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.