Big Sur Here We Come

When my son was 4 years old, we were living in England, courtesy of the US Air Force. It was a grand experience, spending 6 years living in a British village. We still have friends there.

Winters are dark, damp, and dismal, however. It makes it a little difficult to enjoy strolling through the countryside. One Sunday afternoon, Ben and I were taking a walk along one of the narrow country lanes, The hedgerows are usually busy with birds and rabbits and other critters, but this day, it was very quiet. Ben asked where the rabbits were. And I said they were inside their dens making cocoa and watching telly. Then he wanted to know where the hedgehogs were. And the foxes. And the pigs. And the beavers.

It became a game to think of what they could be doing when it was a good day to be inside.

My good friend Wendy Myhre is a marvelously talented illustrator. She took my ideas and turned them into a fantastic set of illustrations. We began circulating the picture book, “A Good Day to be Inside” to publishers in the UK and US. This was in 1985. Had a British publisher want to “do” the book, but we had to have it published in the US first because of some international laws and he did not have a US partner. Another said talking animals were not wanted any more; the market wanted realism, even for small children. Another publishers said their marketing people didn’t think it would sell.

So the book’s been sitting on the shelf. Every now and again, Wendy re-draws the book and we send it out to a few places, with less-than-successful results.

A few months ago, Wendy flagged me about the Big Sur Writers’ Conference for Children’s Authors and Illustrators. A very big deal. Registration only after submission and review of work. Heavy line-up of instructors and agents. Limited registration. We figured “nothing to lose” and sent in our book and other required materials.

And we got in!

So the first weekend on December, we arrive at the Big Sur Lodge for three days of learning, meeting, and planning. It’s exciting to think that 30 years after giggling over pigs doing aerobics and eating chocolate, the book might finally be picked up and be published.

It’s NANO Time!

No, that’s not some high-tech innovation or trendy music group. It’s National Novel Writing Month.

It’s a way of creating “someday,” as in “someday, I’m going to write a book.” Participants sign up and commit to writing a first draft of a novel during November. How long a novel? 50,000 words. That’s 1,667 words a day. But Steven King says he does 2,000 a day, every day, so we’re getting off easy. The first NANOWRIMO (Nan- Oh- WRY-Moe) was in 1999 with 21 participants. There were over 200,000 in 2010, writing an estimated 2.8 Billion words. (You wanted to know that. Admit it.)

There’s a whole community planning, advising, encouraging, and challenging each other. While it’s called a “contest,” the only prize is completing the challenge. Local groups gather for write-ins at libraries and coffee shops. There are on-line chat rooms, forums, and podcasts. In the drive towards the starting date, folks have been talking about readying their work places — laying in supplies of coffee, chocolate, and sharpened pencils, and installing new software to help keep track of plots, characters, and word count.

I’m game to give this a try. Kickoff is Sunday, so while the rest of the world is agonizing over football, I’m going to be clicking away at my keyboard. If you want to join in the fun, visit http://www.nanowrimo.org

Web Design 101 for Blithering Baby Boomers. Like me.

One of the surprising results of my work for Metro.us newspapers and website is the number of messages I’m getting from people who are reading the pieces. For those of you who are not familiar with Metro.us, it’s a free daily paper distributed at commuter stations in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. Thursday is travel day, and I write the regional travel pieces. My contact info is on most pieces, which is a very nice perk.

But this means I can’t be complacent about the on-line presence. Like this website. Nice, but a little dated. So I’ve been revamping it, trying out new themes, playing with layouts. I am of the generation that was born when there were only 3 TV stations and those signed off at midnight, when the Princess Phone was an innovation, and stick shift was standard for driving. I am not a techno-anything, and learning to navigate and design this page has nearly reduced me to tears more than once. It’s certainly given me an even greater appreciation for Bailey’s.

But I’ve persevered and I think I’m getting a handle on this. God love the very patient “Happiness Engineers” with WordPress. They are not paid enough to deal with hopeless cases like mine!