Amazing, amazing Wisconsin retreat

This weekend was SCBWI-Wisconsin's nineteen annual retreat, and it was amazing.
I arrived early, as I do the first session on Friday afternoon, called, "From Beginner to Pro: What you need to know." I was expecting 12-13 people, who were all attending their first retreat. Imagine my surprise when 18 people showed up! Some of them had been to many retreats, but said they always learned something new from my session.
That evening, Bruce Hale (author of the Chet Gecko Mysteries) gave a lively, entertaining and information packed talk about creating suspense. He read examples from published books, doing all the different voices with great enthusiasm!

Lisa Yoskowitz, Dutton Editor, told us the secrets of how to write a killer query letter.
Friday night social time (food, wine, lively conversation) ended when the last diehards, like me, toddled off to bed at one in the morning.
As my room was right across from the communal showers, I was awakened at 5:30 a.m. by an early riser, and early shower-er. Seriously people....
The morning was packed. Greg Ferguson, Egmont editor, spoke about what happens after your book is acquired. We saw revision letters, marked up manuscripts and more. Loraine Joyner, Peachtree art director, showed us a picture book from beginning manuscript to finished book. It was magical to see rough sketches transform into brilliant colorful pages.
Mary Kole, agent at Andrea Brown (blogs at, covered the process of finding an agent, in a lively and information packed talk.
Then, lunch. Let's just say the meals aren't the highlight of a conference at the Siena Center in Racine. Neither are the rooms or communal bathrooms. But where else do retired nuns welcome you so warmly and offer up their prayers for you? And where else can we bring tons of snacks, and chocolate, and beer and wine and talk into the wee hours of the night without disturbing anyone?
Sat. afternoon was taken up by breakout session, peer critiques and critiques by the editors, agent and authors. After dinner, author Deborah Wiles gave an inspirational speech that had us laughing, crying and gasping in shock. What an amazing woman! See her here, on YouTube,
We relaxed after with a wine and chocolate event, where we oggled the work of our chapter's amazing illustrators, and learned the winner of our illustration contest. Three winners, that is, since art director Loraine Joyner couldn't choose just one!
On Sunday morning, Pat Schmatz, author of Mousetraps ( gave an inspirational speech about connecting with your characters and telling their stories. It was an eye opener for many, including me. We left feeling energized and ready to dig back into our writing project. Thanks Pat!

Here's a somewhat blurry picture of Sheri Sinykin (author of Giving Up the Ghost) accepting a gift from our RA Pam Beres and assistant RA Judy Bryan. Sheri set up the first Wisconsin retreat, 19 years ago, and has been a help and support to so many of us over the years.
So, that's it. One weekend, very little sleep, discussions about craft, about ghosts, about the emotional side of writing, new friends, old friends...and so much more.

A cup of comfort

Today, I opened my mail to find a tea bag, sent to me by our local Literacy Council. A note invited me to have a cup of tea and curl up with a good book. Oh, and send a donation please.
My Mom was a believer in the restorative effect of tea. Betrayal by a friend, a poor grade on a test, not getting the role you wanted in the school could all be fixed by a nice hot cup of tea.
The secret was that Mom dispensed wisdom along with the tea. Friend betrayed you? They weren't worthy of your friendship. Poor grade on a test? Did you try your best? Well then, don't worry. You can't do better than your best. Didn't get the role you wanted in the school play? Minor roles are important, too. You can't have the play without them. Just do your best. Even a minor character can shine.
Smart woman, my mom. Here's to you!


The Joy of Writing

So, I changed the name of my blog--again. I'm pretty sure that's something the experts would advise against. But, I couldn't help myself. I started blogging at a time when I wasn't so "into it" and things have changed.
There isn't just joy in writing, there are joyful moments every day. I'm going to share a few with you in this blog, and hope you share your joyful moments with me as well.
Today's Moment: Ugly came to the bird feeder.
Ugly is a Northern Cardinal who showed up some years ago. Instead of beautiful red and black feathers, and a proud Cardinal plume on his head, Ugly, he was just ugly. His feathers were a muddled mottle of red and black. He had no Cardinal plume. He was the most ineligible bachelor ever. If he went on a reality "geek" show for birds, he'd lose. The only thing missing was big, black-rimmed glasses held together with white tape.
So, imagine my surprise when Ugly found a pretty little girl Cardinal to make babies with that first year. Then, Mr. and Mrs. Ugly brought their seriously ugly offspring to feed at our sunflower seed feeder.
And today, Ugly and his female came to visit again. I'm not sure if it was Ugly the First, or Ugly the Fourth, or whatever. They all look disheveled to me, as if they are in a continuous state of molting.
So, there's joy in this. Even an ugly bird deserves a little happiness.
Did you have a moment of joy today? Please share!

Talent contest winner declared!

Okay, so I kind of dropped the ball on this one. I extended the contest, to allow more people to enter. Then I got sooooooo focused on my work-in-progress that I sort of...ignored the contest.
Mea culpa.
On the other hand, I did manage to get a lot more done on my work-in-progress. It's progressing, you might say.
Okay--raising my right hand--I do solemnly swear to blog once a week, on Monday. I will also eat more broccoli and take my vitamins. (But not calcium. Did you see the study linking calcium supps. to heart attacks? Eeeks.)
Okay, drumroll.....and the winner is....
Pat Schmatz!!!
Here's her entry for a new Talent or Ability:
"Seven Degrees Sight. When I touch a person, I immediately see/feel the linkages between me and them. So if I meet a stranger who is a friend of yours, I "see" you. In a blur of images/feelings/impressions...and it takes the path of most connection. So I might be connected to you through two other people, in two different ways, but my images will follow the path of the strongest emotional involvements. Meaning that anyone I meet, I will immediately know the most direct emotional route to them, even if it's through seven people."

Runner up is April S. with this idea:
"Here's a subtle one: the talent of good luck. Lights always turn green, there's always an empty parking spot close to the front of the store, you're the one who happens to find the lost purse or get the tickets that were turned in last-minute at the sold-out show. But what happens if you rely too much on that good luck instead of making your own?"

Here's what judge Linda Joy Singleton had to say about the entries:
"Well it's between the first two. Ironically I can think of books that are out with similar plots. For the first one, Jennifer Barnes' GOLDEN where she sees people's auras that are links of connection. And the 2nd one about being lucky reminds me a bit of How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier which has a great premise of everyone having some kind of fairy-given skill (like hitting only green lights or having good fashion sense).

So I pick this one:

Seven Degrees Sight. When I touch a person, I immediately see/feel the linkages between me and them.(Pat Schmatz)

It's more detailed and interesting. I could read a book with that concept.

Thanks, Linda Joy Singleton. To check out Linda Joy's books, go to:

Wha'dja say?

Loved this article on how people truncate their speech in normal conversation.
It's interesting to me as a writer, since I need to write conversational dialogue, with all its stops and starts and abbreviations and searching for words. We really don't speak fluently, or even clearly, in most situations.

Talent contest extended!

Okay, folks, here's your last chance to enter my Talent contest. Simply post a new Talent, Ability or Power--be creative! The prizes are autographed books (mine, that is!) and the world's largest calculator!
I'm extending the deadline since I've had a busy March! My husband and I took an unexpected vacation to New Orleans. We booked our flight at one in the morning on a Friday, and took off the following Tuesday. I'll post some pics in a few days.
We hadn't been away together in years---like about seven years! What a great time! We stayed at the Antebellum Guest House, a bed and breakfast place which I whole-heartedly recommend. Our host was funny, engaging, passionate about New Orleans, and an amazing cook!
If you go there, tell Keith I sent you!


Talent Contest!!!!

No, you don’t have to sing or dance or play the tuba. It’s not that kind of contest!

We’re talking Talent here, like telepathy, telekinesis, teleportation, invisibility, and so on.

I’m looking for creative, out-of-the-box thinkers who can suggest a fresh, new ability or talent. Be crazy. Be original. Be goofy.

The prizes:

Signed copies of all three of my books.

The world’s largest and possibly ugliest calculator. (Imagine being the first on your block to own this fine item!)

And, the possibility that your entry, your Talent, will appear in my next book, and your name will appear in the acknowledgments!

Disclaimer: Please realize that once you post something on the web it is public. Anyone can use your idea, without asking your permission. So if you are a writer, with a terrific idea for a novel, don't give it away!!!

How to enter--post a comment to this blog, with your Talent idea and a brief description. If you aren't a livejournal person, and post anonymously, leave a first name and the initial of your last name. I'll post the winner on this blog, and will ask for your contact info at that time.

The contest will run until March 15. Please feel free to tweet about it or mention it on your blogs!

The judge for this contest is the lovely and talented Linda Joy Singleton,(Dead Girl series, Seer series)
Check out her books!

Contest for Vampire Island giveaway

Hi people!
Sandra Cox, many-times author, is running a contest on her blog. The prizes: a copy of just released Vampire Island, a ya novel, and red and silver earrings.
Check it out!
Here's the info:
"The contest runs from Feb 15 - March 13. I'll be giving away an autographed copy of VI and a pair of vampire red and hissss silver dangle earrings. To enter just leave a comment at and send an email to with VI contest in the subject line."
Have fun!

Laughter, the best medicine

Well, if laughter truly is the world's best medicine, I will be over my cold in no time!
I've had a nasty cold for a week, with a horrific cough. Yesterday, I slept in and felt better. So last night, I didn't feel like going to bed. I watched the Superbowl commercials online, then turned on TV.
Did you know Groucho Marx had a game show? Omg. No flashy lights or strobes or music. Just Groucho standing at a microphone, reading questions from a piece of paper, and two contestants standing next to him answering questions. Hilarious. What struck me though, is that the contestants were always a man and a woman. The man always answered for the woman. Sometimes the men didn't even consult the woman they were partnered with--they just shouted out the answer.
How things have changed. Groucho started each contestant by asking a bit about them. His first question to the woman was, "So, what does your husband do?"
That got me shouting at the TV.
Funnily enough, the woman (who was in her sixties) had a colorful past. She had completed over 1,000 parachute jumps--out of hot air balloons!!! (This was back in 1918 or so, before airplanes were really jump-out-able)
Next, Ozzy and Harriet. Oh, wow. You've got to watch it. I laughed myself sick. Or laughed myself well, I'm not sure.
The crowning glory was a Lucy Show episode where she trains Don Rickles as a boxer. By this time, I was howling. My husband, who sleeps like a log, woke up and came downstairs to make sure I was okay.
I was still grinning when I woke up this morning.
I still have the cold, though.

Bug Boy Interview with Eric Luper

Recently, I had the pleasure of reading Bug Boy, by Eric Luper. Bug Boy is the story of Jack "Shabby" Walsh, a fifteen-year-old apprentice jockey at the Saratoga Race Track. Set in the year 1934, Bug Boy introduces the reader to the fascinating world of horse racing, and the reality of life in the Depression. Here's what Eric had to say about researching and writing Bug Boy.


Why did you decide to write Bug Boy?

I remember going to the track with my father when I was a young child. The track we went to was a concrete, steel and chain-link monolith. The people there wore ratty clothes, smoked smelly cigars and drank way too much. And I remember feeling frightened and repulsed and confused all at the same time. Why would people choose to go to such a place?

So of course, after I moved to upstate New York and friends suggested we go to Saratoga Race Course for a day at the races, my blood pressure climbed and the first question I asked was, “Why?”

After some cajoling, I ended up tagging along. And I ended up having an amazing day. Saratoga Race Course is unlike any other track. People dress up. People bring picnic baskets. People go with their families like they’re spending a nice day at the park. Sitting there, you can just imagine what it was like a hundred years ago, and the more I learned about Saratoga the more I was attracted to the idea of writing a novel that takes place there.

Setting a story in a 1930s racetrack must have taken a great amount of research. Tell us how you learned about racetracks, jockeys, the 1930s, and thirties slang. Where did you go for information? How did you find experts to interview?

I spent lots of time at the National Museum of Racing ( I spent time at the Saratoga Historical Society, the archives at the Saratoga Public Library, and the New York State Archives. I scoured newspapers (cartoons, editorials and advertisements were the most helpful).

I’m also fortunate to have lots of friends who are involved in racing. I know jockeys, agents, turf writers, lifelong track enthusiasts, a track bookkeeper, and several horse owners. I was also fortunate to have a few long conversations with Saratoga Race Course historian, Tom Gilcoyne, who unfortunately died at the age of 91 just before Bug Boy came out. Tom had been going to the track every day during Saratoga track season since he was 5 years old (that was 1922!). If you gave Tom a year, he could tell you what happened during track season that year. Tom was so instrumental to the development of my book that I dedicated Bug Boy to him in memoriam.

The life of an apprentice jockey in the thirties was a rough life. How have things changed, or not changed, for racetrack employees today, particularly for exercise boys and jockeys?

The life of an apprentice jockey today is also quite rough. Although awareness of the plight of the backstretch worker is more well-known today, not a lot has changed with regard to conditions. Most workers still live hand to mouth with no insurance and no job security. Benefits, which usually come in the form of a few mattresses or some donated clothes, are usually handled by local ministries and other charitable organizations. I hope that Bug Boy helps to raise this awareness, especially among those sipping champagne in the stands.

In the book, a character named Showboat is hurt when his horse bucks in the starting gate. Is the starting gate still a dangerous place for the horse and jockey? Or do most accidents happen on the track itself?

Over the years, safety in the gate has improved. Despite this fact, injuries still occur anywhere a person is on or near a horse. Due to stringent breeding, Thoroughbreds tend to be high-strung and skittish, and this leads to frequent injury among riders, other track workers and the horses themselves. Of course, the most attention goes to injuries that happen DURING races, but many more occur when no one is looking.

In Bug Boy, the main character, Jack “Shabby” Walsh, went to extremes to pare down his weight and keep it off: exercising in a rubber suit, a sweatbox, not eating, purging, etc. Do today’s jockeys still need to be mindful of their weight? Do they go to the same extremes to stay light? Or do they use other methods to control weight gain?

Weight restrictions are as stringent as they were back in the 1930s. Purging is an accepted part of the sport. So much so that some jockey rooms have toilet stalls slated for vomiting. Jockeys still use hot boxes, diuretics, enemas and extreme exercise to drop weight as well. Stimulants such as cocaine are used too. The trouble is that having lighter jockeys is unhealthy for the jockey; having heavier jockeys is unhealthy for the horse. But staying light allows a jockey to remain competitive.

Tell us a bit about what you learned about today’s jockeys. What is an average height and weight? Are jockeys “too old” after a certain age? Any idea of the range of income a jockey can expect? (Seems to me this is a very uncertain way to make a living!)

The life of an average jockey is not nearly as glamorous as that of Jack “Shabby” Walsh. Most jockeys never even get to ride a big race at a glamorous course. They eke out a living at a small course and struggle to get by. They live such hard lives that by the time they are thirty, most jockeys look more than fifty. Although many of them ride competitively into their 40s, most opt for becoming agents, exercise riders or some other track employee earlier on to preserve their health. But track living is the only way of life many of them know.

I didn’t notice any female jockeys in your novel. How common are female jockeys today? Were there any in the thirties?

Although there were no female jockeys in the 1930s, they are becoming more and more common today. Not only are they naturally smaller and so have less difficulty maintaining weight, but anatomically women have lower centers of gravity which makes it easier to stay perched up in the irons. Not to mention that some of them are darn good athletes. Riding on the back of a 1200-pound horse that’s galloping at 40 miles per hour requires incredible conditioning and coordination and women are swiftly moving to the forefront of the sport.

There were a number of twists and turns in Bug Boy, some of which really caught me by surprise. Did you plan these twists ahead of time? Are you an “outliner” or a “pantser?”

Deborah, let me put it this way: If I don’t surprise myself, I’m not convinced that it will surprise anyone else. I’ve tried to outline in the past but it always falls apart within a few chapters because invariably I think of something more interesting as I’m typing. I know good things are happening if I’m laughing, getting upset, getting stressed out or surprising myself as I write. I guess that makes me a “pantzer.”

The book introduced me to the idea of “sponging” a horse: i.e. sticking a sponge up his nose to make it more difficult for him to breathe. This was surely an illegal practice, and I doubt anyone would try it today! So, about today: are there ways that an owner or jockey could cheat?

Although most cheating these days occurs through the use of drugs illegal to the sport, sponging has been known to happen even today. In fact, I came across a news article about it happening just last year. ( It’s way too obvious if a jockey holds a horse back and drugs can be tested for. Sponging is temporary, usually has no long-term effects (usually!) and the jockey doesn’t even have to be aware of it.

I was intrigued by the cover of Bug Boy. The front was obvious—a jockey riding a horse. The back cover was less obvious. I have my own interpretation, but I’d like to hear yours.

The cover actually wraps around. It’s an photo that was taken a few years ago at Saratoga Race Course. It was doctored a bit to take out any anachronisms and then aged so it looks old. Open the book and look at the whole spread at once and you’ll see a grouping of three horses racing in a tight pack.

Did you ride a racehorse as part of your research? Did you ride horses when you were growing up?

I took about three riding lessons when I was around five and quickly learned that I would never be entirely comfortable up there. As part of my research, I did ride a mechanical racehorse at the National Museum of Racing (see blog link at and developed a whole new respect for what those jockeys do!

Have you ever bet on the outcome of a horse race? Did you win?

I go to the track two or three times a year and I do bet on the horses when I go. In writing the novel, I learned a lot about reading the racing form and betting and it has served me well. I still leave the track with less money than I came with, but I’ve learned to reduce the hemorrhage to a slow bleed. And to enjoy and appreciate the sport.

Tell us a bit about your writing process. What’s a typical day, where do you work, etc.

I am a chiropractor by day. I own my own office and work a full week so my schedule is rather harried. As a result, I do not have a specific routine. Typically I’ll write on Tuesday mornings and Thursdays (these are times I’ve blocked out for writing) and on weeknights after the kids have gone to bed, maybe 9 to 11 pm. I work wherever I feel I’ll be most productive. Usually that entails being away from wireless internet or at least disabling my access. I work in the dining room of my home, at one of several local cafes or at the public library. Someday, I hope to have an old gothic house with a tower and giant windows where I can sit at a hand-carved mahogany desk and gaze out at the city (any city will do) from between two evil-looking gargoyles. Did I mention coffee? No? Well, wherever I am there always must be lots of it.

So, what are you working on next?

My next novel, which is all done and ready to go, is called SETH BAUMGARTNER’S LOVE MANIFESTO. Here is the flap copy:

Seth Baumgartner just had the worst day of his life: His girlfriend dumped him (at Applebee’s), he spied his father on a date with a woman who is not his mother (at Applebee’s!), and he lost his fourth job of the year. It’s like every relationship he cares about is imploding, and he can’t figure out what’s going on. To find answers, Seth decides to start an anonymous podcast called The Love Manifesto, exploring “what love is, why love is, and why we’re stupid enough to keep going back for more.” Things start looking up when Seth gets a job at a golf club with his hilarious and smut-minded best friend, Dimitri, and Dimitri’s sister, Audrey. With their help, Seth tracks down his father’s mystery date, hits the most infamous bogey in the history of golf, and discovers that sometimes love means eating the worst chicken-salad sandwich you can ever imagine.

It’s a romantic comedy with lots of off-color humor and it’s coming out in June 2010.

Currently, I’m working on something for younger readers. I’d say 9 to 12, but it’s totally top-secret and I’m not telling!

Thanks, Eric!