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Tamra Norton's Blog

A Bad Hair Life

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Tamra Norton
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November 21st, 2008

By Tamra Norton

If I'm not snorkeling in Hawaii or romping through castles in Europe (neither of which I've experienced, but both on my to-do list...along with becoming Stephenie Meyer's BFF, dancing with Maksim Chmerkovskiy and being adopted into the Jolie-Pitt clan--Auntie Tami Jolie-Pitt. I wonder how it would look on a book cover?) I can't think of a better way to spend an entire Saturday than at a writers conference. Just this past Saturday I attended the Brazos Valley SCBWI Conference in College Station, Texas (go Aggies!). In a word--outstanding!

I've been to several conferences over the past five years--even spoken at a few--and I've come to the conclusion that aside from the act of BIC (bum in chair, a.k.a. writing) and, of course, reading-like-a-nut-job, attending conferences is one of the best ways to hone the craft of writing and assist in that seemingly elusive quest for publication.

Here are some of the highlights from my past five years attending various writers conferences.
  • Hanging out with my writer buddies--it just doesn't get any better. These are MY PEOPLE. They totally get that I have conversations in my head with my characters, look for them on street corners and in Target, even cry with them. Really. I'm normal...right?

  • Schmoozing with editors and agents from some of the largest and most respected NY publishing houses and agencies. We've talked shop. They've offered invaluable advice in their presentations. And I've resisted the urge to stalk them during down time at the conferences. These meetings have lead to numerous manuscript submission opportunities which wouldn't have been available had I not attended the conferences.

  • Schmoozing with published authors--many, my literary idols! For a solid hour I sat next to Joan Bauer and we chatted during the author signing portion of one conference. She signed about 75 books. I signed 4. And last year at a pre-conference mingle-thingy, I had a great conversation with Kimberly Willis Holt as we compared our "military kid" books. Fascinating...and freaking fun!

  • I've had several "first chapter critiques" by numerous editors and agents including agent Erin Murphy and author and SCBWI founder Lin Oliver. Wow--now that was the coolest experience ever. She even highlighted a part of my manuscript the next day in her presentation--now that was a validating moment!

  • Because of one of these "first chapter critiques" at an SCBWI Houston conference, I (or my first chapter) won the Joan Lowery Nixon Award--mentorship through the editing process of that manuscript by National Book Award Finalist, Kathi Appelt. Working with Kathi was a phenomenal experience, and that manuscript, MAKE ME A MEMORY went on to be published by a regional publisher and was chosen by the Utah Commission on Literacy as a Book-of-the-Month selection. Its sequel, MAKE ME A HOME was published this year.

Oh, there have so many memorable experiences! These are only a few. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend attending a writer's conference. Who knows, maybe I'll see you in Hawaii one of these days. I definitely plan on snorkeling...either before or after attending the Maui Writer's Conference--one more thing on my to-do list!

November 11th, 2008

Happy Veterans Day

By Tamra Norton

Today, Veterans Day, my mind and heart can't help but turn to our brave servicemen and women who have dedicated their very lives to protect the many freedoms we enjoy in this country. What a huge sacrifice! But it's not theirs alone...

My heart also turns to their families, separated by many miles, and often oceans from sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives... Can we even understand how they are feeling today? I'd imagine there are a mixture of emotions--pride, for sure! But also concern for their loved one's safety and well being. Sadness for days and memories missed.

Today I'm going to give the ones I love an extra hug. And today we will say an extra prayer--for those serving, and for those at home.

Click here to read my friend, Alison Palmer's awesome Veterans Day Blog...where she also happens to talk about my two children's novels, Make Me a Memory and Make Me a Home--both dealing with military children.

November 1st, 2008

Texas in my Chili--Really!

By Tamra Norton

So the other day I was fixing lunch for the kids (chili mac--a staple at our house), and when I opened the can of chili and took off the lid, I found something very interesting--the state of Texas--really. I found Texas in my chili. Apparently a hunk of chili fell from the top, center of the can, which resulted in an almost perfectly shaped cut-out of the state of Texas (where we happen to live AND where this particular can of chili was made.

Now I know what you're thinking. What in the heck does this have to do with writing? Well, my friends, I'll tell you...

Was it simply a coincidence that I found Texas in my chili? I think not!

A miracle? Ummmmm...okay, so not exactly...

But was it incredible? Astonishing? Fantastic? Sure, why not. My kids and I got a huge kick out of it.

Personally (and please, don't read too much in to this like Tami has turned coo-coo-nutzo or anything), I think it's a sign from the heavens telling me that my little ol' "fairy tale" manuscript from this little ol' author from Texas is going to be picked up by some fancy schmancy agent, and shopped around to some fancier schmancier east coast publishing house. And the end result will be something much more incredible than a hill'a chili beans.

Just sayin'...

October 21st, 2008

Grandma Love

By Tamra Norton

Last week I experienced something truly amazing--the birth of my first grandbaby. I was able to be with my daughter when she gave birth, and even though I've been through the process seven times myself, it was a completely new experience in the role of Grandma. Here was my baby having a baby. I was terrified, overjoyed, and everything in between. But my baby did great, and her baby is absolutely incredible--I'm sure the most brilliant grandbaby in the universe. (But I'm not prejudice or anything...)

October 7th, 2008

Dashner Does Houston

By Tamra Norton

My good buddy James Dashner, author of The 13th Reality: The Journal of Curious Letters, published by Shadow Mountain came to H-town for a week of school visits and Barnes&Noble events, so of course, I insisted he stay at "Hotel Norton" while he had events in the northern parts of my fair city.

Knowing James was coming and doing his presentation to a bajillion elementary schools, I asked if he wouldn't mind doing his presentation for the homeschoolers and others in my area. After a quick visit with the lovely Rebecca Denham, YA librarian at the awesome Barbara Bush Branch of the Harris County Public Library, the gig was scheduled, and I was psyched. I've seen James in action numerous times--even team taught a few classes with him--so I knew his presentation would be fantastic and get the kids pumped about reading, writing, and "Changing the World"--the theme of his book tour. He did that, and more!

I don't want to give away too much of James' presentation, but if you've ever been curious about what The Dude looks like in tights... Well, I've already said too much. But here are some photos, complements of the incredible and lovely Sunbum.

Me, James and my two youngest kiddos.
Every kid went home with an autographed poster.
And a bookmark!

The maaaahvelous Sunbum (my adopted daughter, if her mom would let me) and her fave author.

"Friends of the Library" not only had books for sale, but a nice spread of cookies, fruit and vegetable trays, punch and even cheese (which James gobbled up before anyone arrived).
What happens when James eats too much cheese!

James and me at Nauvoo Books--the rockin'-est bookstore in Houston!

Come back again, James...but maybe not during hurricane season! :)

October 2nd, 2008

I Don't Like Ike

By Tamra Norton
The good thing about a hurricane is that you know it's
coming. The evening news shows a big, orange swirly
blob in the south Atlantic, and our greatest hope is
that the swirly blob we'll never receive a name . . . because
then it gets personal. It becomes that annoying relative you
hope never visits. But odds are, eventually, ready or not,
that annoying relative will come . . . and it's not gonna be
fun! It does, however, give us a "heads up" to clean out our

The bad thing about a hurricane is that you know it's coming.
And as much as we don't want to, everyone goes into panic
mode. At the grocery store, there's a rush on bread, water, and
Spam (never mind that its nutritional value is questionable at
best). Thankfully, the stuff is yummy—especially fried—and
hurricane season is the only time this mommy will buy it.
There are lines at the gas station, Home Depot, and the
bank. Neighbors take down trampolines and put away yard
furniture. Some put up plywood over their windows.

And then we wait . . .

Three days before Ike made landfall, just northeast of
Houston, the craziness began. And though I felt we were
somewhat prepared, I still went out and purchased more of the
essentials. I mean, who wants to be caught in the middle of a
hurricane without Spam? (Our last supply was ravenously
consumed the week after the last hurricane threat). And since
I really didn't want to break into the fifty-gallon water barrels
disguised as furniture under tablecloths in the corners of my
bedroom, I went out and bought a dozen jugs of water and
extra batteries. (Thanks to GameBoy, I can't seem to keep
them stocked in this houseful of videogame-aholics.)

Friday afternoon, anticipation of the looming storm was
palpable. With gray skies and wind already stirring the tall
pines, magnolias, and elms of our neighborhood, we tried to
settle in. After the fiasco of Hurricane Rita three years earlier,
where the Houston freeways became clogged, those of us
living inland (we're 70 miles in, on the northwest side of
town) were asked by the mayor to hunker down so those
near the coast could safely evacuate. Even before a drop of
rain fell, the streets of Galveston were flooding. We were
glued to the television as slowly, the storm approached and
the sun set. They said it would arrive sometime between
twelve and two.

Since we don't have an "inner room" in our house except the
bathroom, we decided that the hallway and bathroom would
be the safest place for our little Hurricane-Ike slumber party.
After thoroughly scrubbing the bathroom (normally used by
three boys—yeah, you're feeling my pain already), I pulled
twin-size mattresses into our hallway and a crib mattress into
the bathroom. I even made a bed inside the bathtub for my
six-year-old. (She won't stay in her own bed all night, so I
have no idea why I thought she might sleep in a bathtub-bed
during a hurricane. Wishful thinking, I guess).

At 10:15 p.m. while watching the news, the lights went out.
Little did we know just how long it would be before our
precious electricity would be restored. My husband decided
to sleep in our bed, my twenty- and twenty-two-year-old
daughters slept in the room next to ours (away from the
window), so this brave momma-bear hunkered down in the
hall with her cubs—a twelve- and sixteen-year-old, while
the ten- and six-year-old occupied the bathroom off the hall
(probably the safest spot in the house).

When the flashlights finally went out at about 11:30, the
house was already hotter than h&!!. Houston's nickname—
H-town—is for more than one reason . . . and I don’t mean
hurricanes. Between the soaring wind, giggling six-year-old
(now sleeping at my head—picture the letter T) and sweltering
heat, I could not sleep. And that's when I had a brilliant idea.
With flashlight in hand, I wandered into the kitchen, opened
the freezer, and quickly grabbed the first cold thing I could
get my hands on—a frozen ball of leftover bread dough. This
ball, soon-to-turn blob, was my constant companion for the
remainder of the night. Forget about the husband, batteryoperated
radio, flashlight, and even water. All I wanted—
needed—was my blob of cold dough (confined within its
trusty zip-lock bag and plastered to my stomach or back) and
I'd survive this thing.

I think I dozed a bit—maybe an hour—and woke up feeling
like I was sleeping on the floor of a laundromat with every
dryer running with a handful of loose change thrown in. I'm
not sure what all debris was knocking against the living room
and family room windows, but the entire front and side of our
house was being pelted good. The wind was relentless. I
checked the time on my cell phone—2:00 a.m. We were in
the thick of it! At the same time, as if on cue, Dennis came
out of the bedroom. We were both absolutely stunned by the
violent roar of Ike. We grabbed the battery operated radio—
my lifeline for the next eight days—and started out into the
family room to listen . . . but quickly turned tail back to the
safety of the hallway. In a word, we were spooked. The tall
ceilings and large windows of the family and living rooms
suddenly felt very unsafe.

For the remainder of the night, we were stuck on the
"laundromat floor" listening to Ike's wrath. Due to the
noise, we all remained awake most of the night, dosing only
occasionally. We were hot and rattled, but we were together,
and we definitely felt the protective hand of the Lord.

By about 6:00 a.m. the winds had died down considerably
(although the storm wouldn't completely leave until about
noon). The view from our front door was like a vegetative war
zone. Tree limbs and foliage were strewn everywhere. We also
noticed that one section of our living room carpet under a
window was completely rain-soaked. With three very
absorbent towels, we sopped up the water over and over, and
wrung out the towels outside—for a good forty-five minutes.

We'd also noticed a few roof leaks during the storm and had
placed buckets and bowls underneath. One section of ceiling
in the master bedroom, roughly the size of a dinner plate, was
especially bad (actually starting to droop). This was directly
under an old antenna on the roof which should have been
removed long ago—grrrr. The winds had jostled it completely
loose, leaving an opening for all that rain to leak through.
When we received a second rainstorm the night after the
hurricane, it caused this section of ceiling to collapse, leaving
a gaping hole the size of previously mentioned dinner plate
between the attic and my bedroom. (More on this later.)

Well, I could go on and on, but at this point I think I'll just
offer in bullet points some random thoughts for those who
find themselves in the path of an oncoming hurricane.

» The scripture is absolutely true—if we are prepared, we
shall not fear. I'm so grateful I didn't have to brave the
grocery store and gas lines (at the very few stores and gas
stations that were even open) after Ike blew through. I
literally saw fifty-car gas lines, and every open gas station
was patrolled by police officers. Can you say scarynutzomania?!!!
The FEMA POD (Point of Distribution) across
from the grocery store where my kids work was insanely
chaotic. Again, more lines, more police officers. I'm glad
the food, water, and ice were available for those who
needed it, but I'm grateful that we didn't.

» Bathing in cold water really isn't all that bad when it's 500
degrees outside.

» Bathing in cold water is miserable for the first four days
after the hurricane when it has cooled off to the 80s (mid
60s at night). This is when we started to boil water . . . to
BATHE in (still had plenty of drinking water).

» After a hurricane, when you've boiled bathing water,
you are absolutely fine with—and even encourage—the
sharing of said bath water (especially when you are first
or second to use it—these things usually go by age).
And after everyone has bathed, you then use the same,
still fairly warm and quite cloudy water, to wash clothes.
Waste not, want not! :) We have eight bodies living at
home. NO WAY could we go eight days without doing
laundry. I think I counted four batches in the eight days
(the last of which was still on the rigged-up clothes line
when electricity was restored, and therefore re-washed).

» Blessed are the neighbors who own a generator and are willing
to run an extension cord to our house! Our dear neighbors
asked if we wanted it hooked up to our refrigerator.
We said, "Naah. How about the TV and DVD player?"
Yeah, we have our priorities straight (and we have children
employed at the local grocery store who can bring home ice
each night for the cooler).

» If you'd like incentive to do a speedy clean-up after a
hurricane, invite a famous author friend to stay while on
his book tour the day after you receive electricity. We'd
invited Jeff to stay at Hotel Norton months before the
storm, so I was sweating for more reasons than the heat
when his arrival date was approaching. Five days after
Ike hit, I called Jeff to see if he was still coming (all
schools had been canceled that week . . . and we still had
NO electricity). When his scheduled schools assured
him they'd be open, he tried to locate a hotel, but there
wasn't a room within 50 miles of the outskirts of
Houston. Jeff—the trooper—was prepared to "camp"
with us (though I think he would have preferred a cold
shower to the #9 bathing rank which he would have
received. Hey, we like having guests and all, but c'mon!)
:) Luckily it didn't come to that.

» Lastly, if you have a hole in your bedroom ceiling, fix it—
right away!

Dennis and Josh (our 16-year-old) had repaired all of the leaks
on the roof, but hadn't gotten to the hole in my bedroom
ceiling yet. Early Monday morning at about 5:00 (the day
after Jeff arrived) I was awakened by a huge thump below
"the hole." With trusty flashlight still next to my bed, I
pointed the light toward the hole and determined that a flap
of hanging ceiling must have fallen. Dennis thought it was
one of our two cats playing around. We went back to bed for
an hour.

Fast forward to 9:00 a.m.

I'm reclining in a water-heater heated bathtub, basking in
(and marveling over) such wondrous modern conveniences
as water heaters—not to mention hair dryers, microwaves
and the internet—when I hear my six-year-old daughter
squeaking outside of my bathroom door.

"Moooooommy . . . there's a biiiiiiiig raaaaaaat!"


"Mommy . . . there's a BIIIIIIIG RAAAAAAT!"

I heard her that time. And indeed, there was a big, gray,
furry creature comfortably seated on my bookshelf. Only it
wasn't a rat. It was an opossum—most likely the same one
that had twice been removed by my teenage son from our
garage a few weeks earlier and deposited down the street.
The critter had obviously returned and somehow made its
way through the walls and attic, and had fallen through the
hole in my bedroom ceiling hours earlier. Eeeeeew, ick,
yuck, and all that! This time my brave son caught the critter
and deposited him 20 miles from our home. I truly hope he
never comes back—the opossum OR Ike (or any of his
annoying hurricane relatives).

It was a crazy eight days, but I'd give up fried Spam forever if
we never had to go through that again. Carry on!

September 2nd, 2008

I'm So Happy!


By Tamra Norton

See this picture? This is how I feel. "Why?" I hear you ask. Well, because for the last several months I've been working my tail off on a certain project. Basically the entire month of July I did nothing but write, and (aside from a quick trip to Utah) the entire month of August I did nothing but edit. It was crazy and hectic, and wonderful. I'm not sure I've ever been as deeply absorbed in a project as I have been in this one. But it's done! And best of all, the entire manuscript is in the hands of "The Publisher-Of-My-Dreams."

After nine long months of evaluation over the first three chapters of this project (including one requested re-write), I finally received a letter from "TPOMD" in mid August asking for the entire manuscript--music to my ears (and hysterical shouts for joy from my big mouth to my family's ears). I was still in the midst of editing however, so I dug in deeper. But on August 31st, I said a quick prayer and pushed the "send" button. My manuscript was on it's way through cyberspace to "TPOMD." This morning I received an e-mail stating that my manuscript (this time the whole pie) is in the review process.

...and the angels and Tami rejoiced!

Now maybe you're thinking I'm being too happy, too soon. Too optimistic. "Aren't you worried you're getting your hopes up?" I hear you say. Well, honestly, I'm just so in love with my little story right now, and believe in it so much that I don't think anything could change that. And I'm the type of person who has to look forward 100% with the belief that THIS STORY WILL SUCCEED! It WILL make it into book form! It WILL make it into the hands of children...and they will love it too. Sure, there's still room for improvement--there always is. But I'm looking forward. And the view from where I'm jumping-for-joy (because I'm too excited to sit) is incredible!

Stay tuned...

Oh yeah--click here to read the review and interview I did with Lu Ann Staheli for MAKE ME A HOME!

August 5th, 2008

By Tamra Norton

*Disclaimer: I neglected to approve any of this biographictional information by J. Scott Savage because I was afraid he wouldn't approve. He hates it when family secrets are revealed, but some things just need to be told.

Very few people in the blogosphere know this little tidbit of information, but J. Scott Savage is, in fact, my fraternal twin brother. Here we are at the wee age of 6 months. Scotty (as I've always called him) is the one with the constipated expression--a dilemma that has plagued my twin for life, poor guy. I'm the inquisitive looking one.

Scotty and I were raised in the vast regions of Northern California in a little log cabin surrounded by a Buffalo preserve. Our parents, Zeeke and Penelope Diuguid (pronounced Doo-Good) were the environmentally conscious, thrill-seeking type, so our lives were never dull or wasteful. Even though we are twins, our birthdays are one day apart. Scotty was born January 31st at 11:57 p.m. and I popped out a mere 4 minutes later at 12:01 am, on February 1st. Up until the age of 17 (when Scotty ran off to become a Mouseketeer--something I never forgave him for) we always shared a chocolate-chip cookie cake at midnight with two candles--one pink, and one blue.

Even though Scotty and I are fraternal twins, he's a year older than me. This happened during what Dad calls the Diuguid Space Exploration Debacle. Scotty (always into mischief) neglected to secure his deep-space, sleep module properly (or so he says. I think he snuck out to grab some Pop-Tarts for the ride. Whatever!) so when the rest of us woke a year later from our deep sleep to land at the space station, not only were all the Pop Tarts gone, but so was half of our food supply. During this solitary space time, Scotty fashioned his hair into dreadlocks, penned tattoos of wildlife on his arms with magic markers, and insisted on wearing gold foil stars on his earlobes. He was a restless teenager, and I had to wonder some days if he wasn't going to break our poor mother's heart.

At the age of 22, shortly after he returned from his Himalayan exploration with a group of Bulgarian refugees, Scotty, always a free spirit and definitely the independent and slightly disgruntled type, decided to change his name, once again, breaking our mother's heart. Fed up and embarrassed by always having to pronounce our last name to people, and hearing the response, "Serious?" Scotty legally became J. Scott Savage. And honestly, the name does better suit my brother's uncultivated nature. People are simply drawn to his primeval/salt-of-the-earth/bad-boy/All-American persona. He's a complete package!

After spending so much time traveling the face of the earth as well as space, it's no wonder Scotty came up with the premise to Farworld. Even though he gave us so much grief in the early years, Mom, Dad and I are so proud of him! Way to go, Bro! Stay tuned next week for a full Farworld review. And in the meantime, whoever can guesses the correct information in this blog first gets their own autographed copy!

Hint: There are at least 4 full truths and 2 half truths (if you can stretch the imagination) to this biographictional tale.

July 29th, 2008

Killing my Villain

By Tamra Norton

Sorry I'm not writing my blog today, but I've been busy killing my villain. And I'm having a blast doing it! I've never written a fantasy before so I've never had the pleasure of eliminating the evil villain. In a word, SUPERFUNILICOUSNESS! :) Such is the life of a writer.

I know what you;re thinking (aside from the Tami-is-a-nut-case thought). Yes, I've been saying for quite some time now that I'm ALMOST DONE with this manuscript. These words have escaped my lips (and fingers) several times over the past few weeks now. And honestly, I always think I can finish faster than I do. But in my defense, my second-to-the-last, big, climactic, super-whammy-of-a-chapter ended up being three separate chapters. And each chapter was a little longer than my average chapter in this manuscript. What can I say? Stuff just kept popping out of me (which sounds completely wrong, but it's the truth. I swear. Pop. Pop. Pop...)

So I'm FINALLY in the middle of the honest-to-goodness, second-to-the-last, big, climactic, super-whammy-of-a-chapter, and I'm tempted to not go to bed tonight until it's done.

Oops! Looks like I wrote a blog...sort of.

Stay tuned...

July 15th, 2008

Writing Frenzy

By Tamra Norton

I'd love to blog today, but I'm busy writing! Yup, I'm right in the middle of a full blown writing frenzy! And I'm sooooooo close to the end of my manuscript I can taste it. Feel it. Smell it! I'm so close I can hardly think of anything and I can hardly even sleep.

Is this normal? Healthy? Good for the environment?

Oh well... It's summertime and I'm riding with it (since I can't afford to drive anywhere else). :)

I've missed my blogging Tuesdays and connecting with y'all, but I promise, a few missed weeks will be worth it when this project is done. And I also promise I'll be back to blogging soon.

Wish me luck! My self imposed deadline is THIS Saturday! :)
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