H4L Day 26: Somewhere Under the Rainbow

Today I had a Wizard of Oz moment.

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It’s always been one of my favorite stories, whether reading the book series, watching the movie or enjoying a live musical performance on stage. I use it in my school visits to talk about character and plot development in writing. I even played the Wicked Witch of the West in a community presentation years ago.

(Admittedly, it was very therapeutic to cackle.)

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And don’t get me started on sequins and shoes.

Larry and I have been traveling a lot as of late. Sometimes together, sometimes in opposite directions. For example, I was in NY last week while Larry was in Iowa. But this week, we shared paths (and walks on the beach) in Florida (we even got to visit my Dad and his fiancé – yay!) Of course, then he flew off to Georgia and I had to fly home without him. *sniff*

I was so excited to pick him up from the airport today. On our way home, we spied a rainbow and joked that it looked as if it were stretched over our development. As we got closer, we marveled how it looked as if our home was the gold at the end of the rainbow…

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And this is what we found when we pulled into our driveway!

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Which only goes to show that sometimes the best things are found under the rainbow.

*clicks heels three times *

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There really is no place like home.

H4L Day 25: A Novel Idea

In addition to picture books, I’m also working on several young adult novels. I’ve actually completed one (that needs a TON of revision), started another, and had a wisp of an idea for yet a third (the latter of which is getting the most attention at the moment…what can I say? Those characters are talking the loudest.)

And then there’s the “fourth wall”. No, I’m not referring to the theatrical term where an actor directly addresses the audience.

I’m referring to my admittedly complex, free verse “picture book” that everyone says should really be a middle grade novel. The one that makes me feel as if I’m banging my head against the wall.

But in a good, loving way.

I hadn’t taken an SCBWI intensive in quite some time, but when I saw the NY conference offered a Novel In Verse option, and it was to be conducted by the fantabulously talented Ellen Hopkins, Sonya Sones, Andrea Davis Pinkney and Emma Dryden (not to mention the break-out session during the regular conference with the incredible Jane Yolen!), I knew the universe was trying to tell me something.

I’d been researching free verse for quite some time, hearing over and over again that there were “no rules”, but these amazing women impressed upon all of us attending that you need to know the rules of poetry to break them; that you need to understand, internalize and adopt the methods, and measures, and music.

I am now filled to overflowing with ideas, information and inspiration, and am so indebted to these amazing mentors (including my bestie, my critique partner and SCBWI roomie, Kimberly Sabatini!)

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The incredible Ellen Hopkins, Kimberly Sabatini and Emma Dryden!

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The magnificent Jane Yolen, Sonya Sones and Kimberly Sabatini!

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The amazing Andrea Davis Pinkney!

We must never stop learning.

And now, I must write.

H4L Day 24: Extending Hands, Building Bridges

Many know this already, but it was my husband who built the sandcastle that inspired WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN.

Of course, it wasn’t his first. He’d been creating these lovely castles since he was a child, like so many of us. As a dad, he was a part (literally!) of our sons’ artistic sand sculptures.

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But it wasn’t until the boys went to college that Larry began studying the craft. He learned how important the clay content of the sand is with respect to holding its shape. He learned how to use tools to create shadows and depth. He learned how to build arches and bridges. And he loves to teach others too.

I use pictures of him and his castles when I visit schools, showing students how building a story is just like building a sandcastle – from the strong foundation (idea) to the sculpting of doorways and arches (revision.)

Yesterday, as I watched him create, I realized that he uses one hand – one outstretched hand – to build his bridges.

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A perfect analogy for life, yes?

Imagine the bridges we can build if we all just extend our hands.

H4L Day 23: Shelter From the Storm

My apologies for being absent from the homework blog for a few days. I was in class. Nope, not a school visit. I attended the annual winter SCBWI conference in New York.

The conference always leaves me filled to overflowing with information and inspiration. And I’ve met some of my best friends there, so returning year after year is like a family reunion.

For the first time in many years, I had signed up for an intensive class on Novels in Verse that started the day before the main conference. The plan was to drive up on Thursday night.

But this year, a blizzard decided to attend as well.

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So off I drove on Wednesday to beat the storm. Once I had my car safely stowed by the parking attendants, I set off on the subway to visit my son and his girlfriend.

While figuring out the routes is a bit stressful for me (I have no sense of direction!), I do love riding the train. People-watching is a necessary (and fun) part of writing, and there’s always a wealth on the train. I met a lovely young lady receiving her masters in fashion design. And a kind gentleman who helped me find the right side of the track.

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As I finally settled in my seat, I noticed an older man with a weathered face, wrapped in a weathered jacket, hobble onto the train. Since it was a beautiful evening (the calm before the storm), the windows of the train were open. He immediately pushed several shut with his cane.

“Dude,” another passenger said. “Why don’t you leave them open? The air feels nice.”

The older man shook his head in alarm. “We have to stop the shrapnel from hitting us.”

My heart folded. And that’s when something else hit me.

We all have baggage. We all have weathered coats, and canes that help us walk. Some need to feel the air. Others fear what’s hidden in it.

Sometimes it’s obvious by looking at someone. Other times it’s not.

But this is why it’s so important to be kind to one another. Let’s all come together, shelter each other from the storm and stop the shrapnel.

H4L Day 22:Through Sickness & Dessert

The first movie Larry and I saw when we were dating was Lady & the Tramp. It goes without saying that our first restaurant was an Italian one. And that we shared the pasta.

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I’ve been blessed to share my pasta, my love and my life with this amazing man throughout the years.

While in Washington D.C. last week, we decided to share some Mexican cuisine. Our most attentive server didn’t ask us if we wanted dessert; he just placed the not-to-be-ignored menu in front of us. We decided to share the fried ice cream atop chocolate lava cake. (I know!)

“We should cut it in half,” I said. “I’m afraid I might be coming down with something.”

“Nonsense,” Larry answered. “That wouldn’t be romantic.”

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So we shared. One plate. Spoons dipping. It was delicious.

I got sick the next day.

Larry got sick three days later.

Was it worth it? I asked.

Without hesitation, he said yes.

Which made this Lady realize for the bizillionth time…I’m so happy I said “yes” all those years ago.

Through sickness and health. And gooey desserts.

Love you forever, Tramp.

H4L Day 21: In A Fog

We have a special relationship with fog in our family.

When our boys were toddlers, the thick mist scared them. I explained that fog was like clouds, only closer to the ground. We joked that the clouds were tired. They needed to sit down and rest a bit.

When he was a little older, Alex said he thought foggy days looked like God had erased part of the world. We spent hours dreaming of how we’d help to fill it in…who and what would live there?

And of course, Larry’s favorite musical is Brigadoon, so fog always prompts a bit of song and dance. (And bad accents. But that’s another story.)

I thought about this as I took my walk today. The beauty of the fog on the mountain in and of itself would have been the foundation, the “gem” for my homework; but I actually started thinking about Brigadoon, and how it only appears from the mist every 100 years.

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It made me realize that while there are amazing gemstones to be found every day, there are also treasures that only happen every once in awhile – perhaps only once in a lifetime! And if we’re not paying attention, they can easily be missed.

What a tragedy that would be.

And then I thought back to our boys, and how a child’s way of looking at the world is so magical. They don’t miss a thing. Paying attention and learning about the universe and life is their job. Their mission.

Thinking like a child is obviously part of my job. But even children’s writers need a reminder now and then.

Today, simply appreciating the fog wasn’t enough. Today, I needed to look at it from a child’s perspective. Literally. I walked down the hill to the playground, and up the steps of the slide.

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There it was. The landscape.

Erased.

Like a lovely writing prompt.

I stood there, letting the splendor wash over me.

And dreamed of how I should help fill it in.

Now, I must write.

H4L Day 20: Put One Foot In Front of the Other

Confession #1: We still have our Christmas tree up.

Confession #2: This is not an unusual thing.

Apparently, I’m not the only one. Last night, as I rounded the neighborhood on my walk, I noticed lights shining from inside others’ houses too.

I can’t answer for everyone, but for me, the tree is like a tall, lush, green triangle of comfort. The lights wash the darkness in color. The branches stretch proud and majestic. And the ornaments! Oh, the ornaments. Each one, a tiny, beloved time capsule in itself.

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Every year, each one in our family receives a special ornament from Santa. This year, he brought The Winter Warlock into our home! My heart squished. The boys and I watched the video (yes, this was back in the ’90’s) SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN until we could all recite it word for word.

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Confession #3: Sometimes I lose confidence in my ability to write.

But now, Winter Warlock has my back to battle my block. (Say that three times fast.)  Now I can look at him, remember and sing: “Put one foot in front of the other…”

My hubby might take our tree down when I attend my SCBWI winter conference later this week, but the Winter Warlock? He’s staying out all year. With me.

And now I must write.