Relentless

relentless

Absolutely relentless. As soon as the liftgate is open, these two jump in. I call them out so I can load the first suitcases. They jump back in. Call them out so I can add the cooler. They jump back in. And this pattern repeats as all of the linens, food, and forms of entertainment that are needed to open our camper for the season are loaded into the vehicle.

They don’t know where we’re going. In fact, the puppy has never been “to the camper,” but they are determined to not give up. No matter how much is squished in, they would find space. They’re part of the pack.

Relentless II

This was their solution.

Maybe I could use a little more of this doggedness applied to my writing. Life has a way of over-packing my time-trunk too. The first layer is normal responsibilities of existing. I jump right back in and get to writing. Then the hats start adding on – wife, mother, business owner, homemaker, small group leader, daughter, sister, property owner, on and on. With each of these hats comes responsibilities. But relentlessly, I keep jumping back into the car. I’m growing my dream. I’m writing. Until the point my time-trunk is overpacked. I look in the trunk-space of my energy, my brain-space, my heart-space, trying to find a spot to jump in and keep writing.

Admittedly, my doggedness wains. Writing, right now, is a luxury. I have absolutely no deadlines. No commitments. No editors. No agents. So doubt is quick to accuse and excuses are easy to make.

My daughter has been ill most of this year. Ill to the point I had to remove her from school and home-school once she was able. When your child is sick nothing else matters. Truly. I do not regret, not even an ounce, putting a pin in writing and many other things to care for her. But now that she’s doing better, will I be relentless?

In my list of hats I did not say Christian. I do not think it is a hat to wear. To put on and take off. It drives my every movement and thought, or at least that’s the direction I’m aiming. The fuel is my prayer time, personal devotion, opening up with close friends. In a recent Francis Chan video I listened to, he brought us to Jeremiah 1:5 where God says, I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born.

This means, before God made me, he knew the purposes he designed for me. He knew which “ingredients” to put in so that I may be able to accomplish those purposes. It’s so easy to doubt this “writing thing” when I think it’s just about me. When Moses told God he couldn’t speak and do the things God called him to do, God reminded him, Who made your mouth?

Perhaps the reason I don’t give up on writing, the reason it provides a contentment and satisfaction that nothing else does, is because it is one of those ingredients God decided to put in me before he formed me. I’ve had every reason to stop writing. But it calls to me, relentlessly. Time to stop doubting.

Psalm 37:5 says, Take delight in the Lord and He will give you your heart’s desires. Maybe our hearts desires were planted there, long ago, before they were a thought in our minds.

The thing about a faith journey is there’s a lot of maybes. When Jeremiah doubted himself, God told him, Do not say “I’m only a youth,” for you will go to everyone I send you to and speak whatever I tell you . Do not be afraid of anyone for I will be with you to deliver you. Jeremiah 1:7-8.

So, Sue, (and you too), do not say, I’m only an aspiring writer; I’m only a stay-home-mom; I’m only a . . . Do not be afraid to go after those heart desires that God probably put in there in the first place. Don’t doubt. Head in the direction of your dream. Relentlessly!

(By the way, the doggies made it to the camper too. We just had to use two cars.)

Gratitude

2018 Writing Color
What A Year!

Begin with gratitude. Walk in gratitude. Write with gratitude. That’ll fix any attitude.

2018 Successes

I have found a much needed shot in writing arm through 12 Days for Writers.

12 days

On this third day of Christmas Julie challenges us to consider the successes we enjoyed in 2018. It’s so much easier to think about the places we fall short. Isn’t it? With permission to brag . . .

  • I trimmed my current Work In Progress (WIP) by 10,000 words. Which is really huge for me, an over packer, and absolutely necessary for this verse novel.
  • I was able to get 6 beta readers with the bonus school librarian!!! to read my WIP.
  • I visited an AP English class to talk about writing. SO MUCH FUN!!!
  • I knew something was wrong with my WIP and did a three act analysis to see if I could figure it out.
  • 3 actsCan you see where the problem is??? The big gaping hole in the middle. Yep there was a big problem with the secondary story line that effected everything. Got that resolved!
  • I got my WIP as far as I could take it and ready to start submitting. My query letter and opening pages are doing their jobs. I’ve had 5 agents and 2 editors ask to read the full manuscript. Though four agents have already passed, I at least know this baby is headed in the right direction!
  • After finishing my WIP I debated if I had any more stories in me. I started wondering and praying about other paths that might be for me. I had the opportunity to organize a wedding. Turns out I’m pretty good at it. But I also discovered I had no passion for it. Back to writing! Hooray!!
  • For NaNoWriMo I broke the rules. Instead of writing a novel in 30 days, I came up with 30 novel ideas. They’re here if you’re looking for a new idea too.
  • I’m getting excited to see what 2019 will bring.
  • Loving what you’re doing is the greatest success!

 

Tips for Working with Beta Readers

In the spring the very kind local school librarian agreed to organize a group of beta readers for my current work-in-progress. (First tip: volunteer at your local public library or school library to build relationships with librarians and keep your finger on the pulse of your reader.) My story is a middle grade novel-in-verse that features a largely female cast with some typical coming-of-age issues. For that reason I requested to have girls only for my beta readers. Two girls from each grade 4-6 were asked to read my story and meet with me and the librarian to discuss it.  (Bonus: the librarian was going to read it too!)

reader clip art

The set up:

  • I copied and bound the story for them, two pages per side. It was pretty costly, but a good investment.
  • I wrote a letter to my readers briefly explaining what a novel-in-verse is and what a beta readers does. (A member of the target audience who provides feedback and critique.)
  • I provided a key of symbols to use while reading to make it easy on them to give feedback. They have been taught to be active readers, so I didn’t need to go into details about that.
    • ZZZZZ: boring
    • ?????: confusing
    • 🙂 I like that part
    • LOL: made me laugh
    • 😦 made me feel angry or sad.
    • OK: This part was just OK.
    • XXXX: delete this, I don’t think it adds to the story
  • At the end of the story, I provided 14 reflection questions and asked them to pick 5 to answer:
    • Did the story hold your interest from the very beginning? If not, why not?
    • Did you get oriented fairly quickly at the beginning as to whose story it is, and where and when it’s taking place? If not, why not?
    • Could you relate to (MC)? Did you feel her pain or excitement?
    • Did the relationship between (MC) and (sidekick) seem like things a real friendship might go through? What would you change? What feels genuine?
    • Was there a point at which you felt the story started to lag or you became less than excited about finding out what was going to happen next? If so, where?
    • Were there any parts that confused you? frustrated or annoyed you? Which part and why?
    • Did you notice any inconsistencies in time sequence, place, character details, or other details?
    • Were the characters believable? Are there any characters you think could be made more interesting or more likeable? Any characters who need to be more unlikeable?
    • Were there too many characters to keep track of? Too few? Are any of the names or characters too similar?
    • Did the dialogue sound natural? What dialogue sounded forced?
    • Were any of the parts too long? Or any poem that didn’t seem to have a purpose? Which ones?
    • Was there enough conflict, tension, and intrigue to keep you interest?
    • Was the ending satisfying? Believable?
    • Was anything missing?

How it worked:

These girls are real girls with real lives which include school work, sports, family, and here I am asking them to read something else on top of it all. It took time. We met three times during their lunch periods and discussed the story as far as they had read.

This was absolutely wonderful to sit and talk with readers about a story I wrote! And they didn’t hold back. There was no feelings of intimidation on their part to talk to the author. I loved that.

If they didn’t understand something, they were forthcoming. If they didn’t like a character, an energized conversation ensued. It was interesting that a character that I thought was lovable in his own way, the beta readers were angry with.  Not all characters need to be likeable. It’s actually good if characters have both likeable qualities and pitfall in their personalities.

I quickly found out which parts didn’t work and the parts that made them keep turning the pages. Settings that were unclear. Phrases that were confusing.  The insight I received was beyond worth. It was incredibly rewarding when they “got it.” The things I hoped the reader would pick up on, the set-ups, subtext, duplicity, the pay-outs.

I love my critique group and wouldn’t change them, but there’s something special about having beta readers. No better litmus test than honest readers who hold no stake in the story. Can’t wait ’til I have another story to do this again!

It would be interesting to have beta readers from the schools I once upon a time taught at read this. How would kids with different world views and experiences take to this story? I guess I will find out when this WIP gets published!

Final tip:

Thank the readers and especially the librarian in a generous way. They gave up their time and provided feedback that clarified, sharpened, and deepened the story.

Bonus: I loved listening to the banter between the girls. Perhaps they are inspiring some future characters!

 

 

Baby Steps

BIG CHANGES in small steps.
Like the man who bargained
from a red paper clip
to a house.

From big debt to big savings.
     Shedding 20, 50, 100 pounds.
          Finishing that novel.
               Defending your dissertation.
          Buying a home.
     Traveling the world.
Changing the world.

It happens
in small
consistent
faithful
steps.

Forecast

In honor of the first Snow Day of the winter . . .

Snow and ice they say
Will soon be on their way.

Adults grump and gruff
Burdened by the white stuff.

Children watch the skies
With thoughts of sleds that fly

Down the hill,
But better still,
“Snow Day” the anchor cries.

snow day (2)

Works for kids and authors alike

You know how we teach our kids to write a basic story summary using the somebody-wanted-but-so-then model? It holds up from picture books through grown up books. So when I hit a plot problem I applied the somebody…strategy.

 

I noticed quickly that I couldn’t complete this framework covering the expanse of the story from beginning to end. Since I knew there was a plot problem this didn’t surprise me much. So I ended up doing somebody.  .  . hops. I completed the framework for the opening sequence of this plot, knowing (hoping! expecting!) that each little hop would grow into a full plot.

After about 4 hops I hit the midpoint of the story where everything changes for my MC and her world starts to fall apart, so did this story line. I decided to ignore previously written scenes and tried to figure out what the next logical hop would be. From there I kept hopping until a new resolution showed itself, the timeline changed, character actions turned on their heads, and drama ensued in ways I hadn’t been able to piece together before.

At the end of it, I tried to apply the somebody-wanted-but-so-then-framework to the overall story, and you know what? It worked! It worked! It worked! It worked! (Insert happy dance!)

Somebody wanted but so bunny hops

Squashing Your Outer Adult to Write for Your Inner Child

“Rediscover the child in you so that you may write for the child before you,” literary agent, Stephen Fraser, urged a room of writers at the recent Marvelous Midwest conference.

Challenge accepted.

Just warning you, there will be no acting like adults here. These times are too desperate. It’s a matter of life and death. I love my characters too much to let them die from a deprived imagination. It may call for some rather awkward moments, but for the sake of the story, I must do what must be done.

Eight Ways to Push Down the Adult in You

1. Ever notice how children dress themselves when they are first given permission to pick out their clothes? They pick out the stuff they love best and makes them feel happy. Go to your closet and pick out something that makes you feel twirly or like you could take down Megatron on your own, or whatever mood you are trying to establish in your story.

2. Get out an art medium and paper: crayons, oil pastels, finger paints, etc. No oil paints. Those are far too adultish. Have at it, but don’t think. Play. See what pops into your head all on its own.

3. Laugh. What makes you laugh? What makes kids laugh? Surround yourself with it. My kids need to laugh every night before they can go to sleep. Bodily noises will always be funny. But what really gets them going is pretending, especially if it involves taking down their dad.

4. Get in trouble. You know those things that would bring your mom to say, “Don’t make me come over there!” or “If I have to tell you to stop . . .one more time!” Do those (at your own risk – not sure what kind of kid you were. 😉 )

5. Play with kids. If you’ve got your own it’s beneficial in so many ways. If you’ve got nieces and nephews offer to babysit. If you’re a teacher plan a fun day and enjoy it with the kids. No grading papers in the background! Just play. Let the kids lead. NO MULTI-TASKING! That’s an adult habit, not allowed here.

6. Play like you use to. Think back to when you were a tween. What did you enjoy doing when you weren’t feeling awkward? When you were free to be you and were having a blast doing it. What did you do? Go do it now! Slumber party? Bike ride? Build an ice cream sundae? Sneak attack your siblings with water balloons? A healthy or fierce round of uno? Pretend you were a spy on a secret mission? Make believe you were a vet? Police officer? astronaut? Go ahead. I won’t tell!

7. Dance. I don’t mean the kind of moves you tried at the club when you turned 21. Have you ever watched kids dance? They just get into it.

8. Build a fort. Bring your computer in there. With all that playing you’re ready to write. Why not do it in a fort!

Okay. Did you shake off all that thick adultish scabby stuff that blocks creativity? Good. Have fun playing with words.

Bonus: 10 Kid-favorite movies

  • Middle School the Worst Years of My Life
  • Goosebumps
  • The Original Ghostbusters
  • Hook
  • Freaky Friday
  • The Parent Trap
  • Transformers
  • Harry Potter
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid
  • Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the original)

 

Reflections from My Pretend B&B Stay

WWMW-Logo2-LowRes-Square-300x300

I am pretending that I am retreating at a B&B as any smart writer would after another great SCBWI conference. She knows from experience she needs time to digest all those delicious morsels she filled and refilled her plate while at the all-you-can-eat-buffet of children’s literature.

In truth, this is being written between the becks and calls of a mom wearing the innumerable quantity of hats that moms wear. Nevertheless, I refuse to let these precious morsels fall to the floor to be devoured by dust bunnies.  Instead, I will

Reflect.

Discern what are the most valuable take-aways to apply to my writing, my thinking, my view of the world, before they are a jumble of partial, fragmented, and distorted memories packaged into a file in my spaghetti bowl brain.

Craft

  • From Julie Berry: If I write it in the right time order, but not the right dramatic order, my time order needs to change. Drama trumps all. (I have so many pearls from Julie!!!)
  • Eliza Swift: Three act revision – really is four parts. Split Act 2 into 2a and 2b. Everything in 2a leads to the midpoint. All of the things in 2B is in response to the midpoint. Midpoint is the game changer.
  • Julie Berry again 🙂 : Know my secondary characters’ off-screen lives. It will influence the nuances of their interactions with the MC.
  • Alexandria LaFaye: Learning new things on my manuscript is like learning to cook when hosting a dinner party. Practice new styles on writing prompts.

World View

  • Jack Cheng’s Big Question: How can we redefine masculinity to decrease violence against women and against themselves? And follow up – what’s our role as children’s writers?
  • Julie Berry and Stephen Fraser: Teach our novels to love deeper!
  • Too many from Stephen Fraser’s session on Do We Love the World Enough?: Toxic Negativity is prevalent in our culture, loving the world is the cure. Your words should sing with love for the world.

Insights

  • Though my verse novel isn’t broken into chapters, doing so has helped me find plot holes and redundancies, and has me thinking about using the chapter structure to  offer another level of play with the poems.
  • There’s a chapter I love things about, especially some poems I have written, but it doesn’t carry it’s weight dramatically. So good bye, sweet darlings!
  • Consider the roles I cast my characters in. Am I promoting the idea that there are many ways to be a girl and only one way to be a boy? (J. Cheng)
  • Holy moly! I have 30 characters in my story. Maybe I need to consolidate a few, even though I really don’t wanna.
  • Does my writing create the culture I want our world to imitate? (S. Fraser)
  • Are the things I’m writing a good fit for my emotional drive? (A. LaFaye)

Reading List

  • New Yorker Article: The Chapter: A History, by Nick Danes
  • Sweeping Up the Heart by Kevin Henkes
  • Fish in a Tree by Lynda Hunt
  • You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly
  • The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson
  • Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
  • Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Johnathon Auxier
  • The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlin
  • Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena
  • Home: A Collaboration of Thirty Authors and Illustrators
  • The Lucky Stone by Lucille Clifton
  • The Practice of Creative Writing – Heather Sellers
  • The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl Klein
  • The Anatomy of Story by John Truby

And a bunch o’picture books to boost the funny thanks to Linda Skeers

  • Scaredy Squirrel – Melanie Watt
  • Bob, not Bob – Audrey Vernick and Liz Garton Scanlon
  • Poor Doreen, A Fishy Tale – Sally Lloyd-Jones
  • Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs – Mo Willems
  • P is for Pteradactyl – Raj Haldar and Chris Carpenter
  • Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters
  • Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise
  • First Grade Dropout
  • 17 Thinks I’m Not Allowed to Do Anymore – Jenny Offhill
  • Chloe and the Lion – Mac Barnett

Not to mention meeting more kindred spirits in this tribe!

The only problem with the conference is not being able to split in two, really four, to be able to sample all the delicious entrees.  Just wondering, how’s the development of Time Turners coming?

All of these food analogies remind me to answer the call of family life and get that dinner going. Cue hat switch. Where’s my chef’s hat??? Onward and forward!

 

Make A Ripple

On September 12, 2001
     I stood before before my class
     of confused and scared third graders
     and lied.
     You are safe here.
     No one wants to hurt school children.
     
     Columbine was two years past.
     Sandy Hook was yet to come.
     Little children get hurt
     everyday
     at school.

     I may not have a voice
     with the power to change the world.
     But I can help 
     change someone's world.

     When our president redirects the dialogue
     and politicians point their finger,
     cast your pebble.

     When a kid is bullied or neglected
     don't turn a blind eye,
     cast your pebble.

     When you pray
     and get inspired into action,
     cast your pebble.

     Cast your pebble 
     into the waters 
     where you stand.
     Make a ripple.

     We change the world
     by changing someone's world.
     Cast your pebble.

Gayle Dubowski
In memory of Gayle Dubowski. On the tenth anniversary of her death, alongside four classmates at NIU, 17 more lives were taken and countless changed forever. We now live in a world where most people know someone effected by school shootings and violence. We must do better.