Haunted

this is the week i expect
sorrow to creep in and linger
like a shadow i can't shake

i was sitting in a chair
getting my hair trim
getting ready to see you 
on my way to something else

you were going to the doctor for your feet, i think
but the day tumbled with each text
worse than the prior. Then the call.

i was supposed to have a next time
your eyes watched me leave
wondering if it was the last time
It wasn't supposed to be the last time.

a couple days ago, i harnessed you
when i made her laugh
she gave me the look we all gave you

i can't remember how, now
i can't recall what was you, not me
but i'll stake a claim to this space
if this is what it means to be haunted

© 2021 Sue Santiago all rights reserved

You are My Favorite

You are My favorite.
Let that sink into your heart.

Remember when I painted the sky
in such a way it caught your breath?
I knew you were going to check your mail
and timed it just so.
I love how you stopped and took it in.

Remember when I held back the storm
until you were safely in your garage?
I delighted in how you watched the rain,
listened to My thunder, dangling your feet
out of the back of your car.

Remember when there were twenty-five tornadoes
on your birthday? The lights went out.
You lit birthday candles and ate cake
in the basement so your little ones wouldn't fear.
I was there, too, keeping your fear away.

You are My favorite.
Let that sink into your heart.

Remember when your daughter was so sick,
in so much pain, for so long?
You couldn't see the way out.
I sent a song and you clung to it. Even If
she's never all better, she's My favorite, too.

Remember when your son was hurting
deeply? Everything caused him pain.
I sent you the words to give to him
so he knew you were a safe place.
One day he'll know I am, too, because he's My favorite.

Remember when I answered that prayer?
That one you pray about changing someone's world.
I sent you courage to say something.
You helped Me change her world.
She's My favorite, too.

You are My favorite.
Let that sink into your heart.

©2021 Sue Santiago all rights reserved

Wind

Your gentle whisper
soft like the flutter
of a butterfly's sweet dance.

Your joyful applause
as branches sway and
leaves play their autumn swansong.

Your mournful whimper
howling in moonlight
come at night, coyotes all.

Your roaring siren
like charging beasts raze
what lays in its helpless path.

Invisible Force
sleepy to speeding
fleeting, like a lover's kiss.

©2021 Sue Santiago all rights reserved

On Legacy

As I sit here thinking
about the passing of a man
with a great legacy

And the end of the month remembers
the passing of a great man
whose legacy I sit in and help define

I wonder,
What is the legacy I'll leave behind?

They will not interrupt 
the broadcast when I pass,
but I celebrate
this quiet life of mine.

The great man told me, slow down.
Showed me, go where needed
with a happy heart
sit and listen
forgive and focus
on what's most important.

The words I play with
may mean something, to someone, someday
but each today I can do little things
that in the end matter most.

I do not have the voice 
that can change the world,
but I can help change someone's world
a little bit with each today.

When an unexpected text
from an under-known friend
tells me I'm easy to love, 
I think, perhaps I may be on my way
to growing the legacy 
I never knew I always wanted.

©2021 Sue Santiago all rights reserved

Inspired by today's passing of Colin Powell, which made me think about my father's passing later this month and topped off with a very kind and well-timed text.

I am From (#1)

I am from around the table
Where words scale the slope
Playing King of the Mountain.

From squishy tennis balls
That spray spiraling slobber,
Igniting delight and twirling tails.

I am from guitar-strumming, feet-in-the-air,
Gather close. You are seen.

From comfy, cozy sweater,
Soft and a little itchy,
Tuck in the strings that make it unravel.

I am from the Still, Quiet Voice
Whispering, you have done enough.
Whispering, Sit. Breathe. Be.

©2021 Sue Santiago all rights reserved

Black Lives Matter in My White Life

I had a black grandfather
not by blood,
but in all the ways that mattered.
From my infancy to his death bed
his gentle soul left a heartprint on mine.

I learned about unity
seeing my black grandfather, born 1900,
and my white grandfather, born 1910, 
- both having seen their share
of the worst of this world -
tend our vegetable garden
then sit together on the porch
and watch the garden grow.

But this sweet treasure of my childhood
doesn't mean I understand the Black Experience.

I taught several years in a black school.
Some of my students put me through the wringer
my first year,
but not all, not most.
But some. And it became a special connection
we laughed at together a year or two
down the line.
For some,
but not all, not most.

I could not encapsulate 
their world, 
not here, not ever,
But their humor and humanity
strength and pride
sass and sweetness
left their mark on my world.

I likely learned more than I taught, but it 
doesn't mean I understand the Black Experience.

Some of my closest friends
have been black women.
A lot of laughter
and keeping things real
came in equal measure
in the hours spent talking
           in the classroom after hours
           walking laps, pushing strollers in the mall.

We shared the highest celebrations
life brought to our doorsteps,
held each other close 
during the devastation of loss.
Our times together shaped 
who I became as an adult.

Though we journeyed so far together
I still do not understand the Black Experience.

Because I am white.
White, white.
Blond haired, blue eyed white.
I am slow to speak.
I watch and listen.
I'm taking it in.
I don't know my part.
But I'm listening.
I'm learning.
I will bath my actions in kindness
and my words in love.
I will teach my children
to do the same.

Like my grandfathers,
I'll tend this garden 
     out of control before us,
pull out the weeds
fertilize the land
and plant good fruit.

And hopefully one day soon
we too
can sit together
and watch this garden grow.


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)

Biography of a Best Friend

Gives a hand to lend
Helps your heart to mend
Spends the weekend
Would never offend
The greatest godsend
Your matching bookend
There 'til the end
Is a girl's best friend

©2021 Sue Santiago all rights reserved

Inspired by "Biography of a Beaver" by Deborah Ruddell and Joan Rankin in their picture book A Whiff of Pine, A Hint of Skunk - A Forest of Poems

TV-free Time for Tweens

Im_BORED
Yes! I know that face!

I have a 10 and 13 year old. They have two weeks off. I’ve got stuff to do. They don’t. In an effort to work smarter not harder, I tweaked this list to help keep my sanity at the start of winter break.  Fix it to fit your family too. Here’s to helping our kids stay out of trouble. For the sake of their brains (and our composure) . . .

  1. Learn solitaire
  2. Read Ranger Rick or Game Informer
  3. Gather your books. Which one should be read again?
  4. Start a journal.
  5. Listen to a book on CD.
  6. Meditate.
  7. Pack up too short pants.
  8. Paint a picture.
  9. Learn Tai Chi.
  10. Make some jewelry.
  11. Bake a cake.
  12. Play a board game.
  13. Visit the toy closet. What haven’t you used in a while?
  14. Shoot some baskets.
  15. Do some yoga.
  16. Learn how to juggle.
  17. Organize a space in your room.
  18. Train the dogs.
  19. Learn how to take a good photograph.
  20. Cook something healthy.
  21. Paint your nails.
  22. Train for a 5K.
  23. Clean out the car for your parents.
  24. Write a note of encouragement.
  25. Pull out shirts that no longer fit.
  26. Get on wii sports or kids dance video games.
  27. Make birthday cards.
  28. Visit an elderly neighbor.
  29. Learn some Spanish.
  30. Soak your feet.
  31. Learn a dance routine from You Tube.
  32. Dance like nobody’s watching.
  33. Do something kind for a family member.
  34. Learn how to create a You Tube channel.
  35. Pack a picnic.
  36. Experiment with new hairstyles.
  37. Grab a puzzle book.
  38. Learn to crochet.
  39. Ride a bike.
  40. Volunteer to take a chore off your parent’s list (AKA brownie points!)
  41. Pack some books into ziploc bags and hide throughout the community for others to find.
  42. Cook something unhealthy. Oreo Pancakes?
  43. Clean out your junk drawer.
  44. Learn how to write calligraphy.
  45. Go camping in your backyard.
  46. Legos are fun at every age. Challenge yourself!
  47. Sing karaoke.
  48. Make a family tree.
  49. Create your own trail mix.
  50. Learn to knit.
  51. Clean the yard.  (Or other ways too earn some $$)
  52. Turn rocks into paper weights.
  53. Take a bubble bath.
  54. Make up a silly story. Type it up, print it out, and make it into a book as a keepsake.
  55. Roller skate.
  56. Clean or organize the mess under your sink.
  57. Go for a hike with your sketch book.
  58. Do a puzzle.
  59. Make s’mores.
  60. Take a nap.
  61. Go fishing.
  62. Donate stuff to Goodwill.
  63. Create origami animals.
  64. Learn to sew.
  65. Make a comic book.
  66. Play with the dogs.
  67. Go geocaching.
  68. Go to the park.
  69. Paint your toenails 10 different colors.
  70. Create a D&D campaign or character.
  71. Clean under your bed.
  72. Make a video.
  73. Go stargazing.
  74. Make a menu plan for the week for Mom.
  75. Build a tower with cards.
  76. Clean your closet floor.
  77. Give yourself a facial.
  78. Read a new book.
  79. Set goals for the next 90 days.
  80. Sketch a scene you see or imagine.
  81. Learn to play or practice an instrument.
  82. Scrapbook or organize family photos.
  83. Build a fort in the living room.
  84. Create a writing code (ala Book Scavenger).
  85. Go bird watching. Take pictures of the ones you spot. What kind were they?
  86. Learn to whistle.
  87. Nerf gun war!
  88. Write a poem.
  89. Bake cupcakes.
  90. Make a domino course.
  91. Rearrange and redecorate your bedroom.
  92. Play hide-and-seek with the dog.
  93. Walk the dog.
  94. Balloon volleyball.
  95. Call a family member (texting doesn’t count)
  96. Start a gratitude journal.
  97. Climb a tree.
  98. Write a letter (snail mail)
  99. Make a melted crayon artwork.
  100. What gift have you never used?

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