Okay, so I spent most of this morning working on three paragraphs. That's the way it goes sometimes. The paragraphs had already been written; I was just trying to improve them. Take out a word here, add a word there. Slow going, but well worth the hours. This is a picture book, so each word is important. The shorter the book, the less room for error. That's why I think picture books are the hardest of all books to write. In any event, progress is being made.

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Back In The Saddle 
Okay, I'm at it, getting to my writing. I'm working on a piece I did a few years back. It's a picture book bio of A.C. Gilbert, a very interesting character who was a magician, Olympic champion, and the most famous toymaker of his time (remember the Erector Set?). Anyway, I have tried to find this manuscript a home for quite awhile, but to no avail. So, I am taking the feedback I got from editors and rewriting with their feedback in mind. It's great to get actual comments from editors regarding your manuscript. Usually it's a form letter, "Sorry, but this is not not write for our list. We wish you the best, blahblahblah." So, when you get real-life feedback, it means they must have thought there was some value there. The challenge, then, is to try to redo it blending what you think is important with what the editors think is important. We'll see what happens. It's good to be back in a working rhythm.

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Delayed Start 
Okay, so I'm really going to write on a schedule this summer, but I'm currently teaching a class on...guess what?...yep, nonfiction writing so that's been taking my entire focus. That's what happens with writers: other priorities rise to the surface. The challenge is to keep writing - even a little bit - every day, no matter what. And I have been able to do that, however minimally. The good news - no, the great news is that the class I am teaching is well worth the time away from my writing. I am working with eager, interested professionals, and I am fortunate to be able to facilitate this community of learners.

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Memorial Day / Summer Writing Plan 
It's a cool and cloudy Memorial Day here in Eugene, Oregon. This is the perfect weather to remember the thousands who have had their lives taken while serving our country, and to redouble our resolve to elect a leader who will remove our troops from the senseless war in which we are now involved.

I just returned from attending my son's graduation from San Diego State University, and I am a bit road weary, but I'm doing some writing planning for the summer months. With so many different ideas and projects started, it is very important for me to make priorities and focus my attention. However, this is easier said than done!

My plan for the summer has three components: writing, revising, and marketing. Writing involves the creation of new manuscripts. My priority for this summer is to create a book about the Lost Wagon Train, a group of pioneers who became lost in the Cascades on their way west in the mid 1800s. I have some great resources for information, including the great-granddaughter of one of the members of the party.

Revising involves finishing up manuscripts that I have begun. My plan is to focus on the picture book about A.C. Gilbert, the famous toymaker.

Marketing is about finding homes for the works I have already completed. There are many manuscripts in my files that need to be marketed. I think I will find five of the best (the wolf book will be one of them!) and start sending them out to publishers. I also have to find more sponsors for the Duniway book so that we can get it into as many classrooms in the county as possible.

It is important for me to block out time each day to do this work. I work best in the mornings so I'll work from 8-12, and I'll do this a minimum of five days a week.

Okay, so I have my plan. Now all I have to do is follow it. I'll be off for summer in a couple of weeks, so I'll be starting then. Here's to a fruitful summer of writing!


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A Healthy Pause 
After a short but needed break, it's time to reflect on Not Fair! The Story of Abigail Scott Duniway, my latest project. My first thought is that I had no idea how much time and effort this project would take. In a few of my earlier books, I was responsible for getting the pictures as well as the permissions, and I was amazed at how much energy that took. But doing the whole thing - illustration ideas, deciding on the layout, font type, what exactly would go on each page - well, this was a first. It has made me very appreciative of the work publishers do.

I just reread the book for the four hundreth (or so) time. I was a bit anxious about reading it after it was printed. What if I found a big error? What if I found something that, although not a mistake, I would like to change. I am pleased to announce that neither happened.
That doesn't mean that, in the future, I won't look again and find something to change. But for now, I'm good with it.

Writers do not work in a vacuum. It takes help to create a finished product. I am grateful for the help I got: people who read the text and provided useful feedback, an artist who was open to suggestions and willing to keep drawing until she got it right, a pre-press guy at the printers who made innumerable changes until I was satisifed. I could have done it without help, but the book would not have been as good.

I regret that a national publisher did not decide to add this book to its list, which would have made it available to many more readers. However, I'm glad I was willing to take on this project myself and at least make the story of this amazing woman available to some kids. Some is better than none. Much better...

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Okay, the Duniway book is finally done. Hurrah! I stopped by the printer yesterday and watched a very exacting young man load the signatures (two pages, front and back) into a machine that uses suction to pull the sigs up, put them in order, add the cover, staple, fold, then trim the finished books. Very clever machine, and quite fast. The operator not only loads the paper, but he also makes sure the machine is doing its job properly, then he picks up the finished books and places them into boxes.

As I watched the books spew out from the machine I couldn't help thinking about the journey that producing this book has been. It's taken longer, and been a lot more work than I had anticipated. Mostly, when I saw the finished books, a sense of relief descended on me. I'll need a bit of time to reflect on the journey, but I'll report on that next. Until then...

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Press Check, Pt. 2 
Went to the printers on Friday to do a press check. Basically, what happens is the printer runs a large sheet (which contains 8 pages) through the press and then you look at it to make sure all appears well. They do this to make sure they don't print 2000 copies and then you say, "Gee, I don't like the color." So, they have you sign the sheet, which is an approval of the text and color.

The printer runs all the paper through, then turns over the sheets and runs the other side. Each sheet of paper, therefore, will contain 16 pages of the book. They'll add another sheet and do the same thing, which will end up with the 32 pages the book contains.

This week I'll go back to see the sheets cut, folded, and the cover added. More to follow.

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Press Check 
The Duniway book is ready to go to press. What's been holding it up is getting the illustrations right. First, we had another accuracy issue - oxen were not driven, they were led - then we had some color issues. All of the illustrations had a yellowish tone to them. So, the printer rescanned the original art and that seems to have taken care of that issue. Of course, in the meantime, I have been making text changes everytime I meet with the printer.

A very common issue for writers is knowing when their work is done. It must be true of painters as well ("Should I add a little more color here? Should I take something from there?"). It's the same with writers, except we play with words, not colors. I must have gone over the text for the Duniway book more than 100 times. I know when it's done when I can't find anything more to make it better. And that's where this text is now. The trouble is, there's no telling I'll find something else after is gets printed!

Tomorrow I go to the printer and do a final check, where they print one copy and I give the go-ahead to print 1,999 more. I'll let you know how it goes.

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What's Edison Have To Do With This? 
Heard back from one of the publishers that was considering the wolf book. They were interested, but already had their share of animal books. I suggested ways to make this book a part of a series and tie it to what is taught in classrooms, but they were still reluctant. Another publisher is still considering, but I need to research a few more to send it to. It is very easy to allow a "no" to dampen your enthusiasm about a project. But, it doesn't have to. Consider Thomas Edison, when he was working to invinet the light bulb. He tried thousands of different material (including cedar, flax, bamboo, and hickory) to be the filament, or wire, that would light and stay lit inside the bulb. Finally, after more than 6,000 tries, he found the right one: carbonized thread. Was he discouraged along the way? No. He believed the material that failed helped bring him closer to the one that would work. So, maybe I'm just one publisher closer to finding a home for this book.

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Boo Hoo! 
My, does time fly or what?!? Itís been more than two months since I last added to this blog, and for that I should be duly flogged. Itís not that I havenít had anything to say, but rather Iíve had too much to do. If that sounds like an excuse itís because it is, although not a very good one. Regardless, I am still waiting, waiting, waiting patiently to hear about the status of the wolf book. Usually I send out a manuscript to several publishers at once to maximize possibilities, but this time I had a good feeling about the publisher. Weíll have to see if that feeling was well-founded. While the wait goes on, I have been very busy getting the Duniway book ready for printing. Most of the work has involved communicating by e-mail with the illustrator. I divided the words into pages and made suggestions to her about the illustrations that would go on each page. She then made rough sketches of the illustrations and sent them to me. I looked over the illustrations and checked to make sure the details in the sketches were accurate. An example: One illustration shows wagons heading west, being pulled by horses. This had to be changed because most of the wagons were pulled by oxen. What? Not a big deal, you say? Well, itís not really, compared with suicide bombers or people starving or learning that you have a incurable disease. But still, this is a book about a real person living in a real time of history so weíd like to make it accurate. Thatís why it is so important to have communication between the writer and the illustrator. One book I worked on Ė a biography of Christopher Columbus Ė was very frustrating because I was not allowed to communicate directly with the illustrator. The result was that the book was not as accurate as it could have been. It was a hard lesson, indeed, but a lesson learned.

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