Thursday, September 26, 2013

Kelly's Curiosities -- Phase I: Space Rocks

To my sheer delight, the first episode of KELLY'S CURIOSITIES debuted on Monday, September 23, 2013.  If you've read my other posts, you know we filmed all ten episodes on August 29 and 30 of this year, and it was a crazy, fun two days of hard, amazing work.  The producer/editor, the camera person and the animator are all brilliant professionals, and I think we've created something special together.  So I hope you'll check them out, starting with this one

This video was inspired by the remarkable space rock that thundered across Russian skies in February of 2013.  I couldn't get enough of the videos and news reports of the stellar event.  I was so hungry for information, it was thrilling.  Yeah, I get thrilled by facts -- weird, I know.

As I watched and talked to my friends about the "space rock," I started wondering why reporters were calling it a space rock, rather than by a more specific name.  Then I realized, I didn't know what to call it either.

All my life, I've heard about comets and asteroids and meteors and meteorites, but I realized, I didn't know what made them each DIFFERENT from one another.  So I decided to find out, and this two minute video is the end result. 

Each of the ten videos we shot will be about high interest, sometimes weird topics including:

Space Rocks

A Creepy 1920's Mystery Bust

Insect Fossils

Mexico's Island of the Dolls

Raptorex vs T. rex

And five more crazy subjects.

We wanted to celebrate weird information in an easy to digest format, and I think the MSN team did a magnificent job!  So I hope you'll watch the videos and share the on your blogs and Facebook pages, your listservs and in your classrooms.  Because they're perfect for viewers 9 and up, to be sure. 

If we get enough views, we might get to do more, and I'd LOVE to do more.  But even more to the point, I think this hard working team DESERVES recognition.  They made me look good.  And when you're a 56 year old chubby lady with gray hair, that's not as easy as it sounds.

Let me know what you think, okay? 


Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Writing Life -- Do What's Right for YOU!

Writing life?  Sure. But sometimes, you stop and hug your dog.
A week or two ago, someone on my NFforKids listserv asked how we all work on our writing.  I responded, and several people encouraged me to post it on my blog.  So here it is.  Hope it proves no way and every way is the right way to be a writer.  : )  Just do it! 


Because being a writer is my day job -- and my only source of income -- I do something writer related every single day, rain or shine, holiday or non-holiday, for at least ten hours a day.  I am almost always on deadline for something or I won't make my bills.  So I juggle it all as efficiently as I can. 

I wake up when I wake up, now that both my girls are able to drive cars of their own to get where they need to be. If my body says I need 8 hours, I sleep 8 hours.  If it says I need 12, I sleep 12.  I am very flexible with sleep when I'm at home because that pattern seems to keep me from getting sick.  Rest is really important to my writing life.  Once I'm awake, I start by checking my email, because email will determine my priorities for that day.  I juggle at least 4 projects at any given time -- proposals to backlist.  And every book deserves attention. 

A lot of my email is school visit related, but that's part of the job.  So I coordinate those first.  I do between 40 and 60 school visits a year, so that's pretty time consuming, from invitation to completion.  But it helps pay the bills, and it sells lots of books.  A lot of my email is in response to interview requests, as well.  So tending to that correspondence immediately is terribly important.  Most of my books take about 4 years to research and write, with a huge uptick toward their submission deadlines and their release dates.

Research fills the rest of my hours -- some for projects sold, some for projects about to be pitched to acquiring editors at various houses.  I do a LOT of research long before the book sells to be sure I have enough information to merit a book.  Some say that's risky, and maybe it is.  But nothing ventured, nothing gained.  I have yet to do research on a book idea without selling it, eventually, with only one exception, and I still haven't given up on that project.  I'll sell it, eventually.

I don't write actual book text as efficiently when I'm traveling for school visits, but I do write in hotels and I absolutely do revisions in hotels.  I am pretty tired after a full day of school visits, so I'll sometimes take a 40 minute nap right after school, write until bedtime, then wake up for the next day's school events.  I am far slower with original text in hotel rooms than I am at home, but I can and do make it happen.

I also promote my books on social media, but I do more toward building and keeping my professional relationships strong.  I'm lucky, because a lot of the librarians i visit become real friends to me.  So when I talk to them on Facebook -- when I ask about their kids or their vacations -- I really do CARE about their lives, not because they buy my books but because we've connected in a real way.  But that also keeps my career healthy.

Chris Crutcher always says there is nothing in this life that is not about human connection and relationships.  I absolutely agree with him.  So I attend to those relationship every day, in all my writer capacities.  The work makes me happy...not rich, but happy.  So I feel really lucky to have that opportunity.  Lucky, but REALLY hard working, too.  

I could probably take more days off, if I wanted to.  But I get too antsy to take a whole day off.  I do play video games to break up the day a little.  When I finish part of one project, I'll pay a game to clear my head -- to prepare my mind to do something else.  So as odd as it sounds, playing is part of my writing process.  I have to play little tricks on myself to keep all the balls I'm juggling in the air.  So far, so good. 

If I have any advice for others, it's write every day, even if it's just a little bit.  Be flexible with yourself, because every one of us will forge our own path, our own way.  A glimpse at someone else's process is informative, but what works for me might not work for you, and vice versa.  So use other people's patterns to help you understand your way is GOOD for YOU.  If you don't have a process yet, try a few on for size, then customize them for you lifestyle.  Before my girls were grown, my babies were top priority, and I still managed to build a career. 

One last thing, writing friends keep you sane.  Never overlook the value of friends who do what you do -- who take it seriously.  They are armor against all those people who ask when you'll write a real book or ask, "How you written anything I've heard of?"  People outside the circle will still ask those dumb questions. But your writing friends will make it easier NOT to resort to violence in response.  : )

Hope this helps!


Kelly Milner Halls
Children's Writer

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Ten Episodes Video Taped!

A week ago today, my friends Brian and Mel drove from Seattle to Spokane and transformed my living room into a video set.  Together, we filmed ten, full episodes of KELLY'S CURIOSITIES for MSN on Thursday, August 29 and Friday, August 30, 2013.

Our biggest challenge -- I thought -- would be my dogs.  Abbey is a 4-year-old Great Dane and Pug is a 14 year old pug, as you might have guessed.  I thought Abbey would be like a bull in a china closet with all that expensive equipment -- cameras, monitors, lights, reflectors, boom mikes, the whole nine yards.  But thanks to my daughter Vanessa's skill with animals, they became our calm studio audience.  Pug's snoring as she slept was the biggest hurdle.  She is still wondering why we kept waking her up, I'm sure.   Abbey was totally zen.

What turned out to be hard was pronouncing several Russian, Chinese and Japanese names.  The fact that I had to trip over those pronunciations really distracted me from telling the stories associated with the names.  It surprised me that the worry over those three or four words slowed me down so much.  But once we got those episodes complete, it was a little easier.

Easier.  That's a relative term.  It was never entirely easy, because it's a fun and complicated process.  My job was to give the producer and camera person the bits and pieces they needed to go back to Seattle, to their computers and animators and musicians and jigsaw the videos together.

So I did the same stories again and again and again -- as many times as it took.  Then I recreated different motions I made in each re-telling so the camera could zoom in for close ups on the items I was holding.

It was hard at times, but always fascinating and mind blowing.  Videos staring me?  A plump, aging writer of things weird?  It's like an old lady Cinderella story, and I know it.

I am so grateful for this opportunity.  I hope people like them so much we'll get to do another ten episodes...then another ten...then another ten.  I hope they are so much fun, they go viral so we can travel to locations to shoot the stories where they unfold.  But even if that doesn't happen, color me delighted!

I got to be a video star for two days in my living room.  It doesn't get too much better than that!