Tag Archives: Writing

Minimalism as a Professional Touchstone

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A few days ago, I received an email from one of my incredibly talented and insightful critique partners. She had been listening to a replay of a free webinar on How Picture Books Work and someone on the webinar named Kelly made the comment, “anything with a dog in it has me interested.” She wanted to know if it was me.

OF COURSE IT WAS!

I also made a comment when discussing personal reactions to the opening scenes of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are that I could never be too frustrated with Max because kids in wolf costumes are funny.

Where the wild things are Max in wolf costume

This How Picture Books Work webinar was offered by Kids’ Book Revisions and it was taught by Harold Underdown and moderated by Eileen Robinson.

Although I have never had the pleasure of taking a workshop or seminar with Eileen, I attended one of Harold’s presentations at the Children’s Writers of the Hudson Valley summer conference last year. In addition to learning quite a bit, he also startled the bejeezus out of me at a first pages event when he declared the first 100 words of an author’s picture book manuscript were cute and thoroughly enjoyable, but … “So, what?”

“Would someone want to pay $16.95 for this book?” is the rhetorical question he asked the audience.

I felt like a million light bulbs simultaneously went off, then shattered to pieces in my head because I realized that OH. MY. GOSH. Sometimes, my stories will be good, perhaps even great, but that doesn’t mean they are desirable by industry standards.

It’s always a good day when you have a swift kick of humility straight to your head.

I’ve used Harold’s message to help inform which of my manuscripts to submit to my agent and which should simply be exercises in creativity and imagination. His message has also helped me hone in on what types of stories bring me the most joy throughout the creation process, which ultimately lead to stronger and more engaging manuscripts because I am more passionate and invested in them.

Anyone want to guess what kind of characters I feature in those manuscripts? That’s right! Dogs and bears. I suspect anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis will not be surprised.

What was surprising to me, however, was the realization that with this awareness comes a responsibility to stay true to myself. As a minimalist, I enthusiastically proclaim that I don’t want a lot of stuff, and I embrace and even revel in how awesome I find a simple life; yet, how funny that I had ignored how minimalism could improve my approach to writing projects.

Just like the millions of light bulbs going off, then shattering with the “Would someone want to pay $16.95 for this book?” I had the same sort of moment when I realized this insight means letting go of some really great ideas I have for books simply because they don’t align with my personal values that bring me the most joy.

For example, over the winter holidays when I was catching up on my Carolina Alumni Review issues (GO TAR HEELS!),

Carolina AR

I came across a feature article about Zena Cardman ’10, who is the first microbiologist astronaut for NASA and who wants to go to Mars. HOW COOL IS THAT?!?!?

I underlined the article, made margin notes, and thought to myself: this is a story that needs to be told.

Women in Science is so relevant right now to children’s literature and quite a few editors are specifically looking for stories like Zena’s.

But as a minimalist, I’ve learned that I can’t say yes to everything. Doing so makes my life feel unbalanced and anything but simple. I now understand that Zena’s story is not mine to tell. Thinking a story is cool, relevant, and timely is not enough to devote hours and hours to research, writing, and revising, or giving away pieces of my heart, which I feel is necessary for a manuscript to be considered my best work.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m going to forget that I ever read Zena’s story.

I have a plan for trying to connect her with a rather successful nonfiction kidlit writer who is currently looking for scientists to interview for her e-zine. Also, if you are a kidlit writer reading this blog post, who just happened to be thinking, I wish I had a cool woman in science story to write about, please reach out to me and I’ll send you a copy of Zena’s Carolina Alumni Review article. She’s an outstanding person and a wonderful role model for our future generation of scientists, and even though I will not be writing her story, I can’t wait for it to get told through a children’s book.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue working on my animal stories because that’s where my heart is. A story about this little girl is still percolating in my mind.

Lelu

And, just yesterday while getting out of the shower, I had an idea for a mashup involving two of my favorite animals. Haha, no¸ this new mashup is not about dogs and bears – I’m already working on that story, thanks to this ball of fluff I got to know in December.

Shiloh

Her name is Shiloh and I’m pretty sure she’s part bear.

This new story is inspired by Smudge and ….

Smudge!

Sorry, but that’s all I’m going to say about that. I have to leave some things left to surprise my readers.

As always, thanks for your encouragement and support. A special shout-out to my new friend Bob, UNC class of ’72, who entertained me yesterday with some fun stories about his and his wife’s life journey to minimalism. I was feeling some bloggy writer’s block earlier and as soon as I hung up the phone with him, I cranked out most of this post. YAY TAR HEELS!

A New Year’s Intention

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Happy New Year! Oh, wait…I said that last week. New Year’s is still fresh on my mind because of the conversations I’ve been having lately online. As a member of several communities that promote minimalism, spirituality, and a simpler way of living, there’s been a lot of discussion over how to approach the New Year.

Specifically, do we make resolutions, do we select a single word or theme for the year, or do we not do either and instead let go of expectations and be at peace with whatever happens.

Although I am a believer of letting go of expectations, I also believe there’s something to knowing what you want. How you get there is another matter entirely.

In the past, I’ve started off my New Year’s with resolutions. My enthusiasm and optimism usually resulted in grandiose ideas that I had no hope of following through with, such as: Get up early every day (this was a pre-Narcolepsy diagnosis perennial favorite), exercise for an hour every day (destined for failure because I would always default to the elliptical trainer which I find as boring as reading a chemistry textbook), or eat less junk food (hopelessly impossible when you believed as I did for many years that fat is the problem and strive for a low/nonfat diet; I was hungry for almost a decade).

In January, 2016, however, I had the privilege of attending a white stone ceremony. The underlying idea is that you set an intention for the coming year by holding a white stone in your hand, typically from Jerusalem, and allowing a word to come to you. You then write it on your white stone. The word that came to me in 2016 was unstoppable.

Unstoppable Stone 2

I carried my unstoppable white stone with me throughout that year; oftentimes literally, as I kept it in my pocket until the weather became too warm for a coat. Since we were living in the Chicago suburbs and then Johnsonville, NY, too warm ended up being in July.

In 2016, I ended what many would consider a dream job (i.e., a tenured position as an associate professor of psychology at a mid-level university) to pursue a life of writing, adventures, and house/pet-sitting. That stone was with me on campus every day, encouraging me when some of my colleagues thought I was nuts and guiding me when I wasn’t sure where I was going.

2016 was also the year I met and married the love of my life. And, yes, I had my white stone in my pocket on the night we met, as well as on our first date, and just three weeks later when we eloped in Nashville.

In 2017, I didn’t have the opportunity to attend a white stone ceremony. But I did just happen to find myself somewhere on New Year’s Day that offered a basket of stones, with a single word engraved on each of them. I reached into the basket and pulled out one that read luck.

Luck Stone 2

Coincidentally, I also just happened to receive a good luck dragon from my best friend in the mail in early January, 2017.

Good Luck Dragon 2

I added the dragon to my luck stone, and for good measure threw in two of my business cards which identify me not just as a writer, but a writer of kidlit. I then carried them around in my coat pocket until it became too warm (this time June – progress!). They lived in either my backpack or my purse after that.

I’d certainly say I had luck in 2017. I’m going with the very old school definition brought to you by Seneca: Luck is where opportunity meets preparation.

One of my greatest writing successes in 2017 was winning the top fiction prize in KidLit College’s annual picture book contest. As part of the prize package, I enrolled in a nonfiction picture book writing course. The class typically started according to Central Time, but one day the instructor and I both logged on accidentally at Eastern Time.

We ended up chatting for nearly an hour, where we discussed many different topics, including several of the manuscripts on which I was currently working. That Friday I received an email from the instructor, who also just happens to be an editorial assistant of a literary agency. “Jill [the president of the company] and I are more than interested in representing your body of work,” she said in the email.

SQUEEEEEEEEE! That was the sound heard round Norfolk as I celebrated this offer.

So here we are in 2018. I feel joyful, healthy, and confident that I’m on the right path for my writing. About two weeks ago, I wasn’t even thinking of resolutions or intentions when the word prosperity popped into my head at the end of my morning meditation practice.

A feeling of excitement came over me as I realized prosperity would be my word for 2018! Of course, I then tried to sabotage myself with thoughts such as, is prosperity specific enough no, and it should be abundance, that’s more inclusive!  Funny how we do these sorts of things to ourselves.

I managed to let the doubts go and embrace prosperity for what it is – a gift from God and my inner wisdom to help me thrive in 2018. As always, everything I do is God and Kelly willing, and I am grateful to blessed with such a wonderful intention for the year.

The word prosperity has now been added to my white stone.

Prosperity STone 2

I thought of ordering a new stone, but, you know, minimalist. And, just because I’m going to be prosperous doesn’t mean I should be wasteful.

With my white stone, I’m going to keep a poem that my best friend sent me for Christmas. Here it is:

Walking in the Flow

Walking in the flow

Nose over toes

Endless – no destination in sight

One of the herd

But this herd has no leader

Unless it is somewhere, somehow

Deep inside –

The thing I call myself

When I say my name – Kelly

I am Kelly-in-God

No matter where I go

And who I see

I am Myself

In the midst

Of all that is –

Walking in the flow

Nose over toes –

And I am loved.

The stone, poem, and my business cards are now in my pocket, where I will carry them with me.

Prosperity Bag 2

My heart and mind are open to the miracles of prosperity in my life, great and small. 2018 – I am ready for you! Thank you in advance for everything you have in store for me.

Finding Wonder in a Crowd

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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.

Getting Ready for Thanksgiving

It's almost Turkey Time

Mid-November is apparently the time of year when things almost fall on my car.  This photo is from November 12th, 2015:

Tree bRANCH THEN

And here’s today’s photos:

Fall brnach today 3 fALL BRANCH TODAY 2 Fallen branch today 1

I could have been driving on Route 44 when that big honkin’ tree came down!  Talk about kick-in-the-pants gratitude.  I always welcome these small moments into my life that remind me how truly lucky I am.

There is a downside to this fallen tree (HAHA, downside – get it?).  It stopped me from meeting up this morning with one of my writing partners.  She was, of course, understanding and gracious about my last-minute cancellation.  I just hate wasting people’s time and she didn’t get any of my emails informing her of my blocked street.

I also don’t get the benefit of discussing writing craft with her, sharing our weekly writing updates on our projects, and commiserating over the long and arduous path to publication.  Since next week is Thanksgiving, it will be a few more weeks before we can reconnect again.  So, I’m doubly bummed about missing out on all the writing fun we have together.

In the meantime, my husband and I will be traveling to Harrisburg, PA, to spend the holiday with my parents, brother, and niece.  I’m quite looking forward to it and this will be the first real test since September to see if my writing and exercise habits that I’ve been developing stick.

I’m at the half-way point towards my 20-minutes-a-day, 6-days-a-week interval training goal.  Using Dr. Christine Carter’s The Sweet Spot as my guide, I’m building this habit slowly, by tacking on an extra minute of cardio every week to my already established 20-minutes-a-day, 6-days-a-week strength training regime.  For example, today I lifted weights with my upper body for 20 minutes and then I alternated in 30-second increments of frenetic dancing with marching/dancing in place for a total of 10 minutes.

Confession: Today I exercised a little bit longer so I could finish dancing to Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the FeelingI dare you to try listening to it and not dancing to the entire song.

Normally, I abide by my strict time limits because I don’t want to get ahead of myself and then build the activity too quickly.  I know myself too well and that is a surefire way for me to burnout and then give up.

Adding one minute on each week seems to be the trick for me to keep up with this routine.  Although sometimes I forget that my morning exercise routine now takes longer than 20 minutes and I do occasionally feel rushed.

Anyway, it’s easy to have my morning habits in place when I follow the same pattern every day: Get up around 5:30-6:30am, feed the dogs and let them out, hand write 2 pages of my latest novel, hand write a prayer to start my day, which will also serve as a first draft prayer for a daily devotional I’m writing, meditate for 20 minutes, and then workout.

With the time I’ll be in Harrisburg and the few days after that in which I’ll be staying with my niece in Washington, DC, there’s sure to be disruption along the way.

One of the keys to disruptions that Dr. Carter writes about in The Sweet Spot is to have a plan already in place so you know how to deal with them.

I expect the biggest disruption will be that my daily wake-sleep schedule will completely fall apart.  Traveling makes me feel even more tired than usual and I tend to have very vivid dreams when my schedule is disrupted.  If I wake up feeling exhausted, then I’m less likely to get out of bed in a timely manner.  Then, when I do get up other people in the house are awake and my concentration and time is diverted.

This solution will be easy enough because I’ve had many mornings this past fall where I’ve struggled to get out of bed.  I don’t like writing in bed, but sometimes it’s the compromise I make for being productive and respecting my narcolepsy.  So, I’ll sleep with my notebook and a pen on the side of my bed.  I’ll also keep my phone and headphones nearby.  That way I can also meditate before getting up.

Note to self – un-install social media and gmail apps on my phone, lest I get distracted by those time wasters before accomplishing any of my usual morning goals.

I suppose I could also visualize exercising before getting up, which is my current fallback plan for if I am too exhausted to get out of bed.  But that hasn’t happened yet and I want to use it as a last resort.

If once I am up and about, I’m unable to exercise the way I’d like, my backup plan is to do short, mini-exercises for one-minute increments throughout the day sneaking them in whenever I can.  Ideally, I’d hit 20 increments but 10 is going to be my starting point.  Again, this is a fall back plan so hopefully the 10 versus 20 increments is a moot point.

I’m kind of excited to see how it goes; the other parts of me are worried I’ll chuck everything by the wayside and spend my days gorging on junk food and reclining on the couch.  Psychology tells us that most of what we worry about is imaginary, but having succumbed to the treats at my parents’ house and the comfortableness of the couch one to many times over the past few years, I know this a real and valid concern.

But if nothing else, I have learned by forming my new habits that just because I have behaved a certain way in the past, doesn’t mean I have to behave that way in the future.  It’s up to me to make my choices and I know I will do my best.  That’s all I can ask.

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving next week!  I am so grateful for your love and support.

The Benefits of Taking a Break

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We’ve been having some extraordinary weather in Norfolk this fall.  It’s been in the 70s and 80s and from what people have been saying, the fall foliage hasn’t been too spectacular.

I beg to differ.  Here’s exhibit A:

Exhibit A

And Exhibit B:

Exhibit B

The weather has cooled off a bit and it looks like we’re going into more days of rain with more decreasing temperatures.  So I’m glad I took some time off from writing this week to meet up with a new friend.

I met this friend at an artist’s opening we both happened to attend in early September.  I knew some of her local photographs, and with my husband who is also a photographer, we struck up a conversation about how much we love Norfolk, amongst other things.

We then became friends on Facebook.  One day last week, up popped in my Facebook feed a notification that this friend was attending an event at White Memorial Conservation Center.  My husband and I have driven by White Memorial many times, most notably on our way to Arethusa Dairy to get the best ice cream in CT and possibly the United States (rumor has it they wash the cows’ butts with Pantene Pro V every day to avoid tail poop contamination with their udders), but we had never stopped there.

The event looked fascinating.  A Scottish naturalist and biologist named Bernie Lundie would lecture on what it means to be wild.  Having an interest in the nature-human connection, I thought attending would be well worth my time.  Plus, I’d get to hang out a bit more with my new friend.

My friend and I chatted about the event on Facebook Messenger for a bit, before she ended the conversation with a temporary farewell as she had to see to her pig.  Of course, I wanted to know more about that.  So that’s how on this past Monday I ended up at her family’s farm outside of Norfolk.

farm

OH. MY. GOSH.

Spectacular doesn’t even begin to describe scenery.  I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful fall day.  Then there are her animals.  I am delighted to introduce to you:

Abe R Ham the pig

Hammy 2

If you love him as much as I do, he has his own Facebook page.  Just search for Abe R. Ham @AbethePig

Zorro the goat

Zorro

A frisky little fellow who has a very sweet, playful personality.

And Drummy the turkey who is as majestic as he looks.

Drummy

There was also a peacock out and about but he never made his presence known.

What a wonderful way to spend the day! I sat surrounded by everything I love about nature – changing leaves, fluffy clouds, a placid lake, and ANIMALS!  Plus, I got know my new friend a little bit better and I have a feeling we’re going to be friends for a long time.

After such a wonderful day outdoors, I felt refreshed on so many levels – mentally, physically, and spiritually.  It’s a good reminder for whenever I feel myself become too time invested in my writing.  There are benefits to taking a break – friends, pigs, goats, turkeys, and fall foliage are just a few of them.

A Lesson in Time Management

Calendar Title

On Tuesday morning I met with a friend to discuss writing.  I shared with her how I seem to keep writing new material, while my older manuscripts hang in limbo waiting for me to edit and revise them.  I then told her about my plan for how I wanted to tackle this problem: on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, I was going to block out time specifically devoted to manuscript revision.

Why Tuesday and Thursday afternoons?  These were the times in my past life as a professor when I typically taught research writing.  I couldn’t just cancel class on a whim, though on really nice days I did sometimes move us outside to have class next to Lake Benedict.

cropped

As a self-proclaimed self-help junkie, I know that many experts recommend this approach for getting high-priority tasks done.  By scheduling time for them on your calendar, you are validating that, yes, this task is important to me.  I resolved to make editing and revision a recurring appointment on my calendar.

Then yesterday I received a text message from someone who wanted to meet with me to discuss a new writing project.  She asked about my availability next Thursday.  Funny thing is, I hadn’t actually blocked out Tuesday/Thursday afternoons for manuscript revision and editing on my calendar.  Since I like this person and find her writing project to be quite interesting, I typed out on my phone, “My schedule is wide open.”

I knew I was already breaking my commitment.  I can always start the next week, I said to myself.  Then I’ll definitely add it to my calendar. 

Just as I was about to hit SEND, I stopped myself and asked why was I so willing to break my plan.  Hadn’t I declared only a few days earlier my intention to prioritize editing and revision?  What was wrong with me that I was willing to put it off?

The deciding factor came down to other plans I had already made for the following week.  Next Tuesday, my writing friend and I were going to meet again to continue our discussion.  I somehow felt that if I didn’t follow through with my revision and editing commitment, I would have to admit that to someone other than myself.

You know what self-help advice also recommends for getting your work done?  Find a partner to make yourself accountable.  I’ve read that advice so many times, but I’ve never applied it to my writing. How interesting to see that it actually works.  Well, so far.  We’ll see what happens next Tuesday and Thursday afternoons (and beyond).

I ended up retyping my response text to say I was available to meet on Thursday until 1:30pm.  It felt quite good to honor my commitment and then I rewarded myself with a head nod and “way to go!”

Of course, I laughed at myself because self-help books also recommend recognizing your achievements with intrinsic rewards.  After 20+ years, it’s good to know the advice is finally sinking in.

How to Survive the Slow Pace of the Publishing Industry

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My mom and I like to say, “no news is good news.”  For the most part, I believe this saying to be true.  No news that North Korean is nuking us – GOOD NEWS!  No news that the Affordable Care Act is trying to be dismantled again – GOOD NEWS!  No news that the president hasn’t said something inappropriate on Twitter – GOOD – oh, wait a minute.  This one hasn’t happened.  Well, two out of three isn’t so bad.

Where “no news is good news” can be tough is when you’re a writer.  The publishing industry is notoriously slow and a lot of the time you simply have to wait for editors to get back to you/your agent.  This time can take days, weeks, months, or even over a year.

Following the advice of Jane Friedman in The Great Courses: How to Publish Your Book,

how to publish your book

the important thing to do during the waiting game is to keep writing.  In addition to working on several new (and old) picture book manuscripts, I’m about two-thirds of the way done with the first draft of a chapter book tentatively titled Henry the Housesitter (Not by Choice!), which follows the adventures of a 10-year-old boy as his parents ditch their lawyer jobs and become professional house sitters.  Considering all the source matter I have on house sitting, this book is pretty much writing itself.

I also started writing a daily devotional, which means every morning I write a prayer asking for help with my day’s work.  A lot of the prayers deal with motivation when feeling exhausted (I’ve had several days in a row of poor sleep) and I’m wondering if the end result will be an inspirational prayer book for those of us dealing with chronic illness.  I suppose time will tell.

My goal is to write a new prayer every day and so by September 2018 I should have the first draft of this manuscript done.  Talk about an easy way to finish a draft! Though at first I felt a little lazy at the idea that it would take me 365 days to finish a first draft, but the time is going to go by anyway and I already have several writing projects which will be finished in what I consider a more acceptable length of time for someone who aspires to be a prolific writer.

Another way I’m passing the time during the publishing waiting game is by immersing myself in children’s publishing as much as possible.  I’ve started attending author readings at local libraries and book stores.  Last week I listened to the incredibly talented Sara Beth Videtto read her picture book Turtle’s First Winter: A Read and Find Storybook at the Norfolk Library

Turtle's First Winter

and Tuesday I celebrated the release of The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain and Philip C. Stead by attending “the shortest, grand parade,” in downtown Hartford, followed later in the day by a reading at the actual Mark Twain house (Mark Twain lived in Hartford, CT, from 1874-1891).

 

Shortest Grand Parade

Prince OleoMargarine

Then there’s Inspiration Day at the Eric Carle Museum coming up on October 7th and the Children’s Literature Festival at the Dr. Seuss Museum the following weekend.

I also came across this gem of a book at the Norfolk Library last week:

Wild Things

I wasn’t even looking for a new nonfiction book to read, as I was trying to finish The Book of Joy by The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, for a book group, and then I had Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry on tap to read.  But there Wild Things sat on a shelf in the “new nonfiction” section at the library’s entrance, just begging for me to pick it up and read it.

The fairytale chapter is rather gruesome; however, I am completely enchanted by the Good Night Moon chapter and all the fascinating historical tidbits from Margaret Wise Brown’s life.  I’m now on chapter 4, which is all about using animals in children’s literature.  Considering 75% of my main characters are animals, I suspect this chapter will also enchant me.

With all that I have going on and all that I have to look forward to, I find the publishing waiting game much more tolerable.  Dare I even say, enjoyable.  It’s fun to be out in the world, going new places and hearing new stories.  So it looks like the no news for me is, in fact, good news for now, until that day comes when I receive GREAT NEWS by way of a book contract.

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, June 12th, 2017

Oddly Refreshing

This past Saturday I was delighted to attend the Children’s Writers of the Hudson Valley June conference.  This is the third writing conference I’ve attended which focuses exclusively on children’s writing.  It was also the smallest writing conference I’ve yet to attend (my count is now at six; I forgot I attended Fall Philly Fest from the Eastern PA Chapter of the SCBWI in a previous conference count that I mentioned on my blog) and I have to say I learned A LOT.

One of the best parts of a small conference is that you don’t have too many options to choose from.  This has been a problem for me not just in writing conferences, but when I attended academic conferences in my past life as a professor.  I would always scour the conference schedule, circling the sessions that looked most intriguing to me, having to weigh options and presenters and then make some tough choices.

For this conference, there were only two options for the morning session: focus on middle grade novels or focus on picture books.  Then, everyone came together for an afternoon session on revising work masterfully presented in a way that blew my mind.  I suppose there is nothing truly earth shattering in learning that the picture book and the novel can both be revised using the same methods, but in my mind I had the two genres as incompatible in how story is presented and thus, would require different processes for the all-important revisions.

I consider it to be a valuable use of my time to learn not just one new process of writing, but several, and so I am itching to review my notes and see what I can do to some of my manuscripts in terms of improving them.

The day ended with another joint session; this time the day’s presenters came together on a panel and reviewed the first 100 words of manuscripts submitted by conference participants.  I feel a tad guilty that I included four different manuscripts of mine (two picture-book and two middle-grade) because I am so eager for feedback, but not guilty enough not to have only submitted one manuscript.

I did rationalize to myself that because I didn’t find out about the conference until a few weeks before and I missed the deadline to schedule one-on-one critiques, I should be allowed to submit more than one first 100 words.  I also didn’t keep it a secret from the conference hosts that I turned in four, so I guess in the end it was okay.

Well, the action was okay; the process brutal.  Two of my first 100 words got selected and holy cow, it is hard to sit there with a straight face while four strangers perform what one of them called a “parlor game” in highlighting the weaknesses of your work.

To be fair, one of the other panelists gently explained that this process was not to focus on what people were doing well because that wouldn’t necessarily improve the weaker parts of their writing.  The panelist also went on to say they probably wouldn’t be so harsh if they were to spend more time with more words of the manuscript.

The first 100 words of my picture book got torn to shreds. The first 100 words of my middle grade book first got accolades for an intriguing first paragraph, then fell completely flat upon reading of the second paragraph.  It was a truly a humbling experience and I’m pretty sure no one could actually hear the pounding of my heart as they read and critiqued my writing.

The strange thing, though, is that after getting over the initial emotional response, I am nothing but grateful for the opportunity to hear from four different industry professionals on what can be objectively improved with my work.  There was a time in my not so distant past that I might have been thoroughly demoralized, perhaps maybe even have cried, and probably would have said to myself that these people don’t know what they’re talking about and my work is brilliant.

I find it oddly refreshing to discover I have reached this point where I do believe industry professionals are experts in their field and not all my work is brilliant.  This revelation has been in progress for a while as a few weeks ago, I opted not to submit two of my manuscripts to a contest because I truly didn’t believe they were my best work.  In re-reading and revising them, I still felt like some spark was missing and I feel rather validated that my own professional judgement is becoming less biased as I become more familiar with the revision process.

That’s not to say I didn’t feel any sort of emotional wound or negative gut reaction to hearing the comments from the panelists.  Hearing criticism/rejection is one of the hardest things we ever have to do in life and I can’t imagine it ever gets easier over time.  But it is now easier for me to move on and I feel quite liberated by this knowledge.  We’ll see how it goes once I receive feedback from the editor I’m in the process of hiring for one of my manuscripts.  At the very least, it will be a good measure to see how far I’ve really come.