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Lessons Learned from a Pre-Schooler

30 Aug

I was in the unique position of spending two uninterrupted weeks with a four year old. My camera roll reminded me of ten very important lessons we can all learn from spending time with our little ones.

 

carrot#1 One piece of candy is worth three baby carrots.

 

box#2 A box is never just a box.

 

hp#3 Sing, dance, and do the hokey-dokey. (pronounced as spelled)

[Musical accompaniment from storyteller and bookseller at our local bookstore, Joseph-Beth.]

 

]cows#4 Cows do not have upper teeth.

 

#5 Fairies like mushrooms, acorns, and painted rocks.

 

sunflowr#6 Even a field of dying sunflowers is magical.

 

fort#7 Blanket Forts are great places to eat cookies and play games on rainy days.

 

cookies.jpg#8 Speaking of cookies, if you take only a nibble maybe no one will notice.

 

cape#9 You only need a cape to have superpowers.

 

duck#10 Make friends everywhere!

 

 

 

You Had Me At Ice-Cream

11 May

That’s all.

Polish Your Manuscript

28 Sep

Zoya-Natural-Deux-Nail-Polish-Collection-For-Fall-2014Getting a manicure this morning made me think about polish. Not just what color to apply to my nails, but also how to polish a manuscript. You’ve got your first draft, or second, or third. Is it ready to go out into the world?

Let’s start with the overall look. Do you want a serious or playful look? Modern or traditional? This will affect every other decision you make from the color to the shape to the length. The same is true for writing. You will make different decisions for fiction vs non-fiction, fantasy vs realistic, humorous vs serious. The structure of your manuscript depends on the ultimate form you envision.

Experiment with different colors. Use the color samples. I went in with my own polish but ended up with a different color. It was in the same color family, but richer and more ‘fall’ than ‘summer’. When writing, be sure to deepen or lighten a scene to achieve the overall mood you envision for the story.

Is it you? Look at all the options available. Many are not for you. Why? Too long, too glittery, too boring, too trendy? Remember there’s something for everyone. Some people like short, natural nails. Some like long, pointed, sparkly nails. Some like designs, flashy colors, or holiday styles. Readers look at options too. You need to reach YOUR readers, not EVERY reader. If you stay true to yourself, your readers will know it. They will flock to read your books, visit your websites, meet you in person. So even with a second, or third opinion, stay true to yourself. My technician provided the look I was going for with a simple piece of advice. She knew what I was wanted and she helped me reach MY goal.  A good critique group or partner can do the same thing with a line or scene that isn’t hitting the right notes. It’s still your story, but someone outside of your bubble might help you see it differently.

Don’t worry about the rough draft. You can’t be too precious about it. To start, my technician needed to soak and scrape the old polish off before we could proceed to the next step. Your first written draft should be treated the same way. Once it begins to grow out, you need to get in there and rewrite. Strip away whatever is not working. Like with nail color, you can change it up any time you want. This character not working? Add more dimension. That scene not working? Get rid of it. The mood feels off? Add details.

Trim and shape-up. Polish does not get applied to old scraggly nails. Shape up your writing too. Trim excess words and replace worn-out phrases with fresh ideas.

Senses are key. Color may be the main character in a manicure, but you can’t help but notice the other senses as well. Smell of the chemicals, feel the roughness of the emery board and the smoothness of the hand massage, listen to the chatter of the technicians and their clients, taste your complimentary beverage.  Give your reader the full range of sensory experiences in your story. Pay attention to the full range of senses. A story based solely on one sense will fall flat.

Emotion. Your technician wouldn’t be pleased if you were unhappy with your manicure. She wouldn’t want you to leave in tears. But with writing you might. What emotion do you want to convey? Do you want your readers to laugh, cry, puff out their chests, hang their heads, wring their hands. Do you want them to feel disappointment, fear, confidence? The worst thing would be to have your readers feel nothing. You want your readers invested in the story. If they can put down your book and walk away, you haven’t done your job. Make them feel!

Ambiance matters. Did you have to wait a long time to be seen? Was the staff friendly? Did your technician take his/her time with you? Pay attention to the details and the overall tone of your story. Simple things like language and sentence length can make or break a reading experience. Be sure you match both to your target audience. A long introduction will not work in a picture book, but world building in a high fantasy is much more complex. Know your readers and give them what they need. Give them what they don’t even know they need. Just like you’d reward your technician with a nice tip, your readership will reward you with enthusiasm and loyalty.

Your nails should shine when you leave the salon. Your manuscript should shine as well. Do you love your manicure? Was this is good experience? Do you want to come back? The salon needs return customers. So do authors. You want to leave your readers wanting to come back again and again. Give them heart. Give them passion. Give them quality. Give them a reason to care. Give them a reason to come back.

Time. Everyone knows you never leave the salon with wet nails! This holds true for your manuscript. Sometimes we’re so eager to get out there that we submit before we are ready. This could ruin your writing career. Like nails, your manuscript should never go out until it is completely ready. I know it looks great on the surface, but if it’s not solid through and through, it’s going to meet rejection. This is a slow business. Even with a stellar story, you usually have to wait a long time before you find an agent, an editor, a publisher. No matter how hard it is to sit and wait… sit and wait! (Of course with writing, unlike manicures, you can begin working on your next manuscript while this one is curing.)

Happy Writing!

And Happy Polishing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Would You Rather?

20 Apr

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I bet you know the game. Choose one of the questions below and answer in the comment box.

  1. Would you rather… have only your favorite book to read for the rest of your life or have only literary crap to read forever?
  2. Would you rather… win a Caldecott, Newbery, Pulitzer, (or another award of your choice) or be able to eat an unlimited amount of chocolate without gaining weight?
  3. Would you rather… be forced to write your next book on your phone or win the lottery?
  4. Would you rather… become a national best selling author or touch the life of only one child?
  5. Would you rather… be a beloved author or live in a world of peace?

 

Coffee Shop Withdrawal

28 Mar

Just as I’d gotten addicted accustom to spending time in cute little coffee houses drinking creamy flavored caffeine concoctions, I developed terrible heartburn. You guessed it, I gave up coffee. The problem was, I found that I not only missed the rush of energy coffee provided, I also missed the ambiance. I missed the old comfy chairs, the mismatched mugs, the quiet music, the freedom to sit around for hours typing away. So today I decided I was taking my coffee house life back… minus the coffee. Ah, sweet reunion. Now I’m looking forward to finding new little out of the way establishments again, lovely independently owned cafes with unique names tucked away in local communities. And I promise to keep my coffee consumption down to one latte (hey that’s half milk) a week, they do make other drinks, right?

Here’s a picture of one of my favorite little cafes. Just so happens to be in the neighborhood too, so I frequent the Alreddy Cafe quite often. wpid-photo-201411022246192

 

So tell me, what’s your favorite coffee emporium?

 

 

Dreams

5 Feb

How many of you dream about work? Everyone, right? When I was teaching I practically couldn’t sleep the night before the first day of school, a big observation, or parent conferences. And when I finally did fall off to sleep it wasn’t the peaceful, refreshing, life-affirming sleep of the innocent. No, it was terrible nightmares of showing up naked, or being the only one in the room and wondering where everyone else was, or seeing everyone else was completely Pinterest prepared with color-coded folders and eye-catching charts while I was knee deep in plain cardboard boxes.

Well this is my third year of retirement and I can honestly say those dreams are finally starting to fade, although I still have the occasional dream of a coworker showing up in some odd non-work related situation or the one where I wake up looking for something. But what hasn’t changed is the fact that I do dream about work.

Lately, I’ve been dreaming about writing related things, sort of. I’ve actually dreamed that I was typing my dream onto a computer screen. I’ve met authors in line at the coffee shop, pruning roses, and cleaning the oven. I’ve gotten lost driving to a critique meeting in the middle of the sea. I’ve even returned my library books and shopped for journals while flying. Oh, yeah, and last night I woke up looking for my chalk… I guess some things never change.

So what is it about weird dreams? Are they like Scrooge said, a “bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato”? Or as Freud said, “most profound when they seem the most crazy”?

We may never know, but for now, I’m glad that my dreams are more reflective (so to speak) of my new work and what I want to do when I wake up.

Dream

 

Batteries Not Included

8 Dec

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What might be in this small package, you say? The answer: 2 packages of AAA batteries and 1 package of 9V batteries. They should have been included in the gift I dropped off at the church last Sunday, but I forgot them. Now, I have to rummage through the pile of gifts to find the box of battling boxing robots for a dear little 7 year old boy who asked Santa for a robot for Christmas. And who wants two robots with remote controls and no batteries? No one, that’s who! I should have opened the box and put them in the controllers before they were wrapped. Ah, well, I’m pretty sure a 7 year old can handle that part himself. And when he gets tired of playing with his robots, he’s also got a Star Wars Mad Libs and a Jedi Academy interactive journal to keep him happily occupied.

Merry Christmas, Little Buddy! (sorry about the batteries)

It’s Not Quite Fall Yet

7 Sep

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

3 Aug

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.”

8299664-cute-dragon-cartoon

My Two Cents Worth

6 May

my-two-cents-worth

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!

Journal

19 Apr

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.

March Madness

31 Mar

March has a bipolar reputation to say the least, with her “In like a lion, Out like a Lamb” famed celebrity status among the months of the year. Believe me, I for one am thrilled to finally see the Spring Lamb frolic in my neighborhood. Although I must admit, the last few hours of March have been hectic in their own way. With the deadlines for the SCBWI Work-In-Progress grants and the Rate Your Story Writing Contest today, I was furiously revising, editing, and submitting until well into the morning hours last night. So, yes… welcome little lamb!

lamb

Then, of course there are the competitions to claim the coveted titles. Oh, did you think I meant basketball? No, I meant the coveted picture book titles! This month, in addition to updating my new BOOKS ALIVE! page with recently published picture books and follow-up activities for kids (See the tab at the top of the page to find some terrific 2015 titles.) I have also been working on a writing challenge to use picture books as mentor texts for my own writing. Carrie Charley Brown has organized the wonderful ReFoReMo, Read For Research Month challenge. She invited 30 wonderful writers and published authors to share a little piece of their insight to writing and recommendations for reading. As participants, our challenge was to read and respond to every daily post and to use the recommended reading list as a jumping off point for our own research. We discussed such topics as plot, pacing, point of view, rhyme, beginnings and endings, hooks, illustrations, humor, and diversity… just to name a few. 2015-03-31 11.08.52Here’s a pile of the books I haven’t even gotten to yet this month. (Thank you, Cincinnati Public Library.) See all the little orange tabs? Those indicate the new releases this month. If you check back with me in a few weeks, many of those should be posted under the BOOKS ALIVE! tab.  So, although I count myself as a winner, with the duly presented Winner’s Badge of Honor, you can see that my research is NOT over! I plan on reading and studying great picture books for a very long time. Join me, won’t you? 9437785

Facebook Writing Communities

16 Mar

latteI was so excited to get feedback on my latest revision that I actually showed up at our meeting place a half hour early for my critique group meeting. I’m never early to anything! That’s okay, I’ll just have a nice latte and browse Facebook while I wait. th-4 Facebook is my newest addiction. But I must say it’s because I’ve met so many wonderful authors and illustrators in the writing communities. I belong to several organized groups and I enjoy each one. I’ve noticed there are many of the same people on the same sites I am. It seems we swim in the same schools. That’s okay too, as a matter of fact, that’s better than okay. I’ve gotten to know some of these people pretty well, and I know who’s judgement I can trust, who will challenge my thinking, and who I can go to with my questions. th-2In addition to the groups, I’ve found that writers share openly. No matter what time of the day or night, I know I can always find an interesting article or two to read on Facebook. I’ll learn of a new revising strategy, a plotting technique, an agent accepting submissions, an editor’s wish list, blogging recommendations, or a writing contest. th-3Undoubtedly, I’ll find another recommendation for my own reading. I usually keep my library site open on another tab and when I hear of another great must-read, I add it to my holds list. I know that when I get home today there will be an automated call on my phone from the library telling me that books I have on hold are ready to be picked up. I’ll probably just grin, delete the message, and sit down to read my new selections (because of course, I’ll have stopped on my way home).   So, really, an unscheduled half hour is just the warm-up I need for my critique group. Thanks writing pals!

On Critique Groups

14 Apr

1980371_735806879785939_6032072518396027307_o I see myself on that bicycle pumping uphill. Thank you crit partners! Hoping I do the same for them.

How to be a Writer

10 Apr

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The link below takes you to a fun little game called How to be a Writer.

Roll the dice and see how you fare.

http://graphics.latimes.com/how-to-be-a-writer/

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