When Heath and I moved to Norfolk six-and-a-half years ago, I immediately looked to connect with local children’s book writers. I soon learned that Norfolk doesn’t always have a “local” option, and I ended up finding writers who belonged to a Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustators critique group that met at the Simsbury Library.
We read and constructively criticized each others’ work, attended conferences and retreats together, and supported each other through twists and turns on our respective paths to publication.
These last few weeks have brought some successes for my friends, and I’m so grateful to have been a part of them before we leave Norfolk in just six short weeks.
At the beginning of May, my friend Lynn celebrated the launch of her debut middle grade book, Chester and the Magic 8 Ball.I read chapters of Chester years ago. It’s about a toothless rescue dog who can predict the future with a Magic 8 ball.
Author Lynn Katz
Of course, I loved the story and I never gave up that Chester would someday be published.
I’m not the only one who loved the story, as it got a starred Kirkus Review. Here’s a snippet from the review: An uplifting middle-grade story that meets sadness head-on and cuddles up to what’s important in life.
As a writer, a starred Kirkus Review is a big deal and I am so happy for Lynn.
Left to Right: My handsome husband Heath, Me!, book coach Christy Yaros, Author Lynn Katz, Pam Kelly, Author Mary Munson, Rebecca Smith-Allen, and author Karin LeFranc.
This past Saturday, my friend Mary celebrated the launch of her debut picture book Love Will Turn You Around. This bright and colorful story is about a heart who wakes up not feeling quite like himself. With the help of some well-meaning friends, all who are different shapes, Heart is able to turn himself right side up.
Mary’s book launch was a rousing success, complete with a rapt audience and lots of laughter and smiles.
When Mary thanked me for coming (it was a 48-minute drive), I told her, Of course! You’re never going to be a debut author again.
Six-and-a-half years ago, we were writers with dreams of being published as we sat in a conference room sharing our work and hoping that maybe this would be the manuscript that got us past the traditional publshing gate. Two of us have made it! Here’s to more successes and more books in our future!
Left to Right: Author Lynn Katz (Chester and the Magic 8 Ball), Author Mary Munson (Love Will Turn You Around), Author Nancy Tandon (The Way I Say It; The Ghost of Spruce Point), and me!
I recently found myself in the company of my friend, two goats, and a pig.
It’s a good place to be because I enjoy my friend’s company, Frankie and Sheldon are hilarious and adorable, and Abe R. Ham adds a certain level of drama to every situation.
I don’t know if all pigs are dramatic or just Hammy. Regardless, he been an excellent muse as I put the finishing touches on another middle grade manuscript that I will soon be querying. Yes, it involves a pig but that’s all I’m going to say about the story.
This manuscript makes ten total (not counting picture books), or over half a million words written in my quest to be a traditionally published author. I remember when I was a child with a notebook in my bedroom and I couldn’t get past the title and the name of the main character. How do writers do this? I wondered.
As I was writing the preceding paragraph, I couldn’t remember if it was nine or ten books that I’ve written and I had to make a list to count. So now I’m laughing because look at how far I’ve come!
I have written ten whole books in the last six years. For the record, only four of these manuscripts are high enough quality at the moment that I could actually send them out to agents to consider.
But, still. I had a dream to be a writer and here I am six years later and that’s exactly what I’m doing. When I decided I wanted to be a writer I had ZERO books. Now I have TEN. It really is something to wake up one day and realize that you are smack dab in the middle of your dream.
I have no intention of stopping. I write because I love it! I love creating new worlds in which anything is possible. Talking dogs — yes! Dramatic pigs — of course! Magic? You bet. Happily ever after? All. Day. Long.
Now I just wait for luck and circumstance to be in my favor. In the meantime, I keep writing.
I also keep getting out there and living life to the best of my ability. Yes, I’m looking at both of you, pandemic and narcolepsy.
Because how can you look at this photogenic pig and not think he doesn’t have a story to tell?
I’m glad it’s Thanksgiving this week, because it gives me a ready-made topic to write about: Top 10 Things I’m Grateful for This Year.
My husband, Heath. This year has been another challenging one, particularly with sleep issues. Heath is a constant source of unconditional love and support. The last time I struggled this much with my sleep, I was single. I eventually improved, so I know I have it in me to stay the course with my health as a single person. But I’m incredibly grateful I don’t have to.
DOGS! Speaking of unconditional love and support, dogs are also up there at the top of my list. Dogs bring me such joy! I can’t imagine my life without them. This point leads me to …
The people who let me love their dogs. This will be my first full year since 2013 that I did not live with one or more dogs. It’s been an adjustment to say the least, and I still find myself tearing up every now and again when I think of my furry friends I’ve lost along the way. So an extra special thank you to those people who ask me to take care of their dogs and love them like they’re my own.
My mom. She is one of the most generous people I know. The only way my mom could get even better is if she got a dog.
My best friend, Arlene. I met Arlene while on sabbatical in Chapel Hill, NC, in 2014. Arlene is almost 40 years older than me, and that doesn’t matter in the slightest. We understand each other, and every Thursday I call her. Sometimes we don’t chat, and I just leave a message. But we always know to expect a phone call on Thursdays at 11:30am.
My BFF Michelle. Michelle and I have been friends for maybe 17 years now. We can’t really nail down the date of when we went from being grad school acquaintances to good friends. The pandemic, however, changed everything. We experienced a Frien-essance (the friend version of a Renaissance) this year through Zoom and that’s one of my silver linings of the pandemic. Also shoutout to Beth, who often joins us on our Zooms. I’m grateful my friendship with her has gotten deeper this year, too.
My TPEP friends. These are the friends I made when working for the Tobacco, Prevention, and Evaluation Program way back in the mid 00s when I worked in the Department of Family Medicine, UNC School of Medicine as a research assistant. I doubt I will ever have such a dynamic and fun group of friends at work. We stay in touch a few times a year and I love them all SO MUCH!
My imagination and creativity. These are my two greatest natural gifts. Because of my imagination and creativity, I am never at a loss when writing a story. In fact, I often have too many stories to write, and then have to choose which ones to write and which ones to let go. As a first world problem, I’ll take it!
My mentors. There are some people in this world, such as Dr. Al Forsyth and his wife Peggy, and Dr. Adam O. Goldstein, who believe in me no matter. They’ve each contributed their own way to the person I am today.
My improving sleep. Friends, I am cautiously optimistic in telling you that my narcolepsy medicine is working. I am no longer waking up every morning experiencing post-traumatic stress from my dreams. I no longer need a nap at 8:30am and again at 4:00pm. I am not heading straight to the couch after I wake up. I feel so different these mornings as of late, that sometimes I don’t even know what to do with myself.
As I was writing this list, I realized that Top 10 is too limiting. I immediately wanted to make it a Top 20, then Top 50. For brevity’s sake, I’ll stop here. Kinda. Because now I’m going to give a few honorable mentions: My niece, who is brilliant and creative, my writing group, who is AWESOME, the Norfolk Library, who provides AMAZING health insurance even though I only work part-time, my productivity club, where we provide unconditional support to each other, Ruth, who reads my blog regularly and is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, Dottie, who gives the best hugs in Norfolk, and Jeannine and Jeff, who continue to make me laugh.
There are so many more people and things I could list. I’m really going to stop now. At least for now.
There’s been a lot of talk in our country as of late about personal freedom. This conversation is especially relevant as tomorrow marks the 152nd Memorial Day celebration in the United States. So I have a recommendation for how to celebrate memorial day 2020 given our current situation — Wear a mask!
Memorial Day began as a way to honor the 620,000 soldiers killed during the Civil War. When the United States entered World War I, Memorial Day expanded to include those killed in all wars. It was officially recognized as a national holiday in 1971, while the United States fought during the Vietnam War.
To the men, women, and animals who have died serving the United States– thank you. The freedom I enjoy every day comes from your sacrifices.
Since I will never serve in the military, I will never know this level of sacrifice. That does not mean I will not protect my country to the best of my ability.
It is for this reason, that I continue to wear a mask as the death toll from COVID-19 approaches the 100,000 mark.
It’s such a simple thing to do. At no time wearing a mask do I feel like my personal liberties or freedom are being impinged upon. On the contrary, I think about the people I am protecting and how their lives can remain free from the burden, suffering, and even death from a preventable disease.
It is not much, but it is something I can do. And I am grateful to have the opportunity to serve in this way.
I don’t think I’ll ever be brave enough to offer my life for this country. But ask me to wear a mask to protect it?
Yeah, I can do that.
Wearing a mask even sounds kind of trivial when I think about the sacrifices of our soldiers. These women and men who put their lives on the line for me and for my freedom and all I’m being asked to do is strap some material across my face when I go out in public?
Of course I can do that!
So when we discuss how to honor those who died and how to celebrate memorial day 2020, sign me up for wearing a mask.
I’ll gladly wear a mask for the people I love. I’ll wear a mask for my friends and neighbors. I’ll wear a mask for the people living in nursing homes. I’ll wear a mask for our healthcare workers. And I’ll wear a mask to protect those veterans who survived war. Because they deserve the very best I can offer.
A good friend of mine shared with me this YouTube video her son created for the #NewYorkTough Wear A Mask PSA Contest. It makes my point far more beautifully than I ever could. You can watch the video here.
Image from Mike Schneberg #NewYorkTough PSA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3UURdY6FQY
Here are two of the people I wear a mask for:
This is Cecily. She’s Dodger’s mom. Obviously, I love her on that fact alone. But Cecily is a hilarious, witty, talented, kind, and generous woman who has opened her heart and home to Heath and me when we needed a place to stay.
Of course, I will wear a mask to keep Cecily safe. It’s the least I can do!
This is Barbara.
Barbara and I met during my first month in Norfolk during the creative writing group at the Congregational Church. When Barbara’s husband of 60+ years died in October 2017, I imagined what it would be like if something happened to Heath and how lonely that would feel. Coming over for tea and company is what I would want someone to do for me, so I started going over to Barbara’s house for (mostly) weekly tea dates. We have such a nice time together, and Barbara has two excellent recliner chairs where we drink our tea, listen to classical music, and sometimes nap because the music is so relaxing.
I wear my mask for Barbara, too. She deserves not to have her health put at risk for circumstances she can’t control.
So on this Memorial Day, let us continue honoring those who died. We choose how to celebrate Memorial Day and the lives lost by being good citizens.
Let our soldiers’ sacrifices not be in vain.
Let us make sure that in our pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, we start with life.
A few months ago, my friend and I came up with what we thought is a brilliant title for a children’s book: I Did My Best – I Made A Friend.
In hindsight, maybe it’s not as brilliant as I originally thought. But, this idea does perfectly sum up my experience at HippoCamp 18, the creative nonfiction writing conference I attended last week in Lancaster, PA.
HippoCamp started four years ago as the first writing conference devoted solely to the craft and publishing of creative nonfiction. For those outside the publishing world, sometimes people think creative nonfiction means taking liberties with true stories to create more drama and suspense.
Creative nonfiction simply means the use of literary techniques to tell a nonfiction story. Remember how I read five books on happiness last year?
All of the above are examples of creative nonfiction, as are memoirs, essays, and blogs. So, right up my alley!
I was also hoping to learn a few more writing skills to improve my craft and let me tell you – HippoCamp 18 delivered.
Joey Garcia wowed me with her Pitch Yourself as a Guest on TV News or Radio Shows presentation. She also had us practice coming up with a pitch. Here’s what I came up with:
Not sure you’re ready to take the next step with your significant other? Meet our next guest who eloped with her husband three weeks after they met and hear what she has to say about the importance of values in relationships.
Of course, being the Hermione Granger that I am, I volunteered to read mine first.
It turns out I misunderstood the concept of pitching, and what I wrote above would be something a news anchor would say. Joey encouraged me to break it down to the actual pitch, which would be one sentence.
Here’s my second try:
I eloped with a stranger three weeks after we met.
This time, I got it right and it felt doubly good because I always enjoy talking about my incredibly handsome husband.
Our Wedding, February 12th, 2016, Nashville Courthouse
As a fun twist, the woman who went after me, B. Lynn Goodwin, pitched her story as, “it’s never too late,” which referred to meeting her husband. If you’re interested, you can read more about her story Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62 here.
As I’ve been putting a Writers Digest humor course in my virtual shopping cart every time I get an email advertising it, then ultimately deciding no because of the price tag, I was thoroughly delighted by their offering. I hope they offer a workshop next year.
I also learned some useful presentation skills during Amy Eaton’sGetting Your Words Into the Air session. What I liked most about Amy’s presentation is that she had us stand up and go through a bunch of vocal and space exercises.
“Take up space. You belong here,” she said at one point. I straightened my back by at least two inches after that.
Her presentation ended up being rather timely for me, as I was scheduled to present the next day at the conference. I joined four other writers for the Flash Sessions and we each had 8-9 minutes to give a lightning round talk.
Unfortunately, Margaret Montet couldn’t attend because of a family emergency.
I’ve presented at conferences before, but they were always as an academic,and usually about tobacco prevention or teaching in the social sciences. This presentation was my first time as a writer speaking about my writing process.
My inner Hermione had me practicing well in advance and multiple times, too. I think I practiced at least 10 times on my own, and Heath listened three times. He also helped me get the timing of my slides just right since every slide featured an animated GIF like this one and I wanted people to laugh, but not be distracted.
I still felt nervous, despite all my practicing, and Sunday morning I found myself getting up in the middle of two different presentations to ….
Well, I’ll just leave it to your imagination what I was doing because I’m pretty sure my mom is reading this and she is of the old school mentality to “suffer in silence.”
The whole reason I ended up presenting at HippoCamp 18 in the first place is back when they had their call for submissions, I had been devouring self-help material while procrastinating (one of the talking points in my presentation). I came across the idea to, “do one brave thing every day,” and so submitting a proposal as a presenter fell into the brave category for me.
So there I was standing in front of a room of fellow writers on Sunday morning. The big conference room. I had imagined one of the tinier spaces. I gave myself a pep talk — I could do this.
And I did!
I responded to Dave later that getting positive feedback through animal GIFs is my new metric for achievement.
My favorite part of the weekend, however, was not the chance to present. It was meeting so many new writers and hearing where they are in their writing journeys.
I connected with one woman, in particular, the first night of the conference. It was during the mashed potato martini hour.
This woman shared something personal with me. I was so moved by what she said that when I was walking around Lancaster’s Central Market the next morning and felt strangely compelled to buy a single sunflower, I realized in my walk back to the conference center that she was the reason. I found her in the breakfast room and gave the flower to her.
We then sat together for breakfast, both Saturday and Sunday, as well as lunch on Sunday. We also ended the conference together sitting next to each other during the closing remarks and door prizes. This time turned out to be one of my favorite conference moments of all-time.
The first door prize was awarded to the person who registered first for the conference. The registration site went live at 12:00am on February 1st and the first registration came in at 12:08am. My new friend leaned over and whispered, “I think it was me.” Sure enough, it was!
This conference was everything I could have hoped for and more. I did my best and I made a friend. How lucky am I?
I’m already looking forward to HippoCamp 19, which will be August 23rd – 25th, again in downtown Lancaster. In the meantime, thank you to Donna Talarico, conference organizer and Founder of Hippocampus Magazine and Books, all the volunteers, attendees, and presenters.
Also, thank you to the Marriott for your delicious food and excellent service. The treats were so scrumptious, I snuck out two whoopie pies to bring home to Heath.
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:
And 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.
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
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
A frisky little fellow who has a very sweet, playful personality.
And Drummy the turkey who is as majestic as he looks.
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.