Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Why I got into this field in the first place

From my early childhood I have loved old movies. It never mattered to me if they were in black and white or if the subject was dated. There was just something about them that attracted me.

On Sunday, I watched one of my favorite old movies, The Best of Everything I can't tell you how many times I've seen that movie, or when I saw it for the first time. Though it is in color, it was an old movie when I first saw it. The clothing, hairstyles, and situations were dated even then. When I watched it on Sunday, the "datedness" of the film seemed even more apparent--especially the room full of typists slugging away at their typewriters. But, I still love that film.

Hope Lange plays a recent college grad whose come to NYC. She takes a typist job at Fabian Publishing. Of course most of the women working in the typing pool are only doing so until they get married. Lange's character proves herself to be a capable typist and an even more capable reader. So, to the chagrin of her boss (played by Joan Crawford), she becomes a reader. When Crawford's character leaves to get married, Lange becomes an editor. The coworker she's seeing doesn't like how the job has made her "masculine, hard." When Crawford returns--"It was too late for me"--Lange gives her back her job, though she is allowed to remain an editor, but with a smaller author base. And, of course, she comes around and gets the guy in the end--hey, I said it was an old movie.

I think this was the first film I saw that gave any kind of indication about how the books I loved so much actually became books. I had no way of knowing if publishing houses worked the way they were shown to in the film, but it didn't matter. What I cared about was the process--reader, editor, book. I wanted part of that action.

And I've gotten part of that action. Oh, none of my jobs mirror the situations presented in the film, but I am still fascinated by the publishing process. Though my career has been frustrated and frustrating of late, I still feel it's the right one, though I may not be working for the right publisher. It's a learning process that will go on as long as I work with publishing.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Review: Team Moon by Catherine Thimmesh

Team Moon purports to tell the story of "How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon." It does that, but I never truly felt drawn into the story--and I recall the landing vividly.

Text is reversed out--white text on black pages. I find that difficult to read, especially when the author uses italics to indicate conversations. Judicious use of space around the quotes would have been more effective--and easier to read. The images are beautiful. I was more inclined to look at the photos and read the captions than to read the text.

The backmatter is extensive, but put together is a somewhat unorthodox order. The inclusion of a glossary will be helpful to a younger reader, or to anyone who might not be up to date on their space lingo.

Review: Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine

I'm planning to use this book myself! Some of the exercises are directed toward younger writers, but hey, I can live with that.

I wish I had had this book when I was a teen. I wanted to write, but there really wasn't anyone around for guidance. This book breaks down the writing process into doable sections, with a call for Writing Time and an exercise at the end of the chapters. The suggestions require some reflection, not just routine situations. One of my particular favorites asks the budding author to construct the conversation of a brother and sister plopped down on an unfamiliar street corner.

Teens--and others--who are interested in writing should enjoy this book.

Review: One Kingdom: Our Lives with Animals by Noyes

I love animals, so I looked forward to reading this book. The cover says the book is about the human-animal bond in myth, history, science, and story, and it does do that. The text is interesting, but I wasn't really captivated. In a few places, I felt as though she was being somewhat judgmental.

I liked the sidebars and wish more books aimed at this market used them. However, the font used in them is very light, and I found it difficult to read. Perhaps younger eyes wouldn't have the same problem.

The book includes a bibliography and an index, something I am glad to see.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Review: Freedom Walkers by Russell Freedman

First, in the interest of full disclosure, I read this book with some prejudice. This is my area of major interest, and I was extremely interested in how he would handle the subject. He did fine.

Of course Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. are included, but so are those who came before Rosa Parks and individuals, such as E.D. Nixon, who played major roles but who are not known by many outside the South.

The story is told in a manner that keeps the reader interested. Though factual, it's not dry. The photographs enhance the text, though the reader could be excused if she thought all of the photos were of Montgomery. Of course reading the caption would clarify that, but many skip over the captions.

A very good book for learning about this aspect of the civil rights movement.

Review: Kids Make History

Study after study indicates that today's students are sorely lacking in knowledge about history. This book is a nice introduction.

I like the format of the book--the images act almost like footnotes. The stories selected for the events are interesting and told well. The images are very colorful and attractive. The notes provide further information about these real-life individuals.

There are places where the text almost seems crowded on the page. Reducing type size would have been an unattractive alternative, so this is probably the best option, and it's really not that objectionable.

Overall, I think this is a good book for those kids interested in history.

Review: The Buffalo and the Indians by Patent

I don't find much to dislike about this book. The text is engaging and provides interesting information about the role and the importance of the bison in Native American culture. It can be difficult to get boys to read, and I think this book would interest them as well.

The photographs are simply beautiful; they made me want to hug a buffalo. The interspersing of paintings with the photos provide an interesting and attractive contrast.

Review: Robert Cormier Daring to Disturb the Universe

I really enjoyed this book. I thought it was an interesting examination of Cormier's work. I love getting insights. It reads almost like someone's dissertation, but is a lot more interesting and engaging. The notes at the end of chapters will aid readers looking for additional information. I also liked the book's design.

Having said that, I don't know if teens will be inclined to read this type of book unless it is assigned. Actually, I don't think assigning it as a supplemental reading for an English lit or even a writing class is a bad idea.

The First Review: Something Out of Nothing

I am on the nominating committee for the Cybils middle-grade and young-adult nonfiction category. I will be posting my reviews here, and this is the first: Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium by Carla Killough McClafferty.

When I was young, I remember reading a book about Marie Curie. That book captivated me; I wanted to learn more about Curie.

Unfortunately, I didn't have the same reaction to this book. Though well written technically, I didn't think it had a hook--that thing necessary to engaging the reader. Being the author of books such as this, I understand the constraints put on what can be included and what cannot. However, I'd find myself reading about something and want to know why? For example, why was the French Academy of Sciences so important. I wanted to know more about her life after Pierre's death.

I thought the author did a good job describing Marie's life as a governess, her marriage, and her relationship to her daughters. But, overall, I found the book dry and not very appealing. We need books that will get young girls interested in science, but I'm not sure this is one of them.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Holiday Time

Food was always important to our family while I was growing up. I guess it's logical to say, then, that Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday. Oh, Christmas was always fun, but no gift could compare to the smell of roasting turkey and oyster dressing. Forget the pies--I wanted some of that bird.

We spent almost every Thanksgiving of my youth at my grandparents. They lived in a small, kind of rundown house (complete with outhouse) in the middle of nowhere. I'm not sure how this got started, but for some reason, my mother always made the turkey, dressing, an a pie to take to my grandparents'. I guess that's not unusual--my grandparents were quite elderly and didn't have much money--except that my aunt and uncle lived much closer. I don't recall, however, that they ever brought anything. Grandma would make a couple of side dishes and more pies, so we were never at a loss for food.

Since I left college, I think I've missed making Thanksgiving Dinner once. It didn't matter whether I was going to be alone (hey, it freezes) or with friends, I couldn't go a Turkey Day with the smells that were so familiar to me. So, I'd try to do everything my mom did so I'd have the same result. Okay, sometimes I'm a little slow about things. My mom used to get up in the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning to get the bird into the oven. So, I did the same thing. Note to self--it doesn't take nearly as long to cook a 10-pound turkey as it does one that weighs close to thirty. Imagine my surprise when my Thanksgiving turkey was ready mid-morning! Oh well, lesson learned, and learned quite well I might add.

Tomorrow is my last day at my full-time job. This is making the financial situation quite strapped, as I am sure many of you can imagine. At first, I thought about skipping Thanksgiving and the turkey this year. After all, it was just going to be me. But then I'd recall the smells--and the memories--of the Thanksgivings of my childhood. How could I go without those? After all--think of how many meals I can make from one turkey? And I really don't need all of the sides. Turkey and stuffing will do me, thank you very much. And besides, I do have things to be thankful for.

I'd like you to take a minute and reflect on what you have to be thankful for. Perhaps you, like me, are going through some financial difficulties. Perhaps there are health issues, relationship difficulties, or some other truly difficult times. But, if you can put together a Thanksgiving dinner, I'd like you to consider those who can't, and perhaps donate the cost of a meal to your local food bank, or to America's Second Harvest (you can click on the link at the bottom of this page to learn more about America's Second Harvest and to make a donation). You'll be helping someone else have something to be thankful for.

Have a blessed holiday.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

What Do You Do . . .

when you're between projects?

I'm going to have some unwelcome down time, and I've been thinking about how to use that time most constructively. There are some magazine submission deadlines coming up. I could work on those since I do have some ideas for a couple of them.

But, I guess what I need to do most is marketing. I am terrible at it, but I know I really need to get my rear in gear and do some--more than just some. If I don't, those down times will come more often.

Does anyone have any hints to efficient marketing?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Raining and Pouring

I'm about to be laid off from my full-time position. When things pick up, I'm supposed to be hired back under better terms. Well, that news certainly didn't make my day. And, I'm still trying to decide if I want to be an employee or independent contractor.

With severance, I'll be all right for a couple of months, but it's scary. So, I let some other writers and editors know I was looking for freelance work. I also answered ads to the e-mail lists--ads that I probably never would have bothered with before. As a result, I've proofed two articles for a journal this week, gotten an editing assignment from a publishing company, and a substantive edit job with an author. An online author friend recommended me to one of the people she works for, and within just a few minutes of receiving her e-mail telling me she'd done that, I got an e-mail from the person to whom she'd suggested me. On Monday she's sending me a contract to write a middle-grade nonfiction book about the Boston Tea Party! Finally, I'll be writing about something I have knowledge of.

Then the strangest thing happened. I got an e-mail with an article attached from a professor in Hong Kong. He told me that he'd gotten my info from another professor, for whom I had edited an article. Frankly, I have only the vaguest idea who he's talking about. Oh well, I guess if you're just a little patient . . . .

Monday, October 30, 2006

Project Update

A while ago I told you how words could make a difference and the Village Earth Press's book A Gift of Hope in the Wake of the 2004 Tsunami and 2005 Hurricanes. It is now available for purchase on their Website (http://www.villageearthpress.com) or from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. A portion of the sale of each book is being donated to Habitat for Humanity International and Give2Asia to help with long-term rebuilding efforts.

Changing Dreams

I remember as a teenager and young adult in Iowa the fascination New York City held for me. I don't recall ever wanting to move to Los Angeles, or anywhere west for that matter, but longed to move to the East Coast. I'm not sure why I was so intrigued by New York City, but there was something about it--at least as I had conjured the city to be in my mind--that seemed to draw me there.

When I was about nineteen, I had the chance to move to NYC as a mother's helper. Not exactly the glamorous job I had envisioned, but I thought that once I moved there, I'd be able to find that glamorous job an begin to live the life I had long imagined. Long story short--I didn't go. Instead, I went to junior college, then college, and finally graduate school in Syracuse, New York. Then began a series of jobs, not a one of them glamorous and none in NYC. I did get to go there, and it was as exciting as I had dreamed it would be.

Then things changed. Somewhere I began to want different things. The bright lights and potential glamour of the Big Apple waned. Instead, I dreamed of a Jessica Fletcher-type life in a small town in Maine. Or living and working in Portland Head Lighthouse in Maine. Though I plead for anonymity, there is an increasing part of me that wants to be part of something. I think I'd like living in a really small town where people would know who I am. Of course, they could think of me as that strange woman with all those cats. But--they'd know who I am. If I could make enough money writing or editing, I think I'd go for it. It wouldn't have to be in Maine, just a small town somewhere.

This change in dreams and attitudes has also manifested itself in my writing. When I was a child and early in my writing career, I wanted to write that hugely successful novel that would become an Academy Award-winning film starring the "big name" of the moment. Now, I'm happier writing nonfiction, but I still have dreams. I want to write nonfiction that will make people look at a subject differently, with more curiousity and more understanding. I want to make a difference.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Back in the Saddle

Well, it's been a while. Though I've not blogged, I have been thinking about projects. It seems as though there are more projects than time. But, that seems to be me and everything. (If you doubt that, check out my knitting blog: http://knit-a-while.blogspot.com.)

So, what have I been thinking about? Initiative--or perhaps lack of intiative. I've been going through stuckitis, a not uncommon disease among writers. Unfortunately, I'm not sure what the treatment is. I have plenty of ideas, and have started some, but then I seem to lose interest--something else I hear is not uncommon. When I have that problem when knitting, I start a new project. That's kind of what I am doing with my writing.

Like many, I have a difficult time trying to decide what to give my family members for the holidays. This is especially difficult since they live 1200 miles away. So, to solve that problem, I'm making them a cookbook. I am also very happy to say that after the holidays it will be available for sale as an e-book on the http://www.sweet-tea-and-magnolias website. Ten percent of the sale price will be donated to America's Second Harvest.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Just Tryin' to Roll with the Flow (Stay Away from T-Mobile)

After many years of using prepaid cell service, I decided to bite the bullet and subscribe to a T-Mobile plan. Big Mistake. I order the service online and get the phone very quickly. Well, at the end of the first day, I knew it was going back. I liked the phone, and the prices weren't bad, but the service range stunk. I had service at home, but at my office--just ten minutes away--there was no service. So, well within the two-week trial, I contacted them to tell them I was cancelling. A rep replied with information on the procedures to follow, and I returned the phone.

Jump ahead about a month, and imagine my surprise when I received a complete bill from T-Mobile. When I contacted them, the rep apologized if I had gotten incorrect information, but informed me the I was still under contract because I did not return the phone to the place of purchase. Now tell me, I did what the first rep told me to do and followed the return instructions enclosed in the box. According to this second rep, I will have to pay an early termination fee. I suggested rather strongly that if their reps were so poorly trained, perhaps the one who gave me the information should pay the fee.

There is a moral to the story: run away from--don't walk--T-Mobile. They are incompetent.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Thinking Outside the Box

When I was an undergraduate student at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, I had a graphic design professor who stressed the need to think "outside the box." Now, that is an overused and often abused cliche, but like most cliches, there is a ring of truth to it.

I belong to an online crit group. I had written something and wanted feedback, even though there are no immediate plans to do anything with the piece. I contacted the moderator since the submission was outside the concentration of the crit group; the group is for writers of children's nonfiction and this was an adult essay/short story. With permission, I posted my piece. Well, two of the members "got it." They understood what I was trying to get across through word choice and structure. The others, however, criticized it for lacking structure, being too loose. Someone even told me that it wouldn't work as an article. Well, duh, I said it was an essay or chapter in a book. If the piece didn't conform to their formulaic standards, it wouldn't work.

Though some in the crit group had legitimate criticisms, the entire experience reminded me of my college graphic design professor. The inability to break out of the box--to expand our boundaries, to leave our comfort zones--is not unique to that crit group. I think we all fall into that trap at one time or another. After all, we can feel safe there; it's tried and true; we've had success there before.

But, what happens when something forces us outside that safety zone? What if the market changes and your style of writing is no longer a hot commodity? What if your editor at the publishing house leaves and his replacement is not impressed with your work? What if your work--and you--become stagnant, no longer relevant?

But how do you start thinking outside the box? I'm still learning. One think the prof did was to have us take notes in a drawing book rather than a notebook. At first it seemed odd, but what difference does where you write make? Well, not being confined to lines can be amazingly freeing. Here are some other ideas I came up with:

1. If you're used to writing in one particular spot, go somewhere else for part of the writing day.
2. Change the font on your word processing program. Who says everything has to be the same size and in the same font and color. One caveat: I you're submitting your piece to a publisher or an editor, you might want to make them conform to industry standards. Changing the industry's way of thinking will take longer.
3. If you're used to writing nonfiction, try some fiction, and vice versa. This one I am trying. I can't say that writing fiction is easier or harder than the nonfiction I usually write, but it is an amazing break.
4. Tackle a writing topic you know nothing about. Learning is an incredible tool.
5. Write without using -ly adverbs.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Getting Started

At the BEA conference in Washington, DC, last month, I attended a workshop on historical fiction. One of the panelists there said that being an author means that you have to eventually put your butt in the chair and write. That's true for all kinds of writing, and that's what I've been having trouble doing of late. I can't say I have a writer's block, because I've not progressed past the idea stage. I have tons of ideas written on a variety of things and put in a variety of places (now I know what to do with those Roledex cards). But, it's the getting started part that's the biggest bugga boo. I have come up with a list of things to help get the ball rolling:

  1. Turn off the television. OK, that's not an original thought; someone on an e-mail list suggested it. I'm not sure that's doable for me. Even when I'm in my office writing--OK, doing almost everything but--the television's on in the living room, generally tuned to CNN. I have this fear--and that's not too strong a word--that some major news event will happen and I won't know about it.
  2. Write something every day. OK, that should be easier, but how do I choose which project to write on? For some reason, due dates just don't do it for me.
  3. Take Snood off the computer desktop. I wish I could recall who told me about Snood. She was not a nice person. Actually, I'm sure that's not true. I know she warned everyone that the stupid game was addictive. But really, I'm an adult. I can handle it. Yeh, right.
As if the distractions of everyday life aren't enough to put off writing, I'm having a bit of "after all, how important could anything I write be." I blame Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris for that. (You didn't think I'd take responsibility did you? The person who blames a computer game . . . ) They have a CD out, and one of the songs on it is called "If This Is Good-Bye." According to Knopfler, he wrote it because of the last calls made by people who died in 9/11. The words to the song can tear your heart out. There is absolutely nothing I--or anyone--could write that would have the meaning that those calls and notes had to the families and friends left behind. And, it probably shouldn't. Still, the thought is daunting.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Our Words, Our Strength

We all know that words can make a difference. They can move a nation, change a law, affect the entire world. Deep in our hearts, many of us hope that some day we will write the words that will make a lasting difference.

I am making no claim that I have done this, but I do want to make you aware of a publishing imprint trying to make a difference. In the interest of full disclosure, I work for the publishing company whose imprint it is. That's not meant as an apology; I say it with pride.

Village Earth Press is an imprint of Harding House Publishing Service. The goal of the press is to produce good products that will do good. In that vein, I would like to announce the publication of the first book under the Village Earth Press imprint--The Gift of Hope in the Wake of the 2004 Tsunami and 2005 Hurricanes.

Many of us sat in front of televisions or computer screens watching with disbelief the destruction caused by the tsunami. The terror on the faces of those running from the wall of water is not easy to forget.

Then, a few months later, the sense of disbelief hit us again when hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast. Pictures of flood-ravaged communities and people stranded on the roofs of their homes dominated news coverage. In their aftermath, the hurricanes left entire communities almost destroyed.

In 2005, Village Earth Press publisher and director of photography traveled to Thailand to document recovery efforts there. Instead of finding people wringing their hands, they found people full of hope for the future, working to rebuild their communities and their lives.

Later that year, they traveled to the Gulf Coast. Although the destruction was more recent, they found people there already working to rebuild their communities and lives. Although separated by thousands of miles, these communities and their residents had much in common.

The result of those visits is The Gift of Hope in the Wake of the 2004 Tsunami and 2005 Hurricanes. With eloquent prose and evocative photographs, the book shows communities on their way to recovery, but with a new definition of normalcy.

The book will be available in July 2006, but it can be preordered now on the Village Earth Press web site: http://www.villageearthpress.com. One-third of the purchase price will go to Habitat for Humanity and Give2Asia, two agencies working to help in the immense recovery efforts.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Everything I read says that writers should have a blog. But, they don't say what the blog should contain. So, I'm going to wing it.

I have been proofreading and editing for a while now. Recently, though, I've tried my hand at writing. I've been published, and people have been encouraging. So, I've decided to expand that part of my freelancing business. Now I spend time thinking up ideas about what to write. My boss thinks I should expand into fiction, but I love nonfiction. Of course I don't know that one couldn't do both.

I'm leaving for the BEA in the morning. It's the first time I'll be attending anything like it. Unfortunately, I really would rather stay home. . .