Monday, October 31, 2011

On your mark, get set...

NaNoWriMo doesn't start until midnight tonight (although that's already here for some folks!), but I realized there is no way I will be able to interrupt my regularly-scheduled novel-writing to blog over the next month. Nope. Just isn't going to happen. Not if I want to hit 50,000 words, that is.

My goal is to finish Spirit (a multicultural MG adventure) by midnight November 30. Please stop by to track my progress and leave words of encouragement!

If you're NaNoing, too, please buddy me (I'm Alison Stevens). We can keep each other going!

And now, a word about those who have made this venture possible:
  • Beloved Husband, for never once questioning whether I can do it.
  • My oldest son, for teaching me the mind-jogging exercises they do at his school.
  • My youngest son, for his hugs.
  • My writing friends, virtual and IRL, who are attempting this with me.
  • My critique partners, who won't get my November critique until December.
  • My 8th-grade typing teacher, without whom I would not be able to type at lightning speed.

The countdown continues. Let the games begin!

Thursday, October 27, 2011


These days, my mind is completely focused on either kid-related stuff (Halloween parties, costumes, conferences with teachers, costumes, book orders, costumes, fund-raisers, costumes, and pumpkin-carving; did I mention costumes?) or writing-related stuff (queries for magazine articles, tightening Thunderstruck, planning for NaNo).

Maybe focused isn't the right word. Scattered, perhaps.

To give you an idea, I was outside during the incredible northern lights display Monday night but so focused on sorting the recycling that I completely missed this:


So today's post is short and sweet, with a bit of fun to get you ready for the weekend.

And I'm off to finish some last-minute projects before November 1!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Commitment and a great way to pay it forward

Last year, I planned to participate in NaNoWriMo, but it didn't happen. This year, when two writer friends asked if I was going to join them in the month of insanity, I waffled. And then I decided to commit.

Why share this with you? Largely because it means I will have even less time available for blogging than I've had over the past few months. As a result, my schedule is going to change to twice a week (Mondays and Thursdays) for the foreseeable future.

Now for a bit of news. If you weren't aware, Authoress at Miss Snark's First Victim is holding another Baker's Dozen auction. The adult entries are now closed, but MG/YA entries can be submitted on Nov. 1 and 3. In the mean time, check out Write Escape and help my delightful new CP, Linda (Escape Artist) provide some feedback to help writers polish their first 250 words.

Have a wonderful start to your week!

Friday, October 21, 2011


We've been out enjoying the gorgeous fall weather lately, with lots of walks around a nearby park. We keep coming across caterpillars that are making their way to a safe place to pupate for the winter. Naturally, my boys have to carefully move them off of the path and out of harm's way. There are enough squished ones, already.

Many of the caterpillars are covered in stiff hairs. They practically sprint across the path. But another is slow, confused, trying to dig a hole.  It has a smooth, velvety-looking body. No hair. But each and everyone of this kind has something else.

Not the best photo, I'm afraid.

See those little white things behind the head? Know what they are? They're wasp eggs. This caterpillar was parasitized by a parasitoid wasp. What, you ask, is that? A wasp laid its eggs on the caterpillar. When the eggs hatch, the wasp larvae will consume the caterpillar, eventually killing it.

The crazy thing is, the wasp eggs seem to have changed the caterpillar's behavior. Every other caterpillar was headed for high ground to spend the winter. All of the parasitized ones were trying to dig into the rocky path. Very un-caterpillar-like behavior.

Wasps often dig burrows where they stash a caterpillar with eggs on it. Parasitoid wasps don't disable their kids' future meal; they let the larvae take care of that. But something about the eggs must mess with the caterpillar's brain, changing its behavior in a way that will help the wasps, not the caterpillar.

It's been zombified.

Are there other zombies in nature? You bet. Entomogenous fungi do it, too. When the fungus takes up residence inside an insect's body, it eventually consumes the body tissues. In the process, it alters the insect's behavior.

All that white stuff is the fungus. (source)
The zombified critter climbs up to an exposed perch. Not the best place for an insect (too easy to spot by things that want to eat it), but the perfect place for the fungus, which releases spores on the wind.

Even rabies zombifies animals by putting them in attack mode. What better way to spread to new hosts than by hiding out in saliva and driving the current host into a frenzied, froth-mouthed state of attack?

Watch out for zombies this Halloween. You never know where they might turn up.

What is your favorite spooky critter?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Contests and prizes and wishes, oh my!

Hi and welcome to my new followers! Friday's blogfest was a lot of fun!

Due to nightmares and scary shadows (in my children's rooms, not mine), I didn't get much sleep last night, which is why I'm late posting today. In fact, I wasn't going to post at all, but then I came across these awesome contests. They're both so great, I had to share!

Dear Editor is giving away a Free first 20 pages critique. All you have to do is go here, check out her awesome book trailer, and enter!

And Shannon Whitney Messenger, who announced an incredible three-book deal last week is celebrating with the contest of all contests. She's going to grant wishes! So just in case you missed it, go check it out!

And enjoy the fun start to the week!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pay it Forward blogfest

This blogfest is the brainchild of Matthew MacNish at the Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment. The purpose is to highlight three blogs that we think are worth following.
Julie Hedlund at Write Up My Life. Julie's blog always brightens my day. Her posts are insightful and fun to read. Every Sunday, she posts about gratitude. It's fun to see what she's grateful for, and a terrific reminder to stop and give thanks for the wonderful things in my life, as well.

Christie Wright Wild at Write Wild. Christie is the picture book pro, and her blog is a terrific place to find posts about anything having to do with picture books, PB authors, and the writing process.

Mercedes M. Yardley at A Broken Laptop. Mercedes is the most extraordinary of people: kind, supportive, strong, and talented. She provides windows into her personal life on her blog, and I am constantly amazed by her tenacity. And her writing rocks!

I'm looking forward to seeing the other must-read blogs. You can find the rest of the blogfest participants at the Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment or at Alex J. Cavanaugh's blog.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Alex asked if I'd be willing to share my ideas for NaNo... well, no. not really. (Sorry Alex.)

But a funny thing happened after I'd figured out the gist of the story. I knew (generally) where it would take place and what the conflict will be, although I'm still figuring out who the characters are. I was tossing around ideas, and then I picked up the August edition of National Geographic. This was on the cover:

Taken by Paul Nicklen at National Geographic

A white black bear, also known as a Kermode (Ker-MODE-ee) bear or spirit bear. And I knew. This bear is a part of the story, too. Can't wait to see where she takes me.

If you're looking for inspiration (or just beautiful photos), check out the National Geographic photo gallery.

What inspires you?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Carving out time

I have too many projects and not enough time! (Does anyone else have this problem?) Several ideas for magazine articles, three new picture books to work on, and over the weekend, a fabulous idea for a novel popped into my head, which leaves me three weeks to do research before I dive into NaNoWriMo. 

That's the plan, at any rate. Last year, I planned to do NaNo but spent November revising an ms after a request for a partial by an agent. End of October is the time frame for me to hear back from the two agents who have requested partials of my latest novel, so the whole NaNo experience may be postponed once again, depending on what they say.

But that voice! It spoke to me, as though this new character were standing just behind me, talking into my ear. I've got to do something with it. It wants its story told.

Are you going to participate in NaNoWriMo this year? Why or why not?

Friday, October 7, 2011

What's in a name?

My writing tends to go in stages. I'll work for two months on a novel, then my mental pendulum swings back over to the non-fiction side and I'll crank out several magazine articles and a picture book or two. Then it swings back to the fiction side for edits... back to non-fiction... You see where this is going.

Lately, I've been in a non-fiction phase. I think this is probably because I'm querying my novel, and I have an editor waiting for a rewrite on a non-fiction story (my critique group has it right now). So I'm filling the time with fun stuff for magazines.

One of the things I love about writing for kids' mags is that they're often looking for fun stories about animals. One of the critters I've written about recently is this guy:


Pretty cute, isn't it? It goes by many names, including fat dormouse, edible dormouse, and Siebenschläfer (seven sleeper).

Now, without googling it, why do you think it has those names?

Monday, October 3, 2011


About a year ago, I told my husband that I wanted to write a book about bones. One that highlights their homology across species. Or in more kid-friendly terms, one that shows how the same bones are in the same places and do very similar jobs in lots of different kind of animals.

For example, A bat's wings are membranes stretched between their incredibly long finger bones. A whale's flipper has the same bones but much shorter, stouter, and crowded together. They have the same single upper-arm bone, two forearm bones, set of rock-like wrist bones, and elongated hand/finger bones that we do. They have simply been modified through time to suit their particular use.

Then one morning, my husband said, "Hey, look at this!" He pointed to a Science book view: BONES. "Looks like you had a good idea."


Yep. Good idea, too late. It was beautifully done by Steve Jenkins. So beautifully done, it won a Caldecott Honor Award. I have been wanting to get my hands on this book ever since, and we finally got a copy last week.

BONES is truly stunning. The illustrations are cut paper but are so realistic they look like photographs. (After teaching general zoology for several years, I've seen my share of animal skeletons up close and personal, and these are extraordinarily life-like.)  Some pages show different hands and feet. Others have different animals shown to scale, so it's easy to compare the femur (thigh bone) of an elephant, a human, and a cat. Or the ribs of a human, sloth, turtle and python (all 200 of them).

The text explains, in clear language, the various jobs of bones, from support and movement (via joints) to making blood cells.

It is exactly the book I wanted to write, illustrated in a manner I could never have done. And I am thrilled to add it to our collection. If your kids get Scholastic book club orders, look for it there in paperback. You'll learn a lot and love the illustrations, too!

Have you ever had an idea only to discover it had already been done?