Diary of a Children's Book Writer
passion for words...
Thursday, December 27, 2012
It won't be for everyone but it might be for some of you. If you are finding yourself stumbling through life right now, maybe facing divorce or foreclosure or other difficult times, this blog just might be a good place for you to go and share your experiences.
Here's the first article: Imperfectly Living Most Imperfect Life
Friday, March 30, 2012
Lost and Found
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Deadline LoomingNothing like a deadline looming to get me out of my funk. The first 15 pages are due April 1 for a novel intensive I am attending as a precursor to the NJ SCBWI June Conference. I have been in packing and unpacking mode for so long, trying to get back into a writing routine has been slow-going. But getting the reminder email that the deadline is right around the corner (thank you Donna), was just the trick I needed! I love deadlines!
And for more inspiration...
Anyone going to the midnight showing of The Hunger Games tonight? No? Me either. But I am going on Saturday and I cannot wait. We are going to have a party complete with hearty fare and trivia and then off to the crowded movie theater. I already well up with tears when I hear Taylor Swift sing Rue's Lullaby.
Suzanne Collins has inspired me. Spring has inspired me. Deadlines have inspired me. And yes, I admit it... Taylor Swift's haunting voice inspires me, too...
What inspires you?
Monday, March 12, 2012
My family and I recently went through a very trying time. While in that state of turmoil, I couldn't write or create or even have ideas. I wasn't upset with myself because of this. I knew we were going through something traumatic and essentially an internal struggle. It is one thing to write through external distractions but when your brain space is going toward meeting yours and your family's basic needs, these are internal struggles, which cannot be put aside, ignored, or share space with creativity. At least not for me.
That got me thinking...
I thought about the Russian poets who wrote beautiful works while in a revolution and wondered why that wasn't true for them? I thought about the cliched belief that writers need turmoil and angst in order to create. Again, this wasn't true for me.
For me, I need outer peace and inner peace in order to create. So, as soon as we became settled into our new home and 98% of the boxes were unpacked, and I knew my family was happy and secure, just like that (snapping fingers) a new idea bloomed.
Like the crocuses which push their way up at the end of our dark days of winter, my thoughts blossomed just the same. As soon as I felt inner peace, my brain space was freed to create and just like that, the seed of an idea, buried deep within my (hopefully) fertile brain, germinated, pushed its way up through grey matter and in-between synapses, demanding to be seen and heard.
Interestingly also, most of my ideas come to me when I'm driving or walking. But mostly, new ideas come while I'm driving. Plot problems, etc. are solved while walking. So, I was driving and BOING!, an idea unfurled. I'm very excited about it.... Another YA dystopian ... but I need to get back to my first YA dystopian. And so the old dilemma creeps back in...
Do you believe in working on two novels at once? Can it be done? Do you believe a new idea that comes while working on your WIP is a distraction in disguise from the work you really need to be doing?
This time around, I am going to try to work on two ideas at once and see where that takes me. You have to strike while the coals are hot, right? Write! And luckily, I am not a writer who must write during a revolution!
Monday, February 27, 2012
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Reclaiming My Life
Let's just say, life had it's way of saying, ME FIRST! and I had to give in to it, to surrender.
I like that word. And that's exactly what I did. But surrendering takes more effort than one might think. And time. It takes time to truly surrender. And it takes time to come back and reclaim yourself, reclaim your life from Life.
So, that's what I'm doing now. Reclaiming my life.
Today, I said yes to everything I wanted to do.
I said yes to sipping coffee outside and sharing the view with my dogs.
I said yes to taking a bubble bath.
I said yes to going for a walk along the canal with my trusted collie-shepherd mix.
I said yes to the words as they cascaded one after another in a few separate strands of poetry.
I said yes to me.
And no to life.
Today is the first day of the rest of my life.
With all of that confessed, thrust upon you, I am here to say, I am back. Truly back, for good.
This is a writer's blog and a writer must write. The emotional turmoil is behind me, the inner distractions have all been met. Time to reclaim my writer's soul.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
My daughter’s life is celebrated with milestones. And each milestone she hits, I get older. My life used to be marked by milestones, celebrated by my parents. But somewhere along the way, I forgot to look for the milestones in my life.
I sit and reflect upon this because my daughter is about to cross a momentous thresh hold in her life. She is about to graduate from middle school and enter high school. High school. Every child’s dream. Every parent’s nightmare. While she is ready to hurdle herself into that new environment and meet this new challenge head on, I am ready to take her and move into a cave.
Recently, she had try-outs for the HS cheerleading squad. Every day I would drive her to the HS for her try-outs and sit and wait in the parking lot. This was precisely the same time the HS Lacrosse team was done with practice. The
But I have to let her. She has to cross that milestone and walk over that thresh hold. She’s growing up and she’s proud of it and so I must let her go. Not completely. Never completely, but stay enough paces behind her so she feels freedom and so I feel I can still be there to catch her if she falls.
She might fall. Maybe even a few times. And sometimes she might fall so far that she might feel that she will never get back up. But I know that despite the bruises and scrapes from all the falling that comes with growing, she will also spread her wings and fly.
Preparation for this momentous occasion called for collecting class photos for a montage the school will play in the background during graduation. One picture in particular, made me stop, take pause, smile, and reflect. It was her third grade picture.
I stared at the faces in the photo, scanning to find my
All the kids, all 20 of them to be exact, had broad smiles on their faces. The children in the front were clearly instructed to clasp their hands in front of them. And there was my daughter, even at that age, smaller than the rest. She did not have a smile on her face, the only child. She had an expression of timidity, a lack of courage or self-assurance. Her head, slightly tilted to her left, eyes wide, staring straight at the camera, her shoulders elevated just a tad, reaching for her earlobes. What struck me the most were her hands. Instead of being gently clasped in front of her, her wrists were crossed and then her hands were clasped. Where everyone else had a symbolic ring in front of them, she had a knot. Maybe she didn’t understand the directions of the photographer but to me, knowing her plight, knowing the discoveries made that year, she looked protective. Afraid.
As I stated earlier, it broke my heart; wide open.
I realize now, this was her journey and a necessary one. She needed to know her learning style, her strengths and weaknesses so she could attend to them. She needed to shine the light on herself in order to radiate later. And radiate she does. She is now fully aware of her needs and one could scarcely know that she has a non-working memory. She knows how to compensate and as a result, she excels.
This discovery brought me to myself. You see, I, too, am standing at a thresh hold of a milestone in my life. And I can learn a lot from my daughter. As I embrace my writing career, my financial insecurity, and the fact that, alas, I am growing older, I see myself in her little third grade face. I, too, have a “learning” difficulty, if you will. My biggest enemy, like all of us, is myself. I still have a long way to go. But I recognize now that if a snapshot of my life had been taken, I would be standing in the front row with my wrists knotted and hands strained, with my shoulders raised, and eyes wide. I, too, would portray one lacking courage or self assurance. But not anymore.
I have stepped into the spotlight and unclasped my hands, relaxed my shoulders, and fixed my eyes on what is ahead for me. There are many problems still to be solved but one I will not need to solve again is this: I am a writer, have always been a writer, and will always be a writer. I accept that my fate is unknown, that there is much hard work to be done, but now I know in my heart that no matter where life takes me, it is where I am meant to be, and I will have the tools I need to take me there.
Five years later, my daughter’s 8th grade photo portrays a very different
She is ready for her calling, ready for her milestone, and now, so am I.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
A MC needs to really mess up. And I don’t mean mess up like they chose chocolate when they meant vanilla. There has to be a huge consequence and we, the reader, need to feel it. More importantly, we need to sympathize.
Sympathy requires understanding, being able to put yourself in the MC’s shoes. You understand their mistake and already forgive them before they even ask for it. You even forgive them before the other characters do and you hope along with the MC that the other characters will also forgive him. Moreover, we feel angry with the characters who choose not to forgive.
This mistake can be a lesson in humility, perseverance, or even a life-threatening lesson. In Ordinary people,
To get in touch with such deep emotions, think back to a time when you really messed up. I mean REALLY. Think back to a critical moment in your life when you thought life would never be the same because of the mistake you made, a moment when you went down one road instead of the other and as a result had serious consequences to pay. Meditate on that memory. Really bring up the emotions of the decision, its consequences, and the reaction of the people who mattered to you at the time. Did your mother hold you and forgive you while you sobbed in her arms? Did your father hug you and tell you he loved you no matter what? Did you lose a friend? Did you have to face a teacher and confess to your mistake?
Journal about it. Write everything you can remember, the clothes you were wearing, the way you did your hair, how your body tensed up perhaps, everything and anything you remember, write down. Then consider how your MC can also royally mess up. Ultimately, the goal of a writer is to create characters who live and breathe and what better way then to make them royally mess up. After all, to err is human...
Care to share? If you have a particular memory you’d like to share, by all means...
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Coming Up For Air
Anyone still out there???
No, I haven't floated off deep into the Blog-o-Sphere. I've been buried deep in research, brainstorming scenes, and well, building a skeleton for my new novel. I'm almost ready to begin writing my pages but before I do, I thought I'd come up for air, take a look around, and share what I've learned under here...
First, let me say that everyone's process is unique. This is mine. If it helps you, by all means, make it your own...
Novels Need Outlines. This is not to squelch the creative process. And yes, I've shared this view in previous postings but I've reached an all new love of outlines. I see them as quite the opposite of rigidity--which just might be how some of you view them.
My outlines are colorful. They live and breathe. They change as the need arises. I like to think of them as the skeleton of my story that I will build up later with tendons, muscles, and flesh. But remember, without the bones, muscles and flesh can't stand. And without an outline--a skeleton--your story might fall as well or at the very least, you might get lost and never finish it.
All This Talk of Outline... How Does One Even Get Started??? Here is how I write my outline... For months, I might do nothing but ponder scenes, meditate on scenes, dream about scenes... I write every scene I can possibly imagine in a kind of short-hand way. I write whatever comes to me about that scene, sometimes dialogue, sometimes narrative, sometimes just a sentence--- this is where she gets kissed. Sooooo nervous! I don't judge what comes to me or try to "fix it". It's fast and messy and is only the crux of the scene. It is not a thing of labor nor design but just a flash.
But Wait! Did You Do Your Research? Before pages, before brainstorming scenes, and certainly before my outline, I research. I research and research and research. Any concept can be researched. I don't care what you are writing. Even if it is something you personally experienced, the research behind a book is quite necessary.
Research Your Genre, Too. Research extends into reading fiction in your genre as well. So, read, read, read books in your genre. Either take notes while you are reading or after you've finished a book. Think back to what worked, what failed, why it worked, why it didn't work. What this writer did really well, not so well... you get the idea. Then, after you've read 3 - 5 books in your genre, do an analysis of the ones you admired. How did that author do it? How is your story alike? How is it different? What parts are you missing in your story? What paradigm was used? Was it an Accidental Hero, A Fish Out of Water Paradigm...
Make Sure You Have a Theme. Before going to pages, be sure you know what you are trying to say--this will be the color to your flesh. A lot of people freeze when asked, what is the theme of your story? They think they suddenly have to don a smoking jacket, with pipe in hand, sitting in a upholstered chair by a roaring fire. But it's not as cerebral as you might fear.
Books to Read on Writing a Novel:
- From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butler
- Time to Write by Kelly L. Stone
- Invisible Ink by Brian McDonald
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Monday, June 28, 2010
Summer Goals: Week Two
- Continue to research for my new YA political sci-fi. Research, specifically what would be needed to over-throw the government - or for the government to completely change before "The People" knew what was happening. Reading: A 5,000 Year Leap - a non-fiction book on all that needed to be put in-place in order to create democracy, the formation of America, and what happened as a result.
- Continue to read Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale--a sci-fi--to see how setting and time is created without being intrusive to the story.
- Read latest draft of OW - amended summer goals - finish this latest draft by Sept/Oct so I am ready to begin writing pages for YA political sci-fi.
- Be sure to file latest story idea that came to me yesterday while researching. It will be another sci-fi but possibly adult!!!! Yikes!!
On another note; Life Lessons Learned While Living Life...
Last week, I was kind of forced into quiting my part-time job. I have just had the WORST luck in getting a job lately that suits me. Here's what I learned as a result of this experience:
- Never work in a place where you enjoy being the customer. If you should lose that job, you will also lose the chance to be their customer.
- Never confide in someone younger than you, especially, someone younger who is related to a boss.
- Never lose sight of the big picture; this job was supposed to be just--a job while I pursue my writing career. I lost sight of that and became wrapped up in this part-time job and allowed it to blind me with ambition and consume me.
- Never become blinded by ambition. It is good to be ambitious but try to reign yourself in if you are forgetting the basics... where you truly are on this path and what you truly deserve as a result.
- And last but not least, never become desperate because it really is true, desperate people DO do desperate things. It is hard not to feel desperate when you are in a desperate situation. How to avoid that I am still working out but I think it has something to do with celebrating and focusing on the areas of success in your life and often times that revolves around the people who love you and whom you love back.
Cheers Everyone and Happy Writing!
Monday, June 21, 2010
Summer Goals 2010
I decided to step back from my Writer's Group. This was no easy decision but one I have been contemplating for about a year. I've found that being critiqued while writing, for me, is just not beneficial. While I believe writer's groups are well-intentioned and can be very useful, I also think there is a time and place for them. If you have three finished manuscripts under your belt, then you might be ready for a critique group. But if you are still in the throws of a first draft, it's time to pull away from critiques and just write.
Being that I am beginning a brand new novel, I decided not to write this one "by committee" and instead become very solitary and write my novel. However, with that said, summer is usually the time that I research a new project and write a solid outline so when my kids return to school in the fall I am all set to roll up my sleeves and get down to business. With that said, even though I am on sabbatical from my group and will not open pages up for critiques, I will do Summer Writing Buddies and here's how it works...
Anyone can form an online group like this. All you need is like-minded people who are decisive, creative-thinkers, and dependable. I think it's best to actually do this via the phone and not via computers but that is not always feasible so I will give you the online version. If you know someone the phone will work with then switch Virtual Meeting with Phone Meeting.
The first step to Writing Buddies is a plan. You each decide if you will "meet" weekly or monthly. Then you email each other your FULL summer goal list before your prescribed day to e-meet. For the first meeting you each take some of your goals that you think you can meet in the first week (or month if you decide on monthly meetings). When listening to the other writers' goals, see if you have any additional suggestions they might want to add to their week's list. It can't be just anything. It has to match the goals they've already set for themselves. For example, if someone says, I have to beef up my dialogue. You might suggest that they hang out at the nearest Apple Store on a Friday night and write down dialogue they hear from a gaggle of teens. Now, just because you suggested this as a goal doesn't mean that writer has to take your suggestion.
The next week that you e-meet for your Virtual Meeting (VM), you speak more specifically if you met your goals, why or why not, and what you learned from that week, as well as set new goals for the new week. After the VM you then email each other your new list of goals and then the whole process repeats throughout the summer months.
Summer Buddies DO NOT critique one another. They simply listen to goals, offer additional goals if helpful, and help identify patterns of behavior that might be counterproductive to meeting those goals. For example, one summer I was having trouble writing because my kids were home for the summer. It was that summer that I discovered headphones. They not only blocked out the noise but for some reason I focused more intently when they were on even if no one was home.
If you are just beginning a new draft or novel, give Writing Buddies a try. Here are my summer goals and then how I broke them down for this week only:
My Summer Goals:
- I will read and research America's history as well as a few other countries' to see what really needs to be in place in order to have a break down in the government.
- I will talk to historians in local colleges or online
- I will NOT focus on pages. That is NOT my goal this summer. That is my goal for the fall. The summer goal is really to think, read, percolate, read some more, take notes, brainstorm, dream, meditate to meet my characters, etc. I will NOT allow myself to rush this process or allow myself to be swayed. Stick to my process, honor it, and believe it's possible - I can write and complete a novel in a year.
- I will watch shows, movies, etc read about what experts say the future looks like as far as technology, environmentally, "governmentally," etc.
- I will re-read From Where We Dream and use that process to brainstorm this story before I do ANY WRITING of it at all. This is actually my second priority. Reading and research is number one. I need to fill my brain with the stuff this story will be based upon and THEN brainstorm.
- After I've brainstormed every possible scene, I will put them in an order that makes sense to me and from that I will generate my outline.
- If, and only if, I meet all of the above goals, I will then write very rough, very short chapters for a first draft writing in the fall. These chapters can be as short as; Ch 11 S. kisses A. - and that will be OK. I will know there will be time in the fall to really flesh out the chapters.
My Writing Buddy and I had our first phone meeting this morning. From that meeting, here are my goals for this week:
- Get title of history book from my father and begin reading it this week. Take copious notes.
- Get title of sci-fi book from Cathy and start reading it this week. Take copious notes.
- Watch the Minority Report. Pay close attention to how the movie presents this dystopic America and why the viewers accept it without question.
And that's how Summer Writing Buddies goes. If you're interested, start a group of your own. All you really need is one other person. It's very helpful to tell someone your goals. It keeps you honest and on track.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
I know what I think about this notions, but I thought we could open up maybe an interesting topic for discussion here.
What do you think? Do writer's groups work for novelists who are not done writing their MS? Let's share...
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
My Good Ol' Emotional Journal is Back...
If you are unaware of what my Emotional Journal is, allow me to share... As writers, we often think we know exactly what each emotion feels like, but when we write about it, it often becomes cliche or starchy-stiff.
One thing I do to combat this is to keep an Emotional Journal. Anytime I feel intense emotion, I journal about it. I note where I feel that emotion in my body, what my reaction was, if I said anything, or reacted in any way. This way, the next time I have to write about that emotion, I can SHOW how my character is feeling instead of TELLING about it.
Here is my entry this week for FEAR
Situation: Driving at night on rural rt. 523 with my girls. I wanted to see if my lights were working because I recently hit a deer and a passing car was flickering their lights at me. To me, this usually signals to slow down because a police car is lying in wait to catch someone speeding. Seeing that there weren't any cop cars around, I wondered if perhaps my light was out on the side that I hit the deer. I meant to only turn my flood lights off but instead I turned off my headlights and floodlights so that we were tooling down the road in pitch blackness. This particular part of rt. 523 is usually deer-infested and as I just said, I recently hit one so the fear was immediate.
What I felt: I felt the fear in the very souls of my feet. They tingled and felt as if they visibly arched upward as if they were being sucked up from some vacuum inside my body.
Daughter #2 said she felt her fear in her shoulders on her back… it tensed up tight and without realizing it, her hands gripped what ever they could.
Daughter #1 said she felt spiky tingles on the back of her neck.
Then we started talking about how fear feels differently for different reasons, like waking up from a nightmare in the dead of night when the house is quiet and still and you feel you are the only person awake and scared in the whole world. The loneliness and fear feel differently than it did on the black, country, deer-infested road.
For me, when I wake up in the middle of the night, fear, like an electric current, crawls up my back. I feel better if someone holds me with my back against their front—spooning me. I feel almost an acute awareness that I am not alone even though I feel so lonely at those times. I feel someone is watching me that I cannot see. The old “Boogie Man” in the closet or under the bed creeps right back as if I were 9 years old again. But this kind of fear is definitely a prickling sensation that starts at the base of my back and rolls all the way up, up my back, up my neck, and even to the top of my head. It comes in waves and just keeps rolling like that.
What are the different ways you feel fear?
On another note, tomorrow I leave for the NJ SCBWI conference! I am psyched!!!! I am meeting with agent Jill Corcoran from the Herman Agency and I am psyched about that too.
Jill was one of the agents on our panel last year and I really wanted to meet with her then. She seems like a very nice, easy-going person and I can't wait to hear her constructive criticism on my newest novel, a YA sci-fi.
Wish me luck!
Sunday, May 30, 2010
What, You Don't Call, You Don't Write???
Once upon a time, a young woman had a plan. She was going to be a teacher and a children's book writer. The plan was to teach for about three years while compiling ideas of picture books that were not written but ought to be written. For example, this young woman discovered there weren't any books on Ground Hog's Day, a "holiday" definitely touched upon in Kindergarten. Now there are a gabillion books on Ground Hog's Day.
As what often happens in life, three years swiftly became seven. The young woman married and had a baby. And another baby. And foolishly thought, I'll just write when the baby naps. Little did she know she would be tired and she would need a nap when the baby napped. But she did manage to take a writing class, read lots of books on writing, write several picture books, lots of bad poetry, take a two-year course on screen writing, begin a novel, write several drafts, as well as run a household and a thriving tutoring business.
Before she knew it, she had been on a nine year maternity leave.
"Time to go back to teaching!" she thought.
Gladly, she accepted a one-year maternity-leave position thinking it was a perfect way to test the waters and see if she and her family were ready for her to return full-time to work.
She had mainly been a kindergarten teacher before but she had also taught some first grade and one year of third grade so when this new school gave her fourth grade, it wasn't want she hoped for, but she accepted it with an open mind.
Grading 72 essays each week was very different then cutting out shapes for kindergarten. She loved her students and teaching them but all her time went to her teaching; Sadly, there was never any left over time for her family or her writing. She became very sad.
The maternity leave position came to an end. The teacher wanted her job back and there weren't any other positions available, so the still kind-of young woman no longer had a teaching job. She wasn't sad, though. She believed in the Universe and that everything would work out. She believed another job was right around the corner, one that would suit her even better.
Four years later...
...the still, kind-of-young woman had all but given up. She struggled to pay her bills without her teaching position, a recession hit, her taxes went up... (You know the story.) In order to make ends meet, she willingly worked several part-time jobs while her husband worked every other week in NJ and every other week in MA . They were grateful to have jobs in such a scary, lean time but even with all of that, they still couldn't make ends meet. She tried to remind herself that the Universe has a plan and everything will work out but she was losing faith.
Meanwhile, she did all she could to keep her writing dream alive. She began the Hunterdon County Children's Writers and Illustrators Group. She became an active member of NJ's SCBWI. She kept writing and reading and honing her skills, meeting with agents and editors and fellow writers. But all the guilt of pursuing a dream while they struggled to pay the bills added so much guilt and stress, it was hard to feel creative.
One day, she decided to accept the fact that she would never be able to return to teaching and began shredding her teaching papers in her file cabinet. She didn't do this angrily. No. It was more of a surrender, an acceptance of what is is, what will be will be, and a willingness to be open to the possibilities. As she was shredding her last papers--a packet on Blooms Taxonomy--she received an email.
It was from the Charter School she desperately wanted to teach for. They wanted to set up a phone interview! Happy Days!!!! Then they wanted a face-to-face interview! Hallelujah!!! And then...
THEY OFFERED HER A TEACHING POSITION.
But not just ANY positions...
She was on top of the world. Someone was going to save her, believe in her, give her the chance she needed and deserved. She was beyond thrilled.
A happy ending! Yay!
This, of course, is a true story about me but I'd like to fill you in on this other reason for my lack of blogging as well. My first born baby is becoming a Bat Mitzvah in TWO weeks. And boy, am I busy with details and plans!
And... it's that time of year again... The NJ SCBWI Annual June Conference is THIS coming weekend! Yay! I am meeting with agent, Jill Corcoran, who was there last year and seems like a wonderful person/professional to get to know. I cannot wait. I am very, very exciting for all of these new wonders in my life... a new job, a new chapter in my daughter's life, and the June conference.
Thanks for all your patience, for not giving up on me or my blog, and if you are still out there, waiting for me to blog again.
Enjoy the sunny weather!!!