Thursday, December 31, 2020

Planning on...well... (Holly Schindler)

I've been a full-time writer since 2001. That sounds like it's been my only job, doesn't it? Truthfully, I've been a full-time writer AND a part-time piano and guitar teacher, an antiques picker, editor, etc. 

Still. The writing's been my primary focus. 

The thing about a writing career is that it's un-plannable. Doesn't matter what stage you're at in your career, either. Even with several books having been published, I have no idea what's going to happen to any of my WIPs. Maybe a publisher picks it up, maybe not. Even if I plan to indie publish, maybe people buy it, and maybe they don't. Even the book itself can take crazy detours from the original outline or plan I had in mind. 

The only thing I can really plan to do is just show up. Every day. Show up and draft. Or revise. Or work on a new cover. Or whip up some new ads. 

Just show up. 

And the thing is, I feel better when I do. It's a big part of the reason I rarely take a day off. I feel like, no matter what's happened--I get a rejection letter, or an ad campaign or a special doesn't perform like I'd hoped--I've got something else to show for that day. Something other than a disappointment. 

I've been applying the whole just-show-up idea to pretty much life in general these past few months. I show up--to cook, to repair whatever's fallen apart in the house, to take care of my dog, to meal plan, to shop, etc., etc., etc. No day's ever a 100% success. But I guarantee something in there worked out. Maybe the bread didn't quite come out like I'd wanted, but I bet the cake's pretty good. And I guarantee, even in the midst of things not working out like I'd hoped, I learned a bunch. 

That's all I can do--just plan to show up, no matter what happened the day before. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020


 By Charlotte Bennardo

The theme is... planning. I don't know about anyone else, but after 2020, I'm afraid to plan anything. Any plan I've made: visiting my son in Los Angeles: cancelled. Summer pool and Fourth of July parties: cancelled. Weekly swimming at the YMCA: cancelled. Book festivals and conferences: cancelled.

Photo by from Pexels

Everything. Gone. 

While Zoom and FaceTime and sitting outside at least 6 feet apart has helped us stay somewhat connected, it's not the same. There are no hugs. There are no friendly chicken fights in the pool. There are no pictures with fans when you autograph your book for them. Readers and students aren't really interested in spending more time in front of a computer so they don't attend online 'visits'.

There is a video of NFL coach Jim Mora, formerly of the Indianapolis Colts, who gave a funny reaction to a reporter's question about the Colts in the playoffs- when they were playing terribly and going to the playoffs was slowly slipping away. See his reaction:  Jim Mora - playoffs

That's exactly how I feel about making any plans. Are you (bleep bleep) kidding me? Even with the Covid-19 virus vaccine rolling out, by the time most of us can get it, it will be too late for most, if not all, public events. If I'm lucky, I may get to see my son around Thanksgiving of next year. So plans? No, I'm not making any. Especially in light of a new Covid-19 mutation. We could be stuck in this infection-vaccine-new infection, etc. loop for who knows how long. 

My Plan: 

1- Take all precautions to safeguard my health, those I love, and anyone I come into contact with.

2- Keep writing and submitting manuscripts. 

3- Stay as close as I can to people in my life by Zoom, etc.

4- Keep informed as to breakthroughs/setbacks in fighting this pandemic.

5- Exercise, eat right, and watch my health so once this is behind us, I can go anywhere and everywhere and once again spread my wings. 

6- Don't make any plans for the foreseeable future.

Honestly, I don't think I can do much more than that. 

Wishing you all a healthy, happy, and successful New Year.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Save the Cat!


Recently I discovered a wonderful book for beginning screenwriters called Save the Cat! Shortly thereafter, when a friend of mine who is a fantastic nonfiction writer decided to try writing a novel, I came across this gem: Save the Cat! Writes a Novel. If, like my friend, you're great with words but unsure of your skill in structure, this book is for you. I love that it takes the mystery out of plot structure and breaks it down so succinctly. After reading this book, my friend was more confident than ever that she could write the novel she'd been thinking about for a long time. 

Like most things, writing a novel is a lot less scary when you can break it down into clearly defined parts. It's so handy to have a guide that helps you do that.

Hoping all your plans succeed in the new year!

Ginger Rue's next book, Wonder Women of Science, is now available for pre-order. Co-authored with rocket scientist Tiera Fletcher, who is currently working with NASA on the Mars mission, the book profiles a dozen amazing women (besides Tiera!) who are blazing new trails in their respective STEM fields. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Solstice Tree! Smack Dab in the Imagination by Dia Calhoun

 Every year I challenge my imagination by designing a Winter Solstice Tree. With the hope that it may bring light into these dark winter days, I'd like to share this year's tree, Butterflies & Bells, with you.

The Wildflower Garden Winter Solstice Trees 2019
The Moon & Roses Winter Solstice Tree 2018

May you and your loved ones find light and joy this Holiday Season!

Sunday, December 20, 2020

A Few Of My Favorite Creative Things

This pandemic year has been like no other.  It so many ways, it has brought out the best, the worst, and everything in between.  In the midst of all those ups and downs, I did not manage to get much "work" accomplished.  Who am I kidding?  Honestly, I feel like in many ways, I accomplished little or no work at all.  BUT, in looking back over the year, I realize that my lack of accomplishment actually allowed me to accomplish something that's pretty important for a children's author.  Something that often gets pushed aside in our busy lives - Activities and past-times that cultivate creativity. 

Many of the hours I usually spend doing my "work" were spent doing things that I love, but things I often don't make time for in my usual, busy life.  Things that spark my creativity.  Things that inspire me.  Here are several of my favorites:  

Painting - This is something I've never really done in the past, and something I am not particularly good at, but I completed two holiday inspired paintings.

Reading more - As a writer, of course, I always read, but reading is something that easily gets squeezed out of my schedule when I'm in the midst of drafts and deadlines and general manuscript frustrations.

Watching The Crown - Getting engrossed in a series like The Crown is a pleasure I don't often allow myself when I have too much to do.

Crocheting - I find it such a satisfyingly methodic thing to do while listening to music or watching television.

Sewing - I often forget how much I love to sew until I take the time to get out my sewing machine and begin a new project.

All these things use my mind in such a different way than writing does and this almost always sparks something creative in me.  I found painting to be relaxing and almost felt it took me to a different place the way reading a good novel does.  Reading of course always inspires me because I find myself admiring the writing of other authors or getting ideas of my own from the stories I read.  Watching a series like The Crown reminds me how powerful it is when characters are written so well they become real.  And things like crocheting and sewing, as they set my mind in motion in such a unique way, seem to uncover new ideas in my imagination, almost like digging up buried treasure. 

Now that I have taken stock in my lack of accomplishment this past year, I have realized, overall, this has been quite a creative time for me.  It has made me thankful for all that "work" I didn't do.  It's likely that the hole in life left by the missing work, which I filled with a few of my favorite creative things, is more valuable than the work I normally might have accomplished.  

Happy Reading, Sewing, Crocheting, Painting, or Whatever Creative Thing You Like to Do,

Nancy J. Cavanaugh 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

This New Blogger is a Poor Planner

My post today is going to serve two purposes. First of all, I'm going to introduce myself as one of the new bloggers at Smack Dab in the Middle. And second, I'll talk to you a bit about planning or rather, poor planning, which is something I rather excel in.

My name is Kristen Zayon (rhymes with crayon), and I come to this blog from the library point of view, in particular, an elementary school library. I'm in my eighth year working at a beautiful school tucked into the woods in the foothills surrounding Fairbanks, Alaska. We have an ice rink, and multiple skiing, hiking and snowshoeing trails right outside our doors. Moose wander through the playground, the soccer field, and the school garden. The school itself has always functioned as a de facto community center for the area residents, and the staff, students and parents really view themselves as an extended family. It's an ideal place to work except, of course, right now there are very few actual children. We have approximately thirty students who, for various reasons, from poor internet to lack of home supervision to special needs, are better served inside the building. It's nothing like a normal school day for them, but at least there is a qualified adult there to teach and guide.

I spend the first part of the day working from home because, in addition to creating and teaching library lessons to kindergarten through sixth grade, and managing the library, I also have five kids of my own. Three are still in public school, and I need to be there to make sure all the work is actually getting done. In the afternoon I head into the school building to manage all the work that can't be done at home; pulling books and prepping them for curbside check-out, processing books, checking books in, storing them for quarantine, shelving, weeding, ordering. The list goes on and on and there's not nearly enough time to do it all. But the hardest thing, really, is that I miss my students tremendously, and I worry greatly about the ones who I know are slipping through the cracks and falling behind.

Our local school board, too, is concerned about those students who are falling behind, and so they are making the decision to move forward without a solid plan. Just last night, they voted to allow all families who want to send their kids back to school to do so after January 19th. They made this decision with the knowledge that, in some schools, it will be impossible to follow CDC recommendations for social distancing. As in so many instances, all the careful planning has been for naught, and now the district and building administrations will be left scrambling to prepare schools for the arrival of an unknown number of students. All of this mere days before the majority of staff leave for winter break. What I've been looking forward to as a restful period of rejuvenation is now promising to be filled with lots of anxious thoughts and - my favorite! - more planning. 

To be fair, it's been hard to have a solid plan for anything since the pandemic began. My niece did not get to walk to receive her college diploma, so there was a new family plan for a scaled down celebration. Our school's sixth graders did not get their usual ceremony, so we brainstormed a curbside drive-by instead. I'm hoping my own son will get a sixth grade celebration at the end of this school year, that my nephew will get a high school graduation, but there's no guarantees. It seems that every plan we make, either on a personal or professional level, is subject to change. Our principal says at nearly every staff meeting "this is what I know right now, but it could be totally different tomorrow." Every plan that we make is fluid; 'expect the unexpected' is the new mantra.

When I was laying out my library lessons for the semester, it was with the knowledge that it was more of a loose guide than a solid plan. Believe it or not, this actually works alright for me, because I'm not a big planner. Sure, I'll outline a novel before I write it, but it's just a framework. The final story might look quite different. Yes, I have a 'to do' list, and a list of books I want to order for the library, and a list of things I need to get done before Christmas. But those are just a starting point. There's plenty of flexibility in my plans. My lack of planning extends to my personal life as well. Yes, I am one of those, "let's get coffee one of these days" kind of girls. My intentions are good, but my follow through is poor, and I have to really put in an effort to have a social life. This is something I must actively work on, because I know it's important to have those connections.

The pandemic, though, has made poor planners of us all. How can you have a solid plan when you don't know from day to day what the situation in your community, state, or country is going to be at any given moment? The most important kind of planning for me lately has been creating white space and relaxation in my day, treating myself when I need it, and being gentle with myself when things go awry. Four cups of coffee when I normally have only two? That's okay. Didn't get out for a walk today? There's always tomorrow. My kids are spending way too much time on screens? Well, this is a temporary situation. It won't always be this way.

In the meantime, one kid is crushing this online school thing, one is doing pretty well, with lots of pushing and prodding on my part, and one is floundering badly, despite my encouragement. A part of me feels I'm failing, and a part of me knows I can't control everything - make that anything - and that it will all work out in the long run. The only thing we can really count on is that it will not go according to plan.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Because Dragons Are My Patronus


Recently I enjoyed a seminar given by the award-winning science fiction and screenwriter David Gerrold* .He began by asking, why do you write? 

I suspect the intent – to reflect some degree of self-awareness—is to echo some level of Truth itself. That is to say, if story is the oldest invitation to the human experience, then the heart of that story – and why we (or I) write – is because we want a glimpse of some larger Truth, on what it means to be human. On what it means to be ourselves. So, what is my truth?

But the truth is, I have no idea. Not anymore. I don’t know if I have The Write Stuff.

I can tell you how I started. As a (very!) young child, I was ill with osteomyelitis. Recovery took a long while. While in the hospital, someone read to me. These stories freed me from confines of a hospital bed. It was more than just escaping a painful reality. These stories created a new reality in which I could do what otherwise I could not. Didn’t take long for me to make the jump into reading. I learned to read, even as I learned how to walk again. I was well ahead of everyone by the time I entered elementary school.

By fourth grade, I was reading Charles Dickens, and developed quite a crush on the Artful Dodger. I also wrote my first story, in which he and I became friends. I also discovered Anne McCaffrey’s Dragoriders of Pern. I read that her brother also suffered from osteomyelitis, and he inspired her to create a character (I forget which character now). So I read more. And suddenly dragons became by patronus. Certainly the act of writing is a construct of putting feelings into words, and I created a reality and a community in which I finally found belonging. I went to school, earned my MFA (among other degrees), and wrote. I have had short stories, articles and seven books published.

Then something happened. It wasn’t sudden, like a great big bang bazinga. It was more like a slow burn, years in the making. I had prepared, and fully devoted, for a career in writing. But I was wholly unprepared for the business of writing.

The business of writing is harsh, dispiriting in its rejection, and – good great glory – it comes complete with all the reigning -isms. For every Gandalf and Dumbledore, there is a Sauron and Lord Voldemort. We have heard of prominent agents – and a few writers – who have conducted themselves inappropriately as the MeToo movement swept through the publishing field. A few writers – including a hero of mine – twittered one too many times to reveal their own humany limitations. Then there’s the major literary agency rocked by, and eventually dissolved by, intimations of racist behavior. Turns out a few significant agents were nothing more than scammers. Writers Beware is full of warnings of publishers and agents acting in bad faith.

In other words, publishing is not some magic place over the rainbow. Rather it’s like every other business, complete with its own dark side and deatheaters.

I’ve had three agents during my ‘career’, all of whom promised to be the champion that would help me build a writing career. Long story short, none worked out. And after each break-up, I’ve had to start over. Each time it became harder.

I’ve had seven books published, a million (or so it seems) articles, and have won a fair share of awards, and still it seems I have spend more time trying to prove (to myself as much as anyone else) that I am relevant. In this neverending quest, I've worked with an agent on three rounds of revisions, with the assumption (never a promise) for representation. And the end of the year-long process, she loved (loved!) the manuscript, but historical fiction would be a hard sale (translation: she wants a quick sale). I had another agent schedule The Call three times, and each time she had to reschedule. And then she ghosted me, despite my nudges. Another agent asked to see more manuscripts, and then she ghosted me, despite my nudges. I even sent another historical fiction to my old editor, who once said she’s a big fan and to send her historical fiction. And then she ghosted me.

Of course it’s not personal, but it certainly feels it. And now, even my dragon patronus seems to have flown the coop. After years of drafting a novel a year, I can't seem to write pages much less chapters. I take classes and I read. I have done research for potential stories and revised old stories, but I have not written anything new for months. Now the new year is just around the corner. My hope is this ebb and flow is normal, and what ebbs soon flows. My fear, however, is that I’ve lost my dragon. And what’s worse, I’m not sure she wants to be found. As I recall, her last words were, ‘### this ###.’

But, wait a minute. Something else happened, too. Something unexpected. It occurs to me, while pondering this question, that my affiliation with story has always been to find a place of belonging. We are all stories in the end, says The Doctor. I have had a career – as a teacher, a bookseller, an editor, a reporter. It wasn’t the one I expected, but perhaps it was the one I needed. For so long, I thought that to belong meant I had to be published. But that’s not true, is it?

If the point of story is to find community, it turns out I have built up quite the community. A very special, extraordinary community, complete with Gandolf and Dumbledore, and Clara and The Wandering Monk, Authors Who Teach, Smacking Dabbers, and Master Guru. It includes The Librarians, and Poodle Lady, and Freckles, Lady Squabbit of the North, and Ella Bella’s Nana. And there’s the effervescent Nyxie, Queen of the Universe (and her Royal Regent Grandpa). Mrs. and Mr. Shiny Serenity (complete with their pretty floral bonnet).The Musician and The Professor, and Wordswimmer, the Geek, and the Nerd, and The Dog Whisperer, Pearl’s Mum, and so many more unexpected friends. A whole slew of beloved characters that make up My Story!  Steadfast and firm in their stance, reminding me to never give up. 

Or, as Dory says, Just Keep Swimming.

Why do I write? The answer was always at once simple and complex: To belong, of course.
Perhaps my patronus, my dragon, just needs a rest. She'll come back, soon enough, when it's time.

Who wills, Can. Who tries, Does. Who loves, Lives. – Anne McCaffrey

Princess and Dragon (Nikita Volobuev, 2020)

 • David Gerrold ( wote the script for my favorite original Star Trek, The Trouble with Tribbles. He's written so many fantastic books I can't list them all here. He’s currently on Patreon, conducting weekly seminars and fireside chats about life and grandchildren. Do check it out!)

So the question becomes, Why do you write?

--Bobbi Miller

Monday, December 14, 2020

Compassion on 32nd Street -- by Jennifer Mitchell

Working in a school in December can be a very magical time.  From the handmade gifts, to the handwritten cards, students seem to embrace the holiday and show compassion for one another. 

However, when students leave school for the holiday break not everyone has the same experience, as a teacher that always tugs at the heart.  

About three years ago, my grade level colleague had a student who very recently was being raised by her dad.  The dad wasn’t expecting to take full custody of his two daughters and his living conditions were meager.  He was a mechanic, and was living in a glorified shed on the car lot he worked for.  There was no heat, so they kept a fire going to keep warm during the cold winter evenings.  The little girl in my colleagues' class never complained, but her teacher would provide her with sweatshirts and clothes to make sure she was warm at night.  As the holiday neared the little girl mentioned that for the holiday she wanted a Christmas tree, but there was no money for that.  The teacher struggled with how to handle the situation.  She wanted to provide the student with a tree, but didn’t want the dad to feel like he was unable to take care of his family.  With much thought and consideration she came up with a solution.  The class had a decorated Christmas tree that the teacher put out yearly. She decided to do a class drawing so that someone could “win” the tree and take it home for the holiday.  What she didn’t tell the class was that the only name that was put in the drawing 20 times was the little girl who needed the tree.  

The afternoon students left for break my colleague took the classroom tree and placed it in the car of a very deserving family.  There was not a dry eye among staff and faculty.  That is what the holiday is all about, showing compassion for others.  When you least expect it you can make a difference in the lives of others.  Small acts of kindness can bring such joy to others.  

Happy Holidays

Sunday, December 13, 2020

The Power of Compassion by Debbie Smith



While it seems most are posting about planning, I choose not to. For a person who prides herself in keeping all her ducks in a row, I found most of mine were struggling to stay afloat and many were completely underwater. So with my ducks not accountable, you can see why I choose compassion to write about.

This is a word that brought about many images and thoughts. But for this post, I've narrowed it to what came to mind first. Memoirs.

The many touching stories where the author was thrown into circumstances beyond their control,  immediately came to mind. But more than that they managed to overcome. For me, these stories of growth and survival are so inspirational.

 Now I’m going to narrow down these books to one. In Carol Decker’s book Unshattered: Overcoming Tragedy And Choosing A Beautiful Life, it's impossible not to experience that emotion. 

This is one of the most inspirational memoirs that I've ever read. As one reviewer stated, it is sad in places, very sad. And Carol's recovery is tough to read. But she and her husband are amazing people who helped me see life through a clearer lens.

Among other things, this heart-wrenching story took me on a journey of shock, pain, faith, hope, love, and perseverance. What I discovered was the story of an incredible woman who ended up choosing life and living.

Can you imagine being pregnant, feeling very ill, ending up in the hospital, and then finding yourself fighting for your life? She experienced an emergency C-section and a serious battle against sepsis. And though she wins her life she loses much of her old self. She is left blind and parts of her limbs have had to be amputated.

This story inspired me to take the higher road when things beyond my control happen. And it definitely opened my heart to compassion.

In case you're not familiar with this incredible woman, I'm going to post the Book Blurb. Then if you'd like to hear Carol Decker's story in her words, I'm posting the link to a YouTube.

Book Blurb

On June 10, 2008, Carol Decker walked through the hospital doors a healthy woman with flu-like symptoms and early labor contractions. Three months later, she returned home a blind, triple-amputee struggling to bond with a daughter she would never see.

Unshattered: Choosing a Beautiful Life after Unspeakable Tragedy recounts Carol's fight for survival against sepsis and its life-shattering complications. From excruciating skin grafts to learning how to function in daily life without lower legs, a left hand, and her sight, Carol takes us on a personal and raw, yet inspiring journey. She travels through the darkness of trauma, anxiety, and depression to arrive, literally, at the peak of a mountain with a heart full of gratitude and love. More than a story of triumph over tragedy, the book offers inspiring life-lessons and insights which can help readers to do more than endure unimaginable pain and darkness in their own lives. This book can give them the perspective and strength to pick up the pieces of their own tragedies and choose a life of healing, purpose, and joy--a beautiful life.

Listed below you will find a few more memoirs that I’ve learned so much from: 

The Unexpected Spy: From the CIA to the FBI My Secret Life Taking Down Some of the World’s Most Notorious Terrorists by Tracy Walder and Jessica Anya Balu

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

Waco: A Survivor’s Story by David Thibodeau

Jet Girl: My Life in War, Peace, and the Cockpit of the Navy's Most Lethal Aircraft, the F/A-18 Super Hornet by Caroline Johnson

I've Seen The End Of You: A Neurosurgeon’s Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know by W. Lee Warren, MD

Let 2021 be a year that we experience compassion through a lens wiped clean of fog.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Ever Imagine Your Name on the Silver Screen? by Darlene Beck Jacobson

 I just finished reading an imaginative and entertaining book I might have missed if it hadn't been for the title: DARING DARLEEN, QUEEN OF THE SCREEN by Anne Nesbet. Despite the difference in spelling, it isn't often I find my name in books for middle grade readers...especially in a title. That, and the wonderful cover made me pick up the book and find out what was inside.

Daring Darleen, Queen of the ScreenI'm so glad I did.  Set in 1914 during the Silent Film era, Darleen is the heroine of the Serial Films made by her father and uncles titled The Daring Adventures of Darleen Darling. Serials were those "cliff hanger" short films with a damsel in distrees trying to outwit the villain. Think "PERILS OF PAULINE". Movie goers would return week after week to see what happened next as they booed the villain and cheered the heroine.

In this delightful book, Darleen's movie adventures pale in comparison to her real-life ones when she encounters a society girl named Victorine who escaped a failed kidnapping. Darleen hides the girl as they try and figure out the WHO, WHAT, WHY, of Victorine's circumstances. An "escape" novel at its best with the historical element I am drawn to so often in reading and in writing.

Plus a brave and clever heroine alter-ego who takes the younger me on a daring adventure. It isn't every day a girl gets a story in her name. Oh, what fun is is to imagine myself having those long ago adventures on the Silver Screen.

What's not to love about that?! 

May you find adventures of your own in 2021!

Friday, December 11, 2020

Best Laid Plans (and All That)

 by Jody Feldman

Yes. Life happened to us all this year. The “other” plans, the ones I made pre-March 2020, are now a shadow-whisper, a dream I might have once had. The plans that took over? They didn’t require any forethought. They became life. And for me, life became a pursuit of words and work. 

With the overriding thought that the pandemic would be an inconvenience of 2 to 3 months, I took that time to consume myself with writing. Early on, I finished a draft of a novel, I wrote my first screenplay (in 50 days and submitted to a competition)...and the virus raged on. I opened another book that needed revising, turned the plot inside out, got a great critique, revised yet again, and submitted it to my agent. While she was pondering its merits (or lack thereof) I took one day off then started revising a different book. The new strategy was to use that uninterrupted time to accomplish, accomplish, accomplish. 

Turns out I fulfilled that with volume, but not with desired results. The first book? It’s not ready to show anyone, The screenplay did not win, place, or show. The inside-out revision needs another inside-out revision, my agent basically said. This current revision? The jury is still out on this one as I’m two weeks from having said agent take a gander at it. 

The fact that my writing during this time hasn’t met with publication success – yet – does not mean I have failed. Of course, I wish I’d been more skilled in 2020, but I have succeeded in moving forward, in trying, in not giving up. I call that a huge victory. 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Live to plan, or plan to live?

 Plan.  A word I have heard and used from the time I could understand it! But in really thinking about the word itself,it brings me new meaning.  As I get older, I realize through this thinking that PLAN is a means to an end.   I have always been a plannerSomehow one of my messages growing up was that if I didn’t plan, I was being careless, or impulsive!  I was taught to plan what I was to wear to school the following day, and there was NO room to change  my mind in the morning!  When things didn’t turn out the way I had hoped, the message was, “Well, if you had planned better this wouldn’t have happened!”  And as all intentional or unintentional messages help develop all of us in the ways we look at the world, I began to believe that PLANNING was secure.  It was in fact a means to an end.  All I needed to do was to plan.  Then, as I grew, “life” happened!  Sometimes it was insignificant to the whole of me; like when I planned a picnic with friends and it rained.  Other times it was very significant  and was a sock in the gut.  I would often sputter in disbelief, “What do you mean? I did not plan for this!"  I planned for a whole other outcome!

 And because of my learned  belief system, planning was imperative to my well-being, I had to learn new tools and new strategies to help me navigate life when the plan doesn’t work! I did learn that lesson in some hard ways over the past few years.  But it has given me a wealth of understanding and perspective that has added happiness to my life. Planning is in fact important.  But that is all it is-a way to see how things can work out.  The important thing to learn is that if the plan doesn’t work, you can always make a new plan!

As a teacher, Instructional Coach, and most importantly, Grandma, I reach for my books to help me learn what is important and then share that new learning with others.  I search to find the characters that will speak to me or to my students or grandchildren.  And through the voices and experiences of characters we can identify with, we are helped to “see” how to live in a world that you cannot always plan for. One book that comes immediately to mind is Because of Winn Dixie by Kate de Camillo. Another one is Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. Reading those books with children is one of my favorite memories.  They both are written so beautifully and through the words and the life of the characters, they reach children of all ages.  Every time I read it with kids, I learn something for myself, too.  In Winn Dixie, Opal was a planner, yet every time her plan developed a wrinkle and she had to find another way. Annmarie Johansson certainly taught us what can happen to plans as she navigated the constant changes in her life.  She learned how to live with plans changing, and then adapt to that change. Watching children as begin to internalize the meaning behind the words of the author,  is life changing.  I have letters and messages from some of those students who are now parents thanking me for sharing those books and how even as adults they use the lessons they learned from within their pages. As an adult, I hunger for books that help me understand how to navigate this often unbalanced world we live in. Case in point, 2020!! Through the books that are written and those that are read, we learn how to live with uncertainty. I learned this old adage is true for me: I will no longer live to plan, but instead plan to live.


Tuesday, December 8, 2020

A PLAN (or so we thought) -- by Jane Kelley

The PLAN was to walk across all the bridges to Manhattan--at least the seventeen with pedestrian paths. Crossing that railroad bridge that pivots over Spuyten Duyvil was a little too dangerous even for my husband.

Lee and I are spending the holidays in New York City. Many things are closed, but the bridges are not. Last week we thought we'd walk the three that span the East River to connect Lower Manhattan to Brooklyn.

We thought we knew where we were going. We used to live in Brooklyn. Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge has been a tradition of ours for decades. We've driven across the other two many many times. But when we set out to cross Manhattan Bridge, it quickly became clear that we didn't know where we were going. 

The bridge was there. We could see it! But somehow we ended up wandering blocks out of our way through Chinatown before we could find the way to cross it. 

And so we learned there's a big difference between a goal and a plan. 

A goal is what you want to accomplish.

A plan is the specific steps you take to do that. 

Sometimes seeing the goal only makes it more frustrating when you can't find the "on ramp." That certainly was true for us. We looked up and saw others already on the bridge. We felt foolish for not knowing the way and also for not having known that we didn't know the way. 

But we didn't let that deter us. We kept walking. And walking and walking. (Because it turned out that the first staircase we took led to the bicycle side--not the pedestrian side.) 

Was it cold? Yes. Was it windy? Yes. Were there other obstacles? Sure. But we chose not to focus on them. We were having fun walking through Chinatown. And I was learning these valuable lessons.

Have a goal -- the bigger the better. That is what will start your adventure, whether it's a five part fantasy series, a moving character study, or a way to enjoy New York City in the time of COVID.

Make a plan -- you don't need to cross all the bridges in one day. Whatever you doing will be more of a marathon than a sprint. Pace yourself so that you don't get exhausted or lose heart.

Look at a map -- it isn't cheating; it's smart. If you chose to stray from your path, you still can.

Research what's along the way -- if others have gotten there ahead of you, be glad that they can be a guide. 

In the end, you'll be rewarded with a great sense of accomplishment and a spectacular view of where you might be going next.  

Friday, December 4, 2020

Planning as an Aspiring Author!


Uncertainty. Twenty-twenty could claim that as its middle name. 

This year has been an uncertain time for all of us among COVID-19, the Political climate, and everything in between. For me personally, it’s been quite the curveball navigating so many of my in-person college courses morphing one by one into online courses for the semester. It’s been a lot of Zooms, so I’m happy to be writing this first post and excited that I can use it as an excuse to break away from some final assignments. ;)


As far as planning goes, one of my plans for winter break is to work on plotting out some ideas I have for writing a novel. During this uncertain semester, I haven’t been able to write for myself as much as I’d like to. Meanwhile, one of my biggest goals in life is to eventually publish something!


I’ve tried my hand at crafting some manuscripts, but have had a hard time sticking with an idea. I seem to suffer from the “Shiny New Idea Syndrome.” I’ll make it 10,000 or 30,000 words into what I’ll think is the coolest story idea ever, then I’ll come up with the next coolest idea ever, then “abandon” one project for another.


I’m excited to be joining this community of so many experienced writers and I would love to hear any advice you might have. I think a lot of it is probably just staying disciplined, but I’d love to know if anyone else has struggled with this and how you managed it.

- Jade Johann, student at Missouri State University

Thursday, December 3, 2020

December is for Hot Chocolate... and Planning!

 December is one of my most favorite months. I love the holidays and wearing sweaters and playing Christmas music on my cello. I try hard to keep my calendar free of book events during December, and my writing practice generally consists of writing a poem a day. This gives me dedicated time for hot chocolate... and planning!

hot chocolate!

Some things I'm planning:

  1. 2012

    What will be my One Little Word.
    The practice of selecting a single word for focus and reflection has impacted my life in multiple positive ways since 2008. Previous OLW's include: joy, listen, celebrate, deeper, fierce, sky, mystery, wild, delight, abundance, behold, happy, red.

  1. What will be my ArtSpeak! Theme. This will be my 6th year writing poems inspired by art and posting on my blog. These poems are also available to educators to use with students in free easy-to-use padlet galleries! The first 4 years, I wrote a poem a day during National Poetry Month. This year I switched to a poem a week, all year long, and posted on Poetry Fridays. Previous themes have included portraits, gardening, Harlem Renaissance, Happy, Red.

  1. Which manuscripts I want to revise and push to the marketplace. Time to crack open the drawer and decide which are most marketable and most revisable. :)

  2. What new projects I want to pursue! (I have SO MANY ideas and obsessions! It's important for me to be really mindful, and to focus, or I'd never accomplish any of them.)

  3. What conferences to attend and/or submit presentation proposals.

  4. April 1991

    How to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary.

  5. How to beautify the slope alongside our driveway. (Ideas, anyone?)

  6. Which new adventures and learning experiences I want to pursue. (This, of course is hugely impacted by covid-19.)

  7. Book promo for my 2021 book releases. Lucky me, I have two: a middle grade dystopian verse novel called D-39: A ROBODOG'S JOURNEY and a poetic picture book called WILD PEACE, illus. by Il Sung Na.

... and that's enough planning for now. I've learned the best things are the surprises that happen along the way. Wishing you a happy December and a beautiful 2021... please, universe, please!

Irene Latham lives on a lake in rural Alabama. Winner of the 2016 ILA Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, she is the author of hundreds of poems and nearly twenty current and forthcoming poetry, fiction and picture books.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Planning beyond 2020...


When I thought about this month’s blog topic, planning, the first thing that jumped to mind was the old Yiddish saying, “Man plans, God laughs.” This year has upended plans for so many people all over the world. A year ago, I had all kinds of plans: writing, editing, researching. Did any of them come to fruition? No. 2020 happened.


So…what to do? By way of introduction, I write middle grade fiction, specifically a series about a group of fifth graders who travel back in time and meet the early presidents while also dealing with 21st century concerns like being the new kid in town or being part of a blended family.


What might one of those early presidents have to say about planning? I took a look. I’ve been thinking a lot about Thomas Jefferson, because he features prominently in my new MG novel, Thomas Jefferson and the Return of the Magic Hat. Another main character is Madison Hemings, the son of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, who grew up enslaved on his father’s plantation, Monticello. 


So I perused the Monticello website. “Never put off till to-morrow what you can do to-day,” Jefferson advised. Okay. I often tell myself something along those lines, but lately it hasn’t worked.


Moving into the 20th century, I found a quote by Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” I’ve thought about that quote often because I used it in an unpublished mystery novel I’ve been working on for years. The quote has nothing to do with the plot of the mystery novel, but my character (and I) attempted to figure out exactly what Eisenhower meant. 


While I haven’t come to a definite conclusion about the quote, I’ve decided that I should try to be better organized. And another presidential quote would seem to agree: “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining,” John F. Kennedy said in his 1962 State of the Union message. 


And here’s one attributed to a transformational First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt: “It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.”


Looking ahead to 2021, I will try to wish, hope, and, yes, plan. I have many ideas and fictional characters eager to make their way onto the page. And as a new participant in this wonderful blog, I would like to thank my fellow bloggers for including me!


--Deborah Kalb


Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Smack Dab News

 Darlene Beck Jacobson's novel-in-verse WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY (Creston) received an award by the NCTE2021 for Notable Verse Novels in 2020.

You can view the entire listing here: