Wednesday, July 26, 2006

"I Capture the Castle"

Of late I've watched the film "I Capture the Castle" (2003) and do recommend it. According to the Internet Movie Database, it's based on a 1948 novel by Dodie Smith (also author of 101 Dalmations).

While most viewers will be swept in by the various love-story threads, I was more taken with the arc of the father character, who after the release of a spectacularly received first novel hadn't written in more than twelve years. The solution devised by our heroine Cassandra was not only inspired, it brought the concept of BIC to a whole new level.

Fellow "Buffy" fans will recognize Marc Blucas, who played Riley Finn, in the role of Neil. His performance in "I Capture the Castle" is equally inspired. (Take that as you will). Speaking of fellow Scoobies, here's sending a wave to BH.

Hurrah Graduates

Congratulations to the July 2006 graduates of the Vermont College M.F.A. program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Thank you to Jane Kurtz (author interview), a gracious and wise workshop co-leader.

Talk about an amazing, jam-packed, informative, and inspirational ten days. Good luck to my former advisees in the new semester. To those who'll be working with me, I can't wait. Write on!

I'd like to mention that it also was a treat seeing Nancy Werlin (author interview) and Tanya Lee Stone (author interview). And now I'm going into post-residency recovery mode for a few days.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Less Poetic Reflections, More Reflections on the Poetic

In her ongoing short course, the History of Children's Literature, Lynn Vallone asked our audience about our experiences with poetry as a child and as an adult.

As a child, I was an enthusiastic poet. I banged out draft after draft on a manual typewriter that had been passed down and then later on an electric that was given to me for Christmas by my paternal grandparents. I created my own collections and even designed covers.

I recall one in particular that was made from calico with ribbon trim, reminiscent of a tear dress, which I entered in a district fair. For that, I received a white participation ribbon and an incorrect implication was made that I'd had "help." I suppose that was flattering in a way, but it stung at the time.

Now, I feel more distance from poetry, though it arises in my work now and then. I am a reader of it, though, and have a particular love for the work of Naomi Shihab Nye and Joy Harjo. At this residency, I've been completely wowed by Julie Larios and plan to seek out as much of her work as I can find.

Temporary Syndication Snafu

My apologies to my LJ syndication subscribers. Something about the VC lab seems incompatible with my efforts. Please check the Blogger URL to read Spookycyn while I'm on the road. Thank you!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Talking In the Wind

We're past the halfway point of the VC residency.

Today's highlight is a discussion of the History of Children's Literature by Lynne Vallone, co-associate editor of the Norton Anthology of Children's Literature. So far it has focussed primarily on didacticism, especially with regard to works targeted to girl readers.

Kelly Bennett (author interview), has given me a fan from Indonesia, and now I must learn the language of it.

Related to the off-campus world, congratulations to Writefest alumnae Katie Davis!

Thursday, July 20, 2006


Yesterday, some prior VC faculty visited campus: Lisa Jahn-Clough, Liza Ketchum, Ellen Levine and Norma Fox Mazer. It was a treat for us all, highlighted by NFM's reading last night.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Culinary Crisis

The culinary situation here is at VC a bit precarious. A cooking school provides meals in the cafeteria, but of course choices are limited and, unfortunately, so are my dietary preferences. Last night I had about three bites of a turkey salad.

Super Schubert came to my rescue yesterday with a grocery run into downtown. I now have in the faculty refrigerator: pecans, deli turkey, low-fat cheddar, yogurt, and a few additional survival staples. At breakfast today, I'm going to investigate the microwave situation in hopes that my can of broccoli soup can be zapped.

My speech seemed to go well, though we ran short of handouts. Hopefully, everyone who didn't get one will check out the links and resources I posted that morning.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Rewriting the Masters

A happy (belated) birthday to An Na!

Today I'm giving my Vermont College MFA summer residency lecture, "Rewriting the Masters: Retellings & Reinventions of Classic Stories in Modern Young Adult Literature."

Novels highlighted: A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl by Tanya Lee Stone (Wendy Lamb/Random House, 2006)(PDF excerpt)(author interview); Beast by Donna Jo Napoli (Simon Pulse, 2002); Carolina Autumn by Carol Lynch Williams (Delacorte, 2000); The Da Vinci Cod by Chris Riddell (Candlewick, 2006); A Door Near Here by Heather Quarles (Laurel Leaf, 2000)(excerpt); Fairest by Gail Carson Levine (HarperCollins, 2006)(author interview); Good Girls by Laura Ruby (HarperCollins, 2006)(author interview); and Romiette and Julio by Sharon M. Draper (Atheneum, 1999)(Simon Pulse, 2006)(excerpt); and Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2007).

Related Resources

Attorney Interview: Aimée Bissonette on Law and Publishing from Cynsations.

Retelling Stories, Framing Culture : Traditional Story and Metanarratives in Children's Literature by John Stephens (Garland, 1998). Note: pricey at $135; perhaps hit the library rather than bookstore.

See also: The Children's Literature Network; The Author's Guild.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Dark Chocolate Is My Friend

Just a quick update! I had the honor today of speaking about critical writing with Marion Dane Bauer, and one of my last-semester students gave me as a thank-you gift two iced cream themed notepads (which are adorable, though in this heat I wouldn't have minded real iced cream) and Ghirardelli Chocolate Squares--dark chocolate with white mint filling. I also had my first workshop with Jane Kurtz, and we have a lively group of students! I can't wait until our next meeting.

I'm Never Washing That Hand

Last night I met Katherine Paterson, heard her read from her own work, and shook her hand. I even made her laugh once in the faculty lounge.

It was my first time to meet the two-time Newbery winner. She's gracious, humble, and funny. She wore a beige sleeveless blouse and a black floral shirt. She was losing her voice, but it came back as she continued reading. She's great at doing character voices.

I'm sensitive, too sensitive really. But when I'm with someone like that, someone who has stretched my world view, it's really all I can do not to cry or babble or otherwise make a goof of myself. But maybe that's okay. After all, it's always a little overwhelming living in such a magical world.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Arrival in Montpelier

Greeting from the computer lab at the VC campus in Montpelier!

I'd like to begin by saying HOWDY to all of the MFA students reading this blog, and let those who're trying to figure out which faculty members to pref that they should check out the following links: Kathi Appelt (author interview); An Na (author interview); Marion Dane Bauer (author interview); David Gifaldi; Margaret Bechard (author interview); Uma Krishnaswami (author interview)(blog); faculty chair Sharon Darrow (author interview); Brent Hartinger (author interview)(blog); Cynthia Leitich Smith (bio, writing life, essays and articles); Jane Kurtz (author interview); Rita Williams-Garcia; Leda Schubert (author interview); Tim Wynne-Jones (author interview); Julie Larios; Jacqueline Woodson; and Deborah Wiles.

I'm thrilled to be in such great company. This residency marks the first time I've met DG or JL, and though I've corresponded with BH online for years, it's my debut viewing of him in person (and quite dashing he is!).

I'm also wowed that Katherine Paterson is our visiting writer today. I've been in the business now ten years, and I've had the honor of meeting (and, for that matter, teaching with) some of the finest wordsmiths around. But there is always something extra special about meeting someone whose books I especially treasured as a young reader. Terabithia anyone?

I also was reminded of a few wonderfully inspiring titles she authored on writing, which I read when I was a beginner in the late '90s: A Sense of Wonder: On Reading and Writing Books for Children (Plume, 1995); The Spying Heart: Reading and Writing Books for Children (Puffin, 1990); and Gates of Excellence: On Reading and Writing Books for Children (Puffin, 1988). I need to remember to add these to my inspiration bibliography when I get back home. It doesn't look like they're all in print, but they can be found used and via libraries.

As for the trip, it was pleasantly uneventful--smooth flights in good weather. I flew Jet Blue for the first time and was most impressed! Loved the leather seats and the TVs in the backs of the chairs. On the way to JFK, which was where I had my layover, I sat next to a young girl in a handmade-looking blue checked dress with a white scarf bobbypinned over her blond hair. She told me her family did church work in Africa, but she was visiting them in Pittsburgh.

I ran into RWG at JFK airport. We were on the same flight to Burlington and shared a cab into Montpelier, stopping once at a grocery store for cookies and shampoo and then again at a drug store for an alarm clock that neither of us could figure out how to set (the directions didn't work, we swear!).

Last night we had the faculty dinner, catered by Le Petit Gourmet, which for me meant spinach-stuffed chicken and almond green beans (along with some peanuts and Triscuits on the side) and red wine. LS's husband and TW-J's wife were among guests in attendance.

Spooky Links

Quiz--What Teen Angst Novel Are You? from E. Lockhart, author of The Boyfriend List (Delacorte, 2005)(author interview). Note: I'm Boy Proof by Cecil Castellucci (Candlewick, 2005)(author interview). Sounds right to me!

Friday, July 14, 2006

New England Bound

Let's see, in the past few days, I've prepared for the VC summer residency.

This included: compiling notes to explain third-semester requirements at orientation; creating an Intro to Crit Writing handout for a talk I'm doing with MDB (author interview); writing-practicing my lecture on reinventions, retellings, and I.P. considerations; putting together a support handout; checking the two previous with GLS for legal accuracy and clarity; keying up a new student reference sheet with my individual policies; making note of my fall schedule so I can establish packet due dates; selecting-practicing a reading from Tantalize (Candlewick, 07)--skipping the prologue for 20 minutes up to page 29; critiquing the workshop booklet, printing a bibliography of my recommended reading and craft resources for workshop participants; and identifying a pb to use as a model for one of the manuscripts.

Beyond that I also worked with the lovely LF of Hit Those Keys on a special site to promote Santa Knows (Dutton, 2006)(I'll let you know when it goes live) and finished my second pass pages on Tantalize.

The last read through of T made me a bit misty. I've been wanting to write a gothic fantasy novel since I first considered dedicating myself to fiction. Really, on a certain level, it's been ten years in the making. I didn't find much when I scoured through that last time. A missing close quotation mark that the copyeditor would've caught anyway. But wow.

Last night my crit group met at TC's log house in the Hill Country. It was a perfect way to say adios to Texas for a couple of weeks. He served beef and chicken fajitas and chicken enchiladas (whole wheat and flour tortillas) with rice, beans, and fruit for desert. We talked publishing and books and read manuscripts and watched the blazing red sun set behind Lake Travis.

Thanks, TC! Congratulations to AB (author interview) on finishing the draft of FG; can't wait to read it! And on a more personal note, bon voyage to SP! We'll look forward to seeing you again in the fall.

I still have to go to the post office (please don't snail me anything until early August!) to stop my mail and drop off a few letters. Then I'll come home and pack. GLS has promised to take me to Musashino for dinner. Must run!

But really quickly, my plane books are of the light-bite variety: A Bite to Remember by Lynsay Sands (Avon, 2006); Vamps in the City by Kerrelyn Sparks (Avon, 2006); and California Demon: The Secret Life of a Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom by Julie Kenner (Berkley, 2006). I'm planning to relax, enjoy, and for the first time check out Jet Blue.

Stay tuned--I'm be blogging next from Montpelier!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

"Monk," "Psych," Second Pass Pages, and Revving for the Residency

With the VC MFA residency coming up, it made sense to rest and spend some quality down time with GLS last weekend.

After the Friday night season premier of "Monk," we watched the series premier of "Psych." It's about a fake psychic detective. The show was amusing and not a bad way to spend a post-"Monk" hour, but there's not much depth there (at least not yet).

The "Monk" premier had focused on an actor finding the heart of Monk's story, how the unsolved murder of our hero's wife had inspired him to solve other crimes, though it was never "enough" to begin really healing him. The heart of "Psych" in contrast seemed to be wanting to impress a disapproving cop father, which isn't uncompelling, but maybe suffers by comparison.

Beyond that, we mostly relaxed around the house. We picked up season one of "Fraiser" on DVD and watched a marathon of episodes on Saturday and Sunday. I'd forgotten how good it is. The writing is hysterical, and all of the characters shine, especially David Hyde Pierce's Niles and John Mahoney's Martin.

On Sunday morning, I wrapped graduation gifts and put together my recommended list of craft and reading resources for my VC workshop with JK (author interview). Monday and Tuesday morning were spent working on the lecture and handout, which I'll revisit again today.

Tuesday afternoon I reviewed my second pass pages on Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007). I'll go back over those one more time on Thursday before writing my editor.

Because my VC lecture wasn't finished and I'm leaving Saturday, I'll admit a few moments of panic when GLS mentioned that the package had arrived. But then everything came together in that magical way that it does when you have no choice but to focus like Batman.

This is the second-time through post production of the ARCs. It was a treat to read without the dreaded plague of ellipses! The new interior art element looks fabulous, and the minor logic glitch is fixed! It's reading smooth, too.

Over 50,000+ words, and I've so far noted the following--words to cut: "more;" "black and white;" words to add: "northern;" "our;" "the;" "on;" words to change: "redheads" to "brunettes;" "not so much" to "I hadn't bothered;" "the front doors" to "of the school;" "daring" to "eager." Punctuation notes: cut a stray close quote; change question mark to period; add exclamation point and period; lower case "it."

Basically, what happens is that any time there are even tiny text changes, they have ripple effects, especially in terms of repeated words or phrases moving to too close of proximity.

Also, I had envisioned my protagonist Quincie as a freckled blonde, though it's never mentioned one way or another in the book. The final cover art shows a freckled redhead, and suddenly, I realized there were three red-haired women working at Sanguini's, which, statistically speaking, is an awful lot for near south Austin. Consequently, minor characters Mercedes and Simone are getting an editorial dye job.

Spooky Links

Read the blogs of "Monk" characters--latest entries from Natalie, Dr. Kroger, and Captain Stottlemeyer.

The Eight Characters of Comedy by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Superman is Not from Iowa

It has come to my attention that The Washington Post incorrectly stated that Superman is from Iowa. Don't get me wrong, I love Iowa. It's charming!

However, Superman is from KANSAS.

Well, originally Krypton, but then Kansas.

Smallville, Kansas.

And then Metropolis.

Clearly Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, and Melissa Rabey should be in charge of the world. Or at least The Washington Post.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Laughing Gas

Yesterday I noticed that my filling had come loose, and the last thing I wanted was a dental emergency in Vermont, so I called my amazing dentist who let me come in over the lunch hour. I'm a big fluffy chicken when it comes to such things, but it wasn't tragic.

Before the Novacaine shot, I had a nice dose of laughing gas, which my dentist referred to as "sort of a margarita on the side." It didn't seem to compromise my ability to understand, though.

Not the best way to spend an hour, but again, the timing could've been worse, and definitely, every effort was made to soothe my inner squawker. I also got a good-patient sticker, which I wore proudly all day.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Route 66

The highlight of my Fourth of July with GLS was seeing "Cars." We missed the showing at Alamo Drafthouse and so ended up at Barton Springs mall instead. It had been a while since we'd visited a normal movie theater and really felt it in the leg room.

The movie itself was a lot like "Doc Hollywood" (1991). L.A.-bound hotshot (in this case, racing car) finds himself stranded in small town U.S.A. and comes to appreciate the charm, the locals, a lawyer lady (who fled from "the rat race"), and, after some rivalry, is taken under wing by the doc.

The car-related details--bugs that were actually VW Beetles with wings, etc.--were thoughtful and amusing.

What worked best, though, were the references to famous Route 66 (AKA The Mother Road) and a pre-Interstate world less concerned with "making good time" and more inclined toward enjoying the ride.

Dinner was hot dogs on whole wheat buns (resulting in much discussion with my native Chicagoan husband over the fact that I'd dare to put cheese on a dog), corn on the cob, and fries.

Monday, July 03, 2006


Wanna meet some people serious about taxidermy?

Head to your local Cabela's. We're talking mounted deer heads, full deer bodies--cough--musk ox, polar bear, artic fox, moose, otter, beaver, a full flock of geese suspended on wire from the ceiling!?

You name it, they've killed it. Surreal. The average natural history museum doesn't have a rival collection.

GLS and I zipped down I-35 South to Buda today to pick up a target for my archery practice. I shoot targets, not animals. Don't get me wrong. I'm a non-hypocrite carnivore with hunting uncles/cousins. I'm not judging. I'm just completely freaked out.

In more important news, I've found the best breakfast in town: Huevos Borrachos Con Queso--two eggs scrambled Mexican style with tomatoes, onions, and serranos. Finished with queso Amarillo, hold the refried beans. Go to Maudies' Tex-Mex, 2608 W. 7th; don't miss the rotating multicolor wall light display.

Dinner tonight was wild boar chops with mushroom sauce over whole wheat couscous and broccoli, courtesy of chef GLS. Who says I can't be a girl of the wild frontier?

The Blanton Museum of Art

This weekend, GLS and I visited the new Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas for the first time.

The main attraction is the Latin American collection, the largest and most comprehensive in the United States. According to the brochure, "More than 600 artists from Mexico, South and Central America, and the Caribbean are represented in the collection, which features over 1,800 works and reflects the enormous diversity of artistic traditions in the region."

I also enjoyed the American and European paintings. I loved the bright colors, swirls, and geometric quality of the contemporary exhibits as well as the 3-D (except "blue woman in a black chair," which I'm still convinced is a real, frozen person--eek!). Much of the experimental/apocalypse stuff baffled me. I don't know if I'm not sophisticated enough or just too much of an optimist.

On the writing front, I took the printout of F&M from my office to my night stand night before last to verify that it had some merit and I wasn't wrong to have dropped it into the FedEx box last week. I flipped it open to a page with three sentences in a row with the exact same construction. They looked annoying. Bah, I thought, and went to sleep. Yesterday, my amazing agent had read it--on the holiday weekend--and responded via email with much praise. There was even a smiley face involved--hooray! Whew.

In other news, my alpha feline Mercury (a nineteen-pound gray tabby and native Chicagoan) has been contacted by an author interested in featuring him in her upcoming cat book. He was quite honored. Consequently, I decided that he needed a new head shot and subjected him to an hour-long photo shoot. He loved the attention more than the flash. More on that to come!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

I Believe A Man Can Fly

Last night, GLS and I saw "Superman Returns" at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema on South Lamar, which is the best place on earth to see a movie. Among other things, they offer dining service during the film. I had shrimp quesadillas and buttered popcorn, and we split a bottle of Woop Woop Shiraz.

We arrived an hour early, so we had decent seats in the middle of the theater (as opposed to neck-craning in row one, like last time).

"Superman Returns" was framed as a sequel to "Superman II," which was the Christopher Reeve 1980 film production.

To be honest, I didn't have really high hopes for "Superman Returns," though there was no way I wasn't going on opening weekend. It's because I knew that it was drawn from the above mentioned foundation, and I've always disliked the depiction of Clark Kent as over-the-top "bumbling" or "mild-manned." It's hard to believe that Clark could succeed as a front-page, investigative reporter on "a great metropolitan newspaper" like The Daily Planet.

I much preferred Dean Cain as Clark in "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman." He was charming in the role, indicating that it was Superman, not Clark who was the disguise (which made sense) and also made it far more plausible that Lois, if she's a woman of substance, would fall for the real man rather than the icon. This is the route that the comics ultimately took.

But in "Superman Returns,'" Clark is more awkward than bumbling. It works a lot better. The film also advances the cannon in interesting ways. I won't give away what happens, but both the internal and external stakes are fresh and sky high. Kate Bosworth is now my favorite Lois Lane.

Brandon Routh isn't bad at all, but so far, none of the Superman actors seem to really own the role (the way that Hugh Jackman did as Wolverine, for example, or Jack Nicholson as The Joker).

With the traditional nod to Gene Hackman as Luthor, I'd call Michael Rosenbaum of "Smallville" the hands-down best Lex. That said, I think Lex as a character, though classic, is overdone. We need to move on to a new adversary. And not Zod.

Maybe because I was largely raised in Kansas (where I graduated with a news/ed degree from journalism school), I've always felt a connection to Superman, especially his Clark Kent side. Though I love my anti-heroes as much as the next person, there's something optimistic and heartening about Superman. The heartland kid who's the "ultimate immigrant." Being on the inside and the outside. Really, who doesn't feel like that sometimes?

For those who might be wondering, I've been reading superhero comics since I was about five years old. Once a week, on Sunday afternoons, my dad would take me with him to the nearest convenience store where he'd buy gun magazines (his only targets were paper on account of my mama and "Bambi") and I'd pick up comics.

Back then, comic book shops were strictly guy territory, and in some places that's still true, though I've always felt perfectly at home in Austin at Dragon's Lair. I find it odd that graphic novels are now trendy, especially because if my high school queen bees had known about my related reading habit, it would have been my social undoing (not that I was Miss Popularity anyway). But in any case, my fave of the new stuff for younger kids is JH and MH's Babymouse series--cute and funny!

As a side note, the "Spider-Man 3" trailer looked fantastic. I'm jazzed about Venom.

Comic of the Week: Batman#654; runner up: Blue Beetle #4. What I loved most about Batman #654 was the closing scene between Bruce/Batman and Tim/Robin III. It's beautifully underscored by Alfred's traditional role as the mirror of Bruce's humanity.