Monday, March 24, 2008

Children's Article

My first children's article was published today in The Christian Science Monitor.

This is the link:

The article is called "Court for Kids: It's Your Turn to Be the Judge."

I'm very excited about this because I've tried to get an article in this newspaper for about a year. Also, the story provides evidence that I really am a children's writer. I only wish I had this proof when I went to talk to Johnny's class last week.

A little advice for writers: do not volunteer to talk to kids unless you have a book in hand. They will think you are lying to them. One little girl asked me, "If you're a writer, why haven't I ever seen any of your books?"

She had a point. The only evidence I had to show them was a book about the Beastie Boys, which I didn't write, but is similar to a book I wrote that is coming out in 2009.

But it was very fun to talk to the class. My presentation was called "How a Book is Made" and the kids played the roles of editors in New York and illustrators. Johnny volunteered to be an editor but was disappointed that he didn't get a speaking part because the second editor accepted the manuscript before he got a chance to look at it. If only that would happen in real life.

The funniest part about talking to kids is when you ask a question and whoever raises his hand with the most enthusiasm and confidence--you can be pretty sure that kid doesn't know the answer. Nor does he even have a guess. He just tells you, "I don't know."

I think it's refreshing for someone to raise his hand to say, "I don't know." You don't see that much outside of grade school.


One person who doesn't say "I don't know" about any subject is Richie. On Easter, we had a private suite at church, a.k.a. the cry room. There, Richie told us what Easter is all about.

"You know Jofish?" he asked. "Jofish who knows God?"

"Yes," we said.

"Well, Jofish and Mary, they ate a tree. And they got in trouble...wait a it wasn't a tree..."

"Was it an apple?" Justin asked.

"Yeah, they ate a poison apple and they died. And Jesus came back to life."

There it is. The story of the Bible in 50 words or less. I can see Richie in class, listening to about five seconds of what his teacher said...back in December...and figuring, "Okay, I get it. Mary, Jofish, they had the baby, I assume they ate the apples, too...Hmm, I like carmel apples the best..."

Later on in the day, my cousin Hannah asked Richie, "Are you trying to say Joseph?"

"Yeah," he said. "Joiss, Jofish, Jofiss, ahhhhh, How do you say it?!"

Hmm...I think you pronounce it Adam.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Vaporizer

J.J. woke up in the night wheezing for air a couple nights ago. He caught his breath after Justin held him. It has happened a couple times in the past, and I always thought he was coming down with something. But this time it was worse, and when J.J. woke up, he wasn't sick. I took him to the doctor and he said it could be asthma, which runs in our family.

If it happens again, we're supposed to give him an inhaler. If the medicine is effective, it means he has asthma. In the meantime, he needs to sleep with a vaporizer every night.

When you're a little kid, getting a vaporizer is a big deal. To the boys, it was like Christmas all over again.

They looked at it from every angle and argued about where it should go. J.J. was proud when I put it right by his bed.

"Can I be in charge of filling it with water?" Johnny asked.

"Sure," I said.

"Should I also be in charge of giving J.J. his medicine?"

"Absolutely not. But tell us if you think he needs it."

But they also had concerns.

Richie asked: "Will we be vaporized?"

"Do you want to be?" I asked.


"Then I don't think so."

Johnny asked: "Will the water form a cloud and rain on us?"

"Do you want to be rained on?"

"Not really."

"Then probably not."

Johnny asked, "Is asthma a serious disease?"

"Well, it's treatable with medicine, so that's good," I said.

The vaporizer seemed to help, as J.J. didn't have any trouble in the night. I hope it was just a fluke, but only time will tell.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Romancing the Novel

Remember how I told you I'm writing a romance novel? Well, it's not going so hot. Or heavy, either.

My husband likes the book, so that's good. He's even reading other romance books to research the genre. Or so he says.

Also, my mother in law likes it, which means a lot because she reads several romance novels a year.

But they are relatives.

I once had my mom read an article I wrote about a library meeting and she said, "I laughed. I cried. When is the movie coming out?"

So family members are not the toughest critics.

A few nights ago, on the other hand, I went to a critique group, and let's just say they weren't feeling the love. In fact, a few times, they were laughing because my story was so bad. They said they weren't laughing at my book, but I've got news for you, if someone says, "I'm not laughing at blank," they're laughing at blank. I might not know how to write a book, but I've been to junior high and have a doctorate in being laughed at.

But as they gave me pointers, I started laughing, too. I felt like saying Simon Cowell comments to my own book. It needs a lot of work.

For instance, here was one suggestion: Don't have the heroine describe herself as being beautiful. That sounds vain. Also, don't have her recap the compliments others have given her in the past. Another tell tale sign of vanity.

You know, the sorts of things that might have occurred to me if, I don't know, my head wasn't stuck in my ass.

So it's fixable.

But driving home, I couldn't help but ask myself how much time I was going to spend on this gamble. Writing takes time. Revising takes even more time. I knew I'd have to revise...but not rewrite the whole book. And the bad news is, a lot of people write and revise three or more books before even getting anything published.

I realized, maybe writing a romance novel isn't the best career move in the world. It's not cost effective, as we say in business. Maybe I need to get a haircut and get a real job.

All my children will be in school next year. I'm referring to my sons, of course, not the soap opera. I have to decide, can I keep up this freelance writing gig?

Now typically, when the going gets tough, I cry. But that night, "You're So Vain" was playing on the radio, which happens to be my favorite song, even though I've never met anyone who I thought was vain. (Except for the heroine in my book!) Maybe I don't have vaindar.

As this was playing, I thought of the people who've led me to my career as a writer: my kids. They are why I've stayed home and freelanced, as disastrous as that has sometimes been. And they've taught me that when the going gets tough, you don't have to be tough. You just have to keep trying.

I think of Richie learning his ABCs in one week after getting a bad report card.

And I think of Johnny, starting off first grade feeling like he didn't have any friends. And now he considers himself to be one of the most popular boys in the class. Wait a second, am I detecting something on the Doppler vaindar? Oh, who cares? At least he's self-confident.

Then I think of J.J. He acted like a neanderthal at the beginning of the year. And now he's saying, "Peas" and "Tankoo."

They've taught me that things do get better. You just have to stick with it.

Maybe Justin and his mom like the manuscript because they see it as a diamond in the rough. Or a cubic zirconium in the rough. Or at least a pair of those birthstone earrings kids buy at the dime store for $3.50. Well, I never bought them because then I couldn't have afforded seven Kit Kat bars. But I thought about purchasing the jewelry several times.

So I've been tinkering here and there with the book. Just kidding. I've been obsessively making changes to every chapter morning and night. I hardly even watch T.V. anymore if that's any indication of how out of hand this has gotten.

I hope to sell my first manuscript. Not the second or third. Maybe it's vain to think I can. Maybe my hat is strategically dipped below one eye. Maybe my scarf it is apricot.

Or maybe I'll just feel really heartbroken when everybody rejects the manuscript and all my hard work goes down the toilet and I have to start over.

Well, nobody said romance was easy. Like anything worth doing, it takes time. You know, like watching T.V. takes time. And only time will tell if this will work out. If I give up now, how will I ever know?

What Kind of Mother?

Growing up, I rode in a lot of carpools with other people's moms. It made me wonder what kind of mother I wanted to be when I grew up. Of course, I wanted to be nice and funny, like my own mom, but I also knew that I would have to be my own person.

So, there was the mother who cussed a red streak, along with her junior high age son, and I thought, maybe I'll be the cussing mom.

Then there was the mom who made citizen's arrests when people turned left at no left turn intersections. Riding in the car with her was like being in a high stakes police chase. Maybe I would be mamacop.

One mother sang with her children in harmony on the way to the grocery store. I knew I couldn't be that mom, as much as I wanted to, because I have a terrible voice.

And I definitely didn't want to be the mom who flew off the handle at everyone in the car just when you least expected it. Although, I think we all take turns being that mom.

There was the mom who talked frankly with us about a mean girl we knew. "You know what her problem is?" she asked. "She's a bitch. And that's all there is to it." And after that, the girl's mean remarks didn't sting quite like they used to. Maybe I would be the mom who tells it like it is.

Then there was the high class mom. My friend's dad lived by the barter system, just as my dad did. Meaning that instead of paying him money, clients might give him something instead. So my friend acquired, through this client, a winter coat. It wasn't the style the other kids were wearing, and my friend wondered if it was a good coat or a dumb one.

Then a mom came up to her and said, "I love your coat." And my friend knew that she had the best coat in the class--maybe even the whole school. Maybe I wanted to be the mom whose opinion of your coat really counted for something.

I finally decided to be cool mom. Not to be confused with crazy mom, who thinks she's 16 and has cocktail parties for teenagers. But the kind of mom that kids really like to talk to.

But, come to find out, I'm bad cop mom. Being the chess club parent, I oversee a group of 35 kids that have just spent a full day sitting still and listening to their teacher. My task is to convince them to do that for two more hours. I'm constantly trying to get their attention to lecture them about good sportsmanship and what it means to really listen.

I'm the kind of mom that, as a kid, I would have made fun of ruthlessly at recess. The strict mom. The serious mom.

But this has taught me something. Maybe we don't get to choose what kind of mother we are at any given time. We have to be the kind of mom the situation calls for. For now, I'm strict mom. Maybe someday I'll be the mom that kids talk to. Or at least the one who knows a good coat when she sees one.