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Recently I read a piece in the Los Angeles Times  that made me laugh out loud. Multiple Times.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a humor column, but an ostensibly journalistic piece on the future of reading that focused on changes libraries are making in order to “stay relevant.” (Are you chuckling yet?)

It focuses, to a large extent, on some of the changes that have been made in Colorado libraries—including one that scrapped the Dewey Decimal system and set up bookstore-style sections of books, according to topic. (Hey, wait a minute—isn’t the Dewey Decimal system organized by topic?) That made me think of when I used to work at B. Dalton Bookseller, and my manager had to break the news that we were getting rid of the Classics section, merging those books into the Fiction section. While some of the staff were horrified at the news (and not only because it would require extensive re-shelving and rearranging), the manager swiftly calmed our arguments with one simple sentence: “Who decides what goes in the Classics section, anyway?” An excellent point—and anyone who has searched a bookstore for a book only to be told it’s not in Short Stories, it’s in Gift Books, will understand the challenges that now face patrons of this particular library who are searching for a particular book.


The piece went on to claim that, in their desperate race to remain relevant, libraries are converting themselves to “digital activity centers” where patrons can watch TV or play games like Guitar Hero. This transition paragraph led to a fabulous quote by former ALA president Michael Gorman: "The argument that all these young people would turn up to play video games and think, 'Oh by the way, I must borrow that book by Dostoyevsky' — it seems ludicrous to me." 

 And this, in turn, led to the funniest bit of the piece—and an outstanding bit of editorializing: “Others argue that reinvention is a matter of survival in an age when Google Inc. has made the reference desk almost obsolete and printed books are beginning to look more like antique collectibles.”

I don’t know about you, but except for the few books I have that actually are antique collectibles, most of my volumes—including the several I checked out from my local library, which archaically still espouses the values of the Dewey Decimal system—are pretty dang new. Their spines are uncracked; their covers are not yet ripped; and when I open them, they smell like new paper. And I turn to reference librarians regularly, sometimes even calling libraries in other states to pinpoint the information I need to wrap up a feature story.

But anyway.

The piece went on to describe the floor of the Los Angeles Public Library that actually has books as a ghost town. Again, I thought of my local library. Whenever I go there—weekday afternoons, weekend mornings, evenings, whatever—the parking lot is quite full; inside, the seats are definitely ull; and there is always a line to check out books. It’s funny that suburban Orange should have a more active library than its more sophisticated neighbor to the north, but if the Los Angeles Times says it’s true, I guess there’s no arguing.

For the record, I subscribe to the Times—and have written for it. And certainly it is not the only media outlet shouting about the complete overhaul of The Way We Read that we are currently experiencing.

As I read various “the literary sky is falling” pieces in newspapers, magazines, blogs, and newsletters, I say to myself, “I just don’t think so.”

There are issues, of course; to paywall, or not to paywall? To go all digital, when there are fewer advertising dollars there, or to pay high printing costs, when the subscribers may not be there? We are clearly in the midst of change, but where the chips will fall remains to be seen. And that is exactly the point of an essay I ready by Andrew Odlyzko, founding directory of the University of Minnesota’s Digital Technology Center, in the Fall 2010 issue (print) of The Phi Beta Kappa Reporter.

A not-too-well-known principle, he wirtes, is that “new technologies frequently serve to strengthen their predecessors. (Thus, in the popular language of the last few decades, they are ‘sustaining’ and not ‘disruptive.’)”

I have heard this example from writer and editor colleagues already—just as television did not kill radio, the internet need not kill print media. Odlyzko takes as his example horses and trains, noting that both proponents and opponents of the new travel technology expected it to put horses out of business, but instead, the number of horses rose. After all, people still needed a way to get from their homes to the train station.

“How many times have you seen predictions and promises that better communications, such as faster Internet access, will stimulate telecommuting and decrease road congestion?” he asks wryly.

I don’t think it’s merely my Southern California location that helps me see the truth of his thoughtful questions and careful explanations of the principles of technology forecasting.

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Communication is the Key

My fabulous critique partner is a big believer in communication. When someone’s upset, he wants to talk it over. When something great happens, he wants to hear about it. He’s a writer by vocation, and a communicator by nature.

In other words, his cell phone rings at a near-frantic pace.

It’s a struggle to balance all those calls with his face-to-face communicants, but he does what he can. And that means he often ends up taking and making calls in the grocery store, on the freeway, and while running errands.

So it was no surprise to hear him launch into a story that started out, “So I was in Target when my brother called…”

But the rest of the story took an unexpected turn (an excellent example for me, who sometimes struggles with plotting issues), and is now my Favorite Cell Phone Story of All Time.

To continue:

He was chatting with his brother while browsing the shelves when an older (note: not elderly) woman paused nearby, looked him in the eye, and commanded: “Go away.”


“I don’t want to hear your conversation. Go away.”

It was peculiar, yes, but he was in the middle of a conversation, so he just let it slide. But, I reiterate, “letting it slide” is just not in his nature. So when he was at the checkout stand (after completing his phone call), and he spotted this unusual fellow shopper, he went over to her.

“So,” she said, with a twinkle in her eye, “you finished your conversation.”

“Yes. And I was just wondering what made you tell me to go away.”

“I don’t want to hear your conversation.”

“Uh-huh. So let me ask you a question: if my son were here with me, and I’d been talking to him, you would have told me to go away or stop talking?”

(Here’s where it gets really good.)


“So not only can I not have a phone conversation, I can’t talk to anyone in the store? No one can talk while they’re shopping?”

(I was laughing pretty hard at this point in the narrative, but I have to admit a flicker of pity for the poor stubborn woman.)

“No. I don’t want to hear your conversation.”

(Best part approaching here.)

So he looks her in the eye and says: “Well, you’re not a very nice person.

Communication—a two-way street, people. We’d all do well to remember that.  

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Lucky for You—This Is My Best Side

Okay, yes, it’s been like 15 months since I posted on LiveJournal—but it’s not like I haven’t thought about posting during that whole time. It’s just that I was a little preoccupied, what with moving, and getting married, and losing one of my gigs, and trying not to have a nervous breakdown. You know how it is.

But among the many benefits of (temporary) underemployment is the increased flexibility of one’s schedule. And for me, that translate into “More blogging, at last!”

Earlier this week I met with a writer friend of mine, who also happens to be someone who has written for me at both the publications I have been editing lo, these four-or-so years (until, as I referenced above, the one publication folded).

Like many of my friends, she has been searching this year for a new direction to move in. And as I had told just about every one of my friends, I told her to check out Spiritual Blueprint: How to Live, Love, Work, Play, and Pray. I had read it for review, and its approach to life-remodeling captured me. Author James L Papandrea approaches different aspects of life as homes, and—well, here: I’ll just quote from my review.

“… Papandrea separates life into five facets, or homes. The home for your hands is about your work—your job. The home for your body is your actual home—the place where you live. The home for your mind includes your recreational activities, as well as your physical being (after all, your body literally is the home for your mind). The home for your heart is your relationships, and the home for your spirit is your relationship with God. 

“… [Questions and reflections] help readers decide where each home stands: does it need to be rebuilt, remodeled, or merely redecorated—or is it in a position for readers to simply appreciate it? The author also includes steps to help readers improve each house sufficiently to be moved into the ‘appreciate’ category.”

It’s a great little book, as I had told my captive audience at some length a few months ago.

So when we met for coffee, she mentioned the review, which I’d finally had space to run—and she told me it was a really good one. In fact, she said, even though I’d already told her about the book, the review—note this: my written review, not my wholehearted verbal endorsement—made her want to read it, despite the fact that self-help-type books are totally not her cup of tea.

So there you have it, LiveJournal. I unintentionally ditched you for more than a year, but at least you always get my good side. The written side. So there. 

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Welcome Back, Me!

Forgive me, LiveJournal, for I have not blogged. It has been—cringe--practically eight months since my last posting.


But, in my defense, it’s been kinda hectic. What with the digital/ print battle going on at one gig, and the threat to cut my hours (and, correspondingly, my salary) at another, with the to-be-expected emotional and practical reactions to those situations, with the house-hunting and the moving and the wedding planning and the rewriting of the MG fantasy novel and the revising of the MG fantasy novel and periodic attempts to sleep… Let’s just say, “blog” has been on my to-do list for ages without my making even a slight effort to cross it off.


But that all changes today, with the annual Top 10 Best Things I Heard at the Annual Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Conference. So without further preamble…


10. “Begin as you mean to go on.” –Kathleen Duey

Author of Skin Hunger, a National Book Award finalist, Duey started out writing paperback series. I’ve heard her speak before, but this is the first time I heard about how difficult those years were—cranking out stories that were not totally her own, fitting into the format of a publisher’s series idea. But now she’s focusing on her own stories, the fantasies she always meant to write, and it hasn’t been an easy transition. As someone constantly torn between the money-making work that she doesn’t love, and the not-yet-money-making work that she wants to focus on, I empathized.


9. “I go on blind dates in New York City—you can bloody well send your manuscript in.” –Elizabeth Law

I don’t think it’s fair for an editor to be so entertaining. It raises the bar too high for submissions.


8. “People will often pay more than they should, but they never pay more than they want to.” –Stephen Fraser

I’m not totally sure that’s true of my own purchasing style, but I loved hearing it from this agent, speaking about publishers and manuscripts.


7. The first day of the annual conference, each faculty member has to walk up to the podium, introduce himself, and give the audience a word.

“My word is friendship. IT IS NOT A VERB.” –Richard Peck

No comment necessary.


6. Later in the conference, the SCBWI regional advisors introduced themselves and offered a word, too. Unfortunately, I cannot properly attribute the following to the RA who cracked me up by saying it. She explained that when she was a little girl, growing up Catholic, she used to wait for the priest to offer the “cookie blessing”: “Oreo… Domino… Nabisco,” she chanted.

(Okay… non-Catholic may not be quite as entertained as I was. I think I refrained from snorting, but can’t be absolutely sure.)


5. “Luck is something we create.” –Ellen Hopkins

I absolutely believe that.


4. “Fairies are out there.”—Jenn Rofe

A not insignificant part of making this top 10 list is the joy of taking quotes out of context. This Andrea Brown Literary Agency agent was speaking about paranormal fiction trends, not making a metaphysical statement. (Or was she…?)


3. “You can’t be mad at someone for being a werewolf. It’s not reasonable.” –Holly Black

See above.


2. “No matter what kind of book you write, or who you’re aiming it for, you’re going to save at least one person.” –Sherman Alexie

This was a running theme throughout the conference, as authors shared some of the intensely personal anecdotes their readers share with them. I love to think about this, as someone who specializes in humorous fantasy stories. No Ellen Hopkins, I. And so sometimes I wonder, where’s the lasting value in a story like mine? Sure, those were the kinds of booksI loved as a kid—but is my writing only about entertaining? And is that enough reason for it to be out there? It’s not always easy to remember that, even from a fairy tale, readers can pick up tips for dealing with life stuff.


1. “All of you are enchanters, and all of you are potion-makers.” –Ingrid Law

Weavers of words and of worlds. Let’s not forget it.


Till next posting (and it will be less than eight months away. I swear!)... 

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Blog? What Blog?

I knew real life was getting in the way of my blogging (drat you, Real Life!), but I had no idea that I had missed a season and a third of Live Journal updates. Wow.


Okay—Real Life and a novel revision. A pretty dang successful novel revision. (At least, that’s what I intend to believe until my critique partner flings his editing tomahawk at my perfect little MG fantasy. Sigh.)


So, in the spirit of the season (and in the interest of not letting another blog-free day go by), I present a few holiday-themed observations.


  1. No one should let James Taylor sing Christmas songs. Ever. (I would not have believed “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” could possibly sound more lugubrious.)
  2. It may be better to give than receive, spiritually speaking, but it can also be a cartload more stress. (None of my near and dear suggested a belt-tightening gift-free Christmas this year.)
  3. Rain is as close as SoCal gets to a white Christmas, which is fab. Spinning out on a freeway offramp, however, can be the not-so-celebratory result of said seasonal weather. (On the plus side, I missed the pole and didn’t crash into any other drivers. Go me!)
  4. The 24-hour Wal-Mart may be my own special province at 5 AM usually, but I should perhaps not have been shocked to find it pretty darn packed at 5 AM the day before Christmas Eve.
  5. Don’t textile manufacturers believe boys ever wear scarves? Because all I see are lacy fine-knit things that no 14-year-old guy would be caught dead in. That, and stuff with pink stripes. And even for me, it’s a little late to start knitting now. (Especially since more than one scarf is required.)
  6. Even though I may secretly have considered entertaining such a sentiment one millisecond here or there, it is such a mood-crusher to hear people say, “I’ll be glad when Christmas is over!” (Wasn’t it Scrooge who said something about holding Christmas in our hearts? So, in theory, it’s never over? Wait—is that mood-crushing, too?)
  7. I hate disease. Especially when I am on the receiving end of the germ onslaught.
  8. Unfortunately, I also hate medication. (Seriously—why can’t someone invent a cough syrup that doesn’t make people want to retch?)
  9. Baking three batches of cookies in one morning may be overdoing it. Okay, is overdoing it. But it’s kinda worth it when you come in hours later from out in the rain and spinning out on the freeway offramp and the welcoming scent of gingerbread is still in the air.
  10. Yes, it’s a bunch more work and sometimes a bunch more stress, but this is still such a fun, warm-and-fuzzy time of year. Doncha think?? (Plus, imagine how wide-open your schedule will feel come New Year’s! Well, after you exchange all the presents you don’t want. And put the decorations away. And haul the tree to the curb.)


Happy Holidays!

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On the Evils of the Phone Company

Lo, the many reasons I hate the unnamed phone/ internet/ sadistic company that will be henceforward referred to as SatanCo.


Many moons ago, when I first began using email for my budding freelance career, I was such a novice that one of my editors actually had to teach me how to attach documents to a message. (That was after he explained to me what attachments were.) Still living with my parents, I used the family email address, blissfully unaware of the many advantages of establishing an independent address.


Okay, that was like more than a decade ago, and up till this week, I was still using that dang address. I just loathed the thought of trying to tell everyone I had a new one. I mean, late last year I got an email from a Cricket editor about a story I’d submitted two years before. What would he have done if I didn’t have that address anymore? He would have had to Google me, or whitepages.com me, or actually pick up the phone to try to call me.


The horror!


Well, now that silly address (it was a silly one, but we didn’t know any better when we created it) will be no more, as of tomorrow. I discovered this fact last week, and after gearing myself up (a process that required several days and significant tequila), I called the phone company to see if I could get that addressed transferred to me.


Oddly, their technology does not stretch that far.


The rep did mention that I might be able to keep the old account—the number had been disconnected a couple weeks before—as a dial-up, just to maintain the address. This appealed to me mainly because it would allow me to pursue the new-email-address-notification-process in a very leisurely fashion.


The catch: I would have to call back and talk to a sales rep.


Yesterday I tried to do that, and the poor girl had no idea what I was talking about. After a few rounds of logic-defying conversation she went to talk to her supervisor, who straightened her out. We were on the same page. She felt my pain. She transferred me to the sales department—who I had dialed directly, I thought, but the first rep had given me the wrong number—and somehow my call got waylaid, and I ended up in the clutches of their voice recognition system, which apparently takes me for some sort of alien species that communicates only in grunts and clicks, because it never understands me, even when all I say is “No,” or “Sales,” or “LET ME TALK TO A REAL PERSON BEFORE I SHOOT SOMETHING, I’M SO NOT KIDDING!”


So I made a very mature decision. After letting fly a few choice words, I hung up the phone. I leafed through all 3457 emails in my trash file (I spent all week cleaning out email folders), built a contact list (being somewhat untrusting, I never allowed Yahoo! to build one for me), and emailed everyone the new address. Everyone except the zillions of editors who have received unsolicited submissions from me—and have not yet replied.


But, despite my near-despair in the clutches of SatanCo and Yahoo! (which will not allow me to do trueswitch, carrying over my old emails and contacts—the few I did create—despite the fact that my old email address was for a company absorbed by Yahoo!. They make my ears bleed, you know?), I am of good cheer this morning. And why is that? Because I have faith in Google. It has never betrayed me. Yet. 

(Do you ever feel a spark of envy for Dickens, writing longhand in the poorhouse? No email? No spam? No phone company? Those were the days.)  

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A Hydrangea By Any Other Name Would Be Easier to Spell

It took me a long time to submit to Anne of Green Gables, mostly because the cover declared her to be “the best-beloved heroine of all time,” or something, and I just don’t cave to such overpromotion (not even when I was 12).


But once I started reading, I was hooked. And one of the things that got me was her focus on her identity. Sure, she was an orphan—but she was also Anne With An E. As An Elisabeth With An S, I so identified. Elizabeth is a completely different name, people! Take a look:


Elizabeth – all business! no-nonsense! pointy!

Elisabeth – soft-hearted. kinda cuddly. always ready for a nap. (Doesn’t S just look like it’s about to topple over onto its side?)


Today, in the office I occasionally grace with my presence, someone called my name and asked me a question, and another person, who goes by Liz, started to answer.


“Oh!” she exclaimed when she saw me. “I thought she was talking to me!”


“You’re not Elisabeth,” I responded. “You’re Liz!”


She denied this, claiming that she was indeed Elizabeth. (Of course, we weren’t spelling at the time, so the conversation you’re reading actually has a lot more going on than our oral conversation did.)


Honestly, I think they need to establish an Elis/zabeth moratorium, anyway. We’re forever getting the wrong emails and voicemails—because even though she goes by Liz, her email address is elastname. The “Elizabeth” pops up in Outlook, and off the sender shoots the email, leaving poor Liz to forward it to me with a note indicating that she thought it had been intended for me.


Fortunately (for me), Liz is a lovely, easygoing person (despite the no-nonsense, pointy Z). We have made peace with the occasional misidentification.


It is, however, quite different when one of my editors misspells my name. Not only because he should know better, and I sign a lot of emails directed to him, and my email return address has my full first and last name, and my column always has my name at the top when I turn it in---but also because he’s an editor¸ for Pete’s sake. One of my readers brought the misspelling to my attention and asked if I wanted her to write him an angry letter about it. (She has an easy-to-spell name, pronounced in an unusual way, and is thus sensitive to such name-related issues.)


On the other hand, the very very worst thing is when one misspells one’s own name, as I occasionally do when typing a very fast email. I always correct the mistake before clicking send… except when I don’t notice it. Which is why today I received a very penitent email from someone who wanted me to know he was sorry for spelling my name the right way… because he’d noticed the way I typed it in my email to him last week. The email in which I’d spelled it wrong. (Although it does look a little more elegant Deffnre—like theatre. Plus it has the added benefit of looking incredibly complicated to pronounce. I may consider making it permanent.)  

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Children’s writers! Children’s illustrators! Editors! Agents! Bookstore!


How I love the SCBWI national conference. And I want you to love it too. So without further ado, here are this year’s Top 10 Best Things I Heard at the SCBWI National Conference. (Potential alternate titles: The Niftiest Things I Heard Come Out of Bruce Coville’s and Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Mouths, Along With Some Neat Stuff From Other People.)


11. “Dig cliches up like nits.” –Bruce Coville

Not only is this excellent advice, it’s onomatopoetic in its own way—for very, very few people are lice references common enough to be at all cliché. So advice plus example in five succinct words. Niiiice.


10. “Every day doors close in children’s hearts. Our job is to help them kick those doors back open.” –Bruce Coville

9. “Books must make the world a better place and heal the things that aren’t right.” –Dianne Hess

There was a lot of discussion on this topic, with much elaboration going on inside my mind. It seems to me that children’s book writers are in two general camps: representing life the way it sometimes is, hairy oozing warts and all, because kids need to know they’re not alone—and representing life the way it sometimes gloriously is, so they have the hope that things will get better.


Everyone has dark stuff to deal with; everyone goes through hard times. I’m not the least bit exempt from that. But not only do I not feel qualified to cover (constantly and in depth) those dark, hard times, I don’t wanna.  


8. Desperation can be a benefit, according to Margaret Peterson Haddix. “It’s like diving into a pool. In the middle, you’re just kicking against water. But if you’re all the way down, there’s something nice and solid to kick off of, so you can come up really fast.”


When you’re right, you’re right.


7. “In writing for kids, we’re all writing about a homeland we’ve been banished from.” –Margaret Peterson Haddix

How true! And yet, how unexpected, coming from an author whose youthful protagonists face cloning, time travel, jail time, and re-youthening unto babyhood. My kiddy homeland was never like that.


6. “I think it was done either by a woman or a nun.” –Anonymous (because that’s the sort of kindly soul I am)

Choices are important, it’s true. So why be both a woman and a nun, if you could be just one instead?


5. “Willing suspension of disbelief starts with the author.” –Margaret Peterson Haddix


And that pretty much sums up the problem with my last project. Thanks, Mags.


4. When I was reading Judy Blume at way too early an age (like second grade), and asking my mom to define terms she figured we wouldn’t need to deal with for years and years, I finally made a young executive decision not to ask her for any more definitions of words I didn't understand in Judy Blume books.


Then there were terms I figured I didn’t need help defining. In Deenie, the title character likes to like in the tub and touch her special place with a washcloth. Like her knee? I wondered. Or maybe the faucet? It didn't seem to matter much to the plot as a whole, so I just let it go. (I think I was in high school before I figured it out.)


But I wasn’t the only one perplexed by that term. YA novelist Rachel Cohn figured Deenie had a blanket like she did (it was her special place!). So fascinated by the book that she actually tried to give herself scoliosis so she could be more like Deenie, Cohn told conference-goers about the time she met Judy Blume and confessed her chronic not-quite-scoliosis-inducing bending and craning. Her anecdote concluded:

“[Judy Blume said] ‘If you wanted to be like Deenie, you could have just touched your special place,’” Cohn said. (I almost missed her next words, I was laughing so hard.) “[I thought] ‘Oh, my God—I just discussed masturbation with Judy Blume. I am the coolest person ever’.


3. “There’s no reason not to use humor, no matter how serious the situation.” –Bruce Coville

Including lovemaking, he pointed out. (It was a very comprehensive conference.)


2. “Aim Low! They wouldn’t call it bottom-feeding if there wasn’t food down there.”—Adam Rex

Okay, he’s an author and illustrator—but he’s also a great example of why this writer so enjoys the illustrator presentations at SCBWI. (Plus he brought along the best Powerpoint I’ve ever seen. And he thanked us for standing in line so long for his autograph at the autograph party, which was unnecessary and very, very sweet.)


1. “If your book is only about what it’s about… you’re in trouble.” –Michael Stearns

I think I have an agent crush. But I’m going to play it cool… for a while, anyway.

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When I was in college, I worked at Kinderfoto. It was a job rife with challenges: how hard is just hard enough to blow in a baby’s face to make it smile? Once you’ve made it smile, how fast can you nip back behind the camera, to make sure it’s focused and take the picture, without tripping over the tripod legs? When the family returns to view the printed photos and choose their package, how do you con them into convince them to buy the biggest one, so you can get Two Whole Dollars in commission?


I didn’t really have an answer to that one. So my modus operandi was pretty simple: I laid out all the photos, explained the packages, and then stepped back and let the family discuss among themselves.


I didn’t sell a ton of the $139.95 packages (and very, very few of the larger ones!), but I made a fair commission. (Seriously—who needs that many photos? Especially when you’re going to come back in 90 days to take the six-month-old commemoratives?) And one day my manager said to me: “You know, I’m really learning from you. You don’t do a hard sell—you just step back and leave the customers alone. And it works.”


Perhaps I should write a fable, immortalizing this little moral tale, to be distributed amongst conference vendors.


I’ve been on the far side of the table. I’ve stood there, studiously looking friendly, while streams of people flow past, carefully avoiding eye contact. When that happens, it means they’re not interested. If they pause about a yard away from the table, and glance at your wares but not at you, it means they don’t want to chat.


I was at an event this weekend where there were some exhibitors. Some of them observed these unspoken rules, smiling pleasantly, even saying, “Good morning”—but not ambushing.


Others, however, are evidently unfamiliar with these rules. One man—with whom I had not made eye contact—thrust a book at me and requested (oh, he had good manners—just not good convention manners) that I at least read the table of contents before I left. (I did. It wasn’t scintillating. But then, in my experience, few TOCs are.)


Then there was the Booth of Doom. I paused before it, chatting with my companion and glancing over the book covers on display. Then the woman I hadn’t noticed on the far side of the table came to the near side of the table. Smiling, she pointed at a chart on the wall that had inspired her book series. The MC started to read off winning raffle numbers, and I half-turned away to focus on my mittful of raffle tickets—but the woman came closer.


Soon she was close enough for me to smell the tuna on her breath (if she’d eaten tuna, I mean), giving me a plot rundown on each of her five books. My companion melted away. I was trapped. Ensnared. Cornered. And trying to listen to the raffle numbers while appearing to be politely attentive to the Ambusher was making my brain hurt.


How did I ever manage to escape, you ask? In a near-tragic turn of events… another convention-goer approached the booth. The Ambusher lunged—I am not exaggerating here—and without so much as a “Thanks for your interest,” I was free once more. My companion re-apparated, and we fled in terror of further run-ins with exhibitors.


On the plus side: I did learn a lot about the art of lunging. And what with the SCBWI national conference next weekend… I think I may just be up to attacking approaching a few victims agents.

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Pleasing Everybody

I interviewed a painter the other day—a nice guy I’ve interviewed before, apparently 10 (!!) years ago. (It does feel strange to be able to say I’ve been at anything for 10 years!) I admire his work for its well-researched subjects (historical aviation pieces, they are), for its technical proficiency, and most of all for its sharp, photographic quality.


He said a lot of interesting things during the course of our conversation: that he tries to do something new with each painting, so he’s always learning and doesn’t get bored with the process (I do the same thing with quilting. Oh, yeah—and writing); that he sets mini-goals for each painting day, so the process doesn’t overwhelm him; and that he paints, first of all, to impress himself.


I wouldn’t have phrased it quite that way—I have only on rare occasions impressed myself—but I think the philosophy is a sound one for a writer, and I think it’s one I follow. I write to please myself—and it’s not always easy to do. So if I feel the plot of my final-final-REALLY-final draft of my MG (unless it’s YA) fantasy novel is stronger now, I know it must be. (Of course, this cockiness is pre-CP-reaction…) If I feel the manuscript of my very first novel, which is next on the re-write agenda, is infused with humor—I know it’s pretty funny. If I read one of my features out loud, and nod at my computer monitor before hitting “send,” and shipping it off to an editor, I know the piece is pretty strong.


But it’s important to remember that—muses willing—I’m not the only one who will be reading what I write. Luckily, I have a couple of gigs that remind me of that with some regularity.


One of them is my newest editing gig. I’ve been in charge of publications before, and am in fact in charge of one right now that’s considerably bigger (in pages and circulation) than this one—but never has my work been so closely read. (Okay, maybe by fact-checkers… but that’s a different type of reading.)


I recently wrote a piece I knew would be controversial. I wrote it with the blessing of the editorial council, and with a thorough vetting by someone in the know. So far I’ve only received one angry email and one phone call, which is waaaaaaaaaaaaay less than I was expecting. But the phone call cracked me up: the woman wanted to know who wrote the piece (I don’t take bylines for stuff I write for this publication, since my name’s so dang big on the inside front cover, haha), because she felt it was misleading because certain information was omitted. I’d like to know what she plans to do once she has the writer’s name. (I’d really like to know if I plan to call her back and tell her it’s me. I’m on the fence at this point.)


That’s just the most recent story. The best one comes from last month, when I ran a big piece on local high school graduates—a nice story by one of my trusty freelancers, profiling half a dozen happy teens. I wanted it for the cover story, but didn’t have a cover photo—just the senior photos of the profiled kids. So I turned to the wire service we use for this pub, found a great, bright and lively photo of some high school graduates from Maryland or somewhere, and used that. The caption beneath the cover photo ran something like this: “Across the country, high school seniors are looking back on their completed high school careers, and looking forward to new challenges, blah blah. Pictured here are Student X and Student Y of Generic High School, blah blah. Turn to page 10 to get to know some of our local graduates, blah.”


And I got an email from one of the readers.


“I’d just like to know why you put a photo of kids from Maryland on the cover,” she wrote.


I’d just like to know how much dang time she has on her hands. I mean, I’m not sure I read captions that closely. Ever. Even the ones I’m supposed to proof. You know?


But hey—at least I’ve got readers.   

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