Thursday, July 29, 2010


In Loving Memory of the Very. Best. Donkey. Ever.

My friend. My companion.

~ Josie ~

Rest in Peace, My Darling Girl.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Tevis Cup, or Hanging in there for the Long Haul

The 55th annual Western States 100 mile/ one day Trail Ride (more commonly known as the Tevis Cup) is this weekend. Held on the weekend in July closest to the full moon (to better see the trail at night) riders on this quest attempt to ride their horse 100 miles, through some of the toughest terrain imaginable, and finish within 24 hours. Horses have required rest stops with vet checks, and any horse deemed unready to go on is pulled. Only about 50 percent finish in any given year. The balance take a trailer ride home.

I rode this race 25 years ago, in 1985, on a quarter horse/mustang cross named Daniel. I was fitter, lighter, tougher, and boy I'd do it again tomorrow if I thought I could. I wax nostalgic just thinking about it.

Riders start from a point near Squaw Valley, California (base camp was in the meadow at Squaw Valley when I did it) and ride all the way to Auburn, California.

They begin in the wee hours of the morning - 5:15 am - after months or years of preparation, involving long hours of trotting their horse up and down mountains several days a week, until the horse is not only physically but mentally prepared for the challenge. The trail itself snakes over granite ridges with insane elevation gains and descents,and trail hazards including a swinging suspension bridge and the infamous Cougar Rock (imagine rock climbing for horses.) Riders routinely clamber off and run alongside on the steep downhills, and follow behind, holding on to the tails or "tailing" their horses uphill. All this in order to save their horses for the long haul home.

Why would anybody do this? I don't know. Because they're half-crazy? To say they can?

Here's a picture of me and my horse, Daniel (my head is turned away from the camera.)This picture was taken at Squaw Valley about three weeks before we accomplished the actual Tevis ride itself, when a girlfriend and I pre-rode the trail in three days, camping out and completing about 30 miles a day. We carried all our food and gear with us, and it was hands-down the most fun I've ever had horseback. For the actual race, I traveled much lighter, with a crew of great volunteers at rest stops.

Today, the Western States Ride has its own website, with a live report on each rider in the race and even twitter updates. Finishers are still awarded the coveted Tevis Cup belt buckle.

Do I own one? No. Daniel and I made it through each and every vet check, and with just a few miles to go, in the wee hours of the following morning (after riding for about 23 hours straight) my horse was all done in. Tired. I urged him forward. "Come on boy, just a couple more miles, you can do it." Nothing. Nada. He had given me everything he had, so with tears in my eyes, I got off and walked my superb trooper, my palomino horse Daniel, to finish the last few miles. We came in just overtime. We didn't win a buckle. But we finished the course, and I brought my horse home tired, but completely sound. The endurance motto "To Finish is to Win" has made me feel like a winner all these years later.

The publishing world is a lot like endurance riding. You've got to train hard, hang in there, and there are peaks and valleys and tests of your endurance. My best horseback riding days are behind me, but I hope my best writing days are still in front of me. And believe me, I'm in it for the long haul.

What have you done that you're really, really proud of, that still brings nostalgic memories? Would you do it again? Feel free to share.

Monday, July 19, 2010

How I Revise

I have two pages of revision notes in front of me, as well as the fantastic comments from my critique group, who just finished reading my new manuscript. I am now going through the novel chapter by chapter, changing some small things (perhaps tweaking the things on the page I have mentioned about the boy's mother) and some larger things (adding another scene with the two main characters, earlier in the story.)

So as I begin these revisions, I realize this will be an entirely new draft of my manuscript. Here's how I keep track of it. I have saved the earlier version in four different ways - on my hard drive, on an external hard drive, on a flash drive, and by emailing it to myself.

Then, I copy and paste the entire document into a new blank document and rename it. Whatever works, something like: Life on the Run, Summer 2010 (and no, that's not the name of my ms, but it's cool, huh?) Name it something so that you can definitely know which version you are working on.

At this point, some people might use Track Changes (a feature on Word.) I have never become comfortable using this, because even though all the changes sit out to the side in small print and a different color, it messes up the margins and the formatting.

I prefer to just make changes as I go, but here's another helpful thing I do. I open another blank document, and I label it "Unused scenes and paragraphs from Life on the Run." Then, if I decide to delete a larger portion of the manuscript (more than just a few words) I just cut and paste it into the new document, making a note about where they came from - like end of chapter 12, or something. Presto, those awesome words are saved, and I can continue on with my revisions, knowing I can always find them again, quite easily, if I need to.

I don't often want those words back. But I might want to use them elsewhere, or I might just want to read them again and compare. Besides, we are writers, and we do sometimes become enamoured of our own writing. See my post Killing your Darlings.

Anyway, this is how I do it.

How do you revise? Any tips or tricks you'd like to share?

Friday, July 16, 2010

More on Goodreads

I wrote a blog post about Goodreads when I first joined about four months ago. I have to say - it has quickly become one of my favorite sites on the web.
It's social networking for Bookworms!

If you love to read, I bet you'll love Goodreads. When I first joined, I had a blast listing all the books I'd read (and I've read books forever and ever - well, since I was about three or four years old - so I haven't listed every. single. one.)

But here's how I've used Goodreads lately - to get great recommendations for new reading material. How do I do this? Well, I like to friend people who are avid readers, and who read in the genre I like. I have friended some of my favorite authors, librarians, book reviewers and book bloggers. Once you join, look around and find people with lots of books on their lists, and see what they're reading. If they read books in the genre you enjoy (for me, it's MG and YA. For you, it might be mystery, romance, non-fiction, whatever . . .) You can either friend them, compare books with them, become of a fan (of authors) or just follow their reviews.

I have found some great books to read this way, ones I hadn't heard about - even brand new ones that aren't out yet. You can also recommend books to your friends. It's awesome when I see someone else reading a book I just finished, and I wonder what they will think about it. It's a great way to share your love of books and reading.

I believe I am actually reading more since I joined. (For an author, this is a good thing.) When I finish a book, I can hardly wait to post it on Goodreads with my rating.

So if you're a reader, what are you waiting for? Try it out. You might like it.

If you want to friend me on Goodreads, click here to go to my profile page. You can see what I'm reading right now - Today, it's Woods Runner, by Gary Paulsen (and I'm loving it.)

And as I was typing these words, a Goodreads friend who blogs about books, and who lives clear on the other side of the country, sent me a message answering a question I just asked her about the name of a book. Yay for social networking across the web!

Do you love to read? Have you joined Goodreads yet? If you have, how has it worked for you? Please share your experiences. I'd love to know if you like it as well as I do.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

How Ironing Can Help Your Writing

I still iron my husband's shirts. He wears long-sleeve cotton shirts for work. I wash them in cold water, hang them up to dry so they don't shrink, and iron them. People sometimes make funny comments, as if in this age of polyester and permanent press and dry cleaners "why would anybody still iron?"

Well, truth be told, I sort of like to iron. It's one of those mindless chores that allows your mind to wander. I start with the collars, then I press each sleeve, front and back. Then I start on the main part of the shirt. As I move the material around the ironing board, set the iron down, and press the next part, my mind moves on to other things.

Like my work-in-progress. Like maybe how I could fit in another scene between my two main characters during that long stretch between chapter six and chapter sixteen. Like how I could bring out the mother's personality more, or the conflict between the boy and his dad.

You've heard how people get their best ideas in the shower, or while driving, or walking or doing the dishes. It's funny how our brains work, isn't it?

If you think and dwell and worry about something, you can't seem to untangle the knot in your mind. But if you just start in on some mindless activity, like ironing, your mind somehow frees itself up from all that thinking, and just goes to some amazing creative places on its own.

So try it some time. Pull out those wrinkly cotton clothes, fire up your iron to HOT, and press away. Who knows what might happen?

Does this work for you? How many of you still actually iron? Do you have other mindless activities that help you get ideas?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Peace and Quiet

So I'm chafing at the bit a tad. Well, a lot. I have two pages of revision notes I'm anxious to dive into, not to mention notes from my critique group, who is just finishing reading and giving me great feedback on my newest manuscript. And what I long for - what I think I need to write and to revise is a space in my mind that looks like this:

Ah. Serenity. It quiets the mind, allows new ideas to come into sharp focus, allows my muse to sit on my shoulder and carefully guide me through fantastic revisions and end up with the Best. Manuscript. Ever.

Alas. In our short summer season, we have Projects. Painting projects. Men in the house with power tools, doing remodeling projects. Clothes from my closet and important stuff strewn who-knows-where all over the house, and the smell of fresh paint on my fingertips (yes, I've been doing the painting.)

I know some of you create and write with people underfoot, kids and teenagers in the house, other work projects on your plate. How do you do it??

I keep telling myself - this, too, shall pass and soon it will just be me and the computer, thumping out those great words and phrases. But I am so restless, needing my quiet, creative space.

So I ask you. How do you make time and quiet and space to write? Have any of you taught yourself to write through distractions successfully? Any words of wisdom?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Should we Rename Middle Grade?

When someone outside of the publishing industry asks me what kind of books I write, I used to answer "children's books."

"Oh, that must be so fun," they might say, naming off some of their favorite picture books. Then I'd amend my answer to say, "No, I write Middle Grade," at which point my well-wishers would look at me blankly. To a large portion of the general public, there are only two kinds of books - children's picture books, and everything else.

So now when people ask me what I write, I say "novels for children." They get that -sort of. "Like Black Beauty?" they might answer.

In the publishing industry, the names for book genres for young readers make sense, up to a point. Picture books, easy readers, early chapter books, middle-grade, tween (is this a new classification?) YA. But where in the world did the term Middle Grade even come from?

When I try to explain to anyone outside of the industry that I write Middle Grade books, they think of middle school, junior high, grades 7-8, so it makes no sense to them when I say that Middle Grade means grades 4-6, and up.

Publisher age ranges further compound the problem. Some are labeled 8-12 (which means no 13-14 year old kid would want to read it, even though they might Love. It.)

Our library system uses J for junior and YA for young adult books, and has them shelved in completely different areas of the library. This is unfortunate, because there are great middle grade books shelved over in the YA section that fifth graders will never find. And Junior itself is a term that seems kind of secondary in nature anyway, don't you think?

There are a couple of great new blogs right now that champion Middle Grade books: Middle Grade Ninja and
From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors.

At the moment, all the buzz is about YA. Young Adult. When blogs run contests (including mine) offering a YA books as a prize, I get easily double the entrants than if I offer a Middle Grade book. Why is this? Does this mean that Middle Grade authors feel they have to push their writing, adding more romance and older themes in order to get a coveted YA title on their books and perhaps make them more attractive to the general public, or sell more?

I hope not. What I think we need is a new name. A new name for the genre of book for 8-12 year old. Those kids who (because of the influence of television, movies, and the internet) are not nearly so innocent as they were even a decade ago. I don't particularly care for Tween, because of the connotation of being In-between, not this and not that.

But I truly feel that if a New Name (for middle-grade) was developed - one that more accurately portrays a novel filled with plot lines that kids would relate to, but not necessarily nitty-gritty sex stuff - then this genre of book would:

a) be easier to describe to the public
b) be more willingly grabbed up by kids and parents, and
c) maybe finally garner the respect that it needs.

Thoughts? Comments? New Names or Suggestions for the Middle Grade Genre?