Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Christmas That I Knew & A Christmas Anew

Charlie our Christmas Tree
Picture this:  Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy” playing in the background dun nuh nuh duh nuh nuh, duh-nuh; the smell of Nestle Toll House cookies (with extra walnuts) wafting through the air; the chilly still morning out the front window; the fireplace crackling, small sparks of bright orange jumping from wooden logs; bits of wrapping paper and over turned stockings lining the floor; and five smiling people curled up on the sofas: 1 daddy and 1 mommy, both drinking coffee from large mugs, and 3 girls in matching red and green flannel pajamas, each with a plate full of different cookies (peppermint snowballs topped with powder sugar, bendable almond lace cookies edged with dark chocolate, and coconut bon bons with a large almond on the top); laughter mixing in with the jolly piano tunes; and warmth filling the medium sized living room, not just from the fireplace, but from the feelings of family and love surrounding them all.
This has always been my Christmas. 
This scene was usually followed by a day of movies that we received as gifts, a nap, family games like Apples to Apples or Scrabble, and of course a delicious meal my mother prepared impeccably, including a brown sugar ham, greens and ham hocks, mashed potatoes, homemade baked macaroni and cheese, and butter smothered buns. 
I thought I’d use this blog post to reflect on the childhood Christmas that I knew.  The late night chats my sisters and I would have early on Christmas morning before my parents allowed us to get up and open presents, the three of us packed inside a small room on cots, inflatable beds, or on the only bed in that room.  The compilation of holiday movies my mom recorded on a VHS when we were very young, the one we memorized and called “The Long Charlie Brown” which included not only holiday greats like “A Claymation Christmas”, “Frosty the Snowman”, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”, and “Garfield’s Christmas”, but also old, OLD commercials like the red-head pretending to skate in a “world wide championship” as she enjoyed a York Peppermint Patty, or the Doublemint twins riding on a bicycle while a song sings “that cool refreshing feeling of Wrigley’s Spearmint gum.  Puts a sparkle in your eye, a spring in your step, and makes things lots of fun!”  Or the anticipation of tasting cookies from new recipes I found, which usually led to me making so many cookies, that we could never finish them all!
Although this has always been my Christmas, I knew that change was bound to happen.  People grow up and move away.  Traditions shift.  Families change (grow or shrink).  But even though I knew change would come, it didn’t make the transition any easier. 
As an adult, Christmas definitely feels different.  But it’s bittersweet.  Today I said farewell to my childhood Christmas, and hello to a new chapter in my own book.  My first Christmas away from my family, but my first Christmas shared with my new family, the family of my wonderful fiancĂ©.  And so, I welcome the change that follows, but I keep the warmth of my past Christmases in my heart.  And I hope that as I build new and memorable traditions, I will be able to capture the true happiness I felt as a child each year when Christmas came, capture it in my poems and stories, so that these feelings of happiness and joy will be forever held for others to share, and for me to look back at and reminisce.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Puzzle of Poetry

Puzzle of Poetry
by JaNay Brown

Picking perfect pieces
To portray a poignant point.
Pulling, tugging, stretching words
Forcing feeling. Force a fit.

Turning words over and over
Grasping blindly for a feel.

Is it flat?

Does it flow like summer rivers,
Or fall down like autumn leaves?
Does it spring from fruitless pages,
Or sting cold like winter’s breeze?

Does it fit?

Dragging desperate details
Into dumb deflated deals.
Smashing, thrashing, pushing phrases
Play on words. Pray for poem.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Moon and Stars and More

My fiancĂ© and I woke up early this morning to gaze at the stars and to catch the lunar eclipse happening above us.  As I watched the Earth’s shadow cover the moon, I caught a glimpse of a shooting star flashing across the sky.  That may have been the third time in my entire life (or as far back as I can remember) that I witnessed a shooting star.  I closed my eyes and made a wish. 

Moments like these: standing out there in the silent, cold winter air that captures my breath in a white, ephemeral mist; taking in the vast, early-morning sky expanding above me as Jupiter sparkles red and white and blue against the indigo backdrop; watching Earth’s shadow slowly envelope the moon like a giant blanket only until the rising sun uncovers the moon once again; and viewing the brilliance of a shooting star.  Yes.  Moments like these make me feel like a kid again, witnessing wondrous things that I can’t always explain in full detail and that I haven’t had the chance to experience very often, and feeling like I’m seeing them through “new” eyes.  
I never get tired of being mesmerized by nature’s majesty.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Seriously? A series?

Sometimes I write and come up with characters that I could see playing out into a whole series.  In my mind, those characters have personalities that are bigger than just a single book, and have so much potential for more adventures.  But, I am yet to learn how to decipher which ones would really work as a series.  I wonder, when writing and submitting, if an editor is the one who pitches the idea of extending a character beyond a single manuscript; or, if the author comes with this already in mind.  It’s probably a combination of both.

Something I’m trying to think through is: what if you have a story that seems like it could be a series (I’m talking picture books, not novels or middle grade books), but you have only written book two in the series, and you have not been able to figure out how to properly introduce those characters in book one?  It would seem backwards to try to publish the second one first, before you even get the first one out.  But then again, what if it doesn’t pan out to be a series?  You wouldn’t want to not send out a manuscript when it may be something that an editor is interested in.
Oh well, I guess I’ll ponder this some more.  Who knows, maybe book one will pop into my head after all.

Here are a few popular picture book series that I enjoy: 
Mo Willems and Knuffle Bunny:

Caralyn Buehner & Mark Buehner and their Snowmen Series
And my absolute favorite, Ian Falconer and the Olivia series

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Schmoozing with my Fellow Writers

Tonight, I visited my first Holiday Schmooze for children’s authors and illustrators, an event put on by the NorCal SCBWI chapter.  I have to say, it was quite a nice experience.  Being surrounded by others with similar ambitions, and at different periods of their careers, was so refreshing.  I got to ask several writers about their work and about their publishing history.  Some offered information that I didn't know, others offered interesting conversation.  And, it felt so good to be able to say that I too have sold work (yay Highlights!).  I got to see Rosi Hollinbeck, a member from the critique group I'm in, and met some new up and coming authors.  And not to mention, there were sweets as far as the eye could see!
In addition to meeting new people, I had a chance to hear a talk from Deborah Underwood, the award-winning author of The Quiet Book and a Crystal-Kite winner.  She had provided some good information, and some tips to evaluate our own writing careers.  While she was signing my copy of The Quiet Book, I asked her what advice she would give to new writers.  At first, she said “perseverance”, but then she told me how beneficial it was for her to take a beginning illustration class.  She said that having a chance to learn about picture books from the perspective of the illustrator, really opened her eyes and changed the way she wrote.  She said that she feels it is definitely important to leave space for the illustrator to do what they do so well—illustrate.
 I think that this is important to keep in mind too.  I understand that as an author, usually, you have no say in who the illustrator is and how the illustrator illustrates (at least if you are a new author).  In other words, once your book is accepted, the editor finds the illustrator and the author may not see the pictures until the book is finished.  So, I’m sure, many books may not up the way that the author had envisioned it.  But with that being said, again, the illustrator is a professional too; picture books are a joint effort and a collaborative process.
The world of illustration seems so interesting.  I’d love to learn more about it!  I think I will. : )

Here is Deborah Underwood's book "The Quiet Book," if you're interested.  You can check out her website at: