On Writing

My January Jaunt

I’m going to take a break from the blog this month.

But I have a really good reason! I have been awarded a month-long Creative Access Fellowship to complete my WIP, a middle grade novel with the working title A Trivial Murder.

I’m pretty excited about it.

So! I’ll be spending the month at Ragdale House, located in warm, sunny Lake Forest, Illinois! Current temperature: 15 degrees. (I probably could’ve planned the timing of my visit a little better.)

I picked up this postcard the last time I visited Illinois back in 1995. Dang, I’m old.

Here are the other Ragdale guests who are similarly not so great at timing their residency visits. They seem nice.

Though I’ll be focused on my manuscript, I won’t be completely absent from social media. Later this month, I’ll make an appearance as a guest blogger at Tara Lazar’s Storystorm.

And I’ll pop over to my Facebook page from time to time. Especially if somebody shares a video of cute widdle rodents and/or cute widdle goats. I can’t be slaving over my WIP 24/7, after all.

As for January’s Debatables, the lovely and talented Jilanne Hoffmann has agreed to serve as tribute, a la The Hunger Games. Do you know Jilanne? Because you should. In fact, it would behoove you to subscribe to her wonderful blog.

And that’s it! If my soon-to-be frostbitten fingers don’t fall off, I’ll be typing new blog posts in February.

Wish me luck!

 

On Writing

You’re Grounded!

I don’t write about my day job on this blog too often, because my day job doesn’t have much to do with writing for children.

On rare occasions, however, I get lucky.

GroundingI draw my salary from The Lawrenceville School, editing and writing for The Lawrentian, the School’s alumni magazine. Not too long ago, I learned that Julian Thompson, the author of 20 YA books, was an alumnus, and, well, I just had to interview the guy.

I read Thompson’s young adult novel, The Grounding of Group 6, when I was an actual young adult. I remembered loving it, but, after 30 years, I couldn’t remember much else. All I could recall was a couple of basic plot points. I also recalled that the book had some dirty parts – which might have been why the 12-year-old me thought the book was so dang wonderful.

I gave Thompson a call and he could not have been more gracious. He happily agreed to sit for an interview. In preparation, I reread Grounding and found it to be every bit as good as I had remembered. And yes, the dirty parts are still a little dirty – but not nearly as dirty as my memory had led me to believe, which is kind of a relief, really.

Whew! I thought. Thompson is not the Henry Miller of middle school lit!

For those of you who might be interested, I am posting a PDF of the story below. I don’t think the finished article is a great piece of magazine writing by any stretch, but I do think it is as good a way as any to remember a fine writer and a generous human being.

Julian Thompson: Grounded by Experience

 

On Blogging, On Writing

Zombies. Sure, why not?

Yep. I did a "Plants vs. Zombies"  stamp for my son.
Yep. I did a “Plants vs. Zombies” stamp for my son.

If one year ago you sat me down in my living room and told me that I would soon be noodling around with a young adult zombie novel, I would’ve told you two things:

  1. “It’s not gonna happen. I don’t like the genre.”
  2. “How did you get into my house?”

But it turns out you would’ve been right! I am noodling around with a young adult zombie novel!

That said, you still had no right to burst into my house unannounced. Call first.

One of the many things I love about the blogging world is how it pushes my brain in new and exciting directions. The bloggers I follow all see the world a bit differently than I. Being in the company of such people always gets my creative juices flowing.

My sudden interest in zombies can be traced to an old flash fiction contest over at Writerlious’s place. The rules, as I remember them, were to write a story in fewer than 150 words that contains the words “zombie” and “serenity.”

So here’s what I came up with:

Carpet slippers are not very good at negotiating asphalt shingles. Not that Ethan had much time to consider his footwear – or much else for that matter – as he scrambled up his downspout in a groggy panic.

What was worse was that he had no one to blame but himself. He heard the warnings that accompanied the weather forecast on the evening news but was too lazy to pull an all-nighter. “I’ll board up my windows first thing in the morning,” he thought. But he overslept, and now his house was full of loitering zombies who were leaving trails of blood and pus all over his hardwood floors.

The weather was beautiful, however. The sun calmed him, and Ethan soon discovered that, despite the dozens of undead squatters on the floors below, he could still find a little serenity on this most unusual spring day.

It was a fun exercise and I found the result promising.

Over the next few months I began to think about Ethan and wonder what his life was like before he found himself stranded on his roof.  So, when I wasn’t writing at my day job, or writing picture book manuscripts at night, or doing the husband and father thing (which is rewarding beyond measure, but keeps my word counts alarmingly low), I scribbled a few notes and banged out a few scenes.

So, without further ado, take a peek at a very, very rough except:

The first report took up no more than four column inches of the Dogwood Dispatch and could be found on page A17, wedged between a story about the township’s scuttled plans for a roundabout and the particulars of a newly-approved pooper scooper law.

An unconfirmed report relayed by an unnamed orderly at the Sunnyville Eldercare facility spoke of an unnamed old woman leaping from her deathbed to attack an unnamed night nurse by gumming her forehead. The police were called. The woman was taken away. No one was hurt. And, as far as anyone knew, the old woman was never seen again. 

That was all the news Silas Johannes needed to read. Silas was a remarkable man for two reasons: First he was able to read the Dogwood Dispatch all the way to page A17 without falling into a deep, drooly sleep. Second, he was adept at reading between the lines. Where everyone else would’ve read nothing more than an unconfirmed story about a toothless old lady attacking a nurse – if everyone else read up to page A17, that is, which they most certainly never did – Silas saw an origin story, the beginning of what would become a national crisis. There was no time to peruse page A18. There was work to be done.

Even though Silas had been up since 5 AM and was exhausted beyond measure, even though the streetlight had just winked on and he had difficulty driving at night, he didn’t hesitate. He hoisted his ample frame up from his La-Z-Boy and fumbled for his keys. He then eased into the family hearse and headed straight for the Home Depot. 

Since you fine folks know what a comments section is for, feel free to critique until the cows come home.