A Present For YOU!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I like Mondays.

I know I’m in the minority here, but the way I see it, Mondays are full of possibility – like morning, and the first day of every month, and the first day of school and the first day of the year.  Monday begins a new week and the door is wide open for something good to happen.  It could be anything!

And this Monday I’m feeling particularly happy because of you.  At the end of last week I got not one, not two, but THREE Versatile Blogger Awards AND I got tagged.  In addition, someone commented that she looked forward to reading my blog.  My Blog.  MINE!  I can’t believe it 🙂  I am honored and touched.

So first, let me acknowledge the awesome bloggers who awarded me.  Thank you all so much!
Kelly at As Seen Through A Different Glass
Diane at The Patient Dreamer, and
Debbie at Debbie Johansson.
Please take a moment to check out their wonderful blogs!

And, let me also acknowledge Grillyfish who tagged me – check her out too!

Now, let me just say that I’m really terrible at these awards.  I’m so grateful to the people who felt I was worthy of receiving them, but I can never choose who to forward them to.  I treasure everyone who reads and comments on my blog and I don’t feel right singling out only a few to pass the award on to when you are all so wonderful.

So I’m going to combine the awards and the tag I received by telling you 10 random things about me (because the conditions are 7 for one and 10 for the other) which you may or may not care to read 🙂 and then I am going to give you ALL a present!!!

You can skip to the present if you want.  I won’t be offended 🙂  I’m not even sure I can come up with 10 random things and they might not be very interesting.  And presents are very hard to wait for 🙂

Let me see…

1.  My favorite color is blue – not pale blue, but pretty much any other shade from periwinkle to royal to midnight.  Second favorite is a tie between pink and yellow.

2.  In third grade I played Sneezy in our class production of Blanche Neige.  French was never my best subject, but apparently I can sneeze in any language 🙂

3.  I think roses are pretty, but I don’t like the way they smell (except for the delicate little wild roses.)  I love carnations, which have a kind of light spicy scent, and lantana, which smells citrusy.

4.  I have burn holes in every polar fleece I own from sitting too close to the fire on winter evenings.  Which brings me to #5…

5.  I think it’s entirely possible I may have been a cat in a previous life (or that I will be one in my next life.)  I base this on the fact that I love to sit in warm sunny places or very close to the fire (as mentioned in #4) and I do not like to swim!

6.  I have jumped horses up banks, through brush, over ditches, and into water.  (I spent my young adulthood being a competitive Three-Day Event rider.)  I am one of those horse-crazy girls who never outgrew the phase.

7.  We don’t have cable or a dish, so I really don’t watch TV.  The only shows I ever watch (online, the day after they air) are Glee and Modern Family (with my kids) and Grey’s Anatomy (which I totally love and consider an indulgence :))

8.  My all-time favorite candy bar is Snickers.  I challenge you to come up with anything better!

9.  When I was 8, I stole a pack of lifesavers from the stationary store on the corner, but I felt so guilty I turned around before I’d gone half a block and went and put them back.

10.  My dogs come with me pretty much everywhere, conditions permitting (which is why I call my car the Dogmobile.)  (Which is also why I’m always asking for helpful tips on removing dog hair from car upholstery…!)

So there you are.  10 random things.  Feel free to share your own!

Now.  The moment you’ve all been waiting for!  Are you ready?  Here is your present!!!!!

Ooh!  Ahh!  Ain’t it purty?

Now, here’s the deal.  This present contains whatever you’d most like to have today!

It could be 15 minutes to sit on the back porch in the sunshine sipping your coffee and watching the dragonflies…
Or a romantic dinner with your better half where you have the time and space to remember why you fell in love…
Or an afternoon in the playground with your children, watching them run and play, reveling in the strength and individuality that grows a little more in them each day…
Or an outing to pick apples, the sunshine dissipating the mist over the orchard, the grass kissed with frost beneath your feet, then home to a happy kitchen to bake pie for dessert with a game of Candy Land or Clue or Scrabble…
Or one uninterrupted hour to read that book you’ve been itching to get to, your cat curled warmly in your lap…
You get the idea!

So go ahead!  Open your present!  And then tell me what’s inside!  Whoever has the best answer (to be determined, very scientifically, by writing each one on a piece of paper, mixing them up and drawing one, or else, possibly, very subjectively by me) will win their choice of a signed copy of any one of my books they choose, or a $10 Amazon gift card.

So how do you feel about Monday now? I can’t wait to see what you got!!! 🙂

Stage Fright

Today, I’d like to thank Brooke Rousseau (please visit her awesome blog!) for bestowing the Irresistibly Sweet Award upon me!

Thank you, Brooke!  I’m honored.

I don’t know if I’m sweet, but the fact that Brooke gave me the award certainly proves that she is 🙂

I’m not very good at these blog awards.  They all have rules you’re supposed to follow, and then you’re supposed to pass them on, and I can never choose who to pass them to because I don’t want to leave anyone important out or make anyone feel unchosen… and honestly, I’m not sure what the rules are for this one.  Usually they include a “something you didn’t know about me” or “random facts” requirement, so hmm… what can I tell you?

How about this:  (as always, I have a point… eventually :))

I started taking piano lessons when I was 4.  My music teacher didn’t usually take kids younger than 5, but my hands were strong and my ear for music attuned so she made an exception.

I loved playing the piano.  I loved that you could sit before it and coax forth beautiful melodies to suit any mood you were in.  I loved the way music made me feel… (and that, if I was practicing, I got first dibs on the living room and my siblings had to wait to watch TV – ah, the power :))

My music teacher had high standards to which I did not always measure up.  Her emphasis was on performance, and when I reached high school she lobbied strongly for me to go to Julliard.

But therein lay the rub.  I loved to play the piano, but by myself.  I HATED performing.  I didn’t even like practicing when family members were in the same room.

But because I attended a serious piano school, I had to perform, twice a year, and I absolutely dreaded those concerts.

I had to walk to the front of the auditorium.  Alone.  In front of all those people.

Raise or lower the piano stool to the appropriate height.  Check.  Adjust.

Then stand before the expectant audience and say the name of my piece and its composer in a clear voice, loud enough to be heard.

Then sit at the piano, place my fingers lightly on the keys, take a deep breath, and begin.

Sounds simple, right?

But my legs wobbled, threatening to drop me on my royal highness.  My voice stuck in my throat.  My hands trembled and my fingers turned to ice, and if you’ve ever tried to play Beethoven or Chopin with frozen fingers, you know they lose all dexterity and it’s VERY difficult.  But the worst problem was that, at the moment I was supposed to begin, my mind went completely blank.  I couldn’t remember where or how to start.  My heart slammed.  My mind careened crazily.  I was horribly conscious of all those people looking at me, waiting, and with every rapid breath that passed through my dry lips, the notes I needed spun farther away.

I’m having a panic attack just thinking about it!

More than once, humiliation of humiliations, my music teacher had to step forward and place my fingers over the opening keys.

By the time I was 10, I had learned to write the first chord on the back of my left hand.  Then, when my mind deserted me and I couldn’t think where to begin, I could glance down and see C dominant 7th or whatever, and it was enough to get me going.

Once I got started, muscle memory usually carried the day.

But there you have it.

(Are you ready for the point I promised?)

Any wonder that I have the same problem speaking in public? 🙂

I know some writers are very outgoing and love to get up in front of an audience.  I am not one of them.  (Bear in mind, I am not referring to school visits here.  Although I did have to get over my initial fear, I now love visiting with kids.  It’s running workshops and giving speeches that I haven’t conquered… yet!)

Have any of you ever had stage fright or been paralyzingly afraid to do something?  If you’re a writer, do you like speaking in public?  What scares the bejeesus out of you (writing-related or otherwise)?  Please share 🙂

P.S.  As for passing on the award, I really can’t choose.  I am so grateful to all my fellow bloggers who take the time to visit and comment and show their support.  All of you are truly awesome… and sweet 🙂  So don’t try to make me choose! 🙂

Three Tidbits of Interest

Today’s post is a bit of a smorgasbord – a few rather unrelated items but all (to my mind :)) worth mentioning.

First, for any of you who read last week’s post The Wonderful World of Kid Lit, here is a very articulate, thoughtful rebuttal of the Wall Street Journal article mentioned therein which you might find interesting: Deeper Understanding: The Dark Is Rising, from Shelf Awareness, Enlightenment for the Book Trade.  Let me know what you think of Jennifer Brown’s article!

Second, I had a great visit at Merritt Bookstore in Millbrook, NY to celebrate Not Yet, Rose winning the Mom’s Choice Award.  Two large groups from three local preschools came to hear the story (about 100 children all together!)  They were a terrific audience.

Phyllis is trying to convince
the kids that Not Yet, Rose
is about her – because she
looks EXACTLY like Rose!

Unbeknownst to me, one of the adults in the back was videoing with her phone.  Quel horreur!!!  Although watching and listening to myself give a presentation was quite horrifying and made me want to go hide in the closet with a burlap sack over my head, I have been told I should edit the video and put it on my website so that interested teachers/schools can see a sample of a presentation.  What do you think?  Should I do it?

Finally, when I went to shut my computer down Friday night, I discovered a google alert in my inbox for Can’t Sleep Without Sheep.  Following the link, I was amazed and honored to see that Can’t Sleep has been nominated for the Alabama Camellia Children’s Choice Award (the state children’s choice for Alabama!!! click on the 2011-2012 NEW list to see.)  It’s up against some much better known books, so I don’t know if it has a chance of winning, but it was SO nice to be nominated!  Thank you to every child in Alabama who voted for Can’t Sleep!!!  Ava and Woolliam and I appreciate it 🙂

Hole In One

I have two important announcements.

Number 1:  The talented E.J. Wesley, whose blog (The Open Vein) is both entertaining and inspirational and you should visit it, has given me this awesome award!!!

What an honor!  Wasn’t that nice of him?

Number 2:  Today Is National Donut Day!

Can you believe it?  A (w)hole day devoted to that (w)holesome (NOT) confectionary delight, the donut.

Let us admire:

The traditional plain donut…

…the jelly donut…

…the glazed donut…
…the frosted donut…
… and the cider donut…
my personal favorite!

Not to be confused with the cruller…

…the turnover…

or the cinnamon bun!

I hope you are all drooling, and planning an immediate trip to your local donut shop in honor of the day.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with writing?

Well, I’ll tell you.

1.  Donuts make an excellent writing snack, especially with coffee.
2.  As writers, we often find our stories have a hole in the middle.
3.  Given the amount of butt in chair time, our butts may begin to resemble the round shape of a donut if we do not get off them from time to time and take the dogs for a run 🙂

And you thought donuts had nothing to do with writing!

Please feel free to tell us all which is your favorite kind of donut (mine is the cider donut!) so we can see which is most popular!  (And by “favorite” of course I mean which type of donut helps your writing most, and by “popular” of course I’m referring to how much it helps your writing so we can all benefit by trying it :))

Have a wonderful, donut-filled weekend everyone!

Coming Up Roses

The writing life is not for the faint of heart.

Writing is hard work.

Creativity, rather surprisingly, takes what feels like a physical effort.

The ability to be creative on demand takes years of butt in chair, and even then, it doesn’t always happen.  (Although writers may corner the market on the sensation of having their butt fall asleep…)

In today’s marketplace, it isn’t enough to write well.  There are so many wonderful, talented authors and illustrators out there whose work is as good if not better than mine.  The recipe for success requires a healthy dose of luck along with the hard work.  (Maybe a healthy dose of pigheadedness, too, although I prefer to call it by its euphemistic moniker – determination :))

Even if you get published, it’s hard to stand out from the crowd.  A book can be well written, beautifully illustrated, well-reviewed, and still not sell.

And with publishing and the economy in their current states, not only the writing, but the marketing and promotion are almost completely up to the writer.  I think I speak for all of us when I say $%^&*^!!!

(Lest you think I’m trying to depress you and/or ruin your day, I assure you I am not!  I do actually have a point… which I’m getting to… in my own round-about way… 🙂  Look!  Here it is!)

In spite of these difficulties, those of us who write can’t imagine doing anything else.  While it’s entirely possible that, at heart, we’re all incurable optimists 🙂 it may also be because we have stories to tell – stories we hope to share with readers.  We love words and language and writing.  We love the excitement, the thrill, of a new idea.  We love the creativity.  When it’s going well, it’s so amazing that it makes up for a lot of slogging time.  For those of us who write for children the opportunity to interact with our readers on school visits is priceless.  Even without publishing, most of us would still write, though there are few moments that rival the phone call saying, “I’d like to publish your book!”

And every once in a while, when you least expect it, you might get a little bonus 🙂

Last week, I received notification that Not Yet, Rose, my new baby story that was published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers in August of 2009, was awarded a Gold Mom’s Choice Award!

(I would have told you immediately, but we were in the middle of Ryan’s week, and I didn’t want to steal his thunder!)

It’s true!  My little story is going to have one of those beautiful gold medal stickers on the front!  I can’t believe it 🙂  Maybe not the Newbery or the Caldecott, but when it comes to this story – a story about a little girl who is waiting for her new sibling and doesn’t know what to expect – maybe even more valuable.  Because moms are the ones who do most of the choosing when it comes to making purchases, and moms are most likely the ones who might be looking for ways to help their preschoolers understand what having a new sibling will be like, and comfort them with the knowledge that conflicting emotion is normal, healthy, and completely OK.  I hope this award, which is like the highest form of recommendation from other moms, will garner a little much-wanted attention for Rose.  It’s a story that is near and dear to my heart because, underneath, it’s about my own two-year-old daughter struggling to re-imagine her world to include a younger sibling.

I don’t have the actual stickered copies yet, but look how pretty…

Thank you all for indulging my moment of excitement 🙂  I’m a little uncomfortable shouting it out – it feels like bragging – so please feel free to brag about your own accomplishments in the comments to balance it out – I will cheer loudly – I love to hear about your successes! –  and the next time I’m complaining about something, give me a swift kick in the pants and remind me that one of my books has a gold sticker 🙂

Mutton Busting and Another Award!

It’s still February, still winter, and there’s all kinds of ice, sleet, and freezing rain falling out of the sky.  Obviously, we need some amusement.  SO….

Today’s post is not strictly about writing or really anything to do with it except maybe inspiration 🙂 but it is amusing.

Everyone’s heard of rodeos.  Most of us have probably been to at least one in our lifetime.  If so, you’ve seen bronc busting and bull riding.  But the other day my friend, Clare, told me about a new twist that just proves people will do anything!

Apparently, future bull and bronc riders have found a way to break into the game at an early age.

Mutton busting!

5 year old kids don helmets and protective vests (actually, they don’t always – sometimes just a cowboy hat), grab onto the back of a sheep, and hang on for dear life!  Really, they’re very determined.

If you don’t believe me, check out this video:

I wish I’d known about this when I was 5.  It looks like fun… although maybe not for the sheep 🙂

So, like I said, not much to do with writing, but seriously, there has GOT to be a story in there somewhere!

And now, I am so honored to have received another blogging award from my new friend Alison over at Alison Pearce Stevens!  Isn’t it nice?

As part of the award, I must list 7 things about me.  So…

1.  I love all animals, but horses and dogs are my favorite.
2.  I went on a roller coaster in Amsterdam when I was 7 and it cured me of EVER wanting to get on a roller coaster again!  … but I love bumper cars 🙂
3.  My first car was a cream-colored Chevette Scooter named Rover.  (How many of you name your cars?  It’s par for the course with me… after Rover came Skippy, then the Mouse Mobile, so named because mice were constantly nesting in the engine and it did NOT smell good!  My current car, as my devoted followers will already know, is called the Dog Mobile because really, part of my job description is chauffeur, and my dogs ride shotgun :))
4.  I love oatmeal raisin cookies and good chick flicks, separately or together 🙂
5.  I am a closet Grey’s Anatomy fan – well, I guess not anymore!
6.  My favorite color is blue – any shade.  Yellow and pink are tied for second.
7.  If I could meet a celebrity from history, I would be very tempted to pick Man O’ War or Secretariat, even though I know I should choose someone like Martin Luther King Jr.!

And now, I would like to pass this award on to some new blogging friends:

Becky at What’s Your Thought On That
Kari Marie at Writing By Heart
E.J. Wesley at The Open Vein
L.A. Colvin at First Draft on Life, Literature and Lunacy
and really, this list could go on for a long time, so I’ll stop there!

Life Is Good – Blog Award!

I received my first ever blog award today from Megan Bickel over at The Write-At-Home-Mom.  Thank you so much, Megan!  I am honored!

Megan’s blog is interesting and inspiring, and always fun to read.  Her posts are wonderful for both parents and writers.  If you haven’t visited her blog before, I highly recommend it.  (You might notice it’s listed in the sidebar under Blogs I Love To Read!)  She is friendly and enthusiastic and always full of good ideas!

The requirements for the award are to link to the giver (see above :)), tell a little something about yourself, and then pass it on.

So, something about me…  Well, to start with, if you could see my summer wardrobe you’d quickly note that about half of it actually says “Life Is Good!”  I’m definitely a glass is half-full type, but it’s not hard because I have so many wonderful things in my life to be grateful for.  Like anyone, I have days that are difficult or discouraging, but for the most part, life really is good.  On my blog, I hope to make my readers’ days a little brighter in some small way, whether by sharing information they might find interesting/useful, or by finding humor in the sometimes frustrating writing life, and by encouraging my readers to feel like a part of a friendly community.  I hope it works 🙂

And now, I’d like to pass the award on to a writer I think gets the “Life Is Good” philosophy 🙂

Thursday Thrills!

I know.  You can barely contain your excitement for today’s post.  I apologize if I’m responsible for keeping you up all night, tossing and turning, checking the clock every thirty seconds in hopes that it was morning so you could finally tune in and see who won the contest and what the surprise is 🙂

But you can stop champing at the bit.  The big moment has arrived….  Who knew Thursday could be this thrilling?

First, I am pleased to announce the winner of Monday’s Picture Book Game Contest!

(Drum roll please… Drrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!)

And the winner is…. Jenny!

Congratulations, Jenny, come on down!

Let’s show Jenny her prize.  In addition to the SLHill title of her choice, personally signed in any way she’d like, Jenny wins the admiration of her puzzle-solving peers, and the opportunity to have her name up in pink on this blog!  YAY, JENNY!!!  

(Jenny, please use the “email me” button in the right margin of the blog to let me know which book you’d like, how you want it signed, and what your mailing address is.  Well done!)

I think our other finalists deserve a moment of recognition for their stellar attempts, don’t you?  So we will celebrate them in runner-up orange:  Yay, Megan, Teri, and Diane!  Excellent work!

To everyone else, good try and don’t worry… there will be other opportunities to win soon.  You know perfectly well that I can’t resist making up contests 🙂

Now, for the surprise.  Really, could this day get any better?

The book trailer for April Fool, Phyllis! is at last up and running on YouTube!  Here’s the link:

April Fool, Phyllis! – Children’s Picture Book Trailer

Please turn the sound up so you can hear the catchy tune that goes with it (although I should warn you – if you’re like me, it’s liable to get stuck in your head for weeks :))

Please feel free to click “like” and share the link with every single person you know – I want to go viral 🙂  Wouldn’t that be awesome?  Probably there should be a book trailer award for homemade imovie trailers – like an Academy Award – only instead of the Oscar it could be the Phyllis… 🙂

Enjoy, everyone!  And don’t forget to join me here at 10:30 for The Writer’s Club where this morning’s topic will be… anything you feel like talking about!

Writing Inspiration

Some call it inspiration.

Other’s call it the muse.

Still other’s might say it’s a caffeine and chocolate overload 🙂

But whatever its name, it is a writer’s best friend.

Where writing is concerned, there are few things to equal the euphoria of a great idea, the feeling that you have something so wonderful to express that your fingers can’t fly across the keyboard fast enough.  Those moments when words and ideas flow effortlessly are pinnacles of the writing life, something we, as writers, look forward to and hope for every day.

The problem is (at least in my experience!) those moments are few and far between.

If I personally waited for inspiration to strike, I might only write once or twice a year 🙂

Therefore, I go by the words of Peter DeVries:  “I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired to write at 9 o’clock every morning.”  Words to live by!

So it’s 9 o’clock, and here I am, ready to make my own inspiration for the day.  But today I have a little boost and I will share it with you!  It’s award day!  At 10:45 EST, the ALA will announce the Newbery, Caldecott, Michael Printz, Coretta Scott King, and numerous other awards.  It’s a chance to see, and be inspired by, the best in children’s books.


So tune in, see who the winners are, be inspired by success and great writing, and then sit down at your own keyboard or notebook and make some magic.  Who knows?  The words we write today might be the award winners of the future!

After the awards are posted, comment below on your favorites!