Dare to Fail Gloriously!

Years ago, I happened upon a poster that said:

“Dare to Fail Gloriously!”

Since then, it has become somewhat of a family motto, as each one of us is involved in some form of the arts, including music, theater, design, directing, choreography and writing. And while we love what we do, there’s no guarantee others will.

You see, one of the true challenges of any artistic endeavor is to create honestly. We owe it to our audience. We owe it to ourselves.

It can be scary to put oneself out there. Because when we share our art, we share the most vulnerable parts of ourselves…our hearts.

But it can also be exhilarating and rewarding beyond measure.

Through art, we have the power to make people pause. Think. Feel. We can make them laugh. Cry. Remember. We can inspire empathy and understanding. And we can promote connection.

Pretty powerful stuff, no?

So, how do we deal with the ‘dare to fail’ part?

feet in pool water
Come on in! The water’s fine!

First, you need to jump in. You need to start.  A blank page can be intimidating. Inscribe that first word. Craft that first sentence. Hey! It’s not blank anymore! Keep going. Write that initial terrible draft. Odds are, it will be just that. Terrible. But that’s what revision is for. And getting started puts you way ahead of those who simply talk about it.

Second, don’t listen to the ‘no’-it-alls. Yes, this business is filled with rejection. There are countless people out there, from family and associates to professionals, who will tell you ‘no’ for a variety of reasons. But all it takes is one ‘yes’. And if I can do it, so can you.

Finally, connect with others who share your passion. Consider joining professional associations like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (scbwi.org), and/or participating with online communities such as the 12×12 Challenge (https://www.12x12challenge.com/), #PBParty (https://michellehauckwrites.com/contests/picture-book-party/),  Storystorm (https://taralazar.com/storystorm/) and Reading for Research (http://www.reforemo.com/p/reading-list.html), to name but a few. These groups not only instruct, inspire and guide you, but they’ll open your world to a treasure-trove of potential critique partners and true friends…ones who will be there to celebrate your successes and hug away the hurts.

And if that isn’t glorious, I don’t know what is. Will you accept the challenge?

Confessions of a Flop-timist

Not gonna lie. This past year was rough.

I lost my dad December 2018, so 2019 was a year of difficult ‘firsts’: the first New Year’s Day I wasn’t able to share my silly resolutions with him. The first birthday of his I wasn’t able to call him on the phone to say, “I love you.” The first birthday of mine I wasn’t able to hear him say that to me.

Full disclosure? I told him anyway. Yep. I talk to him all the time. About my day. About our family. About my fears. About my dreams. Sometimes, I feel his hug. Other times, I can hear him roll his eyes. Both make me smile. (Okay, since I’m in full disclosure mode, both have prompted tears as well.)

Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself this year, it’s that I’m a ‘floptimist’. You know, that tenuous soft spot between optimist and pessimist, that fragile balance between “if it’s not okay, it’s not the end” and full-on dystopia? In other words, if you evaluate my emotion on a scale of 1 to 100 Acre Wood, I’m a total mashup of Tigger and Eeyore.

A floptimist is someone who believes in oneself fully and unconditionally, except when one hits a bump in the road (a.k.a. “flops”.) A floptimist will then cry or rant, but ultimately understands that a rejection, diversion, or even an overwhelming loss, however painful, can eventually be redirected, revised or crafted into something positive and/or inspiring. We acknowledge it hurts, but also recognize it promotes growth.

It’s a useful tool for me as a writer.

This past year, I found it a lifeline as a daughter. I wanted to create a scrapbook to honor my dad’s memory, to honor his legacy, to help us heal. But my Eeyore was in full swing. Like many families, ours had suffered some dark times, where there were limited photographs to commemorate birthdays, anniversaries and graduations. What’s more, the current politics were inflicting even more cracks. How could I do this? Where could I even start? Thankfully, Tigger bounced in right when I needed him most.

Tigger hugging eeyore shirt

(Note: I found this t-shirt advertised on Etsy. It’s by Miko Tees. And now I want it, lol!)

Sure, there were things that had tried – and still aim – to tear us apart. But there was a lot more that we shared, that connected us, that bonded us: our love of music, of art, of sportsmanship. Our love of dancing, of parties, of food. Our love of holidays, of animals, of each other.

Our love.

Because ultimately, that’s what matters.

At least to this floptimist.

Do The Hustle

This month, we’re talking about side hustles.

*cues song*

Wait…what?

The Hustle, by Van McCoy, the father of disco? Isn’t that what you asked for?

Oh. *smacks head* *giggles* You mean a side job, the thing that helps us creatives to pay the bills and all that. Please forgive me if I misunderstood, because my side job may actually involve playing The Hustle. Perhaps rock, country, hip hop.  Or the newest song by Billie Eilish.

You see, my side hustle is playing music by request. I’m a DJ. And not a radio DJ, but a mobile/club DJ, which means I play in front of a live audience, including everything from parties and charity functions to corporate events, from weddings to reunions to Bat & Bar Mitzvahs, in bars and clubs and event halls. I’ve played parties inside and outside, under tents, in ice arenas, sports centers and even in a few corrals.

I may be biased, but I was trained by the best: my husband. You see, I helped him DJ a fraternity party on our first date. And I was hooked. On him and on the job.

You see, I’d always loved music, and prided myself on knowing the titles, artists and words to the songs. What I didn’t realize is how much else is involved. When I tell people what I do, they say, “That must be so much fun!” And it is. But as with anything worth doing, it’s worth doing well. So, before there’s fun, there’s work to be done.

It’s not just the equipment and the music, it’s the knowledge, preparation and experience of how to piece the sets together to facilitate a dance floor. It’s being able to figure out what someone is insisting you play when they give you a line in the song rather than the true title. It’s teaching the electric slide 100 million times. Dealing with people who may have had a bit too much to drink. Honing the skill and intuition to “read a room.” And being responsible for the minute-to-minute timeline of a 48-hour dance marathon.

It’s calming the bride who rips her special stockings with the bells embroidered on the ankles because she trips and skins her knees on her way to the chapel…

Oh wait. That was me.

But you get the picture.

The pay is much more than monetary. We both inspire and build memories. We’ve had the great honor of playing a couple’s song who never got to hear at their wedding 75 years ago because it wasn’t in the band’s repertoire. We’ve helped an elderly man stand so he could dance with his great-granddaughter on her wedding day. And we’ve played that special number for the child who just finished her final round of chemo.

DJ Larry me Steve

(Pictured: Larry, me and our son, Steve. Along with our team of DJs, both of our boys, Alex & Steve, helped whenever we DJed Penn State’s THON. It was definitely a family affair!)

Along with music, we’ve shared more smiles, hugs and tissues than we ever could have imagined.

Here’s the thing. We do have fun. And whenever I’m fortunate enough to DJ with Larry, we always sneak in a dance at the end. Because how can anyone else have fun if we’re not?

Keeping Secrets From Ourselves

The secret to writing is honesty.

We’ve all heard Ernest Hemingway’s famous quote: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” (Well, at least you have now.)

But I think we too often keep secrets from ourselves.

Sure, we tell ourselves we’re being honest. Open. Authentic.

And we do try. We strive to create believable characters. We work to write captivating stories. We scramble to find the best words to make our readers laugh. Or cry. Or think. We dig deep to develop the best plots and scenarios to help people remember. To feel connected. To heal.

It’s one of the reasons so many of us create.

But we’re also human and fiercely protective of our secrets. We too often bury what has hurt us in the past. We lock it away and insulate it in an effort to keep it suppressed.

lock

We dust off our hands and think our secret is safe. And we think we can forget.

Then one day, something somewhere begins to gnaw away at that insulation. The secret we thought we’d entombed finds a crack. A portal. It presses for release. Thoughts begin to bubble up that give us chills. Words eek through our typing fingers and emotions leak out of our eyes.

We find the secret staring us in the face.

Sometimes it’s embarrassing. Distressing. Other times, it’s grounding. Freeing.

It’s a personal decision as to whether or not we wish to share it, but very often, we do. Because as writers, we know that some of our readers may be struggling with the same secret and need to know they’re not alone. And we know that the rest may need to be made aware of the challenges the others may face.

However, in the spirit of “the rule of 3”, there’s something else I’ve recently learned.

I’m currently working on a “secret” project, one that I’ve put off for years, but that I’m now ready to confront. Because even writers need to know we’re not alone.

(Note: this blog was originally written for and featured on YA Outside the Lines.)

And Baby Board Book Makes Three!

It’s been a long wait, but as my friend Kim says, babies often go past their due dates…and who among us really knows the gestation period of a dragon?

But alas, we are proud to announce the birth of our newest little Dragon, a board book for the tiniest Dragon enthusiasts. Arriving 12:00 AM August 31, and measuring 7 x 0.6 x 7 inches, I Love My Dragon is 10.6 ounces of color-splashed adventure for the chubbiest of teeny fingers. I Love My Dragon cover.jpg

Of course, Larry had to build a sandcastle to commemorate the birth and our other two Dragons were on hand to celebrate!

Dragon Board Book castle

Published by Flashlight Press and illustrated by the brilliant, Howard McWilliam, I Love My Dragon joins its siblings When A Dragon Moves In and When A Dragon Moves In Again, and is now available through your favorite bookseller.

Treasures Along the Shore

It’s no secret that my happy place is the beach, preferably one in front of an ocean. Having grown up in south Jersey, many of my fondest memories are of those spent “down the shore.”

Sun on waves w bird

Now, it’s where I go to reconnect with my soul. To take a breath. To heal.

It’s where each one of my senses comes alive: the scent of the sea air; the sound of a laughing gull; the sight of the sun sparkling on the curl of each wave; the feel of the velvety sand under my feet.

The taste of freedom.

And whenever I go, I look for treasures along the shore.

This past week, my husband and I carved out a tiny pocket of time for a much-needed escape to the beach. Since the Dragons wanted to stay with Larry while he built a sandcastle (his method of relaxing),

Beach Larry w dragons building castle

I set out on a treasure hunt.

Sadly, it was hard to see any treasure for the trash that lay before me, entangled in the seaweed that had washed up. My heart hurt as I knelt down to pick up piece after piece.

Plastic ties.

Beach Throwing away straw.jpgBeach throwing away plastic

 

 

 

Straws.

 

 

 

A wedding balloon that was still swollen with air. (Note: to those who “do”, please “don’t” let your Mylar balloons fly off!)

Beach throwing away wedding balloon.png

But then I saw her.

A lone woman. I watched as she bent to scoop something up, then toss it into the water. Over and over. Curious, I approached her. “What are you doing?” I asked.

She uncupped her hand to show me one of the tiny, baby jellyfish that had washed up onto the shore. “They’re going to die if we don’t help them.”

The little jellies didn’t even have their stingers yet. Looking around, I realized how many there were, helpless and scattered along the shore.

Jellyfish on sand

So I bent and gently picked one up too, then tossed it back into the frothy waves. (Note: I read afterwards that jelly babies can still sting and/or cause itchy rashes – so exercise caution if you see any of these!)

Jellyfish in hand

I was immediately reminded of the parable about the boy who walks along the beach after a storm, picking up the starfish that have washed up on the shore and tossing them back into the ocean. An old man watching says, “There are thousands of starfish and only one of you. How can you make a difference?” And the boy cradles a delicate creature in his hand and says, “I’m making a difference for this one.”

And I knew at that moment, I’d found the treasure I’d been looking for. Because this woman’s kindness was not only making a difference in the lives of those jellies.

She’d made a difference in mine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Who Are Terrible at Picking Favorites Say “I”

This month on YA Outside the Lines, we were asked to share our favorite (yes, singular) character that we’ve created.

Admittedly, I’m terrible with picking favorites. I cringe when I’m asked to name my favorite book. My favorite song. Even my favorite color changes on an almost daily basis!

What made this even more difficult was that the characters that live in our books are our babies. We nourish them with our hopes. Our dreams. Our blood, sweat and tears. The gestation period can often be much longer than nine months, sometimes years, before we can dress them up and allow them to take their first steps into the world.

children w books.jpg

And now they wanted me to pick a favorite?

How could I choose between a lovable, mischievous little boy and his larger-than-life Dragon pal (When A Dragon Moves In?) How could I ignore his big sister or his little brother (When A Dragon Moves In Again, I Love My Dragon?)

What about Nelson (of Good News Nelson), who realizes that sometimes it’s not enough to just deliver the news; sometimes you need to do something to change it, and make the world a better, kinder place? And Mrs. Welsh, who runs the animal shelter? And his cranky old neighbor, Mrs. Snodberry, who ignites the passion in Nelson to find homes for all of those abandoned kitties?

What about all of the other characters in my stories that have yet to be published? Like my sweet elephants and my ballet dancers and Admiral Palmetto, the oversized cockroach who serves to protect young hearts that have been broken?

Simply put, I couldn’t.

What I did say is that characters, like children, all need different types of love at different times. I have one story that’s endured over 100 revisions. My main character, Carmen, is a tiny spider with huge dreams of performing in an opera. None of her peers or family members understand why she can’t be satisfied to weave webs. But she doesn’t allow anything to deter her…not their scoffs, not their warnings, not even her lack of vocal cords.

Maybe it’s because publishing itself is wrought with rejection. Maybe it’s because my husband and I taught our own kids to ignore the “no”-it-alls and pursue their passions. Or maybe it’s because I most relate to my sweet Carmen right now as I continue on my own path to securing agent representation.

But this unstoppable arachnid continues to occupy a corner deep within my heart, and I will continue to revise, re-envision and resubmit her story until she finds her place out in the world.

YAOTL spider big eyes

Because that’s what we do for our kids. And our characters.

Outs & Abouts

June and July have been a whirlwind of activity for me and the Dragons, hopping between blogs and book events, awaiting the arrival of our newest little member of the “family”, I Love My Dragon, a board book for the youngest dragon enthusiasts.

You see, sometimes for reasons beyond our control, book releases are delayed. While our little baby was expected May 1, his birthday was pushed to June 1, then to August 1. But he was certainly worth waiting for!

I know I may be a little biased, but seriously, how cute is THIS? Howard McWilliam outdid himself (again!) as did my editor Shari Dash Greenspan at Flashlight Press. And it’s available for pre-order from your favorite bookseller!

I Love My Dragon cover

But hey, when you think about it, what could be more appropriate than to be “expecting” when presenting at the Lancaster Baby Shower Expo in Manheim, PA?

And what a fun time it was! We shared Dragon stories:

Lancaster Baby Shower Expo me reading

And met the coolest people!

Lancaster Baby Shower Expo customer

baby shower expo child and mom reading

(These two totally stole my heart!)

The following Saturday, June 8, we “flew off” to The Chesapeake Children’s Book Festival at the Talbot County Free Library in Easton, MD, where I not only had the chance to connect with some of my favorite author buddies at a lovely dinner the evening before…

Chesapeake Children's Book Fest dinner

(Left to Right: Moi, Suzanne Bloom, Debbie Dadey, Wendy Greenley, Robin Newman and Colleen Rowan Kosinski.)

I had the honor of hanging with all of these fantabulous authors and illustrators the next day!

Chesapeake Authors

The library staff and volunteers couldn’t have been more friendly and accommodating, and the attendees couldn’t have been sweeter!

Chesapeake boy (back) reading DA

Not to mention, we had our own “Protectors of the Books”:

Chesapeake with star wars

(Left to right: Timothy Young, Robin Newman, Protectors of the Books x 2), Debbie Dadey, Moi, Cathy Breisacher, Jonathan Roth. Leaning in: Julie Gonzalez)

Thanks, love & hugs to fellow KidLit Author Club member Timothy Young and all of the organizers for their hard work – this event was extraordinary!

Speaking of extraordinary events, I was thrilled to return to BookFest PA (a part of the Central PA Festival of the Arts) on July 13! This is one of my favorite festivals, not only because of the people who orchestrate and attend it, but because it benefits my own beloved Schlow Library in State College, PA.

Bookfest 19 DJ & me

This year, although the board book was still unavailable for sale, attendees were able to preview it – and the response was overwhelmingly (and unsurprisingly) cuteness overload!

bookfest 19 denise cathy me gayle

(Left to right: Denise Kaminsky, Cathy Breisacher, Moi, Gayle C. Krause)

Of course, thankfully our other Dragons received a lot of love – you know how sibling rivalry can be! 😉

Bookfest 19 dad reading to child DA

Bookfest 19 couple reading hebrew edition

(Attendees always love trying to read the Hebrew edition!)

And of course, Larry loves showing everyone how the Dragon is made:

Bookfest 19 making dragon.png

Admittedly, while we’re sad that our summer festivals are winding down, it does give us a chance to head “down the shore” and get down to some serious “sandcastling” of our own.

Hope you’re having a splendiferous summer. May your every sandcastle is a perfect one!

Do You Wanna Know A Secret?

I once had a conversation with a therapist about dreams. He said that every component of one’s dream reveals something about oneself.

For me, the same can be applied to writing. Each character contains a piece of me. Yes, I layer and twist and sculpt each one to be unique and suited to his/her “role”, but at the core, a tiny fragment of me remains.

blogging words.jpg

A few years ago, a friend offered to beta read a novel I was working on. I jumped at the chance. After all, I valued her opinion. I knew she was tough, but fair. She’d be supportive, but honest.

Like most writers, I became a tumbleweed of nerves when I handed it over. Would she like it? Was the plot exciting? Was it on point? Were my characters believable?

You see, we’re told from the start to write from the heart, as bravely as we possibly can. That the readers deserve our true honest selves.

You know that Ernest Hemingway quote, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”? I may not take it literally, but I do take it seriously.

After a couple of months, my friend sent her thoughts. She liked my story. Some parts, she loved. Other parts, she offered constructive criticism that ultimately made it better. However, there was one section that she didn’t “get.” “No teen would ever react to the situation that way,” she said.

Only there was a teen who did.

Me.

My dad always used to say I wear my heart on my sleeve, so I guess I was surprised my friend didn’t recognize the “me” in that scenario.

I realized then that even though she didn’t, someone would. Someone who needed to.

Someone who, like me, has a secret.

The Right Book at the Right Time

Recently, I was asked to name a book (or books) that affected my life in some way. Which leads to the question…hasn’t every book?

But I don’t think that was the assignment.

Therefore, in the spirit of the “rule of 3”, I chose the following books that have impacted my life in a huge way:

One Fish Two Fish

  1. One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish (Dr. Seuss) – pure joy!

This classic picture book was the first book I ever read by myself. I still remember stretching out on my parents’ bed and giggling with joy about how amazing it was – how amazing I was – to be able to read. The world had suddenly opened up in ways I’d never imagined. Oh! The places I’d go…

Don't Take Teddy

  1. Don’t Take Teddy (Babbis Friis-Baastad) – the power of empathy and connection.

In this powerful book, young Mikkel tries to run away with his older brother Teddy (who is mentally challenged) after Teddy accidentally hurts another child while playing, and the townsfolk threaten to place him in an asylum. I checked this out of the school library in third grade and it not only broke my heart, it inspired me. It empowered and shaped me. It ignited empathy and reinforced the power of love and kindness.

When Bad Things Happen to Good People

  1. When Bad Things Happen to Good People (Rabbi Harold S. Kushner) – comfort and reassurance.

Although I wasn’t raised with traditional religious education, I’ve always been a spiritual person. I can’t remember a time that I didn’t talk to God each night before I fell asleep. Yes, sometimes I asked for things. But mostly, I told Her about my day. I always made sure to thank God for everything I had and end with, “I love you.” I wanted to be the person I thought God wanted me to be.

I don’t know when I started to notice things at my house were different than at my friends’. I have faint memories of wondering why my mom refilled bottles of “grownup drink” with water. Why she had a cabinet full of pills. And why she didn’t socialize like the other mothers did. But for a child, a dysfunctional home is her normal.

Then, one night when I was 15, my mom walked into her bedroom, put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger.

I don’t think I ever prayed so hard as I did that night, begging God to let my mom live.

And she did.

I wish I could say that my prayers were answered in a happy ending way. Sadly, I cannot.

The mental illness and consequent substance abuse that overwhelmed her only tightened its grip. The bullet had ripped through both ocular nerves. Blinded, she became even more depressed. Angry. And violent.

Relatives and friends turned away.

Still, I tried my best to be “good.” To talk to God. To pray. To be thankful. Hopeful.

But sometimes I couldn’t help myself. I begged God to help us. To “fix” my mom. I didn’t understand why She didn’t. I’d accompanied some of my friends to their houses of worship. I’d heard over and over that God was in control of everything. That She made things happen. And that She could fix anything She deemed worthy.

If She wanted to.

Perhaps that was what hurt most of all. Didn’t She want to? Weren’t we worthy? The more I prayed and asked for help without results, the further I slipped down that dark hole.

I wish I had read When Bad Things Happen to Good People earlier, because it changed my perspective, and my world.

It’s hard to condense the book into a few sentences, but I’ll try. And here’s the thing: we all have our own spiritual and personal relationships with our Maker. You may read it and find it has a different meaning for you.

Basically, Rabbi Kushner compares God to a parent. He says that God loves us, Her children, unconditionally, and tries Her best to teach us, but then must step back as we venture out into the world. She allows us to make our own decisions, even if we make the wrong ones. Like every loving parent, She applauds our successes and grieves our losses. She doesn’t make bad things happen. What loving parent would? She also won’t – or perhaps can’t – stop them from occurring. Think about the Butterfly Effect that might cause!

We’re meant to learn from our mistakes, as shattering as they may be. But God is there for us, always, offering her love, comfort and support when we’re in pain.

To be clear, I do think prayer works. I still talk to God. Every night. In praying, we reach out to each other. We reconnect with our “family.” And together, we can move mountains. We can heal.

Interestingly enough, I finished the book the day the Challenger exploded. It snowed as I watched the news and wept. Only this snow looked different. It sparkled. Like fresh tears. And I knew. God hadn’t made this tragedy occur. Like a grieving parent, God cried with me.

I realized then that God had cried with me all those years ago too. I’d lost a mom. She’d lost a child.

Thinking back, perhaps God is the one who guided me to find these books when I needed them. Perhaps God, in addition to serving as a loving parent, is also a librarian.

Which would make those who work in bookstores, schools and libraries angels, right? Yep. Sounds about right to me.