Archive for April, 2011

Nu, Mother’s Day is coming…

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

To celebrate, my boys and I decided tohave a GIVEAWAY!

So, to win a signed copy of my board book, NOSH, SCHLEP, SCHLUFF (and perhaps another little surprise too, just for you, Mom), simply submit a picture of your kinder (that’s Yiddish for children) being adorable (or NOT adorable, if you prefer).  But DO send in a picture!

You can either post to your own blog/tumblir/website/whatever, and send me a link (I’ll link ya up), or you can email it to me and I’ll post it here on the blog.  If you’re uncomfortable with having your child’s picture online, you can also email it to me, and ask that it not be displayed. You’ll still be entered best online casino slots!

Ideally, you should submit a picture that in some way illustrates or captures the spirit of one of the lines from the book. You can pick from these lines:

  • If you want to start a ruckus, wave your arms and shake your TUCHES!
  • Minor bumps and scrapes and cuts, anyone can be a KLUTZ.
  • Brussels sprouts and bits of squash– they’re not what you want to NOSH.
  • But to get a mommy-kissel, ESS them, ESS them, (just a BISSEL)
  • Dolly hauling, crawling, stepping–babies do get tired of SCHLEPPING.
  • And if you feel cranky, stretchy, bear in mind– you’re just KVETCHY.
  • Now day’s done and you’ve done lots. Sometimes you just have to PLOTZ.

BUT, if you don’t have any pictures of your eating or sleeping kids (not likely), you should feel free to send us a picture of some other kind– a picture of your toddler playing chess, or your teenager cleaning the chimney.  And hell, if you think your kid is funny-looking and so you don’t want to send them in, you can always send in someone else’s kid. I’ll never know.  Just send me a picture, so I don’t feel like a failure (though that would be appropriate I guess, for Mother’s day).  Oh, and one more thing!  You do NOT have to be Jewish, or understand the above Yiddishisms in order to enter or win! Because you certainly don’t have to be Yiddish to like the book.  You just have to send me a picture of your kid.

Then… in a few weeks, I will get my boys to vote on their five favorite pictures, and we’ll assemble a (belated, no shock there) little Mother’s Day present for each of our winners… together.  Maybe the boys will draw you a picture of a robot. They do good robots.

How’s that? Did I make it sound complicated?  I hope not. It’s simple:  Send me a picture of your kid. (like the one below, of MY kids)  Win a prize!

And even if you don’t enter, HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY! Seriously. It’s the hardest, best, most incredible, rewarding, frustrating, tiring, hilarious, taxing, joyful job in the world. It’s a job only YOU can do.  You are irreplaceable. And you do it every day! Usually without any thanks or notice.  So I hope someone brings you breakfast for Mother’s Day.  Even if it’s only burnt toast and a flower with a bent stem.  On a tray.  Served with the smile that breaks your heart every time.  Which is the real prize, of course.

Love, from Laurel (a mom)



Minor bumps and scrapes and cuts, anyone can be a KLUTZ.

Brussels sprouts and bits of squash– they’re not what you want to NOSH.

Brussels sprouts and bits of squash– they’re not what you want to NOSH.

Now day’s done and you’ve done lots. Sometimes you just have to PLOTZ.

Now day’s done and you’ve done lots. Sometimes you just have to PLOTZ.

Dolly hauling, crawling, stepping–babies do get tired of SCHLEPPING.

And if you feel cranky, stretchy, bear in mind– you’re just KVETCHY.

If you want to start a ruckus, wave your arms and shake your TUCHES!

Now day’s done and you’ve done lots. Sometimes you just have to PLOTZ!

For amber waves of GRAIN!!!

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

Passover, you are so so so close to OVER.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I am headed out in a few hours, to demolish the biggest pizza I can find!

And oh, yes… there will be beer.

And tonight, before bed, maybe a bourbon too.

Nothing like deprivation to make you realize how important something is…

See you next year.

Finding the middle, again…

Monday, April 18th, 2011

My new book, Bigger than a Bread Box, will be out in September, and slowly– copies are making their way into the world.  A friend recently wrote to tell me she’d picked up a copy at the TLA Conference, and I know some bookstores have received ARCs.  I’ll be in Orlando next month, at the IRA Convention, and I’ll assume (hope) to see the book there.

As people are reading this book, some are emailing me, and they’re saying that it feels different from my other books.  Partly because it feels older than my other books, and (not unrelated to that) because it feels sadder too, and more realistic.  Some folks have asked if I’ll write a YA novel next, since my books are now “aging up.”  So I wanted to take a moment to explain something.  As much for myself as for anyone else.

This “aging up” was no accident. I set out to write Bread Box very intentionally. I knew, very early on (because it is rooted in my own memories), what this book would be about, in a way that I’d never known a book before. And  more than knowing what it would be about, I knew who I wanted to write it for. I wrote this one for ME, for myself–my middle school self.  Because I still look back, and remember that kid I was, and feel sad.  I still wish I could be her friend, reach a hand back through the years to hold her nail-bitten fingers. I still remember how much a book– the right book (which I can only hope this is)– meant to her.  So Bread Box is for her.

It’s true that all of my books (including Bread Box) have a suggested reading age of 9-12,  but 9 and 12 are NOT the same, and I’ve always thought of third and fourth graders as my “sweet spot” until now. Because those were my happiest reading years, personally (if not my happiest years– they were complicated too). I loved discovering Dahl and Eager and McDonald and Travers and Nesbit and Thurber and all the rest. I think of them as the best-loved authors of my youth.  My friends. I loved escaping into magic, into happy accidental worlds I could  believe in.  Summers full of library books, stacked on my bed.  I have reread them all over and over through the years. They’re my escape. They’re how I evade adulthood.  They rescued me from the writers’ block I experienced after I finished my MFA.  They restored the sheer joy of reading and writing to me.

But third grade and seventh grade were very different for me–divided by a universe of experience and awareness.  I was no longer the same reader in middle school, not remotely.  And honestly, remembering that, I’ve felt a little funny visiting middle schools with a copy of Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains in my hand.

I stare out at those kids, into that sea of confused seventh grade eyes (God, how I loathed middle school!)  with this illustrated princess book in my hand, and I want to say to the kids, “Look, we all know you’re reading Twilight already, but can you maybe take a minute to listen to what I’m saying?  Because books are good, all kinds of books, and you might like this one too… if you give it a chance.  Even if you think you’re too old for it now.”

And sometimes I do find readers there, at the middle school, for Scratchy Mountains or Any Which Wall or Penny Dreadful.  Because the thing is, they aren’t all reading Twilight. They aren’t all ready to grow up. Some of them are still reading the kind of magic books I write.  Some of them are still collecting (as I did until high school) unicorn figurines.  Some of them still dream of talismans and otherworlds.  But at the same time, they’re not little kids anymore. They know stuff.  Stuff that a third grader doesn’t (shouldn’t) know.


I have a confession to make.  Last year, as I  was finishing Penny Dreadful, and starting to imagine writing Bread Box, I read a book you’ve probably read, a book called When You Reach Me. This book, this remarkable book, floored me.  Not because it was beautifully written (it was), or intricately constructed (it was). Simply because it was written for my middle school self.  It resembled the books I loved best in those years– books that were still looking over their shoulder at the whimsy of Eager and Dahl, but that were doing other things too, older things. I read Rebecca Stead’s book and remembered L’Engle, obviously.  But also Patterson and Fitzhugh and Konigsberg and ZK Snyder and Voigt and Ruth M Arthur.   Books that were not all the same, but that all shared a middle grade storyline and an emotional sophistication. A knowing child, who still wanted to be a kid, but couldn’t avoid dealing with and understanding the world anymore.

In this way, I remembered that what we called “young adult” when I was a kid was different from the young adult market of today.  Somehow, reading WYRM, I recalled all the books in which kids were still kids, but they had experienced sadness, dislocation, divorce, loss, poverty, and any number of other difficulties.  And as I went back and reread Harriet and Dicey and all the rest, my heart broke a little bit.  Reading those books for the first time since I was a kid, I felt like I was splitting open again. I felt raw and sad.  I felt like if I wanted to harvest the memories of those years in my own life, I couldn’t do it with whimsy alone.

So I owe a debt to Rebecca Stead, for reminding me that there’s an upper end to the middle grade.  And to all those authors of my youth. The ones that revolved around on the paperback rack at the school library at Roland Park Middle School. Those yearling books I shoved into my backpack.

Kids don’t graduate from Half Magic and suddenly fall into Twilight.  Or they shouldn’t, anyway. There’s a process, an education, an unfolding that happens.  Kids get smarter, older. Life gets harder, more complicated.  But that doesn’t mean they turn overnight into a vampire. Or a sex-kitten. Or an anorexic. Or even that they really want to kiss a boy.  They’re still kids, and they are stumbling/running/poking around in the world the way kids do, but with open eyes. They see their parents and the world with more clarity than they used to.

Poor things.

So yeah– this book. Which I tried to write about being 12, for a kid who actually is 12. Because I remembered that the middle is wide, and I wanted to wade a little deeper into it.

But no– I won’t be writing a young adult novel anytime soon.  I’m going to spend a few years, and a few books, in middle school.  Maybe I’ll do it better this time around.


Friday, April 15th, 2011

I just won a copy of BOSSYPANTS from the fine folks at Baker & Taylor!  How much do I love Twitter contests? I LOVE them!

As a thank-you-note (my mom insists on them), I hereby post a picture of me in Charlotte, NC, drinking a nice merlot with Baker and Taylor themselves.  Crazy cats, always trying to get an author tipsy!  (photo credit to the wonderful Alan Gratz)


Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

I’m writing. I’m really really writing again.

Sometimes, it’s like turning on a really tight faucet.  You push and pull and wiggle the handles and nothing happens until–suddenly–there’s water everydamnwhere!

I’ve been “prewriting” for six months.  I have an outline, and pages and pages of notes.

I’ve made several false starts (and stopped, because  I didn’t want to head down the wrong path in the labyrinth).  But yesterday, after weeks of trying to “hear” my main character’s voice…  it finally happened!  She spoke to me.  Annie spoke to me. She made herself known. In a real, authentic, distinct voice, she said…

“Ballet class was over.”

You see?  Isn’t that totally and absolutely unremarkable?  And yet, it was the line I was waiting for.

So now I can write the book.  Now I can make Seven Stories Up a reality.


Writing is WEIRD.

New routine, involving a grindstone…

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

I have been doing lots and lots of “prewriting” for the new book,Seven Stories Up. I now have pages and pages of dialogue-snippets, plot points, and bits-o-description.   I know what I’m doing and where I’m going. I KNOW my characters at last.

But I do not have a book.

A month ago, I had a good-sized beginning of a book, but there was something off about the voice, something hollow.  I was afraid to continue writing without getting that issue hammered out.  So I scrapped the whole thing.

For the last month I’ve gone to bed each night and “had a conversation” with Annie, my main character.  Finally she’s started talking back to me. I can hear her now.

But as amazing as my editor is, she will not be able to hear that voice unless I write it down for her.  No matter how complete my outline. No matter how copious my notes.

So I’m now on a thousand-word-a-day schedule.  Which I loathe. Not because it’s a lot (it isn’t) but because I like to twiddle my thumbs and mull, work in fits and starts.  Take breaks.

But I can’t afford that now. Not with 15 hours of childcare a week.

Last time I did this kind of fast draft, I set out to do 2,000 words a day, and ended up sprinting too fast, rewriting half the book after I finished.  So this time I’m chopping my daily requirement in half, and hoping that will allow me a more human pace.

Today, I sort out the notes.

Today, I start over.

Wish me luck! Hold me accountable.

Because I can’t do anything else…

Friday, April 8th, 2011

Because I am stuck abed, bored and irritable, I will fill you in on the details of my exciting foot’s exciting recovery…


The other side is equally fascinating:

And the top? Oh, the top is a lovely shade of greenish blue!

My poor foot!

The other exciting details of my week: we are spending huge amounts of money to have the mold cleaned out of the bathroom wall.  I do not know how YEARS of mold in the walls was not detected by the house’s previous owner or the inspection guy, but I will hunt them both down and hex them. Rest assured.

And also, my throat hurts.

But on the other hand, in general I’m happy, and we aren’t having earthquakes or tsunamis here, and I like my kids and husband and stuff, so…

Even with the foot and the mold, things are pretty dandy.

Or better yet…

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Maybe I’ll sprain my ankle, so I can stay in bed for a week and get some writing done.


Spring Break…

Monday, April 4th, 2011

It’s spring break this week.  Which means that Mose and Lew and I are home, making a mess, wearing pajamas, and eating strange meals at strange times.  Wandering a little bit, out into the city.  Maybe we’ll do some thrifting.  Today we have a water-gun battle to attend at three. Life is good.

But that means… I am NOT writing.  Disappointing because I actually want to be putting my head down and getting to work. I’m ready to sprint, can feel it in my fingers.  The book is finished, in my head and also in about 30 pages of notes.  I have a beginning, but I’m finally ready to run.

This is the story of a girl named Annie, and her mother, Ruby. But most of all the story of Annie’s grandmother, Molly.  A little girl in a hotel.  In 1937.

It is either called SEVEN STORIES UP or it is called THE LONELY ROOM.

Which is better?