Bridging the Generations


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When writing for children, especially picture books, we need to remember the adult as well. We’ve often heard, it’s the adults who are the gatekeepers to children’s literature. Will they read this book repeatedly? Will they purchase this book? Today I want to add one more, Will they find themselves in this book? Today I did just that.


Little Tree is a book about holding on and letting go. It’s a book about facing an unknown future. It’s a book about growing up.

It’s written for children. It’s written for adults. I’ll bet, it’s written for you.

For a summary of the story and suggested activities for Little Tree look HERE.

I met Loren Long, author and illustrator of Little Tree this morning. He was kind and giving with his audience. He shared his story of a little tree with us. It’s a story of watching his firstborn embark on his school career. Not once, but twice. He retold how frightening those experiences were for him as a parent watching his son go off to kindergarten… and then to college. And, we got to meet his son the college student and inspiration for the story, and see what a wonderful relationship they have and watch them work together on a piece of art for the bookstore.



Here’s a picture of Loren sharing my favorite page:

“As his last leaf floated to the ground, for the first time Little Tree felt the harsh cold of winter.”

The artwork is stunning. And the text reminds me that when you finally let go of something that’s been holding you back, it can be cold and scary. But in the end, you know you that in order to grow… you must first let go.

Think back to the times it was hard for your little ones to let go… let go of their binky, let go of diapers, let go of their afternoon naps, let go of your hand in the school parking lot. It was a cold and scary time for them. You were there to dry their tears, give them comfort, help them through it.

And think of the times it was hard for you to let go and watch them grow. I think about the times when they fell and scraped their knees, when they boarded their first school bus, when they wanted to be dropped off at the mall without me, when they got their hearts broken for the first time, when they moved out of town. It really did feel like a harsh cold winter. I thought my heart was dying. But each time they came back to me taller and stronger… more of who they were and less of who I was. And it felt good.

See, what I mean about writing across generations? Loren Long has done that beautifully. I hope you pick up a copy for yourselves and feel the splendor of letting go as a wonderful thing.




Leave Room For The Reader


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As writers we are constantly being told to leave room for the illustrator. Basically, that just means that we don’t put every single detail in the text. The illustrator can show most adjectives and adverbs in the artwork, and many times better than we might have imagined ourselves because they use another part of their brain when telling a story. We each have our own talents and we respect each other enough to leave the other room to tell their part of the story.

After a Facebook conversation this evening, I want to talk about the most important, person in the reading experience… the reader!


The reader brings much to the reading experience: prior knowledge, emotions, and bias. That’s why everyone who reads a book has a different idea of what it is about, and feels differently about it  than anyone else. Of course there are some common generalities too… Is a book funny, sad? Does it make you feel happy, insignificant, proud? Will it affect a change in how we think of things?

Children are no different than adults in this respect. Children’s literature evokes deeper understanding of a theme (friendship, fear, sibling rivalry, loneliness, kindness, change) or concept (animals, new baby, trucks, bedtime, grandparents, school, the environment, holidays) for young readers.

When writers and illustrators leave room for the reader, they open new avenues for learning and growing.

The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg, allows children the freedom to believe or not, yet leaves them with a sense of hope and wonder.


In a Cloud of Dust, Alma Fullerton and Brian Deines empower children to show compassion and make a difference in someone else’s life by the example of the characters in the story.


Something Extraordinary by Ben Clanton encourages children to dream and be imaginative, but also to look at ordinary things as extraordinary.


Those Pesky Rabbits by Ciara Flood lets children discover that when you accept change you open the possibility for new and fun opportunities that you might otherwise miss out on.


Feet Go to Sleep by Barbara Bottner and Maggie Smith give children a moment, right before they go to sleep to talk about their day. As the main character recounts her daily activities, the reader can make connections to themselves by reciting bits and pieces of their own day as well.


Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley does not specifically say what happened to the missing parent, leaving the experience within reach of many children who are missing parents through divorce, military, death, incarceration, or abandonment. Readers are left to fill in the blanks for themselves.

Children can be taught critical thinking skills through good children’s literature. Excellent stories provide just the right amount of text and illustration for the reader to grasp the meaning, and just enough freedom to make their own connections and experience deeper understanding. Children who think critically, do more than restate the text or describe the illustrations, they interpret the story given their own life’s experiences. They make inferences about what was left unsaid and unshown. And they make connections with themselves, the world around them, and other books.

And all of this happens when we leave room on the page for the reader.

Participation Badge v Prizes

Have you grabbed your Official Picture Book Idea Month Participant badge yet?


Find Out More Here and Here.


This is my third year participating, and I can’t say enough about it! Every year I come away with more ideas and more inspiration to keep going. I’ve settled into a rhythm that works for me and I’m happy say I’m on target for completing the challenge again this year.

There are no first, second, or third prizes. There are no honorable mentions. Everyone participates on the honor system. The prizes come to all who participate in the form of inspiration and picture book ideas. Of course there’s always a chance you’ll win one of the random drawing prizes… fingers crossed, these prizes are awesome!








The 7 Levels of Children’s Literature


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I was having dinner with my husband’s cousins this weekend and the topic turned to my writing. “So, what are you working on?” I went on to describe a couple of my stories which are ‘out there’ waiting for representation and the new work I’m doing on the CYBILS Easy Reader and Early Chapter Book panel. The latter was met with cocked heads and furrowed brows. It wasn’t the Award that was confusing, it was the difference between Easy Readers and Early Chapter Books.


It’s actually a look I’m quite familiar with; many of the parents of my second graders had the same look when I introduced them to the genres past picture books. Most of these parents, and I believe the general public, think there is one giant step their children make from picture books (which them deem as ‘too easy’ for their kiddos) to chapter books (which they erroneously believe their budding geniuses should be reading). I can’t tell you how many parents want their kids graduating from Dr. Seuss to Harry Potter in one fell swoop. And, as the gate-keeper to the class library, I should be the one to put these books in their hands. But I digress…

So, back to the confusion between the levels of children’s literature. Although someone else may have more or fewer, depending on how they organize their thinking, I’d like to discuss seven stages of children’s literature which correspond to children’s levels of reading development. These are categories which can be identified in most libraries and bookstores and are agreed upon terms by the kid lit community. Now, the tricky thing to remember about readers is that no one is totally in one category or another. Children often flow between two or three categories at a time, and should be encouraged to do so.

What I’ve done here to help ‘outsiders’ understand the differences, is to give an example of how the writing changes for each category. Beginning with a story told completely with illustrations and ending with a story told with no illustrations, topics of increasing maturity are presented to the reader.

1. Wordless: No text. (full illustrations)

2. Near Wordless: Duck. Worm. (full illustration)

3. Picture Book: Duck and Worm are friends. (full illustration)

4. Easy Reader: This is Duck. This is Worm. Duck and Worm are best friends. Duck likes to fish. Worm likes to draw. Worm drew a picture of Duck. “You are a great artist, Worm,” said Duck.   (some illustration)

5. Early Chapter Book: “Hey, Worm,” Mallard called to his little brother, Wesley. Mallard picked up his rod and reel. “Shake a leg.  We need to leave now if we want fish for dinner tonight.” Wesley yawned and threw his covers back. “I’m coming,” he said. (fewer illustrations)

6. Middle Grade: Mallard and Wesley marched into Coach Goliath’s office after football practice. Middle School is hard enough without having to deal with the social hierarchy forced upon them by the likes of the knuckleheads on the gridiron. It’s about time someone stood up for the rights of the little guy. And, with Mallard at his side, Wesley felt taller than his 4 foot 9 inches. (illustrated sporadically)

7. Young Adult: It’s unnatural. At least that’s what the demonstrators outside Oak Park City Hall claimed. Wesley shrank away from the chanting crowd. If anyone saw him, there would surely be a lynching tonight. Oak Park’s old guard wasn’t ready for high school prom queen like Wesley. And he wasn’t ready to provide them with one either. He clutched his carry-on bag in one hand and his ticket in the other. He darted toward Mallard’s waiting car at the edge of the parking lot. (text carries the story)

As you can see, the main differences in the levels are in the subject matter, vocabulary, sentence structure, and dependence on illustrations. Each one has a unique function and fills a need in children’s literature. Do not be tempted to rush a child you know through the levels. Take time. Savor the stories. Allow children to become confident, fluent readers who read for enjoyment… not to reach the next landmark… and you will have a happy, life-long reader.







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Cybils Blog Header 2009

As many of you know already, I have the honor of being one of the panelist for the CYBILS Awards for Children’s Literature this year. CYBILS is an acronym for Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Award.

This means that I will be spending almost every waking moment reading or blogging about books here. For this reason, I have dedicated a tab at the top of my page to share my thoughts with you.

Under the main tab, The 2015 CYBILS, I have started two other pages Easy Readers and Early Chapter Books since those are the two genres I will be reading and reviewing. On each of those pages, I have described my definitions of Easy Readers and Early Chapter Books. These may differ slightly from those of other panelists or professionals in the field, but I believe they are substantially accurate. As I read, I will add a page to one of the two categories giving the title, author, publisher, year of publication, ISBN, summary, literary merit, and kid appeal for each book.

As with my other reviews, I will only comment on books that I really like. I hope that you will find these posts helpful in choosing books to read to your children, grandchildren, students, family or friends. Please feel free to make your own comment about any book you find on my website. 

Good luck to all the participants in this year’s CYBILS Awards!


I will also end each post with the circular icon and a reminder that all of the opinions on my page are my own and have not been influenced in any way by any other parties.

13 Notes on the Magic of 13 SCBWI Conference


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2015logoMagicof13It’s been 13 days since The Magic of 13 conference in Cleveland this month. I’ve had time to review my notes and relive the magic. And it was magical! On Friday, I was able to participate in an intensive class with Jodell Sadler of the Sadler Children’s Literary Agency and have a one-on-one manuscript critique with Nikki Garcia, Assistant Editor for Little Brown Books for Young Readers. Then I spent the full day, Saturday, attending workshops with Jodell Sadler again; and Marie Lamba, Associate Literary Agent with the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency; Kendra Levin, Senior Editor with Viking’s Children Books, the Penguin Young Readers Group; and Victoria Selvaggio, Associate Agent with the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. What a lineup! I talked with wonderful authors like Mary Kay Carson, Miranda Paul, Shutta Crum, Michelle Houts, and Liz Coley. However, there were other wonderful authors and illustrators I missed, like Denise Fleming, Gloria Adams, and Sophie Cayless… the days were just to full to see everyone! And of course, I met and worked with countless other writers and illustrators who attended the workshops. Oh, how I wish I had a week with these extraordinary people!

With the passing of 13 days since the Magic of 13, I want to share 13 things I learned with you. Hopefully these 13 tricks will help you get where you want to be in your writing and publication.

  1. Tell your story. Begin at the beginning. Go until you get to the end. Then stop.

2. Be on every page with the reader. See what they see, hear what they hear, smell what they smell, feel what they feel.

3. Use vivid words to paint a picture in the reader’s mind. Use fun and interesting language. Make your words work hard, make them pull double duty when engaging a reader.

4. Determine your character’s core values. These will guide his/her actions. Apply the emotional truths of what you know to new situations for your characters. You may never have been lost in a jungle like your character is, but you do know what it feels like to be lost. Use that to guide your character through unfamiliar territory.

5. The road to publication comes from employing plot, poetry, pauses, and personality. 

6. Form allegiances with other writers. Support each other. Champion each other to do your best.

7. Study your craft. Find mentor texts and professionals to guide you along the way.

8. Find inspiration in those who have gone before you.

9. Forge your own processes. Don’t be afraid of doing things differently than what ‘everyone else’ says you should be doing.

10. Have a strong hook. Your story must be easy to pitch. Prepare a one sentence log line, a description that can be used to promote your work. It must evoke feeling.

11.Stay current on today’s market and know where your book fits. Yours should be the same but different. It must fit into a market audience.

12. Be aware of your social media presence. Contribute to the promotion of yourself. Be professional. Be positive in your social interactions at all times.

13. Have fun! If you’re having fun, your reader will have fun!

…and now for the magic…

Abracadbra… Poof!



America’s White Table


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937671America’s White Table written by Margot Theis Raven and illustrated by Mike Benny (2005)

A beautifully told story of the white table which is set for one person, one who will not be attending dinner. This table is set in many home across the country and in every mess hall in the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corp since the Vietnam War ended. It is set for those men and women who are Missing in Action or Prisoners of War. Each item on the table is symbolic, a lemon slice and grains of sand for a soldier’s bitter fate and the tears of their families, a white candle for peace and a red rose for our hope in their return. This is the story of a little girl who learns the meaning of the table from her mother and her Uncle John who served in Vietnam.

Margot Theis Raven’s words are powerful. In just a few short pages, she delivers the message of ‘a little white table’ and what it means to thousands of Americans. Look carefully at each page, on several spreads are the lines to the first verse of ‘America – My Country ‘Tis of Thee’ written in ghost-like print across the text and illustrations.

Mike Benny leaves images in our minds just as powerful as the words. You can see the love and pride, sorrow and pain in the faces of the characters. The images of Vietnam are done in sepia color and transport the reader to another day and age.

This is one of my favorite books celebrating Veterans’ Day. I like to read it for just about any patriotic holiday. But if you’re like me, you won’t be able to read it with dry eyes.

It’s Not Quite Fall Yet


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Don’t get me wrong, I love Fall as much as the next guy. More than some. I love the crisp mornings, the sweaters, the colors, the bonfires, the apple picking…

But today, I mourn the end of summer. As I took one last dip in the pool, toweled my wet hair, and glanced back at the light fading on the water, I said a quiet good-bye to a summer tradition.

For as far back as I can remember, the pool has been my summertime hang-out. My parents took me to the pool before I could walk. I took my kids to swim lessons, practices, meets, and parties. I applied sunblock and lotion, packed fruit and water bottles, and read novels from the water’s edge. I splashed with my grandchildren and paddled backward as they swam to me. I sat in the shallow end drinking an adult beverage with friends and floated on rubber tubes in the scorching sun.

Night has fallen on Labor Day. So tomorrow, begins the first official day of… what? There must be a name for the 16 days between Labor Day and the beginning of Fall. Post Pool… Pre Pumpkin… dog-pool-float-1

Don’t fret, sad puppy. Halloween is 54 days away. Thanksgiving is 80 days away. Christmas is 105 days away.

But the pool reopens in 266 days!

Back to School


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It’s that time of year again. Kids and teachers are getting ready for another year of learning and growing together.  The nervousness mingles with the excitement. backtoschool1

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators has a fun little writing prompt for this month: In 50 words or less, give us a first impression of your character’s new teacher.

And so I present to you, a 47 word story. Enjoy!

Dragon Lady

A nervous hiccup escaped my lips.

Dragon Lady whipped around.

A second hiccup erupted followed by a warm blast of shame.

Her red painted claw pointed at me.

“Lesson One,” she growled.

The third hiccup exploded in flames.

“You have earned the first star of the year.”


The Dark Cloud of Rejections


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This has been a whirlwind month of joyous events. I have celebrated graduations, retirements, weddings, Father’s Days, birthdays, and anniversaries. I am surrounded by family and friends. I feel loved every single day. Even little activities like critique meetings, lunches, shopping, movie dates, and coffee with friends, fill me with delight.

Then I received back to back rejections on submissions.


Gloom. Melancholy. Dejection.


1. Grouse. (Not my style.)

2. Wallow in misery. (That sounds more like me.)

3. Reappraise the situation. (After a brief period of mourning.)

So I did a little shopping around and found a new umbrella. I kind of like this one. Bright. Cheery. Metaphorically speaking, just what I need. th

Now, under the protection of my bright, cheerful, metaphorical umbrella I can analyze the facts. Both of the rejections were polite, friendly even. Both were addressed to me by name. Both thanked me for sharing my work with them. Both reminded me that other people in the industry might be interested in representing me. Both wished me luck on my publishing journey. Neither suggested I quit writing. Neither recommended I reevaluate of my goals. Neither advised me to tear up my manuscript and never contact them again.

Look… the clouds are passing. I have renewed energy and a positive attitude. I will wait to hear from others on the submissions that are pending and I will spend the day working on my new project. But before I do, I might just take a minute to splash in the puddles!


Summer Reading Lists

Memorial Day weekend is upon us. Summer is just around the corner! Keep your kids reading and growing this year. Looking for some titles for summer reading? The first place I recommend is your local public library. That’s not to say you shouldn’t support your local bookstores, but free is good and supporting a library keeps libraries in business which is good for everyone not just those who can afford to buy books.

Now, by all means, if you love, love, love a book and just have to own it… buy it! Books make great gifts. So whether it’s an end-of-the-year school gift, a birthday gift, or just thinking-about-you gift find one and share it with someone special this weekend.

Another idea for parents who are decluttering their lives and helping their children do the same is to weed out your bookshelves. While trimming down your closet, take a look at that overflowing bookcase. What books has your child outgrown? Donating books to local organizations helps put great books into the hands of children who may not have access to children’s literature and clears the shelves in your house for more appropriate books for your child.

Now, get yourself signed up for a summer reading program. Most libraries, and some bookstores, offer summer reading programs for children of all ages. If you can’t find something in your neighborhood, check out the All-Star Reading Program offered by my library, the Cincinnati Public Library, and the Summer Reading Challenge programmed by the New York Public Library. You can always modify and adapt a program to meet your needs at home.

And while you’re on the lookout for great new books, consult The Association for Library Service to Children, ALSC for their recommendations for the 2015 Summer Reading Lists by age categories or the 2015 list from Horn Book which is also categorized by reading levels.


So what are you waiting for? Find the books that are just perfect for you and your child and read, read, read this summer!

Little Surprises

Sometimes you find lovely surprises under a pile of papers. Several months ago a friend gave me three paperbacks written by someone she knew and asked me if I could review them. Of course I took them with every intention of reading and reviewing them right away. But things got in the way and they got buried on my desk. Well, I found them today and just had to sit right down and finally read them. The books are part of a series of nautical stories inspired by wooden boats in the Great Lakes region. Each book tells the story of one of the wooden boats.

book-pegasus books-larry chris-craft-rides-again

Pegasus is a boat with painted wings. More than anything, Pegasus wants to fly like a bird. Then one day a storm blows through and Pegasus is freed from the dock. But instead of being excited about being alone in the water, Pegasus is lost and afraid. Finally, he makes friends with some herons who made a loud racket in the water drawing his owners to them. They tied a rope to him and pulled him back to the dock. Pegasus realized how lucky he was to have his friends and owners.

Larry is a small boat. His owners love the smooth ride he gives, but sometimes he wishes he were a faster, shinier, sportier, boat. One day while on the river, Larry hears the distress call from one of those sportier boats. His engine failed and he was floating aimlessly. To make matters worse, a huge barge was coming downriver and the sports boat was in the way. Larry hurried over to help. His owners threw a rope to the owner of the sporty boat and towed him safely into the marina.

Chris is an old wooden boat who finds himself in a boat shop talking to a mouse who is the captain of the shop and the other boats left there for repair. When a man in overalls comes to repair Chris, Captain Cuddy (the mouse) stays with him and keeps him calm. Chris learns that the man in the overalls only wanted him for small jobs. He thought Chris was a junker, not worth fixing. Finally, someone came to the dock who wanted to buy Chris and restore him to his original beauty. It turns out that someone was Donny, one of the children whose father owned Chris originally. Chris was so happy to be back home with someone who loved him.

Picture Book Art

Admit it, we’re drawn to the art of picture books. It’s okay, we’re supposed to be! The artwork sets the stage for the story. It reflects the mood of the story. It provides another layer to the story. Based on those three things alone, it’s okay to judge a book by its cover. And once you open the cover, you will be amazed that such art is within its pages.

Another lovely reason to love picture book covers, is the immediate recognition we have when we see a book we know and love. When I taught emergent readers many years ago, we began the school year with a bulletin board of words they could ‘read’ by picture/logo association. These included words from traffic signs, chain stores, restaurants, product trademarks, etc. Advertising people know the power of visual memory. As soon as they started bringing in cereal boxes and magazine ads for our bulletin board, I started showing them book covers. Yes, they could ‘read’ titles based on the artwork. Wow! What a revelation for them… they were readers! They could read caterpillar and moon long before they could read sight words like is, the, and a.

I wish I could afford original kidlit artwork. But like any masterpiece, they are well outside my budget. What I have done, however, is the second best thing for me. I frame the paper covers of my books. I only wish I had thought of doing this earlier, because most of my covers are now tattered or discarded. This is an inexpensive way for me to surround myself with the masters. I have a few Caldecott Medal Winners and some classics. I started with the two or three which survived the many years of love and handling. Then I picked up a few more at Half Price Bookstore. Now, I’m raiding my grandchildren’s shelves. My collection is growing and I love how this is turning out. Can’t wait to pick up and frame more favorite friends.


Having picture book covers on my wall is inspirational for me as a writer as well. I can imagine what my own words will look like to an illustrator, and how readers will be drawn to my stories. I can’t wait for the surprises that an illustrator will bring to my stories. And more than anything, I can’t wait for a child to identify my book by its cover!

My Two Cents Worth


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I write reviews and recommendations of picture books. I post my thoughts on my blog, Goodreads, and Pinterest. I sometime get asked why I do this, and sometimes when I’m overwhelmed I ask myself why I do this. I do this for one very simple reason… I LOVE PICTURE BOOKS!

When I was teaching, I had my favorites, my reliable go-to books for every occasion. I had my favorite back-to-school books, my favorite Johnny Appleseed books, my favorite after-recess-read-alouds, my favorite book on every topic in my curriculum… and then I realized my shelf of books was worn and tattered. Worn and tattered in a good way, because they were loved to pieces, but worn and tattered nonetheless. I ordered new books from the PTA Book Fairs. I ordered new books from the classroom book club order forms. I tried to keep abreast of the new market. But it seemed like every time I stepped into a bookstore there were hundreds of new titles. I just couldn’t keep up. I depended on the advice of other picture book lovers to steer me in the direction of the books which would suit my purposes.

Well, guess what? Now I’m the one who has the time to read and read and read. And I do. I have worn out my library card. Literally had a new one issued! Last year I made a commitment to find books to celebrate every day of the year. Wow! I’m glad that’s done! This year I’m reading books that have been recommended but focusing on the newest titles available. You can find the titles I’ve recommended so far this year under the tab BOOKS ALIVE! As a bonus, I pair some fun activities to extend the life of the book with each recommendation.

Because I know how many parents, teachers, and gift-givers don’t have time to search for just the right book, I’m leaving my two cents worth wherever I can.

I only leave positive comments. If there is something that is just not up my alley, I leave it for someone who absolutely loves it to do it justice. Every book deserves to be respected for it’s merits just as every child deserves books that they will truly enjoy reading and rereading.

I hope that this small service is worthwhile to someone in the market for just the right picture book for their young readers.

PS If you know someone who would like to find out more about the newest books on the market, please send them my way. I’m already doing the work, they might as well benefit from it! Remember, sharing is caring!



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FullSizeRenderThis is a very special journal. I got it several years ago while I was still teaching. The cover intrigued me with its melting clock, random numbers and elastic side fastener. I knew exactly how I would use the minute I picked it up. It was my retirement planning journal. I jotted notes, phone numbers, workshops, passwords, etc on its pages. I took it to every retirement meeting I attended whether it was in-district or at the state offices. I took it with me to my finical planner twice a year. Sometimes I would just take it out, turn the pages, and stare at it. I wondered if it was really possible. Was it realistic? Was this attainable? This melting clock was my reminder that there was a day and time somewhere in the future when I would meet my retirement goals. And guess what? I did. Almost two years ago.

For the first year of retirement, this trusty journal remained with my official paperwork. I never opened it again, but I kept it just in case… just in case the IRS called me, just in case the school district called me, just in case the state retirement board called me, just in case.

Last year, I took it out. It was time to put it to good use again. After all, it served its purpose so well I thought I could get one more ‘miracle’ out of it. I tore out the pages pertaining to retirement and filed those in a manilla folder. Now, with a clean slate, I use the melting clock to remind me that in time (no one knows how long) I would be a published author.

This is my Submissions Journal. On each page, I write the title of a manuscript I have sent out into the world. Under the manuscript title, I write where, when, and to whom I sent it out. I count the months since the last submissions. I decide to either resubmit to new names and places or revise yet one more time. I take it out now and then just to stare at all the titles. I envision my published books in libraries and bookstores everywhere. But like my retirement plans, these things take time.

I added a new page yesterday… a new manuscript, a new name, date, and address.


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