Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Revival of a Zombie Scribe



Not even the fresh scent of ink pressed into paper could revive the dead.
That’s me, a zombie just going through the motions of life without really feeling anything. Everything I do – from the endless sinks of rainbow-colored plates covered in sticky goo and breaded bits of dino-shaped chicken, to the heaps of laundry splattered with mysterious stains – I do because I have to, even though it consumes every moment of every day.
I pass the coffee counter, carefully navigating the double-wide stroller around the towering piles of books stacked waist-high in the center aisle, ignoring the twinge of jealousy for the woman sitting alone in a quiet corner.
Gone are the days when I had time to do anything I wanted. I used to go to concerts. I used to golf. I used to write… oh, how I loved to write. I’d spend hours immersed in one fictional world or another, never remembering that a real world existed beyond my four office walls. I could go days without food – or a shower if I had to – if that’s what it took to get my burning thoughts on paper.
But now…now my life is different. Now my life is not my own.
The endless rows of hardbound books, the soft rustle of pages being turned, the mammoth bookstore attached to the mall tries to awaken my senses as a familiar title glares at me from the overstocked shelf: WRITING THE BREAKTHROUGH NOVEL. There were a dozen other books just like it at home in my dusty, forgotten writer’s den.
How long had it been, a year, maybe two? Hard to remember.
Maybe I don’t want to.
My fingers twitch as if the involuntary memories of pounding words into a keyboard have become too much for them ignore.
It’s not that I don’t want to write, or that I don’t have anything to say, it’s that I’m broken. Broken by circumstance. Broken by conscience. Broken…from the inside out.
Not that I complain. Oh, no! When I got the phone call – the one that said my son was in jail and his girlfriend of three years was being evicted with my grandchildren – I took those babies without question and I’ve loved them and cared for them as though they were born to me. I had voluntarily given up the only true passion I’d ever had out of duty and love.
Love. Ha.
Love is just another four letter word that convinces people to do stupid things, no matter how valiant their intentions might be. My friends – and even strangers who hear my story – call me a saint. That’s ridiculous. My husband and I did what anyone would do. We adopted our grandchildren to save them from a life doomed to poverty, abuse and neglect.
I had to do it. I couldn’t have lived with myself otherwise. Would I change it if I could? I wonder.
I don’t know.
“Nonnie, Nonnie I want this one. Will you read this one…please?” my sweet Emma Lu sings, as her pink Mary-Janes dance on the spot.
My granddaughter turned daughter is beautiful, and I’m not just saying that because that’s what everyone says. She’s truly as pretty as a porcelain doll. Her biological mother is Filipino and my son is of European-Jewish descent, together they made the prettiest children. Her skin is like tawny silk, her dark eyes are framed by thick, dark lashes and her lips are watermelon red. But it’s her electric smile and outgoing personality that draws anyone within a fifty-foot radius to her.
“Me too! Me too! This-s one too! Pretty pleeease?” Mason squirms in his stroller, itching to be free and touch everything his round eyes can see.
The boy, a cookie-cutter image of my granddaughter, is a year younger and not bad for a terrible two. He wants to do everything his sister does. He takes (or at least tries to) every toy she’s interested in and repeats everything she says by adding a “too” at the end. It’s quite cute.
I look at him now, dressed in his favorite button-down – the one he says is like Poppie’s – trying desperately to reach everything with his chubby little fingers. He’s so much like my son, soft curly hair that wings out over his ears, only a tiny sparkle of mischief in his eyes, but enough that I keep a close eye on him.
“You guys want me to read to you? That’s crazy,” I tease.
“No, we do, we do,” Emma squeals, enjoying the game.
“Me do, too, Nonnie,” Mason adds.
Tiny threads of joy stitch the corners of my broken heart together as they peer up at me, so eager to hear a story that some author slaved over for countless days, months, years, making sure each word choice was just right.
They both love books.
Pangs of grief and nostalgia needle their way into my chest as memories of being in bookstores with my older children flood over me.
Books were the one thing I never denied them – no matter how broke we were – if they wanted a book, I found a way to get it [legally] for them. I was so sure I was being a good parent. Four of my five children grew up to be wonderfully responsible adults.
Remorse floods my heart with an ocean of helplessness. My son…he used to be anyway…is lost to me, maybe forever.
Where’d I go wrong? I question, digging my nails into the meaty flesh on my palm.
Emma waves the books under my face, desperate for me to acknowledge her as my thoughts drift, watching the enchantment sparkle in her eyes. My husband and I are quite a bit more established than we were our first time raising a family, it would be easy to go crazy and let these two have everything they want.
But I don’t.
I don’t want to ruin them. I want them to understand the value of imagination and what it can make a person create. Imagination is the key to a person’s soul, whether through art or invention, or just to let themselves go in whatever passion grabs them. But being free to conjure something from nothing is an experience I want them to have.
 I reach down, considering Emma’s choice of in-store narrative. The jacket is covered in beautifully-illustrated pirates, ships and fish.
“Ooh, what did you find? An adventure book?” I squat to her level, squeezing her shoulders and kissing her soft, squishy cheek. She smells of gumdrops.
“Me too! Me too!” wails Mason.
“Shhh, inside voice,” I remind him. “You want to hear the story too?”
“Uh huh. Me too. Me too.” His little fingers try to undo his safety harness.
“Okay, hang on there, Houdini.”
The moment he’s free, he runs through the kid-corner shouting, “Wook! Wook!”
“Shhh, I see honey, but remember we use inside voices,” I remind him for the two-hundredth time that day. “Here, come sit and I’ll read.”
Like everything else in my life, this outing feels redundant. Not only do I repeat myself a thousand times a day, but I have already done the raising-a-family gig. I’ve changed the gag-inducing diapers and survived potty-training a half-dozen times. I’ve taught kids how to read and to remember to use their manners. I’ve already paid my dues and earned my empty-nest freedom.
Still, as I read the story, déjà vu creeps in and I remember that I’ve already had the tiny house with the huge mortgage. I’ve sat in the bleachers and cheered. I’ve dared gather laundry out of our teenaged sons’ rooms. I’m middle-aged, not twenty-something, I don’t have the energy to do this…again.
Is this punishment for surviving five children? I shut off my new mini-van (Lord help me, I can’t believe I drive a mini-van), open the automatic doors and release one sleeping child from his car seat.
I suppose at first I thought this was some type of karmic punishment. I thought somewhere in my past – maybe even a past life – I’d wronged someone and this was my penalty, to be an eternal mother. I did the math. By the time my now youngest child graduates from high school I will have raised children for fifty years. It didn’t matter that I’d already sacrificed my youth to my children, now I have to surrender the last few youthful years I have left on this earth.
I could look at it like that I suppose.
But something miraculous happens when children are sleeping. The pain and trials of parenthood instantly disappear and when the babies wake anew, so too do I. Their precious faces shining up at me so eagerly, hanging on every word I’m about to read again, only this time…
… I enjoy it.
As I open the book and begin to read the magic from within, I’m transported back to a time when being a mother was all I ever wanted. A time when the highlight of my day was watching the joy on my family’s faces as they devoured my lasagna, back to a time when vacuuming the closets was the most important thing I’d do that day and I remember…
I remember what made me want to write in the first place.
I wanted to write for the young and the young-at-heart. I wanted to write for all of the children I can’t make blueberry pancakes for before they catch the bus. I wanted to write to touch the lives of those who don’t have someone in their corner. I wanted to write because I know how they feel, alone and afraid.
That was the childhood I’d had. That was the childhood I’d escaped from by way of enchanted literary portals.
But if why I write is for other people, for children who find themselves alone, then shouldn’t I find even more joy in giving that happiness to these children in person?
The answer is yes.
With elation and fervor I read Michael Recycle and Bootleg Peg again, this time with all of the voices I could dream up, and I stacked that book back in the bookshelf with conviction. From that point on, whenever I’m wondering what the heck I’m doing here, I go find that book and cuddle my babies close to me and I read (I’ve now mastered the fishy-pirate voices).
“Nonnie?” Emma asks one night before bed, her expression thoughtful and dreamy.
“Hmmm?” I sigh, closing our much loved book once again.
“Thanks for loving me. You’re my favorite,” she sings, squeezing my arm.
“And you’re mine.” I pull her precious little head to my face, planting a kiss in her grape-scented hair.
With both babes huddled against me, I have no doubt this is where I belong. No matter how many stories blaze inside me, dying to be set free, this is the story that must first be told.   

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Writer’s Maze: It begins with a burning obsession to write. It should end with getting published, but does it?



The family and I went to a local dairy farm to enjoy the fall festivities yesterday.

As I wandered through the labyrinth of corn and packed clay, I felt the correlation to my real life dilemma. 

“How did I get from where I began this crazy writing journey, to where I am now? And how do I get to where I want to be?”

I glanced at the map clutched in my hands, as though I couldn’t take a step without it, and in big bold letters the words START and FINISH taunted me. And then, dotted along the sides of the illustration, another word caught my attention, EXIT.


START, FINISH, and EXIT.

Those three words however, had one very obvious difference. START and FINISH were only written once but EXIT… well, there were so many of them! In this maze – this child’s playground – anyone could give up and get out if they panicked. Everyone in the maze could simply EXIT if they wanted to.


That meant everyone I could see and hear in the corn tunnels around me were in there by choice. These adventurers had come to play the game too. They hadn’t been tempted by the EXITs.

They’d looked those winding paths in the cob and soldiered on, just like me.


They had the desire to make it to the FINISH.

The craving to write a book (or twenty) seemed to be an innocent quest, at first. It seemed exciting and totally doable. We writers – the ones whose minds are poisoned by ideas and words which rob us of sleep – we must write, the way all other living creatures must breathe.

We write and write until our fingers bleed and our families forget what we look like. We write with passion and a desire that someday our words might be read by people who share our love of stories. But then, reality sets in. We learn there is more to getting published than writing. We learn there are a million other obstacles waiting for us that look like…


…revisions, major edits, minor edits, and line edits oh my! To query an agent? To query an editor? To self-publish? To traditionally publish?  


We read blogs with good advice (not this one!) so we revise again, edit again, query again, go back to school, learn more about our chosen craft, go to conferences, meet agents, meet editors, query again, revise again, query again only to find…


…dead end after dead end, corner after corner and we ask ourselves, “Should I EXIT now? Should I give up and never look back? Or should I see what’s around the next corner? Am I close to the FINISH or am I still miles from where I want to be?”

I don’t know. I’m lost. All I really want to do is write the next story I’ve been dreaming of. 


But then we get a sign.

We win pitch contests [Shout out to Brenda Drake for hosting AMAZING contests like Pitch Madness. Thank you very much!]or maybe we’ve written a really amazing query letter and agents request to read our full manuscripts! And then it’s all, “Hooray! I must be on the right path!”




We must be getting close! And while the agents are reading our babies, we dream of the day when one of them will say, “I love your book. I’d like to represent you.” And the sign we conjure in our imaginations looks more like this…


But in this maze, as I meandered through, there are signs with a phone number to call if I get lost. 



You know who I really call when I’m feeling lost? My CRITUQUE PARTERS


Man, let me tell you, you cannot survive this maze without ‘em. Don’t have ‘em? Get ‘em! Nobody knows your pain and struggle more than a good critique partner (mine are the flippen bomb-diggety, but you can’t have ‘em, they’re mine). Not only will a good CP read and chop up edit your manuscript for you, they’ll be there to pick you up when you want to EXIT. They won’t let you give up no matter how much you beg, whine and grovel. 

And you’ll love them for it. I love my SFWG more than I love coffee or shoes (if you know me, you know that’s A LOT!).

Unlike this quaint little maze, which was build to provide a fun adventure, the path from writer to published author doesn’t come with a handy phone number or a map and a clearly marked FINISH line. Becoming an author is a journey we take blindfolded.


(That’s my husband, aint he puuuurdy?)

We follow the voices of the authors who’ve taken this path before us. All the while thinking, how did you do this? And as we watch our friends moving further and further ahead in their careers (and we’re so happy for them!! xoxoxo) we still want to shout, “Hey, wait for me!”


But alas, they cannot hold our hands and drag us out of our maze. Each of our paths is different and no two look exactly alike. And while all of the advices on how-to-get-published can point us in the right direction like a map, it cannot lead us to immortal glory… err, to the FINISH

That part is up to us, the would-be authors, the perpetual dreamers, creators, imaginers, and wishful thinkers. The rest of the maze is for us…the purpose is to find our way, even if we have to call for help once in awhile.

We must be vigilant in our quest and stay focused on the FINISH no matter how many EXITs might temp us to quit. I know this because this little corn maze taught me there are more EXITs near the FINISH than there are near the START.

Write on future authors. If you see that EXIT sign, it only means you’re getting closer to the FINISH.

And then you’ll be all…


…and the world will hear your Bell of Success ring!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

 Check out what's happening at

HarperCollins Chilrens 

Case File 13 author,  

http://www.harpercollinschildrens.com/harperchildrensImages/isbn/large/0/9780062133250.jpg

J. Scott Savage 

 shares his family's favorite scary movies! 

Take a look and enter for a chance to win them all!

CASE FILE 13 author, J. Scott Savage to share his family’s go-to films when they are in the mood for a good scare - See more at: http://harpercollinschildrens.tumblr.com/post/62809023436/10-family-friendly-scary-movies#sthash.ckmIO2Vo.dpuf
CASE FILE 13 author, J. Scott Savage to share his family’s go-to films when they are in the mood for a good scare - See more at: http://harpercollinschildrens.tumblr.com/post/62809023436/10-family-friendly-scary-movies#sthash.ckmIO2Vo.dpuf
CASE FILE 13 author, J. Scott Savage to share his family’s go-to films when they are in the mood for a good scare - See more at: http://harpercollinschildrens.tumblr.com/post/62809023436/10-family-friendly-scary-movies#sthash.ckmIO2Vo.dpuf




Thursday, September 12, 2013

JACKABY SKAR AND THE INHERITANCE OF OSLO



Please Forgive My Shameless #pitmad Pitch:

MG Adventure 55,000 

Blurb:


Thirteen-year-old Jack learns his not-so-imaginary friend, Nada, is a very real Norwegian troll when he uncovers an ancient family legacy. But before he can claim his inheritance he must outwit a murderous kidnapper and survive Viking training aboard a flying dragon ship.

To make matters worse, Jack’s new friend from his old life, Tenny, has tagged along. Now he has to figure out his friendship and he doesn’t know which is scarier, saving a country or liking a girl.

When Nada gets hijacked by wicked trolls, Jack and Tenny join the Vikings in their search for her. But time is running out. Jack must rescue Nada before Troll War II destroys his new-found home and any chance of finding his real relatives, Norway’s Royal family.



-----------------------------

ONE
Death and Cookies
He supposed it made him crazy, seeing things that didn’t exist, but crazy felt better than invisible.
Forgettable Jack Brown, he always stood in the middle row on picture day. His brown, shaggy hair – that he wore long enough to hide his too-big ears and sweep of freckles – brushed the brim of his lopsided nose as he scooted down the aisle.
“Nice troll doll. Lo-ser!” Dustin Barton flicked the keychain on Jack’s backpack.
Jack pretended not to hear, used to being teased by Dustin. At least Dustin noticed him.
Every day since kindergarten Jack had worn the same outfit: work boots, jeans and a button-up flannel, all brown— of course, because that’s the uniform of the Brown’s Family Nursery and the color of Jack’s uber-dull life.
In the dreary days filled with nothingness and work he counted on one crazy-strange thing to mix it up, make him laugh. But now that uniqueness – his ability to imagine – had to go. Tonight when the clock raps the stroke of midnight, he turns thirteen and there’s not one stupid thing he can do about it.
His face twisted into a frown as he stepped off the bus. He shuffled his heavy boots down the hushed country road and paused at his driveway to chuck a rock. It ricocheted off a boulder and into an overgrown hydrangea which began to tremble.
Jack waited. When the bus slipped out of sight he turned to the quivering bush. “This is it, Nada. Are you scared? Just think— in a few hours you could dissolve into goo or gunk or something.”
A giant, gray troll appeared beside him and smiled her big, goofy grin. “Jackabean, that’s crazy. Trolls don’t turn into goo. We turn into slime.”
Nada’s snaggletoothed grin and deep voice made it hard to tell she was a girl. Luckily the yellow bed sheet, she wore toga-style, cleared up the mystery.
“If that’s the case I’ll scoop you up and put you in a jar. Then I can keep you forever.” He paused, biting his bottom lip. “But seriously, aren’t you nervous? For real.”
But Nada showed no signs of concern. In fact, her face went purple and she shook her fat fist in the air. “Maybe Jackabean should use his big ears for listening. Nada’s not imaginary. Nada’s your troll!”
“Uh-huh, okay.” He’d heard it all before. Nada was a real Norwegian troll from Trollveggen… blah, blah, blah. “Whatever. I’ll still miss you.”
Not very often did Jack hug his imagination anymore, but now he sunk his face in her spongy belly, trying unsuccessfully to wrap his arms around her middle. Nada, his only friend, unless he counted his mom—pathetic, had been with him for as long as he could remember.  He wished things were different. He wished she could stay.  


You can see my Pitch Madness entry here.