Thursday, December 24, 2015

Visions of Sugarplums?

The cranberry orange bread is made, sweet & spicy pecans are baked, the Honeybaked ham is ready, the trifle is ready to assemble, potatoes just need to be mashed, and I've been at my new job for just over a week.

And what am I thinking about? My new job? Christmas? No. My brain is focusing on the anticipation of trying out a new genre in my writing.

I have written two picture book manuscripts and while they are off making their rounds, I will be happily diving into writing a middle grade novel for the first time. I've taken a few weeks' hiatus from writing to get settled at my new job and prepare for the holidays, but I actually can hardly wait for December 26th, when I will either haul all the holiday decorations back into storage or start outlining in a genre that is new to me (both possibilities are almost equally attractive to me - weird, I know).

In the two weeks I have been ignoring my writing, I already feel I have gotten rusty in my writing and plotting. I can't wait to dive back in!

In the meantime, I'll leave you with two funnies from Debbie Ridpath Ohi (love her!). They about sum it up for me.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

How To Be A Writer Without Losing Your Mind

Ha! Thought I was going to answer that, didn't you?

I can't. I have no witty, wise or wonderful words today. And as much as I need it, I sure don't have that answer. But I think John Cusick does:  John Cusick's How To Be A Writer Without Losing Your Mind: Balancing Work, Life and Craft.

Oooooo! It's a webinar. It's John Cusick. It's November 19.

Saturday, October 10, 2015


I am so glad I went to the SCBWI Carolinas Fall Conference. So glad. Here's why:

  1. There was no noise outside my hotel room. When does that ever even happen? They must have had good insulation. 
  2. I got to meet and talk with lots of other pre-published authors, which is always fun and informative.
  3. I heard agents speak in various capacities - on a diversity panel, on a breakout session focused on the agent process, and on a breakout session about making your book the best it can be. It was all very helpful. I even got a little one on one time to talk with an agent I admire.
  4. Alan Gratz had a wonderful session for beginning writers laying out all the nitty-gritty stuff we need to know. 
  5. I felt like a rock star groupie talking with the published authors that were there like Kelly Starling Lyons, Alan Gratz and Pat Cummings. They were funny, gracious, helpful and down to earth.

For all those reasons, I came home pumped about writing! And just this week, I finished my first draft of my second picture book. I sent it out a few minutes ago to a newly formed online critique group  (we all attended the Children's Book Academy Craft and Business of Writing Children's Picture Books online course this summer), and I hope to get feedback to make it better.

I'm also pumped about a session I presented yesterday at the North Carolina Indian Education Summit. The Summit is organized by the North Carolina State Advisory Council on Indian Education, of which I am a member.

I spoke about how to evaluate children's literature for American Indian bias. Although in some ways I was speaking to the choir (mostly American Indian audience), I think it is helpful to talk about identity and show how literature is linked to America's insidious social understanding of what 'Indian' means. Texts that promote stereotypes are the Land O'Lakes lady and the R******s mascot (I can't bring myself to type the word) in words instead of in visual images. We also used a tool to help evaluate books and looked at wonderful alternative books that schools and parents can and should use. We used the Text Resources pages of the NC SACIE's new Culturally Responsive Instructional Resources to do this work.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Genre and Research

I have just discovered that my new WIP is, darn sure, a narrative non-fiction biography. This surprised me. I was thinking of it more as a story about strength of character shown through events in a child's life, with the child just so happening to be a real person. Brief note in the back about the real person to be included.

All that is still true. But framing it in my mind as a particular genre is helping me to better write it by giving me some more specific parameters, and will hopefully result in a stronger product.

I had hoped to have my first draft of this WIP finished by the SCBWI Carolinas Fall Conference (my birthday present to myself - I'm so excited!), but I am doubting that will happen at this point.

In the meantime, my headspace is set in 1932.

  • President Hoover suggests a 5 day work week. 
    Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • Senator Franklin D. Roosevelt is on his way up politically and eventually earns the presidency in a landslide victory.
  • The Nazi party is positioning itself for power in Germany, as is Adolf Hitler.
  • A Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley, is published.
  • Al Capone is sent to prison.
  • The yellow fever vaccine is introduced.
  • Dust storms begin in Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, the start of the Dust Bowl.
  • Hattie W. Caraway becomes the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate.
  • Jack Benny debuts on the radio.
  • The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck, wins the Pulitzer Prize.
  • The baby son of Charles and Anne Lindbergh is kidnapped and later found dead. Charles Lindbergh was the first person to be in New York one day and Paris the next with his 33 hour flight in the Spirit of St. Louis (1927)
  • Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. 
    Amelia Earhart
  • Bonnie Parker is captured by law enforcement, not indicted, and released.
  • Geneva Disarmament Conference begins with 60 countries. Many major world powers sign non-aggression treaties.
  • Japan attacks China.
  • Goofy first appears in Disney films.
  • Grand Hotel, starring Greta Garbo and John Barrymore, premieres in New York. "I want to be alone."
  • Tarzan, The Ape Man premiers starring Johnny Weissmuller.
  • The NFL finally approves players wearing numbers.
  • 1st class postage rises to 3 cents.
  • Depression hits a low point on the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
  • President Hoover cuts his own salary by 15%. 
    Bonnie & Clyde
  • WWI veterans march on the U.S. Capitol for veteran's benefits. Police fire tear gas on them.
  • White Zombie, the first feature length zombie film, starring Bela Lugosi, is released.
  • Clyde Barrow and two associates kill a deputy and sheriff.
  • Jazz composer Duke Ellington writes, "It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing", a song that ushered in the the swing era of the 30s and 40s. 
  • Gandhi begins a hunger strike against the treatment of the untouchables.
  • The FBI crime lab officially opens. 
  • The Adventures of Charlie Chan first heard on the radio.
  • Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers release their first joint movie, Flying Down to Rio.
  • Groucho Marx performs on the radio for the first time.
  • Radio City Music Hall opens.

Will I include any and all of these historical references in my WIP. No. A few, yes. A very few. But it helps me to understand the larger picture of the world at that time and how the people in it might have navigated it.

And now I am going to see if I can watch Grand Hotel anywhere online (for free). I vant to be alone.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

School Has Started

Welp, school has started.

How to make time to teach, pump out blog posts and write?

*Drums fingers on table, waits for answers to materialize.

*Still drumming.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Staying Untangled

I know for sure that I cannot be creative if/when I am frazzled, exhausted, or stressed. For the past few months, walking has helped with that.

What my brain, emotions, nerves, and jaw feel like when I don't walk:

What my brain, emotions, nerves and jaw feel like when I walk most days:

As writers and creative people, we each need to figure out what will get us untangled to allow those free-flowing thoughts to pop into our brains. I fought walking for a good long while for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that I truly would rather sit on the sofa with a pack of Oreos.

So I have decided to think of it not as a hated thing I must do because the doctor said so, yada yada yada, but as a treat I give myself. Thirty minutes of untangling to free my creativity.

Me, walking:

I know the trick will be to keep it up when school is back in session (that would be two days from now). But it's my treat, right? I can treat myself.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Real Magic*

 “Little Rabbit,” she said, “don’t you know who I am?”
 “I am the nursery magic Fairy,” she said. “I take care of all the playthings that the children have loved. When they are old and worn out and the children don’t need them any more, then I come and take them away with me and turn them into Real.”
          – from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
Clambering out the back doors and up onto the roof of our old wood paneled station wagon was decadent fun. My sister and I threw our pillows onto the roof followed by our magic blankets and climbed safely inside the silver rectangle of the roof railings, an area ostensibly for the easy transport of luggage, but also just the right size for a bed for two children.

Fireflies floated in the dusky air, swings creaked at the small rusty playground meant for restless children, and the huge movie screen glowed. Cartoon hot dogs, sodas and popcorn danced on skinny legs across the screen, their happy tune cavorting from the speakers hooked on our station wagon windows, urging us to the delights of the concession stand.

With our parents in the front seat, Lisa and I settled on the roof in the familiar comfort of our magic blankets, blissfully mesmerized by the treat of a drive-in movie.


I was about a year and a half old when my father was discharged from the Army in late 1963 and we moved from the area of Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines back to the United States and lived for a time with my mother’s parents in western North Carolina. We were scheduled to move to Pennsylvania soon, and after several years in the tropics, did not have warm bedding. But our young family was short on money.

Feed sack turned dish towel turned magic quilt.
  My grandmother Opal had a quilting bag filled with fabric scraps that she was happy to give to the warm bedding cause and my mother was happy to turn into quilts. Each of the fabric squares on our 'magic blankets' has a story of family history behind it, not just a generational passing down of a subsistence skill and art, but fleshing out a picture of rural American resourcefulness in using livestock feed sacks to make clothes, dish towels and more.

The edging and backing of our quilts were made from cow feed sacks that came from Polkville where my Granddaddy Lee bought cow feed.

My Aunt Wanda had a dress out of this fabric, which was then passed down to my
mother. You can see the part that was protected on the right.
Most rural families sewed much of their own clothing prior to the 1960s and 1970s. While my mother was growing up, her Grandma Bridges was the main seamstress for the family until my mother, Pat, and her sister, Wanda, learned to sew well. With her parents busy farming and working at local textile mills, my mother looked forward to the treat of making trips to the fabric store in Spindale with her Grandma Bridges, whose love of sewing sparked that same love in my mother. The fabric store, Mitchell Company, had a remnants area called The Ragbox, where they sold fabric for fifty cents a yard. Sometimes they even ran specials for nickel a yard – and three yards of fabric would make a fashionable 1950s dress with a big skirt.  Fifteen cents for a dress! 

My mother and her sister had Sunday school dresses made
made from this fabric.

This square was my mother’s skirt at 4H Camp. Like many children from farming families, my mother and her sister went to 4H Camp at Swannanoa, North Carolina. During the week, casual dress (jeans, shorts) was expected, but the last night was special – campers dressed up for a square dance. My mother helped her Grandma Bridges make a skirt from this fabric for that final night’s square dance. The skirt had a pinafore with straps and a white eyelet blouse that went with it.


 Sleepy late afternoon at the shore. I am worn out after a day playing in the ocean. From the cocoon of our camper, I can hear the roar of the waves pounding the beach on the other side of the dunes. The canvas tent flaps push in and suck out with the salty breeze. I hear tinny pots and pans clanking as my mother fixes dinner on the Coleman stove set on a corner of the wooden picnic table.
Too hot to get in my sleeping bag, I lay on top of it. I turn on my side and pull my magic blanket over my shoulders to cool and comfort me. With each movement, sand falls off my dirty brown feet in soft tickles. I rub my fingers over the pretty flowered square of my grandmother’s dress and close my eyes.

This is the oldest fabric on my magic blanket. Grandmother Opal had a dress
made out of this when she was a young married woman. She was married at
 sixteen in about 1935.

Unfaded portion of Grandmother's dress at left

Usually quilts have fluffy batting inside them. Since we couldn’t afford that, and other material was readily available, our magic quilts had a different filler. That other filler came from the 'double blankets' my mother, Wanda, and their brother Robert had as children. Years after their original use, when my mother, aunt and uncle were grown, those blankets were crafted into the filler for our quilts, making our quilts sturdy and heavy. This weight was one of my favorite things about our quilts and why Lisa and I called them our magic blankets  –  the weight acted as insulation.  We swore our quilts kept us cool in the summer and warm in the winter! That weight, both in the literal and metaphorical sense of family, was so comforting. As little girls, it was pure magic.

Our mother let us pick out the squares of fabric we wanted her to sew into our quilts from Grandmother Opal’s quilting bag and let us decide where each square would go.

Green girls go at the top, tucked under my chin. I liked their hearts.

These three fabrics were part of a set. The green and white fabrics were first made into a ‘border skirt’ for my Aunt Wanda, with the waist and main area made from the fabric with the white background, the green girls next to the bottom and the green background fabric at the very bottom. It was later handed down to my mother who wore it for a while, then took it apart and made it into a short blouse to wear with Bermuda shorts.
Uncle Steve's sun suit.
     When my mother learned to sew fairly well, she made sun suits for her youngest brother, Steve. They had straps at the shoulder and snaps at the bottom to change his diaper.

This mama bear rocking a baby bear used to be a cow feed sack. There are several squares of this fabric on my quilt and it is one of my favorites. The biggest square in the middle of my quilt is this fabric; I always thought of it as the heart of my magic blanket.
My mother's Home Economics project fabric.
My mother also enjoyed sewing in her Home Economics classes in high school. In tenth grade, they were assigned a redecoration project. The students were to sew something to redecorate a room. My mother sewed cushions to match a bedspread and also made a seat and seat cushion for a dressing table set. Her father helped her make the seat for the dressing table out of a little wooden barrel and she made a cushion to sit on top of the seat out of this same fabric. 

My mother’s Grandma Bridges sewed Easter dresses out of this lamb fabric for my mother and her sister. My mother’s fabric was blue lambs to go with her blue eyes and this is the fabric that ended up on my quilt. My aunt’s fabric was yellow lambs to complement her brown eyes, and that was used on my sister’s quilt.

This fabric was first a dress for Wanda, then for my mother. You can see where I tried (very badly) to repair a rip when I was about 12. This, unfortunately, was the extent and sum of my sewing talent.

My mother made herself some babydoll pajama sets from this pink checked and pink and blue flowered fabric.


Two little girls laying on newly made, brightly colored quilts on the floor in their grandmother’s front hallway, looking through the screen door, across the porch to the front yard. Two heads leaning together, whispering, giggling, telling stories about the pictures and animals on their new quilts, flying over mystical lands on their magic carpets. Two little girls discovering the magic of their blankets.


 Young as I was, I remember being given the finished quilt and marveling at it. I remember the feeling of awe in that amazing gift. The wonderful weight, the bright patchwork of patterns each with a different family history, the pictures in the patterns that I would look at for hours and that became comforting to me – all of these things made my magic blanket a treasured companion that I used almost daily for decades - for warmth, play and comfort. I also covered my own children, now young adults, with my magic blanket more than a few times when they were little.
My quilt is now sadly worn, yellowed and tattered beyond repair. Although the quilt itself is fifty years old, the family fabrics in the quilt are several decades older than that. It has been washed countless times over its life but can no longer be since the fabric is so old and fragile. It is still one of my most favorite things from my childhood and a treasure of family memories.
My quilt’s ability to keep me cool in summer and warm in winter certainly felt magical, but the real magic was in being covered and comforted by family memories.

                   “What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day.
        “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
        “Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
        “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse. “Generally by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But those things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” – from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

*Originally published in Rich Fabric - An Anthology. The Symbolism, Tradition and Culture of Quilting, edited by Melinda McGuire as a multi-media ebook. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Your Story Is Not What You Thought*

*if you thought what I thought

This summer, I've been participating in two writing classes, KidLit Summer School: The Plot Thickens from Nerdy Chicks Rule and The Craft & Business of Writing Children's Picture Books from the Children's Book Academy.

Both courses have been very helpful. But even with as many aspects of writing that they have delved into, my major revelation so far has been that your manuscript can best be likened to a Legos wall turned Transformer.

It's not at all what I thought - that your manuscript is a lilting, beautiful story, your gently quirky, humorous and painstakingly created word-baby that you write from beginning to end.

No. No, no, no. No.

It's more like Legos.

You build that story block by careful block following the formula for your genre of choice. So then you have your first draft. Which you keep re-writing and having people critique until about draft #1,000. But then . . .

. . . revision strikes. You take blocks out. You move them around, replace them with a different color, make the blocks overlap each other in some places, make them line up in other places where they didn't before. Throw a whole bunch of blocks out even though you really, really, really love those purple blocks that you put in there just so, with loving affection. 

And then this happens:
because you took out the wrong blocks or half blocks and then that whole section fell apart in a jumble of ugly.

But it feels more like this:

And when you don't have any chocolate in the house, your dog is throwing up in the dining room and you stayed late at your other job three times this week, it feels more like this:
The chaos gives you agita, but you can't leave your poor word-baby in that state. You are far too stubborn for that. So you rebuild.
And parts come out kind of cool, even though you're still a little ticked off about ditching your amazing purple blocks that apparently no one else got why they were there.

You keep building your now new-feeling story that has been all torn apart and re-ordered, while wishing little yellow people in red hats would come and do it for you.

And then it kind of starts to make sense. It doesn't matter which part of it you work on. You don't have to take them in order. You have a vision for the whole.

You might like it. Even if it doesn't have your beloved purple blocks. You really loved those purple blocks. You actually have them hidden away in your computer somewhere. You will see them again. The world will know your purple blocks. But I digress.

Things start to come together in a whole that makes sense.

Before you know it, your word baby is looking pretty buff:

You keep building block by block, taking A LOT of blocks out, keeping some, adding new ones, rearranging all of the blocks in a way that gives form to your whole word-baby. 

Wait, that's a different word-baby.

Anyway, after you bleed from your eyeballs some more, and rearrange, add, and subtract more word blocks, and the little yellow people in red hats help even though you might have imagined that part at 2 a.m., 

your word-baby has transformed into a rocking, fierce collection of words the world needs. 

Now send that baby out into the word-needy world.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Full of Win! My Website Adventure

Teachers always put off until summer home or personal projects that we can't do during the school year. If you are not a teacher and don't understand why we can't get these things done during the school year, READ THIS. Truth, right there.

Here were some things on my summer list in no particular order:

ü  Colonoscopy (ewww)
ü  Clean out file cabinet (this took 7 hours – not exaggerating)
ü  Revise PB manuscript (and send back in – yikes)
ü  Create author website

Check, check, check, and check! *pats self on back*

Since I am all freaked out about the third thing on that list, the author website is what I am most excited about at the moment. 

My four day saga, condensed version:

I had a few platforms in mind to check out thanks to sharing on the topic with the SCBWI Carolinas forum group. Shout out SCBWIC - thank you! 

Decided to try out the free versions of Weebly, Wix and WordPress to compare functions, capabilities and how easy they were for me to use. Note: 'for me'. 

Got very frustrated, over a four day period, with trying to get all three sites to do what I wanted before settling on one. 

What I wanted to do.

My needs: A site that looks clean, sleek, uncluttered and is easy for visitors to navigate*. Needed to be able to link already existing blog to it. Needed to be able to use a domain name I already owned. Needed to be able to have more than 5 pages without additional charge. Needed to be free or the lowest cost possible with your own domain name. Needed to be easy to customize the way I envisioned without needing programming knowledge. Need to be able to add pages and content to it with relative ease as I go along. Tech-wise, I know how to do what I need to do, but I am not a tech wizard. Wish I were.

What I should have done.

WordPress: I had great hopes for this since I know a ton of writers use this for their blogs. I was really disappointed. It is not for me. I don't need a blog - already have one on blogger. I needed a website with the capabilities above. There is a way you can default your blog page to a website home page and build a site from there, but the rest of it didn't work for me. The available themes were not what I was looking for and to modify them to do the website functions that I need, you have to have programming knowledge. So, no go for me.

Weebly: Their available themes are ok. Not great, but okay. They don't have 'hundreds' to choose from as they say, though. I counted 157. I really tried to make one of them work for me, but you can't manipulate various elements of the theme (modify header,create dividing lines, etc.) the way I wanted to. Had some back and forth with support and basically, it just can't be done the way I wanted. Not bad in respect to domain, price, and page number, though. This is the one I thought I was going to go with when Wix was buggy (see below), but the limit on manipulating themes was frustrating.

Wix: This is the one I went with. This is also the one I was, at first, the most put off by since after I signed on, chose a theme (they have nice ones) and started to manipulate the elements, the text editor stopped working. Couldn't do a thing for two days. Apparently, it was a bug and it is now fixed. I am crossing fingers it is truly fixed and that won't happen again. I liked the way I could manipulate the design elements in the theme (more flexible than Weebly). Easy to use, edit, modify.

*The way I really want my site to look: Ruta Sepetys' website. But that wasn't remotely available anywhere as a theme and I would have had to pay big bucks to have it designed. I attended one of Ruta's workshops a few years ago. A-mayyy-zing. Just a huge wow. Spoke to her a bit afterward and she completely inspired me. Fan girl here. By the way, read her books. No, really. Read them. Huge.

Website at last!

My new site doesn't look like a lot of kid lit authors' sites do. That's a little on purpose and a little because I am not an artist. And a little because I can add fun elements as time goes on. I also write YA and wanted a site that doesn't look like it is strictly for the lower elementary crowd. I wanted minimal with option to add a bit of fun.

I do have a 'Books' page but it is hidden until I get published! It will happen! It will, it will! I am nothing if not determined. Mom and Dad, the stubbornness* that frustrated you in my childhood has paid off as determination and perseverance in adulthood. 
*this might have actually been referred to as 'hard-headed'

My photo on the home page is just a place holder. I'll change it to my book cover when I get published. See above paragraph.

My 'Media' page will eventually have fun stuff like downloadables on it. Maybe a Twitter feed? 

My 'Events' page right now has events that I am attending and learning from as a writer, but will in future have events that I am presenting, like school visits.

And the big question: Do I really need an author website now? I'm not even published (yet)! Well, no. I guess not. Not really. But see up there where I'm talking about teachers and the school year? No harm in being prepared. Too, frustrating as it was at times, it was actually a good learning experience. 

So sally forth with your big website ideas and make yourself one!

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Value of Time to Think

So far, my summer has been a whirlwind. Teacher's summer: taking care of the million things that you didn't have time for during the school year.

Aside from a plethora of doctor's appointments, errands, chores, cleaning and such, I am immersing myself in writing this summer.

I am taking an online course from the Children's Book Academy called The Craft and Business of Writing Children's Picture Books. A week in, I am finding it very helpful, especially the small critique group within the course.

But I am also finding that simply having time to think is what I have needed. I've read a number of quotes and memes about writers writing in their heads at all times, no matter if they are taking out the trash or soaking up sun on a beach. I can see truth in those quotes and memes.

More importantly, I think time to be and to think without dashing, harried, from one must-do to the next loosens up the brain and (after some decompression time) lets the creative thoughts begin to flow.

My brain loosened up enough to make a decision on a topic that was bothering me: where to go next with my writing. The picture book market today is dominated by (very) short, quirky, fun books that each have a unique flavor or selling point to them, whether that is the structure of the book, the memorability of the character or the concept or art.

I don't have a manuscript like that. I don't have a concept like that (yet). Moreover, as a teacher, I am drawn to, and need in our classrooms, longer picture books that may deal with some deeper topics and issues.

Do I spend the next few weeks coming up with and working on a short, quirky, fun concept? Or do I keep working on the manuscripts that I have already started even though they don't match the majority of today's picture book market? One manuscript is about ready to send back in. Another I have started is a more introspective character driven story. Another that is ready for a critique group is a quieter tale with repetitive language.

Decision: Since these are stories I can't get out of my head, I devote time to them right now.

There's plenty of time for that short, quirky, fun concept after that. The beach sounds good . . .

Monday, June 29, 2015

Sounded Like A Good Idea At The Time

I need to cut words from my picture book. I don't mean a few words here and there. I mean like a quarter of the book.

Here is what this makes me feel like:

Sunday, June 21, 2015


I am thrilled (and a little nervous) to be attending a five week online course, The Craft & Business of Writing Children's Picture Books from The Children's Book Academy starting next Monday, June 29th.

Dr. Mira Reisberg and the team were gracious enough to give me a scholarship, without which I would never have been able to attend. The course has gotten great reviews from past students, so I am really looking forward to soaking up all it has to offer.

I especially hope to get some help revising the manuscript I submitted to Lee & Low Books' New Voices Award as per editorial comments. I've been feeling stuck with how to proceed, so it will be great to get some feedback on my attempts.

Here's to learning!

...and add a whole bunch more words but keep your word count low."

I really do want one of these.

I promise not to do this. Kind of.