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.

JrCoaching

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.)

Screenshot 2016-07-08 10.59.41

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!

 

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

 

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.

takabisha_roller_coaster
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.

 

 

Single Parenting: Life is messy.

Thanks to Black Girl in Maine I read an article about Instagram Moms. I blog, Tweet, and Facebook so I don’t have a lot of time to put into Instagram but after seeing the beautiful images in the article I took a quick look around my little house and laughed. Okay, I guffawed. Branding your family? Let’s get real, I thought.

Since the divorce, I have had my kids basically every other week (which has been a tremendous change and emotionally seismic shift after being an all the time Navy mom with an often detached  or deployed spouse.) When the kids are to arrive I do a thorough cleaning. Toilets get scrubbed, I make my bed, laundry is done, even if it languishes unfolded and the boys have to scavenge for underwear.

When they are not here, I try not to hold myself hostage to my good-girl proclivities. There’s no one to impress anyway and my writing is the most important thing. The mail stacks up along with the TBR (To Be Read) pile. Right now I’m starting a new writing project so my resource books and notes, journals and plotting tools litter my tiny desk. I eat in front of the TV at night and binge on House of Cards while tweeting and checking in on Facebook friends to relax .

So to all the Instagram Moms this is how one Single Writer Mom lives.

 

The Revision Cave: All In

As a middle school educator I taught the writing process as a series of steps that separated “revision” from “editing.” Revision, I told my students had to do with answering the big questions that a reader had about your work. It was the writer’s chance to go deeper, be more specific, cut what didn’t work, be clear. Editing on the other hand was about the conventions: spelling, grammar, etc. (By the way if you teach writing I highly recommend Kate Messner’s, REAL REVISION)

At some point in the journey of my writing career, someone at some conference or workshop or lecture pointed out the obvious that the word revision is re-vision or “to see again in a new way.” I took on this definition as my mantra and thus, each revision has turned into a massive undertaking where I basically re-write a manuscript.

It doesn’t start that way. It usually starts with finding a better beginning. Beginnings are hard and many writers talk about a necessary writing to the end in order to fine tune a beginning again (and again). Of course, my fine tuning sets off a ripple effect throughout the entire manuscript. When faced with a section of manuscript that doesn’t work, I pinpoint the problem, I brainstorm solutions then I try it. (“Try it”–is another good piece of advice that can be an entrance to a revision blackhole.) How about a whole new character, Anna? And what if you add an epistolary element? What if, what if, what if…?

I’m pleased to say that I’ve been making steady progress in the revision cave for the last two weeks! My word count each day has hovered around 1000 as I reorder, rewrite, and rediscover the story I am trying to tell. I am going deeper, being more specific, cutting what didn’t work, being clear. Here are a few other things that I’m working on that you might notice in your work:

Where Does the Scene End:
I often end a scene where it will make a good chapter ending–one that doesn’t let the arc of that scene come to resolution, one that keeps the reader a little on their toes. This is a good thing unless, I haven’t given the reader everything they need. When I haven’t, I seem to start the next scene with a quick summation of what the reader missed. Sometimes this info is crucial to the emotional arc of the character. It should have happened “in-scene.” I am looking for these places in the work and rewriting to show the emotions instead.

Tension Makes Me Tense:
I am a pantser by nature but recent workshops with David Macinnis Gill and re-readings of Vogler’s,THE WRITER’S JOURNEY, and McKee’s, STORY have reminded me that plotting and outlining helps. I struggle to make the tension rise throughout a story and sometimes fall into and episodic (good fodder for another post) form of story telling. In this revision, I’ve listed the steps of the hero’s journey and jotted down the scenes that will happen at each of these crucial points. This organizing tool has been incredibly helpful. I’ve also written out what I see as my MC’s controlling belief (an idea I gleaned from Kathi Appelt and Franny Billingsley ) and I’ve added to that a question that describes her emotional arc. I make sure that each scene addresses in someway my MC’s belief and question (and desire but that’s also another post). This forces me to stay on track in the plotting.
Controlling belief: My mother left because she thought I was ugly and useless.
Question: Am I worthy of people’s love?

I guess these are similar but it has helped me.

Who Hates You Baby:
As students we learned the different types of conflict: man v. man, man v. self, man v. society, man v. nature, man v. machine. (Man! We’ll assume that is short for human.)
I was convinced that my book was MC v. self but part of the lack of tension in my manuscript came from the lack of a clear antagonist. I struggled with this idea, but in this revision I’ve chosen to clarify the antagonist and amp up the adversarial nature of their relationship.

I’ll be back in the revision cave come Monday but for now… out of the cave and into the mountains!

Copyright: fredlyfish4 / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: fredlyfish4 / 123RF Stock Photo

Poetry Friday: The Smith-Corona

I recently became the caregiver to a 1953(?) Smith-Corona typewriter which inspired the following poem. Enjoy! (Now if I could only find a new ribbon.)

There aren’t a lot of typewriters out there
not a lot of typers either.
Hard to get ribbons and parts.
A’s require pinkie force that I do not possess.
Computers have made me soft.
Still there is a satisfaction of
FORCE
and noise
each clack of hammer on roller
the absence of wires
no plug in sight
just me and the keys and the return bar.
My thoughts too quick
hammers catch on each other
stuck like a logjam of paperwork
sitting on some secretary’s desk.
She with pencils in her hair
and a pencil slim skirt
doing a hard days work.
I imagine her
young
spunky
driven
wanting more.
To be a journalist
a novelist
the boss.
Just like her
my time will come.


True Dialogue

Lucy Dog: Whines at door.

Me to Teen #2: It’s your turn to walk the dog.

Teen #2: I’m doing my homework.

Me: You need to help our house community.

Teen #2: But you’re not doing anything.

Me: Take the dog out.

Lucy Dog: Whines

Teen #2: Fine. But if I die of cold, night air, make sure there’s popcorn at my funeral.

Lucy is resting after chasing her bunny.
Lucy is resting after chasing her bunny.

#GivingTuesday and #WeNeedDiverseBooks

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign has been a rousing success. Far surpassing their original Indiegogo campaign of $100,000, the goals have been expanded. The money to this organization will support diverse authors in classrooms, internships in publishing, diverse books and programming, diversify classrooms, and develop educational kits for libraries and schools. The organization’s main goal is to promote non-majority narratives and the winners here are hopefully young readers and their families.

As an early #WeNeedDiverseBooks supporter, I sponsored a classroom visit from a diverse author to a Title I school. Why? There are always one or two kids for whom a school visit is magical. Those few kids who love to daydream, and doodle, and write poetry get a tingle in their spine as they meet an author or illustrator and the epiphany hits them… “Regular people like me write and illustrate books. I could do that!” Regular people–like me. School visits from diverse authors are crucial in planting the seeds for future authors who will write the next diverse books.

Some of you may know that I ran a booking agency. I can’t tell you how many times I was asked in that short year if the authors I represented could visit for free. Unfortunately, someone has to foot the bill. Authors and illustrators must be properly compensated for their expertise, their travel, and their lodging as much as they might want to give it away for free. (And trust me, many would love to not have to deal with that money stuff.) I’m hoping that more sponsors will use #GivingTuesday to step forward and sponsor a classroom. Join me in supporting #WeNeedDiverseBooks.

#WeNeedDiverseBooks