Thursday, August 31, 2006

Preparing the North Pole

I just finished the first round of VC packets, and among other things, found myself quoting Gozer. A stack of mss to critique for the upcoming Austin SCBWI conference arrived immediately thereafter.

I look forward to them, but I'm going to take a break from reading to work on promotion for Santa Knows (Dutton, 2006). I'm putting together a fact sheet on Santa Claus and filling out interview questions for the media kit my publicist is assembling. That should keep me busy this weekend.

In other news, GLS and I had dinner at Musashino last night. The new chairs make the place look more upscale, less tiki bar, but how I missed the old ones. They were more comfortable. I had miso soup, an avocado kama, salmon sashimi, some of GLS's shrimp tempura, and an asparagus tempura roll.

On the writing front, F&M is now tentatively titled E.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Heat Relief

It's a chilly 83 degrees in Austin, Texas, and so to celebrate GLS and I went to dinner at Lucy's Boatyard on the lake. We sat outside on the deck, watching the geese, swans, and ducks. I had an iced tea with broccoli-cheese soup, a wedge of lettuce with tomato and blue cheese dressing, and grilled catfish (made at my special request). Service was friendly, and the breeze was breezy.

I'm pleasantly buried in VC packets and after tonight will have just one left to go. I've been reading them on the sleeping porch with the kitties.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Raspberry Swirl

I'm deep in VC packets at the moment.

This also is the first day I've taken off working out in the past couple of weeks, which GLS insists is important to "let the muscles knit."

Are my muscles unknitted? I don't know, but it sounds--and feels--scary!

We had a lovely dinner party tonight at home for a couple of friends who recently married in Hawaii--heart of palm salad (red onion, heart of palm, shrimp salad, tomato), shrimp scampi (with an Chinese-ish sauce, mushrooms), then finished with rasberry swirl Haagen Dazs yogurt over mixed berries (ras, black, and blue). Do not miss this yogurt! It's divine.

I enjoyed last night's season finale of "Monk," but will counting the days until new episodes in January.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

I Wonder How Much The Pens Cost?

So I'm reading magazines in the waiting room of Westlake Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery. (GLS is having a standard med checkup; he's not having "work" done). And I pick up a copy of Harper's Bazaar.

I'm greatly amused to find on page 16 that Prada Notebooks are the latest trend. You, too, can have one for $250-$295 by calling 888.977.1900. They're leather bound and come in various styles and patterns.

As the magazine notes, "What could be better than a designer notebook?"

I feel somewhat compelled to mention that the first draft of my first book, Jingle Dancer (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) was scribbled on the back of a used envelope that I pulled from a trash can at St. Edward's University, back when I was tutoring freshmen in English Comp. I'm just saying...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Insomnia Is A Writer's Best Friend

Well, usually.

I tend to write first rough drafts (the ones I toss and then delete the file) and second rough drafts (the ones informed by the first that, if sufficient, serve as a foundation to build on) between midnight and four a.m. The world quiets--no ringing phone, no doorbell, no red-hot email (except from fellow insomniacs, and I don't check so it doesn't matter anyway). The deep night is like another world. My job is to figure out what's going on in it.

Tonight that's not really the case. My WIP is cooling. I have materials set aside to work on my article tomorrow. There are errands to run, but I'm not really in the mood to hit a 24-hour Randall's.

I'm wired though from working out late in the day. Whenever I do that, my energy level zooms up, and I'm too antsy to fall asleep. Tomorrow I'll work out earlier. At this point in the year AKA The Melting Point, I take my exercise indoors on the treadmill to music on my iPod, which GLS was kind enough to augment this evening.

Albums added include: "Cher: Greatest Hits;" "Whitney: The Greatest Hits;" "The Blues Brothers" movie soundtrack; "Songs from Ally McBeal;" and "Bridget Jones's Diary" movie soundtrack.

My key criteria is strong beat--good for fast walking. I also like some drama in my exercise music. In particular, "The Blues Brothers" includes Aretha Franklin's "Think," which will no doubt quickly motivate me to higher physical fitness.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Jingling My Way to (Semi) Functionality

"I love deadlines.
I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."
--Douglas Adams

I appear to have finished cleaning my office--thoroughly, that is, for the first time since moving into the house in '02. I wish I could say I was 100% satisfied. I'd like to know what's on the various backup discs. I wish that I had a good system for maintaining and tracking my contacts (stray business cards were tucked into a large envelope and slid into the appropriate folder), and that, say, my various media coverage articles were organized by date. But big picture, the place is a lot more functional and airy feeling than it ever has been.

Gems found in my desk included a pair of rhinestone earrings, 78 cents, a photo of my dad smiling at me as I snapped it, seven strips of bat stickers, a pen with an audio record function, a compass, several packages of Post-It notes, and my long-lost Scotch Tape.

I also was thrilled to re-discover the beginning of an article I've been trying to write some time, from back when the idea was fresh, scribbled in blue ink on a giveaway notebook from a hotel in Tucson.

What's more, I found a little bracelet with four bells, a souvenir gift made by a teacher. A group of kindergarteners each shook their own as I turned pages while reading Jingle Dancer (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) some years ago at an Austin elementary school. I remember thinking that they were like puppies--squirmy and cute and absolutely adoring. They seemed to love Jenna's story almost as much as they did making noise. I had a wonderful time and was smothered in a group hug.

I'm as ready as I can be for VC student packets to begin arriving this week.

Spooky News & Links

Thanks to KCC for her shout-out about Tantalize!

I'm currently relaxing with Mr. Monk Goes to Hawaii (Signet, 2006), which is hysterical but probably best appreciated by fans of the TV series.

Curse of Arastold

Yesterday's highlight was a table signing with Jo Whittemore for her newly released Curse of Arastold (excerpt), Book Two of the Silverskin Trilogy, which kicked off with Escape from Arylon (author interview)(both Llewellyn, 2006). The event was held at Barnes & Noble, Round Rock, which is just outside of Austin.

Jo should give presentations on how to do a table signing. She offered chocolate chip sliced cookies (cookie brownies?) to passersby and to her young fans she also offered dragon coloring sheets, M&M giveaways, the opportunity to guess how many M&Ms were in a larger jar (which I'm sure was the prize), and custom bracelets with messages tied into her novels.

Traffic was enthusiastic, and celebrity appearances included BA and his genius daughter.

Jo is new on the Austin and national writing scene, and it's exciting to see her star shooting up.

Spooky Links

"Anything Ordinary: Why Fantasy Beats Reality" by Jo Whittemore from Llewellyn.

"And Then What Happened: Writing the Sequel," also by Jo from Llewellyn.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Happy Birthday, Greg

Happy birthday to GLS! Tonight we had a hot date at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse at Sixth and Congress--with valet parking and everything.

Perhaps you're thinking, Isn't there a great local steakhouse in Austin? But the one we used to go to closed, and we've already been to Austin Land and Cattle several times.

We split a bottle of the 2004 Acacia pinot noir.

I ordered a crisp wedge of iceberg lettuce on field greens with bleu cheese, followed by a lobster tail with Cajun spices and sauteed mushrooms. Quite lovely, though the lobsters of late in Burlington, Boston, and Cambridge were better. (I can't believe I just had legit occasion to say that; after all, I grew up in a mac-and-cheese household--tossing in hamburger was considered living fancy!).

GLS had the steak house salad, which involved iceberg, Romaine, and baby lettuce with cherry tomatoes, garlic crouton and red onions, followed by a ribeye, a baked potato with all the fixin's (which, so far as I could tell, included sour cream, cheese, and scallions), and creamed spinach.

In non-related but still exciting news, Bookshelves of Doom offers a rousing recommendation of my upcoming YA novel, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007). She concludes: "I suspect that there will be a pretty serious clamor for a sequel." Thanks so much. I'm honored!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Zack Proton

Today's highlight was lunch at ZTejas with BA, author of the Zack Proton series (Aladdin, 2006-). I had herbal tea and the chicken verde soup, which tasted more like sauce.

On the office cleaning front, the shelf against the north wall is now organized. The top shelf features file folders for current projects, fresh spiral notebooks, and my archaic overhead transparencies (I'm all about learning PowerPoint).

The bottom shelf holds various research books, including: Spies by Clive Gifford (Kingfisher, 2004); Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen by David J. Skal (Faber and Faber, 2004); Texas Ghost Stories: Fifty Favorites for the Telling by Tim Tingle and Doc Moore (Texas Tech University Press, 2004); Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality by Paul Barber (Yale University Press, 1988); and Blood Read: The Vampire as Metaphor in Contemporary Culture edited by Joan Gordon and Veronica Hollinger (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997).

Well, I'm not calling myself SpookyCyn for nada.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Closet Monster

I have slain the office closet monster. This is not a story for the puttering o' heart, I assure you.

After The Great Mysterious Thud of 2005, which turned out to be my shoulder-high stack of bleeding red-ink, post-contract Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) drafts crashing to cover everything else that was littering the floor of my office closet, I simply started throwing whatever I wanted to keep (but not in the main room) on top.

Today, post an afternoon's cleaning, not only is the hardwood closet floor in sight and the back wall shelves organized (from top to bottom with padded envelopes, backlist stock, mailing and storage supplies, lined paper and files of media clips, and more inactive files), I also have, awaiting GLS's drill, five clear plastic, slotted shelves to be mounted against the north wall.

My plan is that extra office supplies and all inactive files will go in the closet. In-use supplies, pending research resources, and active files will be in the main office, which is teeny.

Highlights of Unearthed Closet Treasures: satiny purple pillows; CC's sparkly leprechaun hat from WF; a black Sony phone; headphones; an eight-pack of AA batteries; a nine-pack of mini audio tapes; a Coldwater Creek beach bag (with a $45 tag, which I think I got for free with purchase); a Wonder Woman greeting card; a white extension cord; a September 2004 issue of "Intellectual Property Today;" a "My Head Is Full of Children" bag I recall buying at Book Woman; two Scooby Doo spiral notebooks; an April 2002 issue of "Austin Home & Living;" a bean-stuffed Pooh bear (classic, not Disney version); a rare Indian Shoes ARC (my other one was stolen when I spoke at an SCBWI conference; nope, I'm not spilling which chapter); my party favor from the Second National Book Festival; a copy of Fiction First Aid: Instant Remedies for Novels, Stories and Scripts by Raymond Obstfeld (Writer's Digest, 2002); and a copy of Building Better Plots by Robert Kernen (Writer's Digest, 1999).

I still have work to do, but my office will be organized by the end of the week. I swear it on the grave of the Closet Monster.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Compiling Contacts

I've spent the past few days off-and-on compiling lists of contacts for my publishers and publicist in preparation for the upcoming releases--one list of YA school-library contacts, one of elementary, one of booksellers, another of Texas (including Austin) media. Of course people move, retire, change jobs, and what not, so there was some follow-up scrambling as well. Whew!

I'm so appreciative of the support of the publicity and marketing folks as well as my wonderous web designer. At the moment, I have just a few more really pressing to-dos.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Bleed and Side Effects

Yesterday was a tough one, the second anniversary of my dad's death. I spent last year in KC comforting my mama. But what struck me this time was that there was no special marker of the day. I guess if I were to do something commemorative, I'd pick his birth rather than death day anyway. But in any case, there it was. Hard to forget a sudden death on a Friday the 13th.

As I mentioned yesterday, F&M is cooling for the next revision round, and I haven't started on a new pb yet. I'd toyed with an article to no avail over the past couple of days. Not writing is hard for me, harder when I need the portal out of my reality. I know, I know... But truth is, I'd done all the confronting of my feelings I had energy to process and wanted somewhere else to go.

Yesterday, I started a few novels--which I'll try again later--but finally found comfort, fascination, solace, challenge, and inspiration in Side Effects by Amy Koss Goldman (Roaring Brook, 2006) and an interlocking short story collection, Bleed by Laurie Faria Stolarz (Hyperion, 2006).

Bravo to both authors and thanks!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

"Dead Man's Chest"

GLS and I saw "Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest" at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar. It was a much-welcome escapistic romp. Loved the sea phantoms' design. I'm sad to say the popcorn was disappointing, warmed over and stale. I appreciated the real butter though.

I'm doing a lot of nuts-and-bolts stuff at the moment--working on promotion, organizing my office for a new semester with new students, sending out author/illustrator interview requests and questions, that sort of thing. I went to Office Depot Friday afternoon and copied my recent publicity for the file and to CC to interested parties.

I'm between project phases, waiting on a letter on F&M (though exceedingly jazzed to be receiving said letter). It fusses with my internal momentum when I'm not actively writing or in speaking mode. Too much empty head time, I suppose. I fret upcoming speeches, releases, the renewed trendiness of Elvis-style sideburns, and the like, which are largely out of my control. No worries, though. When it comes to keeping busy, this fall promises to be a doozy.

In the meantime, maybe I should return to Office Max and buy paperclips or file folders or to fondle the pens. Supplies always energize me.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Dress Dilemma

I'm not not writing, I'm just not writing. Probably because of all the joyous craft-related happenings of the past month, my writing well stands at the dead-center of Drought City this week.

Today, being idea-free, I referred a lovely anthologist to two other authors. My to-do list for the week is basically limited to some pre-writing for Cynsations, cleaning out my office closet (no meager task), and organizing my new books (need more shelves).

This afternoon I did something I hardly ever do: I went to the mall. Barton Creek Square Mall to be precise. I'm the only attendant in a wedding next month, so I'm supposed to pick out any tea-or-full length dress in "fall colors." I had zero luck at the mall or at any of the three bridal shops I scoured.

At Sue Patrick, I did find a dress that will work and bought it just in case I don't find anything I like better. It's chocolate brown and gauzy with a tear-like layered skirt and a floral applique across the top and skirt. It looks okay on, but I'm not sure I love it.

My observation: formal wear is for women (a) under 30; (b) over 65; (c) six-feet tall; (d) looking for something in the jewel color tone family; (e) with a budget for $2000+ dresses. Sigh.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Cambridge and Boston

After the VC residency, I jaunted to South Burlington with a couple of fellow faculty members for some R&R at the Doubletree. After a dinner highlighted by clam chowder, we watched "Failure to Launch" and laughed out loud more than once. It's a cute, upbeat romantic comedy. I was most taken with Kit, in my unusual trend of zeroing in on secondary characters.

On Wednesday, my fellow faculty took off in the morning, and GLS joined me that afternoon. On the recommendation of the front desk clerk, we headed to the Rusty Scuffer on the Marketplace for dinner. It looks like a sports bar, so we were skeptical walking in and decided to try an appetizer first. That went well and the service was great, so I ordered French onion soup and a lobster. GLS ordered lobster and steak. Everything was wonderful, except GLS' steak (I pointed out that Vermont isn't steak country anyway), so we indulged in splitting a second lobster since they're practically free there anyway.

We drove to Cambridge on Thursday morning, through Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. The Northfield Mountains were awash in wildflowers, lush green grass, and covered in a forest of evergreens. The deer-, moose-, and bear-crossing signs also caught my eye, and I studiously scanned the scenery for any of the above to no avail.

Once we got into town, I worried we might be late. Cambridge is darling, quaint, and historic, with a lot of red brick, and I could tour houses there for ages. But there also are a lot of one way and poorly marked streets. We spent a while getting lost as the seconds were ticking.

No worries, though. We arrived by noon at the O-so-magical Candlewick Press where we were treated to a tour of the house. It's a hip, open Massachusetts Street loft--brick walls, exposed beam ceilings. Various books are displayed on shelves and the coffee table in the entry. I spotted such titles as Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy edited by Leonard Marcus (2006), Sock Monkey Goes to Hollywood: A Star Is Bathed by Cece Bell (2003), Queen of Cool by Cecil Castellucci (2006)(author interview), and Pirateology: the Pirate Hunter's Companion by Dugald A. Steer (2006). There were Maisy pillows on the sofa. A copy of My Father The Dog by Elizabeth Bluemle (2006) was displayed on the table.

We had lunch with D and J at a Thai restaurant just down the street. I can't seem to recall its name, but I had chicken in a garden, which consisted of chicken with broccoli over white rice with peanut sauce. Yummy, especially the sauce, and excellent conversation.

GLS and I then checked in at the 1927 Sheraton Commander Hotel (the commander is George Washington, who is prominently featured via statues and portraits), near Harvard Square.

We walked around the Harvard campus that afternoon and decided to go to the Harvard Museum of Natural History the next day. It was no hotter than Texas but much more humid than Austin. GLS had brought with him reinforcements to my wardrobe, though, which helped. Exhausted, we had a snack of mixed cheeses in the dining room and then dinner in our room (chowder again for me).

On Friday morning, I was delighted to discover a canis dirus skeleton in the entry of the museum. It's the species of Ice Age wolf that I nodded to in Tantalize (Candlewick, 2006) as a "distant cousin" of my werewolves. I chose it because its the largest dog that ever lived, and I figured that would help, logic-wise, with the mass issue in shapeshifting. I decided that this was a sign that the trip would be fantastic. The geology exhibit reminded me of Jerry Wermund's books, Earthscapes: Landforms Sculpted by Water, Wind, and Ice (Rockon, 2003) and, even more so, The World According to Rock (Rockon, 2005). We continued on to a display about Peru. All of the indigeneous people exhibits were balanced with portrayals of contemporary folks, including some recent art, which always reassures me (I sometimes worry that kids will move from dinosaurs to Native people and conclude that we're extinct). The glass flowers exhibit from the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants was fascinating, too. A little creepy--hard to believe they were glass--but wow. Nifty.

Lunch that day was at Bertucci's. It's a narrow, deep, loud restaurant, and there was a short wait to get in. Loved it. I had the chicken marsala with a garden salad and a side of linguine topped in tomato sauce. They forgot to bring my fried cheese, but I was too full from the rest of the meal to have enjoyed it anyway.

Shopping followed. I had fun at Urban Outfitters, though flipping through the clothes, I decided I had to leave immediately or register for AARP. I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear that we lingered at Curious George Goes to Wordsworth, a children's indy bookstore. Book sightings included: Semiprecious by D. Anne Love (Simon & Schuster/McElderry, 2006)(excerpt) (author interview); Jim Thorpe, Original All-American by Joseph Bruchac (Dial, 2006); Penny from Heaven by Jennifer L. Holm (Random House, 2006); and All Hallows Eve: 13 Stories by Vivian Vande Velde (Harcourt, 2006). Among staff favorites, I spotted Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata (Atheneum, 2004)(author interview). We continued on to the Harvard Coop Bookstore. I must confess to a bit of rearranging here. On the theory that fans of Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings (Viking, 1941) might not be the same target audience as Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (Knopf, 2006), I did prop up the latter for better visibility all around.

Dinner that night was the best of the trip. The Craigie Street Bistrot is intimate, refined, and a bit off the path as it's located in the basement of an apartment building. I had the portage of local butter and sugar corn with scallions and olive oil (as well as some kind of fish), followed by soy-and-butter braised line-caught striped bass with rock shrimp, pea greens, peanuts, and eggplant puree. I didn't order the "roasted bone marrow" ("treat it like a meaty butter"), but I did carefully consider it.

On Saturday we took the T (clean, easy to use) to Boston to visit the New England Aquarium. It's built around a wonderful penguin exhibit and a mega tank filled with all manner of sea life. I was most taken with the giant turtles. Sightings at the aquarium store included Blackbeard The Pirate King by J. Patrick Lewis (National Geographic, 2006)(author interview).

We had a late lunch-early dinner across the street at Legal Sea Foods. I ordered chowder with the scallops in mushroom sauce and requested it be put over brown rice instead of bow pasta.

(The food in Cambridge-Boston was excellent overall, but I found it hard to eat healthy on the trip. In Austin, it's easy to find whole grains and what not on every menu, so I tend to forget that's not the norm.)

We spent much of Sunday back in Boston at the Museum of Science. I most enjoyed the butterfly garden and seeing R2D2 in an N-1 Starfighter suspended from the ceiling. Also, in the computer exhibit, there was a displayed copy of the comic "Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane" (Apr. 1961, No. 24) for 10 cents. The computer apparently is telling Lois that Clark would be the "perfect husband," but alas, she still dreams of Superman.

Afterward we took the train back to Cambridge and stopped for lunch at Uno's. I was disappointed in my chicken chilli and cheese fries, though the marinara wasn't bad, and will likely restrict future visits for the original Uno's in Chicago.

We ducked into the Harvard Coop Bookstore again. Having fretted about Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, I must confess that I moved three copies of it to "new and notable" at the front of the store, at least one of which had sold before I left. I also was pleased to see An Na's latest, Wait for Me (Putnam, 2006) prominently featured on the staircase heading down to children's-YA. In that department I spotted several more familiar bylines, including Julie Anne Peters (author interview), Scott Westerfeld (author interview), Nancy Garden (author inteview), Libba Bray, and Austin's Keith Graves.

We'd enjoyed the Legal Sea Foods in Boston so much that we decided to try it for dinner in Cambridge. I had lobster, corn on the cob, and brown rice. I would've had the chowder again, but by this time, I was starting to chowder out.

On our final day in Cambridge, we decided to relax until I had my appointment to visit Candlewick again. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to meet with my genius editor as well with a fiery, funny, and fierce marketing team. I also read about ten minutes of Tantalize to a crowd of Candlewickers. What an amazing house!

GLS and I celebrated the end of the trip at Harvest Restaurant, which was second runner-up for best chow. I had corn bisque with rock shrimp, followed by scallions with braised lima beans.

We got up early to drive back to Burlington. I flew out on Jet Blue to JFK, but the plane left Vermont a few minutes early and so I missed my connection. Long story short, I should've been home by 4 p.m. and instead got in after midnight. GLS and I grabbed a couple of chicken burritos at Taco Cabana and called it a morning. Whew.

As always, it'll take me a few days to catch up from being gone. But I should be posting to Cynsations again very soon.