Wednesday, September 27, 2006


My car has really bad suspension. Tiny bumps are felt like shock waves from the trunk to the headlights and my whole family has learned new curse words to describe each and every one of them. Montreal is the pothole capital of the world - where road crews spend one half of the year not filling them in and snow plows spend the other half making the initial holes more pronounced. (Rumors of a secret civilization being discovered beneath one such hole have yet to be proved true.)

Yesterday I made a discovery. By actually inflating my four tires properly (35/psi) - my car handles these road humps with aplomb (or at least less pain). My back still aches every time I survive a pothole - but there is much less squealing from the quartet of rubber.

"Tires matter, people!" And you can quote me.

So it is with great excitement that this morning the literate and well-traveled BROOKLYN ARDEN (Cheryl Klein) has given readers a sneak peek at a talk she is preparing for next weekend's Michigan SCBWI conference, where she compares the editing process to balancing the tires on your car. Her metaphor of the four wheels (Plot wheel, Character wheel, Writing wheel and Point wheel) needing to be balanced strikes me in my shock absorbers - as I bump along the potholed path of writing.

It's a must read for all writers and those of you lucky enough to be at the SCBWI, make sure to go to her talk - and send me notes! (and a tow truck)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


When I was 12 and dealing with my father's recent marriage and my own sludgey self-image born of the nickname "Plumpso", I had a 5 week ego-boost courtesy of baseball. Not Little League - I wasn't good enough for the teams that had the real uniforms. This was Minor League, a less organized, well-meaning assembly of either bad players or younger kids who, no doubt, would graduate to the BIG LEAGUE as soon as they turned 9. But I wasn't very athletic (see nickname) and so being the oldest player on a team of younger kids was actually a really good thing. I was a great hitter and decent fielder (3rd base) for my team sponsored by Phillips 66. Sure we only got T-shirts and not full buttoned baseball jerseys, but none of that mattered to me. I was a player.

I remember one game when our pitcher didn't show up. The coach looked at me and said, "You want to pitch?" Images of trotting in from the Fenway bullpen flooded my head as I walked to the pimple of a mound at the Duffy Field park. Pitching was the pinnacle and this was my moment.

I threw pretty good ones - struck the first kid out and was feeling about as good as a kid could. But I noticed there was some talk going on behind the backstop and then I watched as my coach approached the mound with a look on his face that made my stomach churn. "Sorry," he said. "You're 12. You're not elligible to pitch."

I handed him the ball and then saw a boy grinning from the sidelines. It was the younger brother of a kid in my grade at school. He was on the opposite team and he'd squealed on me. I wanted to run over and throttle him - but instead slumped back to third base and continued to be the older, plump kid who could hit inside the park triples.

Yesterday I was on the mound again. For about two days I was included in the wonderful Jen Robinson's Top Five list for 2006. If you don't already know about it - Mother Reader is asking kid-lit folks to post their picks.

POND SCUM was in the list of elementary school books and I gotta tell you, I was strutting. But in the kindest way (I love this kidlit blog world!) it was brought to Jen's attention that Pond Scum came out in 2005 making it inelligible for a 2006 "list". Ah, the walk back to 3rd base is always a slow, painful march!

Here's the question though: for a book that comes out in October of a year to get noticed enough for that year's "accolades" - there has to be a pretty immediate awareness of said book. I am learning that Pond Scum is more like a stalk of kudzu. It is spreading and taking hold and it's a slow growth which hopefully will continue to take its weedy hold of the 3-6th grade set!

So I guess all this is to say: I struck one kid out. I was in a Top Five list. I am Kudzu.

And it's all good stuff.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

CATS (and Mice)

It's nice when your friends do things so you can gush and goo over their accomplishments. Once upon a time I worked for Disney in Orlando as Head Writer of the Mickey Mouse Club (MMC). The job was one of the best I've ever had - mostly because I worked inside a theme park (nothing beats riding Space Mountain on your birthday), or having an office that was part of the MGM studio tour where trams of tourists would pass by my window every five minutes and the writers and I loved staging elaborate gags as they went by.

But the second reason I loved the job was the people I met - Diane Fredel-Weis was a wildly funny producer-writer on the show and she and I remained in touch through our many jobs, moves, marriages, kids and now BOOKS.

Her first picture book THE CAT THAT WANTED OUT has just been published and she's having a celebration/launch at the Borders Books in Winter Park, FL a week from Saturday, Sept. 23rd, at 2:00pm. Anyone nearby should definitely drop by and say hi. I hear there will be cat cookies!

Friday, September 08, 2006


Leave it to Greg K. to pour his glass is half-full outlook into my half-empty one.

My first BOOK-TOON (below) - though it expressed my feelings about how writing is brain-numbingly hard even after selling my book - it didn't show the exhiliration of actually selling it!

Thanks for your post to the first toon Greg - the (above) new Book-Toon is dedicated to you!

Greg's question (How did it feel the day you SOLD Pond Scum?) reminds me of that very day, March 12th 2004 (I still have my fab agent's phone message - "Alan, I have some good news....") The day in question found me struggling with the feeling we all know too well. I had them...I AM WORTHLESS WHY DID I EVER THINK ANYONE WOULD BE INTERESTED IN A WORD I HAVE TO SAY BLAH BLAH BLUES.

To make matters worse - I had just spent the entire day in a meeting for a pretty lame "tween" sit-com that I had written a script for - and let me say, this was not Seinfeld for kids. Sitting for three hours listening to jokes about hamburgers falling on kids' faces drove my sense of self further into the "what am I gonna do with my life" limbo.

It being Montreal in March (and without a car) I walked frozen and depressed to take a bus to go pick up my son at a friends' house and then walk home and make a lonely supper because my wife was out of town. Calling in for phone messages at his friend's house - I picked up my agent's happy voice and wasn't able to hear anything beyond the "I have good news" part. I listened to it five times and then tried dialing her using my calling card but my trembling mind kept messing up the hundred or so digits I had to apply - so I just used this woman's phone - promising her a copy of MY BOOK for the long distance call!

Zach and I walked home - me beaming and bouyant and knowing I wasn't going to have to write another burger-script. The feeling, the one that Greg has asked about is always with me. It is on my bookshelf. It is in the library. And it is with the thousands of readers who have wandered inside POND SCUM. Though I forget about it sometimes - I shouldn't. It's a perfect feeling. And thanks Greg for giving me the moment to rediscover it today!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006