Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Taking Life "Bird by Bird"

October has come and (almost) gone, and I am marveling once again at how fast this month always flies by! It never fails—each October is always busier and more eventful than the previous October, but it continues to take me by surprise every year.

This month I am taking an in-depth online novel writing course, which has been wonderful and challenging and has really made me think through my current WIP. I am also participating in an online book study of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, working on a new set of revisions for two completed manuscripts, and preparing for a school visit this Friday. All of my writing synapses are zapping and snapping, and although my brain is starting to feel a bit fried, it is totally worth it! Add to all of this the sleepover with nine 11- and 12-year-old boys to celebrate my twins' 12th birthday last weekend and our family camping trip past weekend (with the resulting piles of laundry), and my plate is definitely overflowing! Every single one of these things is good, though, and for this I am thankful.

Which brings me back to Bird by Bird. In the midst of all of this “busyness,” Lamott’s whole concept of tackling one thing at a time calms me and reminds me to slow down, breathe, and focus on climbing one step, and then another, and then another. Viewed from this perspective, everything seems much more manageable and I can breathe (and sleep) much easier. I also really appreciated a quote from E. L. Doctorow that Lamott shares in an early chapter of her book: “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” This is a wonderful notion, and can be applied to LIFE, as well.

One of the peaceful scenes I enjoyed this past weekend near Brevard, NC.

I hope your October has been just as inspiring and exhilarating as mine! Have a great week, and happy writing!

Friday, October 17, 2014

POETRY FRIDAY: Guiterman’s Harvest Home and A Climb to the Sky

Visit Michelle at Today's Little Ditty for a spooktacular Poetry Friday Roundup!
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For the month of October, I am focusing on poems about fall. Here is a wonderful poem I came across awhile back by American poet Arthur Guiterman. I love Guiterman’s rich descriptions and playful use of verbs!    
Harvest Home
by Arthur Guiterman (1871-1943)
                   The maples flare among the spruces,
                   The bursting foxgrape spills its juices,
                   The gentians lift their sapphire fringes
                   On roadways rich with golden tenges,
                   The waddling woodchucks fill their hampers,
                   The deer mouse runs, the chipmunk scampers,
                   The squirrels scurry, never stopping,
                   For all they hear is apples dropping
                   And walnuts plumping fast and faster;
                   The bee weighs down the purple aster

                   Yes, hive your honey, little hummer,
                   The woods are waving, "Farewell, Summer."

Last weekend I visited friends in the mountains near Brevard, North Carolina. After a lovely drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, we stopped near milepost 409.6 and climbed Frying Pan Lookout Tower, an old fire tower built in 1941 and now listed on the National Register of Historic places.
Here is a picture of the tower from way down the trail. 

Although though I am normally not afraid of heights, the prospect of climbing the tower was a bit daunting at first. But I talked myself into it and was rewarded with a stunning view of Cold Mountain and the valley below. The leaves were in the early to mid stages of their colorful fall display, and storm clouds were gathering in the distance. It was spectacular and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world!

Here is a poem I wrote that was inspired by this experience. I hope you enjoy it!

Climb to the Sky
I climb the tower,
October sky
Just out of my reach.
Miles below
Life is loud,
And often harsh.
But so high up
A keening wind is all I hear;
Trees and mountains sit in peaceful silence.
Sunlight filters through clouds
And rolls over the landscape,
Turning dying leaves into waves of autumn gold.
And I stand,
Gripping iron rails,
A thousand feet above it all.
Here is a picture of Cold Mountain from the ground.
I hope you have a wonderful autumn weekend! Happy Friday, and happy writing!

Friday, October 3, 2014


Thanks to Jama at Jama's Alphabet Soup for hosting Poetry Friday today!

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I have enjoyed watching the slow transformation of the leaves around my neighborhood this week; the yellows and reds are replacing the (still abundant) green a little more every day. I am looking forward to much cooler weather this weekend, and am especially excited about visiting the NC mountains twice in October. This is definitely my favorite month!
My fall-themed Poetry Friday contribution this week is a lovely poem by Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson titled Autumn Fires. We had a fire in our fire pit last weekend and will likely enjoy another tomorrow night, watching the last of summer's trimmings rise in sparks and ashes. This poem captures this moment of fall perfectly, I think! 
Autumn Fires
by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)
In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!
Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
The grey smoke towers.
Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!
Have a beautiful weekend, and Happy Writing!

Friday, September 26, 2014

POETRY FRIDAY: From Summer to Fall

Thank you to Laura at Writing the World for Kids for hosting Poetry Friday today!
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Several weeks ago, Carol Varsalona invited me to participate in her Summer Serenity Gallery. I was thrilled and honored to be a part of this beautiful project, and have enjoyed reading (and re-reading) the poems Carol collected. As summer fades into fall, take some time to visit the Summer Serenity Gallery here and reflect on your own summer memories. You'll be glad that you did!

I breathed a little sigh of relief this week when the weather cooled off in South Carolina! As much as I enjoyed our (long, hot) summer, I am happy to grab a sweater in the mornings and feel the chill in the air. The leaves in the woods behind my house are just starting to change, and it’s not quite so easy to pop out of bed in the mornings. I love it!
I have always particularly enjoyed reading poetry written about fall. I am drawn to the rich language and evocative images that poets often employ when writing about autumn, and have gathered many examples over the years that I re-read each time autumn rolls around. So in celebration of fall, I’ve decided to share some of my favorite autumn poetry during my Poetry Friday posts this season.

The following poem was written by Eleanor Farjeon and is one I posted in my classroom each autumn. It is short and sweet, but was always a favorite with the kids (and me!):
Down, Down
By Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965)

Down, down
Yellow and brown
The leaves are falling
Over the town.
What is your favorite poem about fall? Happy fall, and Happy Writing!

Monday, September 15, 2014

It’s Conference Time Again!

Fall is my favorite time of year for many reasons—return to routine, cooler weather, colorful leaves, my boys’ birthday, just to name a few. But one of the main reasons I look forward to September each year is the SCBWI Carolinas Fall Conference, which is coming up this weekend in Charlotte, NC. The conference is always a wonderful time to recharge my writing batteries and reconnect with writer friends from all over North and South Carolina. The theme of this year’s conference is “To Tell a Tale,” and I can’t wait! ☺

Before our conference last year, I wrote the blog post below to help me focus and prepare. I am reposting it today for anyone who may not have read it and is heading to a conference soon.
Also, my good friends Joan Y. Edwards and Ann Eisenstein, both talented writers and published authors, have written fabulous blog posts recently with excellent advice for writers attending conferences. Please check out the links below, and be sure to peruse the rest of their websites and blog posts, as well!   

From Joan Y. Edwards’ Never Give Up blog: Focus to Get the Max Out of a Writing Conference
From Ann Eisenstein’s blog: The Value of a Writers' Conference

Have a wonderful week, and Happy Writing!
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Reposted from 9/20/13, Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Writing Conference *Experience*
Since joining the SCBWI almost nine years ago I have attended many writing conferences. At the beginning, I was terrified. I stressed over what to wear, nervously hugged the walls during the many “meet and greets” and continental breakfasts, avoided the evening social hour (I still can’t believe this!), and was tongue tied and star struck in the presence of *any* agent/editor/author within a ten-foot range.

Thankfully, I am much more relaxed when I attend a conference these days. With time I have realized three essential truths about attending writing conferences:
·        Children’s writers are the nicest people you will EVER meet!

·        Editors and agents are just regular people.

·        A positive conference experience can majorly benefit your writing and supercharge your excitement about your writing, which is the most valuable conference “take away” of all!

With the fall conference season upon us, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned that help me get the most out of the conferences I attend. I hope you find these helpful!
Study your conference brochure and any other available conference information ahead of time. Look at the schedule, decide which sessions you’d like to attend, and make a tentative plan. Sometimes conference organizers will ask you to select your breakout sessions ahead of time, but sometimes you will be required to wait until the conference begins to choose your sessions. Either way, it helps to have an idea of what you are interested in attending so you don’t drive yourself crazy with indecision on the day of (yes I have done this…).

Research conference speakers ahead of time and read books by the authors who are a part of the conference faculty. I LOVE to do this! It is such a thrill to meet published authors, especially when I am familiar with their work. If you plan to attend a breakout session by a specific author and read his or her book beforehand, it can also help you to understand the author’s presentation better, since authors often use excerpts and examples from their own books during their presentations. If your conference has an autograph session scheduled you can get your books autographed, too! 

Get a good night’s sleep the night before. I can’t stress this enough—when you are at a conference, you (naturally) sit for long periods of time, and sitting = sleepy if you are not well rested.

Dress comfortably and *always* bring a sweater. Hotels can be cold, but they can also be stuffy and hot; be prepared for either.

Arrive with time to spare. It is better to be a bit early than risk running late. Registration lines can be long, and you will want to get a good seat for the opening keynote address. If you don’t know anyone to talk to while you are waiting, look for someone else who looks like they don’t know anyone either, and start talking. (I met the ladies in my wonderful online critique while chatting at a conference. I promise—you can meet really great people this way!)

Have business cards handy. OK, so I admit, this year will be the first year that I have business cards to hand out (they arrived in the mail yesterday). I have avoided this step until now because I do not have a book published yet. But I’ve been published in magazines, I have a blog, I’m active in several writers’ groups, and am in full-speed-ahead mode with two different manuscripts right now. For years I have been gathering business cards at conferences and jotting down my information for other writers I’d like to stay in touch with, and when several people at last year’s conference said, “What do you mean, you don’t have a business card??” I decided that by this year’s conference I would have cards of my own to share. I chose to use Vistaprint, but there are lots of great companies that will let you design your own cards for a marginal fee.
Here is my new business card--I included my blog address and email.

Have realistic expectations. Don’t expect to sign with the super awesome agent who is there before you drive home, or have an editor beg you for your manuscript. This rarely happens, and you will be disappointed if you are attending a conference solely for this reason. Conferences provide great opportunities for meeting agents and editors, and you may even be invited to submit your manuscript for consideration once the agent or editor you are chatting with hears your fabulous pitch. But remember that the main purpose of attending a conference is to learn more about the craft of writing. Following a fabulous, inspiring conference years ago, I actually heard an author say that she had wasted her money because she didn’t get a book deal out of the conference. Don’t be this person.  

Have a short pitch ready. How hard can this be, right? VERY hard, I tell you. Especially if you are tongue tied and star struck when an agent or editor (or author you adore) asks what you are working on. If you have written a short pitch ahead of time and practiced this pitch, you will be much more confident. Trust me on this one.

Make the most of your breaks, depending on what YOU need. During breaks, mingle. OR find a quiet spot and regroup. Your choice will largely depend upon your personality. I am an introvert, so sometimes I *need* a moment to myself. My sweet friend Ann always offers her hotel room as a quiet getaway, since I live 20 minutes from the conference site and don’t usually reserve a room (thanks, Ann!). I am also a pro at finding quiet spots at conference sites. Other attendees want to take advantage of every single moment to network. Just allow yourself whatever kind of break you need.

Remember that agents and editors are real people who need breaks too. If you see an agent or editor heading to the elevator, don’t chase them down. That usually means they are heading for their room. And please don’t follow them to the bathroom to pitch your book (I know we’ve all heard this one, but seriously, people DO this and I have heard about this happening very recently!)    

Bring snacks, some cash, and a bottle of water. The $1 M&Ms you buy at Harris Teeter taste just as good as the ones they sell for $2.50 at the hotel. ☺

Take advantage of any “extras” offered at the conference. My local SCBWI conference offers “Intensives” preceding our conference each year, which give authors and illustrators a chance to focus on and workshop their skills. We also have the option of signing up for critiques with authors, agents, or editors. These require an extra fee, but people generally find the expense worth it. Our conference also offers opportunities for late night critique groups, art portfolio displays, a Saturday social hour, author’s round table, a “First Pages” session, and much more!

Regarding “First Pages” sessions…I have participated in and attended many of these sessions, where authors anonymously submit the first page of a manuscript, a reader presents it to the audience, and a panel of agents and editors give their honest first impressions of the writing. *Most* of the time this is a positive experience and the panel participants are respectful and give honest, constructive feedback. Yes, it can hurt a bit if a panel member hears your writing and says “the writing is not great and I’d stop reading here,” etc. BUT this is good to know, right? And this kind of feedback will definitely make our writing better.

However, on one occasion I had the terrible experience of sitting in on a first pages session where the editors on the panel were disrespectful and definitely crossed the line regarding another author’s piece of writing. Pretty much everyone I talked to there was mortified by their behavior, and that is all I will say. The important lesson here is to realize that if you submit your first page for critique at one of these sessions, just be prepared to hear anything and everything, and don’t take it personally. First pages really are a wonderful opportunity to gage professional opinion of your writing, and the agents and editors who sit on these panels allow us an inside glimpse into publishing’s first crucial step—getting the attention of the folks in charge!

Take advantage of the opportunity to hear illustrators and art directors speak, even if you are not an illustrator. When I first began attending conferences, I wasn’t drawn toward sessions given by an illustrator or art director, since I am a writer and definitely *not* an artist. But during a fabulous keynote address by an art director from a big publishing house several years ago, I learned that picture book writers can get SO much out of hearing the perspective from the “other side.”

Plan ahead to meet friends you have met through online writers’ groups at the conference. This year I am looking forward to seeing several friends I first made contact with on Verla Kay’s message board. It is always fun to put a face with a name!

Within a day or so of the conference, take time to type up and/or organize your notes, and plan to take advantage of any special submission opportunities you may have following a conference. Sometimes editors from closed houses will allow attendees the opportunity to submit to them during the months after a conference. Don’t let these rare opportunities slip through your fingers!

Finally, please be aware that speakers participate in these conferences as part of their jobs, so don’t reprint or distribute conference-specific information online (or otherwise). If you blog all the fine points of a super awesome agent’s workshop, for example, that information is now free for anyone to take, and takes away from that presenter’s opportunities moving forward. It is fine to recap, but not to “re-present.”
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There are many writing conferences put on locally, nationally, and internationally every year. Resources for further information include:

The Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators

Local writers’ groups—in South Carolina, for example, we have the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop, which includes all genres of writers and presents a wonderful conference each year. The organization doesn’t have to be geared toward children’s writers to be helpful; as writers, we all share the same goal—to write great literature!

National writers’ groups such as the American Christian Writers and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, just to name a few.

And don’t forget about online conferences, such as writeoncon, which took place online (for free!) last week!
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I hope you’ve found this helpful, and that your next conference experience will be a great one! Happy Writing!  
 Focus to Get the Max Out of a Writing Conference

Thursday, September 11, 2014

POETRY FRIDAY: It's National Piano Month!

Thanks to RenĂ©e at No Water River for hosting Poetry Friday today!
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Recently I learned that September is National Piano Month. Who knew?
Image courtesy of www.cartooncottage.com
The piano is one of my favorite musical instruments. I began taking piano lessons at age four and continued through high school. Now my boys both take lessons and practice daily on the same piano I learned to play on. Currently, I am working on a piece as part of a character study I am doing for a middle grade work-in-progress, so between my practicing and my boys’ daily sessions, piano music is often ringing through our house. It is wonderful!

When I discovered that we are in the middle of National Piano Month, naturally I had to see if I could dig up some piano poetry. I was thrilled to find the following poem by D.H. Lawrence, a beautiful piece that focuses on a favorite childhood memory of the narrator:

by D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930)

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.

In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.

So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

And to balance out the serious with some fun, here is a fabulous poem by poet Ken Nesbitt called “My Puppy Plays Piano.” I can’t wait to share this one with my boys—our dog Gracie is always underfoot while they practice!

My Puppy Plays Piano
by Ken Nesbitt

My puppy plays piano.
It's the strangest thing to see.
It seems, while I was practicing,
he learned by watching me.

To read the rest of this poem, click here.

I hope you enjoyed these two wonderful—but very different—poems featuring pianos! Happy National Piano Month, and Happy Writing!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

POETRY FRIDAY: A Walk Along the River

Thanks to Laura at Author Amok for hosting Poetry Friday this week!
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One of my favorite local spots is the Riverwalk Trail in Rock Hill, SC. This local gem is a beautiful paved trail that winds through the woods alongside a section of the Catawba River, an ever-changing stretch of water whose mood is determined by the release of the dam a few miles upstream. On any given day, you can find walkers, runners, bikers, moms with strollers, kayakers, river tubers, nature lovers, and more alongside or on the river. There is also a variety of wildlife to see along the trail, if you keep your eyes and ears open.   
 On a recent morning walk, I was struck by the poetic nature of the river path—it’s people, animals, sights, and sounds. By the end of my walk, I had a good start to the poem below. I hope you enjoy!   

River walk, river run
River sparkles in the sun
River run, river race
Pounding feet keep steady pace
River race, river roll
Babies slumber, mamas stroll
River roll, river ride
Water lovers splash and glide

River ride, river flow
Rising, falling, swift and slow
River flow, river roar
Turtles plummet, eagles soar
River roar, river song
Humming, thrumming, drumming strong
River song, river home
Calling back all those who roam
Happy Friday, and Happy Writing!