So Many Blogs, So Little Time

I’ve spent the last few days browsing blogs. Not all day, of course, but a significant amount of time to become computer-screen crossed eyed.  There are some wonderful sites. Many are by aspiring or published children’s book authors. These are fun to read because of the wide range of styles, content, and design.

Other blogs offer reviews of children’s books, or advice on getting published. Three of these are of particular interest to me and I recommend them.

The first is Editorial Anonymous, a Blog Written by a Children’s Book Editor. Very informative, it addresses questions about the publishing process. This is one I will follow closely.

Two others are children’s book review blogs. 100 Scope Notes is by Travis Jonker, an elementary school librarian. Included is a long list of children’s Lit Blogs. Great reviews.

The third blog is Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Beautiful illustrations and reviews of picture books.

All three are listed on my blogroll. Hope you check them out.

A Peahen Amid the Turkeys

Part of the Usual Crowd

Our suburban house is surrounded by mature redwoods, pine, oak, sycamore and birch trees. Red tail hawks nest in the tallest trees and a variety of birds visit during the day. At night, owls can be heard. Raccoons, possums and skunks have been known to stroll through the yard.

When we first moved in, it wasn’t unusual to hear and see gray squirrels playing “chase me, chase me” across the rooftop. Trimming tree branches cut down on the games, but the sound was familiar. One winter morning, that changed.

We awoke to an ominous thud on the roof, followed by another and another. We could hear the sound of footsteps across the roof. It sounded like a group of thirty-pound squirrels up to their old game.

Puzzled, and a little bit concerned, we opened the front door and found a flock of wild turkeys in the front yard. One by one, they flew up to our roof, landed with a thud, ran to the back edge of the roof and launched themselves down into the backyard. It was hard to believe they could fly, and yet they were almost graceful. They were truly magnificent.

We’ve gotten used to their winter visits, although they do leave interesting organic calling cards. I tell myself they eat grubs, and that is a good thing.

One morning, watching the usual flock in the backyard, I noticed an odd-looking turkey. The same size as the turkeys, this bird had light gray feathers and a crown of plumes on its head. It was definitely a peahen. It lacked the long tail of a peacock. She was accepted by the turkeys, roosting with them on the fence and searching for grubs and seeds in the grass. I saw her once or twice with the flock, and then she disappeared.

I checked with a local bird expert who told me that since peafowl and turkeys are different species, it was unlikely that a peahen would hang out with a flock of turkeys.

In April of 2011, long after our turkeys’ winter visit was over, I walked out the front door toward the driveway, intent on some errand, when I saw her again. She was sitting on our walkway where the sun had warmed the concrete. Her only movement was to turn her head and look over her shoulder at me. She did let me take her picture. After about an hour, she flew away.

Ms. Peahen

What, you may well ask, does this story have to do with the writing process or children’s literature? The issue here is, in a sea of wonderful, imaginative children’s books, how does an author write a story that truly stands out? How does one craft a story that fits reasonably well into the typical publishing categories (picture books, chapter books, young readers, middle grade, young adult), and yet stands out, just as the peahen in the middle of the flock of turkeys. I realize there is no easy answer to this question, but I am interested in how other writers have dealt with this issue.

(Note: I do not use the word turkey as a pejorative. I Like turkeys. A good source for information on turkeys is naturalist Joe Hutto’s film My Life as a Turkey. It was shown on our local PBS station on November 16, 2011.)

By the way, the current flock of turkeys has at least two birds with almost white feathers – but I’m sure that is just the result of a recessive gene, nothing to do with the peahen.

Hope to hear from you. Take care.


The Back Burner

Turn on your television and you are instantly bombarded with motion, color and sound.  A typical television commercial changes scene every three seconds. Volume is cranked up and flickering images and colors mesmerize. The television programs are reduced to filling between commercials. Computer games and programs follow the same frenetic pattern. Movie trailers reduce all movies, no matter what the story line, to action-adventure video games.

To counter this almost constant assault on the brain, time and a place for thoughtful reflection is required. One of the best places for reflection is the string of small towns and villages that line the Napa Valley. Calistoga, one of those small towns, is peaceful, quiet and restful, particularly during the winter months.

Everything in Calistoga is close together and very “walkable”. There is an alley lined with murals of scenes from the 1800s. We were last in Calistoga when the artist was painting the murals four years ago. It was great to see the final product.

As you walk toward the center of the town, there is an area that has several large potted trees. Each tree has a theme. One is “lost love”, another “gratitude.” Each is covered with small pink rectangles of paper tied to the branches with string. These are messages from passersby. Containers of papers and pens sit next to each tree. We spent some time reading the messages. Some have faded so badly it’s hard to read them. Others are bright and newly minted. A great place for contemplation!

I’m a firm believer in the brain’s “back burner”. You can think through a problem, then place it in the back of your mind and allow the potential solutions to emerge, just as you slow simmer soup on the back burner of a stove. The solutions need quiet and reflection to emerge.

My current “back burner” problem has been how to revise the story line for the second book in what I think will be a great children’s book series. I’ve completed the first book. I’ve even received my first rejection from a publisher.  They actually read  my manuscript, or at least skimmed it,  and returned to me within thirty days with some commentary. I’m thank for that, and confident I will find a home for the series.

What I haven’t yet been able to solve, by using my “back burner” is my tendency to wake up at 3:00 a.m., unable to sleep until I get up and write! Maybe I can convince myself that inspiration can (and should) strike during normal waking hours. I’ll revise the thought and put that on the back burner. Well — it’s 4:30 am as I write this. Time for sleep. Good night!