Sunday, November 29, 2009

Strange Weather and Splashes of Color

The past two days there have been strange winds off and on. Dry winds, no big storm. The winds have hastened the process of falling leaves, but Midtown still looks beautiful. California is considered not to have seasons: Southern California is full of palm trees, and the most northern California is full of redwoods and pines, so they are green all year. But Sacramento has been dubbed the City of Trees, and we have a wide array.

Early on, throughout Sacramento proper, streets were lined with elms and sycamores and maples. Oh, we have some crazy-looking palm trees, looking like upended feather dusters, and a few redwoods as well. But for the most part, the plantings since the early days have been mostly deciduous: One long strip of J Street between 12th or 13th and 19th is lined with ginko trees, and they're also scattered around McKinley Park. There are sprinkles of magnolias, tulip trees, and dogwoods, redbuds, crape myrtles, and even a eucalyptus or two, not to mention the lemon, orange, and pomegranate trees planted in individual yards. Because of the citrus trees and a few pines, there are layers of green as well as the russets and golds and yellows and reds framed against the sky.

My favorite trees are the sycamores (plane trees, really) and the ginkos. It's the bark of the plane trees that captivates me. The beige and sandy yellow patches overlap patches of palest mauve, and the faintest green. The patches peel away, bit by bit, explosing new, bone white bark that will deepen in varied hues as the year progresses. It's a tree with about three pollen seasons, and a source of my allergies, but I love its beauty and forgive its effect on me. During spring and summer, the ginko trees are studded with small green fans that turn a rich buttery yellow every autumn. When the leaves finally fall, they lie in bright heaps, like so many gold coins. Combined with the red maple leaves, they make sidewalks and gutters a dazzle of color.

Our autumn is drawing to a close now. By Christmas it will be all evergreens and bare branches (beautiful in their own way, too). But for now, when I walk the dog, I'm enjoying the colors.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Rush and Jumble

It was a drudgery sort of week last week -- I was doing all those undone housecleaning chores to get ready for Thanksgiving, since it's at our house this year. These are chores I long put off in favor of Granny's Jig . After all, we writers are supposed to put off the mundane for the sake of our craft, right?

Then on the week-end, I had a writers group meeting and my husband and I went to the opera -- Donizetti's L'Elisir D'Amore, which was wonderfully sung and very funny. The Sacramento Opera casts just get better and better!

So I was all settled into the idea that since I had virtuously tended to business last week, I had three days straight writing time before Turkey Day. Hah! Life never is that cooperative. I did get in one morning's work on Chapter 7, and then our dog had problems, which required two trips to the vet. My car stalled in the vet's parking lot and it had to be towed to the dealer. Sigh. I think I can squeeze in a couple of hours today, and if I do, I'll be a much nicer person for the rest of the week.

Meanwhile, there is so much I want to blog about: Books I've been reading that are oh, so good. My art class, my art club, Sacramento's turning leaves (we are known as "The City of Trees", so you can imagine the color right now), but there's no time for any of that. Hopefully by the week-end, my car, our dog, all will be well.

Meanwhile, I'm so glad I got things ready for company last week, because with all the hubbub there wouldn't have been much time this week. Now, at least, I can more or less relax. That's definitely something to be thankful for at Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Great Discovery for Writers

I recently discovered the Stories for Children Magazine at . A monthly e-zine for children ages 3 to 12. This e-zine offers a rich opportunity for children's writers of fiction, poetry, puzzles, crafts, recipes, art work, you name it, including an educator's page for the month's published works.

In addition to accepting submissions from adult writers for children, Stories for Children accepts submissions from young writers under 17 years of age. At present, it isn't a paying magazine, but it's a great opportunity for any writer to begin or to continue building a portfolio of published work, while bringing pleasure to young readers.

If you've already published a book, you can also send them a review copy. If accepted, they will review it, pass on the review to Amazon or Barnes & Noble (if the book is available from either of those sites), post the review in the magazine, give you permission to use parts of the review in your own marketing, and donate the book to a library of the reviewer's choice.

Check this wonderful ezine out at: . You won't be sorry!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Friday the 13th -- My Good Luck Day

So much has been happening, I haven't had time to blog! Last week I was preparing for my school visit Friday. (Yes, on Friday the 13th, the perfect date to talk about a book involving magic and wishes gone awry.) To top it off, I was invited to be a guest blogger for Sandra Muncaster's blog at (She posted my blog today.) Sandie is assistant editor at Stories for Children, a montly e-zine for children from 3 to 12 that also takes submissions from children as well as adults. We met via Jacketflap, which has to be one of the more amazing webgroups I belong to!

So, Friday.... I spoke to about a hundred 4th, 5th, and 6th graders in an assembly at Elder Creek Elementary School. Afterward, there was a book signing in the library, followed by an "author's lunch" for students who had bought the book.

The visit was special for many reasons. This was my first school visit, and the kids were a wonderful audience. I also used to teach 6th grade at Elder Creek. As the students filed into the multipurpose room, I had a real pang of nostalgia for my own 6th graders who each year filed in, accompanied by the music of Pomp and Circumstance, to receive their diplomas. But the day was special for even a third reason: I read early drafts of the book to three different classes (a 3rd grade, a split 4th-5th, and a 6th) and applied students' suggestions in each new rewrite. Those students made The Fourth Wish a good read!

The super librarian, Eva Chu had tipped me off regarding points students would want to know about: Why did I want to be a writer and write for kids? How did I get the idea for THIS book? Why the title? It was nice to revisit all those questions for myself.

I’ve written most of my life, but it was while teaching that I got hooked on writing for young people. The issues students talked about or wrote in their journals often lingered on in my mind: family break-ups, single working moms worried about making ends meet, pre-teen crushes, pesky neighbors, and, in the case of my Chinese students, extra homework from Chinese school after regular homework. All of these are going on in The Fourth Wish.
As for the title: I’ve always been fascinated by stories about magic (the real kind) and I’ve always been intrigued by magic tricks (the illusory kind). So, when an image came to me of a magician onstage performing one of his tricks and having it get messed up by real magic, well, that was the beginning of The Fourth Wish.

In The Fourth Wish, four children on their way to see The Great Mondo’s magic show meet a strange old woman who says she can grant wishes. They don’t believe her, but to humor her, they agree on a wish that, as it turns out, messes up The Great Mondo’s act. This leads to a 2nd and 3rd wish, each time making things worse. In fairy tales, there are only three wishes. Lucky for Mondo, this time there’s a fourth “fix-it” wish, but not until lives are turned upside down.

Meanwhile, I’ve started a blog for young readers at , where, among other things, I’ll run contests, post websites of magazines that take submissions from young writers, and also post new magic tricks from a wonderful magic store called Grand Illusions.

By the way, I’m always looking for good new reads. Visit me here and recommend some for me. I like anything for young people (from picture books to young adults), and mysteries for any age are my weakness.

The Fourth Wish can be ordered at and at

Monday, November 9, 2009

This and That

I just got back yesterday from a week-end at Pajaro Dunes with seven good friends who go way back. The sound of the ocean, good food and wine, and plenty of laughter -- just the thing after a miserable flu-ridden week and its aftermath. I didn't read or write while there (well, except for the crossword puzzle and scribbling notes to myself regarding my book); but I gambled (and lost) a few nickles and dimes at dominoes, drew crazy pictures at Pictionary, and enjoyed catching up on seven lives.

As after any vacation, it feels great to be home again, refreshed, re-energized, and back into routines. (And, in this case -- since I seldom take trips without him -- back to my husband.) So, today I return to working on Granny's Jig. I'm still enjoying the "I can't wait to get started" feeling that comes and goes during any long work. (With me, it often goes.)

A writing friend sent me a newspaper interview with several writers about their writing processes. Margaret Atwood advises, "Put your left hand on the table, your right hand in the air. If you stay that way long enough, the plot will come." At present, in my enthusiastic stage, I may not have to try that. But, since my characters changed behind my back -- some of them even disappeared -- who knows? The old plot line may have vanished, too. That's a mystery that can only be solved by moving into the new version.

Meanwhile, I am still savoring the echo of the ocean's roar and the laughter of good friends.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Joy of Reading

Back from a bout with the flu, and grateful for the joy of reading: After the chills, the aches, the fever, passed, I was too worn out to write. So I yielded to the pleasure of a reading feast. From my earlier, happy wanderings through book stores, I had a stack of unread books just waiting to be read.

Even though I write books for children, I read anything and everything that I deem well-written. One of my weaknesses is mysteries, and there were a few on hand: Bodies in a Bookshop, a story that takes place in London. The Lost Keats, set in Indiana. (Anything to do with books or dead poets hooks me right away.) A new Cara Black mystery. On another day I'll blog a bit about her mysteries, because reading one of her books is like a free trip to Paris. I also discovered a luminous book, The Speed of Light, by Elizabeth Rozner, which defies genres, but goes into the pile of "must read again".

Next week I will probably start back to work on Granny's Jig, but I'm still enjoying my reading spree. I'm immersed in The Year of the French, by Thomas Flanagan, a novel about an Irish rebellion, aided by the French, that took place in the summer of 1798, fifty years before the Great Famine. It's an earlier period than the one I'm writing about, but it certainly gives the background to the sorrows immigrants would have carried to the New World with them, having listened to the many stories passed on at home.

Meanwhile, despite ten days' confinement to "resting", my little world has been greatly enlarged: Indiana, England, France, Ireland.... Only through reading can one travel so far, go back in time, and have such rich journeys in the space of ten days, without setting a foot outside the door.