Category Archives: Research

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.


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.

All he knows

During a recent family visit, I volunteered to take charge of six kids, ages 5 to 16. How could I pass this up? It was the perfect kid-lit writer’s research project and a chance to see what it’s like to be a mother of six children. (It is exhausting.)

I took pictures and notes, especially the chatter of the 5-year-old boy. He’s Hollywood cute and creative, too. His charm takes over a room. And his lips never quit moving.

This boy spouts random observations, sometimes expressed in a conversation but usually just tossed into the mix with no context at all.

These are my favorite quotes. (Maybe they’ll turn up in a future novel.) No need to wonder about context because often there wasn’t any.

He's a comedian AND a golfer. A two-for-one cutie.

He’s a comedian AND a golfer. A two-for-one cutie.

That dog was so freaky it made my eyes throw up.

(About his cold.) Everyone’s always telling me, “help, help, help” with our chickens. That’s how I got the sinuses.

On TV I heard if you eat glue you get laser eyes and turn into a monster.

(About those monsters.) Superheroes are not real, but monsters are.

Bigfoot only eats s’mores. (Looks around at amused adults.) What? A s’more is a sandwich!

(At Dairy Queen.) If you mix strawberry ice cream with vanilla, it gives you the color chocolate.

Your chest doesn’t have a brain. That’s it. That’s all I know.

The banks of dumb creek, Part Two

The teachers would agree.

The teachers would agree.

I read a list of “Rules for Teachers” at the Laura Ingalls Center in Walnut Grove. Laura was a teacher during this period. She managed to keep her job due to good whittling, reading her Bible, and never, ever forgetting the scuttle of coal.

The list — and my comments:

  1. Teachers will fill lamps and clean the chimneys each day.
  2. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s session. The bucket of water contained one scooper for drinking, ensuring whooping cough and other diseases knocked on every door in the township.
  3. Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual tastes of pupils. I like my pens very nibby.
  4. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two nights if they go to church regularly. Be sure to carry your Bible when you go a-courtin’.
  5. After ten hours in school, teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or good books. I’d recommend reading How to Form a Union in Country Schools.
  6. Women teacher (sic) who marry or engage in improper conduct will be dismissed. When women teachers marry, all their knowledge is replaced by dreams of sock darning and  salt pork.
  7. Every teacher should lay aside from each day’s pay a goodly sum. He should use his savings in his retirement years so that he will not become a burden on society. See my note in #5.
  8. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, visits the pool halls or public halls, or gets shaved in a barber shop, will give good reasons for people to suspect his worth, his intentions and his honesty. Those barber shops! Mainstays of pomade abuse and devil-may-care crew cuts.
  9. The teacher who performs his labor faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of 25 cents per week in his pay. This generosity is null and void if men teachers go a-courtin’ three days a week. Furthermore, a pay cut is warranted for clean shaves.

See why teachers unionized?