Books -- reading and writing.
Home, cooking, the weather.
And whatever connections I can make between these chapters of my life.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

What I'm Reading During Hurricane Watch

A few years ago-- okay a long time ago-- I started married life with a Navy Hurricane Hunter in Weather Reconnaissance Squadron 4, based as NAS Jacksonville, Florida. Back then, we were totally tuned in to hurricane season. And this was before the Weather Channel.

 But while living in the northeast, I kind of ignored hurricanes. We worried more about blizzards.

When we moved to Florida, it all came back to me. Especially during 2004, a Big Season for storms. We normally aren't in Florida during hurricane season. We button our little house up, move everything out of harm's way, and head back to New Jersey. But that summer of 2004, we were in St. Petersburg and passed the storm hunkered down with our dog and our family. I seem to recall learning how to play Texas Hold 'em in that storm.
Hurricane Irene, through a strange set of crazy circumstances, found me in Florida, and the hurricane barreling toward my New Jersey condo. Go figure.

Thanks to nice neighbors who popped over there yesterday, the plants were secured, the flag removed, the packages left on the doorstep safely put away. My New Jersey basement, maybe not. I'm keeping a weather eye out, as they say.

But today, I'm saturated with this post-hurricane 24/7 coverage. So I decided to  re-read Jennifer Holm's TURTLE IN PARADISE. Remember the hurricane? The Florida Keys, 1935.

Here's a little bit of it, from Turtle's point-of-view:

Raindrops belt the shack like spitballs. The storm is scarier than anything I've ever been in before because the shack is so flimsy. I keep waiting for it to blow away- and us with it.

Then the rats crawl over their feet. What kid wouldn't just love hearing that scene read aloud? The roof cracks and the boys are crying. Turtle starts singing that stupid Shirley Temple song.
About the Good Ship Lollipop. And the boys join in.

The wind howls, but the Diaper Gang of Key West belts out a song as the angry storm washes everything away.
It has a happy ending for the kids. I think it would be a perfect book to share with young readers, post hurricane.

I'm reading it again to see how that gifted writer put it all together. How funny I think Turtle is. How well Holm pulls the history in, the details, the music, the language.

I love what the Story Sleuths said about the book in their postings. (Click here to go there. Note to Story Sleuths- come back! I loved your in-depth looks at books!)

I already blogged a bit about TURTLE IN PARADISE when it first came out. I reviewed it on my friend Joyce's "history" blog. If you go to my earlier blog entry about the book, you can read my review.

I was inspired to write this post by Kate Messner's blog invitation.
Maybe you were too? Hurricane thoughts anyone?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Back-to-work Supplies

I spent most of my career living life on a September to June schedule. Yes, I was a school librarian.

So even now, September seems like a new beginning. When I see moms with those lists and kids gleefully choosing notebooks, pencil boxes, just the right markers and themed binders, I feel an overwhelming need to purchase some paperclips. Or at least a new red pen.

Today's post from a Facebook friend about her Top Ten Writing Tools of the Trade inspired me. Since I agree with many of her top ten, I'll let you click over there and won't repeat. HOWEVER, one of her top ten may be something the rest of the writing world hasn't discovered. So I'll share right here.

And since I can't say it any better than she did, I'll just quote her word for word:

 FLIP DICTIONARY.  It’s not a thesaurus—exactly—but it’s similar, kinda.  It will help you find the term or word that’s eluding you.  It might even get you thinking of a whole new story to tell.  I just can’t emphasize how totally awesome it is.

I found out about this Flip Dictionary from another writer.
Sometimes a writer friend gives you a gift and never realizes how much you appreciate it. So all these years after she told me about this book, I'd like to say thank you to Selene Castrovilla.

I met Selene at a New School class we took together and again at a terrific Highlights Founders weekend. I still remember her holding up her very obviously loved Flip Dictionary and sharing it with the Highlights group.

So my Top Ten Tools of the Trade would include my trusty Flip Dictionary, my absolute favorite colored paperclips (Thanks, Teddie!), my Office Depot black pens (cheap and good- often oxymorons), my collection of writing books (though I'm thinking I should move away from the craft books and just start revising already?).

And one more writing tool that I don't think I could live without. Truly. And anybody who reads my blog knows what I'm about to say. Yeah, that's it. SCRIVENER. Yes, I'm a broken record (does anybody even say that anymore??) on this one. But I'm not sure I can write another novel without my trusty Scrivener software. I know I don't want to try.

Does September seem like a new beginning? Are you ready with your writing tools?

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Name Game

1965? Hand jive? Man, could we dance. (Or not.)

Okay, now that you're inspired-

I usually don't have trouble coming up with a character's name. In fact, that's where I start. With a name or two, definitely a place and a time.

But unlike some of my fellow writers who shall remain nameless, for me all that can change in a heartbeat.

Take Cletus, for example. Cletus, you say? Yes, a real boy from my past, going into a story kind of from my past. Missing May, one of my favorite middle grade novels of all times, featured a boy named Cletus. I thought it was a perfect name.

But then a few teachers and young moms perused the manuscript. Cletus was deemed unsuitable. So I named him after two "Franks"--one is a favorite life-long friend, the other a new little boy in our extended family. Both really nice people! And I like his new name even better: Franklin (Franklin Cletus Smith, in my mind's eye), Frankie, AKA Frankfurter when teased. A character I love a lot.

Problem solved.

Move on to the next. Now mind you, naming characters can totally change their personality. Glory's big sister in my forthcoming novel GLORY BE was originally called Virginia. Not for long. A very wise writer in my critique group pointed out that naming characters after states, in children's books, can be confusing. I thought about that name and it seemed way too milktoasty for this big sister. She became Jesslyn. She became more daring. An aspiring fire baton twirler, sneaking away to visit Elvis's house in Tupelo, standing up to Old Lady Simpson who wants to close her public pool.

If you're stuck on a name, or a place name, there are websites that will generate a name for you.

If you love Scrivener as much as I do, perhaps you've tried their very own Name Generator? I've never actually chosen a name this way, but I did play around with Scrivener on this and see how it might actually work.

And if you care to know more, I attached more links in this post I wrote about Character Names.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Do It Yourself?

Have you ever thought of publishing your book yourself? Have the stigmas attached to the process disappeared? Is this true of every genre?

A few years ago, I was part of a committee who published a book of oral histories for our local historical society. TEN ON A TOBOGGAN had an easy distribution system (the historical society, our local library, area giftshops).
There were three of us and a whole organization behind this book. It took a year to gather all the oral histories and ready them for book-making.
It was a fun experience. We hired two professionals to guide us. We used a company (IUniverse) experienced in the business.
Most importantly, we were all sticklers for the English language and proof-readers to a fault.

That's my biggest complaint with the self-published books I've read so far. I just reviewed one this month for Delta Magazine-- a more or less fictionalized memoir/ short story collection. Could that guy have ever used a good editor!
For somebody who mostly reviews commercially published books (that would be me!), it's painful to read blatant grammar, punctuation, and even literary faux pas on the printed page.

But DOT TO DOT is a middle-grade novel, written by an author whose first book was traditionally published. I seriously doubt any of these amateurish mistakes have been made on this one. The cover is fabulous, don't you think? The topic is interesting and age-appropriate.

Now she's sharing her secrets- good and bad.
Kit Bakke's article should be read by anyone who's thinking of self-publishing a book. All the details, right there for the clicking.

A few disclaimers. She's a friend of a friend, though I haven't met Kit. We have corresponded some during her road to publication. I haven't read this book, but now I'm intrigued. Here's an excellent review of the book, quite complete.

Her first book is titled Miss Alcott's E-mail. Here's Kit's website, for info about both books.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Scrivener, again...

Arranging words in Scrivener

I'm beginning (yet again) a new/ old project. Just writing that makes me realize why I love to write in Scrivener. There's only one way to tame a New/Old Project.

Here's what I love about Scrivener.

1. I like order (hey, I was a librarian for a long time, and a mostly organized person even before that). I like putting all my notes, research, chapters, thoughts in one place.  I'd dread delving into this if I didn't think Scrivener could tame the notebooks, notecards, ripped out newspaper articles, and false-start chapters I have.

2. One thing I love best about the software is how I can make document notes, all the words I've cut, all my wanderings and musings, right on the side of the chapter I'm writing. Yet, if they get unruly, I can make them disappear with one click.

3. If I mess up, all is not lost. If I remember to take a SNAPSHOT of the previous version, it is there for the asking later.

This morning I followed a link from Facebook and stumbled on this, from a thesis writer.
To to read the entire blog, click here.

Her blogpost is titled Is Your Computer Domesticating You?

It’s hard to be messy in a clean way
As I write I have ideas – some of them don’t relate to the bit I am writing at that specific moment, so I often ‘jot notes’ on my documents as I go. At the moment I use the comments function in Word to do this, which makes my documents look messy. In fact, so messy that I often turn the comments off just so I can see what I am doing.
But – out of sight is out of mind and the ideas can easily get lost when they are invisible. In addition, the format of the comments is uncomfortable to read. By contrast each of the Scrivener fragments I write has metadata attached to it where I can jot to my heart’s content.

My thoughts exactly.

And that cute little button at the top of this blog? Arranging words is a nice thought. But that's not all it takes. I've arranged these new/old words before. This time, I need all the help I can get- Scrivener is just the beginning, but what an excellent place to re-start.

Now, back to work- all of us!

Related post (with picture and another Scrivener link!): I Love Scrivener, another reason

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Glory Be Birthday

My upcoming novel's main character, Gloriana June Hemphill, and I share a summer birthday. As a kid, I didn't like having my birthday when school was out and nobody was around. Glory doesn't look forward to her birthday unless there's an open swimming pool nearby. She and I also share a love of water and swimming parties.

This past weekend, it was MY birthday.  No pool party, but a cake.

Not just any cake! This amazing cake.

Look closely and you'll see that even the edges of the pages look real.
It was a delicious marble cake with buttercream icing.

Here's what it looked like by the end of the day...


Wednesday, August 10, 2011


I've spent the morning with my new book: THE POCKET MUSE: Endless Inspiration, by Monica Wood. I wrote about these books last week on my group blog, A Good Blog is Hard to Find. I called that post Write Like a Hummingbird
because-- well, click on over there and find out why.

Check out all the places I've marked already. And I'm only about a third of the way through.
A few sample quotes, from the author (there are also quotes from famous writers, though perhaps not as many as in Book #1. Then again, that's not what these little books are all about):

In a writing life, things are always about to happen. 

If you keep your hat in the ring, sooner or later somebody's going to need a hat.

There's also one of the best pieces of advice about choosing titles I've ever read-- on p. 97. Perhaps more to come on that topic later. 

Or you could just buy the book. It's really a bargain. The perfect size for travelers. 

And if you aren't a writer? I'd recommend it just for thinkers.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


In honor of the delicious summer peaches at all our NJ Farmers' Markets-- not to mention the end of the blueberries-- here's the article from the Christian Science Monitor I wrote a couple of summers ago. Includes an easy "mock" cobbler recipe that's so easy to make I could do it on a tiny kitchen table with a questionable oven.

(However, mine didn't rival Aunt Lynn's cobbler topping,  made with real cream, butter, sugar. I need that recipe from our family dinner last week!)

(Photo from Morguefile, thanks to Jeremy Wrenn)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Writing Quote of the Day

"When there's no wind, row." 
 Judith Viorst.

(Writing advice via Geraldine Brooks. Now, I need to take that advice and get moving. How about you?)