Saturday, April 30, 2011

Another monstrous poem...

The Invisible Man’s Lament
Do you have any idea how hard it can be
When I’m sat on while reading a book in my chair—
Far more ignored than a very small flea,
With no one to see me and no one to care?

And how ‘bout food that shows through my belly?
Ground hamburger gnawed in my see-through round head.
Quite visible, all of my digesting jelly,
Mashed peanuts and butter and candy and bread.

Almost every person is dependent on sight
So I hardly can strut outside to the store.
Most grocery clerks near faint with the fright
Of seeing two bags floating just off the floor.

And, worst of all, with skin paler than pearl,
How can I find the invisible girl?

Poor invisible man!  He's probably frowning here.
Anyway, sorry for the bad monster poems--they're just so much fun to write!  If you have any suggestions for future monsters to tackle, or if you're brave enough to try your hand at a monster poem of your own, feel free to leave a comment...and I'll add you to my homemade book (once I get around to making it).  I just bought Donkey Kong Country Returns for the Wii, though, so I'm off some dishes.  

Yes, that's it.  Dishes...and...laundry...and grading...

No, I'm not holding a Wiimote.  I'm sure it's a scrubber--and hey!  Look up there!  A bad poem!

Friday, April 29, 2011

A hunk of granite

Some writing days are hard.  Like today.  I brought my boys to school (which was...well, interesting, although my students loved it), decorated a door for a graduation (congrats, Mel!), graded two argument essays, and wrote.  But I didn't write anything all that good.  I want my first draft to be funny and beautiful and fluid, with quirky characters and poignant scenes.

It's not happening yet.

I know it will happen eventually.  I love rewriting, because then I can cut all the bad stuff and add all the humor and the magic.  I can get to know the characters I love.  I enjoy what Jeff Hirsch said on his blog--writing's kind of like sculpting, and that first draft is the hunk of granite you can carve away at later, revealing something beautiful and Michelangelo-ish inside.

But right now I don't have something like this:

I love Rodin

Or even this:

Unfinished, but still amazing!

 No.  Right now I have this:

Whee.  A quarry.  It's dangerous and confused and full of heavy hunks of rock.
On days like today, when I step back and see the mess and feel upset, I need to remember: it'll be okay.  Eventually I'll get out of the jumble and slag, and I'll get to carving.

I'm grateful for geniuses like Rodin and Michelangelo and Shakespeare--they show me what human creativity can accomplish, even if what I do is nearer to the level of my son Ninja's homemade jokes than to a Spenserian sonnet.

(Speaking of jokes, here's a sample from today...

Ninja: Mommy, why am I afraid of snow?
Me (confused, because he's acting scared, his eyes wide, his frown big): Why are you?  It's soft and fluffy.  You always liked it before.
Ninja (pausing): Snow eats me!
Me (truly confused): What?
Ninja (now he's grinning):  It's a funny joke.  I'm kidding!  You should not believe me.  Silly mommy.

Silly mommy indeed.)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

To be a writer...

...I have to write.  So I've decided: every day I write, I'm a writer.

I want to be a writer today.

Here's a picture of my beautiful sister (who just graduated!), an awesome baby Ninja, and the elbow of my father to keep you occupied.  I'm off to be a writer!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Murals + kids + books = fun times!

Our family bought a house over a year ago, and after years of renting I wanted the power to do something crazy.  We needed new carpet throughout, and since we closed on the house about a half month before we needed to move out of our apartment, I decided to paint the walls in the basement.

"What's the worst that can happen?" I asked my husband.  "The walls are boring white right now.  If what I paint looks terrible, we can always paint over it.  Besides, this house is ours, and we can do whatever we want!"

So I went to the local Michael's craft store, bought some paintbrushes and acrylic paint, and pulled out some of my favorite childhood books.  I chose a picture from each one, sketched it, revised a few, put them on overheads, sort of illegally borrowed (and returned!) an overhead from the high school I teach at, projected the pictures on the walls, found that some of the pictures were too small to project and freehanded those (silly mouse and spider!), painted one color at a time, then outlined each picture when I finished.  Here's the (badly-photographed) result--and you get a gold star for each source book you guess!
Here's the start...

Doesn't he look happy?  In spite of the bad flash?

My kind of girl.  And from a book by one of my two favorite authors during early elementary school.

Big, rough brushstrokes make for fun painting

You've already read about my early-reading love for this witch...

The cover picture I copied didn't actually have the complete dragon.  I had to wing--well, the wings.

I had to scrunch my writing over the outlet.

The colors and pen-and-ink feel of this one were hard to get right

Curse you, puppy with the difficult brown-gold coat!

I want cookies every time I see this.  Chocolatey ones.

He's the best to paint--very simple and neat!

I couldn't get the next two together because of that blasted ping-pong table--but they're right by each other

The  pig and spider are from my other favorite early-elementary-school author.

And the baby before this happy cat is on broom closet.  :)  This one's just outside the door!

It's all in our playroom, so here's a side view:

Look!  Toys!  You don't see most of them, though.  There's a reason I hid the floor.
 Sorry about the pictures--I had to dodge many obstacles, I experimented a little with the flash, and I went quick.  Oh, and if you're observant (of course you are!), you noticed all those little black marks running under each picture.  I'm a writer, so of course I tied everything together with words.

So if you're going through and you want a hint about a few of the books I stole pictures from, I typed up the words I wrote on sticky notes--and then scrawled beneath each mural, starting with the first picture.

Warning...the writing below is circular and dense and only some of it is from the brilliant source texts.  Some of it was written rather quickly by me, so read on only if you're truly desperate for clues:

...and begin, like every story, with A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W..X..Y..or..Z.  Big Z little z what begins with Z?  Zany Dragon Droofus, who in all the excitement lost his head--but only for a moment.  In that moment, he startled Matilda, who was reading.  She looked up, smiling.  Matilda was extraordinary, and by that I mean sensitive and brilliant.  Above all, she was brilliant.  Still, with all her brilliance she didn't know how to quiet Bruce, a great shaggy brute of a bear.  That was okay, though, because Bruce's growly guffaws made Dorrie laugh.  Dorrie is a witch.  A little witch.  Her hat is always crooked and her socks never match.  She skips with her cat, Gink, on the way to see Kazul the Dragon and her princess.  The princess comes from Linderwall, which, all in wall, was a very prosperous place.  Princesses weren't supposed to fence or study politics, though, in Linderwall.  Princess Cimorene hated it.  So she ran away to become Kazul's Chief Cook and Librarian.  She didn't have any books about penguins, unfortunately, as penguins are generally rare in magic kingdoms.  There are no pretty marching penguins and no penguins in flowered shirts like Tacky, who was an odd bird but a very nice bird to have around.  Tacky even said, "What's happening?" to Max, the king of all wild things, while Max sat high on a hill.  "And now," cried Max, "let the wild rumpus start!"  And so Max rumpused with the wild things while Spot crouched on his ball and smiled at the mouse.  The mouse held a cookie, which he offered to share with Harold.  However, Harold was too busy riding a purple-crayon sea serpent, and he sailed across the moon ocean at a smooth swift speed.  Harold didn't even see Wilbur prancing or Charlotte spinning her wonderful web.  It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.  Charlotte was both.  And she would have known, had she seen him, that the story of the Boy Who Lived would end...

Look!  You can see the ping-pong table on the right!  It's hard to take pictures around it, but it is fun to play on...
Needless to say, I didn't paint over my mural.  My boys love that room--and the wonderful books that inspired it.  And, let's face it, sparking a love for books was the whole point of my diabolical, paint-spattered scheme.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

So, about the title of my blog...

Punctuation marks hold a lot of personality, and my favorite--by far--is the em dash.  I remember the first time I noticed how sleek they looked, how cute, peeking out of my fantasy book.  I must have been eleven or twelve, but when I really saw them for the first time, I knew: here's a punctuation mark that is both powerful and lovely.  A dash like an otter, swift and fluid on the page. 

Ignore the comma-like curve of the tail--otters are em-dashes.  Trust me.

This little guy is shocked I haven't defined em-dashes yet!  Shocked!

So.  I don't feel like explaining too much in depth.  Here is a chart:

The longer the dash, the more powerful it is.  Em-dashes can connect sentences, and, like the letter n has one hump and the letter m has two humps, the em-dash is made of two en-dashes.  In Word, when you type a word with no spaces, two dashes, and another word right away, you'll see the em-dash fuse into one slender, playful line--and, if you're like me, in that instant you'll feel a brief flicker of happiness.

Moral: I love em-dashes, and so should you.  And if you don't know how to use one, you can always ask me--or maybe train it with fish.
Aw!  Someday this baby en-dash will grow up to be a strong, intelligent em-dash--just like his mommy

Monday, April 25, 2011

Vampire poem

Okay, so I want to make a whole book of monster poems for my kids (I like good Halloween books!).  I've already written a few.  Here's the first, which I wrote as an undergraduate:

The Tale of the Hungry Vampire
Biting a neck isn’t all that much fun
It’s messy, it’s crude, and it leads to the shun-
ning of most folk
when you really crave Coke
And honey and cake
Fangs are a mistake

On chocolate I brood
I’m not in the mood
For more dark thick blood
Masquerading as food

This poem is dedicated to Cadbury Mini Eggs, which taste far too good, and deviled eggs with dye on the whites, which is what we turned our Easter creations into...

Friday, April 22, 2011


Three trips up the stairs for Lightning to get a drink from the drinking fountain.

One trip up the stairs for Ninja's poopy diaper.

One trip up the stairs to get balloons attached to Smarties and check those balloons in.

One trip to check the balloons out, give them to Lightning (who had a HUGE grin), and guide my three-year-old to Portal C.

One balloon-tangled hug later, and my sister is officially graduated with her B.S. from BYU.


(This is one of the aforementioned balloons.  It doesn't mean, as some strangers wondered, that we thought my sister wouldn't get a degree "until pigs fly."  She just likes pigs, and this guy is we bought him.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Long day...

My little sister is done with her graduation! But I am tired, and we're still going out to eat (at Ruby River Steakhouse, I think). So here is a nice picture of what sounds most wonderful to me right now...

Lovely, right? So elegant. So simple. So warm, and soft, and blissful...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Graduations are more fun when they're not yours...

My little sister is graduating from college tomorrow!  My parents and my two other sisters are driving in from Washington as I type.  Which means I should clean my house. the interest of cleaning my house (rather than blogging, which is more fun but less obviously and immediately important to my guests), I will leave you with this picture:

This is Dorrie.  She is a witch.  A little witch.  Her hat is always crooked and her socks never match.  She's standing there by the stairs with her black cat named Gink, because I loved her as a child and I love her still.

I spent hours pretending to be Dorrie.  I called my Mii Dorrie.  And I named the protagonist in Swindle Witch Patricia after the author of the Dorrie picture books, Patricia Coombs.

You never forget your first favorite books.  And even though most of the Dorrie books are out of print, I'll never forget the first female protagonist I really connected with--and the magic she taught me.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

My family

There's me.  There's my wonderful and handsome husband.  And then there's the boys:

Lightning (he picked the nickname) is three.  He loves Pixar's Cars, trucks, splashing in puddles, dinosaur eggs (a.k.a. Cadbury Mini Eggs), Lego Star Wars, and books (like Where the Wild Kings Are--"Kings" is his addition to the title).  Here's a picture of Lightning promoting a game my little sister designed for a class:

And then there's Ninja.  He's zero.  He likes sucking on anything he can get his hands on, standing, and smiling to show his toothless little gums.  He's the happiest baby I've ever met, and he can grab handfuls of nearby cupcake in five seconds flat (I learned that on Sunday).  He's sitting by the game, too, and isn't he enthusiastic?

So.  I come from a family of four girls, but now I'm outnumbered by boys on all fronts.  Unless you count our two cats--they're both female.

Scout, our 9-pound hellion

Ophelia, our 18-pound clawed snuggler

I don't count our cats.

Monday, April 18, 2011

So, about that writing thing...

Once upon a time I finished a book.  Well, actually, I thought I'd finished the book back in 2009--it was book-length, after all, and hefted impressively in my hand.  I'd even gone through and rewritten a bit.  So I started the querying process--which means that I sent out letters and sample pages to about seven agents and asked if they'd want to represent me (to get a big publisher, you need an agent, and I'd love an expert on my side for the business end of things regardless).  Anyway, a big agency in Great Britain wanted to see my full manuscript.  I sent it.  And they emailed me back saying something like:

"You're great with tension and writing, but the middle has no plot and your characters still need a lot of work."

I read through my manuscript again.  And they were being generous.

So I rewrote.  Every day.  I made a chart, re-plotted each section (especially the middle), rewrote each chapter, reread the manuscript, highlighted characters in different colors, reworked each character, rewrote again...repeat twice more, add some salt, and I started querying a much more polished manuscript at the start of this year.  This time I waited, and I reread the whole thing last week (my kindest of husbands watched the kids, and I had a can of A&W root beer to keep me company).  It's good this time--at least, I would've liked it when I was a kid (I like it now, in fact), and that's what I want: to keep readers up past their bedtimes and help them feel the companionship I enjoyed from my favorite authors growing up.  And rewriting, I found, is fun.  It's taking the bad and making it good.  It's creative.  It's fulfilling.

Querying isn't nearly as fun as writing.  Still, I have out a full and a partial right now, and I've decided to pause and watch for those responses before I go bug anyone else.

Waiting's hard.  It's an exercise in patience, in taking deep breaths and distracting myself.  I wanted my novel to be a first-person narrative about someone else, like Bruce Brook's The Moves Make the Man or To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  But I also wanted to write fantasy, because I love reading fantasy most, and I found it's awfully fun to write what I read.  The result is Swindle Witch, except it might not be titled that forever because I suck at titles.

I've started on my second novel, because it's good to move on.  The initial chapter's rough, but first drafts are.  I learned that last time.  And the only way to get to the rewriting is to write.

So, in the vein of showing how I manage to write, here's my picture for today.  It's the only clock my three-year-old will listen to.  It keeps him in his room for his Quiet Time and mommy's Writing Time:

He glows red when you touch his helmet.  He beeps, but if he played the Darth Vader theme when his alarm went off, he'd be absolutely perfect.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A blog! A blog!

Welcome to my blog.  I decided: I need a place where I can talk about anything I want--kids, writing, teaching, books, food, kids, writing and rejection, Wii games, my favorite punctuation marks, ice cream flavors...

You get the idea.

But for my own sanity, I've decided to set some rules.  Here they are:

1)  I will post every day.  Except the days I don't.

2)  I won't spend more than 20 minutes writing any given post.  Unless there's an extra-special occasion.  I need my rare time without wakeful children to write fiction (and read books and play games and contemplate the tastiness that is root beer floats...).

3)  I won't be too fluffy.  All my journals growing up tended to be about times I thought I should be happy, like during vacations or when we brought home a new pet.  Most entries ended with "And it was great!"  But my mom kept a journal for me when I was about three, and her journals are much more fun to reread.  Simple worked better.  For instance, here's an entry:

"Brenda was bad today.  She left Little Bear out on the floor.  Now he's at the bottom of the hamper for a week so she can learn to pick up her toys." 

See?  I love knowing I've always been a messy person.  More to the point, I love her picture, which showed a sad and terrified Little Bear all alone at the bottom of a deep, deep laundry basket.  Which brings me to my fourth point...

4)  Pictures are awesome.  I'll try to include some.  In fact, here is one now:

We played Mario Kart Wii last night.  I didn't win.  But with this picture my blog can start with both Yoshi and a betrayal.  Nice, right?