Friday, March 16, 2012

The Right Word

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
                                                                                                ~ Mark Twain

Have you ever run into the “almost right” word? I sure have. In fact, I’m pretty certain that I’ve contributed many “almost right” words to the Great Book of Life. I’ve also spent many an hour rummaging through my brain, books, and basement in search of the elusive “right” word.
You know, I almost listed drawers there as one of the places I’ve searched, but that most definitely would not be the right word. Although some drawers may, in fact, contain words… other drawers categorically do not. Whew – another word crisis averted!
Anyway, I once encountered an “almost right” word in an intake report, back when my job was giving psych assessments. There within the section used to describe the patient, the referring medical resident had written, “He reads ferociously – sometimes six books at a time.”
Ferociously? As in, “exhibiting or given to extreme fierceness and unrestrained violence and brutality”?  A word usually associated with lion-like behavior. Hmmmmmm. I think the word that this poor, exhausted resident intended was voraciously. As in, “excessively eager, or having an insatiable appetite for something” (like books in this instance).
Well, I happened to find this “almost right” word ferociously funny at the time. Mostly, because when you’re working on a psych ward, I assure you, the laughs are few and far between. And so, who can blame me for being absolutely tickled over this all day long? Then I went home…
When I walked into my apartment, I noticed some things I’d never noticed before – the paperbacks dog-eared and stacked carelessly next to my bed, the hardbacks strewn across the sofa, and the magazines lying mangled on the kitchen table.
Leaping Lions! The evidence was undeniable! I was, in fact, a ferocious reader.
I still am.
Because sometimes when you least expect it, the “almost right” word happens to be “exactly right”, after all.

PROMPT: Have some ferocious fun by putting all the wrong words in all the right places – or perhaps all the right words in all the wrong places. Stretch the English language like salt water taffy, bend it like Beckham, then throw it against the wall. See what sticks. For visual artists – create some color confusion, just for kicks. Is black really this year’s pink?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Noes Have It

Oh Yeah

No fat
No cholesterol

No mortgage
No bills

No 1040

No 401K


No wonder
I could dance

In light of Wednesday’s rejection post, I thought I would spend today celebrating noes. Noes, noes, wonderful noes! There are so many different kinds of noes in the world, don’t you think?

First there are the noes associated with rejection. We covered them yesterday, and in my opinion, those are the noes you can largely ignore.

Then there are the noes allied with independence. If you’re a parent you know exactly what I am talking about. I remember a morning when my dear, sweet, charming, and docile 18-month-old boy awoke, stood up in his crib and shouted “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” at the very top of his lungs. And so it began…the terrible twos a few months early (that kid has always been an over-achiever).

Of course, there are those parental noes, too. The ones related to any danger that could befall your once sweet, charming, and docile 18-month-old boy. My husband and I had to say no so many times regarding the electrical outlets that our children took to calling them “no-noes”. In fact, they referred to outlets as “no-noes” for so many years that we once fretted they would head off to college and say, “Excuse me, could you please direct me to the nearest no-no? I need to charge my iPhone.”

There are also those “positive” noes associated with advertising. As in – NO FAT! NO CHOLESTEROL! NO SUGAR! NO FLAVOR! Sorry, that last one was mine and would be an unlikely find in advertising.

And what would we do without the “NOOOOOOoooooooooooo!” linked to Luke learning that Darth was really his father?

PROMPT: Tackle those noes today! The noes that mean no. The noes that mean maybe. The noes that mean What the H...? What does no mean to you? What image or story does no evoke? Create. Create. Create! And NO procrastinating!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Sting of Rejection

Dr. Seuss received 27 rejections for his first book. One editor (we’ll call him Ed) put it to him this way – “It’s too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.”
Yep, it was different all right.
But what if the good doctor had believed old Ed the editor? What if he had shrugged and said, “Oh well, I think I’ll take up badminton instead. I’ve always liked badminton, you know.” And what a mournful day that would have been! To think – Taylor Swift would have never had the chance to voice Ted’s love interest in The Lorax…  Even Jesus is weeping over that thought, I assure you.
In the writing business rejections are handed out like candy on Halloween. It comes with the territory. But writers are not the only ones who experience rejection or run into folks who don’t see their potential. I know this firsthand.
Back when I was an undergraduate applying to graduate schools, I had a meeting with my advisor. He asked me where I was applying, so I handed him a list of my top 10. They were all Ph.D. programs at my dream schools.
He looked at the list. Then he looked at me. “So, what are you going to do when you don’t get accepted?” Note he said “when” not “if”.
“Excuse me?”
“What is Plan B?” he asked.
You know, there’s an old tale that a physicist once proved that a bumble bee cannot fly, given its tiny wings and bulky body. But the bumble bee, not knowing physics, flies anyway.
Well, my advisor was obviously focused on my teeny, tiny wings. As in, (right wing) I was currently attending a small state school. And (left wing) I had no connections whatsoever. After all, I was the first nut from my family tree to ever land on a college campus. But I had something beyond those wings. I had…
BUMBLE! Not bumble, as in “clumsy and awkward”, but BUMBLE, as in that heart of the bee that does not give a buzz about physics (look inside – you have it, too).
At that moment I knew I had what it would take to get into one of those schools. I had good grades. I had worked hard on some great research projects. And a major medical center had arranged a plum summer internship for me. And so…
I looked my advisor straight in the eye and said, “There is no Plan B.”
He said nothing – just shrugged and handed back my list.
But what if I had taken his words to heart? What if I had gone back to my dorm, ripped up my list, and eaten a box of doughnuts?
Well, my husband, for one, would have been sorely disappointed. At that very moment he was killing time at Purdue University – waiting for me to arrive so we could meet. And sheesh, we can pretty much assume that our children would have been pretty bummed, too.
The rest, as they say, is history (my own crazy history, that is).
And just for the record – IF I had not been accepted to any of the schools on my list, you can bet your bumble that my 20-year-old self would have come up with an amazing plan BEE!

PROMPT: Embrace your BUMBLE! Today is a great day to believe in YOU! Rejections? Humph! What do they know? Get out there – it’s time to FLY!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Snow Day

The forecast here is calling for snow yet again. It looks like winter will be putting up quite a fight until she is dragged off kicking and screaming by my good friend, April.
But then again, it means that there is still a chance for a snow day!
Ah, snow days!
Do you remember the days before robocalls and web sites? Back when you sat in bed with your ear pressed up against the radio… waiting… waiting… until… WAHOOOOooooooo!
The next thing you knew, you were jumping on the bed! Making snow angels! Sledding until your feet were so cold, you were certain that your mom would find your toes in the laundry.
And for me, what made it all the sweeter was the knowledge that my teachers were absolutely, positively, miserable about the whole thing. I could picture them in their school basement apartments cursing the sky before they went back to thumbing through student files, muttering about sentence diagrams, and dreaming up twenty-page lists of obscure dates in history.
“Take that, Teachers! The snow gods have smiled on the lowly pupil today – Hallelujah!” I would shout and make another snow angel for good measure.
Ten years after graduating from high school, snow days were a distant memory. Then one November I spent a week visiting my sister, who was a newly minted teacher in Colorado.
Well, very early one morning the phone rang. And the next thing I knew, a “WAHOOOOoooooo!” was being shouted from the bedroom. Apparently, there had been a big storm overnight, and it would be a snow day!
Well, we jumped on the bed. Of course we did! We made snow angels! We went sledding! I felt like I was eight years old again. Then halfway through my third cup of cocoa, it hit me. I had spent a snow day… with a teacher!
Could I have been wrong all along? Was it possible that old Mrs. Coy jumped on her bed those snowing January mornings? Could Mr. Engle have made snow angels? Did Mr. Saucer spend all afternoon on his toboggan?
To think – if these questions had the slightest potential to be answered in the affirmative, then it was even possible that those teachers actually lived in homes of their own…
My world would never be the same.

PROMPT: Have you ever had a snow day? How did it feel? What did you do? Write, paint, or sculpt about it. Did you hold any particular (or peculiar) beliefs about the teachers in your life? Okay, maybe I’m the only one. But you can also check out the picture book, Teacher from the Black Lagoon, by author Mike Thaler and illustrator Jared Lee for some fun inspiration. WAHOOOOoooooo!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Trade Secrets

When I started writing for children, I was quick to join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Over the years, I’ve found the members of this not-so-secret Society to be wonderfully kind and helpful.
However, it wasn’t long after I became a card carrying “Skibwee”, that I encountered a strange “fella” calling out to me from a darkened door jamb.
“Pssst, hey you!”
“Yeah. You a children’s writah?”
“Um… yeah.”
“You got any, uh, muddahs you want iced?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Muddahs! You don’t know about the muddahs? You must be wet behind the eaahs!”
My ears were dry, but they were listening. “You have my attention,” I said as I fingered the pepper spray in my pocket.
“Well, a lotta good children’s book charactahs got a lotta dead muddahs. You know what I’m tawkin’ about – Bambi, Cinderella, Annie, Dorothy, Snow White… Harry Pottah! And, well, I’m the one who does the job.
I rolled my eyes. “Voldemort killed Harry’s mom.”
“Voldemoht gets all the credit, but it was me… It’s ALWAYS me.”
That’s when I noticed the violin case.
He puffed himself up a little and went on. “Let’s just say, it’s a service I provide. So if you got any muddahs in a book that you want swimmin’ wit da fishes, jes’ lemme know.”
“Thanks, but no thanks.” I turned and moved on. Fast. My head was reeling. Good grief, he was right… So many great stories… So many dead moms.
But why?
That’s when it hit me – if an author wants to achieve maximum sympathy for a character in minimum time, a parent has got to go. And that’s because, truly, the saddest, most awful event possible in a child’s life is the loss of a parent. My heart ached just thinking about it.
I shook the thoughts from my head, and picked up speed. That’s when I heard him again.
“Hey! You got a dawg in your book?”
I stopped.
“Ya know what they say – if you’re a dawg in a middle grade novel, your days are numbahd. Anyways, talk to my cousin, Sal. The dawgs are his job."

PROMPT: Take a fresh look at great stories with an ice cold eye. What makes them “work”? What are the parts that hold you hostage? Make you laugh? Make you cry? Why? For visual artists – take a second look at your favorite pieces. What emotions do they evoke? What part really draws you in? Create from there and see what happens.
And by the way, if you want to write or illustrate for children, join SCBWI here:  (but watch out for you-know-who).