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.