Monday, December 20, 2010

Every word counts

I was a chatterbox as a kid and my mother used to warn me:
Someday your mouth
will get you in trouble.
So I stopped talking so much and took up writing, thinking, "Ha! Now I can't get in trouble. I can fix the words with an eraser, a white typwriter ink removal strip, or a delete button."

But my mother was still right.

I am toast. Burnt. Dried out. No butter or jelly.

If you look up the word 'pathetic' there are two definitions:

1. causing or evoking pity, sympathetic sadness, sorrow, etc.

2. miserably or contemptibly inadequate.

And when I wrote about House as a compelling character a few months ago I used that word (in addition to many complimentary words) sort of comparing House to my hubby. I was thinking: brilliant, funny guy who helps people. Who also seems unhappy in a way that makes you want things to be better for him.

I was thinking sympathetic sadness.

My hubby went with miserably inadequate.

So...yeah. I'm toast.

I've apologized. And I'm owning up and taking the lumps I deserve because I should have known better.

Every word counts when you are writing. Every word needs to be the one that captures exactly what you want to say. The audience brings their own experiences to the table which will impact how and what they take away from your story, but that is no excuse not to be specific with your words.

Because sometimes you don't get an eraser. Or a white typwriter ink removal strip. Or a delete button.

Even if you really want one.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Every. Day.

I didn't post about being thankful in November because I am a firm believer in being thankful every day.

Every. Day.

And I'm writing about it today because when a very good person dies, it reminds you to say it out loud.

My husband has already lost two medics on this deployment. SGT James Ayube died on December 8th; PFC Paul Cuzzupe died on August 8th. They were good guys. The kind that, even though you only met them in passing and knew of them from your spouse, make you break your once a year crying rule.

So you cry.

A lot.

And then you are thankful.

For your kids. Even when they drive you absolutely stinking bonkers.

For your spouse/significant other/friends. Because Today We're Not on the Bus.

And for words. Because when a person is gone the words we give them in a conversation...a the bottom of a photo...are the only way we have to remember them.

To be thankful for them.

Every. Day.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Dry Spells

The dreaded dry spell.

The time we feel shriveled, bloated, wrinkled beyond belief, unable to produce anything worth anything, all the while feeling unbelievable pressure to do something.

Sort of like...having a period for the rest of your life.

This is what you sign up for when you decide to write: Heat waves. Flashes. Tears. Moodiness. The 'don't even think of touching me' lack of desire. Semi-psychotic behavior that has no true physiological basis.

Only it's not on a monthly schedule and there's no menopause to free you from it happening over. And over. And over.

But I think dry spells are good for us. And I don't think they're dry at all.

Sure you might not be putting thousands of words on the page a day. Or have any flashes of inspiration. Your semi-psychotic behavior might drive you to rewrite the same chapter forty times and then burn the pages in some ceremonial expulsion of demons. You'll probably do a little bit of crying. And 'have a happy period' will have NOTHING to do with fixing the punctuation in a sentence.

But you will be taking things in.

You will find yourself listening to things you might not have heard otherwise in your rush to get words on the page.

And without wouldn't have anything to write.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

George is BACK!

Since many of you are new here, I have to backtrack a little.

If you've never seen the speech by Elizabeth Gilbert about having a writing genius, you follow the link:

Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing creativity Video on

Sorry I didn't make it look prettier and imbed the video, but I'm buried under 8 inches of snow with two kids stuck in the house and a dog who is suddenly too delicate to do his business because of, you guessed it, 8 inches of snow.

Though to be fair, when he raises his leg his privates are still buried 2 inches below sunshine, so I don't know that I could do my business with that kind of cold down there either.


George is BACK!

That is what I call my creative genius, who's been play hookie since this summer.

I've been struggling at my computer for a rewrite that's taking half of forever, always getting stuck at Chapter 8, waiting for George to show.

And he wasn't.

And he wasn't.

And he wasn't.

So I said, "Fine, George. I'm going to write whatever I d@*n well please." And I started to butcher my story. Total meat cleaver job, though I didn't go so far as bringing in a vampire.

And George showed up, "Fine. All right. So much for holidays and paid vacations. I'm here."

He's been working, maybe a little begrudgingly, ever since. All the way up to Chapter 14. Though I'm still trying to figure out just where he went that he got a paid vacation. Maybe he was visiting Elizabeth.


What do you do when your creative genius is playing hookie? How do you get him/her to show up and do their part of the job, whether it's pounding out a rewrite or getting your kids to do their homework?

Monday, November 15, 2010


Yes, I do have them.


I think I even cried once about five months ago.

Which means I'm good for another seven months, if I follow my once a year crying holiday rule.

But I was definitely clenched teeth, peel your fingers off of whatever is gripped in your clutches angry last night.

My son and I were walking Beemer, our Yorkie, who was quite content sniffing and peeing his way through the neighborhood, when an unleashed German shephard raced out of nowhere and attacked.

After multiple kicks I got the brute off my dog, only to have the German shephard go after my son. And then me. When the owner finally showed up, several bites and a side full of scratches on my Yorkie later, there were still many more minutes of me kicking and snarling to get it off of me and my dog.

I was so ticked I went straight into my house. Washed up the dog wounds. Called the police. And then took my dog back outside so he wouldn't be scared all night.

All in the attempt to calm myself as much as anything.

I didn't sigh...or stare off into space...or think...or wander many characters are apt to do when you first start writing. I took action to fix the problem.

And that's how you write emotions in your books.

Emotions are the response of characters to the action, the plot, of your story. Newton had it right: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. I live by that rule in my stories.

I'm not saying my characters never sigh...or stare off into space...or think...or wander aimlessly, but I only let them do it in limited quantities because it makes them cry.

And that's only saved for once a year special occasions.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Moving Forces, Stationary Objects

My son walked into a chair Friday night and stubbed his toe. It hurt. A lot.

He almost swore a word that would earn a bar of soap in his mouth, adding a few letters to change it at the last syllable. After wrapping a bag of frozen vegetables to his foot for an hour it wasn't hurting so much, and he fell asleep on the couch.

So on Saturday when he was hobbling around, going all drama king about his foot hurting, I told him to suck it up. It's just a stubbed toe for cripes sake. Of course it hurts. It's supposed to hurt when you smash a moving force into a stationary object.

No complaints from him the rest of the day. And none on Sunday morning.

So when I looked at his toe Sunday afternoon and saw it was black underneath, I, of course, finished his word without changing the last syllable and took him to the German hospital emergency room where, after a four hour wait, the doctor promptly confirmed that I am the world's worst mother.

Because his toe is broken.

As broken, unfortunately, as the lousy rewrite I am currently working on...which could use some moving force smashing into the stationary object.

See, I'm at that magic draft where you think you can't possible learn anything else about your story and then: Wham! Bam! Thank you, ma'am. Something bops you upside the head and you suddenly have new eyes.

Eyes which, fortunately, can see right through to the black underside that needs fixing. Immediately. Without several more days of pain and suffering.

So today, I proudly wear the World's Worst Mother badge while both my son and my story hobble around, reminding me they needed fixing in the first place.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Raise the stakes

I was watching kids beat each other up on the playground at school the other day.

It was Kindergarten, so there weren't any fists flying...blood dripping...or faces shoved against the ground. But there were plenty of hands on hips and mouths shouting, "Oh yeah? Well I'm gonna..."

I thought about stepping in. I probably should have.

But I was laughing too hard by the fifth time I heard someone shout and stomp away without ever finishing the sentence.

From a dramatic standpoint, it was the most boring fight I've ever seen.

Don't get me wrong. As a teacher, I'm glad the kids didn't kill each other, mangling someone into tears, snot balls, and bloody noses.

But as a writer, I have to do better than that in my books.

I have to raise the stakes.

While watching the fight I couldn't help but notice all the kids' energy fluttered and flitted around in every direction. None of the teachers could tell what happened or what anyone wanted. If I write that way in my books, my audience won't know what's going on, either.

It's not as simple as just knowing what your character wants. All of those kids knew they wanted to win the fight.

But they didn't know how to win. And they definitely didn't want it bad enough.

Characters have to be willing to do anything, no matter what the cost.

Even if it means they get their face shoved to the ground. Or popped in the nose with a fist.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Holy Cow. Or Holy Horse.

I got bit in the head by a horse.

My daughter and I were at the stable getting the horse ready for her weekly lesson, and he took a chomp at my hair.

I should have expected it. I mean, he was being a pill that day as my daughter prepped him for her lesson. He pushed. He nipped a few times. He lifted his head as high as he could knowing there was no way I could get the halter on him.

I was reading the signs. Watching to make sure his hoof didn't end up on my foot. Or in my gut. Or that he wouldn't take the pocket off my coat.

But I wasn't expecting the chomp-o-rama of his teeth against my scalp.

Especially on the top of my head.

After I toweled off the horse spit and poked the bruise 20 times to prove to myself that he really did bite me, I was still thinking to myself, "Holy cow. I can't believe he bit me."

And that, my friends writerly and otherwise, is good plot. The signs are there. The audience is invested and interested, and then: WHAM-O. They get something they weren't expecting.

Spit on the head. Teeth in the scalp. All of it.

Great plot happens when a writer makes the audience look back and say, "I thought I was reading all the signs. I can't believe I didn't figure it out sooner."

So onward. Charge ahead on that steed before he decides your head looks like a bag of oats...and work on writing great plot.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Playing With Toys

No. Not those kind. Though with my husband gone for a whole year, something like that might come in handy.

Totally kidding.

Sort of.

I got a new laptop.

It is amazing how much easier it is to actually, you know, write. No more eliminating letters created by a psycho keyboard. Or banging the shift out of the shift key to unshift it. Or finding the secret spot on the touch pad so it will quit highlighting everything on the screen.

I think it saved me from falling into the robot pit: I must write. I must publish. I must write I must publish. ImustwriteImustpublish.

I must rublish.

Sometimes I get so wrapped up that I forget everybody needs time to play. Everybody. So my advice for today is: go play with yourself.

By writing, of course.

Write a chapter where everybody breaks into song. Stick characters in a car with a manual transmission so they have to bang the shift out of the gear shift to unshift it. Draw someone in a secret spot where they get away with something ridiculous.

Or get yourself a toy and play with it.

Like a new laptop, of course.

You might find, just as I did, that it can shake you up enough to keep your story from becoming rublish.

Friday, September 24, 2010


I like jerks.

That's my answer when somebody asks me about writing compelling characters.

I could go into a great laundry list of questions. Ask for definitions of words like compelling and character, or lists of likes and dislikes, but that would just mix all the whites with the bright or dark colors. Then everything comes out grey and you still don't know where the lost sock went.

Confusing, right? Exactly.

I like jerks. Like House. Tom Sawyer. Huck Finn. The Lorax. Clementine. Dorothy. Claudia. The Cat in the Hat. The little boy who planted a carrot seed. Vashti.

But especially House.

All spin cycle jokes aside, he is the most interesting, compelling character I've seen in recent times.

He is smart.

He is funny.

He is honest. And damaged. And pathetic. And he goes after what he wants, regardless of what stands in his way.

I don't always like him or agree with him. I AM always interested in what he'll do next.

Sort of husband.

And that's what makes him compelling. House comes across as real. Heightened, of course. To superman proportions. It is a TV drama after all. But I bet he could probably find that freakin' lousy sock that always disappears in the dryer.

And he would definitely make laundry a whole lot more interesting.

DISCLAIMER: The above listed reference to my husband's personality is not meant to defame or damage said husband's reputation, esteem, or self-proclaimed sub-genius status.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sa Whomped

I've been pitifully lacking about writing in my blog since returning home from the States. I will give you the equally pitifully excuse that I'm busy. Beyond busy.

Sa whomped.

But in between a boy throwing colossal tantrums, a girl full of middle school drama, a pouting, neurotic dog chewing off his nails, and a car that can go but doesn't stop, I do try to make an occasional foray into re-writing my second novel.

I've got writing goals. I've got ideas. I've got desire. I even have a plan.

What I don't have is time. Which is sort of irritating, because I had time all summer when I didn't know end from up about my story.

I'm ready to go, go, go with rewrites. But when I'm forced to one very slow 30-60 minute nightly session, I want to toss myself on the couch in a drama moment. Or chew off my nails. Or throw a tantrum and whomp the sa out of something.

Because I want to finish my book.

I realize that since I'm now...older, I don't really get to act this way. But am I the only person out there, writerly or otherwise, that has such a problem with patience?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Things you hang on to

You know how when your kids are little, you hang on to EVERY picture or art project they finish because each one represents some major milestone they managed to accomplish?

A circle. A real circle that is round and doesn't look like a squished eyeball.

A line. One that makes the house touch the ground instead of floating in the air.

A face. With features and more than three strands of hair sticking straight up.

I sort of feel that way about one of my middle grade novels.

I keep trying to rewrite the opening because the general response is that it sets a great tone, but no one is sure where it's going. Readers feel like they are floundering, and they don't trust it.

Now...I understand that the world of the story is very foreign. I also understand I can't let that be some excuse not to draw a better circle, line, or face.

But each rewritten opening completely loses the heart of the character at the middle of the story. It becomes a plot line of information to help the reader understand the foreign world.

So I'm trying to decide...

Do I keep coming back to the original opening because it belongs there?

Or is it just one of those pictures I'm hanging on to?

And I need to decide soon, because I'm going a bit crazy...and I sort of feel like I'm floating in the air with squished eyeballs and only three strands of hair left.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Sting of a Jelly

I've waited to talk about growing a thick skin to handle rejection for a long time, because usually it comes across as a pumping sunshiney Nike commercial.

When really, it's more like getting stung by a jelly fish.

Which happened to me for the first time today.

My kids and I spent a gorgeous day at the beach jumping over waves...occasionally getting knocked over...sand in all corners of the suits...when I felt a ZIP across my leg that stung enough to make me swear in German. And then each of the kids got zapped, too.

Needless to say, we didn't want to jump waves anymore. I sat on my beach mat to check out the welts on my leg and foot, and they searched the sand at the edge of the water for broken mother of pearl looking shells.

I watched them thinking...that's EXACTLY what it feels like to get a rejection letter.

It bites.

Enough to make you swear in German.

It makes you want to quit playing in the proverbial writing waters.

But eventually, the sting goes away. All it leaves is a little red mark. Maybe a scar. Maybe a spot where your skin is a little thicker.

And eventually, like my kids and I today, you are ready to jump a few waves again. Even knowing that you'll probably get taken out by a jelly or two.

Monday, July 12, 2010

George and Zen

You know those times when you should have something to say? When you show up and type some words on the computer and wait for that creative genius (I'll call mine George) to show up and do their thing?

But George doesn't show and you're left with a blank page party, a handful of chocolates, and one nasty headache from the few glasses of coffee or wine that were supposed to get George there in the first place.

What do you do?

I mean, other than take a handful of ibuprofen to get rid of the headache.

I'm not moping anymore. I don't have the blahs. Strangely enough, after a sort of planes, trains, and automobiles trip to the States, I've been working on my mg novel. And I actually like it.

I'm in this Zen-like place where I have no stress about my family or writing career. It feels a 'I don't care if the pigeon gets me' sort of way.

But at the same time, George is nowhere to be found.

So I'm wondering...can Zen and George meet up some place and hang out and have a beer? Or are they like Yin and Yang? Destined to swirl around chasing each other forever.

Monday, June 28, 2010


I had another one of those "AHA!" moments the other day. The ones that make you feel really stupid for not realizing it until it hits you in the head like a present from the bowels of an irritated pigeon.

Writing is supposed to be fun.

I usually LOVE spending my time, fingers on the keyboard, discovering characters and then throwing them into a pit while fixing lazy dialogue like "Help me!"

But lately I avoid the keyboard like it's the worst chore in the world.

In short, I stopped playing.

It's ok. I even know why I stopped. My life for the last few months feels like one big countdown to the day my husband deploys.

I'm not going to lie. It sucks.

And I'm really looking forward to when I'm ready to start playing again.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fixing the Little Red Wagon

Summer has only started, and my kids spent the whole weekend complaining.

"I'm BORED," came the first whiny voice. "There's NOTHING to do," echoed the second.

So I thought...I'll fix your little red wagon...which is something my Mother used to say to me. Frequently.

Every morning for the rest of their summer break, my kids have to:

1.) Write 300 words. It can be a story, a collection of poems, a letter, or
whatever else they choose.

2.) Read at least 30 minutes.

3.) Complete 1 page of math. They must show their work and discuss their
answers with me.

And for the icing on the cake, I also made them run 2 miles with me.

After the first fifteen minutes of mandatory grumbling about me being the MEANEST MOM EVER since I am ruining their summer break which is, by its own definition, supposed to be a break, they giggled and sang their way through their work. My happy children were happy once more.

And then I had one of those AHA! moments that make you feel really stupid. I figured out why I am mopey, dopey, whiny, irritable, and just sort of bleccchhhhy.

My break from writing has gone on WAY too long. I need to fix my own Little Red Wagon.

So, starting tonight, I'm back to my 300 word a day writing minimum, 2 chapters of reading, and daily research about possible agents that might be a good fit for me.

And I'm even giggling and singing while I do it:)

Monday, June 14, 2010


After school today, my son and I had a conversation while eating twisty Cheetos that look like intestines...or inch worms. We were full of spit laughing and he asked me, "What are you so happy about?"

I made a face, "What do you mean? Aren't I always this happy?"

He looked at his Dad before carefully choosing his answer, "Not really."

Now my husband gave him some explanation about me having to get after him for making bad choices...which has been a bit of a struggle since our last move. But that's only part of the truth.

The other part is...

I TOTALLY sucked at a job interview today.


I think the guy was as relieved for me to be out of his office as I was to leave.

It's not that I can't do the job. It's not that I'm clueless. It's not that I would slowly waste away at an organizational job with white walls, sterile people, and hour after hour of dealing with egos with a sense of entitlement.

Because I CAN do that job. But my heart isn't in it.

It's in a story about a little girl who is scared to death because her Dad is deploying to a war zone...which is really close to home, as my husband is leaving in a few weeks.

So I'm having a glass of wine to celebrate. Cheers! to working on what you love. Even if it means you totally suck at an interview...or retirement takes a little bit longer.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Moving mountains

I've noticed a very distinct, absolutely true correlation between two things:

The more I have my BIC (Jane Yolen's: butt in chair) to write, the W-I-D-E-R it gets. When I look in the mirror and notice my flatter, flabbier office bottom it's disheartening. And boring.

Now I have two choices:

1. Quit writing.

2. Keep writing. And keep moving.

Punch it up with stairs, hills, and miles. Stop shoving junk in my mouth when I'm bored. Or frustrated. Or working.

My characters are the same way. If I sit on them too much they are as wide, flat, and flabby as an office butt. If I fill them with words they just talk, talk, talk and never get around to doing things. But if I give them a few miles to travel and mountains to climb, they take on a shape that is much more interesting.

So here's to having a butt in a chair and moving mountains all in the same moment...and then working out a few miles more!

Monday, May 10, 2010

I'm not kidding

Lately, I'm sort of sick of myself.

No, really. I'm not kidding.

I even ran extra fast on my run today just to see if I could get away from thinking so much. My dog was dying. Huffing, puffing, panting, tongue to the ground, eyes begging me to slow down, and tail wagging thankful when we stopped at the crosswalk for traffic.

My husband would say I'm running away from something; I would say I'm running toward something. We'd both be a little bit right.

See...I'm working on a story I've been working on for a VERY LONG time. Years, in fact. Six years, in fact. It's a story that is likely to sell if I ever finish it. I've had my dream agent express possible interest.

But as much as I want to see it published, and as much as I really want this dream agent...I'm sick of this story. SICK of it. Enough that I could happily close the file and never look at it again.

So I'm giving myself a break.

I will be away from blogging, writing, email and the telephone until the beginning of June. We're going on a family cruise through the Greek Isles, and the only running I will do is chase my husband around the room after the kids go to bed.

My husband says, "Yeah. Right."

But I still throw the band-aid lingerie in the suitcase and leave my writing notebooks on my desk.

Because really, I'm not kidding.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Blahs

So recently I hit this wall with a serious case of the Blahs. The kind that consume both my writing life, and more importantly, my regular life of family and kids.

It's not a mid life crisis sparked in people who are nearing...40.

It's the Blahs.

You eat Blah for breakfast. You work for Blah hours doing Blah things for Blah people. You exercise for Blah hours and come home to Blah dinner and watch Blah TV instead of writing because your story is: BLAH.

For me this means one of two things:

1.) My mind is trying to figure out the best way to improve the draft I'm working on.

2.) My story really is Blah and needs to be locked away in the drawer.

Most of the time, it's the first one. Sometimes it's the second.

I'd like to say that when I run an extra 10 miles, or do some wacky body contortion, or have my butt in my chair and stare at my book for two extra hours, that the Blahs fade away like fog in sunshine. But I would be lying.

Usually, it takes time. Because my brain isn't playing some nasty, unmotivating trick on me, it's trying to show me what to do...on it's own terms, in it's own time. So I don't end up with another Lost Story.

Does anyone else out there get the Blahs?

Monday, April 26, 2010


We recently returned from Istanbul, Turkey, where I experience the most brilliant marketing I have ever seen. We were walking from the metro to a tram and my daughter desperately needed to use a restroom. Lo and behold, in a small shopping area under a bridge was a large sign in English that said:

Nearly every tourist in the area went into the restroom, happily paying their one Turkish Lira (about 75 cents.)

Now the fact that it was the most unmodern bathroom in all of Istanbul, and my daughter was in tears because she couldn't go (whereby I swore off that toilet for the rest of our lives) is irrelevant...because they already had our money.

The relevance is: words. They knew EXACTLY what to put on that sign to bring everyone through the door.

And. It. Worked.

Now if only I could figure out the right words to turn my mg novel into a million dollar bathroom sign idea.

Friday, April 16, 2010


“Wishes aren’t that easy. No. They’re filled with pain and strife.
Real wishes have to be that. Or we’d wish away our life.”

When the Snake first said that to Abby in my 2nd middle grade novel, I hated him. Because I wanted life to be easier for her.

And because he was right.

I think of his words every time I'm stuck in a rewrite that’s going nowhere. Every time I receive another rejection letter from an agent or publisher. Every time another military move forces me to say goodbye to my friends, reminding me I’m an isolated writer in a foreign country… again.

Sometimes his words motivated me. Teach another writing workshop in the school. Seek out another critique group. Start a picture book… new play… YA novel. Scoop up letters, pour them into words and make nowhere become somewhere.

Other times his words made me wonder if I was wishing away my life.

So I make a choice every day. I sit at my computer, snap open the lid, and decide if I’m going to be a writer. And every day I resolve that, even if I am wishing away my life, I would rather be doing it by crafting stories than anything else.

I'm not naive enough to believe that, out of the millions of books, I'll write a story that no one has written before. But I am hopeful enough to believe no one has written it like me.

So I wish.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Going to the Grocery Store

I have a pretty embarrassing secret to tell. It's sort of pathetic. No, it's really pathetic. But I don't mind if you laugh at me because I frequently laugh at myself.

So here it is:

Sometimes I go to the grocery store so someone recognizes me.

We've lived in our new home for slightly less than four months, and I only know two people outside of my family: the neighbor next door, and the lady who carries out my groceries.

Now I could tell you all sorts of true facts about communication barriers since I don't speak German, record cold spells that kept everyone buried in their homes for months, and my own sort of pleasant but somewhat antisocial personality...but it would all ring like some lousy excuse. Because the truth is, I haven't tried very hard to meet anyone.

You can't make excuses like that about your writing. Not if you want to be good, anyway.

You have to do more than go to the grocery store. You might even have to attend a conference.

I don't usually enjoy conferences. I definitely cringe at the money it costs to attend. I'm really uncomfortable in forced social situations.

But I can honestly say I've learned something extremely valuable at every single conference I've attended, and I try to think of them as an investment toward the retirement of my label as un-agented, un-published author.

What are you doing to get past your excuses?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Something Amazing

Most of my life over the last 10 years has been hurry up and wait.

Hurry to finish my degree, but wait to get a job until we're settled. Hurry to move and settle, but wait to really settle because we're moving again in a year. Hurry to write something well, but wait while the queries decide your fate.

It feels like I'm the bike riding kid in The Incredibles. Mr. Incredible asks him what he's waiting for and the kid says...

"I don't know. Something amazing, I guess."

The kid is a waiter. A patient.

There is a difference between the two.

A waiter looks around waiting for something to happen. They are the secondary characters in our stories who are forgotten as soon as the page turns or the frame ends. They are the people who spend their lives watching everybody else do something amazing.

Patience has a point. It is selected work on our stories and targeted queries to the right agent or publisher. It is smart choices about our work and our lives. And sometimes it's drinking three cups of coffee and forcing myself to sit still, to test if I can really do it:)

But most of all: It. Is. Work.

So I am tossing out my hurry up and wait life, and I'm trading it for one that is patient.

Which are you?

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Magic Pen

I would like to create a magic pen for every writer to help them understand the fine line between letting their story breathe and choking it to death. The pen would have a few special features:

Writers could flick it in quick, grandiose arcs to make the bad words fly off the page and dissipate into thin air, leaving only the good words behind.

The pen wouldn't allow them to write for at least a week...maybe two... following every feedback session.

The pen has a filter that allows a writer to absorb only questions which help them figure out their story.

The pen knows, instinctively, which people will provide feedback in a way that helps them grow as a writer.

But here's the thing...

Writers already have that pen. They just have to figure out how to use the darn thing while it's exploding huge ink splotches all over their faces. Because the fact is...those ink splotches and Lost Stories are what you need, or you will wrap yourself so tightly around your story it will suck in its last, gasping bit of air before you finish the first draft.

You have to give yourself permission to be messy. And fail. And take breaks. And say no. And listen.

So that your story can breathe.

What are you doing to help you figure out how to use your pen?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Lost Story

Seven years ago I sat between my kids' beds and told them a very sweet story. A story that held the soft tha-thump, tha-thump of a beating heart ready to fall asleep.

That bedtime story became a play which won a developmental opportunity at a theatre. For anyone not familiar with new play development, that means I had a director, actors, theatre space, two dramaturgs, elementary student feedback, and theatre professionals feedback while I wrote and rewrote feverishly for a week, working the play on its feet. All expenses paid.

But when I was finished, I hated my play. It a word...AWFUL.

Somewhere, in the middle of rewriting and advice and work and ideas, I lost my story.

Looking back now I can see multiple influences on my muck of a play, but the largest was a choice of my own. In my desire to perfect my play, I spent so much time listening to everyone else's feedback telling me how to do it I forgot to listen to my story. I twisted and turned it into something it was not and while, technically, it makes sense, the heart of the story is gone.

And here is a hard, honest truth: every writer loses one story. Maybe more.

They take in a comment, an idea, some advice...because conventional wisdom says that's what rewrites are about...and even though their instincts tell them not to listen, they ignore the warnings.

Don't think I'm not a rewrite person. I'm a ten-draft girl who works on computer and paper. I scribble and scrabble my ideas until I understand every choice each character makes. I read aloud and act out scenes. I try things on and take them off faster than clothes in a teen store dressing room.

I'm also a believer in holding the heart of your story close, because you are the one telling it.

I may never get my seven year old story back. I am extremely, rock in my stomach sad when I think about it.

But I still work on it. And when I do I go back to the beginning...because that's when it still had a beating heart.

What have you lost?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Are we there yet?

One of the hardest things about writing for writers at all stages is the discipline.

Yes, I said it. Discipline.

We are two year old children who want to play, play, play in the first draft, the sexy new idea stage, but when it comes to drafts two...four...ten...we stop listening to our stories, stare out the windows, and bemoan,

"Are we THERE yet?"

Well...I suppose that depends on where "there" is. If you mean that big final destination banner that says:

Then no.
You're not there.

And even if you are there and have something published, it all starts over with a new story.

If I learned anything as a ten year old on our extremely long drive from Nebraska to the keys in Florida, it was to celebrate along the way. After miles of hours with six people squished into an Oldsmobile, the games played out and too dark to see anything, we stopped.

Somewhere in Mississippi, standing alone by the road in the middle of the night, is a gas station that has the best strawberry soda. The BEST. Further along were boiled peanuts from a little stand run by people selling their special family recipe. And the beaches of Pensacola on Christmas day were as humbling and rewarding as any banner will ever be.

But I wouldn't have tasted those things if I wasn't looking out the window in the first place.

So discipline yourself. Draw out your first draft map so you have an idea where you're going and then swallow the steps along the way, like really great strawberry soda, because they are more important for your story and writing skills than any destination point.

Note: I will be attending the SCBWI Symposium in Bologna until strawberry soda reward:) More to come...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Today We're Not on the Bus

I've been inspired by Casey McCormick, the wonderful author of the Literary Rambles blog, to scribe about writers and their fears. Fears about not finishing a work. Fears about not being good enough. Fears about never getting published.

I used to have those fears.

WHAT??? What's this used to thing??? She's an UNPUBLISHED writer and she used to have fears???

But I don't. And I should explain...

We are a military family and we recently lived in Landstuhl, Germany. Landstuhl is a very small, tight knit community. It has some houses, a great library, a gas station, a church, and excellent sports fields for Saturday morning soccer and baseball games. It also has the offices and supporting units for the Army Hospital.

Every school morning for 1 1/2 years I drove my kids to the drop off circle, kissed cheeks, and said 'Have a good day!'

And every morning as I left the post I would meet one...or two...or three of the blue buses with giant red crosses and darkened windows carrying wounded soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq to the hospital. Sometimes the morning sunshine snaked through the darkened windows and reflected off the young men on cots wrapped in bandages, their IV bags swinging gently from the careful twists and turns by the driver.

And I drove away thinking, "Thank God. Today my husband is not on the bus."

So I's hard for me to be afraid of writing...afraid of not finishing... afraid if anybody will like my story...with so many REALLY big things that are much more deserving of fear.

I'm not saying I don't want to be published. I'm not saying it doesn't hurt when I receive another rejection. I'm not saying I won't work as hard to get past those things.

I'm not saying I don't mope around the house, pouting, flopping on the couch and burying my head like a two year old, when the rewrite I'm working on isn't going according to plan. My plan. The one that I get to pick because it's my life and...darn should be about me.

Because I do. And it does. And I will. And somedays...whoa I.

But I won't be afraid and let those things stop me in the meantime.

So I'm sending you off. Have a good day.

It's time for me to sit down and work on my story.

the best husband...EVER

My husband and I frequently have THAT conversation.

The one about what I will do in two years when the kids are a little older and daycare is no longer an issue. The one about my future earnings which will allow me to retire when I'm...85.

We were having that conversation for the ten thousandth time over lunch of pizza, wings, and Diet Coke.

"What do you want to do?" he asked.

I had to think about it. I want the financial security of a job with a steady income. I also want to be a writer. I am painfully aware that the second will not provide the first in any timely manner. The clock on that one is ticking louder than any biological clock created. EVER.

"I want to write," I choked out and washed down with Diet Coke fizz, fully prepared to lay out my plan on how to establish myself and supplement with teaching.

But I didn't have to. He looked at me and shrugged,

"Then do it."

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Tooth Fairy

My son lost two teeth today. Opposite sides of the mouth, one on top and one on the bottom. Even through the panic of the second tooth, which he believed should stay in his mouth...blood, spit and crackers floating around in a muck pool...huge, gloppy tears welling up to tell me what was wrong, he was thinking about...

The tooth fairy.

And how much he would score with TWO teeth under his pillow.

And I started thinking about rejection letters, especially since I recently received another one. All the email said was...

"Thank you for thinking of me, but I do not feel I am a good fit for this."

Letters like this, even though they are a no, are worth their weight in gold.

In one simple line the agent acknowledges reading your submission and that you aren't what they're looking for, which is really all a working writer needs to hear to set them on the path toward the right agent. Because sometimes, in the midst of unanswered queries and silent no's, a simple acknowledgement is enough to keep you motivated to send out your work.

It's a tooth under the pillow.

And it makes me excited for the future. For the day when I work through some of the muck pool and I score with two teeth under the pillow.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Your Head Would Spin

Have a platform. But don't have it unless you make it something new and interesting.

Have a blog. Let them know about you. But if it's about you, then don't have a blog.

Have a website. But it should be about something. Something other than facts that advertise your work and your writing. And several pages of it.

If you read all the suggestions out there for platforms and blogs telling a writer what to do to get noticed, your head would spin.

Mine did. I think it almost turned backward.

I thought...huh??? A website? Screaming that I DON'T have anything of significance published, and that I live so far away any agent/writer/publisher relationship would be destined to middle of the night incoherent conversations.

And a blog? To blend in with the six thousand other unpublished writers who have blogs trying to give writing advice to other unpublished authors. Not to mention the book reviewer blogs...the make connections blogs...the whine and complain blogs... and the please just give me a hug blogs.

I'm not saying these things don't have value, I'm saying I don't need to start ANOTHER one.

Because the truth is...if you're doing the work, making your book as good as it should be...the writing will stand out above the rest. If you don't have the skills that come with having done multiple drafts of your work to identify your voice, your weakness for poor vowel choices or bland dialogue, the holes in your plot, the moments that are perfection...then you are not ready to have a platform.

A platform can't stand up if it doesn't have any legs to begin with.

So my blog is really for a very small audience, and I know this. But I think my time is better spent writing.

At least while I still have my head.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Writer

When you examine your life there will be truths…things you are, and things you are not. I am a mom and wife. I am a runner. I am not a smoker. I am a writer.

Calling myself a writer, however, has not always come easy. The definition is tied to a measuring stick of publication…some tangible acknowledgement by the outside world that you do, indeed, write. “What have you published?” is the first question out of nearly every person’s mouth once I admit my passion for creating stories.

But the truth is...I know many good writers that aren’t published. They are working through the same steps taken by nearly every other writer before them. They write a first draft. They write a second draft. They provide and receive feedback from writing groups. They rework a sixth…seventh…eighth draft, striving to make their story the best it can be.

They spend hours searching and researching agents to determine who might be a good advocate for their book. Once they find that agent, they contact publishers to find another home. They develop creative platforms to attract attention and increase sales of the book they spent so many hours perfecting, in the hopes that a reader will pick up their story and fall in love with it the way the author did at the beginning.

They were a writer long before they ever reached the shelf at the bookstore.

So, while I have yet to reach that final goal which prompts everyone else in the world to accept my prowess with words, I am, and always will be, a writer.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


I was walking my dog today and I realized that the things I've done best in my life are the things I took my time on...worked my butt off...and kept going.

My kids.
My marriage.
My book Michelangelo Lives Forever.
My play Muddy Boots.
Running a marathon.
Graduate school.

I am not a gambler. Not one who wins anyway. I play one roll of nickle slots and then watch people throw their money away.

That doesn't mean I don't have the urges to do stupid things.

But it means that I'm starting to recognize my strengths and the way I work, which is something I need to know before finding a home for my writing.

And before I gamble all my nickels away.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Bit of Princess

I realize that someone reading my blog might think I'm the wartiest toad in the bunch when it comes to writers they want to choose to work with.

And in some ways, I might be.

But I hate sales pitches angled around false pretenses. I hate words that are twisted to make something look better than what it is. I hate that sort of dishonesty in relationships.

Because I'm looking for an agent or publisher who is willing to accept me, warts and all, to make something good become great. I can't do that if I'm too busy trying to pretend to be something I'm not.

So what you read here is me. Maybe in a 'funny so I don't take myself too seriously' sort of way, but it is the most honest way I know to recognize my failures and celebrate my accomplishments.

Because even though I'm more comfortable focusing on the warts...and I don't like to admit it...I do have a bit of princess underneath.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Stupid Thing Number 3,914

Let's say we do 1,000 stupid things every 10 years...which makes 100 stupid things every year...which makes 1 stupid thing every 3.65 days.

I actually do more than that, but go with me here.

I was mad into building to the climax of my second middle grade novel, which is a time when I am utterly immersed in my writing and my responses to questions or requests from my family are nothing more than half nods and 'uh huhs,' and I had a sudden idea.

A brilliant idea. Something that could revolutionize the world of Children's Books into a fit and frenzy where everyone would fall on their knees holding their hands to their hearts and call me a genius. And, me being me, I whipped this idea into a succint email and shipped it off to an agent.

An agent that I think I actually like...and might have sought for representation... and might have the chance to meet when I go to Bologna, Italy at the end of March for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Symposium.

Stupid Thing Number 3,914.

I rounded up. It came early.

He, of course, very politely wrote back with "uhhh...ok...this is probably not for me. And please don't try to find me with your boiling bunny in Bologna." Ok, he didn't actually say that, but my interpretation of his response is such.

So now I'm praying. I'm praying that he is NOT one of the people who are critiquing my two manuscripts while I'm at the conference, because I would probably mutter something unintelligible that would age me ten years in the Stupid Things count.

Though at this point, I'm not sure I can get too much older in that department.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Setting a deadline

I've started it. Officially. I'm dedicating one more year of my life towards making writing part of my career path. And if, by the end of that year, I don't have something...some positive step such as an agent or a book being considered by a publisher...then I will have to be done.

The good thing is, it has motivated me to do things I wouldn't have done before. I started a blog. I'm nearly finished with my second middle grade novel and I've started a third. I'm starting a new play. I actively enter contests. I critique online and have my book critiqued in turn. I'm financially investing in two conferences. I search out and submit to agents. I contact publishing companies.

I spend as much time as possible, even time I should be spending with my family, or time I should be watching the burning chicken, trying to make it work.

People at conferences, in blogs, in critique groups, etc. say...keep trying...keep working...keep submitting. And I am. I have won some very nice awards and received some very nice letters detailing my skills as a writer.

But the truth is my kids need to go to college.

And I can't do everything...the kids, the career, the dog, and writing, with a deployed husband.

So I have a deadline.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

It's all my Mother's fault

I recently realized I can blame all of my struggles and frustrations about finding an agent on my Mother.

If it weren't for her influence, I could write some very commercial, very fluffy teenage alien fallen angel vampire romance that agents would snap up and publishers would fight over at auction because it would make everybody millions. But I can't.

While growing up there were plenty of romance novels floating around to temper our teenage hormones, but they were bedtime reading. Something to fall asleep with that didn't require thinking. The reading equivalent of TV's The Bachelor.

Don't get me wrong. I fell asleep to many a romance novel plucked from the free box at the front of the library. But they had nothing on C.S. Lewis, E.L. Konigsburg, A.A. Milne, Dr. Seuss or Madeleine L'Engle. Those were the books Mom bought and kept on the shelves. Those were the ones that had me at hello.

Those and the small puberty books, with simple diagrams, which also found their way onto our bookshelves and substituted for my Mother's sex talk.

So I can't write fluff (or be Fluffy). I write stories that matter to me. So that I think, and laugh, and sometimes even cry.

And it's all my Mother's fault.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Oh. Thank. God.

I received another rejection today. This time a form letter, albeit a very nice encouraging form letter, and my response was:

Oh. Thank. God.

I kid you not. I said that out loud.

See, I knew this agent wasn't right for me but I sent a query anyway in my frustration and impatience while trying to FIND one.

Because while my many wrinkles and emerging grey hairs might make you think I am almost 40, I'm really still 10, waiting for Mom to hand me 50 cents in allowance so I can blow it on candy at the ShopEZ.

I wanted to write back to the agent to admit that I recognize just how bad a fit we would be and to thank her, because I really am smarter in my relationships than that choice of query reflects. But, for oh so many reasons, I didn't.

Let's just say I pocketed 50 cents.

Because I'll probably need it for some hair dye shortly.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Good Kick in the...

Today I received my first rejection from an agent. I don't mean a form 'we're not interested because you suck' letter. I mean a real letter...full of very nice compliments telling me I am a good writer...and it was because of her, not me, that the relationship could not continue.

I wrote back and called her a soul crusher.

All in good fun, of course, and it was very clear that I was joking.

Though I was not joking when I first received the rejection and shared it with my family. I said I was fine. No really, I'm fine.

But my husband rubbed my shoulders and snuggled up while my kids tiptoed around, preparing to do battle with that agent person, only to be surprised by how nice she looked in her picture on the website.

My Dad would call it a Good Kick in the A$$, which was something he firmly believed in when we were out of line as kids.

And though I would not have agreed with him while I stared morosely at the computer for two hours losing at Spider Solitaire, today I would say he was right. Because I spent the day searching for agents that would be a good fit for me...knowing that I'm probably going to get many more Good Kicks in the A$$...but also still believing in the stories and plays that I write.

Which is good, I suppose, since right now I'm the only one reading them.