Tuesday, February 28, 2006

It never rains...

but man... it pours!

That Albert Hammond reference actually only applies to the weather here in Southern California, not some metaphorical issue in my life. Although perhaps it applies to the ....

What's that? The issue of celebrity authors of children's books? Yes, I guess it does apply. I don't give this subject much nevermind as there's little I can do about it, but I thought it worth noting that among the thousands of books that have gone through my hands as I've helped stock our library are some amazing books (all more than 10 years old and most 20 or more), including...

A book written and illustrated by the then Cat Stevens (in three languages!). An Alan Arkin novel. Picture books written and illustrated by
Fred Gwynne. Books by Dom DeLuise, Boomer Esiason, Whoopi Goldberg, and a handful of other curiousity pieces of the same ilk.

Now we can argue that the earlier names on my list were all more talented. Might very well be true (and Alan Arkin, for instance, has had a very long career and just had a picture book out last year). But the point is that some of those names CERTAINLY were published because of their fame, not because of their writing talent. Yet, against all odds, publishing survived!

I am sure the same is true now. But just in case, I'm changing my name in an attempt to cash in. Look for my future work coming soon!


The Cast of Lost

Monday, February 27, 2006


Today’s blogging is about miscellany as opposed to specific, focused content. But I won’t call it a day off. Writers never take days off. We just ‘research’ a little bit more on some days than others. Anyway...

I updated my profile to make myself less mysterious (which was mostly a byproduct of simply getting up and running as opposed to clever plotting on my part).

From my screenwriting life, I want to tip my hat in farewell to Don Knotts, a true gentleman who somehow made (somewhat starstruck) me feel like he was grateful that I’d written a part he could play whereas the truth was 180 degrees opposite.

My first week of blogging is now done. Didn’t change my life, but it also didn’t make me any less productive in my other writing. So, I view this as all good: I wrote more (including usable poetry!), did something new, cyber-met a few new bloggers, and have yet to cause myself online embarrassment.

But there’s always next week! So on that note… I gotta book.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Poetry + post = poestry?

I wrote the end of this short post before I wrote the start.
I wrote the end because I knew the end by heart.
I wrote the ending first since that’s my favorite part.
I wrote the end of this short post before I wrote the start.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Writing for the read-aloud

Volunteering on the "library committee" was not something I did thinking it would help me write better manuscripts. That's partly because I had no idea what "library committee" meant, of course, but even as I started putting in long hours, the upside didn't seem like it was going to be writing related.

Then came the read-alouds.

Every writer has heard (from editors and other writers) that you should read your manuscript aloud. But the bigger test, I now realize, is to give the manuscript to someone who doesn't know you, doesn't have you around to answer questions, and is sitting in front of a group of 20 kids.

I now consider myself an expert read-aloud guy, and I've often been forced to do "cold" readings of books I don't know. As I'm reading them (or ones I do know, too), I can feel my gears turning: "What should my intonation be here? Is this building to a punchline or change in story? Is this the right place for a long pause to build anticipation? Is this the place to let the audience rest?" Even though a picture book has page turns and art already in it, it's amazing how many of them leave the read-alouder hanging as a character acts out of character or when an area that NEEDS to be dramatic is instead used for description... or myriad other issues. With the best picture books, I don't have to ask myself anything. I just read.

Getting my own manuscripts to that level is still a work in progress, but they have improved leaps and bounds as I run them through the point of view of, well, of me in my other guise.

Friday, February 24, 2006

To blog or not to blog?

A few people have already asked me why I’m blogging. Good question. I’d be curious to hear from any bloggers who stop by as to why they started/continue. But for me....

Welllll, for starters, I have lots to say. I’m sure that’ll shock folks who know me as such a strong, silent type. Also, I like the net a lot and love the sense of community it can build. Even more, I’ve enjoyed getting to know SCBWI members and others in the world of children’s lit, so being part of that community subset is appealing, too. Still and all, I think for me the reason I started blogging now was simply that the time was right

Now, I coulda stayed on the sidelines letting others take me places, but I feel more like the Missing Piece at the end of
Shel Silvertein's The Missing Piece Meets the Big O. To paraphrase…

“… and then he was posting anonymously instead of lurking… and then he was blogging instead of posting anonymously. And he didn’t know why, and he didn’t care….

He was blogging.”

Thursday, February 23, 2006

On the flip side...

Gregory K.

Cleaning up

In my
Coffee cup

Snail mail
Blogging, too


Phone calls
Fear of debt

Nap times

Batting cage

Empty page

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Why write?

Sometimes, it's possible for writers to forget why we spend hours and days and weeks staring at words on the page or screen, trying to polish and perfect them. My volunteer job, however, has given me ample reminders on just why we write.

It's a Thursday morning, and I'm in the library reading to a group of 1st and 2nd graders. They've gone from being slightly antsy to totally still -- not to mention amazed, incredulous, worried, and ultimately relieved -- as they hang on every word of Mordicai Gerstein's The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, the story of Philippe Petit's remarkable tightrope walk at the World Trade Center in New York. It is almost as if we're all with Philippe, being hit by the same gusts of wind and feeling the same freedom as he does so high up in the air alone on his wire.

This is why we write. We want to transport, amuse, inform, or plain old MOVE people in that same all encompassing way. This is why we write.

Another library morning, and a group of kindergarteners are screaming at Mo Willem's Pigeon as we gleefully enjoy Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. Sometimes libraries are meant to be quiet, but not right now, not with this book. 20 kids have lost all inhibitions and are totally immersed in the book's simple conflict... but one so perfectly created for maximum impact.

This is why we write. We want to give our readers a character, a story, an idea or SOMETHING that gets them to react with their whole body and mind. This is why we write.

It turns out that my new kin have a long history of understanding the importance of books, as this story about San Diego librarian Clara Breed illustrates (a story I initially found on the excellent Read Roger blog). If ever writers needed a reminder about why we write, this story should certainly serve that purpose.

Inspiration comes to all of us in different ways, but if you are one who's writing for children, I strongly urge you to do what I get to do a few times a week now: find a great book and read it aloud to a group of kids. As you watch their faces... sense their body language... feel their emotions while you read, you will remember vividly exactly why you write.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Me? A librarian????

What, you may ask, is a "volunteer librarian"? Well, I happen to be the dad of a first grader at a public elementary school that just started this year. I became head of the "library committee" before I knew that there was no budget to stock a library, nor was there going to be money for a librarian. It was gonna be volunteers or nothing... and I decided early on that even though the system would let us open our school without a library, we would NOT do that.

My qualifications for being a librarian? Professionally, I have none. However, I happen to be a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and I have a huge passion for picture books and children's poetry. I know the words Dewey Decimal. And I'm a good readaloud guy, if I say so myself. But it turns out that there were two things that enabled me to spearhead this project: enthusiasm and my ability to be a massive pest.

When I started working on the library in late April, we had 50 books gathered from two fund-raising yard sales. By December, we topped 9,000 volumes, fully cataloged and shelved by Dewey (hooray for the software from readerware.com!), with a few hundred books in circulation all the time. The goal I always had was to make the library as much fun as possible, not a dull place with no sense of joy. We may be entirely volunteer run and staffed, but we're a hit: kids at our school WANT to come into the library. This is not only testament to a lot of hard work on our end but also to the incredible power of all the amazing books written for children.

The library is the best project I've worked on in my life. This blog will be an attempt to share what I've learned there and in my own writing/web surfing/reading all as it relates (sometimes loosely!) to the world of children's literature. I have no desire to speak of the changes needed to the education system (though it needs changes), nor will I ever type long entries on the intricacies of the Dewey Decimal system (not just cuz that'd be dull but more because I just don't know any). Other than that, though, I make no promises.

Ahh, the first entry... and late at night, no less. Yup... I think blogging's gonna be alright. So I'll catch you all soon, but for now I gotta book.