Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Search for Guests Is On!

Harsh review

I ran across this on Amazon. It's a review of the John Steinbeck novel The Pearl by a student forced to read it for class. Says she: "Dumb. Short. Kills off people. Retarded ending."

Well, at least it's short. Here's what the same student had to say about To Kill a Mockingbird: "Long. Boring. Kills off whole reason for book."

To sum up, if you want to be a successful author, don't write books that are long, short, boring, retarded, or kill off anything.

A Challenge

I know a fair number of children's authors and I thought it would be fun to have one or more of them make a guest appearance on this blog. Trouble is, I'm horribly sensitive. What if I asked an author and she said something like, "Stick it in your piehole, loser!"

That would make me feel very bad.

So, I'm going to be tricky. I'll guilt an author into appearing here. My first victim is Ruth Barshaw, author of the newly-released middle-grade novel, Ellie McDoodle, published by the fine folks at Bloomsbury. I ordered up a copy as soon as it came out and I have to say that it's terrific. Did I mention that Ruth is an artist? Okay, she is, so Ellie McDoodle not only contains a fair number of words, it contains many pictures, all of them drawn by Ruth herself. You knew that the book is an illustrated diary kept by Ellie, right? Okay, it is, so now you know.

In fact, if you happen to have spawn of both genders, you could buy Ellie McDoodle and Diary of a Wimpy Kid (mentioned here last week), and then you've got an illustrated diary from a boy perspective and one from a girl perspective. I'll let you figure out which is which because I don't want to take all the mystery out of your life or anything.

My spawn are both boys. My mother once gave them Barbies for some strange reason. An hour later, both Barbies had been decapitated and the heads buried somewhere on a golf course. The bodies were given to the family dog, which chewed them for a while and then threw up on the carpet.

Back to Ruth's book. Ellie McDoodle (played by the late David Janssen) is a pediatrician who gets in a horrible fight with her wife (played by Zsa Zsa Gabor or somebody) and storms out of the house. When Ellie returns, she sees a one-armed man (played by a guy whose name I can't remember) running out of her home. When Ellie goes inside, she finds that her wife is dead.

"Why, that rotten one-armed man killed my wife!" Ellie says. "Nuh uh," says Lt. Gerard (played by that one guy with wavy hair). "You did it. I'm taking you in."

"Nuts to that," Ellie says, but she is put on trial, found guilty, and sentenced to death. Then she's on a train on her way to get executed and the train crashes and Ellie gets away. All of the episodes that follow are about Ellie trying to find the one-armed man while staying out of the clutches of Lt. Gerard. At the end, Ellie finds the one-armed man on a roller coaster or Ferris wheel and is finally cleared of the murder charges.

Oh. I seem to have strayed into describing the plot of The Fugitive, which ran on TV for four seasons back in the sixties. Make no mistake, it was a great show, although I never watched it much since I was really little at the time. I liked cartoons and stuff. And Hogan's Heroes. Now that was an awesome show. Did you know that Robert Clary (who played LeBeau) was actually in a German concentration camp? I met him once and he showed me the numbers tattooed on his forearm. McHale's Navy was also great. I just bought the season one set. Can't wait to watch it!

Dang, I've strayed again. I guess Ruth Barshaw will have to make a guest appearance on the next issue of this blog and straighten it all out. Heh.

Email of the day

Dear Dr. Missy,

I want to write a Christmas story for children. Should I write it now or wait until it's really Christmastime?

Linda (not my real name)

Dear Linda,

Don't wait until Christmas! Even though it's nearly June, publishers are hard at work right now preparing holiday books. As a matter of fact, I'm working on a Christmas picture book. Check it out:

"There is time yet for you to be saved, Ebenezer Scrooge." Jacob Marley rattled the heavy chains that bound him. "You must not suffer my fate!"

"You know," Scrooge said, "I've been giving that some thought. I am a bloody creep. I'm going to do something good for a change."

"You will be visited by three spirits, Ebenezer--" Marley stopped and stared. "What did you just say?"

"I said, Jacob, my old friend, that I'm going to quit being such a relentless jerk. I'm going out first thing and donate a huge sack of money to the workhouse. Good idea, huh?"

"No. I mean, yes, The thing is, we've got these three spirits who are going to visit you this night, The ghost of Christmas Past, the ghost of Christmas Present--"

"Ah! Christmas present! Speaking of presents, I realize you're dead, Jacob, but how about a nice pair of bolt cutters to get rid of those idiotic chains? You shall have the finest pair of bolt cutters in London, silver plated with a knob on the handle!"

"Sounds wonderful, Ebenezer, but we've gone to a lot of trouble to have these spirits visit you. You don't know how much paperwork is involved. If they show up and you've already been redeemed, there will absolute hell to pay!"

"No problem, dear Jacob. Have your spirit friends come on over. We'll lay on a gigantic spread-- roast ham, sweet potatoes, a turkey or two, some stuffing..."

"It's a lovely thought, Ebenezer, really it is. But these spririts are dead as doornails. They can't eat."

"Hmmm. That is a problem. I say, Marley, what does it mean, anyway?"

"What does life mean?" Marley asked hopefully. "See, that's where the spirits would be very handy. They could explain--"

"No, not that rot. 'Dead as a doornail'. It really makes no sense. Doornails are inanimate objects, old boy. If they had been alive at one point and then died, it might make sense. I think I'll buy a doornail factory and donate all the profits to the poor. Splendid idea!"

"Um, before you do that, do you think you could go out and kick a few orphans around, just for old times sake? The spirits would like that, it would make them feel like they had a real rotter on their hands."

"Good heavens, no! Those poor children. Well, we will soon set things right for them. While I'm at it, I've heard tell of a wonderful new doctor. I'll bet he could cure Tiny Tim. If anyone deserves to live a long, healthy life, it's that boy!"

"It won't do! It's simply won't do!" Marley's face twisted in anger. "You bloody fool! I went to a lot of time and trouble to get those spirits here, and you decide to turn into some goody-goody before they even arrive! Where's the Ebenezer Scrooge I knew and feared? Where is that heartless old coot who was despised by all?"

"Gone forever, Jacob. You have shown me the light, and I thank you for it. From now on, the name of Ebenezer Scrooge will be synonymous with good deeds and generosity. I'll think I'll go out and--"

Marley brought down the fireplace poker savagely on Scrooge's head. "I'm not getting into trouble with those spirits just because you won't cooperate. I'll just tell them you died. And you just did." Dragging his chains behind him, Marley trudged to the door. "It would have been better if I'd gone straight to hell. Damned do-gooders...."

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Letters, we get letters


My last blog entry generated a lot of traffic. I'm fairly stunned. Unfortunately, I don't go leaping out of trees all that often (once so far) so I fear this one will be a letdown. I am working on a post recounting my adventure when I got into a fistfight with a Kodiak bear. That didn't happen, but I figure I have to keep the excitement level up.

In the meantime, since I haven't been talking that much about books lately, here's this:

Book I'm currently reading: Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks (No verdict yet from this reviewer.)

Book I'm reading because it will probably do me some good: Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment by George Leonard (He makes a lot of good points so far.)

Book I just finished reading: Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (More middle grade books should be like this!)

Book I tried to find at B&N the other night but failed and had to order from Amazon: Ellie MacDoodle by Ruth Barshaw. (Ruth is a pal but she's awesome and a great artist, so check out this book and see if you don't agree.)

Book I didn't finish but will probably get to later: Martyn Pig by Kevin Brooks (Kinda morose for my taste.)

Book I bought because it has a really cool title: Dead Egotistical Morons by Mark Richard Zubro (Come on! It's a great title! Who cares what the book is about!)

Book with a cover featuring the author holding a bloody sand wedge: Alice Cooper...Golf Monster (Okay, I am a huge Alice fan and have been since forever.)

Book I'm saving because I know I'm going to love it: Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett

I have fun playing with Amazon's "Recommended for you" function. I'm trying hard to teach it what I like but it still comes up with some weird suggestions, like this one author who I think is The Worst Author In the Whole World. I'd say her name but I'd probably get yelled at.

Anyway, Amazon keeps recommending Rules by Cynthia Lord, which was a recent Newbery Honor Book. Every time I saw Cynthia's name it rang a bell but I couldn't figure out why. Yesterday I couldn't stand it anymore and typed her name into my email search box. Up popped three emails from Cynthia in 2001, when I first joined the Children's Writers list. I had no idea if I could write fiction and felt terribly insecure hanging out with a lot of published authors, but Cynthia's emails were full of compliments and encouragement. She had been reading my weird and often lengthy posts to CW and could not have been nicer.

So, I am happy that Cynthia has gone on to bigger and better things. You rock, Cynthia!

Speaking of winners, Linda Sue Park was a CW member when she won the Newbery medal for A Single Shard. In honor of the occasion, I composed the following:

Top Ten Perks of Winning the Newbery Medal:

10. One free trip to the salad bar at participating Red Lobsters

9. A metric ton of bookmarks delivered to your front door

8. Able to trash hotel rooms on world book tour and get away with it

7. Make an appearance in a WWF match as "The Iron Scribe," and the script guarantees at least one opportunity to smash Stone Cold Steve Austin over the head with a folding chair

6. Can force publisher to release anything you've written, even if it's a five volume set on the life of your favorite Teletubby, Tinky Winky

5. A free t-shirt from the Gap with the Gap logo crossed out and "Newbery Winner" written underneath

4. Mattel releases a Newbery winner action figure. Okay, so it just sits there and stares at a computer--do you have your own action figure? Hah!

3. That kid in grade school who teased you about being a bookworm? Snap your fingers and he ends up in a Jersey landfill

2. Not one, not two, but THREE bags of peanuts on every airline flight

1. Free use of the Batmobile for one year

Despite her life being turned upside-down by the Newbery win, Linda Sue immediately wrote me a nice note, which was cool. I heard she has her own version of a Top Ten list that she does at personal appearances, which is even cooler.

If you are a Newbery winner and would like to write me a nice email, please respond to this blog. I will consider other award-winning authors but it's really the big-time awards that count.

Today's email:

Dear Dr. Missy,

Why does it take so darned long to hear back from editors? I hate this!

Linda (not my real name)

Dear Linda,

Truth is, the editors are hiding a horrible secret: the publishing industry is suffering from a terrible zombie problem. This problem manifests itself in several ways. For example, say you send a manuscript to an editor and never hear back. The chances are good that the editor has been attacked by zombies, who have eaten her spine. The zombies have also shown a penchant for stealing mail. What they do with it is not known, but over the past two years, there have been an alarming number of zombie attacks on the mailrooms of major publishers. Not only do they relieve the mailroom workers of their spines, they carry off huge piles of manuscripts, hiding them in the New York City sewer system, where they are shredded by mutant alligators.

If you are worried about your manuscript, I urge you to call the editor. "I know about the mail-stealing zombies!" you should yell into the phone. "I know they are eating spines and feeding manuscripts to sewer alligators! Stop this whitewash of a major problem! The public deserves to know what is going on! Act now before the zombie problem spirals completely out of control!"

The editor will, of course, hang up on you. They don't want this horrible news getting out, but if enough of you call, they will realize that it's time to come clean.

Dr. Missy

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Facing your fears

The things we do...

I recently went out to Utah to visit my son at his school. It was a Parent's Weekend sort of thing and at one point they decided it would be nifty if we all went out and did dangerous stuff. Part of this included walking on wire, which is tough on the tootsies if you're wearing sneakers like I was. Also, walking on wire is hard!

The worst bit, however, was when my son climbed 55 feet up a tree, stood on a dinky platform, and jumped off. Oh, he had a harness on, but the harness was held by a woman who looked way too small for the job. Needless to say, my son, being a teenager, figures he's indestructible and loved every second.

Then it was my turn. My chance to bond with my son and show I could something that goes against my nature. Did I mention that I have vertigo? Did I mention I've never climbed a tree in my life? Heights are hard! As the picture of me and my butt clearly shows, I did make the climb:

And here's me hugging the hell out of the tree once I got on the platform:

What you don't see, just above the top center of the picture, is an iron ring. I was supposed to stand on the platform, think of a goal I wanted to accomplish, and then hurl myself out to grab the ring.

It's been more than two weeks now, and I still don't have the words to explain how I felt, standing there staring at that ring. I've never had that feeling before and I'm pretty sure I don't want to have it again. Maybe it was plain ol' raw fear. It was some kind of powerful, as they say around here.

Despite that, I lurched off the platform, flew for a dozen feet or so, and snagged the ring. Then the harness thing malfunctioned and I plummeted for a bit before it finally kicked in. I have a picture of that too, but I'm saving it for my autobiography.

The important bit was that my son and I shared a moment of magic, and once I hit the ground and got myself untangled from the harness, he gave me a big hug and said he was proud of me. It made me cry.

Oh, and the bruises are just now fading.


On the way home from Utah, I did a little shopping. Here's the receipt:

If you don't see anything interesting, you're not looking hard enough.

Shameless plug

Sue Corbett's MG novel, Free Baseball, is now available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Buy.com and at your favorite local bookstore. Or even a local bookstore that you loathe, a bookstore so heinous that it keeps you up at night, lying in a cold sweat as you gnash your teeth and swear vengeance. A bookstore whose very existence drains the life force from your soul and--

Okay, you get the idea. Free Baseball is available darned near anywhere, and Sue writes real good, so if you love baseball, rush out now in a buying frenzy and get yourself some Free Baseball. Even if you hate baseball, and lie awake at night in a cold sweat as you gnash your teeth and swear vengeance--dangit, I'm doing it again. Okay, the thing is, you don't have to love baseball to love this story. It's not one of those gawdawful Chip Hilton things from the '60s where people are always spitting and adjusting their cups way too much if you know what I mean and I think you do. Corbett has written herself a real good story.

Look at these reviews:

“Corbett deftly weaves a moving coming-of-age story with a sweet, satisfying conclusion.” --Kirkus Reviews

“(A) solid and satisfying story . . . readers will want to stick with the tale till the last pitch is thrown.” --Publishers Weekly

"I'm gonna read it, and I'm still the only guy in the history of baseball named Mookie." --Mookie Wilson, coach for the NY Mets

"I'm gonna read it too, and I'm still the only guy in the history of baseball named Boog." --Boog Powell, former Baltimore Oriole

"Yeah, I know my name sounds like a stripper but I'm still gonna read Free Baseball." --Coco LaBoy, former Montreal Expo and not a stripper

So there you have it. Free Baseball has entered the building. Now I'm going to go lie in bed in a cold sweat and swear vengeance, etc. etc. because I'm bitter that my book, Discount Curling, has been rejected 213 times. The fools.