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Last week I returned to Hollins for the Children's Literature Association conference. It's a wonderful conference anyway, but the chance to combine that conference with a Hollins trip and reunion was just amazing.

On Saturday Brian went to Pittsburgh to get my mom. She loves children's literature as well, so we thought it would be fun for her to come to the conference, watch Wyrmling, and attend a few sessions. It's so nice having her around the house, too, because I can actually DO things (like write blog posts; right now she's downstairs with Wyrmling). My friend Dawn (from Hollins, of course) came to my house on Monday so we could confer in person about a project we're working on. We're both swamped with other things, but this project is plugging along slowly. Don't want to say too much about it online, but it is awesome. Then mja700 came to the house Tuesday and we all had a spa treatment. Ahhhh. Hung out a bit Tuesday night, but mostly was packing.

Wednesday we got all our stuff together and headed for Hollins! Trip wasn't too bad, although Wyrmling decided she hated being in the car and had to get out RIGHT NOW with an hour to go on trip. When we got there, I registered and ran into oh so many good friends from Hollins. Headed over to Tinker, the dorm where the conference-goers were housed. I carried a couple loads in by myself, but as soon as mja700 realized we were there, she arranged a contingent of more Hollins friends to come and help me unload the car. Awww! Managed to squeeze a shower in before I headed to J.D. Stahl's memorial. candice_ransom did a WONDERFUL job honoring him (you can read her version of events here. She has pictures too; I alas have little patience and even less time to fiddle with LJ's photo interface).

After grabbing some food for my mom, I headed to the presentation workshop and pizza party. That was less about workshopping for me, as I wasn't presenting, but it was a great chance to visit with people. After the workshop, went back, tended to Wyrmling, then once she was asleep I was able to hang out in the common room with people! Bliss!!!

The next few days were a blur. I attended sessions. I visited with so many good friends. I spent time with Wyrmling. I ate at Hollywoods twice. I chaired a panel with Amanda Cockrell, Valerie Patterson, Heath Gibson, and Phoenix Award winner Virginia Euwer Wolff (this was a last minute thing; I was called in to pinch-hit chair and was SO glad I had that opportunity as it was an awesome pane. I was on a panel, "Drawing on that Old Magic" with ellen_kushner, deliasherman, and Charles Vess. kathleenfoucart was our chair and did a spectacular job even though she and I both were in absolute awe of the other people on that panel. I was also royally psyched with Ellen Kushner bought a copy of Young Wizards Handbook and asked me to sign it! Squee!!!! I also got to meet Mary Downing Hahn, who is one of my all-time favorite middle-grade writers (I told her that Wyrmling's real name comes, partially, from the name of a character in one of her books. Was that too fanatical?) and even sat next to her during the author book signings.

I also came away wanting to WRITE! Something about Hollins is magic, something about the combination of the people and the location. I'd lay in bed or walk around campus and I'd hear snatches of Tapestry Threads or School Spirits. Now that my conference duties are nearing an end (I'm done with the ChLA program, obviously, which, I'm told, MANY people complimented; ICFA is also nearing an end as I'm passing the torch to citycountrygirl), it's time to start writing. Just plan on an hour in the evening when Brian's home and can watch Wyrmling, and then WRITE WRITE WRITE!

I'm a Stylish Blogger

No, really! candice_ransom recently passed the torch along to me. Thank you, Candice! Hm, now, what to blog about in a stylish way. Apparently I need to reveal 7 random things about myself. What have I not talked about on this blog...

1) I'm very excited that my mom and I recently made plans to stay in West Virginia for a week in August! Her high school reunion is one weekend, our family reunion is the next, so we just decided to rent one of my cousin's cabins and spend the week there! While I love spending time in WV, I don't think I've spent an entire week there since I was in middle school. Back then, I stayed at my grandma's house and spent my days painting the walls of the room that used to be my mom and aunt's, but was mine when we stayed there. I read a lot of Susan Cooper and the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings that summer. I hung out with my distant cousins who were around my age. Now, when we go there, it will be to clean up my grandma's house.

2) I'm currently trying to figure out how to best re-design my office. I have a wonderful vision in my head of walls completely covered with file cabinets on bottom, kitchen-style cabinets on top, and folding tables on top of the file cabinets that latch to the cabinets above, so I have movable work space and something that hides my crafty messes when I'm not working on them. Where to work while we're doing this work, though, is the question.

3) In the midst of my YA reading binge, I'm reading "Prince of Tides." I'm wondering if the reason I prefer YA to adult fiction is when adults act like complete idiots or jerks, they don't have the excuse of immaturity. I'm willing to forgive a lot more from a teen protagonist than I am an adult.

4) Giving serious thought to revising Tapestry, including a major timeline shift. Perhaps the first two chapters would work better as backstory. Am also thinking of changing the title, and the name of the dog in the story. This change would be the same word.

5) I just changed a poopy diaper. I'm sure you all really wanted to know THAT little tidbit.

6) While I haven't been writing, in addition to reading a lot more while keeping an eye on Wyrmling, I've crocheted an insane amount since she was born. This year I've made 4 afghans and am 75% complete on a 5th (3 baby afghans, 1 wedding gift, 1 high school graduation gift), an Easter basket for Wyrmling, a hat for every month of her life so far (even though she now hates wearing them and yanks them off. Who can blame her, in 90 degree weather??), 3 large stuffed animals (a koala and a sheep), 1 small stuffed bird, a 4th of July themed dress for a crocheted sock monkey I made my mom a couple years ago, and I'm sure I'm forgetting some things. Current project is for the Francelia Butler auction at Hollins. And my lips are sealed about what it is! But it's awesome. And Hollins-themed!

7) Don't know if I've ever talked about this here, but I love plants. If my back were in better shape I'd have a garden outside, but since bending over destroys it, I play with potted plants a lot. Recently ordered the cutest little pot that looks like a teacup and saucer. I have this thing that kind of looks like a shamrock that I can't wait to put in it. It was touch and go with the faux shamrock (fauxrock? Sham shamrock?), but it looks like it will survive. I'm glad, I always feel so sad when a plant dies.

Thank you candice_ransom! Passing the torch to:

Kathleen Foucart's "A Chronicle of Scribbles" kathleenfoucart
Tiffany Trent's "Center Neptune" tltrent
Laura Bowers' "Writing without the Reins" laurabowers
Lois Szmanski's "Living the Write Life!" loisszy
Chaz Lehmann's "Drowning Myself Whenever I Can" chaz_lehmann

My thoughts on the YA debacle

This started as a comment on kathleenfoucart's LJ and grew into something more.

I won't recap all the hubbub about the WSJ recent article about YA. Instead, I'll talk about my experience with YA as a reader and writer.

For reference, I graduated high school in 1993. If there was YA fantasy available at that time, I sure didn't know about it. I started reading fantasy with Lloyd Aleander, Madeleine L'Engle, Susan Cooper, C.S.Lewis: all authors who were solidly middle grade at the time and are now even more firmly entrenched in that camp. When I felt I was outgrowing those stories,I moved to adult fantasy. Would I have loved reading about teen werewolves, wizards, fairies: absolutely!!!! But it just didn't exist, at least from what I was able to find. I think that is why I've emerged as a writer of MG and not YA fantasy. For me, at this point in time, anyway, the voice I have is the voice of what I loved in middle school.

That brings us to my recent reading habits. I'd been enrolled in graduate school for children's literature since 2001, completing my studies in 2009 (I actually had to dig out my Hollins scrapbook to confirm that year!). I read a lot. For class. For reviews. For "fun," but it was no longer fun. It wasn't work, exactly, but somewhere amidst reading for all these reasons, I lost track of reading for simple joy. Looking at a bookshelf and picking one specific book because I was in the mood for it.

During my pregnancy, I really lost my ability to read. I read a few very old and easy to read favorites (even took all my Ramona books to the hospital when Wyrmling was born) but certainly nothing new. I also ceased writing, but that was by choice. I actually started and completed a rough draft during my pregnancy. I finished one month before Wyrmling was due, determined to enjoy my last month of completely free time. Still have not resumed writing, but that's a post for another time.

A few months ago, something unexpected happened. I found myself with time when there wasn't much to do.Wyrmling would be asleep on the sofa and I wouldn't want to move her, or she'd be entertaining herself on the floor in the family room. Why she can do that in the family room and not in her play area in my office is beyond me. But, the point is, I had free time when I couldn't work at computer or watch tv (we don't want her to start watching tv at all until she's older, so we only watch when she's not around). So I started reading. This also coincided with me finding the Kindle app for my phone. I saw a few posts about discounted Kindle titles and started downloading. I realized that I was reading. New fiction. Old fiction. Reading throughout the day, not just for a bit each night. Returning to stories eager to find out what happened next (specifically Libba Bray's Beauty Queens, Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Angel and City of Fallen Angels, Holly Black's Red Glove, and the if-the-publishing-world-has-any-sense soon to be published Accursed by Kathleen Foucart). I realized it had been years since I read like this. I loved falling into books again.

The wonderful hubby got me a Kindle for Mother's day. I'd been thinking I would want one, but I figured I had to wait until my birthday in October! I forgot I now could get gifts in the spring! I never thought I'd love it so much! I love being able to get books and not have to worry about storing them. I love that it syncs with my phone so I always can read what I'm currently into. But most of all, I love reading again, for joy.

You'll notice that all the books I mention above are YA. YA brought my almost dead reading for joy habit back. #YASaves? Absolutely!

Author appearance!

At long last, I'll be doing a book signing event! I'll be appearing at the Valley Mall in Hagerstown from 10-3 tomorrow for Washington County Reading Day. I'll be signing copies of Young Wizards Handbook as well as Bronze Dragon Codex, talking about both books, and demonstrating some crafts from YWH. Free handmade-by-yours-truly double doll with purchase of Young Wizards Handbook while supplies last!

Back from ICFA!

Had a WONDERFUL time. This year was very different. Instead of rooming with citycountrygirl and one or two other Hollins friends, I roomed with Brian and the Wyrmling. Wyrmling still views bottles as EPTFH (Evil Plastic Things From Hell) and we didn't want to introduce solids right before a trip, so she's still nursing. It actually worked out decently, mainly because ICFA is held in the hotel where we stayed. I just kept my phone with me and Brian texted me whenever she got fussy. For a baby who spends 99% of her time with me, she was VERY content to spend all day with just Daddy, she only got fussy when hungry. I'm sure Brian was bored, as there wasn't much to do (the pool was just a smidge too cold for him to take her in), but he was absolutely wonderful about this!

I'm retiring as Division Head and I have a lot of mixed feelings about that. I LOVE that position, I love reading the papers, I love putting them together in sessions, I love the interaction (I can be rather shy around people I don't know, unless I NEED to talk to them, and being div head gives me a good reason to introduce myself to all the presenters). But the more active Wyrmling gets, the more I realize that I need to start cutting down on volunteering and focus that time into writing. Speaking of, citycountrygirl had the interesting suggestion of switching my main character in "School Spirits" to male instead of female. The more I think about that, the more I like it! Not because there aren't many YA fantasies with a male protagonist (which was her reasoning), but because it works so much better with the plot. For example, my MC has just moved to a school where football reigns supreme. That is going to be more of an issue for a male rather than a female. Also, it allows for a romantic subplot. Yes, I know. Me, writing a romance. Weird...

In addition to cutting back on volunteering, I'm also changing the way I work. Years ago, I realized that keeping my computer in the family room all the time and working on it during the day and playing in the evening (ok, during the day too!) really made me feel yucky, mentally and physically. Physically it wasn't good for my back or shoulders, and mentally I just never got a break. At my old house I didn't care for my office because it was in the basement. When I moved in with Brian, though, my office had two windows and I really liked it, even though it was small. I moved my computer to the office and kept it there, only moving it when I traveled. I loved it. When you work from home, it's so hard to turn off your work brain, be it werk (tm kathleenfoucart) or writing. Only doing work in my office allowed me to give my brain and body much needed rest.

But now that Wyrmling is getting very active (I think she might start crawling soon!), she needs more space. My office is tiny, plus it's a childproofing nightmare, especially with all the electronics and craft supplies. I've been working during her nap and playing with/watching her in the family room the rest of the day. Moving my computer to the family room and working here during the day might allow me to get more work done. Not only will it be easy to shoot off a few emails, enter invoices, write checks, and work on the program for ChLA (that volunteering is just a one-time deal, thank heavens!), in the evening I can also do some work but also spend some time with Brian and Wyrmling rather than being off in the office. We'll see if this works. I will have to make a point to turn it off at a reasonable time, though, plus figure out a way to set the computer up so it isn't on my lap all the time.

Back to the Florida trip. Brian drove us down and back. We took the truck, which I can't drive because it's a standard, and he drove the entire way. It took us over 35 hours round trip. Wyrmling was AMAZING! She was only fussy a couple times during the trip. The way back was especially nice, she slept almost the entire time. Because both Brian and I are night owls, once she would sleep for the night, he'd try to cover as much ground as possible. This is how we ended up in a hotel on the way down at 3AM and got back Monday at 5AM. We spent yesterday vegging and recovering. On the way back from ICFA we swung by Tallahassee to visit some of my relatives. It's funny, for years I almost never saw them, but since my grandma died I've been seeing them at least once a year. This year will be a lot; they came up for my dad's funeral and we'll be going back to Florida for one cousin's wedding later in the spring. I'm hoping that this can continue, I'd like Wyrmling to grow up knowing that side of the family.

Ok, that's enough for now. Off to try my new working setup!

The Quest for Popcorn

I love popcorn. That doesn't come close enough to saying how I feel about popcorn. I have a specific ritual for popcorn when we go to the movies. I ask them for a small or medium (small, if I'm being smart) popcorn and to layer the butter. For you non-popcorn connisueres, this means they fill the bag halfway with popcorn, put butter on it, fill the rest of the bag with popcorn, and put butter on top. That way, you don't run out of butter halfway through your popcorn. Then I ask for extra butter to be put on. I often have my husband do that for me because I get embarrassed by the stares I get. We've gotten warnings that the bag will probably leak from all the butter. No problem, I brought a couple plastic grocery bags to put my popcorn in (I used to just stock up on napkins and lay them on my leg and put the popcorn on that, but that only worked about half the time, which is why many of my sweatpants pre-grocery bag era have dark marks in the middle of my thighs).

As we head into the theater, I don't stop to get salt. This is because I carry a little camping saltshaker with me. If you think running out of butter midway through your popcorn is bad, try running out of salt after only one layer of popcorn!

So, to say that I'm obsessed with my popcorn puts it mildly. At home, I would fix microwave butter lover popcorn then melt MORE butter to put on it.

This stopped when I was pregnant. I really lost my taste for popcorn (which is probably good; as it was I put on over 50 pounds while pregnant with the Wyrmling. No, I didn't have gestational diabetes. I just had a craving for Boston Cream pies) and really didn't regain it until this January.

One day I was thinking about microwave popcorn and it sounded good. However, I've been cutting down on processed foods. Not eliminating entirely, just being more aware of what I'm eating (I replaced my breakfast drink of Ensure with Odwalla's smoothies, which at least only have pronounceable ingredients). I'm not as gung-ho as my cousin's wife , but I'm learning a lot from her (highly recommend "liking" Not Just Kale on Facebook; she posts some great links!) and am trying to get healthier so that by the time Wyrmling will need lunch prepared by me that doesn't physically come OUT of me, I won't just be feeding her PB&Js and Chef Boyardee.

So I'm sitting there thinking about popcorn and devine inspiration hit. Freshly popped popcorn! With olive oil! That's healthier! And sea salt! I have no idea if sea salt is indeed healthier, but I do love the taste. I asked hubby to pick some up. I fixed it in a paper bag in the microwave and applied olive oil and sea salt. Blis. Shear blis. IT WAS JUST AS GOOD AS MOVIE POPCORN! Considering that we haven't been to a movie since well before Wyrmling was born (during pregnancy first I had BAD pregnancy brain and couldn't even focus on some tv shows, let alone a whole movie, then my back became really bad whenever I had to sit upright. After Wyrmling arrived, just didn't want to take her to a movie as I think that's really, really rude), this was a perfect compromise!

Now this freshly popped popcorn with olive oil and sea salt is my go-to snack. And I've lost another 15 pounds since new years, so it can't be that fattening. I'm actually quite pleased with my post-partum weight loss. I put on over 50 pounds, as I said before, and as of today I've lost 48! I wish breastfeeding advocates would play up with weight lost aspect of nursing. You mean I get to cuddle my baby, give her food that's really good for her, sit on the sofa, and either coo at my child or read or watch tv or just zone? And lose weight? Seriously? This rocks!

But I digress. You'll notice I haven't been blogging very much. I also haven't been writing very much (read: not at all). I'm hoping that a manuscript critique with an editor at this weekend's SCBWI conference will jolt me into writing, although that will have to wait until I get home after ICFA. Reason is obvious: Wyrmling. She's an extremely good-natured baby, but she just takes a lot of time. A lot of that is my doing; sure, I CAN put her on the floor and let her play while I work. But I want to play too! And I COULD put her in her crib for afternoon nap (she's in there now for her morning nap, which is how I'm able to write this), but I want an excuse to cuddle on the sofa and take a nap together (this also allows for more family time in the evening, as I won't get tired as early). I try not to be too hard on myself. The writing and werk will still be there when I can get to it (and if there is something with work that requires my immediate attention, I do indeed attend to it immediately). She won't be this little forever, I'm going to enjoy it as much as I can!

So, my afternoon yesterday went like this.
Cut for details that include baby pooCollapse )

Maybe this will get me posting more

Just downloaded LJ ap for my phone. Maybe this will get me posting more, as these days computer time is limited, but still get decent phone time.

Posted via LjBeetle

Much delayed, but needed to be posted

I've been absent from LJ for far too long. The reasons are many, but the biggest one over the past few weeks is because my father died January 24. Obituary is here.

My favorite picture of us!

Here is the eulogy I wrote and gave at his funeral:

I must apologize in advance if I have to stop or call on my cousin Jeff to finish this if I start crying. This is something that I share with my dad. My dad was never afraid of tears, be they for a beautiful piece of music, an emotional scene in a movie, or especially for the death of a loved one. Family was very important to my father and I know it means a lot that so many of you came today.

When I think of my father’s life, one word comes to mind first and foremost: brilliant. He graduated first in his class at West Virginia University in Electrical Engineering. He later obtained a master’s degree in power systems and held numerous patents through Westinghouse. He also started his own company, Cimco, which is still running today. Unlike some engineers, though, he never confined himself to numbers and logic. The creative process interested him greatly, as well as matters of faith.

When my father was a teenager, he was approached by the elders of the Church of the Brethren. They encouraged him to become a minister. He declined. They asked him why, as he liked helping people. His answer was he became too frustrated when people refused to help themselves. Nothing bothered him more than wasted potential. He always pushed me to do more, to be more. He’d make games out of logic puzzles, encourage me to read classic literature, listen to classical music, and to strive to do my best academically and artistically. I am so very thankful that I had a father who always encouraged and never discouraged.

I once read an article by a well-known children’s fantasy author called “Why Americans are Afraid of Dragons.” In it, the author discussed the American attitude towards fantasy literature and how this attitude, especially that of the American businessman, is that reading is to improve oneself, not to entertain. As fantasy and fairy tales do not fall into the self-improvement category, they are thought of as a “low” art. When I first read this article, I thought it fit my father to a “T.” When he was a child, he liked realistic books, westerns, books about identifying plants and wildlife. After reading this article, my initial impression was that, since my dad encouraged me to read books that would “improve” my mind rather than fantasy, he was afraid of dragons. But I then realized, that even though Dad often nudged me to read more of the classics like Twain and Hawthorn, he acknowledged that there was value in fantastic literature as well, that it nourished my imagination. He never once told me to quit reading this book and read that one instead. He just encouraged me to read more and do more, expand my repertoire and knowledge rather than sacrificing one area to improve another. He was not a man afraid of dragons.

My dad told me that when he was very little, maybe about 4 or 5, he was sitting on the steps of his house. When his mom asked him what he was doing, he said he was driving to his grandparents’ house. He was able to replay in his mind every turn, every tree, every bump in the road as he traveled to see his family. I like to think that he’s now traveled that road one last time, as he made the final journey to his loved ones that went before.

Now I’d like to read a poem that my mom and I found fitting for my dad.

Crossing the Bar by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

After I read this eulogy, the minister gave the funeral service. When my mom and I spoke with the minister, we told him about my dad and how he thought EVERYONE should be an engineer. The minister said that if you wanted to honor my dad's life, be what you were born to be. Very, very true. Until we meet again, Dad.

Click to see more picturesCollapse )

A very merry birtday too....

kathleenfoucart!!! May your characters all behave today and tell you EXACTLY what they want!

And the winners are....

Wyrmling and I printed out the entries and put them all in a magical sorting pumpkin. Since we got more than 10 entries, Wyrmling pulled 2 out of the sorting pumpkin. They were

I hunted a closet monster with a half-strung tennis racket in the back rooms of the local country club.


I hunted a basilisk using a mirror and hammer at the local dairy farm in Australia. Mirrors broken, hammer is melted but I got the sucker! Dropped him down an old well that's all dried up. He won't be harming anyone else. Wink.

Congratulations, zameenah and Jamie!! Email me your addresses so I can get your copy of "Young Wizards Handbook" to you before the monsters get you (they get cranky after Halloween is over). Thanks, everyone, for playing! You can see all the entries here.

Click here for pictures of this delicate and mystical procedure.Collapse )


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