Shana Tova: 5783

Happy New Year to any who celebrate. If you don’t, feel free to borrow this Jewish autumnal opportunity to take stock of the last year, make amends, and start with a blank slate.

Today, I received a notice from LiveJournal celebrating my blogging beginnings 16-years ago. That blog traveled from LiveJournal to Blogger to WordPress, and the whole time, I imagined that I was “building a platform” of possible readers who might buy some dream-of-a-book in the future. In January of 2021, when Chronicle Books bought my middle grade manuscript, that once-mythical-moment became a reality, and I’m excited to give you a little insight on the publishing journey for my Fall 2023 debut.

Originally, the book was going to be launched this year, but with Covid, a death in my family, a move, and a new teaching job, I knew I couldn’t keep up with the pace. Chronicle was kind enough to allow me to postpone.

I’ve been so lucky to work with two fabulous editors who have guided me through a few revisions. From macro to micro, each revision was focussed and each created a manuscript that was better than the previous draft.

In copy edits, I’ve worked with the Chronicle team to make each word sparkle.

The other day I got to look at cover ideas. *squee* Like that moment in a pregnancy when you actually start showing, it began to feel very real. At this point, the book has gone through a variety of titles, and we’ve landed on SHIRA AND ESTHER’S DOUBLE DREAM DEBUT. What a perfect way to encapsulate this Prince-and-the-Pauper-meets-Mrs. Maisel book about two identical girls who swap places to fulfill their dreams.

Even though I am a woman of many words, I can’t really explain how joyful this process has been. The respect that I’ve felt from the team is amazing.

By the time 5784 rolls around, I’ll be a published novelist. I hope you’ll continue on this journey with me.

Breakfast at the Bird Feeder

At 6 am it’s the coolest time of the day. I try to spend as much time outside before the DC area humidity gets me, and there’s no other option except siesta, so I’ve been taking my tea and oatmeal on my balcony. The space is large enough for a couple of chairs, a side stool, and a few plants. I added a birdfeeder this year and I love it.

Mostly, there are sparrows brown and delicate, but there’s also the sweetest Tufted Titmouse. His little downy blue-grey mohawk and big black eyes speak to me. The house finches, males have this beautiful scarlet cap and breast. They mob the feeder and devour the seed. There’s a mating pair of Cardinals, orange beaks cracking sunflower seeds. I also love the White-breasted Nuthatch who hops up the building clinging to the bricks, waiting for his turn. At the feeder, he dips his long thin beak into the seed.

Of course, the big guys want a piece of the action. There’s a red-bellied woodpecker, which doesn’t actually have a red belly but a red cap and white belly. Its black tail is dotted and dashed with white like Morse code come to life. There are Blue Jays who scream at the smaller birds and drive them away. A Mourning Dove who has only visited a few times, and a huge crow who perched on the hook holding the feeder this morning. (I cawed at him to leave the seed for the smaller birds and he complied.)

The whole time, Rothko (my cat) crouches inside, tip of tail flicking in anticipation of a kill that never comes.

Rothko stalking the balcony bird feeder.

How do you eat a whale?

I’m in the copy editing stage of the publishing process for my book SHIRA AND ESTHER DOUBLE THE WONDER. My middle-grade debut novel launches Fall 2023 from Chronicle Books.

Perhaps because of the heat, my attention is not as focused as usual. Like a squirrel, I skitter from one thing to another—foraging, cleaning, social media, videos, playing with Rothko the cat, and back to the work at hand before something else shiny catches my eye. I’ve been waiting and working for this moment for the last 20 years and yet, I’m procrastinating.

One show that I’ve been obsessively procrastinating with is Home Town Takeover with Ben (a cuddly bear of a man who can make anything out of wood) and Erin (pixie-dream-girl, and artist extraordinaire) Napier. The premise of this show (in case you don’t know) is that they have chosen one town to revitalize. Ostensibly, the show is about remodeling buildings but REALLY it is about leadership, economics, transportation policy, marketing and community. The Napiers often reflect on the massive task they’ve taken on with the question: How do you eat a whale? The answer of course is: One bite at a time.

Back to copy edits. Enjoy this excerpt of the poem “The Whale,” by Joseph Edwards Carpenter.

The Whale
by Joseph Edwards Carpenter

1

Oh! the whale is free of the boundless sea
He lives for a thousand years;
He sinks to rest in the billows breast,
Nor the roughest tempest fears:
The howling blast as it hurries past,
Is music to lull him to sleep,
And he scatters the spray in his boisterous play,
As he dashes the king of the deep.
Oh! the rare old whale, ‘mid storm and gale,
In his ocean home shall be,
A giant in might, where might is right
And kind of the boundless sea!

Poetry Friday: Empty Nesting

Purchase at your local independent bookstore or through my Bookshop link.

It’s been a long time since I spoke about mothering. Mommy blogs as a genre seem to satisfy their purpose once a child has become an adult. And yet, I am still a mother. With two sons, I’ve experienced everything twice. They each left for college but came back for holidays and vacations. Then they each finished college and set up nests of their own.

This last time handed me a gut punch I wasn’t really expecting. After all, we had already navigated long stretches away from each other, serious girlfriends, a pandemic separation (when we all agreed they’d be better with Dad in Maine then with me in NYC), and weekly phone calls that became more occasional. I’ve learned I cannot control their day-to-day health and safety (much less my own). I understand not only that I’ve given them all I could, but also, that they are fine humans whom I trust completely.

However, I had those moments, maybe you’ve had them too, where you look at the young man before you, and perhaps the light shifts, and you see a flicker of them as the small child they once were. And then it’s gone.

This poem from Laura Foley in the poetry anthology THE PATH TO KINDNESS: POEMS OF CONNECTION AND JOY (p.76 Edited by James Crews, Storey Publishing, 2022) captures my experience.

Laura Foley
A PERFECT ARC
I remember the first time he dove.
He was five and we were at a swimming pool
and I said: you tip your head down as you are going in,
while your feet go up.

And then his lithe little body did it exactly right,
a perfect dive, sliding downward, arcing without a wave,
and I just stood
amazed and without words
as his blond head came up again
and today

I watched him for the longest time as he walked
firm and upright along the street,
with backpack, guitar, all he needs,
blossoming outward in a perfect arc,
a graceful turning
away from me.

Moxie

Last night I gathered some of my most supportive women for a Moxie watch party to celebrate where we are now–in life, in our careers, in our parenting, and in our feminism. I had loved the book by Jennifer Mathieu and have been eager to see the film since I’d heard that Amy Poehler would be directing it.

We filled up the chat bar with our texts–cheers for the young women as they fight the patriarchy and transform, eye rolling when the stupid adults were stupid, cheers for the romantic male lead, boos for the villain and the administrator who ignores her duties, fists raised for the inclusion of intersectional feminism and LGBTQ representation, gasps when the inevitable shocking plot-twist appeared. Perhaps it was, as this NYT reviewer says, “unfocused and too often unbelievable,” but for us, that was the point.

We can all point to too many real-life f-ed up news stories (Brock Turner, Brett Kavanaugh, Trump) that I saw symbolized by Patrick Schwarzenegger’s beautiful villain in Netflix’s Moxie. Everyday there are new #metoo situations in the news and others that we only hear about in whisper campaigns. As a parent I have felt ineffectual when I heard after-the-fact that sexual assault and harassment issues infected the schools to which I sent my own children. These stories and the patriarchy have beaten us down over the years taking away our hope that anything will be better anytime soon. As a white-woman I am tired of losing, yet when I feel that I have lost, I know that there are others that have lost even more. So I was absolutely fine, buoyed in fact, when I could lose myself in this feminist Quasi-Fantasy*, with my glass of wine and my girlfriends. Says one girlfriend:

Anna, is there a word for quasi-fantasy*?  That’s how it felt to me. Simplistic kind of on purpose, just giving us the gift of more ease since we live the BS of reality. Quasi-Buffy but instead of slaying vampires they slayed football players with Zines.  

The alternative reality that props us up for another day.  Shows like Madame Secretary make me feel that way too, or Wonder Woman.  Just a bit where we get to pretend the work could be easier and we could get our vindication and dance party at the end of the damn day

-K.C.S.

YES! Let me stand akimbo with my lasso of truth. I am aching for that dance party where I can thrash about, that catharsis when in the movie when Lucy challenges the book list, that passionate release when Lucy and Amaya kiss, how sexy it is when Seth asks for consent, the power when Vivian finds her voice, and the chilling hope when the students who walk out scream in chorus.

The book Moxie and others you might like (Dress Coded, Fighting Words, Maybe He Just Likes You) tell stories that are more nuanced than the Netflix version. I highly recommend them to both adults and young readers. For educators and parents, please take a look at the resource: 100 School Districts: A Call to Action for School Districts Across the Country to Address Sexual Harassment Through Inclusive Policies and Practices from the National Women’s Law Center.

If you are experiencing or have experienced sexual assault, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

New Year, new book: THIS PUP STEPS UP! available for preorder.

It’s a brand new year and I have a new book launching on January 19th!

THIS PUP STEPS UP! A Dog Book for Kids is a rhyming picture book with fabulous graphic design and photo illustrations of the cutest pups. It’s perfect for 0-3-year olds. Preorder yours today.

If you’ve been following me on Instagram or if you’ve liked my Facebook Author Page, you know that I had some fun revealing the cover of the book over a full week followed by a book giveaway.

The real joy though was in writing the book. During the most difficult parts of 2020, I was able to research dogs and search for puppy pictures. I watched a lot of dog videos including many that showed the training for guide, support, and hearing dogs. All those loyal balls of fluff gave me comfort when things felt overwhelming.

Rhyming couplets sometimes came easily but other times they were difficult. Forced rhymes, rhymes that don’t scan well, or rhymes that don’t convey the correct meaning, are the bane of a writer’s existence. You can see in this bit of my notes that I often start by brainstorming and writing out in prose what I hope to ultimately convey in rhyme.

In the days to come, I’ll be sharing the actual final page that came from these notes. I hope that you’ll step up with your own doggy pictures as I count down to the on-sale date, January 19, 2021! Please tag me @annawritedraw or use the hashtag #ThisPupStepsUp.

5 Naps To Master for Fame and Fortune

I can sleep anywhere—anytime. 

My father used to assure me that this was a very important skill especially if one was a soldier. In WWII one had to be able to sleep standing up or sitting down, night or day, five minutes or fifty, tired or not because you never knew when you’d have time to sleep horizontally in a true bed when the moon and stars were out. 

I appreciated his approval in all things but pursued this skill with a passion, so today, I’m pleased to avail you of five types of naps you’ll want to learn to be successful in life whether or not you are interested in military service. 

  1. The Cat Nap: No cat is necessary for this nap but sunshine is critical. People often misunderstand this nap as a short sleep but nothing could be further from the truth. A cat nap can last as long as the sun warms the napping space. I’ve been known to take these naps on a dock, a patio, a window seat, and on a horse (Don’t try this at home). Like a feline friend, the secret of the cat nap is to a) not care about others and their use of the sun drenched space and b) to be able to wake quickly if threatened. Stretch to your full length permitted by the space. Allow the sun to warm your limbs. Become one with the sleeping surface. Beginning nappers who say they cannot sleep during the day need not try this one.
  2. Resting Your Eyes: To the everyday viewer, a person who is “resting their eyes” seems to have just recently drifted off to sleep. The accoutrement of daily life is still present. The glasses you wear are still on your face, your book is still open (or the book you were reading to your child), your final paper is open on your computer, the movie is on, or the newspaper is still on your lap (the paper kind or a tablet version). During an otherwise productive moment your eyelids seem to have been replaced by weighted blankets and there’s no way you can keep them open. Your head droops and the next thing you know your child, spouse, partner, friend is jabbing you in the ribs and telling you you were snoring. Check for drool and tell them, “I was just resting my eyes.”
  3. The Idea Nap: Einstein, Dali and others have been listed as proponents of creative productivity naps. I too like to take idea naps when I’ve come to a question or roadblock in my own creative writing. This type of nap takes some preparation. First, create the optimum napping environment. For me (as previously mentioned) that means anywhere but other less accomplished nappers may need low lights, a comfy pillow, and a soft, warm blanket. Close your eyes. Ask your question to the universe. Example: “WTF is supposed to happen next in the novel I’m writing.” Breathe deeply and imagine the question hovering just above your third eye. When you wake, it will be much later in the day and time to put away your work. Problem solved.
  4. The Bathtub Nap: Like the nap on the horse referenced above, this requires advanced napping skills as you don’t want to drown. A certain body type is advantageous. My own body is quite long and doesn’t fit in any normal bathtub. That doesn’t stop me from taking baths so warm that my white skin pinks—similar to a boiled lobster. Anyhow, I’m rarely concerned that I will slide under the water. You may find this nap is easier to achieve if you consider it a subset of the “resting your eyes” nap and pair the bath with a book, magazine, or glass of wine. Once the steam does its trick you may find you skip the heavy-eyelids step entirely. Next thing you know, you’re as wrinkled as a raisin and not at all clean. Warning: tell a housemate to check in on you if the bath goes on past an hour.
  5. The Quarantine Nap: COVID19, the novel Corona virus, has given us access to what may seem like a novel nap but actually it is just a tumbleweed of tried and true mental health manifestations including stress, isolation, anxiety, and depression. The Quarantine nap often starts as any one of the taxonomy of naps above but upon waking, the napper looks at the clock, notices how many hours in the day still have to be filled, and chooses to go back to sleep. This can continue any number of times. Resting one’s eyes can become a cat nap when the sunbeam hits which can become an idea nap when the sun shifts and can become a quarantine nap when one decides that the day would be better off done. Movement from one piece of furniture to the next is standard. This nap is harder to accomplish with children in the house. See your doctor if your Quarantine Nap lasts a week or longer.

There you have it. The art of the nap. By the way, I have earned neither fame nor fortune with these skills but if you manage to leverage naps into either, at least credit me when you are rich. 

Scaffolding

Sidewalk sheds that support scaffolding in NYC are ever-present due to a facade inspection and maintenance law. (Law 11) While contractors fix bricks, mortar, frames, and flashing many stories up, the sidewalk sheds below provide temporary shelter from summer thunder storms. For the homeless, they provide more regular protection from the elements.

The other day, as I climbed the subway stairs to Union Square, it struck me that something was very different. I stopped and took in the space, circling in place, before I realized that scaffolding had been removed from the building with a ground-level PetCo. Had that store been there for the past ten months? The Square felt lighter and brighter. I’m sure the PetCo owners are relieved too.

New Year 2019! #grateful

Happy New Year one and all. After the election, during the months of November and December, I started to post from time to time and then was drawn away by other responsibilities.

As December dawned warm and windy in Brooklyn, I was grateful for all the new connections I made. During November, I found the NYPL Business library with career counselors, workshops, database access and much more. I met smart, strong women at the Morgan Stanley Her Way event and saw Times Square from 26 floors up. I shared my goals with an accomplished woman in Bloomberg LP’s C-suite, experienced the high-tech facilities there, and expanded my network. (I’m still giddy about the numbers of salt-water fish tanks and snacks in the Bloomberg LP welcome area.) 

In the good news column, after submitting a blind essay I was accepted to the HarperCollins “New to Publishing” event. This January networking event promises to be a wonderful way to meet the leaders at HarperCollins.

I’m thrilled that my newest magazine article published in the online LGBTQ+ magazine INTO from Grindr. I got to work with wonderful editors who pushed me to make the article, The 40-Year-Old (Lesbian) Virgin, the best it could be. (Click for all of my publication and freelance credits.)

I took work substitute teaching at a private school in Brooklyn. I’ve enjoyed being with students again and meeting the librarians who connect kids and books.

I spent the holiday season at a high-end paper store in Rockefeller Center. With lines to the women’s room that stretched on and on, I was grateful for the key to Shangri-La (the secret employee’s bathroom). If you haven’t waited tables or worked in retail you are missing an understanding of how we treat service employees. Reread Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich and if a retail person asks if they can help you, don’t say you’re just browsing. Throw them a bone and ask what’s new in the store, or what’s on sale. They spend every day with the stock. As I leave the store, I’m grateful for the wage I got, for the increase in the minimum wage that workers in NY will get in 2019, and my awesome co-workers.

Still, November and December were filled with economic anxiety. I ended up using some retirement money to pay off credit card debt from my move. After laboring over the decision for weeks, having a clean slate has been tremendously freeing. I’m thankful for my apartment as it has given me a solid foundation to build my new life. I enter 2019 grateful for my health, my children and my family, reconnecting with cousins, and finding new friends.

On to new and wonderful writing and work!

#GivingTuesday Suggestions

It’s #GivingTuesday and I don’t have any money to give away. In fact, ironically, (sadly) I’m going to be canceling some of my month-to-month giving. If you follow me, then you might be interested in stepping in to take my place. Many of these organizations have matching donors helping out today. Here’s where I would give if I had a job:

NPR: support your local National Public Radio Station in its efforts to give us independent, fact-based, unbiased news reporting.

PEN America: supports first amendment rights and advocates on behalf of writers, reporters, and other artists at risk and supports awards for writers.

ACLU: this organization has been instrumental in challenging the anti-constitutional policies of the current government. Support them and support LGBT… issues, women’s rights, immigrant rights, voting rights, and the rights of us all.

Maine Women’s Lobby: corporations have their lobbyists at the state capitol and so should you. Donate to fund a voice for all Maine women in Augusta and celebrate the 40th anniversary for this important organization.

Eagle’s Nest Foundation: your donation helps provide scholarships for students and campers who would not otherwise be able to attend this loving, outdoor-based, experiential-education community in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina.

NAACP: works to ensure a society in which all individuals have equal rights without discrimination based on race.

ADL: The anti-defamation league fights anti-Semitism and all forms of hate.

Books:

WNDB: We Need Diverse Books is a grassroots organization of children’s book lovers that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry. Their aim is to help produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.

First Book: provides new books, learning materials, and other essentials to children in need. They have donated 175 million books and resources in 30 countries. They currently reach an average of 5 million children every year and serve one out of every three classrooms and programs in need.

Some writing groups I love:

VCFA: Vermont College of Fine Arts is my alma mater and an amazing low-residency MFA program with a focus for Writing for Children and Young Adults. Check out any end-of-year “best-books” lists and you’ll find a significant number of graduates there. Donate or if you’re interested in visiting the January residency as a prospective student call 1-866-934-VCFA or 802-828-8600 or contact the Admissions office via email.

Highlights Foundation: Classes for writers and illustrators, newbies and veterans alike; the instructors are out-of-this-world (many I’m lucky to call friends), the food and lodging are out-of-this-world too.

Hedgebrook: provides residencies and classes for women writers of all backgrounds and various writing genres including poetry, songwriting, playwriting, fiction, and nonfiction in the cutest cottages you’ve ever seen.

Your synagogue, university, hunger prevention, housing assistance program, environmental organization? Where will you be donating today and throughout the year?