The UPS guy came this week with a new revision letter and another marked up manuscript from the editor working on my middle grade novel with Walker Books.  I went through her notes, which are funny and brilliant and helpful and all things that an editor’s notes ought to be.  And tonight, I sat down at my computer to open a new document.

Draft #18.

That is a whole lot of drafts.

This manuscript is 47,536 words long.  Multiplied by 18, that’s more than 855,000 words to chew on.

That is a whole lot of words.  And even though I’m excited about these revisions, sometimes I get a little sleepy just thinking about it.

Tonight, these guys were my inspiration.

Less than a week ago, they could fit on one of my fingernails.  But they’ve been eating milkweed leaves, day and night.  I don’t think they even stop to sleep.   They have chewed through at least two big leaves a day — leaves that are more than twenty times the size of their bodies. They’ve been working their little striped tails off (do caterpillars have tails??), doing the hard work of getting ready to become butterflies.   And they’re getting big now.  They’re almost there.

So am I.  My line edits are due by the end of September.  Like the caterpillars, my manuscript is becoming more fleshed out, more grown up. 

But it’s not quite ready yet.  And I’m holding out for the butterfly.

It’s a bird…. It’s a plane….

We see a lot of interesting things fly by our deck on Lake Champlain. There are always seagulls, geese, ducks, and great blue herons. We spot an occasional bald eagle, and one September we saw a huge swarm of Monarch butterflies — there had to have been more than a thousand — on their migration south.

Tonight might take the cake, though.

At first, we thought it was someone parasailing, but there was no boat. Then we decided it was a skydiver who was about to get wet. Finally, we heard a motor and saw that it was actually some kind of ultralight or powered parachute.  On first glance, it looked like something my 12-year-old might have made out of Legos a few years back, but after watching it fly up and down the lake, we were impressed. 

So, to the two people who seemed to be operating the ultra-para-motorized-gizmo… Well done.  We hope you had a great flight and a safe landing, wherever you ended up.  And thanks.  You made for an interesting night out on the deck.

Happy Monday Things

1. My new regional MG historical novel, Champlain and the Silent One, is available for pre-order on Amazon!  Seeing it there with a cover and a blurb and everything brings it one step closer to real.  The book is due out early next month, and  I’ll be signing copies at the Burlington Book Festival on September 14th.

2. The Cybils blog is active again!  If you’re a kid-lit blogger, consider volunteering as a panelist or judge for this year’s Children & YA Bloggers Literature Awards.  I served as panelist for the Middle Grade Fiction category last year and loved every minute & every page.

3. Espresso Therapy Ice Cream is really, really good.  (It it a testament to my self control that I stopped short of finishing the pint.)

Thankful Thursday

Lots to be thankful for…even as summer winds to a close.

1. I’ve been revising two books this summer — and surviving.  I was a little worried back in June when I figured out this would happen, but somehow, two editors at two different houses have been intuitive enough to stagger their editorial letters and follow-up emails so that I’ve only had one on my plate at any given time.  They’re both friendly, funny, brilliant sorts of editors, too, which makes the whole process a joy.

2. I’m mighty close to finishing a draft of my second Marty McGuire book.  A rough, unattractive draft with an untucked shirt and messy hair, but a draft all the same.

3.  The leopard frogs are out at the state park near my house.

The kids and I spent the afternoon catching, releasing, and just watching.  Also wondering what it must be like to be able to jump fifteen times the length of your body. That is just so cool.

These two posed for me and then jumped away in opposite directions in perfect unison, just like the synchronized divers in the Olympics.

4.  We found two tiny Monarch butterfly caterpillars and brought them home to raise in our butterfly house over the next few weeks.  Every year, we pick fresh milkweed daily and watch the caterpillars grow fatter and fatter until they climb to the top of the screen house and form their chrysalides.  Every year, we watch and wait.  And every year, I have to catch my breath on the morning that I come downstairs to find they’ve emerged as butterflies with wet, new wings.  It never, ever gets old.

May your last days of summer be filled with wonder (and ice cream), too!

The smell of new pencils

It’s a sure sign that summer is winding down…

Not only am I spending time in my own 7th grade classroom this week, working on some curriculum with colleagues, but I’ve also gotten a sudden surge of requests for information about my author visits from teachers and librarians who are planning for the new school year. 

I’ve just updated the part of my website that deals with school & library visits, and I’m excited about some new presentations I’ll be offering this year.  One is the hands-on, historical fiction writing workshop that I piloted last year with these terrific kids in South Burlington. 

Another new presentation ties in with the Champlain Quadricentennial — the 400th anniversary of Samuel de Champlain’s voyage from Quebec to what is now Lake Champlain to encounter the Iroquois.  It focuses on the first contact between Native Americans in this area and the French explorers and fur traders, using my upcoming historical novel Champlain and the Silent One as a jumping off point. 

Click here to check out my updated list of school and library presentations.

If you’re a teacher, librarian, or home schooler looking for more 400th anniversary resources, here are some additional links:

Vermont’s Celebration Site

New York’s Celebration Site
The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s Quad Curriculum (includes Chapter 1 of Champlain and the Silent One)
A Quadricentennial Site hosted by Champlain College

If you’re a teacher picking your last few batches of blueberries and sneaking in those last morning swims this week like I am, I wish you all the best in these getting-ready days before the desks fill with students again.

Friday Five

#1  –  We spent yesterday afternoon here, picking lovely, fat blueberries, which led to…

#2  –  Blueberry pancakes for breakfast this morning!

#3 –  Speaking of blueberries, have you seen Laurel Snyder’s adorable book trailer for her middle grade novel Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains?  Laurel’s running a contest on her blog right now to give away a free copy.

#4 – I spent a delightful Thursday evening with readers and writers at the Wells Memorial Library in Upper Jay, NY.  Elizabeth Inness-Brown and I were the featured authors at this installment of the Adirondack Center for Writing’s “Readings Around the Park” series. 

I finished reading Elizabeth’s novel Burning Marguerite just hours before the reading, so I loved hearing her read and talk about her process.  Burning Marguerite is a beautifully written book that reminded me of Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News.  If you missed this one when it came out a few years ago, it’s definitely a novel worthy of these last couple weeks of summer.

#5 – My composting worms have become little garbage-eating machines down in the basement.

Last week, I gave the worms a pretty healthy collection of cucumber and zucchini scraps and pear cores.  Here’s what was left —

Just a tissue paper-thin skin from the cucumber peels.

And the end I cut off a zucchini, in the process of being devoured.

At the moment, they’re chowing down on melon rinds, banana peels, and coffee grounds.  My vermicomposting bible, Mary Appelhof’s Worms Eat My Garbage, says you can dump in the coffee grounds pretty much every day.  I do it, but I keep giggling, imagining thousands of little worms all revved up on caffeine.  Maybe that’s why they’re getting so much done.

Things to Do & People to See

I was going to post a new picture of my composting worms, but when I went to check on them today, they were all too busy eating cucumber peels and yelled at me to close the lid.

Instead, I offer up the most random collection of links you ever did see…

1. I am extremely entertained by this concept.

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Click here to spell your own name — or whatever — with Flickr.

2.  On a less frivolous note, here’s a great Publishers Weekly Talkback about the appropriateness of YA books for younger readers.

3. School librarian Stacy Dillon has started a great blog called Welcome to My Tweendom, reviewing books for those 10, 11, and 12-year-old kids who seem to be stuck in limbo between the children’s room and the YA room at the library.

4. This link, courtesy of HipWriterMama, is about a team of U.S. and British scientists testing a real live invisibility cloak in the laboratory. In truth, they say it’s not as light and airy as the Harry Potter model and is really more of an invisibility shed.  Still mighty cool, if you ask me.

5.  Oprah’s Reading List for kids is out, and it’s pretty darn good.  Usually, I’m not much of a fan of reading lists because kids, like the rest of us, like all kinds of different books. But Oprah has some serious clout in our culture, and I’m pleased to see her using it to promote reading.  I was impressed with the variety of titles on the list, too — many of which I recommend often in my own classroom.

6. If you read my review of Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning and had book envy, you’re in luck.  The book comes out in two weeks, and Violet’s creator, Danette Haworth, is hosting a contest on her blog. She’s giving away a copy of Violet Raines and some other Florida goodies.

7. When I walk down the aisle of an airplane to get to my seat, I always look to see what everyone is reading.  Sometimes I’ll ask strangers questions about their books.  This horrifies my children, but I keep telling them it could be worse.  Sonya Worthy has a blog called People Reading, in which she not only checks out the books strangers are reading; she takes pictures, interviews them, and uploads the whole thing to share with the world.  That allows the rest of us to gawk away without embarrassing our kids quite so often.

Supporting Autism Research

I’ve blogged several reviews of books that feature characters with autism. Cynthia Lord’s Rules and Judith Mammay’s Knowing Joseph are terrific titles that are out now. And I’m really looking forward to my agent-mate Tara Kelly’s debut YA novel Harmonic Feedback (Henry Holt, 2010), which features a character with a form of autism called Asperger’s Syndrome. My interest in these books is enhanced by a personal connection, since my 14-year-old nephew Danny is autistic.

Great strides have been made in autism research, but there is still so much work to be done. My brother, Tom Schirmer, is running in the Marine Corps Marathon – Run for Autism this October to raise money for the Organization for Autism Research. Autism affects so many families.
Support Autism Research!
If this is a cause you’d like to support, please click on the ribbon to visit Tom’s fund-raising page and learn more about how you can help.

Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning

In many ways, Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning (Walker Books, August 2008) is a coming-of-age story, but here’s the thing…  Violet Raines is coming of age on her own terms and in her own sweet time. 

Danette Haworth’s debut middle grade novel is perfect for kids like Violet who aren’t in a hurry to grow up, girls who are still more interested in mud pies than makeup.  Violet faces her share of issues — a long time boy friend whose really nice eyes she’s suddenly noticing, a new girl who just moved to town from the city, and a best friend who thinks that glamorous lifestyle is pretty interesting.  It throws Violet for a loop, and when her friend’s family faces financial troubles, Violet has to decide what’s really important through all those crazy changes.

There are so many things to praise about this novel  — the lively, quirky characters, Violet’s fabulous voice,  the Florida-in-summer setting, painted so perfectly I kept swatting imaginary mosquitoes while I read.

I loved this book.  Really loved it, the way I love fireflies and lake swimming and ice cream cones in summer.  Any kid you know who loves that sort of thing is going to love it, too.

Talking Books

I’m excited about a couple author events that will take me to some beautiful spots in the  Adirondacks this month.

This Saturday, August 9, I’ll be at Westport Heritage Days, talking lake history and signing books at the Westport Marina from 1-3.  And next Thursday, August 14, I’ll be giving a reading with Vermont author Elizabeth Inness-Brown as part of the Adirondack Center for Writing Readings Around the Park series.  We’ll be at the Wells Memorial Library in Upper Jay at 7pm.  If you live or vacation in the area,  I’d love it if you’d stop by and say hello!

And another book note… Tomorrow is the last day to enter Debbi Michiko-Florence’s contest to win a copy of her great book CHINA, full of projects and activities, just in time for the start of the Summer Olympics in Beijing!  To enter, follow this link to her blog for details.