Thursday, January 28, 2010

Getting an agent

I'm still fairly new to blogging and am in the process of exploring other blogs, including older posts. So I was thrilled to find reasons why you should never submit unagented to publishing companies. Moonrat's Editorial Ass blog outlines the many reasons authors should try first to get an agent, then to submit their MS to publishers (via said agent), rather than the other way around.

Of course, finding a good, reputable agent is important, and Anne R. Allen's blog Beware Bogus Literary Agents has some terrific resources for checking out potential agents. (Thanks for reposting it, Anne. I did tiptoe over from Nathan Bransford's blog, and I loved your guest blog on his site!).

Time to start checking out Agent Query to find agents who accept picture book manuscripts!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Life in Germany

This is not what I am supposed to be doing right now. I am supposed to be working on my novel. But as I sit here, one hand wrapped around a cup of coffee in an effort to defrost my fingers, I can't help but reflect on life in Germany.

We really like it here. Much more than we thought we would, to be perfectly honest. Despite living in a city with a reputation for rudeness, we have found wonderful friends and helpful neighbors. We love the fact that public transportation, bike paths, and greenways make it easy to get around without a car (we do not have a car, not for any high-minded environmental reasons, but because we sold our car before moving and never got around to buying one here... they're expensive... we don't need one... why bother?). In all, we quite like living in Germany.

But there are some negatives. Why, for example, the frozen fingers, when I am sitting inside?  Because the windows were all wide open a few minutes ago, and it is currently -11 outside (Celcius, 12 Fahrenheit) with a nice, brisk breeze blowing.  And why, you ask, are the windows open?  Because I was told it was the only thing I can do to fight the mold growing on the walls of our apartment. 

Yes, mold. On the walls of almost every room. Germans talk about mold like the weather, as a friend of mine commented last week. It's true, too. Everyone I know has mold problems in their home. How can that be?  The people who run our building claim it's the high-quality windows that trap moisture inside (which is why we must, without fail, open the windows every day, something Germans are oddly loathe to do, but that's fodder for another post).  I strongly believe it's the lack of insulation on the walls, which are nothing more than concrete. The walls are cold, the moisture condenses, and voilĂ , mold has a veritable petri dish for proliferation. 

Until we bleach the walls, that is (good thing we left them white).  I do not like having to spray bleach in the bedrooms, particularly the children's rooms, but I am told this is the only other option available to me in my fight gegen Schimmel.

The Germans are intelligent people, so how is it they have not figured out a way to fix the perpetual mold problem?  I am baffled by this, as I have never before lived in a place where mold grew on indoor surfaces like a carpet. 

But no answer appears to be in sight, and so I simply add opening windows to my list of daily activities... along with drinking excessive amounts of coffee to keep my poor fingers warm. And I focus on what we like about living here, rather than the negative.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Goats of Delphi

If you tell someone what you are going to Greece over Christmas, the response—without exception—is a look of complete bewilderment (perhaps I should clarify that no one in my family is Greek).  About half of the time, people snap out of their stunned silence to ask, "Why?"

This started in mid-November. By mid-December, I found myself automatically justifying our decision.  "Well... we don't know how long we'll live in Europe... we want to see as much as we can while we're here..."

It turns out that visiting Greece at Christmas was a brilliant idea (not mine, my husband suggested it).  There are no lines, you can get around easily, and the pickpocketers are otherwise occupied spending the money they scored during the tourist season. Oh, and the food. Why, indeed? We did as the guidebooks (and the people we met in Athens) recommended: saw the sights and headed out of the capital city. My favorite day was the one we spent in Delphi.

I said no lines? We saw about six other people (and at least six times as many goats) the whole time we were at Delphi. For the most part, we had the mountainside to ourselves.

Note to Bostonians, Boston is not, in fact, the Hub of the Universe, as the Navel of the Universe (which seems pretty hub-like to me) is located at Delphi.

There it is.  The Universe has an outie.  Who knew?  Well, the ancient Greeks, of course, but other than them?  I was clueless until our up-close encounter with the giant navel. It's about a meter tall, but then, you would expect the universe to have a fairly sizable belly button. To what was it once connected, I wonder?  The umbilicus of parallel universes? One of the great mysteries, and the Oracle is no longer there to fill us in in her famously ambiguous way.

Up the hill, we get nearer to the goats.  Yes, I know you've been wondering, what's this about goats, anyway?  Well, Apollo was apparently fond of them. Goats were used to determine whether Apollo wanted to answer people's questions (via the Oracle) on a given day. Apollo seemed to have a sense of humor: to see if he was willing to listen, people threw a bucket of cold water over their goat. If the goat shook the water off (as most of them did), Apollo's ears were open. If it just stood there and let the water drip off of its nose, Apollo wasn't interested. No sacrifices necessary.

So Delphi has a long history of good relationships with goats. And guess what? They're still there! Apparently, they enjoy spending time on the path that runs behind the Amphitheater (exhibit A: goat droppings everywhere).

As we made our way along the Sacred Way, we heard the first cow bell (goat bell?), far up the mountain above us. Much too far to actually spot the goat (or its bell). After a bit, it was joined by a second bell, then a third, and then a veritable waterfall of sound coming down the mountainside (literally—the goats were on the move). After a while, the waterfall (goatfall?) came close enough that we could spot them hopping from rock to rock. See them? They are coming downhill from upper right to lower left in this picture.

And then they were pouring over the rock wall onto the path before us... and right on over the next wall into the ancient ruins of the Amphitheater.  Oops.

To be fair, there was no sign at the top of the Amphitheater warning against descent, only a sign at the bottom warning against ascent.  Not that the goats could read any of the four languages on the sign.

The goat herder immediately gave chase, following them down the Amphitheater steps.They milled around a bit on the Temple of Apollo... perhaps they felt his presence that day... before the goat herder got them back on the path and on down the mountain.  We heard he was chastised for losing control of his herd.

Our enjoyment of the spectacle was not Schadenfreude (truly!), it was merely delight in experiencing something rare in an ancient and mystical place, on a beautiful, warm winter day.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Alphabet soup: CBI and ABC

Time to give credit where credit is due. I started the blog under the (indirect) encouragement of Jon Bard, Fightin' Bookworm in Chief at the CBI Clubhouse, and under the (direct) encouragement of Maureen Crisp via the discussion forum on the CBI Clubhouse website.  It's a terrific, resource-packed web site dedicated to helping children's authors (aspiring and published) succeed.  I owe both of them my thanks, and I must recommend Maureen's writers' marketing blog, Craic-er (see the blogs I follow to the right). 

Thanks, too, to Evelyn Christensen, who creates fabulous books for kids. She has a web site with terrific (free!) math and logic puzzles, and I highly recommend that anyone with children check it out.  She was the first to respond to my post and encourage development of online materials.

And a bit of news. It is through the CBI newsletter that I learned about the ABC Children's Book Competition.  I decided it's time to submit my picture book manuscript, and my goal is to make it as a finalist in the competition.  If that happens, the story will be illustrated and posted online with the other finalists for viewers to vote upon.   At which point, I will be actively soliciting votes for my story!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Let it snow

Well, it's been a long time, but I am finally getting back in the swing of things. A lovely trip to Greece over the holiday (more on that later), only to return to snow. Day after day of snow, which slowly accumulated to about 20 cm (8 inches for the Americans).

Fortunately, it all fell before New Year's, so the disruption was minimal. Then a week of getting around in it—they have plows here, but they don't seem to like using them much. At least not on small side streets. Our driveway, however, is visited every morning by a snow sweeper, waking us at either 3:30 am (on a weekday) or 7:00 am (on the weekends and holidays). It is, in typical German fashion, extraordinarily punctual; our early-morning notification that it snowed overnight.

Another big storm over this past weekend, with a predicted 40 cm (16 inches) that turned out, rather disappointingly, to be only 10 cm.  I love a good snow storm. The kind that requires two days of digging out, that cancels classes, keeps people home from work, and provides lots of fluff for building snowmen and making snow angels. Alas, 'twas not to be.

Given the lack of plowing and generally snow-trampled (soon to be icy) sidewalks, how, exactly do people without automobiles get around? Particularly with small children?  Strollers are not an option, although I did see one dedicated father picking up his child's stroller every now and then to get over particularly impassable sections of sidewalk. A few die-hard bikers are still riding their bikes... on the slushy streets, since the bike paths are either mounded with snow or blocked by discarded Christmas trees. Not the place for children, even in one of the bike trailers.

No, the solution is a sled. Almost all young children (ours included) travel to kindergarten/school by sled. Parents pull them along with a rope. It's a good workout (particularly when you've got two on the sled at once and you're trudging through several centimeters of snow), and the children love it, when they're not trying to jump off as the sled races along. Our youngest tends to do this; he toppled head-first into a snow-bank this morning. Fortunately the snow was still soft.

When you get there, you simply leave the sled outside, ready for the trip home. Too bad ours is standing outside the Kita (kindergarten); it would be useful for bringing home groceries!