Monday, April 21, 2014

A Book for Writers - Wild Mind

I had a lovely, uneventful, swimming and eating vacation. The only very slight problem was my notebook. It was pretty enough with nice Mexican-ish stripes. And the paper felt satisfyingly sturdy and smooth. The only problem was the blankness of the pages.

My girls helped to remedy the situation. Filling that first blank with anything is always a relief.  

This portrait of me (quite accurate, no?) really got me motivated.

Finally, the book - Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life by Natalie Goldberg provided the trigger for my pen to move. At the end of Chapter 2 Natalie encourages writers to complete a timed writing session. To kick it off, write "I remember." Anytime your pen hesitates, start another "I remember" sentence.  This was an effective way to trick me into writing just to write.

Now here's the kicker. Natalie suggests using "I don't remember" sentences every so often. When you're exploring a topic, this switch of perspective can highlight deeper insights than your basic memory.

For instance I started writing about how I used to collect cans and bottles around the pond next to my house and take them to the recycling center for 50 cents a pound. Which is a nice little reminiscence. But I don’t remember anyone telling me to do it. I don't remember what I spent the money on. And I don't remember ever getting in trouble for sometimes not emptying all of the black pond goo out of the bottles (which would have ever-so-slightly increased the weight.)  There's incentive, stakes, and risk in the story which I might not of dug around for otherwise.

I'm only half way through the book, but so far it is an engaging read full of helpful "try this" exercises.

Now, enough vacation, time to get to work!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Spring Break!

Oh dear, I'm going on vacation tomorrow, and I realize it already appears I have been on vacation! It's been almost two weeks since my last post, how does that happen so fast?

Well, like they say, time flies when you're having fun, and 2014 has been fun!

I had my first short story "Copernica" published in the January edition of Spaceports & Spidersilk. If you enjoy daring post dragon apocalypse teen angst, then this is for you! (Smashwords or Barnes & Noble

(footprint by clblood via
I learned a lot during ReViMo (Revision Month) in January, and I'm still having a good time in ReViMo's Facebook group. Plus I won the Children's Book Academy's Grammar Groove course with Miranda Paul. Her lessons have been very helpful far beyond grammar advice.

I won 3rd place in Susanna Hill's March Madness story (Yay! Thank you everyone!) and had a great time writing about Princess Peabody, too.

[Insert break here where children get strep throat and the main bathroom is being remodeled while picture book edits start to pile up.]

April is bringing the first RhyPiBoMo, and holy cow is Angie Karcher putting on a poetry show. She has guest posts by poets and also creates an educational poetry lesson with each post.

Plus I completed my registration for the NJ SCBWI conference in June (which if you've registered for a conference before you know involves 26 1/2 pieces of paper, cross referencing of times and agents and workshops, and leaving time for kidlit socialization - dizzying!)

I think a brief vacation in the warm sun after a great start to the year and the ALL-WORK-AND-NO-FUN-MAKES-JACK-A-DULL-BOY kind of winter we had. I've decided to not bring any revisions (officially) with me, though I'm sure my relaxed brain will be gnawing on the stories anyhow.  I will be bringing an empty notebook which I hope to not bring back empty. 

Happy Spring Break!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Princess and the Stinky Cheese

I always have a blast with Susanna Leonard Hill's seasonal contests which offer both the inspiration to write and a fun block party atmosphere with a great community of writers. 

The March Madness Contest: Write a children's story, in poetry or prosemaximum 400 words, that is a fractured fairy tale.  You can post entries until Monday March 24 at midnight. 
So fracture a fairy tale and come play! I'll be bringing a stinky cheese plate...

The Princess and the Stinky Cheese

By Lauri C Meyers

"If you don't find a princess to marry soon," the Queen said, "I'll be forced to give the crown to the dog."

"Mother, your ridiculous "true princess" tests are the problem," Prince Plumbottom whined. "Let's see. Merida didn't feel the grain of rice in her pillow."

"Snored like a bear."

"Fiona couldn't taste donkey snot in her soup."

"Gobbled it down like a dragon."

"Even if a princess passed your test," Prince Plumbottom said, "Princesses are so boring. I want to marry a daring lass!"

"Very well, son. We will look for a true princess who is also daring. I know just the right test."

"Here comes a girl now, and she has a branch in her hair!" he clapped his hands. "This young woman has had an adventure."

The prince skipped over to the soaking wet maiden.  

"Hello, I'm Prince Plumbottom."

"Hello, I'm Princess Peabody," she said. "I was tracking a rattlesnake, but I fell into the river and now I'm quite lost."

"A rattlesnake? How daring!" the prince squealed. "Won't you join us for lunch?"

Princess Peabody wiped her muddy face with a napkin. She was about to blow her nose, but stopped when she heard the Queen whisper "Stinky Cheese Test" to the prince. She had heard of queens like this.  

"Cheese, dear?" the Queen asked.

"Oh, it's a lovely green," Princess Peabody said. "But it's not nearly stinky enough."

The prince beamed.

The Queen thumped on the table. "Cook! Bring the stinkier cheese!"

The cook held a handkerchief over her nose and presented the stinkier cheese.

"Yummy. It smells like an ogre's shoe," the princess said. "But my Kingdom has much stinkier cheese."

The Queen's face turned red. "Guards! Find the stinkiest cheese in the land!"

The knights returned with a metal trunk which smelled like a dragon's armpit.

"Open it!" the Queen commanded.

(Happy Dog by vikush via
with cheese by halifaxsxc via
The knights closed their armor masks and reached with a sword to open the chest.  The stench was so horrific, so terrible, so... stinky that everyone fainted.

Everyone except Princess Peabody.

She fed the stinky cheese to the royal dog who didn't mind the smell at all. Then she blew her nose, finally clearing it of river mud.

The Queen came to and saw the empty cheese plate. "A true princess!"

Prince Plumbottom declared, "A daring princess!"

Burp! The dog agreed.

And they all lived stinkily ever after. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Peek Behind the Stacks - An Interview with my Children's Librarian

I have been planning to interview my local children's librarian for a long time. Unfortunately, it took over a year for me to shower on the same day as story time. (Hey, I have to make time to write somehow...sorry personal hygiene.) I'm so glad the day finally came, because I enjoyed every minute of my time with Linda Lawrence. She was full of wonderful insights and some great quotes. 

The interviewed actually started with Linda asking about me. Which was so kind. She must have established I was nervous, or perhaps she shares that universal librarian curiosity.

As usual I humble-fumbled through it: "oh I've written some things...maybe someone will like to read them one day...or maybe not...I blog about stuff...I had a short story was about dragons and cake and stuff..." [Note to self: start practicing verbal pitch before NJ SCBWI conference!!!] But still, it gave me a chance to settle in and ask some questions.

Lauri: How did you become a Children’s librarian?
Linda: I graduated as an English major. My father was screaming at me to find a job, so I looked at what I loved which was books and reading. I found out to be a librarian, you needed your masters. So I went to Simmons College in Boston. But I knew there was only one choice for me- children’s librarian.

Linda Lawrence & Lauri Meyers
I moved with my husband to Fair Lawn, New Jersey. By chance the library needed a children’s librarian. I was there for four years then had an 18-year hiatus while I had my two children.

Around the time my youngest was in first grade, I felt like I needed to work again. So I looked into being a media specialist. To be a media specialist, I needed to have a teaching degree. So I went to William Paterson University to complete my studies and student teaching. But I didn't end up with a media specialist job.

Instead, I saw an ad in the paper for “substitutes” at Wayne Public Library. When I interviewed I said “I only want children’s.” And she said, “Great, we need someone for children’s.” I started as a sub then moved into a part-time role. Following the renovation of the library in 2000, they added a full-time children’s librarian, and I got the job.

Lauri: What drove you to be so passionate about the children’s section?

Linda: It wasn't so much the books, but the clientele I wanted to work with.

I was also the children's librarian at the same time the first Harry Potter book came out. We were all very excited when we read it. That’s really when fantasy got hot, and it still is.

Lauri: As a children's writer, I think I am blessed with the robust children's section here at WPL. Does the Children's Department own the purchase decisions?

Linda: Yes, the children’s department owns the purchase decisions. I've been very lucky with freedom to make choices. This year was the first year our budget was reduced, which forced me to be more picky. Having the local library consortium helps also. We can't carry every book, but the consortium lets us lend books from other libraries.

Lauri: What resources do you use to make purchasing choices?

The School Library Journal is helpful, but used to be treated as the only source. Shelf Talker and Publishers Weekly are good sources which come in my email.

For nonfiction, I go by what people are coming in for and asking for.

I look for topics in catalogs that are hot right now. If trucks are in high demand, a new truck book will interest me.

We also use the Brodart Company (Lauri note: Brodart provides collection and other services to libraries.)

I like things that are readable. I call myself a "librarian of the masses." I'm looking for what "sells." Even though I'm not technically selling the books, I want books people want to borrow.

Lauri: My favorite place is the New Books shelf. Do you have a favorite spot in the Children's department?

Linda: I've always loved reference. I used to read and reread the materials to learn as much as I could and prepare myself for the questions kids would ask.

I see my job today as much more "readers advisory" than reference. When children come in looking for a book, I start by asking, "Tell me something that you like." It can take 25 minutes with some kids until they find the right niche. But once they find it, they are here all the time.

Lauri: You must regularly weed out books as well. How do you decide?

Linda: We have to make room for new books. I'm doing a big weed right now. Children's hasn't been weeded in awhile. There is a report which shows "no circulation for 5 years." I also look if topics are dated, if the book is in bad condition, etc.

Lauri: Thank you so much for meeting with me and sharing your story. It looks like storytime is out and I can hear my kids calling. (yes, this is how it went!)

Linda: Thank you. I'm always here for questions.

Hey, did you hear that? I can ask more questions! Do you have any more questions you would love to know about from a librarian's perspective?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Blogiversary by the Numbers

I live by the list.

I'm the kind of gal who puts it on her to-do list to make a little purse for her to-do list so her to-do list can carry its own to-do list. 

In fact, any day they'll surely cast me in my own reality show called "Extreme Listing!" (...In the next episode Lauri gets so overwhelmed she forgets to put "shower" on her to do list, and you won't believe what happens!...)

The To-Do list is of course the nephew of Action Plan and the grandchild of Goal Setting. Without goals, I probably wouldn't do anything at all. Without tracking against goals, I probably wouldn't even care.  So I treat my listing as seriously as a squirrel gathering nuts in fall.

Since it's my 2nd Blogiversary today (hooray!), I thought it be informational (nerdy?) and fun (like a Star Trek convention) to share my two years of writing by the numbers.

Here's what I've done as a part-time writer (~15-20 hours a week):

All those lists of lists of lists really keep my writing life productive. Though I still have A LOT of polishing yet to do on those drafts, it's nice to take a break and celebrate what has been accomplished.  

But now I have to get back to work!

What helps you be a productive writer?

OH...bonus feature. Here's a picture of me really turning 2. 
My Mom let me hold the knife.
 You could do that in the 70s.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Writing a Birthday Party

My 6yo's birthday last week seriously cramped my writing time. I worry when days pass without writing. Will I forget how to write? Will my pen weep ink on my desk? Will my ideas elope with some other writer?

I was also having a hard time pulling the party together. My mantra for this year was "keep it simple," like the good ol' days: pin the tail, hit the piƱata, sing the song, eat the cake, and GO HOME! But instead of simple my plan just looked loosey-goosey. It needed structure. It needed...a story!

With that inspiration I got a little writing time and pulled the party together.  You'll have to resist judging the literary merit of the following Little Mermaid-inspired party surprise:

"Stop the music! I just received a letter from Ariel."
I know you are having a birthday party, but Scuttle flew in with news: Ursula is trying to overthrow my kingdom! 
I'm away on my honeymoon with my true love, Prince Erik. So, I need your help. Will you help me stop Ursula? Wonderful! I knew you would.
First, you'll need to get past her guards. Try to blend in by dancing, but stop if the music stops.
Now, go see King Triton. If he says "Triton Says" follow his instructions carefully.  
Now, find my grotto and write the right names on my human treasures. (Renamed a Schnoggle-splat to flip-flop, dingle-hopper to fork, etc.)
Finally, you need to make a potion to keep Ursula away for good. On the count of 3 pour your octopus goo (vinegar) into your sea urchin dust (baking soda + jello powder.)
Hooray! I knew you could do it. To celebrate, Sebastian hung a piƱata of treasures for all of you to share. Thank you for saving us!

Though I often write about my lacking parenting, I knew I had done well when a 7yo asked at the end of the party, "That wasn't really a letter from Ariel, was it?" There was just enough lilt in her question to know I helped her suspend disbelief. And that's one of the greatest joys of writing.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Message Driven Picture Books

Tara Lazar did a lovely job last year discussing the problems with message driven picture books.You know, those stories that drive a moral down your throat and tell you sharing is caring and blah blah blah. 

I don't mind subtle messages in stories, because, I mean, someone has to teach my children how to behave. (Why are you looking at me like that?) But no one likes a book that tastes like a spoonful of castor oil.  

There's only one thing I dislike more: Message driven picture books targeted to moms.

You know what I'm talking about...
The ones with the mom who doesn't care that grandma's urn just got knocked off the shelf with a whoopee cushion and her mom's ashes are all over the floor. "Oh I still love you!"
"Mommy doesn't care that you nearly suffocated your brother with a post-Taco Bell dutch oven. You're still perfect to me!"

It's just unrealistic. Most moms would be yelling, "Get to your room! And don't walk on Grandma on your way!"

I really don't need reminders of my areas of lacking as a mom. Especially right now when I'm hiding in the bathroom because the kids are home on their sixth snow day.  

It seemed like a good idea. 
(image by Russell Curtis via
Some people complain about the poor mother images in Disney princess movies. But I defend them.  These stories give my child an excellent standard with which to compare my mothering. "Hmm, mom hasn't locked me in the dungeon or made me mop the castle floor today. She really is a great mom!"

The flaw in my rant is this short story I'm working which has an iPhone obsessed father. Hypocritical? Or fair and honest reporting of bad fathering habits?

Argh, why did I move into this glasshouse the same month I won a lifetime supply of bricks? 
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