Friday, May 27, 2011

Lost in the Louvre

You simply cannot visit Paris without stopping at the Louvre. That would be a travesty!

So of course we did. And being the world's most famous museum (so say the French) with claims to being the largest there is a lot to see. So much, that it's impossible to do it all in one day.

You can follow the crowds to go see its most famous painting.

Yes, that is the Mona Lisa back there . . . if you look hard enough past the crowds.

You can see crown jewels and fun swords (though the plaques say the jewels aren't real on many of them anymore).

You can see rows upon rows of mummies.

And Sphinxes . . .

But if you aren't careful, you can easily get lost.

Which is what happened to us. And those exit signs? They really weren't very helpful. (I have to wonder if someone wasn't having some fun when they posted them because we walked the same Egyptian circle at least three times. For real.)

Anywho . . . I think that the blogosphere can be a lot like the Louvre. So many great sites out there.

You can follow the crowds and find some very useful and fun ones (Adventures in Children's Publishing, Elana Johnson's, Jen Daiker at Unedited).

If you search a little harder, you can find some real jewels (Lenny's World, Seeing Creative, Whole Latte Life).

Then there are those crazy bloggers that hold our fascination like the mummies (Carrie Harris, Chris Philips, Creepy Query Girl, Rambles and Randomness).

And in the crazy-big world that is the blogosphere, it's easy to get a little lost.

But with a little luck, you'll have made some great bloggy friends along the way. And somehow, getting lost isn't so bad when you've got them for company (NTM, aka Leigh from That's Write, Amy at The Green Bathtub, and so many others I can't list you all. Sorry! Don't hate me.)

So what blog and/or blogger would you want to get lost with? Share your favorites!

P.S. With Memorial Day, I won't be around on Monday. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Just a Spoonful of Sugar . . .

Before going to Paris, we were informed that we absolutely had to stop at Angelina's for the most amazing cup of Hot Chocolate we could ever hope to taste. Expensive, but definitely worth a visit for all you chocolate lovers out there.

So here's the deal. See those white packets behind the hot chocolate? Those are sugar packets. What no one told us was that it comes unsweetened, and that we were supposed to sweeten the hot chocolate to taste.

Uh huh.

Let's just say that first sip was a doozy.

I kindof wish all those people had mentioned that part.

So swinging this around to writing (or whatever activity you love), what extremely helpful advice would you give to a green beginner?

Monday, May 23, 2011

This vs. That: Blue vs. Black Ink

So I can only assume that ink color isn't really that important to you based on the number of votes. OR, you were all completely distracted by my announcement that I was going to Paris. Which must be the case, because ink color is one of the big questions in my book.

I mean, someone who chooses Blue ink over Black is making a clear statement that they have chosen the road less traveled. And those who choose Green are all about flaunting their non-conformist attitude. Red reveals a Type A personality, and Purple . . . well, they probably saw a little too much of a certain dinosaur who shall remain nameless.

So much at stake. So here we go . . .

Total votes: 14

Black: 9 votes; 65%
Blue: 3 votes; 21%
Purple: 1 vote; 7%
Red: 1 vote; 7%

I confess, I went black.

So what does this say about me? See, black goes with everything, and it's sensible and to the point. Not flashy or showy, but it does its job, day-in, day-out, with only a little complaining when the sun shines too hard. Then it turns purple, and we already know what that means.

My, I'm feeling a bit rambly today. I'd better move on quick!

So the next important question?

Star Wars


Star Trek

Friday, May 20, 2011

What I'm Glad I Didn't Know

We often talk about what we wish we knew way back when. Back before we started writing.

But here are some things I'm glad I didn't know:
  • That I would rewrite that first chapter seventy or so times.
  • That after rewriting that first chapter seventy or so times, I still wouldn't like it.
  • That ~~ years later, I still wouldn't be published.
  • That rejection letters never stop hurting.
  • That I'd look back at that first book and blush at how horrible it was.
  • That when your own mother doesn't like your book, it's a bad sign.
  • That my writing habit would attempt a coup on my life. ;)
  • That my siblings wouldn't appreciate being featured in my books.
And finally, at the top of my list . . . I'm glad I didn't know writing was so hard. Because as ignorant as I was, I sure enjoyed writing that first book.

So what are you glad you didn't know when you started?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Time to Let Go

After months of not playing, I recently sat down at the piano. But when I tried to play, my fingers were rusty and they stumbled over the notes. Determined to get it right, I concentrated on each finger. I focused on where it should be, its every movement---but my playing only seemed to get worse. It was not fun.

Finally, I let go.

I stopped trying to over-think each movement and let my well-practiced fingers take over. And there it was. The music I remembered. The flow of notes, the tricky rhythms, the octave jumps. It all came back.

And it felt good.

Perhaps with writing it's the same. When we get stuck and don't know where to go next, sometimes we try to force the issue. Perhaps we're still in editing mode from revising the last piece. Perhaps we're simply determined to get it right the first time. Perhaps we're worried that we'll never write something as good as Jane Doe who just won a boatload of awards. Whatever it is, it is NOT fun.

That is when it is time to let go. Let your practiced hand and heart take over. Remember why you ever started writing in the first place. Forget about the rules you're supposed to be following. That can be worked out later. Forget about everyone else who would tell you you're doing it wrong. Just let go, and that is when the magic happens. The story unfolds. The characters come alive. And writing becomes fun again.

And man does it feel good.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Big Reveal

I've held you in suspense for two weeks now, and I'm sure you're all dying of curiosity to know the make and model of the license plate. Dying.


I love that so many of you instantly thought of the Zoom! Zoom! Zoom! commercial. My mind never went there, but apparently the car's owner's did. It was indeed a Red Mazda.

I thought surely someone would guess the make, but alas, no one.

So, want to see the picture?

A red Mazda MX5 Convertible. Beautiful piece of work, isn't it?

Stina Lindenblatt from Seeing Creative was the first one to guess Red Mazda, so I hearby proclaim her as our winner! A Lion bar will be on its way post haste. :)

And just for fun, here's my license plate of the day:


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Pre-Published Author Classroom Visits?

Yesterday I read an article on classroom visits and workshops in my SCBWI quarterly magazine. In the back of my mind, I started planning what I would do for mine . . . until my brain stopped me.

But you aren't a published author yet. You're just wasting your time.

I laughed at myself. I've already done a classroom visit, I told my brain. On getting published.

Yes, you read that right. Janet Sumner Johnson, an unpublished author, has done a classroom visit on getting published.

I can hear your questions clammoring through the blogosphere, so I will answer them:
  • Did you get paid? No.
  • Did you claim to be an expert? No.
  • Didn't the students question your authority? No.
  • And why not? Because I did my homework. I knew what I was talking about, and most importantly I knew more than the students. ;) (And I brought my source reference with me and showed it to them.)
  • How did you have the gall? Oh yeah, you in the back . . . I heard your question. I was asked, and I have a hard time saying 'no,' so I did it.
  • But why? Why would they ask you of all people to do a classroom visit? Connections. Yep. It's all about connections. My dad is a teacher and likes to brag about me to all his acquaintances(*blushes at the thought*). When he told the writing teacher that I had just finished writing a book (the first draft, mind you), and was working to get it published (*blushes again at the thought*) she asked if I would present to her class on how to get published.
  • Weren't you scared out of your mind? *wipes tears of laughter from my eyes* Scared doesn't even begin to describe it. But that made me prepare that much harder, and you know what? I'm really glad that I didn't let a little fear hold me back. It was a fabulous experience, and I learned tons, tons, tons more than any of those students did.
  • So what is the point of your post? My point, dear friends, is that we sometimes hold ourselves back from doing things because we don't think we know enough. We don't think we're ready. We don't think we have the cred. There are so many excuses, really.
We classify classroom visits as something only the published can do. But why? True, we can't talk about what it's like to be published. We won't have a beautifully bound book to hold up and show the students. But we do have experience and knowledge.

I know many of you could write a query with one arm tied behind your back (as long as it's not the one attached to your writing hand). Some of you can spew grammar rules like you study the Chicago every day. Some of you know the best way to pinpoint agents in your genre. It may sound basic, but it's knowledge hard-earned. Knowledge that others would love to gain.

Okay, I've said my say. But what do you  think? Should pre-published authors look for opportunities to do classroom visits? Why or why not?

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Mary Poppins Mother's Day

So, my Mother's Day didn't go exactly as one might hope. The eve of, I picked up my crying daughter from her crib, only to get covered in diarreah. The morning of, I woke up feeling like a piano was sitting on my chest,with a yucky cold. I hated to miss church because on Mother's Day not only do all the children sing to you, but the men all bring these marvelous treats for the women to eat during the women's meeting. Furthermore, I was supposed to pick someone up, and help with the children's meeting, so it was actually a lot of work not to go.

My husband couldn't help because he'd been working all night and needed to sleep before working all night again. After debating the possibilities, I finally concluded I really couldn't (and shouldn't!) go to church.  THANKFULLY I made this decision, because just as we would have been in the car on the way, my 4-year-old threw up. Yes, it truly was quite the day.

So when I got my two sickies down to sleep, I proposed to my 7-year-old that we watch Mary Poppins. I loved this movie as a kid (I even learned how to say Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious backwards - Docious-ali-expi-istic-fragi-cali-rupus, in case you were wondering). My son would never watch it before, but since we don't usually watch movies on Sunday, he jumped at the chance.

This time was the charm. He loved it! And of course I loved it all over again. I even had to watch the "making of" portion in the Bonus Features. That's when my son lost interest.

Still, I found it fascinating. Did you know that Walt Disney spent 20 years trying to get the rights to film this movie? P.L. Travers didn't want to see her work desecrated by Hollywood. But Disney had fallen in love with the book, and he never stopped trying. He just knew that it was something worth pursuing. (Sound familiar?)

And did you know that Julie Andrews only accepted the part of Mary Poppins after she failed to get the role of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady? If you recall, that part went to the inimitable Audrey Hepburn. But guess who won the Oscar for Best Actress that year? I'll give you a hint: it didn't go to Audrey Hepburn. Ms. Andrews' amazing success in Mary Poppins only came because she was first rejected. (Funny enough, she actually thanked the producer of My Fair Lady in her acceptance speech at the Oscars!)

So I won't slam the morals down your throat, I'm sure you can see how these great stories might apply to us. But I will show you the picture my son drew while I was watching the "making of."

Recognize it? If you don't, go watch it again. If you've never seen it . . . well hurry and rectify that! Mary Poppins is an inspirational film. So simple, yet so complex. And even though my day may not have been all one might hope, I'm okay with that. Somehow, after seeing this movie with my son, I don't feel so gloomy. And that's the best a storyteller can hope for, isn't it?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Reader's Digest-esque Humor

One of my favorite bathroom reads is the Reader's Digest "humor" sections. I have even submitted one or two in my time (*sigh* not published though). So today, wishing to offer up a good laugh, I present for your reading pleasure my own humorous short:

After asking my boys to clean up their room for the um-teenth time, I told them I'd help if they hurried. Of course, I found myself cleaning up on my own.
Well, I'd had enough! Hands on hips, and stern look on face, I declared, "I am NOT the clean-up fairy!"
My boys weren't even phased. My oldest just glared back. "Then why are we the clean-up boys?"

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Perseverence Pays Off

The Arc de Triomphe is another signature site of Paris.

This monument was commissioned in 1806 by Napoleon to honor his great victories as a general. He had proclaimed himself Emperor in 1804, and he was revered by the people for basically bringing greatness back to France after the horrors of the Revolution.

Construction began in 1809, and before it was finished, Napoleon was forced to abdicate (1814) by the French generals, and was banished from France not once, but twice (first to Elba, then to St. Helena after attempting a comeback).

Now you would think that given the circumstances, the French might have decided not to finish the monument, or at the very least dedicate it to someone else, but no. When construction was completed 19 years (19 years!!!) after Napoleon's death, they had his body exhumed from his grave in St. Helena and paraded under the Arc on the way to its final resting place in the chapel of the Hotel des Invalides.

Turns out that many French people still saw him as a hero, despite his downfall. And in fact, the epitaph on his tombstone simply says "Here lies . . . " because they couldn't agree with the British about what to call him: hero vs. tyrant?

So, if you aren't yet bored to tears over another history lesson, here is my writing analogy . . . so many to choose from with Napoleon.

But I choose to focus on perseverence.The French saw the building of the Arc de Triomphe to the end despite the obstacles they faced. Surely there must have been a moment where they questioned whether or not the monument to a leader fallen from grace was worth the resources it was taking. But they moved forward, and their work is beautiful. It is universally admired.

As writers, we too will face obstacles. We will find numerous reasons to quit and wash our hands of this tyrant that binds us down. But if we quit, we'll never know the works we might have produced. The influence we might have had over countless others. I imagine that other European nations mocked the French for their folly, but not anymore.

So finish those Arcs! Fight the good fight! And never give up! (And I do believe that this was basically Napoleon's philosophy, too.) ;)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Extreme Parallel Parking

You knew it had to come up . . . but darned if I didn't see even one personalized plate in France. Yeah, I think that's just not done there. Probably because the French spend all their energy learning to park in impossible places:

Why bother thinking up a creative 8-letter (or whatever it is in France) commentary about yourself when no one will be able to see the plate half the time anyway?

Actually, I'm wondering if personalized plates are an exclusively American thing. I'd love it if all of you who live in other countries would confirm or correct my opinion. (Please!)

Anywho . . . since there are more than enough creative plates here in Virginia to make up for it, I've decided on a compromise. Here's how it will work:
  • I will post a super fun license plate I found here, in the U.S.
  • You will guess the color, make, and model of the car (like usual).
  • The first person to get all three right wins a French candy bar. A Lion bar to be exact. 
Good, yes? Because I have to say that I'm sacrificing a lot by sharing my limited supply of Lion bars with you. You can't get these in the U.S., and they are SUPER yummy!

So on to the important stuff. I saw this car parked at the grocery story, and I was grinning the whole time I was there. You may laugh, but as a children's writer, I'm trying to take lessons from my audience. We should all let something so simple make us happy.

And, the license plate du jour:


On your mark. Get set. Guess!

P.S. If you haven't voted in the latest This vs. That, please head on over before I tally the results. :)