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I started reading a book with my 6&1/2 year old son a couple of weeks ago. The characters were supposed to be around his age, but it didn’t ring true for me. They were just really snarky and sarcastic in a way that isn’t typical for that age group. I didn’t say anything about it because we like him to develop his own opinions about books, but after a couple chapters he didn’t want to read anymore either. He said the kids were mean. Maybe he and his friends will develop the ability for cutting remarks in short time, but we’re reprieved for now. Right now he still tries to (mostly) be sweet and gets taken aback when people are rude. I know the tide is likely to shift soon, so I’m trying to soak it all in while I can.

It’s not all sunshine and fluff, though. Take Halloween, for example. We had a few years there when he wanted to be nothing more vicious than the cutest of cats. This year he wanted to be a stormtrooper, but his school allowed neither blasters nor masks (or anything “scary”). So, he decided he wanted to be a zombie “With lots of leaking blood! Leaking everywhere! Smeared and dripping!” he said. This from the boy who had nightmares about the chickens in the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs movie.

He’s afraid of CGI chickens, but this summer during one weird afternoon in the desert he did this-


He’s standing on a big box feeding a big tiger while the other one growled and snarled.

He also did this-


and this-


His dad was nearby, ready to wrestle any attacking reptiles away from curious fingers while yours truly watched from far, far away and tried to work out  the distance to the closest margarita. Scared of cartoon chickens, not of giant snakes. Check. It’s an age of fascinating contradictions.

The blood-leaking zombie probably qualified as too scary for the delicate nerves of his school administrators, so we compromised with a last minute X-wing flying weapon-less Luke Skywalker costume. Everyone was happy.

Use the force, Luke.

Last year I would not have predicted a request for a zombie ensemble, so maybe next year he’ll be spouting sarcastic retorts like a fourteen year old. I hope not, but who knows? Sometimes it helps to have your very own live-in case study kids, but you have to take it with a grain of salt, too. My kids are pretty typical, I guess, but there’s a big wide gamut, even between the two of them.  His little sister is three years his junior, but she could be requesting a bloody zombie costume next year. It wouldn’t surprise us at all.

My current WIP is early-ish middle grade, so I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit. My point is that even when you live with kids it can be difficult to write realistic characters that appeal to a broad range of readers, when there’s such a wide spectrum of personalities and development. Wannabe zombies may be polite (for now), but they don’t suffer fools.

How old is your protagonist? Do you ever struggle with age authenticity? How often do you stray from the “typical” X-year-old?

Book Nut presents a solid list of picks for the top 100 middle-grade books of all time. I don’t agree with all of them, but it’s a nice mix of new and old.

MotherReader explains why the upcoming KidLitosphere Conference is way cooler than BlogHer09.


Kirby Larson interviewed Karen Cushman.

Adam Rex and Mac Barnett collaborate well (as seen here on 7-imp), and I think The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity is an awesome title.

Lee Wind interviews Ellen Hopkins.

At least three of those people will be at the SCBWI Summer Conference next month.

I LOVE my critique group  (Unless they voted to kick me out at the last meeting, which I had to miss. In that case, they’re a bunch of rotten chum buckets.). I’ve had other groups in the past, but I think my current group’s dynamic works really well.  We have a mix of illustrators and writers in different genres. Their feedback is fabulous, and I can’t imagine trying to write and revise without the benefit of a group.  I’m dense. I need help.

I was at a lovely party a couple of nights ago chatting with a circle of successful authors, and critique groups came up. A couple of the authors mentioned that they don’t have a critique group, nor have they ever had a critique group.  They are each published and well-regarded, so that’s what works for them.  I find myself constantly curious about the writing process of others, and the various methods people use to reach publication.

What works for you? Do you think critique groups are important? What’s yours like? If you don’t have one, do you do anything else for feedback? Dish!

Carrie wins! Congrats, Carrie!  Send me your address and I’ll get those lovely cards out to you Monday.

Here’s a  short video of Maurice Sendak on Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are,  shown at ComicCon.

I finally read The Hunger Games this week.  Am I the last one in the world to read it? It feels like it.  I’m not generally crazy about futuristic, dystopian settings, so I kept resisting the recommendations.  Silly me. I couldn’t put it down.  She lost me a little bit with the mutts, but otherwise I was totally engaged in the story.

My writing weekend went very well.  My goals were a little lofty, so I didn’t actually finish the draft, but I’m much farther along and the rest is pretty much planned out. What a fantastic gift to have such a big block of time just to focus.  It was wonderful. My goal this week is 10,000 rewritten words, and I think I’m getting pretty close.

Publisher’s Weekly has their Fall Children’s Books on stands now.


That clever Martha Brockenbrough made a new blog for SCBWI Western Washington, The Chinook Update.

Sometimes I like to write with a different font in my working draft, just to mix things up and tweak my perspective a little bit.  I’ve been playing with the free fonts at Font Squirrel lately.

If you’re marketing some kid kit this year you should probably pick up the 2010 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market guide. Even if you don’t need it for marketing, look at the list of fabulous features and articles.

Do you use iGoogle?  They have a new group of comics themes, like American Born Chinese and Robot Dreams.  Also, Ziggy.  You know, if you’re into that.

Justine Larbalestier addresses the controversial cover choice for her new novel that has everyone upset. Grrr. Whiskey tango foxtrot, Bloomsbury?!?

The Horn Book gets the blue ribbon for speedy printing. I received my copy in the mail on July 20th, complete with acceptance speech transcripts from ALA on July 12. Well done!

I’m going to bed now, so I can kayak tomorrow with both eyes open.

Good grief, it takes me a long time to get into the flow of writing.  I used to blame it on my sporadic writing schedule, but I’ve been writing pretty regularly for a while now and I still can’t just jump into it.  I have to warm up for a while and then slooowwwwwlly I get into a flow.  Once I get into it I can go as long as time permits, with a few dud days here and there. I was discussing this with a certain ambassador at our regional conference.  First, he laughed and made fun of me (in a warm, ambassador-y kind of way).  Then he said most of his writing is in spurts of a few minutes, whenever he has time to spare.  Parenthood and teaching conditioned him to work this way.  I’ve got the teaching and the parenthood, but I don’t have the ability to work in short surges.  Oh, well.

How do you work??

I just received a new computer (!!!), so there should be more pictures and video in the near future.

Look what Nathan Bransford just did.  Amazing.

I want to go to Peru!  Over the next six weeks I’ll be in Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Idaho, and Colorado.  I might not want to go anywhere after that.

Jen Robinson made a pretty great list of series’ featuring adventurous girls over at Booklights.

The Vermont College of Fine Arts has added a children’s literature section to their Hunger Mountain journal with the likes of Sara Zarr and Susan Patron.

What happens after your book is acquired? Check out the new blog by someone in a publishing house’s sales department- Pimp My Novel.

Everyone is twittering. The Shrinking Violets made a long list of publishing pros last month, and now, even the Pigeon.

I don’t know why I’m blogging.  I finally have a copy of When You Reach Me to read!

Let me know about your process!

Ok, I calm-, err, I mean, Writer X has calmed down.  An ARC is on it’s way, which is fantastic since waiting until fall would have driven me straight to crazy.   It’s probably not really as similar as it seems.  I’ll give you an update once I get my anxious little paws on it.

The good news is that I’m working (Slowly, despite the threat of a smackdown.) on untangling some storylines, so it might not be too painful to steer the manuscript in a less similar direction.  Maybe it will be the catalyst I need!

Do you know how many separate book ideas I currently have knocking on my brain door?  I made a list yesterday while I was pouting.


So, even if I have to totally throw this one out (which I doubt I will), the keyboard will not go dusty.

Have I mentioned how awesome and supportive you all are?  Thank you. The comments and emails really helped me feel better, and realize I was probably being silly.

Back to work!

Nathan Bransford posted a handy dandy revision checklist.

And here is a little wisdom from the editorial ass known as Moonrat:

“I find that I, personally, feel less regretful about taking a knife to a manuscript (my own or someone else’s) when I keep a separate document where I deposit everything I’ve parted with. There’s no reason you can’t use good material in something else later, and there’s no reason you need it now (unless you NEED it now–and be honest with yourself about the difference between “need” and “really really want”).”

Happy revising!

Holly Cupala and Jolie Stekly are putting a group together to whip revisions into shape- with licorice whips, of course.  Do I need this?  You betcha I do.  Do you?

summer revision smackdown

So I blogged about seeing a possum (blech.) in the yard a few months ago.  If my blog hits are any indication- possums are hot.  No single post or word (with some bizarre variations like “possum ghost,” “”possum love,” and “possum recipe”) has drawn the amount of blog hits that the possum post did, thanks to Google searches.  So…I don’t know.  I’m not a fan, but maybe there’s a need out there for more possum?  Are possums the new vampires?  Picture book writers and editors, take note.

Do you know a 2010 high school graduate-to-be? Perhaps they’d like to pen a little essay for Dr. Seuss’s Oh the Places You’ll Go College Scholarship Program.

I am bad at grammar.  Bad, bad, bad.  I think something like this might help.

Last thing- I have a question for you, internet.

My six year old boy  loves to read.  He’s zipping through Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine books right now, and Saturday morning he whipped through a couple of chapter books before we even woke up.  He likes light stuff (easy on the dead parents, snarkiness, and scary monsters), but he tends to shy away from series.  Does anyone have any suggestions?

I am going to daydream that I’m on my way to BEA now.

If I was there, I’d be looking for an ARC of When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead because it sounds fantastic- and it’s not out until July.  sigh.

I may have been short-sighted when I named my blog Wagging Tales.  It’s a little too cutesy, and there’s an, ummm, animal communication business that has the same name.  I meant to think of something better, but then a few people started actually reading it and I got lazy.  Now, some sort of wires have been crossed and editors are asking me to review dog books.  Not even kid lit dog books- a dog memoir, dog advice, and dog training.  Three different houses.  I somehow got tagged as the go-to dog lady.  But, I am not.

I’m going to reexamine the blog renaming.  Feel free to make recommendations.

We usually spend Christmas in Colorado with most of my immediate family.  It’s a fabulous 5 days of playing in the snow, drinking, laughing, playing board games, drinking, bickering, eating junk food, name calling (hippie/yuppie/liberal cityslicker/etc.),  and laying around.  My dad even dresses up like Santa on Christmas morning when the little guys are there.  Yes, it’s that festive.  

So, we’re staying home in Seattle this year and I’m having a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit.  This month has been a little chaotic with colds and non-holiday tasks, and I’ve been distracted.  I have most of the elements.  Small children- check.  Games- check. Name calling- (Thanks, random man on Pine!)- check.  I didn’t have a lot of junk food or liquor, so I stocked up- check.  Things were looking up, but I still wasn’t in the yuletide spirit.  Add a bunch of snow and some nog, and I’m almost there.  

stickers1Ohhh, I got my package today from the Book Bloggers Christmas Swap.  I think I’m only a book blogger in a broad sense, since I don’t review books (and especially not dog books).  Anyway, the package is lovely and  I’m going to try and wait until Christmas to open it.  I’ll take some pictures, too.


If I was an illustrator, I would have a PDF for downloadable stickers on my site like this.

I was reading an excellent article on transracial adoption (We adopted our daughter from Guatemala in 2007).  A lot of the issues that come up around transracial adoption are also valid when you talk about mixed heritage, blended families, regentrification, urban settings… you name it.   I have a mixed Hispanic/Anglo heritage.  I don’t look Hispanic.  At all.  But, I was raised predominately around the Hispanic side of my family in Hispanic communities.  I felt caught in the middle a lot.  

The article quoted a local performer named Chad Goller-Sojourner, a black adoptee with a white family.  He gave a pretty good analogy on having a different race than those around you.

“Let’s say I was a gazelle adopted by lions,” he says. “I pranced around happy until I got to first grade and all these lions tried to attack me; it’s like they didn’t get the memo. The other gazelles, they smelled the lion on me and didn’t trust me, so I stood open.”

That’s pretty heavy, right? I think that’s how a lot of kids feel who are not of the dominant race, or who are outsiders in another way.  I bring it up here, because I think it needs to be said.  There has been a (much needed) push towards more ethnic characters in kid lit.  I think sometimes these books don’t connect with the reader because the author fails to tap into that feeling of being an outsider, and how being in the middle somehow taints you a little for either side and takes away the automatic belonging.  We don’t just need characters with different ethnicities, we need characters with the complex emotions and settings that go along with being different.

Nathan Bransford has recapped the year in publishing.

I’m making a resolution to post pictures or a video of the shed in the next ten days.  There, I said it.  It’s been a little hyped up, so bear in mind that it’s a shed.  It’s my shed, though, and I adore it.  I also adore my new video camera, and that is a great motivator.

I hope however and wherever you’re celebrating the season that you have a lot of peace and joy.

Happy Holidays!

Do query letters stress you out?  Michael Stearns and Firebrand Literary want to help.  Forget the query and just send the first, fabulous chapter of your completed manuscript from December 15-January 15.  You can find more details here (via Cynsations).

It’s pretty standard for agents and editors to request that you submit only after your manuscript is polished and complete.  Seems logical to me.  I’m neurotic enough to wait until I don’t think I can make it any better.   Then I’ll send it or shelve it.  I’ve been hearing some nice success stories of people getting deals based solely on partials, rough drafts, and outlines.  So, here’s a poll…


If you did, how did that work out for you?  Spill!


Here is one for the illustrators:  Swissmiss shared a link to over 40 Wacom tablet tutorials.  

When do you know if you should give up on a manuscript?  I’ve been stuck on mine, but I’m not sure if it’s just the manuscript blahs or a deeper issue.  I have other ideas for books that are sooo inviting, but Laini reminded me that those inklings to be wooed by exciting new plans are just sirens leading to doom.  I know me.  If I put a project aside to work on something else, I won’t go back to it.  

I spent last Saturday gaining lots of new inspiration and ideas (and hand cramps) at Writeorama, and then Laini shared lots of good advice on finishing your novel last night.  Sooo…I’m going to give it another shot.

farBy the way, I read an advanced copy of Joni Sensel’s new book The Farwalker’s Quest (Bloomsbury USA, 2009).  I am not a book reviewer, but when I really like something I like to mention it (Full disclosure: Joni and I serve on the SCBWI WWA Advisory Committee together).


The Farwalker’s Quest is a light fantasy that’s going to appeal to any middle grade reader who enjoys a good adventure.  It’s definitely a page turner, and I think it’s Joni’s best book yet.  I’m excited to have a sneak peek, because I predict this book is going to be a smashing success.

I.N.K. makes a recommendation for the non-fiction writer in your life.

Books for the holidays!

Big A little a starts a blog tour of interviews with Judy Blume.

Through the Tollbooth has a great post on Showing vs. Telling.  They say that if you’re buried in the slush, you’re probably doing a lot of telling.  I’m a teller. For example, I just told you I’m a teller.  If you read my blog, I’ve probably showed you, too. sigh.

Editorial Anonymous examines the synopsis.

I have had a $50 gift certificate to Elliott Bay Book Company for seven months.  I’ve been in there a few times since then, but never carrying the 3″x5″ certificate.  I’ve been saving it for a time when I could have a luxurious, kid-free browse and maybe write a little downstairs in the cafe.  I went last night and bought a nice stack of books.  They renovated the downstairs, so it’s no longer the cozy, bookshelf filled coffeeshop that I covet for writing.  Oh, well.  More time in the shed. I had a great time browsing and bought a nice stack of new and used books. I’m reading the The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff first, because it was time for some adult lit.  So far, it’s very engrossing.  I also bought Jon Sciezska’s Knucklehead, Born Confused by Tanua Desai Hidier, a new journal, Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko (which I’ve been meaning to read forever) and Flush by Carl Hiaasen (since I gave my other copy away).  It was so fun and indulgent.  Bookstores make good therapy.

What are you doing on the 10th?  Laini Taylor is speaking at the SCBWI WWA meeting on finishing a novel.  She is a delightful person and an excellent speaker, but if that’s not enough for you there will be a cookie contest as well.

Come!  Bring cookies!

There is a Book Bloggers Christmas Swap, but the deadline to sign up is in two days!

Last week Big A little a pointed out the New York Times Children’s Books Special Fall Issue.

Wordle is the fun program you’ve probably seen by now that makes a word cloud of any text you paste.  An interesting feature is the word count.  Under the ‘Language’ tab under such options as ‘Remove Common Turkish Words’ is ‘Show Word Counts.’  It shows each word in your manuscript alphabetically and how many times you’ve used it.  I can tell at a glance that my character might be woeful a little too much, and I mention trees more than trucks.  Sort of constructive!

Are you a writer in Seattle?  Write-O-Rama is coming up, and it sounds pretty nifty.

Have a great weekend!

I write stories for kids while volunteering as the Assistant Regional Advisor and Conference Coordinator for the western Washington chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

I live in Seattle with my family and a small zoo of animals. I drink copious amounts of coffee and assign complicated life stories to passing strangers. I'm currently working on a middle grade novel.

There's a wee bit more on my website. You can also follow me on twitter.


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