Sunday, July 12, 2020

National Boredom Month...Are You Bored Yet? by Darlene Beck Jacobson

Being confined to the house and our own backyards these past four months has led to many adjustments and challenges. How to occupy our time productively might be one of them. How many closets have we cleaned? How much Netflix have we streamed? How many jigsaw puzzles have we completed? How many pizzas have we consumed?

For some of us, the boredom of our forced isolation may have set in, making us itchy for something, anything different. Here's where imagination comes in handy.

I hope no one will judge me or pass criticism when I say this, but I am one of those people who is rarely if ever BORED. When I retired from teaching in 2010, the first question I was asked was "Won't you be bored in your retirement, with no work to do?"

My answer then and now has always been this: There are not enough hours in the day in which to pursue all the things I am interested in. Exploring nature, reading, writing, quilting, gardening, learning to play a musical instrument, crafting, traveling to places I've never been, learning new things, problem solving, making something new - whether it's a recipe or a stained-glass panel, meeting up with friends old and new. The list is long and continues to grow.

So, for me the best way to celebrate a thing like boredom is to ask yourself: Now that I have more free time than I'll probably ever have for a long while, what do I want to do?

Grow a giant pumpkin? Be the best pool player in town? Hike somewhere you've never gone before? Taste every craft beer in your state? Learn how to MAKE craft beer?

Then...cape diem!  Make it happen. Enjoy this gift of time and make your dreams reality.



Saturday, July 11, 2020

When the Boredom Vanishes by Jody Feldman

There came a time every year in early May when the countdown started. First it was weeks, then days, hours, minutes until three, two, one -- cue the Alice Cooper song -- school's out for the summer!

How sweet it was when, suddenly, the only multiple-choice test included these possible answers:
A. Banana Popsicle
B. Ice cream sandwich
C. Dreamsicle
D. Drumstick

It seemed, though, that about four weeks into summer vacation, I'd keep asking my mom, "What should I do?" as if I lived in the middle of a void.

I did not live in a void. There were toys and brothers and neighbors. There was a wading pool, weekly trips to the library, and plenty of art supplies. But it always felt as if something else was out there, just out of reach; something more exciting, adventurous, if only I could claim it.

Maybe that's why I write now, to claim those unrealized adventures for my younger self, the ones that exist just beyond the realities of life: a puzzle waiting below the basement, a secret hidden in the walls, an undiscovered treasure that’s just a neighborhood away.

Dreaming up twists and turns for my characters gets me so pumped, it’s as if I’ll never get bored. However, in the middle of a difficult draft, I revert to that schoolkid.

I find myself wrestling with the right words, the right scenes and I sit back, promising myself that when I conquer this story (for now), I will take a week and do little besides watching guilty-pleasure movies, playing computer games, and pondering Popsicle flavors.

But half a day in, when the longing starts, I realize what I didn't as a kid. My writing, like school, fills me up more than anything outside of friends and family. I start brainstorming something new. And my boredom vanishes.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

My Questing Helper -- by Jane Kelley

On March 23, shortly after we all began staying safer at home, I began a new novel. I was very excited. It was going to be a great escape for readers––and me. Most importantly, it was going to be FUNNY. After a month of writing, I had reached the middle. I hate the middle of a first draft under normal circumstances. And these days are anything but normal.

Doubts crept in. I tried tricks. I watched a lot of inspirational webinars. I read mentor texts. I changed the plot. I added characters. Nothing was helping. One day I announced to my family that I had fired Jane Kelley from the project. She wasn't pulling her weight. She was, to quote an ancient and reprehensible politician, a nattering nabob of negativity.

My family talked me back from the ledge. But there were certain aspects I couldn't solve. Chief among them was the sinking sense that this project was destined to remain IN THE DRAWER.

But––unbeknownst to me––an odd kind of help was on the way.

I should say that we live at the edge of a woods called Fairy Chasm. A century ago someone thought the children resembled fairies as they ran along the paths. Now wild turkeys and deer gambol there. We love to see them. But one of those deer shed a tick.

Ixodes scapularis --commonly known as the deer tick 
That tick waited in a position known as "questing." Its back legs clung to a branch. Its front legs were outstretched, searching for an animal's body heat. It needed someone to feed on. It found me.

I don't know when. I don't even know where it bit me. All I know is that in mid June, my struggles at my desk abruptly ceased. I had a fever, chills, and a splitting headache. I spent the weekend as a horizontal person––apart from a brief excursion to get a COVID test, which was negative.

When I rejoined the vertical world, I felt a surge of energy. Renewed. Inspired. Ready to get back to work. Amazingly, I read an article in the New York Times that solved the problem of how to end my novel. It was a miracle!

And then, the next day, I noticed an angry red rash on my chest. Hmm. Could I have Lyme disease? My test for that was positive. I was given a prescription for antibiotics. After another day, the rash faded. All symptoms disappeared. But my newfound determination remained.

I joked with a writer friend that my infection had cured my malaise. My brain had been preoccupied with all the reasons why I shouldn't be writing. The fever had burnt away my doubts. After those clouds of smoke had been blown away, there was much more room for creativity.

Believe me, I'm not suggesting that getting sick is the solution. All too often it causes worse problems. Far better to find other ways to clear one's head. Like taking a walk in the woods (wearing long pants and sprayed with tick repellant).

The woods behind our house








Sunday, June 28, 2020

An Author's Best Friend...

By Charlotte Bennardo

One of the themes this month is National Pet Month. I have the stereotypical author's cat. Actually, I have two.



This is Casey. She's a rescue from our local shelter. (I only adopt rescues, I don't 'do' designer/pure breds.) She's named after a character I played in a college play, Ms. Casewell of Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap. She is constantly walking across my desk, or trying to jump into my lap while I'm working in my office. And if I don't pay attention, she bams me. 


Mink is a constant companion. If I'm in my office, he's sleeping on the printer. If I'm working on the family room couch, he's laying next to me or nearby on his cat perch. At night, he sleeps on the loveseat in my bedroom. Outside, he's under the patio table when I sit there. He, too, is a rescue from a barn in Upstate, NY. He's named for his long, silky fur. Such a handsome beast.

One of the causes I support is my local animal shelter- I create an 'angel' tree during Advent (the four weeks preceding Christmas) and my church congregation drops off pet supplies for the shelter, which I take to the shelter. Another cause is abused animals, which I am quite vocal about. Most pet owners treat their fur babies as dearly as biological children but there are those who don't.....

Many of our beloved favorite books are based on pets. My favorite is Beautiful Joe, written by Marshall Saunders and it's based on the early beginnings of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Think about Old Yeller by Fred Gipson, My Friend Flicka by Mary O'Hara, or these more modern books:

Can I Be Your Dog? by Troy Cummings
The Perfect Pet by Margie Palatini
Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev
Just Me and My Puppy by Mercer Mayer
The Rainbow Bridge by Adrian Raeside
Oh The Pets You Can Get by Tish Rabe, et al
Saying Goodbye to Lulu by Corinne Demas

The list of books goes on from fiction to non-fiction, serious to silly. My favorite comic was Garfield and favorite animated strip is Simon's Cat. And because I love all animals, pet or wild, I always include one or more in my writings. Even if you don't have a pet, please consider donating food, supplies, or money. If a beloved pet dies, clean pet beds, carriers, leashes, bowls, etc. (only in like new/excellent condition please!) and take them to your local shelter. You can even designate a charity to receive funds through the Amazon Smile program. Little amounts add up and with so many abandoned, abused, hoarded, or feral animals, you can be a lifesaver.


So Happy National Pet Month!

Memories

Writing for a living certainly has its ups and downs. Among the downs would be the unsteady paycheck, lack of corporate benefits, and unkind reviews. The daily ups are getting to choose your projects and setting your own schedule. And every so often, when you get an up, it's a big one. I like to take a souvenir of these whenever possible so that when the downs seem to outweigh the ups, I can remind myself, "Oh, yeah. I got to do that cool thing because I'm a writer."

Some of these mementos include the front of my dad's bass drum from the early 1960s with his band's name on it. (They were The Commodores before The Commodores you've heard of!) I wrote a book series inspired by my dad's days as a drummer. I also have some press passes from events I got to cover for the magazine I work for, an author's pass from a conference I spoke at in Las Vegas, a concert ticket from a show I got to see only because I was in Las Vegas for said writers' conference, and a postcard and note from the Malibu Beach Inn, where I got to stay a couple of times while on assignment. It was a tough job, that one...sitting on my balcony and watching the surfers before I went to work that morning. Not something an Alabama girl gets to do just every day.

I also have a framed artwork of Frost's "The Road Not Taken" that a student of mine gave me many years ago as a gift. It reminds me that this is the path I chose for myself. If it works out or doesn't, it was my choice. It's good to remember that sometimes.

On the adjacent wall, I have letters from readers, a nice note from my editor at Teen Vogue (I still can't believe they not only let me write for them, but then actually thanked me for doing it!), cover comps from the Aleca Zamm books, and a few other things that remind me that my job is, after all, pretty awesome most of the time.

I highly recommend that all writers hang onto these reminders and put them in a place where they're clearly visible. We all need a little encouragement from time to time.

Ginger Rue is the author of the Aleca Zamm series from Aladdin and the Tig Ripley series from Sleeping Bear.




Thursday, June 25, 2020

My New Writing Buddy (Holly Schindler)

Let's face it: the writing life is just better with an animal around. Gus came into my life last Labor Day. He's the same breed as Jake, my last dog, but he's soooo different. The last few months have been all about learning (and falling in love with) this little guy's own quirks.


Gus is the friendliest dog I've ever had. But he's also just about the kookiest. He's really bad at barking. I didn't even know that was a thing. But he's just no good at it. He tries to imitate the neighborhood dogs, and what comes out is a strange aiuwaahahwuah or a flat-out scream. And then he looks up at me with such pride in his face, like he's ready for me to tell him how incredibly great that just was. It's like a really bad American Idol audition.


He's also smart and sweet, and he likes to get in bed around 3 am (when I'm too tired to argue), and he chews my fingers when it's time to get up. He loves walks and cats and cheese, and every day offers something new. Bunnies to chase. The street to watch through the storm door.

And the thing is, no matter how crazy the world might seem, he's a constant reminder that there is still all sorts of sweetnesses in it too.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

"The Way of the Small"--Smack Dab in the Imagination by Dia Calhoun

The Way of the Small, Why Less is truly More by Michael Gellert, is a small, wonderful book that gave me me insight not only into better ways to live, but also into the creative writing process:

"The way of the small is very much an attention to details. This is not only because details consist of the small or intricate workings of things, but also because if you pursue an understanding of the details of any situation or phenomenon, eventually you will come to glimpse its essential nature. It is this possibility to contact the essence of things that makes the attention to details central to the way of the small. . . . Any essential ruling principle, for better or worse, finds its expression in the details. . . . Details are the stuff of life."  (p61)

This is why we writers must use concrete details to explicate our ideas. And this is why the details of how we organize our day, make up the bigger picture of our lives.

In these Covidian Times, when our lives feel as though they are smaller because we have fewer choices, I need to find the strength in being smaller, not the weakness. I find Gellert's advice to be small-and-smart a helpful guide to reorient myself and my imagination.I  need to choose the right, few details to build my life around. Gellert suggests attending to and celebrating the right details. As he points out, this is radically different  advice from the "Don't sweat the small stuff." Rather, "Make the small things sweat for you."

 I can do this--as a writer and artist, I do thisall the time. Now I want to use those same imaginative powers I've developed to find the most essential, vital way to live.



Saturday, June 20, 2020

My Office Companion

My post this month will be short on words but long on cuteness, cuddliness, and comfort.
My reason for this:

Ginger
When I'm in my office working, you'll find this cutie somewhere very near, and I often find myself wondering if, when I read my writing aloud, as I often do, she might just be listening.  😉



But even if she's not listening,
having her nearby gives me lots of comfort and a wonderfully, warm feeling inside because who wouldn't love being so close to such a cute and cuddly companion.







Happy Writing & Reading (to your pet),
Nancy J. Cavanaugh
www.nancyjcavanaugh.com

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Banana Bread and Writing, by Michele Weber Hurwitz

Among the variety of coping mechanisms people turned to during our shelter-in-place time, apparently, banana bread had a moment. I read that this delicious, dense loaf-bread soared in popularity over the spring months because prep is quick and easy, it's hard to mess up, and it finds a purpose for those mushy blackened bananas hanging out on the kitchen counter.

I've never been known for my culinary skills but there's one thing I can make, and it's banana bread! I've used the same recipe for over 20 years, given to me by a librarian friend (of course). There's something comforting, homey, and addicting about banana bread (can you eat just one slice?) -- and, I've always thought -- it's the perfect analogy for writing.

Take those bananas, for example. Sort of like characters that need time to ripen before they're fully present on the page. And when the peel is removed, it's like getting under a character's skin, finding out what's below the surface, discovering traits that give the character more flavor.

Flour, sugar, eggs, baking soda, melted butter, salt.

Flour feels like the setting; it's the foundation -- what holds the banana bread together. I think sugar is the heart and sweetness of the story, or perhaps the theme. Eggs seem like the plot -- the runny yellow liquid seeps into every corner of the bowl and helps the other ingredients blend. Baking soda is the conflict, because without it, a story is flat. Melted butter adds smoothness and flow. And salt, the surprise twist!

My recipe calls for a handful of chocolate chips sprinkled into the batter, which I always add, because I love a happy ending.

Stir well, pour into a greased loaf pan, and bake. The bread and the words. Happy eating, and happy writing.

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of five middle grade novels. Her newest, Hello from Renn Lake, published in May from Random House/Wendy Lamb Books. Find her online at micheleweberhurwitz.com.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Reading, Writing, Playing for Change




I want to celebrate  Chris Tebbett's most excellent and informative post about how the Kidlit Community is rising up to meet the current crisis. He highlighted the Kidlit Rally for Black Lives, held June 4.

Please allow me to add a few more resources that you might find helpful.
Compiled by Patricia Elzie comes this  Volume 1, Resources 9: Absolutely Massive List of Anti-racist Resources for Black Lives Matter Allies.

I include her wisdom here about the need to use your voice:
“Remember: It is a privilege to be able to learn about racism instead of experiencing it your whole life.
Another note: If you’re reading this, you’ll probably continue to make mistakes around race. That’s okay! It’s important that you try and that when you receive new information, you learn from it. As long as you continuously try and learn, you are not failing. You ARE failing, though, if you’re not trying and if you’re keeping silent.” -- Patricia Elzie


And for more inspiration comes this music from Playing For Change, featuring “The Weight,”  and starring musicians performing together across five continents. This is chilling, it's so good. And it's Ringo Starr.

"Great songs can travel everywhere bridging what divides us and inspiring us to see how easily we all get along when the music plays." 


Thank you for listening.

--Bobbi Miller

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Kidlit Rally for Black Lives

For anyone who didn’t catch it, I want to encourage you to watch the Kidlit Rally for Black Lives, held online June 4th and sponsored by The Brown Bookshelf. The first hour of this two-hour event was aimed at kids and families, with the second half focused on speaking to the adults in the audience. It was, for me and by all accounts, an extraordinary event, and a gathering of amazing talent: Jacqueline Woodson, Jason Reynolds, Kwame Alexander, and many (many!) others, all speaking to the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement in general, and the importance of incorporating anti-racist efforts in the the work that we do.  


So, what can we do about it? What are we willing to do? And how can we expand that willingness in ourselves, beyond our personal comfort zones and into the new territory that is the current conversation about race in this country?

Speaking for myself, and my perspective as a White person, I had two take-aways from the rally, echoed in a lot of what I’ve been hearing in the weeks since George Floyd’s murder. 

First: I can work harder to amplify Black voices. By that, I mean, I can use whatever platform I have to share and echo the work of Black writers, and thinkers, and other activists whose voices are at the center of this movement. It also means buying and reading books by Black creators, as well as other authors from marginalized communities. And it can also mean making sure that anytime I'm invited to attend a professional event, I'm asking the organizers questions about who else will be there, and supporting them in their efforts to make sure that their panels and workshops include a diverse faculty.  

Second: White people can and should be talking to other White people about racism, which is, of course, and ultimately, a White problem. Our problem. My problem. For me, that means making a concerted effort at something I haven't done enough of in the past. 

There's no end to the work we can do now, including getting out of our personal comfort zones, if that's what it takes. Like the writing process itself, it's not meant to always be comfortable -- and by the same token, that sense of discomfort isn't a sign that I'm doing it wrong. Usually more like the opposite. 

And maybe for right now? Watch this video. I promise you won’t be sorry. 

Friday, June 12, 2020

Tools of the Trade by Darlene Beck Jacobson

Last week I was invited to a Zoom Kindergarten classroom to talk to the students about my job as an author of children's books. One of the questions the teacher asked was what tools I used in my profession.

Beyond the most obvious tools of pen, pencil, paper, and computer, I brought out some "fun" things to share with these 6 year olds. Funny hats, a red clown nose, goofy glasses. I explained to the children that I didn't really NEED these things for writing, but that these things were something that could be useful in starting a story or finding things out about a character.

These things, and anything else around me, were perfect for igniting my IMAGINATION. That is the biggest and most important tool for a writer to have, is what I told the children. I asked them if they ever used their imagination and of course, each and every one of them had something to share about that.

I purposely made this blurry since imagination can often be hazy or uncertain in the early stages of a story. And, just as in life, we may not know what tomorrow brings, but we can imagine so many wonderful things.


So, even though we aren't able to interact in person with the students and teachers who read our books, even though it feels like we've given up a lot during this pandemic season, even though we have been isolating and social distancing and will continue to do so for the near future at least, one thing we have is our IMAGINATION. It's like that wedding vow: ..." for better or for worse, for richer, or for poorer, in sickness and in health..." we will continue to imagine stories, create characters, visit places, build worlds, even if only in our imagination. No other tools required.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Meet Hubert, The Printer Mascot

Don’t know where I got him.
Can’t remember who named him
or who put him on my printer to begin with.
But here he sits, watching over every keystroke.
He sees all the moments:
the genius,
the frustration,
the 10-hour writing days,
and the ones that should be at least 2 hours,
but turn into solitaire marathons.
He doesn’t judge,
doesn’t celebrate.
Occasionally, however,
he reminds me that even when I want to write 
at 348 mph or more
because I really, really want to submit something
TODAY,
it’s slow and steady,
creative and innovative,
good enough isn’t good enough
that wins the writing race.

--Jody Feldman

Monday, June 8, 2020

Blackberry Lives On

It's been over a year since Blackberry started hunting in a different dimension. She continues to inspire me.

The connection between writers and cats is almost a cliche. I wouldn't be surprised if MFA programs offer courses about sharing your desk with a cat. There is a reason for this. I had been putting words on paper for years, but I didn't become a real writer until after we brought Blackberry into our home. I will always be grateful for what she taught me.

BE CURIOUS



Cats are interested in everything--except what appears on a computer screen. And they have no interest in gazing at themselves in the mirror. The world has so much more to offer. In Brooklyn, Blackberry and I spent a lot of time watching the pigeons strut across the rooftop across the street.

KNOW WHAT'S IMPORTANT



Blackberry had an uncanny sense of which particular piece of paper was the one I needed the most. Here she is taking a bath on it, as if to say, "Clean this part up."

CONCENTRATE



Her stare was so penetrating; it was unsettling.

BE HUNGRY



Her appetite was tremendous. Once she got a whiff of something she wanted, she pursued it relentlessly. She obeyed no rules. She even opened cupboard doors to get food we tried to hide from her. She took what she wanted, even if it was a sip from my husband's cocktail.

BE FEARLESS



Yes, she is sitting on the peak of a pitched roof.

BE WILD



Blackberry never ever forgot that she was a hunter. Even toward the end of her life, whenever dusk lengthened the shadows in the woods and other animals crept from their hiding places, she wanted to leave my lap and run off to be part of that other world.

Blackberry was my inspiration and my companion for many years. We will be telling stories about her life for many more years to come.


Monday, June 1, 2020

Smack Dab News

Happy Book Birthday to Hello from Renn Lake by Michele Weber Hurwitz, which published last week! Kirkus Reviews says the middle grade novel is "An earnest and disarming tale of human and environmental caring." And this from Publishers Weekly: "Intertwined with Renn's unique narration and a meaningful human-nature connection, Hurwitz's book intersperses scientific facts about algae blooms and pollution with a story of activism and nature appreciation."

Annalise Oliver, 12, who was abandoned as an infant in a small lakeside Wisconsin town, has a unique connection with Renn Lake. The lake has always spoken to her and provided comfort, and it's been her go-to place when she's feeling down or upset. But now the lake has a toxic algae bloom, and not only is its viability in question, the connection disappears as the lake goes silent. Annalise is determined to give her friend back its voice and save her beloved lake.

Find out more about the story and Michele's research and writing process at micheleweberhurwitz.com.