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1. Where were you?

Where were you when you first heard the sound? Good sounds – your husband’s voice, your baby’s giggle, the words “I love you?” Do you remember? Can you picture the scene and surroundings?

I experienced a condensed courtship with my wife because I was briefly called back to service during Desert Storm. I don’t recall the first expression of the four- letter L word in our relationship. I know it came, and stuck. I have said it to her every day for nearly twenty-two years. I say it every night to my girls and sometimes in front of other people, much to their chagrin.

I wish I remembered the first time I said it, though.

I will never forget the first time I heard the word Cancer as it related to my family. I was in the hospital just a week ago when it was introduced to me, while my little girl lay sleeping nearby. The doctor actually used the words “oncological event” before I made him dumb it down for me. Cancer.

I held my wife in my arms as she collapsed into a puddle. Doesn’t cancer affect other families? Why would he be saying this word? I felt an instant dislike for this man, but my mind clouded to nothing. My wife’s head heaved in my chest. I couldn’t think in more than three word bursts. I have no idea how long we stood that way. I was roused only by the sound of a man pushing a cart way down at the end of the hall. The wheel squeaked as he carried out his task and I remember thinking, “How can he be pushing that? Doesn’t he know? It doesn’t matter where that squeaky cart is! Why isn’t he stopping?”

It was then I realized this isn’t everyone’s diagnosis. It is Kylie’s and ours: our family’s, our friends and network of support. But the rest of the world will continue to march on around us.

I will add a link to Kylie’s Caring Bridge at the end of this post because I won’t allow cancer to dominate my writing. It will peak its evil head in from time to time, I have no doubt. But I won’t allow it to take over my life, steal my joy, soil my faith, or crush my little girl.

It took a while to determine the enemy. Until then, we’ve been punching at shadows. Now we start to take it out. We are at the beginning of a long road, but there is hope. Kylie knows what is going on, she is scared. We cried together and prayed. She has decided that this is happening because God must have a really big, great plan for her. I don’t know if I could have gotten to those words so quickly at twelve – she’s just chock-full of amazing.


The picture I added is one of Kylie as Annie in her school play a couple of years ago. She is an incredible actress and I can’t wait to see her on stage again.

Because our minds are reeling right now, the verse we’ve been holding onto is Romans 8:26

Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.

Thank you for your prayers and words of encouragement, friends. I have to go now, the bell just sounded for round one…




11 Comments on Where were you?, last added: 4/10/2014
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2. how to “get lucky” in five easy steps

If all it takes to sell a book is talent, work hard and perseverance, more of us would be published. Like it or not, luck is a piece of the process. But can you make your own luck? I think so. You just have to be willing to ask for it, compete, put out, flaunt a little and sell yourself.

1. Ask for it. Whenever I receive a manuscript critique from an editor or agent, I always end the conversation by asking if I can send him or her my manuscript. Pride is too pricey. Go ahead and pop the question the editor or agent is expecting you to ask. (And then make sure you follow through. Send that manuscript and mention the invitation in your cover letter.)

2. Put out. Sweetie, shyness is simply out of your price range. You really must interact with other writers and members of the publishing community via social media. Send cards. Build and cultivate a blog or web site. Comment on other’s blog posts. Be generous and offer your help to others in the form of critiques or feedback. Aside from surrounding yourself with a supportive community of talented people, you never know where those connections may lead.

3. Flaunt a little. Humility is pricey too. You’re going to have to loosen up and show off a little. An author/illustrator friend of mine, Ruth McNally Barshaw, was contacted by an agent after a friend encouraged her to share her sketches online. Ruth wasn’t looking to lure an agent, but posting her work resulted in the start of a fabulous partnership and the launch of her graphic novel series–Ellie McDoodle.

4. Be willing to compete. When was the last time you entered a writing contest? In 2012, I entered a contest sponsored by the National Association of Elementary School Principals. Did I win? Uh, noop. But my picture book manuscript placed in the top 5 out of more than 750 entries. Did that boost my confidence. Yes, indeedy. Children’s Writer and Highlights run themed contests regularly.

But don’t limit yourself to writing contests. If there’s a pricey conference you want to attend, chances are there’s a scholarship contest to go with it. I have had the privilege of receiving funds for both a regional and a national SCBWI conference, as well as for a Highlights Foundation Writers Workshop. And don’t assume you have to be penniless to apply. Check out the requirements to see if you qualify and go for it. Even if you don’t win, oftentimes filling out the application gives you great practice for a query letter or synopsis. So, it’s time well spent even if it doesn’t result in cash.

5. Sell yourself. Have that elevator pitch memorized. Be ready to talk intelligently about whatever you’re working on right now. Know how to introduce yourself as a professional–including a beautiful business card. Work it, Baby.

Make yourself some good luck this week!

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. ~ Seneca

You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocket ship underpants don’t help. ~ Bill Watterson, Calvin & Hobbes

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3. And Finally…

…wrapping up the running theme

Some days are great, some days aren’t:
Some running days are fun, some start hard and get easier, some start easy and get hard. And there are some that you just have to get through. Writing is the same. Don’t let a hard writing day scare you from getting back into the groove.

Love what you do:
I’m slow, I’ve got funny form, but I love the way running makes me feel: strong and powerful and joyful, like a little kid.

While I set goals and due dates for certain projects, I never know how easily the words will come. This is where love for the writing process helps to sustain me. Last summer I got stuck on two stanzas for a picture book and couldn’t move forward for weeks. I spent hours and hours on what amounted to roughly twenty words. Twenty words! As frustrating as this was, I’m so thankful I kept returning to the story, sat with what I had, and trusted the words would come. The writing process has never worked the same way twice for me, but I love what eventually unfolds.

Find your rhythm:
There is something very familiar and comfortable about settling into your pace. The same can be said about your own writing process. Maybe you need music in the background. Maybe you have to re-read everything you wrote the last time you sat down. Whatever your system, if it works for you, use it. From that familiar place your work will grow.

Keep track of your goals:
Just like runners love to record their fastest times, make sure you’re paying attention to — and celebrating! — your progress: finishing a manuscript, positive feedback from critique partners, requests for partials from agents. Those milestones keep you moving forward.

When things don’t work, try something new:
I’ve had my share of injuries and have had to alter the way I’ve approached running. For months I practiced the walk/run system my sister swears by. Other times I kept all running to a mile — holding onto the fun and cutting back on the work.
Are you working on a manuscript you need to retire? Are you writing in a genre that just doesn’t fit? Give yourself permission to try something new or approach your work differently.

Metaphor for life:
Running is hard, but life is harder. When I push myself physically, I feel like I can take the world on.

Isn’t it just the same with writing?

This post originally ran March 16, 2011

Update:  A friend just told me about  What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, a memoir by author Haruki Murakami. Can’t wait to dig in!

The post And Finally… appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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4. Running as a Metaphor for Writing

On Wednesday I posted about the similarities between running and writing. Today I thought it would be fun to look at some of these more closely:

In it for the long haul:
Just like the hard work required to add miles or increase speed, writers need to be committed long term. You can’t “become” anything overnight.

Every step counts:
It’s not glamorous to think about those early mornings you force yourself out of bed just to put one foot in front of the other. Neither is it deeply exciting to recall every word you’ve ever put down on paper. But each small effort builds on the next.

Hold onto success to motivate later:
Early last December, my sister called to tell me my brother-in-law wasn’t going to be able to make the half marathon they’d planned to run together. The race was in ten days. Would I like to take his place?

My longest race before this was a 5k. I had no time to train. My sister flew me out to Kiawah, South Carolina, where we walk/ran the first six miles. Then something came over me: I wanted to finish out the race on my own. Though I hadn’t run that far in years, I finished the last seven miles without stopping. I’ve used this moment as motivation ever since.

Have you ever had a breakthrough writing moment? A time you knew what your story was missing, a writing session where every word worked? Save those moments to use as future motivation.

This post originally ran March 11, 2014


The post Running as a Metaphor for Writing appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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5. Writing and Running

Most of my life, I’ve thought runners were like Chemistry majors — skilled in a way I wasn’t and fans of pain and tedium. This all changed after my second son was born, when my walking partner of many months turned to me and said, “We’re running the next mile. Go!”

For weeks, we steadily built our distance. I insisted Rachel talk to me the entire time about books, teaching, raising boys, recipes — anything to distract me from the hard work. Somehow, while pushing that double jogging stroller and learning about couscous salads, I got hooked.

My husband wasn’t surprised. He’s always said I have the perfect personality for a runner: outdoorsy, disciplined, someone who craves time alone. I’ve never been fast, and as I’ve gotten older, worked through injuries, taken time off, and battled the adjustment moving from sea level to a mile above, I’ve gotten slower still.

Lots of runners talk about the grand thoughts they have while they’re covering the miles. While I’m not one of those (my mind is usually in rest mode while my legs do the tough stuff), I have, at times, thought through the similarities between running and writing.
Here are a few I’ve come up with:

  • be in it for the long haul
  • every step counts
  • hold onto success to motivate later
  • some days are great, some days aren’t
  • love what you do
  • find your rhythm
  • keep track of your goals
  • when things don’t work, try something new

Any other running writers out there? What similarities do you find between the two?

This post originally ran March 9, 2011

The post Writing and Running appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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6. say hello to lisa rose

Meet Lisa Rose

Meet Lisa Rose

It’s my delight to introduce you to vivacious, rap-writing debut author Lisa Rose. I first met Lisa through our regional chapter of SCBWI and was immediately attracted to her bright smile, energy and enthusiasm. And wait until you hear her good news . . .

Tell us about your book–details! We want details!
SHUMLIK PAINTS THE TOWN will be published by Kar-Ben in 2016. It’s about a painter named Shumulik who needs to create a mural for Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day). He can’t think of anything to paint and soon all of Jerusalem will be there. What is he going to do? It has a funny surprise ending!

Can’t wait to read SHUMLIK PAINTS THE TOWN and find out what the surprise is. So, when did you know you wanted to write for children?
It sounds cliché, but I was in second grade. I wrote a poem and my teacher called me a writer. I always wanted to write. But my mother told me to do something that made money. So I became an elementary teacher and got really, really, really rich! Moral of the story: don’t listen to your mother.

Very funny, Lisa. Now, what is it about writing for children that appeals to you versus writing for adults?
Hope. All children’s book must end in hope or by definition they are not a children’s book.

What’s the best writing advise you’ve ever been given?
I was a playwright before I wrote for kids, but this still applies: “No amount of sequins can save a bad script.”

Love that. And it definitely applies to children’s writing too. As you know, Frog on a Dime is all about encouraging children’s writers, so what’s the most encouraging thing anyone has ever said to you (related to writing)?
It was from Michigan’s own Debbie Taylor. I was writing outside of my race and shared with her I wasn’t trying to be revolutionary, I just wanted to write about something that touched me. Debbie said, “That’s your answer!” Recently, I was working on a project and it just wasn’t working. I tried and tried. Until I realized I was writing it for all the wrong reasons. I think good writing must have passion and purpose. The idea must scrape your soul.

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

What advise would you give to someone who has been pursuing publication for a long time, with close calls, but no contracts?
Keep going and learn how to flip-turn. I was swimmer before I was writer. It is excellent training. I was used to going as fast as could into cement walls. Instead of crashing after rejection, I just turned around and swam as fast I could into another cement wall. I sent the editor at Kar-Ben over twenty stories. We were on a first name rejection basis. But she kept encouraging me to send more stories. And so I did. I told myself I was going to keep writing until I got a contract or a restraining order from her. Luckily for me, the contract came first.

That’s great advise, Lisa. I’d never thought about flip-turns, but that’s a perfect analogy for the submission process. Time for one last question? Okay, name three things we’d be surprised to learn about you.
1. While I have this nice Jewish book coming out with Kar-Ben, most of my novels feature African-American characters and I am working on a digital media project with the former producers of rapper Eminem. Yes, I even write rap music.
2. I have partnered with a Detroit graffiti artist, Fel3000ft. to create a chapter book. I joke that I write everything from shalom to shazizzle!
3. I like eating ice cream with a fork.
4. BONUS! I have an e-book coming out with MeeGenius in the Spring: OH NO! THE TOOTH FAIRY BROKE HER WING! It is a sequel to OH NO! THE EASTER BUNNY IS ALLERGIC TO EGGS!

Hey, this was fun, Lisa. Thank you for stopping by Frog on a Dime. Wishing you many more publishing success stories. Keep doing those flip-turns!

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7. Plowing, Planting, Hoping, Dreaming

I ran an earlier version of this post right after selling my first book. Because it’s one of my favorites, and because I so often need to hear these words myself, I share them again today. Keep plowing, friends.


It was 2004. While driving to meet my writing group, I happened to catch an interview on NPR with Adrienne Young, a folksinger just starting out. She talked about her first album, inspired by some advice she’d gotten while struggling to make it as a musician:

If you want to do this with your life, stay focused and see this through. You’ve got to plow to the end of the row, girl. That simple phrase – plow to the end of the row – was enough to push Adrienne to continue. It became the title of both her album and lead song. I can’t quite explain what that interview meant to me, hearing an artist choose to create despite the struggle, to push against fear and sensibility and make it “to the end of the row.” I’ve carried this image with me for years, the plant metaphor standing in for artistic endeavor, the plow the unglamorous slog needed to dig deep and make it to the end. Sometimes I find it funny I’d choose a profession so bent on forcing me to wait, so full of uncertainty and disappointment. An almost foolish optimism has kept me working, trusting that the next editor or the next agent or the next story would be the one to launch my career. I’ve haunted mailboxes and inboxes, waiting for something positive to come through. I’ve ceremoniously sent off manuscripts, chanting, “Don’t come back!” (entertaining postal workers, for sure). I’ve journaled again and again “this next editor is a perfect match!”, managing somehow to keep on plowing in midst of little validation. After twelve years of writing and hundreds of rejections, I sold my first book, May B., a historical verse novel about a girl with her own challenging row to hoe. May’s determination carried me through a rocky publication experience: losing my first editor; the closing of my Random House imprint, Tricycle Press; the weeks when my book was orphaned, with no publishing house to claim it and its future uncertain; the swooping in of Radom House imprint, Schwartz and Wade; edit rounds seven, eight, and nine with editor number two; and finally, May B.’s birth into the world only three months behind its original release date. Though each row’s length varies, they’re still mostly lonely, not very straight and loaded with stones. But the soil has gotten better as I’ve worked it, and each little sprout I’ve planted has been stronger than the last. And I keep at it — plowing, planting, hoping, dreaming — because I’m made for this. And knowing this is enough to continue, enough for my work to thrive.

The post Plowing, Planting, Hoping, Dreaming appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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8. Tom Selleck Owes Me an Apology

Tom Selleck owes me an apology. Anyone my age knows the unobtainable standard he set for a teenage boy just coming into maturity. Why, do you ask, am I seeking contrition from him?

Good looks? No.

Suave disposition? No.

All the ladies? No…well maybe.

I’m talking about the hair…his stinking perfect hair.


When all of the girls had a picture of the Magnum PI in mind, how could any of us real boys measure up? Curly coiffure, bushy mustache, chest hair, leg hair… There it is! Leg hair. Recently, smooth has become stylish and I would have been perfect for this new generation. But that isn’t my generation. When I was in high school and college, the girls wanted hair and lots of it. Hair I didn’t have.  Well, that’s not absolutely true. Science should study my leg hair because it is translucent like that of a polar bear. It’s there, just not to the naked eye. It only shows up if I have a deep tan, which is near impossible for someone of Swedish/Germanic descent. Undaunted, I went to the pool, laid out, and held my legs just right so that passing females might possibly get the proper angle to spot a few strands.

As a freshman in college, I went so far as to purchase a tanning package. I donned little glasses and laid on top of the plastic surface to bake. And bake I did. Remember the shorts Magnum used to wear? Not long like they are today, 80′s shorts came way up on the thigh. Hoping my tan would expose leg hair from the top of my leg to my toes, I even pulled them up higher. Oh yeah, I got burned in very sensitive areas. It hurt for weeks and didn’t help my hair stand out whatsoever.

We all have physical characteristics we would rather minimize or hide completely. Just the other day, I was talking with a friend who told me her 10 year-old daughter E had been called fat by another girl. My heart sank. Her sweet little girl is now self-conscious about something as irrelevant as my smooth legs. She is active and isn’t overweight in the least, but also isn’t waif-thin like so many women our society seems to put on a pedestal. Such a tragedy.

I want so much for her and other little girls to see what truly matters about themselves instead of what is fleeting.

Your beauty should not consist of outward things … Instead, it should consist of what is inside the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable in God’s eyes.

1 Peter 3:3-4

That’s what is important. I hope my daughters know that. I pray little E learns that too. We have to tell them they are beautiful and keep on telling them until they understand. That’s how God sees them.

So Tom, whenever you are ready, it has taken 25 years, but I am finally over your provocation and prepared to accept your apology. It’s been a long time coming.

Photo credit to Alan Light

8 Comments on Tom Selleck Owes Me an Apology, last added: 3/15/2014
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Making art now means working in the face of uncertainty; it means living with doubt and contradiction, doing something no one much cares whether you do, and for which there may be neither audience nor reward…Making the work you want to make means finding nourishment within the work itself.

One of the basic and difficult lessons every artist must learn is that even the failed pieces are essential. People who need certainty in their lives are less likely to make art that is risky, subversive, complicated, iffy, suggestive, or spontaneous. What’s really needed is nothing more than a broad sense of what you are looking for, some strategy for how to find it, and an overriding willingness to embrace mistakes and surprises along the way. Simple put, making art is chancy — it doesn’t mix well with predictability.

Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable, and all-pervasive companion to your desire to make art. And tolerance for uncertainty is the prerequisite to succeeding. …Fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work, while fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work.

Artists get better by…learning from their work. They commit themselves to the work of their heart, and act upon that commitment. So when you ask, “Then why doesn’t it come easily for me?”, the answer is probably, “Because making art is hard!” What you end up caring about is what you do, not whether the doing came hard or easy.

The post Quotes from ART AND FEAR: OBSERVATIONS ON THE PERILS (AND REWARDS) OF ARTMAKING appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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10. a power of incomparable worth

Photo and notes by Vicky Lorencen

Photo and notes by Vicky Lorencen

“Handwritten letters are more special. They’re heartfelt,” my teen daughter said. “They aren’t like texts. You want to read them over and over.”

Such a brilliant girl. [Mom blushes.] She recognizes the power of the written word–the handwritten word.

Eons ago I sent letters to a friend during a dark time in her life. But, to be honest, I had forgotten all about them until I received a surprise in the mail last week. My friend wrote to tell me, “Your loving, tender words were part of the life-saving medicine that kept me alive until I felt like living again.” Wow. I was clueless to the impact of my letters. Incapable of mending her broken heart or fixing her circumstances, all I had to offer were words. And so I did.

Inside her letter, wrapped in a pink ribbon, my friend tucked some of the more the two dozen letters she’d received from me and kept all these years. (See photo.) She said she wanted to return my words to me. How unexpected and exceptional! Re-reading those letters I’d penned ages ago made me grateful to know I was able to do something for a friend in need.

Words are free. Most anyone can draft a sentence. But it takes a willing writer to string those words into something meaningful and soul-touching. You have that ability. It’s a power of incomparable worth.

Whose life will be better because they received a word from you?

Take 20 minutes right now–less time than it takes to watch a sitcom–and write a letter to someone. Don’t fret over revising, critiquing, scrutinizing and all that jazz. Just let your heartfelt words flow. Then address that note, stick on a stamp and send it on its way.

Do it. Don’t delay. Exercise your power today.

To write is human, to receive a letter: Divine! ~ Susan Lendroth

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11. the one thing I never think about when I’m editing

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Maybe you didn’t know it (and maybe it doesn’t show), but in addition to being a writer, I’m an editor. Part of my job as a Communication Specialist is to edit other people’s work. I think about a lot of things when I’m editing, but I guarantee you there’s one thing I never think about . . .

Let me backtrack a sec. Just so you know, there are a lot of things I do think about when I’m editing a piece of non-fiction. For my job, I pour over articles, letters, brochures, ads, scripts and the like. Here are the kinds of questions I ask myself during the editing process:

Who’s the audience for this piece?
What’s the bottom line—the message—to be conveyed?
Does this truly communicate the message or is it a lot of pretty words strung together?
Is there a simpler way to say it?
Could this be tighter? Is there fluff or useless repetition or verbosity . . . (oops, now I’m doing it!)
Is this the best format for this piece? Would subheads help, for example?
Is there a flow and connection throughout?
Is the tone and language appropriate to the message and the audience?
Is there proper use of grammar and punctuation?

Quite a list, isn’t it? So, what “don’t” I think about? I do not think about the author. Hold on. I should be more specific. Maybe it sounds heartless, but I don’t think about the author’s feelings. Sure, when I’m editing, I do try to keep the author’s intent and style in mind. I don’t want to edit to the point that the piece no longer sounds like the author. But as I’m editing, the last thing I care about is the author’s feelings. It’s not even part of the equation.

Here’s what I care about: answering my list of questions above to the best of my ability so that the end product is a clean, eloquent, effective piece of communication. That’s it. I never once ask myself if it would hurt the author’s feelings if I take out an entire paragraph or reorder the piece or change silly things like utilization to a perfectly fine, simpler word like use. And even though that might sound cold, it’s truly a marvelous thing. Think about it–would you rather have your byline attached to a solid piece of writing or a so-so piece? C’mon. Let me hear you say it. Mm-hmm. I thought so.

Why am I telling on myself? I want you to remember this the next time your work is edited or you’re swirling in a vortex of editor comments. Your editor isn’t heartless. Your editor wants to make your work shine. And sometimes that means hauling out the sandblaster and pick ax. It can be painful at the time. But, baby, it’s for your own good. So, try not to take it personally. It really isn’t about you. It’s about making your work better. And what’s not to like about that?

Just don’t touch “my” work!

Editing should be, especially in the case of old writers, a counselling rather than a collaborating task. The tendency of the writer-editor to collaborate is natural, but he should say to himself, ‘How can I help this writer to say it better in his own style?’ and avoid ‘How can I show him how I would write it, if it were my piece?’ – James Thurber

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12. can you keep a secret?

(c) silver secrets

(c) silver secrets

I’m shy. Stop that. I’m serious. I really am shy. Some people won’t believe that because I don’t have trouble talking in front of people (or behind them for that matter). One time I even spoke, then sang a song I wrote, in front about 300 people–while wearing a Viking hat and braids, but that’s a story for another day.

But there’s a difference between speaking to a group (which, on my phobia scale, is much preferred to jumping out of an airplane, thank you), and say, walking up to a group of two or three people at a social gathering and striking up a conversation. I find that much more intimidating.

Being shy and/or introverted isn’t unusual for a writer. We’d rather listen or watch (you never know when you’ll pick up a great line for your next novel). Some people are both shy and introverted, but I don’t think those two come as a boxed set. You can be introverted, but still able to interact socially without Niagara Falls of sweat running off your palms. (I differentiate being an introvert versus an extrovert by how you recharge your batteries–do you need to spend time with people or do you need time alone to feel refreshed. Pretty simple.)

What’s being shy got to do with being a writer? Well, like it or not, being a writer can (and should) involve spending time with other people–either interviewing them, socializing or networking with them or just hanging out because you need human interaction to feel alive. Plus, hanging out with people often provides inspiration for your writing, so there’s that.

Here’s what I want to suggest if you struggle with shyness . . . keep it a secret. Now, when you were a kid, you may have gotten the idea that your last name was “She’s shy,” because that’s what everyone (aka, your mom or big sister) said when they introduced you. But you’re not a kid anymore. The only one who needs to know you’re feeling shy is you. I mean, you don’t walk into the center of a livingroom full of people and announce, “Hey, y’all, I have eczema and IBS!” Please tell me you’re shaking your head. Why would you have to tell anyone you’re shy? You are free to pretend you’re a person of confidence who actually likes talking to people.fall-leaves-tree

And so, the next time you (and I) are headed for a social situation, let’s own our nervousness or insecurity, then stuff it in a sack for the night. You and I can be the person who focuses on putting other people at ease. They will love us for it and we can forget about shy selves already.

One more secret . . . if you can get someone talking about themselves, you can automatically pass “GO” and collect $200. I can almost guarantee it. They will think you’re the most fabulous listener and amazing person, and all you have to do is nod and smile and keep the questions coming. Even something as simple as “So, have you always lived in ______________?” can get a conversation going (and going and going . . .).

What if the person you decide to try to talk to is also shy? Well, then, I suggest you excuse yourself, go to the buffet, load up your plate, find a comfy spot by a potted palm in the corner and spend the rest of the evening in a blissful state of eavesdropping. You think I’m kidding don’t you?

I promise to keep your secret, if you’ll keep mine. And I solemnly promise, if I see you at a party hunkered down by a big plant with a plate of meatballs, I will come up to you and strike up a conversation, after all, I’m not shy. Wink. Wink.

So many people are shut up tight inside themselves like boxes, yet they would open up, unfolding quite wonderfully, if only you were interested in them. ~ Sylvia Plath

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13. school books rock

Frog on a Rock -- in my garden
With the start of a new school year, my thoughts turn to the books I knew and loved as a young student. It’s enjoyable to recall not only the books themselves, but the wise people who recommended them to me.

My earliest memories of books outside of home center around the little library in my red brick elementary school. I can “see” our teacher handing each of us a long wooden paddle to take with us to the stacks. Too young to “borrow” the books (or so they thought), I could pull out a book and put the paddle in its place, so I could later return it to the shelf myself. Making a beeline for the picture books, I must have worn the color off the pages of Hans Christian Anderson’s Thumbelina week after week. I was enchanted.

When I was a fourth grader, my favorite aunt sent me The Golden Name Day , a chapter book written by Jennie Lindquist and beautifully illustrated by Garth Williams. I loved the sweet story of a girl finding her place in the world. Years later, during a conversation with one of my best friends, Nancy (who, coincidentally, shares her name with the book’s main character) I learned that this same book was one of her favorites. It was endearing to discover we’d had a shared experience as young girls before we even met. We were kindred spirits before we even met.

Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey was a 6th grade favorite, even thought I was probably “too old” for it. And forget, the Newbery medal on the cover, it was the illustrations that drew me in. Since we’d recently moved to a home with hickory trees in the surrounding woods, the story seemed all the more “real.” I may have even attempted to make a Miss Hickory doll.

In 7th grade, I had the privilege of serving as library aid. I remember our librarian helping me find Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume to take home. I’d never read such a realistic book–Blume wrote about bras and periods!–and it felt like a guilty pleasure to read it over and over again (just like the rest of my friends!) That same year my Language Arts teacher recommended I Was a 98-Pound Duckling by Jean Van Leeuwen. While not as provocative (ha) as Judy Blume’s book, it still spoke to me as a girl in that awkward, geeky tween phase.

In high school, my favorite World Humanities teacher insisted I read William Goldman’sThe Princess Bride . And notice, I used the word insisted, and not recommended or suggested. I think I was supposed to pick up a life lesson or two in those pages. I couldn’t miss the repeated refrain that life isn’t fair (true), but I’m guessing the other lesson was to look out for rodents of unusual size (aka, ROUSs) when I enter a fire swamp. Point taken. And let me just say, if your only connection to the The Princess Bride is through the movie, you my friend, are missing out. I really must insist you read the book. I would tell you the book is so much better than the movie, but then I’d be using a threadbare phrase and we can’t have that.

Let me encourage you to take a few moments to mentally wander back to your school days–what books drew you in, called you back to read them over and over again, changed how you saw the world or made you feel more at home in it? While some of my childhood favorites have stood the test of years, there’s no arguing that many would be as out of place as a geeky tween at a high school dance in most modern elementary libraries. But I’m willing to bet that the themes of those books–forming friendships in unfamiliar places, learning life isn’t fair, finding self-acceptance–are still relevant today. My goal, and I’m guessing yours too, is to create stories that will speak to children long after their school days end. Let’s do that.

And while we’re at it, let’s be thankful for the people–the parents, teachers, aunts, grandparents–who put wonderful books under our noses. I’ve no doubt they are the reason I love children’s books to this day. Give books to children as gifts, as surprises, as rewards . . . as nourishment. Yep, let’s do that, too.

My childhood was surrounded by books and writing. From a very early age I was fascinated by storytelling, by the printed word, by language, by ideas. So I would seek them out. ~ Carlos Ruiz Zafon

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14. Looking For Reasons Not To Quit

Hi there. Long time no see. It’s me, not you. I’ve been slack.

But tonight I’m putting a hold on the smoothies I promised to make for D and myself, in order to write this post. So listen up. Because it’s important. And because smoothies are on the line!

Lately I’ve been feeling down in the dumps, and it’s not just because of my recent terrible haircut. It’s also because of a project I’ve been working on, which is not going quite where I want it to. It’s gotten so that the last few days I’ve been trying to think of a reason not to quit. Because somehow I got to this point where quitting doesn’t even feel like quitting. It just feels like not continuing, which doesn’t really sound as bad. Does that make sense? It does to me.

But I’ve put a lot of time and effort into this project. You always hear stories where people were so close to quitting when they finally met with success, so I thought, maybe that’s where I am. Maybe I should hang in there a bit longer. But what’s the point? I need a reason. A really rock-solid reason not to quit–something that will actually force me to keep going. Because this is kind of new for me. I don’t quit. Never. Not really. I’m not even bragging because honestly, sometimes it’s a curse. If I get it in my head to do something, then I JUST. WON’T. LET. IT. GO. So ordinarily what keeps me from giving up is that I can’t admit defeat. But this time that isn’t enough.

Because I kind of want to quit. I’ve turned it into something other than defeat. I’ve turned it into the realistic, responsible thing to do. It would save me a lot of grief (read: feeling depressed at my lack of success and guilty for doing anything besides working on my project). It would be easier.

So, while I was washing dishes tonight, the answer kind of came to me in the form of this blog post. (It seems like I always get half-decent ideas while I’m washing dishes. You might think that’s a good enough reason to wash dishes more often, but I’m still not sold.) Anyway, I was trying to think of one good reason not to quit and I realized it was actually pretty simple: If I quit, then I’ll definitely be in the exact same place that I am right now. Forever. My project can’t possibly succeed. And the disappoint that I feel right now will never go away–why would it? But if I don’t quit–if I keep on trying–then there remain two possibilities ahead of me: One is that I might never succeed. I might remain exactly where I am right now. Forever. With one exception: at least I would know I didn’t give up. But the other possibility is that I will eventually succeed. Until I eliminate that possibility, it’s still out there. It could still happen.

If I quit, then all I do is eliminate hope. I control the future by closing off all possibilities except the one I don’t want.

And hope is enough to keep me going. I wouldn’t condemn anyone to disappointment–I want all your dreams to come true. So why would I do any less for myself?

One of my college professors paraphrased Thomas Edison, and I’ll never forget it. At the time, I thought he made it up. I thought he was a genius. So I will always think of R.L. before poor T.E. when I hear the words, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

I guess what I’m saying is, don’t give up. I won’t if you don’t.

What keeps you going on your low days?

Tagged: Being Brave, Failure, Fear, Future, Hope, Persistence, Thomas Edison

0 Comments on Looking For Reasons Not To Quit as of 7/8/2013 11:04:00 PM
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15. Fifth-Grade Wisdom

My former classmate, Beth Little, is now a spectacular fifth-grade teacher here in Albuquerque. She invited me to speak to her kids last May. Beth sent me a little package over the summer, a collection of thank you letters from her students. This one spoke so directly to me, it's now framed on my desk:
Like my Navigating a Debut Year poster, I look at this every day and am encouraged. Emboldened. Ready to start again.

1 Comments on Fifth-Grade Wisdom, last added: 2/22/2013
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16. Jumpstart Your Writing in the New Year Part I

I have nothing to share about writing that is earth-shattering. What you’ll read here you probably already know. But like it is with all important things in our lives, it doesn’t hurt to hear certain things more than once. Here goes:

Read widely
Often writers are told to be well-versed in their genre. This is excellent advice, but reading shouldn’t end there. Picking up books in genres other than your own brings freshness to your writing and strengthens what you ultimately create. This nourishes you as a reader, too.

Study craft
None of us ever arrives. Our writing will improve if we continue to read craft blogs and books and take advantage of classes, critique groups, or conferences. Here are a few books I’ve read recently, am working on now, or plan to pick up this next year:
The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction -- James Alexander Thom
Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults -- Cheryl Klein
Writing the Breakout Novel -- Donald Mass
Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them -- Francine Prose
Writing Irresistible Kidlit -- Mary Kole
Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication -- Ann Whitford Paul

Take time away from writing
Make sure you are doing things outside of writing. Now that I write full-time, it’s very easy to stay detached from the rest of the world. Make an effort to engage your surroundings, whether that means tuning in to nature as you walk the dog or making a point to get involved in a new activity.

How do you nurture your writing life?

6 Comments on Jumpstart Your Writing in the New Year Part I, last added: 1/4/2013
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17. Navigating a Debut Year: Protecting the Creative Heart

I spent fourteen years as an author in training, and while I learned many things in that time, I'm finding there are a slew of different lessons on the other side of publication. This spring, I examined the public, private, and writing life I want to cultivate. Right now, I'm trying to learn just how to protect my creativity -- how to let it grow and expand with a new project, how to feed it, how to keep it from being destroyed during the fragile moments a story is unfolding and finding its way. I've yet to figure this out, but here are a few things I'm pondering:
  • It's not the mind but the emotional self that gives us confidence or causes doubt. We are directly and indirectly taught the mind is a truer compass than the heart. And this is right oftentimes, especially for highly emotional people like me (and I would suspect most other writers, who tend to connect deeply and passionately with people, ideas, stories, and universal truths). The thing is, we writers know in our heads plenty of things that never penetrate our hearts. Whether we realize it or not, the emotional "truths" that occupy our lives influence our creative selves far more than we realize. How can we protect the vulnerable place stories spring from?
  • Surround yourself with supportive people. Obvious, right? Find a friend or group of people who support and understand you. While non-writing friends and family are wonderful, they don't always understand the writing world. Form a critique group. Become a part of a professional organization like SCBWI. Find people in the same phase of the journey you can encourage and commiserate with. Find people farther along who can show you the way.
  • Step away from the constant noise of the Internet. Never before have authors been asked to live the writing life so publicly. As soon as a book sells, the solitary falls away. We've got to find ways to protect our creativity in the midst of it all. There are too many ways to lose confidence -- reviews written by professional organizations as well as book bloggers or Goodreads account holders, articles in accessible publications like Publisher's Weekly or GalleyCat that praise our peers or their books and leave us feeling left out, or publications that praise us but leave us feeling like we'll never measure up again. 
What are ways authors can protect their creativity? 

2 Comments on Navigating a Debut Year: Protecting the Creative Heart, last added: 11/5/2012
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18. Writing the Fear Away

Do you keep a journal specifically for each novel you write? I don’t, but I’m glad some writers do.

I’m even more glad that they willingly share their soul-baring angst with us.

Eye Opener

One of my favorite mystery writers is internationally bestselling author, Elizabeth George, writer of the Inspector Lynley books that have been made into Masterpiece Mystery movies. She writes “literary mysteries,” that excellent combination of fast-paced, intricately plotted whodunits and fully realized 3D characters in “you are right there” settings. The fact that they are set in England is the icing on the cake for me.

Lately I’ve been re-reading Elizabeth George’s excellent writing book, Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life. Throughout the book, she shares snippets from her work-in-progress journals.

In Her Own Words

At the time of this book’s writing, she had had thirteen novels published. (She has twenty-one now, if I counted right.) Keep that in mind as you read her journal entries (below) of her feelings about writing and the writing life.

“I’m trying to work for an hour each day. That’s all I can demand of myself…I became so incapacitated by fear that I was having trouble getting out of bed in the morning. I finally resorted to saying, ‘These are only words and I will not let words defeat me’ in order to get up and get to work. Thus I struggled to the end of the novel.”


“I have a love-hate relationship with the writing life. I wouldn’t wish to have any other kind of life…and on the other hand, I wish it were easier. And it never is…I would never have believed it would take such effort.”

If award-winning, mega-selling writers feel this way when creating fiction (and how I bless her for her honesty!), then it should come as no surprise if you and I also feel this way. Apparently it is common to those who strive to write fiction with excellence.

One Answer

Successful career authors find ways to work with and work around these fears and insecurities. Let me share Elizabeth George’s words of wisdom. If it resonates with you as it does with me, you’ll want to buy her book.

“Every writer has to develop her own process: what works for her time and time again. Having no process is like having no craft…Having no process puts you at enormous risk because writing becomes a threat instead of a joy, something that you are terrified to begin each day because you are at the mercy of a Muse that you do not understand how to beckon. If I had no process and no craft to fall back on, I would be paralyzed with fear every morning and, frankly, I see no fun in that.”

She outlines her 14-step process in the book. It makes good sense to me, and it’s similar to the steps I often now follow when writing a novel.

We All Do It Differently

Each writer has his/her own way of doing things. What your process is like doesn’t really matter–if it works for you. However, do find out what kind of process produces your best work. How?

That’s one big value of keeping a novel-in-progress journal (notes to yourself about the novel and your feelings and the problems or successes you have with it). You have, when finished, a complete description of your writing process!

Analyze Your Notes

You’ll have concrete information. You’ll know how much planning you did, what order you worked on things, what time of day and what places produced the most writing…your process. You can then repeat what worked for you–and eliminate what didn’t.

You can also later read all those angst-filled passages and realize you survived those writing days just fine. It will help when they roll around again–when you start your next novel!

How about YOU? Do these journal entries ring any bells for you? Is this ever your experience?

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19. Achieving the Writing Life of Your Dreams

Achieving the writing life of your dreams–is it possible? Are you closer to it than you were a year ago?

Here are some great articles to read and consider if you hope to make the dream of a writing life into a reality.

“Are You Living Your Own Life or Someone Else’s?” If we are not careful, we can unconsciously be following someone else’s agenda for our lives. This may be your first step toward achieving the writing life of your dreams.

“Novelists: Stop Trying to Brand Yourselves” is a refreshing and hopeful post for fiction writers. You’ll breathe a sigh of relief with this one.

“The Power of Incremental Change Over Time” Most people underestimate this. They think they have to take massive action to achieve anything significant.

“4 Reasons It’s Easier Than Ever to Be an Author” “When I started writing, it also seemed like everyone else was in control. I prepared a book proposal, then waited for a publisher to offer me a contract. I wrote the manuscript, then waited for booksellers to order the book. I published the book, the waited for the media to book me.” Not anymore, says this author, former publisher, and former editor.

“The Writing Journey: Author Beware” is one agent’s warning about using self-publishers and what to look for in the way of scams and unethical practices. She makes a good case for having an agent, but as you may know, landing an agent isn’t necessarily easy. You could do what I do: make an agreement with an agent to look over your contracts for a flat fee with an eye to marking questionable phrasing and things you could negotiate for.

“Write with Flow Workshop” is added here because I happen to use the Fractal Method of organization and I love it. Whether you sign up for the workshop or not, the article is a good read. Enrollment ends on Oct. 30.

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20. What’s New on the Web?

I know by now that you’re up to your eyeballs in shopping, wrapping, school programs, addressing Christmas cards, decorating, and the like.

However, you need to take periodic breaks. And this weekend when you do, check out the articles below for motivation, information, and a couple of important warnings.

Keys to More Success

Give Me a Hand

If you’ve found helpful articles and blog posts recently that you think other writers would love to read, please leave a comment below and share it. (That includes if you wrote it yourself!) The more we can encourage each other, the better!


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21. Failure and Hard Work Equal Success

"Dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you're willing to pay the price."
~ Vince Lombardi

"There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure."
~ Colin Powell


Maggie Stiefvater author of the best-selling series Shiver failed to get into a creative writing class in college because she was told that her writing wasn't promising enough. Thankfully for readers, that didn't stop her. Many writers believe that they need a writing degree in order to purse a career as a writer. According to Maggie no formal degree is required. What is required? Many hours of hard work.

Shannon Messenger's (one of the founding members of WriteOnCon) inspirational post on the hard work and failed draft attempts that finally got her first novel published.
20 ways to NOT write your first book

Inspirational video by muscleprodigy.com. Great quote from the narrator, "You will always pass failure on the road to success."
Failure Before Success

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22. Precious In God's Sight

"Under his watchful eye, a tiny sprout grows to a lovely, fragrant flower, the drab cocoon brings forth the beautiful butterfly, and the Babe in the manger becomes the Prince of Peace! These miracles bring wonderment and awe to our hearts, warming our souls like rays of sun on a spring morning, reminding us of an eternal truth--that all things are precious in his sight."  (from 

4 Comments on Precious In God's Sight, last added: 7/7/2012
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23. The Writer's Plot Conference

I'm off this coming weekend to The Writer's Plot Writing Conference at Furman University in Greenville, SC. I am looking forward to seeing good writing friends again, and to meeting for the first time some talented people in the field of children's literature. Folks like: Writing buddies - Samantha Bell, Pam Zollman, Jean Hall Harold Underdown Edie Melson Vonda Skelton Pat Thompson Alan

9 Comments on The Writer's Plot Conference, last added: 7/17/2012
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24. In Which I Am Out of Control

Writing friends, I just gave up. Completely surrendered.


And you know what? It felt great. I’ll probably do it again tomorrow. And the next day, too.

I see the confusion on your face. Surrender?? Gave up on what???

Stuff I have no control over. Factors outside my influence. The immoveable metric ton of tricksy particulars I keep trying to shoulder. Pesky things like:

–the economy

–market and genre trends

–shifting state of the publishing industry

–today’s seven figure deal for the latest self-published/YA/fanfic/erotica/BDSM/OCD/PTSD/STFU phenom

–three day auctions

–past failures

–past revisions

–past mistakes
–present learning curve



–editorial taste

–editorial lists

–acquisitions meetings

–editorial boards

–the submission process

–submission response times

–NYC weather


Maybe your list is different. Maybe you’re querying agents or staring at your debut’s book cover or sobbing over your last royalty statement. But I bet you have a list. Take a good hard look at it, and ask yourself if you’re like me, a writer who needs to put her hands up and say…

I am not psychic. I am not a special snowflake. I am not superman, yet I am not immune to kryptonite. I am just a girl, sitting in a red chair, typing some words. I am just trying to tell a story, the best way that I can. I can control the words. I can’t control the rest. The rest will not cripple or paralyze or smother the joy I find in words. Yesterday and today and tomorrow.  Amen.

Surrender is sweet. I highly recommend it. :)

Filed under: Writing Tagged: control issues, encouragement, grace, publishing, rejection, self-doubt, Writing

10 Comments on In Which I Am Out of Control, last added: 8/2/2012
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25. Writing as a Christian

"How can we help non-Christians understand that being a Christian doesn't mean living up to a standard of goodness, but rather means trusting a good God to do for us what we can't do for ourselves? As writers we have a unique opportunity to tell the world what it's all about. In our stories and in our characters, we can show what it really means to be a follower of Christ, and that means

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