Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Lions and Tigers and Bears

Last week we went to the zoo. Thanks to very thick slabs of glass, you can get nose-to-nose with some pretty imposing creatures at the San Diego Zoo.

No sneeze guards provided when you stand beneath this one:

Luckily she wasn’t a hay fever sufferer. I love it when the animals wander over to survey the crowd. Here are a few more that looked as curious about us as we were of them:

I don’t know why, but looking at that last picture makes me imagine the voice of Stewie from Family Guy…What’s that you say? I look like Timon from The Lion King? Oh, ha ha ha. That is so funny! I’ve never heard THAT one before. Do you write your own material? Because that is really fresh.

As always, we saw plenty of animals snoozing. This inspired the kids to start singing impromptu lullabies like, “sleepy tapirs, sleepy tapirs…they’re ve-r-r-r-r-y tired. Sleepy tapirs, sleepy tapirs…they’re ve-r-r-r-r-y tired!”

The only slight disappointment of the day was not getting to see the elephants up close. The zoo just opened Elephant Odyssey, an enormous enclosure with two and a half hilly acres and a 120,000 gallon pool. Both the hilly acres and the giant pool were empty. It turned out the elephants were more interested in hanging out at the very back of the exhibit, where zookeepers tempted them with treats. Good thing I have a picture book idea that takes place at the zoo, so another trip there can count as research.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The First Line

I’ve been revising a picture book manuscript. I got to the point where I was pretty happy with it, except for the very beginning.

At the library I pulled some picture books from the shelves and studied the first lines. I expected the stories to move right along within the first few sentences, but I wondered which ones grabbed you with the very first line.

From my random selection, here are a few I liked best:

Once there was a boy who found a penguin at his door. (Lost and Found, by Oliver Jetters)

Read it, don’t eat it. (Read It, Don’t Eat It, by Ian Schoenherr)

I have dreams about those shoes. (Those Shoes, by Maribeth Boelts)

It was all the mayor’s fault. (The Great Cake Bake, by Helen Kettleman)

One morning Hedgehog found Mouse covering himself with leaves. (Help! A Story of Friendship, by Holly Keller)

He was so lost, and had been so lost for so long, that when the early April thunderstorm blew in like a freight train, the dog lay down in the culvert, covered his eyes with his paws, and decided to never get up again. (Orville, A dog Story, by Haven Kimmel)

Although it seemed unusual for a picture book, it was the last example that made me sit down and immediately read the story. I just had to know why that poor dog was so darn tired and sad. All of the above examples raised questions and hinted that something interesting was to follow. After all, it’s not every day a penguin shows up at the door. And just what kind of trouble did the mayor stir up?

What do you think…what’s important in a first sentence? Are there any first lines from books you’ve read that stand out in your mind?

Just for fun – here’s a little quiz I found on some famous first lines from classic picture books. See if you can guess them all. Click here for first line quiz.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wishing and Wondering

We're just a couple of weeks into the new school year, and we're already sharing our first case of the sniffles. Rather than try to think of something to write, I decided I'd post an illustration.

Looking at this painting again made me think that I wish my head didn't feel as though it were full of sawdust, and I wonder if fudgesicles would really be such a bad idea for dinner.

I wish the new season of LOST were starting sooner, and I wonder if we'll be seeing more of Desmond this year...

I wish I could get to the hair salon more often, and I wonder if the trim I gave myself is really as crooked as I think it is. Maybe if I tilt my head, no one will notice.

What do you wish? What do you wonder?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Delayed Reaction

While in Palm Springs last April on a spur of the moment trip, we took part of an afternoon to stroll around the small downtown area and window shop. As we paused to consider entering one trendy little shop, a well-dressed blonde woman stepped out. She was smiling and chatting with several other people as she brushed by us and headed down the sidewalk.

When she was out of earshot, I turned to my daughter. “Gee, that woman looked a lot like Martha Stewart.”

Her face lit up in agreement. “I saw that, too!” We made some remarks about how funny it would be if it really was Martha Stewart, and why don’t we go and ask her – she probably hears that ALL the time. Then we turned our attention back to searching for the perfect refrigerator magnet with palm trees on it, or something like that. As moments go, it was a passing breeze.

Yesterday in the library, while waiting for my kids to make their book selections, I wandered over to the magazine rack to kill time. I spotted the colorful pumpkins on the latest copy of Martha Stewart Living, picked it up and started flipping through it absentmindedly. A headline caught my attention – did it say Palm Springs? I backed up to the beginning of the article. There was Martha pictured alongside an article about her whirlwind visit to Palm Springs…last April.

That sounds like me. Practically bump right into a celebrity (we exchanged a look, even) and just find out five months later.

I can probably cross paparazza off my list of career possibilities.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What Day Is It Again?

This morning I saw Halloween decorations. Not at the store. On somebody’s house. And not just a little fall pumpkin on one of those banners everyone around here displays.

As I was walking the dog, I rounded a corner and spotted a five-foot tall ghouly thing with rotting flesh and bad hair, hanging from an upstairs window. I thought it couldn’t be for Halloween…maybe they had a themed party coming up, or it’s their idea of home d├ęcor. I thought, wow – I bet their homeowner’s association is going to be all over them for that one. But no, a gigantic plastic jack-o-lantern on the porch confirmed that they were just rushing the season.

When I was little, we’d carve a pumpkin after school on the day of Halloween. If my mom had time to hunt for it, she’d drag a cardboard cutout of a cat out of a drawer somewhere and we’d tape it to the front door.

We’ve got a month and a half until Halloween gets here. I can’t imagine putting a Christmas tree up on November 10th…yet every year the lights and lawn decorations start showing up earlier and earlier.

But what do I know? I think it’s still summer. Oh wait…it IS still summer.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

What I Learned This Summer

The kids spent their first week back in school, but it’s still hot outside. I hope we remember that the beach is still there. It would be nice to enjoy it a couple of more times, especially now that the crowds are gone.

This summer I learned that the first thing you need to do upon arrival at the beach is: (1) use a shovel to draw a giant rectangle in front of your space and (2) throw some sand in it. This is your sandcastle plot. More importantly, it’s what prevents a family of eleven from erecting seven camping chairs (with double cup holders), a playpen and a pup tent right smack in front of you. You don’t even have to finish the sandcastle, but it’s aesthetically more pleasing if you do.

I learned that the more time you spend working on your sandcastle, the more likely it is that a kid will drag a boogie board right through it.

I learned that the arrival of seagulls means it’s twelve o’clock on the dot.

I also learned that you can’t leave a bagel with ham and cheese sandwich unattended on a towel, not even while your son just quickly runs down to the water to rinse the sand off his hands. Not even if it’s still in the plastic bag, and you are sitting right next to it.

I learned that watching a hundred gulls fight for one bite of a ham and cheese bagel is so entertaining, you might be tempted to pack an extra one next time.

I learned a new game. Actually, my daughter and I invented it. We call it Try to Guess Why of ALL the Possibilities, That Person Chose THAT Swimsuit. The name is self-explanatory. I can’t help trying to imagine a person standing in front of that three-way mirror in the dressing room and thinking, yes…THIS is the one! Especially if ‘the one’ is solid orange, and the person is shaped more like a pumpkin than a carrot. I’m no supermodel, but I do know when a little strategic detailing might come in handy.

I learned the same thing happens every summer: no matter how well I try to plan, we never squeeze in enough beach trips before school starts, and everyone gets so busy we almost forget it’s still there.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

What's New?

New thing #1: I FINALLY bought a new camera. No more blurry photos (I hope)!

For years I’ve wanted to get a good one, but couldn’t justify the luxury purchase. Every time I entertained the idea of going for it, some unexpected expense would pop up. After going back and forth about it and whining all summer about not having any decent family photos, I decided to follow the kids’ advice:

“Mom, just buy it before the car breaks down again.”

Sometimes they are so smart.

Even though it was scorching hot out (and blinding midday sun) when I brought it home, I had to test it out by the river:

New thing #2: I redesigned my Painting the Gown website. I have to say I’m pretty proud of myself for figuring this out. Computer skills come about as naturally to me as knitting does to a snake. Sure, I used a template, but I tried to disguise the fact at least a little. I haven’t seen the result on any computer but mine; I’m hoping there’s nothing funny going on with the fonts or anything. So if you check it out and something looks like gobbledy-gook to you, let me know.

New thing #3: A story I submitted recently to Stories for Children Magazine was accepted for their December 2009 issue. Hooray, an acceptance!

What’s new with you?