Thursday, November 2, 2017

Book Rankings can be addictive for writers.  Not just in the sense that it's a never-ending carousel of wonders for things to read and tools to write with, either.  No, the real addiction is when your book is on their virtual shelves and you discover that thing called Amazon Best Sellers Rank.  (Cue brassy fanfare here.)

With Amazon Best Sellers Rank, you can tell in a glance exactly where your book falls in the lineup of books that sell the most copies.  On the one hand, this is wonderful... your book, just off the presses, is already 134th  in of all  Books > Children's Books > Literature & Fiction > Religious Fiction > Christian > Animals!

On the other hand, you don't know exactly how many books are in that subcategory of fiction... so for all you know, 134 is dead last.  Which still isn't bad, considering that it was just published - after all, even J.K. Rowling had to start from somewhere, right?

By clicking on that last subcategory, you can launch yourself into the list of books that your book is shelved among... who's number one?  Easy enough to check.  (For me, the Berenstain Bears are tops in Holidays and Celebrations, while Pete the Cat rules over children's books featuring cats.)  This is handy for market research, since at a glance you can see what's selling in any particular category.

It can also be profoundly depressing, if you find your precious published baby lagging behind books you personally think aren't as good as yours.

And then there's the fact that the rankings change by the hour.  My husband e-mailed me the other day to cheer that The Stable Cat's Christmas had broken the 50 top books mark... but by the time I got on, it had dropped to 74.  Ah, the fleeting fickleness of popularity!

Still, it's a handy tool for an author to know about, if you don't let the details drive you crazy.  

Monday, August 28, 2017

The True Confessions of a Plus-Sized Super Girl

This is the opening chapter of a project I've been working on... the heroine, Sandy, really spoke to me when she popped into existence.  Unfortunately, she's been a bit more close-mouthed since I got this part written down.  I'm hoping she'll become a bit more talkative if I give her some breathing space.

The absolute suckiest thing that can happen to a fat girl is to suddenly discover that you can’t fly.

I mean, you know it’s coming.  In our town, everyone stops flying somewhere around ten years old.  That’s when your permanent abilities begin to manifest, and the ones that kept you safe when you were a little kid start to fade out - so most people stop flying (much) on or around their tenth birthday.  Oh, there are the occasional kids who hang on to flight well into their teens, but there aren’t many of them.  And the ones who turn into grown-ups who can fly?  Pff.  Practically none.  So you know it’s coming.  You’d have to be stupid to ignore it, right?

But when you’re a fat girl, flying is pretty much the best thing in your entire world.  

It’s like swimming, which is as close anyone who CAN’T fly can get to really being free from the World of Heavy.  When you jump into a pool or a lake, it’s amazing - that sudden sensation of weighing almost nothing, feeling the gentle hug of the water holding you up and floating you along on all sides, and you can spin and flip and feel graceful, like a dolphin or an otter, instead of big and clunky and all pushed into the ground, like a hippo.  Come to think of it, that’s probably why hippos spend so much time in the water.  

Now imagine that feeling, but only MORE so, because there’s no water pushing back on you, and you’re not wearing some skimpy little swimsuit.  It’s just you, the wind, and the sky.

That’s flying.

But that day, I wasn’t flying.  I was… well, PLUMMETING.  Dropping like the proverbial brick.  No warning, no car-like putta-putta-cough of an engine getting set to die.  Just… uh oh.  Gravity works.  

Wind suddenly rushing the wrong way.  Cars and houses getting bigger. Clouds and birds getting further away instead of closer.  My shadow getting bigger.  Tree branches getting more detailed and looking way sharper than they do from a hundred feet higher up.  

I didn’t scream.  

Honestly, I didn’t.  The sound I made was more like the sound a puppy makes when you step on it by accident, and it got stuck in my throat before it really got out.  Which, to be honest, REALLY sucked, because in our town, screaming can save your life.

So I’m dropping out of the sky, arms and legs windmilling like one of those old cartoon characters flapping to try to regain altitude, and I can’t scream because I can’t breath, and all I can think is, Great.  You can’t even SCREAM right, you idiot.  And now, you’re gonna die.  SPLAT.

Mom is gonna be SO pissed.

That’s when my arm connects with something warm and solid, and Aki goes, “OOF!  Knock it OFF, Sandy!  That hurt!”

And suddenly, I’m not plummeting anymore.  I’m doing a Buzz Lightyear “falling with style”… a long, slow, curving swoop, and I’m so busy trying to drink in all those last sights and sounds and feels of flying that I’m only half listening to the angry voice in my ear.  

The whole way down, Aki is flipping between Japanese and English at the top of his lungs.  I don’t speak much Japanese, but I know that I’m getting told off in both languages, and also that if Aki’s mom was listening in, he’d probably get his mouth washed out with soap.

“... I mean, you’re not a TOTAL FREAKING STUPID IDIOT!” he’s shouting as he dumps me on his roof and drops down beside me.  “You KNOW how it works!  Dammit, Sandy, WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?”

I could have come up with a dozen smart remarks.  I’ve known Aki since… well, forever.  I’ve mashed his face into the grass when we wrestled, had him whip me solid in a knock-down no-holds-barred pillow fight, kicked his butt in mancala just to watch him throw a tantrum, and gotten up in the face of the third grade class bully who was teasing him because of how short he is.  Was.  Whatever.  

So I could have just flipped him off and climbed down from the roof, making like it doesn’t matter, no biggie, quit acting all high and mighty… but noooooo, I couldn’t even do THAT right.  

Because right then, staring at Mister I-Can-Still-Fly Aki, I suddenly realized I could feel how hard my feet were pressing into the ground.  Could feel every bit of my body tugging down, down, like gravity was trying to remind me that it was my boss, and would be forever.  My nose got that prickly-warm-pincushion feeling, my eyes flooded over, and I started bawling.  Right out in the open and everything.

Happy stupid twelfth birthday to me.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Time to Write

My husband, bless his heart, exemplifies what people seem to think when they hear that I'm a writer and a teacher.

"You have the whole summer off!" he extols. "Think of all the writing you can get done!"

Yes, just think of it.  A whole summer, like one ginormous blank page, just waiting to be written on.

I find it absolutely terrifying.

So far, I've revisited my folder of works-in-progress... tweaked one here, adjusted another there, added a bit to a third, and reread most of my WIP collection, both the cringe-worthy and those full of potential.

But so far, I haven't written anything new.

I want to write.  I want to be prolific, a beloved author of children's books like my idol Jane Yolen, who could fill an entire bookshelf with her published work.  I want to crank those manuscripts out, so that the downtime between publication and my next book is short and sweet.

But first, I need to figure out what to write about.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Author Photo

I don't like to be photographed, to be perfectly honest.  I'm overweight, and I just don't like the way I come out looking in 99% of all photos snapped of me... especially candids.  I look at the pictures of these happy family events and think, "Is that really me?  Do I really look like THAT?!?"  It's hard on the soul, when your mind "sees" you one way and your photo reveals the grisly disconnect.  As a result, I try my hardest to be the photographer, not the photographed.  Or, if I cannot escape in that way, I plant myself behind my son, or some other handy person/object/prop of the right height, so as to reveal only a portion of my bulk.

But there's this thing that you kinda-sorta-hafta do when you want to write for a living... a thing I was dreading, that I put off as long as humanly possible, promising myself that I'd lose the weight and that everything would be just fine.  Only I didn't, and I had to eventually face the fact that if I wanted my face on my first-ever book jacket, I'd need to be professionally photographed.

I decided to make a day of it.  Knowing that I would likely hate the result, I gave myself as little wiggle room to hate it as possible.  I scheduled my haircut for the same day.  I got the lovely lady working at Bare Minerals to "show me how" to put on my makeup.  I picked two of my favorite tops, knowing that this would be a head shot, and maybe not as bad for all that - at least I knew I'd have the worst parts of me off-camera.  And, walking in to my appointment, I told the nice young photographer exactly how nervous I was... about the photo itself, and about why I was being photographed at all.  This would be my first book with a jacket, I told her... my first author photo.  I so, so badly wanted this to come out well.

And what do you know... it did.

I can't say I'm 100%, had-over-heels thrilled with my picture.  I like it very much, but I still look at it and see the weight that needs to come off.  But I do look authorly, at least... I can see one of these shots on the back cover of a book.  It's nice to be able to feel that way.  And if... WHEN... I do manage to take off the weight, I'll at least have a nice "before" shot for my "before and after."

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Snow Day

Snow is a funny thing.  It's so soft, so light, and yet it has such power over us... power to thrill and terrify.  My students were abuzz yesterday with the coming storm, a day off from school being taken as a given thing long before the official cancellation was announced.  I'm not sure what they do on a snow day, these nine year olds of mine, but it certainly beats being in school - at least in their eyes.  I like to think that they spend at least a chunk of the day frolicking out-of-doors, rather than plastered to the living room floor with their eyes on a big screen all day.  Or, at least, curled up with a good book.

Yesterday evening was a different story, as I stopped by the grocery store to pick up brownie mix (this constituting my entire plans for the day off work - making brownies with my boy).  The parking lot was solid-packed with cars, and all about me hustled grim faces and carts filled to overflowing with survival rations.  You'd think that the weather had been predicted to blizzard for three days, rather than a one day dump of six to twelve inches.  Not a smile to be seen, up and down the aisles - employees stone-faced, restocking shelves picked over by the shambling mob, parents looking vaguely desperate in the breakfast cereal section.  I had to restrain myself from laughing out loud; we New Englanders are a notoriously sturdy bunch, and here were people behaving as though they'd be snowed in for a week on scant provisions.  Didn't they listen to the weather?  Or were the family larders really that bare?

Or does something else happen in between childhood and adulthood?  Something that changes a snowstorm from a one day "get out of jail free" card to something more sinister?  It can't be just the shoveling, though I'm no fan of that myself and am happy to leave it to my husband - at least until we  join the technological world and invest in a snow blower.  I doubt that it's being home with the kids, though cabin fever sets in quickly for me, so I can empathize with others who feel the same.  Could it be the snow itself, awakening some long-buried racial memory of a time when even a one day storm could and did cause rations to be guarded and people to hunker down for days?  Or maybe we're just programmed to dread winter weather as we age... those of us who can, fly south for the winter; those who can't, well, we stick it out one way or another.

Snow is, for sure, a funny thing.

Sunday, January 1, 2017


Today ends the week of the In-Betweenies.

In between Christmas and New Year, in between the end of one year and the beginning of another, in between the joy of decorating for the holidays and the melancholy of taking down the tree, in between that period of holiday lights brightening up the December night and the beginning of the Long Dark of winter in earnest... that's the In-Betweenies.

I don't like the In-Betweenies much.  As a person who struggles with the seasonal blues brought on by too much dark and insideness and cold, Advent with its candles and the holidays with their myriad lights are my tether to brighter times - but of course, they can't last forever, no matter how I wish they would.  I spend a good bit of the In-Betweenies refusing to take down my Christmas decorations and  trying to stretch the holidays out as long as I can.

For me, the In-Betweenies are primarily the harbinger of the Long Dark, that period peculiar to northern climes where all there seems to be are early dusks, bare-branched icy dawns, and nights where you don't stay out too long to look up at the stars due to the chill and damp.  Like our ancestors before us, we must face that Long Dark as best we can.  The lucky can pack up and head south, combating the Long Dark with milder nights that invite you out walking and days that laugh at the sour northern winter latitudes above.  The rest of us huddle under extra layers and rush from car to door and back again, and dream of spring.

I'm a bit jealous, really, of those who are outdoorsy sorts, like my friend Steph - for her, the In-Betweenies are the gateway to the rest of winter where, if she's lucky, enough snow will fall to let her get out and snowshoeing.  If it doesn't, well, Steph is a committed hiker in all seasons.  For many outdoor lovers, including scores of children, the rest of winter is a time of hoping for snow enough for making snowmen and snow forts and for sledding or skiing, for hot cocoa with marshmallows, for exulting in the tingle of icy skin made warm again when outdoor time is done.  Me, I'm a weather wimp.  My idea of getting outside in the winter is going for a drive.

For others, the In-Betweenies are positively welcome for the homeyness they bring - they herald the end of the hectic rush of the holiday season, or the emphasis on holidays they don't celebrate to begin with, and signal a return to Everyday Life, albeit a bit colder and darker for a bit... a time for stews and comforting soups on the stove, fresh-baked breads, and indoor activities of the recreational or necessary variety.  These folks clean out closets and reorganize pantries, scrapbook or quilt or knit, catch up on shows they've been meaning to watch, complete jigsaw puzzles, or websurf places like Pinterest to get newer, better ideas for how to feather their nest in cozy and charming ways.  Me, I have more ideas than talent and tenacity to put them into action.  Pinterest is not my friend.

But today, the In-Betweenies officially end... a new year is started, regardless of whether it is greeted with great joy or trepidation, regardless of how we plan to use it.  And my grouchy, anxious feelings about that in-between time of the year morph into thoughts about the wide-open spread of 2017 that stretches far beyond the Long Dark of winter.  It's a feeling not unlike looking at a blank page, and wondering what to write on it.  There's always a bit of anxiety there, too - but as soon as the first word is written, that feeling passes.

It's time to get to writing on this new year.