Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lovely Libraries

I never got around to posting about our trip to the UK in June, but one of the best things we saw was the incredible library, The Long Room, at Trinity College in Dublin. It was jaw-droppingly beautiful, books floor to ceiling, and had this rich, lush quality that made you feel smart just sitting and soaking it in.

We weren't allowed to take photos, so I went in search of one online and found the super-cool site called Curious Expeditions. It was the Librophiliac Love Letter post that left me drooling, but the whole site is worth exploring.

I had no idea there were so many take-your-breath-away, GORGEOUS, I-want-to-live-there libraries around the world.

*Photo from Curious Expeditions

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Books That Shape Us

I've been thinking a lot about those few select, amazing books that define who we are. The ones we read over and over, whose characters own our hearts and souls. The books that come along at critical points in life, from childhood on up, to help us make sense of the world. Books that are beloved because they took us to magical places, or revealed certain truths, or held a mirror up for us to examine our lives, both trials and triumphs.

I've blogged before about childhood favorites, including Trixie Belden and Bread and Jam for Frances. Cleary and Blume were staples, along with Cynthia Voigt and Shel Silverstein. Others I didn't discover until college, like the Narnia books (I know!) and Lloyd Alexander's Prydain chronicles and Susan Cooper's Dark Is Rising series. A kid lit class in college opened my eyes to an entire world of authors I'd never known: Ursula Le Guin, Diana Wynne Jones, Roald Dahl, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Frances Hodgson Burnett. I became a regular at used book stores. It was a second childhood, a Renaissance, that's still going strong--and still shaping who I am as both a reader and a writer.

The talent of today's authors is no less jawdropping. I have to fight with myself over every new Megan Whalen Turner book, whether to gobble it up or savor every page.

Where did it all start? With my mom. She passed away this summer, and the last few years of her life were so tough on her. Circumstances required that I assume the role of caregiver, and it deeply strained the relationship between us that I'd always cherished. But a little distance has granted me a wealth of perspective. I've been able to reflect on her legacy, on the many gifts she bestowed, not the least of which was a love of reading. I don't remember how often we read together, or how consistently, but I do know that after every doctor's appointment to treat my persistent tonsillitis, she took me to the drugstore to pick out a new book. She read aloud to me, classics like David Copperfield and Alice in Wonderland and Little Women. And she indulged my frequent trips to the library. She didn't mind that I brought home armfuls of books. She raised an eyebrow but didn't fuss during my many obsessive phases, from ghosts to poetry to classical LPs.

The past fews years I've been watching my oldest son, now 11, devour books. He prefers series, like Fablehaven and Harry Potter and The Secret Series (This Book Is Not Good for You), because he can revisit familiar characters like old friends. I can't help but agree.

However the landscape of publishing changes in the next decade, I hope he'll always have a book in his hand. And I hope my mom knows, somehow, that every time I pick up a book, a part of her is there with me.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


How could I not post on this really nifty date, especially with so many interesting things going on in the Hayes household?

Loving the gorgeous fall weather. Vivid blue skies, crunchy, colorful leaves, pumpkins and mums and that crisp morning air. Divine!

We made our annual trek to the pumpkin patch on Friday, mostly for the photo op. The grocery store would be easier (and cheaper!), but some traditions are non-negotiable.

Our house is nearly sold, at last! Don't want to jinx it, but we're due to sign the papers in less than two weeks. Boo-yah! It will be nice to have that stress off our plates.

I have tickets to an Oprah taping on Friday! How cool is that? Now that we're Chicagoites...Chicagoers...residents of the Chicago area, I had to try for tickets, and lo and behold, I scored some through the web site! The taping could be just about anything, I reckon, but just the experience should be once-in-a-lifetime.

Two family birthdays this month, one next month, and company for Thanksgiving. Several work trips for hubby coming up, including another to India.

Oh, and a possible writing breakthrough soon. Perhaps. Time will tell, but it's been a great month so far, so I'm crossing fingers and toes.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

We Interrupt This Ridiculously Long Lapse in Posting...

to share a link to the super cool blog of a super cool writer, Elissa Cruz:


I've gotten to know Elissa through Verla Kay's message board (see link to the right), a shining oasis for children's writers in all stages of their writing journeys. Elissa is funny, smart, and a force for good in promoting middle-grade books and their authors.

Happy blogiversary, Elissa!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Arrgggghh. I sound like a pirate, but I'm merely venting frustration at the slow pace of my current manuscript revisions. How they taunt me!

Three more chapters 'til I can wash my hands of it, hopefully with my sanity intact--and without anyone nominating me for the Messiest House in America.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Life Is Weird

My husband and I had an amazing anniversary trip to England, Ireland, and Scotland. I was looking forward to posting pictures and blogging about the experience. Then life, as it so often does, threw a wrench in the works. A huge, weird, completely bizarre, "How does this happen?" kind of wrench.

We were sitting in the Dublin airport, awaiting our flight home, when the hubby checked his voice messages and discovered that a man had collapsed while driving down our street and ended up in our living room.

In his car.

This is our house in Peoria, the one that's been for sale since August and is thankfully, mercifully empty. I can't imagine what might have happened if we'd still been living there. Or if someone else had bought it and was living there.

The driver is fine. The house not so much. 45 miles per hour + brick wall = big hole. I think the house is cursed, it's been through so much in such a short time.

I haven't seen the damage yet. It's probably just as well. We're meeting the insurance guy there on Friday and I'm sure I'll shed some tears. It's such a beautiful house. Beautiful and terrible, like Galadriel.

Stupid wrench. A cab driver who heard the story told us cheerfully that luck often comes from unlikely places. The verdict is still out on this one.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Dangers of Living a Stone's Throw from Wisconsin

Ever since we moved to the Chicago area a few months ago, I've been obsessed with the idea of driving to Wisconsin to tour a cheese factory and eat samples.

This weekend we took the plunge. We came home with smoked cheddar and gouda and farmer's cheese and some other amazing cheese I can't remember the name of. A decent amount of it has already been eaten, mostly by me. I think the original (naive) idea was to "cook" with it, but it goes down just as easily with chips and salsa.

Yum. Several of the cheese factories/retail stores on the oversized tourism board map also serve ice cream and fudge, just in case the cheese isn't healthy enough for you.

I'm in serious trouble.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Funny Things We Say

Three-year-old daughter:

eppercise = exercise
flamily = family
chocolick = chocolate
ows cream = ice cream
Sleeping Booty (self-explanatory)


"I'm almost caught up on the laundry." = "I've hidden the laundry in strategic places around the house so I don't have to look at it."

"I'm giving up Pepsi any day now." = "I'll go an extra hour without my sugar/caffeine fix, get a headache, get twitchy, snap at everyone, then lose my resolve and head for the fridge."

"I will no longer obsess about the writing thing." = "I'll bottle it all up then take it out on my poor, unsuspecting flamily."

*My apologies to whomever crafted this Cameron icon. I stumbled across it years ago, saved it to the hard drive for future use because of its sheer awesomeness, and promptly forgot where I found it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

When Good Mountains Go Bad

Today is the 30th anniversary of the Mt. St. Helens eruption. I was seven years old (meep! how time flies!) that Sunday afternoon when the sky went dark in Spokane, WA.

I don't remember feeling scared, really. Just fascinated. When the skies cleared we had a few inches of ash on the ground, like gritty, gray snow. We scooped some up in jelly jars and pill bottles to save for posterity. Plows and snow shovels came out of storage to deal with the rest.

I wish I'd been older. I wish I could remember more. The significance of such a major event sailed right over my little head. One of my most vivid memories involves the paper masks we wore to protect our lungs. Volunteers at school painted clown faces and puppies and kitties on the masks so we'd be more inclined to wear them.

I've always wanted to frame this event as a story, somehow. Funny how the random things that happen in childhood provide fuel for our grown-up imaginations.

Photos from fas.org and US geological survey, respectively. Couldn't find a single photo of those silly masks, though.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hearing Voices

The amazing Nathan Bransford blogged recently about infusing your writing with a memorable voice. I've been waffling back and forth between first and third person on my current project, trying to decide which is stronger; which one creates a more believable connection with the main character.

First person seems best in this case, but here's where I'm struggling: I find myself second guessing every single descriptive passage.

Me: "Ooh, that's a good phrase, that's a keeper."
*gives self imaginary, premature pat on the back*
Me: "Wait. Is it something a twelve-year-old boy would think or say?"
*says line out loud*
Me: "Crap."

My two previous manuscripts were much easier in this regard (first-person teenage girl, third-person tween boy). Can a grown woman convincingly capture a preteen boy's point-of-view? Sure, J.K. Rowling did it, but she's J.K. Rowling. And she used third person.

This should be an interesting experiment. It will probably require large quantities of chocolate.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Bits and Pieces

Yay! I made it past the first page of my WIP. \0/

My newest difficulty is nodding off while writing. That's right: I'm boring myself into midday slumber. (It may also have something to do with staying up until 2 am several nights this week.)

Mother's Day was a hit, though DH had to catch a flight to NY in the afternoon. He bought me a skillet and sat there watching me squirm, trying to act excited, until he pulled out a pair of diamond earrings--easily the nicest jewelry I've ever owned, next to my wedding ring. What an amazing guy.

I also had to share this last tidbit about our cornball Middle Child. We were sitting at First-Born's game Saturday in the freezing cold weather (they won!). MC wanted to go sit in the car. I suggested he watch the game to get some pointers, since his first game is two weeks away. He rolled his eyes, flung out his hands and said in all seriousness: "But I'm already fantastic!"

Hee. It's true the kid can hit. His other skills...need work.

Zero help required in the confidence department.

Friday, May 7, 2010

First Drafts: the Good, the Bad, and the Horrific

I'm very excited to be working on a new middle-grade novel. That thrill of possibility is like a permanent sugar rush. These past few weeks I've been trying to get to know my characters, discarding ideas that don't feel quite right, fleshing out plot and setting.

The trouble is, I've started this thing several times and each time I end up throwing out most of what I write. I have a passable first page. Good. Fine. Great. But whenever I open the document intending to pound out a thousand words, I get stuck on that first page, tweaking, trying to make every word perfect. Gah. Words that seemed spot-on one day sit there on the page and mock me the next day. MY BOOK IS LAUGHING AT ME.

There's definitely a learning curve. At least the main character has found his voice and is not afraid to speak up. And apparently he has a lively sense of humor.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Book Phobia

Do you ever avoid reading books because there are too many of them to read?

I have shelves and shelves of must-reads gathering dust, and I'm so intimidated by them that I spend hours wasting time on the Internet.


After browsing a handful of agent and author blogs tonight, I'm reminded of all the AMAZING books out there, many released within the last year or two. Now I'm even more intimidated, because I know it's time for another trip to the bookstore, where I'll buy more books that I don't read.

Help! There must be a trick to breaking the cycle of avoidance. I need a library, STAT. Maybe they have a summer reading program for grownups.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Baseball Geeks

Our oldest son had his first official game tonight. He got a hit and sent a runner home! They won the game! I'm living vicariously through my kid and I'm not ashamed to admit it!

I am an indoor girl, through and through. I never played an organized sport. I quit the dance lessons pretty early in the game. I grew up as a band geek and preferred books and TV to pretty much anything involving bugs and/or dirt.

But I'm having so much dang fun with this baseball thing. We were like the second family to show up for the game (mostly to stake out prime viewing spots with our folding chairs). We've been to every practice so far, wearing silly grins, watching our 10-year-old play an actual sport for the first time. Most of the other parents are veterans, cool as cucumbers. Not that they don't cheer on their kids. They're great. Just calmer. They can even carry on conversations while the kids are IN THE MIDDLE OF A GAME, and are more prone to spouting cool baseball chatter, and less prone to wearing silly grins.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Little League

Our new town has a fantastic youth baseball league, and our boys are signed up to play! Just going to practices, sitting outdoors, soaking up the atmosphere...it's settled something in me that's been restless--homeless--for a long time. I think we're finally home, finally in a place we can settle in to build a sense of permanence.

Baseball is so many things. It's comfortable. It's community. It's mowed grass and dusty fields. Hot dogs and folding chairs. Hope and hard work, focus and faith.

People often speak of baseball as a metaphor for life. For our family, it represents something simpler but no less profound: peace.

The boys are happy. We are Nomads no more. Life is good.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Back In Business, Baby!

We can't park in the garage because it's full of empty boxes! Wahoo!

There are still plenty of unpacked boxes in the basement, but since we never go down there I can pretend that we're completely moved in.

Suffering from frequent periods of restlessness? Spending way too much time online for no good reason? You too may be suffering from acute procrastination. I can no longer ignore the signs that I'm using the move as an excuse to avoid real life. Time to get back to writing/blogging/being a useful member of society.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Time Out

House guests last week, moving this week.

Return of sanity expected sometime mid-April.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Childhood Favorites, Part III

Bread and Jam for Frances appealed to me because I was a picky eater, and because Frances made up songs to work through her problems. The best word I can think of here is authenticity. Frances's actions rang completely true. We were of one mind, Frances and I. Why shouldn't a girl be able to eat the one thing she loves over and over and over?

And again, looking at it today I'm struck by the skillful use of color and simplicity. Funny how when you're young sometimes you can't express exactly why you like something. You just do. It's reassuring to know that on occasion, my younger self had excellent taste.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Childhood Favorites, Part II

Next on the list of awesome childhood books: Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson.

Man, I loved that book. Elegant simplicity. Delightful ingenuity. Infinite possibility. I couldn't wait to turn the pages, to see how Harold would draw himself into or out of each new predicament.

Looking at it now I'm amazed at the brilliant use of space and color, at how masterfully those two elements spark the imagination, inviting the reader to step into the book and look around. It was a shared experience: me and Harold, side by side, out for a stroll in the big, wide world.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Childhood Favorites, Part I

This week I felt an impulse to revisit a few of the books I loved as a kid. No doubt there are many I've forgotten, and some I look at now and think, "Bzuh?". Tastes change and memories fail, but there will always be standouts that leave a lasting impression. Today I pay tribute to the irrepressible teenage detective, Trixie Belden.

Trixie was fearless and smart (though her brothers had to tutor her in math, if I remember right). She wasn't traditionally pretty, like Di or Honey, but cute in her own way--at least Jim thought so! Even 25 years ago the books were hopelessly dated, but I couldn't get enough of them. Who could resist a flawed, likeable heroine who solved mysteries and whose favorite word was "Jeepers!"?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Winds of Change

I've been thinking about the concept of blog-as-venue-for-venting-and-random-observations vs. blog-as-potential-platform-for-future-novel. I'd like to make a shift toward more literary-minded posts, but there are so many amazing blogs out there already (with followers, no less!) that address everything from book reviews to finding an agent to marketing your work.

I suppose it's about finding and cultivating your blog Voice, which isn't so different from the writing process itself. I'll give it a whirl and see where it leads.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Winter Blahs

I could really use some flowers and a temperature above 35 degrees. Any day now. C'mon, spring!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Grins & Smiles & Giggles & Laughs

Does anybody else remember this cereal?

In my memory it tasted like perfection, like sunshine and gumdrops. In reality it probably tasted like sand. Either way it didn't matter. Just the name alone could get you through the day.

Photo from theimaginaryworld.com.

Comfortably Numb

Too tired to go to bed. Not tired enough to quit flipping through the mind-numbing array of late-night tv programming.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mom Syndrome

Most days I'm grateful to be a stay-at-home mom, but there are certainly times when I miss working in an office environment--having contact with peers (or even just adults!), getting recognition for a job well done, wearing slacks or a cute skirt instead of pajama pants all day.

And then there are days when my tall, thin, blond, beautiful accountant neighbor stops by to pick up her kids and I have food stains on my shirt and my hair in a claw clip and no makeup on, and I don't even know if I've brushed my teeth all day.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Cheapskate Sweet Tooth

It's okay to buy yourself Valentine's candy if it's half off, right? I hate to think of all those poor, lonely boxes of chocolate just sitting on the shelf.

If only half off meant half the calories.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Time Travel

I just noticed that my posts are showing up as a day ahead. Maybe Blogger thinks I'm still in the Philippines. *scratches head and goes to search for a way to fix it*

Please Pass the Potato Soup

Cheesy potato soup is my comfort food. I made a batch tonight to try to smooth the wrinkles of a long, tiring day.

Hubby's at a conference in Florida until Wednesday. The kids are so weary of being cooped up indoors that they're fighting constantly and running in circles. Every frantic, high-pitched squeal is like a drill bit to the brain.

I love my children more than life itself, but if we don't have some warmer weather soon, I may have to check myself into a nice, quiet padded room. Preferably in Florida.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Happy Heart Day

I ended up in a store today, against my better judgment, and it was just as crazy as I feared.

But it was also funny and totally heartwarming to see guys of all ages, races, and economic backgrounds haunting the Valentine's section, staring at the shelves of stuffed bears in befuddlement or reading card after card in search of the perfect pre-written romantic sentiment.

The realist in me knows that half those guys were there because they'd get a good kick in the butt (or at least a few days of the silent treatment) if they didn't buy their sweethearts something for Valentine's Day. My hubby knows this from personal experience. :) But it's also sweet to see them trying, not just grabbing something off the shelf but giving it some actual thought. You could almost hear the conversation in their heads:

The big purple one has "I love you" on its stomach, but this brown one looks more like an actual bear, plus it plays that song from Titanic.

Yes, I realize my guy voice is not even a little bit authentic. And truth be told, I struggled just as much to think of something original for my sweetheart. He's getting a new case and a reading light for his Kindle. Eventually. Apparently expedited shipping meant "your purchase will arrive in a week or so."

Friday, February 12, 2010

Olympic Moments

Watching the Opening Ceremonies tonight brings back vivid memories of the Salt Lake Games. It was amazing to be there, to experience that electricity, that current of optimism and joy and pride. We tried for tickets through the wristband lottery but ultimately had to buy them the old-fashioned way: eBay.

We saw the women's figure skating short program (waaaay up in the nosebleed seats) and a men's hockey game (I think it was Belarus vs. Russia). I remember the huge banners that draped the buildings downtown, and the silly Roots berets that sold out because they were THE hot item to wear.

I admit it--I love the stories of sacrifice and lifelong struggle that emerge during the Olympics, no matter what country the athletes are from, because in most cases they've worked their whole lives in pursuit of a dream, and then they're there, they've made it, they've accomplished something truly great. Medals or no medals, it's the triumph of the human spirit that gets me every time.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Reading Habits

My daughter's current bedtime story of choice is OLIVIA.

I don't know whether to be thrilled at her excellent taste in books, or terrified that she thinks of Olivia as a kindred spirit.

Our oldest just tore his way through the first four Percy Jackson books and wants to see the new movie on Friday. This makes me insanely happy. He's read all the Harry Potters and Artemis Fowls and Fablehaven books. He's halfway through the Prydain chronicles. I could use some recommendations on middle-grade boy series. We have the Dark Is Rising books but they're not quite to his taste. Maybe the Tripod books? Hmm. Time for a trip to the bookstore.

Our seven-year-old claims not to like reading, but he loves dogs even more than Mario Kart, so we're reading dog chapter books every night in hopes of getting him hooked. It's kind of like a puzzle, finding the right book for the right kid.

What a wonderful problem to have.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Cry for Help

Have I mentioned that Bejeweled is awesome? Oh, right. Yesterday.

But it tells me I'm excellent and incredible. How many other games are both sparkly and provide an instant ego boost?

Plus the offer we were expecting on the house today didn't come, so distractions were especially welcome.

If I post about Bejeweled again tomorrow, someone may need to stage an intervention.

Monday, February 8, 2010


I went for months without playing Bejeweled on my iPod. Now that I'm done with revisions on Killer Earthlings, Bejeweled is my distraction (i.e. time waster) of choice.

It's a simple, slightly addictive way to recharge before I start the next book. It also makes a good distraction when I start obsessing about whether this will be the week we sell the house, or when I freak out if there's a Fruity Pebble on the floor.

Plus those little gems are just so sparkly, and they make those cool pling and goong noises when they collapse.

I'm totally not addicted. I can quit any time I want.

Now where did I put that iPod...?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sick Day

The boys were home sick from school today--nothing major, just the sniffles. But the daughter and I have them too, so we were a house full of bored, sniffling people. I played way too many games of Bejeweled and checked e-mail like 1,000 times. The kids have played so much Mario Kart, they're better drivers than I am. I could probably send them out in the van to run errands and they'd make it home without a scratch (and in record time).

Psych is back tonight with new episodes, and I am a happy camper. (Though I can't watch it 'til the hubby gets back in town, since watching it together is kind of our thing.) Is it sad that I'm this excited about a TV show? It's just so silly and fun, with its 80s guest stars and Scooby Doo plots. Just watching the commercials for it makes me smile.

Smiling is good. Sniffling, not as good.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ah, Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha

It's hilarious to see what I wrote a few weeks ago, something about everything changing and promising job opportunities and resolution to this endless waiting. Plus actually being excited about the query process when I had forgotten how brutal and agonizing and soul-crushing it is, and how it actually involves MORE WAITING.

We (Bryce) didn't get the job in Seattle. I had such high hopes. His company is still dragging its feet on the Naperville move/housing situation. And only one showing on our house this month.


But. I was reminded yesterday why daughters are completely awesome. When I was having a poor-me, despair filled day yesterday, she brought me a plastic tiara and a sparkly magic wand and let me tell you, wearing a tiara makes everything better. I swear.

I may have to wear one every day. Or at least until life decides to be a little more kind.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Holy Life Changes, Batman!

Killer Earthlings is finished! Hooray and hallelujah! Finally finished the first draft Christmas weekend and I'm SO eager to start querying. I've been out of the game too long.
Must. Resist. Premature. Queries. Must. Edit. Instead. Arrggh. (Although I feel like the first half of the book has been tinkered with so much it doesn't need too much work. It's the second half I'm worried about.)

Big things are also happening on the husband's job front. The house has been up for sale for four months in preparation for our move to Chicago/Naperville. This is the month we demand that they move us to an apartment or something (and of course, PAY for it) so Bryce doesn't have to do the back and forth thing anymore.

However, there is another job possibility in the works on the other side of the country. A very, very tempting possibility. One way or the other, this is the week when everything changes.

I also have to take a moment to gripe that 2009 was the year we fixed practically everything in this lovely house of ours (plus a ruined transmission in the van), so we were relieved to see New Year's Day, 2010. A fresh start. Lots of optimism to go around.

Naturally that's the day our furnace went kablooey.

The heat is fixed now, so we're warm and grateful about the $700 price tag, which could have so easily been $4000. And as far as we're concerned, 2010 started on January 2.