Friday, September 30, 2011

A Children's Book Opportunity

I found this tip yesterday on a great blog called Confessions, and since I'm about to write a picture book this weekend (AND attend a writing conference, no less), I am so excited!

I can only liken it to the Breakthrough Novel contest, which will occur in the spring, only this time it's specifically for picture books. The contest is sponsored by MeeGenius, and it looks like a good chance to get some feedback on a picture book, and (for a few of the luckiest or most skilled) a chance to get the book published. No need for illustrations, though if you intend to illustrate the book yourself, they will give you that option when you make it to a later round.

Got a picture book itching at you? You have until November 1 to turn it in! (That means you can polish it all up, submit it, and STILL be ready for NaNoWriMo! Yippee!)

So excited! Must go write now!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Purple Crayon in My Ear

The title got you hear, didn't it? Titles tend to do that. My favorite titleist is Tawna Fenske, who blogs with titles such as "My cat is a filthy pervert," "I don't know my brother's name," and most recently "The boys who live with me and pull my hair."

And this one is the title of my new book, a children's book. The inspiration for it, as you probably guess if you know me at all, is my 7-year-old son.

Oh, you won't believe the plans I had yesterday--the "I'm-going-to-get-everything-on-my-list-done" plans. I was already doing pretty well, too. I dropped off the kids at their schools, and had managed to buy ALL my groceries for the week in less than an hour, when my husband called my cell.

First clue something was up. Nobody calls my cell. But he did. His opening? "I'd tell you 'You're not going to believe this,' but we both know our son."

Crap. "What happened?" Seems my son is in the nurse's office, with a blue crayon in his ear. The pointy end of a blue crayon. Without even stopping to drop off the frozen foods, I head to his school.

Nurse #1 (yes, there will be more than one): "I took tweezers and tried to get at it, but it's too far in there."

Me: "Great." Then I turn to my son. "How did it get in there?"

Son: "How should I know?"

Excuse me?

Anyway, I call the doctor's office, then call my Zumba place and cancel the morning session. We get to the doctor's office.

Nurse #2: "A crayon, huh? How did it get in there?" My son does not detect her smile, but I do.

Son: "Some kids must have been playing with crayons, and one must have just flown into my ear." He acts amazed. Future actor, my son.

Nurse #2: "Oh, other kids, huh?" Wink. "You just stick to that story, okay?"

My son nods, and soon we are meeting with the doctor. A new doctor. First time he's ever seen my son, and my son has a crayon embedded in his ear.

Doctor #1 (Yes, there will be two of those, too.): "How long has the crayon been in his ear?"

Me: (After a glance at my son, who shrugs.) "I have no idea." Days? Weeks? Since birth?

Doctor #1: "How did it get in there?"

Son: "Some kids were sword fighting with crayons, and the tip of one broke off and flew right in my ear."

Doctor #1: "Huh."

Me: "You know, you're not in trouble. You don't have to lie."

Son: "I'm not lying!"

The doctor tries a fancy kind of ear tweezers, but can't get the crayon out. So, it's off to the ear, nose, and throat specialist, my son still maintaining his innocence throughout the hour-long drive in the car.

Nurse #3: "How'd the crayon get in your ear?"

Son: "I have NO idea! It's a mystery!"

I roll my eyes. I've been dealing with this for the last seven hours, and I've about had it. But we're taken into an office to wait, AGAIN. The ENT comes in, already grinning. He's seen this a million times before. Kids are in and out of his office all day, with popcorn kernels, beads, even sprouting bean seeds in their ears and nostrils.

Doctor #2: "How'd the crayon get in there?"

Son: "I put it there. I stuck the crayon in my ear, and it broke."

I have no idea what magic the doctor has pulled to make the truth happen. Maybe my son recognizes his BS won't fly here. But there it is, the truth. Then it's the doctor's turn to lie.

Doctor #2: "Lay your head that way. Let me just look here for a minute, so I can figure out how to get the thing out." Son lies quiet, while the doctor slips a metal loopy thing into his ear.

Son: "OW!" Starts crying. But blue crayon pops out. "You said you were just looking!"

Doctor #2: "Yup."

Turns out there are good reasons to lie. A bit of vacuuming (yes, vacuuming) of my son's ear, and all the little blue crayon pieces are out. And my son will NEVER put a crayon in his ear again. In fact, he will likely warn his whole class not to, every year until he graduates from high school. And I have a great idea for a children's book.

All in a day's work.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Stop Writing

Are the words weighing you down?
Hemming you in?
Sucking the life out of
Every yellow toenail?
Keeping you from breakfast?

Forget the obligations
Dismiss the blogging schedule
Stop forcing out the stress
When it threatens
To choke the life out of you

Don't worry.

We're still listening.
We'll be here when you come back
Holding out our arms
Happy you write
Out of love
Not duty.

Go out
Like a young adult on
Your first adventure
To find yourself
To see the world with tearful eyes
Explore the caverns
Climb trees
Wade into the ocean

And return
Arms laden with treasure
To share
Forget about us for a while
We will wait
We will see you

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Falling Into Fiction

I just finished a book I'd heard about for years--Up the Down Staircase--and it was pretty good. All of the quotes on the front of the old paperback book, though, made it sound like the funniest comedy ever. The premise? A newbie teacher who takes on inner city high school English courses. Perhaps it was a bit too close to home, but I found myself squirming through the first 2/3 of it instead of laughing. I'm not sure I laughed a single time, actually.

Funny how a single book can make me wonder whether I'm a very good reader...

But then I picked up Jenny B. Jones' There You'll Find Me, and all that self-doubt lifted away. Easy to read and far deeper than the traditional YA romance novel, this book began with a premise that seemed a bit too romantic (i.e. unrealistic): A rich young woman flying to Ireland meets a world famous heartthrob actor flying incognito. They both instantly dislike each other--and that's where I rolled my eyes--but it took no time at all for the romantic comedy movie premise to turn into a lovely, smoothly written fall-into-the-book page-turner that took over my weekend. I cared about so many of the characters by the end, and the location felt real to me, vivid, meaningful, and holy. It's been a very long time since I felt that way about a book.

Granted, the book was free. Thomas Nelson sent it to me, but I'm not required to gush about it, or even like it. That didn't matter. Finley's spiritual journey to recover from the loss of her beloved brother was beautiful, and the other souls helping her along the journey provided her with help, but often had pains of their own. Only a fraction of the characters were flat--and they were mainly the two-dimensional "villains" of the novel. The pattern was typically romantic, and that alone would not have pulled me in at all, but the book was about far more than just young love. It was about going on after loss, about figuring ourselves out, seeing ourselves in truth instead of only through other people's eyes. It's funny, too, that Finley Sinclair has to find her own way through life, but coming into contact with other searching souls is what helps her along, suggesting our path is both individual and communal. It's a lovely novel, hopeful and gently spiritual, and it's one I will keep and read again very soon.

I must have a fragile ego, if I can doubt myself so much after one book, and then be inspired so fully by another. Either that, or I have just experienced first-hand the power of books.

What books have you read lately? How have they affected you?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Opportunities Knock All the Time

Whoever said "Opportunity knocks but once" was a fatalist. Since I am definitely not a fatalist, but one of the most determined optimists on the face of the planet, I beg to differ. No, that's wrong. I insist on differing, for everything I've experienced tells me plainly that missed opportunities are often not so desirable.

One of my friends described why it was so easy for her to call people for things and take "No" over and over. She said, "Don't let the no's bother you. They just mean you haven't found the right person yet."

My experience tells me the opportunities abound everywhere, if only I open my eyes. So I can't teach at the college where my husband works... the only college within an hour from here. What about online teaching? What about substituting at the local high school (I've done it before, and I actually LOVED it)? What about teaching Zumba? Editing manuscripts? Freelance writing? Working hard on my novels so that I can get one/many of them published over the next few years?

So some of my friends disappear from my life. The best ones stick, still e-mailing, sending cards, and calling me from Washington, Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. And other fantastic people are always showing up to keep me company, to become real friends of the real me in the real world. And even if I someday move (though at this point it's the last thing I want), I'm taking a bunch of these friendships with me forever.

My advice: If you feel trapped, and if the door opens up to nothing, walk out of that doorway and go find your opportunities. You never know where you might find them.

Okay, enough bossing (I do it to my kids, too). Instead, I'm off to explore the opportunities out there! Hope you find some too!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

It Gets Easier: Writing = Game Playing

In case you've been wondering how I waste my time (instead of writing), one thing I do every morning is play the Daily Crossword and Daily Sudoku on Yahoo Games. No, this is not an advertisement for them (though I have been playing them almost as long as they've been there).

view detailsWhen I first started out with them, the likelihood that I would finish the Sudoku on Saturdays was slim to none. The games are super easy Monday and Tuesday, and gradually add stars of difficulty throughout the week, ending with a five-star puzzle on Saturday. A five-star puzzle that I might spend as much as half an hour on before giving up. The Crossword stuff was usually doable, but it would take me 12 to 15 minutes to complete. If you love crosswords, this is on the easy end of crossword puzzles, believe me, and I'm not good at them.

Despite my own limitations with regard to intelligence, I've continued to work on these little games every single day for years. And I realized something this morning: They have grown a LOT easier.

This is not to brag. I am no smarter now than I was ten years ago. I've had two kids since then, so it is very likely that many thousands of my brain cells have been irrevocably lost. And the games haven't changed format in all that time, either. They are just easier. And here's why:

1. I have previous knowledge from playing the game that helps me find answers and or make deductions more quickly. The same authors create the crossword puzzles, so I know to look for answers with vowels. For instance, I know "oboe" is the likeliest musical instrument. I know that words beginning with vowels are also necessary to make the puzzles work, and previous experience on the puzzles helps me think of these words.

2. I've grown used to the time markers. I used to try to finish the crossword under ten minutes. But that clock ticking messed with me. Instead of becoming a relaxing game just to get my mind revved up in the morning, it became some sort of track race, and I was always losing. Now that I'm not panicking, or even looking at the time signature, I finish in around 7 minutes. No panic. Just concentration.

3. Strategy becomes the name of the game, instead of the games feeding some sort of self-worth. I'm not afraid of not completing the puzzle ("You're so dumb, Shakespeare! You can't even solve this 3-star Sudoku!"). Instead, I know the puzzle can be solved, and I simply look for the best paths to do so. And those paths have become clearer to me as I've played, so that even this morning my Sudoku puzzle (a 5-star) took me about five minutes to finish, without my ever finding a place where I couldn't figure out what to do next. (I used to sometimes stare at the screen for that amount of time, completely at a loss, before giving up for the day.)

So, what does this rather silly ramble about silly games prove? Well, since I just FINISHED my umpteenth draft of novel numero uno, I know my task: To write a query letter and synopsis, research the field, and go out there and get an agent. I admit, as much as the rewrite was fantastically enervating, the idea of putting my work out there for everyone and his dog to reject is twisting my innards.

That is the purpose of this metaphor. I've sent things out before (though it's been years), and I know it will be difficult at first. I may want to give up. The query letter might go through ten different versions before I put together one that doesn't suck. My work will be rejected innumerable times.

But it will get easier. With practice will come experience, and I will use the feedback and the practice to hone my strategy. Each letter will be less stomach-wrenching. Each rejection less of a big deal, and each day that I work on this I will stress about it less and see it through more fully, learning my way through the process so that when it comes I'll be more ready than when I started this journey.

I still intend to print out each rejection and post it up in my office. I'm just about to tear all the shelves out of the place so that I have four full walls to fill with rejection letters. I'm considering printing them on nice stationary, since most will be e-rejections. My goal? In a couple of years, I want enough rejections to cover all the walls.

To do that, though, I'll need to get writing. Query letter first, synopsis second, list of prospective agents third. Just writing about this makes it feel easier. Time is no issue. It will likely take years, and I'm prepared for that. Strategy is what counts. Strategy and a positive attitude.

Okay, so the novel itself does count. But I think it's AWESOME. And you will too, when you read it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Wow, but my weeks are busy right now!

I promise, I'm trying to get to blogging, but my novel rewrite is going so well. I'm almost to the climax, and I find myself yet again, after something like 28 revisions, still captivated by my plot and character interactions. Who knew the book I'd most want to reread again and again would be my own book?

Does that make me narcissistic?

I take it as a good sign that I still find my novel thrilling to work on. If it were boring me, that would be a sure sign of trouble. Then again, I might be going insane. If I am, it's the happiest insanity I've ever found.

This novel--along with a hefty schedule of Zumba classes I'm teaching now--is feeding both mind and body, jumping me out of bed in the morning, putting me to bed with a happy smile each night, and spinning me through my world delightfully, with bold colors, smiles, and even a few giggles.

I'm wishing all of you the same, whether you are an poet, artist, playwright, musician, thespian, dancer, novelist, teacher, parent, whatever. May you live in the delirium of love for what you do.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Smile today
Know the world is falling apart
In the way it always has
And always will
But today
You don't have to fall apart

Be the sunshine
The soft voice
The hope
Reach out
And help the world
Breathe with ease
And see the rays of light
Once all the dust has settled
Around us.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Feeling Groovy

I've just packed the fully repaired library books in the trunk of my car.

My beloved author should have her beloved novel waiting in her inbox, completely edited.

And my son is sitting in the middle of the living room, wrapped up in his new comforter.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Far ahead of schedule, I have completed my major tasks. My kids and I are chilling, watching a silly movie while I post this. After a very simple dinner and an even simpler bedtime routine for the kids, I shall finally return to my first novel.

I can't wait. I'm already smiling ear to ear.

Smile a little tonight with me, imagining me snuggling back into the comfort of my own fiction.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Light at the End of Many Tunnels

I've been far too busy to write much lately. Even here in my blog, where writing is never a chore.

But now, at 6:o5 a.m., two hours after I woke for the day, I am grinning. And that is because, on this Labor Day weekend, I am close to getting three HUGE projects finished.


The first is a project I took out of love. You see, I adore books, and I love libraries, and I especially love my child's school library (and its librarians). I volunteered there last year, and at the end of the school year I took home three boxes of damaged books to repair for the next school year. Needless to say, I didn't finish rebinding, pasting, taping, and other repairs, but now I am 1/2 a box away from finishing the whole lot of them. I've turned in two boxes of repaired books, and I hope to take the third box in Tuesday. Hurray!

I'm also only three chapters away from finishing an edit for a lovely writer from Scotland, whose book about mermaids and fairies and Loch Ness will likely charm many readers to come once it is published. It's been fascinating to read and a joy to edit, but I grin still with the knowledge that the task will be complete very soon, and she will have her beloved manuscript back. I feel almost like a midwife, helping an author deliver her baby into the world. I'm sure she will be as glad to have the manuscript back as I will be to know I've finished it.

My last task to complete is the one that has waited the longest. I purchased fabrics (of my son's choosing) last FEBRUARY, but only now am I working on the final quilt stitches of his second comforter. I completed his twin comforter about a month ago, and since then I have been working on the full one. I'll post pictures of it on my I'm Not Writing Anything Anymore blog once it is finished. I'm nearly halfway through the stitching, too, so I know it's a matter of hours.

There we are, then, three huge projects, three more days, and then all three will be off my task list. Then what will I do? My other blog would suggest I still won't be writing, but hopefully y'all know me better than that.

My next big project? Finally finishing my Thomas novel--FOR GOOD--and sending it off to agents. And I can't wait.

Any tunnels you see the light at the end of? Or are you still trudging through the darkness, hoping to see that light soon? I'd love to know.