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Herein, children's writer Molly Blaisdell raves, rants, and rambles about her craft. She also muses about juggling a job, motherhood and writing books, and there is a good dose of rallying, psyching up and inspiring for anyone who needs to seize the day.
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1. April Showers: Book HEROES

I've been so busy this week.  I went to San Antonio and signed at The Book Festivals of Texas booth at the Texas Library Association's Annual conference. I also shared the news of my upcoming YA Rom-Com PLUMB CRAZY. Best of all, I spent a few days with some true heroes this week -- water for my soul this week.  I'm chatting about that.

I trekked across the great state of Texas with Kathy Whitehead, and truly felt like I had magically been transported to a Porfirio Salinas' painting. Here's a link to "Springtime in Texas" by Salinas. It makes me want shove my WIP in a corner and spend my days painting the world around me.

The wonderful DannyWoodfill of The Book Spot  in Round Rock, Texas was the bookseller for the Book Festivals' booth. Oh, independent bookstores fill me with happy feelings of freedom of speech. I also feel this happiness that someone is spending his life investing in the future, in his community and ultimately our whole county by adding fabric to the community. How? Who supports local authors? Who understands the specific needs of a local reading community? Who creates a hub for creative folk within a community? Who can guide a non-reader into the world of reading? (So huge!)  I hope this makes you want to drive over to your local independent and buy some books!

Big shout out for Tabatha Perry. She heads up the Montgomery County Book Festival. Again another cultural investment maven! A real hero! Here's an interview with her. How does she add to the fabric of our community? Who supports local writers? Who will create communities of readers who have a wide vision of the world through reading? Who will light imagination fires in the minds of teens?  Yes, Tabatha Perry! Books saved me as teenager. I have no idea how I would have survived those years without books. I wish there had been book festivals when I was a teen. 

Finally, I'm not forgetting the army of heroes, the Librarians of Texas!!!! Yes, these folks are the best ever. I am at war with Texas. Why? This stuff: Why do we need librarians in elementary schools? Let's save money in the budget and do away with those librarians.Why do we need any librarians at all?  Here is my why....we must facilitate life-long learners, an informed global community and all-access educated citizenry.

This apparently means little to so many Texans. Here is a link to Texas Literacy facts. Understand me. I love Texas. I'm a generational Texan. This is my home. But this galls me: Football is the important thing. I know this is not a popular stance, but I don't seen giant shining libraries across Texas. I see football fields, really fancy ones. I'd like to see a huge library as the fabric of community in every small town in Texas. I'd like to see a big staff of librarians stamping out ignorance that is choking the people of my state. 

Don't believe me?  My home town football field: Waller ISD stadium (accommodates 10,000). My hometown library: The Melanee Smith Memorial Library (no words for how much I treasure this place as teen). The library doesn't have a website. Just a page.  There is one librarian.

Do me a favor  -- visit your local bookstore, your wonderful local library, and/or a book festival and thank important heroes in our world.

I will be back next week with more April Showers.  

Here is the doodle: Girl in Bluebonnets.

From a Texas gal I like, a quote for your pocket.

The library card is a passport to wonders and miracles, glimpses into other lives, religions, experiences, the hopes and dreams and strivings of ALL human beings, and it is this passport that opens our eyes and hearts to the world beyond our front doors, that is one of our best hopes against tyranny, xenophobia, hopelessness, despair, anarchy, and ignorance. Libba Bray

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2. April Showers: Water for the Creative Soul from Wesselhoeft

Hi folks, beautiful springtime is here in College Station, Texas. Blankets of bluebonnets, evening primrose, and Indian paint brush are splashed all over the county like a color-crazed artist needed to spruce up the dull browns and greens. So uplifting.

I begin my April Showers series. This is all about what waters my creative soul.  I'm going to discuss the juice of some recent reads. First up comes enrichment from Conrad Wesselhoeft's new book Dirt Bikes, Drones and Other Ways to Fly (HMH).  Here's a short synopsis from Amazon: Seventeen year-old dirt-bike-riding daredevil Arlo Santiago catches the eye of the U.S. military with his first-place ranking on a video game featuring drone warfare, and must reconcile the work they want him to do with the emotional scars he has suffered following a violent death in his family.

This is one kinetic read. Here are two techniques in this book that will open your eyes as you create your own work.

1. Leverage language. This is something that Wesselhoeft always does and this book is no exception. Here in the middle of of bruising narrative, high flying action, and heart-rending despair is a peppering of poetic beauty. Phrasing elevates this story --- "book of Job lousy year," "Something rises in me -- something halfway between a fist and a sob" and "the thing about a journey -- it pops you into focus and sweeps the mess of your life under the rug if only for a brief time." Shy away from bland word choice as you create your works, and you will add brilliance to your stories.

2. Say something. Dirt Bikes... is stitched together with  references to Mozart, Rossini, Martin Luther King, Buddha, Paul of Tarsus, Marcus Aurelius, Emerson, to name a few, and more obscure voices, like John Gillespie Magee, from his poem "High Flight." 

For I have danced the streets of heaven,
And touched the face of God.
Wesselhoeft is circling the idea that "Character is forever." Our choices will scar the world or uplift it. He digs deep into the idea of oversoul from Emerson. Oversoul is the river voices from each soul running together to make an ocean of soul stuff. Wesselhoeft uses many voices within this story to reflect this. Climb on the shoulders of giants as you write and say something. This is the oversoul of fiction.

I have at least a dozen pages of notes of  the lessons I learned while reading this book. I hope you realize that you are in  the battle of literacy as you create your books.  Do whatever it takes to widen the world, to stir up empathy, and a develop a continuing legacy. Use choice language and consider Rodin's "Thinker" at the gates of hell. Be that thinker at the gates. Write stuff that will make a difference.

Thanks for dropping by! I will have more showers next week.

Here is a doodle. "The Wind"

And finally a quote for your pocket.

What lies behind us, and what lies before us are but tiny matters compared to what lies within us. Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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3. Lucky Serendipity: Happy Trails

Hi, folks! I'm continuing my series for the month of March. In honor of Saint Patrick's Day, I'm calling this series: Lucky Serendipity. I have tripped across many moments in life that really direct the whole of my writing future. I call these moments: lucky serendipity. I'm cheating a little this week because these are beautiful trails of lucky serendipity.

Once upon a time I really wanted a writing group, not just my Star Trek fanfic group, but one that wrote original stories. In college, I had my friend Susan Melenkevitz. We would dream about becoming new millennium writers and discuss how we really should go to New York and write for David Letterman. We read each other's poetry. But that was the extent of it.

Then of course, I found SCBWI and met once a month for occasional critique with Kathi Appelt, Donna Cooner, Debbie Leland, and others.  When I moved to Washington, I didn't know anyone. Nope, no one. I'm not exactly sure how I was invited into my first bi-monthly critique group, but I was. We met at a library branch. My son, J4, was a newborn and I'd take him to group. We annoyed the librarian because we would stay till past closing time. She would place this tape recorder on our table and play Roy Rodgers' "Happy Trails to You." I still smile about that.

This group included: Cathy Benson, Marion Holland, Conrad Wesselhoeft, Shelley Seely, Louise Spiegler, Megan Bilder, Susan Greenway, and a few more. Oh, I learned how to draft a novel here. These were my "million words" days that led to viable works. I learned the craft. There are no words to my gratefulness to this group of writers. We met for about twelve years.

Somewhere in here, I realized I write in multiple genres and that is sort of rare. I branched out for critique of shorter works. This led me to the Larry's Market group and Vijaya Bodach, Allyson Valentine Schrier, Kevan Atteberry, Lois Brandt,  Jen Heger, and more. Here, I learned the energy aspect of writing. I wrote boatloads of stuff for tiny paychecks with the most vibrant go-getters I've ever known. I learned the words "do it." Oh, so helpful.

In my last year in Washington, I was asked to join the Diviners. This group was like the icing on my Washington critique cake.  Holly Cupala, Peggy King Anderson, Katherine Grace Bond, Judy Bodmer, Dawn Knight and a few more. This group is so aptly named. Here, I was guided into a world of the ephemeral and the divine.  I moved beyond craft and energy and found indefinable art in my writing. I began to feel, dare I say it, worthy.

Life happened and I moved back to where my dream started. I found my critique group on the first day back at the local Barnes and Noble: Kathy Whitehead, Shirley Hoskins, Andy Sherrod, Ellen McGinty and Liz Mertz. This happy trail was about sharing all the good things I've learned. It's about ultimate confidence that we start here and we will find success. Magic. I've seen this work too many times by now to doubt it. .

Oh, yes, as usual, I have multiple projects and I need a group that reads out loud. This leads to Robin Cox, Kathy W. and Susan Haven, who is, btw, Susan M. from my college days. This is about dreamcatching. Nice, here we are in a group of new millennium authors.

Thanks for dropping by for Lucky Serendipity. I hope you find as many wonderful creative folk on your journey. Next week I will be back with more inspiration.

Here is a doodle: "Barnyard Stack."

A quote for your pocket:
Ezekiel 37: 5-6 "This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath[ enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord."

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4. Lucky Serendipity: Patricia Lee Gauch...

Hi, folks! I'm continuing my series for the month of March. In honor of Saint Patrick's Day, I'm calling this series: Lucky Serendipity. I have tripped across many moments in life that really direct the whole of my writing future. I call these moments: lucky serendipity. So here is the story of one of those moments.

Some years ago I had cancer. I went from a furiously busy life with four kids to run after, a huge volunteer gig, and a busy writing life, to a life that came to an absolute standstill. Into the hospital I went, weeks of bed rest to follow, and then a much slower life after that. I felt like a miserable fly caught in a spider's webbing.

Each day while recovering, I cheered myself up by doing something I hadn't had the chance to do when I was so busy. Some things were simple like enjoying the sunrise or doodling for several hours straight. One of those things was to apply for a scholarship to the Chautauqua Writers' Workshop put on by the Highlights Foundation.

I received the scholarship! A few months later I was heading to Chautauqua to meet my mentor of the week, Patricia Lee Gauch. (She still offers workshops, but they are often hard to get in.)

Those few hours chatting  and then a flurry  of emails with Patti transformed me as a writer. They taught me to trust my writerly bones, to trust what they are telling me, to trust my energy and passion.  A book is a terrifying leap. For me not every book I've attempted has worked out.  You may simply fall, dust yourself off, and leap again.

Patti validated my writing faith -- that if I keep showing up at the page somehow a viable book will appear. Patti's mentoring sent me on a journey of paring down what my character really wants and sticking like glue to as many pages as I need to tell the story. 

I've covered the some in my blog before. Here is the link back to my travels back in 2005.  Here is a link to a class I took later from Patti Gauch when she visited Western Washington.

I hope that you consider liking my upcoming book on Goodreads, PLUMB CRAZY from Swoon Romance.  My pretty cover is in the sidebar.  I'll be back next week with the last of this Luck Serendipity series.

The doodle. Look, you found a four leaf clover! How lucky!

Finally a qutoe for your pocket. 
Poets know the power in the concrete object, but I say the prose writer, knowing these elements and using them, brings a resonant power and authenticity to narratives of all kinds. Patricia Lee Gauch

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5. Lucky Serendipity: Jubilee's Idea

Hi, folks! I'm continuing my series for the month of March. In honor of Saint Patrick's Day, I'm calling this series: Lucky Serendipity. I have tripped across many moments in life that really direct the whole of my writing future. I call these moments: lucky serendipity. So here is the story of one of those moments.

A few years ago, I came to the end of a project and was wondering what to write next. I had no idea. I was flailing around with ideas: something about a hurricane, a lame superhero with the ability to walk on water, and a squirrel who breaks the "squirrel code" and talks to a human to solve a murder. Nothing was really working. I had never come to a place like this before. I had writer's block! 

I was a brooding on the couch like some descendant of Grendal. Driving the car pool, three teenagers plus one, and volunteering at the elementary school mixed with writer's block does stuff like that to you.  My daughter Jubilee breezed into the living room and plopped on the couch. She was born sunny-side up and has Beowulf attitude  I grumbled and griped about my dilemma.  I could see the wheels turning in her head. "You should write about plumbing,' she said. "I love your stories."

It's a tradition in my family to tell stories about your life to your children. When I was in high school and in college, I worked as a plumber's helper during the summer. It was tough work and I had plenty of stories about those days.

"That's your next book and you'll publish it for sure," Jubilee said. She popped off the couch and ran off to chat with her friends about fashion, books, and the horror of high school.

Easy for her to say. Gosh, I needed chocolate. Her idea would not leave me. I began writing. I will say that first scene made me laugh so hard that I fell off the couch. My block faded away. I'd started a little project entitled "Plumber Gal" at the time.  This story grew into my novel: Plumb Crazy, published by Swoon Romance, coming out on June 30.

It took a while to get here. All those teenagers are new adults now and the plus one is a teenager. I have been on the best journey. I hope the lucky serendipity that inspired my book, inspires you. I will be back next week with more Lucky Serendipity.  

Now the doodle. I call this one:  "Before Goliath."

 And last of all, a quote for your pocket. 

The Almighty makes miracles when he pleases, wonder after wonder, and this world rests in his hands. Beowulf, lines 930-932.

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6. Special Edition! PLUMB CRAZY cover!

Hi folks,  welcome to the special editon of Seize the Day. I am celebrating "cover release" day of my new novel PLUMB CRAZY from Swoon Romance! Due out on June 10, 2014.


Add it to your TBR list on Goodreads! Tweet it out! Facebook it! Pin it! Just join me in the warm glow of happiness!
See you on Saturday with more Seize the day...

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7. Lucky Serendipity: A Newspaper Ad

Hi, folks! I'm continuing my series for the month of March. In honor of Saint Patrick's Day, I'm calling this series: Lucky Serendipity. I have tripped across many moments in life that really direct the whole of my future. I call these moments: lucky serendipity. So here is the story of one of those moments.
When I started out as a writer, I didn't really have any idea what I should write except for journals and "little stories" that only children would read (said my college creative writing teacher). I certainly had no clue how to become published. I had a Children's Literature teacher also tell me that I should write for children.

I wish I could say I took every one's advice and dove right into children's writing, but that is not my story. Instead, I went for unassertiveness, gullibility, dissatisfaction with the world as we know it, naivety, and a desire for spiritual meaning. I know, rut-ro and it was bad. But fear not, readers! An ad was placed in the newspaper, and it changed my life. It was a very smallish ad about a meeting for children's writers, a club called the SCBW.

This was perhaps the most spiritual thing that has ever happened to me, except for meeting the love my life.

At this point in history, I had three children, ages 0 to 2. Yes, I had been busy. I decided to go to this mysterious meeting. It was at the College Station Conference Center. The ad mentioned you should bring some pages to share, so off I went to my mother's day out, pages clutched in hand. A group of about twelve sat in a friendly circle. A smallish woman with bright blue eyes and blond hair cut in a bob led the group. Her first picture book was about to be published, and she chatted about the experience.

I listened in wide-eyed wonder. I had never been with a published writer as a colleague before. I read my bit and she had such great things to say: like rhyme needs to really rhyme and it's hard, like stare out the window a while each day before writing, like think about how the words roll around in your mouth --advice I have never forgotten.

I went home and re-budgeted the food so I could pay the fee to join the group. For months, I never missed a meeting. The SCBW leader was so kind to me. She sent me a note, thanking me for voluteering, and she added that a day would come that she would say: she knew me when.  She challenged me: Write every day. Voice is all about the words. Write you best work and send it in.

I sent in my first story to a publisher during this time and received a signed rejection! 1995, baby. She told me it would take ten years to really get things going. (My first publication would land in 2006.)

A day came that I learned that I was moving to some place called Kirkland, Washington, this leader encouraged me to get involved with SCBWI (there was a name change).  She told me to look up Peggy King Anderson and take every class she offered. She had it on good authority that Peggy was a great teacher. (Peggy is beyond great.)

This wonderful leader kept in touch over the years and would always remember me and my writing every time we happened to meet. She still invites me over for writerly shindigs now that I'm back in College Station after my almost fifteen year jaunt. 

So who was this paragon leader, and who placed the life-changing ad? Kathi Appelt.

I know I'm just one of hundreds that have a story just like this. Lucky serendipity had struck. Lucky me. I will be back next week with more lucky serendipity.

This week's doodle: this is a sketch from a project I worked on in those early days -- The Wild Jamboree. I hated that black background but loved the hippos and the bush babies.

Here is a quote from the wonderful Kathi.

They say that lightning never strikes in the same place twice, but the same is not true for courage. As it turns out, when courage strikes, it almost always begets more courage.  Kathi Appelt, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp

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8. Lucky Serendipity -- The Tree House

Hi, folks! I'm starting a new series for the month of March and in honor of Saint Patrick's Day. I'm calling this series: Lucky Serendipity. I have tripped across these moments in life that really direct the whole of my future. I call these moments: lucky serendipity. So here is the story of one of those moments.

When I started college, I thought I would be chemist. It seemed sensible, steady work. I'm not one of those people who dreamed of being a writer since they were five years old.  I was a terrible with the conventions of writing. Grammar and me have never been on the best of terms and back then we didn't even have a dialogue going. I loved stories but I didn't think I could ever put one on the page that would, you know, make sense.

I started journaling in high school, not stories, but just thoughts and feelings. I loved to write but to be honest, when I took writing classes, there was only sort of this "meh" coming my way. It was really discouraging.  As a young person, I needed cheerleaders but all I got were critics. My tender creative heart couldn't take that. I liked journaling because no one could tell me that the writing was just awful. It was for me, and I always gave myself an A+.

In college, there was a tree house out in the wooded area of a park I liked. It was a place where I dreamed a lot. I took my journal up there, and I would write and write. I would pour my heart and soul onto the page.  I didn't think of myself as a writer, how could someone with my skills presume such a thing? But there was magic in those hours sitting up in that swaying tree and pulling the essence of who I am out of me and placing it on the page. I thought of this place as my secret place that had been put in the world for me. I had found shelter from the storms that life could throw at me in that freedom of words.

A few years later, I was finishing up college and choking at the future. I was getting that chemistry degree, but I had learned one thing in college, chemistry wasn't really my thing.  Right at the end of my college days, I met this boy (yes, the love of my life) and he saw me scribbling in my little journal time and again, and he took me by the hand and pleaded with me to become a writer. He'd never seen anyone put so much effort into writing. Then one day we went for a walk, and he took me to that tree house. It turns out that he built the special place I had spent so many hours scribbling. There I knew, even though I was a hoplessly flawed writer, I was one.

All the threads of serendipity, lucky me. I married the boy and from that day on always called myself a writer. That was 27 years ago. My first novel is coming out in a few months: PLUMB CRAZY (Swoon Romance). I hope it is the first of many.

I hope that lucky serendipity comes your way this month. I will be back with more of the series next week.

Here is the doodle. Of course I doodled that spot all those years ago.  "Tree house."

Psalm 91:6 -- He that dwells in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

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9. Golden Advice: Henry David Thoreau and a Lazy Life

This last week I'm going to take some more genius from Henry David Thoreau and a Lazy Life. I am offering my take-aways from Thoreau's essay: Life Without Principle. 

Here's what I take from his words.  We live in a busy world with noise all around. We are plugged in and in a hurry. Many of us can't sleep at night, our minds revving with the busyness. Whatever happened to a day off?  Can you a imagine a day when everyone in town took a day off? No stores open. No running to soccer/baseball/football/basketball/lacrosse games. Everyone chilling for a day. Instead we are drowning in work, work, and more work.

And here I am marching to beat of my own drum. I'm living the lazy life. I've made a choice to spend my life scribbling my thoughts down, and I barely have enough money to buy my groceries, much less go to conferences, take courses, or have upgraded software. When people see me at the coffee shop with my computer,  they think I'm at some money-making activity instead of recording my thoughts about alien worlds and hysterical romances.

If I had been born imperfect, you know, without all the marbles up top, or had been so freaked out by some childhood experience, my daily writing activity might make sense. Folks would say, bless her heart, writing is all she can do. But I'm a writer by choice, and I suppose nothing is more useless than that, except maybe being a poet or a philosopher. 

Here I am not making a red cent, while my neighbor is building mini-malls and apartment complexes all over town. He's piling money in the bank for his ungrateful children to spend on flunking out of college and investing in worthless-Amway schemes. Here I am writing and writing, yielding the profit of a well-placed words, but I don't have two nickles to rub together. Yes, I am a lazy bunch of bones.

I'd rather walk through a meadow, dreaming up my stories, than spending my whole life tossing dollars into a stock market that's shearing the world of every bit of beauty in it. 

There you go. Live your lazy life. Write your story. I. Dare. You.

Here is another doodle: "Bouquet"

Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.
Henry David Thoreau. 

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10. Golden Advice: Henry David Thoreau and the Mental Path

Hi folks,  I'm off to the Montgomery County Book Festival today, hence the blog will be short and sweet.

My golden advice is inspired by Henry David Thoreau from his journals. He writes: "As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives."

This makes me think how important our mental path is. I mean you think something over and over and it becomes embedded in the essense of you. It rules you. Your thoughts will serve you or slay you. Think about the thoughts that are coming to you again and again. Is there anything in there you need to stop thinking? Do that now. Do you have some good thoughts repeating thoughts? Rejoice. You won't be easily shaken. 

Here's  another thought to chew on -- a book is a mental path.  You travel through the same thoughts over and over -- we writers fondly call it revision. It is  a journey to create a lasting mental path that will serve hopefully as long as the Iliad. Travel the path of your stories again and again. It is the way to discover the lasting path for the generations to come. Don't be discouraged if you have to travel the same path umpteen times to create the essense of what you want. This is the way of things.

I hope the mental path sinks in. I hope you come back next week for more Golden Advice.

Here's the doodle. Carve out a landscape with your words.

Here is a quote for your pocket.

We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn. Henry David Thoreau

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11. Golden Advice: John Donne and Meditation 17

Hi, folks! I'm continuing my series on Golden Advice. I like to spend the month of February digging into the wisdom that has come my way and that guides my art, my craft and my life. I find having some wise stuff in the soul helps me write stories with purpose.

This week I'm turning to poet and cleric John Donne who was a contemporary of William Shakespeare. Meditation #17 whispers inside me. It wakes me up. It pulls my head out of the sand.  It's all about this: for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
So let me talk about what I take away from this meditation. When someone dies from a drug over-dose, or from abuse, or from neglect, from persecution, whatever, that wasn't just somebody else's problem, somebody else's loss, not my problem. Mankind is authoring a story. I cannot divorce myself from that story. We are writing one book. I can't tear out the pages I don't like. We are all connected, intimately, irrevocably. 
So what am I supposed to do about the pages I don't like?
Take those pages and write a better story. I am to take the wisdom of  my years and fight for a better tomorrow. I must translate everything into something better. My cancer? Yes, that must be used to strengthen others. The terrible war. Yes, I must share in the grief  and do what I can to help.  A chance to stand up for justice? Dear Lord, I better hop up.
No one is a star freewheeling its way through space. We are all part of a vast galaxy. If one star goes out, hey, the galaxy is less. If your mama dies, or your papa dies, you are less, but listen to this: any person's death makes you less because you are part of mankind. You are involved in mankind, friend. Don't point your finger at those people you despise politically, religiously, those foreigners, those bigots, those zealots, whatever. Don't take a hammer to a sore foot. Cutting it off, cripples you. It needs to be healed.
Above all, never say you have enough of your own trouble to be picking up the troubles of your neighbors. You don't have enough trouble  Extra trouble will mature you, make you better. The more you take on, the richer you will be. By taking on the troubles of others, you'll learn how to deal with your own mess. You can try to stabilize your life with stuff -- money, fame, success -- but the thing that is going to really stabilize you is to reach out to as many people as you can in  the days that you have.
When you write your stories, paint your pictures, sing your songs, do your best work. Why? So that it helps the most.  Meditate on those connections. 
I will be back next week with more Golden Advice.
Here is the doodle: "Bluestars"
Here is the quote for your pocket.
More than kisses, letters mingle souls. John Donne 

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12. Golden Advice: Ralph Waldo and Self-Reliance

Hi folks, I'm starting my series on Golden Advice. I like to spend the month of February digging into the wisdom that has come my way, and that guides my art, my craft and my life. I find having some wise stuff in the soul helps me write stories with purpose.

One thing that has always dogged me is insecurity as a person and a writer. I struggle to trust myself and believe in my vision as something of worth. Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay Self-Reliance has throttled me, and I really believe has brought me to a better version of myself.

So his advice starts simply. Cultivate awareness of the light within. Stop the inward self talk that dismisses your work as derivative. You blather about the work of others around you and dismiss your own. Stop it now.

Here's the deal. The stuff that will really move others is the stuff that you have thought about but have been too scared, too worried, and/or too fearful "what others might think" to share. The gist of Ralph's advice is this: form your own opinions. YOUR OWN! I find this one of the dang hardest things in the universe to do, but I am trying.

Great art will teach others to trust the light within themselves and to ignore a sea of people who cry false at them. The tricky part is understanding the light within in. This is what I know about it. It doesn't upset you. It doesn't make you do anything stupid. It blesses you with happy accidents and still water in the soul. It is never imposed upon you. It makes you a better person. This is the art I am striving to share.

Ralph goes on to share the heart of the problem: You think you are a mouse and are always apologizing for it. Stop cowering in the corner. And don't be sorry. You are a thinking person. You are, just like the saints and sages of old. What are you going to add to the verses of history? Take a lesson from nature. A rose blooms. It is beautiful and doesn't worry about the roses before or after. It simply takes it moment to bloom, to exist in God today. 

At the end of the day. Stop apologizing. Again freaking hard for me. Be original. Again, makes me want to cry.  Be brave. Share your inner light. And finally, bloom.

I will be back next week with more Golden Advice.

Here is a doodle: Roses.

Here is a quote for your pocket:

Man is his own star; and the soul that can
Render an honest and a perfect man,
Commands all light, all influence, all fate;
Nothing to him falls early or too late.
Our acts our angels are, or good or ill,
Our fatal shadows that walk by us still.

Epilogue to Beaumont and Fletcher's Honest Man's Fortune

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13. Novel Craft: When to Cut a Scene

Hi, folks. This is the last in a series about writing scenes.

This week I'm going to focus on cutting scenes. This is a tough procedure for writers. You worked hard to create that well crafted scene, and now you are going to toss it. How do you know you are making a good decision?

I hope to offer some easy guidance.  But here is the first thing you need to know. Cutting scenes hurts. There are some tender moments in there. There is action and drama. I see some sparkly dialogue and deep heart. There is some of your blood.

Take a deep breath. You can do this.

Over time I've developed a method that helps me decide whether to keep a scene or not.  Here are my questions.

1. Is this an essential scene?

Some scenes are essential to a story. You know the opening scene, the turning point scene, the darkest moment, the climax. These scenes may need improving but you never cut them. Yay!

2. Is this scene extraneous?

Extraneous scenes are like cup of extra icing on top. Gross. When I need some time or have to travel in a story, I end up with extraneous scenes. Scrutinize these scenes.  Did you just travel across the mountains so we could watch some big mountain monsters fight? I would cut that. Did you just hang-out at your house for five scenes because you needed five months to pass. Cut that back to a line: five months passed.

3. Is this scene boring?

Whoa, I am snoozing while reading my own book. Does anyone but my knitting crazy friends care about a knit/purl sequence with excessive counting of stitches? Are your characters talking about the weather? Do your characters write a cute story about some children and you have just used up three pages recounting it?  I just skipped that scene while reading. Boring.

4. Is this scene a bunch of chitchat? 

Prattle, babble, and blather. I mean is this whole scene just two or even more characters talking about absolutely nothing. The conversation isn't offending or injurious.  It's rather nice, pleasant even. OK, you can revise it and make it offending and injurious. That might help, but often the only answer is to just cut the scene.

5. Is this scene repetitive?

Oh, yes, for the fifth time you have decided to reiterate that these two characters really don't get along. Please consider that your reader may actually have some intelligence. This logic does not work: one scene clearly shows these two characters are at odds, then three scenes that do the same thing is probably better. NO.

6. Is this all about some other than your main character?

You have wandered into the dark land of this book is "not about Jack and Jill but it is now." The book was supposed to be all about Miss Muffet and the spider.  I think you have just spent two chapters worth of scenes on Jack and Jill. Cut those chapters and give those cuties their own book! 

7. Does the scene move the plot forward? 

You remember, the plot, you know from here to there and back again. I get it. Your character has issues with her hairdresser, but this book is about her trip to Saturn's moon, Titan. I don't understand why you have just spent three pages with the hairdresser.  Isn't your character wearing a helmet anyway?

Whenever you cut a scene, put it somewhere handy. Occasionally you will need to resurrect some portion of a deleted scene. Once in a blue moon you will put the whole scene back.

Thanks for dropping by.  I hope this little series has helped you out!  

Here is this week's doodle: "Yoda was wrong. Try there is."

And finally a quote for your pocket.

Take him and cut him out in little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine. That all the world will be in love with night.
William Shakespeare.

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14. Novel Craft: 5 Useful Scenes

Hi, folks.  Scenes serve as the building blocks of story. This is the third in a series about scenes, and this week I am going to go beyond the basic scene and discuss  a number of specialty scenes that will help produce fluid stories. This is not a complete list but these five scene types will help you expand your repertoire.  The more types of scenes you use, the more complex and texture your stories will be. As always, this is a working writer's perspective.

1. The Flashback -- This scene is similar to the basic scene but is framed. It is a jump into the past and will reveal something about the character. Use sparingly and with purpose. The frame around the flashback allows the reader to step into the past and then return to the present. The elements of this scene include  a lull, a trigger, and a memory.  Flashbacks interrupt the flow of the story and don't work well in the middle of the action.  Find a lull in your story to insert a flashback. Often the character is alone.  Next, trigger the flashback. This usually is accomplished by a sensory detail that invokes a profound feeling. Finally, recall a memory. This shoots us into the flashback, which is often a basic scene. The flashback ends with a transition line, where the character makes a decision in the present about the events of the flashback.

2. The Chase --This scene moves characters through a number of settings in rapid succession. This scene is the staple of mystery authors and action/adventure authors.  Authors must work hard to orient readers through rapid setting changes. Emotions and thoughts are clipped in this type of scene. If you see long blocks of dialogue in a chase scene, break it up.  This best way to make this type of scene work is to block it out in the physical world. Pretend to be your character and run around your backyard, leaping imagined fire pits and ducking into secret rooms. It's tons of fun and it will give you the information you need to the places for dialogue, emotion, and thoughts with finesse.

3. The Realm -- This scene moves characters through a threshold from one space/time to another. This is important in fantasy writing and historical writing. This type of scene is also a framed.  Sometimes you may stay in the alternative space/time several scenes.  Some writers like to use dates and/or setting names to help orient the reader. If you do have many space/time jumps, this convention is very helpful. If you plan to stay in the realm for a long period the convention is not necessary. This kind of scene require extra description to help the reader make the jump through space/time. So a realm scene is similar to the basic scene but pays particular attention to detail that will orient the reader, lots of sensory input. 

4. The Gag -- I love the gag scene. This type of scene is totally written to make the reader laugh.  A gag scene has all the elements of a basic scene, but also has a set-up and a pay-off.  Repeated gags can lead to big laughs. The set-up puts the reader on edge, like a bucket of water over the character's head that will be tipped at the end of the scene.  A gag involves something that will really embarrass your main character. It is about going there. Up the stakes of embarrassment three times in all gag scenes. The power of three is important here.

5. The Conversation I affectionately call this type of scene -- the talking heads.  You see lot of these scenes in literary and romance fiction. These scenes can go for up to three pages. It about quips, internal thoughts, eyes, lips,  swirling spoons and the banter between two characters.  All the elements of a basic scene are here, but the dialogue is extended. The setting is very bland and it is all about what these two people are saying. I find it handy in these scenes to give characters prosaic tasks like knitting, writing a letter, or perhaps taking a turn around the room.  You better be about to toss witticism, double-entendre and boiling emotions to do this. This one is tough to master and is akin to poetry -- either you have an ear or not.

Enough all ready! You have tons to think about. I hope that awareness of these types of scenes will help you create better stories because I am always looking for something to read. I will see you next week with more about scenes.

No doodles, I'm on the road to Rockwall, TX visiting relatives.

Here is a quote for your pocket. 

Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person. Albert Einstein.

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15. Novel Craft: 5 Common Scene Problems

Hi folks, I'm continuing my series on scenes. Last week I discussed the basic scene. You must be able to produce it in fluent way to create viable stories. This week, I'm going to discuss common problems that I've encountered reading and writing scenes.This is a working writer's perspective. Here is a list of 5 common scene problems.

1. The author understands who is in the scene but fails to communicate this to the reader.  Five or more characters in a scene are rattled in succession and the writer expects the reader to get it. The author offers little or no explanation to the identity of Rocket, Apple, Kal-el, Blue, and Ocean. Very few authors are competent with multiple characters in a scene. This is a complex skill. If you are struggling, (i.e. beta-readers read your book and say, I don't know who all these people are) allow only one to three characters per scene. If you want to bring someone into a scene, send someone out to more easily manage characters on scene.

2. The author uses specific but unimportant details to orient the reader which provide no sensory input.  Scenes are riddled with: this is on the left, this is on the right, five minutes later, seven minute after that, up there, over there. Take a lesson from the masters of art. Focus on the important  physical and sensory details. The shiny knife, the eyes, the sound of the voices, the smell of the pancakes (because that is always important). Smudge everything else. 

3. The author creates stilted dialogue. Every line is self conscious and unnatural. This happens for a number of reasons.One problem is forcing information into the dialogue that readers need to know. Take it out and hide it in the exposition or delete it altogether. No one wants a conversational info dump. Another problem that hampers scenes, dialogue goes on too long and the reader snoozes. Remember, things need to happen in books at least occasionally. One more problem is lack of texture between the characters. The author fails to create a unique voice for each character in the story. This is wholly annoying. You know who I'm talking about -- put a "cheesy author name" here. 

4. The author repeats characters' interior thoughts over and over. Oh, this is a scene killer. Your main character might internally wail about the 37 reasons she doesn't like her life. The reader got it the first time. Totally.  Look for duplicating thoughts and back down to one. And, oh, your scenes will be much, much more authentic if you do this. Also watch out for divergent thoughts that flip and flop like oxygen starved minnows. The main character thinks one thing -- Rocket makes my world go around -- and then another -- Rocket has destroyed my universe -- and then yet another -- Rocket doesn't know I'm alive -- and then  -- Rocket reminds me of a doodle bug.  Cohesiveness, folks. The main character is unreliable and not in a good way. The reader rolls her eyes and skips ahead in the book. She never buys another book by this author.

5.  The author is in love with the description. Yes, I know there are a few writers that are masters of description, but  generally loads of description just make the scene a muddy mess. It hurts to cut twenty beautiful lines and only leave one. I understand, but  no one wants to wade through all that description. Stick to the action, the dialogue, the emotions, the interior thoughts and decisions.  Your scene will thank me.  Note, you do need some description. No one wants floating talking heads either. Use the description sparingly, like salt.

Okay, there you go, some real life scene problems. Think about your scenes. Tighten them up. Your story will thank you. I will be back next week with more about crafting scenes.

Here is the doodle: "Sleep Walkers"

Here is a quote for your week: I hope you feel this way about story.

I was born with music inside me. Music was one of my parts. Like my ribs, my kidneys, my liver, my heart. Like my blood. It was a force already within me when I arrived on the scene. It was a necessity for me-like food or water. Ray Charles

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16. Novel Craft: The Basic Scene

Hi folks, welcome to a brand new year. I'm looking forward to it. My new book PLUMB CRAZY comes out in May. Here is the link at Goodreads if you wish to add it to your to-read shelf.  I can't wait to see what happens next. I hope you feel the same way.

In January, I like to explore an aspect of novel craft, and this year I'm going to chat about scenes. I'm not writing from the literary perspective, but from the working writer perspective. For me, scenes are the engine of story. Each scene drives the story forward and upward. Here is a visual picture. Have you seen a lift going up a mountain? The gondola moves from pole to pole along a wire.  The wire is the plot. The gondola is the main character, the mountain is the setting, and the distances traveled between the poles are the scenes.

The basic scene works like this. Something happens. A hottie guy enters the crowded lunch room at the same time as your mc (main character) girl.  Next, your mc girl emotionally reacts to the thing that happened. She might blush or throw her broom at him or maybe she steps back and slips on a banana peel, tossing her lunch tray into his face. Next, the boy says something emotionally charged to the mc girl. The mc girl says something emotionally charged back. These two can go at it for up to three exchanges with the mc girl's internal thoughts and bits of the setting mixed in. The emotional stew bubbles over. The mc girl has a thought about what all this means.  Like: Oh, hot guy hates me. Oh, hot guy will now date my worst enemy Mad Minnie. Oh, hot guy will never ask me to the prom now. Finally, the mc girl  makes a decision. I'm not just getting out of the lunch room, I'm going to skip school. She acts on that decision.  And off we go to the next scene.

The basic scene is all about showing the story. Your reader is brought into the action and dwells inside the mind of your main character. Think about this, basic scenes are an exchange between two or more characters. If you put more people into your scene, you have just made your storytelling job much harder. Most scenes have two or three active characters in them. The rest of the characters are part of the setting.

A long basic scene is the length of a chapter. Often chapters have two basic scenes. Sometimes, a chapter might have three scenes, but most of the time only two of those scenes will be basic scenes. The other scene will be a transition scene which is generally some narrative to pass the time or move from one place to another. Or it might be some mc internal dialogue that expresses the deep feelings of your mc -- I call these soliloquy scenes because they remind me of soliloquies in Shakespeare. I'll cover these scenes in a later post, so check back.

I did not invent the scene. I read many novels and got in the habit of noting where scenes begin and noting where they end . I also studied. Elements of Fiction Writing: Scene and Structure by Jack Bickman is my go-to handbook for scene writing. This is one handy book. You would do yourself a favor to read it.

You must become an expert of the scene to effectively write novels.  There is no way around this. You can have grammar, plot, setting, and character down 100%, but if you can't write scenes, you can't write a novel. This is important, folks!

I will be back with more next week about scenes. I will see you then!  Seize the day!

Here is the doodle: Thunderhead.

And finally a quote for your pocket.

For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.

(Little Gidding) T.S. Eliot

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17. Soul Inspiration -- Mom

Hi folks, the week marks the twelfth year since my mother, Lera Lee Kelly Barlow, passed away from early-onset Alzheimer's disease. She was 61 years old and had suffered for over a decade. If you long for a cure for this disease and want to donate to a worthy cause before the end of the year, here is the donation link to the Alzheimer's Foundation of America. 

Mom was a free spirit. She was a person of visions. Here is a bit out of her journal:

A totem is given, not chosen. And mine was given by God for his purpose. No one of this society would deliberately chose the turkey vulture for a totem.  Egyptians considered vultures holy, but we think them untouchables.

Three times God has given me visions of the vultures. visions whose meanings are clear to me. Once I saw them slicing down a cold north wind on a sun-bleached winter day. When they slowed, the wind would catch at their tails, and they would loop-the-loop. I wonder which one found this trick. Looked like fun.

The other vision I was given twice. Mainly because even now, I look away from the meaning of it. The vultures were swarming in the sky like bees, hundreds of them. There was one who held back. A reasonable thing to do considering how poorly vultures fly. They were flying into each other all the time and falling down out of the sky. It looked scary to me. At last, the one who held back got the courage to enter the melee. I cheered him on. Then, he was gone. When he entered the circle of life, he could no longer be distinguished from the others.

The first vision means I should get out on the winds of life and enjoy life. Even if it is scary, it is great fun. The second, I can make a decision. I can stay an individual and out of it, or I can join the circle of life and be one, no longer different, no longer alone.

Hard decisions for me. Vultures were given to me for a totem. Like them, I don't fly well and it takes me a long time to get up and it's difficult,  but once I make it, then I can soar for a very long time.

I hope you find your totem like Mom and it tells you what you need to hear. It feels good in my soul to remember all that she was.

Here is Mom and Dad with my older sister Lee in the spring of 1962.

Here is a detail of one of mom's paintings from when she was a teen.

One last quote for your pocket.
Always something new to learn. Lera Lee Kelly Barlow. 

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18. Soul Inspiration -- Daring

Hey, folks. Hope the creative efforts are humming. I finished the rough draft of my novel a couple of days ago. The WOW factor has worn off and now, and I'm staring at many, many pages that need a ton of work.

Inspiration keeps me on task, and this month I'm writing a series on what inspires my soul. I hope this help you too. I'm inspired by daring. I think about this in big ways and small. As an added bonus, I also like to tuck in a Christmas poem during this time of year. So here goes--

Anyone who dares...

to try,
to give,
to learn,
to believe,
to practice,
to appreciate,
to understand,
to chase a dream,
to embrace change,
to hope for the best,
 to choose happiness,
to turn the other cheek,
to think and then speak,
to put up with tough stuff,
to head down the road less taken,
to help even when it isn't convienient,
 to make the most of tough circumstances,
to continue in the face of impossible odds,
to admit wrong-doing and make no excuses,
to change when the current way isn't working,
to be more when intolerable circumstances arrive,
to devote time to caring for those less fortunate,
to show mercy to those who need it,
to stand up for the truth
to say no to injustice,
to stop running,
to forgive,
to love,
I thank you with all of my heart. 

I hope you are daring in every way.

 Here is the doodle: "Merry Christmas!"

Here is my quote for your pocket. It has been in my pocket for a long time.

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19. Soul Inspiration --The Unexpected

Hi folks, this month I'm writing about what inspires my soul. Here is a listed of unexpected moments that have stayed with me and inspired me. I'm not even sure I can give these moments justice, but I will try. I hope this post makes you create your own list.

1. I stopped on the side of the road on Oahu to snorkel in a cove. I was suddenly engulfed by a school of white fish. Hundreds of them zipped around me.

2. My first time to Paradise on Mount Ranier, I thought I was looking down into an impossibly deep valley and realized that I was really looking at a lake that was reflecting the gorgeous mountain scenery like a mirror.

3. I was a young mom overwhelmed by the unending grind. I'd put my three children ages 2, 3 and 4 down for a nap, and I sank down in the hallway in tears. A minute later my youngest son's arms went around me and he whispered, "You're awesome."

4. I was driving past a lake on the way to Banff, Canada, and one half of it had a rainstorm, kicking up the waves, and the other half was calm, lit by sunshine. 

5. I was driving to the grocery store early one morning and saw a clown on a unicycle, juggling bowling pins.

6. The first time I looked through a telescope at Jupiter with four visible moons, I was shocked at the richness of colors in a sky I see in black and white. This can't be captured by a photograph.

7. A squirrel chattered at me every day I went outside for several days.  I would ask him what is wrong, and he would come up to my toes and chatter. One day I asked, "Should I follow you?" He nodded his head and scampered away. I followed the squirrel to the dead body of another squirrel on the side of the hill beside my house.  The body was full of bees.  I buried the dead squirrel, and the live squirrel never bothered me again.

8.  A boy working in the drive-through at McDonalds took my money, and I noticed he had George tattooed on his wrist.  I asked him why. The boy had tattooed his grandfather's name on his wrist to remind him of his grandfather's love.

9.  I'm always running into birds at strange times. A barn owl in father's driveway, a peacock in the middle of nowhere near Waco, an eagle in middle of road while driving my kids to school, a vulture on the corner of my very suburban street, a lone snowy egret on my porch, a flock of hundreds of starlings in my small backyard....

10.  Driving along Highway 1 on the way to Hearst Castle, we went around a wide curve and I saw a beach with thousands of people laying on it, and then I realized I was looking a sea lions. 

Keep your eyes opened for the unexpected.  I will be back next week with more soul inspiration.

Here is a doodle for you. I call this "Christmas Trees."

Here is a quote for your pocket.

Nearly all the best things that came to me in life have been unexpected, unplanned by me. Carl Sandburg.

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20. Soul Inspiration -- Passages

Hi, folks, this month I try to cover the stuff that inspires me. We lost some talented authors and illustrators this year. This is how I feel when we lose someone: No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee. John Donne's No Man Is an Island.

I will miss you, Barbara Park,  and Junie B. Jones.

A little glitter can turn your whole day around. Barbara Park

E.L, I made it a goal in life to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art because of The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. The museum was just a fab as I imagined it would be.

Happiness is excitement that has found a settling down place, but there is always a little corner that keeps flapping around. E. L. Konigsburg

Rollin, I miss your unfailing belief in others. Rest in peace, my colleague, my first illustrator, and my friend. You sketched "Jo and Louie" at my very first book signing, and I still treasure it.

I will return next week with more soul inspiration.

I'm skipping my doodle and just letting Rollin's work speak here.

Here is a quote for your pocket.

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.  Kahlil Gibran

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21. My Favorite Things -- Cats

Hi folks, last day of November and I am wrapping up my favorite things posts.  This week I'm keeping. I'm speaking at the upcoming Montgomery County Book Festival on February 15, 2014 and an interview question sparked this post. Do I have a pet and do they help me write?

I'm going to put a longer answer here. I have two cats: Mr. Tibbs and Mr. Oreo. I call them the Kings of the Earth.  Both have rags-to-riches stories. They were rescue from horrible circumstances -- one from underneath an abandoned shed and the other from certain death at a shelter. Yes, they are a little damaged because of their journeys. Mr. Tibbs is sort of crazy about killing stuff (starvation at some point in your life does that to you.) Mr. Oreo has to be reminded regularly that he's safe and everybody loves him. That's OK, I'm a little damaged from my journey too. It's nice to have companions who get that.

Cat are fab for the lonely business of writing. I spend tons of time in front of a computer, and it's comforting to have a purring cat in my lap or one bumping its nose against my computer screen.
Mr. Tibbs is the most squishable cat that has ever lived and is fine to hug when the draft is so tangled that I've begun to lose hope. I also like Mr. Oreo for the times when I've got to make a story decision that's freaking me out. He purrs like a motorboat and feels like a hunk of meat. There is something of the ridiculous in him but also solid and comforting. I hug him and put that into my story, and it always works out right.

Who doesn't need help like that? 

Cats are independent souls and the speak to the independence in my soul.  I also like that they love to nap because I am also a big fan of the nap.

Here are is a favorite cat cartoon sites:  Simon's Cat. Enjoy!

I have some favorite cat books.  For the picture books set, I love: Koko's Kitten, Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons, SkippyJon Jones, Bad Kitty, and Hondo and Fabian. For middle graders, I love the Cat Who Went To Heaven by Elizabeth CoatsworthTime Cat by Lloyd Alexander and The Underneath by Kathi Appelt.  I've written two unpublished middle grade novels, TORNADO ALLIE, with a pretty awesome bestie cat called Jacksboro, and another WIP book, THE BIG THICKET, with a mysterious cat named El Gato. I hope these books reach kids everywhere someday.

I will see you next month with some inspiration!  Keep creating master works!

Pics instead of doodles this week!

Here I am with Mr. Tibbs. He likes to snuggle while I'm hard at work.

Mr. Oreo is more of a cat TVguy.  He's always staring out the window. Very good writing advice BTW.

Here is a quote for your pocket:

Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea. Robert A. Heinlein.

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22. My Favorite Things -- Wordsmiths.

Hi, folks,  I'm continuing my series on favorite things. This week, my favorite wordsmiths. I'm going to chat about a few and share tidbits of how these connections inspire me, move me, and improve me.

I went to a conference recently (KidLitCon) and I really didn't know anyone.  This is always a challenge for me. You know, new-kid-on-the-block fear.  Happily, as I find time and time again, there are friends everywhere.

There is not enough blog to share every wordsmith I know. I'm just going to toss out some impressions that hit me.  (If you are not here, it's only because I keep my blog is too short.

At Kidlitcon, I had the pleasure of meeting Liviania, In Bed With Books blogger. She was just a bubbling fountain of the good news about books.  I also met Lee Wind,  I'm Here and I'm Queer. What the Hell do I Read, blogger --  a man with a mission and  one of those folks who offer a better understanding of the universe at large. I also met fab, Margo Rabb -- Books, Chocolate, Sundries, a deep thinker for sure, and really connecting with joy, I think.  I also met the genius behind -- MotherReader, Jen Robinson's Book Page, Wands and Words, and 5 Minutes For Books.  So many. Jazzy.

Next, I'm going to chat about my current friendly critique galaxy. Kathy Whitehead writes middle grade and picture books and is an anchoring soul who brings steady wisdom with every word she speaks or writes. Ellen McGinty is the author of YA realistic and fantasy. Gosh, she's young and amazing. I will say I knew her when someday. Robin Overby Cox writes for children and adults. She has a clear, salient view of the way books should flow. Yay! Liz Mertz writes YA and digs deep into spiritual side of  story. Amen. I also enjoy the genius of Susan, Angela, Candilynn and Andy, all powerhouse voices who drop in some.

Now my expanded critique universe.  Oh, Vijaya Bodach, author of non-fiction and YA,  an original kindred spirit. We are all better because of her words. Conrad Wesselhoeft writes YA and is "a word master." His writing will change you. It will. Holly Cupala. No words of  to express how grateful I am to know this author. She understands the resiliency of the broken spirit and puts this on the page.  Katherine Grace Bond, author of YA, she has this uncanny knack of revealing profound belief in a relevant way. Amazing. Chris Eboch, author of everything, (it is true). Chris's writing is the intersection of clarity, adventure and the impossible things before breakfast. Louise Spiegler, oh, she's so talented and brings new wind into the fantasy/sci-fi genre. Definitely blazing new trails. I must add Kevan Atteberry --  heart and soul and laughter, all rolled together.  Stasia Ward Kehoe! -- new book alert -- The Sound of Letting Go -- astounding voice. Peggy King Anderson and Lois Brandt...take their classes, Seattle folk. You will thank me. A few more names...Allyson Valentine Schrier, Janet Lee Carey, Cathy B., Shelley, Megan.... so many more...

I think you get it. I am the friend and fan of so many wordsmiths.  I hope you take a minute to reflect on your favorite wordsmiths. (I didn't even get a chance to mention my imaginary friends!)  Be back next week for more of my favorite things.

Here is the doodle for the week. "Another Herd of Turtles."

A quote from my favorite imaginary friend.

When I say it's you I like, I'm talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed. Fred Rodgers

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23. My Favorite Things -- Sci-fi Movie Moments

Hi, folks, I think we take inspiration from what resonates with us. I thought I would chat about my favorite sci-fi movie moments, why I loved them, and what those moments mean to me as a creative soul.

And for extra special fun, I took a simple programming class at Kidlitcon last week from Sheila Ruth over at Wands and Worlds. I learned a nifty trick.

in the movie CONTACT, the beginning scene shows the Earth. The air waves are noisy. We begin to pull away from the Earth. We pass the planets. The layers of sound begin to fall away. We are catching up with sounds that left the Earth decades ago. We move away from the solar system, and there is a great engulfing silence. Our star becomes a point of light.

I feel that silence in my soul to this day, this hunger within. Is there anyone out there? This speaks to faith in me as a creator of good books. I'm on a journey to write something meaningful that will connect with someone, someday, and regardless of the silence, I will find that connection. This belief is enough.

this one comes from a silly movie that to this day still makes me laugh my head off. It's called GALAXY QUEST. I have several favorite scenes in this movie, but I really love the moment with the spaceship is about blow up and the hero and heroine have to travel through a number of ridiculous traps on their spaceship to stop the self-destruct ticking in the ship's belly. When they reach the button, they push it. It keeps counting down. The thing does not stop until it is a second before the last moment. The hero and heroine laugh together.

Of course, the button doesn't work until the last moment. We should know things are going to work out at the last moment, and not a second earlier. For some reason we always forget. Always! It's like a human condition. This sci-fi movie moment resonates.
The Last One,
yes, "Use the force, Luke." I'd be a big fat liar if I didn't include this sci-fi movie. My favorite scene in STAR WARS: Episode IV - A NEW HOPE. I guess tossing a bomb into a hole about the size of a womprat will never get old to me. I have never worried what an epic fail the first Death Star was. Engineers always build Titanics. That's just what they do.

I've always thought of the force as Socrates' daemon. (Lucas should have given me call before he went with midiclorians.) Socrates claimed to have a "divine something" that frequently warned him—in the form of a "voice"against mistakes but never told him what to do. Ah, Mr. Lucas, this is a force! Big creative rule: Don't explain everything!

When Luke "uses the force" and sends those balls of light into the hole, I cheer. This hearkens to the impossible of the creative journey for me. Yes, writing a book is like blowing up a Death Star. It's a perilous journey with little chance of success and wholly requires divine invention.

In Closing,
I know this is a little silly list, but I absolutely believe that without the flexibility of creative play, creatives cannot find their vision. Think on your whimsy this week. I will be back next week with more of my favorite things.

Here is the doodle: "Dancing Bears."

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. Plato

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24. My Favorite Things -- Simple Stuff

Hi, folks,

Last week I offered some conference kernels that are my favorite things. This week I'm at the KidLitCon in Austin, TX. There is some simple stuff that moves me to tears. I think these moments are part of why I am a writer.  Jerry Spinelli once said at a conference I attended that you should write down a hundred sensory memories. He said your novel is in there somewhere. He was right.

The moon in the daytime.
The sun shining like a disk on a foggy morning.
Bare feet on hot sand.
The smell of mint.
The taste of water when I'm thirsty.
Stretching out on a soft bed when I'm tired.
Watching giant snowflakes fall.
The sound thunder in the middle of the night.
The sound of a purring cat.
The feel of a dog licking my face.
The sensation of falling when swooshing on a slide.
Fall light in the afternoon.
Hugging my children.
The brown of my husband's eyes.
My father's laughter.
My mother's voice when she was reading me a story. 

I know all so simple but the core of me is in here. I hope you try writing your sensory memories.

See you next week.

Here's this week's doodle. "Stack of Farm Animals"

A quote for the week.

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come 'round right.'    Elder Joseph Brackett

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25. My Favorite Things -- Conference Kernels

Hi folks!  This month I'm so busy. Crazy busy! I hope to see a few of you at the the KidLitCon in Austin, Texas on November 9, 2013.  I salute all the Nanowrimos! Good for you.

This month I'm going to share my favorite kernels of creative advice from wherever they have come my way.  This week I'm focusing on conferences.

Liza Ketchum -- Her talk flowed through my work like a spring Zephyr. Her advice? Use endowed objects to show emotional connections between characters.  You can do so much with this. Perhaps there is a ring. The golum has the ring. The hobbit has the ring. Everyone wants that ring.  You know you can get a lot of mileage out of an endowed object changing hands. You don't have to say anything more than the ring changed hands.

Brian Floca -- I walked around mumbling for a couple of weeks when I heard this guy talk. His deal was that you need to seek your best work and go for it.  Don't settle for a less than stellar career. Whatever is humming in your heart? If your soul is screaming, I have so much more to offer. Do it. Jump up. Namaste.

Mark Siegel -- This guy's talk took me by then neck and throttled me. I swear. He shared that the creative process is either dying or being born. You are either are coming from the outside and seeking the bright light. You see it, but it is out of your reach.The trip toward that light is a painful, digging deep process, and you will come to the end of yourself to reach that light.  Death.  The creative process can also work this way. You are in the light, dancing, full of it, but no one is with you. You are alone. You must go a narrow, harrowing journey, to reveal your light to the world. Birth. It's been years, and I'm still thinking.

Well, I hope some of this genius will help you do your thing. I'll be back next week with more of my favorite things.

This week's doodle: "Psalmist"

Here is the quote of the week:

A miracle is when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. A miracle is when one plus one equals a thousand.   Frederick Buechner

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