Exploring those mysterious, underlying forces fueling a writing life

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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.

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The Best Mother’s Day Gift for an Author

Today is Mother’s Day – and as usual it is a special day, when my two teenage children will make me breakfast and maybe clean the house (or at least their rooms), and may even get through the day without arguing. But this Mother’s Day is a particularly special one for me.

This Mother’s Day, another baby of mine is being born.

A baby that was first just a seed of an idea. It required time and nourishment to grow. And patience. There were moments when doubts and anxiety made me question whether I could really do it. There was also joy and excitement as we crept closer and closer to the delivery date.

And today, May 10th, I am proud to finally announce the release of Chapter 10 of the Great CT Caper: Mayhem in the Mansion!

Please read, enjoy and be grateful there are no dirty diapers to change.

The Glory of Failure

Considering I stand only five feet tall on my tip-toes, I never would have thought I would have something in common with basketball great Michael Jordan.

But we share one thing: failure.

“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” Michael Jordan

I, too, have failed again and again – evidenced by my growing pile of rejections from agents and editors.

First PenguinSo, it was quite an honor to recently be awarded The First Penguin Award because I “attempted the hard things, out-of-the-box thinking and using imagination in a daring way without worrying about failure, has taken the gamble of trying new ideas, and continues to be creative and ply my craft”. (Thanks, Mom!)

In his book, “The Last Lecture“, Randy Pausch encouraged his students to “Be the First Penguin”. Students were awarded a stuffed penguin for taking the biggest gamble in trying something new even though it ended with failure. Why a penguin? Because when a group of penguins jump into waters filled with predators, one of them has to go first.

And with each failure we gain experience.

“Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted…It’s a phrase worth considering at every brick wall we encounter, and at every disappointment. It’s also a reminder that failure is not just acceptable, it’s often essential…First Penguin winners were losers who were definitely going somewhere.” Randy Pausch

CTCaper poster finalAnd this First Penguin winner is on her way. As one of twelve authors selected to write a chapter, I invite you to come along with me in the Great Connecticut Caper, a serialized mystery for children to be published on the Connecticut Humanities website. Join the fun!

Win a Doodle! Win a Doodle! Win a Doodle!

All you need are hugs and sunrises.

What are your words of wisdom? Share and enter a chance to win a doodle!

heylookawriterfellow

Who will be the lucky winner? Who will be the lucky winner?

In March, I hosted a contest. The grand (and only) prize was an official, original, custom-made Mike Allegra doodle.

Despite my doodling ability, the number of people who entered this contest was pretty large. This surprised me.

What also surprised me was that some of you reeeeally wanted that ding-dang doodle. In fact, a few people threatened to sic their cats on me if I didn’t do another doodle contest post haste.

To these people I say settle down because here’s another chance to win a doodle!

IF YOU WIN, I WILL DRAW WHATEVER YOU WANT!

Don’t believe me? Here’s proof:

Jenion (the winner of the March contest) wanted a drawing of a bicycle racer. So I drew her a bicycle racer.

Ta daa! Ta daa!

But here is real proof: I am not fond of cats. (I am horribly allergic and keep rodents as pets.) But, once…

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When the Universe Speaks

I’ve been meaning to take a day off from work to try and finish my forever-in-progress novel, but haven’t managed to get around to actually doing that.

Then…

…our dog developed started itching and scratching himself to the point where his hair was falling out. I thought, well, maybe I’ll take Friday off and take him to the vet and send the rest of the day writing. But it was spreading quickly. So I took him to the vet on Thursday night. $294 later, he’s is on antibiotics and steroids for a possible allergic reaction to either a particular food or something environmental and I went to work on Friday. Not a lot of writing done.

Then…

…Sunday evening, not even an hour after my husband left for work n Pennsylvania, water started gushing out of the ground by our septic tank. I called the septic company. He asked me if I thought it was an emergency. Well, no. We didn’t need to wash clothes, dishes, ourselves that night. Then he offered to try and fit me in on Monday instead. Only he wasn’t sure what time he could come. I’d have to take the day off and wait around for him to show up and pump out our septic tank. Oh, and it would cost $220.

phone_redRing…Ring…

Hello?

It’s the Universe calling. Quit complaining and listen. Take the day off. Write.

So I did.

I sat. Butt in chair. I wrote. I Iistened.

I finished it! (well, almost)

And I know I must listen to the Universe whenever it speaks.

I just hope next time it isn’t such an expensive call.

Sh** Happens.

Sh** Happens

My family is convinced I keep a poo diary.

As a young(ish) first-time mother, I was a bit over concerned with certain aspects of taking care of a baby when my son was born – namely, his soiled nappies. I followed the maxim that if whatever went in one end came out the other end in proper form, then everything was fine.

Fifteen years later and my family still tease me about keeping track of every bowel movement. (I swear I didn’t).

When we got our German Shepherd puppy last May, we had some trouble finding him the right food. He kept getting diarrhea. Several vet visits and rounds of feeding him boiled chicken and rice, we finally figured out it was either the chicken or the rice and now feed him neither. And of course, I was once again checking output every day. And enduring the endless poo diary jokes.

Which is why I was thrilled to find the book Poop Happened (Walker Children’s 2010) by Sarah Albee, a writer who obviously understands the importance of poo.

poop-happened2-180x225 From Goodreads:

History finally comes out of the water-closet in this exploration of how people’s need to relieve themselves shaped human development from ancient times to the present. Throughout time, the most successful civilizations were the ones who realized that everyone poops, and they had better figure out how to get rid of it! From the world’s first flushing toilet invented by ancient Minoan plumbers to castle moats in the middle ages that used more than just water to repel enemies, Sarah Albee traces human civilization using one revolting yet fascinating theme.

A blend of historical photos and humorous illustrations bring the answers to these questions and more to life, plus extra-gross sidebar information adds to the potty humor. This is bathroom reading kids, teachers, librarians, and parents won’t be able to put down!

I wasn’t able to put it down, despite the wisecracks and giggles from my family. Yes, it’s a gross subject, but definitely worth reading about.

And now I must ask you to excuse me, I suddenly feel the urge to go wash my hands…

Call it serendipity

Call it serendipity. Coincidence. Divine intervention. Author Sharon Creech calls it the great unexpected.

But I thought about all the things that had to have spun into place in order for us to be alive and for us to be right there, right then. I thought about the few things we thought we knew and the billions of things we couldn’t know, all spinning, whirling out there somewhere. – Naomi, The Great Unexpected

In her latest novel, The Great Unexpected (2013, HarperCollins), Sharon Creech explores how unexpected things can be wonderful and how connected people are to each other, even if they are strangers, living oceans apart. I was fortunate to be “right there, right then” at the recent NE-SCBWI annual conference to hear Sharon Creech discuss the relevance of connections in her writing.

In an engaging manner, she explained how two poems, written by different authors and discovered at different times in her life, collided together at the right moment to provide the inspiration for her novel, Love That Dog (2001, Harper Collins). And how she found the message of her Newbery award-winning novel, Walk Two Moons (1994, Scholastic), in a most unexpected place – a fortune cookie.

I’ve had my own great unexpecteds: a visit to an Impressionists exhibit in Glasgow, a mix- up of the words to Gary Wright’s song Dream Weaver, and an introduction to the Velvet Revolution in the book The Wall (2007, Macmillan) by Peter Sis. Random occurrences that have all somehow connected to inspire and influence my own MG novel.

We may not immediately see the underlying web of interconnecting threads linking together, but they are most certainly there. And we need only to allow ourselves to be open to let them connect.

How about you? Have you had any connections, any great unexpecteds?

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