Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year 2012!

Dear reader,

As we move from the old year into the new, I wish you good health and prosperity, great reading and writing.

On the theme of new, here's a bit of news:  Orleans will have to wait for the next new year to finally enter the world, which is a good thing, because it helps to have something to look forward too! 

As you head out to your parties, or home from your celebrations, take a moment to reflect on where you have been this past year, and what lies ahead.  Believe me when I say, the best is yet to come!

Happiest of New Years!

Sherri L. Smith

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Keeping Christmas - a holiday story

Last year, the delightful Cecil Castellucci invited me to take part in a  limited edition holiday anthology book published by Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena.  My contribution was a little story called "Keeping Christmas."  This week, I'm sharing it with you, dear reader, and wishing you the merriest of Christmases and happiest of new years!

"Whaddya want for Christmas?"
I sigh.  What I want doesn't involve sitting on the lap of an old man in a red suit that smells like cigarettes.  I'm almost fourteen, for crying out loud.  I stand next to the guy.  "Take the picture, Cheever.  Hurry," I say to my best friend.  Cheever may be a boy, but he's pretty cool.  He holds up his iPhone and snaps the shot.
"Thanks, Gramps," I say, and step down to make way for a screaming toddler.
"What's next?" Cheever asks as we squeeze our way through the last minute shoppers.
"Well, that's the annual picture for my mom's collection.  I've got thirty-eight dollars left, and we still need is a tree.  This sucks."
Cheever pats me on the back.  "Cheer up, Olivia.  It's Christmas!"  I want to punch him, but he's just trying to be a friend.
"I really wanted to do it right this year," I say.  This is my first Christmas alone with my mom since the divorce.  At first I was stoked—who wouldn't want to move from Pennsylvania to Hollywood?  But it's not so glamorous—we live in a tiny apartment in the Valley instead of a beachfront mansion.  Then Momma lost her job.  Without it, there's no tree or presents—nothing.  Christmas without that stuff might as well be Labor Day.
"Can thirty-eight dollars buy a tree?" I ask, pushing through the mall door.
Cheever scratches his head, his giant purple parka screeching like an insulated cricket leg.  "Maybe an air freshener?"
            "Thanks a lot, 'Barney,'" I says, and shut the door on him and his ridiculous dino-sized parka. 
Behind the mall there's an empty tree lot.  Strings of white lights, lots of pine needles but no trees.  I pull my jacket closer.  Cheever follows me.
            I spent last Christmas at my dad's place.  The tree was freaking awesome.  It was one of those weird spruces with the separated branches, so you can see the trunk in the center, like a cell phone antennae tower disguised as a tree.  So, maybe it looked a little unnatural, but at least we had a one.
            "It's got to be perfect," I tell Cheever as we stomp down the sidewalk.  It's getting chilly out and my nose is starting to run.  Why did I wear a skirt today?  I should've put on a Barney coat, too.
Cheever jogs to keep up with me.  I can see his breath as he puffs his way up the block.  "Why not get your mom a gas card for her guzzler and call it a day?"
            I stop stomping the pavement to glare at him.  "A gas card?  That's not a gift.  That's just…fuel.  We need a tree.  It's her favorite part of Christmas."
            "It's not her favorite, Olivia, it's yours.  And it's Christmas Eve, and you have less than forty bucks.  You can't HAVE a tree," Cheever says.
            Before I can stop myself, I punch him, right in the nose.
            "Ow!" he yells, clutching his face.  "What'd ya do that for?"
            "For making fun of me," I say and keep walking.
            "I didn't make fun of you, Crazyface.  I said you couldn't have a tree."  His voice sounds all nasally with his hand clamped over his nose.  "Why am I even here?" 
I turn around.  He's standing in the middle of the sidewalk looking hurt, which he probably is.  I mean, his nose isn't bleeding or anything, but it's bright red.
            "Merry Freaking Christmas, Olivia."  Cheever shakes his head and walks away. 
"Cheever," I say, but nothing else comes out and he keeps going.  Which is fine.  I don't need a friend right now.  What I need is a tree.

            It's not even six o'clock, but the streets are full of red taillights.  Everyone's windows are rolled up and the seat warmers are probably on.  The sky is hazy and I'm wishing I was wearing more than big black boots and a corduroy skirt.  Those 12 inches of exposed kneescape are deadly. 
I trudge my way across Camarillo.  There's a tree lot on the corner at Sepulveda.  They'll be open.  They have to be.  The sidewalk ends and I find myself skirting along the lumpy asphalt bordering the houses.  Look at those houses.  So warm and cozy-looking, with little holiday lights wrapped around the rooftops.  Jolly snowmen glow white on bright green lawns, year-round roses bloom, matching the potted poinsettias red for red.  I breathe into my hands and wonder why I thought fingerless gloves would be so cool. 
            What I wouldn't give for a hot chocolate.  I'll have one just as soon as I find a Christmas tree.  Steaming hot chocolate with a pine-scented finish.  I smile and feel my nose hairs crackle.  The streets are quiet, even though there are a ton of cars.  This is the night the stereotypes go to grandma's.   And the originals, like me, freeze to death looking for Christmas trees.
            When I reach the tree lot, it looks like there was a battle between trees and giant beavers, and the beavers won.  Nothing but wood chips.  I bend down and scoop up a pile of rocks and needles, already turning brown, and let them sift through my fingers.  A jingling sound rings across the lot.  I look up and see a man locking up the mobile trailer they use as an office here.
            "Hey, Mister," I call out and run over.
            "Merry Christmas," he intones, like he's offering me French fries with my order. 
            "Merry Christmas!" I exclaim, throwing my arms wide in my best Scrooge after the third ghost imitation.
            The guy steps back.  I smile and step forward.  "Got any more trees?" I ask.  "Maybe a secret stash somewhere?"  I indicate the mobile office, like it's hiding a warehouse or a pine forest behind its beige metal walls.
            "We sold out this morning," the guy says.  He's tired-looking and needs a shave. 
            "What about that one over there?" I ask, spying a beautiful fir tree, all trussed up with twine and ready to go on somebody's car roof.
            "That's for my mom.  She's sick.  It'll cheer her up."
            "Yeah, it will," I say, and suddenly I don't feel so hopeful anymore.  We're not the only ones who could use a tree tonight, I guess. 
            "Try the grocery store, kid," he tells me, trudging off through the sawdust to his truck with its perfect tree payload.  "Or better yet, go home.  It's Christmas Eve."
            "Thanks," I call after him.  There's a Pavillions a few blocks away, and a CVS Pharmacy.  Sometimes they have trees, I think.  Then there's that Ralphs, and that other Ralphs. 
            I start walking again. 
            I walk a lot.
            And then I go home.

            "Baby, where on earth have you been?" Momma asks. 
            "Looking for a tree."
            "In this weather?" she says.  She's rustling around in the kitchen making dinner.  "Did you find one?"
            I look around our dingy little apartment with its sorry excuse for a window with a view, and the reindeer dishtowels we hung over the curtain rods for the holiday. 
            "Yeah.  It's just, you know, one of those clear ones that don't smell much.  Pretty, ain't it?"
            Momma doesn't answer.  It's funny.  She hears all kinds of stuff you don't want her to hear, but she doesn't hear sarcasm.  She just ignores it until you talk nicer.
            I pull myself up out of the chair I've dropped into and take off my jacket before stomping into the kitchen.
            "No.  No luck," I say.  I stare at the blue flame on the stove as Momma heats up a can of chicken noodle soup.  Before I know it, the flames start to get blurry and I'm crying.  My face gets all hot, so I pull off my hat, and I keep on crying, crushing the knit cap in my hands , punching it like it's my hat's fault that we didn't have enough money to keep Christmas.
            "Oh, hush now," Momma says.  She puts her spoon down on the stove top and pulls me into a hug.  I collapse into her arms all snotty and wet-faced.  I don't try to talk or make any sense because Momma says sometimes you just have to cry it all out.  When I can't cry anymore, Momma takes my hat from my hands.  "Go get some tissues for your face." 
In our tiny bathroom I wash my face, blow my nose and look at myself in the mirror.  My braids are bristling like angry cats.  I run a hand over them and they crackle with static electricity.  I give up and go back into the living room where I trade my boots for slippers.  Momma's at the table with two bowls of soup.  We don't say much over supper.  I go to bed early, without drinking any hot chocolate.  I couldn't stand to, without a tree.

            Christmas morning comes bright and early.  I can hear my mom, banging around in the kitchen, singing.  I'm cocooned in my blankets and I don't want to move.  The apartment is freezing.  The heat is off.  Another thing that we didn't have the money for.  I stick my nose out of the covers and it gets cold.  Cold enough to make me imagine we're back in Pennsylvania at my dad's house and there's snow outside.  It's almost enough to make me jump out of bed.  Instead, I sit up, and I wrap my blanket around myself.  I stick my sock-covered feet into my slippers and I shuffle like a giant bed burrito into the kitchen.
            My mom is dressed in snow pants and a jacket.  She's packing a thermos into an insulated bag.
            "Merry Christmas," I say to her.  She turns around, and laughs at my walking bed imitation.
            "Go on and get dressed.  We've got places to be."
            "Places?" I say.  "At eight in the morning?"  The stereotypes have places to be on Christmas.  They go to Mass, or grandma's house.  They eat big dinners and play touch football in the backyard and sit around the tree singing carols and opening gifts.  Stereotypes are families like you see on TV, with both parents, kids, a dog— all the working parts.  That's not us.  Not anymore.
            "Do you want to go, or not?" my mom asks.
            I want to go.
            I get dressed.  Taking a cue from my mom, and last night's frozen trek, I put on wool tights and jeans over top.  I pull on a sweater, stick my boots back on my feet and grab my hat and coat from the hook by the door.
            "Scoot," Momma says.  I take the insulated bag from her and scoot.

            The only time the freeways are empty in L.A. is early Christmas morning.  A handful of big rigs barrel down the road like giant Christmas ornaments decorated with little yellow running lights.  It's 70 degrees out already and I'm wishing I was in that skirt again, but then I guess it would be freezing.  We come down the hill into Santa Clarita, Christmas carols playing on the radio.  I keep nodding off, but my mom is singing and happy. 
            When I wake up, my mom has stopped singing.  She's looking at the fuel gauge.  It's low, and I wish I'd listened to Cheever and bought her a gas card.  I pretend to sleep as I watch her frown.  She's doing calculations in her head.  However far we have to go must be too far.  She pulls to the side and thinks.
            "Merry Christmas!" she says happily.  But I know she's not happy.  She's got that look again, the same look she had when she knew she couldn't buy us a tree.  It hurts to see how she feels, and I realize I'm part of the problem.
            "I'm a jerk," I tell her.
            She laughs.  "Why?"
            "Because I've been a big baby about wanting a tree."
            "Olivia, you're not a big baby, but you are still a child.  It's okay to want things."
            "Not if we can't afford them," I say.
            "Lots of folks can't afford lots of things," she replies.  "Besides, we're here."
            I sit up.  "What?"
            "I said we had places to go," she tells me.  "I'm not sure how we'll get home, but for now, let's enjoy it."
            I look at her.  "Seriously, Mom.  This is the middle of a major freeway.  We're nowhere."
            Momma sighs and gets out of the car.  I guess that sounded like sarcasm.  I follow her.  If she's lost her mind, I'll have to lock her in the trunk and call for help.
            But she hasn't lost her mind.  When I step out of the car, I'm not on asphalt or gravel or even dirt.  It's snow.  Real, honest-to-goodness snow.  It crunches underfoot and I realize we're not in the Valley anymore.  We're in the mountains. 
            I stare at my black boots on the white ground.  My mother smiles at me.  "Look up, Goofus," she says.  I look up.
            Trees.  Tall, green and wonderful.  Dusted in snow like powdered sugar, like perfect holiday cookies.  Christmas trees.
            I feel myself break into a grin.  The cold air bites my nose but I don't mind. 
            "Merry Christmas, honey," my mother says.
            "Merry Christmas," I whisper back.  I throw my arms wide to the sky, to the whole forest and shout.  "Merry Christmas!"  And the mountains and the trees shout it back at me.

            We picnic in the car, fried ham sandwiches and thermoses of hot chocolate just the way I like it, with the windows rolled down for that  pine-scented finish.  And then, before we freeze to death, we coast back down the mountain to the nearest gas station where I give my mom her Christmas gift.  Thirty-eight dollars worth of gas.  Just enough to fill up the car for the ride home today, and to the unemployment office tomorrow, and the temp agency next week.  Cheever was right and I was wrong.  Today was about more than just a tree.  And it was the best. 
When we get home I call my dad to wish him a Happy Happy, Merry Merry, then I dial Cheeve's cell by heart.  "Hello?"  He answers the phone like he's expecting bad news. 
"Merry Christmas, Barney," I tell him.  "Sorry I socked you in the nose."
"Apology accepted," he replies.  "Merry Christmas, Crazyface."
A couple of minutes later, I hear a ping on our computer and I run to check.  "Mom, it's for you."  It's an email from Cheever.  My mom comes over and opens it.  It's the picture of me with Santa Claus.
"Oh, baby," she says, "It's perfect."  Her eyes are all sparkly when she hugs me.  A lot of things have changed for us in the past year.  But one thing is the same.  I'm just as lucky as I've always been.  I've got my mom, I've got Cheever, and Christmas.  And I'm keeping all three.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Scheherazade's Choice - A She Writes Guest Post!

Most of you know the story of Scheherazade, the framing device for 1001 Arabian Nights. For those of you that don't, Scheherazade has the misfortune of being forced to marry a sultan with a penchant for killing his wives on the wedding night. She devises a plan to save herself—she'll tell stories every night, so compelling that when the sun rises, her husband will allow her to live another day so he can hear how the story ends. Needless to say, the name Scheherazade has become a compliment to storytellers everywhere. Face it, if you were writing for your life, you might be amazed by what you'd come up with.

Lying awake in bed last night, I thought about Scheherazade, and realized that all writers are in the same situation. If you write for a living you are, in a very real sense, writing for your life. Maybe you won't be decapitated come sunrise, but you certainly could go hungry if your work doesn't sell. And that leads me to an interesting question—if you have one night left on earth, do you tell the story you think the executioner wants to hear, or the one you want to tell?

If the Sultan hadn't been so taken with Scheherazade's tale, it would've been "off with her head" the next morning. So you might think telling the tale he'd want to hear is the way to go. Give the man what he wants—action, explosions, pretty girls and a cliffhanger—and maybe he'll let you live. Then again, if she hadn't been passionate about her story, and had strung together a bunch of familiar clichés, the Sultan might have found it dull. Or, maybe he's not much of a story guy at all. He'd rather play video games and plan his next wedding so, great story or not, you'd be dead and forgotten by dawn.

So, you probably see it now. The Sultan is none other than you, dear Readers, in all of your magic-carpet-riding, palace-dwelling glory. Every day, you demand more entertainment, and the viziers—the publishing and entertainment companies—trot another eligible young writer (or actor or movie director or tv show or video game) into your room. And the stories begin. If you like them, we keep telling them in hopes of publishing another book, producing another show. If you hate them, the viziers drag us away, never to be seen again. It's easy to see why there are so many vampire books in the world. If you were next on the chopping block and heard someone had lived through the night by telling a vampire story, you might think it's a good idea to tell one, too. Then again, who knows what this Sultan wants? All the algorithms and soothsayers in the world can't guess what will win the Readers' hearts and minds. Yesterday's hit can just as easily be tomorrow's cliché. So, if you can't please them, why not please yourself?

A few years ago, I had the great fortune to hear Susan Cooper speak at a Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators event in New York City. As the author of The Dark Is Rising series (a personal favorite of mine) and many other fantastic books, she had much to say about her own work and the life of a writer. But that resonated the most with me was her advice to write what is in your heart. Listen to your own story, she said, and don't let it be drowned out by the sounds of the marketplace.

The sounds of the marketplace. I thought about getting that tattooed on my arm where I could read it whenever I was struggling against an editor's notes, or my own desire to take the easy route. Whenever the bills started piling up and I wondered if I would ever be the next big thing with books in a dozen languages and movie adaptations left and right…whenever I began to think of money as motivation for my creativity, I could just roll up my sleeve and read Susan Cooper's words. Then, since my sleeves would already be up, I'd get back to work doing what I do best—telling my stories my way. After all, if you really love storytelling, don't you want to tell the one that sets your heart racing, the one that brings a tear to your eye and excites you? The story that makes you feel the most alive?

I would.

Unfortunately, I've been timid about the tattoo. But the advice has left a much deeper mark on my psyche than any ink work could, and I think of it it whenever I feel I'm losing my way. So, when I lay awake last night wondering where Scheherazade pulled her stories from, how she knew she had a hit on her hands, I decided it she must have been following similar advice. I think Scheherazade wasn't telling just her stories to the Sultan after all. Like reading a favorite book before going to bed, she was simply entertaining herself on the last night of her life. The fact that the Sultan was also entertained, and she had 365 "last nights" was a happy by product. Kind of like winning a book award or ending up on a bestsellers' list. You can hope for it, but you can plan on it.

At least, that's how I see it. What about you?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

She Writes Guest Post

Hey folks!

Later this week, I'll be a guest blogger at She Writes, the online community for women writers.  You can read my post here or on their site.  If you're a lady and a writer, be sure to check them out.  A special thanks to this week's guest editor, Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, a pal of mine from Hedgebrook and a fantastic, award-winning author to boot!

Be sure to swing by here, or She Writes to check out my post, and a host of other guest bloggers throughout the week!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankful For...

Turkey on Thanksgiving Greeting

This Thanksgiving, I'd like to give thanks for the First Readers in my life.  You are the ones who get the ugly drafts, the early versions of my manuscripts that don't make sense.  You, dear First Readers, slog through the morass to tell me what's working and where I need to roll up my sleeves.  In Turkey Day terms, you are the select few that set the table, scrub the potatoes, and circle the grocery story parking lot while I rummage through the aisles so that, when my readers crack open one of my novels, it's as good as it can possibly be.  For your encouragement, input, suggestions and willingness to listen to my excuses and flights of fancy, I am eternally grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  Give your favorite people a hug and your favorite foods a second helping.  I'll be back to talking about writing soon.  Until then-- give thanks!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Meet the Author - Comickaze Expo 11/5 to 11/6/11

What are you doing this weekend?  If you live in Los Angeles or nearby, I hope the answer is:  coming to meet Sherri and awesome YA author Cecil Castellucci this weekend at Comickaze Expo! 

Cecil’s newest book, FIRST DAY ON EARTH has just hit the shelves.  She's invited me to hang out at her table, signing books and dishing on the latest in our writing lives.  There might even been some secret stash from the Tired Girl Collective.  You might even get to meet elusive artist Karen LucreceBooks will be available on site thanks to the awesome Skylight Books.  We're at Table 80.  Come and check it out! 

Monday, October 24, 2011

On the Nightstand

Image from the Chronicle Books Blog

Imagine my surprise.   The awesome Ren, who had the foresight to tell me FLYGIRL was my next book when it was still just a radio documentary on my drive home, has spied the selfsame novel on the nightstand of Chronicle Books' own Children's Editorial Assistant Ariel Richardson.  I am tickled pink at Ariel's blog posting-- from the luxurious reading vacation to the fact that I made her short list to read by year's end.  Thanks, Ariel!  I hope you enjoy Ida Mae's story as much as I enjoyed your post!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Nothing to say

Dear Reader,

I told myself I would post something new every week, but I have nothing to tell you today.  Not yet, at any rate.  Suffice to say, I left the Grumps some time ago and hit Crazy Making Deadline Land.  This is the place where you always feel like you are running through an airport with all of your checked luggage in hand, and the wheels are twisting the wrong way and you are tripping and dragging and hauling with all your might so you don't miss that flight, which is of course the last flight out ever.  The train is pulling away from the station, the cruise ship is weighing anchor and you are stuck with a bag full of souvenirs that seemed wonderful when you were shopping for them, but now seem like crap if you miss your ship.

I caught the boat, the train, the airplane.  I made it.  Heart pounding, hands shaking, sweaty and oh so very excited to sit down and have a cup of tea after all that darn writing.

Yes, I made my deadline and now that certain novel that's been gestating in the incubator of my writing desk is almost ready to hatch.  Not right away, of course.  Nothing in the book world happens right away.  But, well, let's just say it has a due date.  Or, in writing terms, a done date.  I won't say more than that, because I have nothing to say this week. 

But let's just say... Fall 2012. 

I'm just saying.  That's all.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Grumps

clouds,daughters,Earth,environmental issues,factories,families,industries,iStockphoto,landscapes,mothers,pollutions,power plants,smokestacks,storms,watching,weather

Dear reader,

Last time I posted, I believe I told you I'd been in the Grumps.  Now it's time for an explanation.  But before we get to the Grumps, we have to go through the Doldrums.  Which, interestingly enough, I've arrived at for again.  And so, Ladies and Gentlemen, I write this to you from that deepest of dark holes in the Middle Hundred… the Doldrums.  Yes, the Doldrums, that place where the wind is literally (since this is about writing, it's always literal) taken out of your sails.  The manuscript is dry docked in port, while the editors tinker with it and ponder ways to make it sail better.  And the writer (your humble servant) sits and waits.  And waits.  There are several stages to the Doldrums:

1.   The Night Anxieties – these, unfortunately, don't just happen at night, but they prefer it.  This is the stage right after you've hit SEND on your emailed mani.  When you fret about shoulda/coulda/woulda, and wonder if one more day and one more spellcheck would have fixed EVERYTHING. (It wouldn't.)  Eventually this NAs fade (well named, NAH!  That wouldn't help!  And NAH! Why did I hit send?!) into…

2.   The Doldrums – this is the place proper, where you are bored, bored, bored.  If you are lucky, you have a trip planned to Hawaii, or a nation to rebuild, or something that is equal to the task of writing a novel and ready to take on your efforts, or conversely, the exact opposite of such labor and therefore infinitely relaxing.  If not, then you sit and read everything you can get your hands on, including MAXIM and the back of the toilet paper packaging.  You read until you are convinced there are no more books in the entire world until some poor writer like you hurries up and finishes the next one.  You read bad books, terrible books.  You rail at them—"Ha!  I'D NEVER WRITE THAT."  Or more likely, "Huh, my editor never let me get away with that."  And eventually, when the words run out, you hit…
3.   The Grumps.  This is where I am right now.  The grumps.  How do you know when you are here?  Well, the day you come home and take out the fish you so nicely defrosted for dinner overnight in the refrigerator the proper way, and discover that it is still BAD.  And you are so upset that eating out won't do because you HAVE TO HAVE THAT FISH NOW!  And you drive to the grocery store and buy MORE fish while the oven is still preheating and you get back home and sit in your car watching a hippie you have never seen before, a man with a white pony tail wearing socks (!) with his sandals and a tie dye shirt, lean against a blue van you have also never seen, and smoke a cigarette, it makes you ANGRY because who the heck is he, and why is he looking so retro in front of your neighbor's house?  And that is when you realize you are in the Grumps.  So it's no surprise that you don't want to play chase the ball chain on a stick with the Cat That Cannot Be Trusted, or when your dinner is finally ready, you yell at your husband to come eat it, get furious when he says "in a minute" and decide you don't want to eat with him at all because you are moving to a desert island in the morning where they don't have cats or husbands or ball chain or hippies in socks.  All they have is chocolate chip cookies, ice cream, and maybe, just maybe a "well done" letter from your editor and a check that says "here, we are ready to go with this book.  You can now pay your bills."
4.     The Sighs.  When you remember that island doesn’t exist.  Then you return to the Doldrums, the Anxieties, or the Grumps.

Yes, dear readers, this is the ugly stuff.  This is the part when you decide if you are a writer or not.  One of my dearest friends, after listening to a Grumps rant said, "You've been here before in this inbetween place.  What do other writers do?"

Well, some of them drink.  Some of them put rocks in their pockets and walk into a handy river (RIP, Ms. Woolf!), and some... well, we pick our selves up, shake it off, have a good cry maybe, and start to write again.

Writing is the cure for all that ails you.  Especially the Doldrums and the Grumps.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Where has she been???

Hello dear readers,

Are you still there?  If you are, you must have the patience of Jove, as my mother would say, or a slow-moving loris (my words).

Slow Loris
The loris as posted by Menagerie

I have been seriously like, off-the-planet out of touch.  For which I do apologize.  You see, I was in the Grumps.  It's an offshoot of the Doldrums and there's a whole blog posting about it, as well as one about the mysterious Latina WASP, that I've been dying to share with you.  But I was stuck, it seems.

Well, I'm back now.  I'm on deadline, which always lights a fire under my, um, laptop.  Most importantly, I received an email today from the lovely, talented Tanita S. Davis, who happens to be both an award-winning author AND a fantastic blogger with not one, not two, but THREE blogs.  She wanted to know if I was okay.  Because I was, like I said, off-the-planet out of touch. 

And I was ashamed.

So here is my promise to you.  I will be posting, first this, and more next week.  After that, I will do my best.  I will convince the writer in me that there is room to be a blogger as well.  Wish me luck!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

It's that time of year again!

So, you've probably been wondering where I've been.  Deep in the Middle Hundred, people, deep in it.  I've been up to my elbows in rewrites on Orleans and another project that shall remain nameless for the time being.  I've been revising and revising since February.  I tell you, it's like a fine sauce, or a soup, cooking a book is, reducing it until it's rich and thick and delicious.  Unfortunately, it's not soup just yet, but it's getting there.  In fact, I've called in the tasters and now I'm anxiously awaiting their comments-- more salt?  More pepper?  A dash of thyme?

In the meantime, this week is Comic Con!!!   I'm off to my favorite gobin market to see what there is to see.  Now, I'll let you in on a secret.  If you want to know what writers do when they aren't writing, well, this one makes jewelry and other random stuff.  If you want to see it, and you are at Comic Con, then swing by the Small Press section and look for Tired Girl Collective.  It's the pink table with me and my friend Ren behind it.  And if you happen to have a book with you that you'd like signed, well, I suppose I'd be willing to do that too!  I'll be around Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, so come on by and say hello.

When I come back, I promise I'll tell you all about what's been happening in my book kitchen.  Or, at least the parts that seem interesting.  Until then, ROCK OUT!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Grand Canyon Reader Awards!

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Great news!  FLYGIRL has been nominated for the 2012 Grand Canyon Reader Awards!  This is a reader's choice award sponsored by the Arizona Library Assocation and the Arizona Reading Association.  Thanks to everyone who made the nomination possible.  Now kids, go out there, read, and vote!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

FLYGIRL is a nominee!

FLYGIRL has been nominated for the 2011-2012 Eliot Rosewater Indiana High School Book Award ( aka the Rosie Award) and the 2012 Garden State Teen Book Award.  These are both readers choice awards and a huge honor for all of the authors on the list.  Thanks to the kids of Indiana and New Jersey for keeping Ida Mae Jones flying high!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Thor vs. Loki, or Why it's a shame I can't rap

Artist:  Esad Ribic from Loki.  Awesome!
Yes, because Thor and Loki are AWESOME!  I have not seen the new movie, nor am I endorsing it, but what I AM endorsing is Loki's awesome helmet and Thor's awesome hammer. 

Odin's throne room made an appearance at Comic Con last year in San Diego, and I was moved... to rap.
And so, here they are, the lyrics to my Loki vs. Thor/ Thor vs. Loki rap challenge.  If you want to hear it live, you'll have to... figure it out on your own.  Trust me, it's awesome.

Loki vs. Thor:  a rap by Sherri L. Smith (copyright 2011-- don't steal this baby!)

His name is Loki
and his rhymes are dope even
though he's not the favorite son
he's the one that makes you come alive
with pleasure!
while he
to kick Thor's
and take over
With Thor's own hammer
he'll make the ladies clamor
For Loki!  For Loki!
L to the O to the K to the I
Even Odin says:  Oh, my my
For Loki!  For Loki!
He's kind of high strung though, isn't he?
Oh, no, no, he's real low key

Thor vs. Loki:  A response rap by Sherri L. Smith (copyright 2011- I'm telling you, it's gold!)

(Norse god, y'all!)
What is he good for?
1, 2, 3
I said that his name is Thor!
And I'll tell you what he's good for:
kicking Loki's rear with his war hammer Mjolnir!
When Thor is on the clock
get ready to Ragnarok!
Don't mess with the Lord of Thunder
He'll put you six feet under
Get in his face and he'll lay waste and tear your world asunder!
(That's right!)
That's what he's good for!
1, 2, 3
And all the ladies say "Valhalla!"
All the ladies say "Valhalla!"
All the ladies say "Valhalla!" for THOR!

For those of you who didn't read comics, norse mythology, or watch cartoons... I feel sorry for you.  And also here's a glossary:

Thor - Norse god of thunder
Loki - his trickster brother
Odin - The All-Father, or old One-Eye.  God of Lightning, father of the gods, including Thor and Loki
Asgard - Norse realm of the gods
Midgard - Our world
Mjolnir - Thor's hammer (umlaut over the O-- haven't figured out how to type that yet!)
Ragnarok - End of the world, norse style, Armageddon
Valhalla - Norse heaven for heroes, Odin's great hall.

Please don't try to pass an exam using this glossary!  I don't want to be responsible for that!

And yes, that's a nod in the Thor rap to Edwin Starr.

Enjoy your weekend, everyone!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Join me at Word Wenches!

You heard me.  Go check out my interview with the delightful Mary Jo on Word Wenches, a fun historical fiction blog.  Don't forget to write a comment for your chance to win a signed copy of FLYGIRL.  Free books?  Interesting facts?  What are you waiting for?

Meet the Author - Los Angeles Times Festival of Books!

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

Hey folks, next Sunday, May 1st, 2011, I'll be at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at USC!  Join me for the Believe in Yesterday:  Historical Young Adult Fiction panel on the YA stage at 12:00 pm, along with the amazing Cecil Castellucci, Sherry Shahan and Judy Blundell.   We'll be signing books afterwards, so bring your copy of FLYGIRL, or buy one on the spot-- and don't miss out on the fantastic books by Cecil, Sherry and Judy.  I just gobbled them up!

Monday, March 7, 2011

What did I miss?

Hi all.  I'm back from the Great White North and my weeks of peace and writing in the woods.  The north was indeed great, and also very white.  It snowed so heavily my last day on Whidbey that I almost missed the ferry back to Seattle due to bad roads!

Alas, I made my flight on time and now I'm back in sunny LA, nose still to the grindstone on writing, but with traffic lights tossed in the mix.  I'll be sure to post pics of my trip to Hedgebrook and give some updates on local (LA) Hedgebrook events coming up.  In the meantime, please check out my interview on the Teen Writers Bloc.  Thanks to Dhonielle for the great questions.  Be sure to check out her round-up question for Black History Month:  The Color of Universal Experience, which asks (and answers) some fascinating questions of race in literature.  Read on!

african history month 300x200 Black History Month Round Up Question: The Color of Universal Narrative Experience

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

February in the Woods

Yesterday marked the start of Black History Month.  I immediately thought of Ms. Bessie Coleman, the African-American aviatrix that inspired my character Ida Mae Jones, in FLYGIRL.  Start the month off right, and read a little something about the woman who flew against the odds.

This will my only post for a few weeks, as I am back at Hedgebrook, the women writers' retreat on Whidbey Island, WA.  I'll be tucked away in my little cottage in the woods like a hibernating bear with a laptop.  When I emerge, hopefully I'll have a near-to-final draft of ORLEANS as well as a few other goodies.  Wish me luck! 

There should be some sort of Writer's bless—may your synapses spark merrily, your fingers skip nimbly, and your dreams take flight on the page.  That's my wish for all of you writers out there this February of 2011, and always.  Happy Writing, everyone.  Now, get back to work!

Speed Dating 101

Last Sunday I took part in Flintridge Books and LA Parent Magazine's Meet the Author event.  It was awesome.  Five of us young adult authors sat at tables while groups of moms and daughters circulated around, spending ten to fifteen minutes at each table, asking questions, shooting the breeze, and getting to know one another, much like a single's speed dating event (but without all the pressure and desperation).  What a fun idea!  When it was all over, the authors sat down together and did the same thing.  How I wish this had been around when I was a kid.  Thanks to Catherine Linka and LA Parents' Mag for including me in a super fun event.  If this had really been speed dating, I'd like to think I'd have gone home with more than few phone numbers!

That Magazine with the B-word Name (fair warning for delicate eyes!)

I'm so excited!  Two of my books, FLYGIRL and LUCY THE GIANT, have been listed on Bitch Magazine's 100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader! Be sure to check out the other great books on the list.  I'm thrilled to know the editors see my Ida Mae and Lucy as role models for strong young women.  This especially means a lot to me because LUCY THE GIANT was my first book, lo those many years ago.  It's a real honor to have my earliest work recognized alongside my latest.  I feel like I'm on the right path.  Rock on, Ida and Lucy.  We rule!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Meet the Author - Flintridge Books' Mother-Daughter Book Party - 1/30/11

Looking for a fun family event?  Come join me this coming Sunday, 1/30/11 at 3:30 pm for Flintridge Bookstore’s Mother Daughter Book Party!  It “speed dating” with your favorite YA authors.  I'll be there along with Morgan Matson, Margaret Stohl, Amy Goldman Koss and the fabulous Cecil Castellucci! 

Flintridge Bookstore, 964 Foothill Blvd., La Canada, CA 91011.  Call to make a reservation at 818/790-2701.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dr. King


In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, you might have the day off from work or school.  My husband asked me what I was going to do today.  Today, I'm reading this speech and thinking about it.  What it means today, what it meant 48 years ago.  How one person helped change the world.

What are you doing today?  What are your dreams?  Whatever your answers, take a minute to think how they might have been different, or harder to achieve without Dr. King.

Enjoy your day!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Under Reconstruction-- When Good Stories Go Bad

buildings,construction sites,demolitions,houses,industries,iStockphoto,Malcom Romain,scaffolds
So, have you ever started a project-- maybe a story, maybe baking a cake, or choosing what to wear-- and somewhere along the way you think "Oh, that's not right."  I've done it with a cake-- I forgot to add salt to the batter, and something else that all these years later I never figured out.  The first bite of that cake and I thought, "Oh, no, that's not right."  I've done it with my wardrobe, usually at the worst possible moment when you are already walking through the door at school or work, and you discover you are still wearing your slippers, have a blob of toothpaste on your shirt, or my favorite, your toothbrush in your pocket (yes, I've done this).  Most definitely NOT RIGHT.

Well, that's where I am with one of the books I'm working on right now.  It was a great idea, it's been a ton of fun to write the first few drafts.  And now I'm giving it a hard look.  Too much salt?  Is that toothpaste?  Whatever it is, something is off kilter and it's Just. Not. Right.

So, what do you do?  If you're me, you go shopping online.  And then you come back to it.  You stare it in the face, you flip it around, and you get angry/depressed/hungry/distracted.  Then, you come back to it again after dinner.  And you give yourself some good advice.  Take the pulse of the story.  Where does it sag?

How does one take a story's pulse?  I do it with a handy chart I learned from Linda Seger's Making a Good Script Great.  In fact, this chart is an excellent illustration for where this blog got it's name.  You see, I write my stories in a classic three-act structure.  If you were to draw a horizontal line, this is the timeline of your story.  Now, bisect it into thirds, with the middle section being the longest.  The first section is your first act, or beginnning of the story, the middle is the second act, and the end is the third.  I try to build my story along this so that the action rises, climaxing at that second line, or pole.  It looks like a circus tent to me, when it's done right.  When it's done Not Right, it sags in the middle.  Those middle pages, or the middle hundred. 

So, I take my manuscript and drag a pen along the page to draw this chart based on what I have.  I call it an EKG, like a heart monitor for the life of my book.  Then I can see where I've got problems.  The book I'm working on is arrhythmic.  It sags in the beginning and the middle... and the end.  Whoops.  Time to apply the paddles.

Where does that picture of the house under construction come in?  The scaffolding is my outline, the structure of my story, the bones.  I'm working on putting the scaffolding in the right places now by brainstorming.  I'm also knocking down a few walls and dreaming up what else could go there. 

It's like the wardrobe issue.  Say you just bought an orange shirt and you want to wear it today.  You love this shirt, but you can't figure out what it goes with.  You pull out jeans, skirts, shorts, overalls-- everything you own in an attempt to turn this shirt into an outfit worthy of such awesomness.  And it isn't working.  Now you're late for school, or that date, or work, or an appointment.  Guess what, folks?  Time to ditch the shirt.  I'm not saying return it-- you need the receipt for that and you loved it so much you tore up the receipt.  I'm just saying, the shirt will have it's day.  But now, you need to get dressed, and you've laid out seven other great outfits just by emptying your closet looking for THE outfit to suit that shirt.

That's where I am now.  I'm taking off the orange shirt for another day, and I'm getting dressed and moving on.  Or, at least I will be when I stop procrastinating by writing this post.

apparel,Asian,clothes,colorful,colors,concentration,expressions,faces,facial expressions,males,men,oranges,persons,Photographs,pinks,shirts,ties

Monday, January 3, 2011

Creative Spaces Interview

Ever wonder where writers work their magic... and do their rewrites, grind their teeth, and take naps?  Check out my interview on From the Mixed-Up Files of Jennifer Bertman.  Now's your chance to see the innner sanctum and the easy chair I like to slouch in when I'm between ideas. 

You won't believe the awesome list of authors that have let Jenn check out their "creative spaces."  I'm just giddy being in the same group as Zilpha Keatley Snyder! (I loved TheVelvet Room when I was a kid.  Ms. Snyder's books are the wallpaper to my childhood!) Thanks for the interview, Jenn.  What a fun way to start the new year!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

Clock showing New Year's Eve

Welcome, welcome, 2011!  Wow, my fingers feel like they're stuttering just typing that.  It's a new year, ladies and gentlemen, and a new chance to write something fantastic.  That's my goal with every new year-- what books, short stories, or ideas can I dream up this time.  I've just spent a few moments writing my aspirations for the new year.  I've got projects on my plate that are ongoing works in progress, and a few seeds for things down the line.  I'm excited to get started.  But first, I have to clean house.  (Isn't it appropriate that chores are called chores?  A word synonmous with heel-dragging, Idontwannadoit-ness.)

So, once you clean house and toss out all the wrapping paper, vaccum up the pine needles, chisel off the candle wax, or whatever other detritus is left by your winter celebration, what do you dream of doing?  New year, clean slate.  Let's write something!