Can I help you find something? Searches that led to my website

I recently had my website redesigned & moved to a new server, and along with that change came a new service that counts website visitors and gives other information…like where in the world they’re located and what they typed into a search box to find me.

I have to admit…this last bit of trivia fascinates me. Most people find my website because they searched my name or the title of one of my books. And plenty find my list of Authors Who Skype when they search for “free author Skype visit” and variations on that. But some of the other search terms amuse me to no end. People have landed on my site by searching for all of the following:

mouse tracks under the snow (This made me smile – and I hope the person found out about OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW!)

girls can spit (I have no idea…but I love that someone searched for this)

background information on Kate Messner (Do you suppose they want to have me fingerprinted, too?)

dedication to pi (Wait…pi…or pie?  I am very dedicated to pie.)

Messner aquarium (We used to have a fish tank. Does that count?)

Miranda mink (This is what we named the mink that visited us on the icy lake one winter. Is there another Miranda mink??)

Notes on eli the good by silas house, like certain notes on each chapter (Cheat on your book reports much?)

silent kiss poems (I’ve never written a silent kiss poem…but now I kind of want to.)

“someone should have told me” (Sorry…the list of things I wish someone had told me is too long to blog about.)

Kate Messner Day (Really? I had no idea! What month is it in? I think there should be ice cream.)

and finally…

Is is safe to kayak with alligators in Florida?

I suspect the person who Googled this question was trying to decide whether or not to go on an Everglades kayak excursion like this one my daughter and I took last year. I smiled, imagining maybe a mom and dad arguing over whether it was a good idea. “But Lucy…the alligators will be right there!”  When my daughter and I went, we had a wonderful time. It felt safe (we didn’t get eaten or anything), and the guides were fantastic. I hope they decided yes.

When will the ice break up? Contest guesses so far…

Here it is late March, and the temperatures are still only in the 30s here in the Lake Champlain region.  To pass the time until Spring, I posted a contest this week to see who can guess when the ice on Lake Champlain will break up in front of my house.  Guesses need to be in by Tuesday at 7pm! Here are the entries so far…

March 27 – 12 pm – jeniwrites (Sorry, Jeni…Ice is still solid out there!)

April 5 – 12pm – Barbara Baker

April 7 – 2:47pm – fairwinds2u

April 8 – tracyworld (what time, Tracy?)

April 9 – 4:00pm – Liza Martz

April 10 – 3pm – frieliegh

April 11 – 2:00 pm – dmcordell

April 12 – 2:15 pm – Jennifer Malphy

April 12 – Sarah Wones Tomp (What time, Sarah?)

April 12 -3:30 pm – jpetroroy

April 13 – 4:00 pm -Betsy Lynch

April 14 – 3:27 pm – docstymie

April 15 – (what time, Laura??) – Laura Pauling

April 15 – 6 pm – Melanie Swider

April 18 – 11 am – Kate Linnea

April 22 – 3pm – Mary Zisk

If you entered but didn’t leave a time with your date, please add that in a comment – otherwise, people who also included times automatically beat you if the ice breaks up on your day!

If you haven’t entered yet, you have one more day! Just leave a comment by 7pm  Tuesday 3/29, with the date and time you think the ice will go out. (We’ll define that as the day/time that there are many floating chunks of ice instead of one big slab of ice between my house and the island a mile offshore, okay?)  Whoever is closest wins one of my last ARCs of MARTY MCGUIRE, my new chapter book series with Scholastic coming May 1st.

Sur et Sous la Neige (My book’s being published in France!)

I just got an exciting letter from my editor at Chronicle Books letting me know that they’ve sold French language rights for my upcoming picture book, OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW, illustrated by  Christopher Silas Neal.

OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW translates loosely to SUR ET SOUS LA NEIGE, though I have no idea whether that will be the French title.

This will be my first book to be published overseas, which I find incredibly exciting… I love the idea of kids on the other side of the ocean reading this story that I drafted on a school bus on my way home from a snowshoe field trip in the Adirondacks.  Better brush up on my French for those Skype visits!

When will the ice go out? Guess and win an ARC of MARTY MCGUIRE!

So…I’m having a contest to see who can guess when the ice on Lake Champlain will break up in front of my house. As you can see, it’s still frozen. Lovely and sparkly this morning…but still mighty cold and solid.

To enter the contest, just leave a comment with the date and time you think the ice will go out. (We’ll define that as the day/time that there are many floating chunks of ice instead of one big slab of ice between my house and the island, okay?)  Whoever is closest wins one of my last ARCs of MARTY MCGUIRE, my new chapter book series with Scholastic coming May 1st.

If the ice goes out while we’re all sleeping here or otherwise not available or paying attention, then I’ll have a drawing among all the entries that were close.

I’d posted this contact as a quick mention before, so if you’ve already guessed, don’t worry – you’re all set and I have your date/time recorded!  If you haven’t guessed yet…the deadline  is TUESDAY, MARCH 29 at 7pm EST.  I’ll post ice/weather updates after that so you can root for warm temperatures and windy days near the time of your guess.   Enter, okay? It’ll be fun!

Thankful Thursday: Auctions, Awards, and an Almost-Spring Contest

1. I’m thankful for the kind, organized people who have put together a couple great online efforts to raise money in the wake of the recent disasters in Japan. Right now, my books are part of two such auctions.

You can win signed copies of The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z., Sugar and Ice, Marty McGuire (ARC), and Sea Monster’s First Day at the WriteHope auction here. Bidding ends at 1pm Saturday. And you can also bid on those same signed books, plus a 30-minute Skype session with me at the KidLit4Japan Auction here. The Skype session can be with your class or book club, or it can be a mentoring session for an aspiring writer.  This auction runs through Monday.

And please check out the full listings for both auctions – your money will be put to good use, and there are some really great opportunities, like these signed books from Jo Knowles (auction ends today!) and a poetry critique from Kelly Fineman (auction ends Friday!).

2. I got some happy news about SUGAR AND ICE recently.  It’s a finalist for the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award. If you’re an SCBWI member, you can vote on the Crystal Kite Award from your region’s home page after you log in to the SCBWI site.

3. I also found out that SUGAR AND ICE will be on Vermont’s Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award List for 2011-2012.  I love these state lists so much because I think they introduce kids to so many books they might have missed otherwise. Thanks, DCF Committee members!  And if you’re a Vermont librarian or teacher reading the DCF books with your students, please know that I’m always happy to chat with your kids via Skype, free of charge.

4. MARTY MCGUIRE, the first in my new chapter book series with Scholastic, launches in a little over a month. I’m working on line edits now for the second book in the series, MARTY MCGUIRE DIGS WORMS, which comes out in February of 2012. And I’ll be doing a special Skype tour for the first book’s launch in May.  If you work with kids in 1st-4th grade and would like your students to have “Lunch with Marty McGuire” one day in May, please drop me a note from my website. I’ll Skype into your classroom or library at lunch time, read a chapter or two aloud, share a few story-behind-the-story secrets, and answer your students’ questions.

5. It’s Spring!  (Or did Spring not get that memo where you live either?)

Lake Champlain is still very much frozen in front of my house, all the way to Crab Island. When do you think the ice will break up?

I have a couple ARCs of MARTY MCGUIRE left…and I’ll send one to the person who comes closest to guessing the date and time that the ice goes out.  Of course, this is very non-scientific, but we’ll define “ice out” as the day/time that the the solid sheet of ice is replaced by floating chunks between my house and the island, okay?  And if it happens while I’m sleeping or at school and can’t figure out the exact time, then we’ll put everyone who was pretty close in a hat and draw a winner.  Fair enough?  Enter your date/time guesses in the comments! All entries must be received by 9pm  EST Monday, March 28th. Good luck!

Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O’Roark Dowell

I read TEN MILES PAST NORMAL by Frances O’Roark Dowell as an e-galley, loved it, and will be picking up a copy for my classroom library.  It’s one of those YA titles that high school kids will love but that’s also going to be great for 7th and 8th grade readers.

As the book begins, main character Janie is starting high school with a few strikes against her: goat poop on her school shoes, hay in her hair, a best friend who no longer lives in the neighborhood since Janie’s family moved out to an organic farm, and a mother who’s now blogging about farm life (Oh, how my own kids will relate to the woes of this girl with her blogging mom!) Why can’t she just be normal?!

But then things get interesting, and normal starts to seem overrated.  There’s the project with her best friend Sarah and Sarah’s rogue sister Emma that brings Janie back to an era of civil disobedience gone by. There’s the high school Jam Band and the boy called Monster (yes, it’s really his name) who encourages her to play bass. The book carries an ambitious mix of plot lines, but it’s all handled with as much humor, joy, laughter, honesty and fun as I’ve seen in a novel. The characters are people I wish I could hang out with; I’d be at their Friday night hootenanny on the farm in ten seconds flat.

Highly recommended, funny, and wonderful.

NYS Science Olympiad at West Point

My weekend trip to the Hudson Valley was a fascinating mix of past and future. We stayed in a Beacon, NY bed & breakfast that my husband claimed must be haunted.

In truth, even if there were ghosts (I didn’t see any), I wouldn’t have cared because the breakfast they served — fresh fruit, a warm cherry pastry, and orange-cinnamon French toast — was worth any haunting.

The next morning, we set out for West Point, with a stop at Fort Montgomery along the way.  Standing amid the ruins of powder magazines and barracks, it’s easy to see why this spot was so strategic during the Revolutionary War.

I’d never visited West Point before. It’s a beautiful campus, with architecture that just oozes history.

But the reason we were here had to do not with the past — but with the future. The New York State Science Olympiad competition competition took place this weekend, and my son was part of his high school’s team.  They’ve been working on their projects — everything from engineering tasks like Rube Goldberg devices, mousetrap cars, and helicopters to content-area tests in subjects like earth science, anatomy & physiology, optics, ornithology…you name it. With fifty-three teams from all over the state competing, the whole campus was crawling with smart kids carrying around every manner of field guide and homemade electronic contraptions.

Here’s a peek inside the room where the Mission Possible event took place…

The kids had to create a Rube Goldberg device with ten different tasks involving simple machines, chemical reactions, closed hydraulic systems, and more, and each task had to be triggered by the one before it.  The final task?  Have the device release a helium balloon carrying a sign that says “Mission Possible!”  and you get points for each gram of weight the balloon can lift. Also?  The whole thing has to happen within a time limit that the kids weren’t told until they got to the competition site. (I’m told our team dealt with this by calibrating the sand timer that was part of the gizmo.)

The boy says I’m not allowed to share his competition results on my blog (“Seriously, Mom…”), so I’ll just say  there was much cheering at the awards ceremony.

Truly, the whole weekend was amazing. It was an inspiration to see so many kids so excited about science and engineering, and it may sound a little corny, but I really came home filled with hope. Based on what I saw this weekend, our future is in very capable hands indeed.

Meet Me in St. Louis!

This week has been busy-busy-busy…but full of good things, so this is going to be one of those mix-of-everything blogs.

First, the Meet-Me-in-St.-Louis part…

I had a great Skype visit yesterday with these Bellerive Elementary School fifth graders who had read THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z.  (In truth…only the kids and their teachers were in St. Louis.  I was at my desk in my classroom in Northern NY during my lunch break!) The students had lots of great questions, especially about where I got the ideas for the different characters in the book.  Trivia note:  Gianna’s little brother Ian’s penchant for stealing cell phones & snapping photos came from the little sister of a kid who was on my son’s soccer team years ago. Molly’s mother was forever chasing her down the sidelines to get her phone back.

The terrific librarian who organized this visit warned me that there may be a slew of Skype visit requests on the way, since GIANNA Z. is a Mark Twain Award nominee for 2011-2012. And…I found out this week that GIANNA Z. was also selected for the Pennsylvania Young Readers Choice Award List for next year, for grades 6-8. These nominations truly mean so much to me because I know how carefully committee members read through books trying to find the ones their readers will love. Thanks, Pennsylvania and Missouri librarians!

In other news, I’ve donated signed books (and a Skype mentoring session for aspiring writers) to a couple groups holding online auctions to raise money for earthquake relief in Japan.  I’ll share the links when things are up and running.

My students and I have been working on a school-wide Red Cross fundraiser, too. They’ve been learning about persuasive strategies and decided to put them to good use convincing their fellow classmates and teachers to pitch in to help with earthquake relief efforts in Japan. We’re having a friendly competition to see which homeroom can collect the most money, and my kids have been busy making posters and writing announcements to promote the effort. Yesterday, a few of my girls came into my room before school with this cake.

“We thought it would help get people to the meeting and make them excited to help,” one of them said. “We just wanted to do something.”

I loved this simple, sweet gesture so much, maybe because watching the news, it’s hard not to be filled up with despair sometimes.  I think we all need to remember that we can do things to help. Even small things make a difference. If you’d like to donate to the Red Cross, too, you can do so here.

Waiting for the perfect time to write

In one of my author Skype visits last week, a student asked this question:

How long did it take you to write your first book?

Well…er…7 years, I answered him a little sheepishly. There were some good reasons it took so long: I was learning my craft and had a long way to go before my work would be ready to send out. It was histoical fiction and involved lots of research. I rewrote…a lot.

But there were also some not-so-good reasons. Back then, I had this idea that I needed the perfect time to write. The house had to be quiet, maybe on a day when my husband had both kids. Or I needed to be away somewhere, with large open stretches of time and no ringing phone. Perfect quiet. Throw in a cupcake or two while you’re at it. And if all those conditions weren’t met?  Well, nevermind then…I’ll never get anything done, so I might as well not bother trying.

Since then, I’ve learned that the myth of perfect writing time is just that…a myth.  Sure, those ideal situations happen — usually twice a year for me, in the form of a couple retreats that I attend. But you don’t get books written in eight days a year.  You get books written by writing regularly, whether the conditions are perfect or not. And you learn to write some pretty good stuff with noise. And without cupcakes.

I’m typing this post at my daughter’s skating show practice right now. The Plattsburgh State Field House is chilly. I’m wearing a fleece jacket and scarf, and I’m sitting on the concrete floor next to the only electrical outlet because I forgot to charge my laptop last night. It’s just after 7am, my bottom is cold, I’m running out of coffee, and the techno music – some sort of space odyssey theme for the glow-in-the-dark number – is loud enough that I can feel it reverberating through my body.

As soon as I post this blog, I’m going to open up the Scrivener file for my 2013 Walker/Bloomsbury novel, and get to work. Is it perfect?  Not by a long shot. But it’s a stretch of three hours (probably more like two, actually, before someone comes to get me to help paint scenery) that I can spend frittering away wishing I had some perfect writing time…or I can just get to work and write.

“Perfect” writing time is lovely; I won’t lie. The four days I spent hanging out in an old inn on Lake Champlain, quietly tapping away with a bunch of writer friends last summer were amazing. But that image of writing is largely a fantasy world. In the real world, especially for those of us with other jobs and families, writing time lives in less idyllic settings. It’s an hour on the skating rink floor, fifteen minutes in the car in the school parking lot, a couple hours at the computer early in the morning or late at night.

Sometimes I talk to people who say they’d love to write — really — but they just don’t see how it can happen. How do you find time?  My best advice? You make time. You give up that half hour of TV or cut back on your phone time or Internet time or make something simpler for dinner.

And if you really want to be a writer?  Stop waiting for the perfect time…and just write.

Five Bookish Things on a Friday

1. I’m reading this book right now –

-and really loving the ideas it’s giving me for my new science-gone-wrong novel project. I love writing craft books and highly recommend this one for anyone planning or revising a novel.

2. I can’t believe my MARTY MCGUIRE chapter book series launches in less than two months. That means reviewers are starting to see it (eek!) – I was thrilled to come across this fantastic early blog review today.

3. There’s a MARTY MCGUIRE Facebook page now. I told her she was too young for social networking, but the kid just won’t listen, so feel free to click and “Like” if you’re so inclined and would like updates on releases, contests, & things.

4. Now that my copy edits for EYE OF THE STORM (Walker/Bloomsbury ’12) are finished, I’ve been enjoying some reading time.  I ordered two copies this book from the Scholastic Book Clubs, for my classroom library.

My 7th grade girls are loving it, so it’s been out a lot, but a copy finally came back so that I could read it, too!  Lisa Schroeder’s middle grade voice  is absolutely wonderful, and this is a fun, accessible, touching story.  Sometimes, people who have read THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. ask me for recommendations for other books with “regular middle school kids” and their families, and I’m going to add this to my list of suggestions for them.

5. I will be at the International Reading Association Convention in May, participating in a K-5 author panel, a workshop on connecting kids & authors via technology, and three book signings, as far as I know so far. Please let me know if you’ll be there, too!

5 1/2. Have a great weekend!