Friday, November 27, 2009

I Did It!

I wrote an entire fantasy novel in a month! I know I wouldn't have done it if it weren't for fellow author Amy Timberlake who suggested the idea on the SCBWI Illinois listserve in the first place. Thanks, Amy, for planting the initial seed. And thanks, too, to my fellow children's book writers whose ongoing word counts on the live Nano site spurred me on all month.

Next up, my latest article for "Family Time Magazine" article. This one kind of took me by surprise this week when I learned the deadline had been moved up a week and is now due Tuesday. Talk about an incentive to finish Nano writing. Interviews are done. Now onto the happy task of compressing all the interesting things I've learned into 850 words and a story worth reading.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Prairie Writer's Day Recap

I've been meaning to blog about the 5th Annual Prairie Writer's Day conference held recently in the Chicago area, but then I happened upon this amazing recap from fellow fantasy writer Hilary Wagner who said it so well here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Writerly To-Do List

1. On assignment for Family Time Magazine--Began surfing net today. Due date--early December.

2. Day 13 of NaNoWriMo. Yesterday, I broke through the 20,000 word barrier on my way to writing an entire novel in one month. The shape of my story is emerging, and I'm encouraged by the direction it's taking.

3. Prairie Writer's Day tomorrow. The event sold out weeks ago. I almost didn't get in. I'd been on the waiting list, but learned recently that I'd made the cut. Looking forward to connecting with old friends, commiserating with fellow Nanites about the challenge of NaNoWriMo, and immersing myself in the craft for the day. This event is the closest I've come to reliving the Vermont College MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults experience close to home. Vermont College faculty member and author extraordinaire Cynthia Leitich Smith is the headliner.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Sleeping With My Characters and Other Upsides of the NaNo Effect

Though I’m only six days into the month-long frenzy called NaNoWriMo, a curious thing is happening along the way. I’m calling it the NaNo effect:

1. I’m feeling way guilty working on any writing that’s not NaNo related. Why? Because it's keeping me from making my 50,000 words by November 30th. The upside? More face time with my characters means I’m making my daily quota.

2. Today I expect to hit the 10,000 words mark after less than a week into the contest.

3. My back hurts from sitting so long in one place. The upside: I’ve returned to regular writer yoga stretches to work out the kinks. This practice in turn has led to a greater sense of clarity and confidence regarding my story, my characters, and life in general.

4. I’m sleeping with my characters. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I went to bed and woke up with them right there beside me. At times, I feel a bit too much like Mork from Mork and Mindy. Not that this is all together a bad thing. It’s just that at times it feels like I’m straddling two worlds, which can lead to some interesting conversations if I’ve just come off a fight scene.

5. I can’t find the bottom of the sink. We’ve been known to do archaeological digs in our kitchen before, but it’s been a while. We’re now at the point where I need to buy paper plates sometime today. That or carve out a good half hour from my NaNo time.

6. NaNo is forcing me to budget my time more wisely, and giving me permission to say no when something comes up.

7. My characters come immediately when I call, no dillying or dallying. It’s amazing how close they are. With very little effort we resume conversations where we left off, or take up a sword and continue the fight. Very very cool.

8. My internal editor has gone silent. I attribute this to the NaNo process itself. When you need to write 1667 words a day there’s no time to question if it’s the perfect word. You just write down what comes to you and keep moving. Period. The end.

9. And then there are the nuggets. Amidst all the crap I’m generating, the cream is rising to the top!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Attention Fellow NaNoWriMos!

Glue this mantra above your computer or wherever you write:

Butt in chair is halfway there!

NaNoWriMo word count (as of this morning): 4,318 and counting!

Monday, November 02, 2009

NaNoWriMo Here I Come!

Started NaNoWriMo yesterday. Despite what feels like at least a hundred balls in the air, I managed 1,808 new words toward my latest fantasy novel M&R. So far so good.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Finally! The Acquisitions Process Demystified

Keep reading if you've ever wondered what happens to your manuscript after arriving on the publishing house's doorstep (and why hearing any kind of feedback takes so long). Thanks to the Buried Editor for creating this flow chart of the Acquisition Process. It's amazing anything gets published.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Don't Miss Book Giveway!

Do you know or love a librarian? Be sure to pass along this chance to win a free set of books from the Classof2k9 Debut Authors. Deadline to enter is November 30th.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Great Chicago Ghost Story Contest

Tis the season for ghosts, witches and things that go bump in the night. That's why I was thrilled to see a shout out for ghost stories for "The Great Chicago Ghost Story Contest" sponsored by the Chicago Tribune. Deadline is midnight October 25. Stories must be original and unpublished, set in or around Chicago, and mention at least one Chicago-area locale or business. They cannot exceed 700 words. Winners will be published in the Chicago Tribune on November 1st, and will receive an audio copy of their story. Check here for details.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Writerly Report from the Trenches, Part II

Two pages a Day count (since September 16)--40 plus pages of M & R and counting. Most of it is crap ala Anne Lamott. However, some of it was deemed worthy by at least one fellow critique group member.

The truth I need to keep beating myself over the head with: Were it not for the shit I had to slog through first, I would never have unearthed those gems or rediscovered my groove with my characters.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Writerly Report from the Trenches, Part I

Spotted on newsstands today: My latest story, "Why We Love Haunted Houses & How to Tell if Your Child is Ready for One," in the October issue of Family Time Magazine.

Writerly Revelation

This morning I counted the number of physicians actively assisting us with E's health care. I've twelve on the speed dial on my cell phone, not including the team that will likely be involved when we head to Stanford for yet another aneurysm surgery. No wonder sitting butt in chair for the hard work of writing is such a challenge. (edited at 2:44 p.m.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Quote for the Day

God put me on this earth to accomplish a certain number of things. So far I am so far behind I will never die! - Author unkown

Coming soon--writerly update on my two-pages-a-day goal.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Writerly Report

1. Two pages of M&R Tuesday.
2. Two plus pages yesterday.
3. One book devoured--Charlaine Harris' Dead Until Dark.
4. One book begun (and so page-turning good that it's threatening to keep me from making today's quota)--Need by Carrie Jones.
5. Characters more cooperative and willing to play with me on the story stage with each passing day.
6. Muse amused.
7. Writer indebted to the wisdom of Jane (and her deceptively simple rule for serious writers: two pages a day.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I Need an Alice, and Other Items on my Writer's Wish List

Writerly wish list--

1. I need an Alice, someone like the beloved Brady Bunch maid/house manager/jack of all trades who can manage meds and meals and other family tasks while I do the fun stuff, like spending time with my family and writing. Let's not forget writing.

2. I want--no, strike that. I need a writer's retreat. I'm not asking for anything extravagant. A weekend will do. Since I'm dreaming, the getaway should take place AWAY from home, where I'm no longer on call with the school or one of E's many physicians. Oh, I'll need to be off duty, too. Someone else will need to be on point for cooking and cleaning and giving the round-the-clock meds at the right times. The place needn't be a four-star affair. Truly, all I need is a bed and a desk and chance to live, eat and breathe my characters like I did when pursuing my MFA.

3. I need to reconnect with my characters. Before E's current medical issues emerged, I was so close to my characters that any time I sat down with pen, paper or keyboard they were ready to play. These days, it takes coaxing. And time I don't have.

4. I need to reaffirm my trust in the creative process. My writer's heart knows I should do this. My editor's head looks at my progress to date on M&R and taps its foot and shakes its head. My writer's heart knows that what's happening in our lives is informing me as a writer, and a necessary part of the process. Yet, there's so much I want to say and do and explore with my stories. I know. I know. I can't rush the process. It will unfold in its own time, not mine.

5. Two pages a day. Jane Resh Thomas, mentor, teacher, friend and writer extraordinaire, recommends targeting two pages a day for any writer looking to finish something. When she first recommended the concept to me, I was halfway through my Vermont College MFA, and remember thinking, "Two pages? Piece of cake." I couldn't imagine ever having a time in my life where I couldn't achieve that goal. Now I get it.

Writerly Report--I managed two pages of creative yesterday, and I'm well on my way to meeting my goal for today. Baby steps.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Attention Writers and Book Lovers: Contests and Queries You Don't Want to Miss

Talk to most any writer and you know that it's hard for them to pass up a free book. That's why I had to share the following:

Teaching Authors is running a contest now through Labor Day with a free book, New Year at the Pier by April Halprin Wayland, as the prize. All you need to do to enter to win is post a goal (25 words of less) that you plan to accomplish between now and the end of the year.

And word on the net (Facebook) is that the editors at Hunger Mountain VCFA Journal of Fine Arts are finalizing their fall issue and looking for the submissions to support the theme, Confronting Controversy. In her post this morning, co-editor Bethany Hegedus wrote: "essays needed on a variety of controversial issues. Book banning, cover controversies, blurring the lines, self-editing re topic, etc. Please email hmcyaeditors at with essay pitch. 1500-2000 words. Firming up fall line-up!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Writerly News for Young Writers--"Dream Power" Writing Contest

Attention young writers! If you love to write, and dream of being published someday, now's your chance. To celebrate the fifth anniversary of its award-winning fantasy, The Dark Dreamweaver, Imaginator Press is seeking creative stories for its "Dream Power" writing contest. Winning entries will be published in a "Dream Power" anthology, and have a chance to win an 8GB iPod Touch or iTunes gift card. The contest is open to children and teens 14 and under. Entries must be received on or before October 31, and related to the "Dream Power" theme. See the contest page here for details and a link to the contest rules and official entry form.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Writerly Workouts

For the next two weeks, Teaching Authors will feature back-to-school writing workouts for teachers, writers and anyone else who wants to move his/her gray matter creatively. The series launched yesterday just in time for back-to-school. I've already bookmarked the first post. Check it out here.

Current read: Hunted by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Of Vampires and By-Lines

In my quest to sate my appetite for vampires and all things undead, I've spent the last couple of weeks working my way through the House of Night Series by the mother-daughter team, P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast.

The series is such a popular one at our library that I've been forced to read the books out of order. Even so, between the characterization, world-building, pacing and suspense, they're really working for me, enough so that I'll likely invest in my own copies.

Current House of Night read: Chosen.

On the clips front:
The August issue of Family Time Magazine hit the newsstands today, featuring an article by yours truly. My story focuses on a local mom whose daughter was struggling with learning disabilities and developmental issues, but is now showing marked and measureable improvement thanks an innovative new treatment approach called Brain Balance.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Doctor's visits, Deadlines and Dog Parks

E, Jewel and I spent all day downtown yesterday at Children's. We thought the appointment with Dr. L would be routine, fully expecting to get the clearances we needed for E's surgery on the August 20th and be on our way before lunch. Not.

Turns out E's anemic--again--which means the issue from March isn't resolved. Frustrating thing is that if the numbers don't go up, they could be a deal breaker for surgery. We need clearances from the hematology folks before surgery's a go. Before we can get clearances, we need to see the hemo folks again. Their next available appointment isn't until after August 20th.

Insiders are working on the Powers that Be, hoping they'll bless E with the golden ticket needed to win a seat at a clinic before surgery. The problem is we're talking hospital time here. Even if we get said seat, there's no guarantee the low numbers will be resolved in time. *Pauses to take a long meditative breath.* Can you spell roller coaster ride?

While waiting on the Powers that Be, I'm focusing on my next Family Time article. It's due Friday. The subject is dog parks. In addition to interviewing area dog lovers about why they go, E, S and I ventured out to a local park. What fun! In less than a half hour's time, our labs, Buffy and Jewel, made three new friends, Diamond, a sled dog with remarkable blue eyes, Bailey, a sweet chocolate lab puppy, and Nadine, a tail-wagging Shepherd-like mutt with an attitude.

Jewel and Buffy came back exhausted, but happy. For anyone who's ever owned a dog, you know why the exhausted part is so huge. We're already planning our next visit.

FYI, the article's scheduled to run in September. I'll give everyone a heads up when it hits the newsstands for sure.

Friday, July 17, 2009

For Every Writer's Toolbox: This is Just Too Cool

I've been meaning to write about a really cool game, one I believe belongs in every writer's toolbox for days when you need to coax the muse out to play. The game is called Crayon Physics. The shapes you draw on your screen will move, tumble and roll, depending on how and where you place them. This in turn affects the scene on your screen, and helps you build contraptions reminiscient of Mouse Trap and, ultimately, experiment with physics. Brilliant. There's a free downloadable demo on the website. I dare you to play it without smiling.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Wake-Up Call from My Muse (and April Halprin Wayland)

I subscribe to the belief that there are no coincidences in life, only God incidences. Yesterday was no exception. After writing my post about how difficult I expect the next month to be in terms of finding butt in chair time with my characters, I read this entry by April Halprin Wayland on the Teaching Authors blog about writing time (and the perceived lack thereof.) Thanks for writing your post, April. The way I see it, you were the equivalent of a phone call from my muse.

Monday, July 13, 2009

It's a Date

Surgery is a definite for E. She's on the schedule for August 20th. Between now and then we need clearances from--and this is no lie--six different physicians. And I'm supposed to be sitting butt in chair for the hard work of writing when?

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Deadlines, Doctors and Other Reasons My Desk is a Mess

On tap this week:

1. Deadlines inevitably create more piles on my already overly piled desk. Since I'm on deadline for another Family Time article (due in a couple of weeks) the piles are steadily growing. Fortunately for now I know where everything is (knocks on wood). The article I'm currently working on is about area dog parks, pros, cons, how-tos, etc. I finished the bulk of my research phase Monday, sought initial quotes from E's service dog trainer and friends with dogs, etc., and lined up sources for more in-depth interviews. Later this week, the fun part begins--play testing area parks with S, E, and E's service dog Jewel.

2. We leave for downtown Chicago tomorrow at 9 for our ortho consult. Since doctor's visits to Children's are rarely routine, I spent a good deal of this evening making lists and packing as if we'll be gone for the day (since inevitably we end up making a day of it.) The visit is a follow-up on based on one of the to-dos we received during our visit with the primordial dwarfism specialists out east at the end of May.

Long story short, both specialists recommended E have surgery to lengthen her heel cord and other areas on her left leg affected by her initial stroke. Since no surgery is routine with E, my initial reaction upon hearing the idea was a knee-jerk no. But as the doctors starting explaining why, I couldn't help but listen. The surgery is a short one, and the end result HUGE in terms of the mobility and independence E will gain from it.

We've since talked with E's key team members locally. All are in agreement that E would benefit from the procedure. So are the parents of E's friends who've undergone similar procedures.

We talked with E about it. When she heard that the end result of the surgery will likely mean regaining enough use of her leg to walk without her cane, she jumped at the chance to do it.

So, tomorrow we meet a surgeon who's been recommended for the job. At that point we'll talk risks, expectations, length of recovery, etc. I imagine we'll also talk timing. The ideal would be to do it before school begins. But we need to include E's wants in the equation, too. She wants to wait until after her youth mission trip to Appalachia at the end of the month. I can't blame her. She's been telling everyone she meets that she's looking forward to spending time with her dad. He's co-leader of the church youth group and on point that week with E.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

East Coast Trip, Ronald McDonald House, and, Drum Roll, Writing

Checking in to report that the trip out East went well. E and I shared a suitcase and carried everything onto the plane. Keeping our gear to a minimum made navigating the airport and boarding the plane easier than I expected it to be. I imagine we made quite a sight as we puttered our way to and from the gates, E driving her scooter, Jewel trotting along E's left side, me lugging our gear on along her right.

We stayed at Ronald McDonald House during our visit to A.I. duPont Children's Hospital in Delaware. The house was close enough to the hospital that we walked to and from our appointments.

We can't say enough good things about our stay. The kitchens were well stocked (E loved this part), the staff friendly and knowledgeable, and the volunteers outstanding. It truly was a home away from home, and a much-needed break from the antiseptic hallways, bells and whistles of the hospital.

We met a lot of families while we were there, some in situations similar to ours, others wearing the glassy-eyed looks of parents under extreme stress. It brought me back to 2001 and the days post E's aneurysm rupture when our world tilted sideways, time crawled, and all that mattered was that E get better so we could go home.

Did you know that Ronald McDonald Houses pay for their utilities with pop tops? If you're looking for an easy way to make a difference, save those little tabs, and when you've got enough, drop them off at your local McDonald's. Take it from someone who knows, those little bits of aluminum do go a long way.

Writerly report: Keeping up with my online writer's group with T. Received positive feedback on my first M&R post with the group, and thoroughly enjoying the crits I've been doing. I continue to be amazed by how much the act of critiquing other people's work informs my own writing.

On deck: three Family Time articles, one due next week (aack!), the others due in July and August respectively.

Current read: Blood Noir by Laurell K. Hamilton.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Missing My Muse

Coaxing anything useful out my muse in recent weeks has been less than satisfying. It wasn't until P and I were chatting about it yesterday that I realized why.

"Give yourself a break," he said. "Of course you're having trouble. Have you thought about what you've got on your plate lately? It's high stakes stuff. I mean don't even think about all the IEP stuff we've had to deal with. The trip out East alone is more than the average family has to deal with."

Oh, yeah, I thought. When you put it that way, we have had a boat load of stress on our plates, and it's not over. Here's a taste of what we've been dealing with (and what's upcoming):

1. IEP meeting last week, along with all the prep that went into preparing for it.
2. Follow-up IEP meeting this coming Tuesday (to finish up last week's business which was a follow-up to an April meeting.)
3. Trip with E to the East Coast Wed.-Fri. for visits with specialists in E's type of dwarfism and the issues surrounding it.
4. IEP meeting two weeks later for S.

Hmmm. No wonder my muse is less than enthused when I ask her to come out and play.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Packing, Planning and Parades--One Writer's Life

You'd think the process of planning for next school year would be routine by now. After all, our two younger girls have had IEPs for years. How hard can it be?

Well, this year is different. Both girls are in different places educationally. S is entering her 8th grade year. E is finishing up as a sophomore and looking forward to post secondary life. And P & I are in a different place, too. This year, for the first time in what feels like forever, E has been healthy enough (knock on wood) that I've been able to drop out of emergency mode long enough to really study the IEPs.

What I found saddened me. All these years, I'd assumed we'd been effective advocates for our girls. Yet, after studying the small print, I realized we have A LOT more to learn.

I cried after I discovered this. I cried for E and S and the fact that they need IEPs in the first place. I cried for S whose voice went unheard for years because we didn't know we could ask for an assistive technology evaluation and the school didn't offer one. I cried for E and all she's been through with her aneurysm rupture, surgeries, and frequent illnesses, and the fact that she deserves more. I cried for what we didn't know and the fact that we could-have should-have known more. I cried for that and more, and then I found a way to turn my emotions into advocacy.

Both girls deserve results-driven, transparent, accountable educational plans. P and I are working hard to achieve this. Getting there will be a process, but we're talking about our children's further education, independence and employment. The stakes are too high for us not to be committed to this process for the long haul.

On tap for the next few days:

Today--IEP review and goal re-visioning in preparation for Tuesday's meeting, planning for next week's trip out East for doctors' visits, and, then, if time allows, head out to the local Pet Expo.
Tomorrow--Sunday school, church, more trip planning, and more IEP preparation.
Monday--Parade and picnic with long-time friends, and packing.
Tuesday--IEP meeting and packing.
Wednesday--E and I leave for Delaware where E will spend the rest of the week meeting with specialists in primordial dwarfism.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Wrightslaw, Jean-Luc Picard, and Donning my Advocacy Armor

No, I haven't given up posting. (Or writing.) I'm on a hiatus of sorts, driven by the need to don my advocacy armor for my two youngest girls whose special needs require individualized educational plans (IEP). Why the need for protective gear? We discovered recently that our daughters' IEPs have so little built-in accountability that they're barely worth the paper they're written on.

After shoulding on myself for letting the inefficiencies go unchecked for so long, I vowed to make it right. First order of business was attending a kick-butt conference by Wrightslaw. While there, I networked and sought advice from parents who've gone before us on how to create effective, measureable, accountable IEPs, and came away with an action plan.

Not only have P and I vowed to make it right for our girls, we will borrow from our favorite Star Trek captain Jean Luc Picard and "make it so."

A small portion of what I learned at Wrightslaw (which is well worth the money for anyone considering it): Federal law is written to protect the rights of children with special needs to have a free and appropriate education. The burden of proof, however, is on the parents to know their children's rights so that they can create a plan that meets their unique needs for further education, independence and employment.

For parents who are already taxed by the day-to-day job of raising kids with special needs, it's a daunting prospect, one I personally believe many schools take advantage of. I'm grateful to report that thanks to Wrightslaw, I feel much more confident about the process.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Crowing about Career Day

Friday's Career Day at S' school was amazing. I spoke at both sessions (morning and afternoon) meeting with 4th through 8th graders, and chatting with them about writing, the creative process, favorite reads, and more.

At the end of each session, we played Plot from a Hat, a little exercise J and I dreamed up for use with the teens at our writer's workshop. It's a crowd favorite, one I hoped the KG kids would enjoy. To say the students were falling over themselves to pull a prop from the bag and be the next to continue the story would be an understatement. To my amusement, this was also true of the I'm-too-old-for-games 8th graders, even the ones who made it clear with their crossed arms and sour expressions that they'd rather be anywhere else.

Note to self: I need to do more school visits. My creative well is filled, and my muse ready and willing to work. Now all I need is a spot of uninterrupted free time...

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Coming up for air...

And celebrating the following:

1. E's serial casting (which we started in January) finally did the trick. Her range of motion is much improved, and she's breaking in a new brace.

2. The pathology on my tests came back normal. ***Raises eyes to the sky, and offers prayers of silent thanks.***

3. E's tests look good. ***pauses for more silent prayers*** And although yesterday's surgery to remove the offending lump was canceled last minute, we already have a new date: the 22nd.

4. The amazing ripple effect my current clean-sweep efforts are having on my writing. (Details to follow in an upcoming post.)

5. Teen Writer's Group is going strong, and members are hard at work on their very first magazine featuring their work.

6. The anticipated arrival of my very own copy of Eternal by Cynthia Leitich-Smith. A birthday present from moi to moi.

7. My first Family Time article hit the newsstands last week and is a two-page spread.

8. At the editor's invitation, I'm working on a query for more articles.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Critique Group, Teen Writers and Drop-dead deadlines

Aside from a few emails here and there, my writing today is focused on my asthma article for Family Time magazine. Wednesday is the due date. I finally finished my last interview for the piece about an hour ago. Now I can fill in all the holes, and see what I've got. As usual, I've uncovered way too much info for the space I've been given to fill. Sigh. With any luck, I'll put this puppy to bed well before the end of the day Wednesday, so I can return to M&R, finish edits for this Friday's critique group meeting, and prep for Teen Writers' Group later that day. On deck for the group: continued planning for the teens' first-ever magazine to showcase some of their work. They're all very excited at the thought of being published. I'm thrilled to be a part of the process helping to make it possible.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Crawling into Bed with Vampires and Littles

Rereading: Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (and remembering why I enjoyed it so much the first time.)

On deck: Little (Grrl) Lost by Charles de Lint.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Inspired by Tolkien

A year ago last January I made plans to see the Tolkien papers at Marquette University. Unfortunately, the plans fell through at the last minute. I was bummed to say the least because Tolkien is more than just an iconic writer who's influenced generations of readers (and writers like this one) with his rich stories and unforgettable characters. He's also a writer I can relate to, someone who juggled work and family, and wrote through adversity, sometimes taking off a year or more from his work before returning to it.

I finally had the privilege of visiting the Tolkien collection last weekend. My daughter L and I went. She'd already seen it with P but being a tried and true fan she was eager to see it again.

We spent about an hour in the archives, long enough to examine only a small percentage of the university's holdings. But oh, what a rush to do so. Some of the most memorable pieces we examined:

1. A hand-written working draft of the cover page of The Lord of the Rings, then named The Magic Ring. Edits by Tolkien included crossing out the working title and replacing it with The Lord of the Rings. But a curious thing about this is that the s at the end of Rings was written in a way that suggests to scholars that it was added later. (Fun to see that even great works of art go through copious amounts of editing.)

2. A hand-written draft of the first page of The Fellowship of the Rings that hinted at the final draft to come with its references to Bilbo's birthday, etc., but clearly needed more editing (and a deeper POV) before it was finalized. (Again, a nod to the importance of editing, and the fact that even many drafts in, we must look at our works with an editor's eye.)

3. Lists, lists and more lists detailing the history of the world, even a number of events that led up to Bilbo's finding of the ring (and never made it to the final draft). (What a nod to the necessity of world building for any fantasy writer.)

4. Drafts and more written on the back of old student exams, menus, and desk calendar pages. One exam was clearly an essay test on Beowulf, one of Tolkien's fortes. We were told there was a paper shortage at the time, so any and all paper was saved for later. Can you imagine being the student whose exam was recycled for Lord of the Rings?

5. The "One Ring to Rule Them All" poem penned in an elegant script with a line of orcish written below it that's yet to be translated.

6. Maps and even an early draft of Tolkien's cover design for The Hobbit.

7. Plot grids set up on notebook paper in landscape format in order to track characters, events, dates and the phases of the moon, made necessary after the party split up.

Sigh. I know it's totally unrealistic, but taking up another degree so I can justify immersing myself in the entire collection in depth is really attractive right now. Maybe after my clone arrives.

Edited 10 p.m.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Writer on the Run

Although my life's been revolving around E's health issues lately, I've managed to keep up with my reading. Let's hear it for the portability of books, eh?

Recent reads (in no particular order, and, sometimes, read, concurrently):

Bliss by Lauren Myracle. I read Lauren's new book in a couple of evening's. For anyone who enjoys a good ghost story, this one's a page-turning must.

Nikki Moustaki's hilarious Dogfessions, a must for anyone who loves dogs. This one had E is stitches, and laughing so hard at times that she had to set the book aside just to catch her breath and give her stomach muscles a rest.

Denise Brodey's Elephant in the Playroom, a collection of essays from parents of special needs children. Good background reading for my Family Time autism article and for me personally.

Jenny McCarthy's books, Louder Than Words and Mother Warriors, more background reading for Family Time.

Current read:

The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon. Another page-turner, this one. Kekla's book is a coming-of-age story and history lesson wrapped in one. Few writers have fictionalized the moments in history that catalyzed the Black Panther movement. Kekla does it with power and grace.

On a side note, Kekla is a fellow Vermont College classmate. Before graduation--our last semester, I think--I remember hearing about Sam and Stick when they were but whispers of an idea for Kekla. To see how far the story has come, and to curl up with her book at the end of a long day, is a thrill beyond measure.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Where's My Clone?

Okay, so, where's my clone? I ordered her months ago in hopes another me would help ease the stress of managing writing and family. Unfortunately, she's on back order, the to-dos keep piling up and up and up, and my uninterrupted butt in chair time keeps shrinking.

Looking back on Vermont College, I truly don't know how I managed to produce as much as I did for my advisers. Each monthly packet required 20 pages of new creative and 20 pages of revised material, plus two critical essays on some aspect of the craft of writing. How did I manage such a rigorous schedule while wearing my mom hat?

Granted, I was paying for the privilege, and permission (leveraged by the almighty dollar) is a powerful motivator. But so what. I graduated VC on a roll. I knew without reservation that in addition to being a mom, I am a writer.

These days, all things writer-ly should be equal, if not better than they were after graduation. Both girls are in school. And E started a new asthma medicine not too long ago that's been like the Holy Grail, greatly reducing the number of sick days. I should be pounding out the prose. So, why does it feel like I'm writing less?

I have a theory.

During my VC days, the balls I was juggling were predictable. E was sick often. Sometimes weeks at a time. We were constantly in what I call bunker mode--hunkered down for the long haul, but somehow, in between holding barf buckets and keeping track of meds, I wrote.

These days, the only constant is E's health. She's missing school less (ie fewer ear and sinus infections thanks to the Holy Grail), which should lend itself to more writing. But the opposite is happening.

As I write this entry, I'm beginning to realize why. E's run of "good health" is being offset by a significant increase in required therapies, testing, and doctor's visits.

Since early January E's had serial casting weekly to stretch the muscles in her bad leg, Botox therapy to stretch it further when casting no longer helped, and physical therapy weekly to work those muscles. Follow-ups continue with the doctor who ordered the casting and Botox, and with the neurologist--another doctor--on issues we can't ignore. And now the latest: we need a work up with a hematologist because numbers are off. We visit the clinic at Children's in a couple of weeks.

None of these issues are trivial. Not only do they require immediate attention, they trump any writing time I might have thought I had.

Hmmm. No wonder I need my clone.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Don't miss this book

Kudos to Vermont College classmate, Kekla Magoon , whose debut novel, The Rock and the River, is attracting powerful buzz for its touching and realistic portrayal of the Black Panther movement. See the latest review here from A Fuse #8.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Writer On Deadline

Deadline is fast approaching for the article I'm writing for Family Time Magazine. Did I mention this assignment in an earlier post? In case I only imagined writing about it, here's how I got the job:

I made first contact with Family Time at the Harvest Literacy Conference last fall when J and I spoke about our teen writers' workshop. Before our presentation, I stopped by the Family Time booth to introduce myself and ask if the publication ever used freelancers. Turns out I was talking to the editor who, like myself, is managing a career and family. A couple of months later, the editor contacted me, asking if I had any ideas to submit for consideration.

One of the items on my to-do list for 2009 was expanding into the nonfiction field (with a little help from my background in journalism); so, when K emailed, the timing was right. I pitched a couple of ideas. She pitched a few of her own, and asked if I had experience with healthcare.

Talk about divine providence. Between E and her health issues, and the fact that the majority of my PR and marketing experience was earned working in healthcare, I've not only worked the topic, I've lived it. Before long we settled on a couple of stories to pursue, one on autism, the other on allergies.

The autism piece is due in a little under three weeks. I've been making steady progress on it thanks to a background interview with D, a contact from the Easter Seals where E receives therapy.

Today I think I finished enough research to move onto the next step. Interviews. I need a few good quotes to fill in my story. Then comes the hard part: whittling the article down to fit the space I've been given. 850 words, including a sidebar.

I love a good challenge.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

And not to be outdone...

High fives to author extraordinaire and Vermont College (VC) faculty member Kathi Appelt for receiving a Newberry Honor for her deserving picture book The Underneath. As a VC graduate, I can't help but be tickled by this news, or the fact that my alma mater's faculty and graduates continue to win recognition for their work and make national headlines. A few highlights: In 2006, former VC program chair (and ace ghost story spinner) Tobin Anderson won a National Book Award for The Astonishng Life of Octavion Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1,the Pox Party, graduate Martine Leavitt, was named a finalist for Keturah and Lord Death. And last but not least, in 2007 one of my VC advisors, Tim Wynne-Jones, was recognized as a Horn Book honoree for Rex Zero and the End of the World.

Kudos to Neil Gaiman

Congratulations to Neil Gaiman, winner of this year's Newbery Award for The Graveyard Book! It's gratifying to see such a talented writer recognized for his work. I also love the fact that his book's a fantasy.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Writers' Group, Critiques and an Inauguration

Politics and writers' group. The thought of mixing one with the other brings to mind the taste of orange juice and toothpaste. I try not to combine the two, but yesterday, I couldn't help myself.

It was a Critique Group Day. The first of the new year. J, A and I were supposed to meet last Thursday. But the extreme weather and school closings changed our plans.

When we rescheduled for yesterday, none of us connected with the fact that we'd be meeting on Inauguration Day. Quite frankly, the fact slid right by me until the reporter side of me took note of the countdown to the Inaugural, becoming fascinated by the way the story was unfolding, and swept up by the need to witness history as Obama took his Oath.

I was hesitant, at first, to ask if J & A wouldn't mind taking a break for the swearing in, but I'm glad I did. Turns out A wanted to watch it, too. We broke in time to witness the ceremony and then went back to work. Inwardly, I marveled at how well our new president can write/communicate/inspire.

Here's hoping his words will inspire action for the common good.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Writerly Assignment: Six-Word Memoir

What would you write if you were asked to share the story of your life in a single sentence? The online magazine Smith asked its readers this question. The result is Not Quite What I Was Planning, a collection of six-word memoirs by famous and not-so-famous writers, artists and musicians.

According to National Public Radio, the "stories are sometimes sad, often funny - and always concise." I agree. The sentences left me laughing out loud, pensive, and wondering about how this technique might be applied to the hard work of writing a novel.

In the inspirational phase of novel writing, we don't always know what our main characters want or how his or her story will end. This is the great mystery of the process. We follow a whisper or a snippet of dialogue in search of a six-word memoir for each main character, and somewhere along the way we hope to find motivations and goals worth pursuing.

During the next phase, we explore our discoveries. We walk our characters across the story stage, allowing them to interact with one another, and we experiment with pacing, throughlines and setting. This is where the hard work of writing begins, and where, I'd wager, many aspiring novelists give up.

The truth is that if a main character's main goal isn't compelling enough to carry a story--if his life in a sentence doesn't make you want to read more--then it's time to revamp the character's deepest desire or dump that story idea and start again.

Letting go of the characters, scenes and diaolgues that don't support our story is never easy. But every seasoned writer knows it's a necessary part of the process. As many times as I've done it, I never get used to the queasy feeling I experience when it's time to relegate another 60, 100 or more pages creative to my clips file.

The only thing that keeps me going at this point is knowing that those pages weren't wasted. Inevitably, in writing through my story yet again, I've deepened my understanding of my characters and their motivations and the story that must be told. In essence, I'm in search of their six-word memoir.

Note to self: Hmmm. I wonder how the six-word memoir might be applied to stalled projects or those pieces to which I throw up my hands and blame writer's block. In light of the six-word memoir, I wonder if the reason the pieces aren't working is because I haven't yet defined the main characters' six word memoirs. *Tapping one's chin.* I definitely plan to explore the idea.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Visit a Vermont College Residency Through the Eyes of Writers on the Scene

Have you ever wondered what happens at a Vermont College Residency? If so, surf on over to Through the Tollbooth for a play by play of the Winter Residency now in progress.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Cool Tool--Put this One in Your Writer's Toolbox

If your creative or non-fiction writing requires a bibliography or citations, you'll want to check out Easybib.

Fellow writer J and I met one of the creators of the EasyBib after making our presentation about teen writers' groups at the Illinois Library Association Annual Meeting in Chicago last fall. The idea for the site was born after its creators (college students at the time) were assigned a flurry of research papers requiring bibliographies with conflicating citation styles. Tired of scrambling for the proper format for each professor, they set out creating the go-to source for bibliographies and citations. Millions of students have used the site since its creation in 2001. Ingenious.

As J said (in so many words) after hearing the story: You've got to love it when college students use their powers for good.

Sigh. I wish I had had this nifty little tool while at Vermont College. It would have made the task of writing all those critical essays A LOT less painless.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Happy (Belated) New Year

Since graduating from Vermont College, my routine has been to put down my writer's pen by mid December and take it back up again after the girls return to school. Unfortunately, my reentry into 2009 didn't go as planned.

My last post on Kat's Eye was three weeks ago. Three. I didn't realize I'd been absent from cyberspace for so long until my good writer friend, A, called this evening to ask if I was alive. The subtext to her question was really, “Is everything all right?”

The question isn't a trivial one, especially when taking E and her many health issues into account. In the past, unplanned hiatuses from this space have been caused by unexpected hospitalizations and prolonged illnesses. For the record we're all fine here. But if you're near a good solid piece of wood, preferably oak, walnut, or cherry, please knock on it for us.

We survived the holidays, and all its requisite visits to relatives and from relatives. We even hosted our traditional New Year's Eve sleepover with family friends we've known since high school. We did all this and more without serious illnesses or mishaps. Our healthy run lasted so long that for a few bliss-filled weeks I seriously believed that the new medication E had started was the circle of protection I'd been praying for, the one that would keep her healthy during the dark winter months.

The magic wore thin near the end of Christmas Break. We suspected something was amiss when E lost her appetite. A cough followed. Then the fever arrived. Diagnosis when it was all over: ear infection. The medicine kicked in in time for E to return to school Thursday.

Then it was my turn. My head hurt. My sinuses ached. I was coughing and crabby. And instead of feeling energized after Jazzercise, I felt like I was 90 years old. I should have been writing on E's first day back at school. Instead, I parked in the waiting room of my physician, feeling guilty that I hadn't seen him in person for over a year, and praying that my cell wouldn't ring with a call from the school that E wasn't well enough to return to school after all.

In the end I was diagnosed with—you guessed it—a full blown a sinus infection. All this time I'd been attributing my headaches and fatigue to the holidays and my bottomless to-do list. Um. Doy.

On a positive note, the medicine is already working its magic. Day two and I'm able to think in complete sentences again. Yea me.