Over and Under the Snow…Again

My students and I tromped into the Adirondack woods on snowshoes for our annual animal tracking excursion at the Visitors Interpretive Center at Paul Smiths.  It was breathtakingly snowy and white, as always.

I’ve loved this field trip since we started taking it five or six years ago, but this year was extra special because I got to tell the naturalist who works with our kids that his trip inspired a picture book.  You see, during last year’s field trip, we spotted a set of mouse tracks that disappeared next to a crevice in the snow, and that sparked a discussion of what goes on in the subnivean zone…the network of airy tunnels that forms between the ground and the packed snow.  I was enchanted.  And I loved that word…subnivean. 

On the bus ride home, I dug a pencil out of my backpack, smoothed out my wrinkled attendance sheet, and on the back of it, wrote a very rough draft of a story about a girl who goes cross country skiing and learns about that secret world under the snow.  I revised and tweaked and eventually sent it to my agent, who found my snowy little story a home at Chronicle Books.

Fast forward a year…

I just turned in my revision, based on a brilliant five-page editorial letter.  Chronicle has found an amazing illustrator for the book — Christopher Silas Neal.  This weekend, I’ll get to meet my editor in person, since we’re both attending the same retreat in Vermont. 

But first, I have one more day of hiking through the snowy woods, following the tracks that tell stories in the snow.

Congratulations, Laurie Halse Anderson!

The talented Laurie Halse Anderson (halseanderson ) just shared the news that her historical novel CHAINS has won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, and I couldn’t be happier.  My 7th graders and I will be reading the final chapters tomorrow and Friday, and I was excited about that even before I heard today’s news.  CHAINS is about Isabel, a slave girl trapped in New York City and torn between Loyalists and Patriots as the Revolutionary War  ravages the city.  Yesterday, President Obama (I love writing that) gave us a brilliant connection to this chapter of American history when he quoted Thomas Paine’s "The Crisis" in his Inaugural Address.

"Let it be told to the future world that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it."

Just days after Paine shared those words, General George Washington did what no one believed was possible — defeated the Hessians at Trenton after the famous river crossing immortalized in this painting by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze.

      George Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1851 – Metropolitan Museum of Art

In my classroom this week, we’ll be talking about turning points and history and hope.  And we’re going to write letters through time, to tell Isabel and Curzon from CHAINS all about what happened in Washington, DC on a cold day in January, 2009.  We’ll let them know about Laurie’s award, too.  On both counts, I know they will be so very proud.


Sometimes in the middle of January, it’s hard to remember the promise of summer.

And sometimes, in the midst of news about a troubled world economy and violence in Gaza,  it’s hard to find hope. 

But not today.

Today, I’ll join 450 students and staff members in our middle school auditorium to watch Barack Obama become the 44th President of the United States.

Today, an African American will hold our nation’s highest office for the first time.

Today, Americans of all backgrounds will gather by the hundreds of thousands in Washington, DC .  They’ve come by plane and car and bus to celebrate the leadership and promise of a man born in 1961 —  when it was still illegal for blacks and whites to ride together on a bus in some southern states.

Today, I will sit with my students and listen and watch.  I will fight back tears, unsuccessfully, I am sure.  And together, we will celebrate how very far we have come as a nation.

Today, it will not be hard to imagine the possibilities.

Guess where I skated today!?

It’s frozen!  It’s really frozen! 

After weeks of wistfully watching the ice of Lake Champlain form and break up and form and break up again, we were finally able to head out on our ice skates today.  Of course, when you skate outdoors, you have to be your own Zamboni.

If you’re looking for me over the next few days, I’ll be out shoveling the lake.

The truth about evil editors

I’ve noticed that when I talk about writing with people who aren’t writers, many ask about the role of editors in the book-making process.

“Doesn’t it upset you when an editor wants you to change something in your book?”

Sometimes, when I say no, people say, “Hmph.”  Like I’m lying, afraid the evil editors will find out if I tell the truth.  I think they’re picturing editors as power-hungry monsters, waiting for unsuspecting manuscripts with red eyes and red pens.  But I haven’t met any editors like that.

This weekend, I’ve been revising two picture books with feedback from two really smart editors.  One is my picture book that’s under contract with Chronicle, OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW.  The other is a new book that’s out on submission now, and an editor has suggested some revisions so she can decide if she’d like to move forward with it.

In both cases, I’ve been amazed at the depth of the feedback in those editorial letters – feedback designed to strengthen the heart of the story rather than change it.  This weekend, I’ll be:

  • Cutting bits of dialogue – and a handful of proposed spreads – that aren’t absolutely essential to the heart of the story.
  • Streamlining a plot so it doesn’t meander.
  • Adding more evocative, sensory language to one particularly vivid scene.
  • Switching two spreads to better foreshadow a coming event.
  • Researching some more to add new details.
  • Changing an ending to make it more organic to the story.
  • Looking for a new title. (It probably seems like I’m always looking for a new title, but that’s a post for another day.)

Interestingly enough, both editors appreciated connections in the text that I made subconsciously while writing but hadn’t thought to develop . I love it when that happens, and I’ll be building on those connections, too. 

So does it upset me when an editor wants to change something in my book?

Nope. It thrills me that someone cares about it enough to want to make it stronger. And while a book may start out as mine, by the time it’s been helped along the way by a village of loving literary aunts and uncles like writer friends and agents and editors, it’s not just my book any more.  It’s our book.

The editors I’ve been fortunate enough to work with don’t have red eyes, and they use email attachments more often than red pens.  They don’t say, “What you’ve done here is all wrong.”  They say, “Look what you’ve done here that’s so right.  Build upon it.  Finish it.  Make it shine.”

Sneak Peek and a Chance to Win!

If you’re like me, you’re already having 2009 book thoughts…and wishing some of the books scheduled for this year would hurry up and release already!  Personally, I’m jealous of anyone who snagged an ARC of Wintergirls, though I’ve been lucky enough to do some early reading of my own…particularly when it comes to my fellow 2009 debut authors…THE DEBS!

If you’d like to learn more about what’s on the way for 2009, become a watcher of the LJ Community debut2009 . The best part? Besides learning about great new books way in advance, you can enter to win fabulous, fun prizes during the 12 Months of Debsness!

Find Out What's In The Bag And Win It Today

And hurry…the deadline to enter for the first month is midnight tonight!

(Pssst….The contents of the cool, orange goody bag are top secret, but I’ll give you a tiny hint. Among other things, there is chocolate involved!)

Are you cold yet?

If you’re not in the part of the world facing sub-zero temperatures this week, here’s a Lake Champlain sunrise to get  you into the spirit.

The thermometer reads -12 this morning, and the snow is squeaky.  It’s…well…a bit painful to be outside, but there is something about the extreme cold that produces extreme beauty, too.  For that, for hot chocolate, and for thick socks, I’m thankful.

Chilly Wish Granted

This is what Lake Champlain looked like this afternoon…

Okay, in truth, I’m cheating a tiny bit because this photo wasn’t taken at my house; I snapped it on a cross-country ski trip to Point au Roche State Park, where the bays freeze a bit more quickly than the broad lake.  E and I had a deal…we’d go out as soon as it warmed up to 15 degrees.  Once that happened and the sun came out, it was gorgeous.

The ultra-cold temperatures combined with afternoon sunlight made the new snow absolutely sparkle.  I’m pretty sure this photo doesn’t do it justice, but it truly looked like someone had sprinkled glitter all over the fields.

This is also perfect weather for my current revision project.  I just got the editorial letter for my picture book, OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW (Chronicle Books),  about a child who goes on a cross-country ski trip and discovers the secret world of animals living under the snow.  I asked my editor if she did that on purpose…sent the letter at the height of the outdoor winter sports season.  She says it was just a happy coincidence, but either way, I couldn’t ask for better inspiration.

Think Cold!

That, my friends, is a full moon reflecting on clear, cold Lake Champlain ice.  It’s frozen from my house all the way to the island, frozen in that perfectly clear, smooth, ice-skating sort of way. 

We haven’t been able to skate on the lake for at least three winters because the ice has to be thick enough to be safe and free of big bumps and chunks.  But temperatures tonight are expected to drop near zero again.  Think cold thoughts with me, okay?  If we have a few more frigid nights without wind, there just might be some skating soon.