Sunday, August 26, 2012

We Are Focusing Creatures

Last night, as I was getting ready to go to bed, I had a hard time letting go of something that had happened earlier in the day. As a joke, I told my boyfriend that perhaps I should solve a math problem in my head. Like, how much is 7594 divided by 12? Six hundred and twenty six, he answered, impressing me immensely with his long division abilities in the middle of the night.

The idea of refocusing by solving mathematical equations in our heads is not mine. I read it in Kristin Cashore fabulous Bitterblue which I reviewed here last week. Bitterblue’s father, King Leck, had a special grace, or ability: he was able to convince other people with his words to do, think or feel whatever he wanted them to. He could hurt people and tell them that they do not feel pain, and they would have to believe him. He could force people to hurt other people, and they would not be able to refuse. He could tell Bitterblue that he loved her, and she would never know: what was the truth?

When her father was alive, Bitterblue and her mother lived in a mind fog, never sure what was true and what was implanted in their brain by Leck. Bitterblue’s mother, in an attempt to dispel some of the fog so as to keep Bitterblue safe, would tell Bitterblue to solve complex mathematical equations in her head.

Mathematics is objective and unemotional, and I suppose King Leck never thought to confuse Bitterblue into believing that one plus one could be three. Mathematics saved Bitterblue and her mother, allowing them just enough clarity of mind to be able to escape (this happens in Cashore’s first novel, Graceling which I also reviewed). When the story of Bitterblue begins, Leck is already dead, but his reign of horror had left the country traumatized and suffering. Bitterblue, trying to heal her people, still uses her mother’s well-taught lesson to refocus her mind at times of stress.

Ruminating on life’s unpleasantnesses is one of my greatest faults. I might not have Bitterblue’s practice in calculating complicated equations in my head, but I am capable of focusing my attention on other, pleasanter thoughts if I want. In fact, we all are. Research proves we cannot really multitask, despite our desire to believe we can. Our brains are able to concentrate on only one thing at a time. We are focusing creatures, and sometimes a re-focus is what we need to change our perspective, lighten our mood, or survive.

Last night I refocused my scattered energy to this blog. I went to sleep happy. I had something to think about that gave me pleasure: a great subject on which to write!

For those of you who are fond of mathematics, by checking on my calculator this morning I can tell you that 7594 divided by 12 is 632 with a long line of decimals after it, but I think 626 is close enough.

Are you prone to ruminating too? What do you do to refocus your thoughts?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Interview with Author, Teacher, Mother and Baseball Fan Elisabeth Aikins,

Today I am hosting a woman of many talents, Elisabeth Aikins, who is an author, teacher, mother and baseball fan. Elisabeth and I met several years ago at a conference, and both of us have been watching each other's progress toward publishing our first novel. Elisabeth, thank you for joining me today!

You’re a teacher, a mother, and a baseball fan. How do you find time to write?

During the school year, I work for about 1 1/2 – 2 hours a night. During the weekends I try to get in at least 3 hours. Generally I go to my local Starbucks (and sometimes the Library or another coffee shop), get settled with a coffee, go over what I need to get done and do it. Do I always get solid writing done? No, sometimes I check emails, update my Facebook page, and occasionally my blog. I don’t write on my blog as much as I’d like.

You’re tireless! How did you become a writer?

I wish I could say I was a born writer, but that wasn’t the case. In fact, I hated writing when I was a kid because I was a terrible speller. I did, however, love to read and read everything I could get my hands on. When I went to get my teaching credential in my early 20’s, I ended up in a 1st grade class and rediscovered one of my favorite books, Clifford the Big Red Dog. That’s when I decided I needed to write. I wrote for about 3 years, had the first of my 3 kids and stopped for 8 years. I started writing again about 8 ½ years ago and have been at it ever since.

So is Clifford the one who convinced you that you write for kids?

I never considered writing for adults because the books that have affected me the most were the ones I read as a kid.

How do you handle the inevitable rejections?

Obviously I don’t like them, but I take them for what they are...learning experiences. My favorite one I got from an editor at Viking a few years ago. She didn’t accept the picture book I sent her, but she liked my writing and asked me to send her something else. I sent her one of my novels. Although I just found out from her a couple months ago that she wasn’t interested, she commented again on the strength of my writing. That in itself helps to push me forward to the next editor. I also had a critique last year from an editor that was painful to hear, but amazing to get because not only did she tell me what needed to be worked on, she gave me suggestions and was extremely helpful!  She still wants to see the novel when I’m ready to send it to her.

Other than your novel Cat which you’ve been shopping around, what else are you working on?

I have another Young Adult novel under consideration right now with an editor from Beach Lane Books, in addition to a Picture Book I have with an agent. The novel I’ll be working on after I finish with Cat is one about a 17 year-old piano protégé who is put on a path of self-discovery when she notices her ability to play the piano is starting to deteriorate. It’s more of a suspenseful mystery.

That’s great! Good luck! Which books lie on your nightstand?

Oh man, too many! I just finished Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John which was really good!  The next on my list is The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander. I hope to get to that before the school year starts again.

Do you read a lot?

I don’t read nearly as much as I used to, or should. I love the Shiver series by Maggie Stiefvader, The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt and anything by Sarah Dessen and Carolyn Mackler.

Those are some of my favorite writers too! Which author do you think influenced you most into becoming a writer?

Noel Streatfeild, Judy Blume, Margery Sharp, Madeleine L’Engle, Norman Bridwell and funny enough, Douglas Marland who wrote for the soap opera "As The World Turns" from 1985 until his untimely death in 1993.

Do you have a book inscribed to you that you love?

This summer I finally got my copy of 13 Reasons Why signed by Jay Asher. I also have a copy of I Want My Hat Back! signed by Jon Klassen. My favorite one is a copy of The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash that I had signed by Steven Kellogg nearly 20 years ago. Although my most prized possession is a letter I received from Noel Streatfeild when I was 13 after I wrote to her about my love of her book Dancing Shoes. I found out years later she was in her mid-eighty’s when she sent it and passed away a couple of years afterwards. 

Have you had any stories, articles or poems published in magazines? Any advice to writers who are still on their way to see their words in print?

I’ve had a couple fiction pieces and a non-fiction piece published in magazines that were for the middle grade age range. My advice would be keep at it! Persistence is the key. I could have stopped trying when I got all my rejection notices before I took my break from writing, but instead I took the time to take stock of what I needed to do when I go back at it. My dad has a favorite saying that I recite to myself everyday, “Never Say Die.” So I never will.

Thanks Elisabeth for interviewing with me today!

Have I missed any questions you'd like to ask Elisabeth? Like who her favorite baseball team is? Please ask your questions in the comments below. WE LOVE YOUR COMMENTS!

Elisabeth on the web:
Follow Elisabeth on twitter: @elabkwrm
Follow  Elisabeth on her blog
Follow Elisabeth on her author's page on Facebook

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Buoyed by Friendship -- Review of Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Midway through Kristin Cashore’s fantasy novel Bitterblue I couldn’t help myself. I called my friend’s twelve year old daughter to gush about how she has to put everything down and read this book right now.

“Oh, I already read it,” she said. “It’s great!”

I had intended to do some serious raving about how marvelous the novel is, how much I’m enjoying it,  and how fabulous Bitterblue is as a queen, but my friend’s daughter was way ahead of me.

Still, I have to gush to someone. And I loved loved loved this book. I loved Kristin Cashore’s first novel Graceling with its powerful female protagonist Katsa. I enjoyed her second novel Fire whose mind-reading heroine Lady Fire lived a rich, conflicting (and poetic) inner life. And I finished Bitterblue, holding my breath all the way to the end, watching the young queen as she sifts through the chaos her father left in her attempts to heal her kingdom.

Bitterblue is surrounded by lies. From every direction, it seems, people weave a web of confusion and deception around her, doing their best to keep her in the dark. Are her strange advisers to be trusted? Are her guards really protecting her? Are her spies loyal? Is the information she receives from her clerks falsified? Bitterblue is just one little queen with a lot of good intentions. How can she overcome so much history of terror and fear when she doesn’t even know who’s on her side?

The rule in young adult novels says that the main character must solve her problems on her own, without adult help. Cashore stays true to this rule. The young Bitterblue, with her energy and strong sense of what is just and right fights her battle on her own terms and under her own power. But she is far from alone. Her friends might not solve her problems for her, but they are always there to give Bitterblue their love, their support, and their faith. Her cousin Po might not always hear her calls. Katsa might be away for most of the action. Giddon, Raffin and Bann might be bogged down by council affairs. But when they are there, they have an ear to listen and an arm open in a hug for Bitterblue. And sometimes, perhaps, that’s all a little queen needs in order to conquer ignorance and fear and reach the truth that lies behind.

I love that though the odds against Bitterblue are huge, Cashore does not leave the young queen hanging all on her own without any support circle. Bitterblue does not lie back and allow others to solve her problems, but that does not mean that no one is allowed to give her a kind word. At the SCBWI conference, Tony Diterlizzi said that all of us, in the end, meet our darkest moment alone. But how much stronger are we when even alone we know we have the love of our friends behind us.

My review of Graceling
My review of Fire
Kristin Cashore's blog
Bitterblue on Goodreads

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Wonder of Wonder

Some books stay with me forever. These are the books that touch my heart, making me laugh while I have tears in my eyes, the books that teach me something deep about human longing, about my own need to be the best human being I can. Most of the time I read for the pleasure of being in a new world, for forgetting what’s bothering me in this one. But once in a while there comes a book which so innately speaks to me, that it gives me a new perspective about my life.

Last week, the children and I finished listening together to the audio version of Wonder by R. J. Palacio. Have you ever felt that sense of emptiness when a book ends? Not a second passed after the last word and my son asked: “Is there Wonder Two?” But the novel has only come out this February, and there is no hint in R. J. Palacio’s website for a sequel.

Wonder tells the story of August Pullman’s fifth grade year through the eyes of six different young people: Auggie, his friends Summer and Jack, his sister Olivia, Olivia’s boyfriend Justin, and Olivia’s friend Miranda. Each voice gives a unique and distinct perspective of Auggie’s story as he struggles to acclimate to school. Auggie has never been to school before. He was born with a terrible genetic facial deformity for which he had numerous surgeries and which had prevented him from going to school so far.

The novel begins with Auggie, and I found myself sucked into his story, weeping for his difficulties and identifying with his pain as he stumbles into the cruel and inhospitable environment of a regular school. The children avoid touching him or speaking to him, rushing to wash their hands if he accidentally brushes against them. Only two children befriend Auggie, and when one of them betrays his trust, I felt Auggie’s sorrow as though it was my own.

Then Olivia, August’s sister, started to speak, and my perception of the world changed. With no hint of emotion, Olivia detailed Auggie’s deformed face and the various genetic disorders that conspired to make him look the way he looked. Listening to her, I finally understood the shambles that were August’s face, how near he had been to death, how miraculous that he could even eat by himself. But Olivia did not show me just Auggie. She showed me herself, Olivia, the older, healthy sister who must hide who she is and what she needs because her world, inevitably, revolves around Auggie.

More and more perspectives added intricate layers of insight into this year in Auggie’s life as he grows up and matures and his world opens up before him. I laughed and cried. I held my breath. I fell in love with Auggie, Olivia and all their friends, even with Mr. Tushman the school’s principal and with Mr. Browne and his Precepts. And I loved that my children identified with Auggie so much, that for them it was not a story about a deformed kid, but the story of a kid they could love.

My favorite precept: "Just follow the day and reach for the sun." ~ The Polyphonic Spree

Find Wonder on Goodreads.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Interview with Author Eric Sandler

Today I am hosting author Eric Sandler on my blog. Eric and I met at the SCBWI conference where we found ourselves engaged in a discussion of horror writing across the Golden Kite Luncheon table, of all things.

Hi Eric, I'm so glad to have you interviewing on my blog today! I'm curious to know, writers often say that they write because they have to write. Do you see writing as a hobby or a vocation?

Vocation for sure. It certainly started as a hobby back when I was 12-13, writing fanfiction for newsgroups. As the years went on I started developing my own characters and stories and became more serious about getting published. Now my one goal in life is to see my name on a book I wrote. After that's accomplished...I write the sequel.

Tell us about the world of your fantasy novel.

It's not so much 'world' as 'worlds.' One of the main characters has the ability to travel to other universes, and so it's about as far from Earth as you can get. Many of the worlds they visit are behind modern-day Earth in terms of technology and have entirely new species of animals and some varying laws of physics. Some worlds have magic, but that isn't used too much, so my apologies to the Harry Potter fans.

Where is your favorite place to write?

Outdoors. I tend to take my netbook and sit outside in the backyard, assuming it's not too hot (which it has been these last few days, so I'm behind!)

I’m with you on writing outdoors. But what do you do if it rains?

Fortunately, the deck has an awning that covers the whole thing, so I can write rain or shine!
Eric's outside writing place

What is your writing routine like?

I have two computers, a netbook and a desktop. The desktop is for general use, the netbook for writing. For proper work to get done, I get away from the desktop. Preferably to a place without wireless Internet. I usually play music while I'm writing. Anything with a good beat that helps me think is in my playlist, so I tend to have a mishmash of artists. Overall it's probably half Japanese music, half American artists.

What kinds of songs would you put on a playlist for your novel?

A mix of Japanese and American artists. Scandal, High and Mighty Color, m.o.v.e., YUI, Hamasaki Ayumi, Paramore, Evanescence, Bon Jovi, and several more scattered amidst individual songs.

You listen to Japanese music and speak Japanese. Have you ever lived in Japan? Do you use the language or culture in your novel?

Yes, I lived in Osaka for almost three years. I attended a language school there to study Japanese, and then taught English after graduating. I don't use Japanese so much in this novel, but I'm planning to use it in a middle-grade novel I'm currently writing. The main character is Japanese whose grandparents are from--of course--Osaka.

Did you like to read as a child?

I devoured books as a kid. Ender's Game and The Giver are two I read over and over. The latter I read a few years ago and was startled at certain parts that I could understand more clearly now as an adult. It made the whole thing much creepier. Ender's Game remains more or less the same, but I still find it entertaining to read.

I love
Ender’s Game and The Giver. Do you have other books you feel influenced you as a writer?

Ender's Game is definitely a book I've read over and over. Bruce Coville and R.L. Stine likely are my biggest influences. I loved Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, and I read the Fear Street and Goosebumps series despite getting scared at Night of the Living Dummy. That one book will make me look askance at mannequins for the rest of my life...

Any thoughts about why kids like scary books?

When I was a kid, I read a lot of R.L. Stine, Christopher Pike, etc. Despite sometimes scaring me into having nightmares, these books gave me a glimpse into the darkness that is our fears. I think there's a subconscious attraction to that fear, as it gives us a peek into the unknown.

Have you had any stories, articles or poems published in magazines?

Yes, I've had a short story published on, and that same story won second place in the West Side Story contest (now defunct) as well as an honorable mention by Writer's Digest in their Popular Fiction contest. So that one story's really gotten around.

That’s so fabulous! Do you have advice to other writers who are still on their way to see their words in print?

Start writing. You can't get published without putting pen to paper (or typing that first word). Follow through. Starting and finishing are the two most important parts of writing, because without that, you can't move forward. Be prepared to edit, a lot. And I mean A LOT. This is before you even find an agent or editor. Find someone to beta-read your work (not a friend or family member) after you've gone through and edited the whole thing 3-4 times. It helps so much to have a fresh, outside perspective. Be prepared to take a lot of criticism. Accept that you can't write it perfect the first time and will likely have to do several passes before it's even close to submission-quality. Joining a critique group can also help a lot, but I personally haven't had that experience.

Thanks Eric for visiting and answering my questions!
You can follow Eric on twitter at @EricSandlerYA

If you have any questions or comments to Eric, please feel free to comment below.

We LOVE your comments.

If you're a writer and would like to be interviewed on my blog, please comment below, or send an email to stzoore (at) yahoo (dot) com.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Price of Passion

Uri's main competition for my love.
Writers often claim that they write because they must. Why else would we write? Riches and fame, after all, are rarely the results. I have struggled with the inexplicable need to write for at least ten years, writing in bursts and sinking into doom and gloom when no writing comes. Having noticed the connection between not writing and my bouts of depression, I’ve made an effort to get some writing time every day. I channel my creativity into the blog when the novel seems too complicated an endeavor, and I’ve come to realize that the feeling I called depression was actually frustration in disguise.

Realizing how important writing is to me was only one tiny step. Ahead loomed a greater obstacle, so great, in fact, that terrified and ashamed, for a long time I preferred not to look it in the face. Even now, it seems to me both a ridiculous and crucial obstacle: my all-important mother-hood. Turns out that after all these years, I still doubt that I can be a mother and a writer at the same time.

My imagination, my creativity press on the dam of fears I’d built, lashing against it, trying to force a way out. When I write, I often don’t hear the children talking to me. I forget to tell them to go to sleep or to make them food. What will happen if I let all the passion of writing out from behind the carefully controlled dam? What if writing and novels and ideas will come rushing out in a great flood, overcoming everything? Will the mother mountain stay intact?

Yesterday my son accused me, “You love your book more than you love me.” I burst out laughing. I spend so much energy on being afraid that the kids will suffer because of my writing, and here he is blaming me for exactly what I fear the most. Except, he wasn’t talking about my novel, the one I am writing. He was talking about the ultra fascinating and unputdownable Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore.

Okay, so I admit that yesterday I was reading Bitterblue instead of playing with him lacrosse. And I was reading Bitterblue instead of paying him attention. And I was reading Bitterblue in the doctor’s office while we waited though he had nothing to do. But in one moment, with those funny and yet truthful words, Uri gave me glimpse of perspective about my great parenting-writing fear. Just a glimpse, mind you.

I have a feeling that if I let the dam loose the mother mountain will still stand safe and sure. I have a feeling that if I stop putting on the break with my writing, I will have more energy to spend both on my writing and the kids. And I have a feeling that it’s good for the kids to know that there’s more to their mother than just being a mother. It’s just a feeling. But I think perhaps it’s true.

Do you have a passion in your life, that makes you oblivious to the rest of the world?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Moment of Remembering

Had there been a clock on the airplane, it would have struck eight at night. We were still sitting at the gate, waiting for the doors to close, the plane to push back, and our vacation to Victoria to begin. Uri sat with Dar in the row ahead of Eden and I. He turned back and asked, “were there any children on those planes?” I did not understand. “Which planes?” I asked him. “The ones who fell in 2001,” he said.

In September 23, 2001, my husband at the time, eleven months old Uri and I packed our belongings and moved to the United States. Israel was then beset by the almost daily terror attacks of the second Intifada, and for a variety of reasons I felt less and less safe. In preparation for the flight I started a series of therapy sessions called EMDR which are supposed to help patients overcome deep-set fears, like the fear of flying. I had panic attacks when flying once or twice before, but now that I was a parent I wanted to feel more responsible and overcome my fear.

On September 11th, the afternoon news was interrupted by an announcement. A plane had crushed into the Twin Towers. Pictures of the tower still standing, a cloud of smoke coming out of its side, dominated the screen. I called my mother in California and found her awake in their home listening to the news. Everyone I know followed the news that day, unable to believe the magnitude of what had happened.

I never went to my last EMDR session. I suppose both the therapist and I knew the uselessness of trying to convince anyone that flying was safe a week days after this tragedy. Instead, I got on an airplane and flew eighteen hours to California. I have no idea how I managed that.

I am no longer afraid of flying, but my son is, and when he asks me a question like, “how many children died on those planes in September 11th?” my heart drops. Eight children between the ages of 2 and 11 died on those planes. I understand his fear, and I wish to make him understand that he is safe, that we are sitting together, that flying is safer than many other things that we do every day, and that it’s better to concentrate on the moment rather than be busy imagining phantom could-happen fears. But I understand him, because I can imagine those eight children’s very real fear.

My imagination can paint horror pictures all too well. That is why I am a writer. I try, however, to employ my imagination in happily ever afters instead. I know bad stuff can happen, but perhaps the point is, a lot can go wrong, and it’s impossible to know quite what that wrong would be. And perhaps, like that favorite saying I love from the Buddha, it is best just to accept that Suffering Is, and that sometimes, in the moment, all is well, and Suffering Isn’t.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Green Paranormal: Review of Sara Wilson Etienne's Harbinger

Yesterday I finished reading Harbinger by Sara Wilson Etienne. I don’t usually read paranormal novels -- it’s not a genre I am fond of -- but for some reason the gorgeous cover of the novel kept calling to me. Have you ever had a cover like that which you just could not resist? The red moon, the sweet-faced heroine with her eyes covered by a red band tied behind her head, her innocent white skin contrasting with her partly-opened, sensual mouth. The stark landscape behind her. I bought the book and immediately started to read.

To my surprise, Harbinger is a green novel, in an eco-friendly, earth stewardship sense. The novel is set in a United states that has depleted its resources, its oceans polluted by oil spills, its animals over the brink of extinction. Suburbs have closed their gates to new residents, and cities have become a center for crime and homelessness. Water is scarce. Food is scarce. And each suburb requires a certain code of behavior from its inhabitants.

Faye, the protagonist, suffers from visions and panic attacks. Her parents send her away to Holbrook Academy, a strange school for misfits where guards walk outside armed with pepper spray and tasers, and where the students are forced to swallow sleeping pills at night. Each night Faye and her friends go to sleep in their beds but wake up on the floor, their hands colored with blood. Faye suspects she is the reason behind the strangeness of Holbrook, and she sets out to discover why.

Maya, one of the students at Holbrook, is a save-the-world fanatic. “Don’t you know you’re devouring the earth?” she yells during the first dinner at Holbrook. “We’ve squeezed this planet dry. Stomped the hell out of it with our carbon footprint. Sent cow shit and pesticides sludging through our rivers and drinking waters.” A paragraph later, as the guards are closing in on her, Maya keeps on shouting: “Our world is melting, frying, starving, and suffocating, and you just keep on chewing.”

While Maya is the more extreme advocate for saving the world, pounding us with her beliefs as with a sledgehammer, for Faye reclaiming nature is a theme which weaves in and out of her thoughts like a song long-forgotten and now remembered. Trees entrance her and terrify her at the same time, as does the ocean. And where Maya seeks to make a difference by forcing others into her point of view, Faye ultimately understands that saving the world is an intensely personal sacrifice.

I read Harbinger in two days. It is an intelligent, well thought-out novel. Faye is an impressive protagonist, unafraid of challenges, willing to risk herself to uncover the truth. Beneath the dystopian, somewhat post-apocalyptic tones of the novel, hers is the story of a girl who just wants to be loved and belong, and who must, in the end, face a choice between her friends and her destiny.

You can find Harbinger on Goodreads.
Writer NutschellAnne Windsor interviewed Sara Wilson Etienne and reviewed the novel on her blog, The Writing Nut
Sara Wilson Etienne has a website and

Monday, August 6, 2012

Interview with Writer, Fencer and Teacher Laura Clement

Today I have writer Laura Clement interviewing with me. Laura and I met at an SCBWI conference a few years ago and have stayed in touch through facebook, of all places. SCBWI is a great place to meet new friends and learn more about writing and illustrating for children. I'm very excited to have Laura with us today.

Hi Laura, Thanks for joining me! Can you tell me about the path you followed to become a children’s books writer?

Through my process of writing, something I have been doing since grade school, starting with poetry, I struggled with the lines that are drawn between children’s literature and adult literature. When I have a chance to talk to other writers, some who have published over 300 books (children’s) and a few novels, I hear the same thing over and over again -- Just write. One writer told me, “I never change my writing for kids. They are smart and love a challenge.”

I think for me the major difference is subject matter and the depth to which you might take it. One of my books for kids might be about depression, but I won’t tackle it in the same way I do in my novel. But they both have the same heavy topic. I think it is harder to write for kids. The book has to seem so simple and flow with effortless grace, this is HARD work. A great kids' book is something everyone will enjoy, kids to adults.

That’s so true. You write picture books and middle-grade novels, is that right?

I love writing picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels. I love to try anything. I still visit poetry from time to time. I let the characters find me, and once they start chatting in my head, or images of them fill my unconscious dream world and dance into day, they get placed to the page. I like adventure stories where the reader has to set outside their world.

Do your books have a message for kids?

Yes.  Martin the Mouse (working title) is about finding your inner strength, exploring the world beyond your own eyes and taking chances. Sky and Sparrow (working title) is about the adventure between two characters and the fun they can have in the moment of a day. My polka dot adventure is about seeing the world from a different perspective and maybe incorporating it into your life.

You fence and teach kids fencing. Have you used your fencing knowledge in your books?

Laura fencing with her husband, Martin
I have!  I am currently rewriting a middle grade novel about a fabulous little mouse and her sister who learn to fence. What can I say, one night I was sitting in the salle (club), and I watched a mouse run across the floor. That got me to thinking about how mice see us and what they do when we are not there.

In between work and fencing, how do you find time to write?

I have been really lucky. Until recently I was able to work from home, set up a schedule and pound out ideas and edit… edit…edit. This summer has been very difficult. Between working all day teaching kids, and then family being in town, I haven’t had any time to write. Though I have some fabulous new ideas and new approaches for old projects spinning around in my head for when September rolls around and I can get back to a schedule. A writer needs a schedule. Even if it is only one hour a week, if that time is the same every week, you can totally get work done.

I’ve heard other writers recommend that before. You’ve been on the track to finding a home for your books for some time now sending queries. How do you handle the inevitable rejection letter?
I have all of my rejections filed away, mostly electronically, date stamped in a spreadsheet with any comments listed at the end. I am at the point where I am frustrated by rejection letters that don’t say anything useful. But for the most part I just turn my focus back to a current project and try to keep rolling. Sometimes if I get it late in the day I let myself have a nice cocktail or something sweet (hello cupcakes).

That’s fabulous! Which books do you remember the most when growing up?

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, The Fledgling, Lord of the Rings (my godfather read that to me), Anne of Green Gables, The Eyes of the Amaryllis….  The list could go on… Oh!  Wait, The White Dragon (well all of the books from Anne McCaffery), and of course A Wrinkle in Time.

Which author do you think influenced you most into becoming a writer?

All of them- Any writer or book that took me places.

 Do you have advice to other writers?

Advice… Write for you, for your characters, for the laughs you get when one of them says something funny. Write for your friends or family who love to read your adventures. The rest is major work and just needs to be done (research of agents/publishers). Make sure you write more than you do the “work” or as I discovered, you burn out. Keep your love of writing alive and for goodness sake, find a really good critique group (easier said than done I know).

Thank you, Laura, so much for interviewing with me! 

You can find Laura on Facebook as Laura Clement (Seattle) and Clement Creations, on twitter as @clementcreation, and on her blog.

We love your comments! Please feel free to ask Laura (or me) any questions. If you too are a pre-published writer and would like to be interviewed on my blog, please mention it in the comments or send me an email to stzoore (at) yahoo (dot) com.


Running from a Purple Crayon Home

As a child, I took books seriously. Transported into their world, I followed their paths, smelling the smells, seeing the sights, experiencing the fears, hopes, loves, dreams and terrors of the characters without the barriers of pages, words, covers or time. I wandered the roads of England with Isaac the Jew in his cart, Rebecca looking over my shoulder as she tended to Ivanhoe who lay wounded in the back. I strolled from Longbourn to Meryton behind the Bennett sisters, holding my skirts up and stepping daintily if there was too much mud. Like Ender, I felt compassion and determination in the spherical confines of Battle School, breathing the air and drinking the water that had been recycled through the bodies of the other students countless times.

Perhaps because of the total immersion I experience in books, I never liked reading anything frightening or sad. I’ve never read Stephen King, and the Hunger Games, which I read recently, gave me nightmares for two weeks. Even a picture book like Harold and the Purple Crayon scared me. I was terrified by the fact that Harold never really -- or so it seemed to me -- found his way back home.

Harold has always been a sore spot for me. I know the book is considered timeless, and not being able to appreciate it bothered me. But on Saturday, during Bryan Collier’s speech at the conference, I had a moment of enlightenment, and now I know why I feared the book so much. “When Harold hang the moon in the sky, that was magic,” Collier said. “I’ve been chasing Harold ever since.” And suddenly I understood: that’s the meaning of true adventure -- following the lines of the purple crayon through the book.

I had been terrified to follow Harold, because I feared losing sight of home. In my eyes, Harold ventures forth into an unknown world which he creates by himself, moving farther and farther away from his home, and when finally he wants to go back, he doesn’t know how to return. But Harold does not need to go back. He is making magic! He is on the adventure of life. His bed is where it always is, under a window framing the moon, and Harold can sleep there in peace because he trusts in the process. He trusts the adventure. He trusts in the impermanence of life. And mostly, he trusts that his home is in him.

For years, Harold has been calling to me to follow my purple crayon, but instead of following him, I’ve been sitting around moaning my inability to fly. Harold says, you want to fly? Here, take your crayon and draw yourself wings. You want to go home? Here, take your crayon and draw yourself the moon. You want to climb a mountain? Here is your crayon. Climb a mountain. Write a novel. Fly on the wings of dragons. Go on your adventure without any fear because you don’t need to look back. You have everything you need right there in your hand.

Which adventure would you like to follow with your purple crayon?
Do you have a picture book which scared you as a child but you can now see in a new light?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Writing a Cow

When my son was a year old, he was obsessed with cows. Perhaps his cow-bsession originated from too many repeats of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” or maybe from visits to the local petting zoo. Either way, as a loving parent and a literary nut, I immediately acquired a multitude of books about cows which greatly enhanced my knowledge of the types of cows in the world (there’s a cow that has a white belt across her black belly) and my understanding of the various parts of a cow’s digestive system (there are too many). We had books about cows that type and cows that come home, and even one fabulous and funny book called The Cows Are Going to Paris, written by David Kirby.

The cow painting hanging in Uri's room
Uri is still fond of cows. He prefers not to eat beef because he feels it is wrong to kill such a beautiful creature. My boyfriend Dar loves cows too and has given Uri a gorgeous painting of some Holstein cows meandering in a meadow to hang in his room. When I drive out through the hills near our house, I watch the cows roaming, and I send out a wish that they are happy cows, raised for their milk. I guess you could say that we love cows in my family.

To me a cow is a symbol of a return to nature and a simpler life. It throws me back to childhood visits to the Kibbutz (the Israeli communal farm) or the Moshav (the cooperative farm), the smell of cows hanging in the air, their melodic moos carrying in the breeze. Cows symbolize, for me, an assurance against starvation, which I draw not from life but from literature. I remember Hector Malot’s touching and adventurous Nobody’s Boy, and the thin cow which alone protected Remy and his foster mother from poverty. I knew: as long as there’s a cow, there will be milk and butter.

So when Patricia MacLachlan, author of the wonderful Sarah Plain and Tall, said (and I think it may have been a quote from her books) at the SCBWI conference, “I can’t write anything better than a cow,” and again after that, “a poem as beautiful as a cow,” I felt a deep connection to that sentiment. What is there, in our world, more beautiful than a cow? She is a symbol of mother earth, nourishing, generously sharing her milk with us. In India the cow is a sacred animal, and in Feng Shui it is a symbol for prosperity and good luck.

But if a cow embodies the mother: patient, calm, accepting, what does it have in common with a conflict-filled, dramatic, fast paced book? For me, at least, Ms. MacLachlan’s analogy evoked a feeling rather than a comparison: that a writer has created something as pure, innocent, and perfect in its own way, as real, as true to its own nature, as a cow.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Legitimizing Writing Time

Here I am, sitting on an airplane flying thirty thousand feet above a sea of clouds. The sun is just rising in the horizon, an orangy-yellow presence outside the oval plane window. I am flying to Los Angeles, where, for the next three days, I will attend the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators conference. Yesterday I was all mother. For the next three days I get to be all writer, guilt-free.

Guilt defines much of who I am. Since the children spend only half of the week with me, I want to give them my entire attention when they are around. Partly I do this to make up for not being there the other half of the week, and partly because I want to give them so much, but I don’t have enough time. My writing, therefore, takes second place (or even third and fourth) when the children are around.

A writers’ conference, however, is a different story. It sounds so..., well, so legitimate, so important. It sounds real! Engineers, teachers, people with real jobs go to conferences. And once in a while so do I. I go to the conference and feel that I’m doing something to further my career. I’m making contacts, deepening my knowledge of the business of writing and publishing. Then, after three days of taking myself seriously, I go back home to writing on a desk surrounded by pecking chickens, barking dogs, and attention-deprived children.

The quiet before the storm -- conference main room
The truth is that at home I doubt the legitimacy of my writing. I minimize my computer time when the children are around so as not to encourage them to spend time on their computers as well. Except, here’s what makes no sense about this: I am not playing on the computer or watching a teen series with too-beautiful photo-shopped young people. I am working! I am writing, and someday someone will want to read what I write. Right?

Am I working, or am I playing around? Am I indulging in a hobby which might never become a job? Certainly, I don’t treat writing as a job. I do not sit at my desk 9 to 5. And if part of the definition of a job is that it earns the worker money, then I am not exactly up to standard in that. I do what I love, and I feel privileged and grateful to be able to do that. But with an inexplicable fear of what others, my children included, will say, I don’t follow my writing ambitions, yet, with the same single-minded sense of purpose that I do other goals of my life. Motherhood, for example.

My son tells me: “Why are you on the computer all the time?” “Blogging,” he answers his own question, and a tone of hurt (or is it contempt?) sneaks into his voice. Once again I realize how important it is for me to feel the legitimacy of my writing, make room for WRITER in my definition of self. It’s ok, I think, frightening though it is for me to say, not to be 100% mother all the time. I wonder what will happen when I stop being afraid of being more than mother, and give myself permission to feel sometimes all writer inside....

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Chore of Chores

Doggie bowl
Last night, my daughter and I returned home from her Hebrew lesson tired and hungry. Dar was in the kitchen, preparing dinner, and Uri was outside playing lacrosse. The dogs hadn’t been fed yet. Lately, after reading Blessings of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel, I’ve been trying to implement a system of chore sharing in the house. By Ms. Mogel’s recommendation, I’ve been going about it slowly and gently. I did not sit everyone down for a talk to say: “From now on things are going to change around here!” Rather, I’ve been suggesting more participation to the kids when the chance arose.

One of the chores I’ve been trying to shift to them is the feeding of the dogs, which we do twice a day. The entire process take two minutes, and it is a chore which the children are happy to do. All it takes is a reminder that it is time for the dogs to eat, and one of the kids volunteers to feed them.

The kids can do laundry too!
Perhaps volunteer is the key word here. I have not yet formally assigned the job to the kids. I still remind them of the need to do it every morning and every night. Sometimes, like last night, I end up doing the feeding. I find myself overprotecting them with thoughts like: she’s so tired, he’s still playing. According to Ms. Mogel, however, the modern parents’ reluctance to assign chores to their children is equal to withholding from them the blessing of work. We all, Mogel explains, are required in the Bible to take care of ourselves. When we protect our children and allow them to escape chore-free, we’re going directly against the will of God and taking away from them the opportunity to learn how to take care of themselves and others.

My inability to follow through with the assigning of chores exists partly because I see it as an extra chore for myself. I know I will be responsible for reminding them to do the dishes, clear the table or feed the dogs. Attaching consequences to incompletion of tasks adds yet another layer of responsibility. Now I need to follow through with those! I also, however, see the benefit of having the children participate more in the everyday doings of the house. I feel more appreciated and loved when I receive their help. I enjoy spending time with them when they help me cook or set the table. And they, I think, feel more connected, more grounded in the reality of our life.

Eden has been known to wash the dishes
There are other chores, responsibilities, which I’d like my children to assume eventually. I would love it if they cleaned their room, practiced their instruments more, walked the dogs and cleaned after them. These are duties to aim for, and I understand that they cannot be accomplished in a one-day coup.  I also have some empathy for myself. As it is I work quite hard to get the house functioning well, and adding the chore of chores to it: policing the children’s execution of their duties, adds yet another strand of straw to my camel’s back.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Infinite Degrees of Suffering

Peace, by Eden.
There is a story about the wise men of Chelem who always kvetched about their sufferings. Finally, God told them to pack their troubles in a sack and bring it to the village square in the evening. There, said God, they can exchange their suffering for someone else’s lesser pain. The men did as they were told and came to the square at the appointed time, but when they took one glance at everyone else’s troubles, they quickly picked up their own sack and ran back home.

When faced with a true representation of the suffering of another, the story seems to say, we are likely to prefer our own. Why then is it that we compare our troubles, judge them, rate them on a scale? Is my suffering greater or lesser than yours? Do I deserve more or less pity, empathy, sympathy, or attention? “Beware of Pity,” my mother likes to quote this title of Stefan Zweig’s novel. But is it beware of feeling it? acting on it? or receiving it? And how do I distinguish between pity and a higher sentiment like empathy and love?

“Suffering is,” says the Buddha, words of wisdom which I find myself returning to again and again. Everyone suffers, young and old, rich and poor. We suffer from unrequited love, pains, ills, neglect, injustice, loss. But, true to the saying “The neighbor’s grass is always greener,” I too often measure my suffering against another’s, except, in my case, I usually feel I don’t have the right to suffer. After all, I live a comfortable and convenient life, surrounded by people I love, and mostly enjoying good health. True to the character of the Jewish Mother, I put my own pain at the bottom of the pile.

Our hike in the Galilee where my son got sick
Two years ago, my son got ill on a trip, and I wished to return home. I was dependent on two other families, however, because I had not come in my car. They hesitated, wishing to enjoy one more day of vacation, not really understanding my concern. “I would do it for you,” I said in anger, and one of my friends, who has lost a child a few years before, has not forgiven me since. How can I be so selfish, she said, to spoil the trip for everyone for such a little illness, when she was there, and her own child was dead.

Another view of the hike
I felt guilty but was not sure why. I was (and still am) sorry for my words -- knowing her sensitivity and suffering, I ought not to have spoken them. But I also feel for my suffering at that moment and my need to protect my child. When I spoke those words, her years of loss were far from my mind. All I felt was worry for my son. It was our comparative perception of pain which left us both with another sprinkling of suffering. And I still wonder, why did we feel the need to measure which one of our sacks weighed more, or less, at all?