INFAMOUS RATSOS: Tiny, Chad, and Fluffy

Hello, friends, and welcome to the third day of the INFAMOUS RATSOS Kindness Contest!

Unfortunately, we don’t have a winner for yesterday, since no one submitted an entry. (WHAT?) Does no one like free signed books and fun swag? Well, good news for those who enter today: I will be picking TWO winners this time!

As previously mentioned, feel free to share how you’ve been nice or thoughtful or generous or helpful (or all of the above!) in the comments section here. I’ll choose two names at random at the end of the day; the winner will get a signed book, a bookmark, and some INFAMOUS RATSOS “Hang Tough” tattoos (aka “rattoos”). Of course, you’re all winners just for playing (and being awesome), but even if you don’t snag a signed book, you’ll be eligible for some nifty Ratsos swag (more on this later). Today’s winners will be announced on Monday. NB: One post per entrant per day, please!

So, I’ve been telling you about some of the experiences and people that inspired me to write THE INFAMOUS RATSOS. Over the past couple of days, I ‘ve told you all about the people who inspired Mrs. Porcupini and Mr. O’Hare and Miss Beavers. Today, I thought I’d talk about my inspiration for Louie and Ralphie’s classmates: Tiny Crawley, Chad Badgerton, and Fluffy Rabbitski.

I was always kind of a weird, funny, smartypants kid, so it’s no surprise that I’ve always had weird, funny, smartypants friends. (Also, most of my friends back then were boys, since they seemed to be the only ones who could tolerate my singular brand of gross-out humor.) Yesterday, I talked about a kid named Rob, who (temporarily) sat next to me in third grade. Eventually, Rob and I became best friends. We’re still friends today; we were both in each other’s weddings — he actually officiated at mine! — and our kids now play together. I think his son and daughter are about Louie and Ralphie’s ages at this point!

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On my wedding day, with Rob (top left) as my officiant, and my other BFF, Jeff (lower left), as one of my attendants. (Jeff was also in Ms. Willis’ class, in the photo I posted yesterday in the top row on the left. Sadly, he passed away three years ago.) My grandfather is also pictured here — he was our ringbearer! More on him later.

When I thought about Louie and Ralphie’s friends, I imagined they would be a weird, funny group, too. I wanted them to look funny together, which is why Tiny is so small and Chad is so big. (FYI, Chad seems like a bully in this first book, but he redeems himself later on.)

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Illustration copyright 2016 by Matt Myers.

For now, Fluffy is the only girl in the group, just like I was. Louie and Ralphie think they’re going to gross her out with their pickled vegetable sandwich, but it turns out she loves it, just as I would have. I should also mention that my grandfather used to pickle his own vegetables, so we’d always have a jar or two in the refrigerator. I still love that briny, vinegary flavor to this day; I know it can be an acquired taste, which is why I thought it would be fun to attribute it to someone as seemingly-ordinary as Fluffy.

Of course, I love the way Matt Myers has portrayed Tiny and Chad and Fluffy. I especially love Fluffy’s glasses; they look a lot like mine!

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Illustration copyright 2016 by Matt Myers.

Next week, look forward to more stories about the people and things that inspired me as I wrote THE INFAMOUS RATSOS. In the meantime, hope you’ll enter my Kindness Contest — and spread the word about it to others!

INFAMOUS RATSOS: Miss Beavers

Hello, friends, and welcome to the second day of the INFAMOUS RATSOS Kindness Contest!

The winner of yesterday’s contest is…Patrice Jackson! Congrats, Patrice, and thanks so much to those who participated.

As previously mentioned, feel free to share how you’ve been nice or thoughtful or generous or helpful (or all of the above!) in the comments section here. I’ll choose a name at random at the end of the day; the winner will get a signed book, a bookmark, and some INFAMOUS RATSOS “Hang Tough” tattoos (aka “rattoos”). Of course, you’re all winners just for playing (and being awesome), but even if you don’t snag a signed book, you might just be eligible for some nifty Ratsos swag (details to come). The winner will be announced tomorrow. NB: One post per entrant per day, please!

So, I’ve been telling you about some of the experiences and people that inspired me to write THE INFAMOUS RATSOS. Yesterday, I told you all about the people who inspired Mrs. Porcupini and Mr. O’Hare. Today, I thought I’d talk about my inspiration for Miss Beavers, Ralphie’s third-grade teacher.

I must admit, I didn’t always have the nicest teachers when I was in elementary school. Some of them were actually pretty mean! But those are stories for another time. Today, I’m going to talk about my third-grade teacher, Ms. Willis. (I can’t remember if she was married or not, so for today’s purpose, I will address her as “Ms.”) Ms. Willis was my favorite teacher in elementary school; she was not only the prettiest, she was also very kind, and pretty clever.

In elementary school, I was not what you would call a well-behaved student. I like to think it was because I was easily bored, due to my above-average intelligence (ha ha). It might also be because I liked making jokes, especially with the kid who sat next to me, whose name was Rob (more on him later). Before long, Ms. Willis clearly reached her breaking point, because she took me aside and told me it was time to make a change. Rob and I couldn’t sit next to each other anymore, because we distracted each other too much. But instead of Ms. Willis choosing my new seat herself, she let ME make the decision. I chose to sit next to the quietest person in our class, a girl named Amy. This decision seemed to please Ms. Willis…until Amy started laughing at all my jokes. (Could I help it that I had impeccable comic timing, even then?) In any case, I am grateful for Ms. Willis for putting up with me, and for giving me a little taste of autonomy — a rare thing in elementary school, especially back then.

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My third grade class, circa 1978. Ms. Willis is on the right, of course, and I’m in the first row, far left. Rob is in the second row in the red tie, and Amy is in the top row in the red blouse-blue jumper combo.

Ms. Willis was definitely in my head when I created Miss Beavers. I love how Matt Myers has portrayed her, especially that log-print motif on her dress. It’s got a bit of a 70s vibe to it, I think!

ratsos.beavers

Illustration copyright 2016 by Matt Myers.

In the days to come, look forward to more stories about the people and things that inspired me as I wrote THE INFAMOUS RATSOS. In the meantime, hope you’ll enter my Kindness Contest — and spread the word about it to others!

INFAMOUS RATSOS: Mrs. Porcupini and Mr. O’Hare

Hello, friends, and welcome to the first day of the INFAMOUS RATSOS Kindness Contest!

As previously mentioned, feel free to share how you’ve been nice or thoughtful or generous or helpful (or all of the above!) in the comments section here. I’ll choose a name at random at the end of the day; the winner will get a signed book, a bookmark, and some INFAMOUS RATSOS “Hang Tough” tattoos (aka “rattoos”). Of course, you’re all winners just for playing (and being awesome), but even if you don’t snag a signed book, you might just be eligible for some nifty Ratsos swag (more on this later). The winner will be announced tomorrow morning. NB: One post per entrant per day, please!

So, I promised I’d tell you about some of the experiences and people that inspired me to write THE INFAMOUS RATSOS. I’ll start with the Ratsos’ neighbors, Mrs. Porcupini and Mr. O’Hare. When I was growing up, we had a neighbor who lived across the street named Mrs. Dowling. Her husband passed away shortly after we moved in, so she lived by herself with her cat, Alice Peterson (who was a male cat, and was evidently named after an old-time actor, though I can’t seem to find any info about him anywhere). Alice Peterson was always getting into fights with other cats in the neighborhood, so he always looked beat-up and bloody.

Mrs. Dowling was a very sweet old lady, but she was also terribly nosy. I’m sure this was because she was also terribly lonely. After her husband passed away, she got into the habit of sitting at her picture window and just staring at our house All. Day. Long. Often, she’d remark to my mother about the number of cars parked in and near our driveway, or even how affectionate my mom and dad were (evidently, she could see them kissing goodbye in our living room before my dad went to work every morning). Sometimes, her observations were not quite as innocent — once, I was sitting on my front stoop waiting for a high school friend to pick me up, and she called 911 and told them a “strange man” was lurking outside our house! As Mrs. Dowling got older, and her senses grew less keen, my mother would stop by regularly and do odd jobs for her. When I came up with the character of Mrs. Porcupini, I remembered Mrs. Dowling staring out of that picture window. Matt Myers added those hilarious curlers in his rendering of her for the book; I never told him, but Mrs. Dowling also wore curlers sometimes!

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Illustration copyright 2016 by Matt Myers.

Now that we are also homeowners, my husband and I do whatever we can to be good neighbors. In the winters, my husband doesn’t just snowblow our own (painfully long!) driveway — while he’s out there, he makes sure to take care of other neighbors’ driveways as well. When we take our son out for trick-or-treating, I always make sure we have bags of homemade cookies to give our neighbors in return for their Halloween hospitality. At the holidays, we go door-to-door with gifts of gingerbread, and this past year we welcomed our neighbors to a New Year’s Day open house brunch. We also have everyone’s emails and phone numbers, so we’re happy to know when our neighbors are out of town, so we can pull in their garbage cans on trash day or keep an eye on their houses in general. It’s really nice to feel like we’re part of a caring community on our little street.

We’re lucky our street is within walking distance to a quaint and quirky district of stores and restaurants in our neighborhood. We’ve made sure to learn all the names of the shopkeepers, and we patronize their stores and eateries as often as we can. When I came up with the character of Mr. O’Hare, I thought about the friendly proprietors in our own neighborhood — I love the signage Matt put in Mr. O’Hare’s store in the book, especially the welcoming “HOP IN WE’RE OPEN” sign!

ratsos.ohare

Illustration copyright 2016 by Matt Myers.

In the days to come, look forward to more stories about the people and things that inspired me as I wrote THE INFAMOUS RATSOS. In the meantime, hope you’ll enter my Kindness Contest — and spread the word about it to others!

 

An INFAMOUS Contest

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Hey! I know I don’t normally post on Tuesdays, but I just wanted to let you all know that this is a special week — seven days from now, on August 6th, THE INFAMOUS RATSOS will be published!

To commemorate that special day, starting tomorrow, I’ll post EVERY DAY about the experiences and people that inspired me to write the book. And every day, I’ll be running a KINDNESS CONTEST. Here’s how it will work…

THE INFAMOUS RATSOS is a book about how even the “toughest” among us has the capacity to be nice, and thoughtful, and generous, and helpful. Starting with my post tomorrow, let me know in the comments section what you’ve done lately to be nice, or thoughtful, or generous, or helpful (or all of the above!). I’ll choose one name at random per day to receive a signed book, a bookmark, and some INFAMOUS RATSOS “Hang Tough” tattoos (aka “rattoos”). Even if you don’t win a book, you might still be eligible to snag some Ratsos swag!

Got it? Let’s do this! And please, be sure to spread the word about this week-long Kindness Contest, which starts TOMORROW. Looking forward to hearing just how awesome you all are in the days to come…

The Weekly Peek

Hello, friends, and Happy Monday. How was your weekend? We had a swell time at the beach on Saturday with our friends, and then I enjoyed a lovely brunch on Sunday with the ladies of The Little Crooked Cottage, Anika Denise and Jamie Michalak. We Cottagers are planning something very special for the fall — details to come!

Here’s what I’m up to this week…

Still plugging away at my revision of the second Bland Sisters story. Hopefully I will finish by Friday, but I’m going to ask for a one-week extension, just in case.

I need to hire a new landscaper, since the one I hired at the beginning of the season has seemingly gone AWOL, and our yard now looks like a crazy jungle. (Yes, I have a landscaper. I know it sounds extravagant, but it’s because 1. my husband and I HATE yard work, 2. it’s logistically impossible to get anything done outside with a toddler running around, and 3. I have a bad shoulder/arm that makes any physical task take twice as long.) FYI, this is the second landscaper we’ve hired in two years who has abandoned us mid-summer. Grrr.

I’m participating in a storytime event at Burnside Park in Providence this Thursday from 10:30-11:30, along with my fellow kidlit friends Anika Denise, Gaia Cornwall, and Christina Rodriguez. If you’re in the neighborhood, hope you and your kiddos might swing by!

And how’s YOUR week shaping up?

 

Five for Friday

Hello, friends, and Happy Friday. It’s been a mixed bag of a week for me; between avoiding the Pokemon Go craze, the Taylor vs. Kim/Kanye feud, and the latest political horror show, I received my author copies of The Infamous Ratsos (yay!) and received an offer on a manuscript I’ve had out on submission for a while (double yay!). More on that last bit when things become more official. I’m planning on going to the beach this weekend with my family; hopefully it isn’t going to be unbearable for us, given the impending heat wave. In the meantime, hope these linky links cool you off…

Happy birthday, Prince George! You’re not QUITE as cute as my own 3-year-old, but I wouldn’t say no to giving those cheeks a squeeze.

If you want to stay indoors (and amidst the A/C) this weekend, might I suggest a movie?

Whether you’re indoors or outside, chill out with these frosty drinks.

But be careful out there, friends.

You’re welcome.

Have a great weekend!

 

Adding the Eggs

So, I’ve been given a month (!!!) to revise my novel, the second in the Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters trilogy. Like everyone else, I get tense and sweaty when faced with the prospect of revision. But when I’m doing it, it actually seems kind of…fun?

I do hate the first read of editorial comments, where it all feels so overwhelming and potentially impossible. As Kate DiCamillo has said of the editorial process (which I tried not to take too personally!), “It feels like I’ve already baked a cake, and now you want me to add eggs!” To assuage this feeling, I set aside the editorial comments once I’ve finished reading them. This cooling-off period is crucial, because A.) I need this time to CALM DOWN, and B.) it’s at this time, when I’m not writing or even thinking about writing, that my brain comes up with the best ideas. I make sure to write down any and all of them in my journal.

Once I feel as if I have a refreshed outlook and some innovations, I review the editorial comments again and break them down into tasks. And then I read through the manuscript again, with those tasks in mind. This is where it seems like a game (or where I’ve somehow convinced myself that it’s a game!), where my goal is to find just the right places to incorporate the editorial suggestions. After I’ve reviewed the manuscript and made all my notes re: where to cut and change and insert text, I go through the whole thing again, chapter by chapter, and get to work.

I know I mention Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird all the time, but it really has been an indispensable writing and revising tool for me. I tend to get easily overwhelmed and discouraged, so dividing the work down into bite-sized tasks is the only way I can get through a project, in writing and in life.

All righty, then. I should get back to revising. Wish me luck — I have a week and a half to go!