September 30, 2009:

Onward on CURSES, to page 132. Maybe ten pages to go.

Another rejection letter. A possible new DINOSAUR  book. Working on a proposal for a new poetry anthology. Wrote a poem of my own for it (I dreamed it in several incarnation all night.)

Went to the movies with Nora to see “500 Days of Summer” which we both thought had great charm, though both found the main female character much less interesting than the main male character, and surprisingly wearing Donna Reed dresses though it is set in today. I especially liked the NY Times review that said: “it’s somewhat remarkable that “(500) Days,” the feature directing debut of the music video auteur Marc Webb, is neither depressing nor French.” Absolutely spot on. It really does feel quite a bit like an intimate French film, both quirky and charming.

September 29, 2009:

Working more on CURSES FOILED AGAIN, I got all the way through to the place where I’d stopped my forward motion before, adding 22 pages in total. Then I moved ahead a couple of pages, and am ready to plunge over the next few days into the book’s huge battle scene and wrap up. Maybe another 20 book pages at most.

Do I like it? It has moments I feel soar. And moments to make the reader laugh. But I am the last person in the world who can answer that question. For me, at this time of the writing it’s all WORDS. I see each word as if it were imprinted with my sweat. I see repetitions, misrepresentations, cliches. Could I have found a better idea, a flashier sentence, a deeper/cooler/more perfect phrase? Are the characters sharp enough? Who the h.e. double hockysticks knows? I certainly don’t.

What I do know is this: I have worked hard on the manuscript. I have tried to both deepen what came before and keep it consistent with the first book. I want to make sure the arc of the thing bows in the right places, bends in the right places. I want the young reader to want to continue reading all the way till the end. And I definitely hope that the ending will be both inevitable and surprising.

I have heard that I will most likely have the same wonderful editor–Tonya McKinnon–for this book as I had for the last. As she was a freelance editor for First/Second, this wasn’t a foregone conclusion. God, did she make me work on FOILED. But as that was my first graphic novel, there was a huge learning curve. I hope I have retained some of what she taught me and that we don’t have another seven revisions to get through. But if I have to, then I will do all those revisions to get the book right. And thank her for the new lesson.

And so to bed. . .

Interstitial Moment:

Debbie wrote to ask: “I think one of the things slowing me down in the process is the fear of allowing ANY passive voice or ‘ly” adverbs to escape my brain and trickle onto the page.  I know there are times when these are permissible (in adult writing), but I’ve been “programmed” to always avoid them when it comes to writing for children.  Your thoughts?  Do you avoid using them altogether, or do you use them sparingly?”

Debbie: I let everything flow out on the first draft. I have trained myself NOT to edit until the next draft. Otherwise one can become verbally constipated. But unlike Isaac Asimov–who famously insisted he never did more than one draft–I go over and over and over things afterwards.
I must admit that a lot of those prickly, overused -ly words are the first to go on the next draft. But not all of them. They are only a problem (like everything in writing) if they are overdone. In fact grammar rules are best learned well, and then forgotten. After all, the best writers reinvent grammar for their own purposes.
I wrote a poem about this. (Of course I did.)

Grammar Rules

Grammar rules

defeat me,

like the one about


all of which

ly so well

I never know

the truth of a verb.

Like the one about




leaping away–


my careful rhetoric.

Or like the end


of  a  preposition,

the classic no-no,

thank you,

Mr. Churchill,

which is something up

with which

I will not


September 28, 2009:

Well, back to form. Book-writing form, that is. After a night’s sleep of TEN hours (I must have been exhausted from the trip!) I got up and started to work on CURSES FOILED AGAIN. Got up to page 102, heading into the big climactic scenes, when I decided it made more sense to go back to the beginning, to make sure that I was going to be doing the right climax for the right book! (I HATE when the opposite happens.) It is an energizing move so that I can work myself up to speed for the Big Boffo Ending.

So now I am in the mid 50s, having added and/or rearranged pages and along the way creating 6 more pages than before. And remembering some of the stuff I’d forgotten was in the book. I hope this is all working together better now. Tomorrow I will only get to work in the morning since I have an afternoon doctor’s appointment and need to send off a bunch of stuff back to the States (books, holiday presents, etc.).

I also worked on putting together the workshop for Sunday (SCBWI Scotland, in Edinburgh.)

Two nice pieces of book news: THE SCARECROW’S DANCE is in its third printing. And SEA QUEENS has had a Spanish edition (printed in Madrid). Both of these these news items came through Heidi. Oh, and she mentioned a young fan who wrote that he likes my looks a lot. Obviously he means my “books” but I will take any kind of compliment I can get these days!

Now if only I can figure out how to get all the phone calls from people wanting to sell me double-glazing, new kitchens, and give me loans of thousands of pounds stopped, and I will be completely happy.

Dinner at Bob and Debby’s completed my day.

Goodnight, Dear Readers, wherever you are. Send me questions. Let me know you exist. Sometimes it feels as if I am talking to myself here.

September 27, 2009:

One of those days NO writing got done.

What did I do instead?

I critiqued five picture book manuscripts for a workshop next Saturday.

I played fifteen games of Boggle.

I answered email.

I went on FaceBook.

I (sort of) balanced my checkbooks.

I cleaned up (sort of) my writing area.

I had tea with friends at their sitooterie by the Firth of Forth.

I did a small grocery shopping.

I managed two loads of washing.

I cleaned the kitchen.

I wrote this new post for my journal.

I lost/avoided/wasted/ignored/threw away an entire writing day.

Yeah, sometimes that happens. So sue me.

September 25-26, 2009:

The trip back from London started in a fraught manner. I worked at my hosts’ house and got about 10 more pages done. (That was not the fraught part.) And I called for a cab about two and a half hours before I needed them. Since my train left at 2, I asked for a cab to come for me at 1. That way I could buy something to carry onto the train as well. And I am always early for things. I HATE running late.

At 1, I was outside, having already dropped the keys through the door, waiting in the London sunshine. My cell phone rang. I assumed they needed further directions. But no– it was the cab company saying they couldn’t find a driver! What a time to discover that. . .and full panic set in. The operator said she would ask around again and call me back in five minutes. Fifteen minutes later, having heard nothing, I called another cab company who said they would have a cab there in ten minutes. Shortly after I hung up, the first place called me to say they’d found someone who would be there in seven minutes. Did I trust them? I had no idea. But I thought they had treated me shabbily. I told them I had found someone else and to call off their cab. The woman said she would. I paced. And paced. A cab came about five minutes later from the original company but it was late enough that I didn’t dare stand on ceremony or on principles. I got in, called and cancelled the second cab. And got to my train with seven minutes to spare! Whew.

Worked some more on the train, but was in economy class on the way back which made things crowded, noisy, and difficult. Lesson learned. Spend the extra 30 pounds!

Home and to bed early. . .and then both my friend Bob and afterwards grandaughter Glen called me at 10 and 11 p.m. But I had good talks with each. Always glad to hear from both of them.

Saturday, I was a bit lazy. Did a couple of pages on CURSES (up to page 102 now) but mostly talked with the chimney man about work on the chimneys (they are blocked) and then High Tea with friends Elaine and Ann. We laughed. A lot.

September 24, 2009:

I began the day with breakfast at a local bakery (I just, alas, had tea) with my wonderful editor from Walker UK, and we ranted about the state of publishing in both Britain and America for a couple of hours, as well as talked about possible new projects together. As I walked back to my hosts’ house–with two fresh baked loaves of bread for them–I thought about the possibilities of those new projects. So of course, as is my wont, I immediately sat down and emailed the editor a bunch of stuff, in the hopes that something will tickle her fancy.

Then I settled down to work on CURSES FOILED AGAIN, getting up to page 86 by the end of four hours.

In-between the pages, I tried to be a hero. As I was making tea in the second floor kitchen, I looked out onto the building’s garden and there was an elderly red-headed woman sprawled peculiarly in the grass, not discernibly breathing. On a table nearby was a notebook and some papers. I watched on and off for a few minutes more and she was still not moving. Worried that she might have had a heart attack (especially since she was lying on the grass, not on a blanket or laprobe) I grabbed my cell phone. I found the garden keys (there were three of them) and with a bit more sleuthing found the garden door as well, I worked out how to get into the garden because its keys were somewhat like my Scottish garden door. I ran into the garden. She was still not moving. I went over to her, tapped her on the shoulder, and asked “Are you alright?” I was ready to call 999, the British equivalent of 911. She turned over blinked, said, “Oh, I’m not sleeping. I’m just having a good think.” On the grass? In 70 degree weather? No blanket under her? Oh well, no accounting for British eccentricities. I apologized for disturbing her. She thanked me for my concern. I walked back into the house a bit embarrassed, heart pounding. Not a hero after all.

In the evening, after my adventure, I was taken to a quite wonderful house–part 17th century part Victorian with a long rig garden to die for. There were really excellent canapes in the garden with champagne, all for the members of the London Smith College Club. Then I gave a talk about writing and the Yolen clan, read MY FATHER KNOWS THE NAMES OF THINGS and several poems, both for children and for adults. Made them laugh. Hope I made them think. They bought books. I signed books. Answered some questions. There were dessert canapes. A good time, I think, was had by all.

Came back to Mine Hosts, found a rejection in e-mail, and news of a newly-discovered Anglo-Saxon treasure trove which my Scottish chum Peter says made him very envious.

September 23, 2009:

Hard sleeping night as I knew I was leaving on an early train to London. But of course I made it on time, and from Edinburgh on I was in first class. These trains now have wi-fi and eletcricity so you don’t run out of batteries. I did email and then worked on CURSES for the four and a half hours into the capital. Strange to be writing while the landscape whips on by: small woodlands of beech and alder, stone houses, stone fences like the spines of dragons climbing up hills, allotments with the tag-end of the summer vegetables, in one garden a man practicing his golf game. Life busily flying by, and all the while I am typing away! I managed to get up to page 78 on the mss.

In London I was staying in a Smith College grad’s two-floor flat. She and her husband (both Americans who are long time residents in London) have the top floor and I had a bedroom and private bathroom on the lower floor next to their offices and living room. Heaven! Of course to get in took four keys and five locks, and I needed help from their neighbor who had an office across the way. Luckily, I know the language. Sort of.

I unpacked and then got a cab to HarperCollins where I had a lovely afternoon with my two Harper editors who have done the British editions of the HOW DO DINOS books which have solved over a half million copies, very good for GB. (In America and the clubs, the figure is over 12 milion!) We also looked at illustrator options for a picture book they bought several years ago.

Then a cab ride (paid by Harper) to the British Library to wait for my friend, Farah. As I got there early, I had time to sit and outline the rest of CURSES, one of those very loose outlines that will grow (I hope, since it only goes up to 120 pages and the first book is 160.

Farah and I walked from there–about 20 minutes–to John and Judith Clute’s flat where we had a lovely dinner and MUCH conversation. Then I took a cab back to the Smith College flat. And fell into bed.

September 22, 2009:

So I got to the doctor’s office at the new hospital. Turns out there IS an emergency room hidden away and not lit well, and no signage. But now I know. . .

There were hundreds of people mulling round. It was the big opening day party. So while the sick folk sat huddled together in waiting rooms, in the great front entry hall were speeches, laughter, applause. Very strange.

The doctor, a lovely young woman named Gilly Thompson, took one look at my foot and said, “Tsk, tsk, tsk.”  Not exactly what one wants to hear. Took a photo of the foot so we have a baseline. She was very encouraging, though, and gave me a different steroid plus antibiotic. So we shall see. Meanwhile, as I put on the first coating of the ointment, I was happily dismayed to read its name. I mean, thousands of dollars are spent on product name discovery. And this is called. . .wait for it. . .I am not making this up. . .FUCIBET. FUC-I-BET. Try saying that any way you can and it is still Fucibet. I’m just saying. . .

Afterwards, I had a lovely lunch with my chum Peter, and we went second-hand bookstore wandering through St Andrew.I picked up a biography of Hilaire Belloc and several books for my neighborhood  drug dealers, er rare book dealers down the block in Hatfield.

Got ready for London–I will be away three days. Play nicely. I am not sure whether I will be able to stay in contact during the three days of seeing editors and speaking to the Smith College London Club. But I will have my handy Fucibet with me so all will be well. And I will be bacl Friday evening.

September 21, 2009:

Hardly any writing done, as I was hosting an al fresco luncheon for Elizabeth Wein (YA fantasy author) and her husband Tim, with Debby and Bob. Tim works for a vidoe games company and was very gracious with advice for Bob, and then we all talked fantasy books and writing and crabbed about publishing. Much fun, though outside the gale winds were blowing.

Did some further stuff on EXCEPT THE QUEEN since Midori’s changes came to me with all the notes showing! But that was all the writing I got done. However, another reprint of SALEM WITCH TRIALS arrived. Fifth printing. Not bad for a series S&S has decided to can.

In the evening, I was having a lot of trouble with my foot, a reaction to the steroidal cream which the doctor had given me. It turns out the new little local hospital does not have an emergency room, either that or no one gave me the secret password. I drove around it in the dark (it was after 9) for about fifteen minutes, then gave up and managed through the night. Things looked MUCH better in the morning and I was promised a doctor’s appointment.



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