New York City

I love New York City in small doses. 48 hours this weekend was just enough time for a taste of city before we headed home to Lake Champlain. I checked out the Museum of the American Indian to do some research for my new MG historical. It’s a lovely museum, but I was disappointed that only a few galleries were open because of renovations.

We saw JERSEY BOYS (loved it) and XANADU (loved it in a different, fun, silly kind of way). The kids made pilgrimages to the American Girl and Toys R Us stores, and I made a small pilgrimage of my own:

This is the NY Public Library’s Donnell Central Branch, home of Children’s Literature Blogger-Goddess Elizabeth Bird, better known as Fuse #8. I read her blog religiously and wanted to stop by on the off-chance she might be working a Saturday. (Forgot about ALA, though!) That’s okay, because we got a chance to visit some other important friends who live at the Donnell Central Children’s Room…

These are the original stuffed animals that A.A. Milne gave Christopher Robin Milne — the REAL Pooh, Eeyore, Kanga, Piglet, and Tigger. They look so loved, don’t they?

It was a great city weekend, but with a high of 95 degrees today, I’m so happy to be back on the lake today. Heading off to the deck now with my raspberry-chocolate coffee and Catherine Murdock’s DAIRY QUEEN. Life is good.

Happy Friday Things

Guess what?

Today was the LAST day of school, and tomorrow, we’re going to New York City to meet my Mom and Dad for the weekend, and we’re going to see JERSEY BOYS, and I just finished another round of revisions on my MG WIP, and now that school’s out I’ll have more time to research my new MG historical, and I just found this new, really great flavor of ice cream called espresso-something with chocolate covered almonds, and I ate it while I was reading the end of Carrie Jones’ YA novel TIPS ON HAVING A GAY (EX) BOYFRIEND which is an amazing, funny, touching book  (I got a little ice cream on it…sorry, Carrie…but at least it’s really good ice cream. I think you’d like it.), and…and…and….

I’m so excited for summer!

Journal in the Woods – Part 3

Two more miles through the woods…seven more mosquito bites…and Mystery Writer remains a mystery. 

The boys were off getting haircuts this weekend, so E and I decided to take the little black nature journal on another hike.  This time, we checked out Silver Lake Bog, a beautiful trail that starts with a half-mile boardwalk stroll before climbing through the woods to a bluff overlooking Silver Lake.

For a couple weeks now, we’ve been trying to track down the owner of a beautifully sketched and written nature journal that a student’s father found by the side of  a hiking trail.  It chronicles seven years of Adirondack hikes and includes the names of every bird and wildflower spotted along the trails, but no name of an owner.  Last week, we checked the log book at Poke-o-Moonshine mountain to see if we could figure out who hiked there on the date noted in the journal, but the log book didn’t go back that far.  We ran into the same problem at Silver Lake Bog this weekend.  The first entry in the book is from just over a month ago.

We didn’t find our Mystery Writer, but here’s what we did find:

Many, many lovely bunchberry plants,

A pitcher plant (Did you know that this is a meat-eating plant?  Doesn’t it look alien?)

A White Admiral butterfly,

A friendly toad, and a tiny garter snake, no bigger than a Number 2 pencil, who slithered under a log before we could snap his picture.

We enjoyed some writing time up on the bluff, so close to all the things Mystery Writer loved, but no closer to knowing her name.

We’ll hike again next week, but I’m afraid we’ll run into the same problem — log books that have been replaced since Mystery Writer’s last visit.  Where are the old ones?? 

This afternoon, I called DEC headquarters, where a woman told me that I should check with Chris.  Chris might have them, over in Lands and Forests.  She transferred me to his voice mail.  He’s out of the office until June 25th. 

Part of me is glad.  I am loving the sunshine, the warm rocks, the leaves under my feet.  Besides, nothing ruins a good mystery like having it solved too soon.

“…all these books that were for me…”

If you write for young people, consider this LJ post a big, fat thank you note (virtual chocolates and ice cream, too). I just finished reading my 7th graders’ final exams. I ask them to write an essay reflecting on how they’ve grown as readers, writers, and human beings this year. Here’s a quote from K…

“In the beginning of the year, I didn’t like to read at all. But then my teacher showed me all these books that were for me, and I couldn’t stop reading.”

Books that were for her.  Written just for her.  Or at least it felt that way.  She went on to talk about Sonya Sones, Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti, and Nancy Werlin — voices that spoke to her over the past ten months. 

And K wasn’t the only one who named names as she reflected on books that made a difference this year.  My kids talked about finding themselves in the characters of Pete Hautman, Janet Tashjian, Jack Gantos, Laurie Halse Anderson, Lisa Yee, Sharon Creech, Jerry Spinelli, Wendelin Van Draanen, David Lubar, Cynthia Kadohata, Mal Peet, and Walter Dean Myers.  They wrote about being challenged by M.T. Anderson, Richard Preston, and Markus Zusak.  They wrote fondly about escaping into the worlds of Margaret Peterson Haddix, Christopher Paolini, and JK Rowling.  And they reflected on walking a mile in someone else’s shoes as they read Gene Luen Yang, Cynthia Lord, Will Hobbs, Jennifer Roy, and Joseph Bruchac.

I write for kids.  I know that some days, it feels like you’re alone with your computer, and even your computer doesn’t  like you very much. So I thought I’d share K’s reflection on her year of reading.  We all need to realize when we write, we’re writing for someone important.  Someone like K, who’s waiting for a book that’s just for her, just for him.  

If you write for kids, that’s the work you’re doing every day.  You may never get to read the end-of-the-year essays, but you should know that you make a difference, and you’re appreciated.

Shrunken manuscript

This was fun!  I’ve read several times about the “Shrunken Manuscript” technique

recommends at her novel revision workshops. 

blogged about trying it on her latest manuscript at the NE SCBWI Conference, so I decided to give it a try with my contemporary MG to check some issues with minor characters and story arc.  I shrunk my 35,000-word, 120-page manuscript down to 29 pages of 8-point font so I could lay out the whole thing in my sun room.  Here’s what it looked like.

The pink post-it notes are major plot points.  The green are hints of my MC’s crush. The blue ones show where a minor friend character shows up.  The orange are funny bits with the little brother.  The yellow are opportunities for a new little thread I want to introduce.  I went through and marked all the things that already exist and learned a lot.  (I also found a gaping black hole with no pink post-its for almost four pages — yikes!).  Then I went through and added more color-coded post-its for things I want to add in my next revision pass. 

I loved this technique.  I’m a visual person, so seeing it all laid out like this helped me visualize the story arc in a much more tangible way and helped me see how I need to fix it.  (Plus, I have a fixation with Post-It notes anyway, and this was a good excuse to use large quantities of them. )

Horns on the roof…still…

It’s been a while, so I thought I’d post an update on the cow horns that are on my roof.  If you’re a new LJ friend and don’t understand why someone would do this, you can read all about it in my earlier post.  (Then you can quietly un-friend me if you decide I’m just too strange to hang out with, after all.)

I checked on the horns tonight, and the small critters eating away the gunky stuff between the horn and the bone in the middle of it have made some progress.  Not much, but a little.  In one horn, you can now see a tiny gap between horn and bone, where the fleshy stuff is gone.  At this rate, however, SPITFIRE will be published, read, and out of print before these things are ready to show anyone at a presentation. They also smell bad.

What I really need, I’ve decided, is something that works more quickly.  Blog karma brought me the answer when I checked out Unabridged — the Charlesbridge blog and heard about what some of their editors saw on a tour of the American Museum of Natural History during a break from BEA. 

Check out these guys…

Turns out you can order them online, too, but they’re expensive (and kind of scary, frankly).  Let’s hope the critters on my roof get to work soon.

Journal in the Woods – Part 2

Marjie and I loaded up the kids to hike Poke-o-Moonshine on Saturday, in the hopes of finding a clue in the mystery of the anonymous nature journal.  Mystery Writer was there on September 7, 2006 and wrote about seeing ravens, hawks, and birch trees along the trail.  

Unfortunately,  the DEC log book at the trailhead only went back as far as January 30, 2007.  What happened to the book for last September??  The worker at the ranger station told us to try calling the DEC in Ray Brook next week to see if they still have it. He’s not sure if they keep the old ones or throw them out.

The trip wasn’t wasted, though.  It was a beautiful hiking day. 

Visibility was fantastic, so the view of the Adirondacks was spectacular.

We found a patch of lady slippers tucked in the woods alongside the trail.

The fire tower wasn’t open, but we climbed part of the way up to enjoy the view.

We brought Mystery Writer’s journal to the summit for inspiration while we did a little writing and sketching of our own.

We stopped  to rescue an Eastern newt from the middle of the busy trail on our way down.

We got back to the car with tired legs but healthier souls, true to Mystery Writer’s promise, and I’m convinced her journal was happy to see an Adirondack summit again after those months under the snow. 

Next stop on the Nancy Drew Adirondack Mystery tour?   Probably Silver Lake Bog or Coon Mountain, both beautiful hikes with log books we can check out.  Stay tuned!

Journal in the Woods

A little black leather-bound mystery fell into my lap today.  My friend Marjie, another English teacher in my school, handed me the journal 9th period.  A student’s father had found it in the trees alongside a trail when he was hiking in the  Adirondacks.  They looked for a name.  Nothing. They read bits and pieces of it but couldn’t figure out who might have left it in the woods.

I opened the front cover and saw this.

The journal was filled (half-filled, actually) with beautiful sketches, poems, and thankfulness for the role that nature plays in grounding us when we need it the most.  But no name.  No clues.  Just lovely pencil sketches and descriptions of the moss, the ferns, the pitcher plants in the bog.  It is lovely.  And homesick, I can tell.  This journal needs to get back to its owner.

Here’s our best hope.  At the end of each entry was a date and the name of the trail the writer hiked that day.  The Department of Environmental Conservation leaves log books at the trailheads of many Adirondack hikes.  Did this hiker sign the logs?  I took the journal home tonight, and my kids are on the case now, too.  We’ll be hiking this weekend, following Mystery Writer’s trail and checking the log books to see who hiked on those days.  I’ll post a progress report next week!

Summer Shape Up – June, Week 2

Spending last weekend at home after two weekends away was heavenly. I had a hugely productive week – and met most of my goals (that darned fitness goal got me again, though…).

1. Get caught up with work for my critique group. I have a few chapters to read and comment on this week.
    Critiqued pieces of three great stories for my mid-grade critters.  All caught up.

2. Finish read-through and revision notes for WIP.

3. Make first round of revisions on chapter 1.
    Got through first six chapters on my first round of revisions.  I’m trying out bits of Holly Lisle’s One-Pass manuscript revision process and have found lots of her suggestions to be useful. Full disclosure, though – I’m not really doing it in one pass because I can’t think about all those things at once.  I still need to go back and weave in some threads that I’m developing.

4. SPITFIRE study guide – finish Chapter 3.
    Got through six chapters of study guide, even though I wanted to be writing new stuff instead.

5. Run 15 miles for the week to make up for ice cream cones consumed over long weekend.
    Well…it turned out to be closer to ten miles. They were run with great enthusiasm and spirit, though.

 I also did some more research for my new historical novel, booked a couple more summer/fall events to market SPITFIRE, and added a list of appearances to my website.

Goals for this week:

1. First round of revisions on 3-4 more chapters of WIP.
2. SPITFIRE study guide – Chapters 7-8.
3. Send in confirmation paperwork for NYS Reading Association Conference in November.
4. Continue research for new historical project.
5. Run 15 miles for the week.  Or at least 12.5.

Brownies?  Can I have my virtual brownies now?  And do they have chocolate chips in them? Mmmm….

Three books I loved~

~ They’re wildly different from one another and all amazing.

I sank into our cushy denim couch this weekend and disappeared into THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET by Brian Selznick.  This is a book that’s impossible to stop reading, and it’s a genre all its own:  part novel, part graphic novel, part sketchbook, and part classic cinema. Somehow, it does all of those things beautifully.  Through beautiful drawings and spare, lovely prose, Selznick tells the story of Hugo Cabret, an Oliver-Twist-type character living in a Paris train station and trying to reconnect with his lost father through a mysterious mechanical man he saved from a fire.  Like parts of the automaton, the pieces of this story turn and lock into place to reveal a magical mystery.  My favorite excerpt is a bit of dialogue from Hugo to his friend Isabelle as he looks out over the city from behind the glass clock at the top of the train station:

Sometimes I come up here at night, even when I’m not fixing the clocks, just to look at the city.  I like to imagine that the world is one big machine.  You know, machines never have any extra parts.  They have the exact number and type of parts they need.  So I figure if the entire world is a big machine, I have to be here for some reason.  And that means you have to be here for some reason, too.

A magical message from a magical creator of worlds.

TRACKING TRASH by Loree Griffin Burns is a trip to a different world — our oceans. 

won a well-earned Boston Globe – Horn Book Award for this work of non-fiction that’s as transporting as any novel.  My kids – 5 and 10 – were entranced as I read out loud about huge cargo spills of sneakers and bath toys, where the items washed up on beaches all over the world, and what it taught scientists about ocean currents.  They were horrified — and so was I — by stories of “ghost nets” that are abandoned in the seas to become garbage magnets and death traps for wildlife.  This is an important book that teaches stewardship without ever feeling preachy, and it’s well-deserving of the honors it’s receiving.

And finally — I’ll be honest here — it took me a while to warm up to AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES.   I started the book convinced that I’d love it, because how could the author of LOOKING FOR ALASKA let me down?  John Green’s voice is every bit as authentic and funny in this book, but the math bugged me.  Here’s the premise.  Child prodigy Colin Singleton gets dumped by 19 girls named Katherine, takes his wounded heart on a road trip with his friend Hassan, meets a spectacular cast of characters in a dying factory town called Gutshot, and tries to cement his place in history by coming up with a formula to graph romantic relationships.  Really, I thought.  Who thinks this way?  I love words and tolerate numbers, at best.  I do not have a math brain, so I wasn’t buying into it.  Until my 10-year-old son, who does have a math brain, came home from school and showed me the graphical representation he’d made of his two groups of friends, predicting how those two groups might interact when they leave their two elementary schools next year and join together at the middle school.  It was like John Green was standing over my shoulder with a smug look, saying, “See??”  I read the rest of the book with a much-improved attitude toward the math and loved the connections, the karma, and (mild spoiler ahead…) the fact that the nice guy gets the girl in the end.