Tag Archives: dogs

Finding Wonder in a Crowd

TItle

The first time I visited New York City, my mom got us tickets to see Cats for my 11th birthday. Everything about the trip and the city appeared glamorous to me – the show’s costumes and makeup, the skyscrapers and people, the miles and miles of fancy stores with huge windows that displayed sophistication and wealth.

We returned to the city several times during the next two decades or so, usually to see a Broadway show, sometimes during the Christmas season. Every time, I felt a sense of wonder and awe and for a few years of my life I fantasized about what it would be like if I lived in the New York.

My husband, who was born and raised in the Nashville, visited New York City for the first time in October 2016. As a photographer, he found tons of inspiration in the people and architecture, and he’s been wanting to return ever since. So when an opportunity presented itself for us to housesit in an apartment in the financial district of NYC this last week, we said YES!

Nearly everyone we spoke to were so excited for us to spend Christmas in New York. We received many recommendations and we made our to-do lists. We both wanted to see the tree at Rockefeller Center and the ice skating rink, so that’s where we headed on Christmas Day.

I felt almost giddy with nostalgia of the times my family and I had walked down 5th Avenue. Then we actually got to 5th Avenue and, Dear God, what had I been thinking?

Once when I lived in the Chicago area, I headed downtown on Christmas Eve to spend the evening with a friend and her mother. The city felt peaceful and quiet, with a cold solitude enveloping the night.  Hardly anyone else was out and about and I delighted in how easy it was for me to find my way around and secure a parking space without parallel parking.

Naively, I held the same expectations for Christmas in New York. I could not have been more wrong.

THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE EVERYWHERE! People crammed onto every street corner, jostling for position to view the tree and ice skaters. SO. MANY. PEOPLE.

I still couldn’t resist having this picture taken:

Tree

Seriously, how cute is my husband?

Then we headed to Saks 5th Avenue. STILL. MORE. PEOPLE.

All the People 2 All the People 3

 

It was like Disney World. Literally. And I really do mean literally because this year Saks opted to have their windows display scenes from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

As a writer, I felt a huge sense of disappointment and dismay. Not to minimize the work and production that went into creating these windows, but where was the imagination in this process? Every single scene was a snapshot from the movie and I’m pretty sure most are featured on the Disney World ride.

Equally disappointing was that every window featured sponsorship by Mastercard. Although, I suppose nothing says Merry Christmas in our 21s century consumeristic society like a credit card.

SNow White 1 Snow White 3

Just when I was on the brink of feeling totally Scrooge like at everything going on around me, two small miracles occurred. First, I got to experience this child’s wonder at seeing the windows:

Little GIrl with windows

Then, I just happened to be there when the Saks’ storefront came alive in lights and music:

For a moment, I could let go of ALL. THE. PEOPLE. and I could feel the wonder around me.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last too long. I don’t know if it’s the energy in NYC or something else, but with where I am right now in my life, NYC and I are just not that into each other.

The real highlights of my trip were the animals I got to take care of and love. Meet Clyde, a mini-Schnauzer:

Clyde

Schroeder, a Bichon Frise:

Schroeder

Sheena, a very vocal white cat:

And Heisenberg, a handsome ball of fluff and fur:

Heisenberg

The single best part of the trip is the fact that Sheena rides around in a backpack.

Sheena in Backpack

Walk

We took her for a walk the first day and I’m so glad we did because it’s been so freakin’ cold every day thereafter, and even though Sheena has a sweater, it’s just too cold outside for her little body.

Sheena in sweater

FUN FACT: The sweater Sheena has is the same sweater I bought for Cody the Boxer when I lived in Naperville, IL.

Cody in Sweater

A gang of dogs and cats wearing matching skull-and-cross-bones sweaters? Sounds like a children’s book in the making!

There are so many benefits to the housesitting lifestyle, but at the top of my list are the sources of inspiration I encounter with each new house and animal I meet.

After this recent stay in New York, I can say with certainty that any fantasy I had about living in the city in now kaput. I wouldn’t trade the week for anything, though, because now I find myself dreaming of the stories I could write about my new furry friends.

At this very moment there could be an editor thinking to themselves, what I really want in a picture book is a story about a cat who goes everywhere in a backpack or a little dog who takes on the winter world when he’s wearing his flannel cape.

Schroeder in coat

These will likely be the next stories I write. Because they’re based on my house-sitting adventures and animals I now know and love, the writing process is going to be one of joy and enthusiasm.

Nothing may ever come of these stories, although I hope that’s not the case. But in the meantime, I’m going to give myself some good laughs, stretch my creativity and imagination, and work on the art and craft of picture book writing.

Wishing everyone one a Happy New Year! May 2018 be filled with abundant joy, prosperity, love, light, and laughter.

End Note: I wrote this post before I found out yesterday that a dog I love dearly had to be put to sleep. He was surrounded by his family at the time, and although I am so sad the world has lost such a funny, loyal, brave, and true companion, I am grateful for the love and laughter he brought into our lives. If everyone who has a pet could give them a special hug and kiss from me today, I would appreciate it. The world is always a better place when there’s more love in it.

Thinking About Death During the Holidays

Christmas is coming

With Christmas fast approaching and only nine days left in 2017, it’s time for my yearly reflection entitled, “Even Though It’s Christmas, People Still Die.” And yes, I totally stole this idea from the late 1990’s sitcom Friends.

Because I know many of my friends and family who read my blog sometimes worry about me based on what I write, let me clarify that thinking about death during the holidays does not mean I’m depressed. Quite the opposite.

This has been one of the happiest, most joyful years of my life.  2017 also happened to be the year I read five different books on happiness (two of them I re-read for the second time):

ANtidote

Subtle art

Happiness Project

51XWb7K-jHL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_

joy

I recently told someone about all these books and she joked, “shouldn’t you be happy by now?”  Her point is excellent, except I read these types of books as someone who has a professional interest in psychology, science, and research, more than as an I need these books to improve my life mentality.

Although, I would be lying if I said these books haven’t improved how I live. Each one of them has contributed positively to some aspect of my life, most notably The Sweet Spot because I’m now exercising on a regular basis and it’s become an actual habit.

What I find most interesting about these books is that every single one of them included a chapter on death. They all claimed that to truly experience sustained and long-term joy, you have to keep your own death a central part of your life.

Last Christmas, death ended up being forefront in my mind because one of the dogs we were caring for had been diagnosed with a mass on his spleen. He didn’t have much longer in this world and sure enough, he died within a month.

moon-cropped

I also wrote last Christmas about my 43-year-old cousin Becky, who was diagnosed with cancer in December of 2013, and succumbed to the disease in April, 2014.

Those losses are still heavy in my heart today, just like all the other people and animals I’ve lost throughout my life. But like these books suggest, I don’t allow the losses to weigh me down.

Instead, I use their heaviness as reminders which ground me to my own life; they’ve become a rock on which I can stand and look around at our wonderful and marvelous world. These losses lift me up into the here and now because all of us could be one hour, one minute, or even one second away from death and I know it.

Our time is so precious and because I still have so much of it right now (God and Kelly willing), I don’t want to waste it. This reason is why death meditations can be so useful. If I knew 2018 would be my last year on Earth, what would I do differently?

Based on what I wrote last year – spend more time with family and friends, travel with my husband and/or niece to national parks, pet as many dogs along the way as we could, finish my first novel, publish my picture books, and see a bear in the wild – I’m tearing up with happiness right now because I’ve either done what I set out to do or I took major steps towards making these dreams a reality.

In addition to spending time with my parents in Pennsylvania,

Hawk Mountain

and my husband’s parents in Tennessee,

TN Sunset

we visited with various extended family members in North Carolina,

Kelly with Choco Lab

 

 

 

 

 

 

and my husband got to meet my oldest brother who lives in San Antonio, Texas, when we all met up at my parents’ house in Harrisburg.

Hersheypark

 

 

 

 

 

We brought my niece to visit us in Connecticut for a week in May,

Jori and Smudge

and I spent a few days with her in Washington, DC, this fall. We’ve also had friends come visit us in Connecticut and we’re making plans to see some friends in Illinois again this summer.

This past August, my husband and I visited the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio on one of our house-sitting road trips,

Cuyahoga Valley

and this coming June we’ll be in Glacier National Park as part 2 of our super secret summer plans (SURPRISE! This is how my husband is finding out about our trip to Glacier. He still doesn’t know part 1).

Anyone who reads this blog, knows I’ve wholeheartedly met my goal of petting as many dogs as I could along the way, and I even managed to befriend some cats, llamas, chickens, turkeys, a goat, and a pig.

And, although I have not yet seen a bear in the wild, this past July I applied to be a volunteer at the Churchill Northern Studies Center in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, for bear season (October and November). I had an interview a few months ago for fall 2018 and my prospects look good for being selected as a volunteer.

As for writing, not only did I finish my first novel, but I wrote another book, started two more, and outlined several more. Those don’t count the picture books I finished. I also submitted two stories to Highlights magazine (no word yet on their submission status) and I submitted a blog post to a major minimalism blog that featured the post in their weekly newsletter sent out to over 24,000 readers. Combined with getting an agent to represent my work, this has been a benchmark year for my writing.

So when I think about my life this past year, I can boil it down to one sentiment. I’m about to break a cardinal rule of writing right now (i.e., avoid clichés), but here goes: WOW! My cup runneth over.

I am so grateful to everyone who has supported me along the way, most notably God who gives me the courage to live life this way and my husband who is also my best friend.

The question still remains, though: if 2018 were my last year on Earth, what would I do differently?

My answer? Nothing. It is with delight and joy that I can say this and feel nothing but enthusiasm and hope for the coming year. I’m going to keep on keepin’ on! And maybe, just maybe, I’m finally going to see a bear in the wild.

119 portrait

Getting My Nature Fix

Title

This fall has been particularly gray and wet in Norfolk.  To give you some idea, here’s what the Norfolk Creek that runs on the property looked like recently after a few days of steady rain:

 

Here’s what the creek usually looks like:

 

 

We also had our first wintery mix of the season this past Tuesday, too:

 

Wintery MIx

 

I happen to like winter.  The peace and solitude of the season nourishes my soul.  Then there’s the fun and magic of a newly fallen snow.  Winter can be simply wonderful!

Yet, I also love the sun and I’m pretty sure I’m solar powered.  So on Thursday when we had blue skies with fluffy white clouds and a sun that peaked out every once in a while, I wanted to get out of the house and enjoy the feel of sunshine on my face.

I didn’t realize it at first that getting out of the house is what I wanted.  I sat at the kitchen table for a long time Thursday morning feeling like something wasn’t quite right.  My husband and I ate breakfast and then with a whole morning stretching in front of me I thought I would get down to writing.  But something prevented me from getting out my computer and opening up one of my writing projects.

After wasting time on Facebook for a little bit, I forced myself to get up.   I headed to the shower thinking the water would energize me.

Leaving the table ended up being the best choice I could have made, because once upstairs I realized: I needed to get out of the house! Sure, I had been several places throughout the earlier part of the week, but because of the rain I limited a lot of my activity.  I didn’t even crack 4,000 steps on Tuesday.  Monday and Wednesday were hardly any better.

I also had the great idea to take a dog with me.   What an extraordinary afternoon:

Tobey running

I reaped so many benefits from that hour and a half – I felt joyful, energized, creative, and inspired.  It was exactly what I needed and being outside served as a good reminder that for me, nature really is the best medicine.

I kept this idea forefront in my mind Friday, too.  Another gloriously sunny day, though we’re also experiencing record colds for the second week in November.  I decided not to let that stop me from walking to someone’s house approximately 1.5 miles away for some tea and conversation.

A few people expressed concern that I’d be walking in 20-ish degree weather.  But I had a hat, scarf, gloves, long underwear, and a feeling of excitement to be out in the sunshine moving around.  I left with a spring in my step and a smile on my face.

Besides, the distance wasn’t that far.  I once headed out on the Las Vegas strip to walk four miles to a handstand yoga class a Whole Foods was offering.  The concierge, bellman, and doorman all told me NOT to walk.  I said various forms of ”pshah,” to the them – I could walk four miles no problem.  Didn’t they know I got an A in my walking class in college?

I quickly learned a four-mile walk in the desert, even in April, is right up there on the list of stupid things I’ve done, especially when you have no water, don’t wear a hat, and forget extra sunscreen.  I’d put that walk slightly below breaking my ankle while chasing after a bird on the ancient Inca trail in the Andes Mountains of Peru and then thinking I could walk the injury off.  I felt pretty confident walking 1.5 miles in the cold, on a populated path, while completely bundled up, wouldn’t even compare. And I was right!  Looks like my intuition is finally getting better.

A little over halfway on my cold-weather sojourn, I received an IM from my husband: Hey babe. Are you cold? My response: Exhilarated!

I made it to my destination no problem and even managed to snag some quality time with a dog.  His name is Max and don’t tell Tobey, Smudge, or Faith, but I LOVE HIM!

Cropped MAz

What another wonderful day.  It’s amazing what a little sunshine and time outdoors can do for the spirit.

As we head into more wet weather before the snow arrives, I’m going to be more mindful of how I can work with the season to stay connected to nature.  As long as I take proper precautions, there’s no reason I can’t be outside when it’s rainy and cold.  I shouldn’t let those conditions stop me.  The same indomitable spirit that overcomes me when it’s sunny is still there when it’s raining.  I just might have to dig a little deeper to bring that spirit forth.

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

Title

On our way back to Connecticut, my husband and I stopped off in Pennsylvania to spend a week with my parents.  To add to the mix, my oldest brother, who lives in Texas, is also visiting.  This time he’s not in PA because of a funeral (as he was the last two times he was here) so our time is being filled with all kinds of activities.

One of the activities is eating since my Mom, like many moms out there, shows love with food.  Since we’ve been here, there’s been a cake from Costco, two dozen cookies from Costco, an apple pie from Costco, and two gallons of Turkey Hill ice cream (all of which I said NO to), lots of sweet potato tater tots (which I said YES to), and some delicious grass-fed NY Strip Steaks (also a big YES).

We’ve gone to Hersheypark a few times

Hershey Park

and even though I was tempted with lots of chocolate goodies, I managed to say NO to everything except a hand-dipped milkshake.  My oldest brother, on the other hand, said YES to everything he could, in part to reap the benefits of an all-you-can-eat meal pass, with one of the stipulations being you must wait 90 minutes between meals.  Here’s his status report throughout the day:

Cropped 1

Cropped 2

Cropped Food 3

I wasn’t at the park with them, so this way I could live vicariously through their eating.  I’d had enough Hersheypark Happy by that point and, truthfully, the park is expensive.  Since my favorite parts on my visits there were attending the Sea Lion show

Sea lion

and walking through Zoo America,

Porcupine ZA

I didn’t think it a worthwhile use of money for me to go back to the park one more time.

We had also planned to go to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire and since they offered a substantial Labor Day discount, we took advantage of it.  The Faire is expansive and there’s always a historically-based storyline that is woven throughout the entertainment, including a human chess match in the afternoon and a live-action joust at the end of the day, so it’s a pretty fancy affair.

Ren Faire

But for some reason, I just wasn’t into it this year.

I did, however, get a kick out of seeing all the dogs at the faire.  This past weekend was one of their “Royal Hound Weekends,” where dogs are encouraged to attend.  I saw this royal pupper

Royal Doggo

A fluffy unicorn

Unicorn

And a service dog who had to wear dog muffs during the Royal Chess Match so as not to become agitated by the whips used during some of the combat scenes,

Dog muffs

in addition to many other dogs that I did not manage to get a photo of because I felt a little self-conscious sneaking around trying to take pictures of people’s dogs.

These dog experiences remind of the time I was sorely disappointed with how commercialized the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios is and instead found absolute delight with a service puppy I met there.

Service Puppy

And as I’m typing this, my family is discussing visiting the Civil War Museum in Harrisburg.  In response to finding out the admission price is $22, I asked, “Will there be dogs there?”  When my mom laughed, “no,” I replied, “then I probably shouldn’t go.

We say good-bye to Pennsylvania tomorrow and then we’ll be back in Norfolk.  There, I’ll be reunited with three dogs whom I’m absolutely crazy about.

Three dogs

I haven’t seen them since July 1st and even though I sing Somewhere Out There to them at night while staring at the moon (seriously), it’s not the same as being around them.

I know some people still think it’s crazy that I quit my job as an associate professor to write children’s stories and play with dogs all day long, but as I reflect on how I’ve spent my time this past week, my only regret is that I didn’t quit sooner.

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,

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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.