Only 24 hours in a day. Or 1+1+1+1=100.

Yesterday I got a notification that my blog was having a banner day–surprising since I haven’t posted in two months–and it reminded me how busy the last two months have been. As readers of Creative Chaos might know, I’m almost two years out from a divorce and the economic insecurities that often accompany divorce can be stressful. More on that in a few…

Over the past year I’ve been pleased to find challenging and satisfying work event planning at Maine Share, doing customer service work at LLBean, and event planning at Bowdoin College. All along, I’ve been volunteering as the Program Director with my local rowing club. This spring, they hired me as their part time Head Coach as well and I’ve spent a great deal of time in the last two months on the water teaching adults and teens to scull and sweep row.

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In addition to the coaching and program directing I’m also SUPER happy to have found a part time temporary home at Islandport Press as their Author Relations and Events Coordinator. In this position I’m able to help Islandport authors with social media, blogs, book them in bookstores and festivals, and help create publicity campaigns and events to sell great books. (Shameless plug: please follow Islandport Press on social media.)

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We now rejoin our program of economic insecurity already in progress…

I love what I’m doing. Still, anyone who has juggled a family, writing, and more than one job knows that the sum of the parts feels WAY greater than it should (ie: 1+1+1+1=100) Part of that 100 number is the chasm of unemployment that looms with temporary jobs. Once the rowing season ends, and the temporary position with the publishing house ends I’m on the search again. It’s a feast and famine sensibility so in the last two months I’ve also written and delivered an article to the new Coxing Magazine (so exciting!), given a presentation to the Romance Writers of Maine, and taught a rowing workshop to counselors at a local sleep away camp. I’m the busy ant storing for the winter.

If there is a positive about the looming chasm of unemployment it is that I might actually get back to my works in progress (a middle grade novel 1st draft and 2 PB rewrites) which wait patiently on my computer. I also might be posting more here at Creative Chaos. I will keep you updated. Cheers!

 

Audiofile 2016 Sync Program for Teens Launches Today!

This is the time of year where teens are stretched to breaking. The kids I coach have that crazed look from studying for numerous AP tests in addition to dealing with their school work, sports, and extracurricular activities. My own pair of teens is at school from 7am to 8pm some days, followed by hours of homework, and have a full month of evening spring music performances. Finals are around the corner and every time I remind a teen about the importance of a full night’s sleep I get an eye roll and not-in-this-lifetime scoff. In my opinion teens should take a well-deserved break during summer break.  

BUT…

You’ve seen the lists of required for reading for teens? You’ve heard of the “summer slide?” It seems that there is no rest for the weary.

Enter the Audiofile Magazine and OverDrive App free audiobook program. It makes summer reading fun and free. That’s right, free. Throughout the summer, I get text messages reminding me about the two new audiobooks that are available for the week. One book is usually newer and is paired with an older book. Together, the books explore specific literary themes or content. The titles change every Thursday at 7pm. Here’s a link to explore the titles for the 2016 season.

From the Sync website:

SYNC is a free summer audiobook program for teens 13+. Running May 5th – August 17th 2016, SYNC will give away two complete audiobook downloads a week (30 titles) – pairs of high interest titles, based on weekly themes. In 2014, 26 titles were given away over 13 weeks. In 2015, 28 titles were given away over 14 weeks.

The OverDrive App is available on many different devices and platforms. There’s information about downloading the app here. Once you download OverDrive, the books go with you everywhere. I found that the books were perfect for summer road trips and even had some driveway moments where no one wanted to stop the book so we sat in the car. The dog got longer walks too.

This week books are VIVIAN APPLE AT THE END OF THE WORLD, by Katie Coyle and THE GREAT TENNESSEE MONKEY TRIAL, by Peter Goodchild.

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See the descriptions and more at the Sync Website, download OverDrive, and sign up for your Sync text messages today!

A tired teen*  will thank you.

*Also recommended for YA Writers, Parents, Teachers, Librarians and any other Young Adult Literature lover. May cause intense focus, inability to complete chores, loss of writing time. Chocolate sometimes eases symptoms. See your library youth media specialist any of these symptoms persist past Labor Day.

 

April To Be Read Pile

  

 I’m almost done with HOT PTERODACTYL… and can’t wait to tell you about it. Also, I’m currently reading a Sporty Girl Book from gymnast Shawn Johnson that I’ll be reviewing over at Sporty Girl Books blog.  For my adult bookclub I’m supposed to be reading LEMONCHOLY LIFE OF ANNIE ASTER, by Scott Wilbanks, but I got scheduled to work that day so it slipped to the bottom of the pile. 

In addition to these amazing books, I’m also looking forward to new books from Julie Berry, THE PASSION OF DOLSSA, and Kate DiCamillo’s, RAYMIE NIGHTENGALE.  

What’s on your pile!

 

Children’s Writing 101 with MWPA: Blog and Retreat Links

Last Saturday I presented the workshop “The Business of Children’s Writing 101” with the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. We had a cozy class which allowed the participants to get some great one on one attention as they crafted their elevator pitches and queries in advance of the New England SCBWI spring conference. We discussed the journey of a book from manuscript to publication, defined Midlist, and learned not to defend our work in a critique. We even got to have a mini-workshop for those who had brought picture book manuscripts.

The afternoon brought a web hunt of great kidlit blogs, social media, and kidlit community events that I’ve listed below.

Most important—we discussed that craft comes first and that if you have trouble with your pitch or query it often means that your manuscript is not quite ready for prime time.

If you missed this class and would like MWPA offer this or other kidlit workshops again, please contact Josh Bodwell, Director of MWPA. Happy writing!

A Few Great Blogs:

Through the Tollbooth: VCFA students who do in depth pieces on craft.

Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Be Someone’s Hero, No Cape Required: Specific connections with literacy, student success, and educators.

Cynthia Leitich Smith, Cynsations: Clearing house of amazing info from the industry including guest bloggers.

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast: In depth illustrations and illustrators, process, production, and more.

Jama Rattigan, Alphabet Soup: Reviews of food-based books, poetry.

Ingrid Sundberg: Great posts about story structure, screenwriting, and plot.

Pub(lishing) Crawl: Group of authors and industry professionals posting about craft and business.

A Few Great Kidlit Retreats/Resources:

Highlights Founders Workshops

The Writing Barn

Vermont College of Fine Arts

Falling Leaves/Green Leaves from SCBWI Eastern NY

Rutgers One on One

Picture Book Boot Camp with Jane Yolen

SCBWI

 

Book Review Wednesday: Into the Dim

From Goodreads:

When fragile, sixteen-year-old Hope Walton loses her mom to an earthquake overseas, her secluded world crumbles. Agreeing to spend the summer in Scotland, Hope discovers that her mother was more than a brilliant academic, but also a member of a secret society of time travelers. Trapped in the twelfth century in the age of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Hope has seventy-two hours to rescue her mother and get back to their own time. Along the way, her path collides with that of a mysterious boy who could be vital to her mission . . . or the key to Hope’s undoing. Addictive, romantic, and rich with historical detail, Into the Dim is an Outlander for teens.


Shop Indie Bookstores

Okay. With a pitch like that, how could I say no? I immediately grabbed a NetGalley copy of Janet B. Taylor’s debut YA novel, INTO THE DIM which pubbed at March 1st.

Our main character Hope has a photographic memory and a mysterious past. Taylor does a wonderful job showing how this seemingly positive trait is also a huge challenge for Hope and integrates both the positive and negative into the plot. In cinematographic style, Taylor uses glowing green overlays of maps and routes, symbols, pages, and pictures to help Hope on her journey in a time that is not her own.

I fell into the writing and the story and found it as addictive as the summary states.

As the inept fan buzzed overhead, a quick, darting movement caught my eye. A small bird flitted among the rafters. Trapped. I knew exactly how it felt. (Chapter 1)

I burrowed between the sheets, praying sleep would erase the dread that slithered over my skin. (Chapter 11)

Bridal shades of moonlight and snow. (Chapter 40)

There were a few moments of cliché emotion, “drained–a wrung sponge left to dry on the sink,” and a little bit of cheese, “There comes a moment in every person’s life when fate wheels on the head of a pin and changes their destiny forever,” but Taylor’s apt use of a ticking clock propelled this reader through page after page. Too, in the middle of what could have been derivative, Taylor sets this time travel/historical apart by delving into more serious issues including antisemitism, the abuse of women, and women and power.

The love interest, Bran, felt a little too perfect (“drafted by an architect”) for me despite his “crooked canine” (tooth). Still, the origin of their love is a suspenseful reveal that lasts the whole the book.

From the first chapter I was hooked. Hope’s mission to save her mother and a focus on the scientific made me think of A WRINKLE IN TIME while the puzzles, symbols, and rivals for an artifact reminded me a little of DA VINCI CODE. Whatever comp title you love, INTO THE DIM is a fun YA read!

 

People: VCFA Novel Writing Retreat

Isn’t it funny how you (and by you I mean “I”) can be going along not really knowing that things suck until you (again “I”) go somewhere where things don’t suck at all. The void of suck makes you (you got it right?) wonder how you let it get so bad–how you allowed the insecurity, stress and lonely trolls to creep in and squat in the corners of the room with the dust bunnies and dog fur.

This was my experience over the last week when I attended the VCFA Novel Writing Retreat. I was wonderfully surrounded by people. People who love books and writing and who struggle with the insecurity that seems to go hand in hand with writing books. People who support you and are there as a sounding board for plot issues and word choice and grammar. Add to that three square meals a day, no laundry, no bills, no carpools or volunteer requirements and you’ve (I’ve) got paradise. A huge thank you to Sarah Aronson and Cindy Faughnan who create the heavenly space for all who participate.

The retreat, with its lectures and critique opportunities, turned into a week long rediscovery and love affair with my Work In Progress. I only hope that I can keep the momentum rolling and the trolls at bay.

People who need people
Are the luckiest people in the world,
We’re children, needing other children
And yet letting our grown-up pride
Hide all the need inside,
Acting more like children
Than children.

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Embracing Self-care

Kvetching and moaning confessional ahead. You’ve been warned.

Kvetch Zone

Let me start by saying motivation has been low on this side of the keyboard. After working for a couple of years on a project, I hit a major road block. The new piece I started in January and was super excited about seems to have stalled as I’ve reached the muddy middle. My knee has been aching (an injury from a couple of years ago come back to haunt me), and I’ve used that as an excuse not to work out even though working out is one of the main ways I control stress and mood. The job (read income) situation has been spotty at best. Eighteen months out from the finalization of my divorce and the journey of grief seems to be never ending.

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I’m okay! I’m not okay. I’m okay! Nope, not even close.

And don’t even get me started on the weather. It’s 60 degrees and sunny then it’s 18 and snowing. Right now there is some kind of mixed rainy, freezey, ooblecky* crap coming from the sky and I have on wrist warmers while I write. The only thing that has brightened my spirits has been the large number of hits my post about college visits got this week. I have had enough. If I was rich I’d hop a plane to somewhere with palm trees and turquoise waters. Instead, I watched the first three seasons of House of Cards (not a feel good show that one) interspersed with The British Baking Show (much lighter) and surfed the internet for inspiration.

I suppose I could find something on the internet to validate any mood but this week a few things have fallen into my cyber lap and I thought I’d share them with you.

From Seven Scribes and Daniel José Older, this post Writing Begins With Forgiveness: Why One of the Most Common Pieces of Writing Advice is Wrong.

From Robin LaFevers via Amitha Knight, Surviving Nearly There about how hard an extended writing journey can be without publication and the importance of walking away from time to time.

From Jamie Varon via Ingrid Sundberg, To Anyone Who Thinks They’re Falling Behind.

All of these articles reinforce the idea that sometimes writers need to take time off, that the universe provides, that we are where we are for a reason, that we need to be kind to ourselves. I tend not to buy this line of thinking. If you’ve read Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and rewards) of Artmaking by Bales & Orland, you’ve seen their argument that artists will do almost anything rather than do their art. They call this “resistance” in the book and I seem to have it in spades. My suspicion of self-care is probably rooted in my early indoctrination as a rower. “There is no I in team,” “we don’t say can’t,” “row hard or go home.” As you can see, there’s not a lot of forgiveness or kindness in this philosophy. At this point though, I’ve should-haved and guilted and scolded myself enough and the only thing I feel is that it’s time for a hot bath…

…and another cup of forgiveness tea.

 

 

College Tours: A new chapter in parenting.

  • 5 Colleges
  • 3 Hotel Nights
  • 2 Nights in Extended Family Guest Rooms
  • Too many meals out
  • 3 Meals at College Cafeterias
  • 800 Miles
  • 1 Urgent Care Visit
  • 2 Sets of Antibiotics and Meds

I have entered a new chapter in parenting called The College Search and Application Process (C-SAP?). Some college search and application information and many skills can be passed from family to family and taught by agencies and organizations. Still, each child and parent/child relationship is different therefore each journey is individual. For me this is going to be a journey of learning to back off.

For instance, on the one hand, a young adult might be able to eloquently ask questions in a tour and talk to students easily but when faced with an admission counselor behind a desk that same young adult might only give one word answers. This could be difficult for the parent who knows that a more in depth answer would show what a marvelous, committed, unique and talented individual that young adult is. (All hypothetical. Of course. But you bet your a** I jumped in and started asking more specific leading questions.)

Here’s the thing, a child of 15 or 16 is almost ready, wanting to be ready, to make big decisions about his/her life and they are also, and at the same time, a parent’s baby. Nothing illustrates this dichotomy more clearly than the sick young adult. In the weeks leading up to this trip the snot had been flowing. We’d gone through miles of facial tissues and plenty of antihistamines. I’d been hoping that the crud would magically disappear when their vacation started. Instead, it multiplied and I had two sick kids. Nothing doing. They’d sleep in the car and finally get some rest away from constant homework, play and music rehearsals. We’d soldier on and do the tours anyway although I was apprehensive about how son #1’s sample voice lesson would go.

We were fine until that moment at college #3. There we were in a standard double dorm room. Two desks, two bureaus, two dressers, two beds and about twenty five parents and their children. That’s when I looked over at son #2 and saw that although he was in a winter hat and coat, he was shivering and had turned a shade somewhere between mauve and mint. We had already visited the urgent care office at the behest of my cousin who, after hearing both boys blow their noses and hack up a lung for two days convinced me that one could never be too careful. That’s how we found out that son #1 had sinusitis and that son #2 probably just had a bad cold. That hadn’t stopped the Drive-thru Doc from prescribing both kids a cocktail of antibiotics (just in case), allergy meds (?), and steroids to help with the inflammation. The group and son #1 continued the tour while I took son #2 back to the admissions office, wrapped him in a blanket and started him on the antibiotics. Good thing I did because the lab result for strep came back positive.

Once the antibiotics kicked in, both sons were leap frogging from one hotel bed to the next and having pillow fights but I was left wondering, how are these children (for whom I fill the bathroom with steam and rub their chest with vaporub and make sure they take their meds and give family medical history) going to be okay without me? They just are, and I know it. I know it from letting them go every other week as I share custody with their father. I know it as we leave each other for travel to camps and schools and conferences. I know it in the eyes of the accomplished and sensitive young men they are becoming.

My ability to back off, however, is less assured.

 

Birthday Soup

If you do not worship Maurice Sendak I will not unfriend you but know that onward, I will consider you deeply damaged. These are childhood copies of Sendak books that I have kept (not sure about my Where the Wild Things Are copy but now I’m on the hunt.) The Little Bear books, written by Else Holmelund Minarik, were some of the first I read on my own and each book is loved with nicks, frays, and rips.

Yesterday was my birthday. I invited friends over for a dinner of soup, bread, and salad. After the eating, we would go outside into the cold, woods on snowshoes under the bright no-longer-quite-full moon. What a wonderful idea for a story, I thought (as I often do.) That’s when I remembered that the story of my birthday had already been written.

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I spent the day cleaning (like Little Bear) and preparing for guests who would taste my Butternut Squash, Apple, Curry soup. While no cat, duck, or hen was in attendance, I too found myself surrounded by loving and supportive friends. In Little Bear’s story, he searches for Mother Bear who is absent. My mother and father are, thank goodness, far away from the snowy north and the recent storm. I am currently without partner or spouse. My children are with their father this week. My friends’ discussion of me having to make my own birthday dinner was laced with sympathy and pride, but I have gotten used to and most of the time enjoy my solitude. I didn’t imagine the evening any other way. Plus, I was able to create just what I wanted without any convincing or compromising––Birthday Soup.

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At the end of Little Bear’s story, Mother Bear arrives with the cake that she secretly created. That was why she had been absent all along. For me, that magic happened before the guests arrived. My sons came by to bake me a cake and decorate it.

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When we get together later this week, we will celebrate together… all over again.

Chocolate cake with peanut butter, caramel icing and chocolate covered pretzels.
Chocolate cake with peanut butter, caramel icing and chocolate covered pretzels.