Tag Archives: Writing

Memoir Monday, January 23rd, 2017

Narcoleptics Prevail

I think I’m making progress towards this whole I am a writer thing.  I say this because today I am utterly exhausted and I still wrote my daily word count, exceeded it, actually. 1500+ words when you are a narcoleptic and you haven’t slept well is quite an accomplishment. 

As my niece would say, “narcoleptics prevail!”

Someone today commended me on my writing habits.  He said I had “discipline.”  It’s funny, because that’s one of the last words I would use to describe myself.  How many times do I check my email, scroll through Facebook, look for new stories about JK Rowling or Pitch Perfect 3, or send a funny dog video to my husband before I sit down to write?  Probably about 1,265,317 times.  And that’s just in one morning.

Then there was this morning.  I did not want to write anything for my novel.  Not even a teeny tiny bit.  I tried to get going by revising a picture book I wrote for my online class through KidLit College.  I then sat and stared at my computer feeling rather belligerent about everything, especially writing.  Just write 100 words, I encouraged myself. 

What I really wanted to do was go back to bed and take a nap.  It was only 8:00am.

The last time I got a good night’s sleep was February 12th, 2016.  Seriously.  My husband and I stayed over at his friend’s house because we were having an all-day Harry Potter movie marathon.  I don’t know if it was the bed, how cold the room was, or the fact that my husband and I secretly eloped that morning.  Before that, my last good night’s sleep was the end of September, 2015, when I was housesitting for a friend, and before that it was a day in March, 2014, when I went to a chiropractic open house.

You know you’re dealing with a narcoleptic when they can tell you their last good night’s sleep.  What this means, though, is that it’s been many days in a row of not good sleep and ever since the full moon last week it’s been many days in a row of not good sleep and incredibly vivid, and often disturbing dreams.  Suffice it to say I feel exhausted.

It’s time like this that I’m incredibly grateful I had the courage and inclination to quit my teaching job.  When I was a professor, teaching four classes, advising 30-40 students, serving on committees, and conducting research, I was exhausted simply by the sheer weight of my work, never mind the narcolepsy. 

I would never have been able to write the way I do and I would not be where I am with my writing if I had not quit.

That’s one of the reasons, though, I could power through.  When I started writing this morning I was only 1500 words away from crossing the 20,000 word mark of my second novel.  I wanted to get there and I wanted to do it today so tomorrow could bring another goal.  I’m on track to finish the first draft of my second novel by the first week of February.  It blows my mind that not only do I have the first draft of one novel completed, but I’m getting to the finish line of a second one!  How did this happen?  Is it discipline?  Or is it positive reinforcement?  I don’t know, and right now, I don’t care, because I am tired, yet I am writing.  Narcoleptics prevail, indeed!

Memoir Monday, January 16th, 2017

CT round 3 Title

Now that I’m about one week into our third stint in Norfolk, CT, it’s time to update and refine my objectives from go-around #2.  Here’s what I wanted to accomplish last time:

1)      Write 6,000 words per week specifically for one of my novels

2)      Attend a weekly writer’s group

3)      Listen to at least one Brandon Sanderson lecture on writing each week

4)      Read at least five chapters of a novel every week

5)      Complete 3 sets of PT exercises every day

6)      Spend 20 minutes every day on physical exercise

7)      Eat one salad every day that contains at least four colors of the rainbow

8)      Meditate twice daily for 20 minutes each time

9)      Spend 20 minutes every day reading or listening to spiritual material

10)   Explore someplace new every week with my husband

I didn’t do so well, as I explained last week.  But the good news is, now that I’m evaluating myself on a regular basis (i.e., every few months), I’m beginning to see where my true strengths and weaknesses are.  For example, I have zero inclination to actually keep records of my diet and exercise habits.

I’ve solved the diet dilemma by going on another round of an elimination that I did three years ago to see if it will help with my sleep/lingering digestive issues.  This means no grains, soy, dairy, refined sugar, eggs, or yeast for three weeks.  When you take all those foods out of your diet, it’s so much easier to know what you’re putting in your body without having to keep a record.  Plus, vegetables also then make up a huge component of the diet.  It’s also oddly reinforcing as I feel pretty good and I don’t want to add a lot of the junk (i.e. sugar/gluten) back in.

Similarly, I invested in a Jawbone Up3, even though Jawbone is getting out of the fitness tracker industry, and that seems to have solved my problem of keeping track of exercise.  Although I purchased the item to keep track of sleep (Up3 got the highest ratings for tracking light, deep, and REM sleep), I’m now being informed how many steps I’m taking every day so I can easily monitor my physical activity.

It’s also clear I’m just not good at keep tracking of anything other than word counts.  So, to track the books I’m reading (including writing books, novels, picture books, and spiritual material), I’m going to start using Good Reads.  It’s easily accessible on my phone and it will help me connect with other readers and writers out there.

Consistency also seems to be key for me in accomplishing a few of my objectives, like daily meditation, PT exercises and attending writers’ groups.  Meditation has always worked really well for me early in the morning, so I’m going to stick with that.  If I can get in an afternoon meditation session, then great, but I’m not going to beat myself up if I don’t (that pretty much seems the opposite of why someone would meditate in the first place).  I’m also going to try to work my 3 PT exercises in before I start writing in the morning.  Some of them I can even stop and do on the stairs when I first wake up or while I’m waiting for the dogs to finish eating.  My weekly writers’ group will be easier, because that will always be Wednesdays at 9am.  But these objectives, I’m not going to actually keep track of.  I know they’re there and I’m doing them.

I’m going to scrap my objective of watching a Brandon Sanderson lecture every week, simply because I’m already taking two different writing classes over the next few weeks, with a third one starting up this weekend.  This way, if I do actually get around to watching some of these lectures (which I keep hearing are quite good), then I will feel like I’ve accomplished quite a bit!

It also looks like I’m going to have to scrap going new places as an objective.  My husband and I are struggling right now with the whole “explore a new place” every week given our schedules and the fact that it’s dark by 5:00pm here.  We’re hoping that as spring approaches we’ll be able to get more out and about, but for the coming months it looks like we’re going to have let go of this goal.

That leaves writing!  My favorite objective of all.  I’m going to go back to 1000 words per day.  Every day.  Not even taking Sundays off.  One thing I am going to change, however, is that once I finish my Fox Through the Forest story as part of Fiction Fridays, I’m going to start posting writing prompts on Fridays instead.  This way, I can exercise different writing muscles and it will take significantly less time than creating, revising, and editing a chapter.  That time can be better spent on my novels and picture books.

So, in sum, my objectives until April are:

1)      Write 1000 words every day

2)      Track the books I read using Good Reads

From ten objectives to two, both involving writing.  I think I can handle that!

Memoir Monday, November 21st, 2016


We are back in Norfolk, CT!  My husband I enjoyed it so much here that when our next pet and housesitting job ended up being canceled, we accepted an offer to return for the holidays.   But now that we’re back it’s time to set some new goals based on what I learned the last time we were here.

One of the things I’m trying with these goals is to make them S.M.A.R.T.(er) than my previous ones.  For those of you who don’t know, I spent several years conducting program evaluation research.  One of the keys for measuring success is that objectives must be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.  Here’s what I’ve come up with:

1)      Write 6,000 words per week specifically for one of my novels

Rationale: I want 2016 to be the year I start and finish a novel.  If I stay on track with this goal, that gives me an additional 36,000 words.  Since I already have 35,000 words written for my middle grade novel, this should be more than enough to finish and make substantial progress on some of my other unfinished writing.

2)      Attend a weekly writer’s group

Rationale: Writers’ groups are invaluable for providing feedback and connection to other writers.  I cannot say enough good things about them and I’ve been blessed to belong to some outstanding ones (Durham Writers’ Group, Schenectady Public Library, United Church of Christ Congregational Norfolk, and SCBWI Eastern CT).  Attending a writers’ group on a weekly basis will also keep me writing a variety of projects.

3)      Listen to at least one Brandon Sanderson lecture on writing each week

Rationale: From my 8 years of teaching research writing, I have good technical writing skills.  Imagination and creativity are also two of my greatest strengths.  But after reading Libbie Hawker’s Take Your Pants Off: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better, Writing, I realized I still have a lot to learn about fiction to take my writing to the next level.  One of my good friends highly recommends Brandon Sanderson’s lectures and my husband reads his books.  Since I write a lot of fantasy, I thought this would be a good fit for me.  Plus, he’s got a lot of material freely available on the internet.

4)      Read at least five chapters of a novel every week

Rationale:  It’s simple – if you want to be a better writer, you need to read.  A LOT.  This is something I don’t always prioritize, especially when I’m reading a book that has slow pacing.  If I can learn to identify the strengths and weaknesses of others’ writing, though, I think this will make me a stronger writer in the long-term.

5)      Complete 3 sets of PT exercises every day

Rationale:  My right hamstrings, hip, and quadriceps are much weaker than other muscles in my body.  I know, weird, because my left hamstrings, hip, and quadriceps are doing just fine.  What these weaknesses amount to is, however, is pain.  As a big believer in prevention, these exercises should help me stave off any long-term issues.

6)      Spend 20 minutes every day on physical exercise

Rationale:  I’ve gotten blobby both physically and cardiovascularly.  I’m only 39.  I should be able to walk up a hill without getting winded.  Last November, I LOVED how I looked and felt.  I even kept up with my workout routine when I spent two weeks at the UN climate change conference in Paris.  I have no excuses.  I let myself go by making choices that did not honor my health and body on a regular basis.  I will always love myself unconditionally, but that doesn’t mean I won’t hold myself accountable for risking my health in this way.

7)      Eat one salad every day that contains at least four colors of the rainbow

Rationale:  See points above.  We cannot do it better than nature and that includes food choices.  I love rainbows, so I might as well start eating them.

8)      Meditate twice daily for 20 minutes each time

Rationale:  Nothing has improved my life as much as meditating on a regular basis.  It started in November 2013 with Oprah Winfrey’s and Deepak Chopra’s Desire and Destiny Meditation series.  I started making some real life changes after I started meditating and I can honestly say I’ve never been happier.

9)      Spend 20 minutes every day reading or listening to spiritual material

Rationale:  With my meditation time, this gives me approximately one hour per day devoted to spiritual health and my relationship with God.  In all honesty, I don’t think seven hours a week is actually enough and there have been times when I devoted two hours a day to spirituality.  Once I am successful with recreating these life goals as habits over these next two months, I’ll check in to see if I can amp up my spiritual time because time spent reflecting and connecting with God and the Divine is never wasted.

10)   Explore someplace new every week with my husband

Rationale:  My husband and I like to go on adventures and we especially like to be out in nature.  This will ensure that we actually do the things we say we’re going to do.  As an added bonus, I get to spend time with my husband and he’s super fun and cute.

So there you go – 10 goals and two months.  You may be thinking oh my goodness, that’s a lot! I thought the same thing when I typed the list out, which is why I limited it to only 10 goals (believe me, I could have come up with a lot more).  The truth is I do a lot of these activities on a regular basis already; the only difference is now I’m trying to measure and quantify them to help me manage and be more productive with my time.  I am confident I can do it!  I will keep you posted and in the meantime, please send me all the love and support you can.

Memoir Monday, November 14th, 2016


At the beginning of September, I wrote about a socialization plan I devised for my time in Connecticut and a little over a month ago I evaluated my progress at the halfway mark. Our initial stint in Connecticut has now ended and it’s time for my final grades – drumroll, please!

1)      Spend three days a week writing at the library to get me out of the house

Midterm Grade: F

Final Grade: F

Rationale: In the 63 days that my husband and I lived in Connecticut, not once did I spend time at the library writing.  So, not just a fail, an epic fail (I’m giving myself a ZERO).

Reflection:  I accept this failure because I learned something valuable – I prefer writing at home.  As much as I like the idea of writing at a library or a coffee shop, going to these places require several additional steps in the process, like showering/getting dressed and then walking (driving) somewhere.  For a procrastinator like myself, these steps fuel my fire of distraction and before I know it, I’ve wasted a ton of time with nothing to show for it.  Thus, getting out of my house from here on out will need to come through other means.

2)      Volunteer at the library (that is, if they’ll have me for just two months)

Midterm Grade: F

Final Grade: C

Rationale: I ended up spending my service time elsewhere (see point #3), but my husband and I gave a financial donation to the library before we left.

Reflection: Even though I didn’t write anything at the library, my husband and I spent a lot of time utilizing their wonderful (and free!) resources.  We both read some great books, watched some great (in my husband’s opinion; meh in my opinion) movies, and used their printers for personal use.  Since we both believe that 10% of our income should go to charity, it seemed like the Norfolk Library deserved a good chunk of what we earned while living there.  Money is not the same thing as service, so that’s why I went with a “C.”

3)      Seek other short-term volunteer opportunities as they present themselves

Midterm Grade: A-

Final Grade: A

Rationale:  In addition to continuing as a social media team member for the Young Adult Review Network, I managed to find some short-term volunteer opportunities as well, including contributing some of my writing to the Norfolk Church of Christ Congregational’s Christmas pageant, donating food to the church’s food pantry, and entertaining children at the Colebrook Community Center’s Halloween party.

Reflection: These small service opportunities are a great way to get out of the house, meet people, and feel like I’m actively contributing to society.  I just need to keep my eyes open for them.

4)      Attend a weekly writers’ group

Midterm Grade: A+

Final Grade: A+

Rationale:  I attended a creative writers’ group every Wednesday and I attended a children’s writers’ group every time they had a meeting (which ended up being three times).

Reflection: I cannot recommend writing groups enough!  In addition to being a wonderful opportunity to socialize with writers and get out of the house (which is important to me; see point 1), my stories have improved based on the feedback from the groups.  There’s also a lot of utility in seeing and hearing people’s response to your work as you read it out loud.  I found both groups using Google searches, but I’ve also used meetup.com.  It is my sincerest hope that wherever my husband and I end up wandering to, we will always have a writing group to attend (yes, sometimes he comes with me).

5)      Work at short-term, limited employment jobs where I can see my contributions to society

Midterm Grade: B

Final Grade: B

Rationale: It’s official – I love making sandwiches!  I think it’s because people truly appreciate a well-made sandwich and appreciation is something I did not experience on a regular basis as a teacher of statistics or research methods.  I spent hours editing and evaluating students’ work and most of the time I felt like my efforts were wasted.  That is hardly ever the case with working a café!

On the downside, though, I’m still having difficulty managing my time.  I started working on one of my novels again (YAY!) but then my exercise fell by the way side (BOO!).  Then, there’s Halloween, which certainly did not help my sweet tooth, especially because the library had a huge candy supply, and finally we discovered Dee’s One Smart Cookie Allergen-free Bakery, which may be allergen free, but not sugar, calorie, or fat free.

Reflection: Blargle!  I don’t like being dissatisfied with how I treat my body.  This is the one body I get for life, so I need to do better at prioritizing it while I’m working.  I have a plan for that, though, which I’m going to share next week when I lay out my goals for the remaining two months of the year (and if you have any suggestions/recommendations for my November/December goals, feel free to let me know).

6)      Find a spiritual community that encourages self-reflection and growth.

Midterm Grade: C+

Final Grade: C-

Rationale: Although I actively worked on my spirituality and connection to God daily, I didn’t commit fully to any one community.

Reflection: This might have to be something I accept as my husband and I continue wandering around.  When you’re only going to be in one place for a set, limited time, it can be hard to motivate yourself to make commitments of this sort.  I enjoy connecting with others, especially those who center their lives on love, compassion, generosity, and service.  It may be that I modify this goal to reflect a more global community than local one.

Overall Grade: C

Reflection: WOOHOO – I passed!  If it wasn’t for that ZERO, I might even have been above average.  Oh, well.  Gives me something to work towards until the end of the year.

Memoir Monday, November 8th, 2016 (which is actually a Tuesday)


On this past Sunday, I packed up my car (my husband was and still is in Nashville visiting family), drove 5 hours from Norfok, CT, to Harrisburg, PA, spent the night at my parents’ house, and then drove 8+hours thanks to traffic and accidents to Durham, NC, to take care of two very cute dogs for this coming week.  Thus, this post is a day late but definitely not a dollar short as I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to say, and really, it all comes down to time.

I was in Harrisburg for less than 18 hours.  I thought about writing my blog post Monday morning so I could post it before I got on the road. 

Instead, I made the choice to do one of my favorite things when I’m home. 

I played a game of Scrabble with my Mom and even though I was ahead for 16 straight rounds she came back in the final two plays to take the lead and win by over 20 points.

We also watched the Showcase Showdown on the Price Is Right, another standard practice for when I’m in Harrisburg.  I overbid on two computer tablets, a trip to Belize, and a trip to Switzerland and she won a trip to South Carolina, an outdoor fire pit, and a car.

It was a tough choice in the moment; no, not whether to bid or pass on Showcase #1, but to put off writing my Monday post this week.  One of my goals with this blog is to make sure I practice writing on a regular basis, particularly across different types of genre, and the recovering perfectionist in me felt like I was letting myself down.

I suppose what I’m afraid of is if I don’t write my post one day, then I might not write it a second day, which could turn into a third day, and before I know it weeks will have gone by without me writing anything.  This concern is not without merit, as last year I stopped writing for a few months when I got distracted with work and meeting and marrying my husband.

It’s also happened as of late with working out and when we moved to CT, I prioritized fitting in my writing (I AM GOING TO FINISH A NOVEL THIS YEAR) over other things and it started becoming an either or with writing or exercise and exercise ended up losing out.

So I had a choice to make on Monday morning and when it came time to decide how to spend my time, I went with the choice that made my heart happiest.

I ignored the “shoulds” in my brain about sticking with deadlines and meeting my writing goals and let them go.

Now that it’s Tuesday, what are the consequences of this decision for my writing?  With my blog post – none, really, as I’m writing my post now and it will be published soon.  With my other writing – also, good, as I had 7+ hours in a car yesterday to simply let my mind wander and I’m delighted to report I’ve come up with several great story ideas, as well as solidified the draft language of a query letter for the middle grade novel I’m half-way done with.

Do I have any regrets about my decision?  Only one – we didn’t get to play Scattegories!

Memoir Monday, October 31st, 2016

Update:  I unequivocally and wholeheartedly apologize for my privileged sense of entitlement that lead me to: 1) write humorously about the 2016 election; and 2) vote for a third party candidate. For the last three years, I have felt shame, regret, and remorse at my third-party decision. The fact that hundreds of thousands of people have died, thousands of families have been separated, children have been locked in cages in disgusting conditions, the Supreme Court is now in jeopardy, and my healthcare, as well as millions of others’ healthcare is in jeopardy (to name just a few of the abhorrent outcomes of a trump presidency) is partially my fault. I thought about simply taking down this post. That would be the easy way out. But no. I want you all to know that I own up to mistake and I have been actively fighting for the marginalized, disenfranchised, and wounded people whom I have hurt from my vote. I read a lot on social media about blaming us third party voters. Let me assure you — I already feel as bad as you want to me. Probably even worse. And I am so, so sorry. Never again. I ask for your forgiveness and I welcome discussion from anyone who would like to talk to me more about my mistake.





             In honor of Halloween, I’ve been spending some time contemplating Americans’ love affair with horror.  Nowhere does that seem more evident to me than with this year’s presidential election.  And even though this is not a political blog, I’ve noticed there are some similarities between presidential election politics and living the writing life.

              Similarity #1: Both are scary!  With writing, you never know what is going to happen next, whether it is plotting a story, submitting to an agent, or seeking publication.  You must put yourself out and make yourself vulnerable.  Unfortunately, our presidential candidates seem to think that less is more and so every week it’s one more instance of never knowing what’s going to happen next.  That’s why we keep getting “leaked” information, whether it be videotapes, emails, or something else that makes us all go “Doh!” with a face palm. 

              Similarity #2: Both are fraught with risk!  My vote is going to Jill Stein and the Green Party.  I know this is risky because I vehemently oppose one candidate and I would not, under any circumstances, want this person as president.  So, I debated about voting for the other candidate just to ensure that the other one is not elected.  Does this strike anyone else as wrong? 

              I believe it is and so I am willing to risk my country, my freedom, and my Affordable Care Act health insurance, simply because I cannot be a party to a broken system any longer.  When I embraced the writing lifestyle, I knew there were inherent risks with it.  No longer would I have a steady paycheck, tenure, benefits, an employer-matched retirement program and so on.  But I was nevertheless willing to give it up all to live my dream.

              In doing so, I have found joy, fulfillment, and freedom.  I do not want to lose it, yet at the same time I need to remain true to myself.  Neither major party candidate has remained true to themselves, so they will not get my vote.

              Similarity #3 – Both involve making stuff up!  For writers, this is a wonderful perk of our profession.  We get to build new worlds, create characters, and live inside their heads.  Our stories allow us to experience different cultures, lifestyles, and relationships, and we can learn about ourselves while at the same time weaving universal themes and life lessons throughout our writing. 

              In politics, pretending to be something you’re not appears to be par for the course, but unlike writing I wouldn’t consider it a good thing.  We have websites devoted to “fact-checking” our candidates and sometimes they are branded as having “their pants on fire,” in terms of how different what they state is from reality. 

              Of course, people are entitled to change their minds and our presidential candidates are no exception.  Before I decided to give up consuming violence in media (which essentially meant not watching the presidential debates as verbal violence is violence nevertheless), I LOVED the television series 24.  Based on my experiences watching that show, I believed there were some instances were torture should be allowed, especially considering national security.

              It took one of my good friends in graduate school to sit me down and explain just why torture is a human rights violation for me to realize that torture is, well, torture, and although Hollywood may be good at sensationalizing it, there is always real and true human life being minimized. 

              But it unfortunately does not appear to be the case that our politicians are “changing their minds” and showing growth in morals, values, or any other important qualities I subscribe to in a president.  No, it appears that they are simply catering to their party simply for the sake of getting elected.  Over ONE BILLION DOLLARS will have been spent by the time this election is over.  People do crazy things for money and having your pants on fire appears to be just one of them. 

              Similarity #4 – Both are wrought with rejection! Barring any unusual circumstances, we will have one big winner and one big loser come the evening of November 8th.  Thankfully, I have never yet had to experience being rejected by millions upon millions of people.  So far, it’s only been publishers, agents, literary journals, and websites.  Oh, and I suppose friends, schools, employers, significant others, pets (I’m talking to you aloof cats who pretend they’re not interested), and bears (see previous posts).  So, really, now that I think about it my whole life has been about rejection.  But, again, it’s never been on the scale of millions and millions of people! 

              Maybe someday though.  Wouldn’t that be amazing to be such a successful writer that my work could be commented on, loved, hated, debated, and so on by millions?!  Or I suppose I could just run for president?  Millions then would also love, hate, and debate my choices.

              Of course, not being even remotely qualified for president, that would be a scary choice for the U.S. population. Thus, for my final thoughts I will leave you with an original Halloween poem that I think sums up this post succinctly:

Happy Halloween

With lots and lots of treats

But only a few tricks

‘Cuz we’re all scared enough

Thanks to U.S. politics!

Memoir Monday, October 24th, 2016


I didn’t plan to write about bears two weeks in a row, but then this past Saturday happened.  It was completely unexpected, but I had the most extraordinary encounter with two bears, Gus and Ida.  These aren’t just any bears, they happen to be polar bears which is my favorite animal of all time.  Gus and Ida also happen to be figments of Caron Levis’ and Charles Santoso’s imagination, but that does not make them any less real to me.

This past weekend I was home in Harrisburg for a day before I headed to Fall Philly, a Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators event sponsored by the Eastern PA chapter.  While there, I went to the East Shore Branch of the Dauphin County Public Library to check out some of the latest children’s picture books (FYI – if you want to be a better writer, read as much as you can in the genre you’re interested in) and there they were, displayed on a wall.


Ida, Always, was the first book I came across that day and so naturally I immediately picked it up and started reading – how could I resist a picture book about polar bears?! At about the halfway point, my eyes started tearing up.  By the end of the book, tears flowed down my cheeks and I looked around to see if anyone had noticed my emotional unraveling at a simple children’s book about friendship, love, and loss.

As usual, no one was paying the slightest bit of attention to anyone other than themselves or their children,

so I wiped my eyes and tried to get my act together.

I can’t remember ever being so moved by a picture book.  When I was finished with it, all I wanted to do was call my husband and tell him I loved him.  Being still in the library, I didn’t think it an appropriate venue for an emotionally-charged phone call declaring gratitude and affection for our relationship, so I waited until I got home.  But even after I affirmed my love for him, I was still thinking about Ida, Always.

Reading this book was a gift; not only did it inspire me to connect with someone I love and feel appreciation for our life together, but it also inspired me as a writer.  These feelings are especially apt as I start pitching my own picture book stories to agents.

One of the things I struggle most with my own work is how to know when it’s my very best.  Last May I attended the SCBWI’s Wild, Wild, Midwest conference in Naperville, IL, where one of the recurring lessons presented throughout the conference was only submit your best writing.  Apparently, a lot of people don’t and it makes for very large slush piles and tired and frustrated agents and publishers.

At that conference, authors, agents, and publishers all made recommendations on how to revise your own work (which I do) and stressed the importance of critique groups (which I attend on a regular basis). 

But it’s hard to have an unbiased and blind eye towards your own writing in determining the quality of it.

That’s why I’m so excited and grateful for my most recent bear encounter.  I now have a new benchmark for my manuscripts.  In addition to following the typical rules of story arc, character development, and pacing, I will ask myself the following: what sort of emotional response does the story evoke?  If I cannot identify what I want my readers to feel because of my story and if I do not see evidence of that response in their feedback either through direct comments or personal observation, then I will know that my story still needs some more work.  I feel grateful to have this guidance and I am optimistic my writing will continue to improve.

In the meantime, I will continue to reflect upon Ida, Always, a story that is perfect in many ways.  Thank you for coming into my life.  If you end up being my only bear sighting for the time being, I’m okay with that.

Memoir Monday – October 3rd, 2016


A few weeks ago, I wrote a socialization plan I came up with for my time in Connecticut.  We’re at the halfway point, so here’s an update on where I’m at and where I’m going.

1)      Spend three days a week writing at the library to get me out of the house

Grade: F

Rationale: Although I frequent the library to check out books (ALL THOSE BOOKS ARE FREE FOR ME TO READ AT MY LEISURE!!!!), I have not written a single word while there, nor have I ever headed there with the purpose of doing so.

Reflection:  I’m kind of okay with this fail.  My novel writing has ceased (again), but I seem to have finally gotten into a rhythm with blogging and my short stories keep a comin’.   I also now write about a full-page of stream of consciousness journaling on a daily basis and all of this writing takes place at the kitchen table.  I did 99.9% of my writing in Johnsonville, NY, at a kitchen table, so I seem to be drawn towards writing in big, open spaces with lots of natural sunlight.  I’m also getting out of the house in other ways (see point #5), so I’m not feeling isolated at all.

2)      Volunteer at the library (that is, if they’ll have me for just two months)

Grade: F

Rationale: In addition to not writing at the library, I have not done one lick of volunteer work for them.  I didn’t even ask because as you’ll see in points #3 and #5, other opportunities presented themselves.


Ever heard the expression “you plan; God laughs?”

Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s what happened here.

3)      Seek other short-term volunteer opportunities as they present themselves

Grade: A-

Rationale:  It’s not short-term, but ya’ll are looking at the newest social media team member for the Young Adult Review Network (YARN)!  YARN is an online literary journal devoted to the young adult genre.  As someone who hopes to someday have YA novels published, this is an excellent opportunity to read some outstanding work in the genre.  Plus, it gets me using twitter, which is necessary in publishing and this is volunteer work I can do anywhere in the world.  So, it fits in perfectly with our wandering lifestyle.

4)      Attend a weekly writers’ group

Grade: A+

Rationale:  Every Wednesday morning, I attend a Creative Writing Group at the Norfolk Church of Christ Congregational UCC.  In addition, twice a month I head to the Simsbury Library to attend a Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators critique group.  What’s fantastic about this group is all the women in it are writing specifically for children and the feedback I’ve gotten has been excellent.   Both writing groups have been incredibly welcoming and I already know I’m going to miss them when we move (much like the other writing groups I’ve been privileged to attend, including the Durham Writers’ Group in NC and the Schenectady NY Public Library Wednesday Afternoon Writing Group – I LOVE AND MISS YA’LL!).

5)      Work at short-term, limited employment jobs where I can see my contributions to society;

Grade: B

Rationale: As I wrote about a few weeks ago, I started work at a café in town. As I’ve never had a service job before, I’m struggling with the in’s and out’s of the job, but I do make up for it with enthusiasm.  I still find great satisfaction in providing lunch for individuals and even simple things like sweeping the floor and doing the dishes feel worthwhile because it’s helping the café owner present our best to the Norfolk community.

I’m also meeting some interesting people.  Just today I met someone who has published two books.  His fiction book is entitled Hypnogogia – A Life of Dreams, and as someone who has had vivid dreams as a symptom of narcolepsy I am intrigued by a story that blends dreams with reality.

He and his wife were two of the loveliest people I’ve met so far and I’m delighted that he asked me to call him with my contact information so he can send me a free copy of the book! 

They also gave me a 30% tip which is AWESOME when you are working at a café lunch counter.

The only downside to this job is that I feel physically exhausted at the end of the work day, so I haven’t been working on my novels when I get home in the afternoons.  I’m still prioritizing losing the post-PA weight gain from my parents’ house with morning cardio and strength training so there goes that writing time.

It also doesn’t help that my husband and I experienced our first and subsequently second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth tastes of apple cider doughnuts, but if you’re in New England for the fall, shouldn’t you experience such a delectable sweet and crunchy treat?  Good thing I was already exercising, but what it comes down to is exercise is still taking precedence over some of my writing (not all; see point #1).

6)      Find a spiritual community that encourages self-reflection and growth.

Grade: C+

Rationale: To quote U2, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” Yet, and I refuse to give up.  One promising community is a health food store up the way in Winsted (about a 15-minute drive) that offers a Restore Your Soul Dancing Yoga Class for the next three weeks.  I’ve never done dancing yoga before, but we’ll see what it’s like.  If anything, what I’ve learned so far in CT is to keep an open mind and try new things.

So there you have it, my mid-CT-term report card.  What do you think?  Have I graded myself too harshly (many of my former students can relate) or do you think I should be more lenient?  And if you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to my blog.  Then I can get an A when I evaluate my blogging endeavors!



Memoir Monday — September 12th, 2016


There I was chugging along with my novels, when CRASH!  I hit a metaphorical brick wall.  There are two layers to this wall, first and foremost being my husband and I spent 10 days with my parents.

After years of therapy, I now find spending time in my childhood home enjoyable.  The only problem is my mom likes to indulge my husband and me with all kinds of yummy treats.  This past visit included a dozen artisan cookies from the Wegman’s bakery, as well as their ultimate white cake, 18 double-chocolate chunk cookies, a 6-pack of cupcakes, Rice Krispie treats, ice cream, and a hamburger cake.

My husband and I ate all of the above with abandon and glee.  Our bellies are evidence of these facts, as they have gleefully abandoned us by expanding like balloons.  More than that, though, we felt AWFUL, with all the sugar, gluten, dairy, preservatives, etc., as the leading source of fuel for our bodies; essentially, we laid around on the couch a lot.

Consequently, I did not do a lot of writing on my novels.  Other writing, yes, but the novels, no.  I kept trying not to be too hard on myself, but let’s face it – it’s impossible to be a novelist without having written a novel.  In addition to having my children’s stories and short stories published, published novels are up there on my list of writing goals.

But the food and laziness was not my real problem.  That was the second layer to my metaphorical brick wall. In one of my novels I had plotted out the major points and I knew where I wanted to go.  I did not necessarily know how I was going to get there.

Some of you may know this as a classic debate in writing: are you a pantser (meaning writing by the seat of your pants) or a plotter (meaning you outline your story)?  I was content to fall somewhere in-between.  Until, I wrote myself in a direction I had not anticipated.

As it turns out, the main character in my one young adult novels is about to start junior high…which I did NOT realize when I started writing.  Oh, sure, I knew she was thirteen because her thirteenth birthday is how the book begins.  But it never occurred to me that she would have to go to school at some point during her thirteenth year… DUH!!!!  But that meant thinking about a class schedule, teachers, friends, enemies, etc.  All points I had not even thought about when plotting out the storyline.

I felt overwhelmed at the prospect of having to create a junior high and all the freaks and geeks glory to it.  I also wondered if I even had to include all that anyway.  It’s not as if we know what characters do every single day of their lives after all.  So I let the ideas of what I was writing sit and marinate while I ate myself to oblivion at my parents’ house.

Once my husband and I got to our new housesitting job, we got started right away getting our lives back in order.  And when I say right away I mean right after we finished that last super-sized bag of M&M’s; although we did end up throwing the rest of it out only for one of our new charges, a black Lab named Smudge, to dig it out of the trash can when we forgot to lock it.  Thankfully, we caught him before he got very far.

So better eating.  Check.  Less laying around and more exercising.  Check.  Back to writing.  Check?

Again, I was doing some writing, but no novel writing.  I reached the point where I was thoroughly frustrated with myself so I did a classic psychology move which has been shown to improve productivity – I got started on the task, even if it was just a baby step.  In my case, this was write 100 words in my young adult novel.

Something so simple and yet, it worked!  Not that day, but the next day when I was putting my shoes on it hit me how I could write away chunks of time in a school year once I introduced the school to the reader.

Then, I came across a book in my Kindle library that I had purchased several weeks ago from Amazon’s daily BookBub email (if you have never checked these daily e-book deals out, I highly encourage you to.  Some of the book are even free!) entitled, Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing: Revised Edition by Libbie Hawker.

I have found the book to be incredibly useful, especially because it directly addresses the problem I was struggling with in ending up somewhere unanticipated.  I admire writers who only “pants” it, but with the way my mind works that style of writing just seemed to leave me overwhelmed and frustrated.  But with the skills and techniques, I’ve gleaned from this book, I’m again feeling invigorated with novel writing.  Yahoo!

This book is not the icing on the cake, however (metaphorical cake, that is.  No more real cake for me until I feel healthier and less jiggly).  The real treat is that as I wandered around the public library here I came across a young adult novel, Fat Angie, by E. E. Charlton-Trujillo.   This entire book takes place in the life of a high school freshman, yet there are very little specifics about her day-to-day school schedule.  It’s an excellent model for how to only keep the relevant and delete the mundane because it’s not like anyone wants to read the mundane, anyway.

So it feels like I now have enough ammunition where I can blow up my brick wall.  I’m excited!  I don’t really care for explosions but I think this will be the good kind.  Only time will tell…well and I’ll tell, too.  I’ll make sure to update my progress in the coming weeks.


Memoir Monday — September 5th, 2016

No One is an island

              I did something unexpected in my quest to become a writer last week.  I applied for a temporary, seasonal job at a non-profit organization.  This job is not related to my writing, although it does involve others’ writing.  Its purpose is to identify the best-of-the-best underserved high school seniors to match them with four-year colleges and universities through essays these students have written.

              The reason I say this is unexpected is because I don’t actually need a job.   My husband and I prepared financially for when we would both stop working at our steady-income jobs.  We have housesitting jobs lined up to take us through May, 2017, so our monthly expenses are only food, health insurance, and car stuff. 

              In fact, my teaching salary was paid through the summer so it’s not like I’ve even been experiencing what no-income living is like. 

Yet, for the past few weeks I have felt wholly inadequate as to what I’ve been contributing to society. 


              One of the things I really struggled with this past summer in New York was finding volunteer opportunities.  Living where we did, which was 40 minutes to anywhere, and having only one car, it was hard to find many service opportunities, especially when I couldn’t give more than two months of a commitment. 

              So since the beginning of May I have essentially focused on writing in my professional life.  I’m pretty pleased with the progress as I have query letters out to agents and I have sent manuscripts to some boutique publishers.  I have an agent critique coming up in October with one of my children’s stories and I’m a month in to blogging, which is a big deal for me as I’ve started two other blogs in my life that woefully never got past the first entry. 

              Of course, I would love to say that I already have an agent or a book contract, but I don’t.  I’ve also been rejected a few times (which I’ll write more about in the future) and I know more rejection is coming my way because that’s simply the nature of life. Although I do hold fast to words I once heard Al Gore speak at COP-20 in Lima, Peru, “After the last no, comes a yes….” 

              But what it all comes down to is lately something seems to be missing living in my writing bubble.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very happy place to be and I am certainly not going to leave and never come back.  My current professional goals and life purpose are tied to that bubble and I am confident I am on the right track.


What I feel is missing in my life, though, is balance.

Writing is a solitary life.  I had the privilege and opportunity to attend a weekly writing group while we were in New York.  Every Wednesday afternoon my husband and I would drive almost an hour to the Schenectady County Public Library where we made some really great friends and we shared our writing among lovely and talented writers.

              The rest of the “work” week I spent sitting at the kitchen table writing on my tablet.  It was über productive, but I’m just now realizing that it’s not enough.  It reminds me of the depression I experienced a few years ago at work when one of my favorite people in the world left the university I taught at and all of sudden I didn’t have nearly any social interaction.

              I wish I could claim that my own awareness came to this realization, but it took the wise words of an integrative doctor to point this out to me. 

We are social animals and I need socialization. 


              Here is the socialization plan I’ve come up with for the next two months when my husband and I will be housesitting in Connecticut:

1)      Spend three days a week writing at the library to get me out of the house;

2)      Volunteer at the library (that is, if they’ll have me for just two months);

3)      Seek other short-term volunteer opportunities as they present themselves;

4)      Attend a weekly writers’ group;

5)      Work at short-term, limited employment jobs where I can see my contributions to society;

6)      Find a spiritual community that encourages self-reflection and growth.

              I’m optimistic it will work, but in the event it doesn’t, at the very least it keeps me aware that I am dissatisfied with one area of my life and I am seeking to improve it.  If anyone has any suggestions for points I may have missed on my socialization plan or areas they think I’ve missed, please share.  I can use all the socialization I can get!