Monday, March 31, 2008

Writing Monday: Creative Journals

Everybody who writes keeps--or tries to keep--a journal. The Writer has lots of journals for different purposes. Some are on the computer. Some are in handwritten journals. She doesn't write in all of them every day. Some days she doesn't write in any of them. It depends on her particular need that day. Does she need to connect with the character in her current book? Then she will write in the book journal. Does she need to figure out some aspect of her life? She tries to write her way to the solution in her personal journal.

And then there are days when she doesn't want to be The Writer. On those days, she works in one of two Creative Journals. These aren't exactly art journals, which can be intimidating to the non-artist, and they aren't exactly scrapbooks. They're journals with scrapbook-y art that tell an ongoing story.

The first journal is her Journey Journal. In it The Writer is Beatrice, a young woman who has moved to New York City in the late 1930s to become a children's book writer. She sends postcards back home, writes letters to school friends, and keeps her own art journal, sort of a journal within a journal, about her life in the Big City and her fledgling career. The handwritten pages are decorated with vintage-type New York memorabilia and Beatrice's sketches.

The second journal is called Letters to Margaret. It's a series of letters written to one of The Writer's favorite authors, Margaret Wise Brown. The Writer imagines she is a disciple of MWB and writes her letters. Sometimes Margaret writes back with advice.

These are easy journals to create. Just get a spiral-bound blank notebook and decorate the front cover. Then decide who you want to be. Take yourself out of yourself! It's fun and a good way to stretch your writing.

The Writer thinks of more ways to fool around. How does she ever get any work done?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Back to the Klondike

When I was in the Klondike with the Chapman kids--

And I had to stay home.

--I was amazed at the way people lived just to look for gold. They pitched tents and built shacks, but the winters were brutal. Deep snows and temperatures that dropped to 50 below zero or worse. A lot of people making the journey didn't get further than Lake Bennett, about five hundred miles from Dawson City, the town that sprang up when gold was discovered. The last five hundred miles was the hardest, most of it by water. If miners didn't hurry, they would be caught by bad weather. The Yukon River froze, making it impassible by boat. People stuck at Lake Bennett had to wait until spring to travel the rest of the way. Many gave up and went back home.

But those who made it through lived a rough life. The "rushers" in this photo are fixing pancakes in their gold pans. Food was always a problem. People didn't eat fresh fruits and vegetables and became ill with scurvy, caused by lack of vitamin C. They also got snow blindness. All this for a few grains of gold!

I'd go, if there was a big kibble strike. Imagine panning for kibble . . .

Thursday, March 27, 2008

April Carnival of Children's Literature

Guess what? We're hosting the Carnival of Children's Literature for April! The Writer is very excited, even though she hasn't a clue how to do it.

Did she pick a theme?

Yes. She hopes everybody will enjoy this one. You see, when The Writer was a kid, she was forever starting clubs, usually detective clubs or clubs named after her stories (her favorite one was "The Halloween Night" club). But she didn't have many friends--okay, one. So she always elected herself president. The one friend had to be vice-president, secretary, and treasurer. Sometimes they would have a falling-out and the friend would abdicate. The Writer would be in a club of one.

After reading about children's book organizations, like the Betsy-Tacy Society, The Writer thought about creating her own society for her favorite books. Fans of the Betsy-Tacy books have their own organization and magazine, plus fun events in Tacy’s house such as Tacy’s Birthday Party, Trunk Talk with Maud Hart Lovelace, and Victorian Lawn Party.

Devotees of Laura Ingalls Wilder can spend their lives making pilgrimages to the author’s home and museum in Mansfield, Missouri, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Society in De Smet, South Dakota, Laura’s birthplace in Pepin, Wisconsin, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, and another Ingalls home in Burr Oak, Iowa.

The Nancy Drew Sleuths have all things Nancy, including dolls and DVDs, and attend an annual trek to a Nancy site, like this year’s Amish country convention where they will eat too much and hold a “Witch” Tree scavenger hunt. Not to be outdone, Trixie Belden Bob-Whites held a Trixie Camp at Niagara Falls, the site of “The Mystery of the Emerald Necklace.”

So The Writer is inviting children's book bloggers to create their own society for their favorite children's book series or author or character. Make up your own fan club! Plan expeditions to author sites, conventions, newsletter, club activities, menus for dinners, secret handshake. Best of all, you are President for Life and you get to wear a big shiny medal on a red ribbon.

If by chance you are already a member in good standing of the Betsy-Tacy Society or are regular gadfly at the Laura Ingalls Wilder clubs, feel free to submit your favorite post from March 25 to April 25.

Submission deadline: April 25
Blog Carnival: April 30

I think there should be a Winchester The Greatest Cat in the World Society--

Employees of Ellsworth's Journal are not permitted to enter.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Gold in Them Thar Hills

Little known fact: The Writer has always loved stories about the Klondike Gold Rush because she read about it when she was a kid in an Uncle Scrooge comic.

Whoa! You mean Miss-Two-Masters-Degrees read comic books?

The "duck" comics, as Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck comics were known, were actually based on fact. Uncle Scrooge supposedly obtained his fortune in the Klondike. But when The Writer began researching Gold in the Hills, she found tons of interesting facts. People couldn't just take a bus or even a horse to the Klondike. Travel was difficult and dangerous.

One of the most interesting routes was over the Chilkoot Pass. The last half-mile of this 1000-foot high mountain had 1500 steps carved in the ice snow. "Rushers," as people stampeding to the gold fields were known, had to climb this mountain with enough supplies to last at least six months. They couldn't carry it all at once, so they climbed up and down the mountain again and again until all their supplies were on the other side.

What's that dark line in the picture?

That's people climbing single file up the mountain. Down below you can see piles of supplies and more people waiting their turn on the "golden stairs," as those icy steps were called.

Winchester, you'll appreciate this little story. One man carried a crate of cats over the Chilkoot Pass. People thought he was crazy. But he knew miners in the lonely gold camps would pay good money--gold!--for a house cat.

Makes perfect sense to me. If somebody paid for my weight in gold--

--The Writer would be very, very rich.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

New Time Spies Book!

Guess what today is?

My birthday?

Your birthday is months away. No, it's the publication day of Gold in the Hills: A Tale of the Klondike Gold Rush. The newest book in the Time Spies series!

What's it about?

Mattie, Alex, Sophie--and yours truly--travel back to the year 1897 to the Yukon Territory, which is in Canada. They meet a boy named Klondike Mike and his sled dog, Mountie. Mike and his father are working a claim on Henderson Creek with other men. They hope to strike it rich. The Chapman kids also meet Jack London, who became a famous writer. One of the books he wrote is The Call of the Wild.

Speaking of which, I hear my breakfast bowl calling.

Go eat. We'll be blogging about the new Time Spies book all week. I have lots to tell you about my latest adventure!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Writing Monday: Showing Up

Here we are, at The Writer's computer.

Nothin' much happening. She's just sitting there.

That's the whole point, Winchester. The Writer has shown up for work. Today she's not feeling particularly inspired--

She's probably got a chocolate hangover. Did you count how many times she dipped into her Easter basket yesterday? She practically wore a groove in the floor from her office to the living room.

--and she's tired. But she's here because it's her job. The Writer knows from long practice that even if she's tired or the weather is crummy or the house needs cleaning and the laundry is piling up and there is nothing for dinner, she goes to her computer and works. She writes something. In his book Creativity for Life, Eric Maisel talks about self-direction:

You and you alone guide your creativity practice and your life in art. You learn from others but you make your own decisions.

And so she sits at her computer. As Virginia Cartwright says in Maisel's book: "I say to myself, Just give it another hour. Just plod along, one foot in front of the other.' And then six months later I see it's a beautiful piece." That's all you have to do. Just show up.

If you ask me, The Writer's time would be better spent brushing me. My fur is a mess.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Easter Parade

Well, here we are on Fifth Avenue.

Then how come it looks the kitchen in our house off State Route 3?

The Writer has watched "Easter Parade" with Fred Astaire and Judy Garland four times this week. It's one of her favorite movies.

No kidding. I'm going to put "The Aristocats" in her VCR. I can't take one more tap dance routine.

The Writer wishes she was back in 1912. It's one of her favorite years.

Who ever heard of a favorite year? That's just weird.

She has several favorite years--1912, 1925, 1918 . . . you're right, it is weird. Never mind. Pretend you are walking down Fifth Avenue "in your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it..."
Happy Easter, Winchester.

Happy Easter, Ellsworth. Happy Easter, everybody!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Basket Case

Now for the final ingredient inThe Writer's Easter basket. The basket! We have the Peeps and the stuffed bunny. Now we need the perfect basket lined with cellophane grass.

You're not getting me in a basket. I refuse!


I don't like baskets. They scare me.

How can anybody be afraid of a basket? Come to think of it, you don't crawl in boxes or hide in empty grocery bags like other cats.

I have a phobia of closed spaces. They remind me of cat carriers and you know what that means. Shots and thermometers.

Be strong--it's for The Writer. There you go! Do you know the baskets we are sitting in are over a hundred years old.

That explains the smell. Uh-oh. I feel a panic attack coming on!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Winchester Cottontail

You did good yesterday. Maybe a little surly as a Peep, but you'll love today's job.

I'm all a'quiver.

The main ingredient of an Easter basket is the bunny. The Writer loves stuffed animals and as a kid looked forward to getting a new Easter bunny every year. Have you noticed how many rabbits are around the house?

I haven't had a chair to myself since I came to this place . . . wait, I'm not going to be--

"Here comes Peter Cottontail, hoppin' down the bunny trail . . ."

If I had a real egg, somebody would be wearing it on her face.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Winchester and His Peeps

Wake up! It's Easter basket rehearsal! Easter is only six days away.

Whaa? Didn't we just have a holiday? My head hurts. I think I had too much cat kibble beer yesterday.

We have work to do so straighten up. The Writer hasn't had an Easter basket in 35 years. We're going to make her one.

Do we have to? Can't we just buy her that black-wrapped one at Target?

Don't even mention that atrocity. Okay, it's a requirement to have peeps in the Easter basket. The Writer loves peeps so we'll put in lots of them, including us. Oh, you look so cute!

Why do I feel like pecking somebody?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Erin Go Cat

Happy St. Paddy's Day, Ellie! I'm Irish!

You're not Irish.

Everybody's Irish on St. Patrick's Day. You're not wearing green so I get to pinch you, Ellie. Hee-hee!

What's with the "Ellie" business? What have you been into?

Green cat beer.

There's no such thing.

Sure there is. It's made from catnip kibble hops. Bottom's up!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Ellsworth's Genius Journal

Hey, check this out! I just ran the readability test on my blog and look what rating I got!

You got? I contribute just as much. Don't hog all the credit.

If the readability test rated just your comments, we would have a kindergarten rating.

Is that so? If the readability test rated just my comments, we would have a--what's higher than genius?

Nothing. I rest my case.

I still think you're dragging me down.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Winchester's Easter Basket Job

You know what? You would make a great chocolate rabbit for somebody's Easter basket.

A chocolate rabbit? Don't you mean a chocolate cat?

Nobody has chocolate cats in their Easter baskets. They have marshmallow Peeps and cream-filled eggs and chocolate bunnies. You have the right stature to be a chocolate rabbit.

Really? You really think so? What do I have to do?

Stand up tall. And sit really still.

Okay, standing up tall, sitting really still. Now what?

Look straight ahead and don't blink.

Like this?


Oh, boy! I'm going to be a chocolate rabbit in an Easter basket!

Did I mention that the rabbit's ears always get eaten first?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Easter Baskets

Easter is coming. It's less than two weeks away.

Yay! What's Easter?

It's a holiday. The Writer loves Easter because you don't have to do much for it if you don't want to. But The Writer goes all out anyway. Duckies and bunnies everywhere. And Easter baskets!

I don't like baskets. They're like cat carriers.

Not these baskets--they're filled with decorated eggs and candy. Yum! The Writer was in Target the other day looking at the Easter stuff. She saw an Easter basket for boys. It was filled with noisy, uncuddly electronic toys and wrapped in black netting! The Writer was so shocked she dropped the big chocolate rabbit she was holding.

I don't get it. What's the deal?

Easter baskets should be cheerful, with books and bunnies. Even baskets for boys. Like in this picture.

What century does The Writer live in?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Winchester and the Time Change

Ellsworth, what's going on? Yesterday The Writer didn't get up until eight o'clock. And she forgot--forgot!--to feed me last night until I tripped her.

It's the time change. The clocks were set ahead an hour. The Writer hates the time change more than anything. She calls it government brutality.

That explains why she got up this morning looking like death on a cracker. At least she fed me breakfast. Sort of.

Why all the clocks? And is that The Writer's "Once Upon a Time" watch you're wearing?

I'm not taking any chances. I want The Writer to know exactly what time it is!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Writing Monday: Spring Break

The Writer believes her writing is fresher when she writes poetry. She feels especially inspired to write poetry in the spring. The sight of a bluebird sitting on a mailbox post, the pear trees on the verge of bursting into blossom, the silvery jingle of the first peepers--all these send The Writer to her notebook.

The Writer also believes anyone can write poetry. She bought a Magnetic Poetry Kit for the kitchen. One morning she came downstairs and found this on the front of the refrigerator:




The Writer was amazed. Her husband wrote that! He claims he doesn't have a poetic bone in his body, but he does! So get one of those poetry sets, sprinkle the words on the refrigerator, and stand back. Poetry will happen!

Actually, it wasn't The Writer's husband who wrote that poem. I did.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Kudos for Sky-Blue

The Writer got good news yesterday. Seeing Sky-Blue Pink, her latest novel, is a finalist for the 2007 Independent Booksellers Annual Book of the Year award.

If she wins, will she get a whole bunch of money?

No, she'll get a medal, like she got last year for Finding Day's Bottom.

Maybe we can melt the medal down and sell it for kibble.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Shutterbug Winchester

I'm taking up photography. I'm going to be a famous photographer like Francesco Catvulo.

Who? You made that person up. And you can't take pictures.

Why not? I'll take better pictures than The Writer. She doesn't know where the zoom or flash buttons are on her camera. And she's always cutting my tail off in photographs.

These cameras are old. You can't even get film and flash bulbs for them any more.

Never mind. Hold that pose. Hold it, hold it, hold it, big smile [click]. Got it! That's the cover!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Writer's New Column

The Writer has a new column in the online children's literature journal, The Edge of the Forest. Her column is called "A Backward Glance." She will write about books that have been forgotten, or deserve another look. New books tend to clamor for the most attention on the majority of children's literature blogs.

This month's "A Backward Glance" is about Trixie Belden and the Mysterious Visitor by Julie Campbell. This is probably The Writer's all-time favorite book from her childhood.

Are there any cats in that book?



Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Writing Tuesday: Look for the Good

This week we are switching Writing Monday to Writing Tuesday because yesterday was Read Across America Day. I hope you read to someone! The Writer has been thinking--

What, again? That's twice this year.

--about how writers are overly critical of their works-in-progress. She'll read over what she's written and think, "That part is especially nice" and then immediately think, "If I like it, it must go." Writers have been trained not to fall in love with their own words. Then The Writer read an article in the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWWP) journal, The Writer's Chronicle. The March/April issue has an article by Catherine Wallace called "Care & Feeding of the Work in Progress."

Ms. Wallace suggests that writers (and readers in writer's groups) underline phrases or passages that resonates with them. Don't worry about what doesn't get marked, Ms. Wallace says, but pay attention to what does. It's hard to switch from the old negative critical thinking. This approach isn't just to make the writer feel good, but to reinforce what she's doing right. But here's the neat part: writers (or readers in writer's groups) are also supposed to mark passages that are confusing or unclear.

These "blurry" parts are not something to be fixed, but, as Ms. Wallace says, "the beginning of an important creative leap." These passages are like that scrubby margin between yard and woods, to use one of The Writer's favorite metaphors. That's where the real action is. "As writers," Ms. Wallace says, "we need to cherish our readers responses because they can show us what we are doing that hovers, for now, far beyond our conscious control."

So when you read over what you've written, look for the good instead of concentrating on the bad.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Read Across America Day!

Okay, Winchester. Today is Read Across America Day in honor of Dr. Seuss's birthday, which was yesterday.

Oh, boy! Are we gonna have kibble birthday cake?

Something better.

Nothing is better than kibble birthday cake, especially if it's iced with salmon pate.

Now here's what we're going to do. You read me a story, then I'll read you a story. That's what people do on Read Across America Day--read to each other.

How about if you read me a story and then read me another story?

But that's not how it works! When do I get my story?

Read me The Cat in the Hat Comes Back three times, please? Pleeeeeeeez? Pretty please with sardines on top?