Happy February!

Cleveland is gray for the entire month of Febuary, so I have to trick myself into staying happy.

Send vitamin D!

Kidding.

Sort of.

This is my last official blog post. What?! It’s true. As I alluded to in my previous post on setting intentions, 2019 was unkind. Sure, there was lots of great stuff – like an amazing trip to visit my brother in Hawaii. Aloha! But, our world was rocked in other ways, and I’m going to take a step back to steady our little ship a bit.

It has been an awesome two years! I’ve had the chance to work with Thea – a great friend and incredible critique buddy. She’s really the brains and discipline behind this show. I never would have ventured into the world of blogging without her encouragement. I never would have stuck with it without her natural drive forward. I’m so grateful to her for this experience.

Thanks to all of YOU who read my ramblings and rants. I hope some were entertaining or helpful. Thank you for leaving comments and likes. It always feels good to know you aren’t posting into emptiness! Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter – we do a little dance with each new subscription. A special thank you to those of you who gave me blog topic ideas at the bus stop – you know who you are!

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That’s the Intention

I have a plaque with a quote from Mark Twain that reads:

“Apparently there is nothing that cannot happen today.”

At some point, I should have crossed out “today,” and wrote “in 2019” above it.

Sorry, but 2019 was full of so much suckiness, not just for me, but for a number of people I know. I heard “I can’t wait for this year to be over!” exclaimed a lot more this December, which means a lot of us must have been ready to toss that old calendar to the curb. Goodbye, good riddance, don’t let the door hit ya in the rear on your way out, 2019!

If I remember correctly, 1999 and 2009 were equal in suckage. I mean, if we’re going rate years by level of suckage. Now, I don’t have any background in numerology, but I’m going to propose that this is due to them all ending in the number 9. Obviously.

And I’m making a mental note to prepare for 2029 by hoarding bottles of vodka and buying a helmet to shield my head from falling crap.

Because I’m a planner.

Unfortunately, 2019 has not left me in my usual place for goal setting. At the end of the year I’m normally buying a new planner, making new word lists, and greeting the new year with hopefulness and lots of fresh office supplies. Since that’s not the current situation, I decided to try the “setting intentions” approach for this year. It feels like a kinder, gentler version of goal setting. Goals feel more pass/fail to me at the moment, and the bad taste in my mouth from 2019 makes me assume I’ll fail. There’s no sense in setting myself up for that.

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On Ghost-Raising Fiddles and Writing

An Interview with Author Erica Waters

I’m so excited to share an interview with Erica Waters. Erica was a member of the Pitch Wars class of 2017 and I’ve been able to read a bit of her work – I love it! Erica’s debut Young Adult novel, GHOST WOOD SONG, will be released by HarperTeen/Harper Collins this summer. GHOST WOOD SONG is a spooky, contemporary fantasy – and good news – it’s available for pre-order! Follow any of these links:

Here’s a brief bio for Erica from her website:

Erica Waters grew up in the pine woods of rural Florida, though she now resides in Nashville, Tennessee. She has a Master’s degree in English and works as a university writing tutor. When she’s not writing books, you can find her hanging out with her two dogs, Nutmeg and Luna, and forgetting to practice her banjo.

Before we head into the interview, check out the awesome summary for GHOST WOOD SONG…

Shady Grove is her father’s daughter, through and through. She inherited his riotous, curly hair, his devotion to bluegrass, and his ability to call ghosts from the grave with his fiddle.

That cursed instrument drowned with him, though, when his car went off the road, taking with it the whispering ghosts, nightmares, and the grief and obsession that forced her daddy to play.

But Shady’s brother was just accused of murder, and so she has a choice to make: unearth the fiddle that sang her father to the grave and speak to the dead to clear her brother’s name, or watch the only family she has left splinter to pieces.

The ghosts have secrets to keep, but Shady will make those old bones sing.

So let’s find out a little about how GHOST WOOD SONG came to be!

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The 12 Days of NaNo

November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. If you’ve never heard of NaNo, as it’s commonly referred to, check it out here. The goal is to get 50,000 words down on paper in the month of November. It’s November 20th as I write this, and, well, let’s just say I’m not on track to hit that number.

At the rate I’m going, I’ll hit my NaNo word count maybe 12 days this month. Are you in the same sinking boat? Take heart! I’ve written a little parody to cheer up all of us NaNo-not-quites. I combined my NaNo failure with the excitement of the upcoming holidays. I present to you…

The 12 Days of NaNo (Note: In writer world, MS = manuscript.)

On the first day of Nano

I managed to achieve

an outline of an MS.

On the second day of NaNo

I managed to achieve

two hundred words

and an outline of an MS.

On the third day of NaNo

I managed to achieve

three lame scenes,

two hundred words,

and an outline of an MS.

On the fourth day of NaNo

I managed to achieve

four storylines,

three lame scenes,

two hundred words,

and an outline of an MS.

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Sideline Headaches

Photo by Sandro Schuh on Unsplash

When I finished the rough draft for this post, I went to look for other posts I’ve written on youth sports and realized I’ve already written three. Here, here, and here. I considered pivoting and writing about one of the many painful plot points in a writer’s journey, but decided I would feel better if I got this off my chest. So here’s the original rant for your reading pleasure. I’ll save the agony of writing for the next post.

Fall soccer season is almost over and I couldn’t be happier. I need a break. Not from the non-stop driving to practices, the lost uniforms, or the chronic misplacement of water bottles. Nope. What I need a break from is some of the “fans.” Some of the people who are hanging out on the sidelines with me – mostly parents and grandparents – from both teams. It’s their constant shouting at children from our camping chairs that has me wanting to bring a roll of duct tape to the games and use it with reckless abandon. Here are the two things I heard coming out of grown adults’ mouths most often this season:

  1. “That was your ball, Joe!”

This is usually yelled after some poor kid made a mistake or just got beat to the ball by an opponent. Um, Joe knows it was his ball. He’s quite aware that the other kid beat him to it or kicked it away from him…but I’m sure he’s sooooo happy to have his parent pointing it out to him in front of his teammates and the people/strangers on the sidelines. In the middle of the freaking game. Great thinking.

  • “You gotta get there faster, Tom!”

I love this one because it usually comes from a parent or grandparent who couldn’t run up and down the field one time without having a cardiac event. Tom’s well aware he got beat. Having an adult shout at him about it is definitely going to make him faster next time. (Insert eye roll.)

What are we thinking?! Do we think this sort of public correcting or chastising in the middle of a game is going to motivate our kid? It’s not! They aren’t going to want to play anymore if we suck the fun out of the game…because this is supposed to be fun, right?

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On Raising a Writer

Photo by David Pennington on Unsplash

If you love to write, it’s natural that you want (and maybe expect) your kids to love writing. Totally misguided, but natural. I think I’ve raised all three of my boys the same way when it comes to reading and writing, but there have been drastically different results. Because they are their own persons with their own interests and gifts. The nerve, right? Anyway, I still stand by some of the techniques below because they’ve helped each of the boys, albeit in different ways. So, if you’re looking for some help with your reluctant writer or you want to encourage your budding Stephen King, check these out…

  1. Read.

Yes, the same advice that was given to you when you first expressed an interest in becoming a writer. Read. Everything. For kids, that translates into reading aloud often and exploring different genres with them. One of my kiddos didn’t read independently until age seven. As we encouraged him to learn his stinking sight words, we continued reading aloud every night. We took books on CD in the car and made sure he had a little CD player so he could listen to them on his own, too. By fostering the love of story, you can expose them to the parts of a story, dialogue, and characters. All things that are good foundation for when they are writing themselves.

We recently started picking up PlayAways at our library and they love them! Check to see if your library carries them!

2. Take Dictation

I let all three kids dictate stories to me when they were too young to write. You can fold some paper in half and – to everyone’s delight – get out the stapler. The most exotic of all office supplies. Or you can buy some of these. Whatever works. As they told me their story, I would stop them now and then to ask a question with great interest. What happened next?  Was anyone with the mechanical robot bunny? How did that make the monster feel? It becomes a bit of a conversation. You’re getting more details and helping to build their story. In our case, it helped if I didn’t censor much. They felt free to be as imaginative as they wanted.  So, there were lots of farting, mechanical robot bunny defeating the three-headed monster stories.

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Getting a Grip with Author Sarah Kapit

Kat Portrait Studio

I’m excited to share an interview with author Sarah Kapit. Her debut middle grade novel, GET A GRIP, VIVY COHEN!, releases February 25, 2020. From Sarah’s website:

Vivy Cohen yearns to throw her knuckleball in a real game. But her mother is convinced that an autistic girl won’t be able to handle the pressures of a full baseball season. When a Little League Coach spots Vivy practicing with her brother in the park, she gets her chance. She makes a deal with Mom: Vivy can give baseball a try.

But pitching for a real team isn’t exactly easy. During her first season, Vivy must deal with nerves and bullies. And after a line drive smacks Vivy straight in the forehead, keeping Mom on board with Vivy’s baseball dreams proves just as tough as keeping the ball in the strike zone.

Through all of her travails, Vivy writes letters to the one person she can be honest with: MLB pitcher VJ Capello. Then, VJ writes back.

Sounds amazing right?! (You can pre-order it here!) Read on to learn about her inspiration for the book and some of her thoughts on the craft of writing.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Sarah! Congratulations on your upcoming debut middle grade novel! Can you tell us where or how you got the idea for GET A GRIP, VIVY COHEN! ?

As a baseball fan, the idea of a woman pitcher in MLB is so exciting to me. When I first saw the previews for PITCH–an absolutely wonderful show that was tragically cancelled after one season–that was really the genesis of the story. I just had an intense emotional reaction to seeing a woman taking the pitcher’s mound.

So all of that was percolating around my brain. Plus, I’ve long believed it’s likely that the first woman to play in MLB will be a knuckleball pitcher because the pitch relies on finger movement. Knuckleballers don’t have to be capable of throwing the ball 95+ miles an hour. Since I write middle grade, a girl knuckleball pitcher with big dreams came to my mind. I’ve also long wanted to write an explicitly autistic character, in a book that explores themes of neurodiversity. When I realized that all of this could fit together, the book’s concept just fell into place.

You recently received a box of ARCs of your book. How did you feel finally seeing it in print?

Completely amazing! I keep one copy by my nightstand and it’s hard to stop liking it. Vivienne To did a great job with the cover art, and it looks even better in print. I also love the way the interior design team laid out the pages.

And here’s the awesome cover!

Your main character, Vivy, has autism and her mother is reluctant to let her pitch for the baseball team. Do you think this book will open up dialogue between kids who have autism and their parents?

I hope so! Mostly, I hope that autistic kids who read this book realize that their way of advocating for themselves is valid, and that what they say matters.

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Filling the Creative Well: Writing Exercises for Your Week


A long time ago, in a lifetime far away, before I was a SAHHM (Stay at Home Hot Mess), I had the privilege of managing a very talented writing staff. Part of my responsibility to that staff was providing “fill the well” activities and opportunities. We wrote greeting cards and, as you can imagine, we had to find exercises and activities to keep our brains fresh when charged with finding new ways to say “Happy Birthday.” Today I thought I’d share a few of the exercises we worked through.

I’ve adapted the first exercise a bit since you’re probably not working in a group environment.

CHARACTER SNAPSHOTS

Character Snapshots helps stretch your brain muscles for character development. It’s intended to be like freewriting. You’ll write quickly and without editing yourself.

With the writing staff, I gave them each a brown paper bag and a photo of a person from a photography website. There were five random objects in the bag. They had to write a character sketch explaining who the character was and why those items were important to the character. Below is a modification.Find a few photos of individual people on the internet. If you write middle grade or young adult, try finding photos of kids who might be characters in your book. Print those out. The bonus of printing out a photo is you won’t need to write about physical characteristics – which lets you get to the good stuff faster.

  • Print ten photos of random objects from online. Do this quickly and don’t think too much about what you choose. You’re trying to re-create the randomness of the paper bags here, so the less you think about what you’re choosing, the better. You can paste the images into a Word document, so you can shrink them and not use up all of your printer’s ink. Just cut them into little squares once you’ve printed.
  • Turn the print-outs of the items upside down so you can’t see the images. Pick five along with a people photo.
  • Now, clear your brain and do a character sketch. Set a timer for 10 minutes. The point of this is to do some quick thinking and not get too hung up on details. Think of it as a nice warm-up for your gray matter.
  • Things you may include: character’s name, where they live, their job, if the items belong to them or if they were given to them, what they mean to the person. Here’s a quick example:

Photo by olivia hutcherson on Unsplash

Objects:

(Photo credits are at the bottom of this post.)

Name: Penelope Tinker, age 30, lives in Nevada

Antique watch: was her grandmother’s, she gave it to Penelope in her will.

Ring: Penelope is married. Married very young. They seem to be drifting apart as they enter their 30’s.

Dice: Her gambling problem

Coffee mug: affair

Running shoes: She’s training for a marathon

After jotting down some quick ideas, I started fleshing the sketch out below.

Penelope Tinker has a gambling problem she’s trying to hide from her husband. She’s in dangerous debt, as in owes some scary people a lot of money. She’s trying to figure a way out of debt without hocking her grandmother’s antique watch. She’s training for a marathon with her best friend. Her husband has seemed more distant since she started traveling for work so much. Last time she left town for her job, she came back to a mug with lipstick marks on it. Unfortunately red isn’t her color.

You can go as long or as short as you want. You might start some freewriting and not want to stop. You don’t have to write about the current situation the character is in…maybe you write about something that’s happened to them in the past, incorporating those items.

You may never get a main character for your next book out of this exercise, but if you save the snapshots, you can go back through them to mine ideas on days your brain isn’t cooperating. Remember – your fictional characters are more than likes and dislikes or the color of their hair!

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Your “Why” for Sports


Photo by Guillermo Diaz Mier y Terán on Unsplash

I was text-fishing for ideas for this week’s blog post, and one friend texted back: “the pressure some parents put on kids to overachieve at EVERYTHING”. I put that on the list of possible topics. Then, I had a parking lot experience with another mom I’d never met, which I have found, can be some of the most honest, desperate, thirty second conversations.

I was leaving swimming lessons with my youngest. He’s a little overconfident in the water and I thought the lessons may keep us from drowning this summer. Anyway, I’m about to get in my car, but there’s a mom with her car door open next to mine. She’s telling a little person, “Please stop throwing this.” She hands something back and shuts the door, noticing me.

“Sorry, we finished class half an hour ago and I’m just now getting into my car!” I can’t help but laugh. I say, “I’m laughing because I remember.”

From there, she starts to ask me questions about swim lessons. My son is going every day for one week. She laments that they only have once-a-week classes for her son. I ask, “How old is he?” as I finally peek into her car.

“He’s almost one.”

Okay, so then I understood why she was freaking out. He’s her first. She doesn’t want to screw up. She doesn’t want to miss out or have him miss out.

She went on to tell me that grandma was going to pay for extra lessons if she wanted them. At this point I really just wanted to drive this frantic woman home and bake her a giant batch of brownies. She was so stressed about swimming lessons. For her one-year-old. And I get it. I remember.

I say, “Does he like the water?”

“Yes.”

“Then you’re all set.”

 And she was so relieved.  

She seemed like a super-competent, smart lady, but she needed to hear from me, a perfect stranger who could be an ax murderer and the worst mom ever, that she wasn’t messing up. And who knows how long she was relieved. She might have gone right back to worrying as she drove away.

My mind kept coming back to her and my friend’s text. What is it that is driving so many parents to have this intense FOMU – Fear of Messing Up. I know parents of all generations had fears and desires for their children’s future, but I feel like it’s at a new level thanks to social media, stacks of parenting books (I have them all), and the myriad of athletic and academic opportunities our kids have.

I think the FOMU feeds the focus parents have on their kids achieving in everything. For example: 

If Joey don’t make this team, he won’t be on the right path to make the next level club team and he’ll miss out on skills, and he’ll never be able to make the high school team, so there’s no way he’ll ever get a scholarship, and…and…and…he has to make this team! We have to get Joey a few private lessons! We won’t be good parents if we don’t do this for him.

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Daring Greatly in Writing


Photo by Emma Matthews on Unsplash

Publishing and the writing industry can wear you down. Make you want to rock in the fetal position. It’s a constant test of patience and perseverance. So, whenever I can find a source of encouragement – anything that keeps me from setting my current manuscript on fire – I know I have to share it!

I stumbled upon Brené Brown’s Netflix special while folding some never-ending piles of laundry and I loved it!  (The special, not the laundry folding.) The special is titled Brené Brown: The Call to Courage and you can see some of the trailer here. A bit from her online bio…

Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston where she holds the Huffington –Brown Endowed Chair. She’s spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She is the author of five #1 New York Times bestsellers: The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, Braving the Wilderness, and Dare to Lead.

If you have not seen her Netflix special or her TedTalk, please go watch them now. We’ll wait…

Okay, maybe you don’t have time to watch now. I’ll fill you in a little. In her Netflix special, Brené explains where she got the inspiration and title for her book Daring Greatly. To her horror, her 2010 TedTalk had gone viral and, against her better judgement, she read the comments online, which, of course, were a dumpster fire of cruelty and criticism. She tells the story – and she’s hilarious – of how she was numbing her feelings with screen time and peanut butter when she stumbled upon this quote from a speech given by Theodore Roosevelt in 1910:T

It is not the critic who counts;
not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,
or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;
who strives valiantly; who errs,
who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;
but who does actually strive to do the deeds;
who knows great enthusiasms,
the great devotions;
who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly,
so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls
who neither know victory nor defeat.”
-Theodore Roosevelt, 1910

Brené Brown goes on to encourage us to choose courage over comfort, knowing that criticism and failure are inevitable. I thought about how that idea and this quote could be applied to our creative pursuits, specifically writing.

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