Exploring those mysterious, underlying forces fueling a writing life

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!

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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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…

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 –

Uba 9wksA puppy touches something very deep in us, and when we first hold one in our arms it is easy to be swept away with blind enthusiasm. Who would suspect the challenge that awaits us? – The Art of Raising a Puppy

Meet Uba, a recent addition to our family. Having never raised a puppy before, I was not quite prepared for the challenge. While extremely frustrating and stressful at times, the experience has also been enlightening and rewarding.

Much like writing a novel.

Both require patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement.

Patience is a key virtue in nurturing a relationship, to keep us relaxed and moving forward step-by-step. With patience, we can stay in touch with the bigger picture…  – The Art of Raising a Puppy

Writing a novel, training a puppy takes time and patience. Neither can be rushed. Some days will be better than others. Some days Uba will pee on the rug, without ever indicating he needs to go. Some days I can only manage to write only one sentence. Other days, Uba will sit when told, come when called, and defecate where he should. And I am able to crank out 1000 words without crying. The only way to get it done is step-by-step, day-by-day, word-by-word.

Bad habits develop quickly… Whatever your specific desire, obviously they won’t transpire by magic but will require consistent and conscientious work to make them a reality. – The Art of Raising a Puppy

It’s easy to let Uba sometimes lead the way or run into the house without my permission to enter. It’s hard to ignore an excited puppy, jumping on me because he hasn’t seen me for awhile. It’s easy to slack off, hit that snooze button a couple more times, convince myself that I’ll work on it later that night instead.

The consequences?

One unruly puppy. One unfinished novel. One stressed-out, discouraged, possibly deranged writer.

…motivating and rewarding particular behavior is an essential part of good training. – The Art of Raising a Puppy

He sits. Give him a treat. He comes. Give him a treat. He stays. Give him a treat.

Write a paragraph. Get a treat. Write a scene. Get a treat. Finish a chapter. Get a treat.

Uba likes dog treats. I prefer chocolate.

Dog training actually goes beyond the elementary instruction of basic obedience commands; it must encompass a whole new attitude and lifestyle with your dog. – The Art of Raising a Puppy

Writing goes beyond the simple act of putting words on paper. It’s the attempt to use your memories, thoughts, knowledge, experiences, etc. to create worlds that readers will want to visit over and over again.

Neither is easy.

Both can be rewarding.

And now, as a writer with a dog, I know there are two things I must always carry: a notebook and a plastic bag. I never know when an “idea” will suddenly drop.

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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