A strange and wonderful revelation

Yesterday I had the strangest and most wonderful moment.

Because the power was off at the office (a power line was down), I was at home on a Wednesday morning stealing time to lay out Write Angles, the newsletter for the Berkeley Branch of California Writers Club (of which I am the editor) and came across this item:

flash in the pan

Tanya Grove’s “Why I Don’t Have a Bucket List” appears in the current Flash in the Pan section of the Tiny Lights Quarterly Posting. http://www.tiny-lights.com/flash.php.

The thing is this: I didn’t even know my piece was chosen. In fact, I only vaguely recall having submitted something long ago.  I could not have told you which piece I sent in, nor to which publication. But eagle-eyed Anne Fox, my trusty copyeditor for Write Angles, had discovered this and placed it in the section called Member News. And that’s how I found out.

So I suppose you could call me a published writer now. Blow the trumpets! Spread the news! Pop open the champagne! But not until I finish laying out this particularly complicated issue of Write Angles

What Revs Your Engine?

ImageEven if you live in the Bay Area’s temperate climate, when many days in January are sunny and clear, it’s still possible to get the winter doldrums. Blame it on the lethargy that accompanied those extra pounds that found themselves around your waist after all that holiday eating. Or blame it on the post-holiday blues. Blame anything you want, but if you find that your mind is elsewhere when you sit down to research that article or revise your short story, maybe you need the writer’s version of a shot in the arm.

When I find that I’m focusing more on my grocery list than revising my early-grade chapter book, I know that I need a boost. For me, attending a conference or workshop does the trick. Sometimes the workshop covers ground I’m already familiar with, or the conference has the same speakers I’ve seen before, but I can always find something to inspire me and get me back on track.

It’s not necessarily the presenters or their advice that revs my engine—it’s often the camaraderie among fellow attendees. When I decided to become a children’s writer almost five years ago, I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) to become part of a like-minded writing community. Now I recognize local kid-lit folks at regional events and enjoy sharing publishing stories.

But that’s not all that workshops do for me. Sometimes I just need to focus on the idea of writing—away from home, work, and my daily life. I need to get in that mindset where I think of myself as a writer. It’s too easy to get caught up in work deadlines, wonder what to fix for dinner, and spend all one’s mental energy on a long to-do list that will never be completely checked off.

So I highly recommend taking a workshop or attending a conference, even if the exact topic doesn’t sound like it’s your particular cup of tea. At a SCBWI conference a few years ago, I almost skipped a speaker’s presentation because she was an illustrator, and I’m strictly a wordsmith. But I’m glad I stayed, because it was terrifically inspiring and also gave me insight to another side of children’s literature, which I think is ultimately helpful to my writing.

Maybe you don’t want to attend a three-day conference. There are still plenty of workshops and writing events out there to inspire, instruct, and remind you that you are, indeed, a writer. Find one that revs your engine.


Al tells the future like it is

Al Gore 2

On Wednesday I was the envy of my 20-year old daughter because I got to hear Al Gore speak at Dominican College in San Rafael. I was pretty lucky that I got to see him because I didn’t buy tickets in advance, and they sold out. But optimist that I am, I stood in the “standby line” while I ate my tostada salad and gained entrance 15 minutes before the official event began. I got a good spot in the middle of the second row in the balcony..

Al Gore has written the book The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change. But he didn’t read from it. In fact he didn’t even use notes. He abandoned the podium almost immediately and actively walked the stage while he spoke passionately and knowledgeably about the six emerging forces that will affect all of us. And even though his presentation was polished and he spoke with confidence, it didn’t feel at all canned. I know he’s on a speaking circuit—I just saw him on The Daily Show too—but he included very recent news items, so this wasn’t a cookie-cutter speech that he’s been telling the same way for months. He had a lot of facts at his fingertips, but he didn’t try to drown us in sensational stats. Al Gore struck a great balance of communicating with intelligence and reason but also sounding like a favorite uncle sharing some earth-shattering news with you.

He covered as much as he could in about an hour and then answered audience questions for another 25 minutes or so. He gave each question careful consideration and answered thoughtfully and honestly.

I haven’t yet started the book, but I already believe it.

As I was listening to him, I thought what a shame it was that he was robbed of the presidency when George Dubya took office due to some fishy Florida chads. He most likely would have made a great president. But then he probably wouldn’t have been able to accomplish as much as he has in the last eight years. It’s a tough call…

Wonder is a wonder

WonderOne of the perks of working in the book business is that you know other folks in the book business who get advance reader’s copies, have them lying around, and then offer them freely when you’re over at their house for dinner. Of course this is just hypothetical…

This means that I come into contact with books that I otherwise might not have known existed. Like the middle-grade novel Wonder by R.J. Palacio, which I think is Jill Aramor’s pen name, but I haven’t investigated that fully yet.

Wonder begins shortly before August Pullman (Auggie, for short) enters his first year of school—fifth grade. He was home-schooled up to this point because of all the surgeries he’s had, which prevented him from attending anything with a regular schedule. But now he’s reached a stable point in his medical history where he’s able to go to school. But he’s petrified about going because of the way his face looks. No, this is not your typical acne-covered teen—Auggie has an abnormal face that frightens strangers. It’s reminiscent of the boy in Mask, that movie from the 70s.

“I know I’m not an ordinary ten-year-old kid….I know ordinary kids don’t get stared at wherever they go…..I know how to pretend I don’t see the faces people make. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”

Although the book begins with 80 pages of first-person narration from Auggie, it switches points of view several times so that the reader gets the perspectives of his sister and friends too. But the most endearing voice belongs to Auggie, who returns to narrate the final 70 or so pages. Auggie’s character is funny and real, and you root for him from page one. I admit that I got teary a few times, but there was plenty of humor as well. I highly recommend it for people from 8 to 80.

My only slight criticism is with the depiction of the protagonist on the cover. Although the cover art was appealing, it was clearly drawn by someone who had not read the book carefully. See, Auggie gets fitted for a hearing aid, which presents logistical problems because he has no outer ear on which to hang anything that’s standard made. Yet the cover implies his ears are quite large. I just think someone should have picked up on the incongruity.

But it’s still solid writing and a moving story. So thumbs up on Wonder.

Where’s you go, pages 324 and 325?


For Christmas, my husband gave me the bestselling novel by Maria Semple, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, which I finished the other night. Well, except for two pages. Because they weren’t there. I’m reading along on page 323 and get to the bottom:

I grasped it. Like everything else in my life—I got it, I lost it!

Then I turned the page and read:

her dorm room instead of eating in the dining hall with the other students.

Now this obviously wasn’t a continuation of the previous page, but it did sound familiar. I looked at the page number—what should have been 324 was a repeat of 224, and across from it was another page 225 where page 325 should have been. I went back in the book to find the real page 224, which was still there. So it hadn’t crept through the book and staked out a new spot.

Hoping that the following pages would be the missing page 324 and 325, I turned to find the very last page of the book, page 326. After that? Just acknowledgments and blank pages.

I’m beginning to think that this is some brilliantly weird trick being played on me by the author or perhaps a statement on how history repeats itself or was itself a parallel for the missing protagonist, Bernadette, or…okay, probably just a printing error.

But here’s the thing. I know how books are made—large sheets of paper are printed with 16 pages on one side and 16 on the other. Each one of these sheets is called a signature. Back in the day, when a printer checked and then approved one of these sheets, he signed off on it, hence the term signature. (This is why hardbound picture books generally have 32 pages, rather than 25 or 40. Go ahead, check.) So if this were a printer’s error, 32 pages would be missing, not just two.

And it gets weirder.

I scanned both versions of page 224 and noticed something: on the first page 224, the headmaster’s name was Judge Choate, but on the second page 224, his name was Seymour St. John.

The next day I shared my bizarre discovery with my husband, who agreed that this was pretty strange. He told me he purchased it at the Books, Inc. near our office. So that afternoon I took a mini field trip to said store to see whether my copy was the only one missing pages and also to see if there was one available with pages 324 and 325 intact that I could read. There were no copies on the shelves, but a helpful employee told me she had one behind the counter that she was holding for someone and that I could take a look at it. I started to explain why I needed to see the book, but she was already nodding her head and sporting a sheepish smile. My copy was apparently not the only one missing pages 324 and 325. But she assured me that the current shipment had all the pages in the right order.

So, standing near the cash register, I  read the two pages before handing the book back to her.

I had thought it would feel more satisfying getting to the bottom of the mystery. But once I learned that everyone with a book from that particular printing had the same renegade pages, I no longer felt like I had something special. The author had no secret message she was trying to convey. Someone at Little, Brown probably saw that the headmaster had inexplicably changed names and had tried to replace the text on 234 and 235  but missed the mark by 100 pages.

But at least now I know what happened to Bernadette. And what happened to pages 324 and 325.

You can never have too much Chihuly…

garden purple trio

I just love the way these glass sculptures look as if they’ve grown right out of the ground. The pieces on this page are all in the garden part of the Dale Chihuly exhibit at the Seattle Center in Seattle, WA.


Chihuly has often said, “I want my work to appear as though it came from nature so if someone found it… they might think it belonged there.”

garden red spikes pic