31 December 2009

Happy New Year

I hope all of you have a wonderful, safe, prosperous and, of course, happy new year. Make the most of the promise that 2010 offers.

At my critique group Monday night, one of the other writers said, "2010 is going to be the year."

I don't if it will the year for her or me or any of the other writers in our group, but I am determined to keep trying!

I just have to keep plugging away and not waste time.

23 December 2009

13 December 2009

Good News

Back in early June, I sent a young adult novel I wrote to an editor I met at the Houston SCBWI Editor Day Conference.

Friday afternoon I got an email response from the editor's assistant. While the overall answer was a "no" on publication, the answer was so inspiring that I have to share.

Here are some of the comments the assistant sent.

"Your story has all the elements of drama, mystery, intrigue and danger to make for a very exciting thriller. From the start, I wanted to know what was happening to Anna and what she would do to get out of this horrible situation. Your short chapters add to the paciness of the story, and it’s a very smart choice. Your novel reminded me a bit of Gabriel Lord’s new series, CONSPIRACY 365, which I highly recommend you take a look at."

I need to look up this series since I'm not familiar with it.

She also wrote about the ending of the novel. She liked the ending but thought certain aspects of it take "away the power of the contrast you’ve created with the tension earlier in the novel. I would consider rethinking and reworking this as you revise."

It's good advice, and something I'm mulling over in my head. I've got to let the idea cook a while before I really start to attack the writing.

But I am thrilled that someone enjoyed the book! It made my weekend.

03 December 2009

A Successful Experiment

I made it through the entire month of November without drinking any soda or eating any candy or desserts.

I set myself this challenge just to see if I could do it. Mom kept making cookies and eating chocolate pie and chocolate cake in front of me. Since I never told her about my challenge, she would ask if I wanted some. I just said, "No, thank you."

My grandmother always tells me I can do anything I set my mind to, so I thought I'd try this. And it was a success! I'm applying this knowledge to my writing now. I can get an agent, and I can get published. But I know that will take longer than a month.

I lost three pounds, too, so that's an added bonus!

As for December 1, I had a soda, some chocolate candy and chocolate cake. It was delicious!

03 November 2009

Another Experiment

Back in February, I set myself the challenge of avoiding fast food for one month. Since I succeeded, I've been thinking about trying the same thing again.

However, I decided to give myself an even more difficult task. I'm going to try to avoid candy, desserts and sodas during November. To prepare for this, I ate several bags of M&M's on Halloween.

I'm trying to avoid the "unnecessary" stuff. To that end, I am pleased to report that Mom, who does not know about my plan, made brownies Sunday night, and I have not eaten even a crumb.

Wish me luck! It's probably going to be a long November.

21 October 2009

Conferences, Conferences, Conferences

I've registered for four area conferences recently, and the first one is this Saturday.

The North Central North East Texas SCBWI Conference is up in Arlington. I'll be getting a written critique and hearing presentations from David Diaz, Melanie Hope Greenberg, Lisa Yoskowitz and Lisa Grubka. I haven't been to this conference before, so I'm looking forward to it. I also used to live in Irving, so it's a chance to see what has changed in the area. Maybe I'll get to see the new, obscenely expensive Cowboys stadium.

In November I'm going to the Brazos Valley SCBWI Conference. This is a conference I went to last year, and I really enjoyed it. This year I'll have a critique with Carla McClafferty. We'll see how that goes.

Wish me luck!

13 October 2009

The Dude Abides

I had a dream come true this past weekend when I was able to attend Lebowski Fest 2009 at Stubb's BBQ in Austin - the Speed of Sound Tour.

Lebowski Fest revolves around celebrating all things related to The Big Lebowski, the Coen brothers cult classic. I love this movie. And one of my best friends loves this movie, too, so we both went to the Fest.

The Fest includes a screening of the movie and bowling. We just went to the movie screening, and we had a blast! Because it was outside and seating was on the ground (we had no idea), we had to find an alternative. My friend is unable to sit on the ground, so we got to go to the VIP section and sit in folding chairs.

We saw people dressed as characters from the film – The Dude, Walter, Jesus, Maude, The Stranger. We even saw someone dressed as the rug, the rug that "really ties the room together" and sets off the entire plot of the film.

The head Achievers, who created Lebowski Fest, came out to welcome us to the event and to introduce the band.


A performance from the White Ghost Shivers followed.


The crowd, about 300 or so, enjoyed the band and then got ready for the main event.


But first! a video message from The Dude himself, Jeff Bridges, welcomed us to the event. We all screamed in excitement.


Then the movie started. People quoted along with all the best lines (including lots and lots of cursing) and danced along with characters on screen.


Despite the cold, despite the folding chairs, despite the late hour, everyone in the crowd wouldn't have changed a thing about the night. We had so much fun. I cannot wait to go to another Lebowski Fest, maybe even the big one in Louisville.

01 October 2009

Of Parks and Memories

I've been watching the Ken Burns documentary The National Parks: America's Best Idea on PBS this week. I find myself amazed at the vigor and vitality of those early users of the parks.

Having been to seventeen of the national parks in this country (and four in Canada!) and hiked some of the trails, I cannot imagine climbing mountains or hanging over cliff edges or rafting down rapid-filled rivers without the helpful guidance of the National Park Service.

I remember going to a campfire talk at Yellowstone back in 1987 and learning that, before the handy boardwalks were built around the hot springs, geysers, mud pots and fumaroles, tourists were told to follow buffalo chips. If the buffalo could walk there, then people could walk there. I think the theory was that if the earth's crust, which is thin at Yellowstone, could support a buffalo, then it could certainly handle a human. Can you imagine that?

I have so many fond memories of the parks. I've gotten lost in Rocky Mountain National Park, nearly been run over by a buffalo in Yellowstone, walked on a glacier on the tallest mountain on the continent in Denali, rode in a boat with a drunken captain in Kenai Fjords, and floated down the Snake River in Grand Tetons.

I haven't been to every national park. I probably never will get to them all, but I have loved every one of them. This documentary has gotten me thinking about my childhood, which has made me nostalgic for those lazy, adventurous summer days with long vacations in a van filled with books and toys and music down some of the most scenic roads in the country.

I had so much to be grateful for about those trips - the parks, the scenery and wildlife, the country and my mom. Without realizing it, I had other things to be grateful for, too. Thanks to Ken Burns, I now know how much gratitude I owe John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, Stephen Mather and John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

I don't really know what this post is about, but I just felt like writing this down. Thanks for reading!

20 September 2009

My Award-Winning Writing

When I was in fourth grade, I was in the University Interscholastic League Ready Writing competition. UIL is a statewide academic competition for public schools throughout Texas.

I don't really know how I got chosen to compete in the Ready Writing competition. Two other classmates competed with me, and another friend from another school.

The specific writing prompt is lost in my memory, but it was about finding a treasure chest in your back yard.

And I won first place!

Here is the winning entry from my nine-year-old self, copied word for word including any grammatical errors.


Treasure Chest

One day I was digging in the back yard, when suddenly I found a treasure chest. There was a not on the chest, and it said: The key to this chest is fifteen feet deeper than the chest.

So I started digging, but what I didn't know is that the key was one yard away from where I was digging. I didn't find the key.

So I went into the house to get a fingernail file. I got the fingernail file, then I went back to the chest.

I got the chest open. I had to dig through six inches of mud. I thought whatever was in there was going to be muddy. But when I got finished digging through the mud I to dig through three inches of loose sand.

I got through the loose sand. Finally I got down to see what was in it. They sparkled in the bright sunlight, and they were reds, blues, and greens.

They were Rubies, Garnets, Saphhires, Peridots, and Emralds. I went to see if they were real or not, if there were I was going to make jewlry out of them. If they weren't I would just keep them as gifts from the treasure chest.

I finally found out that the Emralds were fake. But the Rubies, Garnets, Saphhires, and Peridots were real.

The man said I would have to give 1/8 of it to the goverment. I didn't want to do it, but I had to.

Then I found out that I didn't have to give them the fake Emralds. But I wish I had to. I did not want to keep those Emralds.

Then I finally found out that I had more of it than the goverment did.


And that won first place! Even with all those spelling errors. Yeesh, those errors are embarrassing, but at least I can justify it by saying I was only nine.

What do you think of the story?

16 September 2009

Buckling Down

I really need to establish a writing routine. I've tried various things at different times, but none of them have stuck.

I read somewhere that Kate DiCamillo writes two pages a day. That seemed attainable, and I made a valiant effort. I worked on it during lunch at work. But then I just petered out.

Sometimes, I write or edit during my lunch break. That works, but I find that by the time I get into a groove, I've got to go back to my real job.

What works best is for me to sit in front of the television and write on my laptop. Commercials are particularly wonderful when a good show is airing. I know it seems like I'm not concentrating enough on the writing, then, but that is how I did my homework throughout my entire academic career. And I was an A student.

I already get up at 5 a.m. on weekdays to exercise, and I just cannot get up any earlier than that unless it's an emergency or I have to catch a plane. So, getting up early to write is out of the question.

When I get home from work, I have good intentions and plan to sit down and write until I go to bed. But then I get on my computer, check my email, Twitter and Facebook, and before I know it, two hours have passed, and I've lost all motivation.

I'm open to any and all suggestions.

And now, I really am off to write!

08 September 2009

Another Agent, Another Partial

I sent a partial of my YA novel to an agent today. She also requested a synopsis. I really hate writing those. They seem so much like a book report that I can't stand it.

When I was in elementary school, we participated in the Pizza Hut Book It program. There were a few problems with this program as far as I was concerned.

1. We were reading for free pizza coupons, and I didn't eat pizza at that time.

2. We were supposed to read a certain number of books (I don't remember how many) and write a book report about each one.

3. When you read your book and wrote a report, you got a gold star on a board.

I always read the books - often more than the requirement. I rarely wrote the book reports. I just never saw the point. Plus, I wasn't interested in the pizza.

Oh, well.

Wish me (and my book report synopsis) luck!

26 August 2009

For All Aspiring Writers (and Their Friends)

Two things to make you smile.

This is a trailer for a movie I think I need to see.



And this is one of the extras from the DVD of Black Books that I mentioned a while back. I love this! Sorry, this clip can't be embedded for some reason.

13 August 2009

Another Round of Queries

I've sent the young adult historical fiction query to more agents. Since I returned from vacation, I've been remiss in querying.

I have remedied that today!

Between writing and work at the library, I feel like I'm barely treading water. Fortunately, summer will soon be over, so I think I'll be able pull myself up. Ah, the life of a public librarian – busy in the summer, but getting some rest during the school year.

01 August 2009

Milestone

I can't believe I've had this blog for over a year, and I didn't even realize it. Where has the time gone?

31 July 2009

Vacation: London, England Day 5

The last vacation entry. Finally!


Our last day we went to see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. Neither Mom nor I were really sure what, exactly, we were seeing. And I certainly don't know why the band (the band?) was playing Elton John, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean music!

The ceremony was impressive because traffic was halted about five times. But the biggest shock was that everything took place behind the fence! I thought they stood out in front of the gates. They do in all the movies ... which lie to me.


Once that ended, we went to the National Gallery. We also went to the National Portrait Gallery.

Then we checked out of our hotel and took a taxi to Harmondsworth Village near Heathrow. The village was mentioned in the Domesday Book and now is threatened by the planned expansion of Heathrow Airport.

We stayed at Harmondsworth Hall Guest House. Our room was a good size, and we ate at a nearby pub. The pub wasn't that great, so we bought some snacks at a little shop.

And the next day, we flew home.

Whew! I finally got it all typed up. Thanks for reading along with me.

06 July 2009

Vacation: London, England Day 4

We started the day thinking we would buy tickets to see "Dirty Dancing" in the West End. But we decided leaving the theater late at night with several blocks to walk to a Tube station might be iffy.

So, we went to King's Cross Station. Mom waited while I looked for Platform 9¾.


Then, we went to the British Museum. The building is huge, but somehow we had trouble finding it. I think we asked three people - who each gave us different directions - before we found the place. Mom's knees were screaming at her to sit down, so we ate lunch before perusing the exhibits.

Once in the exhibit halls, we saw the Elgin Marbles, the Rosetta Stone and Assyrian Winged Bulls. Mom was enthralled. She loves ancient Egypt and Greece and Rome, so this was a highlight for her. She took lots of pictures.

You can, apparently, take photos in the museum. I only took one. A forlorn-looking statue in the Greek and Roman statue room.


Naturally, I also had to see the exhibit about the Americas.

We also took the world's slowest and smallest elevator up to the top floor to see the Samurai exhibit. I'm not normally claustrophobic but that elevator was about the size of a typical American shower (with bathtub). At one point there were about six or seven of us in there when it stopped at a floor. And then this very loud Englishwoman and her THREE friends climbed onboard the already-crowded elevator! I couldn't believe it.

After we left the museum, Mom and I went back to St. Paul's Cathedral and went to the Evensong service. We waited in seats in the nave and then a group of visitors were led up to sit in the choir seats. The service, which was mostly sung by a boy's choir, was interesting. We had a book and a piece of paper to guide us through the service.

Not being Anglican, I'm not really sure what all was going on, but it was quite nice.

At first, the choir stood behind the high altar and couldn't be seen. Then they sang, and their voices sounded eerie and beautiful floating down the nave of the cathedral in that disembodied manner.

We returned to our hotel after Evensong.

05 July 2009

Vacation: London, England Day 3

We took a bit more of the bus tour around London before taking off at Piccadilly Circus. From there we rode the Tube and the train to Hampton Court Palace.


We arrived at the palace on Henry VIII's wedding day to Catherine Parr. We saw them wandering around the halls and grounds throughout the day, and I even managed to attend his "bachelor party."

Inside the palace we toured Henry VIII's apartments and saw his Abraham tapestries.


The tapestries were commissioned in the 1500s and have, of course, faded considerably over time. In one room they had a "Lighting of the Tapestry" display where, using a computer projection, one tapestry is lit to show the bright, vibrant, original colors of the work. With those bright colors, you could really see how tapestries on the wall could help light a room.

We also went through an exhibit about the women in Henry's life. We also saw another exhibit about his younger days when he was married to Katherine of Aragon and friends with Cardinal Wolsey (the original owner of Hampton Court).

Part of Hampton Court Palace was remodeled by Christopher Wren, so the building is almost like two palaces pushed together. Wren planned to tear down the entire Tudor structure and rebuild but, thankfully, was unable to do so. Mom and I preferred the Tudor side. I was fascinated with the chimney designs. Each stack was different.


In the gardens at the palace, we saw two swans swimming in the fountain. People were walking and standing awfully close to those birds. They were eating, and since swans can be quite aggressive, I kept waiting for one of them to attack a visitor. But neither one did.


Then we went to the Maze. I made it all the way to the center without ever getting lost on the way in and on the way out. Yay, me! Mom did not go in the Maze.


We ate lunch in the Tiltyard Cafe at the palace. I had Georgian Spring Soup (kind of like vegetable) and bread. Mom had King's Pie, which she didn't particularly care for.

Our final stop was the Tudor kitchens. Unfortunately, no one was cooking in them that day, but they had fake foods sitting out, so we could see how meals were prepared.


Then we returned to London on the train.

28 June 2009

Vacation: London, England Day 2

Day 2 of our time in London began on a bit of a sour note when we discovered that part of the Tube was shut down for weekend maintenance. So, instead of heading directly to the Tower of London, we made our way to St. Paul's Cathedral.


Pictures weren't allowed inside St. Paul's (and the staff made sure people put their cameras in bags), but the cathedral was magnificent. The dome, the memorials on the walls, the statues - all quite stunning. Inside the crypt there were even more graves, including Florence Nightingale. I wish I could have taken a picture of that tomb. She's one of my favorite people.

There was some sort of christening or other ceremony happening in the chapel in the crypt. Because of that, we were unable to see Christopher Wren's tomb.

From St. Paul's, we managed to find a hop-on hop-off tour bus which took us to the Tower of London. This was a highlight for me. I've always wanted to see the Tower. I never really had any interest in seeing the Crown jewels; I was interested in the prison aspect of the Tower's history.


After we walked into the Tower grounds, one of the first things we saw was Traitor's Gate. Amazing!


How many people have come through that gate over the centuries? Can you imagine how terrifying it must have been to see that? To know that you may never walk as a free person again?

The carved graffiti on the walls in some of the prison towers were a powerful reminder of all the people who have been held there over the years. Some prisoners were even able to hire professionals to carve in the plaster for those prisoners - which, admittedly, doesn't seem as though the prisoners were really being punished.


One of the carvings is reputedly that of Lady Jane Grey.


We did go see the Crown jewels, too. They were impressive, but not as impressive as the Romanov jewels I saw several years ago in an exhibit in Houston.

We also saw the famous ravens of the Tower.


And we never had to wait in long lines. We were surprised and thrilled by that.

From the Tower, we went to the dock and rode a tour boat down the Thames to Westminster (included in the bus ticket).

We managed to make it to Westminster just in time to hear Big Ben chime. We called my grandmother, so she could hear the bells, too. Then we went inside Westminster Abbey.

Once again, no photos were allowed inside. And they were having a flower show inside the church - really weird flower displays. Not terribly attractive displays, either.

But Poet's Corner more than made up for the ugly flowers.

After a busy day, we returned to our hotel.

17 June 2009

Vacation: London, England Day 1

We arrived by train at Paddington Station. I did not see Paddington Bear, but I forgot to look for him. We grabbed a taxi and headed to our hotel, the Millennium Bailey's.

The room was quite spacious, which was a nice surprise because we thought the room would be tiny. And the hotel was right across the street from a tube station! Really an excellent location and a nice hotel.

Once we dumped our luggage in our room, we hit the tube station to figure out how that was going to work. We put money on an oyster card and climbed on the train to Westminster station.

After arriving at Westminster and walking out of the station, we found ourselves across the street from the Houses of Parliament


and Big Ben.


We also found ourselves in a teeming mass of humanity. I have never heard so many languages spoken in one place in my life, and that includes the United Nations! So many people were there, and it wasn't even the high tourist season yet. I cannot imagine London in July.

We walked across the bridge to the London Eye.


Prepared to wait in a long line, we were amazed that we managed to miss the line. We climbed on and were rewarded with stunning views of London, especially St. Paul's




After our flight in the Eye, we walked past some protesters in front of Parliament. They wanted to the government to do something about the treatment of Tamils in Sri Lanka.


We walked down the street past No. 10 Downing Street




After that we went to the hotel and ate at Kentucky Fried Chicken. I don't understand why KFC doesn't have mashed potatoes outside the United States. I learned this on a vacation in Canada a few years ago. It just doesn't make any sense. I'd understand it in Asia where the potato is not a staple food, but Canada? England? Ridiculous! So, I ate the French fries.

13 June 2009

Vacation: Cardiff & Caerphilly, Wales

We took the train from Bath to Wales. Our hotel, the Sleeperz, was right next to the train station. It was a nice place, especially because of its location, but it was very modern. The room was tiny – I think even smaller than the cruise ship's stateroom – but comfortable. The beds, which were bunk beds, were quite soft, and the pillows were decent. Not super thin like most hotels. Most interesting thing about this hotel? You had to put your key card into a slot for the lights to work!


Once we got settled into our hotel room, we walked to Cardiff Castle. The castle was built over an old Roman fort in the eleventh century.


While Mom waited, I climbed the stairs up and inside the keep where I was rewarded with a lovely view.


On the way to the top of the keep, I saw a medieval toilet.


Then we went to the National Museum of Wales to see their exhibition about Charles Darwin. This year is his 200th birthday.

For supper we went to Cardiff Bay and found an "American diner." Then we walked by the "Hub." Actually, it was the Wales Millennium Centre, but it's often seen in the BBC series Torchwood.


The next day we traveled to Caerphilly and went to see Caerphilly Castle. Although the sun was shining, the wind was blowing about forty or fifty miles an hour, so Mom and I were freezing! Nevertheless we braved the extreme wind to see the second largest castle in Great Britain.


The ruins of Caerphilly Castle include the famous leaning tower.


Outside of the castle we found a gaggle of geese and some goslings.


We returned to Cardiff, went to a small shop (where I managed to find Dr. Pepper!) and caught the train to London.

11 June 2009

Vacation: Bath, England

When we arrived in Bath, we promptly got lost. We found ourselves in the wrong lane or heading in the wrong direction. Finally we found a place to pull over (not easy to do on such narrow roads) and called the bed & breakfast.

Wolfgang, one of the owners of Athole Guest House, came and found us. We followed him to the house, and he even parked our car in a snug little parking spot for us. He was wonderful. Very hospitable. He drove us into town and showed us some places to eat and even drove us to the rental car place when we dropped off the car.

Breakfast at Athole was fabulous. After the sketchy eggs in Salisbury, I was a little nervous about food. But the pancakes were heavenly. He also made fresh bread every morning, and it was divine, too.

And the resident cat, Moth, was just a sweetheart. He climbed in my lap and let me pet him. It made me miss my cat even though Moth was much friendlier.

Our first stop in Bath was the Roman Baths. Mom loves Ancient Rome, so this was wonderful for her.


They had a costumed interpreter beside the Great Bath. At one point, he began a prayer to the gods. The manner in which he recited this prayer reminded Mom and me of a Southern Baptist preacher. We decided he was from "south Rome."


We also went inside Bath Abbey.


This abbey (or, more accurately, this site's previous abbey building) was where the first King of England was crowned in 973.


The ceiling inside Bath Abbey was breathtaking.


Even an American Senator is buried there.


We stopped at Sally Lunn's to eat one of her famous buns. Sally Lunn's is a teashop that is located in the oldest house in Bath. She came to England from France more than 300 years ago. The house was 200 years old when Sally moved into it.

The bun was scrumptious! It looks like a hamburger bun, but it's softer and sweeter and bigger. Mom got half a toasted bun with chocolate sauce on top and hot chocolate. I got half a toasted bun with butter and strawberry jam and tea. The tea was excellent, as well. We bought a box in the gift shop.

There is a gift shop and museum downstairs. The museum shows off the original foundations of the house and the faggot oven used by Sally Lunn.

The food was so good we tried returning for supper, but they were full.

After our refreshing lunch, we hit the Assembly Rooms. Part of the Assembly Rooms are now a fashion museum, which we toured. I even got to try on a crinoline! The corset, sadly, would not fit.

It was easy to imagine genteel ladies and gentlemen dancing in the Assembly Rooms.


We also walked over to see the Circus. I would love to have been able to look inside one of these homes, but we weren't able.


Finally, we went to the current Bath spa. It's expensive, but you get to spend two hours inside. We went to the roof and enjoyed the view from that pool. Then we hit the saunas. The perfumed air inside the different rooms was overpowering. The perfume made it harder to breathe than the heat did. Our last stop was the indoor pool. The water temperature was about that of a warm bath. I enjoyed it (except for the price), but Mom wasn't that impressed.

Nevertheless, we can now say we've enjoyed the waters at Bath. And Mom's legs didn't hurt the next day, so I guess there's some truth to the water's restorative powers!

When we left, Wolfgang drove us to the train station where we caught our train to Cardiff.

07 June 2009

Vacation: Lacock, Cherhill & Avebury

After leaving Salisbury, we traveled to Bath. Once in Bath, we had the rental for one more day before returning it. So, we drove through the surrounding countryside.

Our first stop was Lacock Village. This is a little town that does not allow cars in it except for the people who live there. We parked in a lot that was a short walk from the village center.


The town is used in lots of films – from Jane Austen adaptations to Harry Potter.


They have an old abbey in the town. The abbey itself was closed that day, but the cloister was open.


We returned to the village to have a cup of tea (me) and hot chocolate (Mom) at The George Inn, the oldest pub in Lacock. It was established in 1361.


From Lacock we drove through the town of Cherhill. The whole economy of the town seems to based on the fact that a giant horse was carved into the hillside in 1780.


Avebury is where another stone circle was built in ancient times. This circle, unlike Stonehenge, is right in the middle of the town. We parked and walked around some of the stones. 


We not only saw white sheep, but there were also black sheep wandering among the giant rocks with the tourists.