Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Jolly Holiday Greetings

After a leisurely morning unwrapping gifts, oohing and aahing at everyone's presents, and sitting down to a brunch of eggs and French toast, we loaded up the car and headed to my sister's house to celebrate the holiday with my side of the family. Thanks to the new tollway, the trip took considerably less time than usual. Back home again, our stomachs bulging with prime rib, scalloped potatoes, lasagna, salad, shrimp, and cookies galore (including Frango mint fudge cake homemade by yours truly), we're upacked, in our jams, and lazing about the house. As I type, the girls are helping P set up our new Wii. Sounds too fun for me to stay at the keyboard much longer. Signing off so I can go join them. On the writing front, I took today off, but plan to return to my regular holiday writing schedule tomorrow. Care to join me? I start at 5 a.m., give or take 10 minutes. Be there or be square. Bring along a tankard of caffeine to share.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Holiday Writing Experiment, Day 8

What a difference five days make. Since moving the alarm across the room, I've written 17 pages of creative. Seventeen! Most of it is discovery draft quality because I'm exploring a part of the story that's new to me, but hey, I'm not complaining. In fact, I'm doing the happy dance.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Holiday Writing Experiment: Day Three

Argh. Day three of my Holiday Writing Experiment, and have I gotten up early to write any of the mornings? Um, no. I've reset the alarm each time.

So, new tact. Moving the alarm clock so I need to get up in order to turn it off. And considering the very real possibility that this too, is part of my creative process, that I've been pushing so hard through this current write through that my characters needed breathing space, and time to talk amongst themselves before I sat butt in chair again for any appreciable amount of time.

The proof will be in tomorrow's writing. More later.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Holiday Writing Experiment

Sitting butt in chair this time of year has become problematic with all the holiday hoopla and end-of-year concerts. Seems as if I have no choice but to reactivate my Summer Writing Experiment, and rename it for the holidays. Beginning tomorrow, I'll be up at o'dark thirty. I'd better set the timer on the Mr. Coffee.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Amusing the Muse--Gingerbread Houses Tonight

My muse has something else to concentrate on today (rather than wallowing in the dreck dredged up earlier this week thanks to E's doctor visit downtown.) Tonight's the annual Gingerbread House-Making event at church.

This morning, I headed over to the church to help mix-up the royal icing needed to "glue" together 27 houses. I also set up pre-made plates of house trimmings (peppermints, dots, M&Ms, candy canes, licorice, marshmallows, etc.) to ensure everyone has what they need ahead of time.

Part of the charm of the evening (and a key reason my muse is so amused by it all) is watching how each person approaches the process. A good number of kids go straight for the candy, eating all the choice pieces before they begin to decorate. Others plan out each bit of trim, coordinating colors and candies with a precision that'd make an architect proud. Some show an amazing ability to think outside of the box by constructing something unexpected like a Christmas train or forest scene.

What amuses me most about the evening is seeing how many of the adults immerse themselves in the activity (some enjoy it so much they come every year, bringing additonal supplies from home), and give themselves permission to play.

My guess is that the opportunity to play is what brings so many people out for the event each year. I suppose we all need down-time this time of year, don't we?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

I'd Rather Be Writing, Part 2

Okay. So, the drive downtown took nearly two hours thanks to the overnight snowstorm. It should have taken 45. We managed to make it to the Dr's office with 10 minutes to spare.

Bottom line: the blood work looked fine. Dr. L wants E to have an outpatient procedure done over Christmas break for another developing issue. We need to follow up with the Johns Hopkins folks for possible surgery there. Stopping now because I'm already sounding too much like a Merry Medical Christmas letter.

E seems to take all these tests and procedures in strides. "What doctor are we seeing now, Mom?" she often asks on the way to our next appointment. As for me, I'd be lying if I claimed to be used to it all. Like I said yesterday, I'd rather be writing.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

I'd Rather Be Writing

The alarm's set for o'dark thirty tomorrow morning so E and I can drive downtown to meet with the kidney guy. In addition to hearing results of various check-up blood tests, we hope to hear the verdict on an existing medical condition that will likely mean surgery in another state. Hard to be yoga about the issue when it's my kid; she's been through so much already. Sigh. Not looking forward to getting up so early. Not looking forward to hearing THE NEWS without Phil. Not looking forward to morning drive time on snow slicked roads. Quite frankly, I'd rather be writing.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Why Behind The Wait (or Where's My Manuscript?)

The Winter 2007 issue of Once Upon a Time justifies the magazine's existence for the entire year with its article by Senior Executive Editor Joan Slattery of Alfred A. Knopf and Crown Books for Young Readers. In the magazine's Tag! You're It! centerspread, Slatterry chronicles one day in her editor's life, from morning drive time to the rush home to tag team the babysitter. Fascinating, telling and insightful. Kudos to Slattery for taking time from her frenetic schedule to explain the why behind the wait. If you can get your hands on a copy, do so. It's worth every penny and then some.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Current Read a Strange and Wonderul One

Assuming my headache goes away, looking forward to curling up with Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Marvelous read that's taken me several months to get through because I've read a number of other books inbetween, and the book is huge, and the print miniscule, and by the time I crawl under the covers to read at night, I often progress only a few pages before falling asleep (often with the book beside me). But all these things havn't stopped me from returning to Clarke's fantastical tale of the adventures of two gentleman magicians in 1806 England.

Colds, Peppermint Oil, and the Writer's Life

E's illness was followed closely on the heels by P who nursed a mug 'o tea most of Thanksgiving Day with my family. Now that they're both on the mend (P went to the doctor on Sunday and the antibiotics are finally kicking in), I've a snuffy nose and sinus pressure. Yeah me. Splashed a few drops of essential peppermint oil on a square of cloth last night and tacked it near my head. Amazed at how well the vapors worked at keeping my nose clear so I could breath. Unfortunately, the snuffy nose now includes a headache. Fingers are crossed that this bug packs its bags rather than taking up residence. Critique group is tomorrow and teen writer's group is Friday, and, quite frankly, I'd rather not miss either of them.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Kicking Butt, Butt in Chair, and Better Living Through Chemistry

Thanks to the medicinal effects of a kick-butt cough suppressant (one I was too sleep deprived to remember was an option for E the night before last), I slept long enough to dream last night, which means E slept long enough to dream, which means everyone is a lot less crabby today. E's fever broke, too--a sign the antibiotics are already beginning to take effect. Huzzah! This means I might actually have enough gray cells left to string together a paragraph or twenty when I sit down with KM today. Toes and fingers crossed that the trend continues. Critique group deadline looms. *Raises glass* Here's to better living through chemistry.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Congratulations! It's a Sinus Infection

The good news is we can treat E's bug with chemistry. The bad news is that I have at least one more night of sleep deprivation ahead of me.

Current read: Afternoon of the Elves by Janet Taylor Lisle.

Illnesses-What a Turkey

Did I mention E is sick? She was punky last week, but managed to stay in school. Over the weekend was another story. The congestion hit Saturday. The sore throat, hacking cough and fever arrived yesterday. We head to the doctor after I finish this post.

Shriner's Update

E left Shriner's Hospital with a walking cast on Friday. She exchanges it for a new brace on November 30th. During the interim the cast will keep E's foot in neutral (imagine the 90 degree angle your foot makes when standing), promoting her tight heel cord and hamstring to stretch. In an ideal world, the callous on E's toe will dissolve during that time as well. I was going to complain about how little butt in chair time I've had the last couple of weeks, but in comparison to what E has had to put up with lately, it's hard to gripe about any aspect of my writer's life.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Writer Mom Itinerary: Shriner's Tomorrow

Tomorrow E and I head to Shriner's Hospital for a look-see at her brace, foot and ankle. Why? Every since her aneurysm rupture in 2001, E has worn a brace on her left leg to support her ankle and assist with walking.

Two months ago she complained enough about a callous on the big toe on her brace side that I took her to the podiatrist. After doing a quick fix, the podiatrist strongly suggested we have E's brace evaluated because a callous usually doesn't form unless something's rubbing where it shouldn't rub. Made sense. A couple weeks later, we met with Bob, the brace guy, who confirmed that E needs a new brace, but that making one didn't make sense until someone--an orthopedic doc--looked at E's ankle.

E often complains after walking long distances. But I'd only every connected her complaints to her size and the amount of time and energy required to get somewhere, not to her foot and ankle.

Turns out that the muscles in and around her ankle have tightened to the point that her foot hasn't been sitting well in her brace. This has contributed to the formation of callouses (another one has formed since our list visit to the podiatrist), and has put the bones in her foot at risk of breaking down and calcifying because of the improper positioning of the foot in the brace.

Add an extra helping of mom guilt for missing this one.

Bob, the brace guy, says the solution could be as easy as setting E up with a physical therapy tune-up, or as involved as surgery.

Praying the solution will be an easy one.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

How do you create a space for your writing?

Ever wonder how other writers create a space for their writing? Not a physical space, an emotional one. A space sacred enough to permit you/urge you/inspire you to write every day no matter what. Kelly Herold of Big A little a asked the question of her readers not too long ago. The answers she received were inspiring. Want to see for yourself? Check out her October 29th and November 7th posts. Follow the links from there.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Explore the Forest

The new Edge of the Forest is ready to explore. Enter the woods, stay a while, leave inspired. The current issue pays homage to all things YA.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Prairie Writer's Day Report--Insights from the Editors/Agents

Wowza. Prairie Writer's Day was exciting/exhausting/informative and just plain fun.

Editors in attendance:
Susan Van Metre of Abrams.
Karen Wojtyla of Margaret McElderry.
Louise May of Lee & Low.

Agents in attendance:
Rosemary Stimola of Stimola Literary Studio.
Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc.

Fly on the Wall session featuring the agents and editors revealed some intriguing insights about the industry:

*Expect the pendulum to swing back in favor of picture books.
*The eyes of management are on the children's divisions, much of this thanks to the success of the Harry Potter books.
*Time was editors had the time to groom and nuture children's book authors into best-selling novelists; now many editors read submissions with a blockbuster mentality.
*The children's book industry is more like the adult book world every day--more competitive, the place to be.
*Also means everybody wants to "try" writing for children.
*Many children's book manuscripts are being reviewed for 100,000 first-run potential, not 10,000--this mentality tends to put more pressure on the editorial side as well.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Countdown to Prairie Writer's Day...and E is Sick

Lovely. The final countdown to SCBWI-Illinois' Prairie Writer's Day is upon us, and E decides to get sick. I know, I know, it's not her fault the bugs decided to party down today of all days. Sigh. Thank goodness, I tied up all the major loose ends before midnight. (At least I think I did.) *knocks on wood* Hear that loose ends? You're tied. Now stay that way.

On tap for the rest of the day:

1. Ministering to E.
2. Butt in chair time with the goal of writing two more pages of KM. (Two pages a day is all I ever ask of my muse. It's doable and realistic, and given the state of the household today I'll be thrilled to make the minimum.)
3. Fact sheet prep for tomorrow's conference. (An easy one.)
4. Packing. Laundry's done, so that's a plus, but I haven't yet located my suitcase. Looking forward to an overnight. I'll be staying at a hotel near Dominican University tonight so I don't need to get up at o'dark-thirty to be fresh enough to drive a group of agents/editors there in the morning. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Vampires and a Halloween Omen (Or Why I Knew Today Would be a Good Writing Day)

After loading E on the bus today, the driver wished me a Happy Halloween and handed me a set of fangs. Seeing as the dark lord in my WIP took center stage recently, and seeing as he craves souls in much the same way a vampire thirsts for blood, I smiled all the way back to the house.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Writer-ly Inspiration: My Undead Daughter

How can I not be inspired to delve into KM these days? The witching hour approaches, and my oldest daughter joined the ranks of the undead this weekend. (edited 10/30/07)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Critique Group an Island Getaway

Some weeks life's siren call conspires to distance me from KM, and the only thing keeping my butt in chair for the hard work of writing is critique group. This week is no exception. Between homework three-hours-plus a night for my youngest (we're working with the school to convince them that this heavy work load is asking too much of any 6th grader, let alone a child with special needs), last-minute arrangements for the upcoming SCBWI Illinois Prairie Writer's Day conference, and preparations for our church youth group's annual haunted house (yes, we do a haunted house on holy ground), keeping writing a priority is a challenge.

Critique group meets today. Looking forward to meeting up with J & A. Our meeting days are so focused, centered, and immersed in the craft, they're how I imagine I'd feel after spending uninterrupted time on my own personal island getaway.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Hats Off to The Writing Life, or Why I Love My Job

Every now and again, this process dazzles and intrigues me. Think about it. What other profession allows you to wield a sword, befriend a minidragon, heal with a touch, and save the world?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Exciting the Muse, Writer-ly Homework and Why the Reader Trumps All

At last week's critique meeting, fellow writer A--sensing I hadn't finalized key rules of the magical system for my most current rewrite of KM--challenged me to do so before our next meeting.

I balked at first. After all, I could see how the magic worked in my head, and eventually, with enough rewrites, how I saw it would translate to the page, right?

But here's the thing. After taking this summer's Plotting the Novel class, I learned that no matter how many rewrites I did, I'd make little forward progress (and waste reams more paper) if I didn't make the hard decisions now.

What's more, it didn't matter that I could see my world's magic in action. What mattered was that A, my loyal and trusted reader, could not, which meant I hadn't done my job.

Leave it to J and A. Nothing gets past them. What J doesn't pick up, A does. And vice versa. And if both of them notice something, do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars. Go back and try again.

Honestly, I knew my current vision of the magical system was still a bit murky when I submitted the copy, but since the deadline was upon me, I sent it in anyway, hoped for the best, and thought, "hey, maybe it is working after all, maybe they'll let it slide."


Because I so respect these ladies, because the reader trumps all, and because I know from experience that the hard work will lead to a happy muse, I put a hold on my writing this week in order to finalize the Ecology of the Magical System in my fantasy world.

What I find fasinating about this exercise is that although the ecology isn't yet complete, my muse is inspired and eager to return to butt in chair time for the hard work of writing.

In case I haven't said it lately: This process continues to excite and amaze me.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Legends, Road Trips and Faith

As part of her unit on ancient cultures in social science, S has been learning about legends. A recent class assignment was to write her own.

S brainstormed her legend last weekend while on a road trip to a gaming convention in Bloomington with her dad. She came home with a story so rich with detail and characterization that I wish I could have been in the car with them to take advantage of the energy they generated.

S's fantastical tale tells the story of how the stars came to be in the sky. It begins with a Korean princess who befriends a group of fairies and then must save them from drowning at the Empress' hands. In doing so, she creates the stars in the sky.

As a writer mom I can't help but be tickled by how readily S embraced the creative process. But even more than that, I'm thrilled that she wanted to share her story with her classmates yesterday. Doing so was no trivial thing. You see, S suffers from something called childhood apraxia of speech, which means she understands you fine, and knows what she wants to say, but getting it out requires fits and starts and lots of effort.

S will never grow out of this disability, and being made to "perform" makes matters worse. Despite this fact, S put herself in front of the class yesterday and read her entire legend out loud. I'm told she did beautifully.

Not only am I awed by S's willingness to take such a big risk, I'm humbled by her unwavering faith in herself and her story. Go S.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Cybils are Back--Nominate Your Favorite Children's & YA Book(s) of 2007

The Cybils, kidlitosphere's first literacy awards, are back. For more info and to nominate your favorite children's and YA books for 2007, surf on over to the Cybils blog.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

First Annual Kidlitosphere Conference

Boy do I wish my schedule allowed me to attend this conference today. I've been online with some of these folks for nearly two years now because of my work with Edge of the Forest, and would love the opportunity to meet, greet and hug my cyber colleagues. Sigh.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Writer-ly Report--Burning Water In the Zone

Well, dang, I haven't burned water in months. It happened yesterday. (The equivalent of it anyway.)

I was deep into KM--so deep that I forgot I had a family. When the time came to pick my youngest up from school...well, let's just say she called me from the office a half hour after school let out to give me grief.

A fight scene was to blame. It's a turning point in the story, the place where my main character realizes there be monsters in the world. Blades were crossing, blood was flowing, and wham, the phone rang.

Crap, do I lose more mom points if I admit that I nearly let the answering machine pick up rather than risk losing the zone I'd entered? Call it fate, luck, or a guilty muse that didn't want me jailed for neglect (not until after this current rewrite anyway.) Whatever the reason, I took the call.

Thankfully S--herself an aspiring writer--is understanding about her mom's obsession.

Note to self: set an alarm next time.

edited at 11:48 p.m.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Never-Ending Stories, Fantasies about Fantasy Writing, and Honoring the Process

I'm up to my eyeballs in copy. In addition to finishing up my submissions for the upcoming issue of Edge of the Forest and coordinating the PR needs for the SCBWI-Illinois chapter's annual Prairie Writer's Day conference, I'm now the point person for PR for our church.

Thankfully, writing media releases comes easily for me since this is how I made my living for 20-plus years. But doing so takes precious time away from my writing writing.

KM falls into this category. The project's gone on for so long that at times it feels like the never-ending story. I should know better than to complain about the timing. Each one of us has our own own trajectory, tempered by the lives we lead.

I try to remind myself that as writers, not only do we write to live, we also need to live to write. And if this is true, doesn't it follow that living to write means honoring where we are?

Looks good on paper, and looking back on the last couple of years, I can't deny the impact life's "little" diversions have had on my writing. Most telling is the very real fact that after graduation from Vermont College, I lost a year and half because of E's second aneurysm surgery and recovery.

All forward motion was not wasted, however. In between doctor visits and rehab, I continued my re-visioning of KM--though at times doing so felt like backward progress--and I launched this blog (thanks to gentle urgings from author/blogger extraordinaire Cynthia Leitich Smith), and wrote an essay that's now part of the Special Gifts anthology.

I should honor where I am. Yet, more often than I'd like to admit, I envy other writers the luxury of immersing themselves in their stories 24/7. Rather than tearing themselves away from the keyboard to chauffeur their kids to the next activity or help with homework, they've the uninterrupted time they need to enter their project/characters/world so completely that they can identify the holes, throughlines, and beat of their prose, and do so in record time.

Even so, I can't help but wonder where my writing would be without my life to inform it. Would my characters whisper in my ear with the same urgency and conviction? Would I have found the voice my essay needed to catch an editor's eye? Would I appreciate my uninterrupted butt in chair time the way I do now?

Months ago, I borrowed a mantra from my yoga teacher, J, appying it to my writer's life in a way that centered and energized me. It's time I plastered the saying on my computer again.

Honor the process.

Monday, October 01, 2007

On Deadline

In the works this week:

1. E-interviews for Edge of the Forest columns A Day in the Life and What's in Their Backpack.

2. Critique group submission. My goal this week is to write through another two or three chapters by Friday. So far so good on making that goal.

3. Prairie Writer's Day PR prep. With the big day fast-approaching, I've a butt load of work left to do in order to help make this year's conference the best ever from a PR standpoint.

Current read: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. My only complaint (and it's a small one at that) is that by the time I crawl under the covers to commune with the strange and wonderful world Clarke has created, I need a magnifying glass to read the small print. Alas, the bane of most every aging boomer I meet: the growing need for bigger print books. Sigh.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Writing Breakthroughs, Hummingbirds, and Critique Group

Critique group meets tomorrow. After E's most recent illness (she was sick the weekend before last and part of last week), I'm looking forward to adult time, the chance to spy the last hummingbirds of the season in J's garden, and, of course, feedback on my most recent KM chapters.

I've been a writing maniac lately, racing through this current rewrite in record personal speed. Some of the contributing factors:

1. I've written and rewritten this puppy so many times from so many points of view that it was just plain time.

2. I've been told there's something about the well water we drink in town.

3. And, on a more serious note, I'm convinced the myriad puzzle pieces of this project finally came together after taking Dennis Foley's Plotting the Novel class.

Whatever the reason, I bless it and raise a cyber glass of wine (one I've been chilling for the time I finally pulled KM out of this proverbial rut).

Here's to the process and my muse. (It's bloody well time!)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Explore the Forest

Gacked from Big A little a's blog:

The September issue of The Edge of the Forest is now live. We have many exciting features for you, as well as interviews, reviews, and much, much more. In short, here's what's in store this month:

*An interview with Phil Bildner, by Camille Powell.
*An appreciation of Patrick McDowell's picture books, by Adrienne Furness.
*I discuss Anglo-American versions of Baba Yaga tales in Baba Yaga Heads West
*Liz Burns reviews Barry Lyga's Fanboy and Boy Toy.
*Kim Winters talks being on retreat in A Day in the Life
*Betsy Bird (A Fuse #8 Production) tells us What's in their Backpacks?
*Robin Brande is this month's Blogging Writer
*Sounds from the Forest talks with Mary Anne Hoberman and Deborah Freedman (Brought to you by Just One More Book!!)
*Reviews in all categories—from Picture book to Young Adult.

Don't forget to subscribe to The Edge of the Forest with our Subscribe feature. Just enter your name and e-mail address and you'll receive notification when each new issue is published.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Jewel at School Update

A number of people have asked how E and her service dog Jewel are doing in high school this year. Thanks to the new school's enlightened approach to special education, they're doing fabulous. One example of the many notable differences between the two districts: instead of asking "what do we have to do?" the new school asks "what can we do?" It's a proactive approach this writer mom and her muse wholeheartedly endorse!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Wands, Werewolves, and Another Vampire

It felt like my birthday when I came home Saturday to a box of books on the doorstep. Inside the box:

1. Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose.

2. The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy edited by Leonard S. Marcus. Follow the link to read an interview with editor Marcus by Cynthia Leitich Smith on Cynsations.

3. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer. Follow the link to read an excerpt.

Current read: Eclipse with brief yet insightful forays into the Wand in the Word.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Vampires, Kisses, and Thanks to a Fellow Writer

On a roll lately with midnight reads. The latest: The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause. The story's a must for vampire fans. Thanks to fellow writer Mindy Hardwick for recommending it. (I should have read it sooner!)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Midnight Read 2

Finished Wendy Maas' Sleeping Beauty: The One Who Took the Really Long Nap last night. This book is a quick quirky read with a snappy he-said she-said format, likeable characters, and a heroine whose strong voice, and first line upon waking: "...who the heck are you?" kept me turning the page.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Critique Group Today

Jumping for joy. Critique group meets today which is good timing because I seriously need an afternoon with adults. On tap: discussions re J's and A's works-in-progress as they're both in exciting places--J in the inspirational phase of a new novel, A in the wrap-up stages. As for my hour of the meeting, I'm looking for input on the detailed scene outlines I submitted for the opening of KM based on the plotting work I did with Dennis Foley. By next time, I plan to have my middle completely detailed, and perhaps even my ending. Then it's onto another write through. Cool thing about all the hard work I did with Dennis, I'm in love with KM again.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Midnight Read

Read Crispin, The Cross of Lead by Avi yesterday. Intrigued by the spare eloquence of this story and the lasting impression its characters have made. No wonder it won the Newbery.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Plot is Not a Dirty Word

This week is my last with Dennis Foley of Plotting the Novel. What an awesome journey he's led us on over the last eight weeks. Thanks to our weekly assignments, I'm much more confident about how plotting fits into my creative process, and convinced that plot is no longer a dirty word. Not only is it a necessary foundation for any story, it's the road map my characters need as they drive their way through KM.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Books Have Arrived!

After several weeks delay, the books finally arrived on my doorstep! Special Gifts: Women Writers on the Hope, the Heartache and the Happiness of Raising a Special Needs Child. The cover looks great, the pages clean and crisp, and there it is: my name in the table of contents and my essay with a byline.

Now that the initial press run is done and out, I get to pound the pavement with books in hand, setting up booktalks and signings, spreading the word to parents, moms, dads, teachers, social workers, healthcare professionals--anyone who loves or works with special needs children.

A caveat to future readers: This book doesn't sugar coat the lives of the women telling their chidren's stories. The essays are honest and raw. But I strongly believe the honesty is what helps make the book such a powerful read. Yes, the stories often leave one searching for a box of tissue, but hope echoes bright amidst the angst, anger, and frustration, offering readers insights and reassurance that they are not alone as they navigate the trenches with a special-needs kids.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Writer-ly Update: On the Mend and In the Groove

My back's on the mend and the girls returned to school. The alone time's been good. Not only am I making good progress uncluttering the office and getting organized, I've been making excellent headway on my manuscript, pruning, streamlining, and developing a throughline my character would truly die for.

Teen writer's group meets today. The topic: characters and starting them on their journey. Next time: plot.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Busy Writer's Prescription: Bad back, Bed Rest and Harry Potter

My back went out without warning over the weekend. With the girls under foot, and homework for Plotting the Novel hanging over my head, the forced bedrest and frequent breaks I need to take are less than convenient. However, there has been an upside to all of this: I finished Harry Potter yesterday. Wowsza! The last 200 pages of so, the house could have burned down around me and I probably wouldn't have noticed.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Explore the Forest

The Summer issue of Edge of the Forest is ready for you to explore. Interviews by yours truly:

Blogging Writer, Brenda Ferber about her writing life, her creative process, and her new blog, the first we know of in the kidlitosphere written by an author's children for the author.

What's in Their Backpack, an interview with Brenda's very funny kids about what they're reading and why.

I hope you agree this issue was well worth the wait. Happy reading.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Harry Potter Sightings, Plotting the Novel Update

Books in the hands of the 7th/8th graders when E and I arrived at our homeroom in Korean Culture Camp on Monday: Three copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, one of Wendy Mass' most recent book, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life.

Update on the Plotting the Novel class I'm taking from Writers on the Net: It's kicking my butt--but in a good way. Plotting is a concept I wish I'd spent more time exploring while pursuing my MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College. Unfortunately, I was having so much fun learning about and experimenting with other aspects of craft that I ran out of time.

Current read (now that my daughter is done with it): Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I See Dead Computers...

Quick updates from a borrowed computer:

1. Okay, so my computer isn't dead yet, but it's close (keeps going all blue screen on me.) The Geek Squad has it...along with all my files. Here's hoping the fix will be quick and painless with no lost data.

2. Korean Culture Camp is this week with the younger girls, which means my week's pretty much shot in terms of creative output. Hoping I won't be too tired tonight to sign onto the Plotting the Novel class with Writers on the Net.

3. I'll be taking a hiatus of sorts for the next few weeks; so if I don't get around to posting as often, I'm likely cramming for class, doing end of summer activities with the girls, or begging the Geek Squad to be nice to my computer.


edited to add: So glad I backed up recently.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Storymapping Today

Day four of Plotting the Novel from writers.com and already I'm seeing ways I can strengthen KM during my most recent re-vision. On tap for today: refining my storymap in light of Dennis' comments.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Writing from the Trenches, and Other Updates

E's fever broke late last week thanks to better living through chemistry. Playing major catch-up on office work, housework, writing, reading, email, you name it. Continuing to make positive headway through my latest rewrite of KM thanks to my Summer Writing Experiment. My online class, Plotting the Novel Workshop, begins tomorrow. The grapevine says this class is kick butt. Looking forward to the built-in deadlines, and the wisdom I can glean from it.

Current reads: Chasing the Falconers by Gordan Korman and The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Eight Pages Plus, and a Couple of Sick Days (at least)

E's sick. Symptoms include a HIGH fever (nearly 103 while alternating Motrin and Tylenol), cough, body aches, sore throat, and general malaise. Strep test came back negative. Doctor S diagnosed a sinus infection. Staying low today, and praying for the antibiotics to kick in so the fever finally breaks. Not certain when I'll have the opportunity to sit down to write today, or what condition my brain will be in when I do. Until then, I'm living off the fumes of yesterday's kick-ass writing day. If my sleep-deprived brain remembers right, I logged some eight pages of creative before calling it quits.

Current read: Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanovich. A welcome escape.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Celebration and A Must-Read

A celebration is in order for critique group member J. Turns out that a query to agent Stephen Fraser sent a mere three weeks ago netted a request for the entire novel. Yay, J! We never doubted your story would get noticed. Now, address that envelope and send the rest of it out!

On a personal note: J handed me a copy of my book at critique group yesterday. Its mine to keep, hold, and read until my own copies arrive. Made my way through much of the book this am. I am awed and inspired by the women represented in the pages. Somehow, despite the many challenges they face as they raise and love their own special needs children, they manage to summon the strength, honesty, humor, and grace they need to survive another day, another week, another year. I'm humbled and truly honored to be a part of such a moving and powerful collection.

My must-read for this weekend: Janet Evanovich's latest Stephanie Plum novel, Lean Mean Thirteen. Few authors write so well that I'm in danger of burning dinner because I forget something's on the stove when I'm reading. Evanovich is one of them.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Crazy Week, Fourth of July, and Family Stories

Pressed send recently on the last of my submissions to critique group before we meet Thursday. I'm encouraged that thanks to my Summer Writing Experiment, I continue to make forward progress on KM. (I've logged some 75 pages since beginning this summer's o-dark thirty writing routine.) The finalized chapters are churning out slower than that, but the key here is that the progress is positive.

Finishing up loose ends this morning before we leave to visit my relatives for the Fourth. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone, and, more importantly, staying long enough in one place to have a more substantive visit than, "So, how have you been? How are your kids doing? What have you been up to?" No stories in those answers, just hints of stories that you might explore if you only had the time.

Happy Fourth of July.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Muse Intrigue: Butterflies by the Hundreds

On the way to Girl Scout Day Camp yesterday S and I were treated to a surprise. Hundreds of butterflies (red admirals, I think) flitted from one side of the forest preserve road to the other. Even more greeted us today, zipping from street to shrub to canopy and back again, seemingly for the joy of it.

Beautiful. Unexpected. Memorable.

My fervent hope: that one day readers might say the same of my own writing.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Scrambling and Scratching

I received a call late last night that I can't ignore. Friends of my dad are moving this weekend. They're leaving a two-year-old Amana washer-dryer set that's not part of the sale. The set's free for the hauling--if we can pick it up tonight.

Seeing as our Maytags are at least 18 years young (we bought them with the house), I'm motivated to make this work. The catch: P's unavailable this evening, which means it's up to me to arrange for transportation, a couple strong backs (I'm paying a couple of my daughter's friends) and a sitter.

I'm on it.

On the writing front: fellow critique group member J emailed today to say her copy of Special Gifts arrived yesterday. I'm thrilled to hear she has the book in hand, and is making her way through it, one tissue box at a time. However, her news leaves me scratching my head. I pre-ordered copies from the publisher, and have yet to see them. So far I've held off on ordering from Amazon...

Current read: Coraline by Neil Gaiman. Not a bedtime read, unless you're into really creepy dreams.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Critique Group Snafu: One Writer's Tale About Why X plus Y Doesn't Always Equal What Happens Next

Have you ever had an "uh-oh" moment? I'm betting you have.

The moment I have in mind is the kind where you're cruising through you're day, feeling confident, energized and organized, when all of a sudden you're blindsided by the realization that you've neglected to include a key element into the equation of x plus y equals what happens next.

This was the case for me yesterday. A half hour or so before leaving for critique group with my youngest daughter S, I was packing a cooler for the road when I remembered a key part of the equation for making crit group happen for me.

My uh-oh moment: E started summer school last week, stupid, which means a 10 a.m. start time for critique group is no longer good because someone needs to meet the bus at the curb at noon.

Um, duh, especially since crit group meets 45 minutes away.

During moments like these I'm reminded of:

1. how many schedules I'm juggling.
2. how disruptive summer can be (despite the obvious freedoms it brings).
3. why I prefer the structure (and hours of uninterrupted time) the school year brings.
3. how grateful I am for fellow writers and kindred spirits, J and A, who despite a frantic, last-minute phone call, graciously agreed to meet later in the day (and offered stories of their own scheduling snafus and near misses when navigating their writer mom days.)

In a whacked out way, I'm happy to know we writer moms are all losing brain cells together. :)

Monday, June 18, 2007

It's a Book!

Special Gifts: Women Writers on the Happiness, the Heartache and the Hope of Raising a Special Needs Child is now available for purchase through Amazon! This book is a must-read for anyone whose life has been touched by a special-needs child. The essays are honest, inspiring, poignant, and powerful. I'm honored to be a part of the collection.

Friday, June 15, 2007

One Writer's Approach to Taming the Novel: Storymapping

I first learned about storyboarding years ago when pursuing my B.S. in news-editorial journalism from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.

The idea behind the technique was deceptively simple: frame out each key scene of a commercial from its opening shot to its close. Include key characters/images/product shots/emotions that drive each scene. Use the storyboard as a visual aid for your team, your boss, and, ultimately, your client, when the time comes to sell him/her on the concept.

Actually constructing a storyboard was another matter. We were limited to 9-12 boxes, which meant you better be clear about how you wanted to convey your product before you sat down. The limitations of the "commercial" meant that to be successful we had to learn how to distill the story by cutting the fluff.

Funny thing how the creative process works. The technique's brilliant on so many different levels; so applicable to children's book writing. Yet, I didn't think about how it might be applied to my own writing until recently when children's book writer Patricia Malone shared her version of storyboarding with fellow writers.

Pat's approach is called storymapping. Instead of the traditional way--stringing together neat rows of boxes (each row stacked upon the other, each box representing a new scene), Pat uses a free-form approach. She works large (marking up a 4x4 sheet of art paper or better), drawing stick figures and props to represent the main action taking place in each scene, adding in mountain ranges, rivers, forests, cities, legends.

To promote creative thought, curved lines connect each scene instead of straight. To foster right-brain activity and excite the muse, colored pencils are used for illustrations and notes.

The result is a storymap that wends its way from one corner of the paper to the next. Each character receives his/her own road upon the map. At times, the characters travel together. At times they branch off on their own. In the end, a visual journey is depicted, one suitable for reference and inspiration during the revision process, and ideal for a visual aid after the book is published.

Pat's approach so intrigued me that one of the first things I did after returning home the day she explained it was to dig out my art supplies.

In a couple of hour's time, I mapped out my entire fantasy novel.

This is huge, because ever since a slew of characters walked onto the stage of my story demanding more of the spotlight (and making a compelling case to do so), I've re-visioned KM multiple times in an attempt to work them in.

One of the most difficult aspects of these re-visions has been trusting that eventually everyone's throughlines would weave together in a meaningful way.

Thanks to Pat's storymapping approach, they finally did.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Summer Writing Experiment Progress Report

After butt in chair time this morning, I totalled up the number of pages I've produced since I began my Summer Writing Experiment. The following numbers include this morning's work:

9 writing days (writing days are defined as my early morning butt-in-chair sessions (5-6:30 a.m.) followed by whatever time I can fit in after E and Jewel leave for summer school (usually another hour or so.)

44+ pages of creative.

edited to add: actual pages of creative suitable enough for critique group consumption: 9.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Requesting Accountability from the Powers that Be--Or Why I Wasn't Writing Last Night After the Girls Hit the Hay

P and I attended our local school board meeting last night. E and Jewel stayed home after we learned that the invitation for the public to address the board isn't made until after its business is conducted.

Don't know if all boards do it this way or just this one. Interesting tactic either way.

The meeting began at 7:37. P finally made his statement on our behal two hours later. He was limited to two minutes. (Talk about the need to edit.)

As the board conducted its meeting, he sat next to me making notes, mouthing his words, timing his statement. Boy did he nail it.

P's comments led with our concern that the school seems to have the habit of asking, "what do we have to do in regards to including special needs students in school events/programs/activities?" instead of asking "what can we do?" He offered specific examples of missed opportunities for inclusion, and lifted up programs/approaches in which we've seen promise and upon which the school could build. Near the end of his statement, he challenged the school to practice the Pillars of Excellence it so readily preaches, not just applying them to the regular ed students, but to its special needs students as well.

"We're not asking you to spend more money," he said near the end. "We're asking you to change a culture. In many respects, such a task will be much more difficult...Expect more of your school, your faculty--yourselves. In the end our district and all our children will be better for it."

We left the meeting feeling exhausted and exhilirated. Not only were we heard (because everyone at the table had to be silent during the statement), we let the Powers that Be know that the letter we sent wasn't just some irrate parent blowing off steam. We're serious about what we said. We offered to be part of the solution. We're in it for the long haul.

Doing anything less would be a disservice to E, and the children coming after her.

Current read: Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause. So far this book's a thrilling romp. It features 16-year-old werewolf girl Vivian who, grieving her father's death, longs for a normal life, and, while seeking it, finds herself drawn to a human boy Aiden. Few of the books I read cause me to burn a meal (because I forget that I'm cooking something). This is one of them.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Writing by Dawn's Early Light, Wearing the Advocacy Hat, and Other Duties of a Writer Mom

This and that:

1. Day seven of my Summer Writing Experiment. Forward progress continues. Wish I could say that writing at 5 a.m. is getting easier. Copious amounts of Earl Grey are necessary before I'm able to form sentences.

2. Wearing my advocacy hat today. Why? Tonight the school board meets at E's school, and we (P, E, Jewel and I) plan to be there. E and Jewel will listen (and put a face to the name in the letter we sent recently to all board and admistration members about the day the 8th graders celebrated the end of the school year and their middle grade years with a trip to an area amusement park.)

Our issue: The trip was organized in a way that didn't include E. The burden would have been on the aide to keep her entertained. After hearing last minute that this was how the day would be spent, E chose not to go, because what was the point of attending a class trip if she really wouldn't be a part of it? That's like saying sure, you can come to the game, but since you can't keep up, you can't play. That might be fair in the Major Leagues, but in a school setting, where we're trying to teach our children about community and respecting other people's differences?

Some key observations we plan to make in our statement tonight:

a. The school missed out on a major opportunity to practice the Pillars of Excellence it preaches (trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship) by not finding a way for all of the students to feel included in the event.

a. It is not right, nor responsible to hold up the Pillars of Excellence only when convenient.

c. A disability means differently abled, not the inability to participate to the best of one's ability, or to feel hurt when left out.

d. There's a big difference between doing what is required and doing what is right.

e. There's more, but I'm saving it for tonight.

3. E started summer school at the high school this week.

Good thing about this: it's a great way for E to get to know the high school before the school year begins, and she's so social she needs this time with her peers.

Not so good thing: school starts earlier than she's used to, which means getting her up an hour earlier, which means the two uninterrupted hours of writing time I leveraged by getting up at 5, are down to one.

Good thing: the high school is so much more enlightened about special ed and inclusion issues, it's hard to believe the school is located in the same community. Begs the question: why don't school districts compare notes? The cynical part of me can guess why: money, and the misplaced belief that doing what is required rather than what is right is all that's really necessary.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Writing at O-Dark Thirty Report (or How I'm Managing the Muse, For Now)

What P said to me in the kitchen this morning about my pledge to work on KM at o-dark thirty each morning (with only a mug of tea and my laptop to keep me company):

"I'm impressed."

"About what?"

"I know you said you were going to do it. But I didn't think--"

"I wasn't sure I could do it either."

"Getting up two hours earlier than normal to do anything is a real commitment. Like I said, I'm impressed."

"It hasn't been easy, but you know what? I'm finding I'm actually awake enough to write, and the forward progress I'm making...well, it's energizing."

Take this a.m., for example. I wrote eight pages toward a new chapter of KM. Eight. With few exceptions, I haven't written this many pages in a day since feeling the heat of a Vermont College deadline.

Granted, some of the copy's rough, and some of it's drivel. But six pages or so of it is pretty decent. Fingers and toes crossed that this isn't an exception.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

One Writer Mom's Solution to Summer Break: Writing at O'Dark Thirty

This week in an effort to protect the momentum I've developed on KM, and to complete a FINAL draft within six months, I launched summer writing hours. My alarm sounds at *gasp* 5 a.m.

Getting up has been difficult, but not impossible (because nature usually calls around that time anyway). Staying up is another thing all together, but it's getting easier.

My morning routine so far this week:

1. drag myself out of bed after hitting the snooze button once (okay twice)
2. shlep down the hall to the bathroom
3. wander downstars (painfully aware of every ache in my no-longer-twenty-year-old-body)
4. put on the kettle for tea
5. thump over to the computer
7. call up KM
8. stare at the screen
9. decipher what I wrote the day before
10. start typing

The first few minutes are drivel, but by the time P's alarm sounds at 6:30 or so, I'm usually in the groove and have been for quite some time.

This is good. As long as I can keep up this routine, I'll have more than pieces parts to sub to my crit group next time.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Where's My Clone? And Other Questions From One Writer's Heart

E made her confirmation Sunday with Jewel at her side. The ceremony was very touching, especially in light of how far she's come. Afterward, we celebrated with family and friends.

This morning E practiced for graduation with the rest of her class. The ceremony is tonight. E's sister S needs to arrive 45 minutes early because the choir's singing at the ceremony.

Have I had time to sit butt in chair given the excitement of the last couple of weeks? Aside from a scribble here and a note there, no. I'd love to say otherwise. I'd love to report that I've produced chapter upon chapter in my latest re-visioning of KM. Saying so would mean lying to myself and my muse.

I've a twinge of guilt thinking about how many days have gone by without communing with my characters. But here's the thing: I'd feel even more guilt--life-long guilt--if I didn't enjoy these last few weeks to their fullest, giving my daughters their all as they wrap up another school year.

My characters can wait. Concerts, confirmation and graduation are life events that come only once.

Am I rationalizing? I hope not. I prefer to embrace the belief that even when we're not writing, we're feeding our muse. I'm reminded of advice once given by a former Vermont College writing advisor of mine, Jane Resh Thomas. Once in a letter or workshop, she said the following (in a much more eloquent way):

As writers we must embrace the lives we've been given. We must live in the world, not outside of it, because it is from our experiences that our stories are born.

Given Jane's quote, I prefer to believe that if we don't embrace our lives to their fullest, anything else is fiction.

In the midst of it all, I can't help but look backward as I look forward.

Wasn't so long ago that we were wondering whether E'd make it through her 10th birthday. She's come so far since then. From standing at death's door after suffering an ruptured brain aneurysm to learning to walk and talk again to where we are today: looking forward to freshman year of high school, and worrying about what to wear under her graduation gown.

I've been quick to tears all day.

More later when things calm down.

Edited 5:45 p.m.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

14th Carnival of Children's Literature: The Fiesta Edition

For a feast of book reviews and insights, and a dash of multicultural spice, check out this month's Carnival of Children's Literature here at Chicken Spaghetti.

My contribution to this month's carnival: a link to my post entitled Wild About Art and Music.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Attention Writers, Artists, and Fellow Creative Souls: Looking for a Diverting Reason to Procrastinate? Try this Quiz

What kind of flower are you? I'm a daffodil.

Thanks to fellow daffodil Kelly Herold of Big A little a for sharing the link.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Long Way Home, Part III, and Finding My Groove--Or Not

Yesterday, I was working on KM, finding my groove inside K's head when the phone rang. Though I usually let the answering machine pick up calls during my butt-in-chair time, I couldn't ignore this one. It was the school calling with news about E. She had a slight fever and was complaining of being achy. I gripped the phone a little tighter. Aches along with a fever often mean E's temp is about to soar. I started the Tylenol as soon as we arrived home.

The Tylenol has been enough for now. I find hope in this. I wish my characters agreed. They're less than cooperative today, finding all sorts of reasons why not to be honest with me. Not that I could do much about it if they were. Taking care of E when she's sick leaves me precious little uninterrupted time to return phone calls, let alone sit in one place for the hard work of writing.

I detest taking two steps backward each time E's ill, and hate that I can't predict when I'll next have enough uninterrupted time to enter the zone with my characters. But this much I KNOW: E's been sick often enough during the last six years for me to trust that I will sit butt in chair again.

Some days--especially days like today when E's called for me one time too many--this Truth is the only thing that keeps me going.

Most recent read: One of my Mother's Day presents: the latest Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic--The Long Way Home, Part III by Joss Whedon. Boy, I miss Joss' TV shows.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Enter the Forest

The May issue of Edge of the Forest children's literature magazine is now live on cyber newsstands. Just a few of this month's features:

1. The latest news on attempts to ban The Bermudez Triangle affair, along with links to a cyber petition to voice your opinion on the matter.

2. An interview with Tracy Grand, creator of Jacketflap (a phenomenal resource for serious children's book writers, reviewers, and industry types).

3. Oodles of children's book reviews.

4. An inside look at one children's book writer on retreat authored by yours truly.

Surf on over, kick off your shoes, walk the paths, or forge your own. Stay for an hour or a day. The Forest is yours to explore.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Battle Report: E's IEP Meeting, Assumptions, Enlightenment, and *gasp* New Hope for a Writer's Life

The showdown went better than expected on Monday.

One word sums up how the high school views/deals with kids with disabilities: enlightened.

A large part of me wants to trust the talk. Another part--a more vocal part--hesitates. Why? We've been burned too often by assuming key team members for any given school year were reading our children's IEPs and planning ahead on how best to implement what was outlined there. We also mistakenly assumed that team members felt empowered by administration to ask for the resources they needed in order to provide for our girls (as outlined in the IEP).

Silly us, we assumed the IEP was worth something more than the paper it's written on.

What we've learned over the years: Don't assume the IEP is enough to make things happen.

Yes, parenting a child with special needs is exhausting. Yes, the IEP is a contract. No, even though it's a contract between you, the school, and the State Board of Education, you can't assume it will be followed.

No matter how exhausted you might feel, no matter how often you wish you had a true advocate on the inside, the only true advocate for your child is you.

This means finding creative ways to check up on and check in with your child's IEP team...ways other than parking your butt in your child's classroom to ensure the right things are happening. I've friends who meet monthly with the team to ensure what's outlined is actually being done. Others require logs be completed so behavior can be tracked and modifications made as needed to foster greater independence. We visit, trade emails, and use a communication notebook so we can keep in regular contact with the teacher.

Finding reliable ways to keep in touch with your child's teacher and other team members is especially important if your child (like mine) is unable to articulate whether or not something's being implemented. For example, because of E's extremely small size (imagine a child the size of a two year old playing team sports with eighth graders), gym class requires creative modifications to allow for safe participation. Unfortunately, this follow through doesn't always happen.

In sixth grade, one of E's units was volleyball. I assumed the teacher would ask E to serve the net with a beach ball or the equivalent. The teacher, apparently unable to see past the double class she was teaching to think creatively about how E might be included in play, determined E should sit out instead. I found out about this decision after the fact. Um, no.

Enter the high school at Monday's meeting. Turns out, they offer an adaptive PE class. We lobbied without success for the middle school to put one of these in place. The school thought it was doing an adequate job without one. The opinion of a former PE teacher of E's: modifying the game so E can play would mean impinging on the rights of the other children. Excuse me? P physically held me down in my seat to keep me from launching myself at the teacher.

The ADA laws were made for ignorant people like that. Seems to me the values she's instilling in her young charges have more to do with winning than about teamwork and opportunity and honoring differently abled peers.

Learning that the high school has a PE class dedicated to adapting activities as needed only added to my opinion of the team in charge there. I like the talk. I want to believe it. After years of bird dogging E's and S's various IEP teams, I'm left with hope. Hope that finally, we've found a team we can trust.

I can taste the possibilities. Trust in the team, means less meetings, less micro-managing. An opportunity to redirect my time and energy, and pursue my true passion: Writing.

Summer school for E will prove whether or not the talk is only talk. *crosses fingers and toes* Here's hoping the high school team makes good on its promises.

Edited: 12:42 p.m.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Showdown at High Noon--E's IEP Meeting Today

P and I attend the second part of E's IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) meeting today. The first part, held a couple weeks ago, was held to hear results of tests assessing where E's at intellectually/socially/physically/etc. since the last time she was reviewed, and to determine her eligibility for special ed supports and services for next year.

That was the easy part.

We meet at noon today to finalize a transitional plan from middle school to high school, to discuss and write goals for the next year, and to approve accommodations so that E is guaranteed equal access to her education, and related before- and after-school activities.

Between both of our younger girls, we've attended at least two dozen of these meetings over the years. We should be experts at it. We're not. And unfortunately the longer I'm in the system, the more I realize that the special ed child's advocate isn't the classroom teacher, the school principal or the rep from special ed making sure the papers are completed properly. The ONLY true advocate for a special needs child is the child's parent. (Which makes the IEP only as good as the paper it's written on, unless that parent has the time/patience/energy willing to ride the system to make it otherwise.)

Fie! Without a doubt, thinking about attending these meetings leaves me feeling as if I must gird my loins and pay obeisance to the gods to ensure a successful battle.

If you're reading this post between noon and three central standard time, wish us luck.

Appetite for writing: Ravenous, but will have to wait until after our marathon meeting. Hmmm. Perhaps our real-life battle will inspire some good scenes for KM.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Wild About Art and Music

We attended the girls' art and music show last night. Fabulous. Chorus with S included a refreshing mix of traditional and contemporary numbers. Some of the more avant garde selections: basketballs bounced to a hip-hop number, and pulsing glow wands and glasses timed to the music. The art show featured artwork in various mediums by S and E and their classmates, and live demonstrations by a potter and jewelry maker.

Of particular note: the lively, interactive shows seemed to engage everyone, even the most reluctant and/or inexperienced art afficionados. As a writer I can't help but believe this observation relevant for my own art. Questions that come to mind:

1. How can I as a writer apply the show's successful elements to my own art?

2. What will engage my readers so completely that when they close my book they'll be compelled to shout about it?

3. These and other questions will be on my mind as I continue my forward progress through KM, which by the way, has undergone a major transformation thanks to insights gained during last weekend's retreat.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Retreat Report

The retreat was awesome. Twenty of us attended, all in different places in our writing lives, most everyone seeking uninterrupted time to connect, discuss craft, and write.

The Cenacle retreat center was an excellent choice. Run by the Cenacle Sisters, the center offers groups and individuals opportunities for community, communion with spirit, inner reflection, most anything the personal journey requires.

Located along a tree-lined street in the heart of Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood, we were walking distance from Starbucks, Lincoln Park Zoo, and Lake Michigan. The food was tasty, the company delicious, and the price was right...a fraction of the cost of Vermont College, yet the weekend left me feeling invigorated, energized, and inspired, in much the same way I felt after returning home from a residency at VC.

Writing wise, my muse must have loved the set up. On Saturday alone I wrote 10 new pages for KM.

On my must-do-again-soon list: booking a room at the center for myself (they even offer very reasonable day rates) in a couple or three months. The price is right, and the benefits to my muse immeasurable.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Career Day, Writing Prompts, and Retreats

I spent much of today finalizing my presentation for tomorrow's Career Day at the girls' school, collecting props for said presentation, and making lists of what I'll need for my SCBWI Illinois writer's retreat over the weekend.

Tomorrow, after chatting with the students about my writer's life, I've allowed time for a writing exercise. With the help of my fifth grader S, I've drafted the beginning of a quirky little story about a fifth grader and her not so ordinary dog, Princess. My plan is to start the groups off with our beginning, then prompt them to help me finish the story. At the end, we'll reread what we've written together. My fingers are crossed that my audience is willing to play, and that we have a good time doing it.

After my stint at Career Day, I plan to head back home, pay bills (never a fun activity, which is why I always put it off till the last minute), finish packing, load the car and head out.

Looking forward to a weekend's worth of uninterrupted time with KM. My butt in chair time this week had been lighter than usual, and my characters are crabby because of it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Writerly To-Dos

1. Finalize presentation for Career Day at school Friday. Tools of the trade I plan to bring along: my trusty notebook, my lucky purple pen, notecards, computer, a stack of books featuring some of my favorites for fifth graders, excerpts from my current work-in-progress, poems by Jack Prelutsky, and a short writing exercise (yet to be determined.)

2. Prep for Saturday's Easter Seals Telethon interview in which Elena and Jewel will be interviewed, and I'll have a chance to talk up "Special Gifts: Women Writers on the Happiness, the Heartache and the Hope of Raising a Special Needs Child" (Wyatt-Mackenzie, June 2007).

3. Packing for the SCBWI Illinois Writer's Retreat to be held at the Cenacle Retreat Center near Lincoln Park in Chicago. Writers in residence will feature Sharon Darrow and Carmela Martino.

The focus of the weekend: character, relaxation, networking, and writing.

Our reading homework: The Higher Power of Lucky.

My packing list so far in no particular order:

*basket of KM revisions, notes, notebooks
*yoga dvd
*craft book--either The Writing Life by Anne Dillard or Writing Past Dark: Envy, *Fear, Distraction, and Other Dilemmas in the Writer's Life by Bonnie Friedman.
*children's books for the book swap
*picture books featuring characters I love

Current read: The New Kid on the Block, poems by Jack Prelutsky (snagged for 25 cents at a church rummage sale last week.)

Monday, April 23, 2007

Attention Children's Book Writers: Free Promo Opportunity

Gaaked off a children's writer list:

Hey, writers,

If you have a new children's book coming out, visit the National Writing for Children Center to find out how you can be a guest on our weekly podcast,
Book Bites for Kids. We're now scheduling authors for June podcasts.


Suzanne Lieurance
Founder, Director, and Coaching Coordinator
The National Writing for Children Center
P.O. Box 8422
Kansas City, Missouri 64114

Dodging the Big One (and Doing the Happy Dance With My Muse)

The topic to follow is hardly writerly, and yet, on second thought, maybe it is given how heavily it weighed on my muse until it was resolved.

A little over 14 months ago, our middle daughter E underwent surgery to correct a brain aneurysm. This surgery came on the heels of a lengthy recovery from an actual rupture in July 2001 that required months in the hospital, and years of rehab to relearn how to be herself again.

Fast forward to 2007. E's doing fantastic, having a fab time in 8th grade, planning what to wear for her graduation dance, and embracing life.

With the most recent surgery over a 15 months ago, you'd think all bills for said event would be paid up by now. Think again.

For months now we've been living under a perpetual rain cloud of sorts, wrestling with medical providers and insurance to get certain bills paid. Navigating the insurance system, especially the medical billing part of it, is a bit like navigating an elaborate maze, one I firmly believe changes monthly, if not weekly.

The option of paying off a small balance because it's easier to do so rather than argue about it with the Powers that Be isn't an option. First of all, there's the principle of it. Secondly, both surgeries left us with more than a half million dollars worth of medical bills from the dozens of medical providers who made up our teams. So paying off each $10 argument rather than following-up with it until they get it right is problematic and too expensive.

Our most recent battle with Mr. Insurance Man was over a bill from the latest surgery, one that required timely attention because of the lateness of the date, and the number of zeros associated with it:

1. For reasons we have yet to grok, one-half of E's surgical team neglected to bill insurance for his part in the February 2006 surgery until 14 months later. 14 months. We weren't talking chump change here. The bill neared $20,000.

2. Finally, after much hounding on our parts (because there's no way we could afford to pay the amount due on our own, because we worried that the insurance company would have every right to refuse to pay based on the fact that the bill came in so late, and because we're the responsible party in the end), the surgeon's office managed to bill us.

3. You'd think this would be the end of it.

4. Think again.

5. Shortly after the paperwork in #2 went through, the insurance company informed us that the surgeon was out of network, and thus we were responsible for the entire amount, minus the appropriate deductibles.

6. After we punched the wall a few times, we called Mr. Insurance Company, and said in a good way:

"Excuse me? Way back before the surgery, we arranged for this surgeon to be included at the in-network rate. In fact YOU called us to say everything was good."

7. Unfortunately, turnover is rampant in the medical insurance world, and the person you talk to today will likely not be the person you talk with next week. And because we've been burned one time too many by reps who neglected to log dates and details of our conversations and agreements, we've learned to take detailed notes about every phone call, including names, dates, decisions, etc. to use when disputes occur.

8. Late last week, after weeks of phone calls and emails (because we have nothing better to do than spend our lives waiting on hold listening to the Stones on Musak, and because we refuse to roll over and let Mr. I-man get away with the shell game), we learned the bill will be paid in full.

Doing the Happy Dance, and intending to channel the relief my muse is feeling into continuing revisions to KM.

edited 4:40 p.m.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Spring Cleaning and Writerly To-Dos

1. Critique Group today. Looking forward to it, especially the adult conversation, which I've been lacking lately with P out of town.

2. KM cut and paste. I've written so many versions of KM thanks to VC, thanks to my advisors, thanks to my crit group, thanks to the characters who entered the stage of the story with bit parts, but demanded more of the spotlight, that I swear I've written at least a half dozen books. (More if you count the reams of false starts stored on my hard drive. Version a. Version b. Version a1, b1, all the way to Z and back again.)

Anyway, in recent weeks my writing's undergone a shift. I'm now on a treasure hunt of sorts (and a long-overdue spring cleaning), sifting through the drafts on my hard drive (a daunting number), and cutting and pasting key scenes into a centralized folder for a final draft. *claps hands and giggles* Being at this point (instead of just talking about it) means I'm finally closing in on my goal of presenting critique group a bound copy of my book for review prior to submitting it.

3. Speaking of bound copies, crit group member J was the first of us to do this. Two weeks ago she presented us with her freshly printed, neatly assembled YA fantasy to read/review before she shops it around. I so want to do the same thing that I'm convinced J's persistance is urging me on. Which is another reason I love my crit group.

4. Prep for Writer's Retreat. The SCBWI Illinois chapter is hosting a Writer's Retreat the weekend of the 28th. I participated in the last retreat, and came away feeling energized. That's why the moment it came up for registration I jumped at the opportunity to go. Imagine two full days all to yourself. No phones. No car-pooling. No errands. No need to plan meals, cook, or clean up after yourself. Just two glorious, uninterrupted days to write, network with like-minded writers, read, whatever.

Current read: Prom Nights From Hell: Paranormal prom stories by Meg Cabot, Kim Harrison, Michele Jaffe, Stephenie Meyer and Lauren Myracle. If the first page from the first story is any indication, I'm in for a thrill ride. (After all, who can resist a prom princess packing an Excaliber Vixen crossbow 285 FPS on the dance floor?)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

I'm in Heaven--Or Hell--Depending on How You Read It

Three books arrived for me recently.

Two yesterday:

Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause.

Prom Nights From Hell featuring short stories by Meg Cabot, Kim Harrison, Michele Jaffe, Stephenie Meyer and Lauren Myracle.

And one today:

Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (a book I'm looking forward to sampling again).

What P said yesterday upon noticing the first two titles stacked on my desk:

"You read some really weird stuff."

This from a man who eagerly took a road trip to Columbus, Ohio, with his oldest daughter some years back in order to attend a special theater showing of all three Lord of the Rings movies that guaranteed attendees the privilege of seeing Return of the King one hour before its general release to the public.

Yep. Uh-huh. I rest my case. (But I do have to admit, for someone unaware of my-erm-tastes, my selection does tend toward the macabre, doesn't it?)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Vampires for My Birthday...What More Can a Writer Ask for?

Normally, I need a lot of prodding from P to produce a birthday wish list so he can guide the girls in the right direction when he takes them shopping. This year I knew exactly what I wanted, thanks to this post on Spookcyn from Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Turns out my family took me seriously. This weekend, not only did I receive Issues 1 and 2 of the new Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight Comic Book Series (which is written by the very talented Joss Whedon and continues where the TV show left off), I'm the proud owner of The Watcher's Guide, Volume I.

Yes, I admit it. I am a Buffy geek, but in all seriousness, I've a more professional interest in the show/story/series, one that transcends my lifelong fascination with the supernatural.

Joss Whedon can write. For anyone serious about the craft, I highly recommend studying his technique. For smart, snappy dialogue, timing, pacing, character development, tension, world building, you name it, he's the go-to guy.

edited 9:48 a.m.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Lamb Cakes, Writing Deadlines and the Dark Side

On Friday S, E and I made lamb cake from scratch using an old cast iron mold discovered at an area estate sale last summer, and a recipe from E's Girl Scout leader who claims it's been in her family for generations.

The recipe's the real deal, one that uses five egg yolks, five egg whites whipped for what feels like forever into a stiff froth, an entire cup of sugar, Crisco--yes, I learned this product still exists--and real butter.

After the lamb cake finally cooled, we freed it from its mold. I must have been too rough with it though, because its head promptly popped off followed by its two tiny ears. Since our end goal wasn't the presentation of a sacrificial lamb at Easter dinner, I performed surgery, reattaching everything using toothpicks and frosting for glue.

About the time the cake was looking like a proper lamb again, my sister called from Phoenix. I told her about our adventures in making lamb cake, and mentioned that we were getting pretty low on the good jelly beans for decorating our creation (my girly girls prefer the pinks and pastels), but should have enough for what we need.

"Not sure what we'll do with the black ones," I said. "Maybe I can put them aside for Dad." My dad loves those.

"Black?" B said. "Don't give them to Dad. They're perfect for the lamb cake."

She was quiet for a few beats, probably waiting for me to catch up. I'm thinking black jelly beans? We're already using chocolate chips for the eyes and they look pretty darn good.

About the time I realize she's lost me, B pipes in: "Lamb poops. They're perfect for lamb poops."

"Lamb poops."

Not that I'm overly religious or anything, but Easter's one of the big holidays for Christians and this cake was supposed to be a representation of THE Easter Lamb incarnate. So, imagining black pellets--jelly beans or otherwise--piled next to its backside and then serving said cake for desert on Sunday just wasn't computing. Not at first anyway.

Before I could say anything pithy or otherwise, B said: "Put your girls on the phone." I could hear the smile as she issued her command.

My two youngest girls love a good fart joke; so you can imagine what they thought of Aunt B's idea. They huddled around the phone, nodding and whispering, and then burst out laughing so hard that S nearly dropped the phone trying to give it back to me, and E--she was a lost cause. She practically needed to leave the table in order to catch her breath.

Hearing my girls shrieks and belly laughts was enough to sway me over to the dark side. When I finally took the phone back, B said, in her droll, off-handed way, "If anyone complains tell them it's my contribution to Easter."

Deal," I said, and that was that.

Sunday I told the story of Aunt B and the Lamb Cake. We shared more than a few good laughs, and I was reminded that's what family's about--laughing, scratching, good times, and stories like the one about Aunt B and her lamb poops to come back to when someone we love needs a pick me up.

Appetite for writing: Ravenous, even after a weekend replete with spiral ham, hard boiled eggs, black jelly beans, mixed green salad, and--erm--less than perfect lamb cake.

On deadline for:

Edge of the Forest--the April edition is due on cyber newsstands this week. Contributions from yours truly: an interview with best-selling author Lauren Myracle about her writing life, and a survey of working children's writers nationwide about what they're reading and why.

Critique group--my next installment of KM is due in J and A's hands by Monday next week the latest.

edited 4:59 p.m.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Children's Hospital Report

In order to make E's appointment in time Wednesday morning, I woke her at o-dark thirty. Amazingly, she managed to get dressed and ready without much prodding. Much to my surprise, traffic heading downtown was decent; so, we arrived at the kidney doctor's office with a good 15 minutes to spare.

Good news: pre-visit tests showed nothing worse than a vitamin D deficiency, easily remedied with a short therapeutic course of vitamin D for the next few months.

Unsettling news: the doctor reminded us about findings from a work-up done before last year's aneurysm surgery. Now that E's on the mend and doing really well, he said, it's time to investigate those findings further to determine whether or not surgical intervention makes sense.

More later as we take time to process what this means.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Writer's Report

Excellent writing day. Actually submitted something to crit group in time for Thursday's meeting. Even had enough energy left to begin reviewing the multiple drafts I've written of KM in order to select the scenes needed to piece together my latest version. Very exciting seeing it all come together, and feeling deep enough into the flow of it that I can actually see the holes that need filling and the threads that need tweaking.

On tap for tomorrow:

1. Early am visit to Children's Hospital for a follow up with one of E's physicians. Mental fingers crossed that the results of the testing from three weeks ago don't result in any surprises.

2. Followed by more re-visions to KM (if we leave the Loop in time).

3. Followed by final edits to J and A's subs.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Spring Cleaning, Med Sheets, and Other Trivial Pursuits of My Writing Life

I cleaned the meds off my kitchen counter today. Returned the Children's Motrin and Tylenol to the bins in the cabinet. Put away the digital thermometer. Culled old med sheets. Inventoried the dosing spoons and syringes.

Packing away the meds must seem like such a trivial pursuit. Not in our house. Not over the last month or so anyway.

For an average kid a cold can last a week or seven days, whichever comes first. For E, a cold equals two weeks of sick time or more. That's why we've been out of commission for so long. Thanks to a cold that started mid February and morphed from one illness to another, I've been unable to clean the meds off the counter. A week or so ago, just about the time E started showing signs she'd finally beaten her bugs into submission (and I dared believe that maybe we were finally finished with the month from hell), P and I got the chest-cold-cough thing everyone else and his/her uncle seems to have had lately.

The bad news is I'm still so tired I could take a nap at the key board if I let myself do so. The good news is E's at school, I'm finally on the mend, and today, in addition to cleaning off the counter, I made progress working through the piles on my desk.

Two realizations came to mind while doing so:

1. My confidence level was high enough that when the phone rang I didn't expect the caller to be the teacher informing me that I should come get E because she couldn't make it through the day.

2. The number of meds on the counter (and the length of time they've been there) is a direct correlation to the quantity and quality of pages I'll be able to write during any given day.

3. Today, I'm in a much better position to commune with my characters, and leave the computer satisfied they were being honest with me.

4. Tomorrow will be a successful writing day.

Current read: Eoin Colfers's Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony.