Friday, January 27, 2012

good dogs help with kids' letters: answering fan mail Part 2

Poppy & Daisy help with the fan mail
This afternoon I'm on the floor in our sunroom with my good buddies Poppy & Daisy. They're golden retrievers and are excellent help when it comes to answering fan mail. By that I mean, they position themselves in the center of things and settle into a long nap until I've put a stamp on the last envelope.

As usual, the letters are charming. A boy in Arkansas wrote that he loves the Cabin Creek Mysteries because the young characters bring along their dogs to help to solve clues. I can't wait to tell him about my two helpers here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

two octogenarian ski buddies

Mt. Baldy, Idaho w/ Mom & Louise(in sassy red hat) 2010
Last week my mother saved her friend's life.

They were staying in the Sun Valley Lodge on their annual ski trip together, when Louise collapsed in their room. Mom didn't realize that her buddy had had what the neurosurgeon later said was a "very severe stroke, the kind where most people die." Somehow my mother, 88, set aside her panic and did everything right, got help, and soon Louise was life-flighted down to Boise. 

Friends and family have flown here to be with Louise until she's well enough to return to California. Day by day she's able to say another word and move a little bit more. When I visited this afternoon, she nodded hello then started whistling! Oh, I hope to be that spirited at 82!!

Friday, January 20, 2012

this writer's first love: short stories

2 short stories, each w/ author note
As a 15-year-old, I stumbled on "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry, my first exposure to the short story. Though the plot was bittersweet, I was enchanted by how the author waited until the end to surprise the reader.

Thus began my love affair with short fiction: trying to craft a story in as few words as possible, with a twist at the end. It's a lot of fun!

So in between publishing children's books, I have tinkered and toiled with my Curiously Odd Stories and am excited to share them! I've added an author note for each, with a brief background on the creative idea. Volume 1 is now available on Amazon Kindle for $2.99. Cover illustration is by my son, Cody Rutty.

I hope you enjoy ... there are more to come!

Monday, January 16, 2012

kids in strollers at the Mac store

at our Mac store
Recently, my friend Jessica consoled me about my frustrations with technology. "It's like learning a second language," she said. "If you start as a baby, you don't even have to think about it. It's intuitive."
Intuitive. That word makes me feel like a Conestoga wagon on the freeway. Just when I think I've figured out my computer, I bump the wrong key and everything zaps into a mess. For instance, as I was typing this blog the lettering suddenly switched from red to black. What's that about? It'll take an hour to read the Help Forum, so I'm going to leave it as is.

Last week my husband and I trekked to the Mac store in the mall for help with my gizmo. We sat at the "Genius Bar" (oh, if that's not intimidating). The young tech clickety-clacked over my keyboard like those guys in the movies saving the world at the last second. As he explained things with an air of nonchalance, I glanced at the table behind us. It was made for toddlers: low to the ground with tiny beanbag chairs and two Apple computers, the screens twirling with colorful games. I watched a little girl exit her pink stroller [PHOTO, above] and like nobody's business begin her own clickety-clacking.

Intuitive from the stroller. Lucky kid!

Friday, January 13, 2012

goofing off when trying to write!

   Mornings in Idaho are still dark at eight o'clock, so when I popped awake at 4:45 I thought, far out! Plenty of time to write before sunrise and have the whole day ahead of me. Well, three hours later I was still fooling around on Facebook, Twitter, reading links to Will & Kate and drinking tons of coffee. By the time I reminded myself WHY I had gotten up early, it was nearly 9 a.m. and I had written exactly ONE sentence on my Great American Novel.

   Aargh! Resolved to try again in the afternoon, I was checking email and clicking through intriguing links. A blog by Seth Godin grabbed me. I don't know anything about him, but his words cut right to my heart:

   "The first thing you do when you sit down at the computer is, let me guess: check the incoming. Check email or traffic stats or messages from your boss. Check the tweets you follow or the FB status of friends. You've just surrendered not only a block of time but your freshest, best chance to start something new ... If you're an artist, a leader or someone seeking to make a difference, the first thing you do should be to lay tracks to accomplish your goals, not to hear how others have reacted/responded/insisted to what happened yesterday."

   Boy am I guilty. From now on I resolve to stop wasting time. A little bit here and there is okay, but no more inhaling movie reviews or lurid crime stories. No more Facebook games about What-Character-Are-You on Downton Abbey. (I'm Lady Sybil by the way). No more goofing off. But first to post this and maybe check email, just a quick peek ...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

kids with e-readers: kindle vs nook, Part One

This afternoon when I went to my hairdresser, I asked how her daughter liked her new Kindle. It was the only thing this 12-year old had wanted for Christmas and as a voracious reader she'd been delirious with anticipation, hoping to find one under the tree.

But I could see in the mirror that my friend was shaking her head. "Well," she said, "she loved it until she saw her friends with a Nook. They can play games and read, but so far they're just playing games. I hope she gets back into reading soon."

I hope she does, too! Confession: I'd been planning to hint around about one of my e-books for her daughter, you know, point her to the Amazon site, but decided to save my ploy for another time. My next appointment is in six weeks, so I'll let you know how things are going with these young readers. Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

serendipity with an old favorite book: Ray Bradbury's stories

The Stories of Ray Bradbury: Knopf 1981
Last week when I wrote about my 1980 lunch with Ray Bradbury, I mentioned that his newly published volume of stories had been propped by my typewriter at The Times. Even after coffee and dessert I had felt too shy to ask him for an autograph so I hefted the unsigned book in my arm and walked to my bus stop. The 606 was an express that snaked from downtown Los Angeles out to the coast. It took an hour and I read the entire way.

That late afternoon by the open window of my mom's beach house I settled in for more reading. I love Mr. Bradbury's stories. They're straightforward and just odd enough to make me squint at the ocean and wonder if there might really be a translucent mermaid floating in the tide pools. It sure seemed possible in his "The Shore Line at Sunset." I lost this treasured book unfortunately in one of my many moves.

Fast forward three decades. I ordered a copy from Amazon and it arrived just the other day. It's a hefty thing so I put it on our digital scale to check its weight: three pounds! Compared to my Kindle it's like carrying around a cat.

Then I went to our kitchen nook, eager to read my all-time favorite, "The Sound of Thunder," about the time machine that zooms back to the day of Tyrannosaurus Rex. But when I opened to the title page, my jaw dropped. Was that Ray Bradbury's signature in blue ink? I think it is! Looks familiar somehow, I don't know why, but it seems strong and sweeping enough to be authentic. [PHOTO above]. In any event, I'm thrilled. I feel reunited with an old friend.

Friday, January 6, 2012

an author [yours truly!!] makes mistakes with stories and dogs

Seeing your words in print is a thrill, but when you notice a mistake there's a kind of swirl in the stomach. Uh-oh. Some have been typos  -- I meant "west" instead of "east" when describing the Wasatch Mountains in The Great Railroad Race. Some are historical -- in The Winter of Red Snow young Abigail says that Mrs. Knox had a "baker's dozen" of children, which was eventually true, but the thirteen total came well after that winter in Valley Forge. And some of my goofs have been faulty logic -- in Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie a baby is born in a covered wagon during a river crossing. Readers pointed out that Hattie mistakenly refers to this baby as her niece, when in fact it's her cousin. Oops!

Fortunately these errors were corrected in subsequent printings. And on April 1st, Scholastic is re-releasing Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie with a beautiful new cover [click the title to see!], and Hattie's cousin will be properly named.

Bridget: French Bulldog, not Pug!
Now to my mistake with dogs. My last post was about our Pug friends, Bobby and Bridget. We had another friendly encounter, so I asked their owner why they didn't have tails like Pansy and Willis, our other neighborhood Pugs.

"They don't have tails," he answered, "because Bobby and Bridget aren't Pugs. They're French Bulldogs."

Oh! So here's another correction -- Bobby was unavailable for a new portrait, off chasing a tennis ball -- but here's Bridget again, the pretty little French Bulldog.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

writer's block and pug friends, bobby & bridget

Bridget wonders about my camera
Bobby&Bridget inspect my shoe
When I'm fidgety and frustrated about writing, my husband and I go for a walk, which turns out to be daily! We're fortunate to meet lots of nice dogs along the way, and have become especially fond of a pug duo, Bobby & Bridget. They're always so excited to see us and our golden retrievers, they race across the field to say hello. Pugs are swift and sure as little pac-men, with endearing snuffly sounds that seem to be a running commentary. It's hard not to love a dog that sits on your foot and looks up at you with a question.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

lunch with Ray Bradbury

The first time I met Ray Bradbury was by phone. I was a copy editor for the Los Angeles Times Book Review in 1980 and he was calling to talk about -- well details are fuzzy because I was so stunned to hear his name -- then when he said mine, I about came unglued.

"Nice talking to you, Kristiana. See you soon."

Soon? What! My all-time favorite author of science fiction was on his way to The Times building. Are you kidding?

Turns out he was coming to lunch with my editor, his friend Art Seidenbaum, the occasion his new "book" by Knopf, The Stories of Ray Bradbury. It was a hefty 912-page collection of his short stories, 100 to be exact, and a copy was propped by my black Underwood. A minor digression here: This grand dame of newspapers was still transitioning to Video Display Terminals, or VDTs as we called them. I don't remember anyone yet saying "computer," and a lot of the editors still had typewriters on their desks. Anyway, back to Mr. Bradbury.

Suddenly he was there and Art was introducing him to those of us on the Book Review staff and then -- get this -- we were all in the elevator together, riding up to the Picasso Room where luncheon was to be served on white tablecloths. That day I learned that in many ways famous people are like the rest of us: they chitchat and talk about the smog in LA, they laugh and wonder about the future. And some famous people are really nice to underlings.

Mr. Bradbury sat next to me at lunch. I remember feeling shy and unsure of myself, but somewhere in our conversation I must have mentioned how passionately I wanted to be a writer, because when lunch was over and a waiter was pouring coffee, he said, "Kristiana, don't give up your dream."

I'm still dreaming and yes, there were real Picassos on the walls.