Why I Should Shower More Often

I have to learn THE SAME THINGS over and over. This is not a metaphor or a deep insight; it’s a sad truth. Especially with writing novels. There is no carry over from one book to the next.

Take today, for example. Go on, take it! I kept putting off my shower, using it as a reward for hard work accomplished. We Vernicks are hosting a whole mess of people for Thanksgiving and our house has gotten a little over-cluttered. Understatement. And so I’ve been trying to get little writing tasks and big house cleaning tasks done, along with the myriad errands and details of daily life. With the promise of a hot shower when all was done. Or maybe when some was done.

I was vexed–vexed, I tell you–by the fact that I needed this THING to happen in my novel. And my ideas for making it happen were so pathetic. I felt bad for me. And I wanted a hot shower.

buffalo snowBecause it is COLD. SO COLD! I’m not complaining, exactly, because I think all weather complaints should rightfully go to Buffalo, New York at this point in time. But I WANTED that hot shower, and kept pushing it back.

So when I finally took it, moments before starting dinner, I had worked for it! And it was good! It was so hot! And while I was thinking of nothing more complicated than rinsing shampoo from my hair, a sentence came to me that very matter-of-factly explained how that important thing would happen in my novel.  I didn’t even ask my brain to think about that!

I have never been able to find the exact quote, and I’ve probably mentioned it before, but the director Mike Nichols once said the greatest thing in an interview. It was something like this: “You know what’s so great about your subconscious? It has the same sense of humor as you.” I know what he means. My own personal subconscious sometimes delights me. It can be also be so thoughtful, on occasion, when considering the plots of my book. And it is very, very partial to hot showers.

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How To Knock Off Your To-Do List

Hi. I’m back. At least for today.

spamI figured I could send you all a spammy email about my Promising New Technique For Getting Things Done!!!!!!!!! Or I could post this on my long-dormant blog. I’m guessing you deduced which route I took. Because you’re all super smart like that.

Have you been meaning to, say, vacuum? Exercise? Straighten up or at least eliminate the tumbleweed problem in your dining room? Post on your long-dormant blog? I have figured out a way to get all that done. And more!

Decide to write a novel.

And then, when it’s time to sit down and do the actual writing, you’ll find yourself accomplishing feats you never thought possible!

IMG_0247I took a wonderful class with Patti Gauch at the Highlights Foundation two weeks ago and I came home raring to go. For that whole hilly drive home, ideas and excitement, plot lines and emotional growth were bursting with impatience to get out of my head and onto paper.

Patti is a uniquely brilliant teacher. She taught us (there were eleven of us) what I would have guessed was unteachable–first showing examples of very particular techniques in books she admired–mostly by Gary Schmidt–and then sending us off to write. And she keeps sending us these lovely, inspiring emails. It’s almost enough to make me actually sit down and write!

I came home wanting to ignore the demands of daily life. I wanted to lock myself away and write, write, write. But days passed before I found the time to sit. And then I realized it was really important that I vacuum. And start to clean my office. Also, Thanksgiving’s really soon and we can’t have dinner for 27 with our house looking like THIS.

Edith HoughtonNow you, too, can be super-productive like me. It helps if you say it out loud, too. Like, “Hey friend, I’m planning to work on my novel today.” And then just wait! You might even do some not-novel-writing writing. I did! I handed in the probably-not-even-due-yet Author’s Note for my next nonfiction picture book, With a Baseball in her Hand. About this girl right here, Edith Houghton. I could look at that picture all day. And I might. Did I mention I’m writing a novel?

It’s simple. You can “write a novel” too!  Try it!

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Wait. I have a blog?

There will be lots of exciting stuff going on in 2014:

Screaming at the Ump comes out March 4. I get extra nervous awaiting reviews of a novel. (The potential for meanness is greater. It really is.)

Water Balloon, the paperback, comes out in April.

Edgar’s Second Word, illustrated by the purely brilliant Priscilla Burris, hits shelves in June.

And I’m doing a bunch of interesting things—teaching a picture book revision workshop this month at a Michigan SCBWI event. Speaking with three brilliant educators at NCTE in November. Celebrating one of those big birthdays with my sisters in Puerto Rico in February (even though my birthday is in April).

But right now, I’m working awfully hard at treading water. So I think this blog is taking a little break. (It had already been taking a break. But now I’m announcing it.)

I’ll miss you. But I’ll be back.

Anything below this line is not part of my blog–wordpress sometimes slaps an ad or video here.

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Girl Meets Squash: Pat Zietlow Miller Interview

I’m feeling very prescient. When I created this blog, I pictured it as a place to explore all kinds of literary friendship, but most especially those of the inter-species variety. While I did not specifically envision it as a place for discussion of the bond between a human child and well, a squash, I am delighted beyond measure that it is playing exactly that role. I also didn’t know that A) I’d find this picture online or B) be inexplicably charmed by it. But I digress. As I am always wont to do.

MeToday it is my great pleasure to welcome the fabulous Pat Zeitlow Miller to the blog. Her debut picture book, Sophie’s Squash, has been honored with no fewer than four starred reviews. FOUR! STARRED! REVIEWS!

You’ve taken interspecies friendship to a new dimension! Please tell us how you came to write about a girl who develops a close, personal relationship with a squash.

I owe it all to my youngest daughter, Sonia. When she was still small enough to sit in the front of the grocery cart while I shopped, she latched on to a butternut squash. When we got to the checkout, she was rocking it like a baby, and it was very obvious that particular squash was never going to be dinner.

CoverI took her friendship with that squash and made it more permanent and more intense, and Sophie and Bernice were born.

While Sonia liked her squash, she was never as attached to it as she was to her blue blanket and her stuffed pig. After her relationship with her squash ended, she did temporarily develop feelings for a bag of Gold Medal all-purpose flour, which she creatively named “Goldie.” I could sense disaster looming, so I ended that relationship before my living room was covered with flour. Not all love is meant to last.

Did you ever get attached to an inanimate object?

Not the same way that Sophie gets attached to Bernice, but I did have a little blue stuffed dog that I took along on a family trip to Michigan because, as I told my family, “He’s never seen it!” My parents still recall this fondly.

Are there any characters from books you read as a child that you think of as your friends? Any you wish had moved next door to childhood-you?

 I really liked Anne of Green Gables. She was a more adventurous child than I was, but I think she would have been a great next-door neighbor. I could have been Diana. I read the whole series several times, and liked learning about Anne and Gilbert’s children too.

And, when I read The Boxcar Children series, I identified with Violet. I think I would have gotten along very well with her. We were both quiet and bookish.

What can you tell us about your forthcoming books, Sharing the Bread and The Quickest Kid in Clarksville?

Sharing the Bread is a story about how an entire family works together to get a mouth-watering, old-fashioned Thanksgiving dinner on the table. It’s got a lot of warmth and love and togetherness. And everyone cooks, from the youngest to the oldest. It’s coming out in fall of 2015 from Schwartz & Wade.

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville is about two girls who idolize Olympic sprinter Wilma Rudolph. They start out by competing to see who’s faster, but end up coming together to support each other and honor Wilma’s achievements. It’s coming out from Chronicle Books.

What are you working on now?                           

I have several picture books in process. One is an ode to rocks. Another features a duck and a detective, and the third is about a very young and very determined football fan. And I just wrote a first draft that could be about a boy or a bear. I’m still trying to decide.

Thanks so much for stopping by Pat! You can learn more about Pat Zietlow Miller by visiting her website.

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UMP cover reveal

Do you know what’s fun?

Watching video of baby elephants learning to walk? Yes.

Searching for the missing library copy of Eleanor and Park? Not so much.

(You’re good at this.)

Getting to share the cover of your 4/1/14 middle-grade release?

WINNER! We have a winner!

screaming at the ump coverHere it is, in all its glory.

Also fun: An interview with the great Pat Zietlow Miller about her talk-of-the-town debut, Sophie’s Squash.

If you look up squash, by the way, you’ll see that its pronunciation is listed as skwosh, which is all kinds of fun too, no?

Come back next week to meet Pat and learn how her picture-book character came to choose a skwosh as her best friend.

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Happy International Friendship Day!

This holiday snuck up on me. I didn’t get you ANYTHING. I am so sorry. I hear it’s a big holiday in Paraguay. A tiny bit less so in New Jersey.

I think I shall celebrate by going to the beach today (singing the “Stronger than the Storm” jingle), and with this illustration of my favorite picture-book friendship. (Please do not infer anything about what I might look like in a bathing suit from this.)

I have a good idea! I’ll also mention Natalie Lorenzi‘s site, Biblio Links, an incredible resource all teachers and librarians should be friends with (international or not). Check it out–it helps teachers and librarians do their most satisfying work–linking readers with the just-right-for-them books.

By incredible coincidence, today’s post is about Bogart and Vinnie. Actually, Natalie was the one who told me about International Friendship Day AND she was together enough to get today’s entry posted at the appropriate time.  Like I said…she’s all kinds of wonderful.

Enjoy this day!

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Celebrating Chick-O-Saurus Rex with Lenore Appelhans and Daniel Jennewein

chickosaurusI hope that when you think BUFFALO, you think Daniel Jennewein. I made his acquaintance when he illustrated his first book, Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? I also had the chance to meet his lovely writer wife, Lenore Appelhans, when Daniel and I made some bookstore appearances in support of that title. And now they’ve created a picture book together!!

In Chick-O-Saurus Rex, a bullied little chicken discovers his inner strength along with some surprising dinosaur ancestry.

It’s impossible not to ask a which-came-first question when your main character is a chicken, so here it is. Which came first, the idea of having a chicken using his ancestry to impress or was there a chicken character who needed backstory, which led you to the link between chickens and dinosaurs?

While we were visiting a friend, her daughter asked Daniel if he knew what the closest living relative to the T-Rex was.  After a few incorrect guesses, she told him it was the chicken.  When we thought about that fun scientific theory, we knew it would make a great picture book.

chick spreadHow do you two work together? Did Lenore write about a chick because Daniel’s birds are so appealing? Or did Daniel suggest a chicken might make a brilliant leading man?

Daniel does do great birds! But it really started with the chicken’s surprising ancestry. While brainstorming how to implement the idea, we hit upon the fact that the word “chicken” is often used to mean “scared” or “wimpy” and having Chick be excluded by the “mightier” animals on the farm naturally led us to the subject of bullying.

buffalo entry-1I want to protect your character, who finds himself in a world of bullies. What kidlit characters would be good friends for Chick-o-saurus Rex?

The first character that came to both of us is the Buffalo of course! He’s gentle, but he’s also big, and he would give those bullies a run for their money.

copy of DJLAWhat are you working on now? Any new projects together?

We are in fact putting the finishing touches on a new joint picture book that features cats and the pressure that kids have these days from all the competiveness that is out there. It’s very exaggerated humor, which Daniel draws so well!

I know you’ll be in the US with some bookstore appearances planned. Can you please share those dates, as well as other ways readers can connect with you and your work?

Yes! We’ll be in three locations:

Saturday, July 27th at Watermark Books in Wichita, KS at 11 am

Saturday, August 3rd at Hoorary for Books in Alexandria, VA at 3:30 pm (with Ann Bonwill and Erin Cabatingan)

Saturday, August 10th at Fundamentals Bookstore in Delaware, OH at 10 am

Daniel is of course happy to do a personalized illustration for each person in their book!

You can find us at our websites: www.danieljennewein.com and www.lenoreappelhans.com.

Lenore is also on twitter @lenoreva

Many thanks to you both, and welcome to the world, Chick-O-Saurus Rex!

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