Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Sentence

Like lots of moms, I struggle in the summer with setting limits on video game time. My boys would happily spend their entire vacation with Mario and Lego Indiana Jones.

“Time's up!” I holler downstairs. I’m not surprised when ten minutes later I descend to find them still roaming the galaxy.

“Turn it off. I mean it!” But no one is listening to me. Completely exasperated, I flick off the TV and turn on my Commander Mom voice:

You’ve. Been. Sentenced.”

Eyes glazed over from too much game time now register a look of horror. Then the wailing begins.

"I just wanted to finish this level."

"John gets to play all day if he wants to."

"You never let us play."

I've heard it all before and I'm calloused. I pry the remotes from their hands. "You need exercise. Sunshine. Your brains are turning to mush."

“No Mom, this IS exercise,” insists my seven-year-old, completely serious. He wiggles his fingers for me. “Look how fast and strong they are!”

That does it. I’m the parent here, and I have to follow through on my threat. I drag them to opposite ends of the kitchen table and place pieces of paper and pencils in front of them. At the top I write “I will listen to my wise and wonderful mother.” Then I number from 1-10. “Don’t get up until you’re finished. And if I can’t read your sentences, you’ll have to write them again.”

A multi-tasker by necessity, I congratulate myself on providing discipline, penmanship practice, and brainwashing all at the same time. At first blush, I know this seems like a terrible idea. Who wants their kids to associate writing with punishment? But experience has shown me that if I get my kids to pick up a pencil for any reason, wonderful things sometimes happen.

I leave them sulking over their pages. I haven’t even finished unloading the dishwasher before I hear the giggling start. Glancing back, I see them sitting side-by-side now, scribbling in the margins. They are engaging in their own form of storytelling, drawing rockets and monsters and laser guns shooting down imaginary planets. They send me rebellious glances from time to time as they continue their conspiratorial creativity.

“Let’s not spend all day,” I say, egging them on.

It takes them two hours to finish their sentences, and by that time most of the paper in the notebook has been used up. They can’t wait to show me the intergalactic war that has just been waged by characters of their own creation. As budding storytellers, they have it all: setting, plot, and darn good sound effects.

I send them outside, and then tuck their pages in a special file. Someday after they’ve won a Pulitzer or the Newbery, I’ll want to remind them what a wise and wonderful mother they have.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Permission Impossible

So. For nearly a month, I’ve sat on some great news. I’ve celebrated in secret. Bit my tongue. Defied near-death limits of squee retention. And yet, despite the personal joy, and the congrats from a select few, what I really couldn’t wait to do was announce my news to the world.

Because I’d just gotten my first big book deal.
Yes, my moment was here.
The world was my oyster.

So, the second I got permission, I sat down to write my squee blog. A page later, I stopped. Deleted. Started again. But the words kept sounding the same:

Me, me, me! La, la, la! I’m so awesome! Yes, I am!

Egads, right? I mean, I’m no awesome writer, just word-hack made good. A stubborn girl who didn’t know when to quit. And this too-cool-for-school kid who appeared on the page just wasn’t me.

Shaken, I soldiered on, but so it went for several weeks. Write. Delete. Write. Delete. Write. Delete. Until I got so fed up that I turned to Lynne.

“This is hard, and I don’t like it. Can you write my squee blog post and pretend you are me?” I said.
“No, you have to write it yourself, dork!”
“Okay, an embroidered, cheetah-print Snuggie, if you just write it for me.”
“What? Is this a blog post bribe?”
“I can't believe how desperate you are to avoid this. But you realize it shows at the bottom of the post who the author of the post is, right?”

Yes, well, I hate you, and you’re not my friend any more. (Lynne, okay, maybe my brain thought this for a nanosecond, but it’s not true. You’re still my friend and I totally love you. XOXOXO, Mon)

Anyway, since Lynne was dead to me, I was able to forget about the evil post until my agent, Jo called. “So, when are you going to, celebrate?” she said. Queen of Subtlety, that girl.
“Ugh. I can’t write about my real-life self. It’s all me, me, me, and I sound like a dork.” (I am, actually, a dork, but the irony of this was lost on me at the time.)
“But you have such a funny, natural voice,” she said.
“Look, Monica, why don’t you try writing it like a story?”
“Sure, Jo. Neat,” I said, ready to dismiss the idea.

But, as is the way with Jo’s suggestions, it turned out to be a great one. I mean, what was my story? And why was an itty bitty blog post proving so difficult to write?

Several brownies and a few long walks later, I came to a conclusion. The post felt terrible to write because it was dishonest. The ‘me thing’ was a lie. I mean, maybe I typed the words, but it was my friends who read and loved them first. And my hub who supported my unwaveringly. And Jo, who saw the glimmer of potential in little ol’ me.

Truth is, it takes a village to raise a writer.
And maybe all I needed was the proper acknowledgement.

So. To my village—a million, trillion thanks. I owe every bit of my success to you. I love you all to the moon and back!!!

Now, without further ado, the deal:

I’m thrilled to announce that Jo sold me in a four-book, work-for-hire series to Penguin. Due out in summer 2012, this series will follow 7th grade, French Horn player, Holly, as she joins her middle school band and endures all of the drama that comes with being a “band nerd.” Light, fun and funny, with an ensemble cast of very strong, unique characters, the series shows a group of completely different people brought together by a shared love for something. A bit like Glee, for the middle school crowd.

Yeah, pretty dang awesome, if I do say so myself.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Brain Drain

Do you store your ideas in your head instead of on the page? Are you a fanatic about getting it all figured out before tapping on the keyboard, or picking up the pen or pencil? Sometimes that's great, but chances are you'll suffer brain drain and forget one of the main points you wanted to remember.

I used to do that for my picture books until I realized once I started actually writing, more ideas developed than I could possibly create and hold inside my brain. The details, verbs, characters and activities came alive. One time I sat down, planning to write a panda book, and out came a book about an ostrich and a hummingbird. Not exactly what I anticipated. And yet it was so much fun to find flying birds in my head, and they weren't bats in my belfry!

Now when I have an idea, I create a folder for it and put inside a one page document with a title (I usually start that way) and any details I think about for that particular story or article. It can be character names, activities, geographic areas, nutty nuggets of storyline, colors I want to mention, relatives to ridicule or even dog breeds and names. Now when I daydream about my writing I don't suffer brain drain from overloaded wires and circuits!

In fact, sometimes I pull up the document, read it over, and type more on it before I even write one sentence related to the story. So if you brain is drained, strained or mainly on the plain in Spain, type a document to store your ideas and add to it when the creative muse is playing inside your cranium. You'll be glad you did. Just get them on the page! And do it now, before they go outside to play without you!