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Still MY FAVORITE PUMPKIN EVER.

Carved by my dear friend, author John Burridge and family.

Is it trick-or-treat time yet?!?

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Happy Halloween!

The Alphabet Players wish you all a safe & happy Halloween.

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DC Sunset, post-Sanity

While FGB and I did not attend the Rally for Sanity today in DC (despite my hardcore optimism and support for sanity, I’m still not a huge fan of crowds), we did arrive in its aftermath to meet my dearest Leanna Renee Hieber and see some sights. I don’t make it into the city very much — I should really try to do it more often. Especially on nights like this. Only with a better camera than my iPhone.

Please enjoy these photos from our nation’s capitol.

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Just Because

Ariell posted something on her Facebook yesterday that reminded me of a poster I got in high school (and still own) by SARK. I had it up on my wall for years, and it inspired me. It even inspired the Beauty & Dynamite trailer. On a lark, I went looking for an image of that poster. Happily, it wasn’t hard to find.

I think I need to  hang this up again.

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Two Days!

Two more days until Halloween! Which means that — barring a Caldecott Award or something equally as awesome — only two more days for me to bombard the world with all the awesomeness that’s been showered upon AlphaOops: H is for Halloween.

It’s no lie — I really have enjoyed visiting all these review sites that pop up and seeing what they’re all about. I’ve enjoyed reading the reviews too — which, in the main, seem to be positive. The only thing anyone can find that’s “bad” to say about the book is that it might be confusing, difficult, even inappropriate, for young children because the alphabet is not in order. It’s been considered as possibly not a good read-aloud. One review (I think this was on Amazon) even mentioned that the costumes were not appropriate because children today do not dress up as monsters.

These reviews make me chuckle.

If you read my Big Idea over at Scalzi’s blog back in July when the book officially launched, you know my stance on alphabet books (in a nutshell: I think they are boring, self-serving drivel). I knew the alphabet as soon as I learned to speak (see pictured evidence above). Most kids do. They’ll rattle off the alphabet song at the drop of a hat and not even realize it’s the same tune as “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” How old were you when you learned the alphabet?

Obviously, I don’t think mixing up the letters a bit harms children, or their ability to learn, in any way. If anything, I hope they find the alphabet a little less boring. I hope they identify with the letters as characters and think of them as just another crazy little family. They are certainly nothing to be scared of.

This summer, when I sat at the Charleston Public Library booth during Spoleto with my coloring pages and word find sheets, two types of parents passed me by. One group said, “That’s too old for you.” The other group said, “That’s too young for you.” These comments made me chuckle as well.

The truth is that, while it says 4-8 on the sales copy, that’s just a suggestion. You can read it to your two-year-old, and your ten-year-old will get some jokes the younger ones won’t. Even adults have written me fan letters, telling me they wish their corporation would embrace such out-of-the box AlphaOops-ish thinking once in a while.

AlphaOops: H is for Halloween isn’t just for kids. It’s not “just” for anybody. It’s for everybody — everybody who is in some way part of a big family, everybody who loves theatre, and everybody who loves Halloween. And who doesn’t love Halloween?

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All of these sites are great sources for fabulous kids books. If you’re a parent, teacher, or librarian, consider adding them to your bookmarks!

**Over at There’s a Book, AlphaOops: H is for Halloween is reviewed by both “Turkeybird” and his mom. Happily, both give it two thumbs up. “By far, a superior alphabet book! Not only perfect for the Halloween season, but anytime of year that you are interested in reading with a child you love. In addition to the delightfully chuckle-worthy story the illustrations are quirky and brilliant, capturing the eyes of all who read it. Blending learning with fun and beauty this is book not to miss. AlphaOops: H is for Halloween is an alphabet book every child should have on their bookshelves, helping to create a love of reading from the very beginning.” (Read the full review here.)

**Presenting Lenore features AlphaOops: H is for Halloween among other 2010 Halloween picture books, calling it both “inventive” and “charming.” (Read the full entry here.)

**Holly E. Newton at Meridian Magazine says, “I loved the first book for its creative aspect of an alphabet book that doesn’t go in the traditional alphabet order, and this book doesn’t disappoint! In fact, it might even be better because it’s so innovative.” (Read the rest of the review here.)

** The Brookline Blogsmith also mentions AlphaOops: H is for Halloween among a list of not-so-ordinary Halloween titles. (Read the full entry here.)

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Spilling Some Ink

After their Werewolves and Shape Shifters: Encounters with the Beasts Within giveaway, I was asked to do a lovely guest interview over at The Qwillery. I was given some great questions, and I had a chance to open up and answer them from the bottom of my heart.

I was so far down in the bottom of my heart, in fact, that I might have spilled a few beans while I was spilling some virtual ink. If you’re the curious type, I highly suggest you click on over here and read the interview. But save your kudos for the party!

While you’re over there, leave a comment — what’s your favorite Halloween candy? — and enter to win a copy of AlphaOops: H is for Halloween! I remember my favorites back in the day — when we dumped out our bags and saw those big, huge, orange-packaged Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. I’m not sure what my favorites would be now…

If you’re happy to wait a spell, my fantabulous news will arrive in a week or so. Possibly less. Just hold on to that confetti and keep checking back!

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I WIsh It Could Be Halloween Forever

Don’t worry, after this weekend you won’t have to hear much more about AlphaOops: H is for Halloween, because it won’t be Halloween anymore. After this weekend you might not be hearing much from me at all — I have a project all set for NaNoWriMo. You guys are participating too, right?

But it’s not Sunday yet, and until then, I get to bombard you with all the rest of my AlphaOops: H is for Halloween goodness. Like the fact that it is one of only four books featured in today’s “Roundup: Kids’ Books that scare up some Halloween fun”. (Click here to read the article online.)

Bob Minzesheimer — thanks, Bob! — gives props to the first AlphaOops book, and goes on to say how much he enjoyed the vocabulary lesson during what I call the Universal Monster Homage in H is for Halloween. If he likes “L is for Lycanthrope” so much, I imagine he also got a big kick out of the SAT word (“bevy”) I snuck into the first AlphaOops.

Right now, you’re all asking yourselves if I’ve thought up another big word to go with another big holiday. I have an answer to that question. Right now, that answer is for me to know and you not to know. Right now, you need to hie yourself out to the newsstand and pick up a copy of USA TODAY! Or click on over to Amazon and order AlphaOops: H is for Halloween, if you haven’t yet. Go on. You’re going to want a first edition.

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And the Winners Are…

I got all fired up this morning over the Today Show and the whole bullying thing — that essay took me a good chunk of the morning and drained me so much that I needed a nap after lunch. (Well, that and the 4-plus miles I ran at the gym while being all fired up.) And so I apologize for keeping you in suspense about the winners of the AlphaOops contests. But wait ye shall no more!

The slightly depressing thing about holding contests is that I know a lot of the people who enter them. I wish they all could win, but I know they can’t, and I know they will continue to stay my friends (which is what makes my friends awesome). But it also makes me EXCEPTIONALLY happy to announce winners that couldn’t have been better picked if the deck had been stacked (which it wasn’t).

The winner of the AlphaOops Scavenger Hunt/Photo Contest is: Paula and Mark Beauchamp! Paula and Mark are known to many on the Brian Keene Message Board as Mr. and Mrs. Rude Rabbit. They are two of the most exceptionally kind and generous folks on the planet, and it’s been an honor to know them better over the past year. I couldn’t be happier to give something back to such wonderful people.Their entry came from an independent bookstore in Oak Park, Michigan who actually had a copy of AlphaOops: H is for Halloween in the store. Huzzah! I should get their address and send the bookstore something nice as well.

Congrats, Mark & Paula! Big hugs from me!

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The winner of the Goodreads AlphaOops: H is for Halloween contest is: Jim C. Hines!

You can imagine my delight when I woke this morning to a Tweet from my dear friend, fellow author Jim C. Hines, telling me he’d won my book! According to the Goodreads stats, 625 people entered the contest. Can you believe it?!? And Jim won! I did a very super happy dance. I bet Jim did too.

What’s that? You haven’t read Jim’s books? Well, he’s a fairytale virtuoso too — you should click over to his website and go check those out right now. Go on. I’ll be here when you get back.

I have a few books to sign. And you know how long that takes me…

Hooray Jim!

Big hugs andnd thank yous to everyone who entered both contests! It was so much fun!  We should have another one, don’t you think? So do I. But maybe we’ll have it on another website. We’ll put an interview with it. And perhaps spill some very important beans in that interview. What do you think? Sound like a good idea? Excellent. I’ll post directions to that first thing tomorrow. Unless you SuperGooglers manage to find it tonight…

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The Forgetful

One of the things that’s always annoyed me about adults (and by “always” I mean from the time I was eight years old until now) is how many of them manage to forget what it was like to be a kid. Like the MIB do the flashy thing as soon as they turn 25, or have kids of their own, or become whatever it is that officially makes them “adults.” I don’t understand it. Never have.  I want no part of it. Why would I want to forget about my life?

I thought about this when I paused my music this morning at the gym to listen to some morons on the Today Show talk about bullying. I say morons because they started out with statistics (50% of kids in school today admit to being bullied. Almost 50% admit to having bullied someone else. SURPRISE.) and then went on to talk to “specialists” and “other morons” about the presence of bullying in schools and what a “sad commentary” it is on our society.

I’m sorry. Stop. Just stop.What is the matter with you people? I kept waiting for someone who actually knew what they were talking about to get on and tell them they were all morons. People can stop bullying about as easily as they can stop a hurricane. Or a tsunami. Or the sun from coming up tomorrow.

I don’t know a heck of a lot about anthropology and even less about psychology, but I can tell you that somewhere in my lineage, I had ancestors who would leave your scrawny ass on the side of a mountain if you didn’t measure up. Darwin called it “survival of the fittest.” It’s going to happen. Deal with it.

You have to deal with it, because it never stops. For the rest of your life, you are going to have to put up with bullies. Coworkers, lovers, critics, admissions boards, committees, judges, parents, editors, meter maids. If you don’t grow a thick skin now and figure out how you’re going to deal with it, you’ll be a punching bag or a doormat for the rest of your life. Those parents and teachers and commentators who think this situation is so incredibly freaking sad and want to protect all their children from it are just enabling an entire generation of pushovers and doormats.

I say to those parents and school board administrators who are right now contemplating bullying zero-tolerance policies: CUT IT OUT. Take reality TV shows off the air, stop glorifying stupidity, and re-fund the space program. Those are far more worthwhile causes. There isn’t even a good definition of what bullying is.

That’s right — the real bullies in the classroom aren’t the ones who dress like Nelson and steal your lunch money. Those are easy things to spot, like bruises on battered housewives. The worse bullies are the mental manipulators. The ones who make you truly believe that you are not important or loved enough to survive. The minute you believe these people are better than you, the minute you believe you have been defeated, then you have been.

We’re not born with confidence, and they don’t vaccinate us for self-esteem issues. As we grow up we push the envelope with our friends and family, trying to find out where we fit and thereby defining who we are. We discover how far we can push — and how far we’re willing to be pushed — by trial and error. No matter how well-intentioned our parents and teachers are, the only one who decides what kind of person you grow up to be is you.

I was a lucky little girl — I started school with an overabundance of brains and more than my fair share of charisma. I was ridiculously popular in elementary school. My best friend (we’ll call her Amber) and I ruled the roost. We had a fabulous drama teacher who recognized our talents. Amber got all the leads and the solos. It was annoying being second-banana to Amber but I didn’t mind too much — after all, I was the one who landed a role on television.

I got to do other fun things too — there was a really shy girl in our class that the guidance counselor was helping to matriculate. Shy Girl was nice; she just didn’t talk much. Once a week or so in the fourth grade I got pulled out of class to play Uno with Shy Girl. It was awesome. I’m not quite sure how much this actually helped Shy Girl — I wonder if she even remembers. I should ask her. We’re friends on Facebook.

I was ten. Everything was going great. And then, right before we all moved on to Middle School, Amber broke up with me. She told me she couldn’t be friends with me any more. She was going off to be friends with a pack of other girls. That was the only reason she gave. It was the last conversation we ever had.

It devastated me. It crushed my soul. I started out Middle School with zero friends. Oh, Amber was still there, with her new playmates, but I didn’t exist to her. I became convinced that I was not good enough, not pretty enough, and that no one loved me. Why else would I have been so summarily dumped?

There was no drama program for me to join, so I became a bump on a log. I stopped going to ballet and gymnastics. I didn’t try out for cheerleading because I knew I was too fat (which I wasn’t) and not popular enough (which probably wouldn’t have mattered). I wanted things, desperately wanted, but I didn’t even bother trying to obtain them because I knew I would fail. I came home from school and cried almost every day.

Most of the deep-seeded emotional issues I’ve had to get over in my life stem from that one event, that last horrible conversation when I was ten. Do I wish Amber had been punished for being such a selfish jerk? Absolutely. What she did was horrible and unforgivable and probably didn’t bother her in the slightest.

But it left no visible mark on me. All the scars were deep inside. Even worse was the way I treated myself after what happened. I hated myself. I was my own worst enemy. There’s no way to stop that kind of bullying.

Eventually, all us outcasts with too many brains and too much charisma found each other. It started sometime around seventh grade and blossomed into high school. We became our own crew. I was lucky yet again when it came to high school — there was enough of a “smart kid” population that we had our own classes, our own teachers, and eventually our own area of the school to live in. The T&G room was like a fortress. It wasn’t enough to stop us from being bullied, though.

Wanna know who bullied me in high school? A teacher.

That’s right, people. Nobody’s perfect. This woman (we’ll call her Mrs. Weatherbee, after the Riverdale principal) was young, fresh out of college probably. I’m pretty sure this was her first teaching job. For whatever reason, she just had it out for me. And what was she the teacher of? Why, drama, of course. The one thing I loved above all else (except fiction writing, but there was no club for that). She gave me horrible grades and worse parts, but I–and Murphy–made the most of it. I was always on crew, even when I wasn’t cast. When she gave me the smallest part in the play, I stole the only scene I was in. When she cast me as understudy for the big production, the girl I was filling in for ended up in a wheelchair (not my fault!!) and I got to play the part anyway.

To add insult to injury (and because my life IS like a novel), Mrs. Weatherbee and Amber became best friends. Our senior year, Mrs. Weatherbee held an Independent Study class that I tried to get into but was denied. Amber was the only student. She and Mrs. Weatherbee used that hour to leave and go to lunch early.

But when Mrs. Weatherbee tried to deny me a Varsity letter for my exemplary work as a thespian, my mother stepped in.

There are lines, and there are lines. Parents who listen to their children know the difference between typical complaints and when their child is being taken advantage of. Mom knew exactly how invested I was in the drama program, since she was the one who had to cart me to practices and auditions and suffer through my endless memorization and quoting of lines. She was the one who helped me type up the play that I wrote. And now some woman was going to tell her that her child wasn’t good enough?

I still admire Mom for fighting the good fight. While I never received my Letterman’s Letter in the flesh, I still have the note from Mrs. Weatherbee telling me that I had obtained enough points to warrant earning one. That was fine with me. I believe Mrs. Weatherbee is still teaching — at some point in the past fifteen years, she even won a Teacher of the Year award. She also went on to be a director at Amber’s community theatre. Good for her. I have it on good authority that the memory of my mother still haunts her to this very day. That’s fine with me too.

Bullies are never going to go away, no matter what idiotic rules are put into place to try and stop them. There will be bullies like Amber who leave scars on our insides that we have to figure out a way to heal ourselves. There will be bullies like Mrs. Weatherbee, when we have to bring in our parents–or the authorities– to help us out. And there will always be the bully in the mirror, telling us that we’re fat and dumb and worthless and no one will ever love us.

Why don’t we all start right there? Cut it out.

You are each awesome and amazing. There is no one else on the planet just like you. You can do absolutely anything you set your mind to. Nothing is impossible.

Never forget that.

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The Gift of the Mascara

My family has this thing about Christmas. It’s kind of a big deal. Pretty early on — right about nowish — we start making plans about who’s going where. Mom also starts asking around about Christmas lists.

I learned early on — right about when I started making the Happy Holiday CDs — to just stick a post-it note by my phone at work and keep an ongoing list of things I’d like for Christmas on it. (In lieu of a dayjob I now have a “Notes” feature on my iPhone that’s equally as helpful and a might less easy to lose.)

The general rule is that one should put things on one’s Christmas list that one wouldn’t buy for onesself. Extravagant things. Silly things. Things ranging in price so that closer family members can splurge and those on a budget still have options. Things that make it on my list multiple years in a row are things like Urban Decay glitter eyeliner, Burt’s Bees Champagne Lip Shimmer, and socks. Not just any socks, mind you, fun knee-highs with stripes or stars. And mascara.

We were all visiting my older sister Cherie on Easter some years ago — the year that the poodle had puppies and Casey had her daughter. Cherie showed me a new mascara she’d just bought and was extolling its virtues. She let me try some of hers. It was pretty cool. I went to visit Mom in Florida a few months later (the shuttle launch, maybe?) when she received a package from Cherie: it was a tube of this mascara Cherie had raved to me about. I wish people randomly sent ME mascara in the mail! I was jealous. Mom already had some mascara that she liked, so she gave me the one Cherie had sent her.

I’ve been using that same mascara for years (I think Casey’s daughter is five or something). It’s not because I refuse to buy myself mascara — I just forget. Makeup isn’t something I’ve ever been especially good at, so I just buy the basics (usually right before Dragon*Con).

The best part? Each one of those years I’ve had “mascara” on my Christmas list. And every year my stocking has come up empty in this department. It was an honest request — I wasn’t trying to be flippant. I hones-to-god just wouldn’t buy it for myself. Like there was some sort of block or something.

I was doing some research on the artowrk for this year’s Happy Holidays CD, and I remembered about the mascara fiasco. I told FGB I was going to write a blog about it. As an afterthought, I wrote “mascara” on the Wal Mart list. We went to Wal Mart this weekend to buy Halloween candy for the kids in the complex. And I ACTUALLY BOUGHT MASCARA. It’s fabulous. It’s lovely. The brush is huge. It’s not all sticky and clumpy.

But I still wish I’d gotten it for Christmas.

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(PS — if anyone has any random new make-up they think I’d like to try, feel free to send it! PO Box 2024 Ashburn VA 20146 I’ll try and write a review…)

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