Tag Archives: dogs

Memoir Monday, August 1st (which is really a Tuesday)

HB to my blog

Happy Birthday to my blog! One year ago today I posted for the first time and I am now up to 97 posts.  A little bit short of my (overly) ambitious 156 (3 posts a week), but I’ll take it.

Originally, I started this blog as a way to document my new career choice as a writer.  I planned on writing about writing (there’s a novel idea [haha, pun totally intended]), as well as featuring some of my fiction writing (Fiction Friday posts), with a dash of other writing as well (poems, one-liners, life lessons from a dog, etc., for Whatever Wednesday posts).

Now a year in, I have more realistic expectations.  It turns out there is only so much I can write about writing in any given week.  A lot of my Memoir Monday pieces morphed into metacognitive pieces of how I am my own worst enemy in achieving my goals of being a healthy and peaceful person and a productive and prolific writer.

I actually quite like the evaluation process, having conducted program evaluation research for well over a decade, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that I ended up spending a lot of time reflecting on my goals, objectives, and whether or not I am making progress.  As I continue writing my blog, I expect the process of what I am trying to accomplish over several different areas of my life, not just writing, will continue to fall to the forefront.

My Whatever Wednesday posts and Fiction Friday posts certainly stretched my creativity and writing muscles.  But I often found myself feeling forced to come up with content.  Although I am a big believer in having a consistent writing practice, I like to have freedom in the process.  Telling myself I had to come up with a thought provoking one-sentence caption for a photograph or another flash fiction story created undue stress for myself and a lot of times I felt a bit resentful because the time and effort it took away from the writing projects that are closer to my heart (my children’s picture books and middle grade novels).

Therefore, year 2 of my blog will not include these outlets for my writing.  Over the next few weeks, I will be updating the blog site to reflect these changes.  However, at some point I would like to finish my Fox Through the Forest story.  For those of you who have read, I feel it is unfair to leave Malcolm the fox and his friends stuck in narrative limbo.  I know he has his journey to finish and I want to see him to the end.

It’s exciting to think about where year 2 will take me.  A year ago, we were housesitting in Johnsonville, NY, and taking care of a Bernese Mountain Dog, a Border Collie, and a Bordernese mix, as well as two rag doll cats and a barn cat, in addition to goats and chickens.

Johnsonville three dogs

Frank with Heath Rosie Jack Cat

Now we’re on the road in Joliet, IL, caring for an old timer Golden Retriever, a rescued Great Dane, a German Shepherd/Border Collie mix that came from the pound, one cat, and 37 (I think) chickens.

Phyllos Lilu Rafiki Triferros

A year ago, I had no completed manuscripts over 1,000 words.  Today, I have one complete 41,000 middle grade novel, and a 51,000 word middle grade novel sorely in need of revision.  I wrote an additional seven picture book manuscripts.  One of them won the top fiction prize in Kidlit College’s picture book contest.  As a result, this manuscript is now being considered by five publishers.  Plus, I now have an agent who makes me laugh a lot and is supportive of my story ideas.

I am so blessed and grateful to be on this journey.  I thank God every day that I had the courage to change the life I was living for the one I wanted to live. I am grateful to my husband who has shown me unconditional love, laughter, and support as we realize our shared visions for life.  My parents have also been incredibly supportive and I know they hope and pray for our continued prosperity and success, as do my extended family and in-laws.  We have met so many wonderful people along the way and every day we make new connections.

We have no idea where this next year is going to take us, but there is not a doubt in my mind it will be filled with abundant gratitude, joy, love, light, and laughter.  I look forward to telling you all about it.

Memoir Monday (though it’s really Wednesday), June 28th, 2017

On the Move

It’s packing time…again! My husband and I will be heading out at the end of the week, leaving dear, old Norfolk, CT, behind for two months.  We’ve been making the rounds, saying goodbye, returning library books, and for me, personally, trying to soak up as much time with these three dogs that I can.  I’m going to miss them so much!

Tobey

Smudge

Faith

Here’s where we’re headed:

  • Harrisburg, PA, to visit my Mom, Dad, and brother.  For those of you who read my blog, you know the biggest challenge here will be to NOT eat all the cookies, cakes, and peanut M&Ms my family keeps on hand.  I’ve shaped up quite a bit in the last month and a half and I don’t want to lose momentum.

 

  • Cornelius, NC, to pet and housesit while my cousin and his wife (who is far and away one of my favorite people EVER), along with their two kids, head to their annual extended family beach week in the Outer Banks.  They have a boat and a dog that looks like Rick James reincarnated, so I have plenty to be excited about there.

Rick James

 

  • Smyrna, TN, to visit with my husband’s parents, brother, two dogs, and three cats.   My husband’s mom is recovering from surgery, so we’ll help out where needed, and on my agenda during that time is to get my car registered in TN.  After hiding my car title in a SUPER SECRET PLACE, then moving three times in four years, I appear to have lost it.  I finally got the replacement title.  I would have simply re-registered it in IL until we figure out what we’re going to do with my car (it’s currently hanging out in my in-laws’ driveway), but the car needs an emissions test in IL first.  As we’ve been in CT, well, not going to happen.

 

  • Joliet, Manhattan, and Elmhurst, IL, for various pet/housesitting jobs.   We sat for one of these houses last year, which inspired my picture book story The Best Darn Dog Ever, and when they asked us to come back and take care of their dogs, we immediately said yes.  I was able to find other sitting jobs which fit neatly into our timeline for being there, so we’re happy at how it’s all working at.  Plus, one of the houses is dome-shaped with 87 (or maybe 84) windows and the other has two geriatric wiener dogs (wiener dogs are AWESOME), so we’re going to have some great new experiences.

I’m really looking forward to these new housesits, even though I lived in IL for 8 years.  My writing has been going exceptionally well lately, but I still think my absolute best creativity comes when we shake things up and have new experiences.  Like at the end of March when I met Theo, the therapy llama, at the Norfolk Public library.

Llama

I’ve now started writing a nonfiction picture book based on this gentle and loving pack animal (FYI – they only spit when threatened; watch their ears for signs).  Nonfiction picture book writing is something I had on my to-do list, but now I find myself actually doing it.  My agent also thinks the story is a great idea (did I mention I now have an agent?!?!?!  HUGE STEP FORWARD! YAY!).

So, there will be lots to see and do over the next two months.  It makes saying our temporary goodbye to Norfolk bittersweet.  But for now, I bid this wonderful town of Norfolk and its wonderful people a fond farewell.  See you soon!

Memoir Monday, March 13th, 2017

Drop that ball

Oh, I’ll just write my next blog post tomorrow. Well, maybe I’ll wait another day. Make that two more days. Actually, better just to wait until next week.

Now it’s four weeks later and boy did I drop the ball on keeping my blog momentum going. The good news is, I did not stop writing during this time. I just stopped writing my Monday posts. And most of my Wednesday posts. And Friday posts, too. Although a part of me is realizing (not for the first time) I might have been a tad too optimistic in setting myself up to have three new blog posts each week.

It was easy to let my posts lapse, mostly because I told myself no one would notice.  Except someone did notice (no, not my husband). And I’ll tell you what: hearing a friend comment that they read my blog every week and wondering why I had stopped warmed my heart so much it was like I had just drunk a homemade hot chocolate made of Not Your Sugar Mamas dark chocolate (best dark chocolate in the history of time and handmade in Martha’s Vineyard).

I stopped blog writing because I had a February 28th deadline to spruce up my second middle grade book, Top Dog of K-9 Academy. The deadline I was working towards is for the Unicorn’s Writer Conference, upcoming on Saturday, March 25th, at Reid Castle in Purchase, NY.

Unicorn Writers Use this one

Specifically, I am meeting with six different agents and editors to receive feedback on the first 40 pages of the Top Dog manuscript.

This opportunity is HUGE in the book world because I get to sit down with industry professionals for 30-minute appointments and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of my manuscript. Usually at writing conferences the agent/editor appointments are limited to 10 minutes or less and you simply “pitch” your idea; that is, you tell them the gist of your story and they say yes or no whether you should submit the manuscript for consideration.

With these pitch sessions, there’s no guarantee anything more will come from the interaction.  I’ve only been to one conference so far where I pitched to three different agents, and even though all three asked me to submit my full picture book manuscripts, that was at the end of October and I still haven’t heard anything back.

I’ve also read on several writing blogs and websites that agents consider some aspects of the pitch session to be truly awful. Which I understand. As someone who used to exhaustively critique student research papers for a living, I know what’s it like to crush someone’s dream. In my case, it was a student’s dream of getting an ”A.” In an agent’s case, it’s someone’s dream of getting published.

Given these circumstances, the agent/editor sessions need to be approached carefully.  Some of the best advice I’ve received about my upcoming conference appointments has come from someone who worked in the publishing industry for many years for various publishing houses. She told me not to have expectations about getting an offer of representation, but to instead focus on next steps for my manuscript.

Not having expectations will be difficult for me. I have an incredibly active imagination; in fact, that’s one of the reasons I’m able to write so many stories.  And who doesn’t love to fantasize about their big break?

I have, however, been working on the challenge of letting go of expectations in other aspects of my life for a few years now, so I’m feeling confident I can remain neutral going into the appointments.  As an aside, I credit this step towards enlightenment to my 21-day meditation challenges with Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey.  They have a new challenge starting on April 10th.  It’s totally free and I highly recommend it, almost as much I recommend Not Your Sugar Mamas chocolate.

Anyway, I’m also feeling confident because I have a lot of faith in my manuscript, and as I further progress along the path to publication I can actually why this story could be published.  Aside from the fact that it’s funny and well-written (not just my opinion, by the way, but my class from the Mark Twain House and the critique groups I’ve been going to are quite enthusiastic), I’ve done my market research and my story has commercial appeal.  Two of the books in Publisher’s Weekly Best Books Middle Grade, 2016, featured animal narrators, and The Secret Life of Pets earned nearly a billion dollars worldwide.  In addition, nearly half of US homes have one or more dogs.  Considering my story features the antics of a pack of dogs narrated by a scrappy mutt named Lilly, I believe there’s broad appeal for this story in a market that is currently trendy, yet not saturated.

I think the fact that I also now approach publishing as a business and not just as a pie-in-the-sky dream to accomplish makes me a strong partner for agents and editors.  I am willing to put forth the time and effort towards branding, publicity, and marketing.

That’s why these agent and editor sessions will be so good for me.  Regardless of whether I end up with representation, my manuscript will be even stronger than when I started.  I will be in a better position to market myself.  And I will be several more steps closer to getting published.

In the meantime, I’ll keep writing on my blog.  Most weeks….

Memoir Monday, February 6th, 2017

Gotta have faith TItle

I met a yellow Lab named Lilly today.  Coincidental because the canine protagonist in the second middle grade novel I’m working on is a yellow dog named Lilly.  Not a Lab, though.  The Lilly in my book is a mutt and she’s based on one of the dogs we’re taking care of in Connecticut.   All four of the Connecticut dogs we’re taking care of are in the book,

Blog-10

but for some reason I took a liking to this scrappy little one (she’s on the left) for the story and decided to tell it from her perspective.

I like to think it’s a good sign I met Lilly today because a lot of times with my books I feel like it’s one step forward, two steps back.  I’ve been getting a lot of great feedback on this story; particularly with dialogue and humor.  The feedback is coming from my writing workshop at the Mark Twain House.  The women in my other writing group were also eager to know more as I read them chapter 1.

This past weekend, I took the first 10 pages to a critique group I found through meetup.com.  I attended one of their critiques a few weeks ago, and I found it incredibly helpful with revising my first middle grade novel.  Despite having taught research writing for many years and being a successfully published academic author, everything I know about fiction writing is self-taught, through reading writing books, attending workshops and conferences, perusing writing blogs, and reading as much fiction in the genre I’m currently working on that I can get through before falling asleep (yes, I’m still not sleeping well).

What this means is that even though I have good writing skills technically and even though I consider my imagination and creativity two of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received (they’re from God, if you’re wondering), I still have some ways to go with learning to write fiction. 

That’s why critique groups that can provide me with feedback on the craft of writing are so important to me. 

Although I love my family and friends telling me how they enjoy my stories, I’m in this for the business of publishing and that requires a whole other perspective when critiquing writing.

On Saturday, I felt excited to the point of giddiness as I drove the 80 minutes to get there.  I prepared the first 10 pages of both my books – one for their morning session and one for their afternoon session.  I started with my first book and … got the same feedback I got the last time I read it to the group, even though I had substantially revised it.  Of course, I received excellent feedback about the concept, writing style, and voice.  But I spent a lot of time last week on the revision and in that moment, I felt like a lot of that work was for naught.

I felt much more optimistic with my second set of pages.  This book, the one about Lilly, I plotted out in its entirety from beginning to end.  The different story beats are spot-on and I have a good grip on the personality of the characters.  That clearly comes across in the writing, as both my writing groups have attested.  And even in this critique group, the very first comment after I finished reading the pages was how well written they were.  Then came the areas for improvement; well, there was just one really which ultimately is a good thing, but it’s a doozy in terms of underlying story: there are no high-tension stakes.  For middle grade novels, I’m learning that the conflict pretty much needs to be shouted out from the very first paragraphs.  I thought I had done that.  Apparently not.

I felt disappointed, which I know is silly because I want and need the feedback.  It will make my writing and storytelling stronger, which in turn will make it so much easier to secure an agent and then get a book contract.  I wish I didn’t have to keep reminding myself of these facts, but I do.

It’s also not easy to delete story and plot lines.  I created these stories.  They are my imagination and my words put out into the world for all to read and enjoy. 

To destroy them is like destroying pieces of me. 

No one prepared me for how difficult that would be.

Yet, I will continue writing and I will continue to seek ways to improve my work.  I have a lot of stories to write and I’m committed to writing them.  That’s one of the reasons I quit my job and that’s why I write every almost every day, even when I feel exhausted.  It’s also why I take it as a good sign that I met a Lilly dog today.  I have faith that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.  It helps to believe the universe thinks so, too.

PS – for anyone wondering where my latest chapter of Fox Through the Forest is, it’s still percolating.  I’m hopeful to have it ready for this Friday.

PPS – The dog in the photo is appropriately named Faith.  She’s the dog that inspired the character of Lilly.

Call Me Bear – A Flash Fiction Story in 496 Words

Call Me Bear

“Adorable!” I hear my human squeal from the deck.  She pulls her phone out and snaps a picture of me.  I keep running, but I suppose I can’t blame her.  I am an exceptionally good looking dog.

My official name is Bear; she hardly ever calls me that.  More often than not it’s Big Bear — one of my many nicknames.  Pooty Butt I don’t really care for.  Not only is it unbecoming of a Berner, but my butt is pretty clean as far as dogs go.   But now is not the time to think about my butt.  No, there is something in the yard that shouldn’t be here.

I got the scent of it all the way in the house.  I had to scratch at the door three times before she let me out.  In that time, the interloper absconded.  All that’s left is a faint trace.

I stake out under the deck.  I will stay here for hours if I have to.  I dig a hole, just in case that’s true.  The dirt helps keep me cool in the August heat.  Just as I settle down, I hear a voice above me.  “Num nums,” she calls.  “Big Bear, come and get some num nums.”

I wish she wouldn’t call them that – what am I, a puppy?  I guess she still sees me that way, even though I now weigh 100 lbs.  But she ponies up for the good stuff and I might need my strength later, so I go get my treats.

As she goes back in the house, the unwelcome scent nips my nose.  I leap off the deck and run like a greyhound to the edge of the garden.  Then I freeze.  I see our uninvited guest.  Its black body coiled like rope.  The head raises.  A soft tongue slips out in a hiss.

This creature is not my friend.  Nor is it my enemy.  Still, I know my human would rather it not be here.  I cock my head, trying to get a good measure of it.  Its tongue is still tasting the air, weighing the situation.

I want the snake to retreat back into the woods and find a new home.  But how to convey that without scaring it to attack?

I take a step forward, then another.  I do not bark; I do not growl.  I inch ever so closer.  Another lash of its tongue.  I wait.  Every muscle in my body alert, I am ready.  Yet I do not want to preemptively strike.

The snake uncoils like a ribbon and retreats, slithering away.  I watch until it disappears.  The female calls me again.  “Bear, time to come in.”

“There’s my Pooty Butt,” she says as I run to her.  More like snake whisperer I think as she scratches my head.  But she doesn’t know.  She’ll never know if I have my way.  I love her.  And she loves me.  We just have very different ways of showing it.