Monday, February 27, 2006

They Say Things Happen in Threes – Robin

And I think they’re right.

Take, for example, the interesting phenomenon of…pimples. For me, they always occur in groups of three on the third week of the month. And it takes five days for them to go away—which isn’t three, but if you take away the two days spent trying to scrub them off, but only prolonging their stay, then that’s technically three.

And what about that strange occurrence that happened in college called…trimesters!? Where you run to the mailbox three times a year to grab your grades before your father does so you can soften the news as to why you’re a senior, but you got a ‘D’ in freshman geology. Didn’t that happen to you, too?

Then there’s the unexplainable…triceratops! Dinosaurs…with three horns! Totally amazing. At least my three-year old thinks so. (Hey! Another # 3! Mother Nature is a freak show, man!)

Onto the latest event…by the end of this week, Eve, Jay and Robin will all be done with their novels. For some reason, Mother Nature decided to turn her attention to the three of us. She waved her wand and said, “Thou shalt be done with your novels! It’s been long enough and this is getting ridiculous!”

Seriously, I think having a support group like we have has forced us to keep on our game and just plod through this. You get that mentality of “Well if he/she can do it…so can I!” Which you have to do sometimes…get it down on paper. It doesn’t matter how good it is—just throw it up into your word processor and your friends will clean up the mess. (Sorry—too gross?)

Which makes me wonder if that’s why Jay’s computer broke. Did you take my advice of throwing up your story literally, Jay?

But I digress…or tri-gress, I should say!

- Robin

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Finding The Right Critique Group- Goldilocks Plays The Dating Game - Eve

Finding a good critique group is like dating. Forgive the “Sex And The City” column-esque format. I’ve been watching a lot of late night re-runs due to writer’s block insomnia. Now, what was I saying? Oh, yes. Dating. I want someone who listens, is sensitive to my needs, and inspires me to be a better person (writer). I joined three critique groups over the years…we’ll call them CG’s #1, #2 and #3. You know, like Bachelor numbers 1, 2, and 3.

CG #1 is optimistic, ambitious, energetic…like a puppy. #1 lives in the moment, savors the process of living (writing), is passionate and spends every free moment studying the craft. CG #1 provides well thought out lengthy criticism, laughs at my jokes and can be funny one minute, serious the next. The “Sensitive Lover”

CG #3 is confident, brutally honest, and has been around the block several times…a veteran. CG #3 gives very quick, concise suggestions and is also very adept at speculating on the sale-ability of a project.
The “Practical Lover”

CG #2 is somewhere in between the other two, is a bit unpredictable and moody and offers crazy suggestions from both ends of the spectrum…a bit of a wild card.
The “Exciting Lover”

Sometimes I like to experiment. I bring the same manuscript to all three groups. CG #1 line edits, gives very detailed ideas for changes and reasons why, and makes me look at my mss in completely new and unexpected ways. I generally walk away from a date with CG #1 refreshed and hopeful, in a puppy-love-like haze.

#3 quickly gives me what works, what doesn’t, and wastes no time telling me if something completely sucks. I go home after a date with CG #3 motivated and determined to work hard at showing them how good of a catch I really am! (I mean, writer)

#2 is generally split on loving me or hating me…which is kind of exciting! I prepare for a date with schizoid CG #2 with nervous anticipation. I never know who in the group will think my work is brilliant and who will think it’s juvenile. I generally leave this very opinionated group feeling confused. Sometimes I wonder why I still date CG #2; I don’t know from one week to the next if I am going to feel upbeat and appealing, or exhausted and defeated. I guess my inner 13-year-old is still deeply attracted to those who keep me on my toes…the excitement of the unknown.

A few times, I strayed. That’s right, searching for that one perfect match, my soul mate…I was tempted by the forbidden fruits of strangers and caved into the seductive invites of “other” critique groups. One group was brand new writers, “back patters”, who loooved everything about each other’s work, but never gave any actual criticism. The other focused on adult books (not THAT kind of adult books…the actual books written for grown-ups). I found them uninviting, pretentious and bordering on rude. Neither of these groups ever really “got” me.

I ended both flings quickly. They felt meaningless and empty. I didn’t want to be smothered in kindness, OR abused. One was too soft, the other was too hard. I needed to go back to my “just right”. And I realized that what was right for me was not to feel forced to settle for just one.

So, I’ve been faithful to CG #’s 1, 2, and 3 for a while now because they each fulfill different needs. I get sensitivity, practicality AND excitement. Is it critique-overkill? Sometimes, yes. But I love and crave the companionship. Writing in a vacuum wouldn’t make me happy. But I don’t think I’ll ever settle down with just one of them…I’m pretty happy playing the field.

- Eve

Saturday, February 18, 2006

It wasn't supposed to be this way -- Jay

This was supposed to be the weekend when I finally finished my YA manuscript. I’ve been working on it for so long that I’ve lived in four cities (in two states) during the work-in-progress phase. And this weekend, I was supposed to finish it. It’s cold outside, I have three days off, and my wife is out of town on the first day. it! Supposed to. Supposed to! SupposedtoSupposedtoSupposedto!!!

So why didn’t I? Because my computer decided to get funky on me. One of those technological leaps called spyware that is making our world such a wonderful place to live. I’ve spent all my free-time trying to de-spy it and copy all my files and running to Mom and Dad’s to make sure their computer had copies as well. Thankfully, nothing’s lost. But now my computer’s in the shop for at least two more days and if I write it’ll be at my parents’ house where the computer is too near the TV and they’re watching the Winter Olympics non-stop. And I want to finish this thing so bad!

Now, my wife’s on her way home (which is a good thing), it’s cold outside (and my wife’s coming home, so that’s also a good thing), and I still have two days off (and my wife’s coming home and it’s cold outside).

Hmm...I wonder if my wife had anything to do with this.

- Jay

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Happy Valentine's Day -- Robin

A very happy Valentine's to:

Jayson- for helping me become who I want to be and being the best father in the world.

Mom and Dad- for being my number one fans since, well, forever.

My writing critique group- for being supportive, encouraging and, of course, painfully honest. Thank you.

SCBWI - for creating a safe place to fall and a place to get answers.

Louis Sachar - for writing Sideways Stories from Wayside inspiration.

Paula Danziger - for writing The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, and just being hilarious.

Gordon Korman - for making me laugh and making me spill my brownies

David Diaz - for making the national conferences very enlightening

Eve and Jay - for being the funniest people I know; for making me smile every time I see you; for reading all 23 versions of the same story and still acting like there's something interesting to read; for just plain "getting me" when other people don't and for being the best looking Democratic mermaids ever.

- Robin

Monday, February 13, 2006

My Valentines -- Jay

Happy Valentine’s Day to:

- my wife, for being my #1 fan…it’s all dedicated to you

- Robin & Eve, for making the road to publication so much fun (somehow, even the depressing parts)

- SLOW for Children, for giving me the tools to polish my craft…I can’t imagine a more talented critique group

- Lin Oliver, Stephen Mooser, Sue Alexander, and the entire SCBWI staff, for the encouragement and connections you’ve given me over the years…oh, and the money was nice, too (I will make you proud!)

- Nancy H., for teaching a class called Children’s Lit. Appreciation and introducing me to a lifelong passion

- Kathleen Duey, for telling me “it’s going to happen” over and over and over and not letting me feel too discouraged that it hasn’t…yet

- Henry Winkler, for throwing my world into a new orbit with the possibility of writing for a television series…dude, I wanted to be you when I was a kid!

- Chris Crutcher, for telling me I was working on something really special (my fingers are crossed that you won’t be disappointed)

- Roxyanne Young at, for the exposure and believing in my work

(let me pause to say that this list of people I’m afraid of disappointing is starting to freak me out)

- Arthur Levine, John Rudolph, Michelle Frey, Krista Marino, Caitlyn Dlouhy, and Kate O’Sullivan, for asking me to continue sending in my work…one day, I hope you’ll love something enough to publish it (because that’ll mean I just sold six books!)

- Leighton, Elizabeth, and Jennie, for giving me a chance

- Arthur Levine (again), for being the coolest editor…though not my editor (yet?)

- David Diaz, for being the coolest Caldecott winning illustrator

- Gordon Korman, for not minding stale Krispy Kremes

- Debby Garfinkle, for giving me hope that there is a market for funny books and for asking me to critique a published author’s manuscript (you were my first…I hope you weren’t disappointed)

- Jessica Lee Anderson and Tracey Baptiste, for asking if you could take a picture with this bearded mermaid and then keeping in touch afterwards (and for writing such awesome books)

- David Steinberg, for being hilarious and introducing me to your editor

- Genevieve and Ellory, for reminding me why I write

- Mom, Dad, and my little brother Nate, for giving me a childhood that I love revisiting again and again


Saturday, February 11, 2006

Forgive Our Sweetness

In elementary school, did you make homemade Valentine's Day cards to give to your classmates? Or did you give store-bought cards, using Saturday morning cartoon characters to deliver your message?

This year, we're doing it the cheapest way possible. We're posting our affections online.

Will you be on the children's book-themed Disco Mermaids Valentine's Week Love List? There's only one way to find out...

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A Conversation With God…on Writing -- Robin

I recently took some time out of my busy schedule to call up God and discuss my writing career. Though he put me on hold several times, he did manage to give me some good advice:

Me: Hey, God. Have a minute?
God: For you, eternity.
Me: Aw, that’s sweet. Seriously, any reason why I haven’t been published yet? I mean, I’ve been working on my character development, my layered plotlines and my voice. What am I doing wrong?
God: You are doing nothing wrong, my dear. You just need some patience and perseverance.
Me: You can’t just give me a name? Some lonely editor in need of a new author who writes silly boy books? I just need a name…
God: I got nothing.
Me: Really? I mean, you’ve been published before. And last year only Harry Potter out sold you. Not bad. Your ending was a little unexpected though. Don’t you have any advice for me?
God: Certainly. Write from your heart. Speak the truth. Then pray that some random editor picks up your manuscript to wipe his hands on after eating a piece of pizza and notices your catchy title next to the glob of marinara sauce and then he slips on a piece of pepperoni and falls directly into his chair with the first page of your manuscript laying gracefully in his hands and his phone doesn’t ring and his boss doesn’t pop her head in the door and he forgets that he loathes reading from the slush pile and he actually gives your book four minutes of his time. At this point, it’s the best you can hope for.
Me: Hmmm. I guess you’re right.
God: Right!? Who are you kidding? Do you know what I went through to get my book published!? You’ve got about as good a chance of getting published as I have of getting Britney Spears to stop doing stupid things.
Me: You know, I think I’ll stick with writing from my heart and speaking the truth. You let me know when you come up with a name for me.
God: What about the Arthur Levine guy? He’s not busy, is he?
Me: You need to get to the conferences more often, God.
God: You’re right. I’ll see ya at the costume party. I’ll be the one wearing—well, you’ll see.
Me: Cool. Good luck at the costume contest. (Like he’ll ever beat us!)

- Robin

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Children's Lit. Myth #2

People who say their favorite bedtime story while growing up was Goodnight Moon (which includes the line "Goodnight air") are 23% more likely to be asthmatic.

The Study on Children's Books Unforeseen User Influence (S.C.B.double-U.I.)

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Agent #1 -- Jay

In honor of SCBWI’s Seventh Annual Winter Conference in New York, this post is about my experience at their first winter conference. That’s where I found my first agent...sleeping one bed over from me.

I’d written a couple picture books and was working on my first mid-grade when I decided to fly across the country to better understand the business side of my new endeavor. I used the SCBWI website to find another attendee to bunk with. When I arrived, my roomie was nowhere to be found. He didn’t show up until I’d been asleep for a couple hours. When I headed downstairs the next morning, he was still asleep. We didn’t meet up until later that second night.

That’s when I found out my roommate was an agent. He only represented illustrators but was thinking of branching out to authors in the near future. My heart pounded. I’m rooming with an agent? What luck! I am SO meant to be an author.

He pulled several books from his luggage that he’d represented and I recognized most of them. I was too shy (okay, chicken) to ask if he’d want to represent me. But finally, on the last day of the conference... more specifically, as we were packing up to leave...I handed him two picture book manuscripts.

A few days later, back home where the winters are warm, there was a message on my answering machine. The agent! He loved one of my manuscripts, Amanda’s Hairball, and wanted to represent me.

Okay, let’s get this next part over with fast. The book never sold and my agent stopped working with authors. But it was too late. I’d felt the exhilaration of someone else being excited about my work...someone other than my mom, my dad, and my girlfriend.

The following summer, I hung out with Agent #1 at my first SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles. We sat together and watched, unbeknownst to me at the time, my next agent (Agent #2) give a keynote address. But that’s a story for a later date.

And Agent #3 is for a date later than that.

- Jay

Friday, February 03, 2006

Fondue Friday #1 - Gettin' Jiggy at SCBWI

Fondue Fridays
- where everyone dips in, and everything comes up cheesy -
- - -
Each year at the SCBWI National Conference in Los Angeles, there's an after-hours theme party--hors d’oeuvres, an open bar, DJs one year, a live band the next, and dancing. Two years ago, the theme was the Glitter Ball. Last year they threw a Beach Bash. We took first place in the costume contests both years (scroll back a couple of days to see what we looked like). Recently, the three of us got together, placed a laptop on a Lazy-Susan, and discussed our experiences at the after-hours parties.
- - -
JAY: Okay, I'll start while the two of you chow down on Domino's. Let's talk about the Glitter Ball where the two of you dressed up like my...well, I think we’d all agree with what you looked like. Do either of you remember when we decided to dress like that?
ROBIN: It wasn't as planned as we thought it was going to be. We all decided to wear glittery glasses, but our outfits were not coordinated until about half an hour before our big "debut." Remember, Jay? You loaned me your wife's halter that Eve was going to wear, then I gave you my pants that Eve gave me and you gave me your pants that, well, I don't know who gave them to you. So basically, that's why my pants were so frickin''re skinny, dude!
JAY: Yeah, where did those pants come from? And Eve, where exactly did you get your get-up?
EVE: Um, well, you see, there's this website, okay it's okay? There. It was the only place I could find good disco-y outfits. So it was a little tight and a lot revealing...whatever works to get me some attention, man!
JAY: I remember freaking out in the elevator on the way down. It took us forever to get dressed so the party was packed by the time we got there and we had no idea how people would react. But immediately people started asking if they could take their pictures with us. And I think that's important to talk about. Do you think dressing up helped in any way other than giving us an excuse to act silly?
EVE: Remember when we made our grand entrance and Robin and I were hanging on your arms and we did the loop around the whole party? That was insane! People were screaming and cheering and clapping. For me, the best part was feeling like a rock star (okay, so most people thought Jay had actually hired, um, "professionals" to escort him, but I felt like a star anyway). So, yeah, the attention was great because we got to meet some famous (and not so famous) children's book people who never would have otherwise given us the time of day.
ROBIN: Well, I'm glad you enjoyed the walk around the party, because I think I blacked out. I do that a lot when I dress inappropriately and parade around in front of a crowd. I did like the fact that Jay was wearing 5-inch platforms and was finally a little taller than me. But the best part was getting to know our now favorite illustrator, David Diaz. What a cool guy, huh?
JAY: Very cool. And so humble. The four of us hung out for hours after the party. Eve and I couldn't believe we were hangin' with a Caldecott medal winning illustrator and, after a long time, Robin finally asked, "So, who are you?" Eve said, “This guy did Smoky Night!” and Robin basically freaked out. And then there's the coolest editor in the world…
EVE: OMG, dude! Can you believe we partied with the most famous and powerful children's editor in the Free World? And took pictures with him that now adorn our desks and probably his desk as well at Scholastic? So cool. See, dressing up and acting crazy REALLY does have its perks, people. I mean, part of this business is selling yourself (okay, maybe not as a hooker) so you gotta let your personality show at these things.
ROBIN: Yes, Mr. Levine (Harry Potter's editor) is the best. But the other perk was me and Eve getting the attention of the women in the ladies' room asking us where we're from. "Oh, we're from Sunset Blvd.," we said. And for some reason they believed us.
JAY: See, Eve thinks I make stuff up, but Mr. Levine asked me to mail him a copy of the picture we took with him. And last year, I swear, he told me it was up in his office. But let's move on to the Beach Bash. We went to a local costume shop to look for mermaid costumes but I ALMOST went as a lobster. That would've been a mistake.
EVE: Yeah, mermaids. Always a winner with the crowds. However, I think some people started to get a little jealous of all the attention we got. Remember when we won First Place again the second year? Someone booed us when we were on the stage.
ROBIN: Actually, I don't remember that because I think I blacked out again. But I'm sure that the suspect boo-er was Stephen Mooser (SCBWI President) who was just jealous after Jay gave him that little kiss but then totally ignored him the rest of the night. I hate when Jay does that.
JAY: Oh yeah. Totally forgot about that. Thanks. But seriously, it was on the cheek as we paraded by the judges and I just thought...nevermind. But we won, so maybe that was the tipping point. Though I do remember having my sequined butt grabbed by an author who shall remain nameless. But she was a published author so I didn't really mind.
EVE: Yeah, there seemed to be a lot of grab-ass goin' on there. Good times. But seriously, I had the time of my life both years. My mom saw the pics on the internet and said, "And this helps your writing career, um, how?" But I don't care. Being famous just for being famous is very much the thing de jour and it sure did get me a lot of editors' business cards. So, yay for me!
JAY: Though I must admit, I’m a little afraid of what they’ll choose as a theme this year. Or maybe we won’t dress-up at all. Yeah, right!
- - -
Fondue Filosophy
When in doubt, take a chance
wear sequined fins and shiny pants
...then dance!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


at the 2005 SCBWI National Conference
Beach Bash
- we won first place in the costume contest...again! -