Friday, December 23, 2016

When You Don't Know What to Say: Smack Dab in the Classroom by Dia Calhoun

What do you say to kids when there is so much trouble in the world, and at home? What books do you hand them to read that might speak to this? I think of the traditional hero stories where one individual can change the world by fighting the darkness. The character Will in Susan Cooper's The Darkness Rising. Frodo in The Lord of the Rings.. But most of all right now, I think of Ged, in The Wizard of Earthsea.

Through an act of great hubris, Ged released a shadow into the world. To catch and put the shadow back Ged worked to discover the shadow's name.Naming a thing gives one power over it. But Ged couldn't find the name.  Only when he realized the shadow was his own, could he name it: Ged. And integrate it back into himself.

We all tend to project our own shadows--the dark, repressed, unacceptable parts of ourselves, thoughts or emotions--onto others. And are blind to it in ourselves. Countries and cultures and religions have shadows, too. They project these onto cultures or people who are different. They become "the evil," or the cause of all the bad things happening.

In my opinion, in our recent presidential election in the United States, we have chosen to be led by the collective shadow of our country.

So what do we say to kids when there is so much trouble in the world and at home? Let's start by looking closely at our own shadows so we can own them and name them. Then we'll be less likely to project them onto other people or groups. This examination is a heroic act. One individual can change the world if she begins by fighting the darkness in herself.

And be sure to hand the kids, The Wizard of Earthsea.

Wishing you joy,

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Dear Me by Laurie Calkhoven

Dear Me,

Netflix is a bad thing. It is a very bad thing. You will subscribe so that you can watch the (ultimately disappointing) Gilmore Girls reunion movies, and then you will get sucked in.  From four seasons of Orange is the New Black (OMG! Poussey) to Crown and House of Cards, you will get sucked in.

I know you love good storytelling and interesting characters, but binge watching Call the Midwife is too easy! One episode isn’t even over yet before the next one pops up on the bottom of your screen—beckoning.  And when you sit down for lunch and promise yourself that you’ll stop at one episode of Stranger Things and then get back to work, you will be lying to yourself. You’ll watch all eight episodes.

You have research to do. You have books to write. Netflix is not good for you. It’s bad. Very, very bad.

So, for yourself, for your work, for your peace-of-mind, cancel that Netflix subscription. But first – maybe – let’s find out what happens in season five of OITNB and season two of Stranger Things.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Dear Younger Self by Claudia Mills

Halfway through my career I wrote a middle-grade novel that I so much wanted to share with my younger self that I actually dedicated it to her. The book was Lizzie at Last, starring a bookish, poetry-scribbling girl who doesn't fit in well with her peers, suspecting that she would have fit in much better with, say, Emily Dickinson.  The dedication read, "For the girl I used to be" (the title of a poem Lizzie writes to herself in the story).
Here's what I wanted to tell to my younger self, via this book:

"It's going to be okay."

Just that.

"It's going to be okay."

Because it did turn out okay (well, give and take all the hideousness and hardship and heartbreak that is part of the human condition). I grew up and joined a community of fellow bookish scribblers (you know who you are!), and wrote and published a bunch of books, and found love and friendship and companionship along the way.

As each new year dawns, I always worry about what it might contain - what kinds of challenges, what kinds of loss. Some years have been delights, others have been doozies. But you know what? They all turned out okay, more or less, every one of them.

That's why I write for children, to tell all of them what I tried to tell my younger self in Lizzie at Last. Oh, my darlings, it can feel so hard, so hard, so impossibly hard. But you are not alone so long as someone in a book somewhere understands and shares your experience.

And it's going to be okay.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Dear Me! (And other phrases to sum up a year) -- December theme, Sarah Dooley

"Dear me!" Well, that's just not strong enough to sum up 2016. And don't a lot of us feel that way? Hasn't this year been oddly off-kilter, vaguely disconcerting, and at times just outright shocking?

So here it is:  What I wish I had known last January, heading into what would be one of the more tumultuous years of my life.

I wish I had known to ask for help sooner.

Whether it was help promoting FREE VERSE, which released in March, or help figuring out my own complicated life, I needed help. We all need help, and asking is a skill not often taught. If I have learned something this year, it's how to notice I'm in over my head and how to ask for help getting back out. Thank goodness there are good, kind people in the world -- agents, editors, teachers, readers, coworkers -- who are there to help if you let them.

I wish I had known to take my FREE VERSE release day off work. I love work and I love the people there. But it's difficult to do your job when you can't stop mooning over the fact that your favorite little character just wandered out into the world! Celebration matters! Book release day is not just another day! 

I wish I had been better about sticking to my writing routine. Routine matters, especially when things are off-kilter. This year, I've let my writing slip away into the hours of figuring things out, arranging new apartments, traveling from town to town. I've forgotten my writing time is sacred, and it's time to renew that piece of my life.

Most of all, I wish I had known I would get through it. That's my advice to myself and everyone else who needs it: You will get through it. Ask for help, take time for yourself, stick to what matters, and you will get through.

Let's charge into the coming new year with a renewed sense of well-being!

Friday, December 16, 2016

A Letter to ME by Naomi Kinsman

Hey YOU!

Sometimes life will rush by with dizzying speed. You'll think that if you set aside writing today, you'll have time to catch up on everything else. You'll think that catching up on everything else will clear your mind so you can focus on that masterpiece you so desperately want to create.

You'll think that in a couple weeks--maybe a month--you'll find time to escape to a cabin in the woods to write.

The truth is, that cabin in the woods is a mirage.

The very best words you'll write grow out of the wild, joyful chaos of life. It's true, you need a little mental quiet to write, but only a very little. So, take the quiet that wakes with you every morning, slip it around your shoulders as you tiptoe to your writing chair, and put words on the page.

Day after day after day.

You can do it. ANYONE can do it. So, what are you waiting for?

That's it.

Happy writing!


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Dear Me (Bob Krech)

Dear Me,

Here are a few things you should know to be a productive, happy writer.

*Read outside of your interests. You can learn a lot and you may find a new avenue for yourself.

*You don’t need experience with any particular writing genre or assignment. Just jump in. Believe you can do it until proven otherwise.

*Be kind and accommodating to everyone you meet during the writing/publishing process, but also be firm about things that are important to you.

*Be patient with everyone and in all things.

*Respect editors’ opinions, but respect readers’ more.

*Believe in your work, but be open to other perspectives.

*You can get a lot done in a little bit of time. Amazingly, little scraps of time cobbled together add up to big chunk of writing.

*Observe everything and don’t be hesitant to ask questions about how things work and why things are a certain way.

*When you meet new people, ask them about their families. Soon the phone is out, pictures and stories are shared, and you learn a lot about people, which will inform your writing (and enrich your life!)

*Time is on your side.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Dear Me...What I Wish I Knew at the Beginning of the Year by Darlene Beck Jacobson

This theme of "What I wish I knew at the beginning of the year" hit home recently when I attended a Writer's Workshop weekend.  Agents and Editors on the panel were asked the question:  "Is there a time of year when It's NOT good to send out a manuscript?

Dear me...THERE IS!  Everyone concurred that the months of November and December and the first two weeks of January were probably not the best time for getting a quick turnaround or thoughtful read of a manuscript.  All this time I thought the summer months...with people on vacation and kids out of school made agents and editors less likely to have time to read new projects. They'd lie around like seaweed on a beach. Because of that erroneous belief, I've used the summer months to polish up projects that I've sent out in October-December.

Dear me...I guess I'm going to have to come up with a new plan.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Lessons from a Maroon Skirt

Yeah. If only it had looked like this.

from Jody Feldman

Dear Jody,

You are capable of creating wonderful things ... if ... you ... don’t ... rush ... the ... process.

Remember 7th grade home ec?

While you’d been cooking for as long as you could hold a spoon, sewing was as foreign as a Fellini film. By the time you learned to wind the thread around all the gears of the sewing machine, your classmates were already stitching the seams of their gabardine A-line skirts. That’s when you felt the pressure to move faster; cutting, pinning, basting, stitching, hemming, and at some point, managing to fit in a working zipper. You took your maroon masterpiece home and deemed it perfect to wear to school the next week. You basically defied anyone to know it was self-made. And then. One of the first people you saw, someone only in your math class, passed you in the lower hall. “You made that in home ec, didn’t you?” And you never wore that skirt again.

Don’t do that to your books. Sure, you can continue to set aggressive deadlines, but know it’s better (and more expedient) to turn in work when it’s ready; not when the timer dings. Then maybe, on first submission, your agent will directly pass your book along to your publisher. She will not send it back and send you reeling in a tizzy when deep-down you already knew, in this form, it was that maroon skirt all over again when it could have been, well, maybe not Chanel, but ... you know.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Empowering Myself by Giving Up Two Little Words

 By Marcia Thornton Jones

 The other day, my seven-year-old great-niece said two simple words that stopped me in my tracks.

“I can’t.”

It hit me how easily those two words slipped out when presented with something she clearly could do.

And, just like that, I decided I wasn’t going to accept them. After all, I had just watched as one of the most qualified women in American politics cracked a glass ceiling, and I have a sneaking suspicion that she often was told, “you can’t”. But instead of listening to those naysayers, she kept climbing the ladder until, finally, it got kicked out from under her. Which, I have a feeling, merely means she will adjust her goals and then continue doing the work that resonates with her life purpose.

So I looked straight in my great-niece’s eyes and asked, “Is it really because you can’t? Or is it because you don’t want to?”

“I don’t want to,” she said without batting an eyelash.

That phrase didn’t bother me at all. In fact, I found it empowering. My great-niece knew what was right for her at that time, and doing what I asked her to do wasn’t it.

Our little conversation got me thinking about how often I rely on those words, too. Saying I can’t seems to be a catch-all phrase for not striving to accomplish a goal—whether it’s a personal goal or a task set by someone else. But by saying I can’t, it seems to me that I am giving away my personal power. As if the realm of possibility is beyond my grasp because I lack skill, ability, and knowledge. When did it become okay to admit to myself and to others this defeatist attitude built on the concept of deficiency? I wish someone, way back when, had looked me in the eyes and told me that saying I can’t was no longer acceptable.

So, today, I’m writing a letter to the little-girl me with a few options that are more empowering.

Dear Little-Girl Me,

Never give away your personal power by saying I can’t. Empower yourself with these phrases, instead.

Five Things to Say Instead of “I Can’t”
  1. I’ll try.
  2. Please teach me.
  3. That doesn’t interest me.
  4. That doesn’t resonate with my personal goals.
  5.   I will do this instead.

Or, as my great-niece taught me, it’s always okay just to say, “I don’t want to!”

Thursday, December 8, 2016

DEAR SELF --- by Jane Kelley

Oh what a year 2016 has been! So many beloved artists died. Politics were (and are) excruciatingly painful. My individual problems are small by comparison. But writing is one way to make a difference. I need to do it well! 

This year has been a series of false starts, postponed projects, and too much frustration. I always try to learn from my mistakes. So I ask myself, what should I have done differently? Or perhaps, more to the point, what should I do differently in 2017?

Don’t second guess your work. I count EIGHT projects that never even made it to the end of the first draft! Sometimes starting over is wise. But ideas need to be developed. Don't be so quick to quit on them. In other words, write the darn book BEFORE you pass judgment. 

Hoe your own row. Another person's crop may be growing faster, but someone else's crop has barely come up at all.  Let other people’s successes inspire you. And let other people’s struggles remind you to be grateful.

Trust your power.  It's all there. The moon has lit your path. You have the fire of ambition. You have a vast sea of emotions and ideas. You hold a magic wand and a symbolic sword––the means to write across the sky. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

One Word Leads to Another by Deborah Lytton: December Theme

The Dear Me letter I would write to myself this year would remind me of the things I know to be true but sometimes forget to remember:

1. Write every day. Because one word leads to another.

2.  Be open to new characters, new storylines, even new genres. Taking risks is the only way to make your work stand out.

3.  Be organized and detail-oriented so that deadlines can be met on time (or maybe even early!)

4.  Be brave enough to try new methods of working (I'm talking about you Scrivener!)

5.  Believe in the power of the imagination. Trust the creative process and see where it leads.

6.  Listen to critiques and look at work honestly. Don't be afraid of the lessons in rejection.

7.  Read the top bestselling books but also the hidden books that no one has discovered yet. 

8.  Keep writing. Because one word leads to another.

Now go make a nice cup of tea and get writing:)

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Dear Me: A Writer's Wish (Irene Latham)

My father in a book store -
one of his favorite places to be!
So our topic for the month is "Dear Me - what I wish I'd known at the beginning of the year."

Well, I puzzled over this for a while. So much happened this year! Not just in my writing life, but in my life-life. My father died June 8, 2016.

Do I wish I would have known what that was going to be like?

No, no and no. I have learned so much about myself and my father and love and life and how we carry on... but no, I don't wish I'd known any sooner.

For me, it's like these great lyrics from Bob Seger's song "Against the Wind," of which my husband, whose mind is a jukebox, reminded me:

 "Wish I didn't know now 
what I didn't know then." 

And there is a lesson in there for my writing as well: I am exactly where I need to be. I may have stalled out on that novel, not knowing how to "fix" it. I may have "missed" a promotional opportunity. I may have spent days/hours/weeks on a project that will never sell.

But that's okay. All of it. I am exactly where I need to be.


Wishing you all great things as we wind down 2016 and welcome a brand-new year. xo

IreneLatham wouldn't be a writer if not for the father who read to her and taught her to love words. An award winning author of two novels for children LEAVING GEE'S BEND and DON'T FEED THE BOY, she was named the winner of the 2016 International Literary Association-Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award. Her poetry titles for children include DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST, FRESH DELICIOUS, and WHEN THE SUN SHINES ON ANTARCTICA.

Monday, November 28, 2016


We hear often about how empowering it can be to say no to other people. To stop people-pleasing to the point that you've run yourself ragged and granting favors feels like a burden rather than a pleasure.

It's hard to say no to others. Really hard. Inevitably that feeling creeps in--that awful feeling of letting someone down or hurting their feelings.

But so often, it seems easy to say no to yourself. We all get those new ideas--that desire to do something a little outside of the box. Try a new genre, maybe. Indie publish. Illustrate our work. Try a screenplay. But doubts start creeping in: we worry about how branching out will be received. Or we wonder if all the time spent will result in a project that winds up in a drawer, never to see the light of day.

 No, we wind up telling ourselves, I could never do that. (Whatever "that" is.)

But here's the thing--the obvious thing: by never attempting, the project winds up in a drawer anyway. And more importantly, by not empowering yourself with a Yes! I can--I'll figure out a way to make that work!, you wind up digging away at your own self-confidence. Doubt has been invited in to sit on the couch beside you. And for anyone involved in a creative pursuit, doubt is a total dream-killer.

So give yourself permission. Make it your early 2017 resolution to tell yourself yes to that thing (whatever it is) that's been floating around in your head for a while. Do it. Jump in headfirst, without a life jacket. Make yourself figure out how to make it work. One yes leads to another...another. It becomes every bit as confidence building as nos can be confidence destroyers.

Do it: say yes to yourself.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Smack Dab in the Classroom: Stack of Butter, Stack of Books by Dia Calhoun

When I was ten to twelve years old, sometimes I'd go with my Dad to his shop on Capitol Hill in Seattle. I'd hang out there until my ballet lesson at Cornish. He'd give me a dollar, and I'd walk around the corner to a cafe. As soon as the waitress saw me coming, she'd yell back to the cook, "Stack of Butter!" Those three beautiful words meant toast.

I sat at the counter under her watchful eye and pulled out my book. Toast and a good book--what more could you want? I've always loved to eat while I read. Kids today are glued to their phones during meals. I was glued to my book. (Now some would say this is not "mindful" eating. I would say their is more to the experience of eating than the food that goes into your mouth.)

So in this holiday time of delicious foods, I ask you this: What book would you read at Thanksgiving dinner (if your parents or spouse or family would let you!) and why? Or perhaps break your meal and books into courses, like pairing wine with food. What book would you read with the stuffing? Which with the pumpkin pie?

This would be a fun assignment for kids.

Wishing you a Thanksgiving surrounded by everything you love--family, food, and books of course,

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

NO!vember by Laurie Calkhoven

I had a powerful reminder about the importance of saying no not to long ago. I do a lot of freelance writing and ghostwriting in addition to writing “my” books. Some of these projects have my name on them, some of them don’t. Some pay a royalty, and some don’t. I’d rather be writing these books than working in the corporate world, but my income can be unpredictable. There can also be uncomfortably long gaps between assignments. And that’s when I get into trouble.

An educational publisher – actually a vendor working for an educational publisher – was putting together a new line of hi/lo readers. I was in one of those uncomfortable dry spells, and they were looking for authors for lots of books. I said yes. I should have said no. The pay wasn’t high enough, there were too many moving parts (multiple stories, multiple authors, too many cooks in the kitchen at the vendor/publisher), and the dates kept shifting. Of course, right after I signed on to write two novels for them, I got a much more lucrative and more interesting offer from a trade publisher.

I was able to use their shifting dates as an excuse to leave the project (and happily they were gracious) and take on the book I wanted to write.  But first I went through quite a bit of angst. I had never quit a freelance job before, and I didn’t want to appear like a flake. But it was a relief when it was all over.

And the thing is, I knew from the beginning that I should say no. A few years ago I put together a list of four freelance “musts” – things I absolutely had to have in order to take a job on. Then I added a list of four “very importants” – things that weren’t essential but would go a long way to tipping the scale.  That educational publisher job had only one of my musts and none of my very importants. The only thing it had going for it was a much too low paycheck.

So I am reminded again not to say yes just because someone asks. Saying no can be much more powerful, and make room for better, more interesting work to come my way.