Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Cindy Rules!

Yesterday the American Library Association (ALA) announced the winners of this year’s literary awards for children’s and young adult books, and I’m so pleased that Cynthia Lord, an online writing pal, won two (not one—two!) of them. Her wonderful debut novel, Rules, won the Schneider Family Book Award for middle grade (ages 11–13) and was named a Newbery Honor Book. Hooray, Cindy!

The ALA awards, which include the Newbery, Caldecott, and Corretta Scott King Award, are some of the most distinguished prizes in children’s literature. Here is a complete list of this year’s winners: ALA Awards.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Speaking of Mysteries. . .

. . . I love watching British mysteries on TV, and I love PBS and the Biography Channel for bringing them to me. Thanks to PBS’s Mystery!, I’ve discovered such gems as “Foyle’s War,” “Hetty Wainthrop Investigates,” “Inspector Lynley,” and “Rosemary and Thyme,” among others. On Sunday afternoons and evenings, the Biography Channel runs episodes of “Poirot,” “Sherlock Holmes,” and my favorite, “Midsomer Murders,” based on Caroline Graham’s novels featuring Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby investigating murder and mayhem in the quaint English villages of the fictional Midsomer County.

Masterpiece Theatre also shows an occasional mystery (most famously, the fabulous Helen Mirren in “Prime Suspect”). On February 4 (on my PBS channel, at least—check your local listings because it can vary) Masterpiece Theatre will show “Ruby in the Smoke,” based on the first book in the Sally Lockhart Victorian mystery/thriller trilogy by Philip Pullman (of The Golden Compass fame). I can’t wait. The book is a rollicking adventure starring a determined orphan determined to find the truth about her father’s murder, and the filmed version promises to be just as entertaining.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


As I’ve mentioned before, I love mysteries. So an article on the front page of yesterday’s Kansas City Star, Armchair Detectives Go Online to Connect,” naturally caught my eye. Apparently there’s a whole world of amateur detectives out there trying to solve true crimes on their blogs. And according to the article (which was sparked by two recent local crimes: the disappearance and murder of a Kansas college student and the kidnapping and subsequent rescue of the two boys in Missouri), these cybersleuthing blogs generate more web traffic than actual online news sources. They also generate a lot of rumors and wild speculation, as well as—once in a while—real information, so law enforcement authorities do monitor these sites.

Although delving into true crime makes me a bit squeamish (I much prefer my crimes to be fictional), I completely understand the impulse to want to solve these crimes. After all, it’s one of the reasons I read mysteries—just as I’d like to believe I’d have courage and character in the face of great challenge (see MLK post below), I’d also like to believe that if I stumbled across a murder, I’d be clever enough to solve it. And like a fictional murder mystery, cybersleuthing blogs give would-be amateur detectives a way to test their skills from the safe confines of their own home.

Who knew? (Okay, probably all of you knew, but I didn’t have a clue.)

Monday, January 15, 2007


The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments
of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of
challenge and controversy.
—Martin Luther King Jr.

I’d like to think I’d show true character in times of challenge and controversy, but when I think of all that Dr. King and others fighting for civil rights endured, I don’t know that I’d have their courage. I’m grateful that they did.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Inaugural Festival Report

The Governor’s Inaugural Family Festival was amazing. First of all, the Ramada Inn in downtown Topeka is a great hotel, with a huge atrium built to look like a European villa and many meeting rooms and ballrooms decorated with wonderful pieces of architecture—a staircase and ballistrade, windows, mirrors, and fireplaces—salvaged from the first Kansas Governor’s Mansion, a Queen Anne mansion built in 1886 and, sadly, demolished in 1964.

On Sunday, every square inch of the atrium, ballrooms, and meeting rooms was packed with stuff from Kansas—food, an art exhibit, food, crafts, quilts, food, music, storytellers, Wizard of Oz characters (no flying monkeys, unfortunately), food, history exhibits, more music, wildlife exhibits, hands-on children’s activities, and I think there was some food.

And, oh yeah, some authors. I hung out with other Kansas Notable Books authors, signing books and chatting with many of the thousands of people who came through—including one of my old painting professors that I hadn’t seen in almost 20 years, who is now retired and living only a few miles from my house.

I also met the newly elected attorney general and got my picture taken with the governor, sampled chocolate pizza and ate spanakopita and baklava for lunch (any day that includes both chocolate and baklava is, by definition, a great day). I’m so glad I was invited.

Several of the Kansas Notable Books authors in the Claflin Books booth. Stormy Lee Kennedy, co-owner of Claflin and a member of the Notable Books committee, is at the far left.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Governor’s Inaugural Family Festival

Today I’m getting ready for the Governor’s Inaugural Family Festival that takes place tomorrow. It’s going to be a wonderful day packed with food (German bierocks, Indian Fry Bread, Tacos, and Greek, Jewish, Swedish, Indian, and Chinese cuisine), music (including jazz and the Topeka High Drum Line), arts (such as a mural that kids can help create), and crafts (including a huge quilt display), plus it’s free, so if you live close, pack up the kids and come out. Here are the particulars:

Governor’s Inaugural Family Festival
Theme: Mainstreet Kansas
Sunday, January 7, 2007
11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Ramada Inn Downtown
420 E. 6th Street
Topeka, Kansas

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Speaking of the Pursuit of Happiness. . .

. . . I read an article in the paper before Christmas about a study showing that people who, before going to bed each night, listed three good things that happened to them that day reported an increase in happiness. I figured, hey, I’d give it shot. Doesn’t cost anything, and I’m always game for an increase in happiness.

So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past month. Some days are admittedly easier than others, such as Christmas, when good things happen all day long. Other days are more of a challenge, like the day I drove over to the dental college for my eighth and (I thought) final visit to (finally) get my permanent crown, only to find (after a two-hour visit) that it didn’t fit and I’d have to put up with my temporary crown for at least another month until my dental student came back from Christmas break. (You know you’ve entered the Dental Twilight Zone when your dentist takes breaks between semesters, can’t schedule you during finals, and says things like, “Wait here. I have to get your impressions out of my locker.”) On that day, the good thing I managed to come up with was that I found a parking spot at the college on my first try. (You know it’s a bad day when the best thing about it is decent parking.)

But you know what? It actually works. I have experienced an increase in happiness. I now sometimes find myself in a very good mood for no reason, which was a little disconcerting at first, but I’m getting used to it. The reason I think it works is that not only do I remind myself each day that good things have happened, I find myself, as I go about the day, making a mental note of all those good things so that I can put them on my list that night. And I actually think the relatively bad days are more responsible for the increased happiness than the good days because they force you to really focus on good things in order to find them.

So far today, these are the three best things that have happened to me:
  1. My son got an nice solid A in science for the previous nine weeks, when I thought he was going to get a B+.
  2. I got an email from the librarian at a nearby school, inviting me for a school visit in May.
  3. I took my laptop to the library to write (which, in itself, is a good thing, since I love the library and like to work there) and while I was working on a new scene, an idea just fell from the heavens that is going to make the story so much better in so many ways—it solves several plot problems, gives the setting a more solid grounding, and adds sparkle to the entire story.
After all that, how could my happiness not increase?

(Oh, and just so you know, I’m not dissing dental colleges. My dental student is very nice, very diligent, and very dedicated. The whole process takes a bit of patience, though—on his part and mine.)

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy 2007!

Although we usually don’t associate New Year’s Day with gift-giving (possibly because we’re broke from all that gift-giving at Christmas, or Hanukkah, or other major winter holiday), I always feel like January 1st gives me an incredible gift: the chance to climb out of whatever rut I’ve dug for myself the previous year and start pursuing life, liberty, and happiness with renewed vigor.

I usually make a list of goals (I prefer goals to resolutions—goals seem more proactive, while resolutions tend to be a list of “Thou shalt nots”) that goes on and on until it’s taller than I am, but this year I’m concentrating on one thing: treating writing like a full-time job. I figure if I do this, all my other goals (such as finishing my current novel-in-progress in a timely fashion) will fall into place.

I recently read Janet Evanovich’s How I Write, and while it didn’t tell me anything new and earth-shattering about writing, two things struck me. The first was near the beginning, when Janet talks about how hard she works at writing. She says: “While my writing may give the impression of being simple and effortless, it actually takes me hours to get it to appear that way.” Wow. I was so impressed because Janet Evanovich’s writing does seem effortless, like it must just flow from her fingers that way. Especially since she seems to have a new book out—in at least one of her series—every time I go to the bookstore. It heartens me to know that she has to work at it, just like I do.

The second thing came late in the book, when she talks about her normal writing day. She treats writing as a full-time job. She gets up at 5:00 a.m. and puts in an eight-hour day, breaking only for lunch and snacks. Which explains how she can put in all that work making her writing smooth and seamless, and still publish umpty-ump books every year.

Now, with two kids at home who are involved in every activity known to man, not to mention my husband, my dog, and my mother-in-law (who lives with us), eight hours per day would be a bit of a stretch for me on most days. But I can—and will—make writing my priority, working other things around my full-time writing job, rather than the frustrating way I’ve done it in the past, which was to tuck my writing in and around everyone else’s schedules. (Why do writers do this? Other people don’t operate this way. My dentist doesn’t say, “If I can get my daughter to bowling on time, I may be able to fill a cavity or two before I have to pick my son up from basketball practice, take the dog potty, and start dinner.”)

So that’s my 2007 goal. Hey, I may even print up time cards and make myself clock in and out. That would certainly make it feel like a real job.