If You Give A Writer Inspiration…

This past weekend, one of my dreams came true.

I met the phenomenal author Laura Numeroff at the Children’s Book Festival of Johnstown. And while this is a fantastic opportunity in itself, the experience filled my heart three times over: as a reader, as a writer, and as a published author.

You see, the If You Give A Mouse A Cookie series is one of our family favorites. I read those books to our boys until the pages began to separate from the bindings.

When I first wrote When A Dragon Moves In, I realized how much Laura’s words and “musicality” had inspired me. I even worried that people might think I’d tried to emulate her too closely. I asked critique group members, beta readers, and ultimately, my Flashlight Press editor, Shari Dash Greenspan. They all reassured me the stories were not the same.

Still, as most authors do, I held my breath before reading the review from Kirkus, one of the most renowned and respected professional review sources. IMAGINE my delight when they described my Dragon as “a sandy complement to If You Give A Mouse A Cookie“!

Of course, Laura’s line to have books signed wrapped around itself three times over. I watched from my own author table as she greeted every child and his/her family, so open and welcoming, and quickly realized she’s not only a brilliant author, but a sweet, warm and wonderful woman. After what seemed like hours of signing, she still had a smile for everyone (and somehow, working fingers for signing books!)

Finally, when the line became manageable, I stepped into it (thankfully, my fabulous hubby could stay at my table…and admittedly capture a picture or two while I fan-girly crushed.)

Because in one hand, I had a brand new copy of Mouse for her to sign. But in the other, I had a brand new copy of Dragon…for her. I told her how she inspired me, and how Kirkus’s “complement” comment was the biggest compliment of all! Even though she had to be exhausted, she insisted on reading through each page while we sat together, exclaiming over the story, the illustrations by the uber-talented Howard McWilliam, and the journey itself.

Johnstown me & Laura

And you know what I learned? If you tell a brilliant author how much she’s inspired you…you might just get a hug.

Johnstown me & laura hug

It doesn’t get much sweeter than this.

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A Time To CONNECT

I love words. It’s part of the job description. So choosing “a” word to inspire me for the year wasn’t an easy task. I started thinking about it in December and seemed to change it on a daily basis. There are so many splendiferous words out there.

It seemed that every time I’d decide, “Yes! That’s the one!”, I’d hear or read about someone else’s word and think, “Oh, but that one is so good too…”

birds on wire

How would I choose? It was quite a conundrum. (See? So many lovely words!)

One morning, my husband and I had breakfast at a diner on our way back from traveling. I couldn’t help but notice (awareness is part of the job description too) the family sitting in the booth across from us. Admittedly, I’m making some assumptions about their actual positions/roles as I didn’t know them, but it appeared to be a mother with her two young children (perhaps 7 and 5?) and possibly the grandmother. The adults sat directly across from one another, each one with a child at their side.

There was a short burst of discussion over breakfast options. But as soon as the server took their order, the children’s laptops made their appearance. And the conversation ceased.

I thought perhaps the adults had “grownup things” to discuss and they needed something to entertain the children for a bit. Stuff happens. We’ve all been there.

But, sadly, that wasn’t the case. When I say the conversation ceased, I mean all of it. The two women ate in silence as the children breakfasted with Moana.

Larry and I looked at each other and sighed. Such a missed opportunity. Such a disconnect. Our hearts broke a little bit for them. (It’s almost been ten years since our little chicks flew the coop and we’re still in the throes of Empty Nest.)

But then, a mom and her son came in and sat in the booth behind this other family.

“It’s just you and me this morning,” the woman said to the boy as they picked up their menus.

You could have read in the dead of night during a power outage by the light of that child’s smile.

And though their food may have gotten a bit cold as they talked, the warmth radiating off that table could not have been more delicious.

Nor more nutritious…for both.

“Turn around!” I wanted to shout at the other family. “Look, learn. See what you’re missing before it’s too late!”

And that’s when I decided on my word: CONNECT.

pancakes

I wanted to write it in big syrupy letters on their pancakes…but that may have wound up as a different blog post.

Because life really is all about connecting.

This year, I want to be more proactive with talking to and connecting with my family and friends.

I want to reconnect on a deeper level with my inner child so that I may write stories from that voice of innocence. As honestly as I can.

I want to connect the dots in order to try and make sense of the world, and help others make sense of it too.

And I want to connect with those who feel they might not have a voice, and let them know someone is listening. That someone cares. And that the world needs to hear THEIR stories.

For me, the time to connect is NOW. How will you connect this year?

Connect

 

 

 

Projects Without Deadlines Don’t Get Done

My husband is fond of saying, “Projects without deadlines don’t get done.”

This post was originally written for YA Outside The Lines, where I’m honored to be a monthly blogger. But I thought it appropriate to share here too. This month, writers around the globe are celebrating NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel Writing Month, where they challenge themselves to craft a full novel (50,000 words) during the 30 days of November.

NaNo

Talk about an impressive deadline!

But since I recently finished my first draft of a YA novel, I’ve decided to create on my own version, which I’ve termed NaNoREVISEMo.

I tend to hold onto a manuscript, editing it over and over, until someone has to pry it from my hands. I will sometimes focus on one chapter, one paragraph, one WORD for days. NaNo invites us, allows us, to put our inner editors on the back burners while pushing forward to write the story in our hearts.

Imagine that. Permission for a month of peace without my inner editor popping in every few paragraphs to ask me if I’m sure I want to use that semi-colon there; to point out the scene I’m writing (much as I love it) isn’t really adding to the plot; to question the dialogue – “OMG! Are you delusional? No one talks like that!”

And to let me know Starbucks is hiring for the holidays: “Are you sure you don’t want to consider a new career…?”

But NaNo says NO. Go away, inner editor. You are banned for 30 days.

It can be very freezing freeing. (See, inner editor? I can find mistakes on my own, thank you very much.)

(I just used the word “very”. Twice. And “just”. JUST! My inner editor is freaking out somewhere.)

It can allow us to reach that elusive finish line.

(She’s breaking out in hives right now. She wants me to add one more example to fulfill the rule of three.)

Which feels pretty darn good.

Oh sure, we’ll have to go back and revise. That’s a given. My inner editor will totally call me to the carpet for “pretty darn good.”

(The veins have begun to pop out on her head. “Call me to the carpet” is cliché.)

But she’ll get over it. Because she’s an editor…and you can’t edit a blank page.

Now, if you’ll please excuse me, I have a deadline to attend to.

Oh! The HORROR! “Highlights” of Books With Bite

This past week I was privileged to return to The Highlights Foundation for a workshop retreat on writing horror, called Books With Bite. Yep. Many of you don’t know this, but I’m working on a couple of YA novels along with my picture books…and once I saw the description and the brilliant authors who would be presenting, I knew I had to apply. I was thrilled to be accepted!

Highlights Dragon Spooky
Our Dragons couldn’t have been more excited to find this rock in the Highlights famous word garden.

People tend to throw around the term “fearless leaders” a lot, but I can honestly say that Nova Ren Suma and Micol Ostow literally fit the description.

Highlights nova & micol

As always, the folks at Highlights could not be more welcoming:

Highlights cabin 16

Highlights dessert
While my Dragons insisted on showing one of the more playful, festive desserts, the food served at Highlights is, well, one of the many HIGHLIGHTS…a 5-star farm-to table celebration of healthy yum three times a day!

Before we even got started, my Dragons and I got to meet the fantabulous author/illustrator Denise Fleming, who was an artist in residency. #buckletlist #fangirling

Denise & me

The first night, we enjoyed ice breakers and got to know each other. We’d all received 20 pages of each others’ manuscripts. It was so much fun to match the faces with the extraordinary minds of what had given me nightmares over the past few weeks, lol!

Then we hit the ground running the next morning, talking about what we’d enjoyed within each manuscript, and what we had questions about. To ensure everyone had adequate time, we discussed three manuscripts each morning. I learned so much from my new friends! Plus, each person received a one hour one-on-one with one of the mentors. Mine was Micol. It was enlightening not only to hear her comments, but to truly see how an editor reads. I received so much information, I think my brain began to ooze out my ears… (hey, I’m working on writing horror, give me a break here.) 😉

The grounds are breathtaking, and there was plenty of time to enjoy nature walks while digesting the comments. I took several.

highlights misty morning

highlight creek

Molly, the Highlights beagle, kept us on track:

highlights molly.png

And then, there was time to write. My Dragons found their own creative outlet:

Highlights dragons in sand

As might be expected, we did spend one night telling ghost stories. The moon was only too happy to accommodate:

Highlights moon

Luckily, I had my brave Dragons to protect me…highlights dragons afraid

Or not.

The cherry on top of this awesome workshop is that a group of illustrators were also enjoying a retreat, and welcomed me into their little fold one night at dinner. (I may have gushed a little…illustrators rock, and to be a part of their conversation was an honor.) My Dragons made friends with this little brownie, handcrafted by the incredible Chris Derby.

highlights Chris Derby & Brownie

So, to honor the rule of “3” (as many of us writers are apt to do):

Brain full.

Stomach full.

Heart full.

Tons of thanks, love & hugs to all who made this possible (including my hubby, who truly supports me in every way…)

highlights thankful.JPG

And now, I must write.

Bitten (literally) by the Picture Book Bug

This morning, I got bit by the bug to return to a story I’ve revised over 100 times.

Literally.

No, I won’t post a picture of the itchy, rapidly swelling lump on my arm. But I will post a picture of the probable culprit:

spider.jpg

Isn’t she pretty?

You see, I’ve spent most of the summer working on a young adult novel (and it’s “horror” – go figure! All those years of reading Stephen King have had an effect…what can I say?) And I did write a new picture book manuscript featuring an elephant…

So this lovely little lady apparently wants me to return to her story. I can’t say she hasn’t been on my mind. Over 100 revisions means her tale is important to me. Because it’s about perseverance. Striving to live your dream no matter what the barriers. Which is what I believe children – of all ages – need to hear. To believe. To internalize.

Maybe her bite has given me amazing spidey powers. To spin the right words to make an editor or agent share the same passion that I do for this story. So we can inspire others as well.

And now, I must write.

Winter’s Coming…

whipples dragons snowman

I don’t know what happened to this summer. I blinked and poof! It disappeared faster than chocolate at a writer’s conference.

Luckily, Labor Day didn’t disappoint. The sun shone, the breeze whispered and the lake beckoned. We spent a precious five hours there, toes planted firmly in sand.

Of course Larry had to build one final castle for the season. After all, winter’s coming and the Dragons of the world (well, at least our little corner of it) need a nice place to live.

Labor Day castle Larry

Thankfully, he had help.

whipples wall

Larry shared his skills with them. They were worthy students.

whipples 2 boys larry

What I loved most about these brilliant young assistants was that while they helped, they had a long, involved discussion about which tower they would live in if they were dragons. Their words rang logical, yet filled with heartfelt caring. Their decisions personal, while at the same time sharing.

Perhaps the world needs to be a worthy student of theirs as well.

When A Dragon Moves In To BookFest PA: Celebrating the Arts

For me, the real “fireworks” start after July 4th.

I’m not talking about the hand-held sparklers, or the loud firecrackers, or even the color-splashed glittering sky.

I’m talking about the brilliance, the luminosity, the light, the love and the sheer joy inspired by art. This past weekend, I was privileged to attend three amazing festivals: The Central PA Festival of the Arts,

blog arts fest

People’s Choice Festival of Pennsylvania Arts & Crafts,

blog people's choice.jpg

and BookFestPA. blog bookfest logo.png

Larry and I spent Saturday sharing book – and Dragon! – love at BookFest:

bookfest larry set.JPG

We connected with author friends… (here I am with the amazingly talented Gayle C. Krause and Denise Kaminsky)

Bookfest gayle denise me

…book-loving friends… (fantastic volunteer Amy and brilliant organizer Maria Burchill of Schlow Centre Region Library, who took such great care of us!)

Bookfest maria amy

…and made a TON of new friends! (Yes! I finally got to meet BookFest organizer David Pencek & his adorable son!)

Bookfest jodi david son

Our Dragons received a lot of love.

shari woman's expression reading

BookFest customers reading

And found precious new homes.

Bookfest child reading dragon

Oh! How I wish I could share more pictures of the sweet little faces of Team Dragon, but I would never post a child’s face without their parent’s permission.

I guess it was no surprise that we found Dragons are “drawn” to edible art:

If you give a Dragon a cookie…?

Bookfest baby dragon.w cookie

Some Dragons are into “pop” culture:

arts fest dragon kettle corn

Although the arts festivals run mid-week through Sunday, our schedules only allowed us to have Sunday free. So we walked four miles of artist booths between the two. (It was heaven!)

Of course, since I ran Larry ragged, I treated him to ice cream:

Arts fest ice cream.JPG

Okay…um…that might have been mine. YUM! 🙂

And now, head and heart full to overflowing with inspiration…I must write.