Monthly Archives: September 2013

It’s weird. For reals.


Kid-lit writers hate it. Because we’re dreamers, we want our books to be classics, the novels kids will be forced to read in 2050 and hate every minute of it. Slang gives your novel an expiration date.

Me being weird.

Me being weird.

Slang also sounds wrong in dialogue. Dude, it was so bomb! Snap! Boom! Whatevs. Middle-grade kids aren’t sophisticated slangers like teens. For reals. The young characters’ natural language is tricky to capture.

My nine-year-old daughter and her friends are just picking up slang, and they make a perfect writer’s study group. Their word is weird. It’s so weird. She’s weird. You’re weird. That class is weird. It’s … weird. Why is she so weird? I spent three minutes in the car with two girls and heard weird at least a dozen times. Maybe more.

The kids all want to be the same, so to them, weird actually means different. I took on the challenge. I told them weird was good. I said, Who wants to be like everyone else? I want to be interesting. I want to be myself. We should appreciate weirdness.

And they said, that’s weird.

They’re not ready to see weird as fascinating, interesting, and thought-provoking. I thought about explaining the concept to them 80s style. Stop wiggin’ out and just veg. Weird is mondo cool, totally tubular. I kid you not.

But I already knew their response.


Job? What job?

The thing about a home office is you’re working from home, which is really just a roofed container for problems.  Since you’re working from you home, you have the time (grrr …) and flexibility (grrr …) to deal with problems.

Household problems are occupational hazards that threaten your writing routine, should you have a writing routine.

The food-wasting culprit. Doesn't Maytag know people are starving in China?

The food-wasting culprit. Doesn’t Maytag know people are starving in China?

My recent list:

One: Remember when TV’s lonely Maytag repairman had no repairs on Maytag’s products?  Remember how he’d dream of something, anything, going wrong with a Maytag appliance, just so he could crawl out of his Maytag hole and see the sun again?

Times have changed. Our Maytag refrigerator crapped out after six months, which led to multiple phone calls, cycling through phone menus, and waiting on hold.

Turns that little Maytag fella’s a happy, busy boy these days. He’s booked weeks out, engaging in refrigerator-repair frivolity. Maytag’s customer service rep said “Our warranty means we will service your refrigerator. It does not mean you will get same-day service.” She also said, “So you’d like to speak to a manager? I’ll leave a message and your call will be returned within three business days.”

Two: Express Scripts is the massive RX mail-order company trying to stampede local pharmacies with claims of speed and efficiency. When they use the name “express,” they fail to explain it’s the pony express. And when they outright lost my medication, they blamed UPS. Then UPS blamed them. And then it was my fault, the doctor’s fault, the other insurance company’s fault and even my stepdaughter’s fault for being on the same family account. I’m surprised the words “Obama Care” weren’t uttered.

More phone calls, more phone-menu cycling, more waiting on hold. I talked to Chris, Jane, Lynn and many more reps who all had different ways of blaming me and UPS.

Ultimately Walgreens was the hero, figuring out how to the cover the RX gap until Express Scripts got its act together. (I pictured the ES warehouse janitor sweeping the floor and finding my bottle near the rat bait.)

And the others, no details needed:

  • Dealing with the principal regarding my daughter’s ninja performance on the bus.
  • Planning a birthday party for the bus ninja.
  • Coaching the bus ninja through her first real social crisis.
  • Dodging volunteer requests for the bus ninja’s new school activity.
  • Figuring out my role on a new venture: the Friends of the Library Board.

So today, I write and eat foods not requiring refrigeration. But at least I write.

Happiness is an email from Arkansas

The Arkansas Library Association picked Little Rock Girl, 1957: How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration to receive the 2013 Arkansiana Award for best Juvenile/YA book.

I received the email last week, and I’m still doing the happy dance. The association’s annual conference is next month in Hot Springs. My travel budget’s low, so I won’t be attending the awards ceremony. But I’ll be there in spirit.


Workers Comp, Part 2

Me. My boots. A toe not made for walkin'.

Me. My boots. A toe not made for walkin’.

Last week, I bragged about working from home and freedom from sick-day policies.

Oh, that karma. She’s one for handing out lessons, isn’t she?

Last night, I walked into my bedroom, my body just a little … askew. I’d been dancing with my daughter to the song she loves to hate, “Never Gonna Give You Up,” from 80s dude Rick Astley.

So I walked through the bedroom door, still springing from 80s dance music, and WHAM. The toe thing. Not the big toe, which has a three-second gap between OMG and actual pain. No, the baby toe. No pain gap with the baby toe. Just instant lightning bolts to the brain’s pain center; then throbbing-burning-aching-swelling-turning colors.

Then came the swearing, words I never wanted my daughter to hear from me. She should learn those things from the bus stop or her father.

So the toe is swollen and gross, and since I realize readers might be enjoying breakfast, description shall cease.

When you work from your home office-closet, you get sick days galore. But no workers comp.

And, yes, I was an author at work. Dancing to an awful 80s tune with my daughter is basic research into the behaviors and preferences of my readers.

If my toe is broken, can I write off the medical bill on my taxes? Or is that an invitation for more karma, the nasty karma that brings tax audits?

Hmmm … ice and Advil. Karma’s cure.

“She said,” said he

I forget her name.

She was a college classmate returning from an internship where she learned “hands-on” media relations at a real PR shop, some place in Wisconsin where the news never stopped and jaded journalists had to be “worked.” Oshkosh. Or maybe Ashwaubenon.

She was back from the city, back in the student newsroom and ready to share everything she learned from people with an eye for good writing. Not stuff we’d heard from professors, God no, but from the people who cut their teeth every day on the bones of news-hungry journalists. The real-world public relations team plus one, the star intern.

She tossed her hair and delivered the first lesson: We students need to learn about the word said, as in its placement.

She critiqued reporting from The Pioneer Press. “Really, people,” she snorted, “quotes need to end the same way. It’s Director John Smith said, not said Director John Smith! Really, people, you should hear how we laughed at that kind of thing in the office.”

We. She counted herself among a professional we. And she tossed her hair again, which she probably learned from her hands-on PR experience because our professors did not teach hair tossing.

I was a pure journalism student, and the purists considered public relations the Dark Side of the Force. And I would never go to the Dark Side, even if reporters didn’t place said correctly, even if Darth Vader was my father or a cousin twice removed.

A year later, I got a hands-on job at a hands-on newspaper, tossed into that group of people who sometimes misplaced the word said. I wondered if the hair-tossers at the PR office laughed at us my co-workers.

Soon, perhaps my first day, I discovered the difference between PR gurus and PR hair tossers. How? Because we got hair-tosser press releases, with appropriately placed saids, once or twice or thirty times a day:

Dear Food Science Reporter,

How sweet is this news?! Chemical Food Solutions Inc.™ is unveiling a tasty new chocolate additive for the nation’s chocoholics! Thanks to Chemical Food Solutions Inc.,™ your readers will drink up  the drinkable form of our better-than-chocolate chocolate while they read you’re (sic) newspaper. After all, chocolate is a favorite food group!

“The additive has real potential to tickle tastebuds across the country,” Chemical Food Solutions Inc.’s Interim Associate Director of External Marketing and Communications John Smith said.

And that was followed by a couple pages of blah blah blah.

Here’s what would really happen when a press release like that arrived: The Food Science Reporter aka obit writer would pass it around the newsroom so everyone could share a nice morning laugh.

But let’s pretend. Let’s say the hair-tosser kind of press release actually got ink in my newspaper. (It couldn’t actually get ink in my newspaper, but try really, really hard to pretend.)

So, grumpy, hung-over Frank “Frankie-Prankie” “Frankfarter” “Frankenstink” Jones gets the release on his desk and uses it to wipe up a coffee spill.

Meanwhile, the news editor zigzags through the newsroom pleading for copy. “We’ve got a Texas-sized news hole, and what do I have for tomorrow? Jed’s story on corn prices being the same as yesterday. Eric’s column on the color of the new stage curtain at the high school. And a feature piece already headlined: ‘Gingerbread: When Does it Expire?’ Hmm. Nobody seems to be claiming a byline for that.”

Crime guy Robb says, “I got nothin’. Nobody is robbing nothin’ these days.”

Frank waves the press release. “If you promote me to Food Services Reporter, I can get you 20 inches on a new chocolate additive.”

“Absolutely,” the news editor says. “You’ll still be whatever it says on your business card, and you’ll probably take a pay cut, but definitely cough up 25 inches on that chocolate story, plus three photos. By the way, Shelley called in sick so you’ll also be covering tonight’s special assessment hearing for the city’s inflow and infiltration task force.”

Poor Frankfarter.

He didn’t have a PR internship, but he did get a journalism degree. In this forced exercise, here’s two options he would have considered for that quote.

1. “The additive has real potential to tickle tastebuds across the country,” a spokesperson said in a prepared statement.


2. Chemical Food Solutions, Inc., released a statement touting its new product. “The additive has real potential to tickle tastebuds across the country,” said John Smith, a spokesperson for the company.

That’s an A+, Frankie Prankie

So why the long story today? Because last night I had a dream about the hair-tosser. I remembered (or made up) every detail. Her hair, her big teeth and big ego, and the way she laughed at the Pioneer Press from our tiny student newsroom.

This rambling post should make a point that there are no absolutes in writing, I say.

And it should be much, much shorter, say I.

But mostly, it’s driving me crazy that I can’t remember her name.

It’s just sick


Yes, I’m sick. I’m a sick work-from-home writer with no real employer and no sick days.

But wait!

I can call in sick whenever I want because there’s no one to call! Hello? Hello? It’s Shelley, and I’m sick. Hello?

Sure, I won’t get paid for today, but I already wasn’t getting paid for today. This works out beautifully, don’t you think?

In all sincerity, I hope the nation’s sick workers aren’t in their office buildings, throwing up in stall number five, sixth floor, next to the janitor’s closet. I hope they’re not struggling through the day because they’ve already booked the year’s last sick day for a Twins game. But if you are puking in stall number five, know that I’ll be thinking about you, in my home, from bed number one.

I’m small in Japan

I got the style but not the grace
I got the clothes but not the face
I got the bread but not the butter
I got the winda but not the shutter

But I’m big in Japan I’m big in Japan But heh I’m big in Japan

“Big in Japan.” From Tom Wait‘s 1999 album Mule Variations.

Thank you, Internet, for allowing artists to be “big” anywhere. Last night I learned my new kid nonfiction book Girls Rule! is big in Indonesia. How big? The Indonesian online bookstore site says, “Stock is low!”

Yup. That’s me. Almost sold out in Indonesia.

Now if I could just conquer America. Or even Japan.

The lonely bookshelf

Empty swings ... a metaphor for kids growing up. How sad is that?

Empty swings … a metaphor for kids growing up. How sad is that?

My kid goes back to school today.

We had a book-filled summer, and that’s what I’ll miss the most. Among those moments:

Swapping middle-grade books.

You’ll like this one, Mom, because the mom’s a writer.

You’ll like this one, hon, because there’s a lot of math in it.

Discussing history through books and watching her grasp issues. Her perspective is fading – slowly –  from black and white to gray.

Mom! Why didn’t African Americans just leave the south and move here where there’s no segregation and racism?

Getting cozy in my bed and reading different books, stopping each other to quote favorite lines. (Trust me, she has too many favorites to record here. They’re all from Lemony Snicket.)

Guessing the plot.

Mom, is Marley going to kill someone?

Honey, main characters in kid-lit rarely commit murder.

Why not?

Busting her as she sneaks extra reading time at night.

Calling up the stairs to her bedroom: Sam, are you still reading?


Then why can I see light from underneath your door?

Click. Light disappears. What light?

Or …

A total Mom lie: Sam, if you’re not reading, why can I hear pages turning?

Silence. You can’t hear that.

Nope, I can’t hear that.

And hopefully my neighbors can’t hear me cry today. Total blog mush. Sorry about that.

Tomorrow I return with something dark. Meth or war or Amazon sucking the life out of indie bookstores. I promise.