Thursday, December 29, 2005

Strange goings-on in Chicago...

It was bad enough that the city lost Kroch's and Brentano's.

That they changed the name of the Conrad Hilton.

And that a spaceship ate Soldier Field.

Now, the Berghoff is closing!

And as of next fall, Marshall Field's will be a (shudder, cringe, vomit) Macy's!

Sigh. At least the Cubs are still lousy.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Favorites of 2005 -- Older Readers

I've done a lot more reading this year than last. Oddly enough, with the release this year of TOFU AND T.REX, I've also done a lot less writing than last. I believe the two may be related. :-).

So I decided to do a list of my favorites for the year (of books that were not written by me or she who is my wife). Yes, there is significant overlap with Cyn's List, and also some significant differences. Note, however, that over the course of the year, we do not read all the same books. :-).

The List:

Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie
, by David Lubar

Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won the Girl, by D.L. Garfinkle

Open Ice, by Pat Hughes

Pinned, by Alfred C. Martino

Boy Proof, by Cecil Castellucci

Monday, December 26, 2005

Close Encounters of a Third World Kind, by Jennifer J. Stewart

Close Encounters of a Third World Kind, by Jennifer J. Stewart (Holiday House, 2004).

Twelve year old Annie Ferris is hauled off, along with her mother and younger sister, to a remote Himalayan country by her father, to spend two months on a medical mission.
There she meets Nirmala, a local girl, and experiences (first-hand) yak cheese and why you should never take a shortcut.

A funny story of family, friendship, and culture shock.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Christmas, Froehliche Weihnachten and the Christmas Pickle!

I hope everyone has a splendid and Merry Christmas this year. We're sticking around here in Austin year, since we've spent so much time on the road already.

Tonight, we're having some smoked salmon and scallops my brother and his wife sent us from Gerard & Dominique Seafood. (The stuff is terrific -- they sent it last year as well).

Tomorrow, we're having friends over and going to try to make this dish we had at Le Cinq on our last vacation (2001) in Paris. (Yes, we need to vacation more :-)). Anyway, they steamed a chicken and a lobster together and put on a very light sauce and good wine. I'm going to try to do it with some lobster tails from Whole Foods and chicken leg quarters from Central Market. And a very light remoulade sauce. Christmas Eve is also my brother's birthday, so we'll also probably have one or more toasts in honor of his being twoscore years old.

Christmas, we're doing a turkey, which I love to do even though we did one only weeks ago for Thanksgiving. For next year, though, I'm going to try to convince Cyn that a standing rib roast would not do too much violence to her "no mammals" rule. :-).

Finally, here's some info on the Weihnachtsgurke I didn't know (For the record, I'd never heard of it as a kid, but we do own one now. This may have something to do with the fact that there used to be an excellent ornament shop down the street. :-)). Why don't we just call it a German-American tradition?

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Spacer and Rat, by Margaret Bechard

Spacer and Rat, by Margaret Bechard (Roaring Brook 2005)(middle grade)

Jack has lived his entire life at Freedom Station, a supply outpost run by the Company for those en route to the asteroid belt. His life is under control, and he has booked passage to finally meet relatives at the even more remote Liberty Station. Then he meets Kit, an "Earthie," which by definition means trouble. Worse, she carries a contraband maintenance "bot" named Waldo the Company is seeking to get its hands on. Should he turn them in or help them complicate his life?

In Spacer and Rat, Margaret Bechard has created a "world" that will feel familiar and yet fresh, with engaging and compelling characters.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A little bit of Scrooge...

This time of year, one of the local radio stations plays Christmas music non-stop from Thanksgiving through Christmas day. On the whole, I enjoy it.

However, I have a confession: I loathe the song about the Christmas shoes.

For those who have been blessed by not ever having heard this song, it's the one with this kid who doesn't have any money but wants to buy his mother shoes so she'll look pretty if she "sees Jesus tonight." (No, really). See, she's been sick and in the hospital and doesn't have much time and...Ughh. You cannot get more sickeningly and mawkishly manipulative than this one. It's as if a Thomas Kinkade painting threw up a Precious Moment figurine onto a compact disk. And then poured maple syrup on it.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Interview and News

For both of you who don't come to this blog from Cyn's :-), she did a "Story Behind the Story" interview of me for TOFU AND T.REX, over on her blog.

Also, NINJAS, PIRANHAS, AND GALILEO was nominated to the ALA's Popular Paperbacks List.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie, by David Lubar

Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie, by David Lubar (Dutton 2005)(tweener).

Scott Hudson is beginning his freshman year of high school. As if losing friends, gaining bullies, being dragged into too many activities, and missing sleep aren't bad enough, his mother's announced she's having a baby. Clearly, he's in way over his head...A charming and deeply funny novel.

Cyn has an interview with David Lubar here.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Speaking of ice...

We had the pleasure of freezing rain last night and now it's about 22 F. Since there's no such thing as a salt truck down here, this means that everyone in Central Texas should STAY HOME. (Almost everything's shut down anyway -- all the schools, most government, etc.).

Have some cocoa. Or cognac.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Open Ice, by Pat Hughes

Open Ice, by Pat Hughes (Random House, 2005).

Sophomore Nick Taglio is passionate about one thing (other than girls): hockey. When he suffers yet another concussion, amid fears that a further injury could result in permanent damage, his doctor and parents are adamant that he quit playing. Nick struggles to come to terms with his new circumstance, while having to deal with family, friends, girlfriends, teammates, and that splitting headache, as he tries to recover.

Open Ice was nominated for the ALA's Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Happy Birthday, Happy Thanksgiving, etc.

I hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving -- we spent a quiet day with a turkey from Central Market (fyi, pick up the thing on Tuesday--by Wednesday, the place is a zoo).

Yesterday, we went to the 90th birthday party for Betty Davis, an elegant lady in Austin SCBWI who still plays tennis. (She was born in Ohio when Wilson was president and she still writes on a typewriter.).

Today, we began decorating for Christmas -- one of the most signficant things about Austin vs. places north and east, is that when you put up the outdoor lights, you can wear a tee-shirt and sandals. (It got to about 82 here today).

Of course, you also don't have specifically seasonal indicia of the holidays -- cold, trees losing their leaves, etc.

Tomorrow, we're going to put up the tree...

And, I actually got three pages done on my WIP!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Santa news...

When we got back from Quartz Mountain, we found that the long-awaited sketches for Santa Knows had arrived (okay, well, not really "long-awaited," but impatiently awaited :-)). Illustrator Steve Bjorkman has done a fantastic job with all the characters and (especially) Santa's workshop. We can't wait to see the final art!


Cynthia and I spent the weekend at Quartz Mountain, Oklahoma, teaching a program on Writing for Children and Teens for the Oklahoma Fall Arts Institute. It was a lot of fun (and a lot of work :-)).

We had about twenty-five participants, which was a bit large, but manageable. Everyone was enthusiastic about their writing and were very creative when it came to the writing exercises. Days began at about 8 AM, went through to about 5:30 -- then we had dinner and then instructor presentations until about 9 PM.
Somewhat uniquely for us were the programs running in parallel -- (NOTE: Link is to a PDF file) monotype printing, ballroom dance, theatre production, choral singing, arts integration. It was refreshing to be around other artists, and particularly the performing artists, in the bar at the end of the day. :-).

We're planning a very quiet thanksgiving -- it was the last of three weekends out of town for us -- the previous weekend we were at Star Lit up in Dallas, which Cyn blogs about here; the weekend before that, we went to Houston for the TSRA Awards.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


Eighty-eight years since Chicago had a World Series champion. Congratulations to the team and long-suffering South Siders.

I must confess that I come down on the North Side of the Chicago baseball schism, though I don't begrudge the White Sox their championship. But if it had been the Cubs, I would've watched.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


As always, things have been busy: Cyn blogs about our goings on last weekend: An Evening with the Authors in Lockhart, part of the Texas Book Festival On the Road program, and the Austin SCBWI fall conference, where we met our picture book editor for the first time.

In other news, TOFU AND T.REX is reviewed, and Cynthia and I are featured in a "People to Watch" article/review from the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (an International Reading Association publication):

Click for review and abbreviated interview and full interview.

Also, I have an article titled OF TOFU AND T.REX at the Time Warner Bookmark website.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Record heat

Well,the hurricane missed us, but we got record heat (107 at Mabry and 108 at Bergstrom). The folks from Houston are heading back home, and Austin City Limits crowd is recovering from dehydration and loud music :-).

Taking stock with the past couple days, I think an argument could be made that Austin overreacted somewhat, but that's only because nothing actually happened. If the storm had taken the track they were predicting as late as Thursday morning, it would've hit the coast as a Cat 5 and come inland, even as far as Austin, with tropical storm force winds, and possibly, low Cat 1 force winds, accompanied by drenching rains (10+) inches. Believe me, Austin floods in the best of times. We would've definitely lost power all over the place, probably would have lost water, and many of the main roads would be less than picturesque rivers. I think, as a city, we were probably more prepared than we ever have been. I just hope we're equally (or better) prepared when the hurricane actually does get here.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Golden Spur Award nominees list.

The TSRA has updated its web site with the full list of nominees (and voting forms) for the Golden Spur Award.

Children's Literature: Ima and the Great Ostrich Race by Margaret McManis of Angleton (Eakin Press, 2002); Bats Around the Clock by Kathi Appelt of College Station (HarperCollins, 2000); The Cotton Candy Catastrophe at the Texas State Fair by Dotti Enderle of Houston (Pelican, 2005), Finding Daddy – A Story of the Great Depression by Jo & Josephine Harper of Houston (Turtle Books, 2005); Isabel and the Hungry Coyote by Keith Polette of El Paso (Raven Tree Press, 2004); Way Up High in a Tall Green Tree by Jan Peck of Fort Worth (Simon & Schuster, 2005); Phoebe Clappsaddle and the Tumbleweed Gang by Melanie Chrismer of Houston (Pelican, 2004).

Intermediate Nominees: Angel of the Alamo – A True Story of Texas by Lisa Waller Rogers of Austin (Eakin Press, 2000); Lorenzo’s Secret Mission by Lila and Rick Guzman of Round Rock (Arte Publico Press, 2001); Katherine Stinson – The Flying Schoolgirl by Debra Winegarten of Houston (Eakin Press, 2000); Tofu and T. Rex by Greg Leitich Smith of Austin (Little Brown, 2005), Crown Me! by Kathryn Lay of Arlington (Holiday House, 2004).

No rain in Austin...

It looks like the shift in Rita's track just north of Galveston means there's a chance we won't see any rain this weekend. And winds? It might get a little "breezy." Good news for us and the folks at the Austin City Limits Music Festival (I wasn't all that anxious to see if the old pecan tree out front could hold up to 75 mph winds).

Unfortunately, it also looks as if Rita is going to stall out right after landfall is northwest Texas, and then drift southwest a bit. Which means torrential rains.

Looks like tons of people are taking the evacuate orders seriously. Everyone in Texas east of I-35 is learning the meaning of the term "traffic jam." Supposedly, it's taking on the order of 10-12 hours to get from Houston to here (normally a 3-4 hour drive). Roads here in Austin are packed with evacuees; reports are that 71 and 290 west from Houston are still jammed.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


Thanks to those who have written and asked about our status re. Hurricane Rita. As of this morning, although we're still in the danger cone, per the National Hurricane Center, it looks like it's moving east. Which means the center of the cone of probability is Galveston, not the Matagorda area, and we should only get trpical storm force winds and severe thunderstorms. Still, we may get nailed yet -- they're predicting up to hurricane force winds fairly deeply (on the order of a couple hundred miles) inland. We're in a wait-and-see mode, backing up computers, and praying that everyone who needs to has evacuated.

Update: Here in Austin, they're predicting sustained winds of 20-40 mph, with gusts up to 50. Probably no tornadoes, since we're ont he west side of the storm.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Wizards at War

WIZARDS AT WAR, by Diane Duane (Harcourt 2005), is the latest (eight) novel in her Young Wizards series, which started some twenty years ago with SO YOU WANT TO BE A WIZARD. Like the others in this series, WaW features Kit and Nita, thirteen-year-old wizards who must deal with the mundane of family and school while trying to save the universe from Evil.

Duane is among the most effective I have read at combining fantasy and science elements in a coherent, logical fashion that does not completely violate the Laws of Thermodynamics. The novels are funny, fast-paced, suspenseful, and above all, smart.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

TOFU news!

I'm pleased to report that TOFU and T.REX has been nominated for the 2005-2006 Golden Spur Award for Texas Authors - Intermediate Children's Literature division.

Per Tara Forrest, Golden Spur Award chair, "[t]he Golden Spur Award for Texas Authors was created in 2004 by Texas State Reading Association to honor and recognize our state's talented writers -- and to encourage our 'older young readers' to READ! Winners will be announced at the State Conference on Literacy in Houston this November."

Further details and a list of all the nominees will be posted forthwith on the TSRA website.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


This summer, in between travel and writing and law, I managed to work in a few interviews (many thanks to all those who took the time to put together the questions and bandwidth):

Downhome Books has an updated interview, this time focusing on TOFU AND T.REX.

I was also interviewed by author Ellen Jackson for her Secrets of Success column.

YA Books Central has a brief interview accompanying their review of NINJAS, PIRANHAS, AND GALILEO.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Round Rock book signing

Saturday I had the pleasure of a book signing for TOFU AND T.REX at the B&N Round Rock. Had a great showing, including Don Tate and Varian Johnson, who also blogged about it (click on their names). Cyn blogged it too.

Also, there's a new interview with me by the good folks at Downhome Books.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Summer weather and cat behavior...

It's the middle of August, which means that it's 98 F, but feels like 105. I am definitely going to have to take this into consideration for my work in progress (my first actually set in Texas).

Also, it means I find it impossible to run (even in the AM it's a bit humid), so have been swimming at the Town Lake YMCA and at Deep Eddy Pool. Which brings me to some weird cat behavior: after I have swum at the Y (and showered with soap), our white cat, Blizzard, finds it necessary to groom me. Vigorously. Like I was covered in catnip. Since he is a long-haired cat, this is a fairly slobbery and sand-papery process. This does not happen after I've swum at Deep Eddy (a natural and constantly recirculating spring pool, they don't add chlorine). So apparently, there is some odd cocktail of chemicals in the chlorine and soap that is deeply tasty to him...

Anyway, thanks for all the birthday wishes!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

While the wife's away...

So while Cynthia was in Vermont last month, what did I do?

Research for my new novel -- this included grilling Ken Appelt, husband of author Kathi Appelt, on childhood ranching experiences. BTW, the wait at Z Tejas on a Friday night at 7:30 is about an hour.

Also, I watched the extended DVDs of The Lord of the Rings. On the whole, I was very pleased, especially since LOTR is one of my favorite novels. (I may blog more about these later, after I've seen the special features - yes I am that much of a geek). For now, let me just ask, did anyone else notice that the Elves are the only ones in Middle Earth who use shampoo?

Sunday, July 24, 2005


to Lance Armstrong (referred to on King of the Hill tonight as "that guy who rides his bike faster than French people") on his seventh consecutive Tour de France victory.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Drink a toast tonight...

Of Romulan ale. Or maybe Saurian brandy...

James Doohan, who played chief engineer Montgomery Scott of the starship Enterprise, passed away today.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Author of the Month

I'm pleased to announce that I'm the "Austin Area Barnes and Noble Author of the Month" for August 2005. In conjunction with this, I'll be signing NINJAS and TOFU at the Barnes and Noble Round Rock store on August 27.

And in TOFU-related News of the Weird, the Unviersity of Maryland reports that edible meat can be grown in the lab on an industrial scale.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Today's the day!

Today is the official date of publication of TOFU AND T.REX and the softcover edition of NINJAS, PIRANHAS, AND GALILEO! Go out and buy millions of copies. :-)

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Book Links does Chicago!

The July issue of BookLinks magazine has an article titled "Chicago--My Kind of Town," featuring books set in Chicago. Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo is described as the story of "three diverse friends...who are trying to figure out life in the seventh grade...[T]hrough it all these guys are funny, sharp, honest, successful, and recognizable."

Friday, July 01, 2005

Thursday, June 30, 2005

ALA conference

Cyn and I are just back from the annual American Library Association conference in Chicago! We spoke on a panel on Humor in Multicultural literature with co-panelist Cecil Castellucci, author of Boy Proof. Many thanks to Victor Schill for organizing it!

The night we got in, we had the pleasure of dinner with Carolyn Crimi; Laura Ruby; Marsha Qualey; Franny Billingsley and her two kids (and a friend whose name I can't remember!); Nancy Werlin; Jacqueline Davies; Jennifer Jacobsen; and Mary Pearson and her husband. Then we went out to drinks with David Lubar and his lovely wife Joelle at the Signature Lounge at the John Hancock Center.

We stayed at the Hyatt Regency at McCormick Place (serviceable, but fairly remote) so I went for a run Monday morning along the lakefront and out to the Planetarium. Very cool, except that it looks like a spaceship ate Soldier Field.

After the panel, we went out to lunch for pizza at Giordano's with Victor, and authors Laura Ruby, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, Elisa Carbone, Lisa Yee, Amy Timberlake, and Alex Flinn.

On the conference floor were sightings of and all-too-brief conversations with many, including authors Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, Esther Hershenhorn, Bruce Coville, and librarian Junko Yokota.

Second night, we went down to Chinatown (sadly, our old haunt changed hands and is not quite what it once was), and then dropped by Walter the Giant's birthday party, which also celebrated the release of his first picture book.

Then we passed out from exhaustion

Monday, June 20, 2005

Recovering from Writefest...

Last week, Cyn and I hosted our second annual (perhaps) writing workshop that has come to be called "Writefest." (Cyn blogged it over at spookycyn.)

It was fun and exhausting.

We also seem to have acquired a pair of women's running shoes and a pair of men's (tassled) loafers. And a plastic sword (with scabbard) and a wooden gnome.

I'm going to go take a nap.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Kindly curb your horse...

Open Letter to the Owners of these small equine mammals:

While running this morning on the Hike and Bike Trail in downtown Austin, I came across the, shall we say, excretory leavings of at least one of your Shetland ponies, spread liberally across the width and length of the Shoal Creek Bridge. I have seen you with your small herd on Town Lake on several occasions before. In general, I have thought that, while your livestock are cute, bringing them down to one of the busiest parks in town is, ahem, slightly problematic (but charmingly quirky in a "Keep Austin Weird" sort of way) for the reason given in the previous sentence.

Being somewhat nimble and relatively long-legged, it was a trivial matter to avoid, well, stepping in it. Nevertheless, please keep in mind that bicyclists and persons with babies in jogging strollers are not so maneuverable, and that rubber tires can pick up and splatter all manner of unpleasant semi-viscous substances and/or emulsions.

As such, it would be deeply appreciated if you would show the same courtesy that we expect of, say, dog owners, and clean up after your animals.

Thank you.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Preliminary Research...

I've begun work on something new -- set in Texas for the first time -- and am happily in the research phase. I'm coming to realize that I like that phase, where you've got this idea, but need all the info. to make it happen and feel real.

For TOFU, which has an official release date of June 8, and official pub date of July 6, in addition to extensive Googling and personal interviews, research involved the following:

For veganism: The Everyday Vegan; The Vegan Sourcebook; I Can't Believe It's TOFU!

For the carnivores: The German Cookbook; Polish Cooking; Aidells Complete Sausage Book; The sausage Making Cookbook; Home Sausage Making

Miscellaneous: Beekeeping for Dummies; The New Complete Guide to Beekeeping; The Joy of Pi; A History of Pi

Thursday, June 02, 2005

How very odd...

The state of California, which apparently has a measure limiting the weight of textbooks, is now considering legislation that would forbid any textbook from exceeding 200 pages in length. Font size, anyone?

Closer to home, the Texas lege left town without passing the legislation that would forbid "sexually suggestive" cheerleading routines (The House passed it overwhelmingly; the Senate apparently refused to even consider it). Of course, they also failed to pass school finance reform...

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

NINJAS (softcover) is real, too!

Just received a couple of my author copies of the softcover of NINJAS, PIRANHAS, AND GALILEO! They even put the Parents Choice Gold medal on it!

Sunday, May 22, 2005


My editor just sent me the first of the finished, finalized, hardcover versions of TOFU AND T.REX! It turned out great -- the cover has this nice three-dimensional effect. And, of course, the text is sublime :-).

Available in stores this July...along with the softcover of NINJAS, PIRANHAS, AND GALILEO.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Numbers game...

Number of Ph.Ds in physics awarded each year in the US: 1,350
Number of Ph.Ds in chemistry awarded each year in the US: 2,200
Number of Ph.Ds in psychology awarded each year in the US: 4,500

Total number of science and engineering Ph.Ds awarded each year in US: 25,000
Total number of non-science and engineering related Ph.Ds awarded each year in US: 15,000

Total number of Ph.Ds awarded each year in the US: 40,000

Total Number of current holders of bachelors and higher in science and engineering: 10,500,000

Total Number of NFL players: 1,700
Total Number of MLB players: 1,200
Total Number of NBA players: 410

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Picture book!

Cyn and I just got the contract for a new picture book - our first joint work! Check out Cyn's blog for more info.!

Monday, May 09, 2005

Channeling your inner child

More thoughts for beginning novelists.

What distinguishes a children's or YA novel from an "adult" novel?

No, I'm not getting all metaphysical here.

But the answer to this question often underpins many questions I get at beginning writers conferences, or among non-writer laypeople: Do you have to "dumb down" the vocabulary? The plots are simpler, right? You can't actually address any kind of sophisticated theme, can you? (If there was any doubt, the answer to these questions is emphatically "no.")

To me, perhaps the fundamental definition of children's literature is that it's literature – stories -- about a child or teen character. From this fundamental (and obvious) beginning, a couple things follow.

First, the child has to solve his own problem. It is for this reason that "normal" parents are conspicuous by their absence in children's literature: if the parents solved the problem, there would be no conflict and hence no story.

Second, the child character's epiphany must evolve naturally through him and his experiences in the book. Otherwise, the character does not change and grow. If the character does not change and grow, he seems less like a real person.

A corollary to this is that the epiphany usually should not be "I guess mom and/or dad were right after all." (To me, this is only slightly less annoying than "And then I woke up.") While such a theme can be done artfully, when this is the epiphany, the reader generally feels cheated because the thing mom and/or dad were right about has usually been presented on page two – if that's all that was going on in the novel, why bother reading? Note that I am not saying that mom and/or dad cannot in fact be right (at least occasionally), just that the child's recognition of their correctness should not be the focus and/or reason for the novel.

Third, and closely related, is that children's literature is about story. It is not about The Lesson. (The Sermon on the Mount has already been written and written far better than you will ever do). While there may be things -– important things -- that the reader will learn and leave with, this should not be the focus of the novel, any more than it is for "adult" literature.

Fourth, remember that the typical child reader is not an idiot – he is not less smart than your average adult reader, he is merely inexperienced. And sometimes, that lack of experience can drive the conflict.

How to do all this? Easy. Channel your inner child. Do not channel your child (or more precisely, how you think or would like your child to behave under these circumstances. You're probably wrong, anyway.).

Your. Inner. Child.

Think of all those things you did and never told your parents about.

Think of all those things you did and don't want your kids to find out about.

That's your inner child.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Reading in the Garden

Yesterday, Cyn and I had the pleasure of speaking at Earning by Learning of Dallas's "Reading in the Garden" event at the Dallas Arboretum.

We had a great time at a great venue. The kids (and adults) were engaged and laughed in all the right places :-). Also there was a cellist from the Dallas Youth Symphony playing excerpts from the Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suites (which, of course, feature prominently in Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo).

Saturday, April 30, 2005

"Reality" TV

Since "Angel" and "Buffy" went off the air, I haven't been watching much television. However, a couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to watch a number of the reality TV shows. Herewith, my observations:

American Idol: Some of the singing was good; most was just passable (these are the finalists?) and the attempts to build up suspense were tedious. I can't help thinking that the show would be enormously better if they ditched all three of those annoying panelists and brought back Ed McMahon and the "spokesmodel" category.

The Apprentice: I only caught the last half of this, with its trademark "You're fired!" delivered from behind this enormous conference table in a darkened chamber. This had something to do with putting together an ad campaign for Buick. Or maybe Pontiac. Again, the attempt to build up suspense was tedious. I'm also a little confused -- didn't Trump make his fortune in casinos and real estate? What does he know about automobiles?

Simple Life: I think that's its name; the one with the descendant of hotelier Conrad Hilton in it. Boy, is he rolling in his grave. Absolutely unspeakable.

The Amazing Race: Probably the only one of the above lot I'd not get up off the couch to change the channel for if, heaven forbid, it happened to be on. Visually interesting in a travelogue kind of way.

MTV's Real World/Road Rules gladiator-type whatever: A lot like Battle of the Network Stars, only instead of, well, network stars, these twenty-something folks apparently used to be on either Real World or Road Rules. Also, they all live together and wear a lot of lycra.

Extreme Makeover - Home Edition: Probably the only one that doesn't have a tawdry or mean-spirited premise. They re-build a house for some deserving family. In one week. The host really needs to cut back on the caffeine, though.

Iron Chef America: Not bad, but lacking much of the charm of the original.

The Bachelor: The unspeakable in pursuit of...well, never mind.

Supernanny: You can discipline your child, but only if someone with an English accent tells you it's okay.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Schoolhouse Rock...not made in the EU

Readers of a certain age will know the words to the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution, not because of a particularly good civics education, but because of the television program "Schoolhouse Rock," which provided various "lessons" set to music and played during Saturday morning cartoons in the 70s and 80s:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Various European states are in the process of considering whether to adopt a Constitution. Its Preamble follows:


Drawing inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe, from which developed the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, democracy, equality, freedom and the rule of law, Believing that Europe, reunited after bitter experiences, intends to continue along the path of civilisation, progress and prosperity, for the good of all its inhabitants, including the weakest and most deprived; that it wishes to remain a continent open to culture, learning and social progress; and that it wishes to deepen the democratic and transparent nature of its public life, and to strive for peace, justice and solidarity throughout the world, Convinced that, while remaining proud of their own national identities and history, the peoples of Europe are determined to transcend their ancient divisions and, united ever more closely, to forge a
common destiny, Convinced that, thus "united in its diversity", Europe offers them the best chance of pursuing, with due regard for the rights of each individual and in awareness of their responsibilities towards future
generations and the Earth, the great venture which makes of it a special area of human hope, Determined to continue the work accomplished within the framework of the Treaties establishing the European Communities and the Treaty on European Union, by ensuring the continuity of the Community acquis, Grateful to the members of the European Convention for having prepared the draft of this Constitution on behalf of the citizens and States of Europe, Have designated as their plenipotentiaries:


Who, having exchanged their full powers, found in good and due form, have agreed as follows:

I'm almost positive that no work containing the word "plenipotentiaries" has ever been set to music.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Sometimes the obvious works...

Consider the following:

A football playbook is, apparently, a volume of some complexity. (Non-sports fans, please refrain from snickering -- no, of course it's not as complex as, say, your average calculus text, but when was the last time you had to integrate a function while a metric ton worth of linemen were barreling at you?). Somewhat analagous to choreography, it (the playbook) requires the players to memorize and know by name a variety of plays, which describe actions including who needs to be where when such that the ball can most effectively be transmitted (by them) into the opposing end zone for a touchdown.

Recall now the 1985 Chicago Bears, coached by Mike Ditka. In addition to making effective use of the talents of Walter Payton, somewhere along the line, Ditka got the idea of giving the ball to the biggest guy on the field, William "The Refrigerator" Perry. For doing what everyone who has ever touched a football knows, Ditka was lauded as a genius.

They won the SuperBowl.

So, next time you have a block in your writing, whether writers' block or you can't quite figure out a logic problem in your plot, do what Ditka did. Go back to basics. Consider the obvious.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Spring cleaning.

"Have nothing in your house that is not useful or beautiful."

Thus spake (possibly a paraphrase) Gustav Stickley, he of the arts-and-crafts movement, that was a reaction against Victorian decorative excesses (in my view, justifiably).

Nevertheless, Gustav's pithy bromide could probably use a little editing or, perhaps, lawyering up. "Useful" is self-explanatory, I suppose and in perfect keeping with the arts-and-crafts philosophy. "Beautiful" is also fine, except, well, it's too big a loophole and therefore can lead to inconsistency with the Gustav philosophy and lots of stuff being left out on display or at least not behind glass. Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder and it is entirely possible that someone could think that a room filled with useless trinkets and gewgaws was beautiful. Or worse, useful things used only for display – this would include, say, unread books that are used to simply occupy shelf space or a baby grand piano so covered in Precious Moments figurines that the keyboard cannot be accessed (In case you were wondering, the piano is the useful thing).

Now, the obvious thing is to edit the quote so that it reads "Have nothing in your home that is not useful and beautiful." While this closes the loophole, it perhaps raises the bar a bit too high and requires more than casual analysis.

Therefore, let me propose this, with all due respect to Gustav: Have nothing in your house that is not useful or meaningful.

Why "useful or meaningful"?

Because it implies that everything in the house that must be dusted or cleaned (or moved to provide access to something else that must be dusted or cleaned) is there for a reason unique to the homeowner, and that it has meaning beyond its intrinsic aesthetic qualities.

Further, it provides that your dwelling will look like you; it will reflect your interests, and not some design "vision" that has all the individuality of a hotel lobby.

It also provides a sensible ground rule when undertaking your spring cleaning: If you cannot identify what use an object is or what an object means to you, then it should go. Give it to the Salvation Army or sell it in a garage sale.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Am I missing something?

On one of my procrastinatory meanderings about the Internet, I came across a reference to a referendum soon to be held in Arizona. If passed, it will require that at least 65% of the operating budget of any school district be spent on "in the classroom" activities. (The national average is apparently something on the order of 61% - the difference amounts to billions that, it is said, could be spent on teacher salaries.). An organization called "First Class Education" is apparently behind this.

Since I do not intend this to be a political blog, I decline to say whether I think this specific policy implementation is a good idea. One thing, however, particularly struck me as being a bit odd. The First Class Education web site describes what it considers to be an "in the classroom activity," which they claim is based on some definition provided by the National Center for Education Statistics:

The National Center for Educational Statistics definition of “in the classroom spending” appears below. Generally, if the expenditure has to do with direct instruction of students in any form, from learning to read a book, read music, read Braille, to learning to read a football pass protection pattern, the expenditure is counted as being an “in the classroom” expense.

“In the Classroom”
Classroom Teachers, Personnel
General Instruction Supplies
Instructional Aides
Activities -- Field Trip, Athletics, Music, Arts
Tuition Paid to Out-of State Districts &
Private Institutions for Special Needs Students

"Outside the Classroom”
Plant Operations & Maintenance
Student Support -- Nurses, Counselors
Food Services
Instructional Support including Librarians
Teacher Training & Curriculum

Note the highlighted portions.

Huh? Libraries aren't "in the classroom," but sports are?! Other than phys. ed., aren't "athletics" universally considered an extracurricular activity?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

"Go not to the elves for counsel...

for they will say both no and yes."

If you can identify the (a) the source and circumstances of the quote (within an acceptable degree of precision) and (b) the typo in the original, thou art a geek forever (and not [necessarily] of the chicken-head-biting-off kind).

I tend to think of this quote when asked how I go about writing.

Often, beginning writers are more than merely curious about my admittedly idiosyncratic methods. Some seem to feel that there is a "magic rule" to writing a novel - that if they simply uncover the magic rules they will have a novel. And a good one, too. In truth, of course, there is no such magic pill. What works in one situation will not necessarily work for another. Kind of like building a bridge.

Recently, I was asked whether I start with a character and then write to allow the plot to develop, or start with the plot and then let the characters develop.

The answer: a little of both. I'll start out with a situational idea (e.g., the Galileo story in junior high or a vegan in a deli) that has a beginning and an end, but nothing remotely resembling a plot outline. I will, however, populate the situational idea with relatively well-developed characters. I'll then write a first draft.

Like those of Hemingway, my first draft will be [insert scatalogical metaphor]. I will then go back and work out the problems in the plot. Once this is done, the characters go back and make it work.

Easy as pi.

Trust your reader...

Readers are not stupid. If they do not know what a word is, they can infer its meaning from context or (gasp) look it up.

Note that this post is also related to my post on Research.

Think of trusting your reader as an aspect of being true to your character (not you, personally, the ones in your book). Your character will know stuff you don't, and also stuff you (or the reader) don't necessarily need to know. That's what makes a well-rounded character -- if there weren't this idea that he has a depth beyond that which is presented, he won't seem realistic.

For example, toward the end of NINJAS, I have a scene in which Elias comes home, his father is sawing away at the cello, and Elias observes that something to the effect that "Beastmaster VII ran downstairs and hid under the Flemish double harpsichord."

Now, a harpsichord is a fairly unusual instrument (these days). A Flemish double harpsichord is even more unusual. However, Elias doesn't think anything else about it, does not explain why on earth the family would own a Flemish double harpsichord, or even tell the reader what a Flemish double harpsichord is. He just goes upstairs to confront his father.

He does not expalin because he would not explain. To him, the Flemish double harpsichord is as much a part of the background as a televison set.

Trust your reader.

Monday, April 18, 2005

I met Claire!

Who's Claire? She wrote this review of Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo. Won a contest for it, too. Obviously, she's an individual of discerning taste and formidable intellect.

Cyn and I had the pleasure of attending an open house at the Howson Branch of the Austin Public Library last Saturday. Claire was one of the attendees.

We had a great time. In addition to the general public, there were several "adult" authors, as well, and they offered our books for sale. Good turnout, too.

Monday, April 11, 2005

I'm appalled...


Okay, my wife will tell you this is not an unusual condition. But, I just heard on the radio that "Sesame Street" is re-working the Cookie Monster ("CM") in response to the "obesity crisis." Cookie Monster, of course, was the blue muppet with the googly eyes who had the all-cookie diet and the sublime theme song "C is for cookie." Apparently, the folks at Children's Television Workshop are going to be having CM assert (and put to music) that "cookies are a sometimes food." AAAAGHH!!!

Several things are deeply wrong with this. First, CM never actually ate the cookies. After all, he is a muppet, made of various types of cloth. When he seized the cookies, he generally made a mess and scattered the things across the set, but never actually ingested the things via his "mouth." (As a child, I noticed this, and had/have enough of my parents in me to think that this was a waste – I will concede that possibly I am not representative). Second, it is completely not in character that CM would, after a lifetime (35+ years) of deriving sustenance from the most elegant and efficient of confections, that he would suddenly and arbitrarily have an epiphany and utterly reject his favorite. Third, what's next? I think it can be asserted without fear of contradiction that unhygienic living conditions have killed more people than obesity. Oscar the Grouch lives in a garbage can. Are they going to have him move to a gated community in the suburbs and actually bathe regularly? Or maybe they should quarantine Big Bird because after all, he may be susceptible to bird flu?!

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Book People, Anne Bustard, Kurt Cyrus

Today was the signing for author Anne Bustard and illustrator Kurt Cyrus's Buddy, a picture book biographical tale of Buddy Holly.

Anne, Kurt, and Book People put on a great show, filled with a reading, music, Buddy Holly glasses, and an art sale (of the original watercolors). Prominent attendees included illustrator Don Tate, authors April Lurie, Julie Lake, Brian Yansky, Phil Yates, Annette Simon, and Jane Peddicord; numerous members of SCBWI Austin; and former employees and owners of the much-missed Toad Hall Bookstore.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Blogging TLA...

Today concludes the Texas Library Association Annual Conference, held here in Austin for the first time in some forty years.

Highlights included:

Teri Lesesne booktalking new MS/HS literature, including TOFU AND T.REX. The complete list is at her Goddess of YA Literature blog.

The panel on Humor in Multicultural Literature, with Alex Sanchez, Roger Leslie, Cynthia Leitich Smith, me, and moderated by Victor Schill. (Thanks to Victor's good offices, there are also plans to do a similar panel at ALA this summer in Chicago.).

The poetry slam panel, moderated by Sylvia Vardell, and including Lee Bennett Hopkins, Janet Wong, and Walter Dean Myers.

Dinner at The Bitter End, with my editor, Amy Hsu, and the folks at Little, Brown.

More notes on TLA are at Cyn's blog.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Interview with me on Ninjas...

I finally did my "Story behind the Story" interview on Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo for Cyn at her blog.


Sunday, April 03, 2005

Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II died yesterday. While I'm not Catholic, I'm a native of Chicago, a city that has more people of Polish ethnicity than any city in the world other than Warsaw. (For those interested, PBS's American Experience series did a show called "God Bless America and Poland, too"). I still remember both when John Paul II was shot and when he went to Chicago -- believe me, both were big deals. For his lengthy service and his anti-communism, he deserves honors.

As I said, I'm not Catholic, so the thing I associate most with John Paul II (other than going to Poland during the height of the Cold War and facing down Gen. Jaruzelski (sp?)) is somewhat secular and, well, literary: When I was a teenager, I read a novel by Morris West called "The Shoes of the Fisherman." It was published sometime during the 1960s (I believe), and it featured the first non-Italian pope in some 400 years. He was a fierce anti-communist from eastern Europe. Poland? No. The Ukraine, which was pretty close. I found it oddly prescient and a little creepy in the same way that I regard the guy who, circa 1900, wrote the novel about the "unsinkable" ocean liner called "Titan" that hit an iceberg...

Friday, April 01, 2005


Pinned, by Alfred C. Martino (Harcourt, 2005). Martino's first novel, Pinned, offers the story of two wrestlers, Ivan Korske and Bobby Zane, and their respective quests to win the New Jersey State Wrestling Championship. Ivan, a driven outcast at a middle class school (his only friend is Shelley, the girl next door), is mourning the death of his mother and desperately needs to win to land a scholarship to college in Arizona, as far away from his hometown as possible. Bobby, from an upper middle class family (his parents are a lawyer and a real estate agent) finds his focus on the mat even as his parents' marriage is dissolving, and he discovers that having sex with his girlfriend can have consequences. Martino, a former wrestler and wrestling coach, adroitly captures the grit and passion of the sport as the wrestlers strive for victory and to make weight.

Also of interest to fans of wrestling: Wrestling Sturbridge, by Rich Wallace (Knopf, 1996)(scroll down for mini-review)

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Project Mulberry

Project Mulberry (Clarion, 2005)(ages 8-12) is Linda Sue Park's latest novel and her first to have a contemporary setting. Seventh grader Julia Song and her best friend Patrick are members of Wiggle (a sort of 4-H type organization), have always done projects together and want to do one for the state fair. For once, they're at a loss for an idea - their houses and families won't accommodate livestock. Then Julia's mother suggests raising silkworms, which she did as a child back in Korea. While Patrick is enthusiastic, it strikes Julia as "too Korean" (she also has some hilarious issues with kimchee). Their problems mount when they discover that silkworms only eat mulberry leaves, and there's only one source in town...

Interspersed between chapters are conversations between Julia and author Park that provide insights into the author's writing process. I will confess that I was somewhat skeptical when first told of this, because I thought it might detract from the reader's willingness to suspend disbelief. Having read it, though, I have to say that it doesn't and, more, think it serves the story by illuminating the character in a fresh and engaging way.

Altogether, an unusual and charming take on animal husbandry, friendship, growing up Korean American, and the process of writing a novel.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Just because it happened doesn't mean it's realistic

Seriously. (Note that I'm talking about fiction).

This is sort of a corollary to "write what you know." I often hear beginning writers opine that "but that's the way it happened." "How it happened" is often how first time novelists write or are inspired to write (at least for a first draft), which gives rise to the oft-repeated sentiment that first novels are often at least semi-quasi-autobiographical. (Or at least more so than subsequent novels).

But, globally speaking, "how it happened" is not a legitimate criterion. Just because something actually happened that way does not make it realistic for a novel. This may be counter-intuitive, but someone (I want to say Dr. Johnson) said that it's easier to believe (in?) the impossible than the improbable. This is true. Most of what happens in people's lives that we think "would make a great novel" falls in the category of the improbable. I tend to agree, and therefore advise that it's usually best to shy away from "how it happened" and go with "what you know."

"What you know," of course, need not be a limitation (see post below on Research), and telling "how it happened" is kind of, ahem, disadvantageous (also possibly litigious), anyway, because, after all, what we're writing is fiction. (That which actually happened can inspire, but the author's imagination should lead, not follow).

There's this story I read somewhere (I can't remember the source, so don't vouch for it) that Lawrence Olivier was once told about how Dustin Hoffman prepared for roles. There was one, in particular, for which Hoffman supposedly deprived himself of sleep for something like three or four or five days. When Olivier met Hoffman, it is said, he told Hoffman, "My dear fellow, why don't you just try acting?"

In a similar vein, to beginning novelists, I would recommend "simply making it up." (Unless, it's a memoir).

After making sure you've done your research, of course.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Happy Easter!

This Easter we are having dinner with friends and listening to The Messiah, by G.F. Handel. (For the record, notwithstanding that The Messiah is often played at Christmas, the Hallelujah Chorus is a celebration of the Resurrection, not the Advent.)

FWIW, I have the CD with Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert, which is somewhat somber compared to the one with Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Georgia Children's Book Awards

Loudly let the trumpets bray! (In a quiet, dignified manner, of course).

NINJAS, PIRANHAS, AND GALILEO made the nominee list for the Georgia Children's Book Award for 2005-2006.

Many thanks to the Peach State and congrats to all the other nominees!

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Research is for the background...

Okay, as a title, it's a little cryptic, but here's what I mean: No matter what you're writing, even if you consider yourself well-versed in the subject, you will need to do research, and you will find out all kinds of fascinating things. You should include none of these in the actual novel unless it is necessary, essential, and absolutely required to the plot. Period.

Why? Anything else will make the novel feel like it's there to teach, rather than tell story and will instantly cause the reader to put down the book or, in extreme cases, throw it at the wall. (But, Greg, you say, isn't the point of children's literature to teach? No.). Also, in many cases, information that is new to you will already be so well-known to the character that they won't even comment on it -- tossing in the added stuff will not ring true to the character.

Here's an example: Suppose I were writing a novel set in Austin, over Labor Day weekend. I have my characters, native Austinites (call them Artemis and Athena) go into a mall and they happen upon an Abercrombie and Fitch store (For those who don't know what Abercrombie and Fitch is, it is a store from somewhere in the northeast which makes a catalog showing WASP-y college-age persons not wearing the clothes the store sells.).

Now, Artemis and Athena likely will be wearing whatever their fashion preference is that allows them to be comfortable when the temperature outside is in the mid-nineties. This is because summer in Austin lasts until about mid-November. However, going into A&F store, they will notice that the clothes on display do not include anything they could possibly wear for warm weather, and instead, include a lot of wool and thick, long-sleeved cotton sweatshirt-type garments. (Actually, this starts happening in late July).

Apparently, the reason for this odd phenomenon is that the fashion industry is based in the northeast, where they have these things called "seasons" and apparently do not believe in regional marketing (Hint to any clothiers reading this: you could make a fortune by shipping all your leftover summer stuff down south and not bringing out your fall line south of the Mason-Dixon until around December)

Now, I admit this is a lot of information. If I'm writing a scene, in which for some reason, the only thing that is important is that Artemis and Athena know that A&F sells winter clothing during September, how do I handle it?

There are several ways.

1. Artemis and Athena walked into Abercronbie and Fitch. Artemis was looking for a new pair of thong sandals. All she could see, though, was wool and winter boots lined with fur!
"Ugh," she said. "I don't believe it! Why can't I get summer clothes?"
"Oh," Athena replied. "It's because the fashion industry is based in New York. People up north are already wearing jeans and sweatshirts. They don't realize it can still be as hot here even in November as it is up there in July."

Here we've learned a great deal but at the expense of stilted dialogue (the "dialogue of great explanation" is almost always to be avoided), but we also have an unrealistic setup--Artemis, being a native Austinite, would already know about the wool and fashion phenomenon.

2. Artemis and Athena walked past Abercrombie and Fitch without pausing. They knew that after July, the only thing you could buy there was wool. As early as midsummer, the New York-based company had shipped all their back-to-school clothing to all their stores across the country. Because the company's home, northeastern market suffered dreadful winters, and even autumn was not necessarily free of frigid temperatures and freezing rain, they maintained (and brought out early) an extensive line of warm woolen and thick cotton clothing. Apparently, they didn't realize that temperatures in Austin during November could be as hot as those up north in July.

This one doesn't have that awkward dialogue problem, but is all that information really necessary?

3. Artemis and Athena walked past Abercrombie and Fitch without pausing. They knew that after July, the only thing you could buy there was wool.

Better, but is July significant?

4. Artemis and Athena walked past Abercrombie and Fitch, ignoring the wool.

Now, in this one, I've imparted several things: 1. The clothes at A&F came from a sheep; and 2, Artemis and Athena know enough about it to bypass the particular store.

The only thing I haven't done is explain everything to my reader. Should I? Only if I don't trust my reader.

To be continued. (Sorry, have to go to the airport and pick up my wife's cousin.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Frequently asked questions from beginning writers...

(1) How do you know what kids and teens (hereinafter, collectively "kids") like?

I don't. I know what I like. Writing to what you think kids will like is ultimately counterproductive for at least the following reasons: (i) What you perceive "kids will like" could simply be wrong, in which case your efforts to pinpoint that which kids will like will have been a waste of time; (ii) your efforts to write "what kids will like" will take your focus off story, i.e., the craft of writing, which is ultimately the most important thing you can do; and (iii) often I hear "kids like it" when people mean "my kids like it," which may be true and valid but anecdotal is not universal.

Also, note that, in the three or four years before Harry Potter came out, publishers were telling writers they weren't going to publish fantasy because "kids don't like it." Now, you can't receive a publisher catalog without them touting the "next" Harry Potter.

Finally, realize that the statement "kids like it" is as much a null statement as is "adults like it": Kids are not a monolithic bloc (think, Borg collective, if you will); they are less experienced than adults, not necessarily less intelligent or diverse.

(2) Do you have to dumb down the language when writing for kids?

No. Well, in one picture book manuscript I decided not to use the word "tesseract." (If you don't know what a "tesseract" is, it's been too long since you've read A Wrinkle in Time.). But in any event, picture books are a different case.

To be continued...

Sunday, March 13, 2005

How to write a novel...observations...part 1

A phenomenon I've noticed since I've become published is of serious, talented, and/or accomplished writers (both published and unpublished) who are terrified at the idea of writing a novel.

The fear of writing a novel is understandable. Writing a novel is nontrivial.

There are, I think, several aspects to this angst. First off, of course, is the classic tyranny of the empty page -- and it doesn't get emptier than the yawning chasm of a ream of empty sheets in your laser printer, especially nowadays with Microsoft and that annoying paper clip icon thing. Second, I think, is that you as a novelist do in fact "put yourself out there" emotionally to a degree other writers do not necessarily experience. (I've also found that a lot of people assume that you are at least one of the characters in your novel, which is somewhat true of all your characters; not to the degree assumed perhaps, but also somewhat unnerving.). You will encounter both of these terrors each time you sit down to write a novel.

But the conclusion I've reached is this: Novel writing involves making a multitude of decisions. The hardest thing in life, no matter what aspect, is to make a decision. Period. Think about it. You will angst over an important decision in your life: Whether to get married; whether to break up; when to ask him/her out; whether you should take that job; whether you should tell your best friend that person is not for him/her; whether you should buy that house, make that investment; whether and how you should discipline your child; whether you should break the rules; etc. The ghastly 1980s drama "thirtysomething" (you can't even find it on "Television without Pity") was enormously successful making much out of angsting over the trivial (Apple Jacks or Count Chocula?!).

But, here's the thing [John Tesh moment]: once you actually make the deicison, things are better. You simply have to deal with what comes. You don't have to imagine the consequences of what might have been, because something will be.

Guess what? Novel writing is all about that infinite tryanny of possibilities. When you write a novel, you can do anything. The question is, what? My advice is to pick one of the myriad of options, no matter what, definitely make a note of the possiblities you've rejected, and get on with it. Write. If it doesn't work, you can come back to it later. Always.

Also, if worse comes to worst, remember the words of Theodore Roosevelt:

"In the battle of life, it is not the critic who counts; nor the one who points out how the strong person stumbled, or where the doer of a deed could have done better.

"The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually strive to do deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotion, spends oneself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at worst, if he or she fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

Thursday, March 10, 2005

They get paid to do this?

Birmingham University (the one in England) reports that "fizzy drinks" and "sports drinks" both cause "tooth erosion" due to the relatively high acid content. They recommend brushing your teeth.

When I was in Sixth Grade (circa 1978), I ran a science project on the effect of Coca-Cola on various materials. I put various objects (pennies, teeth) into Coca-Cola, dilute phosphoric acid (an ingredient in Coke), and distilled water. Conclusion: The Coke and the phosphoric acid dissolved the teeth and cleaned the pennies. Ergo, the danger ingredient was the phosphoric acid. I recommended brushing your teeth.

They stole my research! I want tenure!

I did reference the project in Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

I want to see a humorous novel from...

Gail Giles, author of a number of edgy (not hilarious) YA novels, including Shattering Glass. She's also got a wicked sense of humor: Here's her blog.

Also, Carolyn Crimi. She's the author of a number of hilarious picture books, including Don't Need Friends and has a great article on her site about celebrity authors (scroll down).

Until they get around to theirs, though, the Wilmette Public Library has a bibliography called "Comic Relief: Humorous Stories from Junior High Fiction." (And thanks to WPL for putting NINJAS on the list!)

Sunday, March 06, 2005

"Towards a European Definition of Veal"

In the category of "Fredddie would be appalled":

The European Union is soliciting comments from people so it can "harmonize" the definition of veal (No, really.). They're also trying to ratify a Constitution.

To be fair, I'm almost positive the FDA has something similar. Couldn't find it quickly, though. But here's a nifty little handout: SAFETY OF VEAL...from Farm to Table

Friday, March 04, 2005

Happy Chicago Day!

Okay, there's not actually a Chicago Day, but on March 4, 1837, the City of Chicago charter was enacted into law by the state legislature (thereby incorproating Chicago as a city). Population: 4,170. You can learn more here and here.

For the record, my high school had a larger student body. (When I graduated in 1985, we had about 4500; at its largest, the school had a student body of around 9000).

Also of note, the new building, built in the 1930s, has one of the largest art collections of any high school in the nation.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Happy Texas Independence Day!

Celebrate. Go to a museum. Read some Texas books!

On March 2, 1836, the Texas Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Convention held at Washington-on-the-Brazos.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Pilot lights, bad design, etc.

Had to use the heat today (it got down to around 40 last night), and discovered that the pilot light on the furnace was out. This required that the pilot light be re-lit, a task that was complicated by the fact that the access to the pilot light was on the side of the furnace closest (about a foot and a half) to the wall. To be fair, another side of the furnace is cheek by jowl with the other furnace, but that leaves two sides that have 12 or so feet of clearance. So, among the great questions of our time is, why on earth wouldn't you install the furnace so that it was easy to access the pilot light?

University of Illinois engineering alum Henry Petroski's got a number of books about design, and engineering and similar questions.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Lawyers among us...

Included herewith is a (partial) list of lawyers/former lawyers/recovering lawyers in the children's/YA lit biz. I'm sure there are other obvious ones I'm blanking on:

Franny Billingsley
Sara Jane Boyers
Alex Flinn
D.L. Garfinkle
Ruth Pennebaker
Sean Petrie
Louis Sachar
Greg Leitich Smith
Cynthia Leitich Smith
Cheryl Aylward Whitesel
Janet Wong

Monday, February 21, 2005

Happy Presidents' Day!

Okay, back in the mists of time, there were these two holidays: Lincoln's Birthday and Washington's Birthday. For reasons not entirely clear to me, these were apparently combined into one when Martin Luther King Day became a national holiday. Since it's generically "Presidents' Day" I'm not sure if it's supposed to honor all our presidents, including say, whatshisname who died from eating cherries, or just Lincoln and Washington.

Regardless, here are a couple links to things L and W.

NIU's Lincoln Net
Abe Lincoln Presidential Library

George Washington at the White House
Mount Vernon

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Catcher in the Rye

I have a confession to make. I can't stand this book. I think Holden Caulfield is a spoiled, whiny baby.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Austin Restaurant Guide for TLAers

The Texas Library Association conference is here in Austin this year for the first time since Johnson was president (Lyndon, not Andrew) and I've been getting requests for restaurant advice. So, here's a quick and dirty guide to Austin restaurants. All are within walking distance or a quick cab ride of the Convention Center and convention hotels (in no particular order):

Best Places to go on an Expense Account:

Driskill Grill (One of Austin's best, in the recently restored Driskill Hotel)
Cafe at Four Seasons (Very good, best place to rub shoulders with celebrities [Lovett, Bullock, etc.])
(Note: The Driskill Grill and the Cafe are typically Austin's highest rated restaurants)
Bitter End Bistro and Brewery (Good beer, good food, recommended for carnivores)
Vespaio (High end Italian. I don't know if they take reservations, though, so you should be there at 5:30 or be prepared to wait)
Louie's 106 (Mediterranean, in the historic Littlefield Building)
Truluck's (seafood, in the heart of the Warehouse District)
Jeffrey's (the Bushes' favorite; tables are a little close together, though)
Zoot (high end American)
Fonda San Miguel (Interior Mexican, a bit of a hike from downtown)


Uchi (Sushi, but with a twist)
Kyoto (on Congress Avenue, with a tatami room)
Musashino (also a bit of a hike, but worth it)


West Lynn Cafe

High End Chains:

Roy's (Asian fusion)
Sullivan's (steak)

Other Downtown/Near Downtown Restaurants:

Roaring Fork (New, in the Stephen F. Austin Hotel, a little loud)
Restaurant at the Mansion on Judge's Hill(in boutique hotel in newly restored mansion)
Manuel's (Mexican upscale)
La Traviata (Italian)
Z Tejas (new Southwestern)
East Side Cafe (they grow their own vegetables)

Funky Austin Places (inexpensive):

Magnolia Cafe
Kerbey Lane Cafe
Hyde Park Bar and Grill (look for the fork in the road)
Guero's (Tex Mex)
Katz's New York Deli
County Line (barbecue, but a little outlying)
Iron Works (barbecue)
Stubb's (barbecue)
Hoover's (southern home cooking. And barbecue)

Happy Days and the late 70s

The other night ABC had a 30 year retrospective/reunion show on HAPPY DAYS. Very nice show; they even had a segment on the "jumping the shark" episode, although they were a bit, hmmm, nuanced on the exact definition.

Of course, this also got me thinking about other things going on circa 25-30 years ago:

Cell phones were the size of bricks (A "brick" is something that used to be employed more often in the building of houses.).

Music came on vinyl disks the size of dinner plates.

Beta vs. VHS

8-track vs. cassette.

There were only three television networks. Most of the country received them via a piece of wire called an "antenna."

64K was considered a lot of memory for a computer.

There was only one long distance telephone company.

Saturday morning cartoons were actually cool and an entire generation learned the words of the Preamble to the Constitution during the commercial breaks.

Chrysler was still an American company (although the recipient of a government bailout) and its most prominent product was the K car.

Chicago had a mayor who was not named Richard Daley.

Jimmy Carter, a former peanut farmer and submariner, was president of the United States. (On February 19, the Navy will commission the U.S.S. Jimmy Carter, a Seawolf-class attack submarine, in his honor).

Ellen Raskin won the 1979 Newbery Award for The Westing Game.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Lobsters feels no pain...

when dropped into boiling water. At least according to this study by the University of Oslo.

Freddie would disagree.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Old news, but still bizarre...or who was Antonio Meucci?

According to House Resolution 269 (June 11, 2002), he was the inventor of the telephone. As for Alexander Graham Bell, he was a fraud. And worse, a Scotsman.

According to a poster (postee?) "[t]he question of whether Bell was the true inventor of the telephone is perhaps the single most litigated fact in U.S. history, and the Bell patents were defended in some 600 cases. Bell never lost a case. HR 269 directly contradicts findings of courts in New York, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Ohio, Maryland, and numerous others states. (See among others American Bell Telephone Co. v. Dolbear, 15 Fed. Rep. 448; American Bell Telephone Co. v. Spencer, 8 Fed. Rep. 509, and American Bell Telephone Co. v. Molecular Telephone, 32 Fed. Rep. 214.)." HR 269 also apparently directly contradicts the findings of the Congressional Committee of 1886, set up in response to the Pan-Electric Telephone scandal.

Hmmm. Almost makes you remember the good old days when the Indiana House decided pi was equal to 3.2.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Valentine's Day

So tonight I'm trying to recreate something Cyn and I had a few years' back at Le Cinq, a restaurant in Paris: (whole) lobster and (whole) chicken, steamed together, with a sauce (I don't know what the sauce was, but I'm shooting for something like a remoulade). I'll probably just use a couple lobster tails and some chicken leg/thighs, though. Also, steamed asparagus and heart of palm salad. Chocolate covered strawberries for dessert. And a Petit Syrah (I know it's a red, but Cyn doesn't drink white, and besides, it's a fairly light red and the lobster and remoulade are rich, anyway).

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Things I am not doing today...

The Austin Marathon. I've done it a few times before - it's got a pretty good route. The first few miles are up in the northwest part of town (lots of concrete and strip malls), then it meanders downtown in front of the state Capitol and Congress Avenue, and then around Town Lake and Zilker Park. Twenty-six point two miles, but it's all downhill.

Yeah, I feel like a slug.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

I'm going to completely geek out now.

Fair warning: I'm an electrical engineer.

Please look the other way.

Star Trek: Enterprise has been canceled. After four seasons. I'm disappointed, though I have to confess I never made it completely through the first season, but have watched episodes here and there. I did like that they picked up more on the Andorians and Tellarites, but generally found that the show was oddly lacking in drama, had a mawkish them song, and frankly, seemed to made no sense at all within the Star Trek timeline. Also, I really didn't care at all about any of the characters. Including the Vulcan in the bodysuit. Possibly by now I would have if I had applied my "third year" rule (see below). On the other hand, I do intend to watch next week's episode on "How the Klingons Got Their Spots""Brow Ridges."

IMHO, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was the best of the Treks, although it didn't get going really until the third season and the whole Bajoran mysticism was a bit much. It did, however, have excellent acting, generally compelling stories, much more character development, and was, by and large, less sappy than TNG.

Star Trek: The Next Generation had its moments (again, only after the second season) but Data and Wesley should've been pitched out an airlock. Also, at times it was almost sickeningly touchy-feely (Ship's counselor? ON THE BRIDGE? You've got to be kidding. Oh, and they didn't get a "real" engineer until third about alienating your base!). Also, am I the only one who thought it was a bit fetishistic for Sarek to have been (i) the only Vulcan to have ever married a human woman and then (ii) to have married a second one?

I'm still watching the occasional rerun of Voyager (AKA, "Gilligan's Island in Space"), so won't comment at length, although I did think Kathryn Janeway was often a better captain than Jean-Luc "John Tesh" Picard (Picard: "Q, is there anything I can do to make you feel better while you're blowing us to smithereens? Maybe a nice hot toddy?" vs. Janeway: "Q, get the hell off my ship!").

Then there's the Original Series, which started the whole thing. I remember watching the Kirk, Spock, McCoy, et al., reruns when I was a kid, and thinking it was real, and then being disappointed we'd only recently just gotten to the moon. What more can I say? Other than thank heaven there were episodes like The City on the Edge of Forever, to make up for Spock's Brain.

There now. I'm done. You can look again.

Although I warn you that someday I might blog about the movies.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Random Readings...

Some of these are duplicates to ones Cyn has already blogged about, but I thought I'd give my own two cents:

D.L. Garfinkle's Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won the Girl (Putnam 2005) is the hilarious story of Michael "Storky" Pomerantz and his first year of high school. (In case it is not obvious, "Storky" is not a term of endearment.) Cyn's blog-post has more superlatives, so take a look. Of related interest is this essay "Why Nerds Are Unpopular." Incidentally, and apropos of nothing, as a kid, I had a German shepherd named Rex.

At the other end of high school is Prom, by Laurie Halse Anderson, the story of Ashley Hannigan, who has absolutely no intention of attending the eponymous event. But when the math teacher embezzles the prom fund, Ashley's roped into emergency planning by her best friend. Can they pull off a successful prom with no money and only nine days to go? Another winner by the author of Printz Honor Book and NBA finalist, Speak. Cyn blogs Prom here.

Maya Running, by Anjali Banerjee, features Indian-Canadian Maya Mukherjee, living in Manitoba in 1979 (the horror), with deeply eccentric parents, and a lot of ice and snow. She wants nothing more than to fit in and go out with the John Travolta look-alike who, to her surprise, seems to like her as well. Then her gorgeous cousin Pinky arrives from India with a statue of the trickster god Ganesh, Remover of Obstacles. When Pinky "steals" her prospective boyfriend, and Maya's parents announce they are moving to California, Pinky invokes the god Ganesh. A funny and unique tale of a wish that backfires. Cyn's blog entry is here.

Naming Maya (Apparently a very popular name) is Uma Krishnaswami's latest and also features an Indian-(North)American girl, who is dragged by her mother to Chennai, India, where she must deal with the "new" culture of the Old Country, a whole passel of extended relatives, and her parents' divorce. Rich and lushly written, Naming Maya explores universal themes amidst a unique setting.
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