlines. I need to have someone else's welfare resting on my keeping promises.

So I am launching a CALL for MANUSCRIPTS.  I am willing to edit for writers under these conditions:
$20/ hour for general structural comments on plot, character, and writing technicalities.
$35/hour for specific line by line, scene by scene critique.

Contact me with a comment to this message or at VOICEDANCER2002@yahoo.com
Or call me at 479-442-8028.

Who said summers can't be just as busy as the school year? Go out in the sunshine and WRITE!

Kate Lacy

May 8, 2010

What Price Freedom?

School is almost out. Four wonderful and cruel weeks. Friendships forged and melted as students begin clearing lockers and backpacks and neglecting to study for Finals that loom ahead. Lab plans and good intentions thrown out with the recycling cardboard of old copy paper boxes. Every plan for vacation fun bumped lower in the To Do list by niggling tasks that should have been completed in the dark days of February or during the enforced stay home during the ice storms of March.

It's Summer around the corner calling, calling. Answer to 1-800-GetBusy.

And I'm ready and willing--but not able to dial that number. I am, sigh, a concrete random list maker.

Every i must be dotted and every t crossed, so I can go outside and play.  Unless I think of something else that needs to be done first. This is the curse (and blessing) of too many fiction writers. Right?
  • The Rosicrucian Order has just asked me to be their friend on FaceBook. Can a wayward Presbyterian refuse a religious invitation? Will it hurt my chances at impressing an agent?
  • An old sweetheart sent a picture of himself at the top of a tree cutting away wind damaged limbs---complete with belt, hard hat and boots. Can you love a man who calls himself an 'old coot' and teeters in the tops of trees?
  • My daughter sent me a lovely pink house rose for Mother's Day. Lovely. Simple. But now I'm worried it won't survive June's rainy season in the Ozarks.
  • I've started inviting carpenters to bid on finishing the bathroom remodel fiasco from 2006. It's got to be done; I might want to sell the house and move in the next decade. Stop laughing, I'm serious.
  • I've glanced up and realized I listed "belt, hard hat and books" above. Went back and righted it.
    It wasn't sexy/sexual, but can't that count as a Freudian slip anyway? After all, don't I live and breathe writing and books more days than not? Aren't Freudian slips an interesting literary device? Wouldn't it be fun to write a short scanky romance about a woman who says them all the time and isn't aware of it? I'd name her, oh, something formal like Cecily or something suggestive like Chastity or Patience or Obedience.
Can you see the stress I'm under? Even in an effort of putting order into my life, I am besieged by wayward dangers, fears for the future, a streaming consciousness of stories that need to be told and the inability to type without producing a foreign language on the screen.

Maybe I'll win a Pulitzer for Creativity under Fire. aftenl;all whein youre manuspd'[tjpt looks alike tthis....at least before you've spent an equal amount of time fixing it all, need I say more?

If I'm ever to enjoy summer, the list must be cleared. Starting now. Today. Before Lunch. Right after I put the clothers into the dryer and hang the sheets on the line. Just as soon as I scan Poets and Writers list of upcoming writing contest deadlines again and mark them on the calendar. OMG, I've forgotten to check my bid placing on the items I want to win at Do the Write Thing for Nashville at http://dothewritethingfornashville.blogspot.com/
.....and that's been on my mind all morning!

This is really important. Writers, never fear the creative and impulsive muse. When she works on you long enough, you always know where you're going. I am going to win one of those critiques on DWRTN!!

List making is essential so you have a trail of breadcrumbs to follow back--when the time is right, when the BID is made, when the clothes are forgotten, and when you're no longer afraid of failure.

Fear is the mind-killer. Right? I'm off to take care of the business of embracing my fears.

Write ON!

Apr 25, 2010

Resolve for a New Day

A weekend in SCBWI land with Heather Alexander from Dial Books for Young Readers and Elana Roth of the Caren Johnson Literary Agency has left me with a notepad of reminders, comments and do-lists for myself. Bottom line right up front: If I'm going to be a better writer, I have to take the advice given by those who know the business. The Arkansas SCBWI shows signs of declining. Numbers were low, enthusiam and questionning were muted and hesitant, but Heather and Elana pulled no punches. Getting published means giving lots of time and attention to the written product before you query or submit.

They both handed us paperwork that mimicked various stages of reviewing queries, making choices, categorizing, describing, and selling the manuscript to an editorial board. Good Grief! What an eye-opening experience. Twenty query letter in 15 minutes? You'd better believe it! Find one sentence pitches for stories and novels that run thousands of words? Oh, yeah. I loved this set of challenges. Thank you  to both ladies for never letting up, for making us think outside the keyboard and our own rose-colored assumptions.

Making resolutions, they say in January, is meaningless. I say making resolutions is essential for charging the little grey cells. And so do others with more grace than I.

Mary Anne Radmacher, writer, artist. Woman with a 'fascination with words' and a 'commitment to intentional living.' She has a knack for touching my core of determination.

Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, "I will try again tomorrow.”

Begin each day as if it were on purpose. (Oh dear, all those days I've wasted living on auto-pilot!)

Discover the tools to build your own vision.

The jump is so frightening between where I am and where I want to be...because of all I may become, I will close my eyes and leap!

My resolutions are always the same: Keep revising until each sentence is sharp. Until each thought is clear. Until the child who reads my story will save it for another read later in life.

Thanks again to Heather and Elana for giving me new tools.

Apr 3, 2010

Spring writing and Key Lime Pie Cupcakes for Karen

When news strikes, it seems to come in dribbles or deluges. We--the inhabitants of Kidstuff-Kate, Kim, Karen, Kristin, and Mandy-have taken on a new partner in pen. Tim Koch. Yes, he of sterner stuff, of abatoirs and incendiaries, of ghouls and etherzombies, has joined mind and time in the ever-enticing race toward publication. He's tim@timkochwrites.com or Whirled News at http://timswhirlednews.blogspot.com/ 

He may not know it, but picture books and middle grade novels are harder than Horror. Wait until he tries one!

Another of our writing colleagues is locked in her dungeon, facing withdrawl symptoms from Henry-the-most-beautiful-son-in-the-world and our own encouraging Rah-Rah-Rah-Siss Boom Bah! messages, to complete her new MG novel. What a role model!

So we are mostly offline today, working our fingers to the bone and ignoring the 68 degree, brilliantly sunny, gently wafting, greenly smiling spring day! All of NW Arkansas is singing, but we are typing. Mandy in a crowded and noisy space to blur the universe, Karen in her basement (mentally if not physically), Kristin in a mind-meld with the five munchkins, Kim in the forest of Missouri outside her cabin, and Kate with her feet on a cat and a cat in the lap, right here at home. Hmmmmm, smells like Key Lime Pie Cupcakes today.

Key Lime Pie Cupcakes (ala Southern Living w/ help from moi)
12 jumbo aluminum foil baking cups or a bunch of little mini-bite-sized cups)
Pam or imposter
1 fudge brownie mix (or chocolate wafers)
1/2 C butter melted
Mix the sticky brownie goop without any egg or
     pulse the cookies until powdered and add the butter.
Press into cupcake cups

3-8 oz softened cream cheese
1 1/2 C sugar
***w/ elec mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar until blended
2 tsp lime zest
1/3 C fresh lime juice
***add zest and lime juice until blended
3 large eggs (fork-whipped)
Add the eggs little by little just until last yellow bit disappears
Fill the cups completely full.

BAKE 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until set.
Cool on wire racks 15 minutes.
Cool competely before topping with garnishes of
your choice.
Whipped cream (Cool whip in my house) and fresh berries
suggested by SL folks, and they know their stuff! Actually I'm
thinking Cool Whip, more zest for tang, and crushed butterscotch lifesavers.

These are to celebrate Karen's other new novel all about CUPCAKES.

What a glorious group of people I spend my Thursday evenings and occasional Saturdays with!

Now it's my turn to get busy!

Tell me, writers: What treats would you like to have warm from the oven after you've slaved over the keyboard for a whole beautiful day? Kidstuff wants to know!

And just for fun, how's this for an opening chapter? Standing for Something

Out of darkness, a sudden blast of light slammed into a dogwood tree down the road. Flames filled the hollow around the old diner with a burnt char and died in sheets of rain. The boy woke, frightened by the light and its thunder that shook the car where he’d slept. Fog blocked his view through the backseat windows. The Man must have left him here.

He was hungry. Cold and hungry. He needed to pee. Under the quilt again, afraid to move, he muttered the rules for being ‘good.’ There were rules especially against leaving the car, and he knew better than to break the rules. But. . . on the back of the driver’s seat, a shadow flickered. A red light blinked through the rain, on and off, on and off. What was it? He rolled up and searched the parking lot. A sign. S-k-i-l-l-e-t?

Skillet. Pancakes? Chicken? If he hurried, he could be out, find food, and be back before the Man was finished eating. He pulled up the hood of his jacket, scrunched up the quilt and pillow to make a boy-shape in the back seat just in case, slipped out of the car, and ran around the building to the back. That’s where he’d find garbage cans. He was a good scavenger.

With one arm digging into a tall aluminum can, Michael gobbled bits of bread, chicken, and finger scoops of mashed potatoes and gravy. The Man would be proud of him for feeding himself, as long as he washed clean, and came back to the car quickly, and didn’t whine about being wet. He knew how to be quiet. He knew the rules.

“Grrrrrrrrrruff!” A monster jumped up, hairy paws on the edge of the garbage can, teeth bared. The boy leaped back away from the garbage and cowered against the ground. Covered his head with his arms. Played dead. It worked before. After awhile, dogs always left him alone. Rain trickled into his jacket, along the exposed skin on his neck, down behind his ears. Cold. He shivered and waited. A hot raspy tongue licked his left hand. He jerked it into his sleeve. The tongue licked his right hand smeared with gravy. When Michael tilted his head up, the tongue slapped against the mess on one cheek.

No monster. A big shaggy dog who liked potatoes and gravy. Reaching deep into the garbage again, the boy grabbed chicken and steak bones, a hunk of what looked like chocolate cake, and a plastic cup to scoop more potatoes, gravy, and a biscuit. He followed the dog to a wooden shelter and spread the feast out. Even wet, the dog was warm and they huddled together to share. When the rain slowed to a light strumming against the metal roof of the dog house, they were best friends and sound asleep.


The Man slung himself into the car, revved the engine to warm his feet, and pulled into the night. Hillbillies might be ignorant, but damn, they sure could fry chicken. God bless them every one. The heater began to take some of dampness out of the freaky Ozark summer storm. Rolling his shoulders, he lit a cigarette and shook his head. He had a long way to go before morning. The lump in the back seat didn’t move. Fine. A little something in the root beer worked every time. The brat was still out cold. After few miles, he opened the take-out box. You snooze, you lose. Smacking his lips, he ate the cold drumstick and fries. Shouldn’t let food go to waste, and a kid who didn’t wake up and ask for it, didn’t deserve it. Let him sleep.

Jasper, Arkansas Nine Years Later

Get out! Run! His lungs begged for air. He jabbed his fists left and right against the creature in his nightmare. Talons ripped into his arms, chest. He kicked with both feet. The lolling head, feathered and huge, faded into shadows with an ear-splitting screech. Mick screamed too, rolled, slammed against a wall, and the cabin door flew open. In a brief swirl of air, leaves and dust spread over his feet like high tide.

Groaning, Mick crawled over the doorsill, fell out into the warm August morning, and lay face up on the ground. Breathe, Stupid. You’ve had nightmares all summer, get over it.

The world stopped spinning. He coughed, breathed a little slower. Grabbed an edge of the door to pull himself up. Blinked his eyes. Jiggled his shoulders and looked around. Julie’s birdfeeder hung on its limb. Wild muscadine vines snarled where he had trained them. His little cabin was still relying on the red oak trunk to hold it upright. Nothing changed.

Fourteen was too old for nightmares. He’d moved out of the house into the camping shed, so his screams  wouldn’t wake his grandparents. So he’d stop being afraid of dreaming. If Grandpa Buck and Granny Irene knew he was reliving his kidnapping in nightmares after nearly nine years, they’d have him in for counseling as quick as they could make the appointment. The dreams hadn’t been so bad last summer. He’d just about forgotten about them, but they’d found him this year—the eagle, the ghost, and the storm.

Pulling a tee-shirt over his head, Mick sucked up his fears and stored them deep inside. He was good at keeping secrets. Couldn’t give up, let the monsters win. He had a new life to live and the past better stay in the past. He scrunched his bedroll into a box with jeans, tee-shirts, and underwear. A couple of half-charred 2 x 4s and a few broken panels of sheetrock tossed over it all gave the impression of neglected junk. He pulled down vines from the cabin roof to hide the door. Grandpa said it’d been some old hunter’s shack or a squatter’s hidey hole. Now Mick owned it. He had a real Certificate of Ownership, his twelfth birthday present. A deed to a place of his very own.

His secret place—to think or not think. To consider who he might have been in his other life and wonder why no record of his kidnapping could be located. His own cabin. Where his two-legged enemy would never find him. The Man. The Man whose name he couldn’t remember, who’d kept him locked up as a child. Who left him asleep with the dog in the night and never came back. The man called “Sir.”

On the Way Back Home

Mick decided to follow Scenic Highway 7 to the Diner rather than hike through the woods. Breakfast was a busy time at the Sizzling Skillet, and he was running late. Greasy, syrupy dishes would pile up fast. Granny Irene would be fussing about her sleepy headed dish washer and how the world would stop turning if he didn’t come to brighten her day. Ha! And feed the goldfish in the pond out back and anything else she could think of.

He grinned. Buck and Irene might not be his real grandparents, but they’d taken him in, argued with the county for custody, and somehow got a full set of papers for him, social security ID and all. He couldn’t imagine any other couple loving him as much as they did. When the nights were rough, he knew being with them in the morning would make it all sane again.

He whistled to a hawk gliding slow and high, riding the currents of heat that could carry him clear to the river side of the valley. Faraway dogs yipped like the clicking of telegraph keys through the hills. A vintage pick-up truck rattled its way out of a dusty side road and turned toward Harrison. The driver raised a finger for ‘hello’ as he passed.

Mick's boots crunched a steady cadence on the gravel verge of the road, and he began to sing. John Phillip Sousa. Great marching music. He raised his arms and strutted like a drum major at the high school. Another year and he’d be trying out for the position. Band was one of the best parts of being alive.

“Ba da da boom dada, da da da boom di boom, bum de bum de bum de bum.”

He sucked in a deep breath for the finale. “Da da da, doo di doo di dooooooo!” At that moment, the searchlight of a full August sun rose over the next ridge and made him squint. It was a great day, a beautiful morning. He began to jog.

As he topped a rise in the road, a smooth engine noise came surging up behind him. Fast car. Steep curves. Bad combination for a hiker. He leaped into tall grass closer to the tree line. The car’s roof glinted. His stomach tightened. Swinging behind a lightning-seared tree trunk, he ducked his head.

The car roared as it passed by. Like that monster in his nightmare. A rumble, a purr that became a panther’s hunting growl. The new model Buick zipped past, captured him, froze his image in its shiny black finish, and swung around the curve toward . . . where? The Diner? Jasper? Parthenon? North central Arkansas was pretty empty.

A dark-bearded man drove the car, taking his half out of the middle of the road. Not a nature lover. Not interested in the dew-damp trees, mist hanging low in the deep ravines, or the family of red-winged hawks circling, hunting together. No trailer hitch for a boat. No canoe lashed on top. Just one person driving too fast with purpose. One dark-bearded man. Mick stood still, barely breathing.

For the umpteenth time this summer, he’d dreamed of a monster swooping in to slash him open, to rip his heart out, and this car had just sucked something out of him. What if? No. Can’t be the Man. Just can’t be. Too long ago. He shook his head and laughed a little. Don’t be stupid. If he wanted you, he’d have come back before now. Stop freaking out every time a black beard drives by.

I appreciate any and all comments!! Every bit of information from readers makes me a better writer.

Mar 23, 2010

Let it Snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Once again, the variable weather of Arkansas has given us a Spring Break to remember. Nearly 14 inches of snow in March! Probably not at all odd for Michigan, but a once-in-awhile surprise in Arkansas. Then within 24 hours, 60 degree weather and the snow's gone, except for Constable winks of crystals under bushes and tucked into crevices betweens stones. Today it's lovely. Brilliant sunshine and the smells of spring, even if the damp is chilly rather than warm.

Lingering Winter
Footsteps clattering like magpies,
hungry sparrows, giant robins

Secret breezy whispers fluttering
like pigeons and mourning doves

Holiday scents gilding by
on lingering drifts of cold, dry air

Fleeting giggles in quick windy swirls
of crunchy brown leaves

Forgotten blossoms of summer sighing
like tiny fishes weaving between wands of seagrass


Tears of spring
swirling warm mist
showers of sharp knives

Inhale slowly
breathe in pale sunlite dreams
possibly fog.

Feb 16, 2010

To Read or to Love, that is the question

For everyone who's read To Kill a Mockingbird, as opposed to loved To Kill a Mockingbird, here's my take on the question.

We, even those of us who are baby birds in the writing nest, write our stories from the heart ...or they die.
We, even those of us who stumble over and over again, pick up the pen and try another story...or give up.
We, even those of us who may not be Sunday faithful, dream, wish and pray for inspiration...or we feel abandoned......and I am telling you, feeling abandoned is a state of our own creation.

This morning, instead of writing or even dreaming up something worth writing, I searched the ether for an abridged version of TKM for our SPED classes. Why? You might ask. Surely if we 'encourage' kids who can't read above 3rd or 4th grade level to slog through TKM, we have a good reason. Could it be that the story is arresting, full of action, dynamic, thrilling?  To a kid, not so much.

Ah, but I and possibly you, grew up on the film. The FILM first. The action, the drama, the pathos. The FILM first. Then, after a little time and a little emotional scarring, I read the book.

And oh, while I love the story, the writing, the characters, the conflict, and the reveals....to me, To Kill a Mockingbird was meant to be real life, visceral, angry and sweaty, frustrated and frustrating. To be Scout, to be caught up in an adult world that doesn't make any sense at all, to have so many questions about decent behavior and compassionate understanding of other people...and to be unable to make a difference, what more could the main character want in a story? What better way to electrify the heart of a child who believes at that moment, 'I would never shut up and let this happen.'

What better way to empower one of tomorrow's heros?

So, now I ask you: Is it better that a slow reader have read through the full version with adult vocabulary and dictionary by the side, or is it better that these same teens read the story in simplified language and then view the film?

Authors: What's your response? If you were a 9th grade teacher, how would you teach it and why?

I'm listening.

Feb 11, 2010

While the pot boils

We all know the old adage: Water never boils if you're watching the pot. That eight minutes for spaghetti seems to take twenty; waiting to dash in the asparagus (yes, I own no microwave oven) is the time it takes for one madly crazed cat to rip the NT Times Sunday newspaper into shreds. Time marches on all summer; time munches on all winter. We who gain and lose almost by osmosis are too fully aware of winter. An apple here, 1  point. A couple of chocolate covered pretzels there, minus 5. Two broiled chicken thighs and a poached pear with cinammon, 10 points and the signal to STOP! But then one turns around to look out the window and OMG, it's only 9:35 in the morning. Without the sound of traffic and the ringing of the school bells (buzzers), there is no distinction. We might absent-mindedly eat allllllllll  daaaaaaaay looooooong.

Alas, so it is in many novels. Time has no anchors.
The reader is merrily skipping along, from dangerous dark staircases to wild winds of a storm, only to find that either six months has passed or thirty-five minutes. So many authors have taken to hitting us in the eye with a time frame sub-heading. May 23 7:52 PM.    Four Days Later.      On Board the Hummingbird in a Storm of Epic Proportions      Twenty-eight Years, Six Months, a Lifetime Ago.

Enough. I fall back on Chekov. Anton, in case you were educated in the last few years when Russian short stories were no longer in the general curriculum. He charged writers to embed both time and place into the story itself, in order to expose the viscera of human relationsips. And his advice is undeniably sound.

Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.

If you cry 'forward', you must without fail make plain in what direction to go.

A writer is not a confectioner, a cosmetic dealer, or an entertainer. [I'm dying to know if he saw writers as mere photographers of life and human relationships.]

And of course, he had a comment about humans, too, that we could contemplate on a winter's day:

All of life and human relations have become so incomprehensibly complex that, when you think about it, it becomes terrifying and your heart stands still.

I want my characters to be "human" as Chekov knew boys and girls, men and women, to be human.
I want my readers to sigh (or howl or laugh or weep), to flip back and re-read a scene to seal it in better, to hand my stories to someone else and say, "Read this one."

I'm spending more time with Mick and Reverend Richter these days, looking for the moments when a sensitive kid can see the 'glint of light on broken glass' as he grapples with identifying the Man's identity.

If I'm careful, middle grade hearts will 'stand still.'

Jan 28, 2010

Caren Johnson Agency Pitch Fest

It's been a long time while we survived Christmas, then a big milestone birthday, and some nasty weather at my house. But back to the saddle.....it's Pitch Fest Day. Hello Elana Roth!

Here's my pitch for the day.

In a small town where a boy's suspicions aren't taken seriously by the authorities, a predator could do a lot of damage before someone can stop him. Only a few days into the school year, Mick Hawthorn, curious eighth-grader and kidnapping survivor, begins to suspect the true intentions of a new charismatic pastor who's become part of the school faculty. If anyone is going to step up and expose the dangers of a possible pedophile and kidnapper, it's going to have to be Mick.

STANDING for SOMETHING is an upper middle-grades novel especially written to remind boys that being young doesn't mean you're powerless.

Jan 2, 2010

Entry for the No Kiss Scene

Good Morning Writers! Please be sure to share your No Kiss scene link in any comments so I can enjoy your No Kiss scenes too! Thanks to Frankie for getting our fingers back into action after the holidays.

Gillian glanced at the French doors when she heard the car door slam. At last! Time had nearly stood still all day while she waited. He’d be windblown and hot from the ride up from the desert in that little sports car. She knew exactly how his body would feel when he hugged her. Sand would have roughened his skin, leaving a faint dust that would transfer to her own fingers tips as she stroked his arm. Summer down in Phoenix would have tanned him to gold, not sun-yellow, but soft and inviting, like old, old jewelry. Despite his brown eyes, he never darkened to a true tan, but like the finest suede, kept the gleam of oiled leather. She mussed her curly hair with both hands, making sure it was a bit wild. He liked that way.

         She wanted to hug him, to stand shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, her chin to the curve of his neck. In the last few nights, anticipating his arrival, her restlessness had conjured up dreams of racing out to meet him, regardless of what the neighbors might see. The thrill of tasting his mouth, of nuzzling her nose and cheek against his kept her awake and anxious. It had been nearly a year since his last visit, and email wasn’t enough to sustain her need. She turned her chair slowly as the doors opened, and a large suitcase was heaved up the last step into the sunny day room. The case rolled across the smooth terrazzo floor, and she caught it before it bumped into her.

        “Gillian,” he said as he closed the doors. “Some men know when to throw in a hat. I toss in a suitcase. Shows how special I am and forces you to accept me, even if it’s been so long, you don’t remember who I am.” He shook his head and stretched every limb, ignoring the customary means of politely entering a house. It was his home too, after all.

        “I had forgotten how hot that drive up the west road would be this time of year.” Joints popped and she laughed.

       “You can’t be getting old,” she said.

       “Ha! Just watch me. Six hours in the tuna can on wheels and I’m as stiff as the Tin Man. Listen.” He jiggled a knee and ankle and they popped on cue. “Dying as we speak. Feed me quick and give me the coldest glass of tea in the place.”

        He seemed to leap across the room and knelt before her. “You are my darlin’ darling, and I’ve missed you every single moment. How have you been? Everything going all right?”

       As he stroked her hair and traced the edge of her chin with his warm fingers, a thrill of desire made her heart begin to race. “I promised I wouldn’t be gone so long and I let you down. I’m sorry,” he said.

       “You’ve been away for more days than I can count,” she said and allowed her fingers to trace swirls through the blond hair of his arms. She leaned into his touch, swayed against his palms, waiting for him to wrap her in his arms and lift her out of the chair as he had done last year.

       “I’m so glad you’re home again,” she said. “I’ll bet you’re exhausted.” The effort to remain cool made her mouth tremble, but he was forbidden fruit, and she could not cross the line without his invitation. He leaned his head against hers and moaned as if he were in pain.

       “Mostly I’m starving. What’s on the stove?” He rolled the suitcase aside and pushed her chair with him as he headed for the kitchen. “A man travels on his stomach.”

       “I thought you traveled on donuts and coffee. Isn’t that what cops do?”

       “This cop has learned his lesson. I’ve been good this year, yogurt, salads and fish. And now I want something that’s run around on four hooves before taking a bath in barbeque sauce!” He pulled open the oven door and drew in a long breath of satisfaction.

       “Hot diggity dog! I knew there was a reason Jack and I voted to add you to the family when Dad remarried,” he said. “Every guy needs a baby sister who can cook.”