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10 Ways to Tell If You’re a Vermont College Student…

Only a meager three months into the Vermont College MFA Writing Program and I’ve already discovered there are signs that indicate such enrollment. I’m up to ten so far, and I’d love to hear any others from my fellow classmates. So, here are the signs that let you know you’re really doing the VC MFA program:

1. You know your public library card number by heart.
2. Your public librarians all know you on a first name basis.
3. Dust bunnies have overtaken your house. And you’re okay with it.
4. Your living spaces are consumed with piles of books, notepads, writing implements and computers.
5. You develop a taste for convenience foods.
6. You need new glasses. But won’t take the time to see your eye doctor.
7. You have to ice down your writing hand nightly.
8. Your friends stop calling.
9. Your spouse actually knows what a “packet” is.
10. So does your cat.

(but you’re still smiling!)

Okay, any of your Vermont College students out there, let me hear what your signs are!

Rather than have you read through the comments, here are two more from fellow VCFA-ers:

1. The employees at your local post office know you by name, and already have your return postage stamps ready when you walk through the door (TP: Bet I can guess who your advisor is! ;-).

2. Your spouse/partner not only knows what packet is, but makes dinner for you the few nights before your packet is due.

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Have You Ever Been So Busy That…

You almost left the house without wearing any pants. Yep. Last week was just that crazy-busy for me.

I’d turned in my second packet, received the feedback, and was working hard to get a revision done that was due today (as Kathi Appelt says, I was “writing like my fingers were on fire”). My head was filled with research ideas, dancing animals, an Italian educator, cats and a T-ball game (yes, it was crowded in there).

Amidst all this, I wanted to see my chiropractor. So, when his office called and said they could see me right away, I ran upstairs to change clothes. I got distracted with something while changing (can’t recall what it was). Minutes later, I got to the top of the stairs and thought, “What am I forgetting?” I looked down and realized I wasn’t wearing any pants. OOPS!!! Yeah. Working on my MFA keeps is keeping me just that busy…

Just Catching Grasshoppers…

This story really is writing-related. I promise.

Years ago, on my first ever backpacking trip, my husband and I did a summer hike in Kings Canyon National Park, in the Sierras. We were green as the meadows (experience-wise). Not one lick of overnight backpacking experience. But off we went, ready for adventure. Well, our first night out, all of our food was stolen by a very dexterous raccoon (he managed to untie the straps on our backpacks). The real miracle was that a bear didn’t get to it first, as we didn’t even hang our food (I said we were green) and we were in the heart of black bear country.

So there we were, the big adventurers, with no food. My husband gave out a big sigh and said, “Well, we’ll just have to catch some grasshoppers.” I was taken back. “I am NOT going to eat grasshoppers!” I declared. I had my limits. After he stopped laughing, he explained that he needed grasshoppers as bait to catch trout. Oh. Heh, heh. Yeah, bait. Good idea. (can you see why I married this man?)

So there we were, in the middle of a meadow, lunging around attempting to catch the feisty little critters. And they’re quick! After what seemed like hours (probably more like minutes), we caught plenty enough for my husband to catch a nice dinner’s worth of trout. Okay, that was a stretch. I didn’t catch any. My husband had all the success. I just wasn’t quick enough. But I still got to eat that night (again, see why I married this guy?).

Okay, how does this relate to writing, you might wonder? Well, I’ve discovered during my brief experience with Vermont College, that researching is a lot like catching grasshoppers. VC has a fabulous library, the Gary Library, which gives students access to multiple research possibilities. But sorting through all that’s out there is a lot like catching grasshoppers. At least for me. I find myself spending hours of time and energy sifting through information, getting close, almost there, that grasshopper is j-u-s-t within my r-e-a-c-h, only to let it get away because the data isn’t quite what I needed. Sigh…onto the next big juicy victim. At the end of my time, I might only have one, two or even no bits of information to add to my project, but it’s what I have to do in order to survive. Kinda like catching grasshoppers that summer afternoon so many years ago.

So, for those who do research with academic papers, articles or non-fiction work (like this picture book project I committed to then realized I probably have six months of research to do before I can even begin to write), happy researching!

And remember, sometimes all it takes is one grasshopper to eat well.

Humor for Teachers

I promised some ideas for teachers (and parents) on how to incorporate humor into a learning situation. Here’s one that’s fun to try:

Spelling Words: Incorporate spelling words into a joke, riddle or funny paragraph. Have each student get in front of the class and use one spelling word in a joke or riddle (their choice of which word). For example, suppose you’re a 2nd grade student and the word “teacher” is on your spelling list. Read through a joke book (or use the index) and find a joke that uses your work, such as:

What did the fish teacher say to her school?
“Attention, gills and buoys!”
(from Greatest Goofiest Jokes, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.)

What a FUN way to learn spelling words! You’ll have kids begging to get their new spelling list!

It’s National Humor Month!

It’s that time again–National Humor Month–where we focus on the joy and therapeutic value of laughter. Not only is laughter the best medicine, it also reduces stress, creates endorphines (those “feel-good” hormones in our bodies) and is a great tool for classroom teachers.

This month, I’ll be posting some humor-related activities for teachers (so stay tuned), but to start off, I’d like to announce a Joke/Riddle Writing Contest for Kids that I’m running on my website. I welcome students, teachers and parents to visit my site and join in the fun! Please click HERE for details.

In the meantime, here’s a funny story that I shared in response to an interview I did for Stories for Children Magazine.

SFC: What was the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you in your writing career?

Okay, this one is a funny sort of writing-related story. One day I decided to go to my local coffee house and do some writing. I threw on some clothes and headed out. I hung out there for a couple of hours, even meeting my husband for coffee on his lunch break.

When I got home, I walked past a mirror and noticed something. Hanging out of the back of my pants was a strip of leopard print faux-fur. Apparently, in my rush to get dressed, I had grabbed a pair of pants that had been lying on my bed, where apparently, one of my cats’ toys had also been laying. I grabbed the pants along with the toy and threw them on, not realizing that I had a cat toy hanging out the back of my pants! I supposed that if anyone would have said anything, I could have just said that I was writing a story about a cat and was getting into my character. ;-}

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Because I never try to take anything too seriously, here are some Valentine’s Day riddles:

What do cats send on Valentine’s Day?

Love litters.

What’s it called when two fish are sweet on each other?
Guppy love.

How did the elephant and the ant start dating?
It began as a crush.
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Photo Caption Contest!

Wow–where did November go? I just realized that I haven’t posted anything for a few days now (let’s blame it on the tryptophan!).

Well, now that we’re into the holiday season, I’ve decided that it’s time for some outright silliness. So, I’m having a photo caption contest. Below, you’ll see a picture of my cat—well, sort of. Part of him, at least. I’m giving folks until Dec. 8 to send me a funny caption (please post your entries–yes, multiple entries are welcome–in the “comment” section below). The winner will receive a signed copy of “Pet Jokes That Will Make You Howl!” (makes for a great holiday gift!) So, put on those silly thinking caps and let’s see what you can come up with!

Oh–and I suppose that even though I ADORE my cats and have been known to fuss over them in ridiculous ways, I should say that no animals were harmed in the photographing process. In fact, my cat did this of his own accord. I just happened to grab the camera once I stopped laughing.

Arrrr! It’s Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Ahoy, me buckoos, once again it’s Talk Like a Pirate Day! So pull out yer pirate dictionaries and be ready to gab in pirate-speak or walk the plank! Need a little sword tip to move ye forward? Try these pirate puns on fer size:

What did the pirate’s dog say?
Arrrrrf
What did the pirate do when it rained for forty days and forty nights?
He built an arrrrrk.
What’s a pirate’s favorite subject in school?
Arrrrt.
Really, ye seadogs, ye must pull out the Chase Calendar of Events and discover more treasures of fun worth celebrating!
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MINI-VIEW: MS. VIOLA, PERSONAL COACH for SHRINKING VIOLETS PROMOTIONS

MINI-VIEWS:

Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

Ms. Viola is an internationally acclaimed personal coach and consultant for introvert celebrities, politicians, and famous authors/illustrators. In 2007, she received her PhD in Jungian Type Analysis from Vassar University. (But don’t bother trying to verify this due to the unfortunate eensy explosion they had in the Admissions Office.) Ms. Viola writes a syndicated column for Innie Mag and is the Coach in Residence for Shrinking Violet Promotions.

Other than developing a website/blog (in today’s cyber world, that’s a given,) what do you say is the most important marketing strategy for an introverted writer/illustrator?

Well, since I do represent the Shrinking Violets, you know how Mary and Robin love to spin ad nauseum about how important it is to write the best book you can. There’s that, of course. And they are forever sporting that Comfort Level Inventory. But, really, Terry, I think professional brow grooming is completely underrated. I’m conducting a field study right now on the correlation between high book sales at signings and good eyebrow care. Liz Gilbert has sold over one million books. Look at her brows! They are pitch perfect. Need I say more?

What bit of survival advice would you give to an introverted writer/illustrator who knows that they should attend conferences, workshops, etc., but knows it will be uncomfortable, deplete him or her of energy for days after, and would instead opt for a root canal?

Oh, just get the rotten little tooth pulled and get a shiny new dental implant. Wha-a-tt? Oh, conferences? Let me give you a little sports analogy, darlings. If you want to play in the Super Bowl, you’ve got to go to Spring Training. I know many of you don’t want to hear that, but publishing is, after all, a world of relationships and connections. You deserve every advantage you can give yourself.

This rule does not apply to you if you are JK Rowling, of course, but you’re not. (You should have seen her before I got hold of those eyebrows—you could have hidden a Weasley twin in each one.) And after a long day at conference, really, there is always room service and nice fat book to spoon with.

What is your favorite children’s joke?

Honestly, Terry, I just don’t think it is kind to make fun of children. I may need to do some coaching with you. Call me, dear.

Thank you, Ms. Viola! (I think…)