Friday, July 1, 2016

The Most Powerful Union in the World!

Some of the things toddlers do just don't make sense.  Unless you understand about the Baby Union.
When my eighteen-month old daughter, Annelise, sees her snack coming, she lets out a protest, even though she knows she's just about to get it.  Why? Because of the Baby Union.  Sometimes she hurls her spoon on the floor while sitting in her high chair, then howls because she doesn't have it. I try to explain about the laws of gravity but she isn't listening.  Why not?
The Baby Union!
The Baby Union demands that all babies, everywhere, stand – or crawl – united. 
The Baby Union Manifesto
 1.  Never let Mom or Dad get smug about how well things are going.  Keep them off-guard and slightly disoriented.  Sleep deprivation is especially effective.
 2.  Protest a minimum of twelve times a day.  If there is nothing to object to, make something up.  They'll never know the difference.
 3.  Always insist on the genuine over the fraudulent (toy TV remote controls and toy telephones are unacceptable.  Hold out for the real thing).
 4.  Never miss an opportunity to grab or swipe at something when they are carrying you around.  The thermostat control is a good example.  It takes them hours to figure out what's wrong, and causes a lot of excitement in the meantime. 
 The other day, my normally cheerful toddler blew a fuse for no discernible reason.   But you know what?  It didn't throw me.   I figured she must have gotten a thirty-day notice from the Baby Union to shape up – or lose her membership.
  So next time your toddler does something that surprises you, takes you off guard, or trips you up, just remember that she is a conscientious, hardworking member of the biggest, most powerful organization in the world.  The Baby Union!
Note:  This post was originally published on The Huffington Post


Thursday, June 16, 2016

I'm Not Panicking – This is Just My Writing Process!

Years ago I took a weekend seminar with renowned screenwriting teacher, Bob McKee.  The large auditorium was packed.  Screenwriters, novelists, children’s authors, and editors of all genres had come to hear McKee talk about the art of writing and storytelling.  I could hardly wait for the seminar to start.

McKee walked out on stage and stood for a moment, looking out at the audience.  Everyone was silent, waiting for him to begin.

“Writing,” he said finally, his intense gaze scanning the audience, “is not about the words.”

Yes! I thought, someone finally said it!  I had always felt that words were merely messengers of a deeper truth concealed behind or beneath them.

Writing, McKee went on to say, is about characters, meaning, and emotional impact. 

Recently I rediscovered the truth of McKee’s statement when I sat down to write Little Elfie One, a Christmas sequel to my rhyming Halloween book Little Goblins Ten, which had been published the year before.  I love writing in rhyme, and although the new manuscript wasn’t due for several months, I couldn’t wait to get started.

It was easy to slip into the holiday spirit on a raw November morning as I sat down with pen and paper by the glowing wood stove.  This was going to be so much fun!  But after several hours of scribbling random rhymes, I started to panic.  The story was obviously not working.  The idea of a Christmas sequel (which was suggested by a fan of the Halloween book) was a huge mistake!  Why had I thought I could pull it off?

My husband maintains that panic is part of my writing process.  I always panic, he says, and then I figure out a way to make it work.  But if he’s right, I have to really truly panic.  I can’t say, “Oh, great, I’m panicking – this is just part of my writing process!”  Instead I have to honestly believe that what I’m attempting is impossible.  Which is exactly how I felt as I sat staring down at the jumble of disconnected rhymes.

This was not part of my writing process!  I really could not do this.  My editor had mistakenly placed trust in me, I realized with dismay.  There would be no Christmas sequel, no story for the artist to illustrate, no holiday book signings.

Having a book contract in hand is a great feeling ­ – unless you can’t deliver.  What was I going to do?  The words were tripping me up, tying me (and themselves) in knots, obstructing and protesting at every turn.  I could see them marching along carrying signs: “Sentences on Strike!” “Equal Pay for Adverbs,” “No Storyline, No Work.”

Storyline!  That’s what was missing.  In my eagerness to start writing, I’d forgotten all about the story.  My Halloween book had a natural storyline in the building excitement of all the monsters getting ready to go trick-or-treating.  But the Christmas story required an entirely different narrative.

At that point I crumpled up everything I’d written so far and threw the whole mess into the fire.  Then I started working out a plot.

Bob McKee was right – writing is about characters, story, and meaning.  For me, it’s also about panic, and tossing out dismal first drafts that serve as crude roadmaps indicating where not to go. (Literally thousands for my forthcoming memoir.) But the truth is, writing is also about the words, just not initially.  Once I tossed out the aimless rhymes and got the story going, the words stopped protesting and hopped on for the ride.

Note:  A version of this post was originally published on womensmemoirs.com


Friday, October 3, 2014

Books for Halloween

"On Halloween for trick or treat,
two monsters mixed a stew to eat.
They mixed it in a garbage can
and laughed about their clever plan
for making monster stew..."

I'm pleased to announce that MONSTER MISCHIEF is back in print, by demand.  Print-on-demand, that is!  To order call Simon and Schuster at 1-800-223-2348.  The ISBN number for this edition is 1481425358 (paper).


"Written in bouncy rhyme with glowing watercolors, this tale will capture the hearts of all who love the magic and mystery of Halloween." Children's Literature





And, of course, LITTLE GOBLINS TEN is still available, and will soon be followed by a Christmas sequel, LITTLE ELFIE ONE (Harper 2015) also illustrated by Jane Manning.


So come on and get spooky!


"...trust the team of Jane and Manning to conjure up an impressive new vision in time for Halloween." starred, Kirkus Reviews



Friday, June 20, 2014

The Power of Picture Books


Honey for Tea by Patience Strong
Not long ago, The New York Times published a front-page article* about the declining sales and possible death of the picture book.  Increasingly, parents and teachers are bypassing picture books for chapter books in the hopes of accelerating their reading skills and boosting their standardized test scores.
But there is nothing standard or predictable about the imagination or how it is developed and nurtured.
As an author of thirty children’s books, including many picture books, I cannot imagine what my life would have been like if not for the pictures in the books I loved and poured over long before I could read.
I’m not an illustrator, but the images in the books I loved as a child made a deep and lasting impression.  My parents used to read to me from a book of nursery rhymes filled with pictures of old-fashioned children in knickers and lace pantaloons skipping through meadows in a faraway land called Long Ago.

Up in the green orchard there is a green tree
The finest of pippins that ever you see;
The apples are ripe, and ready to fall,
And Reuben and Robin shall gather them all
                                                      (Mother Goose rhyme)

Because of the old country rhymes, I came to associate the world of stories with a rural past irrevocably lost to me, for I sensed that the world of cottage gardens and country lanes was fading, at least in our corner of Connecticut.  How I longed to climb into the book and skip away into that land of long ago!  Standing at my bedroom window gazing down into our big shady back yard, I imagined I could glimpse this faraway land through a fold in time.  I saw a boy in knickers and white stockings scrambling over our backyard fence, and a girl in lace pantaloons running through the shadows.  Or was it just a trick of the mind, the sunlight flitting through the leaves?
This sense of a past forever lost became part of my developing writer’s sensibility.  Somehow, some way, I had to get back to that deliciously elusive land. And the only vehicle that could take me there was my own imagination.
But what if it had not been for the pictures in the books I loved as a small child?  Would I have devoted my life to discovering the stories I felt waited for me, half-visible, in the shadows of a vanished world?  One of my favorite games was to make up stories to go with the pictures.  But if there had been no pictures, would I have made up stories to go with the books?  Would I, in fact, have become a writer at all?
The imagination develops in strange and unexpected ways, in out of the way places, in odd thoughts, through the stories we love and the images that became a part of us when we were very young.  Without the images, the inspiration of an illustrator’s rich imagination, the world would be a more arid and desolate land for our children. 


*October 7, 2010 “Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children”

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Amazing Things You Could Do - If you Really Wanted To!


Mittens with cat mouse pad (at least the cat on the mouse pad has its eyes opened.)
Mittens with cat mouse pad (at least the cat on the mouse pad has its eyes open.)
My cat, Mittens, is – how can I describe it?  Let’s just say he doesn’t have a lot of personality.  It’s not his fault that he was born with no street-smarts or even house-smarts, and sleeps 23-1/2 hours a day.  He’s also terribly timid and runs away meowing if he even sees an ant.  The most dangerous thing he’s ever attacked is a Starbucks straw.  So imagine my shock and amazement when Mittens recently caught a mouse in our living room!
 I’ve seen similar things happen in my own life and in the lives of others.  People who "couldn't write" became writers, while others who "couldn't do math" became mathematicians.  Someone may think he or she knows what you can – or can not do. But the truth is no one really knows.  My friend, author Joyce McDonald, was told by a high school counselor that she wasn't "college material".  Now she holds Ph.D. in English literature, has been a college professor and is the author of six published novels for middle-graders and teens!
When I was in eighth-grade, my English teacher, Mr. Eul, gave us an assignment to write a short story.  As an aspiring writer, I was thrilled.  Back when I was in school, we were never given writing assignments, and I never imagined there were any living authors.  I pictured a cemetery filled with tombstones of my favorite writers with their last names first, like card catalogs in the library:
Baum, L. Frank 1856-1919.
L. Frank Baum failed at many things, such as running a chicken farm, before he wrote THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZL. Frank Baum failed at many things, such as running a chicken farm, before he wrote 
THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ
“Remember,” Mr. Eul called as we filed out of class that day, “no stories from TV!”
I hardly heard him.  I was too excited about getting started.
That night, I set my parents’ old Smith Corona typewriter on my wooden writing desk, rolled in a fresh piece of paper, and began writing a story about a mute boy living in an eighteenth century seaport. 
seaportFor the next week I stayed up late every night, tapping away.   All we’d written in Mr. Eul’s class up until then were check marks on multiple choice tests.  I couldn’t wait to see the look on my teacher's face when he discovered the brilliant writer hidden behind those check marks – me!
A couple of weeks later, Mr. Eul announced that he was returning our stories.  I could hardly wait to see what he wrote on mine, as he walked around the classroom passing them out.  When he came to my desk, he stopped.
“You didn’t write this,” he said, holding up my story.  I was stunned.  This was the last 
This was the last thing I expected!
thing I had expected!
“Yes I did,” I said.  But my voice sounded very small, and Mr. Eul looked very big looming over my desk. 
“I don’t believe you, " he said. 
The classroom was suddenly very quiet.  Everyone was watching, waiting to see what would happen next. Mr. Eul leaned over, his eyes boring into mine.  “I’m going to keep this story so you won’t try to use it again in high school.”
Mr. Eul didn’t think I was capable of writing the story I handed in, and I couldn’t find the words to explain that stories were part of me; they were who I was. I loved to write.  I would never "use" a story again! 
Don’t let anyone tell you what you are and are not capable of.   Qualities such as excitement, courage, determination – and the fact that you probably don’t take 23-1/2 hour naps – make a huge difference in what you can achieve.  Whether you’re writing a story or chasing a mouse, remember no one really knows what you are capable of, not even you!
"Don't underestimate me!"
"Don't 
underestimate me!"
As for Mittens, he’s back to attacking Starbucks straws.  But I have new-found respect for him.  You never know what he might do next!

Note:  This is a version of an essay posted by Pamela Jane on womensmemoirs.com

Thursday, August 16, 2012

What Happens When You Get Stuck?



When I visit schools, kids (and often teachers and librarians, too) ask me what's it's like to be a published author.  Do I ever get stuck?  Do I ever feel frustrated with my writing?  I've thought about this a lot, and this post is an answer to that question!  I hope it will help all the kids out there who wonder if we authors ever get stuck and if so, what do we do about it?  I'll begin with a story.  
Recently, I started writing Little Elfie One, a Christmas sequel to my Halloween picture book Little Goblins Ten (Harper 2011.) I was thrilled about the new book.  Jane Manning, who illustrated Goblins would be illustrating the sequel too, and I think we make a great writing and illustrating team.
Although the manuscript (writing) for Elfie wasn’t due for several months, I sat right down to write a first draft.  This was going to be so much fun!  But after several hours of writing random rhymes, I started to panic.  The story was so obviously not working.  The idea of a Christmas sequel (which was suggested by a fan of the Halloween book) was a huge mistake, I realized.  Why had I even thought I could do it?
I knew what the problem was, too.  Little Goblins Ten had a natural story line in the building excitement of all the monsters in the forest getting ready to go trick-or-treating.  But the Christmas story didn’t lend itself to that format.  In fact, it didn’t lend itself to any format.  My editor had mistakenly placed trust in me.  I’d have to return the advance (that's the money you get ahead of time for your book, like an advance on your allowance.) But wait, I didn’t even have the advance yet!   What was I going to do?  
My husband, John, says that panic is part of my writing process.  He says I always panic and then I figure out a way to make it work.  But at that moment, as I sat staring at a jumble of disconnected rhymes, I knew he was wrong, at least this time.
I really truly could not do this.
Since I've thought so much about the problem of getting stuck, I've come up with three tips to help writers of all ages get through those times:
I'm-stuck-writing Tip #1 – Talk to a friend
Talking to a friend, a teacher, or your mom and dad about the problem can help a lot.  Just by stating out loud what the problem is can help, especially if that person is a good listener.  You hear yourself asking the question and suddenly you have the answer!  Or your friend may see the story in a different way, which gives you a new way to look at it.  Instead of a "dead end" you suddenly see an open door.  
I'm-stuck-writing Tip #2 Put it in your pocket
Writing isn't just sitting down at the computer or with a notebook and pen.  It's what happens when you're in the shower, walking your dog, or eating lunch.  Take your story idea, problem and all, and "put it in your pocket."  Carry it around with you (not literally, unless you can fit your notebook in your pocket.)  Mull it over as you go through your day, until the perfect solution comes to you.
I'm-stuck-writing Tip #3.  Stop trying to "write."
Everyone, even writers, gets intimidated by thinking, "Now I'm going to write" as though that's a formal act separate from all the other things you think and do all day.  Or they think the words have to be perfect.  A story you write when you're trying to be perfect might look like this:
One day...
Yesterday...
The day before yesterday
Wow, no wonder it's not working!  You're trying too hard to "write."  You're not going to believe this, but guess what?  Writing is NOT about the words!  It's about what you really want to say, what feels is important or funny or exciting to write about.
It's about you.
The morning after my bad day of trying to write my Christmas book, I woke up and thought, forget the random verses.  Think of the story.  What happens in this book? Once I figured that out, the book wrote itself in three days.  It still needs work – a lot of work – but the frame is in place.
So the next time you get stuck, remember to talk to a friend, put the problem in your pocket or the back of your mind, and most importantly don't try to "write."  Just relax and tell the story on paper.  You'll be surprised at how much easier and more fun that is.