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 piñata, 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 piñata 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? 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Writing Out Your Knots

The Nerdy Chicks had a great post in the fall which is still sticking with me. They shared soundbites from YALLFest, which sounds like a raucous hoedown (a redundancy, of course there's no such thing as a boring hoedown), but is actually a YA Lit event.

I particularly sparked to Rainbow Rowell's quote  (as quoted by Jocelyn Rish):  “Writing about real things lets you work through your knots through your characters.”

So true. Writing is great therapy. It’s always interesting to see the “knots” which end up in my stories by some subconscious mechanism.

I was exceptionally blessed with "knots" in the last 12 months. The challenges haven't literally appeared in my writing, but the underlying feelings interloped on a regular basis.

(Image by John Byer via
I was stunned the first time this realization hit.  A critique partner helped me with a query letter for a sweet, nature-inspired, quiet book. 

She said, "Well, since it's about death, you should include ...."
To which I said, "What's that now?"

This was a picture book after all. But in this quiet book, I had unwittingly worked through all the sorrow of a loved one's passing. Wow. 

When hard times strike, I'm like Jane Yolen's dinosaurs - I don't gnash my teeth, stomp around and roar.  Nope. I tie my shoes tighter and smile because I have to.  So, having the opportunity to work through difficult times with the words on the page has been an important development for me. 

So when a recent critique said, "Well, it's okay, because your character's really not lost after all, is he?" 

I had to take a second to think. I suppose I’m not. I mean, I suppose he's not really lost. When those times strike which make you feel a little lost, even though you followed every step on a map, know you can always find your way again by just putting your fingers on the keyboard. 
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