Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Boys Book Club

Some of the members of my newly-formed book club haven’t even read the beer yet.

Yes, we meet at bookhalls or German bookgartens. Ah, the smell of old books.

From floor to ceiling, nearly every point is crammed with literature. Stacked on the floor and scattered on tables and chairs, there are piles of hardbacks, paperbacks, and even unfinished manuscripts. Tomes of encyclopedias and neat mounds of art books next to messy heaps of fiction and nonfiction books. Series, magazines and newspapers novels, and novellas.

We like meeting at libraries because we think every book club should have some ice cold books to read.

Last week, the Cuervo ladies were giving out salt, lime wedges, and free short stories.

Now after several meetings, emails, fundraising parties, IPO’s, election of officers, and deals cut with our wives (all of whom have girls night out), we have an actual beer to read.


Meetings are the second Wednesday of the month. Call before you come; we meet at a different library watering hole each time.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Wait ‘til they see me blog about kid books

There was a lot of good floating around that conference. New friends, old friends, non-alcoholic beer (wink, wink), great agents and editors, all so approachable. Thank you.

I'm still hoarse from laughing.There was more than just the fun. There was real business going on.

I don't know if it was my energy or if I was "ready" or something, but the agents and editors at SCBWI LA GLAMFEST were different this time.

They were not only gracious and accessible this year, but a hint of something else flashed in their eyes. In everyone's eyes. Every single person at this conference on both sides of the desk seemed hungry.

Like we were going to take over the world with good kid books!

We're in the catbird seat here, people. Children's/YA market share is increasing and that's good. The quality of submissions (our competition) is getting better and better, which only makes for better books.

Write on.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Fear of the Foreign.

I love summer because so many people travel and a few more bricks in the wall are taken down.

Every time I fly over the ocean, I try to pinpoint the exact spot over the Atlantic where I become a foreigner.

I've lived outside of my home culture to the point that the wall for me is rubble. That's a good thing. I am also a francophile. :~)

As far as writing for kids goes, I think they are starving for stories outside of their home cultures. My own stories are Jason Bourne for kids (boys, in particular). Fun. Fast. But quelque chose de different.

Mitali Perkins writes about this cultural divide. She inspired today's blog. You can check her out at

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Fast Friends

I feel very rich in friends.

For me, we are always making new friends. Continually. I think it's the only way to feel rich is to be rich in friends.

When you meet someone new, you know pretty quickly. You know what I mean? You thin-slice.

I think I make friends pretty easily.

My newest bestest friend I've spent a total of maybe eight hours with him. Total face time, that is.
I met Sarah Frances' husband, John, the other day for the first time and he reminded me how easy it is to make friends with someone brand new to you.

Don't get me wrong here. This former mock-fugative is not without issue, either. John has faux-alQaida ties. He's known to chase bears with brooms. And he has trouble finding good fishing spots. But he has an open door and cold beer behind it.

That's my new criteria for friendship. Open door. Cold beer.

What's your criteria? Do you make friends quicker than others? And for the writery question of the day: Do boys make friends more easily (quicker and not necessarily deeper) than girls?
(photo credit: my oldest bestest friend)

Friday, June 5, 2009

Travel in France with kids

This post is for anyone traveling to France with kids.

There are four words you need, must have, when going to France.

1. Bonjour (hello/good day),
2. Au revoir (good-bye, literally: until the re-see)
3. Merci (thank you),
4. S’il vous plait (please, literally: if it is pleasing to you).

The most important is bonjour because it is the first impression word.

Contrary to popular belief, the French are very courteous.

To make the point, French youths (ratty looking boys with low hanging pants) commonly say “thank-you” to the city bus drivers when getting off the bus!

The main reason French think Americans are rude (and the reason they are rude to us) is that we do not say “Bonjour” when entering a store (shop, café).

French shopkeepers are like little Napoleons ruling over tiny dynasties!

The number one rule of all European cultures is to acknowledge the proprietor of a store, shop, or even the waiter in a cafe. (Even if it is a humble “hello” in English. But, in France, the “bonjour” is imperative.

Once you’ve said bonjour then you can use the “I don’t know another word” smile!!!
And they get it.

France is the most visited country in the world with more visitors than citizens.

What you’ve done by saying hello is say, “I am trying... meet me half way.”

S’il vous plait (See Voo Play) is very useful because it can introduce any need or want. When looking to buy something, typically you do not touch it first. If it is a self-service place, a sign will read, “Self-Service.”

French custom is many times very formal so they like to serve you. If you want something you might say, “S’il vous plait” and then say slowly in English what you want or point.

Au revoir (Oar ruh vwah), is important because it is last thing they hear from you and so leaves a good last impression.

Word four is Merci. (Mare see)
French are not lavish, like we are, with their thank you’s. Merci is used at the end, commonly when leaving with “Merci, au revoir.”

You don't need to say Maresee every time the waiter puts something on your table. It's his job.

KIDS IN FRANCE: Everyone loves it when parents ask their children to say, “Bonjour” and “Merci.” It is a big crowd pleaser!

Send a kid into the store with you and have the kid say Bonjour Madame. They will be buerre in your hands.

Here is my top five places to go with kids in Paris.

1. Tuileries Gardens. After your Louvre tour you’ll come out of the glass pyramid. The Tuileries Gardens are across the street and in the park you’ll find playgrounds, mule rides, and trampolines.

2. La Tour Eiffel (of course). See it at night at the top of the hour when the 10,000 strobe lights light it up.

3. Pompidou Center. Don’t even go in. Just watch the street performers in front of the museum. Sunday is best.

4. Picasso Museum in the Marais. A fun place to give kids a pad and pencil to copy Picasso’s work.

5. Ile de la cité and Notre Dame and Ile Saint Louis.


At most cafés, brasseries, or even high-end restaurants you will find staek-haché et frites (hamburger and fries).

Pizza in France is very good.

Quick food places are the greek restaurants with the big spool of meat behind the counter. The Shawarma sandwiches are awesome.

Drinks in France are innumerable. For kids, they like Orangina and cassis and water. Or a Coke is "Cocah. See voo play."

For grownups on a hot day, a Monoco (a beer mixed with a little sprite) is great.

Au revoir.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


When people put the book they're reading down, they tend to put it face-down.

This is a theory.

I met a guy at the 10-minute massage chair. He was reading when I came up and he set the book down, face-down and upside-down, and he looked at me and said hi I'm Kevin. And then he rubbed my shoulder.

I paid and asked what he was reading and he told me and that was that. But I had to ask.

What's going on here?

People hiding titles.
Is this only done in public? You see it on trains and planes. Newspapers in cafés.

Are people deliberately concealing the face of the book, hiding what they're reading?

Or do they love the book so much that they're keeping it a secret? Just for themselves.
I like that idea.

The book here on my desk is upside-down and face-down, which is perfectly appropiate for this title.

Is yours face-down?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Boys. Books. Balls.

Sometimes we think boys like to read about sports because boys like to play sports, but boys don't play soccer just to win; they play to dream of being great. At something.
Books and stories are not that different from playing sports.

There are plenty of guys out there—baseball / soccer / sports guys. You know them. I've quit teams because of them. These are the dads focused on winning. For five year olds! 

Most boys (and girls, too) will be culled out by high school, anyway, and another round at college, and the final cut: the pros.

Many grownup men have lost that loving feeling for why we play baseball, soccer, etc. It really is a game. It's not about winning. It's about dreaming to win.

Boys like books that let them dream about being great.

Ever watch a ten-year-old boy play basketball by himself?

Boys, who are allowed to dream about winning at an early age, win in whatever they do because they hold a dream inside of them. They don't have to hold the trophy in their hands.

What do we want for boys? And what books are they reading?

Monday, April 13, 2009


I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell's book, Blink. It's a fast read about how we make decisions in the blink of an eye. Gladwell calls it thin-slicing.

When we come in contact with something—a book, a painting, an idea—we bring subconscious knowledge to that very first second and on some level, we come to a conclusion.

Most of the time, we dig for more information. It's rational. Gladwell shows that sometimes we know in that very first second what the what is. Thin slicing is not intuition, but real thinking that takes place real fast.

Sport makes for a great example. A running back makes thousands of decisions as he runs down the field. He's thinking, "Cut or duck—that guy's huge. Cut. Quick."

Tiger Woods tweaks his ankle and sinks the putt. Is he aware of his ankle adjustment? Doubt it.

You're in a bookstore and you slide a book off the shelf. You glance at the cover and scan the blurb and then you read the first line. A decision has formed. You might ask the clerks their opinions, but you already have an idea in place.

Writers make these snap, subconscious decisions as they are typing. The über critic makes this naturally more difficult. But in the end, can you tweak your subconscious?

Editors and agents plow through tons of material every day. Without thin-slicing, they would never get through the pile.

I wonder if the accepted stories have something upfront and deliciously subconscious that clicks in the agent's mind and makes her say, "I can sell this."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The novel is not novel

Bloggers in bathrobes beware. The journalists are taking writing back.

I read the Seattle Post Intelligencer today. Online. That’s the only way you can find it. The P.I. printed its last paper paper yesterday.

A few weeks ago, The Rocky Mountain news printed its final paper paper after 150 some odd years, and just this week a group of former journalists from this daily decided to revive “The Rocky” …online.

I think this is great. I stopped reading the paper paper long ago.

Going paperless is obvious. The environment. The social sharing/emailing, “Hey y’all check this out” aspect. The business perspective is streamlined. No paper costs, no circulation sales staff, no distribution costs. With some electricity and good writing all the functions of publishing-- editing, printing, distribution, and consumption all take place online.

This idea is certainly not novel: Kindle, Kindle 2, Sony Reader, Adobe Acrobat, PDF, Plastic Logic, and and and. Check it out at the NYTimes

So paper or plastic?

I think in the not too distant future, we will look back at hardcopies (newsprint, magazines, and books) and think it’s kind of neat. Like 8-tracks or cassette tapes or even CD’s. This change is not a bad thing. The printed word has not been around for ever, either. Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, arguably the first novel ever (hence the name) was published in 1749. 250 years ago. Gutenberg’s Bible was printed only 250 years before that.

I can imagine a Nancy Drew type story in the future where Nancy uncovers an old house from the 2000’s and they have a library (physical library). Neato! You might even hear Nancy shriek, “Look. This is a printed book. It’s not searchable!”

I know writers out there probably feel differently, but do we want the book (magazine, newspaper) or do we want the story?

I look forward to the print free world. And you?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Found in Translation

So… you know how you listen to other people, and you know how you accidentally overhear their conversation... Right?

Well, the last time I was in Louisiana I overheard (accidentally) these two guys (Fred and Ty) talking about the French. I'm a Francophile so my ears always quiver at the thought that I might know something. Ty was a muscle-bound boy and he had presumably run into his old friend at the self-serve coffee station at the 7-11. I poured cream in my coffee and listened.

"Hey, Fred."

Fred was a scrawny fellow who wore a black Harley T-shirt and he looked like he'd just helped somebody change a flat tire.

Ty slapped Fred on the back and made him spill his coffee.

"Get this," Ty said. "You know how stupid the French are?"

"No, Ty. I don't know."

Fred flung the coffee from his fingers and got a new cup.

"Have you seen Men in Black Two?"

"No," Fred said.

"You haven't seen Men in Black Two yet?"

Fred gave Ty the I-just-said-that look and he poured some more coffee.

Ty obviously picked up on the affront and he folded his arms. "The French are so stupid that …you know what they call Men in Black Two in France?"

"Ain't got the foggiest."

Ty cupped his lip. "It's called, 'Back to Black Deux.'"

There's meaning here; I just haven't figured it out, yet.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Some Funny Books

Here's a list of funny books by Abebooks, which isn't a very funny name, sounds a bit drab in fact, but the folks over at Abe's in England came up with this (mostly British) list.

1. Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse (1933)
2. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961
3. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979)
4. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome (1889)
5. Wilt by Tom Sharpe (1976)
6. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1980)
7. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
8. The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse (1938)
9. Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding (1996)
10. Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall by Spike Milligan (1971)

My favorite is Confederacy. Maybe it’s my Southernness or Luzyananess; but that damn book is so funny I think I coughed up a pancreas, or two. Now that’s funny.

So I was thinking to my self, Self? You ought to jot down a list of funny kid books. So I did and here's today list of ten. Feel free to add yours in the comments...

1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
2. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
3. Big Bad Bruce by Bill Peet
4. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
5. Katy No-Pocket by Emma Payne (HA Rey)
6. La pêche au Ballon by Richard Scarry
7. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
8. Dear Dumb Diary by Jaime Kelly
9. Ramona Quimby by Beverly Cleary
10. Fourth Grade Rats by Jerry Spinelli
11. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

Monday, February 16, 2009

Monday is the day I laugh

I go to this laughing yoga thing on Mondays now and I am hooked. It’s closed today ‘cause of President’s Day. I mean Obama’s been on the job, what, two weeks and he’s already taking a day off?

Here’s what you do for laughing yoga. You fake it until you make it. The idea is that a faked laugh has the same therapeutic benefit as an honest, serious, no frills, gut-busting laugh.

Smile. It’s the first thing you do. Go on and give it whirl. So easy. Smile. Try this 6 second video.

The tried and true in laffyoga is a standard yogoesque chant of Ho ho, ha ha, hee hee, ho ho, ha ha, hee hee. It’s already funny.

In laugh yoga, you start out by saying you name and laughing at it (with it). Go ahead, say your name aloud and laugh out loud. (pause)

Don’t worry nobody’s watching. Really laugh. (pause)

Now say your name aloud with an alliterative adjective describing who you are or how you are feeling (playful Paul, silly Sarah, pink sock Peter) and then laugh because … because you can.

Yes, it’s ridiculous. Everything is.

Try this one.

Half close your eyes and clench your teeth and give the biggest cocktail brown nose cackle you can muster. (pause)

Now, add a teacup to your hand (dainty: pinky extended) and maybe toss in a British throat quiver. And do it loud. (pause)

Keep the frumpy English chuckle and let everyone know how wealthy you are and how English you are and intelligent you are and how much better you are than they. Top of the food chain laugh.

Now think how ridiculous you look sitting in that room, laughing with that teacup in your hand! Laughing for no good reason other than it feels good is good enough for me.

The great thing about laughing is that when you are laughing your mind is incapable of holding contending realities.

All the Übercritics and mega-egos out there are temporarily suspended. You’re neither good nor bad. When you laugh, all you hear is ha ha, ho, ho, hee, hee!!!

And if that’s still not enough. Try the laughter hotline at 712.432.3900. Access code: 607-1292. Daily at 10AM MST.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Über Critic

The Über Critic woke me up at 4. He's a huge help. Not only does he keep me from sleeping, he ridicules me! Neato. I normally get up before he does and crawl into a gossamer chair and write in the Dawn Zone and by the time he's ready to tear into me and tell me that I suck, I've got two pages I can shove right back in his face.

Sometimes it's a good idea to let the old boy have his say and get it out of his system. He mostly says the same thing over and over and he says the same things to all of us and he does tend to chose the sharp end of the knife, but after a while you can tell him, like a child, that that's enough and that he can sit in the corner because you've got some work to do.

However, if you keep him bottled up too long, he'll visit when you least want—like at 4.

I wrote that blog yesterday about blogging. So original. Ouu! A blogger blogging about blogging. (This is not me; this is him talking and I think it's time I gave Herr Über Critic a name… How about Dick. ;)

So Dick woke me up at 4 telling me how stupid it was to have written a blog with quasi-existential humor. Sartre is sooo funny, you know. "I exist." Hilarious. Dick went on to tell me that a blog is actually the truncated form of the word weblog. Now that's interesting, Dick. Thanks for the info.

The name weblog reminds me of Weebles (Weebles wobble but they don't fall down), which is a perfect metaphor for writing. The immediacy of throwing your stuff up on the webwall is gratifying, but I am used to writing something for, you know, a couple years and then I go back and reread what I wrote and man was the Über Critic right. The old writing is bad, rank, like duck guts rottin' in a barrel.

I don't know… I mean it's taken me four, five years to get up to the level of writing that most people would call crappy. Take Suzanne Young. A Coors Light and a free afternoon and she's banged out eight chapters; me on the other hand, I'm hitting maybe eight beers (good ones, not Coors Light, thank you very much) and maybe add eight light years and I got a couple of good pages, sort of.

So just before the alarm goes off, the Über Critic is still hammering away but he's coming around to the idea of blogging and he tells me, "Yeah, I think you should blog, Paul, I think it's a great idea. In fact, keep clicking that 'Publish This Blog' button, buddy, because that is the only thing you'll ever publish."

To which, I replied, "Thanks, Dick."

I got up and wrote this blog and I'm sure when I read it in a year, it'll suck. But I'll just make it better. It's an iBlog; not a weBlog. We write and write, but we don't fall down.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Je pense donc je blog

"Je pense donc je suis."- Descartes.

My friend Dan, who has B.O. the moment he steps out of the shower, used to say: Je pu donc je suis. (Yes: I stink therefore I am.) True enough for an existentialist. And then it became, Je pu donc je suis Dan.

Je suis means I am, but it could mean: I follow, just the same. (Suivre: to follow) You could say, “Je suis ce blog.” I follow this blog or it could mean, I am this blog, which is borderline creepy.

I am me and I follow myself could both be: Je suis moi or you could say: Je me suis, if you wanted to, but most people don’t. I certainly don’t; I mean I don’t walk down the street and say, “I am me!”

Okay sometimes I do when I am weak and lonely and unsure of myself and gray clouds come to suffocate me, then I look at myself and I say to myself, “Self,” and my Self says, “What?” And then I’m a-O-k.

So blogging is like bad sci-fi, only you made it up, sort of. By blogging, you’re following yourself. I guess you could look at it in a metaphysical “follow your bliss” kind of way, sure; but Joseph Campbell never blogged and nor did Descartes. All of which brings you back to wondering if no one is following your blog then no one is reading your blog and if no one is reading your blog then why write it?

Because blogging is about getting published or noticed but isn’t a blog published? And if you published it then you could say:

Je blog donc je suis.

Oh and I have a website:!books-for-reluctant-readers/c22m2