Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Author Spotlight on: Becky Levine

It seems as though every writer who has been at this craft for a while is either in a critique group, looking for a critique group or trying to escape their critique group. Some people manage to find their soul mates, while others are looking for a rock: either to climb under or to throw. If only there was some sort of guidebook for people, so they knew what to expect.

Well now there is. And you can win a copy. But let me not get ahead of myself...

A year-and-a-half ago when I started blogging, one of the first people I met was Becky Levine. At the time, she was just starting to write a book for Writer's Digest, The Writing and Critique Group Survival Guide. The title alone is going to sell copies, but the information Becky has packed into this book is going to make it a must-read for writer's everywhere. The Survival Guide isn't just for newbies. Even people who have been in a critique group for years will find useful information here.

Becky even shares some great tips in this interview...

So how did you get to be a critique group expert?
Expert? may just be that I have what might be “nicely” called strong opinions about critique groups!

My love of critique groups and my ideas about how to run them started years ago, when I took college writing workshops, at UC Irvine, from Oakley Hall. Oakley taught his workshops on a critique basis, with the premise that you helped other writers bring their stories to the next level; you never tried to write their stories for them or get them to write the story you wanted. Since then, I’ve found that I work best and most productively on my writing when I am in a strong critique group that has this philosophy.

That’s an interesting point, about not making people write the story YOU wanted. It sounds like it would be a fine line when you’re critiquing someone else’s work. How do you not insert yourself too much?
I think it's crucial to really listen to the author, to what they're saying about their goals for the story and their vision. And to watch them, too! Sometimes, it's hard for a writer to tell a critiquer to stop, to say that the critiquer is pushing too hard in a direction the writer doesn't go. But the author's body language will show his reaction, especially if you pay attention over a few sessions.

If you're the "third" person in the group--not the author being critiqued and not the critiquer reading their comments, keep an eye and ear open, too. You can be the one to translate/speak the author's concerns to the critiquer. On the other hand, if you are the author and you're uncomfortable, you need to push yourself to speak up a bit--obviously with respect for the time/work the critiquer has put into her ideas, but if you don't let her know she's getting carried away, you're contributing to the stress/problems of the dynamic.

Tell me about your first critique experience.
It’s hard to remember exactly back that far, but I do remember one group that I checked out. It was a group that didn’t send their critique submissions ahead of time, but read them out loud at the meeting. I know a lot of groups that do this; In general, I don’t think this system really allows for the time and concentration needed to develop a really strong critique. For me specifically, though, reading a submission aloud doesn’t work at all. I have a brain that doesn’t “hear” very well through my ears; I have to see the words on paper to really take in what’s going on. Probably all those years I’ve spent buried in books!

I can relate to that! I’m much better with written words than I am with spoken. So tell me about your current critique group. How did you find it?
I have one critique group right now, although I write and do some critiquing with a few individuals outside that group. I formed this group myself several years ago. I was in a critique group with writers who were working in many genres, and I was working on a mystery novel. I felt that I needed a group of mystery writers (and readers) to really get genre-based critiques on my story. Of course, since then, I’ve switched to kids/YA writing, another member is working on nonfiction, and we just added someone who’s writing more literary/historical fiction. Everybody, though, is an incredibly strong critiquer, and we’re trying to stretch ourselves to do more reading in each others’ genre.

I know for a lot of writers, especially when they’re starting out, it can be hard to find good critique partners. Do you have any tips for them?
Keep trying. :)

The biggest help you can do for yourself, I think, before you start looking is to be clear about your goals. Do you want to critique in-person, or online? Do you want to critique with other writers in your genre, or are you looking for a wide-range of writers/readers? Be honest with yourself about where you are in your craft and on your path toward publication—a beginning writer can be a great critiquer, and published and nonpublished writers can definitely critique together. If you’re going to be uncomfortable, though, with someone who’s at the other end of the spectrum than you are, you should recognize that ahead of time.

After the goal setting, listen to your gut. If you’re instantly comfortable in a group, you’re probably in a very good place. If you’re not sure, give it some time—see how things feel after a few sessions. If you sit down and instantly feel tense, or if you walk away from a couple of meetings feeling drained or depressed, that probably isn’t the group for you.

Have you ever had a critique partner/group not work out? What do you do in that case?
I’ve been in groups where I didn’t feel comfortable, and I’ve been in groups where one critique partner wasn’t a good fit. In the first case, I simply left the group, politely and respectfully. In the other situations, either the person who didn’t fit left on their own, or we—again, respectfully—asked them to leave. It’s not easy, but the core dynamic of a group is very important. In the critique-group book, I talk about troubleshooting problems that arise; very often, talking things out and doing some education about how to critique can solve those problems. However, if troubleshooting doesn’t work and writers are still feeling like they don’t want to submit, or to write, then the group needs to make a change.

I love the story how you got Writer’s Digest interested in this book. Could you recap for everyone?
I was so lucky about this. I was speaking (as a freelance editor) at The Mad Anthony conference in Ohio, and I sat on a panel with Jane Friedman of Writer’s Digest. People in the audience were asking about critique groups, and someone asked if there was a book about them. Jane said that Writer’s Digest didn’t have one. So, after the panel, I took a BIG breath and pitched an idea for the book to Jane. We talked about the kind of book she didn’t want and the kind she might be interested in, and I asked if I could send her a Table of Contents. I think it was after she said, “Yes,” that I let that breath out.

That's pretty impressive to put together a pitch on the fly like that! Especially one that worked! Was there ever a moment when you thought: I’m in over my head. What have I gotten myself into?
There were definitely a few of those. Honestly, though, this is another reason for having a critique group. Basically, the trickiest part of the book, for me, was finding an organization that would work, especially for the how-to chapters that I included for various genres—fiction, nonfiction, and books for young children. I needed a structure that could be common to all those chapters—making it easy for writers & critiquers of all sorts to find what they needed. I would stare at the screen and panic, then remember that I could run my samples through my critique group, and they’d help me figure out what was and wasn’t working. I did, and they did, and then I’d relax and keep writing.

Tell me about The Everything Kids I Want to Be a Police Officer Book. How did that deal come about? What was it like working with a co-author?
Years and years ago, I taught a fiction-writing course through my local recreation department. Lee Lofland, a retired police detective and a wonderful writer, took that course, and after that we started working together—passing writing back and forth and talking about police stuff. (I was working on my kids’ mystery, and Lee is always wonderful about giving information and doing reality checks!)

After Lee wrote is brilliant book, Police Procedure & Investigation, for Writer’s Digest, he was approached about writing this other book, for children. He asked me if I would like to write it for him. I’m not sure he’d finished the question before I got my “Yes” out! We wrote the book, but unfortunately it got pulled from publication because of all the economy problems.

Co-writing was actually fun. Luckily, both Lee and I have very good senses of humor! It took a lot of back and forth, mostly in the form of “Is THIS right?” “Okay, what about THIS?!” Just don’t ask Lee about me and DNA!

DNA? That sounds...dangerous!
I know you’re working on a historical novel right now. How does your writing style/schedule change when you work on a novel as opposed to nonfiction?

Well, nonfiction has a deadline. Which means that I have a commitment to someone other than myself, to my muse, to get my work done. I try to be strict with myself on getting that energy and time into my fiction, but my brain knows, for the nonfiction, that I signed a contract and that I have a due date. It’s a job—one I’m incredibly lucky to have got—but it’s still a job, and procrastinating just isn’t much of an option.

The biggest difference in writing style for me, I think, is that the outline I do for nonfiction is much stronger, more complete than any pre-plotting I do for fiction. So when I start writing the nonfiction book, the material flows much more quickly and smoothly into the form I’ve already set up. And the research I do is much more focused for nonfiction; I actually know what I want to find, and I can take a small chunk of time and go find it. With fiction, I do the best I can to plot as far forward as possible, but I know the story will evolve outside that plot. And the research for the historical novel feels much more nebulous—so much of what I want to know isn’t out there, and then I’ll find a detail I had no idea I needed and it will, in and of itself, change the plot.

At what point are you comfortable showing your writing to your critique group? When I’m feeling most needy, usually. :)

No, it just depends. When I wrote my middle-grade mystery, they didn’t see anything until I started writing the second draft. Because the book was a mystery, I think, and the only research I had to do was go to fun places like the Monterey Bay Aquarium and The Mystery Spot, my revisions went fairly quickly, so I felt like I was getting the kind of encouragement and motivation I need on a regular basis. The YA historical is taking much more thought from me, in terms of plot and research. I’m finding that I need to send some early chapters through the group, just so I don’t feel as though I’m writing in a vacuum.

I’m not sure I could do this if I hadn’t built up this absolute trust with my critique partners—they know how early this draft is, and they know that I’m mostly looking for brainstorming and conceptual critiques. They also know that everything I’m writing about may change, and they are okay with the fact that they may be critiquing words that completely disappear from the story. This is why I love them.

How can writers make themselves better critiquers?
Well, practice. None of us expected to put pen to paper, or keyboard to computer, and write well our first time out. Critiquing is a skill just like writing, and time and effort will strengthen any critiquer’s ability. The important thing, though, is to trust your reactions to a manuscript and to push yourself a bit to understand those reactions. I think many writers will read a passage and not be thrilled, but because they don’t know why that passage doesn’t make them happy, they’ll avoid commenting on it. Or they’ll think they’re not qualified to comment.

It’s a critiquer’s job to stop reading whenever they have a negative feeling and figure out what’s going on. At the very least, you can try and pinpoint where, specifically, you’re being pulled out of the manuscript. Even if you can’t tell the author what’s not working, you will give the author—and the other critiquers—the opportunity to look at that section and think about what might make it better. Also, listen to what the other critiquers are saying, then go back and look at the manuscript again—if you can see the problem they’re talking about, then you’re at step one of learning to find those kinds of problems yourself.

Great tips, Becky! Thanks so much for the helpful advice.

If you would like to win a copy of The Writing and Critique Group Survival Guide, just leave a comment and you'll be automatically entered in the drawing. You can choose a printed copy of the book OR for you Kindle devotees, she can provide you with a .pdf, whichever you prefer. A winner will be randomly selected one week from today.

To find out more about Becky, visit her website:

The Writing and Critique Group Survival Guide is available from the Writer's Digest book store and from Amazon.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

11th Day of Christmas Winner

Wednesday is the 12th Day of Christmas. Can you believe it's the end of the year? And look at all the people who have won prizes this month:

Miriam Caldwell
Karen Denise
Shannon O'Donnell
Yat-Yee Chong
Julie Dao
T. Anne
Anna Staniszewski
Beth Revis
Casey McCormick
Shelley Moore Thomas

Congratulations to all the winners! If you see your name on the list and you haven't received your prize, email me protno! I think I've sent books to everyone who has contacted me, but with the craziness of the holidays, you never know. Thanks to all of you for reading and making this blog so much fun!

The winner for the 11th Day of Christmas is:

Congratulations, Caroline! Email me at solvangsherrie at gmail dot com and let me know which book you'd like me to send from Day 11.

For the 12th Day of Christmas drawing, read tomorrow's interview with Becky Levine. She's giving away a copy of her brand new book and if you're a writer, you'll probably be interested in reading it!

Until then...

Monday, December 28, 2009

Evolution of a Blog

Do you remember when you first started blogging? Did you have specific goals?

I actually started off on Live Journal. I thought I would post excerpts from my book, an agent would see how brilliant my writing was and sign me up right away. Ha!

Crazy as it sounds, that actually happened to someone I interviewed: Jessica Burkhart. Last year this time she was anticipating her first book release. Now she has six Canterwood Crest books out!

But when the agents didn't line up at my blog begging for attention, I thought maybe I should go the editor route. After all, when I interviewed Beth Kephart she told me she found an editor before she got an agent.

I also thought blogging would be good inspiration for writing. Like Val Hobbs, Robin LaFevers and Thalia Chaltas, I am not the type to work on my novel every day. But blogging is writing. And I could do that close to every day.

Last year my goal for this blog was to meet other writers and share a little about my writing journey. But as a freelance writer, I love interviewing people, researching them, getting to know them, finding out things that no one has asked them before. It took me a while to realize it, but the blog was the perfect place for a writer to interview writers, editors and agents. Not only do these people inspire me, they're full of great tips and just plain fun to get to know!

So the goals for my blog have evolved and I'm sure they have with yours, too. This coming year I have even more interviews lined up for the blog. I know self-promotion is hard for many authors, so my goal isn't just to get big name interviews. I plan to keep on focusing on writers who aren't household names yet.

I also have one little goal for myself: sign with an agent and get my books in print. Okay, maybe that's two goals, but they pretty much go hand in hand :D

What did you accomplish last year and how do you plan to conquer the world in the coming year?


Today is the 11th Day of Christmas -- just one more giveaway after today!

The winner for the 10th Day of Christmas is:

Congratulations, Shelley! Email me at solvangsherrie at gmail dot com and let me know which book you'd like me to send from Day 10.

For the 11th Day of Christmas drawing, Choice #1 is Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Choice #2 is Troy by Adéle Geras. I know some of you really wanted Troy, and believe it or not, it is still up for grabs. Leave a comment before 10pm on Tuesday and it could be yours!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Favorite Holiday Movies

When December rolls around each year, our family pulls out the Christmas movies. We've got all the traditional holiday favorites and we spend a lot of time devouring fudge while lounging on the sofa watching joyous movies that tug at nostalgic heartstrings.

But once a year, we also have to watch "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians."

For some reason my husband loves this movie. Personally, I'm not even sure why they bothered to put it on video, let alone DVD. Seems like a waste of precious resources that could have been allocated toward, I don't know, toilet bowl cleaners or floss sticks or something more useful.

If you've never heard of "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians," consider yourself lucky. This is seriously the cheesiest movie ever made. The costumes had to be laughable, even back in 1964 when it was made. I still haven't watched the whole thing because I always fall asleep.

To top it all off, ten-year-old Pia Zadora played a Martian child. Need I say more? And yet, every year the kids and I snuggle up with my husband and laugh at this ridiculous piece of cinematic lameness. I guess you could say it's one of our gifts to my hubby.

Their gift to me? Watching "Holiday Inn" and "Miracle on 34th Street." Like they even compare! Of course, no arm twisting is necessary when we pull out "A Christmas Story" or "Elf." And no season is complete unless ALL of these movies have been watched!

What movies does your family enjoy each December? And I'm curious...are there any Hanukkah movies?


It's the 10th Day of Christmas and up on my shelf, the book stacks are smaller and we're watching "Elf!" The month-long giveaway is winding down, but a few more lucky people are going to be winners.

The randomly selected name from the 9th Day of Christmas is:

Congratulations, Casey! Email me at solvangsherrie at gmail dot com and let me know which book you'd like me to send from Day 9.

For the 10th Day of Christmas drawing, Choice #1 is The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. Choice #2 is Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. All followers who leave a comment before 10pm on Sunday and will be entered to win one of these fabulous books.

In the meantime, have yourself a merry little Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Singing Naked on the Internet

I have never performed naked in public.

I know, it's hard to believe. The truth is, you won't even find pictures of me in a bikini after the age of four. That's when an aunt made a comment about my "bang belly" sticking out. (It's a Jamaican phrase, but you can guess what it means!) The offending body part has been covered up ever since.

So you can imagine my surprise when Google Alerts turned this up:

The type might be too small for you to read, but the heading on the Mahalo Search Engine is Naked Singers. The fourth listing, under the subheading Naked Singers Blogs, lists my blog post about singing at the Solvang Bakery.

Last time I checked, we were fully clothed when we showed up. And when we left. We have some faithful friends who love to listen to us, but none of them has ever gone rabid and torn our clothes off. They just aren't that type of fan!

Of course this listing could have some definite advantages. I'm pretty sure being listed as a naked singer could get us some extra gigs next year. High paying gigs probably. I'm just not sure if I'd be comfortable singing in front of these types of people. Although if they looked like Richard Gere circa Pretty Woman or Robert Redford a la Indecent Proposal, well, let's just say that would make the decision a lot harder.

In the meantime, if you don't already do it, may I suggest that you set up a Google Alert for yourself? You might be surprised to see what people are saying about you on the internet!


The month is winding down. Just a few more posts (and prizes!) to go. The winner from the Eighth Day of Christmas is:

Congratulations, Beth! Email me at solvang sherrie at gmail dot com and let me know which book you'd like me to send your way!

On the Ninth Day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a choice between two books. Choice #1 is a copy of the award-winning YA Troy by Adéle Geras. Choice #2 is a copy of another YA The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler. Gotta love that title :)

Leave a comment before 10pm on Tuesday to enter your name in the drawing for one of these great books!

Friday, December 18, 2009


My daughter asked if I believe in faeries. Because she's pretty sure she is one. She just hasn't figured out the flying part yet.

"Of course I believe in faeries," I said. "Obviously if you're a faerie, then I am too."

She stared at me solemnly, trying to figure out what magic could possibly lay beneath my motherly exterior.

We were in the Book Loft, browsing through "A Practical Guide to Faeries," a book that now accompanies her to bed each night as she memorizes the words. I read a passage out loud to her in the store.

"Faerie-touched humans often have huge appetites...sometimes craving...charred toast, raw sugar or a stick of butter."

We both turned to stare at her brother who sat on the floor reading Anthony Horowitz. Her brother who consumes startling amounts of food, who eats pats of butter without bread, who begs for the bowl when I cream butter and sugar together for cookies. He felt our curious gazes and looked up uneasily.


We giggled and ran to the counter to purchase the book.

Sometimes we faeries are mysterious that way!


Today is the 8th Day of Christmas. Are you done with your shopping? You've only got one week left!

Thank you so much for all the fabulous quotes on Wednesday. I was so inspired I would love to give every single one of you a prize, but I can't. So, without further rambling, the randomly selected winner is:

Congratulations Anna! Email me at solvangsherrie at gmail dot com and let me know which book you want.

For the remaining days of Christmas, we're going to do a grab bag from some of the prizes that have not been selected yet. So today, Choice #1 is The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale and Choice #2 is Undercover by Beth Kephart.

In the comments, tell me the title of a book you bought for someone this year and why you chose that book for them. I'm always looking for good recommendations, especially if they involve faeries :)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Quote Me

Let's face it: every once in a while you have one of those days where you feel kind of blaahh. You need someone or something to pull you out of it and remind you why you started down this road, right? I'm here to help.

Last year when I first started blogging, I found this incredible post at Hip Writer Mama. Talk about inspiring! I printed it out and hung it on my desk where I could see it every day. Read it. Print it. Cherish it. It's that good.

It isn't always easy to stay positive. There's always somebody bigger, smaller, faster, better. Your own mind can become your worst enemy. That's when you need a little pick-me-up.

And I'm not talking about Ben & Jerry's pick-me-ups (although those boys HAVE sent me to rapturous heights before)!

I have inspirational quotes hanging on my fridge, living on my hard drive, taped to the bathroom mirror. Sometimes I become blind to them, forget they are there. But when I start getting down, I always know where to look to bring myself back up.

This is the time of year when people look back at what they've accomplished and think about what they want the future to bring. I thought I'd share some of the quotes that inspire me and invite you to tell me some that motivate you. They can be related to writing, or just to life in general. Here are a few of mine.

I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.
- Thomas Jefferson

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.
- Mark Twain

Books aren't written, they're rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn't quite done it...
- Michael Crichton

So tell me, what inspires you? Leave me a quote in the comments. Together, we can inspire each other to great heights in the coming year.


Can you believe it's already the 7th Day of Christmas? This month is flying by way too fast!

Believe it or not, neither of the books from the First Day were chosen so they are back up for grabs. That's right! Choice #1 is the ARC of Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl. Choice #2 is a copy of the award-winning YA Troy by Adéle Geras.

The randomly generated winner from the 6th Day of Christmas is:

Congratulations, T. Anne! Email me at solvangsherrie at gmail dot com and let me know which prize you'd like to receive from Robin.

Leave a quote in the comments section and if you're a follower, you'll be automatically entered in today's drawing. Chin up!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Author Spotlight on: R. L. LaFevers

I'll be the first to admit it: put me anywhere near a well-known author and it's pretty much a sure bet that I'm going to go fan girl. Actors? Not interested. Rockers? Too self-absorbed. But authors? Yeah. I completely lose it.

So when I found out I won a Shrinking Violets contest and would be spending the evening with Mary Hershey and Robin LaFevers, I was over the moon. Literally. They were my date for the Blue Moon Ball at SCBWI-LA.

And what a date it was! Can you imagine spending the evening with these two, asking them questions? Basking in the glow that surrounds them? Fabulous doesn't begin to cover it!

Robin has been busy visiting schools in Texas, writing and editing Nathanial Fludd books and Theodosia books, and dispensing advice at her blog, but she took some time out to answer some questions for me about herself and her writing.

After the Washington Post article that rankled so many SCBWI members, I’d like to point out that you got your big break at an SCBWI-LA conference, right? Could you briefly tell the story?
I was “discovered” at an SCBWI National Conference. It was, needless to say, my best conference ever. I’d submitted a manuscript for the conference’s manuscript critique service, and by the luck of the draw I got Erin Murphy as my critiquer. She was a new agent at the time and liked my manuscript so much that she not only nominated it for the Sue Alexander Award, but offered me representation as well. I cannot even describe that dizzy, heady feeling of having someone else believe in your work enough that they agree to attach their career to yours. Swoon-worthy.

Interestingly enough, I’d had the same manuscript at a publisher for about two years. I’d check in with them every three months or so and they’d assure me they were still interested in it. However, within six weeks after signing with an agent, we’d sumbitted a revised manuscript and had a firm offer in hand. Agents really do speed the process up!

I've heard writers go back and forth about whether it's better to query agents or query publishers. Had you queried other agents before Erin signed you on or were you just going directly to publishers?
I had queried other agents, but not with the book that Erin actually signed. One of the reasons was because I thought I had had a serious expression of interest from the publisher, but it never quite materialized. At that point, I decided to give up on kids books for a while and try my hand at something else. I settled on women’s fiction. So I studied that extensively for a couple of years, went to even more conferences and workshops and learned tons. I then decided to apply everything I’d learned to my children’s manuscript and try submitting one last time before moving on. That’s when the luck of the draw at SCBWI’s mss critique paired me with Erin.

Having said that, I had queried publishers directly on a number of earlier projects, and had received some very nice personalized rejections. However, a lot of those houses I dealt with are now closed houses, so if I were starting out today, I would probably query agents first, unless I had met or heard a particular editor speak at a conference and felt they were the perfect editor for my project.

What was your day job before you got published? How long did it take before you were able to give it up?
I had been working for a wedding accessories company and coordinating their creative and marketing efforts, designing their catalog, and running their (very) small publishing arm. I learned tons about the logistics of publishing from that job. That’s where I learned how important the production schedules were, what happened when someone was late, what co-op dollars were, the concept of actually buying table and end cap placement at the big chains, how hard it was to get into Target, that sort of thing.

I received a three book contract for the Lowthar’s Blade trilogy at about the same time that the company relocated to the Midwest. I decided then to not look for another job so I could focus on meeting the rather tight trilogy deadlines. I think that was about Aug 2003, just before my first book came out. I had sold one other book, Werewolf Rising, to the publisher, and then this trilogy. If it hadn’t been for the three book contract, and my company relocating, I would probably not have quit my day job just yet, but it worked out in the end. So I’d say it was after having sold five books.

You’ve averaged a book a year since The Falconmaster came out in 2003. How long did you work on this novel before it was published?
It took me about nine months to finish my first version of The Falconmaster. Then I revised it a couple of times and sent it out. One publisher held on to it for a long time (see above) but I continued to send it out to a few other places as well. After gathering a healthy number of rejections, I put it aside and decided to turn my attention elsewhere for a while. I decided to try women’s fiction and took a bunch more classes and workshops and attended an RWA National Conference where I learned tons. After about a year and a half, I revised the manuscript one more time, using everything I’d learned, then submitted it to the SCBWI mss critique above.

You mentioned classes and workshops you took. It sounds like you were willing to invest a lot of time and money in yourself to build your craft. Where did you take classes? What do you recommend for beginning writers?
Well, I was willing to do whatever it took to learn the craft of writing, but I didn’t have a ton of money; we were raising a family and I worked part time, so there wasn’t a lot of wiggle room in the family budget. But city college classes were relatively free, as were the adult ed classes. Adult ed, in particular, offered a huge selection of writing classes. In fact, it was at one of those classes, taught by the amazing Lee Wardlaw, that I met Mary Hershey. We tentatively agreed to meet and critique each other’s manuscripts, and then rapidly realized how much we had in common. We’ve been fast friends ever since. I can’t say how wonderful it’s been to have a buddy to take this writing journey with. It has made it a much more rich and rewarding experience, by far!

I also attended a number of SCBWI writer’s days and workshops, and also some RWA conferences and workshops. RWA in particular, provided their attendees with a ton of craft information. I think part of it is because romances are such internally focused books, it was really important for writers to learn how to structure such an inward focused character journey.

You have a lot of tips for beginning writers on your website and you and Mary Hershey offer advice to introverted writers at the Shrinking Violets website. What motivates your generosity to other writers?
I like to reach out to other authors for a lot of reasons. For one, there are so many wonderful people out there who want to be writers and there is really so little I can do for them, so I am only too happy to do what I can. Being nice costs nothing, and it makes the world such a nicer place to live in. Besides, other writers are my tribe! Scratch a writer, find a geek. Or an odd duck. Or someone who was voiceless as a child. Or has a rich detailed inner life. I relate to all of that!

Plus, I remember feeling incredibly shy when I was just starting out. Trying to enter into a conversation with a published author and become a part of the official writing community felt like an insurmountable goal. I’d love to remove that sense of a barrier for other beginning authors. And I’ve met so many generous, giving, supportive writers along my own journey that I want to continue that tradition and be a part of that incredible giving group.

Not long ago on your blog you wrote about all the practice novels hiding under your bed. Do you ever think about pulling one out to work on or are you more enamored with your new ideas?
You know, I have pulled a couple of those practice novels out from under the bed and looked at them again. Most of them are not salvageable. The initial idea is too flawed or doesn’t support a full novel. In fact, that was one of my biggest stumbling blocks in those earliest attempts—I simply didn’t have an idea or premise big enough to sustain an entire novel length arc. And even if that weren’t the case, I do tend to be more enamored of my newer ideas.

With the exception of the Theodosia series, you seem to write a lot of “boy” books. Were you a tomboy growing up? Which of your characters do you most identify with?
I was a tomboy out of necessity. I had up to seven brothers at one time, and being the only girl, there was simply no way NOT to be a tomboy. It was self defense. :-] However, the reason so many of my earlier books were boy books was because I had two sons and I was immersed in their reading world and boy stuff and those were the stories I was drawn to at the time. Their growing up freed me from that focus and allowed me to return to some of my own girlish interests.

Of all my characters to date, I identify most with Theodosia. So many of her problems and challenges and hurdles are the same ones I faced at that age. Everything from having to be responsible for younger siblings and to taking care of the adults around me, to being hyper sensitive and having it dismissed. I was not, however, quite as resourceful as she was and only wish I could have been as confident as Theo!

I know you’re working on a YA along with another Theodosia book and at least two more Beastologist books. How do you keep everything straight in your head?
You know, keeping the characters straight isn’t really even an issue. They are so real to me, and so very separate, that they are pretty much impossible to mix up. The part that can be hard to keep straight is the different plots and twists and arcs, so I usually only work on one of those at a time. And it’s not that I confuse them with each other so much as that it becomes very much like a traffic jam in my head, with all the ideas tangled up and in each others way so that nothing gets through.

Do you plan to write any adult books or are you happily ensconced in kid lit?
Well even though I am very happily ensconced in kid lit, I do have an adult book--women’s fiction--that I wrote. I still love that book, and in spite of the efforts of a hugely successful adult agent, was unable to sell it. The medieval YA I’m working on started out as an adult book, but has now either morphed into a YA or, more likely, finally revealed itself as a YA. I think that at some point I will write some adult stories, but only because I have a couple of ideas that call to me that can’t be written as YA or middle grade. But I don’t foresee that happening for a number of years. I have too many YA and MG books screaming to be written.

What made you decide to write fantasy?
Fantasy feels more true to my inner reality than standard realisitic fiction does. I cut my reading teeth on myths and legends and fairy tales. I found a deeper truth in those books, a resonance, that was missing when I read realistic fiction and when I started writing, I knew that was the world I wanted to work in. Also, since I write kids books I need to stay true to a kid’s world view and for me that incorporates seeing a slightly more magical world than adults. When I was a kid, the world was much more layered and frightening and wonderful than any of the adults around me seemed to notice, so that is simply part of my world view. truth.

You’re an admitted research junkie and I’ve noticed that you like to infuse a lot of historical fact into your fantasies. Have you always been a history buff? What is your favorite historical period? What fascinates you about that time?
I’ve always loved history. Even when I was little I adored walking into libraries or museums because I knew I was in the presence of Knowledge. Answers to the Ancient Mysteries and the Questions of the Ages lay all around me and could be found in history. Also, some fantasy elements feel more real when they happen in the context of a historical setting. There is more of a sense of it could really have happened.

I would have to say that one of the time periods I’m most drawn to is the middle ages. It’s been that way since I can remember, perhaps because that was the setting for so many fairy tales I read. As a writer, the medieval time period fascinates me because the people of that time were so focused on the mystical and spiritual—the after life was always on their minds. Even though Christianity had a firm hold by then, the old beliefs and religions were still close by. Their remnants lingered in the nearby forests, sacred pools, and ancient groves, as well as in the customs of the people and their celebrations. Old and new religion still partially occupied the same time and space and I’m fascinated by those areas where they bumped into each other.

Like my friend Val Hobbs I know you’re not one of those “Write Every Day” authors. How often do you write? Do you have a hard time tearing yourself away from the research to write?
Hm. How often do I write is a surprisingly hard question to answer. I guess part of it depends on how you define “write”. For example, I’ve spent the last ten days story journaling, building backstories and histories for the characters in the next Theodosia book. I’m not producing actual manuscript pages, but I also can’t write the book until I understand all this about my characters. So if that counts, I write most days. When I’m hot in the throes of a book, I go through periods where I write for four to six hours a day, then fill the rest of the time with working on the plot or doing research.

If a book is just starting to form, I go slower, playing with ideas and giving them lots of time to coalesce before trying to capture them. Sometimes you can start working with an idea too soon and kind of derail it. Or if you start too soon you end up spinning your wheels and going nowhere or producing, but the pages are ultimately unusable and have to be torn out later, so I’ve learned to respect the not-writing part of my process as well as well as the page production part. For me, thinking is a big part of writing. Between drafts, I definitely try to give myself a period with no writing as I definitely seem to need fallow periods.

I know you just did a bunch of school visits in Texas. How much time do you spend on promotion? How many states have you visited to promote your books?
Wow, how much time do I spend on promotion...that’s hard to say. I probably spend about an average hour a day in terms of blogs and twitter and Facebook (although not for the past couple of weeks) and answering emails along with various other nebulous promotion tasks. Then of course, there are other times when I spend a lot more of my day on promotion, just before the launch of a new book, for example.

As for school visits, I’ve mostly done them here in California. The only other state I’ve traveled to has been Texas. I heart Texas big time because their librarians are SO engaged and involved.

I sometimes feel like I should spend a lot more time promoting, but I’m one of those authors who believes (hopes?) that the best marketing tool is to write the next book, and make it better in some way, so I confess to spending a lot of my energy toward that goal.

So if writing the next book is the best marketing tool, do you have a good piece of writerly advice to share?

Write the book that only you can write.

Craft can be learned. Plotting mastered. But your vision, your voice, your story is the one thing that only you can bring to the page. And I’m not talking about just an interesting story or the recounting of an actual event. What I’m talking about is the story that your quirks and foibles, your unique combination of strengths and weaknesses combined with your life experiences and personal obsessions make you uniquely qualified to write.

THAT’s the story I’m dying to read. It comes from your private inner landscape and the shadowed corners of your psyche. Write that story. Go on. I’m waiting. The world is waiting.
Thank you, Robin!

As part of the 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway here on the blog, Robin is letting one lucky person choose between three options:
Choice #1 is a copy of Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris.
Choice #2 is a copy of Nathaniel Fludd Beastologist: Flight of the Phoenix.
Choice #3 is a manuscript critique of the first 10 pages of a work in progress.
Every follower who leaves a comment is automatically entered to win. I'll be randomly picking a winner at 10pm on Tuesday night, so get your comment in before then.

The winner from the Fifth Day of Christmas is:

Congratulations, Julie! Email me at solvangsherrie at gmail dot com and let me know which prize you'd like me to send from Day Five!

Friday, December 11, 2009

An Excellent Sign

This past week Ballard School hosted the annual Scholastic Book Fair. When I saw the signs go up advertising the book fair, I got excited because a book by my buddy Val Hobbs was featured. Being the dork that I am, I whipped out my cell phone and took a picture of the poster and emailed it to Val and a few other friends.

Val's response? She offered to come sign books after school! Woo-hoo!

The kids were so excited they bought every copy of Sheep that the book fair had in stock. They lined up at the library, eager to meet Val, tell her how much they loved the book, and have her sign their copies. It was so very cool!

Not everyone needed to buy books. I know for a fact that some kids brought copies they had already read when Sheep first came out in paperback. All of them were pretty awestruck to have such a celebrity in their presence.

Being there for the book signing made me think. I know there are days when the unpublished among us get depressed. We worry that we'll never get an agent, never see our books on shelves. But I truly believe that the more you write, the better you'll get. And even if the book you're subbing now doesn't get picked up, you have to keep believing in yourself. Because someday it will be YOU sitting in a library while kids line up to have you sign their copy of YOUR book.

Don't just take my word for it. Read this inspirational post by Mandy Hubbard, author of Prada & Prejudice. Then make your way back here so you can celebrate the Fifth Day of Christmas!

The winner from the Fourth Day of Christmas is:

Congratulations, Yat-Yee! Email me at solvangsherrie at gmail dot com and let me know which prize you'd like me to send from Day Four!

Today is the Fifth Day of Christmas and I'm sorry to say, I don't have five golden rings to offer. Okay, I'm not actually sorry because I've got WAY better gifts than golden rings!

Choice #1: an autographed copy of Sheep by Valerie Hobbs. All those kids lined up in the Ballard library can't be wrong! This book recently won the California Young Reader Medal and has been recommended School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. Yay Val!

But if you're really jonesing for a ring, Choice #2 is like a ring, only bigger. Bigger is better, right? Sales of these cool bracelets from Ubuntu benefit women and orphaned children devastated by HIV/AIDS in Africa.

I'll be randomly picking a winner at 10pm on Sunday night, so get your comment in before then. On Monday I'll be interviewing a fabulous author and you'll have the chance to win a book OR a critique from her. How's that for a sparkly door prize?

Hope you're enjoying the party! Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Let it Snow

Ten years ago it snowed here in Solvang. And not just a little snow that melts when it hits the ground. As you can see from our cars, we had a few inches pile up.

Solvang is a place where we dress in shorts and t-shirts to watch the Christmas parade. We go to the beach on New Year's Day. People pull out boots and sweaters when it gets below 60 degrees. Snow was a big deal.

My husband and I were so excited we hopped in his truck and drove around town. We took pictures and videotaped our favorite places wearing a blanket of white. We had a snowball fight in the front yard and stuck our tongues out to catch the tiny flakes.

Some people aren't sure about the date. But I always remember that it snowed in February of 1999. Because the day after it snowed, I realized I was pregnant. My son was born that November.

This morning when I took the kids to school it was 36 degrees outside. A winter storm is headed our way. My kids are praying for snow. So am I.

I was thinking about the snow as I sang this song earlier today. So I added some of my snow pictures and set it to the Gingerbread Singers' a capella rendition of "Jingle Bells" (I'm the tenor).

The winner for the Third Day of Christmas is:

Congratulations, Shannon! Email me at solvangsherrie at gmail dot com and let me know which prize you would like to receive from Day Three.

For the Fourth Day of Christmas there are two book choices. Choice #1 is Hamlet by John Marsden, an updated YA version of Shakespeare's classic play. If only we could have read this in English class! And isn't that a great cover?

Choice #2 is The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. This is another update on a classic tale, this time from the Grimm brothers. I love reimagined fairy tales and this one was a good read.

I'll be randomly selecting a winner for this drawing on Thursday night, 10 pm PST so be sure to leave a comment before then. And don't forget to email me to claim your prize.

I hope you are all having a wonderful holiday season!

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Gingerbread Singers

This is my friend Melissa. She runs the Solvang Bakery with her mom, Susan. A lot of people think Melissa looks like Kelly Ripa, which is funny, because Melissa and Susan have made custom gingerbread houses for celebs like Oprah Winfrey and Kelly Ripa. They ship hundreds of these intricate little houses across the country each December. Pretty much from now until the new year, they don't sleep. They survive on gumdrops and caffeine. Not that they're complaining. You'll never see Melissa without that infectious smile!

Every Christmas, in addition to designing the custom gingerbread houses, Solvang Bakery offers workshops where people can come to the bakery and have everything they need to create their own gingerbread houses. Three years ago Melissa asked me and two friends if we would sing Christmas carols during the workshops.

Like I would turn down an opportunity to sing!

It has become our holiday tradition, the first Saturday of December, to sing carols at the bakery. We start at noon, right after the Christmas parade, and we keep at it until about 5pm. It's a long day, but a lot of fun. We sing a capella, usually inside the café area, but sometimes we venture outside. The only problem with being outside is the tourists who stop to take our picture. As if we're a Solvang attraction. *sigh* We should have been charging, especially the lady who was videotaping us on her phone. I mean, really!

Today is the Third Day of Christmas, and as you may have guessed, one of today's prizes involves food -- what are the holidays without treats?

Choice #1 is a delicious set of 4 gingerbread men from Solvang Bakery. I can't even begin to tell you how yummy these are. They'll be shipped fresh, your own little piece of Solvang to enjoy :)

Choice #2 is a $10 gift card from Amazon. Use it to buy a gift for someone else, or for yourself!

Choice #3 is UNDERCOVER by Beth Kephart. You can read my interview with Beth or visit her blog. She is a great writer and a wonderful person. This is the paperback edition of UNDERCOVER, with extras in the back. It is a very gently used copy that I read as soon as it came from Amazon.

If you'd like to be entered in the drawing, make sure you're a follower, and leave a comment. That's it!

The winner from the Second Day of Christmas is:

Congratulations, Karen!! Email me at solvangsherrie at gmail dot com and let me know which prize you would like me to send from Day Two.

I'll be drawing for today's prizes on Tuesday night at 10pm, PST. Have a great Monday!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Great Expectations

Sometimes things don't turn out the way you expect.

This picture was taken five years ago when my daughter had just turned two. She was SO not interested in sitting on this fat guy's lap and I'm sure he'd had his fill of cranky babies, too. All the same, this is one of my favorite Christmas photos ever, precisely because it didn't turn out the way it was supposed to!

It's like that when I write sometimes. I was literally typing away last week when I realized, "Omigosh, this happened to her! I had no idea!" It was almost like I'd discovered this secret the character had been trying to hide. I know I'm a geek, but I got so excited. I figured out something new about this character that I thought I already knew so well!

Has a character ever surprised you that way? And then forced you to go back and change the story to accommodate this new discovery? It's cool. It's fun. But it's also a LOT of work!

Well today is the Second Day of Christmas. If you don't know what I'm talking about, go back and read this post then come back and join in the fun. And now, for the randomly generated winner from the First Day of Christmas, please give it up for:

Congratulations, Mim!! Email me at solvangsherrie at gmail dot com and let me know which prize you'd like receive.

For the Second Day of Christmas you have three choices again. Choice #1 is another ARC, this time of AVALON HIGH by Meg Cabot. Ever heard of her? Yeah, I thought so. I actually bought this at the library when they were having a sale of used books. Of course I snatched it up. It was the first Meg Cabot I ever read! And it was just as good as I expected it would be :)

Choice #2 is Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George. This is a great MG retelling of my favorite fairy tale, East of the Sun and West of the Moon. If you haven't heard of it, read this post.

Choice #3 is this über cool bracelet by Ubuntu. Sales of these bracelets help women and orphaned children devastated by HIV/AIDS in Africa. Perfect for men or women, these bracelets pretty much go with anything in your closet :)

Remember, you must be a follower to be entered to win. I'll draw for this one Sunday night at 10pm PST. Let the comments begin!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Party Time!

Happy December!

Can you feel the excitement in the air?

It's that time of year when the champagne flows, the waistline grows, and gifts and parties are on the mind. Well, at least they're on mine!

I'm throwing a party all month long and you're invited! So pour yourself a glass and pass the shortbread cookies. Here's how it works:

I have this stack of books I was going to take to the used book store, but then I thought how much more fun it would be to give them away on the blog. But I'm not just giving away books. You could win a bracelet or a gift card, a critique or an ARC. Yeah, this is going to be fun!

It's really easy to play along. All you have to do is follow this blog and leave a comment. Every follower who leaves a comment is automatically entered to win. And I'll be giving something away every time I post. Would you believe I have 12 posts planned for the month of December? It's my 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway. Woohoo!!

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, an ARC of BEAUTIFUL CREATURES by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl. Have you heard about this book? In a word, incredible!

This ARC actually was given to me by one of my true loves, Kathy Mullins at the Book Loft in Solvang. I've told you before how fabulous it is to be given books when I go to the book store. This is another awesome find that she sent my way.

Here's the blurb:

There were no surprises in Gatlin County.
We were pretty much the epicenter of the middle of nowhere.
At least, that's what I thought.
Turns out, I couldn't have been more wrong.

There was a curse.
There was a girl.
And in the end, there was a grave.

Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she's struggling to conceal her power and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town's oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.

Oh man, I get chills just thinking about it again! You can read more about the book (and the authors) over on Myra's blog. If you like paranormal YA, you'll love this book.

Of course, if that's not your thing, I'm all about choices. Alternate options for today's giveaway include TROY by Adéle Geras or a $10 gift card from Amazon. TROY is an award-winning YA about the epic siege on Troy, seen primarily through the eyes of a teenage girl. The Amazon gift card, well, you know what to do with that, don't you?!

I'll be randomly generating a winner on Friday.
All right people, party on!

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Bone to Pick

Graphic novels are SO not my thing. Reading from box to bubble annoys me, the pictures are distracting and the type face is usually more fun than functional. Not to mention the fact that really, this is nothing more than a glorified comic book. Make that a very expensive comic book.

But then I'm not a 10-year-old boy.

And according to my 10-year-old boy, BONE is the best graphic novel series out there. He should know. He owns all nine books in the series.

Mixing humor with magic and mayhem, BONE follows the adventures of three cousins after they are exiled from Boneville. The illustrations are clean and simple and believe it or not, Time Magazine compares the story to Lord of the Rings, naming the BONE series as one of the 10 greatest graphic novels of all time. You know you've made it when Time Magazine is reviewing your comic books!

The funny thing is, the Bone series started out as black-and-white comic books that author Jeff Smith published himself when no syndicate would take on his comic strip. He started his own company, Cartoon Books, in Columbus, OH and over the course of 12 years, put out BONE as a series of 55 comic books. Scholastic started publishing the colorized versions as books in 2004. With the final book released back in January, the series has captured a whole new market that wasn't even alive when the original books premiered!

So while these books may not be the first thing I reach for, they are certainly a publishing success story. I can appreciate that. In fact, my son has saved up his own money to buy most of the BONE books in his collection. At ten bucks a pop, that's no small investment. For a 10-year-old, it's nothing short of true love.

What a novel concept :)

Monday, November 23, 2009


Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.

You get to eat great food (and by food I mean dessert!), hang out with family and friends, and the only gift you have to bring is the pleasure of your company. Can't beat that!

Since my kitchen is out of commission this year we're going to my sister-in-law's house. (We're getting new counter tops so I've had no sink or stove for the last two weeks!) The kids get to see some of their cousins (woohoo!) and we won't have to eat leftovers for the next month. I consider that a good thing :)

If you've read this blog for a while, you know I'm thankful for my kids, my family and, of course, books! So here are a few things you might not expect me to be grateful for this Thanksgiving:

Wii -- Watching my kids teach their grandparents how to golf, bowl and play tennis yesterday was a riot. And seeing them cheer when Grandma scored a strike reminded me that there are all kinds of ways to bond with family.

Paper Plates
-- I don't usually use them (I'm trying to reduce my footprint and all) but when the only place to wash the dishes is the bathtub, paper plates make me very happy indeed.

-- Because of this supposed "pandemic" people are doing something they should have been doing all along...washing their hands. How lame that it takes a life-threatening illness for people to use soap!

DSL -- Remember when graphics made web pages slow to load? Now you can stream entire videos across the internet with barely a pause. How cool is that!

I'm incredibly thankful for the internet, because without it I wouldn't have met all the wonderful bloggers in this amazing community I stumbled into last year. Thanks to all of you for making this journey so much fun!

And now to share some love with other bloggers, here are a couple of awards that I need to pass on.

Steph in the City gave me the Splish Splash Award for a dazzling blog. Thanks, Stephanie! I'm passing this one on to Julie at Silver Lining and to Shelli at the Storyqueen's Castle.

Dawn at Plotting and Scheming was kind enough to give me the Best Blog Award. Thanks, Dawn! I'm supposed to pass this on to other bloggers that I've recently discovered and think are great! I'm giving this one to my critique partner Lori who recently started to blog, and to Tabitha at Writer Musings -- I can't believe it took me so long to discover your fabulous blog!

That's it from me. I'll be back next week.
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Smarter than my 5th Grader?

How many adults does it take to help one fifth grader with homework?

Lucky for us, my son doesn't need a lot of help. But when he does, the lines are clearly divided. Dad handles the math and science, Mom helps with spelling, writing and language arts.

Yes, I'm a stereotype. So sue me. Math and science were never my first love. And if I didn't quite get it the first time around, why torture myself with it now? I think I've managed to do quite well for myself without knowing how to estimate the quotient of 7987 divided by 39 in my head. (That was really on last night's homework--yikes!)

Now that I think about it, I was tested on a LOT of things that have proven to be utterly useless in real life. I've never had to figure out three-fourths of five-eighths. I mean if you're slicing a pie, you just cut enough pieces for everyone at the table, right? And as for those two trains leaving the station at the same time, my best recommendation is to bring a good book. Then it really doesn't matter which one gets there first because you've been properly entertained the whole way.

But the things I learned in language arts, those have been useful. I can diagram a sentence faster than I can label the parts of an atom. And dissecting the plot of a novel is far more entertaining than slicing open a smelly shark. Who wants to smell like formaldehyde all day? At least I know how to spell it!

So am I smarter than my fifth grader? Who knows. But I am smart enough to delegate what I don't understand (or care about!) to someone who can get the job done. And really, isn't that one of the best life skills to learn?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Language Barrier

I may not have shared this with you, but I love to read and talk about books. Really, it's true. And since most of the books I read come from the children's section, a lot of children like to talk to me about books. Imagine that :) One of my favorite readers is Olivia. I've known her since she was in my 2nd grade class. She's now a 6th grader and we like a lot of the same books.

On Saturday, between soccer games, she saw me reading a book and of course wanted to know all about it. I wasn't too far into it, so I let her read the jacket copy and the first few pages. I told her I would loan it to her when I was done.

Everything was cool until the d***head showed up.

I'm no prude and I certainly went through my stage of using the "F" word as a noun, verb and adjective all in the same sentence. But I try to be careful when I'm recommending books to other people's children. I'm sure most kids probably know far more curse words than they let on, I just don't want to be the one responsible for introducing new ones!

Granted, the book is a YA. But nothing else in the story is objectionable for a younger reader. It's a fabulous book, one of the best I've read. Unless you're 11. And you've never heard that word. In fact, if you're familiar with this word minus the ***, I highly recommend that you read the book. It's beautifully written, romantic, disturbing, futuristic...I really loved this book. And the way she used d***head in the story made me laugh out loud. But...

I emailed Olivia's mom and told her my dilemma. We agreed that maybe I shouldn't pass this book along to her just yet. Then I felt like I'd betrayed Olivia. Maybe I should have been the cool adult who hands her the book and says, "Just don't tell your mother."

What would you have done?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Wisdom of a 7-year-old

We celebrated my daughter's 7th birthday last week with a "craft" party in the park. (Our house is torn up, but that's another story!) Having the party in the park turned out to be a plus though, because we got to pull out the glitter.

Everyone has a pet peeve. For my husband, it's glitter. It drives him nuts to find little flecks on his clothes or his face and he does not allow glitter in the house.

My daughter and I went through an Oriental Trading Company catalog and picked out some fun projects she and her friends could work on. They each made a bracelet, decorated journal covers (with LOTS of glitter!), created fairy tale pictures and drew cartoon characters.

And for the record, I'm still combing glitter out of our hair!

But what caught my attention at the party was this conversation.

Girl 1: This picture is ugly.
Girl 2: No it isn't.
Girl 1: It doesn't matter. I could make the ugliest picture in the world and my Mom would still tell me it was beautiful.
Girl 2: Really?
Girl 1: It's kind of funny. I'll show her something really ugly and she'll say, "Oh, Goose, that's beautiful!"

At first glance you think, Oh, that's sweet. Her mom loves her artwork even if it isn't very good. But the nuance in her words, the expression on her face... If I was writing this as a scene for a book, I might show it this way:

Sara stared at the picture she had drawn, her eyes unfocused. "This picture is ugly."

"No it isn't!" Maria rushed to comfort her friend even though in the back of her mind she agreed.

Sara shook her head and pulled out a large blue marker. She studied the picture carefully then drew a gash in the side of the queen. "It doesn't matter," she sighed. "I could make the ugliest picture in the world and my mom would still tell me it was beautiful."

Maria stared doubtfully at the picture as Sara added harsh strokes in the sky above the queen's head.

"It's kind of funny." Sara's mouth was a grim line. "I'll show her something really ugly and she'll say, 'Oh, Goose, that's beautiful!'" Sara clapped her hands together as she mimicked her mother's voice.

Maria laughed at the imitation of her friend's mother but her eyes were worried.

Sara smiled slowly. It was fun to make Maria laugh. She folded the picture in half, then in half again. She kept folding until the paper was nothing but a fat wad. She jammed the wad in the back pocket of her jeans and skipped off to the swing.

So tell it more important to make someone think they have done a good job, or to be honest with your opinion? If you tell a child something is beautiful when it's not, have you made them feel better about themselves or worse?
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