Snooze-a-holic

Hello, friends. The past month has been, in a word, WHOA. I’ve really, really enjoyed Skyping with classrooms, and I’ve been doing several visits a week! Last Friday, I did a live, forty-minute, virtual author reading via the fine folks at Qlovi; I’m hoping to have a YouTube video to share with you soon. I’ve been sharing a couple of posts a day about courtesy and manners on Ms. Civilized. Also, my little one is now crawling, and standing, and cruising, and is well on his way to walking, so I have my hands full (of baby).

Plus, there was that whole time change a few weeks ago, which has thrown me for a loop. It’s a lot harder for me to get up in the mornings to write, so every day is a struggle. But I have FOUR projects in the works, and they all need me! Two are my Infamous Ratsos stories (revising one, drafting the other), one is a novel, and one is a currently-indefinable something. I am excited about all of them, which makes it even more painful to hit snooze on that alarm (or even turn the alarm off altogether) in the morning.

Truth be told, I have always been a bit of a snooze-a-holic. In college, I’d drive my roommates crazy with the beeping of my alarm and the subsequent slaps of my hand on the button. But simply setting the alarm later never occurred to me. There’s something about waking up, then giving myself a few extra minutes of relaxation, that feels like the most luxurious, satisfying treat. I once had a conversation about this with my friend Jeff, who passed away last year. He shared my snooze addiction, and he articulated the pleasure of it in his own inimitable style: “Giving myself those extra few minutes of snooze is like a little cherry pie that is fun to eat.”

Do you get up early to write (or otherwise claim some time for yourself)? If so, how do you avoid hitting snooze? Inquiring (and exhausted) minds want to know!

 

Book Birthday!

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Hooray! Today is the pub day of my latest book, No Slurping, No Burping! A Tale of Table Manners!

I haven’t had a book birthday in a while, so today is particularly special. Here’s what I’ll be doing to honor the occasion:

I’m offering free signed bookplates to anyone who buys my book(s)! Just email me your address along with a photo of the book(s) you’ve bought, and I’ll send you the bookplates!

Do you know how to set the table? If not, take a look at my handy place-setting diagram. Print it out, color it in, and stick it on your fridge — you’ll always have a guide handy at dinnertime!

Want me to visit your library or classroom via Skype or FaceTime? I’m available for free 20-minute visits between 1:30-2:30pm EST (i.e. when my little one naps). I’ll read one of my books (you choose) and will answer any and all questions — about writing, table manners, publishing, wrangling a giant baby, et al. Contact me and we’ll work out the details.

If you’re in Little Rhody this weekend, stop by my book launch party at Barrington Books on Sunday, March 9th at 11:30!

Happy reading!

Ms. Civilized

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My latest picture book, NO SLURPING, NO BURPING: A Tale of Table Manners, deals with the basic rules of dining with others.

Personally, I don’t care what fork you use, whether or not you extend your pinky when your sip your tea, or if you can fold a napkin into a swan. What I do care about is that we all need to be kind to and respectful of one another, and be grateful to those who feed us and serve us, whether we’re at home or out in the world. I hope that my book can teach kids (of all ages!) how to behave when they’re sharing a meal with those they love.

But I’d like to think I can do more. Maybe it’s because I have a child of my own now, but lately, I feel as if I have an obligation to try a little bit harder to be a good person. To that end, I’ve created a Tumblr account called Ms. Civilized, where I’ll share my thoughts about manners and courtesy, and share some of my favorite images, quotes, and helpful hints on how to move through life with grace. I hope you’ll visit and even spread the word.

Civility is all about being our very best selves, and I think we owe it to each other to strive in whatever ways we can. Even if it just means saying “excuse me” when we squeeze past someone in the grocery store, or looking behind ourselves when we walk through a door to see if we need to hold it for someone else, or taking time at the end of the day to say “thank you” to those who care for us. These little things add up — they add up to a civilized society, and in my opinion, a finer world.

I hope you’ll join me in this effort. We’re all on this journey together. Why not take the high road?

A Valentine’s Offer

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Still looking for the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for a special someone? How about a signed book about love, friendship, and careful hugs? Buy a copy of Mr. Prickles: A Quill-Fated Love Story and send me your mailing address and a photo of the receipt — and I’ll send you a signed bookplate, handmade by moi! xoxo

Good Enough

As I continue to get up early each morning for my writing time, and create my daily one-thousand words, one question continues to plague me.

What if I’m good, but not good enough?

I’m haunted by that scene in Mildred Pierce (the miniseries, anyway — I never read the book or saw the original movie), when Veda auditions for the renowned piano teacher. Up to this point, it is a foregone conclusion that she will be a pianist. She has trained for nothing else. Her technique seems flawless, she is focused and fully-engaged. But when she plays for the teacher, he knows what she and her mother do not: that she is good, but will never be great.

What if the same can be said for me, and my writing? What if the one thing I love doing above all others is something at which I will never excel? What if I’m cursed with being just talented enough to have delusions of grandeur, but not talented enough to maintain a successful career?

Of course, I could tell myself, as I often do, that it doesn’t matter. That if I truly love doing something, I should just keep doing it, and not care. But when you’re of a certain age and you have a family and a mortgage and diapers and formula and prescription diet cat food to buy, you need to know if you have the skills to pay the bills.

In Veda’s case, she leaves the piano behind and discovers her greater talent as a singer (and home wrecker). In my case, I don’t have any other hidden extraordinary abilities — well, nothing at which I could make a decent living, and nothing that could get me out of bed in the morning, like writing does.

Do you also wonder if you’re good enough? Have you figured out an answer — or, at least, a way to stop asking the question?

Dishy Business

Presenting…my latest book!

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Looks pretty swell, no? It comes out on March 4th, as the first in Disney’s Artist Showcase series, in which they’ve paired brilliant Disney artists and animators with children’s book authors. (You can pre-order copies online or through your local indie.) I’m thrilled to be a part of this program, and I loved every minute of the bookmaking process. And Lorelay Bové’s artwork is sweet and funny and retro-cool, and reminds me of one of my very favorite artists, Mary Blair. It’s such an honor to have my words brought to life by Lorelay’s amazing images!

Making this book was a different experience for me, as I was given samples of Lorelay’s characters and the premise of table manners and wrote my story to her specifications. Usually it’s the other way around, with artists receiving the text and creating illustrations to complement it. But as you know, I love a challenge, and this was a fun one. I channeled my own experiences with family members (who shall remain nameless!) with less-than-perfect table manners, and memories of the time my mother signed me and my sister up for an after-school class called Little Miss Hostess (honestly, I think it was her way of getting us out of her hair for a couple of hours a week). The class was held at our local community center, and showed us how to set a table and how to prepare and serve delicacies such as tuna melts and Waldorf salad. With such a wealth of inspiration, it didn’t take too long for my story of Evie and Simon and their bumbling father to take shape. I didn’t want the text to feel like a preachy-teachy lesson, so it seemed more fun to give the kids impeccable table manners and make their father the one who could use some polish.

The book has already been reviewed by Publishers Weekly, which called it a “fun role-reversal story,” and by Kirkus, which said, “Parents hoping to instill good behavior in their own offspring will clamor for this title, and LaReau’s light touch makes it pleasant to read.” Not too shabby!

I can’t wait to do some signings and appearances this spring; I’ll keep you posted as plans are confirmed. And if you’re a bookstore, school, library, or other cool venue and you’re interested in inviting me to chat about books and table manners, drop me a line!

Up and At Em

Happy (belated) New Year, everyone. I would have written sooner, but my coffeemaker died last week, and while waiting for the new model to arrive, all I could think, let alone write, let alone blog, was Me needs coffee. But I am now the proud owner of a fancy Cuisinart DCC-2600, and I have a 14-CUP CARAFE of joe at the ready. So come at me, 2014.

Here’s a rundown of what I’ve been up to so far:

  • Prior to my coffeemaker’s demise, I blogged at The Little Crooked Cottage about my one New Year’s resolution.
  • In between warm and wonderful holiday celebrations with extended family, my husband and I have been watching Breaking Bad. I am woefully late to this party, but I’m sure Vince Gilligan is glad I’m joining in now, since it’s clear he created this show just for me. The cancer-as-catalyst theme really hits home, and the storytelling is my favorite combination of dark and twisted and hilarious. Walter White is so narcissistic, so cringeworthy, so riveting. I can’t believe all the internet hate for Skyler, now that I’ve seen her husband in action; she is literally the only grounded character on the show, and she’s merely reacting to Walt’s shenanigans like a normal person would/should. And somehow that translates into her being a “nag” (the nicest language I’ve read)?? I have a little more than twenty episodes to go…can’t wait to see how it ends. (DON’T SPOIL IT FOR ME, FOR THE LOVE OF METH.)
  • I drank plenty of Prosecco and Champagne, and discovered the wonders of lambrusco, a sparkling red. We’re not talking Riunite here — we’re talking lambrusco secco, light and dry and delicious, and heavenly on New Year’s Day with roast chicken.
  • I finished this amazing biography of Beatrix Potter, after reading a little bit of it before bed each night. The one thing I hate about biographies is that they usually end with (spoiler alert!) death, and this one struck me deeply. BP was an extraordinary woman, who accomplished and overcame so very much. I’m now reading Cranford, another perfect bedtime read, in my opinion. Do you have any other suggestions? I’m looking for stories that won’t give me nightmares or keep me up all night pondering or worrying.
  • During the day, I spend my time looking after my giant baby, who is both teething (he’s had two little ruffly ones on the bottom for a few months now) and venting his frustration re: learning to crawl. So far, he has become an expert at rolling, but can’t quite get his beefy baby legs to bend and flex into a crawling motion. I don’t know what’s worse: his current exasperated cries, or what my life will be like once he gets some forward momentum. I’m betting on the latter.
  • Slowly, slowly, I am finishing a draft of something I’ve been working on for the past few months. It’s a hot mess of a draft, and I am learning to be fine with that. I have lots of other ideas for stories, and I can’t wait to get to them! Maybe it’s the new year, maybe it’s the new coffeemaker, but I am feeling ENERGIZED these days.

How about you? How’s the year treating you so far?

A promising development.

So, here’s some news. Remember this manuscript I was telling you about, which I kept in a drawer for a year and only recently sent to my agent? Well, it went out on submission back in October. And…I didn’t end up getting a book deal.

I GOT A TWO-BOOK DEAL.

That’s right, folks. Candlewick Press, my alma mater, made an offer on the manuscript, a chapter book called The Infamous Ratsos, plus an offer for another book featuring the same characters. Here’s the official announcement.

I still can’t believe it’s real. I haven’t talked a lot about it, because it’s been too difficult (and honestly, humiliating) for me, but I’ve experienced a publishing dry spell over the past few years. Though I had numerous projects in the works and out on submission, nothing was selling. And then, during my pregnancy, the hormones took over my brain, which made it difficult to execute any new ideas I might have had — it’s as if I’d gone from being literally barren to creatively barren. All of this led me to question whether I should continue to attempt a career in writing at all. I’ve mentioned how easily I can succumb to fear and self-doubt when it comes to my work; these past few years have been particularly trying.

So this news that someone actually likes my work enough to want to put it out into the world (twice!) is not just cause for celebration — it’s validation and motivation. It makes me second-guess myself a little less. It makes getting up at 6am and generating those daily 1,000 words a little easier. It makes me feel hopeful again.

WOE is me

If you know me at all, you know I like my lists and organizational systems. I am a scatterbrained, lazy, messy person at heart, so I need to have mechanisms in place to keep me on track — especially now that I have a baby’s needs and schedule to consider. The lists and systems are tremendously helpful, but at the core of it all is a mindset I’ve carried with me for years now, which I call WOE.

WOE is an acronym for Waste of Energy. My goal, always, is to make the best possible use of my resources, whenever I choose to tap into them. For instance, if I’m in the kitchen making breakfast, I only want to have to open the refrigerator once, to take out the milk for my coffee and the chopped walnuts and clementines for my breakfast. I only want to make one trip to the pantry, for my packet of oatmeal and bag of dried blueberries and the canned food for my cats. If I forget the cat food and have to make another trip to the pantry, or if I put the milk away after I’ve made my oatmeal but before I’ve poured it into my coffee and have to open the refrigerator again, that is a fail. More specifically, it’s a WOE.

One might call this a bit…obsessive, that I think in terms of steps and shortcuts, and that everything seems to be a test of how well I can manage my time and effort. Often, I feel like I’m my own quality control expert, chastising myself for having to make that extra trip down to the basement or out to the store (or even just to the refrigerator), pointing out yet another WOE I’ve racked up. I hate that I can be so hard on myself. But when I do manage to navigate this mental obstacle course and save myself a few extra seconds of time or microunits of energy, it feels like a small triumph. And I’m convinced that thinking this way is good for my brain. Though, when it gets right down to it, the time and energy I’m saving in doing all these things a certain, hyper-efficient way might be outweighed by all the brainpower I’m expending in thinking about how best to conserve my time and energy. That’s more than a WOE. That’s, like, WHOA.

Am I the only one who thinks this way? Comfort me with your own tales of WOE.

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