Wednesday, May 31, 2006

"Feed Me, Seymour"

Feedback! There's something wonderfully inspiring, overwhelming, and heartening about getting thoughtful brainstorms, observations, criticisms, and questions from trusted early readers who care and are rooting for you.

I'm the lucky soul who received long letters and marked mss from my critique group this week (along with shrimp, cheese, crackers, strawberries, and iced cream--we don't believe in being "starving artists").

What I'm doing with them is reading slowly through each, transferring notes to a master print-out so that I can have it all in one containable version. So far, everything's clicking. You know, in the world of critique, there are comments that immobilize and comments that launch. I'm soaring! More on that later.

F&M is still fairly new and needing much love before sending to my editor, but I'm increasingly confident that if I apply myself I can get it in shape to send by December/January.

The big opponent is time. I have a busy summer ahead, and an even busier fall with the release of Santa Knows (Dutton, 2006)--short, intense window for promoting holiday books--and taking on six VC students. Basically, my psychology will have to be that working on the mss is my baseline, and I'm taking breaks to do other things.

For those wondering about the title of this post, it's a quote from "Little Shop of Horrors," which is not surprisingly one of my fave musicals.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

X-Men: The Last Stand

"X-Men: The Last Stand" exceeded my expectations tonight at the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar. I'd (falsely) heard it was preachier than the last two, which was daunting to consider. Marvel always tends to the preachy anyway. But nope, not so. I was impressed that the franchise moved the storyline forward in ways that made thematic sense, and the casting of Kelsey Grammer as Dr. Hank McCoy/Beast was flat-out brilliant. Needless to say, I had popcorn--with real butter--for dinner.

In other news I'm in the midst of grading one VC packet this weekend and planning to read, speaking of beasts, Beast by Donna Jo Napoli (Atheneum, 2000).

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Hudsons

Last night GLS and I joined KA (author interview), her husband, and his brother at Waterloo Ice House to hear The Hudsons, an amazing Austin-based band that plays there on Thursday evenings.

The music is as funny as it is smart, at a volume, as GLS said, "where you could hear it through you ears, not your teeth." The three male members of the band all were fantastic, but I'd count myself most a Phoebe fan. She's an incredible musician, singer, and entertainer.

On the restaurant, if you're a burger person, order that. Stay away from the grilled taco chicken salad. It doesn't taste bad, but it's more like shredded lettuce with a hint of chicken a dollop of guacamole and a dollop of sour cream. I'm not sure if they forgot the cheese, or it was simply too scant to be spotted.

Between sets, KA ran with me across the street to what she's calling "The Museum of Modern Food" where I picked up some brown rice sushi--spicy salmon with avocado and tempura shrimp.

It was fabulous to see KA, who gave me a big hug, which made a not-so-great day instantly better.

Update: I smothered the pork with guacamole. I can eat anything with guacamole.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

With Apologies to Wilbur

Probably the biggest news is that I've agreed (after much negotiation) to eat pork tenderloin for dinner tonight. I'd given up mammals after reading GLS' Tofu and T. rex (Little Brown, 2005)(author interview) in manuscript for the billionth time in 2004.

One of the point of view characters is Freddie Murchison-Kowalski, a die-hard vegan. Though I've spent most of my life along the cattle trail (Chicago, KC, Oklahoma, Texas), much to the horror of my carnivore husband, Freddie really got to me. I haven't eaten a mammal since. Not that she'd approve of my carnage to fish and fowl, but nevertheless, one can't dismiss such a literary impact lightly.

GLS, whose fault this is, has dutifully cooked us non-mammal dinners for some time, but he began begging recently for at least a tad more variety... I'll let you know how it goes.

Quiet catch-up day otherwise. The highlight was lunch with DD, a VC graduate and former Austin SCBWI RA.

I look forward to the three-day weekend. I'll spend some of it grading and working on my summer lecture, but of course I've already bought my tickets for "X-Men: The Last Stand" at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar. I'm also considering seeing "Thank You for Smoking" as I enjoyed the book by Christopher Buckley.

Spooky News & Links

Thanks to Spookycyn LJ syndication subscribers Debbi of One Writer's Journey: The Bumpy Road (for her cheers about my forthcoming releases) and Beverly Jean of Never Too Old: Mema Beverly Stowe McClure Becomes a Writer (for the shout-out on my upcoming Santa Knows (Dutton, 2006)).

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Bluebirds Forever

Last week I flew to KC to pick up a few momentos of my Grandma Dorothy, who died in late January. Those familiar with my short stories will remember her from "The Naked Truth," featured in In My Grandmother's House: Award-Winning Authors Tell Stories About Their Grandmothers (HarperCollins, 2003), a fine anthology, which went out of print almost instantly. See my Story Behind The Story.

I'd hoped to walk through Grandma's little house one last time, but it had sold to a minister and his wife, who'd closed on it just days before I arrived.

My grandmother was a collector of ceramic bluebirds, and I brought home a few of them, mostly those I'd given to her over the years. There were a few other items--notably including the trivet which reads "Dorothy's Kitchen"--but the bluebird symbol is the one I'll associate with her most.

I saw various family members and friends while I was in town. I also read Romiette and Julio by Sharon M. Draper (Simon Pulse, 2006)(excerpt), which is one of the books I'll be talking about at the VC MFA summer residency, and watched "Aquamarine" (2006).

My KC dining recommendation is the barbecue catfish at Jack's Stack at Union Station.

Comic of the Week: Green Arrow #62

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Sneak Peeks: Santa Knows and Tantalize

My amazing web designer debuts new pages on my site for Santa Knows (Dutton, September 2006)(cover art) and Tantalize (Candlewick, March 2007). Click on the title links for flap copy, etc.

The Steve Bjorkman's illustrations for Santa Knows are incredible. I especially love the workshop scenes, which juxtapose the traditional and 21rst century in fun, busy, holiday ways.

Note that the Tantalize ARC has "teaser," not final cover art. I'll let you know when the final art is posted and keep you updated on related book news as it emerges.

See more on all of this at Cynsations.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Swamped

Swamped! That's what I was feeling as I tried to wrap my mind around doing both my talk on retellings for the upcoming VC residency and an article on YA gothic fantasy. Right now, F&M is in the hands of my crit group, but it sails back to my lap (along with three sets of feedback) on the 30th. Given the upcoming demands of my competing so-called non-writing life, it occurs to me that I actually can't do all of this happily and simultaneously.

At this point in my career, it makes more sense to focus on turning in a new gothic fantasy novel mss to my editor than a related journal article. I'll still do the article, but down the road (provided another author in the genre doesn't beat me to it, in which case--hey!--I'm available for quotes). In fact, I'll probably do a GF talk for the winter residency, in which case competing to-dos can become compatible ones. I'm so spazzy. Sometimes I need to give myself permission not to do something, at least for the now.

Thus ends my deep thoughts for the day.

Gruene River

Lovely weekend! FH joined me for lunch (bleu salads) at the South Congress Cafe Friday and then we shopped afterward at Uncommon Objects, just down the street. Then it was off to the UT Club with GLS and AB for shrimp and cheese. On Satuday, GLS and I escape to the nearby German-antiquing-honky tonk town of Gruene, brunched at the Gruene River Grill, and then stopped for a snack (won ton soup and the rare fried crab won tons) at Suzi's on North Lamar back in Austin. Yesterday was quiet. I worked out, formatted up a few interviews, and corresponded a bit with my web designer. This is my version of taking the weekend off. I may not sound like "off," but I assure you, it's an improvement.

This morning I'm rewriting a couple of long-sitting Native American picture book manuscripts as early readers. I've actually been tweaking for a few days, but now I'm armed with critique comments. Not many--a couple of suggestions to make the protagonist and/or language more active and to move one scene. The stories seem to work better this way. They're both highly illustrable, but not the sort of pow! illustrations picture books seem to require these days.

Spooky News & Links

On Spookycyn LJ syndication comments: to WriterRoss, I hope you found a deal at the Coldwater Creek sale; to MoniqueMadigan, I'll definitely let y'all know what I think of The Eyre Affair (Penguin, 2001)--it has been sitting while I finished up Archer's Quest by Linda Sue Park (Clarion, 2006)(excerpt); also waving to BeverlyJean in North Texas.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Taking It Easy

My VC packets are in the mail, and I've pulled some materials to begin thinking about an article for one of the library journals. My eye is bothering me once again, though, so I don't think I'm going to do much more than that today. I've already formatted up two interviews for Cynsations to run this week, and it's beginning to occur to me that I don't really have to work constantly. F&M is in the good hands of my crit group. I'm reading a wonderful novel, Long Gone Daddy by Helen Hemphill (Front Street, 2006). I may also call the doctor once Blizzard jumps down from my lap.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Sky Is Falling

Well, it was. Actually, it was mostly trees and parts of trees. A series of strong storms have hit Austin, most notably Thursday and Friday nights. At one point we had 70 M.P.H. winds, which split tree trucks all over the city.

That's tornado-force winds, only they were moving straight instead of in a creepy circular motion, which was meager comfort to the big-eyed kitties cowering beneath my bed.

Last I heard BY and FH still didn't have power (along with tens of thousands of others east/central).

Which is of course not to imply that our social lives were affected. GLS and I hosted LL (the George V.,Paris lobster-and-chicken dish) on Friday night and went out with AB (Suzi's North, followed by tea at her place) on Saturday.

We also actually ventured outside Central Austin to the Barton Creek Mall, where I did the ladies-shopping thing at Victoria's Secret, which has become a checkout nightmare. (Do you have our card? No. Do you want our card? No. You don't want to save $100/year? No. Can we have your home phone number? No. You don't want free coupons? No.) I mean, really. From now on, I'm ordering my undies online. I also picked up new headphones for my iPod, and GLS got a couple of pairs of khaki shorts from Foley's.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Happy Cinco de Mayo

Last night, GLS and I hit a signing at the Barnes & Noble Sunset Valley. I picked up a copy of Texas Ghost Stories: Fifty Favorites for the Telling by Tim Tingle and Doc Moore (Texas Tech University Press, 2004). TT is one of my fave Texas authors and a first-rate speaker.

In other news, I'm vexed to discover that the University of Kansas "has announced it will no longer use the Jayhawk logo on official letter head and business cards because the bird is 'too fun and informal.'" I'm a graduate in news/editorial and public relations of the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, and I love the Jayhawk! Source: Sports Illustrated (May 8, 2006), which incidentally has a cover article on LA.

Spooky Link

Stuff on My Cat: "Stuff + Cats = Awesome." Big thanks to the heavenly LB for this one!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

My So-Called Down Time

Yesterday I deliberately took it easy because I have incoming VC packets, starting today. I did some shopping at BookPeople for some of the kids in my life. What I bought:

for JR: Piggies by Audrey and Don Wood (Red Wagon, 2000); Is Your Mama a Llama? by Deborah Guarino, illustrated by Steven Kellogg (Scholastic, 1997); Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann (Putnam, 1996); and The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (Philomel, 1981).

for RC: Boston Jane: An Adventure by Jennifer L. Holm (Harper Trophy, 2002); Dancing in the Streets of Brooklyn by April Lurie (Delacorte, 2002)(author interview); Playing in Traffic by Gail Giles (Roaring Brook, 2004)(author interview); and Dead Girls Don't Write Letters by Gail Giles (author interview).

for MC: Wizards of the Game by David Lubar (Philomel, 2003)(author interview)(excerpt); When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt (Yearling, 2001)(author interview); The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (Hyperion, 2005)(author interview); and Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo by Greg Leitich Smith (author interview).

I also bought The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (Penguin, 2001) on the recommendation of a bookseller and a thank you card for GG.

Then it was onto the Whole Foods corporate headquarters at 6th and Lamar, where the prickly pear cacti are in gorgeous, huge yellow bloom on the roof and where I had salmon and avocato brown-rice sushi with water for lunch.

After that, I zoomed over to Emerald's to pick up Mother's Day cards, came home and ordered an arrangment for grandma from 1800flowers.com.

Then I worked out and did email carnage.

GLS and I had dinner at Hyde Park Bar & Grill (lentil soup, followed by a turkey burger on whole wheat). Much afterward I indulged in the very rare wicked munchie Kraft Mac & Cheese. Quite the delicacy.

Monday, May 01, 2006

God on the Highway

I've been driving I-35 north and south for some twenty years, but what really struck me this past weekend is how strong of a showing that religion was making along the way these days.

The number of churches, big and small, is noticeably up, and many were under construction for expansions. So too were the number of billboards with a religious message. A very few were hostile, along the lines of "embrace Jesus or regret it forever." Yikes. But most were of the "I believe in you. -- God" variety.

I think all this is fascinating. I had passing references to church in two my previous books. Rain's family from Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) includes a Bible quote in the context of a memorial and church-going (the protagonist is avoiding church after the death of her best friend; she's angry and self-isolating in her grief). Likewise, Ray and his grandpa from Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002) are church-going, though the references are in passing (for example, Ray refers to what he wears to a wedding as "church clothes"). I've actually fielded a lot of comments--some praise and some surprise--that these contexts exist in my books, and as a reader, I've noticed that nods to faith and/or its practice are more rare in American children's literature than our national lifestyle would suggest. I wonder why. I'm not talking about preachy-ness in books, which I agree is a huge turn-off, but rather simply the reflection in daily life. Hm.

In any case, the trip was for my cousin's wedding reception, which was lovely. Also, the catfish at the Cracker Barrel is pretty good.