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Thoughts about libraries

I've always loved libraries. I'm sitting in one right now. My writer friends and I get together a couple times a week to write together in a room in the library.

I'm the sort of person who gets a library card (or three) when I move to a new community before I bother getting a new driver's license.

The only job I've ever had other than writer (I'm not counting temporary jobs or paper girl when I was 12) was library page in high school and college.

When I was in high school, I used to stay in the library after all the other employees went home and work on my novel. I loved being alone in the library after hours. I did that for months...until I got caught and was asked to "please go home when the library closed."

Today, I'm a library volunteer. I help out with the teen reading group. I facilitate a teen writers group in the summer. My dog is a registered therapy dog and I bring him to the library regularly so kids can read to him. I'm also President of the Coralville Public Library's Friends of the Library organization.

Libraries are wonderful places. If there's something you want to know, you can always find the information at the library. Librarians are wonderful people: easy to talk to, always willing to help, always willing to take a stand against censorship. I've always known all that on an intellectual level, but I'm feeling it on a deeper level today.

When I walked into the Coralville Public Library this morning, my eyes filled with tears. And I just stopped and stood there in the entryway for a little while before I went downstairs to write with my friends. What an amazing place this is!

How lucky we are to live in a country where we are free to read and write what we like. There will always be people like Ms. Schifferdecker who will try and limit those freedoms for others (see my previous entry), but there are MORE people (writers, librarians and people from all walks of life) who are willing to stand up for your (and my) right to read and write freely.

How fortunate I am to live in a community where censorship rarely rears its ugly head.

I LOVE this library! Thank you, Coralville Public Library, for being here...for providing activities and opportunities for me and for my children...for carrying every single one of my books (even the naughty ones)...and for giving me a place to come and write with my friends.

Much Ado About...???

I’ve had an exciting couple of days. A babysitter in Texas took three children to the library recently and one of them checked out my My Mom’s Having a Baby. The babysitter was “shocked.” You can read the story and watch the video here.

Interestingly enough, she didn’t file a complaint with the library or ask the library to remove the book; she took her complaint right to the media. To a local Fox TV station. The library in question (The Carrollton Public Library) never heard about it until they were contacted by the media.

Yesterday the story went National. I appeared on Fox and Friends this morning. You can see that video clip here.

She got to do a lot more talking than I did. And every time I tried to make a point, I was interrupted. But I sort of expected that. My goal was to remain calm and to not engage. I think I accomplished that.

Here is what I would've liked to have said if given the chance:

1. There's no "debate" here. There's no reason to debate. Ms. Schifferdecker believes the book is "wrong." It clearly IS wrong for her children. And that's fine. Nobody, least of all me, is forcing her or her charges to read it.

2. Despite what Ms. Schifferdecker thinks, there are people out there who want to read this book. There are even people who would go so far as to say it's a good book. Booklist gave it a starred review. It was also a Booklist Editor's Choice Book for 2005 and a Top Ten Sci-Tech award winning book. This book needs to be available to those who want to have access to it.

3. Children are naturally curious about where babies come from. When Mom's "stomach" is getting bigger and there's talk about a new baby coming, some children become even more curious. And some of those children are ready for more information. My Mom’s Having a Baby was written to help those children and their parents talk openly and honestly about where babies come from, what happens during pregnancy, and how the baby grows inside the uterus from month to month.

4. This is NOT a book about sex. It's a book about a close-knit, loving family, and the joy and anticipation prior to the birth of a new baby. It just happens to include that one piece of the puzzle that many other books leave out: how did that baby get inside Mom in the first place?

5. I believe in giving children accurate information. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents talk with their children about their bodies and about sexuality, using proper terminology, from the time they are preschoolers on up. This book helps parents do that. It's not up to me to decide when any child other than my own is ready for this information. But it's not up to Ms. Schifferdecker to make that decision for anyone other than her own children, either. Parents must make those decisions for themselves.

6. Parents/caregivers have a responsibility to pay attention to what their children are doing and what they are reading. I checked the Carrollton Public Library's catalog. They shelve My Mom’s Having a Baby in the nonfiction section...in the 618s. That's where you find the books about childbirth and sex. I don't know whether Ms. Schifferdecker's charges were roaming the 618s or not, but let's give her the benefit of the doubt and say the book was just lying on a table somewhere and one of the children happened to pick it up. If Ms. Schifferdecker had opened the cover and read the jacket copy, she would have seen this: "Elizabeth learns all about the baby's development, and she traces his growth, month by month. She learns how the baby got inside Mom, too." If this is not information Ms. Schifferdecker wanted her charges to have (and she has every right to make that decision), she should not have allowed those children to check out the book.

7. To any question that began, "What do you think..." or "Do you REALLY think...", I would've responded: What I think is nowhere near as important as what the parent who is holding the book thinks. Only YOU can decide whether this book is right for your family.

Ultimately, I stand behind my book. I stand behind the words; I stand behind the illustrations (even though they're not mine...one of the people who e-mailed me today also chastised me for drawing such obscene pictures!). It may not be the right book for everyone. No book is. But I know without a doubt that it's the exact right book for some people. And I've got a bunch of mail to prove it.

Before I close this entry, I want to say something about some of the mail I've received today. First of all, I feel like I've made a lot of new friends! And for that I am grateful. I've also heard from a few crazy people: people who saw a 3-minute clip on Fox News and think they know me; people who haven't even seen my book, but just "know" it's wrong etc. And I've heard from a number of people who want me to know that it's not MY fault; it's the librarian's fault.

To those people I want to say this: I appreciate your attempt to support me, but it's not "the librarian's fault," either. Librarians have a responsibility to serve ALL members of the community. That doesn't mean everything in a library (or even in the children's section of a library) is right for everyone.

A library is not a day care center. It's not the librarian's responsibility to supervise the children who come in. It's not the librarian's responsibility make sure every child only picks up books that are "appropriate" for them. How could it be? What's appropriate for one child is not appropriate for another child.

I know librarians make careful decisions about where to shelve books. Should My Mom’s Having a Baby be shelved in a restricted area? I'm not a librarian; that's not my decision to make. I probably wouldn't be upset if they put it in a restricted area. I don't think it's necessary to do that, but it wouldn't bother me to find out a library had done that. I WOULD be upset if they removed it from the library altogether. Ultimately, it's the parent/caregiver's responsibility to monitor their children in the library and guide their children's reading choices.

Edgar party!

It started out like any other write-in…other than my dear friend Kellye from Des Moines came.

She was supposed to come and stay overnight with me last month when my husband was out of town so we could go out on the town and—I mean, so we could have a nice quiet time here at home, discussing our writing. But then we had a snow storm that day and she couldn't come. So no, I didn’t think anything was up when she said she was coming yesterday. (Though I understand there was conversation over the weekend to the tune of, "Dori still hasn't told us you're coming yet"...but in my defense, there was SNOW predicted again yesterday...so I didn't know if she was really going to come until yesterday. I DID send out an e-mail as soon as I knew she was coming for sure!)

The write-in group (i.e. BEST FRIENDS EVER!) had told me they wanted to take me out for lunch to celebrate my Edgar nomination, so that’s what I thought we were doing yesterday. As more and more people started drifting in for the write-in (people who don’t normally come…or haven’t come in a while), I still didn’t get it.

And when Kellye nudged me during the write-in and asked if we could go somewhere and chat for a little while because she didn’t realize we actually WORK during our write-ins and she needed some conversation, I still had no idea anything was going on. I did think it was a little weird that she didn’t want to sit by the nice fountain in the basement of the library to talk; that's where people normally go to talk during our write-ins. But no, all of sudden she was more interested in going to see the library than she was in talking. And she wanted me to show her around. So okay…I took her upstairs to see the library, never suspecting what was going on downstairs.

Apparently this guy was the lookout:

His job was to call out, "Hi, Dori," when he saw Kellye and me coming back down the stairs...which was a signal to all these people who were hiding around the corner:

Then they all jumped out and yelled, "Surprise!"

And yeah, I was surprised:

In fact, I STILL didn't quite get it at first...I couldn't figure out what these people were doing. It wasn't time to go to lunch yet; why were they all out in the hall?

Then I realized there were more people there than there had been when Kellye and I went upstairs...and I saw into the big room behind them. It was all decorated in Edgar Allan Poe style. There was a BIG table set for people to eat at rather than work at...and then it slowly dawned on me...all this was for ME. These people had put together a Congratulations On Your Edgar Nomination Party!

I was really touched...no one's ever thrown me a surprise party before.

That explained why so many people showed up for the write-in...and why we had meeting room A for our write-in rather than meeting room B. That part had never made a lot of sense. We always take meeting room B if we can...ALWAYS! It's smaller, cozier, and we don't have to move tables. Meeting room B was available, but Wendy (who would absolutely NEVER lie to me!) told me the library had just gone ahead and put us in A "for some reason." Wendy also reserved the room until 2:30, but told the library to have the reservation notice say that our reservation was until 1:00 like it normally is, so I wouldn't look at it and start asking questions. They really did think of everything, including what they would do if there had been snow...because the guest of honor does not drive in snow.

They even tried to invite my husband...they made a point of calling him when I was already at the write-in so I wouldn't answer the phone. But we have caller ID, so when my husband sees it's one of my friends calling, he doesn't pick up the phone. Katherine was persistent, though...persistent enough that he instant messaged me to tell me Katherine has been calling. I did think that was weird...she should have known I'd be at the write-in at that time. And why wasn't SHE at the write-in yet? She knows I don't get cell phone service in the library basement, so it makes sense she wouldn't call my cell, but why would she call my home phone? If she wanted to talk to me, she should've e-mailed me. My husband said she wasn't leaving any messages...not that he would've listened to those either, because again, she's my friend, presumably calling to leave a message for me. Not him. So the party had to go on without him.

They brought in pizza from Wig and Pen...they even got a Twickenham pizza, which is THE BEST PIZZA EVER (spinach, artichokes, black olives, tomatoes etc baked inside two crusts)...and somebody knew me well enough to know that the only pop I drink is Diet Dr. Pepper. (Nobody outside this group thinks to buy Diet Dr. Pepper for a get-together, because there aren't a lot of us who drink it!) And they made salad...and CAKE:

And if all that wasn't enough, there were cards and gifts,too: several Edgar Allan Poe books (including a first edition!), an Edgar Allan Poe T-shirt, a mini crime lab set, a magnifying glass, a golden retriever bookmark, some erasers shaped like dog bones, and the Sherlock Holmes cap that is on that skeleton's head:

(I'm told I can untie that cap, turn it inside out and it will make a nice clutch for the gala! As someone who rarely even carries a purse unless I absolutely have to, I wouldn't know about things like that...)

Jeni gave me this nice raven handkerchief to bring to the gala...she said I can use it either way, no matter what happens.

And Jeni is an artist, so look what else she gave me:

I almost started crying when I saw that! Isn't it beautiful?

But wait...there's more! I was also presented with this Edgar award because my friends wanted me to feel like I win no matter what...which, with friends like these, of course I do!

(It says Dori Hillestad Butler; 2011 Best Juvenile; "The Buddy Files"...and btw, the bottom part that looks like hair at the end of bows isn't hair at all...those are ravens!)

So now I have two Edgars because Katherine gave me the one in the picture below (Edgar is the guy on the left) when the nomination was first announced. And she said basically the same thing when she gave him to me...regardless of what happens in April, I win! Edgar has been sort of my own personal Origami Yoda ever since I got him...he sits on my monitor and offers advice.

And now Edgar has a friend...that's Sherlock on the right. He was also in yesterday's gift basket.

I don't know any of the other four nominees in my category, but if they don't have friends like mine, then I hope one of them wins in April because I've already won about ten times over.

Here they all are...my awesome friends and me:

And one more...me and one of my soul sistas, since you can't see her on the group picture beacause she always hides in the back when the camera comes out. She painted the Edgar award and made the cakes, and knew about the diet Dr. Pepper, and, and, and....

I did ask what would've happened if I'd told Kel, "Gee, I'd like to, but I really need to work now. We can chat at lunch..." Apparently they had a plan for that, too. (In other words, they actually thought that could happen!)

Thanks again, guys! You're the best!


Well, I've been really GOOD about updating my personal journal in recent weeks...but really BAD about updating my blog. A friend said to me, "you call your blog 'A day in the life of a children's book author' and you don't blog about one of the most significant days in your career???" Well, when you put it that way...okay, here goes:

Wednesday morning started out like any other morning: I checked my e-mail, sent my dog out to retrieve the newspaper, had breakfast, took a shower, came back and checked my e-mail again before getting to work. In the middle of my unread e-mails was an e-mail from sarah_prineas. Two of them, actually...but the one that caught my eye had Edgar! as the subject line, and I could read the first line of her e-mail before actually opening it. It said, "I assume you've seen"

Seen what? I wondered. Is someone we know on this year's list?

I opened the e-mail, clicked on the link and...well, according to my husband I SCREAMED when I saw that I'M the one who has a book on the list. But I think I was way cooler about it than that. I think I may have just said very softly, "Wow, that's very nice." I have absolutely no idea why he came barreling down the stairs thinking something was wrong.

I was so stunned that I didn't actually trust sarah_prineas's link. (She wouldn't toy with me like that, would she?) I had to go to the Mystery Writer's of America's website and click through all the links to find it myself. Sure enough. There it was again. Buddy Files #1 really was a nominee in the juvenile category.


I saw I had e-mails from other people, including kelcrocker, congratulating me, but there was nothing from my publisher. They're always on top of things like this. If it's a minor thing they e-mail...if it's a major thing (like getting on the Texas Bluebonnet Award list), they call. So I took the initiative and e-mailed THEM. I figured the reason they hadn't called was they didn't know yet...so I e-mailed both my editor and my marketing director and said, "Where's my phone call? (smiley face)" That was it.

The first phone call came about twenty minutes later...and as soon as I got off the phone with the marketing director, the editor called. They did not know what my e-mail meant...but they're resourceful. They found it before they called me. I think they were as shocked as I was. The marketing director said she had to talk to some friends to see what it means. (Hey, I KNOW what it means...it means I'm an EDGAR NOMINEE!!! That's all I really need to know...)

I've always dreamed of having a book nominated for an Edgar award. More than I've dreamed of having a Newbery or Newbery Honor book. I know who I am and I'm not a Newbery author. I don't write the kind of book that wins the Newbery. Some might look at my body of work and wonder if I really write Edgar books...but I'm a huge mystery reader (always have been!) and I've always wanted to make a name for myself as a mystery author. I told a favorite professor in college that I wanted to write middle grade humor and YA suspense novels. (I'm just now finally getting around to writing my first YA murder mystery...)

So yeah...this is HUGE for me! I always read the juvenile and YA Edgar nominees each year. Often I've read several of them before the announcement is even made. In fact, I usually do an article on the juvenile and/or YA nominees for my children's book review column in the local newspaper each year. I've even been on the committee that chooses the juvenile Edgar award (but I have since let my MWA membership slide...perhaps I should renew?)

It's funny...I went to a party right before Christmas and the hostess gave us all a bottle of wine from a local winery (yes, there are wineries in Iowa!). It's called "Storyteller," which I think is a great name for a variety of wine. I thought about just keeping that bottle on my desk because it's kind of a pretty bottle, but then decided we'd open it on New Year's Eve. But when New Year's Eve rolled around, I FORGOT about it. I think something must've aligned in the stars such that I would still have it on Wednesday because that was a much better day to open it.

My husband and I probably should have toasted Edgar Allan Poe (the Edgar nominations are always announced on his birthday. He would've been 202 this year, if anyone wants to know) and my publisher, but we just toasted me. I think we're going to go out and celebrate tonight. Depending on where we go, the teenager may even give up hanging out with his friends to join us, which shows that even he knows what a big deal this is.

Certainly, I'd like it if Buddy actually won, but it'll be okay if another book wins, too. It really is an honor just being nominated. And I'm in some very good company.
I'm a little past the halfway point of the month. My goals were 1) to complete a draft of my YA murder mystery and 2) to lose 5 pounds. I'm on track with my word count (29,421 words!) and I've lost 2 pounds.

But I've got a real mess of a story. I know, a NaNoWriMo story is supposed to be messy. But this is beyond messy. I don't even have the story broken into chapters. Every now and then I've inserted brackets and the words "chapter break?" But I wouldn't say I'm thinking in terms of chapters. I've never not written a novel (or chapter book) without thinking about chapters.

I have a pretty solid opening (well, it needs to be rewritten with voice...but in terms of what's happening, it's fine)...and I know what my ending is going to be. But the middle is a mess. Somewhere along the line I lost my cause and effect. I've started some threads and dropped others. I realized I'm not developing clues and subplots quite the way I should. I feel like I'm just putting in my 1667 words each day without any thought about plot or character (which again, is maybe part of NaNoWriMo?)...and I'll just keep doing this until I feel I've got enough words to start the ending.

I also have not reread ANYTHING I've written on this novel. This is VERY unusual for me. I'm constantly going back and rereading, revising...it's part of how I usually move forward.

If it sounds like I'm getting ready to quit NaNoWriMo, it's because I am. I'm meeting with a couple of friends who are also stuck on projects and we're going to brainstorm together. I will likely come away from that get-together with a decision one way or the other--to forge ahead with NaNoWriMo or to go back and start the story over...and write it the way I normally write a book.

But I still can't say the NaNoWriMo thing has been all bad. In some ways, I've used it as a way to think about my story. But instead of just thinking about various scenes, wondering if they would work or not, I've drafted them out. All in the interest of getting my 1667 words in each day.

In the process I've learned some things about my story. One of the things I've learned is that there are a number of things I need to figure out better. In preparation for my "plot-in" (it's like a write-in only instead of people writing together, they're plotting together) this morning I made lists of what I've learned about my story since the beginning of the month and what I now see I still need to figure out about my story. (Hey, that's what Buddy would do! He'd make lists just like this. Oops...wrong project.) My list of what I've learned has six things on it. My list of what I still need to figure out has 9 things on it. But some of those things are BIG things...with sublists. For instance, I need to figure out what is going on off-stage while my story is happening...I have a list of five characters for sure that I need to know what they're doing while my main character is going about solving this mystery. I think this is actually key to figuring out my middle. Once I know what everyone is doing, I'll know how they're going to butt heads.

And now for the cool thing. One of the things on my "this is what I know" list is the name of the town this story takes place in. I normally like to make up names of towns. I don't like to be too tied to reality. So I go out of my way to make sure the town I made up doesn't actually exist. My murder mystery is set in small town Minnesota. I tried on several names: Eagle Bluff, East Bluff, I don't even remember what else. None of them felt "right."

But when I was in the shower this morning, the name Elm Creek just came to me. It felt right. So right, in fact, that I was absolutely certain it had to be a town in Minnesota. When I got out of the shower, I went right to my computer to look it up. It's not a town (yay!!!), but it is a township...and it's a township in the county I grew up in! I can take a township name and turn it into a town. And the fact that Elm Creek township is in the same county I grew up only convinced me more that this IS the setting for my story.

Character and plot

I met up with a couple of writer friends at the coffee shop yesterday. Not so much for writing, but for chatting.

J. and I are in the same place...we're at the beginning of new projects, but we have opposite problems. She's got a great character and voice (okay, I haven't actually seen her new piece...but she told me all about her spunky new character...and I know her work well enough to know that anything she writes is going to have voice), but she's frustrated because she has no plot. I have plenty of plot (of course, I do...I'm writing a murder mystery! Things HAVE to happen in a murder mystery!), but no character or voice. I am simply moving my stick figures around in my plot. And hoping my character will reveal herself to me as I move through this first draft and I can bring out her voice in the next draft.

I told J. it's too bad she can't just plunk her character into my plot. (Well, except for the fact her character really doesn't belong in my plot...she's got a middle grade character and my story requires a YA character.) I don't understand why J. is having a problem...she's already got a character! A FABULOUS character. Just put that character in a story already and start writing!

But it's not that easy for her. She probably listened to my character woes and thought, "what's YOUR problem? Characters are easy." And they are for her. Characters just come to her, fully formed. She's got seven or eight of them floating around in her head and no story to put them in.

It's interesting how differently two authors work...

Field Trip!

I got ahead on my word count earlier in the week because I wanted to go to Waterloo/Cedar Falls yesterday to see the Painted Pages: Children’s Books Illustrated by Iowa Artists exhibit at Waterloo Center for the Arts (my good friend Jeni Reeves is one of the featured illustrators!) and then go to the Hearst Center for the Arts in Cedar Falls to see the Original Art 2010: New Works from the Society of Illustrators, New York exhibit and attend the reception. Every year hundreds of children’s book illustrators compete to be featured in this traveling exhibit (how cool that we can see it here in Iowa!)

But my husband was out of town earlier this week. He was supposed to come home on Wednesday night, but then it turned out he had to stay an extra day and wouldn't be home until late last night. Six weeks ago that would've meant I couldn't go to Waterloo/Cedar Falls because someone would've needed to be here to drive the teenager to all his after school stuff. But now the teenager is the proud owner of a driver's license, so in theory, I could still go, right? I wasn't entirely sure. The idea of him being here alone, driving himself who knows where, while both my husband and I were out of town scared me a little...(I've said it before and I'll say it again: I have "letting go" issues.) But in the end I decided it would be good for me to just let him do his thing...plus I really wanted to go! So I asked him if it was okay if I went (he looked at me like "why wouldn't it be okay?")...and I begged him to drive extra carefully (to which he replied, "yes, Mom...just because you're out of town, I'm suddenly going to start driving recklessly...because that's the way my teenage mind works")...and yesterday morning I even reminded him one more time to PLEASE DRIVE CAREFULLY (to which he replied, "I'll be fine, Mom"...and THEN, he spontaneously gave me a hug! Yes, he's a good boy!). And after a 5:45 a.m. workout, followed by a dog walk, and writing 900 words on my murder mystery, off I went!

We started at the Waterloo Center for the Arts. I'd never been there before. What a cool place! I was kicking myself for never taking my kids there when they were little...until I found out the really cool stuff has only been there for three years.

As you can see, big kids can have fun there, too:

That's me and Jeni above...and here's the rest of our traveling party (Cheryl Kolar, who is a retired school media specialist and Sharron McElmeel, retired teacher, media specialist, author, and tireless promoter of children's books and children's book authors). They're clearly the more dignified members of our group (and yes, we pretty much forced them to pose for a Kodak moment):

This next photo was much easier to get. What are the odds that one of the people working at the Waterloo Center for the Arts was a former student of Sharron's the year she STUDENT TAUGHT? And what are the odds we'd even find that out?

After visiting with her for a while, we moved on to the Painted Pages exhibit.

This picture is for my friend susanwrites. While I'm lucky enough to know both Jeni and Susan in person, they only know each other online. Jeni illustrated Susan's Enrique Esparza and the Battle of the Alamo...so I had Jeni pose by Susan's favorite illustration:

And here are some more samples of Jeni's work from the exhibit (is she amazingly talented or what?):

As you can see, there was also a hands on component to this exhibit. They had all the books there for people to read and lots of activities for the kids. Here's Jeni with the story box from her Anasi and the Box of Stories: A West Aftrican Folktale:

It was really fun to play--I mean LOOK AROUND in here (though the Waterloo Center for the Arts SERIOUSLY needed to play something other than Swan Lake in there...or, at the very least, they needed to play a longer segment of it. I don't think we were there any longer than most people would be...).

From there we went to dinner at Montage, which, if you're ever in Cedar Falls is a FABULOUS restaurant (the cute young girl with us is Sharron's granddaughter):

And then we headed over to the reception at the Hearst Center, where only the TV people were allowed to take pictures. But there was wine, cheese and crackers, a couple of desserts, a violin/electric guitar duo (who did NOT play the same music over and over) and original children's book art. I spent a lot of time reading books that each piece came from (yes, they had all the books there, too) and talking books with complete strangers. There's nothing like being surrounded by children's book people for an evening.

If you love children's books, it's absolutely worth the trip! But the reception is over, so don't go alone. Take some children's book people with you. Children's books are meant to be shared!

At one point in the evening Sharron asked if this exhibit inspired me to write more picture books. Yeah, it kind of did. For a little while anyway. But I am more of a novelist than a picture book writer.

BTW, when I arrived home at 10:00pm, the teenager was not only home safe and sound...he was baking a cake for his math club. And not just any cake...a devil's food cake with caramel, butterfinger candy bars and whipped cream (recipe courtesy of my soul sista, Wendy).

NaNoWriMo Day 1

I had a moment of What?-Am-I-CRAZY-Trying-NaNoWriMo-Again this morning. In fact, if I'd heard about PiBoIdMo just a few hours earlier than I did, I may have abandoned the whole NaNoWriMo idea altogether and signed up for PiBoIdMo instead. Even though everyone says picture books are a tough sell right now.

While I've been outlining and planning my YA murder mystery for the past couple of months, the book isn't outlined or planned as well as I'd hoped it would be by now. I don't know my characters as well as I'd hoped, either. And I've already discussed my letting go issues in this blog. Yet despite all that negativity, I somehow managed to write 1938 words today.

Also, something weird happened while I was writing.

I'm normally a very methodical writer. For the most part, my characters don't talk to me...they don't take over my plot. There's no "magic" in writing for me...it's just basic B.I.C. (Butt in Chair)

The hardest part of writing for me (well, after letting go) is staring at the blank screen when I'm beginning a new project. The beginning has to be just right before I can really dig in.

I had a general idea where this book was going to start. I knew what the opening scene was. But I didn't have a good first line.

So I just started writing today. I wrote exactly 528 words of pure DRECK...when all of a sudden the perfect first line just appeared. Like magic. I think that's what's supposed to happen when you sign up for NaNoWriMo. It just never happened for me before because I couldn't let go. I was also writing to contract last time...I attempted to write my Yes, I Know the Monkey Man during NaNoWriMo a few years ago...and I ended up veering from my outline so far that I felt I had to give my editor a new outline, which she didn't like. She wanted me to go back to my old outline...and that was pretty much the end of NaNoWriMo for me.

But this time I'm not under contract. I can write whatever I want. Even if it's crap. No one ever has to see this manuscript.

One day down, twenty-nine to go. (Or is that 1938 words down, 48,062 to go?)

I'm also determined to lose five pounds this month. That means that for every 10,000 words I write, I need to lose one pound. I wonder which is going to be easier? The 50,000 words or the 5 pounds?

More things I thought I'd never do...

So I never thought I'd join a health club...and I did that yesterday (blogged about it, too). Here's something else I never thought I'd do: sign up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) again. And guess what I did today? I signed up for NaNoWriMo.

I have actually attempted NaNoWriMo once before (back in 2007). It did not go well. I simply couldn't let go and write. But some good came out of that experience. A bunch of people in my children's writer's book discussion group signed up for NaNoWriMo, too. I'm not sure if any of us actually succeeded at producing a 50,000 word manuscript that November, but we found we enjoyed writing together. When NaNoWriMo rolled around again the following year, none of us wanted to actually do the official commit-to-writing-a-50,000-word-manuscript, but we really wanted to write together again. So we became the "NanoREBELS." We set our own goals and got together to write just like the people who were doing NaNoWriMo. But when November ended, we kept going. And we've been writing together twice a week (sometimes more often!) ever since.

It takes me a long time to write a first draft. Longer than it should. Once I have a draft, I'm a very happy writer because then I have something to work with. I can revise, revise, revise...until my editor tells me I can't revise anymore (and even then I've been known to try and sneak a few extra changes in).

Much as I love revision, you'd think I could spit out a draft quickly just so I could get to the revision, but I am so much of a perfectionist that I have to get each and every sentence right (even though I KNOW I'm going to change that sentence again later) before I move on to the next.

I've wondered if there's help for me? Can I somehow teach myself to let go and write a quick first draft?

I've always wanted to write YA mystery/suspense novels...but I've never done it. Every time I set out to write YA, it becomes middle grade. (Do You Know the Monkey Man was originally a YA novel...and yeah, some libraries do file it in the YA section. But third graders read it. Much as I want it to be YA, it's upper middle grade.)

But I've been plotting out a YA murder mystery off and on the last couple of months. And now I've got some time before I need to get the next Buddy Files book turned in, so I'm going to see if I can spit out a draft in the month of November.

I think the key to succeeding at NaNoWriMo is to have a pretty good idea of what the story is about. I don't have as much planned out as I'd hoped to by now...but I have my beginning. I have my ending. I have a few critical scenes in between. And I'm hoping the rest will come to me. If not in the next three days, then while I'm writing.

Monday's the day...ready or not, I start writing!

Writers must exercise!

I did something today that I said I was never going to do...I joined a health club! I don't like health clubs. I'm not a sweaty gym sort of person. I'm a take a long walk or take a long bike ride sort of person. I'm actually pretty good about getting exercise (I'd even go so far as to say I'm a little obsessed about my exercise). And thanks to my husband's mostly vegetarian/vegan diet, my eating habits aren't all that bad (though I do have a weakness for chocolate).

But I've gained weight.

And because my preferred forms of exercise (with the exception of Nia) tend to be lower body intensive, I have almost zero upper body strength.

I was actually pretty heavy ten years ago. I'm not going to tell you how heavy...I'm just going to say I was heavy. I took the weight off just by walking. A lot. No dieting. (I don't do well with deprivation.) I'm still walking...but I'm gaining weight. I don't want to get "pretty heavy" again.

So...don't laugh...I joined Curves.

I remember going to Curves with my mother-in-law when I visited her (because, 1) like I said, I'm obsessed with my exercise, and 2) I actually enjoy hanging out with my mother-in-law)...and surprise, surprise! I liked it. I've considered joining for years...but resisted because, well...it sort of seemed like a health club for old people. And...I like to exercise outside.

But I caught a look at myself in the mirror and realized I'm not exactly young. (Ha! Or THIN!) I managed to talk some friends into joining with me (we already write together, eat together, travel together, do water aerobics together, jog together, read/discuss books, talk/e-mail all the time, and go to the dog park...why not do this, too?). And this particular Curves offers Nia classes and Zumba classes (which I've never actually tried before, but I like to dance, so I'll probably like it). That was a huge deciding factor.

Apparently I have 15-18 pounds to lose. (I forgot how many inches.) Not that I'm obsessing about numbers. Because you're not supposed to do that when you take up an exercise/weight loss plan.

I also told the lady at Curves that I'm not giving up chocolate! I can cut it back, but I'm not giving it up. Just so we're clear...

Wish me luck!