Exploring those mysterious, underlying forces fueling a writing life

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Great (not so great) Aunt Tillie – In Memoriam

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

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!

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.

Giving Thanks

Me, age 6

Me, age 6

Most (sane) people go to college, start a career, get married, buy a house, then have kids, etc..  Me, not so sane. You might say I’ve taken more of a circuitous path, not only in life, but in writing as well.

Hence my official Acknowledgements page prior to the actual published book.

Why wait?

There are too many people I need to thank for just getting me to the place where I am at now:

  • Friends who have believed in me far longer than I have believed in myself and encouraged me to follow my heart: Billy Fallon, Peter Reeves, Dana Berenson, and Laurinda Hawkins (still have that engraved pen to sign my first  contract.)
  • Teachers who welcomed me into their classrooms to test-drive first chapters and talk about writing:  Mrs. Van Camp, Mrs. Monarca, Mrs. Govoni, Mrs. Sudol, and librarian, Mrs Phillips.
  • Those students who stopped me in the hallways of Hebron Elementary to ask me again and again “are you finished yet?” and then told me how much they liked it after they finally got to read it.  Many, many thanks to Meredith B., Brian H., Ben M., Zach S., Katelyn J., Sam B.,  I would never have finished the first draft if you hadn’t have kept asking.
  • Friends and family who graciously read the first draft and didn’t puke – Joe, Dylan, Elena, Mom, Tony, Andy, Natalie, Aunt Chele, Uncle Mike, Kathy, Tim, Julie, Scott, Esther, Sarah, Sierra, Angela, Olivia, the Oullette family, and Amy (the slow reader who I know will get it to one of these days).
  • My fellow SCBWI writers who continually offer gentle, yet honest criticism and support along with plenty of wine, chocolate and laughter: Nancy Tandon, Holly Howley, Jill Dailey, Jessica Loupos, Kristina O’Leary, Paula Wilson, Betsy Wittemann, Carol and Kelly.  I truly believe we will be popping champagne corks one day soon.  And thank you, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, for being so generous with your advice, and encouragement.
  • The very talented and supportive writers and poets of the Whispering River Writing Group – Merle and Arielle Potchinsky, Willa Correnti, Alice Kuzel and Kelly Parlin.
  • The lovely ladies of the Blue Crayon critique group – Heather Montgomery, Sharon Pegram and Linda Anderson.  Our monthly deadline has kept me moving forward many times.
  • Most especially, I must thank Carol and John Merrifield for not only opening up their home to five writers who desperately needed that quiet, uninterrupted time to create, but for raising the kindest, most thoughtful and talented daughter, Nancy Tandon, who suggested our (hopefully annual) Fireside Retreat.  And a special thank you, Mom, for being “on-call” that weekend, just in case Joe had to work and couldn’t take care of the kids and the dog.
  • And finally, I thank the Twitter/blog followers whom I am not related to, nor have ever actually met  –  thank you for that tiny thrill of knowing I’ve touched another life, giving me reason to keep writing.

I could not have come this far without you all.

I thank you all and invite you to my future book launch (date and location TBD, hopefully in this century).

Cheers –

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