Exploring those mysterious, underlying forces fueling a writing life

our flaws, our strengths

“Do you grind them?”

The question threw me. It was my first craft show, first time selling my pieces of sea glass jewelry and she was a veteran. Was I doing something wrong?

Should I be grinding the sea glass? Smoothing out those rough spots, the dents, the imperfections? Would I sell more?

No.

Carved from the same tumbling sea forces, nature took what was discarded trash and created art. There are no two identical pieces of real sea glass.

The imperfections speak of their uniqueness, give them their beauty and strength.

Make them memorable.

Perfection has one grave defect: it is apt to be dull. W. Somerset Maugham

The same applies to the characters in the stories we love.

Would we have been so fascinated with Katniss if she weren’t so protective of the ones she loved?

Would we still be crying out “Oh, Mr. Darcy!” for another hundred years if he and Elizabeth did not let their pride keep them apart.

Flaws serve to add depth and conflict, establish empathy, and make the character more memorable. MJ Bush, WritinGeekery (www.writingeekery.com/flaw/).

I keep my sea glass just as I found them along the shoreline, flaws and all.  Those flaws inspire the design and I let them guide me into creating something beautiful and unique.

And as I revise (yet again) my middle grade novel, I am focusing on my own characters’ flaws and how their imperfections will shape and guide the story.

If only I could see my own flaws as my strength…

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Pushing Boulders

I had the speech all prepared.  I walked into the conference room with my group of six fifth graders, ready to console them when the principal would turn down their request to go on a field trip to visit the Mark Twain House. I had already been told that morning it would be a “no”.

Marktwainhouse

(marktwainhouse.org)

They call themselves the Mysterious Manning Society.  We started off with fourteen students, all interested in being part of a book club that met once a week during their lunch time.  I offered three choices of books based on their interests and we settled on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

When we first started reading the book, I mentioned that the author had lived in Hartford (less than a half-hour drive from the school) and his house was now a museum. We all agreed it would be cool to go visit at the time, but didn’t pursue the idea.

We are now down to six members who have persevered through fence painting, Tom and Becky’s engagement, Injun Joe, runaway pirates, and Tom attending his own funeral, stolen treasure, and courtroom drama. The idea of visiting the museum had morphed into more than just an idea.

I explained to them that it was an unusual request – a field trip for only six students.  We would have to persuade the teachers, the principal, the curriculum director, maybe even the Superintendent.  But why not try? My consolation speech already began taking form in my head.

I was going to tell them to think of themselves as a river – the water that flows downstream to a destination.  The principal and others were the boulders in the way. The water does not stop, it simply finds a way around the boulders.  We would not get to go on the field trip, but we could always pick a day during the summer and tour the house together.   It would be a life lesson, a teachable moment for handling disappointment.

I was the one who learned a lesson. In perseverance and persuasion.  See for yourself:

The Mysterious Manning’s Society’s Magnificent Mark Twain Adventure Presentation

How could anyone say no after that?

The field trip is booked.

The river didn’t go around the boulders.  It pushed the boulder aside.

Valentines for the Ugliest

 

pink-is-for-blogfish

Today I shared Pink is for Blobfish with students during library time.

There were “eews”, “gross” and “yucks”.

According the author Jess Keating, the Blowfish has been voted the #1 Ugliest Animal in the World.

The students didn’t think he (or she) would get any Valentines today – so they made their own.

These two are my favorites:

blobfish-card-2

Aleya, 1st grade

 

blobfish-card

 Marin, 5th grade

It was always my hope that young readers would learn about these strange creatures, and develop a caring attitude and empathy toward them. We share the earth with them, after all, and caring about them is the first step to sharing spaces and taking care of them. It was my hope that kids saw that the diversity of these creatures mattered, despite how weird and bizarre they are. – Jess Keating

They saw. Intermingled with the “eews” and “yucks” were “cools” and “wows” and “Can I have this book?”  I expect this book won’t be staying on the shelf too long.

Thank you Jess Keating and Kenny Brechner from DDG Booksellers who originally had the idea for the Valentine’s Day for Blobfish contest.

Happy Valentine’s Day

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Raising awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, and getting more of these of books into classrooms and libraries.

As an elementary school librarian, I am often asked by teachers and students for multicultural books; so I was pleased to have been offered the opportunity to review the following two books to celebrate Multicultural Children’s Book Day being held on January 27th.

51gsu06qoil-_sx329_bo1204203200_Amina’ Voice by Hena Khan (to be released March 14, 2017)
Salaam Reads, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
Ages 8-12   ISBN 978-1-4814-9206-5

Amina is a twelve-year old Pakistani-American girl trying to find her place in middle school. A talented  singer, she lacks the courage to face the spotlight and show her real self to others.  In addition to the typical middle school dramas of changing friendships and gossip, Amina also questions if she is a proper Muslim after her traditional uncle visits from Pakistan.  After her local mosque is vandalized and the community rallies around to help, Amina finds her voice and overcomes her fear of sharing her gift with others.

Hena Khan seamlessly weaves the Pakistani and Muslim traditions into a heart-warming realistic story.  Given the current situations this country faces, this is the perfect book to show just how much alike we all really are despite our different religions and cultures.

I put this book on my To Buy List immediately after reading it.

unknownCry of the Sea by DG Driver
Fire and Ice, an imprint of Melange Books
Ages  13-17  ISBN 978-1-61235-786-7

Mermaids.  The mention on mermaids in the blurb and I immediately thought Fantasy. But this is no Fantasy. It is in fact a very realistic story of Juniper Sawfeather, a senior in high school whose parents are both well-known environmental activists. Their “tree hugger” status and her being half Chinook and ruins any chance of her winning the popularity contest. She plans to go to a college as far away from her parents as she can. When a tanker spills oil on a local beach, Juniper’s life dramatically changes when she finds three mermaids covered in oil. She, her parents, a good-looking college intern, and the popular clique from school become embroiled in a battle with the oil company to save the mermaids and the environment.

Regarding the multiculturalism in this book, I don’t think the Chinook heritage was fully developed within the story. While the characters had tribal origins, it seemed more of an added layer to the story, rather than an integral part.

DG Driver does offer an intriguing and fast-paced adventure in which the reader gets a realistic and timely portrayal of what could happen if a new species discovery impacted the oil industry.  In particular, how the media can easily distort the truth for either side.  I would recommend this book to any middle school or high school student interested in environmental thrillers.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid’s books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team are on a mission to change all of that. This event has also proven to be an excellent way to compile a list of diverse children’s book titles and reviews for parents, grandparents, educators and librarians to use all year long.

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include ScholasticBarefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. RomanAudrey PressCandlewick Press,  Fathers IncorporatedKidLitTVCapstone Young Readers, Author Gayle SwiftWisdom Tales PressLee& Low BooksThe Pack-n-Go GirlsLive Oak MediaAuthor Charlotte RiggleChronicle Books and Pomello Books

Author Sponsor include: Karen Leggett AbourayaVeronica AppletonSusan Bernardo, Kathleen BurkinshawMaria DismondyD.G. DriverGeoff Griffin Savannah HendricksStephen HodgesCarmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid ImaniGwen Jackson,  Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana LlanosNatasha Moulton-LevyTeddy O’MalleyStacy McAnulty,  Cerece MurphyMiranda PaulAnnette PimentelGreg RansomSandra Richards, Elsa TakaokaGraciela Tiscareño-Sato,  Sarah StevensonAndrea Y. Wang

 

 

 

My Great Aunt Tillie passed away last night at the age of 100 years.

aunt-tillie

Aunt Tillie (in red)

She was not the typical sweet, old little lady.

And thank the stars she wasn’t.

Quick-witted and cantankerous, she spoke and did as she pleased, without caring much for what other people thought.  At my cousin Kathy’s wedding, she mortified my grandmother by dancing with a plant atop her head. She went to church and Bingo every week, sometimes driving 80mph to get there on time.

I just had to write about her.  One of my novels-in-progress, tentatively titled “Rotten Tomatoes” has 13 year old Haley reluctantly moving in with her Great (not so great) Aunt Tillie:

Her garden takes up nearly a third of the backyard. Great (not so great) Aunt Tillie grows everything out here, but not everything gets to live.

She said she didn’t mean to hurt any of them. She just meant to scare them. Frighten them enough so they would stop. She never even aimed.

There were just so many of them. Running here and there, going in circles, like some crazy dance. It was all so confusing, she said.

If only the rabbits had enough sense to realize it was Great (not so great) Aunt Tillie’s garden, and not some other, normal person’s garden.

They had been sneaking into her garden and eating the “fruits” or rather “veggies” of her labor. For most people a fence would have been enough to keep the rabbits out. Great (not so great) Aunt Tillie is not most people.

One day she saw some boys in her neighborhood playing with paintball guns. And she got an idea.

She bought herself a paintball gun. The next day, she loaded it up with blue paint balls.

She claimed she never intended to hit the rabbits, just scare them. She didn’t point the gun at any one rabbit. But one particular rabbit was just not in the right place at the right time.

Aunt Tillie hit the poor rabbit with a blue paint pellet, dead on. Literally, dead on.

And what does one do with a dead, blue rabbit? Bury it? Hide it? Throw it in the neighbor’s yard?

Great (not so great) Aunt Tillie did none of these things.

Great (not so great) Aunt Tillie made blue rabbit stew.

Aunt Tillie didn’t really make rabbit stew.  Actually, she was very upset about killing that poor creature.  But we can’t help but laugh about it.  And about the many other stories we’ll all share in the coming days.

We joke that there’s an Aunt Tillie in every generation of our family. My brother has already deemed me heir.

I hope not to disappoint.

The Toilet Test

My gym buddies and I have a way of determining whether a workout has been effective. We call it The Toilet Test. The more difficult and painful it is to get yourself up and off the toilet seat, the better the workout.

I recently signed up for the O2X Couch to Summit Challenge (http://o2x.com/summit-challenge/).   Nine weeks of grueling workouts of cardio and strength training followed by a race up Loon Mountain. Nine weeks of sore muscles.

According to Carol Torgan, an exercise physiologist and fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, “the muscle discomfort is simply a symptom of using your muscles and placing stresses on them that are leading to adaptations to make them stronger and better able to perform the task the next time.” (http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/sore-muscles-dont-stop-exercising#1)

Stronger and better.  

Rejection letters are the sore muscles of publishing.  

Getting that “thanks, but no thanks” letter is as painful as aching arms and legs. And both offer the same thing: proof you are getting better.  You are working hard toward your goal.

In her blogpost on Literary Hub, Kim Liao recommends collecting rejection letters: http://lithub.com/why-you-should-aim-for-100-rejections-a-year. “If you work that hard to get so many rejections, you’re sure to get a few acceptances,too.”

I’m on Week 3 of the training and so far I’ve received two rejection letters – only 98 more to go.

But first, I have to (ouch) get myself (double ouch) off the toilet…

A Series of Unlikely Events

9497589-bad-luck-road-sign-unlucky-bad-day-or-bad-fortune-misfortune-arrow--Stock-PhotoI haven’t been feeling so fortunate lately. This past month,

  • I injured my back at the gym. The slightest movement was quite painful, so I as unable to attend our annual family party. It will be another year before I’ll see some of the people that did get to go.
  • I ended up in the Emergency Room with jaw pain, dizziness and heart palpitations. Cause, still unknown despite the many tests. (If you are a woman and experiencing this, it may be a heart attack. Go to the ER immediately.)
  • I broke my computer (though I must admit that was due to bad temper more than bad luck).
  • And after committing to finish the fourth revision on what I thought was my unique and original MG novel (Dream Sweepers), I found out that another author is releasing a similar book (Dreambenders) this spring. Too similar.

I am the Unluckiest Girl in the World.

Except I’m not.

My bad luck has revealed how truly lucky I am.

  • I am part of an incredible group of writers who will not only help me reach my goals, but keep me smiling with their encouragement and bottles of wine. One of them even lent me her old laptop.
  • I didn’t have a heart attack and my back injury allowed me to shorten that pile of books I’ve wanted to read.
  • Upon hearing my medical frustrations, a friend suggested the book Medical Medium by Anthony William. I am hopeful that I may no longer have to suffer with the dizziness, mental fog, joint pains, heart palpitations and depression that I have been experiencing for far too long.
  • And while I am still going to finish my original and unique story, I’ve decided to focus on another novel that has a better chance of getting published – a story about a girl who thinks Fate hates her when she has to go live with her eccentric great aunt.

It’s new title: The Unluckiest Girl in the World

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