cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

Conference Recap


About ten years ago one of my writing group cohorts gave me sound advice: “If you want your writing to go somewhere, you need to go to writing conferences.” I immediately started listing reasons why I shouldn’t go: time, cost, distance, and of course, intimidation factor. She countered with a shrug. “Find a way.”

And so I did. I budgeted time and money, carpooled, and found solace in attending with my writing group buds. I absorbed, networked, and came away revitalized. 

Since that first Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference I try to attend a conference of some sort once a year. My favorite one was at Chatauacqua hosted by Highlights magazine. For a week we learned the business of writing from some of the best children’s writers in the business, shared meals together, and received one on one conferencing. I sold a story, “Daddy’s Truck” to Highlights out of that experience. In fact it comes out this month in High Five.


This weekend I attended my seventh (or nearly so) SCBWI conference. Even though it’s closer and costs less than my first one, I’m getting more for money because I’m learning more. 

For one, listening to our keynote speakers, two agents and an editor, writing for children is a tough business and a very fulfilling one. As writers for children we encourage, impress, enliven, challenge, motivate, comfort, entertain, and so much more with our words. Our impact remains into adulthood with all of us treasuring at least one favorite title, a favorite author that we will pass on to the next generation.

I also learned that the children’s publishing field is very particular. Agents, editors, and publishers have their preferences and knowing those preferences makes a difference between a manuscript languishing in the slush pile and receiving a contract.

One very important takeaway from this conference is that my polished manuscript, the one I thought the editor I conferenced with would be so impressed she would pull out a contract and sign me up, needs work. Not a discouraging amount, but enough to get me back into revising mode once again.

Maybe in an upcoming conference or two, I’ll be up front at the long table with the authors instead of at the round ones with the hopeful writers. In the meantime I’ll keep attending, keep absorbing, continue revising, and checklist the chicken salad as my lunch preference. It was almost as good as the conference.

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Hold it, Hold it


When I get down to one book in hand and one waiting to be read, a rising sense of dismay bordering on idgety panic ensues.

I could live without chocolate before I could live with nothing to read.

–C.Muse

So I did what any ink-blooded Book Booster does–I began scouring my resources and filling up my books- to-read shelf. First stop: the library.

I rarely buy books. If I do, they are gifts. This means I have achieved Frequent Flyer status at my local library. Can’t beat the convenience or the price: five minutes down the street and a twenty item limit. Did I mention they have an amazing free books shelf? Plus, they have the nicest inter-library loan dept. The library often buys my requests–I am spoiled, I know.

I also review for two separate publishers, and I can review two books at a time per site.

My panic mode at having nothing to read over the long weekend before school starts (my leisure reading diminishes considerably after Labor Day) became one of stress when EVERYTHING came in at once. I went from bare shelf to overwhelmed in a matter of moments.

Three holds appeared within two days of each other, with two being ILLs needing to be read almost immediately (honestly–why loan it out if a person barely has time to read the book?) and one book bearing that annoying little bookmark “Read Me First!” I can practically feel the anticipatory drumming of fingers of the next patron. Three books I have to read now, as in right now, presents an oxymoronic perspective to the idea of leisurely reading over the holiday.

Oh, two review books arrived and they need to be read and reviews duly noted before the month is out.

I also have three books which I had picked up at the library a couple of weeks ago, which means their due date is approaching. Renew or return? Oh, how I dislike that question.

Well, I have plenty to read at the moment. I will have to hold off on my longings for the new titles promos that keep popping up in my email.

Does anyone else go through this famine/feast cycle? I’m hoping I’m not alone in this…

Drug Free Teaching


Today was the first day back to school. I went home just before lunch after confessing to the principal I couldn’t handle it any longer. The look on my  face made him step back and say: “Go home.” Good thing it was only staff day and not class day. 

It’s been a month since I ditched my  mountain bike on the bike path embankment to avoid crashing into anothet cyclist. It’s been a long month of adjusting to using my left hand instead of my right, learning to love ice packs, and enduring physical therapy. Tolerating pain meds is it’s own post.

Being a lightweight (wave a cork at me and I’m tipsy), I take half doses of my pills in order to maintain some state of functionality. This means I’m always at about a three on the pain scale–I think ten is an elephant standing on your head (like when I first figured my wrist must be broken after I crashed).

Apparently, I cannot teach or drive, if I take my pain meds. Driving a car or teaching teens under the influence is frowned  upon .  Something about impaired judgement. So, to prepare going back to driving and teaching I have been cutting back on my dosage. Way back. How about no meds for a day? Yeah–that didn’t work so well. 

Thankfully, my understanding principal let me go home and nap so I could return for open house. Yes, it was a long day first day back.

At this moment I have ice on my wrist and I’m hoping to go back to sleep and go for another day of  staff meetings and prepping my classroom. During staff introductions I held up my black air-cast wrist and joked I had on my Wonder Woman titanium bracelet. The joke was on me when I said, “And it’s my first day without drugs.” And the quip? “In your teaching career?”

Yeah. 

I went home and napped for three hours. Ice is nice. 

  

E-clipsed


I did not experience the solar eclipse, but I am content with the strange sorta kinda dimness that I thought I was the eclipse. We do not live in the pathway and we hadn’t considered making the seven hour drive to witness the two minutes. 

I did experience some type of eclipse in college during the eighties, can’t remember what type. I do remember a group of us signed up for an adventure excursion trip. We jumped into a van and drovehalf a day with no real plan. At the eclipse approached someone in the van  yelled, “Pull over here!” We stopped at the top of a hill overlooking a vineyard. Slowly it grew dusk, cars on the ribbon of highway below began turning on headlights, but none stopped driving. A dim shadow quavered through the vineyard momentarily transforming it into an Ansel Adams time lapse print of grey landscape tones. Quite surreal. 

Didn’t make it here this time. Or last time, for that matter. Our vinny was more modest. I bet happy hour was something though.

This time around, I missed out due to being preoccupied with my mending broken wrist. I did virtually share the wonder of the event through NASA.gov with millions of other non-pathers and was genuinely happy for the crowds. Maybe next time I’ll plan it better. For now I’ll be humming Donovan:

The Perfect Eclipse Tune
How was solar eclipse experience?

Why We Say: #31 Tumblers, Turkeys, and Turns


Tumblers

There are many ways to categorize people. Dogs or cats? Soccer or football? Gelato or frozen yogurt? And the big one: glass up or glass down in the cabinet?

Housecleaning isn't what it used to be. Four hundred years ago it was even more of a problem. In fact, it was such a problem, especially dust issues, that glasses were designed with a pointed bottom so that when stored they would "tumble" over unless stored rim side down. Having a German mother, however, I do know about house cleaning, so this entry about tumblers took me to wondering just why we store our glassware in the manner of upside down. And yet, I'm wondering about how people actually used the glasses since they couldn't be set on the table. Were there catchers for these tumblers?

Turkey

The Ben Franklin story about wanting the turkey as our national bird is not this story. This story sounds like a bit of a fairytale though. Apparently tradesmen having discovered some birds, guinea hens, and sent them back to England by way of Turkey. Do you see what's going to happen here? When the birds arrived they were naturally named Turkey after the country they were thought to have originated from, which is why when settlers from England arrived to America and saw the natives with birds that looked like turkeys they were called turkeys.

I'm having a difficult time with this one too. Sometimes my little Why We Say… book has some really interesting explanations. Checking it out I found this information: maybe my little book isn't so wrong after all.

 

Taking a few turns…

Turning thumbs up or down

This one is so well known that you probably already know that a gladiator's fate was not always determined by whether he won the fight, but rather how well he fought. Thumbs up–he lived. A turn of the thumb, well, job security as a gladiator was a bit tenuous back then.

Turnpike

Originally, to prevent people from traveling down the road without paying for that privilege, a pike or bar was swung into place. And you thought those little gates were annoying.

Turn the Tables

Just like it sounds, during a certain card game a player could turn the table to replace his perceived poor hand with perhaps a better hand held by his opponent. Wait! That reminds me of a Bugs Bunny cartoon gag (around 3:35–the old carrot juice switcharoo).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOUhGcsHqDM

Reading Round Up: July


Due to my recent mishap involving having to choose between  a rock strewn embankment and the asphalt bike path, I’m spending my recovery days reading more than gardening, walking, writing, driving, visiting and anything else that involves continuous sustained movement. I am now five books ahead on my Goodreads challenge. Good thing I like to read.

Top picks for July:

 I’ll Push You by Patrick Gray and Justin Skeesuck

The cover states it succinctly: “Two friends. One wheelchair. A journey of 500 miles.”

Friends since birth, Patrick and Justin, share the usual boyhood mischief together, which bind and bond them together through childhood, college, and adulthood. They manage to keep their friendship going despite raising their families thousands of miles apart. Their friendship extends into one another’s families and they share adventures together such as European trips. Justin’s neuromuscular disability does not slow any of them down. In fact, it initiates the greatest adventure: the Camino de Santiago Trail.

This book is beyond inspirational. It’s an amazing story of two friends who experience the beauty of giving and receiving. There is also the unexpected blessings of the generosity of strangers. And throughout the journey Patrick and Justin reflect upon the strength of family and the joy of their friendship, as they face the rugged challenge of their pilgrimage.

A 5 star for not only the amazing adventure these two friends shared, but also for the storytelling itself.

 A Man Called Ove by Richard Backman

I heard subdued chatter about this one. When it finally came in from the holds list I wondered if I was up for yet another book about a grumpy old guy with an undiscovered heart of gold, and by page 12 I had decided I could not bear to dedicate my reading time to such an incredibly irascible man. Mr Wilson from Dennis the Menace seems a jovial saint in comparison.

But stuck with it I did because I knew old Ove would have to go through a character change. If he didn’t, he would no doubt self-implode from orneriness by page 17.

Much more said and there will be a Spoiler tab on this review.

It’s a 5 star because the epilogue made me sniffle.


Until the Harvest by Sarah Loudin Thomas

Continuing with many of the same characters from the first book, the plot focuses on Henry, Perla and Casewell’s son. Henry struggles with several major decisions and faces them with the help of friends and family. The introduction of Margaret and Mayfair add a satisfying depth of the different aspects of love and faith.

As an aside, I suggest checking out Sarah’s website: http://www.sarahloudinthomas.com. We’ve become “blog pals” and I appreciate her down home Appalachian Thursday feature. Her character-driven plots are filled with insights on the different ways people deal with faith, grace, and forgiveness.


I decided to reread Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, and just like my reread of the Hunger Games, I found myself favoring the first book and being disenchanted with the subsequent sequels.

Four is different, in that the Divergent story is told from his perspective and fills in some needed background that adds more depth to the story. However, once Four’s story intersects with Tris’s it becomes difficult to keep track of the story since there is pondering whether this is a repeat or new material.  Personally, I’d like to see Divergent continue from Four’s perspective, the aftermath of Allegiant. Maybe call the continuation Regiment as a new regime forms.

So, lots more reading than writing in August, and typing left-handed, actually left-thumbed, is more taxing than I thought. I will have a second career in thumb wrestling perhaps after this stint.

Writing Quotes


Usually I dedicate a chunk of time during the summer to writing projects: finishing, editing, revising, submitting. This summer writing has taken a back seat to my dealing with healing. Typing with my left hand, mainly my left thumb while my right hand passively observes, is not conducive to getting a lot of writing done. There is a deadline of 10 pages by August 21 I’m gamely trying to meet.

So–I get sidetracked. One of my more diverting diversions is looking up words on dictionary.com and I came across these quotes of encouragement. Hope one of them rings true for you:

   
               

My Left Hand


Dear Left Hand:
Due to unforeseen circumstances, you have undoubtedly noticed the extra workload and overtime you've been having to cope with these last few days.

Management appreciates your willing attitude and unexpected diversity, if not ingenuity, in approaching situations your aptitude and abilities have previously not necessarily
prepared you to encounter.

Recently it was noted you coped well in the following situations:

  • signing release forms ("Better than the doctor's," noted the nurse.)
  • opening a child-lock prescription bottle (known to be difficult with two functioning hands)
  • making up a bed (we do acknowledge the assistance of pulling corners)
  • putting away dishwasher contents (commendable)

And this last one we found extraordinary:
Teaching a child how to darn her sock in order to uphold a commitment made prior to the stated unfortunate circumstance.

While the everyday and mundane tasks of personal hygiene maintenance and meal sustenance were expected, management appreciates the fortitude and perseverance shown in recent days.

At present it is not known when immediate relief from present duties will be expected nor the return of right hand's full capacity. Therefore, we encourage you to persevere and carry on, continuing appreciated efforts until further notice.
Sincerely,
Management

Another entry for my “What I Did Over Summer Vacation”


So far summer break has been great: a long-waited Hawaiian holiday, lots of hammock reading, editing projects, family visits–yes, an enjoyable break, that is until today. 

Today the break became literally great. Well, maybe not great but enough to earn an ER visit.

  This is prior to x-ray.

Highlights of the incident:

  • Renting bikes
  • Exploring bike paths
  • A sudden stop
  • Avoiding a major bicycle pile up
  • An abrupt encounter with the embankment
  • Bloody knee and that sudden epiphany I’ve broken my wrist
  • Thankfully I did not wipe out the grandkiddo
  • The kindness of strangers is a marvel–a shout out to James
  • Our smalltown ER staff is fabulous
  • My hubs missed his calling as a physician’s assistant
  • Life is going to be interesting the remainder of my vacation with my dominant hand in a cast
  • Oh–pain meds are my new best friend

So, tommorrow it’s off to the orthopedic surgeon for assessment.

Over sixty years of surviving various risky activities and I fall off my bike and break my wrist. Sheesh–

Shakespeare Goals


Although I’m known as a Bardinator, I confess I’m a bit of a poser in actuality.

I  truly know a handful of his plays, primarily the ones I teach, the usual: Romeo and Juliet, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Julius Caesar, Othello, Taming of the Shrew, Hamlet. I do have a working knowledge of other plays: King Lear, Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing , The Tempest, Merchant of Venice,Twelfth Night. And I have a nodding acquaintance with the Henrys and Richards. I tend to shudder and ignore the more violent plays where body parts and pies and such are a featured plot focus.

As for William’s sonnets–let’s just say while I’m not adverse to his verse, I prefer to revel in his plays.

So, my goal is to become more than a dabbler and get cracking at becoming better in my Bard. This will involve some serious study since Shakespeare is not for sissies. He provides stout meat and drink once at the table of literature feasting. I will *sigh* set aside some (not all) of my leisurely summer reading forays and bite off, rather than nibble, sizable portions of Shakespeare works.

IMG_0552

Here is a beginning goal list:

  • Select at least five-ten sonnets, mainly the ones we refer to in our current curriculum, and really study them beyond the quick note referring I usually do. Study what other critics have come up with in their analysis.
  • Move beyond my comfort zone and learn at least one play of William’s that I’m not familiar with. I’m still squeamish about reading about revenge pie, so perhaps I will look into a comedy not well known to me–maybe The Merry Wives of Windsor or As You Like It.

My basic Bard facts are decent: birth, death, family life, supposition of lost years. I even have Renaissance and Elizabethan knowledge down pretty well as it relates to Shakespeare. I could start committing more to memory and really dazzle the crowds.

Why take on Shakespeare this summer? I could just lounge and read for fun and drift and not work so hard. Didn’t I just get out of school?

One reason to push myself in this endeavor is that Shakespeare is so fascinating. I knew relatively nothing about him until I began teaching his works. For the past fifteen years I’ve learned so much more about the Bard and it makes me realize I have so much more to go. But, I’m in no real hurry.

Another reason is that if want to really become a Bardintor, not just pretend I know my Bard stuff. Please don’t expect me to spout off reams of memorized quotes and speeches. Memorizing, is unfortunately, a real problem. Short term gaps and all that.

One other reason is that I want to be THAT teacher, the one whose enthusiasm for Shakespeare overflowed into the curriculum and into the hearts and minds of my students. I still treasure that moment when one of my struggling students came up to me after class and said, “I will will studying Hamlet.” He got involved in our study of the melancholy Prince of Denmark, and that’s why I will learn more about Shakespeare.

Anyone out there desire a bit more Bard in your life?

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